§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ MR. ROEBUCK
moved, as an Amendment, that the Bill be re-committed with the view of introducing into it Amendments for the purpose of relaxing the 654 conditions which it imposed on brewers in respect of the collection of the licence duty, and which they said hampered them in the process of manufacture to a more serious extent than was the case in any other trade. He had no wish, he said, in making the Motion to embarrass the Government by stopping the progress of the Bill, and he should be satisfied if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would hold out some hope that he would propose a relaxation of the regulations to which he referred.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out from the words "Bill be" to the end of the Question, in order to add the word "re-committed,"—(Mr. Roebuck,)—instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he had no wish whatever to complain of the course which the hon. and learned Gentleman had taken; at the same time, if it were carried out, it would place the Government at this moment in a somewhat embarrassing position. If the Bill were re-committed they would then have to go into the restrictions which were contained in the Bill as it stood. He did not understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman proposed to repeal the brewers' licence duty, but to take off some of the regulations and restrictions which, according to his view, were imposed for the purpose of enforcing that duty. But these regulations were not imposed for that purpose; and even if the licence duty were out of the question, most, if not the whole, of these restrictions would have to be enforced and continued. The object of the hon. and learned Gentleman was not, as he understood it, to embarrass the proceedings of the House at this stage of the Bill, but rather to call attention to the matter, and to obtain some information upon it. The objections of the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to be two-fold. He objected, first, that the licence duty was a tax of a peculiar character, that it fell upon the brewing interest in a manner in which no other interest was taxed, and that therefore it was not fair, and ought to be taken off. His next objection was that the tax was not only peculiar, but that it was quite dissimilar to that borne 655 by any other manufacturer, and that it was of a singularly vexatious character, inasmuch as it imposed restrictions which hampered the trade. With regard to the first of these objections, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) freely admitted that the tax was undoubtedly one of a somewhat peculiar character. At the same time, he did not think it was quite fair to compare it with a tax which might possibly be imagined as being placed upon other classes of manufactures. For instance, they could not tax a cotton manufacturer in the same way. They did not tax the product calico, but they did tax the product beer. Something must be taxed, and so long as that were the case there must be exceptions. In former times they taxed not the beer itself, but the ingredients of the beer, by the malt tax and the hop duty. Subsequently the hop duty was removed, and the brewers' licence was—he would not say imposed, because there was a brewers' licence before—but altered and increased, and put on a different footing. There was, no doubt, something to be said on the side of the brewers with respect to the additional burden imposed upon them at that period, though he did not think their case was so strong as they seemed to think. It might be argued that, as the revenue was more prosperous now than it was in 1862, the duty ought now to be repealed at the expense of the revenue. In his Budget speech he said he considered the brewers had some ground of complaint. But he would not enter into any of the differences of opinion which prevailed upon the question on this occasion. He was quite ready to consider the matter over again at any time if it were desired, and that without prejudice to any parties, but this was not a convenient or proper time for doing it. The hon. and learned Gentleman's second point was that the regulations which were occasioned by the necessity of collecting this duty were annoying to the brewers. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did not deny that the brewers were subject, as all persons who were carrying on any trade affected by the Excise must be, to regulations and restrictions which were annoying. That could not be helped. The main object of the regulations, however, was not to protect the brewers' licence duty, but the malt duty. The aim was to prevent 656 fraud, and to secure an equivalent duty on the large quantity of sugar used in brewing, which but for these regulations could not be ascertained. The sugar disappeared entirely in the process of manufacture, and as it might be possible for a large quantity to be used without detection, it was necessary that the Excise officers should have the power at all times of making inspection. In the case of malt, the quantity could be ascertained by the amount of the grain. Another object of the regulations was to prevent the use of adulterating substances. When, a short time ago, a deputation of brewers waited upon him upon the subject, he asked them whether they could suggest any improvement in the mode of carrying on the business, and they did not seem prepared with a reply, but they objected to the hardship of being responsible for what might be accidental carelessness on the part of their servants. There was no desire whatever to press unfairly or severely upon the brewing trade, but merely to protect the revenue. He hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would be satisfied with having called attention to the subject. It would be a difficult position to be placed in if, at the last stage of the Budget arrangements, the House were suddenly thrown back and obliged to revise the whole of their proceedings, and it would be impossible to take off these restrictions or regulations unless they entirely recast the whole of their financial measures.
MR. M. T. BASS
remarked that when the right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone), in 1862, proposed the brewers' licence duty as a substitute for the hop duty, that right hon. Gentleman repeatedly declared that it would be most unjust were the public brewers to be subject to that impost while the private brewers were exempt. That injustice, however, now existed, and had been in no way redressed. So far from the brewers being compensated by a reduction in the price of hops, as the right hon. Member for Greenwich anticipated that they would, they had actually paid more than an addition of 20 per cent on the price of hops since the licence duty was imposed. The duty on wine was reduced from 5s. 6d. to 1s., yet the right hon. Gentleman did not increase the duty on wine licences. There had been a reduction in the duty on brandy, 657 yet the licence duty was unaltered. As to the suggestion that the brewers might recoup themselves from their customers, it was practically impossible. How could they divide 3d. among 36 gallons? That tax was a gross injustice inflicted on a particular trade on account of the prejudice entertained against those who pursued it. He (Mr. Bass) had conversed with many Members of Parliament on the subject, and they were of opinion that the imposition of nearly £500,000 a-year upon brewers of beer was a most unjust tax. He had to pay £750 every day for malt duty, yet the right hon. Gentleman, not satisfied with that, imposed a tax upon every barrel of beer, which now subjected him to an imposition of£14,000a-year. When the right hon. Gentleman was freed from the trammels which in some measure bound him to the acts of his Predecessors, he would see that his high character required him to remedy that injustice.
§ MR. ONSLOW
said, that having taken much interest in this matter, he would beg to offer a few remarks. In his opinion, beer was a necessary of life to an Englishman, and it seemed to him that the Government might just as well send the Exciseman into the butcher's shop to demand what number of calves, sheep, &c., he killed; or into the baker's shop, to ascertain what number of loaves he put into his oven, as into the cellars of the dealers in beer to discover what quantity of that necessary beverage they were supplied with. At the same time, it would be utterly impossible for the Government now to introduce a fresh Budget. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was sure, took a great interest in that subject; and if between this financial year and the beginning of the next another deputation waited upon him, no doubt the right hon. Gentleman would give the matter that consideration which the importance of the subject demanded. He hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Roebuck) would not, at the present time, press his Motion to a division.
§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN
said, he hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield would not withdraw his Motion, unless he obtained an explicit promise from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he would render justice in 658 this matter. He objected to exacting a licence duty from anyone carrying on a lawful trade. Were the Government, or were they not, in favour of taxing a man's right to earn his living? If the manufacture of beer was not necessary, why let it be put down; but, if necessary, why should the beer manufacturer have to pay for the right of manufacture, when no other manufacturer was taxed by licence? He hoped the hon. and learned Member would persist in his Motion.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
felt that it would be better for the interests of the brewing trade that he should not at present go to a division; and he accepted the Chancellor of the Exchequer's explanation as a good omen for the future.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.