HC Deb 27 February 1809 vol 12 cc1127-34

The order of the day being read for taking into consideration the report of this bill,

Sir J. Newport,

in allusion to what had fallen from Mr. Foster on a former night, declared his conviction, that the Irish people, far from burning with a disposition to resist the laws, were well disposed to respect them, if government would apply themselves to the correction of what was improper in the administration of those laws. If the right hon. gentlemen were desirous to confer a benefit on Ireland, he assured them they would do infinitely more to tranquillize the people by comprehending Ireland under this act than by all the penal laws on their Statute book. The right hon. gent. (Mr. Foster) had on this occasion furnished him with argument against himself. He had proposed considerable augmentations to the different Charities in Ireland, on account of the en-creased rate of provisions in 1809 more than in 1808. And with the same breath he proceeded to allow the distillery from corn in Ireland, as if corn in that country instead of rising had fallen in price during the latter year. He concluded by moving that the Report be recommitted for the purpose of introducing a clause, extending the prohibition to Ireland.

Mr. Fuller

was ashamed of ministers, for the way in which they had treated this question. Of all weak questions which had been agitated in this house, the present, he thought, was the weakest. If they could not check illicit distillery in Ireland, were they therefore to allow it to go on at full swing? On the same principle should they allow smuggling to take its course in this country. He was really ashamed of ministers. This seemed to be a question as to which of the two Chancellors of the Exchequer wore the breeches. They were wrong in letting out such private quarrels, which would be better concealed. He did not wish to say any ill of the Irish, but he believed they only wanted catching and taming. By allowing them to carry on illegal distillery, we only made them ten times worse. He advised the Chancellor of the Exchequer of England not to yield too much to the Irish Chancellor; else he would find him like an amiable female they had seen in that house, Mrs. Clarke; the more was conceded to him, he would look for so much the more.

Sir T. Turton

could not perceive why the prohibition should not be as extensive as it was last year. The prices of corn were as high, the ports of the continent were closely shut. Common sense and the justice of the case demanded that the prohibition should be extended to Ireland. By the act of Union it was declared, that a reciprocity of interests should exist between the two countries; not that the landed interest of the one country should be upheld at the expence of the other. Wheat was five guineas a quarter; barley, 2l. Hs. oats, two guineas, the quartern loaf was 14d. Under such circumstances, if corn was as abundant in Ireland as it had been stated to be, he begged for God's sake that we might have it here. There was great reason to believe that a considerable proportion of the wheat sown last year would be worth nothing. It became, therefore, doubly incumbent upon us to husband our present resources. He denied that, in the measure of the last session, the interests of the West India Merchants had been expressly consulted. The Report of the Committee to investigate the subject had recommended the prohibition of distillation from grain, on the ground of the scarcity of grain, not as a boon to the West India Merchants. As therefore no boon had in that, case been given to the West India Merchants, so neither was it right to give a boon to the landed interest of Ireland at the expence of the general interests of both countries.

Mr. Hibbert

said, that the bill, in its present shape, considering the object at which it professed to aim, was indeed of a most extraordinary character: before he stated his opinion concerning it, he begged to say one word of the measure of last year, which did not originate in the distress of the West India commerce, although it would have been folly and affectation not to perceive that the relief of that trade might be in part effected by the temporary measure which was then, upon other and independent grounds, adopted. He owed it to the house to say, as others had done, that the result to the colonial trade had been greatly and critically beneficial. His hon. friends who had given their opposition to that measure upon principles good and sound, but admitting of exception (and the house and the country had judged it right to interpose such exception) would, he was persuaded, hear this acknowledgment with pleasure. Indeed, their objections lay against the precedent chiefly, and against the continuance of the restriction, under present circumstances, they appeared to have little to urge.—Of the bill now before the house, he wished to speak with parliamentary freedom; it was a compound of materials so contrived as to neutralise each other, a series of positive and negative quantities, plus and minus, minus and plus, that, when you come to count them altogether, amounted to just nothing. It professed to aim at the œconomy of grain, and it was plain enough that the empire in general stood in need of such œconomy; but this measure would directly stimulate an extra consumption of grain in one part, and to that part grain might be sent from every other part of the empire; we dread the evil, and yet appoint for it a legitimate existence; in Great Britain we must not manufacture spirits from grain, but we know they will be corrected there, and we permit them to be made in Ireland, where we are told that illegal traffic reigns without controul. If we could, by art and ingenuity, produce from sugar a spirit which might prove popular in Ireland, thither we cannot send it; but grain we may, and grain, even at excessive prices, they will take from us, because the best grain is most profitable in distillation. Of all the descriptions of grain, it is of oats that we most apprehend a scarcity. Oats are what Ireland can best supply, and yet oats are what she is most apt, and is now to be encouraged to distil. These were extraordinary circumstances to be found together in one measure, and demanded some better explanation than had yet been afforded to the house.—No one denied that, in the Act of Union, there existed provisions which, for the benefit of both parts of the empire, ought to be revised and altered. But it was one thing to interpose a temporary interruption of the intercourse with a view to remove those inequalities, and quite another to shew, as this bill would shew, that we are not in fact an united empire, that our interests are essentially distinct, and that one uniform law will not suit us. Surely this was the happy moment for impressing on both parts of the empire the benefits of the Union. Upon England, by proving teller in an hour of alarm and anxiety for food, (the Continent and America still shut against her,) the advantage of her Irish granary. Upon Ireland, by extending, even to her most remote and unfrequented markets, the benefits so much wanted of English demand and English capital. These advantages, however, were to be slighted; the price of grain in Ireland was to be sustained by expedients of a more narrow and selfish character, and the cultivator taught stupidly to intoxicate himself with his produce, even on the field where it was grown, rather than feed the sister country with it, and thereby enrich and support both. Such a measure he could have expected from no one but from a systematic and bitter enemy of the very principle of the Union.—In reply to these considerations, the only argument he had heard was that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for Ireland. "We have, said that hon. gent., grain enough for both the purposes; we can supply your wants and still have plenty left for distillation, and, if you forbid the use of grain in the distilleries of Ireland, you will not (I almost thought he said you shall not) save one grain of corn by your law." Are we to take this for granted, contradicted as it is by the petitions on your table, and by the lamentable evidence of excessive prices still progressively increasing? Are we to admit the fact of the actual detection and destruction of unlicensed stills in Ireland as a proof that they cannot be detected and destroyed? Is it with the revenue law in general as we have heard it is occasionally with the tolls, where the gate-man opens the gate to the gentleman as he rides through, and asks, with hat in hand, if his honour pleases to pay to day? If 150 private stills have in one district been destroyed in one morning are we to conclude that 150 rise at once from their ruins? All illicit trade, even Irish illicit trade, must be carried on under risk disadvantage and extra expence, more or less, and could not exist except there was, in the provision of the law which it meant to elude, a commensurate premium to set against these disadvantages. This premium might be the subject of precise calculation, three shillings might not do it in some particular case where four shillings barely would, and five would put the matter past all doubt. This premium the measure of last year had held out; this the Chancellor of the Exchequer of England confessed when he allowed that the trial had not been a fair one, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland, while he denied it in words, yet admitted it in effect, by saying that if ever the distillation from sugar was again attempted in Ireland, he would advise that it should be subjected to a lower duty than that last year imposed. He represented the stills in Ireland as multiplying like the heads of Hydra, but even the monster Hydra had yielded at last to Hercules; and really his rt. hon. friend had accomplished such mighty labours, that, with the help of major Swan for his Iolas, he ought not to despair of overthrowing and finally trampling under his foot this many-headed monster of Irish illicit trade. At all events, he thought it would not be adviseable for the house to afford to that gentleman a new opportunity of proving, by measures of his own contrivance, the truth of his favourite maxim, that in matters of agriculture legislative interference was not only futile but dangerous. His rt. hon. friend would doubtless at some future day convince the house from this bill, to which he had given its present shape, that if you desire to legislate with effect you must not introduce into your law the germ that will blight the fruit you expect from it.—There was nothing upon the table, nothing brought to the bar to prove the statements of the rt. hon. gent; they were sustained only by good round energetic assertions, and by the influence of his commanding eloquence. He trusted that the house would not lay its discretion at the feet of the rt. hon. gent. but by recommitting the bill, with an instruction to extend its provisions to Ireland, give at least one fair trial whether for an object so generally momentous it was not yet possible to pass one uniform measure of legislation for the United Empire.

Sir R. Peele

expressed his conviction that if the bill were passed in its present shape, the most fatal consequences might ensue. He wished that the two countries might go hand in hand; and mutually assist one another. The north of England stood very much in need of the produce of Ireland. Owing to the depression of manufactures and trade, the people there were not half fed. The oats of Ireland would satisfy them. They had hitherto conducted themselves with great temper and patience; but if they understood that a part of that which might, be appropriated to their support was allowed to be consumed, not in the preservation but the destruction of man, they might probably not remain so well satisfied.

Sir A. Wellesley

declared himself to be of opinion that the people of England would not get a grain of corn less out of Ireland, if the bill should stand as it then was, than if the prohibition were extended to the latter country. Grain in Ireland was much more abundant than in the last year. The price of provisions would show this, for though comparatively high in the market of Dublin, it was much lower in Ireland in general. If he thought that the measure would bear hard upon G. Britain, he would unquestionably vote against it; but being satisfied of the contrary, it should have his cordial support.

Mr. Curwen

described the scarcity of oats in the North of England, and particularly in Cumberland, to be very great. They were not able to get them from Wexford under 37s. per quarter. He was desirous that the prohibition should be extended to Ireland, and he was satisfied that it would not at all injure the agriculture or interests of that country. For the purpose of preventing the illicit distillation, a reduction might be made in the duties on the spirits distilled from sugar; and in the present flourishing state of the revenue, such a sacrifice might be well made in preference to bearing hard upon the people. He recommended that if the present bill should be passed, its duration should be limited to two months, in order to give time for an ample investigation of the expediency of a more permanent measure.

Mr. Parnell

declared that the present bill was a direct violation of the Act of Union, and one of a nature unprecedented since the passing of that act. By that act, a final and permanent adjustment of commercial jealousies had been made, and the house ought to pause, before it enacted a law which distinctly violated that compact.

Mr. Foster

complained, that the right hon. Bart. (sir J. Newport), had misrepresented him, when he stated that he had said the people of Ireland naturally disobeyed the law. All that he had observed on that subject was, that the lower orders from their ignorance of the law, held it in utter contempt, and were guilty of disobedience to it. The right Son. bart. had himself declared that the higher orders were at least as apt to encourage the infraction of the law as the lower orders to commit it. If therefore, he could for a moment suppose (which he did not] that such was the right hon. baronet's intention, he might infer that he meant to extend the accusation of a proneness to disobedience, to a much greater sphere. The right hon. bart. had said, that he (Mr. E.) induced the Committee of Supply that evening to vote increased sums to public Charter Schools, on the ground of the increased price of provisions. It was on the ground of the increased price of other articles besides provisions: of clothes, &c. If the present bill were to hinder corn coming from Ireland to England, he would not urge it. But it was only to prevent the corn from getting into the hands of the private distillers, and thus ultimately from injuring the morals of the country. Not one-third of the illicit stills in Ireland had been seized; and yet it was computed that by that one-third, no less than 800,000 gallons of whiskey had been made in a month. The quantity remaining on hand of the foreign spirits which had been imported into Ireland since last July sufficiently evinced the enormous supply from the private stills. Adverting to a statement made by an hon. gent. that oats could not be obtained in Cumberland from Wexford under 37s. a quarter; he expressed his surprize at this circumstance, as he held in his hand an official return from Newry, (directly opposite to the shores of Cumberland), dated Feb. 11, in which the price of oats was stated to be 25s. and 2d. British per quarter. In other places the price was somewhat less. An hon. gent. behind him (Mr. Fuller) had talked of catching and taming the Irish. Part of them had been caught in the net of the Union, did they require taming? He wished the hon. gent. would come over to Ireland, and see if the Irish were as wild and as violent as he represented them to be. On the contrary, he was satisfied that although the speech which the hon. gent. had made that night were tied about his neck, he might travel from one end of Ireland to the other in perfect security, and he was sure that he would every where meet with the greatest hospitality. He denied that the bill was any violation of the principle of the act of Union, although it might appear to be an infringement on the letter of it.

Mr. Browne

stated, that to his certain knowledge conditional orders had beer, sent to this country from Ireland, to transmit thither very large quantities of grain, provided the prohibition of this distillation should not be extended to that country.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

represented the improbability of such a circumstance, if the hon. gent. meant that any but seed corn had been so ordered. For the price of grain being dearer in G. Britain than in Ireland, it was extravagant to suppose that it could be intended to buy in the dear market for the purpose of selling in the cheap.

The question being loudly called for, the gallery was cleared, and a division took place,

For the original Motion 61
For the Amendment 90
Majority against Ministers 38

The House then went into a Committee to consider of the propriety of encouraging the importation of Flax Seed into Ireland.

Mr. Foster,

after stating that this was merely a temporary measure, which he trusted would lead to the culture and preservation of the article in sufficient quantity for the uses of this country, proposed that a bounty of 5s. per bushel should be allowed on the first 50,000 bushels of Foreign Flax Seed, imported into Ireland from the 8th of March to the 8th of April, 1809.

After some observations from sir T. Turton, Mr. Rose, and sir G. Hill, the Resolution was agreed to.