§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the Malt Tax. He thought that this would be found to be the best and most convenient course which could be taken in the interests of those who advocated the repeal of the tax. Whenever the question of repealing the tax had come before the House as an abstract question, large majorities had refused to accede to the request of the farmers; and, this being the case, those especially interested in procuring the repeal thought it would be the wisest and most prudent course to place before the House such information as was likely to lead to the solution of this difficult question. They accordingly held a meeting in the tea-room to consider the best mode of proceeding in reference to the question. His hon. Friend the Member for East Norfolk (Mr. Read), who, in the early part of the Session, had placed a Notice on the Paper, was present; and when he found that it was the unanimous opinion of the Committee that a Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee was the right course to pursue, he consented to withdraw his Notice, saying, that his only desire was to see the tax repealed, and any measures calculated to advance that object would meet with his hearty support. His hon. Friend, being unwilling to divide the party with which he generally acted, took the honourable course of withdrawing his Notice. The Central Association for the Repeal of the Malt Tax had attacked his hon. Friend in a way offensive and uncalled for. He (Colonel Barttelot) would remark that if that Association thought it could force hon. Members to do that which they did not approve of, it would find itself greatly mistaken. It would also learn that in order to carry a great question like this to a successful conclusion, the best course to pursue was to show a willingness to act in harmony with the general body, and to assist the efforts of their friends in that House who, under difficult circumstances, were doing what they thought best to promote the object they had all in view. In the year 527 1846 a Committee of the House of Lords inquired into the question of the Burdens upon Land; and in the opening of their Report they say—The tenant-farmers lay great stress on the malt duty, and its injurious interference with the cultivation of barley. The Committee cannot, however, consider that impost, which, on the average of the last ten years, has produced very nearly £5,000,000 annually, as borne exclusively by the land; beer being almost a necessity of life with the mass of the population, the duty falls as a general tax on the consumers of the article; but it is unquestionable that so heavy a duty diminishes the demand and deprives of a ready market all except the best qualities of barley. A duty of 21s. 8d. on a quarter of barley costing 34s. is so heavy a tax that Mr. Barclay is of opinion that no brewer can afford to buy inferior barley and make it into malt. The agricultural witnesses examined before the Committee complain loudly of the restriction the Excise laws impose on malting inferior barleys for fattening purposes. The advantages of this process having been matter of dispute between learned chymists and practical farmers, the Committee will content themselves by referring to the evidence of Mr. Hudson, of Castle Acre, Mr. Bennett, &c., on this subject, and adding that if further experiments should establish the utility of the process, the malt duty must be considered as a serious obstruction to agricultural economy.A Committee of that House on the subject of the Malt Tax sat in 1863. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) was a Member of that Committee. It sat so late that it made no general Report; but it recommended that it should be re-appointed in the following Session. The Committee, however, had not been re-appointed. These facts, he thought, would justify the proposition which he now made for the appointment of a Select Committee. There were two great interests concerned — those of the producer and those of the consumer; and there were two points with regard to the former which well deserved inquiry—first, whether the present system did not hinder the proper rotation of crops, and thereby retard the improvement of agriculture; and secondly, whether malt was not good as food for cattle. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, when in office, seeing that there was something in the complaint made, particularly with regard to the poorer kinds of burley, sought to introduce a system under which barley of a lighter character and inferior quality might stand some chance of being dealt with in the market. But this attempt had, on the whole, been a failure; the maltsters would not purchase anything but the best qualities of barley, and therefore the inferior qualities were a 528 drug in the market. Men who ought, in proper rotation, to grow barley did not do so, but grew wheat or oats instead, being certain of obtaining by that means a better and more productive crop, the demand, on the contrary, which would be created for a crop of barley depending entirely upon its quality. The right hon. Gentleman had also introduced a Bill with the object of enabling malt to be used for feeding purposes. But the only result of that Act was that his hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) brewed from that mixture some beer which the right hon. Gentleman opposite tasted and thought very good. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman, perhaps, had forgotten the circumstance; but he remembered quite well his going out and trying the two samples and returning to his seat with a smiling countenance, and thinking his own mixture the best. He (Colonel Barttelot) believed that malt was most useful in feeding cattle. Then came the question with regard to the consumer. Into the figures, as they affected the consumer, he would not enter; but it certainly well deserved inquiry whether the statement made by Sir FitzRoy Kelly was capable of being substantiated—namely, that to collect £6,000,000 of revenue it cost the consumer £20,000,000 of money. There was another consequence of this tax severely felt in country places. It placed before poor men by the hands of the publicans an inferior drugged article, and though persons in a position to do so might obtain a good article from the brewers, the beer which was supplied in the common publichouses was most injurious to the health of the working classes. The annual Report in The Inland Revenue Almanac gave the following facts:—Twenty-six samples of beer, and of materials found in the possession of licensed brewers, have been analyzed, and of these twenty were found to be illicit; the prohibited ingredients being, in fourteen samples, grains of paradise, one of these samples containing, in addition, tobacco; in two others cocculus iudicus was present in large and dangerous quantities; two samples contained capsicum; and the remaining two proto-sulphate of iron. Generally, the prohibited materials employed in the adulteration of beer are not injurious to health, and it is but seldom that instances come under my notice in which poisonous substances have been used, the object of the fraudulent brewers or retailers of beer being more to increase the bulk of their goods than to render the beer stupefying by the addition of noxious materials. Still, there can be little doubt that the practice of adulterating beer with poisonous matters, such as tobacco and cocculus indicus, is more prevalent 529 than might be inferred from the small number of detections made.That Report showed at least that adulteration was going on. Then it would be worthy of most careful consideration whether this tax could be taken off barley and placed upon beer. No doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire might see difficulties in the way; but still, if the change were for the public benefit, and if it were opposed to free trade principles that barley should be hampered with heavy taxes, it was the duty of the House, and one from which it ought not to shrink, to deal with this tax, especially as by judicious action the revenue would not be diminished. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had once endeavoured to take off half the duty upon malt. No great encouragement was given to that proposal; but his right hon. Friend, he believed, had faithfully endeavoured to carry out his own convictions, though in the face of great difficulties. He himself had not hesitated to declare that the malt tax could not be dealt with this Session, the surplus not being sufficiently large. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Milner Gibson), and all great authorities had stated that it was of no use attempting to deal with the malt tax except in a very large way. He asked for a Committee because he believed it to be the only satisfactory way of laying before the House and the country the real state of the case, and thus better enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer to relieve barley from the heavy tax under which it groaned. He believed that such a step — whether the total or partial abolition—would be a simple act of justice to the producer, and would prove a great benefit to the consumer. The hon. and gallant Member concluded by moving the appointment of a Select Committee.
§ MR. READ
rose, with great pleasure, to second the Mot ion of his hon. and gallant Friend. The Notice which he had placed upon the Paper at the early part of the Session might have taken the form of an abstract Resolution, somewhat similar to that moved in the previous year by the present Lord Chief Baron, the loss of whose services in that House, particularly in relation to the malt tax, they must all deplore. Upon further consideration, 530 he thought the best way to come to a satisfactory and just settlement of this question was that just submitted to the House by his hon. and gallant Friend—a course of proceeding which was by no means to be considered as shelving the question, as some persons supposed, but was likely to lead to a just and satisfactory settlement. There was an opinion prevalent out of doors that they had had several Committees upon this malt tax. But the only inquiry he could find was that which took place in 1835, when the Commissioners who were appointed to inquire into the Excise revenues generally reported upon bricks, glass, paper, soap, and lastly, malt. The Report was remarkable by its statement to the effect that, if it was possible to increase the supply of barley by admitting free importations, it would be perfectly safe for the Government to abolish half the duty upon malt, because the revenue would probably be very soon recouped by the increased consumption of the article. The first inquiry which the Committee would enter into was that regarding the case of the producer. Now, they had learned many valuable lessons from free trade. In the case of meat, they need not be seriously alarmed on that head, because, though it cost no more to send a bullock from Holland or Hamburgh than from the eastern parts of England, the prosperity of the working classes had increased since free importations were allowed, and larger sums of money were received in consequence of the increased consumption of meat. Again, there was wool. It was formerly thought that the Southdown varieties were the best adapted for the English market; nevertheless, we found that other countries could not grow longwools in such perfection as we could. Then, as to wheat also, other countries could produce the article cheaper and better than we could. But in respect to barley, it was impossible for the foreigner to touch us, because the soil and climate of this country were peculiarly adapted to its growth. We sent to Australia, in return for some wheat received from that distant country, a considerable amount of barley; the exportations of which, since 1862, had increased rapidly. They had been told that the malt tax was a protection to the growers of barley; but he would ask whether the House thought that an Excise duty of 6d. on meat would benefit the consumer? or whether a tax of 1s. on woollen yarn would prove of advantage to 531 the sheep farmer? or whether an Excise duty of 20s. upon flour would be found serviceable to the grower of wheat? He apprehended that under no circumstances could such a tax be of any benefit to even the best descriptions of wheat; whereas, on the other hand, it would naturally interfere with the sale of the ordinary descriptions which we grow. He contended that the malt tax was a similar restriction. With regard to some lands, it paid best to keep them in grass; and although they employed less capital and labour, yet they produced rather more profit; but it was an ascertained fact that one acre of corn produced more human food than ten acres of grass. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire told them on a former occasion they ought to be well contented with the improved value of their barley crops. Now, if the price of barley was allowed to find its natural level, it would eventually exceed the price of wheat. Under the old protective laws, wheat was forced into cultivation, and also forced up in price; and, from 1800 to 1840, two bushels of barley were about equal to one bushel of wheat. He could assure the House, however, that the farmers of this country wanted all the improved prices which could be obtained; and they also wanted all the fair play and all the relief they could get to compete with the foreigner, who had cheap labour, cheap land, and very light taxation. The importation of cereals, which in 1836 was under 1,000,000 quarters, had averaged during the last five years 15,000,000 quarters; and the farmer, although he might have gained something by free trade, lost that entirely if he grew only ten or fifteen acres of wheat. Mr. Caird, who was a high authority on agricultural matters, had informed the House that a barley farmer could not be a bar farmer. He (Mr. Read) endorsed that opinion, because, in the culture of grass lands barley was preceded by the growth of some root crop, which was eaten off by sheep and which increased the growth both of mutton and wool; but grazing alone did not pay. The high value of meat was not of that benefit to the farmer which was supposed, especially when they considered the enhanced value of feeding-stuff, and also the enhanced value of manure, labour, and rent. Winter-grazing did not generally answer; and every bullock that he grazed was a loss of 40s., every sheep 5s., and he also lost 1d. per lb on all his pork. He looked, in fact, for increased corn crops, 532 rather than expected direct profits from winter-grazing. He was then speaking of grazing stock on arable land; but where stock could be reared and grazed on grass land, there was ample profit. He contended that every extra bushel of corn and every extra pound of meat produced, not by protection, but by freedom from fiscal restrictions, must be a great benefit, not only to the fanners, but to the whole of the community. He was unable to prove his assertions by statistics; but a few years ago the Poor Law Board attempted to collect some agricultural statistics. Those collected in Norfolk, he believed, were the most reliable; and he found from them that in Norfolk, in 1854, there were 203,000 acres under wheat, whilst last year there were only 189,000 acres. In 1854 there were 161,000 acres, sown with turnips, and only 134,000 acres last year; whilst the extent of the permanent pasture land increased from 193,000 acres in 1854 to 209,000 acres last year. In 1854 there were in Norfolk nearly 100,000 head of cattle; but last year it was 92,000; and, as at least 5,000 died last year of the cattle plague, it was only fair to take it at 97,000. The most remarkable decrease was in sheep; for whereas there were 841,000 sheep in Norfolk in 1854, there were only 596,000 last year. He also believed that the statistics of Ireland would show that, where corn was the least grown, there they also produced the least meat. He contended that the malt tax fostered bad farming. Suppose light arable land would grow four quarters per acre of barley, and if they expended 30s. in artificial manure and feeding stuffs, the produce might be increased by twelve bushels, which would be sold for 50s. The duty on that would be 32s.; so that the House would see that the price of manure and the duty exceeded the value of the barley by about 12s., and that amount was lost by the farmer or the consumer. That would be the case in the event of fine weather and a favourable harvest. But suppose the weather was ungenial, and the harvest bad—in that case the whole produce would, in all probability, be reduced 5s. or 6s. per quarter in value, in which case the advantage would be in favour of the bad farmer. The Committee should also be empowered to inquire the reason why the good intentions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire had so signally failed. The amount of malt made last year was 50,500,000 533 bushels, and out of that large quantity 3,500,000 of bushels only were charged by weight. He believed that the Bill was originally passed for the benefit of the growers of barley on heavy lands which was generally weighty and coarse in grain; and therefore the barley that was principally malted under this Act was the light, bright, foreign barley, and not the English barley which it was intended to benefit. In 1865 we had a hot summer, and a large quantity of barley in Norfolk ripened prematurely. It was very thin, and the maltsters mailed a great deal under the provisions of the Act. Last year, however, we had a wet harvest: a great deal of the barley had to be kiln-dried before it could be malted, and it consequently was very much reduced in weight, so maltsters preferred having the duty by weight rather than the old plan. Then as to the Malt for Cattle Bill. In 1865 there were 60,000 bushels of malt made under that Bill, and in 1866 only 29,000 bushels. The operations under that Act had almost ceased, owing to the restrictions and the interference of the Excise. There were, however, a sufficient number of experiments made to prove what practical farmers and agricultural chemists had long ago determined, that malt was a most useful condiment for the feeding of cattle, and particularly so for the rearing of young and sickly stock. Notwithstanding the attack that had been made upon him in the leading evening paper relative to what he said on a former occasion—that in the rural districts children should not be kept at school until they were between thirteen and fourteen years of age, before they knew something of agricultural labour, and the assertion that the farmers of England would like to feed the agricultural labourer upon bread and cabbage, he should wish, if they did so, they should be able to wash it down with a little beer. He did not believe in the evangelizing influence of beer; but he did not think it was possible to extract more harm and less good than they did at present from the use of beer in this country. It was the national beverage, sent by a kind Providence to strengthen the labouring man and refresh him when he was weary. The argument was that some artizans already took too much beer, but some agricultural labourers had none. He doubted if an agricultural labourer had been seen drunk in his cottage; but it was a frequent occurrence to find him in the public-house in 534 a state of beer. A tippler, in answer to the question whether he wished the beer to be made more pure, replied, "It is black and thick, and it makes me drunk. What do I want more?" They could not improve the habits and tastes of those men; but if there was a moderate supply of pure beer for the labourer to drink with his meals, or when he was hard at work, it would be of incalculable advantage to him; and if the malt was free from duty, a large quantity would be brewed by cottagers. They found wines were cheap in foreign countries; but he had been informed by Archbishop Manning that, in the course of a twelve years' residence abroad, he only saw during that time two drunken men and not one drunken woman. The arguments against the repeal of the malt duty were numerous and various. In the first place, they were told that the country would be inundated with foreign barley; but, so far from that, it was well-known that this country now took all that was sent to it; and so far from their having been inundated with foreign malt last year there had only been imported forty-eight bushels, which paid a duty of £7, whilst there had been a drawback on malt of £65,000, and on beer of £203,000 exported. The foreigner had not the restrictions of the Excise to deal with; and it would be a great advantage to the maltsters of this country if they could malt in bond, which he might be able to keep without having immediately to pay the duty. The return for sugar in 1865, used in brewing, was 2,760 tons; and last year it was 7,272 tons; and in the first six weeks of this year it had reached 2,853 tons, which was greater than they consumed in the whole year in 1865. As the Excise only took the brewers' returns, there was no ascertaining exactly how much was used; whereas in the case of malt, every care was taken to ascertain the exact quantity brewed. There must be something in this adulteration of beer, because the brewers appeared to have been able to produce lately a larger quantity of beer from a similar quantity of malt. In 1862, there were 17,000,000 barrels of beer made from 41,000,000 bushels of malt; in 1866, there were 22,000,000 barrels of beer made from 45,000,000 bushels of malt. The prosperity of the labouring community had greatly increased the consumption of beer; and that consumption, he thought, might be further increased by the repeal of the tax, and the price of barley at 535 the same time enhanced, the best from its scarcity, and inferior samples from an increased demand. The burdens on land were annually increasing. They had this year lost the privilege of keeping sheep dogs free from tax; and the exemption of duty on fire insurance will not much longer exist, as they would soon all be repealed. The succession duties had also been imposed on land; and therefore he contended that the only real and practical argument against the repeal of the malt tax was, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not spare the money. The right hon. Gentleman might, however, have given them this year as much relief as he could have spared, while the remainder of the tax could be recouped by the extension of the brewers' licence, with general application, even to private brewing. Last year, the brewers' licence of 3d. per barrel produced £343,000, and an increase to 3s. would produce over £4,000,000. The licence, if applied to private brewers, would be cheerfully paid; and there would be no more difficulty in imposing it than there was in collecting the income tax, by calling upon a man to make his own returns. If the Committee were appointed, he felt certain their labours would prove the unfairness of the malt tax, and that the farming interest had not unjustly complained of the manner in which it was imposed.
§ Moved "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the operation of the Male Tax."—(Colonel Barttelot.)
I have been given to understand that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to offer no opposition to the Motion, and I do not at all complain of that intention; but I am anxious to make one or two comments on the speeches just delivered, and to offer a suggestion with regard to the terms of the Motion. The general principle of inquiry into the operation of the malt duty is one which it is impossible to take a fair objection to, for the duty is not levied on an article prepared for consumption, but on an article which has yet to undergo part of the processes of manufacture; and a duty levied during the first processes of manufacture necessarily raises a number of questions with regard to the incidence of the tax which ought fairly to incline the House to grant an inquiry into its operation upon a smaller showing of a positive grievance than it would require in other instances. Reference 536 has been made to two Acts which I am responsible for having proposed to Parliament, one having reference to the use of malt for the feeding of cattle, and the other to the charging of duty by weight. I beg pardon for having interrupted the hon. Member for East Norfolk (Mr. Read), but I thought he mis-stated the percentage of malt, the duty on which had been charged by weight. I understood him to say that in 51,500,000 quarters only 3,500,000 quarters, or about 4 per cent of the whole, was charged by weight; but I believe about 7 per cent to be about the real proportion. Of course, it is desirable that the House should know more exactly than it does at present what the operation of that Act has been. As far as the quantity charged by weight is concerned, I should say it is larger. At the time the Act was passed I do not think the expectation was that it would apply to a larger proportion than 7 per cent of the total consumption. But it is important the House should know how far the hon. Member for East Norfolk has foundation for saying that the barleys which have had the benefit of the Act are to a considerable extent foreign barleys. I do not mean to say that that would be an objection to the Act, but it would be a fact of very considerable interest. It is also desirable that the House should have that sort of information a Committee would obtain with regard to the application of the Act relating to malt for the feeding of cattle. There has been no recent Return on the subject; but if my memory serves me, the introduction of the Act led a considerable number of malting establishments to prepare malt for the feeding of cattle. However, the business gradually dwindled, but to what extent I am not aware. It is also said that during the cattle plague there was a partial revival of this malting—though again I do not know the fact, or to what extent. It is desirable to ascertain these facts. It was stated in some quarters, and it is desirable that the allegation should be tested by inquiry, that the diminution of these establishments was owing to the restrictions of the Board of Inland Revenue, which were so stringent that it was impossible to carry on business. I know that the opinion of that Board and of its officers is very different, and it would be only fair to all the parties that evidence should be taken on the subject; because, unquestionably, if the application of malt upon a large scale to the feeding of animals 537 is economically desirable and advantageous, such application would be a material point for the consideration of the House in connection with the malt duty. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken (Mr. Read), and who speaks with a modesty equal to his authority and experience, referred to the effect of the old Corn Laws as having raised relatively the prices of wheat. It has been a custom with those who have endeavoured to moderate the statements of the opponents of the malt tax, to point out the progressive increase in the prices of barley since the time the Corn Laws were repealed. The hon. Member accounts for this in a degree perhaps, by saying that the effect of the Corn Laws evidently was to produce a more excessive action upon the prices of wheat than upon those of other grain. I do not deny that there may be some truth in that, from causes which it is not necessary now to examine; but I do not think it is by any means an adequate or sufficient explanation of the growth in the prices of barley, such as we have witnessed. If it were true that the prices of wheat had been raised relatively to the prices of barley by the operation of the Corn Laws, and if that was the whole explanation of the great change which has now taken place in the prices of barley, my argument would be that in that case the effect would have followed at once and with great rapidity upon the abolition of the Corn Laws, That, I think, was not the case; there was not a sudden and violent change in the relative prices of wheat and barley upon the abolition of the Corn Laws, but slowly, gradually, and regularly, the price of barley has gained upon the price of wheat. I think also, in extenuation of the charges against the malt tax, it is only fair to point to the fact to which the hon. Member for East Norfolk referred with satisfaction, that in this article we are not an importing but an exporting country, to a limited extent in malt, and to a large extent in beer. The export of beer is becoming, in fact, not one of our greatest export trades, but a very considerable one, and it is rapidly growing in magnitude. Here, again, is a fact which in some degree mitigates the statement made with regard to the effect of the malt tax upon the badness of beer in country public-houses. If the malt tax necessitates brewing of very bad beer relatively to its price in our country public-houses, how in the world is it our brewers are able to brew beer so good in this country, 538 under the operation of the same duty, that we can afford to export it to other countries and beat the brewers of beer there out of their own markets? The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion said of the six weeks' credit to the maltster that he did not consider it a matter of much consequence. But the credit is more than six weeks — it is upon the average nine weeks; but even if it were six weeks, the hon. Member, or any one engaged in trade, who had to obtain money for six weeks, would find that the bankers did not consider the use of money for six weeks a trifle—he would have to pay for it. I hope the effect of this debate will not be to raise a sanguine expectation out of doors with regard to the power of the present or any other Government to part with the malt tax—in the shape, I mean, of a large revenue from barley converted into beer. I have never been able to understand why it is so little attention is paid by the advocates of the repeal of the malt tax, to the operation of the spirit duty upon the price of barley, which is quite as fair a subject for inquiry as that now under consideration; but I am very glad to hear in their speeches delivered tonight a disposition to recognise the necessity of an inquiry into this part of the subject. It is, in fact, a growing necessity; because it must be borne in mind that the duty derived from malt is a growing duty. A few years ago it was £5,000,000, now it is spoken of as £6,000,000; and, if I am not mistaken, it is turned or approaching £7,000,000 a year, and will continue to grow with the growth of the consuming power of the country from the great improvement that has taken place in several branches of trade. I was a little sorry to hear the reduction of the number of maltsters and brewers referred to apparently with a disposition to suggest that the reduction was to be regarded as an evil. Such changes infer inconveniences to individuals, but it would not be fair to ascribe that reduction to the malt tax. This is a manufacture of a highly scientific character, requiring not only a rough and ready experience, but also a considerable knowledge of a refined character, especially connected with practical chymistry; and in this manufacture there is a natural and necessary tendency to concentration in fewer hands, and it is in connection with this concentration, and the establishment of large concerns, there has been that improvement in the quality of the article 539 produced which has given us the access we now have to foreign markets. Therefore I think it would be a mistake to suppose that the burden of the malt tax was the reason for the reduction in the number of maltsters and brewers, that reduction being contemporaneous with a large increase in the quantity produced. I remember very well that before the repeal of the paper duty the number of paper-makers in this country had been diminishing, and at the time of the repeal it was supposed they would continue to diminish; but the very first effect of the repeal was to stop the diminution; and the number of maltsters and brewers depends upon causes quite distinct from the incidence of a duty like the malt tax. I have only referred to a few of the points of this question which appear to show the very legitimate reasons which exist for instituting an inquiry such as is now asked for by the Mover and Seconder of this Motion: particularly since these hon. Gentlemen have been disposed fairly to admit that the interests of the revenue must be considered. Surely it is one of the meanest arts of the demagogue, using that word in its worst sense, to hold out to any portion of the community, interested as producers, vague expectations that the State will be able to part with enormous sums of public money, we having in our own minds at the time no means of replacing those sums, and consequently being guilty of arousing expectations which there is no possibility of fulfilling. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot) says that he wishes this Committee to take the place of the Committee which was appointed on the Motion of the present Lord Chief Baron, (Sir FitzRoy Kelly.) I submit to the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether he would not do well to adopt the terms in which that Committee was appointed. In so doing he would not in any degree alter the breadth and fulness of his inquiry, but might help to prevent the growth of those vague expectations which I am sure he would not wish to encourage. The terms were these — and they were not moved by me as an Amendment on the Motion, but were adopted by Sir FitzRoy Kelly, and made a part of his Motion. The Select Committee was appointed on the 23rd of June, 1863—To consider whether, compatibly with the interests of the Revenue, the Laws relating to 540 the Excise duty upon Malt can be amended so as to operate more advantageously with reference to the cultivation and price of Barley, to the manufacture and price of Malt and Malt Liquor, and to the use of Malt in the feeding of Cattle and Sheep.This plan of pointing out topics of a practical character for consideration by the Committee would be an improvement upon the terms of the present Motion, which is necessarily somewhat vague and general in its character. I do not wish to make this suggestion in any hostile sense, nor should I think of moving an Amendment; but I would submit to the Government and to the hon. and gallant Member, whether it might not be of some advantage to enlarge the terms of the Motion as I have suggested. I must add that it would be only fair and just if the hon. and gallant Gentleman also thought fit to include in his Motion the sister topic to which I have referred—namely, the operation of the spirit duty upon the same subject. Questions relating to the growth of barley used in malt chiefly interest the Eastern and Southern portions of this country; questions relating to the growth of barley used in the making of spirits have a much wider range, and extend to the furthest North. I should be disposed to consider that it would be a further improvement in his inquiry if he were to make it cover the whole growth of barley considered as an article of production which is to undergo manufacture.
§ MR. HENNIKER-MAJOR
said, as the representative of one of the greatest barley-growing counties in England, and where as much, if not more, interest is taken in the repeal of the malt tax than in any other county in this country, he ventured to address the House on this occasion, and trusted the House would grant him some indulgence as a new Member in the few remarks he wished to make. He gladly supported the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex for a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the malt tax, as he thought it would lead to this question being thoroughly investigated, and every argument on either side being carefully sifted, so that it might be placed fairly before the House as it stood at the present time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said a short time ago, when he introduced his Budget in that House, that he thought this tax the only one that really bore injuriously upon any large class of taxpayers in this country at the present moment. 541 He (Mr. Henniker-Major) felt sure that the Committee would not only be able to endorse this opinion, but that they would report that the demand for the repeal of this duty was only a fair and a just one on the part of those who made it, if it was more than asking for the redemption of a pledge given at the time of the repeal of the Corn Laws. He could not help expressing his very great disappointment and surprise that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not thought it his duty to deal with this tax this year, even if only to a small extent; but remembering that he had attempted to deal with it once before, he trusted that if strong evidence were brought before the House in favour of its repeal by the Report of the Committee, that it would carry such weight with it as to induce him to alter his policy so far as to deal with it on a future occasion. It would be out of place to enter into any argument on this occasion, when the matter was about to be looked into by a Select Committee, particularly in him, when every argument had been urged in such an exhaustive and able manner before the House at different times by those far more competent to do so than he was himself, in favour of the remission of the tax; but he must ask the House for a few minutes' indulgence while he made a few remarks. When he knew the state of the case, as of course he did in his own county—and he was speaking of a county where a great deal of barley was grown, no less a proportion than 138,496 acres out of the total average of the county 405,000 or 406,000 being under that crop by the last agricultural statistics as far as he could make out—he was sure this tax bore most unfairly and injuriously upon those who were liable for the payment of it, preventing barley being grown where it might be grown with great advantage, and preventing the use of a most useful ingredient in the feeding of cattle and stock of all kinds, bearing upon those who, as all hon. Member said the other day in this House, are "traders after all who require to hire land to carry on their business," in a manner which would not for a moment have been tolerated if it had affected any other branch of industry, manufacture, or trade in the country. Nor did he think it would have been tolerated by the agricultural interest if there had been more cohesion amongst them. He trusted in future that they would stick together on subjects that were of such interest to them as the one before 542 the House. He hoped the Committee would not forget to look carefully into a part of the question that he believed to be a very important part of it — namely, how it affected the consumer. If what had been stated by two hon. Members who had previously spoken was correct, that by the time beer reached the consumer £20,000,000 was paid on account of this tax, which affected only £6,000,000 of the revenue, he thought it was indeed a heavy burden. He hoped the effect this tax had upon the agricultural labourer and poorer classes would be looked into, in regard to the system of cottage brewing especially, for he believed it would be almost universally adopted throughout the country for the very reason that now, whenever the cottager had a chance of brewing at home — and at the present time the opportunities were few from the pressure of this tax, in most counties only once a year, at the time of harvest—he gladly availed himself of it. He thought the remission of this duty would be a great boon to every class of labourer, as it would enable him to get good beer, not as a luxury, but as almost a necessary comfort and part of his diet. He (Mr. Henniker-Major) thanked the House for listening to him so long, and in conclusion would say he hoped the appointment of the Committee would lead to the whole subject being clearly and fairly laid before the House in the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire on a former occasion when this question was being discussed—Not because it is not a matter fit to be entertained, but on the contrary, on account of its importance; and I will go one step farther, and say on account of its urgency, for I am very strongly persuaded that it is a subject that should be fully unfolded before the House and taken into its consideration."—[3 Hansard, clxxxii. 1565.]
I regret very much that during the last few years, when there has been a considerable amount of surplus revenue which might have been applied to the repeal of the malt tax, that that course was not adopted. I am, Sir, however, anxious that the Committee which is now asked for, may be granted; because I believe that if it should be granted, the obnoxious nature of the malt tax will be so clearly demonstrated that numbers of hon. Members who may have been sceptical on the subject will become convinced of the objectionable character of the impost. It is asked, Sir, by the agricultural interest, if it is fair that barley which sells 543 for 35s. per quarter should pay the same amount of taxation as barley which sells for 55s. per quarter? as has been the case this season. It is asked if it is not contrary to the sound principles of taxation that the duty should be imposed upon the raw material. And it is asked if it is not unjust to deny that freedom of industry to the agricultural interest which has been so earnestly advocated for others. But, Sir, it has been said that if the malt tax were repealed, that the reduction of 21s. 8d. would affect the price of beer in a very small degree. Now, Sir, I maintain that 21s. 8d. and 5 per cent on it, does not represent the whole of the increase in consequence of the malt tax, in the price of the beer made from a quarter of malt. To this, Sir, you must add the maltster's profit on the duty. You must add also in many cases the maltfactor's profit on it; also the brewer's profit on it, and on the accumulations; likewise the publican's profit on it, and on the accumulations. But, Sir, that is not all; if any person now wishes to commence business as a brewer it is necessary for him to have, in consequence of the increase in the price of malt caused by the malt duty, a much larger capital than would otherwise be requisite. Thus, Sir, the monopoly of the brewers is promoted. But, Sir, repeal the malt tax, and you will not only strike a heavy blow at the monopoly of the brewers, but also knock down the price of beer. Now, Sir, with regard to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, I would remark that the high duty on spirits is maintained not merely for the amount of revenue which it produces, but also in the interest of morality. And, Sir, as regards the diminution in the number of maltsters, I believe that that circumstance might be accounted for by the reduction in the time granted for malt credits. Well then, Sir, believing that it is desirable that we should collect all the information that can possibly be obtained, relative to all the bearings, direct and indirect, and operations of the malt tax, I do most sincerely support the Motion of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Sussex.
§ MR. BEACH
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire had commented on the fact that the British brewer was able to brew his beer, in spite of the duty, so cheap that he was able to undersell the foreign brewer in his own markets. But he (Mr. Beach) would remind 544 the right hon. Gentleman that our manufacturers could export beer and undersell other producers because they obtained a drawback upon the duty when the beer was exported, the result being practically that they paid no duty at all. He was very glad that they were going to have an inquiry into the question, and he trusted the Committee would succeed in selling fairly before the public the real merits of the case, because hitherto the advocates of the repeal of this tax had had little opportunity of expressing their views, that opportunity occurring but once in the Session, when a night was set apart for the consideration of this subject. To many hon. Members it appeared that the abolition of the malt duty would necessitate the imposition of a beer duty. Such an alternative, however, he believed to be undesirable, and he appealed, in confirmation of his opinion, to the experience of the past. Previous to 1830 there existed both a malt and a beer duty. By the former a revenue of about £3,600,000 was raised, and by the latter about £3,000,000; so that the difference in amount was scarcely an element in the consideration of the respective taxes. There was a considerable amount of distress in the country, and the taxes pressed heavily on the people. The Government of the Duke of Wellington were naturally anxious to abolish such taxes as would afford the greatest relief to the community. An inquiry was instituted to ascertain whether the beer duty or the malt duty might be most advantageously removed. At that time it was urged that on each quart of beer the beer duty was three-quarters of a penny. Every £1,000,000 of duty removed would take from the price of the quart one-quarter of a penny, while £1,000,000 of malt duty removed would only lower the price one-twelfth of a penny. Mr. C. Barclay, referring to the matter, said the removal of the malt duty would save the public ½d. per quart in the price of beer, while the removal of the beer tax would lower the price 1d., and that he was quite satisfied by the removal of the beer duty the country would be benefited to the amount of upwards of £4,000,000. Mr. Goulburn, the Chancellor of the Exchequer of that day, after the most careful inquiry, arrived at the conclusion that the abolition of the beer duty would confer a far greater relief on the community than that on malt, although the amount of revenue the two duties then yielded was very nearly the 545 same. Still the matter was one worthy of attention, and if it was found at the present time that a beer duty would press less heavily upon the public, they might by all means change the nature of the tax; but until the conclusion arrived at at that time could be impeached it would, in his opinion, be useless to contemplate such an alteration. He did not think that those who were anxious for the repeal of this tax could be accused of indulging in any very exacting language upon the subject. The most that they had asked for was that the case might be considered when an opportunity was offered by the discovery of a surplus. He trusted that the labours of the Committee would result in the reduction of this tax, and that ultimately this favourite though not most favoured production of the English soil might grow free and unfettered.
§ LORD EDWARD CAVENDISH
questioned whether any fresh light would be thrown upon the subject by the investigation of the proposed Committee. The malt tax ought to be dealt with irrespective of party considerations. The question was one that pressed for immediate settlement. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had acknowledged in his Financial Statement that there was no portion of the community upon whom taxation pressed so heavily as upon the agricultural class; and yet, instead of affording them any relief, the right hon. Gentleman had appropriated his surplus in other directions, and had rendered a reduction improbable if not absolutely impossible for some years to come.
§ MR. CORRANCE
As it is now understood that this question will be consigned to a Select Committee, a proposal to which, let me say, nevertheless, I could not have given my consent, I shall not attempt to enter into any elaborate argument on any special details. We shall in future be in a better position to deal with these, subsequently to that Report. I shall therefore, in the few observations I am about to make, confine myself to the situation now existing, and which has existed for some time previous to this, which I only trust may not be the final exit of this measure from the House. To me, Sir, as the representative of East Suffolk, this question comes by hereditary descent, and yet it is a legacy from which we seek to be relieved. Perhaps I am rash to remind the House of this, for it will remind them of the advocacy of this cause by one with 546 whom I am not worthy to compare—of one now a Judge upon the Bench—of one whose knowledge of the subject and power of exposition it would be hard to replace. Sir, to recall his memory may be rash personally, but I am not careful as to this, for it may serve to remind this House of logic unanswered, and facts beyond all power of dispute. And now, Sir, what was the nature of this proof? He observed, as we also have, that a great industry is depressed by an enormous and disproportionate tax; that it affected the producer, and it injured the working class, by placing upon their produce a burden estimated at from 95 to 100 per cent, and that the mode of doing so was this:—that it encouraged the substitution of other material; that it rendered inferior barley valueless as an article of sale; that it debars the farmers from using it for feeding or fattening stock. Now, whatever value you may assign to each of these statements, it will not be denied that collectively they amount to a very substantial fact well worthy of careful consideration. So much for his case as a producer; but it must also be remembered that he is, as a farmer, a consumer as well, and to a large extent as an employer of labour not less directly than before. At one time wages used to be partly paid in malt, to the very great advantage of both employer and employed, saving by the avoidance of all contingent expenses and duty, at least 1s. or 2s. a week. But, Sir, this is not the only ground for our appeal; the strongest of all must be found in the condition of our labouring class. [Ironical cheers.] Yes, Sir, the condition of our labouring class—those who your press has lately designated venal serfs — those unrepresented men to whom you so grudge the vote. Excuse me if I say that these also merit some attention on your part. Wages, you will tell me, have risen, and will rise. Well, but do I feel any satisfaction at this? I should do so, no doubt, if the rise of such wages betokened an increased demand, and stimulated production; but is this the case? I think not; it is caused by a scarcity of labour, which has departed because unemployed. If the demand for labour is great, then, indeed, it is a healthy sign; but if we find that high wages and slack employment are combined, it is by no means a sign that such an industry is in a healthy state. But, Sir, there is a point beyond which wages cannot rise—the produce becomes unremunerative, as such. It must 547 soon become so in this case. The price of produce has risen, slowly; but so, indeed, has everything else, and labour not least. And why? because this labour departs. Is it not worth asking the cause of this? and is it not possible that one such cause may be found in the artificial dearness of what, to the labourer, is a necessity of life? Now, Sir, this I must contend is no fictitious or unsubstantial claim which I set up. You admitted it when you repealed the Corn Laws—everyone who calls himself a free trader in this House. I confess I am unable to see upon what grounds the counter-arguments could rest, unless we accept such logic as this—I quote from the most talented of our daily papers. It says that all the pressure put of late years on agriculturists has immensely increased the product of the soil. I confess I am more willing to agree with a sentence next ensuing. It is scarcely reconcilable with this — namely, that no man will tax his muscles or his brain without the prospect of reward. For I cannot help considering such healthy stimulant as more valuable than the thumb-screw or the rack. Well, Sir, this would seem ever to be the opinion of the subject himself; few means on his part have been left untried, but to one uniform result. For they have found various Chancellors of the Exchequer each more obdurate than the last. I have attended several deputations myself. First we went in small parties; then surged into the room en masse. Some of such meetings took a gloomy and sinister turn; some were almost jocose. I remember one such eventful scene, when one of the deputation produced a bottle out of his pocket and a glass, and I think a corkscrew as well if I remember right, and the then Chancellor partook of the refreshment and absolutely laughed. He also averred his entire predilection for "Bass," an amiable sentiment which let us hope in spite of some recent events, may not have been em-bittered overmuch. Nothing could be more promising than this; but, Sir, did the tax come off? Not one bit. Well, Sir, coming to more modern times, what has now taken place? Once more the Chancellor rises in his place, and the eyes of county Members brighten as the words slowly drop from his mouth. He admits the injustice—he states the exceptional case; but, Sir, the concluding words I would fain not utter, he does not take off the tax. Well, Sir, I cannot judge the requirements of the case; they had needs 548 be great, and the right hon. Gentleman would think so if he knew the full effect it had produced. There are good and staunch supporters who have turned indignantly away, perhaps, for ever—I cannot say. They have lost faith in the fair dealing with the case. One thing seems certain, that while it has been possible to remit £11,000,000 of such indirect taxes in as many years without seeing a drawback to the revenue, not one farthing of this tax can ever come off. The tax is always too big or the surplus too small, or we must deal with it in a manner which may be comprehensive but is not comprehensible, I would humbly submit, nor is it wide enough or wise enough to include this tax. Sometimes the whole cannot be possibly spared. Sometimes the cost of collection is far too great to admit of a part. And this cost of collection, now paid by every consumer, ought it not to be conclusive against the tax as it is? We have lately heard so in another case—the turnpikes. The fact is that the alternatives are distasteful to the House, or rather to those who manage the affairs; for these are income tax or financial reform. Why, Sir, this measure should have many friends. Where are the economists? Where are the advocates of direct taxation? Where are the free traders, there are those interested in financial reform—strange bedfellows for the British farmers; but they have been much forced upon him of late, and with such he must put up if thrust out of this side of the House. Perhaps, however, they will not have him. Then, indeed, he must wait, and the Motion of my hon. Friend is well judged. Yes, Sir, he must wait perhaps for Reform, perhaps until by perennial Chancellors the National Debt is paid off, perhaps until the New Zealander sitting upon his broken arch looks moralizing upon the ruins of Barclay and Perkins's and quays lately loaded with Bass. Sir, in supporting the Motion of my hon. Friend, I would only say, I trust not.
§ MR. JASPER MORE
said, it was impossible for the agriculturists to refer to the last speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the malt tax without feeling extreme disappointment at his neglect of the question when in office. Speaking on the Motion for substituting a reduction of the malt tax for reduction of the sugar duties proposed by the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex, in the discussion on the Budget of 1864, the right hon. Gentleman fixed the time for proposing a 549 repeal of the malt tax. He laid down then that we should first discharge the engagements undertaken by the country at the time of the Crimean War, the reduction of the sugar duties being one, and having discharged these, then, said the right hon. Gentleman, "if our resources continue abundant and the country prosperous let us bring forward the claims of what may be considered the last of the Excise duties." He did not state then what amount of prosperity of the country would be the condition of dealing with the tax; but he has told us now that it can only be dealt with in a "comprehensive" manner. He thought this word, which was so often introduced into their Parliamentary vocabulary, was not always easy to comprehend; but he understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to mean that the tax would not be repealed till the surplus of the revenue equalled the tax in amount. If that were so, it was not clear why the right hon. Member for South Lancashire was reflected upon for not dealing with it with the surplus at his disposal; but it was clear that the farmers were right now in changing their tactics, and therefore the attempt to substitute for the malt tax a tax upon beer became worthy of consideration. This proposal enlisted the sympathies of all those philanthropic persons who were considering what would be the most effectual means of diminishing drunkenness amongst the poorer classes. Drunkenness it was found arose chiefly from the adulteration of the beer they drank, rather than from any undue tendency to intemperance amongst the working classes. The argument for the repeal of the malt tax from this point of view was that it would diminish drunkenness by causing a pure to be substituted for an adulterated liquid, and by enabling beer to be brewed at the poor man's house. The practicability of cottage brewing was often denied in the House of Commons; but that it was prevalent in England is plain from numerous passages in Shakspeare, and that it is prevalent in other countries now he could prove from the Consul General's Report for Prussia. He states that permits are granted to certain poor families to brew free of licence or tax, and that between 16,000 and 17,000 of these permits were applied for and granted in the year 1864, the number annually increasing. He had some time ago proposed an Amendment to the hon. and gallant Member's Motion, not for the purpose of opposing him, but to enable the country 550 to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer's opinion on the question; and it now being shown that he is no more able than the right hon. Member for South Lancashire to deal with the question directly, he wished the hon. and gallant Member success in attempting to obtain the object that has been for so many years before the House, by the substitute of a beer duty.
§ MR. GREENE
said, that no one felt a deeper interest in the welfare of the agricultural classes than he did, and he should therefore support the Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee. His belief was that the malt tax was not a real grievance, and if the matter was gone into fairly and dispassionately it would have the effect of convincing the farmers that it was not the hindrance they imagined it to be. When they took into consideration the average price of barley for the last seven years, he did not think there existed any complaint on that head, and he thought that owing to the mode in which the tax was levied there was an advantage to the finer qualities of barley, for whether barley yielded 80 or 90 per cent it paid the same duty. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had given advantage to a lower class of barley by allowing it to be malted at a less duty; but the difference in the extract of malt was so great that the price of the finer qualities was enhanced by the duty, inasmuch as it cost no more for 90 per cent than for 80. Therefore the barley grown on the finer soils had an advantage. It had been said that if the malt tax were repealed beer would be brewed at home; but the artizans in large towns had no means of brewing at home even if the malt were given them for the purpose; and with respect to the agricultural labourer, if the duty on malt was reduced it would not be so reduced as to enable him to consume it generally in his family. It was a hardship undoubtedly upon the farmer that he should be compelled to pay duty upon barley which he had grown himself and wished to convert to his own use. No doubt he might send his barley to the maltster to be converted into malt; but he might ask, with the same reason, why he did not buy his wheat and send it to the miller to be converted into flour. As to this being a poor man's question, if the tax were taken off malt and placed upon beer would not the poor man, as consumer, pay it eventually. There had been no complaints from the consumers of beer that the duty on malt enhanced its price. It 551 had been said that if the duty was taken off malt inferior barley would be brought into use; but against this argument must be set the fact that foreign barley would always come into competition with it, and the brewer would use it in preference to the coarser barley grown on heavy land. If the question were fairly investigated by a Committee he had no doubt they would come to a decision that considering the large revenue raised from spirits and malt, if the duty was not retained some burdens of a worse character would fall upon the agriculturist. The question of the duty on malt was not a free trade question, for there was no prohibition of barley and malt coming into the country. If the subject received a calm investigation, and if the Committee was properly appointed, he had no doubt they would come to a fair conclusion on its merits. If the Report of the Committee convinced him that the malt duty was injurious to the agricultural interest and ought to be removed, he would not resist its removal; but in his opinion the tax was paid by a large class of well paid artizans who could not be reached in any other way, and if the duty on malt was reduced a large number of persons who could afford to pay it would be relieved from taxation.
§ MR. BARROW
said, the malt tax was an excessive duty on the raw material, paid by the producer in the course of his manufacture. Now, the hon. Gentlemen opposite had always professed themselves anxious to remove duties from the raw material of our manufactures—why should they refuse to act on the same principle with regard to the farmer, from whom excessive duties were levied upon an article which he had himself raised. The farmer grew the barley, he must use a certain portion of malt, and his raw material was taxed before he could use it in the course of his own business. The tax on malt on a small farm was more than double the property tax, and this showed that it was an enormous pressure on the small farmer. It had been said that their patriotism would be called in question if they yielded to the claim of the farmer; but he was not at all afraid of such an imputation, and his belief was that the tax would be eventually removed. He felt so strongly on the subject, that he would rather pay double the amount of income tax than that the malt tax should be a pressure on his tenants.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The hon. Member for Shropshire 552 (Mr. More) expects Her Majesty's Government to inform the House what their intentions are with respect to the malt tax. He also particularly wishes to know whether we believe it is practicable to exchange this tax for a beer tax. If the Government were prepared to give this information to the House, it appears to me there would be very little necessity for the appointment of the Select Committee which has been moved for. The hon. Member for Shropshire also informs us that great disappointment is felt in the country amongst the various classes connected with agriculture in consequence of Her Majesty's Government not having repealed the malt tax. If there be that disappointment I can only say that the character of the agricultural classes is very much changed since I have had an intimate acquaintance with them. I believe that the leading members of that class in all the counties of England are men of much too great sagacity, and are too well acquainted with the subject, to suppose for a moment that the Government intended to repeal the malt tax with the surplus which it was my business this year to place at the disposal of the House. These are, I think, somewhat careless and exaggerated statements, and I do not consider them at all likely to advance the cause to which the hon. Member for Shropshire has on several occasions informed us he devotes the whole energies of his life. [Mr. JASPER MORE: I never made any such statement.] I so understood the hon. Member, and the interest he takes in the subject, and the enthusiastic manner in which he expresses his sentiments must be impelled, I think, by some feeling of that character. But I must say, on the part of the Government, that it will not be in my power to gratify his curiosity on this occasion. On the contrary, I think the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot) a very proper and sensible Motion. I do not oppose it; on the contrary, I approve of it. It is a long time since the question of the incidence of this tax has been investigated. Since that time the information we possess on these subjects has been very much increased; the progress of the public mind on subjects of taxation has been very great; and I believe that if this investigation is pursued with earnestness and application, the results, whatever they may be—whatever conclusions the Committee may arrive at—will be productive of great public advantage. There is another reason why I 553 think the hon. and gallant Member is wise in the course which he has taken. We have had now for several years Motions made in this House, and debates leading to the complete or partial repeal of the tax, and they have always been defeated. Their character has not been accurately described by the noble Lord who addressed us, and who is also, I believe, a Member for the county of Sussex (Lord Edward Cavendish). They were not Motions for on absolute or even partial repeal of the malt tax; they only sought expressions of opinion from this House, that in any future reduction of indirect taxation the malt tax had a superior claim—or had a claim—to the consideration of the House; and I believe that since the time these were made no considerable reduction of indirect taxation has been proposed to the House—certainly not by the present Government; and therefore I think that the course my hon. and gallant Friend has adopted is a wise course, because to continue year after year making Motions apparently leading to the reduction of a particular tax, which cannot be successful, and which would be encountered by the same Amendments, leading to the same conclusions, will not at all advance the question or enlighten the public mind. With regard to the question itself, it is unnecessary for me to enter into its merits, as there is before the House a proposition for the appointment of a Committee, to which the Government entirely accede. But, with regard to another observation of the noble Lord the Member for East Sussex, I must also venture to criticize the accuracy of his recollection. He said that I described the tax as a burden on the agricultural interest. Now these were not the expressions that I used the other night. I did not use the word "burden," nor did I use the words "agricultural interest." I said that the malt tax was a restriction on the industry of the producers of barley; and I should like to see any one rise on either side of the House and deny that proposition. The malt tax is a restriction on the producers of barley, and after all the changes that have taken place it is no doubt, of those that are left, one of the most considerable restrictions upon the industry of any important producing class. That is the proposition which I think, cannot be controverted—no doubt it is perfectly sound and true; and yet there may be reasons which, on the whole, may render it politic and expedient still to retain 554 such a tax. A very considerable time has elapsed since there has been a complete examination of the subject, and after the variety of Motions that have been made on it, and the very extravagant views which are taken either way upon this subject, it is my opinion and that of my Colleagues that it is expedient that this Committee should be granted. I hope that the Committee will be efficiently constituted, and so far as the Government is concerned my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Barttelot) may rely upon our assisting him as much as we can in its formation, so that its labours may command the confidence of the House. I cannot doubt that the result of those labours will be advantageous to the House and to the country. With regard to the language in which the Motion is couched, I cannot advise my hon. and gallant Friend to adopt the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone). I think if be were to do so he would involve himself in subjects of very great difficulty; and I think the proposition he makes, which is a very simple one—one which, strictly regulated as I have no doubt the investigation will be, particularly under the management of my hon. and gallant Friend—I think will lead to a very satisfactory arrangement. Of course, it is open to my hon. and gallant Friend to adopt the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman if he likes to do so; but I make no conditions—as far as I am concerned with the language of the Motion, I believe that the labours of the Committee will be very advantageous to the public.
§ MR. DODSON
said, he thought the explanation given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the words he had used did not alter the case. The admission made was satisfactory to those who were opposed to the malt tax, for the words as explained were condemnatory of that tax equally with the words which had been attributed to him by the noble Lord (Lord Edward Cavendish). He hoped his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Barttelot) would not extend the subject of his inquiry to the question of the spirit duty. The spirit duty was a duty on a manufactured article. The malt duty was a tax, not on a beverage only, but upon food as well. It was a duty, not on the manufactured article, but on the raw material. There was no ground, therefore, for making a comparison. Still less was there any reason for alleging that the two beverages or the two taxes were of a similar character—they 555 were totally and essentially different in their nature. He did not suppose that there were two opinions as to the duty on spirits. It was universally admitted that spirits might legitimately be taxed to the utmost extent to which taxation might be carried without decreasing the revenue derived from the article. But in the case of beer they were not dealing with a dangerous or pernicious commodity, or with an article of luxury. Beer, if not one of the necessaries, was one of the first comforts of the people, and consequently it was not to be taxed, except as a matter of necessity in the raising of a revenue sufficient for the wants of the country. It was said that if Parliament dealt with the malt duty without dealing with the duty on spirits, it would be doing an injustice to those counties in which spirits were consumed, and conferring a favour on those in which beer was the ordinary drink. That allegation would have force if the House were dealing with a compulsory tax like the income tax; but an indirect tax was an optional one. Spirits were undoubtedly more heavily taxed than beer; but if some people had the bad taste to prefer spirits to beer they had no reason to complain of the heavier duty. Besides, if the argument was good for anything, how could those who used it justify the exemption of cider from any taxation whatever; the fact was that a liquor like spirits could not be regarded in the same light as a beverage like beer. He confessed he should have thought the better course would have been to bring the subject of the malt tax under the consideration of the House by a direct Motion. He did not think much additional information was to be elicited by a Select Committee; but, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made his Financial Statement for the present year, he was glad his hon. and gallant Friend had got his Committee, which he hoped would make its Report in time to have an influence on the Budget of next year.
§ MR. DAVENPORT-BROMLEY
said, that although regretting with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down that the question of the malt tax had not been brought under the consideration of the House by direct Motion, he thought that they must be thankful for small favours, and accept the Select Committee as a possible means of obtaining the end which most of the county Members had in view. But he took this opportunity of alluding to a circumstance which had come to his 556 knowledge in respect of the hon. Member for Shropshire (Mr. More). As he had been informed—of course, if he was incorrect the hon. Gentleman would set him right—the hon. Member went down to his (Mr. Bromley's) county the other day, and took advantage of a meeting of the Chamber of Agriculture to call attention, in the first place, to the absence of the four county Members from that meeting.
§ MR. JASPER MORE
assured the hon. Member that he had been misinformed—he had done nothing of the kind.
§ MR. DAVENPORT-BROMLEY
hoped the hon. Gentleman would give a satisfactory answer to what he was going to further state. As he was informed the hon. Gentleman had stated at the meeting in question, that by their absence on that occasion, and by other ways in that House, the four Members for the county had shown their insincerity — or at least they were not very zealous—he was not sure of the exact words—about the repeal of the malt tax.
§ MR. JASPER MORE
must inform the hon. Gentleman that he had made no such allusion to the Members for the county.
§ MR. DAVENPORT-BROMLEY
accepted the hon. Member's denial as quite satisfactory. At the same time, he must acquaint the hon. Member with the fact that he was reported in the county papers to have made the statement to which he had just referred. He hoped, therefore, the hon. Member would inform the editors that the report was incorrect, and would advise them to withdraw it.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he wished to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot) whether, under the terms of their appointment, it would be competent to the Select Committee to thoroughly inquire as to the expediency of levying a duty on beer instead of on malt, He desired to protest against the assumption of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the malt tax was a restriction upon the industry employed on the growth of barley. He believed one of the great advantages to be derived from the labours of the Committee would be that that assumption would be shown to be entirely erroneous and unfounded.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
said, he distinctly understood that the Committee would be competent to make every inquiry with regard to the possibility of placing the tax upon beer. Indeed, he believed that the Committee would be at liberty to 557 inquire into every other circumstance connected with the malt tax. He must say he was astonished at the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) that the Committee should also inquire into the question of spirits. The two things were wholly dissimilar, and he thought the Motion which he had made would best suit the convenience of all parties.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Select Committee appointed, "to inquire into the operation of the Malt Tax." — (Colonel Barttelot.)
§ And, on May 31, Select Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. STEPHEN CAVE, Mr. HUNT, Mr. GOSCHEN, Mr. G. SHAW-LEFEVRE, Mr. LAING, Mr. ARTHUR PEEL, Mr. AYRTON, Lord EUSTACE CECIL, Sir EDWARD MANNINGHAM BULLER, Mr. READ, Major PARKER, Mr. HENRY SURTEES, Mr. MORE, Mr. DENT, The O'CONOR DON, Mr. HARDCASTLE, Mr. BENTON, and Colonel BARTTELOT:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum:—And, on June 3, Colonel DUNCOMBE added.