HC Deb 22 May 1851 vol 116 cc1298-307

then rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to reduce the excise duty on hops. The object of the Bill which he proposed to introduce, if the House would allow him, was to reduce the excise duty on British hops from 2d. to 1d. per pound; the duty at present owing to Government to be paid in full. The duty on hops was a very ancient source of revenue to the Crown. They were originally imported from Flanders, but at last some enterprising Englishmen brought over the plant, and from that time they had been largely grown in England. In 1711 a duty of 1d. a pound was imposed upon British, and 3d. a pound on foreign hops. In 1804 Mr. Pitt doubled the duty on English hops, and raised that on foreign hops considerably. At the time that the duty on British hops was thus increased, there was an artificial rise in the prices of agricultural produce, from the effect of the paper currency, sufficient to justify the measure. But when that currency ceased in 1819, the difficulty of paying this double duty commenced, and had gone on increasing. Notwithstanding this, however, and the fact that the duty on foreign hops had been since reduced, the double duty on British hops had been maintained. He felt convinced, however, that the farmers would not much longer have the means of meeting the demand; and he hoped that the House would therefore allow him to bring in a Bill to reduce the duty, and at the same time to put an end to the system of credit in the payment of the duties which had proved so onerous to the growers. Against that system the Commissioners of Excise had expressed a strong opinion in their sixteenth report, and had recommended that arrangements should be adopted, by which the collection of this duty should be assimilated to that of other excise duties. His Bill would have only one enacting clause—to reduce the duty to 1d., and to make that duty payable within the year that the crop was grown. This would only be doing justice to the consumer, while it would relieve the hop-planter most effectually.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the reduction of the Excise Duty on Hops.


said, that he could not, consistently with his public duty, agree to the Motion of his hon. Friend. He was willing to admit that his hon. Friend's proposal was not open to the objections which had been taken to former Motions of the same kind, for he did not propose to put a second time into the pockets of the hop growers the duty which they had already received from the consumers. He quite concurred with his hon. Friend that the system of extended credit given to the hop growers (at their own request, however), had proved a most mischievous boon to them, and that it would be a great advantage to them that it should be put an end to. Had his hon. Friend merely proposed to effect that object, the Government would not have opposed the Motion; but he proposed also to reduce the duty, which was quite a distinct question. His hon. Friend said, that at the time the protecting duty on foreign hops was reduced, that on home-grown hops was not. When, however, a duty was prohibitory, it signified little what was its amount, and that the duty on foreign hops was now as nearly prohibitory as possible, was shown by the fact that while 48,000,000 pounds of homegrown hops paid duty last year, only 250,000 lbs. of foreign hops came in. The argument which his hon. Friend grounded upon the reduction of the protective duty, would not, therefore, stand him in much stead. If his proposition had been to reduce somewhat the duty on both homegrown and foreign hops in favour of the consumer, there would have been something in its favour. But the present proposition was to reduce the duty on home-grown hops, leaving that on foreign hops as at present—prohibitory; the effect of which would be simply to put into the pocket of the producer the amount of the difference between the present duty and that which was proposed. Everybody who had considered a subject of this kind must admit that when a party was in possession of a monopoly, the duty they paid was, one year with another, reimbursed to them by the consumer. No drug came into competition with hops, and the producer therefore enjoyed a complete monopoly. He quite admitted that there were some exceptional circumstances in which the producer paid the duty; and he would state to the House in what they consisted. They had been created by the hop growers themselves, who had brought into cultivation a greater quantity of land than formerly, and had by this means, and by improved cultivation, in fact, increased the produce far beyond the demand of the country. Without troubling the House with many figures, he would show them how this was so, and he would in the first place premise that since the year 1830, with the exception of 1847, the duty on hops had been regularly paid. Taking the three years, 1843, 1844, and 1845, the production of hops had been 30,000,000 lbs. In 1843, the price of hops was 120s. per cwt.; and in 1845 it had risen to 150s. per cwt. The hop growers, under these apparently favourable circumstances, thought it advisable to increase the produce, and brought fresh land into cultivation. So in 1846, 1847, and 1848, the production of hops was nearly 47,000,000 lbs.; the consequence was a fall to 75s. a cwt. in the year 1847. This depreciation took place before a single bag of foreign hops came in, for the first importation took place in 1849. In 1849, there was a rise again in the price, which led to the experiment of bringing in a very insignificant quantity of foreign hops. In 1850 the produce was 48,000,000 lbs.; the consequence was another great fall in the price. His hon. Friend had spoken of the inevitable ruin which would ensue from the payment of the duty now due; but he must warn the House against such representations. They had been repeated year after year. In the autumn of 1848, a most important deputation waited upon him. It was composed of noble Lords, Members of Parliament, bankers, landowners, country gentlemen, solicitors, clergymen, and a considerable number of hop planters; and his hon. Friend (Mr. Hodges) acted as the master of the ceremonies. The deputation stated that if the payment of the duty was insisted upon, the whole hop-growing interest would be ruined absolutely and entirely, and that the whole population would be thrown out of work. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) felt that he was hard-hearted; but he did insist upon the duty, and the consequence was that the 200,000l. was all paid up within a month, with the exception of 5,000l., and he could not find that any such consequences as had been anticipated did in fact occur. Much the same thing happened last autumn; and when hon. Gentlemen represented year after year that they would be ruined, and, nevertheless, went on much as before, they could not expect that he could place very implicit reliance on their statements. There was a system of agitation upon this subject going on in the counties of Kent and Sussex, which was anything but creditable to the parties themselves. They held out distinct threats to their tenants, to induce them not to pay. He held in his hand a copy of a letter which had been published in a Sussex paper by a gentleman named Neve, who was agent to some gentlemen in that county, and which he would read to the House:— Benenden, Staplehurst, Nov. 16, 1850. Sir—As the collection of the hop duty will take place previous to Mr. Moorland's rent audit, I am directed by him to inform his tenants that those of them who pay their hop duty he will expect to pay their rent; therefore those who cannot pay both, I hope will see it right to pay their rent first, and let the Government have the odium I of putting in distresses, if they think fit to resort to such extremity. In adopting this course, I have no hesitation in saying that Mr. Moorland, as well as other landlords, is acting under my advice in this matter. "THOMAS NEVE. Now that was the duty of two years back. He did not think that such a proposition was fair. The hon. Gentleman knew, perhaps, who Mr. Neve was?


He is my steward.


Let the House bear in mind that this was written with regard to the duty, which, although received by the grower on the sale of his hops, which were sold at duty-paid prices, had been held by him, for his own benefit, for no less than two years. In his Budget he had left himself with a probable surplus for the next year of 350,000l. If he consented to this Motion, he should reduce the revenue by 400,000l., and leave himself unable to fulfil his promises. Upon these grounds, therefore, he resisted the Motion of the hon. Member.


said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared to consider it a good joke when he acquainted the House with the result of his hard-heartedness in extracting the hop duty out of persons who said that they would be utterly ruined if he persevered. No doubt the hop growers had paid the duty—they had paid it out of their capital. However, all things had an end, and the right hon. Gentleman might be assured of this—that the smash, when it came, would only be the greater. But if all the right hon. Gentleman had said were true, what did it amount to? Merely this—the men of Kent (under circumstances of extreme suffering and distress) paid the hop duty, and they got laughed at by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for their honesty. If the right hon. Gentleman bought a farm in Kent, and took to hop growing, he would come back to the House with new ears and eyes, an addition which would unquestionably be useful to him. He had taunted them with having brought forward many propositions. It was true that they had; but if the Government had proposed some remedy—as it was their duty—the representatives of the hop growers would be saved the odium of presenting to the House a multitude of schemes. With regard to the taunt of over-production, if the right hon. Gentleman took the farm to which he alluded, he would find out that there was no crop which depended more upon the fluctuations of the weather; a single unfavourable night was sufficient to ruin it entirely. Had they, then, the command of the winds and weather?—could they know the exact amount of land to put into cultivation? In conclusion, he would support the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Hodges).


wished to refer to a former speech of his, which had been wrongly construed by the noble Lord the Member for Colchester (Lord John Manners). Upon that occasion, he (Mr. Bass) had not contended that it was the importation of foreign hops which led to a diminished cultivation—a reason which had been put forward on the other side as the main one for the admitted suffering of the hop growers. He had, on the contrary, endeavoured to show that it was the extreme fluctuations of the plant which led to this distress. What were the facts? Why, in 1837, there were 56,000 acres of land in cultivation for hops; in 1843, there were only 43,000 acres; in 1847, there were 52,000 acres; and in 1850 the number had again fallen to 43,000 acres. In his opinion, it was mainly the producer who paid the duty. That might seem a contradiction in political economy; but a few words would show that, owing to the extreme fluctuation of the plant, the fact was so. In 1843, 44,000 acres produced only 62,000l. of duty, while in 1847 the same number of acres produced 424,000l. of duty. One year with another, therefore, it was the producer who paid the duty, especially when it was remembered that the price of the crop fluctuated from 3l. a ton to 30l.


as Member for West Kent, would feel ashamed if he did not support the Motion before the House. He believed he might defy the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer to go into the Weald of Kent, or Mid-Kent, and find a tenant who had not for the last two years paid his rent out of capital, and not from his profits.


considered that if they did not take off 1d. in the pound, they ought at least to make the protecting duty 3l. 5s. instead of 2l. 5s. Foreign hops paid the same excise duty when taken out of bond as was now paid by the English grown at the end of the year, whether sold or not. There were about 7,100 growers of hops, and 1,000,000 of people were employed in the cultivation. The war tax was imposed on hops by the Addington Administration, when hops were sold at from 10l. to 15l. per cwt. Hops had not fetched since 1845 5l. per cwt. A relation of his, during the Earl of Liverpool's Administration got 1d. in the pound taken off. As his Lordship was a hop grower himself, he knew how uncertain the growth of hops was; and he (Mr. Fuller) wished the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer grew hops, for he would then know how the hop grower suffered. He (Mr. Fuller) was confident if 10d. a quarter was taken off malt, and 1d. per pound off hops, the consumption would be so great that the revenue would not suffer to any great extent; for when the duty was taken off spirits the consumption doubled and trebled. The hop manufacturer paid heavily in land-tax, tithes, and rates, and for the raw material of his manufacture on the land; yet not only was he heavily taxed, but taxed before he could bring his commodity to market. The cotton manufacturer, on the other hand, paid no tax whatever; his raw material was free of duty, at the expense of 20,000,000l. to the whole community. He thought this was not fair dealing between the hop grower and the cotton manufacturer.


was always an humble but persevering supporter of any proposition for the relief of the agricultural interests; but when he saw hon. Members giving their votes in favour of a Government which opposed every suggestion for that purpose, he could not reconcile himself to vote in favour of a partial measure introduced by such hon. Members. If his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Hodges) was to disengage himself from his present company—noscitur a sociis, and bring forward a general measure for the relief of all classes, he should have his support, but not otherwise. If the hon. Gentleman would not leave his present bad company, he could not expect support from that (the Protectionist) side of the House.


said, after what had fallen from the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln, he could not but express his regret also that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hodges) always opposed the Motions made in that House for the relief of agriculture. He thought there was no part of the kingdom in which so much distress existed as in the hop districts. There was no tax so unjust as that, and it was the only one which remained unrepealed since the war. He had his doubts as to the accuracy of the prices of hops during the former years as stated by the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer. He did not know upon what authority the right hon. Gentleman had made his statement. One house in the borough might tell one thing, and another another thing; but a good deal depended upon the quality of the hops taken. Even in one year the hops grown in one part of the country brought a much higher price than those grown in another. He had heard of so much as 6l. 10s. being paid in Sussex, but the average price was only 3l. 7s. The planters in the Weald of Kent must have lost at least 1l. per acre on an average. One great claim which the hop planters had on Government for a reduction of duty was founded upon the precarious nature of the crop. When the hop growers got the lowest price for their hops, they had the highest amount of duty to pay; and he therefore hoped the Government would take the case into their earliest consideration. He (Mr. Frewen) doubted if a single landowner received, in the Rape of Hastings, one quarter of his rental for 1850.


said, he could not understand the tactics of the friends and advisers of the hop growers, because they asked for everything that was impracticable, and would not allow those who were disposed to vote for the removal of the excise tax, through their advocacy of a principle that no one could approve. Why, here was a tax producing little more than 300,000l. a year, and they had a whole army of taxgatherers to collect it, spread over only four or five counties; and nothing so barbarous could scarcely be conceived out of Turkey as the system they had of levying a tax so small in amount. Why, if the hop growers of Kent, Sussex, and elsewhere would only unite amongst themselves on a common principle to do away with this impost altogether, nothing would be easier than for them to succeed in it; but there were some great growers of hops in certain parts of Kent who did not want the duty to be taken off, and some others said they would not have the whole repealed, but only one-half; and then they mixed the question up with some childish fears about free-trade principles. He (Mr. Cobden felt naturally some sympathy with the growers of Sussex; but if they wanted to get relieved, they must go for the total abolition, and then they would have the support of the free-traders. So long as they made two bites of a cherry, and wanted to keep up the whole of the machinery to get in only half the tax, they might depend upon it no Chancellor of the Exchequer would compromise his character by dealing with the matter in that way; and if he should, that House ought not to be inclined to support him in it.


from his connexion with the hop growers of East Kent, could state that they would be glad to have the penny in the pound taken off, which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hodges) proposed; and therefore he should cordially support the Motion.


in reply, said, with respect to the letter from Mr. Neve, he had heard nothing of it until he had seen it in a newspaper.

Question put, "That leave be given to bring in the Bill."

The House divided:—Ayes 27; Noes 88: Majority 61.

List of the AYES.
Baldock, E. H. Plumptre, J. P.
Bass, M. T. Portal, M.
Bennet, P. Rushout, Capt.
Blackstone, W. S. Scholefield, W.
Booth, Sir R. G. Spooner, R.
Child, S. Stanford, J. F.
Dodd, G. Talbot, C. R. M.
Frewen, C. H. Tyler, Sir G.
Fuller, A. E. Waddington, H. S.
Goold, W. Wakley, T.
Hamilton, Lord C. Wegg-Prosser, F. R.
Hodgson, W. N. Wynn, H. W. W.
Lennox, Lord A. G. Hodges, T. L.
Mullings, J. R. Filmer, Sir E.
List of the NOES.
Ashley, Lord Heywood, J.
Baines, rt. hon. M. T. Heyworth, L.
Baring, rt. hon. Sir F. T. Hindley, C.
Bell, J. Hobhouse, T. B.
Bellew, R. M. Howard, hon. C. W. G.
Blake, M. J. Howard, Sir R.
Boyle, hon. Col. Hume, J.
Brotherton, J. Hutt, W.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Labouchere, rt. hon. H
Clay, J. Langston, J. H.
Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G. Lawley, hon. B. R.
Cobden, R. Lewis, G. C.
Cockburn, Sir A. J. E. Littleton, hon. E. R.
Coke, Hon. E. K. Locke, J.
Craig, Sir W. G. Lushington, C.
Crowder, R. B. Mackie, J.
Dawson, hon. T. V. Matheson, Col.
Drumlanrig, Visct. Maule, rt. hon. F.
Drummond, H. H. Milner, W. M. E.
Duncuft, J. Morris, D.
Dundas, Adm. Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.
Dundas, G. Mulgrave, Earl of
Dundas, rt. hon. Sir D. Nicholl, rt. hon. J.
Farrer, J. Ogle, S. C. H.
Fellowes, E. Paget, Lord A.
Fordyce, A. D. Paget, Lord C.
Fox, W. J. Palmerston, Visct.
Gallwey, Sir W. P. Parker, J.
Geach, C. Pigott, F.
Grenfell, C. W. Pilkington, J.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir J. Price, Sir R.
Grey, R.W. Russell, hon. E. S.
Hanmer, Sir J. Russell, F. C. H.
Hastie, A. Salwey, Col.
Hatchell, rt. hon. J. Seymour, H. D.
Hawes, B. Seymour, Lord
Headlam, T. E. Sheridan, R. B.
Smith, M.T. Willyams, H.
Smollett, A. Wilson, J.
Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W. Wilson, M.
Spearman, H. J. Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.
Stanley, E. Wood, Sir W. P.
Stuart, H.
Thompson, Col. TELLERS.
Westhead, J. P. B. Hayter, W. G.
Willcox, B. M. Hill, Lord M.