HC Deb 21 June 1878 vol 241 cc60-6

Clause 16 (Holding of special sessions to hear appeals as to value for parochial purposes).


, referring to a series of Amendments which stood on the Paper in his name, said, the first of them raised a very important question. His object was to secure, as far as possible, uniformity in the county valuation lists, by providing that the assessment committee should ultimately adjust them, and reconcile any discrepancies between them which might be found to exist. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had, at first, dissented from his proposal; but he had since, to a certain extent, admitted the justice of the principle which it embodied, for he had intimated to him that the chairman, or some other competent member of the committee, was to be introduced in some form or other into the Board, and was to have a voice in the ultimate adjustment of the valuation lists. In these circumstances, he would, with the permission of the Committee, abstain from moving his Amendments.


expressed his willingness to withdraw this clause. He had rested his defence of the present system on the fact that it was the existing law, but he found that the privilege was not claimed. It was not the fact, however, as had been suggested, that when the Union Assessment Act was passed, this appeal to the justices was allowed to remain per incuriam. One reason for its retention was, that it was not thought fit to entrust the assessment committee with that power. The union assessment committee had now been in existence some 16 years, and, on the whole, had worked satisfactorily, and he was, therefore, willing that the appeal should be discontinued.


was proceeding to refer to a provision which, as a consequence of the withdrawal of the 16th clause, he proposed should be inserted at a later stage, when—


ruled that the hon. Member was not in Order in referring to a subsequent Amendment.


thought that some new authority should be instituted, to whom the ratepayers might appeal before going to Quarter Sessions. He could not assent to the withdrawal of Clause 16, except upon the understanding that the Government, as soon as possible, should institute County Boards capable of determining appeals on assessment questions.


observed, that what was required was to give the county authorities more power to obtain information, and to give them much the same jurisdiction as the assessment committees now exercised.


said, that the withdrawal of the clause was entirely unconditional, nor was it intended that any tribunal should be substituted for the one abolished. County regulations would be put on a fair basis; but the Boards to be instituted were not to act as courts of appeal. He, however, intended to lay on the Table a new clause on the subject of appeals against valuations, and, with that view, he would withdraw the clause under consideration.


hoped due Notice would be given of the clause to be proposed, in order that hon. Members might be in a position to discuss it.


suggested that it might be necessary to do something more than strike out the clause giving the appeal. The right of appeal from the overseers to the magistrates was of ancient origin, and might be found in many old statutes. It would be better to insert a clause in the Act, providing that after the passing thereof, justices of the peace, sitting in petty sessions, should not hear or determine any appeal against assessments. If that course were adopted, any possibility of doubt would be removed.


was doubtful whether there was to be any real county authority. He was sorry that the Amendments had been withdrawn. In his opinion, there ought to be a County Board to hear appeals from assessments on questions of fact and of value. He had no objection to the abolition of the miserable appeal to the petty sessions; but he hoped the House and the country would have some little opportunity of considering the proposal to be made.


said, it would be best to keep distinct the two questions of the abolition of the old, and the institution of the new, appeal. There was no doubt that the appeal to petty sessions was very unnecessary and objectionable; and whatever might be the decision of the House with regard to the county committee, he thought there could be no objection to the rejection of this clause. The House, however, ought to have ample time for considering any proposal that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth) might make. He might also add that considerable inconvenience had been caused by the Bill having been put on the Paper that day. In his opinion, the Bill had been hurried forward more hastily than was consistent with its importance.


observed, that the present system was, no doubt, a vicious one. The assessment committee was formed of elected guardians, and of magistrates as ex-officio guardians. By Clause 16 it was provided that an appeal from their decision should lay to the petty sessions, composed entirely of magistrates. He should suggest that in the constitution of the ultimate tribunal of appeal, there should be a certain proportion of the elected guardians of the different unions in the county. In that case, the appellate Board would give satisfaction to the entire county. He would strongly urge the desirability of having a larger representation of elected guardians than merely the chairman of the assessment committee.


said, that though somewhat inconvenient to talk of an Amendment by way of anticipation; still, as it had been suggested that he had yielded a little too easily to the wishes of the President of the Local Government Board, he would make one or two observations on the subject. As he understood, some provision was to be made by which parties connected with the assessment committee, or with members of it, were to have a voice in the adjustment of the county assessment, in order to secure uniformity. He had always felt that appeals to Quarter Sessions were almost valueless. The expense, for one thing, was so great, that persons would not go to the extent of appealing to set right a small wrong. Therefore, appeals had become limited in practice to railways, canals, or large companies. It seemed to him that many persons who had been deterred from going to a Court of Appeal by fear of the expense, would have an opportunity of appealing under the scheme proposed. Furthermore, those discrepancies in assessments which now existed would be abolished. If the state of the case were as he apprehended, and the President of the Local Government Board introduced the provision contemplated, he thought a great step had been made in securing the uniformity he desired to see. He did not, therefore, think he had too readily surrendered, but that, in the present case, discretion was the best part of valour.


thought it inconvenient that they should be discussing this clause when they were told there were other Amendments to it. With regard to the Amendments of which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had given Notice upon Clauses 25 and 26, he must say frankly that he looked upon them with suspicion, as likely to lead to the creation of obstacles at some future time to the formation of County Boards. This committee or body, as it would be described in Clause 26, was not at all likely to be the County Board of the future; but he grudged the bestowal upon it of functions which belonged properly to the County Board, of which they had heard so much. The Bill would not, however, meet any undue opposition from him; on the contrary, so far as he was concerned, he should do all in his power to forward its progress; but he did object to any clause which might stand in the way, and render less probable at the earliest possible time, of a measure dealing with the whole question of county management.


wished to point out that if the appeal to petty sessions were done away with, the appeal to Quarter Sessions would be the only one obtainable. That appeal was necessarily a costly one, and he should like the Government to consider whether something could not be done materially to reduce the expense of appealing to Quarter Sessions.


feared that the ratepayer, after what had passed, would be in a much worse position than he was before. The small court of appeal was abolished, and he was sent at once to Quarter Sessions with its attendant expenses. He particularly approved of the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rod-well), because he proposed that the county authority should go from place to place deciding questions of fact and of value. There was no reason for employing counsel on the question whether a, house was worth £20 or £30, But now that there was to be no appeal from the assessment committee but to the quarter sessions, not only great trouble but enormous expense would be occasioned.


observed, that it was well-known that no appeals had been made to petty sessions for some time; and, therefore, no one would be affected by that appeal being abolished.


remarked, that petty sessions were not of much value as an appeal court, the magistrates acting on the assessment committee being also on the appeal court. But petty sessions were convenient, from their contiguity, for ratepayers to appeal to on small matters. As the case stood, he was not, however, prepared to say that petty sessions ought to be retained, though, perhaps, more convenient to the ratepayers. A ratepayer would now have the inconvenience of going some 20, 30, or 50 miles, with respect to some little matter which might have been settled within a short distance of his own house. For those reasons, he was glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had consented to introduce the representative element into the appeal court. It was impossible to say more until the proposal was actually before the House.


said, he did not know how any poor man could be expected to be at the cost of an appeal to quarter sessions, which involved the heavy expenses of a solicitor, advocate, witnesses, and surveyors.


said, that that was quite unnecessary as, with small appeals against an assessment upon which satisfaction had not been given by the assessment committee, the case was re-heard by making an appeal against the next rate. He was quite certain that small appellants were more likely to be successful there than at quarter sessions, to which, for that reason, they never had recourse.


said, as matters then stood, nobody knew to what court they were to appeal. He was anxious to know what duties the right hon. Gentleman intended to make the new Board perform, and something definite ought to be stated by the Government on this point. He was loth to part with the present machinery, before he knew what was to be substituted in its place.


replied, that the assessment committees would constitute the court of appeal for small ratings, and he believed that it would not be necessary to substitute anything instead. A new clause would probably be laid on the Table on Monday next, which hon. Members would have the opportunity of examining.


said, the discussion was rather an important one; and as the Government had probably other Business to proceed with, it might be convenient to report Progress, and resume the discussion on another occasion.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Tuesday next, at Two of the clock.