HC Deb 23 February 1830 vol 22 cc846-8
Mr. Western

presented a Petition from a parish in Suffolk, complaining of Agricultural Distress, and praying for a repeal of the Malt Tax.

Mr. Ridley Colborne

called the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to a revision of the Licensing System, as a means of promoting the sale of Beer, and relieving Agricultural Distress. He was satisfied that the public and agriculturists would be more benefited by a judicious alteration of that system than by a repeal of the Malt Tax. If Spirits could be made to bear any additional duties, he believed that the effect of imposing such duties would also be highly beneficial, [hear] Perhaps there might be some difficulty in raising the duties in Scotland and Ireland, but he thought that the imposition of an additional duty of 2s. or 3s. a gallon on British Spirits would be attended with advantage.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, it was his intention to move, on a future day, for the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the existing state of the Licensing System, with a view of ascertaining how far it might be possible to allow a free sale of Beer consistently with, a proper attention to the morals of the people, [hear, hear.] The right hon. Gentleman subsequently stated, in answer to an observation made by Lord Nugent, that he should be sorry to be misunderstood as to the precise nature of his object, which was, to consider the state of the present Licensing System with respect to Beer, in order to give a free sale of that beverage, without incurring the dangers and inconveniences to prevent which he was satisfied the existing restrictions had been originally proposed.

Sir J. Newport

observed, that he could not pretend to say what would be the effect of raising the Spirit duties in England; but the adoption of such a measure in Ireland would immediately revive illicit distillation, and along with it the disorders and disturbances which a few years ago it had been found so difficult to quell.

Mr. W. Smith

admitted, that the reduction of the Spirit duties in Ireland might have facilitated the collection of the Revenue, and done away with many local causes of disorder; at the same time he had no hesitation in saying that the reduction of the Scotch and Irish Spirit duties, and the competition thereby occasioned in the English distilleries, had driven beer out of the Metropolitan market, and deluged it with an abominable and pernicious beverage.

Mr. Hume

bore testimony to the good effects produced by the reduction of the Spirit duties in Scotland on the character of the inhabitants of the Western Highlands, who were formerly smugglers, but had now returned to peaceable and sober habits. He deprecated the outcry that had been made against the reduction of the Spirit duties: it was no reason because an article might be abused by some, that it should be rendered dear to all.

Lord Nugent

said, that in a few days he should lay a case before the House containing strong proofs that the bill of the hon. Member for Oxford, although good in some of its provisions, had in parts signally failed,—he alluded to the plan of appeals to Quarter Sessions.

General Gascoyne

was of opinion, that the people of England would receive the Chancellor of the Exchequer's intimation with gratitude. Let the right hon. Gentleman proceed unintimidated by the representations of Scotch and Irish Members, and he would have the House and the country with him to bear him out in his undertaking.

Mr. R. Gordon

admitted the propriety of decreasing the duty on Beer, but doubted the policy of increasing the Spirit duties. There was a great deal of spurious humanity abroad on this subject. Gentlemen liked to indulge in the luxury of wine, but viewed with severity the indulgence of the lower orders in spirits, the use of which was not merely a luxury and comfort, but in many instances a necessary of life to such persons. So also with respect to the amusements of bull-baiting and cock-fighting: they were put down because they were diversions of the lower orders, while gentlemen scrupulously adhered to their own sports of shooting, hunting, &c.

Colonel Davies

said, bull-baiting, cock-fighting, and the ring, were opposed, not merely because they tended to demoralize the lower ranks of society, but because they congregated together the worst and most dangerous characters. If the sports pursued at Newmarket—if fox-hunting produced similar results, he would be the first to assist in putting them down. He admitted all sumptuary laws were bad [hear]; but at the same time that he would not pass an act to prevent a man from drinking or buying gin, he should be glad to check the practice of gin-drinking by raising the duties on British Spirits.

Mr. Brownlow

observed, that by lowering the duties on Irish Spirits one-half, we had more than doubled our revenue.

Mr. Bright

recommended the taking off of the Hop duties altogether. This would enable every cottager to make his own beer.