§ Order for Committee read.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee).
§ Clause 4 (Repeal of 6 & 7 Vict. c. 36 and 32 & 33 Vict. c. 40).1175
§ MR. COLLINS
, who had an Amendment on the Papers, to move in line 6, after "1869," to insert—and the provisions of the thirty-second and and thirty-third Victoria, chapter forty, shall be construed to extend to all public elementary schools,said, the Committee had decided that Sunday and ragged schools should be exempt, but a still stronger claim might be made out for public elementary schools, because they were a necessity which the law required to be supplied in every parish, and when such schools were supplied by others the pockets of the ratepayers were thereby saved. He should, however, propose his Amendment when the question of exemptions was considered generally.
On Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill,"
§ MR. MUNTZ
said, that for three years or more the House had been assured by the Government that a great principle was involved in the subject of exemptions; but the moment the matter touched the question of expediency they shrank from their own declaration. The fact was no country could be governed upon abstract principles. The Committee had decided by an immense majority that the exemption should be continued to ragged schools; but the clause now before the House was nothing else than a proposal to repeal an Act which was passed after careful consideration, and which exempted from rates and taxes literary and scientific institutions supported by voluntary contributions, and by repealing the Act as proposed, the Legislature would be guilty of a breach of good faith. There was a literary institution in Birmingham, whose income was only £500 a-year, and if the exemption was removed it would be taxed to the amount of £150. He hoped the Committee would not throw over such institutions for the sake of what was not even an abstract theory, for the principle had been departed from in other cases. The best thing to do would be to reject the clause, and to have the question decided upon the Amendment which would be moved by the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Collins).
§ MR. COLLINS
remarked that it was desirable the matter should be decided 1176 upon an uniform principle. If ragged schools were to be exempted, public elementary schools ought to be placed in a similar position. When the whole question was raised they ought to catalogue the institutions which should be brought under the operation of the clause.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, his hon. Friend (Mr. Muntz) was under some misapprehension, for he dealt with the exemption of literary and scientific institutions as if it were one with the claim for exemption on the part of hospitals and charities. But the only question was whether they should repeal the Act 6 & 7 Vict., which provided a positive exemption for literary and scientific institutions. The main object of the Bill was the repeal of all exemptions, and the clause had been framed in accordance with that view. The Act exempted literary and scientific institutions not only from the payment of poor rates, but from the payment of county rates, borough rates, and local rates of every description. Under what conditions? The societies must be for the promotion of science and art. The Act which exempted them was, in fact, an aristocratic Act. They were not all of them supported by voluntary subscriptions; in fact, some of them obtained Government grants, and it was only the wealthiest of these societies that were exempted, which occupied the whole of their premises, without being obliged to make up part of their income by letting any portion of them. They must also be certified by the certifying barrister under the Friendly Societies Act. Societies to promote education of the poor by providing training schools were not exempted. But among the societies for science and art he found two rather curious instances of exemption. The Popular Conservative Association was exempted; and, to show the impartiality of the certifying barrister, the Ribble Working Men's Liberal Association was also exempted. The societies benefited by the positive exemption of the Act were not such as brought education and useful knowledge within the reach of the great mass of the community, but the aristocracy of literature and the fine arts. He did not, therefore, see that they should come under the exemption granted to industrial and ragged schools by this clause.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, he was not prepared to assist the literary and scientific institutions in claiming an exemption against all the world. They obtained their exemption because it was supposed to have been the law acted on for generations that the want of beneficial interest in some particular person was a ground for exemption. For instance, the Mersey Docks were exempted. In consequence of hospitals and other institutions being exempted, a Bill was brought in by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Sir William Hutt) for the exemption of literary and scientific institutions, which had occasioned much litigation, under the direction of parish officers. The exemption of the Mersey Docks had been repealed; and he would rather have allowed the matter to rest on the old basis—namely, that where there was no beneficial interest there should be no rate, or that none should be exempted. They exempted Sunday schools and ragged schools, which, however excellent, were not better than hundreds of other institutions which were not exempted. In his opinion the Government, by the exemptions they had made, had, in fact, given up the principle, of the Bill.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, that with regard to the exemption of the ragged schools the matter stood upon a totally different ground from the other cases. That exemption was not absolute, because it was in the power of the local authorities either to rate or to exempt them. It was an entirely different thing to give an exemption to these literary societies which did not depend upon the local bodies at all.
§ MR. BAINES
said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld) was quite mistaken with regard to the real character of a large body of these institutions. They were not of an aristocratic character. Most of them were mechanics' institutions, and were established by Lord Brougham and Mr. Birkbeck for the purpose of giving scientific instruction to those who were engaged in the pursuits of industry, and it was working men who were chiefly benefited by such institutions. They had been exempt from rates for a period of 30 years, and the repeal of that exemption would be a great blow to their prosperity. If, by an ex post facto law, these institutions were now to be rated, many would 1178 find it difficult to pay the rates, because they subsisted mainly on the benevolent charity of the upper classes; and if he crippled them we should strike a fatal blow at our industrial supremacy.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, the Solicitor General had pointed out that, while the exemption of Sunday and ragged schools was optional with the local authorities, that of scientific and literary institutions was absolute; and the question therefore arose whether all hospitals and charities, literary and scientific institutions were to be put on the footing which the Government had now constituted. He wished to know whether the suggestion of the Solicitor General would be carried out in the subsequent clauses of the Bill.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, he had not admitted that the exemption of Sunday and ragged schools was sound in principle, but he had pointed out that there was a distinction in their favour which did not exist in this case, and therefore left hon. Members free to vote differently now. In the former case the Government could only bow to the will of the majority.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK
said, it could hardly be urged that the Government gave way on a former occasion, with regard to this matter of the Sunday and the ragged schools, to the general wish of the House, because when the proposal was challenged by hon. Members opposite, Her Majesty's Ministry voted with, and, in fact, constituted a considerable part of the majority on the division. He still thought, therefore, that, having supported the exemption of schools, they could not consistently withdraw that of literary and scientific societies. He was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board speak of these societies as rich and aristocratic bodies; on the contrary, they were all more or less in want of funds and struggling for existence. He admitted that, in respect of some of them, the benefits which they conferred upon the country were not confined to the poor, but he thought it was an advantage rather than an objection that they benefited all classes of the community. The right hon. Gentleman said that Government already contributed to the maintenance of many of these societies. As regarded scientific societies, 1179 that was surely not the case; but even if it were so, surely that was no reason for subjecting them to rates, but rather the reverse. The Midland Institute, already referred to by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) was, he feared, a typical case. Our metropolitan societies might survive the imposition of rates, though they would be seriously interfered with in many important researches which they were now conducting; but as regarded provincial associations, it was clear that if this clause was passed all would be seriously crippled and many entirely closed.
said, he wished to correct a misapprehension of the hon. Member who had just sat down. His hon. Friend had stated that it was not right to say the Government gave way on this subject of the Sunday and ragged schools to the general wish of the House, because they constituted a great part of the majority; but the hon. Member had forgotten that this very question was fought out rather sharply between the Government and the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Reed) in former years. The Government thought it was an exception for which much might be said; but they foresaw that it would be made an apology for attempting to introduce other exemptions, and therefore they opposed it as resolutely as they could; and the fact was that they divided with the minority of 70 against a majority of 220 on the occasion. Having thus given way to the wish of the House, it was necessary to adhere to the concession; and that was the reason why the Government voted with the majority the other day. With regard to the ragged schools, there was this to be said for the exemption—that the desire of the local authorities was generally to exempt them. He believed the cases were very few indeed—about nine—in which the local authorities had declined to grant the exemption. But what was the case at the present moment with regard to the literary and scientific institutions? His right hon. Friend (Mr. Stansfeld) had justly said that this was a law which, as it existed, was in favour of the aristocratic or wealthy portion of these institutions which did not stoop to let out any part of their buildings. The humble mechanics' institutions, however, could not afford to keep the whole of their buildings in their own 1180 hands, and in letting off a portion they came within the law which made them liable to rates. But suppose an institution could let a room for £9, and that would involve the payment of the £10 in rates, the room would not be let, and the £9 would be wasted. The noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners) had suggested that they might make this an optional system for literary and philosophical institutions; but what would be the consequence? The result would be to introduce battle into every rating body in the country. They knew that the parochial and other local authorities frequently regarded with jealousy many of these institutions, and considered they were not entitled to exemption, and that they consequently struggled against the law as it now was, and raised all manner of litigation to show that such institutions were not so entitled. He hoped the Committee would not allow a public principle of great importance to be pulled to pieces in detail. The Government were laying the foundation for a new system of local taxation, and in the performance of that duty they were about to bring the property of the Government under taxation. The property of the Government was the property of the people, and, as such, might have strong claims to exemption; but he was afraid that if, in a case like that now before the Committee, they were to perpetuate an exemption so exceptional, there was great fear that they would fail in the main purposes of the work they were about. If philanthropic sentiments were applied in detail they would come to this—that everything that was considered useful or philanthropic ought to be exempted—a man and wife serving the State were most useful and therefore should be exempted. That was the true end of all these benevolent gushes of hon. Members. In 1858 a Select Committee, composed of Members of great authority, investigated the subject, and they reported in favour of all places occupied for charitable, scholastic, or scientific purposes, whether beneficially occupied or not, being rated. He therefore hoped the Committee would turn a deaf ear to the seductive eloquence of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) and maintain a clause which was consistent with the general principles of the Bill.
§ MR. CAWLEY
said, that it was one thing to lay down the principle that these institutions should be rated, and quite another to say how they were to be rated. There might be a provision that they should be subject to a mere nominal rating. As to there simply being power to exempt ragged and Sunday schools from rating, he could assure the Committee that there was good legal opinion in support of the theory that they could not be rated, but were absolutely exempt. The Preamble of the Act asserted that it was expedient that these schools should be exempt, and the enacting part enabled the overseers to do that which the Preamble recited should be done.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, a great number of these institutions were perfectly able to pay rates. Among those which had claimed exemption under the Act were the Preston Law Library, the Birmingham Philosophical Institution, the Royal Academy of Music, the London Royal College of Chemistry, the Manchester Royal Institution, the Manchester Society for the Promotion of Natural History, the London Philological Society, the Statistical Society, the Society of Arts, and the Royal Society at Burlington House. None of these could be called institutions for the poorer classes. It was said it would be impossible to rate such institutions, but they could be rated without any difficulty.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
saw no reason why the same principle should not be applied to those institutions which were of great value and had a tendency to keep men out of the public-house, as had been applied to the question of education by the Government.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines) was under the impression that all mechanics' institutions were exempted, but that was not the case. The Act said that no place should be rated which was exclusively devoted to the purposes of science, literature, and the Fine Arts; but, according to judicial interpretations of the words employed, if any part of the premises was used as a library, or room for the reading of newspapers and periodicals, &c., the exemption did not apply. He believed there were very few good mechanics' institutions without a library and news-room.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
remarked that many of the institutions which it was sought to exempt were not local institutions, but belonged to wealthy bodies, and had ramifications all over the country. He wished to ask whether it would be fair, when they were rating national property, that such institutions should be exempt from rating? If they were exempted, then societies which were really national would be supported out of local rates. It would be better that there should be an advance out of the rates for such institutions than that they should continue the mischievous system of exemptions. If it were right that the local rates should contribute towards the support of Sunday and ragged schools, and literary and scientific institutions, the contribution should take the direct form of a rate-in-aid, and not the circuitous form of an exemption.
§ MR. FAWCETT
remarked that the conduct of the Prime Minister and of the Government in allowing themselves to be seduced by the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Reed) into exempting Sunday and ragged schools had placed those who honestly and consistently supported the abolition of all exemptions in a position of considerable difficulty. He had never been more surprised than when on Tuesday last the Government surrendered at discretion on the question of the exemption of Sunday and ragged schools without uttering a word of protest. He had just been reading the most remarkable speech that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had ever made, in which he proposed to tax charities, and it presented a strange contrast to the present proposal to exempt Sunday and ragged schools and literary and scientific institutions from rates. The Prime Minister had assigned as a reason for his having surrendered at discretion on the present occasion the fact that he had been beaten by a great majority on the subject three or four years ago. Since that time, however, a very considerable change had occurred. At that time Government property was exempted from the payment of rates, and the necessity for Sunday and ragged schools had not been removed by the establishment of Public Elementary Schools. For his part he could not understand why Sunday and ragged schools should be exempted while voluntary elementary schools were to be rated. 1183 Now that the principle that every child was to have education brought home to it had been adopted, they would be acting not with wisdom but with cruelty in encouraging parents to send their children to ragged schools, by which a stigma would naturally be fixed on them. He regarded the principle of permissive exemptions as most dangerous, and therefore he should vote for retaining the clause.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, he thought the clause was a most irrational one, inasmuch as while it proposed to abolish the old exemption which had been enjoyed by literary and scientific institutions since the sixth year of the present reign, it proposed to retain the modern exemption enjoyed by Sunday and ragged schools. He had voted for the exemption of Sunday schools, in the hope that similar institutions would also be exempt. It would be unfair and illogical to exempt Sunday schools and not to exempt public elementary schools.
§ MR. MUNTZ,
in reply, said, that the only argument used upon the Treasury bench was the argument ad misericordiam, and that was not worthy of much attention.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 261; Noes 103: Majority 158.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 5 (Abolition of exemption under 4 & 5 Vict. c. 48) agreed to.
§ Clause 6 (Abolition of exemption of property used for Local Government purposes) agreed to.
§ Clause 7 (Payment of poor rate for Government property, and scheme for defining and valuing the same).
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he wished to make a short statement explanatory of some clauses which he had put on the Paper, and which he believed embodied a preferable scheme to that comprised in the Bill. On the second reading of the Bill he stated that he believed the House was acting hastily in coming to the conclusion that it was for the interest of the community at large that the exemption of Government property should be repealed in so wide and sweeping a manner as was proposed, and that the Government was 1184 a little hasty in supposing that the House and the country had brought to bear any serious pressure in favour of so important a change. Some 12 or 15 years ago there were some endeavours on the part of the representatives of boroughs or localities in which Government property was situated to secure the repeal of the exemption of that property; but of late years the House had not heard much on the subject, the fact having been that the action taken by the Government in distributing year by year a sum of money amongst those localities had given a great amount of satisfaction. He thought that in any plan for the settlement of this question they should proceed upon that principle, instead of adopting the objectionable plan now proposed by the Government. He did not see how Government property could be assessed in the ordinary sense of the term, and thought it would be far better to lay down a plan by which Government might make contributions towards the rates. With regard to the question of rating important buildings such as the Houses of Parliament and the Horse Guards, they never were intended to be rated; but he thought that a sum might be set out by the Treasury and the Local Government Board. Any large contribution towards the rates would be adding so much to the value of private property, and he trusted the Committee would pause before assenting to the proposition of the Government.
§ MR. CAWLEY
moved, in line 37, to leave out—"Where at" and insert—"From," in order to give him an opportunity of stating his objections to the whole of this portion of the Government scheme. In respect of this part of the Bill the Government had placed upon the Paper an entirely new proposition; but neither in this nor in their former proposal did the Government state how the different classes of Government property ought to be rated. The first proposition was to leave it to Government to prepare a scheme which they were to lay on the Table in the next Session and ask Parliament to affirm, giving an opportunity to the parishes interested to oppose the scheme as a Private Bill, and to incur all the expense and trouble which that step involved. The scheme now on the 1185 Paper was little better, and had been suggested by the proposition of the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Mr. Stone). It was proposed that the different classes of Government property should be rated upon principles agreed on between the Treasury and the assessment committee of the particular parish, and that failing that agreement the matter should be settled by arbitration. But he ventured to say that the arbitration provided by the Bill was simply a delusion, or in plain English, a sham. Arbitration properly so called must be decided by independent parties acting upon principles which were laid down to guide the arbitrators, whose decision should be final. But in each of these essentials the Government proposal failed. In the first place, there were no principles laid down to guide the arbitrators; and in the next place, there was no independence, for the Government retained all the power in their own hands. As to the appointment of an umpire the Government proposition was that, not only when the arbitrators disagree, but at the request of either party the umpire should be nominated absolutely by the Lord Chancellor. That simply amounted to this—the Government said they would go to arbitration, but that the umpire must be their nominee. And further, they might object to the umpire's decision. What value could there be in such a proposition? The Amendment which he had to propose was that the Bill should do nothing more than enunciate the principle that Government property should be rated, and that the Treasury should bring in a Bill which should lay down the method upon which the various classes of Government property should be rated. That, he believed, was the only thing that could be done satisfactorily at present. The simple course for the present was to confine legislation to enacting that Government property should be liable to rates, leaving the Government to bring forward in another Session a measure laying down the principles upon which the valuation should be made.
§ MR. STONE
said, there were no fewer than five proposals on this subject before the Committee—the original proposition of the Government, the series of Amendments which he ventured to place on the Paper, the somewhat similar series of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld), 1186 the proposal of the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Cawley), and that of the hon. Member for North Hants (Mr. Sclater-Booth). Of these the proposition of the hon. Member for Salford would be the least acceptable to those whom he had consulted. It would be equivalent to an indefinite postponement of the question; or, at all events, till the fresh Act of Parliament to which he referred had been brought in. The proposal besides was of a most unusual kind. It was that the Treasury should cause to be prepared—by some means he did not specify—a measure laying down the principle on which Government property should be rated without the smallest indication of what that principle should be. It was almost impossible to devise a general principle applicable to the great variety of hereditaments now proposed to be brought within rateability. The system which prevailed was entirely destitute of principle. The Government now made a proposal practically identical with one he had himself suggested—namely, that the assessment committee and the Government should each appoint an assessor, and some independent person—say the Lord Chancellor—should appoint an umpire. The decision of the umpire was to be final; except in so far as that Parliament was to have an ultimate voice in the matter; because the right hon. Gentleman proposed to bring in each year, or from time to time, a Bill containing the values arrived at by the umpire, which the House, it was to be presumed, would at once sanction. He must say that in this matter he thought the right hon. Gentleman had acted with great candour and liberality.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
expressed a hope that the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Cawley) would not press the Amendments of which he had given Notice, as the propositions of the Government seemed to be generally satisfactory. He wished, however, to know what the Government proposed to do in one respect. At present there was an arrangement with respect to the Parks under which the Government contributed a sum of money to the paving rate, though the Parks were not liable for poor rates. He apprehended that there would be no desire in rating Government property to the poor to withdraw from that other arrangement as to the paving rate; but he should like to hear from the Go- 1187 vernment what view they took of the matter.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, the Government certainly had no intention of reducing any contribution which they already made to the rates of the metropolis, and the Bill would not interfere with any existing statutory bargains as to contributions towards rates, whether in respect of Government property or of various other public institutions. The proposal of the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Cawley) would amount to the postponement of the whole subject of the liability of Government property to rates for another year without any certainty that it would be dealt with next year, and he supposed it would not be pressed. The remarks and suggestions of the hon. Member for North Hants (Mr. Sclater-Booth) deserved the respectful consideration of the Committee. Having himself followed that hon. Gentleman at the Treasury a few years ago he had found there many records and traces of his able, vigorous, and critical supervision of expenditure. He would, however, submit to that hon. Member that Parliament and the country, and certainly the localities interested, would not be content with the simple continuance of the existing state of things, but would expect legislation to be adopted creating a positive legal right on the part of the local communities to rate Government property, whatever method of assessing it might be determined upon. His own original suggestion was that the Government should institute an exhaustive local inquiry into the particulars and conditions of each case, and propound a scheme and place on the Table a Bill on its own responsibility, with schedules containing a list of Government property in the various rating areas, with the assessable value at which it was proposed to rate them. He had also proposed that any assessment committee objecting to a valuation should have a right to appeal to a Select Committee of that House. It was urged that that would put the assessment committee to an expense which they would not be likely to undertake; but he believed, from his official experience, that in almost all cases there would be no practical difficulty in coming to a reasonable and amicable conclusion between the Treasury on the one hand and the local bodies on the other. He had no objec- 1188 tion to the principle of the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Mr. Stone's) proposal of arbitration except one which the hon. Gentleman had himself fairly stated; and if they started the scheme which his Amendments would bring into operation, he thought in the great majority of instances the Treasury and the assessment committee would agree without any reference to arbitration. He proposed that the valuation of the umpire should not be a final valuation, but that it should be inserted in the Bill which the Government was bound to lay upon the Table of the House, and that it should be open either to the Government or to the assessment committee to object to the valuation. In that way he thought a satisfactory conclusion would be arrived at.
said, he had not much confidence in the appeal to Parliament in reference to the decision of arbitrators, because Parliament would not be inclined to take trouble in the matter; but on the whole, he considered the plan proposed by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld) a fair one, and should support it.
§ MR. MONTAGU CHAMBERS
said, he was glad that after many years agitation and remonstrance Government property was to be rated to the relief of the poor. The plan hitherto pursued of making charitable contributions was objectionable, and he was also of opinion that the principle of rating in respect of such property should be that adopted for private buildings and institutions. In that way all complication would be got rid of. With regard to the appointment of an umpire by the Lord Chancellor, he thought that so far as his personal knowledge of a fit person was concerned, they might just as well go into the street and appoint a crossing-sweeper. He must act upon the suggestion of others, and although intentional partiality could not be assumed, it was not reasonable that as a leading Member of the Government he should have this nomination. The first principle of arbitration was that it should be conclusive and final; but here the proposition was that after the matter was submitted to arbitration, after it was agreed that an umpire should be appointed, and after a decision was given, if that decision happened to be against the Government everything went for nothing, 1189 and the matter was to be brought before the House of Commons. Nothing could be imagined more complicated and unsatisfactory than such a proposition, while, with regard to the expense, it would be next to terrific. He represented what was called a dockyard constituency, but he spoke for the inhabitants and ratepayers of the parishes. They were not satisfied with the compromise now proposed. They wanted to know why the Government establishments should be placed on a different footing from those of ordinary manufacturers. It professed to be a Bill to abolish exemptions, while the Government exemption was not abolished at all.
§ MR. CAWLEY
said, he was unwilling to throw any obstacle in the way of the new proposal of the Government, and he would therefore withdraw his Amendment. The Government, however, by placing the appointment of the arbitrator in the hands of the Lord Chancellor, were retaining in their hands the power of appointing both arbitrator and umpire. Such a provision appeared to give a character of unfairness to the whole transaction. He should have preferred to give the appointment of umpire to the Lord Chief Justice and the Courts.
also thought it would be better to give the appointment of umpire to the Lord Chief Justice.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. STANSFELD
moved, in line 17, to leave out from "of the," to "A scheme," in line 29, and insert—Same, and where the gross or rateable value has been fixed by an umpire, shall state whether the Treasury assent to or dissent from such value.The Treasury shall cause a Bill to be introduced into the House of Commons for confirming every such scheme, and such Bill shall be deemed to be a Public Bill.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ MR. MACFIE
said, he wished to call attention to a little matter affecting Scotland. Under the Lindsay General Police Act, all persons holding property in burghs were bound to maintain footpaths along their premises, and if footpaths do not exist, to make them. In one or two burghs, and especially in Leith, the question had arisen as to the liability of Government property. At 1190 Leith there was a fort belonging to the Government. There was no footpath, although one was needed, and the result was that pedestrians were subjected to great danger. Besides, large pools were formed which caused much unhealthiness. The Corporation had pointed this out to the Government, and had asked them to repair the road in accordance with the Act of Parliament, but the answer was that they were not liable in the same way as other owners. He never thought that interpretation of the law correct, and it certainly was opposed to the spirit of the legislation in which they were now engaged. He would like to ask his right hon. Friend (Sir Henry Storks) whether it was necessary for him to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice?—for his impression was that he would at once say that the refusal had resulted from a misunderstanding, and give an assurance that the necessary work would be done forthwith.
§ SIR HENRY STORKS
said, the attention of the War Office had been called to this complaint in regard to Leith Fort. They had inquired fully into the circumstances, and the opinion was that the Government were not liable as to this footpath, and that the repairs should be carried out by the municipal authorities.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 8 (Effect of Scheme), agreed to.
§ Clause 9 (Alteration of Scheme).
§ MR. STANSFELD
moved, in line 7, after "and," to insert—If any differences arise between the Treasury and any Assessment Committee as to the preparation of a new scheme for altering the gross and rateable value of any Government hereditament, or with respect to the gross and rateable value of any Government hereditament specified in any new scheme prepared or proposed to be prepared by the Treasury, such difference shall be referred to arbitration, and all the provisions of this Act with respect to the original scheme and to arbitrations shall apply to such new scheme, and the Treasury shall, if necessary, frame and lay before the House of Commons a scheme in accordance with any award made upon arbitration.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 10 (Payment of poor rate for property newly occupied by Government), agreed to.1191
§ Clause 11 (Communications with assessment committees, and effect of their petitions as to schemes) omitted.
§ Clause 12 (Deductions of rate by tenant of mine) agreed to.
§ Clause 13 (Exemption of stock in trade).
§ MR. MUNTZ
moved, at end, to add—And the words 'stock in trade' shall be deemed to include all machines and machinery other than such as are built in the freehold, and that no machinery shall be liable to be rated beyond what is technically called the first motion.The hon. Member said, that at present assessment committees adopted different systems of valuation. It was difficult to say what was attached to the freehold. In some parishes that which was nailed was considered to be attached to the freehold, and that which was screwed was not, while in other parishes just the reverse system prevailed. Then, again, some machinery and lathes were very valuable, and some were not. He maintained that everything which was attached to the freehold and engines built into manufactories should be assessed as from what was called the first motion, which was perfectly well understood in all places of business. If there were not some such definition as that which he proposed assessment committees would still be perplexed, and questions would be raised for the Court of Queen's Bench to determine. He proposed this Amendment to prevent litigation and unfair assessments, and he hoped the Committee would agree to it. He was sorry that there was not a larger number of Members present to consider this important subject.
§ MR. HENDERSON
said, that the present indefinite state of the law with regard to the rating of machinery had given rise to great perplexity and misunderstanding, and thought that it was absolutely necessary that something should be done in this Bill to define the duties of assessment committees and to enable small owners of machinery to understand more clearly the footing on which they stood. If moveable machines, though attached to the freehold, were to be rated, they would have to rate thrashing machines, steam-ploughs, and even sewing machines.
§ MR. WHITWELL
said, he thought the line of demarcation should be this—what belonged to the landlord and was fixed to the soil should be rated; what was moveable and belonged to the tenant ought not to be rated.
§ MR. CAWLEY
said, he did not think this line of demarcation would be a satisfactory one, nor did he agree with the definition suggested by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz). He thought that machinery ought to be excluded as machinery, and that the line must be drawn so as not to extend beyond the moving power and the main shafting. He would insert in the Amendment the words—" All machines and machinery other than that by which the motive power is generated or transmitted."
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, the difficulty was not in the law, but in the nature of things. The question was one frequently litigated, and one likely to be litigated in the future. The question always was whether the attachment of the object to the freehold was sufficient for a lawyer to say that it was affixed to the freehold. The answer to the question must depend on the nature of the object, the nature of the attachment, and the nature of the freehold; and it was impossible to say beforehand what for this purpose was fixed and what was not fixed. The question could not be answered in the abstract, and was essentially one for experts and one of minute detail. It was a mistake to attempt any definition. At all events, the definition now suggested would fail to work satisfactorily. The object of the clause in exempting stock in trade was to exempt that which it was difficult to rate; but there was no difficulty whatever in rating fixtures.
§ MR. CAWLEY
said, the question of what constituted fixtures, which had been raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman, had nothing to do with the matter immediately under consideration. For his own part, he challenged the hon. and learned Gentleman to do what he had thrown out, and tax all machinery, whether attached to the freehold or moveable. The Government, however, he knew, did not dare to do that. The Amendment which he had placed on the Paper, and which, though having the same object, was, he conceived, better calculated to secure the object of the 1193 hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) aimed at ascertaining what machinery or moving power was attached to the freehold, and to tax that only. He was aware that no form of words could absolutely prevent litigation.
§ MR. E. POTTER
said, if an attempt were made to rate machinery in mills it would be loosened from the freehold in a week.
§ MR. CAWLEY
moved to add these words—and all machines and machinery, whether attached to the freehold or not other than that by means of which motive power is generated or transmitted, shall be deemed to be stock in trade and included in the provisions of the said Act.
§ MR. HIBBERT
though sympathizing with the object of the Amendment, thought it would produce very grave alterations in the law. Many kinds of property which were now rateable would not be rateable if the Amendment were carried. Moreover, the Amendment would give rise to many difficult questions. For instance, a vat did not generate or transmit motive power, and therefore it would scarcely come under the Amendment.
§ MR. HIBBERT
thought, however, a question might be raised on this point. The Amendment would upset the decisions arrived at by the Courts of Law during the last 100 years, and, besides, its terms were so indefinite, that it would produce a numerous batch of cases involving the question as to what was motive power.
§ SIR THOMAS BAZLEY
said, that by the ancient law of this country, the tools by which a man earned his living were exempted from taxation. The Amendment ran counter to that principle by taxing machinery, and would be as impracticable as it was unjust.
§ MR. CORRANCE
said, he should vote with Her Majesty's Government. He had only risen to express his astonishment at the extraordinary audacity of the proposal.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, the object of the Bill was not to increase exemptions, but to withdraw exemption from property which at present escaped taxation. The Government stated at an early period that they had no intention to alter the law of rating, for if once they attempted it they could not finish the Bill this Session. The present section would not alter the law; but the Amendment of the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Cawley) would do so very seriously by exempting a large portion of property which was now liable. [Mr. CAWLEY: No!] Well, then, if it was not now liable what was the use of the Amendment?
§ MR. MARLING
said, he thought it was reasonable that they should take this opportunity of defining the law somewhat more clearly than it was at present. He would suggest to the Mover of the Amendment the introduction of these words—" All machines and machinery other than that by which motive power is generated and transmitted and attached to the freehold."
§ MR. BIRLEY
supported the Amendment. The practice of rating in manufacturing districts hitherto had been to rate the steam power and first motive power, and not to rate the running machinery in the mills.
§ MR. PEASE
observed that this Bill, the longer it was discussed appeared more and more like a compact between the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld) and the Solicitor General for the benefit of the lawyers. The owners of machinery were pressed between assessment committees on the one hand, and the right hon. Gentleman on the other, and there would be no resource but the Courts of Law.
§ MR. STANSFELD
denied that any purpose existed to create legal difficulties. All the Bill proposed to do was to abolish certain exemptions from rating, and to extend the Act of Elizabeth to certain hereditaments which had hitherto escaped rating. But those who were interested in machinery wanted practically to create a new exemption in its favour. The Amendment if adopted by the Committee, would not, he felt sure, be agreed to by the House on the Report of Amendments. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would withdraw it, and reserve the question for consideration until some more fitting time.
§ MR. SAMUDA
said, the Government were bound to state whether it was intended to rate all machinery or not.
§ MR. SAMUDA
said, that the Courts of Law had given conflicting decisions upon the law, and if it were not intended by this Bill to tax machinery, there should be no objection by the Government to the Amendment. It seemed that the Government intended to put the manufacturers of this country at a disadvantage compared with those of other countries.
§ MR. HERMON
observed that all that our manufacturers desired was that their liability in respect of their machinery should be distinctly defined. As the time had arrived which the Prime Minister had fixed for bringing on another subject, he begged to move that progress be reported.
§ MR. CAWLEY
said, that the proposition of the Government was that because they had only thought proper to introduce a certain extension of taxation the Committee had no right to enter into the question whether certain things should be rateable or not. The hon. Member drew attention to the fact that whereas under the Irish Act only that portion of the machinery was rateable which was used for the production of the motive power, the Bill to amend that Act proposed to render all machinery in a mill rateable, whether used in the production of motive power or not.
§ MR. CORRANCE
said, that if the Amendment were adopted there would be no limit to which it might not be applied. He opposed the Amendment.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow, at Two of the clock.