HC Deb 05 July 1820 vol 2 cc218-21
Lord A. Hamilton

having risen to make his motion respecting the Tax on Malt in Scotland,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he should inform the noble lord what he intended to do, that the noble lord might know how far his motion was rendered unnecessary. He should propose a temporary allowance of 6d. per bushel on malt made from big or beer, under certain regulations.

Lord A. Hamilton

said, that this concession was so inferior to what the people of Scotland considered as due to them, that he should persist in his motion. The grounds on which he objected to the tax lately imposed on Scots malt were three. I, That it had been the practice for more than a century to impose on Scots malt only half the duty that was imposed on malt in England; 2, that a less tax had been generally imposed on beer or big than on barley malt; and 3, that the tax was passed at an improper time and in an unfair manner—in the last week of the last session, when scarcely any Scots members were present, or knew of the bill. The effect of the increased duty had been such in Scotland, that the distilleries could no longer work except at a loss. The fact was, very few of the great distilleries had worked during the last twelve months, and those only were satisfied with the duty as it at present stood who found means of defrauding the revenue. It seemed probable, indeed, that this in-crease of duty on Scots malt had originated in some mistake, for a letter written in October from the Treasury, in answer to an application from Scotland, the 23rd of August last, stated that the increase of duty on Scots malt was 1s. 2d. per bushel, whereas it turned out to be 1s. 9½d. Petitions had poured in against this tax from every part of Scotland. Upon the cultivators of inferior soils, where the inferior descriptions of barley were grown, it was most oppressive. The small stills, which had been encouraged by government for the counteraction of illicit distillation, were now obliged to cease working, and to give way to unlawful competition. The noble lord having urged his arguments against the tax, under the several heads mentioned, said, he should propose certain resolutions. The resolutions stated, that in the malt duty acts of 1725, 1760, 1779, 1780 and 1787, the principle had been recognized, that the rate of duty on malt in Scotland should be one half of the rate of duty on malt in England; that by those and various other acts, smaller duties had been imposed on beer or big, than on barley malt; that by the act of the last session, the duty on malt had been increased 16 per cent in Scotland and diminished 23 per cent in England. The resolution with which he intended to conclude the series was to this effect—that the departure from the principle previously acted upon in the imposition of the duties on malt had been injurious to the agriculture and general interests of Scotland. The noble lord moved his first resolution.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said the practice with respect to the imposition of the duty on malt had not been entirely uniform; for in 1713, six years after the Union, 6d. per bushel duty was imposed on Scots and English malt equally, though 12 years after it was reduced in the case of Scotland. There was obviously great inconvenience in the existence of unequal taxation in different parts of the island. It was to be observed that in 1802, a tax of 1s. O¼d. per bushel, and in the next year 2s. more per bushel had been imposed on malt in Scotland as well as England; a tax not much less than that which existed at present. Though on the whole the English might be somewhat superior to the Scots barley, yet much of the barley of Scotland was quite equal to that of England; and in many of the counties of England, especially the northern counties, the English barley was inferior to the average of Scot- land. He allowed that in the case of beer or big there was a claim for a reduction of the duty, and he proposed to grant a temporary allowance of sixpence per bushel. If the duty in Scotland were less than that in England, it would be necessary to prohibit the intercourse in grain between the two countries, because 250,000 quarters of barley had been imported into Leith from England, and would probably be sent back in the shape of malt or strong ales. He should, therefore, persevere in the principle which parliament had adopted, and would move the previous question.

Mr. Fergusson

could not agree that there should be no deviation from the old proportion of the duties in the two countries, though he wished the duty to be somewhat lower in Scotland than in England.

Lord A. Hamilton

said, that the only point on which he meant to divide the House was this, that the existing duties were too heavy.

Sir J. Marjoribanks

complained that the act imposing an additional duty on malt made in Scotland, was passed at a late period of the last session quite unexpectedly, when a great part of the Scotch members had left town. He professed his determination to vote for the resolution.

Mr. Kennedy

said, that if the agriculture of Scotland had improved, it was owing to a very spirited expenditure of capital in that country, and not to any cause connected with the taxes. Formerly, much encouragement was given to the establishment of small legal distilleries. The act for that purpose passed parliament four or five years ago, and produced the most beneficial effects. But since the act of July last, that encouragement was entirely taken away, and the consequence was that the revenue was very much diminished by the number of smugglers. He put it to the right hon. gentleman, whether it would not be for the benefit of the country, even with a view to revenue, to allow the occupiers of land to distil the corn grown within their own lands.

Mr. Boswell

said, that from the variableness of the climate in Scotland, it frequently happened that a great part of the corn was damaged before it could be got in, and was rendered unfit for consumption in any way except in the way of distillation. But when the duty on all kinds of grain was the same, it acted to the exclusion of that damaged grain from the distilleries. He did not ask that the duties should be reduced to one half; but he thought it extremely necessary to diminish them to some extent.

On the first and second resolution, the previous question was carried without a division; but on the third resolution the House divided, Ayes, 43; Noes, 53.