§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD CLINTON
My Lords, this Bill which I now ask your Lordships to read a second time is for the purpose of amending the Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs Act of 1906. It is brought in under its present name because it includes matter which has not been included before and could not properly be included under the older name. The Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs Act of 1906 was an amendment of the original Act of 1893, and it was the result of an inquiry by a Departmental Committee which sat for some time upon the subject. That Act has, I think, on the whole served a very useful purpose. It has checked, at all events, some of the bad practices which prevailed at that time, and has had the very important effect of making farmers generally more accustomed to the necessity and the real advantage of having their material analysed. But while this Act has been of value, it has not, I think, carried out all we hoped or expected it would do, and it has not been so fully taken advantage of as it ought to have been, partly through defects in the drafting of the Act itself. The result of our five years' experience of the Act shows that there still remain several loopholes for fraud which we hoped had been closed. We find also that it has not checked all of those practices not in themselves fraudulent and yet which are very detrimental to the interests of farmers and which do cause them enormous loss.
972 This Bill has been drawn up by the Central Chamber of Agriculture, a body thoroughly representative of agricultural opinion in the country. It has affiliated chambers in every county, and the large majority of them have been pressing us for some time to take action in the matter. The Bill has been before the council now for close upon two years, and has been reported upon by a committee of the council; and in July of last year the final report of that committee was accepted unanimously by the council itself. The Bill is drawn, as we intended it to be drawn, in the interests of the farmers. At the same time it is in no way a declaration of war against the trader, because I certainly acknowledge that as regards the great number of people who trade in the articles to which this Bill applies their method of trading is above suspicion. We expect to get from them fair and honest trading, and with regard to the majority of them we get it. At the same time the Bill is aimed at the suppression of certain practices which must be stopped if agriculturists are to get the full value of what modern science can do for them in connection with these artificial manures and feeding stuffs. It is aimed more particularly at those men who do not carry out their trade in the best possible way, but who put stuff on the market which is frequently, I am afraid, not worth its carriage from the station to the farm, and who advertise with very high-sounding names many articles totally unfitted for the purposes for which they are intended—mixtures and compounds which may actually comply with the letter of the Act but offend very greatly indeed against its actual spirit.
The provisions of the Bill are very clearly explained in the Memorandum on the front page, which goes very closely into the Amendments and additions which we propose. Some of these Amendments are of a very technical character, and I do not want to trouble your Lordships with them more than I can help, but I shall probably have to say a word or two upon them. In the first place, I should like to speak of the probably more general Amendments. In the first place, under the Act of 1906 the Board of Agriculture has a veto upon all prosecutions. Under the former Act of 1893 individuals, farmers' societies, and others could not institute a prosecution under the Act except with the consent of the Board of Agriculture, but county 973 councils and borough councils had freedom to take the initiative in the matter. The Act of 1906 did away with that freedom, and at the present moment they cannot institute a prosecution unless they first obtain the consent of the Board of Agriculture. There is a very strong feeling indeed among county councils that that power to prosecute should be restored to them. I believe that almost every county council would agree to that. There are members of the County Councils Association in your Lordships' House who, I hope, will be prepared to speak upon the advantage of this power being given back to them, and I believe it is the perfectly unanimous opinion of the agricultural world generally that the power should be restored. That view is probably largely based upon certain cases where the Board of Agriculture have refused permission to prosecute but where there has been a strong expression of opinion that prosecution ought to be allowed.
I do not wish to quote any cases of that kind. The President of the Board has probably been sufficiently worried about them already. But the chief reason I do not quote them is this, that although I believe they would constitute substantial ground for making the request that I am now making, I much prefer to base my argument for the power to prosecute being returned to county councils on the broader ground that those bodies are the right bodies to have full control over the Act. County councils and borough councils have full charge at present of time administration of the Act except in this one particular. They have to bear the whole expenses of administration, and, in the event of a prosecution undertaken by them being unsuccessful, they have to pay the full costs of that prosecution. In addition, the county council is bound to appoint an official agricultural analyst and official sampler. The appointment of those officials has to receive the approval of the Board of Agriculture, and so it may be taken as tolerably certain that the men appointed are good men. Furthermore, many county councils keep up very well-equipped laboratories, and have the whole responsibility for carrying out the measure in the best way they can. They, of course, would never attempt a prosecution except on the advice of their analyst. Their own analyst is a man of responsibility and reputation, and I do not think it is in the 974 least likely that he would ever recommend a prosecution if there was much risk in his own mind of the analysis which he had made being upset or if there was any chance of the prosecution being unsuccessful; and bearing in mind that both the county council and the analyst have a reputation for fairness to keep up, it is exceedingly unlikely that they would consent to frivolous prosecutions being undertaken.
I do not know whether the Board of Agriculture desire to keep this power in their own hands. I expect at times they find it a somewhat inconvenient power. For when they feel bound for their own reasons to take a different view from that taken by the county councils and refuse an application to prosecute, they place themselves in antagonism with a very large body of agriculturists. I think county councils are for many reasons in a much better position to judge of the fairness of a prosecution than the Board of Agriculture. It can only be in the interests of the traders that this power should remain with the Board. Although I am very willing that the interests of traders should be safeguarded in every possible way, I think this is an unnecessary safeguard, both for the reasons I have stated and also because under the Act there is a chief official analyst set up by the Board of Agriculture and power is given to the trader or to any one connected with the prosecution to submit a sample of the disputed article to that official analyst; and I think it is quite certain that if he disagrees with the analysis of the analyst to the county council there will be very little chance of a prosecution being undertaken, or if undertaken, of being successful. I hope, my Lords, you will think those are sufficient reasons why you should consider this point.
There is one other Amendment of a general character. Formerly no prosecution could be undertaken unless time sample of which the analysis is disputed was taken within ten days of its delivery. We want to extend that ten days to twenty-eight days. I do not think there has been anything in this Act which has militated more against its being taken full advantage of than this ten days' limit. The regulations for sampling are laid down in most concise and clear language. They are complicated, because they are in themselves so stringent. They are in many cases almost too complicated 975 for the farmers to work, but I am not suggesting that they should be altered. They are laid down purposely stringent for the protection of the trader, but I think it is obvious that sufficient time should be given to the agriculturist to work them out. The limit of ten days is quite insufficient. If a man decides at the moment he orders his goods that he will have them sampled I have no doubt he could do it in ten days, but we do not carry on our trade in that way. We do not carry it on under a constant suspicion that we are being done by these traders, and if we delay for a few days while we are finding out some reason to believe that the manure or feeding stuff is not what it is intended to be, then we are prevented from prosecuting by the operation of this ten days' limit. It very often happens that a farmer who has some doubt of the material which is delivered to him will get a partial analysis taken privately, and it is when his doubt has been confirmed by some other private analyst that he wants to take proceedings against the trader, but the limit of ten days precludes this being done. I believe that twenty-eight days is the least time in which the farmer would be able to do it. I am very anxious that we should have an extension, as I am quite certain that until the period is extended we shall not get the Act taken advantage of in the way it ought to be.
There is an important addition to this Bill in this direction, that agricultural seeds are brought within its scope for the first time. Clause 3 gives power to samplers to take samples of seed. Clause 5 gives power to appoint an agricultural seed tester, and Clause 6 deals with the power of the purchaser to send his seed to the agricultural tester to be tested. Seeds have not been dealt with in England since the year 1869, when an Act was passed preventing under a very heavy penalty the killing or dyeing of seeds. An Act was passed to protect the Irish farmer the year before last, and it is on those lines, with one important exception, that we are proposing to deal. I believe it is very important indeed that we should get control over the seeds sown. There is a very much greater knowledge of agricultural seeds now than there used to be. Farmers are beginning to realise the actual place in every mixture of the different varieties, and are beginning to realise, too, the importance of getting exactly the right seed 976 for particular parts of their soil. But in spite of the efforts of a large number of our best seedsmen there is still a great deal of bad seed on the market, seed which comes of a bad stock, seed which has disease in it, seed which is old, and seed which has a great variety of adulterants.
Under the Irish Act seeds might be tested for purity and for germination. We translated those words into this Bill as I introduced it into your Lordships' House last year, but the Bill in that shape proceeded no further, and having introduced those words into the Bill we found that it raised a storm of indignation. We were accused of setting up a standard of germination. I do not think the Bill did set up a standard of germination, but, if it did, it was a wrong thing to do in this country. None of us wanted a standard for many reasons. One reason is that germination must vary from year to year and be dependent entirely on the climatic conditions and the time in which the seeds were harvested. But more important still, the germination of foreign seed is almost always higher than English seed. We get many samples of clover grown in France which will germinate regularly at 95 per cent., whilst a good sample of English clover would not germinate at more than 85 per cent., but we get a hardier crop off the English seed than we do off foreign seed.
Under Clause 1 and partially under Clauses 2 and 4 an invoice has to be given with every article showing the percentages of the ingredients which the article contains. Under Clause 4 the invoices are taken to be an absolute guarantee of the facts stated. Under the old Act they were taken as a guarantee only within certain limits of error. Those limits were fixed by regulation of the Board of Agriculture, and, generally speaking, the limits were placed at something like one-tenth. It works in this way, that supposing a man sells you a feeding cake guaranteed to contain, say, 9 per cent. of oil and 20 per cent. of albuminoids, he is entitled to supply you with a cake containing a little over 8 per cent. of oil and 18 per cent. of albuminoids. He is protected because the analysis would not deviate more than the limit laid down by the Board of Agriculture. The farmer has to accept the loss of those very valuable units of feeding stuff and has no redress. We say he ought to have redress. He buys 977 on the units which are guaranteed to him. He knows quite well the market price at the moment of those units, and he pays for the article at that price, and what he pays for he is entitled to have delivered to him. The traders object to this limit being taken away mainly on the ground that they analyse their manures and feeding stuffs in large bulk, and that owing to errors, mistakes in mixing which they cannot always avoid, the actual consignment sent out will differ in some degree from the analysis. We admit that to a certain extent. We know quite well that mixing is not an exact science, and that there may be occasional small errors. Consequently we propose that, while the limits of error shall be done away with in ordinary cases, they shall remain in cases of prosecution. We think it quite fair that a man should not be prosecuted merely because he has made a mistake which he cannot avoid. Therefore when a prosecution is undertaken a man will be able to rely upon the limits of error, but for ordinary cases his civil liability will remain, and he will be bound to supply all he has contracted for or give compensation. Many firms give compensation now. We want under this Bill to make that compensation compulsory.
In paragraph (b) of Clause 1 we enlarge the number of constituents which we require to have guaranteed. This is of very considerable importance to us. In more scientific stock-breeding we feed our stock on what is called the albuminoid ratio. For effective and successful stock-breeding that is, I believe, almost necessary; but to do so we must have a statement of the amount of carbohydrates. There is another reason. Formerly certain feeding cakes used to be sent to us practically without any of these carbohydrates. Now a very large amount is added, and I think it is reasonable that we should ask that particulars should be given to us. No doubt the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture will recollect that this matter was brought up and discussed before the Departmental Committee which sat upon this subject five or six years ago, and they decided that while they could not compel manufacturers to give these carbohydrates yet traders should be encouraged to do so. We want in this case to make it necessary that the carbohydrates should be given. In paragraph (c) we provide that, in regard to any article whose value depends entirely or mainly upon the presence of one particular 978 constituent, the invoice shall state what is the percentage of such constituent contained in the article. I had sent me recently from a county analyst the analysis of the last six samples which he had analysed of ground lime. The lime in them varied from 45 per cent. to 92 per cent.—an enormous variation. The purchaser of the material was probably told in the analysis that it contained a certain amount of potash, ammonia, or whatever it might be, but he was not told how much lime it contained. But what he wanted to buy was lime. Consequently if the amount of lime could be shown, as it would be under this Bill, it would be a very good guide as to the price the purchaser should pay for it.
We see the same constantly in regard to feeding stuffs. I resisted the temptation just now of quoting instances to the President of the Board of Agriculture of cases in which his Board had refused permission to prosecute, and I only quote this now as an illustration. The noble Earl will recollect a certain case of a cattle food compound which was found, on analysis, to contain over 40 per cent. of sawdust. The Board of Agriculture, I think, rather like sawdust as a feeding stuff. At any rate they would not allow us to prosecute. If this clause which I am recommending to your Lordships had been in the former Act the analysis would have shown the purchaser in this case how much sugar was contained amongst that sawdust. All the analysis did show was that there was a certain amount of oil and albuminoids; but the only thing the purchaser wanted to buy was sugar, and we think it is important that the provision in this clause should be adopted. I have felt it necessary to make this somewhat long statement in moving the Second Reading of the Bill in order to show that there is good reason for amending the former Act, and that as far as we are able to do we have attempted to make no more than the necessary amendments. I hope your Lordships will be good enough to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Clinton.)
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, I wish to say, on behalf of the County Councils Association, that this Bill has been before them and that on the main lines they entirely support it. It is a Bill 979 full of details, and for that reason it will require careful consideration in Committee. There is one point particularly to which I wish to allude, and that is the necessity of obtaining the consent of the Board of Agriculture to prosecutions. This particular consent of the Board has been found not to meet with entire favour on the part of county councils, and I think the Bill deals with this question very fairly and well. County councils have no objection to the action of the Board of Agriculture in strengthening the hands of county councils and in seeing that the analysts they appoint are efficient and capable of doing their work; but they do think that the restriction regarding prosecutions put upon them by a superior body is one which, to say the least, is misunderstood in the rural districts in this country.
Clause 9 brings forward another question which bears on the subject. It gives power to county councils and borough councils to publish the results of the analyses they have made, and this brings up a point which I think is very much needed. Whereas local authorities are restricted in bringing the law to bear upon manufacturers of feeding stuffs and manures, there is no power to control the analyses and the advertisements which are put forward by these traders. I think this is a point of very great importance. There was the case, alluded to by the noble Lord, where the analysis showed the presence of 40 per cent. of sawdust. In that particular case the manufacturer gave the amount of carbohydrates that he said were capable of assimilation. Had he been required to use the words "digestible carbohydrates" there would have been no doubt that his analysis would have been wrong. Very probably the material that was used in this compound was quite capable of being assimilated by the animal eating it, but a great portion of it was of no possible use as a feeding stuff. The manufacturer has this advantage, that he has nobody to say what form his analysis, his description of the stuff, shall take. On the other hand, the county councils and borough councils who are interested in the matter are unable to publish the analyses which they have made and which could be set alongside the advertisements so as to warn the buyer as to the true substance of the material he was buying. I think, therefore, that this clause would be exceptionally useful to county councils.
980 Another point which was raised before the Departmental Committee was that the seller of seeds and the manufacturer of food stuffs and manures should be allowed to have the use of the analysis of the county council for the purpose of the sale of his article. It appears to me, if a county council is to have the power of publishing the result of its analysis of the food stuffs, that that should be as useful to the seller of a good article as it is a check upon the man who is selling inferior goods. I see no reason why the good seller should not make use of it. For these reasons I think that the Bill is one which may be of very great use to agriculture, and I hope that the House will consent to its being read a second time, and such faults in regard to detail as there may be in it can be considered in Committee.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL CARRINGTON)
My Lords, I am certain that your Lordships will be disposed to agree that the noble Lord who introduced this Bill has explained this somewhat unintelligible Bill with a great deal of clearness. I was very glad to hear him say that the Bill was in no way a declaration of war against the traders. That, of course, we readily understand. He spoke of the veto of the Board of Agriculture as regards prosecutions, and told us that in his opinion, and in the opinion of the great agricultural corporation that he so worthily represents, county and borough councils are the proper persons to exercise this right independently of the Board of Agriculture, and I must say that he put his case very fairly indeed. I am bound to admit that feeling runs very high the other way, and for the protection of traders—and no one wants to interfere with the legitimate protection of traders—the opinion is held that there should be some sort of veto on account of the difference of opinion that exists among legal representatives as to whether a prosecution would or would not stand.
The noble Lord also spoke of the very technical question of the limits of error, and I hope he will not at this stage wish me to follow him into that. He also mentioned a subject which I hoped, in my heart of hearts, he would have left alone, and that was the well-known case in which a feeding stuff was found to have over 40 per cent. of sawdust, and in connection with which the county council not unnaturally wished to prosecute the trader. I was, however, 981 able to persuade myself, and what was much more important to persuade noble Lords opposite some years ago, that this sawdust was not sawdust at all, that it had been changed by some chemical process into what I think was called cellulose, and that it was an absorbent of sugar and therefore a very proper food for agriculturists to feed their cattle upon. I shall not again inflict my reasons upon the House, but I hope your Lordships will be satisfied with the undoubted proof that I was able to show that stuff containing 40 per cent. of sawdust may be a very admirable food for cattle.
The noble Lord's Bill proposes to amend the Act of 1906, which amended the Act of 1903. That Act put a stop to the mal-practices in trading by which farmers were robbed, and it induced farmers to realise the importance of getting information as to the nature of the fertilisers and feeding stuffs they used, and for this purpose to encourage analysis by competent public analysts; but I do not say in any way that the Act is perfect. Everything, of course, in life can be improved, and if it can be shown that further steps can be taken without injustice and dislocating legitimate trade, the Board which I have the honour to represent will, of course, be only too glad to avail themselves of them. This is a very technical Bill and is bound to be most hotly opposed by traders. I have no opposition on behalf of His Majesty's Government to offer to the Second Reading of this Bill, but I earnestly hope that the noble Lord will consent to its being sent to a Select Committee to have the rough edges rubbed off it. I think if that course were adopted some of the opposition at any rate of the traders would be removed, and the Bill would have a much better chance of passing through Parliament. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will consent to that proposal, which I make, not in any way to stop the passage of his Bill through this House, but only with the wish that our Act may be brought noire into harmony with agricultural interests.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I do not wish to speak at any length on this subject, which has been dealt with so fully by experts, but I would express the strong hope that the Minister for Agriculture will not put his foot down in Committee, if this Bill goes to a Select Committee, in resisting the efforts of county councils for the removal of the Board's veto. I must say I thought 982 the noble Earl was the last person I should find championing a veto. I do not think, however well placed the veto may be otherwise, that there is any reason why the great county councils, on whom the responsibility of assisting farmers within their county areas depends, should not have the right of decision in respect of these prosecutions. The analyst is appointed with the consent of the Board of Agriculture; and I maintain that the committees which direct and control agricultural matters in the county councils are just as fitted as the officials of the Board of Agriculture to decide tins-question. Yes, every bit as fitted, and perhaps in their own locality a little more fitted. The noble Earl says legal opinions differ. Of course they differ. The county councils may make mistakes. Let them make mistakes and learn. I have often seen your Lordships entranced by the witching eloquence of the noble Earl the Minister for Agriculture. I had not the good fortune to be present when he persuaded you all that sawdust was the most natural food for cattle. The Board of Agriculture found that out. If it is true, let the county councils find it out for themselves. But I do not think they will take it, not having the opportunity of hearing the noble Earl, on his authority. Therefore, I hope that when the. Bill goes to the Select Committee the Board will not assume a degree of infallibility in respect to this veto. Every one who takes part in county business knows how thoroughly competent are the men who deal with these matters on the county councils, and the less centralisation there is in these things the better.
§ LORD WENLOCK
My Lords, my noble friend who has just spoken appears to be in some doubt as to the action which will be taken in future by the President of the Board of Agriculture in regard to the provision in this Bill giving back to county and borough councils the power to initiate prosecutions. But from what the noble Earl the Minister for Agriculture said, I understood that he was going to offer no objection to this part of the Bill. [EARL CARRINGTON nodded assent.] I am glad the noble Earl consents. Therefore the fears mentioned by the noble Earl who has just spoken are not likely to be justified. I have had an opportunity in my county of seeing a great many of these questions brought before the various committees, and I can assure the noble Earl that it has been the greatest disappointment to them that 983 he has refused on several occasions to consent to prosecutions in what they believed to be extremely strong cases against fraudulent traders. The result has been that in many cases the committees who deal with these matters have felt that it is useless sending any more applications to the Board of Agriculture, and therefore a certain number of what we believe to be absolutely fraudulent transactions have taken place and the farmers have suffered. I would press on the noble Earl that his special business is to protect the interests of the farmers and agriculturists. I think the traders are strong enough to look after themselves.
§ LORD CLINTON
My Lords, I desire to thank the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture for the sympathy he has extended to this measure. I am anxious to get the Bill passed, but to do that I must have the assistance of His Majesty's Government. The noble Earl has suggested the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee. I should regret that, because it would mean delay; but if the noble Earl is prepared to set up a Committee with a full reference to it I would not put any objection in the way, because I am willing that the traders' objections should be perfectly fairly considered. We do not want to steal a march upon them. We believe that we have given them every protection in this Bill, and we have not asked for more than the agriculturists of this country are entitled to obtain. As I say, if your Lordships desire that the Bill should go to a Select Committee I would offer no objection.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a; and referred to a Select Committee.