HC Deb 12 May 1823 vol 9 cc214-7
Mr. Denison

rose to present a petition on a subject which deeply interested the middle classes of society. The petition came from the Table Beer and Ale Brewers of London, a most respectable body, who had embarked millions in the trade. As the law now stood, the brewer paid an excise duty of 2s. per bushel, and from every quarter of malt he brewed six barrels of beer, for which he charged 18s. There was besides an excise duty of 10s. on the beer! The chancellor of the exchequer now proposed the manufacture of an intermediate beer, for which the brewer was to charge 27s. per barrel, and from each quarter of malt he was to brew five barrels instead of six. The brewers did not complain of this intermediate beer; but, by a clause in the bill, they were prohibited from brewing such beer on their present premises. The consequence was, that if they manufactured beer of that kind, they must erect new brewhouses, at a distance not nearer than 200 yards from their old premises. They had embarked millions in their business, and that property was placed at the mercy of a capricious measure; for they were told that the new bill was nothing but an experiment. The right hon. gentleman said, the intention of this provision was, to prevent the mixture of different sorts of beer. The petitioners, however, said, "only postpone the measure for a year, give us an audience before a committee, and if we do not satisfy you, introduce any bill you please. At present, the penalty for mixing beer is 200l. If that is not enough, make it 400l., or make the offence finable by a forfeiture of goods. If that is deemed insufficient, punish the crime with transportation."—Surely nothing could more clearly prove that the intentions of these gentlemen were honest. If, however, the right hon. gentleman did not like this mode of proceeding, let him take the tax from the beer altogether, and place it on the malt. This would place the poor man and the rich on an equality. At present, the poor man, who could not brew his beer, paid a tax from which the rich man was exempt. Was this just or fair? If the tax were placed on the malt, instead of the beer, all the expense of collection would be saved to the public. By adopting the measure which he had recommended, the agricultural interest would be benefitted; since a much greater quantity of malt would be consumed.

Mr. Ricardo

could see no reason why the tax should not be imposed on the malt. If that were done, individuals would be at liberty to brew what quality of beer they pleased. The hardship was very great on the poor man, who was obliged to purchase his beer at a high rate from the public brewer; whereas all those who possessed facilities for brewing were exempted from the burden.

Mr. Maberly

said, the bill was most unjust towards the brewer. It took from him, in the first place, the sale and consumption of the ordinary sort of beer, and next prevented him from making up his loss, by declaring that he should not brew any beer of the intermediate kind, unless he built new premises. The bill, it appeared, was an experiment. To the brewer it was certainly a very expensive one. He must either submit to lose his trade, or he must erect new buildings at great cost. If he right hon. gentleman had gone into a revision of the excise laws, it must have struck him that the duty on beer was improper. The duty ought to be placed on the malt. The duty on malt was now collected at 2½ per cent; and if the entire duty were placed on the malt, it would not increase the price of collection 1s.; at the same time that there would be a saving of 267,000l. a year to the public.

Alderman C. Smith

could not see why the brewers should not be allowed to brew the new beer as well as table beer. He hoped the bill would not pass.

Mr. Bennet

was surprised that the chancellor of the exchequer should persevere in a measure, in favour of which not one voice had been raised, and which bore on the face of it the greatest injustice. In order to condemn it, it was enough to say, that it was a measure to fix the price of an article of trade. By retaining the duty on beer, instead of converting it into a duty on malt, the rich man escaped with less burthen than the poor man.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that upon the last discussion he had endeavoured, to the best of his ability, to reply to all the objections started by the hon. member who had last spoken; and, as other opportunities of discussing the measure would arise, he did not feel himself called upon to enter upon it at present.

Mr. Hume

said, that a capital of upwards of one million was embarked in the trade in question, and therefore it required more consideration than was intended to be given to it. He maintained, that a sum of 250,000l. might be saved by a different course of policy. It was a singular fact, that although our population had increased, no increase had taken place in the consumption of malt. He hoped the chancellor of the exchequer would himself introduce some remedial measure upon the subject.

Mr. R. Colborne

thought that the bill had been introduced more with a view to benefit the public than to increase the revenue.

Mr. F. Palmer

was of opinion that the bill, with certain modifications, would be better than the continuance of the existing law.

Mr. Monck

said, that the bill, in its present state, inflicted injustice not only on the brewers, but on the public. He wished to see it modified.

Mr. Maberly

wished to ask whether there would be any objection to the appointment of a committee, to consider the propriety of placing the duty upon malt, and thereby saving, in the ma- chinery of the collection, 267,000l. a-year?

Mr. Brougham

expressed his surprise and regret that no answer had been given to the question of his hon. friend. The House were guilty of a crying injustice to the poor, in thus continuing to make the labouring man pay 50s. per quarter for his malt, while the rich had it at 20s. To the poor man this beverage was a necessary; to the rich man it was a superfluity. He felt it necessary to make these few observations, from a conviction that the more these facts were known, the more impossible it would be, to continue so crying an injustice to so large a portion of the community.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he would be ready to meet the arguments of the gentlemen opposite when the bill came regularly under the consideration of the house.

Ordered to lie on the table.