Imágenes de páginas

The consideration of revenue belongs exclusively to the government, which takes evidence to guide its own decisions. That this is not erroneous, may be judged from perusing the evidence. One witness stated that a former reduction in the wine duties had laid the foundation of his own fortune. He was a holder of six thousand pipes of wine ; he should not much object to a reduction of the duties for himself; he should gain from five to ten pounds a pipe by such a reduction, but then the revenue would suffer by any change. How patriotic! Translate this into plain English, and it means, “I cannot on any account hazard a loss to the revenue, though it is no business of mine. I therefore refuse to accept of forty-two thousand pounds fairly obtained, out of a consideration of the risk the revenue would run through the inexperience of the government.” We may imagine a general cachinnation from the Docks to the Exchange at the perusal of such sophistry. It is positively consoling that we have wine-merchant Hampdens in these degenerate days. It is all very well to censure official men for errors in fulfilling their public duties, after we see the difficulty of getting at facts. The labour they have to encounter in ferreting out plain truths on which to frame legislative measures, renders venial a multitude of sins, and too often gives an appearance of wilful misjudgment where none really existed.

The reasons urged by the friends of the reductions of these duties consist, first, in the decrease of consumption since 1801, with an increase of population, to the extent of seven hundred thousand gallons annually, spirits and malt consumption having increased cent. per cent. ; secondly, Mr. Pitt, finding the duties falling off, made an important reduction, and in three years doubled the consumption. In the present instance the wine consumption has decreased forty-eight per cent., and in twenty years the duties have been increased nineteen, while on all other articles they have been reduced! The increase on some is out of proportion to the increment of the population. Tea three parts out of five, paper tripled, soap the same, coffee, cocoa, all showing similar results. Another argument is the enormous disproportion of these duties to the cost of the wine in the country of its production. This prevents an interchange of our manufactures to a very large amount with countries that have nothing besides to offer us. It is therefore for our advantage that all kinds of wine should be imported which the foreigner may tender in exchange for English produce and manufactures at a reasonable rate of duty. The public have an undoubted right to select the species they may prefer. Let it have the opportunity.

The advocates of the reduction of the duties assert that good French wines would be consumed to a considerable extent by those who will not touch spirits or malt liquors, and by those who now consume a million of gallons of those extraordinary compounds called British wines, of as little benefit to the revenue and to commerce as to the consumer's stomach-why should not grocers, for example, sell foreign wines in place of these? It is contended, too, that the duties press heavily upon the poor and the hospitals; medical men assert that they cannot administer wine in necessary quantities-although it is worth all the materia medicato the poor, on account of its costliness. The objection that the introduction of wines at a low rate of duty would diminish the consumption of other articles from which large duties are now derived, the friends of


the measure meet by the experience of the last reduction of duty upon brandy, which increased the consumption, but did not affect other spirits in the slightest degree. That increase arose either from those who had before taken it adding to their use of the spirit, or from its adoption by those who had before refrained from the use of any spirit whatever, The late Mr. Porter, of the Board of Trade, gave this as a fact in his evidence before the committee. The additions made to consumption from those who had before refrained were owing to the expense of the article being removed : thus, when duties are lowered, there would be found no shift from the old accustomed article to the new, but new consumers of the article would come in. In the case of wine, the spirit drinker will not go to the weaker potable, it is too cold for his use. The new consumers of wine, when rendered cheap, will not have recourse to ardent spirits, as they will consist of those who only desire something of a less injurious nature to the stomach-something wholesome and harmless. Then come the moral reasons. The prevention of frauds, adul. terations, minglings, and monopolies. The consumer and revenue would be alike benefited; the latter, if not immediately in the increased amount, still ultimately. The troublesome system of drawbacks would cease, and the payment of the duties be instanter. Such high duties as those on wine are the remnants of the old system. High duties are great immoralities, generating uniformly more or less of crime. The trade would and should be as free and open as with any other article of import, under the superintendence of the customs alone. Nor, 'say the advocates of a change, must the employment of nearly three hundred sail of merchant shipping more, nor the large amount of business that would be transacted in England, be omitted, in place of the preparation and cellaring in foreign depôts. Jersey, Guernsey, and other places would no longer be made deposits for wine to acquire age in bottle before the payment of the duties, or for fraudulent blendings here to ripen in those places, as is the case at present. The supporters of a reduction also assert that the diminished consumption of wine arises solely from the enormous rate of duty, which has made that consumption at the present time less than it was in 1801, with a population double in amount. The equalisation of the duties in 1832 was a proper measure, but it was no reduction of duty, for it raised one class of wine-that most in use--while it lowered another of which much less was imported. Sir Henry Parnell at that time stated, alluding to the Irish revenue from wine, that it returned 150,000l. in 1796, that the duties were doubled in amount, and the consumption fell one half, returning to the revenue but 130,0001.

It would appear that on all articles consumed at the table the duties should be low, and the revenue rely for increase upon augmented consumption. People in these grasping times, much more than ever they did before, because wealth rapidly acquired in traffic renders the eagerness for fresh accumulation stronger, regard the money they eat and drink as a species of waste, because it can no more fructify, while about that expended in other things they hesitate less, because, though not a means of profit, such things are still tangible property-something to show in the way of return. This is a trait of the time, and should have weight in considering disproportionate duties on transitory articles of domestic use. The friends of reduction allege further, that the people of England had a

claim to be placed on a footing of independence in the choice both of their necessaries and luxuries. That if the soil of other countries more favoured produces wine, and they can exchange for it the produce of their industry, thus equalising the inequality of climate, that it is a duty of their government, under the principle upon which it now regulates commerce, to afford all classes of the people that which is pleasurable and useful at a reasonable cost, no longer judging for them, but giving them a choice, of which they are not less worthy than legal in the claim, Europe overflowing with the choicest wines unknown here.

Of the foregoing opinions, judging from the evidence, were the witnesses examined, who were dealers in a variety of wines, and had travelled into the wine countries, as well as those who, not of the trade, had considered the subject upon the ground of economy and revenue combined. The evidence of those who opposed the measure consisted for the most part of merchants, who rested their opinion of the change upon the desire to leave the duties as they were, under the mask of anxiety, as already observed, lest there should be a diminution of the revenue, which would be caused by any reduction of the duties. They preferred that to which custom habituated them. The tea-dealers did not like to hear of the reduction of their duties the other day. The reduction of the duties to one or two shillings per gallon, they said, would produce a dearth, if the consumption increased here too far. Some declared, in ignorance of facts, that Europe did not grow wine enough for English consumption; and as that which would be most in demand, according to their conclusions, would be the wine of Portugal, in the teeth of the fact that we consume at present more Spanish than Portuguese wine, the quantity (under the company's system of monopoly no doubt) would be inadequate. New vineyards might be planted, but that was the work of time. The present half-cultivated grounds might be permitted a full bearing, but not enough France produced strong full wines in a large quantity, but in general the evidence of those who were dealers principally in the two well known wines of Portugal and Spain, exhibited a deplorable want of information regarding other wines and countries throughout the evidence-why should they visit where they did not trade? They seem to have been satisfied with one or two solitary species of wine upon which to operate, and gave their evidence accordingly. This is a proof how much the monopoly of 1703 changed the commerce in wines, from the time when fifty-six French wines, and thirty kinds from other nations, entered the cellars of the metropolis, as already noticed. The sensitive character of this branch of commerce, the nervousness of the trade--how ludicrous against the public advantage in argument is thus comprehensible. One individual alleged as an argument against reduction, that he had always considered the trade one “ we could carry to market to get a benefit in exchange for it from some one of the wine countries; in this way we had sold it to Portugal in 1703, and about eight or nine years ago there was a negotiation set on foot for a similar sale to the same country.” That is to say in substance, that the differential duties abolished by the government in 1832 were to be restored; the public was to be re-sold by a ministerial intrigue, and to pay many millions more for an article under a new monopoly than it would pay under a free and open trade. We do not credit this misrepresentation. Sir Robert Peel must have indeed. reversed his former opinions, between 1842 and 1846, if such were really the case. riIt is true, negotiations were pending for a time, but they ended in nothing ; nor can it be believed any modern minister would restore the stipulations of the Methuen treaty." The differential duties were the favourite duties of the close traders. The 'ministry of 1832 consulted some of the heads of houses of this class, who recommended strongly their continuance, not wishing to be turned into new "paths in their trade, or, as the phrase was, to have their trade unhinged," or have their sensitiveness wounded. The ministry was too wise and just, and answered the recommendation by equalising the duties. It is well known that French wines now go for port, or are mingled in large proportions with port, and the cheat passes without detection. Some witnesses feared their cellars would be glutted with low wines, against which the public were protected by the existing duties. These wines were not so good for Englishmen as those to which they had been accustomed. But this was not for them to judge ; leave the choice to the consumer. One or two sadly driven and very stolid witnesses asserted that we had no right to lower duties to promote an exchange of wine for manufactures, because malt and beer were our proper liquors, to which we'owed our physical superiority to foreigners-“ beerdrinking Britons” would become children if they did not stick to malt and hops; but our field labourers would hardly forsake their old liquor for wine if they did for gin. " English labour would hardly thus pass away. This argument, not new, was the resource of inveterate mental imbecility. The number of persons who dealt in wine, too, would be increased; a thing not desirable among the merchants; one of the witnesses observing that they were too numerous as matters stood at present, in his opinion; and no doubt of it, because competition benefits the public, exclusion the individual." We had until then imagined that the extension of the sale of an article benefited the merchant, revenue, and consumer. 1 o.

In answer to such arguments on the side of those opposed to reduction, came the formidable one of the low scale of morality existing in the traffic, abundantly displayed throughout the evidence. The stratagems and frauds to which recourse is had; delay in the payment of the duties ; the mixtures of low-priced with good wine; these were matters of common occurrence. But these and other dishonest doings some of the parties examined treated as fabulous ; others had heard of them, but were never acquainted with any direct instance of such frauds. The custom and dock officers examined confirmed the existence of these deceptions, and several eminent merchants admitted their existence. Under a process called blending or vatting, to give an instance: A merchant' is required to send to a customer half a dozen pipes of a wine exactly the same in flavour. He empties his half a dozen pipes of the same growth into one vat, and then returns them to the casks, by which means a uniform flavour is attained, which, despite care, can be obtained no other way. This is done in the docks, and is perfectly justifiable. Let us see how this process is abused. Port, French, Sicilian, and Spanish red wines, the latter two at half or a fourth the price of the former, are blended, and if it suits, the gerupiga mixture also. The wine is then exported, because the customs will not let it come out for home consumption. It goes perhaps to the Channel Islands, where it remains a few years to mellow, and is then re-imported, and passes off here for port wine !


This is bne of the more innocent of the frauds practised. Sixty-five thousandi gallons of this mixed wine are known to have been thus treated in a year. The custom-house officers, when the wine is returned to this country, cannot refuse it admission. The officers, may givel a shrewd guess as to the real fact, but they cannot identify the wines besides, they have only to look after the revenue. To examine into the genuineness of imported goods, where the task is by no means an easy one even to the initiated, would be to obstruct trade generally, and to depart from their more immediate public duties. Twenty thou: sand gallons of port thas increased to sixty thousand, must give a large illicit profit. The Portuguese monopoly, defying nature, varies the flavour and strength of the wine by adulteration according to the demand, renders ing fraudful imitations more, facile. One of the witnesses, who seemed aware of much more than he stated of these deceptions, and who observed the affected ignorance, the virgin coyness of some of the witnesses in the trade; remarked, in reply to a question from the chairman, that any merchants who exhibited it “ could not know their business, and were surely not London wine-merchants." This obliquity in morals is but too distinctive a feature in the evidence, and is justly charged in a great degree upon the high duties by their opponents. Of the commercial integrity which has been the boast of the traders of this country in times past, little can be said in relation to wine. There is corruption at the core. The evidence in this respect is very painful, and too conclusive. The matter has not been mended by the enhanced cost placing wines out of the reach of the great mass of the people. While improvement in cultivation was stopped abroad from want of popular action upon the article, there was no interest in dragging to light malversations which only affected a limited number of consumers, whose palates in the case of port were too often regulated not by the natural -wibe, but the wine by the unnatural palates. sri The main point to be considered in a reduction of this duty to such an extent' as to take the traffic out of the old protective system of trade cand place it on a footing with other interchanges in the new, is the chance of a defalcation of the revenue in the first instance - the smete circumstance of a deficiency of half the duties for a year or two. - That amount would not exceed what the government has had to refund more than once on the repayment of the duties to the merchant, when Ithey have been reduced. But there are other obstacles mainly arising cout of that complication of duties which was formerly considered the

lifespring of the revenue. Mr. Pitt removed a number of these when she consolidated the duties in 1787, but he left those which remained ostill divided between the customs and excise, in place, as at present, of giving their control entirely to the former : hence the bad system of repayments of duty. These we really believe are already abolished de facto. - Time will prove it. The system of licences must be altered and extended, those for wine alone being given to the inland revenue department to dispense; the duties on wine for home consumption being paid at once, there must be different arrangements in regard to bond

ing ; different rates of duty have to be considered, a difficult if not cimpracticable measure in regard to wine. Thus, though the Chancellor ! of the Exchequer stated that “he knew no article burdened with a

« AnteriorContinuar »