HC Deb 14 June 1870 vol 202 cc124-8

rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the increase, during the last 33 years, of Local Taxation in Ireland, and to report in what manner it might be diminished, and how far its incidence might be more equitably distributed. In placing this Notice on the Table of the House, he was influenced not alone by the importance of the subject, but by the necessity of bringing to immediate issue the question as to whether England and Ireland were to be separately and differently treated; whether an inquiry into local taxation was to be conceded to one country and to be refused to the other; whether Irish Members were to be excluded from Committees appointed to inquire into the fiscal regulations of England, and Englishmen continued to be appointed to report on similar inquiries in Ireland. As the local taxation of both countries were essentially different, much public advantage would, in his opinion, be obtained by a judicious mixture of the representatives from all parts of the United Kingdom. Much dissatisfaction had been expressed at the manner in which these Committees had been constituted. The Members were not chosen for fitness, for experience, or for knowledge of the subject, but simply because they were sure political votes. It had been frequently asserted that since the Union Ireland had been misgoverned. He did not question it; but for this the Irish were not to be held accountable, for they had been systematically excluded from any management of their own affairs. As he told the House some years ago, out of 16 Departments in Ireland the chiefs, from the Lord Lieutenant and his Secretary downwards, 15 were English, Scotch, or Welsh, and only one Irish. At present Ireland was governed by irresponsible Boards. There was no person in the House of Commons to answer for their misdeeds. The heads of these Boards were chosen without any inquiry as to their qualification or fitness for the offices. By these Boards Ireland had been taxed to an astounding amount. During the last live years there had been an increase annually of £3,000,000 taxation on that country. They had had poor rates in their worst form, the maximum of expense for the minimum of relief—the income tax, succession duty, the Lunatic Commissioners, the General Valuators, the railway guarantees—the compulsory presentments for gaols, asylums, and drainages extended to them. They had by Acts of Parliament been forced to repay moneys they had never borrowed, and to reimburse the Treasury for all sums wantonly wasted by their English nominees. After 14 years a claim was preferred for money stated to be advanced during the famine of 1822, £30,000 was compulsorily levied off the Province of Connaught. Two millions of money were by the Board of Works, before the Committee of the House of Lords in their alleged expenditure during the potato failure in 1846 and 1847, totally unaccounted for. A power had been vested in the Lord Lieutenant to tax at his pleasure the Irish counties for certain purposes, one of which was to pay £500 a year into the Consolidated Fund. This power was unconstitutional and was not possessed even by Her Majesty. Notwithstanding this, it was twice every year levied by a compulsory order. Did they wonder, under these circumstances, that they were discontented? As long as this state of affairs was allowed to continue they would find them difficult to conciliate. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government must not imagine that even two such measures as those relating to the Church and land in Ireland were sufficient—they must be followed by many others conceived in the same spirit before any change in the feeling of Irishmen could be expected.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present—


resumed. Great as was the acknowledged ability of the Prime Minister, the regeneration of Ireland would try these abilities to the very utmost, and if successful, it would be attributed to his personal exertions and his indomitable will. He sincerely trusted there would be no faltering in his course, and that the right hon. Gentleman would successfully complete what he had so ably and gallantly begun. Departmental government must be abandoned. The heads of the administrative sections must be properly qualified men; Ireland must be recognized as an integral portion of the Empire. The pensioning of those officers, from whose incapacity Ireland had been so grievously overtaxed, must come to an end, and the Castle cliques, legal and illegal, which were destroyed by the vigour of Lord Clarendon, but again brought into existence through the weakness of some of his successors, must disappear at once and for over. Unless these essential and long-required reforms were initiated without delay, and carried with vigour to success, the association, which was growing by degrees, with the view of securing for Ireland a Federal Parliament, might be found by the right hon. Gentleman to have assumed at an early date much larger proportions than were ever dreamt of on the Treasury Bench. Although he (Colonel French) did not feel over confident in any promise from the Government, who had not made the inquiry into the Lunatic Asylums in Ireland that two years ago they undertook to do—nor had they carried out the inquiry they were directed to make through the Audit Office, by the Committee on the General Valuation, of as to the past and present abuses of the Valuation Board—still, as the Session was so far advanced, and the Chief Secretary for Ireland not being able to serve on a Committee of Inquiry, if he would promise an investigation early next Session he would not press his Motion to a Division.


, in seconding the Motion, complained that the burdens on land had increased nearly 100 per cent within the last 30 years. An enormous degree of discontent existed in Ireland in regard to the manner in which Ireland had been governed, and, in his opinion, a special inquiry was called for.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the increase, during the last thirty-three years, of Local Taxation in Ireland, and report in what manner it may be diminished, and how far its incidence may be more equitably distributed."—(Colonel French.)


said, he hoped that the inquiry, if ordered, would be extended to Scotland, as the burdens of taxation had been greatly augmented there also, within recent years. Indeed, he did not see why England, likewise, should not be included in the inquiry.


said, he was much obliged to his right hon. and gallant Friend for enabling him to decline entering upon such a difficult and grave subject at present. He wished to point out to his Irish friends that the increase of local taxation in Ireland within the last 33 years could be easily accounted for—namely, since that date the British Government had given to Ireland some of those institutions that necessarily belonged to every civilized country. In the first place, the system of Poor Laws, since then established in Ireland, would account for more than two-thirds of that increase. In the next place, the measures instituted for the sanitary regulations of the towns would account for the remainder. He thought, without giving any opinion as to the merits of the proposal, his right hon. and gallant Friend would admit that the present was by no means a favourable opportunity for instituting such an inquiry as was then asked for. Important inquiries were now going on with respect to England and local taxation, the results of which would probably be available before next Session, and would materially assist them in coming to a conclusion upon this question of Ireland. Without pledging himself to any specific course for the next year he could promise his right hon. and gallant Friend that the fullest consideration should be given to the whole question under the light of the inquiries to which he had adverted.


said, he was sorry that a more specific answer had not been given by the Government to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel French), who seemed to speak as if Ireland had been greatly taxed and oppressed by this country. All impartial persons must, however, admit that the very reverse was the case. And, so far from Ireland suffering from an increase of taxation imposed unjustly by this country, the characteristic feature of their legislation during recent years was remission of taxation in the sister country. Surely, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman could not be serious in bringing such charges against the British Govern- ment, when the fact was incontrovertible that for the last three years, at all events, the British Parliament was occupied with the consideration of measures intended for the benefit of Ireland, to the exclusion of almost every other question affecting the interests of the other portions of the Empire. He regretted very much that this Motion had been treated in so off-hand a manner by the Government.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.