HC Deb 28 May 1823 vol 9 cc592-8
Mr. Maberly

rose to move, "That a select committtee be appointed to inquire into the present mode of taxing Malt and Beer separately, and whether it would not be expedient to collect the same amount on Malt alone." He hoped the House would grant a committee to examine the whole subject. As the law at present stood, the duty on malt amounted to 2d, on the gallon of porter, and 2¼d. on ale; but, in addition to this, there was a duty paid by the brewer upon the beer itself, which made the total upon porter about 5d., and that on ale about 6d. He knew not upon what principle of right this duty, which fell chiefly upon the poor, was exacted; and he was astonished that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not taken another view of the matter. The duty on malt, which was 3,200,000l., was collected at an expence of 140,000l., and the additional duty on beer at 280,000l. Now, could not the right hon. gentleman, by a transfer of the duty to malt, at once save this 280,000l. without any injury to the revenue? He had made the necessary calculations, and he felt convinced, that the transfer would have the effect which he anticipated. The whole quantity of malt consumed in England was about 26 millions of bushels, and of this nearly seven millions and a half were consumed by the rich in private brewing, and thus paid no beer duty. This made a million and a half of benefit to the private brewer, who was usually a rich man, for no other obvious reason than the giving him an advantage over the poor. An additional duty of 2s. a bushel upon all malt would return as large a sum to a revenue as was gained by the present tax on beer. This was the course which he recommended to the House; and if it was said that laying so high a duty upon malt would be a temptation to brewers to substitute noxious drugs for it in their beer, he should answer, that the public would have the same penal securities against that practice under the system he proposed, as under that which now existed. The hon. member sat down by submitting that at all events the case was a fit one for inquiry, and by complaining of that part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's new bill, which compelled table-beer brewers, if they wished to make the new beer, to get fresh premises for the purpose. The bill was at best but a bill of experiment. It went entirely to destroy the present trade of the table-beer brewers; and it was hard, for the mere experiment of a year, either to stop their business and profits, or subject them to the heavy expense of taking fresh premises.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

opposed the motion. As to the saving in the expense of collection, the hon. member was mistaken: 280,000l. was the sum charged in the estimates for collecting the beer tax; but that charge was rather, arbitrary. The same persons who collected the beer tax were employed in other duties. They supervised the maltsters, the glass-houses, tea-dealers, and brick-carts; and therefore the sum put down was rather a matter of average than of exact calculation. In addition to this, it must be evident, that if a large additional duty was laid upon malt, the expense of collection would be increased. The duty being higher, the temptation to evade it must be counteracted by additional vigilance. He did not mean to deny that some saving in the expense of collection would arise from taking off the beer duty; but those who expected to save 280,000l. a year, or any thing like it, would be greatly mistaken. The hon. gentleman would have the House believe, that no one brewed beer but the rich. For his own part, he could not leave out of his consideration all the farmers, great and small, who not only brewed for themselves, but gave beer to their labourers in part payment of their wages. Any increase of expense to them would operate pro tanto as an increase in the cost of production. With respect to the proposed plan of the hon. gentleman, as being likely to produce a greater consumption of malt, it proceeded on an assumption that malt, to the exclusion of all deleterious substitutes, would be used But it was to be recollected, that by taking off the duty from the beer, an infinitely greater inducement was held out to the use of these substitutes, unless indeed measures of precaution accompanied the alteration, which of course must be attended with expense. He could assure the House he had no personal or official reluctance to the measure; but when it was considered, that revenue to the amount of nine or ten millions was connected with the article of barley, he did feel it his duty not to precipitate any partial changes; particularly when a very great change was about to be tried as to distillation both in Ireland and Scotland, the actual effect of which on the revenue could not be ascertained at present. He would in any case prefer the plan of the hon. member for Reading, for equalizing the duty on beer, without increasing that on malt. He was convinced that there would be no saving in the collection of the duty by the plan now proposed, that there would be rid increase in the consumption of malt, and that the poor would not be at all benefitted by it.

Sir J. Mackintosh

denied, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had at all met the clear statement of his hon. friend. The objections of the right hon. gentleman were founded on certain apprehensions, the solidity of which could be best ascertained by acceding to the motion, for the appointment of a select committee. In such a committee it would be seen, whether the plan proposed would or would not be prejudicial to the revenue. By the present regulations all the inhabitants of large towns, all the manufacturing and agricultural labourers, were obliged to pay a higher price for beer than the richer classes of the community. It was not just to continue such a burthen on them, when it was probable that a transfer of the duty from the beer to the malt would not injure the revenue, while it would relieve those great classes of the population. It was said that the existing regulation secured a more wholesome beverage. Why not leave that security to the taste and palate of the consumer, and to the competition of a free trade? It was upon that very pretext that all those regulations which fettered a free trade, and to the continuance of which the right hon. gentleman had, with so much credit and sincerity, opposed himself, were vindicated. The lawgiver was gratuitously interposing, and setting himself up as a better judge of the goodness of an article of consumption than the manufacturer or the consumer. He deprecated all such interference, and should give his full support to the motion.

Mr. Hume

contended, that the estimate of 280,000l. for the expense of the excise interference was correct, and was not impugned by the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As that was the amount of the charge, the saving by the proposed arrangement would be equivalent. He trusted that a committee would be appointed, and that it would direct its views to a considerable reduction of the duties on malt, convinced as he was, that the effect of such reduction would be no diminution of revenue, a great increase of comfort, to the labouring classes, and much relief to the agricultural interest. Since 1792, though the population of the country had increased a third, there had been no addition in the consumption of malt." The amount of duties on that necessary article could alone have produced such a result. As to the necessity, of increasing the number of excise officers, in the event of his hon. friend's plan being carried into effect, he denied that it rested upon any fair grounds. The very history of the malt duties showed the fallacy of the argument; for when the war tax was added, there was no increase, nor when it was taken away was there any diminution.

Mr. Benelt,

of Wilts, could not give his support to the motion in its present shape. He would vote for the appointment of a select committee to inquire generally into the subject of the duties on beer and malt, He hailed with considerable satisfaction the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that as soon as the revenue afforded the means, he would relieve the country from the beer duties. No greater benefit could be conferred on the people. It would afford extensive relief; and would not relieve one class at the expense of another.

Sir J. Newport

said, that by returns which he held in his hand, it appeared that from 1752 to 1808 the consumption of beer in Ireland had increased from 59,000 to 426,000 barrels annually. During that period nearly the whole of the beer had been imported from England. In 1809, a different system, had been adopted. The brewer was left free from restriction, and the consequence was, that the number of barrels imported fell to 38,000; the revenue was doubled in the article of malt, the consumption was greatly increased, and it was of home production instead of foreign, importation. No illustration could be more complete than this of the expediency of taking off all restrictions from trade.

Colonel Wood

opposed the motion, be cause the good which it proposed, in reducing the price of beer was insignificant while the evil to the farmer would be considerable. The great consumption of beer during the harvest rendered it an. important article in the expenses of an agriculturist, and to impose an additional tax on malt would be to increase his burthens, already too heavy.

Mr. Wodehouse

deprecated the proposed alteration in the beer duties, at a moment when such extensive regulations were about to be introduced into the distillery laws. He proceeded to compare the, consumption of malt in the year 1791, 1792, and 1793, with that in the years 1821, 1822, and 1823, and insisted, that it was greater at the former than the latter period. He could not support the motion.

Mr. Western

thought, a reduction of the duties on beer and malt necessary. He would, however, have it made on the aggregate revenue thence derived; it ought not to be done by taking a tax off one article and placing it on another. Ht would be preferable to reduce the duty on beer. The measure proposed would deprive the poor of the comforts they possessed at home, and drive them to the public-houses. He should therefore oppose it.

Mr. Byng

expressed his dissent from the motion, on the ground that no description of persons would be benefitted by it, while the agriculturists would be in a worse situation if it were adopted.

Mr. Ricardo

thought, that his hon. friend, the mover; had shown the tax on beer to be unequal, and that one class was exempted from it, while another was obliged to pay. He had shown, also, that the diminution in the expense of collecting this tax would assist the revenue. The hon. member regretted that this had been made a question between the agricultural arid other classes; but, even if it were true that the tax had an unequal operation, in this respect also the sooner it was equalized the better. If the duty paid ought to attach on all persons consuming beer, it ought to attach equally. The motion should have his hearty support, because it went to accomplish that object.

Lord Althorp

said, that the wish so often expressed by honourable members to encourage private brewing, would be defeated by this measure, if it should be carried. He had always maintained that the landed interest paid an undue proportion of taxes. If, therefore, an opportunity offered of lightening in some degree the weight which oppressed them, he thought it was very fair to do so. When the House looked to the amount of poor-rates paid by the farmer, he hoped it would think he was entitled to some consideration' on the present occasion.

Mr. Alderman Wood

supported the motion, by which he thought the revenue would be much benefitted.

Mr. Monck

said, that before the malt-tax was imposed, the poor shopkeeper or farmer paid 20s.; now, however, he paid 36s. He repeated his conviction, that the malt duty was neither more nor less than a land tax, and remarked upon its great inequality as affecting the rich least, and the poor most—an inequality which had existed ever since the 8th and 9th of William and Mary, and must have been designed as a compensation to the landed interest for their compliances with the views of the government of the day. He should support the motion.

Mr. Grey Bennet

saw no reason why 1,200,000 beer-drinking families of arti- zans should be obliged to pay 40s. and upwards per quarter, while a very small and much richer portion of the community paid only 20s. He considered that much good would be derived from the inquiry.

The House divided: Ayes, 27. Noes, 119.

List of the Minority.
Bennet, hon. G. Ricardo, D.
Bernal, R. Rice, T. S.
Craddock, col. Robarts, A.
Crompton, S. Robarts, col
Denman, T. Robinson, sir G.
Fergusson, sir R. Sykes, S.
Folkestone, visc. Wigram, W.
Grattan, J. Whitbread, S. C.
Hobhouse, J. C. Williams, J.
Hutchinson, hon. H. Williams, W.
Leader, W, Wood, alderman.
Maberly, J. Whitmore, W. W.
Martin, J. TELLERS.
Newport, sir J. Maberly, J.
Philips, G. jun. Hume, J.

After the division, Mr. F. Palmer Moved for leave to bring in a bill to enable the public brewer to retail beer in smaller quantities than four gallons and a half provided the same be not consumed on the premises of the brewer.—The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that there was no necessity for such a bill in as much as the law had already provided for its objects.—Mr. Monck thought nothing could the more fair or wise than the principle of his hon. friend proposition.—Mr. Herries thought that some misunderstanding existed on the other side on this subject. The brewer, under the present law, might take out two licenced namely, the public brewer's common licence and the retail licence—a circumstance which obviated the difficulty complained of—Mr. Benett, of Wilts, supported the motion.—Mr. F. Palmer said, his only object was, to give the brewer the opportunity of becoming either a wholesale Or a retail dealer. [Cries of Question]. Seeing the disposition of the House, however, he would withdraw his motion.