§ MR. ALDERMAN SALOMONS
said, he rose to call attention to the exemption from Local Taxation now claimed on account of property in the occupation o Government Departments; and to move that all Lands and Buildings used and occupied for Public purposes should be assessed to Local Rates, and pay Rates accordingly. The question was one which affected not only his own constituents, but more or less every district throughout the kingdom. Exemption from local rating was claimed for all premises in the occupation of Government for public purposes, but he was at a loss to understand why they should be relieved of their fair share of the local burdens. The local taxation of the United Kingdom amounted to about 480 £18,000,000 sterling—a sum rather under the annual revenue of Spain, but about equal to that of Prussia, and superior to that of several of the States of Europe. These burdens ought to be equally distributed, but in every town, they found a building occupied by the Post Office or some other Government establishments, for which, although occupying excellent situations and sharing in all the advantages of well-directed local management, the Government claimed the privilege of not contributing anything towards the necessary local expenses, which in England and Wales alone amounted to £14,500,000. Petitions had been presented from various parts of the country complaining of this grievance, and showed that it was not a question merely of limited but of general importance. In 1858 a Committee, moved for by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, sat to inquire into the question which he brought forward. It was presided over by the eminent, and much to be regretted statesman, Sir George Lewis; and the Report which was drawn up stated that, in the opinion of the Committee, all Government buildings, whether occupied for public purposes or not, ought to be liable to rates. The exemption was claimed on the plea that the occupation of such buildings was not a beneficial occupation—the term beneficial meaning an occupation from which the occupiers derived a profit—and yet the smallest national school in the kingdom, where the children paid their pence, could not claim exemption upon a similar pretext. He considered that whore a building was used as a Post Office, where stamps were sold, and money orders issued at a profit, where money on deposit was received, in competition with Friendly Societies, and where soon, probably, a competition would be carried on with Insurance Offices, by granting annuities, such building was really to all intents and purposes beneficially occupied. Union houses, which above all others should be exempt, were liable to rate, as being considered in law beneficially occupied; and he saw no reason why public establishments should not also be rated. The most recent case which he might instance was tried at Birmingham in 1856 or 1857, for the purpose of showing how great was the difficulty in defining a beneficial occupation. Two houses were taken for the Post Office of that town, and were rated by the parish. The rating 481 was resisted and the case carried to the Court of Queen's Bench on appeal, and it was then argued before the full Court, and maintained that the Post Office authorities in the course of their duties were engaged in competition with private individuals and public companies, and were therefore rateable. They were, to all intents and purposes, deriving profit from their occupation. The rating was overruled, and the appeal dismissed, but Lord Campbell said—I certainly should be well pleased if it were made part of the general law that, whenever property subject to rates is taken for a public purpose, it should remain subject to the same burden while it is applied to those public purposes. I think this would be but equitable; for the existing law is very hard upon the occupiers of the rest of the parish, upon whom an increased burden is thrown. But, as the law now stands, if property is in the occupation of the servants of the Crown for public purposes, it is exempt from rates. It is wholly immaterial whether it be part of the hereditary property of the Crown, or be obtained for this purpose, having before been in the occupation of a subject.Justice Erle said—I also am of opinion that land occupied by the servants of the Crown, exclusively for the performance of a public duty, is not rateable. I agree in thinking that it would be just in future to make such land rateable, on some equitable principle; but it is the province of the Legislature to alter the law; it is our province to declare the law as it is; and under the existing law such property is exempt.Justice Crompton said—I am clearly of opinion that this property is within the rule which exempts from rates property occupied for public purposes. It is said this rule works hardship on the rest of the parish; and this may be, although the Legislature do not seem as yet to be of that opinion. In early canal acts there often was a provision that property occupied for the canal should he rateable, but at the same rate as if occupied as before. Without some such qualification, it might be injurious to make property, taken for the Crown, rateable in the occupation of its servants.To show how the existing law acted upon the metropolis, he could not point to a stronger case than that which had recently occurred with regard to Portman Street Barracks, from which the Guards had just removed. While the Guards remained there the property was not subject to rate, but now that the barracks were removed to Chelsea, a large area in Marylebone parish would become available for building purposes and be subject to rates. In Chelsea, however, the land occupied by the new barracks went out of rating, and thus 482 Marylebone adds to its rate and Chelsea loses. A similar case was likely soon to arise on the removal of Knightsbridge Barracks, and it was impossible for any one to approve a system of that kind. Shortly after the meeting of the present Parliament, the then Home Secretary, Sir George Lewis, announced that the Government would propose a Vote in the Civil Estimates for the purpose of meeting some of the local charges from which property occupied for public purposes was exempt. That pledge was fulfilled, but he must say that the dissatisfaction created by the way in which the money voted was distributed, had really almost made the outcry greater than before. It had been contended that various localities derived great benefit from the Government establishments situated in them; but with regard to Deptford, which had had a dockyard for 150 years, no place had a greater appearance of impoverishment than the locality where that dockyard was situate, which was a small parish of about eighty acres, upwards of forty of which were occupied by the dockyard itself. For years the Government property had never contributed to the poor rate, though a large number of labourers were employed there at low weekly wages, and a great many poor were being constantly supported by the parish. It was proved before the Committee upstairs, that in the parish where the dockyard was situated, 10s. in the pound was the amount of the poor rate, and 2s. the amount of the other local rates; and not one single sixpence had been contributed to the local rates for 150 years by the Government for occupying the dockyard for public purposes. Such was the benefit which Deptford had derived from the occupation by the Government for so many years of all the best waterside portion of the district. The Government had for years escaped all contribution to the rates for local improvements, to which all the other holders of property had contributed. The consequence was, that the rates so swelled the rents that many of the smaller houses were shut up, and many of the men employed in the dockyard had to reside and had to buy their provisions out of the parish. In recent years there had been a great increase in the local rates throughout the country, though not in the poor rate, nor, he was happy to say, in the number of the poor. There was nothing so remarkable as the fact established by 483 statistical accounts that, while the pauper class throughout the country amounted in 1841 to upwards of 1,000,000, the number of persons receiving in and outdoor relief in 1859–60 had diminished to between 800,000 and 900,000. Yet, though the number of paupers had diminished, the improved condition of the workhouses, the adoption of sanitary measures, of better drainage and sewerage, had a tendency to increase the rates, while the aid offered by the Government—under the arrangement by which they gave some modified assistance to the poor rate on account of property occupied by public establishments—consisted of a most miserable sum. The Government had for a couple of years, in certain cases, contributed to the poor rates, but at the end of that time they reduced their subscriptions very considerably, on the ground that the rates included charges for other objects than the relief of the poor, which they could not recognize. They maintained that they ought not to pay a share of any expenses except those which were strictly for the relief of the poor. He wished the House to observe the extraordinary increase in the county rate levy of the kingdom within the last fifty or sixty years, not for the use of the poor, but owing to the increasing multiplication of county charges for police, lunatic asylums, gaol improvements, and other purposes unconnected with poor relief, but which are collected through the poor rate. In 1792, the year of the first authentic Return, the amount of the county rate was £218,185; in 1800, £292,280; in 1810, £436,447; in 1820, £698,868; in 1830, £708,007; in 1834, £691,548; in 1841, £1,091,427; in 1851, £1,563,949; and in 1862, £2,218,207. No doubt a large proportion of the increase arose from the police rate and the improvement in gaols: these charges were included in the poor rate, and under these circumstances it was very hard upon the local ratepayers that the Government should refuse to bear their fair share of taxation on account of the buildings which they occupied for public purposes. It was not just that one part of the country should have to pay for another; but that was the result of the present system. The whole liability should be distributed equally over the country. He had taken the trouble to write to Paris to inquire into the mode in which these things were managed there. The largest part of the revenue of Paris was derived from the Octroi, but the Go- 484 vernment of France had an arrangement with the municipality at Paris, by which it paid one lump sum as the contribution of the Government towards paving and other local charges. Now, Gentlemen frequently argued in that House that London ought to pay for its own improvements, and that the Consolidated Fund should not pay anything. That was exactly what he contended. He fully admitted the justice of the demand that the other towns and cities should not be called on to contribute to the improvements of London. On the other hand, however, Liverpool, Dublin, Manchester, &c., ought not to be relieved from any taxation at the expense of the metropolis, which was indirectly the effect of exempting Government property from rates. There was one other point to which he would call attention, and that was, that the Government fixed upon the best localities for their establishments. No doubt many had noticed that all the small steamers crowded together at London Bridge; but the reason for that was, that just below was the Custom House with its long quay, where steamers were not allowed to stay, and below that again was the Tower; so that practically there was no place for the steamers between a short distance below London Bridge and the Docks. But the Government, however, contributed nothing to the rates when occupying these valuable sites. He might draw the attention of the House to other instances of the same kind, but he trusted he had already made out a case which warranted him in having brought the question before them, and which would induce them to agree to the Motion. The hon. Member concluded by moving in the terms of his Notice.
§ MR. MORRISON
, in seconding the Motion, said, his constituency was much interested in the subject, because although in some places the Government had paid a share of the poor rates, they had refused to give even that relief to Plymouth. The case of his constituents might be briefly stated. The Committee which sat in 1858 declared that the ordinary principle of rating for Poor Law purposes was not applicable to Government establishments, because it was impossible to say what a fort or a dockyard might let for, and they recommended the appointment of arbitrators. In 1859 Mr. Wilson, then Secretary of the Treasury, put himself in communication with the authorities of Plymouth, and eventually surveyors 485 were instructed to value the Government establishments. The valuation was approved by both parties, and the Government paid its quota of a rate of 1s. 6d. in the pound, levied in the autumn of 1860. In the following June another rate was laid, and an application was made to the Treasury for its contribution. The Treasury not only did not send the money, but did not even acknowledge the receipt of the letter. In the following November a further rate was levied upon the town, and an application was made to the Treasury; and again no notice was taken of the application. At last, in the autumn of that year, a letter was received by the guardians stating that it was not considered advisable to continue the contribution to the parish rates, inasmuch as the Government property bore so small a proportion to the entire property of the parish. In 1862 he (Mr. Morrison) and his Colleague had an interview with Mr. Hamilton, of the Treasury, upon the subject. The only explanation they could obtain of the singular discontinuance of the Government contribution after an arrangement specially made was, that as the money came out of the annual Vote passed by that House, the Treasury were not bound by the arrangement for more than one year. His constituents felt strongly upon the question, not because of the amount involved, but because they felt that they had been put in a different category from other parishes. As to the argument that the Government establishments were beneficial to the localities, he thought it was fair to say that they consisted in Plymouth of marine barracks, which were occupied by soldiers, whose pay was very small. If the same land were occupied by ordinary buildings it would contribute a much larger sum to the poor rates. Then the very uncertain position in which soldiers were placed, their liability to be suddenly sent on foreign service, involved the necessity of a large increase to the poor rates, because their wives and children very often became chargeable upon the rates. In a garrison town there were many other evils which it was not necessary to specify, and which tended directly, and indirectly, to increase the rates. He thought they were entitled to claim some contribution from the Government towards the rates. The Government enjoyed the benefit of the roads, gaslight, paving, and so on, and caused a large increase in the police rates 486 by necessitating the maintenance of a large police force in garrison towns; and they ought therefore to make some contribution towards these expenses.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, all Lands and Buildings used and occupied for Public purposes should be assessed to Local Rates, and pay Rates accordingly."—(Mr. Alderman Salomons.)
§ MR. THOMSON HANKEY
said, he differed entirely from the recommendation of the Committee which had been referred to. He considered that it was not a wise determination, and that it would entail upon the country a large and unnecessary expenditure. These buildings were for the public convenience, and were useful to the localities where they were placed. As to the argument about the land being covered by other buildings, he doubted if there were no Government establishments whether the land would be covered at all. He thought it would be a great waste of public money to tax buildings which were for the general convenience, and he hoped the Government would not assent to the Motion.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, that the Government, at all events, could not use the argument urged against this proposal by the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken, because they had conceded the principle at issue. He did not wish to enter into first principles, or to discuss the question whether property ought to be liable to rates in proportion to its being beneficially occupied or not; but he took his stand on the Report of the Select Committee of 1858, which was presided over by the lamented Sir George Lewis. When this Parliament met in the summer of 1859, the question was put whether the Ministry proposed to introduce a Bill to render Government property subject to rates, and Sir George Lewis answered that he hoped to carry out an arrangement for giving some of the principal parishes concerned, some compensation for the nonpayment of rates on the Government property situated in them. He had himself drawn attention to the position of the town of Aldershot, and asked whether it was not as fully entitled to participate in the grant on that account as any other place. Sir George Lewis treated the question as a large and general one, and distinctly admitted the principle that the Government inflicted an injustice by occupying property of that description with- 487 out paying rates on it. In the case of the parish of Alverstoke an enormous additional burden had been thrown upon the ratepayers by the Government establishments there. The Government had accordingly submitted in the year 1861 to an assessment of £10,800, and had paid rates upon that amount including county and police rates. In the year 1862, however, a change of policy seemed to have taken place at the Treasury and the Alverstoke ratepayers were told, not only that no more contributions would be made towards county and police rates but that the year's rate already paid on those accounts must be refunded. How the ratepayers there had got out of their difficulty with the Government he did not know; but certainly the county had not repaid the money which they had rightfully received. No principle had, as far as he was aware, been laid down by the Government as to what parishes should receive the State contribution and what should not; nor did he know that in the matter any distinction in principle had ever been established in that House between poor rate, county rate, police rate, and other local rates. Certainly, he could see no distinction in principle between them. He could understand the Government refusing any contribution at all, because the law supported them in it; but, having once admitted the principle to which he had referred, they ought to apply it fairly and equally, and thereby relieve the ratepayers from the uncertainty in which they were placed.
§ MR. WYKEHAM-MARTIN
said, he would put it to the hon. Member for Peterborough, who spoke of the national and general objects served by the Government establishments, whether it was fair that the cost of those objects should be defrayed out of the pockets of individual parishes. As to the benefit which those establishments conferred on their immediate neighbourhood, he could state that it was greatly over estimated. The truth was, that in the district which he represented there was property which the Government would themselves neither beneficially occupy nor let others do it. They kept a bare common for strategical purposes. There was but one public institution in the parish, the Military Lunatic Asylum, and that was a burden to the neighbourhood. Within his recollection it was the practice that so long as a soldier was in sound health in the bar- 488 racks of Chatham their Chatham neighbours got the benefit of him; but the moment he became hopelessly insane he was removed from Chatham parish to the unfortunate parish of St. Margaret, Rochester, and at ten o'clock at night turned loose into the street, with a notice sent to the proper authorities to catch him and keep him until his settlement was ascertained. The only other public building was a large convict establishment. He thought that so far from, these places being a benefit to the locality they were a positive curse.
said, the House had been told that the Government could not contend for the fullest assertion of the right of public property to be exempt from local rates, because they had for several years past obtained an annual Vote for making contributions to certain parishes in respect to the Government property situated in them. Now, there were circumstances in the present day, in his opinion, which, though they did not raise the question as to the propriety of the exemption of public property from local rating, yet justified the Government in making exceptions to the application of that principle. There was no doubt that the Government property was now more extensive than it used to be; and, on the other hand, the local rates had very considerably increased. Local undertakings and drainage works were conducted on a much larger and more expensive scale than formerly, and the ratepayers felt more severely any contraction of the area of rating. But because the principle of exemption should be suspended in certain cases he did not think they ought to go to the other extreme, and say that all public property should pay rates, just as if it were private property. It would be quite as unreasonable and unfair that public property should be rated in every case, as that it should be exempt in every case. If it was right that public property should pay rates, the rule should be subject to great exceptions, that would go far to neutralize the purpose which his hon. Friend had in view. He did not think, for instance, that property then in possession of the Government ought to be liable to rates. It should be remembered that occupiers were by no means a fixed body. Premises did not usually remain in the same hands for a long time, and where property for a considerable period had been exempt from rates it was quite evident that in such a place leases were made and 489 sales of land took place, full allowance being made for the fact that rates were levied on a much less area than the parish itself. Therefore, it would be improper that a large sum of money should be paid at the expense of the taxpayers of the country to the existing owners of property and ratepayers of the parish. Taking the case of Chelsea, could it be doubted that in that parish property was purchased and held on the full understanding that the Royal hospital and asylum were not to be rated? To discontinue the present exemption, therefore, would be to make a present of the rates to the existing owners. The great exception which he would make was this, that if any property acquired by Government was to be rated, it should be assessed only according to its value when it was so acquired, and not according to the increased value which it might receive from any additional outlay on the part of the Government. The parish in which Netley Hospital was situated was assessed at £7,000. A few years ago the Government bought 130 acres of land there, which, for purposes of assessment, was worth £150 a year, and on that property they had built a hospital which cost £355,000. Now, if they were to pay on the value of the property as it had been improved by that great outlay, they would pay not in the proportion of £150 to £7,000, but actually two-thirds of the rates of the parish. So, again, at Shoeburyness, the land occupied by Government was about one-third of the parish, which was an agricultural one, and the outside it ought to demand from the Government was that they should pay one-third of the rates. The Government had expended on buildings in that parish upwards of £100,000, and if they were to pay rates as on private property they would pay not one-third, but five-sixths. And so in the case of Alverstoke, in which the Government had built three forts at an expense of about £100,000 each, which caused no addition to the pauperism of the parish. The plan upon which the Government proceeded in the application of the Parliamentary grant was this:—They recognized two classes of cases. The first was where parishes made application in respect of the large extent of Government property within them. There were cases where the Government had also manufacturing establishments, which brought a large resident population into the neighbourhood. It was conceded that in such cases the Govern- 490 ment establishments would probably add largely to the charge for the relief of the poor, and that being very extensive, they shared in the benefits derived from the expenditure of the parish for various purposes, such as paving, lighting, &c. In these cases they had agreed to contribute, and, as it was necessary to draw the line somewhere, they had, with the concurrence of the late Sir George Lewis, who was Chairman of the Committee to which the hon. Gentleman had referred, agreed that where the value of the Government property was one-eighth of the value of the rateable property of the parish they would make a contribution, and they measured the extent of their contribution by the value of the property combined with the expenditure of the parish upon the relief of the poor. With respect to Deptford and Rochester, they found that other parishes in the country made application to the Government for contributions out of the annual grant, on the ground that they had a similar amount of property to Deptford and Rochester. On inquiry, it was found that Deptford and Rochester fell far below the proportion of one-sixth, and they were, therefore, no longer to receive assistance from the grant. The other class of cases was where the Government had purchased land which had formerly paid rates. In such cases, they were willing to proceed on the principle of indemnifying parishes against actual loss. In the case of Chelsea, for example, the Government, in order to build a barrack, purchased twelve acres of land which formerly contributed to the rates of the parish. While, then, the Government did not think that the parish had any claim upon them on account of Chelsea Asylum or Hospital, they did admit its claim in respect of the twelve acres according to the provisions of the recent Defence Act. In the Defence Act and other Acts it was provided that property purchased by Government should continue to pay the same rates as were paid before the Government bought it, but no more. He would ask the House also to look to the liability to undue charges the Government would be under supposing their property was made liable to be trade. In the Government buildings in most cases there would be no occupier, no person who would have any interest in checking the assessment made by the parish; and it should be borne in mind that the Government would have no voice in the expenditure of the money. 491 It was unreasonable that the Government should be rated like a private person. A private person went into a parish because he saw it was his interest to do so, but the Government went there for public purposes only. It would not be right, therefore, that the ratepayers of the parish should make any profit out of the accidental presence of a public establishment; it was quite sufficient if they were indemnified against actual loss. It had been said that if the Government buildings were removed they would make room for private ones, and these latter would be rateable. But it should be remembered that if such buildings increased the rateable value of the parish, they would in all, probability, increase likewise its chargeability. The hon. Member in his Resolution alluded to the exemption from local taxation now "claimed" on account of Government property, as if the claim of the Government were doubtful, whereas nothing could be clearer than that the Government had a legal foundation for the exemption. It was not an exemption conferred by statute, but because the property of the Government was not a beneficial occupation, and did not, therefore, fulfil the conditions that made it the subject of rating. The latter part of the hon. Member's Resolution did not go the full length of the recommendation of the Committee, for he only wished that Government land, &c., should be assessed to local rates, and "pay rates accordingly." The Committee, on the other hand, recommended that all land and building held by corporations, charities, and trustees for any purposes whatever, should be deprived of the immunity such property enjoyed from the absence of what was called beneficial occupation. He must, however, remind the House that a Bill had recently been brought in to give effect to that principle, but that it had met with so much opposition that it did not proceed to a second reading. The late Sir George Lewis was thereupon of opinion that the plan then pursued ought to be adopted. It was an experimental plan, and might, in some points, profitably undergo revision. In some cases it might be found to be hard upon the taxpayers, while in others parishes received larger sums than could be justified if the matter were looked into. He scarcely thought, however, it would be right at that time to agree to a Motion that all the land and buildings in the occupation of the Government should pay rates accordingly.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, he thought that a powerful case had been made out for the Motion. In 1858 he had moved for a Committee on the same subject, which was granted, and the Government had stated their intention of adhering to the principle contained in the Report of that Committee. When the right hon. Member for Wiltshire brought in the Bill which had been referred to, the reason why it was not pressed to a second reading was not so much on account of the opposition to the proposal as from an understanding that the Government intended fairly to apply and carry out the recommendations of the Committee. The recommendations of the Committee included all rates, but the Government had substituted an arbitrary assessment, of which they themselves calculated the terms, and that was the substitute for the larger measure recommended by the Report. There. were two classes of Government property—forts, hospitals, &c., which did not create a pauper population, and docks and barracks, which not only created a pauper population, but polluted and deteriorated a locality by cases of bastardy, disease, and poverty. Such establishments often threw very heavy rates on the population not of the parish in which the Government property was situate, but of the contiguous parish. On the other hand, the Government, by attempting the functions of manufacturers, deprived the localities of the rates those parishes would receive if the work of the dockyards was carried on by private individuals. If the Government were to lease Portsmouth dockyard to private contractors to build ships for Her Majesty's service, the whole of the extensive property would be rated to the relief of the poor; but, under the present system, the Government, although they had a beneficial interest in these buildings as manufacturers, threw the bulk of the rates on the inhabitants of the localities. He could not see, therefore, why the Government should refuse to take their share of the local burdens upon them. The system which had lately been introduced of periodically discharging men from the dockyards and re-entering them, was one that loosened the ties which had formerly existed between the Government and their employés, and it appeared to have been adopted for the very purpose of enabling the Admiralty to repudiate any claims for superannuation allowance that might be made upon them. Only the other day a 493 well-conducted man who had been seven teen years in the Portsmouth dockyard, but who was club-footed and deformed, had been dismissed, owing to the particular nature of the occupation. This man had come to him and said, "I have a wife and six children, and have been discharged at a week's notice. What is to become of me?" He inquired into the case, found him a deserving man, whose health had been injured, and who with his family would probably become a burden on the parish of Portsea. Considering that the Resolution of his hon. Friend (Mr. Alderman Salomons) did not ask for more than common justice demanded, he should give it his support.
§ MR. LOCKE
said, that he also had been a Member of the Select Committee of 1858, and he had heard no argument to induce him to alter the opinion to which he had then given expression, that all public property should be included in the general rating. He would ask what was the popular meaning of the words "beneficial occupation," and whether there was any occupation that was not for some one's benefit. A Government dockyard, for example, was occupied for the benefit of the public at large, and a hospital for the benefit of its inmates, and was that particular locality in which these institutions were situated justly called upon to pay a larger proportion towards the rates than other portions of the community? It was proved over and over again before the Committee, that it was no benefit to parishes, but rather detrimental to them, that they contained Government establishments. The same ground, if occupied by private establishments, would pay rates, and why should there be one rule for the Government and another for the public at large? When the Committee was moved for in 1858, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, who was then Secretary for the Home Department, had agreed with him that the principle of rating should be extended to all public buildings whatever, and had upon his suggestion enlarged the reference to the Committee, so as to include public buildings of every description, whether belonging to the Government, or to any institutions, charitable or otherwise; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wilts, in accordance with the Report of the Committee, brought in a Bill the principle of which was clear and plain, that all property whatever of a public description should be rated to the relief of the poor and other burdens. He 494 felt confident that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, considering the line he took last year with reference to the taxation of public charities, would be the last man to say that the principle adopted by the Committee should not be carried out. He sincerely hoped the words of the Committee's Report would be taken in their clear and full meaning. Why should they not legislate on the broad principle? Where could be the inconvenience? He saw no reason why the Court of Quarter Sessions, which had to adjudicate on the rights of private persons, should not also be able to adjudicate on the rights of the Government. It was not the amount of money which had been laid out, but what a property would let for, that was the rule of assessment; and objections had often been raised in consequence of the very small rate which was levied on the owners of large mansions; but the answer always was, that if they were to be let, the rent offered would be comparatively small, and upon the rent which they would let for, the sum at which they were to be rated must be assessed under 6 & 7 Will. IV. c. 96, upon the net annual value, that is to say, of the rents at which the premises might reasonably be expected to let from year to year with certain deductions mentioned in the Act. The Government could not, then, be the losers, even if they had expended large sums on their establishments.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he had understood that it was not the intention of his hon. Friend to take the sense of the House, but having heard within the last few minutes that such was his intention, he was reluctantly obliged to call attention to the precise question upon which they were about to divide. It appeared that by his Motion, in the mind of the hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth, and others, the hon. Member was about to give effect to the recommendation of the Committee of 1858, which recommendation was supported by the high authority of Sir George Lewis, though Sir George Lewis afterwards somewhat modified his views. But nothing could be more different than the proposition of the Committee of 1858 from the Motion of his hon. Friend. His hon. Friend who last spoke was somewhat inconsistently about to support the Motion, having himself indicated the principle on which they ought to proceed. He said, let there be no exceptions—let them carry out the principle that everything was of value. That principle was good for 495 churches, Dissenting chapels, and buildings for any other purpose. That was the ground on which his hon. Friend the Member for Southwark proceeded. Let it be understood in its full breadth by those who were prepared to accept the principle. His hon. Friend's argument was, there could be no difficulty; they had a perfect test of value, and everything ought to be rated alike. His hon. Friend appealed to him in complimentary terms, and said he was sure, having recommended the taxation of charities, he would be the last to flinch from the application of this principle. Did his hon. Friend think the reception his proposal for the taxation of charities met on the other side, and from many Gentlemen of very popular principles sitting on that (the Ministerial) side, was such as to induce the House, on a very complicated matter, and with its eyes but partially opened, to commit itself at once to the principle laid down by his hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich? His hon. Friend the Member for Southwark drew no distinction between matters sacred and profane—Trojan and Tyrian were alike to him—ecclesiastical, municipal, or charitable—he would treat all alike. But what did his hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich say? He knew very well if he came to attack municipal bodies, instead of being surrounded by a number of Gentlemen who represented docks and yards, and who very naturally came forward to support the claims of their constituents, he would have been confronted by a phalanx of a very different kind, and he shrunk from making a proposal that, on the ground of justice, all these buildings should be rated. But it was a very easy thing to make claims on the part of particular parishes against the Treasury, and, selecting buildings belonging to the State, he claimed that they should be rated. He believed that a hospital for dogs had been created in the metropolis. Was that in the eye of the law a charitable establishment not to be rated, while a building belonging to the State, which had been exempted from time immemorial by the common law of England, was to be brought within the reach of his proposition? He invited the House to say that "all lands and buildings used and occupied for public purposes should be assessed to local rates, and pay rates accordingly." He understood his hon. Friend by "public purposes" to mean State purposes. How, 496 then, did they stand in relation to this matter? It was a subject which must be thoroughly and fairly scanned; but it was one of extreme complication. The difficulty of letable value, his hon. Friend would not deny, although slight in principle, was serious in practice. It was very serious in practice even with regard to mansions of noblemen and gentlemen throughout the country; but it would be infinitely more serious in practice when it came to be applied to St. Paul's, to the Abbey at Westminster, to the Tabernacle of Mr. Spurgeon, and all the endless variety of other buildings which might be drawn in; or, excluding them, to the Museum, the Houses of Parliament, and other buildings, which it was hardly possible to describe. He invited them to commit themselves without qualification or exception to this abstract principle. His hon. Friend took only one part of the Resolution of the Committee, entirely drawn and severed from and losing all relation to the rest, and what would be the case under it? They would find a parish in the country where, perhaps, one half of the area and one half of the buildings were Government property—and had been so for 100, 200, or 300 years—where every proprietor holding land or houses in the parish had taken his property subject to that condition of things, where there had been no change in the area occupied by the Government, and where, therefore, the rates payable by the portion of the parish not belonging to the Government were perfectly well known to those who paid them, and where it was understood from time immemorial that the burden of the rates should fall only on that part of the parish. His hon. Friend asked the House to pledge itself by an abstract Resolution that property which was now and had been for hundreds of years in the hands of the Government should be thrown into rating. The effect would be to endow the ratepayers of that parish with a large sum out of the pockets of the tax-payers of the country. [''No, no!"] He would prove it in spite of the emphatic negative. The hon. and gallant Baronet opposite (Sir James Elphinstone) had quoted the position of the dockyards at Portsmouth, and had said that if the dockyards were not there the land would be occupied by private persons, and would be assessed to the poor.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
explained that what he said was, assuming for the 497 sake of argument that the Government were to let those premises at Portsmouth to contractors to do the business which was at present done there, those premises, which now paid a very partial rate, would then come fully and entirely upon the rates of the parish.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the fact that there was a dockyard in Portsmouth at all was entirely due to the action of the Government, but for which the work now performed there would have been carried on at Liverpool or upon the Clyde. In the case which he had taken for convenience, of a parish where half the property was Government property, he contended that to throw the Government property into rating was simply to relieve the rest of the parish of a certain charge which had been placed upon it from time immemorial, and that was what he called the endowment of the ratepayers of that particular parish out of the pockets of the ratepayers of the country. That would be the consequence of adopting a Motion in the terms of that to which they were now asked to accede. He did not wish to lay down any rigid rule upon the subject, because bethought time should be allowed to the House to see their way through the difficulties with which it was surrounded. Some progress had already been made in that direction. In the case of the barracks at Chelsea and various other cases, the Treasury had given its sanction to a principle which he considered a very fair one, that the parish should be no loser by throwing land into Government occupation, but that the assessment should continue the same as before. The Government were at present engaged in working out that difficult question, and endeavouring to frame just, fair, and equitable rules with regard to it. It was a very serious matter which would have to be considered, whether they should make a proposal involving buildings other than Government buildings to the House. He was prepared to admit that he did not think the present system satisfactory. He could not, however, agree with those who said that the House had committed itself to any line of action upon the subject. The House had done nothing except byway of annual Vote, for the express purpose of reserving the matter, and keeping it in its own hands. But when the Government had arrived at clear views, and had solved the difficulties of the case in the most practical manner they were able, it would be proper to apply 498 a legislative remedy. The old practice rested upon the law, and alterations in that practice ought to receive a form equally permanent. Nothing could be more absurd than, on account of an abstract principle, to throw upon the taxpayers of the country generally the burden of sustaining out of their pockets charges which had theretofore been borne by certain portions of the property in particular places, and which had so continued, without change, for a long period of time. It was only yesterday that they were arguing a question of an exactly opposite character, and he was so far glad that his hon. Friend had improved upon that discussion. the proposal then was to spend £1,500,000 of postal revenue derived chiefly from populous districts, to provide accommodation for rural districts; in the present case his hon. Friend reversed the principle, proposing, however, to act upon a reduced scale. But he contended that his hon. Friend's proposal was simply in effect to throw upon rural parishes and those which had not Government establishments a new and gratuitous burden for the purpose of bestowing a gratuitous relief not founded in justice upon those parishes in which there were Government buildings. Although his hon. Friend had announced his intention of dividing, he did not think he could seriously desire to establish by such means a new and perfectly gratuitous burden. If he believed that State buildings ought to be taxed, and that municipal and charitable buildings ought not, let him say so boldly, and bring in a Bill giving effect to his views. They would then see the modus operandi, and how the hon. Member addressed himself to all the practical questions which would arise. The question was one which could only be settled by patient and careful examination in detail, and he trusted the House would not commit itself to a proceeding so precipitate and so questionable in point of principle as that involved in the Motion of his hon. Friend.
§ SIR FRANCIS BARING
said, he would suggest to his hon. Friend that, after the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, it might, not be advisable to divide. He did not agree with all the charges which had been made — sometimes seriously, and sometimes in jest—against the Administration of the day; on the contrary, he thought both Governments had behaved with remarkable good faith towards the naval ports. He advised the hon. Member 499 to be very careful how he accepted the invitation of the right hon. Gentleman to bring in a Bill; and, above all, how he mixed up the question of charities with that of dockyards; otherwise, by raising the feeling of the country, he might rather imperil than improve the position at present held by the naval ports. He had the benefit of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's admission that the present state of things was not satisfactory, and with that admission it would be much better to leave the task of finding a suitable remedy on the shoulders of the right hon. Gentleman than to take it upon his own.
§ MR. DUTTON
said that, however much certain parishes like those of London might be benefited by the existence within them of Government buildings, that argument did not apply to a great many small parishes in the country. He knew of a parish near Aldershot where large barracks and a lunatic asylum had been erected, and where, consequently, the rates pressed with undue severity on the parishioners.
§ MR. BONHAM-CARTER
said, he should regret if a Vote were agreed to in a thin House, with the prospect of having it reversed afterwards in a full House; though he quite agreed with the principle that public buildings of a certain class should be liable to local taxation. He, however, thought, after what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that it would not be wise to press the Motion to a division.
§ MR. ANGERSTEIN
said, the Resolution of his hon. Colleague only applied to public buildings occupied by the Government, and did not refer at all to buildings used for charitable or sacred purposes. It was left to the right hon. Gentleman to deal with that larger subject, if he were so disposed. The right hon. Gentleman had dwelt upon the fact that much of the Government property had been used for public purposes for long periods, and therefore ought not, after a lapse of years, to be suddenly called upon to bear the local burdens. But, although Deptford dockyard had been long established, it had been enlarged from time to time. The same could be said in stronger terms of Woolwich dockyard and arsenal. In consequence of the Government establishments, the population of the parish of Plumstead had increased within the last ten years from 8,000 to 26,000. Last year 4,000 workmen had been discharged from the Government establishments at 500 Woolwich, and it was not just to leave the burden of distress thus caused to be borne wholly by the ratepayers of the parishes. He hoped the subject would receive the favourable consideration of the Government; and, if such a pledge were given, no doubt his hon. Friend would withdraw the Motion.
§ MR. ALDERMAN SALOMONS
, in reply, expressed his disappointment at the speech of the Secretary to the Treasury, who had been misinformed upon some points. There was, he believed, no instance in which the Government had made any contribution in respect of any other charge but that for the relief of the poor. With respect to what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would only observe, that churches and chapels were exempted by the statute from local taxation. He was in the hands of the House, and if it was their wish that he should not press his Motion to a division, he would be willing to withdraw it.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 30; Noes 52: Majority 22.