HC Deb 13 February 1878 vol 237 cc1586-96

Order for Second Reading read.


in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, hoped, after the discussion upon the law of Ireland to which they had just listened, that no apology was due from him in submitting for second reading a Bill which was intended to assimilate the law of England to that of Scotland in respect to valuation. The necessity of some change in the existing law of England upon that subject had been fully recognized, and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had, he thought, in three successive years, submitted measures for amending the law. A long experience in the administration of the law of Scotland on this subject had led him (Mr. Ramsay) to take an interest in the matter; and he felt, on examining the proposals of the President of the Local Government Board, that they were very cumbrous and complicated indeed, as compared with the provisions of the law of Scotland, and were not likely to bring about that uniform valuation which should be established for Great Britain. He did not see why one law on this matter should prevail in one part of Great Britain and another law in another part. He confined his remarks to Great Britain, where he thought the necessity for, and advantage of, uniformity would he recognized. He would not attempt to criticize the Government measures past or present, but would briefly state the points which he considered essential in order to secure a uniform valuation. He thought the valuation should be annual, and in order to secure uniformity, that it should be according to a prescribed statutory rule. He said so much in favour of uniformity of valuation; because it was the only means by which they could secure that the Imperial taxes could be levied equally and equitably on property in the different parts of the Kingdom. That this was not the case at present, he hoped he should be able to show the House so clearly, as to induce them to give a favourable consideration to the proposal he should make. In so far as local rates were concerned, the ratepayers had very little interest indeed in the special rule by which the valuation lists were made out, provided that the same rule were acted on over the whole area on which a rate was imposed. It mattered little to the ratepayers, when a specific sum was wanted for a particular purpose, whether the rate were fixed on an estimated value of—say, £2,000, or on one of £1,000; because 6d. per pound on £2,000 would yield just the same amount as 1s. per pound on £1,000; though, indeed, this very obvious fact was often overlooked by ratepayers in their anxiety to secure a low valuation of property. That being the case, his remarks regarding uniformity would be held to specially apply to Imperial taxes. The fact should also be borne in mind that the adoption of a uniform valuation throughout Great Britain did not preclude the possibility of classifying the various forms of real estate. The right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. J. G. Hubbard) had insisted that all Imperial and local rates should be levied on what he designated the rateable value. He (Mr. Ramsay) indulged the hope of securing that right hon. Gentleman's support; because he felt he could show that an accurate valuation list containing the real rent would be a necessary basis in order to obtain a proper classification, and to make deductions where deductions were desirable. There was room for diversity of opinion as to the advantage of classification or deduction with regard to any particular rate. But his whole object was to procure a uniform valuation throughout Great Britain, and it was on that account exclusively that he had pressed these views, on more than one occasion, on the consideration of the House. The changes that took place in the course of a year were so numerous and so great that a supplemental list, as was proposed in the late measure of the Government, would cause as much expense as a renewed annual survey and valuation, and he did not think the equal incidence of any rate could be attained by means of a supplemental list. That the present mode of making up the valuation lists was not correct would be readily understood from the fact stated in the last Report of the Board of Inland Revenue, that the amount charged in the Income Tax assessment under Schedule A was £107,689,995 in respect of property, the gross estimated rental of which was £97,812,540 for the poor rate valuation —a difference of £10,000,000. Again, according to the Return of the number of owners and value of land in 1876, the gross estimated rental in England and Wales was £99,352,301; while the gross annual value in Scotland was £18,698,804. But it could not be supposed by anyone acquainted with the countries that the sterile hills of Scotland yielded a fifth part of the sum that the level and fertile plains of England did. No one acquainted with the facts could suppose it possible that the Return of £99,352,301 for England and Wales could be correct as compared with £18,698,804 for Scotland. If further evidence were required of the inequality, he might refer to the last Return from the Board of Inland Revenue, in which it was stated that the increase on the estimated value of the houses in 1874–5 as compared with 1873–4 was in England 1.61 per cent and in Scotland 5.89 per cent. Did anyone think that nearly 6 per cent could be added to the gross rental of the houses in Scotland, and only 1.61 per cent to the gross value of the houses in England? These facts showed that the local authorities in England had no fixed statutory rule on which they acted in making up the valuation lists. The ton. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) pointed out last year, that in some cases rent was taken as the basis for making up the valuation lists, in other cases estimated value; while in others, again, there was a combination of both systems according to the discretion of the local authority. In such matters, where the list was to form the basis of the taxation of the people, he (Mr. Ramsay) did not think Parliament should shrink from laying down a definite fixed statutory rule by which all the local authorities in the country should be guided. He contended that such a rule was essentially requisite to remove that inequality which had been the cause of great complaint heretofore, and was the cause of great complaint still. The true remedy was to take the rent paid by the occupier on each separate tenement, as was proposed in the Bill he now submitted to the House, for the purpose of ascertaining the value; and, in doing this, he merely assumed that the value of any particular subject was the sum of money that it would bring in the market. He might be told that the Bill was not suited to the circumstances in England, inasmuch as many noble and right hon. Gentlemen were in the habit of letting their lands for less than they were fairly worth, and it was in consequence of such discrepancies that an estimate of value was said to be required by individuals qualified for that purpose. Those discrepancies exist in the North as well as in the South, and they altogether forgot that a basis of taxation should depend not on matters of opinion but on matters of fact. With all the consideration he had given to this subject, he had not been able to devise any other rule than that the actual rent should be regarded as the true value. He might also be told that there was a considerable difficulty in applying a system which suited the less wealthy and extensive counties in Scotland to the more wealthy and extensive counties of England. But on that subject he thought that there was some misapprehension; because, although the area of Scotland was sterile indeed in comparison to that of England, yet the number of acres that were included in Scotch counties were in some cases as great, and in many cases more, than the average of English counties. Therefore, on the score of extent, there could be no difficulty in applying the law, which, in his own experience, had worked with satisfaction to all concerned for 21 or 22 years in Scotland. It was the practice of the House of Commons in all subjects to take experience rather than theory, and he thought that whatever better theoretical mode they might devise of adjusting valuation lists, they would find no better practical mode of doing it than what he had stated. Then he might be told that the number of changes which occurred in the course of a year were not so numerous as to render it necessary to make up a list annually. If experience were valued, he took leave to cite the example of the City of Glasgow. In that city the entries in the valuation list for 1876 were 137,000 in number and £3,117,835 in amount, the number of changes being 30,000. What would be the use of supplemental lists in such a case? There was nothing more fallacious than to suppose that accuracy could be secured by means of a supplemental list where they had 30,000 changes in one city. There were 2,000 new houses erected in the course of the year, and a considerable number of old ones were demolished. All these had, of course, to be surveyed and returns received from owners and occupiers. The changes were fewer and less, of course, in rural districts and in the counties where there were few or none of the mineral or manufacturing industries. The county where he resided was one which was almost exclusively agricultural or pastoral. It was more than 100 miles in length, and, he believed, 30 or 40 in breadth, and over that large area the number of entries was above 10,000, and the rental was upwards of £500,000 annually. The number of changes that took place even amongst the strictly rural population of that county was so great that no one had ever suggested that it would be expedient to do otherwise than prepare a valuation list annually for the whole area. No system was economical which was not also efficient. But as to efficiency, the Scotch system was very satisfactory in securing the annual valuation of the whole property, and thereby the equal incidence of local rates. Each ratepayer felt that however heavy might be his burden of rates he was sharing them in common with all his neighbours, not only in the same locality, but al over the county. The hon. Gentleman then pointed to the counties of Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire as being as varied in their geographical features and classes of population as any part of England. The valuation of three-fourths of the counties of England was less than that of Lanarkshire. If, therefore, this system suited Lanarkshire and the City of Glasgow so well, why should it not work well in London and in all the counties of England? Simplicity was of the greater consequence the greater the number of the persons entered on a valuation list. In regard to the plea of economy, he cited Glasgow, where he said they had economy combined with efficiency. In 1855 the number of entries on the list was 85,000, the valuation amounting to £1,362,168. In 1876 the number of entries was 137,000, and the valuation £3,117,845; so that the increase in the number of entries amounted to 73 per cent, and in the valuation to 125 per cent during that period, while they had only an increase of 35 per cent on the cost of making up the valuation list. The work had doubled, but the cost had only increased by one-third. With such a satisfactory result, it was permissible to urge upon the Government the adoption of these views. He thought it due to himself to state that, having taken up this question, he had not pressed his views upon the House without having previously attempted to press upon the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board the propriety of his inquiring into the system in use in Scotland; and if the right hon. Gentleman had done so, he felt sure they would have got a Bill nearer to the Scotch law than the one the right hon. Gentleman presented to the House last Session. He (Mr. Ramsay) was not satisfied with that, but wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, he thought, was interested, giving him a statement of the mode in which the Scotch law operated, and pointing out how easily and satisfactorily the same system could be worked in England with advantage to the revenue; not, however, in the way of collecting a greater sum of money, because the rate to be collected depended upon the assessable amount, and it did not matter whether they collected on a high or a low rate; but the application of the Scottish system in England would have secured the equal incidence of Imperial taxes in Great Britain, which would be an advantage to the revenue, and that result could not be obtained under the present law. He thought there could be no advantage in maintaining the inaccurate, cumbrous, and complicated system at present existing in England, when by the will of the Members of that House a different law had been applied to Scotland. Hon. Members must feel that the incidence of public taxation should be the same in every portion of the Kingdom. The Scotch people had no wish to evade the payment of their share of the public burdens, but they wished to be liable for the same proportionate amount as their fellow-citizens in England, and no more. In addition to the advantages which he had pointed out would accrue from the adoption of this system, there were others, relating to the registration of Parliamentary and Municipal electors, which had been referred to in the course of the previous discussion by the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) and others. They could not have under the present law of valuation in England the simple mode of registering electors enjoyed by Scotland. He had no desire unduly to press this Bill upon the attention of the House. He had accomplished very much the objects he had in view in obtaining their kind hearing to his statements; but if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth) would take a suggestion of his, he would recommend that this Bill, together with the right hon. Gentleman's own, might be submitted to a Select Committee, in order to ascertain in what particulars, if any, the system which he, (Mr. Ramsay) advocated was not applicable to the circumstances and sentiments of the people of England. In the absence of any assurance of that kind, it might be expedient that the House should express its sense of the value of this proposal. He indulged the hope that the delay in bringing forward the Government Bill might be explained by a desire to hear the opinions that would be elicited either for or against this present Bill. He referred to the fact that under Schedule A of the Income Tax the sum assessed in Scotland in the year 1875 was £14,784,093, while in England there was only £123,695,774, and remarked that no one who knew the relative wealth of the two countries would for a moment suppose that the valuation of England, even under the Income Tax Act, could be taken as accurate. The hon. Gentleman was proceeding to discuss the clauses of the Bill—when


said, that to go through the Bill clause by clause was anticipating the work of Committee.


said, he would only mention generally that the Bill contained provisions for the appointment by a county or burgh board of a committee of its members for the purpose of exercising all the powers of the board in carrying out the Act. The clause which he specially wished to call attention to was that setting forth that in estimating the yearly value of lands and hereditaments under this Act, the sum should be taken to be the rent for which, one year with another, such lands and hereditaments might, in their actual state, reasonably be expected to be let for from year to year. He would conclude by moving the second reading of the Bill.

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


said, he did not understand the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Ramsay) to desire to press his Bill as a rival one to that of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, but to suggest extending to England the principle of valuation, which he found to work well in his own country. In the English metropolis that principle, substantially, was already in operation. The rating of hereditaments rested on the valuation made by the surveyor of taxes governed by the rent paid. The Government measure of last year proposed something of the same kind. In the country some injustice was done in respect of small tenants under the present system of extravagant allowances from renting valuation lists. He thought that the true principle of assessing was, on the part of the assessor, to claim the highest assessment the facts of the case would justify corroborated by rent paid, and that the parties interested in the matter should be at liberty to claim such reduction as could be shown to be fair and reasonable. One defect in the Bill was, that it omitted the method of valuing railways provided in the Scotch Acts. He gave a hearty support to the Bill, because it accepted the rent paid as the value of hereditaments for the purposes of assessment.


said, he thought it very desirable, if possible, to geta uniform basis of assessment for property, and so far this Bill was a good one, and deserved support. But, like his hon. Friend who had preceded him, he thought the Bill was defective in providing a valuation for railways or undertakings of that character. Again, it would be very unfair to take woods and coppices as grass land, as proposed by the Bill, as they could only be converted to that purpose at an outlay of from £6 to £8 per acre. With regard to the valuation of land generally, he thought it would be extremely difficult to draw a hard-and-fast line, for rentals varied a good deal, even in respect of properties very similar in character. The rents of farms did not correspond with their actual values, and if rent were taken as a basis of rating, it would be necessary to guard against the unfairness of rating farms on rents far below their value. The principle of the Bill would involve the public declaration of the actual rent, and it was doubtful whether the disclosure would be generally acquiesced in. If, however, it was proposed to send the Government Bill to a Select Committee, it might be advisable that this one should go before it also, with the view of seeing what portion of it, if any, could be adopted.


said, there were other points in the Bill which, however acceptable to Scotland, were not in harmony with the feelings of English ratepayers, such as the public exhibition of the valuation list and the employment of surveyors to determine the value. He gave a guarded assent to the principle of taking the rent as the value of property, as in many instances land was assessed under its real value. At the same time, he thought it waste of time to discuss a measure that was never intended to become the law of the land. He suggested that the Bill should be withdrawn, and that the objects sought to be obtained should be attempted to be gained in the shape of Amendments to the Government Bill.


said, that if the provisions of this Bill were enforced, the tenant under a long lease who had to pay a fixed rent for property which had been greatly depreciated in value would be bound to pay rates on that value too. The present system, which made rent a criterion of value without placing it as the actual value, which made it a modus probandi, but not res probata, was much fairer. Many attempts had been made to arrive at a better definition of value than that given by the Parochial Assessment Act, but none had succeeded, and he did not think that any was possible.


said, they were in a difficulty in discussing this Bill before that of the Government, and they ought to see the Government Bill before passing any opinion on this. It was certainly satisfactory that although the Assessment Committee had been for many years in force, yet not a word had been said which suggested that they had not done their work in a satisfactory manner. It would certainly be very undesirable, just at the time they were making such a great change as that involved in the County Boards Bill, to sweep the Assessment Committees away altogether. He was inclined to think that the proposals of the Bill, so far as it endeavoured to secure uniformity, would be found to be those which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would endeavour to carry out; and he hoped the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman might contain clauses which would enable the County Government Board to supervise the Assessment Committees and secure uniformity in each county. Such an arrangement would effect all that could be desired. The more we took out of the hands of those charged with local government the worse would it be for that government; but leaving as much as possible to the local authorities was not inconsistent with a salutary and beneficial supervision, such as the County Government Board would be. He hoped that all that could be done judiciously would be done by the Bill of the Government. He would not pretend to propose any Amendment to a Bill which the hon. Member himself did not propose to have read a second time; but he certainly did not think the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would consent, as had been suggested, to send a Bill upon which he had devoted so much attention to a Select Committee. At the same time, he had no doubt that he would carefully consider anything calculated to increase its usefulness.


said, he hoped they would not sacrifice justice to an attempt at uniformity. It would certainly, in many cases, prove a very serious injustice if the rents were made the basis of taxation. For instance, where a needy landlord was obtaining more than was reasonable from his land without considering its future improvement. It would also take no account of the agreements between the landlord and tenant with regard to game, and many other circumstances might be mentioned in which it would work very unjustly.

It being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.