HC Deb 21 March 1833 vol 16 cc907-18
Sir William Ingilby

resumed. It had been decided, as he understood by the noble Lord on the Treasury Bench that he was to goon with his Motion; and hecertainly felt, from its importance, that he was fully justified in calling the attention of the House to the subject. He believed, in the course of the observations which he should feel it his duty to make, that he should be able to establish such a case in favour of his Motion as would induce the noble Lord to give way to his generous feelings in be half of the agricultural classes, and to remit at once the whole of that odious and detestable tax, the Malt-duty. The first notice which he found of this tax occurred in the reign of William 3rd, when it was imposed, and from which period might be dated the commencement of those evils under which the agricultural interest was labouring, from the extreme hardship and oppression inflicted on it by the malt and other similar taxes. It afterwards went on progressively increasing in the reigns of George 2nd and George 3rd, and when they came to the memorable period of the French war—of that war which this country had carried on against the liberties of France—this tax upon the beverage of Englishmen was increased till it amounted to 5s. a bushel, or 2l. a quarter. Then it was that all the powers of the Excise were put in motion; then the whole race of runners" arose, and then it was, that the excisemen became entitled by law to make those frequent visits during the process of converting barley into malt of which the maltster so justly complained. Barley, he believed, was now at a low price in Norfolk—he understood that it was about 20s. a-quarter there; but that very barley before it could be made into malt and brewed into beer, that very quarter of barley would cost upwards of 3l. His own county was a large barley county. It produced, he believed, about 500,000 quarters. Barley paid with them, in the process of malting, twice as much as the value of the produce when it was taken from the land. This, therefore, was a most ruinous tax, and he hoped that Government would give it their consideration, and consent to remit it. Without going into any more figures, the correctness of which might be disputed, he should take another view of this tax; and looking at it in a moral point of view, he was prepared to assert, that if there was anything calculated to brutalise the country, it was the tax upon malt. He could easily show how it did this. The farmer who had labourers in his house formerly gave them beer with their meals, and they took the beer with the farmer's servants and boys in his house. The farmer brewed good wholesome beer, when he gave it in this way to the labourers and servants. Now he was not able to do so any longer, on account of the great expense; and what was the consequence? The farmer's servants, labourers, and the boys, were driven from his house to spend their time in those abominable places which had received the name of the Tom and Jerry shops. He wished to know whether the company they met there was a good substitute for what they had at the farmer's table, or whether the stuff they now drank was equal in character to the old national Sir John Barleycorn. He believed, that most of the beer shops were places of refuge for the thief and the vagabond, and Ministers could not have devised a better Bill to brutalise the people than that called the "Beer Bill." He should leave out of the question altogether the matter of the Hop-duty, for the Gentlemen who came from the hop counties wanted to make that a question of itself, and they would set themselves to work upon that, but he did trust that Ministers, when they granted the re-peal of the Malt-duty, would give in the hops as a matter of course, for without good and cheap hops, they could not brew good and cheap beer. He was sure that almost all the depredations committed of late, with much of the incendiarism, which was altogether a modern evil, might be traced to the Tom and Jerry shops. Fifty years ago every labourer was able to brew his barrel of beer; but he should like to know an instance where the peasantry did so now. No; they were too much depressed; they were too hardly ground down by the enormous burthens they had to sustain; and they, unable to get comfort at home or their mug of beer with their food, were driven to seek its substitute at the shops, where they were excited to acts of incendiarism. His hon. friend, the member for Kent, had had, he feared, some experience of what agricultural distress was within the last few years; and he called upon him, confidently, to support his present Motion by voting for the abolition of the Malt-tax. Propositions were constantly coming to the noble Lord on the Treasury Bench for the repeal of taxes which pressed upon the people unduly; and what tax could be more justly taken off than that on Malt, or what tax would afford more universal relief, if repealed, than that? He hoped, therefore, to find the support within those walls which people out of doors had expressed their desire he should have from their Representatives; and he hoped, also, that the hon. Baronet, the member for Kent, would, notwithstanding the slight misunderstanding which had occurred between them, also give him his vote. The hon. Baronet then sat down.

The Speaker

called upon him to read his Motion.

Sir William Ingilby

I move that the Malt-tax be repealed.

The Speaker

Will the hon. Member be pleased to state specifically in what terms his Motion is before the House?

Sir William Ingilby

I move for leave to bring in a Bill to repeal the whole of the duties on Malt.

Major Beauclerk

seconded the Motion. He did so, because, as the Motion was now before the House, he thought it deserved their favourable consideration; though he must confess, that, with a view to its full discussion, he could have wished the hon. Baronet had postponed it to another time. He thought that the repeal of this tax would give the greatest relief to the poorer classes of the country. He hoped most sincerely that the Ministers would agree to the Motion. He was convinced that unless they took off a tax of this sort, little relief would be afforded to the people, and they should come to the end of the Session without doing what was expected from them. He thought the House ought to decide on taking off the tax, and leave the Ministers to make a reduction of expenditure so as to meet its loss. He trusted, that the many Gentlemen whom he saw around him interested in agriculture, would support him on this occasion, convinced, as he was sure they were, that the public establishments were too large. If they did this, they would be benefiting the country at large, at the same time that they were supporting the credit of the country. It was impossible they could doubt that this tax was one which pressed heavily upon the lower classes, who thought they saw themselves more burthened than those who were richer than they were, and among them there was thusinduced a spirit hostile to property itself. That opinion he was sure was gaining ground among them, and to meet it and prevent its bad effects, the House ought to take off those taxes which seemed to bear on them more than on other classes. This Malt-duty was a tax of that kind. Formerly it was the custom of the poorer classes to stay at home, instead of going to public houses; but now, in consequence of the increased price of malt, the people were compelled to take their beer from the great brewers, and were no longer able to brew it for themselves at home. All taxes were cruel and unjust that pressed as this did, more on one part of the King's subjects than on another. This did so in a peculiar manner. There were some lands that would only grow barley—they would not grow wheat at all, and, of course, those lands paid a duty on their produce higher than was paid on the produce of wheat lands. Had he known, that the hon. Baronet would insist upon bringing on his Motion this evening, he should have brought down some letters that would have shown most clearly this inequality, and its effect. Certainly, he thought the hon. Baronet should not have brought forward the Motion till after the Budget; but as the hon. Baronet had done so, he felt bound to vote for it. He must, in conclusion, again recommend the House to take off those taxes which pressed most heavily on the poor; for he was convinced, that unless they did so, the feeling of discontent, to which he had before alluded, would be increased, and the property of the rich would be invaded.

Lord Althorp

said, that the point on which the hon. and gallant Officer had just touched, in the conclusion of his speech, was the point which he would press upon the hon. Baronet as the reason for not acceding to his present Motion. The hon. and gallant Officer had declared, that, in his opinion, this Motion ought not to have been brought forward until after the Budget; and in that declaration he (Lord Althorp) fully concurred. When he had been pressed by hon. Members upon the repeal of other taxes, he had made the same statement which he should make now, that, as in a short time, he should have an opportunity of stating the view which he took of the finances of the country, the sum total of the estimates of the year, and the amount of revenue which it was probable would be received, it would be proper to defer till that time the consideration of the taxes which it would be most expedient to repeal. He hoped that the hon. Baronet would not think him guilty of any discourtesy, which he could assure the hon. Baronet he had no intention of displaying towards him, if he said that the present was not a fit moment to moot the repeal of the duties upon malt. The amount of those duties in the last year was 4,800,000l. That was a large sum for the House to deal with, and he thought that they would not do well if they came to either a hasty or an immediate decision upon it. By withdrawing his Motion now, the hon. Baronet would have an opportunity of bringing it forward on another occasion. Before the general statement of the finances of the country was laid before the House, he would not ask the House to meet the Motion with a decided negative; he had even some difficulty in moving the previous question upon it and the House would easily see why. He hoped that the hon. member for Birmingham would not be offended when he said, that, pressed as the hon. Member had been by Gentlemen on both sides of the House, he ought to have acceded to their united wishes, and to have postponed his Motion to a future day. He was surprised that the hon. Member had not himself seen, that it would be no less disadvantageous to his own Motion to let it come on in the midst of the discussion on the Irish Bill, than it would be to the Irish Bill to interrupt the discussion of it for his Motion. For reasons which it was immaterial to explain further, he would not move the previous question. He would not call upon the House to give a decision, "Ay or No," whether the Malt-tax should be repealed or not for that was a point, which, in his opinion, ought to be reserved for future consideration. His Motion would be similar in fact, but not in terms, to the previous question, and would bring under the consideration of the House what should be their future course of proceeding. He should move, that all the words after the word that," be left out, and these words be inserted in their stead, that the Order of the Day be now read for the House resolving itself into a Committee of the whole House upon the Irish Disturbances Bill."

Mr. Baring

said, that the House must admire the ingenuity with which the noble Lord had endeavoured to get rid of the present Motion, and to bring the Government business under the consideration of the House. He (Mr. Baring) thought it desirable that the Irish Bill should be got through with as little delay as possible but still he could not help thinking that the hon. member for Birmingham had not been treated by the noble Lord with that courtesy which was due to every Gentleman who brought forward an interesting and important motion. He was of opinion, that no good would be effected by appointing a Committee to inquire into the causes of the general distress existing among the industrious classes hut he thought that much good might be derived from the discussion which must take place upon the Motion. There was a general idea prevailing throughout the country, that that distress arose from the present state of the currency, and the discussion was likely to generate sounder notions upon that point than those which existed at present. In speaking of the repeal of the Malt-tax—a tax which produced a revenue of 4,800,000l.—it was impossible not to see that the House could not dispose of so large a sum without looking to the whole financial condition of the country. Anxious as Gentlemen might be to gratify the wishes of their constituents, they must not look at the Malt-tax simply by itself, but must view it in its hearing on the general revenue of the country. They might as well look at the assessed taxes by themselves as at the Malt-tax by itself; and he knew that there were some Gentlemen who did take that insulated view of the different taxes against which their constituents protested. What he had always feared would come to pass under the altered system of our representation had now actually taken place. The metropolitan districts being near neighbours to the noble Lord, and reckoning among their Representatives some of the noble Lord's colleagues, entered into his antechamber in strong bodies of delegates and Representatives, and with an influence which was hard to resist, and which was scarcely just to the rural districts. The noble Lord should recollect, that there were other districts besides the metropolitan; and he (Mr. Baring) could assure him, that if deputations to the Treasury were now to be the fashion, his constituents from Essex could easily fill Downing Street with those carts on which the measures of the noble Lord and his colleagues had recently imposed a heavy and an unexpected tax. Reverting, however, to the Malt-tax, he must say that it appeared to him to be the general feeling of the country, that an unfortunate distinction had been drawn by the House between the Malt-duties and the Beer-duties. The former had not been reduced at all; the latter had been entirely abolished. He thought, that if the subject were re-considered, a better arrangement of the duties on both beer and malt might be made without much difficulty. He thought that a Committee composed of Gentlemen usually living in the country, and well acquainted with its internal condition, might make a useful report on the various points to which the hon. Baronet had alluded in his opening speech, and might thus enable the House to deal in a proper manner with this important question whenever the noble Lord should come forward with his view of the finances. If this Motion were to be considered merely as a motion for the repeal of 4,800,000l. of taxes, he for one could not vote for it. He should, however, gladly vote for the appointment of a Committee to examine, whether any, and what reduction could be made in the Malt-duties; and he thought that the hon. Baronet would have done better in bringing forward that Motion than he had done in bringing forward a motion for their total repeal.

Mr. Hume

had not the slightest notion that his hon. friend, the member for Lincolnshire, would have brought forward his Motion to-night, or he would have brought down with him to the House a statement of facts and figures, which would have proved beyond contradiction that the duties on malt ought to be greatly reduced, if, indeed, they were not totally abolished. In considering how they should best change the present system of taxation, he hoped that the House would consult the interests of the consumer as well as those of the producers of corn. He wished that his hon. friend, the member for Lincolnshire, would withdraw his Motion for the present, and give them a more favourable opportunity of discussing this question; for in that case, he should be able to prove beyond all dispute that the repeal of this tax was not a question of revenue, He was not inclined any more than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to part with 4,000,000l. of revenue, unless sufficient evidence were adduced for it; but in the present case he was inclined to think that a reduction of duty would not lead to any reduction of revenue; and he would tell the House why. In the year 1785, the duty on malt was only 10s. 6d. a-quarter; the population then was 8,000,000, and the quantity of malt consumed was 3,400,000 quarters. In proportion as the duty had been raised since that time the consumption of malt had been kept down, so that in 1830 there was only an additional consumption of 200,000 quarters, although the population in the interval had increased from 8,000,000 to 14,000,000. Had there been the same proportion of malt used by the population of 1830 as was used by the population of 1785, there would have been upwards of 6,000,000 quarters, instead of less than 4,000,000 quarters, used in the year 1830. What he should propose upon this subject would be, that the duty upon malt should be reduced from 20s. 8d. a-quarter, its present amount, to 16s. 6d. a-quarter, its amount in 1802, when an addition was made to it, and made to it expressly as a war tax. If such an alteration were made in the amount of duty, he thought that the consumption would speedily rise up to 6,000,000 quarters, and if that should be the case, we should have nearly 4,000,000l. of revenue from this tax, at the same time that we had a greater consumption of malt. We should, therefore, give at once, relief to the agriculturists who grew the barley, and comfort to the consumer who used it when converted into malt. The subject which the hon. Baronet had brought forward, was a subject into which the House ought to enter most undoubtedly, but not perhaps at the present moment. He wished that they had got rid of the infamous Irish Bill, not only on its own account, but on account of the general business of the country; for nothing could contribute more to the public interests than to revise our present system of taxation. He was desirous of reducing the duty upon malt, because it would improve the morals of the people, by putting a stop to the quantity of ardent spirits which they consumed, and which had increased amazingly since the increase in these duties. He implored his hon. friend not to put the House to the inconvenience of dividing upon this question, when the House had not discussed it, and was not prepared to discuss it properly. He intreated his hon. friend to withdraw his Motion, and not to take the sense of the House upon a question into the details of which almost every Member present was unable to enter.

Mr. Warburton

said, that, although friendly to the principle of the hon. Baronet's Motion, he would vote with the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) upon the present occasion. If the discussion of the question was brought on then, it would not meet with that full and fair treatment at the hands of the House, that so important a subject merited. Moreover, when the question came really to be fully argued, he would not vote with the hon. Baronet, unless, when a reduction was made in the Malt-duties, a reduction was also made in the duties on foreign barley. He said this, because if only a reduction of the Malt-duty was made, the grower alone would reap the benefit of it, whilst the consumer would gain no advantage. In a Committee to inquire into the matter, a member of which he was, it appeared, from the evidence they examined, that a large portion of the reduced duty would go exclusively to the barley grower. It was his opinion, that not only a large portion, but the whole of the duty taken off, would be for the benefit of the barley grower, unless the reduction was at the same time accompanied by a reduction of the duty on foreign corn. For this reason, he hoped that the hon. Baronet would consent to defer his Motion, in order that so momentous a subject might meet with the discussion it deserved.

Sir Edward Knatchbull

would only say a few words, and those would be principally to try and obtain from the hon. Baronet an assurance that he would not press his Motion at the present time. Though he was anxious himself to have the matter discussed—and he was sure, so was the noble Lord opposite—Still he thought, that the question was so important, both to the agriculturist and the consumer; and, in fact, to the whole community, that it ought not to be pressed unseasonably, when hon. Members were not entirely prepared to enter upon the discussion of it. He therefore entreated the hon. Baronet not to persevere in pressing his Motion.

Sir William Ingilby

said, that there was no one Member of that House more anxious than he was not to give proofs of obstinate perseverance; nor was there any one that should more regret intruding contrary to the desire of hon. Members. All the House had to do was, to declare whether his persevering in the present Motion was intruding upon them or not.

Mr. Attwood

thought, that the noble Lord, though he had shown great ingenuity in his mode of proceeding that evening, had not treated the House with the respect to which it was entitled from a Minister of the Crown in meeting this Motion with an Amendment proposing that another Order of the Day be then read. The repeal of the Malt-tax was an important question; but the noble Lord exhorted the House to pass it over as an insignificant question. He repeated his assertion. The noble Lord had said to them, "I will not call upon you, either to reject or to affirm this Motion, but I'll move the previous question, or if not the previous question, something very like it, and you must get rid of this Motion, which I do not like, that I may introduce another which I do like." And what was the noble Lord's reason for this mode of proceeding? Not so much to get rid of this Motion as of another, which was still more unpleasing to him—namely, the Motion of the hon. member for Birmingham for a Committee to inquire into the distress of the country. He would recommend not only the hon. member for Lincolnshire, but also the hon. member for Birmingham, to withdraw their Motions for the present; for it was quite clear, that with the influence which the noble Lord could employ against them, neither of them was likely to meet with a fair and candid and profitable discussion. Both their Motions had met with a reception from the noble Lord less respectful to the House than any which he recollected to have taken place from any Minister during the many years he had occupied a seat in that assembly.

Lord Althorp

was sure the House would bear with him whilst he said a few words in reply to the unprovoked and unjustifiable attack which had just been made upon him. He would appeal to the judgment of the House, he would not appeal to the judgment of the hon. Gentleman, and would leave the House to say whether, in the observations he had addressed to it, he had treated it with the slightest disrespect.

The Marquess of Chandos

said, that no question could be more worthy of the consideration of the House than that which the hon. member for Lincolnshire had submitted to it. There was no landholder, there was no Gentleman either living in the country or acquainted with its condition, who was ignorant of the deep distress under which the fanner was at present suffering. The hon. Baronet had done well in bringing his Motion under the consideration of the House, and his Motion would have met with the greatest attention, had not Ministers met it in a way which he considered not very becoming in them. The necessity of reducing the Malt-tax could not be too strongly impressed upon the Government especially at this time, when the other classes of the community were petitioning for a reduction of taxation, and were likely, if the report of a late meeting in Downing-street were correct, to obtain the repeal of the assessed taxes. If that report were true, he would put in his claim for some reduction of taxation that would benefit the farmers. They did not object to a reduction of taxation which relieved their fellow-countrymen, but they said, as they had a right to say: "Give us also that reduction in the Malt-tax, which on so many accounts we have a right to claim." If the hon. Baronet pressed his Motion to a division, he should willingly give him all the support in his power, in hopes of getting rid of a tax which pressed at once severely and unequally upon the agricultural interest.

Mr. Robert Palmer

said, that representing as he did a great agricultural community, he must be permitted to trespass upon the attention of the House whilst he remarked, that in his opinion no question relative to the reduction of taxation could be of greater importance than that which the hon. Baronet had introduced that evening. He thought, however, that it would have been much better for the success of that question had the hon. Baronet refused to bring it forward in the present temper of the House. He was afraid, that its having been brought forward now would prejudice it upon some future occasion. For this reason he concurred with the hon. member for Kent in saying, that the hon. Baronet, in withdrawing his Motion for the present, would be consulting the advantage of the agricultural interest.

Sir William Ingilby

said, that under existing circumstances he felt, that he could not do better than accede to the suggestion of his agricultural friends. He would therefore withdraw his Motion for the present, with the full understanding, however, that if the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did not hold out some hopes in his budget of reducing the Malt-duties, he should be at liberty to bring it forward again.

Lord Althorp

said, that in opposing the bringing forward of the question at the present moment, nothing was further from his mind than a desire to run counter to the general wish of the House. He opposed the Motion solely because he thought a fitter opportunity would present itself for the discussion of it, as well as for the consideration of the Motion of the hon. member for Birmingham.

Amendment agreed to.

Lord Althorp moved, that the House resolve itself into a Committee on the Suppression of Disturbances (Ireland) Bill.