HC Deb 10 April 1867 vol 186 cc1417-31

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now ead the second time, said, that since he had introduced the measure a great many petitions had been presented in its favour, and there was a very general desire that it should pass into law. The Bill proposed to assess to local rates all mines and plantations in the same manner that coal mines were now rated. The Courts of Law having held that mines other than coal mines were not liable to be rated, a vast amount of mining property escaped assessment, though they were worked by shafts and drivings in precisely similar manner. The annual value of mining property not subject to rates in 1853 was £4,744,000, and during the last eleven years the value had increased in a greater ratio than that of land, iron works, or fisheries, though in a less ratio than three other descriptions of property—namely, railways, quarries, and gas works. In 1864 the annual value of mining property had increased by £1,934,000 over the value in 1853. The exemption from rating enjoyed by mines other than coal mines tended to throw great burdens on persons neither directly nor indirectly interested in mining property. For instance, in Ulverstone the annual value of mining property that escaped rating was £50,000, and was all in the hands of rich proprietors. The mines which created the greatest burdens by the number of disabled miners they made, and the roads they cut up with their heavy traffic, were wholly exempt either from poor or highway rate. Thus in the parish of Alston, which in 1865 yielded lead to the value of £65,000, the mines paid nothing towards the poor rates, although out of 328 paupers 278 were from the mines, and only fifty-six were agricultural labourers. When he asked leave to introduce the Bill the President of the Poor Law Board said that many cases of a similar nature were about to be brought before the superior Courts of Law, with a view to a reversal of former decisions in reference to the rating of mining property. But the judgments which had confirmed the exemption were very specific. In order to show what was the present state of the law, he would quote a passage from the work of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Sir Robert Collier), in which it was stated— The Statute 43rd of Elizabeth, chap. 2, sec. 1, in which poor rates originated, having declared all occupiers of 'coal mines,' among other things, rateable to the poor, it was early decided that the express mention of coal mines excluded all others, and such at present is the law. The only question that can arise now upon this is whether the workings for ore or other substances are or are not mines; for, if quarries only, they are rateable. He therefore did not think that it was likely that the Judges would reverse former decisions, and shut their eyes to all the concurrent circumstances throwing light on the intention of the Legislature in passing that Act. In deciding a case in reference to a lead mine, Lord Mansfield said— We have no ground, authority, or pretence for giving it that extensive construction, nor is there any foundation for imagining that the Legislature meant so. Nothing can be clearer than that these (lead) mines are not within the letter of the statute, for the Legislature could never intend by the word 'coal mines' to comprehend other species of mines. If they had meant to include them they would either have enumerated them or used the general word 'mines'. So that the expression 'coal mines' expressly excludes mines of any other sort, as much as if they had been exempted. In Cornwall, where the tin mines were unsuccessfully struggling against foreign competition the exemption from rating acted as a protection, inducing people in some cases to keep their capital in what would otherwise be unprofitable concerns; while in his (Mr. Percy Wyndham's) part of the country the exemption operated to relieve from assessment the richest portion of the community, and to throw the burden on the poorer portion. With respect to the mode of rating, if they looked to coal mines it would be found that it varied in different localities, being sometimes on the actual and sometimes on the estimated royalty, and in Staffordshire upon the acreage. There were complaints against this uncertainty; but he feared that if the agitation attempted to establish a uniform system neither lords nor occupiers would pay what they ought to do. Mines differed from lands in this—that whilst the land remained, in the case of mines the corpus of the estate gradually became extinct: but this fact, if used as an argument against rating mines, would not hold water. £12,000 worth of coal would have the same rate as £12,000 worth of land, as when it ceased to exist the rate could no longer be levied. It was upon this principle his Bill was based. The Bill contained a provision allowing, after the passing of the measure, the holders of existing leases, whereby a rent in money, royalty, toll, or due other than in kind was reserved, to deduct from the rent one-half of the rate which would become chargeable upon them; and another clause provided that where any lord or owner of a mine was assessed to local rates in respect of such mine, nothing in the present Bill should be held to disturb such assessment during the continuance of existing setts. With regard to woods and plantations, there was some doubt as to the state of the law in reference to their liability to be rated; but he believed that it was generally held that saleable under-woods were rateable, though it seemed that a great variety of practice existed in this respect. When he drew up the clause providing that woods and plantations should be liable to be rated upon the rate- able value of the land on which they were grown, he was not aware how the Scotch Act upon the same subject was worded; but he had since ascertained that it was provided by that Act that where lands and heritages consisted of woods, copse, or underwood, the yearly value of the same was to be taken to be the rent at which they might in their natural state be reasonably expected to let from year to year as pasture or grazing lands. It was objected against the Bill that it only applied to mines and woods, whereas there were other descriptions of property which was not rated and which ought not to escape assessment, and there were petitions before the House praying every species of unrated property—including game preserves and shootings—should be made liable to rates. He did not, however, see why the Bill should be objected to on that ground. It was impossible to pass a comprehensive measure at once; and it should be remembered that in proportion as the number of exemptions was diminished the stronger would become the argument against the continuance of other exemptions, and, whatever might be the defects of the Bill, they were as nothing compared with the anomalies and inconsistencies of the present system.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Percy Wyndham.)


, in rising to move an Amendment that the Bill be referred to a Select Comitteee, said, he could assure the hon. Member that he was not actuated by any hostility to the principle of the Bill; but he regarded the details as so complicated that it would be impossible to deal with them satisfactorily in a Committee of the whole House. The most conflicting opinions prevailed as to the principles on which mines should be rated. He was connected with the mineral district in the High Peak of Derbyshire. The mines there had been worked from time immemorial, and the customs dated as far back as the time of Edward III. By these customs every subject of the Crown was permitted to dig and delve for minerals. The minerals belonged to the Duchy of Lancaster; but they had been leased to lords, who received a royalty nominally of one-thirteenth, but actually in most instances of one-twentieth. On these royalties they had paid rates for very many years. The system worked harmoniously, but if it were meddled with great dissatisfaction and litigation would be occasioned. There was evidence to show that if they attempted to rate the mine or throw the rate on the occupier they would at once shut up a great portion of the mines, nineteen-twentieths of which were held by poor men. A question had been started as to the getting of ores. There was an old saying—"There is ore of all kinds, but," alluding to the difficulty of getting it, "not for all men." It had been suggested by one witness examined before the Committee that the royalty should be taken as the principle on which mines should be assessed; but the whole question was one of such complicated detail that it would be impossible to deal with it satisfactorily in a Committee of the whole House. Therefore, in the most friendly spirit to the principle of the Bill, his recommendation would be that it be referred to a Select Committee.


quite agreed that all mines should be rated; but he did not think it would be possible to apply this Bill to mines in the West of England. The Bill declared that mines and minerals in England and Wales should be liable to local rates in the same manner and to the same extent as coal mines are liable to local rates; but on what principle were coal mines rated? He never could learn. In some places they were rated on the ton, in others on the profits; but the yield and the profits differed largely. The Bill was totally inapplicable to Cornish mines. In the rich district of Redruth there were only two or three mines paying a profit. How were such mines to be assessed? In one mine £400,000 had been expended, and the whole money was lost. In another instance £90,000 had been expended without the return of a single shilling. If there was no realized profits how could they assess them? At present mining property was in a most depressed state. There was great danger of driving capital away from Cornwall, owing to the large imports of tin from Chile, America, and Australia, and perhaps also to the monetary panic. He did not mean to say that mines should not be assessed to the relief of the poor; but the question was, who should be assessed? They must virtually assess the proprietor of the soil. If any profit was received he was sure to get it, and therefore he was the proper party to be assessed. This was undoubtedly a very difficult question, and regard must be had to many different localities. He should be very glad to see plantations assessed. The best thing that could be done was to be refer this Bill to a Select Committee, as the noble Lord proposed.


said, this proposition was not a new one. It was exactly fifty years since the first Bill for the rating of mines was laid on the table. The Legislature at that time appeared to be excessively keen on the subject, for the years 1817, 1818, and 1819 produced Bills for this purpose; but, like the material with which they proposed to deal, these Bills met with a "down-set." However, some twelve years afterwards the question again "cropped" up, and Bills were produced in 1856 and 1857. Since that period the subject has been allowed to rest until it was now brought forward by the hon. Member for West Cumberland (Mr. Percy Wyndham). The only novelty in this Bill was the proposition to rate mines on the same principle as coal mines. Now, he should very much have liked that the hon. Mover had explained a little more fully on what principle coal mines were rated. No one could very well tell on what principle coal mines were rated. The principle, to borrow a popular phrase, was one "that no fellah can understand." The hon. Member said, they must be rated on their net annual value; but how was that possible? A mine was worth thousands a year one day, and next day nothing at all. Unless they had, as in Scotland, an annual valuation it would be impossible to carry out that principle. He did not wish to shrink from the responsibility of having mines rated; he did not know why any hereditament should be exempted from local taxation; but he strongly objected to the mode of carrying out that object as proposed by this Bill. It was impossible to attempt to rate little mining undertakings worked by two or three men. The Small Tenements Act would have to be extended to mines, and compounding lords established. The only principle he could assent to was to rate the lords on their dues, as was now practised in Derbyshire; but the subject was much too wide to be considered by the House. The range of the inquiry should be extended. The hon. Member had taken one leaf from the Scotch Lands Valuation Act, and proposed to rate woods; he would take another, and move that game, let at a rental, should be included, and the Bill referred to a Select Committee. If that was not agreed to be hoped the Bill would be placed on that shelf which had received so many of its predecessors.


hoped, if this Bill were referred to a Select Committee, they would be able to arrive at a more satisfactory conclusion than the last committee, Which had only been enabled at the conclusion of their investigation to suggest their own re-appointment. Coal mines were at present the only mines which came under the statue of the 43rd of Elizabeth; but that was no valid reason why other mines should be exempted if any satisfactory mode of assessment could be arrived at. When it was considered that a farmer was assessed on his rent, and had to pay whether he made any profit or not, he did not see why there should be any arbitrary exemption of mines because they did not happen to pay. As to assessing plantations and woods, it would be impossible to assess them on the rateable value of the land on which the trees were grown. To do so would be contrary to the principle of parochial assessment, which was made upon reasonable value from year to year. Considering the deterioration in land, that property which had not game upon it paid in a higher ratio than that which possessed game; but seeing the fluctuating value of it, it would be difficult to establish an uniform rate, as had been suggested by some. He trusted that the Select Committee might be allowed to include the question of game preserves and shootings within the scope of their inquiries.


said, the anomalies that excited in reference to the rating of mines were very extraordinary. When mines were worked from the quarries in open drifts they were subject to local taxation; but as soon as the mineworker extended his operations and made a shaft they became exempt. Again, according to the old system of letting, when the rate was paid in kind there was local taxation; but when it became a money charge the liability disappeared; and, however large the "put out" might be, they did not pay a farthing to the local burdens. The evil was chiefly felt in those districts where the ironstone was the chief source of the wealth of the country. The district about Cleveland, in Yorkshire, was a few years ago entirely of an agricultural character, but by the wand, as it were, of the enchanter, immense quantities of ironstone were found and an enormous population was collected; but the ironstone did not pay a single farthing to the local burdens which were thrown upon places in the immediate neighbourhood. But coal mines, which required so much more capital, and incurred so much more risk in working them, were assessed. Why should the present anomalous exemptions be retained? While he admitted that all minerals should be assessed, he could not agree that they should be rated on the same footing with real property, land or houses. They had all heard of such dreadful explosions as took place at the Oaks and the Hartley Collieries. In the former case, the entire capital invested in the mine was annihilated in a moment, and the colliery could only be restored by the expenditure of new capital to a large amount. In the latter case, the capital expended, which exceeded £100,000, was almost entirely rendered worthless. And there were cases of collieries upon which £300,000 or £400,000 had been expended that had never paid a farthing dividend. It was plain, therefore, that this class of property could not be dealt with in the same way as lands and houses. The whole subject was surrounded with difficulties which the House itself could not well deal with; in his opinion the only satisfactory way of solving this question was to refer it to a Select Committee.


said, that it seemed from the discussion that every hon. Member admitted the anomalies that existed in the law of rating. These anomalies were by no means confined to mines; and indeed if the whole question were considered there would be raised many more important issues than those which had reference to mining property and plantations. He could agree that, in reference to rating, coal mines were distinct from all other mines; because no man when he commenced sinking a shaft knew whether he should find coal or not. It was within his experience that many persons in seeking for coal went very deep into the earth without finding it. This reminded him of the story of a landowner in the North who had spent a great deal of time and money in boring on his property, and passing a farmyard he heard a loud noise proceeding from the pigs. He asked the cause of the uproar, and was told they were "ringing" the pigs to prevent them boring; on which he exclaimed, "I wish my father had done the same to me when I was young." There were, undoubtedly, many anomalies in the present system. Two individuals might be working on different sides of a hill; the one in open quarry, he paid enormous rates; the other underground, and he paid no rates at all. In the county of Cornwall the parish of St. Just was rated at £13,000, and at one time there were in that parish six mines which were rated because the owners of the land had reserved a royalty, and which paid upon an assessment of £2,828. They found, however, that if they took their rent in money the mines would be free from rates; they therefore made this change, and all their property was immediately freed from contributions to the poor rate, except so much of it as belonged to one person who thought it a duty to be rated. The hon. Member for West Cumberland (Mr. Percy Wyndham) had said that his predecessor the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers) intimated last year that the question of the rateability of metallic mines was to come before a Court of Law again. But since then the decision of the House of Lords in the case of the Mersey Docks had caused a different view to be taken of the matter—that decision had, indeed, raised questions that were believed to have been set at rest many years ago. Now, however, this particular question was about to be raised upon a special case, and if the Court of Queen's Bench should not decide in favour of the parish it was intended to take the matter into a Court of Error, in order to see whether the House of Lords' decision had varied the law or established a new law upon this matter. The case was that of "Crawshay v. Morgan and Another." The defendants were overseers of a parish in Gloucestershire, and they proposed to assess Mr. Crawshay for an iron mine upon a rating of £2,483. It seemed to him (Mr. G. Hardy) very desirable that they should get out of this difficulty, if possible, through the Law Courts: but, in the meantime, he thought that the Committee would be very well occupied in inquiring into the question as to mines, woodlands, and plantations: and he would suggest that as this Bill was confined to mines, woodlands, and plantations, the noble Lord the Member for North Derbyshire (Lord George Cavendish) should defer his Motion until the time came for going into Committee; and that, in the meantime, Instructions should be framed to refer to the Committee other questions which were equally important to those which were dealt with in the Bill. Some of the exemptions which had arisen under the Mersey Docks case were peculiarly unfair. That decision had rendered pure charities liable to be rated; and yet there were exemptions in favour of scientific and literary institutions which, although they did good, were not established for the benefit of the poor. He thought it was unnecessary that the debate should be further proceeded with then, because it was embracing within it details which could not be properly discussed on this Bill; and he would propose that the Bill should be read a second time, and that the Committee should be fixed for after Easter, so as to give time to any hon. Member to frame an Instruction to the Committee in order that the inquiry should not be limited to mines, woodlands, and plantations as it now would be from the title of the Bill. He thought that in this way they would advance the objects they had in view, so as to get at a solution of the very difficult question of exemptions. He believed that if the various kinds of property which had been referred to were rated, the Courts of Law would find principles upon which to rate them, as they had done in reference to railways and other property of a difficult kind.


agreed in the propriety of referring the subject to a Select Committee; but he hoped any Committee that might be appointed would carefully consider the question of the immense risk which was run by the adventurers, and also have regard to the fact that from 80 to 90 per cent of the whole value of the minerals represented pure labour. He trusted the Committee would be able to take a comprehensive view of the whole subject.


held that the principle of the law of rating was that the occupier of the land—the person who employed the labour that produced the pauperism—should pay the rates which was the provision for the incapacitated pauper. But this Bill contained strange infringements of that principle. It provided that metalliferous mines should be rated upon the same principle as coal mines; but though coal mines had been rateable since the 43rd Elizabeth the principle of rating them was not yet settled. He took it that the worker of the mine should be the person rated, as he was the employer of the labour that produced the pauper; but this Bill proposed that the owner of the land should pay one moiety of the rate; and on this he should like to ask what was the value of the mineral when brought to the surface as compared with the royalty paid for raising it? He agreed that the person who took the royalty should contribute; but to compel him to contribute one-half was inconsistent with all principle. Many leases of metalliferous mines contained clauses that the person who worked the mines should pay all rates; and it would not be right, in his opinion, to interfere with these private arrangements. The Bill could not possibly pass in the shape in which it was at present; and therefore he thought that the whole question should be referred to a Select Committee, and that the Bill should stand over in the meantime.


thought it impossible that this Bill would work in the county of Cornwall. There was great difference between coal and metalliferous mines. They knew with probable certainty where coal was to be found, and when the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. G. Hardy) said that this was not so, he referred to former times; but now the state of scientific knowledge was such that there were very few attempts to procure coal which were not successful. On the other hand, sometimes many thousands of pounds were spent in searching for metals without success. This was well known, and therefore the Legislature had very properly made a distinction between the two cases in regard to rating. It was only fair that those lords who were deriving large sums from mines should be taxed for the support of the poor of the neighbourhood; but it was a very different matter to tax those who were spending large sums of money for an uncertain profit, and who were really the benefactors of a district. The effect of this Bill would be to shut up a number of mines in Cornwall, and to throw many people out of employment.


, referring to evidence taken before a Committee, said, that it disclosed such a total absence of principle in reference to rating that the system could be best described as rating by rule of thumb. He hoped the Bill would be allowed to go to a Select Committee, where the details could be properly considered, and though the measure was retrograde as compared with the measure of last year, some simple and satisfactory principle of assessment might result from it.


thought that this discussion could end in nothing but the matter going to a Select Committee; and that it would be well that it should be discontinued until after the Committee had made its Report.


said, that the House seemed generally agreed that it was desirable that the question of mines should be considered, with the view to bring them under charge to the poor rate; and he had nothing to say against this. The President of the Poor Law Board had told them with great truth that the decision in the Mersey Docks case had rendered property not beneficially occupied liable to be rated to the poor. It seemed plain that this Bill would go to a Select Committee, and it was equally clear that other matters not mentioned in the Bill should also go to the Committee. He thought that the Instruction to the Committee ought to be as wide as possible, for otherwise justice would not be done. It was not many years since, on account of some supposed difficulty in rating particular species of property, the House exempted it; but it seemed now to be quite clear that with our improved knowledge and skill means could be found to rate every kind of property. Why was not stock-in-trade to be rated? Personal property of that kind was liable under the old law of Elizabeth, and it only ceased to be rated in consequence of the supposed difficulty in rating it. But if this Committee was going to solve all the difficulties about things underground, he did not see why they should not also try their hands at solving the difficulties in reference to things above ground; and therefore he hoped that the reference to the Committee would be as wide as possible, and include things in the earth, under the earth, and above the earth, so that they might obtain the means of taxing property according to the annual interest derived from it. When it was proposed to tax so uncertain a property as game there could be no difficulty in taxing stock-in trade; and it might be a question whether persons should not be rated under the Scotch term of "means and subsistence." At all events, the Committee should consider it if the reference were wide enough.


regarded this as an attempt to revive an inquiry into a matter which had been settled over and over again. As far as this Bill was concerned there was nothing to be referred to a Select Committee that had not been long ago decided upon. The law authorizing the exemption of the, mines in question from rating had been settled three centuries ago and was based on a wise principle, the object of the exemption being to hold out an induce- ment to persons to develop the mineral resources of the country, and it had proved satisfactory in operation.


said, that the Select Committee, if appointed to inquire into the question, ought to be instructed to inquire into all exemptions, and that its investigations should be extended to the subject of game and the inequality of the law respecting it. If the owner of an estate kept the game in his own hands, or let it to another party, it was not rateable; but if he let it to a tenant occupying the land it was rateable. He thought it was quite impossible to rate game upon any equitable system, as it was a thing that might be here to-day and gone to-morrow. But in cases where land was so overstocked with game as to depreciate its rateable value he thought that, notwithstanding the abundance of game on it, the land ought to be rated at its agricultural value. That was the effect of an Amendment of which he had given notice.


said, that the more the question was discussed the more would the House be convinced of the propriety of referring it to a Select Committee, with an Instruction somewhat similar to that suggested by the President of the Poor Law Board.


, in supporting the Bill, said, he desired to remind the House that one of the great grievances existing in relation to the question was this: that while coal mines, which were worked to a great extent (sometimes the workings ran several miles under the sea) and were formed at a great expense, and employed a vast quantity of labour, and sometimes returned little or no profit, were subject to a rating—whilst the coal owners were taxed in every direction—iron and other minerals were exempted. It appeared to him that such a system was opposed to the principles of common sense. He was acquainted with the case of a slate quarry in Wales which was at one side worked upon the open ground and at the other worked under ground, and where the open ground part was assessed whilst the underground part escaped liability. That was an anomalous state of things which ought not to be allowed to exist. He was not surprised at the unanimity of opinion in favour of the principle of this Bill, and of the measure itself being referred to a select committee. That was the best mode of dealing with the matter, inasmuch as it could be thoroughly investigated by that tribunal; all the evidence respecting it could be heard, and the whole question could be considered in the most satisfactory manner. Although it might be said that this question had been before Committees some years ago, it should be recollected that the aspects of the mining interest had very much changed since then. For example, there was a discovery recently made of hæmatite iron upon the west coast of Cumberland by which fortunes were being made, yet while the coal mines were assessed, the iron mines escaped. He was much afraid, if the suggestion of the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Read) that the question of game should form part of the inquiry of the Select Committee were adopted, that the Bill would never come out of the hands of the Committee in time to pass into a law. He should advise his hon. Friend who had charge of the Bill to take counsel before he acted upon the advice thus offered him, and to consider what would be the best plan to adopt with a view of having the measure passed this Session.


remarked, that under the powers of the Union Assessment Act very satisfactory progress had been made in revising those assessments, and the experience of the ablest men had been brought to bear upon the subject. A large number of fresh valuations had been recently made, and twenty, thirty, or forty coal mines had been rated to the satisfaction not only of the parochial authorities, but also of the ratepayers. He thought that they ought to avail themselves in the proposed inquiry of the experience gained in those new valuations. He had ventured to predict that the moment they passed the law extending the area of chargeability from the parish to the union a large amount of hostility would arise in quarters from which it was least expected. It appeared to him that now that places were called upon to maintain poor from whose labour they had derived no benefit, the House was bound to consider the whole question of the law of rating, and the spirit of the Act of Elizabeth, which evidently contemplated the assessment of all property for the relief of the poor. He hoped that the advice of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board would be followed, and that this Committee would not be confined in its inquiries to the mere question of certain classes of mines.


said, he had never heard any argument in favour of those exemptions except such as obviously answered itself. When it was urged that the Act of Elizabeth did not mention mines in respect to rating, he would remind those who relied upon such an argument that neither did the Act of Elizabeth mention railways or telegraphic communications. He was of opinion that the reference of the question to a Select Committee could not but result in the great improvement of our assessment system.


assented to the proposition as to the question being referred to a Select Committee.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.

And, on May 1, Select Committee nominated as follows:—Lord GEORGE CAVENDISH, Mr. VILLIERS, Mr. PERCY WYNDHAM, Mr. SCLATER-BOOTH, Mr. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN, Mr. HENDERSON, Mr. KENDALL, Mr. ST. AUBYN, Mr. COLVILE, Mr. READ, Mr. LIDDELL, Lord EUSTACE CECIL, Mr. LEEMAN, Mr. BEACH, and Mr. KEKEWICH:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.