HL Deb 22 April 1842 vol 62 cc985-91
The Duke of Wellington

moved the Order of the Day for the third reading of the Spirit Duties (Ireland) Bill.

On the question that the bill be read a third time.

The Bishop of Derry

could not allow this bill to pass without for a moment calling the attention of their Lordships to what might be its consequences if, as he feared, it should encourage the practice of illicit distillation. Those only who had witnessed the demoralizing effects of that baneful practice could form a correct notion of what they were. Illicit distillation was the fruitful source of some of the worst vices of civilized as well as savage life. A writer on this subject in the year 1818 had well described its effects as worse than any of the ordinary evils of civilized warfare. He hoped that those evils would not be found to follow the passing of this bill; but he so much dreaded any measure which had a tendency to bring back the evil of illicit distillation, that he wished not to be considered in any way a consenting party to this bill.

Lord Monteagle

said, that all his former objections to the bill still existed. It would not, as he had said at an early stage of the measure, add to the revenue, but it would do much mischief to the country. As a measure of finance, it had the experience of more than twenty years against its success; for the whole of that experience had shown that in every instance in which the duty on spirits in Ireland had been increased, the amount brought to charge had been diminished, and in every case in which the duty had been lessened, the amount of spirit brought to charge had been increased. He saw no reason why the same principle would not apply to the proposed increase of duty in the bill before the House. He had on a former occasion alluded to the very injurious effects to the discipline of the army in Ireland, in being sent out to assist the revenue officers in the suppression of illicit distillation; but, as he did not wish to let such a statement rest on his own authority, he would confidently appeal to the opinions of those gallant officers who had held the important office of Commander-in-chief in Ireland, by all of whom he would be borne out in the statement. Whether the Queen's troops might be again employed for the suppression of illicit distillation he could not say, but this he could state, that for a force of that kind, work would be prepared by this bill. Since this subject was before their Lordships last, he had had communications from Ireland, from which he learned that illicit distillation had already commenced in the northern and western counties. The correspondent of a Mayo paper stated very recently, that Sir R. Peel's plan of improving the revenue by increasing the duty on Irish spirits had given quite an impulse to illicit distillation, and the seizures of illicit stills had already commenced. Looking at the plan only as a financial measure, he repeated that Government would be certainly disappointed in its hope of getting a revenue of 250,000l. from it. He would now call the attention of their Lordships to another point connected with this hill. They were aware, that a drawback had heretofore been allowed on malt used for distillation, which amounted to 8d.a gallon on the amount brought to charge. By the present bill, that drawback would be repealed. Now, the effect of that would be to establish a great, and, he thought, a very unjust inequality between the distillers of Scotland and those of Ireland, for while the drawback was taken away from the Irish distillers, it was continued to those of Scotland. This would operate very unfairly to the Irish distiller who sent spirits to any of our colonies, or to the United States of America. On an export of 2,500 gallons, the Scotch distiller would obtain a drawback of 83l. 6s. 8d., which was withheld from the exporter of Irish spirits, whose export trade would be crushed and rained by this bill. The Irish distiller had relied on the law, which placed him on an equality with the distiller of Scotland; but he now saw this equality removed, and that by a bill which professed to treat them equally. There was another point on which he would say a word. When any additions of duty were made on former occasions they were to take effect, "from and after" the day on which the resolutions to that effect were agreed to by the House of Commons; but on the present occasion the increased duties were to commence "on and after" the day on which the resolutions had been agreed to. Now, this he thought was unfair, as it would affect all the spirits sold on that day, and it was a departure from the general practice of Government when laying on similar additions. This, however, was a matter of detail. His chief objections to the bill rested on the principles he had stated, and on these he would say "not content" to the third reading of this bill, if it were only to record his objections to it.

The Earl of Ripon

said, the objections of the noble Lord were only a repetition of those which he had made on a former occasion, and they were not of a nature to alter his opinion of the hill. He should, indeed, be very sorry to find that such consequences as? the noble Lord had feared from the employment of the troops in Ireland ire the suppression of illicit distillation; but he did not think, there would be any necessity for such employment now, as we had a very effective revenue police, placed under the orders of a very active and intelligent officer. With respect to the drawback on malt being taken from the Irish distiller, and continued to the Scotch distiller, his noble Friend seemed to forget that the two were on a par when the Scotch distiller brought his spirits into Ireland. He admitted, that there was art inequality between them in the export of their respective spirits, and he must say, that such inequality was not intended, and that the Government would take measures to remove it. With respect to the duty taking effect "on and after," instead of "from and after" the passing of the resolution, he believed that the former words were used on similar occasions. He saw that it was, as his noble Friend stated, in those acts to which his noble Friend had referred, but there were precedents also for the terms used in the present bill.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, that when this subject was under discussion on a former evening, he stated, that it had his approbation, as he had that confidence in the Government that they had given the bill the fullest consideration, and that they would not tend to in any way injure public morality; but he owned, that he felt very differently on the present occasion—not from any want of confidence in the Government, for his confidence remained still the same, but because he thought that a great mistake had been committed by the Government with respect to the bill. The bill was grounded on the professed intention of Government that the Irish and Scotch distillers should be placed on terms of perfect equality, but the details of the bill completely destroyed that equality. The Government had admitted by this bill that the inequality did exist—that as it now stood injustice would be done to the Irish distiller—but that the evil would be cured in another bill which was now before the House, relating to Irish spirituous compounds. It was possible, that the evil might be removed in that way, but circumstances might occur which would prevent the Government from carrying their intentions into effect, and he would say, that if this bill were passed without a correction of the error into which its framers had fallen, it would create immense confusion and annoyance in Ireland. Noble Lords should consider the position in which the Irish distillers stood at present. They were aware, that by the temperance movement, a change of an almost miraculous nature had been made in the habits of a very large class of the Irish people, who had been brought from habits of intoxication to those of sobriety; and let him say, that the more he considered that change, and the moral effects it had produced, the more he was disposed to praise that great man who had been instrumental in bringing it about. Before this change some of the distillers used to make what was called whisky for the poor man —that was, whisky distilled from oats. The change in the habits of the people nearly put an end to the demand for that kind of spirit, and several of the distillers confined their trade to the production of a superior kind of spirit distilled from matt, a great portion of which was sent off to some of our colonies, and to the United States of North America; but if this bill should pass in its present state, the Irish distiller would be driven out of those markets, of which the Scotch distiller would receive the monopoly. The drawback, it wag true, would not affect the Irish market for the home consumption, as the taste for Scotch whisky did not prevail in Ireland. Why should the inequality he had pointed out be suffered to continue? If he obtained an assurance from his noble Friend at the head of the Board of Trade, that this inequality would be remedied, he would not oppose the third reading, but if he did not, he must join with his noble Friend (Lord Monteagle) in resisting it, and dividing with him if he should take the sense of the House on it. The Irish distillers had re-quested him to say, that they were perfectly satisfied with the bill, provided this mistake, as it was admitted to be, were corrected. Let the bill, then, stand over for a few days, until this mistake was corrected.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

cordially joined with his noble Friend in imploring their Lordships to defer this bill for a few days, as he was sure, that if reconsidered, it would not be passed through Parliament in its present shape. He would ask their Lordships whether it were worth while, for at revenue of 250,000l., supposing that sum could be realised by this bill, which was more than doubtful, to do away with the effects of that temperance movement of which the noble Earl had spoken in terms of such deserved praise? Was it worth while for that paltry amount of revenue to risk the bringing back of the Irish peasants to those habits from which they had in a manner, as had been truly said, almost miraculously been rescued? His noble Friend had alluded to the fact of illicit distillation having already commenced in the town of Mayo, and from information which he had received, he could say the same thing of other parts of the country. Could their Lordships believe, that with the temptations which those illicit stills would place in the way of the Irish peasant be would not soon relapse into his former habits of intoxication? This was not a party question. No one had so viewed it, and if he had the same confidence in the Government as his noble Friend (the Earl of Wicklow), which he had not, be Would speak of this bill in the same language as be now used.

Earl Fortescue

said, it was almost presumptuous in him to rise on this subject, when there was so many noble Lords pre- sent whose opinions on it were entiled to far greater weight; but when he recollected the temperance movement which he had witnessed in Ireland, and the almost miraculous manner in which it had spread, and was still spreading in that country— when he recollected the great moral effects which that movement had produced and was producing—he was disposed to add his request to that of the noble Lords who had preceded him, that their Lordships might not precipitately pass a bill which would risk the bringing back of the Irish peasants to those habits of intoxication and of crime from which so many of them had been happily rescued. Considering the improved habits of the Irish people, he did hope that their Lordships would pause before they passed a bill which might be followed by so many evils. On these grounds he would oppose the third reading of the bill.

The Duke of Wellington

could assure their Lordships that the Government had given great attention to this subject before they had submitted it to Parliament; and from communications which they had had with the chief officer of Excise, and with the able officer who was at the head of revenue police—from these sources they had learned that the most effective means would be adopted for the prevention of illicit distillation. The attention of the Irish Government had been particularly called to this subject. As to the inequality complained of between the Scotch and Irish distillers, he could say that such was not the intention of the Government, and he did not know how such inequality got into the bill. It had been said, that there was a bill now pending in the other House which would afford an opportunity of correcting this error, and his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would avail himself of it for that purpose; but if it could not be done in that way a new bill would be brought in for the purpose. In the meantime, in order to see what could be effected, he would with the leave of the House withdraw the motion for the third reading of the bill till Monday.

Lord Monteagle

begged to thank the noble Duke for taking this course. As it was the evident intention of the Government to equalize the duties on Scotch and Irish distillers, he hoped it would be borne in mind that the former had the drawback in Scotland which the latter had not, so that the Scotch distillers would thus have a monopoly in their own markets.

Motion for the third reading withdrawn.

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