HL Deb 14 December 1852 vol 123 cc1415-20

rose to move for returns respecting the payment of property and income tax by persons resident in this country in respect of property in Ireland. The noble Earl said that that was not the first or the second occasion he had made a similar Motion upon this subject; and he had done so for this reason. In the first place, they had periodical renewals of the income tax; and as regularly accusations were brought against the proprietors of Ireland, that they did not contribute their share of the revenue of the country. Upon every occasion on which the income tax had been renewed, complaints were made of this nature, both in and out of Parliament, and notices were constantly given in the other House for extending it to Ireland. He (the Earl of Wicklow) had, therefore, been always anxious on these occasions to let their Lordships and the country know that, although it might he true that Ireland was nominally exempt from the income tax, it was not true that the property of that country did not contribute to it pretty largely. The Motion he was about to propose was for a return of all sums paid as income tax upon Irish property by persons residing in this country, and, also, of all sums deducted from the annuities and dividends paid by the Bank of Ireland to persons having property in those funds and not residing in Ireland. On the first occasion on which he made this Motion, the noble Duke who then represented the Government in that House, granted the Motion; but, knowing as he (the Earl of Wicklow) did that large sums were paid by proprietors in this country who had estates in Ireland, and not only by them, hut by a vast number of small proprietors who preferred the ease and luxury of this country to a residence in their own, and being confident there must be a considerable amount contributed to the revenue in that way; it was not without surprise that he found the return to be "nil." It was the same on the second occasion; and it appeared that the reason was that no account was kept by the Board of Taxes of the amount paid by Irish as distinguished from other property. The difficulties which at that time stood in the way of collecting the information he required, were now, he believed, completely obviated, and he felt confident that if the noble Earl agreed to his Motion he should have a very different return. Whatever the amount derived from this source might be, it ought in justice and fairness to be attributed to the taxation of Ireland. He proposed the Motion exactly upon the same grounds as he had done before. When the property and income tax was first proposed by Sir Robert Peel, Ireland was exempted, not on account of her distressed condition, but because there was no machinery fitted for the purpose; and as the tax was only proposed for three years, it seemed not worth while to establish it. They were now, however, about to have the income tax renewed, not as a temporary measure, but as a measure which had all the appearance of permanency: a desire to substitute direct for indirect taxation now prevailed, and however objectionable such a system might be in a great commercial country like this, or, indeed, in any great country, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has evidently succumbed to it; and whatever might be the desire of the Government to exempt Ireland from the income tax, he believed they would not be able to succeed in the attempt, because such an exemption would not be based on the principle of justice—for whatever taxation was imposed on one portion of the Empire ought to be imposed on all. They were now about to introduce a tax upon the funded property of that country, and upon the recipients of public salaries there. It was perfectly right and just; and he could not see why the Lord Lieutenant, the Lord Chancellor, and the holders of places in Ireland, should be exempted, whilst in this country the annuitant with only 50l.a year, and the tradesman with only I00l. a year, were to be subject to the tax. Now he (the Earl of Wicklow) should wish, for his part, to see the enormous and unjust taxation which at present prevailed in Ireland under the name of the Consolidated Annuities Tax, altogether abolished. There would then be no difficulty whatever in establishing the income tax in Ireland on all descriptions of property, and raising the 400,000l. which Sir Robert Peel estimated as the revenue which would be derived from the stamps and spirit duties, and which, in fact, had raelised but 16,000l. The sum now assessed on Ireland for the consolidated annuities is 250,000l.: that would be probably the proportion of the 400,000l. which would fall upon the land; but at present the consolidated annuity tax is so distributed that the amount is larger just in proportion as the district is poor and unable to bear it; so that, in fact, where the largest sums are payable, there is not only no expectation of levying the tax, but, as he knew, a bill of indemnity was necessarily brought in, partly to exempt the poorer districts of the country from its payment. He was therefore convinced that, if it were shown to Parliament, by the abolition of the consolidated annuity tax, and the imposition of a property tax, an act of justice would be effected, and the revenue increased, it would readily accede to it. He was anxious to see an equalised system of taxation, similar to that adopted in England, extended to the sister country; and if that were done in the manner he had taken the liberty of suggesting, he had no doubt the result would prove highly beneficial to the interests of that country, and at the same time materially tend to increase the revenue of the Empire at large, He thought this would be the best opportunity of effecting such an object, and that it would be satisfactory to this country and to Ireland. The noble Earl concluded by moving, for a Return of the Amount of Property Tax paid by Persons residing in Great Britain on Sums drawn from Ireland, in the Two Years commencing April 1S51 and April 1853: and also, Return of all Sums charged on Dividends and Annuities at the Bank of Ireland payable to Persons not resident in Ireland, in the Years commencing April 1851 and April 1852.

Ordered to be laid before the House.


I can have no objection, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, to lay before your Lordships the papers which have been moved for by the noble Earl, if, indeed, the return will afford him the information which he seems to expect it will. I can only regret that the noble Earl did not give me the precise object he had in view in making this Motion, in order that I might have ascertained if the mode in which the papers are now made out was calculated to answer that object. My own impression is that the Income-tax papers remain precisely on the same footing as they did when the former returns he moved for were made, and that, consequently, he will not find any distinction between incomes derived from Irish property and those derived from colonial property, and the proceeds of the Income Tax from Irish property will still be returned as nil. But I only speak from a vague recollection of the Income-tax papers which have been presented to me for my signature. Not having received a shilling from my Irish property for four or five years— on the contrary, the balance being considerably on the other side—and finding myself obliged to make remittances of money to that country, I was compelled to return nil. There is no objection, however, to produce the returns, and I shall be glad to give the information which the noble Earl desires; but I must be excused if I decline entering into the policy of charging the Income Tax on Ireland, or into the financial propositions of the Government now before the other House of Parliament. There will be abundant time for the discussion of all the details arising out of the Income Tax when the measures which have been submitted to the other House of Parliament come before your Lordships in detail in the shape of a Bill. The noble Earl has correctly stated the principles which he conceives to be involved in the various measures that are now under the consideration of Parliament, and that have been brought forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He correctly states, that according to those measures, it being deemed expedient to diminish to a considerable extent the amount and pressure of indirect taxation, it follows as a necessary conse- quence, whether it be desirable or not, that a considerably increased proportion of the revenue of this country should be in future drawn from the sources of direct taxation; and the noble Earl also interprets correctly the desire entertained on the part of Her Majesty's Government, that, as far as it can be practicable, that extension shall take place, avoiding as far as possible those exemptions which are undoubtedly not founded in strict justice, and which can only rest upon the impossibility of collecting from a numerous portion of indigent persons, who are exempted not so much on the ground of strict justice as on the impossibility of collecting the amounts which become due from them. Subject to that exception I quite agree with the noble Earl that it is desirable, in applying direct taxation, that the exemptions should be as few as possible, and that the area of taxation should be as general, as wide, and as equable as possible. And I confess, that whilst on the part of the Government we have thought that it would be inexpedient, and, looking at the distressed condition of the landed property in Ireland, that it would be inconvenient and impolitic, to subject that country to the payment of a tax from which it has hitherto been exempt—I concur with the noble Earl in thinking that the question is only a matter of time, and that if the Income Tax be established as a permanent source of revenue, it cannot be expected that so large a portion of the Empire as Ireland should be exempted for more than a temporary period from the operation of that tax. With regard to the exemption of the land of Ireland, there was a claim made out on its part for temporary exemption from the Income Tax; and consequently we have submitted to Parliament that Ireland should be so exempted, so far as relates to that particular description of property which has suffered most seriously from the circumstances of late years. That question, namely, the extension of direct taxation, and the extension of that system of direct taxation subject to as few exemptions as possible, is the subject which at this moment engages the anxious attention of the House of Commons, and that is a question which I trust will be solved in the course of the present week. My Lords, that question is one of deep and vital importance to the permanent interests of the country. I am not speaking of any personal consequences attaching to the Government, although I am quite sure that your Lordships will see that the decision of the House of Commons, whatever it may be, cannot be without important and immediate consequences upon the position of Government itself; but I am speaking in relation to the permanent interests of the country, with regard to which I hold the decision to which Parliament is about to come as a matter of the most vital importance. I earnestly hope that, as soon as practicable, Parliament will relieve the country from the anxiety with which it is now awaiting the decision to which the House of Commons may arrive upon that important subject. For undoubtedly, without desiring to hurry or accelerate the proceedings of the other House of Parliament, so as to preclude them from a due and full consideration, not, indeed, of each petty and minute detail, but of the great and broad principle involved in the present deliberation—I think it is of great importance that the country should not long be in suspense as to the course of proceeding which Parliament is to adopt, and with regard also to the hands by whom the system now established is likely to be carried out; and I hope that very few days, or it may be hours, may decide that question, so far as the other House of Parliament is concerned. I regret that, in consequence of these discussions, and the delay that has taken place—though I do not complain of that—it is necessary that your Lordships should have to meet day after day, with little or no business to transact, for the purpose of sitting here a few minutes, and then adjourning the House. I am certainly very anxious that, as soon as the decision of the House of Commons shall be pronounced, and the Resolutions now submitted to them are affirmed—if affirmed they are to be—your Lordships should be released from what I consider to a great extent your unnecessary attendance here. But whilst that question, and the other questions hinging upon it, still remain in abeyance and undecided, I should not think I was performing my duty to the Crown if I recommended the adjournment of this House for any lengthened period, to deprive the Crown of the possibility of securing the attendance of this and the other House of Parliament at a time when it might be necessary for the Crown to have recourse to their immediate advice and assistance. I again say there is no objection on the part of the Government to the production of the returns moved for by the noble Earl.

Motion agreed to.

Papers ordered to be laid before the House.