HC Deb 21 March 1809 vol 13 cc759-65
Mr. Foster

moved the order of the day for a committee on the Irish Malt and Spirits Duties Bill, for the purpose of postponing the consideration until Thursday next, the house being then too thin, and especially of Irish members.

Sir John Newport

said, that he felt himself under the necessity of opposing the motion then before them. The reason advanced by the right hon. gentleman, namely, that so few Irish members were present, did not exist; he had many in his eye at that moment. Ample notice had been given that the motion was to come on, and the house was then as full or fuller than it usually was when the Irish business was brought before them. The right hon. gent. generally took care that it should be too early or too late to have the benefit of a full house, and a deliberate investigation. The present certainly was a measure en-tilled to the fullest discussion, the more it was considered the more ruinous did it appear to the prosperity and tranquillity of the whole United Empire. He rose at that moment, not for the purpose of objecting to the adjournment, but to the period assigned, and would move "that instead of Thursday they should adjourn the cons deration to that day six mouths." If the measure proposed by the right hon. gent. was one that could be mended, if in its progress through the committee it was susceptible of any improvement, he would not have chosen that stage to oppose it; but as it was founded upon a principle radically wrong, the increase of the Malt Tax, as it was you capable of receiving any amendment, he chose that stage to offer his objections, because it was the first. He thought he could shew the house that it was impossible it could produce any revenue. Upon this point he would go, not to speculation but to fact.— Here the right hon. bart. went into a minute comparison of the produce of the Malt Duty for several years back, from which it plainly appeared, that from the year 1790, the additions to the tax produced comparatively nothing;, from which he drew the inference that the Malt Duty was then on its acme of taxation, and that every step since only evinced the fallacy of any measure for its increase. The obvious effect of the measure proposed by the right hon. gent. would be to produce an increase of the illicit practices common in that country, and represented by the right hon. gent. himself as beyond the power of government to remedy; with that impression upon his mind, he had come forward with what must add fuel to the flame, and by augmenting the premium, promote the extent of offence. The right hon. gent ought to have taken a lesson from some former augmentations; be had proposed in that house, and succeeded hi his endeavour to pass a bill for increasing the duty on Port Wine, and that increase in words led to an actual diminution of the revenue. The right hon. gent. ought to have learned before now, from his own experience, that, in financial arithmetic, two and two do not always make four; that sometimes they do not even make one. In order to make the nature of that measure plain to the house, it was necessary to reduce the measure of Ireland to the measure of England, when it would appear, that the permanent malt duty in Ireland was greater than in Great Britain. According to the Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry, it appeared, that not one-half was collected that ought to have been collected. In England he knew that it was the wish of many, he had heard a person high in office declare it, that if the state of the country would admit, the very first tax that should be reduced was that upon malt.— Having said thus much to prove, that as a branch of revenue it would not be productive, he would next proceed to shew, that even if it were productive in that respect to a greater degree than could be looked for, there was still another account upon which it should be deprecated, its effects upon the public peace. It had often been stated in that house, as a desirable thing, to tranquillize Ireland, and if ever there was one measure more calculated than another to prevent that desirable object, it was this measure, which by driving the people back again from beer to the use of spirits, exposed them to all the consequences of the change. If men got intoxicated upon beer, they could sleep off the effects, but spirits set them mad; they would not go to water. He hoped the right hon. gent. would not wish to drive them to that alternative: they would apply themselves to spirits, and it would cost more than any little increase of revenue to support a military force adequate to restrain their violence. It was the policy of government to encourage breweries in that country. It had been said, that the Duty upon Sugar Spirits was too high last year; but how was it proposed to be remedied? By giving additional encouragement to the illicit traders, and strengthening their competition with the fair ones. He disapproved, and would vote against, the measure, as incapable of affording any increase of revenue; and, even if it were, he would object to it, upon the score of impolicy and injustice, for compromising the tranquillity of Ireland.

Mr. Foster

said, that the right hon. bait. had stated, as his reason for moving the amendment, that the measure would be the destruction of the breweries. He did not understand his reasoning; but he hoped the right hon. bart. would attend to his, and understand it. He was not fond of reading letters to the house, but in that instance he thought it a duly incumbent on him to read one he had received from the most eminent brewer in Dublin. The substance of which was as follows: "That he had received a letter from Mr. Foster, relative to the intended duty to be laid on malt. That he bad lost no time in calling a meeting of the most respectable brewers, and they had, without a dissenting voice, agreed that the additional tax would be most beneficial." He then said, that the duty on malt was not raised, as stated by the right hon. bart., to three shillings in one year but it progressed to that in a series of years. It was a convincing proof, that the increase of duty had not injured the breweries, for since it had risen to eighteen shillings a barrel, the importation of malt liquor from England had decreased; and during the last four years the importation of hops into Ireland exceeded that of any other period. He submitted that this proved, that although duties had been laid on malt, the breweries were not injured, but had increased. He asked, was there ever any thing so preposterous as the suggestion of the right hon. bart., that the brewers would exact two pence a quart in addition to the present price, when his proposition went only to exact three shillings and sixpence additional duty on each barrel, which would not amount to a halfpenny a quart? And he was informed by the brewers, they would not attempt to raise it more; and that it had been in their contemplation to make that rise if the duty bad not been increased; in which case, the state would not have re- ceived any benefit. If the right hon. bart. opposed it under popular ideas, he assured him he was mistaken, as he was confident there was not a person in the country would thank him for his interference. He concluded by observing, that his only reason for wishing it to be postponed to Thursday was, that it might have an opportunity of being more amply discussed; and the motives of the right hon. bart. were, that it should not be discussed this session.

Mr. Marryatt

was of opinion, that the amendment would only oblige the Chancellor of the Exchequer for Ireland to bring in a new bill. At the same time he thought there were not sufficient reasons stated for the postponement of the committal.

Mr. Parnell

approved of the amendment, and said he was of opinion it was unwise to increase the duty on malt. He then entered into an explanation of the different duties levied on the respective proofs of spirits; and contended, that that levied on over-proof spirits bore oppressively on the distiller.

Mr. W. Smith

said, his objection to the measure being precipitated through the house, was, that a committee of that house had been appointed to investigate what regulations were necessary to be made, as to the importation and exportation of spirits between England and Ireland, and they had not yet made their report.

Mr. Barham

said, he was of opinion they ought to go into a committee, or to give up the measure altogether, and then to make some regulation as to the duties on spirits. It had been the practice of Mr. Pitt, and all other able statesmen, when any article was so over taxed as to groan under its weight, to reduce it to the lowest point, and give it an opportunity of again flourishing. He concluded by stating, that he did not believe the present duty on malt was collected to the extent of one-half, and if the present measure was carried into execution, it would be more evaded.

Mr. Leslie Foster

supported the motion of his right hon. relative, upon the grounds that the subject was worthy of more discussion, and but very few of the Irish gentlemen present, while there were many of those connected with the West Indies. He put it to the candour and justice of those who opposed the measure, if it would not be better to meet the question with fair discussion upon the day proposed, rather than attempt thus to get rid of the subject altogether?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, it was needless to enter into the merits of the arguments that had been used, as the question was merely relative to the propriety of adjournment. The unfortunate combination of the duties upon malt, and those upon spirits, was the cause of this bill being introduced, and it was surely unfair in the right hon. baronet, and those who supported him in his amendment, thus to attempt taking the matter out of his right hon. friend's hands. It was neither usual nor parliamentary to press a matter forward at a time not suitable to the wishes and views of the original mover. This matter had been already frequently postponed, on account of the pressure of other business, and now the proceedings of the night had encroached so Air upon their time, that it was thought advisable to postpone it to Thursday. This was rendered necessary, too, from the absence of members connected with the subject. It was quite irregular to propose flinging out one bill for the purpose of bringing in two; but the most regular mode would be, to let the bill go into a committee, and then propose its being divided, if thought proper, and there was even no practical objection to striking off the whole of the duty on malt. It had been deemed necessary to lay an additional duty upon malt, but at the same time to put a proportional one upon spirits, so as to produce an equality of these duties, leaving out those which related to spirits distilled from sugar; and the most proper mode of doing this had been thought to be by including the whole in one bill. Now, he believed, that no one person in the house was prepared to suggest a mode that would better suit the object in view; so that if they went into a committee that night, they would be all disappointed. He should therefore recommend, that the bill should be allowed to proceed in its present stage upon the day stated.

Mr. Hibbert

rose for the purpose of asking the Speaker, if it were consonant to the custom of the house, to exclude from such a bill the Malt duty entirely; or to divide it into two, the Sugar Bill, and the Malt Duty Bill?

The Speaker

observed, that if the bill were committed, it might then be subjected to any amendment, for either the whole or any part of it might be left out. If it were to be put off for six months, it would amount to setting it aside altogether: the rule being, that the same measure, question, or bill, should not be agitated twice in the same session of parliament. Should another bill be afterwards proposed, it would be for the house to decide whether it was substantially the same with that now under discussion, so as not to be discordant in their proceedings.

Mr. Hutchinson

was willing to agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer for England, that it was neither usual nor decorous to force a member to bring on the discussion of a subject he wished to postpone, and with that view he would vote with the right hon. mover, and not with the right hon. baronet who had proposed the amendment; but when he considered the increased taxes upon malt, vital to the prosperity of Ireland, it would only be postponing the fate of the measure for a few days, for nothing could, in his opinion, make it palatable. Even although the brewers of Dublin did not think the additional tax objectionable, their concurrence in it would not tend to do away his objections to it. He knew that there were also some brewers in Dublin who would not agree to it; and what he had to lament was, that questions of taxation were brought forward with so little notice, that members of great towns had no opportunity of consulting with the trade. This malt tax was evidently so oppressive, that it would enable the illicit trader to drive the legal one entirely out of business. He considered the encouragement of the brewers as what ought to be the first object of every statesman.

Mr. Grattan

said, his intention was to vote for the ulterior postponement; not because he disapproved of the bill, as to the regulation of distillation, but because he disapproved of that part of it which went to impose a duty of 50 per cent. upon malt. He was far from asserting that such a duty would injure the brewer; but he was afraid it would have that effect; and he considered the breweries of Ireland to be of such vital importance to that country, that he should be afraid to hazard the experiment, on account of its apparent danger. He had not received any sort of communication from those of the trade in Dublin; but he would acknowledge, had they communicated to him their acquiescence in it, he should have voted for that tax. It was surely perfectly right to keep that proportion between the tax on spirits, and on the brewing trade, as to give the latter the superiority. So far he agreed with the bill; but as to increasing the Malt Tax he could not consent to it.

Mr. Alderman Combe

approved of the amendment, as he thought the tax on malt would certainly prove injurious to the brewers.

Mr. Huskisson

thought it surprising that any gentlemen should be inclined to vote with the right hon. baronet, after what had fallen from the Speaker, it being perfectly competent to any one afterwards to move in the committee for expunging every thing that related to the duty upon malt, and leave the bill merely to equalize the duties upon spirits. Those who objected to the measure at present, would more speedily attain their object by letting the bill go into a committee, as there would be no difficulty in removing the objectionable clauses, which seemed to be those relating to the duties upon malt. It was certainly necessary to equalize the duties upon spirits made from sugar with that made from grain, the duty upon sugar, as it existed at present, being most unsatisfactory to Ireland.

Mr. Foster

spoke to a point of order. He thought this bill was not like the ordinary sort of bills introduced upon any given subject, but it was a bill introduced upon the Resolutions of a Committee of Ways and Means. If, therefore, this bill were rejected, he put it to the house, whether it would be practicable to bring in another bill upon the resolutions of a Committee of Ways and Means, without having again the Resolutions of another committee of a similar nature?

The house, being impatient for the question, divided upon the Amendment of sir John Newport, for postponing the bill for six months. The numbers were:

For the Amendment 43
Against it 30
Majority against the Ministers —13