HC Deb 24 June 1873 vol 216 cc1330-9

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Baxter.)


moved that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, his object being to secure for this Bill the mature consideration which its importance deserved, and to save it from being hustled through the House on a day when it was known long before that many Members would not be present to discuss it. The Bill raised a number of most important points, and ought to be well considered in its details, which could only be done by a Select Committee. The Chief Secretary for Ireland proposed to insert in the Bill one of the most extraordinary clauses ever seen. The real meaning of that clause was that this Valuation Bill should increase the property of landlords for the sake of taxation, while leaving tenants altogether untouched in that way. That was very like making fish of one and fowl of another. The proposal of the noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington) was not a practicable one, and, tried by the light of right and wrong, it was iniquitous.


in seconding the Amendment, said, he thought he never read a Bill which better deserved to be referred to a Select Committee. If it were passed in its present shape it would give rise to much litigation, and the Judges themselves would be puzzled to interpret it. He held in his hand several Acts of Parliament which this Bill would affect. Repealing some 48 clauses and retaining 17. Even the smallest bit of patronage was not to be left under the Bill to those who were responsible for the peace and tranquillity of Ireland; but the whole was to be centred in two or three Lords of Her Majesty's Treasury, one of whom, no doubt, would be the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in whom the people of Ireland placed the most implicit confidence. [A laugh.] Was this, he asked, a day on which such a Bill as this ought to be brought forward—a day on which the great body of the Members of the House of Commons were taking a holiday? The object of the Government was to get the Bill passed in a thinly-attended House; and it reminded him that the 17 Vict. which transferred powers always previously exercised by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, must have been smuggled through the House at a time of the night when most of the Members had left and were in their beds. This Bill involved a departure from the system of valuation which had been in operation since 1826, and he must enter his emphatic protest against proceeding with so important a measure at this advanced stage of the Session. Under the clause of the noble Lord referred to by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Kavanagh) the tenant would have to pay his proportion of any addition that might be made to the taxation of the country, and the clause was naked justice, without it the tenant would lose a large portion of those rights conferred on him by the Land Act. The Bill raised important questions, similar to those arising on the Bill which the President of the Local Government Board had introduced with respect to England. It was doubtful whether the English Bill could be passed this year; and instead of attempting to legislate for Ireland at this period of the Session it would be better to wait, and meanwhile have this measure properly considered by a Select Committee. There had been three or four Select Committees appointed lately, on no one of which had an Irish Member been appointed; and, for his part, he should have been glad if he had the opportunity of even being a listener on one of those Committees. There were many points which required consideration in legislating for Ireland upon this subject. According to the present law no re-valuation could be made without the assent of the Grand Jury of the county, but that provision was left out of this Bill, and it was now proposed that a re-valuation might be made at the end of 14 years at the will of the Commissioners of the Treasury. He objected to giving to the Commissioners of the Treasury a power of this kind, which might upset the relations between landlord and tenant. He had placed Amendments on the Paper with the object of restoring this Bill as far as possible to the footing of the Acts which it was proposed to repeal; but he hoped the Government would not persevere with the Bill.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Bill be referred to a Select Committee,"—(Mr. Kavanagh,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


inquired for what reason this Bill had been brought in. A hint which had fallen from the Secretary of the Treasury suggested that a grievance existed in the North of Ireland; but, for his part, he believed no other reason was to be assigned for its introduction than the necessity of an increased flow of money into the Treasury, caused by the policy of the Government which had stinted that flow lately. Not a single Grand Jury had asked for a measure of this kind. He had opposed the second reading of the Bill, and he now cordially supported the Amendment of his hon. Colleague (Mr. Kavanagh). It was impossible to deal with the details of this measure in a Committee of the Whole House. Not only could the details of the Bill be best considered in a Select Committee, but it would be a waste of time to discuss them in the House, particularly as it was unlikely the Bill could pass this Session, and many Irish Members must soon absent themselves from Parliament in order to discharge other duties. He hoped that the Government would consider the question, but not as a party one.


said, he could not understand why there need be separate legislation for Ireland on this subject until he discovered in this Bill a clause the introduction of which into the English Bill, the Government, with their dead-weight supporters, stoutly resisted; and then he inferred the reason for dealing separately with Ireland was that, if anything went wrong there, there would be a row. He asked why the Government had left stock-in-trade out of this Bill, and, though he opposed the reference of the English Bill to a Select Committee, he found so little knowledge of the subject displayed in Committee of the Whole House that he would vote for referring this Bill to a Select Committee.


said, that one reason for dealing separately with Ireland was that it had possessed for a long time a system of valuation superior to that of England; and, as its system of valuing machinery worked extremely well, he had, at the unanimous request of the Irish Members, consented to omit the stock-in-trade clause. The Government had no intention to deal with this as a party question. He did not see why a Committee of the Whole House should not dispose satisfactorily of the Amendments of which Notice had been given. He failed to gather from the speech of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh) reasons for sending this Bill to a Select Committee; because all those hon. Members who had given Notice of Amendments on the Bill were in their places, and therefore there was no reason why the subjects contained in the Bill on which there was a difference of opinion should not be discussed at once. A great objection to sending the Bill before a Select Committee was that all the points in it that might be settled upstairs would have to be re-discussed in that House when the Bill came down again. Only those measures which involved dry and technical details which could not be conveniently discussed in that House ought to be referred to a Select Committee, and therefore he hoped that the House would consent to go into Committee upon the Bill.


said, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Baxter) had done his best on the part of the Government to meet the conflicting wishes of various Irish Members. It was difficult to discover what subjects should be referred to a Select Committee; but they had found recently that when the mistakes or the peccadilloes of a Government Department were brought before the House the Government thought these were proper subjects to go to a Select Committee. When the question whether a contract had been imprudently made by a Minister, or whether a great Government Board had acted justly, was brought before the House, some right hon. Gentleman behind the Treasury bench rose and proposed that it should be referred to a Select Committee. He (Mr. Lewis) thought that these were subjects eminently fit for discussion and decision in the House. This Bill, however, involved a number of questions of dry and technical detail, and these, he contended, were matters which could be best discussed by a Select Committee. He trusted that on this occasion the Members for Ireland would be found voting together, and that the matter would be referred to a Select Committee.


joined with the hon. Member who spoke last, in expressing his obligations to the Secretary of the Treasury for the desire he had manifested on all previous occasions, to convenience the Irish Members, but he regretted that the Bill had been brought forward that day, when so many were unavoidably absent. He was perfectly convinced that English Members did not understand the bearings of this Bill. For the last few weeks the House had been engaged, day after day, in most careful investigations and interesting discussions as to the principles on which certain classes of property should be rated in England. The principles on which mines, woods, game, fisheries, and other classes of property should be valued for rating purposes had all been most carefully considered and exhaustively discussed, and he fancied that if any hon. Member had got up on the Treasury bench and suggested that all this was superfluous, and that the House ought to pass a simple clause leaving the whole of this matter to the discretion of a Treasury official, such a suggestion would be scouted with the utmost contempt. Yet this was what was done in Ireland. This was what was proposed to be continued under this Bill. There was not one single clause in this Bill regulating the principle on which mines, woods, fisheries, or railways were to be valued. All was left to the discretion of the Commissioner of valuation, who was a Government officer under the Treasury. Such a proposal as this would not be listened to for a moment, if applied to England. His objections of the proposal were not mere theoretical objections. He wished to point out how this system had worked in the past. At the commencement of the sitting that day he had asked a question with respect to the valuation of one railway in Ireland, and what were the facts elicited? That railway had been valued in 1861 at £28,000. The next year it was reduced, without any appeal, to less than half, to little over £14,000, and at that low figure it remained till 1872, although in 1865 it had been leased to another company at an annual rent, free of all charges, of £36,000. In 1871, an individual ratepayer complained and gave notice of appeal, and then the Commissioner of valuation raised the valuation from £14,000 first to £17,000, and the ratepayer still objecting, subsequently in the same year, and, of course, on the same data to £27,000. His right hon. Friend admitted all these facts, and he further admitted that the present Commissioner of valuation was a leading shareholder in that company. It was true that in 1862, when the valuation was reduced, he was not nominally Commissioner, but he was practically so, as he was the chief superintendent under Sir Richard Griffith, who had so many other things to attend to that practically the valuation service was conducted by the then General Superintendent, now the Commissioner. He quoted this to show the abuses which had arisen in Ireland, and which were possible under this Bill, and he regretted as much as his right hon. Friend the necessity for referring to them, but he felt that it was monstrous to entrust such powers to any Government official, and that if the measure were thoroughly understood in England it would not be tolerated for a moment. He had many other objections to this Bill, which he had stated on other occasions, and he believed that many of its details would be best settled in a Select Committee. He did not wish to pretend to the House that he was a Friend to the Bill—he would gladly see it beaten; but, at the same time, he believed that reference to a Select Committee would not retard, but rather hasten its progress, whilst he hoped it would very materially aid in improving its details. He, therefore, cordially supported the Motion of the hon. Member for Carlow.


reminded the House that a Select Committee had already sat the entire Session and half of another Session upon the question connected with this Bill. It appeared to him that it would be a better course to postpone legislation altogether upon this subject until another Session than to refer it now to a Select Committee, which at that period of the year would be an indirect mode of shelving the matter. He did not wish to press on a measure of this kind; but considering the steadily increasing scale of prices, he was of opinion that the longer a valuation was delayed the higher it would be. There wore many points in the Bill which a Select Committee could not decide, and which must be referred back to that House. He would remind the House that under the provisions of the Bill the new Jury Act would become inoperative, as it would be the very same class of persons who would be summoned to serve who were summoned at present, as the man whose holding was now valued at £20 would have it then valued at £30. The Government would, he believed, have very little difficulty with the Bill were it not for one clause of a very extraordinary character, which had been introduced by the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and which was to the effect that however much the valuation of property might be increased in Ireland it should, so far as the Irish Land Act was concerned, remain perfectly stationary. On looking at the Act, however, and referring to the discussions upon it in that House, he was prepared to maintain that the Government were under no obligation not to alter the valuation of property in Ireland in reference to it, while he was of opinion that there might be a valuation in the interests of the whole country as soon as possible.


said, he could not understand why hon. Gentlemen who represented Ireland should make any objection to the system of rating and taxation which prevailed in that country. See the difference between the system of taxing which prevailed in Scotland and Ireland. Opposition to the Bill had been made on the plea that it would have the effect of increasing the valuation of property in Ireland. There was a valuation in Scotland every year, and the effect had been to increase the valuation of property every 12 months. He wished to know why Ireland should be exempted from such a natural consequence? In Scotland a blank form was sent round to every proprietor of land and tenant occupier of land at a certain period in every year, and if any person to whom these forms were addressed were found to make false Returns, they laid themselves open to the infliction of very serious penalties. And then, again, see the difference between what was proposed in the Bill before the House and the law of Scotland with regard to drainage works. In Scotland, as soon as it was discovered that money raised for drainage purposes realized 5 or 6 per cent, such money was immediately subjected to income tax. By the Bill before the House, all such property would be exempted from income tax for a certain number of years. Why should this difference be made between Scotland and Ireland? And further, see the difference made between Scotland and Ireland with regard to the payment of income tax on account of landed property. In Ireland, if a gentleman had £1,000 a-year from landed property, he was rated at only £800. If a gentleman had landed property in Scotland realizing £1,000 a-year, he had to pay income tax on the whole £1,000. Why should such differences as these exist in the United Kingdom? Now that the Government had agreed to give up the privilege it possessed of having Government buildings free from taxation, it was nearly time that these exemptions which Ireland possessed with regard to taxation should be also done away with. The fact was that all such exemptions should be abolished, and the whole United Kingdom placed on an equality with regard to the payment of taxes. Under the existing system a practical injustice was done to one part of the United Kingdom, to the advantage of another. As a step in the right direction, he would give his support to the Bill now before the House.


said, he thought the Bill in its original shape a good one, and he had no wish to delay its passing; but he should support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh), in order to give the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland an opportunity of reconsidering the very monstrous proposition to which reference had just been made.


said, the Bill required that fair and legitimate consideration which could only be given to it in a Select Committee, and he hoped that the Government would accede to the Motion of the hon. Member for Carlow.


said, he was aware that a great deal of the opposition offered to the Bill at that stage was owing, as they had been told, to a clause which he had placed on the Paper; but he could not admit that that clause deserved to be described, as it had been, as monstrous and unjust. If the House had gone into Committee, he thought he should have been able to show that the clause was a just one. It was perfectly well known when the Irish Land Act was passed that the valuation of Ireland, although very unequal as between one part of the country and another, was in a very great portion of Ireland very much below the letting value. The operation of the present Bill without the clause of which he bad given Notice, would be to remove a very large class of tenants from the position in which they were deliberately placed by the House three years ago; and as the Government and the House had been most unwilling to disturb the settlement arrived at by the Land Act in favour either of the landlord or of the tenant until they had seen its fair working, his clause would correct what in practice was a serious alteration of the Land Act. The Government, however, could not conceal from themselves the importance of the significant opposition coming from Gentlemen opposite, who, by reinforcing the original opponents of the measure sitting on his side, might prevent any reasonable chance of its passing through a Committee of the Whole House this Session. The Government had not thought the Bill one that could with any great advantage be referred to a Select Committee; but it must be admitted that the ingenuity of hon. Members that afternoon had shown that any conceivable number of points might be raised for discussion in Committee. Under those circumstances the Government would propose to adjourn the present debate for a couple of days or so, in the course of which they would endeavour to ascertain whether it would be possible to appoint a Select Committee which would go through the Bill this Session. If so, they would accede to the Motion of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh). If not, they would not attempt to make any further progress with the measure this Session.


in reference to the noble Lord's remark about the ingenuity of the opposition offered to the Bill, said, there was every disposition on his—the Opposition—side of the House to do every justice to the merits of the measure, and go through its details with a view to its passing this Session.

Debate adjourned till Monday next.

The House suspended its Sitting at ten minutes to Seven of the clock.

The House resumed its Sitting at Nine of the clock.