HC Deb 20 June 1822 vol 7 cc1210-6

On the order of the day for going into a committee on the Irish Butter Trade,

Sir N. Colthurst

said, he was extremely sorry that this question had not been brought forward by some member of government. In his opinion, protection ought to be extended to every branch of agricultural produce; and, when it was allowed, it ought to be made adequate, and effectual to the intended object, otherwise it was mere delusion. In 1816, a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Robinson. proposed a duty of 25s. per cwt. on butter imported in foreign vessels, and of 20s. per cwt. on butter imported in British vessels. This operated for a time as a check on the importation of foreign butter; but subsequent measures had rendered that protection inefficient. The right hon. gentleman, when he introduced those duties, stated, that if they operated as matter of revenue, and did not afford protection, he would increase them. That they had not had the desired effect, was clear from this, circumstance, that the importation of Dutch butter last year doubled that of any former year; while the importation of butter from Ireland had decreased in the same proportion. The consequence was, that the price of Irish butter had fallen from 80s. or 90s. to 45s. or 50s. This decrease in the butter trade would occasion a considerable quantity of pasture land to be put into tillage; thus, a greater proportion of corn would be grown, and forced into a market already glutted: with that article. The consequence must be, a diminution of the means of the people of Ireland to purchase and consume the manufactures of England. It was said, that the importation of butter from Holland was of importance to the shipping interest of England. This, however, he denied; since not more than seven or eight vessels were employed in the trade. The motion he intended to propose in the committee was, "that an additional duty of 10s. per cwt. be imposed on foreign butter imported into this country." He had heard it argued that it was unfair to ask the citizens of London to cat salt butter for the benefit of Ireland. In answer to that, he would only say, that the measure he proposed would not exclude Dutch butter of the first quality. He concluded by moving, "that the Speaker do leave the chair."

Mr. Hudson Gurney

said, he was glad to find, from the speech of the hon. gentleman, that the government had at last begun to resist the exorbitant demands of the Irish. It seemed to have passed as a matter universally understood, that the people of England were to pay every thing, and the people of Ireland nothing. [Hear, head] It was notorious, that the rents extorted from the peasantry of Ireland, were higher than any that were paid in England; and, to keep up these rents, we were now called upon to tax the butter of the citizens of London. He remembered voting in a minority of five against a duty on the importation of rape seed, in the discussion on which a right hon. baronet below him (sir J. Newport) had gravely argued, that it was right so to tax the clothiers of Yorkshire, as it might have some tendency towards inducing somebody to drain some bog with a long name in Ireland: The other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer had exempted Ireland from the window tax [Hear, hear!]. Why, he asked, should an English tenant of what was hardly more than a cottage, pay a tax from which the owner of a palace in Ireland was to be freed? He would most gladly concur in any remission of the burthens which pressed on the means, or abridged the few enjoyment, of the Irish peasantry; but never, whilst he had the honour of a seat in that House, would he agree to impose a tax upon the people of England, for the purpose of keeping up the exorbitant rents of the Irish landlords [Hear, hear!].

Mr. Robinson

said, that though he meant to oppose the proposition, to was on grounds very different from those just stated by the hon. gentleman. He did not object to this proposition, because he felt any unwillingness to give protection to the manufactures and agriculture of Ireland, but because he thought the circumstances of the case did not authorize protection farther than it had been carried. When, in 1816, he proposed the present duty, he certainly did say, that it was not intended for revenue, but for protection; and if it had not had the effect of a protecting duty, the same grounds on which he then brought it forward would naturally induce him to propose an addition, to accomplish the object he had in view. But that object had been attained as far as it was possible; because, however lower the price of butter might now be than it was some years ago, that article was not the only one that had diminished in value. Every species of agricultural produce had experienced a similar fall of price. And it should be observed, that the foreign butter, to which the duty applied, had also decreased in value; so much so, indeed, that, looking to the existing duty, with a reference to the reduced price of the article, it would be found equal to an impost of 50 per cent.; and if the hon. baronet's proposition were carried, the duty would be then equal to about 75 per cent. If the butter trade of Ireland could not support itself with such a protection as this, he knew not how it could be supported. With respect to the importation of butter from Ireland, so far from being less than heretofore, it was for the last two years, greater than it had been at any period. The importation of foreign butter had increased also; but if they found, notwithstanding this, that the Irish butter had a good market, it only proved that the consumption of the article was greatly extended. Butter was one of the few things in which Holland could pay this country for those articles which we disposed of to her; and if, on every occasion like this, we were to put restrictions on trade, we might as well declare at once that on principle we would have no commercial intercourse with foreign states. If this country sent goods abroad, it was proper that other countries should be allowed to transmit their products in return.

Sir J. Newport

complained of the observations which had fallen from the hon. member for Newton. What had that hon. member stated? That the House was constantly in the habit of granting relaxations to Ireland, more than to any other part of the empire. He denied this assertion, and would contend, that the relaxation of taxes to Great Britain was much more extensive in proportion than that which had been made to Ireland. This was proved by the report of the committee of 1815, which stated, that, since the Union, the taxation of Ireland had increased in a larger proportion, including the war taxes, than that of Great Britain. The hon. member had said, that he would concede any thing to make the peasantry of Ireland comfortable, but he would withhold every boon from the gentry. Now, he believed that the most effectual way of rendering the peasantry happy and comfortable was, to enable the gentry to spend their time amongst them [Hear, hear!]. He did not wish to use harsh terms, but he must say, that those observations had been most inconsiderately applied by the hon. gentleman. With respect to the question itself, they were told, that the consumption of butter had increased. But if four-fifths of that consumption was in favour of Holland instead of Ireland, then the present duty was not a protection, in the sense originally understood. Ireland, it should be observed, had but one manufacture to send to England—her other exports were native to her soil. With that one article she had to pay to England for her manufactures, and to pay rents to that large body of absentees who spent their wealth in this country. In consequence of the system that had been pursued, the exports of woollen from this country to Ireland, which, in 1813, amounted to 2,000,000l., was now diminished below one. This arose from improvident taxation and inefficient protection. England had absorbed the capital of the country in a very considerable degree, and left the people of Ireland without the means of consumption.

Mr. Ricardo

said, the Irish gentlemen complained of want of protection, but what their rule of protection was he could not imagine. In this instance they had a protecting duty of 25s. per cwt.; but he supposed they would not be satisfied unless they had a complete monopoly of the trade. In his opinion, the proposition ought to have been the other way. Parliament ought to be called on to get rid of this protecting duty by decrees, by which means the trade would be rendered really beneficial to the country. That House was assailed on all sides for protecting duties. One day they were assailed by the butter trade, then by the dealers in tallow, then the West India planters complained, and the shipping interest also demanded legislative interference. But what did Adam Smith, that great and celebrated writer, say on this subject? His words were—"Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production, and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to only so fart as is necessary for promoting that of the; consumer. This maxim is so self-evident, that it would be absurd to prove it. But, in the mercantile system, the interest of the consumer is sacrificed to that of the producer, as if production and not consumption were the end of all industry and commerce." No man could doubt the truth of this proposition. With respect to the application now made to the House, it was founded on a petition from the city of Dublin, whigh falsely stated, that the trade in butter had fallen off considerably. So far from that being the fact, it was, with the exception of one or two years, one of the greatest years of exportation that had ever occurred.

Mr. S. Rice

said, that, borne down as Ireland was with excessive taxation, he did not think the principles of political economy, however true in the abstract, could be applied to her. It was true, that a great deal of butter had been imported from Ireland into this country, but it was lying in the merchants' warehouses unsaleable. If protection was not afforded to the butter trade, Ireland would become one great arable farm, and, by producing a greater quantity of corn, would tend to distress still more the agricultural interest of this country.

Mr. T. Wilson

concurred in thinking that the principle advanced by Mr. Ricardo, was not applicable to the present state of this country, and remarked that the butter shipped from Holland was of a better quality than that which came from Ireland.

Mr. Western

reminded the House, that when Adam Smith wrote, England could produce corn and butter as cheaply as any foreign country. The excess of taxation prevented us now from maintaining the same competition, and hence it was that protection became necessary. It was extraordinary that gentlemen should prefer a trade with foreign countries to a trade with Ireland, when it was clear that the latter course would increase the consumption of our manufactures, and thereby promote the prosperity of the country.

Mr. Huskisson

assured the House that he did not prefer the interest of foreign countries to his own, and that if he thought this additional protection would be of real and permanent benefit to Ireland, and of less injury to the country generally, he would give it his support. The hon. gentleman had compared the means of Ireland with those of Holland in the production of this article. Now, the fact was, that Holland was the most taxed country in Europe, not even excepting England. He objected to the present measure, because it would operate no relief to Ireland, and the effect of it would be, not to increase consumption, but, by raising the price of a bad article, to drive it altogether out of consumption. In the present state of Europe, it was peculiarly incumbent upon this country not to set foreigners the example of imposing additional restrictions on trade, but to convince them that it was our fixed determination to pursue that liberal system of commercial intercourse, which had been so auspiciously commenced.

Mr. Hutchinson

said, that the principle of protection was that under which the commerce of this country had flourished. He did not, however, dissent from the general principles of the hon. member for Portarlington, but he could not help regretting that they should be applied at a moment when they could not but be detrimental to a suffering and impoverished Country.

Mr. Monck

expressed his conviction that the only mode of affording effectual relief to the agricultural interest was, not by raising the price of commodities, but by reducing taxation. The protection on the article of butter already amounted to nearly 60 per cent, and he never would consent to go on taxing the consumer for the sole benefit of the producer.

The motion was negatived.