§ (1.) Assessment Committee.
§ Clause 3 (Appointment of assessment committee).
§ MR. BIGGAR moved, in page 1, line 15, after "least," to insert "but not over one-half." He said the Amendment was a bonâ fide improvement. The clause provided that at least one-third of the members of the assessment committee should be ex-officio guardians, but it did not state any maximum number; so that it might happen that the whole of the assessment committee might be ex-officio guardians. Therefore, he proposed that the ex-officio guardians should not exceed one-half of the assessment committee. The principle on which the Bill seemed to proceed was that there ought to be about an equal number of both elected and ex-officio guardians, and therefore he thought the Government could make no objection to his proposed Amendment.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 15, after the word "least," to insert the words "but not over one-half."—(Mr. Biggar.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
thought that the Amendment hardly did justice to the guardians. It might, perhaps, not be considered an impertinence in him to suggest that the hon. Member (Mr. Biggar) had not much experience amongst English guardians. He (Mr. Harcourt) imagined that what the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had in view in framing this clause, was, in the first place, to secure the services of a certain number of persons, who had knowledge, experience, and time at their disposal, to assist in the management of these affairs; and next, to obtain a certain number of 23 guardians to take their proper share in the conduct of the business. Service on such committees meant a sacrifice of time—it meant a sacrifice of money; and time to a busy man, and money to those who were not very well off, were grave considerations. He believed that the guardians, if they had their choice, would select the very men to serve on these committees, whose numbers the Amendment of the hon. Member would be instrumental in curtailing; and, therefore, on the ground of its unfairness to the guardians, he would vote against the Amendment.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, that, practically, the ex-officio guardians were always fewer in number than the elected guardians, so that they would be in a minority on these committees. The clause was only a transcript of the existing law, which had worked well for 15 or 20 years; and which, so far as he knew, had not given rise to any complaint that the magistrates took too large a part in the business of the guardians.
§ MR. RYLANDS
thought it important that the present constitution of the assessment committee should not be interfered with. Had the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board attempted a real reform of county administration, he should have been glad to have seen the adoption of such checks as the hon. Member for Cavan suggested; but, in the present state of matters, he did not see the necessity for them. The guardians could safely be intrusted with the duty of saying how many ex-officio guardians should be placed on the committee. The proviso that at least a third of the committee should be ex-officio guardians was, no doubt, intended to prevent the committees being composed exclusively of elected guardians, and that was; he presumed, in accordance with the former Act. He did not wish to interfere with the position held by ex-officio guardians on the assessment committees. He was quite aware that much was owing to magistrates in the management of local business; but he could not allow this clause—the first one in the Bill treating of the position of the magistrates—to pass, without saying that it was of importance to the public that when great public responsibilities were being placed upon the magistrates, something should also be done to take away 24 the political taint attaching to their appointment. He knew unions in which gentlemen lived who, from position and ability, were in every way suitable for places in the commission of the peace, and who would, therefore, be eligible as ex-officio guardians; but who were kept out of those positions owing to the political predilections of the Lord Lieutenant of the county. This was a crying injustice, which tainted the administration of local affairs; and while he was unprepared to interfere with the present proposal, he thought it was worthy of consideration what check could be put upon the scandals created by the Lords Lieutants. On this clause, he believed he had a right to make these remarks; and he hoped a time would come when there would be some mode of controlling the Lords Lieutenants in these appointments. The Lord Chancellor had a nominal authority, but had no real power to interfere, and on both sides of politics the appointment to the magistracy was often partial.
§ MR. ASSHETON
thought the question raised by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) was not before the Committee. The Amendment which was before the Committee appeared to be based on the fallacious supposition that the interests of the ex-officio guardians and those of the elected guardians were opposed. His experience did not bear out this view. He had known differences between town and country guardians, but not between elected and ex-officio guardians. There was not the remotest chance of assessment committees being entirely made up of ex-officio guardians. There was much difficulty in getting them to attend to county duties as they ought; and, therefore, in this Bill a provision had been made to meet cases where ex-officio guardians in the proportion of one-third could not be found willing to serve. The hon. Member for Cavan need have no fear that the assessment committees would be filled by ex-officio guardians.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
thought the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) had made a very inconsequential speech. He had declaimed against a tribunal in consequence of the appointments thereto being in the hands of Lords Lieutenants, and yet he opposed the Amendment, which would make it impossible that the assessment committees 25 could be injuriously affected by the political bias which he complained of. If it were almost impossible to get ex-officio guardians to the number of one-third to sit on these Boards, he wished to know what objection could be maintained against an Amendment which, if adopted, would leave on the face of the Statute evidence of the fairness with which it was passed? If the Amendment were passed, it could, at least, do no harm, and it was not unusual to legislate for remote contingencies. It being agreed that a certain portion of the ex-officio guardians were persons appointed by reason of political preferences, what objection could there be to an Amendment which would provide against an undue political infusion into these assessment committees? He hoped the President of the Local Government Board would admit the words suggested by the hon. Member for Cavan.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, the hon. Member who had just spoken appeared to have entirely misapprehended the argument of the hon. Member for Burnley. That hon. Member had not supported the alteration of the clause, because the clause simply stated the existing law. He had not argued that the existing ex-officio guardians would carry any political bias into the assessment committees. He had simply made a statement to the Committee, the accuracy of which it would be difficult to question, that the absolute power of the Lord Lieutenant in the nomination of magistrates led to the exclusion, from political bias, of many gentlemen fitted to be on the magisterial bench, and fitted to be members of the assessment committee. There was, in his (Mr. Stansfeld's) opinion, no very strong reason against the Amendment; but to those practically acquainted with the law, there was a sufficient reason for not pressing it in the fact that, practically, there was no chance of any Board of Guardians electing more than half of the assessment committee from the ex-officio guardians. The difficulty was to get the smaller proportion to serve. As a general rule, Parliament did not alter a clause, which was meant as a consolidation and re-enactment of existing law, unless on sufficient cause shown. This did not appear to be the case in the present instance.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
remarked, that this question might become so important to Ireland that Irish Members ought not to let it be decided without a division, if necessary. English Bills were often made models for Irish ones; and Irish Members ought to protest against its being made possible to throw the whole valuation of the property of a district into the hands of a class practically drawn from the landowners.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
thought he had seldom heard more intensely Conservative speeches than those made by the hon. Member for Burnley and the right hon. Gentleman who had spoken from the front Opposition Bench (Mr. Stansfeld). Both admitted that they had objections to placing too much power in the hands of ex-officio guardians as at present constituted. Why, then, did they not try to give some practical effect to their objections? So far as he could see, the only reason why these advanced Liberals declined to give practical effect to their objections was, that this clause was a re-statement of the existing law. Was it, then, the new Liberal principle that existing law was not to be amended? That would seem to be the only conclusion to be drawn from the arguments addressed to the Committee by the hon. and right hon. Members. If the Government thought it necessary to provide that at least one-third of the assessment committees should consist of ex-officio guardians, why did not they make some similar provision protecting the rights of elected guardians? The Committee were told that it was very difficult to get ex-officio guardians to work on these committees, and, in some cases, almost impossible. Therefore, in cases where one-third did not consent to serve on the assessment committee, there would be no assessment committee under the provisions of the Bill in that particular district. Of course, that did not appear in the Bill; but it was the legitimate conclusion to be formed from the logic with which the clause had been supported. Why should not the whole matter be left open, so that the electors might choose a committee entirely of elected guardians, or of ex-officio guardians, or of both, as they saw fit? He certainly saw no reason for special protection of the interests of ex-officio guardians, who were already abundantly protected by their position 27 and influence in their respective counties.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
thought it must be obvious that the hon. Member who had last spoken had made his speech without having read the clause on which he was commenting. His (Mr. Sclater-Booth's) objection to the Amendment was, that he thought it conceivable that in some parts of England it might be the pleasure of the guardians, as a whole, to have more than the half of the assessment committee composed of magistrates, and he thought they had a right to exercise that option.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, the ex-officio guardians were already given a very full representation on the Poor Law Board, and, if they attended, it was within their power to place as many of their number as they chose upon the assessment committees. But the clause, as it stood, apparently sought to provide that even if ex-officio guardians did not attend when these assessment committees were being appointed, there should be a certain proportion of them placed upon these committees. Power was given to these absentees and neglecters of duty to secure for themselves of at least one-third on these committees. The Committee should either leave the Boards of Guardians to decide by vote among themselves what proportion of ex-officio guardians should sit on the assessment committees, or say that there should be a certain proportion of elected guardians as well as ex-officio guardians. The clause did neither of these two things, but made a stipulation which was unfair to the elected guardians, unless modified by the proposal of the hon. Member for Cavan. He would, therefore, support his hon. Friend if he went to a division. If he appeared to take a greater interest in this Amendment than the hon. Member for Burnley, it was because in Ireland there was, perhaps, more reason to regret the effects of such a system of electing guardians than in England. Of course, it would be the better for England if any benefit were derived from the attention which Irish Members paid to this subject. If they did not, then this was the misfortune, as well as the fault, of the system which brought Irish Members to that House. He had known repeatedly cases of ex-officio members of Boards of Guardians brought over to election 28 meetings from all parts of the world. He had known them come from London, from Yorkshire, from Paris—one had come even from Italy—to a guardians' meeting, when there was a place to be given away. These were the men who never, on any other occasion, attended to their duties, or took any part in the ordinary business of the Poor Law Board. He therefore maintained that, as the question of valuation in Ireland was to be dealt with, and as this Bill would be quoted as a precedent, Irish Members, were entitled to insist, and justified in insisting, that their views should be heard in this matter.
said, it was greatly to be regretted that the administration of the two countries could not go on independently, because it must be exceedingly inconvenient to Englishmen that these Irish views should be imported into English discussions. It was quite recently that these views had been offered in such debates, and Irish Members might be right or wrong in interposing; but their view was, that they were coerced into doing so by finding that when an Irish Bill was brought before the House on the lines of an English measure no explanation of it could be elicited, excepting that its principles had already been decided in the case of an English Bill, and that it would be waste of time to discuss it. With a certain Resolution looming in the distance, it was very easy to foresee that when the Irish measure came on these charges of waste of time would be likely to be renewed. His experience in Poor Law Boards with ex-officio guardians for some years past had been such as to bring him to that House determined to do all he could to defeat this ex-officio principle in connection with Poor Law amendment. He should like to have a Parliamentary Return showing the attendance of the ex-officio guardians at the ordinary meetings of those Boards, and their attendance when there were situations to be given away. It would be found that the ex-officio guardians left the business of the union almost entirely to the elected guardians, excepting when there was a dispensary directorship, or some other place, to dispose of. He spoke only of the parts of Ireland which he knew. If there were unions differently circumstanced, they were fortunate. The country would bear 29 with the Irish Members, if, smarting under this sense of difficulty, they asked the Committee to put some limit to the possible ex-officio element in the case under consideration. The ex-officio guardians had a double advantage, which he would always protest against in that House—that they were allowed to vote as ratepayers for elected guardians, and they were allowed to come into the Board afterwards by virtue of their office.
§ MR. BLAKE
thought the Amendment a reasonable one. He could corroborate, from experience in the county in which he resided, the statements of the Irish Members who had spoken. The appointment of the magistracy was not always satisfactory—for, given the opinions of the Lords Lieutenants, and they had the opinions of the majority of the magistracy. In the county of Hereford, where he lived, one in four of the magistrates were clergymen, and yet not a single Nonconformist sat on the bench. The attendance at assessment committees of ex-officio guardians had been most irregular in that county; but they invariably attended when appointments were made. The ordinary business was left to the elected guardians, who discharged it with a great deal of care.
§ COLONEL ARBUTHNOT
said, that with regard to the statement just made by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Blake), as to the non-existence in the county of Hereford of any magistrates who were Dissenters, he was not prepared to state the exact facts of the case; but he knew that there were two sides to the question. This was evidenced by the fact that an animated correspondence on the subject was carried on, from time to time, in the local newspapers, and especially in that journal which the hon. Gentleman favoured with his own communications. If the remarks of the hon. Member were intended as a reflection upon the impartiality of the Lord Lieutenant of Herefordshire, all he could say was, that they were most uncalled for. He believed that the noble Lord who at present occupied that distinguished position administered his patronage in as disinterested a manner as any man could exercise it.
§ MR. O'CLERY
said, the very fact that the ex-officio guardians left the work 30 to be done by the elective guardians was one of the best proofs of the fitness and efficiency of the latter body of gentlemen. It would be invidious to point out any particular county in Ireland where ex-officio guardians neglected their duties; but he was bound to add his testimony to the fact, that guardians acting in that capacity were only present at meetings of the Poor Law Board when some situation was to be given away, when the candidates comprised persons of their own way of thinking in politics and religion.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, there could be no doubt that this was a very important question. Either the relations of the English farmer to the magistrates of counties and the proprietors of land were the same as in Ireland, or they were not. If they were the same as in Ireland, he could not understand why the Government should insist upon continuing to protect a class that now enjoyed protection, while not sufficiently protecting another class whose requirements in that direction were obvious. But if the relations in the two countries were not alike, great care should be taken before acting upon the principle, that what was not considered necessary for England was not really necessary for Ireland.
§ COLONEL RUGGLES-BRISE
regarded the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) as a very harmless one; but he did not think it was necessary to press it. At the same time, there could be no doubt that while, on the one hand, there was often considerable difficulty at present in getting a sufficient number of ex-officio guardians to serve, there might, on the other hand, be many men in a district well qualified to act in that capacity; and the specification in the Bill of a particular number might not be without its effect.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, he did not regard this matter from an Irish point of view merely, but from the point of view of one who was, for the most part, a resident in England, and who understood something of England as well as of Ireland. Looking at the question in that light, it seemed to him that the proposition of the Government was obviously unfair. Under the clause, as it stood, if one-third ex-officios were willing to serve, no matter how small might be their qualification or personal fitness, there was nothing to prevent them doing 31 so. Nor was it provided against, that they might not flood and outweigh the other guardians. This, he thought, was altogether wrong, and contrary to his sense of justice and of fair play. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Blake) had pointed out some circumstances which ought, certainly, to attract the attention of the Committee. The hon. Gentleman had informed the Committee that there was not a single Nonconformist in Herefordshire who was an ex-officio magistrate, while one-fourth of all the magistrates in the county were clergymen. Was that a fair constituency from which to draw the assessment committee? He hoped that the President of the Local Government Board, whose fairness and whose readiness to meet any reasonable objection he cheerfully acknowledged, would agree to the Amendment. Hon. Members behind the right hon. Gentleman had spoken in its favour; and he trusted that the Representatives of some other English constituencies would find voice on the subject, and thereby, perhaps, save the Committee from the necessity of a division.
§ MR. W. H. JAMES
said, he also looked upon the Amendment as very reasonable. As the clause in the Bill was drawn it was hardly fair, and he urged the Government to place elected guardians in the same position as ex-officio guardians. If a provision were inserted for that purpose, a division might be saved, and the measure might be got through that afternoon.
§ MR. BLAKE
said, he had no doubt whatever that the clause, as it stood, would give the greatest dissatisfaction to all Boards of Guardians throughout the country. It would be possible under it to elect in some places ex-officio guardians only. With reference to what had been said in regard to his remarks about Hereford, the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Arburthnot) had informed the Committee that he spoke on that subject without knowledge. He (Mr. Blake) did not, however, speak without knowledge. The point to which he had directed attention with respect to the county of Hereford was one which vitally concerned the administration of justice in the counties generally; and 32 last year he moved for a Return of those gentlemen who were on the commission of the peace for Hereford. That Return might be seen in the Library by any hon. Member, and it would be found from it that what he had stated was absolutely correct—that there was not a single Protestant Nonconformist upon the commission of the county of which he was speaking, while one-fourth of the magistrates were clergymen of the Church of England. He had nothing to say against the Lord Lieutenant of Hereford; but it appeared to some of those whose eyes were not blinded by political prejudice that this was not altogether fair or as it should be.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, and who had spoken of the dissatisfaction which the passing of the clause would create throughout the country, appeared to be utterly ignorant of the fact that what that clause embodied was the law at the present moment; and he did not know whether any other hon. Member of the House had received evidence of the existence of wide-spread discontent in consequence. For himself, he had had a good many representations on various points in the Bill from Boards of Guardians in the Metropolis; but he had not received a single objection to the existing state of the law as regarded ex-officio guardians.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, the law at the present moment might be what the hon. Member had just indicated; but in this matter, the endeavour of the Committee ought not to be to patch up old laws, but to guard against a great and revolutionary change in connection with the valuation of property.
§ MR. KNOWLES
appealed to the Government as to whether it was necessary to occupy so much time with the discussion of a proposition which was in itself so reasonable as that of the hon. Member for Cavan? From his own experience as an ex-officio guardian, and as the chairman of an assessment committee, he did not think that the passing of the Amendment would be attended with any danger. On the contrary, he thought that it would be only fair and right.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, he looked upon his Amendment as so fair and reasonable that he hardly thought the Committee would have taken the trouble to discuss the question at all. He had 33 been mistaken, however, and the matter had given rise to some debate. Several arguments had been put forward against his proposition. It had been said that he did not know the quality of those who were elected ex-officio guardians in England; but he thought that the observations of English Members themselves on the subject showed that he had made out a sufficiently good case. He could tell hon. Members, who appeared to think he could not do so, what an ex-officio guardian really was in Ireland and in England. He was a magistrate for the sake of having the power of whitewashing public officials in the Poor Law Board. He got himself made an ex-officio guardian; but so far as the ordinary work and duty of a Poor Law guardian were concerned, he did absolutely nothing. The real work was done by the elective members, who were well entitled to be upon the assessment committee, and to receive any honour which might attach to that position. It had also been said that there was no necessity for the Amendment, because, in point of fact, the ex-officio guardians were useless, and it would be difficult to get even one-third of them to perform the necessary duties. If that were so, on what ground could there be any objection to the number of these guardians being limited?
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, he had supported the clause as it stood, on the ground that it was a consolidation of the existing law; but he must candidly state that, in doing so, he had been influenced by a desire that progress should be made with the measure. After the discussion, however, which had just taken place, he put it to his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, whether, in the interest of "progress," he should not concede to an Amendment which was in itself of a harmless character?
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 87; Noes 109: Majority 22.—(Div. List, No. 183.)
§ SIR HENRY JAMES moved an Amendment, to the effect that one-third of the members should be elected guardians. The hon. and learned Member said, he would not discuss the question then. He would simply observe, that 34 although this was a consolidation of the present law, he presumed they were making law for the future.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 4 (Constitution and powers of assessment committee), agreed to.
§ Clause 5 (Clerk and expenses of assessment committee).
§ COLONEL RUGGLES-BRISE
said, it might happen that the clerk of the union had already a great deal of business on his hands. He might also be clerk of the education committee, of the sanitary committee, and of other committees. Therefore, he thought it ought not to be compulsory on the assessment committee to employ the clerk of the union as their clerk if they should think it advisable not to do so. Possibly, good reasons might exist for not employing him in that capacity. He trusted his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board would accept the Amendment, which he now begged to move—namely, to leave out, in page 2, line 15, after the word "guardians," the words "or if he is not willing to serve."
§ Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 16, to leave out the words, "or if he is not willing to serve,"—(Colonel Ruggles-Brise.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, the object of the words in the clause was to avoid the multiplication of officers in the union. The same policy had been pursued in the Education Act and other measures. In all these instances the object in view had been to avoid the needless multiplication of officers. He thought it was only right to point out these precedents to the Committee. He supposed that the working of these assessment arrangements and of this valuation system would depend more on the 650 clerks to the guardians than on any other 650 individuals in the Kingdom.
§ MR. PELL
agreed with the President of the Local Government Board that it 35 was not desirable to increase the number of officers in the union; but he desired to point out that the Amendment provided an escape from a very uncomfortable and disadvantageous state of things, which, if the clause were carried in its present form, must be continued. In some country districts, and in some towns, there were bad clerks, who not unfrequently employed good assistant clerks; and the Amendment just moved by his hon. and gallant Friend would enable the assessment committees to appoint the good assistant clerks, if they desired to do so. Such appointments would be serviceable to the county, and they might also stimulate somewhat lethargic clerks to do their duty.
§ MR. RYLANDS
thought the last speaker had adduced a good reason for retaining in the clause the words he proposed to omit. Surely they ought not to enable Boards of Guardians to retain bad clerks in their employment? It seemed to him that the main object which the President of the Local Government Board had in view was a good one—namely, to avoid the multiplication of officers. If a Board of Guardians happened to have an inefficient clerk, the sooner they got rid of him the better. He suspected that if the truth were known, it would be found that very often Boards of Guardians were controlled by the Local Government Board in this matter, and that they experienced a difficulty in dismissing an inefficient clerk, because they could not obtain the consent of the Department. He was of opinion that the clerk to the guardians ought to be the best man to act as the clerk to the assessment committee.
§ SIR THOMAS ACLAND
observed, that although the clerk to the guardians might possess great experience, yet he might be a man of advanced years, and unable, consequently, to take upon himself the discharge of another and an arduous duty. It might be a question, not of getting rid of a bad clerk, but of imposing fresh duties on a man who already had sufficient to do, and could not undertake to do more.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 31; Noes 197: Majority 166.—(Div. List, No. 184.)
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.36
§ (2.) Making of Valuation List.
§ Clause 6 (Making of valuation list by overseers), agreed to.
§ Clause 7 (Form and contents of valuation list).
§ MR. MUNTZ moved the omission of the clause. He wished to impress on the Committee the desirability of having only one assessment instead of two—namely, on the net annual value of all lands, tenements, and hereditaments, instead of taking the gross value with a reduction. All hon. Members desired to make the Valuation Bill a good Bill, and to do all they could to meet the requirements of the time. Outside the House the feeling was entirely in favour of one assessment. At present they had two systems. Some taxes were levied on the net assessment, and some on the gross assessment. That was a most unfair proceeding. The subject had, on a previous evening, been ably brought under the notice of the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Hubbard). It was self-evident that taxation ought to be levied on the real value. There could be no doubt about that; and if other taxes were levied on the net value, so also should the house tax and the property tax be levied. Every day complaints were heard of the present system. It was monstrous that a man should be taxed for an amount of value which did not exist. If this clause were omitted, the clause which he should propose to insert in lieu of it would enact that the actual net value of all property should be assessed upon the principle of what the property was worth on the fair annual value. He did not mean the rental, which was a totally different thing, and which might be reduced unfairly by collusion. The section which already existed in the Scotch Act, and which had been found to work most satisfactorily, was this—that there should be one assessment, and one only, and that upon that assessment representing the fair value of the houses or lands they should pay. He begged to move the omission of the clause, his object being, if that Motion were carried, to introduce his own clause.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
hoped the hon. Gentleman would not press his Amendment, or expect that a debate should be raised upon the present occasion 37 on the question which it involved, and which was, no doubt, an important and interesting one. He would point out, that if hereafter it should be thought desirable to adopt the views of the hon. Gentleman, that could be done on the Report.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Clause 8 (Deposit and transmission of valuation list to assessment committee and surveyor of taxes).
§ COLONEL RUGGLES-BRISE moved, in page 3, line 6, to leave out from "overseers" to "committee," in line 10. He thought it was highly desirable that they should not complicate the duties of the overseer by making him go through what he could not but consider a useless form, and he therefore moved the omission of this paragraph.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
was sorry he could not assent to the Amendment of his hon. and gallant Friend. This was the means by which the valuation lists were made accessible to the whole of the ratepayers of the Kingdom.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. PELL
said, that the Amendment which he had placed on the Paper to this clause had reference to a new clause which he would bring forward later on; but it would be necessary for him now to say a word or two with respect to the latter. The Amendment he proposed to move was at page 3, in line 9, after the word "duplicate," to insert "and any special valuation made by the assessor of railways and canals." This was an officer who was not mentioned in the Bill as at present drawn. He was one, however, that he (Mr. Pell) ventured to ask the Committee to introduce, and his reason for doing so was this. Under the present law, which was continued by this Bill, the overseers of parishes, who, without saying anything uncomplimentary to them, must be considered as entirely incompetent to discharge such duties, were left to insert in the valuation lists what they considered to be the value of so much of a railway or canal as lay within their parishes. Let them do their best, and yet the figures which they filled in were very likely to be unsatisfactory, and, in fact, they were frequently, if not generally, 38 found to be unsatisfactory. The result of this was, that the counties, parishes, and unions were put to enormous expense by exceptional valuations made by experts on behalf of the ratepayers, of which he had a remarkable illustration in his mind at the present moment. In order to obviate this difficulty, and also to ensure something like uniformity in the valuing of railways and canals in the first instance, he had attempted to provide, by a new clause in the Bill, for the appointment of a special assessor, whose duty it should be to inquire into the value of railway and canal property within a county or a parish, as the case might be, and to send to the overseers in such form as the Local Government Board might, from time to time direct what he considered to be the value of the railway or canal hereditaments within the parish. The overseers should then insert the sum in their valuation lists, and this assessor of railways would retire and be heard of no more. A railway or canal company, who might consider the assessment too high, would be at liberty to appeal under the regular provisions of this Bill. An appeal would likewise be open to any other ratepayer. There was another reason why he made this proposal, which he should like to state to the Committee. The method in which, as he understood it, railways were assessed in Scotland was to allow one officer, aided by his subalterns, to assess them for the whole of the Kingdom. He did not propose to lay before the Committee any scheme as large as that for England, which had a vastly larger network of railways, and, consequently, much more numerous hereditaments. But he asked that there should be applied in counties in England the same principle that was applied to the whole of Scotland, where in the assessment of railways and canals it had been found to work satisfactorily. Seeing that that principle had received the assent of Parliament, and of that highly intelligent nation, he ventured to say that it required no special recommendation from him in its support. What he asked was, that the same system should be applied in the counties by a county officer, appointed by the Court of Quarter Sessions, and that he should do for the county what the Scotch officer did for the whole of that Kingdom. He 39 believed that, as a rule, railways were assessed at too low a figure, except those valued under the Scotch Act. There the whole value of the undertaking, from one end of the system to the other, was taken in view by the valuer. Similarly, a valuer under his proposal would have to consider what was the value of, say, the Great Western system within a county, and he would then in the parishes fix the value at which he thought that railway should be assessed in respect of the length of line which it had inside those parishes. Those who defended the present system in England might say that that could be done already, and that any parish or union might call in a special valuer, who should say what he considered to be the value of the railway system within that union. But let the Committee observe that that valuer would have to consider the value of the whole of that railway system, not only throughout the county, but beyond it, in order to arrive at the value to be inserted in the valuation list for anyone particular parish or union with which he was dealing. In fact, he would have to do nearly as much work for one union or parish as he would have if he had to fix the valuation in respect of all the railways and canals within the county. Therefore, upon the score of labour as well as that of efficiency and justice, he had ventured to put down the new clause, which would be found at the end of the Paper of Amendments. But in order to give effect to that clause, he was obliged to move the Amendment which they were now considering. He was sorry to say that he had not had time to confer with the President of the Local Government Board on the subject. Little time had been allowed them to prepare Amendments. The present had been a difficult one for him to prepare almost unaided; he had done his best, and he now presented it for the consideration of the Committee.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he was very far from disputing the importance of the object which his hon. Friend had in view, and, indeed, it had been brought to his notice by different railway companies themselves a few days ago. But he thought his hon. Friend had really answered himself in recommending this particular plan; because, while 40 expressing a wish to adopt the Scotch system he, in the same breath, said that he intended that the valuation should be by separate counties. Therefore, the railway companies would be no better off under this valuation by separate counties than they were under the existing law, where the valuation was made by a union. It would still remain as now pretty much a matter of guesswork. He was himself very much in favour of the valuation of railway property in the direction indicated by his hon. Friend, but the question was very far from being ripe for decision by that House. Undoubtedly, it would be a most serious thing to adopt an Amendment of this nature at a moment's notice, and he did not think his hon. Friend's plan would answer for the reason he had stated. He trusted that the Committee might not be led away into a discussion of this question; because, under the clause as it stood, the parishes secured the valuation of the railway companies within their respective limits, and the unions found little or no difficulty in assessing them and recovering the rates. He had already intimated his wish that the question of the valuation of railway property should be considered separately, as soon as an opportunity could be afforded for that purpose.
§ MR. PELL
should like to make one or two observations on the remarks which had fallen from the President of the Local Government Board. He had admitted very distinctly that at present the assessment of railway property was a matter of guesswork, and he (Mr. Pell) thought that admission furnished a sufficient reason for the Amendment which he had moved. Let the Committee consider what he proposed. It was that instead of a surveyor or overseer in a parish putting down, to use the right hon. Gentleman's own expression, by guesswork, what he considered to be the value of a railway, he should be assisted by an officer for the whole of the county, who should suggest to him, not something that should be the result of guesswork, but something that should rest on reasonable inquiry and practical experience. That was all that his Amendment proposed should be done. Having assisted the overseer by his experience and knowledge, the assessor would then retire from the scene altogether. Might 41 he lay before the Committee an instance in point. The Eastern Counties Railway had been assessed under this system of guesswork for some years in one union at the low rate of £8,000, and some odd hundred pounds. He had no interest in that union, and he was only speaking now of something which had been brought under his notice. That union, not having the advantage of the services of such an officer as he suggested, called in an expert whom, no doubt, it employed at great expense. The result of the introduction of the expert was that the Great Eastern Railway Company was assessed in the sum of £25,000, and they submitted to that assessment. That was three times the amount which the overseer by their guesswork, and the assessment committee, owing to their want of information, had allowed to remain on the valuation list for many years. In an adjoining union the same expensive process had to be gone through with very nearly the same result with respect to the same railway. He thought that when they were asked to pass a Valuation Bill, which dealt not only with all the rateable property in the Kingdom but with their taxes as well, it was a serious and grave omission on the part of a public Department not to have provided something at least better than guesswork. He regretted that it had been left to a private Member, who had not at his command either the time, or the ability, or the assistance possessed by a great Department, to provide a reasonable substitute for a system which the President of the Local Government Board himself had termed as nothing better than guesswork.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he must correct an erroneous expression which had been attributed to him. He did not say that all railways were assessed by guesswork; he said that the sum which railways were sometimes charged beyond that which they had previously been accustomed to pay had been arrived at by guesswork, and that on appeal it had been disallowed. But, speaking generally, he thought that railways were assessed in such a manner that the parishes got a reasonable contribution from them; and he must say that if the railway companies were dissatisfied with the present system they were quite capable of taking care of 42 themselves. He repeated that the subject was under consideration; and he did not feel bound to do more than to re-enact the existing law which had hitherto been found applicable to railway property.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
remarked, that as his right hon. Friend held out a prospect of a full consideration of the subject of railway assessment, he was unwilling to occupy the time of the Committee. At the same time, when his right hon. Friend talked so glibly of the assessment of railway companies, and their being able to take care of themselves, he could not forbear from stating that he did not think there was a more iniquitous system of rating in the world than the manner in which railway property was assessed, because they went on to arrive, by whatever calculation they pleased, at what was the amount which the railway company was earning, and they then assessed the trade. They did not deal with any other trade in the same way. The way in which they assessed railways was as if they went to a great brewer, or banker, or any other large trader, and assessed, not the value of his premises, but the value of his business. That was what they did with regard to railways, and they inflicted a great injustice upon railway proprietors which they did not inflict upon any other class of the community. They must remember, too, that railway companies were not great and rich corporations, but that their taxation diminished the dividend of the shareholders—that was to say, it fell upon the investors in one particular form of security, many of whom were poor men. Moreover, everything which they took out of the railway operated to the disadvantage of the travelling public. It was one of the greatest anomalies that existed. He believed that a railway which ran through a parish conferred a great benefit upon it, and yet, instead of considering it as they considered other property, which they valued according to the rate at which it might be expected to let from year to year, they assessed it somewhat after the manner he had described; and, in fact, they assessed the rolling-stock—the engines and carriages which earned the money, which was precisely the same thing as taxing the stock-in-trade of any great trader. He did not know whether the hon. Gentleman 43 the Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) was going to press his Amendment to a division. His experience of Amendments proposed by hon. Gentlemen sitting below the Gangway on the Conservative side of the House was that they were supported by very clear and practical arguments, and then generally withdrawn, unless a division was forced from that—the Liberal—side. As far as he was concerned, he must enter his protest against the iniquitous system of railway assessment which at present existed, and if there were to be any alteration in the present Bill, he would rather have that assessment, bad as it was, conducted upon tolerably equitable principles by some competent person, than upon what the right hon. Gentleman had described as being guesswork. He could not conceive that in attempting to settle the principles upon which the valuation of property throughout the country should be carried on, and therein dealing with railway property throughout the country, it was creditable on the part of a Minister, in the conduct of such a Bill, deliberately to propose to inflict upon the country the continuance of that which he acknowledged to be a system of guesswork.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
protested against the language of the right hon. Gentleman, who had made himself the champion of the railway companies. Really the latter were able to take care of themselves; and having been recently in communication with them he thought he might claim to know a great deal more about this matter than the right hon. Gentleman himself.
§ MR. LEEMAN
said, he was bound to admit that the right hon. Gentleman had met the railway companies in a very fair and candid manner, and, as a result of their meeting, it was their intention at a particular stage of the Bill to move certain Amendments. Not knowing that the Bill would be brought on so soon, they had not been able in time to put those Amendments on the Paper. The hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) had given the Committee an instance of what took place under the present system. Let him give an instance, rather on the contrary side, of what now took place. In the Northern parts of England this happened. In one parish the rateability of the railway 44 was £24,000 a-year, and the company paid on that sum for several years. They thought it high, but did not think it worth while to go to the expense of an appeal. Well, an expert was introduced—a gentleman who was known to very many in that House. He was called in by the assessment committee to advise them, and he raised the rate from £24,000 a-year for that one parish to £34,000. The railway company said—"This is rather too hard; we are not going to pay this;" and they appealed to the Quarter Sessions. The result of the appeal to that tribunal was, that they sent the case to an umpire to inquire into the whole of the circumstances. That occupied a very considerable time; and, in the result, instead of £34,000 a-year being confirmed, the umpire reduced the original rating of 24,000 a-year by £1,000, and put the rating at £23,000, and ordered the parish to pay the whole of the costs of that appeal. But, in the end, where was the railway company? The railway company succeeded; but, although the parish had to pay a portion of the costs, the arbitrator felt bound in the circumstances to give them two years in which to pay them, and, as a consequence, the railway company had to pay two-thirds of the joint costs of themselves and of the parish. Now, the hon. Member who sat near him had a very similar case to deal with. It appeared that the Great Western Railway Company and the London and North-Western Railway Company were the joint owners of a railway in Cheshire, and that the valuation of that line was raised from £30,000 or £40,000 to £60,000. The railway companies appealed against this increase in the assessment of their line, and the end of it was that the valuation was reduced to £30,000; but they had a very large portion of the expenses to pay. What the railway companies wanted—and what he believed they would get from the present Government—was a remedy for this state of things, to be provided in the subsequent clauses of this Bill. The experts who, under the present system, were employed in the valuation of the property of the railway companies, were actually interested in raising the amount of the valuation. As far as railway property was concerned, it was a rare thing to hear of the valuation being reduced in 45 amount. The expert had every interest in increasing the amount of the valuation, inasmuch as he was actually paid a percentage on the amount to which he could raise the rate. The consequence was, that the railway companies were treated with the greatest possible injustice under the present system of valuation and assessment. The hon. Member had proposed to leave it to the magistrates assembled in Quarter Session to appoint experts to assist the assessment committee in making re-valuations.
§ MR. LEEMAN
continued, that although he had every respect for the Courts of Quarter Sessions, he felt bound to say that he scarcely thought that those Courts could be looked upon as impartial tribunals, inasmuch as magistrates, especially in agricultural districts, were largely interested in the amount that could be got out of the parish and the ratepayers, in relief of their own tenants the farmers. They, therefore, scarcely formed a desirable tribunal for selecting the experts by whom the amount of the assessment was to be made. Under Clause 48, power to deal with this question was given to the Local Government Board, and when that clause came on for discussion those who were interested in the subject would propose the Amendments in it they thought necessary. In their opinion, it would be preferable if the expert who was to determine the amount of the assessment were to be appointed by that Board. The best thing that hon. Members could do to protect the railway companies in this matter was to take care that those who made these valuations had not a direct interest in raising the amount of the assessments as against the railway companies. He had already stated his belief that the best tribunal for appointing these experts was the Local Government Board itself; and if Parliament adopted that view they would have impartial assessors appointed all over the country, who would be paid a fixed salary instead of a percentage on the amount to which they raised the valuation of the railway companies' property. In almost every township the railway companies paid a large proportion of the rates, and it was the interest of the parish to take as large an amount out 46 of their pockets as they could. If the hon. Member would adopt the suggestions which had been made at the interview which they had had with the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, he believed that the justice of the case would be met. The hon. Member would have a further opportunity of raising this question on the subsequent clauses, and he was sure that eventually justice would be done to the railway companies in this matter, which was all that they desired.
said, that they were all agreed that the hon. Member was quite justified in bringing this subject before the Committee by this particular Amendment, because he had shown the necessity of something being done in the matter. It might be perfectly true that railway companies generally could take care of themselves; but in many instances they were rated at loss than the proper amount. The rating at the lower assessment continued from year to year, and there was great difficulty in arriving at a satisfactory conclusion. The country at large was much interested in the subject of railway rating, and anything that the Government or the Committee could do to set this question at rest would be valuable work done. At the same time, he hoped that the hon. Member would not persist in this particular Amendment, but would withdraw it. It raised the very large question of principle as to whether the railways were properly rated or not, which, if entered into thoroughly, would occupy the attention of the Committee for a very long time. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. Member would be content with having raised the question, and would postpone any further action in the matter until Clause 48 came on for discussion.
§ MR. RYLANDS
thought that the subject was one which well merited the attention and the careful consideration of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board seemed to deprecate discussion on the matter. He had noticed on several occasions that a considerable amount of pressure had been made use of from the Treasury Bench in order to prevent the proper discussion of this Bill, which was put forward, not as a measure introduced with the view of bringing the matters it dealt 47 with to a final conclusion, but as one full of temporary expedients. The fact was, that they were now dealing with one of the most important questions that could occupy the attention of the House of Commons. The assessment of railway and canal property raised a very large question. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the subject was now involved in great confusion, and required dealing with; but he had understood him to intimate that he did not intend to deal with it permanently by this Bill. The hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Leeman) was more sanguine than the right hon. Gentleman. He told them of a meeting that had been held representing important interests. The hon. and learned Member was a man of sound judgment, and he had taken the measure so far of the Local Government Board as to be able to state that he believed that that Board would be willing to accept Amendments to this Bill in the interests of the railway companies. He, however, did not stand there in the interests of the railway companies which, as a general rule, managed to take pretty good care of themselves. What the Committee was trying to do was to get a basis of valuation of all property not in the interests of the railway companies but of the ratepayers generally. He had already frequently contended in that House that they ought to depend more and more upon the assessment committees; and by giving them greater powers and better means of arriving at a conclusion with respect to the amount of the assessment, they would get rid of a great deal of the difficulty that was felt under the present system. The hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) had suggested one way out of that difficulty. But another way out of it had been put forward by the very important deputation which had waited upon the right hon. Gentleman, and had pointed out to him that those who had to assess railway and canal property were placed in a great difficulty by the companies refusing to give the necessary amount of information to enable a proper valuation to be placed upon their property. If the necessary information were placed before those who had to make a valuation of the railway companies' property, there would be no difficulty whatever in making a fair assessment; but the railway 48 companies made it a rule to give no information whatever to the assessment committees. The consequence was, that the assessment committees were obliged to put the assessment as high as possible, in order to force the railway companies to appeal, and compel them to give that information which otherwise they would refuse to give. It would save much time, if the Government would let the Committee know what proposal they had to make upon this part of the Bill.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he did not consider it to be his duty, in the interest of the ratepayers, to propose any variation on the existing law governing the assessment of the property of railway companies in the Bill now before the Committee. Those who represented the railway companies in that Committee said that the companies were afraid that the result of this measure would be that they would in the course of time be placed in a worse position than they now occupied. If that were so, he should be happy to do all in his power to relieve them from injustice. It was not his wish or desire that the companies should be placed in a worse position, and he would willingly support any Amendment which would have the effect of preventing them being prejudiced by the operation of this Bill. It had been suggested that by some modification of the Scotch system a fairer mode of valuation of railway property might be arrived at, both in the interest of the companies and of the ratepayers. The Scotch system was a totally different one from their own, and it would be inconvenient at the present time to discuss that question, inasmuch as it would occasion delay, and would carry the Committee away from the real point they had to determine. It was a question worthy of consideration, whether or not the Railway Commissioners might not be empowered to try questions of appeal connected with the rating of railways. He merely threw that out as a suggestion, without wishing to raise a discussion upon the matter. In his opinion, the question before the Committee was not one that would come within the general valuation law, it relating to a particular mode of assessing particular property. He put it to the Committee, whether they would be inclined to give their assent to the introduction into this 49 general Valuation Bill of any special mode of assessing different classes of property? If the matter were brought forward in a special Rating Bill, he thought that the point was one which might be very fairly considered by a Select Committee.
§ MR. WHITWELL
hoped that the hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) would not press his Amendment, because the point it raised would properly come before the Committee when a subsequent clause came on for discussion.
§ SIR JOSEPH BAILEY
ventured to point out to the hon. Member that, under the present system, the magistrates in Quarter Sessions assembled had the power of appointing a valuer to fix the assessment of railway and other properties within the county. That course was adopted in the county which he represented—Hereford—with the result of largely increasing the nominal rateable value of railway property throughout the county. The effect of the Amendment would be to add an unnecessary officer to those forming the machinery by which this Bill was to be worked; and he did not think it desirable that such a step should be taken. He therefore hoped that the hon. Member would withdraw his Amendment.
§ MR. RAMSAY
thought that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Leicestershire would tend to secure for the railways the justice to which they were entitled. He thought that the Committee should hesitate before asking the hon. Member for Leicestershire to withdraw an Amendment of this kind, which was calculated to bring about that uniformity in the system of rating of all property throughout Great Britain which the right hon. Gentleman himself desired to see established. He hoped that the Committee would take into consideration the possibility of adopting the Scotch system.
§ MR. CLARE READ
said, that he could not agree in the statement that railway companies had always been hardly treated in the matter of the assessment of their property for the purposes of rating. But, whether that were the case or not, he could say that they had been most unequally treated. In East Anglia some railways paid scarcely a larger assessment than their land would have to pay if there were not a 50 railway upon it. In his own union there had been a considerable increase made in the assessment of the railway property—namely, from £3,000 to £13,000. Contesting the amount of the valuation might be very good for the unions, but it was very bad for the parishes, because the latter had to pay the whole costs of the proceedings, although they only got a proportionate part of the value of the new assessment. This question with regard to railways showed how difficult it was to run a Bill of this kind through the House in a few nights. If they were going to have a Valuation Bill at all, let them have a good one and a thorough one. Seeing that the amount of railway property throughout the Kingdom was so enormous, and that it contributed so largely towards the rates, something at least should be done with the view of making its assessment equitable.
§ SIR ANDREW LUSK
said, that the assessment of railway property in this country was a very large and important matter, seeing that the value of that property amounted to something like £600,000,000 or £700,000,000. One of the difficulties was, that this railway property was assessed in a haphazard way. This was a most unfortunate fact. It was said that railways could take care of themselves; but it was not desirable that they should take care of themselves; at least it was not desirable that they should take care of themselves at the expense of others. He hoped that when the 48th clause came under discussion the right hon. Gentleman would put forward some view on the part of the Government as to the way in which this question should be settled, so as to enable the Committee to arrive at some more equitable mode of assessment of this property than the one adopted under the present system. Some independent authority should be appointed to settle its value on sound and satisfactory principles.
§ MR. BLAKE
thought that the Bill would be incomplete unless it contained some provision for the special assessment of railway property. This was a very important matter, because no class of property was so difficult to value as railway property. The assessment of railway property in Herefordshire had been considerably increased of late, and in every case that increase had been assented to by the companies. He hoped 51 that the hon. Member would persevere with his Amendment.
§ MR. CHILDERS
observed, that the question raised by the Amendment would come before the Committee in a more convenient form when Clause 48 came to be discussed, as at present it was consequential to another Amendment not yet brought forward, and then they should hear in all probability the view of the Government upon the whole question of rating railways. It was quite impossible to discuss the question at that stage. He suggested that the Amendment should be withdrawn, on the understanding that the entire question should be raised on the subsequent clause.
§ MR. PELL
entirely agreed in the proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman; but he hoped that if it were accepted, the clause would be postponed. Before he sat down, he wished to state one or two other very strong reasons why his Amendment, or something like it, should be adopted. On the whole, he concurred with the course which had been taken by the Government in making the surveyor of taxes the dominant power with regard to assessments. That official was introduced into the Bill with considerable power, and with the view that his appearance should have effect in determining what the gross value of properties was to be; but it seemed to be forgotten that these gentlemen would have no place in settling the valuation of railways, such property having been taken out of Schedule A and included in Schedule D. It therefore followed that the surveyors of taxes would have a lively interest in seeing that all hereditaments, except railways and canals, were equitably and properly assessed. They had no interest whatever in the assessment of railways. This, he thought, afforded a very strong reason for inserting in the Bill some such provision as was contained in the Amendment which he had ventured to put upon the Paper. The hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Leeman)—than whom no one in the House was so thoroughly acquainted with every detail of this subject—had told the Committee that under the present system, the valuers who acted for assessment committees with regard to railways were paid for their services by a percentage upon the 52 amount at which they succeeded in fixing the assessment, and were, therefore, always open to the unwholesome influence which such a mode of payment of necessity involved. This was another and a very good reason for the hon. and learned Member—if he wanted one—to support the Amendment before the Committee. If his Amendment were accepted, the county authority, as at present constituted, or the County Government Board, as he hoped it would be at no distant day, would appoint an independent officer, whose income and financial position would not depend upon his fixing the railway assessments at a high amount, but who would be paid by salary, and would have no interest adverse to fixing the assessments of all property on a perfectly fair and equitable basis. He wished to point out that the valuation of this assessor was not necessarily to be conclusive. His duty would be to inform the overseers as to the amount which, in his opinion, ought to be put down in the rate-books as the assessment of each separate piece of property. Having done this, he retired altogether, and the railway or canal companies would have the same right of appeal that was possessed by private persons who thought their assessments too high. But there would be this undoubted advantage from such a system, that it would ensure an uniform and reasonable mode of assessment of railway and land property. Let the Committee consider for a moment what they were doing in this matter. He had not had time at present to get out the figures on the subject—he hoped to be able to do so before the Bill left the House—but the value of the railway property in the country which was assessed to the rates was without question something enormous. He did not know that he should be far wrong in putting it at a twentieth part of the whole property in the country. [No, no!] Well, at any rate, it was an enormous amount, and what had Parliament ever done with regard to the rating of railroads? During the time which had elapsed between the birth of Stephenson and the present day, he was not aware that any Government, of any shade of politics, had ever given any consideration whatever to this question, or had taken the trouble of introducing a Bill with 53 respect to the valuation of railways in England. It had been done in Scotland; and what he was now attempting to do was to introduce, in a modified form, the Scotch system, which had been found to work well, into this country. He should not withdraw his Amendment, but should divide upon it, and so prove himself an exception to the rule with regard to agricultural Members which was laid down by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sandwich (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen), that was to say he should certainly divide, unless he got an assurance from the Government that the clause which he proposed to amend would be postponed, or that, at any rate the question to which it referred would be considered further on. The House was not going to get through this Bill in a day, and there would be plenty of time for Her Majesty's Government to consider the whole matter. He could not, therefore, give way, unless it was made clear to him that before the Bill left the Committee he could bring his Amendment forward again in such a manner as that he would not be prejudiced by anything that might be done to-day. He should certainly bring forward on a future occasion either the same clause which he had now moved or another and better one, which he would ask a professional draftsman to prepare for him.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, that when he came into the House a short time previously he heard the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Leeman) speaking of the vicious system of employing valuers who were paid by percentage, instead of by salary. This practice could not possibly be too strongly condemned, nor could the House be put too much upon its guard against it. The hon. and learned Member mentioned one or two cases in order to show how unjustly the system had worked with regard to railways. Perhaps he might be allowed to mention a case in which it had an equally unjust result as far as a property of another kind was concerned. There was within his knowledge a case in which a county committee employed a valuer from another part of the country to re-value the properties in the county for rating purposes. This gentleman was to be paid by a percentage on the valuation, and in one case he raised the valuation of a mining property 54 in the county to something like £13,000. The owners of the property objected, as a matter of course, to the valuation, and an appeal was at once made to the Court of Quarter Sessions. In the end a compromise was effected, and he believed the assessment was fixed at about £1,300. If he were not out of Order in using the phrase, he should say that the attempt made to put up the assessment of the works was but little short of an attempt at robbery. This circumstance, he thought, illustrated the value of a system which regulated the payment by results of a valuer, who would only be interested in fixing the assessment at as high an amount as possible.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, that at the risk of being supposed to advise the hon. Member who had moved the Amendment not to stick to his colours, he must be permitted to give his opinion for whatever it was worth. He certainly thought the hon. Member would not act wisely in pressing his Amendment, and he thought this entirely from the point of view of the hon. Member. He entirely agreed with him, and with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for York (Mr. Leeman) in thinking that the present mode of assessing railways was not fair to the undertakings assessed. He also thought the time had come at which the fair and equal assessment of railway property ought to be undertaken and dealt with; but he did not think the hon. Member would advance that object by pressing to a division the Amendment which he had moved. As his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) had stated, the Committee was now inclining itself towards a division, or, at any rate, towards concluding this discussion; and no one could say that the subject matter of the Amendment had been, or could be, considered or settled in the course of a debate on the consequential Amendment which had been moved by the hon. Gentleman. It was a very well understood practice in the House that it was fair to those hon. Members who proposed considerable changes or Amendments in Bills to postpone the consideration of the points proposed to be changed or amended until there was a full opportunity for their thorough discussion, after the proposals for change 55 had been matured. It must also be known that it was the ordinary practice of the House to re-commit Bills, where necessary, for the consideration of merely consequential Amendments. Another reason in favour of the suggestion he had made to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Pell) was that if he persisted, after this partial statement of the reasons in favour of his Amendment, and this partial discussion of those reasons, in going to a division, and if he were beaten upon such division, it would tell against him when he brought up his new clause; because although the division would be taken upon a more or less consequential Amendment, it would lead to some extent, in some minds, to the conclusion that the Committee had determined not at any future time to accept the Amendment. If, on the other hand, the hon. Gentleman did not divide, and so provoke a hostile decision upon his present proposal, he would be at perfect liberty to propose his new clause on a future occasion; and if that clause were adopted, the Bill could be re-committed for the insertion of consequential Amendments.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he saw no reason why the clause to which his hon. Friend had proposed an Amendment should be postponed. He was strongly of opinion that the question of the valuation of railways was far too large a one to be dealt with by means of a clause in the present Bill; but, if on further consideration, it should be found practicable to adopt the suggestion of his hon. Friend, he would undertake that no objection to its adoption should arise by reason of the withdrawal of the Amendment. The hon. Member would be perfectly unfettered as to future action in reference to his proposal if he withdrew it at the present juncture, and brought it forward hereafter.
§ MR. FLOYER
hoped his hon. Friend (Mr. Pell) would not press his Amendment at the present time, as the Committee was not in possession of the information which would be necessary to a proper settlement of the question, which would introduce an altogether new principle into the Bill.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, that if the Amendment were to be withdrawn, he would suggest to the hon. Member who had charge of it, that before bringing it forward again, he should consider whether 56 the power he desiderated should not be given to the assessment committee for the county, who would be by far the best authority for settling the question of railway assessments.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. ALDERMAN COTTON moved, in page 3, line 13, to leave out the words "sign the duplicate and."
§ Amendment agreed to.
MR. WHEELHOUSE moved, in page 3, at the end of the clause, to add these words—
Within fourteen days after the transmission to the assessment committee of any valuation or supplementary valuation list, the committee shall give notice to every Railway and Canal Company named in such list as the occupier of any property included therein, and not having any office or place of business in the parish to which such list relates, of the sum or sums set down as the rateable value of the property purporting to be occupied by such Company, and such notice may be served by being transmitted through the post to the principle office of the Company, or one of their principal offices where there shall be more than one.
The hon. and learned Gentleman said, he saw no reason why an intention to increase the assessment of a railway or canal property should not be notified, as promptly as possible, to those who would or might be affected by it.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added?"
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, the Amendment was unnecessary. The Act of 1864 had already provided that whenever it was proposed to increase an assessment, notice should be given to the persons assessed, whether they were public companies or private individuals; and he presumed that where there was no intention to increase, no notice would be either desired or required; but, if the Amendment were agreed to, it would become necessary to give notice at each assessment, whether the amount were increase or not.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 17; Noes 283: Majority 266.—(Div. List, No. 185.)
§ Clause 9 (Notice to occupier where his liability is increased).
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT moved the omission, in line 20, of the words "as soon as practicable," with the view of having inserted, instead of them, the words "seven days." His object, he said was, that information should be given as early as possible under the operation of the Bill to persons whose rating was increased, so that they might know, without loss of time, what the amount was which they would be called upon to pay.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, the Government had deliberately arrived at the conclusion that the words which it was proposed to strike out were the best which could be adopted in the clause. If, however, upon further inquiry, his hon. and gallant Friend should be of opinion that they did not meet the case fairly, he should be happy to confer with him on the subject.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ COLONEL RUGGLES-BRISE moved the insertion, in page 3, line 21, after the word "notice," of the words "in forms provided or sanctioned by the Local Government Board." His object, he explained, was to secure that the notices should be as intelligible as possible, and he trusted the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would see the expediency of accepting the Amendment.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
expressed his regret that he could not comply with the wish of his hon. and gallant Friend.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Clause 10 (Revision of valuation list by assessment committee).
MR. CLARE READ moved the addition, at the end of the clause, of the following words:—
Where the assessment committee is of opinion that any building, by reason of its size, or structure, or of its being adapted only for some special purpose, or for any other reason,
cannot be properly valued according to the rent which, taking one year with another, a tenant might reasonably be expected to pay, and that the gross value of such building, as entered by the overseers in the valuation list, is not sufficient, it shall be lawful for the assessment committee, notwithstanding any provision to the contrary in this Act contained, to determine the gross value of any such building, with reference to the actual value thereof to the person occupying the same, and they may alter the list accordingly.
He believed, he said, that his right hon. Friend at the head of the Local Government Board would be prepared to contend that the Amendment should be embodied in a new clause, which ought to come at the end of the Bill. He would, however, remind the right hon. Gentleman, that the Committee on the Bill might not be concluded before the 9th or 10th of August, if, indeed, it were possible to get through it within that time. He should, therefore, like to say a few words on the Amendment at the present moment, whether it were adopted or not. There were, it could not be doubted, certain descriptions of property which seldom or never let, and the value of which it would be extremely difficult for any assessment committee to determine from one year to another. Of that class were many of the large houses in the country districts. Those houses were scarcely let at all, or, if let, it was generally with a right of sporting, which, with the. houses themselves, invariably brought in a fair amount in the shape of rent. But to let a large house in the country districts without the advantage of any such right was very often a matter of impossibility. A house of the kind, however, was worth a considerable sum to the owner, he himself being the occupier. Under these circumstances, it was, he thought, but fair, that some such latitude as he proposed to give them should be allowed to the assessment committee. The clause itself, he might add, was not, he believed, quite an original one, for, if he remembered rightly, he had seen something like it before in the Valuation Bill which had been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), and which seemed to him to be very much better than the clause which was previously inserted in the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen), because that was a clause by which the assessment was to
be made on the amount of money which might have been expended on a building. A plain square old-fashioned sort of mansion was quite as comfortable to live in as a more elaborate building, with lofty roof and Gothic towers, and upon which no end of money had been expended. But, to return to his Amendment; if his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board objected to the wording of it, and would promise to consider the question which, it raised, he should be happy to withdraw it. There was, no doubt, great difficulty in assessing mansions in the country fairly. In London, or in other large towns in which there was a considerable population, such a difficulty was hardly ever experienced, because plenty of tenants were to be found; but in the country the case was entirely different. In Norfolk there was a mansion which belonged to a squire of the place, and which was valued by the assessment committee at £90. The owner appealed against the assessment, and the committee did not trouble themselves to go before the Quarter Sessions at all, which reduced the amount of the valuation from £90 to £60. The committee next quarter raised the assessment to the original amount; and although the owner protested very vehemently at the outset against the increase, he eventually accepted their decision, so great did the inconsistency appear of having a large mansion assessed at only £60, while a small villa situated in the same village was hired by a retired merchant at £50. He had, in conclusion, simply to say, that he had formed no resolution to adhere to every word of his clause. He, at the same time, hoped his right hon. Friend would give the substance of it his best consideration.
pointed out that the Amendment was not quite germane to the subject-matter of the clause, and that it would be better if it were brought up in the shape of a new clause.
§ MR. CLARE READ
said, he would, of course, at once bow to the ruling of the Chairman, and would embody his Amendment in a new clause, which he would move at a subsequent stage of the discussions in Committee on the Bill.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
expressed his concurrence in the ruling of the Chairman, 60 that the Amendment was not relevant to the subject-matter of the clause.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Clause 11 (Objections to valuation list by overseers, ratepayers, and surveyors of taxes).
MR. HIBBERT moved, in page 3, line 41, at end, to add—
Provided, That no person shall be empowered to appeal to the quarter sessions against a poor-rate made in conformity with the valuation list approved of by such committee, unless he shall have given to such committee notice of objection against the said list, and shall have failed to obtain such relief in the matter as he deems just.
Since he had given Notice of his Amendment, his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board had informed him that the point which it raised was sufficiently met by Clause 16. If that were so, he should not, of course, press the Amendment to a division.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he believed his hon. Friend would find that Clause 16 met the case so fully, that he would not deem it necessary to insist on the insertion in the Bill of the words which he proposed.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Clause 12 (Meetings of assessment committee for hearing objections), agreed to.
§ Clause 13 (Re-deposit of valuation list when altered, and objection to alteration and notice to occupier), agreed to.
§ Clause 14 (Final approval and deposit of valuation list with overseers and clerks of peace), agreed to.
§ Clause 15 (Printing and distribution by clerk of the peace of totals of gross and rateable value in valuation list), agreed to.