HC Deb 13 April 1808 vol 11 cc55-61
Lord Binning,

chairman of the Committee appointed to consider of the propriety of confining for a time to be limited, the Distilleries to the use of Sugar and Molasses in the manufacture of spirits, brought up the Report of the said committee.*

Sir H. Mildmay

thought it right to apprize the house, that the part of the Report which went to prohibit the use of grain in distillation, though sanctioned by a majority of the committee, had by no means its unanimous approbation. If any legislative measure should be proposed on the Report, tending to carry that principle into effect, he gave notice that he should feel it his duty to oppose it. There was no sufficient public ground for such a measure, and it would be extremely injurious to the barley counties, one of which he had the honour to represent. He was confident that his constituents would give him instructions to oppose the proposition, and that they would petition against the measure.

Mr. Chute

agreed with the hon. baronet. The landed interest was sufficiently depressed, and the influence of members whose consequence arose from trade was already sufficiently great, without striking a general blow at an extensive branch of the agriculture of the country. He should give his determined opposition to the measure.

Mr. Western

spoke to the same effect.

Admiral Hervey,

as a member of a barley county, found it impossible to allow the measure to be announced, without announcing at the same time his determined opposition to it. He could not help ascribing the design to party motives: a rumour had reached his ears, that the members for Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex were excluded from the committee in its formation, because they were barley counties.

Mr. Hibbert

could not suffer misconceptions, such as those expressed by the hon. members who had spoken before him, to go abroad, and operate uncontradicted during the recess. Though he was a merchant, he felt the importance of agriculture as much as any man, and knew that the principal dependence of the country was upon it. It would be found, when the Report should come to be examined, that the committee had looked not only to the interests of the West Indies, but also more particularly to those of the country at home, taking into consideration the present state of its foreign relations, which proba- * See Appendix, p. lxxxi. bly would occasion a total stoppage, for a considerable time, of the usual supplies of grain from abroad. Under these circumstances, the committee had thought it wise to recommend the suspension, for a time, of the use of grain in distillation, and not, as was supposed by some, a permanent substitution of sugar and molasses. On a general view of the state of the country and of the continent, it appeared wise to adopt this measure, as a timely precaution against a scarcity. It was a satisfaction, that in adopting this measure of precaution, an important article of British produce and property might be brought in to supply the other demands of the public, and that a relief could be thus afforded to a deserving class of the community, and new vigour imparted to a principal branch of the revenue. He did not think the proposed measure would cause a fall of 6d. a quarter on barley; if he did, he would not vote for it. But if such a fall should unexpectedly be the consequence, the report contained a recommendation to the privy council to take measures immediately to return to the use of grain. Such was the nature of the report which had excited so much alarm, and which had met with such unusual opposition, before its nature was communicated or understood.

Lord Binning

thought the discussion premature till the report should be printed and in the hands of members a sufficient time for consideration. He did not conceive that the right hon. gent. on whose motion the committee was formed, had passed over the members for Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, because these were corn counties. He himself had voted in favour of the recommendation to prohibit the use of corn in distillation, but he by no means would have done so, if he could have thought the prohibition likely to prove injurious to the landed interest.

Mr. Lushington

thought it must be a most extravagant degree of alarm that could suggest to one member that the barley fields would lie uncultivated, and to another that the representation of the people, and composition of the house of commons, would be deteriorated by affording the relief which West India produce required, which could be afforded without injury, and to which persons interested in the West India colonies were well entitled. The committee had been formed as fairly as possible, by including a just proportion of every interest concerned. He hoped the landed interest would take up this matter fairly and dispassionately. The country gentlemen must reflect but little if they did not see that the depression of the West India trade would infallibly aggravate their own burthens.

Mr. Brand

allowed that the West India trade was entitled to relief, and would be ready to support any relief given at the general expence of the country. What he complained of was a relief proposed to be given by the injury and oppression of the barley counties. A committee was not to be appointed to revise and bring into question the fundamental principles of public economy, so decidedly laid down by Hume, Stuart, and Smith, in this country, and by Turgot and Condorcet, in France. The uncertain wealth of speculation should not be supported by the sacrifice of the certain benefits of agriculture. He should look to the Report narrowly, and oppose it in every stage, if, as he feared, it contained a recommendation to prohibit the distillation of corn.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said the committee had by no means been appointed in opposition to the established, principles alluded to by the hon. gent. who had just sat down, or with a view to consult the interests of the colonies, at the expence of those of the mother country. The circumstances which called for the investigation of the committee, were of a temporary nature; so was the relief proposed in the report. These circumstances applied to the mother country as well as the colonies, and so did the relief; and so far was it from being intended to do any premature injury to agriculture, that not even a momentary depression of the price of grain was to take place without a power to put an end to the proposed restriction. He would express no opinion as to the propriety of carrying the recommendation contained in the report into effect. He had formed no opinion; he had avoided forming any till he should have the whole subject and evidence before him in the report. The committee had been appointed to consider the depressed state of the West India produce, and what relief could be afforded by introducing the use of sugar into the distilleries, or by any other means. The committee had taken into consideration the state of our foreign trade, and the probability of our being for some time deprived of our usual supplies of grain from abroad. And upon the general consideration of the state of the country, and of the West Indies, the report had been framed. These were matters which it was no absurdity to refer to a committee, nor to receive a report upon them. As to the formation of the committee, it was made up of country gentlemen, general merchants, and persons connected with the West Indies. So far was the rumour from being founded, which stated that the members for three particular counties had been purposely passed over, that it was his intention to have named a member for one of those counties, (Norfolk) if he had noticed him in attendance previous to the appointment of the committee. Of four members added to the committee subsequent to its formation, one only was a merchant, distinguished for his information, and the other three, gentlemen of the landed interest, of whom one, the hon. baronet behind him (sir H. Mildmay) had taken a very active part in the committee. At the same time that he professed and felt so great regard for the interests of agriculture, he thought that if by bringing an additional article of food into market, a former article should sustain some falling off, there would yet be no reason to complain, any more than if by putting three or four hundred thousand acres of waste land into cultivation, the general price of provisions should be reduced, he hoped that after the report should be printed, and a reasonable time afforded for its consideration, the sense of the house would be taken upon it, in order that the suspense that now existed should be brought to an end.

Mr. C. Ellis

condemned the opposition shewn to the report as premature; the object of the report could yet be scarcely known, and certainly the reasons on which that object was founded, and the regulations and restrictions by which the proposed measure was to be accompanied, were not. He was satisfied, that no member of the committee would have voted for the report, if there could have been the slightest idea that the measure proposed would be injurious to agriculture. The committee was fairly formed of persons selected from every interest, and framed its report from the best view of the general situation and circumstances of the country.

Admiral Harvey

declared himself satisfied after the explanation of the chancellor of the exchequer, that the rumour of the members for the corn counties having been excluded from, improper motives, was without foundation.

Mr. Windham

knew nothing of the Re- port but its substance, and would reserve a perfect freedom of opinion till he had particularly examined it. He thought it right, however, to observe, that the illustration adduced by the right hon. gent. opposite did not apply. Bringing an additional quantity of land into cultivation only increased the supply of the article, and extended the competition in the market; but, in this case, there was a prohibition of one article, and an exclusion of one set of dealers.

Sir J. Sinclair

stated, that the agricultural part of the community throughout the empire had felt the greatest alarm since the committee had been formed. It was therefore essential that the Report should be printed as speedily as possible, and that it should be circulated through the country, and full time given for the consideration of it. Then the sentiments of the farmers and land-owners might be conveyed to parliament; the case would be decided on an attentive view of the whole of the merits; and the landed interest would receive that protection to which it was entitled.

Mr. Manning

said, the attention of the committee was always directed to the interests of the country, as well as to those, of the West India trade. He should have felt himself unworthy of the trust reposed in him as a member of the committee, if he had acted on any other principle. The measure recommended was but of a temporary nature, to be in force for twelve months from the 1st of July next; and if the restriction should at any time be found injurious to the price of corn, it might be removed without delay. But, if the restriction on the exportation of corn from the port of London to the colonies should be taken off, the landed interest would gain more by opening that trade than it could by any possibility suffer from the limitation. He thought it right to state this now, to correct as far as possible the misconception and alarm that had gone abroad. Such explanation was the more essential, as from the voluminous nature of the Report, it would be a long time before it could be printed and circulated in such a manner as to do itself that justice. As a proof of the impartiality that regulated the formation of the Committee, he stated, that he did not know his name was on the list till he heard it pronounced from the chair. Most of the merchants on the committee were wholly unconnected with the West-Indies.

Mr. Macleod

stated, that the greatest alarm prevailed in the county he represented (Ross), and the adjoining county of Sutherland, at the idea of the measure recommended in this report. He was sure there would be meetings, and petitions to parliament on the subject.

Lord Binning

then gave notice, that unless some other person should offer a motion to the house founded on the Report, he should do so in proper time.