HC Deb 16 March 1875 vol 222 cc1952-7

Order for Second Reading read.


, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said: The object of this Bill is to remedy an anomaly in the rating of certain property within the metropolitan area, which has arisen apparently from an oversight in framing the Metropolis Local Management Act of 1855. In the outskirts of the metropolis, within the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Board of Works, there is still a large quantity of land unbuilt upon—occupied chiefly as pasturage or market gardens—representing altogether an annual value of about £88,000, which, although fully rated to the poor rate, is entitled, under the Act of 1855, to an abatement of 75 per cent on the sewers rate levied by the Metropolitan Board of Works—or, in other words, the sewers rate can only be levied on one-fourth of the annual value of such property. There are, also, in the same area tithes of the annual value of £25,000 wholly exempt, and £1,000 partially exempt, besides railways, water companies, and cemeteries claiming total or partial exemption under the same Act; and yet the Metropolitan Board, disregarding all exemptions, issues its precepts in full to the local authorities, who are consequently compelled to increase the rating on house property in their several districts in order to make up the deficiency arising from these exemptions, which they on their part are bound to respect. More than one-half of the metropolitan parishes have no exempt property, and therefore have nothing to complain of; but, in the remainder, occupiers of house property suffer in proportion to the greater or less amount of land contained within the boundaries of their respective parishes, and it unfortunately happens that the grievance is greatest where the rates are higher and the householders poorer than in other parts. I will take one example from many, and I select it from my own constituency, because I am better acquainted with the circumstances there than I am with those in other parts. In Plumstead, a parish populated almost entirely by the workmen and others employed in the Royal Arsenal, and where the rates are, or were last year, 8s. in the pound, there is land of the annual value of £18,617 and tithes £2,690, out of a total rate-able value of £254,000. The effect of the exemptions in this case is that the Local Board is obliged to levy increased rates on these poor householders in order to make up the deficiency caused by the exemptions enjoyed by land and tithes, and which are not regarded by the Metropolitan Board of Works, but must be by the local authorities. Now, having stated the nature of the grievance, I will first briefly explain how it arose, and then proceed to the remedy. When the Metropolitan Board of Works was formed under the Local Management Act of 1855, the boundaries of the metropolitan district were so defined for the purposes of that Act, as to include large tracts of land still unbuilt upon in order to anticipate the extension of the metropolis, and so avoid the constant necessity of re-adjustment which would otherwise have arisen. The basis of assessment to the metropolitan rate was made the same as the poor rate; but an abatement of 75 per cent was allowed on land to avoid the opposition that would certainly have been made to so extended a boundary by the occupiers, had it been proposed to charge them with the full amount of a rate raised for purposes from which they could derive little or no benefit. It appears, therefore, that these abatements were the consideration in return for which the Metropolitan Board were to secure a sufficiently extended boundary for their purpose; and now, having obtained all they require, they leave the suburban ratepayers to pay the cost, the result being that a householder living in these outlying districts—who, in the majority of cases, is a poor man—has actually to pay more in proportion towards metropolitan improvements, the benefits of which hardly reach his remote neighbourhood, than a rich inhabitant of a central district where there is no exempted property. The remedy proposed in this Bill appears to me to be of the simplest possible description; it consists merely in enabling the Metropolitan Board of Works to take cognizance of the exemptions provided for in their Act of 1855. That the omission of this power in the first instance was an oversight I am convinced, and I cannot imagine any valid reason for the opposition with which the Board have thought proper to meet my proposal. There is certainly another method of redress—namely, to repeal these exemptions altogether. [Sir JAMES HOGG: Hear, hear!] The hon. and gallant Gentleman says "Hear, hear;" but what will the occupiers of the land say if he proposes to break faith with them in that manner? As I have already pointed out, these abatements formed the basis of a distinct contract between the occupiers of land and the Metropolitan Board of Works, whereby the latter obtained a sufficiently extended boundary for their purpose, and now the hon. and gallant Gentleman would break faith with them This is certainly out of the question. When this Bill was introduced last year its principle, so far from being questioned, was admitted; but it was objected that no machinery was provided by which its purpose could be effected, and it was said that such machinery should be that of the Valuation (Metropolis) Act, 1869. This objection has been met in the present Bill by the addition of three clauses, whereby the valuation lists may be made to show the extent of exemption claimed in respect of any property included in them, and by the last clause, the power of appeal is extended to the additional items in case of incorrectness. The Bill is based on the broad principle of justice to the poorer class of ratepayers who reside for the most part in the outskirts of the metropolis. It will not harm their richer neighbours, but will remedy a grievance which has been repeatedly pointed out to the Metropolitan Board of Works, and should long ago have been redressed at their instance; therefore, I have no hesitation in calling on hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House to support the second reading, which I now beg to move.

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


stated that he was quite prepared to admit that the Bill introduced by the hon. Member showed a somewhat anomalous state of things, and that there was a certain amount of inequality in the incidence of the taxation. The Metropolitan Board were fully alive to this, and had passed a resolution on the subject when the hon. Member's Bill was before the House last Session. The Board concurred in the opinion that some redress was needed for the state of things complained of, and decided on the advisability of remedying the inequality which led to the introduction of the Bill. But while agreeing with the hon. Member so far, the Board could by no means concur in the means which it was desired to adopt for securing the ends in view. Their view was rather that the occupiers of land should be placed on the same footing as occupiers or owners of houses. It appeared to the Board that there was no reason for this immunity of land. Its owners derived various advantages from its nearness to London, and which, as regarded the sewer rate of the district, it might be fair that it should be assessed at only one-fourth of its value; this did not apply to the rate of the Metropolitan Board, of which a large part was not for sewers, but for street and other improvements, parks and open spaces, protection from fire, and municipal administration generally. If the Bill of the hon. Member passed, the deficiency in the rates would have to be made up from other districts of the metropolis. For instance, take the case of Plumstead. Assuming that the Board made a rate of £10,000 on the district, of which, say, four-fifths was house property and half land, the local authority would raise £9,500 of this sum from the owners of property, and on account of the exemption £500 only from the owners of land. The Bill, in effect, asked Parliament to enact that the precept of the Board should be reduced from £10,000 to £8,500, by which means £1,500 would have to be raised on the other districts of the metropolis. The whole rateable value of the metropolis was £20,644,000, while that of arable land was less than £90,000, and it appeared to the Board that the simplest plan would be to remove the exemption altogether. This was their intention in their resolution passed in July last year, when they expressed a determination to endeavour to obtain a remedy in the event of a Bill for amending their Loans Act being introduced. As affairs stood at present, the Board were bound to adopt the county rate in making their assessments, putting land at its full value and calling upon the local authority for its rateable proportion of the Board's expenses, although the local authority could only raise from the owners of such land one-fourth of the amount which, if the land were assessed at its full value, would be payable in respect of it, and the remaining three-fourths had to be made up by laying a higher rate on the owners or occupiers of houses in the district. The hon. Member had alluded to the Act of 1855; but, as a matter of fact, the Board had nothing to do with the passing of that Act, not being in existence at the time. They could not, therefore, have entered into any compact of the nature alluded to by the hon. Member. In conclusion, he (Sir James Hogg) must repeat, that while the Board admitted the anomaly and would be glad to see it removed, they were not prepared to endorse the proposal contained in the Bill introduced by the hon. Member, and he therefore moved that it be read this day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Sir James Hogg.)

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


said, that there was some force in the objections raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman; but, on the whole, he thought the hon. Member for Greenwich had succeeded in establishing his case. The question involved was a difficult one, and full of technicalities, which rendered it unsuitable for discussion in a Committee of the Whole House; and he should, therefore, recommend the hon. and gallant Gentleman to withdraw his opposition on the understanding that the Bill was referred to a Select Committee.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

And, on April 14, Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. STANSFELD, Sir CHARLES MILLS, Sir JAMES LAWRENCE, Sir SYDNEY WATERLOW, Sir ANDREW LUSK, Sir CHARLES LEGARD, Sir JAMES HOGG, Mr. ASHLEY, Mr. COOPE, Mr. GOLDNEY, Mr. SAMUDA, Mr. SPENCER STANHOPE, Mr. HEYGATE, Mr. JAMES, and Mr. BOORD:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.