HC Deb 13 March 1805 vol 4 cc6-17
Mr. Foster

moved the order of the day, for the house resolving itself into a committee of Ways and Means, He also moved, that several acts relating to the revenue in Ireland should be referred to the said committee; and that it should be an instruction to the committee to consider of the said acts. The house having resolved itself into the said committee, the right hon. gent. rose and spoke as follows:—Sir, having detained the committee last year at considerable length on the subject of the situation of Ireland, I shall not now have occasion to go so much into detail. I shall begin with a few observations as to the state of the trade of Ireland, and I am happy in saving, that although the trade has not so much advanced as I could have wished, yet it is in a far better situation than it was some time ago. A very short statement will elucidate this position. The imports were to the amount of 5,700,000l. last year. The imports for the 5 years preceding, were, on an average, 5,711,000l. so that in fact, the imports for the last year is rather less than the average of the former 5 years. The exports amounted to 4,980,0001. last year, which is much beyond what they have reached at any period during the last 10 years; therefore, the question stands thus: there has been no alarming decrease in the imports last year, and the exports exceed the amount of the preceding years. With regard to the exports, there is something extremely consolatory to be remarked. The linen trade has increased: during the three quarters of the last year ending in Oct. the exports were within 2 millions of yards of the exports of the whole of the preceding year; therefore we may conclude, that the exports of the whole of last year will have greatly exceeded the exports of former years. In the imports of last year, as compared with the preceding year, there is an excess of some of the materials of manufacture; that excess is on the raw materials only, such as cotton yarn and cotton wool. With regard to the linen trade, the whole of the excess during the 3 quarters of the last year, compared with the 3 quarters of the preceding year, is 3 millions of yards; the principal part of this increase arises from the exports to the colonies in the West Indies. Here allow me to remark, that if in laying on taxes we do not hinder trade and manufactures, we do well; and if in taking off taxes we promote trade, we do better. Last year the export tax on the linen trade was taken off, and, there was an excess of 3 millions of yards: so far with respect to trade. We stand not in the situation we did some years ago; we are not in a declining way, taken upon a comparison with former years. The balance of the imports over the exports for the last five years, amounts to 1,195,000l. a year, official value. Take the excess of last year, and it is only 655,000l. so that the excess of the import over the export trade is not one half of what it has been for the last five years.—With respect to the debt of Ireland, let us see how it has increased. I shall not enter into the cause or the means of preventing so large an increase. We can at least shew that we have stopped the progress of that increase. In Jan. 1804, the debt. of Ireland was 53 millions. The year before it was only 43 millions, so that there was an increase that year of 10 millions. The increase now will not be half that amount; so that we may say we are in a better situation than we were at the close of the last year.—Having stated the situation of the trade and the, debt of Ireland, I will proceed to lay before the committee the demands, and the Ways and Means for meeting them. The whole charge of the year 1805, for the debt of Ireland, including the sinking fund, is 2,611,623l. The proportion of 2–17ths of the sum raised by Ireland for the joint charge for the service of the year, is 5,,403,102l. British, or 5,853,360l. Irish, making together the sum of 8,464,98.3l. which is the sum Ireland is to provide to pay the interest of her debt, and her quota of contribution, Certainly it is a very large sum, and one cannot apply one's attention too much to the means of lessening it. In order to meet this demand, I shall take the revenues of Ireland at 4 millions. I shall explain my reason for taking them at that sum presently. A loan has been settled for 2,500,000l. which is 2,708,333l. Irish. A further loan is intended of 1 million. There was a residue, on the 5th Jan. of the loan of last year, to the amount of 738,789l. British, or 800,354l. Irish, which has not been transmitted to the Irish treasury, and I shall therefore bring it forward. This comes to 8,508,687l. to meet a charge of 8,464,983l. The next thing will be to raise the Ways and Means for the interest of 2,500,000l. "English, and 1,000,000l. Irish.

On 2½ millions, at 6l. 17s. 7d. per cent, the British Irish charge is 172,062 186,400
On 1,000,000l. suppose at same rate, 68,825
Making in the whole a charge, including the sinking fund, of £255,255

I have stated that I take the revenues of Ireland at 4 millions. I shall now explain the reason why. They produced last. year 2,800,000l. The principle I go on is to put the revenues at a full peace establishment, and to raise the additional war expences. I suppose that the revenues will produce 1,200,000l. more than last year. It is pleasant to know, that the taxes which-the house thought proper to impose last year, with the exception of the taxes on excise, have operated, in the gross, perfectly to my satisfaction. The whole revenues of the country, for the two quarters ending Midsummer 1804, amount to 1,334,000l.; for the two quarters ending 5th Jan. 1805, 1,886,000l. The excess of the two quarters ending 5th January is 5,52,000l. more than the excess of the preceding quarters. Without going into minutiœ, I state the revenue to have gained by an acquisition of 552,000l. I know that the duties on the distilleries are not collected as they ought to be. I am well warranted. in saving, that if a proper mode of collecting them had been resorted to, they would have amounted to considerably more than they have done. I am persuaded, that, with the addition of the duties on the distilleries, collected as they ought to be, the revenues of Ireland, in time of peace, will not produce less than 4½ millions; stating the interest of the debt at 2½ millions, there will be 2 millions over. Now 2 millions cannot be expended in a peace establishment, unless 15 millions are expended in England. In talking of the collection of the revenues, I believe many gentlemen who hear me can bear testimony, that there is not a city or county in Ireland where the duties on distilleries are perfectly collected; they are not collected in the counties of Galway; Tyrone, or the province of Connaught. As to the city Of Dublin, I do not wish to de- tail what I know concerning the collection of the revenue in it; but say thus much, that there is scarcely a distiller in Dublin who has not openly and honestly avowed to me that he has defrauded the revenue. It is owing. to the wretched system with regard to the lower officers of excise; their means are so small, and their habits of expence are so great, that without raising their salaries considerably, as the reward of diligence and merit, we shall never be able to prevent the distiller from acts of fraud and peculation. There are 17 or 18 distillers that not long ago, on being examined, refused to be examined on oath, and actually sent in a memorial, stating that it would be an act of perfidy in them to disclose facts that would be injurious to others, and that they could not, as honest men, make any discovery. This they fairly acknowledged to me, and I recollect, that in the books of one distiller in particular, there was a charge of 1200l. paid to revenue officers. Without the utmost exertions of the commissioners of excise, and at the same time bettering the condition of the revenue officers, you can never make any alteration. I hope the period will not be long when you will ameliorate the excise laws, and make them more fair and equitable with regard to those who pay the duties. It is a fact, that the sub-commissioners of excise are themselves the seizing officers; therefore, until that is remedied, it is impossible that the excise trial can be palatable. The nearer we can get to the civil mode of trial in proceedings relative to revenue the better. It is particularly important that the collection of the excise duties: should be under one board. I hope, on some future occasion, to call the attention of the house to this subject. The object is to find the Ways and Means for this sum of 255,225l. a year. First, I shall propose a tax on several articles, which, though of importance, yet, with the exception of one, are trifling as objects on which taxation will be felt. It is scarce worth while going through the whole detail. I propose, to increase the duties on the importation of timber, raisins, pepper, &c.—The hon. baronet (sir J. Newport) who represents the city of Waterford, seems alarmed at the idea of a tax on timber; but if he thinks that the revenue must necessarily be raised on something, there is nothing on which a tax can fall so lightly as on foreign timber. It will certainly not affect the poorer classes. There is hardly a cabin of a poor man in Ireland that is made of foreign timber. I do not know of any cabin that is not built of Irish timber. Perhaps in Waterford it may be otherwise, owing to its contiguity to the sea. The duties I propose are these: double the duties on all timber, except Deal, and half the duties on Deal. The reason why gentlemen should not be alarmed at this duty is, that it will not amount to a quarter of what is received in G. Britain. These duties altogether I estimate at 36,000l. The three or bur next taxes will not fall on the poor. One is a tax on Horses: not on agricultural Horses, but riding Horses, and Horses that draw carriages. The duty I propose will be much smaller than what is paid in England. It will be 3s. for a single horse. The next is a tax on Dogs. It will be of consequence to the poor people of Ireland, that instead of maintaining 5 or 6 dogs, only I should be allowed. The Horses I estimate at 400,000l. and Dogs at 8000l. The next tax I propose is on Curricles. Why should not curricles pay the same as four-wheeled carriages, as they answer the same purpose? I propose that a curricle with 2 wheels shall be considered the same as a carriage with 4 wheels. There are another kind of carriages which do not pay duty. They are used as substitutes for chaises. I mean Gigs. Gigs are untaxed. I propose to put a small duty upon them. There is another species of carriages, called Jaunting Cars, or the Irish Vis-a-Vis. They form a great part of the luxury of those who have few other luxuries; the tax, therefore, I shall propose upon them will be very light: I shall propose 5s. a piece. The whole of these duties, I expect, will produce 10,000l. a year. With respect to the next tax I propose, I am afraid some gentlemen will be angry with me; I copy the example of England. It is well known that Bachelor's pay very little towards the revenue: I propose an addition of 15s. on every bachelor's male servant. This will produce about 4000l. The next tax I have. to submit to the committee is on Paper, Hats, and Auctions. This I expect will produce 12,000l. I propose to raise 20,000l. by a tax on the Post-office. An additional duty of 1d. a letter. With regard -to the post-office, I should mention, that it is in contemplation to recommend a measure for the prevention of the frequent robberies of the mails, by sending them in coaches. The best mode of carrying this into effect will be to recommend to grand juries to direct the making proper roads through which the mail coaches arc to travel, and with that view to take care that surveyors are appointed to make the roads as complete as possible, and present those who neglect their duty. By this mode we shall take no money out of the public treasury, and no more than is absolutely necessary from individuals. There is another tax which I do not wish to resort to directly, but it is necessary I should mention it. I need not remind gentlemen, that in the year 1791 the hearth money duties were taken off the lower orders, and raised on the higher. Houses that had one hearth amounted to nearly 500,000. There was comparatively very few houses that had two hearths. The whole loss to the public, by taking off the tax, was 28,000l. What I wish to do is not to revive the tax, but to lay a tax on houses under Seven Windows. Where the persons inhabiting them pay 50s. a year, the tax I propose is 3s. But to guard the poor man from being called on, he must swear he is not worth 10l. or does not rent land to the amount of 5l. a year.—In order to be liable to the tax, he must pay 50s. a year for his house, or be worth 10l. or rent 5l. a year in land. I cannot think this will distress any one. Gentlemen will see that we are assimilating ourselves to England. Instead of taxing houses, according to the hearths, we exempt them till they are rated as seven Windows. This tax will bring back 21,000l. a year; but then we must deduct 6000l. for houses of five and six windows, to be exempted as in Britain; so that the sum I take credit for is 15,000l. These are, I think, the whole I have to propose, except one, which can only fall on those who are able to bear taxes. It is a tax of 25l. per cent. on all windows above seven. This I estimate at 31,000l. There is one more tax which I estimate at 17,000l. It is by an increase on Stamps and Licences. With regard to the Stamps, I mean to propose the rates of duties another day. The Licences will be those granted to Auctioneers, Brewers, and others. The tax will be not at all injurious to trade. One article only remains, and that is the Treasury Bills, which I make no provision for at present; but I shall reserve for a future day, when I think it necessary to trouble the committee. There is one other subject which I wish to mention, though I do not mean to propose it as a tax at present. It certainly must be a desirable object to both countries to facilitate the intercourse between them. If the packets between Dublin and Holyhead could be so arranged that they could sail at low water, it would be a great advantage. I think a small duty might be laid upon Cabin Passengers, which would produce about 3000l. a year; and upon that a sufficient sum might be borrowed to make the necessary alterations in the harbour. This, however, will be a subject for future consideration. The produce of the taxes which I have enumerated I estimate at 262,250l. and the sum wanted for the interest of the Loan and Sinking Fund was 255,000l. which leaves a surplus of about 7000l. I will not occupy more of the time of the committee at present, but shall be happy to give any explanation which gentlemen may require. The right hon. gent. then moved his first resolution.

Mr. James Fitzgerald

rose, and regretted that the public accounts for Ireland, which had been moved for, were not laid before the house on an earlier day than the 5th inst.; if they had, gentlemen would be much better able to go into the present most important, and at the same time intricate subject. Before he should call the attention of the house to the particulars of the statement made by his right hon. friend, he must protest against, and even censure the habit of anticipating the revenue in Ireland, long before it was received in the treasury. Much inconvenience arose from this practice, and he believed a great deal of injury likewise resulted from it to the country.—He could not refrain from lamenting that balances to an enormous amount should be constantly left in the hands of the collectors. It was in vain, therefore, that we looked for a productive revenue, whilst this anticipation and its consequent evils afflicted the country, and interfered with the application of the taxes in the most suitable ways. He did not think that it was necessary to raise any new taxes under the present circumstances of Ireland, or that any ground of necessity had been made out for them. From the review he had taken of the financial state of that country, however unfavourable it appeared, he thought he could satisfy the house that his proposition was well founded. His right hon. friend calculated the Revenue at 4,000,000l. the Loan at 3,500,000l. and gave credit for 800,354l. Now the whole of the sum to be raised amounting to no more than 8,464,983l. it struck him that any additional taxes were quite unnecessary; and he put it to the candour of the house whether they should be imposed. He said that the proposed taxes were unnecessary, because there remained due to the treasury of Ireland a great deal more than was sufficient for covering the deficiency, and the sums to which he alluded were the balances in the hands of the collectors, the revenues still due, and the arrears of the quit-rents, which amounted to 1,129,000l. The house would be astonished to hear, that the balances which remained last year in the hands of the collectors were no less than 500,000l. He did not reckon much, however, on the greater part of this, as he supposed a great deal of it could never be recovered, and the rest at a considerable expense. The next source which he should propose for the supply would be, the surplus of the consolidated fund taken at 264,619l. and the profit of the Irish Lottery rated at 100,000l. The postage of letters he should also reckon at 14,000l. The extraordinaries, or the expenses thus termed, if well regulated, would, he was convinced, add considerably to the means of the country; he meant, by not being at all times a considerable and weighty drawback on its resources. There was one branch under the head of extraordinaries, which, he trusted, would be restricted: he meant the gain to this country, and the consequent loss to Ireland, on transmitting money to the Irish Treasury. Here the hon. gent. noticed the nature of the late loan, and the disproportioned exchange at which it was sent to Ireland. The hon. gent. also took a close view of the relative situation of both countries, and the balance of their respective debts, with a contrast of what should be the proportion of each, according to the Articles of the Union: 30,000,000 due by Ireland on the 1st of March, 1802, were in proportion to 469,800,000. due by England, as one to 15. When the debt of England was 469,800,000l. the debt of Ireland should be 62,640,000l. in order to make it equal to it in the proportion of 7½ to one.—58,926,356l. debt of Ireland were in proportion to 484,962,632l. debt due by England, nearly as 1 to 8, and some fractions. To make the debt of Ireland equal to that of England, in the proportion of 7½ to 1, it should be 64,555,172l. The hon. gent. proceeded at great length, and concluded with expressing a most ardent wish that the affairs of Ireland were before the house. The real condition of that country would convince gentlemen that its ability to pay its proportion of the joint expences of the empire had been totally over-rated. What the motive for this could have been he knew not, unless it proceeded from vanity, or interested motives in those who were concerned in the arrangement which brought it about. Ireland was literally a bankrupt at the time of the Union, and had been getting worse ever since; it was obvious, therefore, that Ireland could not discharge her share of the unequal contract entered into for her, and of course that England should ultimately pay all. He contended, that by borrowing so much money this year, Ireland increased the proportion of its debt compared with that of England, and of course must extend the time for equalising the burthens, which was proposed by the Act of Union. He again insisted that there would be no occasion for flew taxes in that country, if the government should call in the arrears now in the hands of the collectors of the revenue, and said he was determined to give his negative to the resolution.

Mr. Foster

replied, that he had no objection to apply the balances in the collectors' hands to the purpose mentioned by his right hon. friend who had just sat down, but the difficulty was to get it paid. Situated as both countries were at this moment, would it be wise or politic to leave the supplies, or any part of them, dependent on mere contingencies? It was impossible to make up the accounts so precisely as not to leave some of the money in the commissioners' hands. It was the practice from time immemorial to do so; and he was convinced from his own experience, that the object of his hon. friend was unattainable, and this could not therefore be taken into serious consideration as a certain fund for the exigency of the moment. His hon. friend would also apply the surplus of the Consolidated Fund in the same manner; but did he not know that the whole of that surplus was to be appropriated by Parliament to the paying off certain arrears, for which it was intended? If it were taken away, there would be no fund then for this purpose. His hon. friend likewise took credit for 2 millions, as if the money had been in the treasury. This was certainly as great an anticipation of the revenue as any which his hon. friend had charged to the government of Ireland. He hoped he would excuse him for saying, that the Public Accounts of Ireland were laid this year before Parliament much earlier than they had been ever laid before the Parliament of Ireland, on which account he should return his thanks to the officers, for having made up their accounts with such accuracy and promptitude. He paid the greatest attention to the observations of the hon. gent. but he did not hear any ground advanced which could induce him to withdraw or alter the taxes which he had the honour of proposing.

Sir John Newport

said he could not conceive why no account had been given of the 2 millions due from G. Britain to Ireland, ever since the passing of the Act of Union. Had that resource been stated, and resorted to previously to the budget, it must surely have superseded the necessity of resorting to new taxes, to the amount of 255,000l. It was surely full time that those accounts should be settled, as the committee formerly appointed had only met two or three times, and came to no determination. He expressed very strong objections to the proposed tax upon the importation of timber, as, whatever may be the case in the county of Louth, or those parts of Ireland with which the right hon. gent.(Mr. Foster) was best acquainted, it would operate very injuriously to the comforts of all the cottagers in those parts of Ireland with which he was particularly connected, where native timber was so scarce that they were obliged to have recourse entirely to such as was imported.— Notwithstanding this necessity, he was sorry to observe that the tax upon timber was regularly augmented every year since the Union.

Mr. Corry

said that he was happy to find, from what had fallen from the right hon. gent. (Mr. Foster), that he had altered his opinion upon a point on which they had differed last year, viz. the amount of the balances in the hands of the collectors. The right hon. gent. had stated that the cash balances in the hands of the collectors was no less than 550,000l.; and to shew that he distinctly meant cash balances, he compared them with the amount of the balance in the hands of the collectors in England, which was oily 37,000l. Whereas, if he had. meant the balance in charge against the Irish collectors, he would have compared it with the arrears of duties in England, which amounts to between 5 and 6 millions. The right hon. gent. now admitted that the cash balance in the hands of the collectors, instead of 550,000l. was only 130,000l. With regard to the increase of the export of linen, it was circumstance that gave him great satisfaction; but he could not attribute that increase to the taking off the duty, because of 37 millions of yards exported from Ireland, 35 millions was imported into English which did not pay the duty; and the quantity of Irish linen exported to foreign countries from Gr. Britain was not above one-fourth of the quantity of British linen exported; he could therefore by no means conceive that the taking off the duty was the cause of the increase which the right hon. gent. had mentioned. With respect to the great increase of the debt of Ireland last year, he begged to observe, that out of the loan of last year he had paid off 1,700,000l. of exchequer bills, of which 700,000l. were outstanding when he came into office. This sum, when added to the balance remaining in the exchequer, made a sum of 2 millions, over and above the expenditure of the year. He said he by no means wished to make any observation that could be considered as inimical to the right hon. gent.; but he thought it right to say thus much, in order to set himself right with the house, and to justify the statement he had formerly made.

Mr. Foster

observed, that as to any political differences that existed between him. and the right hon. gent. they had never weighed in his mind, and he hoped they did not in that of the right hon. gent. As to the linen, the papers when produced would speak for themselves. The balances, in fact, that remained due to the treasury was last year 500,000l. as he had stated it.

Mr. Corry

said, that the right hon. gent. had then stated that 550,000l. in cash remained in the hands of the collectors. He admitted that some such sum was due to the treasury; but asserted that it had not been collected, and the balance of cash was only 130,000l.

Mr. Foster

replied, that he had never meant to say that the cash actually in their' hands was 500,000l.

Lord A. Hamilton

contended, that in law, the debt of Ireland was now become an English debt; that the state of its exports and imports could give us no sanguine hopes of the increase of its resources, and that if taxes were thus multiplied, there could be no ground for entertaining any sanguine hopes that Ireland, even in time of peace, would be able to satisfy all the claims upon its regular revenue.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

gave notice, that in order to satisfy the House and the public upon the subject, he should tomorrow move for a committee to inquire into the state of the accounts between G. Britain and Ireland.—The first resolution was then put and agreed to.

Mr. Foster ,

observing several members about to retire, said, he hoped the gentlemen interested in the Irish 6 per cent. duties upon the imports of the retail traders would not withdraw, as he was then about to move the resolution for continuing it.

Mr. D. B. Daly

said, he had that day received instructions from his constituents, to oppose the measure, but he should wait for the bringing in of the bill.—The several resolutions were then agreed to, and ordered to be reported to-morrow.—Adjourned.