HL Deb 14 June 1860 vol 159 cc418-22

LORD MONTEAGLE moved for Account showing the Amount of Drawback paid, or which will be payable, on Foreign Wines by reason of the Reduction of the Duty on Wines by the Commercial Treaty, distinguishing French, Spanish, Portuguese, and other Foreign Wines.

The noble Lord said, he believed there would be no objection to the Return, but he took the opportunity of asking two Questions, of which he had also given notice. It was generally known that the wine trade between this country and Spain and Portugal, was very much larger than that with France; and probably it would in future be still larger relatively if the consumption of foreign wine were generally increased by the reduction of duty, for the wines of the Peninsula were stronger and more familiar to the palates of Englishmen, than the light wines of France. In 1857 the importation of Spanish and Portuguese wines was 5,080,000 gallons; while of French wine it was only 622,000 gallons. Yet, so far as the House was informed, the reduction of duty on this enormous quantity of Peninsular wine was made by England without obtaining, or even seeking any equivalent concession. He wished to know whether any negotiations were pending or were proposed with a view to induce the Spanish and Portuguese Governments to make corresponding reductions in their tariffs against us, to compensate for the great advantages which their wine-growers would derive from the recent changes in the wine duties. In 1856 the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a debate upon a Motion for a reduction of the wine duties, said:— That he would state, with argumentative reasons, his grounds for opposing the Motion. We should, to a considerable extent, rely for revenue upon import duties, as well as on taxes on internal consumption. In 1810, when the duty was 13s. 8d. on French, and 9s. 8d. on Portugal, wines, was the year of greatest revenue—the duty produced £2,786,000. Notwithstanding the reduction to an uniform duty of 5s. 9d., the consumption of 1854 was only 6,775,000 gallons, and the revenue only £1,914,000. Thus, notwithstanding the great increase of population and reduction of duty, the consumption and revenue have diminished since the early years of the century . . I believe it is in vain to expect that any considerable quantity of the weaker wines of the Continent will be consumed in this country . . Inquiries have been instituted to ascertain whether there were any means of imposing ad valorem duty on wine. None has been as yet contrived. The only means by which the inferior wines of the Continent could be admitted would be to lower the duty on wines, so as to make them a substitute for spirits and beer, and subject these latter to an unfair competition.

The question of revenue was important; since the introduction of the Budget, from changes in the duties made or acquiesced in by the Government we had lost £171,000 by the wine duties, and £110,000 by the changes in the warehousing system, it became necessary to consider whether, if we sustained such losses in dealing only with revenue of no more than hundreds of thousands, whether we might not sustain still greater losses when we dealt with articles which brought in £15,000,000 or £16,000,000 annually to the revenue. He alluded to the duties on malt, hops, and British spirits, which could not fail to be affected if a large increase in the consumption of foreign wines took place. He, therefore, wished to know whether any information had been obtained or calculation made of the losses which might be sustained upon British spirits, malt, and hops, in consequence of the reduction of the duties on foreign wines. Upon that point he would quote some observations of the present Home Secretary, who had expressed a fear that a lowering of wine duties would tend to diminish the revenue from other articles of consumption. Sir George Lewis, in 1856, said:— It would, undoubtedly, be advantageous if, consistently with the demands of the revenue, it were in our power to reduce the duties on wine. But, looking to the great amount of our revenue, which is derived from beer and spirits, and remembering that if the duty on wine, which is already a moderate duty, were still further reduced, it would interfere with the consumption of other fermented liquors, I think the revenue would suffer more than the demands of the public service will permit.

These inquiries were important at the present moment, for the present state of things could only be taken as provisional, because important circumstances had occurred since the plans of the Government had first been explained in February last, and to increase greatly the probable amount of our expenditure, He need only draw their Lordships' attention to the question of national defences, for which an enormous sum was stated to be required under circumstances of deep exigency; and he could not help remarking that though the Report of the Commission was signed in February last, it was not comunicated to Parliament though urgently pressed for, until nearly the middle of June. That paper of itself, if there were nothing else, would be quite sufficient to show that every effort, by a careful maintenance of the revenue, as well as by the most effectual economy, ought to be made to meet the augmenting necessities of the country. His questions were, Whether any Negotiations are pending or proposed in respect to Alteration of Duty consequent upon the Reduction of the Import of Duties on Spanish and Portuguese Wines: and Whether any Information has been obtained, or Calculation has been made, showing the Losses which may be sustained on British Spirits, Malt or Hops, by reason of the Reduction of Duties on Foreign Wines?


said, there would be no objection to the production of the Returns moved for, but expressed a hope that the noble Lord would postpone the Motion for the present. With regard to the question whether negotiations were pending, or proposed, in respect to alterations of duty consequent upon the reduction of import duties on Spanish and Portuguese wines, he would observe that when the French Treaty was first discussed in that House, the Government were reproached with taking a retrograde step, and were charged with resorting to the system of reciprocity treaties. The Government gave reasons why they considered the case an exceptional one, believing that, by means of the Treaty, Prance would be enabled to reduce her duties, and that benefit would be conferred on this country. The Government, however, never intended, certainly, to take such a backward step as to postpone their intended alterations until they obtained the assent of every country to a reduction of duties. With regard to Portugal, communications had taken place with a view of inducing her to reduce her tariff; but though those communications had not yet been successful, one important point had been gained. There existed certain fiscal restrictions in respect to the wines of that country, the abolition of which would be of the greatest importance to the trade, and the Portuguese Government had agreed to effect that abolition, and had brought in a Bill for that purpose. With regard to Spain, the Government had not entered yet into official communications on the subject, but he believed that that country was not actuated by any inimical feeling. With respect to the last Question, it was impossible to give a categorical answer. The amount of loss likely to be sustained must be matter of opinion, and all he could say was that it was not believed that the reduction of the wine duties would interfere with the produce of the duties on malt, hops, and British spirits. If, however, wine should be substituted in any degree for malt liquor, then the substitute would have to pay a higher duty. With regard to spirits, it was not clear that foreign spirits might not interfere with the duty on British spirits; but that was as broad as it was long, as the duty was equal in either case. With regard to the Report of the Fortification Commission, it was true that their Report had been completed and signed some months since; but the delay in its presentation was owing to its having been referred to the Committee on the National Defences, and the Government received the final Report only a fortnight ago.


intimated that he would postpone his Motion.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.