HC Deb 09 March 1804 vol 1 cc810-22

Mr. Corry moved the order of the day for going into a committee on the Irish Duties Bill.

Colonel Hutchinson

said, it was not his intention to oppose the motion of the hon. I gent., but he could not avoid making a few I observations upon the schedule before the House. He was willing in pay every tribute to the rt. hon. gent., the Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland, for the candid and liberal manner in which he had conducted himself upon this occasion, but he was sorry to find that the 4 per cent, duty upon Irish exports was to be continued upon every part of the exports of Ireland. The rt. hon. gent. had himself acknowledged, on a former occasion, that the provision trade of Ireland was in a languishing condition, and he thought that was a sufficient reason why it should be exempt from the general export duty.—He then adverted to the tax upon leather, which, he said, had been kid on under an idea that it could net exceed id. per pound, but in fact it was considerably more.—The taxes on saltpetre he particularly condemned, as tending to injure the provision trade of Ireland, which was already too much on the decline; and the proposed abrogation of the drawback heretofore allowed on the exportion of foreign herrings, he was instructed to say, would be attended with serious mischief to the city of Cork, which he had the honour to represent, and which had derived a profit of not less thin 80 or 90,000l. per ann. from that the. Independently of this loss to a particular port, he recommended to the it. hon. gem. to consider the injury that would be done to the carrying trade, by removing this encou- ragement to cur commerce; and also that if the drawback were set aside, our West India islands were likely to be supplied with herrings by Sweden and other powers. If these points were not attended to, he much feared that such inattention would contribute to aggravate the discontent which prevailed in Ireland, in consequence of the conduct pursued by the present ministers towards that unfortunate country, since their accession to power. This was a consideration, however, which they did not appear much to value, for instead of attempting to conciliate, to cultivate the good opinion of the Irish people, instead of conceding to their just claims, they had manifested a disposition, if that disposition could be judged of from the conduct of their ostensible and favourite agent in Ireland, to impugn the inclinations, to wound the pride, to insult the feelings, and to traduce the character of nine-tenths of the Irish people.

Mr. Ker

said, that with regard to the export tax upon linen, considering it as he did as a war tax, he should certainly not oppose it; but, he wished the right hon. gent, to advert to one circumstance, which he considered as bearing hard upon Ireland. By the articles of union, if there was a surplus of any foreign article either in Great Britain or Ireland, it might be exported to the other with a full drawback of the duty: but if a merchant in Ireland wished to export tobacco, for instance, to England, he could only do it in a vessel of a certain size; this appeared to him to be an impediment upon trade. With regard to the window tax, when it was laid on in Ireland, it was always considered as a war tax, though now it was made a permanent one.

Mr. John Latouche

adverted to the state of the exchange between Gt. Britain and Ireland, and said it was a subject that called for the immediate attention of Parliament. With regard to the schedule before the House, the rt. hon. gent, had certainly attended with the utmost candour to the representations of the merchants upon the subject, and in most instances their wishes were complied with; in others, however, they were not. There were two articles particularly upon which he thought a reduction of duty ought to take place, and they were foreign oils and foreign hops, the latter he conceived ought to be admitted' to be imported free of duty.

Sir John Newport

also expressed his thanks to the rt. hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer for Ireland, for the attention he bestowed upon every suggestion or objection that was made to him. But there were some points in which he still did not approve of this schedule. In the first place, he agreed with the hon. gent. (Col. Hutchinson,) with regard to what he had said about the importation of foreign herrings; but the subject to which he wished principally to advert, was the importation of the article of deals into Ireland. He was sorry to find there was an increased duty upon that article. The peasantry of Ireland had of late expressed a wish to have their cottages slated instead of thatched; this disposition he thought ought to be encouraged, because he knew that several villages were actually forced into the rebellion, by the threat of having their cottages burnt, which could be easily accomplished while they were covered with thatch. He therefore really hoped that this duty would not be increased.

Mr. Hawthorne

approved of the schedule in general, but wished merely to advert to the increased duty in grocers licences. He did not know upon what ground that duty had been increased, and he did not think if it was persisted in that it would be productive of any increase of revenue.

Mr. Carry,

after expressing the satisfaction he felt at the approbation which had been expressed of his conduct by so many members from that part of the United Kingdom, proceeded to answer the different objections which had been made. He said that though these duties were now to be voted without limitation, they would of course be liable hereafter to revision, alteration, or repeal, and therefore he hoped that no apprehension would be entertained upon the idea that these taxes were to be voted permanently.—Another observation he wished to make was, that all the duties laid on in Ireland, to correspond with war duties laid on in this country, would of course cease as soon as the war ceased, and the duties were taken off in this country.—With regard to the provision trade of Ireland, it certainly did languish, but he hoped it was only for a time; the fact was, that the war-demand had ceased and the peace-demand had not begun, which was a reason for a temporary diminution of the trade; but he had no doubt but that war would soon revive, particularly as there was a large army maintained in Ireland and a large fleet on the coast, and-the consumption of provisions by them would at least compensate for the temporary decrease of the foreign trade.—With regard to the drawbacks on sugar, they certainly ought to be the same in both countries, and if there were any instances in which from any mistake they were not so, they would be rectified.—With respect to the leather trade, he did not conceive that any reduction of the duty was necessary, because it had continued to prosper, and he believed those who were engaged in it were perfectly satisfied. With regard to the duty upon the importation of foreign herrings, he could not agree will the hon. gent, that it ought to be reduced; the duty was 6s. 7d. a barrel, and under that duty the trade had increased, and he was sure it would not be denied that Parliament ought to adopt every means to encourage our own fisheries. With regard to tobacco, the reason why it could only be shipped on board vessels of certain size was, because it was necessary, in order to prevent its being smuggled into the little creeks and harbours ot Ireland in small vessels which the customhouse cutters could not follow. He then proceeded shortly to advert to the other objections which had been made to the schedule, but contended that they were not such as ought to induce the House to lower the duties.

Mr. Dawson

observed, that the window tax, which, at the time it was laid on, was professed to be a war tax, appeared in the hill before she House among she permanent taxes. This tax the hon. member recollected, was said, at its introduction, to be pointed particularly at the disatched; for it Was remarked, that as they were not of that description of persons who would contribute to the exigencies of the state, by any tax on wine, &c. they must be made to pay for their light: and the Home would no doubt be surprised to hear, that this tax on light was much beyond the rate then levied by a similar tax in this country. The hon. member expressed his disapprobation of the tax on the export of Irish linen, which he considered to be a violation of the letter and spirit of the union; and a full confirmation of the predictions so often delivered by the adversaries of that measure, previous to its enactment; namely, that whenever the interests of the two countries should happen to come in competition, the 100 representatives for Ireland would avail very little, however well disposed towards their native country, against the 58S members who are immediately interested in the concerns of G. Britain.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

defended the measure, and said, he could not see upon what principle of justice Irish linens were to be imported free of duty, while the English linens were to pay a duty of 4 per cent.

Mr. G. Ponsonby

saw no ground for acceding to the additional tax upon Irish linen. To committee had been instituted to ascertain how far it was just or necessary. The House had nothing to proceed upon in justi- fication of the measure, but the assertion of the right hon. gent. As to the comparison made between the linen of Ireland and England, the fair mode of considering the question was, whether both countries were equally tit to bear the proposed tax. The reason assigned in support of this equal tax as it was termed, appeared to him to be very extraordinary indeed, viz. that it would be unfair that if Irish and English linen should be shipped in the same ship, the one should be subject to the tax, and the other exempt from it. Then, if that were to be the criterion, it seemed if those goods were carried in different ships, the complaint of inequality in taxation would disappear. The learned member recommended, for the sake of clearness, and for the satisfaction of the House, that the right hon. gent, should draw up two separate schedules, in the one of which should be classed such taxes as were meant to be permanent ones, and in the ocher the taxes which were to cease at the expiration of the war.

Mr. Alexander

said, that it would be impossible for even England herself, with her great capital, to rival the north of Ireland in the linen trade, it was so firmly established in that article of commerce.

Mr. Foster

mid, that without entering into any detail upon the subject, he wished only to state, that they were by one act vesting a perpetual revenue in the crown of millions a year. But this was not all, there was; what was called the heriditary revenue of the I crown in Ireland, which it was proposed to dispose of without any message or assent being delivered from the throne upon the subject.

Mr. Pitt

said, he certainly was not aware of the objection which had been made by the right hon. gent, who spoke last. He was not prepared now to give a'decided opinion upon the subject, but he was prepared to say, that upon such an objection coming from such a quarter, the House ought not to proceed without very maturely considering the subject. If the right hon. gent. was not mistaken in the objection he had made, if the bill now before the House went to produce that effect, and there was no message from the Crown to authorize that proceeding, it was undoubtedly a breach of the proceedings and constitution of Parliament, and one that ought not, and he hoped would not, be passed over lightly.

Mr. Carry

was about to proceed in further explanation, and to add some further arguments, when lie was interrupted by

Mr. Foster,

who called him to order, saying, that by explanation he understood that a member of Parliament was to explain what he meant by what he had already said, and not what he was going to say.

The Speaker

observed, that if it was objected to, the right hon. gent, could not be allowed to go into arguments upon a question to which he had already spoken, without the special leave of the House.

Mr. Corry

said, that for obvious reasons, and out of respect to the House, he should certainly confine himself to explanation, and be very short: what he had to say arose out of the observations of a right hon. gent, whom he never heard without great respect. He should, however, state how the matter stood. The civil list was granted in Ireland an the 33d of the sing, and these provisions which were now under discussion, were enacted in lieu of those duties which subsisted before that time. His Majesty having given up the receipts of his revenue, the heriditary dues to the Crown had merged during that time; but the right to them was not disturbed, but was to revive in full force at the expiration of the term for which the civil list was granted; thus it was, that from year to year the heriditary duties to the Crown remained as it were in abeyance, during the continuance of this arrangement between the Crown and the public, but would revive again after the time had expired during which the agreement was in force. This bill was formed on the model of other bills which had passed from year to year in Ireland from that time, and this only to render permanent that system which had been adopted and annually passed in Ireland. The right of the Crown necessarily revives when the period arrived by which the arrangement was at an end; nor was there the least intention to the contrary. Thus the case stood 911 constitutional principles. Now, a certain portion of these duties was granted annually, some of which were now inserted in this bill, which was proposed to be permanent, and a certain proportion was omitted in this bill, such as the land and malt, that was an annual measure yet; and with regard to the other duties, it was proposed that they should be permanent, and they were, the consolidated fund of Ireland, charged with the interests of the national debt and also the civil list of his Majesty, and that of the proportion which Ireland was to bear of its contribution it was bound to make to the public burthen by the union, as well as all the pensions and other parliamentary payments that were to be made. He was not aware there was any thing ill this bill, or that any thing would arise out of it, which would in any degree affect the heriditary revenues of the Crown, longer than they are already by the consent of the Crown, and by agreement between the Crown and the public had been already provided.

Mr. Foster

said, he should also make a short explanation of what he had said, and that he should do by way of reply to what had been said by the right hon. gent. He had just said, that of forming the consolidated fund of Ireland these heriditary revenues had been given up by his Majesty, by a gracious message, desiring that Parliament might bring them to the public aid, and dispose of them as Parliament should think proper, and that in lieu of them the Crown had a civil list. Now, this agreement could only be binding on the Crown during the existence of the right in his Majesty. His Majesty had only a life interest in these hereditary revenues; but what was to be the effect of this bill? It was that of a perpetual disposal of these hereditary revenues of the Crown, not only during his Majesty's present, but also during every reign to eternity. He would ask, if that was parliamentary? He would ask, was it constitutional to divest the Crown for ever of its rights, without any consent from the Crown, without even so much as a message from the Crown? This was a point too clear to enter largely into it, and therefore he should not trespass any longer on the patience of the House.

Lord Castlereagh

said, he had not had an opportunity of reading this Bill, and he had no means of knowing what it contained: he did not apprehend it would have the effect stated by the right hon. gent. However, if the words in the bill should be found to go further than his tight hon. friend apprehended and had stated, it would be for the House to consider it, when the clause came to be read. The principle of the bill was clear; but as the interest of the Crown was concerned, it was important to take care that nothing should find its way into it by inadvertency, which might have the effect of disturbing the settlement made between the Crown and Parliament of Ireland, on the hereditary revenues and the civil list, as it took place on the 33d of the King. Now, how did it stand? The Irish Parliament, after this agreement with the Crown, provided that the duties given up to the Crown should be applied to the use of the public for one year, and continued them from year to year, until they had been made permanent since the union; for the practice of the Parliament of Ire hind was different from that of England in that respect. His right hon. friend had said, that on public grounds it was expedient that there duties should con- tinue in operation without a fresh arrangement every year; and this bill was only to reader permanent, duties which were voted away by the Parliament of Ireland annually, since the 33d year of the present reign; it was a principle acted upon by the Crown ever since; nor was there the least idea that its operation should continue further than daring the life of the Monarch now on the Throne; it could not affect the tights of the Crown afterwards. But (he right hon. gent. who spoke last =aid, that it would be in operation during the succeeding reigns. Now he had not read the bill., and therefore he could not say what it contained, but if it bad any provision which might so operate, that provision might be altered. The surrender of these duties, by agreement between the Crown and the Parliament was absolute during the life of his present Majesty; and it was for the Parliament to consider whether the appropriation of them should be permanent, or only from year to year. He thought that on sound principles of revenue they ought to be permanent, in order to give to the public credit better security than could attend the passing of them to the public use from year to year. He believed that his right hon. friend would be able to satisfy the jealousy of the House, that there was nothing in the bill to affect the interest of the Crown unfavourably, at least nothing that could not be altered to the satisfaction of the House in a Committee.

Mr. Rose

wished to know whether there was in this bill, any specific provision to shew that the hereditary revenues of the Crown shall revert to the Crown, when that period should occur when there, was a demise of the Crown, for if there was no such provision in tin's bill, he doubted very much, whether the bill should have come into the House at all; and he was sure that if not, the House ought not to go into a Committee upon it, at least until a message came to the House, from the Crown, desiring them to proceed upon such a measure. As to the malt duty in Ireland, which was still an annual vote, he did not know the amount of it so as to be able to judge of the check which Parliament retained in that respect upon the executive government, by way of power to withhold the supplies from year to year. If the right hon. gent, could satisfy the House upon these two points he should be glad to hear him.

Mr. Corry

said, that accounts had been kept of the hereditary revenues distinct from the others, and he was informed that the law officers in Ireland prepared a clause for the purpose of saving the rights of the Crown from every thing except the operation of the agreement between the Crown and the Parliament of Ireland, in the 33d of the Crown. Whether the mode which had been adopted for that purpose was such, wa3 not for him to state; he knew that that principle had always been preserved, and had understood that the provisions were adequate for that purpose. That provision had always been inserted in every revenue bill since the agreement had been entered into between the Crown and the Parliament of Ireland, and he took it for granted that every thing would be adopted by the House that was necessary for perfect clearness. This bill was clearly of the form of former bills, which contained a provision for saving the rights of the Crown. Here he read the provision out of the Statute Book in a former Act of Parliament. Mr. Foster asked if that provision was in the present bill? Mr. Corry said, he had no doubt of it: the House would consider how it was prepared. He had no doubt it was correct, though he had not had an opportunity of reading it; it was sent to him in the usual manner after it was drawn up by the law officers of the Crown. As to the amount of the duties proposed to be voted permanently, and those which were to be annual, the annual was above one-tenth of the whole.

Mr. Canning

said, that the first question now, was not whether there was such a clause as that which was alluded to by the right hon. gent. but whether in fact, the House could do any thing further without further explanation, or whether indeed the right hon. gent, ought not to have beta ready with his explanation before he came forward with his bill? The next question was, if there was not such a clause, what the House should allow to be done upon such a gross violation of form, and such a substantial objection in principle, so essential to the constitutional practice of the House as occurred in this bill? He put it to the hon. gent, who supported this most defective bill, whether they should not think it more decorous in them to ask leave to withdraw this defective bill, and ask leave to present another less imperfect, as the best manner in which they could atone for the unconstitutional principle on which they had attempted to proceed in the House. It was now allowed on all hands that this was a gross oversight at least; and he thought that going into a Committee to endeavour to cure the defect there, would not be proper, because it would not sufficiently mark the sense of the House upon a proceeding so glaringly repugnant to its rules, and to one of the most important principles of the constitution.

Mr. Fox

said, that if there was any foundation in point of fact in the objection, (he House would not cure it in a Committee, because it conk not, according to any: rule of practice or principle of the constitution, go into a Committee at all upon the bill. It was not in the legal power of the House to precede upon a bill of this kind without consent: here there was no pretence that any such consent was given. There could be no doubt whatever, that the House must negative the question, that the Speaker do now leave the chair, for the House ought to wait at least until the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who brought in the bill, knew what it contained, before they proceeded to discuss it: the right hon. gent, would hardly ask the House to wait until he himself had had an opportunity of reading it.

The Chancellor of Exchequer

said, that his hon. friend had in the course of this debate—

Mr. Foster

spoke to order, for that the right hon. gent, had already spoken upon this subject; upon which,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, I am going to make a motion, Sir., and have a right to insist on proceeding.

Mr. Foster

called to order again, for that the right hon. gent, had spoken already in this debate,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he rose for the purpose of making a motion, and he was at liberty he said to introduce that which he was about to say. He was desirous there should be no difficulty whatever in going upon this bill, and that no one should be called upon to proceed to the discussion of this bill in a Committee, without knowing what the contents of the bill were; for that reason he should move that the House should resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House upon this bill to-morrow. If the bill was withdrawn altogether there would of course be an end of it; otherwise he should negative the of the Speaker leaving the chair, with a view to move afterwards that this bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House to-morrow.

Mr. Fox

said, the right hon. gent, had claimed his right to be heard, on the ground that he v. as going to make a motion, the only ground on which he had any right to speak a second time in the debate; thus his claim was allowed in point of order, and yet after all in point of fact he did not make any motion, but only gave notice of a intended which he intended to make; and this was attended with additional irregularity; that he now negatived the question for the Speaker leaving the chair, after having once spoke for the Speaker leaving the chair. But he believed it would be of great use to some of his Majesty's ministers, and particularly to the right hon. gent., if they could change the rules of she House so that they might not only change their minds, but be allowed to deliver two opposite opinions in one night, upon one question in a debate.

Mr. Ormsby

said, that he believed this bill was precisely on the same principle and condition as bills which had formerly passed upon the subject of these duties. He did not feel himself warranted to speak 6n this bill, not having read it since it was introduced into the House: all he knew was, that the subject to which it referred, was under discussion in Ireland, among the law officers of the crown, of whom he had the honour to be one. He knew the discussion had been the subject of the King's hereditary revenue; perhaps he might be out of order in stirring what he was about to state, but lie withed to draw the attention oft the House to it. He then read the clause which had been inserted in other bills upon this subject, to shew that the rights of the? crown had always been saved in them all, as far a; related to the hereditary revenues of the crown reverting after the termination of the agreement between the crown and the public, in the 33d year of the present reign. It was for the House to consider whether the words in this clause were I sufficient to save the rights of the crown 5 I he apprehended they were, and it had I been so thought by the crown lawyers in Ireland. But whether that clause wish to be found in the present bill he would not I undertake to say. The bill was in the hand writing of two or three persons, and he I took shame to himself that he had not read it since it was laid on the table of that House. All he could say was, that the bill which was considered and perused by the crown lawyers in Ireland, of which he presentable this to be a copy, had been by them deemed sufficient to preserve entire the rights of the crown.

Mr. William Ponsonby

said, he believed this bill contained no such clause as that which had been read by the learned gent, out of another Act of Parliament. In a word, he knew of no way to proceed upon this business but that of withdrawing the present bill to make way for a better.—The question was then put, that the Speaker it now leave the chair, and negatived.—The Chancellor of the Exchequer then moved, that this House do to-morrow resolve itself-into a Committee of the whole House.

Mr. Pitt

said, he was extremely glad that an opportunity had been given to examine into this question; but it was matter of regret that the attention of the House had not been called to this important circumstance before any progress whatever had been made in the bill, for nothing could be more important for that House to attend to than the hereditary revenues of I the crown, and that the more especially, when the measure brought forward was without the consent of the crown, and without an opportunity of discussing the contend of the bill. He was very far from pledging himself as to the opinion lie should have or this occasion; but I after what he had heard from the hon. gentleman below him (Mr. Ormsby), he had great doubts indeed whether, if the clauses in this bill were, as he had stated them to be, out of another bill, the objection to this measure would be removed, for they only related to a pair of his Majesty's revenue, instead of the whole. If so, the defect was radical; for it was a clause by I which a stated sum was to be perpetual, and set off against a perpetual revenue of a given value some years ago, but capable of increase with the increasing prosperity of the general revenue of the empire; for during the happy period of ids Majesty's reign, from that time to the present, that revenue had increased to several hundred thousand pounds, and that revenue now was much higher than the civil list for which it had been exchanged; so that by this enactment of appropriate in perpetuity the hereditary revenues of the crown, Parliament would bi doing neither more nor less than this—to abolish his Majesty's inherent claim to a permanent improveable revenue, and giving for it a fixed unimproveable sum, and that too, without any consent or intimation on the part of the crown. If this was the case, and nothing had been said to induce him to doubt it, he could not help saying, it was very unfortunate that the attention of the House had not been called to it before any progress was made in the bill; for it was matter of great importance, upon the constitutional principle, that the hereditary revenues of the crown should not be taken away by Parliament without the consent of the crown 5 that was a principle which it was impossible to be the wish of any of the King's ministers to neglect, and quite as little could it be the wish of any Member of that House. —The question was then put, that this House do to-morrow resolve itself into the said Committee, and agreed to.