HC Deb 17 February 1862 vol 165 cc413-7

said, he rose to move the second reading of the Bill, and to repeat what he had said in answer to a question early in the evening, that the immediate object which he had in view was to procure as soon as possible the reappointment of the Committee which sat to consider a Bill of the same character, which had been introduced by his right hon. Friend the Secretary for War last year, and which had not passed through the hands of the Committee before the close of the Session. They had, however, made some progress in its consideration, and had come to a resolution recommend- ing that the assessments should be made in a particular mode. His right hon. Friend had undertaken to revise the Bill in accordance with that resolution, and to bring it again before the Committee before they reported to the House. When, however, it came again before them, the Session was far advanced, and they substantially recommended their own reappointment in order that they might resume the consideration of the measure during the present Session. Acting in conformity with that recommendation, he had reintroduced the Bill, and had now simply to ask the House to read it a second time, in order that it might be referred to the Committee, which he should propose should be reappointed at once, and should, as far as possible, consist of the same Members as last year. He might add that the debate on the principle of the Bill might be taken when it returned from the Select Committee.


said, he would not, after the statement which had just been made by the right hon. Baronet, oppose the second reading of the Bill; but he was prepared to take that course only upon the distinct understanding that it should be open to him when the Bill came back to object to the principles as well as to the details of the scheme. It was a measure which affected the interests of every parish in England, and he, for one, was disposed to find fault with it, not only for what it proposed to do, but because it failed to deal with many important objects to the attainment of which he thought it ought to be directed. The most important interests in the great majority of parishes were those connected with the land occupied by railway, gas, water, and other companies, and great difficulty was experienced in rating property of that kind. The difficulty arose from the language of the Parochial Assessment Act, 6 & 7 Will. IV., and his opinion was that it would be still greater under the operation of this Bill. As to the Board of Assessment, as it was proposed to be constituted, he could only say that he could very well understand the fitness of overseers for the discharge of their duties, frequently acting in pursuance of some communications made to them by the principal inhabitants of a parish, or of a resolution of vestry; but it was not so easy to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion with respect to a Board, many of whose members would come from a distance, and who would, in order to obtain the information which they required, owing to their want of local knowledge, be obliged to incur the expense of employing surveyors to ascertain the true value of the property to be rated. In that part of the scheme he for one saw much difficulty, while so far as the right of appeal to be given from the decisions of the Assessment Committee to the Quarter Sessions was concerned, he must observe that he thought the latter a most inconvenient tribunal to decide matters of law. It was also proposed that the decision of the Board on questions of value should be final; but what would be the effect of that principle in the case of railways, where the assessment would be in the hands of persons interested in throwing as much as possible of the burden of taxation on the railways which traversed their district? He should not, however, enter at length into a discussion of the Bill, inasmuch as its principle was to come on for debate on a future occasion.


said, he did not intend to discuss the provisions of the Bill, but in the Bill of last Session a pledge was given that the Metropolis should be exempted from the operation of the Bill, and yet it contained no clause to that effect. He also thought it necessary to call attention to the remarkable change contemplated by the Bill. The rating of all property was to be brought down to one uniform permanent annual rental, the standard being that of the land. Houses were to be assessed on the annual value, landlords undertaking to keep the property in repair. That would entirely subvert the old principle of assessment, and would add 20 per cent to the rating of house property. Houses of the most fragile character would be assessed at the same rate as those held for 99 years. The measure had been introduced to make way for a Reform Bill, but it was founded on a total misapprehension as to the necessity of taking the annual value of property on the rate-book as the standard of qualification. He did not think it would answer the purpose for which it was intended, and it was worth consideration whether it was at all necessary.


said, he was sorry the Bill had made its appearance again. He did not intend, after the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, to oppose the second reading, but he could not avoid making one or two observations on the shape in which the Bill now appeared. He did not see that any ground had been laid for imposing—as the Bill would impose—on the country a fine of something like a million of money for reassessment, and if it was to be mapped, which the Bill took power to do, that would cost another million. Their pockets were not so full that they should be playing ducks and drakes with their money in that sort of fashion. When the Bill came back from the Select Committee, if it should contain that power of re-assessing parishes, he should object to it. The Bill also completely broke down parish authority. The inhabitants of every parish were the best judges whether their assessment was fair among themselves, or whether the parish should be revalued. The Bill altogether knocked that principle on the head, but he was not willing to take that power out of the hands of the respective parishes. He did not think there was any necessity for the Bill. It would be very expensive, and he should be glad to see it drop. But, as it was to go before a Select Committee, it would be time enough to deal with it when it came out of their hands.


urged that the measure was unnecessary for the purpose either of parochial or union rating, and that for political purposes it would be inoperative, since the question with regard to franchise depended on the value of the occupation, and not the mode or the amount of the rating. He could see no necessity for the Bill; if anything could be done, it would be to improve the mode of assessment provided for by the 6 & 7 Will. IV. Whether those provisions were carried out strictly in all cases was, perhaps, a question; and it was probable they were not, but it certainly seemed to him to be useless to introduce a measure which, like this, was perfectly unnecessary.


said, that as the second reading was unopposed, it was unnecessary to say much on the contents of the Bill. He had always regarded it as undoubtedly desirable to introduce a system of greater fairness and uniformity in the rating, as well between individuals as between parish and parish. As a rule, the county rate was made separate from the poor rate, but in many cases it was on the poor rate; and therefore, if in one parish the assessment for the poor rate was taken at half, and in another at a third, there was necessarily great inequality in respect to the county rate. The apprehensions expressed as to the expense which this measure would entail were as groundless as the objection that it would deprive overseers and parishes of the power which ought to belong to them. The members of the select committee to which the subject was last year referred could perhaps best explain the way in which the alteration that had been alluded to in the principle of rating had been made. The other objection as to the sessions not being a proper tribunal, he thought was groundless, because they all knew that the sessions had the power to grant a case for the opinion of the Court of Queen's Bench. The other objections were to mere matters of detail. The object of the Government had simply been to replace that committee in the same position in regard to this matter as they occupied at the end of last Session. As to any pledge from the Government that the measure should not apply to the metropolis, perhaps the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) was in as good a situation as he was last year for imposing such a pledge upon them.


said, that as a Member of the Select Committee to which allusion had been made, he could state that, as far as his own knowledge of its proceedings extended, the Committee were not responsible for the alteration in the principle of rating which had been made by the Bill.

Bill read 2o, and committed to a Select Committee.

House adjourned at a Quarter to Nine o'clock.