HC Deb 15 February 1864 vol 173 cc596-615

Order for Second Reading read.

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


said, that he could not allow the Bill to be passed without making a few comments upon the measure; because he should not like his constituents to suppose that he received the Bill in the same way as the majority of the speakers who had, on a former occasion, addressed the House upon it. His hon. Friend the Member for East Suffolk, had thanked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the great benefits which the Bill would confer upon the agricultural interest, and other hon. Members had spoken in a similar strain. He could not himself coincide with those hon. Members; for, in his opinion, the Bill was nothing more than a sop given to close the mouth of the farmer, who justly complained of the burdens on land. He believed that the credulity of hon. Members had been practised upon, when they were induced to believe that great advantage would be derived from the Bill. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass), however, was one who did not think that there would be any great benefit to the farmer; and he also said that he thought that the revenue would be injured. The hon. Member further added, that he had had a correspondence with Professor Liebig, who was by no means an advocate for the measure, and another hon. Member had read the Professor's letter, as to the blood-making and fattening qualities of malt. But the utmost encouragement which Professor Liebig gave wag that malt might possibly be easier of digestion than barley, and might, therefore, be of a more fattening quality. All the matter lay in a nutshell—was it worth the farmer's while to malt his barley? He declared that it was not. The best barley the farmer could sell at a remunerative price, and consequently he would not malt that; and as for inferior barley the farmer could now by grinding and mixing it with oilcake, turn it, at a most trifling cost, to a useful purpose in feeding pigs and cattle. In his opinion it was thus turned to a better account than the farmer would secure from building malting houses, and placing himself under the supervision of the excise. He conceived it to be absurd to talk of danger to the revenue from the Bill, because he believed that little or none of this malt would be made. Still, he would vote for the second reading, because he regarded it as a perfectly innocent and harmless measure. It was a mere ministerial mixture, intended to throw dust in the eyes of the farmers; and to cause them, at the next general election, to look favourably upon the candidates who supported the Ministry which had brought in the measure. He gave the right hon. Gentleman much credit for his address in introducing the Bill.


said, he for one thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the introduction of the measure. He had always thought it a great hardship on the British farmer that he was unable to malt a particular produce of his land for fattening his own cattle; and therefore he considered that the Government had acted well in introducing this Bill, if merely as an experiment. He could only say that one of his constituents, whom he happened to meet very recently, spoke of the measure as a great boon, and expressed a hope that, through its means, he should be able to fatten three oxen for every two, and five sheep for every three he now fattened.


said, in discussing the Bill they were placed under a disadvantage owing to the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had charge of it. He (Mr. Packe) was sorry not to see him in his place, but he hoped that some Member of Her Majesty's Government would report to the right hon. Gentleman what was said during the debate, and that he would consider the suggestions which Members might make for the improvement of the Bill. He looked upon the Bill as only a trifling mitigation of the burdens which fell upon land; it was but a diminutive instalment of what the British farmer was entitled to. At a time when cereal produce was under a great depression, and the loss of cattle from disease had been very serious throughout the entire of England, the farmers might reasonably expect something more than duty-free malt for feeding their cattle. He would give the Bill his support on the second reading; but he wished to suggest that in the very title of it, and the words used throughout, there was a defect, which if it remained in its present shape would prevent the right hon. Gentleman from carrying out the entire object which he proposed to effect. It was called "The Malt for Cattle Bill." Now, cattle generally were taken to be beasts, and that definition excluded sheep, pigs, and farm horses. If the right hon. Gentleman proposed to extend the benefits of the Bill to farm stock generally, he ought not to use the word cattle, but ought, to avoid misapprehension, to substitute for it agricultural stock. If the right hon. Gentleman intended that all farm stock should be benefited, the alteration which he (Mr. Packe) suggested was only a verbal one, which did not affect the principle of the Bill.


said, he thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite rather undervalued the boon likely to be conferred upon the farmer by the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. Many farmers who would otherwise be disposed, during the present low prices of corn and high price of meat, to try what they could do with their grain in feeding cattle, were now unwilling to boil and mix it for fear of a visit from the exciseman. The measure would enable such persons to experimentalize. He admitted, however, that as soon as the state of the revenue allowed, the agricultural interest had a right to something more than this concession. There was no reason why they should not then receive the total repeal of the malt duty; but meanwhile they ought to be obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, because science, when applied to agriculture, taught them that the more the produce of a farm was consumed upon the farm the better.


(the Chancellor of the Exchequer having just entered the House) said, if any proof were wanting of the very small importance which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared to attach to the measure, it might be found in the fact that he did not condescend to be present at the early part of the discussion upon it. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Pollard-Urquhart), that under free trade the very existence of a malt tax was an absurdity. Under a system of free trade it was a monstrous outrage on all justice. At the same time, he (Mr. Bentinck) could not admit that the right hon. Gentleman was entitled to receive the gratitude of the country for the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had misconceived the wants of the agriculturists in their agitation for the repeal of the malt duties. Aware of that agitation he had brought in the Bill; but what the agriculturists wanted was not this miserable measure. What they wanted was the total repeal of the malt duties. He did not say that this could be obtained for them now. This would be asking too much. But any measure which intervened to prevent such a result, was to be regarded by them as a hostile proceeding. He (Mr. Bentinck) ventured to anticipate that that hostile proceeding on the part of the Government would be taken, and he was not astray in his predictions. The right hon. Gentleman had tried what might be called a sop in the pan. But his sop in the pan would not answer the purpose for which it was intended. The right hon. Gentleman had been so determined an opponent to the interests of agriculture, that it was worthy of remark that he was now showing symptoms of leaning in an opposite direction. Now he (Mr. Bentinck) did not suppose the right hon. Gentleman had changed his nature; for though his opinions might change, his nature remained the same. The present change, however, was remarkable. The right hon. Gentleman had found himself compelled to admit the necessity for some alteration, and with the great ability and the great ingenuity for which the right hon. Gentleman was remarkable, he had set himself to find some mode of shelving the question of the repeal of the malt tax. That was the object of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to deal with certain restrictions, but it was not on the ground of restriction that those who attended anti-malt tax meetings complained. What they complained of was the entire nature of the tax. If the right hon. Gentleman supposed that by the paltry measure before the House he would palliate or mitigate the mischief, or conciliate those who suffered from the tax, he was greatly mistaken, and he had mistaken the feeling of the country. There was another point in which he had mistaken the feeling of the country: it was that he proposed the intervention of that most objectionable person — the exciseman, in a more objectionable shape than ever. One of the things which rankled most in the minds of those who were affected by the malt duties was the intervention of the exciseman, and yet that was the very thing which was perpetuated by the Bill, and if it became law the farmer would be saddled with the exciseman in a more inconvenient and more inquisitorial manner than ever. In Committee the objections to the details would be more fully pointed out; but he must point out that the right hon. Gentleman, according to his usual practice, encouraged adulteration. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to like the adulteration of a pure commodity; his mind took that turn; and the process of adulteration was congenial to his feelings. The right hon. Gentleman had tried his hand at adulterating coffee, and was now about to try his hand on malt. But even that feature of the Bill would fail to meet the object which the right hon. Gentleman had in view. Moreover, the Bill, though it was described as an experimental one, threw upon the farmers such additional expenditure for new buildings, that nothing but the certainty that it would be permanent as well as advantageous would justify the outlay. Again, the Bill proposed to put every person who came under the benefit of the Bill in the position of a licensed maltster; but the House must ask the right hon. Gentleman to do away with that proposal. It was something, perhaps, that they had at last obtained from the right hon. Gentleman an admission of the injustice to which the agricultural interest was subjected by the retention of the malt duties. The hope was not almost desperate that they might look forward to the time when on other grounds their interests might be thought worthy of further consideration by the right hon. Gentleman. He was afraid, however, it was almost asking 100 much of the right hon. Gentleman. He believed that the present Bill, so far from being advantageous to the agricultural interest in its working, would do more harm than good; and if the right hon. Gentleman thought such a Bill would do away with the agitation for the repeal of the malt duty, he ventured to say that the right hon. Gentleman would be mistaken. So far from its being a stop to agitation, it would add fuel to the flame. It was not, however, in that place that the battle must be fought—it was at the hustings. When the rural districts awoke to the fact that they required an enlarged representation, there would be some hope of redressing the grievances under which agriculturists laboured.


said, he regretted to find that the Bill had not been appreciated at its full value by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Gentleman who had just sat down appeared, from the general tenor of his observations, to have combatted it in a hostile speech, rather than to have accepted it as a boon, so far as it went, to the agriculturists. [Mr. BENTINCK: Hear, hear!] He thought there could be no doubt the Bill was a very fair instalment and indication that the right hon. Gentleman was disposed to favourably consider the claims of the agriculturists and give them relief. The Bill, in the first instance, proposed to relieve them from what had been considered for years as one of the most vexatious restrictions to which they could, by any possibility, be subjected. It would open out a fresh branch of manufacture, and in so doing it would add materially to their wealth, by giving a feeding quality to two-thirds of the barley produce of the country, which was now unavailable for brewing purposes. He was quite aware that a very wide difference of opinion existed between practical and theoretical men as to the amount of benefit which was likely to accrue from the conversion of barley into malt for feeding purposes, and there could be no doubt that until it had been largely tested no adequate reliable information could be obtained. He believed they might attribute, with justice, great efficacy to the feeding qualities of malt. It was well known that in the neighbourhoods of distilleries large quantities of cattle were taken in for the purpose of fattening upon the wash or refuse; and so high an opinion did prize cattle associations entertain of its fattening qualities, that in many instances they debarred candidates from feeding their animals upon it, in order that no unfair advantage should be taken of those who had not the means or the opportunity of availing themselves of it. If, therefore, distillers' refuse or wash was so valuable, of how much greater advantage would it be if agriculturists could avail themselves in feeding their cattle with malt retaining the whole of its inhe- rent saccharine property. Mr. Fisher Hobbs, who was the winner of more prizes probably than any other living man, in a speech recently delivered at Lincoln, accounted for the superiority of his animals by stating that, whatever food he gave his cattle, he always topped them up with malt. So far as he had had an opportunity of judging, the present measure was likely to give general satisfaction to the agricultural community at large, and he hoped it would shortly become the law of the land.


said, that they had a Liberal and Free Trade Government; they were in the enjoyment last year, and he hoped they would this year also have, a surplus of revenue over expenditure; and they were blessed with a Chancellor of the Exchequer who was always telling them how advantageous it was to mitigate taxation without destroying revenue. The right hon. Gentleman told them that the reduction of taxation did not always lead to a reduction of revenue, but on the contrary, of tenled to increase. Seeing these things—without going so far as his hon. Friend the Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck), he could not see why they should not forego two-fifths of the malt tax, and still not lose our revenue. He read in the report of a speech recently delivered by the President of the Board of Trade, that the country, in spite of all the distress under which we had been labouring for the last two or three years, was progressing steadily in wealth and prosperity. In 1861, he said, our exports were £113,000,000; in 1862, they were £115,000,000; and in 1863, notwithstanding the suffering from the cotton famine and the war in America, our exports were £130,000,000; therefore he could not say we were in any way badly off for money. It was, then, strange that with all those circumstances a free trade Government, a flourishing exchequer, and the country in the highest state of prosperity under such distressing circumstances they should maintain a tax which fell most heavily, he would almost say unjustly, on some particular classes. He was not standing there to badger or bully the Chancellor of the Exchequer, though from what he had seen of Parliamentary debates it was usual to do so, about everything he wished to do. He was willing to believe the right hon. Gentleman acted from a bonâ fide desire to do good, and to give him credit for looking to the welfare of the country; but he was often too clever and too ingenious for them, and he thought he had been so in the present instance. He must, however, take exception to the Bill for its own sake. In the first place, he agreed with the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) that it was a Bill that would certainly lead to fraud. It seemed to tempt the honest agriculturist, and he took it as a compliment to them, for this was a Bill that would almost make rogues of any set of men. The Bill must of necessity lead to fraud. A man went to an enormous expense in building a malthouse or converting a building into one, with his name painted on it in magnificent characters, as they had been told, showing that he was a licensed maltster; but how were they to know he mixed the one-tenth linseed with the malt unless they had a large staff of excisemen throughout the country? So far, then, from the Bill being a step in the right direction, in his opinion it would prove "a let-off, a hindrance, and a stumbling-block" in the road they wanted to go— namely, for a mitigation of the duty on malt. The laxity of the right hon. Gentleman the other night in conceding five years instead of three, was rather a proof of what he now asserted, because it would shut their mouths two years longer. The agriculturists were quiet, good-natured, easy-going people, not gifted with the eloquence of many representatives of large boroughs; and possibly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in casting a retrospective glance over his past career, may have thought that perhaps he had not acted well towards the agriculturists, and owed them a good turn, and that although he had not taken off the duty on paper to curry favour with a particular class, yet he hoped if the agriculturists would pay fairly for a few years longer, he would be able to consider what he could do for them. The plan now proposed could not be carried out without promoting, and even encouraging, fraud. It would be easy to mix linseed with part of the malt only, and to sell the remainder for other purposes: and the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass), a good authority on the matter, had told them how easy it was to adulterate malt, and he also hinted a doubt whether the admixture of one-tenth of linseed with malt would make bad beer. Although this Bill might be thought by some persons to be a step in the right direction, yet he believed it to be a hindrance to further progress; and, so far from stopping the agitation, he thought it would increase until they had obtained the abolition, or at least the reduction, of the malt duty.


said, that whatever opinions might be entertained as to the exact value of the Bill before the House, there could be no doubt that it was a gallant and straightforward effort of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, to redeem the conditional pledge he gave last year to many hon. Members, leading agriculturists, and others, who came to him to press upon his attention the whole subject of the Malt Tax, and more especially the grievous injustice which this Bill was intended to remedy; and he, for one, begged to thank the right hon. Gentleman for so promptly redeeming his pledge. He confessed, however, that he was one of those who, when first hearing of the Bill, felt great surprise, not to say suspicion, considering the quarter from which it came. But the right hon. Gentleman would, perhaps, allow him to say, that it gave additional point to the old adage, that "it is never too late to mend;" and he hoped, that now the right hon. Gentleman had come out in a new character, the agriculturists might look, not in vain, for some of those "blessings" of which they had heard so much, but felt so little. But he would ask leave to recommend the right hon. Gentleman not to stop where he was, but manfully to grapple with the larger question of the Malt Tax. He was convinced it could be removed, by the substitution of a tax upon beer and a graduated scale of licences on brewing. If the right hon. Gentleman would seriously consider these suggestions, which he begged with all humility to offer, he was convinced that ho would be able—and never more easily than at present—to remove an unjust tax from the shoulders of one of the most loyal and deserving classes of Her Majesty's subjects, to cheapen the production of meat, and to satisfy hon. Members on both sides of the House, without material damage to the revenue.


said, the debate had taken an impractical turn. The hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck), had called the tax a "monstrous absurdity," and had expressed his desire for a total repeal of it. Now, every tax was undoubtedly a hardship. Every tax necessarily lessened the luxuries of the poor and curtailed the income of the rich. It was therefore easy to make out a case of grievance against any tax. He should very much rejoice if the tax could be repealed, so that people might brew their beer at home, and drink it at home, instead of going to the public-house. But how was that to be done? How were they to get rid of five millions of taxation? His hon. Friend had expressed a strong opinion the other evening against reducing the armaments, he would not consent to a redaction in the army or the navy; then how were they to get rid of taxation? Were they to put it on the income tax? If so, it would amount to another sixpence in the pound, and that would be found disagreeable, not only to the farmers, but to every other class of society also. An increase in the charge for licences and a duty upon beer had been suggested by the hon. Member who had just sat down. But the result of such measures would be to press upon the agricultural class, whom it was desired to relieve. A duty upon beer, or an increased duty on licences, would increase the price of beer. The money would still be paid by the consumer. He did not see how they could get rid of £5,000,000 of taxation, and those who desired to take a practical view, must not tell them to get rid of it, but show them how to find a suitable substitute for it. He was always amused to hear the hon. Member for Norfolk speak of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but on that occasion he had imputed most unworthy and undeserved motives to him. The right hon. Gentleman had received a deputation whose arguments appeared to have had no effect, until a farmer from Suffolk suggested the case of a man who had exported sheep from Cambridge to Boulogne; who had also exported malt, receiving the drawback of duty; and who had afterwards sent back the sheep when fattened to compete with the animals fattened in this country under the disadvantages of the malt duty. That point appeared to stagger the right hon. Gentleman, and no doubt he saw the real hardship of which he intended the Bill as a relief. There was one blemish in the Bill—the increased interference of the exciseman. One of the restrictions was, that a certain amount of linseed meal was to be mixed with the barley. How were they to know whether that was done? The exciseman must enter the house, and be ever on the watch. That was his only objection to the Bill. Additional excisemen would also be required to perform the duty, and that would create an additional expense. Again, if, as had been stated in the debate, cattle could be as well fattened on ground barley as upon malt, it was not easy to see the hardship which used so often to be complained of by the agriculturists. He thought they had made a mistake in bringing under the consideration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer such an argument. For he had taken them at their word, and given them what they had claimed. He felt it desirable to trouble the House with these few remarks, and he trusted that they had been of a practical character.


said, he believed that it was a mistake to suppose that the malt tax pressed unfavourably on the agricultural interest. He believed that it did not press upon the agricultural interest—but upon the consumers of malt; and such was the opinion of many eminent agriculturists. Wheat was being sold for almost what it cost to produce, while barley was a profitable crop. If the malt duty were repealed, inferior barley would be imported from the Continent to compete with English barley. With respect to the Bill before them, he believed that malting barley would not add to its qualities for feeding purposes, but it might add a quality which would render it more acceptable to cattle. The addition of a little malt would probably make other food a little more palatable to cattle, and there might be something in the saccharine matter to render its addition useful; but the representations he had received from Yorkshire maltsters led him to believe that their trade would be very much interfered with by the Bill. If they had to pay the duty on malt they feared they would find it very difficult to sell it against that which had not paid duty. As to the chance of fraud, would there not be found some riddles sufficiently fine to be put in requisition, so that what came through the sieve would do very well for fattening cattle, while what remained on the other side would do for beer? He feared the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he expected to have his revenue from malt undiminished, would be disappointed. He also thought farmers would be obliged to look sharply after the pockets of their labourers, as the tendency of the Bill would be to produce dishonesty in the country. Altogether, he looked on the measure with great suspicion. It was fraught with danger in many respects, and he certainly was not sanguine as to its results.


said, he had no intention of going into the general question of the malt duty, though it was a tempting subject after some of the observations that had been made. He should confine himself to the Bill before them, with one exception. It was not a very gracious thing to "look a gift horse in the mouth," but he did not believe for a moment that the Bill would relieve the vexed question — and vexed it was — whether malt was or was not beneficial in feeding cattle. He did not believe the Bill would go at all to that point, and for this reason. No one would contend the difference was very great, and the various opinions expressed on all sides showed it could not be the case. He wished the Government had given them the result of the experiments which he believed were made last autumn—he believed they were made, but he might be misinformed. But what was the case? This malt must be manufactured as a specialty; it would be made in premises where nothing else was manufactured; it was also to be mixed with another article in a particular manner. For manufacturing such a specialty, a tradesman must have considerable profit, because he could not be certain of the amount of trade he would have. That would enhance the price of the article in addition to any provision he might make against the penalties which, doing anything under the direction of the excise, must necessarily carry with it. Therefore, the expense of malt so mixed would be greatly enhanced to what it would be if the trade was free. If the agriculturist were allowed to perform the process himself he would soon find out whether malt was best for feeding cattle, ground as now, and whether it should be given steeped or dry. The doing away of the malt credits had shut up a good many malt-houses, and farmers would have to pay through the nose for linseed. The maltster must get a profit, and he might mix some very curious articles with his malt instead of linseed. It was impossible to Bay what might be used. It was doubtful whether adulteration would not take place to a considerable extent, and if the cattle did improve by the feeding, it would be impossible to tell whether it was attributable to the malt or the linseed. An hon. Gentleman who spoke before him said the malt duty was a consumer's question. He would like to ask the hon. Gentleman if his constituency would like to have a tax on all produce that came out of their mills instead of a farthing being charged to each consumer. The malt tax was a consumer's as well as a producer's question, and it was difficult to tell in what proportion it affected the one or the other. This Bill might be of some advantage, he did not say whether it would or not; but the right hon. Gentleman could not expect—he would be disappointed if he did—that the measure would tend to settle the question, which involved so large an amount of revenue.


said, he thought if the Bill did little good it would do no harm. The trade in malt, however, should be perfectly free. The article might be charged with duty only when made into beer. There might be a slight loss on the revenue in consequence of the measure, but he should not object to that, provided the people had good beer. He believed that the Bill would not cause much loss to the Exchequer. The machinery existed for levying the duty on malt when made into beer. All public brewers were bound to give notice to the excise when they were going to mash a quantity of malt, and no great difficulty could arise from the operation of the Bill. As to the objection that the Bill might lead to illegal brewing, it should be remembered that beer could not be brewed without giving to the surrounding country the smell of what was going on, and nothing could be so easy as to levy a tax on beer.


said, he feared the measure would turn out to be a dead letter. At the same time, he gave the Chancellor of the Exchequer full credit for his good intention in introducing the Bill. The Bill provided for a great experiment—that of fattening cattle by means of malt. The first condition, however, of making an experiment was that it should not be expensive. But in the Bill there were eight conditions, any one of which was sufficient to deter a man from making the experiment. He should be inclined to call the Bill "A Bill to prevent the experiment from being made." Linseed cake was an article, the price of which varied from £5 to £12 or £13 per ton; it would, therefore, be at the option of the maltster to use a good article, or what was comparatively deleterious. He did not think that the Bill would afford much inducement to labourers to steal malt, for beer could not be made with it without the use of hops. He was not so sanguine of the beneficial result of the measure as many hon. Members seemed to be, but he should not oppose the second reading.


said, he felt disposed to accept the Bill in a spirit of thankfulness. There were several provisions which were open to objection, but they could be dealt with in Committee. He submitted that it was not desirable that the Committee should be appointed at so early a period, as that hon. Members would be debarred from all opportunity of ascertaining the views and opinions of those who were practically acquainted with the subject.


said, he also thought it was desirable that the discussion in Committee should be postponed till an opportunity was given to hon. Members for communicating with the practical men among their constituents. He thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was to be thanked, not for introducing the measure, but for admitting that the farmer was hardly dealt with in not being permitted to use his own materials for the purposes of his own trade. The Bill, he was afraid, would not do much good. It was a bone thrown to a hungry dog, but there was little flesh on it. He wished to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether he thought the provisions of his measure would operate as a prohibition on the excellent practice, followed in some places, of germinating barley without drying?


Sir, I shall begin by adverting to one or two points purely incidental and separate from the general discussion. The hon. Member for Nottinghamshire (Mr. Barrow) asked me whether this Bill involves a prohibition of that which is at present granted to all persons—namely, the power of carrying the conversion of their grain into malt up to a certain point, provided it does not proceed so far as kiln-drying. I am not aware that there is any reason why the liberty given by this Bill should interfere in any manner with any other liberty at present enjoyed under the regulations of the Excise. Then, the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) said he wished the Government had laid before the House the results of the experiments which have been made under their direction during the autumn, with respect to the use of malt in the feeding of cattle. The results of those experiments will be made known at the earliest possible period, but they are not at present in my hands. I am sure, however, that the right hon. Gentleman will feel that, whatever might have been the results of those experiments, unless they had amounted to an absolute negative—which they could not have done —they could not have constituted a reason why, on the grounds on which I have based this Bill, it would not have been my duty to submit it to the House. I have also been asked to allow further time before going into Committee. The day on which I had purposed going into Committee was next Wednesday week, that being a day which is not at present much engaged with business; but I am entirely in the hands of the House, as I have no desire to press forward this Bill. There is no public interest connected with the Exchequer which requires me to hasten it, but my motive for not wishing to delay it too long was that when once Supply begins, which it must do next week, the Government will have but a limited portion of time at its command; and, for various reasons, I did not think it would be satisfactory to have unnecessary delay in passing the Bill into law. Therefore, I propose to appoint the Committee for Wednesday week; but, at the same time, if any general desire is intimated to me for postponement beyond that period, I shall not stand in the way of it. I am glad that this Bill has been so fully discussed, and that there has been so free an expression of opinion upon it. The Government has no reason to complain of the very courteous and indulgent manner in which the measure has been received in every quarter. I hope the House do not suppose that I have introduced it under any notion that it is to work a magical effect either in one direction or the other. In bringing forward the Bill, I did not endeavour to present it to the House with a nourish of trumpets, as a measure which was to be of wonderful and universal efficacy. I submitted it as an experiment which was worth trying, and which it was our duty to permit to be tried, provided we thought it could be tried without fatal risk to the revenue. That is the point in which I am chiefly interested, for if any serious evil were to accrue to the revenue I should undoubtedly hold myself deeply responsible. It is with reference to the interests of the Exchequer that the restrictions in the Bill have been introduced. Our desire has been to reduce those restrictions to the lowest point compatible with security. When we go into Committee, and the details of the restrictions are considered, it may be found that they may be still further amended; but as regards the substance of the Bill I should not be dealing fairly with the House if I were to bold out expectations that the provisions connected with the supervision of the Excise may be materially altered. Those provisions are essential in any experiment of this kind, if we are not to adopt the principle that all manipulation of malt shall be free, and that the revenue shall be raised on beer.

Nothing could be more agreeable to a Chancellor of the Exchequer than to con- vert the malt duty into a beer duty, provided he found it to be consistent with the essential demands of his office. More than one Chancellor of the Exchequer has looked anxiously at that question, and endeavoured to satisfy himself that the thing was practicable; but there have been several obstacles in the way, One has been the question of private brewing, and the difficulty of determining whether it would be possible to induce the community to pay duty upon beer brewed within the dwellings of private persons. That is a most serious difficulty. Recollect what happened in this House when we had the commutation of the hop duty under consideration. At that time I felt it to be my duty to the public brewers to propose that we should charge a licence for the use of hops in private breweries; but the proposal was generally objected to in this House. The brewers said they could dispense with it, and I was glad to withdraw it. Yet what was the nature of the licence duty I proposed on the use of hops? It was not a duty involving inquisition or supervision of any kind. It was a duty of a fixed amount, or rather of two fixed amounts, having no reference to the quantity of hops which each particular person might use, but founded entirely upon the rental of his premises, and rather being of the nature of an assessed tax. Yet even in that mild form the tax was generally objected to. How much more would it be objected to if we were to levy a duty upon beer brewed in the dwelling of a private gentleman? Such a duty could not be disposed of by a reference to rental. It would require minute supervision, and it would have to be regulated with reference to the quantity and strength of the beer.

But there is another difficulty. It is felt on all hands that the supervision of the Excise is a burden and an impediment, if not a grievance, to trade. The wish of Parliament and the Government has always been to reduce that supervision to the minimum, to bring it to bear in as few cases as possible, and to make it operative upon as few persons as possible. What would happen if the malt duty were converted into a beer duty? Instead of having the Excise supervision established upon a body of some 7,000 or 8,000 maltsters, we should be obliged to fasten it upon 40,000 brewers, besides all those who brew in their own private premises. These are difficulties of a most formidable kind; and I cannot say that I am prepared to make a proposal which I am afraid would only be to ask the House, to use an old homely phrase, to jump out of the frying-pan into the fire. Some hon. Gentlemen have threatened that under the operation of this Bill the malt duty may disappear; others again have warned me not to expect by means of this Bill to mitigate or get rid of the agitation for the repeal of the malt tax. Well, as regards security against loss to the revenue I hold myself responsible; but as to the agitation for the repeal of the malt tax, I have not felt it my duty to inquire what effect the measure might have on that agitation. Hon. Gentlemen will be perfectly free, if they choose, to continue in their old course on that subject. I am not very sanguine myself in the belief that the time is near at hand when a reduction of this duty can be brought about. It is impossible to forget, first, the enormous amount of revenue involved in this tax; and next, that still more weighty consideration, the amount of revenue levied from articles which come into competition with the product of malt. Upon beer we levy a duty amounting on the average to, perhaps, 20 or 25 per cent of the value; on spirits, a duty of 400 per cent; and on wine—and particularly on the description which competes with beer — a duty of, putting it moderately, from 50 to 100 per cent. Then, leaving strong liquors, take the case of tea. On tea we still levy a duty of not much less than 100 per cent, and also on the sugar mixed with it a duty of some 60 per cent. It is impossible, then, to say that the duty on malt can hold the first place in the demands for further reduction while it stands related in that manner to these competing duties, independently of the immense revenue raised from malt. There are some distinguished politicians in this House who in other respects have conferred great service on the country, and who hold that all Excise and Custom duties are bad, and that all our revenue ought to be obtained from direct taxation. I am sorry to say that I am not able to keep company with them on these matters.

I will state to the House in a few words the history of this question, and how this Bill stands related to the general fiscal policy pursued of late years. For many years past there has been a fixed conviction, both on the part of the Legislature and of successive Governments, that it was desirable to get rid of the system of Excise wherever the thing was practicable. It is a fact in English history that the introduc- tion of that system was odious to the community. And although things are borne from use which can hardly be borne when novel, yet I think it is a just, and certainly it has become an established principle for us to reduce to the utmost the operation of the Excise system on the production of commodities. To that principle I ascribe the abolition of the duties on soap, leather, bricks, glass, paper, and other articles. But there was a point at which we were obliged to stop. Our fiscal system absolutely involves the levy of large sums from strong liquors; and I do not pretend to see how that principle is to be eradicated from it. Nay, more, I frankly own I do not desire it. I do not speak of the use of beer as a practice which ought to be restrained by taxation; but, we must consider the use of beer in its connection with the tax on spirits; and I hold that it is not a bad policy to restrain the use of spirits by taxation up to the point at which you are met and counteracted by the smuggler. However, I do not think the Government of this country ever entertained the idea of being enabled to liberate spirits or even malt liquor from taxation. But we encounter this difficulty. First as regards spirits, because the tax on them is so much more onerous. Spirits are distilled not merely for ordinary consumption, but for the purposes of trade. There are various branches of industry in which the use of spirits is either essential or important; and the heavy duty on them was long felt by the manufacturer to be a grievance. We were met, as we were at many other points in our efforts to relieve foreign articles from Customs duty, by this argument from the home producer:— "My rival abroad produces an article with out paying a duty on the spirits he uses, whereas I am liable to a duty of 300 per cent on mine." Well, it happens that the resources of modern science have been enlisted in the service of the Government in these matters; and a department is now attached to the Board of Inland Revenue which I believe is deserving of our most implicit confidence. The business of that department is to try what can be done by the application of exact science to improve the machinery of taxation; and we can hardly tell how many improvements, how many relaxations of our fiscal system, is due to its operation. Ten or fifteen years ago it was proposed as a problem for that department to discover, if possible, a mode by which ardent spirits should be entirely spoilt for the purposes of consumption as a beverage, and yet left in an efficient state for the purposes of manufacture. Under the late Mr. John Wood—one of the best of our civil servants—these inquiries were brought to their completion; and a Bill was introduced into this House to permit the use of methylated spirits in manufactures. That use is now made generally lawful, and, as a consequence, both the trade and the distiller have been benefited; and, on the other hand, our manufacturers are relieved from a grievous burden on an article employed in their industry. Well, precisely in the same way experiments have been lately made as to the free use of malt for feeding cattle. For a long time it had been a desideratum in the Revenue Department to discover a means by which some admixture might be made with malt of such a character as would render it in no degree less wholesome for feeding cattle and yet unavailable for beer. Hon. Gentlemen came to the House and said — and the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass), one of the greatest practical authorities, says—that the use of linseed cake, admixed with malt, would probably not disable malt from being employed in the production of beer. My answer to that is, that, while it would be the greatest presumption for me to offer any opinion of my own on such a question, I have great confidence, founded on the result of much experience, in the precision, the comprehensiveness, and the certainty of the results which have been come at by the chemical staff attached to the Inland Revenue Board. In the case of methylated spirits the difficulty was exceedingly great, because, whereas the premium upon evading the law in regard to malt will be some 30 or 40 per cent, that in respect to methylated spirits was 300 or 400 per cent, and yet the difficulty was successfully overcome. In the case of tobacco, again, with which this House dealt last year, similar results have been attained through the skill and knowledge of the scientific department. Well, admitting the present Bill to be an experiment, but being assured by those whose duty it is to advise us, and whom, judging from former experience, we think we can trust, that we may allow this freedom to the farmer in feeding his cattle without any appreciable risk to the revenue, we could not stand in our places and look in the face those who ask for this remission without saying that we are prepared to make the experiment. That is the long and the short of the matter. It is not for me to say whether this privilege will be embraced extensively or not; but I confess that I am more sanguine than the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley). I do not believe, from the information I have obtained, that the expense attending this experiment will be so great as the right hon. Gentleman supposes; and, moreover, I have seen so much suppleness, ingenuity, and resource on the part of the British tradesman where he has an object to accomplish, that I know he often makes light of obstacles which to others may seem insurmountable. I confess that I think the Report read to us the other evening from so high an authority as Baron Liebig goes to show that the experiment will be worth the making. Since that Report was read I have had a communication from a gentleman, perhaps second to Baron Liebig—I mean Dr. Lyon Playfair, who takes exactly the same ground, and admits, that while the effect of malting barley is to diminish the sanguifying ingredients, on the other hand it makes them more soluble and accessible; and therefore, either with reference to feeding as a whole, or with reference to feeding in certain states of the animal, or in combination with other articles of food, this process may produce, if not a primary, at least a very important secondary article of diet for cattle. I think the experiment is, at all events, one of sufficient importance to make it well worth trying, and one to which it was our duty to invite the sanction of the House.


, in explanation, said, that he had never stated that he was going in for a repeal of the whole of the malt duty. He had objected to the Bill on various grounds, as he thought it would not have the effect of putting a stop to the agitation for the repeal of the malt tax. He, however, distinctly stated his belief, that under present circumstances, the repeal of the malt tax was wholly impossible until the rural districts had obtained a full share of Parliamentary representation.


said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give a full opportunity to the intelligent farmers of England to express their opinions on this measure.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday, 24th February.