§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
rose to move the Amendment which had been put upon the Paper by the hon. and gallant Member for South Wiltshire (Captain Grove)—namely, that the Order for the Committee be discharged, and that the Bill be committed to a Select Committee—but which had been yesterday withdrawn from the Notice Paper. He entertained so strong a feeling of the injustice done to the ratepayers of the country, and of the want of a fair interpretation by the Government of the Resolution of the hon. Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes), that he would take every opportunity of obtaining the fullest discussion of the proposals of this Bill. The people of England were divided into two classes—those who paid rates, and those who did not pay them; and not only were those who paid rates unduly burdened, but those who did not pay rates lost no opportunity of accumulating upon those who did every possible amount of additional expense. Since the Resolution of last year, not a single 726 step had been taken to diminish the amount of the rates, but they were threatened to be largely increased for educational and sanitary purposes. An increase in the rates of 3d., 4d., 5d., or even 6d. was thought nothing of by those who did not pay them, although, were the Chancellor of the Exchequer to attempt to raise 2d. in the pound in order to meet some financial exigency, it would be fatal to the Government. The inflation of the rates was due to the action of Commissioners and Inspectors of various kinds who were always ready to be charitable and benevolent with other people's money. He wished to know what prospect we had of our rates being diminished by the action of the present Government. The Prime Minister, on two separate occasions, in his memorable address at Liverpool and recently at the Literary Fund, had entered into elaborate calculations to show the vast increase that had occurred in our national wealth in the course of the last 80 or 90 years. But the ratepayers at large said that they had not participated in this prosperity, and they complained of the tendency there was at the present day to increase the rates. Neither the magistrates nor the Board of Guardians were open to the charge of extravagance in dealing with the rates, and every attempt on their part to exercise due economy was met by those who did not pay rates with an outcry against their parsimony. On the part of the ratepayers he objected to such an enormous mass of property being exempt from the payment of rates. The House had been told that it was intended by this Bill to abolish all invidious exemptions; but the first exemptions to be done away with were those of hospitals and ragged schools. Petitions had been presented from all parts of the country, showing that the general feeling was against the abolition of such exemptions as these, on the ground that either these institutions would suffer, or else that the deficiency in their income caused by their being subjected to rates, would have to be made up by the very few persons who supported them. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT,
in seconding the Amendment, said, he thought his hon. Friend had done good service in bringing the Amendment before the 727 House, because the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government always taunted the Members on the Opposition benches if they did not take those legitimate opportunities which were at their disposal of discussing, and discussing fairly, any great question of this kind. But he was surprised at the course taken by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Wiltshire (Captain Grove), who, he should have thought, would have taken warning by that speech of the Solicitor General the other night in which he asked what was the meaning of "gallant" or "learned." He (Colonel Barttelot) always thought that "gallant" at any rate meant sticking to a point, and that the word could not properly be applied to a deserter. The hon. and gallant Member for South Wiltshire, therefore, no longer deserved the name of "gallant," but his hon. Friend (Mr. Scourfield) was gallant because he had stood in the breach and was ready to perform the duties which the hon. and gallant Member for South Wiltshire had failed to perform. He should like to know what the constituents of the hon. and gallant Member for South Wiltshire thought of the conduct of their Member, who, after he had given Notice of an Amendment, suddenly disappeared from the scene, and who, so far as he (Colonel Barttelot) on looking round the House could ascertain, was not present even for the purpose of vindicating his abandonment of the Notice he had given. Although the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Local Government Board had told the House that he was beset with difficulties with reference to the mode in which mines, woodlands, shooting, and fishing were to be rated, it was his duty to have placed before the House what his notions were on those matters. There was scarcely a Bill introduced by the Government which did not propose some new charge on the local rates, and he did not know where they were going to lead to. Although the Local Government Board disavowed any wish for centralization, the fact was that in everything that was now done in local matters centralization was becoming more complete, and far heavier burdens in respect of union workhouses, gaols, lunatic asylums, &c., were put upon localities than those which would have been put upon them if the local authorities had been 728 allowed to administer their own affairs. He (Colonel Barttelot) had never gone so far as some people in regard to the relief of local taxation; and if either the Premier or the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld) would say these two Bills were simply the outwork of some great scheme which was to be for the general relief of the whole of this country, then he (Colonel Barttelot) would enter upon the discussion of these two Bills heart and soul. But if they declined to show what remained of, to adopt the phrase of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld), that garment of which these measures were the mere fringe, and which fringe might be torn away at any moment, he thought the Government were not entitled to ask the House to proceed to discuss these Bills.
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Bill be committed to a Select Committee,"—(Mr. Scourfield,)—instead thereof.
§ MR. PEASE
reminded the House that this was a Bill for bringing in property which was now exempted from rating. He thought it essentially an equitable Bill; but he hoped that before proceeding with it they should have a pledge from the Government that they would go on with the second Bill. The owners of mines were also entitled to know on what principle the rating of mines would be carried out. In consequence of his not knowing whether the Government intended if possible to proceed pari passu with the two Bills, he had experienced some difficulty in framing the Amendments of which he had given Notice. The Bill placed the House in an unfair position with regard to the rating of woodlands, game, and mines, Her Majesty's Government not having given a single indication of the course they intended to take. There was hardly a lead mine in Durham that was doing more than paying its working expenses, and numbers of the men were leaving them and going to the collieries. In Cornwall hundreds of fine young men were also leaving the country on account of the depressed condition of the mining interest. He believed that hospitals were rated to the poor; but now hospitals, private hospitals and convalescent homes did a great deal more good than ragged schools, and there- 729 fore he thought the Bill would operate beneficially in withdrawing this exemption. He wished to know, whether the Government would, so far as it was in their power, proceed with both of the Bills this Session?
said, the Government intended to press forward both the Bills on this subject. They had, if not a vital, at all events a very close connection, and the Government thought it would be quite possible to pass both measures in a satisfactory shape during the present Session. With regard to the Motion that had been made, he thought it was a serious matter for the hon. and gallant Gentleman who seconded it (Colonel Barttelot) to criticize the personal conduct of the hon. and gallant Member who originally gave Notice of it (Captain Grove), and especially with regard to the question of bona fides. He fully admitted, however, that the hon. Member for Pembrokeshire (Mr. Scourfield) was perfectly justified in making the Motion without Notice when he found it was about to be withdrawn. The speech of the hon. Member was the best justification of the course taken by the hon. and gallant Member for South Wiltshire (Captain Grove); because, except at the close, it had no reference whatever to the Motion itself, because it was a speech founded entirely upon the objections which the hon. Member entertained to the general conduct of the Government. Such a speech, in strict consistency, should have been followed by a Motion censuring the Government or proposing the rejection of the Bill. If the Session were prolonged to one of considerable length, there might be time to dispose of the Bill after it came down from the Select Committee. But, in the ease of such a measure, the labours of no Select Committee could dispense with the necessity of considerable discussion in Committee of the Whole House; and the result of the Motion—probably, indeed, its object—was to delay if not to defeat the Bill. Now, the question was whether a measure, removing exemptions and dealing with the rate ability of Government property, was worth having or not. The Government, it was said, ought to have introduced a measure, giving direct effect to the Resolution of the hon. Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes); and they had been charged with disobedience or treason to 730 the authority of the House in the introduction of these Bills. According to this contention, it was the duty of the Executive Government to obey absolutely and implicitly a Resolution of the House of Commons. Now, in his view that proposition could not be sustained, and it was not to the interest of the House of Commons itself that the proposition should be sustained; for its effect would be to carry the House of Commons beyond its legitimate province, making it the absolute and actual Director of the Executive in a way which would greatly injure the working of the Government. He admitted that when a Resolution had been passed by the House of Commons declaring that it was not the duty of the Government to impose such and such a charge, the Government were bound to obey. But such was not the case here; the question was one of policy, and the Government had gone as far as they could properly go in undertaking to deal with the entire question to which the Resolution related, in the order which appeared to them essential. Do not let it be said, therefore, that the Government had disobeyed the Resolution of the House of Commons. What they had done was to determine that in dealing with the Resolution of the hon. Member for South Devon the natural order of procedure was first to determine the amount and character of property which, according to the spirit and intention of the present law, was liable to bear the burden of local charges. Nor was this an unimportant matter, even in the view of the hon. Gentleman, because the question of Government rate ability was itself involved, and financially that question was one of no small moment. He was not then prepared to state the number of millions of real property held by the Government, but it held tens of millions, and it was no small matter to determine in what degree Government property should become liable to charge. The Bill proposed to deal with a variety of questions of exemption; it was most desirable—in fact, there was a unanimous wish—to come to some settlement on the subject. Would not the proposal to send it to a Select Committee render its passing uncertain? It was plain that the proposal was adverse to the purposes of the Government. Was it favourable to the purposes of the hon. Gentleman himself? Decidedly not; 731 and even if the opposition to the Government's proposals were taken as a distinct intimation that the Resolution of last year should be acted on, it should be remembered that the Government had no means of doing so, because every shilling at their disposal in the current year had been voted away by the unanimous Resolution of the House, for, although there was a debate on the subject, there was no division. What, then, would be gained by obstructing the progress of the Bill? The object of the Government would be thwarted by so doing, and the proposals of the hon. Member for South Devon would not be forwarded. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Captain Grove) referred to a Bill before them the other night which contained a proposal likely to increase local charges. The hon. and gallant Gentleman would soon have an opportunity of determining whether the Government really wished to treat the Resolutions of the House with respect or not. The Government had considered the point raised the other night by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Magniac), and hoped to make a proposal which would be approved by the House to prevent them unfairly going to an issue which would complicate subjects already complicated sufficiently. He trusted that the House would consider that the best course to take was to go into Committee on the Bill.
§ MR. HUNT
said, that if he remembered rightly, the right hon. Gentleman, under similar circumstances to those which he now complained, talked of "running away from the gleam of his own arms." The expressions of the right hon. Gentleman had an abiding place in his mind. He (Mr. Hunt) would remind the House that the Government had shown a sense of the necessity for making some change between local and Imperial taxation in 1871, when the present First Lord of the Admiralty made an elaborate statement to the House on the subject. Now, the President of the Local Government Board brought in two measures which he admitted to be incomplete; but excused himself by the plea that he had touched only the fringe of the subject. His complaint, however, was that the proposals of the Government, so far as they touched the fringe of the subject, wore incomplete, and that it was necessary to 732 send the Bills to a Select Committee, that this incompleteness might be corrected. The House was not a fit body to fill in the details of the skeleton measures submitted by the Government. If the Government had laid before the House a proposition of their plan, if they had developed their scheme for the rating of mines, of timber, of game, of fishing, and of Government property, the House might have discussed these points in Committee. But these propositions were laid on the Table in blank. [No, no!] The Government had not laid down the rule on which metalliferous mines were to be assessed, or timber, or game, or fishing; but the whole subject was proposed to be left to the judgment of the assessment committees, who would find themselves totally unable to deal with the questions, and would each deal with them in a different way. This was a matter which Parliament ought to take upon itself, for it was certain uniformity would not be secured in any other way. The right hon. Gentleman had said that if they were to refer the Bill to a Select Committee they would run the risk of defeating it. Well, for his own part he did not think it possible that the Bill could assume so complete a shape this Session as to pass into law, and therefore he had no objection that the rest of the Session should be occupied in trying to improve it, and then let it form a portion of the complete scheme of the Government next year, so that the House might have before it not only the fringe but the whole garment. He believed that more progress would be made in a Select Committee than in a Committee of the Whole House, and he therefore trusted that the Government would agree to the adoption of that course.
said, there was one good thing in this poor little Bill, and that was that it brought under rating Government property which had not hitherto been reached. This would relieve some districts from heavy local charges on account of the large agglomeration of Government property; but the method of rating it proposed was most unsatisfactory, for it was provided by the 7th clause, that the Treasury—the most parsimonious Department of the Government—should settle for itself how much it should contribute. If the locality was not satisfied with the amount of the contribution, what 733 was the remedy? Why, it was to be put to the serious expense of coming before a Committee upstairs. But the locality might reasonably say that the expense was certain, and the result of an inquiry before a Committee uncertain, and therefore might think it better to put up with a wrong. The proposal in Clause 7 was therefore unfair, and he hoped the House of Commons would never adopt it. He was glad that mines, game, and Underwood would now be rated; but the Government did not tell the House in what way this was to be done, nor did they appear to have formed any plan on the subject. On the contrary, as before in the case of the Education, the Government remitted the difficult part of the question to the local committees, the result of which would be that before long the House of Commons would be loudly called upon to provide a remedy for the evils which would be sure to arise. They ought, therefore, to call upon Her Majesty's Government to prepare some scheme by which the assessment might be regulated, which should meet with the general acceptance of the House. Nothing conferred a greater benefit on the poor or really relieved the rates more than a hospital, and therefore he would be glad to see all hospitals exempted from local rates. He was also opposed to the rating of ragged schools; and he should never be a party to any measures which should impose rates upon two such institutions. With respect to the proposition for referring the Bill to a Select Committee, if he thought that the Committee would prepare a good scheme he would assent to the Amendment; but looking at the way in which Committees were nominated, he doubted the wisdom of adopting such a proposition. If the Government would declare their readiness to prepare a scheme the necessity of sending this Bill to a Select Committee would be altogether avoided, and if they would adhere to their declaration not to throw any additional burden on the local rates they would avoid a good deal of the opposition which they would otherwise have to encounter.
§ MR. PELL
observed, that scarcely a single word had been said in favour of the Bill, which was admitted on all hands to be a most imperfect scheme. He was not prepared to adopt the suggestion 734 which had been thrown out with reference to the preparation of a scheme by the Government in preference to the Motion for sending the Bill to a Select Committee. He thought they ought to have some clearer enunciation from the Government of the principle on which mines were to be rated before proceeding further with the Bill. He did not conceive that the steps suggested by the Government would really lead them to the conclusion at which they ought to arrive in reference to the adjustment of local and Imperial taxation. In his opinion, the Valuation Bill should be considered before they came to the other branches of the subject; and many questions connected with the rating of Government property required to be examined. Many Members on the Ministerial side were dissatisfied with the way in which that Bill had been brought in and explained, and he saw no reason why they should not support the moderato proposal for refering it to a Select Committee.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK
said, there was one question involved in the Bill which had not yet received the attention it deserved—namely, the effect of the clause introducing the rating of timber. In considering this question, it was necessary to ask whether the quantity of woodland was undesirably large or not? There could be no doubt that the effect of the Bill would be to encourage the removal of timber. Mr. Clutton, a very high authority, in a letter to him, said—If timber is rated it will certainly cause a large quantity to be removed; and so large a quantity has already been removed for cultivation that I think it most impolitic that a further impetus should be given to the present rate of destruction.There could be no doubt that in other countries great changes of climate had followed the destruction of forests. Many long-civilized countries now suffered greatly from drought owing to that cause. Now, what was our position in that respect? Russia had 39 per cent of her surface underwood; Prussia, 28 per cent; France, 16 per cent; Switzerland, 15 per cent; Great Britain only 2 per cent. Dr. Hooker, who had had the opportunity of studying that question in the East, wrote to him that he "should regard any general measure that would interfere with the remaining woods of England as a very hazardous one." No doubt it 735 was true that this country, from its insular character and from the neighbourhood of the ocean, was in a peculiar position; but had they any great advantage to gain from running that risk? The difficulties of rating timber were great, and the questions it would raise very intricate. In the letter from which he had already quoted Mr. Glutton said—I do not think the increased rateable value to be obtained by rating timber is worth the expense and trouble which will be necessarily incurred.He also confessed he should deeply regret any measure which caused the destruction of the fine timber which was so great an ornament to this country. He must also express his concurrence in the remarks of the hon. Member for Pembrokeshire (Mr. Scourfield) with reference to the rating of literary and scientific societies. He trusted Government would not press that proposal, for surely the very trifling relief of rates to be obtained would be dearly purchased by the discouragement of scientific and literary pursuits.
§ MR. CLARE READ
observed, that everyone who had looked over the Bill must consider it a mere skeleton, and that a Select Committee was the proper authority to put flesh upon it. It appeared, also, to be almost a direct contradiction to the Bill that would follow it, which provided for uniform deductions in order to arrive at the rateable value. There they had a Bill which brought into assessment a large portion of property which did not now pay rates, and did not lay down any principle on which that assessment was to be founded. The Government had issued an edict "Let woods, game, and mines be rated," and they expected them to be forthwith justly and equally assessed. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock) had referred to the case of woods. If they got rid of woods they could not get rid of the land, which must produce something, and that something was liable to be rated. Whether it produced mutton or wheat, the effect of rating was, no doubt, a considerable burden on the production of the necessaries of life. He had been that morning at a meeting of the Chamber of Agriculture, at which these Bills had been discussed; and although the Chamber cordially agreed that mines, planta- 736 tions, growing timber, fowling, shooting, sporting, and fishing should be assessed; yet it also said that, in the absence of all principles on which they were to be assessed, they would unsettle everything and settle nothing, and produce such irregularity and variety of assessment as would lead to endless litigation and expense. He would much rather discuss Amendments in a Committee upstairs, composed of practical and business men, than in a Committee of the Whole House, and he therefore cordially supported the proposal to refer the Bill to a Select Committee.
§ CAPTAIN GROVE
said, he wished to explain that previous to the Recess he had been asked to take action with regard to the Bill, and that he had, accordingly, placed a Notice on the Paper for its reference to a Select Committee. He was at the time strongly of opinion that the adoption of that course would result in making it a much more satisfactory measure; but when he went down to the country some 10 days ago, he had an opportunity of consulting many gentlemen who took an active part on assessment committees in Wiltshire, and he found they thought that the Bill might very well be modified in Committee of the Whole House, and that to refer it to a Select Committee would in all probability be to shelve it for the present Session. That being so, he had on his return to town consulted with the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes), and other hon. Gentlemen who were anxious that he should persevere with his Amendment, but he found that other Gentlemen with whom he communicated where of a different opinion. That being so, he had given Notice at the earliest opportunity, that he wished to withdraw the Amendment, so that any other hon. Member who desired to do so might take up the matter. He admitted that the Bill was very imperfect; but if the Government would meet them in a fair way, he thought they might still make it a very good Bill in a Committee of the Whole House. As regarded woods, he knew that in many parts of his county trees were constantly planted for no other purpose than to shelter the land, and were utterly valueless as far as producing an annual return, but inasmuch as through the shelter they afforded the land, the adjoining fields were more 737 productive and consequently were rated higher than they would be without this shelter, it would be unfair to rate such timber separately, as it already indirectly paid rates, and he thought they were entitled to know upon what principle it was proposed to rate that kind of property.
§ MR. FLOYER
said, the hon. and gallant Gentleman had, no doubt, a perfect right to change, and had probably very good reasons for doing so. Looking at the question on its merits, however, he thought it desirable that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. As things at present stood, the principle upon which property was rated to the poor and other rates was perfectly clear and had been acted upon. That state of things the Bill proposed to alter, and if the House went at once into Committee it would have no guide to go by, for the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had laid down no principle on which the assessment committees should proceed, except with respect to Government property. Now, that that property should be rated was perfectly proper; but what he complained of was that the House was left at sea in the case of all other property, so that there being as many as 619 assessment committees, each would be left to take its own line as to the principles on which those various classes of property were to be assessed. What a puzzle would thus be created for the Judges who were the interpreters of the law, and who would have no fixed rule to guide their decisions. As to the taunt that those who wished to refer the Bill to a Select Committee sought to delay its passing, he would only observe that the more haste the less speed, and that the House would be the more likely to get on the faster with it if they knew where they were going. He, for one, had no wish to delay the Bill; but the Government ought to indicate the principles on which they meant to proceed, or admit their inability to do so. It was useless to proceed with this measure in the hope that on some future occasion the Government would see fit to make a declaration of their intentions on this subject. If material alterations were to be made in the Bill, they should be introduced when the measure was before a Select Committee and not in Committee of the Whole House. Under these circum- 738 stances, he should support the Amendment.
§ MR. WYKEHAM MARTIN
said, he thought a Select Committee would be a most unsuitable tribunal before which to send a measure of this kind, because unless the Whip was certain which way the Member would vote, he took care that he was not placed on the Committee. Consequently, the vote of every Member might be predicted with almost absolute certainty, and the consequence was that the Report was carried by the casting vote of the Chairman, and it was treated as a nullity by the House. He recollected an instance in which the Chairman of a Select Committee, after speaking for a considerable time, ceased directly two Members of his way of thinking came in, and said he should not trouble the Committee with any further reasons, whereupon the late Mr. Graves said—"Your other reasons have just entered the room."
§ SIR RAINALD KNIGHTLEY
said, that by this Bill the Government had recognized the right of the owner of the soil to the wild uncaptured game on his land for the first time; but if game was to be rated as property it must be protected as property. The Game Laws greatly required to be placed on a more satisfactory footing, for it was absurd to treat tame pheasants, bred by their owners, as private property when they were slaughtered, but as "savage wild beasts" when living, if they happened to stray from the place where they were bred into the neighbouring woods and copses. He should like to hear from the Government whether they proposed to place the Game Laws on a better and more sensible footing.
§ SIR HENRY HOARE
said, he should vote for referring the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House, because he did not think it was desirable that its progress should be any further delayed; but, at the same time, he thought that some declaration should be made as to how woods were to be rated. It was hardly fair to rate them as a source of income the moment they became productive, when for perhaps 50 years before they had been nothing but a source of expense. Country houses also could hardly be treated as a source of income, when, as was frequently the case, they were a large source of expenditure—indeed, in many cases it cost a man 739 several hundreds a-year not to live in his country house. He should like to see the definition by Government of the body who were to rate these houses, and an explanation of the manner in which they were to be rated. He thought that a Select Committee was not exactly the body which would clothe this skeleton Bill with shape, and put it into a proper form this year.
§ MR. CORRANCE
said, his objection to the measure was that, by the express opinion of hon. Gentlemen well qualified to form an opinion, it was incomplete, shadowy, and should not in its present shape have been submitted to the House. He could not consent to flinging Bills on the Table of the House in this state. Not only was the present measure incomplete, it was also unjust. The House had lately been troubled with several Bills which resembled this one in their imperfections. Last year the House passed that sanitary measure which Judge Blackburn had said was an unintelligible jumble. He thought the proper course to adopt with reference to this Bill was to submit it to a Select Committee.
§ MR. BRISTOWE
remarked that hon. Members had lost sight of that which was the substance of the Bill. In reading the Bill a second time, the House had given its assent to the principle that properties which had hitherto been exempted should hereafter be liable to be rated. But he did not understand the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill to say from first to last that he intended to make any alteration in the principle of assessing property; and they must therefore assume that the property proposed to be brought within the area of liability would be assessed upon the basis of the Parochial Assessment Act, until that matter could be dealt with by a future measure. He admitted that when they attempted to apply the Parochial Assessment Act to a tenant who was taking away the corpus of the property which it was proposed to rate they were attempting to do that which was inconsistent with the principles of that Act; but it had been done for many years in the case of coal mines, and therefore it was not impossible to apply the same principles to other mines. It seemed to him that the reasonable plan was that the Bill should simply propose to place mines under rating, and leave 740 it to another time to determine the principle on which the rating should be applied. He thought ragged schools had a fair claim to be exempted from rating; but he could not understand why hospitals, literary societies, &c., should be exempted from rating, and for this reason—the benefit of them was not exactly coterminous with the parishes in which they stood. As to the assessment of Government property, he would leave that to be dealt with in Committee. He was altogether opposed to referring the Bill to a Select Committee, as he felt convinced that the whole subject would be re-opened again in that House, and much valuable time would therefore have been lost.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he thought the House had taken a wise course in exempting ragged schools; but if there was a good case for ragged schools, there was a much stronger one for public elementary schools. The basis on which such exemptions should rest should be that where any body of persons kept up an institution which saved the ratepayers a large sum of money, they should not be also called upon to pay out of their own pockets for the rates of the district generally. He did not think there was much to be said for the exemption of literary and scientific institutions, which were often little more than middle class clubs. But as the Bill appeared to him at present in a very unsatisfactory shape, he thought it should be referred to a Select Committee.
§ LORD GEORGE CAVENDISH
said, he thought it would be unwise to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, and stand shivering on the brink of legislation on this subject. His experience of referring Bills to such Committees had not been very inviting. The question would be re-opened on the Report, and the same ground would be gone over again. He referred the House to the Reports of the Committees which sat 15 years ago and six years ago on the question of rating mines and woods, where they would find the subject discussed at the greatest length in every possible shape. He thought it impossible for the Government to lay down any principle of assessment which would be generally satisfactory; and it appeared to him that the better plan would be the formation of county or district assessment committees who should lay down a principle to be 741 recognized in the rating of the district. He was surprised that hon. Gentlemen opposite should not strive to remedy the existing inequality in the rating of mines under a system which, for example, exempted mines worked by a shaft but made liable those worked by a quarry.
said, the House desired to know on what principle woods and plantations would be liable to rating. Even upon the principle of what was called a hypothetical tenant, it would be difficult for any overseer to make the assessment. But while the Government in 1873 were studiously reticent as to the principle of valuation which would be applied to those properties, in 1871 they were much more communicative, for the Local Taxation Bill then introduced by them provided that where any land was occupied as plantations or woods, the gross value and rateable value should not be less than they would be respectively if such land were occupied for ordinary purposes of agriculture, either as pasture or arable land. That would be a very unjust principle. He had hardly heard a word of praise of the Bill, and should heartily support the Motion to refer it to a Select Committee.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
said, what was complained of was that the Government would not give any indication of the principles upon which they were going to act. Some hon. Members had spoken against referring the Bill to a Select Committee on the ground that it would waste time; but the proposal of the Government involved, according to the Prime Minister, the taxation of millions of property, and therefore it behaved them not to proceed too precipitately. He had supported the second reading because he thought it was right that the property included in it should be rated; but hitherto the question had been discussed as an English one. What he wanted to know was, why there should be the constantly recurring clause—"This Act shall not apply to Scotland or Ireland." Was there no Government property in Scotland? He had himself introduced a Bill this Session, in which he proposed that Government property in Scotland should be rated for the poor rates. In the parish of Canongate, in Edinburgh, seven-eighths of the area was Government property, and more would he accumulated from time to 742 time in various parts of Scotland. Ayr, for instance, was to be a military centre, and when the depôt was formed, Ayr would be deprived of some of its rateable value. Scotland had a principle of assessment in use in some cases. Woods, for instance, were assessed, according to acreage, at the value of the grazing grounds in the same parish. That also was the rule in Ireland, he believed. In Scotland also they had laid down a rule for rating all game that had a money value. Why should not these rules be considered with a view to the enactment of some plan which should be universal in its application? The Bill so far as it went was admirable; and it would be altogether satisfactory if its details were supplied by a Select Committee. The President of the Local Government Board might submit a scheme to that Committee, which would be far better able to deal with the matter than the House. This plan was preferable even at the risk of postponing the Bill for another year. There was no necessity for haste. Surely hon. Members were superior to the anxiety to be doing something regardless of imperfections. It should be the ambition of Parliament to create good Acts, not merely to swell the Statute Book.
said, that, knowing the great soreness and irritability that prevailed upon this subject out of doors, he was surprised that the Government did not avail themselves of the advantage to be obtained through a Select Committee. He was also surprised that they did not seem to consider the time of the House. There were four new principles in the Bill in reference to the kind of things that were to be taxed; and as to three of them, there was not the slightest intimation of the principle upon which it was proposed that the assessment should be based. The subject was full of difficulties, and it could not properly be discussed in the House except at an enormous waste of time. In a Select Committee there could soon be sketched out a plan upon which the rating should be carried out; and this was essential in order that the principle of rating should be uniform in different places. If the House had nothing definite before them, what chance was there of coming to a satisfactory conclusion? They had already had the question of rating mines before them for years; and there would 743 be equal difficulty in rating game. There was soil where game almost sprung up of itself, and other soil where, do what you would, you could not have it; and how were these different properties to be assessed? He could not conceive that the Government designed to send forth this Bill to the assessment committees without some more definite plan to guide them than it at present contained. If they did, the confusion in the future would far exceed anything which had occurred in the past. A Select Committee would fill in the skeleton plan of the Government, and make the Bill as perfect as possible, which was extremely important when they considered that what was proposed was only part of a much larger subject.
§ MR. STANSFELD
expressed his obligation to the hon. Member (Mr. W. Martin) for his sound and telling argument against the reference of this measure to a Select Committee; and he also thanked the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Bristowe) for his argument in favour of the Bill. No doubt it was true, as had been said, that a Bill of this kind must produce much opposition, because it touched important interests; and therefore the observations made by hon. Members representing those interests upon the Bill were rather likely to be of a critical than an approving character. The hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid) criticized the clause as to the exemption of Government property from rating. He said that it was extremely unfair that the question of the amount at which such property should be assessed should be left to Parliament, because in this way Parliament would virtually be a judge in its own cause. But there was no choice except that Parliament should be the judge in all matters affecting its own interests. Suppose that Parliament were to adopt the view that Government property should be rated according to the ideas of the local assessment committees, the thing might pass this year; but the question would arise in future years when the Vote for providing the money came before the House. It was impossible, therefore, to divest the House of Commons of the right to judge. The best opportunity for discussing clauses would be found in Committee; and therefore his hon. Friend must be content with some rather general remarks at 744 present. He was quite prepared, however, to say that he would accept the principle of arbitration which his hon. Friend (Mr. Stone) gave Notice he would propose, provided he was permitted to reserve the freedom not so much of Government as of Parliament and this House. He would therefore place upon the Paper a form of words the effect of which would be to enable Government, through the Treasury or the Local Government Board, as the case might be, to agree, if possible, with the local assessment committees as to the gross and rateable valuation of Government property. He would then propose that, failing such agreement, recourse should be had to arbitration; but the functions of the arbitrator should be to propose a conditional valuation, the values to be inserted in the schedule of a Bill, so that Parliament might have the power of deciding for itself with all the facts before it on the principle and mode of assessing Government property. He had not forgotten the remarks made by his hon. Friend the Member for North Hants (Mr. Sclater-Booth), when he said it was a very serious matter to bring all Government property within the area of rateability, and that it was not a subject to be broached in any light, perfunctory, or superficial way. If he had done so, the Government would have been justly condemned at some future time for having tied the hands of the House of Commons without affording it that minute knowledge which the case required. The hon. Baronet the Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock) spoke against the rating of woods and plantations, thinking that the effect of it would be to discourage both the one and the other. But his hon. Friend must have forgotten that according to the law of Scotland this kind of property was rated in that country, and he had yet to learn that hill sides in Scotland were not so well clothed with wood as they were in England. As showing the discursive character of this debate, e had been appealed to by the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Rainald Knightley) to give his opinion upon the Game Laws, but he must decline to answer that appeal; whilst he denied the logic of the statement that he could not tax game because game was not property. What he proposed to tax was that incorporeal heredita- 745 ment, the right of sporting, a thing which was already rated in Scotland. The hon. Member for East Suffolk (Mr. Corrance) had referred to a judgment of Mr. Justice Blackburn, alleging that that learned Judge's remarks applied to the Sanitary Act of last year, and arguing that it was a loosely and badly-drawn Act. Now, the remarks of Mr. Justice Blackburn had naturally arrested his attention at the time. He had read them carefully, and was prepared to assert that they did not refer to the Sanitary Act of last year, but to the numerous Acts passed during the preceding 20 years, which had undoubtedly involved the law in considerable confusion, and to remove which the Local Government Board had deemed it necessary to prepare a digest of the sanitary laws for the guidance of those who had to apply them. Among the various contributions to the discussion that day the most original was one made by the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Collins), who, on a Motion for referring the Bill to a Select Committee, proposed entirely to change its character. The object of that measure, and what Parliament and the public had been pressing upon the Government for years, was the abolition of exemptions from rateability. But the hon. Member for Boston desired that they should wholly turn their backs upon that principle and make that Bill positively one for the creation of new exemptions in favour of public institutions generally which had a tendency, morally or materially, indirectly to reduce the rates. He would remind the hon. Gentleman of an observation of Mr. Justice Mellor in a well-known case, to the effect that every such exemption from rates amounted to a forced contribution from all the other ratepayers of the district on behalf of the institution so exempted. Indeed, an hon. Member who spoke early in the debate told them that from a high authority in Manchester he had gathered that they strongly approved the principle of the exemption of useful local public institutions front rating, because, practically speaking, it was the only way of getting the general population to contribute towards them. According to that reasoning, they were practically to put a charge on the ratepayers of a locality in favour of these institutions, whether they approved them or not. The right hon. 746 Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt) had on a former occasion treated the measure with scant courtesy, and characterized it as one which was not quite seriously intended by the Government. That imputation he had felt himself bound to repudiate. But in the present discussion the right hon. Gentleman took a totally different course. He had approved generally of the principle of the Bill, but proposed to refer it to a Select Committee because it was a mere outline which required filling in. The right hon. Gentleman and others urged that with regard to the new descriptions of property intended to be brought under rating he had failed to propound any scheme by which the assessment committees and the Courts might be guided in ascertaining their assessable value. Now what he had done in that respect was not done per incuriam, but designedly. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire, (Mr. Henley) appeared to be under a strange illusion, and had spoken of flue impossibility of the assessment committees and the Courts of Law dealing with those questions unless Parliament laid clown the principles by which the rateable value was to be ascertained. But it was singular that it had not occurred to him that although property of different kinds had been assessed, valued, and rated since the days of Elizabeth, there was not on the Statute Book of this country a single enactment defining the methods by which their value should be ascertained in England. An Amendment had been placed on the Paper by the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. C. Read) in the sense of the Scotch Act in regard to woods and plantations. He had nothing to say against that Amendment if it met with the general concurrence of the House; but it did not call for a reference of the Bill to a Select Committee. He asked how they would be more ready to discuss the measure after it came down from such a Committee than before it went there? As to the right of shooting, he should be prepared to discuss the Amendments proposed on that subject, though he was ready, as at present advised, to defend the clause as it stood, holding that they could only calculate or guess the rent for which such a right would let; and that was the principle by which the assessment committees were guided generally 747 in ascertaining the value of all hereditaments. With regard to mines, that very question had been considered by a Committee of the House years ago, and that Committee failed to come to a conclusion on so extremely difficult a subject. His hon. Friend the Member for West Cornwall (Sir John St. Aubyn) and others of great practical knowledge had Amendments on the Paper with respect to the rating of mines, and there was no reason why those Amendments should not be discussed. It was possible his hon. Friend might show good reasons why his Amendment should be adopted; but he very much doubted whether, notwithstanding the knowledge on the subject of his hon. Friend the Member for South Durham (Mr. Pease) the House could address itself to the problem of laying down rules with respect to mines of all descriptions, such as were embodied in the proposals which now stood on the Notice Paper. The reason he had proposed to deal with the subject in the manner indicated by the Bill was because it involved great difficulties and complications, and that it was impossible to deal otherwise with it in a Bill which it was intended to pass during the present Session. He now came to the last part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hunt) who had been perfectly candid, for he had admitted that if the Bill were referred to a Select Committee it could not become law this year. To that admission he would refer those hon. Gentlemen who maintained that the Bill would not be lost if the Amendment were agreed to. The authority and experience of the right hon. Gentleman were against them, and it was clear that if they were successful the very difficult branch of the subject which they were discussing would be left to be dealt with in some Bill in a succeeding Session. He, for one, would not be responsible for any proceeding of that kind. He did not feel bound to propose a measure which would solve every possible problem connected with the subject of rating. We had since the days of Elizabeth gone on sufficiently contented with the rating of mines of a certain character without particularizing the mode of assessment, and it was, he thought, going too far to tell the House in the middle of the month of June, when it desired to make some progress in dealing with a great question of which the present Bill touched only the fringe, that it 748 should not proceed further unless it entered into a branch of the subject which would make legislation impossible in the present and doubtful in a future Session. He was aware that there was some dissatisfaction in the House as to the method which the Government had deemed it their duty to adopt in dealing with the subject of local administration and taxation; but it was rather too late to dispute the policy on which they acted, seeing that the House had almost unanimously passed the Budget, and that there were no funds out of which contributions could be made in aid of the local rates. Was the House prepared, under these circumstances, to say that it would not permit the Government to do what they could in the matter? They had honestly and explicitly declared it to be their intention to deal with the question as a whole; and was it anything more than simple justice that they should be allowed to take the first step in that direction? If they were permitted to do so they would be doubling their obligation to meet the views of the hon. Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes), who, if the present Bill passed, might be more than ever certain that a subject in which he took such an interest would in a future Session be taken up by the Government. There was only one other point to which he wished to refer. His hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Craufurd) had called attention to the fact that Scotland and Ireland were excluded from the Bill, referring especially to the clauses which it contained concerning the rating of Government property. Now, if the views which he had laid before the House as to the rating of Government property should be accepted, there would be no objection to extending those clauses to Scotland and Ireland. In conclusion, he earnestly entreated the House to accept the assurances the Government had given on this subject, and allow the Bill to go into Committee.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, he was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that there was no principle laid down in any Act of Parliament as to the mode in which the value of property liable to rates could be ascertained. Now, he could not at that moment lay his hand upon the statute, but he had before him a well-known work, Archbold's Poor Law, in which he found 749 the principle laid down that property was to be rated at a sum equal to the rent at which it might reasonably be expected to be let from year to year, the rates and taxes to which it was subject being first deducted. That being the principle laid down by statute, the right hon. Gentleman was now going to adopt an entirely different principle with regard to Government property and houses also, and the arguments of those who urged that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee were, therefore, perfectly reasonable. What was a person to do, he should like to know, who took from year to year growing timber, which for 15 years might be absolutely worthless? It was impossible that he could make any profit by it, and when the right hon. Gentleman proposed a certain mode of dealing with Government property which could not be applied to the case of timber, he must not be surprised if he were asked, as he had laid down a principle in one case, that he should do it also in others.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, perhaps he had not expressed himself with sufficient distinctness. What he intended to say was, that there was on the Statute Book no enactment defining, as it had been proposed the Government should define, the method and principle by which special classes of property should be valued by assessment committees. The general principle, which had operated since the reign of Elizabeth, was that the gross annual value should be ascertained with reference to the rent the property would fetch, and that principle would be applicable to new as well as old properties.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 211; Noes 181: Majority 30.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ On Question, "That the Preamble be postponed,"
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Sir Michael Hicks-Beach.)
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, he would be willing to report Progress after the first 750 two clauses, to which there was no opposition, were passed.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he thought that the 2nd clause raised the question of the application of the measure to Ireland, and he must, therefore, persist in his objection to going on with the Bill.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, he would propose an addition to the clause which would probably meet the objection of the hon. Baronet. The clause was—"This Act shall not apply to Scotland or Ireland," and he proposed to add the words—"Except as is otherwise expressly provided by this Act."
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
urged that the President of the Local Government Board should put on the Paper his Amendments on the 7th clause.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he hoped that, before the right hon. Gentleman took the next step in this matter, lie would make some statement with reference to the charge which the abolition of the exemption of Government property would throw upon the annual Estimates.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, he had originally objected to Clause 2, because it did not make the Bill applicable to Scotland as far as the rating of Government property was concerned; but after the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that the Bill would be applied to Scotland to that extent, he Was perfectly satisfied.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 151; Noes 176: Majority 25.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 (Extent of Act).
§ MR. STANSFELD
proposed to introduce words to the effect that the Bill should not apply to Scotland or Ireland "except as is otherwise expressly provided by this Act."
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he believed there was a serious objection to the clause, and as it was impossible to discuss it in the few minutes that remained, he moved that Progress be reported.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Friday, at Two of the clock.751
§ And it being now twenty minutes to Seven of the Clock, the House suspended its Sitting.
§ House resumed its Sitting at Nine of the Clock.