HC Deb 19 March 1849 vol 103 cc956-62

rose to refer to the question which he had last week addressed to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the use of chicory instead of coffee by the poorer classes, in consequence of their inability to purchase coffee. Under an Act of Parliament passed in the reign of George III., licensed tea and coffee dealers were not permitted to sell chicory. He wished to ask the right hon. Baronet whether it was true, as was alleged in the memorial now before the Treasury, that in 1844 the Melbourne Administration took upon themselves, by Treasury order, to suspend the provisions of that Act, giving instructions to excise officers not to regard its 501. penalty, but to permit grocers and tea dealers to sell chicory equally with coffee; and whether this had not been made a subject of complaint on the part of respectable wholesale dealers, and particularly on the part of colonial coffee growers, on the ground that ever since the suspension took effect there had been a decline in the consumption of coffee imported from the colonies; and whether, in particular, although according to the returns the quantity of coffee from Ceylon last year exceeded by 50 per cent any previous year, the return did not show that there was a considerable decrease in the consumption of Ceylon coffee at home; whether the chicory used in the adulteration of the coffee did not now form a proportion of one-third of the quantity of coffee annually sold and consumed; and whether it was the intention of Government to cause the law to be obeyed by their excise officers in future; or whether it was their intention to propose to Parliament any measure for imposing a duty on chicory in the same proportion as coffee? He wished further to ask whether Ceylon had not lost upwards of 300,000l. in consequence of the order, and whether the coffee from Ceylon as returned in October last, was not unsaleable as coffee, and had not been absolutely sold at chicory prices; and whether the right hon. Baronet knew any reason why the Act of Parliament which had been suspended for the purpose of letting in chicory in the place of colonial coffee had not been suspended for the purpose of letting in the British sloe-leaf instead of China tea?


said, there was an old Act, the 43rd of George III., prohibiting the sale, by persons selling coffee, of any article used in its adulteration. About 1832, for the first time, the Treasury did not consider it wise to prohibit the sale of the article, provided it was not mixed with the coffee. In 1833, 1834, and 1835, duties were imposed upon foreign chicory until they were equivalent to the then existing duty upon colonial coffee; and having done that, the Treasury considered it unnecessary to enforce the Act against the sale of chicory and coffee by the same persons. This was very different from the case of tea, which, when adulterated, was a notoriously deleterious mixture. That was not the case with chicory; on the contrary, there were very good reasons to suppose that the mixture of chicory with coffee improved the coffee itself. [Laughter, and "No, no! "] Gentlemen might laugh, but it was nevertheless perfectly true. He had been informed, very recently, by one of the largest and most respectable firms in London, one with whom probably many Members of that House dealt, that having been in the habit of selling a mixture consisting of 20 per cent of chicory, and certain parties who dealt with them wishing, for the sake of avoiding adulteration, to have the coffee berry to roast and grind for themselves, they tried this for some little time, but found that they could not make from the coffee berry a mixture half so palatable as that which was sold to them in the prepared state, and which consisted of 20 per cent of chicory. He had received the same accounts from other parts of the country; and had no doubt of the correctness of the opinion formerly expressed by an hon. Friend of his when Chancellor of the Exchequer, that a due admixture of a certain quantity of chicory improved the coffee, and tended to promote its use, especially amongst the labouring classes. To a certain extent, he did not think it was prejudicial, either to the consumer, or to the importer of coffee. It was quite true that, since that time, a considerable change had taken place in the production of chicory, which was formerly imported from abroad, paying a duty, but was now grown to a considerable extent in this country; and that of which the hon. Gentleman complained was not the importation of the foreign chicory, but the use of the homegrown article. He had received complaints, principally from the growers and importers of Ceylon coffee, of the great fall in the value of their produce, owing to the use of chicory. They complained that the consumption of coffee had not increased, that they got a very low price for it, and they also expressed great commiseration for him (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) at the loss of duty which had arisen from that circumstance. He did not believe the use of chicory had had much to do with the reduction of duty; the reason of this was that there had been a much larger importation of colonial coffee at a low duty, and a falling-off in the importation of foreign coffee at a higher duty. The remedy for that would evidently be—what the Ceylon growers would not like—an equalisation of the duties on colonial and foreign coffee. But it was remarkable the extent to which this had taken place. In the last four years, the quantity of colonial coffee introduced for home consumption had increased from twenty to thirty millions of pounds, foreign coffee had fallen from thirteen to a little under seven millions of pounds, or nearly one half, while the colonial coffee had increased about 50 per cent. It was obvious, therefore, that this being a substitution of coffee at a low duty for that at a high duty, would effectually account for the falling-off to which the hon. Gentleman had referred. It was also an answer to a statement which had been put forward in a memorial addressed to the Treasury on the subject, namely, that great encouragement was afforded by the mixture of chicory to those foreign coffees which better admitted of the mixture than Ceylon coffee; because, while the consumption of foreign coffee had fallen off to a considerable extent, that of Ceylon coffee had increased in a most extraordinary amount. If he might refer to that celebrated year, 1835, the quantity of Ceylon coffee introduced in that year was 1,800,000 lbs.; whilst last year there had been imported no less than 30,000,000 lbs. He was much inclined to attribute, in a small degree, the fall of the price to the extraordinary quantity which had been introduced, and also to the introduction of a very inferior description of coffee, grown by the natives of the island, and not well prepared. At the same time he must admit that, with the low prices that had prevailed of coffee and chicory last year, the consumption ought to have increased; instead of which it had diminished. The consumption of tea had increased, while that of coffee had diminished. This he could only account for on the supposition that, to a certain extent, chicory had been substituted for coffee, and that some of the revenue which the Exchequer ought to have received, had been diverted to the dealers in chicory, who had been selling it at a coffee price. It was not easy to ascertain the extent to which that had been done; but he should not think himself justified in stopping the mixture of coffee and chicory altogether, which he believed most beneficial to the consumer. On the other hand, he should be most unwilling to adopt that course with regard to chicory which had been adopted with regard to beet-root sugar grown in this country—that of subjecting it to the excise duty. That was evidently the course which was most calculated to do justice to all concerned; and if this decrease continued in another year, that course might be necessary. To adopt such a course at the present time would be unjust, as parties had entered into arrangements for the cultivation of chicory, without any apprehension of a duty being imposed upon it. All he wished to say was, that the whole subject was under the consideration of those parties—the officers of excise—who bad the best means of obtaining information on the matter; and if it should be necessary to adopt this course in future years, he wished the parties engaged in the growth of chicory to take this as a warning, that they might not say they were wholly unprepared for the imposition of any duty.


said, that the most important part of his inquiry had not been answered by the right hon. Gentleman. He had omitted to answer this question—did not the returns for the year 1848 disclose the fact, that in the consumption of coffee there was a deficiency of about 260,000 lbs. weight, while the same returns showed that the quantity of coffee imported from Ceylon had increased to the amount of 12,000,000 lbs. weight; and whether the revenue derived from coffee in 1848 was not less by 45,000l., or thereabouts, than it was the year before; and whether the quantity of chicory annually consumed in this country under the name of coffee did not stand in the proportion of 12,000,000 lbs. to 38,000,000 lbs. of coffee? He had also asked the right hon. Gentleman whether it was his intention to cause the law to be obeyed by his subordinate officers, and particularly the excise officers, without waiting for the passing of a new Act of Parliament? He wished also to know if the right hon. Gentleman had any reasonable objection to lay any correspondence on the subject on the table?


admitted that the quantity of coffee consumed in 1848 was less than in the previous year; and that the duty was about 35,000l less than it was in that year; but, as he had said before, the amount of coffee imported from the colonies had increased, while the amount of coffee imported from foreign parts had decreased, and that might account for the loss of duty. He was not prepared to enforce the Statute of 43rd George III., without further inquiry.