HC Deb 17 July 1849 vol 107 cc472-81

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair."


rose to avail himself of the opportunity to raise the general question of rating; he believed there was a real grievance which required a remedy, on the principles of justice and fair dealing to all classes of the community. In order that the House might clearly comprehend what was his object, he called attention to the facts of the poor-rate. In 1847, 5,290,000l. was raised for the relief of the poor, and this sum was levied exclusively on 64,730,000l. mainly on those that occupied houses, and especially land for productive purposes. The report of the Lords estimated the property in England and Wales, of various kinds, at about 250,000,000l.; so that the whole burthen of the poor-rate in England and Wales fell on about one-fourth of the property in England and Wales. Now, viewing the purposes for which poor-law relief is required, was this a just apportionment of the burthen, especially in the altered circumstances of this country? He would take the population of land and houses alone to provide for principles hastily, and not to carry them of England and "Wales at 15,000,000; now, in 1847, one and a half millions received relief. He would take a county—Lancaster. There was a population of 1,624,000; a poor-rate levied 335,000l., and 116,000 poor relieved; but, as a simple and single test, according to a high authority, is the best mode of elucidating political subjects, he would take a single parish, one of the chief seats of the cotton manufactures, Ashton-under-Lyne, and he found that in one year, 1848, the poor-rate levied was 16,875l., on a class of property 107,000l.; that 10,024l. of this was spent in relief of the poor; 5,012l. in the half year ending September, 1848; of this 2,400l. was for outdoor relief. In one division alone, 1,623l. was spent in outdoor relief. All the facts are taken from an authentic document, signed Charles Mott, auditor, November 3, 1848; and having heard the nature and objects of the expenses, the question he should put to the House was this—that it is not fair nor just to tax one class of property only for expenses, which, in great part, arise from other sources, and which do not contribute their fair proportion. He would take the first item. He found 305 parties who had received sums of money under the head "out of work." Why are the occupiers those who labour in all trades, when out of work? The next item was more extraordinary. He was sorry the Chief Commissioner of the Poor Laws was not in his place. He (Sir H. Willoughby) had resisted the appointment of the Commission, as he thought it would not remedy the evils that were said to exist. Now one of the chief accusations against the old management of the relief to the poor was, that wages were paid out of the poor-rate. He found this practice still existed, and most luxuriantly; 86 parties in this one division, in one half year, received sums of money under the head of "insufficient earnings." He claimed an answer to this from the sincere advocates of free trade. You proclaim competition for agricultural productions with the Baltic, the Black Sea, the Continent of America, the whole world, and yet those who occupy the land are called upon to pay rates in aid of wages to trades not their own. This is protection in the worst form for all other trades, at the expense of those who occupy land and houses. Again, 29 parties received money on account of the number of small children. The aged, 157; the sick, 157; in great numbers, orphants, infants, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the idiot, the lunatic, all are charged to this fund; 22 women, deserted by their husbands; 9 gone to America; 12 in prison; and I gone to beg, are all charged on the fund. Every accident is paid for; legs and arms injured by machinery are amputated; and finally, under one heading, "the stoppage of the mill," 13 parties expressly receive this relief in money. Now, he asked on what pretence can all the ailments, infirmities, and misfortunes that arise in cotton, silk, woollen, hardware, &c. trades, be fastened on one class of property without a violation of the first principles of justice? He contended that the real principle of the Act 43 Elizabeth, cap. 2, must be carried out, which meant that all should be equally rated—that every one should be taxed. It might be difficult to make an equal system of rating; but under the pressure of free trade the attempt must be made. Two courses were open—countervailing duties as equivalents for known burthens, or an absolute equalisation of the burthens—a fair adjustment of local taxation. The House had no other option. It might be bold to criticise the modern principle of imperial legislation, but he thought there was a disposition to adopt out to their legitimate conclusion. This was the case with the sugar colonies. First, the cry was to emancipate the negro, and the nation was saddled with a rent charge of 800,000l.; but soon after a new cry arose—free trade in sugar. You import slave-grown sugar from Cuba, and the consequence is, that the colonies are beggared, and the principles are lost. He hoped the same course would not be pursued as regarded our domestic industry. Having proclaimed universal competition in the productions of the land, you must cither have countervailing duties or equal burthens. In Ireland the occupiers of land are to be exclusively burthened with poor-rates; what capitalist in his senses would purchase such property, having the choice of the whole world? and this principle of a fair apportionment of burthens applied to all parts of the united kingdom. He had a right to expect the support of the various parties in this House to a fair consideration of the question of rating. Those who believed in the principle of free trade would be glad to do justice. He was for fair play to all trades—corn or calico. The noble Lord at the head of the Government was, in 1842, in favour of a fixed duty. Duties are not in fashion in the House just now; therefore you must adjust the burthens, of which rating to the poor relief is the chief. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, on the 9th of February, 1842, expressed an opinion that 54s. to 58s., a price for the quarter of corn required, "viewing burthens of the land and the relative position of those engaged in the cultivation of the land." That money price, 54s. to 58s. the quarter, does not now exist, and therefore a readjustment of burthens is equitable. He thought this question of rating pressed for a decision. There was a feeling abroad—a dangerous feeling, if neglected—amongst those engaged in the cultivation of the soil, that their interests had not been fairly treated. No wise Government would neglect such disposition. His object was to secure the attention of the Government, so that some legislation might take place early in the next Session of Parliament. The subject was a difficult one; it might not be possible to make an assessment entirely equal; you might, however, approximate to an equality, but in any case it would be the duty of the House to make an attempt to do justice to all in matters of local taxation—to hold even the balance between the various classes of the community in a spirit of equity, and which would prove its best title to the confidence of the people.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee," instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


observed, that the hon. Baronet, with the exception of that episode in his speech on the West Indies, had confined himself to the question as to the real property being exclusively rated, and to the rates not extending to personal property. The question was one of great interest and importance to the community, and it had already received much consideration during the present Session, and no doubt it would receive more hereafter. He would, in the first place, confine himself to the question immediately before the House, as to whether or not they should rate stock in trade, or whether the interventions of the courts in the interpretation of the 43rd of Elizabeth should be continued. This, he admitted, was a simple and not very difficult matter for solution; but the question which the hon. Baronet had introduced was a wide one, and did not admit of easy solution. He trusted that he should be able to satisfy the House that it should renew for another year this temporary enactment with respect to rating stock in trade, as it did not give rise to any great difficulty. The question arose out of the interpretation of the Act of Elizabeth, and as to whether they should hold strictly to the letter of its provisions, without reference to the opinions of the courts. No doubt, according to the strict letter of the Act, every inhabitant of a parish was liable to be called upon to contribute to the maintenance of the poor; but then they must take the interpretation of the word "inhabitant" given by courts of justice since the time of Elizabeth. There could be no doubt of the legal meaning attached to the term since the time of William; and if the present Suspension Act was allowed to expire, they would soon know that such would be the interpretation of the courts. It might appear that the meaning of the word inhabitant was tolerably clear. To be rated, it was held, that not only must he live in the parish, but the personal property must also be there. If he lived in a different parish from that in which his personal property was, he was held not to be an inhabitant. According to this, persons might avoid being rated by residing out of the parish in which their personal property was. This alone would occasion a large reduction in the amount of property to be rated. The next decision of the courts was, that a farmer's stock in trade was not to be rated; such, for instance, as cattle, corn, hayricks, agricultural implements, &c. Although all these apparently came within the meaning of the Act of Elizabeth, they were held not to be rateable. Thus the stock of the farmer was not rateable; but the stock and tools of the artisan are, if he resided in the place. This occasioned another great diminution in the number of persons liable to be rated residing in a place. Then it was held, that stock in the public funds, money lent on real securities, wages of labour, salaries, and professional earnings, were not rateable; and when all these were deducted, a very large property was not left to be rated. It was further held, that the owner of stock in trade, to render it rateable, must reside in the parish in which his shop or warehouse was situated. This, of course, would be an inducement to a man to have Ms shop in one parish, and to live in another. Then, again, it must be shown that the stock in trade was profitable to render it liable to rating; and for this purpose the onus lay upon the owner to prove before the magistrates that it was so; and, if he could not do so, the rate upon such stack must be quashed. It was also held by the courts that allowance must be made for debts before they could rate a stock in trade. All these were points in which the courts appear to have had no doubt; and if the hon. Baronet would refer to Burn's Justice, he would see not only that these but other descriptions of property were exempted from rating. The courts, however, did not stop there; for in the time of Lord Mansfield the Court of King's Bench determined that stock in trade was not rateable, or, at any rate, so many difficulties and doubts were thrown in the way as to render it equivalent to the court holding an opinion against the rating. Lord Ken-yon, however, took a less equitable view of the matter, and after some time persuaded the rest of the court over whom he presided to revert to the literal meaning of the original Act of Elizabeth on this point, and it was held that stock in trade was rateable. The question again came before the Court of Queen's Bench in 1840, in the case of the Queen v. Lumsden, and the opinion was held, that the old Act was not repealed in this respect. The consequence of this decision was, that great alarm was produced in the manufacturing parts of the country; and the result was, that a Bill was brought into Parliament in that year, which passed into a law, by which rating of stock in trade was suspended for a twelvemonth, and since that period it had been annually renewed. He thought he had said sufficient to show the House that the adherence to the old law, as it was interpreted by the courts, would be of little benefit to the agricultural interest in consequence of the many exceptions which were allowed. There might be some parishes in which stock in trade was strictly or partially rated; but by the Act of 1840 there was practically no change in the law; it prevented appeals against the overseers' rate in consequence of that description of property not being rated. He would challenge any hon. Gentleman to mention two parishes in which stock in trade was actually rated between 1830 and 1840. Having thus gone through the fact" of the case, it appeared to him that the hon. Baronet laboured under some misapprehension as to the advantages which would result from the adoption of his suggestion. This misapprehension seemed to arise from looking to stock in trade in the aggregate, instead of taking it, as they were bound to do by law, parish by parish. No doubt, if the whole stock in trade of the country was rated together, it would produce a considerable sum, and might relieve the landed interest from a portion of its burdens; but this was not, and never was, the state of the law. The greatest anomalies were formerly held as to the law of rating in connexion with stock in trade; for instance, a shop was liable to be rated if the owner of it resided in the parish where it was; but if he did not, it was exempted. They should recollect that the great mass of stock in trade was centred in large towns, and if each parish was rated separately, the relief to the landed interest would be insignificant. In such parishes as St. George's, Hanover-square, and Marylebone, perhaps the rates upon the stock of shopkeepers would lighten in some degree the rates upon the inhabitants of dwelling-houses; but in the great mass of rural parishes, in Lincolnshire, Cumberland, or Yorkshire, no sensible relief would be afforded. If they extended the principle to the rural districts, they would find the only articles that could be rated would be the tools or implements of the carpenter or blacksmith, and in some villages the stocks of a few shops. He maintained, therefore, that under the present law, a rate upon stock in trade, if carried into effect all over the country, either for the relief of the landed interest or of the Church, would be productive of no sensible benefit whatever. No doubt the county and other rates were felt to weigh heavily on landed property; but if they rated all the personal property in rural parishes, the amount received would be so small, after all the deductions which he had stated, that the amount of relief afforded would be imperceptible. As it was, the landed population had lost no advantage by the Act of 1840, and nothing had been gained. One great reason why he asked the House to assent to the present Bill was, that the present law with regard to the rating of stock in trade was so intricate and complicated, that the legality of every rate made under it was liable to be questioned, and the magistrates at quarter- sessions would be constantly called upon to quash rates in consequence of some informality, so that the greatest inconvenience must arise. He fully admitted, with the hon. Member, who had argued the matter with the greatest fairness, that the real question was whether any means could be devised by which a system could be established for rating—not merely stock in trade, in excluding the stock of the farmer, but—personal property of all descriptions for local rating, as well as real property. If such a system could be devised, it was a subject open for consideration, and upon which persons of the greatest financial skill, and who had long studied the practice of taxation, might exercise their ingenuity. He maintained, however, that the present Bill did not raise that general question, and also that it was nothing but a delusion to suppose that the landed interest would be deprived of any great benefit by the operation of the present law.


admitted that very great practical difficulties existed in rating stock in trade; but maintained that if stock in trade was to be exempted, it would lead to great difficulty and trouble; that if they had justice on their side, he would ask them why they did not repeal the law at present existing on the subject. That the great necessities of the country would ere long force it upon them for a total revision—that if the subject was not properly taken up, the House might depend that it would be forced on them; and the result would be, they would then have to get rid of this impost, which, as it at present stood, was objectionable to all parties.


intimated that the subject was under the consideration of Government, and that a measure was in preparation.


thought the explanation of the Under Secretary for the Home Department fully justified his hon. Friend in having brought the subject forward, and he confessed he was glad to hear his statement. It was clear, from what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman, that this was a question the consideration of which could not be longer delayed. Without being-guilty of an exaggeration, it could be proved that one-third of the income of the country had to bear the whole of their local burdens. The fact was incontrovertible that real property had burdens thrown upon it to the amount of twelve millions a year, from which other descriptions of pro- perty were exempt. This was a startling reality, which hon. Gentlemen opposite could not deny. These results the country was becoming fully aware of, and it was a matter which must force itself on the attention of the Government, with a view to a settlement. The question of local taxation was the greatest question of the day, and it had forced itself on public attention in consequence of the situation of Ireland. Indeed, in Ireland it had produced a second revolution, and the result had and must excite the strongest effect on public opinion in the two countries. He did not believe the stopping this suspending Bill would produce any great effect. The object of his hon. Friend that day was to show that stock in trade was only one of the classes of property which had escaped rating. To deal properly with it, the question must be completely considered, and just relief could only be given by taking-all descriptions of property into calculation. He was sure the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary would be satisfactory to the country; and he trusted, when they met again, that the measure alluded to would be one of the first measures brought forward for consideration.


thanked his hon. Friend for bringing this question before the House, and was happy to hear that they were to have some remedial measure. He submitted to the noble Lord that the subject of the land tax and the rating of the poor must at the opening of next Session be thoroughly brought under revision.


said, he was not going to support the Motion of the Gentleman on the other side, because he thought that the Bill had better pass. The hon. Baronet had, in his enumeration of things not liable to rating, fallen into a mistake. Machinery was liable, and was rated, as he could testify, even to the very hammers used in his own factory. He readily admitted that there was a difficulty in rating stock in trade, but still it could not be denied that the present system was both unequal and unjust. They must come to a national rate at last, and the sooner the Government turned their attention to the subject the better it would be for the country.


expressed his satisfaction with the discussion his Amendment had called forth, and bogged to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee, and reported; as amended, to be considered Tomorrow.