HC Deb 28 May 1845 vol 80 cc944-56
Mr. Stafford O'Brien

, in moving the Second Reading of the Malt Drawback Bill, said, it was not from any want of respect to the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) opposite, that he (Mr. S. O'Brien) wished the second reading of this Bill to take precedence of the adjourned debate; but because he agreed with the hon. Member for Montrose and other hon. Members, that it was desirable to have this Bill disposed of in one way or another. He had put the question off for some time at the request of hon. Members, but as the difficulty of bringing forward and carrying a measure of this kind increased as the season advanced, he must now make his statement in favour of the Bill. If, however, he had been disposed to pay every possible attention to the request of the noble Lord, still he had not been able either to conceive in his own imagination, or to ascertain from diligent inquiries among hon. Members on both sides of the House, for what purpose the noble Lord had brought forward those Resolutions, or to what practicable object they tended. But whether his Bill were good or bad, there was no doubt of its tendency being directly practical. He thought it would tend to assist greatly in the feeding of cattle, and in the improving of the meat brought into our markets. These were practical matters; and, therefore, he hoped the noble Lord would excuse him if he wished to proceed with a Bill having these two practical tendencies, before the noble Lord's debate, which might be taken conveniently at any other time. He would not refer to high authorities on agricultural subjects, in either House of Parliament, as to the great value and efficacy of malt in feeding cattle, nor to Mr. Handley, who, on one occasion, said that nothing could be more satisfactory to the grazier than to have the power of giving this description of food to cattle; but he should content himself with reading two letters on the subject from practical farmers, which would lead the House to judge of the desirableness of the results which he wished to effect by the present Bill. The first letter was from a gentleman in the county of Norfolk, who was in the habit of sending about 200 cattle annually to Smithfield market. It was as follows:—

"Castle Acre Lodge, Feb. 13,1845.

"SIR—In reply to your note of yesterday, I beg leave to say, that I consider five quarters of malt quite equal to one ton of linseed oilcake. Now, the last thirty tons of oilcakes cost me 9l. 10s. per ton, besides the carriage (fifteen miles). Last Tuesday I could have purchased at Lynn market, coarse heavy barley, such as the brewers would not buy, at 26s. per quarter. The increase of quantity in the process of malting would pay the expense. Now, a beast of 60 stone, 14lbs. to the stone, would consume 14lbs. of cake per day, besides hay and a few swedes, and, therefore, eat one ton of cake in twenty-three weeks, or one and a half peck of barleymeal per day, with the same quantity of hay and swedes. And I am convinced that a beast would get more flesh, and fat enough, with one peck of malt per day and the hay and swedes, than either of the above, and consequently be better for the consumer. The cost would stand thus:—

£ s. d.
14lb. of cake per day for 23 weeks—1 ton 9 10 0
1½ peck of barley meal per day for 23 weeks—7½ quarters at 26s. 9 13 0
1 peck of malt per day for 23 weeks—5 quarters of malt, with duty 6 10 0
5 quarters malt with duty, barley same price, 26s. per quarter 12 0 0
I beg to hand you the enclosed letter, which I received last week when in London from Mr. Blomfield, of Wootton, in this county, who is a considerable farmer, and also a maltster and brewer. I am quite certain that animals would feed much faster with malt, and the meat be of much better quality for the consumer, than that produced from oilcake.

"I am Sir,


"A. S. O'Brien, Esq., M.P."

The next letter was from Mr. Blomfield.

"South Wootton, Feb. 6, 1845.

"DEAR SIR—I received your letter of the 5th instant; in answer, I inform you that, three years since, I gave some damaged malt to some beasts, by way of experiment, to see if they would eat it in preference to oilcake, or any other kind of food. I now inform you they gave a decided preference to malt.

"I was then induced to try it upon 140 half-bred Southdown and Leicester shearlings (which had previously been fed upon cut hay and swede turnips,) by adding one pint of malt per day for six weeks; and never in the course of my experience for thirty years, have I seen anything to equal its fattening properties.

"On Tuesday last, at Lynn market, I brought 66 coombs of barley, weighing 15st. 4lbs. per coomb (net), which, if malted, would certainly not answer a brewer's purpose without the duty. I could now sell at 16s. per coomb. You are at liberty to make what use of this letter you think proper,

"I am, dear Sir, yours truly,


"To Mr. John Hudson."

These were the only letters on the subject with which he (Mr. S. O'Brien) should trouble the House. Almost all the agricultural petitions presented during this Session to the House urged this measure on the attention of the Government; and having understood from the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and the right hon. the Secretary of State for the Home Department, that there was every inclination on the part of the Government to grant a measure of this kind, he would not dismiss the hope from his mind that the Government would not content themselves on this occasion with giving a mere negative to the Bill. He hoped they would not get rid of it by saying—"If you can, without giving us the least trouble, draw up such a Bill as will secure the Revenue from diminution, we will not oppose you." He trusted they would allow the Bill to go into Committee, where its details might undergo such alteration and modification as would render it most likely to secure the object in view, without injury to the revenue. To oppose the Bill would be to turn a deaf ear to the prayers of so many agriculturists, whose petitions were presented in its favour, while to pass it would offend no theory, and attack no political principle whatever. The only objection that could be raised against the measure was the difficulty of some of its details, which might be modified in Committee. He hoped his hon. Friend would be able to say something more than that he was pledged to oppose the measure. He (Mr. S. O'Brien) hoped, at all events, his hon. Friend would be able to say that his attention had been, or, at least, would at an early period be, turned to this important subject; and that he would not allow a few difficulties in the Excise to stand between the farmers and so great a boon. Having had the charge of the Bill, he felt that he could not merely move the second reading of it, without calling the attention of the House and the Government to the many petitions in its favour, and to the opinions of practical men as to the desirableness of passing it. He implored the Government either to permit the Bill to pass the second reading, or else to say they would bring forward some other measure to effect the same object. There had been already much agitation on the subject, and any opposition on the part of the Government would give a fresh impetus to that agitation. The hon. Member concluded by moving that the Bill be now read a second time.

Mr. Cardwell

was exceedingly sorry that, on account of the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, through indisposition, the duty devolved on him of replying to the hon. Member. This was a subject to which the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had paid great attention, and regarded as of great importance; and there was every desire on his part to remit the duty on the article of malt when used by the farmer for feeding cattle, if he could do so consistently with the safety of the Revenue. He admitted that the measure was practical, and assurred the hon. Member that it had received the fullest consideration from the Government. He had on this subject several documents before him, some of which he would read to the House. But this was not all; his right hon. Friend had instituted further inquiries, which were still going on, and, from their detailed nature, would necessarily require some time; and though he could not say he looked to their result with much hope or expectation of the kind, yet if the further information thus obtained, should lead to a conclusion different from that to which all their previous inquiries had tended—his right hon. Friend would not only be ready, but gratified, to adopt it. He was obliged however to state that, so far as he was able at present to form an opinion on the subject, he was unable to yield to the wishes of his hon. Friend. In his opposition to the Bill, he did not solely rely on the supposition that the expectations entertained by the hon. Member as to the results of the measure, if carried, were over sanguine, and would not be so satisfactory as he supposed; although the inquiries he had made led him decidedly to be of that opinion: for he would admit to his hon. Friend that it was desirable the farmer should, if possible, be permitted to test it by his own experiments: and it was always an object with his right hon. Friend, to remove every objection of a collateral kind from the collection of an important impost. However little, therefore, he might be able to concur in the expectation of advantages from the passing of this measure, he would not have resisted it merely on that ground. The reasons which compelled the Chancellor of the Exchequer to resist this Bill were of a financial character, and were quite imperative. As to the impracticability of carrying the measure into effect without interfering with the Revenue, he would read an extract from a letter addressed by Dr. Lyon Playfair to the Board of Excise:— I am of opinion that, in the present state of knowledge, no applicable process is known by which malt can be rendered unfit for the purposes of distillation, and useful for feeding cattle. Further on he said— A given weight of barley is more applicable for the production of muscles and fat than the same quantity of barley when converted into malt. The hon. Gentleman was of course aware that there was permission to steep barley, but that it was not permitted to kilndry it. Dr. Playfair went on to say that— The advantage of malt as food consisted in its being easy of digestion. But there were other plans of rendering food digestible without destroying part of its nutritious qualities, as in the case of malt. I conceive that barley loses part of its nutritious qualities in passing into malt. He concluded by giving it as his opinion that Government was not warranted in endangering part of the Revenue by allowing malt to be used as food. He held in his hand a report from Professor Graham, in which the Professor stated, that he could find— No evidence that cattle fed exclusively on malt, or that malt ever formed a large proportion of the food of cattle. Indeed, the high price of malt must have precluded it from being used for such a purpose. [Mr. S. O'Brien; "Hear."] The hon. Member cheered that expression, but would he attend to the context?— But in Germany, where malt is subject to no restriction, it is not employed for the purpose, as I have been assured by Professor Liebig. He would not fatigue the House by reading many documents of this description; he would content himself with stating that experiments were now being made under the superintendence of Dr. Thomson, of Scotland, and, from the systematic manner in which they were conducted, he had no doubt but some decisive conclusion would be arrived at. He hoped, then, he had satisfied his hon. Friend that this measure had received the fullest and fairest consideration. But it was not now for the first time that the subject had been brought to the notice of Government and of the Board of Excise. He held in his hand a paper, dated April 2, 1835, under which the officers of the Excise throughout the country had acted for the last ten years. It appeared that those officers, notwithstanding their long experience and ingenuity, had not been able to devise any method by which, in their judgment, this boon, be it great as the hon. Member imagined or not, could be given to the farmers without endangering the Revenue. Having therefore exhausted every effort of his own, and having abandoned his experiment in despair, the Chancellor of the Exchequer consented to the first reading of this Bill, considering that course respectful to the hon. Member who had devoted so much attention to the subject, and anxious candidly to consider any safeguards he might offer in his Bill. The question, therefore, resolved itself into the specific provisions of the measure which he held in his hand. Now the hon. Member tendered to the Government two provisions of security. The first was to allow the maltster a license to mix an equal quantity of oats, barley, peas (crushed or whole) with unground malt, or any quantity of these with ground malt, and to sell this mixture to the occupiers of land, with a certificate of the quantity sold. The hon. Member considered that this intermixture of other grain rendered the malt unfit for the production of the ordinary liquors on which duty was levied. But this was not the case. The intermixture afforded no valid security whatever to the Excise. He was informed, on the best authority, that malt was used in the great distilleries in England only in the proportion of one-tenth, and that the other nine-tenths consisted of raw grain. Dr. Thomson said he was appointed, in 1805, to make a set of experiments on this subject, and he found that the mixture of barley with the grain afforded no security against the measure being used by brewers. On the contrary, the brewers, imitating the experiments, began to make their beer from raw grain, and were prosecuted by the Excise for so doing, and prohibited from using raw grain. No machinery could be adopted by the Excise to prevent an improper use being made of the malt, which would not be cumbrous, inquisitorial, oppressive, and expensive; in fact, it would be altogether impossible to carry out the provision of the Bill. If, then, he had disposed of his hon. Friend's first safeguard, he thought the second would afford still less security. The second safeguard of his hon. Friend, was a certificate to be given by the purchaser. Now admitting for an instant that this certificate was worth a farthing as regarded the maltster, it did not even profess to afford the slightest security for the use of the malt in the hands of the purchasers. It needed no experience to show that such a safeguard must, even when the certificate fulfilled all the functions provided for by the Bill, be wholly futile. But the Excise was not without experience of the system of certificates. There was an inferior kind of barley used for distillation in Scotland and Ireland, upon which a different rate of duty was charged, and for which those certificates were used. The Excise had the greatest difficulty in dealing with those certificates, and the strongest objections to the mode of operation under them. He was therefore compelled, with great reluctance, to say, that to every one of the hon. Member's practical reasons, he (Mr. Cardwell) had still greater practical objections. The only argument of his hon. Friend in which he could concur, was that put forward mirthfully by his hon. Friend, more suo; and in which he in sober earnestness expressed his acquiescence, that this measure if carried would go far towards repealing the malt tax. But this repeal was a conclusion at which his hon. Friend and himself were equally unprepared to arrive. He trusted, then, he had shown that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had every desire to meet his hon. Friend's wishes, so far as was consistent with the due security of the Revenue. All possible attention had been paid to the subject, every means of inquiry had been resorted to, and all the conclusions which had been arrived at tended to show that the adoption of the measure would endanger the Revenue. Experiments were still in progress; and if any more practical suggestion, or one tending to more feasible results, were made, the Government would consider it. However, they were not at present in such a situation as would justify them, either in fairness to his hon. Friend, or out of respect to the House, to consent to the second reading of the Bill.

Mr. Miles

understood from the speech of the hon. Member the Secretary for the Treasury, that although he opposed the second reading of the Bill, still the Government had not given up all idea that something of what the Bill contemplated might be effected. Under these circumstances he (Mr. Miles) would advise his hon. Friend not to press the second reading of the Bill on the present occasion. The farmers merely wished to be allowed to use, without fraud to the Revenue, their own productions, instead of foreign oilcake. However, as the Government had fairly stated that inquiries were still in progress, he thought it much better for his hon. Friend to postpone the measure to some future opportunity.

Viscount Howick

entirely concurred in the wisdom of the advice given by the hon. Member for Somersetshire. The sooner the measure was withdrawn the better; and the more completely the idea of ever bringing it forward again was given up the more satisfactory would it be to all parties. He agreed with the hon. Member that it was of great importance to feed cattle cheaper, and that the foundation of good farming was the increasing of the quantity of stock on the land; but he would tell the hon. Gentleman a simple mode of accomplishing that object, which, if agricultural Members would propose, they would encounter no opposition either from the Treasury Benches, or from that (the Opposition) side of the House. That mode was the admission, duty free, of Egyptian beans and Indian corn. This would injure no individual, but would increase our trade, and give agriculturists themselves one of the greatest boons.

Mr. Bickham Escott

said, that he told his hon. Friend that the bringing forward this question would not at all interfere with the adjourned debate, as he might raise on this Motion the same debate which had been raised on the Resolutions of the noble Lord. He should oppose the Bill, not out of regard to the Exchequer, for the interests of which he had no reason to care—but because it was one of a string of delusive measures propounded by certain Members, with a view, as they thought, of conciliating the farmers. He hoped it would be the last of the kind that would be introduced during this Session, as it was one which the farmers thoroughly and totally despised.

Mr. Curteis

was lately at a meeting of farmers, at which one of the greatest agriculturists in the county of Sussex stated that if the farmers were allowed to make malt and use it as they liked, it would make a difference of 50 per cent. to them in the fattening of their cattle. In that meeting it had also been strongly urged that if a repeal of the malt duties could not be obtained, it would be wise and expedient to get the proposed alteration made for the benefit of the farmers. Whenever anything was brought forward for the benefit of the farmers he should support it, notwithstanding the sneers of the noble Lord, or of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Escott). As the Government were making inquiries and experiments on the subject, he agreed with the hon. Member for Somersetshire that it would be better to postpone the measure.

Mr. Hume

thought the explanation of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Treasury quite satisfactory, and agreed with the noble Lord (Lord Howick) that nothing could be more for the benefit of the landed interest than the introduction, duty free, of Indian corn, which might be had in any quantity. This would enable farmers to fatten cattle at little expense, and at the same time furnished the best means of manuring their land.

Sir R. Peel

said: I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire will not adopt the course suggested to him by the hon. Member for Sussex, to postpone this Bill to a future period. I think that such a course would be calculated to raise expectations which it would not be right to excite without any prospect of their being realized. I understood my hon. Friend to say that he wished to press the Motion on the ground that it was desirable to come to some decision on this question; for that at present a great derangement existed in the trade in malt, produced by the expectation that some modification would be made in the existing law; and my hon. Friend said that it would be better that we should have a decision for or against the second reading, in order that all doubts on the subject of this law, and with respect to the trade in malt, should be at once put an end to. On this account, I hope that my hon. Friend will consent either to withdraw his Bill, or that he will not be satisfied to have it met with a negative, because any expectation that the Government might alter their views on this subject must prove utterly fallacious. My hon. Friend says that the returns from Scotland are not so satisfactory as they might be; but I think that the statement of facts and experiments read by my hon. Friend (Mr. Cardwell) are conclusive on the subject. Without undervaluing the opinions of those to whom the hon Member for Somerset referred, I must say that there could not, in a case of this kind, be any higher authority than Dr. Playfair—who has turned his particular attention to the best mode of fattening animals, independent of his high authority on chemical subjects. He not only doubts the advantage of using malt as a means of fattening cattle, but even if it were, there would be the greatest difficulty in preventing frauds on the Revenue. Upon the whole, I do not think it probable that any returns from Scotland will be likely to enable the Government to come to a different conclusion on this subject. I assure my hon. Friend that, from respect for him, as well as the motives that actuate him, the Government have paid the best attention to this subject; but, upon the whole, they have come to the conclusion that it would not be advisable to consent to the proposition of my hon. Friend; and as it is not probable that any further information may induce the Government to alter their opinion, I think it would be best that the House should now come to a positive conclusion on the subject.

Lord J. Russell

said: If the House comes to any division on the subject, I shall feel obliged to vote against this Bill. During the existence of the late Administration, the Duke of Buckingham wished very much for a Bill of this kind; and asked me to apply to the Excise authorities to ascertain whether a Bill of this kind could be carried into effect without occasioning fraud upon the Revenue. The Excise authorities made a report tome upon the subject; and that report confirmed me in the opinion that it was the duty of the Government to oppose any measure of this kind. Under these circumstances, I shall feel it my duty to oppose the present Bill. The hon. Member who moved this Bill said not only that he thought the measure to be one of great importance, but he thought it necessary to make an attack upon the measures I proposed the other night. I think that the hon. Member went out of his way to make that attack. The hon. Member said that the Resolutions which I proposed had no practical object; but the right hon. Gentleman who followed me said that one effect of those Resolutions, if carried, would be to cause the retirement of the Government. [Sir.[J. Graham: I did not say so. I said that it would be a censure on the Government if the Resolutions were carried.] The right hon. Gentleman says that it would be a censure. Well, then, if the Government chose to continue in office under the censure of that House, it would be one remarkable effect produced by those Resolutions. Another effect which the carrying of those Resolutions would produce, would be an immediate alteration of the Corn Laws. Now, I think that a censure on the Government and an alteration of the Corn Laws, would be as practical results, and as important, as the alteration of the duty on malt.

Mr. Buck

said, he had come down to the House prepared to support this Bill. It was a measure about which his constituents felt considerable anxiety. However, under the circumstances, he thought that his hon. Friend would be justified in withdrawing the Bill.

Lord Worsley

hoped that his hon. Friend would not press the Bill, now that the opinion of Professor Playfair had been quoted against the use of malt, as a means of fattening cattle. However, he had been informed of an instance in which this mode of fattening cattle had been tried with the best success. He thought that his hon. Friend ought not to press the question to a division. His hon. Friend deserved credit for having brought the subject forward; and he hoped that his hon. Friend would consider the propriety, at some future period, of bringing forward a Motion for the total repeal of the malt tax.

Mr. S. O'Brien

said, that the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had alluded to him. Now what the noble Lord considered to be an attack was meant as an apology. He felt it due to the noble Lord's station in that House, as well as to the respect which he (Mr. O'Brien) entertained for the House, to say that if he thought the noble Lord's Resolutions had a practical tendency he would feel bound to give way at once, but that he thought that no practical inconvenience would arise from allowing his Bill to interfere. Now, he believed that the noble Lord would not have alluded to the few observations which had fallen from him if he did not feel that what he (Mr. S. O'Brien) said in the House, many thought the same outside of the House. The noble Lord had alluded to an Administration remaining in office under censure; but they had seen an Administration so extremely tenacious of office, that he was surprised that an opinion of that kind should have been expressed by the noble Lord. With respect to the state of the law, he wished it to be generally known that, in the present state of the law, a farmer might do every thing but kiln-dry his malt—he might steep and sprout it—do every thing but pass it through the kiln. He wished this to be understood, unless the contrary should be stated by some Member of the Government. He had been assisted by his hon. Friends the Members for Berkshire and Sussex in drawing up this Bill. He admitted the present great difficulty with respect to the details, but no difficulty with respect to the object in view. His hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe had quoted the opinions of two professors against his (Mr. S. O'Brien's) views. He wished his hon. Friend success in his political career; but he thought that if the Government consulted professors less, and farmers more, they would give more satisfaction to that House and to the country at large. He begged to withdraw his Motion.

Motion withdrawn.