HC Deb 13 March 1818 vol 37 cc1072-9

The Adjourned Debate on the motion "That the Petition against the Monopoly of Beer," presented on the 10th instant [see p. 933] do lie on the table, being resumed,

Mr. C Calvert

rose. He said that he was prepared to enter into the petition the day on which it was presented, and to refute every charge which had been brought forward against the brewers. He came down to the House on the succeeding evening, when the hon. gentleman who presented the petition did not arrive in his place till other public business had prevented the discussion. He had no intention to go into the subject at any length, provided any gentleman felt inclined to move the appointment of a committee, to which the petition should be referred. The petition contained some very grave charges, which were well worthy the attention of the House, and more particularly the charge of the brewers being in the systematic habit of putting poisonous ingredients into the beverage which they caused to be retailed to the public. Such a charge was not a light one; but it was one which could be confuted with very little trouble. He had no intention himself to move the appointment of a committee, but, in the hope that some other gentleman would do so, he should sit down: but he trusted he should be allowed to go into the question provided it was not done.

Mr. Lockhart

said, he had no intention to move for a committee. He had only performed his duty in presenting the petition. He had, however, no objection to a committee, if the hon. gentleman who had mentioned it on a former evening, should move it.

Mr. W Smith

said, he had examined the subject of the petition clause by clause, and had likewise closely observed the evidence upon the subject as detailed in the voluminous reports of the police committee. His advice to his hon. friends upon the subject was, that if the hon. gentleman who presented the petition should move for a committee, it would not become them to refuse it; but he thought that on their part, such a proceeding was wholly unnecessary. Any gentleman in the House might put together the different parts of the evidence before the House, and then see in what manner they contradicted or supported each other. It appeared that the petition complained of three things; namely, the price, the monopoly, and the adulteration of one of the first necessaries of life. In the question of monopoly the petitioners themselves furnished the best answer, for they did not make any charge of agreement among the brewers as to price. Now, there could be no monopoly unless both price and quality were taken together. There was no sort of agreement as to the quality of the beer sold at a certain price, for every one of the eleven brewers charged with the monopoly, might make their beer of any quality they pleased; consequently, there was no monopoly. Now, with respect to the great article of adulteration, it would be absurd to imagine for a single moment, that such could be the case, for every one knew, that the laws against adulteration were severe in the highest degree. It could never be worth the while of any brewers to run the risk of adulteration when the penalties were considered, to which they would necessarily be subject. In the next place, as to the use of deleterious ingredients, it would not bear a question to be raised; for in the large breweries it would absolutely require such publicity as not only to be open to the servants engaged in the establishment, but to the whole of the neighbourhood. When it was considered that his hon. friend (Mr. C. Barclay) was engaged in a concern which brewed upwards of 300,000 barrels in a year, and that all the other houses charged with this monopoly were engaged in concerns, all of them upon a very large scale, although not so large as that of his hon. friend, how could the materials be carried in which could produce the slightest effect on so immense a quantity, without the fact being known to the whole neighbourhood, besides the persons connected with their concerns? Really this was too ridiculous to be listoned to for one single moment. For, abstracted from the positive denial which had been given, it was impossible that the parties should so risk their character and fortune. Such a supposition appeared to him to be too absurd. For these reasons, although he should not be one to urge the House to enter into a committee, yet, if the petitioners thought proper to press it, it was not the part of his hon. friends to refuse it. If the motion was made he should certainly assent to it.

Mr. Peter Moore

said, he understood, when the hon. and learned gentleman presented the petition, that he had no ulterior object in view—that he did not mean to call for inquiry. But, be that as it might, there was one point they ought to look to before they received such a petition. They ought to consider in what situation the framer of these charges would stand, if he did not prove his allegations, and they ought to have something like security, that he should prove them. If he had gone privately to work, instead of proceeding by public petition, he would have stood a chance of being placed in the pillory, for some of the allegations he had been pleased to make; and which, Mr. Moore said, he believed, were utterly unfounded; for he had himself, some years ago, a good deal of practical experience on the subject. He did not conceive that any case had been made out for going into the committee, but if the House did go into one, he hoped it would be the means of exposing the malicious views of the person who had first agitated the question, and of showing the purpose it was intended to answer. He was not swayed by the number of signatures, because he knew how they had been obtained. Application had been made to himself, and he was begged to put his signature. He then said that he believed the whole statement to be utterly false. The House should look with great jealousy and suspicion at a matter which produced a great revenue, of which no one would dispute that the government stood in great need.

Mr. Calvert

said, that it was with regret that he trespassed upon the time of the House, but he felt it necessary for the purpose of proving to the conviction of the House, that the petition of Mr. Barber Beaumont was a most scandalous petition. The attempt to procure signatures was not confined to one place, but every part of the town was resorted to. He had passed by one of the stations, and he had there seen boys and persons of all descriptions setting down their names. He hoped that the few words which he should have to submit to the House would carry weight with them. Certain charges had been made against the brewers, and among them that of having created a monopoly of an essential article, of mixing deleterious ingredients with it, and of advancing the price at their caprice, and without any justifiable grounds. With regard to the monopoly, which was stated to be confined to 11 houses, although the porter-brewers in London were considerably more numerous, it was only necessary to look to the evidence given before the police committee. Three gentlemen were there examined, one of them was the owner of only one-eighth of the public-houses which he served, and another of one-seventh. That surely would not be a monopoly; for looking to the total number, it was a most ridiculous and absurd charge, and he should say no more upon it. He should have a word or two to offer, however, respecting the capricious wantonness of advancing the price, and he should produce the statement of the person he had alluded to, Mr. Barber Beaumont. The first charge was, that in the year 1802, the price was advanced without any reason whatever. He rather thought, that for that rise, there existed good grounds at the time. These were, that the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer summoned the brewers, and told them, that he should increase the several duties 3s. 4d. a barrel on the beer, 8s. a quarter upon the malt, and 1¼d. and eight-twentieths of a pound on hops. That was a full justification for the advance in price. It was the same in the succeeding year, for then the war malt duty of 16s. per quarter was laid on, and the price advanced 5s. The advance then was after the rate of 17s. 6d. per quarter on the malt, leaving the brewer a profit of 1s. 6d. That was also a full justification. The petition stated, that at another period, namely in the year 1816, it was equally a matter of surprise, that the brewers had lowered the price of beer, but that the public were very much obliged. But what was the reason of this reduction, but because the war malt duty had ceased, and the 16s. per quarter taken off? What would have been said, if when the war duty was taken off, the brewers had not done so? It would be too tedious to go through all the different times that alterations had been made; he would, therefore, only say, that the price was fixed, in 1762, at 3½d. a pot, when the price of malt was 195. 6d. a quarter, and hops 50s. a hundred weight. It continued at 3½d. until malt was at 61s. 4d., and hops 14 guineas. The brewers were subject to a loss for a great number of years, and he must here allude to an expression of Mr. Barber Beaumont, that when they once fixed the price, they would not fix a losing one. That was not the fact. After the advance in 1799, they made some little profit, but they had previously lost half their capitals. The next advance was in 1801, when malt rose from 61s. to 84. per quarter. In every instance had the brewers been fully justified. With regard to the beer being rendered injurious to the stomach from the use of deleterious articles, he hoped he should have no occasion to tell the House, that the brewers of London were incapable of introducing poisonous articles into the common beverage of the town, day by day, week by week, and year by year. Of this his hon. friend (Mr. Barclay) had the other night given a convincing proof, when he said, that they must be brought in by cart loads, which could not be done secretly. What, then, could possibly be the consequence but loss of property and loss of capital? That was alone sufficient to convince the House, that no deleterious ingredient could possibly be resorted to. It was practically impossible that any thing could be used besides malt and hops. Legal proceedings had, a few-years ago, been taken against the proprietor of a Sunday newspaper, for the publication of a gross libel, charging the brewers with the use of the deadly night shade, the coculus indicus, the nux vomica, and tobacco. The affidavit on which the prosecution was founded, a copy of which he held in his hand, declared that none of the articles charged were used in the brewing of beer, and concluded by saying, that it was composed and made of malt and hops only. But the affidavit was held by the court to be insufficient, because it did not state, that during any specified time they had never used any of the articles alluded to, or that they had always made their beer of malt and hops only. By the advice of the counsel and solicitor, the deponents only negatived the use of the articles stated in the paragraph, but without saying of what the beer was actually compounded, and the next day made a fresh affidavit. They said that not only the articles named were not made use of, but no noxious ingredient whatever was then made use of in the manufacturing, nor while the brewery remained and existed under their control and power at any other time whatever. This was thought sufficient to satisfy the most scrupulous judge in the world. But no the court held that the last affidavit did not go the length of the former one, for it did not state of what the beer was really composed. The rule was not granted, but the parties were allowed to go on the next term. The offender, however, thought proper, in the mean time, to write him a most penitent letter, assuring him that he was not the author, but had only copied the paragraph from another paper; and that if the prosecution was dropped, his paper should be devoted to the brewers in general, and to himself in particular. He had refused any interference upon the occasion; but the prayer of the letter was ultimately complied with, and probably from the reason that the counsel were unable to frame an affidavit that should be satisfactory to the Court. So much for the legal proceedings to justify the brewers for the charge of using deleterious materials—And now to the petition which resulted from the meeting of a few persons on the 26th of January. It was hawked about in every direction. He had seen persons walking in Covent-garden, who assured the people, that by signing the petition, they would reduce the price of beer, and do away monopoly. In short, nothing was done upon it that was not worthy of the dirty place where one set of signatures were taken — the blacking shop in the Strand. By such means signatures were obtained from ignorant people, who really knew nothing of the nature of the petition; but they were imposed upon by the assurance, that its effect would be to reduce the price of porter in spite of the brewers, who were described to be a pack of extortioners. Such was the course pursued under the auspices of Mr. Barber Beaumont. He was aware that improper practices had prevailed in some districts in the licensing of public-houses; he had always reprobated such conduct on the part of the magistrates, who certainly carried the system of favouritism to too great a length. For his own part, he never took advantage of any thing of the kind, and he hoped for the introduction of an adequate remedy to the evils complained of.—He would not trouble the House farther than by expressing his sincere regret, that the House did not go into the committee, in order that the character of this Mr. Barber Beaumont might be exposed in its true colours, and that he might be exhibited not only to the House, but to the whole world what he really was—a disappointed man! He became a magistrate, and contrived to get into the commission with the view to his own immediate interest, and not obtaining licenses in the east and in the west, where, if he had succeeded, he would most probably have gone to the north and the south, he had made the present attack. He might, indeed, have some other motive besides that in which he was disappointed, and might expect by appearing solicitous for the public welfare to become a popular candidate for distinction. His first endeavour was, to serve himself by obtaining licenses, but having failed in this, he had been induced, in the bitterness of disappointment, to bring the present charge against the brewers.

Mr. Lockhart

observed, that if this had been the petition of the individual named, with whom he had no sort of acquaintance, he might have declined it; but he had presented the petition of 14,000 persons. It was not the petition of one particular individual, but of that individual, and 14,000others, and although the petition might have been in part signed by those who must be totally ignorant of what they were doing, yet there must be part of the petitioners who were qualified to judge of the price of the article and its flavour, although they might not be aware of the details which the hon. member had entered into. With respect to going about canvassing for signatures, it was a system which he greatly reprobated. It was borrowed from the mode that had been adopted in cases of a political nature; and those who introduced it, were, he conceived, liable to great blame. An hon. gentleman had taken a considerable latitude in his observations. He had supposed that some attack was intended upon an establishment. Upon what establishment? Here were eleven or twelve houses —and, if it were felt that a public grievance Was perpetrated by them, what was to prevent individuals from presenting a petition against it? Why should security be given that the petitioners should prove their allegations? If such a principle were once admitted, the right of petition would be completely destroyed. Two hon. gentlemen had denied the statements contained in the petitions; and he was very happy to hear their declaration. He was quite satisfied that no such ingredients were ever used in the breweries of cither of those gentlemen, but how could they pledge themselves for all the other brewers? They were persons of large fortunes and fine principles, and consequently above such arts; but, surely, it did not follow that less honourable men might not have recourse to the practices complained of. With respect to that part of the petition which related to the present system of licensing public-houses, it was evident, from the report of the committee, that some alteration ought to be made; and it would be recollected that a bill had been brought in last session for the purpose, though it was not carried. The hon. gentleman had denominated Mr. Beaumont a disappointed magistrate, who had drawn up this petition from personal motives. But it should be remembered, that he had given evidence before the police committee, and that that committee had coincided in the propriety of his conclusions. He ought not, therefore, to be spoken of merely as a disappointed man, when a committee of that House had thought his evidence worthy of being acted on. In order to give the brewers an opportunity of justifying themselves, he would, with the leave of the House, withdraw his motion, and move instead thereof, "That the said Petition be referred to a committee, to examine the matter thereof, and report the same, with their observations thereupon, to the House."

The motion was agreed to, and a committee appointed.