§ MR. JOSHUA FIELDEN
, in moving, as an Amendment, that "in the opinion of this House, the Malt Tax ought to be reduced," said, that in 1888 he pledged himself to his constituents that if returned he would do all he could to procure its repeal, but circumstances prevented more than one discussion on it and had there been more full discussion, it could have led to no satisfactory result, the late Prime Minister having never concealed his opinion that the tax ought not to be repealed. A division, however, might have shown the opponents of the tax, who were their friends and who were their foes. The position was now a different one. The present Ministry had been elected, to a large extent, by persons anxious to see this tax repealed. From such a Ministry those persona had a right to expect that some relief would be given them. The present Prime Minister had in 18.52 proposed to Parliament to repeal one-half of the malt tax; and in 1866, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had stated to a deputation that he had never concealed his opinion that the malt tax was a bad tax, adding that they, the farmers, did not sufficiently support him in 1852. But, notwithstanding these facts, a Budget had been introduced by the present Ministry, the so-called farmers' friends, showing a surplus of £6,000,000, and nothing whatever had been given to 1022 the payers of the malt tax. When were the advocates of repeal to move if not now? Many Friends around him had told him he would injure the cause by dividing; but he conceived it his duty to go to a division that it might be seen who were the friends of repeal, although many who would have supported him had they been in Opposition would now vote against him. He had not entered the House as a party man, and did not think that the fact of 12 or 15 Gentlemen walking from one side of the House to the other was any justification for an alteration in the opinions which he had always entertained. One of the reasons urged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for not dealing with the tax was its enormous amount, for it had the last year produced £8,000,000. The large amount of a duty was not used as an argument against its reduction by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich when he proposed to reduce the tea and sugar duties. In 1863 the tea duty produced a revenue of £5,485,159. In that year the malt tax yielded £5,389,908. In 1863 the right hon. Gentleman reduced the tea duty, and the reduction he estimated at £1,641,541. In 1865 he made a further reduction of the tea duty to the extent of £2,214,981. In 1864 the revenue from the sugar duties was £6,158,701; but that was no argument with the right hon. Gentleman why these duties should not be reduced. On the contrary, in that year they were at his suggestion reduced £1,744,384. In 1870 they were further reduced to the extent of £2,786,281, and this year they were to be abolished altogether. From 1863 to 1874. both inclusive, they had reduced the tea duty by £3,856,522, and the sugar duties by £6,256,665, while the malt duty had not been touched. He could not see why the objections to a tax which pressed with exceptional hardship on the labouring people and on the cultivators of the soil should always be ignored. The feeling in the country towards the present Government would be—"Save us from our friends!" The malt tax amounted to 21s. 8d. on every quarter of barley made into malt, and though the price of barley was now high, the average taken on 10 or 15 years did not exceed 32s. to 36s. a quarter. He would demonstrate the hardship of the tax by stating that if the average price of bar- 1023 ley was 32s., the tax would amount to 70 per cent; if the average price was 36s., it would amount to 60 per cent. It was a tax, too, that violated a principle which the House and the country had adopted; that an article should be taxed as near the point at which it went into consumption as possible. But this tax was laid on a raw material—upon barley on its conversion into malt. The amount that it brought into the Exchequer did not by any means represent the amount taken out of the pockets of the taxpayer. This had been most ably shown by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London. In 1869, in his Budget speech, he said—Again, it is a tax on a raw material in its very rawest state; this 1s. a quarter—or whatever it is—has to hear the profit of the millers, the retailers, and all the different persons through whose hands the corn passes before it reaches the poor man in the form of a loaf."—[3 Hansard, xcv. 388.]This was said in reference to the 1s. a quarter duty on corn. How much more forcible, when the argument was applied to the 21s. 8d. a quarter tax on malt. The maltster had to pay the tax of 21s. 8d. It was an expenditure on the first process of his manufacture, and it was therefore in effect the same as though he had spent so much extra money in the purchase of barley. He would, of course, charge interest and profit for the capital employed—say 5 per cent for the former, and 10 per cent for the latter; in all, 15 per cent on the tax of 21s. 8d., or 3s. 3d., thus making the charge 24s. 11d. The brewer would charge a like 15 per cent for interest and profit upon the amount he paid to the maltster, which would be 3s. 9d making the charge of the brewer 28s. 8d. The retailer often disposed of his beer before he paid the brewer; therefore he would not charge anything for interest on his capital, but 10 per cent for his profit which would come to 2s. 8d., which brought the sum charged to the consumer to no less than 31s. 6d. The average price of barley, as he had stated, was 32s. a quarter. The tax, therefore, that the consumer of beer had to pay was at the rate of 100 per cent. In other words, while the malt tax brought into the Exchequer £8,000,000 a-year, it took out of the pockets of the people, owing to its being laid on the raw material which fostered the great monopolies of malting, brewing, and retailing beer, at least £11,500,000. He 1024 contended that such an impost was wholly unjustifiable in principle. He was not about to advocate the placing of the tax upon any other article in order that malt might be relieved. If beer was to be taxed, it ought, he thought, to be placed as near as possible to the point of consumption; but what he did advocate was the reduction and final repeal of the tax in question. He had received a letter that morning from a farmer, a gentleman who wrote with some authority on the subject—Mr. Fowler, who lived near Aylesbury, and was a very strong supporter of the Prime Minister. He said—"I grew about 60 acres of barley last year, and placed it soon after harvest. I sold 300 quarters of malt, the duty on which will be £320, or at the rate of £5 10s. per acre." He was only sorry that the writer of that letter and other constituents of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government did not press him hard upon the subject during the late Election. Then when malt was exported the tax was taken off. In the extremely wet year of 1860 a farmer on the south coast of England applied to the Excise for permission to malt his barley, which otherwise would be spoilt. Permission was refused, whereupon he got his barley malted, paid the duty, shipped it to France, and got the duty returned. He next shipped off his sheep after it, and when they had thus been fattened upon untaxed malt in France, he brought them back and sold them in the English market. Facts like these showed the gross injustice which this tax imposed upon the former. He should doubtless be mot by the remark that the only effect of reducing the malt tax would be to increase the quantity of beer drunk in the country, and that at the present time more beer was drunk than was good for the people. His answer to that statement was that it was not the amount of pure beer drunk that injured the people, but the quantity of adulterated poison sold under the name of beer, which was the cause of the misery and wretchedness they all so much deplored. He was anxious to restore the practice of cottage brewing, which, in consequence of the high price of malt, had fallen into disuse in most agricultural districts, although it still existed to a great extent in the suburbs of manufacturing towns like Halifax, 1025 Leeds, Huddersfield and Todmorden. In 1865 he sent a reliable person round to collect information as to the extent of cottage brewing in that part of the
|TOWNSHIP.||PARISH.||Total Families.||Brew at Home.||Would brew, but can't afford.||Buy Beer.||Do not drink Beer.|
|Middle Third of Stansfield||Ditto||798||591||54||49||104|
|Todmorden and Walsden||Rochdale||1774||1293||139||93||249|
Given in another form it might be stated as follows:—76 per cent of the inhabitants of these townships brewed at home; 8 per cent would brew, but could not afford to do so; 6 per cent bought beer; 10 per cent did not drink beer. The habit of cottage brewing prevailed at one time to a vast extent all over England, and it was ill consequence of the increased price of malt, owing to the malt tax, that it had fallen into disuse. Cobbett told them in the Political Register, vol. 87, p. 720, that—
Mr. Ellman stated to a Committee of the House of C ominous in 1821, that 15 years before that, when he became a farmer, every labourer in his parish of Glynde where he lived, brewed his own beer, and drank it by his own fireside, forty-five years back from 1821 takes us to 1776. At that time there was no tax on malt if made by persons for their own consumption. In the year 1783 this permission ceased.
In the districts where the practice of cottage brewing was in force, the husband and sons of the woman who brewed the beer were among the most sober and respectable of the population, remaining at home in the evening with their families instead of going to the public-house. Where cottage brewing had disappeared, men were forced into public-houses, and were there led into temptations which attendance at such places gave rise to. Beer was increased in price about 100 per cent by this tax, and this increase in the price was a great inducement to adulterate it. China clay was first used in the cotton manufactures because of the high price of the raw material, owing to the American War, and so adulteration in beer was encouraged by the high price of malt. The high price of beer undoubtedly encouraged
§ country, and the information he obtained was most interesting. He had it put: into a concise form and would read the result:—
the drinking of spirits—a fearful source of evil. The man who got his glass of beer at home was not the man who would get drunk on spirits—or what were called spirits—sold at public-houses. Therefore it was in the interests of temperance and of the pub-lie health that he sought for the reduction of this tax, which would enable cottagers to brew a pure and unadulterated drink. He had been looked upon almost as a visionary for supposing that the country would ever go back to cottage brewing. The Times had done him the honour of ridiculing him in a leading article for some remarks that had fallen from him relative to cottage brewing when he introduced a deputation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day in reference to this question. That article was doubtless written by a man who had lived in London all his life, and who knew nothing about the habits of labouring people in the country. The correspondent of that journal, who was engaged in collecting facts in connection with the lock-out of agricultural labourers, alluded in more than one of his letters to the fact that malt was given out in harvest time to the farm labourers, which they brewed themselves. Therefore the statement in The Times article was contradicted by The Times correspondent. Evidence was given before the Malt Tax Committee in 1868 to show that the farm labourers preferred beer to tea, and that they could work better on the former than on the latter beverage. A labourer from Playford, of the name of Elias Amos, gave the following evidence—
(Q. 4768.) "Yon think the people would prefer beer to tea?—I do.
(Q. 4769.) "Could they work better upon the beer?—Yes.
(Q. 4770.) "Is there no other reason why you think they would drink beer instead of tea? Would it not cost more to have a fire, night and morning, to make your tea?—Beer does you more good than tea.
(Q. 4799.) "I make good beer when I brew it for the harvest. I brew 2 bushels instead of 1½ bushels, and make the same quantity of beer in harvest. I want better beer when I work hard.
If our labourers did not drink beer, what were they to drink? He should be told tea. Our physicians were arriving at a very different opinion with respect to the wholesomeness of tea from what was entertained a few years ago and they found that it was impossible for a man to undergo laborious exercise as well upon tea as upon beer. Thus Dr. Smith, the physician appointed by the Privy Council to inquire into the dietary of the poor, had reported that the continuous use of either tea or coffee was calculated to have an injurious action upon the brain. These were his words—
The action of both tea and coffee, but particularly the former, upon the brain is well known. The importance of this action is not So well appreciated as it ought to be; but I am fully persuaded that it has a most injurious influence upon health and even upon sanity. Tea is hurtful in the absence of food after a long fast (as at breakfast), to the poor and ill-fed. It is not adapted to sustain exertion."—practical Dietaries, by Edward Smith, M.D., one of the Physicians employed by the Privy Council to inquire into the Dietary of the Poor; and dedicated, by permission, to Mrs. Gladstone.
Then, again, we had the evidence of Dr. Simon—
Unhappily, agricultural labour, instead of implying a safe and permanent independence for the hard-working labourer and his family, implies, for the most part, only a longer or a shorter circuit to eventual pauperism—a pauperism which, during the whole circuit, is so near, that any illness or temporary failure of occupation necessitates immediate recourse to parish relief."—Seventh Report of Dr. Simon, the Medical Officer of the Privy Council.
It was all very well for those who had plenty of meat, and who did not undergo much physical exertion, to do without beer; but to the hardworking and underfed labouring man it was an absolute necessary of life. But he was not alone in his condemnation of this tax. He was sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham had left the
House, for he, of all men, would recognize the opinions he was about to quote, and if the right hon. Gentleman were consistent be would certainly vote for his (Mr. Fielden's) Motion. Mr. Viliers, in 1839, said—
Would the landed interest be willing, if the malt tax were taken off, to relieve the country from the tax on corn? For of this he was sure, that all those who were injured by the operation of the com laws would be willing, nay, would be anxious, to get rid of the malt tax. By acceding to those terms, the produce of the malt tax would be lost to the revenue, no doubt; but £4,500,000 was a small sum indeed, compared with what might be raised through the medium of taxation if the energy of the country were allowed its full and natural play.
Lord John Russell, in 1846, said—
If I were Prime Minister when protection to agriculture was abolished, the first tax I would repeal would he the malt tax.
The late Mr. Cobden said—
We sympathise with the farmers. We will never tolerate one shilling duty on com but we will co-operate with them in getting rid of the malt duty. We owe the farmers something, and we will endeavour to pay them in kind.
And speaking as late as February, 1864, he said—
It has often occurred to me to compare the case of the British agriculturist who, after raising a bushel of barley, is compelled to pay a tax of 60 per cent before he is permitted to convert it into a beverage for his own consumption, with what I have seen in foreign countries, and I can really call to mind nothing so hard and so unreasonable. I am quite sure that the cultivators of vineyards and the growers of olives in France and Italy would never tolerate such treatment of their wine and oil.
He agreed with Cobden that this was a most unfair tax. It pressed most unjustly and harshly upon one class of producers, and also upon the whole population of this country; and seeing year after year that the surplus revenue had been devoted to a reduction of duties on foreign articles, he thought it was high time we turned more of our attention to a tax on an article of homo production and home consumption. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Amendment.
§ MR. STORER
, in seconding the Amendment, contended that a Government which had been raised to office by the agricultural classes would, by the course which they had adopted by their Budget, give very grave dissatisfaction. He had heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. 1029 Gladstone) say that the late Government was always keenly alive to the wants of the agricultural interests; but he (Mr. Storer) was not aware of it. This he was aware of, that the agricultural interests had been languishing, and that for many years grave burdens had been imposed on them. He regretted to see that those Members who ought to be now here were absent. Though the question had been long before the country, many persons were ignorant of how much this tax injured the agricultural community; and oven the Press, which generally gave assistance to the down-trodden, did not do anything for the agriculturists. He hoped that when writers were better informed they would advocate the abolition or reduction of this tax, especially now that the Conservative party was in power, and when there was a good opportunity of considering the claims of agriculturists. They had an equal claim with the sugar refiners and the shipping interest, to any surplus of Revenue that there might be. The tax upon malt was said to be a consumers' question. He granted that; for the artizan and mechanic paid double the price he ought to do for his beer, and he wondered how it was that they submitted to such an imposition for so long a period of time. Perhaps, when colliers and others were obliged to return to their normal beverage of beer, they would inquire how it was that the price was doubled by the original tax of 50 per cent on the average price of barley for the last six years, as shown by the Returns, and by the necessary profit on that tax charged in increasing progression by the maltster, the brewer, and the publican. Next, the cultivators of the soil were largo consumers of malt. Their consumption amounted to a tax of 6d. to 1s. per acre upon the arable land from which their corn was produced; that was to say, from 6d. to 1s. in the pound, upon their profits; but take it at 1s. in the pound, what trade, profession, or manufacture, he would ask, would tolerate such a tax—heavier than any income tax of late years—on their special productions? Beer was a beverage which farmers were compelled to consume, for without it they could not cultivate their lands. They might, in the midland and eastern counties, as well attempt to grow corn without beer as without horses or implements. Labourers, when coming for 1030 harvest from all parts of the Kingdom, asked, as their first question, how much beer he gave to the acre; and if he replied "only milk or tea"—though they would accept these as extras—they would shoulder their scythes and walk away. And it should be remembered that farmers could not recoup themselves like coal-owners, and manufacturers, and others; they could not combine to raise the prices of their productions, but they were obliged to pay this iniquitous tax and suffer the loss which it entailed. Eminent farmers—Mr. Sanday, of Notts, particularly—in a pamphlet, read at a Notts Chamber of Agriculture meeting, and now quoted, Mr. Fisher Hobbs, and others, had stated that cattle would eat malt when they would eat nothing else, that the advantages of malt as an article of food for cattle were incomparable; and, therefore, that for the rearing of cattle, farmers ought to be allowed to use malt free of duty. The importation of barley, owing to failing crops abroad, had fallen off this year from 2,857,875 in six months ending March, 81, 1873, to 1,531,032 in six months ending March 31, 1871, and the home failure was great also, which accounted for the high price of barley this year so that no argument could be based on that. If the duty were abolished a farmer would be enabled to give more beer to his men and the argument that labourers ought to emigrate to those countries where they could get untaxed beer would be taken from the months of agitators who tried to cause dissension between the employer and the employed. The mechanic and the artizan got more beer than did them good, but the agricultural labourer generally got less than he ought to get. In his (Mr. Storer's) part of the country (South Nottingham) a small quantity of malt was given to agricultural labourers which they brewed at home. When they did not get enough malt to brew at home they resorted far more frequently than they ought to the public-house. Some Returns had been presented to Parliament showing the state of the beer and malt duties on the Continent and in the United States. Those Papers could lead to no other conclusion than that the English agricultural producer, consumer, and labourer were placed at a great disadvantage compared with their brethren abroad, inasmuch as in none of those coun- 1031 tries was the duty, whether on malt or beer, at all equal to the English duty: and, in nearly all cases, the farmer and labourer wove free to use malt for brewing or feeding cattle. Much bad been said in that House about justice; but justice was not done to the farmers, and he hoped, unless justice were done to them, never to hear more of justice. He regretted the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham. (Mr. Bright), because an appeal to him as a free-trader might well have been made on this occasion on behalf of the British farmer. The social aspect of this question must have struck everyone. It was well known to all who had investigated the subject that this was the real key to the temperance question. It was impossible to stop people drinking; but they might discourage the system of drinking ardent spirits by encouraging home brewing and the supply of better and cheaper beer, and this was illustrated most strongly in the report from Belgium, where Mr. Barron complained of the increase of intemperance, and use of ardent spirits since beer duties were increased. The Chancellor of the Exchequer feebly professed his regret to be obliged to raise so large a revenue from the consumption of spirits. On his forehead might almost have been seen the confession—Video meliora proboque;Deteriora sequor.But the right hon. Gentleman condescended to get up a cry. He could not but admire the consummate skill with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had thrown his sugar bait across the right hon. Member for Birmingham, who had readily risen to the cry of "a free breakfast table." If the right hon. Gentleman invited a cry he would give him a better one—"a free dinner table." The working man was quite as fond of beer as of tea, and he would prefer to have the duty taken off his beer to having it taken off his sugar. In one of the classical productions of the Prime Minister, Tadpole and Taper were represented as rejecting the cry of "the Church and the Malt. Tax," and adopting that of "our young Queen and our old Constitution;" while in Coningsby there was a remark singularly applicable to the present time—that "all the country gentlemen knew of 1032 Conservatism was that it would not repeal the malt tax, and had made them repeal their pledges." The present Government was too strong to need a cry. It had been borne to power on the full tide of public opinion, believing that they would deal with these questions in a just and comprehensive spirit; and, although they might differ from them now, he hoped they would agree before long. It was, perhaps, too late now to expect an instalment of justice in the shape of a reduction of the malt tax; but he would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman at least to give some pledge that he would take it into his serious consideration with the view of abolishing at no distant date this obnoxious impost, which was a great burden upon an industrious and overburdened portion of the community; that he would do his utmost for the expurgation of this pestiferous tax, which had been condemned by the greatest authorities, past and present, and which was opposed to every principle of free trade, every dogma of political economy, every consideration of right and justice. The hon. Member concluded by seconding the Amendment.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the Malt Tax ought to be reduced,"—(Mr. Joshua Fielden,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. D. DAVIES
, having been a working man at the age of 14, bespoke the indulgence of the House while he opposed the Motion of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Fielden). He had never had 6d. that he had not made himself. He had commenced life as a working man, and during the last 18 years had employed on an average 2,000 men, and he therefore claimed to be as good a judge as any Member of that House of the requirements of the working man. Not only had he acted as a working man for a considerable number of years, but he had mixed with them afterwards as the principal partner in a large colliery-owning firm where 2,500 men and boys were employed. 1033 He went regularly amongst them every fortnight. He did not object to as much drink as was good for a man, if he required it at all; but three things he had noticed all his life promoted excessive drink—high wages, cheap beer, and convenient public-houses. Before 1870 he paid 4s. a ton for labour for the coal raised, or £100,000 a-year for 500,000 tons, and wages having advanced 50 per cent he should have paid between 1870 and 1870, 6s. per ton, or £150,000, but he actually paid £50,000 more in 1873 than in 1870 for the same amount of work. Instead of the coal costing £150,000 it cost over £200,000, so that here was £50,000 pure waste. How had that great loss arisen? From the irregular working of the men. There were other colliery owners in the House and they would bear him out in what he said. His coal was very good coal—it was one of the best coals in the world—but it was an expensive coal to work, and he would be borne out by other coal-owners in saying that the expense of the work was increased by irregularity. On Monday they raised about 1,000 tons, half the men only being at work, on Tuesday 1,400 tons, on Wednesday, 1,700 tons, on Thursday, 2,300 tons, on Friday the same amount, and on Saturday a like amount in proportion to the time of working. In consequence of this irregular working, employers were obliged to keep 25 per cent of stalls more than would otherwise be required to get the same quantity of coal, for if the men worked every day 75 stalls would do where 100 were now necessary. While the men were away drinking in the public-house the roof of the working was cracking, and the buttresses were giving way, and the preparations for carrying on the work had to be commenced over again. Hence the increased expense, and the waste. That was what became of the £50,000. But this loss was not the worst of it. An hon. Gentleman was about to propose that the employers should have to pay for injuries done to the workmen; but the fact was that three out of every four men who were killed lost their lives from this cause—irregularity of working. If we assumed that the drink system did as much injury to other trades as it did to coal mining, the loss to the country would be not less than £123,000,000 a-year. But, taking it at less than half that sum, 1034 or £60,000,000, this meant that we had to compete with our neighbours on the Continent, where there was not that excessive drinking, with an annual waste of £60,000,000 on our side. Would it not be better that the capitalist should have £20,000,000 of this sum, and the workman and the consumer each a similar amount? If he had been ten years in the House and had been a bit of a statesman, the hon. Gentleman opposite would not have a single vote on his side. It was not the loss of the money that vexed him, but the misery which was brought on the men and their families. He was popular with his workmen; he had never any trouble with the Master and Servant Act, and no man of his had ever brought him into the County Court. What he wanted was to promote the well-being of everyone in the United Kingdom. But if the maltster, brewer, and publican drove things too far they would kill the goose which laid the golden eggs for them. The hon. Member apologized to the House for having risen to address it without adequate preparation. He would, therefore, only say that he would give his support to the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
said, he was very glad to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Cardigan Boroughs (Mr. I). Davies). They were fortunate in having among them a man who, by industry, integrity, and honesty, had raised himself to his present proud position to represent that class of the community whose interests he had so much at heart, and whose wants and wishes he was so well able to enforce. He (Colonel Barttelot) concurred with the hon. Member that public-houses and drink were the bane of the country. With reference to the immediate question under discussion, he had consistently advocated the reduction of the malt tax. He brought forward the subject on the 14th of April, 1864, when he moved a Resolution that—The consideration of the Duties upon Sugar be postponed until the House shall have had the opportunity of considering: the expediency of the reduction of the Duty upon Malt.What was the division on that occasion? The ayes were 347, the noes 99. There was a majority of 248 against the reduce- 1035 tion of the malt duty, and in favour of a reduction in the sugar duties of £1,900,000—about one-third of the malt tax. His hon. Friend (Mr. Fielden) had brought forward the question without consultation with any one, so far as he knew, and a Ministry which had just taken office was assailed upon its Budget by his hon. Friend. If his proposal was carried to reduce the malt tax by £6,000,000, or even the half of that sum, the money must be provided by the Exchequer, and what would then become of the Budget? Was his hon. Friend prepared to take on himself the responsibility of forming a Government? If not, he should have been more careful how he dealt with the subject at all. It would have been wise for his hon. Friend to consult with those who had fully considered the subject before rashly entering on a question of this kind. What forces had he at his command"? He said he had never brought forward the question when the right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) was in power, because he knew he should have been hopelessly beaten; but had he asked himself whether he was not likely to be beaten on the present occasion? Would he have the support of those who were for the repeal of the brewers' licence or of those who were anxious to remove the tax on railways, to reduce the income tax or to abolish the duty on horses? Had the question of the malt tax been mentioned when he was canvassing his constituents? Did he not know that, although when barley was at 30s. a quarter the farmers were anxious for the reduction of the malt duty, yet the question appeared very differently when barley varied from 47s. to 57s. a quarter—nearly the price of wheat? He did not disguise from himself the importance of the question; and he was sorry to find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given no reasons for not touching it and if he had reduced it from 2s. 8½. to 2s. per bushel the farmers would have been perfectly satisfied. The right hon. Gentleman lived in a county where the people paid no tax on the material of their drink, and he might have been more considerate for those who did; but, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich had truly said, they must have public opinion on their side, and a majority to go with them into the lobby. 1036 He hoped his hon. Friend would not divide the House on the question. With a new Ministry just installed in office, with a Budget more or less accepted by the House and the country, it would ill accord with their usual practice, and tend to prejudice the interests his hon. Friend had so much at heart, to press to a division his vague Resolution. He hoped he would be satisfied with the discussion he had raised. He should support the Government.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, he thought the Amendment of the hon. Member put the issue before the House in a very simple form—namely, that, in the opinion of this House, the malt tax ought to be reduced. The hon. Member supported that view by the arguments the House had heard. He (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) ventured to say that in his opinion, for the reasons he would adduce, the malt tax ought not to be reduced. An examination of the operation of the malt tax would prove that, as a sumptuary tax it was one which rested very lightly on the class which alone it affected. He denied that it affected the farmers injuriously to any extent; but he was not about to go into that branch of the subject, which had been dealt with long ago. He believed there had been a public inquiry on the subject, and the conclusion arrived at, at the end of the inquiry, was that the farmers were not at all damaged by the tax in respect to the price of the articles they produced. His (Sir Joseph M'Kenna's) argument against the reduction of the duty stood on other grounds. The House should bear in mind that the brewers were manufacturers of alcoholic liquors to quite as great an extent, on the whole, as the distillers; and the House must treat this important subject consistently, and remember that the malt duty was practically the only tax which reached alcoholic liquors of a certain description. On an analysis which had been made long since—and although in a debate arising in this way he could not at once give authorities, still he pledged himself to the fact—it had been shown that whilst on whisky the duty was fixed at the rate of 10s. a gallon for every gallon of proof spirit contained in that liquor, which the Irish and the Scotch preferred to drink, the spirits contained in brewers' drinks, which were most consumed in England, paid a very small 1037 duty indeed. He thought the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Amendment (Mr. Storer) stated that there were some in Scotland and Ireland who preferred to drink whisky; and they must take it as a fact that certain classes of the community and natives of certain countries did prefer whisky. Well, then, this was how the system worked. The duty on the alcoholic liquors which these persons consumed was at the rate of 10s. a gallon for every gallon of proof spirits contained in their whisky, whilst the tax which alone reached the consumers of beer operated as a tax of only 2s. a gallon on every gallon of proof spirit contained in their beer. The hon. Gentleman, in seconding the Motion, said that great delusions prevailed in that House on that important subject. He (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) agreed with him in that, and was astonished at the complaints which the House had heard from some hon. Members, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had altogether omitted from his scheme the reduction or removal of the duties on the licences to brewers. That was a very trivial matter; but, whatever it amounted to, it did, perhaps, in that infinitesimal degree also affect the consumer, although, as he had said, the only duty which substantially affected the price was the duty on malt. He pledged himself to the House that it would be found on analysis that both duties amounted only to a duty of 2s. a gallon on every gallon of proof spirit contained in the liquors of the brewers. Now, that was the sumptuary tax which alone affected the great consumers of beer, nine-tenths of whom were residents in Great Britain; whereas the Irish, who he admitted, preferred to consume whisky were taxed at the rate of 10s. a gallon. The Irish preferred to consume whisky, probably, because they were not so well fed or so well clothed as the English working people, who could take their liquor in a cooler form, and in much greater quantity. The duty on alcoholic liquors affected the Irish consumers and the English respectively in the ratio of 100 to 20; and, therefore, not merely on the ground that it was inexpedient, as the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot) said, but for the reasons he had stated, he opposed the reduction of the duty. The hon. Member who proposed the Resolution 1038 (Mr. Fielden) hoped that he would obtain from the Chancellor of the Exchequer a pledge. He (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) hoped, if the right hon. Gentleman gave a pledge on this occasion, it would be a pledge to review the whole question of the duties on alcoholic drinks, and he (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) pledged himself to support any scale of duties, however high, which pressed equally on consumers of every class of alcoholic liquor.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he thought the question of the malt tax alone was a pretty considerable one. The question raised, not unfairly, by the last speaker of the whole incidence of taxation on alcoholic drinks was one of such portentous magnitude that it showed them at once how impossible it would be to deal summarily with a subject of that kind. He hoped the hon. Gentleman who had made that Motion (Mr. Fielden) would take the advice of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot)—than whom no man had fought more consistently for the abolition or reduction of that tax—and not go to a division at so unfavourable a time for his proposition. A great many topics had been brought forward that night which were well deserving of attention. For instance, the Seconder of the Motion (Mr. Storer) had referred to the Papers on the system tinder which the duty on beer and malt was collected in foreign countries. He confessed he had not made himself master of those documents, as it was desirable they should do before dealing with that question. It would be almost impossible to go, and there would be no advantage in then going, into a real and exhaustive discussion of the merits of the malt duty and its relation to the different taxes on spirituous and alcoholic liquors. But he admitted that if they were treating the malt tax it would be necessary to treat it in connection with the duties on spirits, wine, and to a certain extent also on tea. There was a great force in the remarkable speech of the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. D. Davies), showing the mischief done to the interests of the country by the unfortunate prevalence of drunkenness and indulgence in spirituous liquors among many of our working people, and no portion of the question affecting intoxicating drinks could be properly dealt with without giving full 1039 freight to the considerations urged by that hon. Gentleman. But he wished to point out that the malt duty was a subject from the examination of which the Government had in the present year deliberately turned aside: and for this reason, that there were other matters of much greater importance, both for the agricultural interest itself and other interests, which had a prior claim on their attention. Although the question had that night been brought forward in one or two able speeches, yet it had not been fully argued and discussed, and it would be unfortunate if the House came to a vote upon it on the present occasion. Such a vote would be misleading, to some extent also embarrassing, and it would really settle nothing. It would be far better if the hon. Mover would follow the advice of the able tactician who had so long led the anti-malt tax army (Colonel Barttelot) and not press for a division. But if there should be a division, the Question about to be put was, whether the Speaker should leave the Chair that the House might go into Committee to consider the various propositions of the Government? If the Amendment was carried, and the Speaker was not allowed to leave the Chair, the financial proposals of the Government were, of course, put an end to, and it would be necessary to reconsider very seriously the position in which they stood, and the alterations that would have to be made in their proposals. He therefore trusted that the hon. Mover, unless he saw his way to the substitution of a financial scheme wholly different from that which the Government had brought forward, would reconsider his determination, and, resting satisfied with having introduced that subject in an able speech, not deem it necessary to insist on a division.
§ SIR GEORGE JENKINSON
said, he was content with the statement that the Government had turned over the question this year, owing to their having been only a short time in office, and because they thought that greater questions had to be considered; but he, nevertheless, thought the time had come when the question of the reduction of the malt tax deserved consideration. He thought there were very few persons who would not agree in the proposition laid down in the Motion—namely, that the time had arrived when the malt tax ought 1040 to be reduced. If the understanding was that the question should receive speedy consideration at the hands of the Government, he should hope that the Motion would not be pressed to a division. If his hon. Friend insisted upon going to a division he should feel bound to vote with him; but he entreated him not to take that course, because it would, under the circumstances, put them in the position of apparently voting against the Government.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, he was one of those who always looked upon the question under discussion as one which affected the consumer, and, regarding it in that light, he thought it required great consideration. When, then, he was asked on the present occasion whether the Budget of a Government which was new to office—for that was the real question before the House—should be rejected in favour of a proposal such as that of his hon. Friend (Mr. Fielden) to reduce a certain tax, or whether the House should enter upon the consideration of the financial scheme which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had submitted to it, he should certainly feel it to be his duty to vote in favour of taking the latter course. The Motion of his hon. Friend not only raised, in his opinion, in a most unpractical way the subject of the malt tax, but endangered the attainment of the object which he had in view. The matter was not one to be knocked about as in a game of battledore and shuttlecock, and it was impossible, he contended, that a Government which had been but a few weeks in office could deal with the question so as to be able to arrive with regard to it at any just determination. For his own part, he had always thought that spirits, wine, and beer were legitimate objects of taxation—perhaps none were more so. Wine had been dealt with in regard to reduction of duty within the last 20 years, but such had not been the case in respect to beer. He should vote against the Motion of his hon. Friend, because he really believed that instead of forwarding the object he had in view, the only effect would be to thwart it.
§ MR. JOSHUA FIELDEN
wished, in reply to the observations of the hon. Baronet the Member for Wiltshire (Sir George Jenkinson), to say that it was he who had advised him to take the course 1041 which he had pursued. He felt it, he might add, to be his duty to go to a division.
§ SIR GEORGE JENKINSON
said, that on meeting his hon. Friend that day he had bogged of him either not to bring on his Motion, under the circumstances—if the bulk of the party being against it—at the present moment; or, if he did so, he hoped he would not press it to a division, for the reasons he had already stated.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 244; Noes 17: Majority 227.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.