HC Deb 29 July 1851 vol 118 cc1716-22

begged to move the Resolution of which he had given notice, that the Excise Duty on Hops was impolitic and unjust, and ought to be repealed. He brought forward this Motion, which he considered one of great importance, in compliance with the request of a large majority of his constituents. He had already brought forward a Motion on the subject, which was rejected; and the hon. Member for West Kent. (Mr. T. L. Hodges) had submitted a Motion to the House for the general reduction of the Excise Duty; but as the amount of the Hop Duty was not by any means large, the most practical course to pursue, and the course which his constituents desired to urge upon the House of Commons, was to take off the entire amount of that duty. For the last three years the average had been about 320,000l.; the whole amount recovered in 1848 being 380,007l.; in 1849, 145,693l.; and in 1850, when there was a large crop, 424,702l.; the average therefore for these three years was 319,467l. It ought to he considered that the pressure of this tax was only felt in particular localities. Thus, for instance, the farmers in the eastern division of the county of Sussex paid considerably more than 100,000l. in 1848, when the whole amount of the duty did not amount to 300,000l. They complained of being called upon to pay a tax to that heavy amount. The operation of the tax was serious in the extreme. By it thousands of acres were thrown out of cultivation, and in some places it was not possible to get tenants on any terms whatever. He was authorised to say, that if the Excise Duty were wholly repealed, there would be no opposition made on the part of his constituents to the repeal of the customs duty, because in that case the hop growers believed they would be put in a more favourable position than they were at the present time. The amount of protection was not in their opinion sufficient to enable them to support the enormous war tax that they were called upon to pay. He held in his hand a return of the exports and imports of hops since the year 1845, and he found that there had been, on the whole, a larger amount of exports as compared with the imports. The following were the figures for three years:—

Exports. Imports.
1846 448,497 228,800
1847 447,061 245,280
1848 357,029 560,000
In the last year the crop in England was a failure, and yet a larger quantity was exported to meet the demand, which, it must be remembered however, was always limited. There was a very large export of British hops to Belgium and Germany—countries in which hops were grown. There were hops exported to Antwerp, Hamburgh, Rotterdam, and St. Petersburgh. In fact, if the excise duty on hops were taken off, the British farmers did not believe they had much to fear from foreign competition. In considering this subject, it was to be remembered that in some years, owing to the peculiar nature of the crop, there was no crop at all in consequence of a blight, and in other years the produce was very abundant. The tax was a war tax—imposed in a time of high prices, and it had been maintained notwithstanding the change in the currency. He implored, then, of the House to consider the injustice of continuing this tax—a tax of which it had been said by the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) that he did not believe there was even in Turkey any tax similar to the hop tax. With these few observations, he begged to submit his Motion to the House.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That the Excise Duty on Hops is impolitic and unjust, and ought to be repealed at an early period.


said, he was acquainted with the state of feeling upon this subject throughout all the most important hopgrowing districts of the country, and he believed that although there were many various opinions with respect to the proposition involved in the Motion of the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Frewen), there would be no great diversity of opinion on the subject of the Amendment which he (Mr. Hodges) should have the honour to submit to the House. He believed that it was the proposal which would best meet the justice of the case, and which would afford the largest amount of satisfaction. If the original Motion succeeded, it could only be on the condition of the total repeal of the duty on foreign hops; and he believed there was not unanimity by any means even among the hon. Member's constituents upon that subject. The planters in Kent were by no means prepared to consent to the repeal of the duty on foreign hops; he (Mr. Hodges) believed very few of them would advocate it. From the year when the Hop Tax had been first imposed to the present time, there had been periodic visitations of the most dreadful distress in all the hopgrowing districts; and there prevailed at present, both in Kent and East Sussex, an amount of distress which was most alarming. These periodic seasons of severe depression brought great calamity in their train, and it was time for the Legislature to think of applying some remedial measure. He was aware that it was too late to expect relief this Session, but he hoped that some effort to remedy the evils of the present system would at least be made in the course of next year; and let the fate of the Motion which he now submitted be what it might, it was his determination to take the earliest opportunity of drawing the attention of Parliament to the question next Session. It was easy to say that the plantation might be reduced; but it must be remembered that the crop was very precarious, and the plantation must be large to secure a suffi- cient supply. He hoped, whoever might be in office next year, would take the subject into their serious consideration, and endeavour to put an end to the complaints of this interest.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'on any reduction of Excise Duty on Hops taking place, it is expedient to reduce the Excise Duty on British Hops, and the Customs Duty on Foreign Hops, by one penny per pound weight each, together with the 5 per cent additional Duty thereon granted by the Act 3 Vic, c. 17;' instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


would support with his vote the proposal for reducing this duty. It appeared to him there were three classes whose interests were concerned in this question—the labourers who were employed in the cultivation of hops, the consumers, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The actual cost of labour in the cultivation of this article was from 10l. to 13l. per acre, or about ten times as much as was expended for labour in the cultivation of ordinary agricultural produce, whilst a duty of 5l. per acre went to the Government in the shape of duty. He suspected that for the last ten years the hopgrowers would have been extremely happy to have gone halves with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was, however, chiefly as the duty affected the labourers engaged in the cultivation of hops that he advocated its reduction.


was sorry to be obliged to bear testimony to the truth of the statements that had been made with respect to the prevalence of severe distress amongst the hopgrowers of East Sussex. The crop of last year had been disposed of, and might be said to have been absorbed to pay the duties of 1848 and 1849. This year there was every probability of a blight occurring, and it was impossible to conceive from what source the growers were to pay the duty, which would become due in November next. He found that the greater part of the hopgrowers in East Sussex would be ruined. Of the Motion and Amendment before the House, he preferred the former, having been always favourable to the total repeal of the Hop Duty. He trusted that the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer would hold out some hope of relief being granted to this sadly depressed interest, if not in this Session, at all events in the next.


said, he was opposed both to the Motion and to the Amendment. This being the fourth time, in the course of the present Session, that this question of the Hop Duties had been brought forward, he therefore did not think that he was under any obligation to enter into a minute discussion of the merits of the case. He had hoped that the present Session would have been permitted to expire without another effort to provoke a discussion upon a subject which had been so frequently deliberated. It must be evident, even to the Members who had brought the question again under notice, that it would be wholly out of the question to expect that at this period of the Session, when all the financial arrangements of the year had been already completed, the Government should undertake to introduce any alterations on the subject of the Hop Duties. What the circumstances of the country might be during the next Session, it was impossible to predict. He could not say what measures it might be found expedient to introduce with respect to taxation, and he certainly could not be so rash as to incur the responsibility of undertaking to pursue any particular course on the subject of the Hop Duties.


said, he must protest against the mode uniformly pursued by Her Majesty's Government to got rid of all questions which, like the one under discussion, were of importance to the agricultural interests, and involved the great principle of the burdens on land. On the last occasion that the question of the burdens on land was brought before that House, the majority in favour of Government was so small that the Government was shaken to its foundation; but he thought that from that period, aided, no doubt, in a great measure by the imbecility of the party behind him, they had treated the question more cavalierly than ever. The House had heard nothing of the remedial measures that had been shadowed forth in the Speech from the Throne, nor in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he brought forward his famous budget. True, something had been said by the right hon. Gentleman, at the beginning of the Session, about seeds and lunatics; but no sooner was any great question, such as hops or malt, mentioned, than up started the right hon. Gentleman with an appeal to the House on the ground of convenience, and with the plea that the maintenance of public credit depended on the continuance of that particular tax. He protested against this constant reference to the doctrine of convenience whenever the House was called upon to deal with a special case of grievance affecting the agricultural interest.


would vote for the repeal of the hop duty, and the House might rely upon it that if the Excise Duty on Hops were abolished, the protecting duty on the foreign article would not, with a free-trade Parliament, long remain on the Statute-book. If anything were wanting to show the impolicy and injustice of the tax, it would be supplied by the speeches of that evening, for the hon. Members for East Sussex and West Kent were opposed to each other on the question. And why? Because the tax operated unequally, and as a protection in one county, and not in the other. In East Sussex hops would sell for 3l. 10s. per cwt., whereas in the neighbourhood of Maidstone they would sell for 6l. or 8l.; and as the same duty was paid in both counties, it was obvious that East Sussex suffered an injustice. The inequality was, in fact, so great, that it was enough to condemn the tax. He abhorred the very name of it, because" of its absurd and bungling contrivances. Every year excisemen had to be sent through eight or ten counties to assess it; and, in short, it was so bungling as to be quite unworthy of England in the present day. Then it was extremely uncertain in its amount. It might bring in 50,000l. or it might bring in 400,000l. a year. No one could reckon upon it exactly. It not only deranged the Chancellor of the Exchequer's calculations, but every hanker in the neighbourhood of the hop districts was utterly at a loss to know what amount of wages would be required, and consequently suffered from these fluctuations. On the ground, therefore, of its uncertainty and unproductiveness, he would oppose it. He could not see why it should be maintained. He hoped it would be dealt with on an early day. Whether the hon. Mover divided the House or not, he (Mr. Cobden) went with him heartily in desiring to witness its abolition.


was of opinion that the reduction of the duty on malt would afford far more efficient relief to the agricultural interest in Sussex and Kent.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said, in reply, he did not ask the House to repeal the tax this year or next; he merely wished to stamp it as unjust and impolitic, and to suggest that it be repealed at the earliest possible period.

Main Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 30; Noes 59: Majority 29.

List of the AYES.
Adderley, C. B. Lushington, C.
Alcock, T. Mullings, J. R.
Anstey, T. C. Pechell, Sir G. B.
Barrow, W. H. Salwey, Col.
Bass, M. T. Seymour, H. D.
Bremridge, R. Stanford, J. F.
Bright, J. Thompson, G.
Child, S. Tyrell, Sir J. T.
Cobden, R. Verner, Sir W.
Curteis, H. M. Walmsley, Sir J.
Dick, Q. Williams, T. P.
Fox, W. J. Williams, H.
Goold, W. Young, G. F.
Hallewell, E. G.
Hollond, R. TELLERS.
Johnstone, J Frewen, C. H.
Knox, Col. Fuller, A. E.
List of the NOES.
Armstrong, R. B. Grosvenor, Earl
Bagshaw, J. Hanmer, Sir J.
Baines, rt. hon. M. T. Hawes, B.
Baring, rt. hon. Sir F.T. Heald, J.
Bell, J. Heywood, J.
Bellew, R. M. Hindley, C.
Berkeley, Adm. Hodges, T. L.
Birch, Sir T. B. Hudson, G.
Boyle, hon. Col. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Brotherton, J. Labouchere, rt. hon. H.
Bunbury, E. H. Langston, J. H.
Cholmeley, Sir M. M'Gregor, J.
Clay, J. Matheson, Col.
Cockburn, Sir A. J. E. Mitchell, T. A.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Morris, D.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Parker, J.
Craig, Sir W. G. Pusey, P.
Denison, E. Reid, Col.
Denison, J. E. Richards, R.
Duncan, G. Sandars, G.
Dundas, rt. hon. Sir D. Seymour, Lord J.
Egerton, W. T. Stuart, Lord J.
Ellis, J. Stuart, H.
Elliot, hon. J. E. Thompson, Col.
Evans, J. Thornely, T.
Evelyn, W. J. Wilson, J.
Ewart, W. Wood, Sir W. P.
Forster, M. TELLERS.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Hayter, W. G.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Lewis, G. C.