HC Deb 30 June 1831 vol 4 cc564-70
Mr. Poulett Thomson

rose to move the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the expediency of admitting the use of Molasses in the Breweries and Distilleries of the United Kingdom, subject to certain restrictions. His object was, to allow molasses so to be used when barley was above a certain price, but he wished that the matter should be fully inquired into. He was sure it would be admitted on all hands, that the distress of the West-India interests was a good ground for inquiry into the possibility of affording relief to them without inflicting injury upon any other class. The question was so much involved in difficulty and perplexity that his Majesty's Government had considered the best mode of proceeding to be the appointment of a Committee to investigate the subject, and they had endeavoured so to constitute it as to have Gentlemen on the Committee who were particularly concerned in all the different interests which the subject embraced. He believed that no objection would be made to this course, and Gentlemen would have an opportunity of stating their opinions when they should have obtained sufficient information through the Committee.

Mr. Gillon

stated his determination to watch with jealousy any measure which could have a tendency—as he feared the introduction of molasses would—to encourage the use of foreign commodities and injure the agricultural interests. He was afraid that, in particular, the distillers of Scotland, who used a large quantity of grain, would be affected by it. The landed interests must also be consulted in a measure of this nature, or the West-India interests would be benefitted at their expense, and numbers of agricultural labourers thrown out of employment.

Sir G. Clerk

complained of a measure of so much importance having been brought in at so late an hour as half-past twelve o'clock, and introduced with so little explanation, almost as a matter of course. The Government ought to have come prepared with some detailed plan of the regulations under which they proposed to admit molasses into breweries and distilleries, instead of delegating it to a Committee, who might not complete their inquiries for months. He thought that this proposition would not give any effectual relief to the West-India interests, while it would greatly prejudice the agricultural interests. He should have thought it much more expedient for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have proposed a reduction of the Malt-duty. If that was done, the West-India proprietors might participate in any beneficial arrangements that could be made; but using molasses when barley was at a certain price would tend to keep down the prices of grain. The announcement of this proposal had already created great alarm, and it would be much better to relieve the colonial interests by reducing the duty on sugar.

Mr. Keith Douglas

thought his Majesty's Government quite justified in moving for a Committee. How giving the distillers an additional commodity could do them injury, he was at a loss to imagine. The question seemed to him to be between the importation of foreign grain and the importation of our colonial produce, and he saw no objection to the proposed plan.

Mr. Frankland Lewis

said, that this question was a very important one, being no less than whether we should brew from sugar or corn—corn being the most important produce, and that about which the greatest anxiety was felt throughout the country. The Government ought to have come prepared with some measure without engaging the House in this sort of fishing inquiry. He called upon the right hon. Gentleman, or the noble Lord opposite, to state fairly their views in calling for this inquiry, as he had no doubt they had some specific plan in contemplation, for it was impossible to disguise the fact that their object was to allow of distillation from molasses or sugar in lieu of grain, the produce of this country. A Committee would keep all parties in suspense and alarm during its inquiries.

Lord Althorp

said, that he had heard with much surprise the observations of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The proposition which had been brought forward appeared to him as innocent a one as could possibly be made. The question was, not whether we should brew from sugar or corn, but whether a Committee should be appointed to consider whether it would be expedient to distil from molasses when corn should be at a certain price. His Majesty's Government had made all the inquiries they could, and they had a plan which he thought would be of some little benefit, although it might not be of much, to the West-India interest, while it would inflict no injury on any other. He was sure that, if the agricultural or other interests thought that a plan could be devised which would relieve the West-India interests, without detriment to themselves, they would not be adverse to the proposition. Nor did he think that the appointment of this Committee would excite the alarm which the right hon. Gentleman's speech had a tendency to create. No confusion could arise in the making-trade, for malting had now ceased.

Mr. Warburton

supported the motion. All that could be reasonably expected was, that a duty should be placed upon molasses equivalent to that upon malt. He was really surprised that there should be any hesitation in the appointment of a Committee on a subject in which the shipping, colonial, and commercial, interests of the country were so deeply implicated. Sugar was brought into the country and forbid to be used. All that could be fairly demanded by the agriculturists was, that they should not be subjected to any unfair duties.

Mr. Curteis

said, that that House was bound to sustain that which ought to be the paramount interest of the country, and if this measure should appear to him injurious to the agricultural interest, he should give it his humble, but decided opposition. At the same time, if it could be shown that there was any plan which would benefit the West-India interest, without injuring the agricultural interest, he was sure that the Gentlemen of the landed interest would not be so selfish as to oppose it.

Mr. Ruthven

said, the question was one which would materially affect the price of barley. In Ireland its effect would be very injurious. There was an old saying, that "Charity began at home" and would they put the sufferings of the people of Ireland in competition with the West-India interests. For the last six months riots and tumults had taken place, and famine had prevailed to a dreadful extent; there had been resistance to the laws; and the great evil was want of employment which would be increased by depriving the agricultural interests of the demand for barley, or by injuring the distillers who embarked capital to a large extent, and gave much employment to the people. The Irish distiller paid a greater duty than the Scotch, and it was a practice to send grain from Ireland to Scotland for the purpose of distillation. He should always be ready to oppose the substitution of a foreign for a domestic article in general consumption.

Mr. Robert Gordon

said, that several hon. Members had expressed commiseration for the West-India interests, but it only meant, they were to receive so much relief as not to produce the slightest change in the produce of other countries. The Committee proposed was not for the pur- pose of inquiring whether sugar should be substituted for British corn, but whether it could be to a certain point substituted for foreign grain. When the supply raised by the British farmers was not sufficient, foreign barley was admitted, but by the proposed plan, sugar would be used instead of that. The agricultural interests would therefore not suffer, nor was it unfair to encourage the British colonist in preference to the foreign grower.

Sir Robert Harty

believed the West-India interests required protection, but he hoped it would not be afforded by injuring the agricultural community, or by interfering with the distiller's arrangements, who must make those at the commencement of the year. It was not when barley advanced in price that they were particularly affected, but when they had to make their necessary arrangements for the year. That circumstance ought to be taken into consideration.

Mr. Benett

was sure it was not fair to relieve one interest at the expense of another, and this measure would distress the landed interest more than it would benefit the West-India interest. He was afraid that the present discussion would reduce the price of barley, and he could not understand how it would be possible to substitute sugar for foreign barley. Even if such a measure were carried into effect, the distillers would be obliged to alter their machinery, and it would be difficult so to change their present mode as to enable them to distil from molasses. At present they heard a great deal of the adulteration of beer by drugs of various descriptions, and he was satisfied, if molasses was introduced into distilleries, drugs would also then be used. The Committee would not answer any other purpose but to augment the distress of the agricultural interests. If any measure was brought before the House for the reduction of the duty on sugar, he should certainly vote for it.

An Hon. Member said, as it appeared that there was a disposition in the House to grant the inquiry he was anxious to remove the erroneous impression of this being an attempt to shew an undue preference to the West-Indian Planters in opposition to the British farmer. The question really was, whether the House would endeavour to relieve our own subjects without prejudicing the British grower in preference to the foreign grower of corn. The Committee would enquire, and accurately sift and examine every objection that could be urged by the different interests concerned, and if they could suggest any means of relief, it was no objection, to say it was not fully adequate to the existing distress.

Another Hon. Member said, on the introduction of this measure, he as the Representative of a large body of agriculturists had determined to give it his decided opposition, but the explanation of the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer, although perhaps he did not go far enough, induced him to alter his determination. He now understood, that the noble Lord's object was not to put molasses in competition with home produce, but merely in opposition to barley grown in foreign countries. This was said to be a difficult point, which the Committee must decide, and it would then be for the House to act as they thought best upon their decision. He would wish, however, to ask at what price the hon. Gentleman proposed to introduce molasses as a substitute for home-grown barley.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

was convinced the course he had adopted, of not entering into details, but simply stating his object, was the most correct. The details would of course be the subject for the Committee to examine and decide on, and to have adopted a different line of conduct, would have subjected the House to a debate upon the most intricate calculations without its possessing the adequate information. A delusion prevailed, that the agricultural interests would be effected by his Motion for a Committee to inquire how far the use of molasses could be advantageously admitted into the breweries and distilleries of the country. He thought these fears were unfounded. Did his hon. friend (Mr. Frankland Lewis) not know the difference between sugar and molasses; did he not know that 5,000,000 cwt. of sugar were annually imported, when on an average of five years only 340,000 cwt. of molasses had been received. Was it possible the conversion of that quantity, equal to about 120,000 quarters of barley, when this country produced upwards of 5,000,000 quarters of the same grain annually, could be of material injury to the agricultural interests. He did not blame hon. Gentlemen who particularly represented the agricultural interests for being peculiarly alive to the consequences of the measure, because they were unacquainted with the use of molasses, and could therefore have little means of knowing the real state of the case; but when his hon. friend lent his authority to the delusion, and talked as if a great portion of the sugar imported was to be applied to the purposes of distillation, he was rather surprised. The price of barley, before molasses could be used, would be such that molasses could only come into competition with foreign grain. The Committee would inquire into this price, and the Government hoped to proceed with the sanction of Gentlemen connected with the landed interests, as this Motion had been brought forward at the request of the West-Indian body in this country.

Motion agreed to, and the Committee appointed.