HC Deb 08 April 1812 vol 22 cc243-5

The House having resolved itself into a Committee of Ways and Means,

Mr. Wellesley Pole

said, that the first Resolution he should have to propose to the Committee, was for laying an additional duty of 2s. 6d. a gallon on Irish made spirits, thereby doubling the duty now paid. Two objects would be promoted by this—the relief of the brewing trade in Ireland, which, according to the Report of the Committee that sat last year, was necessary, as the extensive use of spirits, inconsequence of illicit distillation, had very much increased, and thereby the health, morals, and industry of the people were materially affected; and they gave it as their opinion, that the first opportunity should be made use of to lay an additional duty on spirits, in order to render their consumption less general. Another object which would be promoted by this additional duty, was, the assistance it would give towards effecting the measure he had proposed. The duty now proposed, was higher than had ever been paid; for though a higher duty had been laid on before, it had never taken effect, in consequence of the stoppage of distillation. That duty was 6s. 3d. the present would be 5s. 10d. including the malt duty which was larger than had ever been col- lected on spirits distilled from corn. He knew that the objection hitherto was the danger of illicit distillation; but he trusted that would be found to be considerably diminished, in consequence of the measures which had been adopted last year: for by a comparison of the returns made up to the last assizes with those of the last three years, up to the 29th of September, of the number of stills seized, and of prosecutions for illicit distillation, it appeared that they amounted to two-thirds more in the last year than in any former one. In addition to the measures adopted, the permission to small stills to distil would be very efficacious, and would make it unnecessary to resort to those severe and harassing laws which had been suspended for two years, and which he intended to move for the repeal of in the course of this session. He had to observe that the duty in the present case was to be laid only on the stock in hand. He then concluded by moving—" That it is the opinion of this committee, that from and after the 8th day of April, there be laid on every gallon of strong water or spirits made in Ireland a duty of 2s. 6d. per gallon in addition to the duty now paid."

Sir John Newport

was extremely happy to see the present motion brought forward, and thought there was no sacrifice which ought not to be made to the great object of preventing the excessive use of spirits among the lower orders in Ireland. He hoped a full and fair trial would be given to the augmented duty.

Mr. Grattan

said, that he perfectly concurred in the present measure, which went to prevent the sacrifice of the health and morals of human creatures to the benefit of the revenue. He hoped this measure would increase the consumption of malt liquor, which was so much more wholesome. He considered the low price of spirits in Ireland, the cause of their excessive use, rather than any disposition in the people to intemperance. This duty would go to correct that evil, and he had not any doubt that it would be followed up.

Mr. Parnell

said he concurred in the general principle on which this duty was proposed; but he was apprehensive, that illicit distillation was not yet sufficiently put down to warrant so large an addition. He had had the means of ascertaining, beyond all doubt, that the illicit trade was still going on without interruption over immense districts of that country; and that being the case, the additional duty would neither diminish the consumption of grain, or augment the revenues; because it could only operate as a bounty on illicit trade, and the production of spirits run at a cheaper rate than they can be made under the existing duty. He had hoped the right hon. gentleman in proposing a new duty on this most important branch of the Irish Revenue, would have taken a more comprehensive view of the subject than he had done. That he would have stated to the House, that the abuses which had been proved to exist by the commissioners of enquiry in the collection of this duty, had been put an end to. That he would have explained in what manner so great a defalcation as two millions a year, which they had established to have taken place, was in future to be prevented. For unless some better system of collection was resorted to, it was in vain to expect any produce from any additional duty. For, his part, he never could think that any branch of the Irish revenue would be productive, so long as the whole of the revenue patronage was in the hands of the executive government. It was impossible the several boards of revenue could enforce a due discharge of duty on the part of the officers under them, so long as every situation was filled up by the lord lieutenant without communication with them, or any consideration of the fitness of the individuals appointed to them. This was not the practice in England; here every board appointed its own officers, and accordingly they felt themselves responsible for the efficient collection of the revenue, and did collect it. Till the same practice was established in Ireland, the taxes would never produce what they ought to yield, nor can there be the smallest prospect of getting over the embarrassments to which the Irish finances at present are subject.

Mr. W. Pole

shortly replied, and stated the average quantity of spirits exported from Ireland was between one fourth and fifth of the whole.

The Resolution was then put and carried.