HL Deb 30 March 1843 vol 68 cc129-50
The Earl of Wicklow

, in moving for the papers of which he had given notice, confessed that it would have been infinitely more agreeable to him if he could have avoided moving for them at all. Had he received any intimation, either privately or publicly, that it was the intention of the Government to alter the law as it at present stood, he should have felt much satisfaction in waving all discussion on the subject; because he could not help feeling that, in expressing his opinion against the law introduced by her Majesty's Government, he might appear to be, in some degree, acting with hostility towards them. He felt it necessary in the strongest manner to disclaim any such intention. On the contrary, he wished to state in the beginning that, so far from casting any imputation upon them for what they had done, it was his solemn conviction, that in the peculiar circumstances of the case, when they last year brought forward the bill, they could scarcely have done otherwise. The circumstances in which the Ministry were placed last Session, were extremely peculiar. The question of the Income and Property-tax had been brought forward for the purpose of making good certain defalcations in the revenue. No doubt, if it were possible to have transferred that tax to Ireland, Ministers would have felt themselves bound in justice to the rest of the community to have extended its provisions to that country; and nothing but absolute necessity had compelled them to avoid doing so. They found, however, that in the absence of the proper machinery for its collection, and considering the smallness of the amount of the tax which was likely to be obtained, it was useless to have clone that, or to create new machinery for its collection; and therefore it became necessary to devise some other mode of taxation as regarded Ireland. Having introduced the measure to which he had referred into England, the Government felt themselves justified, by the admission of men of all parties, that there was no subject more fit for taxation than spirits, provided it was not carried to such an extent as to admit or introduce smuggling, in increasing the duties on spirits in Ireland. In addition to that, the representatives of the people in the other House of Parliament had the petitions of those parties (who were most likely to be affected by the measure) in their favour—namely, the distillers; and further, and above all, the Government had the solemn assurance of the distinguished officer at the head of the excise in Ireland that he had the means of preventing illicit distillation at his command. In every point of view, therefore, they were justified in bringing forward the measure, and yet a more unfortunate measure—one which had more entirely deceived the expectations of those who had brought it forward—had never been introduced. On three distinct grounds he objected most decidedly to the measure concerning which he then troubled their Lordships. In one portion of the measure it was fraught with manifest injustice. It bad been a total failure with regard to revenue, and had been productive of the greatest vice and immorality in Ireland. In stating that it was fraught with injustice, he was forced to remind their Lordships, that at the commencement of the last Session, he remembered it well, and had since then refreshed his memory upon the subject, in the opening statement of the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government in the other House, when he made his financial exposé, he stated, with regard to the measure in question (and nothing could be more satisfactory than what he said), that it would be most desirable to assimilate the law regarding revenue in the three countries; but, unfortunately, that could not be done, because the duty in England was 7s. and some pence: in Scotland, 3s. 8d.; and in Ireland, 2s. 8d.; and he proposed to add the additional shilling to assimilate the duty in Scotland and Ireland. That appeared perfectly fair and just, as they had an assurance that there would be no additional smuggling. It was said, that a revenue of 250,000l. would be derived from it, and when the noble Duke brought in the bill in that House, it met with very little opposition. He stated, on that occasion, that he approved of the principles of the bill; but he stated his apprehension, founded upon his experience and long residence in that country, as to the probable result of the measure causing an increase of smuggling. The Government had given him an assurance that such would not be the case, and the bill passed through its several stages to the third reading. In the meantime, he (the Earl of Wicklow) had had an opportunity of communicating with the distillers of that country, and they pointed out to him a fact, which it appeared had escaped the attention of Members of the other House—namely, that while the bill professed to assimilate the duties, it was a bill to make them dissimilar and making the law unlike the law of Scotland, which it professed to follow. He regretted to be obliged to trouble their Lordships with what must be a very dull subject; but it was one that deeply affected the peace and tranquillity of the country with which he was connected. Those Gentlemen pointed out to him that the drawback duty on malt was taken off the Irish distillers by the bill, although it still existed in Scotland. When he ascertained that such was the case, he had announced to their Lordships that he had quite changed his mind with regard to the measure, and if his noble Friend opposite would divide the House, as he had stated his intention to be, he would also oppose it. On that occasion the noble Duke stated that her Majesty's Government had no idea of creating any dissimilarity between the two countries—that the bill would not create it; but if, on inquiry, it was found that any such dissimilarity was caused, another bill would be brought in. Under these circumstances, he felt quite satisfied in withdrawing his opposition, and the bill was passed. The noble Duke, he would observe, had further stated, that, in order to ascertain if such was the case, he would adjourn the future stage of the bill for a few days. He then said, that it was very desirable the bill should pass during that session, which was then drawing to its close, and that a committee would be appointed by the other House which would fully consider the subject. That committee was immediately afterwards appointed, and although he felt that nothing important could result from it, he did not further oppose the bill, the Government being extremely anxious to carry it through; and, under all the circumstances, he thought it better to say nothing, and the bill was allowed to pass. However, the select committee was appointed, and he then held in his hand their report, which was the occasion of his then troubling their Lordships. He would have been exceedingly glad if their Lordships had read it, or that it could have been laid upon the Table of that House; but, as it related to a financial measure. He was informed, that the House of Commons would not communicate it. However, he saw 9d. marked upon it. He concluded, that any of their Lordships could easily procure a copy of it. The committee, it would appear, had reported that it was expedient to continue the drawback duty in Ireland. Now, he did not mean to cast any imputation upon that committee; but it was evident that the majority of them were men who supported the measure of the Government throughout in the House of Commons—there were some certainly who were hostile to such a measure, but they were overruled by the majority. The evidence that had been laid before them was exceedingly important; and it was, in his opinion, impossible that any man could read it who took an interest in the subject, without owning to the same conclusion to which be had arrived, namely, that the law could not be allowed to continue as at present. Having stated that the Government had the sanction of a majority of the Irish representatives, he felt it necessary to account for that, as it had, he confessed, at first surprised him. Their Lordships, however, would recollect, that the question was not whether that alteration would be made in the Irish spirit duties, but whether they would have an income tax in Ireland, or give an equivalent for it. He did not, therefore, Mama the Irish representatives for giving their assent to it. Nothing could be more unpleasant to the feelings of the people of? Ireland than the imposition of an income tax, and upon the assurance of the Government, that the evils expected front the new spirit duties bill could be obviated, they gave their assent, and it passed almost without opposition. Another reason was, that its operation was not generally felt throughout the land, the practice being confined to certain districts of the country; and be was not therefore surprised that the matter had been left in a great I measure in the hands of the Government. He was at a loss to comprehend the reason why the Irish distillers were desirous that the drawback should be withdrawn; bat when he read that report, he had ascertained their reasons, and perceived that the object of the great distillers was coute qui caste, to exclude the Scotch distillers from the. Irish market, and obtain a monopoly for themselves of the trade in Ireland. That was their object, and, in seeking to obtain it, they forgot their own interests, and those of the parties engaged in what he regretted to say was almost the only manufacture of Ireland. What was the consequence? Why, the revenue had totally failed, and not only that, but all the matt distillers in the country had been ruined by it. He would take the liberty of reading to their Lordships a few lines from a latter of a distiller who had seen the notice of his motion upon the subject, but with whom he had no acquaintance;— I am solely a malt distiller, and am therefore one of those unfortunate persons so much aggrieved by the enactment of last Session, abolishing the malt drawback in this country. but continuing it in Scotland, which measure, coupled with the advance of duty, has been literally my ruin. In autumn, I commenced working my concern, having on hands a good stock of spirits, made the previous season; but after working about ten days, found it impossible to compete with the illicit distillers, by whom this district has been fully supplied with malt spirits ever since. I accordingly had to dismiss my entire establishment, relinquishing my business on October 8th, since when an hour's business has not been done in it—the place now locked up, and a considerable quantity of spirits yet on hands, unsaleable, owing to the low price at which my customers are supplied by smugglers. He had another letter which he should not trouble their Lordships with, but which stated that one of these malt distillers in the north of Ireland had been, in consequence of the recent addition to the duty, obliged to supply his customers in America, with Scotch spirits, finding that he could not complete his contract at a remunerating price from his own country, and clearly demonstrating the effect of that unjust provision respecting the drawback, which he believed had had the effect of ruining that class of persons to whom be referred, and by whom the best description of spirits, for those who can afford to drink the best spirits, was manufactured. The consequence was, that a vast quantity of Scotch spirits was smuggled in, but a still larger quantity of spirits was unfortunately made by illicit distillation in Ireland, He had now stated the reasons which it appeared to him had influenced some of the Irish distillers in petitioning for the measure, but, in granting that boon to Scotland, did their Lordships suppose that they had conferred a favour on that country? Directly the reverse. It was well known that with regard to the malt drawback, the greatest frauds were practised, and that it was impossible for any excise regulation to guard against them, and he could scarcely refrain from referring to one or two points in connexion with that subject, and which showed in the clearest manner, the way in which the frauds were carried on. It would be, therefore, for the benefit of the Scotch distillers themselves that the system should be put an end to, because if it could be shown, that while some evils had arisen, and some injustice had been done to the Irish distiller, that yet the revenue expectations held out to the House and the country had been accomplished, then it might be said that they could not relinquish the additional duty without some other tax in its stead; but what was the fact? The amount of revenue calculated upon was 250,000l., while the amount received was just 15,000l. The noble Duke, on a former occasion, as he understood, had stated that it was 40,000l., and appeared so in the returns; but if their Lordships would look closely at them, they would find that the greater portion of that amount was collected in the first quarter while the low duty continued, it being considered fair that the distiller should only pay the old duty on the stock in hand. But if the amount received in the first quarter was deducted, the increase was only, as he had stated, 15,000l. The returns certainly gave four quarters, but the higher duty was only charged on three of these quarters, and it was impossible for anybody who took an interest in these matters to read over the papers laid on the Table without seeing that such was the fact. Was he not justified, then, in calling upon her Majesty's Government to retrace their steps, finding, as they must, that their intentions had been entirely frustrated? It had been stated, that the measure had been brought forward by way of a compromise, and that if it was repealed the Income-tax would be applied to Ireland. But what was he asking of their Lordships? Only to give up 15,000l per annum, and he believed some of their Lordships connected with Ireland would rather pay the entire sum than that the present state of things should continue. At the same time, he maintained, that a very large portion of the Irish people already paid the Income-tax although that country had not got credit for it. Was it not a fact that a large portion of the Irish landowners, whose rents or dividends were received in England, were taxed upon their property drawn from Ireland. He might be told, perhaps, that that was placed to the credit of England; but he thought, in fairness, that it should be placed to the credit of Ireland, and that the sum so obtained would be found much larger than was anticipated. But there were other taxes which the Irish population paid, and of which no returns were made. When he looked at the large number of individuals belonging to Ireland who were residing at Bath, Cheltenham, Leamington, and the other towns in England, and which was the lamentable result of the unsettled state of Ireland, compelling these persons who could afford it to enjoy their wealth in the quietest part of the kingdom, he thought their contributions to the revenue had been most unfairly overlooked; and he could assure their Lordships that the great majority of those who could afford to live in this country paid the Income-tax. He need not remind them that all the military and naval officers on half-pay who resided in Ireland, and all those who were in the receipt of annuities or dividends out of the consolidated fund, had the tax deducted from it, although they might be residing in Ireland, and it was the fault of the proper officers if that was not shown in the returns. It appeared to him that no one having any acquaintance with the Irish distillery laws, or who had watched their operation in that country, could for a moment suppose that any revenue would be derived from an increase of the duty, or that smuggling could be suppressed. Previously to the year 1822 the duty on Irish spirits was very high, being 5s. 6d. per gallon, and all the officers, and all the efforts of the Government, could not put down illicit distillation. Armies were marched into the country, and he then resided in the north of Ireland, and well remembered all the evils and distress that resulted from such a state of things. The army was disorganised in attempting to put down the system, and he believed there never was a more tyrannical or unjust act perpetrated in any country than that of throwing upon the town-land the fines levied upon any private still found thereupon. Men who could know no more of the matter than any of their Lordships, were heavily fined; and yet, notwithstanding the severity of the law, and the great amount of the fines, it was found impossible to suppress private distillation, and the evil continued in full force. It was then proposed to try a new expedient, and the duty was reduced to 2s., and private distillation disappeared. The observations made by Sir Henry Parnell, with regard to the increase in the quantity of spirits brought to charge, and the increase of the revenue, were—that while in 1822 a certain number of gallons were manufactured, producing 797,000l., in 1828 the number manufactured at the low rate of duty, produced 1,395,721l., Thus, their Lordships would see, that by reducing the duty, in a few years the revenue had been doubled. After a few yean, illicit distillation having been entirely suppressed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer thought it right to raise the duty again; but immediately the hydra again raised its head—private distillation reappeared—and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, knowing that there was only one mode of preventing it, lowered the duty, and the evil disappeared. That went on until the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Baring, raised the duty by the small sum of 4d., and last year it had been again increased to 3s. 6d. the gallon, and the effect had been, as he could assure their Lordships, a most lamentable increase of private distillation. He felt that he ought to rest that statement on some foundation beyond his own assertion. In the reports of papers laid upon the Table of the House, it had been proved that a large increase had taken place in the number of convictions under the new law. In the report he found that in the gaol of Omagh, the number of persons confined for those offences was twenty-four; and, from private information, he had learned, that in the following month of February (the return being made up to the 5th January), the number had increased to forty-four—and in the beginning of March it was forty-seven. In Lifford gaol, a district in which the practice also prevailed, the number in the return was thirty-eight—in February it had increased to fifty-seven, and in March to sixty-two, and at the end of March it was seventy-five. That was the case in various other districts—the gaols were fast filling, and all for what?—15,000l. per annum. He would read to their Lordships a letter from a very intelligent magistrate, who had seen hit notice on the subject:— You are, no doubt, in possession of sufficient information respecting the increase of private distillation, to convince you of the necessity of an immediate reduction of the duty on licensed spirits. There is scarcely a week that informations are not brought before me by the revenue police against persons for malting or making illicit spirits, and from other sources I have the means of knowing that private distillation is increasing in the mountain districts to a distressing, I may say alarming extent. The number of convictions laid before Parliament was sufficient proof of the necessity of its immediate interference to check the evil, but I can assure you that conviction does not follow in many cases where detection has been made; and the systematic ingenuity with which the traffic is carried on, would justify me in saying, that half the private distillers and maltsters escape punishment, so that were you to double the offences returned to Parliament, I believe you would be considerably under the number who are engaged in this demoralising practice. I do not say that this great evil has been entirely produced by the increased duty, as I am satisfied the unusual low price of oats would have induced many mountain farmers to try distillation, to enable them to pay their rents; but the alarming extent to which it has increased, has no doubt mainly arisen from the temptation held out by the increased duty; and no effectual check can be put to it, but by the immediate reduction of the duty. Such were the opinions of a magistrate who had these cases continually brought before him; but there was a more important fact to which he wished to call their attention, it was the charge of the judge of assize, at Lifford, at the last assizes. Mr. Sergeant Warren, who went instead of Baron Pennefather, stated, in the strongest terms, the alarming increase in private distillation, and conjured the gentry of the country to use their best exertions to put it down. He knew that these gentlemen had been doing so, and he regretted to find, that there had been two or three cases of violent outrage upon the police. In one of them, the magistrates, without exceeding their powers, had, he thought, acted most unwisely, in inflicting a sentence of twelve months' imprisonment upon one of the individuals implicated in the matter, but who was mainly instrumental in saving the lives of the revenue police; but it only showed that no persons could well be more anxious to root out the evil than the magistrates of the district. The low price of oats at the present moment, and the favourable and dry harvest they had had in Ireland last year, were certainly great inducements to this illicit practice; but he believed the exertions of the magistrates could never be successful so long as the peasantry derived a profit of two hundred per cent, upon the article, and all the revenue officers and police, backed by all the army they could send into the country, would not avail to put an end to it so long as these inducements were held out to the peasantry. The returns on the Table proved, on the one hand, the great exertions of the police; but on the other, the great increase of the evil. He thought Colonel Brereton, in the promises he had made, had acted without a sufficient knowledge of the subject. In the large and populous town of Strabane, in the north of Ireland, a private still was at work for several months. It appeared there was a baker's shop near the bridge, and that baker was supposed to have got a great increase to his business, as the smoke was seen constantly ascending from his chimney, but it seemed that a private still was erected under one of the arches of the bridge, the flue of which was turned into the baker's chimney. And although the police got intelligence of it, they were some days before they were able to detect whereabouts it was. He had also been informed, that in the improvements that had taken place in machinery, nothing had improved so much as the machinery of private stills, and they had now brought them to such perfection, that they were able to work them in their own houses. Had these policemen a right to enter these houses or break open the doors to look for them? Possibly they had; but suppose they were mistaken, what an evil was it, that, whenever a man had a little more smoke than usual out of his chimney, the police had a right to force in the doors and search. It was an evil that could scarcely be endured, and it would go on rapidly increasing unless something were done to prevent it during the present Session. He had, perhaps, pressed the question too hastily upon their Lordships, but he was anxious it should meet their consideration before the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his financial statement for the year, because at a subsequent period of the year it would be much more difficult to effect any change in the law. He did then venture to urge it on the House, because, the documents upon the Table showed that the measure was a total failure, and that the promises of those who had given the Government reason to suppose that they bad the means of suppressing the practice of private distillation were unfounded. The returns on the Table, the charges of the judges of assize, and the great increase of illicit distillation were, he thought, quite conclusive upon the subject: and therefore, as with regard to revenue, and the suppression of private distillation, the Government had been deceived, he did not think that, merely for the sake of consistency, and because the bill had been introduced under different expectations and hopes, and, above all, when they knew that demoralisa- tion and those evils had been produced—that they would continue to press it upon the country. He did not ask the Government to restore the drawback. He believed it was of no benefit to the distillers; and led to much fraud; but he wished to see it also withdrawn from the Scotch distillers, and he was convinced that much more revenue would be obtained. If they were afterwards compelled to put the powers of the law into execution to suppress private distillation, they would have the satisfaction in their own consciences of feeling, that they had not called into existence the evil they were so anxious to put down, which might be urged against the Government as the law at present stood. He confidently hoped, that her Majesty's Ministers would alter the present law. He maintained, that all experience on the subject had shown that, in order to suppress that traffic, they should have lowered not raised the duty. Thanking their Lordships for the patience with which they had heard him, he would beg leave to move for a continuation of the papers he had ordered on a previous day with reference to this subject, and which, he believed, with ordinary dilligence, might have been ready in two hours, although they had not yet been laid on the Table.

The Duke of Wellington

said, my Lords, I regret that the papers which have been moved, for by the noble Earl have not been produced, and I was in hopes that the noble Earl would not have brought the subject under your Lordships' consideration till all the papers necessary were laid on your Lordships' Table. The subject is a very intricate one, and it is most desirable that you should have all the information relating to it before you. The very document which my noble Friend has read is not on the Table. I think also, it would have been desirable that my noble Friend should have confined his speech to that which relates exclusively to Irish spirits, and not called on your Lordships to repeal the Scotch malt drawback. We might as well have had the Irish question settled first. The noble Earl has stated correctly what passed in the last Session with reference to the necessity of this measure. He objected, in the first instance, that Ireland was not included in the Income-tax. I think he is justified, after the course he took last Session, and with the opinions he entertains as to the success of this measure, in endeavouring to prevail on the Government to make some alteration, but the mode of making those alterations should be communicated to the authors of the measure, and they should be convinced that it is desirable to altar it; it should not be brought to your Lordships' House, which, in the common course of things, can only give one vote on such a question. I object also to the noble Earl's bringing forward the whole question of spirits in Ireland in the absence of my noble Friend, the President of the Board of Trade. The noble Lord has stated truly the origin of this measure. It was adopted because it was found inconvenient to extend the Income-tax to Ireland for the purpose of prod using revenue. It was hoped, from the representations which had been made, that the measure would be successful in producing additional revenue, and would not cause increased smuggling. Besides, it was thought desirable by the distillers of Ireland themselves to bring the spirit duties of Ireland and Scotland nearer to an equality. My noble Friend has left out of consideration, that in point of fact, a large quantity of spirits is legally consumed in Ireland, which is brought from Scotland. It is a great advantage to Scotland to have its Spirits in bond, and sell them in Ireland. This quantity is never entered in the returns of duties. This makes a great difference in the returns. This is one reason for the addition of 1s. in the duty in Ireland. I adhere to what I stated—namely, that there is an increase of 40,000l. in the duties in 1842. The noble Earl is mistaken in supposing that I said the accounts for 1842 stated an additional produce of duty, taking the four quarters together, which did not exist till the last quarter. What I said was, that the year produced more, including the last quarter. I stated the facts which were on the returns, and nothing more. The noble Lord admitted one cause of the increase of distillation. It is owing to the extreme lowness of the price of oats last year, as well as the extreme dryness of the season, which gave a great facility for obtaining fuel. Oats and feel were cheaper than ordinary, and gave great facility to private distillation. But, at the same time, great activity has been used to put it down. Steamers have been stationed on the coast, which made it necessary to remove the spirits by land—the consequence of which was, that mote convic- tions had been obtained than in former years. If, however, your Lordships will examine the returns, you will Sad the convictions in 1842, under the act of last Session, and up to January, 1843, are not more numerous than those of former years, even with a low duty, when the price of oats was sow, and the same facility of obtaining fuel existed. It does not, therefore, follow, that the increased duty of 1s. is the cause of the increase of private distillation, taking the number of convictions as the test. It is certainly true that there has been for some years a gradual decrease in the amount of spirits paying duty. In the last Six or seven years the average has been 1,200,000 gallons. That was the amount of reduction last year. There might be some difference if the Scotch spirits paying duty was brought into account. The reduction has been owing to the gradual system of temperance which has fortunately been established, and which I say is most desirable to encourage. I have one other observation to make oh these returns. It is not true in point of fact when it is stated that drunkenness, and the crimes proceeding from that vice, increased in the last year. I believe it can be shown that the number of those crimes last year was below the average of the last eight or ten years, and drunkenness, and the crimes arising out of it, have decreased and continued to decrease up to the last moment of the returns. I do not find fault with the course which my noble Friend has taken to draw the attention of the public and the House to this subject; but I think another course might have been adopted. I have no authority for saying there is any intention of altering the present system with reference to the malt drawback. I understood that question to be settled entirely last Session, and to the satisfaction of the Irish distiller I don't think this House made any engagement that the malt drawback in Scotland should be withdrawn, but that the question should be made the subject of inquiry by a committee of the other House. That was done, and a measure was adopted which was considered satisfactory to the Irish distiller. I am sorry, If the noble Lord wished to take any objection to it, that be did not do so last Session, instead of bringing forward the question now without notice.

Lord Monteagle

said, after the full and able statement of his noble Friend, he did not think it necessary to advert to many parts of the question, but, as he had brought it forward on a previous occasion, he trusted he might be allowed to say a few words in reply to what had fallen from the noble Duke. He did not intend to mix up the present question with that of the malt drawback in Scotland; it was one of importance in itself; but he did not think it immediately connected with the main question then before the House. With regard to what the noble Duke had said of the question having been considered last year in committee, that was perfectly true; as also that all the distillers, the raw grain distillers, were only too glad to acquiesce in anything that took from them a certain amount of competition. He believed they were a small class. [The Earl of Wicklow: Only five.] But he could assure the noble Duke and the House, that those parties who had been entirely mined by the measure were not satisfied. He had had letters from these parties, stating that the measure had been productive of the most disastrous consequences to them, because their Lordships would have the goodness to recollect, that those distilleries were built after a particular plan, and they had to prepare themselves for the manufacture of that particular description of spirits which it was the pleasure of their Lordships and of the Legislature to encourage in Ireland—it was their pleasure to throw into the market an article that might enter into competition successfully with illicit distillation. Now they thought it rather hard that the Legislature should turn round on them under such circumstances, and, in his opinion, that was not at all unnatural. He had nothing to complain of in the course pursued by the noble Duke, the Government having fulfilled its pledge to inquire into the operation of the spirit duties in Ireland; but he contended, that the object of the bill, as it had been explained by those who introduced it into Parliament, was to equalise the duties in Scotland and Ireland. Now, that had not been done, because by the law, as it then stood, the Scotch raw grain distiller had it in his power to meet the Irish malt distiller in the market, he receiving the drawback, and the Irish distiller not receiving it. But that was, after all, but a very small part of the system. He felt regret for those who were injured by the operation of the law; but that which he again called the attention of their Lordships to, was the increase of crime from the vast increase of illicit distillation. Without meaning to cast the slightest reflection upon the Government, he would take the liberty of saying, that if they had only profited by experience—if they had only listened to those of the highest authority among themselves, they would have hesitated before they produced such a measure. He did not refer to the experience of the last two years—but from 1822 to 1842, with every alteration, the result had been precisely the same—an increase of the duty occasioning a falling off in the revenue, and a lowering of the duty bringing in a larger revenue to the Government. He said that upon the authority of the commission appointed by Lord Liverpool—upon the authority of the excise commission under Earl Grey, and of the proceedings of the Government in 1823, in 1830, in 1834, in 1840, and in 1842. In every one of these cases, without exception, the alteration of the duties, by increasing them, led to a diminution of the quantity of spirits brought to charge: and in every case in which there was a reduction of the duties, there was an increase in the quantity of spirits brought to charge. In 1823 the spirit duties were diminished from 5s. 7d. to 2s 4d. per gallon, and the effect was an increase in the number of gallons brought to charge of from 2,900,000l. in 1822, to 9,262,000 in 1825; the result was, that the Government thought themselves warranted in collecting a somewhat higher duty, and in 1830, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer increased the duty by sixpence. What was the effect? The consumption in 1829, was 9,212,000 gallons yielding a revenue of 1,305,000l., while in 1833 it fell to 8,168,000 giving a revenue of 1,361,000l. In 1834, Lord Spencer reduced the duty from 3s. 4d. to 2s. 4d., and the result was, that the consumption increased from 8,168,000 gallons to 12,296,000 in 1838, giving an increase of revenue above 1833 of 73,000. In 1840 the Chancellor of the Exchequer put on an additional 4d., but even that small sum occasioned a diminution in the revenue, as he forewarned their Lordships would be the case. In defiance of these authorities, and that experience, and the recommendations of their own commissioners, from the time of Lord Liverpool to the present moment, they had been induced, at the suggestion of the present Government, to increase the duty by 1s., and the result was, that while in 1842 the quantity brought to charge was 6,485,000 gallons, in the year ending 5th January, 1843, it had been only 5,290,000. Now, he would take upon himself to say, that if they merely looked upon the question as a matter of revenue—if they had no regard for the peace or well-being of the country—he would venture to say, that a greater financial mistake had never been made than that which the Government had committed in the present case. If the noble Duke would allow him, he would take the liberty of saying, that he did not think that the noble Duke had quite answered the statement of the noble Earl. If the noble Duke looked carefully at the proceedings of last year, he would find what the working of the spirit duties had been, and that would be best ascertained by comparing the two last quarters of the past year with the two last quarters of the year ending the 5th January last. In the October quarter of 1841, the number of gallons brought to charge was 1,625,000. In October, 1842, the number was 1,223,000. In the January quarter of the previous year the number was 1,809,000; and in the January quarter; 1843, the number was 1,386,000—so that there had been a steady and progressive falling-off in both these instances, amounting to a less receipt of revenue, in these two quarters than in the previous year. The noble Duke had said, that that was partly to be attributed to the good harvest, the raising of the turf crop, and the good quality of the grain, the price of oats being such as not to make it profitable to the peasant to turn it to such a purpose. But was that House to suit and shape its measures so that they were made ineffectual by reason of the blessings that Providence gave them? Did the Government look to a bad harvest and a bad rising of turf to enable them to save their revenue? Even then they would be in error, because nothing promoted distillation more than a bad harvest, the quality of the grain being such as to make it less valuable when brought to market, while it was still equally useful for the purpose of distillation. He knew not what returns the noble Duke referred to when he spoke of the increase of crime being parallel in former periods. He did not know what years the noble Duke referred to; but if they found that in the course of the last three years there had been an increase of the revenue, while there had been a corresponding diminution in the amount of crime, he did not think any analogy to be drawn from past times could meet the present case. Let their Lordships only look at the returns for the last year, and compare them with the previous one, and they would find that crime had enormously increased. Let them look at the number of detections in the last quarter of 1842, 1,040, being more than the whole of the previous year, when they were 881, or of the year 1840, when they were 1,004. In like manner the number of prosecutions had risen from 279 to 663. In the last quarter of 1842 they exceeded the whole of the prosecutions of 1840 or 1841. So in the convictions, which had increased from 202 to 478, but of these latter, 254 were included in the last quarter of 1842, being a greater number than were convicted in the whole of 1840 or 1841. How was it possible for any one who heard these facts stated to doubt for a moment that there was a connexion, and a necessary one, between the increase of crime and of illicit distillation? He was quite willing to take the statement from the noble Earl, that it was not fair to attribute very generally to the higher classes, or even to the farmers, any great disposition to connive at these practices. He did not want to affirm it, but supposing there was any, he asked was it fair or just, was it wise or expedient, to expose that class to such a temptation? Was it wise or just to expose those interested in the profits of land —whether they were proprietors or occupying tenantry—to the temptation which this law held out, which told them and showed them that they could make a much greater profit by violating the law than by observing it. If their Lordships only read the statements that were made in the public prints of the open and undisguised manner in which the sale of illicit spirits was carried on, and the boldness with which the smuggler was protected—200 persons at a time starting up to defend him, and driving off the revenue officers, defending their houses against the police, and, as the noble Earl had stated, some of them being obliged to interfere to save the lives of the officers—if their Lordships were only aware of these things, they would at once admit that nothing could justify an increase of the spirit-duty. He wished to protect himself from the supposition that he was unwilling to take upon spirits the highest amount of duty that could be collected. On the contrary, he thought they were bound to take upon spirits the highest amount they could—it was one of the best articles of taxation, and should be pressed to its Utmost limits, until they found themselves beaten by the smuggler. When they found this—when they found a combined resistance to the law through-out the country, and that the sympathies of the population did not accompany them in the administration of the law—that it became too severe in its operation, and led to an increase of smuggling'—then the sootier they retraced their steps the better, and he should consider it no personal or party victory; on the contrary, he should consider that it was a fair experiment for the Government to have tried, they not having been able to ascertain before-hand the amount of revenue they would have been able to raise.. The Government had officers in Ireland of the highest character, and there were no men in whom greater confidence ought to be placed; but, with all due respect for them, they had never witnessed the effect of high duties in Ireland. The experiment had been undertaken at a peculiarly disadvantageous period; but, looking at the experience of the past, he was sure, that let them try the experiment as they would, they would fail. He held in his hand a letter from a distiller in the north of Ireland, who stated that the measure had been his utter ruin, and that he was endeavouring to wind up his affairs. Many of the distillers were, he believed, rejoiced at this measure, because they said it was the only way to break down the temperance pledge, to encourage the people to illicit distillation, and they could, having effected that, rely upon the Government to put down illicit distillation, by lowering the duty, and then they would hare the trade to themselves. Now, was not that worth reflecting upon? It was most gratifying to hear the statement of the noble Duke on the subject of temperance, and he, for one, was delighted to hail that expression of his good-will towards the measure. It had been stated, and, be believed, with truth, that many of those persons who took the pledge were in gaol for illicit distillation, and there was the noble duke wishing well to the temperance movement while the Government were working the very antagonist muscle by the operation of the late spirit duties act. He would appeal to the noble Duke, as a financier—to the noble Duke as a statesman and a moralist—and he called upon him to enable their Lordships to give effect to the noble Duke's expression of good-will. The Government had taken to itself, and deservedly, great credit for its reduction in the customs duties, and they had laid down, in reference to them, principles of the most enlarged and comprehensive kind. They had taken 5, 10, and 20 per cent, as the maximum of the duty on foreign productions, but here they had a duty of 200 per cent, upon an article produced at home, and manufactured with ease by every peasant. It was said that the improvements of machinery had been introduced into this manufacture, and he believed such was the Case, and that it was at present reduced to the simplest process; and yet the sympathies of the Irish people were enlisted in behalf of the private distiller. The mischief that would result if the Government did not interfere in time it would take many years to repair. He hoped the noble Duke would take the subject into his serious consideration, and he was sure he would be greatly strengthened in his communications with the Government by the statements of the noble Earl. Nothing could be farther from the intention of those who took a part in this matter, than to do anything in the slightest degree offensive to the Government. He repeated, however, that the sooner they retraced their steps the better. As it was, the duty could not be said to produce anything, and it would be absurd to propose anything in the way of an equivalent to that burthen. But, if the consequence was, that the property of the country should pay, rather than the morals and peace of the country should be destroyed, and all the evils to which he had already referred re-introduced, he should rather see such a tax imposed, than the present ruinous and demoralizing system continued in Ireland.

Lord Fitzgerald

said, that he agreed with the noble Lords who had preceded him in the deep interest they took in the well-being and prosperity of Ireland. It was not a question merely of revenue and if he could persuade himself that the measure of last year had produced an increase of crime, had tended to the demoralization of the people, or had even in the slightest degree interrupted the advance of that great practical reform which was produced by the growing increase of temperance, he should not for the sake of any revenue risk so great and beneficial a change. But he thought, that there was no satisfactory argument to show that the increase of illicit distillation was at all owing to the increase of duty upon Irish spirits. He would ask his noble Friend (Lord Monteagle) if he had the least doubt, if the law remained unchanged, whether there would not be a fearful increase of illicit distillation in Ireland? The noble Lord had spoken of the temptation offered by a duty of 200 per cent,; but the high duty was not the only cause of illicit distillation; there was the low price of grain. Was it too much to say, that if the duty had remained at 2s. 8d., there must have been from that cause a large increase of illicit distillation in Ireland in the past year? Had the noble Lord the least doubt of it? When he found that the increase of illicit distillation, or at least the decrease of the quantity of spirits brought to account, was as great before the 4d. duty was imposed, it was too much to attribute all the increase of illicit distillation to the present system. The noble Baron had read a letter which he stated had come from a malt-distiller. He should like very much to know if the writer was not a person who had already been ruined by an Exchequer process, and had his distillery destroyed for an offence against the Excise-laws. It was impossible, when considering the situation of Ireland, both as respected its peace and revenue, not to feel assured that the attention of her Majesty's Government had been and would be most anxiously directed to this subject. He must say, he thought that the experiments respecting the present duty upon Irish spirits had not had a fair trial. He did not think that the productiveness or the failure of the crops had caused as increase in illicit distillation. It was the low price, that in the one instance was caused by a great abundance, and in the other instance because the grain was inferior in quality. They contended that the desire they had evinced in not potting a direct property-tax upon Ireland was a great boon conferred upon that country. He was equally ready, with his noble Friend to say, that it, as had been alleged, this system had tended to promote crime and demoralization in Ireland, let there be a property-tax placed upon that country; but he must first be convinced that such were the necessary consequences of the present law. He was not convinced of that; but he believed that the apparent increase in illicit distillation, as shewn by the number of criminals, was owing to the active and energetic measures which had been taken by the present revenue-police to bring to justice all offenders against the Excise-laws. With the assistance of those with whom he acted, he resisted the attempts that had been made to impose a system of direct taxation upon Ireland, and by to doing, they felt they consulted the best and the real interests of the United Kingdom. At all events, Government was not prepared to abandon the experiment, and was encouraged to believe, that the measures of prevention which had been taken, would, to a great extent, tend to prevent the continuance of illicit distillation.

Motion agreed to.


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