HC Deb 27 May 1808 vol 11 cc702-6

On the motion of lord Binning, the report of the committee respecting the use of Sugar in Distilleries was brought up; and the house resolved into a committee for the recommitment of the two first Resolutions. On the first Resolution being read,

Mr. Coke

repeated his former objections to the measure, and contended that the apprehension of scarcity was unfounded, and had arisen from the conduct of the West Indian merchants, and the discussion of this subject. He denied that the last harvest was short, and stated as a proof of that, that the price of corn was not higher than was necessary to afford a fair profit to the farmer. He contended, that if this measure were to be continued for only two years, there would not be produced the same quantity of bread corn; that the right hon. gent, would be responsible for all the consequences, and would be the first minister to prevent by his measures the poor from being able to procure bread. He should therefore object to the measure in every stage.

Mr. Hibbert

contended, that it was neither the growers of corn, nor the growers of sugar, that were particularly concerned, in this question. The consumers of corn, the manufacturers, and all who wished well to the country, were the persons most concerned; and as the supply which the country had from importation for some years past was now stopped, it was the more necessary to take measures to provide for making up that supply. The agriculture of the country was not adequate to make up for that deficiency, and therefore there could be no reasonable objection to the introduction of some part of it from the West Indies.

Sir James Hall

said, that great part of what he had to offer on this subject had been anticipated by gentlemen who had already spoken upon it and in particular, by the chancellor of the exchequer foe Ire- land, who had delivered doctrines truly refreshing to hear from the bench upon which he sat.—It had been urged by the noble lord who brought forward the measure, that no danger could arise from it, as a precedent. But, in his opinion, it was thus, and thus only, dangerous. As a temporary measure, it was nugatory, and would neither serve the West-Indians nor hurt the farmers at home; for the distillers, in contemplation of the stoppage now proposed, had been of late urging their business with unexampled activity, and were doubly stocked with spirits from grain, which the people of this country are known to prefer; so that there can now be no inducement to add to the quantity of spirits already produced; and the permission to distil from sugar will remain a dead letter, during all the time of its proposed duration; and of course, as a temporary measure, then it will neither do good nor harm.—But that, as a precedent, the measure was highly pernicious, by holding out to the West-Indians the expectation of a similar encouragement in future, and thus inducing them to continue their over-production of sugar: That those gentlemen who had voted for this measure as temporary, whilst they professed their disapprobation of it, if permanent, must either in future act contrary to their conviction of what is right, or will have done a great injury to those whom they intend to serve; since their present vote must tend to encourage that very production, which they are bound, by their present professions, to check on a future occasion: That the whole tendency of the measure is to bestow upon the production of an article of mere luxury, that encouragement which has hitherto been given to the growth of the food of man.

Mr. W. Smith

was extremely sorry to differ upon this subject from the hon. gent, who began this discussion, with whom he was very much in the habit of agreeing. No man could doubt the existence of partial scarcity. He had documents, received earlier than the discussion of the question, to prove that fact, and which from their strength he did not think proper to read. These accounts he had received from parts of Scotland with which he was connected. The late crop of barley was short, and though there was no scarcity of wheat, there was a scarcity of barley, and an universal scarcity of oats in the country; as might be collected from the price of oats in the market, which was now 49s. and 50s. He therefore did not object to the resolution before the committee because it went too far, but because it was not likely to produce the good effects that were proposed from its adoption; because, by resorting to the measure at the present time, not a single quarter of corn would be saved for consumption; but some, on the contrary, taken from the consumption, so far as the corn of the present year was concerned. On this ground, he should, if no other gentleman did, move an alteration of the resolution to make it commence much earlier in its operation. He also objected to that part of the resolution which would impose upon ministers the necessity of a positive measure, which might excite alarm in the country, by extending the prohibition after the 1st Oct. if the harvest should not be abundant. He should prefer extending the prohibition to the 1st of Jan. 1st of March, or even the 1st of July, next year, if necessary, leaving to ministers, if the next crop should be abundant, to open the distilleries by proclamation, an act which would give the country universal satisfaction. He would, therefore, give to the West Indians this temporary relief, but he would not give to them the slightest hopes of its being repeated, because he would not suffer the agricultural interests of the country to be permanently invaded. The hon. gent, concluded by moving as an amendment, That the 10th of June should be substituted for the 1st of July as the period when the prohibition of the use of corn in the distilleries should commence. On the question being put,

Mr. Yorke

condemned the interference of parliament with the agriculture of the country. Great Britain and Ireland must be able to produce sufficient for their consumption, if their agriculture was not to be interfered with by impolitic measures of this description. The shutting of the ports of the continent against us would amount to a bounty on the improvement and extension of agriculture, not only with respect to corn, but the cultivation of hemp. This measure he considered as a dangerous experiment, and agreed with the hon. gent, who spoke last, that no hope should be held out to the West India merchants that this measure should ever again be resorted to. He did not see why a certain sum might not be lent to the West Indies upon adequate security, to enable the proprietors to turn their lands to the production of other articles. He would even prefer, rather than break in upon a grand principle, to grant a sum of money to his majesty to enable him. to purchase a quantity of the redundant sugar, for the relief of the West Indian merchants.

Mr. Davies Giddy

considered it of the highest importance to encourage the agriculture by exportation, consumption in breweries and distilleries, and in every possible mode. He was, however, of opinion, that in times of necessity the legislature had a right to interfere and prevent every other consumption of corn, in order to save it for human food; but whilst he admitted this right, he contended as strongly, that nothing would so legitimately give that right as the deficiency of human food. The reason why he thought that agriculture ought to be encouraged, was because nothing could make a country so truly great as to render it independent, for articles of necessity, of any other nation. He should never, therefore, consent to any interference with the agriculture of the country for any object of external interest.

Mr. Barham

re-asserted and vindicated some of his former statements, respecting the motives of the opposition to this measure, and argued at considerable length in support of it.

Mr. Hawkins Browne

argued that some means should be devised for taking oil some of the redundant stock of sugar. If the effect of the measure should be to injure the landed interest, no gentleman would consent to it; but the object of the measure was, to prevent the consequences of a scarcity if the next crop should not be a good one.

Sir John Sebright

could not avoid entering his protest against this measure, and declared, that though he was one of the landed interest, he did not object to this measure on any narrow view, but from the opinion that it was fraught with injury to the agriculture of the country.

Mr. H. Lascelles

recalled the attention of the committee to the real question before them. The resolution under consideration, was, whether the use of corn in distilleries, from the 1st of July to the 1st of October should be prohibited. During that period the distilleries usually were stopped, so that no injury could be done thereby to the landed interest. He could not see why the measure should not be re sorted to, vesting in his majesty's minister a discretion as to the continuance of the prohibition; because they would be bourn to take into their consideration the nature of the harvest and the price of corn, and would be responsible for the exercise of that discretion.

Lord Binning

agreed to the amendment made by his hon. friend.

Mr. Portman

enumerated the inconveniences that would be suffered by distillers, if the use of corn were to be prohibited in distilleries on the 1st of July, both in consequence of the corn they had on hand ground, and of the loss they would sustain from the cattle, which were now fed upon grains in warm houses, being exposed to the effect of the open air.

Mr. Whitbread

wished merely to state the ground of the vote which he meant to give. He should certainly support the amendment of his hon. friend, because he thought, that if any effect at all were to be expected from the measure, it must be by adopting that amendment. But as he was an enemy to the measure in any shape, he should feel himself bound to oppose the Resolution in chief.

Mr. Coke

declared his intention to follow the example of his hon. friend, and to vote for the amendment, and against the Resolution.—The house then divided: For the Amendment 89; against it 71. Majority 18. After which, the period of the commencement of the prohibition was fixed for the 15th of June for Scotland, and the 20th for Ireland.