HC Deb 23 February 1869 vol 194 cc223-71

, in rising to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the present amount, incidence, and effect of Local Taxation, with a view to a more equitable readjustment of these burdens— said, he felt his responsibility in introducing so difficult and complicated a question was not in any degree diminished since he brought it forward last year, for it had engrossed public attention during the last twelve months, and had been alluded to in almost every election address and hustings speech. There was scarcely any candidate who did not admit the existence of a grievance and pledge himself to do his best to remedy it. He did not take credit for originating the question, because it was brought forward twenty years ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, and had been dealt with by other influential Members; but he had these advantages over his predecessors—there was but little rivalry and jealousy between the different classes and interests of the country at present, and therefore the matter could be discussed with greater temper and moderation than before, and by organization and united action legitimate influence had been brought to bear on the Government of the country. Within the last year or two the recently established Chambers of Agriculture had progressed marvellously, and they were calculated, not only to exercise a beneficial influence, but also to reflect credit on the industry with which they were connected. There had been no agitation, no indignation meetings, no attempt to set class against class, but any one who, like himself, had attended their meetings and taken part in their discussions must acknowledge the ability which had been displayed, and commend the moderation of language, the impartiality of tone and temper, which had characterized their proceedings. If it had not been for the assistance he had received from the Chambers, he would not have presumed to have brought this very difficult and complicated question before the House. A proof of the interest taken in it was the almost universal demand for County Financial Boards, which he had advocated from the first, believing that it was a sound constitutional principle that the ratepayers who found the money should at all events have a voice in its expenditure, although it was a question whether the Boards would be able to effect any appreciable diminution in the county expenditure unless the objects of it were limited. No one was more adverse to class legislation than himself, and he did not bring this question forward in the interest of any one class, for the interest of all classes were indissolubly connected, and to favour one class at the expense of another was not only in his opinion unjust and impolitic, but prejudicial to the public interest. To make the question of local taxation more intelligible he would say a few words upon the general taxation of the country, Imperial as well as local, with reference to its incidence and amount. In round numbers they levied in general taxation and spent on Imperial purposes the sum of £70,000,000 a year, while something like £20,000,000 a year was levied besides in local taxation. The general taxation might be divided into three grades: first, there were the Customs, Excise, Stamps, &c., which were indirect taxes levied in an imperceptible manner, and produced something like £60,000,000 a year; next, there was the Income Tax, which was direct, and was levied from a limited and wealthier class upon an annual income of £313,000,000, and at 6d. in the pound produced about £9,000,000. Those two grades were Imperial and national, levied for Imperial and national purposes, and to these purposes real property paid its fair quota. He now came to the third grade, which was local taxation. We levied by local taxation £20,000,000 a year, and this sum was levied from one description of property, which amounted in the whole to £93,000,000 of net annual income. This was also a direct tax, and from it there was no escape—no means of evasion. It was raised wholly, solely, and exclusively from one description of property, namely, real property (lands and houses), from one-seventh of the total annual income of the country, and from less than one-third of that which paid income tax. Local taxation was of two classes. There was, first, the local taxation levied for Imperial or general purposes, the poor rate, the police rate, and the maintenance of justice, &c. Then there was, secondly, that portion which was more purely local—that which was levied for the especial benefit of that property on which it was expended—paving, lighting, sewerage, &c. But the whole of the local taxation of the country was levied under the name of poor rate, and it was raised solely from real property, consisting of lands and houses; yet fully one-third of the amount so raised was diverted from the support of the poor and applied to other purposes. These purposes were miscellaneous and multifarious. He contended, therefore, that the name "poor rate" was a delusive expression. This rate was not in reality a single rate, but an accumulation of rates—a heterogeneous and incongruous mass of charges. He would endeavour to particularize some of them. There were the poor rate, with establishments charges, county rate, charges for lunatics, vaccination, registration, highways, police, administration of justice, expenses of gaols, coroners, and weights and measures, &c. His Motion had reference to the amount, incidence, and effect of the present system of local taxation, and he proposed to say a few words on each of these heads. He would like to have considered the principle, but he maintained that the present system was totally devoid of any principle, and that it was impossible to justify it on any principle of equity, law, or political economy. The whole amount levied for Imperial taxation was £70,000,000; the amount levied for local taxation £20,000,000. To show the increased and increasing amount of local taxation he would compare the first year, for which we had any reliable statistics on this subject, with some recent years. In 1776 the total amount levied was £1,720,000, of which, £1,556,000 belong to the poor rate, and £164,000 to county and other purposes, while in 1867 the figures were—poor rate, £6,959,000; county and other rates, £3,945,000; total, £10,905,000. These figures showed, therefore, that 180 years after the Act of Elizabeth the rate levied for county and other purposes amounted to only £164,000. Ninety years afterwards the total amount had increased 534 per cent.; the poor rate amount, 347 per cent; and the county and other rates, 2,305 per cent. Again, taking a shorter period—of thirty years, from 1837 to 1867—he found that in 1837 the total amount levied was £5,294,000, the item for poor rate being £4,044,000, and that for county and other rates being £1,250,000; and compared with the figures for 1867, as just given, it showed an increase in the total amount levied of 100 per cent, of the poor rate of 70 per cent., and of the county rates 200 per cent. Taking a still shorter period of six years—1861 to 1867—he found that the total amount levied was £2,302,000, showing an increase of 30 per cent for poor rates—£1,181,000—or 20 per cent, increase; and for county rates, £1,329,000, or 50 per cent increase. Comparing 1866 with 1867—the last year for which there were any published Returns—the figures showed that in 1866 the total was £9,989,000, with £6,439,000 for poor, and £3,550,000 for county and other rates, giving a total increase of £1,000,000, the increase on poor-rate being 8 per cent, and that on other charges 11 per cent. The Returns for the present year had not yet been published; but he thought that when they were published they would show a proportionate increase, because it appeared that whereas on the 1st of January, 1867, there were 963,000 persons chargeable on the poor rate, in January, 1868, there were 1,040,000 persons so chargeable. We had, therefore, one in every nineteen of the population chargeable on the poor rate, or, in other words, exclusively chargeable on one description of property—namely, real property, while the greater proportion, the bulk of the income and property of the country, went scot free, and contributed scarcely anything. Of the £20,000,000 levied by way of local taxation, £8,000,000 were raised for rates, taxes, tolls, and dues. To this amount the charge of land tax might be fairly added, besides £11,000,000 for poor rate and county rate. The amount raised by rates, taxes, tolls, &c., had increased £1,000,000 last year, and the debt £3,500,000. The total amount now reached £21,000,000 at least, exclusive of tithes, and this was raised from £93,000,000 of net annual income. The amount raised just now for the whole of our Imperial taxation was £70,000,000. If from those £70,000,000 we took £28,000,000, which went to pay the interest on debt, we had £42,000,000 raised for Imperial purposes, whereas we were raising £21,000,000 for local taxation. Then the £70,000,000 were raised from the United Kingdom—England, Ireland, and Scotland—while the £21,000,000 were raised in England and Wales alone. Was it not a glaring injustice that one description of property should be taxed at the rate of 2s. or 2s. 6d. in the pound, while all other descriptions paid nothing whatever? Could such a system be defended upon any legal principle? Was it in accordance with equity, with sound principles of political economy, or with the principles of right and wrong which governed the ordinary transactions of life? It might be said that the old Act of Elizabeth afforded some justification for the anomaly; but how did the facts stand? The poor rate was the oldest tax in this country, with the exception of the church rate, which he might remind the House had been so recently abolished. Up to the reign of Henry VIII. the poor were maintained by voluntary contributions, distributed by means of monasteries and religious houses, and when those establishments were abolished by Henry VIII. every man was expected and admonished to relieve the indigent according to his ability. The 43rd of Elizabeth was the first Act which empowered churchwardens and overseers to levy compulsory assessments upon real property, and by that Act those persons were instructed to rate every inhabitant according to his ability. The only practicable mode at that time was to rate the net annual value of visible property. Land and houses was the property then particularized, the only source of wealth, and, therefore, best any only test and measure of a man's ability. Funded property, or capitalized wealth, did not then exist to any appreciable amount, and on that account was not particularized. These were good reasons for limiting the relief of the poor to land—because land not only represented the entire wealth of the nation, but employed the entire population. But what was the case now? Was land at the present moment the only test of a man's wealth? On the contrary, the income derived from land only amounted to one-seventh of the whole income of the country, and land only employed one-fourteenth of the whole population of the country. Therefore the good reasons which existed in Elizabeth's time for taxing land solely for the relief of the poor did not now exist. He must also remind the House that, in comparatively later days, the Court of Queen's Bench having determined that stock-in-trade was liable to be assessed to the relief of the poor, Parliament had passed an annual Act since 1840 to prevent stock-in-trade being rated for that purpose. That exemption of one particular property from the tax was most unjust, as it threw an unjust share of the burdens on real property. Although he did not think it desirable that stock-in-trade should be taxed for that purpose, because such a tax would be of an inquisitorial nature, and therefore most unpopular, he demanded that some relief should be given to land from the additional burden thus thrown upon it by property legally liable to the tax being exempted from its operation. He considered there was still stronger claims for consideration. If he admitted, for the sake of argument, that real property by the law of Elizabeth was exclusively liable to the relief of the poor, he would ask how many of the other objects for which rates are now levied were ever contemplated by that Act? How many modern burdens had the Legislature added beyond the original contract? Had not real property, therefore, a right to ask for a limitation of poor rate to its ancient and original obligations? He would enumerate only a few of the additional charges placed on the poor's rate assessment during the last few years:—Registration of births and deaths imposed in 1838, £74,000; vaccination, 1841, £44,000; lunatics, 1844, £607,000; police, county and borough, 1856, £2,511,000; highways, 1863, £595,000; with turnpikes and education rates looming in the distance. Before the year 1846, no doubt, the possessors of land derived some advantage from the protective duties which in a degree compensated them for the burdens they had to bear. When those duties were abolished, Lord John Russell and Sir Robert Peel, who represented the two sides of the House at that time, stated that if a Free Trade policy were to be adopted it would only be just and right that some of the burdens peculiar to land should be removed. And what compensation had the landowners received for the losses they had sustained in consequence of the adoption of a Free Trade policy? Have they any exclusive privileges or exemptions? If so, give them even-handed justice, and he should be glad to see them abolished. True it was that in 1846 some slight changes in the local taxation were effected for their relief, but since that time the expenses of registration, of vaccination, of the maintenance of lunatics, of the police, and several other charges had been thrown upon real property. The whole world was now brought into direct competition with the tillers of our soil. If they are to hold their own, you must mote out even-handed justice to this important branch of industry and enterprize. It has to compete with countries where the climate is far superior, where land and labour are cheap, and where taxes are comparatively unknown. Again, it did seem absurd that when in these days of Reform the whole system of our Imperial taxation had been altered within the last thirty years, we were basing the whole of our local taxation on the Act of Elizabeth, passed 300 years ago. He might illustrate the injustice under which the landowners laboured by taking the case of two men, each possessed of a capital of £10,000, the one investing his property in the funds or other securities of capitalized wealth—and living, probably, in a lodging—and the other either purchasing land or sinking his capital in the means and appliances for farming land. The first man lived in selfish enjoyment, fruges consumere natus, while the other was engaged in increasing the produce of the earth, and thus in benefiting the community. The income of the one was safe and certain—without deduction or risk. He received it without wear or tear either of mind or body. The income of the other was subject to many contingencies—inclement weather, rinderpest, &c., and was at least precarious; moreover, it was acquired by anxious care, unremitting toil, and by the sweat of his brow. Both men enjoyed the same protection, the same security for their persons and property, by means of the poor rate, police rate, and the administration of justice. Both had the same use of the roads, and if bad, both had equal power to indict thorn. One paid more than his fair share towards these burdens; the other paid comparatively nothing. This was an unjust privilege, and an impolitic exemption. The result of the present system was to compel paupers to maintain pauperism—to compel men renting cottages of the value of £3 or £4 per annum to maintain those who were but little worse off than themselves, while those who had thousands a year derived from personal property were not required to pay a farthing to the poor rates. He submitted that this was a great hardship and injustice, as many of these poor men when summoned for non payment of rates, and pleading their inability, could not but be aware that some of those who were adjudicating upon them had evaded their liability and the spirit and intention of our Law that "every man should contribute according to his ability." The present system of local taxation appeared to him to be not only unjust but impolitic, and detrimental to the public interest, since it tended to discourage industry and paralyze enterprize. It withdrew capital from the land, which was diverted into other channels both at homo and abroad, because they offered better promise of investment; it tended to diminish the produce of the country, since by diverting capital from the land it limited the employment of labour and thereby increased pauperism. It was an alarming and deplorable fact that the country was deriving so much of its income from funds lent to foreign countries, at the same time strengthening those countries, while by the same process this country was being weakened. The amount of capi- tal invested in fanning was far below its wants. Thousands of acres in this country were starving for want of improvement; while, at the same time, there were thousands of the population starving for want of employment. There were thousands of acres of land that might be profitably reclaimed and cultivated, but what inducements were given to effect that result? If an occupier tried to improve his land, to make it worth 30s. an acre instead of 10s., the assessment committee were down upon him directly, and increased his orignal burdens. They, in fact, levied another income tax of 10 or 12 per cent upon him, on the ground that he had improved his land, although before his capital was invested in land it did not pay a farthing towards local taxation. That was a great hardship and discouragement to an enterprizing tenant, while it was a bonus to the indolent. He should be told that this was a landlord's question; but he would now show how injuriously it affected house property. Every Member of that House who represented a borough must know how prejudicially house property in towns was affected by excessive local taxation. What inducement was given to landowners to improve and erect better dwellings for the working classes? The effect of this heavy local taxation on house property was to overcrowd families in one room in a most indecent and indelicate manner. It not only tended to the demoralization of the mind, but to disease of the body. At present it did not pay to erect and improve the dwellings of the poor; but if there were some little remission of local burdens, a greater inducement would be given to erect a better class of dwellings. House property was, indeed, more affected than land by the existing heavy local burdens. He found that by the last Returns of house property the gross annual income of house property was rated at £62,000,000 a year, whereas land was only rated at £46,000,000 a year. Suppose a man had. £1,000 to invest, and doubted whether he should put it into land or house property. If he put it into land, he only expected to get 3 per cent; but if he invested it in house property, he expected 7 per cent. or 8 per cent for his money. It was clear that in the latter case he paid much more local taxation than the man whose capital only brought him 3 per cent. He should be told that this was a landlord's tax, and that the landlord and not the occupier would get the benefit of any remission of local taxation. He would for the sake of argument admit this to be true but why should the consideration of what was right and just be influenced by looking solely at the particular party to be benefited by a righteous and impartial adjustment? He took it for granted that the general feeling was against landlords; but he would ask the House to have some consideration for other classes. There was a large body of yeomen in this country who farmed their own estates. There was also the numerous and influential class of freeholders who lived in their own houses. If the House had no consideration for landlords, had they none for persons who were the backbone of the country, but who were gradually being reduced both in their numbers and circumstances? Many of these yeomen and freeholders derived their estates from previous generations, and when they were asked why they parted with their land, their answer was that the burdens upon land had so much increased that it was impossible profitably to farm their own property, and that they sold their ancestral estates in order to invest their money in more remunerative pursuits. The next objection that might be made was, that although local burdens had increased yet the value of property and houses had also increased. No doubt it had increased, but how? The union assessment had increased the rateable value of property, but he doubted whether it had increased the intrinsic value. The Union Assessment Act was a very good measure for increasing the income tax, but it tended in every parish to raise the rateable value of every estate proportionately to the value of the highest, and it never brought it down again. Admitting, however, that the value of the land had been increased to the extent of the local burdens, it had been done by the investment, not only by the owners but the occupiers, of capital, which previously to its investment had not paid one farthing towards these burdens. If, however, the owners and occupiers of land were to cease to invest their capital, the rateable value of real property would diminish instead of increasing. He should, no doubt, be told that the landlords had a great advantage in the land tax, that they obtained a permanent commutation of land tax at a valuation now inadequate by the Act of William and Mary, 1692. If hon. Gentlemen would refer to the language of the first Act creating the land tax, they would find, that although called a land tax it was intended to be a tax on personal as well as upon real property. But reading the statutes somewhat further on they would find as regarded personal property, that first a portion in 1825 and ultimately the remainder was exempted from the land tax in 1833; and the exemption was attended with the further hardship, that the owners and occupiers, already subjected to their legitimate proportion of land tax, were obliged to pay the quota which ought to be contributed by the owners of personal property as well. Between 1866 and 1867 the poor rates and county rates increased £1,000,000. By whom was that paid, the owners or the occupiers? Would any Gentleman rise in his place and say that he allowed from his rents an abatement corresponding to the amount of increased taxes paid by his tenants? And if not, was it not folly to call this an owner's as distinguished from an occupier's tax? What was the meaning of the demand so generally made on the part of the occupiers throughout England for County Financial Boards? Would they evince such a strong interest in the supervision of expenditure if they themselves were not called upon to contribute to it? How to redress the evils complained of was a difficult problem, but he believed not insuperable. What was needed was a system of equitable taxation, combined with a system of local administration. No man valued more highly than he did the powers, privileges, and advantages of self-government; the benefits resulting from local management and supervision, which he regarded as the only system able to prevent extravagance, and to combine economy with efficiency. But without sacrificing the principle of local self-government, he thought there were certain advantages capable of being combined with its working. It was the business of independent Members to state a grievance, and of the Executive to find a remedy; but he ventured to suggest a mode by which some remission from the burdens complained of might be granted. Why not take away from the poor rate and county rate burdens which had recently been placed upon them—such as the police, lunatics, maintenance of justice, highways, vaccination, registration, and other charges of a like nature? These were all national purposes and national obligations, from which the community at large derived as much benefit as the owners of real property. Did not the owner of personal property require, for instance, the protection of the police quite as much as the owners of estates? He made equal use of the roads, and the same remedies were open to him in case the roads were bad as to those who paid for their construction and maintenance. Year by year the Executive Government were acquiring and exercising greater power in all these matters, being able to apply a very substantial threat—namely, that if their recommendations were not acted upon, the allowance of one-fourth, or whatever it might be, which was made by the State, would be no longer continued. In Poor Law matters the Government now went into minutiæ—examining the dietary and prescribing the quantities of gruel and of soup. If they took so much power into their own hands they ought also to take some of the responsibility, and give a larger amount of assistance from the national funds than was at present afforded. As a principle of abstract justice, it might be said that the national poor ought to be maintained by the assessment of every description of property; but this might be considered too radical and too revolutionary a measure. Half a loaf, however, was better than no bread, and he was quite prepared to accept a compromise. The best means of satisfying the public mind upon all these questions, and those also who felt themselves aggrieved, was by a full, fair, and impartial inquiry, which he hoped the Government would grant. For that purpose he considered a Royal Commission preferable to a Select Committee. They were all anxious to drag this question out of the arena of party politics, and, whatever might be the composition of a Committee of the House of Commons, it was always difficult to divest it of a party character. A Royal Commission, moreover, would enable them to enlarge the area of selection by appointing Members of the other House of Parlia- ment, and practical men not in Parliament, who had given time and attention to the subject. A Commission would not only be the more impartial tribunal, but its deliberations were likely to lead more promptly to legislation, for the amount of Public and Private Business to be disposed of in the present Session rendered it well-nigh impossible that a sufficient number of Members of the House would give undivided attention to the subject. Committees of both Houses had already very fully considered this subject. In 1850 there was a Committee of the House of Lords, presided over by Lord Portman, which, affirmed the principle that the "relief of the poor was a national obligation, and that every description of property should contribute to it." He wanted to advance a step further; and therefore he urged the Government to grant a Royal Commission in order to a full and impartial investigation. That was the only course which would command the confidence of the country, and lead to a satisfactory settlement of this long-vexed and very difficult question. And now, in conclusion, he must thank the House for the patience and kind indulgence with which they had listened to him. He might have failed to do justice to the subject he had undertaken; but he had implicit faith in the strength of his case and in the justice of those who had to adjudicate upon it. This was no sentimental grievance—it was a real and substantial one. All must admit that taxation was an evil—it was a necessary one; but any undue proportion of taxation thrown upon any particular class or interest was not only an evil, it was an unmitigated curse—a national disaster, for it tended to blight and paralyze that interest. In these days they heard much of equality; but in his opinion equality was a less pre-eminent consideration than equity; and in nothing was equity or equality more valuable than in the matter of taxation. He asked no favours, no privileges, no exemptions; he only asked a fair tribunal and a full and impartial investigation of their grievances. And to induce the Government to accede to their wishes, he must remind them of the pledge that was given through Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell—by both sides of the House—that when they had adopted the policy of Free Trade, it would be only just and right that a policy of Free Trade should be accompanied by a policy of Fair Taxation. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving his Motion.


said, he could have wished that the task of seconding the Motion had fallen on some Gentleman on the other side of the House; because this was not a party question—it was not a question of town or country, but one affecting all classes of Her Majesty's subjects. He had been selected to second this Motion because he happened to be this year Chairman of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, and had in that capacity the honour and privilege of introducing an influential deputation to the Prime Minister on the subject. They had been received with that kindness and courtesy which the right hon. Gentleman always extended to those who approached him on Public Business. He took great pains to ascertain the whole of their views; he was good enough to say they had put their case fairly and moderately before him, and informed them their case should have the earnest consideration of himself and his Colleagues. He was quite sure that was not an empty phrase to send them away, but that they should have that consideration from the Government which had been promised. After the very able and lucid statement of the hon. Baronet (Sir Massey Lopes) it would be impertinent to go over the ground he had so well trodden, but he might be allowed to make one or two supplementary remarks. No doubt they would be met by the cuckoo cry that this was a question for the landlords only. That rural ghost had been raised on so many occasions it had ceased to frighten the most ignorant agriculturist. Whenever the farmers asked anything from the Legislature this was the answer they received; if they called for a repeal of the malt tax, they were told the profits would go into the pockets of the landlords. In his opinion all restrictions and burdens on land were hindrances to the production of food, which was the primary and most substantial wealth of any nation; and, therefore, all those burdens and restrictions that could be ought to be removed. If farmers, in the first instance, gained some pecuniary advantage by the remission of either local or Imperial taxation, they could not expect to keep it all to themselves; they were very willing that the consumers of what they produced, as well as the labourer and the landlord, should share the profit with them. The theory of hiring land was this:—A tenant wont to a landlord and said—"There are certain burdens on the land, and I must give you, in consequence of these burdens, so much less rent." That was the theory, and it was also the practice; but who paid during the tenure any increase of those burdens? Most certainly the tenant. During the last thirty years poor rates in this country had doubled. Rents had risen, and, therefore, the tenant had paid the increase. Although land might have risen in value, yet common agricultural land which had not been improved by the investment of either the tenant's or landlord's capital, or which was not benefited by the development of some trade or manufacture, or by the neighbourhood of a railroad, was not of more saleable value than it was thirty years ago. Only a very few years ago he hired the farm he now occupied, and already he was paying nearly 25 per cent more in rates than his predecessor, and, as he had no anticipation of leaving his farm, in all probability he should continue to pay that increase during the term of his natural life. They were told they had better leave well alone, for, though they were burdened by local taxation, they had exemptions from Imperial taxation. Well, he was ready to have those exemptions considered. What were those exemptions? They escaped the duty on fire insurances; let that exemption, then, be done away with by the duty on fire insurances being abolished altogether. Then, the farmers had paid no tax on agricultural horses. He said that the Government that would tax the motive power that would produce a bushel of wheat, must also tax the motive power that would produce a yard of calico. It was contended that they retained Protection in the shape of the 1s. of duty on imported corn. If that was a protective duty and not a fair import revenue, by all means rend away that miserable rag of Protection He believed they would have from the great cities rather than from the farmers the cry of a return to Protection—what they wanted and asked was an extension of Free Trade. Then they were asked—"Did they wish their stock-in-trade to be assessed?" In the first place, he believed that, by the strict letter of the law, a farmer's stock-in-trade was now assessed. They said they did not wish; to assess anybody's stock-in-trade, but they would be asked to pay a small contribution on their profits. A national rate was considered to be the question of the day, and they were told that local administration of a national fund must lead to extravagance, and that they would have jobbery and the worst kind, of centralization. He admitted all this; but they did not ask for it. They simply asked for inquiry into all the incidents of local taxation, and left the remedy to the Royal Commission which they hoped the Government would give them. They had been asked why they did not suggest a remedy? He replied that they had suggested a remedy. They suggested a further contribution from the Consolidated Fund. But then up started a Gentleman who objected that Ireland and Scotland contributed to this Fund, and that, therefore, it would not be just to use the money for the benefit of the English only. Some other objections were made to that proposal, so they suggested that a property tax might offer a better and fairer means of providing the funds, and being easily divided between the three kingdoms. As to local extravagance, there were the Poor Law Board and the Home Office—the one to look over the guardians, the other to control the magistrates. If this were not enough he saw he particular objection to a Government Chairman of the Quarter Sessions or a Government Chairman of Poor Law Boards, should the State grant substantial aid. But if the poor rates wont on increasing as they did, the burdens would become intolerable; £20,000,000 was now raised annually in local taxation. The hon. Baronet had divided the different items under two heads, but he (Mr. Read) would prefer to subdivide one of those divisions. He thought the police, the Militia, the gaols, the coroners, the weights and measures, and the vagrants altogether belonged entirely to the State; that they were connected more or less with the administration of justice, and it was the Consolidated Fund that should pay the whole of them. The magistrates who were employed to regulate these matters were the servants of the Crown; they had nothing to do with the rate- payers; and if the Government would furnish the money there would be no need of County Financial Boards. Under the second head came lunatics, paupers, vaccination, registration, and such like. It was the duty of every citizen to contribute to the extent of his ability, because the Poor Law was nothing more or less than a humane police rate, going on the principle that prevention was better than punishment. The law said no man should starve, which did away with the necessity of begging and stealing, and that was a protection to all property. The old Poor Law of Edward VI. empowered the parish officers to gently ask every man and woman for a contribution; but as that voluntary system did not answer, in the 43rd of Elizabeth it was enacted that every inhabitant should contribute to the relief of the poor according to his ability. There were two ways in which they could have these contributions in aid of rates—by a fixed portion from the State, or they might pay the establishment charges which were now fixed by the Poor Law Board, and some of them now partially paid by the Government. Under the third head he feared they would still have a large expenditure—rural highways (he did not mean turnpike roads), church rates, where they occurred, water supply, drainage, improvements, lighting, sewerage, and such like, must be a local charge. But he believed that a just and rigid inquiry would show that some remedy might yet be found by which wealth might be made to pay a little more and poverty a little less. It was said that there had been plenty of inquiry already, and that statement was undoubtedly correct; but the result was that but little had yet been done in favour of the agriculturists. In the days of Protection it might be right that the land should be exceptionally taxed. In 1850 the famous Committee of the House of Lords reported that all property should contribute towards the maintenance of the poor; but since that they had had the parish, abolished, the area had been enlarged, but the worst was that no new property had been brought into the operation of those rates. To screw up all real property to bear the extraordinary force of local and imperial taxation, as proposed by the Bill of the President of the Poor Law Board, would in a measure increase rather than remedy the evils complained of. If all real property were fairly assessed the burden upon it could not not be quite equalized unless they were to adopt the American plan, by which the rates were levied on the profits rather than rental. He would take three farms, averaging 400 acres each, on each of which were employed thirty hands, and the profit on those farms might be called £300 a-year each, but the assessment was £600. He stepped into a neighbouring town and took three factories, employing 350 men, women, and children. The profits were reckoned at £3,000, and the aver age assessment to the poor rate was only £400. Besides which, the manufacturer might, in times of scarcity and distress, shut up his mill and pay just nothing. Then if they took the case of the artizan, earning 20s. a-week and spending 2s. 6d. a-week for rent. His cottage was at least assessed at £5, and he had all his borough, poor, and parochial charges to pay. The parochial clergy were taxed on every farthing of their income, and they were expected to pay double rates in respect of village charities, supporting schools, and in relieving the poor. There were many exceptions on real property which still existed, and he trusted that they would soon be abolished. He might mention woods, mines, and game. There were also new burdens threatened to be put upon owners and occupiers. There were turnpike, education, and election expenses. They would resist these, and all other charges, so long as the burdens fell upon one-seventh of the income of this country. If a man came to a neglected property, and employed his capital in improving it, he was immediately taxed to the extent of 2s. 6d. in the pound. With the tenant was the same. In the case of a labouring man desirous of having a cottage of his own, how was he affected by the rating system? He had probably put away his small savings in the Government savings bank, where it is safely out of the way of rates and taxes; but the very moment he invested his money in a piece of land and built a tenement, down came the overseer and taxed him. In conclusion, the hon. Member thanked the House for the courtesy and attention which they had shown to his rambling, incoherent, and unconnected observations. He believed that the case demanded, and that it would receive, a full and impartial inquiry.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the present amount, incidence, and effect of Local Taxation, with a view to a more equitable re-adjustment of these burdens."—(Sir Massey Lopes.)


said, that two questions were before the House—first, the reality of the grievance alleged; and, secondly, the remedy proposed for it. The grievance consisted in the incidence of local taxation; the remedy was to refer the subject to a Royal Commission. Now, the hon. Baronet who had so ably raised the question admitted that local and Imperial taxation must be considered together. He spoke of the Imperial taxation as amounting to £70,000,000, and the local taxation to £20,000,000; and his logical mind saw-that the two could not be treated separately. What, then, was his proposal'? To refer these indivisible questions to "a fair and impartial tribunal"—namely, a Royal Commission. No doubt, a Royal Commission would be fair and impartial; but was the House of Commons prepared to refer the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to a Royal Commission? ["Oh!"] Everyone must admit that, as the hon. Baronet himself showed, it was impossible to separate the two questions, and, therefore, he repeated that in referring local taxation you were practically referring Imperial taxation to this tribunal. How could it be otherwise? The remedy proposed was to make further contributions from Imperial to local funds. It might be perfectly right to do so. He was not at this moment contesting the policy advocated by the two hon. Gentlemen who had spoken. He had not yet said that the grievance complained of was not a real and serious grievance; but he maintained that, if such a grievance existed, there was but one tribunal which could apply a remedy, and that was the House of Commons itself. He did not believe that the majority of the House would be prepared to refer a question of policy of this kind to a Royal Commission. Royal Commissioners were usually appointed to inquire into intricate and complicated questions of fact. Could any precedent be found for referring a matter of this importance to an irresponsible, though fair and impartial, tribunal like the one suggested? He had looked through the list of Royal Commissioners for the last thirty years—they had cost the country, by the way, not less than £1,000,000, but he had not found a single instance in which a question of taxation of such moment as this had been referred to a Royal Commission. He admitted that, as to the grievance itself, every point connected with the local taxation of the country should be made perfectly clear. But it was not difficult to ascertain the facts. Parliament had not got to deal with private bodies, but with public taxes administered by local officers, and with details which it was comparatively easy to obtain. Last Session he himself had alluded to this subject, and had complained of the Returns that were made. He regretted to say that the Returns issued by the Home Office again contained many errors similar to those then pointed out. The Returns were issued early in December, but the late Chancellor of the Exchequer had endeavoured to supplement them by a very carefully drawn Return which was now being made by the officials of the Poor Law Board. When these were produced the House would be able to form a better judgment than they now could form on the subject of local taxation, and the House would then have to decide, not upon details, but upon questions of principle. If it then appeared that the aggregate amount of local taxation upon certain kinds of property was too great considering their contributions for Imperial purposes, it would be the duty of Parliament to deal with that question; and he trusted that in this matter the House would not part with one of the most important functions which it could have to discharge. It was generally held that a private Member could not initiate a subject of Imperial taxation; this was of such importance that the Government were looked upon as responsible. But what a wide departure it would be from that principle if this duty were undertaken not by the House of Commons, but by a Royal Commission! The hon. Gentleman opposite said it was not his duty to propose a remedy; he had simply to ask the Executive Government to do so. Certainly it was the duty of the Executive Government to deal with such a grievance as soon as it was made out, and he did not think the Government would shrink from their responsibility. He was glad that both the hon. Members who had introduced the subject had been careful to assure the House that this was not a question between town and country, between owner and occupier, landlord and tenant. It was undoubtedly not. The whole country was equally interested in the question, nor could you say of local and Imperial taxation that one was borne by one class and one by another class. The proper plan was to adjust both in the most convenient manner possible, so that the aggregate charge might fall equally upon all. If, however, you found that one kind of property was more available for local and another for Imperial taxation, it was not necessary that each should bear the same proportion of the same charge, provided the difference was allowed for—provided that was, that if the Imperial taxation was a little heavier, the local taxation should be a little lighter, and vice versâ. For example, it would not be fair that all property should be exempt from poor rate except real property if it were found that real property contributed the same amount for Imperial purposes. This was the point of view from which the question must be considered; and it was hardly fair to go back to 1776 and see what was borne by the land then. The hon. Baronet pointed out, correctly enough, that the burden borne by the land was at that time exceedingly small; but he did not state what was the Imperial expenditure then, so that the two might be compared; nor did he state what was the amount of rateable property in 1776. Now, he (Mr. Goschen) had not picked out any particular years, but he found in an interesting Paper published in the Appendix to the Report on the Taxation of Ireland that in 1815 the amount of the poor rate, including the country rate, was £8,128,000, while at present it was £10,000,000. The hon. Gentleman had spoken of years when the poor rate was only £4,000,000. Why not go back to 1818, when the poor rate was £8,000,000? It was deplorable that the poor rate should have increased so much of late years; but it had not increased so materially if you took the last half century. Between 1865 and 1868 the total increase, excluding the metropolis, had been 16 per cent. In the metropolis it had been 45 percent, so it was quite clear that the metropolis had contributed almost one-half to this increase in taxation. It was perfectly fair for the hon. Gentlemen opposite to put the question before the House as they had done. They were better acquainted with the country than with towns, and though they alluded to towns their argument was based upon the position of the country. The hon. Baronet had stated correctly enough that of the rateable property which now contributed to local taxation, £60,000,000 were house property, and £40,000,000 landed property—making £100,000,000. [Sir MASSEY LOPES said, that he had. put down the net rental at £93,000,000, the other amount being the gross rental.] Yes, but then the hon. Baronet ought not to take the net rental in estimating what fractional part it formed of the income of the country. He ought to take the gross estimated rental, which was not £93,000,000, but £110,000,000, and the assessment to the income tax of that property was £130,000,000. He only gave those figures, however, to show that the statistical portion of the hon. Baronet's statement might easily be met by a counter statement, by selecting different years and making the estimate on a different principle. He did not mean to deny that there had been a considerable increase in local taxation, and he believed that that increase had fallen far more heavily on the towns than on the county parishes. In 1815, land rated to the support of the poor amounted to £37,000,000, and other property, such as houses, coal mines, and so forth, to £16,000,000, so that, at that time, it might be said that two-thirds of the charges fell upon the land. At present, however, land rated to the support of the poor amounted to £46,000,000, and other species of property to £84,000,000, so that only one-third of the charges now fell upon land. He merely made that statement to justify what had been said by hon. Members opposite and by himself—to show that this was not a question as between town and country. It was needless to go into the many questions which had been gone into by the hon. Baronet (Sir Massey Lopes) as to the price of land and the capital which was put into the land. So far as this matter was concerned, he thought they had better avoid those illustrations which applied simply to landlords and tenant farmers; because, if they had a grievance, the ratepayers in towns had cer- tainly theirs, and though he might take a somewhat biassed view of it, he thought his constituents in London were as much, if not more, than any class interested in a diminution of local taxation. He earnestly trusted that the subject of, local taxation would continue to occupy the attention of the House. It was certainly occupying the attention of Her Majesty's Government, but he thought that, considering that Returns were within a few weeks to be submitted to Parliament on the subject, and that an additional staff was now engaged in the preparation of those Returns; considering, too, that the new Parliament had as yet had no opportunity afforded it of trying its hand at the subject, or even of giving its opinion on it, it would be an almost unprecedented course to refer the matter to a Royal Commission. If, therefore, the Government did not feel it to be compatible with their duty to refer a question of such great moment to a Royal Commission, he trusted that no one in the House, or in the country, would see in that determination the slightest intention to disregard the views which had been put forward, or to ignore the importance of the subject itself. On the contrary, if the Government desired to get rid of a troublesome question, and to put it aside for two or three years, no proposal could be more welcome to them than that of hanging up the subject, as so many others had been hung up, by agreeing to the Motion for its reference to a Royal Commission. To this determination on the part of the Government he thought he might fairly point as a proof of their sincerity in the matter. He was, however, fully impressed with the necessity for carefully ascertaining and collecting the facts before proceeding to deal with the subject, and could assure the House that there was a strong desire in every Department of the Government to co-operate in the work of ascertaining every detail, and to co-operate with the hon. Baronet and every one who took an interest in this subject.


said, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that the objections to committing this great and difficult question to the decision of a Royal Commission were well founded, and that it would be better for the House itself to undertake the responsibility of solving the question. He did not however gather from the right hon. Gentleman's speech why it would not be well to submit the question to a Select Committee. His great objection to the system of local taxation, as it was at present carried on, was its utter want of principle. The absence of principle to which he referred was strongly exhibited in the case of Militia buildings. Against the Militia he had nothing to say. He believed them to be, if possible, more valuable to the country than the standing Army, and should like to see rather more spent upon our reserve forces and rather less upon our standing Army; but he could not understand upon what principle of justice any charge connected with this force should be thrown upon the counties. It was perfectly true that these troops were raised in the different counties, but it was the country generally and not the counties to whom these services were valuable; for—save perhaps, once in a century, when called out to suppress a riot—they were embodied solely for purposes of national defence. He could understand why certain localities should be called upon to pay for the repression or discouragement of crime and pauperism in their particular districts. Local taxation should sometimes assume the form of a penalty upon localities for the neglect of social duties, but from this principle we had to a very great extent departed, because from the national Exchequer we provided large sums for the prosecution of criminals and the maintenance of prisoners convicted at the assizes and quarter sessions. The great object which he hoped would be attained by an investigation by a competent Committee would be a careful classification, by which they would be able to learn what objects were to be supported at the national expense, and what at the expense of the various local ratepayers. If there was one thing more purely national than another it was the care of the insane. No amount of pressure or local taxation would prevent the birth of a single lunatic, and the care and maintenance of the insane ought surely to be borne by the nation at large, especially when it was remembered that there was no item of local expenditure which had been more immensely augmented by the action of that House and by the humane requirements of Parliament. Now, his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolver- hampton (Mr. C. P. Villiers) had spoken truly when, as President of the Poor Law Board, he said that the complexity and difficulty connected with the raising of the funds for the support of the poor were not so much to be attributed to the law itself as to the construction which had been put upon it by the Judges. They had decided that all property which was not specified by name in the Act of Elizabeth should, ipso facto, be held to be exempt from local rates, whereas the clear intention of that Act in naming particular descriptions of property was not to exempt others, but to render the assessment of those particular descriptions more certain. That was the opinion held by Mr. Lumley, and no man had studied the subject more closely. He was glad, he might add, to hear his hon. Friend behind him (Sir Massey Lopes) disclaim any intention of rendering stock-in-trade liable to local taxation, but personal property ought, he thought, in all justice to pay its quota to the relief of the poor. But now was personal property to be reached for that purpose, and, when reached, how was it to be allocated? Let him suppose, for instance, that a man living in a villa at Putney had a farm at Uxbridge and £20,000 lodged in the Westminster Bank. It was easy to ascertain what the £20,000 invested at 4 or 5 per cent ought to pay; the great difficulty was to decide how it should be allocated. Would Putney have a right to claim it, or the parish of Westminster, or Uxbridge, or would portions of it be due to each? The subject was one on which the House was not without the advantage of being able to appeal to experience. For 200 years in Scotland, by the old law of the country, the means and substance of a man were liable to pay rates. But as trade and commerce extended in Scotland the difficulty of ascertaining how much each man ought to pay became so great that recourse was had to a sort of arbitrary assessment, under the operation of which the burden of proving whether the amount to which a man was assessed was or was not correct was thrown upon himself. The result was that he had to submit to an inquisitorial search into his circumstances, not by persons sworn to secresy but by his neighbours, who perhaps happened to have an interest in learning the precise position of his affairs, and the system at last was felt to be so great a grievance that a remedy was sought in the division of property into two or three grades, and rating it on a graduated scale. That occurred in 1845, but, in a Report of the Board of Supervision of the Poor, issued in 1849, only five years afterwards, it was stated that, out of 625 parishes so assessed upon "means and substance," 499 had voluntarily relinquished the system. His object in alluding to this was simply to show the difficulties by which the question was beset, and which it was their duty to face. He did not wish to raise up phantom difficulties, but certainly that example of Scotland, where the laws on rating were better and simpler than in England, was not a very encouraging one. The next point to which he wished to refer was the complexity which enveloped the mode of keeping local accounts. As they were now kept it was almost impossible to unravel them, and it would be the duty of a Committee, he thought, to recommend their being presented in some more simple and intelligible form. There was a very strong feeling existing in the country with respect to the general question before the House, and he was glad to see that the Government were prepared to lend a ready ear to the suggestions made to them. He could not help thinking that a considerable amount of the agitation at present going on was to be attributed to the incidence of the highway rate. The experience they had had of the working of that rate was anything but satisfactory. In his own part of the country no legislation had ever caused more dissatisfaction amongst the ratepayers than the "Highway Acts;" and the Acts under which the rate was imposed would not, he believed, work harmoniously until the charge was made coincident with the area of management. A strong feeling had been expressed by some Members of that House that, in addition to the highways, the maintenance of turnpike roads also ought to be thrown upon the rates. For his part, he thought the system of making those who use the roads pay for their maintenance an admirable one; and, in the existing state of feeling, it would be very unwise to abolish the turnpike trusts, and throw the maintenance of those roads upon the rates. He trusted this discussion would not close without some authoritative decla- ration that the inquiry asked for was approved by the Government. The House had been told that Returns were forthcoming; but if they proved to be of the complex nature of those already in the possession of hon. Members they would not give satisfaction to the country, which demanded and would rest contented with nothing short of a bonâ fide searching inquiry into the whole subject, conducted by a competent Committee, with a view to a strict definition of what were fit subjects for local and what for Imperial taxation.


said, the incidence of taxation was a question, not of party, but of political science. He contended that the constitutional principle was to tax the land and fixed property of the country, and that this principle had never been departed from to advantage. The parliaments of the Channel Islands, each of which enjoyed the privilege of self-taxation, had formerly followed the pro-sent vicious practice of the English Parliament; but, discovering their error, they now taxed only real property, and left the trade, the brain, and the muscle of their population free from all impost. And this was done although the power of taxing rested exclusively in the hands of owners of real property. The school of political economy whose views he had risen to express had a still stronger argument than the experience of those islands in the fact that all the parishes in England, in their little parliaments, whilst they originally had, according to the hon. Baronet, the power to tax stock-in-trade, had found by their practical experience that it was better to leave the grocer, the baker, and the other traders free. He trusted that the House of Commons would show the same wisdom as that which had been displayed by these local parliaments, in leaving brain, muscle, and commercial capital free to develop themselves for the general benefit of the country. He protested against the observations of the President of the Poor Law Board when he said the question was simply whether the parishes should be relieved of taxation by throwing the charges enumerated by the hon. Baronet upon the Consolidated Fund. Was not the land already compensated by the income tax and sugar, tea, and other similar duties? In 1699 the land tax was settled at a fixed amount. But for that it would have been more than sufficient to defray all the expenditure of the country. There would have been no need of taxation upon tea or sugar, of the income tax of the present day, or of other imposts that diminished the comforts and crippled the industry of the country. He would state a broad proposition and challenge contradiction. There were only two kinds of property that could possibly be subject to taxation, and they were property which was fixed, and which, whatever amount was put upon it, could not run away, and property which consisted of the intellect or muscle of individuals, or the money in a man's pocket; but to attempt to tax the money in a man's pocket, or his muscle or intellect, would be impolitic, because it would interfere with the growth and progress of the nation.


said, that so much had already been said on this subject, not only in the House upon that and former occasions, but outside it, that he should not have ventured to address them did he not as a county Member take a great interest in the matter, nor would he now do more than make a very few remarks. He could not claim the indulgence of the House as a new Member, always given to those who address it for the first time, but he must ask the House to extend to him that indulgence which it had always granted him when he had on previous occasions addressed it. In asking for an inquiry there were two things to be considered—one the grievance sought to be redressed, the other the mode for remedying it. One ground on which inquiry was sought for was that the Act of Elizabeth, of which so much had been heard, intended that the poor rate—and this was the most important rate to consider—should be levied on all according to their ability to pay it, and not exclusively on one kind of property. In all reason this must have been so, for would it not in any other country have been a cause of astonishment that one particular class of property, besides bearing to a great extent the ordinary taxes, should have an extra burden thrown upon it. He never could believe that this was intended, and even if it had been it must be remembered that at that time poor rates were only for strictly parochial purposes; whereas now, independently of other charges upon them, the maintenance of the poor must be considered as of national importance. Whatever the law might be, the bare fact of these charges being placed upon one-third of the income of the country was sufficient to call for immediate attention. The right hon. Gentleman the late Premier had made a most remarkable speech in 1849 on this subject—remarkable for this reason, that, although delivered twenty years ago, if any one wished to see the present reasons for an inquiry well and powerfully put, he could not do better than read that speech. The right hon. Gentleman then said that the matter called for immediate re-adjustment, for £10,000,000 annually was being levied by local taxation; how much more, therefore, now was it necessary when, as far as could be ascertained, £20,000,000 was levied annually? He had no doubt, however, that it would be admitted on all sides that there were just grounds to go upon for revision; he would, therefore, say no more on that head. As to the remedy, some might say there was no cause for inquiry—that the Government of themselves could bring in a scheme without it. In fact, schemes had been proposed by various people, some of them very good ones; but he could not but think that the subject was such a complex one that no plan could be brought forward with a fair chance of settling the question without a full inquiry in the first instance. When the present state of the law was considered, when it was considered that some provisions could not be, others were not carried out; when the difficulty of reviewing in the House the whole state of the law and re-considering its bearing on the various interests concerned, now and for the future, was taken into account, as well as the delay that would be occasioned, and above all, the fact that the question was one of very great magnitude and scope, far larger even than any question of Imperial taxation, he could not but think that inquiry was necessary. The rating of metallic mines was a question in itself whether the Act of Elizabeth ever intended them to be exempted; and, if so, whether it was fair, as at present, that a burden should be placed on the ratepayers of a district where a mine was situated to support a population which were perhaps brought into the neighbourhood to work the mine, and to the maintenance of whom, when they became paupers, the mine itself did not contribute. No doubt important steps had been and would be taken to remedy this. Whatever was done, he hoped that local management would be maintained, even if the ratepayers were not relieved to so great an extent as they otherwise might be. One word more and he had done. He hoped a Commission would be appointed, as he believed that an inquiry of that kind would be the most satisfactory to the various interests involved. He agreed with the hon. Baronet who had brought this Motion before the House in the reasons he gave for a Commission, particularly in regard to one point, that it would be entirely divested of all party feeling and party polities; and an additional reason he would give, that the inquiry was likely to be a long one; if a Parliamentary Committee were to be appointed they could not sit after the end of the Session, but a Commission could. This would save time. He might, perhaps, appear to speak from one point of view only; but he could, however, assure the House that he looked upon the question as of equal importance to the towns as to the country districts. He regretted that they had not before them more accurate figures to go upon; and it might be said that they ought to have waited for the Return moved for last Session before entering into this discussion; but no doubt the figures they had were sufficiently accurate, and he felt that there ought to be no delay in making the inquiry. It must be a long one, and before any new burdens were imposed surely the matter ought to be settled—for instance, the maintenance of turnpike roads. If the maintenance of turnpike roads were placed on parishes that charge ought to be considered as being similar to many other charges which had been thrown from time to time on the local rates. Turnpike roads were once the main arteries of communication in this country; now they were not so. Yet the parishes had already to bear—for the public good, not for their own—the burden of keeping up roads which led to those main centres of traffic, now the railway stations. Ought they to continue to maintain those roads and also to have an extra burden cast upon them without full and fair inquiry? With respect to Financial Boards, they might not perhaps strictly form a part of the present question; but if those Boards were to be established—and he approved the principle—he thought the whole matter ought to be carefully looked into before any portion of it was placed under a new system of management. He regretted that the Government would not at the present time consent to an inquiry; but he trusted they would eventually, for he felt that the matter could not be settled without it, and that it was the only way to a speedy and at the same time a satisfactory solution of the question. The hon. Member concluded by apologizing for detaining the House, and thanking it for its kind indulgence.


said, that after the able and lucid speech of the President of the Poor Law Board and the assurance which that Minister had given that that subject engaged the anxious attention of the Government, he should have thought it unnecessary to prolong the debate, but as hon. Members had continued the discussion he desired to make a few remarks. The House and the country, in his opinion, were much indebted to the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes) for bringing forward that question, which was certainly one much requiring careful consideration. But it was more one for a Committee of that House than for a Commission. It might have been very properly considered by a Committee, such as had been asked for by his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton a few years ago, and which he regretted was not then granted. If the matter were duly considered and weighed the result might perhaps be very different from that anticipated by the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon. All persons who were interested in land ought to consider whether what were usually termed "burdens" were burdens in reality. Take the maintenance of the roads, for example. Did not the landlords receive an equivalent for that expense in the increase of rent which was the result of good roads being kept up? About the time when the first approximation to Free Trade was made in this country, he happened to be at Odessa, and he inquired of an intelligent man whom he met what would be its probable effect on the price of corn and the value of property in South Russia? The reply was, "If we had as good roads as you have in England, we should flood you with our corn." If the Russians had as good roads, at as moderate a cost as we had, their competition would be much more formidable. Then as to the so-called burden of poor rates. He thought it had been clearly shown by persons of great experience that the owners of land received a full equivalent for those rates, as it was more economical to maintain the poor by a well-regulated system than to encourage that kind of unrestrained mendicancy which had prevailed, to a certain extent, in Ireland, before there was a regular Poor Law. Indeed, he had heard a person well acquainted with the country assert that in former times more landlords were ruined by the want of a Poor Law than by the extravagance of which they were so commonly accused. The poor rate was, in point of fact, a very cheap equivalent for the irregular demands made by the poor upon the resident landlords in countries where the Poor Law system was not established. Hon. Gentlemen who complained of the amount of local taxation ought to state plainly what remedy they proposed for the existing state of things. Where was the equivalent to come from? Was it to be derived from a tax on the stock-in-trade in the country, or from Imperial taxes? The former expedient, he believed, would not be seriously urged, and if the charge was to be placed on Imperial taxes it was not easy to suggest which of those taxes ought to be selected. If it were placed on income, the income tax would be greater than the country would feel inclined to bear; and it would be impossible for the Government to continue the removal of the restrictions on commerce and consumption, which had so much increased the value of property. The hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Read) had suggested the removal of the duties on fire insurances of all descriptions. How could the Chancellor of the Exchequer effect this if fresh charges were laid on the Consolidated Fund? The hon. Member for South Devon had talked much about the pressure of rates on the poor occupier struggling to keep himself independent, but if the taxes on tea, coffee, sugar, &c., were increased, the poor occupier, to whom those articles were almost necessaries of life, would be worse off than he was at present. On the other hand, would not the condition of those people be improved much more by getting rid of the taxes on the articles he had named. Suppose, too, that with a view to benefit the poor cottager, they were to consider the question of licenses, which prevented him reaping the full benefit of the reductions already made in these articles. But this could not be done if we put any large portion of the rates on Imperial taxation. The whole question of local taxation, however, could not be properly considered apart from the question of Imperial taxation, and he hoped that both those important subjects would shortly receive the consideration, not of a Commission, but of the Government and the House.


said, he would assume the principle that it could not be right or just that two-thirds of the property of this country should escape the taxation which was borne by the other third, unless the object of that taxation were one more especially benefiting that particular portion which bore it. On this point he believed he should meet with a very general assent from the House, though, on account of a great portion of that property which escaped local taxation not being of a local or visible nature, it might be somewhat difficult in that case to carry out the principle to its legitimate conclusion; but the justice of the principle had been so far conceded that Parliament had consented to subsidize in a degree those payments which for a long period had been a burden upon local and visible property; as, for instance, in the matter of the administration of criminal justice. To a certain extent this principle of subsidizing had, he believed, been also acted upon with reference to the maintenance of the poor. This, the heaviest burden borne by that portion of the property of the country upon which it had fallen, and which, under the name of poor rate, had pressed so heavily upon it, was certainly not originally intended to be exclusively so borne; but the unfortunate use of the words by which it was intended to include other kinds of property—he meant the expression "stock-in-trade"—in the Act of Elizabeth was the occasion of so many difficulties that annual Acts of Parliament were for several years passed to exempt that which was intended to be included under the term, and ultimately a general Act was passed exempting that species of property and throwing the entire burden upon that which was included under the name of real or landed property. The great change which had occurred in the relative proportions of income derived from real and personal property, and the great addition which had been made to the amount of local charges in consequence of increase of population and the greater requirements of improved civilization, had rendered this burden, falling as it did upon one-third only of the general property of the country, a real and very serious grievance, sensibly interfering with the well-being of the owners and occupiers of land. Though the income derived from land had no doubt increased, it had not kept pace with the much greater increase of the income derived from many other sources which might be generally included under the term "personal property." Nor was the difficulty of ascertaining, at least approximately, the amount of income derived from these sources so great as it might at first sight appear. For national purposes it was ascertained and charged under the name of income tax, and if it were admitted that the maintenance of the poor and other purposes for which at present local rates were collected were, properly speaking, national objects, it was not too much to affirm, that on a broad principle of justice, everything which was taxed to supply the Consolidated Fund should be taxed for those purposes also. But immediately a difficulty arose. Could they localize taxation derived from sources other than local and visible? In his opinion this was not impossible, but he did not feel competent at present, nor, indeed, was it necessary, to enter into the details of any measure for that purpose, because the proposition before the House was simply for a Commission of Inquiry. He feared that many of those who contemplated bringing all property under contribution for purposes hitherto supplied by means of local rates, contemplated something in the nature of a national rate. Now, above all things, he should deprecate any attempt of such a nature. He believed that if the poor were to be maintained, our gaols supported, and our highways kept in order, by local authorities drawing upon a national fund, there would be a general scramble from all parts of the country, each district endeavouring to obtain for itself the largest possible amount out of that fund. But considering that all taxes for national purposes were locally collected, would it not be possible to levy rates in proportion to and upon the same basis as that on which national taxation was now collected in the localities in which it arose for the local purposes of the district? If, however, this were not possible, and he admitted there would be great difficulty in carrying out the details, might not a plan be devised by which an average should be taken of the expenditure of each district or union during a certain number of years, that that average should become a charge upon the Consolidated Fund, and that if that average were exceeded the difference should be raised by rates in the same manner as they were now levied? This would retain the local interest in keeping down the expenditure and preventing its rising above the average. But it would still be necessary to consider the case of the expenditure falling below the average. There would, he thought, be no difficulty in applying any surplus that might arise to local objects of a public nature under the direction of the Poor Law or other Government Boards. In few cases probably would that surplus be large, but should it be so, might not a fund be obtained in that way for assisting in the purposes of education? He had made these few remarks with a view to offering a suggestion in case of any Commission being appointed in consequence of the Motion of the hon. Baronet (Sir Massey Lopes). He desired to see justice meted out equally to all classes in the country. Broad principles should be established without reference to the interests of individuals even in the matter of taxation; but above all, he would caution the House that, while they perceived the injustice of our present system, they should avoid any measure which would promote that extravagance and demoralization which he believed would be the consequence of the adoption of the principle of a national rate. Under these circumstances, feeling as he did that the various and important interests involved in this question would be best dealt with by Royal Commission, he should support the Motion of the hon. Baronet.


said*: I need scarcely say that I most cordially endorse the requirements of my hon. Friend for a Commission upon this most important subject, which has only been postponed too long; and I must rejoice that he has followed up his Resolution of last year by a Motion which promises some practical result. At an earlier period I made a similar Motion, but it was withdrawn at the instances made to me in this House. Perhaps it was only just, for there is no doubt that it comes before a ratepayers' Parliament with unusual force. This, indeed, was foreseen, and the character of the question is very different from that which it has hitherto presented. It must be felt that it is so by hon. Members on that Bench, for there is not one of them who will not at some future, I trust distant date, be held responsible for the decision they come to to-night. There is one thing I regret. I regret that any disinclination to grant this Commission should have been shown on the part of Government, and from the reasons assigned by the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Poor Law Board, I entirely dissent. What were these reasons? First, he tells us that it cannot even be considered apart from the greater question of Imperial taxation. There is something at least novel about this. Not considered! Why it has been a matter of separate consideration for a half century or thereabouts. Why, it formed the subject for a Parliamentary Inquiry in 1825, of a Poor Law Commission in 1843, and of a Committee in 1850. And if this great necessity exists, why has it not formed part of the great revision of Imperial taxation which has already taken place? Next, the right hon. Gentleman tells us our case is not complete, we must wait for some further Returns about to be made to this House. These Returns will be as available for a Commission as they would be for this House. We do not pretend to legislate, nor is it a Bill we introduce. Well, but our grievance is not made out. We do not come here as grievance-mongers, nor do we put this forward as a special source of complaint to a class; but the right hon. Gentleman has himself, only as lately as last evening, shown that both anomalies and hardships do exist. Surely so far as this is a matter capable of remedy, that grievance does exist. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that even the existing burdens fall short of those of a prior time, and for this he takes an early date. Why does he do this? Because at that date the iniquities of the Poor Law were at their height. Rates at 20s. in the pound. Are we to be satisfied at anything less than this? I must contend that no point of comparison exists. Further, he takes exception to the remedies proposed upon this side of the House. Well, I do not myself agree to most. But the right hon. Gentleman, no later than last year, proposed a remedy himself—an income tax—no less—[Mr. GOSCHEN: I beg your pardon.]—Then the right hon. Gentleman has been wrongly reported, and my own ears deceived me upon this point. He said, "Only give me 1d. of income tax assessed as a rate in aid, and we can deal with the matter as we ought." Well, we have not gone beyond that. I take the right hon. Gentleman's testimony as against himself. But we do not only rest upon that for there is other concurrent testimony upon this point—that if we seek relief through a rate in aid it is no new theory we advance. In a Committee in 1859 upon Poor Law Irremovability we find Mr. Sotheron Estcourt speaking thus— I do not know whether it is necessary to say more than that I think that both with regard to unions and parishes it would be a fair thing to facilitate the means of obtaining a rate in aid, and so taking one more step towards equalizing the burden all over the country. But I think by the old form of a rate in aid I shall at least stave off during our time that which I think would be perfect ruin to the country—namely, an attempt to raise the money for the relief of the poor by anything like a general rate either of the nation or even of any county; and I think so because nothing is so ruinous as the idea of entrusting expenditure to those who are not the representatives of the persons from whom the money is to be raised. It has also this merit—it is 250 years old. This is no unimportant point, and would lend sanction to projects less doubtful than those we have advanced. Even recently we also have the authority of Mr. C. P. Villiers as to the necessity we allege to exist. He speaks thus— In my opinion nothing can be more unfair and conspicuous than the charge of the poor rate. I do not express that opinion for the first time. I was acting on the original Commission for the Poor Law, and I was struck by seeing the extraordinary unfairness with which this charge fell on different persons and places, and the vast number who were totally exempt from such a charge. Now these ought at least to be received as complete and sufficient proof of the necessity now existing of an inquiry upon these points, resting upon what I may venture to call intellectual recognition of matter requiring redress. It is not wanting in practical proof. Does it constitute a special charge upon any industry or class, and of this what are the effects? Now, I think I may say that it has been proved that it does form a most serious charge upon land, not that I shall restrict my area of consideration to it, for it falls upon houses and railroads, and several other properties to a similar effect. But if, I say, it does fall upon such an industry in at all greater proportion than any other what will be the effect. Let me give an instance of this. In 1795, and at the beginning of the present century, stock-in-trade was pretty generally rated in the North. It gained ground just as the stock of woolstapler and clothier increased. Now, mark the recorded effect; when the practice of rating stock-in-trade was fully established in this district, the ancient staple trade rapidly declined, and withdrew itself still more rapidly into the more northern parts, where no such burden was cast upon the trade. Now, this may seem to some to be a cogent argument in favour of the exemption from what I may term the protective side of the question, but I must carry you a little beyond this. Capital naturally shifted itself to the protected trade, no doubt, but before we give ourselves up to any transports upon this there is one suggestion that I would venture to make—namely, that we have no right to make such a protected interest; and, secondly, that you have made such a protected interest in this case. What we say is this, the effect of your exemption has, as between the two industries affected, produced a precisely similar effect to that which I now quote between the two branches of the same trade—it has created a protected interest, and from this our taxed capital has fled. In these days it is time that this should cease. And now, as to the argument that landlords will get it all. I have heard the argument before. I think once—namely, when the right hon. Gentleman who now sits upon that Treasury Bench was belabouring these Benches, with well meant, if not sound advice, to give up Protection, and to permit cheap bread—the somewhat ungracious rejoinder was this—the artizan will not get it. You the masters will spin cheaper, with lower wages, and so you did; but your trade increased and the wages went up, and the men have realized the larger profit perhaps. So I do not think it probable that the land- lords will get it all, and I am even inclined to hope that some may reach the labouring man. Perhaps, indeed, it may be thought, that of all matters for our consideration, this one presses most, and certainly there is no one that is capable of such easy proof as the pressure of these taxes upon the poorer class. Its action is two-fold in such respects, direct and indirect. To income tax we have at least been careful that men of small means shall not be called upon to contribute, and it has likewise been held good policy that upon articles of the first necessity the taxes should be light. How do we stand here in this respect? You, especially, who desire subdivision of land will do well to mark this. The miserable hovel at a £2 rent pays this tax. The allotment of the labouring man pays this tax. The cottage garden and cottage pays this tax. The few acres of the lesser tenants, as well as the lordly farmer, pays this tax, and for what and to what amount? He pays for his fellow-paupers wants—for the road he walks on—the bridge he does not go over—the police to watch over his property. In the towns is it better? Go to the east end of this city and put it to the vote. I may refer to the right hon. Gentleman opposite for this. And in what proportion does it take effect to income tax? We think sorely of the extra pennies, out of 6d. in the pound, where we many of us pay 4s. 6d. and 5s. Now, I take the description given in The Times of taxpayers of this class— The property tax is raised from an income of £300,000,000. The rates of England from real property alone, form one-third that amount. Upon the one we raise £6,000,000, and upon the other £12,000,000. There are, therefore, three distinct grades of taxation in this country—those who pay indirect—a more favoured class, who pay the direct; and another class, higher in the fiscal hierarchy, who are privileged to pay rates. Now, what sort of an aristocracy is this fiscally favoured class? It would take a finer pencil than mine to delineate—the bloated ratepayers—the citizen privileged to pay rates. And, once more, what are its indirect effects. Just now there are not wanting some very earnest friends of the agricultural labourer, and I call their attention to this—the state of every wage-paid class must depend upon the economical condition of the industry itself. If that industry is prosperous capital will flow in, and the wages of labour be increased; if not the fund will decrease and the labour be less. Now, we have before seen the effect of special taxation upon this, in the instance of the wool trade. Now, with regard to agriculture you have done this, and heavily weighted the lags in the race. Capital does not come in, and labour is of the lowest class. Ask any authority and he will tell you that this need not be the case. Agriculture could absorb double the capital, but no industry could survive such a special impost as this; 4s. in the pound shuts the doors in the capitalist's face. Now, to some of my enthusiastic friends who really wish to raise the labourers' condition I recommend this; as an economical question it is really worth their while to study its effects. You cannot raise wages by Acts of Parliament except of this class; but you can put each industry upon an equal footing by making your taxation just. Have we no claim to this? Well, but we are not the only petitioners in this case. When last year I had the honour of seconding the Motion of my hon. Friend, I called especial attention to this; and the great interest of owners and occupiers of house property, as well as railway proprietors, and other taxed interests to this. Of such burdens they bear the larger half. It is true that by the late hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Stuart Mill), whose absence in this House most must regret, a distinction was attempted to be drawn, by calling this a house tax of a special class. I do not think that he was very successful in showing in what the distinction consisted. At all events if there is any real, and not merely politic distinction to be drawn, no doubt by a Commission it will be winnowed out. But, if all other reasons were insufficient, one consideration should suffice, we cannot remain in our present position if we would, and each instant of delay imposes fresh difficulties in our path. Last Session ought to have sufficiently proved this. For years past burden after burden has been imposed upon these rates, and by this means every new administrative crotchet is to be carried out. Well, there is a limit to this, and the ratepayer, though a man of infinite patience, has discovered that his is not after all the national purse. We have come to the Imperial Exchequer and have met with an invariable rebuff. Re- sistance to all increase of such taxation has become our only resort. The ratepayer, as such, will have no more exclusive burdens on his back, and, deprived of his assistance, most of your proposed reform, both good and bad, will halt. On the other hand, it is impossible to look forward to any very speedy settlement of such a question as this. The field of inquiry it opens is immense, obviously no time is to be lost. I have said that this question has been often before the House, and I may refer to many effective speeches. One, however, seems to me super-eminently the best which was ever delivered in this House—that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire. Still more remarkable is one paragraph of that speech— You must not conceal from yourself that you may make an aggrieved population run a muck against your theories of trade and taxation. If you reject this Resolution I tell you the consequences will be a proposition conceived in a severer spirit of justice, and as such it will return to this House. It has returned to this House, and will, I trust, in the hands of my hon. Friend, be conducted to a practical result.


complimented the hon. Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes) on the ability displayed by him in dealing with the subject under consideration. Since 1849 successive Governments had promised to give their earnest attention to this matter; but how had that promise been kept? He was rather surprised at the manner in which the President of the Poor Law Board had met the Motion. He believed it was the custom for the Chiefs of Departments, when they received a written application, to turn down one corner of it, and on that corner to make a note of instruction as to the answer which their subordinate was to write. He had heard of a case in which an official had succeeded in condensing his instructions into the three letters U. B. D. The manner of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board was completely official. He must observe that neither the hon. Gentleman who brought forward this Motion nor any one else proposed that a Commission should be intrusted with the legislative functions of that House. The proposal of the hon. Member for South Devon was strictly in accordance with precedent. He had applied in the Library for a copy of the Report of the Commission of 1833, but had not been able to get one. He had, however, found a copy of the Report of the Commission, which included among its Members two Members of the House of Peers and one Member of the House of Commons, the rest of the Commissioners being selected for that office in consequence of their aptitude for inquiry. Did those Commissioners deal with the question whether these local charges of the Poor Law should be commuted into a general charge? Certainly, in their recommendations they did so, but they very properly condemned the idea of a national rate. They went into the whole question of the incidents of this property, and they show that the poor rate under the old law had become abused, and that the whole rental in certain parishes was absolutely confiscated. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board assured the hon. Member for South Devonshire that he need not be uneasy, because the amount of the poor rate in 1802 and in 1815 amounted to£8,000,000, including the county rate, and, therefore, there being nothing extraordinary or unprecedented in the amount that rate had attained at the present time, there was no occasion for resorting to such extraordinary and unprecedented a course as an inquiry by means of a Royal Commission, because that would involve a delegation of the legislative functions of the House to that body. [Mr. GOSCHEN: No, no!] That, at all events, was the inference he had drawn from the right hon. Gentleman's speech; perhaps to-morrow morning they would be in a better position to judge of its meaning. He (Mr. Newdegate) was satisfied to take it that in 1833, when the poor rate, including the county rate, became excessive, a Commission of Inquiry was issued. Under these circumstances precedent was directly in favour of the proposal of the hon. Member for South Devonshire. Did the hon. Member make his claim solely on account of the agricultural interest? He saw the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, sitting opposite to him, and he asked him whether he had heard nothing of the grievance caused by the operation of the poor rate upon the compound-householders of Birmingham? He (Mr. Newdegate) was in that House to represent them, and, as their representative, he supported the proposal of the hon. Member for South Devonshire for inquiry by Commission, because he knew that the hon. Member had acted in an independent spirit, and because he thought he had only spoken the truth when he said that he sought to drag this great question from the fangs of party. It was unfortunate that even after all these years there should be a prejudice against them because they had once been Protectionists. He was one still. ["Oh!"] He repeated what he had published, and what was in the Library of the House of Commons, in the introduction to the work called The Tariffs of all Nations—namely, that they would be compelled to re-consider the system of free imports. But whether they had or had not to re-consider their decision upon that point, it would at all events conduce to defer the time for re-considering that question if they were to adopt the means now pointed out for equalizing the taxation of the country. Let not those who sat on the opposite side of the House show themselves so jealous that they dare not entrust a Commission composed of those who were not party men with the power of inquiring into one branch only of our taxation. He asked for information—information to be collected by those who were free from party bias—and a refusal to grant it would bear the interpretation throughout the country that the Government had come to the determination that no information should be furnished to the House but what was tinged by party feeling. Such had been the ability with which the hon. Member for South Devonshire had stated the case of the ratepayers of the country—not merely that of the agricultural occupiers, but that also of the occupiers of small tenements in large towns such as those of Birmingham—that he had felt it to be his duty to tender his humble support to his proposal that Her Majesty should be humbly requested to issue a Commission composed of men unbiassed by party feeling, who should inquire into the whole subject of our local taxation.


Sir, when my right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board (Mr. Goschen) delivered, what I thought to be his very clear and able speech, he appeared to me to place the House in possession of the views entertained by himself and by the Government, and I confess I did not think it would be requisite for any one to rise from this Bench during the remainder of this discussion—a discussion, I may add, which I understand has been carried on under the belief that the hon. Member for South Devonshire (Sir Massey Lopes) having heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was not disposed to press further. The speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, however, shows that upon certain points he, at all events, has not fully comprehended my right hon. Friend. It is of importance that the position, the intention, and the language of my right hon. Friend should not be misunderstood; and it is but just to the hon. Member for South Devonshire that no misapprehension upon the subject he has brought forward should be allowed to exist. The hon. Member who has just resumed his seat thinks that the right hon. Gentleman objected to the appointment of a Commission on the ground that it involved a delegation and an alienation in the matter of taxation of the legislative functions of this House. But the right hon. Gentleman, in reality, took no such objection. Both the argument and the illustration of the right hon. Gentleman ought to have prevented any such misapprehension arising. What he pointed out was that by acceding to the proposal of the hon. Member for South Devonshire we should be parting with the initiative of this House in matters of taxation—a matter on which this House is so jealous that it will not permit an independent Member of its own body to propose either the expenditure of public money or the taxes from which that money is derived. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that, as in the view of all men, and as in the view of the hon. Mover of the Motion himself, the two questions of Imperial and local taxation were too inextricably mixed up together, and that to devolve upon a Commission under such circumstances the examination of the advisability of a general re-adjustment of local taxation was, in point of fact, to place in the hands of that Commission the question of Imperial taxation, and to give the Commission that initiative which the House would not permit its own private Members to exercise. The hon. Member who has just sat down says that the Poor Law Commission, which was appointed in 1831, affords an exact precedent for the Motion now made, but that is not the case. The Motion now made is a Motion for a reference to a Commission of the incidents and the effects of local taxation and for the more equitable readjustment of its burdens. The hon. Member has not read to us the terms of the Poor Law Commission, but, speaking from recollection, I deny that the purpose of that Poor Law Commission was to examine into the question of taxation. It was appointed to examine into the administration of the law and into its social effects upon the poor, and from my recollection of its terms I may say that all reference to taxation in the Report of that Commission were of a secondary and collateral character, and were intended to illustrate, by referring to its effects upon property, the main subject and gist of the Report—namely, the administration of the Poor Laws and their effects upon the poor. If that be so, it is quite idle to say that the appointment of that Commission forms in the slightest degree a precedent for appointing a Commission to examine into local taxation, with the avowed intention of re-adjusting by its means the present system of our local taxation, and probably doing so by means of a charge in some shape or another upon the Imperial Exchequer. The hon. Member seemed to think that the purpose of my right hon. Friend was to anticipate or retard, or in some manner or other to discourage, the obtaining of information. What I understand to be the position of the Government is this:—My right hon. Friend has pointed out that the Motion of the hon. Member is one which comes recommended by every motive that can address itself to the indolence, the indifference, and the timidity of an Administration. Because if we were to accede to that Motion, and to advise the appointment of a Royal Commission for the purpose recommended by the hon. Gentleman, I think all who hear me, and who bear in mind the complexity and the extent of the subject, will agree with me when I state that it would give us a lease of several years of peace and tranquillity in reference to the discussion of this matter. Instead of taking such a course, what says my right hon. Friend? He draws a distinction, and I think a just distinction, between a Commission to recommend a policy and a Commission to make inquiry. With reference to a Commission to recommend a policy, he has pointed out that it is hardly consistent with the character or usages of Parliament, or with the public interest, that such a matter should be transferred to the hands of any Commission, however wisely and justly chosen. With respect to a Commission for information merely, my right hon. Friend has stated that he thinks the exertions which have been made under the late Government, and which he is now continuing, will enable him without any loss of time to bring before the House all the information which it will require in order to form its judgment on the subject. And my right hon. Friend has admitted, what I can have no hesitation in repeating, that we are entirely conscious that this I question stands in the very forward position in respect of its claim on the attention of the Government. Having in view, even within the next few days, a measure which, taken in conjunction with other measures already announced, must occupy, in all probability, the whole available time of Parliament during the Session, I do not think it would be wise or prudent in us, or candid towards the House, if we attempted to define the precise period at which it would be possible for us to propose legislation on the subject of local taxation. But this I will say,—that if this great Constitutional question were once fairly disposed of or put out of the way by legislation, I do think it would then be the duty of the Government to make such proposals as they might think were called for, though t to discuss the nature of these proposals I now would be wholly premature, with regard to a matter standing in the very first ranks of duties devolving upon the Government. With that declaration we might fairly have called upon the hon. Member for South Devon, but that he has, in fact, anticipated the call, to abstain from pressing his Motion for the issue of a Royal Commission. There is only one other topic which it is necessary for me to mention, and that is the suggestion made by one or two hon. Members that a Committee of the House of Commons might take in hand this subject. Well, undoubtedly there is not precisely the same form of objection to the action of a Committee which might justly be applied to the intervention of a Royal Commission. But I own it appears to me that, although a Committee of this House is a very useful instrument, it is an instrument of limited power. I can conceive that with respect to portions of this question the appointment of a Committee might be prudent and useful. I do not pretend now to indicate in any more precise terms what might be capable of being done in this direction, but so much I will say in general terms. But I am convinced that the whole scope of this question is beyond the powers of and Committee which could be appointed for the purpose. And though I am not in the least degree desirous to prevent the discussion of that subject if it should be thought proper to raise it, and wishing to pay respect to a suggestion, even incidentally made by hon. Members, I must say that we should be in a manner shrinking from the grave responsibilities of an Executive Government were we to propose to the House a general devolution of this question on a Committee of the House of Commons; for the powers of such a Committee, I am convinced, would not be adequate to its settlement, and it would hardly be possible for any Committee to devote to it such an amount of time as would lead to a satisfactory conclusion. I hope it will be understood from the remarks I have made that the Government are by no means insensible of the importance—I would even say, after the explanation I have given—of the urgency of this question; and if they decline to accede to the Motion of the hon. Member, it is not because they are indisposed to the performance of their own duty, but because they do not wish to shift that duty upon another and less responsible agency.


congratulated his hon. Friend (Sir Massey Lopes) on the very important declaration which had been made by the First Minister of the Crown. The right hon. Gentleman had acknowledged that the subject brought forward and discussed that evening was one of the most forward subjects for consideration, and had promised that at the earliest moment compatible with the other engagements of the Government he and his Colleagues would devote their earnest attention to the matter. Though the particular mode of pursuing this question proposed by his hon. Friend had not been assented to by the Government, he had substantially attained his object. The Government refused to grant a Royal Commission, but they said, "We ourselves will be your Royal Commission." They undertook to ascertain all the facts necessary for enabling the public to form a judgment upon the question; and, further, to bring forward, at the earliest possible moment, such measures as would constitute a proper solution of the question. In giving this undertaking, the right hon. Gentleman had acted wisely, for the subject was one which the population of the country had deeply thought over. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board (Mr. Goschen), following the hon. Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes), had well remarked that this was not a question of one class or of another, not a question of town or country. Wherever he (Mr. Hunt) went, when the fiscal burdens of the people were discussed, it was not Imperial, but local taxation which was complained of. Whether in the agricultural districts, with which he was most familiar, or among the thickly-crowded population represented by the, right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board, the feeling was the same. His own attention had been called particularly to the great difficulty which the Metropolitan Board of Works had in obtaining funds to carry on the contemplated improvements. The metropolitan ratepayers were so heavily burdened that they almost gave way under the weight of the last straw. Under these circumstances, it was no wonder that the burden of local taxation continually occupied the thoughts of the people of this country. He had felt it his duty to investigate the matter last Session, rind with that object endeavoured to find out what materials were available for information. He had been astonished to find how very meagre the data were: there really existed no reliable figures, and nobody had it in his power to give a synopsis of the local rates bearing upon the people of this country in the different parts of the Empire. With a view to obtain the information that was so desirable, he moved at the close of last Session for some comprehensive Returns, upon the preparation of which, not only the officers of the Department, but an extra staff were engaged, and he had been happy to learn from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that the information would be available at any early date. He looked forward to the presentation of those Returns with great interest, and he believed they would afford a mass of information such as heretofore had never been possessed. He hoped his hon. Friend, having elicited such an important declaration from the First Minister of the Crown, would rest satisfied with the result which had been attained; and the House generally, he felt sure, would accord to his hon. Friend their gratitude for the very able manner in which he had brought forward the subject.


expressed his satisfaction at the assurance given by the Government, and consented to withdraw his Motion on the understanding that if they did not take some effectual steps he should herewith renew his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.