HC Deb 14 July 1820 vol 2 cc474-7

The House having resolved itself into a committee on the Irish Distillery acts,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose to state to the committee his plan for regulating in future the process of distillation in Ireland. The plan would consist of three parts, and with regard to each of them he should submit a resolution on the groundwork of a distinct legislative measure. The first would relate to large stills, of a capacity to contain 100 gallons; the second to smaller stills, not working above 2,000 gallons in the year; and the third to the more effectual prevention of illicit distillation. The right hon. gentleman particularly observed, with respect to the last measure, that it would enable persons to seize unlicensed stills, and, having done so, they must apply to the grand jury of the county, who were to make a presentment for their remuneration, which would be subject to the revision of the judges. The right hon. gentleman concluded by moving, "That the chairman be directed to ask leave to bring in a bill to provide for the more effectually collecting and securing the duties on spirits distilled in Ireland, in stills exceeding 100 gallons."

Sir J. Newport

was of opinion that the system of warehousing, which appeared to be connected with one of the bills, was in itself good. If the charge of warehousing was too low at present, it would perhaps be proper to augment it. The warehouses should, however, be kept in the hands of government, and should not be placed under the control of the distiller. If a contrary practice prevailed, it was likely to operate very much against the revenue; and, though it was his inclination as well as his duty to support the just rights of the distiller, he felt that he was no less bound to see that no injury was inflicted on the revenue. Whatever the right hon. gentleman could do for the establishment of small legalized stills would, he thought, be beneficial to the country. There was one other point to which he wished to advert, and that was, the great advantage that would arise from the establishment of breweries in Ireland. If that object could be effected, it would tend more than any other to root out the pernicious custom of drinking spirits.

Mr. Chichester

said, a number of Irish members had waited with great anxiety to know what measure the right hon. gentleman intended to propose with respect to small stills. Their expectations were, however, disappointed, since it appeared that small stills were not to be allowed within twenty miles of the greater stills, and also that the small distiller was to be restricted to the distillation of 2,000 gallons yearly. The manufacture of spirits, to that extent would not pay the distiller the fair interest on his capital. There was another objectionable point in this new plan. It appeared that the instrument to prevent fraud with reference to the strength of spirits, was to be applied to small stills only, while the owners of those of large capacity were allowed to do as they pleased. The effect of this would be to deter men of small capital from entering into a pursuit where they were likely to be met by such powerful competition.

Mr. Hutchinson

hoped that the suggestions which were thrown out by different members for Ireland, on this very important subject, would be weighed and properly appreciated by the chancellor of the exchequer. That right hon. gentleman was undertaking a very difficult task—the task of regulating the spirit trade between the two countries. If he could assist the revenue, and at the same time satisfy the distiller, he should rejoice very much at his success. Any regulation by which illicit distillation could be prevented would, he was sure, meet with the warmest support from the legal distiller. It appeared that two of the right hon. gentleman's bills went, the one to regulate large distilleries, and the other to support those of a smaller description. He feared that the latter would not be found to answer the purposes of the revenue. The system had, to a certain degree, been acted on in Ireland and in Scotland, but he believed no benefit had been derived from it.

General Hart

did not think the present measure would be useful. The quantity of spirits which the small distiller would be allowed to manufacture would produce so small a profit, that few individuals would embark in the trade. With respect to the still-fine system, it placed the country in a situation almost as bad as if it were invaded by a foreign enemy. Persons had been appointed to the situation of collecting officers of the worst character. On a former occasion he had stated the case of a person who had been wounded by one of the individuals to whom he had alluded, but who had afterwards been pardoned, although condemned in a public court of justice.

Mr. Grant

was surprised that the gallant general should have made these conservations at so late a period of the session, particularly as a petition had been presented on the subject, and a bill was afterwards proposed which had been suffered to drop. He was not ready at that moment to enter on any debate respecting the conduct of the excise-officers, but he should be obliged to the gallant general if he would restate the circumstances relative to a person being wounded.

General Hart

said, that three persons, who were in the pursuit of individuals engaged in illicit distillation, had overtaken a man in a pass, with a wall on one side and a river on the other. The man surrendered to their command, and yet one of the officers shot him through the body. This officer, he should observe, had been previously tried and convicted of an assault.

Mr. Grant

remarked, that the case referred to by the gallant general was that of an officer, who, having been found guilty of an assault, had suffered the proper punishment. He was afterwards tried under lord Ellenborough's act, with another person, for wounding a man, and he was capitally convicted. His case was afterwards considered, and, on the recom- mendation of the lord-chancellor and others, his sentence was commuted for transportation.

After some further conversation, the chairman was directed to move for leave to bring in a bill for regulating the collection of the revenue in Ireland, upon stills of above 100 gallons; also a bill to permit the establishment of stills under 100 gallons in that country, and also a bill for more effectually suppressing illicit distillation.