HC Deb 14 June 1820 vol 1 cc1066-72
Sir H. Parnell

said he rose to move for the appointment of a select committee, to inquire into the duties payable by the Act of Union, of ten per cent on British manufactures imported into Ireland, and on Irish manufactures imported into England. Such a committee was necessary, in consequence of the chancellor of the exchequer having brought in a bill to continue these duties for twenty years longer than the time prescribed by the Act of Union. This bill would seriously affect the interests of the British manufacturers, because it would continue a heavy tax upon their goods, and thereby diminish the demand for them in Ireland. It would also, by continuing this tax, injure the Irish consumers. The cause of distress in the manufacturing districts being a want of market, it was obvious, that this measure would be a great evil, by its effect in raising prices to the Irish consumer, and thus limiting the quantity he could otherwise purchase. If the import of English manufactures into Ireland was quite free, the use of them would be greatly extended; at present every one in Ireland paid twenty or thirty percent more for every article of manufacture than he would pay if there was no duty upon it; and 200,000l. a year was thus levied upon the Irish people, under the plea of protection, and encouraging Irish manufactures. The continuance of these duties appeared to him, and to many others whom he had consulted, as a violation of the Act of Union. The sixth article declares the general proposition, that all articles, the growth, produce, or manufacture of either country, shall go to the other free of all duty. Then there comes two limitations: first, as to countervailing duties; second, as to these protecting duties in schedule No. 2. The limitation to the general proposition is, that these duties are to continue twenty years. No power is given to the united parliament to continue them, though in other cases, where alleviation or revision was intended, specific words are used to declare the united parliament competent to alter or revise duties. The Irish parliament, when they passed the Act of Union, understood these duties were to cease in twenty years, and prepared their plans accordingly. The Act of Union was a solemn compact, and ought not to be lightly meddled with. It was of the greatest consequence to Ireland, that all its enactments should be held sacred; for, being the weaker party, if once alterations were begun, in the end every advantage which Ireland enjoyed, inconsistent with some supposed English interest, would be taken away. If the question were fully understood in Ireland, there would exist no wish to have these duties continued. They took out of the pockets of the Irish consumer of English goods 200,000l. a year, and this was a positive evil. The price of every article was one shilling in four more than it ought to be; but this was not understood, and those who were paying four shillings when they ought to pay three only, were among the foremost to cry out for the continuance of these duties. The Irish manufacturer who desired to have these duties, always seemed to forget that they applied to his own goods on going to England. They shut him out of the rich English market, and confined bun to the limited demand of his own poor country. It was utterly impossible that much capital could be invested under these circumstances in Ireland in manufactures.—There could be no profits equal to a due reward for its investment. The true policy to promote Irish industry and Irish riches was to give to Ireland the benefit of the English market. Were it not for this market, what would be bur trade in linen, butter, and corn? Gould Ireland sell calicos, coarse woollens, or poplins, in England, free from duty, the cheap labour of Ireland would secure a good demand for them. Corn and agricultural produce would be sent from Ireland to pay England for the increased qualities of English manufactures, which would be imported in consequence of their price being reduced one-half. It was the greatest misfortune that ever befel Ireland to have ever introduced the system of pro- tecting duties, and with it the exclusion from the English market. The experience of thirty years had proved its impolicy. The history of attempts to establish manufactures in Ireland was a history of successive failures. Capital, to an immense amount, had been lost, which would have been attended with certain profit if it had been applied to the improvement of agriculture. But the motion which would be submitted to the House did not go to say, that no protecting duties should be continued; all it sought for was inquiry. The bill of the chancellor of the exchequer proposed ah indiscriminate renewal of ten per cent on seventeen great branches of manufacture, and to allow twenty years more for the gradual extinction of the duties; but, if an inquiry were instituted, it would appear that some of these branches might be allowed to be free, because, in Ireland, no protection could be required for them, as they had no existence there. It was also very desirable to inquire into, and revise, the system of countervailing duties. Now that there was but one exchequer, there was no common sense in maintaining the system of drawing back the whole duty on ah article in one country to pay it in another. What could be more absurd than the process of drawing back three pence a pound on paper and books in England to pay three pence a pound on importing them into Ireland, the chancellor of the exchequer had certainly an object to carry of no small consequence to the revenue by renewing these ten per cent duties, the levying of 200,000l. a year upon Ireland, but this was a paltry object in comparison with the putting of the trade of the two countries on a footing to promote the employment bf the poor, and the extension of the wealth of Ireland. If the committee were appointed, they would be able to advise in what cases any protecting duties were still advisable. They would consider the interests of each class of Irish manufacturers, and recommend nothing which would lead to their injury, in consequence of their having confided in the assurance of the chancellor of the exchequer, that these duties should be renewed. The hon. member concluded by moving, "That a select committee be appointed to consider the provisions of the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland which relate to the trade between Great Britain and Ireland, and to report their observations and opinions upon the duties payable upon articles the produce or manufacture of either country, when imported from one country into the other."

Mr. Littleton

seconded the motion. He thought it was of the utmost importance that this subject should be investigated by a committee of that House. There were many branches of trade, which were exclusively confined to this country; for instance, the wrought iron, the Hardware and the potteries. Now, it would be of infinite advantage to the starving manufacturers, if the duties on those branches of our trade were removed in our intercourse with Ireland.

Mr. V. Fitzgerald

rose to oppose the motion. There was no one proposition, he said, which would produce a feeling half so fatal in Ireland as that of the hon. baronet. The state of Ireland at the pre sent moment was so deplorable, that any attempt to agitate this question would produce a feeling of a most distressing nature throughout the whole country; and he had not heard in the arguments of either of the hon. members any thing to induce him to agree to the motion. The hon. baronet said, that there, were many articles in schedule 2, which were not ma nufactured in Ireland; and he asked for a committee to inquire into that subject, forgetting, that the discussion on that point will come on in. the committee on the bill itself. The hon. baronet seemed to suppose, that the whole of the commodity of wrought iron was produced from England alone. There were, however, manufactories for that article in Ireland, and, although they might not perhaps appear considerable to the hon. member for Staffordshire, they were of great importance to the Irish people. He protested against the hon. baronet's construction of the union act. He contended that it was not intended by that act that these duties should cease at the end of twenty years; but at that time it should be competent for parliament to re-consider the subject. It was to prevent their going into an inquiry from which no good could be de rived, and to prevent the mischief which such a step would produce in Ireland in its present distressed state, that he objected to the motion.

Lord Althorp

supported the motion. He thought it a sure proof that the chancellor of the exchequer had introduced this measure in a careless manner, when it ap- peared that there were some manufactures for which he proposed to give a protecting duty, which did not exist in Ireland. It was, therefore, clearly the duty of the House to institute an inquiry into the subject before they gave their assent to a measure attended with such important consequences.

Mr. Williams

thought it was right to continue the protecting duties, when it appeared that manufactories were founded on the faith of them as existing laws; but he did not think it just that Ireland should pay a duty of 10 per cent for necessary commodities.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

begged leave to bring to the recollection of the House the nature of the proceedings which had already taken place on this subject. In the session before last it had been stated in the House, that a petition was coming over from Ireland, praying for a continuance of these protecting duties. On this occasion, he had been asked what were the intentions of government respecting them? when he replied, that government was clearly of opinion that they must cease some time or other, but that they had not then fixed the period for their abolition. Upon farther consideration of the subject, he had plainly foreseen that they could not cease without adequate notice being given, without causing great injury, and he had therefore brought in, his bill with respect to them, which had beep alluded to. He declared that he could not consent now to go an inquiry, which could do no good, and. would only serve to create alarm. If the House had thought it necessary, they might have allowed these duties to continue in their present state for one or two years longer, and then take them again into consideration, with a view to appoint a time for their final extinction. But even that course could not be adopted without great disadvantage; for so long as the manufacturer saw no specific mode pointed, out for the extinction of these duties, he would be inclined to think that they would continue for ever. He could not agree in the opinion of the hon. baronet that the plan was not an intelligible one. It had been approved by three gentlemen of considerable experience in the affairs of Ireland, who had filled the office of chancellor of the exchequer for that country. The measure was intended to benefit the nation at large. With respect to the articles referred to by the hon. baronet, it was sufficient to know that at the time of the union it was thought necessary that they should be guarded by protecting duties. But even if he were disposed to enter into the extensive inquiry proposed, there was not time for it in the present session.

Mr. Curwen

was for going into the inquiry, not for the purpose of repealing the existing duties, but with a view to ascertain the period to which it would be necessary to continue them.

Sir N. Colthurst

hoped the chancellor of the exchequer would not accede to the motion. He knew it would be productive of considerable alarm and discontent in that part of the country with which he was connected. At a period like the present, when the public distresses of Ireland were so great from recent failures, it was of the utmost importance to avoid all subject of discontent or alarm.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that by the act of Union, the question of continuing or discontinuing these duties, was left entirely open. Now that parliament had evinced a disposition to act upon more enlarged principles of commerce, perhaps, if he had to consider whether he would for the first time propose such duties, he should not be willing to advise the adoption of them. But here they had to deal with duties already in existence; and even so, he would have no objection to go into an inquiry upon them, if it could be got through in the present session. But that was impossible. The argument of the hon. baronet, besides, applied only to two or three articles, whereas, the alarm which would be excited applied to the whole: and there never was a moment when it was more necessary to guard that country from all unnecessary alarm than the present, when commercial credit was so deeply shaken. No course could more directly tend to excite alarm than the course now proposed. With other injurious consequences it would produce a great deal of commercial jealousy.

Mr. Hume

said, that there were at least thirty or forty articles on which the duties might be modified. The intercourse between Ireland and England, would only be of real benefit to the latter country, when that intercourse should be free. It was from this freedom of intercourse established between England and Scotland that the latter had benefitted so materially since the union. As to the failures of the banks in Ireland, they really had nothing to do with the present question, and were only taken advantage of for she purpose of opposing this motion. He should vote for the committee.

Mr. W. Parnell

supported the motion.

Mr. Shaw

thought the hon. baronet had mistaken the opinions of the manufacturers in Ireland, at least sin Dublin, if he supposed that they did not feel great anxiety that the protecting duties should be continued. At the same time, he admitted that there were some articles on which the duties ought to be discontinued; but he was of opinion that they should be discontinued only according to the scale of gradual reduction which had' been proposed by his right hon. friend.

General Hart

opposed the committee, on the ground of there not being time for the inquiry in the present session.

Sir H. Parnell

briefly replied. He said, that as a great difference of opinion existed, he should feel it to be his duty to take the sense of the House. He felt persuaded that the right hon. gentleman himself was disposed to make some alteration. He was convinced, that if a committee was appointed, they would, in eight or ten days, be enabled to make a' report, which might lead to a beneficial measure.

The House divided: Ayes, 30; Noes, 66.—Majority against the motion 36.

List of the Minority.
Aubrey, sir John Martin, John
Gurwen, J.C. Monck, J. B.
Calcraft, J. jun. Milton, viscount
Chetwynd, G. Nugent, lord
Davies, col. Parnell, Wm.
Ebrington, viscount Palmer, col.
Guise, sir W. Ricardo, David.
Griffith, J. W. Robinson, sir G.
Gurney, R. H. Smith, Wm.
Hart, G. V. Stewart, sir J.
Harbord, hon. E. Webb, E.
Hamilton, lord A. Wilmot, R. J.
Heathcote, J. G. Wood, alderman
Knox, hon. T. Parnell, sir H.
Littleton, E. Althorp, lord
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