§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding 1113 £348,700, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1908, for Rates and Contributions in lieu of Rates, etc., in respect of Government Property, and for Rates on Houses occupied by Representatives of Foreign Powers, and for the Salaries and Expenses of the Rating of Government Property Department, and for a Contribution towards the Expenses of the London Fire Brigade."
§ *MR. MORTON (Sutherland)
complained that Government property was not adequately assessed. He said that about 1894, when an alteration was made in the system of valuing Government property, the Government would not consent to their property being valued in the same way as other property was done and by the same municipal officers, and the consequences was that although a higher valuation was put on it it was still by no means assessed at its full value, especially in London. He wished to ask why the Government should not consent, like other people, to have their property assessed by the municipal officers in the ordinary way. Unless that was done it would never be assessed at its proper value. The Government, he knew, claimed that they only paid a contribution in lieu of rates as a matter of grace, and that they were therefore entitled to value their property in their own way. But business men would agree that all property, whether Government or private, should be valued in the same way, and he hoped the Government would make that concession. Then there was the question of rates on houses occupied by the representatives of Foreign Powers; the amount was put down at £7,500, of which £3,000 was returned. But why was not all of it returned? Again, why should the occupiers of apartments in Royal Palaces have their rates paid for them?
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. RUNCIMAN,) Dewsbury
That item only applies to last year.
§ *Mr. MORTON
was glad to notice that a charge did not appear on this year's 1114 Estimates, and hoped that it would not appear again. People who got houses rent free ought at least to keep them in repair and pay rates like other people. He was glad they had that day an opportunity of quietly discussing these matters. The money the Government were spending was his money and the money of the people. The Government were their servants, and it was his (Mr. Morton's) duty to see that they did their work properly. He wanted to ensure that in future the Government would pay rates on their property the same as other people, otherwise it was a great hardship in some districts on the other ratepayers, and to emphasise his point he moved to reduce the Vote by £100.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £348,600, be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. Morton.)
§ MR. BELLAIRS (Lynn Regis)
rose to support the contention of his hon. friend. He held that the system of rating Government property subjected private property to an unfair competition. Private enterprise was unduly handicapped by the heavy rates, and he hoped they would have some assurance from the Government, either that it would allow its property to be assessed by the local authorities or that it would appoint a Committee to consider the whole question. In his opinion the rating of Woolwich Arsenal and of the various dockyards was absurdly low.
§ MR. J. D. WHITE (Dumbartonshire)
asked on what basis the valuation on which Government contributions were made was arrived at, whether on the ordinary basis of a hypothetical tenant or according to the value of the site and the cost of the building. He suggested that the question was of special interest in view of the large Government buildings which were being erected in the immediate neighbourhood of the House.
§ MR. RUNCIMAN
said he could quite understand the anxiety of the hon. Member for Sutherland about the administration of "my money." All he could say was that Government property was valued in the same way and on the same basis as property held by private owners. The Government valuer was an able representative who saw that the valuation was arrived at after discussion with the local valuation officers, and no serious complaint of the system was forthcoming from any part of the country. The hon. Member knew as well as he did that the houses occupied by foreign representatives were to some extent exempt on the basis of international reciprocity. In reply to the hon. Member for King's Lynn, he said there had been a considerable increase in the dockyard assessment in connection with the extensive works at Keyham. Their effort was in every case to value Government property on the same basis as private property in the same locality.
§ MR. BELLAIRS
asked whether it was not the case that town councils were continually protesting that they did not get a proper amount of rates out of the dockyards.
§ MR. RUNCIMAN
said that no doubt that was sometimes suggested, but the Government valuer always consulted the local authorities.
§ MR. LEIF JONES (Westmoreland, Appleby)
thought the Government were quite right in safe-guarding the tax payers against what might prove to be exactions on the part of the rating authorities. After all, these payments were not rates, but contributions in aid of rates, which could be withheld. That was a distinction which ought not to be lost sight of, and the Government ought, to retain its right to refuse to pay if it thought fit to do so.
§ MR. RUNCIMAN
said that the Government retained that position, but at the same time they paid to the local authorities all to which they were entitled. With regard to the Government property in the City their valuer (Mr. Thompson) saw Mr. Wagstaff, who 1116 admitted that the sum fixed upon was fair and reasonable.
§ SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)
pointed out that it was a great advantage to any district to have Government buildings within its boundaries in view of the employment thereby afforded to people in the locality. It would therefore be a little unfair to throw the whole burden on the taxpayers generally.
§ MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)
admitted that the conditions were certainly better than they were two years ago, but still he was told that in the City of London property was under-assessed to the extent of at least £100,000.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. MORTON
said he could not agree with the hon. Member for Woolwich as to underassessment in the City of London. Why people were actually assessed on their good-will, and in no part of the world was land so highly assessed as in the one square mile which constituted the City.
§ Question put, and agreed to.