§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
, in rising to move, by way of Amendment, a Resolution with respect to Irish Taxation, said: Mr. Speaker—Sir, before I enter into any explanation in reference to the Notice I have placed on the Paper I wish to state to the House that it was my wish that this discussion should have occurred at an earlier stage of the Budget, but I was forestalled by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Hubbard), and the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), and was therefore unable until now to bring on the Motion. I am quite aware that there is no more unpopular subject in this House than Irish financial grievances, because the House believes that those alleged grievances are of a sentimental and unsubstantial character. All I can say is this, that if I did not know very well, from long and very earnest study of the question, that those grievances are of a very substantial and practical nature, I should not trouble the House on this occasion. I am not now going to enter into debate on a state of things long since past, but my observations will be applicable to the conditions that exist at the present day, being, in fact, practical commentaries on the taxation of Ireland at this moment. I will undertake to show that the finances of Ireland are in such a condition that if this country desires to restore the prosperity of that part of the United Kingdom they must enter on a very different course from that hitherto pursued.
The taxation to be raised by the present Budget is greater than has ever before been raised in this country, either in the time of peace or war. I am aware that loans have been transacted, but I can find no record of anything like a taxation of £78,000,000 in one year. Well, Ireland is greatly interested in this, because her taxation is increased as well as that of England. I know, indeed, that a con- 1358 siderable portion of the taxation will be returned to those who pay it in the shape of subventions for local objects, and that a portion of it also is to be applied to the reduction of Debt. I do not intend, therefore, to make any complaint of extravagant estimates, especially as it is absolutely necessary for a great country like this to maintain its Army and Navy on an effective footing; but if we consider that the Income Tax, which is increased in this country, is also increased in Ireland, the remark may be pardoned in passing that the very success of the Income Tax—the fact that for every penny in the pound you now reap a revenue of very nearly £2,000,000—constitutes one of the strongest arguments against it; for it puts a premium upon slovenly finance. Everything in future will turn on the toss of a penny; because a penny of Income Tax either way means a sum of £2,000,000 for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to play with; and we are told that, now you have exempted small incomes, no one much cares whether the Income Tax stands at 2d. or at 3d. in the pound. Such a condition of things may well prove fatal to painstaking and careful finance as the country has hitherto understood it. Turning, however, from these general considerations, and coming to the subject with which I am more immediately concerned, I wish to make two statements to the House, to which I beg the attention of hon. Members. I affirm that within the last 23 years the taxation of Ireland has doubled, that Ireland now contributes to the Imperial Exchequer £8,500,000, as against £4,000,000 23 years ago. In that period the taxation per head in Ireland has risen from 9s. 6d. to £1 12s. 2d. per head. I would further remind the House that in a little more than the same period the population of Ireland has declined by 2,500,000 persons. Whatever explanation may be given of these circumstances, they are worthy of, and ought to receive, the earnest attention of the House of Commons. I am not going to say how far they stand in the relation of cause and effect, but I will say that no Legislative Assembly in the world could have such facts put before them without at once giving them their serious attention. It may be asked—how are we to know that these statements are accurate? My answer is, that every statement 1359 I have made is based on Returns which have been placed before this House, and which any hon. Member may consult for himself. Previous to, and until the year 1870 the finance accounts gave in separate tables the Revenue raised in Great Britain and in Ireland; but in that year a change took place in the form of those accounts, and the practice was introduced of lumping together the total Revenue of the United Kingdom, so that it is no longer possible to ascertain the amount contributed by England, Scotland, and Ireland respectively. That change in the form of the accounts was made under significant circumstances, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) was Chancellor of the Exchequer. To obtain the requisite information, I applied to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer to give us the means of ascertaining what had been the taxation of Ireland during the past five years, and with his usual courtesy he has allowed the finance accounts to be made up for those five years in the same form as before, and to be laid upon the Table, so that every hon. Member has now the opportunity of knowing what the Revenue is as derived from Great Britain and from Ireland respectively. If hon. Members will look at the Return they will find that from Ireland there has been collected during the last five years £42,000,000 of taxes. That is nearly £8,500,000 a-year, or £1 12s. 2d. for every man, woman, and child in Ireland. Of the £8,500,000 very nearly £6,500,000 are raised by Customs and Excise duties, and are therefore paid by the poorer classes of the people, and that is one of the most serious points in my argument. We pay the Income Tax in Ireland, but we have hitherto been excused the assessed taxes, and various exemptions have been made which affect the upper classes; but the great burden of the taxation, through the Excise and Customs, falls upon the poor. The House will remember, too, that the emigration of 2,500,000—which is a scandal and a shame to this country—is an emigration of the poorest classes. The facts I have stated are very little known to the House of Commons, but they are well known to some hon. and right hon. Members. They are very well known both to the present and to the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Lowe), 1360 and the late Chancellor has before this given his answer to them. He says it is not Ireland that is taxed at all, or England, but the people living in Ireland or England. The individual taxpayer in Ireland pays the same as the individual taxpayer in England or Scotland, and the taxation is therefore perfectly equitable. That is a very old theory of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe). When the celebrated Committee of Colonel Dunne was appointed, in 1865, by the House of Commons to investigate the financial grievances of Ireland, the right hon. Gentleman used this very argument in the Committee, and he proposed an Amendment to that effect to the Committee's Report. Nobody was found to second his Amendment, however, and it fell to the ground; but as the matter is of importance I will ask leave to read it to the House. Mr. Lowe said—As the taxes imposed on England and Ireland are paid, not by those countries, but by the individuals who live in them; as these taxes are imposed either on expenditure or in proportion to income, and very fairly adjusted to the ability of the taxpayer; and as a man taxed in proportion to his ability in a poor country is just as able to bear taxation as a person possessed of the same means or making the same expenditure in a rich one, your Committee attach little value to such proportions as bearing on the question of Irish taxation, or the ability of the individual Irishman to bear it. Your Committee cannot admit that a country in which no tax oppressive to any individual exists is nevertheless injured and oppressed by excessive taxation.As a protest to the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman, the Committee adopted a very different Resolution, which was proposed by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I will read to the House the following extract from it:—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 bear heavy taxation is evidently less than the ability of England. Mr. Senior, whose evidence on the position of Ireland will be found very suggestive, remarks that the taxation of England is both the heaviest and the lightest in Europe—the heaviest as regards the amount raised, the lightest as regards the ability to bear that amount; but that in the case of Ireland, it is heavy both as regards the amount and as regards the ability of the contributor; and he adds that England is the most lightly and Ireland the most heavily taxed country in Europe, although both are nominally liable to equal taxation.1361 These were the words indorsed by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and anybody can see the fallacy on which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe's) amendment was based. He regarded only the obvious, superficial, and direct effects of taxation. He took no account of all the remote and secondary effects, which must be regarded by anybody who proposes to rule a great country. Let me put a case to the House. If a gentleman has an estate of £5,000 a-year, and he spends the £5,000 upon himself, at the end of 12 months he will have nothing left to expend on the improvement and development of the resources of his estate. If reproached by his tenants for his reckless and improvident expenditure, what answer will it be for him to say—"Oh! I only spend the same amount as my neighbour?" Well; but his neighbour has an income of £10,000 a-year, and therefore, after spending £5,000, he would have at the end of the 12 months £5,000 to lay out in benefiting his estate. Now, that illustrates the case of Ireland as regards taxation. The case of Ireland is that by this heavy taxation you have removed and do remove such an immense proportion of the income of the country, that not only have the people been obliged to fly to happier climes to gain a livelihood, but there is nothing left to develop the resources of the country. The country is borne down by the excessive character of the taxation, and the abject and miserable poverty, the result, in part, of it, is one of the chief causes of discontent in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London would fix on other men's shoulders a burden which he would not bear on his own. The burden of taxation in Ireland is not only equal to that of England, but infinitely and shamefully larger. England pays in proportion to the income of the people an amount of taxation which is a mere trifle compared with the taxation of Ireland, and I will prove it. Every financier from Adam Smith downwards lays down the doctrine that the taxes to which a man is liable ought not to be taken from his gross income, but from his net income, and that principle is recognized by this House in the exemptions which have been sanctioned in the income tax. Let me now apply the 1362 same principle in dealing with this subject. It is no use stating how much per head individuals pay, unless we know what their income is; because a tax which is light enough to the rich man falls with heavy weight on the poor man. What is the income of Great Britain? Probably, he best estimate ever formed was made by the late Mr. Dudley Baxter in 1869. Mr. Baxter took the amount assessed to the income tax at £400,000,000; he put the income of the wage-earning class at £325,000,000 more; and another £75,000,000 was derived from other sources; thus making the whole income of Great Britain £800,000,000. That estimate is, I believe, generally accepted as the most correct, and certainly the most moderate, that was ever made. Now, what is the income of Ireland? The income on which income tax is assessed in Ireland amounts to £26,000,000; and if we add to that an estimate on the same basis as the one I have referred to as to the income of the wage-earning class, we shall bring up the total income of Ireland to about £48,000,000, which is rather over-estimating than underestimating it; because the total wages in Ireland bear a less proportion to the other sources of income, while I have put them in the same ratio as in England. What taxation does Ireland pay out of that £48,000,000? Why she pays £8,000,000, that is, there is contributed to the Imperial Exchequer 3s. 4d. of every pound of her income. But then what does England pay out of her £800,000,000 of income? Why, England paid, at the time Mr. Baxter's calculation was made, exactly £67,000,000, which is only at the rate of 1s. 8d. in the pound instead of 3s. 4d. as paid in Ireland. I challenge contradiction to that from either side of the House or from any Chancellor of the Exchequer, past or present. If anybody should question the statement, I should be quite prepared to submit the matter to, say, the same arbitrators as determined the Alabama question, giving England the benefit of the Lord Chief Justice as its Representative, into the bargain, for I am certain that any body of arbitrators could only give one decision. I have hitherto spoken only of Imperial taxation, but both England and Ireland pay local taxation as well, and in the House of Commons we have 1363 all heard the groans of the former country under the infliction imposed upon it in that respect. If we add local taxation as given by Baxter, it results that in 1869 the local taxation of England was £19,000,000, which added to £67,000,000 of Imperial taxation makes a total of £86,000,000 paid by Great Britain. Now the local taxation of Ireland is £3,500,000, which added to £8,500,000, paid to the Imperial Exchequer, makes a total taxation of £12,000,000 out of an income of £48,000,000. That unhappy country, which many hon. Members believe is given only to useless and purposeless complaints, pays to taxation one quarter of its annual income. England pays £86,000,000 out of £800,000,000, which is at the rate of 9½ per cent, or, say, in round numbers, for the purpose of the argument, 10 per cent, against the 25 per cent paid by Ireland. If Great Britain was taxed on the same scale as Ireland, Great Britain would pay £200,000,000 in taxation; while, on the other hand, if Ireland was taxed on the same scale as Great Britain, instead of paying £8,500,000, she would pay less than £5,000,000; which is about the amount at which Ireland ought to be assessed. Now I must go a little further. There is a widespread impression in this House that Ireland is the spoilt child of the Kingdom, and that she has received great favour in the shape of exemptions from taxation. I deny that it is so. Let us look closely at the taxes from which Ireland has been exempted, which are the assessed taxes—the land tax, the railway passenger duty, and for a short period the income tax. These taxes, excluding the income tax, which was speedily imposed on Ireland because a very rich gentleman transferred nearly a million of money from the English to the Irish funds so as to escape the tax, produced altogether in Great Britain about £4,000,000, and if Ireland had been obliged to contribute to all of them in proportion to what she contributes to other taxes, her contribution would have been £326,000. That sum, then, represents the whole of the exemptions which have been given to Ireland, and it is a mere bagatelle in comparison with the excessive sums taken from her in other directions. But there is another thing. It is said that Ireland gets an undue share of contributions directly from the Imperial Exchequer, 1364 and that the Government is very liberal in supporting her public institutions. Now, the contributions from the Exchequer to Great Britain are about £3,500,000, under the heads of Police, Poor Law, and Education. The amount contributed to Ireland for similar purposes is £1,768,000; and then there is £150,000 or £200,000 given to Irish institutions, to which there are no corresponding institutions in England. That brings up the total contributions from the Exchequer to about £2,000,000; but of that sum £1,000,000 goes to the support of the Irish Constabulary, a sum which ought, more properly, to appear under the head of Army Estimates. I admire the Irish Constabulary as a body; but I think it ridiculous to say, that among the grants from the Imperial Exchequer to Ireland, there should be one including the cost of an army of occupation, which that force more accurately represents. All that we get then as direct contributions from England is something less than £1,000,000, and against that we have, as I said, the revenue from Ireland amounting to £8,500,000, which is largely raised under the two heads of Excise and Customs, and of which the principal sum is derived from the spirit duties. Those duties, as everybody knows, have been from time to time augmented, first by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone), and then by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, until they now amount to 10s. per gallon—a point at which they have become oppressive to the Irish people. I, and others, have been accused of desiring to lower the spirit duties, and it has been said that the whole grievance of Ireland is that the Irish have to pay too much for their whiskey. These sneers are unworthy of any hon. Member who reflects at all, and they will not dispose of these discussions. For my part I have never asked for the lowering of the spirit duties, and I do not know that any friend of Ireland would make such a request. But it is quite possible by making a tax too heavy to do harm and injustice in a direction you do not contemplate. The national beverage of England, as we all know, is beer, and the national dish beef; but what makes beer so acceptable to the people of England? Why, it is the alcohol which it contains, for one glass of Bass contains nearly as much alcohol 1365 as two glasses of sherry. It is that which makes it acceptable, as the alcohol in whiskey makes it acceptable to the Irish people. But you do not tax beer anything like so heavily as you tax whiskey. The duty on the alcohol in beer is only 1s. 9d., as compared with 10s. per gallon on whiskey. If the alcohol in beer was taxed at the same rate as the spirits which the Irish consume, there would be raised to the country from this source alone a revenue of £95,000,000 a-year—enough to pay all the taxes and reduce the National Debt besides. Notwithstanding all the facts I have stated many hon. Gentlemen are still under the belief that Ireland is now prosperous and flourishing. Let us bring this to the test of figures. When you talk of the prosperity of Ireland remember that in that country there are only 273 manufacturing establishments, employing between 80,000 and 90,000 people. If you look to the flax trade in Belfast you will find that the cultivation has fallen off to the extent of 100,000 acres, and is now very much less than it was 20 years ago. There are 57 lines of railway in Ireland; but out of that number 40 pay no dividend at all. Again, 20 years ago the fisheries of Ireland gave employment to 111,000 men, and there were 20,000 boats. Now there are only 20,000 men and 7,000 boats. Returns presented to this House show that during 1872 alone 273,000 acres went out of tillage and were either converted to pasture, or, in the case of 50,000, added to the bog and waste of Ireland. Do you call it prosperity that 2,500,000 of the people of the country in 23 years have left her shores? Remember that that emigration has taken place during the time you have been increasing the taxation, and, as I believe, greatly in consequence of it. It is said, on the other hand, that there are £30,000,000 of deposits in the banks of Ireland, but that is a misapprehension. Half of that amount does not consist of real money. It represents advances by bankers to their customers by way of discounting bills, and in other ways, which are called deposits in accordance with a peculiar system of banking which, I believe, originated in Scotland. There are only really about £15,000,000 of deposits. An apparent increase of £5,000,000, arising 1366 from the deposits of farmers, is only apparent, and is due, I desire to point out, not to the accumulations which they have made owing to the prosperity of the country, but rather to a change in habits, for small farmers no longer, as formerly, hoard their money in stockings or put it in some hole in the chimney, but deposit it in the banks, which of late years have been established in every small town. I am not at the same time prepared to deny that there are evidences that Ireland is in a better condition than it was some years ago, but how so? It is because you have largely by this excessive taxation driven away the people from the country. [An hon. Member: No.] If the hon. Member who says No can confute any of the statements I have made I shall be glad; but I repeat the people have been driven away, and I will not take a cry of No for an answer to a serious indictment. Hundreds and thousands of acres which a short time ago supported families and reared strong men, now raise nothing but beasts belonging to rich graziers, residing either in this country or in Ireland. Ireland is being rapidly reduced to the condition of New Zealand; it is becoming a great grazing country. The land is in the possession of a few proprietors, who, assisted by the overwhelming taxation, have got rid of the great mass of the population, and you have now in Ireland fields which are still green, but no longer gay with the shouts and the laughter of children. A desolation has been made in many parts, and it is called prosperity. We may be told that the tide of emigration has lessened within the last 12 months. I know it, but what is the reason? Why, it is that there is now even more distress as regards employment in America, to which the emigration chiefly went, than there is in Ireland. Having said thus much, Sir, I appeal to Irish Members on both sides to support this Amendment. To other hon. Members I would also make an appeal. Ireland has been too long the battle-field of parties. Every Irish question has been, considered in its political aspect, and truly enough there have been great political grievances in that country. You have, however, redressed many of the grievances in connection with the tenure of land, although the Bill passed by the late Government on that subject is far 1367 from perfect. You have also taken away the cause of religious discord, and have removed many great grievances; the chief one now being the refusal to let us manage our own affairs. I appeal to the House to take a broader view of Irish questions in future. We are linked to you by chains which, for my part, I do not wish to see snapped. Let us stand together, and be as one against the whole world; but let us each manage our own local affairs. When we come and ask for remedial measures, do not look at them as you have hitherto done with microscopic eyes or meet them with the arguments of a spurious political economy. I do not ask so much for the removal of taxation as that you should give to Ireland some increased portion of the benefit of that taxation. At present all Government manufacturing establishments are in this country. This money which you take from Ireland you spend in England on your manufacturing and other establishments for purposes of State. You return little or nothing of it to Ireland. You take capital from a poor and struggling country and add it to the capital of Great Britain. I ask you to look in a wise and statesmanlike manner and see if some portion of that amount which you raise in Ireland every year might not be laid out for the benefit of that country as you lay it out now for the benefit of England? The late Lord George Bentinck did initiate a policy of that kind; he devised a scheme for the construction by the State of railways in Ireland, and he laid that scheme before this House; and it is with shame, I confess, that his policy was defeated very much by the votes of Representatives from Ireland. The Ballot, however, has given Ireland, if not a Representation more acceptable to the House of Commons, a Representation more true. You will have no more votes of that kind from the Representatives who now come from Ireland. If the House wishes that in future England should stand firm, and if the cloud now threatening in the East is to grow larger and burst without doing any harm to this country, you must have Ireland with you; and the only way to get her with you is to do her justice, to give her all she reasonably asks, and in short to do to others as you would they should do unto you. It is in order to bring that about, Sir, that I beg to move, 1368 as an Amendment to the Motion now before the House—That, in the opinion of this House, no financial arrangements can be satisfactory which are so framed as to make no provision for relieving Ireland from a burden of Taxation beyond her ability to pay as compared with Great Britain.
§ THE O'CONOR DON,
in seconding the Motion, said, when the Committee to which his hon. Friend had referred, had concluded its inquiries the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed a Report in which the following words occurred:—It is not surprising that the large increase which your Committee have noticed in the general taxation between 1852 and 1862, and again in local taxation since 1845, should have given rise to complaints; nor is it surprising that louder complaints should have come from Ireland than from other parts of the United Kingdom.If that were true in 1862 the Chancellor of the Exchequer must admit that the complaints now made ought not to cause much surprise, for since then both Imperial and local taxation had gone on increasing. One of the great objects of bringing the subject before the House was that a contrary opinion to that which was the true one prevailed in this country with regard to Irish taxation. It was generally believed, and the belief was sedulously fostered by the Press and entertained by a majority of that House, that Ireland was favourably treated in the matter of taxation. It was, however, in fact, the greatest fallacy that ever existed. Ireland was always treated as a particular entity when grants to her were under consideration; but the moment a complaint was made as to Ireland being unfairly taxed they were told—"Ireland is not taxed at all; it is only individuals who are taxed, and, as they pay the same taxes as Englishmen, they have no reason to complain." He admitted at once that it was only individuals who were taxed, but it was quite possible that some individuals might be more seriously affected than others by taxation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that indirect taxation pressed more heavily upon the weaker portion of the community than upon the stronger; and if it were admitted that the Irish community as a whole was poorer and less able to bear its burden than the English, it must be admitted that it suffered more severely 1369 in this matter of similar taxation, especially as regarded indirect taxation. To prove that similarity of taxes did not necessarily involve equality in the pressure of taxation, he would quote one instance. Suppose Ireland were inhabited by a people like the Chinese, who smoked opium instead of tobacco; and suppose opium were heavily taxed and tobacco were not taxed, surely all would admit that that tax would not press equally on the English and the Irish people. The tax would fall only on the smokers of opium, and in the case which he put would fall entirely on the community occupying a particular part of the United Kingdom. That was to a certain extent the case of Ireland at present. The beverage of the Irish people was more highly taxed than the beverage of the English; and it was from this particular tax that the greatest portion of the Irish revenue was raised. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might say that this was equally true of portions of England, and that those who drank whiskey in England would be just as much taxed as the Irishmen who drank it in Ireland. He admitted that, and he would say that if there were any portion of England as distinctly marked, off geographically and by legislation as Ireland was, it should also be entitled to the exemption which they claimed for Ireland. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the Report which he prepared for the Committee, said—The true lesson to be learned from the statements made was that it was important to make every effort for the reduction of Imperial expenditure generally.He should like to ask whether his right hon. Friend, since he came into office, had endeavoured to carry out that principle? Whether he had tried or not, the fact was that there had been increased expenditure within the last few years, and, with that, increased taxation. Another object in bringing forward the Motion was to disabuse the English mind of the idea that Ireland received an undue share of the Imperial expenditure. In certain matters she did receive a larger share than England. For instance, his hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) had alluded to the amount expended on the Royal Irish Constabulary, but he pointed out at the same time that it 1370 ought to be regarded rather as an Imperial than a local force. Local taxation in Ireland had largely increased of late, under the operation of various Public Health and Sanitary Acts, and in some parts of the country these accumulating expenses were exciting quite a terror, and in regard to them he thought aid should be given from the Imperial Exchequer. He did not desire to weary the House by entering into long details on the subject, but having taken a considerable interest in it, he did not like the debate to proceed without saying a few words upon it.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, no financial arrangements can be satisfactory which are so framed as to make no provision for relieving Ireland from a burden of Taxation beyond her ability to pay as compared with Great Britain,"—(Mr. Mitchell Henry,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the question had not advanced very much from the point at which it was left last year, when it was discussed on the Motion of the hon. Member for Youghal (Sir Joseph M'Kenna). At the same time, there could be no doubt that the hon. Gentlemen who had spoken that evening were both exceedingly well qualified to discuss the question, and had indeed done so with an amount of ability which entitled them to the respectful consideration of the House. He doubted, however, with regard to it, whether the House would be likely to arrive at any satisfactory conclusions from merely statistical discussions like the present, because the two parties did not meet upon altogether common ground. There was at the command of the Government, got together by gentlemen in their employ, a considerable amount of statistical information to which they might refer, if such a course were at all desirable, in order to show the real relation of the burdens as compared with the wealth of Ireland. Irish Members always alleged, however, that they were Dublin Castle statistics, and ought not to be appealed 1371 to. For that reason, he declined to avail himself of them last year, and although he could easily bring forward statistics against those of the hon. Gentleman, he doubted whether he could in that way very much advance his cause. Again, it was easy enough for hon. Members to show from a certain number of Returns that the taxation had increased by so much per head, and that the wealth of the country had not increased in proportion; or that England paid so much per head, while Ireland paid another proportion per head. He doubted whether by discussions of that sort they would get at any great results, because all those debates turned in the end to the conclusions arrived at by both the hon. Gentlemen who had addressed the House that evening. Hon. Gentlemen either arrived at the conclusion that they ought to make an alteration in the spirit duties, as compared with the duties on malt liquor and on fermented liquors in this country, or else that they ought to spend more money in Ireland than was done at present in proportion to what was spent in England. With regard to the second conclusion, he wished to point out that it was not consistent with the Resolution which the hon. Member had moved. If they were simply to go and raise more money, for the sake of expending a greater amount in aid of local burdens or improvements in Ireland, that would certainly not be reducing the burdens of the country. It was raising a different question as to whether they should deal in a different manner than they did at present with the great subject of local taxation. That was a subject in which Ireland, like all other portions of the United Kingdom, was interested, and it was a fair subject, at the proper time, for discussion. With regard to the question whether they ought to expend more money on public works in Ireland than in England, he might remark that that would be an uneconomical arrangement. The money raised for Imperial purposes ought, as it was at the present, to be expended in that part of the United Kingdom in which it could be spent with most effect. If, for example, a dockyard were removed from England to Ireland, where the cost would be increased, a burden would be imposed on the United Kingdom, including Ireland as well as England. Therefore the conclusion to which 1372 hon. Gentlemen opposite would draw the House, though they might argue it on its own merits, was not appropriate to this question respecting the mode of raising taxation. He was willing enough to discuss the question that Ireland paid too much, but it was useless for them to attempt to meet the question by spending more money in Ireland. Was it true—nay, was it possible—that they could be raising from Ireland a greater amount of taxation than she was able to bear? That taxation was divisible roughly into two great heads. First, there was the direct taxation, which fell upon property, and which was levied in proportion to the value of that property; and, secondly, there was the indirect taxation, which fell upon articles of consumption, and which was self-regulating, in as much as people paid the duties on articles of consumption only as far as they were willing to use those articles. In regard to direct taxation, he did not see how it was possible for a taxpayer in Ireland to pay more in proportion to his property than a taxpayer did in England, unless, indeed, there existed a system under which one man was made to pay, say 2d. in the pound, while another man had to pay 3d. If, however, they laid the same weight of taxation on the property of all men, he did not see how there could possibly be inequality. Was there, then, any mode in which the taxation was levied that was in favour of one country as against the other? If there was such a mode, and there was a difference, no doubt, in the mode of collecting the income tax, it was not against, but in favour of Ireland. Now, what was the proportion of income tax levied as compared with the wealth of the country? Hon. Gentlemen opposite took two different tests for ascertaining the wealth of the two countries. They assumed the basis of property as assessed to the Income Tax, and on this point he would have to say something. The hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) had made a remark on the change effected in 1870 by his Predecessor in office as to the mode in which the finance accounts were presented. He thought some light was thrown on the intention of his Predecessor in making that change by the Report of the Board of Inland Revenue in 1870. The Inland Revenue Commissioners, in their Report of 1870, said— 1373A striking instance of the difficulty of drawing correct inferences from statistics of this kind was afforded in a Return printed by the House of Commons in 1868. The Return purports to show the proportion of taxation to the wealth of the country in England and Ireland respectively, and the amount assessed to Income Tax is taken as a measure of wealth in both cases. The result, as deduced from the figures, is, that in England the amount raised by taxation is £17 14s. for every £100 of Income Tax, and in Ireland £29 10s. 7½d. We trust that no one will conclude from this that the burden of taxation borne by Ireland is to that of England as 29 to 17, for a more erroneous conclusion could scarcely be arrived at. The Income Tax is taken as the common measure of wealth. Let us see what the Income Tax really represents in the two countries. We begin with Schedule A. In England the assessments on lands and houses under Schedule A are made upon the full annual value. In Ireland they are made, by special enactment to that effect, upon the valuation to the Poor Law, which we believe is, on the average, at the present time in Ireland, at least 20 per cent below the true value. The same observation applies to Schedule B. On Schedule C, when we come to consider it, still less reliance can be placed as a common measure of value than on the previous Schedule. For Schedule C represents the dividends payable at the Banks of England and Ireland respectively, and the dividends payable in the United Kingdom out of all foreign and Colonial revenues. The amount assessed in England is £32,500,000; in Ireland, £1,150,000. Not only, therefore, are there placed to the account of England alone all the investments of Scotland, Ireland, the Colonies, and foreigners in our own public funds, but also all the investments of the Irish, among others, in such securities as Indian Stock, Colonial Bonds, French Rentes, Danish, Dutch, Russian, Turkish, and other stocks of all foreign Governments. The same kind of remarks apply to Schedule D. London is the great central establishment of banks and public companies of the United Kingdom, and of many which carry on their business in the Colonies and in foreign countries. The investments of the Irish themselves in Irish companies are assessed to Income Tax not unfrequently in London, where the head offices of the companies are situated. Schedule E, again, is as fallacious a guide as the others. Under it are assessed in England £19,000,000 of salaries and pensions of public servants, and of officers of public companies, and £1,000,000 in Ireland, the officers of public companies being charged at the head office of the companies, and nearly the whole of the civil, naval, and military servants of the British Empire being also assessed in London. Even the public servants employed in Ireland are for the most part charged in England. What the truth may be as to the comparative burden from taxation in England and Ireland we are not prepared to say, but certainly the Return referred to does not afford any solution of the question.The argument, he admitted, might have more bearings than one, but it undoubtedly showed how very fallacious 1374 were arguments founded upon statistics of this kind, when compared with the irrefutable argument furnished by the produce of the Income Tax. If the produce of a 3d. Income Tax showed that it was levied upon incomes amounting to £100,000,000, it was difficult to see how it could be argued that that £100,000,000 of income did not exist. But he was told—"Yes, but you yourself have said that with equal taxation the tax will press more heavily upon the poorer than the richer country." He quite agreed with that observation; but it applied not only to Ireland as compared with England, but to the poorer parts of the two countries as against the richer portions of them, and even to poorer individuals as against the richer ones. If that were the state of the case, let them look at what had happened since 1865. Had taxation been increased since that time so as to press more heavily upon the poorer classes in the Kingdom. Taking the present Budget, for instance—was there anything in it that would cause taxation to press more heavily upon the less wealthy classes? The truth was that since 1865 the pressure of taxation had been largely reduced. What the Government were doing at the present moment, and what they were reproached for doing, was to extend the system of exemptions in favour of the poorer classes, and in this respect, at all events, Ireland would receive its fair share of relief. There was nothing, therefore, in the Budget of the present year that was unfavourable to Ireland. Since 1865 many taxes which pressed heavily upon the poorer consumer, such as the sugar duties, had been abolished, while, on the other hand, he defied anyone to show that any single tax had been imposed that touched Ireland peculiarly. The increase in the Revenue from Ireland was due, not to an increase of the taxation, but to its increased productiveness owing to the growing wealth and prosperity of the country. [Mr. Mitchell Henry: What about the spirit duties?] Why, they had not been increased since 1865. Reference having been made to the spirit duties, he would remind hon. Members that having a deficit to meet he had to adopt one of two alternatives—namely, either to make an addition to the income tax or to increase the spirit duties, and he had not selected the latter, because he knew that it would press 1375 very heavily upon the poorer consumers of Ireland. Did hon. Members really mean to propose what they had hitherto shrunk from doing, that the spirit duties in Ireland should be reduced? No one, he was sure, would get up in that House and contend that, in order to relieve the pressure of taxation in Ireland, the spirit duties should be reduced. But, excepting the spirit duties, taxation had grown very little indeed of late years in Ireland. A Return which had been moved for some two years ago by the hon. Member for Youghal showed the gross Revenue of Ireland derived from taxation in the years 1841, 1851, 1861, and 1871, distinguishing the amounts received from spirits, income tax, and other items of Revenue. The curious result of that Return was, that between 1841 and 1871, if they omitted spirits, there was scarcely any increase whatever in the taxation from Ireland, although they had had the income tax extended to them. That Return showed that the amount of the Revenue was £2,943,000 in 1841, and £3,600,000 in 1871, while the Revenue of England had increased in the same period from £41,900,000 to £48,700,000; and that whereas the rate of taxation in Ireland, exclusive of the spirit duties, was 13s. per head, that in England was £1 17s. Of course, the addition of the sums raised in Ireland by means of the spirit duties made a very considerable difference in the relative amount of the taxation of the two countries. It was quite unnecessary that he should go into minute calculations as to the amount Ireland got in the way of subventions in aid of local and other purposes; but that was a question on which Government had got a very good case. Undoubtedly, Ireland received a much larger sum in that way in proportion to her wealth, her population, and her taxation than either England or Scotland. He must, however, remind hon. Members that the question under discussion was not how much Ireland ought to be assisted in the way of general taxation, but whether the financial arrangements for the present year were or were not fair, and whether they did or did not bear with any undue hardship upon her, and for the reasons he had given he could not see that they did. He did not see how direct taxation fell more heavily upon an income of £100 a-year in Ireland than it did upon a similar income in Eng- 1376 land, neither did indirect taxation in Ireland fall more heavily on the consumer in Ireland than it did upon the consumer in England or Scotland. The Government were always glad to hear these matters fully discussed, and if they saw that any unfair burden was cast upon Ireland nothing would give them greater pleasure than to release her from it. Ireland had no doubt enjoyed, and continuously enjoyed, these exemptions. The Government did not at all desire to press that there should be equality of taxation. All they said was, that there was no case whatever to show that there was any inequality as against Ireland.
§ Sir JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, that what they had to complain of was this—It appeared from Returns before the House that between 1841 and 1871 the gross Revenue levied in Ireland by taxation had been increased 90 per cent, but during that period the gross Revenue levied, in England had been increased scarcely 20 per cent. He admitted that by further applying the principle of a similarity of taxation, £360,000 or £370,000 more might be wrung out of Ireland; but let the House consider how differently Ireland was dealt with from Great Britain with reference to the total taxation as compared to income. Ireland paid 5s. 3d. in the pound taxation in proportion to the whole of her incomes, whereas Great Britain paid only 2s. 6d. and a fraction taxation on the whole of her incomes. If the whole of the increase of Revenue in Ireland had grown out of the spirit duty, could there be more conclusive evidence against the system applied to the taxation on spirits? Why did not the Revenue from other taxed articles increase as in England? Because Ireland was not in a prosperous state. The taxation on spirits in Ireland had increased £2,500,000, from £900,000 to £3,400,000. This increase of taxation was laid on a beverage that he was sorry to say was too much in vogue among his countrymen. But what had been the course pursued with reference to beverages most in use in England? The duty on malt had been reduced, and there had been a reduction in the wine duty. As a defence of the duty on spirits in Ireland, it was said that it was a tax paid by individuals who by refraining from the use of spirits could escape from the tax; but spirits being 1377 the beverage of the generality of the people of Ireland, the argument as to the tax being a tax upon individuals did not apply. The people of England were a cheese-eating people, and if a tax were imposed upon cheese in this country, could it be said to be a tax merely upon individuals? The people of England would resist the imposition of such a tax; but, as very little cheese was eaten in Ireland, the people of that country would not care if a tax were imposed upon cheese. The people of Ireland did not complain of the present proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but rather of the whole course of fiscal legislation since 1851, which had relieved England and pressed upon Ireland, and which was justified on the assumption that similarity of impost was equivalent to equality of taxation, which was the fundamental error.
§ DR. WARD
supported the Resolution, maintaining that injury and injustice were done to Ireland as compared with England under the present system of taxation. Whatever arguments might be put forward, the great fact remained that Ireland paid 5s. in the pound as against 2s. 6d. paid by England; and so long as that was the case Ireland would feel unjustly taxed. Beyond that, everything pointed to this conclusion—that, comparatively with England, the individual poverty and the anomalies of poverty in Ireland were enormous.
§ Mr. BUTT
said, he had heard no answer to the case made out by his hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry). Ireland contributed to the Imperial taxation—amounting this year to £78,000,000–£8,500,000, and Great Britain £69,500,000. That was not in proportion to the relative ability of the two countries. Allow him just to ask the attention of the House for a moment to the state of the case. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer began the question as to the taxation of Ireland by showing that so far as it was founded on the income tax there must be a very minute difference. Even if there were some little inaccuracy in the manner in which his hon. Friend had calculated the income of Ireland, owing to the different mode of levying the income tax there, that would not materially alter the question at issue. They might increase 1378 the income of Ireland from £48,000,000 to £52,000,000 or £53,000,000, and reduce that of England by £2,000 000 or £3,000,000, but the great injustice would remain all the same. He could not think the Resolution was foreign to the Bill before the House. They charged the right hon. Gentleman not with sins of omission, but with sins of commission; and by that Resolution they sought redress. It was idle to say that for commercial purposes Ireland was not in the same community. When they had a community they could not take away money from the community without injuring it. From the time of the Union down to the present day the finance of Ireland had always been dealt with as something belonging to a separate community, and when remissions were made in favour of any class in Ireland they always heard of the boons granted to that country. Suppose Ireland was now obliged to pay to England, as she did before 1817, by taxation of her own, a sum of £8,500,000, would that not be injustice? If they raised the same tax on spirits as they proposed, would they say that no injustice was done to Ireland? The question could not stop where it was; it was not to be met by the answer—"Do you ask us to reduce the duties on spirits?" He knew that they could not ask the Government to upset the whole trade on their taxation, right or wrong. They had arranged that the rest of taxation should be raised, but he called upon them, if they imposed one that did weigh heavily upon Ireland, to remedy the injustice—they did it in the rest of their financial schemes—and frame another tax, and give the relief to Ireland to the same extent as the tax they imposed. It was for them to devise that. But at the same time he must say for himself that he thought there was a great deal said that was not true about the high duty on spirits. He did not believe they suppressed drunkenness in proportion as they raised the price of spirits. Whenever they increased the price of a commodity they more or less diminished the consumption, but it was equally true—and it was one of the elementary principles of political economy—that an increase of price diminished the consumption of articles of first necessity far less than of articles of luxury. Unhappily, to the drunkard 1379 strong drink was a prime necessity, and they could not prevent him drinking strong spirits in the proportion as they raised the price. It was a common experience that a man would give up his dinner often and sell his clothes to have strong drink; but he said they were not asking them to reduce the duty on spirits. They were asking to have an injustice now done to Ireland removed. The injustice was not denied; it had been admitted in the course of the debate, and there was no case made out why it should not be remedied. Irish Members would have neglected their duty if they had not entered a mild protest against the continuance of a fiscal injustice; and, if the grievance was not redressed, he believed that another Budget would not be allowed to pass without much stronger opposition.
§ Mr. MITCHELL HENRY
said, he did not want to divide, and would withdraw his Motion; but he might state that he thought the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not meet the case: and, however that might be, he was sure that the financial grievances of Ireland would not be lessened by the contempt with which they had always been treated by the front Opposition bench.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.