HC Deb 06 July 1820 vol 2 cc285-90

The House having resolved itself into a Committee on these acts,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that from the time of the Union, Irish spirits had been imported into this country without an)' obstruction in the state in which they were manufactured, but that in the acts under consideration, a clause was introduced, imposing a prohibition of the import of any raw spirits into this country, unless received into the stock of a rectifier. By this clause it was complained, that the Irish distillers were subjected to a very great grievance, and upon that representation being made to his majesty's government, the case had been fully considered. The result of that consideration was a conviction, that in common justice, the clause ought to be repealed. He moved that the chairman be directed to move for leave to bring in the bill for the repeal of the said clause.

Mr. Bright

said, that if the facility for the import of Irish spirits were afforded, which the proposition was calculated to produce, it would be impossible to prevent that part of the English coast with which he was immediately connected, as well as the coast of North Wales, from being deluged with that article. He maintained, that the clause referred to did not involve any violation of the act of Union, as a fair review of the system of the countervailing duties would fully manifest. The fact was, that the Irish spirit generally imported into this country required rectification before it was fit for use, and therefore it was no grievance to let the clause stand as it did. At least it was no grievance to the people of England, who might be disposed to consume such spirits. But he begged the House to consider the consequences likely to follow from making such ardent spirits cheap in this country.

Mr. M. Fitzgerald

was surprised how-such a clause as that to which the motion referred happened to be smuggled into the act before the committee. This clause was evidently devised to interfere with the free and fair trade of Ireland, and to prevent the Irish distillers from coming into competition with those of Ireland. That it was cunningly contrived with that view, there could be no doubt. While he bore testimony to the candour of the chancellor of the Exchequer towards Ireland on this occasion, he begged to differ from him as to his construction of the act of Union. Spirits formed a distinct manufacture in Ireland, and were as free from the regulation of the English excise as its linen manufacture. The spirits distilled in Ireland were recognised by several laws of the legislature of that country, previous to the Union, as a distinct manufacture, and the principle of these laws ought to be respected by the imperial parliament. It was not any reason for placing Irish spirits under the control of the English excise, that they were of greater strength than the spirits distilled in this country. But as the terms of the clause referred to in the motion mentioned raw spirits he was prepared to argue, that it did not correctly speaking, extend to Irish spirits. For the Irish spirits, as he was enabled to show, was not a raw, but a complete spirit. It was indeed, much more a complete spirit than rum, and yet the produce of the colonies was treated with more liberality than the spirits of Ireland, for it was not required that the for- mer should be put into the hands of the British rectifiers. Upon what ground, then, should that measure of liberality be refused to Ireland, which was granted to the British colonists and to the traders of France? Upon what pretence should the English board of excise demand that Irish spirits should be subjected to British rectifiers, in order to have it mixed with deleterious articles, and denominated rum or brandy, before it was brought to sale? Such a system was quite absurd, and calculated to injure the character, because it must serve to spoil the quality of the Irish spirit. Thus, indeed, it was, that Irish spirit lost its favour with those in this country, who would otherwise be delighted with that article. The fact was, that through the preposterous system of the English board of excise, the Irish spirit was not brought to sale in England until it was actually spoiled. For himself, he had no connection whatever with the Irish distilleries; he took up this question entirely upon public grounds, knowing that a large capital was embarked in the business of distillation in Ireland—that this capital gave employment to a great deal of industry, and that it was most materially advantageous to the agriculture of his country. It was clear that the English board sought to break down the Irish distillation of spirits, as far as that could be done, by excluding that article from the British ports, or destroying its character after it was imported. Yet it was pretended that the English distillers were not jealous of the Irish. But how did the liberality of the English distillers appear? Why, the proposed motion was scarcely made known, when a petition was laid upon the table from the English rectifiers, decidedly against it. But he trusted that parliament would not be influenced by the narrow, illiberal views of any set of men, and above all, that it would never sanction a positive act of injustice, by injuring the trade of Ireland, and violating that solemn compact, the Union.

Mr. W. Dundas

expressed his concurrence in the motion; but he could not help requesting his right hon. friend to remember that he was chancellor of the Exchequer for Scotland as well as for Ireland, and to reflect that if the Irish distilleries were allowed the free import of their spirits into England, it was but common justice that the same privilege should be granted to the poor distiller of Scotland.

Mr. Marryat

said, it was impossible, if fairly manufactured, that either Scotch or Irish spirits could find a market in this country, yet a large quantity did find its way here, and every gallon which was imported turned out of consumption a gallon of English spirits, paying a higher duty. This might be claimed as an indulgence; for the act of Union did not give it; the Irish spirit came here now only because it paid a lower duty than the English distiller had to pay on his manufacture; and yet they came and asked for a further exemption; they now wished their spirits not to pass through the hands of the rectifiers, which regulation was most necessary for the protection of the revenue. The consequence would be, if the resolution was carried, that the market would be entirely supplied by illicit distillation. He was the more surprised at this measure being now introduced, as a neighbour of his (a distiller) had informed him, he had seen a letter from the chancellor of the Exchequer which disclaimed any such intention. If the measure passed into a law, the English distillers would certainly be entitled to claim an indemnity, as their business would be destroyed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the board of excise had suggested to him that this measure might affect the security of the revenue; but he was bound not to let any consideration of revenue interfere with the due execution of the act of Union, and if any of the clauses of that act were of doubtful meaning, the House was equally bound, in justice and liberality, to explain them in the sense most favourable to Ireland.

Sir J. Newport

deprecated the language of an hon. member, in so loosely casting an imputation upon the conduct of the Irish and Scotch distillers. The hon. member had not a particle of evidence to sustain the charge, that the spirit of Ireland was not as fairly manufactured as that of England. But the fact was, that the Irish spirit was of a much superior manufacture, or it would not have had so much sale in competition with the spirit manufactured in England. The Irish distillery was under the special protection of the Union. But such was the superior quality of Irish spirit, that a great quantity of it was imported into this country before the Union, as might be seen upon reference especially to the imports of 1797. The import of this article had, however, considerably increased since the Union, and nothing could prevent that increase, if the Irish spirits were not deteriorated by the interposition of jealous manufacturers. Let the spirit be sold in the state in which it was originally manufactured, and there could be no doubt of an increasing demand for it in England [Hear!]. Ireland felt a great interest in the success of its distilleries, and whatever it gained from that source, could never be regarded as a gain at the expense of England; as every wise statesman must feel that the gain of any part of the united kingdom was the gain of the whole, as the strength of any part contributed to the strength of the empire at large.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that previous to the Union this subject had come under Mr. Pitt's consideration, and he had received several representations, stating that the effect of it would be, that a large portion of the trade and capital of the distilleries would he transferred from England to Ireland. He replied, as a statesman of enlightened views ought, that it was a matter of indifference to him to what part of the empire the capital was transferred. On that principle, the union was framed, and he thought they had no right to consult the question of revenue at the expense of the first principles of the Union.

Mr. W. Smith

acknowledged, that Ireland was a country to which England owed a debt of fearful magnitude for many ages of misgovernment, but this he thought was a bad mode of payment. He could not agree, that because some of the manufactures of Ireland had been destroyed, we were therefore to destroy some of the manufactures of England also. His hon. friend, whom he was glad to see in his place (Mr. J. Foster) had often contended, that the House had no right to interfere with the internal regulations of Ireland; he should like to know if that principle were now to be maintained. He strongly objected to the late period of the session at which this matter was brought on; and he also thought that as the excise had found sufficient reason for the mention of the obnoxious clause, the House ought to be acquainted with those reasons, now that it was about to be rescinded. It was not correct to speak of the rectifiers as the rivals of the Irish distillery; it would have been more consistent so to denominate the malt distillers, and on their behalf he must protest against this measure, except as an experiment. They had no objection to the importation of Irish spirits, if they were put on the same footing, but they could not contend against high duties and wide consciences. He thought if a manufacture was to be set up, it was indifferent to the statesman where; but where a manufacture was already established, flourishing, and paying a large revenue to the government, it was neither prudent nor just to put all that to risk for the sake of something which might be carried on more advantageously in another part of the country.

Mr. John Foster

, as he had been called upon in so pointed a manner, would only observe, that he had not said what the hon. member had imputed to him, and he would tell him why it was impossible he should have said so. At that time the English parliament was the parliament of Ireland, and he never could have been guilty of the absurdity of asserting, that they could not legislate for the whole of the empire. He put it to the hon. gentleman whether he could consider it as the part of a good member of parliament to be setting the manufacturers of one part of the country against those of another part, as if they had separate interests. He hoped never to see a national question so treated again.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.

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