§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
, in rising to call the attention of the House to the unequal incidence of Imperial taxation upon Ireland, and to move—That the complaints which have been made that the Imperial Taxation of the United Kingdom presses more severely on Ireland than on Great Britain, and extracts a greater revenue from Ireland in proportion to her actual means, are worthy of the early consideration of Her Majesty's Government, with a view to the adoption of measures for the equitable distribution of the pressure of taxation, so that each of the Countries constituting the United Kingdom shall contribute to the Imperial revenue in proportion to its actual means,said, he would ask the indulgence of the House, whilst he explained the grounds on which he ventured to submit for their adoption, the Resolution of which he had given Notice. He was quite aware that there was very little beyond forbearance to be expected by a non-official Member of the House, who brought financial subjects under its notice, unless he made it quite clear that the case he had to submit at least required investigation. He ventured to say no hon. Member was less disposed than himself to discuss crude theories of finance in that House or elsewhere, nor was there anyone who would more scrupulously avoid their introduction. He, therefore, pledged himself from the first, that he would not adduce any argument which he had not seriously considered, nor refer to any statistical Returns which he had not weighed and analyzed. Hon. Members for Irish constituencies, who sat on the benches near him, were reproached, not unfrequently, that they did not submit in some tangible shape to Parliament, such measures as their country required. The Home Rule Members were also twitted, because they did not explain in what respect, apart from what was assumed to be a sentimental grievance, Ireland was worse off than England; and because they did not point out adequate remedies other than Home Rule for Irish discontent, it was assumed in that House and in the Press that there was in reality no solid grievance which Ireland had to complain of or to 1704 redress. There was a certain influence, ingenious and active, which conduced very much to that temper of the public mind, if he might so term it. It arose from a certain propagation, which had gone on for years under the auspices of Dublin Castle—a certain dissemination, perhaps, he had better term it, of plausible but illusory evidences of Irish prosperity and progress. He did not for a moment assert or suggest that the authorities at Dublin Castle, under the present or under the late Government, disseminated false information. He was quite sure they did nothing of the kind; but what he asserted amounted to this—that it had been the system to adduce and group certain statistics as evidences of the prosperity of Ireland, whilst certain other statistical items to which he would refer before he sat down, were kept out of view and utterly lost sight of, although these other items were absolutely necessary to be taken into account in any true estimate of the condition of Ireland or of its actual or relative progress in our times. He would illustrate that in a single instance. One item of Irish statistics which had been prominently adduced on some grave and several festive occasions as incontestable evidence of actual progress was, the increase which had taken place since 1841 in the deposits in Irish joint-stock banks. These deposits increased from £6,000,000 in 1841 to £26,000,000 in 1871, and he agreed that such an increase might fairly be taken into account in any estimate of the condition of Ireland in 1871, as compared to that of 1841. But he had to observe, that to the extent to which these deposits might be made up of capital shifted from other investments, whether financial investments or agricultural enterprise, or produce of any kind, or farm stock, they did not represent any addition whatever to the actual wealth of the community; and as they were largely represented by debts due to these banks from individuals and classes in Ireland who were not indebted in 1848, it was to be presumed that the debtors, for the most part, held visible property against their indebtedness, and, therefore, this property was viewed under other heads. He did not assert, however, that actual progress had not been made in the accumulation of capital; and for the purposes of his argument on that occasion, he was willing that the 1705 increase of capital should be accounted as £50,000,000 in the money values of all items of Irish property. But here again he should observe that the increase of the money, values of stock in hand, or floating capital, did not denote of necessity an increase of actual annual profit to the community in which it occurred. The herd of cattle which one year fetched £20 per head, was not a more valuable item to the community as a whole than a similar herd in another year, which might only command a market price of £15. He would, however, pass quickly over all that, he would pass from arguments, which abounded in conjecture and were subject to a multiplicity of conditions and provisoes, to the analysis of Returns which dealt with ascertained results. He had referred to what he might term the Dublin Castle Statistics, merely that he might assure the House that he had fully considered them. They were not in any moral sense false, but they were insufficient data, and were consequently calculated to mislead, and did mislead, the public, and to some extent the official mind, when they were adduced to justify or to mystify the enormous increase in the amount of Imperial taxation levied off Ireland. For the purpose of his argument, justifying the Resolution he had to move, he was saved from all necessity of disputing the fact of some increase, or of disputing the degree of increase to the wealth of certain classes in Ireland. He did not indulge in sensational rhetoric. He had no interest in disputing, and did not dispute, that in some respects Ireland had progressed in material resources since 1841; but whilst he made that admission with pleasure, he did not apprehend that any hon. Gentleman would contend that Ireland had progressed since 1841 in material resources and in the consequent ability to bear taxation in a greater ratio than Great Britain had progressed within the same period; and if no such contention could be set up, there remained, as he would shortly show to the House, no possible logical ground on which the financial policy which had been applied to Ireland since 1841, could be defended. He did not need to enter upon the wearying task of reading to the House the statistics of Great Britain or of Ireland for the last 30 years. There were ready means at hand to supply information as to the actual and relative conditions of 1706 both countries, and their present actual and relative abilities to pay taxes. He would now refer to the Income Tax Returns for the year ended 5th April, 1872, which hon. Members would find very conveniently set forth for Great Britain and Ireland at Page 739 of Thorn's Irish Almanac for 1875. By those Returns it was shown that the incomes under all heads, subject to income tax, amounted for Great Britain to £455,765,610, and for Ireland to £26,572,707. Hon. Members could easily test those figures; and if they did so, they would find that he was taking up no uncertain ground, when he said that it was fully proved by those Returns that the incomes of Great Britain exceeded those of Ireland seventeenfold; and it was no rash deduction from that fact to say, that the tax-paying abilities of the inhabitants of Great Britain exceeded those of the inhabitants of Ireland in the ratio of 17 to 1. Now in view of those facts, concerning which, he ventured to say, there could be no dispute, he would call the attention of that House to the further fact that the contribution of Ireland to the Imperial Revenue in place of being equal to a seventeenth only of the contribution of Great Britain was nearly to a fraction equal to one-eighth. He held in his hand a Return to an Order of the House, granted on his (Sir Joseph M'Kenna's) Motion of 1st May last, which set forth—The gross revenue of Ireland derived from taxation, and excluding casual and miscellaneous receipts, post office and telegraph receipts, Crown Lands, and fees in Courts of Justice taken in stamps, for the years 1841,1851,1861, and 1871, and of the population of Ireland in those years, and a computation of the amount of such revenue in respect to each head of the population;and a like Return in respect to the revenue and population of Great Britain for the same years. He ventured to say that those Returns disclosed on their face and as a whole, a system of constant and progressive financial injustice to Ireland such as no people who understood the subject could submit to with patience, and such as no country could suffer without injury. Those Returns showed that whilst the taxation per head on the population of Great Britain had been reduced from £2 9s. 9d. in 1841 to £2 4s.1d. in 1871, the taxation per head on the much poorer population of Ireland had been raised from 9s. 6d. per 1707 head in 1841 to £1 6s. 2d. per head in 1871—that was to say—side by side with an actual reduction of 10 per cent per head in Great Britain the taxation per head in Ireland had been nearly trebled. But how had all that come to pass? "What were the imposts that had squeezed all that money out of so poor a population? To which of them did he (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) take exception? He objected to the excessive total which was raised off Ireland—augmented he was bound to admit by taxes which were chiefly imposed at the instance of so called Liberal Governments; but it certainly was not their financial policy towards Ireland which had entitled them to that honourable designation. If he was asked to specify any tax or class of taxes which pressed most unfairly on Ireland, he would specify the taxes on alcoholic liquors of all kinds. He hoped hon. Gentlemen would not misunderstand him. He did not complain of there being a tax, nor even a high tax, on alcoholic liquors; but he objected to the inequality of the scale which had been enacted of late years. He objected to the increase of the duty on Irish spirits from 2s. 10d. the gallon in 1841, to 10s. in 1871, whilst the duties on malt, and on all the alcoholic liquors which were most in use in England had been enormously reduced within the same period. He ventured to say that there was no instance on the face of the earth, nor in history, of any such overwhelming increase of a single tax on any people as the increase of the amount levied for spirit duties off the unfortunate Irish people between 1841 and 1871. The Return of 7th of August last, which he held in his hand, showed that the tax levied off Ireland under that head alone had been raised from £964,091 in 1841, to £3,469,031 in 1871—an increase of £2,500,000 a-year in that single impost. It was scarcely a figure of speech to say that since 1841—or he would take a later date to mark the epoch and say since the Famine of 1846—the British Finance Minister had caught the unhappy Irish people by the throat, and wrung from them sums which, were they not vouched by the Returns to that House, would seem to all men as incredible as to him they appeared exorbitant and unjust. He did not wish to mix up in this discussion the consideration of questions of 1708 finance and the subject of temperance; but he could not wholly avoid anticipating those who would reply that grievous as the tax might seem, it was not so great an evil as intemperance, and who would add that any law which prevented or even obstructed the consumption of alcohol, should be defended; but to those philanthropists he answered that those Returns showed that the enormous duty had neither prevented nor diminished the consumption. Any hon. Member who would take the trouble of examining the Returns to the House would find that the consumption per head had increased, not diminished, since 1841. The effect of the law had been to render the poor poorer than they would otherwise have been. It was, he ventured to think, because the Irish were worse fed and worse clad than the people of England quite as much owing to the humidity of the climate, that the Irish preferred spirits to beer or porter or strong ale. He was not defending their taste when he testified to the injustice of the tax, and the irregularity and unfairness of its pressure as against the poorer people. The consumption of spirits in England was no doubt considerable; but ale and every species of brewed liquors and wines of all kinds were nevertheless her chief alcoholic drinks. He would now call the attention of the House to the scale of taxation applied to these liquors having reference to their alcoholic strength. Spanish and Portuguese wines paid a duty which was equivalent on every gallon of proof spirits they contained to 6s. a gallon. French wines paid a duty equivalent to a spirit duty of 4s. a gallon, and the consumers of ale, porter, and beer paid a duty equivalent to 2s. a gallon. He anticipated the trite answer, which was no argument however, that the English paid the same duty on whiskey, and the other spirits which they consumed as the Irish, and that the Irish might consume wine or beer which paid a lower duty than whiskey if they chose to do so; but choice was not wholly under the control of the will; they preferred the whiskey—their dietary and their climate rendered whiskey more suitable to them, or at any rate more acceptable, and that almost universal preference had rendered the injustice an easy one to execute. Short and simple as were the Returns 1709 in his hands, they exhibited what he ventured to describe as a positively shocking state of things. They showed that the gross taxation of Ireland had been increased 75 percent since 1841, in face of a diminution of the population; whilst the gross taxation of Great Britain had been increased 22 per cent only. And those two conditions of increased taxation and diminished population had worked out an actual increase of nearly 200 per cent in the taxation borne by each head of the population of Ireland; whilst the increase of population in Great Britain had not only counterbalanced the increased amount of taxation, but had worked out, as those Returns would show, a positive reduction of 10 per cent in the taxation per head on the population of Great Britain. Hon. Gentlemen were, probably, surprised that Ireland was not content with the blessings of the British Constitution, her discontent, they said, took an irrational turn, she called out for Home Rule, she did not, they assumed, know what was the matter with her—her griefs were imaginary. Well, she might not fully understand it; but he (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) was under no delusion upon the subject. The cry for Home Rule was the call of a people for a just and paternal government. At present, the resources of Ireland—perhaps he would more accurately express it, her annual yield of profit, was disproportionately, inordinately, and, he submitted, unjustly carried off by the Imperial tax-gatherer. Ireland suffered from fiscal injustice, as who would gainsay who reflected that with a population reduced since 1841 from 8,000,000 to 5,000,000, she had to pay £3,000,000 a-year of additional taxation. That sum represented an additional annual burden on Ireland heavier relatively than the annual charge on France consequent on the Prussian War Indemnity—for France had not been mulcted so as to make up an annual charge of five times £3,000,000, and France was seven times more populous than Ireland, and 30 times as rich. However statesmen or political doctors might differ as to the remedy for her complaint, the diagnosis to his mind was clear enough. A country which had to pay in a single tax an annual sum more than equal to a fourth of her valuation rental—and almost equal to the sum total of all the other taxes raised from her on the high 1710 scale of British taxation—and which received no return of any kind for the impost, except permission to consume the produce of her own soil, could never be otherwise than discontented and disaffected. What would have been said to any British Minister in England who, since 1841, had endeavoured to impose an income tax, or any other tax equivalent to an income tax, of 2s. in the pound on the entire income of Great Britain, under all the Schedules? But let him tell hon. Gentlemen that Parliament, under the sanction chiefly, he would admit, of Liberal Governments, had, since 1841, imposed additional Imperial taxes on Ireland to a greater amount than what a charge of 2s. in the pound on her total income, under all the Schedules, would produce. Let him also tell Hon. Gentlemen, who would try to meet the case he put to them by leading forth columns of statistics, brigaded by Dr. Neilson Hancock, of Dublin; that Dr. Hancock's statistics were utterly irrelevant to the issues which he (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) now raised. The fair and common measure of the tax-paying power of both countries, under equal pressure, would be found in the amounts of their respective incomes under all the Schedules. The respective totals of the incomes of £100 and upwards for each island might be fairly taken as the measures of the respective abilities of Great Britain and Ireland to pay taxes. These proportions were £455,750,000 for Great Britain, and £26,500,000 for Ireland; but on examination of the proportion of taxes raised, it was found that Great Britain was made to yield £57,000,000 and Ireland to yield £7,000,000; and on examination of the proportion of taxation to income for Great Britain it was found to amount to 2s. 6d. in the pound and no more, whilst the proportion of Imperial taxation paid by Ireland was equal to 5s. 3d. in the pound. These figures carried to his mind, and impressed him with a sense of injustice more forcibly than any language at his command could convey to others. He confidently maintained that it would be impossible to find an instance of any country in the world, other than Ireland, made to pay by a single tax, an annual sum more than equal to a fourth of the annual value of all the houses and lands in the country—but that was the case with Ireland. He also confidently asserted, that there 1711 was no country in Europe, where so large a proportion of the total income of the country was taken up in taxes irrespective of those spirit duties as in Ireland. He had now but few words more to say, and these he offered to the House in loyalty and good faith. If the British Parliament desired that the power, which the Act of Union conferred upon Great Britain, of levying taxes off Ireland, should not be used for the wrong and oppression of that country—and he did believe that Parliament so desired—that House would apply itself, and Her Majesty's Ministers would apply them-selves, as early as possible, to the adjustment of the pressure of taxation, so that Ireland should contribute her fair quota—and no more—to the Imperial Exchequer. He would thank the House for the great indulgence and consideration it had shown him whilst dealing with a subject by no means attractive, and would conclude by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the complaints which have been made that the Imperial Taxation of the United Kingdom presses more severely on Ireland than on Great Britain, and extracts a greater revenue from Ireland in proportion to her actual means, are worthy of the early consideration of Her Majesty's Government, with a view to the adoption of measures for the equitable distribution of the pressure of taxation, so that each of the Countries constituting the United Kingdom shall contribute to the Imperial Revenue in proportion to its actual means,"—(Sir Joseph M'Kenna,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, there were no kind of complaints which more frequently reached the ears of the Chancellor of the Exchequer than those relating to the inequality of the incidence of taxation. Since he had the honour of holding his present office, it had fallen to his lot to have a great many representations made to him on the part of different classes and interests to the effect that they were unequally taxed. Such representations had been made to him on the part of different professions and trades, of the landed interest, the possessors of life incomes, and so forth; while he had also been in the habit of hearing it said that the consumers of taxable articles paid an undue 1712 share of the public burdens. He was not, under those circumstances, surprised that complaints of the same kind should come from one particular portion of the United Kingdom; and he might say that the example set by the hon. Member for Youghal had been followed, indeed, he might say preceded by Representatives of other portions of Great Britain. There would, indeed, in his opinion, be very little difficulty in making out a case with respect to many portions of England itself, if the House were to adopt the principle laid down by the hon. Gentleman, that the true test of the burden of taxation was the ratio which the income of one part of the country bore to another. But it was impossible to enter into a question of that kind on the present occasion. He was not going to argue the question on what the hon. Gentleman called "Dublin Castle Statistics," and of which he said that they might, in a certain sense, be true, but that they were irrelevant. That was a remark which he thought was true; but it equally applied to the great mass of statistics which the hon. Gentleman had laid before the House. He was not about to go minutely into those statistics, or to endeavour to find out where they might fairly be challenged; but he maintained that they were to a great extent wide of the point, and that the question must be looked at in a different way if the House desired to get at the truth. The subject to which the hon. Gentleman had called attention was, no doubt, one which was worthy of the consideration of the Government, for it was desirable that they should at all times be prepared to review the taxation of the country in order to ascertain, as far as possible, whether taxation did or did not press unfairly on any one class in the country. The subject was one which, however, had not escaped the attention of the Government. Some 10 years ago a Committee had been appointed by the House, which sat two Sessions, and which went very minutely into the circumstances of the taxation of Great Britain and Ireland. On that Committee, which was presided over by his right hon. and gallant Friend General Dunne, who at that time was a Member of the House, he had the honour to serve. He knew, he might add, no man who was more anxious that the case should be fairly considered than 1713 his right ton. and gallant Friend; nor did the Committee spare any pains or labour to get at the truth. Well, if the state of Ireland at that time was compared with its present condition, it would be found, he thought, that she had not been going back, but that, on the contrary, she had greatly improved. How was that improvement to be accounted for? and how was it consistent with the great oppression which as it was asserted had been practised towards Ireland in the matter of taxation? The hon. Gentleman said—"Look what enormous burdens you are laying upon her; I can only compare them with the burdens imposed on Prance by Prussia." That was, however, a comparison which he did not think the hon. Gentleman would persevere in on reflection. What was that taxation which was a burden imposed on France? It was a burden laid upon her not at all for her own benefit, but for the benefit of a foreign country, and it represented money extracted from France and sent to Germany. But did the hon. Gentleman mean to compare the money raised by the Imperial taxation, which fell both on Ireland and England, with taxation levied for the purpose of sending money to a foreign country? ["Hear, hear!"] Did hon. Gentlemen who cheered that statement think the case was parallel with that of Ireland? He was not altogether unprepared for that view of the case; but if they wished to look at the matter fairly, they must consider whether Ireland did not receive her share of benefit from the money which was taken from her in the shape of Imperial taxation. [Mr. JOHN MARTIN: No, no!] What, then, he should like to know, became of the money? It was spent for Imperial purposes, and it remained for the hon. Gentleman to show that those were purposes in which Ireland had no concern. If the money was spent for purposes which were exclusively advantageous to England, there might be something said for the comparison drawn by the hon. Gentleman, but such was not the case; for if the matter was looked fairly in the face, it would be found that Ireland got not only her share of Imperial, but also a large amount in the shape of subvention to her local expenditure. Without going minutely into the matter, he might mention that whereas the taxation 1714 of Ireland had in proportion to that of England might be put at 12 to 100, the proportion of the subventions to the local expenditure of the former as compared with those to local expenditure of En gland was as 100 to 80. That was a fact which the hon. Gentleman must bear in mind, and which made a very material difference, if he wished to establish a comparison between the taxation of France for the benefit of Germany and that of Ireland for the benefit of the British Empire. But the hon. Gentleman went on to devote a great portion of his speech to the discussion of the question of the spirit duties, and he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was not altogether disposed to deny the force of some of his remarks on that subject. He should like, however, to ask whether the whole of the money set down in the Returns before him as derived from Ireland as a tax on spirits was really paid in that country? Did the hon. Gentleman mean to contend that the whole of the home-made spirits in Ireland was consumed there, or did he make no allowance for the quantity which was consumed in the United Kingdom? If Ireland paid so large a sum as was said in the shape of duty, he would merely observe that the Irish people were not compelled to drink spirits, and that they drank them because they liked them. Therefore, the fact that a much larger proportion of Revenue came from that source was a proof that the circumstances of the Irish people were improving, and that they were better able to indulge themselves in those and similar luxuries. When, at the end of the year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated what the Revenue of the country had been, and that the proportion derived from the Excise and the Customs was so and so, and had largely increased, the inference generally drawn—and he thought correctly drawn—from that fact was, that the people must be in a prosperous condition, because they were able to contribute so largely to the Revenue. Well, that argument might be applied to Ireland. He did not say that it held equally good when the increase merely came from raising the duty; but when the duty had been raised, and the consumption still went on increasing, and a greater Revenue was thus produced, that fact, undoubtedly, as far as it went, strengthened the inference that the 1715 prosperity of the country was also increasing. When the hon. Gentleman said that the true test of the proper proportion of taxation between the two countries was the ratio between the aggregate income of the one to the other, was he not considering a very different system of taxation from that which existed in this country? [Sir JOSEPH M'KENNA: I think not.] If they had such a state of things now as they had immediately after the Union, when the Exchequers of the two countries were kept separate, and they attempted to regulate the proportions which each should pay to the joint expenditure, then, no doubt, they must have had recourse to such means as were at their command for ascertaining what amount they should assess on the one country and what amount on the other. If they came forward every year and said they wanted to raise £70,000,000 of taxation, and told England to provide so much, Ireland so much, and Scotland so much, then they would have to take into account those questions which the hon. Gentleman raised as to the aggregate income of those countries respectively. But that was not the system they went upon, or intended to go upon. What they said was—"Here are the taxes which, with some exceptions, are laid on the whole of the Empire, and when they are borne in a different ratio by each part of the country it is not by any arbitrary rule laid down by Parliament or by the Government, but by the self-acting rule of the state of the different parts of the country and their means of paying them." They might roughly divide the taxation of the United Kingdom into two classes—first, there was the taxation which fell on property and income, and where the property or income was large, the revenue derived from it would of course be large in proportion. Second, there were the taxes on articles of consumption; and they would be productive or otherwise according to the means of the consumer to consume those articles. Now, if they were to lay on one portion of the United Kingdom a different rate of income tax from that laid on other portions, undoubtedly they would be placing a burden on that particular portion of the country. If they said that where the one was to pay 2d. in the pound the other should pay 3d.; or where the 1716 one was to pay 2d. the other should not pay anything at all, no doubt that distinction would be an arbitrary one. But if they said that the whole country should pay a 2d. income tax, it could not be said that one part of the country was taxed more heavily than another, if the system of assessment was the same. Well, as between Great Britain and Ireland the system of assessment, if it differed at all, was all in favour of Ireland. He did not make much of that point, because he might be challenged as to what the amount of that difference was; but he might say that if the question was to be settled by Dublin Castle statistics, the amount would be very large. He should say, generally, that, in regard to landed property in Ireland, the principle of levying on the rateable value, instead of on the gross, was a great advantage, while, again, a double advantage was given to the tenant from the mode in which he was assessed under Schedule B. Therefore, the distinction that was made was in favour of Ireland. Then, with regard to other taxes, it was true there was some distinction between different parts of the Kingdom, but it was also in favour of Ireland. Certainly, of late years that distinction had been done away with to a great extent, and Ireland, in consequence, was brought to contribute more equally with the rest of the United Kingdom. It was by a self-acting test that they found what one part of the country and what another part should pay as regarded the great bulk of the Revenue. There were, however, still considerable items of taxation which applied to England and not to Ireland. Among these were the inhabited house duty, the establishment taxes, the railway duty, and he thought some other duties, which were still imposed on England and Scotland, but not on Ireland. Therefore, they were not treating Ireland with rigour. On the contrary, in adopting the system that was thought best for the whole of the Empire—a system which was, to a certain extent, and which was intended as nearly as possible to be selfacting, they had given relaxations to Ireland in consideration of matters which it was not now necessary to enter into. If it were true that since 1841 the taxation of Ireland had been more and more increasing in proportion to that of England, that was due to the fact that 1717 before that time Ireland was exempted to a much larger degree than at present she was from taxes which were paid in Great Britain; and the only question was, whether, she having had the benefit of that exemption so very long, they were not to come to the time when they should call on Ireland to bear her fair share of the burdens of the Empire, as was always contemplated at the time of the Union. ["No, no!"] He said it was always contemplated at the time of the Union that the period would probably arrive when it would be possible to lay a general system of taxation on the whole of the United Kingdom. But he admitted that the terms of the Union contemplated relaxations to meet the peculiar wants and circumstances of Ireland. Those relaxations had been made, and made most abundantly, and those parts of the country had severally had the benefit of them, and the case of the Government was, that the time had at last come when Ireland had arrived at that point of prosperity at which she was quite able to bear, at all events, the share which she was now called on to pay towards the expenses of the Empire. He would only say, then, in conclusion, that they rested their case on this: That there was no tax imposed on Ireland that was not also imposed on the rest of the United Kingdom; that there were taxes imposed on other portions of the United Kingdom which were not imposed on Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"] As to the relative productiveness of taxes in different parts of the United Kingdom, that was a matter which they could not regulate, because it was, in fact, self-regulating and self-acting. If it was said that in consequence of their raising so much of their revenue by taxation on articles of consumption, they bore heavily on the consumers of those articles—he meant in proportion to the charges on property—that was an argument which applied not to Ireland alone, but to the whole United Kingdom, and which must be considered on its own grounds. And lastly, when they considered that of Imperial taxation as now raised, Ireland got her full share and somewhat more, he thought the House could hardly be expected to entertain the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member asked them to inquire into the incidence of taxation with a view to 1718 its equitable distribution, so that each of the countries constituting the United Kingdom should contribute to the Imperial Revenue in proportion to its actual means. He said, that if they were to make such an inquiry, and they were in that inquiry to take into account, as they would be bound to do, the mode in which local taxation was levied in comparison with that of the other parts of the Empire, and also the special distinctions still existing as between one part of the Empire and another, they must come to the conclusion that Ireland, instead of being a gainer, would be much more likely to be a loser by the adoption of the principle for which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Youghal contended.
said, the House had probably for 20 years not listened to a more important speech on the condition of Ireland than that which had been made that evening by the hon. Member for Youghal (Sir Joseph M'Kenna). It was much to be regretted that during the delivery of that speech, in which it was essential that the hon. Gentleman should have dealt with the acts of a previous and recent Administration, the front Opposition bench had been conspicuous by its emptiness. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had laid great stress on the statement naturally and frankly made by the hon. Member for Youghal, that Ireland had made some advance in material progress; and the right hon. Gentleman sought to make capital out of that fair and truthful assertion, and asked how Ireland could be oppressed when even a Home Rule Member admitted that she had grown to some extent? He could only say of that threadbare and well worn argument, that it reminded him of that which was used by the baby-farmers, who referred to the fact of a child's growing, in proof of the excellent treatment it received. A child might increase a pound and a-half in weight in two years, and that small increase might itself be the result of cruel treatment. The question, however, was not whether Ireland had grown in the lapse of years, but whether her growth had been the normal and average growth she would display if she were well managed and well governed. The right hon. Gentleman evaded that point, he had shut his eyes to the striking contrast between 1719 the growth of England and that of Ireland, and unable to grapple with the very serious statements which had been made, had dexterously sought to evade them altogether. Of all men in the House, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to be the man to be able to give them a "Yea" on the question, if he could not give them a "Nay." What were the broad facts of the question? Was it not proved by the solemn evidence of a Parliamentary Return, that, whereas in England between 1841 and 1871, the pressure of taxation upon the English people per head had decreased 10 per cent. in the case of the Irish people it had increased from 9s. 6d. to 26s. 2d? No attempt had been made by the right hon. Gentleman to controvert that statement. There was, moreover, a Return which showed that the pressure of taxation in England upon the income of the community was exactly 2s. 6d. in the pound, while in Ireland it was no less than 5s. 3d. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had informed them, and English Members had cheered him as if their consciences were greatly relieved by the argument—"We pay taxes in England that are unknown in Ireland." ["Hear, hear!"] Would the hon. Member who cried "Hear, hear," say whether those taxes were not included in the 2s. 6d. in the pound which was paid in England, while the Irish taxes came to 5s. 3d? When that test was applied, what became of the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? The right hon. Gentleman had said—"In these matters we can take no special note of any particular portion of the Kingdom. We lay down a system of taxation which is self acting, and if it bears unequally on any portion of the Kingdom, that is the misfortune of that portion, not our fault." Surely, that was a powerful argument in favour of Home Rule. What Henry Grattan and the Plunkets had foretold in the Irish Parliament was now fulfilled. They had shown that an incorporation with England would attract the wealth of Ireland to the greater wealth of England, and deplete the former country instead of causing her to prosper. They had foretold that whereas under her own Parliament Ireland had had a comparatively light taxation, if she joined in one system with England she, the poorer country, would stagger 1720 under a weight which was as a feather on the shoulders of the wealthier people. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had now shown that that was the case, but he had said in excuse—" Ireland is so many shires in the United Kingdom, and we can take no more special note of it than we can take of Lancashire or Yorkshire." Upon that confession, what had Ireland gained by union with England? It would go forth to the Irish people, on the authority of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that because of the union they had to pay 5s. 3d. in the pound, instead of 2s., as in earlier days. Some English Member would perhaps argue—" It is all quite fair, for we don't levy upon you any tax which we do not ourselves bear." But that was a sophism. Taxes might be levied over a wide area of Empire which would have a specific effect upon one country and in no way touch another. If, for example, a law was passed prohibiting the growth of peat turf throughout the Empire, theoretically it would apply in the same way to England and Ireland, but practically it would affect the latter only. It was inevitable that a country should look upon this question as a whole and endeavour to strike a balance, in order to find out the net profit or the net loss. Doing that, Ireland found that about £150,000,000 had been wrung from her in taxation within the last 50 or 60 years which she would not have had to pay but for the union with England. Dr. Johnson once spoke of it as the "union of the shark with its prey." [An hon. MEMBER: It was Byron.] Yes, it was Byron. Dr. Johnson, however, said something still more severe. "Don't unite with us," said he, "or we shall rob you as we robbed the Scotch." But when Ireland was concerned, no matter whether it was financial, political, municipal, or the county franchise question, they were always taunted with the one argument—"Oh, that is nothing; why do you not select something practical? "He contended that nothing could be more practical than this question. Why the question of the sovereign was more practical than the almighty dollar. The taunt reminded him of the man who exclaimed, as he applied the lash to the back of a restless victim—" Whether I cut high or cut low, you are always complaining." Before the English community at the tribunal of public opinion, 1721 he would say that if there was any feature in the Irish case that could awaken English public opinion to the solid foundation there was for the Irish impeachment of the Union, it was to he found in the speech of the hon. Member for Youghal and in the answer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which afforded ample proof of the justice of the tremendous series of startling forebodings uttered by Grattan, Curran, Plunket, Bushe, and Flood, in which they warned Ireland against incorporation with England as an act which would bring upon the former country all the burdens of the wealth of the latter without its sharing in the advantages which that wealth ought to confer.
§ MR. ORR-EWING
said, he had listened to the speech of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Sullivan) with much satisfaction, because, as a Scotchman, he sympathized with the complaint of the Irishmen that their whiskey, which was their national beverage, was too heavily taxed, and he only regretted that the claims of Scotland upon the point had not also been brought before the House at the same time. It was a pity that the hon. Member had not stated distinctly how he proposed that the injustice should be remedied, because if he proposed to meet the case by lowering the duty upon the alcohol in Irish whiskey to the scale of that which was imposed upon alcohol in wine and beer in this country, he could assure the hon. Member that he would not have the support of Englishmen or Scotchmen, or even of his own countrymen. No one wished that the duty upon alcohol in whiskey should be lowered—all they desired was that justice might be done, and that the national beverages of England should be taxed at the same rate as those of Scotland and of Ireland were—according to the amount of alcohol these beverages contained. In his opinion, both Scotland and Ireland suffered great injustice from the manner in which beer was taxed, as the following figures would show. The annual consumption of proof spirits per head by the population in England was 6¾gallons, in Scotland 4½ gallons, and in Ireland 3 gallons. In 1863 the quantity of proof spirits consumed in England was 5 gallons per head of the population, in Scotland 3 gallons, and in Ireland 1¾ gallon; and the increase between that date and 1873 1722 was in England 27 per cent. in Scotland 50 per cent. and in Ireland 59 per cent. The amount of duty on alcohol in beer, wine, and spirits paid annually by the English population per head was 17s. 5d.; by the Scotch, 26s. 6d.; and by the Irish, 17s. 10d.; whereas, if the English, Scotch, and Irish were made to pay duty on the alcohol they consumed in wine and beer at the same rate as the alcohol in whiskey was taxed, the English would have to pay 66s. 11d. per head, the Scotch 45s. 9d. per head, and the Irish 29s. 1d. per head. Under the present system, the Scotch and Irish people were told that they must not consult their own taste in the beverage they drank, and that they were not to take that which they believed to be best for their own health, unless they chose to pay a far higher duty upon it than the people of England had to pay on their national beverage. He heartily approved the object the hon. Member for Youghal (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) had in view in inviting the attention of Parliament to the heavy taxation of Scotland and Ireland as regarded their national beverages, with a view to future legislation; but, at the same time, if the hon. Member would not consent to withdraw his Resolution, he should be obliged to vote against it because he was sure that the people of England, Ireland, and Scotland would never be parties to lowering the duty upon alcohol in any form.
THE O'CONOR DON
said, that as he was the only Representative from an Irish constituency now in Parliament who had sat on the Committee whose Report the Chancellor of the Exchequer had referred to, he desired to say a few words on this subject. He quite agreed with the line of argument that had been adopted by the last speaker. Although there was nominally equality of taxation as between Ireland and England on the two great articles of beer and whiskey, yet in reality there was no such equality, because the taxation on the alcohol in the two beverages was very different. He agreed with the hon. Member who had spoken last, that very few Irish Members would vote for a reduction of the tax upon whiskey, because they believed that that would lead to far greater evils than the tax itself; but what they were entitled to claim was that a similar 1723 amount of taxation should be placed upon the national Leverages in England which corresponded to whiskey in Ireland, and if that were done, he believed that an enormous increase would come into the purse of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. At the same time, looking at the result of the last General Election, he feared it was very unlikely that a proposal of that sort would meet with the approval of a majority of the House, because one of the most powerful interests of the country would be opposed to it, although if it were left to Irish Representatives, he believed it would soon become law. The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) seemed in doubt whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted the fact that taxation in its existing form pressed more heavily upon Ireland than it did upon England, the respective resources of the two countries being taken into consideration. He would, therefore, refer to one of the draft Reports presented to the Committee, which had been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—It is not surprising," the Report stated, "that the large increase in the general taxation of the country should have given rise to complaints, and that louder complaints should have been made by Ireland than Try other parts of the United Kingdom.…. The pressure of taxation will be felt most by the weakest part of the community, and as the average wealth of the Irish taxpayer is less than the average wealth of the English taxpayer, the ability of Ireland to pay taxation is evidently less than that of England. Mr. Senior remarks that the taxation of England is both the heaviest and lightest in Europe—the heaviest as regards the amount raised, the lightest as regards the ability to bear that amount, and that in the case of Ireland it is heavy both as regards the amount and the ability of the contributor, and he adds that England is the most lightly taxed, and Ireland the most heavily taxed country in Europe, although both are nominally liable to equal taxation.That draft Report was not his Report, but was proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer.
THE O'CONOR DON
said, the next paragraph stated that complaints had been made by the several witnesses examined, to the effect that Ireland had been suffering, especially during the last four or five years, from a diminution of capital, or from emigration.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHE- QUER
What I meant to call attention to was the paragraph immediately following that, showing that the same argument applied to the poorer parts of England.
THE O'CONOR DON
could assure the right hon. Gentleman he did not intend in any degree to misrepresent him. In the paragraph to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, he stated that it was clear, from what Mr. Senior had said, that that which applied to Ireland applied to the poor parts of Great Britain also; that no system of taxation had ever been devised which pressed equally upon all persons; and that if it were recognized as a sound principle that we should attempt to graduate a tax which pressed upon one part of the United Kingdom, so as to relieve it of some burdens on the ground of poverty, it was impossible to resist the conclusion that we should carry the graduation further, for the purpose of relieving individual taxpayers all over the United Kingdom. He had merely referred to the Report, to show that the right hon. Gentleman had admitted the fact that the present system of Imperial taxation fell more heavily upon Ireland, than upon other parts of the United Kingdom. The simple mode of restoring the balance was that suggested by the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Orr Ewing). While he joined in the wish expressed by the hon. Gentleman opposite that the Motion would not be pressed to a division, he could not but think that the debate would be attended with beneficial results. It would show hon. Members who were fond of taunting Irish Representatives when asking for aid for works of utility in Ireland, that they did not come as beggars to apply for that to which they were not entitled, and that the right hon. Gentleman who now presided over the finances of the country, having examined the subject carefully in Committee upstairs for two years, had come to the same conclusion as that which was the mainspring of the Motion of the hon. Member for Youghal—namely, that from whatever cause it arose, the existing system of Imperial taxation pressed more heavily on the resources of Ireland than it did on those of Great Britain.
§ MR. LOWE
said, he wished to point out that which appeared to him to be 1725 evident, as one of the Members of the Committee referred to—namely, that the arguments which they had just heard rested on a very obvious and gross fallacy. Hon. Gentlemen spoke of the taxation Ireland paid, and England paid, and Scotland paid; but they did not seem to observe that in using those terms, they were using expressions which were merely abstract and metaphorical. Ireland, in fact, paid no taxation, and England paid no taxation. Taxation was not paid by geographical districts, it was paid by individuals. Hon. Gentlemen took the amount paid by the population of a country, and showed the average paid per head. That, however, was not the way to ascertain whether a country was heavily or lightly taxed. The thing they had got to show was, that individuals of one country were more heavily taxed than individuals of like means were in another country. They should compare the individual Irishman and the individual Englishman in similar circumstances, and show that the Irishman was more heavily taxed than the Englishman. That was what they had not done, and that was what he challenged them to do. He would begin with the Irish Duke, and, if necessary, he could go down to the Irish peasant, and ask them to show him any Irishman more heavily taxed than any Englishman of a corresponding class. The Irish Duke paid nothing for keeping his carriages, he paid no duty for his servants, he paid no assessed taxes. The English Duke of similar income was subject to those taxes. Again, Irish railways paid no taxes. He could, in fact, point out numbers of instances in which individual Irishmen and corporations were much less heavily taxed than were English individuals and corporations of like standing. He could show no case in which the Englishman was relieved of a tax which was levied upon the Irishman. They were, therefore, merely deluding themselves with words when they talked about the taxation of Ireland and the taxation of England. Let them go to individuals and show some case in which Irishmen groaned under the burden of taxation which Englishmen of exactly similar means escaped. The case failed entirely through the use of abstract and metaphorical language, as if a country, and not 1726 the individuals of the country, paid taxation.
§ MR. JOHN MARTIN
hoped his hon. Friend the Member for Youghal (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) would not withdraw his Motion, but would ask the House whether it referred to a subject sufficiently important to be considered with a view to a solemn opinion being expressed upon it. He (Mr. John Martin) had seen some things in the course of the debate which, as a friend of England—although he ought not to be a friend of England; he should only be a servant of his own country and indicate as far as he could the rights of his country, trying to convince the people of England through the House of Commons that the Irish, his countrymen, would never consent to remain the subjects of this country; but, as a friend of England, he had witnessed some things in the course of the debate which were of a hopeful kind. He had perceived that the consciences of some Englishmen were beginning to be touched. He had watched how eagerly they hung upon the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, seeking for some apology, some excuse, some explanation—anything that would satisfy them that it might be just to tax the people of one country 5s. 3d. in the pound, and of their own country 2s. 6d. only. There was another reason why the inquiry asked for should be granted, and it was this—that the right hon. Gentleman had said—and a former Chancellor of the Exchequer had reechoed his words—that, in fact, Ireland, in the matter of taxation, was unduly favoured. Now, as an Irishman, he said he did not want to be unduly favoured. His countrymen would scorn to be unduly favoured. They wanted to pay their fair and just share, and they called on the ex-Chancellor and the actual Chancellor of the Exchequer to make good their case. He hoped that the two Reports of the Committee to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred—that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the minority Report of General Dunne—would be studied by hon. Gentlemen at both sides of the House. In the proceedings of that Committee he took a deep interest, for its leading spirit had been an old and dear Friend of his, the late John Dillon. He recollected well how when that Committee was appointed, care was taken to pack it with English and pro-English 1727 Members, so as to secure a Report in favour of England.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, he was satisfied with the discussion, and would, with the permission of the House, withdraw his Motion Cries of "No, no!"]
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."