HC Deb 10 May 1849 vol 105 cc195-207

Papers relating to the use and sale of Chicory as a substitute for or mixed with Coffee [presented 27th March] read.


rose to move the resolution of which he had given notice. He said he was bound to inform the House that this Motion, if carried, would amount to a vote of censure upon the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as well as upon some of his predecessors in office. Certain Acts of Parliament had been passed, for the double purpose of protecting the revenue and encouraging the trade of the colonics. Another purpose of these Acts was to prevent fraud, individuals mixing certain deleterious ingredients with tea and coffee, and particularly the adulteration of coffee with chicory. The 3rd George IV., c. 53, recited that it was expedient to allow the manufacture and sale of scorched and roasted vegetable substances by persons not being dealers in coffee and cocoa; then it enacted that persons not being dealers in coffee might roast and sell such substances; and there was a clause in it which forbad the Excise from granting any license for that purpose to any dealer in coffee or cocoa. The object was, not to deprive the poor of the right to manufacture those substances for themselves if they chose; but to prevent parties making money at the expense of the public by selling cheap substances roasted and ground under the name and at the selling price of coffee. The prohibitions in this Act were enforced by penalties to be levied by the Excise. The right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer was bound to cause this Act to be respected, and to set an example, in his own official person, of respecting it himself. The object of the present Motion was to compel the right hon. Baronet to do that which, in answer to a question from himself (Mr. Anstey) two months ago, he deliberately refused to do—that was to say, to cause the officers of the Government who acted under his directions to perform the duties required from them by this Act. The right hon. Baronet having said he was not prepared to take that step, he had felt it his duty to move for certain papers in March last. The first part of the returns ordered was— Copies of Treasury Minutes allowing the use and sale of chicory as a substitute for or mixed with coffee, and of all memorials on this subject now before the Treasury. Whether all the Treasury Minutes upon the subject were in the returns, he had no means of ascertaining; but that all the memorials were not included, he had the most certain means of knowing. Only one memorial was given, namely, that from Mr. James Cook, of Mincing-lane, dated the 22nd January last; but at the time the returns were ordered there were two others before the Treasury upon the subject: one from merchants and others in the city of London, dealers in and importers of coffee; and the other from the East India and China Association. Both these memorials were received by the right hon. Baronet on the 22nd February last, and he acknowledged the receipt of them the day following. He found a Treasury Minute, dated 10th April, 1832, during the Grey Administration, founded upon a report of the Commissioners of Excise, dated 2nd April, 1832, on a memorial of Messrs. Kenway and Sons, praying that an information exhibited against them for mixing chicory powder with coffee might not be proceeded with. They admitted the fact of such adulteration, and the Commissioners were of opinion that the information ought to have been proceeded with. The penalty under the 3rd Geo. IV., c. 53, for this offence was 50l., which the Government was hound to see levied; but before stating the decision of the Lords of the Treasury upon this memorial and report, he would inform the House that in the preceding year, 1831, some of the most respectable tea-dealers in London and elsewhere prevailed upon the Executive to prosecute certain parties who were selling what was called British leaf—an article that might be put off as tea, but really grown on the hedges near London. On that occasion one single conviction was sufficient. The penalty was levied, and the practice put an end to. But in 1832, when the question was to prevent coffee-dealers from adulterating coffee, the Commissioners of Excise, contrary to their own convictions, were told by the Lords of the Treasury, that "as my Lords contemplate an alteration in the law with respect to the sale of chicory powder, my Lords do not consider it expedient that this information should be proceeded with." Passing over eight consecutive years, he came to the last Treasury Minute, which was dated the 4th August, 1840. The Board of Excise, it appeared, were still anxious to enforce the law, notwithstanding the connivance of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer at this practice of adulteration. Certain parties in Liverpool had had proceedings instituted against them for mixing chicory with their coffee, which they prayed might he ended, and the laws altered which prevented the mixture of these articles by dealers in coffee. "My Lords" then communicated to the Board of Excise the final decision of the Whig Cabinet, as follows:— Write to the Commissioners of Excise, that my Lords consider that the law was altered with the view of admitting the admixture of chicory with coffee. My Lords, therefore, do not consider that any measures should be enforced to prevent the sale of coffee mixed with chicory, and are of opinion that the prosecutions in question should be dropped. My Lords do not consider such admixture will be a fraud on the revenue, so long as the chicory pays the proper duty; and as between the seller and consumer, my Lords desire that Government should interfere as little as possible. By whom had the law been altered? And when? The right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer said himself it remained unaltered; but the Lords of the Treasury in 1840 informed the Excise that they considered it had been altered. There could be no question that the law was still in force; and the only question was, whether it should be obeyed. The chicory used in the adulteration of coffee paid no duty. Foreign chicory, which had only a nominal place in the Customs list, did indeed pay the same duty as foreign coffee; but it could not compete with that grown in this country or in Ireland, where growth and sale were perfectly legal. The Lords of the Treasury "did not consider such admixture a fraud upon the revenue, so long as the chicory paid the proper duty." They thereby displayed most egregious ignorance, for the chicory so mixed displaced in the market an equal amount of coffee, which, whether foreign or colonial, contributed to the revenue. The revenue was thus directly defrauded by the substitution of duty-free chicory for colonial or foreign coffee. The Lords of the Treasury said, that Government was not hound to protect the consumer. "My Lords" said it was not their duty. The Legislature said it was. "My Lords," however, appeared on this occasion to have emitted most extraordinary views of law, finance, and public morality, upon which he would leave the House to decide whether they were right. Certain it was that from that time nothing more had been heard of prosecutions for adulterating coffee with chicory. The result of these proceedings was, as the House must have expected, a depreciation in the price of coffee, occasioned not by the state of the coffee market, but by the state of the chicory market, and a loss of revenue, which was admitted by the right hon. Baronet himself, inasmuch as he meant to do something next year towards supplying it. The loss to the revenue, supposing every pound of chicory consumed displaced a pound of coffee, would amount to 600,000l. annually; but if every pound of chicory used displaced only half a pound of coffee, the permanent annual loss would be 300,000l. It appeared from the returns, that although the quantity of coffee entered at the Customhouse exceeded in 1848 by 40 per cent the quantity entered in any one year subsequent to the reduction of the duty upon foreign and colonial, there had been a decline in that year of five-eighths of a million pounds weight in the total quantity entered for consumption in this country, though there had been a reduction in the price, consequent upon the reduced duty. Now, who had received the benefit of the reduction? Not the coffee grower, either in our own colonies or in foreign countries, but the chicory grower at home. The House would more fully understand the extent of the depreciation, by comparing the quantities of coffee entered for home consumption in the five ports of London, Bristol, Liverpool, Hull, and Glasgow, from the 1st of January to the 24th March, in the years 1848 and 1849, and by comparing similar returns during the same periods of the quantities of sugar so entered. As to coffee, the entries for home consumption had been in that period as follows:—

In 1848 7,424,390 lbs
1849 7,084,350
Being a decrease in two months of 340,040 lbs.

As to sugar during the same period, the entries for home consumption had been—

In 1848 1,227,447 cwts.
1849 1,296,777

Being an increase in two months of 69,330 cwts.

The results with respect to cocoa were similar; the increase during the same period having been 79,678 lbs. The decrease in the consumption of coffee could not, however, be attributed to an increased consumption of tea, for he found that it had increased only 7,352 lbs. As little could it be attributed to the amount of coffee imported during 1848, being less than in former years, for he found that the import of colonial coffee was 28,833,279 lbs. in 1844, whilst it had increased to 38,221,012 lbs. in 1848; and of foreign coffee, it was 17,689,909 lbs. in 1844, and 18,840,490 lbs. in 1848. The quantity of coffee brought into the market in 1848 was greater than in any former year, and the price less; yet the consumption had declined. The decline, indeed, so far from ceasing, appeared to become greater, as would be seen from the following comparative statement of the amounts entered for home consumption in the five ports already named, down to the 21st of April, in the years 1848 and 1849:—

In 1848 it was 9,721,618 lbs.
In 1849 it was 9,224,879
Showing a decrease of 496,739 lbs.

or in round numbers of 221 tons below the depreciated amount of last year. There must be some reason for this state of things; and he attributed it to the neglect of the right hon. Baronet in not enforcing the law prohibiting the adulteration of coffee by mixing it with chicory, he did not pretend to know what view Parliament would take of the dispensing or suspending power which was exercised by the Lords of the Treasury over the operation of the law; but he thought there should be some check upon it. The law, indeed, had been virtually repealed by the mode in which the Lords of the Treasury had addressed themselves to the Excise. It was monstrous that such a power should have existed unchecked so long; but he believed the knowledge which had been communicated of it would hereafter have a great effect in the country. The right hon. Baronet meant to enforce the law against parties who adulterated tea with British leaf, and so he would if any person grew tobacco in Ireland. Why should he make a distinction between those who adulterated tea, and those who adulterated coffee? Every pound of this deteriorated mixture of chicory and coffee was sold at the price which unadulterated coffee would bring, and the injustice of this system would appear the more striking when he informed the House that coffee cost 9d. or 10d. a pound to the wholesale dealer, whereas chicory was supplied at as low as 2d. per pound. This cheap ingredient was, however, retailed to the poor and ignorant at the highest price which coffee could fetch in the market. The consequence was, that the unfair dealer was benefited and enriched at the cost of the honest trader. So far had this practice extended, that they were now beginning to deteriorate the chicory itself by mixing with it burnt bread, burnt and mouldy biscuits, burnt and ground rags, and burnt and ground rope yarn. The proportion in which chicory was used in the adulteration of coffee was stated by Mr. M'Culloch, in the supplement to his Commercial Dictionary, just published, at 12,000,000 of pounds to 36,000,000 or 37,000,000 of pounds of coffee. He believed, however, that the proportion was much greater, and that fully 14,000,000 of pounds of chicory were made use of for this purpose throughout England and Ireland. The Ceylon coffee being peculiarly delicate, was not capable of being deteriorated to the same extent as other coffee, and the consequence was, that the demand for it had decreased, and that the market had been considerably injured. [The hon. and learned Gentleman read several extracts from traders' circulars in support of his view.] In addition to the great losses which the revenue had sustained from this cause in former years, there was an additional loss in the revenue derived from the duty on coffee last year of from 40,000l. to 46,000l. He did not want the right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bestow on this question all the labour that his predecessor in office, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, had devoted to the subject of the deterioration of tobacco; but what he wanted him to do was, to compel traders to confine themselves to the sale of only one of these articles, and to limit them to a license either for the sale of chicory or of coffee alone. Unfortunately the coffee grower was not a foreigner, or the free-trade principles of the right hon. Baronet might induce him to interfere in his behalf. The coffee growers were colonists, and the Colonial Office afforded no protection to those whose interests were supposed to he confided to it. The most obvious course for the right hon. Baronet to pursue would be, to ascertain whether any new legislation was necessary on this question, and whether the existing law, which had been enforced down to 1832, was sufficient to meet the case. If the right hon. Gentleman did not do this, there were only three other courses open to him: first, to prohibit the growth of chicory in this country altogether; secondly, he might take off the duty of 4d. a pound, which now operated to discourage the sale of British plantation and colonial coffee; and, thirdly, he might impose an excise duty on British-grown chicory, equivalent to the amount of the customs duty on coffee. He understood that the right hon. Baronet had some intention of resorting—though not in this year—to the last-named alternative, which would impose an annoying restriction on British agriculture. Having thus briefly pointed out some of the results both to the mother country and to the colonies, of the system now in force, and which had been acted upon by successive free-trade Governments, he thought that he had shown enough to justify him in asking the House to declare, in the words of his resolution, that it viewed with serious concern and disapprobation the growing increase of this evil.

Motion made, and Question put— That this House views with serious concern and disapprobation the great and growing increase of the consumption of the plant Chicory in the adulteration of Coffee, contrary to Act of Parliament; such increase having been, in the opinion of this House, chiefly owing to the orders given by the Administration to the Officers of Excise not to enforce the said Act: That the direct results of such orders have been the fraudulent sale of ground Chicory, under the name and at the current prices of ground Coffee; a corresponding depreciation of the value and decrease in the consumption of Coffee; increased depression and distress in Ceylon and other Coffee-growing Colonies; a permanent loss of revenue to the actual amount of some hundreds of thousands of pounds annually, and which loss in the last year was augmented by the addition of about forty thousands pounds more; the prejudice of the fair dealer; discontent and disaffection in the Colonies; and the encouragement of the evil-disposed both at home and abroad to disobey Laws which must appear to them to depend upon the arbitrary pleasure of Administration for sanction and enforcement.


seconded the Motion, and said he thought there had been two points raised by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Youghal, which were worthy the attention of the House: the first was, whether a great loss had not occurred to the revenue in consequence of the issue of the Treasury Minute to which he referred, and by which coffee was allowed to be adulterated by chicory; and, secondly, by what right the Chancellor of the Exchequer could issue a Treasury Minute dispensing with an Act of Parliament. It was quite clear, from the statement of his hon. and learned Friend, and from the consumption of chicory known to exist, that a great loss must have occurred to the revenue; and the fact which was mentioned by his hon. Friend respecting tobacco was a clear illustration of that point. His right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge, when he came into office, found that the right hon. Baronet who was now First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir F. Baring) had, during his administration, allowed the adulteration of tobacco to a considerable extent. It was adulterated with the leaf of the rhubarb plant; and he determined to investigate the subject. It was a difficult matter, but he succeeded, and the result was that a law was passed by which the system of adulteration was prevented, and a great evil cured. Under these circumstances, he (Mr. Baillie) considered that the subject was well worthy the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and he trusted that upon a full view of the subject he would be induced to enforce the law as it now stood, not to prevent the consumption of chicory, but to prevent the sale of chicory by dealers in coffee.


said, that if the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Youghal would look to the Act 3 George IV., cap. 53, he would find that a discretionary power was given to the Treasury as to enforcing its provisions or not; and that the offence it contemplated was not one against which a public informer could proceed. He entirely concurred in the doctrine laid down in one of the Treasury Minutes, that it was the duty of the Government to interfere as little as possible between the buyer and the seller. At the time the Act was passed no such thing as home-grown chicory existed, though it was extensively cultivated on the Continent, where it was used, mixed with, or as a substitute for, coffee; and he understood that the use of it to a certain extent was beneficial both to the consumer and to the colonial producer, as it promoted the use of coffee. A moderate duty was then proposed to be imposed on foreign-grown chicory, when mixed with coffee, but it was found impossible to carry out such a law without establishing a most expensive and inquisitorial survey. It would have been doing what was exceedingly vexatious and annoying, with very little chance of achieving the object intended. It was not to be supposed that this question had not already engaged the attention of the Government. He could assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Treasury had inquired as to the possibility of distinguishing chicory from coffee when mixed, and it was found to be almost an impossibility. No test could be depended upon. He had seen it tried by a solution in water, and by means of a microscope, but it was obvious that no Government would think of adopting the Quixotic experiment of sending a chemist into every coffee-seller's shop with a view to enforce the law recommended by the hon. and learned Gentleman. At all events, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was not prepared to engage in such a mode of preventing frauds against the revenue. Lord Althorp, Lord Monteagle, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, and his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, had all, while severally filling the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, declined to re-establish an inquisitorial survey of the premises of all the coffee-dealers in England. It was said that within the last three or four months the consumption of coffee had fallen off; but, if that were so, he was not convinced that it was in consequence of the alteration made by the Treasury Minute. How did Mr. Cook account for it? In his memorial to the Lords of the Treasury he stated that the average proportion of chicory in what was sold in the London shops for coffee was estimated at one-third; and, in the manufacturing towns, it was said to be fully one-half. What further portion of pure chicory was elsewhere added to this mixture it was impossible to say; but Mr. Cook said it was a fact that those descriptions of coffee which would bear the greatest admixture of chicory, such as Costa Rica and Java, enjoyed on that account a marked preference in the market, greatly to the detriment of the more delicately flavoured Ceylon coffee. It might be supposed from this that the colonial coffee would be injured, and foreign coffee benefited; but what was the fact? The consumption of Ceylon coffee had increased more than any other description of coffee. In 1844 the consumption was 14,000,000lb., and in 1848 it was 30,000,000lb. He did not think that by the introduction of chicory into consumption an equal quantity of coffee had been displaced, nor did he believe that if the use of chicory were forbidden, its place would be supplied by an equal quantity of coffee. His opinion was, that the use of chicory cheapened the price, and ministered to the comforts of the poorer classes of the people. As to the loss of revenue, he did not consider that the diminution of the quantity of coffee consumed in consequence of the alteration which had been made, would materially affect the amount of duty received. The diminished consumption within the last three months was 600,000lb. or 2,400,000lb. for the year; which he did not think was a very great amount where the annual consumption was 37,000,000lb. Nevertheless this fact afforded some ground for supposing that the consumption of chicory did interfere in some degree with the consumption of coffee; and, as it was his duty to protect the revenue, it might be necessary hereafter to propose a small tax upon home-grown chicory. It would be a very serious matter to introduce an excise regulation in the cultivation of chicory. He should be most unwilling to do so, and nothing but a case of strong necessity would justify him in taking such a course. But he wished all parties interested to be warned that if the conviction should be forced upon him that it was his duty to make any such proposition, they must not be led into error by his declining to say more on that subject now. With regard to the present Motion, he would simply repeat that a stronger case must be made out before he should feel himself justified in interfering with the comforts of the lower orders of this country to the extent which that Motion invited him to do.


had some doubts as to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statements as to the increase in the consumption of Ceylon coffee.


said that he would read the gross returns of coffee imported from Ceylon during the last five yers. In the year 1844 there were imported 14,000,000lbs.; in 1845, 16,000,000 lbs.; in 1846, 17,000,000lbs.; in 1847, 27,000,000lbs.; and in 1848, 30,000,000lbs. In the last three months there had been, as he had already stated, a falling-off to the amount of 600,000lbs.


said, that the last few words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer sounded to him rather ominous. The right hon. Gentleman thought it proper to warn the growers of chicory, and to put them on their guard that it might become necessary for him to impose upon them an excise duty next year. Chicory was an existing crop. He (Sir J. Tyrell) knew a farmer in his neighbourhood who had grown from twelve to fifteen acres of it, upon which he had realised in the London market 15l. an acre. To such men the right hon. Gentleman's warning was indeed an ominous one. It was said that the chicory mixed with coffee amounted to one-third part, but there was good reason to believe that it was more likely to be one-half. Taking into account the quantity of coffee consumed, it could be easily seen how very large and important an article of consumption chicory had become. So that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer shook his head and let fall ominous words about new excise duties, it really became a question of free trade; and it seemed very hard that if English agriculturists could obtain 15l. an acre by the growth of any article, they should be immediately stopped after all they had suffered. It behoved them to keep a sharp look out—to have a man constantly at the mast-head to see what was intended.


said, that it seemed to be a case of freedom of agriculture. But the object of the present Motion was not to prevent either the growth or the consumption of chicory, but merely to arrive at the point at which chicory should be used as chicory, and not imposed upon the buyer as coffee—a point which could be arrived at simply by enforcing the law as it stood. The Motion sought to press upon the Government the execution of a law which that House had passed; and if, upon the show of any reason or expediency, the Government could defend its suspension of a law, he could not see why they (the Members of the House of Commons) should sit in that place, or pass laws at all. The Motion had been treated as if it had originated solely with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Youghal; but such was not the case. It was founded upon representations and a petition, which had been presented to the House, signed by thirty firms engaged in the coffee trade. He denied that the Act of 1822, either in its construction or enactment, gave facility to the Treasury to depart from its letter. On the contrary, it left them without any option in its enforcement. The 4th Clause of the 3rd George IV., c. 53, provided that any person selling chicory or such material should take out a license, which was not to be granted to dealers in coffee. The Board of Excise was ordered to enforce the law, and he denied that it was left to the Treasury to dispense with it.


said, that during his connexion with the Board of Trade, this question had been often brought before it, and he should say that he thought it would be perfectly impossible to prevent the adulteration of ground coffee, or of anything in a pulverized state. To attempt such a thing would require great and intricate machinery, and it could never be effectually prevented after all. But as to the imposition of a new excise duty, he would rather see the present duty taken off hops, than another excise duty established. To meet the falling-off in the importation of coffee and the increased consumption of chicory, he would recommend the reduction of the duty on foreign-grown coffee, so as to cheapen it to an extent that would hold out no inducement for adulteration. He believed the Chancellor of the Exchequer was quite right in asserting that the admixture of chicory improved the cheaper and inferior coffees, and that it was only the high-priced and high-flavoured foreign coffees that were injured by the adulteration.


said, that the growth of chicory was a most important matter to the agriculturists; and he strongly recommended freedom being given to its production and sale.


said, that his proposal was simply that the duty on colonial coffee should be taken off—that colonial coffee should be placed upon precisely the same footing as English chicory. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the contrary, proposed to raise English chicory to the position of colonial coffee. His (Mr. Anstey's) proposal was that the existing law should be enforced, and by that law the English agriculturist might grow, and the English dealer might sell, chicory, subject merely to the proviso that dealers in coffee should not be dealers in chicory also. The consumer might then determine for himself what proportions he would mix for use.


said, that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer intended to impose an excise duty upon chicory, a large quantity of which was grown for the purpose of feeding sheep, it would be a direct contravention of free-trade principles, and a gross injustice to the agriculturists, who were suffering already from the effects of free trade in another direction.


said, that although the question had not properly been raised in that debate, he might be permitted to say that he never had said that he thought it possible or expedient to impose a duty upon chicory grown for the use of sheep. He merely alluded to chicory when roasted for the purpose of being mixed with coffee.

The House divided:—Ayes 11; Noes 62: Majority 51.

List of the AYES.
Blackstone, W. S. Stuart, Lord D.
Boldero, H. G. Tyrell, Sir J. T.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Urquhart, D.
Burrell, Sir C. M. Wodehouse, E.
Cochrane, A. D. R. W. B. TELLERS.
Miles, P. W. S. Anstey, T. C.
Mailings, J. R. Baillie, H.
List of the NOES.
Abdy, T. N. Hindley, C.
Aglionby, H. A. Jackson, W.
Barnard, E. G. Langston, J. H.
Bennet, P. M'Gregor, J.
Blake, M. J. Milner, W. M. E.
Brackley, Visct. Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.
Brown, W. O'Connell, J.
Charteris, hon. F. O'Connor, F.
Clay, J. Osborne, R.
Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G. Packe, C. W.
Cobden, R. Palmerston, Visct.
Compton, H. C. Parker, J.
Drummond, H. Pigott, F.
Duncan, G. Pinney, W.
Duncombe, hon. O. Plowden, W. H. C.
Dunne, F. P. Portal, M.
Ellis, J. Pugh, D.
Evans, J. Robinson, G. R.
Ewart, W. Shafto, R. D.
Forster, M. Smith, J. B.
Fox, W. J. Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W.
French, F. Stanton, W. H.
Gibson, rt. hon. T. M. Thicknesse, R. A.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Thompson, Col.
Granger, T. C. Thornely, T.
Hallyburton, Ld. J. F. G. Walmsley, Sir J.
Harris, R. Walter, J.
Hawes, B. Willyams, H.
Henry, A. Wilson, J.
Heyworth, L. Wilson, M.
Wood, rt. hon. Sir C. Wortley, rt. hon. J. S.
Hill, Lord M. Tufnell, H.