rose to present a petition of Merchants, Bankers, and others interested in the trade and prosperity of Ceylon, against the adulteration of Coffee with Chicory. The petitioners stated that coffee, the chief production of Ceylon, was subjected to a duty of nearly 75 per cent on the London market price, while chicory, with which it was so largely adulterated, was sold at a less price than the duty on coffee; that the intermixture of chicory with coffee had been sanctioned by a minute of the Lords of the Treasury, suspending several Acts of Parliament; and that such authority was a flagrant injustice to the growers of coffee. The petitioners therefore prayed that their Lordships would give their favourable attention to the prayer of this petition, which was not that the Treasury minute might be suspended—not that the duty on coffee might be repealed, but simply that a Committee of their Lordships' House might be appointed to take evidence, and inquire into, and report upon, the whole question of the adulteration of coffee. The noble Lord said, he would remind their Lordships, that the Act 43 Geo. III. c. 129, enacted that no vegetable substance resembling coffee should be permitted on the premises of licensed coffee dealers; but that a Treasury minute of the 27th July, 1852, without suspending the Act of Parliament, extended its operations, and conceded the sale of chicory in labelled packages. The Treasury minute of the 25th of February, 1853, contravened the Act of Parliament, and sanctioned the sale of a mixture of coffee and chicory. The noble Lord said, that the coffee grower did not object, if chicory be thought a cheaper or more palatable beverage than coffee, to its being brought into fair competition with his produce; all he stipulated for was that it be sold as chicory; and the coffee-drinker would benefit in buying coffee or its substitutes under their true names and at their respective values, mixing them according as his taste or economy dictated. During the brief operation of Lord Derby's minute, which recognised a just distinction between coffee and chicory, the consumption of coffee had increased no less than 2,658,012 lbs. in the short space of four months, without any advance in the price of coffee to the consumer, and had such regulation been allowed to continue, and the law stringently supported, a still greater 597 increase would doubtless have resulted; but, even assuming this low estimate, an augmented consumption of 7,974,036 lbs. was exhibited, yielding to the revenue a sum of no less than 99,675l. 9s. per annum. Competent authorities—Mr. M'Culloch and others—had carefully estimated the annual consumption of chicory in recent years at 12,000 tons, or 26,880,000 lbs.; and had assumed that, by thus displacing a similar quantity of coffee, a sum of 336,000l. was fraudulently diverted from the Exchequer. The gravamen of the complaint against the present system was, that chicory was allowed to be sold as coffee. If chicory were sold as such, and for a fair price, there could be no objection; but there was gross injustice in allowing it to be sold as coffee at ls. per lb., when its value was only 4d. per lb. When a person asked for ground coffee, the dealer sold him a mixture of chicory and coffee; and this was a practice equally prejudicial to the fair trader and the consumer.
§ THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
said, that this subject was attended with very considerable practical difficulties, and the changes which had taken place with respect to the sale of this article showed that there was great difficulty in reconciling the interests of the consumer and the fair trader. The noble Lord, on a former occasion, very strongly objected to the conduct of the revenue officers, and had remarked upon their remissness in performing the duties imposed upon them by the existing law. On this occasion he had only done so by implication; but, of course, that would add greatly to the objection to the existing minute of the Treasury. To show that at least there had been sufficient activity on the part of the officers of Inland Revenue, he would mention that, in the last year, there had been 6,337 inspections and 690 prosecutions; so that the Board of Inland Revenue could not be said to have failed in their duty. The noble Lord stated that there had been a great falling off in the revenue since the existing minute had been in force. That was a mistake. The importation and consumption of coffee had gradually increased for several years past, and this year more than any other. In 1850, the amount was about 31,000,000 lbs.; in 1851, 32,000,000 lbs.; in 1852, 34,000,000 lbs.; in 1853, 37,000,000 lbs.; and, taking an estimated amount at the same rate as the actual consumption of the present year, as far as it had gone, in 1851 it would be 598 38,597,000 lbs. That at least proved that there had been no diminution in the consumption of coffee in consequence of the regulation. The noble Lord also mentioned a practice, which no doubt prevailed to a considerable extent, that grocers were in the habit of adulterating every article sold as a mixture of coffee and chicory.
begged to correct the noble Earl. He complained that, if they asked for coffee, the answer of the trader was, "This is what we sell for coffee," giving a mixture of coffee and chicory.
§ THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
could only say, if they sold an article for coffee and that article was mixed, they could equally be prosecuted whether it was labelled or not. Such a practice was easily put a stop to, and would be corrected by a few prosecutions instituted for the purpose. No doubt it seemed very natural and very simple to say, "Why not let a man buy what he likes?—let him buy coffee if he wants coffee, and chicory if he wants chicory." It sounded very natural and very easy; but the fact was, the poor bought in such small quantities, two or three ounces at a time, that the quantity of chicory mixed was scarcely appreciable, and to make different packages would create additional expense, by which they would suffer instead of being benefited. That was the reason why it had been considered necessary, for the sake and convenience of the poor man, that coffee should be mixed for him, instead of being sold in separate parcels. He thought that, considering the gradual and great increase in the consumption of coffee, there was no hardship or grievance to complain of, and that the increase in the revenue ought to satisfy their Lordships that the present system worked well, and ought not to be disturbed. At the same time, if any improvement could be made in the regulations of the Board of Revenue, for the prevention of fraud, it would receive the attention of that department. The officers of Inland Revenue had brought to the Chancellor of the Exchequer ninety-six different samples of coffee purchased at different shops. They were analysed, and the result turned out to be—of pure coffee seven, of mixture properly labelled seventy-three, of mixture not properly labelled four, and of mixture not labelled at all twelve. Now, it was very probable that the mixture which was properly labelled might have been sold as real coffee; but 599 all he could say was, that in all cases where mixture had been sold for coffee, although correctly labelled, prosecutions would be instituted by the Board of Revenue, and henceforth the practice would, if possible, be prevented. The noble Lord had only asked that this subject should receive attention, and, undoubtedly, considering the difficulties which attended it, it did require consideration; but he had not pressed for the appointment of a Committee, and the truth was, it was difficult to see what a Committee could do in the matter.
Petition to lie on the table.