HC Deb 21 February 1868 vol 190 cc1011-37

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the last Report of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and to the continuous increase of the burdens laid, and proposed to be laid, for various purposes, in London and elsewhere, on the occupiers of rateable property. He placed his Notice on the Paper with the feeling that it had become necessary to call attention to the financial part of the question, or there was otherwise a probabiility that metropolitan and municipal finance would come to a dead lock. Public opinion had determined that further progress in sanitary improvements was necessary, and the opinion had become general that the duties which were at present imposed upon parochial bodies were insufficiently and too scantily performed. A constant outcry was heard that the Poor Law was not administered with sufficient liberality. It was also complained that the police were inefficient, and, from an answer given to-night, it did not appear that any diminution of expenditure was to be looked for under that head. The accommodation for the sick poor in workhouses was most defective, and it was necessary to carry out many important and expensive improvements in that direction. The opinion was likewise gaining ground that further duties might have to be undertaken by the local authorities—for instance, that the education of the poor should be defrayed in part at least out of local rates. So, again, the Bill of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Torrens) contemplated the improvement of the dwellings of the poor by a machinery, which might possibly impose additional burdens upon the ratepayers. In every direction they could see that greater expenditure was unavoidable, while, at the same time, there was a desire that these improvements should be carried on not by means of Imperial, but out of municipal and local funds. The question, therefore, was, how these improvements could be carried out with the present limited resources at the disposal of the municipal and parochial authorities? Were the improvements to give way to the financial difficulty, or must the financial difficulty be got rid of for the sake of the improvements? In a great part of the country the burden of the rates was so heavy that there was little possibility of carrying out further great improvements without re-casting, to a certain extent, the present system of municipal and parochial taxation. He did not propose to conclude with a Motion, because he wished the question to be considered apart from the polemical controversies which arose when they got into the region of local government. Confining himself to the financial point of view, he wished to ascertain what were the burdens at present imposed upon rateable property in the country generally, its resources on the one hand, and the nature and extent of the expenditure on the other? A blue book was annually placed in the hands of Members, containing the Local Taxation Returns, and it professed to deal with the whole of the local taxation of the country. He had been very much disappointed on studying these Returns, because the more time he spent in their examination the more errors he found. There was such a chaos, indeed, that it was impossible to ascertain the exact increase in the burdens of any district, town, borough, or local Board. After the poor rate, the county rate, and the highway rate, the next most important items of expenditure were those of Local Boards and of Boroughs, and Parliament was so anxious that Returns on this subject should be made that a separate Act of Parliament was passed in 1860, requiring various Boards, under a penalty of £20, to make these Returns annually. Considering that the local expenditure of this country amounted to nearly £20,000,000—that was to say, nearly one-third of the Imperial expenditure—it was most important that full, clear, and intelligible accounts should be placed in the hands of Members. There were 760 Local Boards in the country at present, of which number only 161 made Returns in 1866. He should be glad to be informed whether the penalties had been enforced in those cases where no Returns had been made. He desired to call the attention of the House mainly to two items in the Local Taxation Returns—the accounts of the Boroughs and of the Local Boards. It appeared in the account of 1865, that the aggregate of "the Borough Rates" was put down at £300,000, but in a foot-note it was stated that those Returns had not been printed since 1855. What was the use of getting up an expensive blue book, when as regarded an important item like the total expenditure in Boroughs no fresh information was given between 1855 and 1867? Since 1855 the Returns coming in every year were tied up in a bundle in manuscript and sent to the Library of the House, where any hon. Member might hunt through them if he chose. In 1866 the hon. Member for East Gloucestershire moved for a very important Return to ascertain if possible the aggregate of Local Taxation. That Return had been only just presented, eighteen months after it had been asked for, and probably much too late for the purpose for which it was intended. From the materials furnished to the Home Office by the various Boroughs for the purposes of that Return, it appears, as stated in a note to the Local Taxation Returns for 1866, that the Borough Rate amounts to £1,700,000; while in the blue book, two years ago, it was put down at only £300,000. The fact was that no argument could be drawn from these Local Taxation Returns as they had them at present; and it was necessary to look at special Boroughs to find out what that taxation was. He had stated that the burdens of local taxation were increasing; but he had found great difficulties in proving that statement because of the inaccuracy of the Returns. Of 211 Boroughs in 1856 there were 169 which made Returns, and in 1866 only 75 did so. He had taken seven or eight specimen Boroughs at random from the blue book, and he found that in Bolton the borough rate in 1857 was £7,500, and in 1866 it was £10,500; while the debt had risen in the same interval from £188,000 to £270,000. The lighting rate had increased from £6,400 to £11,000. In Birmingham the borough improvement rate had increased from £50,000 to £77,000, and the street improvement from £2,400 to £8,000. In Manchester the city rate had increased from £72,000 to £90,000, they having in Manchester the great advantage of a profit of £20,000 a year from gas. The ex- penditure of that city had increased from £117,000 to £150,000. In Bradford the accounts for 1856 were so indistinctly made up that it was impossible to institute a comparison; but the debt had risen to £950,000. In Oldham the debt had risen from £18,000 to £120,000. In Warrington the rate had increased from £6,000 to £10,000. He was sure the average increase over all the Boroughs considerably exceeded 30 per cent in the ten years. Thus far he had spoken of the borough rates, but a great part of local taxation was not imposed by municipal Corporations, but by so called Local Boards, the number of which increased from year to year. Every town where improvements became necessary placed itself under the Local Government Act, and elected Local Boards. There were now 760 of those Local Boards, but only 161 had made Returns in 1866; and the consequence was that those Returns positively exhibited a decrease in the amount of the rates. In 1863 the rates of the Local Boards were £500,000; in 1865, they were stated to amount to £380,000; in 1866, to £308,000. There was an apparent decrease every year, while the fact was there was a very large increase every year, and instead of the amount being put at £300,000 it ought to be £1,500,000 at least. As far as he could ascertain, only one-fifth of the places had made Returns, and those were not the largest, but generally the smaller class of towns; if they multiplied the £300,000 by 5, taking the towns which had furnished proper accounts, as a fair average of the whole number, the result was that the total ought to be £1,500,000. In 1863 Returns were made by 198 towns, and in 1866 by 161; but they were not the same towns which made Returns in the one year as made them in the other, and, in fact, the Returns were worthless. There were only eighty Local Boards, which made Returns, both in 1863 and 1866; and if they took the expenditure separately of those eighty Local Boards, they would find that there was an increase of 30 per cent in their expenditure. Indeed, the result of the whole investigation he had made of these Local Boards, Boroughs, or other bodies was that their expenditure had in a comparatively short space of time increased at least 30 per cent. He now came to the debt of the local Boards. Those Boards were very large borrowers, and in the Local Taxation Returns the aggregate sums they had borrowed were pro- fessedly given. In 1866 the aggregate debt was stated at £1,300,000; but on examining into the matter he had found that during the last sixteen years the Local Boards alone—without speaking of the Boroughs—had borrowed £7,000,000; and that money having been borrowed for periods of between thirty and fifty years, but a comparatively small portion of it could have been paid off. Within the last two years alone they had borrowed £1,500,000, and the debt was increasing year by year; for in the first eight years £3,000,000 had been borrowed, while in the last eight years £4,000,000 had been obtained. He wished it to be understood that he was not speaking against local improvements or denying the necessity of that expenditure, but only justifying his assertion that there was a continuous increase in the burdens placed on the occupiers of rateable property. He had dealt especially with the Local Board rates and the rates of the Boroughs, because they were the most difficult to analyze, the amount of other kinds of rates being given more correctly. In the Return of the hon. Member for East Gloucestershire, of which he had spoken, the aggregate amount of local burdens in England and Wales was stated at £15,000,000. But from inquiries he had instituted he found that the Local Board rates included in that aggregate taxation were not obtained from any fresh source, but that the errors already existing in the Local Taxation Returns were again incorporated in this new Return. The consequence was that this new Return was also incorrect, and they were still unable to ascertain the correct amount of the total expenditure. By how much the Return was incorrect it was impossible to say, but he was sure it was wrong by, at least, £2,000,000, and that, instead of being £15,000,000, the local taxation of England and Wales—exclusive of tolls, pilotage dues, and harbour dues which were imposts of a different kind—amounted to £17,000,000 sterling. Inclusive of this other kind of revenue it almost reached £20,000,000. At the same time he must in candour mention that, while their local taxation had increased at that rate, there had also been a very large increase in the rateable value of property. The amount of rateable property in England and Wales had increased from £60,000,000 to £90,000,000 since 1842. But was the whole of that increase in the nominal value of the property due, he should like to know, to a corresponding increase of wealth and of the value of the lands and houses assessed? Was it not, rather, fair to assume that a portion of the increase was attributable to the screwing up of the assessments by the overseers and landlords; and another portion of it to the circumstance—which was no matter for congratulation—that the dwellings of the working classes had become so scarce that rents had been run up, not to the public advantage, but rather to the public disadvantage? Supposing that had occurred in the Tower Hamlets, and in the East End of London generally, the overseers, under the pressure of increased expenditure, screwed up the assessment in every case, and that therefore the assessment showed an increase of rateable value, could it be said that the ratepayers in such places were better able to bear their increased burdens in such a case? He thought they were less able to bear those burdens. It was perfectly true that part of the increase in the country generally might be the result of the increase in the inherent value of the land, owing to drainage, better cultivation, the erection of new houses, and other improvements; and so far as it was due to such facts, and was not simply due to a rise in rents, the country was doubtless better able than before to bear the burden of local taxation. Whether such was the cause there were, however, no Returns to show. In the year 1826 a Return was framed, in which land was separated from houses, and from which it could be ascertained how much fell on each. He had not been able to find any recent Return of that nature; but he found from the Electoral Returns which had been lately published that there had been an increase of £3,000,000 in the assessment of property in the metropolis since 1856. About £1,000,000 of that amount was furnished by the City, and no doubt the value of the property there had been largely increased, owing to its being the great centre of business, as well as to the endeavours which had been made to force up the assessments in that particular locality. Taking, however, the remaining seven Parliamentary Boroughs which went to make up the metropolis, he found that the increase in the value of rateable property had been greatest in the poorest and lowest in the richest districts. That was a remarkable fact. The rateable value in some districts had been increased by industry and trade; but in other districts it had been increased because rents had been raised in places where the occupiers were least able to bear them. In Westminster the increase had been only 15 per cent, and in Marylebone 20; but in the Tower Hamlets it had been 35, and in Finsbury 32. Thus it appeared that it was in the eastern quarters of London where the working classes chiefly resided, that the increase had been largest, and it was there that the screw of the overseer and the landlord had been most effectively applied. He would now turn to the Report of the Metropolitan Board of Works, to which his Notice on the Paper specially referred. That Board published annually a document which they called an abstract of accounts, and he must be a clever accountant indeed who could obtain from that document a clear idea of metropolitan finance. Indeed, he doubted very much whether it was possible to obtain it at all. There were many accounts connected with the transactions of the Board with respect to which no information was conveyed in the abstract. The members of the Board were, no doubt, anxious to give the fullest information on the subject; but then they failed to do so, possibly, because they chose to follow slavishly one particular form of account, which was, to say the least of it, very unintelligible. There was no single account to show the annual receipts apart from their loans, and there were no means of ascertaining accurately the various kinds of expenditure. They mixed up what the French would term their ordinary and extraordinary income and expenditure. It was impossible to arrive at the real position of their finance. It was true that they published an expense estimate; but then it was only an estimate of their outlay for "general purposes." They furnished beforehand no detailed information to the ratepayers as to what they intended to do during the coming year, what improvements were to be carried on, what resources either from the sale of property or from rents lay at their command. The amount of their expenditure might, indeed, be arrived at with some trouble—their receipts and loans with greater trouble still; but he defied anybody to discover from their accounts the extent of the property which they could make available. In Paris, on the contrary, the corresponding budget—to which he might point as a model of clearness, except in some particulars which it might be deemed desirable to conceal—gave a list of every house and of every plot of ground which belonged to the municipality. But it was not of the omission to which he had just invited the attention of the House in the accounts of the Metropolitan Board of Works that he had solely to complain. Its members seemed also to take a very curious view of their responsibilities, for they furnished no intelligible information as to their aggregate liabilities. They owed several millions in connection with the Main Drainage scheme, yet that important item they altogether left out from the list giving their total liabilities. Why? Because, he supposed, they considered that the liability was covered by the 3d. rate which they paid into the Bank of England. As one liability was covered by one source of revenue they left both out of their accounts. The hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeen (Colonel Sykes) had moved for and obtained a Return, showing the sums which had been annually laid out by the Board, since its establishment, on the Main Drainage of the Metropolis and on the Thames Embankment, as well as the various other items of expenditure which they had incurred. The figures which gave the entire outlay had not been added up; he supposed because the hon. and gallant Member had not specially asked for the addition; but on going through that process for himself he found that the total expenditure of the Board since 1857 amounted to over £10,000,000. To show how that expenditure had gone on increasing for years he might state that while in 1857 it was only £90,000, it reached in 1858, £260,000; in 1859, £600,000; in 1860, £750,000; in 1861, £900,000; in 1862, £1,000,000; in 1863, £1,200,000;in 1864, £1,350,000; and in 1866, £1,970,000. It would be seen that while the rate of increase at first was slow, it had grown faster and faster every year. The total expenditure was £10,979,000; but he believed they had not even now got a complete Return. The hon. and gallant Member had left out the word "interest" from his Motion, consequently the sum spent on interest had, he believed, been omitted from the Return. He gathered that from the following singular circumstance:—It appeared that the receipts from the Metropolitan Main Drainage rate were £5,165,000, while the expenditure was, in round numbers, £3,700,000; so that the receipts were much larger than the outlay. A portion of the excess was accounted for by the re-payment of debt, which was not specified, and perhaps ought not to be specified, in the Return; but there still would remain a sum of £500,000 which the Board ought to have in their possession. But if they had not spent it it ought to appear in their balance-sheet. The only balance, however, which he could find was one of £30,000 or £40,000, and he could not account for the difference unless it had gone to the payment of interest. If his view were correct, the total expenditure would read—not £10,979,000, but some larger sum, which he had been unable to ascertain. This had been a case where the reeeipts were apparently in excess of the expenditure; but he would give another case from the same Return, where the expenditure was in excess of the receipts. The main sewers and ordinary expenses were put down at £2,641,000, and yet the total receipts under this head were only £2,000,000. Therefore, the Board had spent about £600,000 more than they had received. After the hon. and gallant Member had been at the trouble of supplementing, by a private Return, the omissions and want of clearness in the public Returns, they were still unable to arrive at the proper figures. In one case the expenditure could not be explained, nor in the other the deficiency. What were the real resources of the Metropolitan Board? It was important to answer this question, as then they might arrive at some kind of conclusion, as to how far they would be enabled, relying on these resources, to carry out those improvements which were desired. The position of the Metropolitan Board of Works as regarded revenue was this—he took its ordinary revenue to be £600,000; it consisted roughly of three items of £200,000 each. The Main Drainage rate yielded £180,000 or £200,000. The General Purpose rate amounted to £200,000; and the Coal and Wine duties to a similar sum. These three items made up the ordinary revenue of the Metropolitan Board. But the Coal and Wine duties were absorbed by paying the interest and the sinking fund on the Thames Embankment; and they would be even insufficient for that, as they were told last year. Another £200,000 paid the interest and sinking fund for the Main Drainage, and there remained only £200,000 for the General Purposes of the Board. He wanted to know what were the resources the Board had at present command, and still undisposed of, in order to see how much could be devoted to further improvements—in other words, how much was really absorbed, and how far they must consider themselves unable to deal with desirable improvements, unless assisted by other funds. Irrespective of the interest on the Thames Embankment and the Main Drainage, as much as £100,000 out of the general purposes rate; had to be devoted to the interest and sinking fund on small previous loans for minor improvements, and accordingly only £100,000 remained at the disposal of the Board to be spent. Of this £30,000 was absorbed in the expense of working the sewage; £20,000 represented the cost of administration; £10,000 of the houseless poor; (the fire brigade was not included), and they kept over only £40,000 out of their whole revenues for the purpose of new works, while millions would be required for such purposes. This miserably small sum was all that was available for metropolitan improvements; and even that might be absorbed by additions to the main sewers. Such were the revenues of the Metropolitan Board of Works; and now one word as to the expenditure. On the Main Drainage they had spent £4,000,000; on the Embankment and Mansion House Street, £2,500,000, besides £1,500,000 which still remained to be paid; £600,000 had been expended in making the new streets in Southwark and Westminster; and £400,000 had been spent in general improvements. £2,500,000 represented the administrative and general expenses of the Metropolitan Board of Works since its first establishment in 1856. Now, how did we stand with regard to the Metropolitan Board of Works? What had they done? and what were they going to do? They had given them the Main Drainage—a most important and advantageous work. So far as that work went he made no complaint whatever; it was for the advantage of the whole metropolis; and it was perfectly fair that it should be paid by a rate on the whole metropolis. It was a great work, and he was glad it was executed. The next great work they had carried out was the Thames Embankment, which was to cost £4,000,000, and was to be paid for by the Coal and Wine duties, which, in their incidence, were somewhat similar to a rate over the whole metropolis. Now, as regarded the Thames Embankment, he admitted it was a great improvement; but was it fair that it should be paid for by a tax levied over the whole metropolis? What, he asked, would be the view taken in Bethnal Green as to the Thames Embankment? Was Bethnal Green a portion of the metropolis? The answer of the Metropolitan Board of Works would be, "Certainly Bethnal Green is a portion of the metropolis;" but the ratepayers might rejoin, "We always thought we had been told that London was not like any other place, a single large city, but an aggregate of several portions little connected with each other. On this principle we have been left to maintain our own poor as a separate locality, and yet we are now to be taxed for improvements in other localities." For certain purposes they treated London as a whole; for other purposes they treated it as so many separate parishes. The argument he was glad to say was gradually shifting, and was now being put upon its proper issue—namely, the difficulties involved in a central administration, instead of the old contention that an equalization of rates would be unjust to the landlords. Those difficulties must be overcome; for it was not fair, when an improvement was to be made, which might be thought most important by the wealthy, that it should be carried out at the expense of the whole metropolis, while at the same time the burdens at the East End were to be borne partially and locally. That was clearly a system that could not be continued. The Thames Embankment was a great and a noble work; but it was the expression of our wealth and prosperity. We said we were rich enough to pay for such a work to embellish the capital; but, if so, our wealth or the locality specially benefited should pay for it. He was glad to think that the feeling in favour of treating the metropolis as a whole was increasing. In the Bill brought in last year a step was taken in the right direction, and he hoped it would be further carried out.

But there was another difficulty in generalizing our expenditure for great works, and localizing other burdens. Every district retained its local instincts, and now considered itself entitled to a certain portion of the expenditure of the Metropolitan Board of Works. Their local interests must be guarded, they must have a fair share of money spent on their particular locality. This was perfectly natural, but what was the result? Either injustice or waste. It was unjust to spend a great deal on one portion and very little on another out of the common fund, while other bur- dens remained localized; but it was very wasteful, on the other hand, to say that a district which did not want improvements so much, ought nevertheless to have the money spent on it, because of the proportion which it had contributed to the Board of Works. Local interests would be powerful, and money would be voted according to their pressure, instead of such expenditure being selected which would, generally speaking, be of the greatest advantage to the community. Such was the position of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The local burdens of London were about £3,500,000. The Committee on Local Taxation, presided over by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) had issued a most valuable Report, which stated the taxation of the metropolis at £2,800,000; but there was an error in the addition of £100,000. The correct amount would have been £2,900,000. However, the real aggregate he believed to be £3,500,000; because to the sum stated in the Report of the Committee must be added the Coal and Wine duties, and certain other items. The total burdens borne by the metropolis were not less than £3,500,000, consisting, in round numbers, of the following items:—Poor rates, £1,250,000; local rates, £1,000,000; the Metropolitan Board of Works, £750,000; and the police, £500,000. Was it possible to effect any reduction in the expenditure under any of these heads? The poor rates were likely to increase rather than to diminish, seeing that during the last two years there had been an increase in the pauperism of the metropolis of 20 per cent. So far from the expenditure under the head of local rates being too great, complaints were constantly made that the metropolis was not sufficiently cleansed. It was of course impossible to hope that the expenditure of the Board of Works could be reduced, and it was equally impossible that the police could be maintained at a less cost than was at present incurred. There was no hope, then, of reduction in expenditure. On the contrary they must look for an increase, and if projected metropolitan improvements were to be carried out, they must provide more money. But the next question was, where was the money to come from? It was useless to speak of fresh improvements, unless they were prepared to face the question of where the money was to come from. He had heard no suggestions on that point. In drawing the attention of the House to this question, he could not avoid touching on one point in the domain of political economy. It was frequently said that taxing the occupiers of rateable property, was, in fact, taxing the owners of such property, and that it was useless to attempt to relieve the occupiers by reducing the amount of the rates, because the only result of such a proceeding would be to put so much into the pockets of the landlords. He admitted that if these burdens upon property were paid by the owner, he should make the same objection to continuing to lay all new burdens upon one kind of property; but he did not believe they were taxing the owner in laying on additional rates upon houses in the East End of London. The occupiers of rateable property certainly thought that they were the parties most deeply interested, because every movement to increase the rates was always opposed by them, and Government also were evidently of opinion that the occupiers paid the rates, inasmuch as they had founded their Reform Bill on the supposition that the occupiers paid the rates. Hon. Members must bear in mind that there was a marked difference between the case of the owners of land and the occupiers of houses. In the case of rates upon land, it must be remembered that the taxed commodity could not be removed or increased, and that therefore any increase of rate fell upon the owner. But in the case of houses, though the house could not be removed when once built, the putting of capital into houses was optional, and would be affected by taxation on the commodity to be supplied. Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Mr. Mill all concurred in this, that the building rent in the case of houses was far more important than the ground rent, and that so far as rates fell on the building rent, so far they were borne by the occupier. Now, if that were true—if they came to that conclusion—the result would be that they were over-taxing one of the greatest necessaries of life of the working man. The fact was that the taxation of house property in London was reaching a point which most seriously hampered any improvements being effected in the dwelling-houses of the working classes. It was for this reason that he had gone into the political economy of the case. The question was—Did the occupier pay the rate or not? for if he did, he was now taxed up to a point which was preventing capital going into the building trade. The only margin lay in the quality of the house, and the builder would hesitate to invest his capital when he knew that the working classes could pay only a certain amount of rent, and that that would be absorbed by taxes. Where house property was taxed beyond a certain point, the quality of the house must deteriorate as compared with the rent paid. It was only possible for owners to make cottage property pay in the East End of London by neglecting sanitary arrangements, by permitting overcrowding, and by dealing with the property in a manner that was unsatisfactory and unprofitable to the community at large. It might be said that wages would rise, and would enable the working classes to pay the increased rents. But competition in other towns less heavily taxed prevented that, still it was easy to understand the reluctance of the working classes of the East End of London to work for less than a certain amount of wages; for they knew, and indeed alleged, that should they consent to do so, they would be unable to pay the heavy rents that were exacted from them. The present rate of taxation made it, in fact, a work of difficulty to house the population. He, for one, would not attempt to meet the difficulty at the public expense; but if anything could be done to re-adjust the taxation, the state of things might be improved; at all events, it would not be aggravated or made worse. If more money were wanted, it would not be possible to raise it by an increase of the rates. That source of revenue was clearly already exhausted. No more could be raised from rates than was raised now. Again he asked, where was the money to come from? He might ask, could Paris teach us anything? He was afraid not. Paris was extremely extravagant, spending £5,500,000 in one year as ordinary expenditure, besides £4,500,000 as extraordinary expenditure—that is to say, £10,000,000 in one year, or as much as our Board of Works would spend in ten. £4,000,000 of this were raised by taxes, which would be utterly impossible in this country—he meant the octroi. We had, it was true, a little octroi of our own, which Sir John Thwaites, thinking that the people paid more readily where the tax was indirect, and hidden from their eyes, was anxious to increase—namely, the Coal and Wine duties. But, apart from them, when they contrasted Paris with London would they consent to pay the same kind of octroi to any- thing like the same extent? ["No, no!"] People pointed to the magnificent improvements which had been effected in Paris; but they forgot that nearly every trade was being driven from that city in consequence of the enormous expenditure those alterations had occasioned, being met by a vast increase in the amount of taxation. After the octroi, Paris had another considerable source of revenue. They received more assistance from the Government than we had here. But, could we look for money in that direction? Would the State increase its contributions for municipal purposes? His right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire would be too vigilant a guardian of the public purse to permit that, though he (Mr. Goschen) thought the tax on hackney carriages might very well be given up for the benefit of the metropolis; but he much feared that we were shut out completely from Imperial assistance. But there was a third resource, though a small one, which Paris possessed. On certain taxes levied for Imperial purposes—such as the taxes on real and personal property, on licences, and on windows—a small percentage—a percentage added to and not deducted from the Imperial taxes went into the municipal treasury. He did not see how we could avail ourselves of similar resources, though possibly there was to be found in the idea the germ of a plan which might be feasible; but it was too distant at the present moment; and still they had to ask, where the money was to come from? He believed there was a Motion before the House for the continuance of the Coal and Wine duties. But the proceeds of those duties had already been mortgaged as far as the year 1882; and, consequently, if their continuance were guaranteed even for another ten years the sum raised would be very small—so small, indeed, that it would be swallowed up in the first improvements contemplated by the Metropolitan Board of Works, even if it should prove more than sufficient to defray the expenditure in connection with schemes—the Bills for which had already been read a first time in that House. Then came the proposal, which had been introduced two years before, that a rate should be made on the owners of rateable property in the metropolis. Now, that was a tax that would certainly relieve the occupiers to some extent—those, at all events, who possessed leases—though he doubted whether it would relieve those not so protected, who held from week to week or quarter to quarter. It was, however, a measure which appeared to be just in itself, and he felt sure that it would again come before the House. He thought it was but fair that those whose property would be benefited by the improvements should contribute towards the expense; and though it might be argued that the tenant received the more immediate advantage, and should therefore be the party liable, it was evident that in the majority of cases the metropolitan improvements conferred no immediate benefit either to the occupier or to the owner. He certainly could see no injustice in the proposal that those who derived enormous incomes from the metropolis should contribute towards the improvements that were necessary. A further measure would be to couple a slight increase of the rates with the equalization of the rates all over the metropolis. When a man paid 7s. in the pound, it was very difficult to get him to consent to the imposition of even an additional 1d.; but those whose rates amounted to only about 2s. 6d. or 3s. in the pound could bear an increase without any great hardship being inflicted. The difficulty arose from the East End being over-taxed, and that therefore you had no margin to deal with. He had heard it said that the middle and upper classes in the West End of the town on an average paid one-tenth of their income in the shape of house-rent. Taking the rates at 3s. in the pound, or 15 per cent on rent, it might be estimated that they contributed 1½ per cent of their incomes to municipal purposes; or rather, at the usual scale of assessment at two-thirds of the real value, 1 per cent only. On the other hand, an artizan or a working man in the East of London paid one-fifth of his income for house-rent. Out of perhaps 25s. a week he would have to pay 5s. at the least for what was oftentimes very inferior accommodation. The rates on that rent often amounted to 30 per cent; and it might be considered that a person thus situated paid 6 per cent of his income for municipal purposes, while 1 per cent only was paid at the West End. The rate, if equalized, would, he acknowledged, be high. It might be 3s. 9d., or even 4s., but then it should be remembered that every additional 1d. would yield a revenue of £67,000 a year. He would, however, ask if there should be only one kind of property liable to taxation to municipal purposes. Was it absolutely impossible that any other property besides house and land should be made to contribute to local taxes? He feared he should frighten the House if he allowed the words "municipal income-tax" to escape from his lips; but if the House declared that other kinds of property should not be made liable, he could not see how further metropolitan, improvements could be effected. He did not for one moment wish to shift existing burdens from one shoulder to another; but the difficulty of finding where the money was to come from was one that they must face if they wished to see the carrying out of improvements which were generally acknowledged to be necessary. Some would, perhaps, say that immediately a special tax was imposed for improving the metropolis the desire for improvements would cease; but he did not think that feeling would be general, and even if it assumed any considerable proportions, there was still the impossibility of leaving London in its present state, staring them in the face. But the difficulty arose, how could a tax such as he had indicated be localized? He thought, if the principle were once accepted, that he could make a suggestion by which such a resource could be made available. If Parliament and the country should decide it to be just that a tax, say of 1d. should be levied upon income for municipal purposes, he would propose that it should be accepted, and the local community having been granted that 1d. should say to the State, "We have a tax that will be difficult for us to raise, and you have one of similar value which we could collect with ease. Suppose we exchange; we will give you that 1d. on the income tax to which you have assented as a just impost for municipal purposes, and do you give us the house duty." The house duty amounts to £1,000,000; 1d. on the income tax would amount to a little more, and the house tax could very well be collected by local authorities. If a disposition existed on the part of holders of property to contribute towards the improvement of the municipality in which their houses were situated, the plan he proposed could, he felt sure, be easily carried out. He had not placed upon the Paper any string of Resolutions, but trusted the House would acquit him of having been vague in that which he desired to effect. He had raised the question as to where the money was to be found, and he had done his best to answer it, and also to show that there had been a continuous increase in the burdens of rateable property. He had not embodied his views in Resolutions, because he had thought it better that the matter should be discussed as a whole, apart from any question of local polemics, and when the House could consider dispassionately what had been the expenditure of the Metropolitan Board, and what had been the return for it. They had come to the end of their resources, but they were only at the beginning of improvements which were absolutely necessary. They must make up their minds what was to be done, and where the money was to come from; and he trusted the House would not allow any financial difficulties to block the way of those progressive improvements in the metropolis which the omission of former callous and improvident generations had imposed as a paramount duty upon a more prosperous, but also, he trusted, a more humane and conscientious age.


thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he had brought this question before the House, and said, that he was sure that the ratepayers of the metropolis were greatly indebted to him for the manner in which he had alluded to the unequal incidence of taxation upon them. The Metropolitan Board had had their attention directed to the matter, and last Session they brought in a Bill in reference to it, and he hoped that on a future occasion they would succeed in remedying the evils that existed. He quite concurred that the owners of property should bear a certain proportion of the necessary taxation, and the Bill of last year went a long way in that direction. Respecting the sums raised by the Metropolitan Board, it appeared that since its formation, eleven years ago, it had spent £11,646,972, including loans for works not yet completed. Of this, £98,457 was raised in its first year—1856—amounting to 2¼d. in the pound of rateable property; in 1866, £391,897, or 6½d. in the pound was raised; and last year the total revenue of the Board was £455,358, or 7½d. in the pound. In 1856 the rateable property in the metropolis was valued at £11,283,663; in 1866 it was £14,524,542; so that if rates had increased, the power of bearing them had increased in a greater ratio. Then, comparing London with Paris, he found that the city of Paris paid £3 2s. 10d. per head by indirect taxation, independently of 17s. 4d. levied by the State, while Londoners paid only £1 per head. If it were said that taxation was increasing, what was got for the addi- tional taxation certainly should be looted at. The works under the control of the Board had materially improved the City; the Thames Embankment was progressing satisfactorily; the Main Drainage would shortly be finished; and it was satisfactory to know that during the last ten years the mortality had decreased 10 per cent, and the water of the Thames had become much more pure and wholesome. In addition, the Board had constructed Southwark Street, Garrick Street, removed Middle Row, and made many other improvements too numerous to mention; they had also formed Finsbury, Southwark, and other Parks. The expenses of the Board had been remarked upon; but in considering those items it should be remembered that a great many duties had been imposed upon the Board by Parliament, which had tended materially to swell them to their present proportions; not the least expensive among these new offices were duties connected with the suppression of the cattle plague, others relating to gas, and the control of the Fire Brigade. Respecting the Fire Brigade, it was only necessary to compare its present condition with its state eighteen months ago to ascertain what the Board had done for it. Not only had its general efficiency been advanced, but its engines had been increased from 36 to 111, the number of floating engines had been increased, and other steps had been taken to ensure the greater efficiency of the Brigade. He mentioned these particulars, not as matter of complaint against the right hon. Gentleman, who had dealt with the subject in a most temperate manner, but merely in justice to the Board. The right hon. Gentleman complained of the manner in which the accounts of the Metropolitan Board of Works were made up. He could only tell the right hon. Gentleman that those accounts were made up in accordance with the Act of Parliament; so that if there was any fault in the matter it lay at the door of the House of Commons, and not at that of the Board. He could assure the House that the Board were most anxious to discharge their duties efficiently, and to promote, as far as it was in their power to do so, the improvement of the metropolis; and if the right hon. Gentleman would only give them the benefit of his experience in accounts, they would be very happy to give every consideration to his suggestions.


, as a resident in the metropolis for over thirty years, had been unhappily compelled to feel the system of taxation to which his right hon. Friend the Member for London (Mr. Goschen) had called the attention of the House. He had been induced to inquire into the receipts of the Metropolitan Board of Works for several years past; and, as he had been unable to comprehend the annual statement of accounts issued by that body, he had intended last year to call the attention of the House to the constitution of the Board of Works, its powers, and its mode of raising money for metropolitan improvements, with the view of showing that the latter was unsatisfactory, and that the subject ought to be referred to a Select Committee. As a preliminary to that step, he moved for a Return which he now held in his hand; but the difficulties were so great that it was not until after the lapse of a considerable time, and till the Home Secretary exercised in a proper manner the power vested in him, that this Return was made up and laid before the House. The reluctance with which the document had been furnished led him to think that it must have been about as agreeable to the Chairman of the Board as the extraction of a tooth was to most people. The Return showed some extraordinary facts with regard to receipts and expenditure. The Metropolitan Board of Works was constituted of deputies from the various vestries of the metropolis. These gentlemen met together one day in a week, and levied any amount of taxation they pleased, and the House could not at all interfere. If the vestries did not send in their respective shares of the amount so levied, the Board had power to compel payment of the money. This taxation had become so serious a matter that it was now a crushing weight on the lower class of ratepayers, and could not be continued. The manner in which it had gone on increasing was extraordinary. In 1856 the precepts, or rate, levied on the City of London amounted to £5,550, and they had since been gradually swelling until in 1866 they amounted to £13,680, or an increase approaching 300 per cent. In Marylebone, the increase was from £4,609 in 1856 to £11,599 in 1866; and in Paddington from £2,427 to £7,855, or 314 per cent. In Shoreditch nothing was collected in 1856, but in 1857, £1,070 was obtained, and in 1866, £4,034, nearly 400 per cent; in St. Matthew, Bethnal Green, nothing could be obtained in 1856, but £304 10s. 2d. was received in 1857, and in 1866 that amount had swollen to £2,200, above 600 per cent; and in St. John's, Clerkenwell, the very focus of the labouring poor, nothing was obtained in 1856, but in the following year, £1,161 6s. 3d. was collected, and the amount in 1866 was £2,595 18s. 7d. The total amount received by the Board, including loans, had been £11,056,099 1s. 6d., or about £1,000,000 a year. How was the money spent? He admitted that the Board had done good things: it had done great good, no doubt, in the Main Drainage; but one of its operations had been to make a very remarkable increase in the salaries of its officers. In 1856 the Chairman, Sir John Thwaites, got £1,500 a year, and now he had £2,000, an increase of £500 per annum. In the Clerk's department, the name of the first man that met his eye, Mr. Pollard, Clerk of the Board, represented an increase of £450 upon £350 a year, and there were twelve more clerks who had each had an increase. Mr. Bazalgette the Engineer commenced with a salary of £1,000, and now had £2,200. [Lord JOHN MANNERS: Hear, hear!] The noble Lord cried "Hear, hear!" He must tell him the ratepayers reciprocated the cry in a very different sense. Three other gentlemen, Messrs. Lovick, Grant, and Cooper, had had their salaries raised from £350 to £1,000 per annum. This had reference to the Engineer's department: and there were nineteen other persons whose salaries had been increased, varying from £75 to £286 4s. per annum. In the Architect's department (thirteen persons), every individual but one had his salary increased—Mr. Vuliamy from £800 to £1,000 per annum. In the Solicitor's office, eight persons are employed, and the salary of Mr. W. W. Smith, the Solicitor, has been raised from £1,000 to £1,250 per annum. In fact, the annual salary of seventy-two persons has been permanently increased at the cost of the ratepayers, besides the increase of the daily or weekly pay of many, many others. He did not object to a fair increase for length of service; but when he found that salaries were increased by more than 100 per cent, it made him remember that he had been 16 years in the public service before he got an increase—before he got a company. But then he had been only a poor subaltern, and not a clerk in the Metropolitan Board of Works. The portion of the Embankment from Waterloo to Whitehall was contracted for by Mr. Furness for the sum of £520,000, and was to have been completed last August twelvemonth; but Mr. Furness became bankrupt and the work was suspended. It appeared that Mr. Furness went through the Bankruptcy Court, and that he made statements there which raised a storm in the Metropolitan Board of Works. In passing up and down the river, after the bankruptcy of Mr. Furness, the hon. Member said he had occasion to remark what a limited number of persons were engaged upon the Embankment, and how little they seemed to have to do; nevertheless, in the accounts he found that credit was given for extra time in 1865–6 and 1866–7, to no less than eighty-seven persons in 1865–6, and ninety-two in 1866–7; some called assistant clerks, some special clerks-or clerks of the works, and some draughtsmen; but he was told that some of the so-called clerks of the works were merely masons. Security was taken for the completion of the works by Mr. Furness, and it became important to know what had become of these securities, and whether the amount for which they rendered themselves liable had been paid. As far as the execution of the work had proceeded, he had nothing to say against it; it was handsome, substantial, and in good taste, and it appeared that £378,634 out of the £520,000 had actually been expended. The complaint which he made with regard to the Report was, there was a want of openness and ingenuousness, and that all these facts were not plainly stated; nothing was said of Mr. Furness's bankruptcy, nothing about his securities, and nothing about the suspension of the works between Westminster and Waterloo Bridges. It would seem that the Metropolitan District Railway, from want of funds, were not able to complete their authorized portion of the works upon the Embankment, and that the Metropolitan Board of Works would neither lend them money for the purpose, nor, in the absence of these railway works, would they complete them themselves. A report of the proceedings of the Metropolitan Board of Works appeared upon this subject in The Times of Saturday, 25th January, 1868. He wished to know how long matters were thus to remain at a dead lock, to the damage of the public interests, and whether pressure upon the part of the House would not be brought to bear? Was the Metropolitan Board of Works to be allowed to refrain from carrying into effect all such arrangements as had been made, and would not the House compel the Board to see that the contract for the railway was proceeded with? The House would learn with sur- prise that the Board had borrowed in ten years £6,827,000; and that at this moment the outstanding sums against the Metropolitan Board amounted to £5,513,266 13s. 4d. Where was that money to come from? Were they to have a permanent rate? and why should they call upon living people to pay that deficiency? Why were we to pay for the comfort, convenience, and health of people yet unborn? If money was to be borrowed for the purpose of these improvements, why should not the rate be raised by annuities to extend over 100 years? The Metropolitan Board of Works was practically an irresponsible and despotic body; its patronage was enormous; it had the stomach of the cormorant, and was endeavouring to acquire and to absorb every other power in the metropolis. It had clutched the Fire Brigade and Fire Escape Establishments, and was aiming at the Gas Companies; it was, in fact, an imperium in imperio, which ought not to exist to tax at pleasure the 3,000,000 of the population of London.


said, that the Members of the Select Committee appointed two years ago to inquire into this subject must feel extremely gratified at the speech of his right hon. Friend, who had so cordially endorsed their opinions and recommendations. A Member of the present Government, having served upon that Committee, having devoted a great deal of time and attention to the subject, and having concurred in the conclusions at which the Committee arrived, he had been led to hope that steps would be taken by the Government to give effect to the recommendations of that Committee. Unfortunately, at the close of last Session the House found itself very nearly at the point from which it had started. His object on the present occasion was to draw some practical conclusions from the excellent remarks of his right hon. Friend. He quite concurred with his right hon. Friend that it would be contrary to any recognized principle of taxation to continue a tax like the Coal tax, and thus to give to the Metropolitan Board of Works the power of making a charge which was not to take effect immediately but at the expiration of many years. If one principle had been insisted upon more than another it was that nobody should be allowed to raise money, unless the incidence of the loan took place immediately, and the infraction of that principle by the Board of Works would be fraught with the greatest danger, as it would encourage extravagance and withdraw the conduct of the Board from immediate observation. Impressed with this belief, his right hon. Friend had pointed out the necessity of finding some other source of taxation. This question had been discussed on several occasions, and the House had repeatedly affirmed and acted upon the view put forward respecting local taxation in the Report to which allusion had been made. Parliament had frequently recognized the principle that whenever a new charge was imposed, which came as it were by surprise on the occupiers of property, a portion of such charge ought to be borne by the owners. When he, as a private Member, introduced his Bill, all those stipendiary agencies of agitation, which were so well known to persons connected with the politics of the metropolis were immediately hired and set in motion, for the purpose of misrepresenting everything he had done or desired to do, and everything which the Committee had recommended. Meetings were got up, and men hired at 2s. a head to attend them, in order to represent the opinions of the great owners of property and the persons of influence and station in the metropolis. These people entered their protest against the owners of property being subjected to taxation at the instance of a private Member of the House of Commons, and having voted retired to publichouses, where they received their reward. Then advertisements were inserted in the newspapers to give an impressive character to resolutions arrived at by this contrived machinery, and circulars denouncing the Bill were widely distributed. The most violent opposition proceeded from the Corporation of the City of London. Now he wished to direct attention to the circumstance that after the Report was presented, the Corporation of the City of London took it into their serious consideration, and were so impressed with the justice of the views it contained that in the beginning of last Session they themselves introduced a Bill to empower them to levy a rate of 6d. in the pound on the owners of property. That Bill was most properly submitted to the Committee, which was re-appointed for the purpose of taking it into consideration. The Committee, however, came to the conclusion that the provisions of the Bill were extremely unjust to the owners of property in the City; as, if there were to be taxation for the general improvement, it would be a hard thing that, in addition to the ordinary taxation, the owners of property in the City should be subjected to an additional tax of 6d. in the pound to be applied by the Corporation. Accordingly that Bill was dropped, but no sooner had the Committee declared that it was inexpedient to levy 6d. in the pound than the Corporation, by every contrivance in their power, proclaimed the immense injustice of levying 3d. or 4d., which was the maximum of any rate to be levied uniformly through the whole metropolis. No private Member had any chance of successfully opposing the Corporation of the City of London, and it was therefore hopeless for him to proceed with his measure. But what was the present position of the question? The hon. and gallant Member for Bath (Colonel Hogg) who represented the wealthiest parish in London at the Board of Works, had this evening acquiesced in the expediency of the scheme which he had suggested, and his right hon. Friend the Member for the City (Mr. Goschen) had explained to the House the principles on which a tax should be based. Under these circumstances, it was a duty imperative on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take into his own hands a question of such vital importance as the regulation of what might be termed the general finances of the metropolis. The metropolis was already under a great obligation to the right hon. Gentleman, because some years ago, at a critical period of metropolitan finance, he took a very wise view of the situation of affairs. The right hon. Gentleman said it would be better that he should himself deal with the finances, and show how the funds could be raised, after which the task of carding out the works necessary for the public might be remitted to the Metropolitan Board. And the right hon. Gentleman had been amply rewarded for the course he took, as experience showed that he had saved the metropolis from the extravagant waste of no less than £5,000,000. Encouraged by what he did then, the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to take this matter into his own consideration, in which event he would doubtless receive the support of the House. At present the finances of the metropolis were in the same state as the English finances were before Mr. Pitt established the Consolidated Fund. In the Committee he devoted much time to unravelling the accounts of the Board of Works extending over ten years, and he believed the Report gave a clear statement of the income and expenditure during that period. The result of the present system of finance was that you had a Board, with the credit of the whole metropolis at its back, going about raising loans like a second-class railway company at a rate of interest which was perfectly extravagant when you considered the security. The proper mode of raising money was not to have separate debts chargeable on particular funds, but to have one consolidated debt applicable to the whole metropolis. If the question were taken up by the Government in a large and comprehensive manner, he had no hesitation in saying that money could be borrowed at no higher a rate of interest than 3½ per cent. A debt borrowed upon the whole property of the metropolis would certainly have as good a security as the Consols of the country. If they borrowed money to be re-paid by instalment in thirty years, the annual payments would be reduced to a reasonable sum. There was, however, no analogy between the taxation of London and Paris. In Paris there was a complex system entirely different from our own. For instance, taxation on property in France did not mean fixed property only, but included moveables, and the produce of certain taxes was distributed throughout the country in aid of local resources. The octroi was not peculiar to Paris, but extended throughout the entire municipal system of France. Again, the duties of the municipality of Paris were much larger than those performed by the municipality here. There was only one administration, which not only included all the expenditure upon roads, lighting, police, and improvements, but embraced education and poor relief. He had always urged the consolidation of our administration as far as possible, and a reduction in the vast number of officials who were maintained by the present system. In every district you had two Boards, two sets of officials, double sets of collectors, who largely enhanced the cost of administration. He hoped, in conclusion, that some benefit would arise from the discussion, and that the Government would adopt the policy which the late Government were prepared to have adopted—take the subject of metropolitan finance into their own hands, and thus bring it before the House with all the authority which was necessary for dealing with it.


assured the right hon. Gentleman that the feeling that rates were bearing more than their due weight was not confined to London and its vicinity, but extended throughout every county. In the country they had their fears, not only that there would be an education rate, but that the keeping of turnpike-roads and other burdens would be thrown upon the already overburdened ratepayers. If the rates of this metropolis were to be supplemented by a new tax, as was suggested, the people in the country naturally feared that the same course would be pursued in respect to them, and that an Imperial tax would supplement the rates with which they were at present oppressed. He should feel it his duty to offer every resistance to any plan which would have the effect of imposing additional burdens upon the occupiers of rateable property in the country.


said, the discussion had shown that the limits of taxation in this metropolis had been reached. From personal experience, he knew that the amount of suffering and distress arising from the increased taxation placed upon the already overburdened taxpayers had become intolerable. In his opinion taxation ought to be imposed according to the capabilities of the poorest parishes. He knew that many and many a ratepayer could only pay the imposts upon him by hard work and the greatest self-denial, and it was very unfair to increase the difficulties of that class of persons. As it was manifest that those who were to come after us would derive a much greater benefit than we could hope to do from any improvements which might be effected, it was only right that they should defray some portion of the expense, and that the present occupiers should not have to bear the entire heat and burden of the day. The whole question of taxation ought to dealt with in a comprehensive manner, so as to do justice to the metropolis and to the country at large. He had had so many representations made to him on the subject that he felt bound to say that any increase of taxation would press most severely on the taxpayers of the metropolis. Even the wealthiest parishes contained many poor, and they ought to be considered as well as the rich.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,

House adjourned at Eight o'clock, till Monday next.

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