HC Deb 22 February 1810 vol 15 cc541-52

The House went into a Committe on the Corn Distillery Prohibition Bill; the Act for prohibiting the importation of spirits from Ireland, together with an instruction to extend the bill to Ireland, being also referred to the same Committee.

Mr. Rose

then stated that the circumstances of England and Ireland were widely different. In Ireland there was a superabundant supply of grain; in England and Scotland it was quite the reverse. It was not therefore his intention to move that the bill do extend to Ireland; but in lieu thereof to move for the continuance of the act prohibiting the importation of spirits from Ireland.

Sir J. Newport

opposed the motion, as contrary to the letter and spirit of the act of Union, and to the vital interests of Ireland. When by the Union Ireland was merged into the united kingdom, and contributed but about a sixth to the representation of the whole in the imperial parliament, he thought it would be grossly unfair that the great mass of the representatives returned for England should take upon themselves to construe the act of Union according to what they conceived the spirit of it, and which construction was always to the disadvantage of Ireland. The imperial parliament had never yet interfered to construe* the act of Union favourably to Ireland, and in two markable occasions had construed it against the interest of Ireland. He had been represented as wishing to propose a war of prohibitions; he had only said, that it would be just as fair that Ireland should prohibit the importation of those manufactures in which England happened to have the advantage, as that England should prohibit the importation of every thing in which Ireland happened to have any advantage.

Lord Hamilton

claimed precedence for the Resolution of which he had given prior notice, for extending the Bill for prohibiting the distillation from grain to Ireland.—After some conversation Mr. Rose acceded, and withdrew his motion for the present. The noble lord then moved a Resolution that the Bill do extend to Ireland. If there was such a superabundance of grain in Ireland his lordship asked, how it happened that special licences were granted to import grain into this country from France? The plan was in itself bad, and almost afforded an answer to the allegation. He wished to know what ill effects had resulted from the two years prohibition in Ireland; and why there should be a different system in two countries united together? He could not reconcile to himself how two measures so contradictory should be adopted at the same moment in two countries so contigions to each other, that the only difference in the expence of the article must consist in the cost of carriage; his lordship understood that even in Ireland the people were fur from being unanimous against the restriction; and of this he was certain, that the populous manufacturing districts of the north of England and Scotland would be greatly injured if the prohibition did not extend to Ireland.

Mr. Hutchinson

assured his noble friend, that he was misinformed as to the opinion of the people in Ireland on this subject. There was no one thing in which they were so unanimous as in their opposition to the prohibition now proposed to be extended to that country. The noble lord's proposition went to affect the vital interests of Ireland. The local interests of England were best known and would be best protected by those who were connected with particular districts. He must assert the same right for Ireland, and must contend that her interests were not to be sacrificed on account of the northern parts of this country, or the West India planters. He stated that in another respect, this matter was important, there being no fewer than 1,300 or 1,400 families who depended on this manufacture for a livelihood.

Mr. M. Fitzgerald

spoke against the Resolution. The produce of this year in Ireland had been abundant; there was besides a great deal of old corn still in the granaries of Dublin, and distillation alone would afford an adequate encouragement to the agriculture of that country.

Sir C. Burrell

declared his hostility to all modes of partial legislation, and thought it highly improper to oppose the interests of one part of the country to those of another. Should distillation from grain be allowed in Ireland, while prohibited in this country, the consequence would be, that the grain would go from this country to Ireland, and be returned in spirits, which would, at the same time defeat the object of the bill, and do injustice to the Scotch and English distillers.

Sir R. Peel

thought the measure of exemption in favour of Ireland, was a violation of the Union, and that the same regard was due to the landed interests of this country, as to those of Ireland. The Union, he contended, had been of great benefit to the landed property of Ireland, land being now in that country worth one fourth more than before the Union. He was at a loss to know why Ireland, enjoying equal advantages from the Union, should not be treated in the same way as England or Scotland. It had been stated, that if exemption was not conceded to Ireland, the revenue of that country would be much deteriorated. This reasoning he thought went to shew that it was the wish of those, gentlemen who resorted to it, that the poor people in Ireland should contribute the greater part of the revenue through the medium of spirits which had a tendency to destroy both their health and morals: He did not think that the superabundance of grain in Ireland had been sufficiently made out, else why was it not sent to this country at a time when government were affording every facility to the import of corn from the continent? If grain was really lower in price at present, than it had been in that country, was it proper to deprive the people immediately of that advantage, after the great privations they had been obliged to submit to? The interests of the West India planters was a very fair object of consideration; the intercourse between the West Indies and this country being a profitable traffic, in which no money was required from this country in return for the valuable produce of the West Indies, but such articles only as were the produce of our own trade and manufactures. Our importation of corn from the continent was an encouragement to France, and certainly under such circumstances it became our duty to husband our own resources.

Sir J. Newport

sincerely joined in the wish that all distinctions between the two countries were destroyed, and the most free and complete intercourse effected. He admitted the principle that nothing was more pernicious than a continual interference with the corn trade, and had contended, on a former occasion, that the prohibition of distillation from grain was prejudicial to all parts of the Empire. He could not, therefore, now be accused of inconsistency in pleading an exemption for Ireland, when a scarcity of grain was not pretended to exist in that country. A Petition on the table of the House from Waterford shewed, that in that city they had 100,000 quarters of oats, for which they could obtain no consumption, unless distillation was allowed. The farmers in that neighbourhood, as well as in many other parts of Ireland, were also overloaded, and in the interior of the country could have no market without the distilleries.

Mr. R. Dundas

was hostile to the proposition made by the noble lord, though he agreed with many of the arguments that had been offered on the other side of the question. The truth was, that the agricultural were the only interests that ought not to be meddled with in Ireland, the reasons for which were obvious, though of such a nature as, in his opinion, ought not to be brought before the House. It was allowed that Ireland, from the redundance of her crop, might supply her own distilleries. He therefore thought the exemption ought to granted, though it was his earnest wish that the use of malt liquors were more generally introduced.

Mr. Boyle

had concurred both in 1803 and 1809 in the restriction, not from any regard to the interest of the West India merchants, but from a conviction that in the circumstances of the country, shut out in a great measure from the Continent, and our relations with America appearing precarious, such a measure was essential to secure our own independence, and to guard against any probability of scarcity. Viewing the subject in that light, he thought then as he did now, that the prohibition should be universal. Had it not been for the importation, he had no doubt that the quartern loaf would have been at two shillings. A great part of the North and West of England, and the Wrest of Scotland, depended in a great measure on Ireland for supply of oats, which was the food of the common people employed in manufactures, and during the last year that the exemption had been granted to Ireland, the supply from that country had been much less than in the preceding years. Not only was that the case, but he was assured that several persons had come over from Ireland last year, to make purchases in Scotland, after the expectation was entertained of having the prohibition removed. He would therefore suggest the propriety, should the exemption be thought expedient, of preventing the exportation of grain from England or Scotland into Ireland, which he had too much reason to believe would be practised.

Mr. Graltan

contended, that, from the evidence afforded by the petitions on the table of the House, it was necessary to admit that there was a superbundance in Ireland. There was at least no evidence to the contrary; and why should Ireland be deprived of the advantage of distilling from her own grain, not with a view to reserve the surplus for herself, but for the use of others? By denying the exemption, he contended that they would also ultimately injure the interests of this country, by discouraging the agriculture of Ireland, and eventually depriving this country of that source of supply.

Sir W. W. Wynn

was against the prohibition altogether, but if such a measure were continued, he should certainly oppose any exemption. There was a great deal of barley in the country that would not malt for beer, from the bad condition it was in, but which might answer very well the purposes of distillation.

General Tarleton

did not wish to view the question as a local one, but one in which the interests of the whole empire were deeply involved. They had to feed Portugal, they had to feed the Portuguese government in the Brazils, and they had to support their army in Spain. In such circumstances it became them to be particularly frugal of their resources, and to present unnecessary waste of grain. He should therefore give his vote for the noble lord's motion.

Mr. Leslie Foster

rose and said: Sir, the right hon. gent, who has just sat down considers the exemption of Ireland as a measure at best called for by her local interests, in opposition to the general interests of the United Kingdoms, and he further seems to think, that the mere circumstance of prohibiting the distilleries in this country involves in itself the necessity of prohibiting it also in the other. Sir, I differ from him on both these grounds; I think the question of the prohibition as it relates to Ireland, is to be determined by reasons totally distinct from those which are to determine the expediency or inexpediency of continuing it here, and it further appears to me that the repeal of it in Ireland, is called for by the general interests of the Empire more, if possible, than by the local interests of Ireland. It has long been the habit at least, if not the policy of this country to depend upon its neighbours; not merely for a portion of its sustenance, but for other supplies almost equally indispensable, and the ablest writers have demonstrated the general expediency of procuring them wherever we can procure them cheapest. But all their arguments assume the supposition that some foreign markets shall be open for us to resort to. A whole world closed against us, (at least almost all the productive part of it), is a circumstance which is neither presumed in their arguments, nor could have occurred to their imagination: a spectacle, however, which the awful times in which we live threaten speedily to realise, and with such a prospect before us, in all due deference to the opinions of the economists, I must contend that if we can procure our supplies within ourselves, even if encreased expence is to be the consequence, it is a measure worth the purchase. If I thought that Ireland produced any thing approaching to her maximum of Corn, and that the question really was, now, whether Great Britain should eat or Ireland should distill, God forbid that for any petty considerations, we should withhold our utmost contribution; but convinced as I am on the contrary, that no one of these countries which have in their turns been characterised as the granaries of nations, but must yield in its powers of production to the hitherto almost untried and still unknown capabilities of Ireland if duly stimulated into operation, and that she presents to you a granary for all your wants if you only determine to employ it, I cannot refrain from protesting against that short-sighted policy, which for the sake of a present mouthful, would dry up the sources of future and permanent abundance. Where our judgment is so much to be determined by the extent of what Ireland can produce, it may not be improper the Committee should be imformed that in the course of the last year, after supporting nearly 5 millions of inhabitants, she exported provisions of the value of about three millions sterling, exclusive of 800,000 quarters of corn supplied to this country, and of probably a still greater quantity consumed in her private, distilleries, notwithstanding your prohibition: and I will appeal to every person who has seen the half cultivated fields of Ireland, whether he can entertain a doubt, that if they had the benefit of only the same degree of agriculture which adorns the face of this country, they would produce twice or threefold what is obtained from them at present. I say this of that portion of Ireland already under cultivation, but if we extend our view to her waste lands, not like the waste lands of this country, of difficult or doubtful reclamation, but presenting not merely a capability but an aptitude peculiar for the production of those very articles of which you have the greatest necessity, a far more extensive prospect opens on us. A commission was most wisely appointed last year to enquire into this subject, and as the real extent of the productive powers of Ireland appears to be the true point on which the question before us to be determined, it may not be improper that I should now inform the Committee that I have already seen enough of the execution of that commission to have formed a confident expectation, first, that less than one sixth of the despised bogs of Ireland is not only capable, but peculiarly calculated for the production of the 38,500 tons of hemp, the staple of your navy, and for which in the last year the accounts are made up, you paid above 1,900,000l. to foreign nations: secondly, that somewhat more than another sixth would supply the 168,000 hogsheads of flax-seed, and the 20,000 tons of flax, and the articles of flaxen produce, for Which in the same time you paid above 2,600,000l. to other countries; so that one third part of the wastes of Ireland would at once give you all the hemp and all the flax for which you are at present at the mercy of foreigners; and give 4 millions and a half in each year to the industry of Ireland, at present applied to reward the labours of our enemies. The remaining two thirds of these lands, if they should prove to be applicable to the production of corn, would produce three-fold of all that quantity which we spared to you last year; or if they should prove capable only of being converted into pasturage, still the effect would be the same, by setting free for the production of corn an equal quantity of the rich lands of the south at present occupied by cattle. With such prospects before us, and such means within ourselves, I cannot express how I deplore that unsteady policy with which we appear to me to look round the world as it were and to put our trust in smugglers and in pirates, to purchase or to filch for us, from doubtful friends or declared enemies, the sinews of our strength and the means of our existence. For instance, consider the hemp which I have alluded to, for that we long depended upon Russia; when we lost her good graces, we turned next to the smugglers of the Adriatic, and now that their hemp, bad in its quality, is further become precarious in its supply, we are to look, I understand, for this staple of our navy to fields at a distance of 13,000 miles, to reward the industry of Indian? labours, and to be guarded by the allegiance of an Indian army. In the same manner where have we not looked for flax, the favourite production of the* Irish soil? How much cheese and butter are we indebted for to Holland? it has been stated, I believe truly, to the amount of millions within these few last years.—And finally, what I must consider as the climax of impolicy, are we not at this moment importing corn from France; yielding a direct revenue to Buonaparté on its export so long as he shall chuse to supply it, but crowning him with a rod of scorpions to be used against us, whenever real necessities may tempt him to with hold it.—Sir, I say instead of this system, or this want of system, look to Ireland, make her your granary and your storehouse, consider her capabilities, but consider also how long she has slumbered over them, that they are of very recent developement, that they have been elicited principally by the very necessities which have forced you to call upon her, and that she will slumber still unless you awaken her, and therefore spare no source of demand that can stimulate her industry, If you cut off the demand it is in rain to hope for a continuance of supply; and so convinced am I of this, that if any one could point out a third species of demand for corn in addition to the call for food and the call for distillation, I would hail him instantly as a friend to Ireland, but as ultimately an averter of famine from Great Britain. On these grounds I feel myself justified in saying that the interests of the empire forbid our prohibiting the corn distilleries of Ireland; but let us now look to her local interests. Sir, I say that as a matter of revenue it is impossible that Ireland can afford it. At the time of the Union the clear revenue of Ireland paid into the Exchequer was, 3,007,000l. In the year ending 5 Jan. 1808, being the last year in which we had the advantage of corn distillation, it had been raised to 4,769,000l. of which 3,420,000l. was required to defray the charge of the debt of Ireland, leaving free towards her quota of contribution 1,349,000l. That quota was, and is, above six millions per annum, and to de- fray it, we have nothing but this 1,349,000l. and what we can borrow on the strength of it. And the Committee will judge how far we can afford to give up a whole million of this by the loss of the corn distillation. Sir, I say that in the most favourable view that it is possible to take of the prohibition, it occasions the loss to us of near a million of revenue; for the distilleries from corn produced in the last year of this operation no less than 1,236,000l. of spirit-duty; to this must be added 500,000l. more of malt-duty, by the recent law to be charged upon the spirit, making in the whole 1,736,000l. annual produce of revenue from the corn distillation. Against this what have we now to set? nothing but 210,580l. being the total produce of revenue from the distillation of sugar, and 589,000l. increase of duty on the sugars and foreign spirits imported into Ireland, leaving still a deficit of above 936,000l. per annum. In what manner do the gentlemen of Ireland think their Chancellor of the Exchequer can make up the deficiency? If the window tax was to be quadrupled, and the carriage duty, house tax, horse tax, dog tax, and servants tax were to be multiplied tenfold, all put together would fall short of the produce of corn distillation. Do they hope she is to make it up by new taxes from the customs? His hands are tied up there by the act of Union: or from the malt duties? they think them high enough already: upon the stamps? they already produced nearly ½ of the stamps of Great Britain, and can hardly be carried higher; and therefore it is that the distilleries have ever been considered as the chosen field for an Irish chancellor of the Exchequer to exercise whatever he possessed of ingenuity, as affording him the sole hope for the accomplishment of his task. Another consideration is the absolute futility of the prohibition. Sir, it is the unfortunate, the mischievous, and the peculiar character of this measure, that while it suffices abundantly to produce the evils of which we complain, it is totally unable to operate the good which you desire. Distillation we will have, revenue from it you may give up. An hon. bart. seems by his gestures to understand me as avowing a combination between my right hon. relation and the private distilleries to defeat the distillation of sugar, I beg not to be so misunderstood; it is in vain for gentlemen connected with the West Indies to affect to consider the abundance of illicit distillation in Ireland as proceeding from the remissness with which the laws for its punishment are enforced. We have evidence enough on our table both of the abundance of the offence and of the severity of its punishment. You have, I believe, about 13 stills in England, we have, in spite of the prohibition, just as many hundreds in the single barony of Newishaven. I should rather say we had, for 1,300 was their number previous to the prohibition of their licensed competitors, how many there are at present, I dare not attempt to calculate. Now as to the means taken to suppress them; It is equally in evidence upon the table, that this barony was invaded on all sides by regular columns of the army, his Majesty's cruisers co-operating by sea, and that the seizure of above 100 stills in one day was the fruit of the combined operation; and we see the gentleman who commanded these invading forces, and who united in his own person the triple character of the soldier, the magistrate, and the exciseman, at once the informer, the judge, and the executioner, glorying in the desperate wounds which he had received in such campaigns. But is this a manner in which this House can desire or can endure that the British constitution should be administered to their Irish fellow subjects? Sir, it is so administered no longer; but even under such a system, let me observe, that the distilleries of Newishaven continued their operations, and even now that this violence is discontinued, there are papers on your table of which, even before the close of this week, the House will hear as much as it can desire, complaining of the rigour and severity with which the distillery laws are enforced. Sir, the truth is, that they are now executed with as much energy as consists with not totally abandoning every idea and every semblance of a free constitution, and it is in my mind one of the most odious features of the prohibition that converting every iron pot into a coining instrument, and overwhelming the peasant with temptation, it secures the infraction of the law, and the consequent punishment and dissatisfaction of the subject. Another view remains of this matter; we are told it is a relief to the West Indies; Sir, there is no one more sensible than I am of the difficulties imposed on the gentlemen connected with these islands. I know that there is in no other part of our dominions so large a capital producing so low an interest; no where so small a private income, producing so great a public revenue. And I would go as far as any member in this House, to consider Great Britain and Ireland and all their dependencies, as one integral whole standing united against the united world; and if the circumstances of war inflict a pressure in one part, which any others can alleviate by bearing a portion of the weight, I think it is but fair that we should assist each other, and I would even not wish to weigh in golden scales the amount which Ireland might be called on to sustain; but still there must be some limit in the apportionment, something like fairness in the proportion of the weight to be imposed, and the burden to be taken off. And when I see, as in the present instance, so monstrous an oppression prepared for Ireland, to produce so ridiculously trilling an alleviation of the misfortunes of Jamaica; or rather no alleviation whatever, for it is a fact, which, but that I state it from papers which cannot err I should fear was too paradoxical to obtain me credit from the Committee, but it is a fact, however curious, that in the last year, when you compelled us to consume sugar in our distilleries, we have imported less sugar into Ireland than in the year immediately preceding, by 3,500 hogsheads. Sir, if we had imported a quantity greater by 3,500 hogsheads, it would be an encrease which the gentlemen of the West Indies would spurn to acknowledge as an obligation, but when it is actually a decrease, it seems to throw a ridicule upon the whole project; it compels us to cry out, this is too monstrous to go on; we cannot consent to abandon the revenue, and to sacrifice the agriculture of our country to produce such a result. It is what the moderation of West Indians cannot expect, what the spirit of Ireland never can submit to, and what the impartial justice of the British Parliament never can inflict.

Mr. Western

could not concur with the motion of the noble lord. Though the measure of prohibition met with his approbation, and became necessary in the present state of the corn-market, there was, however, a considerable quantity of damaged grain in the country unfit for general use; and this grain, he conceived the permission to distill in Ireland would take out of the market, and give the farmer in this country an opportunity of disposing of it both to the public, and his own private advantage. Of this sort of grain, there was a great deal, particularly in Norfolk, and he had no doubt in many other parts of the country. He approved likewise of the exemption, as it afforded a pledge that the measure of prohibition was only temporary, and not extended as a permanent regulation.

Mr. Fuller

approved of the motion, and recommended to the gentlemen of the sister kingdom, if they wished to improve the agriculture of the country, to reside more upon their estates, and shew more kindness and cordiality to the people, instead of kicking and beating them about. He never decided upon any question without informing himself upon it, as well as he could at least; and he always found it the safest way to be guided by the sentiments without doors, rather than the professions made within. If an honest man, unconnected with either the party that wanted to get in, or the party that wanted to stay in, was anxious to know the real state of the case, he should be (said Mr. Fuller) equally indifferent to what fell from your side (pointing to the Opposition) and to what fell from your side, (pointing to the Ministerial), but go out of the House, and consult with honest, impartial men like himself, to enable him to form a just and fair decision.

The Committee divided upon the noble lord's Resolution, when there appeared, Ayes, 68; Noes, 110; Majority 42.