§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ [MR. JEFFREYS (Hampshire, N.) in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1.
Amendment again proposed—
In page 1, line 6, to leave out the words 'one thousand nine hundred and ten,' and insert the words 'until Parliament shall otherwise determine.'"—(Mr. Lambert.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words 'one thousand nine hundred and ten' stand part of the clause."
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.) rose to appoint of order and reminded the Committee that when last under discussion this Amendment had been ruled out of order on the ground that it made nonsense the clause. He thought it was 632 extraordinary at the time that the House should have been debating for two hours an Amendment which would have made nonsense of the Bill, but he had since examined the Act and this Bill, and he thought that he could satisfy the Minister in charge of this measure, who did not appear to examine the Amendments at all, that the Amendment was perfectly in order.
The hon. Member need not continue, I think, because the hon. Member for South Molton has now put down another Amendment which brings this Amendment into order.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
hoped that the Committee would now be able to deal with the Amendment before the House in a more placid spirit than was shown at the close of their proceedings the other day. He had hoped they would have been calmed by the withdrawal of the Amendment, but he gathered that with further consideration the hon. Member would see his way to withdrawing the bone of contention, and thus saving the House the time occupied in debating and dividing upon it.
He had been violently assailed on the ground that a breach of faith had been committed. He hoped it would now be felt that the language was too violent. The view he had taken of the permanent or transitory character of this Act had always been the same, and if hon. Members would look back—he did not advise them, however, to take the trouble—to his various utterances on previous occasions, they would see he had always held that it was a matter of absolute indifference whether the Act remained temporary or was made nominally permanent. It was certain that that nominal permanence would not survive any far-reaching or comprehensive treatment of the rating question, which certainly deserved the attention of Parliament. The difficulties were themselves an indication of the urgent need there was for Parliament to try to bring order into the chaos, and justice into what was perhaps the injustice of our existing system. When that was done partial 633 legislation like that contained in the present Bill would in the nature of the case vanish and be absorbed in the wider and more logical and comprehensive treatment which they hoped to see some day attempted by this House. On the other hand, if the Act were temporary, and were not supplanted by the wider measure, it was certain that the arguments which had convinced the present Opposition that they ought not to resist its extension would have equal weight with their successors. Whatever Party was in office and whatever Party was in Opposition, the same arguments would lead to the same results; and it would be felt that until the matter could be dealt with as a whole it would be folly not to renew a measure which did, however inadequately, deal with one particular injustice of the rating system. Therefore it was absolutely immaterial from the point of view of general policy what decision the House came to on this Amendment.
But it was said that it was not fair of the Government not to put on Government tellers in order to retain the Bill in its original shape. That was a novel argument entirely and absolutely inconsistent with the views constantly expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. How many times had they not made passionate appeals to the Government to leave the House to go its own way undiverted from the paths of rectitude by the artificial methods of guidance which the system of Party organisation provided? Those who had made such appeals had no right to say when the practice was adopted that an outrage had been inflicted on the principles of Parliamentary management or on their particular interests. As to the way in which he himself should vote, though it was not a matter of the smallest practical importance as to what decision was ultimately arrived at by the House, he proposed to vote for the Bill as it was introduced. He desired in no sense to exercise pressure of any sort. He hoped this explanation would tend to remove the alarm and bitterness that found expression last Wednesday.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
said that in charging the Government 634 with a breach of faith he had meant nothing personally offensive. He referred only to an official breach of faith with reference to a Parliamentary understanding across the floor of the House, which, if not adhered to, led to complaints which disturbed the peace and procedure of the House. Some of the remarks just made by the right hon. Gentleman were certainly open to controversy, both as to their accuracy and as to their bearing on the present situation. This was not the case of an Amendment to a Bill which was before the House for the first time, and in regard to which the House might reasonably exercise its independent opinion without Government pressure. They had to remember that the Bill, although introduced as a permanent measure, was made a temporary one very early in its career. Whatever justice this Act did to the agricultural community it left undone an act of justice to the urban community. The policy of a temporary Bill was to put pressure on the Government of the day, whether it be Liberal or whether it be Conservative, to deal with that other part of the question which it left untouched. The Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was the representative in the House, had years ago pledged itself to refer the matter to a Royal Commission, and it did so. That Royal Commission took a large amount of evidence and in due course reported to the House, and he believed the Report it presented was one of the ablest Reports ever drawn up upon the question. There were no doubt differences of opinion among the Commissioners, but all sections of the Commission recognised that the urban community had strong claims for relief and recommended legislation. So far as regarded reducing that recommendation into a practical shape, he thought that the Report drawn up by two distinguished servants of the Treasury, Sir George Murray and Sir Edward Hamilton, represented a practicable solution of that difficult question. He laid no blame on the Government because they did not in 1901 introduce legislation founded upon the Report of the Committee. They were in the midst of a great war. When the Renewal Bill was introduced it was introduced as a permanent measure, but it was converted into a 635 temporary measure by an agreement across the floor of the House, and when the Bill went into Committee the Amendment giving effect to that agreement was put and at once carried.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR, Leeds, Central)
The arrangement was made by means of Question and Answer.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
said the point never came before the Committee as a controversial question. But he was bound at that point to interject a parenthetical observation that, in his opinion, the Government ought during the last four years to have dealt with this question. It would have been a better thing for them and for the country at large if they had devoted some time to the solution of this grave and important problem. But for some reason they had not done so, and in due course the time had arrived for this Act to berenewed. The Government thereupon put into the mouth of the King a statement that a measure would be brought before Parliament to renew the Act as a temporary Act. He took it that that was a pledge on the part of the Government that its temporary character would be retained. Then the catastrophe occurred the other day, when an hon. Member on his side of the House, not speaking in any representative capacity for those who sat on that side, but speaking for himself as a consistent supporter of the Bill from the very first, and as one who supported it at a time when it was most fiercely contested, wished to make it a permanent measure. What they had to complain of was, that the Minister in charge of the Bill, instead of saying that the Government introduced it as a temporary measure, and would support it as such, and could not, therefore, accept the Amendment, gave a very broad hint to hon. Members on his own side of the House to vote for it.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
No. Can the right hon. Gentleman quote any passage of my speech which can be thus interpreted?
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
said it might be his imperfect interpretation, but he certainly did interpret the right hon. Gentleman's words as an invitation, to Members on his own side of the House to support the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had told them that the difference between them was a purely academic one. The question was, should they make the Bill temporary or permanent? He differed from the right hon. Gentleman. He did not think the question was purely academic. The Bill, at the present time, did not rest on a permanent basis, and it did not require assent in another place for its termination. But he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that the Bill would have to be renewed until the Government insisted that there should be a general settlement of the whole question. He felt that the injustice to the urban ratepayer was heavier than to the agricultural, for in some places the urban rates were two or three times the amount of the agricultural rates. Now, however, as he understood the right hon. Gentleman had agreed to give his great personal example in voting against the Amendment, he trusted that, under the circumstances, the hon. Member for South Molton would agree to withdraw it.
§ MR. LAMBERT (Devonshire, South Molton)
said that if the Prime Minister was going to vote against his Amendment he was afraid it was not going into the division lobby. He was sorry the right hon. Gentleman did not think his own Bill was good enough to be made permanent or till Parliament should otherwise determine. He had placed him in a predicament by forsaking his own Bill. [Cries of "No, no!"] Well, he had forsaken the principle upon which it was introduced in 1896. Of course, if he were going to vote against the Amendment and if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton were going to vote against it, he was afraid it would be no use his running his head against a brick wall of the big battalions. He regretted very much that both Front Benches were taking the view that his Amendment was one which ought not to be embodied in the Bill; he believed it ought to be. Still, if the 637 Prime Minister were going to vote against him, he could only say that rather than be beaten in the division lobby he should ask leave to withdraw his Amendment, because after all that had been said and done he should not like to see the House divide and the Amendment beaten. The other day it was ruled that it was a nonsensical Amendment and out of order, and he was glad to know that the Chairman had seen fit to put it from the Chair, because, instead of it being nonsense, he believed if it were inserted it would be about the best bit of sense in the Bill. He could, however, only repeat himself and say that, after the statement of the Prime Minister, he must ask leave to withdraw his Amendment.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
said that if the hon. Member thought they were all going to agree to the withdrawal of his Amendment he could tell him he was very much mistaken. There was no earthly reason in any single argument he had yet heard why it should be withdrawn. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton said the other day there had been a breach of faith on the part of the Government, but did he remember what occurred in the discussions in the past? Did he remember the furious opposition which the Bill encountered in days gone by—he might say the savage ferocity which was directed against both the Bill and its authors, directed against the Bill not in. its permanent form but in its temporary form. It was agreed to be made temporary on the Second Reading of the Bill, not for the reason alleged by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy the other day, not because pressure was put on the Government of that time by the borough Members. It was nothing of the kind, and he would tell them exactly what did occur. A number of Lancashire borough Members came to him in the Lobby, and said,—"Now, look here! We will support you through thick and thin in whatever you do in regard to this Bill. If you make it permanent we will support you, but at the same time we shall be glad if you think it right to let it be temporary. Bat please understand this: so for from wishing to put the slightest pressure upon you, we will support you, whatever course you take." 638 Now, that was what the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy called pressure being put on him by the borough Members. His reply to those Lancashire gentlemen was that he did not think it mattered very much whether the Bill was temporary or permanent, for he had already announced on the First Reading that a Commission would be appointed to inquire into the whole question, that it would report, he presumed, within a reasonable time, and that in all probability, if other things did not stand in the way, legislation would soon afterwards be introduced. The only reason why that had not been done long ago was, so far as he knew, to be found in the tremendous amount of time which had been devoted by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House to opposing and obstructing the measures which the Government had thought it necessary to proceed with first. As he had pointed out, the whole of the opposition which they had to contend with in those days was directed against the Bill not in its permanent form but as a temporary measure. How on earth were they to know that the Opposition—the leaders and the rank and file—were going to take the course they had done on this occasion, after their great recantation. [Cries of "No."] Yes, it was an absolute recantation of their previous opposition, and they had every right to suppose that they would abstain from that opposition, whatever form the Bill might take in the future; and to tell them now that the mere decision of the Government to leave the voting on an Amendment to make the Bill permanent—a Radical Amendment, by-the-bye—was a sufficient ground for their change of attitude, was to tell them something which, with all due respect would not wash for a single moment.
He did not want this Amendment to be withdrawn, and he said that in the interests of the boroughs. They had had ten years experience of a temporary measure, and it had led to nothing being done in the interests of the boroughs. Why was that? It was said by Gentlemen opposite that it was too much to expect any Government to interfere with a temporary measure before its time had expired. He held that the Government was entitled to interfere with any 639 measure of that kind if it thought fit, but he was bound to say at the same time that there was some force in the contention. On the other hand, if they made the Bill permanent—permanent, that was to say, until the whole question could be dealt with—then they would have forthwith such an agitation on the part of the boroughs for a change in the law which would give them fair and equal justice, that he would defy any Government, he did not care from which Party it was drawn, very long to resist it. That was the ground on which, in the interests of the borough Members, quite as much as in the interests of Parliamentary convenience, he believed it would be right and proper to support this Amendment. He believed, also, it would be in the interests of the country at large, of the agricultural community as well as of the boroughs, and, above all, in the interests of hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the measure should be carried in the form suggested by the hon. Member for South Molton. He had some conversation with that hon. Member the other day, and he was certainly surprised at the course he had now decided to adopt. It was asserted that he (the Member for Sleaford) had "nobbled" the Prime Minister.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said the hon. Member offered to withdraw that expression if he could tell him he knew nothing beforehand about the intentions of the Government. Now, he would tell him exactly what happened that afternoon. Just before the Amendment came on he left his place and asked the President of the Local Government Board what he was going to do in regard to it. The reply was that he thought he would leave it an open question, and he was asked if he approved of that. He said at once, of course he did, and that he was very glad to hear it, for, as far as he was concerned, he should certainly support the Amendment, whether it was left open or not. Later on he saw the hon. Member for South Molton, and told him he would support his Amendment with all the forces at his command. Now at the last moment, to his intense surprise, 640 and to his very great disgust, the hon. Member, who he had thought really did mean business, and who he had hoped was indulging in something more than mere Party electioneering, proposed to withdraw his Amendment. All he could say was that so far as he had any weight he should object to the withdrawal, and should do his very utmost to get the Amendment carried.
§ MR. DALZIEL
thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the tribute he had paid to the authenticity of the remarks he made the other day. They now found themselves in a very peculiar and interesting position in regard to the Bill. The Prime Minister, in regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Molton, was going to take a different course to that adopted by the President of the Local Government Board. The Government had brought in a Bill which they had declared to be of a temporary character; now they left the whole principle of the Bill practically to the "vote as you please" decision of the House. That was not a course which any Government should take in regard to its own Bill. The Prime Minister had reminded them that he had often been appealed to to leave the voting open. That was not the point. His contention was that it was the duty of the Government to make up their minds definitely on this question and not, by withdrawing the Whips, to leave the matter open to their supporters. He thought he saw the reason why the Government had taken up their present attitude. Sooner or later—later rather than sooner—he expected there would be a general election, and the right hon. Gentleman was anxious, while still defending the honour and dignity of the Government, to allow the agricultural Members to vote for making the Act permanent and the borough Members to vote for making it temporary, so that when they were called upon to face their constituents they would be able to point with virtuous pride to their votes. That was, he believed, the sole reason for the Government allowing their supporters to "go as you please."
He did not think this should be made a permanent measure; it was originally passed as a temporary one, 641 and he did not think the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would deny that had he not conceded the demand that it should be made temporary its passing would have been endangered. So great was the opposition to it among his supporters that he doubted if it could ever have been passed as a permanent measure. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford had urged that they should make the Act permanent, because then the urban constituencies would rise in revolt and something would have to be done—it was to be the last straw which would bring about an agitation which would compel the Government to deal with the demands of the urban districts. Well, he could not accept that view; he held, on the contrary, that if the measure were temporary it would obviously be the duty of the next Government to deal with the urban question, so that the whole problem might be solved. He had never altered his opinion that this Bill was unjust and unfair; that it was a bribe to a particular class of the community, and he was opposed to making it permanent, both on that ground and because such a step would make it more difficult to obtain consideration for the claims of the urban districts.
§ MR. MILDMAY (Devonshire, Totnes)
did not agree that if this Amendment were carried the result would be that all prospect of a comprehensive scheme of rating reform would vanish. It must not be forgotten that personal property escaped paying rates in consequence of the annual renewal of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill; and, seeing that the annual renewal of that Act had not compelled the Government to deal with the whole question of rating reform, he submitted that the argument of the hon. Member opposite would not hold water for a single moment. They were now voting as to whether this temporary expedient which did justice to agriculturists should continue until a comprehensive measure of rating reform was brought forward. He was strongly in favour of this. He believed many Members representing agricultural constituencies on the other side of the House were also strongly in favour of it, and he hoped they would vote against 642 the proposition for the withdrawal of the Amendment.
§ LORD EDMUND FITZMAURICE (Wiltshire, Cricklade)
supposed that after the speech they had just had from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford it would be too much for them to hope that the matter would be terminated by the unopposed withdrawal of the Amendment. He thought there was every reason why an emphatic protest should be made from that side of the House against the attitude of the Prime Minister on the question. He protested against the right hon. Gentleman treating the question of the temporary or permanent character of the measure as one of no practical importance. He did not wish to take up the time of the Committee with points of order, for, of course, he accepted the ruling of the Chair that the new Amendment placed on the Paper by the hon. Member for South Molton had put the firs; Amendment in order. But it seemed to many of them a very open question whether the enormous change proposed by the Amendment was really within the title of the Bill. He was not saying it would be in the power of the Chairman to rule that it was outside the title of the Bill, but he did suggest that a change of the kind proposed was as near being so as legitimately it could possibly be. It was a Bill to extend an Act which was a temporary Act, and yet the object of the Amendment was to make the Bill permanent. That appeared to him to be very like a violation of the ancient and established practice of Parliament. In any case he protested against the doctrine laid down by the Prime Minister that it did not signify, and that it was the same thing greatly to extend or diminish a proposal before the House. Sir Erskine May pointed out that there was an essential distinction when in his book on Parliamentary practice he said that the modification of a notice of Motion was permitted if the amended notice did not exceed the scope of the original Motion, and, if a Motion were proposed which differed materially from the terms of the notice, on an occasion of that kind it could only be made with the consent of the House. This was, it was true, an 643 Amendment to a Bill, but he thought the Committee ought to be guided by the spirit of those observations. If this subject were to be considered from the point of view of the general question of local taxation, he must ask the Government whether it was their intention or not to bring forward in the present session of Parliament the measure relating to valuation promised in the King's Speech.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said that with all due respect to the noble Lord he was bound to say his two points of order had nothing whatever in them. He had told them that in his opinion the title of the Bill would not allow of such an Amendment. But it was a Bill to extend the Agricultural Rates Act, 1896.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
denied that it went as near as it possibly could; it was a long way off. It was a Bill to extend the Agricultural Rates Act. They might extend it ad infinitum. They might extend it until Parliament otherwise determined—which was what the Amendment proposed—or they might extend it until all eternity. Then with regard to the other point raised by the noble Lord, he would point out that Amendments in Committee and notices of Motion were not on the same footing. It was quite right that there should be no extension in the case of a notice of Motion laying down an important principle which the House came prepared to discuss and hear discussed, but it was quite different with Amendments in Committee. Of these no notice was required, and indeed they often became necessary in consequence of what had happened in the course of the debate. He did think the Opposition were ungrateful in complaining because the Government were allowing their followers to vote as they pleased—a vote that was according to the dictates of reason and logic—in respect of an Amendment moved from the opposite benches; and their suggestion that the Government on previous occasions had rejected their appeals to allow their followers freedom 644 of action made their present complaint doubly ungrateful. What sort of encouragement was it to a poor Government to be told that they were always doing wrong, and if they were to find that when they did right it was not to be accepted as being right?
The Prime Minister had said—and said truly—that this was an academic question. Whether this Act was made permanent or whether it remained, as introduced, a temporary one, the question would still have to come up for settlement when the whole rating question came to be dealt with—for the Act, whether permanent or temporary, would disappear in the general scheme of settlement. He was disposed to agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford that it was better for the Act to be made permanent. If they made the Act permanent there would be such an agitation from, the boroughs as could not be resisted, and he pictured to himself the awful prospect of Birmingham marching on London, and Manchester revolting, and both being led through Lincolnshire by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford. The President of the Local Government Board told the Committee on the last occasion that he would not vote either for or against this Amendment. In his (Mr. Bowles) anxiety to be led by his leaders he had very grave doubt on that occasion as to which way he should vote, or whether he should vote at all. To-day that doubt had been dissolved. The Prime Minister had said his opinion was that the Bill should be maintained by logical minded persons in the shape in which it now existed, and consequently the Amendment of the Member for South Molton should be rejected. That determined his action, and he should vote with the Prime Minister with a satisfaction only tempered by the regret, he felt in not following the President of the Local Government Board.
§ MR. EMMOTT (Oldham)
said he rose for the purpose of expressing his surprise that if this matter was of no practical importance the Prime Minister should have taken the course he had. Why the Amendment had not been resisted by the Government from the first he could 645 not understand. The Bill would have been through Committee last Wednesday but for this Amendment having arisen. If the Bill were altered there would need to be a Report stage, and some of them who were borough Members and who felt keenly the injustice of making this a permanent Act would feel compelled to attempt to alter and improve the Bill in that stage. They did not wish to waste time over the Amendment at all, and he for one acknowledged that the agricultural interest required consideration, but on the other hand it was a matter of importance to the towns that the question should automatically come up for discussion from time to time. The right hon. Member for Sleaford had said that the boroughs would be so roused by feelings of injustice that they would make the life of the Government intolerable if they did not deal with the question of local taxation. He was glad to have from the right hon. Gentleman an acknowledgment of the injustice which the boroughs were suffering at the present time. For himself he hated the wrangles that went on between town and country. If the Bill were made temporary and renewed from time to time the matter would come up at successive periods, causing the question to be raised whether the time had not then arrived to deal with the question of rating on a wider basis. He hoped, therefore, that the Amendment would be rejected.
§ SIR GEORGE BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said as a borough Member the only thing that induced him to make up his mind one way or the other was the effect which this matter had on the subject of local taxation. The subject was one which they should have tackled before this. There was a great grievance in the boroughs and other parts of the country. He was not alarmed about the marching up of the towns on this subject. He did not think that would be very effective, but he thought they should have now and again a debate such as this to raise the question of local taxation. If the Agricultural Rates Act were a permanent measure the question might possibly be relegated to some time in the distant future, and he would rather 646 run the risk of having a debate on the subject occasionally, because he thought it would hasten a great national change in the system of taxation about which he was very keen.
§ DR. HUTCHINSON (Sussex, Rye)
said he thought the speech just made reflected almost identically the opinion on the Opposition side of the House. The right hon. Member for Sleaford twitted the Opposition with a change of opinion within the last eight years. He was perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman would realise the fact that fighting for a principle was one thing, but when that principle had been defeated and the change had been in operation for several years, it was quite a different thing to upset the arrangements that had been made. Had he been in the House when this Bill was fought originally he should have fought it as strongly as his friends did. But after nine years of its operation, when new contracts and arrangements had been entered into, it was a different matter. It was unthinkable that in the present state of affairs they could by one stroke of the pen stop this Bill at the moment. They might have their heads in the clouds, but they must remember that they had their feet on the ground, and as men of common sense they had to deal with affairs as they were at present. They did not want this Bill to be permanent, and there was a good deal of common sense in the remark of the Member for Islington as to the periodical bringing up of this question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford argued to-day for the relief of the farmer. The small farmer paid perhaps £100 in rent and £15 in rates. If the right hon. Gentleman was so anxious to relieve the farmer, surely the £100 was a much bigger question. But the right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that the landlords, like the other monopolists, wanted to throw the burden on the ratepayers. If the right hon. Gentleman wanted to relieve the farmer he could surely find an opportunity.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I do not know how I can reduce my rents more than 70 or 80 per cent., as I have already done.
§ DR. HUTCHINSON
said he regretted if he had gone outside the narrow limits of the debate. He hoped the Bill would not be made permanent.
§ LIEUT.-COLONEL PRYCE-JONES (Montgomery Boroughs)
said inasmuch as he supported most loyally the Government in 1896 in passing this Bill, and inasmuch as he had defended it in his own constituency and in certain parts of Wales, he would state why he could not see his way to support the Amendment. Although he represented boroughs, he loyally supported the Government in passing the measure because he saw a great opportunity of doing some good for his agricultural friends, but he thought a great mistake—he would not go so far as to say a breach of faith—would be committed by the House of Commons if they made the Act permanent. There could be no doubt that the towns required relief in local rates, and the occupier of agricultural land had been greatly aided in the last few years. In his own county of Montgomeryshire, one of the smallest in the Kingdom, agricultural land had been relieved of some £12,000 to £15,000 in rates per annum since 1896, and he hoped his Radical agricultural friends in the constituency would not forget that at the next election. He therefore appealed to hon. Members who represented county constituencies not to go back upon the pledge given in 1896 that the Act should not be permanent.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said he did not think his hon. and gallant friend need trouble about his constituency, because he understood it was one of the constituencies which was to 648 be redistributed out of existence. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford would see that the general feeling of the House was in favour of making the Bill a temporary one. After all, the Government was anxious to avoid troubles on difficult questions, and even the next Government would desire to avoid the settlement of the local taxation problem unless forced upon it. He was certain the next Government could not renew a measure of this kind without at the same time extending relief to the towns as well. He did not join with those who condemned the Prime Minister in leaving this an open question. He was only sorry that what the right hon. Gentleman had done now had not been done before. Many a time in Committee propositions which did not commend themselves to the judgment of the House as a whole, were carried simply because the Government did not see their way to treat them as open questions. Upstairs the Government were constantly defeated, but no one ever dreamt of treating the questions there as questions of confidence, with the result that the Bills came out in a much better form than they went in. It was a great misfortune that Governments did not more generally follow the practice which the Prime Minister had adopted on this occasion. He did not think the present case was one in which the practice should have been initiated, but he was glad that the Prime Minister had had the courage to leave anything an open question. If a similar course had been adopted in regard to many matters in such measures as the Licensing Bill and the Education Bill those measures would have issued from the House of Commons not in the shape they finally assumed, but would probably have effected a settlement of difficult problems which now had been left open or even exacerbated. He hoped that in future the Government would leave more of these matters to the judgment of the House.
§ MR. TENNANT (Berwickshire)
said there was a disposition to suppose that every member of the Opposition who opposed the Bill eight years ago was now converted to the principle of this measure. He was an example to the contrary 649 He regarded the Bill on its first introduction as immoral, and he regarded it so still. The fact that one set of people were poor and required assistance did not make it right to pick the pockets of another set of people. The Bill rested on expediency then, and it rested on expediency now. The Prime Minister no doubt thought it expedient that the present Government should remain in office, but that did not make their remaining in office any the more moral. The Bill rested on no solid foundation, and he should be glad to see it made temporary in order that it might come up for reconsideration at the first opportunity.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
suggested that borough Members on the other side might assist the House in coming to an immediate decision. This matter was of serious importance to
§ London, inasmuch as London, while receiving only £2,000 under the Bill, contributed at least £500,000 or £600,000. He had no desire to continue the discussion if it was understood that borough Members opposite were going to take the reasonable view indicated by the hon. Member for North Islington. Agriculturists were getting all that they could ask in the temporary renewal of the Bill, and they should at any rate leave to the representatives of boroughs, on whom the burden of rates was pressing with far greater severity, the hope that when the matter came up again something would be done for the towns as well as for the rural districts.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 266: Noes, 80. (Division List No. 161.)653
|Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.||Burke, E. Haviland||Ffrench, Peter|
|Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir Alex. F.||Buxton, Sydney Charles||Field, William|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Caldwell, James||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Cameron, Robert||Findlay, Alexander (Lanark, N E|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Campbell, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Glasgow)||Finlay, Sir R. B. (Inv'rn'ss B'ghs)|
|Allen, Charles P.||Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbyshire||Firbank, Sir Joseph Thomas|
|Alhusen, Augustus Henry Eden||Cawley, Frederick||Fisher, William Hayes|
|Allsopp, Hon. George||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Worc.||FitzGerald, Sir Robert Penrose|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Channing, Francis Allston||Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond|
|Arrol, Sir William||Cheetham, John Frederick||Flower, Sir Ernest|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Clancy, John Joseph||Flynn, James Christopher|
|Asquith, Rt. Hn. Herb. Henry||Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Forster, Henry William|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Cogan, Denis J.||Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry|
|Aubrey-Fletcher, Rt. Hon. Sir H.||Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Fuller, J. M. F.|
|Austen, Sir John||Condon, Thomas Joseph||Goddard, Daniel Ford|
|Baird, John George Alexander||Crombie, John William||Gorst, Rt. Hn. Sir John Eldon|
|Balcarres, Lord||Crossley, Rt. Hn. Sir Savile||Graham, Henry Robert|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Manch'r||Cullinan, J.||Grant, Corrie|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. Gerald W.(Leeds||Dalziel, James Henry||Gray, Ernest (West Ham)|
|Banner, John S. Harmood-||Delany, William||Greene, Sir E. W (B'rySEdm'nds|
|Barry, E. (Cork, S.)||Denny, Colonel||Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton|
|Barry, Sir Francis T.(Windsor||Devlin, Charles Ramsay (Galway||Harcourt, Lewis|
|Bartley, Sir George C. T.||Dewar, John A. (Inverness-sh.||Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil)|
|Benn, John Williams||Dickinson, Robert Edmond||Harrington, Timothy|
|Bill, Charles||Dickson, Charles Scott||Haslam, Sir Alfred S.|
|Bingham, Lord||Dillon, John||Hayden, John Patrick|
|Black, Alexander William||Donelan, Captain A.||Hayter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur D.|
|Blake, Edward||Doogan, P. C.||Heath, Sir James (Staffords. N W|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Helder, Augustus|
|Boland, John||Douglas, Chas. M. (Lanark)||Helme, Norval Watson|
|Bond, Edward||Doxford, Sir William Theodore||Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H.|
|Boulnois, Edmund||Duncan, J. Hastings||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn)||Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton||Hickman, Sir Alfred|
|Brand, Hon. Arthur G,||Ellice, Capt EC(SAndrw's Bghs)||Higham, John Sharp|
|Bright, Allan Heywood||Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas||Hoare, Sir Samuel|
|Broadhurst, Henry||Emmott, Alfred||Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Bristol, E.)|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Esmonde, Sir Thomas||Holland, Sir William Henry|
|Brown, George M. (Edinburgh)||Evans, Sir Francis H(Maidstone||Hope, J. F (Sheffield, Brightside|
|Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson||Fardell, Sir T. George||Hope, John Deans (Fife, West)|
|Bryce, Rt. Hon. James||Farrell, James Patrick||Hoult, Joseph|
|Bull, William James||Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith)||Hutchinson, Dr. Charles Fredk.|
|Hutton, Alfred E. (Morley)||Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South)||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Jacoby, James Alfred||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Stanhope, Hon. Philip James|
|Jebb, Sir Richard Claverhouse||Nussey, Thomas Willans||Stanley, Edward Jas.(Somerset|
|Jessel, Captain Herbert Merton||O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)||Stanley, Rt. Hn. Lord (Lancs.)|
|Johnson, John||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.|
|Jones, David Brynmor(Sw'nsea||O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary, N.)||Stone, Sir Benjamin|
|Jones, Leif (Appleby)||O' Doherty, William||Stroyan, John|
|Jones, William (Carnarvonshire||O'Donnell, John (Mayo, S.)||Sullivan, Donal|
|Jordan, Jeremiah||O'Dowd, John||Taylor, Austin (East Toxteth)|
|Kennedy, Vincent P.(Cavan, W.||O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo, N.)||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Kenyon, Hon. Geo. T. (Denbigh)||O'Kelly James (Roscommon, N.)||Tennant, Harold John|
|Kilbride, Denis||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.||Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr)|
|Knowles, Sir Lees||Parker, Sir Gilbert||Toulmin, George|
|Lamont, Norman||Parkes, Ebenezer||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Langley, Batty||Parrott, William||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Laurie, Lieut-General||Percy, Earl||Tuff, Charles|
|Law, Andrew Bonar (Glasgow)||Pierpoint, Robert||Tuffnell, Lieut.-Col. Edward|
|Law, Hugh Alex. (Donegal, W.)||Pirie, Duncan V.||Tuke, Sir John Batty|
|Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool)||Plummer, Sir Walter R.||Valentia, Viscount|
|Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cornwall)||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp||Villiers, Ernest Amherst|
|Layland-Barratt, Francis||Power, Patrick Joseph||Vincent, Col Sir C. E. H. (Sheffield|
|Lee, A. H. (Hants., Fareham)||Pretyman, Ernest George||Warde, Colonel C. E.|
|Leese, Sir Joseph F.(Accrington)||Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Leng, Sir John||Purvis, Robert||Wason, Eugene (Clackmannan)|
|Lloyd-George, David||Rea, Russell||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney|
|Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Bristol, S,)||Redmond, John E. (Waterford||Webb, Colonel William George|
|Lough, Thomas||Reid, Sir R. Threshie (Dumfries)||Welby, Lt.-Col. A. C. E.(Taunton|
|Lundon, W.||Renshaw, Sir Charles Bine||White, George (Norfolk)|
|Lyell, Charles Henry||Renwick, George||Whiteley, George (York, W. R.)|
|Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. Alfred||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Chas. Thomson||Whiteley, H. (Ashton und. Lyne|
|Macdona, John Cumming||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)||Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)|
|MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Ropner, Colonel Sir Robert||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|M'Crae, George||Rose, Charles Day||Wills, Arthur Walters (N. Dorset|
|M'Fadden, Edward||Royds, Clement Molyneux||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W. R.)|
|M'Hugh, Patrick A.||Runciman, Walter||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|M'Kenna, Reginald||Rutherford, John (Lancashire)||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|M'Killop, W. (Sligo, North)||Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
|Mansfield, Horace Rendall||Samuel, Sir Harry S. (Limehouse||Wilson-Todd, Sir W. H. (Yorks.)|
|Melville, Beresford Valentine||Schwann, Charles. E.||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath)|
|Mitchell, William (Burnley)||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Mooney, John J.||Seely, Charles Hilton (Lincoln)||Woodhouse, Sir J T (Huddersf'd|
|Morrell, George Herbert||Sharpe, William Edward T.||Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart|
|Morton, Arthur H. Aylmer||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)||Young, Samuel|
|Murphy, John||Shaw-Stewart, Sir H. (Renfrew)||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)||Sheehy, David|
|Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)||Shipman, Dr. John G.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr.|
|Myers, William Henry||Sinclair, John (Forfarshire)||Herbert Gladstone and Mr. Spencer.|
|Nannetti, Joseph P.||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)|
|Bagot, Capt. Josceline FitzRoy||Garfit, William||Lonsdale, John Brownlee|
|Bain, Colonel James Robert||Gordon, Hn. J. E. (Elgin & Nairn||Lowe, Francis William|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Goulding, Edward Alfred||Loyd, Archie Kirkman|
|Bignold, Sir Arthur||Gunter, Sir Robert||Lucas, Col. Francis (Lowestoft)|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith||Halsey, Rt. Hon. Thomas F.||Malcolm, Ian|
|Bowles, Lt-Col. H. F. (Middlesex||Hamilton, Marq. of (L'nd'nderry||Manners, Lord Cecil|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Hardy, Lawrence (Kent, Ashford||Marks, Harry Hananel|
|Cavendish, R. F (N. Lanes.)||Hobhouse, Rt. Hn H. (Somers't, E||Maxwell, W. J., H. (Dumfriesshire|
|Chapman, Edward||Hogg, Lindsay||Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.|
|Clive, Captain Percy A.||Hozier, Hon. James Henry Cecil||Milner, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.|
|Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Hudson, George Bickersteth||Milvain, Thomas|
|Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.||Hunt, Rowland||Mitchell, Edw. (Fermanagh, N.)|
|Cripps, Charles Alfred||Hutton, John (Yorks. N. R.)||Molesworth, Sir Lewis|
|Dixon-Hartland, Sir F. Dixon||Kennaway, Rt. Hon. Sir John H.||Montagu, Hon. J Scott (Hants.)|
|Fellowes, Rt. Hn. Ailwyn Edward||Kenyon-Slaney, Rt. Hn. Col. W.||Moore, William|
|Fergusson. Rt. Hn Sir J. (Manc'r||Kimber, Sir Henry||Morrison, James Archibald|
|Finch, Rt. Hon. George H.||Lambert, George||Mount, William Arthur|
|Fitzroy, Hon. Edward Algernon||Leveson-Gower, Frederick N. S.||Nolan, Col. John P.(Galway, N.|
|Foster, Philip S. (Warwick, S. W.||Lockwood, Lieut.-Col. A. R.||Peel, Hn. Wm. Robert Wellesley|
|Gardner, Ernest||Long, Col. Chas. W. (Evesham||Pemberton, John S. G.|
|Pilkington, Colonel Richard||Stanley, Hon Arthur(Ormskirk)||White, Luke (York, E. R.)|
|Randles, John S.||Stevenson, Francis S.||Wilson, A. Stanley (York, E. R.)|
|Rankin, Sir James||Stewart, Sir Mark J. M'Taggart||Wyndham-Quin, Col. W. H.|
|Rasch, Sir Frederick Carne||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)||Younger, William|
|Sinclair, Louis (Romford)||Thorburn, Sir Walter|
|Sloan, Thomas Henry||Tollemache, Henry James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr.|
|Soares, Ernest J.||Welby, Sir Charles G. E. (Notts.)||Chaplin and Mr. Mildmay.|
|Spear, John Ward||Wharton, Rt. Hon. John Lloyd|
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the clause stand part of the Bill."
§ MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
said a great deal of misapprehension had existed in the minds of hon. Members opposite as to the attitude of many members of the Opposition in respect to the renewal of the Agricultural Rates Act, to the enactment of which they offered, in 1896, the most strenuous opposition. While not only ready but anxious to renew that Act at the present time, he did not abate by one jot or tittle the position he then took up. The arguments advanced in opposition to the Bill in 1896 had even more force to-day, when it is more clearly seen how unequally and unjustly it operates. The case for renewal was absolutely plain to everyone familiar with agricultural districts. In the case of freeholders it would be unjust to withdraw the relief, an equal injustice would be inflicted on leaseholders the terms of whose leases had not expired, and in the case of many farms where rents had not been altered and where there had been no previous abatements of rents owing to estates having been managed for many years on a uniform system of moderate rents. But that did not in the least diminish the objections entertained by himself and his friends to the principle of the Act. While it might be to the convenience of present or future Ministers to have four years in which to think over the question of local taxation, he personally would have been glad to see the Bill renewed year by year until a final settlement was arrived at. Whatever Ministry was in power within the next year or two, local taxation would have to be dealt with in a broad and comprehensive spirit. Supposing there was a change of Ministry he did not believe that tenant farmers would surfer in the least in respect of any relief to agricultural rates. The speeches of the late 654 Sir William Harcourt on this question in 1896 had been greatly misrepresented and misunderstood by agriculturists. What he denounced was that while the tenant farmers were the men who had really suffered from the depression the Bill relieved tenant farmers only incidentally and indirectly, its real effect being to pass a vast sum of public money more or less rapidly into the pockets of the landowners. Those speeches were, in his opinion, the greatest speeches on the real issues of land tenure reform ever delivered in Parliament. Sir William Harcourt affirmed the proposition that the question of rates was of vast importance to the tenant farmers but that the Bill relieved the wrong men, and in the wrong way. Looked at as an income-tax on actual profits, a rate even of 2s. 2d. to 2s. 6d. in the £. was extremely serious. According to the farm accounts brought before the Agricultural Commission, the average rate of profit during the depression was so low that the amount of the rates was in some cases far greater than the profit which the tenant farmers had been able to draw from their farms for years past. The continuance of the relief of rates was therefore a question of vital importance to them.
But no answer had been or could be given to the charges brought against the principle of the Bill. It rejected the tremendous case which the town manufacturers and tradesmen had for relief, men who were employing a large amount of labour, incurring great risks and making profits often as small or smaller than the farmers. It was grossly unjust to impound the first great surplus of the present Ministry for the benefit of a particular class. Under the present land tenure tenant farmers were obliged during the depression not only to pay rents which represented far more than was economically possible for the land to produce, but they were compelled owing 655 to the weakness of their position to pay the whole of the rates out of their own pocket and were unable to transfer any of the local burdens to the landlords whose land they held and on whom those burdens were supposed on bargaining to rest. That had been proved up to the hilt. The only inference to draw from this was that this measure was and always would be a Landlords' Relief Bill. He challenged anyone on the opposite side of the House to attempt to traverse this contention that as the law stood and if economic forces were left to take their course the relief afforded by this Bill would go to the landlords. This was unavoidable and the whole of this money had gone and would go into the pockets of the landowners. Where there were abatements at the time this took place, at once. He had been assured that this was the case in regard to two large estates in the Midlands. And a large landowner had told him that this would of course be done on his own estate. They were not to be blamed. The process was inevitable, and would operate at each revision of the rent. In the case of other land, when the value came up for review and the land was sold, this relief would go straight into the pockets of the landlords when the whole of these economic considerations and laws came into effect in governing the bargains between landlord and tenant and the sale of agricultural land to new purchasers took place. The dole provided for in this Bill added so much percentage to the annual and the capital value of the estates of the landlords. Those were the objections which the Liberal Party had maintained and would maintain to this measure. They were willing to renew it now because they recognised that agricultural land earned a very low rate of profit and the withdrawal would work injustice but they did so in the hope, that a Ministry would soon be in power which would deal boldly and conclusively with this question of local taxation; and, as regarded agricultural land, would see that the right men received the relief, and that it was distributed in the right way, and whether by a division of the rates between the owner and occupier, or by some direct form of tax upon the owner, so as really to relieve the pressure and burden 656 of rating upon those who really needed the relief.
He should like to have seen the renewal of this Act limited to a shorter period than four years. This was a question which ought to be dealt with speedily, and although they might acquiesce in this Bill they would remember that the Prime Minister had told them that nothing in this Bill limited the absolute right of Parliament to deal with this question and no constitutional obstacle stood in the way of any Ministry dealing with local taxation before four years expired. They should in the near future revise and amend this Act in such a way as would make the relief go to those who had born the burdens of agricultural depression in past years, and who were entitled to receive relief in the future. He hoped that duty would be undertaken before long and carried out in a spirit which would make the agriculturists realise that they had as sincere friends on the Opposition side as amongst hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ MR. CRIPPS (Lancashire, Stretford)
said the hon. Member who had just sat down had alluded to the Report of the Commission upon Local Taxation. He had served six years on that Commission, and what he wished to point out was that the hon. Member for Northamptonshire seemed to forget that the Commission agreed that the Agricultural Rates Act was in itself just and fair and might take either a permanent or temporary form; and that it would hold its place when they had a general reform of the system of rating. Although when this matter was first debated suggestions were made as to the relief being given to the landlords, yet if the hon. Member for Northamptonshire adopted what the Royal Commission thought was right from an impartial point of view, he would be obliged to say that after an impartial inquiry the Agricultural Rates Act had been agreed to by the Commission as an Act right and just in itself. If they were going to support the recommendations; of the Royal Commission, which he entirely endorsed, they must certainly allow that this Act, whether permanent or not, was an Act which must always take its place in any reform of local taxation.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
said the joint Secretaries of the Treasury, in a separate Report, stated that the agricultural rates grants would be dispensed with under this scheme, and their Report was not at all favourable to the particular proposals which they were now discussing. It was clear, therefore, that they did not accept this as a satisfactory solution.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON
said this question ought to be considered comprehensively, and, admitting the rates on arable land to be unfair, yet these grants should not be continued to occupiers of land without more consideration being given to others under a reform of the incidence of local taxation.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to have forgotten the Report which he himself drafted. The impression he gave to the Committee was that the Report of the Commission was in favour of this Bill as a permanent measure.
§ MR. CRIPPS
said the Commission was in favour of this Bill as it stood, having regard to the existing conditions.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that hon. Members on his side of the House claimed that the whole thing should be readjusted and reconsidered. The Commission never gave any absolute opinion as to the justice of this as a permanent settlement of agricultural rating. He did not think its supporters claimed that it was more than a temporary expedient to get over what they considered the distress of agriculture at the time. He did not think anyone put it higher than that. The case of his friends and himself was that it was unfair as between the agricultural and the town population, and unfair as between one agricultural class and another. One point which was forgotten was that since the Report of the Commission was given the grievance had been aggravated as between different classes by the passing of the Education Act. In Surrey the rate had gone up nearly 1s. There 658 were districts in that county that never paid a penny for education before which were now rated 11½d. Farmers were only assessed now upon half the rateable value of their farms. Who had to make up the difference? The local tradesman, the artisan, and the manufacturer. After all, it was nearly as important from the point of view of the community that local industries should be kept up. In some cases they had almost been crushed out by the rates. There were cases in the West of England where the rates made all the difference between continuing industries and closing them up. Not only did they get no relief, but they had to pay an increased burden of taxation because of the reduced liability on the agricultural land.
This Act was very unfair as between one class of agriculturists and another. The branch of agriculture which had suffered most seriously during the last few years had been that of arable land. There the labour was much more expensive, and the returns were not as profitable as from grass land. Hundreds of thousands of acres had gone out of cultivation in the East of England. He was told that there were thousands of acres of arable land in the East of England where no rent was paid now, and farmers were complaining that they could not make the tithe rates. What happened in those districts under the working of the Act? He would take Essex and Cambridge—cases of arable land districts. In Cambridge most of the land was arable—370,000 acres being arable land, and 120,000 acres grass land. In respect of the arable land the total relief was 8d. per acre. Contrast that with Somerset, where they got 6s. per acre on arable land. He was not surprised that the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Somerset supported the Act. Was that really fair? In Cambridge there was a struggling agricultural community which could hardly make both ends meet. The tithe was pretty high, and they got only 8d. an acre. He did not mean to say that there had been no agricultural depression in Somersetshire, but it was nothing as compared with the depression in the eastern counties. In Essex there were 510,000 acres of arable land, and there the 659 relief was 1s. 5d. per acre. Contrast that with the rich land of Chester, where rents were exceedingly high, running up to £2 and £3 an acre. The land was such in Essex that they could hardly pay tithe of 1s. 3d., whereas in Chester they got 3s. 5d. He did not think that was fair, and to say that this had been regarded by any responsible person who had entered into the question as a fair settlement of the question of rating in agricultural districts was to say a thing that could not possibly commend itself to any portion of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford had taunted the Opposition by saying that they had not opposed the Bill with the same savage ferocity which was shown seven or eight years ago. The Prime Minister had taunted them with having seven or eight years ago spent all night in opposing the Bill, while now they were content to spend only a couple of days. He wished to point out that only three or four Amendments on the Bill would be at all relevant and within the limits of order, and, therefore, they could not spend more time on it with the tenacity which was shown years ago. Once a Bill was an accomplished fact they could not contest it in the same way as when originally proposed. When it was only a question of renewing a contentious Bill they could not fight in the same way. Hon. Members opposite fought the Ballot Act with what might be called savage ferocity at the time it was brought forward, but new it was renewed every year without a word being said. Why? Because the principle had been established, and it was very difficult from their point of view to go back to the old procedure. The same thing applied to the Irish Land Act. The Party opposite fought that strongly, denouncing it as spoliation, robbery, and outrage, but they had gone on to legislate on the same principle, and to increase the reductions in rent by Bills which they had themselves introduced.
A great deal had been heard lately as to the desirability of introducing some change for the purpose of restoring the prosperity of our agricultural industries, especially in connection with arable land, 660 because it produced more labour. This was an Act of Parliament which did not give a fair share to arable land. If the Government wanted to give a grant of £1,500,000 at all, why not distribute it on the industries that were languishing? When considering a question of this sort, the Government ought to pay some heed to the various classes of agriculture in this country. If Shropshire was anything like Essex it would get 1s. 6d. per acre, while Cheshire, a contiguous and very prosperous county, would get 3s. 6d. An hon. Gentleman opposite made an enthusiastic speech in support of the Bill, and he was quite right from the point of view of his constituents. He thought the hon. Member had voted for making the Bill permanent, but did he mean to say that this made a fair settlement of the problem? Since there was a grant of —1,500,000—he, frankly acknowledged that it could not be recalled—would it not be fairer to distribute it in such a way as to encourage the rather languishing agricultural districts, instead of those which were prosperous? He was perfectly certain that agriculture was not worse than certain industries followed by local tradesmen. He could speak from experience in regard to industries in his own district, and he knew that they had been hit very hard by local taxation, and yet there was no relief given to them at all. There was in the old days a cloth industry in the West of England, which was purely a myth now. It was once a prosperous industry, but it had been crushed out partly by high rates. Evidence was given before the Commission by manufacturers in the West of England to the effect that one of the questions they had to deal with was that of heavy local rating. They had to pay not merely the ordinary poor rate and the education rate but also the general district rates. Hon. Members opposite might say that the ratepayers got lighting and other conveniences, but, after all, these were only the essentials of civilisation in the district. It was not as if they were getting a contribution from the locality, and it could not be said that they were getting anything like a return. It was true that they were all getting a return from the rates, although it was not always very obvious.
661 He very much regretted that the Government had not faced this matter. He was afraid it was too late to make an appeal to them now. They had had the Report of the Royal Commission before them—the Report of men representing all shades of opinion—and even those who believed in the Agricultural Rating Act acknowledged that it was only a very small part of a very difficult problem. They acknowledged, too, the grievances of local rates in other districts. He protested against the renewal of this Bill for the third time without their making a real effort to tackle the whole question. He was not going into the question of mandate, but, at any rate, the Government had a mandate to deal with this question. But, instead of that, they roamed into all sorts of questions which nobody expected them to deal with, and they left on one side problems of this sort which were awaiting settlement, and which everybody expected they were going to tackle.
This was one of the greatest problems of the hour. He knew that there were constant sneers at the local authorities because they were running up debts and rates, but he asked hon. Gentlemen who had sat on municipal coprorations or county councils whether, with the best will in the world, they had ever been able to keep down the rates? The rates went up and up in spite of everything. He had sat for years on a county council and had been returned, with others, as an economist. But what happened? At the end of three years it all ended in the rates being increased by 2d. or 3d. in the £. That was the case with the London School Board, when hon. Gentlemen opposite said that that body was buying pianos and providing dancing classes, and that all those sort of things should be cut down. But what was the result? Twopence or threepence were added to the rates. It was the irresistible tendency of things. The essentials of civilisation were driving them to greater expenditure. Take education; the legislation of the present Government had added a great deal to the education rate. He was not at all sorry that the Education Bill had compelled people who had 662 never previously contributed one penny towards education to pay their share. Everything seemed to conspire to increase the burdens on the community. He knew little towns where the people considered whether they should not, on account of the heavy rates, abandon everything to the mortgagees. East Ham was only the spokesman of many districts. There was a real danger of the people being taxed out of all their income. He was not going to suggest a remedy; but he held that people who had got the means and who at the present moment escaped responsibility from local taxation should be compelled to contribute acording to their means. These were matters which he would like to see the Government dealing with. The Government talked of being in power for another two years, but instead of going for the redistribution of the constituencies, let them redistribute the burdens.
said that the hon. Gentleman was travelling very wide of the question before the Committee. Clause 1 dealt with the question of the continuance of the Agricultural Rating Act; and the hon. Gentleman must not introduce another subject.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that the whole problem was whether the House was to continue this Act, and what he argued was that they should deal with the whole problem of local taxation. One of the reasons for the line of argument which he took was that the Government had the Report of the Royal Commission before them, and the reason why, in the first instance, the Act was made temporary was because that Royal Commission, sitting at that time, were agreed that the grievance was not purely agricultural.
said he would point out that the hon. Gentleman was using an argument against the principle of the Act.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that the whole principle of the Bill was contained in the first clause, and if that was to be contested at all then there was a 663 right to give reasons for contesting it. This was the proper place to discuss whether the Act should be continued. Really, the Government, instead of legislating in this form, ought to deal with the whole problem. It was a serious problem and year by year the Government had done nothing to settle it, and if his friend went into the division lobby he should vote with him.
§ MR. SPEAR (Devonshire, Tavistock)
said he could assure the hon. Gentleman that those who were interested in the continuance of the Agricultural Rating Act were anxious that something should be done in the interests of the trading classes; and when the time came for the accomplishment of that work he would find them ready to support that reform. They felt that the Agricultural Rating Act was a measure of simple justice, dictated by the greatly reduced paying power of the agricultural classes, and they did not think for a moment that it would interfere with the readjustment of the whole basis of local taxation. The hon. Member seemed to think that they were indifferent to the claims of the towns, but he would point out that the real relief of local rating must lie in placing on the Imperial Exchequer more of the expense for the maintenance of the roads, police, and sanitary arrangements than had hitherto been the case. Education should also be paid for by the Imperial Exchequer; and that principle was acknowledged to a certain extent in the Education Act of 1902. The hon. Gentleman considered that the advantages of the Agricultural Rating Act did not come to all classes of the agricultural community with equal advantage. That must necessarily be the case in a Bill which applied to a mixed community, but the divergence was not so great as his hon. friend seemed to think. The hon. Member apparently believed that the advantage applied almost exclusively to arable land; but that was an error into which those who did not understand agriculture were apt to fall when they spoke to practical men.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said he was against the whole principle of the relief of the agricultural interest; but what 664 he had said was, that if relief was to be given it should fall to the distressed districts.
§ MR. SPEAR
said that there was a vast area of grazing land which was not available to produce milk, or, if it were produced, the farmers could not sell it. Mixed farming had been less unprofitable than grazing land, and, therefore, there was not much in what his hon. friend had said as to the difference of benefit falling on different kinds of land. There was the Poor Rate Exemption Act, which was renewed every year, and he only claimed that the Agricultural Rating Continuance Bill was an extension to the farmer of a measure of similar justice as was given by that Act to tradesmen. He rather wondered that the hon. Gentlemen opposite spoke so strongly when this little act of justice was done to agriculture and was silent every year when the Poor Rate Exemption Bill was before the House. He (Mr. Spear), however, rose to say that those who supported the Agricultural Rates Act recognised that the trader had a grievance, and to urge the Government to deal at the earliest possible moment with the whole question of the alteration of the basis of local taxation. When the present basis was formed there was nothing practically but real property on which to levy rates for local expenses, but since then personal property had grown at least three times in value to real property, and yet the owner of personal property, in respect of that property, contributed nothing to the cost of the roads, police, and sanitary matters, although enjoying the advantages from the outlay quite as much as though he were the occupier of real property. The evil effect of that was that it tended to drive away capital from the development of British industries and caused it to be used in developing other countries When a scheme 665 was brought forward to deal justly with the claims of the trading classes in the towns hon. Members would find those who supported this Bill equally anxious to do justice to the trading classes.
§ SIR EDWARD STRACHEY (Somersetshire, S.)
said he believed the hon. Member for Carnarvon was wrong in stating that farmers in Somerset received 6s. an acre relief in rates on arable land. He ventured, however, to submit that it was an entirely fallacious argument to put this question forward. The question they were considering under this Bill was not relief on one kind of land or another. As he took it, the essence of the Act, and the only ground upon which he supported the original Act of 1896, was that it was an attempt to relieve the unfair burden of taxation from falling entirely on one kind of property which could least afford to bear it. The question should be looked at from one point of view only, namely, that it was unfair that one form of property should bear the whole burden of local taxation while other forms of property entirely escaped, and upon that ground he would certainly not be a party to opposing the continuation of the Bill for another four years.
§ MR. BENN (Devonport)
said the Committee ought not to vote for the continuance of this Bill without some more definite assurance from the Government that it would deal with the whole question. The hon. Member for Tavistock said when the time came he and his friends would be very glad to assist the boroughs. When would that time come? There was a very specific recommendation by the Royal Commission, namely, that in making the recommendation for the continuance of the arrangement embodied in the Act of 1896 they must not be regarded as in any way minimising their important proposals for altering the incidence of taxation which all classes of ratepayers felt, and that it was a matter of urgent necessity that practical effect should be given to those proposals. That recommendation provided some comfort at the time to the ratepayers of London, whose case had become critical. One very important item on the rating paper was occasioned by the Agricultural 666 Rates, Act. London contributed one-fifth of the extra taxation, or £467,000 per annum, in order to keep this Act in operation. London got back as its share of relief a paltry sum of £3,000, which meant that the ratepayers of London had to pay 3d. in the £ in order that this Act might be continued. It was a monstrous thing that London, overburdened as it was many other respects, was called upon for a further period to contribute to this fund. He was quite in favour of giving assistance to distressed agriculturists, but the distressed borough ratepayer should have at least some word of comfort from the Government. It was a most serious mater for London. The increasing rates of London were driving industries away, and if the ratepayers could be relieved of even this 3d. in the £ it would be useful work. Other boroughs would also be glad of the benefit. He might give the figures relating to Devonport, which were equally striking, and he hoped that before proceeding to a division the President of the Local Government Board would be able to say something for the comfort of London and the other boroughs.
§ MR. TOULMIN (Bury, Lancashire)
said he should like to join in the protest against the complacency with which the Government had introduced this Bill, and continued an injustice which was done to the boroughs. The Government had a very lively feeling towards the landlords in the country but a complete indifference to the injustice which was being done to trade, labour, and manufactures in the towns. It might be necessary to readjust the form in which the rates fell upon a community, but the rates were local charges and there was no reason why one locality should be called upon to pay another's rate. He could see no reason why the State should give to one locality more than it gave to another. There might be a necessity for a readjustment within a locality of such matters as lunacy and education which might beregarded as being of national concern; but if these services were to be readjusted they should be readjusted all round both for town and country. It appeared to be nothing 667 but gross favouritism that one particular class should be picked out for a dole. The manner in which it was done, too, was most unsatisfactory. It did not do justice as between one farmer and another, or as between one parish and another, or as between one county and another.
§ *MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney and Shetland)
was understood to say that the essence of the Report on Local Taxation was to do away with the old scriptural maxim, "To him that hath much shall be given, and to him that hath little, even that little which he hath shall be taken away." The Government had been many years in office, had had the Report of perhaps the most able Commission that had ever been appointed before them for years, and had never made the smallest attempt to give effect to its recommendations. It was very painful for hon. Members of this House to constantly hear of doles being given to this class and to that. If the suggestion that had been made by the hon. Member for Tavistock had been adopted there would have been a great simplification of this matter. The agricultural people would have been satisfied and the hon. Member for Devonport would have had no reason to complain if it were recognised that certain charges ought to be national charges. In that way only could this question be got rid of and cease to be a recurring one. The crofters in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland certainly derived great benefit from this Act, but even there there was much discontent among the cottars and villagers at the incidence of the rates. The hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs spoke of a 10s. rate in some parts of Wales, but the rates in some parts of the constituency that, he represented largely exceeded that sum, and if it were not for this Act many of his constituents would find it absolutely impossible to carry on owing to the heavy charges levied in respect of education, poor rates, and charges for lunatics, the latter charge being a most onerous one, and which should be borne by the nation. He trusted that the whole question of rating would be seriously taken up in the near future, whichever Party might be 668 in power, and dealt with, not only with regard to the continuation of this Act, but with regard to the whole question of rating as between town and country.
§ *MR. A. K. LOYD (Berkshire, Abingdon)
said as an agricultural Member he desired to emphasise the fact that agriculturists would join all other classes of ratepayers most cordially in urging that the rating of the country be put upon a satisfactory basis. It was a great mistake to suppose that agriculturists were completely satisfied with the working of, or the benefit conferred upon them by, this Bill. There was no grievance existing so far as the urban ratepayers were concerned which was not still shared by the two sets of ratepayers who received relief under this Bill. The agricultural ratepayer had still all the grievances that the urban ratepayer had, and the grievance which he had been relieved from was one which he had in excess of those he shared with them. It must be remembered that the agricultural ratepayer was rated not only on his house and buildings but upon what might be described as an implement of his trade; he was rated on his land, which was no part of his housing, but simply part of his stock-in-trade. That was a tax in addition to those he bore in common with the urban ratepayer, and that was the grievance which was pointed out by the Royal Commission upon Agricultural Depression, on whose Report the Agricultural Rates Act was based. Then as to the clerical tithe-owner, he, too, shared to the full the grievance of the urban ratepayer in respect of his house and buildings. The injustice in respect of which he had benefited under the Tithe-rating Bill was that of being assessed not only on his house and buildings but on his salary, and that without any deduction for the expenses to which he was put in earning that salary. A great deal of confusion had arisen and immense injustice to the parsons from the blunder pointed out by the present Lord Lindley, then Master of the Rolls, of treating the parsons' income from tithe as realty instead of as profits, under which head alone they were rateable under the Statute of Elizabeth. The case of Reg. v. Christopherson, decided in 1885, exposed that 669 blunder and showed that it was as an "inhabitant" and not as an "occupier" that the parson was ratable for tithe, and if that had been borne in mind it would have been clear also that the parson was entitled to have a deduction of the necessary outlay in earning the profits so rated. When in 1840 all other personalty was exempted from rating the parsons' income from tithe was left rateable, and without any of the deductions to which as profits it was entitled. He was grateful to hon. Gentlemen opposite for having come round to the view that, however bad it might be, this Bill was not a job to give a dole to a particular class but an effort to deal with a very difficult subject. If it had been a bribe, as represented on platforms outside the House, no lapse of time could justify hon. Members in voting for its continuance. The fact was they recognised that, though far from a perfect Bill, it was really an honest attempt to deal with two real grievances acknowledged by strong Royal Commissions. Agriculturists were not less anxious for a reform in rating than the urban ratepayers, because they thought this was a defective method of dealing with the evil from which they suffered, and that it left them at the present time just as badly hit so far as their dwellings and buildings were concerned as other ratepayers. Therefore, there was no coolness on the part of the agricultural ratepayers in pressing the Government to go on with rating reform. The Committee must remember, however, that though this had been delayed for ten years that period had been one of enormous activity, both foreign and colonial. He was anxious to see such a Bill passed through, but he did not remember any time when the Government could have brought it in. A Valuation Bill was acknowledged to be a condition precedent to a Rating Bill, and last year when a Valuation Bill was brought in what happened? Although it was a symmetrical Bill framed on the considered advice of the experts of the Local Government Board, based on the Report of the Royal Commission, when it was brought in there was found to be such tremendous opposition from all parts of the country that the Bill was dropped. He hoped, however, to see that Bill revived in a form which would be acceptable to the 670 Boards of Guardians and the public generally.
§ SIR ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)
said the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down illustrated what had been characterstic of several of the speeches they had heard, namely, that although the hon. Gentleman was in favour of this Bill he did not regard it as entirely satisfactory. He himself was one of those who were impatient with regard to this Bill. He thought it was unsatisfactory because it was unjust, and if it was unjust it ought not to be considered for a moment either as a temporary Bill or otherwise. If they thought it was fair on the whole, it was, as a temporary measure, on the whole satisfactory; but if it was not just, then it could not be considered to be satisfactory under any circumstances. He held the same view as he had always held, namely that it was unfair as between the districts; that it was unfair to those who found the money and that it was unfair to those who received it. He would not speak of the liability of personalty to rating in the same way as realty, although of course under old statutes it was ratable. But almost insuperable difficulties arose in regard to the rating of personalty, and in consequence it was not persisted in, nor could any appeal be made on behalf of the land because these burdens were attached to the land. The proposals of this Bill were in the first place unjust as between the different localities. Let them take the case of London. London contributed between £460,000 and £470,000 a year towards this money, and she received £3,000 out of it. How could that be said to be fair. It could not be justified at all in any way, and the very mention of those figures would show what an enormously important proposal the proposal of this Bill was, because £500,000 or nearly £500,000 from London was an enormous contribution. That was about the amount that had been spent annually on London improvements during the last twenty years, and this money was being diverted from that and other useful purposes for the benefit of other parts, though no fairy was prepared to come forward and give 671 London £500,000 for the purpose of effecting such improvements as had been made during the last twenty years. The case of London was typical of that of other towns, and, therefore, he need say nothing more as to the injustice as between urban and agricultural districts. But when the money was given it was unjustly distributed, and he quite agreed with what had been said that it had been distributed rather in the sense of giving to those who had and taking from those who had not. For instance, the tradesman in a country village would suffer by his rates being made higher, whereas the farmer beside him, who was in a much more prosperous position, had his lowered.
§ SIR ROBERT REID
agreed, but said the tradesman derived no benefit from this Bill, and a scale had been established by which he paid on a larger scale. The Act not only distributed the money unjustly but imposed a higher scale of payment on the tradesman, and therefore the hon. Gentleman would admit that he was correct in his observation when he said that as regarded those who found the money the Act was unfair. It was unfair in another sense also. He did not know how many years ago it was since the principle of Imperial grants in relief of rates was discussed in the House, but some years ago it was pointed out in the House by Mr. Hunter, who was then a Member, that Imperial grants were grants taken from the poorer classes of taxpayers in the majority of cases, and, as they were bestowed in relief of rates, they were bestowed in relief of a burden which was laid on those who were better off. Mr. Hunter then conclusively proved that when money was taken out of Imperial funds and bestowed in relief of rates, that money was taken out of the pockets of those who were less wealthy to put it into the pockets of those who were more wealthy, and in that sense this Bill was unjust. He had always 672 opposed this Act and should continue to oppose it.
Why had not the subject of local taxation been taken up before? The Report of the Royal Commission was four or five years old, and there had been plenty of time between then and now to have dealt with this subject. When it was dealt with there would be no difficulty raised so far as the Liberal side of the House was concerned, because they were in favour of some proper reform of local taxation. He did not doubt that on many points they would come into line with the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman and of the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member, but at the same time all would agree that this was not a question which anyone could hope to take up with a view to obtaining the unanimous assent of the House. They had obtained some very valuable information from the Royal Commission, and it was, in his opinion, a very great pity that the Government had not brought in this very necessary Bill. So far as the Bill now before the House was concerned, he maintained that it was an unfair Bill, and that being so he should vote against it.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
thought that in the present instance the hon. and learned Member would admit that he was speaking for himself alone and not for his colleagues. The Bill was described as being unjust and should, therefore, be thrown out. But that was not the view which had been taken by the Leader of the Opposition. He did not think that under these circumstances it was necessary for him to go at length into the fundamental arguments for or against the Bill, but he would say a few words in reply to the latter part of the hon. and learned Member's speech. As he had before pointed out, only four or five years had elapsed since the Royal Commission on Local Taxation reported, and in that period the circumstances had not been favourable for taking up so difficult a question. There must be a surplus at the Treasury sufficient to increase largely the contribution from Imperial to local funds, and such a surplus had not occurred. He thought that was admitted upon all sides. [Cries 673 of "No, no !"] Again, before the rating question was dealt with, valuation must be placed on a more uniform basis. Last year the Government brought in a Valuation Bill which met with a great deal of opposition, and, though there was another Bill in an advanced stage of preparation, its passing must depend on many doubtful circumstances. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were not so willing to pass even an unopposed Government measure as to give any great hope that such a controversial subject as that of valuation could be easily dealt with. There was a general consensus of opinion in favour of renewing these Rating Acts, and yet a whole day had been spent on the Second Reading. A whole afternoon last week was devoted to the Committee stage, and it seemed extremely likely that they were going to spend another afternoon before it was passed through Committee.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said that when measures on which there was agreement were to be discussed at such length the difficulty of introducing a Valuation Bill, with all its contentious questions, was obvious. Whichever Party introduced a Rating Bill it would be found to be one of enormous difficulty, and he doubted whether any attempt to reform the rating system would have any chance of success in the first year of its being made. But the question was becoming more and more urgent, and he hoped that within the four years for which the Act was being renewed an opportunity would be found either by the present Government or their successors for dealing with the question.
§ LORD EDMUND FITZMAURICE
regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not said something a little more satisfactory in regard to the Valuation Bill. He had not given them much comfort in that respect, but instead of that they had received from the right hon. Gentleman a lecture, addressed to those on their side of the House, upon the assumption that they did not understand the extreme difficulties and complications of the question of local government and 674 local taxation. Really he thought they might have been spared those observations. Surely it was common knowledge that they all recognised that this was a question of extreme difficulty. The Government had informed them that the question of valuation lay at the root or this subject, and he should like to know why the Government were not proceeding with the Bill which they had undertaken to introduce. A Bill of this kind ought not to be mentioned in the King's Speech unless there was some intention of proceeding with it. It had been stated in the lobby that this Bill was going to be brought in elsewhere. Even if the Government were not hopeful of passing the measure surely they could introduce it in another place, and in that way have the question discussed. He protested against the history of the transactions in this House given by the right hon. Gentleman in regard to this Bill. He understood that he did not actually accuse the Opposition of obstruction, but he used an expression which suggested that there had been a considerable amount of time wasted in the discussion of this measure. What happened the other day was entirely owing to the unusual course of action taken by the Government in regard to an Amendment moved from the Opposition side of the House, when all of a sudden the right hon. Gentleman announced his intention of accepting that Amendment.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said that statement had been made three or four times and he had repeatedly contradicted it. The Amendment alluded to was never accepted by the Government.
§ LORD EDMUND FITZMAURICE
said the Government announced that they were going to leave an important principle in the Bill an open question, and the result of that sudden change on the part of the Government led his right hon. friend the Member for Wolverhampton to move the adjournment of the debate because the Opposition were so entirely unprepared for such an entire change of front on the part of the Government. Then there came questions of order which led to further episodes, and he thought they had a right to protest against the charge that the 675 Opposition had caused any delay. In regard to the charge of obstruction he did not think that the Government had any cause for complaint at all in that respect.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said most Members on the Opposition side of the House, and many on the other side, would associate themselves with the protest which the noble Lord had just made to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill. Anyone who had listened to the debate would indignantly repudiate the suggestion that there had been a single speech made which was not a useful speech. This was avowedly one of the most important Bills which the Government had brought forward. On the present occasion they were practically adopting the principle of a measure which, when it was first brought forward, created much discussion. The debate had been in no sense obstructive. A great proportion of the time of the debate was occupied owing to the attitude of the Government towards an Amendment moved at an earlier stage. He would point out that one useful result of the debate had been that the right hon. Gentleman himself had been converted, because the other day he said that if a division was taken on the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Molton he would clear out of the House. When the division took place he supported the Opposition Members, so impressed had he been by the arguments against the Amendment.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said that since he made the statement referred to the hon. Member for South Molton adopted the course which he suggested, and offered to withdraw the Amendment.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said he would leave the House to judge whether that was a serious explanation on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. He maintained that it had not the remotest bearing on the fact that the right hon. Gentleman, having stated that he would take no part in the division, afterwards voted against the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman did so because he recognised that the force of opinion was stronger than he had supposed. They now saw that the 676 promise to deal with the urban question was one made for Party purposes in order to get the Bill through. They ought to be grateful to the hon. Member who initiated this debate because, if it had been productive of no other result, it had called forth the speech of the President of the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman had told the Committee that the Government, although they had been ten years in office, had not been able to find a single hour in which to deal with the grievances of urban ratepayers. The right hon. the Gentleman, told them that he was not going to deal with it. He said it would take two years to do so, and that meant, of course, that the present Parliament was not going to deal with it. But the Government had found time to give and to continue doles to their agricultural friends in the House and out of it. Hon. Members on his side would not be afraid to take that issue when the time came in the constituencies. The Government had shown an utter failure to appreciate the importance attached to this question throughout the country. They had passed this Act for the benefit of the agricultural class, but they had done nothing whatever to pass a Bill which would benefit the other portions of the community. If there had been any serious intention to pass the Valuation Bill which was introduced last session they could have got it through. If it had been sent to a Grand Committee upstairs, instead of the Aliens Bill on which time was wasted, it would, he assured the right hon. Gentleman, have been passed without any difficulty. It was owing to the mismanagement of public business by the Government that the Bill was not passed. The Committee had heard the further declaration that, although the measure dealing with valuation was mentioned in the King's Speech, the Government were still engaged in drafting it. Did that indicate any real intention on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to pass the Bill this session? Three months after the beginning of the session the were still considering the drafting.
§ MR. DALZIEL
If it is practically ready will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when it will be introduced.
You cannot discuss the details of the Valuation Bill on this clause.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said he had not mentioned a single detail of the Bill. He was asking information about its introduction because that had an important bearing on the value of this clause. The Government were simply playing with the question of rating and had no serious intention of dealing with it. That was a fact which they would take note of at the proper time in the constituencies.
§ SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbrightshire)
said it was all very well to say that the Government had not brought in a Valuation Bill and a Rating Bill. Hon. Members knew that the one must precede the other. He should like to know when the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, or any other Member, thought the Government ought to have brought in those Bills. They had special Bills to bring forward, and they had carried them. When they brought in an Education Bill, and a Licensing Bill, they were told that they had no business to do so.
§ SIR MARK STEWART
said the Bill they were now discussing was a practical measure brought in with the object of relieving a very distressed community. He entirely differed from the observations that fell from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dumfries as to the occupiers of land having no right to relief from Imperial taxes. Many occupiers of land were amongst the poorest and hardest working members of the community. Those who spent their time amongst agriculturists knew how poor they were, and the difficulty they had to make ends meet. The House and the Government were to be congratulated on having passed the Agricultural Rates Act.
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
said the Opposition Members had been taunted by hon. Gentlemen opposite on account of the line they had taken with regard to this Bill. It was because the President of the Local Government Board suddenly accepted an Amendment moved on the Opposition side of the House proposing to make the Act permanent that there had been so much discussion. That Amendment raised a storm which lasted during the whole of the first day the Bill was in Committee. It irritated Members representing town constituencies into making speeches in opposition to the Bill. He thought those who represented agricultural constituencies had a right to say something as to the position they had taken for or against the Bill. Some of his friends had gone against this Bill absolutely, but he must admit that their arguments were not altogether fair. When this Bill was brought in it was on two pleas. The first was the unfair and unequal incidence of the rates. There was no question that in hundreds of instances there was an unfair incidence in the case of agricultural lands. But, as soon as that was proved up to the hilt, the supporters of the Bill said that agriculture was distressed and that relief should be given to it. That was quite true, but the way the Bill operated was to relieve the rich ratepayers and to oppress the poor. It was the land which could afford to pay the highest rent that got the most relief under this Bill, and he could not help saying that that was not the right way to relieve agriculture. In certain cases, small market gardeners were relieved; but not in the great bulk of cases. Whole tracts of land had gone out of cultivation in. Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, and Essex which were almost entirely arable and the lowest rented, and where it was most difficult to collect the money. There the agricultural population had been driven out of employment, and the land had only been relieved to the extent of 6d. or 8d. per acre, while other rich land in other districts had been relieved to the extent of 6s. or more. The hon. Member for Tavistock had said that the mixed farmers had done best. He quite agreed; but he would point out that the arable land was the most important to the 679 community because it employed more labour than the pasture lands where only a few shepherds were engaged. He quite agreed that this Bill relieved agriculture to some extent, but it did it in the wrong way. However, though he believed the clause under discussion might have been much better drafted, he would support it, because it was much better than if nothing at all had been done for agriculture.
He hoped that there would be an assured promise from the Government that the whole question of rating would shortly be taken into consideration and dealt with in a comprehensive manner. The House ought to get some information as to the possible date on which such a measure would come on. Those who represented agricultural constituencies in different parts of England realised that agriculture was not well treated as regarded rates, and that this Bill did not relieve agriculture in the way it ought to do; and that a proper readjustment of rates in towns as well as in the rural districts would do more for agriculture than this Bill would do. Hon. Members who represented town constituencies might rest assured that all those who represented agricultural constituencies would be at one with them in pressing on the President of the Local Government Board to give a pledge that he was going to take the whole question of local taxation in hand very shortly. The hon. Member for Tavistock had spoken of the Poor Rate Exemption Act which was annually renewed.
§ MR. SPEAR
said he had always voted for the renewal of that Act, but he thought that there was a much larger inequality under that Act than under the Agricultural Rating Act.
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER
said he quite agreed that the hon. Member did not think he ought to oppose the renewal of that Act; but he would point out that it was one thing to oppose an Act which was renewed periodically, and which had been only ten years in existence altogether, and another thing to oppose an Act which had been accepted, as a principle of law, since 1837. 680 What the hon. Member for Tavistock wanted, seemingly, was to ask for a general readjustment of the rating system by a side issue on the principles of an Act which had been practically obsolete since 1837, and which had been done away with because it was found that it would not work. Could it be imagined that anybody would be so insane as to go on such lines as that in order to get an agricultural grievance altered? He did not want to tread on everybody's coat tail; but the hon. Member for Berkshire, who was not satisfied with the discussion on the Agricultural Rating Act, pointed out that tithe was not real property, and that the Poor Rate Exemption Act of fifty years ago did away with rating on personal property. He believed that tithe was not personal property, but there were others who considered that tithe was neither "fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red herring," although it had always been treated in the way of rating as real property. He did not want to go into a subject which was raised so freely on the other side of the House; but he thought that the best way out of the difficulty was to get an assurance from the Government that they would deal with the whole question at an early date, and therefore he recommended his hon. friend to accept this clause. The Government had tried to readjust matters, but they had only succeeded in introducing confusion worse confounded, and trouble would be stirred up as between town and country. Every question which this Government had brought forward had caused strife. He would not oppose this clause so long as this was a temporary measure; but if hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies kept up the agitation for a readjustment of local rates they would get something done in that direction.
§ MR. HARWOOD (Bolton)
said he did not think the House had been fairly dealt with, on the whole, in regard to this Bill. There was agreement that the agricultural business was suffering from a grievance in regard to rating, and they were told that this Bill was to remedy that injustice. But they were 681 also assured that as soon as possible the whole question of local taxation was to be put on a scientific footing. The Royal Commission went into the whole matter and made a Report with a view to settling the question; but now they were informed that there was no hope of that being done, and that the idea had been abandoned. That was hardly fair to those who had acknowledged that the urban ratepayers had something to complain of. Now it was neither proposed to deal with
§ the whole question nor to give the urban ratepayer any compensation. That was not fair to the urban ratepayer. Either they must deal with the whole question and put both sets of ratepayers on a fair footing, or else give the urban ratepayer some relief as well as the agricultural ratepayer.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 244; Noes, 86. (Division List No. 162.)683
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Crean, Eugene||Harris, Dr. Fredk. R. (Dulwich)|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Cripps, Charles Alfred||Hay, Hn. Claude George|
|Allhusen, Augustus Henry Eden||Crombie, John William||Heath, Sir. Jas. (Staffords N. W.|
|Allsopp, Hon. George||Cross, Alexander (Glasgow)||Helder, Augustus|
|Ambrose, Robert||Cross, Herb. Shepherd (Bolton)||Henderson, Sir A. (Stafford, W|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Crossley, Rt. Hon. Sir Savile||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)|
|Arkwright, John Stanhope||Cubitt, Hon. Henry||Hogg, Lindsay|
|Arrol, Sir William||Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Hope, J. F. (Sheffield, Brightside|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Davenport, William Bromley-||Hoult, Joseph|
|Aubrey-Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir H.||Davies, M. Vaughan (Cardigan)||Hozier, Hn. Jas. Henry Cecil|
|Austin, Sir John||Denny, Colonel||Hudson, George Bickersteth|
|Bagot, Capt. Josceline FitzRoy||Dewar, John A. (Inverness-sh.||Hunt, Rowland|
|Bain, Colonel James Robert||Dewar, Sir T. R. (Tower Hamlets||Jameson, Major J. Eustace|
|Baird, John George Alexander||Dickinson, Robert Edmond||Jebb, Sir Richard Claverhouse|
|Balcarres, Lord||Dickson, Charles Scott||Jones, Leif (Appleby)|
|Balfour, Rt Hn. A. J. (Manch'r.)||Dimsdale, Rt. Hn. Sir Joseph C.||Kennaway, Rt. Hn. Sir J. H.|
|Balfour, Capt. C. B. (Hornsey)||Dixon-Hartland, Sir Fred Dixon||Kenyon, Hn. Geo. T. (Denbigh)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. Gerald W (Leeds||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers.||Kenyon-Slaney, Rt. Hn. Col. W.|
|Balfour, Kenneth R. (Christch.||Duke, Henry Edward||Kimber, Sir Henry|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Edwards, Frank||King, Sir Henry Seymour|
|Banner, John S. Harmood-||Egerton, Hn. A. de Tatton||Lambert, George|
|Barry, Sir Francis T. (Windsor)||Elliot, Hn. A. Ralph Douglas||Lamont, Norman|
|Bartley, Sir George C. T.||Eve, Harry Trelawney||Laurie, Lieut.-General|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir Michael Hicks||Faber, Edmund B. (Hants, W.||Law, Andrew Bonar (Glasgow)|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Faber, George Denison (York)||Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool)|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Fardell, Sir T. George||Lawson, J. Grant (Yorks. N. R.|
|Bignold, Sir Arthur||Fellowes, Rt Hn. Ailwyn Edward||Lee, Arthur H (Hants, Fareham|
|Bill, Charles||Fergusson, Rt. Hn Sir J (Manc'r||Leveson-Gower, Frederick N. S.|
|Bingham, Lord||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Lockwood, Lieut.-Col. A. R.|
|Boland, John||Finch, Rt. Hn. George H.||Long, Col. Charles W (Evesham|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith||Finlay, Sir R. B (Inv'rn'ss B'ghs||Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Bristol, S|
|Boulnois, Edmund||Fisher, William Hayes||Lonsdale, John Brownlee|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn||Fison, Frederick William||Lowe, Francis William|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||FitzGerald, Sir Robert Penrose||Loyd, Archie Kirkman|
|Brymer, William Ernest||Fitzroy, Hon. Edward Algernon||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. Alfred|
|Bull, William James||Flower, Sir Ernest||Macdona, John Cumming|
|Butcher, John George||Forster, Henry William||M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)|
|Campbell, Rt. Hn J. A (Glasgow||Foster, Philip S (Warwick, S. W||Malcolm, Ian|
|Carson, Rt. Hn. Sir Edw. H.||Fuller, J. M. F.||Manners, Lord Cecil|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Galloway, William Johnson||Marks, Harry Hananel|
|Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbyshire||Gardner, Ernest||Martin, Richard Biddulph|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles William||Garfit, William||Maxwell, Rt Hn. Sir H. E. (Wigt'n|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. (Birm.||Godson, Sir Augustus Fredk.||Maxwell, W. J. H. (Dumfriessh.|
|Chamberlain, Rt Hn. J. A. (Worc.||Gordon, Hn. J. E (Elgin & Nairn)||Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Gorst, Rt. Hn. Sir John Eldon||Mildmay, Francis Bingham|
|Chapman, Edward||Greene, Sir E W. (B'ry SEdm'nds||Milner, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick G|
|Clive, Captain Percy A.||Greene, Henry D. (Shrewsbury||Milvain, Thomas|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Gunter, Sir Robert||Mitchell, Edw. (Fermanagh, N.)|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Hain, Edward||Molesworth, Sir Lewis|
|Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Halsey, Rt Hn. Thomas F.||Montagu, G. (Huntingdon)|
|Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole||Hambro, Charles Erie||Montagu, Hn. J. Scott (Hants.)|
|Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Hamilton, Marq. of (L'nd'nderry||Moon, Edward Robert Pacy|
|Cox, Irwin Edward Bainbridge||Hardy, L. (Kent, Ashford)||Morgan, D. J. (Walthamstow)|
|Morpeth, Viscount||Ratcliff, R. F.||Taylor, Austin (East Toxteth)|
|Morrell, George Herbert||Renshaw, Sir Charles Bine||Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.)|
|Morrison, James Archibald||Renwick, George||Thornton, Percy M|
|Morton, Arthur H. Aylmer||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Chas. Thomson||Tomlinson, Sir Wm. Edw. M.|
|Mount, William Arthur||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C.||Rolleston, Sir John F. L.||Tuff, Charles|
|Murphy, John||Ropner, Colonel Sir Robert||Tufnell, Lieut.-Col. Edward|
|Murray, Charles J. (Coventry||Royds, Clement Molyneux||Vincent. Col. Sir C. E. H (Sheffield|
|Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)||Rutherford, John (Lancashire)||Warde, Colonel C. E.|
|Myers, William Henry||Rutherford, W. W. (Liverpool)||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Nolan, Col. John P. (Galway, N.)||Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney|
|O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary, N.)||Sadler, Col. Samuel Alexander||Webb, Colonel William George|
|O'Donnell, John (Mayo, S.)||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)||Welby, Lt.-Col A. C. E. (Taunton|
|O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens||Seton-Karr, Sir Henry||Welby, Sir Chas. G. E. (Notts.|
|Parkes, Ebenezer||Sharpe, William Edward T.||White, Luke (York, E. R.)|
|Paulton, James Mellor||Shaw-Stewart, Sir H. (Renfrew)||Whiteley, H. (Ashton und. Lyne|
|Peel, Hn. W. Robert Wellesley||Sinclair, Louis (Romford)||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Pemberton, John S. G.||Slack, John Bamford||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)|
|Percy, Earl||Sloan, Thomas Henry||Wills, A. Walters (N. Dorset)|
|Perks, Robert William||Smith, Rt. Hn. J. Parker (Lanark.||Wilson, A. Stanley (York, E. R.|
|Pierpoint, Robert||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)||Wilson-Todd, Sir W. H. (Yorks.)|
|Pilkington, Colonel Richard||Soares, Ernest J.||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Platt-Higgins, Frederick||Spear, John Ward||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart|
|Plummer, Sir Walter R.||Stanley, Edward Jas. (Somerset)||Wrightson, Sir Thomas|
|Pretyman, Ernest George||Stanley, Rt. Hn. Lord (Lanes.)||Younger, William|
|Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward||Stewart, Sir Mark J. M'Taggart|
|Purvis, Robert||Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Sir|
|Quilter, Sir Cuthbert||Stone, Sir Benjamin||Alexander Acland-Hood and Viscount Valentia.|
|Randles, John S.||Stroyan, John|
|Rankin, Sir James||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Hope, John Deans (Fife, West)||Reid, Sir R. Threshie (Dumfries|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Hutton, Alfred E. (Morley)||Richards, Thomas (W. Monm'th|
|Atherley-Jones, L.||Isaacs, Rufus Daniel||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)|
|Barlow, John Emmott||Jacoby, James Alfred||Robson, William Snowdon|
|Barran, Rowland Hirst||Johnson, John||Roche, John|
|Benn, John Williams||Jones, D. Brynmor (Swansea)||Runciman, Walter|
|Black, Alexander William||Kearley, Hudson E.||Schwann, Charles E.|
|Broadhurst, Henry||Labouchere, Henry||Shackleton, David James|
|Brown, George M. (Edinburgh)||Langley, Batty||Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford)|
|Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson||Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cornwall||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Burns, John||Layland-Barratt, Francis||Smith, Samuel (Flint)|
|Buxton, Sydney Charles||Leigh, Sir Joseph||Stanhope, Hon. Philip James|
|Caldwell, James||Leng, Sir John||Sullivan, Donal|
|Cameron, Robert||Lloyd-George, David||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Campbell, John (Armagh, S.)||Lough, Thomas||Tennant, Harold John|
|Cawley, Frederick||Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.||Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||M'Crae, George||Toulmin, George|
|Craig, Robert Hunter (Lanark)||M'Fadden, Edward||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Cremer, William Randal||M'Hugh, Patrick A.||Villiera, Ernest Amherst|
|Delany, William||M'Kean, John||Wallace, Robert|
|Duncan, J. Hastings||Nussey, Thomas Willans||Whiteley, George (York, W. R.|
|Dunn, Sir William||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)|
|Evans, Samuel T. (Glamorgan)||O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W.)||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Findlay, Alexander (Lanark, N E||O'Dowd, John||Willams, Osmond (Merioneth)|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||O'Malley, William||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.|
|Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil)||Parrott, William||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Harrington, Timothy||Pirie, Duncan V.|
|Hayter, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur D.||Priestley, Arthur||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr. Dalziel and Mr. Harwood.|
|Higham, John Sharp||Rea, Russell|
|Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Bristol, E.)||Reddy, M.|
|Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time upon Monday next.|