HL Deb 27 April 1852 vol 120 cc1192-200

presented a petition from dealers and others, of London and Westminster, complaining of the operation of the Treasury Minute of 1840 with respect to the sale of Coffee mixed with Chicory, and praying for redress. His Lordship said, that the parties who had entrusted him with this petition were anxious that he should call the attention of their Lordships to the serious evils which had arisen from that Minute, and to the reasons which existed for its being rescinded, and for a slight alteration being made in the Treasury Minute of 1832 on the same subject. He (Lord Torrington) was aware that the subject had been brought forward last year; but, even with the knowledge of that fact, he hoped their, Lordships would favourably entertain the prayer of the memorial which he now submitted. With the permission of their Lordships, he would briefly call attention, to the state of the law on this point in 1840. By the 43rd of Geo. III., cap. 129, were enacted stringent provisions to prevent chicory mixed with coffee from being sold under the name of coffee, and a penalty of 100l. was imposed on any person who should sell burnt corn, &c., as coffee; the 3rd of Geo. IV., chap. 53, allowed the substituted article to be sold by coffee dealers under its own name, inflicting a penalty of 50?. unless such arti- cles were labelled with their proper description; by the 7 &c 8 of Geo. IV. chap. 53, prosecutions for admixture were prohibited, unless instituted by the Commissioners of Excise, who were placed under the control of the Lords of the Treasury; Messrs. Kennaway, dealers in coffee, &c., having been prosecuted under these Acts. On the 21st of August, 1832, a Treasury Minute was issued in these words:— Inform the Commissioners of Excise that my Lords are of opinion, that the sale of chicory powder unmixed should not be interfered with; but that the sellers of coffee should be informed that they must abide the consequences, if after a notice of two months they shall continue to sell coffee mixed with any other ingredient contrary to law. Now, under this state of the law, which continued up to the year 1840, there had been a steady increase in the consumption of Coffee. At that time the Treasury Minute of 1840 was issued, and inflicted great mischief on the growers of coffee. It was in these terms:— Write to the Commissioners of Excise, that my Lords consider that the law was altered with the view of admitting the admixture of chicory with coffee. My Lords, therefore, do not consider that any measures should be enforced to prevent the sale of coffee mixed with chicory, and are of opinion that the prosecution in question should be dropped. My Lords do not consider that such admixture will be a fraud on the revenue so long as chicory pays the proper duty, and as between the seller and consumer my Lords desire that Government should interfere as little as possible. Now, this last was the Minute of which the petitioners complained, and which they wished to have rescinded, and they wished an alteration made in that of 1832. Coffee, which formerly sold from 100s. to 120s. per cwt., was now much reduced in price. But in the year 1845 the cultivation of chicory was introduced upon the British soil, and had been much extended since that time. In the year 1847 the general use of chicory had not only checked the progressive increase of the healthy demand for coffee, but had even produced an annual decline in its consumption to the extent of 6,000,000 lb. in 1850, as compared with the year 1840. In the year 1847 the consumption of coffee in this country amounted to 37,441,373 lb. From that period, when home chicory was introduced into the home market, it had fallen regularly until, in the year 1850, the consumption was only 31,226,840 lb. In 1851 the consumption increased by about 1,500,000lb., and was 32,564,1641b. He attributed that increase to the equalisation and reduction of duties on foreign and colonial coffee. In looking at the consumption of coffee in this country as compared with other countries, the difference was very striking; and he could only be of opinion that, under these circumstances, there must be something unwholesome in the state of the coffee trade, and he would give their Lordships this proof of it. In the year 1850 the population of the United States was estimated at 23,500,000, and the consumption of coffee amounted to 151,000 lb. In the United Kingdom the population was estimated at 27,500,000, and the consumption of coffee was only 32,000,0001b. The petitioners alleged— That no reasonable cause could be assigned for this rapid and serious diminution in the consumption of coffee, except the notorious substitution of chicory and other substances. Of chicory alone it was estimated by fair and competent parties that about 12,000 tons, or 26,880,000 lb. had been consumed annually in recent years; and assuming that to displace a similar quantity of coffee, it must intercept, according to the present duties, a sum of 336,000l. from the service of the State. All that the petitioners asked, was, not that a duty should be imposed upon chicory, but that chicory and coffee should each be sold separately and alone. The public were unable at present to procure either chicory or coffee as a genuine article. This was at once injurious to the public, and gave an advantage to the unfair over the respectable tradesman. The noble Viscount then proceeded to show that coffee was the only article which presented an exception to the great increase in the consumption of the necessaries of life which had recently developed itself among the great masses of the people. He believed that the interests of the people had been greatly injured by the Treasury Minute which had been issued on this subject, and that the community had been prevented by it from obtaining a genuine article, which was not deleterious to their health, but highly salutary. He had been told that great difficulty would arise from altering the Treasury Minute of 1840. He had been told that 5,000 acres in Great Britain were now cultivated with chicory, and that no less a capital than 1,000,000l. sterling was invested in that cultivation. He thought that this latter statement was incorrect, unless 900,000l. of that sum were set down for the profits of the invest- ment, and only 100,000l. for the cost of the investment itself. He held in his hand a copy of the memorial which had been sent from the planters of Ceylon to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, relative to the adulteration of coffee in Great Britain, and, with the permission of their Lordships, he would read a few paragraphs from it. The noble Viscount then read the following paragraphs:— The loss of revenue to the mother country, under present circumstances, is unquestionable; but with that, perhaps, your memorialists have little to do; the demoralising effect of such a system, by which the Imperial Government sanctions the selling of a spurious article for the true one, making honesty in the retailer almost impossible although evident, is perhaps also beyond their province; your memorialists revert to their legitimate and pressing anxiety for their own just claim, that they and the fruit of their labours may enjoy the protection of the laws. Your memorialists consider that they have already suffered great loss by the depreciation of their produce, Caused by the substitution of worthless or unwholesome matter; but they fear that worse awaits them, if this system be permitted to continue. They fear that the industrious classes, who are how the chief consumers of coffee in England, will cease to use it, when they find it undergoing daily deterioration; and, indeed, when they know it is allowed to be adulterated in this manner, it would not be surprising if they ceased to use it. Thus to us would be lost the best part of the English market, and to the English mechanic and labourer, a pleasant, wholesome, and invigorating beverage. But, on the other hand, if the law were set free to exercise its proper function, in protecting the honest trader against fraudulent competition, so that every man might buy coffee or chicory, either or both as he pleased, then your memorialists might hope for better times; they might hope that the consumption of coffee would increase in England with the increase of population, temperance, and prosperity. He (Viscount Torrington) was well acquainted with the majority of the parties who had forwarded this memorial. He knew their feelings; he knew their difficulties in procuring a market for their produce. He knew the capital which they had embarked in their plantations, and therefore it was that he advocated their cause. Ceylon was one of the largest producers of coffee. Supposing that it had a free market for its coffee, there was no calculating the amount of coffee which it could grow. There was a great extent of land uncultivated in it; labour was cheaper in Ceylon than in any other coffee-growing colony, and cheaper than in the Brazils; but it was necessary that some alteration should be made in the colonial regulations for the sale of sand, in order that the planters might be enabled to carry on their operations.


had to present a petition from the inhabitants of Ceylon, on the same subject, which was one worthy of the attention of their Lordships and the Government. The petition he held in his hand was signed by a great many merchants, traders, other inhabitants and natives of Ceylon; and it stated that they found great difficulty in continuing to cultivate the growth of coffee, in which they had invested a large capital, from the reduction in the price of coffee. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer had refused to interfere, because, he said, the revenue had not been affected by the adulteration of coffee. That, he thought, was a wrong principle, as it was the duty of the Government to protect the public: but he begged to say that the statement was incorrect, for the revenue had been gradually decreasing since 1847. He understood that not only was coffee mixed with other ingredients, but chicory itself was largely adulterated; and there being no doubt that the operation of the Treasury Minute of 1840 was injurious to the revenue, he hoped the Government would not object to its being rescinded.


said: I am not disposed to underrate the importance of the subject which has just been brought under our notice, either as bearing oh the revenue, or on the case of the fair trader, or on the interests of the colonial planters and merchants; or, above all, as bearing on the interests of the poorer classes of the community who are consumers of coffee, and who, as they are the parties least able to protect themselves, are those who have the strongest claims to the favourable consideration of your Lordships. I can by no means accede to the position laid down by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place, in a former Session of Parliament, that the doctrine of caveat emptor is applicable to all these cases, and that so long as the revenue does not suffer, it forms no part of the duty of the Government to guard any portion of the public against fraudulent dealers, or against ah imposition from which they ought to protect themselves. I do not at all adopt that doctrine. I think on the contrary it is the duty of the Government, with regard to this, as with regard to other articles, to do all that in them lies to protect the public from fraud, while they do not at the same time interfere with the mixture of articles which are not in themselves deleterious, if the public should think fit to use them. With regard to chicory, I believe there is no allegation on the part of any one that it is an article injurious to health. Many persons contend that it improves the flavour of coffee. Many persons prefer coffee mixed with chicory; and if they do so there can be no reason why they should not drink the untaxed beverage, rather than a taxed one. I have always thought, however, that the Act to which the noble Viscount has referred, the Act of the 43rd Geo. III., c. 129, was an Act which went a very long way in the direction which it took; because, as it appears to me, it not only prohibited any fraudulent mixtures, but it prohibited under any circumstances any mixture whatever, and more with a view, I think, to revenue than to any other consideration. It prohibited the avowed use of articles not purporting to be coffee, but mere substitutes for coffee. My noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Ripon), who many years ago held the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, must recollect that that Act was introduced mainly for the purpose of meeting what was in great vogue at that time—the late Mr. Hunt's roasted corn—which never pretended to be coffee. It was, chiefly, therefore, I believe, with regard to the revenue that the Act was introduced. I think the noble Viscount was hardly quite correct in his statement of the progress of the consumption of chicory, or of the extent to which he referred the diminution in the consumption of coffee to the operation of the Treasury Minute of the year 1840, because from that year to the year 1846 the consumption, so far from diminishing, had a good deal increased. It amounted to 28,700,000 lbs., I think, in the year 1842, and in the following years it increased to 32,000,000 lbs. and 34,000,000 lbs.; in the year 1846 it was 36,700,000 lbs., and in 1847 it was 37,500,000 lbs. After that time it declined to 34,000,000 lbs. and 32,000,000 lbs., and in the year 1850 it was only 31,000,000 lbs. But there was an increase in the year 1851; and according to the latest accounts, it appears that from the 5th of April, 1851, to the 5th of April, 1852, there was a very large increase in the consumption of coffee, which was principally to be attributed, no doubt, to the diminution in the duty last year—a diminution from 6d. to 3d. on foreign coffee, and from 4d. to 3d. on colonial coffee. The effect of that reduction of duty has been an increase in the consumption to a very considerable extent, the consumption last year having amounted to 34,500,000 lbs.; and not less than 1,200,000 lbs. of that increase took place in colonial coffee. It is undoubtedly true, however, that with the amount of coffee consumed, there is a large admixture of chicory and of other substances. The noble Viscount stated the admixture of chicory at the enormous amount of 12,000 tons; but from the account I have seen, it would appear that the total amount of chicory consumed in this country is 10,000 tons; and of these about 9,000 tons are used in the adulteration of coffee. But these 9,000 tons are raw produce, and in the processes of kiln-drying, roasting, and grinding, are reduced to about 1,520 tons. I believe that according to the best estimate which can be formed, that is the amount of chicory which is mixed with coffee. The total quantity of the articles mixed with coffee, of which, about two-thirds are composed of chicory, and one-third is composed of other substances, such as beans, roasted corn, some more, some less deleterious—-the total quantity, of the articles mixed with coffee is about 5,400,000 lbs., or about 22,000 or 24,000 tons; and the loss to the revenue by that adulteration, supposing that coffee to the amount of the other articles employed would be consumed, is about 60,000l. a year. But you must not suppose that if that adulteration could be altogether prohibited, the consumption of coffee would rise to a compensating amount. Nor ought you to conclude that you could altogether do away with the adulteration or admixture of chicory with coffee; because chicory, being an article perfectly wholesome, there is no reason why the consumer should not have chicory mixed with his coffee if he should think fit. But the point on which I do certainly concur with the noble Viscount opposite, and with my noble Friend the noble Duke behind me, is, that there is no justification for a state of things which admits of a fraud on the consumer, and of an admixture of coffee with chicory, which enables the dealer to defraud the revenue by the introduction of an inferior material, and at the same time to defraud the consumer by furnishing him with a spurious instead of a genuine article, and charging him, nevertheless, the price at which he might purchase, at all events, an inferior sample of the genuine article. I am told that the process of adulteration has gone on to so great an extent that you are not secure against it even by that means which might be generally considered to afford a perfect security—namely, buying the coffee in the bean; for there are actually imitations of the coffee bean, so that although you may buy the bean, you may grind for yourself spurious coffee with the most perfect confidence of its being a genuine article. But this security, such as it is, is a security which is confined to the classes which purchase in large quantities, and are in more easy circumstances. The poor man who buys his pound, or half pound, or quarter pound of coffee, must buy it ground, and must be at the mercy of the retail dealers as to the article which he purchases. I think this is a question which deserves the consideration of the Treasury; and I do not pretend to justify the Minute of the year 1840. It never appeared to me to be capable of being justified; because, for an object not I think in itself very desirable, it undertook to set aside the special and stringent provisions of an Act of Parliament. The introduction of that Minute was not in itself certainly a violation of the law, but it was a great stretch of the powers of those to whom the execution of the law was entrusted; and I think the subject is one worthy of the consideration of the Government. From what I can learn, I am not sure that the mere rescinding of the Treasury Minute of the year 1840 would not go somewhat further than your Lordships or the country would desire; because the law superseded or suspended by that Minute went the length of saying that no person being a dealer in coffee, or other articles which are specified, should have on his premises any article capable of being mixed up with coffee; and if he were to have any such article, even for the purpose of a legitimate mixture, he would be subject to a very heavy penalty. Now I cannot help thinking that a medium course might be adopted in this case, and that some check might be put on the unfair mixture of chicory with coffee, without interfering with that mixture which might be desired by the purchaser, and might be perfectly legitimate, although it might undoubtedly have a tendency to diminish the revenue. That to which I think the attention of Parliament and of the Government ought to be directed, is not the bonâ fide admixture or sale of avowedly mixed articles, but the fraudulent admixture of spurious articles, thereby doing an injustice to the fair trader, imposing on the defenceless purchaser, and practising a fraud on the community at large. Entertaining these opinions, I am quite ready to say that although there may be difficulties in the actual rescinding of this Treasury Minute, yet I do think it is a subject which calls for the attention of the Government; and their attention will be given to the best mode of restoring a due supervision in the case, not for the purpose of preventing that which may be permitted—namely, the admixture of a harmless material with coffee, but for the purpose of supporting a law which was intended to prevent the fraudulent admixture of a spurious and deleterious article with coffee, and thereby protecting the humbler classes of consumers, and I hope affording some advantage to the fair dealer, and also to the colonial producers from whom these petitions have proceeded.

Petitions ordered to lie on the table.

House adjourned to Thursday next.

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