HC Deb 19 May 1854 vol 133 cc612-8

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clause 1.


said, he must advert to the fact that the Government had not redeemed the pledge given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make an addition to the strength of the revenue police in Ireland. This, however, ought to be done, if it were intended to augment the spirit duty, for an increase of illicit distillation might be expected to follow from that measure. True, illicit distillation had not increased to the degree anticipated from the additional duty imposed last year; but the reason for that was to be found in the high price of grain. It was notorious that when prices were high but little illicit distillation took place, but when otherwise too many farmers turned their grain into whisky. The number of gallons of spirits on which duty had been paid last year in Ireland was less than it had been in the preceding year, and as it was well known that drunkenness had, on the other hand, increased to a considerable extent; he, therefore, considered that the consumption of whisky among the people had not, in reality, decreased, but that an increased supply had been obtained by means of illicit distillation, than which there was no greater curse to the country. He wished, therefore, to know whether the Government intended to make use of those additional means to put a stop to illicit distillation which had been alluded to last year by the Chancellor of the Exchequer?


said, he thought the noble Lord was mistaken as to the fact of a decline having taken place in the consumption of whisky in Ireland, for the noble Lord spoke upon the authority of returns from January to January, whereas it appeared from the Inland Revenue returns, which were calculated from April in last year, when the alteration of the duty came into operation, to last April, that there had been an increased consumption in that period. It appeared from this return that the consumption in 1852–3 was 9,820,000 gallons, while in 1853–4 it had increased to 10,350,000 gallons. In the quarter ending on the 5th of April in last year the consumption was 302,000 gallons, while in the corresponding quarter in the present year it was 406,000 gallons.


said, the noble Lord (Lord Naas) had quoted from a return which had been presented to the House that morning. He believed that a greater amount of illicit distillation had been carried on than the Government supposed.


said, there had been a considerable increase in the convictions for smuggling whisky. Whenever a duty was imposed upon an article, and its price was thereby raised, its consumption was necessarily diminished, and the inference he drew from the decrease in the consumption of whisky was therefore the opposite to that of the noble Lord.


said, he wished to know whether the Government intended to take any steps to carry out the plan of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had spoken for putting a stop to illicit distillation.


said, the subject was under the consideration of the Govern- ment, and information would be given to the House when they arrived at a determination with respect to it.


said, he hoped the noble Lord (Lord Naas) did not wish to urge the Government to make a change that would be destructive of the efficiency of the constabulary force in Ireland, which had been established only upon a pledge being given by the Government that it should not be employed either for revenue purposes or for the protection of the game.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 2.


said, by this clause the tax was to commence on the 8th August, and to continue until the 5th July, in any year after a treaty of peace was concluded. He should like to know why the tax was to continue until the 5th July in any year after a treaty of peace was concluded, when the tax was stated to be a war tax only, and intended to last only during the war? A treaty of peace might be concluded in an August or September, and in that case a tax would continue for nearly a whole year afterwards.


said, it had been customary in passing laws of this kind for war purposes, to state a specific period of the year after a peace had been concluded at which the tax should be discontinued. July the 5th had been fixed upon because that period of the year was particularly suitable for balancing the Excise accounts. There was also another reason. It was a fact that there was a larger expenditure in 1816, the year after the peace, for debts incurred during the war, than in any preceding year of the war; and the continuance of this tax for a short time after a treaty of peace might be desirable for the purpose of meeting a similar expenditure.


said, that if the peace were concluded in June, the Bill would not carry out the object which the hon. Gentleman intended it to effect. He would, therefore, suggest that the tax should be continued for one month after the ratification of the treaty of peace.


said, he had been misunderstood. He did not say for the payment of current expenses, but for the expenses incurred during the war—he meant commissariat and other expenses incurred during the war, but actually paid for after the war.


said, he thought the reasons neither good nor sufficient for a continuance of the tax to a time after peace should be proclaimed. It was a war tax, and ought only to be applied during the war.


said, the Committee must allow a sufficient time, after the determination of the war, in order that distillers' stocks on hand might be disposed of before the duty fell. The time allowed for that purpose ought to be at least six months, and that period would enable parties to prepare for the reduction in the duty.


said, that the duty to be granted was upon malt, and the clause stated that it should continue to be charged and paid during the war, and until and upon the 5th day of July next following the signing of a definitive treaty of peace. The right hon. Gentleman's reasons referred to spirits and not malt.


The reasons applied to malt exactly the same as to spirits. The principle was the same in both cases, as both were Excise duties. A certain period ought to be fixed, so as to enable parties who had stock to dispose of it before the reduction in duty.


said, the objection to the clause was, that at present it did not provide for a period after the war at which time the tax should be discontinued. It certainly did not provide for the circumstances which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goulburn) referred to.


said, that maltsters did not require any such notice as had been named.


said, the clause did not support the project announced by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was said this tax was to be a war tax, and the additional duty to be continued only during the war. So far from that being so, the clause made the tax payable for a period of one year, or more than a year, after a treaty of peace should be signed. It would, therefore, be no longer a war tax. He hoped the Government, though all powerful as they were, would at least listen to the dictates of reason—he had almost said attend to the rules of grammar—and make an alteration in the clause.


said, the 5th of July was a very convenient day for the discontinuance of the tax, as it was the termination of the malt season. There was some force in the reasons which had been urged for its ending at some given period after peace had been signed, and he should, therefore, suggest that words should hereafter be inserted in the clause to continue the tax until the quarter day next ensuing after six months had elapsed since the ratification of peace. He thought it ought to continue for six months after the conclusion of peace, as the expenses at the termination of a war—such as paying off the ships—were very great.


said, he considered that it would be better to leave the time to be fixed to the Government; but he hoped the right hon. Baronet (Sir C. Wood) would reconsider the subject, and see whether it would be necessary to fix upon the quarter day after a period of six mouths should have elapsed. He (Mr. Labouchere) did not see any virtue in a quarter day being fixed upon. He thought the period of six months perfectly sufficient to meet the circumstances of the case. There were reasons in favour of July being fixed upon, as it was not in the malting season.


said, be believed it had been found by experience that the 5th of July was the most convenient day to fix for terminating this duty. Hon. Members must recollect that the Government would get little or nothing from this tax during the next six months, as the malting season was over, and would not commence again until September or October. Stocks, too, were very low at this time, in consequence of the high price of barley.


said, he wished to hear some explanation from the Government as to the statement of the hon. Gentleman who had last addressed the Committee; because when he had proposed to postpone the consideration of the Resolution on the malt duty for a week, he had been informed by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) that it would make a difference of 250,000l. to the revenue if that were done. He trusted that the information which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bass) had just given the Government had not disappointed their expectations with regard to the tax. He thought the point under consideration demanded a little more inquiry than seemed to have been given to it, and, as different Members of the Government had taken different views as to the effect of the clause, he would suggest that it had better be postponed for the present.


said, he also thought it better that the discussion should be postponed, and he would take that opportunity of suggesting that if the hours required for the steeping of barley (at present forty-eight) as a test of its fitness for malting purposes were extended, the result would be an immense relief to the agriculturists generally, and a cheapening of the article, inasmuch as at present only a very small quantity of the land of the country was adapted for growing first-class barley, compared with that which would be employed in its cultivation if the suggestion he made were adopted. At present, the effect was to give protection to Norfolk and one or two other counties, to the prejudice of other parts of the country.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) laboured under a misapprehension as to what the noble Lord the Member for London had stated the other evening. The expectation referred to by the noble Lord that 250,000l. might be lost unless the Resolution were agreed to at once was not on account of the malting season being ended, but arose from the great probability—the almost certainty, indeed—that, if any number of days had been allowed to elapse, the stocks of malt in the hands of the maltsters would at once have been transferred to their private customers. He did not think that the estimate of 250,000l. was at all an exaggerated one under the circumstances.


said, that what he had stated was that, though the duty might be collected upon the Resolution of the Committee, still that it would be irregular to act upon that Resolution until the House had confirmed it, because what passed in Committee was not supposed to be, and was not, indeed, in point of form, a regular proceeding in the House.


said, he would appeal to his hon. Friend the Secretary for the Treasury whether he would not, before the Bill passed, consider the question of giving a drawback upon hops which were employed in the manufacture of beer for exportation, and which amounted to a considerable sum in the course of a year. They had never hitherto been allowed a drawback upon hops, but it was necessary that they should have it if the British growers were to have justice in foreign countries.


said, he thought that if a drawback were allowed upon malt, it should also be allowed upon hops, for he could not see what claim the one bad that was not equally possessed by the other.


said, he did not deny the justice of the claim, but, though it did not form any part of the present measure, still it had escaped neither his nor the Chancellor of the Exchequer's attention.


thought the Government ought to have imposed the beer tax, which, in consideration of the morals of the country, ought never to have been abandoned. The licensing system had grown up of late years. This frightful monopoly ought to be dealt with; but he feared the Government would not grapple with it. The malt tax was a singular illustration of the free-trade theory—it ought to be put a stop to as soon as possible after the cessation of the war. He could by no means agree in the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet (Sir C. Wood), that it ought to last for nine months after the cessation of the war.

Clause agreed to, as were also two Supplementary Clauses.

The House resumed.

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