§ On the Motion that the Stock in Trade Exemption Bill be read a Second Time,
§ SIR R. H. INGLIS
said, so long as he had had any hope that Her Majesty's Government would take up the general question of rating, he had abstained from offering any formal opposition to these Suspension Bills; but, as he had been unable to extort from the present or the late Government any such promise, and as he felt that this suspension of the law pressed hard upon a great body of Her Majesty's subjects, he considered it his duty to call the attention of the House to the subject. It could not be denied that, by the existing law, titheowners were in a very different condition from that they would be in, if stock in trade were not exempted, or if the pledge, given when tithes were commuted, had been observed; and if all that property which was actually rated to the poor, had continued to be rated in the 1157 same proportion. Without raising the question, whether other property, that is to say, stock in trade, ought, as was held in a celebrated case, to be included in a rate, it was sufficient for him to enunciate the fact, that these suspensions of the law which yearly exempted stock in trade from being rated gradually, changed the law without any discussion of the principle in that House; and that such a course was most unconstitutional in the abstract, and most injurious in practice to the parties affected. In the present very thin state of the House, he would not enter into de-tails to show the hardship of the exemption. Whatever might have been the objection formerly to rating stock in trade, from the difficulty of assessing it, that objection could not apply after the income tax. The titheholders, or rather those holding rent-charges, suffered much hardship since the Tithe Commutation Act; in some cases paying on an assessment of 180l. where formerly they would have paid on an assessment of 80l., though by the very words of the Act the existing liabilities and proportions were to be continued. If it were the intention of Parliament to exempt this property, let it be done by a general measure, which might be discussed. The hardship of the present state of things was this: a farmer was assessed to the poor rate in respect to a sum assumed to bear some proportion to his rent; the titheholder, in respect to the gross and ascertained amount of his rent charge; the farmer's sum did not represent, perhaps, a third of his receipts, whereas the exact sum paid as tithe-rent charge was known and assessed accordingly; while, on the other hand, a large amount of rateable property, namely, stock in trade, escaped altogether in fact; and, by these Suspension Bills, escaped by law from year to year. If stock in trade were rated, the titheholder would have less reason to complain. He appealed to the right hon. Baronet and to the House not to countenance this continued suspension of the law, unless Her Majesty's Government were prepared, as he trusted they were, to pledge themselves that, early in the next Session of Parliament, they would take the whole subject into consideration; otherwise he should feel it his duty to take the sense of the House.
§ SIR G. GREY
did not deny that there was considerable inconvenience connected with these Suspension Bills; but he must remind his hon. Friend that, in 1840, the 1158 Court of Queen's Bench had decided that these rates were bad, because stock in trade was not included. The effect of this decision was, that it became impossible to make a rate in any parish in England that could be legally levied. The attention of the Government of that day had consequently been called to the subject, and a Bill was brought in by the then Attorney General, which exempted stock in trade from rating, on the ground of the difficulty of assessing the different classes of property comprehended under that term, and because, although, according to the strict letter of the law, stock in trade was liable to be rated, it had been practically exempted, and the object of the Bill was to make the law conform to the practice. That Bill passed that House, and went up to the other House; but, in consequence of the lateness of the Session, it was withdrawn, and a Suspension Bill was thus forced upon the Government, which had not had time since to consider the whole question. The subject required careful consideration; and if he gave a pledge to the hon. Baronet, he might not be able to redeem it: but he could assure him that the subject should receive the consideration of the Government, and he should be glad if he were able to frame a measure that would be practicable, and, at the same time, satisfactory to the House. If the hon. Baronet divided the House in its present state, the effect would be to reject the Bill, and render it impossible to make a rate that could be levied.
§ SIR J. TROLLOPE
understood the wish of the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford to be, that the Government should give some pledge that this subject should be taken into consideration in the course of the next Session of Parliament. The right hon. Baronet had evaded that point, and did not seem prepared to give such a pledge. It was not his (Sir J. Trollope's) desire, as a member of the landed interest, to press the Government to take the burden off their shoulders, and place it on those of others; but he did anxiously wish that the Government would put the agricultural interest upon an equal footing with all other interests in respect to rating.
§ MR. HENLEY
agreed that it was inconvenient to suspend a law annually; but in mercy to the ratepayers it was necessary to do so; for in 999 parishes out of 1,000 the present law regulating the mode of rating was impracticable. It had been 1159 found impossible to separate that portion of a farmer's stock which was liable to be rated from that which was exempted from rating, and that was the reason why this system of rating had fallen into disuse. He was certain, that unless the law were suspended, the result would be, that in every parish in England litigation would be carried on to so great an extent that the proportion of the expenses which the litigants would have to bear, would be greater than an extra rate they now had to pay by reason of this portion of agricultural property being exempted from the rate. The clergy were, of course, more immediately concerned in this matter; but they might depend upon it they would lose a great deal more than they would gain if they persisted in bringing this description of property into the rating.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that, on examining the tables of assessment in that district of Middlesex in which he acted as commissioner, he found a great inequality to prevail in the mode of assessing property. Agricultural property was often rated at four-fifths of the full value, while other property was only rated at two-thirds. He trusted, that this discussion would not be without its fruit, and that some more equitable principle of assessment would be adopted.
§ MR. HUDSON
wished to draw the attention of the Government to the present mode of rating railways to the poor. Railway companies were rated upon the amount of their profits, while farmers were only rated upon the amount of their rent. This imposed a much heavier charge upon the railway proprietors than upon other descriptions of property. He hoped the Government next Session would bring forward some measure to put all parties on a fairer footing. He considered the present system of rating to the poor very defective, and in many instances very oppressive and unjust. He would exonerate all cottages and houses below a certain amount of rent from the payment of rates altogether. It would be honourable to Parliament and beneficial to the country to establish such a law. He had long entertained the opinion, that the proper way of maintaining the poor was by grants from the general taxation of the country. He was, however, so fully aware of the many objections that might be urged against such a system, that he had never felt it his duty to suggest it to the Legislature.
§ MR. CRIPPS
wished the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Mayor of York could 1160 get the farmers rated upon their profits, instead of their rental; if that were the system, he believed that the contributions of the farmers to the rates would not be so great as they now were.
§ SIR R. H. INGLIS
said, that in the then state of the House he would not divide it on the Bill, inasmuch as the Motion would be lost, without his object being gained; but he trusted that if the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department could not pledge himself to bring in a measure, the Government would at least take the subject into their consideration during the recess, and that if they were not prepared with a measure by the next Session of Parliament, they would intrust it to a Committee.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
regretted that a measure of so much importance should have been discussed in so thin a House. Only one Minister was present on the benches opposite. That was one of the disadvantages of working double tides. He could not understand upon what principle other descriptions of property, as well as land, should not be rated to the poor. He lamented the scanty attendance of Members, and thought the Government were not justified in calling the House together at that hour, unless they were prepared to keep a sufficient number of Members in the House to ensure the Bill a full and fair discussion. He moved, therefore, that the Speaker count the House.
§ A number sufficient to constitute a House was present.
§ Bill read a second time.