§ MR. MORRITT
said, the Motion he had to bring forward was one perfectly devoid of party considerations. It was,That in case of any modification of the indirect Taxation of this Country the Excise on Malt requires consideration.He hought he should be able to prove to every Member of that House, that the proposition was reasonable, just, and 259 equitable. All he required and asked was, that every hon. Member of that House, be he of whatever party he might, would do him the kindness to listen to what he had to say, and see if what he said was not borne out by facts, and then, after listening, to say if he could conscientiously vote against his Motion. That seemed to be taking rather high ground; but he stood on the justice of his cause. He was not going into statistics, nor would he weary the House by reading lengthy papers, but he would rely entirely on the justice of his cause. Now, he thought no man would deny that of analogous taxes the excise upon malt stood alone in one respect, inasmuch as it was almost the only tax that had not been modified or in some way altered. Whilst analogous taxes had been dealt with in some way the malt tax had not been touched. That singularity of position was one reason for considering the subject. But the malt tax had another peculiarity, and it was this—that it was a tax levied on the soil of England, upon an article which we produced or manufactured, and that which we within ourselves consumed. It was a tax that no one would deny fell heavily on the poor man who drunk a glass of beer. It was a tax that fell extremely heavy in that respect on the poor. The rich people who drank wine had been relieved to a certain degree by the remission to some extent of the tax on wine, but the poor man was still taxed heavily through his beer. No one would deny the next assertion, which was this, that the malt tax hung like a millstone round the farmer's neck. It checked him in his industry; it prevented the due course through which he would cultivate his land, and it prevented him from furnishing to his poor labourer that which would be a luxury to him. These were simple facts that were well known; but he would draw them together, and exhibit them to the mind of every impartial person, and ask him if he did not consider that such a tax was not worthy of consideration. One or two remarks had been made on the malt tax, on which he wished to make some observations. It had been said that the malt tax should not be interfered with, because it fell on the class of persons who were the least heavily taxed, and paid the least for the public benefit. He denied that, for it fell most heavily on a class of people who paid most to the general benefit of the State— he 260 meant the agriculturists. Who paid the poor rate? Who paid the highway rate? Who paid the county rate? And who paid the church rate? These rates were all paid by the land. No doubt there were large manufacturers who paid considerably to the revenue, but look at their profits. Considering the profits of various classes, the agriculturist paid more than any other person to the revenue. There had been another observation made by persons high in authority. It had been his good fortune to receive a piece of friendly advice from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who advised him to consider that in any modification of the tax on malt the benefit would be greater to England than to Ireland or Scotland. That suggestion was made with a view, he presumed, to induce him to forego his Motion, but he was not disposed to do so, for certain reasons; and although that observation came from a gentleman whose every observation, from his experience and talent, would command respect, he did not think it was worthy of him. If the observation that they would be doing an injustice to Ireland or Scotland by granting a boon to England were worth anything, it must have been based upon the assumption that all the malt which was made in England was brewed in England, and that the beer was drunk in the same country. But the fact was that there was hardly a public-house in Ireland or Scotland in which you did not get English beer, and not many public-houses in England in which you did not get Irish and Scotch whisky. He believed that there was much more reciprocity of drink than was generally supposed. Even, however, if all the malt which was made in England was consumed in this country, the argument of the right hon. Gentleman was not a statesmanlike one. The tax, then, was levied on the poor, it was a burden on the agriculturist, it stood entirely alone, and it was levied on the producer and the consumer. He would say that if the exigencies of the State required that the tax should be maintained at its full extent—and if England had for the last few years a difficulty to make both ends meet—if the exigencies of the country had rendered this tax necessary, he would not for a moment have proposed a modification of it; but for the last two or three years they had been reducing the taxation, and that had been so done as to secure an increasing revenue, and as the 261 surplus accrued it had been applied to the relief of various classes in the country; but the agriculturists had not yet had their share. What relief did the abolition of the paper duty give to the agriculturists? It gave relief to manufacturers in large towns, with whom it was no doubt a good thing to stand well at the elections; but fair play was a jewel, and he was anxious that if there was a surplus the agricultural interest should have a chance with the rest. It had been said that it was inexpedient to attempt to foreshadow the future, and that prospective legislation was inexpedient. He was prepared to admit that there was a good deal of truth in that; but if the Chancellor of the Exchequer made use of such an argument he ought to be consistent, and abstain from fore-shadowings himself. He had not, however, done so. He had spoken of probable reductions of other taxes, and had foreshadowed, to his mind at all events, that the agriculturists would look in vain for any modification or consideration of the malt duty; and it was that circumstance which had induced him to bring forward his Motion and to take the sense of the House upon the subject. As regarded the requirements of the State, for the last two years they had been progressing steadily towards an increased surplus. That was no doubt to some extent brought about by the extreme good management of their financial Minister, for whose abilities he entertained the highest respect, but he thought it was very greatly owing to the extreme vitality of England herself. They saw around them on all sides evidence of increasing wealth. If they went out to Bayswater and Kensington and saw the magnificent houses built there and inhabited as soon as they were erected, they must feel there was an increase of wealth. In many instances it was derived from the colonies, but from whatever source it came there it was, and no doubt could be entertained of the increasing wealth of the country. They had been in flourishing circumstances in their adversity. Even during the cotton famine, and whilst paying so enormously for expensive ships and arms, they had bad a surplus. No doubt that had been diminished to the present time by the cotton famine. But though we had been under a dark cloud, light was breaking in on our horizon. We were now getting into better circumstances, unless it pleased God that we should be engaged in war; but if we should be so engaged, and if it should be necessary to sup- 262 port the honour and integrity of England throughout the length and breadth of the world, he, for one, should never speak a word about the reduction of that or any other tax. But, under present circumstances, when we had a right to look forward to a constant, steady, and increasing surplus, he did not think he had chosen an inopportune occasion for bringing forward his Motion. It was in consequence of what had gone before that we had a right to expect, in case of any modification of indirect taxation, that the malt tax, instead of being treated with contempt, should receive due and proper consideration. He had thus endeavoured to convince the impartial mind of the House that his Resolution was a fair, an equitable, an honest, and a reasonable one. But there was one person in the House whom he would rather persuade than all the rest put together. He did not mean exactly that; but he would be proud, indeed, if he could persuade the right hon. Gentleman. He had heard it said that the constant contemplation of pounds, shillings, and pence—the adding up of accounts, the balancing of books, and the general endeavour to "make both ends meet," although it produced a great deal of cleverness and subtlety, did not ennoble the man nor enlarge his heart. Judging, however, from the general attributes and character of the right hon. Gentleman, he would fain believe and hope that in his speech the right hon. Gentleman would demonstrate to the House that his occupation had in no way sullied or clouded that clear insight—with which he must have been born—into the difference between justice and injustice, between right and wrong. He was quite certain that if the right hon. Gentleman would allow his mind impartially to dwell on this subject, he would come to the conclusion that in future modifications of indirect taxes in this country, he having given a chance to every other class of taxpayers, the excise upon malt required consideration.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "In case of any modification of the Indirect Taxation of this Country, the Excise on Malt requires consideration,"— (Mr. Morritt,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."263
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, as it would appear from negative indications given by the House, that the debate was to be restricted within the narrow limits of a duel between the hon. Member (Mr. Morritt) and himself, he could wish that whether he succeeded or not in dealing with the argument in support of the Motion, he should be able to imitate the temper in which the hon. Gentleman had brought the subject before the House. The questions before the House were, on the one side, that in any future modification of indirect taxation the malt tax required consideration, and, on the other, that the House should resolve itself into a Committee of Supply. In point of fact, the Motion of the hon. Member was met by another, which, according to the forms of the House, was equivalent in this instance to the "Previous Question;" and those who voted that the Speaker should leave the Chair would not pronounce a negative on the proposition of the hon. Gentleman, but would indicate in a Parliamentary way that they doubted whether the House should be called upon at present to pass any opinion upon the hon. Gentleman's Motion. It was not a negative of the proposition that the Government asked the House to pronounce, and he should be very sorry to go the length of putting a negative on it. The hon. Gentleman admitted that it was generally unwise to pledge the House beforehand to make a selection of subjects for remission of taxation at a period when they must be necessarily in the dark upon many questions which ought to bear upon the matter. The hon. Gentleman thought himself justified in the course he had taken by assuming that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) as the representative of the Government in matters of finance, had endeavoured by anticipation to exclude the malt duty from consideration. But such had not been his intention. It was quite true that in presenting his financial statement he offered a partial argument against the remission of the malt duty; but that was strictly and exclusively from one point of view—namely, from the competition in which the malt duty stood at that moment as the favourite subject of an important movement in the country, and with reference to the actual surplus at the time. It was not, therefore, that he wished the House to arrive at any conclusion with respect to its future course in 264 regard to that tax. He would admit that, for a man standing in his position, it would be ten times more objectionable to endeavour to exclude the malt duty from the consideration of Parliament than for a private Member, and he was sure the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge that, when he spoke upon the question, he was reviewing several taxes which were thought fit subjects for reduction on account of the then existing surplus, and it was with respect to a comparison of the malt tax with the duties on sugar and tea alone that he used the argument. He trusted that he had disposed of the main ground which the hon. Gentleman urged as his justification for asking the House to do that which on general grounds was scarcely defensible—to pledge itself in a certain degree as to the disposal of the surplus not at present existing. The hon. Gentleman would not deny that the effect of his Motion was to establish that doctrine. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) admitted that it was capable of being alleged that the Motion, considered as an abstract proposition, in its terms, in the literal and grammatical meaning of its terms, was not only admissible but that it was incontrovertible— that in case of any modification of the indirect taxes of the country the excise duty on malt required consideration. Nothing could be more fair than to admit the proposition of the hon. Gentleman. But there were a great many propositions which were most fit to form the subject of an expression of opinion not only by private, but even by official men, which would assume an entirely new character when under peculiar circumstances they were placed on the Journals of that House, because it would be said, that though the propositions were true, yet it was not the business of that House to place upon its Journals all propositions that were true. And then the question would arise why, if the House thought fit to inscribe those pro-positions upon its Journals, it was not also fit to inscribe others equally true land pertinent to other matters? The duties upon tea and upon sugar were worthy of consideration, for though they had made a very large reduction in the duty upon tea it was still much heavier than the malt duty. He admitted the tea duty was a Customs duty, and therefore, as far as regarded form, was easier than a duty of Excise. But as far as restraint was concerned, a Customs duty 265 on tea of 100 per cent was more restrictive than an Excise duty upon malt of a much lower amount. The meaning of the hon. Gentleman's proposition, as far as it was unexceptionable, was that it was the duty of the Government and of Parliament, from time to time when they had a surplus, to make an impartial review of the claims of various taxes for reduction. But, if the House were to affirm a Motion of that kind at once, it would carry it out of the region of literal truth, and render the declaration open to every objection which would lie against it as practically untrue. It was intended to anticipate a judgment on the subject, not wholly, but partially; and he put it to the impartial opinion of hon. Members whether such a decision ought to be anticipated at all. It was a great mischief to anticipate. It led to the creation of expectations which were in the nature of promises—promises from Members to constituents, from the House of Commons to the people. It might, perhaps, be said that he himself had made such promises. He could not admit that. It might be necessary, in support of particular proposals, in order to let the House comprehend their nature, that the consequences to flow from them should be indicated: but he had always protested, and he must always protest, against the practice of making a promise, or anything like a promise, in regard to such matters, as detrimental to the character and dignity of the House. He was sure the hon. Gentleman did not wish to lay up, for the future, causes of unnecessary dispute and contention. Experience, however, had shown that declarations of the kind, made in anticipation of circumstances which had not arrived, tended very considerably to aggravate political controversy when the time came. There was the case of the paper duty, for instance. It stood on record that the Resolution with respect to the paper duties, although of a very open character in its terms, was felt, in the result, an important Motion, though not a sole or conclusive one, in the selection of that measure of remission for a proposition to the House. But so far was it from being admitted that the declarations on that subject bound Government or Parliament in any degree, or justified the proposition which he made, there was rather absolute resentment at its being quoted, and the effect of it was to embitter the debate. He was not, of course, saying who was 266 right or wrong in that case, but merely stating the effect of the abstract declaration. And now, he would ask, what sort of a surplus would be required in order to deal with the malt tax in an effectual manner? The House had for several years shown a strong inclination, not to lay down an unbending rule, but to adopt as a general practice the method of dividing any surplus between the subjects of direct and indirect taxation. He did not suppose the hon. Gentleman opposite would wish to commit the House to a Resolution to forego altogether the claims of the income tax, in order to apply the whole surplus to the reduction of the malt tax. [MR. MORRITT: I limited my Motion to indirect taxation.] But if the hon. Member desired to deal with the malt tax, of course it must be in a manner that would produce some sensible effect on the price of the commodity. He would not be content with a reduction of less than a half. [MR. MORRITT: I said a third.] The hon. Gentleman must take care that in trying to strengthen he did not weaken his argument, and lay his plan open to the objection, that while greatly diminishing the revenue it would leave all the evils of Excise restraint in force, and would not diminish the price of the commodity. He thought the general opinion was that the reduction of the malt duty by half was the minimum of change which it would be worth while to make. But for a reduction of between a half and a third they must have at command about £2,000,000, as the share of the surplus applicable to the diminution of indirect taxation. They were not so happy, however, as to have every year such a sum available for the purpose. Even a million, or half a million, was a large sum to have at command. The hon. Member spoke of millstones round the neck of the agriculturist, but they must take care not to impede the House of Commons in the discharge of its difficult duties by hanging millstones like that round its neck. They must take care not to expose the House to the reproach of bad faith, if it did not give preference to the malt tax, when it had at disposal a surplus capable of effecting great good if applied in other directions, but quite inappreciable and worthless when applied to the malt tax. They should endeavour to keep their honour clear and their words unambiguous in the face of the country; but the Motion was open to the objection of ambiguity, which was the most 267 serious disadvantage which could attach to a legislative declaration. When it was said that in the reductions which had taken place of late years no relief had been given to malt, he must remind hon. Members of what took place thirty-five years ago. The country came out of the great war with France with a system of Customs duties wound up to the highest point on every article, oppressing, restraining—aye, in many cases, extinguishing trade and industry. In 1829, it was the good fortune of Parliament to possess a surplus of £3,000,000. Had that surplus been applied in the same manner as subsequent surpluses, for the relief of trade and industry, instead of being devoted to the reduction of the taxation on beer, a greater benefit would have been conferred on the country at large, and even that particular class which was interested in beer would have gained more by the increased strength and prosperity of the country through the general relief of trade. The repeal of that duty was a very strong measure, and certainly tended to weaken very much any residue of claims which might be made on behalf of that commodity to further relief. No other article had been relieved to the same extent as beer. In general terms, half of the duty weighing upon it was removed at once, and thus a benefit was given to England almost exclusively among the three kingdoms, and to a particular interest almost exclusively in England. The reduction of that duty was no doubt an advantage to the consumer, but it was a small advantage, indeed, compared to that he would have derived from the application of the money to the removal, in a more general manner, of the fetters on the trade and industry of the country. The hon. Gentleman had said that the malt duty was a millstone round the necks of the agriculturists; but, if so, he wanted to know what was to be thought of the duty upon spirits, which had an operation upon barley the same in principle as the malt tax, but in amount far more severe. Notwithstanding the repeal of the Corn Laws, the price of barley of late years had moved upwards instead of downwards, and while the malt tax was from 50 to 60 per cent upon malt, though not more than from 20 to 25 per cent upon beer, the spirit duty was from 400 to 500 per cent upon spirits. It would thus be seen that the millstone argument, if it had any weight at all, was far more applicable to 268 the case of the spirit duty than that of the malt tax. The hon. Gentleman, again, had said there was no force in the argument derived from the pressure of the spirit duty and malt tax upon the three kingdoms. Every one knew that the great bulk of the malt tax was paid in England, but that, it had been said, was no reason why the tax should not be repealed. Certainly not, if the question was looked at in the abstract, and if the malt tax were an exceptional duty levied upon a commodity used in England, while the corresponding commodities used in Scotland and Ireland paid no duty at all. For example, if Scotchmen and Irishmen consumed not whisky but cider, upon which there was no duty whatever, the case against the malt tax would be immensely enhanced by its exclusiveness; but the truth was, Scotland and Ireland were far more heavily taxed in respect of their favourite liquor than England. Perhaps it was wrong that Scotchmen should drink whisky, but they must be allowed to judge for themselves, and he must say that whisky, when diluted into toddy, in which shape it was largely consumed, ought not to be made the subject of any very severe or sweeping condemnation. On the whole, then, he thought the House should pause before it gave a very large amount of public revenue to a commodity almost exclusively used in England, and, at the same time, left the corresponding commodities used in Scotland and Ireland under an overwhelming weight of taxation. But he did not think it desirable on the part of the Government that he should discuss this question at length. He had objected to embodying premature and unnecessary declarations of opinion in the shape of Resolutions, and he felt that the argument against the Motion of the hon. Gentleman had a tendency to lead him further than he should wish to go with respect to the merits of the question itself. It was desirable that the whole question of the malt tax should remain open and unprejudiced. At present he could not undertake to say what might be expedient for Parliament to do in future years. He had no means of ascertaining what sums might be at its disposal for the relief of the taxpayers, though on that point, apart from great convulsions, apart from special and extraordinary causes, he thought we might be justified in humbly entertaining sanguine hopes. It was to be hoped, therefore, that the House would carefully avoid embarrassing its future 269 action by any premature declaration of opinion respecting the malt tax, and with the view of enabling it to do so, he had no hesitation in moving, as an Amendment, That the Speaker should now leave the Chair, which might be taken as equivalent to the previous Question.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, he accepted, with pleasure, the admission of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the subject of the malt tax was entitled to serious consideration, but he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman should have subsequently hinted, by his mysterious allusion to the tea and sugar duties in the present, and to the beer duty in the past, that in his opinion the repeal of the malt tax would be inexpedient for many years to come. There could be no doubt whatever as to the impropriety of the House of Commons pledging itself beforehand to the diminution or repeal of any particular duty on financial grounds, but in the case of the Malt Tax there were social and political considerations which might render a departure from that general rule both justifiable and expedient. The Motion of the hon. Member for the North Riding was merely a supplement to that past system of fiscal re-arrangement which commenced in 1842, but which, in the opinion of those who represented the agricultural interest, was not carried far enough. Since 1842 every tax which was thought to press upon the springs of industry, or which affected any branch of our textile manufactures, had been altogether repealed. The particular ground on which these great changes—changes which caused great distress among the agricultural classes—were justified, was the broad political ground that if they were once adopted, all causes of dissension between class and class would be removed, and that henceforth the agriculturist and the manufacturer would not be divided into hostile camps. But so long as the malt tax remained untouched was it true to say that there was no class of producers, no class of manufacturers, affected—and unjustly affected—by our present system? It was impossible to deny but that on the producers of barley on the one hand, and the manufacturers of meat on the other, these restrictions pressed harshly and unjustly. It was often said with respect to the growers of barley on good barley land, that the malt tax did not operate in a prejudicial manner towards them when they had a good harvest. But what was 270 that but saying that with a bad harvest, and on indifferent ground, the malt tax did operate injuriously? And is it for free traders to justify a tax which punishes producers for a bad harvest in the one case, and for managing their business as they think best in the other? He now came to the other class—the manufacturers of meat. Perhaps no occupation now open to the farmers of England, Ireland, or Scotland was more profitable than the manufacture of meat, but it was quite evident that the malt tax did operate as a great hindrance and drawback on the manufacturers of meat. That was admitted by the right hon. Gentleman in the Bill which he introduced to allow malt free of duty to be used for the feeding of cattle. It was said, and said truly, that that Bill was a dead letter. The grievance was admitted but not remedied, and never would be remedied, until the producer of barley could apply it to the production of meat in the way most likely to benefit himself in his trade. The right hon. Gentleman went on to consider the question as affecting the general producer, and said that unless the House abolished one-half of the malt tax he did not see that any good would result to the consumer of beer. It was not necessary to take into consideration at present the proportion of the malt tax which might be reduced in a future year. It was sufficient that the Resolution was sound in principle, and on that ground they were justified in supporting it. He believed that in the case of the malt duty, as in the wine duty, and all that class of duties, where there was a considerable reduction in the amount of duty there would be a considerable relief to the consumer, and that there would be a recovery of the revenue. Two years ago his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) whose absence, and particularly the cause of it, the whole House would regret, said, and said truly, that what wine was to the upper classes beer was to the lower, and consequently they had a right to argue by analogy from the effect of the diminution of the wine duties what would be the effect of the diminution of the malt tax. One of the most eminent and able permanent servants of the Crown, Sir Emerson Tennant, had, published an elaborate treatise to show that if the wine duty was reduced the revenue would be permanently reduced; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not deterred by that prediction. In 1860 he reduced the duty, and in that year the 271 total amount of gallons entered for home consumption was 7,272,308, and the amount of duty received was £1,828,998. He would pass over the next year, because the duty was then in a transitory state. The first year the new duties came into full operation the consumption had increased to 9,756,705 gallons, and the duty had fallen to £1,107,420. No doubt that was a most important and serious loss. But in 1864 the consumption had risen to 10,664,250 gallons, and the revenue to £1,233,824, showing an improvement in the revenue to the extent of £125,000 in three years. There was no reason to believe that a similar recovery would not follow a reduction of the duty on malt; à priori there was every reason to say that it would be more immediate and satisfactory. Every gallon of wine had to be produced abroad, and the consumption was liable to fluctuations from caprices in taste and habits; but beer and ale, which were produced at home, were as deeply rooted in the affections of the English people as anything could be. A writer in the first century had described the Britons as a people drinking fermented liquor made from barley, which was not known to any other people in Europe, and the earliest records of Parliament showed that one of its first Acts was to fix the maximum price of beer. There was no reason to doubt that the increased consumption of beer which would follow the reduction of the duty on malt would be greater than most people imagined. He was told that that might be so, but that the increased consumption of beer would decrease the consumption of spirits. He did not believe that in the least, and for the truth of that he would appeal to the figures which had been presented to the House. When the duty on wine was reduced and the consumption increased, did the consumption of beer or spirits fall off? Just the contrary. The duty on spirits during that period had increased about half a million, but the revenue on malt had remained stationary owing to the exorbitant duty. The House should remember this other illustration—that whereas in the first half of the last century the duty on malt varied from 7d. to 2s. 7d., and the population never exceeded 8,000,000, the consumption of malt was quite as large as the consumption during the first sixty years of the present century, when the population had risen to 20,000,000—and why? Because in the interval the malt 272 had been quintupled. This showed that the duty on malt kept down the consumption, and the moment the malt duty was reduced there was every reason to believe that there would be a greatly increased consumption of beer and other articles produced from malt. The right hon. Gentleman had touched on what might be called the geographical or nationality argument. When he (Lord John Manners) first heard the argument he was startled. He had no idea that the principle of nationality had made such way in that House, and that we had to apportion our taxation by geographical considerations. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have been oblivious of geographical considerations in 1860, for he stood confessedly guilty of what he must now deem the great national crime of adding £2,000,000 of taxation on Ireland and Scotland, without imposing one halfpenny of taxation on England. In 1860 the right hon. Gentleman raised the duty on spirits to 10s. per gallon on 20.000,000 gallons, thus imposing the £2,000,000 of additional taxation to which he had referred. He presumed that at that time the light hon. Gentleman was not so impressed with his nationality argument; or perhaps, indeed, that he had not invented it. The right hon. Gentleman had talked about cider, and reminded the House that it was an untaxed drink. But how did that apply to the argument of nationality? There was a duty of 10s. per barrel on cider previous to 1830. It was then abolished, and what was the result? In fifteen years the consumption of cider had exactly doubled itself. Was the right hon. Gentleman, to redress the grievance of Scotland and Ireland and nine-tenths of England, to turn round on the cider counties and impose a duty of 10s. per barrel on cider? Let the House look for a moment into the question of nationality as it affected Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman said that in Scotland ardent spirits were the national drink. It was not a fortunate thing perhaps for Scotland that such was the case. But if spirits were the national drink of the people of Scotland, when and why did they become so? He had no doubt the House would remember the authentic ballad of King Arthur's Court, and the character of the servants he entertained, and the melancholy fate that befel those servants—Usquebaugh burnt the Irishman,The Scot was drowned in ale.273 He apprehended that there was nothing more clear than that at the commencement of the last century beer and ale were not only the drink of Scotch men but of Scotch women. In 1742 the Lord President Duncan Forbes addressed a memorial to the English Government complaining of the melancholy position into which the finances of Scotland had fallen, in which he said—The cause of the mischief we complain of is evidently the excessive use of tea, which is now become so common that the meanest families, even of labouring people, particularly in boroughs, make their morning's meal of it, and therein wholly disuse the ale which heretofore was their accustomed drink, and the same drug supplies all the labouring women with their afternoon's entertainments to the exclusion of the two penny.Why was the twopenny driven out of Scotland? The answer was that it was driven out by tea; but how came it that tea drove it out? The malt tax was imposed in Scotland in 1710, and what was the result? Why, in Glasgow, Leith, and all the great towns of Scotland there was bloodshed, and there arose a resistance of so formidable a character that the Peers of Scotland in London carne together, and proposed a repeal of the Union between the two countries, and they were within an ace of succeeding, as they were only beaten by one vote. Therefore it was quite clear that in twenty years the people had been, against their will, driven to give up the drink they had formerly used, and taken to tea, upon which no duty was imposed until 1723. Therefore it was legislation of a fiscal character that had forced the people of Scotland to give up their old accustomed and popular drink to take refuge first in tea and subsequently in whisky; and, as legislation had done the mischief, Scotland had a fair right to ask that legislation should undo it. A few years ago he was walking in the classic groves of Keir with his hon. Friend the Member for Perthshire, when they came upon some men who were felling trees. He saw among the trees what he took to be an English cask, and, upon inquiring what it was, was informed that it was a cask of beer, which the men had asked to have instead of whisky. This was a most excellent change of taste, and for the sake of Scotland he wished that a great deal more beer was consumed there, Every hon. Member from Scotland ought to support the Motion of his hon. Friend, which might have the effect of substituting for the excessive use of ardent spirits the 274 consumption of a wholesome beverage like beer. Let the House also look at Ireland. The right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary told them the other night that even in spite of the crushing effect of the malt tax, and the deleterious character of the beer supplied, the consumption had so largely increased that during the time he had been in the Irish office about 300 beershops bad been opened in Dublin alone. That showed that the national bent of the Irish people was not exclusively towards spirits, and that if they could get beer they would be glad to consume it. Was there an Irish Member who had at heart the social improvement of the Irish people who would not gladly see the consumption of spirits considerably reduced by the substitution of beer? Then let them hear no more about the question of nationality. That which was good for England was good for Ireland and Scotland, and he sincerely trusted that all who had at heart the social, moral, and political welfare of the people of the three kingdoms would join together and present a firm front in favour of diminishing, and, they might hope, ultimately abolishing the tax, which was unjust in principle, unequal in operation, and productive indirectly of the worst effects in promoting the intemperance of the people. Another argument which he had heard used in the course of these debates was, that so great was the improvement in the beer brewed by the great brewers, and so great were the facilities which railway communication gave for the transmission of beer from the great brewers to different towns and villages, that there would be little recourse to private brewing even if the malt tax were repealed. To a certain extent that was true. Wherever there were large towns and convenient railway communication, it was probable that many of the class who fifty or a hundred years ago brewed would not now do so. But that was not true of many rural districts and places which had yet no railway communication. He was himself acquainted with a district in Shropshire in which, even under the disadvantages of the existing tax, the labouring people had never given up the habit of brewing. In that district every cottage that was built was provided with a proper brewhouse and copper. The farmers were in the habit of offering the labouring man 1s. a week extra, or half a bushel of malt once a month, and every labourer who had a copper chose the malt and rejected the 275 shilling. If in any portion of the country they revived the habit of private brewing they would revive one which tended directly to increase the morality, happiness, and comfort of the labouring people. He would not now enter upon the question of the evil influence exercised by beerhouses upon the population. It was sufficient to say that every man who lived in the country knew that a great proportion of the smaller and a considerable amount of the greater crimes which afflicted the rural districts had its source in the beershop. He did not press that argument, but anything which tended to diminish the resort of the labouring man to the beerhouse did good to himself, to his family, and to the community among which he lived. He had to apologize to the House for having said so much, but on all these grounds of financial justice, of morality, and of increasing the comforts of the poor, he besought them to give a favourable hearing to the modest proposition of his hon. Friend.
§ MR. POLLARD-URQUHART
observed, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had exhorted them not to pass abstract Resolutions; but he would remind the House that the repeal or diminution of the duties on paper, advertisements, and wine had in each case been preceded by a Resolution of that character. There must be a considerable difference of opinion on the subject between the right hon. Gentleman and some of his Colleagues. Some years ago when the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to reduce the duties upon wine, he dwelt with great force upon the adulteration to which wine was subjected. The argument was equally applicable to beer, and if it supplied a good reason for reducing the duty on wine, then it ought to be good for the reduction of the malt duty. He thought that free trade agriculturists had been too long treated on the principle of "Heads, I win, and tails, you lose." He therefore hoped that at the next opportunity the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take their case into consideration and do them justice.
§ MR. NEATE
, who had the following Notice on the paper:—That the owners and occupiers of land, by reason of the immunities from Taxation which they now enjoy, and the comparative lightness of the burdens to which they are subject, are not entitled to any priority of consideration on any review of the Taxation of the Country,said, he had to apologize for not being 276 present to move the Motion of which he had given Notice; but he had been under the impression that the House would not meet till six o'clock. He admitted that he had placed his Notice on the paper as a kind of challenge to the hon. Member for Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), and he regretted that he had not been in his place to make it good. If he had had an opportunity of moving his Resolution, he should have observed that he could not regard the agitation for a repeal of the malt tax in any other light than as one intended for the benefit of the landed interests. It was true that it had been argued as a consumer's question; but he confessed he did not think the party opposite as the quarter where any great anxiety would be felt for the good of the consumer. Now he proposed to show that the agricultural interests enjoyed a great immunity from taxation. The most serious burden upon the land was no doubt tithe; but as to the poor rate, about which so much was said, he did not see how it was more a burden upon land than upon any other property. The agriculturists complained of the exemption of stock-in-trade; but, after all, what good would it do the agriculturists if that exemption were repealed? If there were a National poor rate there might be something in the question; but when the stock-in-trade of a parish was all of the same kind, it could not make any real difference; it would only make the difference between rating half or the whole of each man's property. No doubt land did contribute something, but it did not contribute to the same extent as personal property; and he thought it ought to pay up the arrears which were due from it in consequence of the unjust exemption it had so long enjoyed from the payment of probate duty. The land was in fact in the position of a man that presented a very small account to some one that had a very long account against him. He would do much better not to stir in the matter. One of the great questions that the next Parliament would have to consider would be that of direct as against indirect taxation. Now, the malt tax served as a buffer to shield the land from any attack; but if it were ever removed it would leave it defenceless against inquiry into inequalities from which it now benefited. ["Divide, divide!"] Did hon. Members who were crying out "Divide" really mean to act in the spirit of this Motion when they crossed the House? He believed they did not; and 277 it was unworthy of a great party for mere electioneering purposes to hold out expectations which they never meant to fulfil.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he should vote for the Resolution, although he should not have done so if it had proposed an immediate interference with the revenue With regard to the proposition of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Neate), implying that special exemptions were given to land, exceed in value the special burdens resting thereon, he had to say that whenever that hon. Gentleman should think fit to raise that issue, he (Mr. Newdegate) would be prepared to controvert the proposition. He should vote for the Resolution before the House, not merely with a view to the repeal of the malt tax, but with the intention of recording an opinion, that when ever a revision of taxation might be again considered, whenever there should be a surplus, which would render a reduction of taxation feasible, the subject of the malt tax should be considered not merely with reference to a repeal of the malt tax, but with reference to the position of the agricultural interest and the consumer as affected by the malt tax, and with a view to the adjustment of other taxation to the inequality produced by the malt tax if the malt tax is not repealed. It was for that purpose he gave his vote with the hon. Member for the North Riding in order to mark his sense of the injustice that would be done unless the incidence of the malt tax were considered in any future adjustment of taxation.
§ Question put, "That the words pro posed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 166; Noes 118: Majority 48.