HC Deb 26 April 1858 vol 149 cc1740-8

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, that as there appeared to be a wonderful unanimity among all parties, and all Chancellors of the Exchequer past, present, and future, in favour of the imposition of this tax upon Ireland, it would be unbecoming in him to take up the time of the House in opposing it; but having regard to a probable deficit of £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 in 1860, he wished to enter his protest against the principle involved in the Bill, that, whenever a deficiency occurred in the Imperial revenue, Ireland was to be resorted to in order to supply it. As an Irishman, he deemed it a very ominous thing to have his county praised and the Irish Members complimented by the Minister of the Crown, particularly by a Conservative Finance Minister; for he always anticipated that in that case some fiscal burden was sure to be placed on Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman's budget partook somewhat of an Irish character, and reminded one of the position in which many Irish gentlemen stood in reference to their inability to meet their engagements. Part of the right hon. Gentleman's debt was contracted contrary to all sound principles, and therefore he proposed to relieve himself of it altogether, and the other part it was inconvenient to pay, and therefore he resolved not to pay it. This expedient was resorted to in old times in Ireland, but it was abandoned at the present day. As the right hon. Gentleman was quite certain of passing the present measure, there were some measures of alleviation he ought to take into consideration. There were some local burdens imposed on Ireland which had fair claims to be transferred to the general Exchequer, and he would particularly advert to the expense of the general valuation, to which the hon. Member for Dublin had frequently called the attention of the House. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to make the general funds of the empire bear this burden, it would be a graceful act, and would give some value to the encomiums he lavished on the Irish Members.

MR. P. O'BRIEN, who had presented a petition against the Bill, said, he felt it his duty to put before the House the opinion of a very large number of those engaged in the spirit trade in Dublin, and which was one of entire opposition to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the year 1833, when the duty was very high, the number of gallons of whisky brought to charge was much below that which it reached in successive years, when the duty was gradually decreased, until in 1853 it reached the num- ber of 8,000.000 of gallons brought to charge; and with the lowering of the duty offences against the Excise decreased. This showed that as a measure for increasing the revenue, the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not likely to be a successful one. The measure might not affect large manufacturers, who could extend their trade in England, but to small manufacturers and traders it would be ruin. He thought it would have been a much better course to have imposed an additional tax upon tobacco; that would have been a national tax, and would not have been, as in the case of the proposed tax on spirits, a most unjust and partial burden on the people of Ireland. He moved that the Bill he read a second time that day six months.


seconded the Amendment, because he found that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was animated with an unfriendly feeling towards Ireland, and as he had before attempted, during the last Derby administration, he was fixing a burden upon the weakest interest.

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


begged to remind the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment, that the opposition upon former occasions to an increase in the duties upon Irish spirits was based upon two grounds—first, that such increase would give encouragement to illicit distillation; and next, that the proposition to prevent illicit distillation by means of the Irish constabulary would have the effect of bringing that body into unpopularity. Those were objections which were good until disproved by experience, and that had since happened. An increase had been made in the spirit duties, but there had been no increase in illicit distillation, and the constabulary had performed the additional task imposed upon them with perfect efficiency, and without any sacrifice of the high reputation which they had always borne. The grounds upon which former objections had been made having been thus disposed of, it remained to be considered whether the proposition now made was just in itself. He had heard nothing from any hon. Member to induce the House to believe there was any reason why the duties upon spirits should not be the same in all parts of the empire. He had not heard that the dealers or manufacturers entertained the objections to the measure which some hon. Gentlemen had expressed; on the contrary, he believed that they would derive great benefit from it. The effect of the differential duty had been, that Irish spirits had been practically excluded from the English market; and the result of this measure would be to enable them to compete with those of Scotch and English manufacture.


thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman was altogether forgetting the retail dealers in Ireland, who were the most numerous class concerned in this matter, and who contributed the largest share of spirit duty to the revenue. The proposal might benefit the larger manufacturers; but that benefit might have been effected without increasing the duty 1s. 10d. a gallon. Large and respectably-attended meetings had been held in Dublin on this subject, and much opposition had at these meetings been expressed to the plan of the Government. The home spirit trade already laboured under a great grievance, which, however, applied equally to English as to Irish dealers, in not being allowed by the Excise for leakage and evaporation. In the case of brandy, and other foreign spirits, the person paying duty paid for the quantity actually taken out of bond; but this was not the case with respect to homo manufactured spirits, including whisky. Whisky was manufactured from a mixture of corn and malt, and it took about three years' storing to put it in a marketable condition. Well, it was gauged at the moment when it was being put in bond; and though, during the three years it lay in store it might evaporate and leak to the extent of perhaps eight or ten gallons in a puncheon, yet, when it was being taken, the merchant was obliged to pay duty on the full quantity which it had contained when first put in bond. The subject was one which deserved the favourable consideration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his giving it that consideration would, he believed, tend much to alleviate the feeling of irritation with which this proposition to increase the spirit duty had been received in Ireland. It was worthy of notice that in 1853 the duty on Irish spirits was 2s. 8d. a gallon; in 1855 it was increased to 3s.4d. and 4s.; in 1856 it was further increased to 6s.2d.; and it was now proposed still further to increase it to 8s.; so that if the proposal were agreed to, the duty would, in the short space of five years, have been augmented from 2s. 8d. to 8s., by a series of changes which it was not reasonable to suppose that any branch of trade could bear without suffering great injury. Under all the circumstances, he thought that a very fair case had been made out for the consideration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


supported the Amendment. He believed that it was a great mistake to employ the constabulary for revenue purposes. He had been informed by eminent stipendiary magistrates that the system had already been productive of much evil, and in a few years it must be abandoned.


entered his protest against the increase of the duty, on the grounds that it was unfair to call upon one portion of Her Majesty's dominions to supply the deficiency in the Imperial revenue for the year, and that by encouraging illicit distillation great demoralisation would ensue. As a means of obtaining revenue by increasing the trade, he believed it would be a failure, inasmuch as the Irish distiller had it in his power even now to introduce whisky into England by paying the 8s. duty.


said, that though he agreed in the main with the Solicitor General's observations, he denied that there had been no complaints made by the Irish distillers against the proposal. So far from that, he himself had received bitter complaints from his constituents upon the subject, whilst the Irish papers were teeming with accounts of the seizure of malt and stills, and disputes between the constabulary and the peasantry.


said, that in 1853 and 1855 the noble Lord the present Secretary for Ireland opposed the increase of the duty on Irish spirits, and asked what circumstances had since occurred to induce him to change his opinion.


said, in reply to the observations of the hon. Member for Drogheda (Mr. M'Cann), that he was enabled to state from particular inquiries he made when in Dublin the other day that the constabulary were performing their new duties in the most satisfactory manner. Their officers had reported that they had been most successful in many instances in detecting parties engaged in illicit distillation. He (Lord Naas) had always said that the amount of the spirit duty ought to be regulated and raised as high as possible, provided illicit distillation was not encou- raged. He believed that the check now imposed on illicit distillation would enable the Government to have recourse to this rise in the duty without the slightest risk of encouraging the illicit manufacture. The fact of the enormous quantity of 7,000,000 gallons of spirits having been brought to charge in Ireland last year was the best proof of the small extent to which illicit distillation prevailed.


said, he remembered the time when a Chancellor of the Exchequer thought he was conferring a great been upon Ireland by reducing the duty on Irish spirits by 1s. per gallon, and now the present Chancellor of the Exchequer considered he was granting a great been to the people by raising the duty 1s. 10d. a gallon. How curious a race of people the Irish must seem in the estimation of Chancellors of the Exchequer to be made the subjects of such totally different rules of taxation. Me would contend that the sum of £500,000, which it was thought the proposed increase would produce, would be no compensation for the demoralization that the measure would produce among the peasantry of Ireland.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 227; Noes 35: Majority 192.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for To-morrow.