« AnteriorContinuar »
pleasure, with especial regard to the encouragement of co-operative agriculture. The same functionaries were to hold a general licence of mortmain, and while they were to account to existing beneficiaries for the present revenue of the estates, no security was provided against the diminution or exhaustion of the principal. It is surprising that seventeen members were found to vote for a project which seemed to have no object except to furnish a precedent for confiscation. More serious embarrassment to the Government was threatened by the renewal of Mr. Fawcett's Bill for the re-organization of Trinity College, Dublin, and for the abolition of University Tests. Mr. Plunket again distinguished bimself by an able speech in favour of the motion; but Mr. Gladstone, while he consented to the abolition of Tests, refused to allow his hand to be forced. It is evidently necessary that the settlement of the Irish University question, if it is in any case practicable, should be undertaken by the Government; yet the opposition to the pretensions of the Irish Roman Catholic hierarchy is so strong that it was thought prudent to get rid of the Bill by prolonging the debate instead of proceeding to a Division. Mr. Fawcett never afterwards found an opportunity of obtaining a decision, since Mr. Gladstone rightly refused to regard a legislative proceeding as a vote of censure on the Government.
On one important question the Ministers suffered a decisive and unexpected defeat. Sir M. Lopes brought forward his annual motion on the subject of Local Taxation, which this year took the form of a Resolution declaring that, in remedying the grievance of imposing taxation for national objects on one description of property, the Ratepayers in counties and boroughs ought to be relieved either in whole or in part from the charges for administration of justice, police, and lunatics. He began by reviewing the history of his previous motions, dwelling especially on the events of last year, and condemning the Report on which Mr. Goschen’s Bills were founded, the figures of which he said, were fabulous and “cooked." The Local Taxation of the Empire he computed at 40 millions (almost identical with Imperial Taxation exclusive of the cost of the debt), and this he maintained was levied exclusively on barely one-seventh of the whole annual income of the country. Analyzing this gross sum, and showing the purposes to which it was devoted, Sir Massey came down at last to a sum of 3,400,0001. collected on the PoorRate Assessment for purposes unconnected with the Poor Rate, and this he showed was spent on objects which it was the duty of the Imperial Government to provide for, and was almost entirely removed from local control. The three principal heads of this expenditure were Justice, Police, and Lunatics, and he suggested as a practical mitigation of the grievance that the Imperial Exchequer should take on itself the whole expenses of administration of Justice (670,0002.), half the charges of Police (563,0001.), and half the charge of Lunatics (424,0001.). Including the corresponding relief for Scotland and Ireland the whole sum transferred to the Consolidated Fund would be 2,037,0001., and he maintained that by such an equitable arrangement the economy of local control and the efficiency of central supervision would be combined. Referring to the amendment of which Sir T. Acland had given notice, he characterized it as specious and crafty, the work of an enemy rather than of a friend, showing doubtful sympathy and questionable sincerity; and he denied altogether that the division of Rates between owner and occupier would meet the grievance of the Ratepayers, who complained that they were fleeced to diminish the burdens of the Imperial Exchequer.
Colonel Amcotts seconded the Resolution, and warned the Government that the question would be irrepressible until a remedy had been discovered.
Sir T. Acland moved as an amendment a Resolution which, while admitting the justice of relieving Ratepayers from payments for national purposes not under local control, recommended that rates for new objects should be divided between the owners and occupiers. Disclaiming the connexion with the Government which had been insinuated on the other side, Sir Thomas, in a lengthy and desultory speech full of details of Local Taxation in different parts of the country, argued that the real injustice fell, not on the landlord, but on the tenant, and that the remedy was to be sought, not in an appeal to the Exchequer, which was a step towards a national Rate, but in the careful re-organization of Local Government.
Mr. Read thought the speech in which the amendment had been moved had no particular relevancy either to the motion or to the amendment. No amount of sophistry could conceal the fact that Local Taxation had largely increased. A special grievance on which he dwelt was that the Ratepayers had no local control, because the magistrates had no representative character.
Mr. Rathbone, in seconding the amendment, argued against exemptions, and, deprecating the withdrawal of the wealthy classes from Local Government, said he was opposed to the wholesale transfer of whole charges to the Exchequer. He preferred to meet the grievance by a fixed contribution, which would not dispense with personal responsibility,
Mr. Liddell supported the Resolution, which he thought it impossible for the Government to oppose after their offer of the House Tax last year for the relief of Local Taxation.
Mr. Colman, speaking on behalf of the towns, bore testimony to the hardship caused there by the crushing weight of local taxes, and Sir G. Jenkinson argued in favour of relieving the Rates by a system of local licences and a special Income-tax schedule for local purposes.
Mr. Craufurd Iso supported the motion as an indirect means of bringing personal property under contribution, though he did not despair of doing this in a direct manner.
Mr. Henley held that Sir M. Lopes' proposal was wise and moderate, and advised the Government to seize so favourable an
opportunity of settling a question which would daily assume more menacing aspect, particularly when the boroughs discovered where the shoe pinches. Mr. Henley was of opinion that the increase in the local taxes was due to the Legislature, not to the Executive.
Mr. Stansfeld replied by quoting certain passages from Sir M. Lopes' speech, from which he inferred that the settlement he offered would not completely satisfy public opinion out of doors. The Government, however, were not prepared to accept the Resolution, but they would accept the Amendment. This statement was received with laughter, and some sarcastic cheering, which led Mr. Stansfeld to protest that he had no connexion with Sir T. Acland. But it was with certain reservations that they would accept it; for instance, they would reserve to themselves the right of judging what were the payments for national objects not under local control, for which relief should be afforded. The Government were also in favour of dividing Local Taxation between the owner and occupier. Proceeding next to criticize the language of the Amendment, he maintained that the administration of justice and peace were not “almost entirely independent of local control,” or so far removed from local interest as the Amendment asserted. But if the State assumed the cost it would also assume the control, and for the sake of a miserable saving in Rates the principle of Local Government would be invaded, and a direct step would be taken to a system of centralization. Moreover, it would draw the attention of the public to the incidence of Taxes as well as of Rates, and also to the duties and the rights of property, and this was hardly advisable from the point of view of the supporters of the motion. Commenting on the exaggerations in Sir M. Lopes' speech, he maintained that we had now reached the maximum of the Poor Rates, and would henceforth see a falling off. The Government was anxious to introduce a measure on the subject, and he asked the House, therefore, not to tie their hands by a sweeping general Resolution.
Mr. Disraeli remarked that, though the question was now quarter of a century old, this was one of the most moderate and practical plans for remedying the injustice ever proposed, and the speech of Mr. Stansfeld, though sensible and useful, did not touch the complaint. The Government could not consistently oppose the application of two millions to the relief of Local Taxation, because they themselves had proposed to hand over the House Tax for that purpose, though he himself disapproved it, and thought it would increase the present anomalies. As to Mr. Stansfeld's warning not to open the consideration of the rights and duties of property, if they were not thoroughly understood and fulfilled by this time, the merited consequences could not be avoided by refraining to press a claim of justice. During the twenty-five years the question had been discussed, the burdens on real property, Mr. Disraeli pointed out, had greatly increased, and would be still more
increased bythe two leading questions of the day-Public Education and Public Health. He regretted, therefore, that the Government had not seen its way to accepting the motion, instead of what he described as the “queer amendment” of Sir T. Acland.
Mr. Goschen desired that those who were for reducing the Rates by resort to the Consolidated Fund should state explicitly by what Imperial Tax they would supply the money. He objected to the motion that it was intended to evade a division of the Rates between owner and occupier, and that it only dealt with one part of the question-how to lay hands on two millions from the Imperial Exchequer, and left out of sight the improvement of administration, the securities for economical administration, and the other reforms which he had included in his Bill. The Government had no disposition to evade the question, and would approach it in no spirit of hostility to the land, but they objected to giving relief in the indiscriminate shape of taking two millions out of the Consolidated Fund by way of a beginning.
On a division Sir M. Lopes' Resolution was carried against the Government by a majority of 100—259. to 159—and the Opposition cheered loudly and long when the numbers were announced.
Among the annual motions which have for the present scarcely a practical character may be reckoned Mr. W. Fowler's proposal for the Limitation of Entails, Sir Wilfred Lawson's Permissive Bill, and Mr. Gilpin's attempt to abolish Capital Punishment. Both Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Disraeli objected to a fragmentary interference with the law of Land Tenure; but Mr. Fowler was supported by a respectable minority. Mr. Henley delivered an effective and original speech against the principles and assumptions of the United Kingdom Alliance, and in the latter part of the Session he spoke against Capital Punishment. Mr. Bruce, the Attorney-General, and his Irish colleague, and several independent members, contended, on the other side, that the sacredness of human life required to be primarily asserted in the case of innocent persons; and Mr. Tipping quoted an epigrammatic statement of Signor Sella’s, that, while Italy had of all countries most killing and least hanging, England, which hanged most, had the fewest murders. A majority of three to one voted in the spirit of the French phrase that in the humane competition it was proper that the murderers should begin. When Mr. Smyth, Mr. Butt, and other Irish members contended for the repeal of the Unlawful Assemblies Act, it appeared to the House that additional facilities for seditious agitation were not the most urgent want of Ireland.
While private members were for the most part forced to content themselves with the opportunity of expressing their opinions in the form of Bills or of Motions, the more important business of the Government was conducted with unusual success. A considerable surplus enabled Mr. Lowe to remove the twopence in the pound which he had last year added to the Income Tax, to extend the exemptions allowed to the poorer class of tax-payers, and to diminish the Coffee Duty by one-half. The recollection of his failure in the last Session perhaps accounted for some depressing influence which rendered his speech unworthy of the occasion, of the assembly to which it was addressed, and of his own undoubted ability.
In making his Financial Statement he commenced with an elaborate comparison of the actual expenditure of the year with his Estimates in last year's Budget, with the sum sanctioned by the Appropriation Act, and with the sum actually voted, including supplemental Estimates. The actual Expenditure of the year has been 71,720,0001., which is a saving of 1,016,0001. on the amount voted, and is 588,0001. less than he estimated it at in the Budget of 1871-72. This, he claimed, bore testimony to the vigilance with which the Expenditure had been watched, although much of it arose from the necessary looseness with which the Estimates were framed, and which could only be remedied by more frequent recourse to supplemental Estimates and Votes on Account. Comparing in like manner the actual with the estimated Revenue, Mr. Lowe stated that the Revenue had produced 2,220,0001. more than was anticipated, showing an actual excess of Revenue over Expenditure of 2,815,0001., of which 1,016,0002. is due to economies in Expenditure. Mr. Lowe went at some length into the details of the increased Revenue, justifying his estimates and dwelling with especial satisfaction on the increase of 1,000,0001. in the yield from Stamps, notwithstanding the reduction of last year, and on the increased yield of the Income Tax, which has risen now to 1,660,0001. for each penny in the pound. Next he presented to the Committee a comparative review of the Exchequer balances. These on the 1st of April next he calculated would amount to 8,890,0001., or about double what they were in 1869; though during the same period we have effected a gross reduction of 12,740,0007. of debt, and have had to spend sums out of capital account for such purposes as purchases of Telegraphs, Fortifications, Abolition of Purchase, and the War in Europe, amounting in all to nearly 10,000,0001. The total amount of the debt is 792,740,0001., of which 731,787,0001. is Funded Debt, 55,757,0001. in Terminable Annuities, 5,220.0001. Unfunded Debt. Passing on to the next year's finances, Mr. Lowe dealt first with the Expenditure, which he thus estimated:Charges for the Debt
£26,830,000 Consolidated Fund charges
1,780,000 Army (not including Abolition of Purchase) 14,824,000 Navy
9,508,000 Civil Service
10,652,000 Revenue Departments
2,621,000 Post Office
500,000 Packet Service
1,135,000 Abolition of Purchase