HC Deb 10 July 1903 vol 125 cc1214-8

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That a sum not exceeding £106,499, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1904, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Agriculture and other Industries and Technical Instruction for Ireland, and of the Services administered by that Department, including sundry Grants in Aid."


said he wished to ask the right hon. the Attorney-General whether he was in a position to give the Committee anything like a detailed account of the experiments in the growing of tobacco in Ireland undertaken by the Agricultural Department during the last three years. He asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman this Question because the Minister representing the new Agricultural Department was not in the House. Apart from his personality, he thought that it was very unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman was not there to answer directly for his Department when matters affecting it were brought before the House. They were in this position, therefore, that while they had recently established this most useful, and in many respects effective Department, there was no representative of it in the House. This matter of tobacco growing in Ireland was exciting a considerable amount of interest. It was not generally known that long ago tobacco planting was an exceedingly remunerative industry, giving employment to large numbers of people in different portions of the country. Like the woollen industry, the tobacco industry had been destroyed in Ireland, not because it was a failure in anyway, or unremunerative, but solely because it was thought desirable that nothing should be done to compete with the English Colonists in America, who ha I tobacco plantations there. Those who looked into the history of the question would rind that a petition was presented to Charles II. asking him in so many words to have an Act carried in this House to suppress the tobacco industry in Ireland, simply because it was competing, and likely to compete still more, with the English farmers who had emigrated to Virginia and Carolina, and engaged in tobacco planting. When they heard about the cultivation of new industries in the British Empire, he thought something should be done to revive what was once a very large industry in Ireland. Four years ago he had the opportunity of calling the attention of the right hon. Baronet, who was then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to this matter, and the right hon. Gentleman told him that if the experiments of the Department of Agriculture were successful he would do everything in his power to encourage an industry which would be of great advantage to Ireland, and of some advantage to the people of this country. He believed that these experiments in various parts of Ireland where the tobacco had been grown had been fairly satisfactory, but he had been in hopes that some member of the Government would give the Committee details of the progress made. This year the present Chancellor of the Exchequer met a deputation of Irish Members in the most friendly manner, and said that he took a deep interest in the project of tobacco growing in Ireland, and that if the experiments were successful he would give every assistance in his power to assist in the revival of the industry. If the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture, or somebody competent to represent him, had been in the House he believed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have been called upon to make good his word. All that he asked now was that the Attorney-General for Ireland would be good enough to direct attention to his remarks, and have some report made on the matter.

They heard a good deal of late, no doubt with truth, that there was a great desire amongst the English people to help in promoting the prosperity of Ireland without any injury to themselves. This was a subject which deeply affected the prosperity of Ireland, because if it could be shown that tobacco culture could be successfully engaged in, a very great industry would grow up in that country. Outside agriculture there was really no employment in the rural districts for young men and women, and here was an industry perfectly adapter to an agricultural population, in which large numbers of young men and women might be employed with great advantage to themselves and the country. The cultivation of tobacco in Ireland was distinctly provided for in the Act of Union; and any Member who looked up the Articles of the Act would find that in Article 6 regulations were laid down for the exportation of tobacco from Ire land to this country, and also as to the conditions under which tobacco might be grown in Ireland. A law was, however passed in 1831 prohibiting the growing of tobacco in Ireland That was really a breach of the Act of Union. He and his friends were sometimes denounces because they demanded the repeal of the Act of Union; but with reference to tobacco this House repealed that Act when it passed the Act of 1831. That only made the Irish case harder, because it showed that when it suited England England did not regard the Act of Union as sacred. It might appear a trivial matter; but it was a matter in which great and growing interest was taken in Ireland Some of the best tobacco manufacturers in the world, some of the most independent, and some who had made the best fight against trusts and monopolies of the trade, were in Ireland; and several of them expressed the greatest desire to do everything in their power to give this industry fair play. What he asked the Government to do was to repeal the Act which prohibited the growing of tobacco in Ireland. When they heard of nothing but preferential tariffs, when that question was convulsing the Cabinet itself, they simply asked that sufficient encouragement should be given to the people of Ireland to establish this industry once more, and he had no doubt that if they got a fair chance they would be able to show that tobacco-growing as an industry in Ireland would be able to hold its own. But unless they received encouragement from the Government it would be impossible for them to effect anything. He knew that the Chancellor of the Exchequer took some interest in the matter, and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would acquaint himself with the opinion of the Minister in charge of the Agricultural Department in Ireland. He had already been able to place the matter very slightly before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who gave him some encouragement. He did not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in a position to make any statement on the matter now; but if he did not, it was not because the right hon. Gentleman's interest was lost, but because he was not yet satisfied upon all matters on which he had asked for information. It was really a practical question which might mean a great deal to a large number of people in Ireland. A Report of a Committee of this House, under the chairmanship of Sir Henry Parnell, a relative of the great Irish Leader, would fortify every statement he had made on the subject. There was a real desire on the part of the Irish farmers to re-establish what was once a thriving industry in their country. He was obliged to the Committee for the attention they had given him, and he hoped that when hon. Gentlemen heard of Irish tobacco they would not turn away from it.


said he was not, of course, the Member for the tobacco trade in the House, because the trade was not qualified to elect a Member; but, as the only Member present who was connected with the trade, he wished to say that, as far as he knew, there could be no feeling whatever on the part of tobacco manufacturers against tobacco being grown in Ireland. All he could say was, that if tobacco could be grown in Ireland, and well grown, tobacco manufacturers would hail it with delight. Why not? It was a matter of supreme indifference to the manufacturers where the tobacco came from as long as it was of good quality. As far as the revenue was concerned, that was a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. No doubt his right hon. friend would be able to guard the revenue. But so far as tobacco manufacturers were concerned, there would be no pre judice whatever against tobacco grown in Ireland. Of course, those who knew anything about the business were aware that in tobacco growing very much depended on the soil and climate, and if the Irish agriculturists were able to produce an article that was acceptable to the public, he, for one, did not see why they should not be allowed to do so. He was a sympathiser and a friend of Ireland, indeed, he supposed that every hon. Member was a friend of Ireland, although they might have different ways of expressing their friendship.


said that, in accordance with the promise he made to the hon. Member for Clare, he had communicated with the Department of Agriculture in Dublin with the view of receiving from them a report as to the success or non-success of experiments in tobacco culture in Ireland. He had not yet received a reply; but, of course, they should all be glad to encourage in Ireland the growth of tobacco, if it were possible to do so; but it would be useless to attempt to bolster up an industry if the soil and climate were not adapted for it. That would not be a kindness to any country. But if he was satisfied from the report he received that experiments on a larger scale were, in the opinion of the Department, desirable, he should endeavour to make some arrangements by which such experiments might be carried out.

MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)

said he entirely agreed with the remarks of his hon. friend the Member for East Clare with respect to tobacco growing; but a great many other matters also required attention. A large portion of the Irish population depended upon agriculture, yet a comparatively small sum was devoted to the purposes of the Department for Agriculture.

And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow; Committee also report Progress; to sit again this evening.