HC Deb 04 July 1862 vol 167 cc1448-52

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the continuous oppressive Duty on Malt. They had had discussions upon questions of expenditure which had elicited some very able speeches. He thought that those speeches which had emanated from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) were calculated to do a vast deal of good. They were the handwriting on the wall which declared that no Government would ever again be allowed during a time of peace to raise a revenue of £70,000,000. A feeling had sprung up throughout the country that an immense expenditure should no longer be tolerated; and that as it was wholly unnecessary, it ought to be materially reduced. But if they had a revenue of even £75,000,000 or £80,000,000, they would be sure to spend it; and therefore their great security for the future would be their determination to refuse such large sums of money as had hitherto been asked for. If they were to abridge the revenue, he was sure that their expenditure would be cut down. Now, he did not know anything that claimed more strongly the consideration of the House and the Government than the reduction of the malt duty. Before the corn laws were abolished, it was generally admitted that the interests of agriculture would have fair claims on the consideration of the Government. They had not, however, received the consideration which had been promised. He hoped that the time would never arrive when they would suffer from a dearth of corn as they were suffering from a dearth of cotton. They had always been told that there would be an abundant supply of all commodities if free trade were fully established; but in the case of cotton it had failed to keep up the necessary supply. He hoped that the time would never arrive when a war with Russia or America would prevent a supply of corn coming into the country. He was disposed to think that the House was not aware of the amount of revenue derived from malt. Besides the £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 which were derived from the article of malt, there were £10,000,000 or £11,000,000 more from spirits; and thus the country derived about £17,000,000, nearly one-fifth of the revenue, from the single article of barley. That was most impolitic, as well as oppressive to the agriculturist. In his opinion, if the duty were reduced, an equal, or perhaps greater, amount of revenue from malt would be received from the increase of consumption. Malt had been taxed to such a degree that an extension of the consumption could not be obtained. Moreover, the farmers were not permitted to use their own malt, without paying a tax for it, for the purpose of rearing or fattening cattle; so that in this respect they were unable to meet the foreigner on equal terms. The duty-paid malt in England, Scotland, and Ireland, in the years 1830, 1831, 1832, 1833, and 1834, was on an average 4,932,632 quarters. And in the years 1857, 1858, 1859, and 1860, after the lapse of thirty years, the duty-paid malt was 5,159,897 quarters, being an increase of only 227,265 quarters, or about 5 per cent in thirty years. While the population had in creased at the rate of 30 per cent, and the wealth of the country had increased at a greater rate than 30 per cent, there must be some cause for so small an increase in the consumption of malt. He believed that that cause was to be found in the great and severe amount of duty imposed upon it. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer would materially reduce the amount of that duty, he believed that the amount of his revenue would be by no means lessened. There were two modes by which relief might be given to the agricultural interests. One was by materially reducing the amount of duty on malt. But that was not the mode of relief which they ought to desire either in a national point of view or as moralists. If the House had virtue enough—if the representatives of the people had independence enough, and if there were not parties to control the Government, the most effectual and essential way of giving relief to the agriculturist would be the removal of the whole of the duty on malt and the placing it upon beer. That would be one of the noblest things a Chancellor of the Exchequer could do; and one of the most beneficial movements that the House could adopt. From the facility afforded for rearing and feeding cattle with malt, there would take place an augmented consumption of the article. The farmers would be able to supply a nutritious beverage to the hardworking man employed in field labour, and at the same time the tippling, drunken, and demoralized habits which so much disgraced the country would be diminished. There was no opportunity during the present Session to bring in any measure on the subject; but he wished to lay before the House his views on the subject, in the hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be induced to give his attention to it, and if he had courage enough—he (Mr. Ball) believed he had grace enough—to strike the duty off malt and to put it on beer. By so doing, the right hon. Gentleman would confer one of the greatest blessings on society; and prove himself one of the greatest moralists of the age.


said, the hon. Member had with great fairness stated his reason against the continuance of the malt tax. Nevertheless, in dealing with the question, he had overlooked some important considerations connected with the subject. When a complaint was made that there had been no considerable increase in the consumption of malt, it was but fair to take into view the fact that during the period to which the hon. Member had referred the country was becoming a community consuming a much less average quantity of strong liquors than formerly. Let the House consider what was the consumption during the period alluded to of spirits and wine. The consumption of wine, until the recent change, was stationary; and the consumption of spirits, he apprehended, had positively receded. The hon. Member, when he said that barley laboured under oppressive taxation, ought to bear in mind the average prices for barley for the last ten and twenty, or forty and sixty years, and he would then perceive that barley was a grain of which the progress in price had been much more marked than that of any other grain. That was a conclusive answer to the statement of the hon. Member, that barley was a grain unduly ground down by taxation. The system of this country was to levy a large portion of revenue from strong liquors; and how was malt treated as compared with other strong liquors? Without saying that it was less taxed than it ought to be, he, nevertheless, maintained that it was treated with mildness. The tax on alcohol in beer was at the rate of about 2s. the gallon. The tax on alcohol in wine was at the rate of from 4s. to 7s. the gallon; and the tax on spirits was at the rate of 10s. the gallon. The hon. Member ought to remember that malt had received very great advantage from recent legislation. There had been the remission of the duty in Scotland on all malt used in making spirits, and the great competing article with malt—spirits—had had the duty on it immensely increased, while the duty on malt had remained stationary. The duty on spirits in Ireland ten years ago was 2s, 8d. the gallon; in Scotland, 3s. 8d., and in England about 7s. the gallon; while now, throughout the whole of the three kingdoms, it was 10s. the gallon. The effect had been to occasion a considerable reduction in the consumption of spirit, while that of beer had increased. The hon. Gentleman's proposal to transfer the tax from malt to beer was attractive at first sight; but it was a mistake to suppose that it would be any great boon to the brewer; because at present it was the malster, and not he, that was liable to the survey of the Excise. As regarded the revenue, it would be a most formidable change to remove the survey from the 10,000 maltsters to the 40,000 brewers. There might be good reasons for a change such as that proposed by the hon. Gentleman if it could be proved that malt, but for the regulations of the Excise, would be extensively used in the feeding of cattle. That, however, was a question which had undergone the most careful consideration before a Committee not composed of persons hostile to those connected with the sale and growth of barley; and he spoke without fear of contradiction, when he asserted that the result of the investigation had been to show that it was far more profitable, on account of the superior nutritive qualities of barley, to apply it to the feeding of cattle than to convert it into malt, and then to use it for that purpose. The hon. Gentleman complained of the mode in which the farmers were exposed to competition with the foreigner. Competition in what? In malt? It was admitted that the foreign maltster could not compete with the English. Was it, then, in the article of meat? If so, he could only say that there had been a steady increase in the price of meat, and yet the hon. Gentleman had come forward and complained, in lugubrious tones and with a perfectly grave countenance, of the position of two agricultural products in the case of which, ever since competition had come into operation, an upward movement in price had been the result. That circumstance, however, afforded no reason why the law should not be improved; and if the hon. Gentleman could show that the agriculturist was deprived of a beneficial article of nutriment by the law as it stood, he would have adduced an important reason for its alteration. That, at the same time, was a matter which the hon. Gentleman had not attempted to discuss on the present occasion, and he should not therefore detain the House by quoting authorities on the subject. Let not his hon. Friend, however, run away with the notion that a reduction of taxation always meant an increase of consumption. No doubt, in judiciously selected instances, that had proved to be the case; but it must not be regarded as a mathematical axiom. If the hon. Gentleman would turn his attention to the article of coffee, he would find that although much had been done in recent years to relieve it from duty, yet no appreciable increase in its consumption had taken place. His hon. Friend had discharged his duty to his constituents and to his conscience, and no man felt that duty press more heavily upon him; but he (the right hon. Gentleman) hoped that it would be unnecessary to continue the discussion further.


said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was wrong in thinking that the question had been settled. He could, from personal experience, confirm the statement of his hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Ball), that malt was much more valuable than barley for feeding cattle.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Supply considered in Committee.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again on Monday next.