HC Deb 20 June 1871 vol 207 cc344-7

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [10th May], "That the Bill be now-read a second time;" and which Amendment was, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Hardcastle.)

Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

Debate resumed.


said, he expected his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department would have given some reason why he did not proceed with the Bill he had introduced for abolishing all exemptions from payment of rates. He might assume, however, that that measure was withdrawn because there was not the remotest chance of its being carried. Two years ago, he might remark, the principle of the exemption of Sunday schools was carried in that House by a majority of 120, and he now had to ask the House to pass that Bill, the object of which was to exempt from the payment of poor rates charitable institutions which were supported solely by the voluntary contributions of the public, and likewise to exempt hospitals and other similar institutions, with the consent of the vestry, from the payment of those rates which now threatened to destroy several of them. The Bill merely re-enacted the old law of the land.


said, he was sorry that it was impossible for the Government to accept the Motion of the hon. Member, who erroneously supposed that he would by this proposal re-enact the old law. He provided that it should be permissive for vestries or the other authorities to decide what particular charities should be exempted, and the effect of that would be to raise a debate —which would be often, he feared, of an acrimonious nature—in every parish as regarded the merits of every charity it possessed. This would be highly undesirable. It would be impossible in many cases to define, as the clause would require, whether a charity conduced in any way to the private profit or advantage of the occupier, because many charitable hospitals were supposed to have been established as an advertisement for those who conducted them. The Government had been prepared, at considerable cost to the Revenue, to abolish all exemptions; but, by making an exception in favour of property devoted to certain public, though charitable, purposes, they would destroy the whole principle, which would otherwise enable them to tax public property for local purposes. The Motion was conceived in a benevolent spirit, but it was impracticable. The Government in resisting it had no wish to check the course of charity; but it could not be carried into effect without involving injustice.


said, he thought the difficulties of carrying the scheme into execution could hardly be so insuperable as the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty imagined, because the Bill would merely re-enact a law which was in force only a few years ago. It was not at all an unreasonable thing on the part of his Colleague to ask that that which had been the practice for so many years should continue to be the practice until a general law was passed. The words of the Bill were copied from the Irish Poor Law Act, and if they were right in Ireland they might be right here. If the permissive provision would not work well, that was not the principle of the Bill, and an alteration could be made; and it might be provided that where a vestry granted exemption in one case, it should be bound to grant it in all similar cases. At all events, that which had worked well for so many years should not be stopped by the mere accident of a Court of Law having given a particular decision in a particular case.


said, he intended to vote against the Bill, because it contained a vicious principle. Until all property bore the burden of local taxation there was little chance of resisting its increase. The Bill of the Government evaded the difficulty of making all pro- perty liable to the support of the poor, or it would have met with a different reception.


said, he approved the principle of the Bill, but thought the phrase "all institutions exclusively used for charitable purposes" rather too wide, while he admitted certain institutions might well be exempted from rates, such as hospitals for the sick.


said, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen) was the author of the permissive clause affecting ragged schools, and not a single case of difficulty had occurred under it.


said, he hoped the House would not pass the second reading, because it was no part of the duty of the House to remit local taxation; and he referred again, as he had done three years ago, in illustration of the injustice that would be done by the Bill to the magnificent pile of buildings, occupying a large site in a poor parish, constructed on the opposite shore of the river by the corporation of St. Thomas's Hospital, one of the wealthiest corporations of the Metropolis and of the world, which was that day (Wednesday) to receive Her Majesty and many hon. Members of that House at a magnificent entertainment.


, in supporting the Bill, said, that no disputes could arise in Boards of Guardians about the class of property to be rated, and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen) would appear to have gained but little experience during his two years' presidency at the Poor Law Board if he was of impression that questions of rating could ever arise at the discussions of those bodies.


said, he must dispute the statement that those charities had from time immemorial been exempt from taxation, for, in point of fact, the exemption was first established in 1859. The Bill granted exemptions to endowed charities, and would, for instance, exclude the Smith Charity, where an annuity was granted to the bearers of that name, and to the Dog Charity, where a man left some money for the support of three dogs, and on the death of one of which a question of survivorship was raised in a Court of Equity. He was therefore opposed to a Bill which, by granting unnecessary exceptions, could only have the effect of still further burdening the community at large, more especially when in that very Parliament, also, a Resolution had been passed unanimously to place such institutions under the income tax law, a Resolution which was inconsistent with the principle of this Bill, which was also contrary to the old law of this country, as defined by Chief Justice Holt.


said, he should vote for the second reading upon the Preamble of the Bill, which was confined to schools and hospitals. The provisions themselves, which were wider, could be set right in Committee.


said, he attached no value to the Resolution of the House placing charities under the income tax, as it was carried as a compromise, and probably would not have been carried if the House had had notice of it. There never was any difficulty in vestries deciding what hospitals should be relieved from taxation.


said, the recent decision in the Mersey Docks case was only an explanation of the Statute of Elizabeth, by which all property was made liable to the payment of poor rates. Not long ago a law was proposed to exempt literary institutions from taxation, but with very little success. He was opposed to the Bill.


said, he must deny that there was anything in the nature of surprise in his Motion, to which the hon. Member opposite (Mr. J. S. Hardy) had referred.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 68; Noes 116: Majority 48.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.