HC Deb 22 January 1812 vol 21 cc286-92
Mr. Lushington

brought up the Report of the Distillery

Bill. On the question, that the Report be now agreed to.

Sir John Newport

said, that he regretted not having at an earlier period called the attention of the House to this subject: he did not mean now to discuss the question at large, of the policy of suspending the distillation from grain, as he supposed that those officers whose duty it was to advise the crown, were better informed than he could possibly be respecting the necessity or expediency of such a measure. He entreated the House to weigh well the nature of a measure which went to prohibit the intercourse between the two islands forming the United Kingdoms; and he referred to the 6th article of the act of Union, by which it was declared that no bounty or prohibition should exist between the two kingdoms. If, however, it was necessary that this article should be altered, it should at least be done with all the mature deliberation of legislative interference; but he thought the principle one replete with danger to the interests of Ireland, because it was capable of being extended beyond the present occasion, and therefore it should be the more cautiously adopted. If, for example, (and he was aware that what he was about to state was an extreme case), it should be judged expedient to suppress for a time the linen manufactory in Great Britain, then, proceeding upon a principle similar to the one now about to be adopted, all importation of linen from Ireland would be prohibited. He lamented that the general interests of Ireland were so neglected in that House; it exemplified the old proverb, that the weakest must go to the wall. It behaved the House, then, to guard against such misconceptions, and to recollect, that of 658 legislators, there were but 100 for Ireland. He knew and respected and valued, a large portion of those 553 members, who represented the other portions of the United Kingdom, but it was natural that they should have prejudices in favour of the interests of that part which they belonged to; and that impression was infinitely stronger out of doors. It was singular that the distilleries should have been a subject of animadversion ever since the Union, at which time it was alleged, that the benefits resulting from the produce of the Irish distilleries finding their way here, constituted one branch of the advantages which were to be derived to Ireland from that measure. It appeared, on examination, that the schedule and the enactment were at variance; and in 1806 the difficulty was felt, when the Scotch distillers carried their spirits to the Irish market. This was contrary to the act, but it agreed with the schedule; and a committee was appointed to examine into the matter, and apply a remedy, while, in the interim, a suspension of intercourse was enacted for six weeks. A dissolution, however, took place, the committee broke up, and the matter was neglected. The first act of the ensuing session was to continue the suspension for one year; from that time there had been further continuances, and it was now proposed that the exportation of spirits from Ireland should be prohibited, not for the purpose of inquiry, but to continue so long as the prohibition of distillation from grain continued here. He felt himself bound to make these observations, from a firm conviction that he was doing his duty, and he warned the House of the consequences which must ensue, if this matter remained unexplained, and if the practice continued to go on without the adoption of any remedy. He would sit down with observing, that among the few advantages which Ireland was promised from the Union, was this of her distilleries, and it certainly was not just that her hopes should be frustrated by legislative interposition; and when he said that this advantage was in the contemplation of the act of Union, he had the authority of a noble lord, who stated, over and over, that Mr. Pitt said that the advantages which would accrue to Ireland from the introduction of the produce of her distilleries into England, would compensate for any other disadvantage.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that before he offered any remarks on what had fallen from the right hon. baronet, he should wish to hear any other observations that might be made, in order to embrace the whole at one view.

Mr. Sinclair

said, that he rose for the purpose of submitting to the House a few observations on the subject of this measure in as far as it affected Scotland; as it appeared to him calculated to be essentially injurious to the agricultural interests of that country. The lamentable deficiency of the crop, which had unfortunately pervaded the greater part of the kingdom, was not the only evil of which the farmer had to complain—a considerable proportion of the barley and oats which had not been entirely destroyed, was so much damaged, by the incessant rains which ensued about the time of the harvest, as to be almost, if not altogether, unfit for any other purpose than that of distillation; so that if this measure of substituting sugar for grain in the distilleries, should, meet with the sanction of the House, the greater part of the crop would remain altogether unsaleable on the hands of the grower, or would necessarily be disposed of at a price, below even its comparative value. In addition to this circumstance, it was computed, that no less than 6000 head of cattle were annually fattened for the market from the offals of the grain which was used in the distilleries; and if this supply of food was unexpectedly withdrawn from them (more especially at so inclement a period of the season) a considerable number of these cattle must be brought to market before they were sufficiently fattened for the consumption of the public; or at least it will be found very difficult, if not impossible, to procure sufficient pasture for their subsistence, by either of which alternatives the owner must be seriously affected.—Such was the mode in which this measure would be injurious to most of the farmers in Scotland, one of the most useful, patriotic, and industrious classes of the community. It already required all that energy, all that economy, and all that public spirit for which they had ever been conspicuous, not only to enable them to submit without repining to the pressure of the times, but even, by dint of every exertion in their power, to find the means of satisfying the exorbitant demands of the tax-gatherer. Such a measure as the present could not fail at this moment to be peculiarly discouraging; and, if persevered in, would not only materially affect the landed interest of Scotland as well as the farmers, by occasioning a considerable fall in the rents, but would also be eventually injurious to the public, from the great diminution in the Property Tax which would necessarily ensue, if the income of the landlord and tenant in Scotland were to be curtailed, by so considerably lowering the value of the produce of the country. Well might the farmers complain, if, when the inclemency of the season had deprived them of the one half of their crop, the legislature, instead of adopting any measure for their relief, passed an act of parliament, by which the greater part of the remaining half was rendered unsaleable. The hon. gentleman concluded by saying, that the Bill appeared very objectionable to him in many other respects, but that he should not trouble the House for the present, with any further observations on the subject.

Sir George Clerke

proposed to introduce a clause into the Bill, which should have for its object to prevent the English distillers from defrauding the revenue, by compelling them, under a penalty of 100l. to let their spirits run immediately from the still into a cask or vessel capable of holding as much spirit as could be distilled from a given quantity of sugar wash. Previously, however, to proposing this clause, the hon. baronet entered into some minute particulars, shewing that the declaration of an eminent distiller before the committee, that from a hundred gallons of sugar wash only twenty one gallons of spirit could be distilled, was erroneous, and that he believed 100 gallons of sugar wash would produce 24 gallons of spirit; if so, the duties charged upon the sugar wash were evaded to a certain degree, and the English distiller paid a duty (supposing him to obtain 24 gallons of spirit from 100 gallons of sugar wash) of only 6s. 10d. ½ while the Scotch distiller paid one of 7s. 10d. ½. He proposed, therefore, that the 7th sect, of the 39th Geo. 3 should be so amended as to place the distillers of England and Scotland upon the same footing.

The Speaker

informed the hon. baronet that his amendment and clause would be more properly discussed at a future stage of the bill.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that the proposition of the hon. baronet would have been more regular at another stage, but as the House was acquainted with his arguments, he would take notice of them now. The question to which he alluded had been a subject of long and deliberate consideration, and though there was something very deserving of attention in what had fallen from the hon. baronet, though he concurred with him in thinking that it would be extremely desirable to have the duty simplified, he thought it unwise to embarrass a temporary system without full and deliberate consideration; and with respect to what had fallen from the hon. gentleman (Mr. Sinclair), he could assure him that he had received more applications from Scotland for the adoption of this measure, than from any other part of the united kingdom. He felt indebted to the right hon. baronet (sir J. Newport) for the manner in which he had proposed his objections, which did not go to obstruct the present measure, but to establish a less injurious system. He hoped, however, that his apprehensions were unfounded; whatever inaccuracy there had been in framing the act of Union, was a drawback on its advantages, and so much had this been felt, that the original application proceeded from the inconvenience felt by Scotland importing into Ireland. It did not originate in the desire of England, but in the desire of the united kingdom, to remedy an inconvenience which pressed too severely on Ireland. The right hon gentleman then commented on the extreme case quoted by the right hon. baronet, and confessed, that he should, have expected a less extravagant one. He did not conceive how it could apply in the present case, as it could only happen in the total prohibition of the use of linen, and the substitution of cotton. With regard to the prohibition of distilling from grain, he confessed that it would be extremely impolitic to extend that prohibition to Ireland; but while the English market was prevented, from being supplied: with spirits distilled from grain, it would not do to let it he affected by spirit imported from a country where grain was permitted to be used in the distilleries.

Mr. Hutchinson

said, that the right hon. gentleman had answered the illustration of his right hon. friend by calling it extravagant; but the House would do well to recollect that king William had declared his intention to do all in his power to destroy one of the manufactures of Ireland: this was recorded as an historical fact, and even if it did not exist, he conceived that it was right to argue upon the most extravagant suppositions, and upon the broadest principle, on a question like the present. There was experience of what had been done, and it was not many years since the table of that House was crowded with Petitions, when it was proposed to extend a "mall part of the African trade to Ireland. The right hon. gentleman might senile, but it was nevertheless true, that violent remonstrances were made in the year 1782, and particularly by the city of Glasgow, against this advantage being conceded to Ireland. It was not a fact that the suspension took place in 1806 to guard against the Scotch distillers—it was to benefit the English revenue—it was because the Scotch distillers exported their spirits to Ireland, and not only injured the Irish distillers, but the English revenue. This was a subject of vital importance, and he had invariably resisted the suspension of the intercourse between the two countries; and though it might be acceded to by the Irish distillers, under particular circumstances, yet it violated the terms of the Union, which was enacted on the broad principle of free trade, on equal duty or no duty; and though it might be judged right to suspend the distillation from corn in England, still the right of the Irish distiller to export his spirits remained unimpaired. If the principle of the present Bill was recognised, the Chancellor of the Exchequer might, to-morrow, ruin every species of manufacture. He maintained that every attempt had been made by that House to deprive Ireland of all her advantages. It was of this that Ireland complained. Immediately after the Union, it was discovered by the British minister that Ireland possessed a great benefit in the bounty upon large stills. Accordingly this it was deprived of. Then the Suspension Bill was enacted, which, he repeated, was a direct violation of the act of Union. It was done under pretence of relieving Ireland? Had it relieved Ireland? No. The present Bill was one that ought not to be resorted to without the most urgent necessity; and he concluded by exhorting the minister to endeavour, by conciliating America, to open, again a source from whence we could derive those supplies of grain which had always been found so needful to this country.

Sir J. Newport

repeated, that the measure of suspension in 1806 was not adopted in consequence of remonstrances from Ireland, but in consequence of the danger apprehended to the English revenue from the Scotch distilleries.

Mr. Herbert

thought the two countries should go hand in hand, and spoke shortly in favour of the measure.

The Amendments made in the Committee were agreed to, the clause proposed by Sir G. Clerke was negatived, and the bill ordered to be read a third time tomorrow.