HC Deb 26 February 1864 vol 173 cc1199-217

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the Taxation of Ireland; and to move for a Select Committee to consider how far it was in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of Union, or just in reference to the resources of the country. His Motion was a renewal of that he made during the previous year, but he believed it would be new to most of the Members, because on the former occasion very few were present. Although his former Motion had no practical result, it was, he was bound to say, extremely gratifying to himself, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer showed a disposition to discuss the question fairly; but, of course, he did not agree with the arguments he used. Since then, a considerable change had come over the question. He never knew the attention of Ireland to be so thoroughly and earnestly directed to the consideration of her material interests, hitherto too much neglected, and especially the amount of taxation imposed upon her, as compared with the rest of the kingdom. In Dublin, a committee had been appointed to inves- tigate the matter, which had taken evidence from witnesses from both sides, and had made an extremely clever report, very much in accordance with his views. Similar inquiries had also been conducted in Waterford, Clonmel, Limerick, and other towns. He hoped that was the commencement of an agitation in which every Irishman would take part, and which would bring the question fully and fairly before the Legislature. The great difficulty in dealing with the subject was the paucity of information. The Returns were often contradictory, and no clear accounts seemed, for some time past, to have been kept of the different taxes in Ireland. All the calculations appeared to be based on the false assumption that Ireland paid a certain amount of taxation, whereas she really yielded a great deal more. There was a considerable revenue which, although attributed to England, was actually derived from Ireland. At the time of the Union it was agreed that the proportion of taxation imposed on Ireland should be two-seventeenths, and that on England fifteen-seventeenths. That arrangement was resisted by Grattan and others in the Irish Parliament. The Lords protested against it as grossly unjust. In spite of all opposition, however, the Commons of Ireland induced, it was suspected, by the same reasons which won them over to the Union, agreed to it. Within seven years after that proportion had been in force, there was scarcely a statesman of the day who did not assert in the British Parliament that it was unfairly high. Ireland had been assured that she would enjoy a relief in the way of taxation and other advantages from the Union; but none of these expectations had been fulfilled. The fact was, that Ireland was taxed indirectly by heavy loans, which were put down to her credit, and which, at the end of fifteen years, amounted to an enormous sum. At the time of the Union, England had a debt of £420,944,590 and odd, and Ireland a debt of £26,841,219. The interest on the English debt was £15,000,000, and on the Irish, £1,150,284. Now, one of the provisions of the Act of Union was, that the two debts and the interest should be kept distinct; but that provision was never carried out. In 1802 the revenue of Ireland rose from £3,619,000 to £7,544,000, but the proportion of debt imposed upon that country amounted to about £107,000,000. The original debt was taken at£18,000,000, instead of £26,000,000, and to that was added £88,000,000, to make up a deficit which certainly did not exceed £9,000,000. On that point some explanation was required, and even after the lapse of sixty years a Committee of Inquiry might well be appointed. He would not press the matter, however, further than to show that the amount of debt thus saddled on Ireland was most unjust. At the time of the Union the debt of Great Britain, as he had said, amounted to upwards of £420,000,000, and the debt of Ireland to a trifle more than £26,000,000, making together about £447,000,000. Deducting that from the present debt—£736,000,000, there was a balance of £289,000,000, which, if divided in the proportion of 2–17ths, would give to Ireland a much smaller share than had been allotted to her, but which, if dealt with according to the value of the property assessed to the income tax, would reduce the portion payable by Ireland to £24,000,000, or £25,000,000. Surely, then, the people of Ireland had a right to inquire whether they were not called upon to pay more than their fair proportion. The Act of Union provided that at the end of seven years the proportion established between the two kingdoms might be revised, and, if necessary, altered. It was inconceivable to him how, while almost every statesman of eminence was complaining of the injustice done to Ireland, advantage was not taken of that provision. So it was, however; and twice seven years passed without anything being done. At length, in 1816, the two Exchequers were consolidated, and then was placed on Ireland an amount of debt which had no reference either to her capabilities or to the principle of justice. The object, apparently, was to get from Ireland as much as could be squeezed out of her. Ireland, of course, sunk every day, and her condition became such that every one complained of it. In 1816 Lord Granville acknowledged that Parliament had not fulfilled its obligations to Ireland, and declared that the Irish people were entitled to demand redress as a right. The first Sir Robert Peel warned the House of Commons against imposing additional taxation upon Ireland, and Lord Castlereagh himself complained of the injustice done to that country. At a later period, Mr. James Fitzgerald stated that Ireland could not pay the 2–17ths which England had imposed on her, and the same statement was repeated by Sir Henry Parnell. In fact, almost every statesman of those days gave his testimony to the fact that the Irish proportion was an unjust one, and, therefore, he had a right to ask the House to inquire whether the evil could not be rectified and justice done to Ireland. He need not say that the consolidation of the Exchequers, though propounded as a panacea for the evils of Ireland, added to the mischief. It might be said, that the Consolidation Act of 1816, having virtually repealed the Act of Union, we could not go beyond it, and that we had nothing more to do with an Act which was obsolete. He maintained, however, that the Act of Union was as binding as it was before 1816. Since that time Parliament had more than once recognized the validity of the Act of Union, In 1823, for example, long after the consolidation of the Exchequers, a Bill was ordered to be prepared and brought in by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others, in conformity with the 7th Article of the Act of Union, providing that no article in Ireland should be taxed to a greater amount than a similar article in England.

Apart from the provisions of the Act of Union, however, he could rest his case upon another ground equally strong—namely, the relative ability of each country to bear taxation, and in that view also he believed he should be able to show that Ireland was entitled to more favourable treatment than she received. It was notorious to Europe, that Ireland, although connected with a country abounding in wealth, and marvellously advancing in the accumulation of resources of every description, was diminishing in prosperity in every possible manner. Let them first of all look at her population. She had lost two millions and a half of her population, and emigration was constantly increasing those figures. The right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin stated the other night that 100,000 fighting men had left her shores for America. That assertion was questioned at the time, but as the whole number of emigrants was 150,000, and 50,000 would be a fair allowance to make for women and children, he had no doubt of its truth. He believed that the movement had not yet reached its maximum. He believed that if peace were restored in America, such a demand would arise for labour, in consequence of the exhaustion of the native population created by the war, that a new impulse would be given to the tide of Irish emigration, and the number of the emigrants would be doubled. He knew there were people who said—and he found that the present Lord Lieutenant was one of the number—that the departure of the population from the country ought not to form a subject of regret. But that was not his opinion, and he could not help thinking that it must be a loss to any country to have its population flying from its shores. When he endeavoured to trace those evils to their sources, he was led to believe that the primary cause of the depression of Ireland was the repeal of the Corn Laws. He did not mean to pronounce an opinion as to the wisdom of that measure; it might have been productive of great benefit to this country; but it had certainly operated most injuriously for Ireland. Ireland had, practically, a monopoly of the English market for the supply of corn while the Corn Laws had been in operation, and that monopoly had been destroyed by the abolition of those laws; and such a change, to an agricultural country like Ireland, was an unmitigated evil. When wheat was at 26s. per barrel of twenty stone, it was impossible that the profits of agriculture should be such as they were in the old times of the monopoly. With the profits so did the pursuit of agriculture decay, and as the employment for labourers fell off they had no alternative but starvation or emigration. According to the most authentic accounts, Irish agriculture was passing through a period of depression. Within a period of ten years, the quantity of arable land under cultivation in Ireland diminished by upwards of two millions of acres, and during last year there was a further diminution of 144,799 acres, or between 5 and 6 per cent of the cereal crops of the country. Ireland used to export cereals to the value of from £4,000,000 to £5,000,000. She now imported £5,000,000 worth, showing a loss of £9,000,000 on that head alone. The falling off had also extended to green crops and to stock. The diminution of green crops last year amounted to 19,336 acres. Of horses, there was in the same period a loss of 23,715, valued at £189,720; of cattle, 93,415, of the value of £1,777,998; of sheep, 153,201, of the value of £147.421; and of pigs, 89,821, of the value of £98,000, making altogether a loss within the last year—that was from 1862 to 1863—of stock worth £2,207,616.

He approached the question of manufactures, and there, also, he could find little room for congratulation. In the north of Ireland it was true that the gain derived from the growth and manufacture of flax was considerable, but that was the only Irish manufacture, and it was confined practically to a single province. Attempts had been made to introduce flax into other portions of the country, but he was not sanguine enough to believe that fortunes would be made by it; on the contrary, a noble Friend had told him up his personal experience, that he had burnt not merely his fingers, but his arm up to the shoulder. At the same time, he thought the extension of the system ought to be encouraged, and to the extent of his opportunities he had done so. The chief good to be derived, in his opinion, from flax culture would be, if every peasant would grow a small portion for his own use, so that the women of the family could turn it into good and solid articles of clothing, and thus obviate the necessity of buying anything from Manchester. Other manufactures had almost died out in Ireland. In 1839 cotton mills were found in six counties, but in 1862 they had entirely disappeared. Woollen manufactures still lingered in some counties, but the struggle was a hard one, as shown by the fact that in 1839 they gave employment to 1,231 persons, whereas in 1862 they only occupied 862. The industry in frieze, however, was valuable, and he hoped it would be extended. According to the Reports of the Inspectors of Factories, worsted had sunk even lower than the woollen manufactures. There used to be a trade called "sprigging," which gave employment to 100,000 persons, chiefly in the north of Ireland; but since the beginning of the American war that had fallen off considerably.

Another test of the amount of prosperity in a country consisted in the value of the personal property and stocks transferred. Glancing over the Returns of the transfers accomplished by wills, letters of administration, &c., it appeared that the amount decreased from £4,250,000 in 1838, to less than £4,000,000 in 1857. The balance of stocks transferred between England and Ireland was generally in favour of Ireland to the year 1854 by about £1,000,000, but since then matters had changed, and were now the other way. That change was largely traceable, he believed, to purchases of corn, which had become necessary, and which always impoverished a country. With regard to savings banks, too, the investments were less in the present day than they were in 1845. It was true that they had rallied since the great fall in 1849; but they were now only £2,153,211, as against £2,921,581 in 1845. The Reproductive Loan Fund had fallen in a remarkable manner. In 1846 its capital was £408,842, and its circulation £1,770,397; in 1862 its capital was but £185,980, and its circulation £719,460. As regarded that particular fund, he did not think it a very great loss to the country, and probably some portion of the funds formerly utilized in that channel had gone to the savings banks. But still, its falling off was a feature that could not be overlooked in any general estimate of the resources of the country. Probably one of the most striking evidences of downward tendency presented itself in connection with railways. On more than one of the principal lines trains had actually been taken off, and the circumstance had been commented upon in terms of regret by Mr. Ennis, the chairman of the Midland Great Western Company. He had even heard that upon that line passengers bound to or from Galway in some cases would not travel by the ordinary trains, but waited for the goods trains. Another important branch of industry in which there had been a terrible decline was in the fisheries. In the year 1846 there were connected with the Irish fisheries 15,932 boats, and 70,011 fishermen; in 1862 the numbers had fallen to 11,375 boats and 48,601 men, being a decrease of 4,557 fishing boats and 21,410 hardy seamen, from among whom the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty might, doubtless, have drawn materials for excellent crews in the case of a great national emergency. Another important indication of the declining wealth of the country, was the diminution which had taken place in the money circulated by the banks. In 1859 the Irish banks enjoyed a circulation of £6,870,238; but from that period depression had taken place year after year till the amount had fallen to £5,658,392. The Customs and Excise Returns had also diminished, but not in an equally perceptible degree, owing, he believed, to the fact that the amount had been maintained by additional taxation. A nobleman who had spent a great deal of money in Ireland, and who had lately returned from the west, assured him that until the present year he had never despaired of the prospects of the country. This result he attributed to the successive bad harvests; and although in his own neighbourhood the crops, as a whole, had been well saved last year, there were many other parts of the country where the produce by no means realized the earlier promise of the season.

Having shown the diminished capacity of the country to sustain heavy burdens, he turned to the question of taxation; and he found that in the last decennial period the taxation had increased from £48,560,000 to £52,893,000. The taxation of Ireland, as given in the last official Return, was £6,845,000, but that by no means represented the entire amount properly to be classed under that head. The customs' duties on much that was consumed in Ireland were paid in England. In addressing the House during the last year, he had over-rated the amount, but the Dublin Committee, by whom the subject had been investigated, calculated the proportion at about a million. £700,000 was paid in that way upon sugar alone, and that amount should be added to the taxation stated in the Return. Some years ago the net rents from Crown lands in Ireland amounted to £93,000; but many of these had been sold since, and the produce applied, not to the Irish, but the English revenue. The rents levied in Ireland were spent, in a great measure, out of the country. If Ireland were, indeed, an integral part of the kingdom, she had a right to count on a part of the sums that figured in the Miscellaneous Estimates. If stores were sold, if money were received on account of a Chinese indemnity, if sums owed by the Ionian Islands, by Greece, or Sardinia were repaid, why should not a share of these credits be apportioned to Ireland? These items would make another million, and altogether the real amount of Irish revenue might be put down at £9,000,000. Of course, the English revenue must be diminished in the same proportion. The next question was, how the proportion was to be regulated between the two countries? According to the provisions of the Act of Union, it was to be made by a comparison of the amounts in value of consumption of various articles of produce, such as tea, spirits, and beer. But this, under the altered circumstances of the country, was manifestly unjust, and why should not the valuation of property be taken as a scale of reference? He thought it would be a much fairer way of judging the question. This, at any rate, would be a very proper subject of investigation for the Committee. Two Returns have been moved for — one showing the proportion of taxation to population, and the other the proportion of taxation to property. The test of population he considered to be by no means a fair one, if the plan were adopted of dividing the income by the number of the inhabitants. This system was manifestly greatly to the advantage of the rich country over the poor one; because in the rich country wealth was much more largely diffused, and in the poor country the rate of valuation was much lowered. Out of the £8,000,000 or £9,000,000 of income, about £4,000,000 were sent annually to this country and spent in England, or elsewhere, by absentees. He had been told that the result of his Motion would be to show that Ireland was too lightly taxed, and that then the assessed taxes would be levied in Ireland. But he defied any Chancellor of the Exchequer to add a farthing to the taxation of Ireland. The people were flying the country, and no more taxes could be paid. The total income of Great Britain in 1862 was £70,433,620. Estimating Irish income at £8,341,119, the net income of England was £61,092,501. Of that sum, about £10,000,000 were spent out of England, and £51,000,000 in England. Another point was, as to the remission of taxation. Ireland had increased in taxation more rapidly than Great Britain. The increase of taxation in Great Britain from 1800 was as 16½ to 10 in permanent taxation, and with war taxes as 21¼ to 10. In Ireland, however, the increase had been as 23 to 10, while in 24 years it was as 463/8 to 10. Since 1816 there had been a large reduction of taxation in England, but not in Ireland. In 1816 the taxes repealed were £17,196,324, of which the benefit to Ireland was only £163,155. From that time to 1842 the taxes paid by Great Britain were repealed to the amount of £45,549,683; by Ireland only £2,416,981. Since that time the income tax had been imposed and the spirit duties increased. The proportion of taxation to population was an unfair test, but the reverse was the case in regard to the proportion of taxation to property. The property assessed to income tax in Great Britain was £301,380,730; in Ireland, £21,638,975. The gross revenue of Great Britain was £61,360,749; of Ireland, £6,792,606. Thus, for every pound of gross revenue, Great Britain paid 4s. d., while Ireland paid 6s.d. If, however, there were added to the account uncredited Customs and absentee rents, there would be a drain from Ireland amounting to at least 10s. in the pound. In this way Ireland had become impoverished by a load of taxation. After he had thus laid his case before the House, he would ask if there was anything unreasonable in his Motion. All he wished to ask the House was this — Was there anything unreasonable in a reconsideration of the Treaty of the Union for the purpose of ascertaining whether the promises held out by that treaty had been fulfilled, and whether, considering the relative wealth of the two countries, the method of taxation was just and equal? And if he had proved that every species of industry and wealth had been lessened in Ireland, he thought the House could not refuse an inquiry to see whether the present taxation of Ireland was not greater than she could bear. The Irish people had turned their attention to this subject with the same ardour that they frequently displayed on far inferior questions. He had made no complaint against the Government, he had simply asked for an account between the two countries, and he thought, if the Committee were granted, there was no reason why either party should be dissatisfied with the examination. The hon. and gallant Member concluded by moving the appointment of a Select Committee.


in seconding the Motion, wished to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer one question. They were about to have this Committee granted, and a Conference might take place between half-a-dozen English Members and half-a-dozen Irish Members. What, then, was to be the basis of that Conference? The noble Lord had told them that a basis had been fixed for the Conference on the Dano-German question, and there was a remarkable parallel between the cases of Denmark and Ireland. In both cases there were certain solemn engagements which had been made and broken. Mr. Pitt promised at the time of the Union that Ireland should be taxed only in proportion to her ability to pay, and that promise had been broken. Lord Castlereagh also said that the government of Ireland should not be administered by Englishmen, but by Irishmen—a promise, likewise, which had not been carried out. The present Lord Lieutenant of Ireland approved of the depopulation of the country, and thought it a healthy symptom that the people should be going away. The Irish Members differred from his Excellency on that point, and deplored the loss of the population. He wished, therefore, to know whether or not, in granting this Committee, the Government would make it the basis of the inquiry that the people of Ireland ought to be preserved?

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed, to consider the Taxation of Ireland, and how far it is in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of Union, or just in reference to the resources of the Country,"—(Colonel Dunne,) —instead thereof.


said, the Irish Members were most grateful to his hon. and gallant Friend for bringing forward this subject, and for dealing with it in the manner he had done. There was a striking and a painful contrast between the condition of England and Ireland. In England there was no end to the accumulation of wealth and the development of prosperity. Let them cross the Channel, however, and all was changed. He did not, of course, hold the Government responsible for the succession of bad seasons under which Ireland had suffered; but the country was not in a progressive state, and there must be something wrong to account for its backwardness. The Irish people believed that one great cause of the evil was over-taxation; and where a country was taxed beyond its means its capital must diminish and its condition become retrograde. He did not want any special exemptions in favour of Ireland; but as Scotland, under the terms of the Union with England, had the benefit of certain sums for the formation of harbours and other improvements, so Ireland also ought to have proportionate sums for encouraging her industrial progress and developing her natural resources. It was scarcely possible to get at the relative financial position of the two countries, from the conflicting Returns issued on the authority of the Government, and he hoped that one of the advantages of the proposed inquiry would be the putting an end to that state of uncertainty. The conviction was strong and general in Ireland that the country was grossly over-taxed, and that it was entitled to some relief. Ireland had a right to such an adjustment of her burdens as was consistent at once with the terms of Union and with her ability to contribute. With that she would be satisfied, but not with less. He trusted that the Committee would be impartially constituted, so as to secure for it general confidence.


said, that all who listened to the hon. and gallant Member must sympathize with the account he gave of the state of Ireland. He feared, however, that his hon. and gallant Friend had gone the right way to attain the end which the Irish Members all had in view. That end was to call attention to the heavy load of taxation which Ireland laboured under, in order to effect some alleviation of it. It would, perhaps, have been better, therefore, if particular burdens pressing unduly upon that country had been brought under the Chancellor of the Exchequer's notice, with a view to their being removed or mitigated in the right hon. Gentleman's next financial scheme. If the Committee were to go through all the accounts from the date of the Union to the present time, making out a kind of debtor and creditor sheet as between the two countries, and were also to consider the grounds why one tax had been put on and another taken off, he was afraid they would get into endless confusion and embarrassment without any hope of a practical result. He quite concurred with his hon. and gallant Friend in the opinion that Ireland suffered to a great extent from over-taxation. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government would calmly contemplate the picture that Ireland presented at that time, they would feel that any boon they could confer upon her would be an act of charity which would be well received there, and which would commend itself also to the sympathies of a generous English Parliament. After three years of scarcity, sometimes of crops, sometimes of fuel, and sometimes of both, the poor people of Ireland were in a very reduced condition, and they had only to look to that to understand the enormous emigration now going on. There was no doubt that, under present circumstances, it was impossible for any tenant in that country who rested his dependence upon agricultural produce to prosper, and, indeed, it was a matter of doubt whether there was not an actual loss upon the mere cultivation of the land. He did not mean to say that Ireland was in a state of beggary or abject misery; but amongst the poorer classes, and he might say, perhaps among the middle classes too, those who depended upon the exchange of produce to procure ordinary necessities were reduced to very great straits. In this condition of things the taxation pressed with no common severity, and the tax which pressed the heaviest, and in respect to which they had special claims upon the Government, was the income tax. The income tax was not popular in England, but what would Englishmen say if they were asked to pay it twice over? Yet, that was the condition in which Ireland was practically placed. In illustration of his meaning, he might observe that Sir Robert Peel, in whose footsteps the Chancellor of the Exchequer followed, and not without success, when proposing the imposition of the income tax in 1842, said he did not seek to impose it upon Ireland, which had in 1798 also been exempted from its operation, because he was of opinion that there were two ways in which that country could contribute a similar amount as if she paid income tax; the one being by means of the increase of the spirit duties, the other by the increase of the duty upon stamps. The Chancellor of the Exchequer! however, since then, had not only imposed an income tax upon Ireland, but had still further increased the duty on spirits and stamps, thus causing her to pay in another shape the equivalent of a tax for which she had already compounded. He had, therefore, no hesitation in asking the right hon. Gentleman to take the subject into his consideration before he made his arrangements for the financial year, and by extending to Ireland the relief to which she was entitled, stimulate the exertions and excite the energies of a greatly depressed people.


observed, that his lion, and gallant Friend had no wish that the Committee should undertake the useless task of unravelling the intricate accounts that existed before the Union, or even those which, by a sort of juggle, were made the basis of settlement afterwards. The only reason, as he understood, of the reference to those figures was, to show that the proportion fixed for the taxation of Ireland was originally unjust, and that she had therefore the greater claim to a rigid adherence to the treaty now when any stipulations were made for her benefit. Nothing could be more absurd than to go back sixty-four years to see what was the proportion of taxation between the two countries then, but if they were adjusting the proportion again, he believed that one-seventeenth would be found to be nearer the proportion Ireland ought to bear than two-seventeenths. The figures which his hon. and gallant Friend had laid before the House, however, showed clearly that Ireland was very rapidly, for her means, improving in wealth and increasing in agricultural resources, at a time when she had a population nearly double in amount that which it was at present. Despite even of the calamity with which she had been visited in 1846, her taxation was so light that she was able to a great extent to recover from the effects of a grievous famine. With 1852, however, came a new state of things. A new system was inaugurated; the result of the financial operations of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer being that, while there had been since that time a great remission of taxation in England, there had been in Ireland an increase from £4,500,000 to £7,000,000. At what cost to the industry of the country had that enormous increase taken place. One instance would show that. At one time there were over ninety distilleries at work in Ireland. Now, it was well known that grain not sufficiently ripened might be used in distilling, and it would therefore be seen how important it was to the industry of a country subject to so many bad harvests to have so large a number of distilleries at work. But, instead of ninety, there were only twenty-seven distilleries in operation now. Could it be doubted that when at one time the duty upon whisky was only 2s. 10d. the gallon, and it was now 10s., that the increased taxation had nothing to do with the closing of so many distilleries? Then there was another manufacture—paper— which the Chancellor of the Exchequer lent a helping hand to destroy. Mr. Greer, one of the most extensive paper manufacturers in the south of Ireland, had, since the operation of the French Treaty — which might have been beneficial to England—been obliged to work his mills only half the time, and give only half the employment which he had done before. There was thus injury caused by unjust imposition and unwise remission of taxes since 1852. When the wealth of the country and the population of the country were decreasing, the people attributed it, perhaps unjustly, to the pressure of taxation under which they laboured. That being so, nothing could be more just and reasonable than to grant the Committee. As parties to a solemn treaty and as representing a country which of late had suffered enormously, Irish Members had a right to demand this Committee, and he was very much deceived s if its labours would be such as had been represented by the noble Lord (Lord Dunkellin). There were certain green books in the right hon. Gentleman's hand which he appeared to be studying very industriously. Those books endeavoured to show, that though men were decaying, wealth was accumulating. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman anything from those books would be received at the other side of the water with very little respect. It was just as absurd to get a gentleman to write a book to prove that Ireland was prospering though her wealth and population decayed, as it was to ask learned Members of the Royal Society to write an essay to account for this—how it was that if a live salmon was put into a vessel full of water, the water would not overflow. Facts always outweigh theory, and it was felt that the recent increase of taxation in Ireland depressed its energies and diminished its resources. He trusted that much good might result to that country from the investigation into the subject which would take place before the Committee; he approved, therefore, of the gallant Colonel's Motion.


Sir, Her Majesty's Government would not have felt disposed, upon their own responsibility, to recommend a Committee to inquire into the taxation of Ireland. There are practical disadvantages in the appointment of such a Committee, and this is the main one—that it tends to excite expectations which it may be found impracticable to fulfil. But it is not always by their own view of the abstract utility and expediency of a proposal that the Government must be guided. In a question of this kind the Government are bound to pay a great degree of respect to the wishes of those who, in a peculiar manner, represent the feelings of the people of Ireland; and it must also be admitted, that the very peculiar circumstances of Ireland during the last few years in respect to emigration and bad harvests, have tended to raise questions of difficulty and doubt, the solution of which is not obvious, and not unnaturally to direct men's minds to inquire whether excess of taxation could have anything to do with the distress of the country. Under these circumstances, and finding a strong desire on the part of Irish Members, who represent a similar desire on the part of the Irish people, to investigate the question of Irish taxation, I think it would not be wise, and hardly kind, if the Government were to offer any opposition. Their duty is rather to make clear the grounds upon which they accede to the proposal, and to lend to the hon. and gallant Gentleman all the assistance they can—in the first place, with respect to the formation of the Committee, and in the next place with respect to the direction of the inquiries to a right issue. It is not necessary for me to arm myself with a blue-book or pamphlet, or to inflict its contents on the House. In point of fact, the general views of the Government were declared by me last year on an occasion similar to the present. But, as so much has been said on the subject, I will detain the House with a few remarks. The hon. and gallant Gentleman does not propose a re-trial of the arrangements which were made at the time of the Act of Union with regard to their justice or propriety at that period. He proposes two subjects of inquiry—one, how far the present taxation is in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Union; and the other, how far it is just with reference to the resources of the country. As respects the terms of the Treaty of Union, I cannot disguise my opinion that they have been kept, and more than kept. And that, I think, is very capable of demonstration. If we look back simply to matters of fact, and to the tables of revenue yielded by the two countries—Great Britain considered as one country and Ireland as another—we find that, whereas the stipulation of the Treaty of Union was, that Ireland should raise a revenue equal to 2–17ths of the gross revenue, bearing the relation to the British revenue of one to seven and a-half, the Irish revenue from the time of the Union to the expiration of the war appears to have been in the proportion of one to eleven. I do not think it rose in any one year as high as one to ten. The result was, the contribution of Ireland to the expenses of the two countries, in regard to revenue, fell short, and that led to a rapid accumulation of the debt of Ireland. I presume it was felt by Parliament that it was impossible that state of things should continue, and the consequence was, that the exchequers of the two countries were consolidated, with the general consent of Parliament—that is to say, when the exchequers were consolidated, the debts which were contracted to fulfil the separate engagements of Ireland, from 1800 to 1816, were taken over by England, and from that time forward were shared by the whole kingdom. With respect to that consolidation, I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not suppose that it was effected in a manner contrary to the terms of the Act of Union—because it was, in the first place, made in a way favourable to Ireland; and, in the second place, it was distinctly provided by the Act of Union that its arrangements with regard to taxation might be revised and considered. That may be one reason why we are justified in acceding to the present proposal; and in referring this matter, which can hardly be elucidated thoroughly by discussion in the Whole House, to a Committee, where a conclusion can be arrived at by an impartial tribunal, which may, at any rate, settle and compose the minds of persons in this country or in Ireland, if at present disturbed on this subject. I will just refer to a Return moved for by the hon. Baronet the Member for Dublin (Sir Edward Grogan), and presented in July of last year. I believe every syllable in it to be correct, but I have never seen a Return more calculated to deceive those who draw what appear the natural deductions from it. The Return gives the relative populations of Ireland and Great Britain, and also the gross revenue of the two countries. The Return also shows that Ireland contributes less than 2–17ths of the gross revenue specified by the Act of Union, though the hon. and gallant Member has made a calculation that Ireland contributed more. I am not prepared to accede to the statement of the hon. and gallant Member, who, as I understood, said that a sum of £700,000 is paid in England on account of duly for sugar, which is carried to Ireland and consumed; and that that sum virtually forms part of the Irish revenue. It would, indeed, show a capacity for the consumption of that article in Ireland out of all proportion with the population if, besides the duty on sugar realized in Ireland, so much as £700,000 were paid in England as duty on sugar which was afterwards carried to Ireland and consumed there. [Colonel DUNNE said, he had made the statement on the authority of the Dublin Committee.] I prefer the evidence before the Committee in this country. According to the Return I have just alluded to, the amount of property and profits assessed to income tax in Great Britain is £301,380,730, and in Ireland £21,638,975; but I have two observations to make in reference to that calculation, and the false conclusions to which it is calculated to lead. One is that the valuation of property for the purpose of the income tax in Ireland is lower than in England as far as concerns landed property, for in England the income tax is charged on the gross rental without deductions. That is not the case in Ireland, and the basis taken for the imposition of the tax in Ireland is Sir R. Griffiths' valuation, which is notoriously very much below the gross rental. [Mr. KER: I beg your pardon.] I am not speaking of particular cases or of particular districts, but of the general principle of the valuation, which, no doubt, is below the gross valuation. That, I think, to be a source of fallacy, but the principal fallacy suggested by these Returns is, that the income tax charged on Great Britain is lower in proportion than that charged on Ireland. These, however, are all subjects which may fairly be investigated. There is one circumstance connected with the taxation of Ireland which can not fail to meet the observation of the Committee. The Committee will, of course, have to direct its attention not merely to the taxes imposed on Ireland, but to other taxes from which Ireland is exempted. You can scarcely find any tax incident on the labouring population, of which Ireland did not bear its full proportion, while of very considerable exemptions nearly the whole are so adjusted as to bear very lightly on property. That is a peculiar state of things. It is possible that the Committee may direct its attention to the adjustment of these taxes in Ireland as well as to the gross amount as compared with English taxation. But these are points upon which I will not venture to give an opinion. I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Dublin that it will be extremely difficult, and that it will be a disadvantage to all parties if we were to break up the system of uniform charges that now prevails on consumable commodities. With regard to the composition of the Committee, I hope that as the hon. and gallant Member and myself have advanced so far in harmony there will be no difference of opinion, and I think we ought to endeavour to give weight to it by a careful selection of members. With respect to the proportion of British and Irish Members we must feel that an undue preponderance of any particular element will be objectionable. Fortunately we have a precedent in the Committee that sat during the Liverpool administration on the subject. If it is to consist of fifteen, then there may he seven Irish members and eight British; or if twenty - one, then ten Irish and eleven British. I hope no sanguine expectation likely to lead to disappointment will be indulged in on the subject. As regarded the distress of Ireland, I deplore it. Whether the cause of it be taxation, or emigration, or those deficient harvests which beyond doubt have caused an enormous loss to the country, I trust that the day of that distress may be near its close, and that in future the career of Ireland may be one of happiness and prosperity.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That a Select Committee be appointed, to consider the Taxation of Ireland, and how far it is in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of Union, or just in reference to the resources of the Country.—(Colonel Dunne.)

And on Tuesday, March 8, Committee nominated as follows:—

Colonel DUNNE, Sir EDWARD GROGAN, Sir FREDERICK HEYGATE, Mr. LONGFIELD, Mr. HENNESSY, Mr. MONSELL, Lord JOHN BROWNE, The O'CONOR DON, Lord STANLEY, Sir STAFFORD NORTH-COTE, Mr. HOWES, Mr. FINLAY, Sir ROBERT PEEL, and Mr. LOWE: — Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.

And, on March 9, Mr. HANKEY added.