HC Deb 06 May 1868 vol 191 cc1864-72

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time said, its object was to secure a more equitable distribution of local taxation than existed at present. The Bill before the House imposes further taxation; but until property now exempted from taxation is made to bear a fair share of the burdens of the country, the people would object to any increase of those burdens. The natural objection to taxes of every description was augmented, and the opposition to any proposed increase of local taxation was made more earnest in consequence of the inequality with which the rates were imposed. It had been objected that the Preamble of the Bill did not correctly recite the present state of the law with regard to the rating of mines, but he contended that it did, and that it was those who objected to it who were in error. At the close of the last century, by a decision of Lord Mansfield, all mines except coal mines were held to be free from local taxation; but according to a recent decision if the lord of the mine receives his royalty in any way in kind he is rateable because he is to that extent an occupier. This was a contradictory law, easily evaded, and its effect was, that property to the extent of £6,400,000 a year did not pay anything towards the rates of the country. The exemption did not extend to Ireland or Scotland, and this made the anomaly the greater. Very little would be needed to show how unjust to the ordinary ratepayer was this exemption of certain mines from liability to contribute to parish expenditure. A mine in full work in any district drew into its neighbourhood a large number of workmen, for whom dwellings defective in all sanitary arrangements were hastily built; and if, as often happened, the mine became exhausted, or fell into disuse from any other reason, a large number of those workmen and their families became more or less a burden to the parish, though their employers had contributed nothing in the days of their prosperity to the parish purse. Of 324 paupers in a Union in one of the Cornish districts in 1865 he found that only fifty-two were of the agricultural class — the rest had all been miners; and the mines had not contributed one farthing to the poor rate. Then, again, great injury was done to roads by the carting of heavy ore from the mine to the railway; yet these roads had to be repaired at the expense of the farmers and shopkeepers, while the owners of the mines were altogether exempted from liability to contribute. Without further dilating on this point he would proceed to explain the provisions of the Bill. According to an Act recently passed the mines should only be rated as grass lands. The Bill proposed that they should be assessed according to the Parochial Act of Will. III. The 1st clause provided that all mines should be rated at an estimate of the net annual value. In Committee he should ask leave to amend that clause, because the net annual value of a mine was never paid. It would be paid if the lessee entered into possession of the mine with its plant all fixed, the shaft sunk, and the whole mine ready for work, but that was never the case. The royalty paid by the lessee of a mine resembled the rent which would be paid by a farmer under a thirty years' lease of a piece of moorland; and the net annual value of a mine resembled the net annnal value of that piece of moorland after it had been drained and fenced, and brought under cultivation. He contended that inasmuch as a piece of re-claimed moorland was assessed at its improved annual value, a mine in full operation should be also assessed according to its worth. The 2nd clause too, which referred to the royalties obtained where mines had been abandoned and afterwards been taken up again, as well as the 3rd clause, required amendment, and he appealed to the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Pease) to assist him in coming to some satisfactory arrangement with regard to the deductions which should be allowed in estimating the net annual value of mines. In certain cases, no doubt, the royalties did indicate the actual value of the mine; but in a mine there was certainly a diminished rateable value according to the decreasing value of the produce; and in order to ascertain the just payment it was proposed to capitalize the whole value of the mine at fifteen, years, and base the assessment on that. The equitable deduction as between the annual and rateable value was, in his opinion, about one-third, He was himself in favour of the proposal to leave some points in the hands of the local Assessment Committees; but these matters could be easily settled in Committee, with respect to the exception of mines in Derbyshire, Cornwall, and Devon from the operations of the Act; the mines of Derbyshire were already rated in accordance with a local arrangement which satisfied everyone concerned, including the parish authorities and the ordinary ratepayer — an arrangement which it would be unwise to disturb. The mines of Cornwall and Devon were hazardous as speculations, and during the last two years had been by no means prosperous; it was therefore proposed by the 5th clause to relieve the occupiers of those mines from liability, to transfer it to the owners, and to assess the rate on the royalty paid by the lessee. If, however, it was deemed unjust to treat one portion of the kingdom differently from another, he would have no objection to exempt from liability all mines whose success was doubtful. The 6th clause, providing for the assessment of mines under the provi- sions of the Local Government Act or any Local Improvement Acts, in the same way as arable land was assessed, he proposed to make prospective only. As the principle of the Bill had been already assented to, he would not further detain the House but would formally move the second reading.


, in seconding the Motion, said, he entirely approved of, and concurred in, the principle of the Bill. Many meetings had taken place in Cornwall with reference to the Bill; and although there were small differences as to the details of the measure, yet all classes—agricultural, town, and mining — had unanimously come to the conclusion that mining property ought no longer to be exempted from contributing its fair and just proportion to the local rates.

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


said, he did not rise to oppose the second reading of the Bill. Two years ago he admitted that mines ought to be rated; but he was exceedingly opposed to rushing headlong into legislation upon the subject; for there were many difficulties to be considered. He objected to mineral mines being rated as coal mines now were; because no fixed principles were acted on in the case of coal mines; and he contended that the amendment should be conducted in accordance with a fixed system applicable to all mines. A Return made on the Motion of the hon. Member for Whitby (Mr. Bagnall) showed how utterly opposed to reason was the practice which had grown up in respect of the rating of coal mines. The 3rd clause, relating to the deductions to be made from the gross value to find the net rent, seemed adapted to give rise to innumerable lawsuits; it would be far better if a definite rate of deduction were, fixed upon for the purpose, He also objected to Clause 5 as far as it set up a different standard for different counties. No doubt the miners of Cornwall and Devon deserved every consideration the House could give under the circumstances; but it would be very unfair if they were relieved altogether from liability to pay local rates. As, however, ordinary principles of assessment were not applicable to mines, he would suggest that an increased deduction should be allowed in the case of mines commercially hazardous.


said, he agreed with the principle of the Bill, and as it proposed to make mining property rateable, and to have the rates levied in the same way as the highway rate, he would take occasion to point out the necessity that existed for altering the present mode of assessing highway rates. If the Bill were passed it would raise more pointedly than ever the question whether the highway rates should be wholly payable out of the real property of the country. By the present law a clergyman with a small glebe had to pay a heavy highway rate, whilst his neighbour, a rich brewer, who resided within the borough, and used the highway in the prosecution of his business, had no rate to pay. He hoped Parliament would remedy the grievance in the next Session of Parliament.


said, that many years since he endeavoured to pass a Bill for the rating of mines, but the difficulties were so great that he had to abandon it. In Cornwall all parties had agreed that it was but fair and just that mines should be rated, and that the whole expense should fall on the owners of the mines. He was at a loss to understand why such an arrangement should be a cause of complaint with other counties. He warned the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Percy Wyndham) against endeavouring to pass the 5th clause in a form objectionable to Cornish interests and contrary to the report of the Select Committee upon the rating of mines. He should assist in every way to make the Bill workable, but unless a fair and just principle was applied to the case of the Cornish people, he should oppose the third reading.


said, he wished to point out that although the Bill had met with general approval as to its principle, it was so framed that it either left unsettled, or settled on different principles, the subject of the rating of mines. He was not satisfied that Clause 5 was founded on a just principle. The just principle seemed to be that now in force—namely, that the actual value from year to year of the property should be estimated fairly. Uniformity, above all things, was needed; if deductions from gross value were to be allowed in the case of copper and tin mines, why should they not be allowed in the assessment of coal mines? It seemed to him to be monstrous that a tin mine in full operation and making good returns should be rated on more favourable terms than a coal mine. He did not insist that it should be rated for all years on the estimate of any one year, but that a fair average should be struck for the assessor's guidance. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill had omitted from his very clear statement an important point arising out of Clause 6. The effect of that clause would be that coal mines which are now rated to their fullest extent would be assessed at only one quarter of their annual value. That seemed to him a very doubtful measure; he had always approved the principle laid down by Sir George Lewis that all exemptions for rating purposes were impolitic; and for this proposed exemption in favour of coal mines he could imagine no reason whatever. If any one wished to find a district where the roads were bad, where small ill-built houses abounded, and pauperism was chronic, and where, consequently, expenditure on sanitary grounds was required, let him go to a new colliery district. The colliery drew around it a large population of the poorest description, and it should be made liable to pay local rates as much as any other property. Trusting that these points would be considered in Committee, he had no objection to the second reading of the Bill.


said, respecting the wish for uniformity of assessment, that the difficulty of dealing with the 5th clause, as far as it affected Derbyshire, could be appreciated only by those who knew what a happy state of things existed there in consequence of the agreement already referred to. The mines of Derbyshire had always been rated. The assessment was made on the royalty paid to the Duchy of Lancaster, and the rate was paid by the Duchy; so that the parish actually got more from the mines than it would get if the occupier were rated, because the poorer miners would, of necessity, have to be excused. He suggested something in the nature of a Bill for compounding mining rates; if that could be managed the Derbyshire arrangement might stand.


said, he could not understand why woodlands and plantations should escape rating and coal mines be made the victims. The argument that woodlands and plantations were exempted in order not to check the growth of the timber for the purposes of the Royal Navy, did not apply in the present day.


said, that by the operation of the 6th clause all mines rated after the passing of the Bill would be subjected to one-fourth of the gross amount of their valuation, while existing mines would pay the same as they paid now. It was perfectly clear that this was not equitable, and he hoped the clause would be expunged. He cautioned the hon. Member (Mr. Percy Wyndham) against all exemptions. They might lead to unequal taxation even in the same district, for it would be impossible to adopt one uniform system of making deductions from, the assessment. The true principle was to rate in the full amount every mine wherever situated, not only for parochial but for municipal purposes. If any works tendered more than others to deteriorate the public health they were coal mines. Rates for sanitary purposes ought to be paid by all mines as they were paid by manufactories.


thought the hon. Member deserved the thanks of the House for bringing the matter forward. He approved the principle of the Bill though he thought some modifications of its details would be necessary in Committee. But with reference to the whole subject of rating he complained that no principle had yet been fixed on by the Legislature as the basis for any rate at present existing. The law had come into its present state by a course of fortuitous legislation and accidental judgments, and the sooner it was thoroughly examined and re-modelled on a definite principle the better it would be for all concerned. He hoped on an early day to call the attention of the House to the subject.


said, he agreed that it would be desirable to rate all mines on the same principle without exception. The principle of assessment in South Wales at present was most unjust. Coal mines in that district were rated on profits. In no other trade was this principle followed; and in the case of mines it was especially unjust, because the corpus of the mine was being continually exhausted. When coal had been won it might very properly be regarded as stock in trade; so that not only were profits rated, but the stock in trade which had been purchased by the outlay in plant and all the preliminary work of sinking the shaft was rated as well. That was extremely unjust, and on this account, if for no other, he desired to see some principle laid down. But the Bill seemed to propose the rating of other mines on no fixed principle. The 1st clause did not accord with the 2nd; and in both royalty seemed to be confounded with rent, though it was well known these two things very much differed. If the principle were to prevail at all it ought to be made applicable to all mines.


said, he had great pleasure in voting for the second reading of this Bill, as, independently of its other recommendations, it was not only founded on the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords—which resolved that it was expedient that all mines should be assessed, as coal mines now were, inasmuch as their exemption from rates was founded on no sound principles, but was also in accordance with a strong opinion expressed by a Court of Law of high authority—the Court of Exchequer Chamber, in the case of "Crease v. Sawle." They said that the statute of Elizabeth was, in truth, framed with a view to render rateable all occupiers of every description of real estate; and it might be very questionable whether occupiers of mines of any description were exempt at all. Therefore this was a beneficial Bill, as framed for the purpose of putting an end to legal doubts. It was also founded on justice; and if in Committee it should be proposed, as had been already suggested in the course of the discussion, that its principle should be extended to other kinds of property—plantations, for example—he should be very happy to give the proposition his favourable consideration.


said, he thought that the principle laid down in Clause 6 of the Bill ought to be adhered to.


said, he had been requested by his constituents to oppose the second reading of this Bill; but after the explanation of the hon. Member for West Cumberland (Mr. Percy Wyndham) he should not do so, but confine his objections to the 6th clause, by which all mines were to be rated, under the Local Government Act, and Local Improvement Act, at one-fourth of their value. His constituents considered this a most unjust provision of the Bill, because in the borough which he represented (Wakefield) the coal measures extended under the town, and there was a great traffic of coal carts through the streets, thereby damaging the pavement and sometimes even crushing in the gas-pipes; and to rate the coalpits at only one-fourth of their value was to make them contribute a less share towards the repair of the streets than was reasonable. He hoped the hon. Member for West Cumberland would alter the clause, or he must give it his most strenuous opposition in Committee.


said, that when persons sought for privileges and exemptions they were bound to make out a strong case. He should not resist the proposal to rate the lessors instead of the lessees; but he was at a loss to know why the great mines of Devonshire should be rated upon a different principle to the coal mines of Northumberland; and, in behalf of his constituents in the North, he should in Committee offer his most uncompromising opposition to any clause proposing exemptions in favour of any particular districts.


thanked the House for the manner in which the Bill had been received. Nothing would give him greater satisfaction than that the Government should take charge of the Bill. If it remained in his hands, he should attend to the suggestions of his right hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Bruce) and his hon. Friend the Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. Vivian). He would take care that the Preamble should be made to apply equally to all mines whether of salt, metal, or coal.


said, he should support the Bill, the principle of it being to bring mines which had not hitherto been within the purview of rating within such scope. On the general question of rating there could be no greater public benefactor than the person who would invent such a definition of the mode of rating as might be easily applied, not only to coal mines, but to other descriptions of property. The difficulty of carrying out the existing rules was so great that they could scarcely be acted upon by any two lawyers in the same manner. He thought, the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill had done well to confine himself to a practical object; and he would endeavour to assist him in any way he could to make the present Bill a satisfactory measure.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday, 20th May.