HC Deb 21 March 1823 vol 8 cc646-9

The House having resolved itself into a committee on these acts,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he did not intend at that late hour to go into the details of the subject which he had to submit to the committee. The course he would now pursue was, to propose certain resolutions for the adoption of the committee. If they were agreed to, he should afterwards bring in a bill in accordance with them, and have it read a first time and printed, in order that the House and the country might have an opportunity of considering its provisions, previous to the general discussion of the measure after the recess. The main object of the bill was, to afford the poorer classes an improved sort of beer, at a cheaper rate than they now paid for it, and by that means to add to their comfort; while the consequent increase in the consumption of beer and malt would contribute to benefit the agricultural and other interests of the state. At present there were two duties payable on two sorts of beer; the one was a duty of 10s. per barrel on strong beer, the other a duty of 2s. per barrel on table beer. Formerly there was an intermediate duty upon an intermediate quality of beer. It was subsequently found necessary to give that up; because it allowed considerable opportunities for evading the higher duties on the one band, and on the other there arose a great prejudice to the consumer. It was obvious, that persons having two qualities of beer at different rates of duty in their cellars, might bring them up, and sell the composition as if all the beer had paid the high duty, and thereby the revenue suffered, while the consumer was far from being a gainer. In short, he paid full duty for a very inferior article. The consequence of doing away this intermediate quality of beer was, to compel the poor man, who could not afford to brew his own beer, to have recourse to that of the highest quality and rate of duty. It was therefore desirable to revert again upon some fair system, to an intermediate quality of beer. But means must be taken to prevent fraud. It was right to fix some price, beyond which the intermediate duty should not be carded. It seemed also necessary to restrain the sale, so far as to prevent the intermediate quality of beer from being consumed on the premises where it should be purchased. It should be competent to any person to take out a licence for the sale of beer or ale, of quality not exceeding in price 27s. the barrel;—the duty on which should be only 5s. per barrel. The condition would he, that the article should not be consumed on the premises of the seller, in order to prevent frauds. Moreover, he did not think it wise to put an end to the present method of brewing and licenced public houses; and it would be to sufficient advantage to the brewer and vender of the intermediate quality of beer, to be allowed to sell any quantity under his licence down to a pint. These were considerable advantages over the publican, because they would not need the licence which the latter was required to take out by the law, and they would be from under the control of the magistrates; and this was another reason for not allowing the beer to be consumed on the premises. The small beer at 18s. was brewed at the rate of seven barrels from a quarter of malt. The modified duty would allow only five barrels to the quarter, and with 5s. a barrel duty, the beer, which would he a reasonably good article, might be sold for 2½d. per pot. This was a fair rate, and ought to produce a wholesome beverage for those who were now unable to pay for the beer charged with the high duty. He anticipated from this measure considerable advantage to the consumer and the grower of barley; and he flattered himself no prejudice would be suffered by the great breweries and their public houses. He said this, because, though he was opposed to all monopolies; yet, considering the great increase of taxation in the last five and twenty years, and that many measures had been adopted on sudden exigencies with a view to that increase which had led to a particular application of capital to particular branches of trade, he was prepared to admit, that the monopoly in beer was purely incidental. He wished, therefore, to adopt the most cautious mode of returning to a freer trade, and could not but feel anxious that the capital invested in this way should be put to as little danger and inconvenience as possible. He flattered himself, that the measure which he had to propose would fully answer all the purposes which he had mentioned, and should conclude with moving,

  1. 1. "That there shall be levied and paid an excise duty of 5s. for every barrel, containing 36 gallons ale measure, of beer or ale which shall be brewed in Great Britain for sale, and which shall be brewed in the proportion of not less than 5 barrels, containing 36 gallons each, of such beer or ale, nor more than 5½ of such barrels, for and from each and every quarter of malt which shall be used for the brewing thereof, and which shall be sold in any quantity at one time, of 9 gallons or upwards, at a rate or price not exceeding 27s. the barrel, or which shall be sold in any quantity at one time of 649 less than 9 gallons thereof, at a rate or price not exceeding 10d. the gallon.
  2. 2. "That every brewer of such beer or ale shall take out an excise licence, authorizing such persons to brew such beer or ale, and shall pay duty for every such licence at and after the same rate as is by law imposed on excise licences to common brewers of strong beer.
  3. 3. "That every seller and retailer of such beer or ale, at any place detached from the entered premises where the same is brewed, and not being sold for consumption on the premises or place where sold, shall take out an excise licence, and shall pay for the same the sum of 1l. 1s."

Alderman Wood,

on behalf of the 48,000 publicans of Great Britain, 2,000 of which were among his constituents, objected to the measure. He thought it particularly hard, that at least these persons, who had altogether 23 millions of property in their leases, houses, furniture, and stock in trade, should not be allowed to sell the beer of the new quality, as well as other people.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he did not mean to prevent brewers from manufacturing beer of the intermediate duality; but it was obvious, that they could not be allowed to do it on the same premises with their old trade. There must be some precautions to secure the revenue.

Mr. Buxton

thought that the measure was one of an inequitable kind. It appeared, however, to be the wish of the agriculturists, the wish of the public, and—what was beyond the other two put together—the wish of the chancellor of the exchequer, that it should pass. The brewers and publicans had, therefore, nothing left, but to yield with the best possible grace. He thought, however, that the right hon. gentleman ought to impose the duty more fairly.

The resolutions were agreed to.