HC Deb 02 June 1854 vol 133 cc1248-58

Order for Third Reading read; Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third Time."


said, he had given notice of a Motion respecting certain drawbacks which had been incorrectly set down on the paper, and he was therefore obliged to bring forward the matter in another way. He now asked for the postponement of the Order of the Day for the third reading of this Bill until after the Whitsuntide recess. By adopting that course, the House would be doing an act of great justice to a large and important class of Irish distillers. The subject would have been brought forward at an earlier period, had it not been thought that the drawback of which the Irish distillers complained would not be persevered in by the Government, and they now asked for a postponement of the third reading of the Bill in order to enable them to make such representations as would induce the Government to reconsider their determination. The objection of the Irish distillers was to the increased drawback allowed to Scotch malt distillers; but he must add that they not only objected to the increase of that drawback, but to the existence of any drawback at all. He considered that the system of drawbacks was inconsistent with the principles of free trade; they had been abandoned with regard to the soap duty, although it was true the duty had also been taken off, but, he believed, had it been continued, the drawback would have been given up. In consequence of the existence of the drawback on soap, the manufacturers in England had been enabled to undersell those in Ireland. It certainly seemed a strange principle to adopt, first to make a man pay money, and then hand it back to him, and, in his opinion, the more simple and rational course would be, to take that only which they meant to keep. The system had been condemned by the House before, a Committee which sat in 1831 having declared that the allowance of a drawback on malt spirits afforded facilities for fraud. On that occasion it had been reduced to 8d. per gallon on Scotch, and taken altogether from Irish whisky. He had no doubt it could be done away with altogether without injury to the revenue, and it ought to be discontinued, as it was a grievance which was much felt in Ireland, where, in consequence of its existence, the Scotch distillers were enabled to sell malt whisky at a cheaper rate. He therefore hoped that the Government would consent to postpone further proceeding with the Bill, in order to allow the Irish distillers an opportunity of representing their case to the Secretary to the Treasury. He begged to move, as an Amendment, that the order of the Day for the third reading of the Bill be post. pored to that day fortnight.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the question to add the words "upon this day fortnight."


said, he hoped the hon. Member for Clonmel would not press his Amendment. The propositions contained in this Bill had been before the House and the country since the 8th of May. The increased duties were at present being collected under a mere Resolution of the House; and, although that was a practice which had been recognised by the custom of Parliament and by the constitution of the country for many years, it was one which ought not to be pursued for a day longer than was absolutely necessary. He did not think it could be maintained that the House and the country had not had full notice of the nature of the Bill; and, although he had seen a great number of distillers and persons whose interests would be affected by the measure, it was only now, at the very last moment, be found that the slightest objection continued to he entertained to the Bill. He had only last week seen a deputation from persons interested in the malt trade between Ireland and Scotland, and he made arrangements which he had reason to believe were perfectly satisfactory to the Irish maltsters. If any ground were shown for supposing that the Bill would operate unjustly, either with regard to the Irish or Scotch distillers, he would readily postpone for the present its further progress, at whatever inconvenience. The Scotch distillers received a drawback of 8d. per gallon upon the exportation of malt spirits to England or to Ireland; but the very same privilege was given to the Irish distillers, who received a drawback of 8d. per gallon upon Irish malt spirits exported to Scotland or to England. The question really lay between the malt and the grain distillers as, however, the grain distillers in Scotland had finally acquiesced in this drawback being allowed on malt spirits, he thought the grain distillers of Ireland should also acquiesce. The distillers of the two countries therefore stood upon the same footing, with this exception, in favour of the Irish distillers—that the Scotch distillers had to pay freight upon the spirits they sent into Ireland—a charge from which the Irish distillers were, of course, exempt, He thought, under the circumstances, that it was unreasonable to ask for the postponement of so important a Bill.


I think that there would he something in the objection of the hon. Secretary to the Treasury if the proposed drawback had been included in the original Resolutions, but that is not the case. The Bill, as the hon. Gentleman correctly stated, has been some time before the public and the Irish distillers, and they did not at first make any objections. Upon its first reading I stated that I did not object to it, because I had received no instructions to that effect from the distillers of Ireland; but the proposed drawback for Scotland has subsequently been increased, and therefore I think that my hon. Friend is perfectly right in objecting to the measure even in its present stage. The hon. Gentleman says that this is a question between the grain distiller and the malt distiller. He is perfectly right, but I do not see why the Government is entitled to support the malt distillers against the grain distillers. Let each distiller consult the taste of the consumer and take his own chance of success in obtaining a sale. The only reason that can be imagined why the Government should favour the one kind of distillation more than the other would be if they collected revenue only from one; but they collected revenue from both. This proposition is in fact giving to Scotland about 2,000,000l. a year, because it is perfectly clear that the exportation from Ireland to Scotland is very small compared with that which takes place from Scotland into Ireland, because the trade of Scotland is favoured; and I do not think it right that the Government should favour any one particular kind of spirits, whether it is made from malt or from grain. I do think, as I said when I last bad the honour of addressing the` House, that you are pressing duties upon Ireland much too severely. I think that spirits are a very fair and proper subject for taxation, but you may even press that taxation so far as to lose more than you gain, and this I think you will do in Ireland. The Secretary to the Treasury and I had a little difference of opinion the other evening upon some returns which have been laid upon the table—as to the amount and diminution of the quantity of spirits consumed in Ireland—and lie quoted from returns to which I had no access at the time. According to all the returns to which we have access he was totally and entirely wrong; and I can show him from his own returns of last year, that while in England, where there was no additional duty laid on the consumption of spirits, it had increased, it had decreased both in Scotland and Ireland to the amount of something over 700,000 gallons. I have moved for returns upon this subject for the last two or three years, and I am perfectly certain that when they shall be laid upon the table they will bear me out. I was not aware, when I last spoke, nor could the Secretary to the Treasury inform me, why it was that there had been—which he asserted to have occurred—an increase in the consumption of Irish spirits within the last quarter ending in April while in the former quarters of other years there was a decrease: but I have since learned the cause. However secretly the intentions of the Ministry are kept with respect to the laying on of taxes, they were in this instance suspected in Ireland, and there have been large sales of spirits during the last quarter in anticipation of the very step which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken, and of this duty being raised. That is the reason why the increase in the last quarter has occurred. I do not think that it has taken place to the extent which the right hon. Gentleman imagines; but, whatever the extent, that is the reason of it. The distillers in Ireland, in fact, anticipated what the Chancellor of the Exchequer was going to do, and sales to a very large amount occurred in the last quarter for that very reason. I believe there can be no doubt of that; and I think I could produce proofs of it if necessary. Taking the year, however, in opposition to the quarter, it will be found from the returns, to which every Member has access, that both in Ireland and in Scotland the consumption has decreased, because you laid on a heavy duty, whilst in England it has increased, because you put on no additional duty. I think for the reason that these new drawbacks have not been before the country and the public, and cannot therefore have been considered by them, that my hon. Friend the Member for Clonmel is quite right in the proposition which he has submitted to the House.


considered it was a most moderate and modest request that the third reading of the Bill should be postponed for one fortnight, in order to afford time for the case of the Irish distillers to receive its due consideration. He made no doubt his hon. Friend the Member for Clonmel, would not object to limit Ids request to even one week, which short respite could not occasion any delay whatever to the ultimate passing of the measure, the House being about to adjourn for the Whitsun recess. He could not conceive that any Government would refuse to accede to so reasonable a demand on the part of the Irish Members. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. Wilson) had just mentioned that he had recently seen many distillers in reference to the present Bill, but did not go on to say that amongst them there was a single distiller from Ireland. He concluded that those private conferences were held exclusively with Scotch distillers, who were sometimes suspected to possess peculiar facilities for obtaining early information from official departments, and had evidently in this instance stolen a march upon their less vigilant brethren in Ireland. The Secretary of the Treasury had stated that the Excise resolutions were proposed in the House upon the 8th of May, about three weeks since; but it should be remembered that alterations were afterwards made, that several days had passed by before the Bill itself was introduced, and that an additional interval necessarily elapsed before its provisions could be accurately known in the most distant portion of the United Kingdom. The same hon. Gentleman had also asserted that the drawback upon malt was allowed in Ireland as well as in Scotland, and that, therefore, Irish distillers had no just ground for complaint of being placed under any disadvantage in regard to the sale of their own home-made spirits. He did not himself profess to be very full of the subject, but he was in a position to state emphatically that the malt drawback was abolished in Ireland many years since. He had also been informed that the grossest frauds were resorted to in Scotland for the purpose of obtaining the malt drawback there, by substituting unmalted for malted corn, by disposing to ale-brewers and others of the malt for which brawback had been allowed, and by various other improper means, which had been repeatedly proved before Committees of the House. The unfair contrivances connected with this drawback had enabled the Scotch distillers to undersell the Irish distillers in both markets. The practical result was that, in the year 1852, nearly 1,000,000 gallons of Scotch spirits had been imported into Ireland, whilst during the same period the Irish spirits imported into Scotland were under 16,000 gallons. A very serious injury was thus inflicted upon the Irish grain-growers, and it was therefore not a mere distillers' question. This malt drawback might also be fairly opposed upon the still broader ground that the drawback of 8d. per gallon had occasioned an annual loss to the Imperial revenue of nearly 160,000l., which sum was given for the special advantage of those who consumed the superior article, and who could best afford to pay a higher price. The proposed drawback of 12½d. per gallon would augment the present temptations to fraud, and would increase the loss of public revenue up to about 250,000l. sterling, which the country could in afford to sacrifice in these war times. That sum was in effect a bonus or bounty paid by the State in order to bolster up small whisky-makers in the Scotch Highlands for the benefit of landlords there, but to the manifest injury of Irish distillers and farmers. This was neither free trade nor fair trade. He trusted that the hon. Gentleman, on the part of the Government, would not feel ashamed to be guilty of a little fair play towards Ireland, and would now gracefully concede to its representatives a very slight courtesy, which could not retard the passing of his measure, but would afford some short time to inquire into its justice or injustice, and to clear up the serious differences expressed that evening upon important matters of opinion as well as of fact.


said, that the reason why the Scotch spirit trade with Ireland was greater than the reverse trade was, that the Scotch whisky being made from malt was better than the Irish, which was made from grain.


was persuaded that, so long as the system of drawbacks was continued, frauds must be perpetrated; and he attributed to these frauds the circumstance that Scotch distillers were able to manfacture whisky at a lower rate than they could do as fair traders, and send it into the Irish market to compete with Irish manufactured spirit. The city he represented (Dublin) contained many of the most extensive distillers in Ireland, who wished only to be placed upon a fair b footing. with their neighbours in Scotland.


protested against the imputations cast by the hon. Gentleman upon the Scotch distillers as altogether unfounded. He contended that the reason why so small a proportion of Irish whisky was imported into Scotland was because the Irish spirit was almost entirely distilled from raw grain, while the taste of the Scotch people was generally in favour of whisky distilled from malt. He did not think any reason had been shown for postponing the third reading of the Bill. He denied that, on the part of the Scotch distillers, there was any fraud committed which could injure the Irish distillers.


supported the postponement of the measure until after the holidays, in consequence of the discrepancy between the statement made by the Secretary for the Treasury and the representation contained in the petition he presented to the House on the previous day, with regard to the existence of a drawback on Irish spirits—the hon. Gentleman stating that a drawback did exist in Ireland, whilst the petitioners asserted the contrary to be the case.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 61; Noes 32: Majority 29.

Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third Time."


trusted that, notwithstanding the division which had just taken place, the Government would not press the third reading of this Bill at that moment, but would agree to postpone it until the re-assembling of the House after Whitsuntide. It was very important that the Irish distillers should have an opportunity of stating their case. He moved the adjournment of the debate, and if the Government did not accede to the short delay asked for, he should feel it his duty to go to a division.


said, he could not under- stand what was the object of the required delay. Did it appear that at the end of a week any new fact would be brought forward? ["Yes."] He certainly should have answered the question in the negative. If there had been anything requiring the Irish distillers to put themselves in communication with the Government they might have done so long since. The Scotch had found time to do so. He was as ready as any Irish Member to do justice to Ireland, but he thought there was no sufficient reason given for postponing the third reading of this Bill.


thought that as the Scotch distillers had been allowed to state their case to the Treasury, the Irish ought to have a like opportunity.


was very sorry that it was quite impossible to accede to the delay which had been asked. The Bill under consideration was a Bill which did not arise upon any general regulation or adjustment of the trade in spirits, such as last year occupied the attention of the House: it was a Bill of first-rate political and financial importance, having for its object to supply no less than 3,000,000l. of taxation for the purpose of carrying on a great and necessary war. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. O'Connell) who made a Motion at an earlier part of the evening, had taken an opportunity—as he was perfectly justified in doing—of raising upon the Bill the question of a grievance upon the part of Ireland. The hon. Gentleman said that the present system of drawback, as regarded Scotch and Irish spirits, was a grievance affecting the Irish distillers. The hon. Member was perfectly justified in availing himself of a discussion on a revenue Bill, in order to state a grievance; and he had done so. But his hon. Friend near him (Mr. Wilson) had expressed, on the part of Government an opinion that there was no grievance at all—and in that view it had pleased the House to assent. But the hon. Gentleman had said that the Irish distillers had no opportunity of being heard. To that averment he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) begged most respectfully to demur. Since the 8th of May, they had as good an opportunity of being heard as the Scotch distillers—nay, he would go further, and say they had been heard. ["No, no!"] Why, he had himself received one deputation at least, if not more, of Irish distillers, during the last Session of Parliament. [An hon. MEMBER: That was another Bill.] The case was the same now as then; and the position of the Irish distillers was not made worse by the present Bill. They were heard last year on the question, and they had had an opportunity of being heard this year. An appeal had been made for delay, and the House had determined by a majority of two to one, that the hon. Members for Ireland had no case. He thought, therefore, he might in his turn appeal to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Beamish) not to persevere with his Motion in the face of the decision of a large majority, nor avail himself of those forms of the House which certainly ought not to be resorted to on the present occasion.


said, the distillers of the south of Ireland were, he knew, most anxious to express their opinions upon the subject, and that they had not done so was attributable to the fact that they were not cognisant of the time when the Bill was to come before the House. He would remind the House that the Irish Members were a small minority of the House, and that, therefore, they were driven to take advantage of its forms in order to impress their opinions on hon. Members. A request not to avail themselves of form, came with bad grace from the Treasury bench. He would also call the attention of the House to the fact that the Irish Members were unanimous in asking for this delay.


The appeal for delay was no doubt a very natural one, but after the division which had just been come to, it would be a more dignified course for Irish Members not to further obstruct the measure.


had no desire to obstruct the progress of legislation, but inasmuch as there seemed to be something behind respecting the question of drawbacks, he thought the Government would do well to accede to the appeal for delay.


said, the suspicion with respect to Scotland was entirely unfounded.


Although the Resolutions upon which this Bill is founded, were framed upon the 8th of May, yet the arrangement with regard to the drawback, was not made until much later, and therefore the Irish distillers have not had all that time for consideration. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave us the old argument about the necessities of the war, but he trades too much upon the necessities of the war, and he ought to consider the proportion of duties to be placed upon different parts of the empire totally irre- spective of other considerations than the sum each should cost to make up the entire amount required for the purposes of the war. I am perfectly prepared to show the right hon. Gentleman that he is acting harshly towards Ireland, and that we are paying a much larger proportion of taxation than we ought to pay. If he denies that, let him give me a Committee composed of Members from different parts of the country, and I will prove it to them. I proposed this before, but the right hon. Gentleman refused to meet me. We will pay anything that we ought to pay. I am quite certain, that no Irishman refuses to support the war, either with his blood or with his money; but we are not to be proportionately over-taxed, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer chooses to say that the war is just and inevitable. I believe that war is inevitable now, and also, that it is just and necessary. I believe, however, that it might have been avoided, and certainly the Government have no right to trade upon it. I must say, that I see no use in going to a division upon this question, because it is perfectly certain that we shall be in a minority. If we divide, I shall vote of course with my countrymen; but I think that all we can do is, to add this as a fresh imposition to the list of wrongs and grievances inflicted on Ireland, contrary to all common sense and common justice, and to suffer it with patience.


thought it unfair to put the fair whisky trade in Ireland in a worse position than it was before. The Government would not lose anything by postponing the measure for a week, and as the Scotch distillers had already gained an advantage, he thought those of Ireland might gain something if time were afforded them. He did not approve of a factious course of opposition; but this measure was of importance to Ireland, sufficient to justify them in taking every proper course. He thought, however, the Irish Members had discharged their duty, and if Government persisted in a wrong course, on it rested the responsibility. He thought it better, on the whole, that his hon. Friend should withdraw his Motion.


observed, that no Member on the part of the Government had replied to his argument, that this Bill was against the principles of free trade.


said, he did not like to press his Motion to a division, knowing what the result would be; but he was in the hands of the House.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

The House divided:—Ayes 23; Noes 71: Majority 48.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 3°; Amendments made; Bill passed.