HC Deb 19 February 1863 vol 169 cc542-6

Moved, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, that the necessity for bringing in a Bill of that character showed how necessary it was to do something with respect to the malt duties at large; for it showed how oppressively those duties worked, not only for the maltsters, but for the agricultural interest. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer would only apply to the malt duties the principle which he had so successfully applied to so many other taxes—namely, reduction up to a certain point, the duty might rebound, in consequence of the relief, and the revenue be more than made up. Such a measure would stimulate the production of barley, and enable persons to malt it, which at present they could not do. He would not enter into the whole question of the malt tax, because he hoped that on a future day the subject would be fully discussed; but he would say, that if there was to be any remission of taxation, the agriculturists had some right to expect from the Chancellor of the Exchequer the favour with which he had already regarded the manufacturing interest. With regard to the Bill, the relief to the maltsters was not at all what they desired. It was proposed that they should pay interest at 4 per cent on the duties for malt made between April and October, but it was well known that they did not get the money for malt made during that period until after Christmas; and therefore they would be called on to pay interest at 4 per cent for three months on money which they had not received. It would be a hard case for them and of small benefit to the revenue. If any measure of relief were given it should be such a measure as would benefit the trade, and he hoped in the Budget the right hon. Gentleman would take into consideration the agricultural interest, which he had hitherto neglected.


said, he recollected going up with a deputation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject, and he confessed that his right hon. Friend did not seem disposed to accept the suggestions then offered to him. He must have felt, however, that in reducing the credit from eighteen to six weeks he would so embarrass the small capitalist as to render it very difficult for him to carry on his business, Those who paid in the six weeks were called on to pay the duty before they got their malt into the market for sale, and they were also compelled to sell often when the market was very low to enable them to pay the duty. And when his right hon. Friend gave three months for the payment of the duty and asked 4 per cent interest, it was like asking men to pay interest on their own money, and in Committee he should oppose the charging of interest. The Bill was, no doubt, intended to give small relief, but from the conversation he had had with maltsters in Ware he gathered that they were of opinion that it afforded no relief comparatively to what they felt themselves entitled to. The whole question required consideration, and he hoped an opportunity would soon occur for discussing it.


said, he fully concurred in the observations of the hon. Gentlemen who had spoken. Two years ago the table was literally covered with petitions from persons who felt themselves aggrieved by the oppressive nature of the malt tax. Farmers complained, and not without reason, that while, from time to time, other classes of the community received relief, while the paper duty was abolished, while the wine duties were reduced, and while the agriculturists in Sussex got the hop duty taken off— which he trusted was the prelude to the total abolition of the malt duty—the general agricultural body had received no corresponding benefit. The right hon. Gentleman now came forward with a miserable boon in the shape of an extension of the malt credits for six weeks on the understanding that the maltsters would pay 4 per cent interest. When the question of the abolition of the malt duties came before the House on some future occasion he believed that one of the most powerful arguments for that measure would be the usefulness of malt in fattening cattle.


said, he hoped he should not be considered disrespectful if he did not enter on the general subject of the malt tax; but as they were promised a full discussion on a future day, he thought it better to reserve himself for that occasion. With respect to the particular provisions of the Bill, he concurred in the opinion that when they were in Committee it would be the best time to consider whether the relief proposed required further extension.


said, their legislation on the subject was extraordinary. A few years ago they limited the period of the malt credits, and by that process, in the course of two years, £2,000,000 were obtained by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for purposes of revenue, which really ought to have been considered as capital and not as revenue. They now found themselves under the necessity of extending the period of the malt credit; and although they were extending the period, they charged interest to the maltster before he had got a return of his money. Therefore, they were doing very little benefit to the maltster by returning to a system which had been done away with a little too unguardedly.


said, he thought it was not quite fair to confine the discussion to the merits of the Bill. It was perfectly true that in Committee was ordinarily the time to discuss particular clauses; but the Bill was of a peculiar character, and if in Committee they succeeded in altering it as to the payment of 4 per cent interest, the right hon. Gentleman, not being satisfied, could drop the measure. There was a point, however, on which he wished to set himself right with the House. In the course of the debate which took place on the first reading, he ventured to state that the result of the contraction of credit in 1859 and 1860 was to drive a considerable number of maltsters out of the trade. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not contradict him, but confined his speech entirely to the suggestion which had been made by the hon. Member for East Essex (Mr. Dodson). That hon. Member had stated that he (Mr. Puller) had been in error, for so far from there being a decrease in the number of maltsters, they had actually increased. He had taken the trouble to look into the Parliamentary statistics on the matter, and he found that they bore out the statement he had made. In 1859 the number of maltsters was 6,909, but in 1861 the number was 6,448, being a diminution of no less than 461. Turning to the main question, he could not but express his surprise that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he felt the injustice under which the maltsters suffered, arid proposed to confer a certain amount of relief, should clog the boon with a charge of 4 per cent for the extension of time. The proposition was manifestly so unfair that it needed only to be stated to refute itself. Living as he did, near one of the greatest malting towns in England (Hertford), he had endeavoured, by communication with some of the leading members of the trade, to make himself master of the question; and the information which he possessed led him to the conclusion that nothing could be more unfair towards the maltsters than to impose a penalty of 4 per cent upon them for the proposed extension of credit.


said, he should support the course proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as it was the duty of the right hon. Gentleman to obtain the most he could obtain for the revenue. He could not see why the country should furnish capital to the maltsters to carry on their business. He thought the boon to the maltsters ample, and on commercial grounds he should object to any further extension of it.


said, that as long as the malt duties existed, all talk about the prevalence of the principles of free trade was only a farce. It appeared to him, that on that side of the House there had been an expression of hope for which he feared there was little foundation, as well as on the part of some Members an expression of surprise at the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What ground was there for ever hoping that the right hon. Gentleman would be the means of reducing the taxation which bore so heavily upon the rural districts of the country? The farmers had had only too much cause to complain of the injustice which they had experienced in financial matters at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman. As the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge had said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had contrived to alter the system of malt credits in such a way as to confer no benefit on those whose position it was proposed to improve. What was proposed was a most unfortunate system of legislation, for it would alter the system without conferring any benefit upon the sufferers under it. It was impossible to conceive any proposition, he might say, so absurd as that of asking a man to pay 4 per cent for money that was in the pocket of somebody else. He quite agreed that this was not the time for discussing the details of the measure, but he must say that it evinced most strongly the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had not abated one iota of that hostility which he had always shown to the rural districts of the country, and he hoped that on a future occasion the House would succeed in inducing the right hon. Gentleman to deal justly with the parties interested.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Monday next.