HC Deb 09 August 1853 vol 129 cc1560-3

brought up the Report of the Committee of Supply.

Resolutions 1 to 4 agreed to.

(5.) Naval Coast Volunteers.


said, he wished to ask the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he could assign any reason why rum should be the only spirit selected for consumption in the Navy? During the last thirteen years, various tenders had been made to supply the Navy with spirits, the produce of British corn and British labour. In 1841, this question was submitted to the consideration of Parliament, and the Board of Admiralty at that time gave the House to understand that, acting in accordance with the advice of medical authorities, the heads of the victualling department were about to introduce some other spirit beside rum for the use of British sailors. Since that period, the question had not been much mooted; no steps had been taken to carry out the promise of 1841; and he understood that at this very time a contract was being executed for supplying Her Majesty's Navy with 30,000 gallons of rum. Now, it certainly was a very surprising fact, that free-trade Ministries, which had carried the principle of unrestricted competition so far as to accept tenders for supplying the British Navy with foreign beef, pork, and bread, had endeavoured to prop up the colonial monopoly in supplying the same Navy with rum. The parties whose interests he was then advocating did not ask the Board of Admiralty to take British spirits at a higher rate or of a worse quality than the colonial spirit. On the contrary, they contended that they would supply a better article at a lower price. An application had lately been made to the Board to the effect that sailors in the Royal Navy should have the same privilege extended to them in that matter which was enjoyed by sailors in the mercantile navy, and that they should be allowed to use rum, or other spirits, just as they themselves might prefer. But that application was met by a decided refusal. He had been informed that the spirit which was supplied to the Royal Navy was what was called "the sweepings" of the rum in the market, and that it had been sold at the rate of 2s. 1d., while the price of good rum varied from 2s. 8d. to 3s. But even at the price of 2s. 1d., he believed that a better article could be obtained from the manufacturer of British spirits. It was evident that the public in general preferred British spirits to rum; for while the annual consumption of the former in the United Kingdom amounted to 24,000,000 of gallons, the annual consumption of the latter amounted to only 4,000,000 of gallons. He wished, therefore, to know whether the right hon. Baronet could offer any explanation of the course taken by the Admiralty upon that subject; and, also, whether he would have any objection to lay before the House the correspondence which had taken place with respect to it between the Board of Admiralty and the representatives of the distillers of the United Kingdom?


said, he must confess that he must plead ignorance of the precise expressions with reference to the rum market to which the hon. Gentleman had referred. He did not know what the "sweepings of the rum market" were, and he could not, therefore, offer any explanation upon that part of the subject. He really must beg leave, however, somewhat to doubt whether this question had originated from any desire to promote the comfort of the sailor, or whether it had not rather some more immediate connexion with the distilling interest of the United Kingdom. But, whatever the reason, he could only answer the hon. Gentleman in one way—namely, that it was the opinion of the Board of Admiralty that it would not be conducive to the good of the service or to the discipline of the troops if there were an issue of more than one kind of spirit on board Her Majesty's ships. From almost time immemorial rum had been the spirit in use in Her Majesty's Navy. Every effort had been made to induce the sailor to prefer the use of other stimulants to spirits. Coffee and other liquids had been introduced in the hope of leading to a diminished use of ardent spirits. There was now, therefore, only one issue of spirits daily, and it would occasion the greatest possible inconvenience if there was to be an issue of more than one description of spirit. Then came the question, what the spirit should be; and considerations both of habit and taste, and, as he believed, also the health of the sailor, had induced the Board of Admiralty to give the preference to rum. The subject had been brought before various Boards of Admiralty, and all had concurred in the opinion that it was the preferable spirit. If the hon. Gentleman wished to see the correspondence between the Board of Admiralty and the distillers, he had no objection to produce it.


said, he wished to ask the right hon. Baronet whether he would be prepared to lay before the House a copy of the medical report which had been made upon that subject? He understood that the question had been referred by the Board of Admiralty to the medical officers of the Navy, with a view to ascertain whether in a medical point of view rum possessed any advantage over home-made spirits. He was given to understand that the Report of those officers was in favour of native spirits, and that, in their opinion, rum contained deleterious qualities which those spirits did not possess, while it did not contain their good qualities. He believed that if a choice was given in this matter to the sailor, he would invariably prefer British to Colonial spirits. There was no doubt that the movement against the existing practice in the Royal Navy had originated with the distillers of the United Kingdom; but those gentlemen were perfectly justified in seeking to obtain the abolition of a monopoly which was a direct infraction of that principle of unrestricted competition which had of late years been adopted in the commercial policy of this country.


said, that that was not a question of free trade or of monopoly; it was merely a question of what was most conducive to the discipline and the comfort of the men in Her Majesty's Navy. He was not aware whether the question of health, as regarded the use of any particular kind of spirits in the Royal Navy, had been under the consideration of any medical officers. But he should say that if the Board of Admiralty were not competent to decide a case of that kind, or if their decision were to be set aside by the House of Commons, the sooner the Board abandoned its functions and was abolished, the better.

Resolutions agreed to; as were also Resolutions 6 and 7.