HC Deb 05 May 1851 vol 116 cc566-75

Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


then rose to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice. He said, as the two Motions which preceded his had been disposed of, he would be under the necessity of troubling the House with that of which he had given notice, in consequence of the great pressure which fell upon the parties to whom he alluded caused chiefly by recent legislation in that House. The Hop Duty was originally imposed in the year 1711, and had been doubled in 1805; and up to the year 1819, as long as high prices prevailed, the hop-planters never complained of the tax, as long as they could pay it. A change, however, then came upon the country, and the agricultural distress which prevailed in 1822 had been so great that the Earl of Liverpool, then at the head of the Government, fully acknowledged it, and abstained from enforcing payment of a moiety of the duty for that year. The hop planters of East Sussex were annually called on to pay over 100,000l. in duty. In 1848 the amount of their duty had been 117,000l., while in 1850 it was 116,000l. The remainder of the duty of 1848 due last autumn had been enforced, and the hop planters had been obliged to sell their hops at a ruinous price to meet the demand. All their spare money having been appropriated to pay the duty of 1848, they had nothing left. They, therefore, thought it would be only justice to them to pursue the same course which had been pursued by Lord Liverpool and the Government in 1822. It would be impossible for the Government officers to collect that tax. Since the first notice of his intention to bring forward that Motion had appeared, he had received a great number of communications, not less than sixty, from parishes in the district which he had the honour to represent. He would refer to, one of the letters he had received, which was from the head of the Hastings Bank, who was himself an extensive planter of hops. The writer said that he never knew the hop planters in so bad a state as they were at the present time. If the duty was attempted to be collected in May, he could not see what would be the result; but it would be much more serious than the Government had any idea of. Such was the opinion of that gentleman. He had also letters from clergymen, medical men, and landed gentlemen, all to the same effect, stating the existence of great distress in the district. He could say of his own knowledge, that an immense quantity of land was thrown on the hands of the proprietors, the tenants not wishing to occupy them on account of the burden of poor-rates on one hand, and the enormous amount of the tax levied by the hop duties on the other. In one parish which he knew exceedingly well, 1,000 acres had been thrown on the hands of the proprietors. In another, a friend of his own had from 700 to 800 acres, which he could not let on any terms. The case was so, more or less, through the hop districts in that county. He did not believe, that in those districts there was a landed proprietor who had received a fourth part of his rent for last year. Some had not received the rent due on Lady-day, 1850. An eminent agriculturist, who had retired from business in consequence of his advanced age, had told him (Mr. Frewen) that he had never known such an amount of distress as existed in that district at the present time. He added that he collected the rent of two farms at the present time. He had made a reduction of 20 per cent in the rent of 1849, and had received a portion of the balance; but for 1850 he had not received anything, nor did he think he should. He (Mr. Frewen) wished to know from the Government whether all that district was to be thrown out of cultivation, and reduced to the state in which it was 800 years ago? There was an enormous population in the district, the most of whom were employed in the hop grounds. It was hardly known what the amount was which was paid for labour in that cultivation. The cost per acre varied from 12l. 10s. to 15l. In East Sussex there are about 10,000 acres of hops, so that from 125,000l. to 150,000l. are spent annually in wages on the hop grounds in that county; and if the labourers wore thrown out of employment, of course they must go into the workhouses, which would enormously increase the rates. He conceived that from the great distress which prevailed in that district they had the greatest possible claims on the consideration of Government. In conclusion, he begged to put the Motion of which he had given notice.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty most respectfully to inform Her Majesty that very great distress exists in those districts of the county of Sussex where Hops are grown, and that it will be quite out of the power of the Hop Planters in that county to pay the Excise Duty on the crop of 1850 during the present year instead thereof.

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


seconded the Motion.


said, he could not but be aware that there was a part of the district to which the hon. Gentleman alluded in a state of distress, and it was painful therefore to him to feel it his duty to oppose a Motion the tendency of which might be supposed to be to alleviate that distress. He wished to direct to this case the atten- tion of those hon. Gentlemen who attributed so much of the existing distress of the country to the removal of protection. Let it be observed that the hop growers had an absolute and complete monopoly of the home market. It was perfectly true, as the hon. Gentleman had stated, that the protective duty was reduced four or five years ago; but it was still so high that no quantity of foreign hops had ever yet come in which could he supposed to produce the slightest effect whatsoever on the price. The utmost quantity of foreign hops ever retained for consumption was 250,000 lbs.; whereas our own produce was 48,000,000 lbs.: it could not, therefore, be supposed that this had effected the home market to any appreciable extent. Nor had the consumption of hops been interfered with by the use of drugs, which in former times were employed by the brewers when the price of hops was high. By the arrangement made for the levy of the duty, the pressure on the producer was greatly mitigated, payment not being required until the whole of the produce had been disposed of. Thus before the growers were called upon to pay the duty due on the crop of 1848, they had received the whole price of that crop, and a considerable part of that of 1849. So far was the statement of the hon. Gentleman from being correct, that they paid the duty before disposing of the crop, when the fact was, that they never paid the first half of the duty till great part of the crop was sold, and never paid the second half till great part of the subsequent crop was sold. The hon. Gentleman would not deny this position, that when the producer had a complete monopoly, he must, in ordinary times, be able to exact of the consumer the full amount of the duty, in addition to the net price of the article: this was the case with the growers of hops. But they had done that which must necessarily lead to a fall in the price, increasing the produce of hops far beyond the demand for them. For many years up to the year before last, they had paid the duty without the slightest difficulty. In 1843, 1844, and 1845, the average produce of hops was 30,000,000 lbs.; but the production was increased so much that in the three succeeding years it amounted to nearly 47,000,000 lbs. By throwing so large a quantity of this article on the market beyond what the country required, the price had been considerably reduced. In 1849 the produce of hops was small, and the price exceedingly high; but in 1850 the produce was very large, amounting to 48,000,000 lbs., by which the market was again overstocked and the price reduced. The greater part of- the hops on which the duty was now to be paid, had long been sold at the duty-paid price. If the remission of duty was to be to the dealers who had paid that price, the hon. Gentleman's constituents would derive no benefit; but if to the first parties, it was tantamount to a demand that so many thousands of pounds should be taken from the pockets of the general taxpaying community for the benefit of a small class.


rose simply to confirm the statement made by the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Frewen); and he was surprised at the arguments with which they were met by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Hops were very abundantly grown for our own consumption. He hoped that some relief would be given to the hop planters; their distress was indisputable. He believed that by Christmas next a greater number of farms would be untenanted than were ever known before. There would be also a greater number of persons out of employment; and the arrears of poor-rates and other taxes would be much greater than the Minister contemplated. He had intended to have moved an Amendment; but as that course would be inconvenient at present, he gave notice that he would introduce a Bill for the reduction of the duty upon hops to-morrow.


was disposed to ask their consideration for another class of agriculturists, whose distress could scarcely be less than the hop growers—he meant the growers of barley, who paid a very heavy duty. He could not but think that it would be as reasonable to return the duty to this class as to the hop growers, who had already received the duty, and had put it into their pockets. He could not think that there was such evidence of the great distress of the hop growers as was represented, for it appeared that from 1850 the number of acres of hops had increased from 42,000 to 43,000. It had been observed by an hon. Member opposite, that the present duty upon hops was so insignificant, that when the foreigner had any to spare he sent them to this country. That, however, was never the case except they advanced to nearly double the average prices. The trade now asking for indulgence, had more indulgence than any other. If hon. Gentlemen would but confine themselves to the subject of diminishing the duty upon hops, he for one would be disposed to support the proposition. The hop grower had in his hands the supply of the commodity required, and therefore he could take into account the average vicissitudes that the season produced. He had then the remedy in his own hands to a very considerable extent.


would oppose the Motion. He contended that the relief proposed to be given to the growers would involve an injustice to the hop dealers; that it would be, in point of fact, merely relieving one class at the expense of another.


I am surprised, Sir, at hearing the representatives of several bodies of distressed agriculturists address the House in the manner in which we have heard them this Session. I am astonished that the representatives of constituents so Buffering should have avoided the opportunities afforded them, in more than one instance, during the present Session, to express their opinions of those sentiments which so graciously issued from the Throne, and were responded to by the Ministers. We were told at the commencement of the Session that there was great distress and depression in the agricultural districts. We were informed of that by the Sovereign, and the Minister repeated that declaration; but when the House was called to respond to that declaration, the hon. Member for West Kent (Mr. T. L. Hodges), and the hon. Member who followed him, did not assist us on those occasions. But now they come forward and tell us that they represent bodies of suffering agriculturists. We did not ask them on that occasion to give any opinion on the principles of protection or free trade, but to offer their evidence and testimony, in addition to the important and august declarations made to the House. But notwithstanding that I entirely sympathise with those two hon. Gentlemen, let me ask what is the Motion before us? It is, that we should humbly address Her Majesty to inform Her that very great distress exists in those districts in the county of Sussex whore hops are grown—that is, that we are to inform Her Majesty that there is partial distress where Her Majesty has informed us that there is general distress. I cannot understand how it is that Ministers, after having counselled their Sovereign to make that important announcement, and after having several times told the House they were still of that opinion, can refuse their sup- port to this Motion. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer says this is a protected interest, and therefore he cannot interfere: but when an unprotected interest is brought before the consideration of Her Majesty's Ministers, he makes exactly the same observation. And, after all, what is the case before us? You have reduced, as I understand, the foreign duty to one-quarter of what it was, and you have not relatively reduced the internal duty. Well, we do not want you to protect any branch of native industry—we do not ask you to act in any way in opposition to those commercial principles which you are always vaunting; but we say that, if you are resolved to reduce the duty on foreign productions, you should, in the same proportion, reduce the duty you raised on your inland revenue. Every free-trader may support the Motion of the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Frewen). The hon. Gentleman who addressed us from this side of the House, has said— "Notwithstanding the alleged distress in the districts where hops are cultivated, the produce has very much increased of late years." [Mr. BASS: No, the acres.] Why, we have a Parliamentary return before us, on the table of the House moved by the hon. Member for West Kent (Mr. T. L. Hodges)—a return of the produce from 1847 to 1850, if I recollect aright, and from that return it appears that there has been in that period a reduction of not less than 10,000 acres employed in the cultivation of hops, the numbers being something like 52,000 acres in 1847, and probably 42,000 in 1849 or 1850. The hon. Gentleman has surely thrown aside that consideration which he generally gives to every subject on which he addresses the House. The document is before us which confirms the statements of the hon. Member for East Sussex, and shows us that that important and interesting branch of the native industry of the country is suffering—that there is great agricultural distress in a particular district, the Crown having told us that there is general agricultural distress throughout the country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer's argument that the hop growers are a protected interest, amounts to nothing unless he can show that the external tax operated as a protection. But if the internal impost not only equals but exceeds the foreign protection which he alleges, then that is a circumstance calculated to produce the distress of which we are complaining. Considering that this is a state of affairs which has now gone on for a considerable period; that the Members for the hop-growing districts have frequently brought the subject before the consideration of the Government; that it is a fact notorious that thousands of acres are going out of cultivation in Kent and Sussex; that as an hon. Gentleman (I believe the hon. Member for East Sussex), in the early part of the Session, informed us, that there was one proprietor alone whose arrears of rent amounted to 7,000l.; that these circumstances were produced, not as the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer wishes the House to believe, by the mischievous and foolish system of protection, but on the contrary, by a fiscal system which, while it reduces protection against the foreign growers, aggravates the impost collected by the domestic tax-gatherer—I say, considering these circumstances, I do not think we can be justified in refusing to support the Motion of the hon. Member for East Sussex. Here is great distress evidently produced by an enormous system of fiscal blundering—distress proclaimed by the Sovereign, and frequently admitted by Her Majesty's Ministers during the Session; and if the hon. Member for East Sussex thinks proper to divide the House, I shall feel it my duty, consistently with all I have said and done during the Session, to give him my support.


wished to refer the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire to the Return before the House. The House would recollect that his (Mr. Bass's) statement was, that notwithstanding the severe distress which it was alleged the hop growers suffered, the number of acres cultivated last year had been an increase on the previous year. The return showed that the number of acres under cultivation in 1849 was 42,797, and in 1850, 43,185.


Yes; but will the hon. Gentleman tell us what the numbers were in 1847? [Mr. Bass: I never mentioned 1847.] No, the hon. Gentleman did not mention 1847. He did not tell us that in that year there were 52,000 acres under cultivation. It was always said when any branch of the agricultural interest complained—"Oh, put more capital into the soil, bestir yourselves, be up and active, and everything will come right;" but the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) had stated that the hop growers had brought some thousands of acres into cultivation, and that therefore the House should resist the appeal just made to them on behalf of that suffering class. If the hon. Gentleman's argument was correct, then here was proof that, if the agricultural interest took the advice of hon. Gentlemen opposite (the free-traders), and threw capital into the soil, they would be met in the same way by the Government, and their supporters; and in proportion as they expended capital to make head against adverse circumstances would there be a want of sympathy for them on the part of the Government; and the very exertions they made would be brought forward in that House as an argument against them. He appealed to the House whether the very figures of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bass) did not afford a conclusive argument in favour of the Motion?


said, that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) had been not quite correct cither in his representation of the Motion that had been made, or of the state of the returns before the House. Any one might suppose, from the statement of the hon. Member that the hop growers were suffering from the great importation of foreign hops, consequent upon a reduction of the duty upon them; but though the duty had been very much reduced, it had not been to such an extent as to admit any great amount of foreign hops, except in times of high prices. Instead of being a tenth or a twentieth, or a fiftieth, it did not exceed 1–190th of the whole production. The notion, therefore, that the admission of foreign hops had occasioned the distress was an explanation that was not in accordance with the facts of the case. There had certainly been an immense increase in the produce of hops of late years, and the consequence of that, no doubt, was a very low price in the home market. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) had stated this was a Motion expressive of sympathy for the distress of that class of the agricultural interest; but the Motion went beyond that, and represented to Her Majesty that these hop growers were unable to pay in the present year the duties chargeable upon them by law, of course with the inference that, being unable, they ought not to be called upon to pay what they owed. That certainly was an extraordinary proposition to ask the House to agree to, because the hops had been sold at the price which they would fetch, supposing the duty to have been charged and paid; and every purchaser of hops had given the price upon that supposition. Thus, the hop grower having received that price (though it might be a low price, owing to the greatness of the production), now said that he ought not to be charged the sum which he owed. That certainly was a proposition to which the House could hardly agree, for it implied not merely an expression of sympathy with distress, but as unfair a proposition to the revenue as could well be made.


said, that looking at the state of the House, and as he had brought forward his Motion quite unexpectedly, thinking the forms of the House would have prevented its coming on that evening, he would not trouble the House to divide on the Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.