The Italian ministry at work
The Italian ministry at work
«The Economist», 19 febbraio 1910, p. 380
Signor Sonnino has announced his programme and obtained a vote of confidence from the Chamber, and his Ministry may now settle down to deal with urgent problems of social and financial reform. Two subjects are specially conspicuous, public instruction and the reform of local taxation. More primary schools are to be established, and those now in existence are to receive more thorough inspection and increased financial aid. There is to be a new educational authority in each province, which will itself manage the schools in the smallest communes and supervise those at present directed by the municipalities; the teachers will be better paid, and the money needed for school buildings may be borrowed from the Government, the loans being repayable in 50 years, and the total being fixed at 240,000,000 francs for the twelve years from 1910 to 1922. Local taxation is to be extensively altered; the proceeds of the octroi duties are to go entirely to the local authorities, and Signor Sonnino in his speech intimated the desirability of getting rid both of these and other burdensome local taxes; on the other hand, the family or heart tax is to be given up by the local authorities to the State, but the former gain considerably by the change. The educational reforms will require increased revenue, which will be provided by a revision of the tax on cigarettes and a slight increase of the Excise duty on sugar. Unfortunately there is no indication that the national taxes on food, especially on grain and flour, are likely to be reduced, though a reduction has been talked of for many years. Military service is to be reduced to two years; the reforms recommended by the recent Military Commission are to be carried out, and so also is the shipbuilding programme. There are to be separate Ministries of Agriculture and of Communications, a Housing Bill, a Land and Labour Bank to assist co-operative societies and small holders, provision for reafforestation, and further aid to Reggio and Messina; and there are various minor items, one of them a measure permitting affiliation (recherche de la paternité) hitherto forbidden in the Italian kingdom, as in France. The unfortunate Shipping Conventions have been completely recast; the subsidised services will be in the hands of a single combination of shipowners, though not the same as that contemplated by the late Ministry, and the term and the annual subsidy are considerably reduced. Unhappily, the new arrangement is accompanied by a system of bounties in aid of shipbuilding and also of freight charges, the latter designed to encourage particular imports and exports, which seems pregnant with possibilities of waste and corruption. But the social side of the programme is the most important. The mere summary of the whole occupies more than eight columns of the leading Ministerial journal, the details of the educational part five more. Signor Sonnino, it is said, hopes to pass it all in five months; a leading Opposition paper suggests five years, or five times five, as a more suitable period. But one cannot help feeling that the Ministry is only existing on sufferance. Its supporters say that it has “made its majority”, but the vote of confidence was carried by 193 to 84, with ten formal abstentions and about 120 absentees. The number of absentees from the Italian Chamber always is unduly large, but the supporters of the late Ministry of Signor Giolitti voted for the resolution avowedly on the ground that they desired to give its successor the chance of getting to work.