§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. FRESHFIELD
said, that the object of the measure of which he now moved the Second Reading was, to consolidate the existing laws relative to the County Rates, and to introduce some Amendments. Under this Bill not a single shilling could be raised which was not already imposed under the Acts of Parliament now in force; nor would any person be subjected to any liability to which he was not already subject. It was absolutely necessary that the law should be rendered consistent with itself. It might be known to many Members that the 55th Geo. III. c. 51, under which rates were levied, caused great dissatisfaction in consequence of the inequalities and irregularities which took place in the working of that Act, and there was a very general complaint that many parishes were not rated in due proportion. They were indebted to the late Member for Kinsale (Mr. Hawes) for the proposal of a Special Committee which was appointed on this subject. After a long investigation, and eight different reports, in the county of Surrey, the result was to convince the magistrates that they were not bound to receive from the various parishes the accounts, as they returned them, of the rateable value of the property of the parish, but that they had the power of investigating what was the rateable value. The consequence was, that in the county of Surrey the basis for the rates was increased from 2,000,000l. to 2,200,000l.; in other words, the county rental liable to poor-rates upon which the county rate was assessed had been understated to that amount. These proceedings having become public, they attracted the attention of his hon. Friend the Member for South Devonshire (Sir J. Y. Buller), whose assistance he had in promoting the present measure; and he introduced a Bill which had for its object the appointment of a committee of magistrates, who were to decide what was the rateable value of the property in each parish. The committee was to consist of eleven members, or not loss than five, and three were requisite to constitute a quorum. That Act he pro- 706 posed to amend, and in its amended state: to re-enact. The 55th Geo. III. had this defect, that having ascertained the rateable value of the property in each parish in a county, it gave an appeal in the event of a grievance, but without stating the number of days' notice which should be given. The 56th Geo. III. stated the length of notice, but omitted to state the party to whom it was to be given; and the 57th Geo. III. stated very inartificially the party to whom notice should be given. The framer of the Act intended not only to remedy that defect, but to remove an other evil. By the Act 55 Geo. III. c. 51, the magistrates at session might give relief in the event of an appeal, but it was stipulated that the cost should in no case fall upon the county stock. I This was considered very unjust; but, intending to repeal the provision, the framer recited an Act in which there was no such clause, and the consequence is, the provision still remains in force. The hon. Member for South Devonshire, by his Bill, gave an appeal, but confined it to the next session after the rate should be allowed, and no appeal after that, except against the assessment—not against the basis upon which the rate was assessed; and therefore the next rate or assessment would be made on the former standard, against which no relief could be obtained, and the parish, should there be twenty rates, was compelled to incur the expense of twenty times appealing against twenty rates, and yet remain liable to be rated upon the same amount of rateable value, because after that basis had been confirmed, no power of correcting it existed, but by going again through the original form, and establishing a new basis. These were some of the inconveniences which he intended to remove by the present Bill. In the Acts to be consolidated, the terms county rate, basis, and assessment, were used as identical, although they related to distinct parts of the object to be attained: for instance, the basis was the several amounts of the rateable value in each parish, the aggregate of which would be the county rental. The county rate is the sum multiplied by the number of pounds in the basis or county rental, which will give the sum to be raised for the county expenditure; thus, suppose the expenditure to be provided for should be 8,300l., and the county rental, that is, the aggregate of the rateable value in the county to be two millions—the rate to be declared would be 707 one penny in the pound sterling; and, lastly, the assessment would he the proportion to fall upon each parish according to its rental; and assuming parish A to stand in the basis as having a rateable rental of 8,000l., it would be assessed to pay 8,000 pennies, or 33l. 6s. 8d. One object of this Bill of consolidation would be to keep these parts of the transaction distinct, but placed in their natural order. He proposed, therefore, that a basis should be formed on the machinery of his hon. Friend's Act, the 8 & 9 Vict. c. 39. The parishes will be rated in a certain proportion, and one month would be given to them to deliver any objections to that proportion. The committee to be restrained from reporting to the session within the month, and they are only to report after the objections have been argued and decided. When the sessions have framed a basis, there will be an appeal, not only to the next session, but at any time when the varying value of property shall render relief just. Besides this, it is proposed that there should be constituted a committee, to be called the County-rate Committee, appointed by the magistrates year by year, and changed from time to time, as it may appear right. The committee should have the power to investigate the claims of any parish to be relieved in consequence of the altered state of the parishes; but no determination upon their part should be binding until reported to the magistrates in sessions. He was bound to call the attention of the House to the fact that he proposed, with a view to an equal rating, material changes in the mode of estimating the relative value of property in the several parishes. He especially directed the attention of the House to the 6th clause. At present the county rate was assessed upon such property as was liable to be assessed for the relief of the poor by the 6 & 7 Will. IV. It was enacted, that in the first place should be ascertained the gross estimated rent, the rent at which the property might be expected to let to a tenant from year to year, repaying all rates and taxes—and from that estimated rent should be deducted the annual average cost of repair and insurance, and other expenses (if any) necessary to maintain such rent, and then the remainder would constitute the rateable value. That provision of deducting for repair and insurance, he hoped to prevail upon the House to alter: it was, in fact, the great source of the inequality which so many of 708 the acts of the Legislature had sought to remedy. The deduction was not necessary to the interest of any parish, if every parish was rated by the same rule; but in some parishes 10 per cent was deducted for repairs, in others 25 per cent, and some have deducted so much as 50 per cent, and have made deductions upon the rent of land even where there were no farm buildings. So long as they permitted these deductions, rating could not be made upon any uniform principle. His object was, therefore, to establish a principle applicable alike to every parish: it was a question between each parish individually and all the other parishes, and not between counties and the parishes within. The hon. Member then gave illustrations in argument to show that it was immaterial upon what sum a parish was assessed, whether above or below the real value of the property rateable, provided that all the other parishes were made subject to the same rate of proportion.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
would not, on the part of the Government, oppose the second reading of the Bill; but he confessed that he had strong misgivings as to the beneficial operation of it. The measure appeared to him to be liable to several objections. A preliminary one was this: while the Bill professed to consolidate the law, it only consolidated a portion of it, leaving many important points untouched. The Acts of Parliament relating to assessment were very complicated, and it was desirable that they should be carefully considered; but he did not think it desirable to consolidate some and leave others untouched, for that would create greater confusion than before. There were other details in the Bill to which he objected. Its main feature was to alter the phraseology of the law of assessment, which would make it unfamiliar to those who were in the habit of dealing with it as it at present stood. The Bill also proposed to make a great alteration in the principle upon which rating is at present based. In the measure brought in by an hon. Member, for assessing the poor-rate, an attempt was made to get at the net annual value, making deductions for repairs and insurances. He did not mean to say there were not difficulties in achieving this, but he did mean to say that the principle was the correct one. Unless the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Freshfield) was prepared to show that all property was subject to a fixed charge, his argument as to the variations of the de- 709 ductions was worth nothing. For different kinds of property different amounts of deduction should be permitted, and it would work great injustice to say, "You shall only be allowed so much, no matter what is your real expenditure." Onekind of property might require only a deduction of ½ per cent, another a deduction of 10 per cent.
§ MR. H. HOPE
tendered his thanks to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Freshfield) for the labour he had bestowed upon this Bill. The method of arriving at the net annual valuation of property was one which had an especial reference to the new Reform Bill. The elective franchise was to be based upon the net value. He know no means of obtaining a just estimate of that net value, unless by a very troublesome and expensive process, namely, appeals upon assessments. He did not know whether, when the proper time arrived, the Government would consider the question; but this he knew, that the Reform Bill could not be established on the present basis by which assessments were made. He trusted that his hon. Friend would give them some means not only of arriving at the gross annual valuation, but also the means of testing the proper reduction or; the net annual value.
§ MR. HUME
was pleased that this discussion had taken place, not because this Bill could be made more valuable for the purposes for which it was intended, but because it had served to show a difficulty which would attend the working of the Reform Bill, if not attended to in time. In the assessments for the poor-rate, allowances were made for repairs, but in the income tax no such thing was done. He could point to parishes where the same valuable land was assessed at two widely different rates. The noble Lord at the head of the Government would find it impossible to have a fair representation on the rateable value unless there was a general valuation of the whole country by the same individual. It appeared to him that the Government ought to ask the hon. Gentleman to suspend his Bill, and then bring in a general Bill by which all the parishes would be rated equally.
MR. CORNEWALL LEWIS
said, that the present law required that the valuation for poor-rates should be equal as between different tenants in the same parish, and that the valuation for the county rates should be equal as between the different parishes in the county. For estimating the county rate the machinery 710 was tolerably good; but with respect to the poor-rate valuations, it was certainly true that there often existed a great inequality. Great good would be effected if a stricter supervision of the different parochial assessments was introduced. He objected to the principle which his hon. Friend (Mr. Freshfield) now proposed, that of establishing a different basis for the county rate and the poor-rate. If they once admitted that principle, it would be impossible to have the same assessment for the county rate and the poor-rate. Every county and every parish would then be necessarily put to the expense of having a double assessment for these two rates. There was nothing to prevent the machinery of the present, law being improved, but he did not think that any further power given to the magistrates would add to the strength of the present law.
§ MR. HENLEY
thought the difficulties which had been raised in the course of the debate were of so formidable a nature that his hon. Friend (Mr. Freshfield) must be a courageous man if he should attempt to encounter them. It seemed to him that the Reformers of England had a very discouraging prospect held out to them by the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), who said that no rateable value for the franchise could be had until all the property in the kingdom had been valued by the same persons. If that were so, it would be impossible to have an equal rate, even in one county, for by the time the party had gone through the whole county he would have to begin again, such would have been the variation in value of property by buildings and other improvements in the meanwhile. The only thing they could hope to reach was an approximation of value. They could not get anything like an equality, and therefore they must be content if now and then there were some apparent inequalities. He had had something to do with the making of county rates in his time, and he knew there were descriptions of property which required very large deductions; and he could not conceive any principle so unjust as to take cottages in towns let at high rents as the measure of value on which the assessment was to be made, and to put on the same footing with them land on which hardly any buildings were erected. All he could say was that he thought the time of the House was wasted in discussing such a measure.
§ MR. FRESHFIELD
said, he felt no alarm or nervous affections in consequence of the hon. Member's caution. The Bill was one of the most simple in operation, and he anticipated no difficulty or serious obstruction to its passing through the House.
§ Bill read 2°.