HC Deb 08 March 1811 vol 19 cc321-5
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

moved the order of the day for going into a Committee on the Acts respecting the Distilleries of Great Britain. In the Committee: the right hon. gentleman observed, that having the other day explained, as be trusted, to the satisfaction of the House, the principles upon which he was desirous of placing the duties derived to the revenue from the distillation of spirits from grain or sugar, he should now state the reasons which induced him to bring under the consideration of parliament an attempt to equalise the competition in bringing to market either of those commodities. It appeared to him, that, in attempting to introduce the measure which he was about to notice, he should afford equal inducement to the manufacturers of both articles to bring them to market. The measure would not be of long continuance, though he entertained a hope that it might be permanent. At present, however, it was not his intention that the extension of the time of its operation should be beyond the period of two years. The right hon. gentleman then staled, that former Acts on this subject had in their provisions given to one species of commodity a decided preference over the other, so that the distiller was induced to select that for his use which would afford him the most decided profit. By the operation of the present measure that preference would be avoided, and to show that the competition and equalization would be fair, he entered into a minute detail of the duties arising from the distilleries, and, upon a comparison with the distillation from sugar and from grain, he was convinced that the consumer Would have the article distilled at the same price. In the event of the distillation going on from grain, there would be no more increase of duty to the revenue than at present from the use of sugar, before the suspension of the distillation from the former article was put ill force. The considerations, therefore, for the House to attend to were, whether the price of the article sold would, in consequence of the proposed competition, be so high as to endanger the revenue; and of this the House had the experience of last year to the contrary. The next consideration was, whether the rates of duty were such as would bring fairly into the market the two articles of competition, so that both might be kept at a price sufficiently high to remunerate the grower. This was the principle of the measure. The duties on grain were at the time of the suspension 2,061,817l. and now they are upwards of 380,000l. more. So that the increase had been very great since the suspension. The right hon. gentleman declared, that a strong inducement in his mind for bringing the measure forward, was, that there would be no increase to the consumer in the price. He then moved a resolution, "That the present duties on the distillation of spirits from wash do cease and determine," &c.

Mr. Curwen

objected to the measure, as not giving a monopoly to the barley growers, and he was convinced of the utter impossibility of equalizing the scale. The price of barley, when the Committee first inquired into the subject was at 56, it then lowered to 54, was afterwards at 48, and at the present moment the greatest selling price in Norfolk, where the best barley is grown, was 28s. The advantage of sugar over bailey was very considerable; for no price could induce, in his opinion, the distiller to use barley, sugar being more agreeable to the taste of the public. He deprecated the idea of giving preference to the colonists, rather than to the agricultural interest, and contended, that the effect of the measure would be to decrease the growth of barley; he therefore conjured the right hon. gentleman to consider the consequences.

Mr. Rose

contended that the contrary would be the effect of the measure from what the hon. gentleman seemed to apprehend. It would not give a monopoly to sugar, but would produce a fair competition in the market, and would induce the distillers to go to work immediately on barley in preference to sugar. With respect to the agricultural interest, he denied that on all occasions, their interest had not been attended to.

Mr. C. Ellis

considered that the powers of the two articles were not placed upon a footing of equality, as the price taken by the right hon. gentleman for barley, was about the price which would afford remuneration to the grower, so in the article of sugar. The West India interests, he observed, never had preponderated over those of any other class of men in the country.

Sir J. Sebright

thought it his duty, in times like the present, to oppose any proposition that appeared calculated to diminish the cultivation of grain.

Mr. Burroughs

defended the late Committee on the stale of the West India merchants, from the imputations which had been cast on them. In the manifold distresses of the country, beginning with the colonies and now extending to the manufacturers, the landed interest had not participated. Those who were interested in the colonies, had been wrongfully accused of wishing to indemnify themselves at the expence of the landed interest. All they wanted was to have the preference given to British over foreign produce, that their sugar should be purchased rather than French grain. Although he might have preferred a measure in somewhat a different shape, he warmly supported the proposition of the right hon. gentleman.

Sir J. Sebright

explained and defended those individuals to whom were unjustly imputed sinister designs in the monopoly of corn. He was persuaded that no such monopoly could exist.

Mr. Curwen

explained, and disclaimed all intention of throwing out any insinuations against the West India gentlemen.

Mr. D. Giddy

was averse to any measure by which the cultivation of grain would be discouraged in this country, as calculated to put us in the power of our continental enemy. The most efficacious mode of avoiding this was to permit the free distillation of spirits from grain, unfettered by any competition whatever. He stated the many advantages direct and collateral which the growing of barley occasioned.

Mr. Foster

warmly supported the proposition of his right hon. friend, which would give to the barley grower the great advantage of being secure from temporary prohibitions from distillation.

Mr. Hibbert

followed on the same side, contending, that the late prices of grain were not such as to justify any complaint from the cultivators. There were but few foreign sources of commerce open at the present moment to the country, and it was desirable that they should not be diminished in number.

Mr. Adam

was anxious that a minute inquiry should be instituted into the merits of this most important question. He trusted that instead of a strife between interests as opposed to each other, the strife would be for the interest of all. He confessed, that as far as he was able to form an opinion on this subject, which had baffled so many individuals experienced in political economy, he was inclined to doubt the validity of the arguments which had been urged in support of the proposition. Investigation and not action was the duty of the House in this business.

Sir J. Sinclair

thought the Commissioners of Excise might with great propriety be desired to make experiments for a single year, for the purpose of exactly ascertaining the relation between sugar and grain.

Mr. Marryatt

objected to the resolution as doing that on a mere speculation which ought to be done only after a mature inquiry. He stated, at length, the grievances of which the West India planter had to complain.

Sir J. Newport

thought if the measure proposed were to be followed up by further proceedings to render its effects permanent, it would be an infraction of the Union. If, however, it were not to be so followed up, he should then be disposed to consider it on its own merits, and vote accordingly.

Mr. W. Smith

was of opinion, the subject should be referred to a select committee.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

replied to the arguments of the several speakers. He saw no reasons for thinking his plan such as ought not to be adopted, from the reception it had experienced. The gentlemen in the landed interest did not think it sufficiently favourable to them; the West India merchants thought it was not so good a thing as the monopoly they had enjoyed; and the distillers thought the scale of duties not exactly what they ought to have been. Now when it was found that none of the parties most concerned were much pleased with the plan, he thought it seemed as if their several claims had been equally balanced, and the interests of all pretty well weighed. From this circumstance he thought, and he trusted the House would think, there was no sufficient reason for rejecting the proposition. The appointment of a select committee, which had been recommended by some hon. gent. would, he thought, only occasion unnecessary delay, as the difference between the Scots and Irish Distilleries could only be removed by an exercise of those powers which, though formidable, were occasionally to be exerted by parliament.

The House divided, when the numbers were—

For the motion 70
Against it 21
Majority 49