HC Deb 23 March 1852 vol 120 cc19-28

, after presenting a large number of petitions from Sussex and the Weald of Kent, praying for a repeal of the Excise Duty on Hops, which the petitioners stated amounted in many cases to more than 50 per cent on the price, said, he begged to call the attention of the House to the Motion of which he had given notice. In bringing forward this Motion, he wished to impress on his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that though the Hop Duty was of comparatively small amount, yet that it pressed with great severity on his unfortunate constituents. He believed if his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to accounts on this subject, he would find that the average amount of duty of the last three years was only 269,000l., and that if the right hon. Gentleman went back for a period of twenty years he would find that the annual average had not exceeded 280,000l. If the right hon. Gentleman would refer to returns on this subject, he would find that the Sussex collection ranged from 80,000l. to 120,000l. a year. He believed that the proportion of land under hop cultivation in the hop districts of that county was about five or six acres out of every hundred that were cultivated. That could not be considered excessive, and yet the duty levied on the produce of these five or six acres was almost invariably greater than the rent paid to the landlord for the whole 100 acres. He had in his hand a statement, which had been, sent him by a most respectable farmer, whose family he knew, and whose farm was within a short distance of the residence of his hon. Colleague. The quality of the land was not inferior, because it could grow four quarters of wheat an acre. The extent of the farm was 503 acres, and the statement contained the quantity of hop land cultivated on it for the last five years:—

In 1847 the amount was 35 acres.
In 1848 the amount was 30acres.
In 1849 the amount was 25 acres.
In 1850 the amount was 22 acres.
In 1851 the amount was 20 acres.
The average annual amount was somewhere about 26 acres 32 perches, and the average amount of duty was 256l. 17s. 8d. During the same period the rent for the 503 acres was 280l. in 1847, and reduced to 230l. in 1850; average, 249l.; so that the amount of duty paid on the produce of the twenty-six acres of hop land was greater than the rent of the whole 503 acres. He asked whether—such being the case—the tax could be considered a fair one? He had also another statement from a farmer in the same parish. The quality of the land of this farm was very superior, and the rent was higher than in the former case. The extent of the farm was 210 acres, and the rent was 350l. The number of acres under hop cultivation was twenty-five. For the last five years the average amount of hop duty paid was 253l. 17s. 10d., being 72 per cent on the rent. He could bring forward a number of similar cases, and many in which the duty paid on hops exceeded the rent of the whole farm. The tax was one which had never been mitigated or repealed since the war. The present state of things should not be allowed to go on, because it was producing a frightful state of ruin and depression. Combined with free trade and other causes, the existing state of taxation was bringing ruin on the cultivators of the soil. He knew of quantities of land which had been thrown up. Only a short time ago he had heard of a man, whom he knew well, and who possessed about 700 acres near Hastings, having the whole of his farms thrown upon his hands by respectable tenants. If there was to be a revision of taxation, he thought the hop duty was a tax which might fairly be considered by the Government. Another objection to it was, that the hop duty had always been the subject of an excessive amount of gambling. There was more betting about what the hop duty would be for the year, than there was about any horse, either at Newmarket or Epsom. He had even been told that very large bribes had been offered to the Excise officers to reveal what the amount of duty would be, and the quantity of hops gathered in particular districts. He certainly thought the subject was worthy consideration by the Government. He knew that Government was most anxious to do what they could to relieve the excessive burdens on laud. All that he asked in the Resolution was this, that in any remission of taxation, the repeal of the Excise Duty on Hops ought to be taken into serious consideration.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That in any remission of Taxation, the repeal of the Excise Duty on Hops ought to be taken into serious consideration by this House.


seconded the Motion.


had on former occasions brought this subject under the consideration of the House, and he more particularly urged one portion of it on its attention. It would be recollected that Sir Robert Peel removed the whole of the duty on foreign hops; and when that was done, one would have thought that it would have been but an act of common justice to give some mitigation to the British planter. But that he refused to do. The increased hop duty was imposed by Mr. Pitt, in 1804, and the British hop grower should be relieved at least to the extent of the increase of duty then imposed.


Sir, my hon. Friend the Member for East Sussex has made a very proper statement, and has moved a very temperate Resolution. He has placed before the House very fairly the position of his constituents, and has expressed an opinion, from which I do not by any means desire to dissent, that in any revision of taxation the repeal of the Excise Duty on Hops ought not to be omitted from the serious consideration of this House. Nothing, I think, can be more reasonable than that sentiment. Her Majesty's Government are (they regret to say it) quite aware of the sufferings which unfortunately exist in that part of the country which the hon. Member represents, and I can declare, in all sincerity on their behalf, that if it were in their power, by any proportion, to remedy the sufferings of the hon. Member's constituents, or of any class of Her Majesty's subjects, they would be only too happy to do so. With regard to the present case, I hope that my hon. Friend will himself perceive that, regard being had to the present state of public business, and to the peculiar position of the Government, it would not be in any degree proper or expedient to press the Government to the expression of any definite opinion on the subject. All that the hon. Member seems to be anxious for is, that in the event of the House undertaking a revision of taxation, the duty on hops shall not be omitted from our consideration; and I can assure my hon. Friend that in that anxiety I participate quite as warmly as himself. He desires that in any general revision of our taxation there shall be consideration for the hop planters; and I can assure him that, so far as it may be in the power of the Government to regulate the matter, such shall be the case. Even in the event of a more limited view of the fiscal condition of the country being taken, with a view to ascertain the incidence of taxation upon agriculture, the case of the hop growers shall not be forgotten. Most assuredly, in any effort that may hereafter be made to place agricultural taxation on a more satisfactory footing, the tax on hops ought not and shall not escape our consideration. But my hon. Friend having now stated with great moderation and force the facts of his case, and having accurately described th position of his constituents with regard to this tax, I do hope that he will feel that he has done his duty, and that he will not deem it necessary to press the matter further on the present occasion. Deputations on this subject have already waited on my noble Friend at the head of the Government, and have presented a memorial embodying their views. To that memorial, as to all other memorials that may he presented by any class of Her Majesty's subjects on the question of taxation, it will be the duty of the Government to devote their most earnest consideration. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will be content with having drawn public attention to this subject, and that having stated his case to the House with great propriety, he will not feel himself called upon to press the Government to a definite declaration of their intentions in the matter.


said, though this was brought forward as an agricultural question, he considered the duty on hops pressed most unequally upon all classes, and therefore ought to be removed. They had freed the food of the poor man from tax, and why should they not relieve his beverage from taxation? The food of the people had been freed from duty, and it was consistent as well as just to let them have untaxed drink. The working people of this country should be placed in a similar position to that of the working people of Belgium and other countries, in which, in consequence of there being no tax upon beer, it was drank in considerable quantities, but not so as to produce drunkenness. A plentiful use of beer would prevent the consumption of ardent spirits, which worked so much evil in these Kingdoms. He must say that he was quite satisfied with the statement of the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, as it was plainly impossible anything definite could be said till the financial statement was laid before the House. He called upon those agricultural Gentlemen on the Ministerial benches who so loudly proclaimed themselves to be friends of the farmer and his labourers, to give their support to a proposition to the entire repeal of the Malt Tax. There was not a tax levied upon Her Majesty's subjects which was of a more injurious characters—economically, physically, and socially—than the tax upon malt. There was no tax that he would sooner see removed. A repeal of half that tax would be entirely useless. He hoped that when the general taxes of the country were next submitted to revision, this tax would be most seriously considered by Her Majesty's Government, with a view to its entire abolition.


said, that year after year, upon this Motion being brought forward, whilst the hon. Member for Montrose, and those with whom he generally voted, occupied seats on the other (the Ministerial) side of the House, he (Mr. Hume) was in the habit of deprecating the pressing of such a Motion through the House. [Mr. HUME: I beg your pardon. I always voted for the repeal of the Malt Tax.] He was ready to admit that the hon. Member for Montrose was an exception, but he claimed attention to the promise on this subject of Sir James Graham. ["Order, order!"] He was speaking of an historical fact. He was not alluding to ft Member of that House, but he was speaking of a Gentleman who had made a speech before the Corn Laws were repealed. In order to induce the farmers to consent to their repeal, Sir James Graham said, "Of course, the very year after the Corn Laws are repealed, the Malt Tax must go." But never on any single occasion since the repeal of the Corn Laws was Sir James Graham to be found recording his vote in favour of that Motion. In like manner, the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) had said to the farmers that the Malt Tax must go immediately after Corn Law Repeal; nevertheless, whenever this Motion was brought forward, that hon. Gentleman in variably voted against it. The fact was this: those hon. Gentlemen who were advocates of free trade had but one idea in their heads, and there was no room in them for another Whenever this question was brought forward, they exclaimed, "Fee fo fum! I smell the ghost of a bread tax; you call it hops or malt, but call it what you will, this proposition refers to nothing less than a bread tax." Now those hon. Gentlemen knew perfectly well that there was no intention to restore the old bread tax. They might as well talk of restoring the Heptarchy. Their opposition on that ground, therefore, was but a sham, got up for party purposes. There was a certain strange chronological fact in reference to this subject. He did not mean to say, post hoc, ergo propter hoc, but, it was a fact, that whenever there was an increase in the quantity of bitter beer in this country, there was also an increase in the importation of gentian.


said, that he was one of those free-trade Members to whom the hon. Member for West Surrey had alluded; but he (Mr. Cobden) voted last year with the hon. Gentleman for East Sussex (Mr. Frewen) and would vote with him again that night if he pressed his Motion to a division. He did not consider the hop duty most obnoxious on account of the burden it imposed on the consumers of beer. But be thought that the pressure of the hop duty fell more severely on the producer than other kinds of taxes. Indeed the hop duty was exceptional in that respect. The tax was so irregular in its amount that the cultivator could not calculate the amount he might have to pay. The amount of duty was therefore a subject of constant gambling, and the hop market in the Borough was like another Tattersall's. It was so precarious in amount, that no Chancellor of the Exchequer could ever tell the sum it would produce, and it was also exceedingly oppressive on the producer. But besides this, the tax bore most unequally on the producer. A person growing hops in Kent sold them for double the price at which the Sussex grower sold them, but the latter paid the same amount of duty. He paid the same duty per cwt. that the Kent grower paid. His hon. Friend, therefore (Mr. T. L. Hodges), who represented the Kent growers, did not want a repeal of the whole duty, but only of that part of it which was known as the war duty. This would leave the duty as much a protective duty in favour of his constituents as he could well obtain. This tax was therefore a most oppressive tax on the unfortunate farmers who grew hops on the heavy soil of Sussex, and it appeared to him that both on the ground of justice and of fiscal expediency it ought to be abolished. If the tax were repealed, it would obviate the necessity of the hop growers coming to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in formâ pauperis, as they frequently did, to ask for a remission of a part or of the whole of the duty. Nothing could more clearly show the oppressiveness and obnoxious character of the tax, than the fact that the duty varied from 120,000l. to 400,000l. a year; therefore the amount ought not to show any serious obstacle in the way of its repeal. He could not agree with the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. H. Drummond) that this tax and the malt tax were of the same nature, because if the malt tax were repealed, it would be necessary to find a substitute for it; and he defied any man to find a new tax as a substitute for the malt tax which would be accepted by the country. The feeling in favour of the repeal of the malt tax was not so strong as it was some years ago. There was a large party in this country who were opposed to the use of fermented liquors. There was a large amount of public opinion in favour of that view, and he was happy to say, it included the best portion of the working classes in this country. They might be right, or they might he wrong, as to the view they took of the effect of fermented liquors; but this he knew, that any Gentleman who represented a large constituency in that House, might vote against the repeal of the Malt Tax without giving that offence to his constituents which he would have given twenty years ago by taking such a course. He remembered some twenty years ago, when the repeal of the Malt Tax was the most popular cry in Manchester. But now he was sure his hon. Friends the Members for Manchester might vote against its repeal without incurring much danger of losing their seats on that account. But if the hon. Member for West Surrey and his Friends in that House had, as he said, no idea of putting on a Corn Law, then there was no other Way of getting rid of the Malt Tax, except by a reduction of expenditure. If they would only join him in effecting that reduction of expenditure, they would find but little resistance to the abolition of the Malt Tax. But what was the course pursued by the hon. Gentleman and his friends, the "late" Protectionists? Did not the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer make it a boast a few nights ago, that When he (Mr. Cobden) brought forward a Motion in favour of a large reduction of taxation—not a sudden reduction, but a gradual retain to the expenditure of 1835—the then Government were enabled by the aid of his (the Chancellor of the Exchequer's) party to defeat that Motion? And now the hon. Member for West Surrey charged them with being the cause of the Malt Tax not being repealed. Tim hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Frewen) took a courageous part last Session. He (Mr. Cobden) well remembered that he resisted all the appeals of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir C. Wood) who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, to withdraw his Motion, and not to divide the House on it; but the hon. Member persevered, and he (Mr. Cobden) applauded him for it. He congratulated the men of Sussex upon having got a Member who would go through with the question, and who was not to be put off by the blandishments of any party. He had no doubt that their cause would succeed in such hands; but, judge his surprise, when he had read the report of the interview which had taken place between the hon. Gentleman and his Sussex friends and the Earl of Derby, on the subject of the Hop Duties. There he found that without any promise being made by the Government, that they would support the repeal of those duties, an understanding had been come to, that the Motion of the hon. Gentleman was not to be pressed to a division. Now he (Mr. Cobden), after a good deal of experience in that House, begged to tell the hon. Gentleman, that if he wished to succeed in obtaining relief from this obnoxious tax for the hop growers of Sussex, he must be prepared to press it forward, notwithstanding the inconvenience it might give to a Government or to a particular party. And if he found that a Government were in straits and difficulties, and that a party were vibrating and oscillating in their places, then was the tune for pressing his Motion with the greatest perseverance. The hon. Gentleman stood a better chance for a successful division that evening than he did when he made his Motion last Session. Last year the Budget had been launched when the hon. Gentleman made his Motion, and he came late upon the field. On the present occasion the Budget had not been produced, and he was amongst the first claimants, for consideration. A still stronger reason for his persevering was this, that the present was a condemned Parliament. It was in a state of penitence, and many men would give a good vote now, when they would not do so in the beginning of a new Parliament. Therefore, although the hon. Gentleman had brought forward his Motion in the mildest and most milk-and-water manner possible, he hoped he was not going to waste the time of the House by withdrawing, but that he would be found staunch enough and true enough to his friends to press it to a division.


said, he understood the hon. Member (Mr. Cobden) to have said that he (Mr. Frewen) yesterday attended with the deputation that waited on the Earl of Derby. He was not present, and did not know of what had taken place until seven o'clock in the evening. The Committee sent a report to him, stating that they had urged the matter on the consideration of the Earl of Derby—that they were so satisfied with his answer that they hoped he would not press the House on the question. He said he thought it was only due to his constituents to bring the question under the consideration of the House, in order that he might have an opportunity of urging the amount of the tax, and the unjust way in which it pressed upon his constituents. Feeling quite satisfied with the answer of the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was not his intention to divide the House on the present occasion.


said, when the House knew that during the last year and the present the price of hops had more than doubled, it would be of opinion that that was a sufficient inducement to increase the cultivation, for the foreigner had still the inducement of a high price to import. Instead of the cultivation of hops being ruinous to the farmer, he believed that it was much more profitable to grow hops at 9l. 10l. or 13l. a cwt., than to grow wheat at 30s. a quarter; and if he might be permitted to take such a liberty, he would say to the hop growers of Kent, Worcester, and some other parts, that in the present depressed state of agriculture they could not direct themselves to a more profitable pursuit than to the cultivation of hops. With regard to the observation of the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. H. Drummond), he must be well aware that no brewer could have recourse to the ingredient to which he had adverted without an infraction of the law of the land, and without exposing himself to certain conviction. It was scarcely worthy of the hon. Member to impute to a respectable class of trades- men an infraction of the law from the use of a deleterious article,

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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