HC Deb 18 February 1861 vol 161 cc529-36

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


said, he did not intend to offer any opposition to the second reading, but as the measure was beginning to excite some attention in the country, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not propose to go into Committee for some little time, in order that an opportunity might be afforded to the country of considering the principle involved in it. If time wore given there would then be an opportunity for hon. Members to determine whether or not the better plan would be to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. Looking at the Bill as it stood, without much explanation, he must say he was afraid of the expense to be incurred in carrying out its provisions. It might be possible to work it without very much expense; but on the face of it he did not think it probable that it would be so worked. One very ominous clause gave power to the County Boards to order maps. Now, when it came to mapping a country it was difficult to say what expense you might not run to. Some of their friends in the north knew something of mapping on an extensive scale, and it might happen that some counties might think it desirable to have their villages mapped on a scale of from six inches to a foot. It might be desirable to refer the Bill to a Select Committee upstairs, but in any case he trusted the Government would allow due time for its consideration.


said, he hoped the second reading would be postponed. He did not think the House had as yet sufficient information on the measure. The principle of the Bill was to give to county magistrates the power of assessing every parish in their county. And that was to be done by means of a County Board. Before the House conferred such powers they ought at any rate to make provision for the County Board being properly constituted. To his mind, in introducing measures of the kind in question, the Government were virtually putting the cart before the horse. There was a strong feeling in the country that county and local expenditure was running on at the same pace as that of the home Government. They had, besides, a measure before the House that they ought to have time to discuss—that of the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock (Sir John Trelawny), which would give a proper machinery for governing the expenditure of counties. There were several other Bills introduced, such as the Parochial Assess- ments, the Highway Rate, and one or two others, and they wanted good machinery for administering all these Acts.


said, he was still of the same opinion as he formed on the introduction of the Bill, that the machinery would be somewhat cumbrous, costly, and rather difficult of operation. With regard to parochial assessments it was desirable that inquiry should take place with respect to the principle on which they were made, with the view of attaining something like uniformity. He believed that in parts of the country many acts were done which savoured more or less of oppression, in consequence of the manner in which the assessments were carried out. Some farms, for instance, were very moderately assessed, while the tithes of clergymen were made liable to wholly extravagant charges. He should, therefore, wish to see a change made in the system of parochial assessment. But in the counties the magistrates were enabled by the existing state of the law to carry out a very fair system of valuation; and in that case he feared that, while the Bill could do no good, it might unnecessarily entail an increase of expenditure. As it was right that parochial authorities should be well acquainted with what was meant to be done, he had intended to propose that the second reading should be deferred, and he only refrained from pressing that proposition because he advocated making progress as far as possible with Government measures at an early period of the Session; but it should be understood that if the Bill were now read a second time it would be referred to a Select Committee, after a sufficient delay to enable parties to become acquainted with the details of the measure.


said, he decidedly objected to any proposal for vesting the whole of the taxation in that case in the magistrates; and, if that were a principle indispensable to the passing of the Bill, he should decidedly oppose the measure. But he believed that it might be remodelled in that respect, and he was prepared to assent to the second reading from a hope that under its provisions Boards of Assessment on which the ratepayers would be represented might be established.


said, it was a mistake to suppose that the Bill was a Bill of taxation. It did not propose to levy any taxes on the people, but merely provided that the mode of taking the assessment on which the taxes were levied should be fixed by a board of county magistrates. The Bill was brought in in order to prevent those inequalities which arose from the present system of parochial assessment. Therefore, the dogma that taxation and representation were co-extensive had no application to the present Bill. With regard to the conversion of the financial administration by county magistrates into an administration by a representative body, that subject might come under the consideration of the House at the proper time, and, if Parliament sanctioned the proposition, the present Bill would naturally follow that system of administration; but he proposed to found himself on the existing state of things as to the administration of the affairs of counties by county magistrates. The principle of the Bill was to provide better machinery for establishing fairness and uniformity in forming parochial assessments, and beyond that principle he did not conceive that any hon. Gentleman was pledged by voting for the second reading. All the details of the machinery were matters for subsequent consideration in Committee. With that explanation, he trusted that the House would that night agree to the second reading. The Bill had been in the hands of hon. Members for more than a week, it was printed and distributed last Session, and there had been ample opportunity to judge of its provisions. At the same time, if there was any wish on the part of the House that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee for the purpose of considering the clauses, he should make no objection. If that course were adopted, it would be convenient not to postpone the Select Committee until a very distant day, because the Bill must afterwards be considered in a Committee of the whole House; and, therefore, should the Bill be read a second time now, he would fix the Committee for Monday week, and then it might be decided whether or not it should be referred to a Select Committee. If it were not so referred, he undertook to allow further time for consideration.


said, he thought the Bill a decided improvement on the measure at present in force. He wished, however, to know whether there was any reason for limiting the operation of the Bill to parochial and county rates. Uniformity of assessment was very desirable with respect to them, but it was equally desirable in assessments for poors' rates, sewers rates, improvement rates, police rates, and property tax. The assessments on which these taxes were levied were made by different jurisdictions, and were by no means uniform in their amount. The Bill was a timid measure. If they were to hare a Board of Assessment it ought to embrace all the matters on which property was liable to he rated, so as to have uniformity of quota to their respective assessments. But such boards of jurisdiction to work well ought to be co-extensive only with the unions of the various parishes. The Act was also indefinite as to who were to be the assessors, and where the boards were to meet. The Bill, however, was capable of being made a very valuable one, and he trusted the right hon. Gentleman would not deem it of less importance to introduce uniformity in the case of all other local assessments.


said, he did not rise to discuss the merits of the measure, but rather to invite the right hon. Gentleman to defer the second reading of it for some ten days. Hon. Members had not had the opportunity of ascertaining the sentiments of their constituents, who were much more capable than those who represented them of forming an opinion on the particular bearings of such a Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had told them the Bill was not one for the imposition of taxation. Well, perhaps it was not so in one sense; but was it not an assessment Bill, and did it not fix the amount of taxation levied? And then the absurdity of appealing from the decision of five magistrates to the Court of Quarter Sessions—that was to say, from magistrates to magistrates—was so manifest that the House could never adopt the provisions of the Bill. Last year the second reading of the Reform Bill was postponed for a month; and there was nothing so pressing in the present measure that a little delay might not be conceded. If the right hon. Baronet did not concede it, he should move that the Bill be read a second time that day fortnight.


said, he approved the general object of the Bill, but it contained some deficiencies in points of detail which he hoped would be corrected in subsequent stages; among them were the assessment of liberties, the manner of publishing the assessment lists, and the short time allowed to put in objections. A ratepayer might object to and appeal against successive rates; but if he did not lodge his objection to the assessment list within a fortnight, he was precluded from doing so at all. Many causes might prevent him from having any knowledge of the new assessment, and he thought the time within which objections could be made should be considerably extended.


said, that he had gathered two things from the discussion which had taken place—namely, that the Bill was one of considerable complication, and that very few Members of the House had had time fairly to examine it. As a consequence, the various constituencies throughout the country had not, as yet, had an opportunity afforded them of considering its provisions. He might add, that a very eminent authority in the town which he had the honour to represent had written to him for a copy of the Bill, stating that he was, so far as his knowledge of it went, disposed to regard it as in many respects highly objectionable; that he had complied with that request, but that he had not, as yet, had time to receive the definite opinion of the gentleman to whom he referred on the subject. Indeed, he had not himself had an opportunity of examining the measure, and the great majority of hon. Members stood, he believed, exactly in the same position—a state of things which it was not desirable should exist, when the House was asked to give its assent to a scheme which dealt with matters of a very complicated and irritating character. There was hardly any question which the House was bound to legislate upon with more care and deliberation than the one before them. He did not speak with the slightest idea of throwing any obstacle in the way of the right hon. Gentleman. All he asked for was, the adjournment of the debate for a fortnight. The House would not be taken by surprise, and there would be no hurtful delay, for it was not a Bill that would give rise to an adjourned debate. It would be accepted or rejected on the second reading. He did not quite understand whether the hon. Member for Kent (Mr. Deedes) desired that evidence should be taken before a Select Committee, or only that the Committee should have the power of considering, re-arranging, or in some respects altering the clauses if they thought necessary. Seeing that the House was almost dying by having nothing to do—Government having reduced the policy of doing nothing this Session to a system—the right hon. Gentleman might fairly adjourn the debate for a fortnight, which would certainly meet the wishes of the House far better than by pressing on a division at the present time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."


observed, that it was rather hard upon a Member of the Government to have complaints made of his not bringing forward his measures early in the Session, and then when he did so to have a cry raised for their postponement. All he asked the House upon the present occasion to do was to assent to the principle of the Bill, which was simply the introduction of greater uniformity into the system of parochial assessment, without pledging itself to any of its details. If hon. Gentlemen would assent to the adoption of that course, he would fix the Committee for Monday week, and would then be prepared, if the House were desirous that he should do so, to send the Bill to a Committee upstairs, which would not examine witnesses, but simply go through the various clauses of the measure. That Committee would have accomplished its task, in all probability, about Easter; and then the Bill would come before the House in Committee, when any hon. Gentleman might take a division upon it. Nobody could, under those circumstances, be taken by surprise; and he trusted, therefore, the House would read the Bill a second time that evening.


said, it was impossible that the hon. Members for constituencies residing in remote rural parishes could have an opportunity of considering the measure and reporting their opinions upon it to their representatives before the day fixed by the right hon. Gentleman for the Committee. It was true that Ministers had been urged to bring in their Bills early, but it was never wished that they should be pressed on in a hurried manner.


said, he was struck with the remark of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) that Ministers had this Session reduced the policy of doing nothing to a system; that might or might not be the policy of the Government. But what he strongly deprecated was, that the House should reduce the policy of doing nothing to a system. There was no dispute about the object of the Bill. The only discussion was in respect to its machinery. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State had not only given them another fortnight, during which there would surely be plenty of time for hon. Members to communicate with their constituents, but at the end of that time he was willing to send the measure to a Select Committee, so that it would not be before a Committee of the whole House for a month yet to come. Unless, therefore, the House was determined to reduce the policy of doing nothing to a system, they ought to read the Bill a second time.


said, he did not propose to take evidence before the Select Committee, which he had suggested, and, therefore, he wished to know whether the Government would definitively adopt his suggestion. No hardship would thus be inflicted, and the measure would be fully discussed.


said, that he was not aware whether the Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for Birmingham or the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone; but he should support it.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment if there was a distinct understanding that, at the end of a fortnight, the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee.


said, that he was willing to give the required assurance.

Motion by leave withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°.