« VorigeDoorgaan »
necessary to meet the ordinary expenses of the Irish Government in a normal year, based on past experience; the addition to that sum of an amount estimated as sufficient to meet abnormal expenditure that frequently is necessary within the year but cannot be foreseen; the addition of a further sum for expenditure on public works and general betterment; and, finally, the addition of a sufficient balance to go on with. Secondly, an undertaking by the Irish Government to administer Ireland for a fixed period (say, fifteen years) in consideration of the annual payment of the sum so fixed, the Irish Government being granted the power of effecting economies when it could, and spending the money saved as it seemed to it to be best. During the period of the contract there was to be no interference with the financial freedom of the Irish Government, but yearly accounts were to be submitted to the Auditor-General or the Accounts Committee of the House of Commons. At the end of the contract period a new contract would be made on the same principles, but in the light of the circumstances of the later time.
The Irish Council Bill was framed in very unpromising circumstances of Parliamentary possibility, all of which have been altered by those amazing occurrences which ended in the Parliament Act. It is, I think, very doubtful that such a contract system as I have outlined would, in existing conditions, be acceptable to the Irish people. While I continue to think that a scheme of the kind, if worked with mutual goodwill, would make for the solidarity of the United Kingdom, would enable Ireland to share in the growing prosperity of Great Britain, and would work in admirably with the policy of ' Home Rule all round,' I am bound to admit that Ireland seems to want a settlement which shall be more automatic and less disputatious.
Speaking in the Belfast University in February last, I suggested, as one of the bases of a settlement of this question, the payment into the Irish Treasury (to be created afresh) of the Irish revenues as collected.' I made that suggestion on the assumption that the Irish revenues as collected' exceeded the Irish 'true' revenue by about two to two and a half millions sterling annually. But reading between the lines of the Prime Minister's answer to Sir Edward Carson in the House of Commons on the 27th of November last, I infer that the Government, if they adopt the principle of differentiating Irish from British revenues, will adhere to the 'true' revenue, as contradistinguished from the revenue' as collected,' as the proper basis of a settlement. I take no exception to that decision; but it necessarily requires me to make a modification in the character of the alternative settlement which I ventured to suggest to my audience at Belfast.
The settlement which I would now propose for acceptance, as
being as automatic and as little disputatious as the conditions permit, is this:
(1) Creation of an official organisation for registering the movement to and fro of trade between Great Britain and Ireland, particularly of trade in dutiable commodities, in order that the 'true' revenue of Ireland may be determined annually with accuracy and precision;
(2) Payment into the Irish Treasury of the 'true' Irish revenue so determined, less cost of collection. I contemplate that the British Treasury will continue to collect, as now, the Irish Land Purchase Annuities and Sinking Fund. But if, for any
reason, it be considered desirable to transfer to Ireland the collection in whole or part of these debts, then the Treasury should be competent to deduct from the Irish revenue, in transit to the Irish Treasury, a sum equivalent to the debts transferred in order to meet the interest on the Land Stock and provide the Sinking Fund.
(3) Ascertainment of the total charges on the Irish Government as created by the Imperial Government prior to a fixed date, and assignment to Ireland by the Imperial Treasury of funds to make good any difference between the Irish revenue and the charges as aforesaid, and to aid Ireland in establishing a sound system of finance. Revision of this assignment from time to time.
(4) Continuation of Ireland's existing right to share in the growing revenues of the United Kingdom, or the grant of suitable compensation for the extinction of this right.
In this connexion I would suggest for consideration the purchase of the Irish Railways by the Imperial Parliament (as recommended by the late Sir Charles Scotter's Committee), and their transfer to Ireland for management and appropriation of the profits for Irish purposes.
(5) Fixation, by a joint Committee of the Irish and Imperial Parliaments, of Ireland's contribution to Imperial purposes-such contribution to be a percentage on Ireland's 'true' revenue, liable to revision at the end of a fixed term of years. As such contribution would have to be met from savings or additional taxation, or both, a reasonable period should be allowed to Ireland to effect such savings and arrange for each additional taxation before the contribution became payable.
(6) The grant to Ireland of a lump sum, or an annual sum fixed for a term of years, for expenditure on works of public improvement, whereby the scandal of our water-logged counties, inadequate harbours, and neglected industrial possibilities may be removed, and the taxable capacity of Ireland may be raised closer than at present to the English level.
(7) The recognition of Ireland's right to manage her income
in her own way, to effect economies in her public expenditure (with due consideration for vested interests), and to employ the money saved, either in meeting her obligations or in establishing her financial system on a sound and economical basis, or for useful public purposes, or in the reduction of taxation in the way I shall presently describe.
(8) The grant to Ireland of the right to impose subsidiary taxation, not trenching on the sources of the Imperial revenues.
(9) The recognition of Ireland's right to make use (subject to suitable conditions to be imposed by the British Treasury Board) of the credit of the United Kingdom in borrowing money to be advanced on loan to individuals, or firms, or public bodies, for land improvement and similar useful purposes.
All these suggestions are, I think, sufficiently self-explanatory with the exception of the seventh, which would confer on Ireland the right to alter Imperial taxation in certain circumstances. This suggestion I derive from the Isle of Man legislation.
The revenue of the Isle of Man is almost entirely derived from Sea Customs, and the Customs are administered as a part of the Imperial Customs Department. The rates of duty are, therefore, fixed by the Imperial Parliament, but to that general rule there is one exception provided by the Isle of Man (Customs) Act of 1887 (Vict. 50, Ch. 5).
The object of this Act is to enable the Manx Legislature to effect quickly a change in the Customs tariff without removing from the Imperial Parliament its ultimate control over it. A resolution of the Court of Tynwald, either lowering or raising Customs duties, has, if agreed to by the Treasury, full effect for six months from the date of the resolution, and, if the Imperial Parliament is then in session, until the end of the then current Session of Parliament. But unless the resolution is confirmed by Parliament it ceases to have statutory effect at the end of the period.
Now, it seems to me that in this provision of the Isle of Man (Customs) Act we have a precedent which may well be considered in the legislation which is impending for Ireland. A favourite argument of those who favour fiscal autonomy bears upon the necessity of furnishing Ireland with some means of reducing taxa
on when financial circumstances permit of that being done. If we can devise a means short of fiscal autonomy by which this end can be attained, we shall have made some way towards meeting our opponents. No question of protective duties could arise, and the fiscal interests of Great Britain could not suffer, inasmuch as the revenues accruing in Ireland would, under the scheme, be directed to Irish purposes alone.
In the case of the Irish Legislature, which would be a more
important body than the Tynwald Court, important though Tynwald is, it ought to be possible to dispense with any statutory recognition of the preliminary intervention of the Treasury, remembering that the Crown would possess a plenary power of veto on Acts of the Irish Legislature; but that is a matter of detail. In any case, Ireland would have the power of altering taxation imposed by herself, and, in years of surplus revenues, of making grants in relief of local rates; which, in itself, is not an ineffective, though it may be an indirect, way of relieving the pressure of taxation upon an agricultural people.
In conclusion I desire to express my earnest hope that, in the impending legislation, the completion of Land Purchase will not be lost sight of. It is a great Imperial question, and should be dealt with in an Imperial spirit. Urgent as I regard the necessity, in the interests of the United Kingdom, for reform in the system and methods of Irish government, not less urgent in the same interests is the necessity for completing the work which was carried so near completion by Mr. Wyndham's great Act of 1903. So far as Land Purchase has gone, it has created an industrious and loyal peasant proprietary, while it has imbued the former landlords, now living in their ancestral homes with much spare time on their hands, with a sincere wish to take their part in Irish politics, and co-operate with their neighbours for the good of their common country. It would, in my judgment, be treason to the Empire to impede, still more to hinder, the fulfilment of this fraternal wish.
MACDONNELL OF SWINFORD.
THE NATIONAL GALLERY:
ITS PROBLems, resouRCES AND ADMINISTRATION
A LITTLE book recently published by Mr. R. C. Witt, of the National Art-Collections Fund,' conveniently sums up a good deal of discussion on such topics as the drain of art treasures from this country and possible remedies; the relation of Gallery directors to their boards; that of one museum to another; that of the nation to them all. The National Art-Collections Fund, in its eight years of existence, has not only done much in acquisition, but as a common centre for the managers and friends of our collections it has become an organ for thinking ahead upon the problems enumerated above. Its deputations to ministers have formulated certain demands; its annual meetings, as well as the National Loan Exhibitions, have been occasions on which individual ministers and trustees have made important declarations of approval. The cordial relations that have grown up between the Fund and the directors and boards of collections like the British Museum and National Gallery will make these last the readier to listen to suggestions coming from a secretary of the Fund; and one may hope that the moment has come when reasonable changes will be welcomed and promoted from within as well as without. I propose to treat briefly here the most pressing questions opened up by Mr. Witt, those connected with the National Gallery, and to carry the discussion a little further, believing that friendly suggestions from one who has had to consider the subject both as a critic and as an official will not be resented. I will take for granted that Mr. Witt's book has been read.
THE DRAIN OF ART TREASURES
Mr. Witt considers, and very properly dismisses, some of the remedies that have been proposed. A 'Pacca Law' like the Italian is a tyranny that the English Parliament is unlikely to set up, and its costly machinery would be defeated by cunning evasion. A mere tax upon exports would not stop the drain, and the funds provided by it for purchase would be acquired too late.
The Nation and its Art Treasures. By Robert C. Witt. Heinemann, 1911