HC Deb 13 February 1810 vol 15 cc390-9

On the motion of Mr. Rose, the Act prohibiting the use of Corn in Distilleries, was read, and the right hon. gent. moved, "That the House should go into a Committee to consider the same."

Mr. Parnell

could not suffer this motion to pass without expressing his disapprobation of the mode of proceeding adopted by the right hon. gent. It was most extraordinary that be should submit such a motion to the House, without saying a single word to explain the grounds on which he considered it right for the House to sanction it; because he could not have brought forward a measure more important than this to the public interest. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1808, called on the House to prohibit the distilling from grain, he thought it necessary to institute a previous enquiry by a Select Committee, and on the report of that Committee, and what he considered a proof of a deficient crop, he urged the prohibition of the distilling from grain.—This is the course that ought now to be pursued, because the continuance of the prohibition can only be justified by the proof of a scarcity actually existing, and of there being good reasons to apprehend one. Such was the doctrine formerly of the right hon. gentlemen themselves; and therefore he would move an amendment to the motion of the right hon. gent. to the effect of having a Select Committee appointed, to enquire whether there did exist any good grounds for continuing the prohibition. The silence of the right hon. gent. had left it a matter of conjecture on what principle he founded his motion. Was it that the stale of things in 1810 was similar to that of 1808? Then a scarcity did exist in parts of Scotland and in the north of Ireland; the crop in England was deficient, and the supply from foreign countries was cut off by the Decrees of Buonaparté. But now grain was in great plenty in Scotland—the crop of potatoes there had been particularly abundant. In Ireland there was a redundant stock of grain, and corn was importing in large quantities into England from France. But there was now no good reason ever to look abroad for a supply of grain. The imports from Ireland since the trade was made free, prove this fact. In the two last years, 1,200,000 quarters of grain have been imported, a larger quantity than was annual imported from abroad before the trade was free. And if the impolitic measure of stopping the distilleries had never taken place, by this time the gains of the farmers of Ireland, would have induced them to make such exertions in extending tillage, that no necessity could have now existed for importing corn. The prices besides proved that there was no scarcity nor reason to apprehend one. But if the right hon. gent. shall argue, that the prices of grain now compared with what they were in former periods, prove a scarcity, then he will argue most falsely, because the rise in price is not a real one, but apparent only, in as-much as the bank paper, in which these prices are calculated, is greatly depreciated. But, besides these considerations, before the House acceded to the motion of the right hon. gent. it ought to attend to those principles of policy which had been laid down by the wisest men. They said, that the complete freedom of the corn trade was the only prevention of the miseries of famine, and that upon no account ought the agriculture of the country to be interfered with—and their doctrine was founded on this circumstance, that without security was given to the farmer, that he should reap the fair reward of his labour and capital, those great exertions for supplying food would never be made, that were absolutely necessary for the welfare of the people. If there was any ground now for complaining of the stock of grain in the country, it could only be the result of this security having been taken from the farmer in 1808 and 1809, for had the farmers been permitted to derive the full advantage of a free consumption of grain in these three years, they would have been induced to sow so largely, that there can be no doubt the last crop would have been infinitely more abundant than it has proved to be.—In regard to Ireland, continued Mr. Parnell, though the report may prove correct, that the ministers mean to admit the distillation of corn there, it will be taking a narrow view of the subject to consider this concession as sufficient to secure the interests of Ireland; because the prohibition here will contribute to diminish the demand for Irish oats and barley; and it will again be pleaded, that the Irish spirits must be prohibited from being exported to Britain, which measure, the hon. member said he would always oppose as a violation of the Act of Union, and which would for ever be taker for a precedent, whenever English and Irish interests clashed together. For these reasons it was incumbent on the Irish members, if they wished to protect the interests of Ireland, to oppose the prohibition, even if only proposed to be adopted for Great Britain, and not to suffer the motion of the right hon. gent. to pass. If the right hon. gent. intended the prohibition as a relief for any distresses experi- enced In the colonies, he would have as little grounds for pressing it as he had on a plea of scarcity; for sugar, which in 1808 was 32s. per cwt. was now 56s. Besides, it was most impolitic to look for relief by a measure which was to interfere so injuriously with the agricultural interests of the country. If distress existed, let the cause of it be ascertained and removed. The case made out was, that there was not a sufficient demand to take off the produce of the colonies, and the cause of this the Committee shewed to be the colonial monopoly, and various acts of Parliament restricting the colonial trade. Common sense then would point out the abolishing of this monopoly, or the repeal of those laws, as not only a remedy, but a lasting one; whereas, the distilling of sugar can at best afford a very limited and temporary degree of relief. For these several reasons, and having the example of the right hon. gent. to go by, he should move, That a Select Committee be appointed to enquire into the expediency of continuing the prohibition of distilling from grain.

Mr. Rose

thought going into a Committee of the whole House, the most expedient way for considering the question. Had that motion been carried, he would not have found it necessary to go any great length into the principle of the measure, which he considered as fully established the last session. The same causes existed now. The price of grain was higher than when the Act was passed, which was proved by the returns before the House. The rise of the price of bullion could by no means balance this increase of price, to which it bore no proportion. He could see no occasion for a Committee to inquire into the scarcity of provisions; the best proof of the abundance of the article, was the price of it. With respect to the hon. gent.'s assertion of the abundant crops in Scotland, he would only say, that an hon. member from that country, now beside him, complained very much of the great damage that had been done to it before it was got in. As to Ireland, it certainly was not his intention to extend the prohibition to that country, for there were many reasons which the hon. gent. had not contemplated. From the superabundance of the crop, the prohibition was unnecessary, and would be injurious. Another reason was, that the revenue was not easily collected in that country. The hon. gent. had exclaimed against the prohibition of spirit intercourse, as contrary to the Union, and not beneficial to Ireland. To this he would say, that it was absolutely necessary while they were allowed to distil from corn, which the other country was not, and that the same prohibition already existed, and was found to benefit and protect Ireland.

Sir John Newport

thought, that they need go no farther than the Report of the Committee upon the bad consequences of prohibitions, to see the impolicy of resorting to them in the present case. The Committee had expressly stated, that in their opinion they had a tendency to injure the agricultural interests of the country, and that nothing but the strong statements of the West India merchants could induce them to recommend even a temporary adoption. He did not think that they were warranted in continuing the prohibition upon the bare statement of the right hon. gent. It became them particularly to weigh the subject well, as no man could deny that it was an infringement of the Articles of Union. It had been asked, would the distillers of this country submit to the prohibition, without a suspension of the intercourse in the article of spirits, between the two countries? He saw no reason why they should not; he saw no reason why they should object to the performance of the Articles of Union. If this measure was to be persisted in, he considered it so gross an act of injustice towards Ireland, that he should, at a future period, propose a suspension of the intercourse between the two countries, in cotton goods, to continue while the prohibition upon the spirit trade lasted. A prohibition similar to the present was laid on by the former Parliament, but then it was only for a period of six weeks. But the present Parliament continued it without entering into any inquiry as to its necessity. He wished to support the West India trade, but it was not by such little temporary expedients. If this measure was persevered in, he should consider it as a home blow to the agricultural interests of Ireland.

Mr. Yorke

wished for a Committee, and thought it would appear, that there was no necessity for extending the prohibition to oats.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought that when they considered the alarm which was generally spread by the appointment of Committees to enquire into the state of grain, they should be slow to adopt the amendment. It had been represented as a breach of the Articles of Union; it was not a breach in the spirit, nor, did he believe, in the letter of the Act. The hon. baronet had threatened them with proposing a prohibition upon the cotton trade. Did he think that that would be a benefit to Ireland? If he did, there was yet no analogy between the two cases to justify such a proposition. If the importation of spirits from Ireland was not prohibited, the grain would be sent there from the country, and returned, after distillation, so that the object which government had in view, would be completely defeated.

Mr. M. Fitzgerald

supported the arguments for a previous inquiry, and contended, that the right hon. gent. who had just sat down, had founded all his reasoning on fallacious assumptions, such as, that the corn trade of the two countries was nearly in the same state; whereas in Ireland that trade was the staple trade of the country, forming the most material part of its exports, and strengthening by its increase that important branch of the empire, whilst this country was obliged to import for its support, diminishing its productions as its importation augmented. If the crop of oats had been adequate, how happened it that the London, Liverpool, and Bristol markets were supplied from Ireland? He trusted that the Irish gentlemen who were interested in the question, would oppose the prohibition of the importation of Irish spirit to this country, as it was contrary to the Articles of the Union. If that House were to adopt such a measure, they would impede an event now in progress, and highly desirable, the supply of British consumption from the Irish soil. It was well known that this country was now importing corn from France, a species of supply which might be cut off at once without notice. The enemy might then refuse to British wants, what he at present conceded to his own convenience. The right hon. gent, strongly enforced the policy of encouraging the agricultural interests of Ireland, with a view to provide an adequate supply for the consumption of this country.

Mr. Foster

observed, that nothing could be more injurious, than that it should be supposed that a desire for a war of prohibitions existed in either country. He was glad to find that all the gentlemen who had spoken had expressed a desire to sup- port the agricultural prosperity of Ireland. The last harvest had been abundant, and the potatoc crop, the staple support of the people of Ireland, had never been known so productive, so that a much greater portion of corn could be spared for the distilleries. He denied that the prohibition of the importation of corn spirit from Ireland, at a time when distillation from grain was suspended in this country, was a breach either of the spirit or the letter of the articles of Union. These articles provided for the equality of the commercial intercourse between the two countries, by directing, that, on the introduction of the manufactures of either into the other, that equality should be secured by countervailing duties. How then could countervailing duties be imposed, if no such article was manufactured at the time of the importation? If you prohibit the manufacture in one country, you must, to insure equality, prohibit the importation of the manufactured article from the other.

Mr. Marryat

exhorted the House to husband the agricultural produce of the empire, lest any scarcity should arise, which might perhaps oblige us to apply to the enemy at once for bread and peace. He would therefore deprecate the idea of having the corn of Ireland consumed in the distilleries. But yet he was desirous to afford every practical encouragement to the agricultural interest of that country. With that view he would recommend, that the importation of all foreign corn should be interdicted, and that the Irish agriculturist should have the monopoly of the English market; and if that were not sufficient he would put a stop to the importation of butter and cheese from Holland, which in fact ought to take place, if we could provide an adequate supply elsewhere, as it formed a material source of gain to the enemy; but still more for the encouragement of the Irish, he would prohibit the importation of hemp and flax from the Baltic. If all these expedients failed, he thought it would be proper to allow the distillation from corn, which some gentlemen required. But he would previously try the expedients he had mentioned, and particularly that with respect to the prohibition of the importation of foreign corn. This, indeed, was a measure which in his judgment could not be too soon resorted to. The benefit which the enemy derived from the present system of licensing the importation of his grain, was much more, he apprehended, than many gentleman imagined. It was a fact, that in July last, the farmers of France were so distressed by the low price of grain, that they could not pay their taxes. The price was then so low as 27s. the sack, whilst it was known that the French farmer calculated upon a price of 36s. as a fair return for his expences. Buonaparté being apprized of these circumstances, had no hesitation, of course, in granting licenses for the exportation of that grain, which our government readily granted licenses to import; the consequence of which was the raising of the price of that article in France, by the last accounts, above 50 per cent. beyond the rate in July last. Thus were the French corn growers benefited, while Buonaparté's treasury derived at the rate of 18s. a quarter from the same means. He would then submit it to the serious consideration of the House, whether some measures ought not to be immediately taken to put an end to a practice which so materially served the resources of the enemy. The system of licenses operated, in fact, to counteract the Orders in Council, for it enabled the enemy to export his staple commodities; it enabled him to carry on a most extensive commerce through the medium of nominally neutral ships. In fact, the expence and danger to England from this licensed traffic, was calculated to excite considerable alarm. The freight actually paid within the last year to those ships under neutral colours was, be understood, little short of a million sterling, the number of those ships being 4,000, navigated by 50,000 subjects of Buonaparté. Thus were we rearing seamen for the enemy by a species of traffic, which appeared advantageous to his interests alone. This statement he would leave to the consideration of Parliament and the public, commanding attention as it must, in a peculiar degree, from the nature of the proposition suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—from the means obviously to be derived by the exclusion of foreign corn for the benefit of the Irish agriculturist. He concluded with observing, that he would not object to the House going into the Committee.

Mr. W. Smith

did not think that the present prices of grain were sufficient to justify the prohibition. He understood that a great deal of distillation was going forward in the highlands of Scotland, notwithstanding the prohibition.

Mr. C. Hutchinson

considered it an infringement of the articles of Union, and said, that the demand for sugar was never greater, nor perhaps so great, as at present. He should therefore support the amendment of his hon. friend.

Lord Binning

objected to the amendment. He reminded gentlemen what an interminable question it was in the Committee last year, and warned them against reviving the discussion upon the prohibition, with respect to Ireland.

Mr. Grattan

said, that, with every respect for the West India merchants, still he could not think of sacrificing to them the agricultural interests of Ireland. With every respect also for Scotland, he could not think of preventing the exercise of the industry of his own country, for the purpose of supplying Scotland with oats. He could not agree to sacrifice the agricultural interests of Ireland, not merely to the wants of Scotland, but to her imaginary wants. The prohibition should be extended to Ireland, when no scarcity existed.

The gallery being cleared, the House divided, when there appeared

For the Amendment 17
Against it 58
Majority 41

Upon our re-admission to the gallery, we found the House in Committee, and

Mr. Rose

on his legs. The right hon. gent. observed upon the statement of Mr. Marryatt relative to the freight and number of the neutrals in our employment, which, in his opinion, was considerably over-rated. As to licences granted to those neutrals, he begged it to be understood, that no neutral had a licence to go into any other port than that into which a British ship would not be admitted; and as to the number of neutrals so licensed, that was owing to the extent of our commerce, which, while it occupied the whole of out shipping, necessarily called for that addition. The right hon. gent. concluded with moving, That the chairman should be directed to move for leave to bring in a Bill to prohibit distillation from grain for a time to be limited.

Mr. Parnell

declared, that from the information which he had obtained in Scotland, there was no scarcity whatever existing, or to be apprehended in that country; and why should the agricultural interest of Ireland be sacrificed to provide against imaginary want in Scotland? As to the argument of the right hon. gent. (Mr. Foster) in favour of the prohibition of the import of Irish spirits into England, that argument could only rest upon the presumption, that Ireland was a foreign country instead of being an integral part of the empire. Would the proposition, he should ask, be endured, that because the manufacturer of a particular article might stop in an English county, in consequence of the local scarcity of that article, a similar manufacturer from another English county should not be admitted?

The question was going to be put, when Lord Primrose and Mr. Boyle suggested the propriety of continuing the restriction of distilling from grain in Ireland, and expressed a hope that the operation of the bill would be made to extend to Ireland.

Mr. Foster

said, that in case any such proposition was made, he would endeavour to be in his place, and give it all his opposition. The question was then put and agreed to.