HC Deb 18 March 1812 vol 22 cc31-6
Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald

said, that before he made the motion with which he meant to conclude, he wished first to remove from the minds of gentlemen any misconception, relative to the existence of any insufficiency of a supply of corn in Ireland. It was not his wish to spread any alarm of scarcity, and this he thought necessary to specify, because it too frequently happened, that the discussion of a subject was a sufficient ground for alarm. It was true, that in some local districts some deficiency might be found to exist, and, on that account, he thought it incumbent on the Irish government to direct their attention to the subject, that if no ground for apprehension was found to exist, the public clamour or alarm might be silenced. In another point of view, he was averse to any interference with the corn laws, and was one of those who thought such interference productive of more harm than good; and with respect to Ireland, he doubted whether any limitation should be placed to the export of corn, as he conceived that country to be equal to supply more than it did at present to England. He deprecated the idea of encouraging distillation from corn as a source of revenue, as it sometimes created a pressure which was severely felt; and it was the duty of government to sacrifice any small object of revenue to the comforts of the people. The food of the poor in Ireland being chiefly potatoes, the high price of corn only affected them when there was a failure of the crop of potatoes, which was the only proof on the subject. In such a case, he thought it the duty of government to put a stop at once to distillation. He was given to understand, that the consumption of grain in Dublin was nearly double, in consequence of the distillation from grain in that city—a permission by which industry was discouraged, and immorality promoted. He must repeat, however, that there did not exist the least reason to apprehend a scarcity in Ireland, and that there was a redundancy of provisions in one part of the country sufficient to preserve the reasonable price, and to supply any deficiency that might partially exist. He concluded by moving, "That there be laid before this House, an account of the number of gallons of Irish-made spirits on which duty was paid in Ireland, from the 5th day of January, 1811, to the latest period to which the same can be made up; distinguishing the districts, together with the amount of duty paid thereon."

Mr. W. Pole

said, that he had no objection to grant the information required by the hon. gentleman. In the general view which the hon. gentleman had taken of the subject, he perfectly agreed. He understood the hon. gentleman to state, that he did not think that there was any ground for apprehending that there was a scarcity of grain in Ireland. He had taken every means in his power to obtain the most accurate information upon this subject, and he was convinced there was no danger of scarcity. It was true that the prices of grain were very different in different parts of Ireland, but that Variety of price did not arise from any deficiency of grain. Very unpleasant circumstances bad occurred in different parts of Ireland, where the people had endeavoured to prevent grain from being sent to the Dublin market, under a mistaken notion that it would cause a scarcity; but when a free intercourse was opened between the different parts of the kingdom, the result was, that the markets were all supplied, and the prices lowered. He was therefore warranted in saying, that even in the districts alluded to by the hon. gentleman, there was no reason to apprehend a scarcity. He agreed with the hon. gentleman, that if there was any ground to apprehend a scarcity, it would become the duty of the Irish government to stop the distilleries; but he knew, from information upon which he could place the most perfect reliance, that all the distillers in Dublin, Cork, and Limerick, were now amply supplied with grain to carry on their business to the fullest extent for ten weeks to come. The regular time at which distillers ceased to work was the 1st of June; last year they ceased on that day, and he had no doubt that he could prevail upon them to cease at the same period this year. As they had therefore already a sufficient supply of grain to carry them on till within a few days of the time at which they would naturally cease working, there was no reason to apprehend that they would come into the market, and by their purchases increase the price of the article. It should also be observed, that the grain in the possession of the distillers was in such a state, being either malted or kiln dried, or in some such state of process, that it could not be made use of for the purpose of food, even if the distilleries were slopped. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. gentleman would see, that the measure which he had suggested could not tend in any degree to afford any relief to the people of Ireland. The price of grain had certainly risen in Ireland, but that was not owing to the distilleries, but to the free intercourse in grain, which subsisted between Great Britain and Ireland, and the price in the former country being so much greater than it was in the latter, a very great export naturally took place from Ireland. He most highly approved of the free intercourse in grain between the two countries. No man at all acquainted with the state of Ireland, could shut his eyes to the astonishing improvements which had taken place in the agriculture of that country, in consequence of the act proposed by the right hon. baronet opposite to him (sir John Newport) for fa- cilitating that intercourse. But when he stated that the price of wheat was 16s. a barrel more in London than it was in Dublin, it was impossible to suppose that a great export to this country should not take place. Whether, if any serious scarcity were to take place in Ireland, it might not be proper for government to take a review of the act to which he had alluded, was another question; but certainly, under the present circumstances, he for one would not consent to touch that act. Gentlemen were not, perhaps, aware, that in the last year, the import of grain into this country from Ireland was in the, proportion of one to three of what Great Britain imported from the rest of the world; formerly the average of the proportion was only as one to ten. The importation of grain into this country from Ireland was not only great, but it was progressively increasing. The importation in the last four months was greater than the whole importation of any one preceding year, and the importation of the last month was greater by one-fourth than the proportion of the four months. He did not think it necessary to take up more of the time of the House, as he did not mean to give any opposition to the hon. gentleman's motion. If any case of scarcity were to arise, the attention of the Irish government would of course be most closely directed to the subject. At present he agreed with the hon. gentleman, that there was no ground for any such apprehension. The crop of potatoes, it was true, was rather scanty, bat they were of a good quality; and he was sure that, from the steps which had been taken to enable the farmers to carry their produce to market without interruption, the prices of grain in Ireland would not increase, and therefore that there would be no occasion for the interposition of parliament.

Sir John Newport

entirely agreed in the opinion, that there was nothing like a scarcity to be apprehended, and that where any deficiency existed, it arose from the stoppage of the regular intercourse through the country, by which alone plenty could be ensured. The farmer locked up his corn in his granaries, and the people defeated their own objects. He believed that at all times there was a considerable advance on oats at this season of the year, particularly when the crop of potatoes failed; and it was to be recollected that the distilleries had laid in their stock, and their demand ceased at this time. Above all things he entreated the House not to entertain any idea of fixing a maximum almost under any contingent circumstances; and he reminded them, that when he introduced the Bill, for which he had been so undeservedly complimented by the right hon. gentleman, he had cautioned them against fixing a maximum, for it would operate as a permanent discouragement to the tillage farmer, and if held over him, as a probable measure, would, like the sword of Damocles, paralyse all his exertions. Any limitation of the exports of corn would have the same effect as a restriction, and he hoped the united kingdoms were fully able to furnish corn enough for their consumption, without any foreign aid. As to the prices of; corn in the London market, it was to be observed, that a considerable addition must be made to the price of the corn exported from Ireland before it reached the English market, and also that the quality of corn grown in a moist soil (like that of Ireland) was inferior; at all events, the intercourse should not be meddled with, as the evil complained of would correct itself. There was a considerable exportation of corn from Ireland to Portugal and Cadiz, for the use of the armies, and he would rather meddle with that than the regular intercourse between the two countries, by which the farming interest would be alarmed, and that spirit repressed which arose from the Bill of last session. He was sure the right hon. gentleman was not inclined to take such a step, but as he had thrown out a hint to that effect, he thought it his duty to express his sentiments of the evils which were to be apprehended from it.

Mr. W. Pole

said, in explanation, that the right hon. baronet understood him in a stronger sense than he intended—he merely meant to state in fairness, that the difference in price might make it a question whether some limits should not be put to it.

Mr. Marryatt

said, that the consumption of grain in the Irish distilleries was prodigious, as besides the consumption of that country, Ireland exported near a thousand puncheons of spirits a week. He thought that in determining this question, the price of corn in this country ought to be attended to as well as the price of corn in Ireland. It was evident that while there was a free intercourse of corn between the two Countries, the price of it in Ireland must be affected by the price of it in Great Britain. He thought that it was due to the poor manufacturers of Great Britain, who were now living on reduced wages, and with an increased price of pro-visions, to take measures for preventing the unnecessary consumption of grain in the Irish distilleries. If this waste of grain were stopped, our manufactures might be sent out to pay for West India sugar, and the manufactures might be restored to their former wages.

The motion was then agreed to.