HC Deb 20 May 1811 vol 20 cc223-33
Mr. Foster

said, he should not occupy the time of the Committee to any great length, but would proceed directly to the subject of the Ways and Means for Ireland. The interest of the debt was 4,279,000l. and the estimated vote of the present year, 6,569,000l. Ireland had been deficient in the last year, 1,866,000l. making, in Irish money, 2,011,000l. The surplus of the Consolidated Fund for the last year was 740,000l. the revenue of the year was 4,500,000l. a loan had been negociated at 2,500,000l. An act had been passed for raising 1,000,000l. by Treasury Bills, and 4,500,000l. was raised in Great Britain, making in the whole 13,615,713l. which left 200,000l. beyond the Supply. He then proceeded to state the Ways and Means for meeting the interest of these sums. It was not his intention, as his right hon. friend had already stated, to raise taxes in Ireland, under the present circumstances of that country, to the whole amount. The measure by which he was relieved from that necessity was a proof not only of great liberality, but of great wisdom; and as Ireland was a country of ample resources they might look forward to a future period, when she would be able to discharge the obligation. The taxes he should propose were not many; he had laid down one principle, which, as often as it could with convenience be resorted to, he was desirous to adopt, and that was the equalization of the taxes of Ireland with those of England, in the correspondent articles. There was one article which had always been a subject of taxation in Ireland, ever since a tax was known there, he meant tobacco; the tax at present was Jess in that country than in Great Britain; and he should propose to make it equal. The produce of this he estimated at 221,000l. The next tax was on hemp, which he intended to increase also up to the British standard. This would give a sum of 8,000l. and both together would make 229,000l. Of this sum 150,000l. would meet the charge upon the 2 500,000l. loan, at six per cent. and 50,000l. the in- terest upon the 1,000,000l. Treasury Bill at five per cent. leaving a surplus of. 29,000l.—There were two other taxes he should propose, without relying on them much, as he did not conceive they were likely to produce any important addition of revenue. The first was to place the duty on Timber imported from the United States of America on the same footing with that imported from other foreign countries. The United States were now on the same footing with our own colonies. There was one article, however, which came under the head of timber, on which he thought it advisable to reduce the tax, the article of staves; being so necessary to our export trade, and being capable of being supplied from our own colonies, he should in a great measure relieve them from the duty which, in the other case, he proposed to equalize with that of England. The next was a duty on cotton wool imported in foreign ships, which he would also desire to raise to the standard of England. At present the duty in England on cotton wool imported in foreign ships, was 1l. 5s. 11d. in the hundred weight, and the British ships, 10s. 6d. In Ireland it was much less, and the consequence of this difference was, that the timber brought to any of the ports of Ireland in foreign ships was put into British ships and sent to England, and the law by that means evaded. These were all the duties he should propose, and he would follow the example of his right hon. friend in removing the duty upon hats in Ireland.—He should be sorry to sit down, after the various reports that had gone abroad respecting the situation of the sister kingdom, if he did not endeavour to correct some misrepresentations as to the state of its prosperity. For this purpose he had procured an account of the imports and exports, which would put the subject in a clearer light. From these it appeared, that before the year 1802 the exports had never been known to rise above 7,000,000l. in 1808 they advanced to 10,000,000l. but in 1809 they failed; again in 1810 they rose to 10,711,000l. and upon an, average of the last three years, they were upwards of 10,000,000l. annually. The foreign goods exported previous to 1802 had never exceeded 370,000l. but since that period the amount was progressively increasing, until, in 1810, it advanced to 840,000l. and, in 1811, to 920,000l. Upon she whole, the balance of trade was in our favour from the year 1802, and in the last year amounted to 2,189,000l The exchange had been steady for the last four or five years. If he were to go more at large into the situation of Ireland, he should state the increase of her tillage, which was so far improved that she had never exported so much corn as in the last two years. The linen trade was declining every where, but less there than any where else. The provision trade had rather fallen off, but there were quantities which went abroad and were distributed among the fleet, which never appeared in the books; so that they should not be too hasty to condemn it as unsuccessful, from the accounts that appeared. Live cattle had been exported in great quantities, insomuch that it had risen from 5,000l. to 39,00l. or something near it. After the liberal reception which the proposal of his right hon. friend had met from the Committee, he should merely content himself with expressing his consciousness of the liberality of their conduct; and at the same time of declaring his conviction that it would be received and remembered with gratitude by every Irishman. The whole conduct of the United Parliament towards Ireland with respect to pecuniary matters, had been marked with the greatest liberality. Sums had been readily voted for building churches, for promoting the residence of the clergy, for public institutions, for seminaries of education in Ireland. With regard to trade, warehouses had been extended, light-houses had been constructed; in short, he did not know a single object that served to contribute to the prosperity, the morality, and information of the people of Ireland, which the United Parliament had not most cheerfully and liberally supported. He had no doubt this wise and generous policy would be most amply rewarded in the end. He concluded by moving, that 2½ millions be raised by loan for the service of Ireland.

Sir John Newport

said, it had often fallen to his lot from time to time, to call the attention of the House to the growth of the Irish debt, and the inaccurate manner of arranging the rate of contribution at the time of the Union. He was willing to make every acknowledgment to the liberality of the United Parliament for its present inclination to assist Ireland to pay off a debt which it was impossible that she could pay herself. He admitted too, that Ireland had improved since the Union, but did not think it followed that she would not have improved with greater rapidity if the Union had never taken place; she had not carried in her improvement a capacity for taxation. In order to accomplish that, it would be necessary to circulate wealth among the middling orders of society, and inspire them with a relish for those comforts to which they were not at present sufficiently inclined; the present generation in all probability would not live to see that change, but until such, change were wrought, he should disapprove of extending the taxation to Ireland. There was a portion of the Property Tax which, most unjustly, as he thought, was diverted from the Irish Exchequer to England, This ought to belong to Ireland alone, and if it had been allotted to her, and appropriated to the discharge of her necessities, she would not now be obliged to call for relief. The revenues of Ireland had made no progress adequate to the debt, and it was a fact, of which the right hon. gentleman could not be ignorant, that as soon as any tax was attempted to be increased upon tobacco, wines, or tars, the consumption of those articles fell off, and the produce, instead of advancing, fell back. As to the statement that much of the provisions intended for the consumption of the navy did not appear in the account, it was certainly true; but it was equally true at the present moment, it never appeared in the books.—As to the grants for Education, he knew of no such thing. A Commission had certainly been appointed at his (sir J. Newport) investigation to inquire into the state of the different schools, but no grant had been make in furtherance of any plan, and he hoped that no religious distinctions would be made in the final proceedings to which that Commission might lead; he would state positively that none was intended by those who first suggested its appointment. As to the fact of the merchants being relieved from fees, it was undoubtedly true; but if he was rightly informed, they would rather pay their former fees than experience the inconvenience to which they were exposed in consequence of the present regulation. The building of the lighthouses was an expence defrayed by Ireland herself; and, therefore, would scarcely be selected as an instance of the liberality of Great Britain. No instance had occurred for the last three years, in which her separate charge amounted to within 1,000,000l: of the joint charge; this was one of the effects of the rate and quota of contribution adjusted at the Union, which so long. as it was acted upon would render the payment of the debt impossible, notwithstanding the promise given at the time, that the consequence of the Union would be to diminish the expenditure by 1,000,000l. in time of war, and by 500,000l. in time of peace. The right hon. gentleman had taken the revenue last year at 4,500,000l. but it had produced only 3,700,000l. and yet he persisted this year in taking it at the same rate. Why should he go on with this fallacy? would it not be better for parliament to know, and to meet the evil day? With regard to the taxes proposed, if he (sir John Newport) were to select any one article upon which he would be most unwilling to increase the duty of, that article would be tobacco. All former attempts to increase the revenue from it, had been unfortunate; and he was not sure but that lessening the duty would have been a better way to improve the produce. If Ireland had gone sufficiently into the culture of hemp to supply the consumption, he would readily have agreed to the tax proposed; but as that was not the case, the Committee would do well to pause before they adopted it. Of the taxes on the cotton wool, and American timber, he should only say what applied equally to the British taxes, that he depreciated every thing which looked like commencing a war of duties with America. We had considerable connections with her, which he hoped would long continue. With respect to the slaves, he understood that the duty on those from British America was to be taken off, but not on those from the United States; and here again the right hon gent, should be sure that he would get a sufficient supply from British America.

Lord Castlereagh

said, as reference had been made to a speech of his at the time of the Union, he would trouble the Committee with a few words. The right hon. baronet had represented him as having said that the Union would make a saving of 1,000,000l. in time of war, and 500,000l. in time of peace; but he should have gone on and stated all he should have stated, that that was not a prophecy, but a mere fact, as it appeared upon the accounts before the House for the three preceding years. He denied that the criterion adopted then was an unjust one, or proved to have been so by any thing that had since happened; on the contrary the impression was, that it was most liberal, and the right hon. baronet had said nothing that could invalidate the general proposition. It never was pretended that Ireland could exist in union with England at the rate of her own internal expences; but what would her situation have been if in addition to her own expenditure, she had to defray the imperial charge which the opponents of that measure were willing to subscribe to? He was sure the best course that could be pursued, was to make Ireland a rich country, and to treat her with liberality; and from the present assistance and disposition of parliament towards her, he augured favourably of any future arrangement.

Mr. Fitzgerald

was surprised to hear the right hon. baronet talk of the oppression of taxes, at a time when the proposal from England was, to take part of the debt upon herself. He maintained that the imports and exports had increased, and denied that Ireland was treated with indifference by the government. He defended his right hon. friend, for adverting to the advantages derived by Ireland from the government, and more particularly that of an enlarged system of public education.

Mr. Grattan

observed, that he had never said the Union would destroy, but that it must check the prosperity of Ireland. Its increase in live stock and raw produce was no more than the necessary result of its natural fertility, which scarcely no government, however bad, could entirely stop, much less the present, which only stood in need of improvement. In support of his opinion, that the financial statements made that night and on recent occasions, were much too sanguine, he observed, that in 1792 Ireland exported more linen than she did at present, and that the rate of her increase was much greater during the ten years from 1782 to 1792, than in the eighteen years since.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

did not consider Ireland to be in a state of bankruptcy, notwithstanding the opinion which some gentlemen entertained on the subject. There were circumstances which had arisen last year that led to the embarrassment of the finances of that country, and which would render it imprudent to burthen her with any great weight of additional taxation. The resources, however, were abundant, and would ultimately meet the exigencies of the year. Gentlemen had taken a wrong view of the revenue, occasioned, perhaps, by the apparent diminution in her exports; but that, it would be seen upon reference, was to be placed to the account of the increasing consumption for the raw material in the army and navy. The deficit in the custom duties was small, compared with the increase in the export of live articles. The means of estimating the real wealth of the Country were generally from the productions of the soil, either in the raw materials or in the agriculture, and then it would be seen that every where exhibited the growing prosperity of Ireland.

Mr. Hutchinson

was glad to hear the right hon. gent, speak so justly of the capability of Ireland, because it argued a better knowledge of that country than he (Mr. Hutchinson) had been in the habit of imputing to him. Ignorance of Ireland had been the cause of the greater part of her misfortunes, and he wished he could convince that right hon. gent, that the more he knew of the great natural means and resources of that much-gifted country, the better qualified he would be to guide to a prosperous issue the destinies of the empire at large. He had listened with great attention to the statement of the Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he confessed he had heard from him for the first time a new principle of political economy. He had not known before that the exportation of cattle was a very conclusive criterion of national prosperity. His prejudices till now had taught him that a large cattle stock arose from a redundant pasture, and that where there was a far greater portion of pasture it was because the people of that country had not yet acquired either the skill or the means of knowing what to do with the soil. The financial state of Ireland was, and had been for a long period, so critical, that he thought the present subject ought to have been laid before them deliberately, and discussed with a patient investigation. Not that he had any intention of trespassing on the Committee, but he felt satisfied that nothing could tend more to the general interests than a general information upon the affairs of Ireland, and therefore it was he regretted that the two Chancellors of the Exchequer did not agree to postpone either budget to another evening. This would have appeared to him desirable, if it had no other effect than that of avoiding the appearance to Ireland of crouding the question of her interests with an unseemly hurry, upon a discussion that might have already exhausted the attention of the House. With respect to the speech of the Irish Chancellor, he thought if that right hon. gent, had confined himself merely to his financial statement, and followed the example set by the Chancellor for England, he (Mr. Hutchinson) should not have felt him. self called upon to trouble the Committee with any observation at that time; but when the right hon. gentleman turned aside, and proceeded so far out of his way to vaunt of the growing prosperity of Ireland, and even to panegyrize himself, his colleagues in office, and the English part of the House of Commons, for their uniform attention and devotion to the interests and welfare of Ireland, then did he feel himself called upon, in the name of his countrymen, to protest against any such claim, and utterly to deny it, as being not only unfounded in fact, but in direct contradiction of it. This he stated of his own knowledge. As to the general plan of taxation, he had one vital objection to it, namely, that those were in general its objects of taxation who were least able to bear it. The right hon. gent, appeared to him to seek, in general, for taxes where little could be got, and not even that little without much and severe oppression. If the Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer came in a manly way to the discharge of his public duty, be could find more fit and more productive objects for taxation than those which he had as yet selected. Of the tax upon tobacco he disapproved, because he thought it would be at once harsh and unequable in its operation and scanty in its produce. To the tax on timber he had two objections; the first, which was perhaps, the lighter one, was, that it would have the fleet of impeding tide peasantry in the general improvement of their habitations. It was certainly a most desirable object to diffase amongst, the labouring classes of the peasantry that relish for the substantial comforts of neat and well-ordered dwelling-houses, which could not be long maintained without teaching the virtues of a sober, systematic industry, and giving the peasant a consciousness in that property which must be to him, of all others, the most cheering and consolatory—that of the poor man's home. This tax, however, by raising the price of American timber, must raise the price of all other kinds of timber, and of course very considerably obstruct, if not totally defeat, the progress of so desirable an improvement in the condition of the Irish peasant.—But hit second objection was yet more serious. At a period in which our relations with America were so critically circumstanced, he thought that the imposition of such a tax as this must be looked upon by that government with considerable jealousy, they might consider it as almost amounting to a declaration of war. This, therefore, he thought to be the moment at which, above all others, the imposition of such a tax was most objectionable. With respect to the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer for England, he was willing to acknowledge his attention to Ireland in that one instance, and was not indisposed to augur well from it. He hailed it as the beginning of his ministerial attempts for her prosperity, and hoped it would soon cease to be the solitary instance of his good will towards Ireland. Thus much he said freely, but more he could not say. He could not go beyond that night. He repeated his declaration, which he had made of his own knowledge, that down to that night, nothing had been done to justify the claim which had been put in upon the gratitude of Ireland. For what was she to be grateful? Not surely because they had so repeatedly refused to redress her wrongs; not because they had been so long deaf to her complaints and indifferent to her interests? I should be sorry (said Mr. Hutchinson) to say any thing offensive to the House, and should be more sorry if truth could offend them. My charge is one which, however widely it may extend, I would more particularly direct against the ministers. I charge them then with a violation of all the solemn compacts entered into betwixt the two countries since the Union. It is an account of long arrears, from 1801 down to the present time. I charge them with indifference, ignorance, and neglect towards Ireland. I have witnessed in this House, session after session, repeated attempts made to better the condition of Ireland; to plant," as it were, the population in the soil, and give them a rooted interest in her greatness; and uniformly have I seen those attempts resisted and defeated in open violation of the public faith which you solemnly pledged to Ireland in exchange for her independence. I charge you with having refused to four millions the privileges you solemnly pledged yourselves to share with them. The gratitude of Ireland is demanded in return for the measures taking to secure the education of her people. I for one resist the de- mand—for I myself was an humble instrument in calling upon you to provide in some way for the education of her clergy—that clergy who are to be entrusted with the religion and morals of four millions of your fellow subjects, and, this had been denied me. Let Ireland know the service she has received from you, before her gratitude is thus tauntingly challenged.

Mr. Foster

distinctly denied that he had ever said that the exportation of cattle was a work of national prosperity. What did the hon. gentleman mean by saying, that if he (Mr. Foster) did his duty in a manly way, he would find another and a more productive tax? he was at a loss to understand the hon. gent. Why could he not speak out? Let him name this better tax, and if he thought it better than his own he would adopt it at once. Would the hon. gentleman name it? Then if he will not, said Mr. Foster, let the people of Ireland blame him and not me, for I have suggested the best tax my judgment could enable me to do, while here is an hon. gentleman who knows a better, and yet refuses to communicate it.

Mr. Shaw

(of Dublin) could not see why the right hon. gent, should take upon himself to load his hon. friend with the duties of his office, while he kept all the emoluments to himself. His hon. friend in stating his objections to the measures of the right hon. gent, had done nothing more than he had a right to do. Nor could he believe that every member who in the conscientious discharge of his duty objected to any measure brought before the House, was thereby bound to substitute a better in its place. Mr. Shaw then proceeded to observe upon the items of the new taxes, and to compare the produce of the tax on wine, currants and raisins, &c. at stated periods. The total amount of the produce of the duties on wine was, in the year 1809, 365,276. 11s. 3d. and for the year 1810 it was but 309,014l. 18s. 11d. The duties on teas for the year 1809 produced 500,946l. 8s,. 5d. and the same in 1810 produced but 472,009l. 14s. The duties on currants and raisins for the year 1809 amounted to the sum of 11,920l. 2s. 5d. while those for the year 1810 had fallen to 4,77,5l 13s. 10d. Here there was certainly no progressive increase, but an evident progressive decrease. He was sorry he could not persuade the right hon. gent, to put an increased duty upon spirits; that, indeed, would be a tax productive not only of revenue, but the most beneficial consequences in other respects. The long list that had been read, retailing the number of stills, worms and kegs which had been seized, did not prove that illicit distillation had been suppressed; but that the reduction of the duties had not had the expected effect of suppressing the illicit distillation. He could not join in the sanguine opinion that had been expressed of the great prosperity of Ireland: she had since the. Union increased her debt nearly two-thirds: it was then thirty-three millions, and was now eighty-nine millions.

The several Resolutions were then read and agreed to.