Orders of the Day — Spirits (Excise).

– in the House of Commons on 7th May 1919.

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5. "That in addition to the duty of Excise now payable for every gallon computed at proof of spirits distilled in the United Kingdom there shall, on and after the first day of May, nineteen hundred and nineteen, be charged the following duty (that is to say):—

£s.d.
For every gallon of spirits computed at proof100

and so on in proportion for any less quantity.

And it is declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution shall have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, 1913."

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

I would not intervene at this stage of the discussion were it not for the fact that when the Budget Bill was before Parliament, I ventured to place some important, and, to Ireland, very vital considerations before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I then placed the national objection which Ireland had to the new taxes he was imposing, the greater burden being in connection with the whisky duties. I thought when he came to make his rather lengthy and exhaustive reply, he would have given some reasons to the House why this additional burden was imposed on Ireland, and whether Ireland was to get anything out of her connection with this country except increased taxation. I listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and from beginning to end he never replied to a single argument advanced from these benches, nor a single claim made by us on behalf of our country, and I emphasise the argument which has been adduced by my hon. Friend (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) that it seems to me a very strange circumstance that, at a moment when Ireland is practically denuded of any representation in this House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer puts an additional burden of £10,000,000 of taxation on Ireland. His Budget has been described as a colourless Budget. It is a carry-over during this transition period. The Government are in so many difficulties that they have not the courage to face the financial difficulties that encounter them. But the only real and genuine tax he has put upon any article is upon an article of Irish production. The whisky industry is one of the few industries that this country has not destroyed in Ireland, and yet he puts an additional tax upon that great industry, which, in my judgment, it will kill altogether, and you will then have finished the task you set yourselves of destroying practically every industry in that country.

Apart from that, I want the right hon. Gentleman to answer me one or two questions. I want to know, in the first place, upon what ground he taxes Ireland at all. I decline to recognise, and no one who has any belief in the principle of liberty can sanction, the right of any British Chancellor of the Exchequer to tax Ireland. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe in taxing without representation? We have no representation. We have nothing whatever to do with the government of our own country or the guiding of its common destinies, or the administration of its affairs—nothing whatever. The only thing you offer us for this tremendous financial burden you have placed upon us is this Army of 40,000 soldiers in Ireland—the Army of Occupation—the representatives of the people having no more to say in the affairs of their country than they have in the affairs of China. The administration is entirely in the hands of the enemies of the people. All power, government, and administration is carried on there either by the ascendancy party in Ulster or our political opponents in this country, and, much as you despise Ireland and assail her at home, and misrepresent her abroad, you have the brazenness to come to this House and add £10,000,000 a year to the burdens which Ireland has already to pay for her connection with this country. I understand that the English man is eminently a business man. The Chancellor of the Exhequer is the business head of the British Government, and I would like him to explain to us how he regards the financial relationship between Ireland and England as a defensive commercial arrangement that can satisfy Ireland. Ireland is paying £33,000,000 in taxation to this Empire. I want to know what Ireland is going to get for it, or what Ireland has had for it. We have heard about housing. A Housing Bill has been introduced for England, passed through two of its stages in the House of Commons, and is now practically passed through Committee. A Housing Bill has been introduced for Scotland, has passed its First and Second Readings, and has gone to a Committee, and will shortly pass through Committee. Great educational schemes on which money is splendidly and rightly lavished for England and Scotland—

8.0 P.M.

Photo of Mr James Lowther Mr James Lowther , Penrith and Cockermouth

The observations of the hon. Gentleman do not seem to me very relevant to this Resolution, which is not confined to Irish whisky, but includes Scotch whisky as well.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

Yes, but I understood that we had to pay this additional burden by the imposition of these whisky taxes; and what are we getting for it? What are we going to get for it? That is what I want to know. The Scotsman's whisky is being taxed, but the Scotsman is getting his housing, his educational, and his new public health schmes. Not one of these things has been as much as mentioned in this House in regard to Ireland. At a time when the only country taxed by the new Budget is Ireland, housing is neglected, public health is neglected, and education is neglected. The extraordinary feature of it all is this: that we do not want you to deal with public health, with housing, with education, or with any of these questions, because you do not know a thing about them in Ireland. We want to do these things ourselves, and you will not allow us. You insist upon the make believe that you are going to do these things in this Parliament, and you do not do them. The only thing you do is to impose an almost impossible fiscal burden upon a country already borne down by taxation, and taxed according to a Financial Commission of your own British experts to the extent of £3,500,000 a year more than Ireland is entitled to pay for nearly a century. Ireland gets nothing for it but the Army of Occupation, courts-martial, the disappearance of all constitutional forms of government, the oppression and suppression of public liberty, of public speech, and the destruction of every constitutional vestige of liberty that exists in any country in the world. That is what Ireland gets. You get your taxes. Your treatment of Ireland and the condition of that country at the present time is a stigma upon the British name. You are held up to scorn and ridicule over the whole world owing to your administration.

I want, then, to put a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Does he feel he is justified in putting further burdens that we are unable to bear upon a great Irish industry? Does he think it fair when he is practically taxing nothing else, and no other country, to add £10,000,000 to Ireland, which is already overtaxed? He will not deny the statement I have made that a Commission of financial experts, set up by the British Government, only one member of which, I think, was an Irishman, declared that Ireland was paying £3,500,000 more per annum than she was entitled to pay—and millions have been added to that taxation since! I again ask the right hon. Gentleman, as the business head of the British Government, what has Ireland got for this tremendous fiscal burden? Finally, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that this and other transactions, for which the Coalition Government are responsible, is driving every moderate man and everyone with any constitutional instincts into the camp of the extreme party in that country. We cannot defend anything you do. What is more, you cannot defend it yourselves. We get nothing. We address the Treasury Bench, and we see nothing but a bench of Ministerial mutes. The right hon. Gentleman was invited the other day in one speech from these benches to explain all these things. He treated our appeal with contempt. I know there is no more courteous Minister in the House of Commons. I am sure that was not his intention, but do right hon. Gentlemen opposite mean to tell me that they are going to get rid of the Irish question by silence? That the ostrich-like policy of sticking their heads in the sand will solve this problem? Do they mean to tell me that by the censorship in Ireland, by keeping all reference to Ireland out of the British, foreign, and American newspapers, they will—

Photo of Mr James Lowther Mr James Lowther , Penrith and Cockermouth

Really, the hon. Gentleman is abusing the forms of the House. The censorship in Ireland has nothing whatever to do with an imposition of a duty on whisky in Great Britain.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

I will respect your ruling, Sir. I will not proceed in that strain. It seems to me the only thing we should do is to go to the hillsides in Ireland. Perhaps that is what hon. Gentlemen want to provoke us into. That may be their policy. If so, it should be declared straightly and frankly as the policy of the Government.

Mr. CHAMBERLAIN:

The hon. Gentleman for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor) will acquit me, I think, of any discourtesy in not rising immediately after he sat down, but I thought it would be better for the moment to wait. In regard to these taxes on Ireland, the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has appealed, and has repeated his appeal to me of the other night, when he covered a very wide field. Anyone listening to the hon. Member would, I think, see something of the difficulties of Irish government. The hon. Gentleman asked, apropos the addition of these duties on whisky distilled in the United Kingdom, for a declaration of the policy of His Majesty's Government in respect to Ireland. He asks me what the Government is going to do for Ireland. He hastens to assure me that he denies our right to do anything, and will not be grateful for anything we do.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I deny your moral right to tax us—it is a different thing. I admit your right to give us our freedom—but you will not do that.

Mr. CHAMBERLAIN:

The hon. Member asks me what we propose to give, having assured me first of all that we have no right to legislate for Ireland at all, and that, whatever our legislation is, he has no use for it—he does not want it. He must really pardon me, for I mean no discourtesy or disrespect, if I turn to the issue of the Whisky Money and do not enter into the whole of the Irish question. The question involved in the speech of the hon. Gentleman for the Scotland Division suggested that we were inflicting a new injustice on Ireland and imposing upon her a charge she was incapable of bearing. I do not want to add grievances, real or fancied, to Ireland. I do not wish that in the case of an Irish industry, or any other, to impose duties which are unfair, intolerable, and crushing. I believe that the tax I have proposed can be borne by the industry out of the profits it is enabled to make without any such evil effect; but I am going to see the representatives of the industry between now and the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. I have already seen two representatives from Ireland, who wished to put their case. I believe there will be other representatives from the Irish Benches present at the coming deputation. I shall then be able to go with something like detail into the matter, to hear from them exactly what their case is, and I shall carefully consider whatever they have to say. If it is proved to my satisfaction that the tax is one that is crushing in its effect and contrary to the intention I have in my mind, I shall have to modify it. I do not think that is so, and I do not think it will be so proved. I do not, however, want to prejudge the case now, or to meet particular proposals beforehand. Now that the proposals are public property I shall be glad to discuss them with the deputation, and give full consideration to what they put forward.

Photo of Mr Alfred Bigland Mr Alfred Bigland , Birkenhead East

I should just like to say one word in reply to the hon. Member for Belfast. This is the second speech in the House in which he has raised this question of—shall I say?—the wickedness of taxing Ireland, which is getting nothing in return.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

Iniquity, not wickedness!

Photo of Mr Alfred Bigland Mr Alfred Bigland , Birkenhead East

I would suggest to the hon. Member that if he will read the speeches in this House of the late William Redmond, when he begged the Chancellor of the Exchequer of that day to give a Preference on tobacco grown in Ireland, which would be the greatest boon to Ireland and would enable eighteen people per acre to be employed all the year round, in tobacco growing, he will consider the matter differently. I claim that the rebate of 1s. 4d. in the lb., which is equal to £150 per ton, on tobacco grown in Ireland will be—

Photo of Mr James Lowther Mr James Lowther , Penrith and Cockermouth

Tobacco is not in question here. It will follow whisky.

Resolutions reported,