HL Deb 21 February 1853 vol 124 cc341-6

then rose to put a question to Her Majesty's Government as to their intention with respect to the Consolidated Annuities, Ireland; also to present a petition from the county of Wexford on that subject. He referred to the Treasury Minute, by which annuities for forty years had been created, payable out of the rates. Last year the attention of the House had been called to the subject, and on the 7th March a Select Committee was moved for, in pursuance of which a most impartial Committee, consisting of thirteen Peers of England and twelve Peers of Ireland, had been unanimously appointed by the House, and to them the whole subject was referred. They sat from March to the end of May, taking great pains in the inquiry, and they were nearly unanimous. They reported their opinion that the whole sum which was charged against Ireland ought to be fully and entirely paid. Now, by the law as it stood, the rates which were levied throughout Ireland were burdened with this charge. The local authorities did not know what rates they were to impose, and they were also in doubt, after the rates were levied and were in the hands of the local treasurers, whether such rates belonged to them or to the Government. The officers of the Government admitted that the law as it stood was utterly impracticable, and that it was necessary that it should be revised during the present Session of Parliament. Under the existing law for the repayment of the Consolidated Annuities, there was a charge imposed upon parts of Ireland amounting to upwards of 5s. in the pound, or more than 25 per cent, upon the whole property of those districts, in addition to which they had to raise the whole of the rates required for the poor and for local purposes. At present matters were in a state of uncertainty, which rendered the administration of the poor-law in Ireland extremely difficult, though he was happy to admit that there had been a considerable improvement in the condition of Ireland. He was only desirous that this question should be considered by the Government, in order that justice might be done; and he did not ask for the remission of a single farthing of the amount which the people of Ireland had obtained, and administered themselves. What the people of Ireland protested against was this: They protested against being held responsible for the repayment of money which had been forced upon rather than solicited by them; which had been administered in such a manner that it had yielded no benefit at all proportioned to the amount expended, and which, oven as related to the primary object of the money—namely, the preservation of human life—he would not say had done more harm than good, but certainly, it was undeniable that it had done a vast deal of harm. He hoped that the necessary measures for carrying out the recommendation of the Committee would proceed spontaneously from the Government, without pressure or agitation from either side of the Channel. This was precisely the moment for taking some step; the assizes were about to commence, and the whole of the grand juries might be led to take up the matter if it were not taken up by the Government. He wished, therefore, to know whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to intro- duce any measure with reference to this subject?


said, he did not deny the importance and urgency of the question which the noble Lord had put to him. The noble Lord, however, must be aware that the subject to which he had called their Lordships' attention was one necessarily connected with the financial arrangements for the year; and although it was a subject under the consideration of the Government, still it would be impossible for him (the Earl of Aberdeen) at that moment to give any pledge as to the course which they may think it incumbent upon them to pursue with respect to it. The subject well deserved and had received the consideration of Her Majesty's Ministers; and if it were in their power to do anything to meet the views of the noble Lord, it would afford them great satisfaction to take such a course. The noble Lord must be aware that circumstances had considerably altered since last year in Ireland, and that a considerable improvement had taken place in the condition of that country. He (the Earl of Aberdeen) did not mean to say that that improvement made it altogether unnecessary that the Government should afford to the subject which the noble Lord had that evening brought under their notice their careful consideration; but it had, however, in a great degree alleviated the causes which had formerly rendered some settlement of the question a matter of urgent importance. He hoped, however, that his noble Friend would see that, connected as that subject was with the financial arrangements of the year, his question was somewhat premature, and that it would be quite improper in him (the Earl of Aberdeen) to give at that moment any decided answer with respect to the intentions of Her Majesty's Government upon the point.


would not say he was disappointed at the answer which had just been given by the noble Earl at the head of the Government to the question of his noble Friend, because he quite admitted the necessity of caution in making any announcement until Government had thoroughly considered the subject, and come to a final determination upon it. Upon that point, therefore, he would not say one word; but it was impossible for him not to feel disappointment at hearing the noble Earl couple this subject with others with which it had no ne- cessary connexion. He did not deny that the subject was, in some respects, connected with the financial statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but what he maintained was, that it was essentially a question of justice and fairness, and depended for its solution neither upon the Ways and Means of Government, nor upon the state of Ireland. He, for one, was happy to bear witness to the improvement—which he could not say was established, but which was commencing in Ireland, and which he earnestly hoped would continue; but he could assure the noble Earl that there was no question on which the Government could at that moment exercise any interference which was calculated to have so much effect upon the continuance of that improvement as the question which had just been mooted by his noble Friend. The agitation which was attempted—for he could not call it more—upon other subjects, had no perceptible effect upon the material condition of Ireland; but this question had a great and decided effect, because every man who invested capital in land, either by way of purchase or tenancy, while he asked no questions about the law of landlord and tenant, or any other theoretical subject upon which legislation was proposed, was quite certain to ask what was the weight of taxation in that part of the country, and what were the prospects of a profitable occupation of land. The country was still poor; and, although there was every chance of establishing some prosperity in it, the local taxation was such that every man was afraid to invest money there, either in the purchase or in the tenancy of land. There was another question which was investigated before the Committee of their Lordships' House, and which also pressed upon the property of Ireland—he alluded to the charge for arterial drainage. All that the parties concerned in that matter wanted was, that justice should be done them. They had no objection that money which had been properly laid out should be honestly repaid; but what they did object to was, that they should be called upon to pay an exorbitant charge for works which had been executed in defiance of sound sense and judgment, and from which they derived no benefit at all proportioned to the expense. If they looked at the character of the local taxation now pressing on many of the districts of Ireland, and compared it with the taxation on real pro- pearty here, they would see the tremendous difference. They must bear in mind that the great proportion of the taxation which at present pressed upon Ireland, was taxation of an entirely new character—he meant that it was not taxation which had been imposed on the country from generation to generation, as most of the local taxation of England was, but that it was taxation which was unknown when the settlements of land which now existed in Ireland were made. All he asked was, that the matter should be considered, not with the inquiry how miserable or how much better the country might be this or that month, not even with reference to the state of the imperial finances, but solely with a view to full justice being done.


said, that as great ignorance prevailed in this country respecting the state of taxation in Ireland, and as he knew that a strong impression existed that, in consequence of that country being exempted from income tax, favour had been shown to her to such a degree that it was unreasonable to bring forward a question of this kind, he could not avoid seizing that opportunity of calling the attention of the noble Lord at the head of the Government to a fact which he conceived would be new to him, as, he confessed, it was to himself until very recently. He alluded to the fact which he had found stated in a pamphlet by Sir John Kings-mill, that the local taxation upon the 10,000,000l. of rateable property in Ireland amounted to no less than 1s. in the pound, or 20 per cent, while upon the 67,000,300l. of rateable property in England the local taxation was only 1s. l0d. in the pound, or less than 10 per cent. Even if they included the income tax, the amount would only be increased to 2s. 5d., being little more than one-half of what was paid in Ireland, even without the income tax. He begged the Government, when they came to consider the financial state of the two countries, to bear that fact in mind. Whatever improvement might have recently taken place in Ireland, it was utterly impossible that it could enable the country to contend with the difficulties connected with local taxation; and he hoped, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government would be able to propose some measure with a view to the relief of the country on that subject. He begged to add that, whatever they might decide with regard to the country generally, it would be imperatively necessary to bring forward some measure for exempting those portions of the country which were utterly unable to pay.