HC Deb 28 April 1869 vol 195 cc1814-8

Order for Second Heading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the object of the Bill was to relieve hospitals, dispensaries, and infirmaries from their present liability to poor rates, borough and other local rates. These institutions, instead of being numerous, were few and scattered; and, indeed, in their very natures, had the effect, by affording relief to the injured and distressed, of relieving the rates of charges which they would otherwise have to bear. The exemption of such institutions from rating had always been considered as established, until they wore made rateable, in consequence of an elaborate judgment lately delivered by Mr. Justice Blackburn, which was established by a recent decision of the House of Lords. He had taken, as the model of his Bill, the Act exempting literary and scientific institutions, and whatever could be pleaded in favour of these must apply with tenfold force to the case of charitable institutions. If it were right, twenty years ago, to exempt the former much more must it be so to exempt those to which this Bill applied.

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


said, he desired to support the Bill, which would have the effect of removing some of the obstacles frequently presented by the law to the establishment of those institutions by benevolent persons. In the case of St. George's Hospital, of which he was one of the governors, the contributions had, for the last seven years, fallen short of the expenditure; and, during the last two or three years, in addition to other heavy expenses, it had had to pay over £500 in rates. If this Bill were passed, those institutions would be able to do much to reduce the rates, by affording increased relief to the poor and distressed. They were, at present, passing a measure which would materially benefit the contributors to the support of the helpless and infirm in Ireland; and they ought not to refuse to confer a somewhat similar been upon the same class in England.


said, that in Scotland all those institutions were assessable for local rates. There were sometimes special exemptions but, as a general rule, they were liable to pay to local rates. It was a very great hardship that rates should be levied upon those institutions which were kept up by voluntary contributions. Their exemption would entail a very small burden indeed upon the general ratepayer; and they ought to bear this burden, for it was a well-known fact that all benevolent institutions were supported, not by the general body of ratepayers, but by a comparatively small section, who contributed to any charity, while the great majority contributed to none.


said, he would support the measure, though he felt some doubt whether it was altogether fair that the landed property belonging to these institutions should be exempted from rating. Institutions of this kind had a great effect in keeping down the rates, by the relief which they afforded to those who would otherwise become a burden upon the public.


said, he wished to add his voice in favour of the Bill. The feeling in Leeds was very strongly in favour of this claim. In that town a new infirmary had lately been built, altogether by voluntary benevolence, at a cost of £120,000; and if made subject to rates, the amount would be most oppressive. Hitherto the parish officers of Leeds had shown their good sense and feeling by declining to rate the medical charities of the town, none of which possessed endowments. For three centuries hospitals had been exempted from rating, and it seemed to him that that exemption had obtained the force of prescription. The interests of humanity very clearly demanded that poor rates should not be exacted from hospitals. These institutions were of extreme benefit where the workmen were peculiarly subject to accidents from machinery, inasmuch as they received there the aid of the highest surgical and medical skill that could be afforded to them. Since hospitals tended materially to reduce the rates, by doing work which would otherwise have to be done by the union, it was unjust to tax them on behalf of the union. The rating of hospitals, in fact, was simply taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another; and he therefore maintained that common sense as well as consistency required that the exemption of hospitals from the poor rates, which had existed from the time of Elizabeth, should be continued.


said, he might refer, in support of the Bill, to a circumstance that had occurred in the hospital established in the city represented by him (Rochester). The rates levied on that hospital had the effect of closing four beds, and to that extent had caused the rejection of persons in urgent need of assistance.


said, this was one of those measures which it was a great luxury to support if one could, and which it was somewhat painful to be obliged to oppose. But this must be looked upon as part of the great question of exemptions, which could not be well dealt with piecemeal. He would remind the House that this was not the only proposal for exemptions which was to come under the notice of Parliament. A similar proposal was about to be made with regard to Sunday schools and various other charitable institutions; and in determining upon the course to be taken upon the present occasion, the House ought to consider whether all institutions founded and supported by voluntary contributions should have their funds supplemented by public local taxation; for, to be exempt from taxes, was to have a grant from the taxes. There was one parish in the metropolis in which one-fortieth of the whole rateable property belonged to charitable institutions, and in that case, if those institutions were exempted, the effect would be very seriously to increase the rates paid by the other parishioners. The question was whether the parishioners were to be compelled to become subscribers in this way to the hospitals? St. George's Hospital, which had been referred to, and other hospitals did great service in cases of sudden accident, as well as to the sick poor; and a very largo proportion of the inmates of those institutions did not belong to the pauper class at all. Under these circumstances, it was fair to ask whether the particular localities in which these hospitals were situated were to have their rates increased for an object from which the whole country benefited? If they once entered upon these exemptions, it was difficult to say where the line should be drawn; for, if they exempted hospitals and infirmaries, it would be followed by similar demands, first from Sunday schools, and afterwards from night schools and other schools for the poor, working men's institutes and working men's Colleges. It would be a far better principle, if they were to recognize the title of hospitals to receive support from the public purse, that it should be done directly by a grant of money, instead of indirectly at the expense of the parishioners of the particular parishes in which hospitals were situated. He trusted, therefore, that the House would deny itself the pleasure of passing this Bill.


said, he entirely concurred in the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. He might bring to their recollection the case of that magnificent hospital—St. Thomas's—which was being constructed on the other side of the river on ground formerly occupied by houses which were rated for parochial burdens. If this Bill passed the parishioners would have to pay larger contributions, in order that that hospital, which was as much a national as a parochial institution, should be exempted. It was a question whether there should not be some special system of taxation applicable to charities; but it would be inexpedient to exempt one class of charitable institutions from local taxation in the way proposed by this Bill.


said, he should give his support to the Bill, and should be glad to see its principle carried further by the exemption of all institutions supported by voluntary contributions from local rates. Why should persons who subscribed money to a charitable object be taxed for being charitable?


said, that the Bill involved an important prin- ciple. He had received strong representations on the subject from hospitals in the county which he represented, which were anxious to be exempted from taxation. Formerly he was inclined to think that their claims for exemption were well founded, but since then he had held Office in the Poor Law Board, and had made more careful inquiry into the matter, and the result was that the more he inquired the more clearly it had appeared to him that the view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (the President of the Poor Law Board) was correct, and that it would be detrimental to the other ratepayers if these institutions were exempted. The subject had been carefully considered by a Select Committee in 1857, and they had expressed a similar opinion. It would be a great mistake if the House should agree to the second reading of the Bill.

And it being now a Quarter before Six o'clock,

Debate adjourned till To-morrow,

House adjourned at Ten minutes before Six o'clock.