HC Deb 23 January 1812 vol 21 cc320-6

On the motion for the third reading of this bill,

Mr. Hutchinson

rose to enter his solemn protest against that clause which had for its object the suspension of the intercourse between England and Ireland. He charged that section with being in direct violation of the solemn compact entered into between the two Countries, and he called upon the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer to assign his reasons, if such he had, for venturing to break in upon the act of Union, which he had not yet dared to deny. The hon. member then read the 2nd section of the 6th article of the act of Union, and on that foundation, claimed a right on behalf of the distillers of Ireland, to bring their spirit extracted from grain into the British market, notwithstanding the distillation of spirits from corn in Great Britain were prohibited. What, he inquired, might be the consequence of this flagrant infringement? The violation of one part of this solemn compact might in future times be quoted as an authority for breaking in upon another. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by an act of power, might in that House insist that the 4th article should likewise be repealed, and that Ireland should no longer be represented by 4 spiritual and 28 temporal lords, and 100 commoners. He might abridge the number to 50, or entirely exclude the natives of the sister kingdom from any share in the legislative branches of the constitution. He was, it was true, putting a strong case, but it was only by strong cases that he could hope to make any impression on the right hon. gentleman. Supposing the distillers of Ireland had assented to this measure, was that any reason why he should concur in an act which struck at the very root of the languishing manufactures, agriculture, and revenue of Ireland? Surely not: he was bound still to discharge his duty, although such an idea might call forth a smile from the opposite benches. This blow, too, was so unexpected. What, was the arm raised by the right hon. gentleman opposite? Would Ireland believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, her tried friend, her zealous advocate, her strenuous supporter, that he who had uniformly during his whole political career behaved with a liberality towards her which was the universal admiration of her inhabitants, was the man who was making this attack? With what anguish would they find those hopes they had "too fondly nursed too rudely crossed!" He entreated the right hon. gentleman to reflect before he took a step which would for ever destroy that glorious character for liberality, wisdom, and integrity that he had obtained in Ireland. He trusted that to-night he would disclaim the base design, and vindicate his hitherto irreproachable conduct.

Mr. W. Fitzgerald

observed, that if during the course of the hon. member's speech, he had shewn, by his countenance, any symptom of dissatisfaction, it was a true picture of his mind, for he had little expected, that a question like that now under discussion would have been treated in the temper and spirit just exhibited. If, indeed, the support of the representatives; of Ireland were desired, it would be fit that a conduct diametrically opposite should be pursued. Surely, the hon. member himself must be aware of the absurdity of arguing on questions of commercial policy now, by reference to periods when both nations were actuated by mutual jealousies; then, indeed, might deficient representation perhaps have been fairly, complained of; but now it must be admitted, by all honest and unprejudiced men, that the united parliament no less consulted the interests and happiness of Ireland than it did those of Great Britain. He was as deeply concerned in the welfare of his native country as any man, and would do all in his power to promote it; and if he were asked, whether all the inhabitants of that country would be satisfied with the clause in question, he did not mean to assert that they would. (Hear, hear!) He trusted he should receive the same cheer, while he asserted that in general, nay, almost universally, those interested either in the manufactures, the agriculture, or the revenues of Ireland considered this bill a most important benefit. (Hear, hear!) What were the objections? Not that the measure was inexpedient in the present exigency (for that, not even the hon. member himself had ventured to maintain) but that it was some supposed violation of the act of union. As the representative of the principal distillers of the sister kingdom, he appealed to the hon. gentleman whether he would wish that the provisions of the whole bill should be extended to Ireland? The honourable gentleman was silent, and it proceeded from experience: he knew that it would be most detrimental, for the first year that the distillation from grain was prohibited, it did apply to Ireland as well as to Great Britain, and how anxious then were the advocates against this very clause now, that the same provision should be inserted; they would have accepted it as the greatest boon that could be offered them. Such a conduct was indeed puerile; it deserved no better term, particularly when the proceedings of former times of comparative hostility were quoted against the acts of the present. Last night he had compelled himself to silence, to-night the hon. member had compelled him to speak, and to assert that to the manufacturers, the agriculture, and the revenue, this bill would be in the highest degree beneficial.

Lord Folkestone

was much pleased with the eloquence and animation displayed by the last speaker, and somewhat with his ingenuity, for he had not only glanced at the main objection of his hon. friend, but had skilfully recoiled from it as if impressed with sudden terror. He had advanced nothing to shew that it was not a direct breach of the act of Union. What he said, was, that the Irish people would not be injured by it. He had not attempted by the slightest argument to prove that it was not a direct infringement on the sacred compact. When it was intended to make an encroachment upon any thing by stealth, it was universally found that some act was first done, which if not really good in itself, could be plausibly shewn to be attended with beneficial consequences, and after the public had been dazzled by false light, advantage was taken of their sudden blindness to lead them into a snare. The whole of what had been just said was undoubtedly very persuasive, and would be listened too most willingly by those who were sanguine. It was an attempt like a man in despair to shew that good might arise out of evil, that the act of Union was violated was a positive evil; that advantageous results might attend it, was a doubtful good. If it was the fact that this, clause was not a breach of the Union, why did not the hon. gentleman endeavour to shew it? The reason why he had been prudent enough not to make any such attempt, was sufficiently evident.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

professed himself somewhat astonished at what had fallen from the noble lord, but frequent experience had taught him not to be surprized at such sentiments as were delivered by the hon. member who first spoke on this question. On the present occasion he had warmly inveighed, as usual, against the House, but his object, at other times more remote, was not sufficiently obvious, from the notice that he had given regarding the dissolution of the Union. It was an attempt to excite in Ireland a spirit of hostility, which, supposing the speech of the hon. member to possess any weight even there, would be more than counter- balanced by the general pacific temper of the people. That the noble lord, however, should join in such an undertaking, appeared a little extraordinary. The House would not fail to recollect, that if the measure were originally improper, the prevention of the distillery from grain originated with that administration, whose conduct was always boasted as immaculate, when contrasted with the proceedings of the present government. It was introduced by those men who had always received the able support of the hon. gentleman. Reciprocity was the foundation of the Union between the two countries; and if the distillation from grain were permitted in Ireland and prohibited in Great Britain, and the intercourse between the two were continued, where would be the reciprocity of interest? Irish distillers, indeed, might, as was no doubt anxiously wished, be prosperous, but the English would be ruined. What then was the situation in which we stood? The hon. gentleman was of opinion that this clause was of great importance to the manufactures, the agriculture, and the revenues of Ireland. True; it was of infinite consequence, particularly to the latter; but what was the result of the experiment made to prevent the distillation from grain throughout the whole empire, at a time when the inhabitants were starving for want of bread? Did it save grain in Ireland? No: on the contrary, it only occasioned a greater consumption. Bid it increase the revenue? No: for the effect was to encourage illicit distillation to such an extent, as greatly to diminish the duties of excise. Here, then, in this Bill was an endeavour to rescue Ireland from the inconvenience so loudly complained of before; yet although it was a concession to the wishes formerly expressed, nothing could satisfy gentlemen pre-determined to be dissatisfied, and therefore they still objected to the clause.—To what, then, would the hon. gentleman, the renowned and avowed champion of the interests of Ireland, the representative of the distillers of that country, drive the House by his arguments, if arguments they might be called? Not to allow the distillation of grain, but to prevent it, to the prejudice of all his constituents. Thus he would not permit the present ministry even to benefit his country without complaining, and proving himself instead of being the warmest friend, the greatest enemy to Ireland. He was extremely anxious to in- jure the agriculture, manufactures and revenues of Ireland, because, forsooth, it was the anxious wish of government to promote their prosperity. The measure, itself was introduced for a great object of national advantage, without a pretence for asserting that there was any underhand attempt like an assassin with a smile upon his countenance, to strike a blow of destruction. How, then, did the proposition stand? Parliament taking a deliberate view of the interests of both countries, but particularly of Ireland, had agreed to sanction by a majority a measure to promote them, introduced by the minister of the day. This bill, however, was not to be supported by some few individuals, because they said that the same minister might bring in a bill with a directly opposite design; but did the conclusion at all follow, that because the House had approved by its votes of the beneficial plan, that it would support the minister in the promotion of a ruinous scheme? Yet in order to maintain what the hon. gentleman contended for, such must be his proposition, however absurd it may appear. "Do not," said the hon. gent, and the noble lord, "adopt this measure, which will be advantageous, because it may be followed by a bill which will be detrimental." It appeared to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there were a species of reformers, as they termed themselves, in the country, who, in order to justify their conduct, must support the converse of that proposition. Ministers were accused now of doing present good for the sake of doing future mischief: the reformers were doing present mischief for the sake of doing future good. From the first line of conduct he could not foresee that much injury could arise to mankind; from the latter, it was evident that certain and immediate detriment would ensue.

Mr. W. Smith

observed, that the views of the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon this subject were certainly more accurate than those of the noble lord and the hon. gentleman who had spoken on the other side of it. At the same time he could not but add, that as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been asked a civil question, had he returned a civil answer it would at least have redounded more to his candour, if not so much to his eloquence.

Mr. Giddy

rose merely to state, that though he agreed with the present mea-sure as one justified by the necessity of the occasion, he protested against the adoption of the principle on any future occasion, unless under the influence of a similar necessity.

The Bill was then read a third time, and passed.