HC Deb 15 March 1805 vol 4 cc31-7
Mr. Foster

moved the order of the day for bringing up the report of the committee of ways and means of Ireland.

Mr. J. Fitzgerald

opposed the bringing up of the report. He contended, that the loan was made to a larger amount than was necessary, and that if it were even necessary, the interest of it might be defrayed without having recourse to any new taxes. The revenue of Ireland was only taken at 4 millions; though every body knew that it would be considerably more. In the last year, the right hon. gent. (Mr. Foster) imposed additional taxes of 1,150,000l. by way of regulation, and 76,000l. to defray the expences of a direct loan; and he now stated, that there was out of last year's revenue a surplus of 843,000l. but that it must remain locked up in the Irish treasury until the proportion of Ireland to the joint expences of the empire should be paid. Upon this practice of retaining the surplus of the consolidated fund since the union, it would follow, that there must be now a total surplus of about 4 millions applicable to the expences of the year. This was a mode of proceeding very disadvantageous to Ireland. He sacrificed much by opposing the union; but now that it was effected, he considered the two countries as one, and thought they should be treated equally. The sums returned of duties due, but not immediately payable, were to the amount of 636,346l. which either were or ought to be now in the treasury of Ireland. This, as well as the balances in the hands of the collectors, ought to be a productive fund, and if it was not, he must call upon those who promised Ireland so much benefit from the union to put an end to this system of patronage and influence. It was allowed on all hands, to be a very great grievance to that country, and yet, notwithstanding so many complaints, the government had not removed any one of these collectors, though in a man's private concerns he would not allow an agent to pay himself, and also retain an eight part of his himself, and also retain an eighth part of his receipts, unless, on the assurance that the balance was quite safe.—He had a right, therefore, to take if for granted, that this was a solvent and sufficient answer, for which reason he should bring it into the amount of the year. He would even venture to ask the right hon. gent. whether he had reason to think that a remission was given of any of these balances and if he wanted a clue, he would refer to the memorable failure in 1800. These balances were so enormous a grievance, that as long as he had a seat in that house, he should bring the subject annually under the consideration of Parliament. Were these sums available, they would have superseded the necessity of a loan in this country of 2½ millions for Ireland, and it would be easy to recede from the plan of borrowing an other million, and to issue government paper in the room of it. Even the four million revenue promised, must be more uncertain under this system, as it must come through the hands of the same bankrupt collectors, who were already so very much in arrear. To prove the hardships Ireland laboured under, he contended, that one of its greatest difficulties arose from the debt it contracted in the year 1800, for the purpose of purchasing the representations of boroughs necessary to be disfranchised for the put, poses of the union.—He did not see why this should fall exclusively on Ireland, or why England, which benefitted by the union, should not pay a part of the expences of it. On these and various other grounds, he maintained that his country expected from the right hon. gent. that he would resist new taxes in Ireland, while there was a considerable balance due to it from England, which had the means of payment.

Mr. Dawson

said, the hon. gent. who spoke last had anticipated much of what he had intended to state. He confessed, that some of the taxes proposed appeared to him unexceptionable, though there were many of the articles upon which he wished all taxes to be abolished in that country. Though he had no objection whatever to the duty proposed on raisins, pepper, and coffee, yet he had every objection to an encreased duty on timber. Instead of being, as stated, a protection to the growing plantations in Ireland, it would encourage the cutting down of what little timber there was, and leave the cottages of the miserable peasantry perfectly unroofed. The present plantations being only in their infancy, Would not be available in less than half a century, and to depend upon them for immediate purposes, would be as absurd as that of a man who, being advised to drink cyder, should set about planting an orchard. He also reprobated the tax upon horses, and he could not well discriminate between horses for pleasure and horses for use, as they were both so generally united; but what he de- precated most was, the precedent which might induce some future chancellor of the exchequer to extend the tax to horses used in agriculture. He touched upon all the articles in the catalogue of taxes, and dwelt principally on the Postage Duty, to which he would, however, make no objection, in consequence of the assurance given by the right hon. gent. that the posts would be protested, and he also hoped that the revenue of it would be collected with more regularity and economy, instead of costing the country, as it did now, an expence of ,1l. 16s. per cent. While these subjects were under consideration, he hoped some attention would be paid to the districts of houses in Ireland, and for the distillery of that pernicious spirit called whiskey, which, though under excise, did not produce a shilling to the exchequer, while posts of smugglers were stationed through all parts of the country. To prevent these smuggling abuses, he hoped measures would be taken for establishing maritime turnpike gates, between the ports of Dublin, Waterford, and Donaghadee, and a more direct communication opened between the coast of Carnarvon and Ireland.

Sir J. Newport

thought that the schedule, comprising such a multitude of merchandise, should have been submitted to the inspection of mercantile men, as it was impossible for any member of that house to be so good a judge of the local effect such taxes may have in different places, as the parties more immediately concerned. In referring to that schedule, he found the duties on spermaccti candles, copper, tar, &c. raised to seven times their former duties, while rattans, walking sticks, and other inferior articles, experienced a diminution. As to timber, he said the last duty had diminished the consumption so much, since the union, that the revenue on them was 11,000l. The present tax, he thought, would reduce the consumption so much, that the duty would not pay the expence of the collection, and would render the cottages uninhabitable. The want of domestic comforts at home frequently encouraged the inhabitants of the country to idleness and riotous conduct at home. In the south of Ireland, the want of timber was a most grievous hardship, as in the county of Tipperary there were farms to the extent of sometimes 2 miles, without a hedge or bush to be seen upon them. He complained greatly of the want of security to the mails in Ireland, which were sometimes robbed in the middle of the day by a single man only armed with a stick. The effect of this was that the letters from Waterford to Clonmell were obliged to be sent by special messengers, as none but boys are employed by the post-office. At the general post-office the letters were thrown by carelessly and promiscuously, and accessible to any one who should think proper to call for them. When the letters were sent out, it was usual for the postman to go home first to dinner, and then leave the letters behind him, while he went to a public house; so that if the expectant merchant went to the man's residence, he found the letters lying there totally unprotected; and the bills and notes were very generally either lost or embezzled. The costs of the accountants now were at their own discretion, liable to no check whatever, as there was no person to check them; and such he complained was the case in all the public boards and offices in Ireland.

Mr. Hawthorne

said, that the balances of the collectors, though stated at 1,200,000l. were actually no more than 1,30,000l. as the duties were not yet paid, which Were to produce the remainder. As to the general state of the country, he said, that so far from Ireland's being unfairly dealt with, the expences of the army, and works necessary for its defence, amounted to a much greater sum than the whole of its proportion to the joint expence of the empire; so that its taxes must have been much greater only for the union. To prove this, he referred to the accounts, which would shew, that the proportion of its debt accumulated more in the four years before the union, than in the four years since it had been carried into effect.

Mr. Foster said,

he deemed it unnecessary to go into a detail of all the branches of the taxes alluded to. The appropriation of the produce of the sinking fund in Ireland was to pay the expences of the loan, the ratio of its separate expences, and paying the usual sum towards the sinking fund. If then there were arrears of money, there were also arrears of charges, and it was necessary to leave balances in the hands of the collectors to prepare for any contingency, and not be unprepared for any thing that may happen in case of any attempt on the part of the enemy. In fact, if these funds were taken away, there would be a necessity for other supplies to defray the coming charges, and if any part remained undisposed of, it would come in aid of the sup- plies of the ensuing year. He owned, indeed, that the balances remaining with the collectors were very great, in spite of all the exertions he had made to prevent it; but such had been long the practice in Ireland, and old habits could not speedily be got rid of. In respect to the duty on timber, he was glad the objections were stated, as this tax was mostly confined to deal board and staves; and all timber used in the butter and provision trade were totally exempted. The new duty, which was no more than 4s. 6d. on 72 cubic feet of timber of the value of 6l. would be scarcely felt by any one, for when, in consequence of the war, the price of the same quantity of timber rose from 3l. to 6l. the buildings continued without any diminution. In regard to the horse tax, also, gentlemen would find the exemptions were extended to all horses which carried or brought home a load; to all those used by clergymen, physicians, &c.; to those on which farmers rode to places of worship, to markets, or to the quarter sessions. He admitted that the conveyance of the mails was very insecure, and would remain so, unless, for the convenience of the public, and the safety of letters, the Post-office was enabled to employ other messengers than boys, who loitered on the way, and were exposed to robberies. To shew what uncertain couriers these were, he mentioned an instance of a gentleman who met one of these post-boys playing on the road, and the bag of letters lying by him. When the gentleman asked him how he could be so careless and dilatory? the boy replied, "Oh, please your honour, that is not the mail, it is only an express. " In proportion to the frequency of robberies, he said, in the same proportion must be the number of prosecutions, which rendered the expence of the collection something more than 100l. per cent.—The first resolution was then read and agreed to. On reading the second resolution, for the 6 per cent. duties,

Mr. May

rose, and said, he had presented a petition against these duties, from the inhabitants of Belfast, and he begged the patience of the house till he stated a few observations in support of the petition of his constituents. They had not, he said, desired him to present it, from any wish to exempt themselves from the payments of taxes in general, but from a wish to have taxes imposed in such a manner, as to bear equally on all descriptions of persons. This tax was not so constituted, but bore entirely, and With peculiar hardship, on the retail importer, while the wholesale importer was altogether exempt from it. It therefore affected greatly the commercial industry of the country, and, as such, he hoped the right hon. gent. would agree to relinquish it.

Mr. J. Latouche

opposed the tax, as a tax upon the industry of retailers, who, if it was not for this duty, could, by united speculations, become themselves wealthy merchants in the course of time.

Mr. Ker

stated that the tax was not only unjust, but it was almost unproductive, and should on every account be abandoned.

Sir C. Price

considered this duty as a check to the progress of commerce, by discouraging the activity of men of small capitals, and particularly injurious to the commerce between this country and Ireland.

Sir G. Hill

contended that the tax would prove of singular detriment to Ireland. He felt the impolicy of a tax on the retail dealers, and believed that it would undermine the internal trade of the Irish.

Sir J. Newport

thought it only tended to produce and encourage manifold, manifest, and absolute frauds.

Mr. Fox

wished that, as the tax would bear particularly hard on the retail trader, it might be abandoned.

Mr. Foster

said that the tax had existed since the days of Cha. II. The operation of the tax was confined to tobacco, tea, and brandy. He was not for speculative opinions respecting taxes during a period of war. He would not think of giving up this tax, while he adhered to that on timber. He was grateful to the merchants of London for their advice to the merchants of Ireland; and hoped that the former would not decline taking that of the latter, on such questions as might tend to the general advantage of the two countries. The wholesale dealers had purchased the tax by sacrifices at the time it was first laid on; and the wholesale dealer had now a right to have his interests properly guarded.

Mr. Corry

was unfriendly to the tax. Three sessions ago, he had proposed the repeal of the tax. Yet, from good dispositions towards the right hon. gent. (Mr. Foster), s he had discouraged his own constituents from sending to him petitions against it, because he did not wish to cast obstacles in the way of the right hon. gent. in devising the taxes. He was not for taxing the patient retail dealer, tugging at the oar of industry and catching every fleeting breeze to make his little bark gain in safety the haven of his hopes. Had ever such a tax prevailed in England? There ought to be a similarity of situation and regulation with regard to the trade of every quarter of the empire. The union was founded on a principle of equality, and of similarity of situation; and of this the assimilation of the currency of the two countries furnished some proof.

Mr. Hawthorne

could not assent to the motion. The tax was a bad one in every view of its operation and tendency.

Mr. Princep

entered his solemn protest against a tax notoriously bearing on the industry of the individual, so as to lead to his ruin.—The question being called for, the house divided: for the 6 per cent. impost duty 107, against it 44, majority 63.—The other resolutions were then read, and agreed to.