§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, a Bill on this subject was introduced by Lord Lamington in your Lordships' House in 1888. Another Bill was brought in in the House of Commons in 1890, and in 1893 there were no fewer than three Bills introduced one by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees. The last-mentioned Bill led to the appointment of a Committee of your Lordships' House, 1086 who recommended that every person dealing in imported meat should be com- pelled to register as such and have a notice plainly exhibited over his shop that he was registered as a dealer in imported meat. Most of the Bills dealt with the question of placing labels upon foreign meat, licensing the places where it was sold and insisting upon a notice being placed over a shop where it was for sale. In 1894 and 1895 there were two further Bills.
I may say that these various measures were not confined to one side of the House, but were brought forward by a variety of Members representing every shade of political opinion. In 1896 there were other Bills, and in 1897 the House of Commons appointed a Committee to inquire into the subject. The last Bill that I can find was introduced in the House of Commons in 1903. These measures were all more or less of the same nature. They contained the simple principle of this Bill, and in asking your Lordships to give my Bill a Second Reading I ask you in no way to commit yourselves beyond the principle that it is fair that the buyer should have an opportunity of knowing what he is buying. In the Reports of both of the Committees to which I have referred there is ample evidence to show that it is almost impossible for anyone except an expert to say whether the meat displayed in butchers' shops is foreign or home grown. At the same time it is admitted that there is no difficulty at all on the part of the wholesale dealer in ascertaining whether he is buying foreign or British meat.
It may be said that this Bill savours of Protection. I entirely fail to see it, and I disclaim that there is anything at the back of my mind which leans towards this Bill on the score of Protection. In numerous places in the Reports of the Committees that have considered this question it is stated that the only desire of those interested in this legislation is that it shall be perfectly clear to the consumer what he is buying. In addition, it was frequently asserted by witnesses that the exact effect which this marking would have upon foreign and home-grown produce was extremely doubtful. Many people contend that the effect might very possibly be to place the best of the foreign and imported meat above some of the second-class English meat, though as a general rule it is admitted that the best English meat is 1087 superior to anything which is imported into this country.
When the Committee of your Lordships' House sat in 1893, it was estimated that the proportion of home-grown meat to foreign imported meat was two-thirds of the total consumption. In 1900 the percentage of home-grown to foreign was fifty-six, in 1906 it was fifty-three, and in 1908, fifty-four. The places of origin were chiefly the United States, New Zealand, and the Argentine Republic. There has been this curious change. The imports from America had been more or less stationary for many years, but in the last year of which I have any figures—1908—the importation from the United States had decreased by very nearly half, while the importation from Argentina had been rapidly increasing. That this is likely to continue is rather evidenced by the fact that the great American shippers have been making active inquiries and have in some cases developed considerable interest in the meat shipping companies of Argentina.
Marking, which is the chief method proposed in this Bill for identifying foreign produce, is a system which obtains in a large number of other countries. I believe it was asserted by one witness before the Committee that the only Continental country that does not mark its meat in some form or another is France. The Canadian Board of Agriculture have promoted a Bill by which all dairy produce has to be marked, and we are told that all meat imported from the United States into Canada has also to be marked. The evidence with regard to New Zealand is rather interesting. The Agent-General for New Zealand stated before the Committee of your Lordships' House that he did not think that in New Zealand at that time there was any strong feeling in favour of marking meat; whereas in 1907 evidence was given before the Committee of the House of Commons that the feeling in New Zealand in favour of marking meat had grown considerably, and that there was a proposal to bring in a Bill for this purpose.
As to the necessity for this marking, I am very far from asserting that it is occasioned by anything which could strictly be called fraud, except in minor cases, but there is a large amount of deception. When we consider the small number of 1088 traders in London who profess to sell imported meat, whereas it is known that by far the larger portion of it is sold in the principal towns, and particularly in London, there can be very little doubt that a large amount of foreign meat is shown and sold in shops together with British meat, and as the same price is charged for the meat from both sources the consumer is apt to conclude that it is of the same origin. It is true that there are very few authenticated cases where when the question is asked the seller actually gives false information. The object of the Bill is to put the consumer on his guard, to warn him of the places in which foreign meat is sold, and to give him an opportunity of asking the question as to exactly what he is buying and of exercising his own discretion as to whether he will buy this meat or not.
There is, to a certain extent, fraud underlying this, because the meat for which, under this misconception, the consumer is giving full price would have to be sold at a very much lower rate if retailed, with the same profit, at its market price. We are told that one of the methods of the trade is that large traders, like Eastmans and others, who deal openly and almost exclusively in foreign meat, deal very largely in the inferior joints, the superior joints, the sirloins, &c., being sold to other shops where they are disposed of with the British produce, and in this way customers are deceived. The method of marking is a matter of detail on which I do not profess to be able to enlighten your Lordships very much. The object of the Bill is that every part of the carcase which can form a joint as a joint is ordinarily cut, should bear some part of the mark. If only a letter it would be sufficient to make it perfectly clear that the meat was foreign and not home-grown. The Bill makes no profession to being able to secure the marking of every slice and every chop that may be cut. Nor do I think it at all necessary, because once the consumer was put on his guard, as he could not fail to be if the carcases hanging in the shop were marked, that meat of foreign extraction was being sold there, he would then have a very large portion of the protection necessary.
There is no question, from the evidence given before both Committees and also from our experience of the Merchandise Marks Act, that the proper place where 1089 this marking should be done is the country of export. In nearly every country from which meat is exported it is, for various trade reasons and for purposes of inspection, very of ten marked under any circumstances, and the requirement that it shall be marked in a certain way would give very little trouble indeed to the exporter, whereas it would obviously give a great deal of trouble if it bad to be done when the cargo was being landed at the wharf here. In many of the earlier Bills cattle imported into this country alive and ,slaughtered here were regarded as being home-bred animals. As time progressed, and as this habit of importing animals and killing them on their landing in this country grew, animals that were killed within a limited time—ten days or so—after arrival came to be inserted in proposed legislation as animals of foreign origin. Considerable reluctance was shown before both Committees on the part of our Colonies to their meat being classed, as foreign meat. For that reason the suggestion in the Bill is that all meat imported dead should be marked in the country of origin with the word " Foreign" or "Colonial" in printed capital letters, and that in the case of animals imported alive for slaughter every carcase is to be similarly marked before removal from the abattoir. Many of the Colonies think that, in addition to their meat being described under the general term. of" Colonial," each Colony should have a distinguishing mark, but this is rather a matter for the Colonies themselves to arrange.
There is a provision in Clause 4 making it the duty of the Commissioners of Customs to see that the meat is marked in the way described. It has been pointed out that this might entail a very large body of inspectors, but I do not see that that is absolutely necessary. It would be necessary if the marking had to be done in this country, because it would then be necessary for inspectors to inspect every single carcase; but when there is a general rule that every carcass of meat imported has to be marked, it is quite easy to check whether that has been done by examining a certain percentage of the carcases. Those that escape examination of that kind are probably not likely to be many. In conclusion. I wish to say that in asking your Lordships to read this Bill a second time I by no means wish you to in any way pledge yourselves to the machinery to be 1090 used to meet the end in view. As I have pointed out, throughout the whole history of this question the machinery recommended has been more or less of the same kind, but many who support the Bill are not necessarily agreed upon every detail as to the methods in which its object ought to be achieved. I hope that some agreement may be come to upon these particular points when the Bill reaches the Committee stage. All that I ask your Lordships in this instance to affirm by reading the Bill a second time is that it is desirable in some way to differentiate foreign and colonial from home-grown meat.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—.(Lord Clifford of Chudleigh.)
LORD HAMILTON OF DALZELL
My Lords, this Bill is more or less an extension of the principle of the Merchandise Marks Act, and a casual observer might suppose that it was not a very important extension. I have observed, in looking back at the debates on some of the Bills to which the noble Lord has alluded, that the Bill of 1893, which was introduced by the noble Earl opposite, was actually called the Merchandise Marks Act (Amendment) Bill. That Bill, as your Lordships know, was withdrawn after a speech delivered by my noble friend behind me, Lord Ribblesdale, in which he offered to refer the whole question to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. That Committee was presided over by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and if their Report is studied it will be found that they were much impressed with the great difficulties in the way of organising any system of meat marking. They also seem to have been very much impressed with the extremely doubtful nature of the benefits to be derived from that process. I further notice that during the succeeding years and during the time when the noble Earl himself was President of the Board of Agriculture no legislation on these lines was introduced by him. The natural inference is, I think, that he had been convinced, and that the leaders of the Party opposite had been convinced, that this was not a practical or desirable thing to do; and I hope that in opposing this Bill we may, for that reason, have the support of the Front Bench opposite. 1091 This Bill, as I have said, extends the Merchandise Marks Act, but it does so in an entirely new direction. I ask your Lordships to consider for a moment what the Merchandise Marks Act does and what it does not do. I know that there is a sort of popular supposition that under the Merchandise Marks Act all foreign-made goods imported into this country have to be marked "Made in Germany," or "Made in France," as the case may be. I need not remind the House that the Merchandise Marks Act does nothing of the kind. What that Act does is this. It lays down that where there is any writing or any mark or anything on the article which might cause a reasonable idea that it had been made in this country, that mistaken idea must be corrected. Whether there is fraud or not makes no difference, but the mistaken idea must be corrected by printing on the article the words "Made in Germany," "Made in France," or whatever the country may be.
It may be interesting to mention the extreme length to which that Act has been held to go. There was the case of certain Christmas cards which were printed in Germany and on which the greetings or good wishes were in the English language. It was contended that that fact might arouse a reasonable supposition that the cards had been printed in this country, and therefore it was held to be necessary that they should bear the words "Printed in Germany" upon them. I mention that in order to show the extreme point to which the Merchandise Marks Act carries us, and in order that your Lordships may see how very much further the proposal of the noble Lord would go. That proposal would go to a point entirely new, and it is a proposal to which, on behalf of the Board of Trade, the Department to which is entrusted the administration of the Merchandise Marks Act, I have to say that the Government cannot assent.
Then it may be said—and I understand the noble Lord to make this point in his speech—that even if the Government cannot consent to all foreign meat being marked, we might at all events consent to legislation which would make it impossible for foreign or colonial meat to be sold as British. That would be a reasonable, I think a very reasonable, request were it not for the fact that the law as it stands already deals with that point most com- 1092 pletely. Under various Acts of Parliament any one perpetrating a fraud of that kind would be liable to prosecution. I do not think I need remind the House of a case which occurred only the other day, and which shows how very dangerous it is to sell anything in this country under a false description. It is within the recollection of everyone that a Bond Street art dealer was recently heavily cast in damages because he had given a false description to some china ornaments; and I need not remind the House that the law which applies in the case of a Dresden china shepherdess applies equally in the case of a pound of frozen Australian mutton. We consider that from that point of view the Bill is unnecessary. Besides those general objections there are certain practical difficulties which evidently suggested themselves to the Select Committee of 1893, the Committee whose Report I have quoted; and I think those difficulties must suggest themselves to everyone who considers this matter.
In the first place, I would mention the great difficulties of identifying. The noble Lord seemed to suggest that it would be sufficient if the carcases were marked in the country from which they came, but I do not think that would be any protection whatever to the small consumer; and if it is desired to protect the small consumer in the way the noble Lord suggests I think it is clear that, in addition to the heavy duties which would be laid on the Custom House officials, an army of trained inspectors would be necessary all over the country in order to see that every little piece of meat was marked. For I would call your Lordships' attention to Clause 5 of the Bill, which provides that—Every person who either by himself or herself or by his or her agent servant or other person employed for that purpose sells or exposes for sale or who hawks or offers for sale any foreign or colonial meat which does not bear such mark shall cause to be attached to each carcase or piece of such foreign or colonial meat a label or mark containing in printed capital letters the words 'foreign' or 'colonial in such manner as to be clearly visible to the purchaser and any persons not complying with this requisition shall be guilty of an offence under this Act.That shows that the Bill is not only intended to apply to carcases, but to the smallest possible portion of meat sold on any stall. Again, to quote from the Report of the Select Committee, I notice that it is said that in Liverpool the average 1093 purchases at certain large shops did not exceed 2½d. Under this clause each of these would have to be marked.
Then, my Lords, I think a very great expense and inconvenience and restraint would be put upon the trade of vendors of meat if they had to be licensed and had to go through the other formalities suggested in the Bill. There is one other practical difficulty which I would suggest. It is said in the Bill that all this meat must be labelled as being either Colonial or Foreign. That would entail still another difficulty, because these salesmen would not only have to differentiate between British and foreign meat, which to a skilled man might be comparatively easy, but they would also have to differentiate between Argentine meat and meat coming from any British Colony, which would be extremely difficult. My Lords, I have stated the general objections to the Bill and a few of the practical difficulties which seem to arise; and on those grounds I must ask your Lordships not to agree to the Second Reading.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, the noble Lord has referred very frequently to the Report of the Committee over which I had the honour to preside many years ago, and the recollection of it makes me feel very old indeed. Although I am not aware that there have been any material changes in the meat trade since that time, I have no doubt what ever that the Report of that Committee is not up to date, and if further inquiry were held into the matter now it is possible that some of the opinions expressed in 1893, might be found capable of modification. I think every member of your Lordships' House sympathises with the object of the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill. There is an old form of advertisement which runs, "When you ask for it, see that you get it"; and that, I think, describes the object of my noble friend in introducing this Bill.
There can be no doubt whatever, if there is a practical way of doing it, that the purchaser of what he believes to be genuine home-grown home-fed English meat ought to be assured that he gets it. Your Lordships are well aware that the price of English meat is, always has been, and, I hope, always will remain, materially higher than the price of meat of a similar kind which has been imported from abroad; 1094 and it certainly is a great hardship if, as I believe to be the case, a great many people who purchase meat believing they are buying best English are palmed off with beef which has been sent over the Atlantic in refrigerators and is nearly indistinguishable, except by experts, from meat raised and killed in this country. The noble Lord opposite pointed out a great many difficulties which he said would arise in the administration of the Bill if it became an Act, difficulties regarding the manner in which the marking could be done and the provision of the army of inspectors which would be necessary. But he did not touch at all on what, to my mind, is one of the most important clauses of the Bill, the clause which embodies one of the recommendations made by the Committee of 1893—that is, that if a man chooses to sell foreign meat he should at least put up over his shop window an announcement that he is, in fact, a vendor of foreign or colonial meat. That would not require an army of inspectors or any great interference of Government officials, and it would not be a very difficult matter to accomplish.
That part of the Bill of my noble friend I heartily welcome. I believe it would be practicable and have a large measure of efficiency. I have been told that the effect of it might be that every dealer in meat—that is to say, every butcher in the country—would put up such a notice in order to save trouble. I venture to think, however, that such is the prejudice of the consumer of English meat in this country that a great many people in towns where they have an opportunity of choosing between one butcher and another would certainly elect to deal with a man who had no such notice over his door rather than with a man who had. The noble Lord referred at considerable length to the Merchandise Marks Act, and pointed out that the Bill of my noble friend was more or less an extension of that principle. I am bound to say that I do not think the Merchandise Marks Act has obtained the measure of success which its framers intended; it certainly has not prevented the consumption of a great many things which are made abroad—although those things are marked with a notice patent to all the world that they are made in foreign countries. On the contrary, I believe the fact that an article made in Germany is known to be cheap has very often created a demand 1095 for that particular article, because people say that if it is made in Germany it will be cheap and if it is made in England it will be dearer. That is one of the respects in which the Merchandise Marks Act has not fulfilled the expectations of those who framed it.
I do not propose to touch upon that part of the Bill by which my noble friend seeks to prevent fraud. The noble Lord opposite says that all that is already provided for. He says that if you sell as Dresden china something which is not Dresden, if you sell modern china as very ancient china you are liable to prosecution, and he called attention to a recent case with which your Lordships are familiar. What I would point out is this. You can find out the fraud in the case of spurious china, but how are you to find it out in the case of meat unless there is some means of identifying the place from which the meat originally came? After hearing the evidence of the witnesses we examined before the Committee I venture to say, without fear of contradiction, that a very large quantity of meat is sold in this country as English which comes into the country from abroad. I do not think anybody will challenge that statement. I am not going to say whether I think the effect of my noble friend's Bill would be entirely to prevent that. All I say, is, if that is his object, and if that object can be obtained by his Bill, I for one will certainly agree with a measure of that kind.
§ THE EARL OF CHICHESTER
My Lords, I have never ventured to address your Lordships before, and it is only because of my connection with the Central Chamber of Agriculture that I ask your indulgence to-night. You will hardly be surprised to hear that the members of the Central Chamber and the affiliated societies look with favour on the marking of foreign meat and also regard with approval this Bill. But, my Lords, great as the advantage may be to British agriculture, I think the advantage of a Bill of this kind would be far greater to the consumer, because, as has already been stated, there is very little doubt that a great deal of foreign meat is now sold to the consumer as British meat, and at British prices. I do not think any one could be so foolish as to wish that foreign meat should be prohibited or in any way stopped from coming into this country, because if it were there would 1096 be, in the first place, a shortage of meat, and, in the second place, the poor would in a great measure be prevented from eating meat at all. There is no question about that.
There is no question either that people who buy meat are deceived. I do not say that this is done by absolutely fraudulent misrepresentation, but inferior foreign meat is constantly bought at a high price. With your Lordships' permission I will give an illustration of that. At a certain West End institution some weeks ago—an institution to which many members of your Lordships' House belong—a butcher was found fault with for providing inferior beef. It was suspected that the meat he was supplying was foreign, so the butcher's man was accosted one day by an official of that institution and was challenged as to a certain joint. Being asked if it was foreign, he replied, most indignantly, "That joint of beef foreign? Why, it is the best Danish."Of course, this was in no way an attempt at fraud; it was clearly a geographical inexactitude. But the profits of that inexactitude go into the butcher's pocket and the loss is to the consumer. There are other vague terms in the trade which we know lead to fraud, or rather to deception. Take, for instance, one notice frequently seen over shops—that of "home-killed meat." That is perfectly legal, but what does it mean? Merely that meat is imported on the hoof—that is to say, it is taken to Deptford, or some other port of entry, and, after ten days, is killed and sold anywhere in England as home-killed meat. You must, I venture to say, have some technical knowledge to know what home-killed meat really is. Then there is our old friend, "Canterbury Lamb." Many people think the lamb is brought up on Romney Marsh or some other pasture in Kent, but, as a matter of fact, it has never seen any country but New Zealand.
There is one other point which is very important to the consumer, and that is the case of tuberculous meat. In this country if a carcase is proved to have any particle of tubercular disease, practically the whole of it is destroyed. But there is no guarantee that this happens in the case of foreign meat imported into this country. I believe the custom in the case of foreign meat is merely just to cut away the affected parts and send the rest of the carcase 1097 forward. I do not know whether it is in the least true that this is likely to do any harm. Scientific opinions seem to differ very much as to whether tuberculous meat when cooked is or is not fit for food. But very many people in the country believe it is injurious, and if it is not marked they cannot be certain that they are not buying foreign meat which is tainted with this disease. There is one other person to whom this Bill would bring great relief. His case is a very cruel one. It is the case of the honest retailer. He has to meet the most cruel competition, and I cannot imagine a man in a more difficult position than the retailer of meat who means to keep honest, for he has to see his acquaintances on each side of the street making profits which he denies to himself.
There are two objections urged against this Bill. It is said that you can bring in a Bill but you cannot mark the meat, I do not believe that a practical objection at all. I believe that after Lord Onslow's Committee reported a gentleman who lived in Leicester brought out, a patent electrical machine which he said would mark meat satisfactorily. An experiment was tried. Two carcases of mutton were marked, were put into the frozen chamber—if that is the right phrase—in the Central Market, and were left there for six weeks. At the end of that time they were thawed to see whether the mark had run. Not only was the mark found to be perfectly satisfactory, but it had been put on in such a way that each joint was marked. On that occasion there was an episode at the Central Market which has such a bearing on the Bill that I should like to relate it your Lordships. A representative of one of the largest export dealers in Argentine meat was greatly interested in the experiment, and he said—I have been looking at that," pointing to the carcases. "What do you think you are going to do with that? If you get that taken up it will be a bad day's work for us. You ought to make it easier, not more difficult, for us to sell our meat as English. We depend upon that for our trade.This was an unsolicited testimony that even the sanguine inventor had never expected. Another objection which has been urged more than once this evening has to do with the case of the Merchandise Marks Act. I do not believe the British farmer is afraid that because you mark foreign meat he will have to go out of busi- 1098 ness. If he loses his trade because foreign meat is advertised by marking it, I think he ought to go out of business. I believe you will find his view is this, that if retailers are willing to sell foreign and colonial meat on its merits and use the right description it will have no terrors for the farmer, because the superior freshness and quality of the meat which English farmers produce will always secure for it a market. It is for these reasons that I should very much like to see the Bill read a second time.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, as I do not happen to belong to the Central Chamber of Agriculture or any of the affiliated societies which the noble Earl on this side of the House has represented so ably to-night, I should like to say a word on this subject from the personal point of view. The noble Earl opposite, Lord Onslow, will remember that at the time he brought in his Bill I had something to do with it, and I sat on the Committee which has been alluded to. Of course, noble Lords opposite disavow any Protectionist flavour about the proposal, and as I am a quite unrepentant Free Trader I find myself in rather a difficult position, because I oppose the Bill on what may be called a Protectionist ground.
I quite agree with all that the noble Earl on this side of the House said just now as to the possible advantage which a Bill of this sort, assuming it were carried out, might have for the consumer, but when he tells me that the ordinary English grazier who raises cattle to sell to meat salesmen need not be afraid of it I cannot agree with him. I am much afraid of it on that very ground. I believe it is possible, if you get foreign meat really properly marked in the way proposed, that the English producers, not of the best meat, but of the second quality meat, which is the sort of meat from various circumstances of my own land I am obliged to produce myself, would be placed at a distinct disadvantage, and the advertisement of the very close race which the best class foreign meat runs with the second class English meat would be fatal to an enormous number of English producers in the North who do not raise the very best quality of home-grown meat. I certainly, under those circumstances, should not go out of business and I farm 600 or 700 acres myself all under grass, but I should suffer very much from it. 1099 The noble Lord who brought in the Bill skated very lightly over the Report of the 1893 Committee, but he said there was some doubt in the mind of the Committee as to the possible effect on prices of this meat marking. Let me tell your Lordships exactly what the Committee found. The noble Lord did allude to it, but not in the way I want the House to hear. The Committee found that the ultimate result of meat marking would be that meat would come to be divided into four general classes, with considerable variation of price: first, best home-grown meat; secondly, best imported meat; thirdly, second-class home-grown meat; and, lastly, inferior meat. Whereas the third class (the second-class home-grown meat) now stands not subordinate in price to the second-class (the best imported meat) the indication of the country of origin might transpose their values in the market. Therefore as regards the second class English, which is at present in the second position and can get a good market, to mark the best foreign meat and give it that advertisement which perhaps it would deserve would mean to put our own home grown stuff behind it. That, I think, would be distinctly unfortunate, though I admit it was very generally asserted before the Committee that the average excellence of imported meat was higher than of home-grown meat. There are one or two other points on which I should have liked to have said a word, but I will not do so at this late hour. As a grazier and meat salesman, however, I enter the strongest possible protest against the Bill. I believe if people who follow the industry think they are going to gain by these proposals they are mistaken, and that they will in the long run prove to be very considerable losers.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I have listened with very great care to the speeches delivered on both sides of the House on the proposals of my noble friend. I confess, it has been brought home to me that, speaking quite roughly, the contention of the noble Lord who has just sat down is probably founded in fact; that is to say, if we meddle too much in a matter of this kind instead of conferring any advantage on the British farmer we may do him an injury. I found that opinion partly, of course, on the authority of my noble friend opposite, but also upon the Report of the Committee 1100 to which he referred, and to which my attention has been called. I do not think we can ignore the Report of a Committee of your Lordships' House. It was a Committee manned by Peers of great influence, and as far as I know there was no division of opinion upon that particular issue. That does not conclude the matter, because my noble friend, Lord Clifford, has brought forward this Bill in the interests of the consumer. Surely it is wrong, he said, that a man who buys what he believes to be English meat, and pays the price of English meat, should be palmed off with foreign or colonial meat, which if not inferior in quality ought certainly to be lower in price. I do not suppose there is any member of your Lordships' House who would not agree with him that it is objectionable and wrong that a man who asks for one thing should get another, and should pay the actual price for the article he receives which he would do for the one he expected to get. It amounts, of course, to a species of fraud.
But, my Lords, if these two conclusions to which I have come are both true I am placed in a difficult position, because there are the interests of the British farmer against the Bill and the claims of honesty in favour of it. As a conscientious man I suppose I ought to resolve the doubt in favour of the claims of honesty. Luckily, however, it appears that the difficulties of the machinery are so great that the Bill is unworkable. Cannot we take refuge from the exigencies of our conscience in that consideration? Although we are in favour of resisting to the best of our ability fraudulent practices, yet Finding that the proposal for achieving that end is not workable, may we not adopt that as a plea for not proceeding with the matter in this form and so avoid inflicting an injury on the British farmer? In those circumstances I hope my noble friend will take account of the implied views of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who understands the subject far better than I do and was a member of the Select Committee. The noble Earl practically told my noble friend that he did not think the Bill workable as regards a large part of its provisions, but there was one particular provision of which he approved. Might I therefore suggest to my noble friend that he should not press the Bill, but should reconsider the subject and bring up a much shorter Bill dealing with the point my noble friend 1101 the Lord Chairman has indicated. Then your Lordships might, perhaps, be willing favourably to consider it. I do not know if my noble friend will take this course, but in the difficulties in which we find ourselves as between the interests of the British farmer and the dictates of our consciences I almost hope he will.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL CARRINGTON)
My Lords, I should like to add just one word in support of the plea of the noble Marquess opposite. The noble Marquess suggested that a short Bill should be brought in embodying that portion of the present Bill of which the noble Earl opposite, Lord Onslow, approves. Is it necessary? Clause 6 says that every person dealing in, selling, offering, or exposing or keeping for sale, or having in his possession for the purpose of sale, foreign or colonial meat, shall always exhibit in a prominent place in his establishment a placard bearing in large letters the words, "Dealer in foreign and colonial meat." The reason it is said that ought to be done is that everybody anxious to have home-grown meat would immediately go to a shop where this placard was not exhibited. What I should like to ask is, cannot that be done now? If people are so anxious to buy English meat why should not butchers who deal in such meat alone put up placards saying, "Nothing but English meat sold in this establishment," or something to the same effect ? I believe if t hat were done everybody would flock to these particular shops, and the result the noble Lord aims at would be achieved. I was glad to hear the noble Marquess opposite say something about the difficulty of the machinery of the Bill. If your Lordships read Clause 7 you will see that it is curiously worded. It says—Every person who shall deal in sell offer expose or keep for sale or have in his possession for the purpose of sale any foreign or colonial meat as or for British or Irish meat shall be guilty of an offence under this Act.What is the punishment for the offence? If your Lordships look at Clause 15 you will see that for the first offence it is a fine not exceeding £10, and for the second a fine not exceeding £25, or—if the offence in the opinion of the Court was committed by the personal act default or culpable negligence of the person accused that person shall 1102 be liable (at the option of the court) to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a period not exceeding six months.I really think to say a man should get six months imprisonment with hard labour for selling under these conditions colonial meat is a very curious proposal to come from those who are very anxious to bind the Colonies to the mother country.
I really think that the law as it stands now is sufficient for the purpose, because we know that if it can possibly be proved that a butcher knowingly palms off colonial or foreign meat as home-grown, we can get at him under the present law, and I should not hesitate for one moment to apply the law under those circumstances. But I must say, in fairness, that these cases, although we are told they occur so extremely often, are very rarely proved up to the hilt. In these circumstances I do join in the request of noble Lords opposite, and I hope the noble Lord will not press the Bill, but will be satisfied with having brought the matter to the notice of the House.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
Before answering the request of the noble Lord, there are one or two points to which I wish to allude. One is the question of fraud and misrepresentation being able to be dealt with under the existing law, which matter, I think, has been hardly fairly represented. The kind of thing that happens, and happens with great frequency, is this: a retailer who deals, I will say, habitually in home-grown meat is from time to time short of a supply, and he fills the vacancy in his shop with foreign or colonial meat. He makes no representation direct to the customer, who has for the last week, fortnight, or for a longer period, been buying English meat, but he suddenly substitutes an entirely different article and leaves the customer under the impression that he is still getting the same. Although that is not a fraud which you can bring the existing law to bear upon, it is in itself a misrepresentation. It is suppressio veri, which certainly defrauds the customer. Those who speak in the interest of the producers have over and over again—though not, perhaps, so much in the Report of 1903—borne testimony to the fact that it is their own fault if the meat they grow is not superior to the meat imported. They do appeal—and it appears to be common justice—that they should 1103 stand on their own footing. This view is equally shared in other parts of the Empire. Consumers also wish that English meat should not be sold as colonial meat, and that appears to me to be an appeal based on simple justice. It is admitted—at least, nobody undertakes to deny it—that possibly the effect of this may be to alter the classification of meat; but in that case we say the classification should be fairly stated. It is within the knowledge of all importers of meat that whereas the importations of Argentine meat were in the early stages extremely inferior they are rapidly improving, and the result may be that what is called second-class English meat may material improve under the stimulus of having a fair field and no favour. With regard to the Bill, I will take the encouragement that the noble Marquess has given me, and I hope if ever I bring in the Bill again in an amended form I shall have more cordial support from him than I have had to-night. In the circumstances, considering the smallness of the House, I will not trouble your Lordships by pressing the Bill to a division.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.