HC Deb 15 March 1824 vol 10 cc1009-11
Mr. Hume

presented a petition from certain individuals, rectifiers of British spirits, in and near the city of London. They represented, "That they had invested a large capital in the purchase of works near London, for the rectification of spirits; and stated, that notwithstanding it was declared by law that no distiller should be also a rectifier, a great many distillers were at this time rectifiers; that about six of the large distillers regulated the markets and prices in London; and that those individuals were also distillers." Now, he could not take upon himself to vouch for the truth of these several allegations, but their matter was of extreme importance, and well worthy the attention of the House. The petitioners further represented, that those large distillers used stills of the capacity of 3,000 gallons and upwards; and could effect, therefore, a very serious operation, at all times, on the market; the rectifiers not being able to obtain supplies of spirits from the distillers as they wanted them, if the distillers chose to withhold; and the distillers assigning no reason for the defect of supply. The petitioners prayed, that in justice to themselves and to the trade generally, the House would appoint a committee to inquire into the expediency of licensing stills of smaller dimensions than were at present allowed; by which means the monopoly complained of would be defeated, and the inconveniences at present experienced would be prevented. They also prayed a permission to distil British spirit from rum, the produce of our West India colonies—a measure which, while it would be of great benefit to the West-Indies, would rescue the freedom of their own trade from the hands of six principal distillers. Now, it was not possible for him to vouch for the truth of all these allegations; but he had been assured by a professional man, that he should be able to prove every one of them at the bar of that House. It really seemed to him, that, if it had been thought proper to permit in Scotland and Ireland a reduction in the size of stills, it might be expedient to consider whether the same permission should not be extended to England. The other proposition about the relief to be derived by the West-India colonies, from permitting the distillation of British spirits from rum, was one of extreme importance. If rum was now almost a drug in our markets, such a scheme seemed to offer a great chance of increased consumption.

Mr. Ellice

said, he wished to call the particular attention of the chancellor of the Exchequer to the statements of the petition. It was most important, as far as regarded relief to the West Indies. The right hon. gentleman had stated the intention of government to reduce the duty on rum by 13½d. per gallon; but that reduction would be of little consideration, unless the rectifiers were allowed to convert rum into gin. It was stated, that there existed a monopoly which worked great injustice, particularly to the rectifiers, who were obliged to look to the English distiller for a supply of the material which they worked. The price of English spirits stood at 4s. 8d. the gallon; that of West-India spirits, stood at 1s. 6d. Now, he would wish to know on which of those principles of free trade, of which they had lately heard so much, was it that the commodity of a West-India planter was so much reduced, in comparison with the article of the British distiller? He could not see why the consumer of West-India spirits should not have the benefit of a cheap article, and the West-India planter the relief which would follow from an increased consumption. With respect to the question of revenue, he was satisfied that the planters would be contented with even half the proposed remission of duty, if the rectifiers were allowed to rectify rum as well as English spirits.

Mr. Benelt

, of Wiltshire, conceived that to allow the rectifying of West-India spirits, as proposed by the petitioners, would be extremely injurious to the growers of barley, and generally to the landed interest of England.

Mr. W. Smith

said, that if any case had been laid in this petition for the appointment of a committee, not only would he himself have been friendly to such a measure, but that respectable body, the malt-distillers, would have entertained, he was sure, no sort of objection to it. With all his high opinion of the public services of his hon. friend (Mr. Hume), and his conviction that, generally speaking, his hon. friend, had proved to be in the right when error was most strongly imputed to him, he did think that his hon. friend would experience the value of his own declaration, that he would not be answerable for the truth of the allegations in this petition. Last week he (Mr. S.) had happened to see the name which stood at the head of the subscribers to this petition; and he had then been told, by a member of the House, that the true reason of that person's inability to obtain spirits from the distillers was, not that they would supply the rectifiers, but that the credit of the individual himself was not such as to induce them to deal with him.

Ordered to lie on the table.