§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY AND LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Earl of ROSE-BERY)
My Lords, I do not think that this Bill, which is not long in itself, although it involves some important points of principle and detail, will need a very lengthy explanation from me, for this simple reason—that it comes up to this House with the practically unanimous concurrence of all parties in the House of Commons. The Second and Third 1157 Readings were passed unanimously, and there were only two Divisions taken in Committee. Therefore, I am entitled to claim that it comes up to this House with a rare consensus of opinion from the other House of Parliament. Moreover, it represents the outcome of a very strong general feeling that there should be some assistance given from the richer parishes in the Metropolis to the needs of the poorer parishes. And here again I do not think I shall strike any note which is objectionable to the noble Lords opposite, because, as a matter of fact, all the steps which have been taken in this direction have been taken by Ministers who were Members of the late Cabinet. The first step was taken in 1867 by the constitution of a Common Poor Fund, under the auspices of Lord Cranbrook. The next step was taken in 1870 by Mr. Goschen, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he introduced a Bill giving a general contribution of 3d. a day for all indoor paupers of the Metropolis; the third step was taken by Mr. Ritchie in the Local Government Pill of 1888, when he allowed a portion of the Probate Duty Grant from Imperial sources to the purposes of the London County Council. I think, therefore, that the general principle of this Bill is not likely to meet with any opposition from your Lordships. The general principle involved is nothing more or less than this—namely, that we should endeavour by some measure of this kind to reduce the rating inequalities of the Metropolis, which are, as is known to your Lordships, sufficiently glaring, and which I will not trouble the House on this occasion by illustrating in detail. How does the Bill propose to redress these inequalities? It proposes to do so by levying a general rate of 6d. in the £ all over the Metropolis, which is to be handed over to the various parishes in proportion to the extent of their respective populations. I think there is no practical objection to the basis of population being taken, although some have thought that it was too rough-and-ready a method of ascertaining the wants of a parish. But, as a matter of fact, after a great deal of threshing out in Committee in the House of Commons, I think it has been ascertained that population is the only practical basis upon which this assistance can be given. There are two other bases which have a certain plausi- 1158 bility about them which have been urged by various sections of opinion; one is, that the contribution in aid should be given in proportion to the sanitary expenditure of the various parishes. Well, I think it is clear that any such provision would tend at once to local extravagance, and would tend therefore to defeat the very object which we have in view. The other principle that has been suggested is this—that a uniform rate should be raised all over the Metropolis and applied generally by uniform management. But uniform management means central management, and there is a great difference between even great towns like Birmingham and Manchester, for instance, and such a vast city as this Metropolis. So long as a diversity exists in our municipal administration, think that uniform management for this purpose would lead to nothing but mismanagement and extravagance. The area of London is too great for it to be treated in that manner, and therefore I think we come, by a process of exhaustion, to the remedy proposed by tins Bill. As a matter of fact, the remedy proposed by this Bill will work fairly enough in practice. All the most wealthy and lightly-rated parishes will pay, and all the poorest and most heavily-rated parishes will receive. But the average rate of parishes receiving will remain above the average rate of the Metropolis, and the average rate of those parishes which will contribute will remain below the average rate of the Metropolis all the same. The average rate in the contributing parishes for the two years ending last year was 5s. l. 3d. in the £1. This will he increased by the Bill on the present calculations to 5s. 4.7d. The average rate for the same period of the receiving parishes was 6s. 3d., and under the Bill it will be reduced to 6s. I will only trouble you with one more figure showing the general fairness and justice of the new arrangement. At present the difference between the average rates of the parishes that will contribute and receive is Is. 1.7d. in the £1; but by the new system that difference will be reduced to 7d., and I believe that you may draw a hard-and-fast line, and say that in all the parishes in which the rateable value per head of population is above £1 18s. those parishes will con- 1159 tribute, and where the average rate is below that figure those parishes will receive. I have no hesitation in saying, therefore, again, that from the Lest calculations we can make we believe that the general arrangement under the Bill will work out an extremely fair one. Now the mechanism is this: the levying of the rate will be left to the Loudon County Council. Each year they will fix a general rate all over London and determine the contribution of each parish on the valuation lists, and that rate will be apportioned according to population to the various sanitary districts. Of course, my Lords, it will be in the main a sort of Clearing House arrangement of accounts: those parishes where the rating is above receiving the balance which the other parishes will have to pay. In order to make this apportionment as accurate as possible we have determined not to wait for the next Decennial Census, but have provided for a Census being taken in March, 1896; and by implication it will follow that the next Census, which I suppose will be taken in 1901, will apply as a Quinquennial Census with regard to value for the purpose of this Bill. Now I come to the other part of the Bill which provides for the application of this fund, which of course in one sense is scarcely a less important matter than the relief of the poorer parishes. The first application will be to sanitation. I think no one can doubt that the proper sanitation of the whole of Loudon affects all the inhabitants of this great eit3r to an equal degree. Infection may come from one of the poorer districts and spread over the wealthier districts, and therefore they have all one common sanitary interest. I hope that in many of the districts the sanitary necessities are already sufficiently provided for. The next application of the grant will be to paving and the question of lighting. Everybody knows that the roads in the poorer districts are not so well kept up as those in other districts, and that they are kept up at much greater expense. Then as to lighting, anyone who penetrates the regions particularly in the East End of London knows that the darkness is due to the inadequacy of the funds for the purpose of lighting. The darkness of the streets was mentioned by the police in connection with the Whitechapel murders as a source of actual 1160 danger to life in the Metropolis. It may be, however, that in some of the districts which are to receive, all those proposals are already sufficiently provided for. This Bill will come to the relief of these districts, and I shall be glad to see that the proposed reductions are carried out without any sacrifice of efficiency. I think when we compare the roads in some of the parishes with those in the parish, for instance, in which I live, we must admit that there is a margin for considerable reduction and consequent relief to the poorer ratepayers. With regard to sanitary efficiency, I may mention that the Bill also gives power to the Local Government Board to act when the application of the grant is not properly carried out. That is a power which, in the opinion of the Department most interested, it may never be necessary to apply, but it is one which is necessary in such a Bill. I shall not further delay your Lordships, as various Bills have to come before you; but I do recommend the Bill to both political Parties on the ground of its being a boon to those in this great Metropolis, in whom both sides have of late taken so much interest. I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a" —(The Earl of Rosebery.)
§ * LORD MONK BRETTON
hoped the Bill would not go forth to the world with a blemish on the face of it. It was called a Bill for the equalisation of rates, but did not equalise them. It hardly even answered to the Preamble that it "aided in the equalisation of rates." Many inequalities and anomalies would still be left, and others would be created, though it did rough justice, as it took from the richer in aid of the poorer districts. Some years ago he had had to consider carefully what was the best broad and general basis for the distribution of grants in aid, and he arrived at the conclusion that no better basis than population could be adopted, because that insured aid being given where needs and poverty were presumably largest. The reduction of rates had been mentioned as one object of the Bill, but it was not a desirable one. The rates in the poorer districts of the Metropolis were largely and in some cases almost entirely, paid by compounding house-owners. On the 1161 other hand, the contributions to those poorer districts would be levied not so much upon owners as upon tenants in the West End. A sufficient answer to that was that the occupiers of houses in those wealthier districts were, as a class, more affluent than occupiers in the East, North, and South of the Metropolis. The weak point in the Bill, how-over, seemed to be that the grants in slid might inure in the poorer parishes to the benefit of the compounding house-owners, and not of the poor tenants, the people who it was desired, in the main, should reap the benefit. If the Local Authorities acted in the spirit of the Bill they would raise the same amount of rates, as at present, and make the same expenditure upon sanitation, lighting, and paving, and then devote the grant in addition for the latter purposes only. By doing so, they would benefit the poorer tenants as well as the whole community. If, on the other hand, they reduced their rates by the amount of the grants, and only spent the same total sum as now upon works, improvements, and sanitation, they would simply he putting a bonus in the pockets of the compound house-owners. Which purpose would the grants be devoted to? If they were divided and applied for both purposes they would be frittered away. Happily, in the latter stages of the Bill in the other House Amendments were inserted defining the purposes to which the grants were to be devoted and the order of their application; and, further, that the Local Authorities should render detailed accounts annually to the Local Government Board of their total expenditure and of the grants separately, power being given to the Local Government Board to order payment? of the grants to be withheld by the London County Council from defaulting Local Authorities. That showed the intention that the grants should be applied for sanitary purposes rather than in reduction of the rates. While approving of the Bill he was afraid that its title would lead to disappointment in the poorer districts, where it would be expected that a great deal more was going to be done for them, while the whole fund distributed would only amount to about £220,000 a year.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It would perhaps be hardly courteous to the 1162 noble Lord the Prime Minister if some voice did not proceed from these Benches in respect to the Bill of which he has moved the Second Heading. My own opinion with regard to this Bill is that it does rough justice indeed, but that it is justice on the whole, and I myself shall vote in favour of its passing. The noble Lord who has just sat down has, I think, established the fact that the Bill compelled contributions by the tenants of the West End to the landlords of the East End. I am not a landowner in the East End. I respect them very much, and I am very glad they are to get relief; but whether this will benefit the poor people in the East End I have very great doubt. Again, although I am thoroughly content to accept the Bill, I do not accept the arguments used by the noble Earl in moving the Second Beading. He seemed to me to accept the essential unity of all that is included in the Metropolitan area—that it is not only a constitutional arrangement, but one in actual fact. Now, I doubt very much whether there is any great unity of interest in respect of matters for parochial expenditure between Hammersmith and Mile End or between Paddington and Clapham, which are all deeply interested in many of the subjects for the expenditure authorised under this Bill. It is a constitutional fiction such as we are constantly obliged to employ, that the various parts of the Metropolis are equally interested in the parochial affairs of all or any of them. It is a constitutional fiction to which we must adhere, because it is convenient, and on the whole, as I say, rough justice is done. There is another reason why to myself personally —I wish to include no one else—this particular kind of legislation is grateful. I believe it has a tendency in the direction of a very much larger measure to which, I think, we shall ultimately come. It has a tendency in favour of general centralisation and getting rid of the local levying of rates. In past times the local levying of rates was an exceedingly wise measure, because it tended greatly to economy and did not inflict any particular injustice. But the economy has been growing less and the injustice greater, and I doubt very much whether the time has not come—if it has not come now it will speedily come—when the injustice inflicted by the local system, 1163 of which the main effect is to throw the expenditure in which all are interested upon one particular and comparatively small class of property, must be regarded as greater than the convenience resulting from the economy of localisation. I will not undertake to say, and I am far from pledging myself to the opinion, that the time has come when any particular measure ought to be introduced in order to carry these views into effect, for I am fully alive to the difficulties which are involved; but I rather look upon it as a counsel of perfection, to which we ought to adhere, that we ought to work towards that centralisation of expenditure and of taxation of which one of the main effects must be to relieve the particular class of property on which all this expenditure is now most unjustly thrown. The Bill, therefore, tends in a direction with which I sympathise, but I again say that I by no means foresee in the immediate or reasonable future the possibility of giving effect to those views. I believe the tendency of events is in their favour, and that localisation both of expenditure and of levy must gradually diminish both in popularity and availability. When we shall come to such remedy I do not know; but I think in the meantime this is a step, and a safe step, in that direction, and for that reason, as well as for other reasons, I am myself glad that it has been brought before Parliament.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I have only to say one word with reference to what fell from the noble Lord below the Gangway. His reference to the compounding landlord had some atom of truth in it, but I think the noble Marquess in referring to it pressed the point rather further than the case warranted when he said it was contribution by the tenants of the West End to the landlords of the East End, though doubtless the temptation to the epigram was irresistible. At the same time, it must be understood that this is in its essence a rough-and-ready attempt to redress inequalities of rating, and it is as such that the Government presents it. If we were to go into the details of the matter, we should be confronted with innumerable difficulties and anomalies, and it would take a much larger Bill to redress them. I must also protest against the objection taken by the noble Lord below the 1164 Gangway to the title of the Bill. "Equalisation of Rates" is the short title of the Bill on the outside, but the full title set out in the body of the measure—namely, "a Bill to make better provision for the equalisation of rates in different parts of Loudon"—is, I submit, an accurate and candid account of the Bill. If the noble Lord chooses for the purposes of his argument to take the short title put on the back of the Bill, that is one thing; but it is not the title of the Bill.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.