HL Deb 11 May 1908 vol 188 cc654-73

My Lords, I have the honour to move: "That the continued cultivation of the hop gardens of England is a matter of national concern, and that the present critical condition of the hop industry deserves the immediate attention of His Majesty's Government." I would not have brought forward this Motion while a Special Committee of the House of Commons is inquiring into the matter had I not remembered that no fewer than three Committees have, during the last half-century, sat on the subject; and while all have recognised the importation of foreign hops to be a great danger to an English industry, they have learned that a duty on the importation of foreign hops was the only remedy, yet none of them have had the courage to propose it. For the last fifty years Bavarian hops have been imported, and still will be imported. They are used in combination with English hops on account of the peculiar flavour they impart to the beer. But now the continued importation of hops from abroad, amounting to 200,000 cwt. a year, is depriving the English grower of the high prices which occasionally reimbursed him for losses in years of blight or of extraordinary over-production. The area of land under hops in England has been steadily decreasing. In the ten years from 1877 to 1887 the acreage was 68,000; from 1887 to 1897, 56,000; and in the last ten years, 48,000. The present crisis has been brought about by the formation of a Pacific Coast Hop-growers' Union, who have frankly said that they wish to ruin the English hop industry. Hops can be produced on the Pacific Coast at about half the price they can be in England, and the output per acre on the Pacific Coast is 15 cwt., as against 9 cwt. in England. They are now being sold under cost price, at 25s. per cwt., this being the result of a corner made in hops in America two or three years ago. This is disastrous, not only to English growers, but to vast numbers employed in the industry. I will quote an extract on this subject from the Daily Express, and I may say that I have myself taken the trouble to verify the accuracy of the letter referred to— A complete exposure of the American plan to ruin the English hop industry by dumping all their surplus produce in this country has been made by Mr. Durst, the pioneer of the Pacific Coast Hopgrowers' Combine, in a letter to an English hopgrower. Mr. Durst writes—'What is the use of anyone thinking hop-growing in England can survive? In 1906 you had the smallest and most expensive crop on record. How many of the growers made a profit? In 1907 you lacked 245,000 cwt. of growing your annual requirements, and the United States of America only grew 280,000 bales; and yet you are selling hops at a heavy loss. What will happen when we grow from 350,000 to 400,000 bales, perhaps next year, which we can easily do?' Mr. Durst added, and here is the animus of the whole thing— We can afford to sell our surplus in a foreign country at 30 per cent. below the cost of production, if necessary, providing that by such handling of our surplus we can secure profitable prices for the hops we market at home. An import duty is a perfectly proper remedy, and I urge the Government to consider most seriously the universal demand of every hop-growing county in England for an import duty of 40s.

In 1857, under Mr. Gladstone, there was an excise duty on hops. The duty was just under £1 on English hops, and 45s. on foreign hops. There you see a protective duty of 25s. in favour of English as against foreign hops. Would it not be wise now to add 15s. to the old 25s. and make an import duty of £40s.? I have been assured by gentlemen who have spent their lives in hop-growing, and expended thousands of pounds in combating the defects of some parts of the hop-growing districts, that this is the one thing necessary. Lord George Hamilton, speaking at Ealing on 22nd October, 1903, said— I would not hesitate in a case at all similar to the sugar duties, if I thought that a great national industry was likely to be endangered or extinguished, to put on duties to prevent that unfortunate result. The late Sir William Harcourt, speaking at Tredegar on 12th December, 1903, and referring to the question of steel dumping in this country, said— It is evidently a matter which requires very careful consideration. It must be considered with respect to the general interest of the iron trade, which is the greatest trade of this country. And I wish to say here, and to say very sincerely, that I should give the most careful attention to any proposal made by the Government or made by Mr. Chamberlain or anyone else to deal with that question. And Sir Henry Fowler, in a speech at Wolverhampton on 12th January, 1904, said— He was quite ready to admit that if there was a case where a foreign combination, trust, or cartel exported to this country at a nominal price with the aim and intent of injuring and ultimately ruining a British industry, that would be a state of commercial war in which we might deal with the hostile country by exceptional measures. On 15th April last The Times drew attention to this question, and said— The attack with which the hop industry is now faced is of a different kind from the ordinary stress of external competition which it has had to meet for many years past. Here follow words which I should like to emphasise— It is based on a total subversion of the normal laws of demand and supply, and aims at speedily securing an absolute monopoly, which of all conceivable forms of trade is the most unfree. Providence has blessed England, and particularly the counties of Kent and Worcester, with a soil which produces absolutely the best hops in the world. I ask His Majesty's Government to prevent the importation of low-class hops from California, which I am assured are rank and give a sleepy, heavy taste to beer manufactured from them. If only the Government would shake themselves free from the old prejudice against protection, they would do an act which would really be to the interest of the working classes, and they could not have a simpler or a more grateful task. It is said to be a good thing to make two blades of grass grow where only one grew before. If the Government would only do what those engaged in English hop-growing desire them to do there would soon be three acres of hops where only one acre exists now. I have the honour to move the Motion standing in my name.

Moved, to resolve, "That the continued cultivation of the hop gardens of England is a matter of national concern, and that the present critical condition of the hop industry deserves the immediate attention of His Majesty's Government."—(Lord Addington.)


My Lords, I ask leave to say a very few words on this subject. In no kind of sense will I attempt to follow the noble Lord in his arguments on the financial aspects; nor am I qualified to speak upon the agricultural aspect, but I am of necessity very closely concerned with the welfare of the people of Kent. Apart from my wider duties and responsibilities, as the diocesan bishop I have to be in touch day by day with the life of the Kentish towns and villages, and I am simply aghast at the consternation which is at this moment prevailing in the villages of Kent at the prospects awaiting them if the present condition of matters should be allowed to go on and the hop industry should practically come to an end. It is not a matter of incidental and temporary loss in a particular branch of industry or trade, such as has occasionally arisen in manufacturing centres from some change in the manner of dealing with a particular raw product or from the introduction of new machinery or the like. I look with the greatest apprehension upon the changes which I am told must come about unless some prompt steps are taken. What those steps should be, I do not profess to know; but I should be wrong if, with the knowledge I possess of the towns and villages of Kent, I did not say how widespread is the feeling that this is not a matter of ordinary importance, but one which really concerns the industrial and social well-being of the communities both in the towns and also the villages of Kent. The matter has been brought before me again and again by those who are qualified to speak soberly and quietly, and who have looked into the matter with no kind of object at heart but that of the well-being of the people at large. The matter is not one which can be lightly put aside. One of the very gravest disasters would befall the people of Kent if what at present is apprehended came to pass. Therefore I await with great interest to hear whether the Government can say anything to relieve the anxiety which now prevails.


My Lords, may I add a few words from the purely practical point of view? After my long acquaintance with this industry it may, perhaps, be legitimate that I should do so. What is observable now is a continuance of what has been going on for a good many years. There is no doubt that hops were grown in a great many English counties a hundred years ago, and in many villages where no hops are now grown you will frequently come across the name "hop yard." What brought about the extinction of cultivation in a great many counties and left the growing of hops to about five counties was the change in the demand of the public for a particular class of beer. By degrees the public has demanded a brighter and clearer beer, and the consequence is that those counties capable of growing a bright hop have been able to supply the demand at a lower price than the other counties, even if the latter ever were able to grow bright hops.

Another curious influence, so I am assured by a practical man, a brewer himself, is the substitution of glass for pewter in public-houses. In the old days, when pewter was almost entirely used, the drinking public did not notice how dark the beer was. It was not necessarily any worse because it was dark; its colour was due to its being brewed with a dark hop. When glass came to be used the public demanded a brighter beer, and the brighter hop has gradually pushed out the darker coloured hop. Reference has been made to Bavarian hops. Apart from the fact that the quality of those hops is good and that they command a high price, they brew a light beer. That is a proof in the same direction. Another thing that has influenced hop growing is that the character of brewing has changed. Brewing in olden days used to be done at intervals of considerable length—two, three, or four times a year. Nowadays the brewer brews from hand to mouth, and consequently there is not so much preservative required in the beer and the quantity of hops per barrel has decreased.

Cold storage is another factor. Having laid in a large stock of good hops, purchased, perhaps, in a year when they were cheap, a brewer is able, by cold storage, to keep them for even longer than twelve months. The consequence is that the brewer can command the trade in hops the following year. This is a very important thing to the hop grower. His hops come into the market about the beginning of October. In the old days it was necessary for the brewer who had to do his October brewing to go to market and lay in the necessary supply of hops. But now, with the help of cold storage, and not having to lay in a large stock of hops in October, he is independent of the market. The foreign grower can, therefore, come in towards the end of October and compete with the English grower, whereas in the old days the English grower was first in the market and thereby got the advantage. Evidence has been given before the Committee in another place that the growth of hops per acre has increased. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a speech in another place on this subject, said that this was due to improved machinery. That made many of us smile, as it is hardly by the use of machinery so much as by attacking those pests which pursue the hop almost from the day that it emerges from the soil to the day that it is picked, that this result has been achieved. As the saying is— First the flea and then the fly, Then the louse and then they die. Washing to attack the fly, and the use of sulphur to attack the mould, has come into use in cultivation of late years, and it is largely by the application of those two remedies that an increased yield per acre has been procured.

I trust that we shall obtain a sympathetic reply from the noble Earl the s President of the Board of Agriculture. I would suggest to him that there is no occasion to fall back upon the formula of free trade as compared with protection. I suppose the two great advantages of free trade are the free introduction of raw material, which enables our superabundant population to find employment, and the free introduction of cheap food. Now, I have no recollection whatever of the price of beer being raised in consequence of hops being dear. I have known hops as high as £28; they are down to £3 now. It makes no difference what the price of hips is, the price of beer has always been the same. The quantity of hops used per barrel is very small, and that may be the reason why the price of beer has not been affected. There is no doubt that this country can easily grow the whole of the hops required by the trade. There is not the slightest question about that, and I think it has been stated in evidence before the House of Commons Committee.

The noble Earl, the President of the Board of Agriculture, has done his best to support the "back to the land" movement. I can assure him that if the cultivation of hops continues to decrease as it has done during the last two or three years in the county of Kent, which grows more hops than any other county, a still larger number of cottages will become vacant. In East Kent, almost every farm over a very wide area grows a certain number of hops, and there are additional cottages on those farms because of the extra demand for labour. Within the last two years it has been far easier to obtain cottages than it was a few years ago, and this is attributed, and truthfully attributed, to the decrease in the cultivation of hops. Here is a practical proof of a dislocation of population. Those men are being driven away somewhere. They may go to the towns. If so, the efforts the noble Earl is putting forward to get people back to the land are, in this particular instance, being frustrated, and I think we may legitimately appeal to his sympathy on this ground.

There is another argument I should like to advance. In 1885, the extraordinary tithe was consolidated and fixed for ever upon the farms then paying it. When the Tithe Act was passed the Commissioners had to take notice in what parishes hops and fruit were being grown, and it depended upon the activity of the overseers whether extraordinary tithe was paid in certain parishes or not. Anomalies therefore will be found here and there, and in the case of two parishes alongside each other, apparently growing equally good hops, the extraordinary tithe is charged on one, but not on the other. But in 1885 those parishes which did pay the extraordinary tithe paid upon such acreage as was under fruit and under hops; and in that year, if my recollection is correct, those charges were fixed for ever upon those parishes. Therefore, they are, I believe, now paying, and will continue for ever to pay, a higher tithe whether they are growing hops and fruit or not. In those cases it is obvious that if the hop cultivation disappeared altogether they would suffer a real hardship.

I know that, compared with other agricultural interests, this is only a small matter, but it is no small matter for those counties in which hops are grown. In Kent, almost the whole of the agricultural interest in certain areas is centred upon hops. If any of your Lordships drive from Hastings to some of those beautiful ruins which are to be found in the neighbourhood, you will see indications that at one time there was considerable cultivation of hops in that part of England. That cultivation was killed by competition within this country, owing to other parts being able to grow brighter hops. But at this moment we are threatened, not with destruction from within, but from hops grown in foreign countries—countries which have imposed a heavy import duty against English hops. The other class for whom I would plead are the the labouring classes, both agricultural and urban. The urban labouring class are greatly interested in this industry, and they obtain as a result of their annual visit to the country immense benefit from the open air life they are able to lead. I am sure that even the most determined advocate of free trade must admit that, in the interest of these poor persons from urban centres, it would be a real misfortune if such an industry as this were to be destroyed; and I say unhesitatingly—that, although I have been accustomed to agricultural grumbles all my life, I have never before heard such a positive opinion as is now generally held that this cultivation must, except in most favoured corners, gradually die out unless some artificial assistance can be secured from His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, there can be no doubt whatever that the hop industry of England at the present moment is going through a very serious crisis, one which deserves our sympathy and requires inquiry; but I need not remind your Lordships that a Committee of the other House is inquiring into this subject, and I cannot but think that my noble friend Lord Addington would have done well if he had postponed his Motion until the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons could be in our hands. The noble Lord has anticipated the Report of the Committee by attributing the whole of the evils under which the hop industry is suffering to foreign competition, and particularly, as I understood him, to the competition of hops from the Pacific States. I think it will be shown before the Committee of the House of Commons that there are other causes at work to account for the present state of things. I speak with some confidence and with knowledge on the subject, for some years ago I presided over a similar Committee of the other House at the request of the then Government—namely, the Government of Lord Salisbury. It was in 1890, and at that time the hop industry was in an even worse state than it is at the present moment.




Prices had ruled low for four or five years, and there was grave complaint from every part of England in which hops were grown as to the lowness of the price. No less than 17,000 acres—one-fourth of the total acreage of hops then existing—had been grubbed and universally the state of things was attributed to foreign competition, and especially to competition from the United States. The Committee over which I presided, and of which the great majority were supporters of the then Government, inquired at length into the subject, and came to the conclusion that there were other causes for the then state of things. It was shown in evidence before us that there had been a very considerable reduction in the consumption of beer owing to the depression in trade. It had been taking place for something like five or six years, and the total reduction in the consumption amounted to no less than 12 per cent. Then, again, it was shown that the brewers had for some few years previously been able to economise the use of hops. In consequence of the demand of the public for a lighter and brighter beer they were able to use a very much smaller proportion of hops to the barrel than formerly, and this reduction in the use of hops in the manufacture of beer amounted to no less than another 12 per cent. of the total consumption. Then again, it was alleged that hop substitutes had to a certain extent been used. As a result of it all, there was certainly a reduced consumption of hops, as compared with five or six years previously, of no less than 24 per cent., which exactly corresponded to the reduction in the total acreage under hops.

It was also shown before the Committee that the proportion of foreign hops to English hops remained about the same as it had been for previous years, and had been reduced at about the same ration. It was also stated, with great confidence, that a certain proportion of foreign hops were absolutely required by English brewers for the purpose of mixing with British hops, and that, even if a high duty were imposed on foreign hops, there would still be a large importation for the purpose of meeting this demand. The Committee came to the conclusion that the importation of foreign hops was not the main cause of the depression, but that it was due to the causes to which I have adverted; and in view of the great reduction which had taken place in the acreage under hops they concluded their Report by saying that there was every reason to hope that in the near future prices would again rise and the industry again become profitable to those engaged in it. The predicton of the Committee was amply justified, for the very next year a great rise took place in the price of hops, and for the following five years it averaged 40 per cent. more than in the previous Years, showing that in consequence of the reduced production of hops the supply was better proportioned to the demand. The price rose accordingly, and the industry went through a very profitable period.

That period was followed by ups and downs. There was a period of five years of bad trade, and then, from 1901 to 1904, there was another period of very good prices when the hop growers did well; but in 1905 here was an enormous crop, and it is one of the peculiarities of the hop trade that when there is a very large crop prices fall to such a point that the trade becomes very unprofitable to those engaged in it, and very often the price is so low that it hardly covers the cost of picking. In the two following years, again, prices remained much lower than was expected. I cannot but think, from all the information I have received, that other causes than foreign competition are again at work to account for this depression and for the low prices prevailing. It is quite certain that there has been a further large reduction in the consumption of hops owing to the changed taste of the public and to the demand for a lighter and brighter beer requiring a smaller proportion of hops. This is shown by the Returns laid before the Committee by the Inland Revenue, which indicate that the actual consumption of hops during the last five years has been reduced by no less than 17 per cent., and that I believe to be wholly due to the brewers using a smaller proportion of hops per barrel of beer than formerly.

Perhaps even more important has been the great improvement in the cultivation of hop gardens. For some years past there has been a great advance in cultivation, with the result that the difficulties of bad seasons have been to some extent overcome. The growth of hops per acre has, therefore, very much increased. I think your Lordships will be rather surprised to hear how far this has gone. Taking the five years prior to 1890, the time of the inquiry of which I speak, the acreage under hops in this country was 65,000, and there was then produced, on the average of the five years, 460,000 cwt., or about 7 cwt. per acre. During the last five years the acreage has been reduced to 48,000, but the production, in spite of that, has been increased from 460,000 cwt., to 471,000 cwt., while the average production per acre is now no less than 9½ cwts., thus showing the effect of a better and higher cultivation. Then there is another cause which has operated in the same direction. It has been discovered that by the use of cold storage the hops of one year which are superfluous in consequence of a good crop can be kept for one, two, or even three years, whereas formerly the surplus stocks of hops in any one year rapidly deteriorated and were hardly worth anything at the end of twelve months. The result of all that is, that during the last few years there has been, quite independent of the importation of foreign hops, a large excess in the supply of hops as compared with the demand. These, however, are matters which require careful consideration, and I cannot but think that your Lordships would do well to suspend your judgment until the Committee of the other House have reported upon the subject.

I must again state that even if a duty of £2 per cwt. were imposed upon foreign hops, there would still be a large importation for the purpose of mixing with English hops and for supplying qualities which are deficient in English hops. This is proved by the fact that, although in the United States there is a duty of no less than 56s. per cwt. upon imported hops, yet a very large proportion of German hops are imported into the United States every year for the purpose of being mixed with American hops and correcting the flavour of the home-grown hops to suit the taste of American consumers. The noble Lord, who initiated this discussion, adverted to hops from the pacific, and quoted the very low price at which they are being sold in England. I think he said that a large quantity of these hops were being offered in London at this moment at 25s. per cwt. Well, these hops cost, in freight and other expenses, 13s. a cwt. to bring over from America, and if you deduct this amount from the 25s. it leaves only 12s. as their value in the United States. I cannot but think that these hops must be of very low quality, and they are probably not worth even 25s. in this market. At all events, I see no reason to be much frightened by them.

It is quite certain that, whatever may happen, a large quantity of British hops will always be necessary for brewing in England. Many of the best brewers in this country never use American hops, but find it absolutely essential to their business to confine themselves to English hops. And my belief is that the proportion of foreign hops to British hops will not be seriously altered, and that the real difficulty under which the industry suffers at the present moment is that for some years past the supply of hops has been in excess of the demand. That is being corrected by the great grubbing of acreage which has taken place. There has been grubbing also in Germany, and, I believe, of late in America, in consequence of low prices; and I cannot but hope that as in 1890 the reduction in acreage led to a better proportion between supply and demand and brought back prosperity to the hop industry, so we may before very long see the same causes again operating in producing renewed prosperity to hop growers in England.


My impression is that the high price of £28 was realised a year or two before the sitting of the Committee over which the noble Lord presided.


My Lords, I think the House will agree with my noble friend Lord Addington that this matter is one of national concern and deserves immediate attention. The Government quite agree with that. In fact, we have anticipated my noble friend by appointing a very strong Select Committee, presided over by Sir William Collins, who has been described in the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as one of the most able Members of the House. He is admirably supported, the Committee are giving the matter their most earnest attention, and their Report, I hope, will be in your Lordships' hands within six weeks. My noble friend Lord Eversley has given the House an account of the Committee over which he presided in 1890. It will not be necessary, therefore, for me to detain your Lordships with any reference to that Committee, but I should like to allude to what happened in 1906 in the discussion in Committee of the other House on the Land Tenure Bill. Colonel Gardner, the Member for the Ross Division of Herefordshire, moved an Amendment, at the request of some of his Worcestershire and Herefordshire friends, to the effect that landlords should compensate tenants who had erected hop kilns, poles, screens, and wireworks without the landlord's consent. To this the Government could not, and did not, agree, and I am sure your Lordships will acknowledge that they acted rightly in that respect.

The annual consumption of hops in Great Britain averages 600,000 cwt. Two-thirds of that quantity are produced in Great Britain. Though the acreage has been reduced, the output and produce are the same, because the yield per acre has increased. But I do not deny that the situation is very serious. The hop acreage has decreased from 68,000 acres to 47,000 acres, and Kent is responsible for 60 per cent. of the whole of the hop growing in England. This great industry, besides employing 5,000 regular labourers, has for many years past given employment to a large number—estimated at 500,000—of casual labourers. The question that arises is, What ought to be done? Up to the present we have not received much assistance from the other side of the House. Mr. Akers-Douglas admitted in a speech this year that— We have not been able to suggest any remedy at all. But the people of Kent, Worcester, and Hereford have been holding meetings, and the farmers' clubs and chambers of agriculture have been suggesting that it is imperative to put a 40s. per cwt. duty on imported hops. That is not recommended as a part of preference or tariff reform, but as a necessary step to save an industry in exceptional circumstances. But I must remind the House that such a duty would be none the less a tax on food.


No, no.


It would also be a tax on raw material. The express object of this proposed duty is to raise prices, and not to raise revenue. What would be the effect of such a duty on the brewers and the general public? A witness before the Select Committee said that a 40s. duty would mean an increase of 7¾d. a barrel on the cost of manufacture of beer. That means, "Your beer will cost you more." Sir Thomas Whittaker has given figures to show that out of eighty-two brewery companies twenty-nine pay no dividend on the ordinary shares, and thirty-three are in arrear on their preference shares. If these figures are correct, the duty of 40s. on hops would mean that every shareholder in these sixty-two companies who is now receiving £1 in dividend, would receive 3s. 8d. less. What will happen if the brewers are not able to raise the price of beer? In these circumstances, I might ask, what is to become of the shareholders, of the poor widows and orphans of whom so much has lately been heard?

Leaving the brewers' side of the subject, I turn to the position of the English hop growers, and I ask the noble Lord it he is absolutely certain that a 40s. per cwt. tax would save the British hop grower. It has been asserted that such a duty would not prevent foreign hops coming in, and that there is a necessity for them has been proved by the evidence of witnesses before the Committee. It has been stated that for some of the best beer brewed by the great firm of Bass a certain amount of Bavarian hops must be used. By necessity a 40s. tax would not then keep out all foreign hops, which are required to meet the taste to which consumers have been educated. Germany has a 10s. import duty on hops; Canada, 33s.; Australia, not a great rival with this country as yet, 56s.; and the United States, 56s. That is to say, America puts half as much again on hops as a protective duty as my noble friend proposes should be put upon foreign hops imported into England. The advantages of America in the cultivation are, of course, very obvious. Hops are grown in Oregon and California in great quantities, the country round Sacramento producing the commoner, cheaper sorts. The cost of production in the United States is £23 5s. 9d. per acre. We have been told that in England hops cannot be grown under from £50 to £60 per acre.




The official figure that I have is £50 an acre. I think that is about the price.


I think we may accept the price upon which there is a general agreement—£42.


I accept that from the noble Lord's practical knowledge. The prices, then, are £42 to £60, as against £23. Hops planted in Oregon in February will yield a fairly good crop in September of the same year, but I believe I am right in saying that in England the first year there is no crop, the second year half a crop, and in the third year a good or full crop. In America, too, there is a better climate, no disease, thus saving washing and expenditure of that description, and virgin soil that requires no manuring. With these advantages it might be supposed, and it has been so stated, that hop-growing in America is a very profitable industry. It has been stated that they sell the best hops at very considerable profit and then send all their trash over here, and our brewers are unpatriotic enough to buy it. The complaint is that hops of a low grade and quality are dumped in this country, and that certainly would be good ground for complaint.

But I would refer the House to Consular reports which within the last few days have been sent by the Foreign Office to the Board of Agriculture. From these reports it appears that the hop-growing industry in America—I have forgotten the exact words—is in a very poor condition; I wish to avoid exaggeration and will say, not in a very satisfactory condition. It appears that practically there is no market at all, and that hops are being sold in the United States at from 2d. to 3d. per lb., while in England the average is something under a shilling. Besides this, there is the prospect of a very full crop in Oregon this year, and it is absolutely necessary to reduce the output. During the last few months the Consul reports that an attempt has been made to form an association to dictate the amount of acreage that must be grubbed. An American expert has declared that 37 per cent. only should be harvested. So far the scheme for grubbing has failed, but it shows to my mind that a country with a 56s. duty on imported hops, nearly half as much again as my noble friend suggested, is in no better condition than England at this moment under free trade. Besides this, the Consul tells of 88,000 cwt. of the 1907 crop and 18,000 cwt. of the 1906 crop in cold storage in the hands of growers and dealers. Cold storage, it appears, does not affect hops to any great extent; they do not deteriorate.

What does it really come to? I think the whole thing can be summed up in a word—the whole difficulty of the position, the cause of all the distress and alarm, is over-production. I hope my remarks have shown no want of sympathy with the tenant farmers of Kent and Worcestershire and other hop-growing counties. I am glad to learn that the alarm is not so great in Worcestershire. I should be sorry if anything I had said seemed to show want of sympathy with the tenant farmers of Kent. They are a fair-minded people, and the House of Lords has the reputation of being a fair-minded Assembly. The Government cannot be accused of want of sympathy for tenant farmers, seeing the efforts we have made to improve the conditions under which they carry on their industry.

In the interest of all concerned, I hope the House will come to no hasty conclusion, but will await the Report of the Committee admirably selected to clear up doubts on the subject, a Report which I am not without hope will lead to some proposal to deal satisfactorily with a state of things which, if not an agricultural danger, is, I frankly admit, a difficulty of most formidable proportions. On behalf of the Government, I entirely agree with the Motion of the noble Lord, whom I thank for having initiated a discussion on a subject of such great interest to farmers.


Does the noble Earl, in his allusion to over-production, mean over-production in America or generally?


All over the world.


My Lords, I rise merely to take exception to the noble Earl's statement that Worcestershire is not so much concerned in this matter as Kent. It is quite true that Worcestershire at the present moment is not nearly so hardly hit as Kent, but there is just as much fear of what will happen next year in Worcestershire as in Kent.


My Lords, the noble Lord who placed this Motion on the Paper and my noble friends who have supported him on this side may, I think, be congratulated upon their success in placing before the House and before the public the very critical condition of this important industry. In particular, I congratulate the noble Lord upon his having been able to bring forward as a witness the most rev. Primate, who, although one of the most ardent advocates of temperance in Parliament, has, nevertheless, with that absolute fairness which distinguishes him, stood up to say a word in favour of the people whose interests are most in jeopardy. There can be no doubt, as the noble Lords who have spoken have shown us to-night, that the disappearance of this hop-growing industry would be a very heavy calamity indeed to certain portions of England. There is, I believe, no form of cultivation which employs a larger number of people in proportion to the acreage devoted to the particular crop; and there can be no doubt that if these plantations have to be grubbed and the land used for other purposes there will be serious dislocation of the rural population in some parts of England, and much individual suffering.

With regard to the causes of the failure of the hop industry, I think justice was scarcely done to my noble friends on this side of the House when it was suggested, I think by the noble Earl and by the noble Lord at the Table (Lord Eversley), that they attributed all these misfortunes to foreign competition. They were, I think, careful to point out that there were other contributory causes. I noted down, for example, that they referred to the practice of cold storage, and to the introduction of substitutes for hops. Then there was the question of reduced consumption, which, of course, operates in the same direction—a fact of which we may make a note, in passing, in these days when so much is said as to the necessity for legislation for the promotion of temperance; for it is apparently conceded that within the last six or seven years the number of barrels of beer brewed in this country has fallen off by something like 4,000,000. There was another cause which was somewhat humorously touched upon by my noble friend behind me. Lord Harris pointed out that the demand for hops had diminished because malt liquors were now being divorced from what used to be called, in classic language, their native pewter, and put into glass vessels instead. There can be no doubt, however, that foreign competition is the main cause of the difficulty which has arisen; and I must say when I heard the account given of the circumstances in which that foreign competition takes place—the account given, first, by the noble Lord behind me, and then by the President of the Board of Agriculture—I could not help saying to myself that if ever there was a case of dumping in its most violent and aggressive form you certainly have it here.

The reply of His Majesty's Government was, on the whole, not a very unfriendly reply. The noble Earl pointed out that a Committee of the House of Commons was at the present moment conducting an inquiry into the conditions of the hop industry. I think it is very reasonable to suggest that we should reserve our judgment until we have the Report of that Committee before us. But the noble Earl was a little inconsistent when, immediately after making this suggestion, he proceeded to anticipate that Report and to give us a kind of Report of his own containing numerous, and, in his opinion, no doubt, conclusive, reasons for his view that no relief could possibly be given to the hopgrowers by anything in the form of protection for their industry. I prefer to be more cautious, and, acting on the suggestion of the noble Earl, I withhold my opinion until I see what the Committee have to say on that subject. The statement of the noble Earl did not come to any of us as a great surprise, because we all know that, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, the one remedy which is on no account to be even taken into consideration or discussed, no matter in what national or Imperial emergency, is that of any interference with our present tariff system. I understand from the noble Earl that he does not intend to oppose the Motion of the noble Lord, and, if that is so, I suggest to my noble friend that he may well be content with the result of this discussion. If, however, the Motion goes to a division, I shall certainly vote with him, but I hope no opposition will be offered from the benches opposite.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Earl for his sympathetic reply I would urge His Majesty's Government to remember the necessity of acting quickly if the hop industry is not to be ruined by the deliberate intention of competitors abroad.

On Question, Motion agreed to.