HC Deb 16 May 1879 vol 246 cc616-44

, in rising to call attention to Brewers' Licences; and to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the nature and incidence of the Tax upon Brewers' Licences, said: Sir, although it may seem rather a paradoxical statement, I feel that the task which I have undertaken to-night is, at the same time, easy and difficult. It is easy, because I have a good cause and a strong case. It is difficult, because in these days, when public attention is concentrated upon foreign policy and Colonial difficulties, it is not without an effort that the mind of Parliament can be brought to turn itself to the more prosaic subject of the details of home taxation. Moreover, Sir, the difficulty is increased by the fact that no immediate remission can be expected, even if I prove to demonstration my case against the tax of which I complain to-night. No remission of taxation can be expected, under ordinary circumstances, without a surplus. To such a luxury the Chancellor of the Exchequer has long been a stranger; and I fear that, unless and until, happily for him, there should occur an interregnum of Liberal Government, it will be long indeed before he has another surplus to distribute. But, properly considered, this circumstance rather strengthens my position. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer possessed a surplus, he would be puzzled and embarrassed between the rival claimants upon his bounty. As it is, the prospect of such a state of things being remote, his mind, and the minds of other men, are in a state of calm impartiality, which renders the moment peculiarly opportune for a full and fair inquiry into the case of any particular I interest which complains of undue taxation. And therefore, Sir, I ask for a Committee, to inquire into the nature and incidence of the tax upon brewers' licences. And here, Sir, I pause for a moment to sweep away, if I can, a prejudice by which I am encountered upon the very threshold of my argument. Brewers are popularly believed to be a wealthy class, well able to endure taxation. In fact, it is a common opinion that, in these bad times, the three b's—the brewers, the bankers, and the butchers—are the only bees who have any honey left in their hives; and the brewers have certainly not obtained much sympathy from the public. But I venture to say that this arises entirely from a want of knowledge of the true facts of the case. The truth is that when we in this House speak of brewers, our thoughts instinctively turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. M. T. Bass). Well, Sir, if all brewers were in the position of my hon. Friend, they would probably be rather the objects of envy than of commiseration. By the exercise, from a very early period of life, of a skill, energy, and perseverance rarely equalled in the history of mercantile enterprize, my hon. Friend has, no doubt, acquired a high financial, as well as a high commercial, position, and this I am sure no one will grudge him who knows, as I know, the kindly qualities of his heart, and the sterling worth of his character. But you must not take my hon. Friend, nor must you take the half-dozen representatives of great brewing companies who sit in this House, as fair samples of the brewers upon whom falls the pressure of this tax. On the contrary, I put this forward in the very front of my argument, that the tendency and effect of this particular taxation is rather to create and foster a monopoly in the hands of a few great and prosperous houses, and to drive out of the trade their smaller competitors, who, in the interest of the public, should be allowed to exist. And if you point to my hon. Friend and say—look how flourishing he appears to be—is this the man whom you seek to relieve from taxation? I answer you with the fact that 12 years ago my hon. Friend was one of nearly 38,000 brewers in the United Kingdom, and that to-day he is one of less than 24,000; the fact being that during the last 12 years more than 1,000 brewers per annum have been driven out of the trade, mainly owing to the injurious pressure of the exceptional taxation to which they are subjected. And let me respectfully remind the House that it is no answer to this statement to say, as was said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the course of a former debate upon this subject, that before the imposition of this tax in 1862 the number of brewers throughout the country had been on the decline. That argument, if it is worth anything at all, may show that even before 1862 the disadvantages under which the trade laboured were already so great as to drive men out of it; but surely, to a logical mind, this can be no valid reason for greatly adding to those disadvantages. It is an indisputable fact, take it as you will, that since the establishment of the present system of brewers' licences, the number of brewers has decreased far more rapidly than was previously the case, and that, according to present appearances, things are working to this result—that in a few years the brewing trade will be a gigantic monopoly in the hands of a few great houses. There are those who know this well, and there are some persons connected with these great houses who know it so well, that they do not wish success to our movement against this tax, because, if successful, it will militate against the creation of a monopoly which will greatly benefit themselves. But I ask hon. Gentlemen who are the champions of free competition in this House, whether they are prepared to acquiesce in the present system, and thus to assist in creating a monopoly in one large trade; and I ask those who are the champions of temperance, whether they think that the cause of temperance will be promoted by giving to this branch of the drinking trade such enormous power for action upon the Legislature as would undoubtedly be given to it by its concentration in the hands of a few individuals? And let me here say one other word to the champions of temperance. I am as much an advocate of temperance as any man in the House, although I utterly decline to believe that the cause of temperance can be advanced by unnatural and galling restrictions. But I want to put this to my hon. Friends—that the drinking of spirits is worse for man than the drinking of beer, and that if they desire men to abstain from the one, they should not look with disfavour upon the trade which supplies them with the other. You cannot abolish the trade of a brewer; if you wish to do so, and think you can succeed, make your proposal boldly. But if the trade of brewing is to continue a legitimate trade, you will gain none of your objects by supporting a tax which is gradually making it a monopoly. This trade has a right to be treated as justly and as fairly as any other trade; and to drive out of it all but the larger traders will not cause one pint of beer less to be drunk in the country, will not promote the cause of temperance in the smallest degree, but will simply deprive the public of the advantages which they obtain in all cases from free and fair trade competition. Let me prove this from the last Return presented to the House on the subject. The total number of brewers in 1877 was 24,747; in 1878, 23,626: decrease, 1,121. Of these, the number of brewers who brewed over 50,000 barrels was, in 1877, 72; 1878, 73: increase, 1. So that the larger brewers held their own. But the number of brewers who brewed less than 1,000 barrels was, in 1877, 19,682; 1878, 18,678: decrease, 1,004; clearly showing that the diminution in numbers comes from the small traders, and that it is continuously going on. [Laughter.] I see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer laughs at this statement; but, whatever be the cause of the declension in the number of small brewers, I cannot think it a subject to be treated with levity, or that it can be a salutary state of things which thus forces men to abandon a legitimate trade at the rate of over 1,000 barrels per annum. And now, Sir, as I am most desirous not to occupy the time of the House for one moment longer than I can help, I do not propose to enter upon any long and minute history of the tax upon brewers' licences, nor to show how the brewers are called upon to bear at once the old duty of 4d. per 1b. of hops, the new duty of an additional 1d., and the 5 per cent added in 1840 and never taken off. I will simply take up the question from the period of 1862, when the present system was established. And if I can show—first, that the arguments then used to justify the imposition of this tax have all been contradicted by the experience of time; and secondly, which is more important still, if I can show that the tax in itself is vicious in principle, unjust, irritating, and contrary to every principle of sound and fair taxation, then, Sir, I think I shall have gone far to prove that there is good reason at least for the inquiry which I have to demand to-night. In order to prove my first proposition, I must refer to the Financial Statement of my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich, in which he dealt with this question and imposed this tax. My right hon. Friend was about to abolish the hop duty, and he proposed this tax on brewers' licences as a kind of substitute. I think he fell into some slight error in believing that the brewers had been the promoters of the agitation for the repeal of the hop duty. That was not so. The agitation was a bonâ fide, agitation on the part of the hop-growers, quorum pars parva fui, and the brewers had but little to do with it, although they may have sympathized to some extent with an object so thoroughly legitimate. But, be this as it may, after announcing his intended boon to the hop-growers, my right hon. Friend turned his attention to the anomalous state of the then existing scale of charges for brewers' licences. He said that— The charge is arranged on an ascending scale … which, on the slightest inspection, will he seen to he eminently burdensome to the small tradesmen, and in favour, I must say, beyond all bounds of the larger. He pointed out that if a brewer brewed less than 20 barrels he paid 10s. 6d. for his licence, or 6¼d. per barrel; if he brewed 50 barrels, he paid £1 1s., or 5¼d. per barrel; if he brewed 1,000 barrels, he paid £2 2s., or ½d. per barrel; whereas, if he brewed 80,000 barrels, it worked out at ¼d. per barrel. And he said that this was "a state of things which in common justness and fairness warranted an alteration." Now, the proposal of my right hon. Friend was— To re-adjust the scale of the brewers' licences on the principle of including in them generally an equivalent, or nearly an equivalent, to the charge in respect to the present hop duty from which they will he released."—[3 Hansard, clxvi. 479.] He said— Threepence in the form of hop duty is the minimum which the brewer now pays as an ele- ment in the price of his hops, and that minimum we propose to charge in the shape of licence duty."—[Ibid. 480.] This was his calculation—A duty of 3d. represented 2 1bs. of hops, and 2 lbs. of hops, used with 2 bushels of malt, represented a barrel of beer containing 36 gallons. The duty thus imposed, then, was 3d. per barrel, or equal to 1s. per quarter upon the malt used. But it unfortunately turns out that although it was estimated in 1862, and the Excise still estimate, that every quarter of malt will produce four barrels of beer, and exacts the tax in accordance with this estimate, experience proves the estimate to be wholly fallacious. Now, as one example is as good as 100 in a case such as this, I will quote one in order to show how erroneous this estimate was, and how the trade has suffered in consequence. A firm of brewers in London consumed last year 193,416 quarters of malt, which was estimated to produce 773,669 barrels of beer, and the duty paid was £9,671 5s.; but the quantity of liquor in reality made was only 613,310 barrels; so that a tax of 3d. per barrel was paid upon 160,357 barrels which wore never made, and the firm thus paid £2,004 9s. 3d. upon an article which was not produced. And in different amounts this has, of course, been the case throughout the whole Kingdom. Therefore, the main calculation, and one of the main arguments upon which my right hon. Friend founded his justification of this tax, has proved to be fallacious, and affords no justification at all. Again, my right hon. Friend stated as another reason why this tax would not press unfairly on the brewers that they would benefit by a lower price of hops. He said— No doubt, the brewers will obtain, though not, perhaps, at the very moment, the whole further benefit of the reduction of the hop duty which we now propose."—[Ibid.] What has been the fact? I find from the books of one large brewing firm this record—that for the seven years from 1856 to 1862 inclusive, the average price which they paid for their hops was £5 10s. 11¾d. per cwt; whilst for the 16 years which have elapsed since the repeal of the hop duties, the average price which they have paid has been £5 15s.d.—including last year, when the mould affected a large acreage of hops, and the price only averaged from£3 10s.to£3 15s. —so that instead of the brewer recouping himself for the licence duty by the lower price which he has had to pay for his hops, it has been rather the other way, and the justification of this tax also falls to the ground. Therefore, I think I need not go further to prove my first point—namely, that the arguments by which the imposition of this tax was justified have been contradicted by the experience of time. Now, to summarize—1st, the estimate of the yield of the article upon which the tax was based has been shown to be erroneous; 2nd, instead of being an equivalent for the minimum of hop duty previously paid, it has been much more than an equivalent; 3rd, the brewers have not received the benefits prophesied for them at the time of the repeal of the hop duties in the shape of the lower price of hops. And I may further add that the intention of my right hon. Friend having evidently been to assist the smaller brewers in their competition with the great houses, that benevolent intention has been entirely frustrated, and the last state of those men has proved to be worse than the first. I acknowledge, indeed, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did attempt to relieve them, in 1875, by the substitution of a 12s. 6d. tax per 50 barrels in lieu of the former sliding scale; but the boon was small after all, and the £60,000 lost to the Revenue was not given to the small brewers only, but was shared by their larger brethren. But I have now to show what are the specific and grave objections to this tax as a tax, and what are the special grievances of those whom I represent. I have gone very carefully into this subject, and I find eight principal and separate objections which can be urged against this tax. The first of these is, that it is an exceptional tax to which no other trade is subject. Other licence taxes are entirely different. I will not use my own arguments here. I will take my powder out of the enemy's magazine, and quote the words of my hon. Friend the present Secretary to the Treasury upon this point, in 1873, when he had charge of this question. He said— When the wine duty was reduced from 5s. 6d. to 1s., no equivalent duty was placed on the wine merchant. A wine merchant who desired to import or sell a cask of wine paid 10 guineas, and he paid no more whatever number of casks he sold or imported. A distiller, who was more akin to the brewer, paid a double duty —namely, 10 guineas for his licence and 10 guineas for the privilege of rectifying. That was a fixed tax, and enabled him to deal with any quantity."—[3 Hansard, ccxv. 907–8.] I quote, moreover, the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich in that same debate, when, after saying that the peculiar hardship alleged in regard to this tax was that it was based on conditions "such as were imposed on no other trade or calling," he went on to say— He admitted that there was no case analogous to the brewer's licence."—[Ibid. 911.] I go no further at this moment than to object to this tax as exceptional, and I say that this first objection cannot be denied, and is, of itself, condemnatory of the tax. The second objection is, that this tax is not what it pretends to be—a licence duty. It is, in reality, an additional 1s. upon the malt tax of 21s. 8d. per quarter, which the brewer pays besides—a most exorbitant tax, indeed, when the price of his barley is 31s. per quarter. This tax fulfils none of the usual conditions of a licence duty. A licence duty confers a monopoly of the sale of the article for the right of selling which the duty is paid. So, in the case of distilleries, no private stills are allowed; and, moreover, I may remark, the duty is only payable when the spirit is withdrawn for sale. But, in this instance, mark the difference—the public brewer, who brews to get his living, is taxed; the private brewer, who brews for his convenience, is untaxed. Put it in other words. The brewer who exchanges the article which he produces for money is taxed. the brewer who exchanges the article he produces for the labour of his servants, or who produces it to save himself the greater expense or trouble of buying it, is left untaxed. And who are the private brewers whom you thus favour in your taxation? Not poor men, but men possessed of wealth and owning large establishments; so that you have the rich lord brewing without being taxed, whilst the struggling brewer in his village is weighted with taxation. The injustice is so palpable that it was admitted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich in 1862, when he actually proposed a licence for private brewers—save such as were farmers or of the labouring class—which he had to withdraw in consequence of the opposi- tion it encountered. I know it is said that the number of private brewers has not increased since 1862; if the contrary were the case, the hardship upon the brewing trade would, of course, be aggravated; but the fact does not remove the manifest injustice of the present system. The third objection to the tax is, that it is a second Income Tax, and one of a most unfair character, inasmuch as it is a tax upon the capital of the brewer before he begins his operations; and not only not a tax upon profits, but a tax totally irrespective of profits altogether. The brewers have to pay six months in advance, and if the brewing is spoiled, and is unsaleable, they have to pay just the same—or, rather, they have paid before they have got one sixpence of return for their outlay, and this totally irrespective of profit and loss. There is no deduction for bad debts; there is no consideration whatever of the result of the operation of brewing. An arbitary estimate of the quantity of liquor to be produced by the quantity of ingredients used is made—that estimate I have already shown to be fallacious, yet the tax is based thereupon—and the brewer has to pay this second Income Tax upon an income which he has not made, and which he often never makes. And then, as if this was not enough, the Income Tax collector comes, and he is assessed to the Income Tax upon the fallacious estimate of profits established by the Excise, and thus doubly robbed. Can anything be more iniquitous? The fourth objection is, that it is a most inconvenient tax, and imposes great restrictions upon a legitimate trade. The brewer has to give 24 hours' notice before brewing, and two hours' notice of ingredients intended to be used; neither of these notices can be altered. He has also to provide special rooms for sugar and malt. His mash tuns can only be filled at specified times, and emptied after Excise inspection. If, after giving his first notice, an order comes which requires a greater quantity of malt, he must give a fresh 24 hours' notice. If an order is countermanded, so that he requires less malt, he has still to pay the full duty on the quantity for which he had first given notice. Other notices are required, and, in a word, the brewer lives under the supervision of the Exciseman, and really works in fetters as no other tradesman does in this country.

And these inconveniences do not fall so much upon the great brewer who has a large staff of servants and brews constantly, as upon the small man who only brews occasionally, and who is worried to death and gradually driven out of the trade by the vexations and difficulties by which he is surrounded. It has been stated to me to-day that, in many cases, these restrictions are not now in practice enforced. But surely, if that is the truth, it strengthens my case for an inquiry whether rules which are found too oppressive to be put in force cannot be done away with altogether. The fifth objection is, that the tax is surrounded by penalties enough to frighten any honest trader out of his senses. The alteration of an entry by a careless or dishonest servant, a trifling accident, or the spite of an Exciseman, all expose the brewer to penalties which cannot but be oppressive and injurious. I hold in my hand a list of these penalties with which I will not trouble the House; but it will be easily seen that they are such as greatly to annoy the brewer and impede his trade. The present system, indeed, bristles with penalties with which a legitimate trade ought not to be hampered.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


, continuing, said: This is a small interruption; let us hope we shall not have a "bigger" one. My next two objections are of a somewhat different character, and I do not urge them as being so certain and unanswerable as those which I have already urged. They are, however, objections which have been brought under my notice by persons acquainted with the trade, and I think it right to include them among the eight prominent objections to the tax. One of these, which I will take as the sixth objection, is that this tax directly clashes with the malt tax, because there is a temptation to evade the tax by reducing the quantity of malt used and substituting other ingredients. The duty being nearly 5 per cent addition to the malt tax, by reducing the strength of the beer 5 per cent, 5 per cent less malt is used, and 5 per cent less malt duty paid; in which case, the total amount of Revenue collected would not be increased, the amount of licence duty being practically so much deducted from the amount of malt tax. It is much as if you were to put a tax upon all the gas consumed, and then to put a tax upon every gas-burner; surely the one tax would militate against the other. The seventh objection is the temptation which the tax offers the dishonest trader to adulterate and deteriorate the liquor. I touch upon this subject with great tenderness and delicacy, and I believe the great majority of brewers are too honest and too anxious to give good liquor to their customers to be tempted. Bat I am told, though I can scarcely credit it, that an eminent statesman once advised the brewers that, if this tax pressed heavily upon them, they could recoup themselves from the New River, and if this plan were adopted, an artificial fulness might probably be given to the beer by the use of other ingredients than malt. I make the objection for what it is worth, and I leave the House to follow out the suggestion and judge for themselves whether or no the temptation is not held out by the tax. The eighth objection is, undoubtedly, valid—namely, that the tax is unfair to the brewer in his competition with the lighter wines, with cider and with perry. Since 1862 there has been a great reduction in the duty on all kinds of wine; on champagne, for instance, I am told as much as 80 per cent. So the rich get their beverages much cheaper, whilst this tax is aimed at the beverage of the working classes. Is cider—is perry—more wholesome than beer? Why should both be untaxed and the national liquor be thus persecuted by taxation? The fact is, Sir, that this is a tax for general purposes imposed upon one particular class of the community. Why should it be so imposed? Is it because this class is supposed to be wealthy? Then why do you not attempt to tax bankers as well? Is it because you think it will check drinking? Then why not tax, in a similar manner, the wine merchant and the sellers of cider and perry? The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a Devonshire man; the taxation of cider would come home to him, and he sees the objection. Then let him sympathize with me, as a man of Kent, who objects to the taxation of beer, the national beverage of his county. The brewers claim no exceptional privilege, but they protest against an exceptional burden. They supply the public with that which is really to many one of the necessaries of life. They supply the national beverage. It is for the interest of the people that this beverage should be pure and good, and that its supply should not be in the hands of a few persons only, but the fair subject of trade competition. Sir, I am not going into the question of whether this tax falls on the brewer only, or whether the consumer shares it; I am not going to overburden my case with other arguments, for I think I have said enough to condemn the tax against which I protest. I do not know what course the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take. He informed mo, indeed, the other day, that he should certainly oppose my Motion; but he is a Gentleman of an amiable, I had almost said of a pliant disposition, and I am not without hopes that he may have been convinced by the strength of the case, which even so poor an advocate as I am have been able to present to the House, and that he will be induced to grant the inquiry to which, at least, I think my clients are entitled. It would have been easy for mo to go into greater details as to the operation of this tax, in order to illustrate its unfair pressure upon those whom I represent to-night. But I have purposely abstained from doing so—first, because I have been anxious to avoid unnecessarily occupying the time of the House; and, secondly, because to investigate and criticize those details will be precisely the work of that Committee which I ask the House to appoint. My clients come before you to-night with a very humble request. They say—"We are a recognized and legitimate trade; if there are those who think we ought not to be so, let them come forward boldly and propose to Parliament that we shall be suppressed and our trade abolished. But if we are to continue to be legitimate and recognized, do not inflict upon us an unjust and exceptional burden to which no other trade is subjected. We ask you to inquire whether or no this is a fair description of the burden against which we protest. If we fail to prove that it is so before a Committee of the House of Commons, our agitation is ended, and we will for the future submit to your taxation without a murmur. But, if we can prove our case, then we only ask you to remember our claim to remission, whenever remission shall be possible. For we are satisfied that when we shall have been allowed to show to Parliament and to the public, by unimpeachable evidence, the gravity of the injustice under which we labour, the removal of that injustice can only be a question of time, and that removal will at once commend itself to the fair and equitable spirit in which Parliament ever seeks to distribute the burden of taxation over the whole body of the taxpayers of the country, as well as to the general wisdom and justice of the House of Commons." To that wisdom and justice, Sir, I make my confident appeal, and I now beg to move for the Select Committee which I have given Notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the nature and incidence of the Tax upon Brewers' Licences,"—(Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed be left out stand part of the Question."


said, it was impossible to deny the ability or the moderation of the speech to which they had just listened, and he was prepared to admit that there had been many points which his right hon. Friend (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had brought before the House which, although he could not say they were very new, had been exceedingly well stated. He had been a little disappointed, however, at finding that nothing had been advanced by his right hon. Friend which had not, in one form or another, been already brought to their notice on former occasions; and he must also say that he failed to see the close connection between the speech of his right hon. Friend and the conclusion to which he wished to bring the House. His right hon. Friend's argument was one which went directly to the abolition of the brewers' licence duty; but he did not ask the House to pledge itself to that conclusion. He asked for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into—it did not clearly appear what. There were one or two observations he wished to make upon the opening remarks of his right hon. Friend; and more especially was he anxious to asso- ciate himself with him in some of the remarks which he had thought necessary to clear away all prejudice, which he was quite satisfied did not, and certainly ought not, to exist. His right hon. Friend began by saying that the difficulty, or one of the great difficulties, under which those who advocated the cause of the brewers laboured, was this—that the brewers were popularly supposed to be a wealthy class, and there was very little sympathy with them on that account. He would say now, what he had said before, that, in the first place, he did not believe the brewers, as a body, were a wealthy class. There were, no doubt, a certain number who were very wealthy men; but there was no doubt, also, that there was a large body of highly respectable men who were carrying on a business of an important character in a most thoroughly honourable way—men of small capital, who were in every way respectable, and who were struggling under considerable difficulties. He fully admitted the extent of those difficulties, and he sympathized with those who had to encounter them; but, at the same time, he must point out that this was not the first time that attention had been called to the fact that the number of small brewers was steadily decreasing. But he entirely disputed the assumption of Ids right hon. Friend, when he said that the reason why they were decreasing was on account of this burden. There was really not the slightest ground for that assumption; and when his right hon. Friend made that observation, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) could not refrain from expressing his amusement at it. He could assure the House that it was not because he treated it as a matter of levity that there should be a diminution in that class of persons, but because he thought the argument that it was the result of this licence tax was too transparently fallacious to be allowed to pass without challenge. There were one or two considerations which would show what a fallacy there was in these arguments. In the first place, the diminution in the number of the small brewers had been going on for years, and was not the result of the imposition of the licence tax in 1862. For 10 or 15 years before that tax was imposed, a very steady diminution had been going on in the number of brewers, and, of course, in the number of the smaller brewers. But anybody who gave himself the trouble to think of the matter would see that as society advanced, and as capital was invested more and more in great businesses, and as the means of communication increased, the advantage in favour of the great capitalists, who sent their products all over the country, would become increasingly great. This was shown in many other businesses besides brewing. There was another, and an analogous business—that of the maltster. The maltster was not affected by the licence duty. It had nothing to do with him; but yet it had been the case that there had been a considerable diminution in the number of maltsters since 1862. In 1862 the number of maltsters was 6,500, and in 1878 it was 4,200. This was a very large decrease, and was, no doubt, clue to the same class of causes as those which had operated in the case of the smaller brewers. There was also this consideration, which must be borne in mind. The large brewer, spreading his profits over several years, could afford to stand one or two bad years and recoup himself in good years. The smaller brewer was not able to do that, and a single bad year had an effect upon him which it had not upon the larger brewer. Besides this, there had been legislative changes, to which no allusion had been made by his right hon. Friend, which had had some effect upon the small brewer. In former times, there were long malt credits, and long hop credits. They were of advantage to the small brewer; but they had now been abolished, and the case of the small brewer was worse in consequence of the legislation of recent years. Indeed, his right hon. Friend admitted that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), within the last year or two, had done what he could, to diminish the disadvantages in which the small brewers were placed, so far as legislation bore co-relatively on one or the other; and if any other particular could be pointed out in which the position of the small brewer could be improved, it would be his duty to advance still further in the direction of endeavouring to improve it. They were told that the small brewer was injured and driven out of the business by this peculiarly unjust tax, which was exacted from him, but which was not levied upon the private brewer. As his right hon. Friend said, the tax was falsely called a licence duty, because it did not not fall upon the private brewer. In theory, there could be no doubt that the arrangement of taxation seemed to give an advantage to private brewers; but if that were actually the case in practice, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) supposed they must assume that if there were no causes in operation which reduced the number of small brewers except this tax, and if the private brewer was exempt from the tax, as he was, it would follow that the number of private brewers ought to increase. If the licence duty was so injurious, and if the private brewers were not subjected to it, they had an advantage, and one would suppose that they would increase. But, in point of fact, the number of private brewers had not increased. Everybody knew that, although there were still a certain number of great houses in which private brewing was maintained, and in which it would probably be maintained under any circumstances, yet, in point of fact, a large number of private families were now abandoning the habit of private brewing, and were going to the great brewers to supply them, and that was in accordance with the natural law which induced them to go where the practice and the large capital employed gave them advantage. Under all these circumstances, they might set aside, at all events, the argument that the effect of this tax was to destroy and to injure the small brewers to the advantage of the larger brewers. He did not believe that that was the case. It might be said that the small brewers, and the large brewers also, were subject to certain restrictions in connection with the tax, and that it would be a good thing for them to get rid of it. He did not for a moment deny that. Of course, it would be a good thing for anybody subject to the Income Tax and the restrictions connected with the Excise to get rid of such burdens altogether. But it was not possible to deal with taxes in that way. They could not take a single tax, and say that they would subject it to examination, and see if it imposed difficulties and inconveniences upon anybody, and if they found that it did, say then, "Let us get rid of that tax." If they did that, there would be no taxes left, for he would undertake to say that some- thing might be said in regard to every one of them. His right hon. Friend certainly made a point, when he declared that it was not reasonable to call this a licensing tax, it being, in fact, a mere addition to the malt duty. Now, let them look at the matter in that point of view. What was the casein 1862? Up to 1862 it had been the policy of the Government to levy duties upon various intoxicating liquors. Duties were levied on spirits, on wine, and on beer, but in a different form. In old times, they used to have a duty upon beer itself. That was done away with, because it was found intolerably vexatious, and they were left with the malt tax and a tax upon hops. Those were two taxes which fell upon the materials from which beer was made. In 1862, the duty on hops was repealed; and, at the same time, an addition was made really and truly to the tax upon malt, but it was made in the form of a licence duty on the brewers who used and brewed the malt. Malt used for other purposes than brewing was not affected by that addition, and malt used by private houses in brewing was also exempt from it. Therefore, his right hon. Friend was right when he said it was something of a misnomer to call this a licence duty, because it was not imposed in connection with a privilege, but fell upon a certain class engaged in brewing. But what were they to do in order to get rid of this anomaly. If they were in the happy condition of being able to remit this taxation and sacrifice the duty, it would have to be considered in connection with other claims which would be made in other quarters; and, probably, when they came to deal with matters of that kind, a good many questions would arise as to the relative taxation upon various articles which came into competition with beer, and the taxes which fell upon other industries. That, however, was not a matter which at the present moment was before them. His right hon. Friend did not ask them to take off the tax now; but he took refuge in proposing a Committee, which Committee, so far as he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) could see, had nothing whatever to inquire into, because all the facts were known; besides which, the Committee might lead to a certain amount of misconception and other inconveniences, and, after all, would not point out what his right hon. Friend wished to bring the House to—namely, a means of getting rid of the tax. If they could not afford to get rid of the tax, could they see their way to commute it, so as to obtain the same amount of Revenue in a less inconvenient manner? In that respect, his right hon. Friend had not given them as much information as he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) hoped they might have been furnished with. It was obvious that there were two ways open to them by which they might reduce the tax to a nominal amount without any sacrifice of Revenue. One of them would be by an addition to the malt duty. By adding something like 5 per cent to the duty on malt, without any sacrifice of Revenue, they would be able to obtain the same amount of Revenue and abolish the licence duty. His right hon. Friend did not say he would recommend that; but it was an important question on which they ought to have some information. If they were not to add to the malt tax, there was another way in which the difficulty might be met, and that was by getting rid of the licence duty, and probably the malt duty itself, and substituting for them a simple beer duty. Did his right hon. Friend recommend the adoption of that course, or was the Committee to go into the question whether it would be possible and desirable to substitute a beer duty? He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) thought that would be a very large proposition; and if it were in the contemplation of his right hon. Friend that the Committee should go into such matters as that, he ought to enlarge the scope of his Order of Reference, and give the House some of his arguments on that subject. A beer duty was one of which, in former times, the country had some experience, and upon which a good deal of information could be obtained from the shelves of the Library. It would, therefore, be interesting to know whether the recommendation which his right hon. Friend wished the Committee to consider was the abolition of the malt tax and the substitution of a beer duty. But if he understood his right hon. Friend to ask the Government neither to sacrifice the Revenue, nor to make an addition to the malt tax, nor to consider the substitution of a beer tax for the malt tax, then, he would ask, what were the particular objects his right hon. Friend proposed to gain by his inquiry? They had been told that the system of licences at present involved arrangements which were inconvenient to the trade; that there were too many notices required, and too many arrangements as to separate rooms; that the trade was subject to vexatious penalties; that a careless or malicious servant might expose his master to serious evils; and other matters of that kind. No doubt, it was most desirable that there should be frequent, or, at all events, occasional examinations of the manner in which the duties were raised, in order to see that no unnecessary vexation was imposed on the subject in reference to these duties. He felt very strongly that it was quite possible that, through the want of that periodical revision of obsolete rules which was really necessary for the convenience of the public, needless restrictions were sometimes forced upon those who were carrying on a business which was subject to the Excise. It seemed to be thought that if they got rid of this licence duty, they would get rid of the necessity of all these restrictions, and that they would hear nothing more about those interests of Excisemen, and other things necessary to prevent the evasion of the duty. He himself very much doubted whether that would be the case—whether, under any circumstances, they would be able to get rid of the inspections and the visits from the officers of the Excise which were now made the subject of complaint, because, unless they could abandon the idea of raising revenue from beer, it would be requisite to ascertain what the processes in the breweries were, in order to see that the brewer was not using improper substances. A certain amount of inspection would be necessary over those carrying on the business. He ventured to doubt whether, upon the whole, it would be very useful to submit questions of the sort to a Committee of the House of Commons. He did not know whether hon. Members thought it would be desirable that they should have all the proceedings and processes of manufacture the subject of a long inquiry, and every sort of investigation carried on in public before a Committee of the House. Many of these discussions were extremely inconvenient. They agitated the trade, caused expectations, and brought about a good deal of confusion. He thought it would be far better that they should have, on the part of the Government a departmental inquiry into complaints which might then be brought before them with regard to the working of the present system. The proposal of the abolition of the duty was a matter which they could not for the present entertain. As to the remission of the malt tax, he thought they had not had any case made out that would justify them going in for such an alteration. But if it could be shown that the licence duty was unequally assessed; that the mode in which the quantities were fixed was not a proper mode; that the malt assumed to be used for a barrel of beer was not what it should be; or that there were restrictions which might be in any way disadvantageous, these points might be brought before them by practical members of the trade, and the Government would be most happy to examine them patiently. He did not think, however, in spite of the very able way in which his right hon. Friend had introduced the subject again to their notice, and the ingenious way in which he had put his arguments before them, that a case had been made out for the Motion he had brought before the House.


said, he had felt, during the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sandwich (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) would result in nothing practical. To that Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, who proposed— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the nature and incidence of the Tax upon Brewers' Licences, he had intended, if the Forms of the House would have allowed, to move the addition of the words "and upon the best mode of supplying a substitute for it." It was, he thought, impossible to contemplate the abolition of this tax without also looking at another great tax—namely, the tax upon malt. The brewers' licence duty appeared to him (Mr. Mitchell Henry) to be wholly indefensible, and one of the worst taxes that could be imposed upon the industry of any country; indeed, there was hardly another example of a similar tax upon the manufacturer. He believed that the brewers' licence duty pressed with peculiar hardship upon deserving and poor men, numbers of whom were being driven, as they believed, out of the trade in consequence; and although other causes might have contributed to this result, there could be no doubt that the tax was felt by them to be peculiarly hard and galling. The parallel drawn by the Chancellor of the Exchequer between the cases of the private brewer and the professional brewer, who made his livelihood by brewing, was, in his (Mr. Mitchell Henry's) opinion, inapplicable. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the private and small brewers were decreasing in number; and, therefore, that as one was taxed and the other was not taxed, the tax had no effect upon the professional brewer. But that was not so, for the reason why people had ceased to brew privately was that they got better ale by buying it from the large brewers, for with the private consumer the question was not trade but quality and convenience. The question, however, ought to be approached in a much broader spirit and on a larger scale. He believed that it was impossible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to abolish the tax upon brewers' licences, as also the tax upon malt, which, in his (Mr. Mitchell Henry's) opinion, was quite as bad, unless a substitute were provided for them. Therefore, he asked permission of the House to propose a direct substitute for the two taxes in question. He would at once state that his proposal was to revert to the old practice of placing a direct tax upon the manufactured article of beer; and he believed it could be shown that this tax would not in the slightest degree interfere with the consumption of beer, or be felt seriously by the consumer. On the other hand, the tax would provide the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a very large Revenue, and enable him to abolish both the malt tax, and the tax upon brewers' licences. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer had mentioned, this tax did exist in former times; but in consequence of the inconvenience attending its collection, it had been abolished almost 50 years ago, and, eventually, a tax had been imposed upon the unmanufactured article of malt. He was not there to contend that it was possible to lay a differential tax upon the various descriptions of beer which wore brewed, of which there were at least seven or eight kinds in ordinary consumption; but it could be shown, and he believed that it would be admitted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he looked at the question from a practical point of view, that the imposition of the tax upon beer would neither raise the price of the article to any appreciable extent, nor be attended with any intolerable hardship to brewers. It was not his argument that evening to enter upon the question, which he had already raised once or twice, of equalizing the tax upon the alcohol contained in spirits, and the alcohol contained in beer. At the present time, they raised on alcohol—that was, upon beer, wine, and spirits, upon licence duty and upon the sugar used in brewing, no less than £33,000,000 a-year, and it was a circumstance of very considerable importance to know that they spent £155,000,000 annually in buying alcoholic liquors. He maintained that, by the adoption of the proposition which he was about to submit, there would not be the slightest difficulty in getting, in addition to the £9,000,000 taxes now practically levied upon beer, in the shape of the malt tax, brewers' licences, and sugar duty, the additional sum of £6,000,000, which would enable the Government to abolish every one of those Customs' duties which pressed so heavily upon the people who did not drink alcoholic liquors—that was to say, it would permit the abolition of the tea and coffee and other such duties. The brewers' licences produced £433,000 a-year, and the sugar used in brewing £526,000 a-year; while the sum derived from the malt tax amounted to very nearly £8,000,000. He did not think the country could do without that taxation, which amounted in all to £9,000,000 a-year; but however that tax was levied, whether upon the article of beer itself, or upon the material used in its manufacture—whether upon the meal or the malt—it was still a direct tax upon beer; and, for that reason, in suggesting some modification of the duties on beer, he was not proposing a new tax. The quantity of malt used in brewing was as nearly as possible 57,000,000 bushels, or about 8,000,000 quarters. Now, it had been assumed by the Excise authorities that one barrel of beer should be produced from two bushels of malt; but this had been considered as too high an average, although he was prepared to assume that it was a reasonable one. But as he desired to be perfectly fair in his statement of the case, he would assume that it required 2½ bushels of malt to make 36 gallons, or one barrel, of beer; and on that basis he would found his calculation that 115 gallons of beer would be produced from every quarter of malt; and that, as there were 8,000,000 quarters used in the course of the year, the total quantity of beer which ought to be produced would be 920,000,000 gallons annually. There were several classes of beer; but he would deal first with such beers as Bass's and All sopp's ales, as examples of beers of the highest class, which contained from 8 per cent to 11A- per cent of proof spirit. Upon these beers, then, of the highest class, and containing from 8 to 11½ per cent of proof spirit, he proposed that there should be a tax in the shape of an Excise stamp duty of 9s. per half-barrel. How would that affect the producer and consumer? The beers in question, upon which, according to his calculation, about 4s. 6d. per half-barrel was already levied indirectly, were being sold at hotels, railway stations, and refreshment rooms, at the rate of 6d. the reputed pint, or 3d. a-glass. Upon these beers alone, representing about one-third of the total production which, as he had already pointed out, amounted to 920,000,000 gallons, would be raised, by the addition of the proposed duty of 9s. per half-barrel, £7,500,000 annually, and that by increasing the price to the consumer less than ½d. per glass. Indeed, he believed, from the competition which would ensue, if the trade were thrown open, that it would be found that this additional ½d. would never be added at all, and that the beer would continue to be sold to the public at 3d. per glass. But even if the price were raised by ½d. per glass, there was, in his opinion, no reason to believe that with regard to an article of such great popularity with the higher and middle classes as pale ale, the consumption would be in the slightest degree diminished. Besides the beers mentioned, there were in ordinary consumption four different classes of beer, containing from 5 to 8 per cent of proof spirit, which he proposed to take together, and tax at the rate of 4s. 6d. per half-barrel. How would that affect the prices to the consumer? The class of beer which came next to Bass's, and the rest to which he had referred, was sold at 4d. a-pint, and its present cost was 48s. per half-barrel of 18 gallons. The proposed tax of 4s. 6d. per half-barrel would not raise the price of this kind of beer to the consumer by more than ¼d. a-glass. The next class was sold at 3d. a-pint, and the cost was 36s. per half-barrel; in the same way, the price of this beer to the consumer would be raised by less than ¼d. a-glass. The next class was sold at 2d. a-pint, or 30s. per half-barrel, and upon this, and the rest of the beers, the increased price would be so small to the consumer as to render the calculation unnecessary. He had endeavoured to show that by a duty of 9s. per half-barrel upon the manufactured article of the first class the sum of £7,500,000 would be raised. A like sum would also be raised from the remaining classes of beer—namely, those which contained from 5 per cent of proof spirit and upwards; so that altogether, if his proposal were adopted, a total sum of £15,000,000 would be obtained annually. It was an important question to consider whether that amount could be raised in a manner which would not be intolerable to the brewers. At the present moment, the brewer was subject to a number of restrictions, to which the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Motion had referred. All that would be necessary in the new tax would be a book of stamps like the delivery books given by railway companies. The Excise would keep the counter-part, and the stamps, which would be several inches wide, would be affixed by the brewer under the supervision of the officers of Excise. The stamps might be put over the bung-hole of the cask. ["Oh, oh!"] An hon. and gallant Member opposite seemed surprised at such an absurd notion; but was it more absurd than the present mode of settling the malt duty, or collecting the brewers' licences? The system could be carried out with the greatest ease. The brewers could purchase the books of stamps, taking out a nominal licence in proportion to the number of gallons of beer which they manufactured. There would be no difficulty in that respect, for already there was a Return which showed the quantity of beer produced by every brewer in the United Kingdom. But what would be the other effects of carrying out his proposal? The country would lose £9,000,000 of taxes by the abolition of the brewers' licences, the tax upon sugar used in brewing, and the malt tax; but the brewers and agriculturists would very much appreciate the abolition of taxes which now fell upon them; while, on the other hand, £15,000,000 would be raised by the plan he proposed. From this would result a surplus of £6,000,000, which would enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer to abolish all the Customs duties, except those on tobacco—that was to say, the duties upon chicory, coffee, currants, figs, plums, prunes, &c, which amounted to something like £900,000 annually; and, in addition to these, the duty upon tea, which amounted to about £4,000,000 a-year. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would then have £1,000,000 remaining, which he could devote to any purpose that pleased him. He (Mr. Mitchell Henry) considered the suggestion which he had made well worthy of the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, who, it was to be hoped, having stated his willingness to appoint a Departmental Committee to inquire into the nature and incidence of the tax upon brewers' licences, would also allow the Committee to inquire earnestly; and seriously into the feasibility of imposing a tax upon the manufactured article of beer, in place of those duties now imposed upon the raw material used in brewing and upon the trade of those persons who were struggling to make a living' by this manufacture. He (Mr. Mitchell Henry) believed the figures quoted by him to be absolutely correct; and he had, moreover, the authority of hon. Members in the House, who were able to speak upon the subject with greater weight than he could pretend to, for saying that his proposal was perfectly feasible; and he, therefore, hoped that on the appointment of the Committee it would receive the serious consideration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


said, that everyone knew that the whole incidence of the tax upon brewers' licences was before the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and, therefore, what was the use of an inquiry? If the necessity for such an inquiry was so im- perative as the right bon. Gentleman the Member for Sandwich (Mr. Knatch-bull-Hugessen) assumed, why had be not drawn attention to the matter when he and his Friends were in Office, and when what he wished to have done in the matter might have been effected? In that case, however, he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) thought that, supposing a duty were imposed on beer, the small brewers, as a class, would be annihilated. In spite of the depression in the country during the last few years, the brewers had been doing well; while, as to a remission of the tax, the present was no time for taking off a tax of the kind, which was not oppressive, though, perhaps, it was to some extent vexatious. He altogether denied that it was looked upon generally, oven by the brewers themselves, as an unjust tax, and he believed they would rather endure it ten times over than have a tax imposed on beer. He was of opinion that no case had been made out for a Select Committee; and, looking at the present consumption of liquors throughout the country, he thought this tax was one of the last that this House would think ought to be repealed.


thought his hon. and gallant Friend opposite (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) had been rather hard on the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sandwich (Mr. Knatch-bull-Hugessen), in asking him why he had not moved in this matter when a Liberal Government was in Office. The fact, however, was that agitation of this kind was always very vigorous when a Liberal Government was in Office, but it generally relaxed when a Conservative Government came in. There was a French statesman who had been described as having spent his life in coming to the rescue of the strongest. This seemed the aim of the right hon. Gentleman in coming to the assistance of the brewers, that powerful body, who were alone prosperous in these hard times, and who were very well able to protect themselves. He knew the great and sincere interest his right hon. Friend took in anything connected with the liquor traffic. He remembered his attending a dinner of the Licensed Victuallers; there was the same idea of a Bill being brought in for their relief, and he said the proper way would be that the publicans should be consulted, and, according to what they wanted, so the Bill should be drafted. His right hon. Friend had chosen a very curious time to make an appeal to the House on behalf of the brewers. The brewers had been doing very well; they always did well. The drink trade was always prosperous. At a Licensed Victuallers' dinner that took place at Burton, one of the speakers, speaking of the bad times, the great distress that prevailed, said Burton was the only green spot—the oasis in the desert. Coal and iron were depressed, but drink was bringing in lots of money still. But, although the brewers were so prosperous, they were always complaining—they complained of the Excise, of the magistrates and the police, the Good Templars, and the whole community. In fact, they represented themselves as a class of men whose sole object it was to benefit mankind, yet they were harassed by every one. The Association for the Repeal of the Brewers' Licences was formed in 1874. Shortly afterwards there was a grand deputation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; 208 brewers and 58 Members of Parliament were present. Some conversation took place. The Chancellor of the Exchequer asked what effect the repeal of the duty would have on the price of beer? One of the deputation replied, none whatever; the consumer never paid the tax. Whereupon the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he would not detain the deputation any longer. When the present Government, which owed a good deal to the publicans, came into Office, they did something for the brewers, which ought to have satisfied them. Whatever the brewers or anybody else might say, he believed there was no doubt that the tax was paid by the consumer somehow or other. If, however, it was paid by the producer, he was the last person who should be relieved in a time of national distress; and if it was paid by the consumer, the House ought not to encourage him to drink more by making his drink cheaper. So that, whether the consumer or the producer paid, there was no case for alteration. The beer drinker bad been described by the hon. Gentleman below as a distressed man. [Mr. Mitchell Henry: The small brewer.] Well, was that any reason for encouraging the drinking of more beer? He would not give his own opinion. It was not well to give the opinion of a fanatic. But he would quote the opinion of Sir Henry Thompson in a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury—a letter from a man who had the care of our bodies to a man who had the care of our souls. Sir Henry Thompson said that the habitual use of fermented liquors, far short of what was necessary to produce drunkenness, and such as was quite common in all ranks of society, injured the body and diminished the mental powers to an extent which few people were aware of; and he believed there was no single habit in this country which so much tended to deteriorate the qualities of the race, and so much disqualified them for that endurance which was required in that struggle in which the prizes must fall to the best and the strongest. Yet they were asked, in the face of that dreadful state of things, to relieve the manufacturers of these liquors from taxation. If that was the only remedy which the right hon. Gentleman had to propose for the misery and destitution of the country, he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) thanked God he was not a statesman, and was never likely to be one. There was no greater fallacy than to suppose, if you dosed people with weak alcohol, they would grow up strong. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he brought in a Bill for supplying people with cheap wine, saying he did it for the purpose of promoting temperance in this country, and that if they drank this sour, nasty stuff, they would give up stronger liquors. There never was a greater delusion. The result had been— That those then drank who never drank before, And those who always drank then drank the more. He, therefore, hoped the House would get rid of the superstitious idea that they would wean people from drinking one form of alcohol by encouraging them to drink another. We tried the same thing before in the case of cheap beer, but everyone knew there was never a greater evil, and those who supported the measure in a short time saw the greatness of their delusion. Dr. Richard-son said it was perfectly horrible that so much Revenue should be raised by the degradation of the nation. But, as it was the system to raise about one-third of our Revenue by the sale and consumption of strong drink, let us have equality, and let not the man who drank one sort of liquor pay less than the man who drank another. He fully admitted the convincing force of the figures with which the future Chancellor of the Exchequer of the Home Rule Party (Mr. Mitchell-Henry) had sustained the proposal which he had just made to them to tax beer; and also the reasonableness of the complaint which the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Orr-Ewing) had more than once urged, as to the way in which spirits were taxed as compared with beer, and that alcohol in Scotch whisky was taxed much higher than alcohol in English beer. Let the English sot and the tippling Scot pay exactly the same. He would not, however, level down, but level up, and the simplest way would be to increase the malt duty; but as that proposal threatened to drive some hon. Gentlemen crazy, they might impose a duty on beer. Beer was taxed one-fifth of its price, or 20 per cent; spirits were taxed four-fifths of their price, or 80 per cent. That was not fair. There was no need for a Committee, the matter had been very well discussed, and might be very properly left in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He hoped, therefore, every hon. Gentleman of common sense in the House would, on this occasion, vote against the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sandwich, and give his hearty support to Her Majesty's Government.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 115; Noes 53: Majority 62.—(Div. List, No. 99.)

Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till Monday next.