§ (1) After the 31st day of March next during the continuance of this Act, thin 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
1695 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.
§ Amendment proposed, after the word "land," to insert the words "and buildings."—(Mr. Luttrell.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'and buildings' be there inserted."
§ Amendment proposed to amend the proposed Amendment by inserting after "buildings" the words "used solely for agricultural purposes"—(Mr. Jeffreys.)
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. ARTHUR JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
, in further speaking to his proposed Amendment to the Amendment, urged that this qualification was absolutely essential. He hoped, therefore, his right hon. Friend would seriously consider it. He had that day received a letter from the Ashbourne Board of Guardians begging him to persevere with the Amendment, as the board thought it would be perfectly impossible to separate buildings used solely for agricultural purposes from the land. At the last meeting of the Central Chamber of Agriculture it was unanimously resolved, "That the council welcomes and approves the Agricultural Land Rating Bill, but is strongly of opinion that buildings used solely for agricultural purposes cannot be separately assessed from the land to which they properly belong." At the same meeting a large and well-known farmer in the North said that the buildings were absolutely essential to the cultivation of the land, and the proposal to assess them separately from the land would cause a great deal of antagonism between the rural and urban members of the assessment committees. A gentleman from Buckinghamshire did not see how farm buildings could be assessed separately from the land; indeed, the farmers present were unanimous in protesting that it would be disastrous to the Bill to separate the land from the buildings In the Local Taxation Accounts of 1696 1875 there were the words: "For the purpose of this Report, lands shall include farmhouses and farm buildings, tithe-rent charges, etc." When he turned to page 6, from which his right hon. Friend got the amount of rateable land and on which he based his figures, he found there were two headings connected with land; one was "lands" and the other "buildings" and the heading "lands" of course meant agricultural land with the buildings thereon, and he was tempted to ask his right hon. Friend how he got the figures which he gave them as to the amount which would be required to halve the rates on the land exclusive of the buildings? He made out from the return that the total value of the land and buildings was £33,650,000. From that they had to deduct the tithe, which was worth now about £3,000,000, so that the value of the lands and buildings was £30,650,000. If they took the rates upon the whole of that at 2s. 4d. in the pound, the average of the rates in the rural districts, they amounted to £3,576,000. The half of that was £1,788,000, which was about the sum of money the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to give them. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: "No."] It was very nearly the amount. The Government were not asked to remit half the rates upon the houses, because that would not be fair to the other ratepayers; they only asked to be excused the rates on the land and agricultural buildings. The reason for pressing the Amendment was that there would be such great difficulty in assessing buildings separately from the land. If they in Hampshire had to reassess their holdings for the purpose of taking out the buildings, the expense would be almost as great as the amount that would be gained. They would never be satisfied, but would always be appealing to the Court of Quarter Sessions. That would not only militate against the good they would get from the Bill, but it would postpone any good they would get for a very long time. Farmers were very thankful to the Government for having introduced the Bill, but he could not help thinking that unless the Government gave way on an Amendment of this kind they would very seriously hamper the working of the Measure.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
congratulated hon. Gentleman opposite representing the agricultural interest upon having recovered their tongues. ["Hear, hear!"] Yesterday, when an Amendment deeply affecting the agricultural interest as between the landlord and the tenant was moved, a ukase went from the Leader of the House—an order would be the better phrase—to Gentlemen behind him not to speak on the subject. Only his right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, with his indomitable independence, broke away. Though the Opposition invited and challenged the landlords of England to say why they should not contribute to the rates paid by the tenants, not a word was said by one of them. The question yesterday was whether the landlords were to pay something; to-day the question was whether the landlords were to get something more. The gag was removed and the agricultural interest were permitted to speak in favour of having an addition to the boon from the grant that was to be given to them. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House would not repeat the appeal to hon. Members behind him to abstain from referring to this point. What he wished especially to know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer was, at what sum this additional grant which it was proposed by the Amendment to make to the landlords might be estimated. He understood that the object of the Bill was to give relief to the land, and that no relief was to be given to the buildings on the land. If they once began to apply the relief of the rates to the houses and buildings upon the land they would increase a thousandfold the force of the arguments as to the gross injustice that would be done by the Bill, because they would relieve the houses on the land and not houses elsewhere. [Cheers.]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The argument was that you could not separate the two. [Ministerial cries of "No, no!"] Were they going to separate the cowhouse from the farmhouse?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, he could very well understand that hon. Gentlemen opposite wanted to get everything they could, and more if possible, for the landlords. [Laughter.] On what ground could they separate these agricultural tenements for the purposes of the Bill? A more extraordinary case of Oliver asking for more he never heard of than this Amendment of the hon. Member for Hampshire. The question was whether, as against all other classes of the community, the Government were going to take the course of accepting every proposal for increasing the grant which had already been made to the landlords? There was a recommendation by the Commission to grant three-fourths of the rates upon land, but there was no proposal whatever to grant relief upon the houses or buildings. Was the whole policy of the Bill in this respect to be now changed?
§ MR. JEFFREYS
It is not changed. The buildings and land are rated together now, and we do not want it changed.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, if that were so, what necessity was there for the Amendment? ["Hear, hear!"] When the Bill was framed it was with the object of relieving the land and that alone. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for Hampshire must know that the effect of his Amendment must be to increase the charge under the Bill, and it was important that the Committee should know whether the Government intended to adhere strictly to the policy of the Bill.
§ * THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, his recollection of what the Leader of the House said in reference to the discussion on the previous day was that he merely asked hon. Members to confine their observations to the Amendment then before the Committee. [''Hear, hear!"] He hoped that the Debates on the Bill were not going to be embittered by hon. Members attributing to their opponents motives for which there was no real foundation. 1699 ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for Hampshire, who had had great experience of country life and country administration, had pointed out that there was a real difficulty in separating the land from the buildings upon the land, and had thus raised a fair point for discussion. The Leader of the Opposition had said that all that the Amendment meant was a demand by Oliver asking for more in the interests of the landlords and at the cost of the general taxpayer. But that was not the spirit with which the Amendment had been moved. [Cheers.] With regard to the Amendment itself, however, he hoped the Committee would not sanction what he must say appeared to him would be a very unjust principle in relation to the law of rating. [Sir W. HARCOURT: "Hear, hear!"] The Government had brought in this Bill with the intention of relieving the land, in the matter of local taxation, and had not been able to see their way to include, as proposed by the Amendment, the buildings on the land. He feared that his hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire did not appreciate the amount which the Bill would already cost to the general taxation of the country. He showed in his Budget speech that the estimated cost to England would be £780,000 for the current year and double that amount in future years. If the proposal of his hon. Friend were adopted it would add considerably to the already large amount provided under the Bill, and in that case—he said so with all seriousness, having already gone to the utmost limit to which he could properly and safely go—he should be obliged to appeal to his right hon. Friend near him (Mr. Chaplin) to relieve him in some other way, either by lowering the proportion of the rate on the land granted under the Bill, or by deducting certain rates from the rates with regard to which relief would be given. He trusted that, after what he had said as to the unfairness to other ratepayers of the proposition of his hon. Friend, and as to the funds they had at their disposal, his hon. Friend would not on this occassion press his Amendment. He granted that there was one point that deserved consideration, and that was whether some arrangement could not be arrived 1700 at by which it should be secured that the farmhouses and buildings should be fairly assessed as compared with other assessments in the parishes in which they were situated. That was a point which would properly come under consideration at a later period of the Bill. He was quite sure they would be ready to consider favourably any proposal that might be made in regard to it, but he hoped the principle would be adhered to that buildings on farms, as well as houses, should in future be subject to the whole rate.
§ * MR. E. STRACHEY (Somerset, S),
hoped his hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire would not be inclined to give way. He agreed with him as to the difficulty Assessment Committees would have in dealing with this Bill if they had to value every cowshed, every pig-sty, every building and every rough shed that was put on a farm and to separately assess it. It seemed to him the Chancellor of the Exchequer was asking the Assessment Committee to do a good deal of unnecessary and very expensive work. The hon. Member for Hampshire had pointed out that it would lead to expensive appeals and expensive litigation, but even if that were not the case the labour of the Assessment Committees and the cost would be very great. He could not help thinking the proposal of the hon. Member was extremely moderate. It certainly did not go so far as he should like, but for the sake of general agreement he would urge his hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock to accept the Amendment. The farmers, who were taking a great interest in this Bill, were extremely dissatisfied with the Government having excluded farm buildings and the farmhouses in which they lived. It was quite true that, since the passing of the Franchise Act of 1884, Assessment Committees had been in the habit of assessing the cottages on a farm separately and putting a value on them, but that had been done merely for electoral purposes. It had been properly pointed out by the hon. Member for Hampshire that the probability was that the very Estimate that had been made for providing this money had been made upon the grounds that the farmhouse and buildings were included in those very assessments, and he could not see that 1701 from the financial point of view there was any argument against the Amendment which would hold water. He had all along urged that the Government were making a great mistake in making this distinction between real property in town and country, but the proposal had been affirmed that for the present they were to confine this advantage to country districts. That being so, he thought they had much better not, simply for the sake of the idea put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, leave out what would be a real improvement to the Bill and make the Bill much more workable. Having made his protest as regarded the question of equal justice for urban ratepayers, it was his duty, he took it, to try to improve this Bill in every possible way, although he regretted that it did not give equal relief to all local ratepayers.
§ MR. C. A. CRIPPS (Gloucester, Stroud),
said this was an extremely important matter from the business point of view, and he should like to speak upon it mainly in connection with a large experience of rating matters, both on Assessment Committees and form the professional point of view. The arguments against his hon. Friend's Amendment were really brought forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he should like to deal with those. First of all he had said that at the present time and under the existing law they separated their rating as between buildings and land. He thought the answer to that was that in 95 per cent. of their agricultural districts at the present moment there was no such separation. Not only was there no such separation ever carried out in the really agricultural districts, but even in urban districts, except in certain cases, they never found a separation made as between the land on one side and buildings on the other. On that point he thought the Leader of the Opposition was under a misapprehension. The right hon. Gentleman was dealing in his argument with the question of farmhouses. So faras farmhouses were concerned, he agreed that both as regarded the existing law and existing practice in urban districts they had a different assessment as between farmhouses or cottages on the one side and agricultural land on the other, and that separation it was intended 1702 to preserve so far as the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Hampshire was concerned. But they did not find the distinction, which would be introduced for the first time under this Bill and which would introduce the complication in all rating affairs in the county, of attempting to draw a distinction as between buildings on the one side and ordinary agricultural laud on the other. They could not draw that distinction any more than they could draw the distinction as between the premises that a blacksmith, for instance, occupied for the purposes of his business. Where they were dealing with an urban district, and where they were dealing with agricultural land, as a matter of fact if they were to apply any proper principle of rating they could not draw this distinction at all, and it had never been done. When they came to the actual rating in their agricultural districts, he did not say it never occurred, but in the very large majority of cases, they drew the distinction as between farmhouses and land, but not between land and buildings.
§ MR. CRIPPS
said, that might be a question of construction under the Public Health Act, but he understood that what they were doing at the present time was making a law; and whether as a practical business question, after this Bill had been carried in its present shape, it would be possible, on any intelligible basis, to separate generally, throughout all the agricultural districts of England, the rating of buildings and the rating of land. It would make a new valuation necessary in 95 per cent. of the cases, for he was quite certain that, taking agricultural property, including both laud and buildings, in 95 per cent. of the cases there was no such distinction drawn in the present valuation. In answer to the next argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer he would like to refer to a case well within his own knowledge. Take a case where the buildings had cost £500, and where the land was very poor. They had perhaps attached to the buildings about 100 acres of land let at 5s. an acre. If they separated the rating of buildings from the rating of land in a case of that kind they would actually raise the rating to 1703 which the occupier was liable at the present moment. Where the land was very poor, and where the rate per acre was very low, if they separated the buildings from the land and rated the buildings on any intelligible principle at all, they would make the rating actually higher in that poor district than it was at the present moment, and they could not help that result. When they were dealing with agricultural land as the raw material from which the tenant-farmer gained his livelihood, surely they must mean agricultural land and buildings. If they admitted that in remedying injustice as regards their local taxation they were dealing with the agricultural interest first, then he said they were keeping the two interests on the same basis and the principle of equity one with the other if they included buildings with agricultural land in the sense in which the hon. Member for Hampshire brought forward this Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"] If the President of the Local Government Board intended this Bill to work smoothly and give the remedy for which it was intended, and if, above all, this remedy should be real where it was wanted most, he ought to admit this Amendment in order that the real principle on which his Bill was based might be carried out. ["Hear, hear!"] So far as the question of expense was concerned, he believed himself that the estimate must have been made up on buildings and land in at least 95 per cent. of the cases being rated together, because they were so rated at the present moment, and there were no possible statistics available by which they could separate one from another. For these reasons he gave his hearty support to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hampshire. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
was glad to hear the argument adduced in support of the Amendment by the hon. and learned Member for Stroud. What the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said on the subject of grievances under which the miller and baker might suffer might have been urged with greater force against the Bill itself than against the particular Amendment. What was now before them was whether it was possible, for practical purposes, to rate separately land as compared 1704 with farm buildings. He ventured to think it was, for practical purposes, impossible to separate either land from buildings or buildings from land. No doubt the farmer's house stood on a slightly different footing. It was conceivable to imagine a case in which one farmer worked three farms in a village, and one house would then suffice for him, but it was impossible for any farm to have an assignable value without the buildings upon it. He desired to know why the hon. Member for Hampshire wished the Amendment to be in these particular words? The Amendment, as it originally stood, was to the effect that agricultural buildings should be included. But the hon. Gentleman opposite proposed to insert the words "buildings used solely for agricultural purposes." If he were to leave out the word "solely" there would not be very much difference between the two Amendments. Was not the object of the hon. Member to exclude the farmhouse? His object would be equally well served if he left out the word "solely" and were content with the expression "buildings used for agricultural purposes." Buildings might at a certain time of the year be used for other than agricultural purposes, therefore it might be dangerous to insert the word "solely." If it were left out there might be some agreement between the hon. Member for Hampshire and the hon. Gentleman who moved the original Amendment.
§ * MR. HENRY HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
urged upon the Government the desirability of making some concession in this matter. He thought enough had been said to convince both the Government and the Committee of two things. In the first place, whatever the proper construction might be of the clause in practice, there were many cases, probably the majority, in which the farm buildings as distinguished from the farmhouse were rated together with the agricultural land. It was, moreover, comparatively easy to put a separate value on the farmhouse as a residence. In many cases it was separated from the farm. But there was an obvious difficulty in putting any true value on cowsheds and other farm buildings which were simply intended to be used with the lands adjoining, and which, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, were 1705 so used. If these two things were true, he thought there would still remain two substantial objections to a proposal of this kind on which something ought to be said. The first was that, if a similar Amendment to this was carried, there would still remain the difficulty that under the Public Health Act there would be one law of rating, and under this Bill there would be another. That he admitted to be a substantial difficulty. The objection would not be merely one of inconsistency in the law. If the law was to be satisfactorily carried out, the farmhouse would have to be assessed separately from the buildings other than the farmhouse, and the farmland would also have to be assessed separately. The second objection was that raised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Government had not enough money to fulfil their wishes in this respect. He thought probably there was a good deal of truth in what the hon. and learned Member for Stroud had pointed out, namely, that the original estimates of the Government in this matter included in very many cases the value of the farm buildings. He would assume, however, that it would be necessary, if the Government conceded this point, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should make some saving in another direction. The suggestion he would offer was this: let the Government concede this point, not merely for the rates to which this Bill would apply, but for all rates affecting agricultural land for which there were exemptions already in existence, and let the land and buildings together be rated at one-half the assessment for all rates. That proposal, if carried out, would have great advantages. In the first place it would produce an infinitely simpler system of rating for agricultural land than if the Bill passed as it stood; and, in the second place, it would afford much more relief to the poorer districts by including buildings. He appealed to the Government in the interests of the Bill, as well as in the interests of the poorer districts, to consider the suggestion as one made with a genuine desire to make this Bill a more perfect, a simpler, and a more abiding measure.
§ MR. E. H. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S. W.)
should certainly oppose both the Amendment and the Amendment to it. As the representative of an 1706 urban constituency he opposed this Bill root and branch, and having already voted against a smaller sum he should vote against an extension of the sum, and having already voted against laying a heavy burden on the urban ratepayer as against the ratepayer of an agricultural district, he could not vote for increasing that burden. At the same time he could not understand how an agricultural Member, having already voted in favour of a Measure of relief given to agricultural land in the manner proposed by this Bill, could possibly oppose the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Hampshire. The arguments in favour of the Amendment to the Amendment were overpowering. On the Second Reading of this Bill he said that as a matter of fact, there was no division made in the assessment between agricultural land and buildings, and the second proposition, he laid down was that it was practically impossible to distinguish in the entire assessment the land from the buildings which jointly made one agricultural holding. That afternoon he had been abundantly confirmed in both his propositions from every quarter of the House, and especially by the hon. and learned Member for Stroud who was, perhaps, the greatest living authority on the question of rating. The Chancellor of the Exchequer met this Amendment on high grounds. The right hon. Gentleman said, the Government took their stand upon principle. It was rather strange to hear the right hon. Gentleman talking about principle in relation to this Bill. He told them that the principle to which the Government adhered was that this Bill relieved land, and did not relieve buildings. This Bill did not adhere to that principle, it deviated from it. It gave relief to agricultural land according to the clause they were now considering. But in the definition clause agricultural land was defined as including market and nursery gardens. Take the case of the market gardener. He occupied a piece of land in which he erected a number of greenhouses which practically covered the surface of the land. That land with the greenhouses would be regarded under this Bill as a market garden, and therefore, the land with the buildings would be entitled to relief. Was it reasonable then to suppose that the ordinary farmer should pay the full 1707 rates on his buildings, while his neighbour the market gardener, was relieved? Another argument in favour of the Amendment was to be found in the Scottish system of classification, according to which not only the land, but also the farm buildings were relieved. But he desired to look at this question from a wider point of view. The differential treatment of farm buildings as compared with agricultural land seemed to him altogether contrary to wise views of public policy. Pro tanto its effect must be to check the construction of farm buildings, the very thing that ought by all possible means to be encouraged. The remedy for the distressed county of Essex, to which all the evidence before the Commission pointed, was the creation of smaller farms. Up to now the farms in that county were large farms of 300 or 400 acres, and, however they might have got along in other times, they were certainly not adapted to these times. There was overwhelming evidence to show that if smaller farms were provided, there would be no difficulty in obtaining tenants.
* THE CHAIRMAN
The hon. Gentleman is now travelling rather wide of the Amendment. The Amendment now before the House is of a very special character and the hon. Gentleman's arguments hardly bear upon it.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL
said, that his point was that, if it was conceded that small farms would find tenants in Essex, it was obvious that the larger farms must be subdivided, and if so, the farm buildings would necessarily have to be increased considerably. Therefore his point was, that if the farm buildings and the land were differentiated, the construction of buildings, which was absolutely necessary for the creation of small farms, would be discouraged. Therefore, he submitted that the policy of putting what was in effect a differential tax on the construction of buildings was as unfavourable to the interests of agriculture as, he believed, it was hostile to the public good.
§ MR. EVAN LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
said, he was sorry to hear the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman's objection was fatal to the Amendment, but it did not alter his opinion one scrap with regard to this 1708 being an almost insuperable difficulty. He knew some parts of the country where the farm buildings were not accessible for any other purpose than that of farming the land. They never had been separated from the land, and to his mind, and judging from his experience, he did not believe they ever would be, notwithstanding any Act of Parliament.
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Liehfield)
said, he was in favour of the Amendment, but he would have liked to see farmhouses included as proposed by the hon. Member for Devon. If, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer objected to take this matter into consideration he quite understood it would be impossible. If they took the Amendment as amended, he did not think the objection taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was a good one. The objection was that it would be impossible to make any further grant; but there was no intention of doing so. The land and buildings had been assessed together in almost every case throughout the country. It was, in fact, quite impossible to separate the buildings from the land. The land without the buildings would be, worthless, and in the same way, the buildings without the land were valueless. The great flaw in this Bill was that where help was needed, the least was given. If the buildings were included the poor man would get a little help. If they were not, only the well-to-do land and landlords would get relief by this Bill.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, that he hoped the Committee would be allowed very shortly to go to a division upon this question; but before they did so he should like to say a few words in reply to the observations that had been made in the course of the discussion on this Amendment. He wished to remind hon. Members that there would be great difficulty in carrying out the proposals made in the Amendment from the point of view of the Exchequer, and as to the apprehensions that had been expressed that the effect of the Bill as it stood would be to bring about an increase in the assessments of farm buildings, he would point out that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was ready to bring up an Amendment to obviate that difficulty at a later 1709 stage. He could not understand why hon. Members felt so strongly upon this question of the separation of buildings from land in connection with rates, because, as had been pointed out over and over again, the present law upon the subject was perfectly clear, that as regarded the Special Expenses Rate, and the General District Rate, houses were rated separately from the land. The hon. Gentleman behind him had said that in 99 cases out of every hundred, the buildings and land were rated together. His view of the matter was quite different. There were at present between 1,500 and 2,000 districts which contributed to the Special Expenses Rate, and he had made inquiries within the last few days of the most leading district auditors serving under the Local Government Board, as to what was the practice which prevailed in a number of districts throughout the country, and the answers which he had received led him to the conclusion that in the great majority of cases the buildings were rated separately from the land. Let him remind the hon. Member behind him that it was a common thing to find the buildings of a farm situated in one parish and the land in another, with the result, that the rating of each was to be found in the separate rate books of separate parishes. Taking the country through, there must be an enormous number of such cases. In these circumstances, he could not understand hon. Members saying that it was impossible to separate the rating of the buildings from that of the land. The test of the value of buildings was not what they had cost to erect, but what they were let for. With regard to the Amendment that was before the Committee, it was obvious, from what had fallen from his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that it was impossible for him to accept this Amendment, even if he thought that it was right, which he did not. He sincerely hoped that hon. Members, now that they had stated their views on the subject, would be content to allow the Amendment to be withdrawn. Of course, if they declined to agree to that course, they would be responsible for the consequences that would result to the Amendment.
§ MR. J. W. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)
said, that he appealed to hon. 1710 Members sitting on the Opposition side of the House to vote against this Amendment, because it would have the effect of destroying the one good feature in the Bill—namely, that of keeping the rating of the buildings separate from that of the land. He looked forward to the time when the local burdens would be borne by a tax upon the land, and therefore he looked upon the provision of the Bill which separated buildings from land as a valuable one.
SIR HENRY FLETCHER (Sussex, Lewes)
said, that he had listened with great interest to the whole of this Debate that afternoon, and he ventured to suggest that a clause should be introduced into the Bill at a later stage, which should limit the value of the buildings to be separately rated. That, he believed, would meet, to a certain extent, the views of hon. Members who supported the Amendment. If the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury would give an undertaking that he would introduce such a clause into the Bill at a future stage, he should advise the hon. Member not to press his Amendment.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
said, that there could be no doubt that by this Bill the Government were putting a strong strain upon the susceptibilities of those who were interested in the urban districts, and therefore, those who desired that this Bill should pass, ought, to take the greatest care that that strain was not made greater. It was perfectly clear that if this Amendment were accepted, they would be setting up invidious distinctions between classes of ratepayers, who they certainly did not desire to put in opposition to each other. It was clear to his mind that the hon. Member had not thought out what the result of his Amendment must necessarily be. It would not only strain the kindly feeling that now existed in urban districts between those classes, but in the rural districts it would excite a great deal of jealousy and dissatisfaction. If they were not a talking party they were an eminently practical party, and they did not desire to make use of this Bill for the purpose of delivering electioneering speeches. If the Amendment were pressed he should certainly vote against it.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
, said, that he could not understand how the hon. and gallant Gentleman, who had just sat down, holding the opinions he did, could have voted for the Second Reading of the Bill. Everybody admitted that real property, whether situated in towns or in the country, was very unfairly handicapped in the matter of local taxation. It might be asked why they did not extend the benefits of this Bill to urban property as well as to agricultural land, but the answer was that the Government contemplated a searching inquiry into the whole subject of local taxation. The claims of the urban ratepayer would no doubt be met, when circumstances admitted, and as the result of that inquiry. But the question of agricultural land was so urgent that nobody could deny its claims to immediate relief, and emphasis had been laid upon that fact by the Leader of the Opposition. His right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board appeared hardly to realise the feeling with which this Measure was regarded by the great bulk of the agricultural community. Perhaps he had been told that there was a gush of gratitude bubbling forth—
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said he understood that the objections were not in this case founded upon the injustice of the proposals, but were founded purely on revenue grounds. His right hon. Friend would most likely find out on inquiry that the whole farm was practically rated altogether. He protested strongly against the suggestion of the hon. Member for East Somerset, than which he could not conceive anything less in accordance with justice or more likely to lead to general confusion. Unless the Government undertook to make provision that agricultural buildings should not be separately rated as distinguished from the land they served, he hoped a division would be taken on the Amendment.
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said he was disappointed that his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board did not refer to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for East Somerset. It was a 1712 matter, no doubt, which required consideration, but it might help to settle the present difficulty if a responsible Member of the Government would take this suggestion into consideration before the Committee stage was finally left. He did not think it was entirely understood by Members of the House, even by his right hon. Friend below him (Mr. J. Lowther). The suggestion was that under the operation of this Bill, unless they adopted this Amendment, they would introduce of necessity a triple form of assessment—the assessment of the agricultural farm in its entirety, the assessment of a farmhouse and the assessment of buildings. It was most undesirable that that complexity should be introduced ["hear, hear!"], and if they could avoid it in any way it would be a great gain in the direction of simplicity in the conduct of rural affairs. It was desirable to avoid a contradiction between law and practice. The difficulty of making one good form of assessment, and of omitting the buildings from the assessment in respect of this rate, was a question of finance upon which his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had laid proper emphasis. The proposition made by the hon. Member for East Somerset was this. They had got in a parish a special rate, they might have a district rate. That rate was levied at present on one-quarter of the value of agricultural land; they proposed to levy their general rates on one-half of the value of agricultural land. Let them level up the district rate and the sanitary rate to one-half, making it commensurate with the proposed rate under this Bill, and they would then have a uniform mode of rating agricultural land for all rates. They might make that uniform rate extend to buildings as well as to land. It would be the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to provide in a parish for the deficiency created by the operation of this Bill, but that deficiency would to some extent be met by getting a double sanitary rate.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said that under this Bill there would be no grant whatever in the case of a sanitary rate.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said he was quite aware of that, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer would gain in one place what would make up for the drain upon his 1713 resources in another. It appeared to him to be a question which required some consideration, and he did not ask that the Government should proceed upon it at once, but he thought that some responsible Member of the Government should consider it.
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said he was prepared to oppose this Bill at every stage, but, at the same time, if it was going to be passed they were perfectly entitled to try and make it a good Bill. It was not to give relief to agricultural land that this Bill was introduced, but to the men who were trying to make a living out of agricultural land, to the farmers of the country. His experience was that this proposal to assess buildings and houses different from the farm would be a most absurd complication. It was practically impossible to do it. It would lead to a very unequal assessment. On what principle were they going to carry it out? The subject had been a good deal debated in Ireland on the fixing of fair rents. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had said the houses would be assessed according to a reasonable estimate of the amount for which they would let—what they would let for apart from the farm. They were told that sometimes the farmhouse was let apart from the farm, but not the farm buildings. When this was the case the house was generally let to some gentleman and his family from the town at a fancy price. Were they going to value a farmhouse at the price given under these circumstances? It was a most dangerous principle. ["Hear, hear!"] If they adopted that view it would be perfectly ruinous. Speaking from his own experience in Ireland, the assessor had no guide to put down on paper. What did he do? He assessed the farm first, including the buildings, and then he made the further valuations necessary; but each assessor had a different rule by which he valued the buildings. If they were to ask any valuer how he was to assess any farm buildings apart from the farm he would be totally unable to do it. All he could reply was that they did it by some rule of thumb. It was a vicious principle. That being his view, and although he was entirely opposed to the Bill, and should vote against the Third Reading; still, if forced, 1714 he should feel compelled to vote for the Amendment of the Member for the Tavistock Division.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
With reference to what fell from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin, his proposal will receive the consideration it deserves. He does not ask for an answer now, and it would be impossible to give it to him now. As to the Amendments, I think the most convenient way will be to accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend as an Amendment of the Amendment, and then vote on the amended Amendment. [Laughter]. I need hardly say, after what has fallen from my two right hon. Friends, it would be impossible to make any concession at the present stage of our proceedings.
§ MR. JEFFREYS
said, after that, of course, he should withdraw his Amendment, but he was sorry his right hon. Friend had not seen his way to promise a little more.
§ On the question being put, that this Amendment be by leave withdrawn, there were cries of "No."
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, that what was proposed was a very mischievous extension of the Bill. If a dairy was in a town separate from the farm, was that not to be exempt, while a similar dairy on the farm was exempt? Take again the case of two cow-houses belonging to the same farm, would the one which was in the town be rated, and the one in the country let go. If they were going to exempt farm buildings, why not farmhouses as well, where often the farmer carried on part of his business?
§ MR. HENRY BROADHURST (Leicester)
said, he wished to make it clear that he could only vote for the Amendment on the ground that farmhouses were excluded. The Party opposite professed to be the friends of the farmer. Now, when they came to the point, the Government were going to surrender their position and to leave the farmer in the lurch again. [A laugh.] But he rose to explain that if his hon. Friend did not exclude farmhouses from the Amendment he could not support it.
§ MR. LUTTRELL
said, he had not heard anything from the Front Government Bench to induce him to withdraw 1715 his Amendment. He understood it would be possible later on to insert a clause which would have the effect of making a different form of assessment for farm buildings. That would add to rather than take from the difficulty, and therefore on that ground he could not withdraw his Amendment. Again, it had been pointed out that if they made a difference between the farm and the farm buildings they would put an extra burden upon the poorest farms, because the poorest farms were generally arable and had got the largest farm buildings upon them. If it was the wish of hon. Members sitting around him that the language of the Amendment should be made more clear he was willing to insert the words ''for agricultural purposes." He took it that the word ''agriculture'' would cover the whole, but he would move to add "for agricultural purposes'' after ''buildings."
§ Question then put, ''That the words 'and buildings' be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 53; Noes, 326.—(Division List, No.150.)
§ MR. DAVID THOMAS (Merthyr Tydvil) moved to insert after the word ''land'' the words ''other than accommodation land as hereinafter defined," the effect of the Amendment being to exempt accommodation land from the provisions of the Bill. The hon. Member remarked that he knew that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill was a stickler for precedents, and for a precedent in this case as to the definition of accommodation land he might refer the, right hon. Gentleman to the Irish Land Act of 1870. At the same time, if the right hon. Gentleman accepted the principle of the Amendment, he thought a satisfactory definition might be arrived at. Accommodation land was certainly not in need of relief like the agricultural land, for the benefit of which it was supposed the Bill had been introduced. In many cases accommodation land had been largely benefited by the increase of the neighbouring towns, and yet if the Bill passed as it stood 1716 those towns would have to help to provide the funds for granting relief to the land of which it was most in need. He hoped the Amendment would be accepted.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he was bound to remark that there was much to be said in favour of the proposal contained in the Amendment. The difficulty in the matter was in the point of definition, for unless the definition of what was accommodation land was made clear, the danger was that occasion might be given for disputes hereafter, and this, of course, they would all be anxious to avoid. The hon. Member had said he was not wedded to his own particular definition, and, therefore, to arrive at an amicable arrangement on this point he would make this suggestion. He accepted the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, in principle. He did not think this was the place in the Bill where it ought to be inserted, but if the hon. Gentleman would agree to his proposition he would do his best—and he hoped the hon. Gentleman would do the same—to produce another definition at a later part of the Bill, and one which he hoped would be satisfactory. On those terms he would accept the proposal of the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. WARNER
said, he was rather sorry that in this case the Government had accepted the Amendment. Almost every allotment in the country was accommodation land, and he did not see how they were going to exclude them. Then there was the case of the market gardeners, who were not so thriving or so rich men that they could be excluded. He rather gathered from the attitude of the Treasury Bench that these cases were to be dealt with, and he was glad to think that that was so.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
* THE CHAIRMAN
In calling upon the hon. Member for South Shields to move the next Amendment, I would like to say that there are several Amendments in the names of the hon. Member for Leicestershire, the hon. Member for Lichfield, the hon. Member for Stock-port, and hon. Members for other places, all practically raising the same question of principle, namely, whether the letting 1717 value of the land is to form any factor in the question as to whether it is to receive relief or not. Therefore, in putting the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Shields, I shall only put so much as shall raise the general principle. If the Committee accepts the general principle, then it will be open to other hon. Members to amend his Amendment, otherwise they will find themselves completely shut out.
§ MR. WARNER
said, his Amendment was really not for exempting any class, but rather for shifting the benefit more largely on to those who were poorer.
* THE CHAIRMAN
There are two principles raised. One is the value of the farm and the other is the extent. The Committee should have the opportunity of discussing those principles and of pronouncing upon both of them, and, therefore, I shall take care, in putting any of these Amendments, not to exclude any Amendment which raises either of those principles.
§ MR. W. S. ROBSON (Shields, S.) rose to move after "land," to insert ''let at an annual rent of less than one pound an acre." He said the Amendment had for its object to restrict the scope of the Bill, as far as might be possible, to cases of exceptional agricultural distress, and the principle of the Amendment was that highly-rented land, land as to which there was a fair presumption that it represented a good rent and good profit, should not come within the relief afforded by this Measure. He sought by the Amendment to keep the Bill what they were originally told it was, and what, he thought, the constituents of hon. Gentlemen opposite would always be told it was—a Measure for the relief of agricultural distress. He thought it was said by the President of the Local Government Board that some speakers on this side of the House spoke as though there were no such thing as agricultural depression. He could not remember any such speeches, but he thought this much was certain, that hon. Members on the other side of the House spoke as though there was no such thing as agricultural prosperity. He thought the speeches of hon. Members of the Opposition had fairly shown that, although there were some districts where the distress was 1718 exceptional, there were other districts that had scarcely varied in point of rent or profit, and that there were some districts, principally in Cheshire, where he thought one might fairly say that rents and profits had indeed substantially advanced. But the Government had not yet given them the slightest reason or suggestion of a reason why all these different classes of agricultural property should be treated in precisely the same way. The right hon. Gentleman might say that it was not possible to discriminate. He ventured to say that it was not only possible but easy to discriminate. There was one simple and conclusive test that one might apply in order to ascertain the existence of agricultural depression, and that was the ability to pay a high rent to a good landlord. He proposed to assume—whatever his private opinion might be—that the landlords of England had not over rented their tenants. He thought that that question ought really to be precluded by the Second Reading of the Bill, because the Bill was based upon the assumption that the landlords would not, for instance, avail themselves of an economic law under which they might get the benefit of this Bill by appropriating the additional relief given by it. That being the premiss of the Bill, he hoped hon. Members opposite would stick to it, because he proposed to take it and use it in support of this Amendment. He took it that wherever they came across a high rent they must assume that it was paid to a reasonable landlord. What did that involve? It involved that the land paying that rent was able, either by reason of superiority of situation or of fertility, to produce not only a good profit to the working agriculturist but also an honest surplus of a very considerable amount to the landowner, and obviously, if that was the case, it was clearly a case that was outside the scope of agricultural distress. That was a consideration which he ventured to submit the right hon. Gentleman and his friends must fairly face. It was all very well to say that the Bill had a twofold object—that it was partly to relieve distress and partly to readjust the rates. He would accept that statement, but let this be remembered, that the twofold object was capable of being so applied as exactly to 1719 divide the classes of property to which the Bill referred. They could show in a moment what land was the subject-matter of agricultural distress and what was not, and which, if relieved, must be relieved on the basis not given to industry but to property alone. It was land of this latter class which could not claim relief on the ground of industrial depression, but could only claim on the ground of property. It was land of the latter class which he sought by his Amendment to exclude from the scope of the Bill. They were told by the Government that this Bill was to be excused on the ground of urgency. The President of the Local Government Board had told them that so urgent was agricultural distress that the Royal Commission had been obliged to issue an interim Report, that the matter would not and could not wait on account of the severity and exceptional character of this distress, and hence the introduction of this Bill, which he himself would not be afraid to describe as immature. The urgency which the right hon. Gentleman asked for his Bill only applied to so much of it as related to agricultural distress. Clearly there was no urgency in favour of so much of the Bill and so much of the land as was outside the urgency of agricultural distress. There was no urgency for a readjustment of the rates or high-rented and high-profited lands. Why should they get a preliminary instalment of relief any more than urban land? He asked the President of the Local Government Board to consider whether highly-rented and prosperous land ought not obviously to be taken to be altogether outside the scope of the urgency of the Bill? He asked the right hon. Gentleman to limit the scope of the Bill by the urgency of the Bill. No doubt in their election addresses hon. Members opposite laid stress on the agricultural distress, and they were entitled to come there and say they were doing what they promised their constituents when they sought to get some relief for agriculture as an industry. But had they gone further than that in their election addresses? Had any hon. Member opposite ever ventured to put forward to the electors—certainly to the borough electors—in definite and clear form, as an object of policy of his Party, that they wished to increase the value 1720 of the freehold of prosperous land in cases unaffected by agricultural distress, because these were the cases with which he was dealing now, namely, cases outside the scope of distress? Hon. Members would not deny that this Bill would make a great addition to the capital value of this land; but had any constituency been told that when the Conservative Party returned to power they proposed to add to the capital value of prosperous land, irrespective of agricultural distress, at the cost of the rest of the community? He ventured to think no constituency was told anything of the kind. Under these circumstances, and apart altogether from the question of urgency, had the Government any right to include this class of property in this urgent Bill? He remembered the frequency with which the Conservative Opposition in the last Parliament called upon the then Government to show their mandate for any Measure they introduced, aye, and for every clause of it. Now, where was the mandate for the Government to include in this Measure prosperous land? He said they had no mandate and no authority to do anything of the kind. So far from hon. Members opposite having promised that property should be relieved at the last Election, he ventured to say they promised exactly the opposite. They put forward a programme which, if it had one spark of honest meaning about it, meant that they were going to increase the burdens on property, and were not going to reduce them. The Government were now proposing to introduce a Bill going beyond the range of agricultural distress, and which would give special relief to property apart from industry; and before they could and ought to do that they must show that some such Measure or principle was clearly put before the country at the last General Election. But, on the contrary, they put before the people a series of suggestions and proposals which meant, if they meant anything at all, an increase to the burdens of property; and now, instead of all those Measures of reform which looked so well at the last Election—old-age pensions and workmen's dwellings—were they to have given to them relief of highly-rented and prosperous land from the ancient and hereditary burden of the Poor Rate? It might 1721 well be that the people of this country were willing to surrender the Poor Rate in regard to slightly productive land to meet the case of industrial hardship, and yet be unwilling to allow the surrender of the Poor Rate over prosperous land for the benefit not only of industry but of a class. He would not call the Poor Rate a burden on land; it was a property of the State which preceded private property in land. It was prior to private property in point of time, it could claim a superiority of title; it was the last remnant left to the poor of this country of what was once a great national property in the land, and they ought not to be deprived of it until after they had been consulted about it. He asked the Government to exclude from the scope of the Bill cases which were merely those of highly-rented and prosperous land, and to confine the Measure to the cases they had been given to understand it was to meet, namely, cases of industrial hardship and agricultural depression. He begged to move the Amendment.
§ MR. A. K. LOYD (Berks, Abingdon)
said, he had listened very carefully to the fluent and able speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down. But that speech seemed to proceed upon an entire misapprehension. It assumed that you had only to see whether land was paying a rent of £1 an acre to say at once whether it was the subject of agricultural depression. This showed a very imperfect idea of how agricultural depression made its pinch felt. The hon. Member began by stating that he had been under the impression that the case for this Bill was rested upon a charitable appeal on behalf of agriculture, as a depressed industry, for a gift out of the Imperial Exchequer. And then the Government was charged with a change of front in stating that it was a step towards redressing the inequality of local taxation. But no change of front had taken place either in this House or amongst the agricultural community. [''Hear, hear!"] The farmers in their distress had had hankering after Protection, but hon. Members on that side of the House, with a few exceptions, had been careful to avoid holding out hopes that such a remedy was in their reach. But under those circumstances it had been the universal resolve of the 1722 agricultural party throughout the country that the unfair burden which had been cheerfully borne by agriculture while it was prosperous ought no longer be carried by the land now that agriculture was fighting for its very life in that country. His constituents would indignantly repudiate the idea that they had sent a representative to this House to support the Government in putting its hand into the pockets of hon. Members opposite for the purpose of bestowing money upon agriculture as a depressed industry. He might say that at this time of day, in his belief, no Government, however powerfully backed, would ever dare to come before the country with such a proposal. The agriculturists, dire as was their need, only came before the House to ask for level justice as between themselves and those who spoke for personalty, though they frankly admitted that they were putting a strain on the patience and good feeling of other branches of real property in asking for priority. The whole incidence of rating was to be inquired into, but priority had been asked for agricultural land; first, on account of its greater emergency, and secondly, because any benefit conferred upon it would beneficially react upon a portion of the urban population, namely, the county towns which depended upon the farmers and landlords, and which were themselves to some extent customers of the larger towns. Now, this Amendment assumed that any land which paid £1 an acre rent was free from depression. The hon. Member's words were:—Wherever I come across a high rent I assume that, by superiority of situation or of fertility, it is able to pay not only a profit but a surplus as rent, and therefore it cannot be the subject of agricultural depression.He noted these words down because they seemed to show the fallacy upon which hon. Members opposite too often proceeded in their reasoning upon this Bill. Was the whole rent of land due to superiority of situation or of fertility? Nothing of the kind. The old idea was that rent was merely the excess which the tenant, after repaying outlay and receiving current rate of profit, could afford to pay over to his landlord for superior situation or superior fertility—superior, that was to say, to less 1723 favoured land, which the demands of the people, nevertheless, required should be under cultivation. But modern rent was a composite quantity. It contained, besides any such surplus as that which might for convenience be called rent proper, an element of interest for actual outlay in hard cash by the owner for the time being. The hon. Member for South Shields took no notice whatever of the millions, literally millions, which had been laid out by the owners of land in bringing it under cultivation and making the necessary roads, drains, fences, and buildings, which went to make up the outfit of an agricultural community. Was the hon. Member aware that when, in about 1858, a portion of Oxfordshire was reclaimed and laid out into farms, it cost £3 10s. an acre to drive a large iron plough, drawn by four horses through the hard ground, and to rid it of roots and stones, before it was ready for the simplest cultivation. Besides the drains, fences, roads, and buildings, many sorts of soil required the expensive operations of marling, liming, or chalking before their quality was brought to the point for profitable cropping. All this was beneath the notice of hon. Members opposite, some of whom seemed to think that it was only necessary to put a man, in the clothes he stood up in, upon a piece of land in its natural state, for him at once to start upon a thriving business as a farmer. Now, these two elements in modern rent were most important to bear in mind, in considering the incidence of rates, and why it was that even though in the long run rates might fall upon the landlord, yet there was such an unanimous opinion among the farmers that the unfair incidence of rates was a matter deeply concerning their prosperity. The rates might, for the purpose of his argument, be regarded as a tax upon rent. Well, the two elements of rent—namely, surplus payable on account of natural superiority, and money payable as interest upon owner's outlay, though inseparable for the purpose of rating, ought to be kept distinct by those who wished to understand the bearing of these burdens on agricultural depression. The farmers understood it perfectly. So much of the rent as was due to advantage of soil or situation could be rated or otherwise drawn upon to extinction, 1724 without the landlord being brought to a dead stand. But, with regard to the other element—namely, a bare return of interest upon outlay, the farmers knew perfectly well that when this was drawn upon, a point must sooner or later be reached when, as a matter of business, a struggle must commence between him and his landlord, which was disastrous to them both. So long as prices were good, and the farmers, as producers, could command the market, it mattered little to either farmer or landlord which advanced, or which ultimately paid the rates, they were regarded as part of the cost of production and were passed on to the consumer in the price of the goods. But with prices ruinously low, owing to foreign competition and low freights, the farmers knew that the rents of vast tracts of the agricultural land was not a bare interest upon the capital laid out by the owners upon, it; and that burdens on the land, whenever it came to the landlord being hardly willing to let at all, were burdens which were checking improvements and causing the farm roads to become foundrous, the fences rotten, the drains choked, and the buildings unfit for his business. Hon. Members could not succeed in setting farmers and landlords at variance by such tactics as these. It was because this Bill would be the first step towards redressing a long-standing injustice, felt now, as it had never been felt before, by farmers and landlords alike, that the whole agricultural community had spoken with a united voice for the removal of these burdens from the land.
§ MR. T. P. WHITTAKER (York, W. R., Spen Valley)
said, that the Amendment seemed to him an extremely reasonable one. The contention on the other side of the House was that agriculture was a distressed industry; but if it would pay a rent of more than £1 an acre, it could not be distressed. There was a margin of rent out of which the rates could be paid. The Amendment would only apply to land for which £1 an acre was being got, and his contention was that in cases in which there was such a margin the taxpayers of the country ought not to be called upon to help the landlords to keep it up.
§ MR. W. ALLEN (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not accept the Amendment. The 1725 only result of it would be that every acre of land that was let at £1 an acre today, would be let at 19s. 6d. the day after the passing of the Bill, while some arrangement would be made by which the money would go into the landlord's pockets. Another objection was that the Amendment would do away with the desire the landlord might have to improve his land when it was let at under £1 an acre. There would he an inducement to him not to make improvements, if by so doing he was to lose the benefits of the Bill, but as the House had approved its principle, he supposed the House must endeavour to make it a workable Measure; but he thought this Amendment would make it less workable than, it was.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
assured the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down that he had no intention of accepting the Amendment. It could scarcely be said that the Government had given no reason whatever for declining to make a distinction between one class of land and another. He had stated his views distinctly last night when he stated that the Bill was introduced as a measure of relief against the unfair incidence of the rates on land, and that, by removing that injustice, the Government also hoped that at the same time they might do something towards the relief of agricultural depression. Beyond that, he could not repeat the arguments that had been used over and over again. This Amendment was another attempt to draw a hard and fast line between the land which was to get relief and the land which was not to get it, and the same objections applied in this case as applied in others. On what principle in the world was a man who was paying 19s. an acre to get relief, while a man who paid 20s. was not? The contention of the Government was that all the land was unfairly taxed. How extremely inequitable would this proposal be between different occupiers. There might be two men occupying land of the same class, the one paying 15s. an acre and the other 20s. Which required relief the most? Of course the man who paid 20s.; but the proposal was to give the relief to the man who paid 15s. Again, the land which employed the greatest amount of labour would be shut out of all relief, land which grew hops, market 1726 gardens, and orchards, which commanded a higher rent than other land, and at the same time employed a great deal of labour. Whether a man paid £1 or more than £1 for his holding was no reason why he should be deprived of the benefit of the Bill. Rent was paid according to the quality of the land, and the same margin of profit was calculated for by the tenant in one case as the other. The case of the Government, which had been so often stated, was that the land was unfairly taxed in comparison with other descriptions of property, and that this Measure was intended to give it, at all events, some relief by lightening the burdens of local taxation. It was absurd to suggest that that relief should only be given to land of a rental of under 19s. per acre.
§ MR. CHARLES McLAREN (Leicester, Bosworth)
said, that he had every sympathy with the motives of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had brought forward this Amendment, which, however, he himself did not approve of. The only practical test of the value of land was—was it paving rent? If it was, and a profit came out of it, it ought to contribute towards the rates. Of course, if land were paying no rent it must be treated as pauperised land. There was land in the country which paid more than a rental of £1 per acre in the worst of times, and yet there might be but little profit derived from working it. If land paid a rent, the relief ought to come out of the pockets of those who got that rent. He hoped that the hon. Member would not press his Amendment to a Division, because if he did he should feel bound to oppose it.
§ MR. WARNER
said, that he did not approve of the Amendment, which went against giving fair help to poor land. If the Amendment were pressed he should ask the hon. Gentleman to substitute the word ''assessed'' for ''let." If the amount of rent which land paid in different parts of the country had to be ascertained, an enormous amount of trouble would be occasioned, whereas it would be easy to ascertain what it was assessed at. He had urged the Government, both on the Second Reading of the Bill and in Committee, to do something to relieve agriculture. It was perfectly true that this Bill would do something to give relief from rates to 1727 comparatively rich men, but it would do nothing to prevent the poorer class of land from going out of cultivation, which was what everybody desired to prevent. The only way to encourage the cultivation of land of that class—such land, for instance, as there was in Essex—was to give it relief from the burden of local taxation. It was no use to give relief to land that was paying £4 or £5 per acre, because that class of land would remain in cultivation whether relief were given to it or not. It was land that was just on the point of going out of cultivation that they wanted to give relief to. Let him take the case of a farmer of 300 acres that was paying £900 a year rent. It was very possibly assessed at £800, and the rates upon it would amount to something like £150 a year. Such a farm would obtain relief under this Bill to the extent of £80 per annum. Compare that case with that of a farm of 300 acres of poor land which paid 5s. an acre rent, amounting to £75 per annum. The latter farm would doubtless be assessed at £100 per annum. The rates upon it would be £25 per annum, and the relief given under the Bill would be £12 10s. Surely something more ought to be done in favour of such a farm. They ought to take from the rich land and give to the poor land, and then they would be doing something real for agriculture, and so prevent the poor man from being driven from the land. He was as anxious as anyone to give relief to agriculture, but he wished to see that the relief was given where it was most needed. But throughout the whole progress of the Bill through Committee the Government had absolutely refused to accept any sort of Amendment which would relieve agriculture where that relief was most needed. The fact was that the Bill was a mere sham as it stood.
* THE CHAIRMAN
Order, order! The hon. Member must confine himself to the principle of the Amendment under discussion, or to that which he intends to move.
§ MR. WARNER
said, that unfortunately he was precluded from moving his own Amendment, and he thought he should be entitled to discuss it upon this point.
§ MR. WARNER
said, that of course he should bow to the ruling of the Chair, but he must confess that he could not quite follow it. The principle of his Amendment was that larger relief ought to be given to farms which were in distress. He hoped that the Government would do something to grant some extra relief to poor districts. He did not like any of the Amendments that curtailed the operation of the Bill, and he hoped that if the Government could not give the money in other ways they would agree to take something off the richer people, and so prevent the agricultural labourers from being driven into the towns.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
contended that the figure ought to be lower than £1. The principle to be enforced was whether relief was to be given in distressed districts or not, and in his judgment 5s. would be nearer the mark than 20s. It would at least be a better test of agricultural depression than the higher figure. The objection of the Government to the Amendment was that it drew an unfair distinction between one class and another; but that was really an objection to the whole Bill, and not to this Amendment alone. The last Amendment accepted by the right hon. Gentleman drew a distinction between accommodation and other land; and if the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to draw such a distinction, why should not his hon. Friend draw an equally valuable distinction between one class and another, a distinction which was quite relevant to the whole purposes of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman wanted to know why there should be relief of land in respect of 19s. 6d. rent, and not in relief of land in respect of 20s. The answer was that they must draw the line somewhere. There was a precedent for that in the small tenements provision of the Poor Law Rates Bill where the owners of houses should pay the rates between £6 and £20 of rent. When they did this they received an allowance equal to a half of the rates from the Assessment Committee. The Government must fix the limit at some point, and the only question was where 1729 to fix it. If land was paying 25s. and 30s. an acre of rent, it could not be contended that the farmer was suffering from great depression. If the Bill was going to be one for the relief of agricultural depression, there must he some kind of test. What was to be the test of the Government?
§ MR. LOGAN
agreed with the view of his hon. Friends. In opposition to the Amendment, it was urged that the agricultural industry was suffering from long-standing injustice, and that it had suffered to a much greater extent than any in England. He quoted from the evidence of Sir R. Giffen before the Royal Commission showing that if they put the tenant's profits and the landlord's rent together, it would not be too much to say that 50 per cent, and upwards had gone to the tenant and the landlord together.
* THE CHAIRMAN
, interrupting, said the hon. Member was dealing with very general questions, and he must ask him to keep himself more strictly to the subject matter.
§ MR. LOGAN
had no intention of dealing with the question at all, but for the argument advanced on the other side that agriculture was a specially depressed industry. It was said that no account was taken of the enormous amount of money which landowners had spent on their land, but according to Mr. James Caird, landowners as a class had only spent one year's rental in 20 years in improvements. That was a very small amount.
* THE CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is violating my ruling. After the Second Reading of a Bill the House is assumed to have assented to the principle, and it is not competent for hon. Members, time after time, to get up to offer objections to the principle of the Bill. I must request the hon. Member, with whom I have been very patient, to deal more particularly with the Amendment.
§ MR. LOGAN
said, he should not press the matter, nor should he have done so but for the arguments on the other side. [''Order!"] Though he was opposed to the entire principle of the Measure, he should have pleasure in supporting the Amendment, because, where it could be shown that a man was receiving £1 an acre for his land, he was not entitled 1730 to any consideration at the expense of the general taxpayers of the country.
§ Question put, "That the words 'let at' be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 63; Noes, 146.—(Division List, No. 151.)
§ MR. DAVID THOMAS moved, after "in" to insert "rural districts in." He said that the purpose of the Amendment was to confine the relief given by the Bill to rural districts. If the Government would not accept the Amendment he should not press it, but he should like to hear the right hon. Gentleman's reasons for refusing it.
* THE CHAIRMAN
said, that he treated that Amendment, with several others, as raising the question of the value of the farm. As the House had decided that it would not take the value of the farm into consideration in settling whether or not relief should be given, the Amendment was out of order.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
, replying to Mr. D. Thomas, said that many of the urban districts which the hon. Member's Amendment would exclude were more or less rural in character. He found that in 1,000 urban districts 382 had a population of less than 5,000; 103 had a population of less than 2,000; and 21 had a population of between 199 and 982. In a number of instances, moreover, there was a large acreage of agricultural land in the urban district; and therefore the Amendment would exclude much land that was entitled to the relief of the Bill.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question 'That the words of the Clause down to the words "one-half," in line 8, stand part of the Clause.' be now put."1731
* THE CHAIRMAN
In accepting the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, I think it is only right to say that several Amendments standing in the name of the hon. Member for Plymouth are out of order, and that four other subsequent Amendments are also out of order.
§ MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
May I ask whether it has not been ruled, both by former Speakers and by former Chairmen of Committees, that this Motion cannot be accepted if any of the Amendments on the Paper are substantial and not frivolous Amendments, in the opinion of the Chair?
* THE CHAIRMAN
I am not aware that any such ruling has been given; and I hope the hon. Gentleman will not press me for my opinion as to whether these Amendments are frivolous or pertinent. [Laughter.]
§ Question put, "That the Question 'That the words of the Clause down to the words "one-half," in line 8, stand part of the Clause' be now put."
§ The Committee Divided:—Ayes, 118; Noes, 64.—(Division List, No. 152.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That the words of the Clause down to the words 'one-half,' in line 8, stand part of the Clause."
§ A Division was challenged, several Members on the Opposition Benches shouting "Gag."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 120; Noes, 63.—(Division List, No. 153.)
§ MR. CHANNING
Mr. Lowther, in consequence of what has occurred, and without any expression of opinion as to the propriety of your acceptance of the Closure, which would be disorderly in me to do, I beg to move that you report Progress and ask leave to sit again—[loud cheers]—in order to draw the attention and to ask the opinion of the Speaker upon a proceeding which is an entire innovation in our procedure——
* THE CHAIRMAN
Order, order! It would not be competent for the hon. 1732 Member, in the first place, to discuss that question upon a Motion for adjournment. Neither would it be competent for the hon. Member to appeal from a decision of the Chairman to the Speaker. I must, therefore, decline to put the Motion. [Ministerial cheers and laughter.] The CHAIRMAN called upon Mr. David Thomas, in whose name the next Amendment stood on the Paper.
§ After the usual interval, Mr. GRANT LAWSON took the Chair.
MR. DAVID THOMAS moved, to leave out the words "one-half," in order to insert instead thereof the words "three-quarters." He characterised the Bill as a very nefarious project, and as a most barefaced piece of public plunder. He felt that the relief would go ultimately to the owner of the land and not to the occupier, and he was glad that that view was shared by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, who said that ultimately the relief would go to the landlord. The First Lord of the Admiralty, as recently as 1892, had used these words:—"In this matter," speaking of local taxation,
in the long run, sometimes in the very long run, the relief of the rates will go to the landowner in the country districts.
The First Lord of the Treasury had told them the other day that it was a source of great private entertainment to him to hear hon. Members on that side of the House say one after the other that it was the landlords who would obtain this relief, and he did not see why it should not be a source of entertainment to him that his two right hon. Col leagues also took this view. Believing, as he did, that the relief would go in the long run, and not the very long run, to the landlord, he wished to see that relief made as little as possible, because he did not think they were entitled to relief at the expense of the taxpayer. Without attributing any motives to hon. Gentlemen opposite, this Bill was one in which they were pecuniarily interested. [Cries of "No!"] The right hon. Gentleman had said that ultimately the relief would go to the landlords, and there were a large number of landlords on the opposite Benches. He did not
think that was the guiding motive of their votes——
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I rise to order; I wish to ask if it is not contrary to the rules of the House for any Member to impute motives to another Member?
Certainly there is a ruling that no motive should be attributed, but I did not understand the hon. Member to do so. [Opposition cheers.]
§ MR. DAVID THOMAS
said that, if the Chairman wished he would withdraw the word "motive"—[Ministerial cheers]—but the Bill would not be carried without the support of the hon. Members who were so interested. He bugged to move the Amendment.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said it was somewhat late in the day to ask him to reply to the argument that this was a Bill of nefarious character, the object of which was public plunder. He certainly repudiated that as a just definition, but he would leave the hon. Member to settle that with his own friends of the opposite side of the House who had supported the Second Reading. A number of Members of the Liberal Party saw fit to vote for this nefarious project. As to the question of pecuniary motives, that was one which he declined to go into. The hon. Member had adduced no reasons whatever in support of his proposal. Undoubtedly one of the leading principles of the Bill was that agricultural land should be rated at one-half of its rateable value. The provisions which had been made in the Budget for this Bill were to enable the occupier of agricultural land in future to be relieved to the extent of one-half. He declined to accept the Amendment, which could not be justified on the only ground put forward by the hon. Member, that it was a measure of public plunder.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
said that, if the support which the Bill had received from that side of the House was in any sense a measure of its ultimate success in the country, that success would be very small. The principle of the Bill was 1734 founded on the Report of the Commission, and that Report was for three-quarters, whereas the Bill proposed one-half. If the Bill was founded on one-half, and the Report of the Commission on three-quarters, how idle it was to speak of this as a question of principle. The right hon. Gentleman had said that no sufficient argument had been adduced, but he thought that the argument of his hon. Friend was a very strong one. There was no argument from the Bench opposite more eloquent and effective than that uttered by a right hon. Gentleman who he was sorry to say was not present to hear it again. He referred to the First Lord of the Admiralty. [Cheers and laughter.]
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN
No, I do not think it has been quoted before. They were told that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred rents were falling. He should like to hear some of them named. The First Lord of the Admiralty said:—With respect to the poor rates, I rejoice to say that it seems that the turning point has arrived, and, unless the House shall take the dangerous step of supplementing the poor rates by grants from the Consolidated Fund, there may be some hopes of the poor rates being reduced. But I am quite sure that no step is more certain to increase our expenditure on poor relief than if the House were to open the floodgates of the Consolidated Fund, a course which would damage, not only the administration of poor Law, but also injuriously affect many other institutions of the country.''[Cheers and laughter.] He agreed with every word in that. The prophecies had been turned into fact, in consequence of the enormous expenditure and extravagant subventions.
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN
said, he had given the figures often before, and they had never been impugned. If the right hon. Gentleman was accurate, then he was ten times more accurate now, when these subventions had been given with such open hand. He cordially supported the Amendment, which would reduce this proposal by one-half. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS
said, they must bear in mind that this proposal would become of a permanent character, and when they proposed to do this now they 1735 must see whether they could afford to do it, whatever the state of agriculture in the future, for all time. A great war might arise, which might improve enormously the condition of the agriculture of this country, and notwithstanding that they should be called upon to pay 50 per cent., no matter how elevated the state of agriculture might be, or however disastrous the state of other industries might be.
§ MR. LEWIS
The right hon. Gentleman makes a great deal of that, but everybody knows what happens in cases of this kind—that it was impossible to destroy the continuity of policy. The grant of 50 per cent, would encourage extravagance. He instanced the case where it was proposed to spend a considerable sum on a road. The farmers decided that the cost was too great, but when they were informed that under this Bill they would receive half of their rates, they decided to go on with the work. He did not say they were wrong, but his argument was that the Bill would largely increase local expenditure. He thought the proposal of 25 per cent. was a good one.
§ MR. ALLEN
said, their contention was that this Bill would not relieve agriculture, and as it stood the Measure was a most mischievous one. If they adopted this Amendment, they would at least mitigate the evil. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider his position in regard to this Amendment, to which no answer had been given.
§ * MR. CHARLES HARRISON (Plymouth)
said, if the relief to be given was for distressed agriculturists, why were not the districts defined? Was there agricultural distress down in the open fields at Woolwich which called for relief? There was no agricultural distress there at all. Take again the case of the 19,000 acres in the borough of Sheffield. There was no depression there, but the farmer in that borough would get half his rates paid, but the adjoining shopkeeper in the borough would get no relief at all. Take the case of Doncaster. The racecourse there belonged to the corporation, and the income from the ground was upwards of £30,000. The land would be considered agricultural land according to the definition in the Bill, and 1736 therefore one-half of the rates would be remitted. It was obvious that when they tested the question, the rule as to one-half was clearly improper. Middlesex afforded another excellent illustration. There were 143,000 acres in Middlesex, and the Metropolitan Police area outside the area of the London County Council. Yet there was no land out of cultivation in Middlesex; there was no such thing as rural Middlesex; it was made up of a set of congeries of towns.
§ * MR. HARRISON
said he was maintaining that in consequence of there being no definition of area, a half as applied to every field in every borough, county borough and urban sanitary authority was too much, and that therefore the Amendment which proposed a quarter ought to be accepted. In his opinion agricultural land, in populous places at all events, was not entitled to a half remission. He could multiply instances of agricultural land in and near populous centres, deriving adventitious rent value owing to its situation. He presumed it was alleged that the Death Duties tended to swell the amount which was said to be the excessive amount of taxation of the land. London, of all places, was surrounded by a band of ecclesiastical lands which paid no Death Duties at all. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners were the greatest landowners in England. They owned no less than 289,000 acres, and that land had not paid any Death Duty.
Order, order! I am very reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I really must beg him to make his remarks more relevant.
§ * MR. HARRISON
said, he was endeavouring to show that the items which went to make up the so-called taxation or land were exceptional, and did not apply in the case of a very large area of land, and that that land being so favoured as regarded Imperial Death Duty ought not to have a remission of so much as half of the local taxation.
The hon. Member would be in order in making such a speech on the Second Reading, but I don't think he is in order in making it on this Amendment.
§ * MR. HARRISON
said, he was convinced that the more the question was inquired into the more it would be found, first, that realty was not over assessed, and secondly, that if it were a 50 per cent. remission of rates was far in excess of the amount which ought to be contributed from the Imperial purse.
§ MR. MCLAREN
said, the mere fact that the President of the Local Government Board had proposed to limit the operation of the Bill to five years was in itself a ground for accepting the Amendment, because it showed that the Government were alarmed at their own temerity. They realised that they had taken a step for which the country was not prepared. The hon. Member for Plymouth had just shown them how crude and ill-digested the plan of the Government was. Another illustration could be given. The borough of Leeds had an area of 21,000 acres. A Member of the House was the owner of a farm within that area, and got a rent of no less than £3 per acre. Under the Bill, however, the rates of that farm would be relieved to the extent of one-half. The workman, who occupied a cottage close at hand, would receive no relief, neither would the woollen manufacturer or the ironmaster, and other people who found it just as difficult as the farmer to make ends meet. Even at this stage of the proceedings, if he thought the Bill would do the farmer one penny worth of good, he would allow the Government to take unchallenged the responsibility of the figures they put in the Bill. But he and his hon. Friends did not believe the Measure would do the farmer any good. [Mr. STRUTT: "Oh!"] The hon. Gentleman who interrupted him was an authority upon agriculture. He therefore put it to the hon. Gentleman whether 24 hours' good rain this week would not do farmers more good than any quack remedy such as the Bill proposed. If the President of the Local Government Board and his friends could persuade the country to buy English cheese instead of French cheese, if they could persuade the people to forsake New Zealand mutton and go in for homegrown produce——
§ MR. MCLAREN
said, he was endeavouring to show that the remedies for agricultural depression were not to be found in the Bill, but he would abandon that line of argument in deference to the ruling of the Chair. He put it to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill whether the effect of the Measure would not be to bolster up rents and leave the farmers very much where they were now.
§ MR. W. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)
said, his objection to the Bill was that it did not distribute relief where it was most needed, and for the same reason he supported the Amendment. There were tens of thousands of people in the country who were absolutely in want of food, and he thought the Government might have shown their generosity much better in helping them than by distributing relief among the agriculturists, as proposed under this Bill, without any regard to those who needed it most. [''Hear, hear!"]
§ At this point Mr. J. W. LOWTHER resumed the Chair.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, he should certainly support the Amendment. The grounds on which the President of the Local Government Board had opposed the Amendment were altogether inadequate and unsatisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman had not given a single argument in support of the proposal of the clause; nor had he given any facts, or data whatever to the Committee to show the grounds on which the Government had come to the conclusion to fix on the amount of 50 per cent., or one-half, rather than on any other amount—one-quarter or three-quarters. He thought the Committee were entitled, on the grounds of ordinary courtesy, to some explanation on this point. Whether they regarded the object of the Bill to be for the relief of agricultural distress or for equalising the burden of the rates on land, he contended that the figure of 50 per cent., as proposed by the Bill, was much too high. The average fall of rents in England and Wales through the agricultural distress had not reached 25 per cent., though in some districts it was, and in others very much less; and if the purpose of the Bill was 1739 to relieve agricultural distress, the relief granted should surely not be more than was commensurate with the distress experienced. Neither on the ground of the fall of rents, nor on that of the present amount of rating on agricultural land, as compared with the rating in the towns, could the figure of 50 per cent. be justified. If the figures were fully gone into it would be found that 25 per cent. would be a much more fair and just amount. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had not entered into the merits of the Amendment at all, and he repeated that the Committee; were entitled to some explanations of the reasons which had induced the Government to fix upon the 50 per cent., or one-half, as proposed in the Bill. [''Hear, hear!"]
§ * MR. REGINALD MCKENNA (Monmouth)
said, the adoption of the principle of equal division of the rates between the occupier and the State, as proposed in the Bill, was a very import and matter, and might have a far-reaching effect in the future in the work of the readjustment of the rates. Great care should, therefore, be taken in creating a precedent. He would advise the Government to proceed very cautiously in the matter, and, in the first instance, to confine their action to a 25 per cent. reduction. If this principle of equal division were persisted in, it might lead in the future, when the question of rates all over the country came to be dealt with, to a very serious demand, a demand of very many millions being made on the Imperial Exchequer. He supported the Amendment.
§ MR. CHANNING
said, he would like be remind the Committee of one passage in the majority Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, which was signed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. That passage was as follows:—We are of opinion that in order to place agricultural lands in their right position as compared with other rateable properties, it is essential that they should he assessed to all local rates in a reduced proportion of their rateable value. If the existing precedents in England and Scotland are followed, they would be so assessed at one-fourth only of their rateable value.There the right hon. Gentleman had pinned himself to a definite statement of what he considered to be a true and rational carrying out of the precedents 1740 with regard to the assessment of agricultural lands. In the Bill, on the other hand, they had a proposition that there should be, instead of a three-fourths exemption, an exemption of one-half only, and he did think the Committee was entitled, after that definite expression of opinion to which the right hon. Gentleman had appended his signature, to some explanation of what the figure in the Bill meant.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he might be allowed to remind the Committee that he had most amply explained this particular point on the First Reading of the Bill, when he said:—What is to be the proportion in this Bill? One-quarter has been recommended to us by various influential quarters. It has been recommended by the Central Chamber of Commerce, representing all the affiliated chambers throughout the country, and it has been recommended by a large majority of the Royal Commission which has just made its Report. I wish it had been in my power to adopt these recommendations. In my opinion they do not exceed what both justice and expediency may very well have dictated, But it has not been in my power to do so. I have been obliged to cut my coat according to my cloth. As the House is aware, exceptionally heavy claims have been made on my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the present year, and I have been obliged to adopt the proportion to one-half.
§ Question put: "That the words 'one-half stand part of the clause."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 154; Noes, 78.—(Division List, No. 154.)
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS moved to leave out ''only.'' He explained that the object with which he moved this Amendment was to prevent the exclusion of other Amendments to subservient parts of the Bill which might otherwise be excluded.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
did not think the retention of the word would have that effect, and he was advised that its use was necessary in the drafting of the Bill.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE moved after ''payable'' to insert ''at the date of the passing of this Act." The 1741 object was to confine the provisions of the Bill to rates in existence at the date of the passing of the Act. He believed the right hon. Gentleman opposite had himself said that he did not intend the Bill to apply to future rates.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, that the hon. Member was under a misapprehension. The intention was that the Bill should apply to all rates as denned in the definition clause. Whether the rate was new or not, the Bill would apply.
§ * MR. T. W. NUSSEY (Pontefract)
supported the Amendment. He had himself put down the following Amendment on the Paper:—Provided that, if, after the passing of this Act, any increase of any existing rate shall be made by or under any rating authority, or if any new rate shall be levied, occupiers of agricultural land shall be liable for any such increase in any existing rate, and for any such new rate, as if this Act had not been passed.''He said that it was very doubtful whether the rates would long remain as low as they now were. In all probability there would be an increase in the course of the next few years. The Light Rail-ways Bill, which would assist farmers to a great extent, would, in the first place, cause some slight additional expenditure. Then, it remained to be seen whether, under the Education Bill of the Government, education in our villages would be as cheap in future as it was at present. He believed himself that in many villages applications would have to be made to constitute Board Schools in the place of Voluntary Schools receiving diminished subscriptions. Further expenditure was also likely to be caused by the operations of Parish Councils, which were now in their infancy. Hitherto, in a great many places, they had not thought fit to levy any rate at all, their present needs and requirements not necessitating it. Many Parish Councils had not put in force the adoptive Acts. As time went on, however, Parish Councils would find it necessary to levy-some kinds of rates. He was also of opinion that the proposal now under consideration, that the Government should pay half the local taxation out of the pockets of Imperial taxpayers, was indeed extravagance, because the spending authorities would look upon the contribution an so much money sent 1742 from Heaven or from a blessed Government, and would, in consequence, feel themselves justified in incurring a little extra local expenditure. It was only human to be lavish with other people's money. The two great spending authorities were District Councils and Boards of Guardians, and those boards were largely dominated by the landed interest, including owners, farmers and tenants, and those were the very classes whom the Government were proposing to relieve under this Bill. Taking all these matters into consideration, it was evidently highly probable that there would be an increase in the local rates, and unless the Bill were amended, the, increase would fall very hardly upon building property, and unduly lightly upon agricultural land. Under this Bill, it must be remembered, buildings included not only railways, but also factories, shops, and farm houses. The proposal of the Government came to this, that land should be assessed at half its existing value. If, then, new rates were levied, or existing rates increased, there would be a deficiency which would have to be made good out of assessments on building property. Suppose a rateable value of £100, of which land formed £80 and buildings £20. If it was proposed to levy a 2s. rate on £100, the rateable value which land would have to pay would be £8, and buildings £2. But under this Bill land would pay £4, Government Grant £4, while buildings would continue still to pay £2. If the rates increased 1s. in the £, what would be the state of things? Under the present law land would pay £4, buildings £1. But if the Bill passed as it now stands, land would pay £2, buildings £1, making together £3. Thus, if it was necessary to raise £5, a shilling rate would not suffice, but it would be necessary to levy a 1s. 8d. rate, of which land would pay £3 6s. 8d. and buildings £1 13s. 4d., because land would be assessed not at 80 per cent. but at 40 per cent. In the case of any increase in the rate or new rate, land ought to be fully responsible as at present. The effect of his Amendment would not be to place any additional burden on land, but to leave it where it was at this moment. He therefore supported the Amendment of his hon. Friend.
§ COLONEL MILWARD (Warwickshire, Stratford-on-Avon)
hoped that the Government would remain firm. Any increase of the rate would, to a certain extent, militate against buildings and houses; but, on the other hand, if the rate decreased the houses and the buildings would obtain a proportionate advantage. In his opinion there was much more prospect in the next four or live years that the, rates would go down in agricultural districts. People were frightened at the increase of rates, and a move was being made in the direction of economy. Under this Bill the Government were paying a certain fixed sum from year to year. If the rates diminished in the county or parish, the buildings and houses would get an advantage. There was a strong encouragement to economy in this Bill, because the less they spent the less they had to pay in proportion.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
could riot accept the Amendment, because the Committee had already agreed to that portion of the clause which stated that after a certain date, agricultural land in England would only pay half the rates. If he were to agree to the Amendment, land would have to pay the whole of the increased rate; and this was neither the object of the Bill nor the intention of the Government in introducing it. In introducing the Bill, he pointed out that houses and buildings would still continue to be assessed on the whole of their rateable value as before, and he added that "the annual amount of the grant being fixed by the Bill, houses and buildings will gain or lose according as there is an increase or decrease in the local expenditure in future." That was the position under the Bill, and to that position he must adhere.
§ * SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
submitted that it was fair, the Bill being a temporary Measure, and there being a fixed sum granted, that it should be limited to the rates to which it at present applied. They were likely to have increased rates in rural districts, not only in connection with light railways, but with Parish Councils and also the new Education Scheme. Very possibly there might be increased rates in connection with Poor Law Administration, because the farmers, who largely controlled 1744 it, would in future be relieved considerably from the pressure of the Poor Rates through the action of this Bill, and consequently might increase the cost of its administration at the expense of the occupiers of houses in the villages as opposed to the land. In his opinion the Bill would not tend to economy of administration in rural districts, because the farming classes, having also a large interest on the Parish Councils, would not have the same motives to economy as in the past. There were, in all the rural districts, great and pressing needs as regards the development of local self-government, and it would put a check upon that development to throw the burden of new work from the agricultural interest on to the occupiers of houses in the rural districts. Then there was the Education Bill, a most revolutionary Measure. They did not know how far local rates would be increased by that Measure, and yet, in spite of that imminent danger, the extent of which no one could predict, the President of the Local Government Board contended that future rates were not to be excepted in this Bill. The Committee ought to resist the right hon. Gentleman by supporting the Amendment in the interests of the majority of rural ratepayers.
§ * MR. MCKENNA
thought the position of the right hon. Gentleman a perfectly intelligible one, but there was one very large class of occupiers who paid as much in respect of their incomes as the farmers and yet who did not get one penny of benefit under the Bill; indeed, unless the Bill was amended, their condition would be made worse—he referred to the colliery lessees. The land in connection with collieries and mines was rated to the full. If agricultural land were relieved, and the deficiency so created, in the event of a rise taking place in the rates, were not met by a payment from the Imperial Exchequer, the burden on the remaining ratepayers must be increased; and in some districts that extra burden would fall almost wholly on the owners of mines and collieries. If the purpose of the Government were to relieve agricultural distress, let them at least distribute the cost of that relief over the whole country, and not make a few persons pay exceptionally for it.
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
pointed out that if the Government did not make a concession on this point, they would be making a new and additional inequality. The case where the total assessments on the agricultural land and on the other property in a district were about equal was very common. For the present the position of property other than agricultural land was not to be made worse; but in the future, if any rise in the rates occurred, the burden on non-agricultural property would be double that of agricultural property; for the State would not pay any part of the increased rate, and relief to the extent of one-half of it would still be given to agricultural land. There had been Amendments on the Paper to exclude districts in which agriculture was not specially suffering; but all these had been defeated by the Closure. Yet, these were exactly the districts where the rates were rising. The Bill, practically, would make it dangerous to hold property in the neighbourhood of agricultural land. If, on the other hand, rates were generally decreasing, where was the argument for having the Bill at all?
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
suggested to his hon. Friend that the Amendment might be withdrawn, because the question could be raised more appropriately on a subsequent Amendment standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton. If the Amendment were accepted, he was not sure that the legal effect would not be to limit this relief to the rate which happened at the moment to be payable.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, he should be quite willing to respond to the appeal if the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton covered the whole ground. The words of the Amendment were—Or to the increase in any rate above the amount of such rate during the last quarter before the passing of this Act.But he wanted to cover both cases. He 1746 wanted to raise the question whether this Bill was to apply not merely to an existing rate but to a perfectly new rate levied on land. He contended that if the right hon. Gentleman did not apply it to a case of that kind, shops and houses and factories in a rural district might practically be crushed by the burden of the rates. A light railway might be made from which the factories would derive no advantage and the farmers derive great advantages, but they would be relieved of half of the rate. He considered that this would be a gross injustice. They would be taxing the urban population for the benefit of the rural community. Then there was the possibility of a new education rate. ["Question!"] It was the question—the question of new rates. The education authority might take over education for a certain district. Suppose they had got a Voluntary School, and for some reason it was decided to hand it over to the education authority for the district. They had to build a new school and levy a rate, and that rate would fall on the cottagers, the labourers, the artisans, and the tradesmen, and half the burden only would fall on land. That would be a great injustice, and the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman would not cover that.
§ MR. ROBERTSON
said, he was not bound by the words of the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton. He thought that a proposal declaring that this Bill should not apply to any increase in any old rate or to any new rate would be the best way of raising the question.
§ MR. JOSEPH A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside)
said, he represented a district in which 75 per cent. of the rates was paid by industry, apart from agriculture, and 25 per cent. of the rates was paid by land. The proposal of the Government would necessitate the taxpayer in future paying 12½ per cent. Assuming the rates to rise from 2s. to 3s. in the pound, then, of every £150 1747 the taxpayer would pay £12 10s., realty, paying half the increase, would contribute £18 10s.; and industries would pay £75 plus £44 or £119 out of £150. That would be a monstrous injustice to the industries.
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
urged that the hope for agriculture must be in the development of industries on agricultural land. Within the last few years the manufacture of jam had been developed with great success, and it had stimulated the farmer to grow fruit. The development of such enterprises would be rendered impossible if taxation, taken off land, were put on new enterprises.
§ SIR JOHN BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
said, he trusted the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would allow this Amendment to be withdrawn in order that the Committee might have an opportunity of discussing that of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman whether it would not be in accordance with the courtesies of that House that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton should put his Motion before the House. It used to be said that the Rules of the House were framed by gentlemen for gentlemen, and it would be only showing the courtesy due to a gentleman of the position of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton if permission were granted to withdraw the Amendment.
§ MR. LOGAN
said, that the more they discussed this Bill the more the injustice of it was seen. How would the Bill work if the Amendment were refused? All agricultural land would be relieved of half the rates. He knew a town where most of the land outside it was agricultural land. By this Bill that land would be relieved of half the rates. In the event of the town increasing—and it was increasing every day—the owners of that agricultural land would be able to sell large portions of their property at an enormously increased 1748 value. Since he had been in the neighbourhood land formerly worth £200 an acre had sold for over £1,000. When this land had been sold at this greatly enhanced value, the population who lived on the land would in the future be called upon to pay the whole of the rates. That was a manifest injustice, and he could not believe that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would willingly do injustice to anyone. He appealed to him to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Carnarvon or the Motion of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, and not give the impression that he wanted to perpetuate injustice under the Bill.
§ MR. WARNER,
amid Ministerial cries of "Divide," said, he wished to make a protest on behalf of working men who, through building societies and similar societies, had bought their own houses and would be heavily taxed under this Bill. The very places where working men were building houses and buying them were the places where the local rates were likely to be increased. They were increasing neighbourhoods, and in all such neighbourhoods the rates increased, and it was very hard these men of small means should be made to pay the extra taxation. It was said that the Bill would be an incentive to economy. Quite true, where the rates could be reduced; but in all places where there was a tendency to extravagance this Bill would hurry them into greater extravagance, because there would be no hope of saving anything, but an incentive to the farmers and agricultural representatives to spend more because they would only have to pay half. If the incentive to economy were taken away, districts which were extravagant would be more so than they were now. He protested, on behalf of working men, who had saved sufficient to buy their own houses and obtained what was talked of so much by the Tory Party—a stake in the country.
§ * MR. BROADHURST
asked the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill to 1749 give his hon. Friend a guarantee that he should be allowed to withdraw his Amendment, and not have it negatived. He could assure the House that if those on his side of the House were not allowed a few moments now and again—[Ministerial laughter]—to express their opinions, they would have to take such steps as seemed to them justified in the circumstances. Would the right hon. Gentleman give a guarantee that this Amendment should be withdrawn; if not, they would go on debating it. The right hon. Gentleman, adopting the line of argument of an ingenious supporter, said that their policy was likely to lead to economy in expenditure. Practically, for all time, a certain class in the community were to pay only one half of their liabilities—a class who had mismanaged their affairs and shown themselves utterly incapable of discharging their duties. They were coming to the industrial portion of the community for out-door relief. They could not manage their affairs, they could not pay their debts, and the House was asked to believe that the fact of this section of society being absolved from their National duties would lead to economy. What possible incentive to economy would there be? He hoped the Committee would insist on having further information on this question and more time to consider it. If the right hon. Gentleman would control his enthusiastic but unwise supporters the Committee might make more progress.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
said, that this was one of the most important questions that could possibly be raised. His experience of the County Councils led him to believe that, the more they received in the way of subvention from the Treasury, the more ready they were to spend. There were persons outside the House who would regard the Bill as a permanent Measure, and, in consequence, would spend the public money much more freely than now. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman 1750 would see that this was one of the most important questions that could possibly be raised upon the Bill, because the proposal of the Government would result in an enormous increase of extravagance on the part of local authorities unless the Amendment were accepted. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would consent to accept the Amendment which stood in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton.
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN
said, that he thought that there had been sufficient discussion upon this Amendment, for which he was perfectly prepared to vote.
§ SIR J. BRUNNER
said, that, as the Opposition had not been met by the right hon. Gentleman in the way they desired, he begged to move that Progress be reported.
§ MR. CHAPLIN rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put.''
* THE CHAIRMAN
withheld his assent, because it appeared to him that the Committee was prepared shortly to come to a decision without that Motion.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, that he was prepared to amend his Amendment in the way that had been suggested.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he was bound to say that this was the most unreasonable proposal that he had heard made in the whole course of his Parliamentary career. They had been debating this issue for more than an hour and three-quarters, and he was certain that nothing more could be added to the discussion if they were to Debate the matter for three or four hours longer. Considering the immense time—five nights—that had already been occupied in discussing a single clause, it was most unreasonable to ask the Government to put off the clause in order that the whole thing might have to be gone over again. ["Hear, hear!"] He hoped that the Motion for reporting Progress would be withdrawn.
§ SIR J. BRUNNER
said, as he did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman, he should persist in his Motion for reporting Progress.
§ MR. CHAPLIN rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ MR. BROADHURST,
sitting with his hat on, asked the Chairman, as a point of order, whether the Motion, "That the Question be now put" referred to the Motion to report Progress or to the Amendment?
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 203; Noes, 86.—(Division List, No. 155.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 86; Noes, 203.—(Division List, No. 156.)
§ MR. CHAPLIN rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question on the Amendment be now put."
§ Question put accordingly, "That the words 'at the date of the passing of this Act' be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 83; Noes, 203.—(Division List, No. 17.)
§ And, it being after Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.