HC Deb 08 April 1812 vol 22 cc239-43

The House having gone into a committee of the whole House, to consider of the Exportation of Spirits from Ireland,

Mr. Wellesley Pole

said, that he rose for the purpose of moving a Resolution to prevent the exportation of spirits made from grain in Ireland, for a time to be limited. The object of the Resolution was to prevent the exportation of Irish made spirits to foreign markets, in consequence of the high price of provisions in Ireland at the present period. In considering the situation of that country, there were but four measures which suggested themselves for adoption. The first was, to prevent the intercourse between this country and Ireland; the second, to stop the distillation from grain in Ireland; the third, to stop the export of grain from Ireland for the supply of our armies; and the fourth was that, which he felt it his duty to recommend to the committee, as there were many objections to each of the others, which he was persuaded, many gentlemen would concur in thinking sufficient to prevent their being resorted to. The measure now submitted to the committee was unquestionably a smaller evil than any other, and was nothing more than stopping the exuberant grain of the country from being converted into spirits, in order to be sent abroad—he was aware, at the same time, that it would create a considerable disappointment to many meritorious persons in Ireland—he meant those distillers, who by their exertions, had established a beneficial trade to Portugal and other places, but he trusted that their good sense would show them that this measure was resorted to, to beat down the high price of provisions, and to prevent the distress which arose from that circumstance. He hoped, therefore, that this proposition would be found effectual when coupled with some others which he would have to propose, but if he should be disappointed, it then would be time enough to adopt some other mode of proceeding. The time to which he proposed to limit the operation of the Bill which he proposed to bring in, was the 31st of December, and it would be modelled in the same manner as the Bill for prohibiting distillation from grain in England, but it would vest in the Lord Lieutenant a power to permit the exportation of grain after the 1st of October, if he should deem it expedient, or to continue the provisions of the Bill for 40 days after the opening of the next session of parliament. It was also his purpose that the measure should commence from this day, as otherwise large quantities of corn might be sent out of the country before the Bill could take effect, but care would be taken to prevent any injury being sustained by any individual, as he proposed to empower the commissioners of the revenue in Ireland to hear any case and grant such redress as they might think just. He concluded by moving, "That it is expedient to suspend, from and after the 8th day of April 1812, for a time to be limited, the exportation from Ireland to parts beyond the seas, spirits made or distilled in that part of the United Kingdom from corn or grain."

Mr. Stewart

said, that the object in view would, in his opinion, be better promoted, by the stoppage of distillation from grain altogether, and it would, besides, mark the attention of the Irish government to the wants of the people.

Mr. Curwen

thought it surprising that government did not go into a general consideration of the resources of the country with respect to its supplies of corn, after the quantity that was annually imported, He thought that a rise on the price of grain would insure a constant supply, and two bushels more on the acre through the country would give an abundance. Ministers should have a more accurate view of the whole agriculture of the country, and would by that means have it in their power to adopt some general measure instead of those temporary expedients now resorted to. He wished to God, for the sake of the health and morals of the people, that an additional duty was laid on spirits, which would oblige them to make use of the wholesome and nutritious beverage of porter.

Mr. Shaw

of Dublin said, that it was impossible for him to allow this measure to go forward, without entering his protest against what was likely to prove so injurious to the whole body of the distillers of Ireland. It would; in the first place, throw a great superabundance of spirits into the country; and in the next place, he thought they should be very cautious how they interrupted a trade which was likely to be so beneficial. Another measure offered itself, which, he thought, would have a better effect; namely, the stopping of distillation after a certain time. It was to be considered too, that large contracts had been entered into, and this measure would throw a damp on all enterprise or speculation, for which reasons he felt it his duty to dissent from the Resolution.

Sir John Newport

said, that no man could more heartily concur in any measure, which appeared likely to obviate the difficulties or distresses of the people than himself, but he could not help considering the present as inefficacious. Some documents should be before the House to enable them to form a correct judgment, and to make it manifest that there was no danger from illicit distillation. The right hon. mover had last night stated from the commissariat returns, the prices infinitely lower than the market prices in the adjoining district, which was certainly no great proof of their accuracy. He was far from wishing to oppose the present measure, except on the ground that it led the House to suppose that they had applied a remedy, where, in truth, they had not. If the prohibition of distillation from corn took place, there would be no suffering, because the distillation in a great measure took place from raw com, which could be brought to market, and was still applicable to other purposes.

Mr. Parnell

said, he concurred in opinion with the hon. member for Dublin, that this measure would not diminish the consumption of grain in the distilleries, but alone injure the distiller. The right hon. gentleman had wholly omitted, in his opening statement, to shew in what manner it would realize the declared object of it. For his part, it seemed to be quite plain, that the distilleries being compelled by law to work oft nearly as much spirits as it was in their power to make, the same quantity would continue to be made—and that the only result of the Bill would be, to lower the price of spirits in the home market, by shutting up the foreign one. The right hon. gentleman had stated very candidly, that his principal object was to allay the apprehensions which prevailed; but if he really believed that those apprehensions were groundless, he should abstain from a measure which must injure the distillers. He ought to remember that they have necessarily purchased grain at the late very high prices, calculating on being able to obtain a sufficient recompence, by fulfilling the orders they had received for sending spirits abroad—and that, if this vent is taken from them, they will probably sustain a very heavy loss. He ought also to recollect, that if such loss can alone be attributable to the interference of parliament, they will have a just claim upon parliament for an adequate compensation. The right hon. gentleman should also consider, that his measure will deprive Ireland of the benefit of a newly established trade, which promised to be of the greatest advantage to her—for it could not be expected, that the distillers would again undertake all the risk and expence of retaining their trade, if the just reward of their skill and industry was thus suddenly and capriciously taken from them. At the same time, the hon. member begged the committee would not suppose, from these observations, that he, as others did, wished the government to stop the distilleries altogether—on the contrary, he gave credit to them for the accuracy of the statement of the quantity of provisions in the country, and believed that it was altogether unnecessary for them to interfere.

Mr. W. Pole

replied to the different objections urged against the proposed measure, many of which he was quite surprised to hear. It was said that no relief would follow, as the quantity exported was not so great as to cause any difference in the price of corn; but be could state, that the quantity exported had been from 1–4th to 1–5th of the whole quantity of spirits distilled in Ireland; and it had been increasing during the last six months. He was not so sanguine as to expect all the relief he wished from this measure; but it was a little unfair to say that it was absurd on the face of it—One hon. gentleman had spoken of it as unjust to the distillers, but parliament was not bound to consider the interest of a certain number of individuals at the expence of the community. He spoke also of not opening the distilleries so soon; but government could not be expected to adopt what would prove injurious to the revenue. As to the contracts entered into by the distillers, the very moment the law passed, it would operate in bar of any demands against the distillers; and if that was not the case, he was prepared to bring in a clause to secure them in this respect, as it was not his wish to take any unfair advantage of the distillers.

Mr. Grattan

said, that when the question was, whether distillation or exportation should be prohibited, he thought the milder method should be first tried. It was bad policy to make the agricultural system depend on caprice or change of circumstances, unless there was a pressing necessity for it. He agreed, that in the present case, something mutt be done, and he therefore gave his assent to the milder measure as an experiment.

The Resolution was then agreed to.