DIFFICULTY OF DOING JUSTICE: THE DISTILLERS. IT is not easy
to apply the most plain and obvious rule of abstract justice in a society so complicated as ours. Not the least evil of the partial system of cherishing and promoting "interests" by financial arrangements. So long as protective duties or exemp- tions to promote this or that branch of industry are upheld, wrong is done to all who are not engaged in it ; and any attempt to place others on a footing of equality with the favoured interest is almost certain to result in an act of injustice to some luckless individual whose case has been overlooked, and who, not expect- ing such a visitation, has been tardy in claiming attention. This general observation has immediate reference to the case of the British and Irish distillers. Three bills are making pro- gress through Parliament under the auspices of the Chancellor of the Exchequer,—the Sugar in Breweries Bill, the Sugar in Distilleries Bill, and the Customs Duties Bill ; which, having one Abject in view, and a very proper one,) must be taken as one measure. They are intended to open a wider field for the con- sumption of sugar, by permitting an extended use of it in breweries and distilleries, and. to admit Colonial spirits into the Home market- on equal terms (in so far as duties are concerned) with Home-made spirits. The principle of the measure is sound : itis the principle of free trade adopted when it tells in favour of the Colonies, since it has already been put in practice in a manner that tells against them. Still the details of the measure are open to criticism; and here the Home distillers take up their ground. They maintain that the rates of duty proposed to be levied on Colonial spirits, instead of .being equal, are in reality lower than what is to be paid by the Home distiller. The duty paid on Home-made spirits is—in Anglimd, 78. 10d. per gallon' in Ireland, 2s. 8d.: in Scotland, 3s. 8d. The duty proposed to be levied on Colonial spirits is—in England, 84. 4d. per gallon ; in Ireland, 3s. 2d. ; in Scotland, 4$. 2d. .Apparently there is in each case a difference of 6d. in favour of the Home distiller. But the spirit-duty is not the only tax levied on Home-made spirits. Of nearly sixteen millions and a half gallons on which duty was paid in 1846, up- wards of six and a half millions were distilled from malt. In the distillation of all the spirits net made from malt a portion more or less of that ingredient is used. The duty on malt is 2s. Bid. the bushel ; in. Scotland, half of this duty is returned to the distiller. If more than two gallons of spirits are produced from a bushel of malt, the Excise charge malt-duty on the excess. To the nominal duty on Home-made spirits, therefore, we must add 18.41d. per gallon-in England and Ireland, and 8d. per gallon in Scotland, for all spirits distilled from. malt, and for other spirits a proportional sum Recording to the quantity of malt used in distillation. The duty really paid by the Home distillers from malt will therefore be—in England, 9.8. 2d. ; in Ireland, 4s. ; and in Scotland, 4s. 4d. This being the case, the proposed. rates on Colonial spirits will amount- to a differential duty of 10d. per gal- lon against the English and Irish malt-distiller, and 2d. against the Scotch: The case of the grain-distillers is not so clear : the amount of malt-duty paid on their spirits varies according to the quantity of malt used by each individual. Some distillers estimate it as low as lid. per gallon, others ashigh as 44d. But there is a peculiarity in the.case of the grain-distillers that makes the duty they pay heavier than it appears. Their spirits must undergo a rectifying process before they are fit for use. The Excise regulations do not allow thadistilling and rectifying processes to be carried on in the same ism,- and the Excise-duty is levied on the spirits as carried the distillery. Rectifying occasions a considerable diminu- tion in quantity.; and consequently duty is paid on a larger quan- tity of spirits than is actually brought into the market. It is al- leged by the grain-distillers that this wastage has not been taken into account by the parties who fixed upon 6d. as the fair differ- ence between-the duties on Home-made and Colonial spirits.
Were the additional duty imposed. on Heme-made spirits in the shape of a.-malt-duty the only subject for consideration, the case of the malt-distillers might be easily disposed of. The proportion borne by the malt spirits to the whole spirits on which duty was paid in the Three Kingdoms, in 1846, will appear from the follow- ingfigures.
Grain Spirits Malt Spirits
Of the comparatively small quantities of malt spirits on which duty was paid in England and Ireland, none we are informed, was manufactured in England, and only a small part in Ireland.; the rest was prepared in Scotland for the English and Irish mar- kets. On the strength of these proportions it might be assumed, that distillation from malt was exceptional an.d accidental. in. Eng- land and Ireland, and distillation from grain. exceptional in Scot- land ; and the comparative rates of duty on Colonial and Home- made spirits might be regulated on this assumption. But such an arrangement would leave the allegations of the grain-distillers respecting the rectifying process undisposed of, and also the re- presentations both of malt and grain distillers as to the enhance- ment of their cost-price by the Excise-regulations under which they must work, and from which the Colonial distillers are free. Everything considered, the proposal of the distillers, to refer the investigation of the matter to a Select Committee' seems the fairest and most eligible. The case is one of technical details ; it is not fit for the rough handling and bush-lighting of a "Com- mittee of the whole House," but is better suited to the scrutiny of three or four intelligent Members sitting on it as-they would on a water-works or railway bill. No perceptible loss of time would.be incurred: the.points to which inquiry ought to be con- fined are few and palpable. A couple:of intelligent witnesses on the part . of the distillers, as many on the part of the Colonial in- terests, and one on behalf of the. Excise, would be sufficient. The investigation might be concluded satisfactorily in three days. That Parliament is. not. in possession of data whereon to form a correct judgment, will be-obvious from one circumstance. In the Excise reports-on distillation from grain and sugar, presented to both Houses, the quantity-of spirits yielded by a quarter of malt is .estimated at 18 or 19 gallons. In the schedule placed in, the hands of every distiller to be filled up, is &column headed " Pro-
In England. In Scotland. In Ireland.
8,958,998 1,072,814 7,022,617 717,488 5,368,697 582,579 9,076,381 6,441,011 7,605,196
portionate Deficiency of Malt, after the rate of one bushel -for every two gallons [t. e. one quarter for every 16 gallons] excess-of Proof Spirits." Either the Excise have given a false and ex- aggerated estimate of the quantity of spirits that can be produced from malt, or they systematically overcharge the distillers. With a view to immediate practical application, we have con- fined our remarks to the representations of the distillers. But the complicated system of levying duties, brought to light in the attempt to illustrate their case, has a much wider range of inte- rest. Let us compare the position of the manufacturer of spirits from malt with that of the manufacturer of piece goods from cot ton. Finished cotton goods are liable to no duty; spirits fit for the market are. The duty on malt spirits is levied at two stages' of the process : so much is charged on the malt, and so much on the spirits. The malt and the spirits must be made on separate premises, and both under lock and key of the Excise. Fancy for- a moment that one duty were imposed upon cotton yarns and another on piece goods ; that the spinner were forbid to weave on, the same premises ; and that both spinning and weaving were ordered to be carried on under lock and key of the Excise I The manufacture of malt spirits is subjected to duties and restrictions which would not be tolerated in the case of the cotton-manufac- turer. And the distiller is not the only sufferer. The grower of barley is thereby placed at a disadvantage as composed with the grower of cotton ; and the consumer of spirits is placed at a dis- advantage as compared with the consumer of cotton- goods-. There is here a glaring ease of oppressively unequal incidence of taxation.