HC Deb 21 July 1873 vol 217 cc685-90

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


said, he did not rise to oppose the third reading; but as it could not be denied that the Bill would impose considerable burdens upon real property, he wished to take that opportunity of asking the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, what course he intended to pursue after the Bill and the two other measures which would follow it next year became law, with regard to the relief of local burdens? This Bill, whatever else it would do, would not diminish the burdens on real property, and the Government were every day proposing measures which would increase those burdens. The other night they had given a second reading to a Bill for the extension of Denison's Act, which would also impose an additional burden, and had attempted surreptitiously to introduce a highway Bill into the Turnpike Continuance Act; and when the cuckoo cry was raised that if some portion of the money were paid out of the Consolidated Fund it would lead to extravagance, he denied it altogether, because nobody would increase his own burdens for the sake of dipping his hand into the pocket of the Government for so small a sum. They had been promised considerable things by the Government, and he wished before meeting his constituents to be able to say what it was that the Government intended to do.


expressed his great satisfaction at the willingness which the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill had shown in accepting the suggestions and Amendments of private Members. The conduct of the right hon. Gentleman in that respect had presented a marked contrast to that of the Government in other cases. Although it was not an entire settlement of the question, yet he had perfect confidence in his future dealing with the subject, and that when he came to consider the relief of local taxation out of Imperial funds, he would do so in the same direction as his predecessor, the present First Lord of the Admiralty.


entered his protest against the Bill, on the ground that it did not advance one step in the direction of making personal wealth contribute to the expenses of local taxation. It simply extended and continued the liability which fell on real property. The noble Marquess the Chief Secretary for Ireland was reported to have said at Nottingham the other day— There is the question of local taxation and local government. The Conservative party are very much interested in that; but in what way are they going to settle it? Well, it was rather too bad considering the present Government had been in office five years, and that during all that time the Conservative party had been urging them to deal with that subject, that such a question should have been asked by a Member of the Cabinet. Why, a Resolution had been passed by the House in the strongest language calling on the Government to take measures in relief of local taxation, and they had done nothing whatever to carry it out. If the Government really made up their minds to deal with that subject, the machinery of the income tax supplied them with the means of making personal wealth contribute to the expenses of local government.


denied that the Bill increased the burdens on real property. It merely re-distributed them; but at the same time enlarged the incidence of taxation, and went in the direction of the equalization of burdens. It might be said that the Bill did not go far enough; but what it did, little or much, was in the right direction, and he thought Her Majesty's Ministers were entitled to gratitude for removing the exemption that had existed in favour of Goverment property.


said, he must defend his hon. Friends the Members for West Sussex and North Wilts, who had taken exception to the Bill, which certainly was not distinguished for its logical accuracy. The professed object of the Bill was to abolish exemptions, but it stereotyped the huge exemption of four-fifths of the wealth of the country from local taxation. It did not even abolish the exemption of Government property, but merely stated that the Government would bring in a Bill for that purpose thereafter, which, perhaps, they might never have an opportunity of doing. The country knew exactly what the taxes were to be, but what would they say of a Chancellor of the Exchequer who brought in a series of income tax Bills of various amounts for various purposes? He did not grudge people the fortunes which they made, but at least if they did not pay rates themselves they ought to refrain from raising a cry that those who did pay rates did not pay enough. Gentlemen who realized enormous fortunes by the sale of quack medicines, which rendered hospitals a necessity; gentlemen who successfully pursued the calling of flat-catching; and a great many others, who made large fortunes, did not contribute a farthing to the rates, yet were constantly swelling the chorus against those who did pay. He could not express any satisfaction with the Bill, which only perpetuated exemptions which were entirely wrong in principle.


said, that the Bill did not increase the taxation of those who now paid it. In answer to the objections urged by hon. Members opposite, he would say that whatever this Bill was, it was not meant to increase local taxation. He thought that both with respect to Imperial and local taxation people ought to be taxed in proportion to their means; but the difficulty was to find a way by which personal property could be taxed. The right hon. Gentleman had tried to do so, and had not succeeded, and hon. Members who complained of that had not themselves suggested any practical measure for the purpose, and, in fact, it had been pronounced to be impossible by the concurrence of all parties in the Legislature. [Sir GEORGE JENKIXSON: I never proposed to rate personal property.] Then there was an attempt to make local taxes payable out of income tax. [Sir GEORGE JENICINSON: I have not done that either.] At present they had exempted only ragged and Sunday schools. For himself, he tendered his thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for the pains and care he had bestowed upon the measure, and for the courteous and conciliatory manner in which he had conducted it through its various stages.


said, the question of rating Government property was left in great obscurity under the Bill. He wished to know upon what principle of rateability the site now occupied by the British Museum would be assessed, and what was to be done with the large piece of waste ground on which the future Courts of Justice were to be erected? There had been a loss upon that ground for many years in the shape of interest upon capital amounting to £38,000 or £40,000 a-year. By the pulling down of the houses which formerly occupied the ground heavy burdens had been thrown upon the parishes of St. Clement Danes, St. Dunstan's in the West, and the Liberty of the Rolls. Another point which had always struck him was that whereas in Leeds, Hull, and other places, they had to pay rates for their museums, philosophical institutes, and even for their police courts, the metropolitan police courts were paid for out of the Consolidated Fund. He could not understand the reason why, and he had asked in vain for an explanation.


said, he had pleasure in gratefully acknowledging the tributes paid to his conduct of the Bill in Committee, and had to state that the rateability of the site of the Palace of Justice and of the British Museum would be governed partly by this Bill and partly by the existence or non-existence of any special statute affecting their rateability. The amounts to be contributed by the Palace of Justice to the local rates settled in the Act under which the site was purchased, were not and would not be disturbed by the Bill. So long as you did not increase the charges on the rates you could not be said to increase local burdens. The wider distribution of burdens must alleviate the pressure upon some of those who contributed. Where metallic mines came under rating for the first time, the occupiers of other property would experience a sensible relief, and the rating of Government property would afford distinct relief to the owners of adjoining property. As to the objection of the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Colonel Barttelot), with regard to the second part of the Bill being of no value, he must point out that it not only directed the Treasury to endeavour to place a value on Government property, with a view to its contribution to rates, but it also empowered the Treasury to enter into negotiations with local authorities. The method which the Government had adopted could not be carried into effect without the preliminary of negotiation and arbitration. The hon. and gallant Member had asked for a renewal of the pledges which the Government had given to the House in reference to the subject of which the present Bill was only the beginning. For him, as the head of a Department of the Government, to undertake, on the third reading of that measure, to give pledges which were to be considered of greater weight than the explicit pledges which had been given by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister himself, would be to place a disproportionate value on his own declarations and those of his right hon. Friend who had in the broadest manner committed the Government to the responsibility of dealing at the earliest opportunity with the question of affording some substantial relief out of Imperial revenues to the local burdens of the country.


said, that although the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government did give the assurances just referred to, he would have preferred seeing the Valuation and the Rating Bills passed in the same Session. He urged hon. Gentlemen to endeavour to reduce local taxation in their own coun- ties, and reminded them that if they accepted relief from Imperial taxation they could not grudge the Government the right to interfere with the management of their local affairs. For his own part, he thought nothing could be more dangerous to this country than the system of centralization which so generally prevailed on the Continent, and he would rather at any time than be subject to it pay double. As for the Bill itself, he approved some of its provisions, but feared it would do a good deal of mischief, and induce much litigation. England and Wales would now, through the instrumentality of committees, have to make their assessments, which again would be settled by the Court of Queen's Bench; and ultimately the result would be most extravagant. He thought that woods should be rated; for although a growing profit would not be visible year by year, it would be apparent enough in 20 years. Game ought also clearly to be rated.

Motion agreed to; Bill read the third time; Amendments made; Bill passed.