Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [29th March],
That, in the opinion of this House, the Report and Proceedings of the Royal Commission on the Financial Relations of Great Britain and Ireland establish the existence of an undue burden of taxation on Ireland, which constitutes a great grievance to all classes of the Irish community, and makes it the duty of the Government to propose at an early day remedial legislation."—(Mr. Blake.)
And which Amendment was, to leave out from the word "House," to the end of the Question, in order to add instead thereof the words,
so long as the Exchequers of Great Britain and Ireland remain consolidated, all portions of the United Kingdom must be regarded as forming one country for fiscal purposes, and, if any genuine and tangible grievance does exist, it can only be satisfactorily removed by so adjusting the present fiscal system as to render it just and equitable to all persons in whatever part of the United Kingdom they may reside."—(Mr. Whittaker.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE (Plymouth)
, who was received with Nationalist cheers, said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his eloquent and very powerful speech, had made an appeal to those on the Ministerial side of the House which was received, as it deserved to be, with enthusiastic acquiescence. The right hon. Gentleman declared unmistakably for the Government that they would never consent to a political separation between Great Britain and Ireland; and that they would never permit a fiscal separation between the two countries. He was glad to hear that declaration, in which he entirely concurred, and for which the Unionist Party had been lighting for years. But within the limits of that policy there was much to be said with regard to the 130 present condition of the financial relations between Great Britain and Ireland. He could quite understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer—upon whom would fall the responsibility of framing any Measures to remedy a proved grievance—asking for more definite and detailed information. But the right hon. Gentleman had also declared his desire to do full justice to the claims of Ireland under the provisions of the Act of Union and the Act of 1816. The right hon. Gentleman, as the responsible Minister, was entitled to claim more time and more information, in connection with this important subject, at the hands of the Party of which he was one of the trusted Leaders; but the present Debate was partly for the information and guidance of the responsible Minister. The new Commission was not yet appointed, nor were its terms of reference settled, and as one who believed that the inquiry which had already taken place had established beyond dispute the fact that Ireland was now placed under an undue burden of taxation—[Nationalist cheers]—he wished to offer to the House and the Government some considerations with respect to the subject of the inquiry. He could quite understand the position of the hon. Member for the Spen Valley. The hon. Member was a Home Ruler, and the denial of the Irish case and the refusal to Ireland of the redress claimed were inducements to Irishmen to press on with the claim for Home Rule which the hon. Member would like to gratify. But it was much more difficult to understand the position of the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"] Perhaps it was part of the national disinclination to agree with anyone else upon any subject, and especially with anyone of the same nationality. [Laughter.] But for those who were opposed to Home Rule, and were convinced that the policy of the Union was the only one which could be pursued with safety and advantage to this country or to Ireland, other considerations must come into play. The speech of the hon. and learned Member who moved the Motion dealt with a large range of history; but the hon. and learned Member did not strengthen his case by the elaborate reference to the history of Irish finance. That question could be speedily disposed of. It was 131 true that in 1800 Mr. Pitt and Lord Castlereagh made calculations as to the proportionate capacity of Ireland for bearing financial burdens, and those calculations turned out not to be correct. But no one would suggest that there was anything more than a mistake in that. Properly speaking there was hardly a mistake; for some years afterwards Mr. Grattan said that the expectations formed by Pitt and Castlereagh had been disappointed by circumstances which no one could possibly have foreseen—the enormous and extravagent cost of the war which was then going on. But if in 1800 a mistake was made in regard to the proportion, and if the proportion which Ireland was called upon to pay was in truth a larger contribution than her means would allow her to give, the answer was that there was no real hardship because Ireland never paid the excess. [Cheers.] From 1816 until 1853, so far as he knew, there had been no real complaint by any representative of the Irish people with regard to the proportions between the two countries during those years. The real grievance began—and undoubtedly there was a grievance—in 1853. Now, in regard to the Commission, there was no doubt as to the intention with which it was appointed. In intention it was appointed to promote a Home Rule Bill. It was a packed Commission, in regard to questions of policy it was not a fair Commission, but at the same time he could not help saying that in the reports of the different sections they had recorded not merely the opinions of the members themselves in some cases upon certain disputable points of policy, but they had recorded conclusions of fact which did not rest upon the authority of members of the Commission at all, but upon an authority which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was the last person to challenge or controvert. The strength of the Irish case in this discussion was that it did not rest upon the conclusions of the Commissioners with regard to taxable capacity at all; it rested upon the question of the proportionate wealth of Ireland as compared with this country. Suppose it to be ascertained that the wealth of Ireland as compared with the wealth of this country was as 1 to 20; he presumed no economist would 132 deny that the proportion of capacity for bearing taxation must be say, as 1 to 30. It must be a very different figure, because it had become an axiom of taxation now that in fixing taxable capacity you ought first to make some allowance for the necessary expenditure of the individual before you deal with the question of his income which was liable to taxation. They might then for the purposes of the present Debate leave apart the difficult and obscure question of taxable capacity, because when the Commission came to a unanimous resolution that the relation between Ireland and Great Britain was as 1 to 20, or 1 to 21, they were dealing with statistics which appeared to them to indicate the wealth of the country and not making allowance for reductions of income in Ireland and England respectively of an amount which would leave a taxable residue after that. But when they had got rid of that question what remained to be dealt with? Why, practically the whole information that the Commission had used in their reports was given to them by one witness of supreme authority, not only in consequence of his official position and of his own great authority, but because he came before the Commission not to speak for himself alone, but for the collective experience and judgment of the Treasury which he represented. If they lost to-morrow all record of the reports of the Commissioners themselves, and if they still had the first and second volumes of the reports of evidence, the first containing that most elaborate memorandum by Sir E. Hamilton upon the financial history and present condition of Ireland, they should find in that practically all the facts with which they wanted to deal. When they had ascertained that between 1853 and 1860 there were alterations made in the fiscal system of this country which resulted in increasing the burdens upon Ireland by something like two and a half millions a year, an increase made at the very time when Ireland was suffering from one of the most terrible famines in her history, let them turn to a table proposed by Sir E. Hamilton showing the history of the financial relations of Great Britain and Ireland since that date. Beginning with 1849–50 before the change of taxation occurred, 133 this table showed that on that date the total taxed revenues of Great Britain was £2 7s. 8d. per head. In Ireland the total taxed revenue was 13s. 11d. Then came the great alteration in taxation. In 1849–50 in Great Britain it was £2 7s. 8d.; in 1859–60, £2 10s.; in 1869–70, £2 5s. 9d.; in in 1879–80, £2 0s. 5d.; in 1889–90, £2 3s. 4d.; in 1893–4, £2 4s. 10d.; so that at the end of this series of years each person in Great Britain paid is. a head less in total taxation Take the Irish figures. In 1849–50 it was 13s. 11d.; in 1859–60, £1 5s. 4d.[Nationalist cheers]; in 1869–70, £1 5s. 5d.; in 1879–80, £1 4s. 11d.; in 1889–90, £1 9s.; in 1893–4, £1 8s. 10d.; so that while during that series of years the British contribution had diminished by 3s. a head the contribution to taxation in Ireland had increased from 13s. 11d. to £1 8s. 10d. [Nationalist cheers.] That was not a question of the conclusion of the Commission. [Nationalist cheers. was the carefully-prepared evidence of the Treasury on this point; and he did not think it was possible to read these figures, and to know anything about the history of Ireland since 1850, without realising that there had come upon the people permanently crippled by the famine, and who had not, so far as they could see, actually to this day recovered—[Nationalist cheers]—the effects of the changes which were made in 1853–60 in the continuance of the burden, while upon Great Britain, which had been advancing from year to year with magnificent prosperity and in creased resources in the means of its people, there had been actually a diminution of taxation. ["Hear, hear!"] It was not only, of course, the famine that crippled Ireland. There had been put before the House, in the earlier passages of the speech of the hon. and learned Member who moved this Resolution, certain most interesting statistics tending to show the poverty of Ireland. In answer, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as every Chancellor of the Exchequer and every Irish Secretary had said for the last 40 years in that House, "Oh, there is a story of prosperity to tell on the other side. Look at the savings banks—[Mr. T. M. HEALY: And the postage stamps]; look at the number of sheep and cattle." He remembered hearing in that 134 House about 30 years ago the second Sir Robert Peel, speaking as Chief Secretary, boasting of the number of sheep and cattle the people possessed in Ireland; and he remembered hearing Lord Salisbury, who was then sitting below the Gangway opposite, beginning his speech:—Mr. Speaker, I have no doubt the right hon. Baronet wishes the inhabitants of Ireland were all sheep.[Nationalist laughter, and cheers.] They had had this kind of declaration from the Treasury Bench for many years, and he was not surprised to hear the reference to the savings banks. But he was surprised to hear quoted, as evidences of the prosperity of Ireland, the increased prices paid for tenant right in that country. Considering the increasing prices paid for tenant right were really prices paid for an interest carved out of an estate which belonged to the landlord, it was curious to see that the transfer of a property from one proprietor to another should be quoted to the House of Commons as an illustration of the advancing prosperity of the country. [Nationalist cheers.] He did not think that the statistics which the hon. and learned Member gave could be disposed of in this fashion. They were statistics of most serious import. The population of Ireland was still diminishing; it had diminished by far too large a proportion for many years past; and unhappily, there had gone out from Ireland the youth and the strength of Ireland—[Nationalist cheers]—to find a home in other countries, and to leave behind a population whose lack of industrial force and capacity were too painfully indicated by some of the statistics quoted as to the proportion of blind in Ireland, the number of lunatics, and the increase of pauperism. Those were statistics to give one pause when one thought of the too cheerful condition of the population of Ireland. There was another part of those statistics which seemed to him to be very serious. Births and deaths were unsatisfactory enough, but Ireland was a country celebrated for the morality of its people; and if they found in that country such statistics as they had with regard to the marriage rate, it showed that the burden of poverty was pressing upon the people in a way 135 which checked among them the development of that family life which was the strength of a nation, and to a great extent the happiness of any people. [Nationalist cheers]. Statistics of that kind were of the most serious force, and he did not think they were to be met by some quotations from savings banks returns or postal receipts. [Nationalist cheers.] The House could not stand aside and refuse to make inquiry; nor did the Government propose to do so. The real question in this Debate was whether there was to be a further inquiry at the desire of the Government with regard to certain matters which it was necessary to ascertain. But no one could suggest a single question contained in the first paragraph of the reference to the new Commission which had not been fully and completely answered by the officials of the Treasury on the best information they could possibly obtain. [Nationalist cheers.] The amount of Imperial expenditure on Ireland was not a matter of controversy; it was laid before the House every year, and they had obtained the amount of local expenditure in each of the three kingdoms in a complete table. Then they were to get the true revenue of each of the three kingdoms; but the moment the figures were before them it was merely a subtraction sum in order to answer the question put in the first reference. Upon these very questions a great amount of labour had already been expended by the representatives of the Treasury. In 1890 a Select Committee was appointed to consider the Financial Relations of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the first three paragraphs of the reference to that Committee practically covered the whole of the first paragraph of the reference to the Commission now proposed by the Government. On 18th August 1890 the Committee reported that the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) and the Secretary to the Treasury had undertaken to collect information and to have returns prepared. The figures were prepared and were now available, and, together with the table prepared by Sir E. Hamilton and a Report which bore the name of Sir J. Hibbert, and was issued in 1893, they supplied a complete answer to the questions embodied in the reference to the new Commission. With 136 the figures supplied from these authoritative sources it was perfectly easy to calculate the percentage of Ireland's contribution to the Imperial expenditure from the year 1889–90 down to 1890. The average contribution for that period was 3.44. He could not understand what additional information the Government could possibly want, or where they were to go for it. [Nationalist cheers.] The First Lord of the Treasury said himself on 16th February, "As all the information that can be obtained about the estimated taxation of Ireland and Great Britain was laid before the late Commission, it may be assumed that the new Commission will not find it necessary to go into that again." Now, the figures which showed a percentage of contribution to the Imperial expenditure of 3.44 had been seized upon by the opponents of the Irish claim as if they absolutely disposed of it. The argument was that the Irish claimed to pay taxes in the proportion of one to 20, but that, as a matter of fact, they were only contributing to the Imperial expenditure in the proportion of one to 32 or 33. Sir David Barbour said in his report —On the assumption that the 'taxable capacity' of Ireland is one-twentieth of that of the United Kingdom, Ireland paid in 1893–4 about 23 millions sterling more them she would have, paid if the total revenue taken from her had been in proportion to her 'taxable capacity.' In the same year there way expended for Irish purposes about 3¾ millions in excess of what would have been admissible if the expenditure for Irish purposes had also been in proportion to Ireland's 'taxable capacity.' On the whole account Ireland may be said to have been a gainer in 1893–4 of about one million sterling, or that, in other words, after meeting the expenditure for Irish purposes, she contributed about one million less towards Imperial purposes than she would have done if her contribution for Imperial purposes had been in the proportion of her 'taxable capacity.'Sir David Barbour seemed to think that that disposed of the whole question, and the Edinburgh reviewer took much the same view, for he said:—"Had it not been for the legislation of 1853–60 the contribution of Ireland would be very little greater at the present day than it was in 1817. The total increase would be considerably short of a million. But, however formally correct the equalisation as actually carried out, it does seem from the point of view of true equity and practical wisdom to have been not 137 only singularly inopportune, but, having regard to all the circumstances of the time, really unjust." But it seemed to him that this proportion of one to 32 was highly disputable. The representatives of Ireland upon the Commission, it was true, did not greatly resist its acceptance, but they explained that they attached comparatively little importance to it, because, in their opinion, the calculation was irrelevant. The Irish representatives were, however, perhaps remiss in allowing the figure to pass unchallenged, because there was very good reason for believing that this alleged contribution of only one-thirty-second to the Imperial expenditure was a loose calculation altogether. But if he were objecting to the claim of Ireland in this matter, and anxious to refuse to consider her case upon the ground that there was no grievance of this kind, he certainly should not appoint another Commission, for a new Commission would probably examine the figures more exhaustively. They had some means, however, of correcting the calculation themselves. The distinction between payments for local services and the amounts contributed to the Imperial revenue began in 1890 in the reference to the Committee then appointed, and the Treasury, in the Report which they then supplied, dealt with "Imperial Services, English Services. Scotch Services, and Irish Services," and said that, expenditure on the National Debt Service and expenses incurred under the National Debt Redemption Act, the Naval Defence Fund, Army Services, Ordnance Services, and Navy Services must be regarded as strictly Imperial. They also said that the expenditure charged upon the Consolidated Fund included items which were clearly Imperial or which could not be divided between the three Kingdoms. Lord Welby's name appeared upon this Paper as that of the Treasury official who supplied the information, and, of course, Lord Welby was not likely to quarrel with his own classification before the Committee. The classification had so clearly and I distinctly the strongest authority of the Treasury, that ha did not think the Government could expect that any further investigation of the matter would alter the figures to the detriment of Ireland, but it might possibly alter them 138 the other way. [Nationalist cheers.] If, for instance, the cost of the collection of taxes, the Lord lieutenant's charges, the large expenditure with regard to education in the Queen's Colleges, and a large proportion of the cost of the police were made Imperial charges, it would very largely alter the figure with respect to Ireland. The Edinburgh reviewer, in one of his most interesting passages, concluded that if reasonable adjustments were made a sum of three-quarters of a million would be taken from Irish local expenditure. If they made the allowance which the reviewer suggested, it would be found that Ireland contributed to the Imperial expenditure a proportion of one twenty-second, which was very little short of the full contribution which anybody had suggested that she ought to make. There were other considerations which ought to be borne in mind, and if this new Commission was to be appointed it would be as well to take some note of the extent to which moneys voted by Parliament, whether for English, Scotch, Irish, or Imperial purposes, were expended within England, Scotland, and Ireland respectively. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not think the calculation was legitimate at all for reasons which stood apart from the discussion, but if they dealt with the matter on the footing that there were three taxable areas to be considered, and were endeavouring to ascertain the burden upon these areas, it was obvious that the question how much expenditure took place within those areas was a most important question. Of the money expended on the public services in Ireland he should think a good deal came to England, but of the money similarly expended in England he was afraid very little flowed over to Ireland; and he hoped the Commission would be entitled to examine what proportion of the sums voted under each head were actually expended in the country to which the amount referred. The second question in the reference was how the expenditure on Irish local services for which the State wholly or in part provides, compares with the corresponding expenditure in England and Scotland, and whether such Irish expenditure might with advantage be readjusted or reduced. Surely they wanted no Commission about that. They had already the figures with regard, to Irish local expenditure, and it 139 seemed a little absurd to refer to a Commission the question whether Irish expenditure might with advantage be readjusted or reduced. The question had been reported on by the late Commission. Lord Farrer and his colleagues said,—We are of opinion that the excessive expenditure of Ireland, although it may be no justification for the excessive taxation of Ireland, was at once a pecuniary loss to the taxpayers of Great Britain, and a cause of demoralisation to Ireland.No Commission they could have would recommend more strongly than that the readjustment or reduction of Irish taxation. Suppose the new Commission were to report that the expenditure upon the civil government in Ireland was moderate in amount, reasonable in character, and produced an effective and a satisfactory result in economical and good government, the House would tear up the report with ridicule. He knew the reasons of much of this extravagant expenditure. Hon. Members opposite had said that so long as this country dealt with them in a way which they did not approve, incurring expenditure which they did not desire to sanction by their votes, they were determined to get all they could; and as long as they were being taxed so heavily, they meant to get as much back as they could, and did not mind very much whether it was the salary of an unnecessary Judge, or was expended in any other way. The way in which the House had dealt with Irish expenditure had been perfectly grotesque. ["Hear, hear!"] Last night the Chancellor of the Exchequer; said that, if hon. Members opposite would assist in making a little reduction in the excessive cost of the judicial establishment in Ireland, he would promise that they would have the full advantage of every shilling of the saving.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EX-CHEQUER (Sir MICHAEL HICKS BEACH, Bristol, W.)
No, I did not; I adhere to every word of that statement. I said I could not deal with matters of the past, and that I was only responsible for matters of the future.
§ SIR E. CLARKE
said he would give an illustration of the way in which we dealt with the expenditure in Ireland.
140 Not many years ago, a judgship fell vacant while a Government was in power which did not know whether it would last very much longer. The Judge was not wanted, and the appointment was kept vacant for two years. When that Government was out of power a most estimable friend of theirs received that Judgeship. [Laughter and Irish cheers.] But not an hon. Member opposite suggested that the Judgeship should be put an end to. [Ministerial laughter.] The third paragraph in the terms of reference to the proposed Commission I was very important, as it recognised that the Act of Union was still in force, and was a most important acknowledgment of the case of the Irish Members. It acknowledged the right of the Irish people to come with the Act of Union and the Act of 1816 in their hands, and to claim, if they could show good cause in the circumstances of their country, to have exemptions or abatements. The question now had passed from the region of Treasury investigation and of financial fact to a most controversial discussion of political matters. He greatly regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should propose to take three Judges from England, Scotland and Ireland to serve on the proposed Commission. He hoped they were not going on with the practice of withdrawing judicial officers from their proper work to put them on Commissions with which they had nothing to do, and upon which their authority would practically be of no use at all. [Irish cheers.] The House must construe for itself the meaning of the words in this reference, and they would construe them, he believed, not in a technical or niggardly spirit, but with the desire to give, full effect to the pledge which was contained in the Act of Union and the Act of 1816, as to the separate treatment which Ireland should receive. He would call attention to some weighty words which were spoken so late as the 12th of March by the Prime Minister, in reply to a deputation of Irish landlords. He said—Royal Commissions are of two kinds; they are either machines of investigation conducted by men who are neutral and impartial—and I am afraid that kind of Royal Commission is excluded by the circumstances of the case, because the controversy has gone on so long, has embraced so wide an area, that almost every person of intellectual competence is known to 141 have proclivities on one side or the other—or they are cases of Royal Commissions, of which we have had several instances in recent years, where neutrality is attempted to be obtained on the principle on which a chemist gets neutrality in the drugs that he compounds—that is, by putting together the extreme forms of opposite qualities. The men of the most, violent —I will not say violent, but of the most pronounced opinion in opposite directions are put together, and it is expected that a neutral and just report will come out of that contrivance. As a matter of fact the Royal Commission really becomes nothing less than a ring within which the opposing combatants fight out their differences, and they present what Mr. Gladstone in a very celebrated speech described as a litter of reports. I do not think, therefore, that you will gain very much by going for a Royal Commission.[Ironical Irish Cheers.] What Commission was it they were going to have in this case? If it was only to obtain financial facts, they did not want a Commission. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave directions to the Treasury officials he would have within the next week reports upon all these points given by persons whose authority would never be questioned, whereas he would gain nothing if they were filtered through the different Members of a Royal Commission. It would be far better to have these questions fought out in that House, rather than within the limits of a Royal Commission. ["Hear, hear!"] The question raised by the third paragraph of the terms of reference was a serious question of policy, and not a question of fact at all. They had got all the facts, the question was, whether in dealing with Ireland, they were entitled to set off the expenditure of the local services in Ireland against her general contribution. It was perfectly clear that the scheme of the Act of 1816 was that such taxes as Parliament might think right being imposed, the produce of those taxes should come into a common fund, and out of that fund the expenditure was to take place by one authority, which was the authority of that House. He thought the expenditure upon payment of the police in Ireland was as much an Imperial charge as anything else that appeared on our accounts [Irish cheers.] When he heard the conflicting views which were put forward, he asked himself with some wonder which were the Unionist views? [Ironical Irish cheers.] if this were properly to be called Irish expenditure, be could see no escape from 142 the conclusion that it must be governed by Irishmen according to Irish ideas. [Irish cheers.] It was because he believed that it could not properly be called Irish expenditure at all, and that it was all Imperial expenditure that he himself protested against the attempt to cut and carve up the accounts of our great Imperial State and open separate accounts, with debit and credit, for Ireland and Scotland, as if they were mere branches connected with us, but were not part of the one Imperial whole. He felt very strongly that whilst it was necessary in order to fulfil our treaty obligations to Ireland, that we should carefully regard the condition of Ireland, and endeavour to deal fairly and generously with her, in her need, if need be proved to exist, we should absolutely refuse to cut up the account of our Imperial expenditure. He would add in parenthesis that there was this fatal Haw about the calculation. They were trying to split the taxation as if it did not matter how large was the, tax they imposed, so long as they spent it upon the population where it was raised. ["Hear, hear!"] According to that theory they would be doing Ireland, in her poverty and trouble, no harm at all, if they were to impose three millions more taxes per annum upon her, always provided that they doubled the number of her police—[Ironical Irish cheers]—-and gave her more Judges —[Irish cheers]—and for the special benefit of the landlords gave her an army of Assistant Commissioners. He believed that the figures and documents to which he had referred established an undue bunion of taxation upon Ireland. Two answers were made to the demand of Ireland for a redress of that burden. One was the extraordinary attack which was made upon the Irish people in regard to their drinking. It seemed to him rather pharisaical for Englishmen to be talking about Ireland in this matter as if that country was afflicted and consumed by a passion for intoxicating drink. There was no doubt that the amount of drink consumed in Ireland was far less in quantity per head of the population than the amount of drink consumed in this country. [Nationalist cheers.] In England the amount spent upon intoxicating drink was £4 2s. per 143 head, as against £2 16s. per head in Ireland; and everyone knew that from, crimes generally associated with the excessive consumption of intoxicants, such as crimes of gailianty and violence, Ireland was singularly free. [Nationalist cheers.] It was true that in Ireland an average of one gallon of whisky was consumed per head of the population every; year, but when they remembered that in England an equal quantity of spirits was consumed, in addition to an enormous quantity of beer, which was not taxed to its full alcoholic extent, it was hard that this attack should be made upon Irish people. When one came to examine the figures, it was seen that there was no ground whatever for the charge of drunkenness that was made against them. It was said also in answer to the Irish demand that what Parliament had to deal with was not the Irish question only, but a general question, and that the trouble which had afflicted Ireland as an agricultural population was a trouble which had afflicted other agricultural populations as well. That was perfectly true; and it was for the agricultural Members of the House to consider, in dealing with fiscal affairs, how far the commercial policy which had been followed—this country had acted in diminishing the value of agricultural land in bringing very heavy burdens of trouble and poverty on the people. ["Hear, hear!"] This was a very large question, no doubt; but he did not observe in the proposed reference to the new Commission it should be investigated. But even if it were so, that would be no reason whatever why Ireland should be called upon to wait when there had been a demonstration that she had been unfairly treated in fiscal affairs, and that the wrong she now suffered under required some amendment. [Nationalist cheers.]The matter, of course, was a very difficult one, but he thought they were dealing with it in a comparatively happy time. During the first seven years of his service in this House, there were great and strong passions and animosity shown between one side and the other, and many bitter things were thought and said, and undoubtedly many hard blows were given during the Home Rule fight. But he trusted that those sears were healed, and that they were able to discuss this matter with some consideration for each other. He hoped 144 the House would address itself to the consideration of Ireland's needs and troubles with a desire to do justice to her. ["Hear, hear!"] If Parliament insisted, as they did insist, upon maintaining the political union between the two countries, they could only justify that insistance by carrying out that which they had again and again declared to be the principle of their action—the just treatment of Ireland by this country. [Nationalist cheers.] He hoped they would all, in dealing with this matter, be able to give to Ireland that security upon which she was told to rely a century ago—the security of the liberality, the justice, and the honour of the British people. [Cheers.]
§ * SIR THOMAS SUTHERLAND) (Greenock)
said he approached the question from the standpoint of one who had been actively engaged in the work of the Royal Commission. In order to explain his position more clearly, he should state that it was not until after he had accepted a position on the Commission that he had an opportunity of making himself acquainted with the terms of reference. As a member of the Commission, he naturally supposed it would be so constituted as to do justice, not only to the Irish, but also to the English people. He presumed that under the terms of reference there would be a general inquiry, that the Commissioners would not be directed, as it were, to conduct a one sided investigation; and that they would have a free hand as to the evidence. But he had been too sanguine, as the reference, in the view of the majority of the Commission, appeared intended to pave the way for a separation between the Exchequer of Great Britain and Ireland. He did not profess to be able to determine what were the intentions of the late Government in framing the reference on the particular lines on which it was framed; but the result was that the majority of the members of the Commission felt that their freedom of judgment was fettered, and that they were bound to pursue the inquiry on certain lines, he might almost say, towards a prescribed end. They, the majority, were in consequence bound to assume certain theories which appeared to be of a somewhat novel character. For instance, it was held that for the purposes of the inquiry the individual taxpayer 145 had no existence whatever; that they were bound to leave out of sight the specific character of the taxes levied and paid; and to treat the whole question simply and solely as a dispute between two nationalities in respect to their respective quota of taxation. It could not be too clearly borne in mind, when dealing with this subject, that but for the great, difference between the debt of Great Britain and the debt of Ireland, the fiscal union of the two countries would have taken place at the same time as the political union in 1800; and that it was solely out of consideration for Ireland—so that she might not be saddled with a, great debt—that that arrangement was not carried out for 16 years afterwards. The difference between the two countries in 1816 was this—that while Great Britain was in a position to meet her enormous debt and gigantic expenditure, Ireland was reduced to a position of almost insolvency. The amalgamation of the Exchequers was brought about in the interest, not of Great Britain, but of Ireland, in order that 84 millions of debt standing against Ireland might be transferred to the shoulders of the taxpayers of this country. Thus the quota system came to an end. From 1816 to the present time the taxpayers in England, Scotland and Ireland had simply been the taxpayers of the United Kingdom and in no sense the taxpayers of the respective countries. Lord Farrer in his Report frankly stated why he took a new departure—it was because Mr. Gladstone had introduced two Home Rule Bills; and the reference appeared to Lord Farrer's judgment to be restricted to that point of view. Practically, Lord Farrer had drawn up a new Home Rule constitution. But the light in which he felt bound to regard the question was this—whether, as between the taxpayers of Great Britain and Ireland, there was an injustice done in the method of levying taxes which would admit of a practical remedy. The majority of the Commissioners having adopted the separate entity theory, naturally sough to devise a principle of taxation to correspond with it. The evidence was all in that direction; but it was noticeable that the downtrodden taxpayers never put in an appearance from first to last. Excepting the official evidence 146 the whole of the evidence was that of statistical experts—extremely interesting and speculative, but suited rather to the consideration of philosophic societies, which played with millions as boys would marbles, than to that of practical politicians. He doubted whether the whole of this voluminous evidence added anything to the knowledge acquired from the Home Rule Debates as to the comparative wealth of the two countries. As to the taxable capacity of Ireland compared with Great Britain, Mr. Sexton put it at 1 to 36; and Sir David Barbour said the proportion might be 1 to 16 and was not more that 1 to 20. But even if the taxable capacity could be ascertained with certainty, it would lead nowhere, unless Parliament were prepared to impose taxes on areas instead of on individuals. And such a proposition it was hardly worth while to discuss. While the majority of the Commissioners agreed up to a certain point, there was a tremendous cleavage among them when they came to giving practical effect to their views. Mr. Childers said, "Let the consumers be overtaxed if you will, but give compensation to someone else." Lord Farrer said, "Perish the idea of doles. Let Ireland tax herself." Lord Farrer omitted the obvious consideration that if taxation were reduced, consumption might increase, and the people be more overtaxed than ever. But Lord Farrer anticipated that a lower revenue should be obtained for Ireland, and remarked that it was hopeless, in the circumstances, to expect any contribution from Ireland to the Imperial Exchequer. At that suggestion Lord Welby was scandalized, and wrote a separate Report, saying that it was not only necessary for Ireland to continue to make a contribution to the Imperial Exchequer, but that it should be a larger contribution. Sir D. Barbour said that Ireland ought to pay at least a million more than now. He did not deny that there was certain reality in this separate entity question, which was justified by the Act of Union and the legislation of 1817 to a very limited extent—namely, that abatements and exemptions should be granted to Ireland, and to Scotland as well, accordingly as circumstances appeared to demand. But the Commissioners were so bent on making larger demands, that they did 147 not condescend to notice the claim of Ireland for abatements and exemptions. Supposing that the constitution of the country were changed so that entities and not individuals were taxed, the necessary corollary would be that expenditure would most rigorously have to be taken into account, in order to determine the contribution of each country to the Imperial Exchequer. The Commissioners were required to state the amount of Imperial expenditure to which Ireland should equitably contribute. Mr. Childers, in his draft Report, ignored the question; but there was a singular unanimity among the Irish witnesses upon it. They said that Irish taxation must be regulated according to Irish separate ideas, but that Irish expenditure was not a local but an entirely Imperial affair. If Irish expenditure, instead of being high, had been low, there was little doubt that these witnesses would have reversed the reasoning before the Commission, and declared that the low expenditure was an entirely Irish affair. In Scotland the revenue was high and the expenditure was low, and if ever the question of the separate taxation of England, Scotland and Ireland became a question of practical politics, there would be a very serious quarrel on this point between the Home Rulers of Scotland and Ireland. The expenditure in Ireland might be extravagant, and might require revision. In that case, it became clear that Mr. Childers's idea of adding £2,500,000 to the expenditure of Ireland seemed almost grotesque. It was also true that there was absolutely no economic drain from Ireland in regard to taxation. Ireland received back in local and Imperial expenditure every penny she contributed to the revenue—a very different case to that which obtained in Scotland, where the expenditure was very low, and the balance of revenue contributed to the Imperial Exchequer was very high. But if the expenditure in Ireland was extravagant, Parliament was responsible for it, and he held that extravagant expenditure did not and could not justify unfair or unjust taxation. Was the taxation of Ireland unjust? On that question it was absolutely impossible for him to get over one simple fact which constantly stared him in the face—namely, that taxation was 148 a personal burden, and that its justice or injustice could only be determined on individual and not on collective grounds. He disbelieved in the idea of separate taxation of any portion of the United Kingdom, because he was certain it; would pass the wit of man to devise a satisfactory solution of what each country ought to contribute to the common; purse. Mr. Gladstone never intended to put forward the idea that there should be no contribution to the Imperial Exchequer, but that was the main essence of the majority Reports, and the meaning of it was that some millions would have to be transferred, if the majority Reports were acted upon, to the shoulders of the taxpayers of Great Britain. Was the taxation of Ireland unjust? Between 1800 and 1850 there was an enormous variety of taxes levied in Great Britain which were never applied in Ireland at all. Between 1800 and 1816, Great Britain raised 265 millions of war taxes from which Ireland was entirely exempted. The case of direct taxation indeed, had been given up, but a great deal had been interpolated in the Reports in order to give the effect of showing that a hardship had been imposed on Ireland by the burden of the Income Tax. He contended that the masses of the people in Ireland had derived great benefit from the burden as well as the masses of people in Great Britain. With regard to indirect taxation it was and must be admitted that it weighed heavily on the humble classes, and the question might be raised whether direct taxation ought not to be carried further, and a greater alleviation brought about for the benefit of the humbler classes, in wiping out the duty on tea, and so on. But the weight of indirect taxation was a poor man's question and not by any means exclusively an Irish question. There were many poorer people on this side of the channel than in Ireland. Indirect taxation in Ireland, what did it amount to? as nearly as possible 5 millions, and of that 5 millions 4½ were obtained on spirits, beer and tobacco. The spirit duty per head paid by people in Scotland amounted to the noble and generous figure of 17s. 6d., whereas the consumer in Ireland only paid 10s. 9d., and therefore any alteration in the spirit duty was very much more a question affecting 149 Scotland than the people of Ireland. What was a man's taxable capacity in the matter of whisky? There were a great many hon. Members who professed and no doubt carried into practice their teetotal principals. They might have a large taxable capacity but they did not avail of it, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not able to get hold of them in connection with whisky at any rate, but they had every reason to hope and trust that in the Death Duties they were piling up something which would come in usefully hereafter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In plain and intelligible language the crux of the whole Irish case was to be found in the consumption of beer, spirits, and tobacco; but that consumption was by no means excessive in comparison with the consumption in England or Scotland. The taxable capacity in connection with these commodities could only be gauged by the consumption, and it was impossible to devise any other means for imposing that taxation. It would need n stronger case than could be found in the evidence of the Commission to transfer the taxes on these commodities from Irish to British shoulders. He thought that the Commission had been misled by the particular character of their reference, and he was opposed to anything approaching a debtor and creditor account between Great Britain and Ireland. He was convinced that the financial relations of Great Britain and Ireland could remain on no other footing except that of a common revenue and a common expenditure. He did not take any narrow view of the responsibilities and duties of that House in connection with Ireland, and no one could lament more than he did the backward state of the country, which was alike a reproach to Britain as to the Irish themselves. He should always be willing and ready to stimulate enterprise in Ireland by any legitimate means whenever the Irish were able and willing to help themselves. He hoped that the Irish people would look at this question with an endeavour to find out what was the whole truth regarding the financial relations between the two countries. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,
§ * MA.JOR JAMESON (Clue, W.)
said he had listened with great attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Longford and the masterly manner in which he had supported the Motion now before the House, and he failed to see that either the hon. Member for Spen Valley, who moved the Amendment, or the hon. Member for North Down who seconded if, had shaken one iota of the volume of evidence so plainly laid before the House by the hon. Member for Longford in support of his Motion. And if this matter was treated by the House as a matter of business, and of hard facts, he thought they would arrive at the same conclusion as the Royal Commission did, that an undue burden of taxation on Ireland undoubtedly existed. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment appeared to consider that he reason Ireland was unduly burdened by taxation was because Irishmen consumed too much, whisky and smoked too much tobacco. But he had been unable to controvert a single argument or a single finding, cither of the Royal Commission or the hon. Member for Longford; and the hon. Member for North Down's speech in seconding the Amendment, appeared to him to be, from first to last, an apology to Inland and his constituents for the position be took up. It was hardly necessary to point out that the Commission whose Report this Motion was founded on was essentially a financial one. It was formed to report on financial facts, and if they had searched the world through, he believed they would not have found a better one, or one composed of more hard-headed men of business and brilliant men of figures. They had an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer in Mr. Childers, a great statistician in Lord Welby, one of the greatest English bankers in Mr. Currie, an European celebrity in Sir Robert Giffen, and another Treasury official, deeply versed in Irish finance, in Sir Robert Hamilton, an Irish banker in Mr. Slattery, and the head of one of the few Irish industries left to us in the Tory Member for Belfast, Mr. Wolff. It was true, that probably out of these 15 gentlemen, eight believed in Home Rule; but then, one of the greatest principles of Home Rule was that it must tend to the financial prosperity of the 151 country to which it was applied. But, putting questions of politics on one side, he held that no one could reject the facts and figures of one of the ablest Royal Commissions that was ever appointed. he proposed to deal only with those points on which the Royal Commission were practically unanimous, namely: (1) That Great Britain and Ireland must, for the purposes of this Inquiry, be considered as separate entities. (2.) That the Act of Union, imposed upon Ireland a burden which, as events showed, she was unable to bear. (3.) That the increase of taxation laid upon Ireland between 1853 and 1860 was not justified by the then existing circumstances. (4.) That identity of rates of taxation does not necessarily involve equality of burden. (5.) That, whilst the actual tax revenue of Ireland is about one-eleventh of that of Great Britain, the relative taxable capacity of Ireland is very much smaller, and is not estimated by any of us as exceeding one-twentieth. As regarded the first point—namely, that Ireland and Great Britain must be considered as separate fiscal entities, he did not think it was necessary to dwell. He believed the House was practically agreed on this point, and he commended to hon. Members opposite the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, who said:—I do feel fettered and limited by the terms of the Act of Union and the Resolution of 1816. When I find in the Terms of the Act of Union and the Resolution of 1816 that Ireland and Scotland were both recognised as taxable entities, whose circumstances were to be considered, then I think, taking one's stand upon the Act of Union itself, we are bound to give consideration to this Irish cause.Speaking not only as a great legal authority, but also as an English statesman, who had never made political morality and honour subservient to political expediency, the hon. and learned Member had absolutely given, his adhesion to the first, and, he thought he might say, to all five of the facts, on which the Royal Commission, was agreed. As regarded the second conclusion, that the Act of Union imposed upon Ireland a, burden which, as events showed, she was unable to bear, they found Mr. Pitt in 1799, when introducing the Act of Union stating: —That the British Government did not seek the Union from a pecuniary motive. The Measure would infuse a large portion of wealth into Ireland, and supply its want of industry and capital. The zeal, the spirit, and the 152 liberal policy of Great Britain gave ample proof that there was no ground for the apprehension that they would tax Ireland more heavily, and no foundation for the idea that Ireland would be subjected to an increase of taxes and a load of debt.How had these assurances been fulfilled? Between the years 1800 and 1817, the taxation rose from two and a half millions to over six millions; in 1816, the average rate of taxation was over four and a half millions, and during those 16 years in which they were guaranteed by the so-called liberal and generous policy of Great Britain that there should be no increase of debt, the debt of Ireland rose from 28 millions to 141 millions. They also found that during the first 96 years of the Union, the taxation of Ireland had been raised from the two and a half millions which. Ireland was assured was the limit of taxation, to over seven millions per annum; and, while Irish taxation at the Union was only 10s. per head, it was now no less than £1. 8s. 10d. per head. These were some of the blessings of the Union, which he was certain every Member of this House would consider Ireland was unable to bear. Now as regarded the third question, on which all the Members of the Commission were agreed—that the increase of taxation in 1853–1860 was not justified. The hon. Member for Waterford had stated that most of the enormous increase in taxation during this period was made by Mr. Gladstone. This was so, but he asked Irish Members to recollect that this very Royal Commission, whose finding they were now discussing, was Mr. Gladstone's last legacy to the Irish people. The retracing of his steps, and entirely changing his policy towards Ireland during the last five years of his Parliamentary career was a noble act of a most noble life. They found that during those seven years nearly two and a half millions per annum was added to the taxation of Ireland, and this at a time when the population of Ireland was rapidly diminishing and her wealth being gradually drained away through a universal policy of Free Trade having been forced upon her by the alteration made in the fiscal system of Great Britain. During this period a tax which had been somewhat severely commented on to the disadvantage of the Irish people, namely, the tax upon whisky, was raised from 2s. 8d. to 10s. per gallon. The impression conveyed by the First Lord of the 153 Treasury in a speech he made at Manchester, that there was no grievance as regarded Ireland, was quite incorrect. They would find that in England there was £4 2s. spent on intoxicating liquors per head, and in Ireland £2 13s.; but the Englishmen only paid 15s. 6d. taxation on £4 2s., while the Irishmen paid 13s. 6d. on £2 13s. He should like to explain this in a very simple way to the House. Take the alcoholic strength of a glass of beer, and also take a glass of whisky and reduce it to the same alcoholic strength as the glass of beer. The reduced mixture of whisky paid six times the amount of taxation as the glass of beer. This he thought thoroughly refuted the theory of the Member for Spen Valley. Now what were the facts? They took a poor agricultural country like Ireland, which had always been able to produce sufficient food products, not only to supply themselves, but had also been able to export a large quantity of surplus food products to Great Britain, and they practically ruined the only industry they had left, by allowing foreign supplies to be freely imported, forgetting that foreign countries had not to pay local and Imperial taxation, into the Treasury of England, and that Ireland had. The late Mr. Childers, one of the most brilliant advocates of Free Trade, in commenting on Sir Robert Peel's policy of abolishing duties on foreign corn and the importation of live and dead stock, wrote: —The change is usually considered to have been advantageous to a population, the greater bulk of which had to depend, not upon agriculture, but upon manufacturing industry and commerce. It is evident the change has not been so advantageous to Ireland.This was the opinion of a great Free Trader, himself an Australian. He felt certain it flashed through his great and kindly mind that Australia would not be at this moment one of the most loyal props of the British Empire had she been robbed and plundered like Ireland, by denying to her fiscal independence, and forcing her to accept a fiscal system for which Nature had utterly unfitted her. He did not think that any Member of that House could help agreeing that first having ruined the agricultural industry in Ireland by allowing all foreign food supplies free entry into Great Britain, it was utterly unjustifiable to raise the 154 hideous taxation they had piled on his unhappy country by taxing almost the only commodities Ireland imported in order to raise the 78 per cent, of the taxation they impose on them, or in other words, while in England about 50 per cent, of the taxation was a tax out of the wealth of the country, and 50 per cent, only was a tax on consumable commodities, in Ireland 78 per cent, was a tax on consumable commodities, and was levied out of the very bodies of the people, who had no proportionate wealth. He did not consider that any Member of that House could differ with the fourth conclusion of the Royal Commission. In the celebrated speech of Mr. Pitt in 1785 he said: —He most earnestly entreated the House not to be carried away by the idea that a poor country, merely because she enjoyed some exemption from taxes, was therefore able to cope with a rich and powerful country. The fact; he was ready to contend was by no means so; on the contrary, the smallest burthen on a poor country was to be considered, when compared with those of a rich country, by no means, in proportion with their several abilities; for if one country exceeded another in wealth, population, and commerce in a proportion of two to one, he was convinced that that country would be able to bear nearly ten times the burdens that the other would be equal to.They had the best testimony to the truth of the finding on this point by the Royal Commission by the fact that the graduation of their own Income Tax was an example they always had before them, and on the justice of which all great financial authorities were agreed. The fifth and last conclusion of the Commission was that while the actual tax revenue of Ireland was about one-eleventh of that of Great Britain, the relative taxable capacity of Ireland was very much smaller, and was not estimated by any of them as exceeding one-twentieth, and as corroboration of this finding, which collectively was given by every member of the Commission, and which was the maximum that they agreed Ireland could be called upon to pay (" although several are of opinion it is far too high a rate to exact'") they took as the best tests: —(1) Assessment as to Death Duties; (2) assessment to the Income Tax; although they acknowledged that all the other tests, viz., gross receipts of railways, 1 to 24; savings bank deposits, 1 to 19; money orders, 1 to 17; postal orders, 1 to 20; taxed commodities, etc., which 155 they had earnestly inquired into, fully corroborated the two tests they had selected. Among all the tests taken by the Commissioners there was one very interesting test that might with some advantage have been dwelt on, and that was the effect of the taxation imposed on Ireland for naval and military expenditure. He thought they might take it as an axiom that military expenditure was intended to preserve the capital value represented in the different countries making up the United Kingdom, and that naval expenditure was intended to safeguard the ocean highway for the merchant ships of the United Kingdom, and therefore this tonnage of the foreign trade of Ireland and Great Britain might fairly be taken to represent the amount of cost that should be borne by each country. Taking the capital value as the test of military expenditure, and the tonnage value as the test of naval expenditure, Ireland would fairly have been called on to pay 1–33rd of military expenditure and l–60th part of the naval, or the average for both would fairly be 1–45th of naval or military expenditure. He would take an average year, 1888. The total expenditure on the Army and Navy was £31,000,000. Now l–45th of this amount, equal to £700,000, was a fair proportion for Ireland to pay; whereas the average charge allocated to Ireland for Naval and Military expenditure had equalled £1,992,000, or nearly three times the £700,000 that could fairly be charged against Ireland. To show the importance of this charge for three periods, he found the total charges for Civil Government, and Naval and Military expenditure in 1795 was £2,508,867; Naval and Military expenditure, £1,553,193, or 61.9 per cent,; in 1800, total charges, £0,854,504; Naval and Military expenditure, £2,757,193, or 40.2 per cent.; in 1893, total charges, £3,242,000; Naval and Military expenditure, £l,666,000, or 51.33 per cent.; or the average Naval and Military expenditure for the last 96 years was about 51.4 per cent, of total charges to be met by taxation on Ireland, or nearly three times her proper allocation; or, during the last 96 years over £100,000,000 has been charged to Ireland for Naval and Military expenditure in excess of what she ought to have paid. He thought that no Member of the House who had carefully read 156 the fair way in which the Commissioners had argued out the question, could help agreeing that they had given every possible advantage to the claims of England, and, if anything, their Reports erred in tenderness towards the claims of the predominant partner. With that view they preferred to take the assessment as to the Death Duties in preference to the assessment as to the Income Tax, because the latter would be more to the disadvantage of Ireland. Now the Income Tax was the test taken by Lord Castlereagh in 1800 as the best criterion of the ability of the two countries to bear taxation when this Union was brought, about. He would ask hon. Members opposite to note paragraphs 90 and 91 of Mr. Childers' Report. It must carry conviction to the hearts of those who represented large agricultural constituencies. Those paragraphs were: —(1) The change is usually considered to have been advantageous to a population the great bulk of which had to depend not upon agriculture, but upon manufacturing industry and commerce. It is, we think, evident that the change has not been advantageous to Ireland, a country in which there is but little trade or manufacturing industry, as it has been to England, that, although as consumers, the Irish population may have gained in some cases by the abolition of duties on food stuffs, yet that, on the other hand, as producers chiefly dependent upon agriculture, they have lost in a far greater degree by the cheap prices in the British markets, produced, at least in part, by the free and untaxed supply of foreign corn, live stock, butter, dead meat, cheese, eggs, and other articles of food, and that, at the same time, the taxation of, and the enhancement of spirit duties, changes effected partly for the very purpose of facilitating the remissions of taxation and question, and also in order to 'lighten the springs' of the manufacturing industry, in which her share is small. (2) Ireland being a country mainly inhabited by agricultural producers, could support its present population upon corn and meat produced there without having recourse, under ordinary circumstances, to a foreign supply of these articles, and could, at the same time, export a surplus of these food stuffs. The population of Ireland consumes a rather large amount, in proportion to its wealth, of spirits, tea and tobacco. This being so, it does not appear that a fiscal system which raises no revenue from foreign food stuffs, but does raise a large revenue from spirits, tea and tobacco, is advantageous to the population of Ireland, although it may be advantageous to the population of the United Kingdom, looked at as a whole. It may even perhaps be said that just as Ireland suffered in the last century from the protective and exclusive commercial policy of 157 Great Britain, so she has been at a disadvantage in this century from the adoption of an almost unqualified free trade policy for the United Kingdom.He looked upon the Report of Mr. Childers as one of the most remarkable efforts that ever had been made by any of the great financial statesmen of this country. Here they had a great Free Trader, a great financial authority, throwing over the dogma of Free Trade, and telling England plainly, in the interest of honour and of justice, that in forcing upon Ireland, a small agricultural country, the fiscal laws which their great and teeming population of workmen and artisans had forced them to adopt, they committed an act of financial dishonesty, and imposed a ruinous and an unjust embargo on the industry of the country they had forced into union with them. He could not imagine any phase of the great and useful life of the late Mr. Chiders more touching than this last act of his. They found him pointing out that the fetish of Free Trade he had so faithfully worshipped had brought ruin and unhappiness to Ireland, and at all cost to his own feelings, he had faithfully reported to the House his views and convictions. Surely no Member of the House could read unmoved the last effort of this honest and honourable statesman, at the close of a long and eventful Parliamentary career, with the very vista of a great eternity opening out before him and enabling him to point out, in no uncertain terms, that honour and justice demanded that the great burden imposed upon Ireland by this country should be removed, and that England should keep faith with the country she had entrapped into a disastrous union. [Nationalist cheer]
§ * MR. HORACE PLUNKETT (Dublin Co., S.)
said he was anxious to take part in that Debate, because he had already attempted to take part in it by way of Amendment, and he wished to explain the views he held upon the subject. He was not going to attempt to dive into those deep speculations which had been imported into this Debate, and which Mr. Edmund Burke, in another famous Debate on taxation, had called that great Serbonian beg in which whole armies had sunk. He was not going to mix himself up in Front Bench metaphysics or below-the-Gangway political economy. The Trish case might be summed up in two 158 very simple figures, and they were the only figures in which he was going to indulge. Ireland contributed about 1–11th. or 1–12th of the Imperial Revenue, and, by every test that the wit of man could apply, her capacity for bearing taxation was not more than l–20th of that of the United Kingdom. Now, on those two simple figures they all had a feeling that something must be wrong. He believed that the evil arose out of the incidence of our taxation; it might be inevitable, but unquestionably the existing fiscal system pressed hardly upon the poorest classes. The difficulty in Ireland was this, that she had a far larger proportion of the poorest Classes than any other part of the United Kingdom. As far as the economic position of Ireland was concerned, it was extremely simple as compared with that of England or Scotland. With the exception of a small area in the north-east of Ireland, the country was purely agricultural. It was always admitted, except for the purposes of the Agricultural Rating Bill Debates last year, that they were at present suffering from agricultural depression. From this cause the country was poor. Poverty was at the bottom of the whole trouble. He was inclined to agree with the dictum of Nassau Senior, thatIreland is over-taxed because she is poor rather than poor because she is over-taxed.Of course, the English answer was, that the poor areas in England were suffering from the same grievance; but he could point out to the Government when they made that statement that the whole of their land legislation was based upon the difference between the different conditions of the agricultural population in Ireland and the agricultural population in the rest of the United Kingdom, but he did not think himself that the Irish people had any complaint as regarded that poverty that was natural and that was only incidental to agriculture. The poverty of which he complained was that for which England was directly responsible. Ireland's strongest case began at a period antecedent to that with which the Royal Commission dealt. It rested on the commercial restrictions imposed in the middle of the 17th century, and continued 159 nearly till the end of the 18th century, and on the laws against the Catholics. It was admitted that England's policy had been ruthlessly to destroy every trade and industry in Ireland which might compete with the industries of the English middle classes. The woollen trade was killed, and the linen trade was hampered. Froude declared that if those trades had been allowed to follow the natural course, there would now be four Ulsters in Ireland instead of one. The people were thus driven back to a pastoral life, but even their cattle, sheep, and butter might not be exported. Then the economic effect of the laws against the Catholics had been too little taken into account. Honesty was essential to the success of industrial and trading communities; but the penal laws made it absolutely necessary for the Catholics, and the Protestants who succoured them, to practise lying and concealment. One branch of his own family was Catholic, and in the past it had been necessary for them, in order to keep the lands of their Roman Catholic kinsmen, to swear that those lands were their own. It was perjury, but he could not blush for it. He came across a curious letter the other day from a, Protestant in Kerry who was in the habit of holding the title deeds for a Catholic friend—Maurice O'Connell, the uncle of Daniel O'Connell. At the expiration of the legal year, Mr. O'Connell wrote to his Protestant friend to ask him to make the statutory declarations as usual. The reply was: —My Dear Maurice,—If I were a few years younger I would be as ready to oblige a friend as ever. But I regret that I am too near my end to perjure myself any more, even for so old and valued a friend as yourself.Talk of the "moral and intellectual" damages of the Boers for a mauvais quart d'heure at Krugersdorp!—what was the claim of the Irish people for centimes of such oppression as this? This was an old story in point of years, but the effects remained, and were visible to-day. The Irish people had been utterly demoralised by this system of Government. As to what was to be done now, there were several possible courses. There might, first, be a differential system of taxation, for which there were, however, few advocates. There might, secondly, be a change in 160 the fiscal system of the United Kingdom, so devised as to press less hardly on the poorer classes. That would undoubtedly remedy the Irish grievance, but he did not think there was any Irish Member who wished to wait for relief until that policy was adopted. By a process of exhaustion he came to the conclusion that the only course which the Irish could advocate was that a certain amount of money should be restored to them. ["Hear, hear!"] The question which seemed to him of most importance was, whether it was possible for England to deal with the problem of Irish poverty and make Ireland richer, and his view was that the simplest way to make Ireland richer was to attempt to improve the conditions of the agricultural industry. He had made a considerable study of the question of the elevation of agricultural communities in other European countries. Denmark and Wurtemburg had successfully solved the problem of elevating the conditions of—
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I can not see that the observations of the hon. Member are relevant to the Amendment before the House, which relates only to the financial relations between England and Ireland, and not to the question how Ireland is to be improved.
§ * MR. PLUNKETT
said they were all agreed on the Irish side that the present system of taxation pressed with undue weight upon the poorer country. ["Hear, hear!"] From Mr. Speaker's ruling he gathered that he could not speak on the Amendment he had put down, and, therefore, he would now state his general position upon this question. The Chancellor of the Exchequer the previous night had stated the final decision which the Government had come to upon the question, and he should say that, so far as he was concerned, it was a matter of very great disappointment to him. He felt that the overtaxation of Ireland had been absolutely proved, and, therefore, he had thoroughly made up his mind that it was quite impossible for him to dissociate himself any longer from the attitude which had been taken up by the majority of the Irish Members. [Loud cheers.] In the Motion which had been proposed there were some phrases with which he 161 could not concur, but he felt that Ireland had a distinct grievance. He considered that the value which had been attached to their unity by the vast majority of the Irish, both Unionist and Nationalist, was so well founded, that he could not take the responsibility of opposing the Motion. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * MR. J. C. BIGHAM (Liverpool. Exchange)
, in a, maiden speech, said his desire was that the subject should be approached apart from party bias, and in his opinion the speech of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth, was evidence that there existed such a disposition on the Ministerial side. The hon. Member for South Longford (Mr. Blake) made two allegations in his speech —one that the burden placed upon Ireland was an undue burden, having regard to the Act of Union, and the other that the burden was an undue burden in existing circumstances. He asked the attention of the House to the 7th Clause of the Act of Union, which provided that in certain contingencies the Exchequers of the two countries might be amalgamated and that the expenses should, in that event, be defrayed by equal taxes imposed on the same articles in each country, subject to such exemptions and abatements as circumstances from time to time demanded. That was the bargain of 1800. It was said that the Act of Union imposed on Ireland in the first instance too large a contribution towards the expenditure of the United Kingdom. But Ireland did not bear the burden. Ireland borrowed money to discharge her indebtedness, with the result that when the Exchequers were amalgamated in 1817, an Irish debt of something like 112 millions had been incurred; thus, though it might be true that the Act of Union imposed upon Ireland a burden out of proportion to her ability to pay, the answer was that she shifted her burden on to the shoulders of the United Kingdom. In 1817 the large debt which she had incurred became part of the common indebtedness of the United Kingdom. No doubt Great Britain also borrowed during this period, and to that extent it might be said that one had to be set off against the other. But if Ireland's rights were to be dealt with according to the letter of tins law, as; it existed at the date of 162 the Union, she ought now to be contributing at the rate of 1 in 8 instead of 1 in 11 or 12, which she was in fact at this moment contributing. The Act contemplated and provided for changed conditions, and by Article 7 arrangements were made for future indiscriminate contribution by means of equal taxes. By the same section it was said that indiscriminate taxation of articles should be subject only to such particular exemptions or abatements as circumstances might appear to demand. What did this mean? It meant that, if the taxation of any article pressed unduly on Ireland it might be exempted or it might be abated as justice might require. That was the only right which Ireland now had under that Act, and if this Motion were pointed to such an exemption or abatement he could understand it as raising a possible grievance; but the Motion did nothing of the kind. He had not heard a word so far claiming an exemption or abatement of the taxes on any article whatever. In fact there was no grievance under the Act unless it were, an English grievance that Ireland did not pay the share which that Act originally provided she should pay. Was Ireland unduly taxed regardless of the Act and with reference only to existing circumstances? If she was, which he doubted, the blame did not lie, with any Conservative or Unionist Government. It lay solely with Mr. Gladstone. Carrying out the policy contemplated by the Act of Union suceessive Governments had remitted taxes on dutiable articles which were paid by Great Britain alone, but while relieving Great Britain they put no extra strain on Ireland. In 1819 the revenue of Great Britain was £51,000,000; the revenue of Ireland was £5,000,000. In 1850 the revenue of Great Britain was still about £51,000,000, and the revenue of Ireland still remained about £5,000,000. So that for the 30 years the proportion of contribution remained 1 in 11. It was not unimportant to remember that at the time of the Act of Union the proportion was fixed at 1 in 8, but as time progressed it altered to 1 in 11. In 1850 began the operation of the policy of Mr. Gladstone. He, however, did no more than follow out the policy of the Act of Union. He began then to raise the Spirit Duties in Ireland to the English level. He also put on Ireland 163 the Income Tax of which England had so far the exclusive enjoyment. It was Raid that when he put on that tax the right hon. Gentleman promised to Ireland that she should suffer from it for no longer than seven years. He had no doubt whatever that Mr. Gladstone made that promise and broke it. But who listened to the promises of Chancellors of the Exchequer [Ironical cheers.] Who were the foolish people who thought that these promises were made seriously 1 But at that time Mr. Gladstone had some justification for imposing the tax, because he took from Ireland a debt of something like £4,000,000, which had been incurred in the interests of Ireland. The result was that whereas in 10 years the British contribution increased by 20 per cent., the Irish contribution increased something like 60 per cent. By the imposition of the Income Tax on Ireland, Mr. Gladstone did, no doubt, cause the revenue of Ireland to be increased by something like 60 per cent., whereas during the same period the revenue of Great Britain only increased something like 20 per cent. In 1850 the revenue of Great Britain was £52,000,000; the revenue of Ireland was about £5,000,000; so that the proportion was about 1 in 11. In 1860 the revenue of Great Britain had only increased to £62,000,000, whereas the revenue of Ireland had increased from £5,000,000 to £8,000,000. That fact did not violate any provision of the Act of Union. He agreed, however, that it was an inopportune, and in that sense unjust, burden upon Ireland; but the question was whether time and the changes of the last thirty-five years had not removed the grievance which probably was created about 1860. ["Hear, hear!"] His answer was distinctly "Yes." In 1860 the revenue of Ireland was something like £7,700,000, her expenditure about £2,300,000, leaving a difference available for common purposes of something like £5,500,000; whereas, if they took the figures of 1893–94 they would find that while the true revenue of Ireland remained about the same the expenditure had increased to something like £5,600,000, leaving available for common purposes only £2,000,000. Therefore, although the revenue during all that period remained about the same, Ireland got back from 164 the common purse a difference of something like £3,300,000. During that time the revenue of Great Britain increased by about 50 per cent, from 60 to 90 millions, and thus, whereas Ireland was contributing one-eighth in 1860 she now contributed only about one eleventh. Although the state of things he had thus described, with Ireland's contribution varying between one in eight and one in eleven, had been in existence for nearly a century, it was now suddenly discovered that some great injustice had been done to Ireland during the whole of that period, and it was said that the proportion ought to be one in twenty. That figure had been arrived at by inquiry into a question of extreme difficulty, and the exact nature of which he did not quite understand—[ironical Opposition cheers]—an inquiry into what was called the taxable capacity of Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"] The question was, even assuming that proportion to be the right one, did the present condition of affairs constitute a grievance? He answered that question in two ways. First he would point out that individuals paid the taxes and not areas. [Cheers.] Irishmen paid, he understood, less per head than Englishmen, the former paying £1 8s. 10d. and the latter £2 4s. 10d. If £1 8s. 10d. in Ireland meant more per pound of income to an Irishman than £2 4s. 10d. to an Englishman, the grievance, it appeared to him, arose because Irishmen chose to consume more dutiable articles. ["Hear, hear."] That did not appear to be an Irish grievance at all, but a grievance which applied to every poor man in the United Kingdom. [Cheers.] It could not be remedied by any legislation that was to affect Ireland alone, but if at all by legislation affecting the whole of the United Kingdom. [Cheers.] Was it to be remedied by shifting two-and-a-half millions of taxation from Ireland on to England? All he could say was that such a policy would be most unpopular in England and Scotland. [Cheers.] Would the poor of Great Britain tolerate it or support it? Had his colleague (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) been present, he would have asked him would the Irishmen who lived in the Scotland Division of Liverpool like it? [Cheers.] He was satisfied they would not. [Cheers.] They did not want two-and-a-half millions of 165 taxation shifted from Irish shoulders to the shoulders of Irishmen who happened to live in England. The revenue of Great Britain was something like ninety millions, of which thirty were appropriated for local purposes, so that to imperial taxation Great Britain contributed sixty millions, Ireland, therefore, contributed l–30th of the money required for Imperial purposes. She therefore contributed, instead of one in 20, one in 30. It might be said that a part of the five and a-half millions which Ireland received from the public purse, was, to some extent, Imperial taxation; but after making the fairest and fullest allowance for the difference between what might be called the amount of the Imperial taxation and the amount of the local taxation, they could not reduce the proportion that Ireland paid to less than one in 20, which was the standard, as he understood, fixed by the majority of the Commissioners. Irishmen, he knew, said that all expenditure was Imperial expenditure. [Nationalist cheers] They said:—" Why are you to differentiate between Great Britain and Ireland on the question of expenditure, and not to do so on the question of revenue? But what would be the result' If Ireland were only to contribute one in 20, her revenue would be reduced to something like four and a-half millions, and if she were to receive out of the public purse rive and a-half millions she would be receiving more than she contributed, and nothing would be left for Imperial purposes. It was true that Mr. Childers had stated that from the Imperial purse there should be handed over to Ireland something like two millions for the purpose of developing her resources. Ex hypothesithis would not remove the grievance, because it would leave the revenue in the ratio of one to 12, instead of one to 20, and the expenditure was not to be taken into account at all. So it was impossible, apparently, to relieve the grievance under which Ireland suffered by adopting the suggestion of Mr. Childers. The Irish Members said that the only true way to remove the grievance was by reducing their taxes. But how? He had not yet heard which tax was to be reduced. Unless Home Rule were intended to be the remedy he did not know what the remedy was, and he had listened anxiously to hear 166 what tax it was that Irish Members suggested pressed hardly upon the people of Ireland, and ought to be removed. He did not know of any. He thought he had shown that Ireland suffered really under no grievance at all; but if she did she had been suffering under it for a whole century—[Nationalist cheers]—and yet hon. Gentlemen opposite had only discovered its existence during the last few years. He could not regard the findings of the Commission as findings which were not dictated by Party bias. He did not question the honesty of the Commissioners, or their desire to ascertain the truth, but when they considered the composition of the Commission and the Reports which its members drew up, he could not help thinking that their minds were biassed by Party considerations, and that their Reports were the result of that bias. For that reason he thought that the further inquiry which the Government were about to institute was most desirable. If it were found that there was a real grievance, he felt sure that there would be a desire on his side of the House to do the best that could be done to remedy it.
§ MR. J. J. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
said that the speech just delivered was the kind of speech that almost filled Irish Members with despair. The arguments of the hon. Member had all been answered in advance by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth. He had thought that the speeches of the hon. Members for Longford, Waterford, and Plymouth had rendered it absolutely unnecessary to go over the main points of the Irish case once more. But after listening to the speech just delivered, he could come to no other conclusion but that the A B C of the Irish case still needed to be dinned into the skulls and intellects of hon. Members opposite. [Laughter and "Hear, hear!" The hon. Member had spoken of the arrangement of 1817, and of England's taking over the "Irish debt." By what right did the hon. Member call it the "Irish debt.?" He said that Irishmen borrowed the money. Ireland did not borrow it, but it was borrowed on Ireland's behalf by English Ministers, and by force of an English majority. In that transaction one of the principal stipulations of the Act of Union was violated—namely, the provision that all borrowing after the Act should be on the joint account.
167 By what right did the hon. and learned Member speak of Irish "debt?" At most two-thirds of what he thought proper to describe thus were a fraudulent and deliberate overcharge, which was forced upon Ireland by abominable means. [Cheers.] England in 1817 made itself partially responsible for her own overcharge, but that gave it no right either then or now to bring Ireland under British liabilities by a system of common taxation. [Cheers.] The hon. and learned Member had talked of the generosity of England in remitting four millions in 1853. Those four millions were released on the express condition that fresh taxation should be imposed, and fresh taxation was accordingly imposed which amounted up to the present to over twenty millions. [Cheers.] That was generosity with a vengeance! But that was not the worst. First, the annuities were remitted in return for fresh taxation imposed. But that was not the worst, for actually in 1887 an Act was passed by which they were now being repaid. [Cheers.] He did not know what others called that transaction, but he called it arrant swindling. [Cheers.] The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to-night to the drink consumed in Ireland. After the powerful and impressive speech of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, he (Mr. Clancy) really thought there would not be an Englishman in the House who would be bold enough to refer to the calumny again. [Cheers.] The hon. and learned Member had unfortunately read only one authority, the speech of the Leader of the House at Manchester, and he believed that authority, although he (Mr. Clancy) was of opinion that the Leader of the House had not read the Parliamentary Report, and although the hon. Member for Plymouth, had quoted the very figures which showed that if either of the two peoples were a drunken people it was the English people. Then the hon. Member went on to say that Ireland was not entitled to separate treatment. That was very good. But Ireland sometimes did get separate treatment. [Cheers.] Five or six times within the last few years she had got separate treatment. When the Probate Duty Grant was distributed was Ireland treated as part of the United Kingdom or as a separate entity? [Cheers.] In the division of the Probate Duty Grant Ireland was 168 distinctly recognised as a separate entity. Last year there was an Agricultural Rating Bill passed for England. If Ireland were to be treated as an English county, or a group of English counties, under that Bill her share would have been £800,000. What did she get? She got £160,000 on the ground that she was a separate taxable entity. Ireland had, in fact, not got that money yet. He had not the least doubt that in a fortnight's time the Chief Secretary for Ireland would come and save the British Exchequer a similar amount by devoting £160,000 to the endowment of the proposed Agricultural Board. He thought he had better leave the hon. and learned Gentleman. ["Hear, hear!"] He would only say in parting from him that he was perfectly certain he was the type of Englishman who, if he lived in the time of William III., would have said the extinction of the woollen industry of Ireland was a benefit to Ireland; who, if he lived in the time of the last century, would have approved of the practice perpetrated by English Ministers in regard to the pension list of Ireland. Perhaps he would like to know a little about it. It had some connection with the Irish Debt which the hon. Gentleman said was so generously taken over by England. It is largely composed of pensions for Englishmen and women. [Cheers.] There is a striking saying on this subject of John Philpot Curran which probably the hon. Gentleman never heard. He said that this list contained every description of person "from the excellence of a Hawke or a Rodney to the base situation of a lady who humbleth herself that she may be exalted." [Nationalist cheers and laughter.] The only thing he felt inclined to say about the speech of the hon. Member who moved the Amendment was that it was a rather curious thing for him to urge on the Unions. Party that the only solution of this question was Home Rule, considering how little that Gentleman and his Party were doing for Home Rule at present, ["Hear, hear!"] As to the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Liverpool, he was so much of an Imperialist he actually had no objection to being robbed if his robbery were necessary to the maintenance of the Union. The hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh' would bear him out when he said that the hon. and gallant Member 169 for North Down was not up to the mark of his constituents on this question. "Hear, hear!"] At least, he was a better exponent of the opinion of the Unionists of Ireland on this question than the hon. and gallant Gentleman. [Nationalist cheers.] The Chancellor of the Exchequer attempted to cast ridicule on the whole thing. The right hon. Gentleman said he would not follow the hon. Member for Longford, nor the hon. Member for Waterford into the retrospect they indulged in. It was dangerous ground for the right hon. Gentleman to touch on. ["Hear, hear!" If England had made no bargain with Ireland: if the contribution which Ireland was to pay was fair if Ireland voluntarily entered into a bargain to that effect, apart from the injustice of taxing the poorer parts of the United Kingdom more heavily than the richer, the Irish case would have very little ground. But when a solemn bargain was entered into in 1800, and if that bargain was forced on the Irish people by the most infamous means, by bloodshed and corruption—if the taxation was unfair in 1853, and if the result of that is now that Irish taxation was extortionate, he wanted to know what answer had the right hon. Gentleman to their complaint. [Nationalist cheers.] Let them judge the present by the past, and there was no answer to the Irish case. The right hon. Gentleman asked what tax pinched. All the taxes pinched. [Nationalist cheers.] They laid upon Ireland a burden which was too great for her to bear, and which she should not bear according to the terms of the bargain England made 97 years ago. Another question dealt with by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth was the question of expenditure. He had bought after the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman they might have seen sonic sense of shame developed on the Government Benches or, at nil events, that, some effort would have been made to answer the hon. and learned Member on the subject. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not intend to travel over the same ground, but he would mention a few points which he thought would strengthen the hon. and learned Member's case. Those who opposed the Irish case said that Ireland got back her over-taxation and more; and the test of whatever she received they took as what was spent in Ireland. The proposed Inquiry he had 170 resisted, but he was not afraid of it, because the classification of the expenditure was really the most curious piece of swindling ever practised on this Parliament. The Lord Lieutenant was surely an Imperial officer, but because the money was spent in Dublin the Lord Lieutenant's salary was put down to the Irish account. The salary of the Chief Secretary was put down to the Irish account, whether the right him. Gentleman spent his time in Dublin or London. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: "Blocking Irish Bills."] Even the expenses of the London Office were put down as Irish expenses. All the money voted for the Queen's Civil List was spent in. England, but that was not put down as to the English account. Oh, no. It was Imperial. As to Navy, be asked how many ships were being built in Ireland, Scotland and England respectively. The answer, as to Ireland, was that one vessel was being repaired there. The 20 millions spent on the Navy under the Naval Defence Act was all spent in Great Britain; but it did not go down to the English account. It was Imperial. The Speaker's salary was all spent in London. That was put down as Imperial. There was a curious item of £40,000 called the Exchequer contribution. It was established in 1890 to constitute a reserve fund of £200,000, was to be kept up until that sum was reached. Ireland had never got one penny of it yet, but it was put down to the Irish account. Surely the expenses connected with the Houses of Parliament were Imperial. But every penny of the money was spent in London. The same story was to be told in connection with many of the Government offices. The most audacious thing of all, however, was that the Office of Public Works and Buildings in Whitehall Place was put into the Imperial account. Mr. Samuels, Q.C., of the Irish Bar, although a Unionist, had written an unanswerable pamphlet on this question; and he summed up the case by saying that where the money was spent in Ireland it was sure to go to the Irish account, and where the money was spent in England it was sure to go to the Imperial account. If these accounts were made out even on the principle of charging to Ireland what was spent in Ireland, and to England what was spent in England it would be found that Ireland was overtaxed by two and three-quarter millions, the very sum estimated 171 by the Commission. It was said that the hon. and learned Member for Longford had not suggested a remedy. It was not for the hon. and learned Member to suggest one, but for the responsible Minister of the Crown. First, however, it was necessary to get the Irish grievance admitted. Speaking only for himself, he could make a suggestion as to a remedy. He, for one, did not wish to disturb the fiscal system of the Empire; and he thought that perhaps Ireland might be compensated by being enabled to get back every year in useful and productive public works the money by the amount of which she was overtaxed. After the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech it was time to speak plainly. He declared on his responsibility that if Ireland had the power the proper answer to that speech would be an act of war. [Nationalist cheers.] Men and nations before this had fought for much less. Ireland believed that in this matter England had acted deliberately in a cruel and heartless manner, and when this was demonstrated to the satisfaction of every reasonable and thinking man she was confronted with a non possumus worthy of the worst days of British oppression. He repeated, the only proper answer to that speech would be, if they could, armed insurrection. They could not, unfortunately, resort to that remedy, but there were other means open to them of trying to get some justice for their country. If the present Government and every future Government found a system of intelligent attention being paid to every one of their Bills, whether they concerned or did not concern Irish Members, and if they found as a consequence this Imperial Parliament dislocated and disarranged, they would soon come to have another opinion about Irish taxation. [Nationalist cheers.]
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
declared that he represented the attitude of the overwhelming majority of the Unionists of Ireland [Nationalist cheers.] [Mr. JOHNSTON: "Not in Ulster."] Yes, in Ulster; and what was more, there was not a single constituency from Cape Clear to the Giant's Causeway where he could not carry by an overwhelming majority a resolution in favour of the Motion, or at all events of the question before the House. The 172 speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was one of the ablest he had ever heard him deliver, and with a great deal of it he agreed—but he thought part of that speech was directed to giving a Home Rule colour and tinge to this financial agitation. He found it was nothing of the kind. If it was he should be the last person to have anything to say to it. He confessed to the House that he looked upon this matter simply from the Irish point of view. The hon. and gallant Member for North Down and the hon. Member for South Belfast looked upon it from the English point of view, which was a proceeding he could not account for. He was an Irishman and no one could deny that a Royal Commission—he did not care in the least for what reason it was set up—had been appointed by the House to examine into the financial relations between Great Britain and Ireland, and what he said was that that jury had given a verdict for Ireland. He was told he ought to reject altogether the conclusion the Commission arrived at, because that Commission was appointed by a Home Rule Government for a Home Rule purpose. He admitted it, but sometimes good came out of evil, and he did not see why he, as an Irishman, should reject the report of that Commission, founded as it was upon the best evidence that could be brought forward, because it was appointed by a Home Rule Government for Home Rule objects, when he considered the fact that they had knocked the bottom out of Home Rule and that Home Rule was not at the present moment in view on the horizon of practical politics. Therefore he looked upon this report of a Commission of undoubtedly very able men, founded on the best evidence that could be adduced before it, as a verdict deliberately given on the side of Ireland, His hon. Friend behind him, the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Bigham) in his excellent maiden speech, avoided the main point of the Irish contention. The hon. Member said he did not understand what taxable capacity meant. But it was upon that they founded the whole of their claim. He wished clearly to place the position he stood in and that he believed the Irish Unionists took up on this point. He did not contend that 173 Irishmen were overtaxed. He did not think they were, and that was why he could not follow the Amendment of the hon. Member for Longford. He did not see that they could say the Irishman was overtaxed, because he did not pay more than the Scotchman, or Welshman, or Englishman. But he said that Ireland was overtaxed according to the agreement entered into between this country and Ireland at the time of the Union, and that owing to the fact that their contributions to the Imperial revenue far exceeded the proportion they ought to pay, considering the vast wealth of their partner with whom they entered into the agreement, they had a perfect, right on these grounds to say that Ireland was overtaxed. What was the agreement? He knew a good deal about the matter because an ancestor of his sat in the Irish Parliament of that time.
Yes; and voted against the Union. They could not help remembering that in those times it was with great difficulty that the Act of Union was passed. He need not go into details as to how it was passed, and the various inducements that were offered to many Members of that Parliament to gain their votes. But he ventured to say if hon. Members read the Debates which took place in the Irish House of Commons at that period, they would see that the great inducement offered the Irish House of Commons to accept the Union was that in joining their fate with the richer partner care would be taken that from time to time the financial condition of the two countries would be taken into consideration, and exemptions and abatements would be made to Ireland when necessary. He was a Unionist to the backbone, and he had an immense respect for the great Treaty of Union, but it was the duty of an honourable nation and an honourable Parliament to fulfil the obligations then undertaken. The logical position was this. The taxable capacity of Ireland bore a far different proportion to her revenue than was warranted by the capacity of the two countries —the one rich and the other comparatively poor. The result of the report of the Commission showed that the proportion Ireland ought to pay towards the Imperial 174 revenue was not one-twelfth, but one-twentieth. Thus the time had arrived, contemplated by the 7th Section of the Act of Union, to reconsider the position, to make exemptions and abatements, and to fulfil the contract entered into in 1800. He did not think anyone contemplated for a moment a different system of taxation in Ireland from that which existed in England. It would be contrary to common sense, and it would not be entertained by the House of Commons, because it would involve the finances of the country in hopeless con-confusion. Although an Irishman was not overtaxed, although he had not to pay more for his whisky, tobacco, or tea, than an Englishman or Scotchman, yet, when they took into consideration the leaps and. bounds by which this country had progressed in material wealth as compared with Ireland, it was time that consideration should be given in the House to her financial position. There would have been nothing to complain of had the revenue of Ireland not been violently increased in 1853; between 1817 and 1853, he did not think Ireland had anything to complain of; but Mr. Gladstone placed on her then a burden of two millions a year, and, as a set off, relieved her imperfectly of a sum of four millions which had been advanced. He would take this as proved, and did not think that hon. Members would attempt to deny it. He did not think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night attempted to deny it, and he did not think that anybody on the Government Bench would say the result arrived at by the Royal Commission when they found that the taxable capacity of Ireland instead of being one-twelfth was one-twentieth, was inconsistent. Objection had been taken to the word "entity," as a word of foreign invention applied to the Eastern question, and he did not like the word. But if it was a financial principle of this country to tax areas, which it was not, but if it was a financial principle to do so, then undoubtedly the taxation of Ireland would have been reduced. He was not afraid of the word "entity,"' and in fact Ireland had been treated as an entity in many ways. Ireland was treated as a financial entity at the end of last year, 175 when the Agricultural Rating Act was passed, she was treated as an entity when the Church was disestablished, and again when landlords were disestablished, as they were not in this country. If Ireland was to be treated as the counties of Wiltshire and Suffolk might be treated why was she not so treated when the Agricultural Rating Act was passed? It was an argument sometimes used, which he regarded as absurd in the extreme. It was said if Ireland was a part of the Empire, as undoubtedly she was, why should not Ireland be treated as Wiltshire or any other county would be treated if it could be shown to be suffering from agricultural distress? But Wiltshire and Suffolk never had Parliaments of their own, at least not within historic times, and never made a treaty with England, therefore the argument that Ireland should be treated in the same way as Wiltshire or Suffolk was absolutely absurd. A solemn treaty was entered into with Ireland, and honourable men, when it was shown that the time had arrived for the reconsideration of the financial positions of the two countries, were bound to fulfil their solemn obligations. It was said this country had been very generous to Ireland, and in a way that had been so, but the generosity had almost invariably been at Ireland's expense. [Laughter.] Vicarious charity was a delightful virtue. When you wanted to satisfy Roman Catholics in Ireland you disestablished the Irish Church, sold her possessions, and converted her bishops into tramways and light railways. [Laughter.] When you wanted to satisfy Irish tenants you disestablished Irish landlords—[Laughter] —and soon they were to be disendowed altogether. This was a principle of generosity by which at any rate England had no right to expect the general thanks of Ireland, the fattening of one Irishman on another. [Laughter.] At last there was an opportunity for England to be generous to Ireland at England's expense. In every Debate it was attempted to be shown that Ireland had not much to complain of, and that cm the casting up of accounts it would be found that Ireland perhaps enjoyed rather more of the money voted by Parliament than either Scotland or 176 England. He looked upon that as a dangerous argument, and he was surprised that it should be used by Unionists. He could understand hon. Gentlemen opposite using it, for it was a Separatist argument. When the exchequers of the two countries were, amalgamated in 1817 it was distinctly laid down that all expenditure by the State in Ireland, in Gibraltar, or elsewhere, should be regarded as Imperial expenditure, and it was tending in a Separatist direction to draw up separate accounts for England, Scotland, and Ireland. That was why he was opposed to the instruction to the new Commission, because he looked upon it as tending in a Separatist direction. There was no necessity for a new Commission, for it had been already proved on the very best evidence that the taxable capacity of Ireland and her contributions to the Imperial revenues were not in fair proportion, and that Ireland was overtaxed in comparison with her richer sister. Some foolish things had no doubt been said in Ireland on this subject. One was that, if attention was not paid to Ireland's demand, Unionists would reconsider their ways and policy. There was no foundation for that statement. Irish Unionism was not to be bought or sold. ["Hear, hear!"] What was true was that never before in this century had a movement been supported with such unanimity in Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"] He could not himself accept the resolution of the hon. and learned Member for Longford as it stood, because he did not see how Irishmen, man for man, could reasonably claim to be treated differently from their fellow-subjects, and because he could not assent to the doctrine that Ireland had not the same interest in the Army and Navy as England and Scotland, To Irishmen the greatness of this Empire ought to be just as dear as it was to any Englishman or Scotchman. [A NATIONALIST MEMBER: "Who gets the booty?"] Without the Army and Navy where would Ireland and Ireland's commerce be? [Nationalist laughter.] He did not come to the British Parliament to plead in formâ pauperis. ["Hear, hear!"] It grieved him to hear hon. Members speaking of Ireland as if she had made no progress at all, and of Irishmen as if they were a set of beggars crying out for alms. He affirmed that 177 Ireland had made great progress, but that progress was nut as great as England's, and it was to rectify the difference that they asked for generous treatment at the hands of Parliament. Ireland's representatives asked this country to do that which it ought to be proud to do—namely, to fulfil the great and solemn obligation entered into at the time of the Union. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
said that he rose to rectify a statement which had been made more than once in that Debate. It had been said that the whole opinion of Ireland was unanimous on this question. He ventured to traverse that statement, not in Ins own name, but on behalf of his constituents. He should like the House to know that this issue had been discussed at great length by every single one of the public bodies with which he had come in contact in the City of Belfast. It had been discussed by the Belfast Conservative Association, the Primrose League, the Chamber of Commerce, and by the Ulster Liberal Unionist Association. These had not been mere perfunctory discussions, but in each case the matter had been referred to a competent committee which after due deliberation, had expressed its view in moderate, and he thought, reasonable terms, all of which were practically uniform in their tenour. What was the view taken by his constituents? He would read first the resolution arrived at by the Conservative Association, which was the most important political body in Belfast: —Your Committee would caution the Unionists of Ulster not to be led away by the present agitation against the allowed over-taxation of Ireland.The Primrose League which was a body entitled to be heard as representing a considerable number of persons, said: —That it is to be regretted that many Irish Unionists have accepted, apparently without due consideration, the report of the majority of the Commission on the Financial Relations between Great Britain and Ireland. That it has yet to be shown that any individual living in Ireland is more heavily taxed than if he lived in Great Britain. That the proposal to establish the principle of separate taxable areas is most undesirable, and might be extended indefinitely. That any change in the fiscal system of the United Kingdom, involving reductions of duty paid in Ireland, and the consequent creation of Customs barriers between Great Britain and 178 Ireland has not been shown to be necessary, and from a Unionist standpoint would be most undesirable.He now came to the Chamber of Commerce, which had no political complexion, and the Chamber was quite clear on the subject. They declared: —In our opinion Great Britain and Ireland must be treated as two countries having a common financial system. We are most strongly of opinion that to hold that for the present day and in the future Great Britain and Ireland must be treated as separate financial entities, except for the purpose of considering the particular exemptions or abatements to he made in Ireland whenever circumstances require them, would be contrary to the intention and provisions of the Act of Union. The foregoing facts and considerations do not afford grounds for advocating the adoption of a differential scale of duties for the two countries, but it would appear to us that these facts and considerations are sufficient to justify a claim upon the Imperial Parliament for special treatment, in the matter of wise and liberal expenditure in directions in which it can be arranged to be really reproductive.And lastly he came to what to his mind was the strongest and at the same time the most weighty of all the quotations with which he desired to trouble the House. That was the quotation which expressed the opposition of the Ulster Liberal Unionist Association, which contained many of the foremost leaders of thought in the North of Ireland. They said: —We regret that use had been made of some of the finding's of the Commission to start an agitation in Ireland for redress of an imaginary grievance, and to give, rise to extravagant claims and expectations that can only result in disappointment and discredit. … We strongly object to any such plan as taking separate accounts of the revenue and expenditure of the different members of United Kingdom, with a view to proportional distribution, and we are unable to see that on such accounts any estimate can be arrived at which will support, the claim for remission to Ireland of any measured amount as due to her on balance of account with Great Britain. On the contrary, we think the result of such an investigation is to show that Ireland's contribution to common Imperial charges is smaller than her due proportion viewed by any standard of comparison …The statement that Ireland have been impoverished and drained of her means by over-taxation will not bear examination.He thought he had said enough to justify his assertion that there was a section in 179 Ireland opposed to the Motion, a section of which he did not wish to exaggerate the importance, which did not see eye to eye with the hon. and learned Member who introduced this Motion. He wished himself to endorse the view of the Ulster Liberal Unionist Association that nothing was gained by putting forward claims which were extravagant or raising expectations which could not be fulfilled. The only result, he concurred with them in thinking, must be disappointment and discredit. He believed that the claims as they had been presented that evening had been extravagant and had been presented in a way which those who presented them could hardly feel was calculated to attain the object they professed to have in view. He believed it was absolutely no good to hold a pistol at the head of Great Britain in order to make her disgorge what they were told were her ill-gotton gains. ["Hear, hear!"] He was certain from what he knew of the constitutional temperament of this country, that if they adopt the method of claiming, as a matter of right, something which Great Britain did not feel that it was her duty to give, they would fail absolutely in their object, and would do a great deal more mischief than good. He would like to state, what appeared to him, the extraordinary weakness of the case presented to the House. They had been told that Ireland was overtaxed—that Irishmen were overtaxed as compared with Englishmen and Scotchmen. They were told that the fiscal system of the United Kingdom was unjust to Ireland; they were told that the whisky duty was oppressive, that the Act of Union prescribed exemptions and abatements, and that. Irish expenditure was extravagant. What were the solutions that had been offered? Surely if a man was over-taxed, the way to give relief was to under-tax him. But no one suggested that they should take a brass farthing off the taxes in Ireland. He defied any Member to suggest a tax which 180 he would get half-a-dozen Members of his Party to agree to reduce. It was said individual Irishmen were over-taxed, but at the very outset, of the Report they were met with the statement that while the taxation in Great Britain was £2 11s. 5d. per head, in Ireland it was only £1 13s. 5d., or 18s. less. He believed the fiscal system was in; some respects injurious to Ireland and to a great many parts of Great Britain too, but the hon. Member for Dublin told them there was not the slightest intention of altering that system. No doubt in a certain sense the whisky duty was oppressive, but nobody proposed to take a penny of it off. The Act of Union prescribed abatements and exemptions, but who had suggested that any exemptions or abatements should be undertaken by the Imperial Exchequer? Lastly, they were told that Irish expenditure was extravagant, but surely if that were so the logical thing to do was to reduce it. He was strongly of opinion that it would be desirable and legitimate to use any retrenchment that could be made in Irish expenditure for the benefit of Ireland itself. But it was, he thought, most illogical to allege all these grievances and then not in one single instance propose to take the obvious steps to apply a, remedy. What it really came to was this, that if relief was to be given to Ireland it was to be given by extra taxation imposed upon Great Britain. That was the contention of hon. Members; they said there ought to be annual gifts to Ireland. That might he desirable, but it was a very odd way of giving relief to a Kerry or Clare peasant to pay additional salaries to officials in Dublin or Belfast. It had been said that Great Britain had robbed Ireland, but Lord Farrer, who had been foremost in supporting the conclusions of the Report, said that one thing certain was that neither England nor Scotland had made a penny out of the fiscal arrangement which was now complained of. What was the logical conclusion to which they 181 were irresistibly led? If it be true, and he thought it was, that the main propositions of the Commission, namely, that in view of her scanty means the taxation of Ireland was excessive, what was the natural way out of the difficulty? Ireland, an agricultural and poor country, was suffering from our present fiscal system. We had adopted the fiscal plan of putting the enormous bulk of our taxation upon the imported necessaries consumed in almost equal quantities by the rich and the poor, and the result was that we were putting' a considerable strain upon the resources of very poor men. If that were so, what was a, proper system of relief? If the taxes upon ten and tobacco, for instance, were heavy, if it was unwise or oppressive to raise revenue by taxes upon necessaries imported in very large quantities, surely the logical outcome was to take taxes off necessaries and put others on luxuries. If it were desired to raise revenue, he could easily furnish a list of articles which were neither necessaries of life nor raw material for manufacture, articles which would furnish, to a large extent, the revenue, which would be sacrificed if we reduced or abolished Hip whole or any part of the duties upon tea and tobacco.
§ And, it being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.