HC Deb 03 March 1854 vol 131 cc308-14

Order for Committee read.

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


moved, as an Amendment, that, prior to any future contract for the supply of spirits for the use of Her Majesty's Navy being made, tenders for the supply of home-made spirits be admitted. The hon. Member observed that he had no desire to trespass at any length on the attention of the House, but he thought that this was a fitting occasion to consider the propriety of admitting into competition with rum, as the beverage for the Navy, another description of spirits, which would probably prove quite as acceptable on board Her Majesty's ships of war. On reference to the London Price Current he found that the price of rum fluctuated very considerably in the month of January last, and that on the 27th of that month it had reached 3s. 11d. a gallon. He was informed, too, that such was the scarcity of the article that the Government had found it necessary to accept, even at that high price, all the tenders—four in number—which had been offered, and that, too, for the full quantity. The Government contract had, in fact, been concluded at a rate which would raise the price of rum, 25 per per cent over-proof, to 5s. a gallon, which was 50 per cent in excess of what Irish or Scotch spirits might be had for. Such was the difference in the price of the two articles, and that difference, regarded even in an economic point of view, became important, when the quantity consumed was, as in the case of the Navy, very large. He held in his hand an extract from the trade circular of Messrs. Ridley and Co., of London, which contained the following statement:— Within the last month the rum market has witnessed the greatest rise since the last war. Our London stock may be said to be nearly exhausted. On the 21st ultimo it showed only 8,024 puncheons of all sorts. Should the Government require in one tender 100,000 gallons (until arrivals take place), it is questionable if they would get supplied. British spirits, now at 11s. proof, must be used up extensively to mash with rum for domestic consumption. The effect of the high prices on home consumption is made apparent by a decrease in the London payments for twelve months, and a falling off of 519 puncheons. Such being the present state of the market, he submitted that there was nothing unreasonable in the request that, prior to any future contract for the supply of spirits to Her Majesty's Navy, tenders for the supply of home-made spirits should be admitted. The only question to be considered was, whether home-made spirits were as wholesome as rum; but on this point he did not apprehend that any difficulty would arise, for, if he had been correctly informed, the Treasury were at that moment in possession of evidence to show that home-made spirits, if of the proper age, were the more wholesome of the two. And most assuredly the relative estimation in which both were held by the general population was sufficiently attested by the much larger consumption of home-made spirits than of rum. This was not a mere distillers' question. It was a question in which England, Scotland, and Ireland were financially interested, and one which was of especial importance in Ireland, where there was an agricultural population, because the establishment of distilleries tended to encourage agriculture, by creating ready markets for grain, and gave to the poorer population remunerative employment, and thus relieved the pressure of the poors' rates. If it could be shown that the men serving on board Her Majesty's ships had an objection to spirits, or preferred rum, such a fact would, of course, be fatal to the Motion he was now submitting; but no such prejudice could exist, inasmuch as the experiment of introducing home-made spirits instead of rum had never as yet been made. Some hundreds of coast-guardsmen had been drafted from their stations in Ireland and Scotland into the naval service, and it was not to be supposed that they would entertain any objection to a beverage with which they had been familiar for the last ten or twelve years. He considered that the Motion was a fair one, and, upon economic, sanitary, and free-trade grounds, he hoped that it would re- ceive the serious consideration of the Government.


seconded the Motion.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, 'it is the opinion of this House, that, prior to any future contract for the supply of Spirits for the use of Her Majesty's Navy being made, Tenders for the supply of Home-made Spirits be admitted,' instead thereof.


said, the question the hon. Gentleman had raised was by no means new; it had already been brought, and recently, under the consideration of the House, and he was bound to say that, in a financial point of view, it was worthy consideration. It was quite true that, at the present moment, the price of rum was considerably higher than that of whisky; but it would be entirely incompatible with the discipline of the Navy that two species of spirits should be issued to them at the same time. Almost from time immemorial rum had been the spirit used in the Navy, and it was in accordance with the great majority of those who served Her Majesty afloat. At this moment, in his judgment, it would be inconsistent with sound policy, on the ground of the high price of that spirit, to introduce any change. It must be remembered that the quantity of spirits served out every day had been greatly reduced, and while they reduced the quantity, he thought it would be most unadvisable to change the quality. It was not, therefore, on financial grounds that he should resist this Motion, but on the grounds that he had stated.


said, the right hon. Baronet opposed the Motion on the ground that it would be most detrimental to the discipline of the Navy if any choice was allowed to seamen with regard to the supply of spirits; but he must remind the right hon. Baronet that sailors were now allowed to use cocoa or coffee at their own discretion, and he (Mr. French) was not aware that that regulation had been prejudicial to the discipline of the fleet. The right hon. Baronet, by contending for this monopoly, was supporting a principle of protection in direct opposition to the interests of the corn-growers of the kingdom. He and his predecessors had thrown beef, biscuit, and almost every other article used in the Navy open to the entire world, but claimed protection for an article the produce of the refuse of sugar. He did not venture to say the health of the sailors was involved in this question, for he admitted that home-made spirits were wholesome; they were much more economical than the spirit supplied at present, and before the Sugar and Coffee Committee they had admitted that the preference was given to rum solely as a protection to the interests of the Colonies. British home-made spirits had already been tried with great advantage to the health of crews in the mercantile navy, and it was perfectly well known that, when on shore, sailors preferred them to rum. Last year the right hon. Baronet told them that if they considered the Board of Admiralty were not competent to manage such affairs they had better get rid of the establishment at once. Now, he (Mr. French) thought a little temper was displayed there, for he should think no one could contend that all the acts of the Admiralty were good, and he reminded them of the bad meat which had been bought and turned out a great loss to the country.


said, he could not see what analogy the hon. Member for Roscommon could find between this and the great question of protection. The argument in favour of the Motion was simply this—whisky was made in Ireland, rum was used in the Navy, therefore whisky ought to be substituted for rum on board Her Majesty's ships, or the hon. Gentleman made it a subject of complaint. As well might the sheep-growers of Sussex make it a matter of complaint that beef only was used in the Navy, and ask the House why it was that they did not take their mutton. But the hon. Member for Roscommon was the representative of a great whisky-growing interest, and because their interests might be served by it, therefore the House were to compel the seamen of Her Majesty's Navy to drink whisky instead of rum. Nothing was so dangerous at any time as to interfere with the rations and the allowances of the Navy. The mutiny at the Nore was chiefly caused, he believed, by the intermeddling of some such well-meaning individual as the hon. Member for Roscommon. But the hon. Member, in support of his own views, asserted that several of the mercantile marine had stored with whisky instead of rum; he challenged the hon. Gentleman to make good that assertion. It might be there was an individual ship that had made the substitution, but it was well known that the great majority of the mercantile marine made use of the ordinary grog taken in Her Majesty's Navy. He wished to inform the hon. Gentleman that the great consumption of rum in this country took place in seaport towns; and from that fact he drew this conclusion, that they drank it at seaport towns because sailors had a decided preference for rum. That, then, was a matter which might safely be left to the Board of Admiralty. No complaints had reached the Board from the sailors that it was rum and not whisky which was supplied them. The hon. Member had complained of whisky not having been substituted; but he could assure them that, if they persisted as they had begun with intermeddling with all the little details of the Board of Admiralty, they would have the Navy by-and-by in a very discreditable condition. He gave the hon. Member for Roscommon credit for his honesty of purpose; but he trusted the House would not be led away upon a Motion such as the present. He had no wish to detain the House; but if time permitted he could point out how inconvenient it would be to have two kinds of spirits on board, and especially if sailors were contented to drink grog, it was imprudent to interfere.


said, he was glad to hear the voice of his hon. Friend once more, but he thought on this occasion he had not spoken with his usual ingenuity. There might be very good reasons why mutton could not be introduced into the Navy—salt beef would keep better; but in the case of whisky, that spirit would keep as long as rum. He differed as to the taste of sailors for rum, for he had never met a naval officer who could bear that spirit in consequence of having so much on board. As to the two issues, he could see no objection to them; he believed the real reason for the preference shown to rum was that of protection, as had been alleged.


had listened with great attention to the remarks of the First Lord of the Admiralty on this subject, but could not discover a single sound argument for the continuance of the exclusion of homemade spirit from the Navy. When the hon. Gentleman who spoke afterwards rose, he expected to hear something like reason; but he told them nothing further than that they ought to have sufficient confidence in those who administered the affairs of the Admiralty. Rum cost the country considerably more than whisky would, and the latter spirit was not less wholesome, nor, he was sure, if introduced into the Navy, would it be less popular. If it could be so introduced great benefit would be conferred on the country generally and Ireland in particular.


said, as the representative of a district that was largely interested in the whisky manufacture, he might perhaps be permitted to state that he intended to support Her Majesty's Government on this occasion, and he did it on this ground, that it was an interference with the details of a department which had far better be left in the hands of the Executive. He had never heard any complaints from his constituents on the subject, who, as he said, dealt largely in the manufacture of whisky, and without going into details, he was satisfied that, if it was not for the convenience of the service, the Admiralty would not refuse to allow it to be tried.


gave the Government credit for simply wishing to determine which was the best spirit for the service, irrespective of West India or any other interest. He was quite prepared to assert that the only method of giving the experiment a trial would be to supply some particular ship before starting on a cruise with either whisky or gin, or some other spirit different from that ordinarily allowed. At the same time he was strongly of opinion that any such experiment was of a most hazardous character, considering how long the seamen had been accustomed to another sort of spirit, in the use of which they had always found very great pleasure. He quite coincided with the statement made by the hon. Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Osborne) as to the use of rum in seaport towns; he was perfectly certain that Jack, on first going on shore, would be sure to ask for rum above all other spirits. There could be no analogy whatever recognised between the use of coffee or cocoa in the Navy, and a choice between rum and whisky; for the arrangement as to the spirit to be used was a matter affecting the whole discipline of the service. No discretion could be allowed in such a matter. Agreeing, then, in the view taken by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, that the experiment suggested would be a most dangerous one, he was obliged, with every wish for the prosperity of Irish distillation, to vote against the proposal of the hon. Member.

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

The House divided:——Ayes 97; Noes 38: Majority 59.