§ Mr. Coke presented a Petition from the land-owners and occupiers of land in Norfolk, against the Sugar Distillation—Colonel Bullock presented a Petition from certain land-owners and occupiers of land, in the neighbourhood of Colchester, against the Sugar Distillation.—Admiral Harvey presented a petition from the owners and occupiers of land in the neighbourhood of Rumford, in Essex, against the Sugar Distillation, All which were referred to the Committee.
then moved, that the house should resolve itself into a Committee of the whole house, to consider further of the Report which, upon the 13th day of April last, was made from the Committee appointed to enquire and report how far, and under what circumstances, it may be practicable and expedient to confine the Distilleries of the united kingdom, or of any part of the united kingdom, to the use of Sugar and Molasses only; and also what other provision can be made for the relief of the Growers of Sugar in the British West India colonies.
could not let slip any opportunity of opposing a measure so mischievous 494 as he considered the present to be. The object of the committee had been, to point out a mode of relief for the West India planters; but now the ground was shifted, and the sugar distillation was recommended as necessary in the actual state of the country. He reflected with the highest pleasure upon the speech of the Irish chancellor of the exchequer upon this subject; a more solid, a more constitutional speech, could not have been delivered; he thanked him for it, and was convinced he deserved the thanks of his country. The ground on which the English chancellor of the exchequer argued the case for the substitution was, that the price of corn was high, and that there were apprehensions of a scarcity. Both these propositions he denied. The present price of corn was no more than a remuneration to the farmer, considering the failure of the beans. There was no scarcity; nor any ground of apprehension of a scarcity; then why was such a proposition held out, and a needless alarm created? If the landed interest were left to themselves, they would be able to supply the country, and save the money expended for foreign corn. It had been well observed, that till the interference of government with the corn laws, we had always been an exporting country; but when that interference took place, we began to import. It was the duty of the chancellor of the exchequer therefore to give every encouragement to the landed interest, instead of supporting a proposition injurious to them. The hon. member then referred to several parts of the evidence in the report, to shew that, in the opinion of several of the most competent witnesses examined by the committee, the measure was not expedient with a view to the relief of the West Indian planters, or on account of any real grounds for the apprehension of a scarcity. Mr. Chalmers, chief clerk to the lords of the committee of privy council for the consideration of trade and colonial matters, being asked whether, exclusive of any consideration of the situation of the West Indian planters, he saw any reason why parliament should interfere to manage our resources for grain? replied, that he did not see any reason why parliament should interpose, as this might cause an alarm, and so produce the evil supposed. Mr. C. Scott said, that if the distilleries were restrained from the use of barley after the next crop, and that crop should prove abundant, there would be a very material 495 fall in the price. The hon. member stated, that he had letters from Norfolk, representing that there was every appearance of an abundant crop of barley. If this should be injured by the rain, there would be a great deal of black barley, which could be used in no way but in the distilleries. Mr. Kent, land-surveyor, being asked whether he thought barley necessary to the mode of cropping in Norfolk, said that he considered the cultivation of barley as almost necessary to the existence of Norfolk. Norfolk, the hon. member remarked, might be considered as the granary of England for barley, and could not be injured without material injury to the whole kingdom. Mr. Kent being asked, whether any substitutes for barley could be found to answer the purpose equally well, answered, "Certainly not; for oats would be the most obvious substitute, and them I consider to be one of the most exhausting of all crops: they rob the grass seed, and ultimately injure the wheat crops." The hon. member observed, that a vast number of cattle were fed on the grains in the distilleries, and sent to the London market, a source of supply which would be lost in the event of the substitution. There was another most important point, which was brought forward in the evidence of Mr. Overman; which was, that in the event of a considerable depression in the price of barley, a great part of the land in Norfolk must be left uncultivated, and fall back to its pristine state. Mr. Elwan's evidence also went to shew, that in the event of a fall in the price of barley, a smaller number of labourers would be employed by the farmer; and a portion of his land, before allotted to grain, must be left in grass. The honourable member next adverted to the great quantities of wheat and barleys brought from Norfolk to the London market; and the great injury that would arise, not only to that county, bat to the whole kingdom, from any discouragement to the agriculture of Norfolk. He concluded by opposing the motion for the speaker's leaving the chair. He thought it best to oppose the measure in this stage; for if it went into a committee, almost the whole session might be occupied in discussion, and hearing counsel on the various petitions.
would wish the house to take up this question upon a much wider ground than the hon. gentlemen who opposed it seemed to do. That the West India planters had made out their case, nobody 496 who read the report could deny. It appeared from that, that several estates in Jamaica had been abandoned, and that others were likely to be abandoned unless some relief was afforded to the colonial trade. It should not be forgotten that the West Indian possessions of this country yielded an income of between eight and nine millions, spent in this country; that the revenue in customs, excise, &c. on West Indian produce, amounted to five millions and a half annually; that the West Indian trade employed one-third of the shipping of the country; and that British manufactures to the amount of six millions were consumed in the West Indian market. When the committee had been first appointed, he had apprehensions that if the landed gentlemen took a narrow view of the question, it would not be easy to carry the measure into effect. But as he did not impute the opposition of these gentlemen to any narrow views of advantage to themselves, he was not without hope that they would view the matter in another light; and that a provision to prohibit the distillation from corn till barley should sink to any given price, and then to allow it to be used in distilleries till it rose to a certain price, would be considered as a sufficient security for their interests, and induce them to acquiesce in the measure This was the best mode of relieving the West India merchants, whom every body allowed to be in a situation requiring relief. No person but the late chancellor of the exchequer for Ireland had suggested any other remedy, viz. by lowering the duties on sugar; but that right honourable baronet must have been aware, that the last addition of three shillings per cwt. had been laid on by the late administration. About 400,000 quarters of malt were consumed in the distilleries, and three millions and a half in the breweries; and if it was not for the improvement in science, the quantity of barley consumed in the breweries would be double what it was. It appeared that this country imported to the amount of 700,000 quarters of corn annually; and though he thanked God that he had no apprehension of a scarcity, yet he thought they ought to be apprehensive of the rise that might take place in the price of bread. A right hon. gent. had said on a former night, that this measure would be a violation of the act of union; and that they ought not, under the temptation of an immediate convenience, to suspend the provisions of that act. No man 497 more anxiously than himself wished that the articles of union between the two countries should be preserved from violation, so far as the principles of good faith required; but why was it necessary to adhere to the letter of these articles, in opposition to a measure of great public utility? all that was asked of Ireland was, that at a period of great distress to a valuable part of his majesty's subjects, whilst, this country with a view to their relief suspended the distillation from corn, Ireland should suspend its export of spirits to this country. The right hon. gent, then recapitulated his various arguments, and concluded with expressing a hope, that the measure in the guarded shape he had suggested, would be acceded to.
Sir W. W. Wynne
allowed the distress of the West India Planters and Merchants, and would be ready to give them relief in any other way than this. He had suggested for that purpose a reduction of the duty on such sugar as should be employed in the feeding of cattle. But, whilst he was anxious to afford relief to the West Indies, he could not consent to such a measure as the present, which would press exclusively on the landed interest. The present price of barley was not extraordinary, considering the shortness of the last crop. For these reasons he should oppose the Speaker's leaving the Chair.
§ Mr. Barham
rose and said;*—Mr. Speaker; Having been a pretty diligent member of this committee; having concurred in the report and the measure originally recommended in it; having also, though with much less satisfaction to my own mind, acceded to the measure afterwards proposed; I was very desirous to offer my opinion on the subject, when it was last under discussion; and I was the more anxious to obtain your notice, because it so happened, that not; one of this laborious committee had an opportunity to vindicate their report, excepting indeed one honourable member who spoke very shortly at the beginning of the debate, and an honourable friend of mine, who obtained something like a hearing when the house was exhausted, and could no longer command its attention to a speech which, at a more auspicious moment, could not have failed to make the deepest impression.—Sir; this subject presents itself in two* From the original edition, printed for J. Stockdale, Piccadilly.498 distinct points of view.—First as a matter of domestic economy; and here we have to enquire merely whether the situation of the country be such as to demand measures of precaution in regard to its supply of corn; and if that were found to be the case, whether the present measure be a fit one for the purpose.—Next it should be regarded as a measure of relief to the colonies; and then the enquiry will be, whether the colonies need relief? whether as a matter of policy in regard to our own interest, and as a matter of justice in regard to their claims, relief should be granted? and finally, whether, if relief be granted, this mode of relief be the most advantageous to them, and least inconvenient to ourselves?—First then, as to the domestic question in regard to our supply of corn. I am aware, sir, of the delicacy of this subject.—I know how very undesirable such discussions are when they can be avoided, and I am fully sensible of the mischiefs that may arise iron false alarm. But, Sir, when facts are brought before you, it is impossible not to know them; when proved, it is impossible not to believe them: and of this I am sure, that at all times it is safest to speak truth, and that, if a false alarm may be dangerous, a false security may be fatal.—But whether it was right or wrong to stir this subject, it is not our doing. The question of scarcity was first brought forward by those who oppose us. It was they who called those witnesses, who proved the shortness of last year's crop; it was they who entered into those long examinations. We submitted with reluctance, and merely to avoid the imputation of partiality which would have been readily bestowed on us, had we resisted the course they chose to follow. Well, sir, they completely established their position, and proved the great deficiency of the last crop. This was done indeed, with a very different view, and for a very different purpose than that which resulted from it. They established the deficiency of the last crop, in order to justify the present high prices; not observing, that while they were carrying a collateral point, they were cutting the main ground from under their feet; forgetting that you cannot know a thing for one purpose, and not know it for another; and forgetting, that the crop could not at the same time be short, in order to justify high prices, and abundant, in order to justify non-importation.—Sir; if we could divest ourselves of all bias that our minds may 499 have taken in the course of this contest; if we could forget all the arguments that have been bandied about on both sides; if we could suppose a house of commons quite new to the subject, and that the minister should come down and tell us, that the usual supply of corn to the amount of 800,000 quarters, on which the nation had hitherto depended for support, was stopt by the enemy; if he farther informed us, that, on careful, enquiry, it appeared that our late crop was materially deficient, can there be a doubt that such information would excite a very serious sensation in the house? Can there be a doubt that, if any member should discover within our reach a source from which this deficit could be supplied, he would be hailed with the most joyful acclamation? It would probably next occur to us, that the most energetic measures should be adopted to prevent a recurrence of the case. Extension and improvement of agriculture would, doubtless, be our next concern: but would any man suppose that, with a view to these, we should refuse the immediate supply? Would any man suppose it possible, that those who had not objected to the importation of corn from foreign states last year, when the crop was plentiful, would now object to an equivalent importation from our own colonies, when the crop had been notoriously deficient? and that those who were so much alarmed at losing the usual source of supply, would be still more alarmed when a new source of supply were found in its place?—I know very well that it is not barley, but wheat and oats which we were wont to import; but this makes no difference. In common times, the different sorts of grain are easily commutable in various uses, and, in times of scarcity, the great object is, that there should be a sufficient supply of some corn or other.—I think, sir, I might stop even here, and that to every man of common understanding, enough has been said. But the farther we proceed, the stronger will be the case.—The argument as to barley separately, seems more cogent, because it is more specific. We know that of barley, the usual consumption is equal to the usual crop; for of barley there is usually neither import nor export. It has not been alleged by any one, that at the time of the last crop there was any unusual stock on hand, and it is proved that the last crop was deficient at the least one fourth. How then stands the case? The usual consumption and the usual crop are 500 equal, but the last crop was greatly deficient. Of two things then, one must happen; either we must reduce our consumption to the crop, or we must by importation bring up our crop to the consumption. Which will you choose? to my argument it is indifferent. If you say, "We will import;" I answer, "This is exactly what we propose to do, importing only, instead of corn, sugar, which stands in lieu of corn."—What interest has the barley-grower here? If indeed he wishes the market not to be supplied, in order that he may get exorbitant prices, he has a very strong interest against the measure. But such a view he disclaims; and if the deficiency of the market is to be supplied, to him it must be indifferent from whence the supply arrives; whether from the Baltic, in the shape of corn, or from the West Indies, in the shape of sugar.—But perhaps you will take the other alternative, and say, "we will not import, but we will diminish the consumption;" and this seems to be the favourite answer. Accordingly we are told, there is "sufficient for a diminished consumption;" a phrase, by-the-by, which might be used in scarcity and almost in famine.—Well; the consumption is to be diminished. Now, what is this, measure, but a measure to diminish the consumption by exactly that quantity which is used in the distillery? What difference here again does it make to the barley-grower how it is to be diminished, so the diminution is to take place? Would it be better for him, if the saving should be effected by painful privations in the food of cattle and man? Alas! sir, a good deal of this privation will still be necessary; for the amount consumed in the distillery is far short of the deficit.—An argument of this nature admits of no answer but by denial of the premises. But what, are the premises? One, an uncontested fact, namely, that the usual consumption is equal to the usual crop; and the other, a fact established by the concurrent testimony of all the witnesses* brought by cur opponents, and examined by themselves; persons of all descriptions, and from all quarters; practical farmers, theoretical farmers, corn-dealers, writers on economy, all agreeing that the barley crop had been thus deficient. Now, sir, persons coming* I think there was one exception; a witness from Dorse shire, who stated that, in this county, the crops had not been so bad as in other parts.501 into a court and beginning by a disclaimer of the testimony of all the witnesses, called and examined by themselves, do not, I think, open their case very auspiciously. But this is not all; they tell you also, that not only these witnesses were incompetent to speak of the crop, but that no witnesses could be competent to that purpose; for that Price is the only criterion by which a judgment can be formed of the crop. Why then, I would ask, did they bring these witnesses before the committee r Why those tedious examinations of witnesses thus known to be incompetent, when the question might have been securely answered by calling for the Gazette? But let this inconsistency, pass. We may safely do it, for we shall presently stop them at another. We will suppose them to have apologized to the committee for the time they wasted, and to have explained to the house how it is that, in the month of May, no person can tell whether the last crop was productive or not, when in the next breath, they tell you that the next crop must be abundant. They shall come back 'recti in curia' to argue on their new ground. Price is the criterion:—be it so—That Price, taken on a base sufficiently extended, is a safe index of the proportion between the quantity of any article and the demand for it, no person in his senses ever doubted, or ever will. But that Price, taken on a narrow scale cither of time or place, would be a most fallacious criterion, is not less evident: for how often does it happen that the price of any thing shall suddenly rise, or suddenly fall, without any circumstance intervening, which could have materially altered either the stock or the consumption? A thousand causes affect it, both physical and moral, some belonging to the tiling itself, and some quite independent of it.—But let this go too.—The present price shall be the criterion, taking it from the beginning of this committee to the present time. Has not tin's price, then, progressively risen from the beginning to the end? Is it not now at the highest, and at the highest under the existence of a cause which must necessarily depress it; namely, the expectation of a measure which is to take out of the market a considerable demand? Notwithstanding this, the price has risen from 39s. to 48s. Four years ago, the legislature determined, that when barley should exceed 33 shillings, the ports should be open to importation; thereby judging, as between the grower 502 and consumer, that it ought not to exceed that price. Whether this be a proper maximum, I will not enquire; but I venture to affirm that the present price proves the present supply to be unusually deficient: for, were the present supply equal to the usual supply, the present price would be lower than the usual price, under the circumstance of an unusual diminution of demand being expected.—I know not how to proceed farther in proof; and I imagine few persons will expect it, or will hesitate to conclude that measures of precaution ought to be adopted for economizing our stock of corn, whether they form their judgment on the obvious fact that our usual sources of supply are stopt;—on the evidence given relative to late crops of barley, oats, pease, and potatoes, &c.;—or whether they form it on a consideration of the present price under the peculiar circumstances of the moment.—But it is said, "why not wait till you find the market practically to fail? Any man may yet buy what barley he wants." Sir, I deny the fact:* but even if it were so, I believe it will be safer to begin saving when called on by prudence, than to go on consuming till stopped by necessity.—I know not that it is necessary to add more on this part of the subject: but as a great deal has been said respecting the price of corn, I also am desirous to offer my opinion on that point.—Gentlemen say, they do not desire too high a price. I agree with them. They will probably agree with me, when I say that I should be sorry the price were too low. Not only because too low a price must occasion too high a price afterwards; but also because I can enter into their feelings both as a farmer and a landlord. Yet though we agree that the price should be neither too high nor too low, we may perhaps be no nearer for that; the question still remains, what is too high or too low? A word has lately been discovered, which seems to be very much liked, namely, a remunerating price. I do not object to this word: but I fear we shall use it in a different sense, and that much is to be settled before we shall agree what it means,* It is a fact that, in many parts of the north, the markets are not supplied; and that the greatest distress prevails. The London market has indeed not failed yet: but when that market shall fail, it will not be a case for precaution; for precaution will be too late.503 or ought to mean.—The price of corn must depend a great deal on the renumerating price of land.—Now, sir, if we were to consult gentlemen from various parts as to what was considered to be the remunerating price of land in their several counties, we should find that rents had increased, and were increasing, at an astonishing rate. In Hampshire, I know much land that, in a few years, has doubled its rent. In Norfolk, I remember barley-land letting as 3s. per acre, which now lets at 15s. Of Essex I cannot speak so much from personal knowledge; but I have good authority for saying that land there has got to an extravagant price. In South-Wales (in many parts of which, barley is the principal crop), I can affirm, that the rise of rents is such as, till lately, no landlord had hoped for; and Scotland, I believe, is not behind-hand in this respect.—I do not mention this in the way of blame: it is natural that land-owners, like other persons, should take the best price which the market will afford. As there neither is nor can be combination, it is fairly taken. I pretend not to be more unwilling than others to participate in these advantages: but I mention it as a reason why the landholder should not complain of unequal burthens and undue depression, for which he can and does so fully indemnify himself; I mention if, to shew that those who claim a high remunerating price for corn, are not without interest in that price themselves.—Well, sir, we will suppose the remunerating price to be adjusted with the landlord: it remains to settle with the farmer.—He will naturally first claim a price that shall cover his rent, taxes, and other charges; which shall cover the loss by a deficient crop; and this, it seems, must be so calculated, that the price of any one crop must cover the failure of every other. For instance, barley must be dear, not only because barley has failed, but because pease and beans have failed. But had pease and beans been abundant, how would it have been then? I question if we should have heard that, on that account, barley should be cheaper, any more than we hear that barley should be cheap because the crop of wheat was abundant. You see, sir, the principle is, that the loss by deficiency of any crop may be charged on any other crop; but the abundance of any crop may not be carried to the credit of any other crop in extenuation, of its price.—We will however sup- 504 pose all this to be settled with the farmer.—He will next claim a sufficient profit to enable him to live comfortably and genteelly. We know what this means, for we have it before our eyes. Parts of the country may differ; but in many parts it means this, that they are to live at more expence, not only than their own ancestors, but the ancestors of many of their landlords. It would also be expected that their profits should enable them to provide for their families, not only in their own line, but also in the different walks of life formerly occupied by the higher orders. Still it remains, that they should have the means of laying by wherewithal to purchase their own or neighbouring farms, if such should come to sale: and accordingly I have heard, from no incompetent authority, that half the land which has been sold of late years, has passed into the hands of farmers.—In this class, as in every other, the road to prosperity should be open. Industry, perseverance, and economy, should insure competency; superior skill and superior fortune should lead to advancement: but where gains are so considerable as to enable a great proportion of any class to move from its sphere, ill consequences will follow. Luxury, every-where pernicious, is no-where so fatal as when it infects those whose business it is to till the earth: I throw out as a suggestion for those whom it may concern, whether the too great association of the higher orders with this class of men, by whatever excellent motives it has been prompted, may not have served in some degree to give them ideas that rather belong to gentlemen? And from the very narrow view which some gentlemen take of this subject, I cannot help adding, that it seems to me as if they had too much adopted ideas that belong to farmers.—I shall say no more on this subject, but that, in my opinion, the rents of land are too high, the profits of farmers too high, and the price, of provisions too high for the people, the bulk of whom have no other prospect than that of closing a life of labour in a workhouse.—I now turn to another part of the subject, the Colonial case. This, sir, though we have endeavoured to blind ourselves to it so long; though it is but a very short time since, even in this house, we have heard of the exorbitant gains of the planters; though, within two years, they were still thought to be the fittest subjects for fresh taxation (the tax being only not collected from 505 the impossibility of taking something where nothing was left);* notwithstanding all this obstinate ignorance of their case, that case is now fully made out, so that no man can pretend to doubt it; by the concurrent reports of three successive committees, it is proved to be neither more nor less than this,—That colonial property, having for a long time made very inadequate returns for the capital employed, is at last arrived at that point, that it makes no return at all. So that this great part of your empire, whose produce pays directly four millions into the Exchequer; which maintains 17,000 seamen for your navy; which takes off six millions of your manufactures, and which has contributed, within these last twenty years, more to the balance of your foreign trade than any other class, has, as the return for its own capital and industry, left—not one shilling!—Presuming, then, that the extremity of the case is no longer questionable: the next enquiry will be as to its real cause, and its proper remedy. The immediate cause is obvious; namely, that the importation of their main staple commodity, sugar, far exceeds the demand; and that, consequently, its price has fallen so low, as barely to cover the charges of production, duty, freight, &c. Thus their profits are reduced to nothing: while all the burthens imposed on them, and supportable only in times of prosperity, remain unmitigated.—Had this excess of importation beyond the demand arisen merely from the spontaneous produce of our old islands, or even from a gradual decline of* It is said, these are not taxes on the planter, but on the consumer. This is however not the case. It cannot be laid down as a general proposition, that taxes fall either on the producer or the consumer: for, according to circumstances, they will fall on either, or on both: and this depends on the degree of supply and demand. I prove it thus: There must be a maximum of price at which consumption will cease, and a minimum at which production will cease. Now then, suppose this maximum to exist, a fresh tax would necessarily full on the producer: for, according to the premises, the consumer can pay no higher price. If, on the other hand, the price be at its minimum, a fresh tax must fall on the consumer; for the producer can go no lower. Intermediate cases must be governed by the same principle.506 our domestic consumption, these things might be fairly left to recover their due proportion: and certainly, the colonies, though, under any particular pressure, they might have, asked for relief, and though, under particular circumstances, it might have been wise on our own account to have granted it; yet they could have claimed nothing as a right. But if it is by your acts, and by acts of which you derive the benefit, that the due proportion of supply and demand has been destroyed; and that, by your assistance only, the level can be restored, they have a right to apply not only to your liberality and policy, but to your justice.—The case is glaring. By your conquests, almost all the sugar in the world is forced into this market, and, by the conquests of Buonaparte, here it is confined. I admit indeed, that the production of the old colonies has been somewhat extended * but not in the same degree with our domestic consumption; so that this cannot be assigned as a reason for withholding relief, at least in as far as the evil has arisen from your own acts, in which they had no interest, and over which they had no controul. Much pains has been taken not only to justify the refusal of relief by representing that their distress arose from extended speculations, but to mark these with an opprobious character. Extended agriculture is doubtless a speculation: but why a gambling speculation? I wish to know, sir, whether British subjects, acquiring or inheriting land in the British colonies, forfeit not only their right (as it would seem they do) to equal favour, but also the right to have their actions tried by the same standard of morality? A landholder here improves his estate, enlarges his crops, and brings his waste land into cultivation:—it is a speculation, and may be profitable or not: but, at any rate, it is deemed an honourable and praise worthy exertion. A land-holder in the colonies does the same thing: but there, having first deprived him of the reward of his industry, to justify that act, you brand him with the name of* This extension has less arisen from the cultivation of new lands, than from the introduction of a more productive plant,—the Bourbon-cane: and the extension is more apparent than real, for though the south-sea cane yields a greater quantity of sugar, yet that sugar contains a less proportion of true saccharine matter than the other.507 a gambling speculator. But it has been said, if the evil arises from an over-production of sugar, the planters have the remedy in their own hands. Let them produce a less quantity. Sir, no concert or combination is possible in so numerous a body; nor will the effect be produced, as in most other instances it would, by the natural operation of a low price. In other cases of agriculture, if a crop be unproductive as to price, it will not be renewed, but other crops will be substituted in its room. Such is not the case with sugar.—A sugar estate can be converted to no other purpose*, without sacrificing nearly the whole; nor can its crop be lessened, without aggravated loss: for, as the expences must remain nearly the same, whatever be the crop; it follows that, the lower the price may be, the more every man is compelled to keep his crop at the highest, in order, if possible, to prevent actual loss where there had been no gain before †. I think, sir, I might here conclude, without farther argument, that relief is due to the colonies; and that on this shewing alone, an equitable government could not refuse it, because their ruin arises from the acts of this country, of which this country derives the benefit. I might represent that, in balancing between* If it were possible to convert sugar estates into coffee or cotton plantations, it is clear that not much would be gained thereby: it would be exchanging merely a glut of sugar for a glut of coffee or cotton.—From the introduction of new objects of cultivation from the East, perhaps, in time much benefit may result: but these things are too distant to save the colonies, which must perish before such benefit could arise. But surely this proposal to the colonies, of changing the object of their cultivation, conies rather curiously from those who contend, that the agriculture of Great Britain and Ireland would be ruined if any other corn was substituted in lieu of barley in only one-eight of its usual crop.† But supposing it were possible for the planter to reduce his crop, the consequence must be, that the exportation from this country, and the shipping employed, must undergo a similar diminution. How far this may touch the vital interest of Great Britain, will best appear from the consideration of what our enemy is aiming chiefly to destroy,—our commerce and navy.508 them and those of any other class of men, not only the relative importance of the parties to the state should be considered, but also the importance which the thing contended for is to those parties; and that, however inferior a stake to the nation the prosperity of the colonies may be, compared with the prosperity of its domestic agriculture, yet if the thing in question be all to one, and little to the other, it should not be refused.—Such language would the colonies be entitled to hold: (for are they not equally your subjects?) but continued oppression has taught them an humble tone. For equal favour they presume not to ask, of unequal burthens they presume not to complain; and though, when they were prosperous, you seized on the greater part of their profits as soon as it could be effected; though you now continue equal exaction when those profits are extinct, they submit, and all they now ask of you is, that they may at least be permitted to exist; and, finally, in the moment of their ruin, they tell you that, if you destroy their only market, they must perish.—Sir; the colonies may claim of you not only on these grounds of common right, which every subject must have under every government; but they may claim of you your positive engagement and plighted faith. What was your original compact with the colonies? I cannot be supposed to mean an instrument signed and exchanged; but I mean an understanding as binding and clear as any instrument could have ratified. You took their all; you subjected their interest to that of Great Britain in every possible way. Bound to navigate in your ships; compelled to part with their produce in a raw state, that you might have the benefit of its manufacture;—of you only, they were permitted to buy; in your market only, they were permitted to sell. Is it possible, then, to suppose that nothing was given them in return? Yes, sir, by the same authority which took this from them,—by act of parliament, you gave them in return—your market. It was monopoly for monopoly:—and now if, retaining that which you took, you deprive them of that which you gave in return, your laws were a snare, and your injustice is complete.—Now, whether this monopoly of your market be recalled by act of parliament, or destroyed indirectly by the acts of your government, the effect is the same to them; and the injustice will be the same in you, till you repair the wrong.—In this instance you may 509 repair it at an easy price. The fortune of war, by slopping the importation of corn, has thrown a great advantage into the hands of the farmer;—the fortune of war, by stoppping the exportation of sugar, when you had overloaded the market, has reduced the planter to ruin. What must we think of the former class, that would not part with a small share of this advantage, to save the latter? what must we think of a legislature which would not compel them? The case between the colonies and the land (for so our opponents force us invidiously to put it) may be stated in any other way. The nation required of the colonies to provide sugar for its consumption and export. It required of the land-holders to provide corn for its increasing population. The colonist has met the demand, and is ruined; the corn-grower has not met the demand, and is rewarded by a higher price.—They say, 'What right has the colonist to the distillery? This is a British consumption, and belongs to the British producer." Good: but then, what right have you to his trade? then, what right has the British producer to his consumption? But, sir, I deny that the distillery is a British consumption. At this moment, barley may be imported from any port of Europe. It is your enemy who prevents it, and not your law. How can the distillery then be called a British consumption, when, if Buonaparte would suffer it, that distillery might be wholly supplied with corn from the Baltic?—They say, this measure is taking from England, and giving to the West Indies.—Sir; it. is taking nothing from England; but it is substituting the produce of the West Indies for that of foreign states; it is giving to England an advantage in the balance of trade; it is giving her independence of the enemy as to her supply of food; and it is giving her security as to the possession of her colonies. But were it taking something from England, surely it were wiser to forego a temporary advantage, than risk the permanent source of profit. One cannot, on this occasion, help recollecting the Roman fable which represented the limbs as refusing sustenance to the stomach. Here the case is inverted; it is the stomach which would refuse to impart its nourishment to the limbs which had fed it.—I think one might put a case of tolerable analogy to the present, thus: we will suppose that, by the fortune of war, the island of Sicily had 510 fallen into our hands; that, by capitulation, all the grain of that fertile country had been admitted to your market; and that, from the course of the war, all exportation of corn were stopped. We will suppose that, at the same time, sugar had risen to an unusual price; that one considerable source of its import were closed by the enemy, and that the crops in the remaining islands had been short. We will suppose next, that some ingenious person had discovered a means of extracting sugar from wheat: under these circumstances the land-holders come before you, and say: 'we have received little from our estates for some years past; at present we receive nothing. The interest on our mortgages is accumulating; our annuities and jointures are unpaid; our estates are on' the eve of foreclosure for sums quite disproportioned to their value; and our families are starving: we desire you to admit this new sugar into use; we ask it only for a time, and while colonial sugar shall be scarce.' Does any man think that, under such circumstances, the colonies would wish to interpose a selfish objection; or that, if they did, it would not be treated with well merited scorn? If so, let it be explained where is the difference in this from the present case, excepting the relative weight of the parties? If there be no other difference, I, sir, will tell you, in the face of the world, that, in rejecting the measure, you sign your shame, and confess that power is the measure of your injustice.—I know it will be said, the case is not analogous in one respect; for it is not the admission of sugar the colonies require, but the prohibition of corn. Sir; the colonies require no prohibition: for them it would be much better to say nothing of corn, and merely to take on the prohibitory duty on sugar. Admitted on the same terms as malt, sugar would speedily occupy the brewery as well as the distillery: but it is your own revenue, which requires the prohibition: for, were the indiscriminate use of barley and sugar admitted, the revenue could not be protected against fraud. It is therefore, on the behalf of your revenue, proposed that, the use of sugar being prohibited in the brewery, the use of grain should be prohibited in the distillery, which consumes not one fourth of the other—Sir; the colonies which have been fettered and restricted for the benefit of every other class that desired it, can perhaps not be substantially and perma- 511 nently relieved without some sacrifice somewhere. And indeed their case is desperate, if it be expected that they shall propose a mode of relief to which no man will urge an objection. That circumstances should have furnished so unobjectionable a mode as the present measure, was not within their expectation; and if this should fail, they must indeed be sanguine if they continue to hope.—It has been remarked, I think by Montesquieu, that the colonies of a monarchy are generally better off than those of a free state. The remark is just, and the reason is plain. A monarch has no interest to oppress one class of his subjects in order to favour another. In a state where a popular assembly has much to say, it is otherwise. There, different interests come into collision; the stronger will prevail, and the colonial, being the weakest, will generally be oppressed.—The conduct of Great Britain forms no exception to this remark; and we have paid the price of it. America resisted, and was lost. The West Indies cannot indeed resist, but they may be ruined.—Methinks I hear some gentlemen say, What then? It may be true perhaps, that the present proprietors will be ruined: but what is this to the nation? The islands will remain; sugar will still be imported; manufacture will still be exported; and ships will still be employed.—Persons who can thus treat the extinction of a whole community, as a matter of indifference to the state, whose injustice produced it, will hardly expect to be addressed with the language which a just and generous nation would desire to hear. But, sir, it will be found, that those amongst us who are least sensible to the feelings of justice and generosity, are not so entirely without interest in the case as they flatter themselves they are. If, Sir, matters could proceed quietly to this point, I grant you that nothing would have happened but the total ruin of the present proprietors; and whether this, with all its ramifications, would or would not produce some serious convulsion in the state, I will not pronounce.—But matters will not proceed quietly to this point. Let us trace the natural progress of their ruin a little, closer. For a short time it will probably happen, that such proprietors as are unincumbered with debt, and have other resourses, will endeavour to continue their establishment, submitting rather to a total loss of income than capital. The majority cannot do this; and their estates will be 512 abandoned to the creditor for his debt, however disproportioned to the value. A foreclosure of three-fourths of the West-India property must speedily take place. But however cheaply the property will be acquired by the new owners, still, if it produces nothing a similar transfer must soon recur. Perhaps it will be said, when this has happened to a certain extent, a diminution of produce will ensue, and every thing be restored to a proper level. But observe what must happen in the mean time. A whole community will not be led to certain ruin without an effort to save themselves. This application to Great Britain is their first effort. I know not what may be the next; but this I know, that no wise nation will place any class of its subjects in a situation where they have nothing to lose. Be as powerful as you may, be they as weak as they may, it is unwise to reduce them to despair. How the storm may burst, I cannot tell; but in a war like this, it is not easy to say what new cases may arise. I like not to dwell on this subject. Let those hear, who will take warning.—But, sir, it is not the white inhabitants only we are to consider. Will the negroes be indifferent spectators of this process? Believe me, notwithstanding all we have heard, a great portion of them are strongly attached to their masters; and this sentiment has, in many cases, been hereditary for several general ions, on both sides. We have often seen whim, under such circumstances, an estate was alienated, how the negroes pined under the change, and resented it on their new masters; how, from orderly and contented people, they became disaffected and fit for any mischief. It is not by force, but by opinion, they are governed. Now, if as a general case, they see their masters extinguished one after another, is it to be imagined that no dangerous feelings will be excited? Will they be entirely passive when, throughout the islands, they themselves, taken in execution for debt, are torn from their homes, their property and their families? Can we be sure that not one of their masters, indignant at the ruin he had not deserved, and stung with the view of a starving family, may, by some hasty word or deed, strike that spark which will fire the train, and produce a conflagration which torrents of British blood must extinguish? Let not this be called high colouring; it is the natural progress of effect from the cause; and a case like this will be more dan- 513 gerous, as the white population of the islands must speedily be reduced to a very low ebb, being composed chiefly of persons whoso salaries can no longer be paid. But I have heard some persons say, Great Britain would do better without the colonies; even leave them to their fate.—Such theories have been broached: for what is there too absurd not to have met with some partisans? It is pretty clear, however, that it is not by such theories we have risen to our present greatness, and are now able to contend with the world; and it is pretty evident, that, but for the force which arises from the opposite system, we should be as nothing in the scale. But even to these theorists I would say, At least then keep the colonies, that you may give them away; Bonaparte has a very different sense of their value, and, if you want peace, will probably, for that single cession, grant your own terms as to the rest.—I have still one set of men to answer. It is those who say—'We admit your case; you have every claim on the justice and generosity of the British public. As a member of that public, we will go any length to assist you; but we will not be singled out. Why fall on the land only, when the nation at large should pay the price?' I think, sir, I have shewn that this measure will fall on no one; that even for itself it is desirable; that from the land it could only take what the landholder ought not, and professes not to desire, namely, exorbitant prices for corn; and that, at most, it is but admitting the colonies to a small part of the benefit which the stopt importation has given to the land.—But, sir, the reason why this particular mode of relief is urged, is this: that it is the only one which is immediate. Other things may perhaps do more permanent good, but their effect is distant. The colonies cannot live so long, as to wait the result. If there were other modes of relief, can gentlemen imagine that those interested for the colonies would be so absurd to persist in striving for that which they were least likely to obtain? Would they by preference choose to contend with the most powerful interest in the house or tine country? Those of the committee, who urge that relief might be obtained in a better way, have not dealt fairly with the colonies. It was their duty to attend when other modes of relief were considered: and if they had been present, they would have known what difficulties present them- 514 selves in every direction. When they imagined their own pockets were concerned, they were never absent half an, hour; but when the object of relief to the colonies which the house had enjoined them to consider, was under discussion, we saw them no more: and, had the committee consisted chiefly, as some say it ought, of county members, from, the sample we had, the committee must have long since ceased its labours for want of a quorum.—As to those who say this will do the colonies no good, I think I may be dispensed from replying to them. Far short indeed is this boon, of what they may justly claim; and far short is it of what will ultimately wave them: but to suppose that men whose existence is at stake, have not as carefully considered the subject as those whose interest is not concerned, or they are more ignorant of their own interest than other people, is a supposition altogether whimsical. I understand, sir, that we shall lose some supporters this night, because we found our recommendation of the measure on the danger of scarcity; a subject which some gentlemen think we were not authorized to discuss. To whom it was owing that we entered into this subject, has been already stated; and now, our opponents would profit by their own wrong. The case of the colonies is here truly hard; having refuted all the objections that were singly urged against them, they, at last are met with one which they cannot surmount, as it proceeds from opposite points. Some will vote against them, if you do not state the domestic ground for the measure; because then it would appear to make domestic interests subservient to colonial ones; others, will vote against them it the domestic ground be stated, because this committee was appointed merely for colonial considerations. So that one class objects to a measure which they do, not deny to be desirable at home, because it is alleged to be also desirable abroad; and the other class objects to a measure which they admit to be desirable abroad, because it is alleged also to be desirable at home. We would do the thing for our own sake, says one, only that it does good, to you, and will make us appear subservient to your interests.—And we would do it, says the other, for your sake, only that some people think it would do good to ourselves also.—Such is the wretched case of the colonies: if one objection will not serve, another will; and if they have refuted all the objections which have been 515 urged singly, then they are met by contradictory objections at once; one or other of which is sure to hit them. This convinces me, that the opposition lies deeper than we can see, and arises from a real indisposition to relieve them, from whatever cause this may proceed. In such a case, it is perhaps useless to continue the argument; for true it will be on this subject, as on every other, thatA man convinc'd against his will,Is of the same opinion still.Sir; the history of these objections will be really entertaining to any but a sufferer.—The first objection was, that we should lower the price of barley, to the great injury of the grower. Against this we urged, that although such would be the natural effect of diminishing its consumption, yet that, on this occasion, no such effect would ensue: for that there was a more powerful counteracting cause, namely, the shortness of the crop, and that the only effect that our measure would produce, would be to keep down somewhat the exorbitant price to which barley might otherwise rise. It was however in vain to contend: the agricultural prophets agreed that barley must fall; and the consternation of the farmers seemed to be general. One man declares it would fall to 28 shillings; another says he would not sow his land; nothing but retrenchment, bankruptcy, and ruin were talked of; in short we were quite overborne by the clamour. Luckily however, the committee continued to sit, and time argued better than we: for lo! and behold! at the end of two months, all the prophets are out, and barley, instead of falling to 28 shillings, has risen to 48 shillings.—Well; what was the next objection? I own I was curious to guess what it might be; and from the inconsistencies that I had seen, I allowed my fancy pretty good latitude. But my fancy crept on the ground; and, had I guessed to the end of time, I never should have hit it. The last objection was, that we should lower the price; the next was, that we should raise the price; and accordingly it is now gravely contended, that we have raised it. This objection is much more difficult to answer than the first, although the first had in one sense a real foundation, and this has none. But the difficulty here is of a novel sort: it is that of stating any argument or conclusion 'ad absurdum' in a stronger point of view than the proposition itself. What, sir! a measure that is 516 to diminish the consumption, or increase the supply, lower the price: will persons who have a thing to sell, be induced to keep it back from the apprehension of a measure that will prohibit its future use? Will the buyer purchase more, in the expectation that he may not be allowed to use it? Speculations are common enough; but I think not of this sort. Without the measure, the distiller would certainly want 800,000 quarters of barley; and the barley-grower would have a certain market for that quantity. With the measure, the former will not want, and the latter cannot sell it; and yet we are to suppose the distiller more eager to buy, and the grower more unwilling to sell, with the measure than without it.—The next objection is the mischievous principle which this recommendation of the committee is supposed to contain.—Now, as we have heard so much of this principle, it would not have been going quite out of their road, if gentlemen had been pleased to tell us what it was: for, to this hour, no one has yet distinctly stated it. I suppose, however, we may conclude from the tenour of their argument, that it must be something like this; that when the colonies are in distress, they shall be relieved at the expence of the landed interest; that when the sugar-market is over burthened, it shall be relieved at the expence of the corn-market; or some similar proposition. Now this would certainly be a very mischievous principle, which no man would more decidedly condemn than myself. But who ever stated this principle, and who owns it? None of the committee at least: for they not only carefully guard against the principle, saying that the measure should on no account be permanent; but they declare the very opposite principle, when they recommend that the restriction should cease, if it be found to have any undue effect on the corn-market, let the situation of the sugar-market be what it may; thereby declaring that the landed interest should by no means be subservient to the colonial, but that, on the contrary, colonial interest should give way to that of domestic agriculture. And yet to this imputed principle, this phantom of their own imagination, this bugbear of their own creating, all is to be sacrificed; Great Britain exposed to want, and the colonies to ruin.—With some gentlemen, this objection comes in another shape, or at least under another name. With them, it is not principle but prece- 517 dent: an alarming and dangerous precedent! It really might make one smile to see the great and powerful interest of this country in an agony of alarm at placing a precedent in the hands of some ten or twelve merchants and three or four planters, if now so many there be remaining in this house. A body whose, interest has been sacrificed to every body and on every occasion; which has been obliged to give way, whoever was the opponent; not only to great and powerful bodies, but to those which were most inconsiderable; not only for great and important objects, but for considerations the most minute; in short, which could be oppressed for every body and for every purpose up to the point we see it is. But, after all, what would this precedent be, even according to their own shewing? A precedent that would do them honour at little cost. It would be merely this, that, in the urgent distress of the colonies, no other measure appearing practicable for their immediate relief, but one that would unload the market of a glut forced into it by our conquests, the landed interest had stepped before the rest of the nation in yielding 1–16th of the barley market at a time when, barley was at least sixteen shillings higher than the price at which importation is allowed by law.—One more objection I must yet notice, which seems to have made considerable impression. It is this; that every kind of restriction is bad, especially in regard to corn; that every thing ought to be free, and left to find its own level. To this doctrine, no man assents more fully than I do. The theory is most just. But, sir, nothing leads into more error than the false application of true principles; and no maxim has ever been more misapplied than this, that trade will find its own level. So it will, if left to itself: but then it must be left to itself throughout. If you have interfered with various restrictions and regulations already it is most absurd, in one particular instance, to quote a rule you have constantly disregarded. Trade, like the element from which the phrase is borrowed, will find its level, if left to itself; but if its course be stopped here and forced forward there, an artificial level will be introduced, which you must continue to regulate and superintend, or you must abandon all your past regulations and restrictions.—Thus, as to the colonies; if left to themselves, assuredly they would bring no more sugar to the market than it demands; but if you 518 force them to come here, you must contrive a vent for what they bring. Thus as to corn; if left to itself, doubtless, the fertility of the soil, and the industry of the inhabitants, would not suffer these islands to want. But if your whole system has been a system of regulations; if maximums and minimums exist for importation and exportation; and if these, operating with other causes, destroying the balance between agriculture and manufacture, have made you in some degree dependent on importation for subsistence: you may gradually indeed recede from an erroneous system, and finally abandon it: but it will not be safe suddenly to turn round and trust the subsistence of the country, especially after a short crop, to a theory perfectly just, but which you have rendered inapplicable. Other objections have perhaps been urged; and their variety and inconsistency is such, that one may be excused if some are forgot. One question I would however ask: how comes it that, having hitherto imported corn, no objection was made? Writers might perhaps in theory object, remarks might occasionally be made in parliament; but still, the landed interest was quiet; there was no clamour, no alarm, no parliamentary opposition to the import, till at last, that, being suddenly stopt by your enemy, it is proposed for one year, till you can increase your domestic produce, to take a partial supply from another quarter; when it came from foreign states, good; but when from your own colonies, ruin, and destruction; and this under circumstances that make it at least doubtful whether your people will not want. Had this measure had no reference to the West Indies, it is clear to every observer, it follows from the arguments used against it, that it would not have met half the opposition it has met. Well then may the colonies cry out, when you talk of the protection afforded them, Protect us but against yourselves! No ruin can come upon us from any other quarter like that which your protection affords; to us every change may afford hope, every alteration improvement! Even the language of refusal adds to its poignancy. Every one admits the justice of their case, every one speaks to them commiseration; but every one sends them to the next door. Apply to the minister for relief from taxes; there they are told that it is impossible to meddle with so important a branch of the revenue, which at this time could no how be re- 519 placed: besides, that any relaxation of duties would not benefit them, but go to the consumer as long as the market is overloaded. Propose a measure for this purpose: here the landed gentlemen are all in array; they have 'lowering the price' and 'raising the price,'—'alarming principle,'—'formidable precedent'—'dangerous doctrine/ to contend with. Go on, and ask merely leave to pay the Americans, who bring them the necessaries of life, in sugar, which they cannot sell, instead of money, which they cannot get; then they meet the ship-owners, with 'navigation laws'—British bottoms' and 'neutral bottoms'—'nursery of seamen'—'importance of the navy' &c. Ask for leave to obtain their supplies in a cheaper way; then comes 'interest of manufactures'—'ruin of trade'—'mother country' and I know not what. Ask, at least, permission to improve their produce and send home their sugar in a refined state, which now will not pay for freight Hi a raw state; then they meet the 'shipowners,' again, and 'the refiners'—'established on acts of parliament' and God knows what else. In short, turn which way they will, it is the same; everywhere their claims admitted, but everywhere steadily opposed. It is a complete exemplification of the lines of our beautiful poet; from the first, it is:—It grieves my heart to see you thus:Be comforted; relief is near;See, all your friends are in the rear.down to the last, who says:—Older and abler pass'd you by;How strong were those, how weak am I;One might add, with little alteration:—Ruin, we own, is just in view;But this is your affair—adieu.Such is British justice; such is British compassion; and such is the fate of British colonies! Worn out with lassitude, continued oppression, and repeated disappointments, what other sentiment can remain for them but despair, or, if there be a hope, it must be a hope of separation from what (if this measure be rejected) I will not call the mother country?—Sir; I trust it will not be rejected; but that sentiments more worthy the justice, the liberality, and the wisdom of a British house of commons, will prevail. I hope so the more, as I observe that, although this has been artfully cried up as the cause of the landed interest against colonial, and possibly thereby the majority of those representing the former may be hostile to 520 the measure; yet that many gentlemen of this description are not so, but considering the subject in a more enlarged view, are its warm supporters. That we and they may succeed, is my sincere wish; for I very much fear, that if this measure for the relief of the colonies shall fail, it will be the last we shall ever have occasion to consider.
§ Mr. R. Dundas
concurred in the general principle laid down by his right hon. friend the chancellor of the exchequer for Ireland, as to the propriety of not interfering with the com laws, an interference, in general, which could not be productive of any beneficial consequence. But, at the same time, he must allow that there were extreme cases, in which it would be necessary to resort to such interference. The question, therefore, was, whether the present circumstances of this country were such as to constitute a case of that description? The late crops of barley and oats had been short, but not the crop of wheat. Though there was no danger of scarcity at present, yet they ought to look to the future, and in the event of a short crop this season, they would not be justified in not leaving to the executive government the power of giving to the public consumption that amount of corn which was consumed in the distilleries. He did not agree either with those who supported this as a colonial measure, or with those who defended it on the score of existing or apprehended scarcity, but with a view to the great national interests which it was calculated to promote.
said, that with reference to the note produced by his hon. friend who spoke last but one, he could assure him, on his honour, that he never had interfered in it directly cir indirectly. He hoped he was not weak enough, after having seen, on the last night this question was discussed, so many of his friends who had generally voted with him, differ from him upon it, to attempt to make it a party business; and he assured him on his honour he was not indiscreet enough to give his assent to such a letter. He thought this explanation was warranted, from the confidence placed in him by his colleagues. An hon. gent, had thought proper to find fault with what had fallen from him on a former occasion respecting Ireland; all he. could say was, that it was justified by the language of the chancellor of the exchequer of Ireland, who said, that the Union should not be violated for conve- 521 nience. For his part, he thought that it ought not to be violated upon any grounds whatever; for if it were once broken in upon, who was to be the judge how far the innovations should go? This country had gained every thing by the Union, and Ireland had lost her existence as an independent kingdom. He opposed the measure as tending to depress the farmer; and thought it was unwise of the house to interfere, except at a time of dire necessity. The oracle of the ministerial benches had said that there was not any danger of a scarcity, adding, that the farmer could not be injured by the suspension. This kind of argument was preposterous. It must be allowed that the farmer had only three markets; first, the consumption of provisions; second, the breweries; and third, the distilleries. If they cut off one of those markets, the farmer would only raise grain sufficient for the other two. If the three markets were continued, and an actual scarcity came on, the stoppage of the distilleries would always secure a sufficient supply; but if they used sugar in the distilleries, the country could hope for no such resource. Distillation from grain always left a surplus in the country, and it never yet had been known, that when his majesty, by the advice of his council, had issued a proclamation for the stopping of the distilleries, that indemnity had been denied.
§ Mr. G. Hibbert
said, he had never felt more surprize at any proceeding in parliament, than at the warmth of opposition with which he had seen this measure met, and he particularly thought the objections to the mode in which it had been brought forward were ill founded. It had been said, that the house had been taken by surprize, and that, out of a Committee instituted for the purpose of enquiring into and suggesting remedies for the distresses of the West India Planters, had arisen a proposition materially affecting the agriculture of the kingdom, a proposition which they were not competent to entertain or to judge of, and which the house could not have looked for from a committee so constituted. A bare reference to the appointment of the Committee would prove the fallacy of this representation. The Committee is expressly appointed to 'enquire and report how far it may be 'practicable and expedient to confine the 'Distilleries of the united kingdom to the 'use of Sugar and Molasses only, and also 'what other provision can be made for 522 'the relief of the growers of Sugar in the 'British West India colonies, &c. &c.'—And was it not a matter of indifference whether the words 'confining the distilleries, 'to sugar,' or 'forbidding the use of grain 'in the distilleries' were used? The result to the growers of grain, at least, was exactly the same. He had come down to the house the night the appointment of the committee was moved, and did expect that the measure thus announced would have occasioned some conversation: but the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer appeared at that time to be in unison with the general sentiment of the house, and when he named a Committee, as he in a pointed manner declared, with a view to impartial enquiries, and comprising a portion of every description of the leading interests in that house, there had been not the smallest objection uttered, either against the names of the Committee, or against their competency to all the branches of the enquiry submitted to them. And why, he wished to know, was not the committee competent, as well to ascertain the expediency of stopping for a limited time the Distillation from Grain, as to point out other means of relief to the Sugar Planters? There was a necessary connection betwixt the subjects, and the committee could hardly disjoin them.—There was not a majority, not even a third of the Committee which had the most distant connection with the West Indies. There were of it gentlemen of great landed property, and of agricultural knowledge; and there were others of general acquaintance with mercantile and financial concerns, connected with various parts of the empire, and to whom the wise disposal of the question was a matter of essential interest. Would a committee made up wholly or chiefly of landed proprietors have been more competent or more impartial? Let the proceedings of the committee be looked to. Had they sat so many weeks to detail in evidence the long catalogue of West India distresses? or had their time been taken up almost entirely in ascertaining to what extent, under the present circumstances, injury to the agricultural interest of the mother country could possibly result from the experiment. For his own part, (who had found himself nominated of that committee without his previous knowledge,) he must declare, (he had often declared in the committee,) that the measure should not have his approbation, if it were merely shewn to be beneficial to the Colonies; 523 but only if it appeared to be, under a new situation of the country, a measure of wise and useful precaution for the general benefit.—An hon. baronet (sir J. Sinclair,) had referred to the Report of a Committee of the last parliament, and had repeated some expressions from it; willing to shew that this very question had been recently determined by a committee of parliament which had decidedly disapproved the measure. But the hon. baronet had omitted to state, that the former committee had it not at all in their contemplation to stop the Distillery from grain. They were to consider of the expediency of admitting Sugar to be used in common with grain in the distilleries; and against this measure there did appear to be on the score of revenue, objections so many and formidable, that the committee could not recommend it. They had, however, concluded their Report by suggesting the propriety of endeavouring to remove those impediments which stood in the way of an expedient, the adoption of which, at a future time, might be matter of necessity.—Now, after that Report, the appointment of the existing committee was a fair presumption that those who recommended such an appointment did see some change in the situation or circumstances of the country which might possibly prove the expediency, not of mixing sugar with grain in the distilleries, but of substituting sugar for grain for a limited time. Such circumstances, doubtless, had been in the contemplation of the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer, when he suggested the enquiry; and they were principally these; the interruption of that intercourse through which for an average of years past we had received into the consumption of this kingdom, a supply of about 770,000 quarters of grain annually from foreign parts, and, moreover, a temporary stoppage by the American embargo of that intercourse by which our West India colonies were ordinarily supplied with flour and grain. These two facts, taken together, formed an entirely novel situation of the country, which could not be viewed without anxiety, and which, indeed, had called for the anxious solicitude of some of our most eminent agricultural economists. The timely attention to facts thus notorious and important was so far from being of a nature to excite, that it ought, on the contrary, to allay apprehension. Nothing could cause more confidence in the people as to the essential provision for their sustenance, 524 than to see the administration not waiting for the urgency of the pressure, but wisely guarding against the just approach of want.—He was as averse as any man in that house could be, to mention the topic of scarcity in such a manner as to create a public alarm; he was even aware of the influence of opinion upon such matters; but it became that house to be attentive to every symptom that indicated approaching want; and certainly, one would not look for those symptoms appearing first in the great markets, where money would at all times attract supply, and where a small difference in the supply could be hardly remarked; but in those less frequented or less fertile spots, where supply, though always necessary, was less easily procured.—If the house would enquire into the present situation of some parts of Scotland and of Ireland at this moment, in respect to the prices or the supply of grain, there would appear something at least worthy their provident attention, although he trusted not of that consequence to occasion general alarm.—The opponents of the measure, however, brought forward their general principles, and told us, what he was very willing to admit, that demand will always occasion supply, that agriculture would admit of almost an endless progressive extension, and that we had only to discourage all reliance on foreign aid in order to produce at home all we should want. But, granting this to be true as a principle, was it not equally true as a fact, that for the last 5 years, comprising a fair average of crops and under a progressive state of agriculture, we had yet received into our consumption an average foreign supply of 770,000 quarters of grain annually? What had occasioned this supply for 5 successive years? was it wanted or not? and what had become of it r was it consumed or not? It was idle to talk of our independence on foreign supply with this fact staring us in the face. We might grant the hon. gentlemen their theory; but they must allow us to be a little anxious under such circumstances about the exigencies of that interval which must, of necessity, elapse before their theory could be put into action. It was not a question interesting to landholders alone. It was interesting to all the consumers of the produce of the land, of which there were many and most respectable descriptions who did not possess much land. He could assure an hon. baronet (sir C. Burrell,) who thought that 525 there were too many of that description in parliament, that although he was not a great landholder, he had the most sincere respect and veneration for the whole of the agricultural interest, which he thought was the first in point of national importance; but that he could not, in the present case, account for the alarm which that interest had felt. If there were a great and populous district any where that had attended to agriculture only, neglecting all manufactures and being accustomed to receive from abroad every article of their clothing and their access to that foreign supply should be suddenly cut off, we might with great truth say to them, 'you possess within yourselves the means of cloathing yourselves, and if you will shut out your foreign dependance altogether, you will in time through necessity accomplish your purpose.' This might be wise avid sound counsel, and yet, mean time, while this experiment was in process, a severe winter might prove rather inconvenient, and while upon the best principles of political economy we were shewing them how to fabricate breeches and petticoats, they might be shewing us what it would not be decent in that assembly to name.—The advocates for the agricultural monopoly of the distillery said, that agriculture met with at present rather too little than too much encouragement, and that the three competing markets of the ordinary consumption, as, food of man and beast, of the breweries, and the distilleries, were all necessary for the maintenance of the farmer's prosperity, and for sustaining the present production of grain. Now, if it were so, here is a new and a fourth market, the market which had been occupied by the foreign supply—was that, too, necessary? why, then, had it been preoccupied? Or, if it was not necessary, how would the growers of grain be injured, were it possible to bring our colonial produce to supply exactly the place in consumption which that foreign supply had occupied? But as that was not possible, where, again, was the injury to the grower of grain if a fair exchange were made, and if in return for the market of the supply from abroad, which must, be now given to him, we asked to borrow the market of the distillery, until it should be proved that our own agricultural resources were equal to the whole?—He had kept in the back ground the distresses of the Went India trade, yet the house had acknowledged that they were great and urgent. For his own part, he knew that 526 they were indeed most critically urgent, and that, though they had hitherto fallen chiefly on those directly connected with the colonies, they must, ere long be very generally felt, and that the landed interest in its turn would not escape their influence. He had expected to have found a sentiment somewhat more liberal in the house on this occasion; that we should have gladly united in approving the means of defeating any of the purposes of our great and inveterate enemy. It was the same adverse and overruling power which denied an access to the markets where we might sell our surplus colonial produce, and the means too of importing our deficit of grain. We had the power in our hands of setting one of the efforts of his malice in remedy of the other, and thus of cancelling both; yet it seemed rather to be the sentiment of some of his honourable friends, that a measure which they considered as pernicious in itself was to be considered the more so because it was connected with the relief of the West India colonies.—It had, indeed, been objected to the measure, that it must be ineffectual for the relief of the colonies; this objection was urged with a very bad grace by those who denied that the question ought at all to be connected with the West India distresses: but there could be no doubt that in as far as sugar should find a new consumption in the distilleries, the planters and importers of that article must experience relief, and although that relief should be temporary, and that more permanent relief should not (as he trusted it would) be administered, yet the colonists were in the condition of an exhausted patient to whom a cordial might be administered with propriety in order to enable him to bear his subsequent remedies, although you would not expect permanently to support and restore him by cordials.—An to those observations which tended to represent the West India case as originating wholly in improvident and extravagant speculations, he should, perhaps, have another opportunity of noticing them. The Report would shew how little those observations were borne out by fact. The Import of Sugar from our colonies in the three years ending in 1805, was 2,947,530 cwt. From the same colonies in the three years ending in 1785, immediately after the peace of 1782, 1,814,190 cwt.; shewing an increase, in 20 years, of 1,133,340 cwt.—Or, if we looked to the last year only, these same colonies had sent us, in 1807, 527 3,069,805 cwt. which would make the increased production amount to 1,255,615 cwt. above the average of the three years ending in 1785. The British and Irish consumption in 1807, was 2,656,542 cwt.; that of the three years ending in 1785, was 1,006,484 cwt.: increased consumption, 1,050,058 cwt.—From these facts it would appear, that the colonists had rather nicely hit the mark, and that they had not supplied much for an increased demand for export. But we had been accumulating in this country the colonial produce of all nations, admitting much of it too into the privileges of our own consumption, while at the same time the chances of war deprived us of access to the ordinary channels in which it had been and might again be consumed. Some celebrated northern critics had estimated the increased production of sugar in the whole of the West India colonies of all nations within the last 20 years (after allowing for the defalcation of St. Domingo) at 2,000,000 cwt.; but, if in the same time the increased consumption of the British empire alone accounted for more than one half that quantity, could it be unreasonable to suppose, that in all the other markets of Europe, an increased consumption might be found for the remainder?—Upon the whole, the house was called upon, under circumstances new and critical, to exert its legislative powers, in relieving an important portion of the empire, and in the protection of the whole from one of the worst of evils. The circumstances of the pressure of the war, and the temporary suspension of our trade, ought to be taken into the account. This was not a moment to put at hazard a scarcity, or excessive dearness of the necessaries of life. He should give his zealous support to the proposed measure, as one of political wisdom and of wise precaution.
§ Mr. Boyle
(Solicitor-General of Scotland) admited that it would be a most foolish policy to relieve one set of men at the expence of another class of the community. When he considered, however, the facts stated in the Report upon the, table, and what he knew of the state of the crop, particularly in Scotland, he thought it would be a measure of prudence to stop the distillation from grain, not merely from the beginning of July, as had been proposed by the noble lord, but if possible from the beginning of June. This opinion he had formed some months ago, altogether independent of the present situation of the West Indian planters, He 528 should therefore betray the duty he owed to the country, if he did not vote for the present measure.
§ Sir H. Mildmay
professed to feel as deeply as any man for the present distress of the West Indian planters, and to be most anxious that some relief should be granted them; but he thought this relief might be much better given by a reduction of the present duties on sugar, by a relaxation of the navigation act, or by advancing them a sum of money as had been done in one instance before. He hoped, however, that in order to relieve the West Indian planters, the house would not consent to derange the whole of the existing agricultural system of the country. He could not consent to an interference which would derange the whole system of British agriculture, on the faith of which sytsem 11,000 acres had been recently brought into cultivation. This increase of culture would not be kept up if the encouragement of a fair market was not suffered to operate. The land bore a vast proportion of the public burthens, poor tax 7,000,000l.; land tax, which, though a most wise and beneficial tax, was extremely heavy; and the whole weight of the militia. The price of barley, he contended, had risen in consequence of the discussion of the measure, because, ever since it was projected, the distillers had been buying up all the barley they could find at any price, for the purpose of increasing their stock of spirits. He, therefore, hoped that the measure would be dropped.
said, he was ready to do justice to the motives of the noble lord (Binning) who brought forward the proposed measure of prohibiting the grain distillery, and to the motives of the chancellor of the exchequer also, who appeared determined to give it his most strenuous support; but that he differed from them so widely in opinion upon the subject, that instead of viewing it as a measure of sound policy, or as a wise expedient for a special purpose, he considered it in every point of view most injudicious, and likely to be productive of incalculable mischief. It appeared to him extraordinary, after the division of the other night, when the question was carried by a majority of only 14, that his majesty's ministers should think it adviseable to persist in pressing the subject further upon the consideration of the house. It was not usual for ministers to do so upon such a division, and it was still more extraordinary upon such 529 a measure as that they were then discussing; nothing could be more dangerous than first to raise an alarm of scarcity, and then render it matter of frequent and reiterated debate in that house. It was the certain method to induce, or at least encrease the difficulties intended to be remedied, and it was impossible to avoid repeated discussion, if the measure should be unwisely persisted in. Those who opposed it, did so upon the fullest conviction of the evils that would arise from it, and of the necessity of withstanding the establishment of so dangerous a precedent. They thought it necessary to resist such an interference with the agriculture of the country by every means in their power, and would certainly oppose the bill in all its stages through the house.—Mr. Western said, be should not, at that time, at all consider the question as it affected the West Indies; but confine himself to the ground upon which it was principally defended, namely, as a precautionary measure against scarcity; and in that point of view he contended there not only existed no cause whatever that required its adoption, but every peculiar circumstance of the present times afforded obvious reasons against having recourse to such an expedient. The situation of Europe and the probable consequent loss of the supply of corn which we had been accustomed to receive from foreign countries, was the ostensible reason urged in justification of this measure. So far from considering it in that light, he thought the situation of Europe afforded every motive to induce the legislature to abstain from such an interference with the agriculture of the country. If the continent of Europe and all the ports from whence we had been accustomed to import corn were in the hands of the enemy, it was evident that in future, we could rely upon our own resources alone. It was not merely in the present moment, when in truth by extraordinary good fortune we did not stand in need of foreign aid, but in future years when we had experienced defective crops, that we might have to struggle with all the difficulties of scarcity and famine, that we might with reason dread the loss of the foreign supply. Was it wise, then, at such a time as the present, and in such a situation of Europe and the world, to do that which must discourage the efforts of the British farmer by depriving him of a most beneficial market for his produce, and by evincing a spirit of meddling 530 policy in the government, than which nothing was more alarming and more injurious to the merchant and manufacturer of every description? Instead of depriving agriculture of a market which must diminish produce eventually, we should rather endeavour to extend those very markets which had already contributed materially to encrease the cultivation of every part of the united empire.—But, then, it was said, that we should stand in need of an immediate resource to answer the demand which the foreign corn had heretofore supplied, and which being withdrawn would leave a vacuum that it would be desirable to fill up by the grain consumed in the distilleries. It was also said, that the deficiency of last year's crops of oats, barley, and pulse, added to the loss of the foreign corn, rendered it probable that a scarcity might yet ensue, and which had indeed been evinced already in parts of Scotland and Ireland. That there might be a pressure in particular districts in consequence of the failure of the oat crop, and the foreign import of oats, he could readily believe; but the proposed measure would not then relieve those districts; and that there was any appearance of a general scarcity, he must deny most positively. So far from it, the price of corn was such, as barely to give an adequate return to the grower; wheat had not been higher than was necessary for that purpose; and as to barley and oats their price at that time, did not pay so well as a very moderate price would do upon a good crop—Mr. W. said, the market price of the kingdom at large was the evidence upon which he founded his opinion that there existed no reason whatever to apprehend a scarcity. The market price was the best, if not the only criterion by which to judge of the suffciency of the supply to meet the consumption of the year. It was, in truth, the result of all the collective information of all the persons resident in every part of the kingdom, whose trade, employment, and interest it was, to obtain the most accurate knowledge possible of the proportion of supply and demand. There was no evidence equal to that derived from this source; not all the committees of the house that ever sat, could afford information so much to be relied upon. It was absurd, then, to talk about a scarcity, when the markets indicated a plenty, and which the present price of wheat most undoubtedly did.—It was to be observed, likewise, that the price 531 was not only moderate, but it was and had been since last harvest peculiarly steady, less fluctuating perhaps than ever was known, and no stronger proof of sufficiency, and even plenty, could well be imagined, than what arose out of that single circumstance. It was really singular that any apprehension should be avowed of a scarcity of corn, when the price of wheat had been seen to remain at 70s. per quarter, or within one or two shillings under or over, since the last harvest; and this in defiance of the known fact that the foreign supply was cut off; nobody, he thought, could imagine that the corn merchants did not know the state of the foreign trade till informed by the Report of the West India Committee; and yet no unusual speculations, no fluctuations of price had taken place; that there might be both the one and the other, now that parliament had interfered; was very probable, but hitherto it appeared as if the loss of the foreign trade had contributed to render the price more steady than it had formerly been.—Mr. Western said he would next desire the house to consider what were the prices at which, upon former occasions, it had been thought advisable to prohibit the use of grain in the distilleries; such a measure had indeed been resorted to on three occasions only since their establishment in 1690: the first time in the year 1757, the circumstances of which it was not necessary particularly to advert to, on account of the period being so distant, and the situation of the country so different; the next suspension took place in 1795, and the third in 1800. Let the house bear in mind the price of grain at the time the committee had recommended the suspension; wheat was then at 70s. barley 39s. oats 33s,; at the time he was speaking wheat was at 72s. barley 40s. oats 34s. Now, what was it in 1795 and 1800? In the first of those periods, in the summer of 1795, a strong apprehension prevailed that the crop was materially injured, and a considerable alarm was excited throughout the Country. In July wheat was 84s. per quarter, and in August it rose to 108s. and other grain in proportion. In December 1800, when the next suspension was thought expedient, wheat had risen to 125s., barley to 71s., 8d., and oats 39s,; these were the prices to which corn had advanced before it was thought desirable, at that time, to prohibit ' the grain distillery;, and what is more remarkable, when the prohibition was taken off in Feb. 1802, 532 wheat was then 75s. 6d. barley 44s. and oats 23s. 4d.; which was 5s. 6d. higher for wheat and 4s. for barley than it was when the committee advised the present intended prohibition to commence.—It was likewise material to attend to the time of the year at which the suspension was recommended, in 1795, in 1800, and, the present time; in 1795 it was at the beginning of the harvest, which it was imagined had suffered most essential injury; consequently there was a whole year's consumption to look forward to, and provide for; and in 1800, in December, there was of course a much longer time than at present, which was to be supplied from the stock in hand, before the new crop should arrive: in the present instance the season was so far advanced, that but a few months remained to provide for; it was impossible that before that time, the price should not have risen very materially, if any deficiency had been at all probable; in truth, it was most evident that the measure proposed was wholly unnecessary, and being so would be infinitely mischievous.—Mr. W. said he would readily admit that the state of dependance we had been in upon foreign countries for part of our annual subsistence, might reasonably excite some alarm, now that such supply could be withheld at any time by the power of the enemy; most happily however, no danger existed that was pressing or immediate; it was our peculiar good fortune to have so encreased our cultivation within these few years, and to have had so abundant a wheat harvest last year, as to enable us, without any difficulty, and without foreign aid, to meet the growing crop, at the very moment the enemy had made himself master of almost every port in Europe. The danger then was not immediate, no cause for alarm whatever at that time existed, but apprehensions for the future might be entertained, and in those apprehensions he certainly participated. It was impossible not to contemplate the possibility of a defective harvest without alarm; it was against such an event that we ought to be striving to provide, instead of confining our views to the present moment; measures the very reverse of that which was under consideration ought, in his opinion, to be had recourse to; was it not indisputable, that from our own resources alone that supply must in future be drawn which had hitherto been received from foreign countries? how then was our produce to be encreased, to meet an encreased demand upon it henceforward? 533 by one very obvious and easy method, by encouragement to the British grower. It might be asked, what encouragement do the growers of corn, does the landed interest, require to extend the cultivation of the land, and to increase its production? Do they require extravagant high prices? and are not the present sufficient? Do they require bounties, or other artificial means of encouragement? No, said Mr. W. we do not require extravagant high prices, for numerous evils are attendant upon them, we are satisfied with the price when the markets are undisturbed and the buyers and sellers are left to themselves to dispose of their property as they think fit: we do not require bounties or any other encouragement that is not afforded to other merchants and manufacturers; what we do require, is, to have equal advantages with those who embark their capital and devote their industry to other pursuits, and to be secured from restrictive and prohibitory laws and legislative interference. The public are too apt to imagine that excessive high price is anxiously desired by all those who a concerned in the cultivation of land, and that idea has received too much countenance from some members of that house; but the opinion is unjust and unfounded; we are desirous, no doubt, of a sufficient, and a steady price, and it is the interest of the country tradesman, and labourer likewise, that we should have it; because when agriculture flourishes, they find constant employment, and full wages. We are anxious that food should be rendered to the people as cheap as possible, but we know that it never can be rendered to them cheaper than its production costs, with adequate remuneration to the grower; every act of legislative interference will make it dearer instead of cheaper; the price may indeed in some cases be kept down for a time, but after such a depression, it will rise again with accumulated force; every prohibition of markets, every restrictive law, is a sort of gradation of the law of a maximum, and its operation is proportionably the same, inevitably increasing and accumulating the evil, and such has been invariably the case in all countries where such measures have been tried. There is only one way by which the price of corn can be kept moderate and steady, and that is by encouraging production, and that mode of keeping down the price we are anxious to invite and promote; we know that is the only effectual mode, and those who imagine 534 that other means will answer, do but deceive themselves, and hold out false and delusive hopes to the people; and if their opinions should so far prevail, as to induce legislative enactments founded upon such mistaken principles, the most serious and fatal consequences will follow.—Mr. W. said he was convinced from all the information he had been able to Collect, and from such observation as it was in his power to make, as well as from the circumstances relative to the markets before alluded to, that the cultivation of the country was extended beyond conception within the last few years, and the tillage of those lands that were in cultivation immensely improved. The high prices of the years 1795 and 1800, had given a great momentary stimulus to agriculture, and brought many thousand acres under the plough, and so far the effect was beneficial to the community, however painful the circumstances at that time. It was a soft of stimulus however, which no considerate agriculturist would be anxious for again, it unsettled the rates of the wages of the labourer and mechanic, and brought many inconveniences. An hon. member (Mr. Curwen) had alluded to an act relating to the corn trade which passed in the year 1804, and which he (Mr. W.) had the honour, under direction of a committee, to introduce into the house. The object of that act was to encourage and increase the production of British corn by checking the excessive importation of foreign growth; in order to do this the importation price of wheat was raised from 54s. to 66s. per qr. and other grain in proportion. Mr. Pitt Was at that time at the head of the administration, and gave to the measure his decided support; he saw the necessity of encouraging the agriculture of the country, and of throwing off our dependance upon foreign nations, who were, or who probably might be, our enemies; and he (Mr. W.) said he felt himself authorized in saying, that Mr. Pitt would have concurred in carrying the principle of that act further, if the prejudices of the time had not rendered it unadvisable to do so. The hon. member (Mr. Curwen) had said, that he was convinced, great advantages from it had resulted to the country; for his own part, he certainly concurred in that opinion, and believed that it was in some degree owing to the security it afforded to the British farmer, insufficient as it was, that we were now in a situation so much more competent to provide sub- 535 sistence for the population of this country, independant of foreign aid, than we should have been at a period somewhat more remote; whatever were those advantages, he was ready to give full credit to Mr. Pitt, to whose support the success of the measure at the time must certainly, in a material degree, be attributed. It was not however upon the increased agriculture of Great Britain alone that we were compelled to rely; the agriculture of Ireland had increased even more rapidly, and abundant supplies might be derived from thence. An act was passed in the year 1806, the principle of which he most completely approved, though some of its material provisions he thought imperfect; by that act the corn trade was entirely thrown open between the two countries; Ireland could not fail to experience sensibly the beneficial effects of having the British markets thrown open to her, and we might derive from thence all the supplies we stood in need of. If it could be supposed possible that the agriculture of G. Britain should remain stationary, Ireland alone would be able to supply, in an incredibly short time, all that we had hitherto derived from foreign countries. It ought to be the object of government, as it was the obvious policy, to encourage the agriculture of Ireland, to give employment to her population, and to induce her to provide us with that surplus produce which she was so capable of affording; and no longer to continue that encouragement to the agriculture of foreign at hostile nations.—Upon the whole, he considered the proposed measure of prohibiting the Distillation of Grain most injurious and impolitic, and so far from necessary from any circumstances of the present moment, that every thing indicated the policy of resorting to measures of an opposite tendency. Instead of doing that which must shake the confidence of the farmer in the security of his market, that security should be strengthened and confirmed; instead of limiting his market, it should be extended. No article can long be produced in quantity beyond the extent of the demand, he meant such a demand as would give a remunerating price to the grower; a diminished production would follow a diminished demand; so, the only way to extend or encrease production of any article was to extend the market for it: and, if it was possible to apply this principle stronger to one article than another, it was to the article of grain, because the amount 536 of each year's harvest was so uncertain; the surplus produce of an abundant year must then be taken off: how was that to be done? In the present time an export trade could hardly be expected; a luxurious consumption of corn in the distilleries, breweries, &c. &c. answered the same end; even in ordinary years we ought to have amply sufficient for such purposes, in order that in deficient years those supplies might be rendered available. These resources ought certainly to be encouraged, and multiplied. Instead of cutting off the demand of the distilleries, and checking that of the breweries, we should encourage both the one and the other, and every other market that could be found. He begged the house, to consider the effects of the excessive high duties upon malt, which had operated in a most injurious manner upon the growers of barley; and in effect was already a bounty upon the trade of the East and West Indies. The consumption of tea and sugar was, in almost every cottage, substituted for malt liquors; and as a proof of this fact, the quantity of barley that paid duty as malt was not more than it was ninety years ago, when the population was little more than half its present amount.—Mr. W. said, he would not longer detain the house, and would adhere to his determination of not entering into the West Indian part of the question. He thought there were means by which the West India proprietors might in some degree be relieved; the permission of direct export to foreign countries to a limited extent; the permission to bring home their sugars in a refined state; the reduction of the duties; were subjects that atleast required the serious consideration of parliament. He should not however enter upon those to picks at that time, but should sit down, entertaining an earnest hope that the house would not agree to the motion of the noble lord.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
disclaimed the idea of interfering unnecessarily with agriculture. The only question in his mind was, whether the circumstances of the present time were such as to justify or call for such interference as that now proposed. He had not at any time given countenance to the idea of the existence of a scarcity; but from the deficiency of the last harvest in Scotland, and the failure of the crops of potatoes and oats in Ireland, he held that we were in a state of imperfect supply. In this state of imperfect supply, and under the circumstances hi 537 which we stood with respect to other countries, he thought it right to retain and husband the supplies on hand, till such time as the ascertained produce of the present crop should remove every apprehension of the danger which he thought ought now to be guarded against. On no former occasion, cither in 1757, in 1795, or in 1800, the three occasions on which distillation from grain was prohibited, had it been done by proclamation, but in all these instances it had been effected by an act of parliament. If, indeed, a scarcity should be felt when parliament was not sitting, a minister would be unworthy of his situation, who would not adopt such a measure upon his own responsibility; but when parliament was sitting, it was certainly incumbent upon him to recur to the legislature, for advice. The apprehensions of scarcity were entertained by many persons of great authority from different parts of the country. Among others, an hon. baronet opposite (sir J. Sinclair) had communicated to him an alarm with respect to Scotland; and another hon. member, now absent, the member for Norwich (Mr. W. Smith), had spoke with similar apprehension with respect to the county of Norfolk. He was, therefore, not a little surprised at the course pursued by both those hon. gentlemen on the present question. Much of the objections that were urged to the measure, was matter of regulation as to the mode of carrying it into effect, and was, therefore, additional ground for going into the committee. He denied that the rise which had lately taken place in the price of grain, had arisen from the agitation of this measure, or from his statements in that house. The sole cause of that rise was the inadequacy of the stock to the demand. It was impossible for government to take the measures that seemed necessary, otherwise than through parliament. To proceed by proclamation would have the effect of spreading consternation throughout the country, and the hon. gentlemen opposite would have been loudest in complaint if that course had been pursued.
§ Mr. Whitbread
reminded the house that the right hon. gent, who had just sat down, had not, from the beginning to the end of his speech, said one word of granting relief to the West India planters. He had now placed the planters entirely out of sight, and recommended the measure on the ground of a scarcity which every one knew did not exist; a scarcity which his majesty's chancellor of the exchequer for 538 Ireland denied to exist in that country, and which was denied to exist in Scotland by the president of the board of controul. But the right hon. gent.'s conduct now was analogous to what it had been when he came into power. Then he set up a cry about popery; and now he wished (or if he did not wish it, the effect of his speech was) to set up a stilt more dangerous cry about scarcity. It was evident also, that upon this, as upon many other subjects, there was a great difference of opinion among his majesty's ministers. He observed, that government had contributed very much to increase the distress of the West India planters, by foolishly taking possession of the Danish islands. He would willingly have consented to go into a committee to consider of some means of granting relief to the West India planters, but he could not give the smallest countenance to the present measure.
§ Mr. W. Smith
admitted that he had some time since made a communication to the chancellor of the exchequer, of his apprehension of an eventual scarcity in Norfolk. This was now several months, since. He strongly protested against the adoption of this measure, which was calculated to be materially prejudicial to the landed interest of the country, whilst at the same time it was in its very nature inadequate to the end proposed, that of affording any thing like substantial relief to the West India colonies and traders.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
declared that he thought there was reason to congratulate the house on the prospect which it then had of affording even a temporary relief to the West India planters; and endeavoured to convince the house that there was something like a spirit of party in the opposition to the question.
§ Lord Binning said a few words in reply.—A division then took place, when the numbers were:
|For going into a Committee.||163|
§ When strangers were re-admitted, we found the house in a committee, discussing the propriety of coming to an adjournment on the question. The proposition was for some time resisted by the chancellor of the exchequer; he at length, however, declared that he would accede to the proposition of an adjournment, provided the rules of the house would admit of such a proceeding, under the circumstances of the case. The Speaker then acquainted the 539 committee, that there was one mode which was perfectly regular, if the house thought proper to adopt it. That was, to agree to the whole of the resolutions pro forma, with an understanding that the two first resolutions should be recommitted on some other convenient day. This suggestion was adopted, and the debate was fixed for Friday.