HC Deb 24 May 1824 vol 11 cc843-52

On the order of the day for going into a committee on this bill,

Mr. Maberly

opposed the motion. He said he was most anxious for the appointment next session of a committee, to consider fully the whole question respecting the beer trade. The present bill professed to have two great objects: one was, to put the duty more upon malt, and the other to open the trade for a free competition; still, however, the operation of the bill would be, that one class would be paying a duty of 55s. a quarter upon their malt, while another class only paid 20s. The licensed victuallers, for whose benefit the bill was said to have been introduced, objected to it; and the London victuallers said that, if passed, it would prove their ruin. Although an advocate for the principle of a free trade, yet there were a number of subsisting interests which ought first to be reconciled. The publicans had paid large sums for their houses, the value of which would be materially altered by this bill. There were, he understood, 50,000 persons so situated. He would prefer to see the whole duty laid on the malt, instead of the beer. The measure would not be the means of procuring for the public so good a beverage as was supposed. Those who were likely to embark in the private trade would not have capital sufficient to purchase extensive premises and the necessary utensils. This want of capital would prevent them from affording time to let the beer ripen. How would the bill operate in private life? Could a common mechanic give up his time to brewing at home, when he could earn so much more than any saving he might thus effect by pursuing his trade? Would such a person brew at home, when he had to pay 35s. duty on the quarter of malt, above what the higher orders of society paid? The parties interested did not ask for compensation; all they wanted was, to be fully and fairly heard. As that hearing was refused, he felt it to be his duty to move, "That the bill be committed upon this day six months."

Mr. Davenport

opposed the bill on account of the injury it would inflict on a numerous body of individuals, and because he thought it would lead to much immorality. Beer would be sold and drank in every lane and alley, and riot and disorder would be the consequence. At present the publican, in whose house beer was consumed, found it to be his interest to preserve peace and good order.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that as it was now agreed, that every thing that related to the change of duties, should be taken out of the bill, he should say nothing on that subject. Indeed, he was at a loss to know what should be discussed in the committee; because, as the price of beer would be lowered by the bill, that sufficiently established the advantages that would result from it. The mere fact, that the price would be lowered, proved that the beer was now at a higher price than was necessary. A committee was needed, it might be said, to show the loss to what had been called vested interests. He conceived it possible that some diminution of profit might be occasioned by the bill; but if that was admitted, was it to be a conclusive bar to an alteration of the law. The state of the law demanded some change; for it was extremely doubtful whether the brewers might not even now retail beer in the manner authorized by this bill. In the last session the hon. member for Reading (Mr. F. Palmer) had asked him, whether there was any obstacle to brewers selling by retail; and he had answered, that there was not, as far as the Excise was concerned. The same answer was given in a more formal manner, on an application to the Board of Excise. In consequence of that, a number of brewers had set up trade in that way; prosecutions were commenced against them, both at Reading and Brentford; and convictions were obtained. Without being a lawyer, he confessed he did not see how those convictions were sustainable on ground of reason. The convictions were brought by the parties concerned into the court of King's-bench, and were to have been argued the first term of this year, but were put off to the present term for further argument. Now, the state of the law was at. least so doubtful, that the court of King's-bench threw out a suggestion, that the point had better be settled by an enactment on the subject.—On looking at the subject, he could not persuade himself that the public ought to be deprived of the advantage, because those who had, under the regulations of the law, enjoyed a practical monopoly, might have their profits in some degree lowered by competition. This argument, if it were allowed to prevail, would be good against opening any monopoly whatever. The parties could not say in this case, that they had been taken by surprise. A committee two years ago had decided against the monopoly; though they had recommended caution and time in abolishing it. A learned member, too, (Mr. Brougham) had brought the subject under consideration, in a bill in which he went further than the present measure; for he had proposed to allow all persons to sell beer, whether they had brewed it or no. Though he had objected to that bill, he had distinctly said, that he was not adverse to the principle of the measure, as far as it went to destroy the monopoly; but that he thought other means might be adopted to put the principle in force. He was satisfied that nothing could depend on the investigation before a committee, for the question was, whether the injury to the persons who petitioned the House should form a permanent obstacle to the opening of the trade. He objected to the committee, therefore, and called on the House to pronounce aye or no, whether a free trade should be established in this essential article of life, and he hoped, nay, he confidently believed, that the House would declare, by its vote, that the interests of the poorer class of consumers should not be set aside, because those interests happened to interfere with the profits of a long-established monopoly.

Mr. Lock hart

, as chairman of the committee to which allusion had been made, wished to say, that the chancellor of the Exchequer had stated very correctly the view which that committee had taken of the question. They recommended magistrates, whenever they saw brewers purchasing all the public-houses in a neighbourhood, and heard the people complain of being supplied with a bad article, to open free-houses, for the purpose of ensuring competition. He contended, that the poor derived benefit from the encouragement now given to private brewing, and was convinced, that the bill, so far from encouraging vice and immorality, would benefit the morals and add to the comfort of the poor, by allowing them to drink good beer in their own houses, without being obliged to mix with bad company.

Mr. T. Wilson

said, if the bill only destroyed the monopoly of the brewers, he should concur with the hon. gentleman; but he thought the case of the licensed victuallers was entitled to every consideration. If they were relieved from the heavy duties and other burthens that pressed on them, the case might be different; but the advantages they enjoyed should not be taken away, while their disadvantages remained. He anticipated, too, considerable inconvenience from the assemblage at the doors of the brewers, of the persons who would resort thither for their beer, to the great inconvenience of passengers.

Mr. F. Palmer

said, he anticipated from this measure more good to the mechanics, tradesmen, and to the mass of the people, than from any other measure that could be introduced into the House. A strong proof of the advantages of retail brewing was to be found in the fact, that barley had risen in price ever since the practice began. The great brewers of this country were a most enlightened and powerful body of men: he respected them much, but he had a duty to the public to perform. It was a fact, that the licensed victuallers and wholesale brewers would still have an advantage of 8½ per cent, over the retail brewers, whose competition they dreaded. He had been told, that it was no matter whether there were public or private brewers; as there were enough of them to produce competition. In answer to this he would state a fact. The public brewers met at the town of Wokingham periodically, from all the range of country from High Wycombe, through Maidenhead and Windsor to Guilford, to regulate how much work they should run, and at what price they should sell their beer. What, in such a state of things, became of competition? It was denied, that in genera' the brewers had monopolized the public-houses. All he could say was, that in the part of the country with which he was most acquainted, it was very rare to find a free house. He allowed, that much of the evil had arisen from the monstrous neglect of the magistracy. Where they had done their duty, there had been no complaints. The retail breweries, which this bill sanctioned, were calculated to break down the abuses of the present system. In the town of Brighton there used to be constant complaints, but, since the establishment of the retail breweries, there was no better beer in any part of the kingdom. He should give his warm support to the bill.

Mr. Whitbread

said, that, being connected with one of the great. London breweries, he should, as a matter of taste, have abstained from voting altogether; but when he considered, that a great number of his constituents were licensed victuallers, who were most unjustly treated by the bill, he should, for their sake, and not for his own, vote against the bill.

Mr. Alderman Bridges

apprehended considerable inconvenience from the retail breweries. Persons would assemble to drink their beer in the neighbourhood of these retail shops, where they might commit disorders, which were less likely to take place in the houses of publicans, as they were under the control of the magistrates. He thought the bill was fraught with evils of great magnitude.

Sir J. Sebright

wished to see a fair competition in the beer trade. If a brewer brewed a good article at a fair price, he would be sure to obtain customers. If he did not, the public should have an opportunity of going elsewhere. Such a competition did not exist at present. In many districts the publicans were obliged to buy their beer from brewers, who, as there was no competition, had no inducement to make their article of a good quality. As a country gentleman, he returned his thanks to the right hon. gentleman for introducing a measure which would put an end to the existing monopoly.

Mr. C. Calvert

said, the licensed victuallers were deeply interested in this measure, and as it was calculated to injure them, he deemed it his duty to oppose it. He did not generally oppose bills when going into a committee; but the present was a peculiar case. The right hon. gentleman had altered the title; he had altered the preamble; and now it appeared that he meant to strike out one-half of the measure. Under these circumstances, the right hon. gentleman ought to have the bill printed, so that individuals might come properly prepared for the final consideration of the measure. As it new stood, it would be the total ruin of a large body of industrious individuals.

Colonel Davies

said, that a large capital had been embarked on the faith of existing acts of parliament; and, as a numerous class of persons would be ruined by the proposed measure, he should give his vote against it.

Sir E. Knatchbull

was of opinion, that the interests of the publicans, who had petitioned the House so strongly against the measure, ought to be fairly considered. When the right hon. gentleman first brought forward the subject, he had said, that he would considerably reduce the scale of licence duties. However, according to this bill, the publican would not be benefitted by the alteration in those duties. In two years' time the additional duties, which were laid on during a period of war, would expire of themselves; while the duties imposed by this bill were of a permanent nature.

Mr. Curwen

said, that when he considered the great advantages which the public at large would derive from this measure, it was impossible for him not to support the bill. The consequence of the existing monopoly had been such a deterioration of the malt liquor, as to render it almost unfit to drink.

Mr. Monck

said, it could not be fairly contended that this measure introduced an alteration of the law, which had not been duly considered, after the valuable report of the committee which sat on this subject. That report proved that the greatest abuses existed in the beer trade. Mr. Barclay, who gave evidence before that committee declared, that for his own part, considering the subject in an extended point of view, he was perfectly willing to assist in opening the trade. He served a great number of free houses. Many of these Houses were offered to him for purchase, which he declined, because he thought he had embarked sufficient capital in the trade, and they had been bought up by other brewers. The system of buying up free-houses had been carried by brewers to an extent, which operated most injuriously to the interests of the public. Mr. Barclay, in his endeavours to open the trade, had no other wish than to serve the public with a good article at a fair and reasonable price. The brewers themselves were interested in the success of the present measure; for their own characters would rise in proportion as the quality of their beer was improved. There was this difference between the English-and Scotch petitions against this bill, that while the English uniformly prayed that the bill might not pass, because it would operate injuriously to the retail brewers, all that the Scotch petitions complained of was the scale of duties; which they contended, would be excessively oppressive to them, because the duty being laid on the barley without reference to its quality, would operate unequally on the barley cultivated in Scotland, which was of an inferior quality. There was not one word in the Scotch petitions about injury to the interests of the retail brewers; because in Scotland the trade in beer, like every other trade, was fair and open, and the Scotch magistrates, unlike the magistrates in this country, granted licenses, as a matter of course, to every one who wished to embark in the trade, on security being given for the good conduct of the House. He could not at all comprehend the arguments by which hon. gentlemen had endeavoured to shew that the bill would operate injuriously on the morals of the people. It was said, that the people would assemble to drink their beer in the corners of streets; but, could they not do so if they thought proper at present? There were a great number of eating-houses and oyster-shops in the metropolis, to which beer was brought from public-houses in the neighbourhood; and he believed these places were very beneficially and innocently conducted. That these houses, if served by retail beer-shops, instead of public-houses, should suddenly become nuisances, appeared to him a very groundless apprehension. If, however, abuses did grow up under the system, was it not competent for parliament to find a remedy? By this bill the consumer would get a good article at a fair price. This was not matter of experiment, but of positive experience. The right hon. gentleman had done himself great honour in bringing forward this measure, which had been called for year after year. He trusted he would not notice the clamour of interested individuals. Such clamours he was likely to encounter. But he was sure of receiving a reward that must be highly grateful to his honourable mind. He would be hailed by the country as the poor man's friend, and in every quarter be greeted by the poor man's blessing.

Mr. Wodehouse

thought that a great deal of prejudice had gone forth with respect to the trade in beer. He should not vote, however, for the amendment. When this subject was under consideration last year, he had stated, that a measure imposing a low rate of duty on beer would be desirable, and that to promote that object, he should have no objection to an increase of the present duty on malt. At the same time, he thought it would be a measure of great impolicy, as well as of gross injustice, when the maltsters were already liable to a duty of 3,000,000l. to raise that duty in effect to 7,000,000l. by adopting the proposition of the hon. member for Abingdon, which would subject them to the rigorous exaction of every penalty attached to the trade in malt.

Mr. Alderman Wood

denied that the public had called for the present measure. Two petitions only, from Reading and Newbury, in favour of the bill, had been laid on the table of the House. Amidst so many millions, therefore, of which the population of this country consisted, no more than 2,000 persons had come forward in its support. He admitted that this bill would enable the public to get the article cheap, but as to its being good, that was quite out of the question. The doctrine which had been preached up about free trade was all very fine. All he wished was, that the right hon. gentleman would do justice. The right hon. gentleman had abandoned his first bill for reducing the duty on malt from 37s. 6d. to 24s., which would have afforded some relief to the poor man; and he had now brought forward a measure from which no advantage whatever would be derived. A great deal had been said about the immense monopoly which existed in the beer trade. Now, it appeared from the returns, that there were 44,000 public-houses in the kingdom, of which 22,000 brewed their own beer. Here was an end at once therefore to one half of the supposed monopoly. This measure proceeded on a principle which was directly opposed to that on which Mr. Colquhoun acted. That able magistrate endeavoured to limit the number of licenses in the same neighbourhood; so that the public-houses might come under the immediate observation of the magistrates. Great evils would arise from the establishment of houses for the sale of beer, over which the magistrates could have no control, and those evils had already been experienced in Bath and Lancashire. The measure was not called for by any want of free houses, Of 700 houses supplied by Barclay and Co., the greater number were free. In the town of Leeds, there were 300 public-houses, of which only about 20 were not free. If the right hon. gentleman wished to give the public cheap beer, let him take off the duty of 37s. 6d. on malt. That was a measure which would give universal satisfaction. If he wished to give effect to the principles of free trade, let him take oft' the shackles which fettered the trade of the brewers. Let him not, while he took off the burthens from one trade, impose additional shackles on the class of tradesmen, who were now to be ruined. If the right hon. gentleman acted consistently with his own principles, why did he not allow a free importation of corn? This would be a real benefit to the poor man. If fair and honest returns had been made, the ports would have been open long ago, and corn would have been at the price to which the poor of this country were entitled to have it. Convinced, as he was, that the right hon. gentleman had abandoned the only part of his measure which was calculated to benefit the public, and that the bill in its present shape would entail ruin on a large class of honest and respectable tradesmen, he should give his vote for the amendment.

Mr. Monck

read an extract from the report, to show that the committee had stated that disgraceful practices existed in the beer trade.

Mr. C. Calvert

said, there was not a word in the evidence to bear out the assertion. There was no such practice as that of brewing two sorts of beer, one for the free houses, and the other for the brewers' houses.

Mr. Denison

thought the country indebted to the right hon. gentleman, for having introduced a measure, the object of which was to supply the public with a better commodity at a cheaper rate. At the same time, it ought not to be forgotten, that it was calculated to injure a great body of industrious individuals. A largo capital had been embarked in the beer trade, on the faith of existing acts of parliament. Why should not the vested rights of this class of tradesmen be considered? The hon. member for Abingden did not object to the measure in toto. He had merely recommended a committee which might inquire into the whole subject, and endeavour in the next session to reconcile the interests of the publicans with those of the public. He should, for these reasons, vote for the amendment.

Mr. Wells

was certain, that no London brewer would condescend to sell different sorts of beer to different classes of his customers. He was satisfied that this measure would not only be ruinous to a numerous class of tradesmen, but of no advantage to the public.

Mr. Curteis

expressed his determination to vote for the amendment.

Mr. Mansfield

said, it was his intention originally to have voted against the bill; but it had been so modified, as to remove the objections which he had to it. As it now stood, it would enable the labouring classes to drink a better commodity at a greatly reduced price.

Mr. Butterworth

observed, that great injury to public morals would arise from allowing persons to assemble for the purpose of drinking beer without the control of magistrates.

The House divided: For going into the committee 99. For the amendment 32.

The bill was then committed.