HC Deb 05 April 1859 vol 153 cc1413-4

said, he wished to call the attention of the hon. Baronet the Under Secretary of the Treasury to the fact that considerable dissatisfaction had been occa- sioned in connection with the circumstance that tea which had been imported into this country had been so damaged as to be use-less, and he trusted some steps would be taken to prevent the recurrence of the sale of an article which must be regarded in no other light than that of rubbish.


said, that the hon. Gentleman had called attention to a subject which had caused some interest in the City, and which related to some damaged tea which had been imported in a vessel called the Jubilee, which was wrecked. The question arose, what duty was to be charged on the tea. The packages being saturated with water, were much heavier than they would otherwise have been. The Commissioners of Customs had no authority to change the rate of duty, but it was not for them to charge duty on a pound of tea which was made heavier by a pound of water. The Commissioners allowed articles in this condition to be dried, so that the duty might be charged on the articles themselves and not on the water with which they were saturated. Some of the tea in question had been allowed to be dried in bond and the duty charged, and the other cases were charged on the weight which would naturally belong to chests of tea of that size. In cases in which the public health was not concerned, that was a fair way of proceeding, for it was hard that the owner should not only suffer from the damage to his goods, but should have to pay additional duty. The other question was whether this tea was in so bad a state that it ought not to have been sold, and whether it would be prejudicial to the public health. With regard to that, however, the Commissioners of Customs had no power to destroy damaged goods, on the ground that they were unfit for consumption. The Crown, however, possessed the right, by Order in Council, to prohibit the importation of such articles; and if the Customs authorities thought they would be prejudicial to the public health, they might have taken steps by moans of which the Crown would have had power to destroy them. The tea in this case had been examined, he believed, by Dr. Fitzwilliam, who stated that it was very bad stuff, but not deleterious to health. It was consequently allowed to go into the market. Since this occurrence, he (Sir Stafford Northcote) had called on the Commissioners of Customs to draw up a report on the whole question, so that some rule might be laid down with regard to articles unfit for consumption.