§ (1). After the Thirty-first day of March next during the continuance of this Act, that is to say, the period of five years after the passing of this Act, the occupier of agricultural land in England shall be liable in the case of every rate to which this Act applies, to pay one-half only of the rate in the pound payable in respect of buildings and other hereditaments.
§ (2.) This Act shall apply to every rate as defined by this Act, except a rate—
- (a) which the occupier of agricultural land is liable, as compared with the occupier of buildings or other hereditaments, to be assessed to or to pay in the proportion of one-half or less than one-half, or
- (b) which is assessed under any commission of sewers or in respect of any drainage, wall, embankment, or other work for the benefit of the land.
§ The first Amendment on the Paper stood in the name of MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs), who proposed, after the last Amendment (as printed above in italics) to insert "or until twelve months after the inquiry on the incidence of rating has been concluded."
* THE CHAIRMAN
said, the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Flint Boroughs was out of order. It was too vague, and it offered no alternative to the plan the House had already agreed to.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS,
on the point of order, asked whether, if he added the words "or whichever first happens," to the end of the Amendment, it would make it sufficiently definite to bring it in order. He would like to draw attention to this fact, that the reason for the five years' limit was stated to be that the Government desired to have sufficient time to make an 1344 inquiry into the incidence of rating. His intention was that, if the Inquiry was concluded, say, in three years, it would not be necessary to keep the Bill alive for a longer period than four years.
* THE CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member refers to "the" Inquiry in the Amendment, an Inquiry of which the House has no cognisance. It does not refer to what Inquiry it is—whether it is an Inquiry by a Select Committee or by a Royal Commission, or what kind of Inquiry. Nor does he say who is to judge as to which alternative is to be accepted. The Amendment, even with the addition which the hon. Member proposes, would be no true alternative to what the House has accepted, and it is altogether too vague. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Shoreditch is disposed of by the decision of the House last night, and the Amendments of the hon. Members for North Monmouth and Hoxton are put down in the wrong place. The first Amendment in order was that standing in the name of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon District)
said, that in the absence of his hon. Friend (Mr. David Thomas) he would move the Amendment standing in his name. He thought the Amendment ought to commend itself to the President of the Local Government Board. The first thing that would have to be done after the passing of the Act would be a separate valuation of the whole agricultural land in this country. It was perfectly obvious that that must necessarily take time. The number of gentlemen qualified to assess land was limited in the rural districts. There would be a great demand upon the services of the most competent valuers, and if the Bill came into operation on the date which was fixed by the right hon. Gentleman there would probably be half the land in the kingdom in respect of which there would be no separate valuation. The right hon. Gentleman would have to come to the House, under the direction of the Local Government Board, for the purpose of setting that right. The Bill would not be put to a fair test unless ample time was given for the re-valuation of the whole land of the country. He begged to propose to leave out "thirty-first day of March next 1345 after the passing of this Act," and to insert "thirtieth day of September one thousand eight hundred and ninety-seven."
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. HENRY CHAPLIN, Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
said, the hon. Member assumed that the necessary work of preparation for the operation of the Act could not be carried out within the date named in the Bill. He was advised by those whose assistance he received, and he was satisfied that the work could be performed within the time, and that being so he saw no reason whatever for accepting the Amendment, the only effect of which would be to postpone, unnecessarily, the operation of the Bill for six months.
§ MR. E. H. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S. W.)
thought they had grave reason to complain of the very cavalier treatment which the right hon. Gentleman had given to an exceedingly important Amendment. [Cheers.] So much preliminary work had to be done that the date in the Bill was absolutely impracticable. Before that payment could be made the Local Government Board had, by an express provision of the Bill, to certify the amount of the annual grant. But before the Local Government Board could certify the amount of the annual grant what had to be done? In the first place, as a preliminary, the Board had to ascertain the sum raised by every spending authority during the twelve months previous to the Act by any rate to which the Act applied, and they had to receive a return made in accordance with prescribed regulations. That, however, was only the beginning of a much more prolonged and elaborate process. The annual grant was, according to the Bill, a sum equal to the total amount of the deficiencies created by all the spending authorities by the partial exemption of agricultural land for which the Bill provided. Before the Local Government Board could obtain the information upon which this total amount could be estimated, they had to ascertain the ratable value of every hereditament of agricultural land in the country. Every agricultural holding would have to be reassessed and separately entered in the valuation list. At present, land and buildings which constituted one holding 1346 were entered in the valuation list as one hereditament, and it was somewhat difficult to see how the value of the buildings was to be ascertained apart from the land. Up to the present the rent had been the great guide to the assessment, but rent would be no guide hereafter. Buildings had no value except as part of one indivisible holding. The problem would shape itself perhaps in this form. Assuming that a person was in occupation of land, how much would the ocoupier be prepared to give, taking one year with another, for the use of the buildings in association with the holding? If the problem was stated in that way it was obvious that they must have regard to the suitability of the buildings to the holding, to their size and character, and the particular state of the repair in which the buildings were. How were they to ascertain this except by going on to the property and making an inspection of it? Overseers would be bound to go over agricultural holdings, either themselves or by valuers, in order to ascertain as best they could the separate value of the buildings before the returns which this Bill required could be made to the Local Government Board, and before the Board could certify what the annual grant was, a separate assessment of agricultural land and the buildings had to be made first by overseers of the parish, then corrected by the Assessment Committee, then sent to the Surveyor of Taxes, then subjected to appeal, first to the Assessment Committee and then before Quarter Sessions. It was obvious, therefore, that the hon. Member did not in any way exaggerate the time that would be necessary. He was aware that the right hon. Gentleman, if he had condescended to argue this question, might have told the House that the Bill stated that a provisional certificate might be given pending the acquisition of full information which would be necessary to the final settlement. It was true that there was a saving clause in the Bill, though it was obviously intended to meet the case of small differences. It would be most unconstitutional for the Local Government Board to authorise the payment of the taxpayers' money into the Local Taxation Account on mere guess work, before 1347 time was given to obtain the necessary information upon which alone even an approximate estimate could be formed.
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
strongly supported the Amendment. He agreed that it was impossible to get the new lists ready in the time at present indicated in the Bill. The Measure could not possibly come into operation until September of next year. He questioned very much whether they could properly separate the buildings from the value of agricultural land. As an Irish Member, he spoke with some experience of this matter. In Ireland the land was valued separately from the value of the buildings; and nearly every member of the Committee on the Land Acts which sat a year ago was convinced that the present system in Ireland was a vicious one. The proper way to value a farm was to value it as a going concern. The value of the buildings depended to a large extent on the suitability of the farm, and it was not possible to put an accurate value on buildings if the farm was excluded. If it was proposed to separate the buildings from the land, it would take at least a year's hard work on the lowest computation to arrive at a decision. He protested against the Bill being rushed through the House to the exclusion of more useful and necessary Measures.
§ * SIR JOHN DORINGTON (Gloucestershire, Tewkesbury)
thought that the hon. Gentleman opposite had greatly exaggerated the difficulty of this task. This system of valuation was already in force in England, and everyone acquainted with our system of rating knew that the overseers in districts where an urban rate was levied,—and there were many such of a very rural character,—were now in the habit of doing this work. All that had to be done was to take the value of the buildngs and deduct it from the total value of the land.
§ MR. JOSEPH A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside)
said, he had an Amendment on the Paper to substitute 1898 for 1897, so as to postpone the operation of the Bill until Her Majesty's Government had received the Report from the Committee to be appointed to inquire into the subject. It must be obvious to hon. Members that the Committee would not be able to Report on 1348 the whole subject by the date when the Bill would come into operation, and as it was very important not to legislate in a hurry on a matter of this kind, and when it might be said it was sub judice, he supported the Amendment. If the operation of the Bill was not postponed, he believed that it would materially aggravate and complicate the various anomalies which at present existed. There was no reference, for example, to the difference in the quality of the land, and the incidence altogether was very unsatisfactory. It was absurd to say that in 99 cases out of 100 rents had been reduced. Of his personal knowledge, he knew many cases where rents had been increased recently, and the price of wheat tended upwards. The hon. Member for Hampshire, in his speech on the Second Reading, said it was not pretended on the Ministerial side that any readjustment of rates would make farmers prosperous. That being so, there was no real necessity to pass this Bill in a hurry, if they were not going to do more than show sympathy in such an intangible way. If there was injustice let it be remedied after full inquiry, but this Bill would only aggravate present anomalies.
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
quoted, in support of the argument for the Amendment, the Report of the Town Holdings Committee, made on 23rd May 1892, to the Government of which the President of the Local Government Board was a Member. That Committee reported that "the proposition made to the Committee for a separate assessment of ground values and building values is impracticable." That is to say, that it was impracticable to do the work which they proposed to do in so short a time. The appeals would require to be most carefully considered, and this would take much time. And when the appeals were decided, and it was settled what was to be paid, the burden was to be thrown on somebody else. As a matter of fact it was to be thrown on the people who dwell in the towns, and they, therefore, were deeply interested in seeing that all these matters were fairly decided. This splendid gift to the holders of land was to insure for five years in any event. Why then such hurry to bring the Act into operation?
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
submitted that the Committee was entitled to some better answer from the Government than was furnished by the President of the Local Government Board. The answer amounted to this, that the right hon. Gentleman consulted the officials of the Local Government Board; they told him there was nothing in the Amendment; presumably they gave him reasons, but the right hon. Gentleman would not condescend to communicate those reasons to the Committee, or he had forgotten them. That was no sufficient answer to any Amendment proposed in the House of Commons. The only attempt at a reply which had been made was that of the hon. Baronet opposite (the Member for Tewkesbury), who said that this was done already, and that the only difference this Bill made was that it substituted one-half the value for one-fourth. But that was not the case in rural districts. In urban districts, he agreed, there was a division, but in a purely rural district there was no division at all of farm buildings and lands.
§ * SIR J. DORINGTON
said the parish to which he referred was technically an urban district. No such division was made in the purely rural parts.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
pointed out that the only argument against the Amendment had thus practically been withdrawn by the hon. Baronet. In order to show that it was physically impossible to do the thing in the short time the right hon. Gentlemen proposed, what was the first thing that would have to be done? There must be, first, according to Sub-section 2 of Section 6, a separate assessment of every building on agricultural land in every parish throughout England. It would take months to prepare such a re-valuation. He knew a case which had taken years in order to revalue a single union; but to revalue every union in the country—why, they could not get sufficient competent valuers for the work! What was the next thing? They must deposit the list for a certain number of days, and give the usual notices. Then so many days must be allowed for appeal, and how long would it take the assessment committee to dispose of all appeals? Every farmer in the whole parish might appeal. There was a further appeal to Quarter Sessions. 1350 This was a new Act, on which there had been no legal decisions; and on any legal point there was an appeal from quarter sessions to the High Court and even the House of Lords. If there was an appeal in any single parish in England these returns could not be completed.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, that he did not intend to give a cavalier reply to any hon. Gentleman, but, as responsible for the Bill, he must be allowed to have an opinion of his own on the matter. He had considered over and over again all the different points raised by hon. Members, and he was supported in the view he took by one of the most practical authorities on the subject—the hon. Baronet the Member for Tewkesbury. There might be delays, as the hon. Member suggested, but there was a period of nearly 12 months before the Bill came into operation. Provision had been made in the Budget for the six months which would be thrown away if the Amendment were carried.
§ MR. WARNER
said he was anxious to see the Bill brought into operation as soon as possible; but the Committee had heard strong authorities quoted in opposition to the view of the hon. Baronet the Member for Tewkesbury, and the Committee was entitled to know something about the experts on whose opinions the President of the Local Government Board relied.
§ MR. H. E. KEARLEY (Devonport)
said, that the effect of the argument of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury was weakened now, and he no longer strictly adhered to it.
§ * SIR J. DORINGTON
I do. Under the Public Health Act of 1875 districts can be constituted urban districts; and many purely rural districts have, for reasons satisfactory to the inhabitants, been constituted technically urban districts. Wherever that action has occurred, a general district rate is raised, and is levied upon the whole value of the houses and buildings, and only upon one-fourth of the value of the land. Therefore, in any parish which is technically an urban district, and which comprises agricultural land—and there are many hundreds of such parishes in the Kingdom—this very valuation which is now proposed is already made.
§ MR. KEARLEY,
continuing, said that the arguments on the other side were strong enough to justify some delay in bringing this Bill into force. Personally, he should prefer a delay to 1898, as was suggested in an Amendment later in the Paper.
§ * MR. HENRY BROADHURST (Leicester)
regretted that the Government did not accept the demand for postponement. It was evident that the Bill would do a number of grave injustices to the community if it were to be rushed through, and no sufficient time were to be allowed for making the revaluations. There were many cases where it was difficult to say where the urban district began and the rural district ended; and there was great jealousy between them as to the amount of the valuations. This Bill, in any circumstances, would increase, and not decrease, that jealousy; and that was an additional argument for more time. The right hon. Gentleman could not suppose that he would get the Bill through without making some concessions when concession was proved to be absolutely necessary; and, surely, there could be no more reasonable concession than that now asked for. The Bill was taking two millions mostly out of the pockets of the borough population; and it was the least they could ask that the money should be justly apportioned among the fortunate persons who were to receive it. The President of the Local Government Board behaved as though he feared the present Government would be out of office in 12 months' time.
§ MR. CHARLES HARRISON (Plymouth)
said, that the rating of agricultural land was quite separate from the rating of those urban districts which came under the Lighting Act of 1835, and the Public Health Act of 1875. Under the Lighting Act there must be a separate assessment to this extent—that the owners of houses paid one third of the net annual value. So, under the Public Health Act, lands and railways paid one-fourth in respect of such rates as were levied on the annual value, and there was not a separate valuation for buildings. But, in regard to purely agricultural parishes, there was no object in separating buildings from land; and there were very few parishes where such a practice prevailed. There- 1352 fore, a new agricultural assessment was required. It was not likely that those who would have to pay the balance of the deficiency under the Act would accept without extreme jealousy the assessments made under the Act. Equality of assessment would be their ideal. If the lands were assessed at too low a figure under the new valuation they would be made the subject of appeal, and they all knew what it was to have assessments on a large parish with appeals to Quarter Sessions. The matter could not be physically carried out within the period of a year; and, therefore, he supported the Amendment.
§ MR. ARTHUR JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
said, that if there was anything agriculturists wanted more than another it was immediate relief. Therefore, when the hon. Member for Lichfield praised the Bill and wanted to get it through, and in the same breath put off the relief by supporting the Amendment—
§ MR. WARNER
I did not say I was in favour of the Amendment. What I said was that I thought some answer should be given to it, as a strong case had been made for it.
§ MR. JEFFREYS
said, he was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman was not in favour of the Amendment. What would do away with the difficulty of the assessment altogether was that the agricultural buildings should not be separated from the land. Therefore, he hoped the Amendment he had on the Paper to amend the Bill in that respect would receive general support. In many Assessment Committees to which he had belonged the lands and agricultural buildings were not separated, though the farmhouses were commonly separated.
§ MR. JEFFREYS
said, he would appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they really desired to see the Bill through as quickly as possible, to withdraw their Amendment.
MR. LLOYD MORGAN (Carmarthen, W.)
said, he did not see his way to support the Amendment of his hon. Friend. The President of the Local Government Board had made every inquiry in the matter, with the result 1353 that he was convinced that by the 31st March plenty of time would be given to the local authorities to have the valuation carried out. But his principal reason for not supporting the Amendment was that he was anxious for the Bill to come into operation as soon as possible. If the agricultural depression was to be met at all it must be met without delay. He was far from thinking that this Bill was an adequate solution of the agricultural difficulty; but if it was to do any good at all—and he believed it would do a little good to some farmers—its operation ought not to be postponed for six months.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
thought that the Amendment had been sufficiently discussed to enable the Committee to come to a decision upon it. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite had expressed a fear that the Bill would be rushed through Committee. For his part he could not see any symptoms of a rush. [Laughter.] He was desirous of making every concession that was just and reasonable, but he could not accept the Amendment, as there was ample time in the next nine months to do all that was required by the Bill.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, that on referring to the section he found that there would have to be a separate valuation in the case of land covered by water. That was an illustration of the way in which the Bill had been thought out. If a farmer had on his land a lake of 10 acres, which was not an uncommon thing, and which added materially to the valuation of the farm, he would have to get a separate valuation of the land under water before the Act could come into operation.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 278; Noes, 139.—(Division List, No. 114.)
* The CHAIRMAN
said, an Amendment of the hon. Member for Tyneside (Mr. J. A. Pease), to insert the year 1898 fell to the ground; the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Somerset (Mr. Strachey), to insert "the occupier of any land, buildings, or other hereditaments," was outside the scope of the Bill; and two Amendments by the hon. Members 1354 for North Monmouth and Hoxton embodied the same principle, but proposed to apply it in different ways. He should therefore, put the first words of the Amendment of the hon. Member for North Monmouth, and if they were adopted, the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hoxton could be moved.
§ * MR. REGINALD McKENNA (Monmouth, N.)
moved, after the words "passing of this Act," to insert the words:—where, on a comparison of the assessment in operation on the 31st day of March 1896, with respect to any agricultural land with the assessment in operation with respect to the same land on the 31st day of March 1876, there has been a decline of not less than one-fifth of the amount of the last-named assessment, then in every case.He said, he had endeavoured as far as he could to obtain figures which would indicate the exact amount of agricultural distress during the last 20 years. As far as he was able to judge, he found that 20 per cent. represented the average decline in the value of agricultural land. He therefore proposed that the Act should come into operation only where the agricultural interest had suffered more than the average—that was more than 20 per cent. An examination of a return issued last year showed that, in 142 unions in England and Wales which were wholly rural there had been a decline in the value of land between 1870 and 1894 of 18 per cent. Since 1894 the decline had continued, and therefore he had taken the average for the country at 20 per cent. He hoped that no objection would be taken to his Amendment on the ground that land had been subdivided since 1876. If that was a serious objection it could be met by altering the Amendment and making it apply to parishes or to unions. He wished to treat this Bill as a Measure for the relief of agricultural distress. If the Bill was intended as a Measure for the readjustment of burdens on land, it was bad, because it did not proceed on right principles. In respect of old rates, to reduce the burden by half was acting with too great consideration towards the landlord, and in respect of new rates, it was unfair on the farmer, who ought not to be asked to pay even one-half of the rates. The President of the Local Government Board first introduced this Bill as a Measure 1355 for the relief of agricultural distress, and then as based on the idea of the readjustment of the burdens on land. His Amendment made an honest attempt to relieve the distress. Money devoted to the purpose would be used under the Amendment to giving relief to those districts only when there had been a considerable decline. He did not deny that there had been a serious decline in the value of the assessment of agricultural land, but it was by no means universal; and the figures he wished to quote would, he thought, convince the President of the Local Government Board that he made an extraordinary statement when he spoke of the decline as extending to 99 per cent. of the land of the country. He made a comparison from a Return issued last year of the assessment of land in England and Wales in 1870 and 1894. The Committee would be astonished to hear that in comparing 1870 with 1894, there had not only been no decline in very many cases in the value of the assessment of agricultural land, but an actual increase. In no less than 70 unions in England (he excluded Wales), the assessment of land in 1894, as compared with 1870, showed an increase. The assessment in these 70 unions amounted to £4,240,278, or 11½ per cent. of the whole land of the country. This meant that, under the Bill, the President of the Local Government Board proposed to give £160,000 a year for a period of five years, amounting to £800,000, in relief of agricultural distress in districts which were more prosperous than they had ever heretofore been. He wished to illustrate by a few instances how this Measure would operate. He had selected six typical unions. In Amesbury, Wiltshire, the assessment in 1870 was £56,000; in 1894, £28,200; a decline of £27,800, or, approximately, 50 per cent. The rates levied in 1893 were 2s. 0.7d., realising £2,902 5s., and the relief proposed to be given under the Bill was £1,481. In the Union of Garstang, Lancashire, on the other hand, the assessment in 1870 amounted to £68,700; in 1894, £83,100; an increase of £14,200. The rates levied in 1893 were 1s. l.2d., producing £4,750, and the relief to be given to the Union of Garstang would be £2,285, that was to say, that amount of relief would be given 1356 where there was an increase in the assessment of £14,200. Again, in the Union of Lenden, Essex, the assessment in 1870 was £97,100; in 1894, £51,400; a decline of £45,700. The rates levied in 1893 were 3s. 0.6d., producing £7,838, and the relief proposed to be given was £3,919. In the Union of Hatfield, Herts, however, the assessment in 1870 was £22,900; in 1894, £23,000; an increase of £100. The rates levied in 1893 were 1s. 11.5d, producing £2,252, and the relief proposed to be given under the Bill was £1,126. At Northleach, Gloucestershire, the assessment in 1870 was £67,400; in 1894, £37,800; a decline of £29,600. The rates levied in 1893, 2s. 4.6d., producing £4,508; the relief to be given under the Bill was £2,254. In West Ward, Westmorland, in 1870 the assessment was £53,300; in 1894, £55,300; an increase of £2,000. The rates levied in 1893 were 1s. 3d., realising £3,456, and the relief to be given under this Bill would be £1,728. These were not isolated cases, and, seeing how the Bill would operate, he asked the President of the Local Government Board to accept his Amendment. He could have made his argument infinitely stronger if he had included unions in Wales. Throughout Wales the decline in the value of the assessment of agricultural land had not been considerable, and if he had included Wales he could have claimed that more than 11½ per cent. of the land had increased in value since 1870. The President of the Local Government Board proposed to do something for the relief of agriculture. He proposed to place in the right hon. Gentleman's hands the money to do it with. Let the money be given more freely where it was wanted, and saved where it was not wanted—in prosperous districts where the relief given under the Act was not required.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
observed that the hon. Member had charged him with not treating the Committee fairly because he did not make a general statement with regard to the assessment of land all over the country. The whole case of the hon. Member, so far as he was able to judge, was based upon what he believed to be an entire fallacy, and that was that the present assessment of land accurately represented its full value. The hon. 1357 Gentleman spoke of land being more prosperous than ever it was before, because the assessment was greater. A great deal of evidence was given on this subject before the Royal Commission on Agriculture. He would take even the minority report of the Commission, and what was there stated was quite destructive of the case of the hon. Member:—We have also to point out that, so far as the facts are before us, they show that the cases of high rates are chiefly in the eastern and southern counties, which have suffered most from depression, and that in many unions in these districts it has been found necessary to raise the rate in the £ on all property in consequence of the great fall in the value of land.If it had been necessary to raise the assessment of land—
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said the evidence given before the Commission by several witnesses was to the effect that the figure of rateable value did not, for various reasons, represent, fairly or accurately, the value of agricultural land, for as was stated by one of the witnesses, the assessments on farms had not been reduced as they should have been of late years. The hon. Member was entirely mistaken in thinking that because the assessment had not fallen that was a test of the prosperity of the various parts of the country. It seemed to him that it was impossible, with justice, to draw a hard and fast line between different classes of land in different parts of the country which would have the effect of including some and excluding others. The hon. gentleman said he relied entirely upon the assessment to show where there had been a fall in the value of land, and he further said that he (Mr. Chaplin) had abandoned the defence he had put forward on the introduction of this Bill, namely, that it was intended to remove an injustice by which land was rated out of all fairness in proportion to its value. That was an argument he had not receded from one iota. If that were so, and if he was right in saying that the assessment afforded no genuine test of the real value or position of prosperity of land at present, he ventured to think that the hon. Member's case fell 1358 to the ground, and he could not under these circumstances accept the Amendment.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
thought the right hon. Gentleman had not quite accurately represented the position of the mover of the Amendment. The President of the Local Government Board laid the whole stress on the argument of the possibility that there might not have been that amount of reduction in the assessment that there ought to have been, having regard to the reduced value of land. But that was part of the machinery, and was not the point raised by the Amendment. The point raised by the Amendment was, were they going to give land which was not suffering from depression, and where the rents had not fallen, the same relief, and calculated on the same basis, which they proposed to give to land in Essex and other parts of the kingdom where there had been great agricultural depression? They really must understand what line the Government intended to take on the Bill. They had changed their attitude since they introduced the Bill, for they had a change in that attitude yesterday and another today. The Bill was brought in in consequence of a Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, stating that there was great agricultural depression in certain agricultural districts, which needed immediate relief in order to avert a national calamity. The question which the right hon. Gentleman had raised as to land being unfairly rated was not a point raised in this Bill, otherwise the Bill would be one of the grossest acts of injustice ever committed by the House, because a large portion of the land—namely, that in the towns—was to have no relief at all. It was admitted that it was entitled to that relief. The House having accepted the principle, he was, for his part, prepared to make this as fair and as good a Bill as was possible. But he said it was a monstrous thing to give to land in Lancashire, let at £2 per acre, and increasing in value year by year, the same relief as it was proposed to give to land in Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk. He said that such, a Bill was unjust on the face of it. The House had decided, under existing circumstances, that relief was to be given to agricultural land by relieving the payers 1359 of agricultural rates from a certain amount of taxation. That decision having been come to, it was the duty of the Committee to make that relief as broad and as just as possible. The right hon. Gentleman had quoted from the Minority Report of the Royal Commission, and he would himself read two or three passages which had not yet been read, and hon. Members who were familiar with agricultural matters would know whether there was any foundation for the statements:—We think it is important and necessary to point out at this stage of our proceedings, and with a view specially to the consideration of the burdens on agricultural land, that the depression has been, and still is, far more serious in the eastern and southern counties of England, over an area of rather more than one-third of England and Wales, including such centres as Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, or the greater parts of them, than in the other parts of Great Britain.Was that true or was it not? Would anyone say that the depression which existed in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, existed all over England?The eastern and southern districts of England have had the unfortunate experience of a succession of unfavourable seasons, beginning in 1892, and including two years of very exceptional drought, 1893 and 1895, of which the former was quite unprecedented in its serious effect upon agriculture in these districts. The north and west of Great Britain were to a large extent free from these bad seasons, and enjoyed far more favourable conditions. The west of England and Wales, however, suffered from the fall in the price of stock caused by the drought in the eastern and southern counties. The east and south of England had also suffered in a greater proportion, because they had been the chief wheat-growing districts, and their system of cultivation has been mainly dependent on wheat, and the price of wheat has fallen in a greater proportion than agricultural products; while the land, for climatic reasons, is not easily laid down in grass.The President of the Board of Agriculture had interjected the observation that he did not admit the accuracy of this statement. He gathered that the right hon. Gentleman did not mean to admit all the details of the statements involved, but that he did not deny there had been a difference in the area, extent and severity of this agricultural depression. For his part he was not prepared to commit himself exactly to the machinery for giving this 1360 relief which his hon. Friend proposed, but he would point out that there was another plan proposed in an Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Shoreditch. What the right hon. Gentleman wanted them now to negative was that there was to be any variety in treatment. The rich and poor were to be treated alike; those who had and those who had not, those whose incomes were increasing and those whose incomes were absolutely taken from them were to be dealt with on the same footing, and that was to be a specimen of the justice to land! The only argument which the President of the Local Government Board gave them was that the Government considered the principle upon which land was rated to be unjust. So did the Opposition, and when the Government brought in their rates scheme by which they would relieve land devoted to the manufacture of cotton and iron as well as that devoted to the production of wheat and grain, they on that (the Opposition) side of the House would be prepared to support it. It was as absurd to carry out the scheme in the manner which the right hon. Gentleman wished as it would have been in the time of the cotton famine to say, "Because we are going to give relief to Lancashire" (which, by the way, was not done), "therefore, we will give it to Cornwall, where they do not make an ounce of cotton at all." This Bill was for the relief of agricultural distress. He was willing that every sixpence of the £1,500,000 should be devoted to this purpose, but it should be given to those who deserved and needed it, and on that ground he should support the first words of this Amendment.
§ MR. C. A. CRIPPS (Gloncestershire, Stroud)
said that no one would deny that certain portions of England were much more depressed as regarded the agricultural industry than others. But what was really the illogical statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton? He began by saying that he would like relief of this kind to be distributed generally, not only in the rural but also in the urban districts, because, he said, the incidence of taxation generally was unfair. He had understood the right hon. Gentleman to admit at the stage of Second Reading that the general incidence of local taxation in England at 1361 the present moment was not fair, and he believed that everybody agreed with that. Having to deal with an admitted injustice the Government proposed to deal with a certain portion of it first, namely the portion of injustice which affected agricultural land. The Government proposed to deal now with the injustice as affecting agricultural land, because in certain parts of the country the depression of the interests connected with that land was imminent and urgent. It being generally admitted that there was an injustice affecting all agricultural land, it would be illogical to treat different portions of the land in different ways. He admitted that the proposed remedy was wanted in some places more than in others, but that was a different question. Injustice affecting all agricultural land being recognised, the remedy must be applied generally. The Amendment, in his opinion, could not be considered just, and no practical method of carrying it out had yet been explained.
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Hoxton, Shoreditch)
said that the question of giving relief to agricultural land, as distinguished from other property, had been decided by the Second Reading of the Bill. The point before the Committee now was whether the relief given to agricultural property was to be distributed properly and justly. He did not understand what the hon. and learned Member who had just spoken meant by saying that it was impracticable to take into consideration the difference of conditions between land in some counties and land in others. The difference was obvious to anyone. He admitted that in dealing with a matter of rating or with taxation generally, one was obliged to adopt a rather procrustean method, and that one could not be minutely just; but it was nevertheless possible to preserve some semblance of fairness. The President of the Local Government Board had gone very near to using an argument which in his more thoughtful moments he would himself repudiate. That argument came to this, that it was not worth while considering the difference between the assessment of properties now and their assessment a certain number of years ago, because assessment was a very fallible guide to the condition of agricultural land. He 1362 would remind the right hon. Gentleman that time after time on both sides of the House reference was made in the Debate on the Second Reading to the fall in the assessment of land between 1870 and 1894, and in other years in order to prove that this Bill was necessary. The fall in assessments varied tremendously in different parts of the country. Considering the distress county by county, they found at one extremity the county of Essex, where the assessment in agricultural land fell 30 per cent. between 1870 and 1894, and at the other extremity counties like Westmorland and Cumberland, where the assessment had slightly risen. If it was intended by this Bill to relieve agricultural distress, why should the Government refuse to apportion the relief in accordance with the need for it? He had put Amendments on the Paper the collective effect of which would be that wherever agricultural land had fallen between 1870 and 1894 less than 10 per cent. in rateable value there would be a remission of only one-fourth of the rates; that where the fall had amounted to more than 25 per cent. there would be a remission of three-fourths of the rates; and that where the fall had been between 10 and 25 per cent. there would be a remission of one-half, as proposed in the Bill. What he wanted was some arrangement whereby the relief conferred should have some rough proportion to the existing distress. Not only did the condition of some counties differ greatly from that of others, but there were also considerable differences of condition between districts in the same county. He found that in Norfolk, taken as a whole, the amount of the decrease in the rateable value of agricultural land between 1870 and 1894 was 25 per cent., but the decrease in different unions of the county varied from 3½ per cent. to 36 per cent. Without giving the names he would give the decrease in some of the Unions. In one the decrease was 22 per cent., in another 8 per cent., both purely agricultural Unions; in another 23, another 25, another 35, 28, 3½, 32, 18, 32, 8, 14, 36, 27, 21, and so forth. It would be seen that the variations were extremely wide, and that he believed was the case all over England. In Buckinghamshire, the average diminution was 15 per cent. In Amersham there was a small rise, 1363 while in Winslow and Buckingham there was a decrease of 20 per cent. He proposed, therefore, that some method should be devised by which the rating would be more uniform. He would only mention that in Wales there were six counties in which the ratable value had risen, while in England it had risen in only two counties during the period from 1870 to 1894. But there had been in many only a very slight fall, such as 5½ per cent. in Cheshire, and 2½per cent. in Cornwall. He would take one case with which he was acquainted, and compare it with Westmoreland. In the Chesterton Division of Cambridgeshire the ratable value generally had remained about the same, because there had been an immense increase in the ratable value of railway property; but agricultural property in the division, though fairly near the town of Cambridge, had been very hard hit, and its ratable value had fallen between 1870 and 1894 by no less than 34 per cent. In the county of Westmorland, in the same time, the ratable value of agricultural land had risen 8 per cent. The Bill proposed to give equal relief to these two districts, and he would call attention to the extraordinary conditions under which it was to be given. At the present moment, the relief given to the Union of Chesterton in regard to local burdens was only 18 per cent. of the whole local expenditure; but in Westmorland it was 32½ per cent.; that was to say, in Westmorland, one-third of the local expenditure was borne by money contributed by the House of Commons, while in Chesterton only 18 per cent. was borne in the same way. He thought that case knocked the bottom out of the Bill. Again, under present conditions, the rate borne in Westmorland was 6¾ per cent. of the ratable value, whereas on the ratepayers in the Chesterton Division a rate equal to 19 per cent. of the ratable value fell. This case was typical of hundreds of others. It was not in every sense impracticable to separate such cases with mathematical accuracy by means of the statistics to be found in the Parliamentary Returns. He wished, therefore, to appeal to the Government to take what had been said on his side of the House in good part. He believed 1364 hon. Gentlemen of the agricultural persuasion would say that he was making an honest attempt to improve the Bill, and he hoped the Government would not negative this proposal, but would make some declaration on this important point with a view to the improvement of their own Bill.
MR GRANT LAWSON (York, N. R., Thirsk)
wished, as a gentleman of the agricultural persuasion, to make a few remarks on the figures the hon. Gentleman had adduced. Those figures proved too much for the hon. Gentleman. They proved that there was variation not only between county and county, but between union and union, parish and parish, and farm and farm; and if all those variations were to be met, it would require a very serious amount of mathematical calculation. The hon. Gentleman contended that the exact variations in ratable value could be got at with mathematical accuracy by means of the different assessments, but that was not quite the case. It would be necessary to take into consideration the date at which the last assessment was made. Re-assessment was an expensive operation, and had not been carried out in some places, for some time, and the fall in the value of the land was not always represented by the assessment, and in passive, peaceable places, where the assessment had not been closely looked into for some time, the unfortunate people might lose under this Amendment all the relief the Bill proposed to give to them. In his opinion the bad landlords would get all the relief under this Amendment, while the good landlords would get nothing. He should therefore oppose the Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
said, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had said that, in his opinion, under the Amendment the bad landlords would get relief, but the good landlords would get nothing. That, however, was not the case. The landlords who would get relief under the Bill as it stood, but who would be prevented from obtaining that relief under the Amendment, were those who had not adopted the right course of action during the last 10 or 15 years, but had kept up the old rent to its full 1365 amount while making temporary remissions which they were compelled to grant owing to agricultural depression. It was only right that that class of men should suffer who had acted upon the bad principle, which had been so often condemned in the case of Ireland, of keeping up the old rents while allowing arrears to accumulate, and thus placing their tenants under an obligation to them in order that they might take advantage of the first moment of returning prosperity for their own profit. ["Hear, hear!"] They had hitherto dealt with broad considerations, but he would now take the case of counties, and especially that of Cheshire. For many years the Royal Agricultural Society had adopted the good practice of giving prizes to large and small agricultural farms, an account of which was published on the authority of men who understood agriculture and who obtained the detailed information which they gave from the best sources. The Reports of the Society formed a book of most valuable and readable knowledge on the details of farming for those who took an interest in the subject of agriculture. During the last two years the Society, doubtless for good reasons, had given up the plan of giving prizes to farms all over the country, and had confined themselves to giving those of typical farms in different counties. In the Royal Agricultural Journal for 1893 he found the statistics relating to North Wales and Cheshire. Taking the typical farms of Cheshire, he found that in the case of a small farm, which the tenant had occupied for 44 years at a rent of £42 10s., there had during the tenancy been no change in the rental. In the case of a small farm of 25 acres, which had been held for 10 years at a rental of £40 16s. per annum, there had been no reduction in the rental. Then he came to the case of a very large and exceedingly well-managed farm, which the tenants had greatly improved, and which had been held by one family for 200 years and by the present tenant for 20 years; there had been no permanent reduction in the rental, but an abatement of 10 per cent. had been made during the last three years. In the case of a farm in Anglesey, there had been no permanent reduction of rental, but there had been a temporary reduction of rent during the last two years of 10 per 1366 cent., and during the last half-year of 25 per cent. In the case of another farm in Cheshire, which the farmer had held for 11 years, the rental was not altered, but 10 per cent, abatement had been allowed on the last half-year's payment. He himself was acquainted with cases in which, while temporary abatements of from 26 to 30 per cent. had been allowed, the old rent had not been permanently reduced. There had appeared in The Times of that morning a letter stated to have been dictated by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman said:—To say, as Mr. Barlow says, that the Bill will 'plunder the people for the benefit of the capitalists,' is simply the clap-trap of a speaker who knows nothing of the subject or who wishes to mislead his hearers. The Government and an unprecedented majority of the House of Commons believe that the benefit of the Bill will go directly to the tenant, for reasons which were given in the Debate, and which no one has been able to controvert. They are as follows:—In these days of depression, in 99 cases out of every 100, every change of tenancy is accompanied by a fall in rent.His experience, and that of very eminent agents indeed, was to the absolute contrary. ["Hear, hear!"] In the north of England rents were rising rather than falling. ["Hear, hear!"] He knew of a case in Northumberland in which, when a farm of a rental of £240 a year became vacant, there were 12 or 13 applicants for it, who were said to be solid and practical farmers, and out of that number three were willing to give £270 a year rental for it, and the agent had assured him that that was by no means an exceptional case. ["Hear, hear!"] He had no hesitation in saying that in a large number of cases the landlords would make, better terms with new tenants if the present tenants were to surrender their farms, however sorry they might be to lose them for personal reasons. Since the Party opposite had picked out one class of ratepayers for relief, they ought to go further and pick out those ratepayers who occupied farms in counties in which the greatest agricultural depression existed. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S. E.)
said, that in his district rent was practically non-existent, and instead of 20 tenants 1367 running after one farm, 20 farms were running after one tenant. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton had not shown his usual keen grasp of matters when he talked about the rating distress in urban as well as in rural districts. He had no wish to vote again, as he did on Tuesday, with hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, but under the circumstances he failed to see how he could get out of doing so. He was in that House the epitome and incarnation of agricultural distress—[laughter]—and he thought it would be easy enough to give extra relief to land which was assessed under 10s. an acre. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
said, the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down ought to appeal most keenly to the sympathies of hon. Gentlemen opposite. In the Debates in the last Parliament those hon. Gentlemen had spoken frequently and eloquently about relieving agricultural distress, but the present experiment would result in a most illogical and unfair division. He thought a better system would be one by which the money was distributed so as to relieve those who needed relief most. The Report of the Royal Commission, and the evidence and maps, showed that the country might be divided roughly into three great districts, the Eastern and Southern, which was the most depressed, the Midland and North Eastern which was less depressed, and the North Western, including Cheshire and Wales, which was still less depressed as regarded the fall in rateable value. It was a cruelty to the farmer in Essex to give him only the same relief as that which was given to the comparatively prosperous farmer in Lancashire. He had recently been over a farm in. Warwickshire which was actually within the limits of the borough of Birmingham; it was well cultivated, close to a great market, and able, in spite of agricultural distress, to go on with its cultivation to the benefit of the occupier, and to pay a good rent to the owner. That farm would be relieved to the extent of more than double the amount per acre that the farm in Essex would be, where the land was going out of cultivation. That was a manifest injustice. Such land as that in 1368 Essex ought to be relieved to a greater extent than land which was profitably cultivated, because there the agricultural industry was in danger of being stamped out. The Government was making an experiment, which was purely temporary, to do something to relieve the tiller of the soil, and by accepting the Amendment they would make their experiment a little more scientific. It would be easy to take the different unions within counties, or counties as a whole, and where the rateable value of land or the rent had gone down 25 to 30 per cent. to give a relief of three-quarters of the rates, where it had gone down 15 to 25 per cent. to give a relief of one-half, and where the diminution of the value of the land was less a relief of one-quarter. This, he urged, would be a more logical and a more beneficent course.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. WALTER LONG,) Liverpool, West Derby
said, that although hon. Gentlemen opposite were very eloquent in denouncing the system which the Government had adopted, they were cautious in suggesting any alternative of their own. He was bound to say that it was a matter of profound astonishment to him to find the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, who did understand this intricate question of rating and assessment, associating himself with a proposal so fantastic as that now under the consideration of the Committee. The proposal of hon. Gentlemen opposite, however just it might seem looked at from a theoretic point of view, was from a practical standpoint absolutely impossible. In saying that the policy which underlay the Bill was that of giving relief to agricultural depression hon. Members had fallen into an error; unquestionably, the policy which underlay the various agricultural proposals of the Government was that of assisting a depressed and suffering industry, but this particular Measure proposed to relieve the pressure of the rates. That was a policy which had been advocated by their Party for many years before agricultural depression assumed its present proportions, and was based on the contention that the system which had been adopted for the assessment of agricultural land was an unfair one, and had thrown upon land a very unfair share of the burden 1369 of local taxation as compared with other ratable property.
§ * MR. LONG
said, his right hon. Friend had made it perfectly clear that that limitation had been made in order that at a later stage the whole question of the incidence of local taxation might be dealt with. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton had adopted some sentences from the minority Report of the Royal Commission, and when he expressed his dissent the right hon. Gentleman appeared to think that he held the view that agricultural depression was the same all over the country. He need hardly say that that was not his view; he had dissented from the suggestion that they could divide the country into geographical areas of agricultural depression. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman had quoted several counties, including that which he himself represented; but they would find that in those counties, and in the unions and parishes which had been quoted, as well as within the holdings of the same individuals, the greatest possible variation in the degree of agricultural depression existed. But in each case, whether the depression was great or small, there was precisely the same injustice with regard to the system by which the land was rated, and the course which, by this Amendment, the Government was asked to take departed from the underlying principle on which the Measure was based—namely, that some tardy justice should be done in regard to the pressure of taxation upon agricultural land. He did not believe hon. Members opposite had realised the actual meaning of this proposal, and yet they had themselves accepted the principle that agricultural land was to be rated at a lower rate for certain purposes. In the present case they were dealing with existing parishes, and they proposed this subvention so that the burden taken off agriculture should not be thrown upon other property in the same area. What was suggested now was that they should differentiate between different classes of land, not only in different counties, but in each union and even each holding. ["No!"] That was practically the logical conclusion of varying relief according to the pressure 1370 of agricultural depression. The same man would be found occupying land which had maintained its value, and land which had greatly decreased in value. Were they going to relieve him in one case and not in the other, or were they going to average the whole holding? He did not believe, if they could put their suggestion into practical and definite form, they would find it possible to carry it out. He commended the proposal especially to the Welsh Members, for, as far as he could see, if the suggestion were adopted, the proportion going to Wales would be materially decreased. ["Hear, hear!"] Whether the Welsh people would thank them for that it was not for him to say. He admitted that in some districts the depression was not so great as in others, but he believed the system adopted in the Bill was the best they could find. No doubt it had been said by some hon. Members on the Second Reading that there was no agricultural depression. ["No, no!"] Oh, yes. ["Hear, hear!"] They had heard repeatedly that there were parts where agricultural depression was hardly felt. [Opposition cheers, and A VOICE: "Parts."] If he had omitted "parts" he apologised. He did not believe they would find a single agriculturist in those parts who would endorse their opinions. He did not believe the proposal was a practical one, and they could not adopt it, as it would destroy the foundation on which the Bill rested. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. DILLON
asked, what was the motive of the Government in introducing the Bill? The Government had spoken with two voices. They were told first that it was a Measure for the relief of agricultural depression, and it was on that ground that they justified giving precedence to the Bill. But they were told now that that was not the object at all; they were told that it was to remove an injustice. On which leg was the Government going to stand? [An HON. MEMBER: "Both."] Was this Bill a Bill for the relief of agricultural depression, or was it a Bill to remove an injustice? For his part he was totally opposed to the principle of the Bill. The only proper way to remove the injustice of local rates was to adopt the American system. He had lived in a county in the United States 1371 for many years, and the method there was to compel every man to contribute in proportion to his resources. That would remove the injustice.
§ MR. DILLON
said, he had rarely heard a more damaging attack on the Bill than that made by the Member for Shoreditch, but he would be under the painful necessity of opposing him, as a precedent would be set up which would be quoted against Ireland.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said, the great fact on which public attention would be centred was the total change of front on the part of the Government on this question. The proposal now made was that the apportionment should be according to the amount of distress. Surely, if they adopted this principle, the injustice would be much less than by throwing this money indiscriminately all over the country, without regard to the amount of depression which might prevail in any portion of the country. What was the answer of the Government? It was a total abandonment of the original profession with which this Bill was introduced. ["Hear, hear!"] There had been a total change of front on the part of the Government. In the Speech from the Throne, Her Majesty said: "I regret to say that the condition of agriculture is disastrous beyond any recent experience. Measures will be laid before you"—was this one of them?—["Yes!"]—"the object"—not one of the objects—"the object of which will be to mitigate the distress under which the classes who are engaged in that industry labour." There was nothing in the Speech from the Throne about remedying inequalities of local taxation. If the object of this Bill be to mitigate agricultural distress, the claim of his hon. Friend to have the relief apportioned to the distress was unanswerable.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
thought they were wandering from the Amendment before the Committee, and he appealed to them whether it was not now time to come to a decision. Surely, after a little quiet reflection, the hon. Member for Dundee would see there was no great paradox in the Government introducing a Measure 1372 which, by removing an injustice under which agriculture had long suffered, might do something to relieve agricultural distress. It was the desire of the Government to relieve agricultural distress, and they thought that one of the ways in which that might best be attained was to remove an injustice which, even before that distress occurred, was generally admitted to be one under which the agricultural interest suffered. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * MR. GEORGE LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
said, that if the object of the Bill was to remove an injustice affecting agricultural land, why should they restrict the operation of the Measure to five years?
§ * MR. LAMBERT
said, he was only replying to the remarks of the Leader of the House; but if the right hon. Gentleman was out of order he would not attempt to continue the discussion of the point. He had considerable difficulty in respect to his Amendment, because, if the Amendment were carried, the whole of Devonshire would practically be excluded from the provisions of the Bill. It was putting a great strain upon one's political principles to vote that Grants should be devoted to parts of the country in which his own constituency was not included. By the Bill his constituency would be saved about £13,358 a year in rates—a very considerable sum; but if the Amendment were carried that amount would be given to other parts of the country. He felt that if this were a Measure to relieve agricultural distress, relief ought to go to the districts which were most depressed. If it was a Measure to remove an admitted injustice, its effect ought to be general. In his part of the world assessments had not gone down, because rents had not been decreased sufficiently. The President of the Local Government Board had said in a letter yesterday that in 99 cases out of 100, upon a change of tenancy, there was a decrease of rent. What did that mean? Why, that the present tenants had been charged too high rents, from which it followed that they paid too high rates. There was a great competition for farms in his neighbourhood, and that kept up the rents and rates. The landlords had made 1373 small remissions of rent, but the Assessment Committees took the agreed rental as the basis of assessment, and paid no heed whatever to the remissions. If, in Devonshire, there was to be an adequate reduction of rates, the landlords must first of all give an adequate reduction of rent.
§ * MR. R. J. PRICE (Norfolk, E.)
did not think the Government need trouble themselves very much to supply a logical reason for the Bill. When he found that under the Bill a considerable sum of money was to be given to his constituency by other people's constituents, he made up his mind to vote for the Bill. At the same time it was a relief to him to find the time limit proposed, because he felt that there was a certain amount of logic on which he could depend when it became necessary to defend himself. There was a suspicion—the facts were not very accurately ascertained—that the burdens on agricultural land were too great. It was necessary to have an Inquiry as to whether that was really the case or not. During the progress of that Inquiry, what was the position? The President of the Local Government Board, in introducing the Measure, said that land was deteriorating, and that the country districts were becoming depopulated. Pending the Inquiry then, and to avert those evils, a dole was to be given to keep land in cultivation. That was a reasonable position, but of course the position would be unreasonable if the greater portion of the dole were to be given to the land which did not require money to keep it in cultivation. The object of the Amendment was to give the most relief to those agricultural districts which were mostly in need of it, and therefore he had no hesitation in voting for the proposition.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
asked whether the time had not arrived when they ought to come to a decision upon the Amendment? They had now debated the Amendment for several hours, and it must be admitted the discussion had occasionally travelled somewhat wide of the proposal before the Committee. He endeavoured to give, at the commencement of the Debate, his reasons for thinking that the Amendment would act unfairly. The hon. Member for the South Molton Division had stated that in Devonshire rents still remained too high. 1374 He reminded the Committee of a very important statement bearing on this point which was made by the Chairman of the Royal Commission himself, who said he had visited distressed parts of the country, and he came across many cases where the assessments were 50, and even 100 per cent. more than the rent. ["Hear, hear!"] If that were so it might easily be conceived that great injustice would be done by the Amendment of the hon. Member, for the effect of that Amendment was that no relief should be given in cases where the assessment had not fallen 20 per cent. compared with 20 years ago. ["Hear, hear!"] In those circumstances, and in presence of the statement made by the Chairman of the Commission, hon. Gentlemen opposite could hardly fail to see that the Amendment would operate very unfairly in the case of large numbers of tenancies, and that, therefore, it was one which it was impossible for the Government to accept. Many of the points raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite had been wide of the Amendment, and therefore he could not discuss them, but he wished to say emphatically that the Government had not departed one iota from the policy they laid down at the first. His own statement on the introduction of the Bill was on record, and it would be found to be perfectly in accord with the statements that had been made on behalf of the Government that night. [Cheers.] He would again appeal to the Committee to consider whether the time had not arrived for them to come to a decision on the Amendment. [Cheers and Opposition cries of "No!"]
§ SIR H. FOWLER
said, he was always ready to respond to the appeals of right hon. Gentlemen opposite when it was possible to do so, but in the present case he would point out to the President of the Local Government Board that neither he nor any right hon. Member on the Treasury Bench had addressed any answer to the statements which had been put forward by hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House. [Cheers.] The question raised by the Amendment had not been met in any way by the Government, and it was necessary that there should be a plain understanding with regard to it. [Cheers.] That question rested not so much upon any particular reduction of 1375 the assessments in a given time, or upon any other matter of detail, but on the broad ground whether the money granted was to be distributed, so to speak, per head all over the kingdom, or whether some principle of justice and fairness was to be observed in its distribution. [Cheers.] For his own part he should be content if the right hon. Gentleman would say that he and his colleagues wished to carry out the principle of distribution fairly and justly, and that they would give the matter further consideration with a view to framing a plan to do so—a plan that would be, to some extent at least, in accordance with the views that had been expressed by those who supported the Amendment. Did the Government, or not, hold to the principle that the distribution was to be uniform—that it should be distributed to all alike regardless of conditions and circumstances? The point the Committee were then asked to decide was whether that course was fair and just. ["Hear, hear!"] If he thought the question involved had been fairly debated he would accede to the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman, but he repeated that the statements and arguments put forward by hon. Members who had supported the Amendment had not even been noticed, much less answered. ["Hear, hear!"] Even the Leader of the House, when he entered the Chamber a short time ago and made a few casual remarks, which had little bearing on the Debate—
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said, that whether the remarks he made were casual or not, they were directed to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who preceded him. [Cheers.]
§ SIR H. FOWLER
said, he did not think the right hon. Gentleman touched the case under discussion. At any rate, this was perhaps one of the most important Amendments that would be proposed, and the case involved was one which could not be raised on the Second Reading of the Bill. The Opposition did not wish to impose on the Government any scheme of their own, but they wished for a declaration from the Government as to the justice or otherwise, in their opinion, of the case the Opposition had brought forward. [Cheers.]
§ MR. P. A. MUNTZ (Warwickshire, Tamworth)
thought the Amendment 1376 very cleverly and ingeniously constructed, and it would be impossible to frame one that would be more likely to create irritation and friction throughout the country. ["Hear, hear!"] It appeared, however, to have created some confusion in the minds of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. As he understood the position of the Government, it was this—they wished to remove what had been an abuse and an injustice in relation to agricultural land, and they proposed to remove it throughout the country, in some districts to one extent, and in other districts to another extent. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton had thought the relief should not be distributed by way of holdings or unions, or parishes, but he suggested that it might be distributed by counties. Well, even then there might be inequalities according to their contention. His own county had been referred to, and it might be taken as an illustration. One part of that county had not suffered from agricultural distress to nearly the same extent as another part, and therefore if the money was distributed even by counties there must be inequality. The fact was that such irregularities could not be avoided, and he maintained that the course taken by the Government was perfectly logical and reasonable. Neither the Government nor their supporters had made any change of front; their one object was to relieve agriculture, and, under all circumstances, they believed they had taken the best and most practical way of carrying it out. [Cheers.]
§ MR. HENRY BROADHURST
said, that the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had fully borne out the statement of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton that the principle of the Bill was unjust, and that the Amendment was based on solid ground. For the hon. Gentleman had shown that the operation of the Bill would be fraught with injustice even in his own county. ["Hear, hear!"] What he and others complained of was that this money was to be distributed without any regard whatever to necessity or the merits of the case, and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton had shown what injustice such a general distribution would inflict on different 1377 parts of the country. A strong case had been shown for a re-consideration of the Measure, for the whole Debate had shown that the Government had brought it forward without having fully gone into the question. The fact was that rash promises were made by them at the recent elections; their friends were now pressing them to redeem the pledges, and here was a result of it—a Measure prepared without consideration, with no inquiry as to what the result of it would be, and drawn without any regard to principles of justice. ["Hear, hear!" and cries of "Divide!"] The Minister in charge of the Bill seemed to be unable to meet the arguments that had been raised on the Amendment, and he thought it would be well if the Government agreed to report progress in order that they might have an opportunity of making up their minds definitely as to the policy they intended to pursue in regard to the points raised in relation to the distribution of the money.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but the Chairman withheld his assent, and declined then to put the Question.
§ MR. BROADHURST,
resuming, said he was amazed at the right hon. Gentleman seeking to put the gag upon the Debate when both he and his friends apparently were unable to meet the arguments of their opponents. [Cheers.] If he could not answer their arguments he would close their mouths. [Cheers and laughter.] More unfortunate action on the part of the Government could not be conceived—
§ MR. BROADHURST
said, the suffering workpeople in their great centres of industry, who were to be taxed to make up this enormous fund which was to be placed at the disposal of the right hon. Gentleman, must be excused if they felt strongly on this matter, and they who had charge of the interests of these poor people did ask the Goverment, if they were going to distribute this money, to distribute it upon some reasonable system which would have regard to the merits and necessities of the case.
§ * MR. HARWOOD,
who said, that if this Bill had for its primary object the dealing with one portion of the general problem of the incidence of rating, a very serious question was raised in the minds of those who represented the general taxpayers. Was this to be the precedent by which other portions of the problem of the rectification of the incidence of rating were to be met? When they came to other portions of the problem and it was found that there was an amount of injustice, were they to go back on the general pocket of the taxpayer again? Was the House to be asked, by this Bill, to establish a precedent.
* THE CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is now discussing the general principle of the Bill. He must confine himself to the particular Amendment before the House.
§ * MR. HARWOOD
said, it was quite possible that a Member of the House might support the Bill cordially if it was what they understood it to be originally—a Bill for the relief of distressed agriculture. He believed the country might be prepared to grant this relief if it was administered in a fair and proper proportion, but the country would not be prepared to grant it if it was no relief at all, but only a portion of the general problem of rating, and thereby aimed at a proposition which the taxpayers would resist to the uttermost because of setting the precedent of dipping into their pockets?
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, he would not have intervened had it not been that direct reference was made to the Welsh Members. The right hon. Gentleman had said that if the Amendment were carried it would prejudicially affect the position of Wales. That was perfectly true; it would at first, at any rate, hit Wales rather hard, but he thought that eventually it would bring considerable benefit, and it would help agriculture in general. The reason why it would hit Wales hard was that there had been no reduction in rent in Wales up to the present. That was not because there had been no depression, but simply because the landlords had not realised the depression in the same way that the landlords in Norfolk and Essex had done, and reduced their rents in proportion to the sufferings of the 1379 farmers. But, if the Amendment were carried, he thought the Welsh landlords would be quick to realise that no relief would be granted except in cases where there was a reduction of 25 per cent. in the assessment. The right hon. Gentleman had said that that assessment was no criterion of the real value of the land. But the assessment of land was based upon its estimated rental. The first thing that was done was to arrive at the estimated gross rental, which, according to the legal definition, was the rent which land could reasonably be expected to produce. If it was proved that there was such a depression in agriculture that farms could not be let at the rent they brought some years ago, then, according to the legal definition, the assessment ought to fall in proportion.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he had quoted the Chairman of the Royal Commission, who said he had found cases in which the assessment was 100 per cent. above the rent.
§ MR LLOYD-GEORGE
observed that that interruption only showed that the Law was not carried out; and instead of seeing that it was carried out the right hon. Gentlemen proposed another law which had nothing whatever to do with the first. All that was necessary in these cases was to see that the law was carried out. He desired to contrast the case of Norfolk with that of Wales in reference to this particular Amendment. There had been a reduction in the assessment in Norfolk of something like 26 per cent., and that reduction was, practically, the same as the reduction in rent. But in Wales there had been no reduction in rent, and, consequently, there could be no reduction in the assessment. Under the Amendment, Wales would not benefit to the extent it ought to do; but the landlords would, no doubt, eventually realise that, and would reduce their rents, especially as they would themselves benefit under the Bill to the extent of half their reductions. The President of the Local Government Board had quoted a passage from the minority Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture as an argument in support of the Bill, but so far from that being so it was a strong argument in favour of the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman had, in fact, 1380 stumbled across the best argument he could get in favour of the Amendment. The Bill was supported by hon. Members opposite on two grounds—first, because it was to relieve distressed agriculture; and, secondly, because it was to readjust the burden of taxation; but, the moment they tackled these arguments separately, both were repudiated in turn. He would support the Amendment even though it might not benefit Wales, because the scheme of the Bill was unjust to the country generally, and exposed the hollowness of the pretence that the Measure had been introduced to relieve distressed agriculture.
§ * MR. MCKENNA
desired to explain, in reference to the reply made by the Minister of Agriculture, that he did not tie himself to the latter words of his Amendment. The Amendment now before the Committee was simply on the single question of whether or not a comparison should be taken for the purpose of coming to a conclusion whether, in any particular place, there had or had not been a depression in agriculture. It was within the memory of hon. Members that not a word was said on the Second Reading of the Bill to justify this Measure as one for the relief of the incidence of taxation. If the Government were going to follow the Report of the Royal Commission, why did they not divide the Rates into four parts, and put only one quarter on the farmers? As a readjustment of the burdens of taxation, the Bill was monstrously unfair to the farmer and unfair in favour of the landlord.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 67; Noes, 179—(Division List, No. 145).
§ On the return of the CHAIRMAN after the usual interval,
§ * MR. H. C. F. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavistock)
moved, to leave out the words "the occupier," and to insert the words "every owner." He said the Bill proposed to relieve the occupier of agricultural land to the extent of one-half his rates. The object of his Amendment was that the occupier should not pay the rates directly at all, but that the landlord should pay them. Such a 1381 system would be easier to work and less expensive. It would be more easy, after an assessment was made, to get the money directly from one landowner than from a large number of occupiers. There were precedents for collecting the rates from the landowner direct in Scotland, Ireland, and England. In Ireland, in the case of holdings under £4 valuation, the landlord paid the whole of the rates, and in all cases he paid the Grand Jury Cess. In Scotland the landlord also paid the whole of the rates under £4 valuation, and he also made himself responsible for the whole of the rates in the lettings of large properties for sporting purposes. In England, too, the landowner had been made to pay the whole of the rates upon certain classes of property. That was provided by the Small Tenements Act. Under the Poor Law Assessment Collection Act the occupier was relieved from the local rates, which were placed entirely upon the landowner, in the case of land valued under £20 in London, under £13 in Liverpool, under £10 in Manchester and Birmingham, and under £8 elsewhere. If the landowner arranged to pay the rates for a year in those cases he was allowed a reduction of 25 per cent. Again, if the landowner was compelled to pay the rates, as he might be by the Vestries, or now by the Parish Councils, he got 30 per cent. off. Those instances clearly showed that it was an economical course that the landlord should be rated directly. And what were the objections to such a proposal? One reason would have been sufficient to condemn it in years gone by—in the days when the exercise of the franchise depended upon the payment of the rates—namely, that it would have the effect of depriving a large number of people of their votes. But, fortunately, to-day the franchise did not depend upon the payment of money, either in rates or taxes. A man voted now because he was an occupier or a householder. Therefore, that objection would not hold good to-day. But it might be objected that under such an arrangement those who would have the administering of the money would not be those who had directly paid the money. Again, that was an objection that did not hold good to-day because, in the case of Boards of Guardians, landowners who did not pay directly took 1382 part in the administering of the money; and even in the case of the House of Commons, Members who had to deal with vast sums of money were not of necessity direct payers to taxation. If a man neither smoked nor drank, he paid little or nothing directly to taxation. Practically speaking, a man might be able to deal with large sums of money and yet not be a direct taxpayer. If the landowner were made to pay these local rates, the objection that the occupier was not paying directly would not be a valid objection. But if another illustration were necessary he would point to this very Bill. The Measure was one to relieve the occupiers to the extent of one half the rates; but it was not proposed that in consequence he should be able to vote as only half an individual. The Bill itself admitted that it was not necessary that a man should pay in full directly in order that he might vote as to the administration of the funds. It would be more fair to labourers and farmers that the landowners should be called upon to pay the whole of these reduced rates. He would prefer a division of rates between occupier and owner, and he had an Amendment to that effect, but, if one was to pay all the rates, it ought to be the landowner rather than the tenant farmer. Therefore, he moved the Amendment.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he did not quite understand the effect of the Amendment or the object the hon. Member had in view. This was a clause to relieve the occupier of one half the burden now borne by him. The hon. Member proposed to substitute the owner for the occupier; but the owner was not liable to pay the rates at all. Therefore, the Amendment had no meaning whatever. If the object were to enforce the burden on the owner, the hon. Member had shown no justification for that change.
§ * MR. LUTTRELL
said, he was well aware that the owner was not liable to pay the rates and it was on that account that he proposed this Amendment. His object being to make the landowner pay those rates which had to be paid, instead of the occupier.
§ MR. WARNER
supported the Amendment, and said, there was nothing ridiculous in providing that the owner should pay directly instead of the farmer. They wanted to prevent land going out 1383 of cultivation, and therefore, their first Amendment ought to be for the farmer and the labourer, and the second for the landowner.
§ SIR H. FOWLER
said, he would suggest that the Amendment should be withdrawn. It did not raise a point on which there was a strong feeling on both sides of the House. He understood the view of the hon. Member that there should be an assimilation of the position of agricultural tenants with that of the occupiers of small tenements and the payment of rates by landlords; but that was not a question which would fairly arise on the face of this Bill. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire wished to raise the question of the division of rates between owner and occupier, in accordance with the recommendation of the Royal Commission, and the practice in Ireland and Scotland; and with that discussion in prospect he would urge that this Amendment should be withdrawn.
§ * MR. LUTTRELL
said, he believed it to be right in principle that the rates should be paid by the landowner rather than by the occupier. The question before the Committee now was, who was to pay; he said that if one paid it ought to be paid by the owner; and, therefore, he must press the Amendment.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 159; Noes, 70.—(Division List, No. 146).
§ MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
then moved an Amendment the object of which, he said, was to introduce into the Bill the principle that the rates should be equally divided between owner and occupier. The President of the Local Government Board said the entire object of the Bill was to afford immediate and adequate relief to the occupier, and went so far as to say it was impossible the owner could share in this relief for a period of five years. He wished to completely traverse that contention. It was absolutely certain that the relief given under this Bill would go almost immediately to the owner, and would not remain with the occupier. It was notorious that on most 1384 of the estates of England, especially in the distressed districts, discussions went on between owners and occupiers, tenants and agents, as to whether there should be remissions of rent and what the amount should be. The relief afforded by the Bill was certain to be taken into consideration by landlords and agents in adjusting abatements and remissions of rent, and so he contended that the whole of the relief given under the Bill would find its way, automatically almost, into the hands of the landlords. It was inevitable from the construction of the Bill and the facts of the agricultural situation. The object of the Amendment was to supply machinery which would stay that economic process, and if it was adopted something like an equitable distribution of relief would be obtained. He rested his case entirely on an economic basis, that, in the present state of affairs and according to the evidence given before the Royal Commission on Agricultural Depression, it was perfectly plain that the occupier of agricultural land was bearing the whole burden of the rates. The theory was that the occupier in entering into his contract for the tenancy, took into consideration the whole of the rates and other burdens on the land, and having taken these rates and burdens into consideration, he agreed to pay a rent which would leave him moderate interest, say 5 per cent. on the capital employed, and 2s. 6d. an acre—some of the witnesses before the Commission put it—for his supervision and personal exertions. Some witnesses had put it as high as 2s. 6d. per acre. After these allowances they ought to have some small margin in addition. That seemed to him a not very extravagant demand for men to make if they were to conduct their business on commercial lines with a prospect of doing their duty to themselves and properly applying their capital to working agriculture. His contention was that the evidence they had put before them showed conclusively that these conditions were not fulfilled, and that the tenant farmers had no margin whatever out of which to make themselves this allowance of a reasonable interest on capital, much less any profit. The "farmer's account," containing information obtained by the Royal Commission, showed that on 40,000 acres the 1385 return to the landlord was in excess of 20s. per acre, whereas the net annual average return to the tenant over the same area was only about 1s. 3d. per acre. The Royal Commission had also in their hands "Estate Accounts" covering 440,000 acres and giving the full accounts prepared by responsible agents, of 29 great estates in England, the agreed rental of which in 1892—the last year for which the figures were available,—was £535,436 and the rental, actually paid £521,000. Deducting the whole of the outgoings, the net returns to the landlords amounted to £303,000, or nearly 14s. an acre. The outgoings, which were deducted from the rents actually received, were calculated in a broad way and covered a great deal more, perhaps, than would be understood in the fair outgoings of an estate for repairs and so on; including as they did, property tax, rent charges, churches, chapels, schools and other subscriptions and donations. The deductions being calculated on this ample scale the landlords of these estates were presumably drawing a very considerable rental having regard to the present position of agriculture. If these farmers' accounts, giving on the whole a net average return to the tenant farmer of only a little over one shilling an acre, were fairly representative, and if these great estates were fairly representative also, it was perfectly plain that the margin that the farmer had was not sufficient to allow him to consider himself to have transferred in any sense whatever, the burden of the rates and taxes. It was perfectly obvious that the farmers had been paying the whole of these burdens and were likely to continue doing so, unless some remedy were provided for the present state of things. He was not one of those who agreed with the arguments sometimes advanced that the agricultural depression was merely temporary, trivial, or unimportant. He knew from his own experience and intercourse with many farmers in the county he represented, and in some of the Southern counties, how bitter and terrible their position was. So far as the Bill could afford relief to the tenant farmers it should be given with a full heart and the utmost anxiety to make it as ample as possible. This question of rates was not a trivial question to the tenant farmer, who was 1386 only able, on an average, to draw a return of a shilling or two per acre, and one shilling in the form of relief of rates was much more important to him than it would be if he was drawing a large return in prosperous years from his farm. The special farm accounts brought before the Royal Commission gave some striking figures. In one farm of 1,200 acres in Lincolnshire, the accounts extending over ten years showed an average rate of £249, an average rental of £1,579 and an average annual loss of £30. He would ask the Committee whether these figures did not prove his contention, that the whole of the rates were falling upon the tenant farmer. There was an account of a very well-worked farm in Cambridgeshire, on which for 59 years the rates had been £93, the rent £738, and the loss to the farmer £335 a year. There was a farm of 1,600 acres in Lincolnshire where the rates were £100, the loss to the farmer £232 a year, and the rent £1,700. On another farm in Lincolnshire of 812 acres the rates were £126 a year, the loss to the tenant £302, and the rent £1,017. In another case the rates were £51, the rent £523, and the loss to the tenant £189 a year. There was a case in Yorkshire where the rates and taxes were £19 a year, the rent £308, and the loss to the farmer £71. There were, he admitted, a few cases which were more favourable. The most favourable case that he could find was that of a farm in Dorset, which was specially well worked and situated, where the rates were £78 a year, the rent £585, and the annual profit £219. He did not deny that on many estates the arrangements were such as to leave a reasonable profit to the farmer, when profit was possible, and that there were farms in which rents had been reasonably adjusted, but he submitted that the figures which he had given established his main proposition.
§ MR. CHANNING
thought they were the rents actually paid. He would not bind himself, however, to the statement that there was no exception to that, because some of these accounts prepared by farmers were not accurate in all the 1387 details. He had taken the opinion of experts on the matter, and he believed that most of these cases were cases of rent actually paid. He contended that it would be a very serious thing if the proposed relief were given in a way which would not direct it to the quarter where it was really needed, and to which it was necessary in the interests of agriculture that it should go. These tenant farmers had had a desperate struggle to keep their small capital together; in many cases they had lost capital year by year whilst they were paying these very-heavy rents. He held that by some such Amendment as he proposed they ought to provide a guarantee that the tenant farmers would not be deprived of this relief by automatic readjustments of rent or by other circumstances. This question had been brought before the House in the course of the Debates on the Local Government Bill of 1888. The discussion which he then initiated resulted in many important admissions being made by right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite of the House. The President of the Board of Trade, who was then President of the Local Government Board, gave his adhesion to the principle of the division of the rates. He admitted the principle, and said that he desired to see it applied. The right hon. Gentleman went even further, and said that Members on his own side of the House were as anxious to see this principle carried out as Members on the Liberal side. Twenty-five years ago, the present First Lord of the Admiralty was responsible, in the first instance, for bringing this proposal before Parliament. He insisted then that it was inexpedient and unjust that an owner of land should be able to contract with the occupier with the object of removing from his own shoulders the burden which he ought properly to bear. Then, not many years ago, when elections were in the air, the First Lord of the Admiralty went to Cambridge and made a striking and brilliant attack upon the Liberal Party, insisting that that Party had not been in earnest on this question of the division of the rates, and that he and his friends were in earnest about it. The right hon. Gentleman raised the standard of division of rates in the autumn of 1891, not perhaps entirely without regard to the probable course 1388 of events in the next few months. In the eastern counties the right hon. Gentleman held out this hope to the agriculturists, that the principle of the division of rates would be carried out by the Party on the opposite side of the House. He must say that while he did his best to keep this question to the fore for a number of years, he could have wished his own friends on his side of the House would have taken up the question. [Ministerial, cheers.] Hon. Members opposite cheered that remark, and they might make the best of it; but at the same time it did not alter their position. They were introducing here a proposal of enormous importance to the immediate future of the country. It was a proposal which if carried out by the right method would have had his heartiest sympathy; because he wanted to relieve these people and would have gone far to support the Government if they had adopted the principle he advocated, which would have enabled the tenant farmers to receive the full benefit afforded them by this Bill. But everyone in the House had ringing in their ears the speech of the President of the Local Government Board in introducing this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman anticipated the arguments that might be addressed against it by deploring the position in which landlords were now placed. On his side of the House they felt warm sympathy for suffering landlords. Many were placed in their present position not, perhaps, by their own fault, but from the fact that they thought, or had been advised, that the land would go on increasing in value for ever and ever, and so went on increasing the charges on their estates. But economic blunders like that ought not to lead the House into further economic blunders now. Ho would only say, in conclusion, that he wished to insist on this bare fact, that though a very important step was being taken by this Bill, it had really been riddled by arguments for days past, and the backbone had been taken out of it by the admission that an Inquiry was required into the general question of the incidence of the rates. He would give the right hon. Gentleman opposite the credit for wishing that the whole of the relief should go to the tenant farmers, but he suggested this Amendment as the most practical machinery for carrying 1389 out the object he had in view. He begged to move the Amendment.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, the hon. Member had raised a question in which no doubt great interest was felt, and on which he was well qualified to express an opinion. He was glad to bear his humble testimony to the industry and ability which the hon. Gentleman had brought to bear on this and many other questions. He was quite aware that a considerable amount of interest was felt in this question within the walls of the House of Commons, but he was not quite sure that the same amount of interest was felt beyond them. He had had sent to him an analysis of a great number of returns which had been asked for from all parts of the country by the Central Chamber of Agriculture, with regard to forms of agricultural depression and the remedies that were proposed. Remedies of all sorts and kinds were recommended in these returns, but there were absolutely only three in which a division of the rates was recommended. A great number of recommendations were made in the direction of the proposal he had had the privilege of making to the House, but when it came to the question of the division of the rates, he found this paragraph in his analysis:—"In three reports the suggestion that the rates should be divided between the owner and occupier is made." Thus, however, proper a subject it might be for discussion, he was inclined to think that hon. Members must not exaggerate the importance attached to it out of doors. The first objection to the proposal was that it overrode all existing contracts, and he could not think that a time when all classes were suffering bitterly from depression, this was the moment to step in and override existing contracts. No doubt the Richmond Commission made recommendations with regard to this question, but the Richmond Commission was careful to state that it ought to be done without disturbing existing contracts, and that the principle recommended applied to all rates whatsoever, and they were now dealing with the question of rates on agricultural land. A much better opportunity for dealing with this question occurred in 1894 under the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton; but 1390 the opportunity was neglected. If it were to be done now, and if the old principle to which he hoped some importance was still attached by the House of Commons was to be given effect to, namely, that taxation and representation should go together, he wanted to know what kind of proportion of representation the owner on whom it was sought to place half the rates in future, was to enjoy, and what voice he was to have with regard to the taxation to be levied upon him. The rider attached to the resolution to which the hon. Gentleman referred was passed at the end of the meeting by a small minority, who had remained to the last after the great majority had left—after the main resolution had been carried. Over and over again it had been stated on the other side of the House that the whole of the relief that would be given by this Bill must, inevitably, sooner or later, go into the pockets of the landlords. The hon. Member opposite who moved the Amendment expressed the opinion that it would be sooner, and not later. If that were true, and his argument was correct, he could not understand why the hon. Gentleman and his friends should attach so much importance to the Amendment, because it was perfectly certain that the whole of the benefit under the Bill would pass into the pockets of the landlords, whether the Amendment was passed or not. For his own part, he did not believe that the hon. Gentleman was right in his assumption. He adhered to the view that he had constantly expressed during the course of this Debate—and he had not arrived at the conclusion without having some practical experience in relation to the subject—that in the vast majority of cases throughout Great Britain, whatever relief was given would go wholly and directly into the pockets of the tenants. [Cries of "No!"] Of course, hon. Members opposite were perfectly entitled to have their own opinion on the subject. The only difference between them was that he thought that he knew better than they did on the subject, and, therefore, they might amicably agree to differ with regard to it. He could not help thinking that this was a most unfortunate time for this proposal to be made. All parties were agreed that agricultural distress did 1391 exist, and he was afraid that this Bill, whatever it might do, would only go a small way towards relieving that distress. At any rate, the Bill would not impose any fresh burdens upon any class. He had the greatest sympathy with the other classes who were suffering from agricultural depression, whether they lived in the towns or in the rural districts, and he hoped that in time equal justice would be done them, as far as relief from the burden of rates was concerned.
§ * MR. GEORGE LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
said, that the right hon. Gentleman had remarked that the tenant-farmers were eagerly waiting for the reduction of one-half of their rates; if that were so, then farmers would eagerly welcome a reduction of the remaining half. The Central Chamber of Agriculture had passed a resolution in favour of this Amendment, and why was it that the right hon. Gentleman had not carried that resolution into effect? The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that all agricultural classes were suffering under agricultural depression. He agreed that the tenant-farmers were suffering, but for the life of him he could not understand how it could be said that the great landowners in the West of England, who had lost at the outside some 10 per cent. of their large incomes, could be said to be suffering.
§ * MR. LAMBERT
said, no doubt the right hon. Gentleman, himself, was suffering, although he did not look like it. The right hon. Gentleman had said that taxation and representation ought to go together, but his Government had not carried out that excellent principle with regard to the Education Bill. The right hon. Gentleman was more tender towards the interests of the landlords than he was towards the interests of the State, which would have no representation on the local bodies, although contributing a very large proportion of the rates. The whole tendency of public opinion during the last 20 years had been in favour of a division of the rates between the owners and the occupiers. The Scotch had this system and the Irish also. Then they must remember that the Richmond Commission, of which 1392 the right hon. Gentleman was a Member, unanimously recommended a division of rates between the landlord and the tenant. He had been astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman, in introducing this Bill, say—It must be remembered that there is a tremendous change in the position of the landlords of this country since that recommendation—That was the recommendation of the Richmond Commission—was made. The whole evidence taken before the present Agricultural Commission teems with illustrations of deserted homes, bankrupt estates, vanished resources, landlords forced to reside abroad, or wherever they could obtain a living cheaply.Had the right hon. Gentleman contemplated the other side, that of the tenant farmer? Some of the tenant farmers having lost the whole of their capital had to live as agricultural labourers, while some of them had had to go to the workhouse. He maintained that the tenant farmers were suffering far more than the landlords at the present time, and he defied the right hon. Gentleman to contradict it. He would quote from an authority which the right hon. Gentleman himself would respect, it was the evidence, before the Royal Commission, of Mr. Epton, a man of great repute in Lincolnshire. He said in answer to the question—Do you think that rents are not quite reduced enough to meet the altered condition of things?"—"The tenants are losing a deal more than the landlords are now.The right hon. Gentleman said that this proposal was not introduced into the Parish Councils Bill, but why did not any Conservative Member introduce it? All they did then was to propose senseless Amendments. Why did they not propose a sensible Amendment? He knew that after all, although his words belied him sometimes, the right hon. Gentleman had some sympathy with the tenant farmer, and he appealed to him to reconsider his position and give the tenant-farmers that relief which he believed would be given by a division of rates between landlord and tenant.
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, this was a very serious question, and he should endeavour to approach it without exciting any 1393 prejudice. The actual words Proposed, "the owner," had no reference to contract one way or the other. In the terrible competition which hon. Members appeared to be subjected, to thrust in any Amendment they had at heart at the first possible moment, they were quite oblivious of the opportune point at which it might be introduced or the conditions necessary to make it intelligible.
§ MR. CHANNING
said, the Amendment to which he had drawn attention, that each should pay one-quarter of the rate, must be taken together with this one to make it intelligible.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, the Amendment might have been proposed at another point. He did not wish to be egotistic, but he had got an Amendment of his own down—[laughter]—which he thought might have been recommended without encountering the arguments which had been brought against this proposal. This Bill, they were told, was to amend our system of local taxation, a system which for a long time past had been regulated on principles which could not stand examination. Nobody would dream of proposing to raise the local taxation in the present fashion if new proposals were now to be made, and it was only tolerable because it had existed for many generations. It was now proposed to amend that system by relieving one class of property, which was at present made to contribute an undue share towards the cost of local government. Everyone who was acquainted with the matter had come to the conclusion that it would be a great improvement if they adopted the practice in Scotland and which prevailed in parts of Ireland, and divided the rates between owner and occupier. ["Hear, hear!"] Might they not seize that opportunity to carry out this reform? All they had to do was to introduce a provision that the occupier who paid rates should be entitled to get half from the owner. They would have nothing to do with the contract. If they introduced it in that way they would be only carrying out the Government ideas of reform of local taxation, and they would be doing it without interfering with any contracts. That would in no way be unjust. It would not interfere with that much suffering person the landlord, or 1394 that other suffering person the tenant. It would not come into operation, except in the case of a new tenancy, or the re-settlement of a tenancy. That was a modest, a sensible, and if he might say so, a just proposal. It trampled upon no susceptibilities; it did no wrong to anyone. One great object they all had in view. Everyone much concerned in local government was aware that, especially in rural districts, the great obstacle to reform of all kinds had been due to this fact—that the entire cost of the reform had been thrown upon the farmers out of all proportion to their capacity to meet the cost. If they gave them not merely the relief proposed in that Bill, but the permanent relief of the future—if they received one-half of the rate—they would then remove the great obstacle to the reform of local government in these localities. Now, it had been said, where did the ultimate incidence of the rates rest? In a Free Trade country like this, where the farmers entered into competition with the producers of all parts of the world, in the long run it would fall on the landowners, because whenever there came a settlement, however roughly it was done, between the agent and the occupier or the tenant who was coming in upon the farm, one consideration was the rates that were to be paid. The rents would go up or down with the rates, and in the end the burden must rest on the landowner. Therefore, in the present situation any relief of rates they gave would be for the moment secured by the tenants in the main. If they went to any farmers' club or ordinary and the question was raised they would hear it said, "We are very thankful to get this amount of relief; but how about that proposal to give us back the half of our rates; why didn't you give us that?" Was there any difficulty? There was no difficulty in the matter if the Government would only face it. [Opposition cheers.] They were only just at the beginning of this business—[renewed cheers.]—but unfortunately his right hon. Friend who was in charge of the Bill would not face the question. Here was a plain proposal. The Richmond Commission was unanimously in favour of it; the system prevailed in Scotland. It was a good system, and if it was a good system why should they not take that 1395 opportunity to bring about proper relief? It would not interfere with contracts. The tenant would still be the first person to pay. As he had said, they were not at the end of this business. He hoped it would receive the attention of all the Members of the Government who were concerned in the passing of the Bill, and that the Committee would hear some large views of the matter before the clause was finally disposed of.
§ MR. LOUGH
thought the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had intimated that he was going to make some concessions; it was as well he should make them before they got much further. It would, for instance, considerably hasten matters if the Government would concede the principle of this Amendment. He noticed that the First Lord of the Admiralty looked in, and that when he discovered what the point under discussion was he beat a retreat. He wished the right hon. Gentleman would look in again, because, for this Amendment they could very properly claim his support. The First Lord of the Admiralty had written a little book on this subject. It was a very dangerous thing for gentlemen who sat on the Front Bench to write books. That book, written in 1872, was one of the leading works on local taxation, and in it the right hon. Gentleman contended that rates should be divided equally between the owner and the occupier. In 1871, the right hon. Gentleman introduced a Bill, and one of the clauses of it contained that very provision. It would be said that was the First Lord of the Admiralty's undeveloped view, but it was nothing of the kind, for in 1881 he stated in a public speech that he had not changed his mind on the subject, and he still thought the proposal was a most equitable one. The Duke of Richmond, the Chairman of the first Commission to consider this question, had expressed the view that the division of rates between owner and occupier should be enforced on equitable terms by Act of Parliament. Sir Massey Lopes, a very high authority, had for a long time carried out this principle. The President of the Local Government Board himself stated, on the 27th of February 1891, that if rates were high the owner got less rent; if they were low 1396 he got more rent; therefore he mentioned that the whole burden fell on the owner of the land and on no one else. If so, why did the right hon. Gentleman so obstinately resist this proposal? As to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin, he could not help remarking that the gentleman was fond of lecturing the Opposition, especially when he was going to borrow their ideas. The right hon. Member said that his suggestion was modest, moderate, and sensible, but he hardly thought that it would fully bear that character. Now, let them look at the principle on which this Amendment was based. What was that principle? It was that the owner got as much benefit as the occupier out of what was secured by the expenditure of the rates. Surely, therefore, it was only fair and just that the owner should pay his share of the charge. If he shared the advantage, he ought to share the charge, and he was confident that the more the principle was examined the more difficult it would be found to contest it. Allusion had been made to the fact that the principle operated as a law in Ireland and Scotland. Why should it be in operation, and successful operation in those countries, and not in England? Simply because there were strong interests operating in England against its adoption. The principle, however, had worked most satisfactorily in Ireland and Scotland, and in justice it should be applied in this country. In stating his first answer to the Amendment, the right hon. Gentleman had said that there were only three witnesses before the Commission who recommended this particular alteration—the division of the rates between the owner and the occupier. That might be true, but the reason was very simple—because most of the witnesses tried to get rid of the question of the division of the rates altogether; they endeavoured to avoid it. The Amendment embraced a proposal to which those who lived in the cities were much attached, and one which had been firmly adopted by many representatives of urban constituencies. It applied, however, with equal force and justice to the country as well as to the towns, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would yet see his way to accept the Amendment.
§ * CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E. R., Holderness)
said, the right hon. Member for Bodmin had made an important suggestion by way of modifying the Amendment. But he was unable to perceive that very much advantage would be gained if it was carried out. If the division of the rates was only to take place on the determination of the tenancy, it seemed to him that the only result would be that the rents would be raised in proportion as the amount of the rates was reduced. If the principle, however, had no actual advantage, there might be, in some parts of the country, a strong feeling of sentiment entertained on the matter. He could only say that there was no such sentiment felt in the agricultural districts of the county to which he belonged. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] If the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill chose to adopt the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Bodmin, he should offer no sort of objection, while if the right hon. Gentleman decided to adhere to his present position, he should support him in doing so. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Northampton was one of those who declared that the proposals of the Bill would have the effect of assisting the landlord rather than the farmer, and that being so he could not understand why the hon. Member attached so much significance to this Amendment; for, if the effect of the Bill, according to the contention of the hon. Member, would put money in the pockets of the landlords, this Amendment, by parity of reasoning, must have a similar effect. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member seemed to entertain the idea that he understood the business of landlord and tenant much better than they did themselves, but he and hon. Members on that side of the House held a different opinion. [Cheers.] Landlords and tenants were far more likely to carry on their business successfully without Parliamentary interference than they were with such interference as was proposed by the Amendment. It was unjust to break the contract as the hon. Member proposed, and to make the rates payable half by the landowners in the case of leases, and 1398 he thought that in the case of tenancies which were held by the year, the proposal would be unnecessary. He should certainly vote against the Amendment.
§ MR. WARNER
said, there had been several objections taken to the Amendment. He noticed, in the first place, that the President of the Local Government Board again shifted the position of the Government, and said that this was a Bill for the relief of agriculture, quite forgetting that a few minutes before the President of the Board of Agriculture had said it was a Bill for altering the incidence of the rates. If it was a Bill for the relief of agriculture, surely the greater the relief they could possibly give it the better, and this was a proposition for increasing the relief to the farmer, who was the person who was suffering most Several hon. Gentlemen opposite had told them that eventually the benefit would be to the landlord, and that, therefore, they ought not to give any more relief in this way. The fact of the matter was that this would be immediate relief to the farmer just in the same way as the relief of the rates in the Bill as it stood would be immediate relief and eventually go into the landlord's pocket. What they wanted was to relieve the farmer and to reduce his rent as far as possible as well as his rate for the moment. The necessity for reducing his rent had been very ably shown several times. In 99 cases out of 100 the rent was too high for the farmer at the present moment, and they wanted to reduce it by putting half the remaining rate on the landlord. Their great point all through this agricultural depression was to give immediate relief before the men were reduced to ruin. There was another reason beside that of immediate relief for bringing in this Amendment. It was an important principle in their Imperial taxation that everybody who had anything to do with land or houses should have some portion of the rates to pay. They thought it only right that the landlord should have some share of the local expenditure to pay for so that he should have a direct personal interest in keeping down the rates. It was said that this principle did not apply here because it ought to be given 1399 to all sorts of real property. They quite agreed, but this was a Bill for dealing with only one kind of real property, and let them deal with that one kind thoroughly. The altering of contracts was a minor point when the Committee was discussing such an important subject as this. In most cases the contracts between tenants and landlords had now become yearly contracts, and the leases of former years had been objected to. Of late years the system of leases had almost become obsolete in connection with agricultural land, but this Bill would not affect those persons, because in most cases the year would have expired before the Bill came into operation.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, that an hon. Member opposite objected to farmers and landlords being prevented from carrying on their business in their own way. As a town representative he did not wish to interfere with landlords and farmers carrying on their business in their own way, so long as they did it at their own expense; but how far was this principle of non-interference to be carried? A valuable admission had been made by an hon. Gentleman opposite that the result of the Bill would be to practically increase the rent. That had been the contention of the opponents of the Bill all through. The right hon. Member for Bodmin said that the Committee was now engaged in reforming the system of local taxation. That was not so. It was true that up to seven o'clock the Committee was engaged in this task, but now it was engaged in the relief of agricultural depression. Now when there was a proposal to carry the readjustment a little further, it was said that it had nothing to do with readjustment, or, in other words, it was "my partner, Mr. Jorkins."' The President of the Local Government Board said that the Amendment was not opportune. It was somewhat curious, however, that when his hon. Friend made a similar proposal in 1888 exactly the same argument was advanced. It was not opportune now; when, then, was it going to be opportune? [An HON. MEMBER: "In 1894."] If it was opportune in 1894, surely it was opportune two years afterwards. But there was this difference. In 1894 it was a Bill for establishing a system of local government, 1400 and the First Lord of the Treasury said that the Bill was of such enormous magnitude that it should be divided into three parts. The President of the Board of Agriculture also had representations to make as to the Bill, and in deference to them this subject was not introduced. According to the view of the right hon. Gentleman, however, this was a Bill to readjust the incidence of local taxation, and it was said that it was a proposal to break contracts which could not be entertained. He remembered another Bill introduced by a Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a Member, putting the whole burden of tithe on to the owner, and that Bill broke every contract in the country. Was not that an infringement of contract, and yet it was proposed by the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a Member! Now, the supporters of the present Amendment were not doing anything half as bad. The President of the Local Government Board said there was no interest taken in the matter outside the House, and by way of proving that he referred to the fact that only four suggestions were made before the Royal Commission in favour of this division. But what about the Central Associated Chambers of Agriculture? That body passed a Resolution unanimously in favour of the division, and it represented the whole agricultural community throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman said there were other classes suffering besides the farmers. Of course the other classes were the landlords, but his point was that those gentlemen did not divide the losses. Here was a case from Norfolk. In 1887 the profit upon the farm was £599, and in 1890 it was £141; but in 1891–2 there was a loss upon the working of the farm of £479, while there was a reduction in rent from £600 to £523. Where was the division of losses there? All they asked was, that in cases where there was an actual loss, the landlord should, at any rate, bear one-half the burden of local taxation.
§ * MR. LUTTRELL
thought it would be better to divide equally between owner and occupier any fresh burdens which might be placed upon the land. That was the main reason why he was in favour of the Amendment, and it was partly on that ground that he was able 1401 to give his support to the Second Reading. The right hon. Gentleman who was responsible for the Bill had declared over and over again that the main object of the Bill was to relieve agriculture. Yes, but what classes of agriculture? There were several classes employed in agriculture—the labourer, the farmer, and the landowner. Which class did he want to relieve? If he wanted to relieve the tenant-farmer as well as the owner, then he ought to accept the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman had given his full assent to the Report of the Royal Commission, and what was that Report? That agricultural land should be assessed at one-quarter of its annual value. And, as the right hon. Gentleman wished mainly to relieve the occupiers of agricultural land, he would surely accept the Amendment, which would have the effect of carrying out the recommendation of the Commission to this extent, that the occupier would only pay on one-quarter of the rates. The right hon. Gentleman responsible for the Bill was a member of the Richmond Commission, which reported that: "Whatever change may be made in the incidence of local taxation, we are of opinion that, without interfering with existing contracts of tenancy, all rates should in future be borne equally by the owners and occupiers." No Commission could sit nowadays to deal with this subject which did not assent to the principle that there should be a division of rates between the occupier and the owner.
§ * MR. HARRISON
said, this Amendment asserted the economic principle that it was just and expedient that the rates should be divided between owner and occupier. Nothing was said in the Amendment with reference to its setting aside or affecting contracts. Therefore any contracts that were running, would still, so far as the provisions of the Bill were concerned, be uninterrupted, even if the Bill were altered by the introduction of the words proposed. If it was thought advisable to extend the principle further, so as to make it interfere with existing contracts or leases, the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Member for Bodmin could be adopted, declaring that the division of rates between owner and occupier should take effect, contracts notwithstanding, and the Bill could be 1402 subsequently amended by the introduction of a provision in accordance with the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Bodmin. It was almost unnecessary as affecting agricultural Measures, for if hon. Members would read the evidence given before the Commission, they would find that there was an almost universal consensus of opinion that the tenure of agricultural land was now not by lease but by yearly agreement, which could be terminated at once; so that no question of existing contracts could stand in the way of a division of the rates between owner and occupier. That the division of rates between owner and occupier was an equitable and just proposal did not merely rest on what the First Lord of the Admiralty had stated in 1871, but after due deliberation was introduced by him into the Rating Bill in 1873, which was amended by a Special Committee of this House. That Bill provided for the division of all rates on mines and other property (not being coal mines) between owners and occupiers, and by the 12th Section gave the tenant the right to deduct from the rent one-half in the pound of the rate, and declared that such deduction should be a good discharge pro tanto to the amount of rent. In 1874 this Bill formed the basis of the Act which passed into law called the Rating Amendment Act, 1874. The House of Lords had decided that mines (other than coal mines) were not liable to be rated to the poor, but this Act brought other mines into assessment, and made them subject to the Poor Rate, but provided that unless there was a specific contract to the contrary, the tenant should be entitled to deduct one-half of the amount of the rate. It was prefectly open to Parliament, in adjusting the incidence of local taxation, to say on what interest the burden should fall. This was further illustrated in the Poor Law Act of 1835, when the Poor Law Rate was first introduced into Ireland. At that date there were contracts running by occupiers to pay all rates and taxes, but when Parliament imposed the poor rate in Ireland for the first time it insisted on this fair and equitable principle, and enacted that the rate should be divided between owner and occupier, and it provided accordingly, and provisions were inserted in the Act that that division was to take 1403 effect contracts to the contrary notwithstanding. If therefore existing contracts were to be held a bar to such adjustment, there would never be any change at all. [The hon. Member was met with cries of "Divide!"]
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.),
whose rising was greeted with loud cheers, said: I think the Committee finds itself in what I might call an unprecedented position at this hour of the night. ["Hear, hear!"] One of the most experienced Members of the House, and a Member of the opposite Party, has made a statesmanlike suggestion to the Government in reference to a question which I thought was outside party politics altogether—a matter of economic administration—[cheers]—and although an hour has elapsed since that suggestion was made the Government have not taken the slightest notice of it and they have made no reply to it. [Cheers.] There has evidently been an intimation given to hon. Members opposite that this Debate is to be brought to a close—[Ministerial cries of "No!" and Opposition cheers]—and one of the most competent and experienced authorities on local taxation in this House—a new Member, too—has been for the third time this week clamoured down. [Loud cheers.] I can only say from my experience—and I have some experience of carrying a difficult Bill through this House—that that is not a way to get a Measure through in a reasonable period. [Cheers.] As I should wish to address some remarks to the Committee on this subject—one of the most important points of the Bill—I beg to move that you, Mr. Lowther, do report progress and ask leave to sit again. [Loud cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I am quite at a loss to account for the tone which has animated the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman. [Cheers.] He has made two accusations—one against the Government, the other against the House—[Opposition cries of "No!"]—well, against the majority. The accusation against the majority was that they shouted down—[Opposition cheers and cries of "Clamoured!"]—clamoured down a new 1404 Member of this House. ["Three times this week!" and cheers.] I have not had the advantage of hearing the hon. Gentleman on all the three occasions during the course of one week, in which we have only reached Thursday—[laughter]—to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, but I am bound to say that an independent Member who has occupied the attention of the House three times in the course of one week, much as may be the advantage the House can gain from his information, can hardly claim the privileges of excessive modesty—[laughter, and cries of "Oh, oh!"]—or that diffidence which naturally attaches to the status of a new Member. I am quite prepared to admit what I believe to be the fact, that the hon. Gentleman is an authority on this question. I am very far from regretting that he has not had an opportunity of enlightening the House with the information which I fully believe he has at his command. I pass to the accusation against Her Majesty's Government. What is it? It is that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, having explained to the House that the Bill is not intended to deal with the question of the division of rates as between owner and occupier, but that it deals with the question of rating as between one kind of property and another, did not think that the Bill would be improved by dealing with the question now raised at the present time. That may be a foolish argument; it has seemed to be one of great weight on previous occasions, when the House has been extremely unwilling to load with the subject of this Amendment Measures much more nearly connected with it than in this Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin is a Gentleman the House always listens to with respect. [Opposition cheers.] I should be the first to admit that the suggestion he has made is an enormous improvement on the Amendment which we have been discussing; but, although the suggestion is an improvement, we are not prepared as a Government to load the Bill with a proposition which would undoubtedly add enormous complexity to the working of this Bill in the country. The right 1405 hon. Member for Wolverhampton desires to address the House on this subject, and it is not our desire to prevent him from doing so; we should only be too glad to hear him. Although his strictures on the conduct of the Government and of the majority are utterly unwarranted—[cheers]—we do not resist the Motion he has put before the House.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
I have no desire to prolong this discussion, but as the right hon. Gentleman has said that there was no foundation for what my right hon. Friend said, I feel bound to say I never witnessed an occasion upon which a protest was more required than is the protest against the manner in which this Bill is being conducted. [Cheers.] We never know the ground upon which the Government are proceeding; first they take up one ground, then they take up another. Since the right hon. Member for Bodmin called attention to the very insufficient statement made by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, there have been speeches which deserved and demanded an answer from the Government. No such answer was forthcoming; and when an independent Member on this side of the House was attempting to discuss this important Amendment he was, as my right hon. Friend said, clamoured down. It is quite time a protest was made. There are Gentlemen on this side who wish to discuss this subject—[The FIRST LORD of the TREASURY: "Hear, hear!"]— and I hope they may be heard.
§ MR. J. W. LOGAN (Leicestershire, Harborough)
said that hon. Members below the Gangway were much obliged to the Leader of the House for allowing one of the Leaders of the Opposition to take part in the Debate upon this Question [Laughter], but there were independent Members like himself who wished to express the views they were sent there to represent, and he trusted they would be allowed an opportunity of doing so. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ Progress reported.