HC Deb 05 February 1850 vol 108 cc392-7

moved for leave to bring in "a Bill to establish county financial boards for the assessing of county rates, and for the administration of county expenditure in England and Wales."


seconded the Motion.


said, before the Motion was put, he wished to ask a question of the right hon. Gentleman who had introduced the subject in a manner so suspiciously silent. Last year when he (Mr. Disraeli) brought before the House the question of local taxation, the right hon. Gentleman favoured the House with a very ingenious speech, the object of which was to prove that the occupiers of land who are rated, did not, in fact, pay the rates, but that the owners of the soil paid the rates. Now, he wished the right hon. Gentleman, with that candour which distinguished him, would answer the question he was about to put. In introducing this project of law, what was his real opinion upon this highly important and interesting subject? Was it his opinion that the occupiers of land really did pay these rates? He assumed that to be the right hon. Gentleman's present opinion, as he was now proposing a representative government, which could only be the consequence of that conviction. If it was the conviction of the right hon. Gentleman that the rates were paid by the occupiers, and not by the owners of the soil, as he maintained last year, he would take leave to remind the right hon. Gentleman and his friends, on an occasion which would soon offer, that they ought to support the proposition which he should have the honour of submitting to the House. Instead of allowing the matter to pass silently, he trusted the right hon. Gentleman would rise and give a candid statement of his conviction on this important subject.


did not think that was quite the time to enter into the discussion to which the hon. Gentleman invited him. But he might be permitted to say, if it were true—as he had often heard from the hon. Gentleman—that the interest of the landlord and the tenant-farmer was one and the same, he surely would not object to the tenant-farmer having a voice in controlling the expenditure of the counties. This also might be admitted, that whatever on theoretical principles might be clearly shown to be the ultimate settlement as between landlords and tenants, after the rates had existed some time, yet the tenant had, in the first instance, to find the money. He would not go into a full discussion of the principle; but undoubtedly, if a large building, as a lunatic asylum or a gaol, had unexpectedly to be erected within a short period, and the whole sum neeessary had to be raised on security of the county rates, and had to be repaid by instalments raised by those rates during the currency of leases, tenants having such leases would have rather a strong interest in controlling the original expenditure, because in any future bargain between landlord and tenant they could not get compensation in the shape of a reduction in rent, the money having all been paid, they having been called upon to find it all during the currency of their leases. Therefore, in that case, they had a clear and obvious interest in controlling the expenditure. He would not take up the time of the House further, believing that there was no opposition to the introduction of the Bill.


thought the sums expended as county rates were so small, that it was not worth while disturbing the whole machinery of local government on that account. The erection of lunatic asylums and gaols was already controlled by the Home Office, as were all other large items of county expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman was proposing a large machinery for a most insignificant object.


said, the ratepayers in counties had an equal right with those in boroughs to control the expenditure of their rates. At present, the magistrates only had the control of the county expenditure, which was 1,000,000l. or 1,100,000l.—no insignificant amount. These rates fell most heavily on the small occupiers; it was, therefore, very properly proposed to give them a representation such as was enjoyed by the ratepayers in boroughs.


would suggest to the Government not to suffer Bills to be introduced merely for the sake of being read a first and second time, of the impolicy of which they were persuaded, and the discussion of which would only waste the time of the House. He imagined this was a Bill to supersede the functions of Her Majesty's justices of the peace; he believed the Government was opposed to the project, and he hoped they would at once declare their views. If the Bill carried in it the seeds of dissolution, it would be the most merciful course to put an end to it at once. If the Government were opposed to the principle it involved, let them take the earliest opportunity of stating so.


said, that to a certain extent he agreed in the remark that had been made, that if the Bill was one which the Government clearly meant to oppose, it was the best way to state that opinion when leave was moved for to bring in the Bill, in order to save the time of the House. But there were many Bills, in reference to which, from the short description given of them in the notice of Motion, and the brief statement usually made on moving their introduction, the Government could not tell exactly what they were. Of this class was the one which stood next in the paper, to be moved for by the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Hertfordshire, under the title of "a Bill to amend the rating of small tenements." He did not know the object of this Bill; he should not oppose its being brought in; but when it came to be discussed, there might be objections taken to it. The present Bill was certainly not one of that class which he could say the Government would certainly oppose. He presumed it was similar to the Bill of last year, introduced on the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose, to which he (Sir G. Grey) had expressed himself favourable. The question arose whether it was desirable to read that Bill a second time, and refer it to a Select Committee, or appoint a Committee on the subject before the Bill was read a second time. Any opinion he might entertain as to the course to be taken this year, he wished to reserve; but most certainly this was not a Bill which he should say the Government would decidedly oppose.


said, that the question was whether the incidence of taxation fell upon the owner or the occupier of land; and with respect to this question, the right hon. Member for Manchester blew hot and cold. It was too much the habit of hon. Gentlemen opposite to announce what they called a great principle—to declare that they were determined to stand by it, and on the following evening to do that which would practically abrogate it. It was only last week the Mover of the Address told the House, that the incidence of property fell upon the owner of the land. Now, this great principle was qualified by the right hon. Member for Manchester and the hon. Member for Montrose. The principle was a vital one, and hon. Members must not be permitted to blow hot and cold with respect to it.


had come to the conclusion that the whole of the interrogation on the opposite side of the House was a mere jest, because they had little to do that evening. He begged leave to inform the hon. Gentleman that they were not blowing any way but the one way. He did not care on whom the rate fell, but those on whom it fell should have a voice in the expenditure. He asked the hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire whether he thought the magistrates or ratepayers could better administer the county rates? The magistrates were not elected, they were appointed by the lord lieutenant, and were irresponsible, in the usual acceptation of the term; yet they were the persons who made the rates. Was not that a mere farce, and should not those who paid the rates have a voice in distributing them? He thought the advice of the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford was a salutary advice, and that Government should consider well before allowing any Gentleman to bring in a Bill when there was no probability of their giving it their support. It often happened that, after discussing a measure Wednesday after Wednesday, the proposer, who depended on the support of the Government, found he had only their good wishes and not their support. With regard to this particular Bill, he understood it to be, with some minor modifications, the same Bill as that introduced last Session; and he was fully prepared to vote for the introduction of the Bill, and to give his support as far as possible to the details of it.


would willingly rest the question on the grounds upon which the hon. and learned Member had put it. He had maintained last year, and he maintained now, that it was the owner and not the occupier of land who paid the rates. The magistrates of England were the principal ratepayers, and nothing was more unfair than the distinction which hon. Gentlemen opposite wished to draw between ratepayers and magistrates. As the general disposition of the House seemed to be in favour of the introduction of the Bill, he should not oppose it, but should reserve to himself the right to take what course he thought fit with respect to it at a future stage.


regretted that he was opposed in this matter by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire and his friends. He had last Session supported the Bill of the hon. Member for Montrose on this subject, and since then he had received several communications from that division of Sussex which he represented, and from several farmers' clubs, thanking him for the course he had taken. The ratepayers in that division thought they had great cause of complaint, as the county expenditure from 1832 to 1843 had more than doubled, and had since 1843 further increased. It was one of the principles of the constitution that taxation and representation should go together. In the division of Sussex which he represented, there was a strong feeling in favour of financial boards.


said, his hon. Friend the Member for East Sussex could not have been in the House when he addressed a few observations to it; therefore he begged to state to him that he did not say a single word in opposition to the measure introduced by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but merely asked the right hon. Gentleman for a clear explanation of the principle on which he introduced it.


observed that the magistrates were responsible for the peace of the counties and the care of the gaols, and he hoped they might trust to the Government not to leave the responsibility of those matters in the hands of the magistrates, while they left the control of paying for them in other hands.


said, it was inconvenient to discuss this Bill without knowing exactly what it was. He did not intend to be inferred from anything he had said that he was favourable to the principle of excluding the magistracy from all interference in the assessment.


remarked that it was intended to leave the magistrate a large share of the power by the Bill.

Motion agreed to. Leave given.

Bill read a first time.

The House adjourned at a quarter before Ten o'clock.