HC Deb 28 February 1811 vol 19 cc113-7
Mr. Grattan,


"William Palmer, surgeon, on his oath, saith, That soon after the said Thomas Culver came into the prison, he was sent for to him, and he was then very unwell with a feverish complaint and a bowel complaint connected with it, and he got better about a week after, and soon relapsed again; and that he was then taken ill again, and it appeared from a breaking up of his constitution that he was then above 70 years of age, and that he believes he had all the necessaries that he from time to time required to have, either from Mr. Jenkins or any other person; and, that he administered such medicines as he thought necessary." pursuance of notice, moved; "That an humble Address be presented to the Prince Regent, praying, that he would be graciously pleased to direct, that an investigation may be made into the quantity of home-made spirits distilled from grain, remaining in the hands of the Distillers of Ireland, upon the 5th of March, 1810, when the reduction of the duty upon spirits took place; praying compensation for the losses sustained by them; and assuring his Royal Highness that this House will make good the same."

Mr. Shaw,

of Dublin, rose to second the address, and in doing so, begged leave to assure the House, that no case could possibly come before them which had stronger claims on their attention and their justice. They would recollect, that from the month of June, 1808, to the month of March, 1810, the distillation from grain had been prohibited; the natural consequence of this was, that at the end of that period, there remained upon hand a very considerable stock of spirits distilled from sugar. The allowance of the distillation from grain must have sensibly affected the value of this stock bad that allowance been duly foreseen, but it took place contrary to all fair expectation; its operations on the price of the sugar spirits were, of course, not only strong, but sudden; and not only was the allowance granted, but the duty was reduced from 5s. 8d. to 2s. 6d. and consequently no time afforded for the disposal of the large stock of sugar spirits on hand, though the invariable rule was, that whenever any additional duty was put on spirits, the stock on hand was always excised, and therefore the persons concerned in the trade expected some regulation in case of a reduction of duty. In this case, however, there had been none, and therefore the stock became in general so much dead loss; and he need scarcely remind the House of the sad effects of this was manifested in so melancholy a manner, by the unprecedented increase of bankruptcies last year in Dublin. The speculation in sugar-spirit had been very extensive in consequence of the confident and general expectation of the continuance of the prohibition; all the speculators were severe sufferers, and those of them who had not large and extensive capitals, found themselves suddenly involved in inevitable bankruptcy. For these reasons he trusted the House would see the necessity of resorting to the speediest and most effectual means of compensating those who had suffered at once so extensively and so unmeritedly.

The Speaker

called the attention of the House to the subject matter of the proposition about to be submitted to them. There was a standing order of the House, that no petitions for money should be received, unless recommended by the crown. This was a motion co obtain compensation. Without the form of a petition, the same effect was intended to be produced.

Mr. Foster

opposed the motion. No man could say mat the reduction of the duty upon spirits imposed any hardship upon any of the distillers. As it was done by act of parliament, it afforded them a fair notice of what was intended to be done. The stock of spirits was taken upon the same day the prohibition was enforced, and there were found to be 115,000 gallons; and only 50,000 gallons were distilled under the higher duties. There was not then enough of spirits to answer the market in Ireland, so that the distillers found greater benefit in supplying it, instead of exporting their spirits. There were not spirits equal to two days distillation in the whole of that country; so that these distillers had a sale for their spirits which amply indemnified them for the duties they paid. The duty was altered from 5s. 8d. to 2s. 6d. per gallon; but they were not on that account entitled to a drawback of 3s. 2d. as they now claimed. The utmost they could claim, by his calculation, was 4½d. per gallon; but he saw no reason for making any allowance whatever. If any drawback were to be allowed, it might with equal propriety be allowed to all the other holders and dealers in all foreign spirits, a thing which would be extremely impolitic. In looking into the Journals, he found five petitions presented upon this subject formerly, and after it was discussed they were rejected. It was indeed contrary to the practice of the right hon. gent. himself, when in 1795 he brought in a bill into the Irish parliament for encouraging the brewing of beer, by taking off the excise duties, but there was no drawback allowed for the stock on hand. Under all these circumstances, he considered that there was this solid objection to the motion; that there was no document produced to shew that any investigation whatever was necessary. He thought such a question should go through a committee of the whole House, before such a motion could be made.

Sir J. Newport

thought that it was but justice to allow a diminution of the duty upon the stock on hand, as well as that to be distilled. His complaint was, that there was no interval of time left for them to get rid of their stock. If there were only two days consumption of spirits in the country, there was surely the less difficulty in doing the necessary act of justice. As this was an age of precedents, they ought upon this occasion to follow that of the Tea Commutation Act, by which the duties were diminished, but a period of three months was allowed the dealers to dispose of their stock on hand; and it was on that account that no allowance of drawback was given to them. If the distillers had no other mode of redress but by petition, it was leaving it in the power of any financial minister to withhold his consent, on account of his being the individual who imposed the hardship complained of. He therefore agreed in the propriety of the line that had been adopted by his right hon. friend, as the proposed address prayed for an investigation, and not merely that money should be paid them.

Colonel Barry

said, that in his opinion there was no ground for compensation whatever; for, in the first place, the distillers had proved no loss. These distillers had enjoyed a monopoly; and it did not appear that they had not sold every gallon of their spirits as high as ever they could have done, had there been no alteration of the duty.

Mr. Hutchinson

had no doubt, that if the House agreed to the motion, they would be able to decide what was the amount of the loss these distillers had sustained. In 1783, when the duties upon French wines were equalized, the holders of these wines had a drawback granted to them, and such ought to be their conduct in the present instance. He did think the matter ought to be investigated by the House, as many failures, he understood, had taken place in consequence of the losses they had sustained.

The Speaker

repeated his objection to the mode of proceeding, as contrary to the established rule that had existed for a century. The identical case had already been submitted to the House in the form of a petition, and rejected on account of its not being regularly recommended on the part of the government, and it would be rendering their rule of no avail to receive it in any other form.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

approved highly of what had fallen from the Chair. It had been said that if ministers thought proper to refuse their consent to any petition, it was impossible to procure redress; now, he did not think it had been usual to refuse such consent, for they had been more reproached for giving it too easily than for withholding it. They often gave their consent to petitions which they were convinced ought not to be received, as it still lay with the House to grant or refuse the prayer of them. This address seemed merely to be substituted for a petition that was rejected.

Sir j. Newport

was of the same opinion as formerly, for if such was the form of the House, it must sanction great injustice. He did not think that this present mode was by any means disrespectful. What he complained of was, that ministers had it in their power to withhold their consent, or to make it an act of favour. He should not however persevere in stating his opinion contrary to the sentiments of the House.

The Speaker

then put it to the right hon. gent. whether he would not wish, under these circumstances, to withdraw his motion.

Mr. Grattan

accordingly consented, and the motion was withdrawn.