HC Deb 21 May 1874 vol 219 cc658-67

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that its name was erroneously given in the Orders of the Pay, and that its proper title should be the Rating (Liability and Value) Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he introduced the Budget, informed the House that it was the intention of the Government to bring in a Bill which would provide for the rating of three classes of property. Neither on the part of the Government nor on his own part did he put forward any claim to originality in this measure. Three of its main proposals were included in the Bill of last year, which formed such an important feature in their discussions; and they embraced the three most urgent points which remained to be dealt with in connection with the law of rating. He hoped he might assume that in no part of the House would objection be taken to the principle on which they proposed to proceed—namely, that those three classes of property ought no longer to be exempt from rating. The first of those three classes was woods. According to the statute of Elizabeth, underwoods were now subject to rating. It was proposed by the present Bill to repeal that liability under the statute of Elizabeth, and to enact, not that the woods themselves, but that all land occupied by plantations and woods of various descriptions should be subject to rates. In the existing state of the law, the fact that underwood was rated was supposed to imply that woods of other descriptions were not to be rated. It might be questioned whether it was more expedient to lay down in the Bill detailed provisions under which the rating of woodland should be effected, or whether it would be better to leave the matter in the hands of the assessment committees throughout the country, which had shown themselves capable of dealing with difficult and complicated questions of rating. He did not say that no objection had been raised to the action of those committees; but they had acquired considerable experience and authority in the discharge of their functions. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Stansfeld), therefore, in introducing his Bill last year, thought it enough simply to provide for the rating of these properties; but the House took a different view, and, after much discussion, provisions were adopted with regard to the mode in which they should be rated. The provisions of the present measure were substantially the same as those inserted by the House itself last year, but somewhat improved, he hoped, in their form. It was proposed that— If the land was used only for a plantation or a wood, the value should he estimated as if the land instead of being a plantation or wood were let and occupied in its natural and unimproved state. There was a provision that underwoods should be rated as woods were under the statute of Elizabeth. The 5th clause provided that the rates levied upon the occupiers of woodlands should be repaid by the owner. The second object of the Bill was to render the right of sporting, when separated from the land, rateable. This was a vexed question, and probably many hon. Members would be of opinion that such rights were of too vague a character for their rateable value to be ascertained, but, in his opinion, that value could be easily ascertained by the assessment committee; and, although it involved but a small amount of money, the question was one which it was far too late to go back upon after all that had been said upon both sides of the House with regard to it. The sub-section of this clause provided for the exceptionally rare case where the owner possessed the right of free warren. He then came to by far the most important subject dealt with by this measure—that of the rating of metallic mines. Hon. Members were aware that, coal mines alone being referred to in the statute of Elizabeth, it had been held that all other mines were exempt from rates; but it had also been decided that where dues and royalties were reserved in kind they were subject to rates. The clause at the end of the Bill left the dues and royalties liable to be rated as at present, their rateable value being assessed by the assessment committee. These were all the provisions of the Bill, and it would really be a pity if, during this Session of Parliament, when the House was not overwhelmed with legislative business, as in recent Sessions, it should not pass this measure, and so settle a question which had been for so long a matter of controversy, now that all parties were agreed respecting it. Since 1857 as many as four Bills had been introduced into that House with regard to the rating of mines, and if they were rendered liable to assessment on a fair basis it would be a substantial boon to many parishes, in which the most valuable description of property had hitherto been exempted from rates. Under the provisions of the measure all metallic mines, or mines other than coal mines, were made subject to rates. With regard to lead, tin, and copper mines, however, they had not, as an experienced authority on the subject had laid down, the same rateable value, owing to the great risk and uncertainty in working them. It was accordingly agreed by the Government of last year to insert two clauses in their Bill relating to the rating of tin and copper mines, and the same clauses would be found in the present Bill. As a general rule, metallic mines were to be assessed by the assessment committee, and he had received an assurance from many hon. Members who were interested in this class of property that this would be a satisfactory mode of settling the question. He had been informed that the difficulties that formerly prevailed with respect to the rating of coal mines had been satisfactorily overcome, and therefore there could be no doubt that the local value of metallic mines could be ascertained with equal ease. There was a provision in the Bill that whore mines were held upon leases the owners should repay the occupiers the sums they paid for rates until the expiration of the leases. The rating of Government property was not dealt with, because his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would deal with that question. It had been proposed last year to abolish the exemption from rates now enjoyed by scientific and literary institutions; but that exemption had been made so recently that he did not propose to touch the question in this Bill. The third exemption related to certain municipal property held by corporations; but he thought that that was a question which might very fairly be dealt with by an amendment of the Poor Law, and he hoped to be able to introduce another Bill which would settle that matter. The Bill might, perhaps, be criticized because it dealt with a small portion only of a large subject. He could only say that if the Government had proposed to deal with the entire subject of rating in a comprehensive scheme they could not have given effect to their proposal during the present Session. The greater question would, however, if the present Bill became law, be cleared of some of its complications, so far as the rating of mines, woods, and game was concerned, and, therefore, although in itself an unpretending measure, he hoped it would receive the sanction of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Sclater-Booth.)


, in supporting the second reading of the Bill, acknowledged the fair and even handsome manner in which his right hon. Friend had referred to the measure which he (Mr. Stansfeld) had, on the part of the late Government, introduced last year. That Bill had undergone much discussion, and had been amended in accordance with valuable practical suggestions which were made during the consideration of its provisions. His right hon. Friend was, therefore, perfectly justified in adopting the principles upon which mines, plantations, and game rights should be rated of which the late House of Commons had approved, and which, for the most part, had emanated from the House itself. Then, with respect to the rate-ability of Government property, he had called for a statement or scheme from the Treasury as to the property which they considered rateable, and proposed to leave the subject to be dealt with by the House in the form of a Confirming Bill. The present Bill embodied most of the Amendments made in Committee in last year's Bill; but as to the rating of Government property, it proposed a simpler method, and he should be glad if that plan gave equal satisfaction. The clause respecting the exemption of certain corporate property was omitted; but these cases were not numerous, and his right hon. Friend hoped to introduce it in another measure. The Bill differed also from last year's in not making permanent the exemption of stock-in-trade from rating, which was now done by an annual Act, and which property he was sure would never again be rated. The repeal of the exemption enjoyed by literary and scientific institutions had also been omitted, though that clause was supported by his right hon. Friend and many Members of the present Government, and opposed by only two of them. He might deem it right in Committee to move the insertion of the clause. Any faults which the Bill might have were faults of omission, and, introduced as it was under more favourable auspices than his own measure, he wished it success. So far as he was concerned it should have his support.


congratulated his right hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) on seeing his pet project re-introduced this year, shorn, no doubt, of some of those clauses which he and others might think ought in. Committee to be re-inserted in the Bill. His right hon. Friend said last year that it was only "the fringe" of a great question he proposed to deal with, and the Opposition naturally desired to be allowed to see the whole garment. But they were now on a different side of the House from what they were then, and yet his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had nothing better to produce than the réchauffé measure of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The Bill of last year went to "another place," where it was summarily rejected, and it must be supposed for good reasons. He presumed the present Bill, if it went out of this House, would receive different treatment. A strong Government, such as they now had, might have been ex- pected to deal with the question in a more complete manner. Then, as to woods and woodlands, whore the owner was not entitled to cut the timber, he ought to be allowed to cut down sufficient to pay all the rates and taxes. With regard to shooting, one principle ought to be kept in view—namely, that that only should be paid for which was worth something. There was a vast amount of shooting in this country which was worth absolutely nothing. He trusted that when the Bill was in Committee the Amendments which might be placed on the Paper would receive the careful consideration of the Government.


said, he would have been better satisfied if the Preamble had contained a statement that Government property was to be rated. He was glad to see that stock-in-trade was not to be perpetually exempted from rating, because it was a dangerous thing to stereotype exemptions. As far as it went, however, the present Bill was an improvement upon that of last year. For his own part, he would have preferred a more comprehensive measure, and he did not see any reason for pressing the Bill forward at the present time.


said, he was glad the Bill had been brought forward this Session, for among his constituents frequent complaints were made in reference to the exemption of mines. There was a general opinion in the West of England that if mines were rated the rates should be paid on the royalty. In his own neighbourhood in Devonshire, an important copper mine, called the "Devon Great Consols Mining Company," had been rated on that principle for the last 30 years, owing to the fact that a stipulation had been inserted in the lease under which the mine was held, that the lessees of the mine should pay all rates and taxes except the Landlords Property Tax: in consequence of this stipulation, nearly £1,000 a-year had been contributed to the rates of the parish of Tavistock for many years by the lessees of this mine. Last year the hon. Baronet the Member for West Cornwall (Sir John St. Aubyn) clearly pointed out the difference between tin and copper mines and other mines; and he was glad to perceive that the resolution of last Session was embodied in the Bill.


said, that the Bill proposed to rate woods and plantations in a very objectionable manner. They were to be rated as if the land were let and occupied in its natural and unimproved state. This was, in his opinion, unsatisfactory, as the term was vague and unmeaning. He thought it ought to be rated on the value which might naturally be expected to be realized therefrom. That was the principle which the Parochial Assessment Act laid down with regard to rating, and it was applied by this Bill to mines, and he did not see why it should not be applied to woods also. He thought the Bill dealt, in some respects, satisfactorily with the right of shooting, where there was any value received for shooting, it ought to be rated. The Bill had one advantage over that introduced last year, for some substantial relief in aid of local taxation had been actually granted. He hoped that was only a prelude to a further grant, which, in common fairness, was required in the interest of town and country.


said, he thought the Bill as it now stood a very imperfect one, especially as regarded game. It assumed that game increased the value of every acre of land in the country. He believed a more erroneous opinion than that could not be formed. A large proportion of the land in this country could not under any circumstances acquire any increased value for the purpose of game. Therefore, he thought the proposed mode of assessing land with reference to game would require some consideration. Then, again, it was taken for granted that nothing could be done in the way of assessing personal property. That might be so; but as the Bill proposed to deal with woods, he should like to know how 100 trees standing in a wood could be assessed or valued. It was proposed to assess them on the value of the adjacent land, but that was not a just principle. In his own county, for example, there was a great deal of woods on the hills; but the valleys, which were highly cultivated, were of far greater value, and it would not be just to rate the woods on the value of the adjoining valleys.


said, the Bill did not propose that woodland should be assessed on that principle. Lands on which timber grew would be rated on their unimproved state.


said, that was a very refined distinction. He thought anyone reading the Bill would be very much inclined to suppose that woodlands were to be rated according to the value of the adjoining lands. The question of dealing with woods, and assessing them justly and properly, was one of great difficulty, and should be more carefully considered than it appeared to have been in this Bill.


objected to the Bill as extending the present area of local taxation to a class of property which was already over-taxed, while it made no attempt to bring in personal property which was exempt. He thought that it would be better to leave out plantations, woods, and game until the whole question of local taxation had been considered in a comprehensive spirit next year. It was to be regretted that the Prime Minister, after having used such strong expressions with regard to rating, should have done so little in the desired direction. The late Government, he believed, was prepared to have gone further than the present Government proposed to do in affording relief to local ratepayers.


said, he hoped the question of rating and the larger question of local taxation would not become subjects of party discussion in this House. Government had been taunted with having adopted, in a great measure, the Bill brought forward last year by their Predecessors; but as many provisions of that Bill had been derived from measures introduced in earlier Sessions by himself and other Conservative Members, it could not be said to have belonged to one side more than another. One great objection to the Bill of last year had been that it was not just to extend the rating to exempted parts of real property until real property had received some little relief, and he hoped that the provisions of the Budget were such as to disarm some of the opposition that had been raised on that ground. It was not the case that the House of Lords had rejected the former Bill, because it was not thought "fit to live." They rejected it because it stood in need of certain Amendments which they had not the time, and perhaps not the power, to make. It had been said, in the course of the present discussion, that it would be impossible to rate trees growing in a wood. That was quite true, and all that it was proposed to do was to find out what the land would be reasonably worth to lot for from year to year. It had, moreover, been said, that it would be unjust to rate woodlands as one would rate land on the exterior of a wood, the value of which was greatly enhanced by reason of the houses, roads, and other improvements made upon it. An endeavour was made to avoid this error by using the words "natural and unimproved value," which occurred in the Scotch Act. With regard to game, where the right of shooting was of no appreciable value, it would not be assessed. It had been urged against the Bill that it was very incomplete in not dealing with the rating of Government property and with the general relief of local taxation. These were matters which were too large to be dealt with in a measure of this kind, which, in his opinion, most satisfactorily settled the exemption of real property, and was therefore deserving the support of both sides of the House, which it had already received.


desired, as a Member of the late Parliament who took an active interest in the passing of the measure of last year, to express his satisfaction that the President of the Local Government Board had brought in a measure framed on the Bill which passed the House of Commons during the last Session, though it failed to pass the House of Lords. That Bill, he believed, embodied the feeling of the last House of Commons, which dealt with the subject on both sides in no party spirit. He hoped, however, that as regarded museums, literary institutions, and property of that sort, the Government would be prepared to make some alterations when the House came to consider the Bill in Committee.


said, the House ought to be distinctly informed whether it was intended to rate stock-in-trade, in favour of which he understood the Under Secretary to express himself. He also hoped that in Committee the Government would consider the case of poor clergymen living on tithes. They were rated to the poor on the whole gross amount of their tithes, from which they had often to make largo deductions to pay their curates, without any allowance being made in the rating for such deductions; in fact, they were rated on a different principle from any other body of men.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday, 8th June.