HC Deb 24 May 1809 vol 14 cc682-91

—The house then resolved into a Committee on the Irish Distillery bill;

Mr. Foster

said, that he proposed to make several amendments to it. Where an inhabitant of a parish informed against a private still, he meant to afford the parish an opportunity of being relieved of the fine, by the parishioner giving the information consenting to acquit the parish of any claim to it. He would still, however, continue the clause for making the fine on the parish 100l. for the second offence. As to small stills he thought unlicenced distilleries could only be put down by the establishment of them; and, to encourage them, he proposed that a part of each fine should be given to the owner of them, instead of going to the informers. He would not give up the bounties on large stills, as they were of great service to the agriculture of the country. The illicit trade may easily be put down by the exertions of the country gentlemen; and if they did not assist in putting it down, it would be necessary for him to propose new modes of obtaining revenue, which would bear extremely hard upon the people of Ireland; it therefore was absolutely necessary to put down this trade, to save the country from taxes of a more general and pressing nature than any which now existed.

Sir John Newport

said, he would confine what he had to say to an amendment, which he should now propose, for doing away the bounties of 16 and 8 per cent. on large stills of 1500 and 1000 gallons content. When the right hon. gent. tells the country gentleman of Ireland, that the existence of illicit trade is the consequence of a want of exertions on their part, he tells them what is not true, and attaches blame to them where they do not deserve it. The true cause of the illicit trade is, the great bounties on large stills equal to 1–2d. per gallon, which go to crush in the outset all small stills, and render it impossible for any one to work a small still, in competition with the large stills established under these bounties in the sea-port towns; for so long as the person having a large still pays less duty, by 12d. per gallon, than a person having a small one, as the expence of carrying a gallon of spirits from one part of the kingdom to another is but 2d. the advantage of 10d. per gallon will enable the former to undersell the latter at his own door; besides, the person working a large still must, under any circumstances, have great and manifest advantages over the person working the small one, because the expence of working is diminished in proportion to the increased use of the still. Under this system of bounties, it was impossible, therefore, that small stills could be set up; and when the right hon. gent. says, his bill contains a clause to admit of 50 gallon stills being worked, he knows very well that no still of that size, or of any size under 1000 gallon still can be worked, and his clause is only for the purpose of deluding those who are ignorant of the distillery business. In regard to what he has said about encouraging small stills, by giving them a share in the fines, this is also another delusion, which he is endeavouring to practise on the public; for what man could be so great a fool as to set up a small still, knowing that he has to contend against the bounties on the large ones, upon the speculation of being reim- bursed in this manner? On the whole, therefore, the right hon. baronet said, it was utterly impossible to calculate upon any other result of the bill of the right hon. gent. than an increased extent of illicit distillation: if the amendment which he proposed was not adopted, what few stills were now in the country under 1000 gallons content would soon be put down by the bounties, the country would neither be able to buy spirits or to sell their grain; and when it was placed under such unnatural circumstances, by the system of the right hon. gent., illicit trade must flourish notwithstanding all the penalties and fines imposed by that system. In fact, even the fines imposed on the county of Cavan, have not put down illicit trade there; he had received a letter from a person of that county of the greatest respectability, who told him this trade never was in a more flourishing state, even in those parishes most heavily fined. He begged that Irish gentlemen would now see, that this system of bounties and of large stills, was the real cause of this illicit trade, and not suffer themselves to be deluded by the language they had heard about the interests of agriculture, and of the revenue. The truth is, that the agriculture of the country is most materially injured by depriving the interior of the country of the advantages of licensed distilleries which would afford to it, what it has not now, except in a small degree, by the unlicensed distilleries, a ready and constant market for their grain; and as to revenue, the commissioners of inquiry proved, that under the existing system, the revenue lost a million and a half a year by the gross frauds of the revenue officers, and the illicit distilleries.

Mr. Hutchinson

was sorry that he could not agree with the right hon. baronet. The object which he conceived the legislature to have in view was, to promote the agricultural interests of Ireland. Bounties, by promoting trade, would contribute to that object, so that the hon. baronet's amendment going to take away the inducement of bounties, could not, in his opinion, be advantageous.

Colonel Barry

said, that if the clause to which the right hon. baronet objected would have the effect of suppressing the small stills, he would vote against it: no such consequence, however, in his opinion, could result. In many of the interior parts of Ireland, the only fuel they had for their stills was turf: some distinction, therefore, ought to be drawn between such parts and the sea-port towns, where coals could conveniently be procured. When the committee came to consider that part of the subject, in which he could best introduce a clause to such effect, it was his intention to do so.

Mr. J. Latouche

said he agreed with the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer for Ireland, that it was of the greatest importance to have small stills established in the country parts of Ireland, and he would therefore give his support to the amendment of the right honourable baronet, as it was the plain, direct, and he thought the only way of carrying the object into effect of putting an end to illicit distillation. To enable smaller stills to work was an object not only of importance but of necessity, for in consequence of the demand for corn arising from distillation, many tracts of country had been brought into cultivation, and if illegal stills should be put down, and none others established, that demand for corn would cease, and a check would be given to the increased and increasing cultivation of land, and perhaps these lands already reclaimed would be suffered to relapse to their former state of waste. He agreed perfectly with the right hon. gentleman, that from a variety of causes, no large stills of 1,000 or 1,500 gallons would ever be established in the country parts; but he could not agree with him in thinking, that if the amendment proposed was rejected, and if the bounties of 8l. and 16l. per cent. were to remain in favour of the large stills, that the smaller ones would ever be able to meet them in the market.—16l. per cent. bounty was an advantage which no trade could bear, and the fact has already been ascertained, that it was not to be contended against, for when even the bounty of 8l. per cent. was taken off the 500 gallon stills, and given to those of 1,000 gallons, the consequence was, that a number of 500 gallon stills were driven out of the trade. Now if 8l. per cent. could not be contended against, how could any man think that 16l. per cent. could be opposed; but it should also be observed that the owners of small stills in their working, are under disadvantages which add to the expence of manufacture in the spirit, to which those who work larger ones are not liable; these disadvantages amount to nearly 7d. per gallon, which if you will add to the 12d. per gallon bounty, the spirit coming from the smaller still has to contend against an advantage which that from the larger one has of 1s. & 7d. per gallon; it is impossible, under these circumstances, that the object of the bill without the amendment of his right hon. friend, could be carried into effect, but the committee were called upon by a sense of justice, as well as of interest, to support the amendment; for whenever it became necessary to enact severe laws against the commission of any breach of the law, as in this instance, so severe, that the innocent suffered as well as the guilty, it became the duty of the house, if any system would prevent the commission of the crime, to adopt that system; and the surest and best method of preventing this breach of the laws, was to take away the temptation of committing it, or at least the inducement which the farmers of the country at this moment have to connive at it: they are aware at this moment that the price they get for their corn arises from distillation, in the absence of legal stills; they see, or at least think they see, an advantage in illegal distillation; but if you enable the smaller stills to be set up, they will then have no inducement to connive at these practices, against which we have enacted such a severe law. On these grounds he supported the amendment, as he was convinced, that, without the amendment, the object of the bill could never be carried into effect.

Mr. Bernard

stated, that in withdrawing his motion on the principle of the bill the other night, he did so only with a hope that the objects he had would be met in the committee, and not from being perfectly satisfied that if the bill passed into a law in its present shape, it must prove insufficient and most injurious, not only to the agricultural interests of Ireland, but to the revenue; we already had some proof of it, for by the right hon. gentleman's bill of last year, stills so small as 200 gallons were allowed to work; he could bring evidence to the bar of the house, of men of experience, new in London, that had given both 200 and 500 gallon stills a fair trial, and who really were anxious to carry on the business in Ireland in that way, and who would declare that it was impossible to carry it on, while so great an advantage as 8 and 16 per cent. was allowed to large stills; it was therefore utterly nugatory in the extreme to talk of allowing small stills to work on such terms, the consequence must be, that illicit stills will be substituted, or the farmer will be deprived of a market for his corn. The right hon. gentleman boasted that his system had raised the revenue considerably within these few years, but did not state how much that rise was increased by a rise of nearly double on malt and spirits; neither did he state how much his system had increased the illicit trade; nor did he mention that by his system 100,000l. were allowed in drawbacks and bounties, which otherwise should have come to the credit of the revenue; he contended for it, that the system of licence has been proved by many years trial in Scotland, to answer the great objects of assisting agriculture, and adding to the revenue; for that in no country had both increased so much since that system was adopted: he would prove that a 500 gallon still pays 1l. 9s. per gallon on its content weekly; whereas a 1,500 still only pays 19s.; so that there was a loss of 10s. per gallon on its content, weekly, to the revenue, by this system of the right hon. gent.; and as to putting down the illicit trade, he contended for it that a licensed distiller must prohibit an unlicensed distiller from working, for that, on considering the risk of seizure and penalties, the great deficiency of produce, and considerable waste attendant on the hurry and confusion of a private still, it must be evident that the licensed distiller must have a considerable advantage over unlicensed ones, and would, if sufficiently encouraged to work, on fair terms, drive the unlicensed still out of the market. For these and other reasons he contended for it, that it was utterly useless to talk of allowing small stills to work, without taking off the bounty allowed to large ones.

Mr. Dennis Browne

said, that he held the opinion of his right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer in such high veneration, that he was always ready to believe whatever he said was right, would prove to be so. He had always proved himself to be a great friend to the interests and welfare of Ireland, and he would not desert him in this instance. He said that disloyalty and illicit distillery went hand in hand over the kingdom, and that till illicit distillery was put down, disloyalty would increase. The best mode to put it down was to increase the fines, and to punish all those with severity who broke the laws: in his county the exertions of the gentlemen had proved effectual, and he knew of no illicit distillery; he had great veneration for existing esta- blishments, and for that reason would not suddenly adopt so great an alteration as that proposed by the right, hon. baronet.

Mr. French

said he was surprized to hear the hon. member say that there was no illicit distillery in the county Mayo; he lived within a few miles of that county, and had himself assisted in seizing several illicit stills last year, and he knew the trade was now very flourishing in that quarter. If the hon. member means that there is no illicit trade near Westport, he could understand him, because there was no corn there. There were nothing there but those sort of inaccessible mountains which the hon. member talked of lately as being of such great value in the county of Cavan, for scites on which to establish illegal stills.—As to the amendment of the right hon. baronet, he should certainly vote for it, and nothing could be so clear as that it would be impracticable for any one to set up a small still in the face of these bounties.

Mr. May

said he was a friend to the system of bounties, as he was to all long established systems; that he disliked all speculative plans, and new fangled inventions. The large stills were productive of great revenue, and had advanced the agricultural interests of the country to their present flourishing condition; for it was in those districts where they were established that the tillage of Ireland was most flourishing.

Mr. Parnell

said he could not permit this question to go to a vote without expressing his sentiments upon it. It appeared to him that the right hon. gent. was attempting to practise upon the house the greatest delusion that ever was heard of. He says that he is a friend to the system of small stills; that it is only by establishing small stills, that the illicit trade can be put down, and in the face of these admissions, he calls upon the house to continue bounties on large stills, which give the persons who work them an advantage of 12d. per gallon over the persons who work small stills. The right hon. gent. must know when he holds out to the country a remedy for illicit trade by admitting small stills to work, he is taking effectual measures to prevent any person from attempting to work one; and therefore, sir, his clause to admit them to be licensed is a mere delusion, and can have no practical benefit to the public. There are now several Irish distillers in London; he had spoken to some of them on the subject, and their uni- form answer to his enquiry was, that no one could set up a small still without a certainty of ruin in the face of these bounties. He wished very much to hear the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for England on this point. No one ought to be more capable of giving one; he wished to be set right by him if he was wrong, and he was ready to alter the opinion he had formed if he could shew him that it was erroneous. In a matter of so much importance to Ireland, and particularly to the financial condition of Ireland, he could not suppose the right hon. gent. would be silent, and that where so many Irish members thought the bounties ought to be discontinued, and where the question was whether or not the great defalcation of revenue from spirits was or was not to continue, he hoped that he would either vote with them, and shew to the committee that he had good reasons for voting with his right hon. friend. As to what the hon. member who spoke last had said in respect to the advantage of large stills to the tillage of Ireland, he must deny his position altogether; the measure of the right hon. bart. near him giving Ireland a free trade in grain to England, was the cause of the present flourishing state of the tillage of Ireland; besides in point of fact, there were no distilleries in those parts of Ireland where tillage flourished the most; at Waterford, Clonmel, and the county of Kilkenny. The truth is, that these large stills are injurious to the agricultural interests of Ireland. They can only be worked in sea port towns, where coals can be had, and by persons of large, capital, and therefore the whole interior of the country is to be deprived of the demand for grain which distilleries would give if they were and could be established in the interior, the reasoning, therefore of those who maintained that these bounties, and that large stills were beneficial to Ireland, was of the falsest kind, as must be evident to every person who possessed the slightest information upon the subject.—The hon. member had called the plan of establishing small stills a new-fangled speculation. He begged to tell him that it had the authority of the Commissioners of Enquiry, and was even admitted to be a good plan by the right hon. gent. whose cause he professed to advocate. He should certainly vote for the amendment of his right hon. friend.

Sir J. Newport

agreed that in the greatest tillage counties there were no such things as great stills; it therefore was not fair to attribute to them the prosperity of such counties.

Mr. O'Hara

supported the Amendment.

The house divided, when there appeared—

Ayes 21
Noes 78
Majority against the Amendment— —57

On being re-admitted, we found Mr. French on his legs, speaking to an amendment which had been proposed while strangers were excluded, to prevent parishes from having double fines imposed upon them. He stated that the bill, with all its provisions, had none to punish officers who acted fraudulently. He disapproved of that clause which provided, that if a still, or any part of a still, was found in a parish, the whole parish should be fined. If they wished to quiet Ireland, they should permit her to enjoy the rewards of her industry.

Mr. Magens

contended, that it was impossible to take away the power of fining, without doing an injury to the country. There were instances of town lands being fined three times over for the same still. The informer should be rewarded, otherwise no discovery would be made.

Mr. Foster

said, that there was a law already, by which the misconduct of officers was severely punished, which rendered it unnecessary to introduce any clause to that effect into the bill. The fact was, the revenue was injured by illicit distilleries, and the morals of the people corrupted. They were arrived at such a pitch as to require severe enactments. If gentlemen did not exert themselves to put them down, the severity of the law would not be the fault; their own conduct alone would be liable to the charge of having given them encouragement.

Colonel Barry

said that the proposition was to fine the vicinity where any materials used in a distillery were discovered. He was not against fining a guilty individual, when he could be found; but it was not fit that any gentleman should be fined for offences committed while he was doing his duty in that house. That the law to prevent collusion between officers of excise and illicit distillers was not enforced was sufficiently proved by the circumstance of 375 applications having been made to fine the county of Cavan, at the quarter sessions, for illicit stills, while not one prosecution was instituted for a misdemeanor to punish collusion.

Mr. D. Browne

thought the proposed clause feasible; but did not approve of the manner in which it was supported.

Sir J. Newport

said, that he believed the tight hon. gent. (Mr. Foster) was mistaken as to the punishment of officers for collusion. The existing laws went to punish them by a fine of 10l. or to render them incapable of retaining their office. The fines proposed upon the parishes amounted to 50l. while the fine for the officer, if guilty of collusion, was only 10l. which should be 50l. at least; otherwise fines would be levied on parishes, and officers screened. The fines levied upon the county of Cavan were so great, that it would be impossible to levy them, and he confessed he was very much shaken in opinion, as to the efficacy of fines; instead of having the proposed effect in that county, illicit distilleries had increased. He thought the system of fines ought to be taken into the consideration of the house as early in the next session as circumstances would admit.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that where collusion was practised by officers, he thought an immediate remedy should be sought; and that there was no occasion to put it off till next session. He should have little hesitation in proposing, that officers so offending, should be subject to double the penalty of town lands; the half of which should go to the informer, and the other half to be appropriated to some other purpose.

For the Amendment 32
Against it 50
Majority 18