HC Deb 28 July 1882 vol 273 cc43-54

in rising to move— That this House is of opinion that the repeal of the Malt Tax, by encouraging the use of rice, maize, and other articles, as substitutes for malt in brewing, has proved to be injurious, instead of beneficial, to the farmer; that the manufacture of beer of inferior quality from such articles is contrary to the public welfare, as well as detrimental to the interests of agri- culture, and that no financial scheme will be satisfactory which does not amend the Law with regard to the use of ingredients other than sugar, malt, and hops, in the brewing of beer for sale, said, he gave Notice that he would raise this question early in the Session. Since the repeal of the Malt Tax many ingredients had been used in the manufacture of beer, and agriculturists had suffered from the consequent lowering of the value of barley. He was not ashamed to admit that he cordially approved of the repeal of the Malt Tax, because it was unjust to the cultivators of the sail that they should be precluded from using the produce of their farms in the most profitable way. The repeal of the tax, as far as it permitted farmers to malt their own barley, had proved very beneficial; but its other effects had, on the whole, outweighed the advantages of the change. His Amendment set forth several propositions, the first of which was that the repeal of the tax had been injurious for certain specified reasons, such as the use of base materials in the manufacture of beer; the second, that the use of those ingredients injured not only the agricultural community, but also the public welfare; and the third, that the repeal of the tax had been detrimental to the farmers by reducing the price of barley. The other part of the Amendment was to the effect— That no financial scheme will be satisfactory which does not amend the Law with regard to the use of ingredients other than sugar, malt, and hops, in the brewing of beer for sale. But his main object was to induce Her Majesty's Government to entertain the case he submitted to them, and then to amend the proposal as they pleased. At the same time, there were a variety of ways in which it might be amended. A duty, for instance, might be imposed on the spurious ingredients of the same nature as the duty on what were called "imitations of coffee," or the desired object might be attained by making it necessary for persons who sold beer to declare whether it was manufactured from ingredients other than sugar, malt, and hops. If the ingredients used at present in the manufacture of beer—such as maize and rice—were advertised in a placard over the doorway of every beershop in which the spurious liquor was sold, it would very soon be found profitable to revert to the old process of manufacture. Another proposal, which he was inclined to commend, was that of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage), who suggested that no liquor not brewed exclusively from sugar, malt, and hops should be allowed to be sold under the name of beer. He hoped that the Government would consider these three proposals, with a view to the adoption of one of them, or of something similar. At one time, he confessed, he had advocated the imposition of a duty on foreign barley, in order to raise in that manner that part of the Revenue which now accrued from beer; but the fact was that at this moment it was not the foreign barley that did the mischief, but the injurious substitutes he had mentioned; and these, undoubtedly, did injure all the agriculturists who depended largely on the growing of barley. It was to be remembered that, owing to the keen competition to which English wheat was exposed, the farmers, who were chiefly interested in barley, were every day increasing in numbers, so that it would probably not be long before a boon that was specially advantageous to them would profit the agricultural community at large. The Commission on British Agriculture had just issued its Report, and would be found to have made, among other beneficial suggestions, a recommendation in this direction. In the long run, the prosperity of agriculture must depend upon good weather and fair prices; and this view was supported by some very remarkable concurrent evidence from three out of the four Sub-Commissioners who pursued their investigations throughout the whole of England. English farmers had contended for a long time with almost unexampled difficulties, and had met them nobly, and had used such rare favourable opportunities as they had had in a way that spoke volumes for their pluck and mettle. He trusted, then, that the right hon. Gentleman—who, he acknowledged, had shown much consideration for the Bills in which the farmers were interested—would show his sympathy with them in a more practical manner. The repeal of the Malt Tax was intended to confer great benefits on them, and was passed at a time when no Government could afford to ignore the agricultural interest; but, from various circumstances, those benefits had been intercepted, or, at least, had been greatly diminished, and all he now asked was that the right hon. Gentleman should entertain an Amendment that would make his measure of relief real and effectual. The Amendment was not placed on the Paper in a spirit of hostility to the financial proposals of the right hon. Gentleman, but to enable him (Mr. Chaplin) to state the views of a great many who were interested in the question, and in order to afford an opportunity for the statement of the views of the Government. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


in seconding the Amendment, said, that he brought in this Session a Bill which would have the effect of carrying out the object of the Amendment; but it was rejected on the second reading, after a short discussion, by a majority of less than 30. If the Bill could have been discussed at length on a Wednesday, it would have had a very fair chance of passing. No one could dispute that ingredients other than sugar, malt, and hops were put into beer; and he held that persons who drank beer ought to know what they were drinking. When the right hon. Gentleman, two years ago, abolished the Malt Tax, the measure was received by the agricultural community with great favour; but they had since found out that they were mistaken in so regarding it, and that, instead of raising the price of barley, it had greatly reduced it, and they were now suffering seriously in consequence. He had been told by one of the largest maltsters in England that the price of barley must fall and keep low, unless some change was made in the law. The consumption of beer had, to a great extent, been reduced, and the working classes were now drinking instead more spirits, and, to a certain extent, more tea and coffee. He viewed with regret the reduction in the consumption of beer as compared with spirits. It was well known that rice and maize made an inferior kind of beer, and that the many injurious substances put into it—not by brewers, but by publicans—rendered the article very injurious to the community. On behalf, therefore, of the community at large, as well as the agricultural population of this country, he considered that this Resolution deserved the serious conside- ration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no financial scheme will be satisfactory which does not amend the Law with regard to the use of ingredients other than sugar, malt, and hops, in the brewing of beer for sale,"—(Mr. Chaplin,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


I am very glad to see that the House has not considered the present a very convenient opportunity for entering at large upon this Amendment. With respect to the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down (Colonel Barne), I think it is rather hard that he should select this opportunity for the purpose of ventilating the ideas which he entertains on this matter; because at an earlier period the hon. and gallant Gentleman took it in hand as a legislator, and proposed a Bill with the objects he has in view, and the House rejected the Bill. Under the circumstances, I think it is rather severe that, after a Bill has been rejected in his own hands, he should endeavour to revive it in mine.


The right hon. Gentleman has more influence than I have.


No, Sir; I beg to assure the hon. and gallant Member that my influence would unquestionably fail if I were to direct it to those objects. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman only showed a good discretion in selecting the purposes to which he applied his influence, I think he would find that the influence would become very large, and he need not be afraid to compare it with that of anybody else. In respect to this Motion, I must say that the terms of the Motion appear to cast a disagreeable light upon a policy that has been steadily pursued for half-a-century. Because, since the year 1830, the Party with which the hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion is connected have represented the repeal of the Malt Tax as the grand specific for all agricultural woes and grievances. I have had a great deal more experience of these matters than the hon. Gentleman has had; and I can assure him that the uniform strain in which the recommendations for the repeal of the Malt Tax were supported was by invoking the Goddess of Freedom. It was the removal of restraint; it was liberating the hands of the producers; and now that that has been done, the hon. Member says—"Oh, yes; liberate the hands of a particular description of producers, but tie up the hands of another class of producers." But, Sir, it is an extremely painful circumstance to me that the unfortunate farmer of this country should, for 50 years, have been taught by those who unquestionably believed themselves the best friends the farmer had, and who often say they are the only friends, to place his hope and reliance on a remedy of which the hon. Gentleman now deliberately declares that the disadvantages greatly outweighed the advantages.


But it is the way in which it was done.


It was done by setting the trade free, and leaving everybody to judge what kind of beer they would like. I will not dwell upon that; but when I recollect that whenever a Tory Government was in power—with the exception of 1835, when Lord Chan-dos was in Office—the question of the Malt Tax was allowed to sleep. A change came over the views of the agricultural interest, and the Malt Tax was of small importance; but when a Liberal Government were in Office, the Malt Tax has always swelled into portentous dimensions. It was invariably exhibited to the country as the means by which the agricultural interest was to be restored to a state of vigour and prosperity; and it is, indeed, a most lamentable fact that this long-continued series of operations should now be admitted, from the mouth of those who were its chief champions, to have been an entire delusion practised on the British Parliament. That is a sad fact. Experience teaches many lessons which we would do well to take to heart. But with regard to this Motion, allow me to point out to the hon. Gentleman what appears to me to dispose of it very briefly. As far as it is true that a mischievous article is produced by the use of certain ingredients in the making of beer, that is not a matter of finance at all, but is a matter belonging to the question of adulteration. It has to do with the health of the public, and I must say that it is not a financial subject, or a subject which the Financial Department should entertain. As far as I recognize the views of the hon. Gentleman, he is aiming at raising the price of a particular article by shutting out from competition a number of other articles.


Spurious articles.


No; I beg pardon. The hon. Gentleman by that theory leads us into a maze of confusion. I have said that as far as it is injurious we get rid of it by dealing with it as adulteration. I do not think the hon. Gentleman could expect the House of Commons to proscribe the use of articles other than malt, hops, and sugar in the making of beer, because the introduction of them tends to reduce the price of barley. The Motion, on that point of view, strikes at the very root of all progress and advance in the industry of the country. My firm belief is, that the admission of all these articles will be beneficial to the public, because this is a trade that depends upon the use of bulky commodities; and the more free we are to purchase these bulky commodities, the larger will be the use of them. To give an absolute free choice of material, setting aside the question of adulteration, to the producers of this country, is absolutely the first and most necessary condition of progress in industry and manufactures. If you do not do that, you will undo the whole legislation of the last century, which has tended to set British industry free, and begin again to manufacture the fetters which formerly bound up the energies, the industry, the skill, and the capital of this country, and carry it back as far as you can to the condition of comparative poverty and disgrace in which it lay before those operations began. I could not with honesty pretend to be prepared to entertain in any way the question of restricting the use of any materials in the production of beer which are not obnoxious, on the ground of their sanitary effects. This is no question of finance. I wish the hon. Member every kind of success in an operation of this kind; but I think it is rather hard when we come forward with our Tax Bill to supply the absolute wants of the country, at a period when the House is much exhausted with the labours of a lengthened Session, to bring upon the Tax Bill a question of that kind.


reminded the right hon. Gentleman that he had put his Notice on the Paper months ago.


That is quite true; but the result of the action of the hon. Member is that this important subject is brought to our notice in the last days of July, when the Government has been obliged to give up the very last of their legislative measures for the Session. I am sure that, under these circumstances, the hon. Member will feel that it is not desirable that the Government should enter at large into questions of elementary principle, or make admissions which, if made at all, must strike at the very root of the legislation which has done so much to render this country content and prosperous.


said, he did not suppose that ever in the history of this House had the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill been brought on in the last week of July. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not responsible for this, and the House had no control over it. It was unfortunate, but there it was, and he would not hinder for more than a minute or two the discussion on that Bill. But as the hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) had put this Motion on the Paper, he would say a word or two upon it. The right hon. Gentleman, in the remarks he had just made, must have forgotten the year 1852, when the late lamented Lord Beaconsfield moved to reduce the Malt Tax by one-half. A Conservative Government being then in power did attempt to deal with the Malt Tax. His next remark would be that he did not know how the agriculturists of this country were to grow in any large quantities rice and maize, which the right hon. Gentleman told them they were at liberty to do, and which, he stated, might be part of the produce of farms hereafter. He (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) had yet to learn that the climate of this country would admit of the growth of rice. He would admit to the full that after the right hon. Gentleman had abolished the Malt Tax, it was very difficult to restrict the ingredients of which beer was composed; but he would point out that the repeal of the Malt Tax had had this effect, which no one would deny—that it had materially decreased the present price of barley, and enabled many brewers who were not so particular of what their beer was composed to brew beer from articles which were not for the general benefit of the public health. One thing, however, had been very useful—namely, that a much larger number of people, much larger than the right hon. Gentleman anticipated, did now brew at home. The more that was done the better it was for the home brewers and their families. He regretted that for the sake merely of the principle of Free Trade, and the absolute abolition of Protection, the duty of 1s. on corn was abolished. In his opinion, that was a great and grave mistake. That duty produced a large revenue, and during the last two years would have produced a larger revenue than before. It hurt nobody, and it was throwing away a large amount of revenue. The right hon. Gentleman would admit that they had much to complain of in the agricultural interest from causes over which they had no control. Their losses had been borne with such a spirit as Englishmen generally showed, with a full determination to meet them to the best of their ability. If the right hon. Gentleman could see his way to alleviate those misfortunes by the reduction of taxation in some way or other, he would be conferring a great benefit upon an important interest. He had met them to some extent with regard to highways and main roads; and he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) ventured to hope that the local taxation which would come before the House and the country next year in a far better shape than would have been possible this year would afford in the future some of that relief which was so very much needed.


said, that he had listened attentively to the speeches of hon. Members opposite, in the expectation of hearing reasons in support of the Motion, but he had listened in vain. The hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) ought to have been able to show, but had not shown, by an elaborate analytical report, that the ingredients used in the brewing of beer which he complained of were distinctly injurious to the public health. Neither had any attempt been made to prove that the repeal of the Malt Tax had an unfavourable effect upon the price of barley. He (Mr. James Howard) contended that the hon. Member was bound to prove the three points he had referred to; happily a large number of analytical chemists existed in the country, and it would therefore have been easy to submit an analysis showing the composition of the articles complained of. With respect to the effect of the repeal upon the price of barley, he had prepared a Return of the average price of malting barley from The Mark Lane Express for 21 years past, and he had taken the price on the first Monday in December in each year, a period when the malting trade was at its highest activity. The average price in 1860 was 34s. per quarter; in 1865 it was 34s.; in 1870, 38s. 6d.; in 1875, 38s.; in 1880, 38s. 6d.; while in 1881 it was 44s., or 10s. a-quarter higher than in 1860. It was true that immediately after the repeal of the Malt Tax there was a considerable decline in the price of barley. He was somewhat astonished and puzzled at that result, and on inquiring the cause of one of the largest maltsters, he was told that it was due solely to the fact that there existed at the time large stocks of malt which had been left over from the previous season, that owing to the depressing effect upon industries of all kinds through the disturbing policy of the late Government the demand for beer had declined, and he also made the remark that, owing to the depression, it was difficult to give malt away. He (Mr. James Howard) then went to one of the largest brewers in England, and asked whether he could corroborate the views of the maltster? He replied that he could to this extent—that brewers could buy malt almost upon their own terms. It appeared to be the fashion of hon. Gentlemen opposite to decry whatever measures the Liberal Government passed for the relief of agriculture, even though they had clamoured for such measures for many years; they had attempted to ridicule the Ground Game Act, and with respect to the Malt Tax, although he could not, as the Prime Minister had done, go back so far as 1830, he could corroborate the statement of the Prime Minister as to the attitude of the Tory Party during later years; whenever a Liberal Government had been in power they had demanded the repeal of the Malt Duty. The Central Chamber of Agriculture, up to 1874, kept alive the agitation year after year; but during the succeeding six years there was a period of quiescence; as soon, however, as the Liberal Party acceded to power the question was revived. He could quote many speeches of hon. Members opposite to show that they had advocated precisely what the Government had done—the transference of the tax from malt to beer. But he would quote one only—a speech by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Chaplin). In addressing the Lincolnshire Chamber of Agriculture in the Spring of 1880 the hon. Gentleman, after dwelling upon the importance of local taxation reform, referred to the Malt Tax in the following terms:— Then there was that still more indefensible tax which pressed them heavily, and which was such a burden and hindrance to agriculture in many parts of the country—the Malt Tax. It was sufficient to recount the injurious effects of this tax on agriculture to show the enormous injustice which it imposed on the farmer and the producer of barley in England. He had never yet heard any valid reason why half the Malt Tax should not be placed on beer. He (Mr. James Howard) submitted that no case had been made out for the acceptance of the Amendment; the Proposer had neither proved its necessity, nor, indeed, had he made any attempt to prove it.


suggested that the Prime Minister should, if not now, at some early period consider the advisability of extending his exemptions in the direction of free brewing. He believed that the present exemption in favour of £10 and £15 houses might be simplified and extended to £20 with but slight loss to the Revenue and great gain to the farmer. The principle of such exemptions in favour of agriculture had already been conceded in the matter of farmers' horses and dogs; and he hoped that, as the farmers were at present very heavily handicapped in the way of taxation, the Prime Minister would carefully consider the proposals of his hon. Friend on the possibility of making the change he had referred to.


said, that a great inequality in licences was occasioned to parties holding licences for the sale of spirits by the mode in which the rent of the premises was fixed. Until lately the old valuation was still in force in Scotland, under which the licences of persons selling spirits were charged upon the value of the portion of the promises used for the sale of spirits. But within the last three years the change was made by which the licence was levied upon the value of the whole house, founded on the idea that as the Inhabited House Duty should be upon the whole building under one roof, then that the licence should also follow the charge for the House Duty. No doubt, in most cases, the whole house was often licensed for the sale of spirits; and the duty on the house was the then guide for the Excise to levy the licence duty. In Scotland, in many of the small localities, portions of the house were alone licensed by the magistrates, and kept separate from the inhabited portion; and as the licence was given for the shop, distinct from the dwelling-house, he hoped the Prime Minister would favourably consider a proposal he would bring before the Treasury in the course of a few days, and make the licences applicable to the shop only He merely mentioned this now in order that it should receive attention from the Treasury when he submitted it to them.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 125; Noes 52: Majority 73.—(Div. List, No. 300.)

Main Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."