HC Deb 09 July 1875 vol 225 cc1308-13

who had a Notice upon the Paper to move the following Resolution:— That, in the opinion of this House, it is unreasonable and unfair to deny to the Irish farmers the same privileges that are accorded to farmers in Great Britain, of germinating grain for the feeding of cattle, and that the Law in this respect requires alteration,"— said, that upon two occasions he had put Questions to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the subject; and having failed to receive anything like a satisfactory answer, he now ventured to bring the question more prominently before the House. It appeared that by a statute passed in the year 1870, it was enacted that the farmers of Great Britain might germinate grain for feeding purposes for cattle, and anyone who understood farming or knew the nutritious property of germinated grain, could well understand what an advantage it was to an agricultural community. Why Ireland was exempted from that Act he did not know, and he was curious to hear some reason why it was, or why it should continue so. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer might say—"Oh, you have plenty of green crops to fatten your stock;" but every farmer knew that to make beef what it ought to be in as short a time as possible, some auxiliary to green crops was required, and there was none better, or, perhaps, he might say, as good, as germinated grain; besides, green crops were not within the farmer's reach at all seasons, but grain was. True, he might import oil-cake, rape-cake, palm-nut meal, locust beans, and other foreign stuffs; but why force the Irish farmer to that expense and risk, when he could grow on his own land a far better material at a less cost? But the right hon. Gentleman might say—"Oh, you whisky-drinking people; the extension of this Act to Ireland would encourage illicit distillation, and illicit distillation might considerably affect my Budget." That appeared to be arguing against the use of a thing from its abuse—a process of reasoning which he trusted would not have much weight in that House. He did not believe there was ever such an answer—such a flimsy excuse; a reason so unworthy of such an ingenious mind—an answer showing so plainly the justice of the claim which he had brought forward. "Why, the English farmer consumed more alcohol than the Irish farmer, and the Scotch consumed more than either; yet they possessed that privilege, and Ireland was again helped to a dish of exceptional legislation. In that country spirit was made from beetroot. "Why not prohibit the growth of such a dangerous vegetable. He supposed his hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) would some day bring in a Bill to extirpate from the country this intoxicating vegetable. On the same principle live poultry ought to be prevented in England, in order to stop cock-fighting; and the growth of blackthorns ought to be prevented in Ireland, because they sometimes created headaches. Were they going to say that they continued such a law because they had not the power to prevent illicit distillation? If they had not the power, of what use were the Constabulary and Revenue officers, for whose maintenance we paid so much? Was it right that the Irish farmer should suffer for the inefficiency or incompetency of the Irish Executive? Therefore, away with the assertion that the revenue of the country would be affected by the extension of this Act to Ireland. That was one of the last restrictions which they allowed to continue upon the industry and enterprize of Irish farmers, and its existence carried the mind back to the time when, by the 20th of Elizabeth, they prohibited the importation of live cattle from Ireland, when it was penal to sell the hides for leather or the wool for clothing, when by an Act of William III. they destroyed our woollen manufacture. For centuries we had had to compete with not alone your enterprize, your marvellous energy, your industry and perseverance, but also with your repressive Acts of Parliament. How unfavourably did your system of dealing with the farmers of Ireland contrast with the fostering care bestowed upon agriculture by the Irish Parliament in 1774. In that year there existed the Dublin Society for the encouragement of agriculture, planting, and other articles in husbandry; and he would call their attention to a book printed over 100 years ago, which gave an interesting account of the sums expended for a better system of farming. £250 was given yearly to each county in Ireland as premiums for producing the best quality of wheat. Such sums as £240 were given yearly to farmers for the reclamation of bog in each of the provinces. Many of the premiums were granted by Acts of Parliament. For instance, the premium for the best mode of preserving corn upon stands. Were the farmers of Ireland to be told that you were not alone ungenerous, but also unjust. Ireland was a great stock-producing country, and, he regretted to say, it was becoming more so every day. Ireland was your provision store, and why, in the name of reason or of common sense, should the Irish farmer be prevented from using his own grain for his own cattle in the manner he thought best, and in the manner in which the farmers of England and Scotland had the privilege of using it? It might be said this was a matter of small importance—it was only an Irish question; but yet it was a question of rare merit; for it was a question into the discussion of which, unless by some wonderful ingenuity, neither religion nor politics could be imported. But it was not only an Irish, but also an English, question, because if we produced the beef, it was the English who ate it—a circumstance which, he thought, made it more an English than an Irish question; for certainly the English had the best of the bargain. Neither was it an agricultural question only—it was also one of commerce; for the principal trade between the two was in the export of Irish mutton, butter, and beef, all of which would be affected by the Resolution on the Paper. Almost the only manufacture left them was the manufacture of meat for the English markets, and even here the jealous spirit of former times manifested itself in the maintenance of a law giving privileges to Scotch and English farmers, of which it denied the Irish. In bringing forward the question, he did not seek either favour or affection for the Irish farmer. All he wanted upon that occasion was equal rights and equal laws. He was no political economist or deep-thinking philosopher; neither did he believe in theoretical dreams or fantastical legislation; but he maintained that any law that lessened or discouraged the production of human food was impolitic, and immoral, and a disgrace to the Statute Book. That law, he said, which we ask you to repeal was nothing less than a tax on human food. In bringing forward the subject, he had two objects—first, to increase the quantity, to lessen the price, and improve the quality of Irish meat supplied to the English public. His second object—and he trusted the House would not consider it less important—was to try and remove from the minds of the Irish people the impression that there was one law for England and another law for Ireland; or, in other words, that there was one law for the rich and another for the poor. He appealed to hon. Members opposite to aid him in his endeavour to remove from the Statute Book one of those odious distinctions, one of those unequal laws, which had too often impressed the susceptible minds of his countrymen with the idea that they sought to retard their progress and obstruct their enterprise. He did not intend to detain the House. The question was so simple, so just, so easily understood, that he felt convinced it was unnecessary to speak further on the subject; but he must remind them that when first the present Parliament met, when there were many strange faces present, and many familiar ones absent, they were told that if Irish Members brought forward their complaints, they would receive every fair consideration from that House. He therefore hoped that his request would be granted—a request which, connected with no party intrigue, possessing no sinister character, was conceived in a spirit of justice, and based on the principles of equality, freedom, and fair play.


said, the subject was brought forward on national as well as utilitarian grounds; because, but for the operation of this penal law, farmers in Ireland could find on their own lands the means of fattening their cattle, which at present they had not, and were unable to procure.


said, that those who had some knowledge of the state of matters in England were aware that the Act on the subject passed a few years ago had been taken little advantage of in this country, and he did not think that the mere fact that it had not been extended to Ireland was such a very great grievance. At any rate, he believed that that was the first time that any request had been made that the operation of the Act should be extended to Ireland; but if it could be shown that a decided benefit would be secured by its extension, the matter was well worth the consideration of the Government. However, in such consideration there were other points that must not be overlooked. The question of illicit distillation was not so simple as hon. Members might suppose. It was true that in Ireland illicit distillation was now almost at the minimum point, but those who were interested in the Revenue would be most anxious not to make any change in the law which might encourage the practice. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for whom he spoke, while most anxious that illicit distillation should not be increased, had the subject to which the hon. Member had called attention under his consideration, and had requested him to add that if the hon. Member for Waterford and some of his Friends would do him the favour to have an interview with him on some early occasion, he and the Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue would be most happy to confer with them, and see if they could not arrive at some satisfactory solution of the matter.


said, he was sure that the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman had been very satisfactory to the Irish Members generally. He would only remind the right hon. Gentleman that what might not be a great boon in England, might, from the difference of climate and of soil, inducing many farmers in Ireland to grow barley, be much regarded in Ireland.


would not add one sentence to what had already been said, and he was perfectly content with the promise made on behalf of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.