HC Deb 10 March 1831 vol 3 cc329-36
Mr. Warburton

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to prohibit the Growth of Tobacco in Ireland. The Motion was made in pursuance of a recommendation of a Committee of that House, and therefore needed but little explanation, and no support, from him to induce the House to allow it to go as far as the second reading without opposition. Before the Easter recess last year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave notice of his intention to lay a tax on the growth of tobacco in Ireland, at the rate of 1s.. 8d. per pound, keeping the duty on foreign tobacco at 3s. That proposition having been objected to, the right hon. Gentleman, much to his credit, proposed to refer the matter to a Select Committee. That was done, and the Committee, after a patient investigation, reported, that it was expedient to extend to Ireland the prohibition to grow tobacco, which already existed in England. The House would probably agree with the report, when he stated, that tobacco could not be grown in Ireland without a protecting duty equivalent to 700 per cent. So monstrous a proposition exceeded any thing ever proposed by Buonaparte, in the height of his power, and if it were allowed here, we might next proceed to cultivate, under a high protecting duty, sugar and silk. The revenue collected on tobacco was nearly 3,000,000l. a year, and the quantity imported, which yielded the revenue, was 20,000,000lbs. To endanger that revenue by allowing the growth of tobacco in Ireland would be most impolitic. It would have caused endless vexation and endless fraud to have levied a duty on Irish grown tobacco. In France the expense and the establishments necessary to collect the tax, had been so enormous, that any one acquainted with the subject must see, that to employ such a system in Ireland would aggravate a thousand fold all the evils that country now suffered from the collection of the revenue. Instead, too, as was hoped, of providing employment for the poor, it would only lead to crime of every kind, through the encouragement it would give to an easy kind of smuggling. He did not think it necessary to say more, and would therefore move for leave to bring in the Bill.

Lord Althorp

said, that the cultivation of tobacco in Ireland was one which could not exist without extraordinary protection, and that it was in other respects unsuited to the country. He had intended to reduce the duty on imported tobacco so much as to render the growth of the article unprofitable in Great Britain or Ireland. But when he found himself unable to effect that reduction, he saw the necessity of prohibiting altogether the home cultivation of tobacco. However, under the circumstances of the present times, he thought the prohibition unadvisable, although the revenue might suffer consider- ably by permitting tobacco to be grown in Ireland. He should be much more willing to sacrifice the revenue than to add to the distress or increase the discontent of that country. He did not mean to oppose the Motion, but he certainly should oppose the second reading of the Bill. He wished it, however, to be distinctly understood that the present arrangement was temporary, and if any person chose to increase his cultivation of tobacco, he did it at his own risk.

Mr. Frankland Lewis

said, that the present was the time for passing the law. If it were delayed, the difficulties in its way would be increased, and in consequence of the additional capital that would be employed in the cultivation, it would be impossible to enact the prohibition. The revenue derived from the duty upon foreign tobacco was upwards of three millions sterling, levied in the most unobjectionable manner, whereas the prime cost of all the tobacco consumed in Great Britain and Ireland, was no more than 350,000l.; so that, if it were all grown at home, three millions of revenue would be sacrificed, and the country would gain only the profits of 350,000l. invested in an altered cultivation. He could not admit that the prohibition would create discontent in Ireland. The whole of the land employed there in the growth of tobacco was only 450 or 500 acres; and they must have very shallow views of the causes of distress and discontent in that country who supposed that either would be increased by changing the cultivation of that small quantity of land. He did not know on what principle if tobacco might be cultivated in Ireland the prohibition to cultivate it could be continued in England, and he was sure the English land-owners would claim their right to cultivate it if the prohibition were not extended to Ireland. One or two gentlemen now made 100l. an acre by the cultivation, and if the prohibition were not enacted, or the duty were not very much lowered, the result would be, that we should make to the landowners of Ireland a present of 3,000,000l. a year. The country would, in fact, give a bounty, to that amount on the growth of tobacco in Ireland. If the noble Lord should throw out the Bill on the second reading, he would move to reduce the duties on tobacco, for he had no wish to enrich a few Irish landlords.

Mr. Ruthven

had scarcely expected that a measure so ungenerous as the Bill introduced by the hon. Gentleman opposite, could have come from so liberal a quarter. If it were passed, it would create at least suspicion in Ireland that the interests of that country were but slightly attended to by the House. Neither did he, nor any Gentleman representing Ireland, wish anything to be done for the advantage of Ireland, inconsistently with the general interests of the empire. All, therefore, that he could desire was, that the cultivation of tobacco in Ireland should be tolerated for the present season, as the noble Lord had intimated to be his intention, on account of the distress now prevailing in that country. The imagination of the last speaker had conjured up evils and dangers which he was persuaded did not exist. He would follow the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in not opposing the Motion, but he certainly should object to the second reading of the Bill,

Mr. Lefroy

observed, that the cultivation of tobacco was carried on to a much greater extent in Wexford than the right hon. Member had stated it to be. In fact, it gave employment to a large population.

Mr. James Grattan

approved of the intentions of the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), who had acted as a man of feeling and of good sense with respect to the Bill. He thought, that when the House recollected the state of distress which was known to exist in Mayo, it would be very cautious how it adopted any measures that might increase that distress, and nourish bad feelings in Ireland. He had no objection to allow the Bill to be brought in, as a sort of notice to the tobacco cultivators in Ireland; at the same time, he must say, that he and all the Members for Ireland would be obliged to the hon. member for Bridport if he would withdraw his motion.

Mr. Hart Davis

heard with great surprise the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that, though he conceded that the principle of the proposed measure was a just one, yet he must give his opposition to the Bill proposed to be brought in by the hon. member for Bridport (Mr. Warburton). The proposal to prohibit the growth of tobacco in Ireland had been opposed on the ground that some compassion should be shown to the Irish people; but he contended, that compassion was also due to the lowest English trader. In the year 1811 the duty on tobacco was only 2s.. 2d. per lb., and in the year 1822 it was increased to 4s. per lb. There was a difference in the consumption of 7,000,000 lbs under the increased rate of duty, and no doubt the decrease was to be accounted for by the increased consumption of smuggled tobacco. If, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed in his Budget, a duty of only 1s. 6d. per lb. was laid on all tobacco, it would prevent the growth in Ireland, and he was satisfied that in a few years the eighteen-penny duty would produce more to the revenue than a 4s. duty. For his own part he would rather give £250,000 per annum of the public money to the people of Ireland than permit the growth of tobacco in that country.— He hoped, therefore, when the noble Lord reconsidered the measure, that he would be of opinion that the hon. member for Bridport's Bill ought to be carried into effect.

Mr. Jephson

concurred with those who thought there would be an increased difficulty every year in putting an end to the cultivation of' tobacco in Ireland. Tobacco was a great comfort, however, to the lower classes, and he thought the House was bound to do all in its power to reduce the present duty, which was odious and onerous, instead of endeavouring to prohibit the cultivation of the herb.

Mr. Callaghan

never would advocate any measure of injustice to Ireland; at the same time he would never ask a boon for Ireland, to the prejudice of England and Scotland. Those who embarked in the cultivation of tobacco in Ireland well knew that in a short time the Government must interfere. It was a great mistake to suppose the Bill of the hon. member for Bridport would give general dissatisfaction in Ireland. It was necessary for the protection of the traders in the article, who were tempted by the high duty to smuggle the home-grown article, and were then liable to be ruined by the Excise officer. At present, smuggling was carried on to a great extent, to the injury of the morals of the people. He was, in general, in favour of equalising duties in both countries, but he was disposed to think that the duty on tobacco ought to he lower in Ireland than in England.

Mr. Leader

said, the candour and feeling manifested by the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), with re- spect to Ireland, was creditable to him, and would be most grateful to the feelings of the people of that country. He had intended a large boon to Ireland, by reducing the tax on tobacco and glass, but his proposals, when he brought in his Budget, were rendered nugatory by the decisions of that House, and Ireland received no other advantage by the remission of taxation this year than her proportion of the amount of the coal-duty. It was important, therefore, that Ireland should be allowed to retain whatever advantage she enjoyed from the cultivation of tobacco—an advantage secured to her by the sixth Article of the Act of Union, which should be repealed preliminary to the passing of the hon. member for Bridport's Bill.

Mr. Curteis

was no enemy to Ireland, though he loved his own country.—He saw no reason, however, why the English agriculturist should not be allowed to grow tobacco as well as the Irish farmer. As an English farmer, however, he thought that if the cultivation was to be put an end to, the sooner the better. He entirely concurred in the views of the hon. member for Bridport.

Lord Oxmantown

agreed with the hon. member for Sussex that, if the only question was, whether the cultivation should be put an end to now, or next year, the longer the prohibition was delayed the more detrimental it must prove to the country.

Lord Valentia

thought, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer felt so secure in his revenue as to permit tobacco to be cultivated another year, the hon. member for Bridport need scarcely object. The great evil of Ireland was its redundant and unemployed population—an evil which the growth of tobacco went to remedy. There were not five or six, but 500 or 600 persons employed in growing tobacco in the county of Wexford; and in Enniscorthy, where the cultivation chiefly took place last summer, there was comparatively little distress. The proposal for prohibiting the growth of tobacco might be used for the most mischievous purposes, and produce the worst consequences at this period, when the Repeal of the Union was already in agitation. For these reasons he should give the Bill his decided opposition.

Lord Lowther

thought that tobacco might be grown in England and Scotland with advantage, as well as in Ireland. Almost every country in Europe now grew its own tobacco, and derived revenue from it. He was able to state also, from returns, that a very small proportion of the tobacco consumed in this country was imported from our own colonies. He hoped, therefore, that the noble Lord would not allow the Bill to pass.

Sir Robert Bateson

could not avoid entering his protest, as an Irish Member, against the Motion. Whilst there were thousands of persons wanting subsistence in Ireland, he was surprised that any person should propose a measure to put a stop to a description of cultivation which gave employment to so many. He agreed with the noble Lord that the cultivation of tobacco might be advantageously extended to England and Scotland; and he just asked the House what the people of Kent would think and say, if it were proposed to prohibit the growth of hops in that county, because they may be had cheaper or better from the West-Indies or America?—His opinion on this subject was disinterested, for the soil of the north of Ireland where his property lay, was not adapted to the growth of tobacco.

Mr. Brownlow

could have wished that the hon. member for Bridport had left this measure of Excise in the hands of his Majesty's Government. At the same time, he was forced to admit, that he considered the arguments contained in the report of the Committee, against the growth of tobacco in Ireland, quite conclusive.—The better way of putting an end to the cultivation, however, was, by affording free competition, and reducing the duty on tobacco imported from America. He was satisfied that the loss to the revenue would be very small. Indeed, there would be no loss at all, but a great gain to the revenue, for by reducing the duty, as the temptation to smuggling would cease, the consumption would increase.

Mr. Goulburn

was ready to admit, that the question of the growth of tobacco in Ireland was one of considerable difficulty. In 1828 he brought forward a bill to prohibit its growth; but owing to circumstances which were then stated, he withdrew the bill for that Session, with the understanding that either the growth should be prohibited next year, or a duty be paid on what was grown, so as to place it on an equality with the imported tobac- co. He afterwards gave his consideration to the point, whether tobacco might not be allowed to be grown in any part of the United Kingdom on payment of a duty. The subject was afterwards referred to a Committee, which recommended that it should be put an end to in the year 1831; and care was taken by the Government to give notice that it would be put an end to accordingly; and had it not been for the death of his late Majesty, a bill to that effect would have past last Session. The question was, whether they would give the power of growing it to the whole of the United Kingdom, or whether they would prohibit it in Ireland. If their decision was to prohibit it, the present was the best time for doing so, as due notice had been given to that effect.

Lord Althorp

explained: He agreed that they ought either to prohibit the growth altogether, or introduce a duty. But, in his opinion, the Government ought not to run the risk of creating discontent in Ireland by prohibiting the growth at present.

Lord Killeen

expressed a hope that the cultivation of tobacco would be permitted during the present year.

Mr. Warburton

replied. He did not see why he should give up his present Motion because the Chancellor of the Exchequer had pledged himself virtually to prohibit the growth of tobacco by a proposition in his next Budget. He would, therefore, persist in the Bill.

Leave given, Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Warburton and Mr. Hart Davis.