§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Hunt.)
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
said, that while giving credit to his hon. Friend for bringing in a Bill of that nature, he could not but remember that it was no further back than 1862 that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. P. Villiers) introduced a measure to amend assessments. That measure had scarcely yet had a fair trial, and it could hardly be known yet what the result of the valuations under it was, though he believed the result was eminently satisfactory. Those valuations had been made with a care and a disinterestedness which ought to receive great consideration from that House, and if that Act were amended very slightly it would effect all that the present Bill was intended to do. Before the valuations under the Act of 1862 had been sufficiently tested by practice, was it not premature to call on the House to legislate on the subject? Those who had great experience of this matter in his part of the country universally said I that this Bill was unnecessary, that it was, moreover, so complicated that it could not be carried out, and also that it was unjust to force upon them a re-valuation until the old system had been fairly tried. They went further, and maintained that until the old valuation had been fairly proved to be insufficient his hon. Friend ought not to have brought in that Bill. There were three main points in the measure which were totally different from anything they had had before. The first was the formation of a Central Valuation Board. Perhaps there might be in many counties and unions great differences as to the deductions made in these valuations; and when the Act of 1862 was under discussion he had himself urged that there should be laid down in it some definite basis for deductions as a guide in respect to all rates. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, however, said that could not be done, and it was not done in that Act. But, taking the country through, he believed there had been an anxious endeavour on the part of those who had to carry out that Act to arrive as 1651 far as possible at a satisfactory conclusion. When the Act came into force, in most counties a committee was appointed which went most carefully into the details of the measure, and into the subject of these deductions. And, although those committees could not, of course, by law enforce the rule as to deductions at which they arrived, yet, generally speaking, the assessment committees in each county had carried out the scale of deductions so laid down. He believed that the deductions had been fairly made, and that any necessary amendments might have easily been effected without introducing the present Act. The second novelty in this Bill was that they were to have surveyors of taxes introduced—a proposal to which great objection was entertained in the country. These surveyors of taxes were to have it in their power to revise, as it were, the valuation lists, and to say that certain things were not right, and that the rates must be raised. Those who attended appeals in respect to income tax knew that the class whose assessments were raised were the poor trades people, who would often rather pay than by appealing perhaps suffer damage in their credit. And if owners of property, for the benefit of their poor tenants or neighbours, consented to let cottages at the moderate rents of from £3 to £7, the surveyor of taxes might come and say the cottages ought to be put down at a great deal more, and thus one means of improvement would be checked. No doubt the surveyor of taxes might sometimes find out something that was wrong; but the odium and inconvenience that would result, would more than counterbalance all the advantage which the Treasury could derive from his appointment. The third and last novelty in the Bill was that there was to be an assessor. Now, he would ask, was it wise at this moment to incur the additional expenses which would necessarily follow the establishment of a Central Board and the appointment of assessors? This could not be done without placing on the land a heavy amount of additional taxation. Those were the grounds why he thought the Bill should not be hastily adopted. They had yet to learn that it was necessary, or that the old Bill had not worked well. If the old valuation of property throughout the country were generally incorrect he should be glad to afford what assistance he could to remedy it; but he firmly believed that it was every day becoming more developed and more accu- 1652 rate. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would not press on the second reading. He had heard that a Motion was to be made that it be referred to a Select Committee; and if it should be he hoped that it would return to the House so amended as to be acceptable to the country, which he did not believe it would be in its present shape.
§ MR. NEATE
said, that people were very apt, when a Bill affected both the landed interest and houses, to pay more than due attention to that portion which affected the landed interest. He rejoiced, however, that this Bill had been introduced, and by the introduction of Amendments in Committee he should invite the special attention of borough Members to the opportunity now presented to them for reviewing the system of taxation as between houses and land. Houses in towns were taxed half as much more highly than they ought to be when compared with the taxes imposed upon houses in the country, or with what the taxation would be upon a fair and equal taxation. Two important Returns had been moved for upon this subject, one showing what farm-houses in every county in England assessed at £20 really paid; and the other (a continuation of the Return moved for in 1863 by the hon. Member for East Surrey), showing the advance or otherwise of the assessment of land. He also wished to call the attention of the borough Members to the insufficient representation of boroughs in county Boards. Every union in a county was to have two delegates sitting on the county Board, while a borough was to have only one. He should give due notice of an Amendment he intended to move, in order that it might be fully discussed in Committee on the Bill.
said, he had hardly imagined that the ingenuity of man could have contrived such a perpetual blister as this Bill must necessarily prove to be. Taxes and rates, as they all knew, were of themselves a great curse and nuisance. It was bad enough to have to pay them, and the being kept in a continual worry, in order that it might be ascertained how much they were to be, made them a ten thousand times greater curse and nuisance than they were before. The House should recollect that all valuations were but approximations to the truth, and if they strove to get to Chinese exactness they would set on foot an amount of worry which was ten thousand times worse to the people to bear, and to the recipients 1653 of the tax, than the possible good that could be got by it. What was the proposed machinery to do? There was to be a perfect revision every three years. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) well knew how he had been pressed, with regard to the income tax, not to have the valuations too frequently made on account of the worry and trouble they gave. It was not long since the Secretary to the Treasury broke out very strongly against the officers of the Government as to their conduct in that matter. He (Mr. Henley) differed from his hon. Friend's opinion of those gentlemen, as he believed they had done their duty conscientiously between the Crown and the subject. The Bill before the House set on foot machinery which was to commence operation in the month of May in one year, and was not to finish until the month of June in the next. Then the matters so ascertained were not to be acted upon until the year after—the third year from the time of commencing—and then there were to be supplementary valuations at the end of every year. If all that did not worry people's minds, and set them against taxes and rates, he did not know what people could be made of. There was nothing more impolitic than keeping on a perpetual blister—and this was nothing less—of worry and irritation. It was necessary, they all knew, to pay taxes, but the less people were worried the better. Let them examine the Bill. Boroughs and counties had nothing upon earth in common in what they paid, so for as rates were concerned; and yet the Valuation Board was to be composed of two delegates from every union in a county and one from every borough. He thought the one delegate sent by each borough would not be in a very happy position on such a Board. [Mr. HUNT expressed dissent.] The hon. Gentleman shook his head, but that was one of the provisions in the Bill. There was no reason why the counties and boroughs should be brought together; they had nothing in common, and it was certain that county unions were not good judges of the amount of the deductions that ought to be made in the large towns and boroughs where the property was of a different nature. Then there was a new appellate jurisdiction; but though he had a very great respect for members of the bar, and a still greater respect for them if they were of ten years' standing, he thought that neither their education nor their ten 1654 years' standing made them at all conversant of the value of property in counties in which, perhaps, they had never set a foot before. But what was to happen? Any person who appealed was to go before them—the surveyor of taxes having power to appeal as well—and then, unless the contrary was proved, whatever the surveyor of taxes alleged was to be held conclusive. Suppose the surveyor said that A ought to be charged £150 instead of £140, A, in order to disprove that, must necessarily be at the expense of bringing a surveyor or somebody of that character to disprove the assertion of the surveyor of taxes, because, of course, it would be impossible to allow a man to prove his own valuation. The assessor could know nothing of the matter himself; he would have to rely upon the evidence given before him, and in that way a hard and grievous oppression might be brought to bear upon a man. How differently the matter was now treated. The surveyor, thinking that A or B was not properly taxed, made his charge, and the case was heard before four or five different gentlemen of the county who knew something of the value of the property surrounding them. In the Bill before the House it was provided that the assessor could not decide except upon evidence before him, which must be the evidence of surveyors of some kind or other, entailing a grievous expense, and if that evidence were not produced by the words of the Bill, the assessor was to decide according to the absolute dixit of the surveyor. He (Mr. Henley) could not help thinking that that would be a great injustice. In another part of the appellate jurisdiction it was provided that the appellant might claim a survey; but if upon that survey a "substantial" alteration were not made in the valuation, the man who claimed the survey would have to pay for it. But what was the meaning of a "substantial" alteration? Who was to come to an agreement as to what that meant? for it was quite as open as the matter of the valuation itself. All these things made him think the proposed alteration unnecessary. During the last two or three years the country had been going through a complete revaluation, which had not been without expense, the mere fees to the clerks of unions having been very heavy. People now wished for a little quiet. The ink was only just dry upon all the papers which had been written. There had been some few cases of appeal to the sessions, but 1655 they had been settled, and people had begun to hope for rest. Here, however, was a new thing, got by taxes out of rates. It was to re-open every question, and keep up the heartburn which would never end. It would take them a year and a half to get the machinery in order, and then at the end of the third year they would have to begin again, being in a perpetual worry all the time. He did not see what advantage was to be gained; in no possible way was it in the interest of the revenue of the Crown that the alteration should be made. It seemed to be proposed from what might be called a spirit of meddling, unless there were something behind of which this Bill was only the forerunner. He did not know what the feeling of the House was upon it; but if he had been here before he should have asked his hon. Friend (Mr. Hunt) not to have brought in the Bill before the quarter sessions had been held in the various counties, in order that they might all have had the opportunity of communicating with their constituents, and have been better informed on the matter than they were now. All the communications that he had had from the country had been adverse to the Bill. The Bill was thought complex, and it was considered that it would be a great worry, trouble, expense, and hardship to have the matter gone into again. He believed the Bill contained unmixed mischief.
said, he was not sorry that the Bill had been introduced, as it might improve the position in which valuers now stood. He did not agree with it altogether, but it might be improved in one or two respects, and if it were referred to a Select Committee it might be made a very useful measure. The Valuation Boards appeared to him to have rather insignificant functions and to be somewhat cumbrous. With two members from every union in a county, in addition to the members from the boroughs, the Board might consist of from twenty to forty and even fifty members, which would form a sort of parliament in each county for the valuation of property. He had been very much disappointed in finding what were to be the duties of the Board, as the duties seemed very few, and one of them was objectionable. The first duty was that which affected the rate of reduction for the whole county in which the Board sat. That was a very simple matter, which might easily be adjusted by any committee of magistrates appointed by the quarter sessions. The Board were 1656 to organize nothing whatever as to the value of any particular tenement, but merely to take the valuation as laid before them by the different assessment committees. They ought to have more power—power to have the valuation of the whole county made by professional persons, under their own superintendence, which power might be given to them by a new clause introduced into the Bill. The exercise of such a power would be expensive, but the result would be really satisfactory and good. With respect to the Court of Appeal, he did not think a barrister of tea years' standing would be a likely man to possess good judgment in the matter he would be called upon to decide. He would have to decide on evidence on oath. But those deciding should decide on their own knowledge and judgment. He would much sooner see the quarter sessions made the Court of Appeal, for then there would be absolutely no expense—there would be no barrister's salary of £300 or £400 a year to pay. They found one parish where land was let at 30s. an acre, and another where it was let at three guineas, merely because in the latter case it was cut up into small portions. He thought it was therefore essential to have some one resident on the spot to value the laud, who would really be able to form a correct judgment upon the matter.
§ MR. CORRANCE
said: Having for some years past taken much interest in the question now discussed, I am anxious to make a few remarks, and in so doing must ask the indulgence of the House. Not the less so, that these remarks must be confined to distinct and practical details deriving their interest from the importance of the subject itself. This, I think, it will be admitted to possess—as to very few this question can be a matter of unconcern. We all know what interest a debate on the income tax presents—with what satisfaction a remission of 1d. is received, and not unreasonably, for we all know that this comparatively small sum makes a very large difference to a very considerable class. Now, let us compare this tax with the poor rate. In this we have a tax falling upon some property as upon income—on profits—to an average amount, in agricultural counties, of 2s. 2½d. in the pound; in manufacturing, of s. 1s. 2⅔d. and throughout England, of 1s. 2d.; levied also in a manner confessedly unequal and unjust. I take the admission of the late President of the Poor Law Board as to 1657 this. In a recent debate he is reported to have spoken thus—In my opinion nothing can be more unfair and capricious than the charge of the poor rate. … I do not express that opinion for the first time. I was acting on the original Commission for the Poor Law, and I was struck during that inquiry by seeing the extraordinary unfairness in which this charge for the poor's rate fell in various parts of the country—or on different persons—and the vast number who were totally exempt from such a charge.In this, therefore, confessedly, we have a tax most serious in amount, and falling with especial severity on property of a certain class, and claiming in such respect the particular attention of this House. It is true that this Bill does not fully open up the whole subject—that it takes cognizance only of a part; and as it is not expedient to raise collateral issues, to that part alone I shall direct my future remarks—namely, the assessment upon property as it now exists. Now, it may be asked, what necessity for revision exists? It is believed that under the Act of 1862 a great step towards the equalization of assessment took place. There is substantial ground for such belief. At the same time, it must be admitted by all who possess a practical knowledge of the operation of this Act that the improvement upon the old plan is but partial and incomplete. It is well known that the basis for valuation is by no means uniform, and that principles, altogether at variance with the terms of the Act, are commonly found to exist; and this, too, more as regards the estimated gross value than the net, concerning which much misapprehension exists. Let me say a word or two as to this. In assessment of land, let upon ordinary terms and tithe, as well as some other hereditaments of that class, no great difficulty exists. For this we have authentic documentary evidence in Income Tax Returns, Tithe Commutation, and the like. But when we assess property of another kind great latitude will be found to exist under the provisions of the Act. In houses let to profitable purposes, in offices, manufactories, and the like, the application of the principle is singularly inexact. The letable value less depends upon use, situation, and the competition of trade; so also in railways and canals, the total net profit of which is assessed as rent. Nothing can be less satisfactory than the assessment made in such respect. Then, again, under what circumstances were these assessments made in 1862? The Committee were new to their work; 1658 and it is not too much to say that two-thirds of the assessments were completed before they thoroughly understood the nature of the task. For total revision it was then too late. The lists also sent in by the parish officers were, in most cases, defective, and they themselves were incapable of the discharge of their task; while on the part of the Committee no absolute power existed to order valuations separately on the union account. This is partially remedied by the new Act; but I think that the Committee might themselves have larger powers in such respect. Now, let me afford the House an illustration of this. At the end of the first year I felt entirely dissatisfied with the work thus done, and in order to see if any common principle could be applied and worked out, I wrote to thirty-four unions to obtain the data upon which these gross values had been worked out. In more than half of these no definite plan appeared to exist, and in the remainder of instances no common agreement upon important points appeared. To reduce practice into precept no pains had been bestowed in any case, except in the rudest form, and to the worst possible common result. Let it be remembered also that these discrepancies chiefly affected the gross, most erroneously supposed to be beyond doubt. The nature of the appeals will show this. For instance, if we assessed land let for accommodation at rack rent at its actual annual value, we were told that to an exorbitant rent were added an excessive rate—a plea often admitted, though by no means sound in such a case—for it was clear that any remission we might make in such respect would, under such circumstances, only add to the possible rent. Again, that houses let to profitable purposes should be rated subject to such a supposed condition was a source of complaint, for it was hero assumed that the profits of trade were thus assessed. For this assumption some ground existed, under the want of specified basis, supplied by this Act. But if we refer to previous enactments, no doubt will exist upon this point, for under the statute of William the words—Rebus sic stantibus, convey a clear definition; and as referring to present conditions, are imperative in that sense. By the 55th clause of the present Act all uncertainty is at once removed upon these points, and the actual rental declared to be the minimum of the assessment to a rate. This will much conduce towards (uniformity of practice, and is based on 1659 a principle equal and just. The composition and construction of the Board proposed under Clause 6 deserve a few remarks. Against it has been urged the introduction of a new power over county finance, and the sanction it would seem to give to the principle of County Financial Boards. Now, against this principle it may, no doubt, with some truth be urged that it vests power in the hands of those who have no permanent interest in the expenditure of the rate; that their interest as ratepayers is only present, and after all not direct; that the landlord is, in fact, the payer of all rates. This, to a certain extent, is the case, and ought to induce some care in the provisions introduced, lest the undue preponderance of the less permanent interest place difficulties in the way of improvements of the more permanent class. In the present instance there would seem little danger of this, either as regards the function discharged, or the proportionate constitution of the Board itself. For myself, moreover, lot me candidly confess that I am not opposed to the introduction of this mixed element into county finance, for I believe that under some such provision as this Act contains a very valuable business element may be introduced, tending to a more careful administration, and often a stricter regard for economy than at present exists. One word as to the Court proposed of ultimate Appeal, upon which I must beg leave to express a doubt. Heretofore and up to this time these appeals have been subject to the jurisdiction of another Court, subject to an ultimate appeal to the Queen's Bench. This power it is proposed to remove, the officer appointed being paid out of the county rate in part. From the court of quarter session a most important function is thus removed in a matter especially concerning themselves. There should be good cause for this. To me it is a matter of regret, inasmuch as I do not think that it will fully meet the concurrence of those principally concerned, and will not fail to prejudice many against the Act. I shall not, however, in this stage press my objection to this clause. Finally, let me say, that having given some time and attention to the operation of the former Act, I must think the present measure well calculated to meet most, if not all, its defects. I must express my conviction that this will be the case. One hope, however, let me entertain, that it will not be 1660 the last reform applied to this matter of the rates; that Her Majesty's Government having thus bestowed their care upon the assessment to such excellent effect, will also not fail further to consider the incidence and accidents of the rate, and the present claims of the various properties thus assessed. Let there be also equalization in such respect. At present I will say no more, lest such matter be deemed irrelevant to the issue now sought, and thanking the House for their attention, I beg to express my concurrence in the provisions of this Bill, and my intention to afford it my suppart.
§ MR. CHILDERS
hoped that, whatever difference of opinion there might be as to the machinery, the House would agree that the objects of the Bill were good objects. The first of these objects was to make the assessment of gross estimated rental whether for Queen's taxes, county rates, poor rates, and other parochial rates the same; and the second was to adopt some means to ensure uniformity in the deductions now made from the gross estimated rental for the purpose of arriving at a rateable value for local rates. He therefore hoped the House would allow the Bill to be read a second time, and that the Government would consent to refer the Bill, after the second reading, to a Select Committee; because, however good the objects of the Bill might be, there were matters of detail, and indeed of more than detail, which to his mind were very objectionable, and which no doubt would be thrashed out in an inquiry before the Committee. The Bill proposed to erect a Valuation Board for four or five different purposes; but when one came to look into it, there appeared to be only one real duty of the Board—to render uniform the deductions from the estimated rental. At present they were not uniform. As had already been stated, even neighbouring unions embracing communities identical in character made most unequal deductions percent, and this, too, upon the same kind of property. That was an anomaly requiring to be remedied. Most of the other duties which it was proposed to impose on the Valuation Board were very small matters, and when the deductions were once settled the Board would have but little to do, and that could be well done by other existing authorities, what he would suggest was that the House should pass those clauses which 1661 constituted the Board, and that the Board should only meet once—say next year—to settle what the deduction should be for each county. Having done this, there would be no necessity to retain them in existence, and it might be left in future to the court of quarter sessions, subject, perhaps, to the concurrence of the Poor Law Board, to make any alterations that might be requisite in the rates of deduction. The Board would thus be brought into existence for the only useful function it could perform, and having performed that function, it would be left to the ordinary authorities of the county to make any trivial amendments. This course would dispense with all the clerks, treasurers, and permanent officers who would otherwise have to be appointed, and the Bill so modified would not, he believed, be distasteful to those who would oppose it in its present form. His hon. Friend proposed to erect a new tribunal in the shape of an appellate barrister or assessor, who was to hear the appeals which were now heard, with respect to Queen's taxes, by Local Commissioners, and with respect to local rates by the quarter sessions. He believed, however, these new Courts to be altogether unnecessary. They would involve an additional number of salaried barristers, and whatever his respect for the members of that profession, he was of opinion that a quite sufficient number were already employed in the public service. If a new jurisdiction were required, the appeals might be taken to the County Courts, the Judges of which, as barristers, possessed the needful qualifications, and were not over-burdened with work. He might also add that if the Valuation Board met next year for the purpose of settling a uniform deduction from the gross estimated rental as a criterion of rateable value in each county, there would then be sufficient material to enable the House to arrive at a uniform maximum deduction for the whole country. Holding these views as to the machinery of the Bill being both cumbrous in form and extravagant in duration, while admitting the excellence of its objects, he should offer no opposition to the measure provided his hon. Friend would consent to refer it to a Select Committee.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, that if the suggestion of the hon. Member were carried out, all the clauses would be struck out, and nothing left but the preamble, as had been the case with a Bill last year. In- 1662 stead of going into the details of the measure, they ought rather to look at its principles. No Act was ever carried out more carefully than the Parochial Assessment Act. That measure had for three years worked very satisfactorily, and the doubt which existed as to the power of magistrates to make a county rate having only been set at rest last Session, he believed the deductions would be speedily equalized in every county. In all parts of the country assessment committees were appointed, who applied themselves to their work with the honest intention of organizing a successful basis upon which rating could be placed, and it was hardly just, after they had taken so much trouble, that they should be treated with so little consideration. The system of reductions organized by these committees would be equalized as soon as the county rating came into full operation. He hoped this Bill would not be pressed forward at so early a period of the Session. He thought that part of it relating to the appellate jurisdiction must be abandoned. The Valuation Board, even constituted with the modifications proposed by the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), would be bad so far as this matter was concerned. The effect of the constitution of the Board in the manner proposed by the Bill would be that a half or one-third of its members would not attend its meetings, and that the work which was done would not be done by men actually resident in the neighbourhood. In the case of the assessment committees, on the other hand, they had the advantage of the labours of men living on the spot, and knowing every inch of the ground that was to be valued. The Bill was unfair to those who had devoted a large amount of time, trouble, and experience to carry into effect the Act of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Villiers), and its machinery was complex. If the Bill passed, the overseers, the surveyor of taxes, the assessment committee, and the Valuation Board would all have to be called into operation before a deduction could be determined, and this was surely an exceedingly complex arrangement. Until some practical grievance was brought before the House to show that the former measure had not worked well, the present Bill ought not to be proceeded with.
§ MR. HENRY SEYMOUR
said, this was a most invaluable Bill, and he hoped there would be no delay in passing it, although it might, perhaps, be necessary, in 1663 order to settle its details, to refer it to a Select Committee. If the valuation of the county by the committee of the ratepayers and the magistrates were struck out, one of the best provisions of the Bill would be destroyed. For the last sixteen years such an improvement in the existing law had been advocated by different Members of that House, especially by Mr. Joseph Hume, and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Milner Gibson). He regretted, when such a Bill as this was introduced by the Government, that hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House should oppose it. If the Bill were passed, the duties imposed by it upon the committee of ratepayers and magistrates would become the nucleus of more important duties relating to highways and other county business, as those committees would be more competent to deal with financial affairs than were magistrates in county sessions, who sat as an irresponsible body to tax the ratepayers of the county. There was every reason to believe that a committee thus constituted would become important, uniting in itself the functions of Boards of Guardians and of the financial Boards of the counties; and that to such a committee taxing powers might be intrusted, which at present was impossible. The House could well deal even with the details of the Bill, without referring it to a Select Committee. It appeared objectionable to appoint any new officers, there being now county officers, whose time and position qualified them to fulfil the duties of assessor. It was a well drawn Bill, reflecting great credit on the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hunt) who had been fortunate enough to propose it to the House. It did not supersede the Act of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Villiers). The principle of deductions should be settled by the Act of Parliament, since it might become the principle upon which the franchise was to be based. There would be no difficulty in dividing property into various classes, and in fixing the proportion between rating and gross estimated rental throughout the kingdom.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, that while he did not fully concur in every provision of the Bill, he tendered his best thanks to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hunt) who had introduced it. A strong case had been made out for some amendments being made in the Union Assessment Act, and in the main the present Bill proposed to amend it in an acceptable manner. In 1664 one instance that occurred in his county a union had absolutely refused to rate itself at its proper value, and the Commissioners had been obliged to make the proper valuation, which had caused a considerable amount of ill-feeling. The Bill would lead to the assimilation of the basis of Imperial and local taxation. It would be a great benefit to the ratepayer if all his rates were based upon one uniform valuation. He did not think that the appointment of the assessor would be likely to lead to the expense that had been supposed; because, although the magistrates at quarter sessions acted gratuitously, the expenses of bringing up witnesses were very large. These expenses would be saved by the assessor holding his court at convenient places. The assessor would be paid according to the amount of work he performed, and not by yearly income; consequently, if there were no appeals, no expenses would be incurred. Upon the whole, he thought the Bill a good one, and he should give it his best support. He only wished that the Bill had gone further, and had provided one uniform scheme of deduction. The Return moved for by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard) showed that deductions were so various as to render it difficult if not impossible to carry out such a scheme; but he might say that a somewhat similar proposal had been tried successfully in Gloucestershire. He should be glad to see the duties of overseer performed by some paid officer instead of by the existing machinery. He cordially supported the Bill, and hoped that it would not be referred to a Select Committee, as he thought that its details might be settled in Committee of the whole House.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
said, he could not join in the wish expressed by the hon. Member that this Bill should not be referred to a Select Committee, seeing that great objections had been expressed either to its principles or details by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The Bill had certainly come before the House in a hasty manner. The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Henry Seymour) who approved it, did so for a purpose totally opposite to that of its promoters. That hon. Member was anxious to control the expenditure in counties, and he seemed to see a prospect of this Board being summoned for one purpose and ultimately used for another. He (Mr. Seymour) thought that this Board would act as a Board for controlling 1665 the county expenditure. The House need not, however, think of any ulterior purpose when they had one already before them. It was urged in favour of the Bill that it would secure the action of the ratepayers with the magistrates; but anybody who knew the habits of ratepayers generally would know that they would decline to attend unless their expenses were provided for, so that the justices would have complete control in the regulation of the assessments. The great object of the late Act was to ascertain the real value of the property which was to be rated, and that object had been attained. It might have been supposed that these unions would not agree precisely as to the amount of deduction that was to be made in order to get at the rateable value. It was, however, something to have done so much towards ascertaining the real value of the property that was to be rated as was accomplished by the Union Assessment Act. Nothing could be more astonishing—considering how much alive the public were to the subject of the taxation of property—than that people should have allowed so large a revenue to be collected in so slovenly and uncertain a manner. The result of the new assessment operation had been to bring £15,000,000 annually to charge which had escaped before. Valuation had been left to ignorant the ant and irresponsible consequence was that property remained either not valued at all or not re-valued for years and years together. The property of persons of influence in many cases remained rated much too low. There were instances of property which had been raised in value 400 per cent, and there were parishes which had never been reassessed during the present century. Some persons had questioned whether that Act had worked well, and he supposed that the object of the present Bill was to make it work better. He had, however, not yet heard the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt) state in what respect that Act had not worked well. He would not say it might not be improved; but he did not think the time had come when it could be said that the Act had not worked well, or that it was necessary to have so elaborate—he would not say so cumbrous—a measure to improve it. The Act had, at all events, given general satisfaction. Complaint had been made as to the absurd way in which the assessment committees, in some particular cases, had acted. Every 1666 facility, however, was given for re-hearing and appeals when the assessment was published, and every parish throughout the union was interested in questioning the assessment of the other parishes, and even the assessment of individual ratepayers in those parishes. The assessment committee could easily be called together to re-hear any particular case. He presumed that there was no obstacle to an appeal to quarter sessions, but those appeals had been extremely few. Hon. Members said that there were people who felt themselves wronged; but there had been no disposition to appeal, and if there had been, it was not always necessary to go before the quarter sessions, since there were special sessions four times a year where cases could be heard. He might be reminded, on the other hand, of the Return procured by the hon. Member for Buckingham, showing a considerable variation in the estimate which the committees made of the deductions necessary to be allowed to get at the rateable value. He did not know how these variations could occur, because the business was so very simple. The principle of deductions was to keep the property in that state of repair which gave the ordinary value. They got the ordinary value and then made the deductions for repairs and insurance. That was not a very difficult thing, and if parishes employed a professional man, or published what they did, there ought not to be any very great variation in the assessment. The 10th clause of the present Bill professed to discover some maximum or fixed rule of deduction. He did not see why, if that were possible, it should not be the subject of a simple enactment for the purpose. If it were not possible he did not know how by a conjunction of magistrates and ratepayers—but he thought practically there would be magistrates only—it would be possible to discover it. It would always happen, sometimes from error, and sometimes from corruption, that these differences would occur. A fixed rule would often be arbitrary and unjust. The decay of one class of houses would be more rapid than of another, and it might be proper to put 20 or 25 per cent on one class and 15 per cent on another. It would thus be unjust to fix a maximum, and always make this deduction for houses and that deduction for land. The real purpose of the Bill was to discover that rule or maximum; but it did not require a great, apparatus of barristers and others to dis- 1667 cover whether that rule had been observed. He supposed there would be fifty-two barristers, one for each county. [Mr. HUNT: The assessment would be paid for by the piece.] That would not shorten the work. The purpose of the Bill was a very good one; but seeing how much danger there might be in passing it in its present shape, and how little ground had been laid for complaint against the present Act, he trusted that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hunt) would not scruple to refer the Bill to a Committee upstairs.
§ MR. HUNT
said, that the Government had shown their appreciation of the value of the machinery of the Assessment Bill, inasmuch as-they had made use of it not only for the purpose of local taxation but also for purposes of Imperial taxation. His right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), whom every one in that House was, he felt assured, glad to see again in his place, had spoken of the Bill as complex, and as calculated to inflict a great deal of worry and vexation on the unfortunate ratepayers throughout the country. His right hon. Friend must, however, bear in mind that it was a measure in which it was proposed to combine three different systems of valuation in one, and that it must, therefore, necessarily consist of a considerable number of clauses. On looking through those clauses he would, at the same time, find that they formed as a whole a Bill of a much more simple character than their number would lead a person to imagine. In answer to the other objection advanced against it he must contend that, so far from tending to create worry, it would in a great measure remedy the vexation which now existed. It would sweep away a cumbrous and expensive machinery, and substitute for it something less complex and more effective. Let him, for instance, take the valuation list for the purposes of the Poor Law under the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. From that list it would be found that there were two appeals—one to the local assessment committee, another by the overseers to the quarter sessions. Then as to the assessment for the poor rate there might be an appeal to the special sessions, then to the quarter sessions, and from that a case might be submitted to the Queen's Bench. Where there was no Highway Board, too, an appeal lay to the special sessions, from that to the quarter sessions, and thence to the Superior Court. In the case of church rates there was an appeal 1668 to the Ecclesiastical Court, while in that of the county rate there was an appeal in the first instance to the committee of justices appointed to fix the basis of the rate, and next to the justices at quarter sessions. With regard to the income tax, and the inhabited house duty, appeals under Schedule A and B must be made to the local Commissioners, a separate appeal being necessary in each case. It was, in fact, under the existing system possible to have upwards of twelve different appeals as to the value of the same property, and in those five cases the ultimate decisions might be at variance with each other—county rates, poor rate, highway rate, church rate, the assessment of the income tax under Schedules A and B, and the inhabited house duty. If in all these instances one assessment and one appeal were substituted for the present cumbrous machinery, how, he should like to know from his right hon. Friend, could the measure in which such a proposal was embodied fairly be characterized as one calculated to increase worry and vexation? It was intended to provide under the Bill that every overseer should make out a valuation list and send it to an assessment committee, and that that committee should deal with it as now. The Court of Appeal would not be as at present the quarter sessions, but would be altered. Much had been said as to the appointment of a Surveyor of Taxes; but he saw no reason why such an officer should not appear before an assessment committee as much as before district Commissioners. It was quite true that a Surveyor of Taxes would be a now apparition in the Boardroom of Guardians; but he would discharge there a very useful function, because, under the operation of the valuable measure of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. C. P. Villiers)—as was abundantly apparent from numbers of letters he had received—there was a want of some person directly interested in putting up everybody's assessment to the proper amount—a want which the Surveyor of Taxes would supply. The introduction of such an officer before the assessment committee would, in his opinion, tend to secure a just assessment, not only to the property tax, but also to local taxation. The next question which arose was whether anything was required to regulate the scale of deductions to be made in reducing the rateable value from the gross value. The right hon. Gentleman said he had heard no evidence 1669 that satisfied him that fault was found with the mode in which those deductions were made at present. He, however, had seen plenty of evidence on the subject. From the Returns which had been moved for by his hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham he had extracted a few of the more glaring cases furnished on the point, and when he mentioned them to the House he was sure it would be admitted that they did not hear out the view which the right hon. Gentleman seemed to entertain. In the county of Bedford, for instance, he found that there were the following variations in the percentages of deductions:—Land, 5 per cent the highest scale, 1 per cent the lowest; houses under £8, highest scale 30 per cent, lowest 10 per cent; houses at and above £15, highest scale 20, lowest 10. The county of Bedford was, however, not singular in regard to the variation in the scale of those deductions. In Gloucester he found the scale to be as follows:—Land, highest 10, lowest 5 per cent; land with buildings, highest 20, lowest 10; houses under £8, maximum 25, minimum 10 per cent; houses at and above £15, maximum 20, minimum 10. Again, in Lancashire, in the case of houses under £8, the maximum was 03, the minimum 15 per cent; houses at and above £15, maximum 33, minimum 10. He might go through many other counties to show his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) that improvement was required with regard to the scale of deductions. In his right hon. Friend's own county, which he fully expected would be a model in that respect, he found that the deductions ranged from 10 to 1 per cent in the case of land in some unions, while in the case of houses under £8 the variation was from 35 to 10. Under such circumstances, he thought it was desirable that some greater degree of uniformity in the matter of deduction should, if possible, be established. To lay down in an Act of Parliament a uniform scale would, no doubt, be a very simple mode of meeting the difficulty; but to such a proposal he did not think the House would assent. The Government had therefore adopted what he conceived to be the best plan to secure uniformity ultimately by taking certain distinct areas. Some comments had been made with regard to the Valuation Board; but that was the very body which, in a great many counties, started into life when the Union 1670 Assessments Act came into force. The delegates from counties met to pass resolutions, and to fix a scale of deductions; but when they sent them down to the different unions, nearly every one of those unions refused to abide by the decision thus arrived at. It was therefore felt that they should be by legislation obliged to act upon the scale to which the delegates might agree. The present Bill attempted to attain that object. His hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) teemed to be of opinion that the Valuation Board would be a large machinery created for a very small purpose. It would, no doubt, be open to that criticism in as far as it would consist of a great number of members; but it was absolutely necessary that such should be the case, because it ought to represent all parts of the county, otherwise there would not be so ready an acquiescence in its decisions. He did not, however, think that it would be an expensive Board. He did not propose that the members should be paid; nor did he believe their meetings need be very frequent. There would, however, be a treasurer and a clerk, but of those it would be found in reality necessary to pay only one. The pay of the clerk would be small; and the whole expense of the Valuation Board would be so trifling as to be hardly worth taking into account, considering that they would get rid of a great deal of costly machinery and costly appeals. It was said that the Board might meet once, and then be swept away; but if a Board laid down a scale of deductions, there must be somebody to see that it was properly carried out; and who so fit for that purpose as the Board which laid down that scale of deductions? The process would be this. The Board would employ their clerk or an accountant to go through the list and see that their instructions had been carried out. They would then have a meeting, at which they would go pro formâ through the list, with the remarks of the clerk attached, and then affix their seal, whereby the valuation list would come into force. With regard to the Appellate Court, it must be remembered that at present there were different courts of appeal for different subjects. There were the District Commissioners with regard to Schedules A and B, and the county magistrates in quarter sessions as to the Union Assessment Committee, and some other local matters. It was no doubt difficult to find out what 1671 was a good Court of Appeal; but he had no hesitation in saying that the court of quarter sessions was not a good Court of Appeal for that purpose. He believed that most courts of quarter sessions would be exceedingly glad to be relieved of that jurisdiction. A court of quarter sessions was a fluctuating body, and if the appeal was a long one it would not be heard throughout by the same persons. An appeal to quarter sessions was also expensive. The witnesses had to be brought up to the county town; the parties had to appear by attorneys and counsel, whose fees had to be paid; and there were also hotel expenses to be incurred. In fact, they had a most cumbrous and costly mode of appeal, and when all was done they had not a very satisfactory court. His right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire said they, at all events, had some persons there who knew something about the matter; but, for his own part, he was not sure that was an advantage. [Mr. HENLEY: I spoke of the Commissioners.] Then, he had misunderstood his right hon. Friend; but there was this to be said about courts of quarter sessions—though that they might know more about the matter than the barrister who might be sent down, yet magistrates were but human beings, and they might sometimes know too much. When cases affecting property in which they were interested came before them, it was not impossible they might have a bias. He believed that courts of quarter sessions endeavoured to do their duty as fairly and as conscientiously as could be done; but when cases of that kind came before them, even where they had not a bias, they might be suspected of having one. The Bill proposed to substitute a barrister of ten years' standing for the court of quarter sessions; by that means, though he might have no personal knowledge on the subject, if they obtained a man of judicial mind to deal with these questions, they might expect to have more satisfactory decisions. As to the expense connected with having these assessors, it was not intended that they should be regular salaried officers, but that they should be remunerated for their services from time to time as those services might he required. If the Bill passed, they did not expect to have many appeals. They believed that the decision of the assessment committee would be accepted as final in almost every instance; but still, they must have some Court of Appeal, and the chairman 1672 of the Valuation Board would have the power of selecting a competent man with the consent of the Treasury. He did not say that that Appellate Court was the best that might be devised. It had been suggested that a County Court Judge should try these appeals; but a County Court Judge was only a barrister appointed in a different way, and he generally had some interest in property in some part of the county. Moreover, if he had these extra duties thrown upon him, they must give him some addition to his salary, which would involve considerable expense. However, the question as to the appointment of the court of appeal was not one of principle, but of detail. Indeed, many of the questions raised that evening were questions of detail. In the case of a Bill of that sort it was impossible that everything could be considered before it was introduced; and the Government were much indebted to many hon. Gentlemen for the suggestions they had made. He agreed with the recommendation which had come from the front Bench opposite, that it would be proper to refer the Bill to a Select Committee; and he hoped that those hon. Members who took an interest in that subject would be kind enough to serve on the Committee, from whose labours, he trusted a sound and valuable measure would emanate. If the second reading were assented to, he would take an early opportunity of nominating the Select Committee.
said, he wished to state what had taken place in the county of Bedford on this matter. Before it was attempted to carry into effect the Act passed by the late Government, a Committee was appointed composed of gentlemen from each union in the county, in order, as far as they could, to arrange what should be the basis of deductions. Upon the basis so arranged they had acted as closely as they could; but if a Bill with the cumbrous machinery of the present one were passed, they could never get at the absolute value, but only at the approximate value, in a parish. What they complained of was, that having acted upon the existing Act, of which they had yet had but little experience, and having arranged their unions, and there being few appeals, a measure like this was now brought in to upset all that they had done and put them to increased expense. The proposal to appoint barristers did not appear acceptable to the House, It did not 1673 seem to him to be necessary to call in the Surveyor of Taxes to make the local committees honest. He knew the case of a landlord in his own county, who let his estates below their value, and when the tenants were warned by the Surveyor of Taxes that the land was underlet, rather than have a re-valuation made they paid the difference. The officers of the revenue department, he thought, interfered too much already in the counties. He was glad that the Bill was to be referred to a I Select Committee, though he had the greatest doubts whether it could be converted into an acceptable measure.
§ MR. READ
said, with reference to a remark that had been made as to nobody who was not a justice being likely to attend at a Valuation Board, that the cattle plague committees of different counties were chiefly composed of the justices and the principal ratepayers, and he believed that the ratepayers were just as attentive and assiduous in discharging their duties as the justices. A great deal had been said in that debate about the variety in the deductions made from the gross estimated rental in getting at the rateable value; but nothing had been said I about the way in which the gross estimated rental was at present ascertained. He believed that that was just as irregular as the other. If any one asked him which was the better criterion of value, he would not hesitate to say, notwithstanding all the variety exhibited in the deductions quoted by the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Hunt), that rating was much better than rental.
§ Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.
And, on Wednesday, March 13, Select Committee nominated, as follows:—Mr. Hem, Mr. GATHORNE HARDY, Mr. VILLIERS, Mr. CHILDERS, Mr. POULETT SCROFE, Colonel BARTTELOT, Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH, Mr. WENTWORTH BEAUMONT, Mr. HUBBARD, Mr. GOLDNEY, Mr. PORTMAN, Mr. NEATE, Mr. LEEMAN, Mr. READ, Mr. CORRANCE, Mr. GRAVES, Colonel DYOTT, Mr. WILBRAHAM ECERTON, Mr. HIBBERT, Mr. DUNLOP, and Mr. DENT:—Five to be the quorum.