§ Public Works [Consolidated Fund], considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he rose to move a Resolution, leading to the introduction of a Bill, the effect of which would be to place the sum of £4,000,000 at the disposal of the Public Works Loan Commissioners, with the view of their making advances under various Acts to different local authorities. It had been explained by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day that this sum would suffice for the current year, although a larger sum had been applied for. He must also explain to the Committee that the £4,000,000 did not represent the total amount of money which the local authorities would require in the course of the year, nor did it represent that, the borrowing of which, his Department would have to sanction. On the contrary, only one-fourth of that amount would be applied for under the Public Health Act, the greater part of the whole being required by the Education Office for School-Board purposes. It had been the intention of the Government that he (Mr. Selater-Booth) should take advantage of the opportunity afforded in moving this Resolution, to make a Statement in continuation of that which he had made last year as to Local Finance, and also that his Statement should have been made immediately after the Financial Statement of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Although he should have felt at a disadvantage in following his right hon. Friend so closely, still much benefit would have resulted from the two Statements, one relating to the Imperial and the other to Local Taxation being placed in immediate juxtaposition. Perhaps, the Committee would 1716 bear in mind that the amount raised by means of rates was equal to one-third of that raised by means of taxes, the produce of the rates being £26,000,000, and that of taxes being £79,000,000. When his right hon. Friend introduced his Budget last week everyone must have been struck by the great interest and anxiety exhibited on both sides of the House as to the results of the Statement which he was about to lay before them; and when it appeared that no additional Ways and Means would be proposed to meet the expenditure of the year the greatest satisfaction prevailed. And yet, the worst anticipations of the prophets of evil were that there might possibly be a deficit to the amount of £500,000, or thereabouts. But suppose some measure had been before the House, laying new obligations on local authorities, the effect of which would have been an addition to the rates of 1d. in the pound, that, perhaps, would have been treated with a good deal of indifference, and yet the sum of money to be produced from the rateable property of the Kingdom would have amounted to the same sum—namely, £500,000. Suppose, again, it had been necessary to propose an addition to the income tax of 1d. in the pound, that would have created consternation, not only in the House, but in the country; great unpopularity would have resulted to the Government, and much would have been said as to the unsoundness of our financial policy. Yet the burden entailed by the addition of 1d. to the income tax was no greater in amount, and less burdensome to the taxpayer, than a 3d. rate to the ratepayer; such, for example, as was involved by the passing of the Education Act, one of the consequences of which, almost unnoticed at the time, was to impose a School-Board rate of not less than 3d. over a great part of the Kingdom. He would endeavour to lay before the Committee, as shortly as he could, a comparative Statement of the local indebtedness of the past years, and he would follow the same course as regarded the local income of the country. Last year he stated the corrected income of outstanding loans for three years past to be as follows:—For the year 1872–3, £80,000,000; for 1873–4, £85,500,000; for 1874–5, £92,820,000; and he estimated, after deducting re-payments to the extent of £4,500,000, and adding 1717 £9,500,000 for the loans authorized by Local Acts or sanctioned by the Local Government Board, the indebtedness of 1875–6 would amount to £97,820,000. On reference to Hansard he found the sum stated at £95,000,000, but that was an error; the circulations there given showing that the sum was £97,820,000. The actual state of the Loan account, as now ascertained up to December last, was fully £2,000,000 in excess of that Estimate, and the discrepancy was explained in this way. More complete information now received enabled him to correct the Returns quoted, and he found that a sum of £1,477,200 — nearly £1,500,000 — had not been included in the Returns of previous years. These chiefly related to Birmingham, Bury, Birkenhead, and Macclesfield, and, in addition, the margin allowed for loans of which they had no official cognizance was found to have been insufficient by the sum of £700,000. The detailed state of the Loan account, therefore, for 1875–6 was as follows: — The ascertained debt of 1874–5 was £92,820,000, the sum of £1,477,200 remained to be added, making £94,297,000. To this there fell to be added—1st. Loans to Boroughs, £480,000; Urban Sanitary Authorities, £5,062,900; Rural Sanitary Authorities, £75,700; and School Boards, £1,466,500; in all, £7,085,500. 2. Poor Law Authorities, £139,100; County ditto, £226,700; Metropolitan Board arid Vestries, £283,400; Drainage and Embankment, £40,400; Burial Boards, £90,600; City of London, £281,200; and Harbours, £1,565,500; in all, £2,629,900, which together made £9,712,400; showing the total indebtedness £104,009,700, of which £4,334,200 had been paid off, leaving £99,675,500. In 1874–5 the outstanding loans charged on Rates amounted to £66,241,700; on Tolls, £26,215,600; and on Duties, £1,840,000; in al1, £94,297,300. For 1875–6 the same account stood thus—Loans charged on Rates, £70,664,200; on Tolls, £27,186,400; and on Duties, £1,825,000; showing a net increase of £5,378,300. The chief increase was in the case of the following authorities:—Urban Sanitary Authorities, £3,326,500; School Board, £1,336,700; City of London, £505,500; and Harbours, £507,282. But, leaving out of account the loans charged on Tolls and Duties, and confining attention to loans charged on Rates, the total for 1876 was £70,664,000. 1718 Of this there was charged on the Metropolis:—Local Management, £1,763,700, and Board of Works, £10,937,400. Total, exclusive of School Board and Poor Law, £12,701,100. And on the Urban Authorities — Boroughs, £5,730,000; Urban Sanitary Authorities, £38,541,100; in all, £44,271,100; making together £56,972,200; the balance of £13,691,800 being for Poor Law, County, Highway, and Rural Sanitary Authorities. An estimate for the ensuing year could not in the nature of things be accurate, but as nearly as it could be made it was as follows:—The loans outstanding at the end of 1875–6 amounted to £99,675,000; and deducting £4,675,000 as likely to be paid off, there remained a balance of £95,000,000. The additions to be made to this sum included first £2,767,800, for which loans had been sanctioned by the Local Government Board. This included £500,000 which was to be raised by the Corporation of Birmingham under the Artizans and Labourers Dwellings Act. The loans authorized by local Acts last year amounted to £3,797,900; and the other Estimates were—Education Department, £2,000,000; for the Metropolitan Board of Works, £1,351,400; Vestries, £171,200; Guardians and Managers of the Poor, £179,200; and Burial Boards, £255,700, making together £10,500,000, or there about. It was known that portions of sums already sanctioned would not be required, and that certain other sums, of which no estimate could be made, would be required, and the one class might be set off against the other. The Returns being more complete than last year, he should expect the local indebtedness of the country to stand at £105,000,000 at the close of the year. These loans were mostly for purposes of a beneficial and important character—namely, to provide suitable dwellings for the poor, to improve the sanitary condition of the great centres of population, and to provide for the educational requirements of the people. Large as the local debt was, it did not amount to an alarming sum when compared with the rate-able value of England and Wales, which was about £120,000,000. The debts charged upon the rates were £70,000,000, or rather more than one-half of the rateable value. This would not be considered too great a proportion, when it 1719 was remembered that under the Public Health Act the borrowing powers of localities were restricted to two years' rateable value. It should also be remembered that a great amount of valuable property in the shape of the rights and plant of gas and water companies was included in the securities upon which the loans were raised. He made these qualifying observations at the risk of being told, as last year, that he took too rose-coloured a view of the subject. Still, having stated those somewhat portentous figures to the House, he could not but feel it his duty also to remind them of what could be reasonably stated in mitigation of the uneasiness which might otherwise be felt by the Committee and by the country. The sum which he had given as the net increase of indebtedness for 1876 — namely, £5,378,300 — large as it was, was less than the average for the last six years, which was £6,000,000. It was to be observed how much was accounted for by a few large loans recently sanctioned by private Acts. The following were sanctioned in 1875:—Oldham, £250,000; Rochdale, £200,000; Cardiff, £298,000; Bradford, £655,000; Salford (tramways, &c.), £943,000; Manchester, £1,250,000; Birmingham, £2,250,000—seven towns, £5,836,000. The following were sanctioned in 1876: — Halifax, £385,000; Southport, £376,000; Huddersfield, £800,000; Stockton and Middlesborongh, £1,166,000—four towns, £2,727,000. In these and similar cases, valuable properties were acquired; they were, or were intended to be, profitable borrowings, and, in case of gas and water purchase, if the financial arrangements were correct, the difference to the consumer and ratepayer was that he paid his Town Council, instead of a company. It was the co-operative principle on a large scale. As for private Acts, which were the means resorted to in the most important cases, Parliament had in all cases the amplest opportunity of seeing that the financial grounds on which an application was made were sound and practicable. In many cases the land and property acquired were of great value. The only other heavy item of growing charge which he need notice was that which had arisen under the Education Act, which was £1,500,000 for 1875 and £2,000,000 for 1876; but the capital outlay was, of course, greatest in the 1720 earlier years, and as time went on we might expect or hope for diminished applications under this head. He must next notice the taxation or income on which these loans were charged, and out of which the repayment of principal and interest, as well as current expenditure had to be met, and the increase or diminution of rates, comparing the two years 1875 and 1876. He took the triple division of Rates, Tolls, and Duties. In 1874–5, Rates produced, £22,175,700; Tolls and Dues, £4,012,000; Duties, £332,900 — total, £26,521,300. In 1875–6, Rates produced, £22,659,700; Tolls and Dues, £3,876,200; Duties, £366,700 — total, £26,942,600. Comparing the total for 1874–5, £26,521,300, with the total for 1875–6, £26,942,600, he found the corrected increase for 1876 to be £431,300. It was convenient to leave out of account the income derived from Tolls and Duties and to confine attention to the income derived from Rates. The chief items of increase in the income derivable from rates were as follows (in round numbers): — Metropolis — Local Management and Consolidated Rates, £152,700; Urban Sanitary, £489,000; School Board, £215,000. The chief item of decrease was £432,000 on the Poor Rate, partly due to diminishing pauperism, and partly to better management by Boards of Guardians, who were exhibiting an increase of knowledge and of energy in their desire to do the best for the ratepayers and the poor. There was no doubt that the advance made was of a real and permanent character. There was a diminution in the Police Rate and also in the rates levied under rural sanitary authorities of £15,000. This was attributable to the continued absorption of rural into urban districts now going on under the sanction of the Local Government Board. He might here repeat a remark that he made last year, to the effect that upon the whole the rates appeared to be either stationary or receding, with the exception of those raised in respect, first, of borrowed money, and secondly, which were for School-Board current expenditure and for highway rates in certain districts where the Turnpike Acts were discontinued, and where increased burdens were thus thrown upon the ratepayers. Although he spoke of the general pressure of the rates as stationary throughout the country, yet it could not 1721 be denied that every £1,000,000 of money borrowed involved an additional charge of about £60,000 a-year for the payment of interest and repayment of the principal within a limited period, and this increment, which had been going on so long, was not likely soon to come to an end. The ratepayers were only now beginning to reap the full benefit of the Votes of Parliament in aid of local rates. The subventions had not yet fully come into the accounts; but if they might be regarded as perpetual or replaced by a substantial equivalent, they must be equivalent to an addition of many millions to the rateable value of the country. It had been said that the subventions of the present Government were intended as a bribe to the rural districts and hamlets. Nothing could be more fallacious. Many hon. Friends of his who had taken an active part in the agitation for the reduction of local burdens and who represented, no doubt, important rural districts, and Chambers of Agriculture had also supported the movement. But if the subventions were taken as a whole, it would be found that the urban districts derived the benefit of these subventions in the proportion of six to four, and that where the urban districts got £600,000, the rural districts received only £400,000. The same observation would apply to the annual sum voted by Parliament for the rates on Government property. That property had been carefully valued and the process was not yet complete, but the Government now paid the rates on property which must be valued at not being worth less than £800,000. Another boon to the ratepayers had been the addition to the rateable value of the country effected under the Rating Act of 1874, which he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had been fortunate enough to pass. Under that Act three important classes of property were brought under assessment for the first time—Woods, Game, and Rights of Sporting, and Mines (other than coal and iron). A circular had been issued by the Local Government Board, and 627 Unions had been asked to furnish Returns under the Rating Act. These Returns could not as yet be fully made up, so that the information he was about to give the House was for 481 Unions only. The amounts of the rateable value were respectively—Woods, £265,052; Rights of Sporting, £442,167; Mines, £507,823; making a 1722 total of £1,215,042. He anticipated that when the operation of the Act was fully completed, the addition under this head would not be less than £1,500,000 added to the rateable value of the country, and this added to the sum upon which the Government paid would amount altogether to about £2,500,000. The county which gave the largest value for Woods was Northumberland—£16,995. The largest amount under the head "Rights of Sporting" was in Yorkshire and Norfolk—£27,090. The highest for Mines was Cumberland—£184,721. The amount of the rateable value of property in England and Wales, according to the last published Return in 1875 was £119,007,715, which, added to the sum of £1,215,042 under the Rating Act, made a total of £120,222,757, or an addition of 1 per cent. There was an indisposition in some Unions to put the Rating Act in force pending the passing of the Valuation Bill. It was only natural, indeed, that Unions should be unwilling to incur the expense of employing professional valuers when they had the prospect of seeing a uniform system adopted throughout the country. The question then arose, whether anything could be done to diminish the increasing charge for Local Loans. In the first place, it was, he thought, the duty of the Government and of Parliament to make these statistical Returns as perfect as possible, and if future Governments continued to exhibit these figures yearly, a greater interest would be felt in the subject, which might be productive of beneficial results. The difficulty of making out an exact statement was increased by the fact that the local authorities made up their accounts to different periods of the year. The Poor Law accounts were made up to Lady-Day, the Municipal accounts mostly in August, the County at Michaelmas, and the Highways in December. It was therefore impossible for any one filling his office to give the exact state of the case on any particular day in the year. He did not wish to cast any blame upon the local authorities in reference to the matter; but as a remedy was required, he thought it might be possible by a short measure to improve the Act under which the Returns were made to the Government Department; and if the House regarded the proposition with favour, he 1723 would introduce a Bill which would not unduly interfere with the independence of local authorities. He thought also, Parliament would do well to pay a little more attention to private Acts of Parliament, not with the view of checking the expenditure which the local authorities thought advisable to incur, but with the view of securing a greater efficiency of financial arrangements. Whereas it was an axiom with the Local Government Board that the period for repayment of any loan should be in accordance with the probable duration of the works to be constructed, they found great difference in the practice of Parliament with regard to Private Bills; and, again, that whereas the departmental view was that repayment of the capital should commence at the earliest possible date, Committees varied very much on that point. As instances of Private Acts granting what he thought must be considered primâ facie, an undue period for the duration of loans, he would mention the Birmingham Gas Act of 1875, giving 85 years; the Birmingham Waterworks Bill, 90 years; and the Rochdale Bill, 100 years. And in 1876 the term named in a Leicester Bill was 80 years, in a Stockton and Middlesborough Bill, 90; in two Halifax Bills, 100 and 110 years; and in a Huddersfield Bill the term for repayment of the loan was 100 years. So, again, as regarded the time for the commencement of repaying capital, five years appeared to be the normal period allowed, and up to that time no portion of the loan was repaid. He was not prepared to say that was not a reasonable period, but in some Acts passed in 1876 the time allowed before the sinking fund was to be commenced was seven years, and in some, as in the Huddersfield Waterworks and Oldham cases, 10 years. He thought the clause introduced in "another place" requiring an annual Return to show the amount set apart for repayment, and, in case of default, empowering the Local Government Board to make an Order for the repayment, was one which would meet with the approbation of the House. They would, he thought, admit that a good deal had been done to secure uniformity in these matters; but Parliament also had it in its power to do a great deal in this direction. But the public and the ratepayers were also protected. These things were not done in a corner. The eyes of all who were interested 1724 might see what was going on. In the first place, protection was afforded in the case of private Bills by the Borough Funds Act, under which the cost of a private Act of Parliament could not be charged on the rates until the ratepayers had been consulted, and in the case of Provisional Order Bills, which were increasingly numerous, by an elaborate local inquiry preceded by statutory notices. The publicity and the greater attention paid to the subject by Parliament and the country would also be of service in the same direction. Well, then, the rates must continue to be charged with those local expenses. What substitute had they? They had no other means of local taxation—no octroi, such as existed in foreign countries, and which he believed would be more unpopular than the charging of those loans upon the local rates. Whatever the ultimate incidences of the rates might be as between the owner and the occupier, the value of the house occupied had become, in thickly-populated districts, the measure of a man's ability to contribute to local burdens. Thus measured, a man paid in proportion to the moans he was presumed to have. An interesting discussion had arisen last year as to the division of rates between the owner and occupier; this could not, however, well be gone into. The present Government had been careful, in proposing new charges on rateable property, to provide that during the term of existing contracts, the new rate should be divided. If that rule had been followed in the cases of the Public Health Act and the Education Act, much heart-burning would have been saved, and a good precedent would have been set. He did not at all dispute the policy of making the owners pay a fair proportion, but he doubted whether it would be possible to remove the burden from the shoulders of one class to the shoulders of another. The charges were undoubtedly heavy; but the ratepayers had at least the power of giving their consent. It seemed to him that political economy would settle who paid the rates eventually, and all Parliament could do was to take care that they were levied equally and fairly. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution.
§ MR. RATHBONE
thought the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board was 1725 somewhat defective, inasmuch as he had treated the question of indebtedness and rating as applying to the country equally, instead of making a distinction between the urban and rural districts. Unless he (Mr. Rathbone) was mistaken it was only in the urban districts that the great increase of expenditure and indebtedness had occurred; in the rural districts it had hardly increased at all. There was an increase of local indebtedness last year alone of £4,400,000, being an increase of 6 per cent. The rateable value of the whole of the urban districts was only £41,000,000. Some of the urban districts were indebted to more than three years' rateable value—18 to 2 or 3 years, and 57 between 1 and 2 years. Looking back at the great increase of indebtedness and rating, ho found that in four years the increased charge of debt was 109 per cent, and of rates 103 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the urban debt, exclusive of that of municipal boroughs, amounted to £31,000,000, and in any arrangement of our local authorities that was an element that ought not to be left out of consideration. He suggested that in future the statement should distinguish between the increase of debt in the urban and in the rural districts. He was glad to find that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board was taking up the question of the imperfect manner in which Returns of expenditure and income of these different local authorities were made. Some of the returns were three years old, others two years, and, again, some were one year old, which prevented comparison one with another, and the ratepayers from making a comparison of their expenditure with that of other districts. One thing was deserving of especial consideration—namely, the dangerous powers given by local Acts. In five years no less than £4,000,000 had been raised by Private Acts of Parliament, independent of the money raised by the borrowing powers, and a dangerous practice had grown up of slipping into these Bills clauses extending the time for the payments of the old debts—a practice which ought to be carefully watched by the right hon. Gentleman and by the House. It was a fallacy to say that the rent of a man's house might be accepted as a test of his power of payment. It might be so in some in- 1726 stances, but in others, in the cases of professional men for instance, it was different; for the lawyer and the doctor were obliged to live in good houses in a particular situation, which might be regarded as part of their stock-in-trade, and could not be fairly accepted as a test of their power of payment. The case of the occupier altogether was a very hard one, and he hoped it would receive the careful attention of the Government.
§ MR. STORER
complained that the Rating Act of 1874 excluded timber as such, providing only for underwood, and he hoped that imperfection in the Act would be remedied. The injustice referred to by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) as affecting the occupiers in towns affected in a much greater degree the occupier of land in the country, who had to pay, not according to his ability, but on double his income; or, rather, he had to pay for himself and his landlord also. A Valuation Bill would never be popular that did not convey provisions protecting the occupier to the extent that he should only pay in proportion to the interest he derived from his occupation. The country occupier had to pay poor rates, education rates, and others; and, although it used to be said that these burdens were taken into consideration in fixing the rent, that argument for continuing the burdens had been long since given up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London, who now admitted that the burden fell on the occupier.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
, referring to the remark of the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) as to the great indebtedness of local authorities, said, he thought that indebtedness was a matter of congratulation rather than fear, because it was not a debt in the ordinary sense of the word, but an investment for the benefit of the whole community, bearing often very remunerative interest. To give an instance from his own borough: in 1875 the Corporation of Birmingham had, he thought, a local debt of something like £600,000; at the present time it owed nearly £5,000,000 sterling; but if anyone would take the trouble to inquire into the assets, they would find that they represented more than that amount, and that the interest on the total debt was more than met by the receipts from the pro- 1727 fitable undertakings in which Birmingham had put the money—namely, water, gas, and tolls. The hon. Member for Liverpool complained of the length of the terms for repayment of these local loans, but, in his (Mr. Chamberlain's) opinion, there were some reasons why debt of this kind should not be paid off at all. The security given by the local authorities consisted of tangible freehold property, buildings, and other undertakings, and he must again say that he did not see, except in some cases as a matter of prudence, why they should be called upon to pay off their indebtedness at all. If we invested money in a railway, we did not think of requiring repayment of our investment so long as the market value of the shares of that undertaking were fully equal to the amount of our investment. The securities in the case of these loans was better than the security for the National Debt, which had no representative except the prosperity of the nation. Yet the country did not find it necessary to pay off that Debt at anything like the rate at which it compelled local authorities to pay off theirs, although it had in many cases much less to show for the expenditure than the latter for theirs. There was, of course, a great deal of other expenditure which it would be wrong to consider unprofitable, yet which did not yield a direct return. The expenditure which was now imposed on local authorities for sanitary, educational, and other works was an investment which, it was true, did not pay money dividends, but which returned large dividends in the shape of an increase of the health, happiness, prosperity, comfort, and intelligence of the whole population. He ventured to say that those who seemed to consider our local authorities were only machines for saving money made a great mistake. On the contrary, they were machines for spending money, but for spending it wisely, and he believed they spent it for good purposes, and more economically than they got credit for. With regard to the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman to renew the powers of the Public Loan Commissioners, he had no objection to offer; but he should like to call attention to the regulations under which the Board now acted, which seemed to him to some extent to frustrate the intentions of Parliament, to reduce to a minimum the convenience granted to 1728 local authorities, and also to diminish the average security of the money which the Exchequer invested in these local securities. He repudiated altogether the idea that the assistance rendered to local authorities by the Public Works Loan Board was of an eleemosynary nature. If they granted a loan which returned them a profit, he did not think they could take credit for charity. The operations of the Board ought to be so conducted that while the loans were a convenience to local authorities, they were a source of profit to the Exchequer. He did not see why the Board should not be the bankers of the local authorities, as although local authorities offered better security for loans than Consols gave, yet they were so little known that when they came into the market for a loan, they could not raise money at a reasonable rate. He said the security in the case of these local loans was better security than Consols, because the nation might repudiate the national security; but in no conceivable circumstances would it allow any local authority to repudiate its debt. It would be a very great convenience to these local authorities if some central body would undertake to raise the whole of the loan which they required. As an instance of what he complained of, he would refer to the fact that the Artizans Dwellings Act of the Session before last contained a clause providing that the money for making the improvements contemplated by that Act might be advanced by the Public Works Loan Commissioners at 3½ per cent, or such other rate as the Treasury should find it necessary to fix to prevent loss, and for a term not exceeding 50 years. Accordingly, the Corporation of Birmingham, being engaged in an enormous improvement scheme extending over an area including a population of nearly 20,000 persons, and involving purchases amounting to £2,000,000, made their calculations on the assumption that the Public Works Loan Commissioners would lend them the sum required at 3½ per cent, repayable with a sinking fund in a period of 50 years. But when they went to the Commissioners they were told that, acting under regulations issued by the Treasury, they could only let them have the loan at 4 per cent for 50 years, or at 3½ per cent if they took it for a much shorter period. The result was that the 1729 Corporation of Birmingham respectfully declined the assistance of the Commissioners, and were now in the London market for £1,500,000 sterling, which they hoped to obtain on better terms. Again, they required an advance for the carrying on of some sewage works, but the terms were 5 per cent for 20 years, which was also declined. Now, as the Public Works Loan Board raised the money at 3¼ per cent, they could profitably lend it to local authorities at 3½ per cent; but if they charged a higher rate, the result would be that they would ultimately lose all their customers, as they had done in this case. It was said the Commissioners had to charge that high rate to cover the possibility of losses; but it was surely unfair that great corporations like those of Manchester, Leeds, or Birmingham should have to pay an excessive rate of interest because Little Peddlington might become insolvent. He hoped, therefore, that the regulations issued to the Commissioners in that matter would be reconsidered, as it seemed to him to be undesirable that what was intended by Parliament as a great convenience to those local authorities on whom Parliament was imposing new duties should be frustrated by regulations which were red-tape regulations. He thought that the extension to large bodies of the accommodation now given to small bodies would prove of great advantage to the Exchequer.
§ MR. CLARE READ
, differing from the last speaker, regarded the length of time to which those loans extended as really dangerous. When gas and water companies had a term of 80 years to pay off loans, the period was excessive. It was all very well to say the money was advanced on the security of real property, but would any bank or insurance office give it on those terms? Even gas and water works might wear out before the expiration of 80 or 120 years, and discoveries might long before then be made of new methods for supplying gas and water at a cheaper rate than now. From his experience at the Local Government Board, he was persuaded that these extremely long periods had a pernicious influence upon other loans, as applications were made by other bodies for advances on the same terms. He was glad to hear the Government contemplated the introduction 1730 of a Bill to oblige local authorities to make up their accounts at one time. That was really most essential, because there were so many different times at which these accounts were made up that it was impossible to say what the exact expenditure was. He begged to thank his right hon. Friend for the interesting statement ho had made. Although the Local Taxation Budget did not create so much enthusiasm as the Imperial Budget, it was of great importance, and ought to command the consideration of the House.
§ MR. HUTCHINSON
said, the borough of Halifax had bound itself by successive Acts of Parliament to supply water and gas to a number of the outlying districts, so that the town taxed itself not for its own benefit merely, but for that of the surrounding districts, which thereby reaped all the advantage and were not liable for the indebtedness. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) complained of the long period allowed for repayment; but when a Corporation borrowed money for water purposes it had to think of seasons of drought, to look forward 10 or 15 years, and to undertake works greater than were actually required at the time. It was, therefore, not unreasonable to ask that an extended period should be given for repayment. He was sorry to hear any suggestion that the central authority should be encouraged to interfere more than they did at present with the local bodies in the administration of their funds. He thought it ought rather to be abridged.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, as he was the person responsible for the clause which enabled the Public Works Loan Commissioners to advance money under certain limitations to local authorities, ho wished to explain that the intention was that such advances should be only made where there was no probability of a loss being incurred. Those Commissioners were, in a manner, to act as bankers and to make a fair profit. His hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), in his desire that the local communities should have the advantage of these loans on favourable terms, however, went further than arguing the contrary of that proposition, for he stated that where the loan was made on freehold property it should be a permanent loan. That, he (Mr. Stans- 1731 feld) considered, would be most unwise. When he introduced the Bill just mentioned, very great pressure was put upon the Local Government Board to lengthen the term of years, but he had resisted that pressure, though he was very desirous that the public should be able to borrow money upon easy terms. He did not think it would be desirable to extend the term of years over which the local communities could borrow money from the public; but he had always thought it wise that the money should be advanced at the lowest possible rate of interest, and was prepared to take upon himself the responsibility of the advocacy of that principle. That policy, of which he entirely approved, had been the policy of the Local Government Board. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman had been called a Budget Statement. What had been submitted to the House was not a Budget—indeed, the right hon. Gentleman did not call it one—but an estimate of local expenditure and a statement of account, and it did not therefore offer the same scope for comment as a statement involving financial proposals. He noted that the right hon. Gentleman drew a distinction between remunerative and unremunerative expenditure, and he also noticed how small a proportion of indebtedness—£13,605 out of £70,000,000—had been incurred on account of rural districts. The fact that local taxation, except that of a remunerative character, was stationary, if not decreasing, was the best possible answer to the complaints that had been made recently; it showed that they had been exaggerated, and they had been sufficiently met by the contributions and subventions already provided. As the question of local taxation had already been discussed, and as there would be further opportunity for such discussion, the present debate need not be extended.
§ MR. BIGGAR
complained that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had not given them the full detail of the indebtedness of the rates. The question was a most important one to the ratepayers of the country. With respect to the corporations, he thought they ought to receive encouragement to expend money on necessary and useful works, subject to due restriction as to the expenditure. Great scandals had doubtless occurred 1732 in the manner in which the ratepayers' money had been expended; and in reference to the local rates, they should have a power to raise the question whether or not the local authorities should have the power to raise money with facility, to meet which the ratepayers might be heavily taxed.
Motion agreed to.Resolved, That it is expedient to authorise further advances, out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom, of any sum or sums of money, not exceeding £4,000,000, to enable the Public Works Loan Commissioners to make advances for the promotion of Public Works.Resolution to be reported To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before One o'clock.