§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. FREWEN
, in moving the Second Reading of the Hops Bill, said, he was quite aware, and had anticipated from the first, that strong opposition would be raised in the county of Kent to the passing of this measure. But he must say that the conduct of the Kent planters was not altogether consistent, inasmuch as they had over and over again been to the right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer to urge upon him the, reduction of the excise duty upon hops; but the moment a Bill was brought in which proposed to reduce the duty, at once they opposed it, because it made an alteration in an Act of Parliament the effect of which was to give them almost a monopoly of the hop market. He ought in fairness to tell the House that yesterday he received a communication from a committee of hop-planters, who met at Staplehurst, a very central place in Kent, on Monday last, urging upon him not to proceed with this Bill; and in looking carefully over the names of the gentlemen who attended that meeting, he found that of the thirteen planters present, only three were from Sussex—one of these was certainly a very large planter; another was not so large; and the third was a very small planter. The answer which he (Mr. Frewen) returned to those gentlemen was, that, as he had been entrusted with various petitions from Sussex, signed by some of the largest and most influential landowners in that county, and also most numerously and respectably signed by hop-planters, praying that the Bill might pass into a law, it was his intention certainly to proceed with it. He 189 did not intend to enter into any discussion of the excise duty on hops upon the present occasion, because that was a question which would have to be considered hereafter; but, at the same time, he felt that he ought to allude to it to a certain extent. The original excise duty upon hops was imposed in the early part of the last century; and at the period of the war, in the early part of the present century, it was increased to double its former amount, in order to assist in meeting the exigencies of the war; and up to this day it had never been modified. It was the only tax, he believed, which had not been either repealed or modified since the close of the war in 1815, and the only tax which was levied upon an article grown out of doors. And seeing that the legislation of the last few years had had serious and injurious effects upon the hop-planters, he thought it was no more than justice now to grant them some relief. He held in his hand a return moved for by his hon. Friend the Member for West Kent, and laid upon the table of the House only a few days ago, of the number of acres of hops under cultivation for several years past, and of the amount of duty paid thereon. And he wished to draw the attention of the House to this return, because it showed to what extent the pressure upon the hopgrower had reduced the cultivation of hops. By that return he found that the total number of acres under cultivation in the kingdom, in the year 1837, was 56,322; and that last year it was reduced to 43,125, or by more than 13,000. Now, this reduction had taken place chiefly in Sussex and Herefordshire; in the latter county the acreage of hop cultivation being reduced from 10,603 in 1837 to 5,125 in 1850, and in Sussex from 12,068 in 1837 to 9,718 in 1850. In Lincolnshire the amount had been reduced from 607 in 1837 to 260 in 1850; in Essex, from 325 in 1837 to 161 in 1850. In Wiltshire (about Salisbury) from 1,222 in 1837 to 5 in 1850; and in Worcestershire, from 1,888 to 1,031. These large reductions were, he thought, owing entirely to the legislative measures passed within the last few years. For instance, by the altered tariff of 1842 the duty was entirely removed from quassia, the immediate effect of which measure was to encourage the country brewers to substitute quassia for hops in the manufacture of their beer; and by the tariff of 1846 the protective duty upon foreign hops was reduced to the extent of nearly one-fourth of the previous 190 amount, namely, from 8l. 11s. to 2l. 5s. Foreign hops now paid quite a nominal duty; in point of fact, the duty was no protection at all on Sussex hops, and that being the case, he thought he had only done justice in asking Parliament to take off the additional duty which, in consequence of the war, was imposed upon home-grown hops. As the House would not, however, be called upon to decide that point in the present stage of the Bill, because it was a question which must be considered hereafter in a Committee of the whole House, he would now direct attention to the main features of the Bill, the second reading of which he now proposed. He contended that the Act of 1814, entitled "An Act to prevent; Frauds and Abuses in the Sale of Hops," had operated unjustly to Sussex and other hop-growing counties; and, so far from preventing, had, to a certain extent, only encouraged fraud and abuse. By that Act samples of hops for the market were obliged to be marked with the name of the grower, and of the parish and county in which they were grown; and the effect of this regulation was to encourage a preference for one particular description of hops at the expense of others. As an illustration of the injustice with which the Act had operated, he might mention the circumstance that there were hop plantations which were so situated as to stand in both the counties of Kent and Sussex. All the bops taken off those farms were dried in the same oasthouse. They were all mixed up together, without any regard to the county in which they were grown, and as the pockets were filled they were stamped alternately "Kent" and "Sussex." What followed? Why, that upon being taken into the market, the pockets stamped "Kent" invariably sold at 10s. or 12s. a cwt. more than those stamped "Sussex," although they were in point of fact one and the same article. The law was also evaded by factors purchasing Sussex hops, and stamping the word "Kent," upon the pockets, and then selling them at an advance of 12s. the cwt. Now, he (Mr. Frewen) insisted that hops ought to be bought and sold in the market according to their quality and value, and not because they were produced at Farnham, or in Kent. If a planter in any other county could, by the application of his capital and skill, produce a good sample, there was no reason whatever why he should not receive a fair price for it, whilst, if he produced a bad sample, there was no 191 reason on the other hand why he should not get a less price for it. He was anxious to see the principle carried out which was in general operation in all commercial transactions; and if the public could be protected against fraud, which he contended they would be under the provisions of this Bill (by repealing the regulation which required the name of the parish and county where the hops were grown to be stamped upon the hop pockets), that was all they required. If the House agreed to the second reading of the Bill, and should hereafter decide to leave it optional whether the name of the parish and county should be stamped upon the bags or not, he was quite ready to modify the Bill to meet that view of the question.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
§ MR. DEEDES
said, he had listened with much curiosity to ascertain upon what grounds his hon. Friend had introduced this Bill to the House. His hon. Friend had told them candidly that he expected considerable opposition from Kent, and he (Mr. Deedes) could assure his hon. Friend that he would not find himself disappointed; that the ranks of the opponents of the Bill would be greatly augmented by hon. Members from other counties also; and that in the result he would see that all who were engaged in the hop trade, as well as the growers themselves, were decidedly hostile to the principle of the Bill. It was very evident to him (Mr. Deedes) that the object of the Bill was to benefit the Sussex at the expense of the Kentish hop-planters; and it struck him as a singular coincidence, that there should appear in a morning journal of considerable circulation and influence—the Morning Herald of yesterday—a leading article upon the subject, in which the reduction of the duty was put forward as the principal reason for agreeing to a Bill the real object of which was to place the hops of the different hop-growing counties on one common level. Thus had it been handled by the journal to which he alluded, and thus had it been treated by the hon. Member to-day. His hon. Friend had complained of the inconsistency of the Kent planters in opposing the Bill, because since Parliament met they had gone to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask for a reduction of a portion of the excise duty on hops. Upon that point he might say that he wished the Members of 192 this House knew more than they did generally of the hardship of that duty upon the hop-growers of the kingdom; for if they did he thought such an extraordinary duty would no longer be permitted to exist. It was a war duty of a most oppressive nature. It entirely differed from every other excise duty now in force—and therefore the hop-planters of Kent opposed it. But his hon. Friend had no right to charge them with inconsistency upon that ground. The truth was, that his hon. Friend had come before the House and mixed up two questions, which were utterly unconnected the one with the other, and had thus forced upon the Kent planters the necessity of opposing him. If his hon. Friend had adopted a proper course, he would have placed upon the notice paper a Resolution for a Committee of the whole House to consider the question of a reduction of the duty; then he would have found the Members for Kent, and all who were interested in the cultivation of hops, giving him their cordial assistance. But because he had done that which, in point of fact, amounted to nothing, and introduced clauses in the Bill which were not, ipso facto, part of the Bill, he had no right to accuse them of inconsistency in not going the full length of the Bill. His hon. Friend had stated that the county of Kent possessed an unfair advantage in the market, and that the practice of stamping the name of the grower and of the locality in which the hops were grown, operated as a fraud, and deceived the purchasers of hops by imposing upon them an inferior article. Now he thought his hon. Friend was bound to show the real cases of fraud which, were required to be put an end to; but had he done so? No; he had simply stated that cases of fraud had occurred; and he (Mr. Deedes) now asked him, if hops were sent to market without a distinctive mark—he (Mr. Frewen) acknowledging that there was a material difference in the quality of the article—whether the temptation to fraud would not be thereby greatly increased? For his part, he had no doubt that that would be the case. He said, therefore, let the produce be sold for what it was worth by all means; but do let the grower have the opportunity of proclaiming what the article was which he offered for sale. The object of the Bill was to amend the 54th George III., intituled "An Act to amend an Act of the 39th and 40th Years of his present Majesty, to prevent Frauds and Abuses in the Trade of Hops;" and he contended 193 that it was incumbent upon his hon. Friend to prove that a vast amount of fraud had arisen under the operation of that Act. In his opinion, the Act had worked uncommonly well, and given to the public the opportunity of judging fairly of the quality of the article, and of purchasing it at the proper market price, without having foisted upon them an inferior for a superior article. With these views, therefore, he should move as an Amendment that the Bill be read a Second Time that day Six Months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question?"
MR. H. DRUMMOND
seconded the Amendment, and said that he would in a few words endeavour to explain the meaning of the Bill. Everybody knew that the Farnham hops were the best in England; everybody knew also that the Sussex hops were the worst; and the object of the Bill was to create such a mystification between the Kent, Worcester, and Sussex hops that the public might be deceived, and buy bad Sussex for good Farnham. He could not say that any great complaint was to be made of the hon. Member for East Sussex in bringing forward this Bill. The hon. Gentleman might be anxious, in the prospect of a general election, to get up a little political capital; but he (Mr. Drummond) must object to the public being called upon to supply that capital, and this was, in his opinion, a sufficient reason for rejecting the Bill.
§ MR. FULLER
said, that, finding such an opposition to the Bill, he would recommend his hon. Colleague to withdraw it; but if he went to a division, he (Mr. Fuller) must vote with him. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that great distress prevailed amongst the hop-planters and agriculturists of Sussex, and he trusted the right hon. Gentleman would, in his amended budget, propose a reduction of the malt tax to the extent of at least 10s. a quarter, and of a penny per pound on hops. A measure of that sort would be received as a boon, and hailed with gratitude throughout the whole country. At the same time, he begged to intimate that the right hon. Gentleman's proposal to remit the duty on cloverseeds would operate most injuriously to the small farmers of Sussex, as the reduction of that 194 duty a few years ago had already proved a serious injury to the Weald of that county.
§ MR. BASS
opposed the Bill as one of a mischievous character. He knew of no article in testing the quality of which so little reliance was to be placed upon appearance, touch, and smell, as the article of hops. It was often the case that hops which appeared to be the best were of comparatively little value; and so difficult was it to determine their real value until they were in the copper, that he believed there were a great number of brewers who were no judges of hops, and very many merchants who knew nothing whatever upon the subject. That being the case, the House would at once see how desirable it was that the purchaser and consumer of hops should have the means of obtaining the particular description of hops which they were desirous of having for their specific purposes. Hops of the same appearance, grown upon different soils, and in different climates, produced the most opposite results. It was, therefore, absolutely necessary to know in what county and parish the hops were grown. The name alone was not sufficient for this purpose, for, in looking through the hop-growers of Kent and Sussex, he found that there were no less than thirty-five growers of the name of Smith, and that of these there were eight or ten "John Smiths" all of a row. Now the hops of one John Smith might be worth 6l. or 7l. a cwt., whilst those of another John Smith he would not have if they were given to him. A continuance of the present law was as necessary for the grower as the consumer, and he believed the Bill of the hon. Member for East Sussex would not only not prevent fraud, but greatly encourage it.
§ MR. PLUMPTRE
should also vote against the Bill. He could only regard it as a Bill for the encouragement of trickery. He should have no objection to a reduction of duty, but he could not support a Bill that gave direct encouragement to deception.
MR. T. L. HODGES
said, that previous to the establishment of the system now in force under the statute, the Farnham hops were not very celebrated; but when they had come to be distinguished by the operation of the Act of Parliament from other growths, they had been greatly improved, and the growers had therefore every reason to be satisfied with the present system, from any alteration in which they did not anticipate advantage.
The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHE- QUER
said, it was not necessary for him to say much as to the character of such a proposition as the present, since that had been already broadly stated by the Seconder of the Amendment; and other hon. Members very fairly complained that the effect of the measure would be to enable certain hop-growers to cheat their rivals; but he thought that he himself had some reason to complain of a portion of the Bill, which had reference to the duty payable upon hops. The hon. Member for East Sussex got leave to introduce his Bill at 12 o'clock at night; and, under a title which gave no reason to suspect anything of the sort, a Bill was brought in for repealing 200,000l. of the hop duties, which amounted to one-half of the revenue collected from that article. The effect of that would be to put money into the pockets of persons who did not appear to him to possess any especial claim to such an advantage. In fact, it would put 200,000l. into the pockets of the growers, and not into the pockets of the purchasers. It was not quite the way of legislating on such a subject, to introduce a Bill under such a title, and include in it a clause, discovered only by accident, for repealing one-half of the duty. He had no doubt that his hon. Friend opposite would be the last person in the House to take an unfair advantage; but practically the effect of the Bill would be, not only to put an end to the existing system of marking, but to reduce the system one-half. He would not go into the question of a reduction of the hop duty then; it might be a fair subject for discussion, and when properly brought before the House, he should be quite ready to express his opinion: and if the hon. Gentleman did not think it advisable to adopt the recommendation of his Seconder, and withdraw the Bill, he hoped the House would negative it.
§ MR. CURTEIS
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said this was not the right time for bringing forward a proposal to remit some portion of the hop duty. If this was not the right time, he knew not when the right time would be; for now there was almost an impossibility of obtaining rents. If the Government did nothing, they would be still more out of favour than they were already in the hop-growing districts. Believing that the Bill was brought forward to benefit the hop-growers, he should support it.
§ MR. FREWEN
, in reply, repudiated the charge of unfairness which had been 196 thrown out against him, and stated that the hop-growers in different parts of the country ought to be placed precisely in the same position as the growers of wheat. Each took his sample to market, and let each in like manner depend for his price upon the quality of his goods. There was no reason for showing more favour to one grower than to the other, and he should therefore, notwithstanding the taunt of seeking for popularity, persist with his Bill.
MR. A. B. HOPE
was prepared to support the Bill, both for the words in it in roman letters and for those in italics, though of course the attention of the House at this stage was most directed to the former ones. The question affected practically the pockets, not only of hops, but of men; and after the sham legislation in which the House had been for so many days engaged, he thought it might occupy itself a little in a measure of real practical relief. It was a great grievance that hops should be exempted from that universal rule of commerce—of common sense—caveat emptor. The effect of the present law was, that when the more meritorious man, who had contended against a bad soil, brought his hops into the market, he was subjected to a legal disadvantage compared with the man who had easily raised his on a good soil. To borrow the words of a speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon on a former night, the rustic who had the cold clay soil of the Weald knew he was worse treated than any one, and he knew the reason why; and no one who had lived in a hop district, or seen an adjudication of prizes for hops in any of the parishes, and seen the farmer eagerly canvassing the twenty or thirty odd yellow-brown packages, which, to the unlearned, looked all alike, could doubt but that buyers of hops could distinguish between good hops and bad hops, on seeing them. As to the second part of the Bill, all he could say was, that rem, quocumque modo rem, was the motto of Downing-street, and ought to be suspended on a hatchment over it, to teach impatient suitors what they were to expect.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 9; Noes 131: Majority 122.
|List of the AYES.|
|Brisco, M.||Hollond, R.|
|Cobbold, J. C.||Lacy, H. C.|
|Curteis, H. M.||Vane, Lord H.|
|Fuller, A. E.||TELLERS,|
|Goold, W.||Frewen, C. H.|
|Gwyn, H.||Hope, A.|
§ Words added:—Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to:—Bill put off for six months.