§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH,
in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that it was not his intention to repeat the arguments which he used on a former occasion for the purpose of showing the à priori necessity that existed for an improvement in the law relating to the valuation of property. He thought he might now assume that he had then sufficiently shown that, although, speaking generally, the existing law worked sufficiently well, there were imperfections in it which required remedy; that under it property was valued in a way not contemplated by Parliament; that there was an insufficient security for the uniformity which ought to prevail in the valuation of property throughout different parts of the country; and that the absence of such uniformity embarrassed the execution of various powers which existed under old Acts of Parliament having for their object the simplification and improvement of local administration, and also of the powers conferred upon the Local Government Board last Session, and, moreover, stood in the way of those improvements in local rating and government, and which they hoped would at no distant day be sanctioned by Parliament. He should also assume that the House and the country generally were satisfied that it would be a desirable improvement and simplification of the law if one basis were established upon which all Imperial as well as local taxes should be levied. He had this evening to show that those objects might 1588 be attained by the present Bill without unduly disturbing existing arrangements, and by means of two or three simple provisions which had both principle and precedent to recommend them. The Government had felt it desirable so to re-model and re-cast the laws in regard to the valuation of property as to retain in the Boards of Guardians the functions they now enjoyed with respect to the valuing and assessing of property. The Government were, on the whole, satisfied with the union assessment committee established by the Acts of 1862 and 1864, which had worked well in the past and might work sufficiently well in the future. They also approved the principle upon which these Valuation Acts were founded—namely, that the valuation and assessment of property for local rates should remain for the most part in the hands of those bodies whose duty it was to spend the greater part of the ratepayers' money. When the House considered that in country districts the Guardians had the spending of four-fifths of the ratepayers' money, were intimately acquainted with the circumstances of the ratepayers and their localities, they would, probably, be satisfied with the decision of the Government to retain the union assessment committee as the authority for regulating these assessments. What, then, were the means by which they hoped to secure that uniformity which was desired. Hon. Members were probably aware that there were in the rate book two columns —one stating in respect of these assessments the gross value and the other the net estimated rental. They proposed to secure greater uniformity in the statement of the gross value by a provision which united for this purpose already existing functions of the Inland Revenue Department, acting through the Surveyor of Taxes, and those of the union assessment committee, acting through the overseers, with the view of levying the rates. No new operations, therefore, were contemplated by the Bill; but merely a union of two operations with which ratepayers and taxpayers were already familiar. The Surveyor of Taxes was not, as some people supposed, an informer or person going about guessing what the value of property might be. He was, for the purposes of this Bill, an agent of the Inland Revenue Commissioners, who col- 1589 lected from the occupiers those returns of the valuation of their property which they were bound by the Property Tax Acts under heavy penalties to make, and which he believed they generally made truly and fairly, and the overseer was bound by the law to the principles of rating which had been established by the Assessment Acts. These two functionaries, operating together, would assist each other and throw light on each other's duties. The assessment committees would be guided not only by the local knowledge and experience of the overseers and their own, but also by the authentic documents which the Inland Revenue Commissioners could supply. Precedent and experience were in favour of this plan. In the first place, it was very well known to many hon. Gentlemen that the county justices who had an independent power of valuing for the purpose of the county rate did, as a matter of fact, have recourse to the information supplied by the Surveyor of Taxes' returns, in order to test and illustrate the information they had received from the different assessment committees which transmitted their valuations to them from time to time. He would go further and say that in many unions with which he was acquainted the same information had been sought by the assessment committees with the very best results. He could name many parts of the country where the effect of this Bill would be merely to put into a statutory form a practice which already prevailed. The Surveyor of Taxes, therefore, acting with the overseers under the provisions of the Bill, would effect that uniformity in the statement of the gross value which it was most important to obtain, and upon the attainment of which the Government were willing to accept that statement of gross value as a sufficient basis for the collection of the property tax. Uniformity as regarded the rateable value of property would, he believed, be sufficiently secured by the fact that in the Schedule of the Bill was placed a scale of deductions to be used by the assessment committees in determining the rateable value. He would be sorry to lay down a Procrustean rule, or to say that no exceptional circumstances could justify variation; but, as a general rule, he believed that under the provision he had named uniformity would be secured, and 1590 yet the jurisdiction and authority of the assessment committees be sufficiently maintained. We had experience and precedent in favour of this proposal, as we had with regard to the other. In the Metropolis, which contained so enormous a proportion of the wealth and population of the country, this arrangement with regard to the rateable value had been in existence now for some six years, and he believed it had worked extremely well. The experience of its working had undoubtedly fortified himself and the Government in presenting the Bill in its present form to the House. There was one alteration of some [importance in the Bill as compared with that of last year. In the Bill of last year it was proposed that the justices in quarter sessions should appoint a committee to examine the valuation lists, with a view to secure uniformity in the assessment of the county rate. He had, however, struck out of this Bill the appointment of such a committee, feeling, in the first place, that it was unnecessary, and, in the second place, that it would interfere somewhat with the principle which the Government desired to stand by—namely, the exclusive power of the assessment committee to act in a primary degree as the authority on these subjects. The Bill gave the power generally to any local authority which found its assessments or its rating functions improperly interfered with by the imperfect action of the assessment committees to raise objections; and that power would extend not only to the justices in quarter sessions, if they were minded to exercise it or had justification for exercising it, but also to any body which might hereafter be formed, such as the county roads authority contemplated in the Highway Bill of last Session, or to any other authority having jurisdiction over one or more districts in a county. A few words now on the subject of appeals, about which there had been some misapprehension. Under the existing law there was no power on the part of any ratepayer to appeal against the valuation, or, in other words, the sum he was charged on the valuation, though he might appeal against the rate; but this was a very troublesome and irksome process, as it involved an appeal against all the rates with which he was charged. He would likewise be obliged to go before the Commissioners of Income Tax. This 1591 existing right of the ratepayer the Bill extended and improved, by enabling him to appeal against the valuation lists, so that the rates might be levied on the altered basis, and he would have no further trouble. Some people objected to the provision which allowed an appeal to the justices of petty sessions sitting in the district where the ratepayer resided, as an appeal from the higher tribunal of the assessment committee to an inferior tribunal. But there was an essential difference, which had not been commonly appreciated, between an appeal to the assessment committee and to the petty sessions or quarter sessions. The assessment committee had to make out the lists, and if there was afterwards any good ground of objection entertained by the ratepayer, it was right that he should have power to appeal to another tribunal. He had a right to go into a Court of Law and oppose the assessment on oath, and the Court would decide the question. That was an appeal of a very different character, of which they could not fairly deprive the ordinary ratepayer. He was a person to whom it was very inconvenient to go far from home for justice. The only alternative that could be given to him for the petty sessional tribunal would be to empower the assessment committee to administer the oath and act as a Court of Justice. That would be a proposal which had always been considered open to objection. The ratepayers were not to be put on their oath and cross-examined on matters of value without very serious cause. The assessment committee was only in the nature of an elected valuing body, and to give them on common questions the power of administering an oath would be open to the most serious objection. It was impossible not to give the ratepayer the opportunity of going before a magistrate and stating his case on oath. But appeals to the petty sessional tribunal would be of rare occurence. The appeal to the quarter sessions and to the High Court of Justice was of much greater importance. On questions which might arise between union and union and parish and parish appeals might be made to quarter sessions; and he did not know of any tribunal at once so accessible and so free from objection in a matter of this kind as the court of quarter sessions. It had been often suggested that County Court Judges should 1592 undertake the duties to which he referred; but he thought that the court which he had just mentioned, with its array of counsel, its publicity, its periodical sittings, and its well-known locality, possessed an advantage which it was impossible to gainsay. The appeals to the petty sessional and to the quarter sessional tribunals might be appeals either upon questions of fact, upon questions of law, or upon mixed questions of fact and law; and there was in the Bill a new provision on this subject to which he attached considerable importance—appeals on questions of law, affecting large classes of property, might be of frequent occurrence in the early history of this measure; and those appeals might, if it were deemed desirable, be removed at once from the assessment committee to the High Court of Justice. The provisions of the Bill relating to appeals gave securities and advantages which certainly were not enjoyed at present. Appeals would be made with the least possible trouble and expense, and the only exception that could be anticipated to this part of the Bill was that too much time and room had been left for appeals. The Bill was a very voluminous one, consisting of upwards of 100 clauses; and he might detain the House for hours if he went through and commented on all its provisions; but that was not his intention. To a large extent it was a measure of consolidation; and a great part of the machinery, on which much time might be expended, was familiar to the rating authorities and the rate and taxpayers generally. The real principles of the Bill, on which he relied for securing the more important of the objects he had shadowed forth to the House, were in themselves not very difficult to understand. They did not occupy much space in the Bill, and he thought it better to confine his remarks to those provisions. These provisions had experience to recommend them. The Government, therefore, felt they were not embarking on any illusory experiment. They had shown trust and confidence in the existing local authorities, who had for many years transacted the duties with which they had been entrusted with very great credit to themselves and advantage to the country. They did not complain of the imperfections in the operation of the law; but they felt the time had arrived when they ought to ask Parliament to 1593 pass the amended measure which was now before the House, and to lay the foundation of those improvements in local administration which they desired to see effected, but which they were satisfied would not be effected until this important subject had been placed upon a proper footing.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second (Mr. Sclater-Booth.)
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
rose to move an Amendment—That no general Valuation Act can be satisfactory which does not provide in the Valuation List a common authority and a common measure for the purposes of assessment, thus charging local rates and Imperial taxes equally upon the net or rateable value of real property.The right hon. Gentleman said, he had no doubt that the legislation of this and previous Parliaments was gradually preparing the way for what had been long wanted—one uniform basis and standard of value for the assessment of real property. The Valuation Acts of former Sessions had usefully prepared the way for the more comprehensive measure now before the House. He would not enter on the details of the Bill. He had a special object in the Motion he was about to submit. He accepted the explanations given by his right hon. Friend as thoroughly satisfactory, so far as they went. He did not, however, think his right hon. Friend had made any remark with reference to the official surveyor; but he understood that that official occupied in the measure under consideration a different position from that which he held in the Bill of last Session. Instead of being a person of paramount authority, he had now become a mere witness in concurrence with the assessment committee in forming the valuation list. But there was one important point which had been omitted by his right hon. Friend. In the 31st clause of this Bill it was recited that the valuation list was not only to determine the measure of the rates to be levied by local authorities, but also the amount of taxes to be levied under Imperial authority. There was, however, a curious discrepancy in the application of the principles upon which the measure was based—a discrepancy which his 1594 right hon. Friend opposite had considerately omitted to notice. Whereas the rates on real property were to be chargeable for all local purposes upon the net rateable value, for Imperial purposes they were to be charged upon the gross. This was an enormous discrepancy, and how would it operate? Taking England and Wales, there was in real property about £50,000,000 sterling to assess in value. This property was assessed at £45,000,000 for local taxation and at £50,000,000 for the income tax. Houses in England and Wales of the value of £80,000,000 were assessed at that for Imperial purposes, and at £64,000,000 for local purposes. The injustice was aggravated in the case of property that was encumbered and mortgaged. The gross value of an estate might be £2,000, and the rateable value £1,800; the encumbrance might be £1,600; and in that case the owner who received £200 would pay income tax on £400. The grievance could be remedied in the simplest way by the Motion which he submitted. The Report of a Scotch Committee which sat in 1865 showed that in Scotland deductions were made on account of the outgoings from the income of real property; and the Report of the Committee laid down the principle that the rent paid by the occupier was the measure of his ability to pay, but that the owner should be taxed only on what he received. This Bill would entirely reverse the position so laid down. The present Government had approved a Bill for Ireland which laid down one standard for rates and taxes; that standard by the rental less rates and repairs; and therefore in this respect justice had been done to Ireland. He did not address his arguments to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, because it was impossible for that right hon. Gentleman, having this Bill in his hands, to make any objection to his Resolution, to which he thought he was entitled to look for the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. The only knight who would enter into the lists to tilt with him would be the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on whose behalf, in the 31st clause, that odious word "gross" had been inserted. In the cause of justice that word ought to be removed from that clause. One function of that clause had reference to the levying of local rates and the Imperial 1595 taxation; but another was that the valuation list was to decide the value of the qualifications of jurors, guardians, town councillors, and a variety of officers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stood alone between his two Colleagues, the President of the Local Government Board, and the Home Secretary—the Local Government Board interpreting annual value to be net rateable value, the Home Secretary giving a similar interpretation. How could the Chancellor of the Exchequer retain such a word as gross after that? When the Local Government Board required a sovereign, they only wanted a sovereign's worth, and the Secretary for the Home Department only required the same value; but when the Chancellor of the Exchequer desired to extract money he wanted 25s. or 30s. He submitted to the House that it was clear that this measure having been introduced as a complete settlement of this great question ought to be sound upon all points, and should contain no propositions that were either unscientific or unjust. What were the objections to the very small change which he proposed to make in the Bill—namely, that instead of the valuation being based upon the gross, it should be based upon the net annual value of the property in respect of which the rate was made? It might be said that his Resolution, if adopted, would interfere with the Budget for the year, and that the House and the Government would be unwilling to bring about so serious a result. He met that objection, however, by pointing out that his Resolution would not affect the Budget for the year in any way, because, if adopted by the House, it would not come into operation until the 1st of April, 1878, and the first financial year would not end till the 31st March, 1879. Ho would now inquire what would be the amount of the remission of taxation that would be involved by his proposal. Taking the various items of taxation that would be affected by his proposal, he found that this act of justice would involve a loss to the Revenue of some £656,200, which would be but a small sum to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was paying off £5,000,000 per annum by means of the Sinking Fund and the Terminable Annuities. Moreover, it must be remembered that before they arrived at the year in which this sacrifice would have to be borne or con- 1596 sidered, they would be in a very different position with regard to the magnitude of the amounts to be assessed. Such had been the indefatigable zeal of the Inland Revenue officers, and also of the assessment committees throughout the country, that the assessable value of houses and land had been progressing at such a tremendous pace that he ventured to say in the year 1878–9 the receipts, after all deductions made, and all the outgoings on land, houses, and inhabited house duty, would be quite as large a sum as that now received on the gross value. He thought he had shown the enormously oppressive character of the grievance, and that the change could be made with perfect safety. He (Mr. Hubbard) had that day paid his taxes, some of them levied under the metropolitan authority, and therefore assessed on the net value; but when he came to what were called Queen's taxes ho found that he had to pay on a different assessment. He protested against the Queen's name being used in connection with such an act of plunder. He hoped in two years' time to see all rates and taxes brought into one paper and levied upon the same amount.
§ MR. SAMPSON LLOYD,
in seconding the Amendment, said, he thought hon. Members would agree that there was a great anomaly in having property assessed for taxation by six or seven different persons and in an equal number of different ways. It must be self-evident that taxation, which was professedly imposed upon annual value only, could not justly be imposed on what was not actually received by the taxpayer. The justice of the principle embodied in the Amendment of his right hon. Friend had already been conceded, and if it were urged that the Exchequer could not afford the loss which its full adoption would entail, he would venture to say that no system of taxation was so prejudicial to the real interests of the Exchequer as that which perpetuated petty injustices which led to evasion and fraud.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no general Valuation Act can be satisfactory which does not provide in the Valuation List a common authority and a common measure for the purposes of assessment, thus charging local rates and Imperial taxes equally upon the net or
rateable value of real property,"—(Mr. J. G. Hubbard,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
My right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Hubbard) has spoken of me as the cause of all the mischief which he complains of in this Bill, and therefore I am bound to say a few words in reference to the Motion. I cannot help remarking, in the first place, that though my right hon. Friend is following a course which may very well be expected from him in taking any opportunities at hand to bring forward the proposition which, in some form or other, he has been for so many years urging upon Parliament, yet he has chosen rather a peculiar moment and peculiar form in bringing it before the House on the present occasion; because this is a Bill which, as he has truly said, is a step, if not a very long step, in the direction in which he himself desires Parliament to go. He is interposing his Amendment, which is, in fact, a Motion to delay, if not to defeat, the progress of the Bill. I do not suppose that he proposes to defeat the Bill; but he is no doubt bringing forward this Motion in a form which will delay its progress. As it appears to me, this is a Motion which is hardly germane to the question of the second reading of the Bill. I have no doubt that when we come to the discussion of the 31st clause of the Bill in Committee my right hon. Friend may naturally object, on the grounds which he has stated, to a few words which appear in that clause; but to say that we are not to proceed to the second reading of the Bill, which has for its purpose a great reform in the whole system of assessment and valuation of property, until we have decided upon the adoption of propositions such as that which my right hon. Friend has brought forward, appears to me, at all events, to be somewhat of an unbusinesslike mode of proceeding. My right hon. Friend always takes very high ground; ho takes very high mathematical and moral grounds in this matter, and he is not satisfied unless the whole system of our taxation is, in his view, correctly distributed, and the burden of 1598 any particular tax placed in the right way to meet every class; and if that is not done he does not spare the strongest language of denunciation, and says we are plunderers and extortioners. In fact, no word is too bad for a Government which proposes to levy taxation in a way which is not altogether equal. But, in reality, the question is one, however difficult and complicated, which it is impossible to deal with in the very simple way which my right hon. Friend proposes. It cannot be done without taking several of the direct taxes to pieces and re-constructing them from top to bottom. We have heard a great deal about the income tax, but I would say a word about the house tax. With regard to that, my right hon. Friend gave us an estimate of the loss which he thinks the Revenue would sustain if it were levied upon the net, instead of the gross, value. In that calculation, which may or may not be correct, my right hon. Friend has forgotten that there is another element in the case. If you reduce the value in the way my right hon. Friend proposes you will let a large number of houses free from taxation altogether, because they would come under the point at which taxation commences, and that no doubt would make a very serious addition indeed to the loss of the Revenue. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend contemplates that these houses shall escape, or whether we are to take the tax, and reconstruct it in order that we may still tax these houses. I undertake to say that if you begin to pull about the structure of the house tax, for the purpose of adjusting it to the rateable value rather than to the gross estimated rental, and at the same time desire that there should be no loss to the Revenue, you will find that there will be a great many difficult questions to solve. Still more striking is the case with regard to the income tax. As regards what I have said about abatements; it would, of course, apply also in connection with the house tax, but in the case of the income tax you will come into other complications. I cannot enter into such questions as have been opened up this evening; we have no right to entertain such sanguine views. To take a simple instance: Supposing a man had a property worth £400 gross value, and £300 net value. Another system would be adopted; but surely it would 1599 be the same result, whether you levied at 4d. on the pound on £300, or 3d. in the pound on £400. But if the plan suggested were adopted, you would be reducing the Revenue, and must recoup yourself in some other way. You might have recourse to the income tax, and raise it, not only on Schedule A, but on B, C, and the rest. You would be pleasing one class and greatly displeasing another class, rousing again the cry for re-construction of the tax, with a view of removing the additional burden thrown on Schedule B. I know from speeches made on former occasions by my right hon. Friend that he does not shrink from that result, because he is prepared to extend to industrial incomes a system of abatements which would make up to them for the gain given under Schedule A to holders of real property. My right hon. Friend does not make such a proposal now, because it would give a handle to those who are opposed to his Amendment, but it is clear that the difficulty cannot be avoided. If you did make this change you would have to raise the question of industrial incomes, and the House has always refused to do so, by considerable majorities, and, as I think, in the exercise of a wise discretion. I cannot but think that if my right hon. Friend's proposal were carried out, we should find ourselves in a hornet's nest, and that the new difficulties we should raise would be greater than the old difficulties we tried to avoid. I do not, however, wish the House to prejudge this question. If it is to be introduced let it be done, and let it be discussed; but do not let us stop the progress of this Bill, which is an important and good Bill, and requires and deserves the attention of the House. We desire by this to secure a uniform system of valuation for the whole country, and I hope the House will not be attracted by what I may call this red herring drawn across the scent. We have a rate book with two columns—one containing the gross rental, and the other the rateable value. It is a great point to get that book—what may be done with it hereafter we know not. I trust my right hon. Friend will be induced, for the sake of the object we all have at heart, to allow us to proceed with the Bill.
§ MR. RAMSAY,
who had given Notice of the following Amendment:— 1600That in order to secure the just and equal incidence of all Imperial and local rates and taxes which are levied on real estate, it is necessary to provide one uniform system of valuation throughout Great Britain; and, therefore, considering that the Act (17 and 18 Vic. c. 91) for the valuation of lands and heritages in Scotland has operated satisfactorily in that Country, it is expedient when altering and amending the existing Law of England, to assimilate its provisions as nearly as may be to the Law of Scotland in regard to valuation,said: I had not intended to address the House at this stage of the discussion; but the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth) and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Hubbard) induce me to speak now, in the hope that I may be able to satisfy the House that this Bill is not one which will secure a uniform system of valuation. The right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. J. G. Hubbard) somewhat misapprehended my object in placing my Notice of Motion on the Paper. I had no other object than to secure a just and uniform basis on which all assessments should be levied—I had no idea of determining the rates to be levied on the actual value obtained. My sole object was to secure that the actual value should be ascertained by some definite rule such as that embodied in the words of the Scotch Act—That in estimating the yearly value of lands and heritages"—an expression closely corresponding with the English phrase 'real estate'—"the same shall be taken to be the rent at which one year with another such lands and heritages might in their actual state be reasonably expected to let from year to year.It has long been the anxious wish of this House to secure a uniform system of valuation; and my objection to the Bill now before the House is that I do not find in its provisions any adequate security that the annual value of the real estate shall be actually ascertained. Not only does the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill ask that the valuation shall take place once in every five years only, but he makes no adequate provision that the overseers who are to make up the assessment for every parish shall have any properly qualified person to make up that list. Without some such provision I do not see how you are to get that uniform basis for levying your rates and taxes. I am told that the Surveyor of Taxes is so empowered. I quite understand that if you were to lay down some 1601 such definite rule as we have in Scotland for ascertaining the yearly value of each tenement, it would be possible to employ with advantage the Surveyor of Taxes to make up the valuation roll for every county in England; but so long as you leave the overseers and the assessment committees in the several counties of England in the indefinite position in which they are left by this Bill, there is no adequate provision, as I have said, for ascertaining by one uniform rule the actual value of the several tenements from year to year. When I say this, I am quite aware that the right hon. Gentleman has made better provision in the Bill of this year than in the Bill of last for making up a supplementary list. But what is the advantage of that? If you make a supplementary valuation roll for any of the larger towns the number of changes that occur in one year may be counted by thousands. If you are to make up supplementary lists for thousands, why postpone the new lists for five years? It is an injustice to Scotland that five years should be the term of a valuation here, and that the obligation to make up the roll should be annual in Scotland. Hon. Members smile at the mention of injustice; but is it not injustice if two countries, which should pay similar rates and taxes, have their common taxes levied on an entirely different basis, and the method of obtaining which basis is determined in the one by a definite legal rule, and in the other is left to the discretion of individuals? Hon. Members need not be amused at the suggestion that they can learn anything from Scotland; and I would remind them that the Act upon which I would like to see this Bill modelled is not the Act of a Scottish Parliament, but of the Imperial Parliament. There must be many Gentlemen in this House who took part in the passing of the Act of 1854, which proceeded on definite principles. I would beg leave now briefly to explain what the Scotch principle really is; and if I have succeeded in making myself understood, the House will readily perceive that it would be an advantage if while adopting some of the provisions of the Scottish Act you were to carry it out entirely. After you had thus got uniform valuation throughout the whole country, you could determine the deductions that should be made from 1602 the different classes of property, in order to provide that the annual value which accrues from each tenement to the owner or occupier should be the measure of the rateable value. I have no objection to the proposed deductions, if you first have your uniform basis of valuation. This system has worked to the satisfaction of the people of Scotland during the 23 years that Act has been in force. Previous to 1854 we had the same diversity of practice that exists in England at present. The arrangement now is that the magistrates in the several burghs, and the Commissioners of Supply in the several counties, annually appoint a person to make up a valuation roll which contains the name and designation of every owner and occupier in the country. It contains the actual value at which each several tenement is let from year to year; and we have in that way arrived at a basis on which we can found our assessment. The assessments are levied subject to deduction. Previous to 1854 we had what was called the ancient valuation or "valued rent," and the Commissioners of Supply were instituted at first in Scotland for the purpose of imposing the assessment called the land tax. That it would appear from various statutes has ceased to be necessary, as the Commissioners of Supply have no power with regard to the land tax; but it is still their practice to impose the tax. The assessor having been appointed in each county and burgh, makes up the assessment roll, and it is completed annually under his superintendence, and contains all changes made in the course of the year. You propose to have a new valuation every quinquennial period, and to make up accurate returns by way of supplementary lists annually; but you will not succeed. The attempt has been made elsewhere. If the Bill does pass, you will still not have secured uniform valuation. In Scotland a committee of the Commissioners of Supply are appointed to hear appeals. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill has taken advantage of a wise provision in our Scotch law, providing that an appeal may be made from the local authorities to the Supreme Court; and to show how satisfactorily this work of assessment has been done by the local authorities in Scotland, and how much satisfaction it has given to the people at large, it will be sufficient that I mention that only 1603 117 appeals have been taken during the last 20 years in that country. But the provision in this Bill is very different; the appeals are to go from the assessment committee, and the original list is made up by the overseers. It would have been better to have had more consideration for the experience of Scotland, and to have assimilated the law more closely. I am no advocate for indiscriminate assimilation; but I was encouraged by the remark made by the Home Secretary the other evening, when he said he wished to see the law of the two countries assimilated as much as possible. I also desire to see that, when you can have it done with due regard to the feelings and sentiments of the population. I think this House has erred very much on several occasions in ignoring the sentiments of the people of Scotland; and I think that Gentlemen sitting opposite, who know the history of that country as well as I do, have cause to regret that their feeling has not been allowed to have more influence on the House when there has been legislation without reference to Scottish wants and wishes. The right hon. Gentleman would do well to make this Bill correspond in all respects with the Scottish law; because there is no one thing in the Scottish system which might not be worked in England quite as beneficially as it is in Scotland. I know objection is taken to the expression "Commissioners of Supply," and I may be told in public, as I have been told in private, that you have not in this country any class corresponding to those who are Commissioners of Supply in Scotland. That objection arises from misapprehension. The Commissioners of Supply are practically all the owners of real estate in land worth £100 a-year annual value, according to the valuation roll of their respective counties, or £200 a-year in houses other than those used for agricultural or pastoral purposes; a provision of the law being that property, such as dwelling-houses and buildings used for manufactories, shall be regarded as only of half value for the purpose of qualifying for Commissionership of Supply. I would have no objection to see in England the justices in quarter sessions taking the place of our Commissioners of Supply. They are generally well qualified by the possession of real estate to act in that capacity. If the Bill were, with that exception, made like the 1604 Scotch Act, justice would be done to that country that is not done at present. There is a good deal to be said in favour of the right hon. Member for the City of London's theory that rates should only be levied on the net income derived from real estate, but this is of less consequence than at first sight it appears; because in the event of a certain sum of money being required from a definite area, it is no matter whether you increase the sum on which you levy the assessment, or increase the rate of assessment itself. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer said—If you reduce the amount on which you levy the assessment, you must increase the rate. Therefore, the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman raises the separate question of what deductions you shall have in order to arrive at the rateable value as compared with the real value. My object is to effect the establishment of a uniform valuation throughout Great Britain, and it is an object which, I hope, will soon be accomplished.
§ MR. PELL
admitted that there was a great deal that was true in the Amendment, but he intended to vote against it, because it would delay the progress of the very important and useful Bill introduced by the Government. This was the fifth attempt made within 10 years to deal with this question, and he preferred to go on with the consideration of the measure rather than discuss an Amendment which might be more suitably discussed on another occasion.
§ MR. MUNTZ
said, that what the country wanted were not lower assessments, but assessments upon a fair and equitable basis, and this Bill, which was in many respects a most valuable one, would provide for that. The greatest injustice was perpetrated under the present system; for instance, a man paid a rent of £1,000 a-year, but he was assessed upon £1,500, and though there was a deduction for county and local rates, yet he had to pay income tax on the £1,500, and, consequently, he would have to pay 3d. on £500 out of his own pocket, as his landlord only allowed him to deduct it from the amount of the rent. Now, that was the present system of valuation, it ought to be got rid of; and he hoped it would be by this Bill. The object of the right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Hubbard) was to get rid of the wrongs inflicted under the 1605 Income Tax Act; but he (Mr. Muntz) did not, by voting for his Amendment, like to risk the loss of this Bill, and therefore he would recommend the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw his Amendment, and to move it when they came to the 31st clause in Committee. There had been five or six attempts to deal with the question, and this certainly was by far the best Bill they had yet had. He therefore hoped that the second reading would be agreed to.
§ SIR WALTER BARTTELOT
said, he hoped his right hon. Friend (Mr. Hubbard) would not press his Amendment to a division. This Bill was, in his opinion, one of the most important Bills that could be brought before the House, but it did not seem to have excited so much interest as he thought it ought to have excited. He would suggest to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that which he (Sir Walter Barttelot) had heard many say in and out of the House—namely, that it was not a wise plan to have so many important Bills read a second time, instead of pressing one Bill through its stages. Under the present mode of conducting Business, Members never knew what was coming on, and, instead of the Bill which interested them the most coming on, they found other Bills placed before it, and then two or three other important Bills left side by side. He believed his right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London had brought forward his Resolution with a determination to carry it if he could; but there was a time for all things. He would advise his right hon. Friend to hold until they got into Committee, because many would vote against his Amendment on the ground that it would stop the second reading of the Bill; and if he were beaten—as he would be by a large majority—this would happen when the Bill reached Committee:—Members would say at the door—"It's only Hubbard's Motion; he has been already beaten; vote for the Government and against him." There would be a better chance of a good discussion in Committee on the very important question which his right hon. Friend had raised if he would withdraw his Amendment. His firm hope was that his right hon. Friend would succeed when he brought forward his proposition in Committee. The great object of the 1606 Bill was to make everything connected with assessment uniform throughout the country. The Act of 1862 first established assessment committees, and on those committees the Act threw great responsibilities and grave duties. They laboured, however, under great disadvantages, because there was no Schedule of deductions attached to the Act. Since then there was the amending Act of 1864; and in 1874 an Act for rating mines, woods, and sporting rights. On both these occasions it was necessary to go over again the work of assessment, and everyone who was engaged on it would remember the heart-burnings and difficulties which awaited those who tried to carry out those Acts fairly and legitimately. Nevertheless, they did not establish a general uniformity, which was now the purpose of this Bill. Were its provisions sufficient for that purpose? First, with reference to the work done by the overseers. They all knew how the overseers did that kind of work. He gave them every credit for the pains they bestowed on that matter; but some of them were utterly incapable of understanding what they had to do, and they took it from others. That was the basis on which they began their assessment. His right hon. Friend said that the assessment committee inaugurated the rate book; but he held that that was done by the overseers; and ho believed that if it were put into the hands of the assessment committee, and if they were bound to inaugurate the rate book, with the power of calling in some assessor or valuer, they might begin on a better foundation than they did at present. He knew two cases in which small men were rated, the one £15 on three acres, and the other £9 on two acres, up to the fullest value of their holdings, while large holders who adjoined them were rated 25 per cent below the rent they paid. He mentioned that to show how difficult it was to get these things equitably adjusted. In Ireland, after the Poor Law was passed, about 25 years ago, there was a general valuation of the whole country—called, he believed, Griffiths's valuation. That stood to the present day. No country in the world had improved as much as Ireland during the last 25 years. ["No, no!" from the Irish benches.] He could not believe any Irish Member would deny that. Having visited Ireland repeatedly, 1607 he could positively affirm that no country and no people had ever improved so much. He did not say that the valuation did not require any alteration; but if they laid down some general valuation for this country, and had some definite basis on which to go which did not change so rapidly as some people were led to expect, their woodlands, their underwood, their land, their houses, and their cottages would all be valued according to some rule, which was certainly not the case at present. Under this Bill, all the taxes were to be collected on the same basis. He understood that for the income tax, the county rate, and the local rates there was to be one valuation. That would be a great improvement. The valuation for the income tax was at the present time the highest of the three valuations, and how had it been arrived at? The rent had been taken as a general, but not as an absolute, rule. There were few of them who had not had experience of how these things had been done. It was an illustration of the old rule of thumb. A man had a house of the yearly value of £150. He found to his astonishment that he was charged at £160, or £10 additional. Not thinking it worth while to appeal, he let it go; and what did he find afterwards? That it was raised to £165. And so it went on, riot according to the value of the house, but it being thought that the house must be raised something, it was raised arbitrarily. The Surveyors of Taxes seemed to do these things as they thought fit, whether there was any reason for raising the valuations or not. The case of cottages was a much stronger one. He had looked at his return with astonishment and found that all his cottages which had been put down at £4 were raised to £5. He appealed, and got the thing altered. Under that Bill there ought to be, where owners agreed to pay the rates, whether the cottages were occupied or not, a deduction of 30 per cent, as was the case now. In the Bill it stood at 25 per cent, which was not sufficient. As to the county rate, it had been very fairly assessed in most counties because the magistrates had an opportunity not only of looking at the income tax returns, but at other information, and they had endeavoured to place the assessment on a sound and reasonable basis. Then coming to local 1608 rates, every one would agree how especially necessary it was they should be on an equal footing, which, however, they certainly were not. But this would not be the case if the Scotch system, as recommended by the hon. Member for the Falkirk Boroughs (Mr. Ramsay) were carried out, as there leases for 19 years were the rule, and the rate would be levied according to what the tenant paid for the first year, although during the last six or eight years the farm might be worth 25 or 30 per cent more. They had by that Bill four appeals. He knew that some persons objected to the appeal to the petty sessions; but he believed the petty sessions would be the tribunal to which many of those appeals would be taken, because it would be the Court most accessible. The provision that everyone whose rating was altered or raised should have notice served on him was very important, and it would obviate many difficulties which had hitherto occurred. He had sent copies of this Bill to all his Boards of Guardians, and he was bound to say, not having had any special correspondence except from one Board on the subject, that he believed they deemed the measure a very great improvement on the one of last year. They were still to have the Surveyor of Taxes; and the Board of Guardians to which he alluded found great fault with his being there in any shape. But under the Bill the Surveyor of Taxes would not be there as the sort of lord paramount which he was in the Bill of last year but as an objector, like other people, and it was only to be desired that that officer knew more about land and tenements than he would do when he went there. Some alterations in Committee would be required, and none more, perhaps, than one suggested by the Amendment of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Hubbard); but if this Bill became law it would, he trusted, fix for many years to come a definite, fair, and uniform basis of valuation for the country.
§ MR. HUTCHINSON
said, that he wished to make a few observations to the House on this subject, but in doing so he must appeal to the House to extend to him that indulgence which they usually granted to new Members. He intended to vote for the second reading, because he believed the end which the Bill sought to attain was one that they 1609 all desired; but, at the same time, he did not think the means by which it proposed to carry out its object were equally worthy of approbation. He objected to the centralization tendency of the Bill, and the power which it conferred upon the Local Government Board of interfering with the action of the local authorities; but he thought the provisions of the measure were sufficiently elastic as to be capable of satisfactory amendment in Committee. If the Government wished to obtain the assistance of the class best fitted to join in the work of local government they must endeavour to magnify the office at least by leaving the local authorities a good deal to themselves. If not, men of education and position would be found disinclined to join these tribunals when they were established.
§ MR. KNOWLES
said, the Bill assumed that it was an easy matter to find. the gross value of the different properties of the country, and it dealt with every description of property except minerals, which were altogether ignored in the Bill. He did not refer to those mines which were provided for by the Act passed three years ago with reference to lead, tin, and copper, but to coal and iron mines. Perhaps there were not two mines in England in which that property was assessed on the same basis. In all the cases that he was acquainted with the rule followed was simply the "rule of thumb." When the owners appealed to the quarter sessions the result was always a compromise, and this meant that the battle had to be fought over again when the next rate was laid. If the House got into Committee on the Bill—as he hoped it would, for the measure was a great improvement on its predecessor—he trusted the President of the Local Government Board would do something to remedy this state of things, and he believed the result would be, not a decrease, but an augmentation of the Revenue.
§ MR. CLARE READ
This, Sir, is the fifth Valuation Bill that has been brought under the consideration of the House during the last 10 years. At the same time, I am not aware that there has been any considerable agitation in the country in favour of such a measure, nor do I know that there have been any public meetings or Petitions to this House asking for the abolition of the existing Valuation Acts, or for a measure 1610 such as that now under consideration. But I do know that the occupants of both the front Benches of this House, and also the Local Government Board, are greatly in favour of this Valuation Bill. And, Sir, I am one of those prejudiced individuals who, whenever they find that the two front benches of the House and the officials of the Government are supporting a measure which has not the support of the country, invariably arrive at the conclusion that it is a measure which has for its object an increase of centralization, and, likewise, the imposition of still further restrictions on local self-government. In fact, we find introduced into this Bill a paid officer of the Crown, whose duty will be not only to regulate the amount of the Imperial taxes which each man has to pay, but who will, for the first time in our experience on this subject, have to regulate the amount of the contribution which every ratepayer will have to contribute towards local taxes. Now, Sir, when the measure of last year was brought forward, I had no opportunity of saying a word upon that Bill in this House; but I did make one or two observations with regard to it in the Provinces. I remember saying that of all the Valuation Bills that had ever been brought before Parliament, I considered that to be the worst; and I said so on three grounds. In the first place, it contained no provision for the establishment of a County Board; in the second place, rent was made the minimum of value; in the third place, the Surveyor of Taxes was entrusted with powers that ought to be assigned to no mortal man—especially to a Government officer. I am glad to find that this Bill has been very considerably altered since it was brought forward last year, and I may add that I think it has been very much improved. The wings of the Surveyor have been clipped; but, Sir, I cannot but think that he may still prove to be not only a very powerful, but also a very troublesome person. He is an officer who has the power and the wealth, if I may use the expression, of the Inland Revenue at his back; and I contend that a man who is so armed will be much more than a match for any parish overseer, and also for the majority of the ratepayers. Now, Sir, I am one of those who approve of the main principles of this 1611 Bill—that is to say, in so far as it provides that we should have one uniform assessment on which to levy Imperial taxes and local rates; but I do very much desire that we should have a firm and fair basis upon which those rates and taxes can be levied. From my own experience in reference to taxation, I am led to conclude that the rule is this—to extract from the taxpayer the uttermost farthing that can be got. With regard to assessment, I believe the true principle is, and always has been, to establish au uniform equality between the ratepayers. The House heard a good deal the other night about Magna Charta, and the rights which that famous grant conferred on Englishmen. It was held that one of the principles it established is that every Englishman is to be considered honest until the contrary can be proved; but, Sir, the experience we have had in dealing with Imperial taxes has led me to think that the Surveyor of Taxes considers every man to be a rogue until he has proved himself to be honest. Then, Sir, I may state that I can, if necessary, cite hundreds of instances to prove that what I am about to say is true; but if the House will allow me, I will endeavour briefly to show them, from a recent experience of my own, what sort of a valuer the Surveyor of Taxes generally is. I hired a small farm three years ago on a long lease. There were 166 acres let at 10s. per acre for the first two years, and for the rest of the term I was to pay £1 per acre. The rent, consequently, in the third year, was £166, which sum was accepted by the assessment committee at the rateable value without any cavil. But the Surveyor of Taxes surcharged me up to the sum of £238. Why, Sir, the man must have been a born fool to suppose that any farmer who cultivated stiff arable land last year could by any possibility obtain a profit out of it. I think it extremely hard; and that to make a surcharge under those circumstances was only adding insult to injury. I lost £200 on the farm, independent of the amount I had spent in improving it, and beyond this my unfortunate landlord was saddled with a bill of £68 that I sent him for draining tiles. Instead of having the assessment put up to £238, I say that we ought to have paid nothing whatever. I need not say that I very soon got the assessment reduced 1612 to the proper amount—£166. [Mr. SCLATER-BOOTH: Hear, hear!) My right hon. Friend says, "Hear, hear;" but I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman has been subjected to the indignity of going to make appeals against these surcharges? What is the process? You first of all take the farmer away from his occupation for the whole of one day, and then he has to spend the time so abstracted in some country inn, where he either has to sit in a small and crowded smoking room, or to wait about in some dark passage until his turn is called, and then, perhaps, if lie happen to be a man of sufficient influence and strength of mind to be able to master the Surveyor of Taxes, it may be all very well; but if he be only a poor and ignorant man he will generally "go to the wall." I remember that the hon. Gentleman the junior Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) stated in the eloquent speech he made a short time ago on the second reading of the Prisons Bill, that "What we wanted was to elevate the dignity of local life." But, Sir, I know of nothing in the incidents of local life that subjects a man to so much indignity as to have to go and appeal against these Imperial taxes; and, if I rightly caught what the hon. Gentleman said, he added that "Local self-government furnished the means for a political education." I happen to know a very easy-going and contented Conservative farmer who, after having undergone the "education" derived from three of these appeals, turned out to be a very troublesome Radical. Well, Sir, we are told that we are to have uniformity of valuation, and I will ask the House to consider how this is to be arrived at. In my opinion, this Bill lays down no new basis whatever. It simply goes back to the Assessment Act of 1862. ["No, no" from the Ministerial benches.] Really and truly there is no difference between them that I can understand, except that one speaks of what a hereditament will let at "from year to year," whereas we now have it put as what it will let at "one year with another," whatever that may mean. This is, perhaps, rather more in favour of uniform value than the actual rent. We have heard from the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay) a description of what is the principle of valu- 1613 ation in Scotland; and, Sir, I must say that I am rather in favour of their mode of assessment. It certainly has these advantages: it is cheap, it is easy, and under it every man is his own valuer. ["No, no"] Hon. Gentlemen say "No, no," but I say "Yes, yes;" every man in Scotland is his own valuer under the Scotch system of assessment, for he pays on his rental. [Admiral ERSKINE: No, no!] The hon. and gallant Gentleman near me (Admiral Erskine) shakes his head and repeats "No, no;" but I say that the main principle of Scottish valuation is rent—actual rent. And I would point out that while rent is a fact, value is, after all, nothing more than an opinion. When the hon. and gallant Admiral says I am wrong, I mean to say that they take rent as the basis in Scotland even up to 21 years; but it is very different in England. In Scotland a man will pay a moderate rent for a bad farm, and during the 19 or 20 years the agreement exists, however much he may improve the farm, there is no power to put him up and charge him on the improvements as there is in England, because in this country, however bad may be the condition of a farm, as soon as the farmer has spent money on it, and got it into good condition, down comes the Surveyor of Taxes, or perhaps some kind neighbour upon him, and up goes the assessment. It has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter Barttelot) that "You cannot have this sort of valuation; you cannot take rent as the basis of assessment in England, because there are so many estates upon which the land is let below its real value; "but I ask the House whether this really is so very much the case? If I look at Scotland I do not find that there are in that country a great number of farms unlet; but if I turn to some of the best landlords in England—men who hold the largest estates—I find that they have hundreds and even thousands of acres of land to let, so that if land is really so cheap in England compared with Scotland, I should suppose that the "canny Scots" would come and take some of these farms. Then, Sir, I would also say that if you should determine upon taking rent as the actual basis of your assessment, I think the Surveyor of Taxes might be an exceedingly useful officer. 1614 In that case he really could do us some essential service, and we might have, as they have in Scotland, some Government officer who would assess the canals, railways, and other public works throughout the entire country. I have said that in Scotland they have rent as the basis. I will now turn to Ireland, and see what they have there. In Ireland they have value as the basis; there is a Government official who has valued the whole of that great country on one uniform basis, and we have before this House at the present moment a Bill to amend the Irish Valuation Act—a Bill which goes on exactly the same principle—namely, that of value based on the agricultural productions of the soil. I say, Sir, that that is a good plan, and that the Scotch plan is a good one; but we have a plan in England which mixes up these two together, and which is essentially bad. What is it that we have in this country? We have one Union taking a uniform value as the basis, and another taking rent; we have a third taking sometimes rent and sometimes value, and a fourth going probably on some particular dicta laid down by the chairman of the assessment committee. Now, Sir, what I contend is this—We ought to have one system or the other; we should have either rent or value; and if we should determine on having value, I agree with the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for West Sussex, that it is essential we should have a county valuer. And here I desire to illustrate what I mean when I say that if we take value we ought to have a county valuer. If we take sometimes rent and sometimes value, we may in the end get a very high assessment. For instance, take the case of some man who has a great deal too much money, or who is very ignorant, or even one who is very poor and has nothing to lose; suppose that some such man comes into a parish and takes a farm at 40s. an acre, whereas the actual value of the land is not more than 30s. an acre. Let us suppose, also, that he is a cantankerous individual, and that he is blessed with special powers under the Bill of my right hon. Friend to appeal against all his neighbours. He goes before the assessment committee and the quarter sessions, and proves that his land is no better than that of A, B, and C, all round him, and he is assessed at his 1615 rent of 40s. an acre, whereas A, B, and. C are only rated at 30s. for their land. What is the result? The Surveyor of Taxes is there, and he will be sure to say—"You cannot put that man at less than 40s." I agree with him that for the purpose of the property tax the man has no right to be put at less than his rent; but, at the same time, if there is to be uniformity, the unfortunate men around him will be put up to the same level as himself. They may all be raised to a higher level than is required by the strict justice of the case. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) has stated, on another occasion, that there is great injustice inflicted on the ratepayers in consequence of the present inequality in the assessment. I do not think, however, that he will say there is much inequality between ratepayer and ratepayer in parishes, and I apprehend that, on the other hand, he will not say there is any great inequality between parishes and parishes in Unions; but he will, probably, contend there is great disparity between the different Unions in a county. Of course there is a disparity, and if all the counties in England paid county rates on their Union assessments, there would be a considerable amount of injustice. But the great majority of the counties of England have a separate assessment for the county rate; and I contend that if every county in England had done what it might have done—that is, if each county had had a committee for the purpose of revising the county assessment, there would have been no great necessity for this Bill. If I understood my right hon. Friend. (Mr. Sclater-Booth) rightly, he stated that there were 34 counties which have adopted in one way or another the power which was placed in their hands of altering the county assessment and making it uniform throughout; and, consequently, there are 17 counties that have taken no trouble about it, but have simply adopted the Union assessment. I believe there are only five counties that have gone to the trouble and expense of employing paid valuers to make their assessments; but there is no doubt that a great majority of the counties have taken Schedule A, and so equalized the Unions, that there is little or no injustice in the way in which the county rates are assessed. My right hon. Friend, when 1616 he made his speech on the Bill of last year, dwelt with very great force on the various deductions made from the gross estimated rental to form the rateable value, and he produced a table of the deductions prevalent in my own county, for the purpose of showing from it that there was a great discrepancy. That may be so; but what I contend is this—that although I do not back up those individual deductions, there is a necessity under this Bill, and also under the present Act, for making a considerable difference in the deductions allowed, even on naked land. Let us take the case of a piece of naked land. If I have been rightly informed, my right hon. Friend derived his information from a town in my own county—the town of Lynn. Within a few miles from that town there is land that is let at £5 an acre, and other land that is let at only 5s. an acre; and I argue that it requires a greater expenditure on the part of the tenant to keep that 5s. an acre land in a state to preserve the rent than it requires to keep the £5 an acre land in such condition. Well, Sir, if you take a uniform deduction of 5 per cent that will be 5s. an acre for the good land that does not want it, and 3d. an acre on the bad land that really wants more. But these are only exceptional cases: I will take a very common case, which I daresay is prevalent in all counties. I will take large tracts of sheep farms, and compare them with that of some low-lying farms of heavy clay. On the sheep farm there is hardly a single fence to keep up; there are, perhaps, only a dozen gates; there are no ditches, and, in fact, there is little or nothing to deduct to maintain the value of the land. We will say there are 1,000 acres on a large sheep farm, let at £1 an acre. Now, take the case of an estate of 1,000 acres, at the same rental, in a low-lying clay district, broken up into ten or a dozen farms, as is generally the case. What have you to maintain on that land as compared. with the other? In the first place, you have bridges and culverts, drains, pipes, and water courses, ditches, banks, and fences; you have gates without end, rails, pales, and everything else that you can mention, multiplied in an enormous degree, on what we term naked land. The result is, that whereas 5 per cent would be too great deduction to make in the one case, in the other 5 per cent 1617 would not be nearly sufficient. To put the case of the two descriptions of land in a still stronger light, you find that on the large sheep farm all the buildings are comparatively new, all the houses and farm buildings upon it having been erected in the course of the present century—good substantial erections of brick and tile and slate. But if you go to the low-lying clay farm, you find that there is a multiplicity of buildings, which, as a rule, are four or five times as numerous as those on the sheep farm, and these are composed of clay lump and wattle and daub, and covered with thatch. Why, Sir, the expenditure in repairs to maintain these buildings, and keep them in a tenantable condition, and the cost also of insurance, is ten times more than is necessary in order to maintain the good and substantial buildings that exist on a sheep farm. Sir, it appears to me that in the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman there is a somewhat grave omission, for I find that on the gross value the owners will have to pay the property tax upon their land tax—that is to say, when you take the gross rental of a farm, that gross rental includes not only the repairs, and those other things that are deducted from the gross to form the rateable value, but you also include the land tax, the drainage rate, the quit rent, the fee-farm rent, and other deductions, as to matters which the landlord has to pay out of his pocket before he receives his rent. Now, by the Bill we cannot have more than these two columns—one for the gross rent and the other for the rateable value. The gross rental, according to the Bill of my right hon. Friend, is that on which is to be based all Imperial taxation. But if a man has £100 a-year rent, and £10 to pay for land tax, he would have to pay property tax on the £100. I maintain that he certainly ought to pay only upon £90, and if the House adopts the Bill of my right hon. Friend there must of necessity be some deductions from the gross value. Now, Sir, I do not wish in any way to oppose this Bill; I have made these criticisms on it in all good faith. I consider that the effect of the Bill will be to extract more rates and more taxes from the occupiers of houses and land. I cannot look upon it in any other light, and when my right hon. Friend backs up his opinion as to the value of his Bill by referring to the Metropolitan 1618 Valuation Act, I contend that that Metropolitan Valuation Act, although in many respects it may be a very good thing, has really had the effect of forcing all the property of the metropolis up to a very high, and in my opinion, an unfair value. I have heard several Gentlemen express their discontent upon this point. I am not very much acquainted with the owners of property in the City of London, but I believe they all say that they are assessed at a higher rate than they ought to be. And, Sir, when you come to analyze it, you will see that they have this great satisfaction—that every one else is assessed equally high. The Commissioners of Inland Revenue say in their Report on this Metropolitan Valuation Act—It was soon found that many of these assessments could not be maintained, especially in those cases in which the value of houses had been raised from below the taxable limit of £20, and had just been brought under charge for the first time.The House will see, therefore, that the Commissioners assert that "many of these assessments could not be maintained," and my right hon. Friend says that having inflicted this Act on the metropolis of England, he is now about to extend the great advantages it confers to the whole country. I find that the Metropolitan Valuation Act has produced this effect—that in the course of 10 years the assessment of the metropolis has been raised from £14,500,000 in 1865 to £21,000,000 in the year 1875. And not only is this the fact, but the assessment has, I believe, been raised a good deal more since 1875; for I am told that the rateable value of property in the metropolis at the present moment is £23,500,000. This is sufficient to show the extraordinary effect the Act has had on the property of the metropolis. I am sorry to have detained the House so long on this topic, but it is one of very great importance; but I should like to refer to one other point that has been advanced by my right hon. Friend. On the occasion of the first reading of the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman said the Government have now a right to interfere in the assessment of every parish in the country, in consequence of what they have lately done by the contributions they are making to the local rates. Now, I must take exception to this statement. I do not think 1619 my right hon. Friend has any right to say, that because Plymouth and Portsmouth and Chatham and this metropolis derive a certain amount of benefit from the contributions made towards their local rates by the Government, therefore we in the county of Norfolk, where the whole contribution of the Government is levied only upon an assessment of some £300, are to be put in the same category. I object to this interference with us when it is based on the ground that other localities have the advantage I have mentioned. By all means, I say, where the Government pay a certain proportion of the rates, let them be entitled to nominate, if they please, an ex officio member of the assessment committee; let them do anything they think requisite to protect-their rights and interests; but do not let them assert that because certain localities enjoy the advantage derived from their contribution towards the local rates, they, therefore, have a right to put the whole kingdom under this blessed Surveyor of Taxes. But the right hon. Gentleman says that the Government also contribute to the maintenance of the police and lunatics; and, in reply to this, I say that it has nothing to do with the assessment. With regard to the police, one-half of the charge for maintenance and clothing is paid by the Government, and the Government also give a certain fixed contribution towards the maintenance of lunatics; but with neither of these cases can the assessment to the rates have anything whatever to do. There is just one other question as to which I should like to say a word or two, and that is the question of the appeals. Now, Sir, I must say that, in my opinion, the provision made for these appeals is the most unsatisfactory portion of the Bill. It first of all gives an appeal to the assessment committee, which I say is quite right and proper; but then, if any one is not satisfied with this, he is to appeal to the petty sessions. But who are they who compose the petty sessions? Why, they are in reality the assessment committee, with all the practical knowledge of the assessment committee left out. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but I contend that that is what they are. In the country districts you have on the assessment committee all the leading magistrates of the petty 1620 sessional division. I will take it that there are three magistrates and six elected guardians who form the assessment committee. The result is, that you appeal from a good tribunal to one that is very much inferior to it. I do not know whether the House will remember it, but I recollect very well that on one occasion, during a debate on the Education Act, the hon and learned Attorney General made this statement—that no member of a school attendance committee, who happened to be a justice of the peace, and who, acting in the former capacity, had ordered the prosecution of a parent for the non-attendance of his child at school, could sit upon the bench before which the case was heard. Now what, I ask the House, would be the result of this disqualification, if this law was to be extended to the hearing of these appeals? Why, we should have no Court to appeal to at all; for, as a rule, the magistrates who are on the assessment committee are the most active and frequent attendants at petty sessions; and, consequently, I think we may really say that there would be no good in appealing to the petty sessions, even where there is a good case to appeal upon. And when we come to the quarter sessions, I consider that that tribunal, although not so bad as the petty sessions, is inferior to the assessment committee. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) was good enough last year (when I had placed upon the Notice Paper of the House a Motion for establishing a County Board), to put forward an Amendment to my Motion, by which he asserted that we ought to have a special County Board for the purpose of supervising these assessments, and as my right hon. Friend sweeps away the only county authority we have—namely, the committee which the quarter sessions might, and generally does appoint—I call upon the hon. and learned Gentleman when this Bill goes into Committee, to move that Amendment, in order that we may have the advantage of a good tribunal before which appeals can be heard. What was the tribunal that my hon. and learned Friend proposed? It was simply the tribunal which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty had introduced into his Valuation Bill, with the 1621 exception, that when the Bill went before the Committee which sat upstairs, and of which I had the honour to be a Member, instead of having a barrister of 10 years' standing it was thought better to refer questions of law to the County Court Judge, and I understood my hon. and learned Friend to say that that was in his Amendment. I think I can truly say that there is no Member of this House who has had more experience of quarter sessions than lie has had. He has presided over that august body, and has also had the great advantage of advocating the claims that are put before it by learned counsel, and he consequently knows well, that instead of these appeals being always decided according to their real value, the result very often depends as much on the ability of counsel as upon the real merits of the claim. ["No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen say "No, no;" but I ask who are they who compose this Court of Appeal? You have doubtless permanent members in the chairmen and vice-chairmen of quarter sessions, and they may be very good men; but as they are generally lawyers, I do not suppose that as a rule they are the best valuers of land. With regard to the other members of the Court, they may just happen to be those magistrates who stroll into the town on the day on which the quarter sessions are held, and there is no real permanency in the composition of the body. I consider that for the purpose of ascertaining the value of hereditaments there cannot be a worse tribunal. I have now nearly done; but I may add that I think my right hon. Friend will regard with considerable satisfaction a Resolution that was passed by the Central Chamber of Agriculture only on Tuesday last—a Resolution which expressed its approval of the main principle of the Bill we are now discussing—that main principle being that there should be established by this measure a common basis on which to levy local and Imperial taxation. I, for one, quite concur in the soundness of that principle; but I do say, let us try also to secure a fair basis on which the rates and taxes are to be levied. Let us be very certain that what we are doing is sound and right. I was very much struck, however, by the fact that although this resolution was passed by the Central Chamber of Agriculture, 1622 every gentleman who spoke upon it seemed, in the first place, to object to the means to be employed under the Bill for the purpose of obtaining this uniform basis, and they all expressed a firm opinion that the basis proposed by the measure will not give what is necessary to secure the main object in view. But, notwithstanding this, they after a division, passed the resolution. I entirely agree with them in giving a cordial assent to the main principle of the Bill. And, now, Sir, I will conclude. I have criticized this measure, it may be, with considerable vigour; but certainly I have done it honestly and in all good faith. In supporting, as I do, the second reading of the Bill, I, at the same time, leave myself at perfect liberty to move any series of Amendments I may in its progress through Committee feel myself called upon to propose.
§ MR. HIBBERT,
while supporting the second reading of the Bill, drew attention to those provisions of it which, in his opinion, required amendment. As regarded quarter sessions, however, he did not agree with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Read), for he fully believed that their decisions on the appeals brought before them would be both perfect and fair. But there was one objection to making quarter sessions the tribunal of appeal—namely, the expense which the appeal would involve, and it would have been much better if his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had retained the provision in the Bill of last year for keeping up the county committee to deal with these questions. Everything seemed to be taken out of the hands of the justices. It was proposed to take the prisons from them, now the reference to them of the county valuation was also taken from them. Surely the county rate committee might have been left, under the County Rate Act, to undertake the appeals from various Unions; or the President of the Local Government Board might have adopted the principle of the Metropolitan Act, by which two justices for Surrey, two for Middlesex, and two for the City of London, with the Recorder as Chairman, were empowered to act as an assessment committee. In every county throughout the Kingdom a body might have been formed from the chairmen of quarter sessions, and a selected body of 1623 magistrates; and then, when representative county beards were established, as he hoped they would be before long, all these functions might be transferred to them from the county justices. The object of the Bill was to obtain greater uniformity all over England; but while this object would be attained as regarded ratepayers and parishes, no uniformity would be established between Union and Union and between county and county. No doubt it would be said that the Surveyors of Taxes would bring all the Unions into uniformity, with the additional advantage of the Schedule of deductions contained in the Bill; but, in his opinion, these provisions would not secure the object aimed at. It would be desirable to establish some body in order to supervise and control the various Unions in the county, with a view of producing greater uniformity than existed at present. A great deal had been said about the centralizing tendency of the Bill. He did not think, however, that the measure had that centralizing character ascribed to it by the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Hutchinson). In order, however, to effect the desired uniformity there must be a central office. At the same time, he agreed with those who had already spoken, that it was very desirable to do everything possible to sustain that principle of local self-government which they all valued so much. It must be remembered, however, that there were two forms of local self-government—one which did everything for itself, carrying out the law fairly and properly, while another sought to avoid carrying out the law, and was in point of fact a system of local no government. This was the system they should aim to put an end to by Imperial legislation. He was sorry that the Bill made no adequate attempt to abolish the multiplicity of local officers, maintaining the overseers and other officers, instead of making the Union the unit of local government. There were 15,000 or more parishes. In some of these there was only one house. In 200 or 300 there were not more than 40 or 50 people. Yet in these cases the inhabitants had to elect an overseer, who must be sworn in before the justices, and would be obliged to make a valuation list under the Bill. If the Guardians had been made responsible for the assessment list a considerable 1624 sum might have been saved. He very much sympathized with the Amendment moved by his right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Hubbard), although he did not consider it was possible to carry it at once into operation. Great dissatisfaction existed in the manufacturing districts as to the manner in which the gross value of mills and other manufactories was estimated, nothing being allowed for depreciation, although it was well known that property of that description became depreciated more rapidly than any other. He trusted the Chancellor of the Exchequer would consider this matter, in order that if the property tax were to continue to be levied on the gross value some kind of equality should be established so as remove the injustice now complained of. He did not concur with the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Read) that the valuation should be based on the rental, for he knew many instances in which the rentals were much below the value of the land. But with respect to the great increase of the valuation in the metropolis, it was not all owing to the Act passed a few years ago. Much of it was due to the increase of property in the metropolis, which had been greater of late years than at any former period. In the county of Lancaster also the county rate committee had added some £3,000,000 to the valuation after five years. He trusted the Bill would be accepted as offering one mode of attaining greater uniformity, and that his right hon. Friend would make it better in its passage through Committee. He hoped it would not be found that the Bill would have the effect of making the Surveyor of Taxes our master, as too many people in the country seemed to think that it would. There was a good deal of exaggeration, he thought, with respect to the Surveyor. All that had to be aimed at was a fair and equitable valuation, and it was to be hoped that the part taken by the Surveyor would tend in that direction. He thought there was much more in the Amendment of the right hon. Member for the City of London than might at first sight appear; because if the Bill was to be made the basis of Imperial taxation the House ought to see that that taxation was made fair and equal on the three parts of the United Kingdom.
§ MR. RODWELL,
with reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Read), assured the House that it was his intention to again bring forward the the Amendment he placed on the Paper last Session, feeling, as he did, that there was stronger reason for it now than there had been before. He thought the whole of those appeal clauses ought to be struck out of the Bill, whether with regard to petty sessions or quarter sessions. He hoped magistrates would excuse him when he said that he did not think either was the best tribunal for deciding questions, not of law, but of assessment. The members of the assessment committee were far better fitted for the purpose. He happened to have been the chairman of an assessment committee of 42 parishes from the time of the passing of the Union Assessment Act, and he must say that the tribunal he intended to propose would be far cheaper, speedier, and more likely to give satisfaction to the ratepayers than that proposed in the Bill. If there was one thing connected with local self-government in which the special knowledge of the people of the locality, themselves the subject of taxation, ought to be employed it was with reference to the question of the taxes which they ought to pay; and he believed that a committee formed partly of magistrates, partly of Guardians, and partly of chairmen and members of assessment committees, ex officio or not, would do justice, and the ratepayers would never complain of their decision, because the persons deciding would be familiar with the particular matters brought before them. Having looked into the Scotch law, he believed there was a great deal of good in it, as now administered; and part of the Scotch system was rather similar to the tribunal which he himself proposed. The Commissioners of Supply, who corresponded to the assessment committee, were taken from the ratepayers of the county and district, the occupiers of land, and the factors; and he was told that the system had worked well. We wanted something that was speedy, simple, and inexpensive. He did not think that there was any very great necessity for disturbing the present system; but it was a great point to endeavour to secure as close an approximation as possible to the real value of property for the purpose of taxation, and 1626 this Bill would be useful in that respect.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, the general feeling of the House would be that this Bill was so important that the discussion had not been prolonged beyond what its importance demanded. He wished to make a few observations on the two subjects before the House, for the discussion on the Amendment of his right hon. Friend was really distinct from the discussion on the Bill itself. In the first instance, he would address himself to the Bill. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Read) had criticized the Bill with considerable vigour, and objected to many of its details, though in the end he agreed with those who thought that the Bill would be a valuable measure. But what was the idea of the hon. Member for South Norfolk? Why, that every man should be his own valuer. The reason for the Surveyor of Taxes being brought in was because it was desirable to have the same basis for Imperial and for local taxation. If they wished to arrived at that great administrative improvement—namely, one valuation for all purposes, it followed that the Imperial Exchequer must be represented by such an officer as the Surveyor of Taxes. He considered that the presence of the Surveyor of Taxes was most important in this respect—that it was to secure equality amongst all the various Unions, and to prevent any taxpayers paying less than the rest of the taxpayers paid. The hon. Member for South Norfolk said when he saw a Bill supported by the two front benches he was sure its object was to promote centralization. But though the hon. Member for South Norfolk had made his speech from below the Gangway he had himself sat on the front bench. He was afraid, therefore, the hon. Member was tarred with the same brush, and if he sat now on the front bench ho might have been a party to the introduction of this Bill, and even guilty of the sin of centralization. There was no Member of the House who had more attacked the principle of centralization than he (Mr. Goschen) had done. On that subject he agreed with the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Hutchinson), who had for the first time addressed them that evening, and spoken with so much ability. But was it true that this measure tended towards centralization? If there was 1627 that tendency, it was with a view to an important administrative improvement—to have one common basis of valuation established. He did not see how one basis of valuation could be obtained for Imperial taxation unless the Government were allowed a certain status in the matter. As regarded the machinery of the Bill, it was possible that the Local Government Board was called, on too many occasions, to interfere "in the prescribed manner." That phrase occurred in almost every clause of the Bill; and if that was a necessity it was partly due to the fact that they had not got those strong local bodies which the hon. Member for South Norfolk recommended. He wished to see a strong county organization, different from the justices, to deal with this question. No function was more proper for a county authority than to deal with a uniform system of rating within the county. The Metropolis Valuation Act had been referred to as the precedent for this Bill, and the hon. Member for South Norfolk said that Act had in 10 years raised the valuation of the metropolis from £14,000,000 to £23,000,000. But that Act was only passed in 1869, and therefore had not yet been in existence 10 years. Undoubtedly it had raised the valuation of the metropolis, but mainly in those parishes which were undervalued, and did not contribute in their proper and duo proportion to the expenses of the common fund. In those unions in the metropolis where pauperism was most heavy, where expenditure was highest, the Act had given relief; whereas in other parishes where pauperism was light, where there was not the same financial pressure and the valuation was exceedingly low, it was certainly true that the valuation had been raised. In St. George's, Hanover Square, the rise of the valuation was very great, and the result had been to relieve the other Unions in the metropolis where the pressure had been most severe. The object of this Bill was to establish a uniform system all over the country and to make the payments among the Unions more equitable. The hon. Member for South Norfolk said he believed the Bill was intended to extract the greatest amount of money possible from the pockets of the ratepayers; but if all were rated alike, and 1628 if only a certain amount was required, he did not see how an increased sum would be extracted from the aggregate body of ratepayers. On the other hand, a uniform system of valuation would remove inequalities which bore very hardly on some. Having said so much with regard to the general object of the Bill, he would say a few words as to the machinery by which it was to be carried out. Liberal Governments had introduced Valuation Bills drawn very much like this Bill, therefore he did not wish to criticize the present Bill in any Party spirit. He wished rather to make some observations with reference to the general necessity for local reforms which might be applicable to the Bills brought in by both sides of the House. The discussion on this Bill had shown how impossible it was to raise a single question connected with local rating and local government reform without going beyond the particular measure before the House. What did the Government conceive to be the administrative unit in the present Bill? Was it the Union? [Mr. SCLATER-BOOTH: Yes, I think so.] He should be inclined to say it was the parish, as the assessment was made by the overseers for the parish, and any alteration in the valuation list was made not to affect the Union, but the parish. To whom did they entrust the making of alterations in the valuation under this Bill? Mainly and principally to overseers of the parish. There was a further provision in the Bill by which the overseers were to act in certain cases with the consent of whom? The vestry. We had, therefore, two parochial authorities maintained in full force in this Bill, which was an instalment of local government reform and was hoped to be a final measure. Was it not time that the overseers themselves should be dealt with? Nobody in the House would contend that they were satisfactory officers. He should like to hear whether the President of the Local Government Board would support that view. He ventured to say that if we were going to make overseers no one would dream of nominating, selecting, or appointing them by the present cumbrous process — that two justices would have nothing to do with the appointment of overseers who had to deal with the making of valuations, with the making of rates, and to whom were entrusted most important duties connected 1629 even with the franchise. He called attention to Clause 31 of the Bill, which stated that the valuation list was to beConclusive for the following purposes—for the purpose of any rate made during that year; for the purpose of the following taxes payable for the use of Her Majesty during the said year … for the purpose of determining as far as applicable during the said year the value of an hereditament, for the purpose of the qualification of a juror, councillor, guardian, manager, vestryman, auditor, or officer, or for the purpose of the Acts relating to the sale of intoxicating liquor.And these important functions were to be entrusted, in the first instance, to the care of overseers appointed in an anomalous and unsatisfactory way. Would hon. Members defend the constitution of the vestry? He believed that few knew what was the proper form of proceedings at a vestry. There was only one institution more unsatisfactory than the vestry, and that was the overseers themselves. They would never complete their scheme of local government reform satisfactorily if they did not look as high as the county and as low as the parish, and see what improvement they could make with reference to both. As to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Hubbard), he proposed thereby to reduce the amount of Imperial taxation from the gross value to the rateable value, by which he would give considerable relief to the payers of house tax and income tax. He was sorry the right hon. Gentleman had become an ally of the Local Taxation Committee and of those who, having secured considerable relief to ratepayers, had, at the same time, taken some steps which went in the direction of increasing the cost of local self-government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had already sufficiently answered the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London. He might, however, remark that what those who supported the right hon. Gentleman failed to see was that the justice which he proposed to do to one class might prove an injustice to other classes. The right hon. Gentleman having failed to secure allies last year in his broad proposition in favour of the re-construction of the income tax had this year with much wisdom limited his proposal in favour of those who came under Schedule A. But if the right hon. Gentle- 1630 man were successful in relieving that class of taxpayers he would merely be throwing the burden upon others, and by relieving the owners and the occupiers of land he would be increasing the taxation of the consumers of commodities. The right hon. Gentleman had, with considerable skill, thrown out a bait to the Government by saying that he would not place any charge on this year, but the year after next; but he apprehended that this indulgence in the paulo post futurum system of finance would have but little weight. In addition to the £656,000 or more deficiency which would result from this proposal, there would be £300,000 in regard to the prisons, and this £1,000,000 would have to be met probably by fresh taxes on consumers of commodities. The case of his right hon. Friend must not rest on the ground that he was proposing to do an act of justice, because injustice must follow; but it must be founded on the assertion that there was a great administrative improvement to be carried out. He trusted the Bill would end in a satisfactory adjustment of certain portions of the great subject of local taxation and local government reform; but he feared that would not be the case unless hon. Members would bear in mind that they had also to reform and deal with the authorities to whom the execution of the Bill would be entrusted.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH,
in reply, said, he had no fault to find with the tone of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goschen), nor with his arguments; indeed, he had made some interesting observations upon this subject which were well worthy the attention of the House. The debate, however, had gone on for some time, and a number of hon. Members had spoken on the question, and therefore he felt it to be his duty to notice some of the remarks that had been made in the course of the discussion. He need not dwell at much length upon the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman behind him (Mr. Hubbard), because it had been effectually dealt with by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Ho might, however, put to him the argumentum ad hominem whether he felt himself justified in moving a Resolution which must be fatal to a Bill upon which the right hon. Gentleman himself relied for effecting 1631 desired improvements in the system of valuation. The difficulty, however, did not end there, because if the right hon. Gentleman were successful in applying the principle of his Resolution to England, it would be impossible under it to provide the machinery for extending it to Scotland. And this brought him to the observations of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Ramsay), who had expressed such a strong approval of the Scotch system. He had examined that system with much care, and he confessed that he had been much impressed by the good character which hon. Members had given of the working of the county system in that country. Whatever might be the merits of that system, however, it was entirely inapplicable to this country, the county area in Scotland being very different from that of England. One reason why it was good in Scotland was on account of its cheapness, and he was glad to find that it was working well. The Scotch had no objection to the intervention of the Surveyors of Taxes. It was very true that in Scotland the possibility of a Surveyor of Taxes exercising his functions was much easier, because there was in the Scotch Act a reference to the rent as a basis of valuation, and in Scotland the practice of long leases prevailed more extensively than in England. But perhaps the most insuperable objection to the adoption of the Scotch system in England was to be found in the fact that whereas in the whole counties of Scotland there were only about 360,000 separate assessments, there were in England as many as 5,500,000; and, that being the ease, it would be obvious to hon. Members that it would be impossible to throw the work which required to be performed in connection with these assessments upon the officers of the public revenue department in England. He assured the hon. and gallant Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter Barttelot) that he had no intention of adopting a different tone from that of last year. The Union Assessment Act had worked very well throughout the country, though possibly it might require amendment. It had been asserted in the course of the debate that there was no power under the Bill to appoint an assessor to the valuers; but he thought the measure afforded ample liberty for such an appointment, though it was certainly the object of the Govern- 1632 ment that the expense which would be thereby necessitated should be avoided, if possible, by means of the other machinery which the Bill provided. The assessor was in Scotland, he believed in most cases, the Surveyor of Taxes. ["No, no"] At least, many of them were. The hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Hutchinson) had complained of the centralizing tendency of the Bill; but, for his own part, he was conscious of no such tendency in it. On the contrary, it left the functions of the office in the hands of the administrators of the union areas. The hon. Member (Mr. Knowles), who had spoken on behalf of the owners and the occupiers of mines, had referred to a subject which had frequently been brought under his notice both by letters and by deputation. The Bill was purely one of machinery, and he could not help thinking, therefore, that it would be dangerous to introduce in it any proposal the effect of which would be to make a cardinal alteration in the law of the land. If it was the fact that difficulties now existed in reference to the rating of mines, and that the removal of such difficulties would prove advantageous to the public, and particularly to the working classes, it would be best to bring proposals to that effect before the House in a separate Bill. It would be highly dangerous to introduce them into the present Bill, because their introduction might give rise to contentions which could endanger the passing of the measure, although, in fact, they had nothing to do with the main principle of the measure which he wished to see placed upon the Statute Book. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Read) seemed inclined to attribute to the Surveyor of Taxes a much greater power than he possessed. The Surveyor of Taxes was a person who acted under the authority of the Inland Revenue Commissioners; he was also an executive officer of the Government, and any insolence or overbearing conduct in the discharge of his duties would soon find an echo in that House, and the Government would be held responsible. Again, the hon. Member for South Norfolk ought not to object to the appointment of Surveyors of Taxes, because the existence of such officers tended in the direction of what he seemed to desire—namely, a system under which the rent should be more and more regarded as a criterion of the value of land. 1633 His hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Hibbert) had objected to the elimination from the present Bill of the committee of county magistrates which was provided for in the Bill of last year. That was a point which, perhaps, he had not sufficiently explained in his opening remarks. The committee of county magistrates was not to act as a court of appeal, but only to secure uniformity as between union and union, and he ought to have added that he hoped to secure the same object in this Bill by a scale of deductions. He thought to set up that committee would raise the presumption that they were to act in the double capacity of securing uniformity and as a court of appeal. His hon. and learned Friend behind him (Mr. Rodwell) was anxious about a special committee of magistrates and other persons to act as a court of appeal. He had no particular views as to one court of appeal in preference to another, but he had selected one which was handy, and one in which the ratepayers had confidence. The whole difficulty on that point was as to the possibility of giving to a representative body judicial functions; and he therefore came to the conclusion that it would not be desirable to turn the assessment committee into a court of justice. For his own part, he had no wish to retain the appeal to the petty sessions, except as a means of convenience for the small ratepayers. He would be willing to discuss the question in Committee; but he would recommend his hon. Friend to consider this point in framing his clause. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goschen) complained in no carping spirit, but in one of reasonable criticism, that the Bill did not deal fully enough with the question, and especially he complained of the absurdity of leaving so much power in the hands of the overseers. He had no desire to stand up for the overseers; but there would be just as much difficulty in getting rid of parishes and parish boundaries as there would be of getting rid of the county boundaries.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, the right hon. Gentleman had intimated that the small parishes should be disestablished. The Committee which sat in 1873 made a recommendation to that effect, and in a Bill which he laid on the Table three years ago he proposed to 1634 take power to extinguish small parishes; but he found that he should have great difficulty in passing that portion of the Bill, and in the Bill of last year he left out that provision. In regard to the overseers, it should be remembered that in all important places their work was done by a paid officer—the assistant overseer—who, if he could not exactly be called a skilled man, was one who had a great deal of special knowledge. The overseer was one of the unpaid servants of the country. The system of unpaid service for certain local duties had been the rule for many centuries, and he should be sorry to propose to extinguish the obligation to serve as overseer, churchwarden, or juryman. It was a useful liability, which he should not like to see extinguished without very much stronger reason than he had yet heard. As to the question of whether the consent of the vestry was not more frequently required in the Bill than it ought to be, he should be happy to consider any suggestions on that point in Committee. It was obvious that the Bill as it went forward would receive a good deal of attention, and that it must necessarily occupy a good deal of time; and as hon. Gentlemen had intimated their desire that the debate should not be continued to an inordinate length, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hubbard) would not press his Motion to a division. He trusted it would no longer be regarded by hon. Gentlemen opposite as one of a Party character.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
agreed with a good deal which had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goschen), and he could not see the advantage of retaining the overseers. Practically the work was done by the assessment committee as representing the union. If the duty were imposed on the assessment committee in the first instance it would be a satisfactory, simple, and easy manner of settling the matter, and there would be few appeals. With the view of testing the feeling of the House on the subject he should lay on the Table certain Amendments to that end.
§ MR. STORER
moved the adjournment of the debate, in order to give the country gentlemen more time for its consideration.
§ MR. PARNELL
seconded the Motion, on the ground that he had not had time to study the details of the Bill. He 1635 would recommend the Government to stick to one Bill, and to get it through before commencing another. At the opening of the Session they introduced about 17 Bills, more than five of which they had pressed to a second reading. The consequence was that hon. Members could not possibly make themselves acquainted with the details of all these measures at the same time, and there was much difficulty in procuring a copy of a Bill. If the real object of the Government in this Bill was to secure uniformity, they would fail; because there were so many different local authorities entrusted with the valuations—the assessment committee, the overseers, the surveyor of taxes, the clerk of the peace, the special and the quarter sessions. In Ireland the system was that of commissioners of valuation, but the valuations were not at all uniform, being in some districts 30 per cent below the rateable value. The present Government seemed to him likely to be in office for 15 years, and, if they should be, they would by that time have done a great deal of mischief to the country.
§ MR. J. R. YORKE
rose to Order, and asked whether the hon. Member was speaking to the Question of adjournment?
§ MR. PARNELL
said, he did not intend to speak upon the subject of the Prisons Bill, but so long as he was an Irish Member, obliged to come to Parliament, sitting at Westminster, he would endeavour to take part in the discussions on all questions which might affect his country. The present Bill was of too important a nature to be disposed of in one night's discussion.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned." —(Mr. Storer.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that no one would deny the perfect right of Irish Members to discuss the measure, because, although it was confined to England, yet legislation of this kind was of an Imperial character, and he was glad to see the Members for Irish constituencies taking an interest in measures of this character. At the same time, he hoped the House would bear in mind the progress of Public Business. The hour was not so late that the discussion need now be closed; and although he should prefer that the Bill should be 1636 now read a second time and the details reserved for discussion in Committee, yet if hon. Members thought the measure had not been sufficiently discussed, he trusted the debate would go on, and that the Bill would be read a second time that night. He hoped the hon. Member for Nottinghamshire (Mr. Storer) would not press his Motion for the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
said, that at the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would withdraw his Amendment and move it again on the 31st clause.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not withdraw his Motion. It was a matter for great complaint that the income tax should be levied upon a higher assessment than the assessment for the local rates. He thought that the proper thing to do would be to have official and independent valuators for the whole of the country, with a right of appeal against their valuation. In England the principle of allowing valuations to be made by overseers and other local authorities was very unsound, and the result was that there was no uniformity whatever.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 214; Noes 27: Majority 187.—(Div. List, No. 29.)
§ Main Question proposed.
§ CAPTAIN NOLAN
said, the last division was so very peculiar that he wished to say a few words upon it. The right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Hubbard) had told him (Captain Nolan) among others, at a quarter past 7 o'clock that evening that he would certainly divide. He might possibly have been right, at the request of the Government, in withdrawing his Amendment. On that he would express no opinion; but he had caused several hon. Members to alter their arrangements for the night, and it was not right that the right hon. Gentleman should walk out of the House when the division was called.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must inform the hon. and gallant Member that the Amendment of the right hon. Member for the City of London is no longer before the House. The Question is 1637 "That this Bill be now read a second time." Does the hon. Member propose to speak to that Question?
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday next.