§ Order for Committee read; Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. F. SCULLY
said, it was his intention to move that the Bill be committed that day three months. The valuation of Ireland had been in progress for the last six years, in consequence of a Committee of that House which sat in 1845. Six counties had been valued under the 9th and 10th Victoria, which Act was the result of the labours of the Committee to which he had alluded. But this Bill proposed to legislate in direct opposition to the principles of that measure. He thought the Bill which had been prepared for the purpose of ascertaining the value of agricultural produce ought now to be produced, for it was a necessary concomitant to this measure. The prices of agricultural pro- 1197 duce were to constitute the basis of this Bill, but there was no regular or correct mode of ascertaining such prices—none, except by vague rumours and newspaper reports. No less than seventy amendments had been moved, and many more would have been moved, but the Irish Members thought the Government would not have pressed the Bill at so late a period of the Session. The great mistake in the valuation of Ireland was in the mode in which the valuation had been carried out. The great objection to the present law taken by Mr. Griffiths, the Chairman of the Board of Works in Ireland, was to the principle of a tenement valuation, in opposition to a townland one; but lately, Mr. Griffiths, the Chairman, changed his mind, and was now in favour of a tenement valuation. But, in truth, as he had already stated, the real objection lay not against the form of the law, but to the mode in which it was now worked out. He must object to the power of appeal which was now proposed to be given; and he maintained that it was not right that a measure of this importance should be pressed forward in the absence of Irish Members, of whom not more than nine were at present in the House at the present moment. However, if this measure passed, he should not think that the question was settled; for early next Session, if he was honoured with a seat in that House, he would move for an inquiry into the whole subject, with a view to put the state of the law relative to the valuation of land and agricultural produce in Ireland on a more satisfactory basis.
§ 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."
§ MR. MONSELL
said, he believed that this Bill would remedy many of the evils which were complained of in connexion with the present system of valuation in Ireland. That system was costly, and had produced the most disastrous results. The noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland had promised that he would next Session introduce a measure on the subject of the valuation of agricultural produce, and under these circumstances he hoped that the present measure would be allowed to proceed; for he believed that the universal 1198 feeling of the people of Ireland was in support of it.
SIR DENHAM NORREYS
said, he differed from the hon. Member (Mr. Monsell), and he hoped that the Bill would not be pressed forward during the present Session. The subject was far too important to be brought forward at this period of the Session, for it required the united attention of every one connected with Ireland. He admitted that the present system had produced disastrous results, but he did not think that this measure would remedy them. This Bill introduced an entirely new system of valuation, differing from every Bill which had preceded it, and he considered it entirely unjustifiable to press it at this late period of the Session when so few Irish Members were present. He objected to the whole system of valuation in Ireland. He was not averse to the Government exercising a supervision over the valuation; but considering that the present system cost about 2l. 10s. per cent, while the best private valuations only cost 5s. per cent, he thought he was fully justified in asking that the system should not be renewed without giving an opportunity for full examination into its actual working. Were they quite sure that they had grounds to stand upon now more sure than those they worked on hitherto? Had the system contained in that Bill ever been discussed in that House as yet? He thought it a cruelty to force on this measure, and would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman opposite as a far better course that he should as early as might be next Session appoint a Committee, which could have witnesses over, and thoroughly examine the system before there was any more legislation upon it. All he wanted was a fair relative valuation, but this the Bill was not likely to give. There was the grossest injustice in it as between town and country; and besides, examination, if time were allowed for it, would probably show that the system might be greatly simplified and improved.
§ SIR WILLIAM SOMERVILLE
said, the hon. Member's speech should have been delivered on the second reading. The hon. Member had appealed to right hon. Gentlemen opposite not to press the Bill at this period of the Session; but he thought it most desirable, in the present state of affairs in Ireland, that the House should at once go into Committee on the question. He had himself introduced a Bill last Session upon the subject; but 1199 many objections having been made to it he had withdrawn it, because he was anxious to give a fair consideration to those objections. The Bill which they were now discussing was to a great extent similar to that of his introduction; and seeing the condition of this question in Ireland—seeing how absolutely necessary it was to set these matters to rights there—he thought it must be a subject of regret if the House did not do something this Session. He hoped therefore that the Government would persevere, and that in a very short time the Bill would become law.
§ MR. VINCENT SCULLY
admitted that the system of valuation now in force in Ireland was almost as bad as possible. They were all, no doubt, most anxious to have a good and perfect mode of making valuations in Ireland, and therefore he should be very sorry indeed to oppose the present measure, if he entertained the belief that it justly merited the commendations which it had received from the right hon. Baronet. But even were the present Bill an improvement upon the existing system, it ought not to be hurried through its various stages at so advanced a period of the Session, and in a House which necessarily exhibited so very small an attendance of Irish Members. He had recently urged the same objection against the Crime and Outrage Bill, and he was answered by statements on the part of Government that that Bill was merely for the purpose of continuing in force a necessary measure. But there were no such excuses for now introducing and urging forward a Bill, not for continuing any existing mode of valuation, but for setting aside all former modes of valuation, and substituting an entirely new system. A mere glance at the Bill would suffice to satisfy the House that the subject was one which required the most mature deliberation. It had occupied the attention of successive Governments from a period antecedent to the time of Sir William Petty, during Cromwell's Protectorate, and Parliament had been attempting to legislate upon it for the last twenty-six years, within which period they had passed no less than six different valuation statutes, including the latest Act of 9 & 10 Vict., c. 110, which had purported to terminate all the difficulties of the question. The Bill introduced last year by the late Chief Secretary for Ireland differed wholly from that Act as well as from the present Bill. That Bill of last Session was referred to a Select Committee, which he believed had 1200 done little more than merely approve of a bad measure, and had not done its duty by inquiring fully into the whole subject. By the present Bill they were called upon, without any sufficient time for due consideration, to set aside all former modes of valuation, and to settle suddenly what had continued unsettled during so many years. There were many matters which required deliberation in connexion with the present Bill. In the first place, the great defect in the past valuations of Ireland was that which had been already so well pointed out by the hon. Member for Tipperary. The primary valuations made on the spot by professional valuators were usually completed many years afterwards by a staff of inexperienced clerks in an office in Dublin. He would not dilate upon the evil effects of that vicious practice; but until it was wholly altered, they might pass a new Valuation Bill every Session of Parliament, and the result would still remain of the same unsatisfactory character. It was now proposed that in future the value of land should be assessed according to the average prices of agricultural produce, taken in forty market towns of Ireland, as stated to have been collected from loose and conjectural entries found in some local newspapers. It was very well known that with the exception of wheat and oats in the single city of Dublin, there was never any official mode of ascertaining the average prices of any sort of produce in any town in Ireland; and it had been distinctly proved before the Devon Land Commissioners, that even in Dublin the averages were of a most unsatisfactory character, and could not be depended on at all, inasmuch as they were purely voluntary returns, and were based chiefly upon the prices of large quantities of foreign wheat and oats sold in the Dublin markets. He had upon the former discussion of this Bill pointed out the absurd character of the averages upon which its scale of prices professed to be based. He thought it undesirable to base a valuation upon the average prices of produce until after some correct mode for taking them should have been provided; and he wished now to obtain from the Government some distinct pledge that they would introduce a proper Bill for ascertaining the averages. Various comments had been made on the mode of procedure, which the present Bill proposed to adopt in assessing the value of land. It appeared to him that it would be very desirable that, independently of valu- 1201 ing land according to the average prices of produce, the valuators should also be directed to ascertain its net letting value. He thought that this would be most useful for many purposes apart from those of taxation; and amongst others it would act as some sort of check upon the accuracy of the valuations. For instance, in appealing from a valuation, suppose a person found his farm valued at 20l, a year, and that he knew quite well its fair letting value was only 15l. a year, he would possess some sort of guide to enable him to determine whether or not he ought to appeal. But under the proposed system of valuation, to be based entirely upon an arbitrary scale of prices of several articles of agricultural produce, it would be practically impossible for any person to judge for himself whether he ought to appeal, and it would be equally impracticable for his attorney or counsel to understand his grounds of appeal, or to make them intelligible to a court of quarter-sessions. His suggestion of a contemporaneous valuation, based upon the net letting value, as well as upon the prices of produce, would not involve any additional expense. In one respect he entirely approved of the principle of the present Bill, for it proposed to introduce one uniform mode of levying both poor-rates and county rates. Being anxious to affirm that principle, and hoping that the Government would cither have adopted his former suggestions or have deferred the further consideration of the Bill until a future Session of Parliament, he had voted for its second reading. They seemed, however, now resolved to cany through this Bill in its present objectionable form; and of course in the absence of the other representatives of Ireland, it was not in his individual power to offer any effective opposition. He felt that in the necessary absence of so many of his brother Members, he was forced to form one of a sort of forlorn hope, in resisting the introduction of ill-advised or immature measures. The Bill, as it then stood, provided no mode whatever for auditing the accounts and expenditure. He had already shown that the past expenditure had amounted to about 300,000l., and in the single county of Tipperary to near 30,000l. for not one shilling of which had the grand juries or the ratepayers received any sort of account or audit. In conclusion he would only repeat, that he entirely felt the futility, under present circumstances, of attempting to oppose the Bill, or to im- 1202 prove it in any material respect, and he should therefore, for his own part, content himself with simply suggesting to the Government the adoption of some minor amendments—at the same time protesting in the most emphatic terms against this annual system of crude and hurried legislation upon important Irish subjects at the close of each Session.
§ MR. F. SCULLY
, in the present state of the House, agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Cork county, that it would be perfectly unavailing to proceed further in their opposition. He would, therefore, now leave the matter in the hands of the Government, and on their shoulders let the consequences rest of imperfect legislation.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ House in Committee.
§ Clauses 1 to 46 inclusive agreed to.
§ Clause 47.
SIR DENHAM NORREYS
said, he would beg to move to add to the end of the Clause the Amendment of which he had given notice.
Page 20, line 22, at the end of the Clause to insert the words, 'and the person occupying the property so rated for County or other purposes shall be at liberty to deduct from the rent payable by him on account of the tenement whereon the rate has been levied, such proportion of the rate paid as he would have been entitled to deduct had the rate been levied for the relief of the Poor.'
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 3; Noes 81: Majority 78.
§ Clause agreed to; as were the remaining Clauses.
§ House resumed. Bill reported.