§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, that although the measure had been twice before Parliament, and although, after he had introduced it at considerable length, it had received the sanction of the House so far as the debate which followed enabled him to judge, it had not as yet made any further progress. Although that was the case, however, the Bill had passed through a crucical ordeal. It had been considered and examined by the various local authorities throughout the country, and Amendments and points for consideration in 1495 connection with it had been suggested by those bodies. They had freely communicated with him on the subject, and he had received not only innumerable letters on the question, but also a large number of deputations. The result was a Bill which, he believed, approached very nearly to that which the most competent and experienced authorities believed to be a practical and effective measure of improvement and reform. The first object of the Bill was to secure a uniform system of valuation, instead of having property valued by three different authorities, as at present; and the second intention of the measure was to insure uniformity in the charge for the county rate, a step which, in his opinion, would pave the way for other administrative reforms. The Bill now before the House had also this to be said in support of it—that a similar measure had been in operation in the Metropolis for 10 years, and, on the whole, had proved remarkably successful. The necessity for some such reform as it proposed could not be denied, especially in view of the fact that the subventions paid out of the Exchequer for local purposes were growing larger year by year. The Government itself had a peculiar interest in the question, inasmuch as it was the largest ratepayer in the Kingdom, being assessed at something like £600,000 a-year. This Bill was not a root-and branch measure, but only one of a lengthened series of steps in the direction of improvement in this branch of the Public Service. It might be that in the opinion of some the whole of the present system should have been swept away and a fresh scheme devised. If the present system had appeared to be incapable of amendment, some fresh scheme might no doubt have been devised, but no such case had been made out. The Bill introduced no alarming innovation which the House need fear to sanction. The means by which the Government hoped to attain the object in view were two-fold. In the first place, they required the assessment committees to take into their consideration the Returns which were furnished to the Inland Revenue officers as a basis for the income and property tax, in order to secure an average uniformity. The Government believed the operation of that plan would be to secure uniformity in the assessment of the gross estimated rental on which the 1496 property tax was now to be charged. The Bill further provided, by a scale of deductions which would be found in the Schedule, a means by which uniformity would likewise be attained in regard to the rateable value column of the valuation list or rate book. They had the experience of a number of counties which had adopted the principle. In England no fewer than 17 counties absolutely relied on the property tax Returns to check and correct the totals arrived at by the overseers. On going into Committee he was met with four Amendments. He would say nothing now as to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell), which, if carried, would be fatal to the further progress of the Bill, because he was not yet aware on what arguments it was likely to be founded; and, moreover, after the support given to the measure of last year, he did not imagine that the Amendment would be pressed. Then there were the Amendments of his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), who repeated the Amendments placed, on the Paper last year in the name of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen), the effect of which was that the question of valuation should be postponed until after the County Board had been established. For his own part, he had always insisted on the importance of a Valuation Bill as the foundation of all other Local Government improvements. The other day, his hon. Friend assumed he would strike out the 25th clause, which had been designed to introduce the functions of a County Board. He had not, however, thought it right to expunge that clause, but he proposed an interim arrangement by the appointment, for the discharge of those duties, of a committee of magistrates. He should have been very willing to associate with that committee of magistrates the chairman or some other member of the various assessment committees; but he refrained from putting that proposal on the Paper, because he might be told that by so doing he would prejudge the future establishment of the County Board. He should, however, have had no such intention or wish. The Government believed that a great, although not a complete, approach towards uniformity would be achieved by the provisions as to county supervision as they now stood in the Bill. He felt satisfied 1497 that the passing of the measure would advance the object his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk had in view. He trusted the hon. Gentleman would be satisfied to assist in its further progress, and he thought the time would speedily arrive when the hon. Gentleman's views would admit of a more practical solution. He could say the same thing with regard to his right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. J. G. Hubbard). His right hon. Friend desired an improvement in the assessment to the income tax; but to adopt the Motion of his right hon. Friend at present would oblige the Chancellor of the Exchequer to part with property tax on £20,000,000. With all respect to his right hon. Friend, he must say he thought it unfair that a measure which had for its object the uniform valuation of the country should be hampered with a proposal relating to the incidence of the income tax, with which, primâ facie, it had nothing to do. An hon. Gentleman who represented the Scotch system of valuation (Mr. Ramsay) had also a proposal on the Paper to discharge the Order for Committee at present, and refer the matter to a Select Committee. He need not say that the Government would not for a moment entertain such a proposal, and they had some reason to complain that the hon. Member pressed his own measure before the House, having regard to the circumstances under which that measure was read a second time. A Morning Sitting had been devoted to it, and interesting speeches were made upon it; but he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had no opportunity of replying to them; while a subsequent opportunity was taken of bringing on the Bill between a quarter to 6 and 6 o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon. However desirable it might be to begin a system ab initio of county administration as it existed in Scotland, there were many fatal practical objections to the measure. When the hon. Member moved his Motion, he should have an opportunity of replying to it. The House was aware of the great and increasing difficulties which the Government had to encounter in passing through Parliament a measure of extreme detail which was not of such a character as to excite a strong feeling in the country. The experience of the last three years had shown how a measure of 1498 this kind, which he really believed to be approved, in the main, by all the local authorities in the Kingdom—men who were the most conversant with the subject, the most interested in the matter, and who would have to put the law into operation—had been defeated; and he thought that his right hon. and hon. Friends who were here to-day would best consult the objects they had at heart, as well as the wishes of the country, by assisting the Government to go into Committee and shape a satisfactory measure. He merely wished to introduce by this Bill those amendments which were required in the law of rateable property, and to remove the absurdities which now prevailed of assessing the value of the same house and the same acre of land at three different figures for taxing purposes. It was with the hope that they should this day make some progress in passing the clauses of a Bill which was intended to remove such absurdities that he now begged to move that the Speaker do leave the Chair.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Sclater-Booth.)
MR. B. T. WILLIAMS
said, he wished to make a few observations which had struck him on reading the clauses of the Bill. The assessment committees, as far as his experience went, were composed of the men best able to form a correct valuation of the property in their neighbourhood. On the assessment committees with which he was connected were landed proprietors, land agents, colliery proprietors, and colliery engineers. Assessment committees composed of such men were the most likely to arrive at a correct valuation of the property with which they were immediately acquainted. The error of the Bill consisted in this, that it did not give due weight to the conclusions which might be arrived at by the assessment committees. The Bill subjected the deliberate decision of the assessment committees to the most complex and multifarious mode of correction and appeal. Even the committee itself was to be compelled by the provisions of the Bill to state a case for the opinion of the High Court of Justice. In addition, there was an appeal to the petty ses- 1499 sions, an appeal to the quarter sessions, and an appeal to the special petty sessions and quarter sessions, and the quarter sessions also had power to state a case for the High Court of Justice. Further, the decision of the assessment committee would be subject to supervision by the County Board, or it might be, as the right hon. Gentleman had intimated, by a committee of the quarter sessions. He could understand an appeal from the overseers of the parish to the petty sessions; but when they had the most competent men that could be appointed, what was the object of appealing from a body of special aptitude to the petty sessions? It was nothing more than an appeal from a superior to an inferior tribunal. The Bill further enabled a party before the assessment committee to make that committee state a special case for the decision of the High Court of Justice. There were great difficulties connected with a special case. What did it mean? He knew nothing that was attended with so much delay and expense to parties as stating their special case. When stated, it was entered in the Court List, and a year or 18 months might expire before it came on to be argued. It was not desirable, at this early stage, to complicate the proceedings by giving parties the opportunity of at once taking their argument and difficulties to Westminster Hall. The proper course would be to abolish entirely appeals to petty sessions and also abolish the power of the assessment committee to state a case for the High Court of Justice. In old times the appeal to the court of quarter sessions worked very well; but, the assessment committee once established, he did not think the few magistrates at quarter sessions who remained to hear appeals formed the best tribunal for overruling the decisions of the assessment committee, and he thought some new body ought to be established for that purpose. They had now a suggestion from the right hon. Gentleman of a committee of the court of quarter sessions to consider the valuation arrived at by the assessment committee. What could be the object of the right hon. Gentleman in appointing a committee of quarter sessions to act independently of quarter sessions, although forming part of the court? It was altogether a most in- 1500 congruous and impracticable proposal. The right hon. Gentleman was in difficulty in dealing with this question because the County Government Bill, which was the basis of this Bill, had been taken away. Hopes had been held out of a County Government Bill, and there was a growing desire in the country to have some scheme to enable counties to select for the management of their business those who might appear competent; but he feared there was now little hope of a County Government Bill being passed this Session. He would therefore suggest that it would be much better to postpone the consideration of the present Bill until the whole subject could be dealt with in the shape of a comprehensive measure, of which this could only be considered a portion; and he should therefore support the Amendment of which Notice had been given by the hon. Member for South Norfolk.
§ MR. CLARE READ,
in rising to move the following Amendment:—That no re-adjustment of the system of assessment will be complete or satisfactory to ratepayers until a representative County Board is established, with power of hearing appeals on questions of value, and for securing uniformity of assessment,said, he so entirely agreed with what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. B. T. Williams), that he thought he might second the Amendment of which he had given Notice. He could not help thinking the conduct of the Government in regard to this Bill had been somewhat peculiar. It was ordered to be printed on the 28th of January, and it was not delivered to hon. Members till the 11th of May; consequently, his right hon. Friend had been 15 weeks in perfecting this Bill. Although read a second time, the Bill was really considered dead and buried till the other day, when intimation was given of the withdrawal of the County Government Bill. His right hon. Friend said this Bill had been before the country for years, but the fact was it had not been before the country at all. No meeting, and, as far as he was aware, not a single Chamber of Agriculture, had had the opportunity of considering it in its present form or discussing the Amendments which had been placed on the Paper. In pressing forward this measure, the Government 1501 had departed from the principle of the Resolution passed last year in favour of the establishment of County Boards. It was obvious that legislation on the subject of county government should precede any settlement of the question of valuation; but, in spite of that, the Government persisted in putting the cart before the horse; and if this and other kindred Bills were passed, the ratepayers would have to wait a long time before obtaining that system of county government which they so greatly desired to see established. If the Government had sufficient time at their disposal, they had no right to abandon the County Government Bill. If they had not sufficient time to proceed with it, they ought not to fritter away their time in proceeding with a small measure like this, but to have proceeded with the Cattle Diseases Bill. They had been told that this Bill was the same as that brought forward some years ago. He thought it was the same principle as the Bill introduced by Mr. Hunt in 1868. It was no Government Bill at all. It was a Local Government Board special scheme. His right hon. Friend had renewed his argument in favour of the Bill by saying that Government subventions required a new arrangement of assessments. He could not understand that argument, because the Government subventions for the police and lunatics did not depend on assessment at all. He had wondered very much that hon. Gentlemen opposite did not oppose this Bill because of its centralizing tendencies. They objected to the Prisons Bill, under which the Government reduced the authority of the local magistrates to a nullity. They objected to that; but they had never said a word here, when the Government were introducing into every assessment committee in the Kingdom one of their own paid officials—the surveyor of taxes. He was not aware that there was any excuse for the State meddling in this matter. He always thought it was the duty of the locality to see that the rates were levied fairly, not to look after taxes. He always fancied that the matter of taxes was a duty between the individual taxpayer and the State; but now they were going to assist the State to levy the taxes, and the State was going to assist them in assessing the rates. That union might be productive of great good, but he very 1502 much questioned it. The locality, like the wife, would be the weaker vessel, and the State, the stronger vessel, would very likely say to the locality—"What is yours is mine, and what is mine is my own." He contended that the scheme, as it was proposed, would inflict considerable hardship upon the owners of property. He knew it was said that taking rent as the basis was good for Scotland, but that it was not good for England? and some hon. Members had said that there were a great many cheap rents in England. He would like to know where they were to be found. Where was there most land unlet at the present moment in Scotland and England? Where did the greatest distress exist, and where was the profit made in the last 20 years? He held that the greatest profit was made by the Scotch farmer, rather than in England. When the Scotch farmer paid his rent, he paid the most of his outgoings at the same time. He had no tithes, and very few rates. But in England, where a man paid £1 an acre for arable land, he had 10s. or 12s. more to pay in tithes, &c. It was proposed that rent should be no longer the minimum; but if they had a surveyor of taxes, then the rent must be the minimum of assessment. If rent were adopted as the basis of rating, there would be few appeals, and there would not be any great necessity for the Amendment of which he had given Notice. Rent was a fact against which they could not appeal, although they might multiply appeals against opinions as to value. Let rent be accepted, and then if a man went before the assessment committee and said—"My rent is 30s. an acre, but I do not think it ought to be assessed at more than 20s," the committee would say—"As a fact you do pay 30s., and that must be your assessment." It was stated in the debate on the second reading of the Scotch Valuation Bill, that there had been only 122 appeals since rent was made the basis of assessment; but in England appeals were being multiplied by hundreds and thousands. Take rent as the basis, and appeals would be simplified and reduced in number. According to the Bill, there would be first of all the assessment committee, then the petty sessions, then the quarter sessions, and then the Courts of Law; but that was a roundabout way 1503 of getting justice, and would compel the majority of poor ratepayers to put up with any inequality. He would say that, if County Boards should come into existence, the only question to be entertained by a County Board should be one of value, and points of law should go direct to the High Court of Justice. Of course, a County Board would also enforce a uniform system of deductions. It was said that, if his Amendment were adopted, it would stop the Bill; but he did not think so at all. Though he was not in favour of it, he did not wish to stop it if there was a desire to pass it; and he should be quite content, for the present, with the suggested Amendments of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) for a temporary County Valuation Board power, the chairmen or members of the different assessment committees. Too much power was still left to the surveyor of taxes, who must be a perpetual screw-jack, putting all up to a higher level, but never putting anyone down; and, possibly, doing injustice to many because some man chose to pay more for property than it was worth. There was, of course, ample opportunity for a cantankerous and litigious man to cause appeals to be made against every assessment in a county. There was no very urgent necessity for the Bill, which had been before the House for 10 or 12 years, and the assessment committees were doing their work fairly well, although the law left them too much discretion; but give them the principle of rent to go on, and then they would do their work better. It was boasted that the Government had abstained from harassing and annoying classes and individuals; but this Bill would harass every assessment committee in the Kingdom. The Bill would really settle nothing; it would only be a temporary measure if it ever came into force; and it would be impossible to work it with that zest which was essential to good administration. It must be unpopular, because everyone whose assessment was raised would immediately say it was done by the surveyor of taxes, who was acting for the Government. The chief effect of the Bill would be to extract possibly more rates, and certainly more taxes, from the owners and occupiers of real property, without giving the slightest addi- 1504 tional advantage or satisfaction in the county districts. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no re-adjustment of the system of assessment will be complete or satisfactory to ratepayers until a representative County Board is established, with power of hearing appeals on questions of value, and for securing uniformity of assessment,"—(Mr. Clare Read,) —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. EVANS
said, it had been his fate to sit on the hearing of many appeals, and never was any work so unsatisfactory to him. Whatever attention men of ordinary intelligence might give to the appeals, it was impossible to come to satisfactory conclusions. He had been sometimes inclined to say that as good a result might have been obtained by the tossing of a halfpenny; he therefore hoped there would be no increase in the number of appeals, unless a plan were devised of deciding them in a more satisfactory manner. He was much impressed with what had fallen from the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), that the effect of this Bill would be to stave off legislation on the question of local government. The County Government Bill seemed to him to be a good one, and he should greatly regret if the passing of the Bill now before the House should have the effect of preventing a measure based on the principle of the County Government Bill becoming law. His own constituents had strong feelings in favour of such a measure, and were beginning to think the subject had been trifled with by successive Governments. He had no great objection to this Bill in itself, but he held that rental was the proper basis of value. There might have to be occasional exceptions, but rent would furnish the only satisfactory basis of value, for rent was a fact, while value was only an opinion.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, that under the circumstances he did not intend to move his Amendment, believing it would be more convenient to discuss that of the 1505 hon. Member for South Norfolk. He expressed his surprise that the Government should have taken the second reading of the Bill the day before the adjournment for the Whitsuntide Holidays, when the House had no expectation that the Bill would be proceeded with until some progress had been made with the County Government Bill. To the hon. Member for South Norfolk they were much indebted for the attention he had given to county government, and the influence which had induced the Government to give shape to the question; and, with the hon. Gentleman, he agreed that the Bill would have the effect of staving off the question of the establishment of County Boards. As an Irish Member, he felt great interest in the establishment of county government in England. Such might seem an extraordinary statement; but, as a matter of fact, if England suffered from the inperfection of its county government, Ireland suffered ten times as much. Both sides of the House agreed in the necessity of improvement in England; how much more desirable, then, must it be in Ireland? A Bill on such a subject should be as simple and workable as possible; and it might be well to direct attention to the Irish system, not with a view of adopting a similar system—for that was vicious, based as it was on a complete centralization—but the question of appeal was in Ireland very much simpler than the proposition made by the Bill. In Ireland there was a valuation of the whole country made by a central board of valuers at Dublin, a Government body, which sent out valuers all over the country. Yet, with this central board of superintendence, he doubted very much if there were more uniformity than in England. The English system proceeded on different lines and by a different method—that of assessment by local authorities, with appeals; and the system of appeals proposed by the Bill he could not but regard as a most vicious one. First, there was the appeal from the surveyor to the assessment committee. Practically that was so, for the committee reviewed the lists furnished by the officer. From the committee there was an appeal to the petty sessions, and those petty sessions were composed partly of the same men sitting on the assessment committee. This was a mixed and muddled system, scarcely worthy of the 1506 genius and ability of the President of the Local Government Board. After this appeal to the petty sessions there was an appeal to quarter sessions, and thence to the County Government Board. But the County Government Bill had dropped still-born, and instead there was substituted a committee of quarter sessions. That was how the matter would work, and the Bill might well be described as a County Government Bill in disguise. The right hon. Gentleman found himself unable to deal with county government, although he brought in a Bill with that object, together with two subsidiary measures—the Valuation and the Highways Bills. Then he dropped the first, making such alterations in the two latter ones as would enable them to take its place, and he (Mr. Parnell) feared they would have to wait many a long day for any alteration in the present county government from the present Government. If the hon. Member (Mr. Clare Read) went to a division, he should support him.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
thought that his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had suffered from not having a seat in the Cabinet. His Bills had been put very much on one side, and a measure which might have had a chance of passing—the County Government Bill—had been absolutely shelved. The present Bill, as he had stated the other night, was an important one, far more important, perhaps, than even his right hon. Friend himself had thought it. It touched everybody in the Kingdom, from the poorest ratepayer to the highest in the land, and it ought to attract the greatest attention from all who were interested in the assessment of this country. They were bound to see that every measure they passed on the subject was a just and even one. If the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) was carried, the Bill, of course, would be lost. It would, as they perfectly well knew, be impossible for his right hon. Friend to frame any measure, to be passed this year, which would establish a real, permanent, and lasting County Board. Therefore, they had to consider what they were to do with regard to the Bill. The Contagious Diseases (Animals) Bill took the first place in the estimation of a large number of Members. But there was 1507 another Bill which ought to have the precedence of the presentone, and which ought to be passed—namely, the Highways Bill; and if they dealt with this measure, he doubted whether they would be able to deal with the Highways Bill. Although he would not say that in every possible case rent should be their guiding star in respect to assessment, yet, as a general rule, the criterion of rent ought to be followed. Looking broadly at the question, it ought to be more definitely laid down that, except in peculiar circumstances, rent should be taken as the basis of assessment, and then they might hope to get rid of the hundreds and thousands of appeals of which the hon. Member for South Norfolk had spoken. What had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. B. T. Williams) went a long way in the direction of the truth. The petty sessions, as a court of appeal, was not the best that could be devised, but it was inexpensive. The quarter sessions was not a bad court of appeal, because there they had men who would carefully go into the circumstances of each case. If, however, they could obtain such a County Board as would have the confidence of the ratepayers, and also of the owners of property, that might form a satisfactory court of appeal, and there would not be the same necessity for any further appellate tribunal for such matters. If a Bill of this kind were to be passed, it ought to be fair between class and class, between the ratepayers of one parish and the ratepayers of another, between one Union and another in a county, so that the different charges thrown over a county should not be 25 per cent less in one part than in another. He was sure that a really good County Board would take care that no injustice should be done between one Union and another Union. Looking at the whole case, and at the position in which his right hon. Friend had been placed, he ventured to hope that the Bill would be allowed to proceed; because, looking at the balance of one thing with another, he believed there was a great deal of good in this Bill. He hoped if the Bill became law, it would last for many years. There was nothing in it which would prevent a County Board being hereafter appointed, and he should vote for the Bill going into Committee.
§ MR. RAMSAY
said, that in addressing the House last year he had pointed out that the Bill was very cumbrous for the purpose for which it was intended, and not likely to secure that uniform valuation throughout Great Britain, which he thought should be secured by any measure the House might pass on this subject. The complicated nature of the arrangements contained in the Bill appeared to him an insuperable objection to it, if there were no other. But the right hon. Gentleman himself had pointed out that there was no great reason why the Bill should pass at all, because he had told them that in two-fifths of the counties of England perfection and uniformity of valuation were already secured.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
I said that the county rates in 17 of the counties were satisfactory; but it does not at all follow that the Union rates are satisfactory in the same counties.
§ MR. RAMSAY
said, it was undoubted that inequality still existed in the different Unions, owing to the various modes of assessment, and there could be no marvel at that being the case under the Bill. As it stood, the overseers were enjoined, in the first place, to make up valuation lists without any definite rule being prescribed for the determination of value. These lists they were to send to the surveyor of taxes, who, after revising and signing them, sent them to the assessment committees. These committees had power to make such changes on these lists as they deemed fit. After finally approving of the lists, they were to refer them to the county authorities. The decisions of the assessment committee or the justices in petty or quarter sessions might be appealed against to the High Court of Justice. He did not disapprove of the appeal on points of law to this court; but why all this other machinery to attain what might very simply be attained by taking the real rent as the basis of valuation? On a previous occasion the right hon. Gentleman had told him that the Bill did provide for something like the real rent being taken. In the definition of the gross value which was given in the Bill, it was said it should mean the actual rent which the tenant might be reasonably expected to pay, taking one year with another; but not that the rent that the tenant actually paid should be taken. In his (Mr. Ramsay's) Bill, 1509 on the contrary, it was said, where lands and hereditaments were in good faith let for a yearly rent, without payment or consideration of any kind other than the rent, such rent should be taken and deemed to be the yearly rent and annual value of such land or hereditaments. If the right hon. Gentleman would agree to accept this definition, as an instruction to the overseers and assessment committee as contained in his (Mr. Ramsay's) Bill, it would be a very considerable improvement in the principle of the Government Bill. The great diversity produced by the action of the assessment committees of the various Unions was a cause of just complaint. It afforded no basis for Imperial valuation, as it was admitted that the valuation of the local authorities did not apply except in cases where the surveyor of taxes had approved of the valuation list. The right hon. Gentleman had shown the House that there was not much reason for his own Bill being pressed forward. If the right hon. Gentleman would agree to remit it to a Select Committee, he (Mr. Ramsay) would be glad hereafter to move to remit his Bill also, that such Committee might frame a measure consolidating the two, and thus produce a Bill, the provisions of which would operate uniformly throughout Great Britain. There might, then, be some chance of getting a satisfactory valuation list which might endure under the County Government Bill when it hereafter became law. But there was another objection he had to the provisions of the Bill, irrespective of the numerous steps it rendered necessary in framing a valuation list, and that was the duration of the list when once it had been framed. Why should the list endure for five years in England, and be annual in Scotland? He had formerly shown that a quinquennial list would not be satisfactory, and might be unjust. Instead, therefore, of only making up a supplementary list, the whole valuation list should be made up anew every year, as was done in Scotland. He could not see any good reason why the right hon. Gentleman should refuse to have this done. Although it was not incumbent upon the Inland Revenue Department in Scotland to accept the valuation roll, except in the case where the surveyor of taxes acted as assessor, he was aware of no case where that valuation roll was not 1510 accepted for the Imperial taxes, That being so, why adopt a cumbrous and complicated system in England, and so perpetuate the diversity of practice between it and Scotland—a diversity which was wholly useless to the community? The right hon. Gentleman had made a complaint of the action he (Mr. Ramsay) took in asking the House to read his Bill a second time. He was surprised to hear him do so after what had occurred with his own Bill. Anything more unreasonable than that complaint he never listened to in that House. He only took the second reading of his Bill some weeks after it had been discussed in the House, and it was months after that before the right hon. Gentleman submitted the Government Bill to the House. Considering the action of the right hon. Gentleman himself, such a complaint came with a very bad grace from him. His (Mr. Ramsay's) Bill would produce uniformity of valuation; that of the right hon. Gentleman would not. The assessments, whether local or Imperial, ought not to be based on the theories of any man, however skilful or competent, but on the basis of facts. He had never heard a complaint in Scotland of the system of assessment, which took the rent paid as the sole criterion of value. On the contrary, the system had given satisfaction to all concerned, and very little trouble to the local authorities or the Department of Inland Revenue. Considering the long delay there had been in bringing this Bill forward, he thought no harm, but much good would result from referring it, along with his own, to a Select Committee. They might then hope to have a uniform system of valuation established.
§ MR. RODWELL
thought it would be a matter for great regret if a Bill which was of such importance, and for which the public had so long anxiously waited, should be rejected. The hon. Member for South Norfolk had urged strong objections against the Bill, but they were surely not insuperable. Were the President of the Local Government Board only to meet those objections, so to speak, half-way, no very great difficulty need be experienced in passing the measure. He admitted that the word "appeal," as used in the Bill, was unfortunate. What was wanted in these cases was uniformity and regularity, 1511 The powers of dealing with cases that were given to the assessment committees were entirely different from those vested in a court of law, whose decisions were based upon the rules of evidence. The suggestion he would put forward was one to which effect might be given in the present Bill. A Board might be selected composed of members from each assessment committee, who would then be able to compare the different valuation lists when any difficulty, objection, or appeal arose, and deal with it precisely as the assessment committee did now. He did not see why a body should not be thus constituted somewhat analogous to the Scotch Commissioners of Supply, the decisions of which would give satisfaction. As the Bill could easily be made to contain a provision of that kind, he trusted it would be allowed to go into Committee.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
expressed his surprise at the sudden prominence given to this Bill, compared with the little respect shown to the County Board Bill, which had been abandoned on the very threshold of Committee. He complained of the manner in which the Treasury Bench had treated the House in the management and conduct of the Bill. He had a right to express his surprise that so important a measure had been set down for Committee at so late a period as the 14th of June, after having been taken through its second reading when discussion of its principle had been impossible. The Government had had ample opportunity of dealing with the whole question relating to county administration, and of deciding which scheme they should take up first. After consideration, they deliberately came to the conclusion that the County Boards Bill should be the first to be considered. That measure passed its second reading, and nearly reached the stage of Committee. Having achieved that much, however, the Government suddenly changed its mind, and withdrew the County Boards Bill, and were now endeavouring, after its second reading had been taken unexpectedly, and in a thin House, to get the Valuation Bill into Committee. Such a course of procedure was not, in his opinion, the best means for expediting Public Business, and against it he desired to enter his protest. They had heard a good deal about obstruction; 1512 but there were others, besides private Members, who might obstruct Public Business by the course they pursued. The fact that Her Majesty's Government carried forward two or three Bills, and then unexpectedly proposed to proceed with another measure in their place, was an encouragement to hon. Members who had not had time to consider the Bill to cause practical obstruction, in order to have its principle discussed. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) had asked the pertinent question whether the Cattle Diseases Bill ought not to be pushed forward rather than the County Boards Bill? and the answer he received was that the Valuation Bill would take precedence of either. But, surely, to carry two or three Bills up to a certain point, and then to drop them for a great length of time, and afterwards to carry on the last of them, was to obstruct Business; and it was certainly obstruction to bring forward, at this period of the Session, a Bill which must be discussed at great length before it could be possibly passed into law. He wanted to know what the real policy of the Government was with respect to these measures in relation to county administration? A County Board Bill had been brought forward which diminished, to some extent, the powers of the magistrates of counties. That Bill was suddenly thrown aside, and here was another Bill which increased these powers.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
said, that the powers were, if not actually increased, at least stereotyped and strengthened. It appeared to him that, in diminishing the powers of the magistracy, the Government found they had given offence to their quarter-sessions' friends throughout the country. The real truth was, that there had been no actual complaint of the way in which the affairs of the country had been administered by the magistrates; but there had been complaints against the existing system founded upon the principle that representation and taxation ought to go together. What did they really mean to do? He believed the Government had found themselves in this difficulty—that in proposing to deal with this principle of representation, 1513 they had offended those from whom they would necessarily take away some power. He trusted they would hear from Her Majesty's Government whether they meant to persevere with the County Boards Bill, or to adopt that kind of County Boards Bill which had been suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, who, in fact, desired that, under the mask of the present Bill, a County Board Bill should be earned by means of a clause incorporated with it. But let him (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) call attention to the contrast between the manner in which the late and the present Government dealt with these questions of county government. The late Government, whatever fault might be found with the measure they brought in, came forward with relief in one hand and reform in the other—that was to say, they proposed that the relief should be obtained by means of the reform. But the present Government had first given relief by subsidies from the public purse; and now, by giving an improved system of valuation and other things as improvements, they were practically and gradually taking away the levers by which county reform could be obtained, and striving to weaken the demand for that reform. He would not enter into the details of the Bill before the House, but this he would say—that his right hon. Friend had no reason to complain of the discussion which had occurred, and which he regarded as a valuable one. If the hon. Member for South Norfolk went to a division, he would receive support from that side of the House, not because they desired to delay the Bill, but because they did not like to see one Bill substituted for another. For his part, he did not believe in the permanence of any of these Bills, unless they had a good Governing Body established. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth) would tell them whether Government were satisfied with the existing powers of the magistracy, and did not believe that a County Board was necessary, or whether they would be content to take that kind of County Board which his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Rodwell) proposed to engraft upon their Bill. It had been said to-day that actual rent, and not probable letting value, ought to be the basis of a rate. He had to enter his protest against that idea. Rent was an accident; it 1514 depended upon an arrangement between man and man, and was an excellent guide for the determination of a rate, but it ought not to be the basis. As to the formation of a County Board, no Board could be satisfactory until the wishes of the country were previously ascertained. If a representative board was wanted, no half-and-half Board would do, bringing the magistrates into quasi-antagonism with the elective element; but if the whole Board were elected, then there would be a fairly representative Board. This, however, was a point of far too great importance to be taken on the mere clauses of a Valuation Bill. The Government were trying to weaken the demand for representation in county affairs; but he warned his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk that, in supporting the Government subsidies and the Government measures of improving the valuation, he would fail to obtain the representation in counties of which he was so strenuous an advocate. The country would have waited patiently till next year for the Valuation Bill, while had the Highways Bill taken its place and been passed, it would have redressed an admitted grievance. No opportunity had been given for considering the Amendments to this Bill, and looking to the time of the Session at which they had arrived, he thought the right hon. Gentleman would make a graceful concession by referring the Bill to a Select Committee. He certainly would give his vote against the Speaker leaving the Chair.
§ MR. PELL
could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down as to the preferable policy of the late Government upon this question, and the relief from taxation which their measure held out. Under the course pursued by the present Government the ratepayer had obtained material relief, and there was still some promise of reform in administration. However he thought the conduct of the Government just now savoured of sharp practice, which he could hardly have thought his right hon. Friend would have resorted to. But the County Government Bill had received a second reading, and he supposed they must not cry over spilt milk. He hoped his right hon. Friend would tell them how the Bill had got into its present position. He understood 1515 the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state recently, in answer to a question, that, as regarded English measures, preference should be given to the County Government Bill; but, subsequent to that statement, it appeared that there were almost insuperable difficulties in the way of passing the County Government Bill, and that there was a better opportunity of passing the Cattle Bill; it was, therefore, put in the front, and the County Government Bill would be placed behind it. Well, that was a change in the arrangement of the feast, and the House was now asked to eat the side dishes before they had partaken of the joint. How had that come about? The Premier was on the other side of the water, and it was possible that the arrangement of Public Business depended on obedience to that law which regulated the survival of the fittest. He hoped his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk would not divide upon his Motion; but if the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Ramsay) should divide, he would go into the Lobby with him, as he thought his Bill was a very good one. He had supported his Bill when it was introduced, and it embodied a very important principle—namely, the adoption of rent as a measure of valuation. A great deal had been said which was complimentary to the action of the assessment committees. For his part, he could not express unqualified satisfaction as to the way in which the assessment committees had discharged their duties. He approved the introduction by the Government of the surveyor of taxes, armed, as he was, with considerable powers. He would be a very useful officer, provided there was something in the Bill to regulate and control him—namely, rent as a measure of valuation. Rent, after all, was the measure of valuation in the Metropolis; and, as far as his experience went in London, the Metropolitan Valuation Act had worked satisfactorily. When occasion had been given for appeals by the assessments being put up, as they were in some districts, it was discovered on inquiry that it was not the surveyor of taxes but members of the assessment committee who had done so. He believed, on the whole, that rent represented as nearly as possible the value of hereditaments. Of course, they could not legislate for exceptions. It was said the assessment of cottages would be raised above the rent, 1516 but the truth was that cottages let at a low rent generally implied that the labourer worked for very moderate wages. He received a portion of his earnings in money and another portion in the low rent of his house. Thus, a cottage let to an agricultural labourer who was in the employment of the owner at £4, when occupied by a plate-layer fetched a rent of £7. But even that disparity would be preferable to leaving the assessment committee conjecturally to decide gross value. There was one omission in the Bill which he hoped would be supplied, and that was a provision for the valuation of railway property, which he should like to see dealt with by means of some such proposal as that which was contained in the Scotch Act. It was also desirable to consider whether it was not possible to make the valuation conclusion with regard to franchise, and thereby relieve the revising barrister of a great deal of trouble in matters relating to value that came under his notice. He also hoped the clauses would be withdrawn which empowered courts of special sessions to hear appeals.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he did not rise to enter into the question of the merits of the Bill. He merely desired to say a few words as to the position in which it had been placed. The Valuation Bill and the Highways Bill, though not identical in terms, were in principle the same. They had been introduced by the Government in previous Sessions, and had been, to a certain extent, not only discussed, but approved, by the House. At the commencement of the present Session they proposed to undertake a new group of Bills—one for the introduction of a new system of county government, and in connection with it a Highways Bill and a Valuation Bill, adapted to the altered circumstances which would arise if the County Government Bill were passed. They accordingly began by proceeding with the last-named measure; but, of course, they had always intended, and, indeed, considered it essential, that the three Bills should be carried on and passed together. They had shown by the precedence which they had in former years given to the Highways Bill and the Valuation Bill, what importance they attached to those measures in themselves, and they certainly never contemplated 1517 that the County Government Bill should override or do away with their passing into law. Well, the County Government Bill had up to a certain point been proceeded with, and had not the course of the discussion upon going into Committee upon it taken an unexpected turn, the Government would have carried out the programme with which they started. But, in consequence of that and the large share of the attention of the House which had been taken up by other Business, they found themselves thrown to a very late period of the Session in the progress which ought to have been made with the County Government Bill. That being the case, they had to consider what would be the proper and most convenient arrangement to make. Time failed them, and they could not but see that the measure involved a great matter for discussion, and questions of considerable importance and novelty which it would take some time to deal with. Then, there was the Cattle Bill, and other measures, pressing for consideration, and the question arose, how far it was possible to get through the whole of the work before them? After carefully considering the matter, he felt bound to say, and believed it was the opinion of those who took an interest in the County Government Bill, that the best way of proceeding, and the best chance for obtaining time for the discussion of the other Bills, especially the Cattle Bill, was to put off the further discussion of the County Government Bill—at all events, for the present; but he stated at the same time that, of course, the Highways and the Valuation Bills, which were part of the original scheme, would be proceeded with. The Government had endeavoured to go upon those lines. The Highways Bill was at once committed pro formâ and certain Amendments were introduced, and they had brought the Valuation Bill forward so as to get a discussion upon the Bill on going into Committee. If they were so fortunate as to advance that stage, they would be able to further proceed with it that Session. He also hoped that yet they would be able to proceed with the Highways Bill, and be also able to make such progress with this Bill as would allow them to proceed with them all, and the Cattle Bill. For himself, if the House supported the Government, he saw not the slightest difficulty in pro- 1518 ceding with them, and being able to discuss them in a satisfactory manner. He hoped, therefore, they would be allowed to get into Committee on the understanding that no clause would be pressed in which any complicated Amendments were proposed. There would be plenty of time for hon. Gentlemen to give Notice of any Amendments which they might wish to bring forward; but it was most desirable that time should not be lost in allowing the Speaker to leave the Chair, and that the House on future occasions should set itself to work to pass a measure which was generally recognized as being of great importance, and which he hoped they would be able to deal with satisfactorily, due allowance being made for the other Business which had to be disposed of.
MR. J. COWEN
expressed his concurrence with the view which was taken by the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) with respect to the County Government Bill. There could be no doubt that the entire system of county management stood in need of reformation, and that speedily; but the Bill of the Government dealing with the subject had failed because of its feebleness. For practical purposes, the Bill might be considered dead this Session. Well, then, was it necessary to proceed with the Bill before the House? The right hon. Gentleman said that it was only a tentative measure—a consolidation measure—and that it would not prevent the carrying out of that county government organization which all wished to see established. The hon. Member for South Norfolk thought the Bill was intended for taking money out of the pockets of the people; but it was probably more for the purpose of seeing how much money was in them. Clearly, a Valuation Bill ought to follow a County Government Bill, as dealing with a part of the system of county organization which would be necessary. But then he thought it possible to pass this Bill without preventing that county re-arrangement which was so desisable. The hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) had objected to the Bill on the ground that it contained no proper provision for the valuation of railways. Neither did it contain any proper provision for the valuation of mines. He objected to one point of the Bill for the way in which it dealt with the overseer— 1519 to his mind a most objectionable parish officer—who was partly elected by the ratepayers and partly appointed by the magistrates. The overseer had very important duties to perform. He prepared the list of voters, and his appointment in the North often gave rise to popular excitement and parochial disputes. These overseers came into existence in the dark days of Tudor rule; and if the right hon. Gentleman could see his way to get rid of these officials, he would do a great public service. He agreed also with what had been said by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire about surveyors of taxes, and he was surprised that greater objection was not made to them. They were very like those farmers of taxes, of which they had heard so much in the East of Europe. Their object was to get the largest possible amount of taxes out of the people; and the reason was that if they could increase the amount of taxes in their districts, they received preferment. It was an objectionable thing to import these men into the management of local affairs.
§ MR. FLOYER
said, he could not quite agree with the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, that the overseer ought to disappear from the face of the country. He had great respect for old-established customs and officers who had served their country for a long time, and he was not disposed to accede to the modern view that no service was good unless it was paid for. If there were persons who thought it right to perform public duties without salary, he trusted there was a sufficiently strong opinion in the country to support them. But the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) was a little difficult to please, because he objected to the overseer being appointed by the local authorities. The hon. Gentleman had said that the overseer was first nominated by the ratepayers, and then appointed by the local magistrates. Evidently he was altogether a local officer. The hon. Gentleman objected equally to the surveyor of taxes, because he was appointed by the Government. But if they were to have officers, they must be appointed by somebody; and if they were not to be appointed by the local authorities or by the Government, by whom were they to be appointed? He only hoped that it was not by Parliament. With respect 1520 to the Amendment, the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) suggested that, instead of appeals upon questions of value being brought before quarter sessions, they should be referred to the county authority, whatever it might be. The hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) advocated the same view, on the ground that a County Government Board could deal so well with different matters of principle applied to valuation. But his right hon. Friend would give to the County Board, whenever it might be established, and to the temporary authority that would be appointed by the Bill, precisely the same power that would be given to that body. The hon. Member for South Norfolk wished that the county authority should supersede the quarter sessions altogether. It might be desirable to do so, and to get rid of the appeal to the court of quarter sessions; but if it were, let them see what they were about, and that the county government, when established, should be able to deal with matters of appeal. The hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire thought it desirable that the authority to which appeal should be made should be of the same character as the assessment committee, the body from which the appeal was made. But the advantage of the appeal being made to the court of quarter sessions was, that it was a different body and dealt with the question in a different manner. The question was, whether the mode of procedure before the court of quarter sessions was not better calculated to bring out the true value of the different properties than that of a body like the assessment committee? The advantage of quarter sessions consisted not so much in the persons who presided over them as it did in the means at their disposal for getting at the facts and realities of the case. They had the assistance of gentlemen learned in the law, who were accustomed to deal with evidence and to present facts in a clear manner to those with whom the decision rested. The proposed new tribunal would be unable, as a general rule, to have the assistance of gentlemen of the Legal Profession. These were some of the reasons which induced him to think that the House ought to hesitate before it adopted the proposition of his hon. Friend the Member 1521 for South Norfolk. One body possessed the means of coming to a good decision, while the other would have to act on its own unassisted knowledge. Therefore, he thought there were grounds for believing that the old tribunal, with its old mode of procedure, might possibly be the best. When his right hon. Friend introduced his first Bill on this subject, the surveyor of taxes occupied a much more powerful position than he did under the present measure. It was formerly proposed that his fiat should be absolute. He objected to this at the time, but he did not think that the power proposed to be given by the present Bill to the surveyor of taxes was in the same sense objectionable. He believed the advice which the surveyor would give to the assessment committee would be of very great value. It was essential to the good working of the assessment committees that they should be the supreme authority, and he understood that would be the effect of the provisions of the present Bill. It was idle to expect that men in the position of the great tenantry of this country, whose occupations were most important to themselves, would take the trouble of working the assessment committees unless they were constituted the controlling authority in such matters. He could not agree with those who looked upon rent as an absolute criterion of value. Of course, he admitted that rent was a most important element in the question; but the criterion was the reasonable amount for which the land would rightly be expected to let one year with another; and he thought that where the sum appeared too high or too low, it should be competent for the assessment committee to adjust the difference. If the hon. Member for South Norfolk took a division, he should be obliged to vote against him. He hoped, however, that the House would be allowed to go into Committee without further delay, and that the Bill would be passed into law during the present Session.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
desired to call attention to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and to the general position in which the House stood at that moment with regard to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had not attempted to deal with the arguments brought forward by the hon. and learned Member 1522 for Carmarthen (Mr. B. T. Williams), or with the main argument urged by the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read)—namely, the argument of substance as contrasted with the argument of time. The argument of substance was, that if they were going to create a new Body, either in the next or some future Session, with reference to county government, it was unwise now to pass a Bill imposing new duties upon a Body which would be so shortly superseded. It appeared to him that the hon. Member for South Norfolk had argued this question in a perfectly unanswerable manner; for he had shown conclusively that, with these new duties, such a Body would not carry energy or zest into their work, as they would feel they were made a mere stop-gap, and that their powers would soon be taken away from them by a new Act of Parliament. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had not alluded to that part of the argument at all. The right hon. Gentleman had defended himself simply on the question of time and the order of the Bills. Why had not the right hon. Gentleman paid the hon. Member the compliment of dealing with the substance of his argument, or noticed his suggestion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee? Was it that the right hon. Gentleman thought the hon. Member did not mean business, and that this Amendment was placed on the Paper to be afterwards withdrawn? The Amendment embodied a most important proposition; and he, for one, wished to know, whether the hon. Member stood by it to the letter? For his own part, he cordially agreed with both the substance and wording of the Amendment, and he believed that a large number of hon. Members on that side of the House, and a sprinkling of hon. Gentlemen on the other side, shared that opinion. As the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clare Read) was a serious Member of the House, had he satisfied himself that the Government intended to assent to the Motion of the hon. Member (Mr. Ramsay) for referring the Bill to a Select Committee? He (Mr. Goschen) thought the Amendment ought to be pressed, especially as the Opposition had assisted the hon. Gentleman to carry his Motion as to County Boards. [Mr. CLARE READ: There was no division.] The hon. Member said there was no division; but he 1523 ought to appreciate all the more that support in debate which enabled him to beat the Government without a division, and saved him from going into the Lobby against them. Whatever the hon. Member might say, he, at any rate, would require the support of that side of the House for his reform of county government; and it was hoped that the hon. Gentleman would not discourage them in giving that support by not standing to his guns when he was in the right. The passing of the Valuation Bill now would be detrimental to the object which the hon. Member had so much at heart with regard to county government. The position was this—the Valuation Bill had been prepared with reference to another Bill that had been withdrawn, and the House had to argue upon this Bill, without knowing whether the other one was to pass or not. The fact was, that the system had broken down. There were three Bills—the County Government, Highways, and Valuation Bills—which, taken together, made a complete whole; but the County Government Bill having been withdrawn, the corner stone of the edifice had been removed; and the House was asked to agree to an arrangement which was incomplete and unsatisfactory, because it was asked to pass the Valuation Bill without the concurrent establishment of County Government Boards.
§ SIR GEORGE JENKINSON,
in supporting the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Norfolk, said, the question to be considered was chiefly as to time, and not as to the merits of the measure. The withdrawal of the County Government Bill left this measure like the play of Hamlet with the part of Hamlet omitted. He hoped that the Government would be satisfied with this discussion, and that they would not proceed with the Bill until they could pass the whole group of Bills dealing with local government. With regard to the question of rent, he thought it should be taken as the basis, in order to check the surveyor.
§ MR. RITCHIE
thought the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) were very unfair towards the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the right hon. Gentleman had distinctly stated that he rose, not for the purpose of answering any arguments on the subject of the Bill, 1524 but merely to answer remarks which had been made as to the course adopted in taking this Bill before some others. He (Mr. Ritchie) regretted that the Bill had been brought forward somewhat suddenly, as he and other hon. Members had wished to put Amendments on the Paper, some of which were of considerable importance. He was sorry that the Bill contained no clause with respect to the rating of machinery, for that subject was, at the present moment, in a very unsatisfactory state. Without going into the question of fixed machinery, there was no doubt that machinery not attached to the freehold was subject to rating in some places and not in others; while, by a recent decision of the High Court of Justice, all machinery, even though it was not fixed, was liable to be rated. If a man were to lay out a part of his capital in the purchase of removable machinery, he could not be said to add to the permanent value of his premises; but, by the decision referred to, he was liable to be assessed, not on rent alone, but on the value of all his machinery. In his opinion, the permanent letting value of the building was the true basis of assessment, and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board should have taken advantage of the Bill to insert some clause settling the existing difficulty in that way.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, that he could assure hon. Gentlemen who had been taken by surprise that he had no wish to prevent them from putting Amendments on the Paper, and that he did not propose in Committee that day to proceed beyond the 1st clause. His hon. Friend who had just sat down had animadverted on the system of rating machinery, and the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) had made a similar complaint with reference to coal mines. Both those cases were very interesting, but they did not properly belong to the subject dealt with by the Valuation Bill, which merely contained directions by which rateable property was to be assessed, and was not intended to make any change in the mode of rating. He would be very glad, however, to settle the question of the rating of machinery and of coal mines, and of schools also; but such matters would better find their place in a new rating Bill, which he should not be reluctant to in- 1525 troduce if it were possible. He was surprised that the hon. Member for Newcastle should have raised the old cry with regard to the surveyor of taxes, who was only the instrument by which the Property Tax Returns were made known to the assessment committee. The object of the Bill was to oblige all the assessment committees to have regard to that officer, which meant that they were to take account of the rents actually paid; for the rent actually paid was, in nine cases out of ten, the best criterion of value. He knew that in one part of the Kingdom assessment committees had gone almost entirely by the rent actually paid; and, in the case of a large estate worth from £40,000 to £50,000 a-year, the Return specified in the new Domesday Book was within a very few pounds of the actual receipts of the owner. The right hon. Gentleman who had spoken first had mentioned the appeals set up by the Bill. The assessment committee was not a final authority, and the appeal to petty sessions had been retained in the interests of the poorer ratepayers. The Government had not felt themselves justified in taking away the court of appeal which the poor man possessed, and to which he now resorted for a remedy against any undue assessment. His right hon. Friend could hardly have studied the clauses in the Bill, because it was never intended, nor was it provided that the County Board should act as a court of appeal against the assessment of value. The assessment committees were, for the most part, to be paramount in those matters. Every hon. Gentleman who had served as a commissioner of taxes knew how frequently a case was taken for the opinion of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. There was a provision in the Bill to enable questions of importance, relating, for example, to railway and canal property, to be taken in a similar way to the High Court of Justice, assuming that the parties who were interested preferred doing that to going to the court of quarter sessions. He hoped that his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk would dismiss from his mind the idea that there was anything in the Bill which stood practically in the way of the setting up of a County Board. The County Board would be set up for a totally 1526 different object, and he had repeatedly stated that he had always regarded a Valuation Bill as the foundation of all those county reforms. If the County Government Bill were to pass without the Valuation Bill and the Highways Bill, the most important raison d' être of the County Government Bill would be entirely done away with. He denied that the officers of the Government had any interest in screwing up assessments, and he believed, so far from being multiplied by the Bill, appeals would be greatly diminished under it. As a matter of fact, appeals were rare now, and he hoped that they would be still more rare when those measures became law. The hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) had given Notice that he would propose certain Admendments in the Bill. Those Amendments he would have pleasure in considering. He had always held the opinion that valuation, although important, was not a primary function of a County Board. The County Board had a great future before it, and a Valuation Bill was the foundation on which the machinery of county government should be built. He had been surprised at the charge of shap practice which had been brought against him in regard to the second reading of the Bill, and he contended that such an accusation was wholly groundless. The ratepayers would never have the same interest in the proceedings of the County Board as they had in those of the Poor Law Union, because the latter was intrusted with the expenditure of rates to a far greater extent than the former, and with the more detailed management of their local affairs. He would mention three counties as illustrations of that. In Nothumberland the county expenditure was £40,000 in round numbers, and the Union expenditure was £170,000 a-year; in Staffordshire the county expenditure was £102,000, and the Union expenditure £330,000 a-year; in the county which he had the honour to represent the county expenditure was £30,000, and the Union expenditure £316,000 a-year. That would account for his not having regarded valuation as one of the most prominent functions which a County Board would have to discharge. He would not detain the House further, but ask them to go into Committee.
§ MR. CLARE READ
said, he would only remark that he was quite satisfied with the position which the question of County Boards occupied, having been unanimously passed last year; and as the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) would give him all the opportunities he desired in Committee, he should beg, with the consent of the House, to withdraw his Amendment.
§ MR. BIGGAR
thought good reasons had been given why the Bill should not be proceeded further with, at any rate this Session. In order to place before the House his own reasons for forming this opinion, he would move the adjournment of the debate. The Bill and the Amendments which it might be desirable to discuss could not now be properly considered.
§ And it being ten minutes before Seven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till this day.
§ The House suspended its Sitting at Seven of the clock.
§ The House resumed its Sitting at Nine of the clock.