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MR. GRATTAN'S SPEECH ON THE COMMERCIAL
SIR, I can excuse the right honourable member who moves you for leave to bring in the bill. He is an Englishman, and contends for the power of his own country, while I am contending for the liberty of mine : he might have spared himself the trouble of stating his own bill. I read it before, I read it in the twenty resolutions, I read it in the English bill, which is to all intents and purposes the same ; and which he might read without the trouble of resorting to his own.
His comment is of little moment; a lord lieutenant's secretary is an unsafe commentator on an Irish constitution ; the former merit of the right honourable gentleman, in pressing for the original Propositions and contending against the present, which he now supports, may have been very great, and I am willing to thank him for his past services; they may be a private consolation to himself. No more. I differ from him in his account of this transaction. He was pledged to his eleven propositions; his offer was the propositions ; our's the taxes; he took the latter, but forgets the former. I leave both, and come to his system. Here it becomes necessary to go back a little.— I begin with
your free trade obtained in 1779: By that you recovered your right to trade with every part of the world, whose ports were
open to you, subject to your own unstipulated duties, the British plantations only excepted; by that you obtained the benefit of your insular situation, the benefit of your western situation, and the benefit of your exemption from intolerable taxes. What these advantages might be, no man could say ; but any man who had seen the struggle you had made during a century of depression, could foresee, that a spirit of industry, operating upon a state of liberty in a young nation, must, in the course of time, produce signal advantages ; the sea is like the earth, to non-exertion a waste, to industry a mine ; this trade was accompanied with another, a plantation trade: in this, you retained your right to trade directly with the British plantations directly in each and every other article, subject to the rate of British duty ; by this, you obtained a right to select the article, so that the general trade should not hang on the special conformity ; and by this, you did not covenant to affect, exclude, or postpone the produce of foreign plantations. The reason was obvious; you demanded two things, a free trade and a plantation trade ; had the then minister insisted on a covenant to exclude the produce of foreign plantations, he bad given you a plantation trade instead of a free trade, (whereas your demand was both) and his grant had been inadequate, unsatisfactory, and inadmissible. These points of trade being settled, a third, in the opinion of some, remained ; namely, the intercourse with England or the channel trade.--A successful political campaign, an unsuccessful harvest, the poverty of not a few, together with the example of England, brought forward, in the year 1783, a number of famishing manufacturers with a demand of protecting duties; the extent of their demand was idle, the manner of conveying that demand tumultuary ; but not being wholly resisted, nor yet adequately assisted, they laid the foundation of another plan, which made its appearance in 1785, opposite, indeed, to their wishes, and fatal to
their expectation : this was the system of reciprocity; a system fair in its principle, and in process of time likely to be beneficial, but not likely to be of any great present advantage, other than by stopping the growth of demand, allaying a commercial fever, and producing settlement and incorporation with the people of England ; this system was founded on the only principle which could obtain between two independent nations, equality; and the equality consisted in similarity of duty; now, as the total abatement of duties on both sides had driven the Irishman out of his own market, as the raising our duties to the British standard had driven the Englishman out of the Irish market, a third method was resorted to, the abatement of British duty to the Irish standard : but then this equality of duty was inequality of trade; for as the Englishman, with that duty against him, had beaten you in the Irish market, with that duty in his favour he must keep you out of the English ; so that under this arrangement the English manufacturer continued protected, and the Irish manufacturer continued exposed ; and the abatement of duty was no more than disarming the argument of retaliation. Had the arrangement stopped here, it had been unjust indeed, but as Ireland was to covenant that she would not raise her duties on British manufactures, England on her part was to covenant, that she would not diminish her preference in favour of Irish linen ; and the adjustment amounted to a covenant, that neither country in their respective markets would affect the manufacture of the other by any operative alteration of duty; however, the adjustment did not stop at the home manufacture, it went to plantation produce; and here you stood on two grounds, law and justice ; law, because you only desired that the same words of the same act of navigation should have the same construction on one side the channel as they have on the other; how they have ever borne a different one, I cannot conceive,
otherwise than by supposing that in your ancient state of dependency you were not intitled to the common benefit of the mother tongue; the answer to this argument was unsatisfactory, that England had altered the law; but if England had so altered the law, it ceased to impose the same restrictions and confer the same advantages, and then a doubt might arise whether the act of navigation was the law of Ireland, so that you seemed entitled to the construction or free from the act; now it is of more consequence to England that you should be bound by the act of navigation, than to Ireland to have the benefit of the fair construction of it.But you stood on still better ground, justice; was it just that you should receive plantation goods from England, and that England should not receive them from you? here if you do not find the law equal, you may make it so; for as yet you are a free parliament.
I leave this part of the subject, equality of duty but no present equality of trade. I come to that part of the adjustment which is inequality of both; and first, that part which relates to the primum of your manufactures. When the original propositions were argued, gentlemen exclaimed,
England reserves her wool, and Ireland does not reserve her woollen yarn; it was answered, “ Ireland may if she pleases.” What will those gentlemen now say, when England reserves both ;-the primum of her manufactures, and of yours; and not only woollen yarn but linen yarn, hides, &c. ? To tell me that this exportation is beneficial to Ireland is to tell me nothing; the question is not about stopping the export, but giving up the regulation, in instances where England retains the power of regulation, and the act of prohibition. To tell me that this exportation is necessary for England, is to tell me nothing, but that you are material to England, and, therefore, should have obtained at least equal terms. I own, to assist the manufactures of Great Britain