HC Deb 04 August 1834 vol 25 cc933-5

Lord Althorp moved the second reading of the Spirits' Duties Bill.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that he was not at all satisfied with the reasons which had been given for the reduction of the duty on spirits in Ireland exclusively. The noble Lord had stated, that the quantity of spirits produced in Ireland was twelve millions of gallons. He did not know by what gauge the noble Lord ascertained this amount, nor did he know why the noble Lord had not informed the House what proportion this bore to the production in the other parts of the United Kingdom, without which they could not form a satisfactory judgment. If the quantity of spirits produced in Scotland was as much above the quantity brought to charge, as it was in Ireland, surely there would be as much reason for reduction in the one place as in the other; and unless the noble Lord gave the data upon which he proceeded, it was impossible for the House to know, whether it was expedient to adopt the great change which the noble Lord proposed. He had a very strong objection to the measure, on the very ground which the noble Lord assigned as the justification of it. The noble Lord said, that illicit distillation or smuggling had not been carried on in Scotland; but that it had in Ireland to a great extent, and therefore he would reduce the duty in Ireland; and he said, that this was the measure of which he had given an intimation at the commencement of the Session, for the benefit of Ireland, and that the hon. and learned member for Dublin would now see that Ireland had not been forgotten. Now, taking these two arguments together, they showed that the country which violated the law was to receive a benefit, and that the people who did not transgress were to incur what the noble Lord must consider comparatively a penalty. The tendency of the measure would be this, that if the reduction of the duty was a benefit to Ireland, the noble Lord would soon have an opportunity of seeing, that there was sufficient ingenuity amongst the people of Scotland to acquire an equal claim upon him by the same means by which the people of Ireland had obtained the benefit. The noble Lord seemed to overlook the fact, that though the reduction of duty might prevent illicit distillation, yet it was calculated to give a great stimulus to smuggling across the Channel. It would also have the mischievous effect of deteriorating the morals of the people of Ireland—an effect rather to be deprecated than thus encouraged.

Lord Althorp

observed, that the right hon. Gentleman was inconsistent in his argument, for he had, when in office, raised the duty on spirits, which had caused the increase of illicit distillation.

Mr. Goulburn:

If the noble Lord states a fact, he should state it correctly. I certainly increased the duty on spirits, but I did it in Scotland and Ireland at the same time. In Scotland there has been no increase of illicit distillation, and I have yet to learn upon what authority it is said to have increased in Ireland.

Lord Althorp

had alluded to Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman said, that the increase of duty would increase the revenue, but it had, in fact, only increased illicit distillation, for the revenue fell off. The right hon. Gentleman wished to know the grounds upon which it was asserted, that illicit distillation had increased in Ireland. He begged to inform him, that there was a Commission of Inquiry at present sitting, and from the results of that inquiry, and the fact that the revenue had fallen off, it was ascertained that illicit distillation had increased, there being no reason to suppose, that the consumption of spirits had decreased. The right hon. Gentleman had said, that, as there had been no increase of illicit distillation in Scotland, the boon thus given to Ireland was nothing less than a reward to those who were breakers of the laws. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he really supposed that the illicit distillers would be rewarded by a reduction of the duty? On the contrary, it would be a severe punishment to them; but it was only intended to prevent an enormous evil. The right hon. Gentleman had made a speech, which it was very easy to make. He would admit at once, that to increase the consumption of spirits in Ireland was a great evil; but still illicit distillation was a far greater evil—indeed, so great was it considered, that, during the debates on the Catholic Question, the opponents of that measure contended, that removing illicit distillation would be more efficacious in removing the evils of Ireland than Catholic Emancipation. This had been strongly urged as an argument by the right hon. member for Tamworth. The prevention of illicit distillation, therefore, would be conferring a benefit on Ireland, without offering the slightest reward to the smuggler. With respect to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, as to the reduction being likely to lead to an increase of smuggling across the Channel, he would say, that the argument might be very good, if there was no illicit distillation at present going on in Ireland. If they were to apply themselves to the reduction of the duty on spirits in Scotland, they would be compelled also to apply to the drawback on malt, a subject upon the utility of which the Highlands and the Lowlands of Scotland were at variance. He did not expect that this reduction would have the effect of increasing smuggling across the Channel; and if it did, it would be the duty of Government to prevent it, while by taking off the duty they would prevent illicit distillation.

Bill read a second time.