§ [Progress 21st March.]
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ (2.) Making of Valuation List.
§ Clause 6 (Making of valuation list by overseers).
§ MR. RAMSAY
moved, as an Amendment, in page 2, line 34, after "parish," insert—And in estimating the yearly value of lands and hereditaments under this Act, the same shall be taken to be the rent at which, one year with another, such lands and hereditaments might, in their actual state, be reasonably expected to let from year to year; and where such lands and hereditaments consist of woods, copse, or underwood, the yearly value of the same shall be taken to be the rent at which such lands and hereditaments might, in their natural state, be reasonably expected to let from year to year, as pasture or grazing lands; and where such lands and hereditaments are bonâ fide let for a yearly rent conditioned as the fair annual value thereof, without premium, fine, or consideration other than the rent, such rent shall be deemed and taken to be the yearly rent or value of such lands and hereditaments in terms of this Act: Provided always, That if such lands and hereditaments be let upon a lease, the stipulated duration of which is more than 21 years from the date of entry under the same, or, in the case of minerals, more than 31 years from such date of entry, the rent payable under such lease shall not necessarily be assessed as the yearly rent or value of such lands and hereditaments, but such yearly rent or value shall be ascertained in terms of this Act irrespective of the amount of rent payable under such lease, and the lessee under such lease shall be deemed and taken to be also the proprietor of such lands and hereditaments in the sense of this Act, but shall he entitled to relief from the actual proprietor thereof, and to deduction from the rent payable by him to such actual proprietor, of such proportion of all assessments laid on upon the valuations of such lands and hereditaments made under this Act, and payable by such lessee, as proprietor in the sense of this Act, as shall correspond to the rent payable by such lessee to such actual proprietor, as compared with the amount of such valuation.He said, that the Amendment which he had to move was as an addition to the clause, and it involved important considerations, which he thought would require the very earnest attention of the 1819 Committee. This Bill had been introduced to secure uniformity in the valuation of property in England; and in proposing the Amendment which he was about to submit, his view was not only to secure an uniform valuation throughout England, but throughout Great Britain. As it stood, the Bill was not framed in such terms as to do anything to secure that uniformity which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had expressed his desire to see established. A committee of overseers in each parish were to make up a valuation list once in five years, and they were to ascertain the rateable value of the property upon the basis prescribed by the Bill itself. The mode prescribed for making such valuation was not in any respect different from the practice that prevailed in England at the present time; and, therefore, in his opinion, the continued application of that system in England, as proposed in the measure, would not secure the uniformity of valuation which the House desired to establish. He had been told that the valuation which he sought to secure was not suitable to the feelings or the sentiments of the majority of the English people. No one in that House could desire more than he did to consider the feelings and sentiments, and even the prejudices, of the people of England; but he did not believe that the ratepayers of England were so enamoured of the expensive and complicated process which now prevailed, and which the Bill was intended to perpetuate, as to prefer it to a more simple plan, which would secure the uniformity which was so much desired. The objection which was raised to his proposal was that uniformity would not be secured, inasmuch as in England there were numerous instances where tenants held lands at less than their actual value, and that landlords continued to maintain tenants in possession at a rent lower than might be obtained by open competition; so that it was erroneous to assume, with such a state of affairs, that the Scotch principle could be applied to England. But it should be remembered that in Scotland also there were numerous estates where land was let at a less rent than would probably be obtained for it if thrown into the market; and no one at all acquainted with the country could doubt that that 1820 was the fact. Nevertheless, that fact did not affect the uniformity of the valuation secured in Scotland, and the Amendment which he moved simply sought to establish throughout Great Britain the uniformity of valuation already established in Scotland by the Act 17 & 18 Vict. c. 91. That Act had operated with satisfaction to the owners and occupiers alike during the period from 1854 to the present time, and should be extended to England. He could not conceive why, if a permanent change in the law of the valuation of property in England were contemplated, it should be desirable to revert to the practice of the past, and to continue to allow the gross and rateable value of property to be estimated according to the opinion of individuals appointed in each locality. Yet that was, in effect, the proposal of the Bill. The definition of gross value given in the Bill itself corresponded very much with the recommendations of the Select Committee appointed in 1867, which stated that the gross value should be—The annual rent which a tenant might reasonably be expected, taking one year with another, to pay for a hereditament, if the tenant undertook to pay all usual tenant's rates, and taxes, and tithe commutation, or rent-charges, or any modus, or possession real, in lieu of tithes, if any, and if the landlord undertook to bear the cost of repairs and insurance, and the other expenses, if any, necessary to maintain the hereditament in a state to command the rent.That seemed to him to be a reasonable proposal; but what he desired was not that the rent which a person might assume a tenant should be reasonably expected to pay should be the basis of valuation, but that the rent that the tenant actually did pay should be taken as the sole criterion of the value. The rent depended upon the agreement which was arrived at between the proprietor and the occupier; and he could not conceive it possible that there could be any good reason shown why, if a rule of that kind were adopted in one part of the Kingdom, it should not be applied to the other parts. If it were true that land was so much cheaper in England than in Scotland as to render it necessary to apply a different rule in the one country from that established in the other, surely some kind of evidence could be found to justify such diversity. It was only to be expected that the tenant-farmers of England should be 1821 found wealthier than those of Scotland; but he was not aware that there was any reason for such a statement, or that the cultivation of land was better or carried to a greater extent in England than in Scotland. On the contrary, considering the different quality of the soil of England from that of Scotland, he believed that the farms of England were cultivated to a loss extent than those of Scotland, and that instead of the farmers of England possessing greater wealth than the farmers of Scotland as a class, it would be found that they were rather less enterprizing, and possessed less wealth, in proportion to the amount of land which they occupied, than the farmers of Scotland. Believing that to be the case, he felt it his duty to put before the House a few matters which he thought affected Scotland unfavourably; and with reference to them he would say that, according to the gross valuation of Scotland, it was the fact that the proportion of the value of real estate in Scotland corresponded closely with the population of the country as compared with England, and that in itself was sufficient to show—and anyone acquainted with the two countries would be satisfied with regard to the matter—that there was some injustice done to Scotland under the present system. With regard to the present law, he might be told that this Bill was not intended to alter it; but be should contend that it did alter it, and made it worse, not only in principle, but in practice, and that was the foundation for his great objection to it. He thought that the Bill would be a very important and a very radical interference with the existing practice, and it seemed to him that it would be more satisfactory to the people of England—that it would give greater satisfaction to the owners and occupiers of land in England—and would be more in accordance with justice, if the law now existing in his own country were adopted for England. In the last Report of the Board of Inland Revenue, they had the fact before them that the gross estimated rental of real property in England and Wales, including the Metropolis, amounted to £150,207,902, and from that amount £19,891,912 was in respect of railways, gasworks, waterworks, canals, &c, which were not chargeable with Income Tax under Schedule A, Now, in Scotland, the 1822 gross annual value of real property was £21,719,117. Of that sum £3,667,899 related to property not chargeable under Schedule A. In the Metropolis the valuation lists in force were binding for the Income Tax and house duty and assessment; but in Scotland the local county rates were levied upon the gross rental. Therefore the Income Tax was taken solely from the valuation roll, and upon that all the county rates, as well as Income Tax, were levied. He had not yet heard any good reason for opposing the introduction into England of the system which would bring about the uniformity desired. He thought he could show that the allegation that the people of Scotland were unequal in wealth to the people of England was borne out by facts. He bad stated that the population of Scotland was nearly one-seventh of the population of England, and that the amount levied in respect of Income Tax exceeded that proportion. Now, if the people of England were really richer than the people of Scotland, that would not be just. If the Bill were passed in the present shape, it would perpetuate and aggravate this injustice to Scotland; and he was certain no right hon. or hon. Member on the opposite side of the House could desire to perpetuate such an injustice. That it was unjust might be best seen from the amounts respectively levied in England in respect of the inhabited house duty. The annual value of houses in England charged with the inhabited house duty was £47,476,028; whereas, in Scotland, it was only £2,910,571, or about one-sixteenth part. So that, in respect of the inhabited house duty, the houses charged in Scotland were equal in value to one-sixteenth of those charged in England; and when they came to the houses which were not charged with house duty, they had £43,703,737 in England as the annual value, and £7,525,189 in Scotland, or something less than one-sixth. One-sixteenth was the proportion which the inhabited house duty bore to what he believed would represent the fair incidence of taxation upon Scotland as compared with England, if it was equitably and fairly adjusted according to the condition of the people of that country. No one acquainted with the mountainous ridges, wild plains, and the barren fields of Scotland, could possibly conceive that 1823 there was any comparison with the fertile plains and rich valleys of England. Moreover, anyone knowing the two countries must be aware that the arable land under cultivation and green pasture in England was seven times in extent of the arable land and green pasture that existed in Scotland. A great part of the lands of Scotland were barren and of little or no value; and he was of opinion, therefore, that it was necessary that that fact should guide the House in dealing with this question and induce it to alter the present system, so that uniformity might be established throughout Great Britain. He had already referred to the defective practice of this country; but he could give, from his own experience, an example where for 12 years it was attempted to make up a valuation list without the aid of the rules which were laid down for guidance in the Valuation Act. He did not want to weary the House; but it might be sufficient to state that after trying to make up the valuation list of the County of Argyll from the year 1843 to 1855 as accurately as possible on a system corresponding very much to that which was proposed in the Bill before the House, instead of being found to be correct, the increments of the annual increase during that period only amounted to £10,500; whereas, under the operation of the Valuation Act, under which the rent paid by the tenant was made the sole criterion of value, the increase in the first year was £34,000; in the 12 years which elapsed from 1855 to 1867 there was an increase of £66,000; and during the 12 years from 1867 to 1879 there was an increase of £82,000. He knew that hon. Gentlemen sometimes shrank from altering the valuation, because they were of opinion that the rates increased in proportion; but, in point of fact, in the instance he was mentioning, the rates were reduced in proportion. For example, in the parish where he lived during the period to which he referred, of 24 years, from the increase in the annual value of the lands, whereas the poor-rate levied was formerly 3s. it had now been reduced to 1s. 6d. in the pound. This showed that it was not a hardship to the taxpayer that the valuation should be increased, for if the valuation were increased equally over the whole area over which the assessor was appointed, it had the 1824 effect of securing uniformity of valuation without detriment to anyone who paid the rates. He therefore felt that, without some such principle as he proposed being accepted as the basis for valuation, the Bill before the House would not only not secure the object they had in view, but would not be a permanent settlement of the question if it became law. He could not conceive that the House would go on imposing a positive injustice on the people of Scotland in making them pay higher rates than the people of England in respect of the same taxes, and if that was not to be perpetuated, they would require to take care that the same rule should be adopted in England as was adopted in Scotland to make up the valuation. Instead of the valuation of Scotland being one-seventh of that of England, it would be about one-tenth, or possibly one-twelfth. The Amendment was really an instruction to the overseers as to what they should do in making a valuation. On the second reading of the Bill, complaint was made that it would be difficult to get the annual value of lands let on lease; but that was a complete fallacy, because the value could be ascertained from the owner and the occupier alike by causing them to sign returns to the person by whom the valuation list was to be made out. Some reference had also been made to the difficulty of obtaining the real value of land let on lease; but the clause provided for that by stating that when a lease was for a longer period than 21 years the occupier of such land should be held to be the owner. He would beg to move the Amendment which stood in his name.
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
wished to know whether the purpose of the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay) in proposing the Amendment was to introduce the rent paid as the test of value, or, on the other hand, whether he proposed to supersede the whole course of English legislation on the question now before the House by the introduction of the Scotch system of valuation as brought into operation in 1854? If the first alternative was the one which he suggested, he (Mr. J. G. Hubbard), for one, would gladly agree with him, for he thought that taking the rent as the element of value was a remedy calculated to obviate the absurdities of the present system. But if 1825 the hon. Member desired to supersede altogether the system before the House, and to introduce the Scotch system of 1854, he ventured to think that the hon. Member altogether misinterpreted the meaning of the Scotch Act. It was true that that Act itself proposed the annual value of the lands as a test for rating purposes, and the Queen's taxes were levied upon the property as standing in the valuation roll. But when the hon. Member said that the poor rate in Scotland was levied upon the same basis, he was at a loss to reconcile that statement with the other facts of the case. The hon. Member had referred to the valuation of land in Scotland in 1865; but one of the measures passed with the object of carrying out that valuation, so far from speaking of rent as a criterion of value, provided that the power introduced in 1845 should not only be authorized to be exorcised, but its exercise was to be made imperative. That was the power by which it was provided that the deduction should be made for the costs of repairs and insurance, and other outgoings, and the adoption of that principle was repeated in subsequent paragraphs of the Bill. Moreover, it was said that the way in which the deductions had been made in Scotland was in accordance with the system which was then in progress in the legislation of England. Those Acts took the view that the Schedule of Deductions to be made throughout Scotland did not materially differ from those made in England. That was practically what was in the Bill before the House, and was consented to by the Board of Supervision in Scotland. The scheme, in fact, was that a value should be adopted, which was to be ascertained by making the deductions from the gross rental as required by Section 37.
§ MR. RAMSAY
, in order to save time, wished to give an explanation with regard to what the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. G. Hubbard) had said. His object was not to impose upon the people of England the Scotch system. For two or three successive years he had been endeavouring to induce the House to adopt the Scotch system, and he had submitted a Bill for that purpose; but he had abandoned the hope of being able to carry that Bill, and, therefore, it was not his wish now to induce the House to introduce the 1826 whole of the Scotch system. But the principal point which he did wish to see adopted, as an essential principle, was that which the right hon. Gentleman approved, and that which was enunciated in the Amendment he had proposed. His sole object in placing it on the Paper at this stage of the Bill was for the purpose of bringing the principle under the notice of the overseers, not as a definition in the Interpretation Clause of the Bill, but as an instruction as to the principles upon which they should proceed. With reference to what the right hon. Member had said with regard to the practice in Scotland, as to giving a deduction, he would beg leave to say that a Bill was now before the House, introduced by the Government, to repeal Clause 37 of the Scottish Poor Law Act, to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred, and which was the sole ground for his observations. Under these circumstances, he thought that it would be seen that the 37th section of the 8 & 9 Vict, was practically repealed.
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
would remind the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs that whatever opinion Her Majesty's Government might have of the 37th section of the Act referred to, yet he could not think that they were going to introduce that view into English legislation. If, however, the principle suggested by the hon. Member that rent should be a basis of valuation was properly defined, he, for one, should be very glad to see that introduced into the present Bill, in the proper place—namely, in Clause 108. The House would hardly consent to the introduction of the clause now suggested at that stage of the Bill, as it would practically stultify the whole process of legislation for the last 18 years.
§ MR. BRISTOWE
said, he was not able to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay). It seemed to him that the Amendment, if it meant anything, was practically a suggestion that Clause 108, so far as affected hereditaments, would take them back to the whole question of hypothetical tenants. In clause 108, the expression "gross value" was made to depend upon hypothetical tenancy; but it seemed to him that the proposed Amendment would be anything but an improvement. It was provided in the Amendment that in estimating the 1827 yearly value of lands and hereditaments under the Act, the same should be taken to be the rent at which one year with another such lands and hereditaments in their actual state might be reasonably expected to let from year to year. That, after all, was a question of the hypothetical tenant. The Amendment went on—And where such lands and hereditaments consist of woods, copse, or underwood, the yearly value of the same shall be taken to be the rent at which such lands and hereditaments might, in their natural state, be reasonably expected to let from year to year as pasture or grazing lands, and where such lands and hereditaments are bonâ fide let for a yearly rent conditioned as the fair annual value thereof, without premium, fine, or consideration other than the rent, such rent shall be deemed and taken to be the yearly rent or value of such lands and hereditaments in terms of this Act.But supposing that the tenant to whom lands were let at yearly rent had improved them, then there came the question of the improved rateable value; and a difficulty arose in the interpretation of this clause. In his opinion, Clause 108, as it stood, was far better than the suggestion of the hon. Member. For these reasons, he could not support the Amendment.
§ MR. CLARE READ
said, that as he had an Amendment on Clause 108 to the effect that—Where a hereditament is bonâ fide let for a yearly rent, without fine or consideration other than the rent, such rent should be taken as the basis of valuation,he should like to say a few words in support of the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay). He might say, however, that he was unable to agree with every portion of that Amendment. Nor did he think that they need complicate the subject by the introduction of matters relating to Scotland, such as the hon. Member had endeavoured to introduce. Neither did he think that it was necessary, in that place, to deal with lands and hereditaments let upon lease, for they were then entirely upon tenements let from year to year. He apprehended that the clause proposed by the hon. Member must be one taken from some Scotch Act. He did, however, entirely agree with this—that where "lands and hereditaments were let bonâ fide at a yearly rent conditioned on the fair annual value thereof without premium, 1828 fine, or consideration other than the rent," then that it was a sound principle to take such rent as the value of the lands. It had been said that it was impossible to consider both the value and the rent. In this instance, he thought that the rent must be taken as the criterion of value, or otherwise they would have an exceptionally high assessment in consequence of the action of the Surveyor of Taxes. He wished to draw attention to this, because it was the principle of the Bill, and he considered a dishonest principle, for it put matters in the hands of that functionary. The practical working of that system everyone knew. Where the rent was fair, and there was no fine, premium, or consideration, then the value ought not to be calculated at more than the rent. He would contend that the Surveyor of Taxes could upset any valuation that might be made. They might have a perfectly fair rent paid, or annual value fixed on the premises; but, according to his experience, it would be found that someone would be found to say that the property was worth more than it was let at. The question was, were they going to allow every assessment to be based upon rent paid, or were they going to let the Surveyor of Taxes place the value of the property at what figure he pleased? A man might let a farm for £200 a-year which everyone knew to be worth not £150; was it right to allow the landlord to pay property tax on the £150, although he actually received £200? It would be much better to take as the standard of value the actual rent paid, for, after all, rent was a fact and value only an opinion. It was no answer to this to say that in England there were many farms which were let at very low rents; but, with regard to farms let upon lease, he would exclude them from the operation of the clause. Leases prevailed more extensively in Scotland than in England, and that was one principal reason why rents were higher in that country than in England. He would exclude leases altogether from the clause, and deal solely with property held from year to year. If any reservation were made on the part of the landlord by which the tenant was bound to make some improvement, or by any means less rent was received by reason of any reservation, then he would exclude that case from the operation of the clause. He would go further, and say, that if a landlord 1829 persisted in encumbering an estate with ground game, or even with timber, and letting it at a low rent in consequence, then he should treat such a case as within the rule with regard to reservation. He believed that a fair rent put far more money into landlords' pockets than excessive rents in the long run. Having had considerable experience in the management of estates, he had found that more profit was made in the end by letting at fair rents than by demanding extortionate sums, though, unhappily, the present Law of Distress enabled an extortionate landlord to secure his rent at the expense of the other creditors. He could name two or three instances, especially in his own county, where the rent had been 10s. an acre more than it ought to be. In recent years no one would take the farms, and, in consequence of that, farms which had been let at 30s. an aero came to be let at 10s. an acre. It would be monstrously unfair that the tenant who had taken a farm at a rent of 10s. an acre should pay upon the valuation of 30s. an acre, because the Surveyor asserted that that money had previously been paid for it. With regard to small farms, landlords had to lay out considerable sums of money, and it was only by so doing that they were let at the rents which they fetched. With respect to accommodation land, it had been said, how unfair to tax the poor tradesmen who might occupy his pasture land in the vicinity of a town, and pay £5 or £6 an acre for it, when it was only worth £2 or £3! To that argument all he could say was that the situation of land had a great deal to do with its value, and if £5 or £6 an acre were given for it, that might fairly be taken to be the value of the land. It seemed to him that in taxing the tradesman upon that rent they were only doing what the Poor Law said ought to be done—namely, compelling every man "to contribute according to his ability." If it were true, as it was sometimes said, that it was the owner and not the occupying tenants in England who paid the rates, then rent and rates ought to go together; and if a man paid 10s. or 15s. an acre rent more than the land was worth, and had to pay 2s. or 2s. 6d. extra for rates, he would not be disposed to continue to pay that rent. They had been told that this Act had been 1830 in force in the Metropolis, and had given universal satisfaction. To whom? To the Government officials, taxgatherers, and probably the Local Government Board, because it had increased the assessments so much that the people did not know the extra amount of rates which had been put upon them during the last few years. He was told, however, that this Act did not operate so much to the satisfaction of every householder; for it had not been satisfactory to householders to find their water rates and other taxes based upon an increased assessment, and they did not altogether approve of the scheme. No doubt, they would also be told that it was not the Surveyor of Taxes that had raised the assessments, but that the Act appointed an Assessment Committee having local control in the matter. An Assessment Committee might be composed of tradesmen who would think it right to assess the houses of gentlemen living on their means, or professional men, at a higher rate than they did their own shops. He had known a case where a medical man had thought it necessary to acquire a suitable residence in a particular district, and, in consequence of the high rent he paid, the assessments were raised all round. In Scotland, there was no doubt whatever that the Surveyor of Taxes virtually controlled the assessments. Where rent was taken as the basis of valuation, he must control the assessment. He would re-iterate that he was more in favour of general valuation than of the rent paid being taken as the value; but still, he thought, under this Bill, the rent was the best criterion. The Inland Revenue officers were very pleasant men; but he would quote one fact, to show what advantage even those high-class officials took of ignorant or careless landowners. The land tax was over £1,000,000, and should be deducted from the assessment before any property tax was paid; the annual sum allowed was only £450,000; so Schedule A was paid upon more than £500,000 than it ought to have been. The Surveyors were very quick in detecting mistakes where they were made against themselves; but they permitted ignorant persons to pay more than they ought, without any remonstrance, he would illustrate what he meant by giving an instance of the property tax assessment. In a very small parish just out- 1831 side his own, the principal occupiers were small farmers who had risen from the ranks. All were entitled to deductions from Schedule B, and many ought not to have paid at all. The sum charged under Schedule B at 3d. was over £11; but when the proper deductions were allowed, the amount was under £5, although the property tax now stood at 5d. In conclusion, he should not like to be the Government which appealed to the country some 15 months after this Bill passed into law—for he supposed the Government meant to pass it. The members of the Assessment Committees throughout the country were men of great influence and importance. This Bill would upset all their previous work, and would make them raise assessments generally, which would so harass and irritate the ratepayers that it would tend to reduce the Conservative majority in the next Parliament.
§ MR. HIBBERT
ventured to call attention to the fact that the speech of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), as well as that of the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay), in moving the Amendment, although, no doubt, in Order at that stage of the Bill, yet did not properly apply to the clause under consideration. It seemed to him that the proper time for the discussion of the Amendment was when another clause was before the Committee. He rose for the purpose of asking his hon. Friend the Member for the Falkirk Burghs not to press his Amendment further; for he thought that, from the observations which had already been made, he must have observed that a proposal, like the present, to impose the Scotch law upon England, was one that would hardly be acceptable to the English people. In his opinion, it was very undesirable to change the entire system which had been so long in use in England, because a great deal of trouble had been taken in reducing it into shape, and there had been legal decisions on many points of it. If a change were made, the overseers would have great difficulty in knowing what the law was, or in what way they could make up the valuation lists. For these reasons, he thought that it was not desirable to bring the Scotch system into the English Bill; and, thinking that this was not the proper place to raise 1832 the discussion, he would ask his hon. Friend to withdraw the Amendment.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
would also venture to request the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay) to withdraw his Amendment, for he considered that the question would be more properly discussed when they came to Clause 108 of the Bill. He did not think that it would be desirable now to come to any decision on the matter, for it would prevent them discussing it on a future occasion.
§ MR. MUNTZ
thought the Committee was much indebted to the hon. Member who had introduced the Amendment (Mr. Ramsay), and also to the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), for the information which they had given. It should be remembered, however, that it was proposed by the Bill that the value of property should be taken at the gross rent, or what was equivalent to it. The value of the property from one year to another at the real rent obtainable was, in fact, the actual yearly value. Still, it was true that they were taxed upon a nominal value, and that the house duty and the property tax were both paid on this entirely imaginary value. Moreover, the landlord now contributed little more than two-thirds of the property tax on buildings, as the tenant could only deduct the tax from the actual amount paid for rent, although he had to pay the tax on the gross or imaginary value. He thought his hon. Friend had done good service by bringing the subject before the Committee; but he would recommend that the Motion should not be pressed to a Division.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
thought that there should be an expression of opinion from the front Treasury Bench on this subject, and that the Government should state whether they intended that the rent should be taken as the value of the property. It was his firm belief that if the question of taking rent were more or less settled, the Bill would do far more good than if left as it at present stood. It was unnecessary to wait until they came to Clause 108 for the expression of the opinion of Her Majesty's Government; for unless something was said now, the point would be raised on every possible occasion in the Bill, and would consequently very much hinder its progress. He was sorry not 1833 to see the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board in his place, and still more so for learning that illness was the reason for his absence. He thought that the Government should make up their minds and come to some determination upon this point, which was by no means an unimportant one. It seemed to him that they should not lose sight of the fact that if the rent was not taken as a criterion of value one of two things would happen. First, as now, the Surveyor of Taxes would raise the value to the highest possible point, or he would step in and state what he thought the value ought to be, looking at rents paid for similar land in the immediate neighbourhood, which was the great complaint now made in the assessment of lands, houses, and to the Income Tax. That was a very important matter to consider, and he thought that some indication of the opinion of the Government should be given. He had risen, not because he was able to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay), but because he considered that, although this was not absolutely the right time to discuss the matter, yet that it was very material in the interest of the measure that some expression of the views of Her Majesty's Government should be given on so important a point.
§ MR. PELL
would also like to know whether the Government were willing to accept the principle that the rent was to be the criterion of value? For if they gave an early expression of their views a great deal of time would be saved. He did not intend to trouble the House with many observations on the matter at that period, but would reserve them for a future occasion. He would only state that he was distinctly in favour of the Amendment, and he did hope that the Government would at once say what their intentions were with regard to the point.
§ MR. SALT
very much regretted—and he felt sure that the House would share his regret—that his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board was absent from his place through illness. Under these circumstances, he would endeavour to do his best to occupy his place. The hon. Members who had last spoken had commented upon the stage of the Bill in which the hon. Mem- 1834 ber for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay) had introduced his Amendment. He had no complaint to make against his hon. Friend—indeed, he rather thanked him for bringing the matter for ward—and this for two reasons. First, because the hon. Member, in the course of his interesting speech, had laid before the Committee his knowledge and experience with regard to the Scotch law; and, secondly, because, by the introduction of the subject at this point, he had cleared the way for the future progress of the Bill. Even if the hon. Member had succeeded in obtaining the approbation of the House to his Amendment as it stood, yet he (Mr. Salt) should still have been obliged to ask him to postpone the insertion of the Amendment to a later period of the Bill for technical reasons. But none the less he considered that the discussion which had taken place had been of considerable use, and had drawn forth some very interesting and valuable speeches. He must deal for a minute or two with the Amendment introduced by the hon. Member, and he hoped that he might be induced by the representations which had been made on both sides of the House to withdraw it, leaving the very important point raised by it for discussion on a subsequent clause. The hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs had dwelt upon the necessity or desirability of creating uniformity in these matters between England and Scotland. For his part, he would be very glad to see anything done which would bring the various parts of the Kingdom, and, he might add, Scotch and English Members, nearer together, whether in legislation or anything else; but he was afraid they had not yet arrived at the time when the Scotch people would be prepared to accept all the English laws, or the people resident in England to accede to the introduction of Scotch laws. He had noticed with some interest, when the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs was pressed with regard to the details of his Amendment, that he acknowledged he did not propose to bring all the details of the Scotch law into the Bill. Therefore, the uniformity, upon which the hon. Member laid so much stress, was not seriously proposed even by himself. Another point which he could not pass over was partly alluded to by some other hon. Members. The extreme inconvenience of introducing 1835 a new system, of procedure into the business of the country would, as stated, be very keenly felt. It should be remembered—and it was a point that one was very apt to forget—that an Act of Parliament began its history only when it left that House. People had to deal with complicated clauses not in the way of pleasant discussion as they were treated in that House, but in the endeavour to carry the provisions into daily use. Every fresh Act of Parliament had to be dealt with by those concerned in local matters with great care, and to their great honour it could be said that they evinced every desire to carry it into effect. By that means they gained a knowledge and experience of a system and gradually worked it into shape. And it should be remembered that an Act of Parliament, revolutionizing a whole system, would take many years before it could be worked into daily use and practice. At the present time, as hon. Members were well aware, the whole English procedure was different from that in use in Scotland, and the system in use in England was one to which the local bodies were accustomed by daily use and practice, and had been carried into effect by various decisions in Courts of Law, and after difficult and expensive inquiries. If, with the approval of the House, they endeavoured to introduce into the English system of valuation an entirely new method of procedure, everyone practically acquainted with the matter would know that such a course would give rise to endless inquiries and endless litigation. That was one strong reason why he could not accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs. Further, he might go into the details of his Amendment, and point out the matters to which he could not assent; but after the discussion that had taken place it was not necessary to do so. He might, however, say that there was one part of the Amendment which he held to be perfectly sound in principle. It was the first part, which was to the effect that—In estimating the yearly value of the lands and hereditaments under this Act, the same shall he taken to be the rent at which, one year with another, such lands and hereditaments might in their actual state he reasonably expected to let from year to year.That he held to be perfectly sound in principle. How far the insertion of the 1836 actual rent in the valuation list could be carried out in practice, having regard to the circumstances of the case, he did not know. It should be remembered that there were various circumstances under which property was held which would tend very much to complicate the matter. He noticed that the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), in giving his opinion, not merely upon the clause of the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs, but upon many parts of the Bill, and, indeed, he might say upon things in general, in the course of his argumentative and able speech, said, speaking of rent, that in the consideration of the clause relating to rent as the gross value leases must be left out of the question altogether. If, however, they were to consider the question of rent seriously, they must not deal with the matter in that pleasant way, and must not shut their eyes to the duty they had to discharge. In looking over a broad landscape they should not gaze merely upon the sunshine, and avoid observing the rain cloud. They must deal with the whole thing, and if they made rent the basis of valuation they must look at all the consequences of what they were doing. It would be necessary gravely to consider the whole question, and to remember that they were going to establish a new system; and that if they were going to get some new advantage from it they might possibly get some disadvantage, and then they could balance the advantage and disadvantage, and would be able to come to a conclusion. If rent, pure and simple, could always be taken as the value, that would, of course, be a most charming way of solving the difficulty; but they must deal with things as they found them, and with people as they were, and when they found that some circumstances—leases, charges, and other matters affecting rent materially—complicated the question, some solution of how they were to be dealt with must be arrived at before they could come to any decided opinion. He believed he was speaking the views of both his right hon. Friend who was in charge of the Bill (Mr. Sclater-Booth), and his right hon. Friend near him (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), by saying that when the time came in the discussion of the Bill for the question to be raised of rent as the basis of valuation, the Government were 1837 prepared to go into it in a friendly and, at the same time, cautious spirit. He made no promise, and he gave no pledge, for promises and pledges led to misunderstandings; but when the proper time came for dealing with the question, his right hon. Friend would be prepared to go into the discussion of rent as a basis of valuation in a thoroughly impartial spirit, but aiming as much as possible at the attainment of what they all desired, a clear and fair system of valuation.
§ MR. RAMSAY
very much regretted that his remarks had not been understood, or that he had failed to make his meaning clear. His Amendment was divided into two parts. The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) complained that he dealt with leases; but it was with leases of long duration that he proposed to deal, and that was necessary. He only proposed to legislate for leases of more than 21 years' duration, as the hon. Gentleman would see what he proposed was that—Where such, lands and hereditaments are bona fide let for a yearly rent conditioned as the fair annual value thereof, without premium, tine, or consideration, other than the rent, such rent shall he deemed and taken to be the yearly rent or value of such lands and hereditaments in terms of this Act.If the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Salt) had said he was prepared to accept the principle contained in these words, he (Mr. Ramsay) would not have pressed them; but he was now asked not to go to a Division. The Government, by placing the 108th clause at the end of the Bill, without fixing the principle upon which assessments were to be ascertained, had been guilty of a grave error, and he thought these principles should be first settled. The Committee could not proceed to legislate in utter ignorance of the principles upon which assessments were hereafter to be ascertained. If the hon. Gentleman would accept the principle contained in the words he had just quoted, he might see his way to withdraw his Amendment; but at present he would give neither promise nor pledge. If that were so, where was the value of the present discussion? They would have it all over again on Clause 108. If the Government would accept the principle of the Amendment, he would withdraw it; for it merely was intended to raise the broad question whether rent 1838 was to be the criterion of value, as a matter of fact, and not as a matter of opinion. Their assessment of rates should be upon matters of fact, and not upon matters of opinion, for opinion would, of course, vary, and must necessarily vary in different localities. ["Divide, divide!"] Hon. Members were impatient; but he thought he had reason for putting this matter at length, as he clearly had not made himself understood.
thought the whole object of the discussion would be lost if some understanding were not arrived at. They desired, in a somewhat irregular way, to get rid of a difficulty which had overshadowed the whole of this measure. It seemed to him, however, that the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Ramsay) demanded too much. He admitted that he had a very great acquaintance with the measure; but the hon. Member insisted on having his own words, and nothing but his own words, and demanded that the Committee should swallow these or nothing. He understood, from the speech of the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, that he was favourable to the principle of accepting rent as a basis of valuation. It was true he did not pledge himself to the particular words of the Scotch Act, because, though they might be perfectly applicable to Scotland, they might not be altogether suitable to England; but he did accept, as a general principle, that rent was to be the basis of valuation. Other words might be found capable of expressing this more clearly to English minds; but the principle he had indicated was, he understood, thoroughly accepted by the Government, and, that being so, he thought they ought to get on with the Bill.
§ COLONEL RUGGLES BRISE
considered it most important that the Committee should know upon what principle this Bill was to be based as regarded valuation. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Salt) had said that it was as fair a basis as could be arranged; but he wanted to know whether the hon. Gentleman would agree that rent actually should be the basis? That was what they wanted to know, for they did not want to be left in the hands of Inspectors, Surveyors of Taxes, or other Government officers. There were many other ways of estimating the valuation, all more or 1839 less unfair; but this principle of taking rent as the basis was satisfactory. At present, where rent was low, the Surveyor of Taxes had the opportunity of putting up the assessment, and so of making himself very unpleasant all round. That was the point which they all wished to obviate. Where the rent was high, the Surveyor of Taxes would not lower the assessment, and could not, if he wished it, for the rest of the Assessment Committee would not let him; but where it was low, he had the power of dealing with it, and was sure, almost invariably, to put it high. A case of this kind had come under his (Colonel Brise's) own knowledge. A large farm of 450 acres was let at 25s. an acre; while a neighbouring farm, of half the size, adjoining the estates of a gentleman who preserved highly, was let at £2 per acre. They were both of much the same class of land, so far as the land went. As soon as the Surveyor found out the difference in the rents, he raised the assessment of the larger farm. But the gentleman who took the smaller farm hired it principally for the shooting, and did not care for the farming so much. Yet, in consequence, his neighbour's assessment was raised 10s. per acre. Two years after, the tenant of the 250 acres was bankrupt, and then the farm let for much less. Yet, during these years, the tenant of the larger farm had to pay assessment on 10s. an acre more than his land was really worth. He had known cases of the greatest inconvenience and hardship resulting from this arbitrary system, and from the vexatious system pursued by the Surveyor of Taxes. That being so, the Committee could not be surprised that the whole country was alarmed at the idea that control was to be given in this matter to the Government officials. He hoped this matter would be settled, and that they would have some more definite answer from the Government before the discussion went any further.
§ MR. SALT
feared that the answer he had given had not been quite clearly understood. He intended to convey that he would accept the principle of rent, subject to the reservations that, in the first place, there were many cases in which the principle of rent pure and simple did not apply; and, secondly, that he hoped they would have a full discussion, either on the Amendment of 1840 his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), on Clause 108—Where a hereditament is bona fide let for a yearly rent without fine or consideration other than the rent, such rent shall be taken as the aunual value,or that at some other stage they should have the question pure and simple raised. In that way, the opinion of the Committee would be elicited. They would get as much information as they possibly could, and they would be able to arrive at a fair conclusion. But he would be doing very wrong if, upon an Amendment which he could not accept, he were to undertake to say, broadly and carelessly, that they heartily accepted the principle of rent as the basis of valuation. He would say, quite frankly and fairly, that if they could see their way, after full discussion, to accept the principle proposed, they would only be too glad, for the Government sympathized with the supporters of this principle, and wished to aid them. But it would not be fair for him to say he would accept any principle proposed to him without warning the Committee that it might happen, though he did not think it would, that when they came to discuss the question there might be very great difficulty in carrying it out.
§ MR. PELL
could hardly think that the hon. Gentleman was taking the wisest course in speaking as he had done. He hoped that they would have had some statement from him more definite and distinct. He quite understood that the exact terms in which they would make rent the basis of value could not be now stated; but he did hope that they would have had some more favourable expressions from the Government with reference to acceptance of rent. The hon. Gentleman, in his first speech, said it would be the duty of the Government to look at this question very carefully. But that was their duty in any case. They could not say that sufficient time had not been given them to inquire into the circumstances. This Bill had been a long time before the House, and these Amendments proposed by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Ramsay), and by his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), had been upon the Notice Paper of the House for a very considerable period of time. They were there last year; 1841 opinions had been expressed upon them; they had been discussed very freely in the public Press, and it was hardly fair to tell the Committee that the Government were now prepared to consider the matter carefully. Again, the hon. Gentleman had said the Government must deal with what they found to be the opinion of the Committee. Well, if he (Mr. Pell) did not mistake, the opinion of the Committee was distinctly in favour of the principle that rent should be the basis of value; and he, therefore, would ask the Government whether, if they would not accept the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Ramsay), they would accept the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), which was simpler in its terms, and met the requirements of the case in a better way? The earlier part of the present Amendment, however, did very well; but it was overloaded with the latter part. The hon. Member would have made out a better case, and his position would have been an easier and a better one, had he left that out. He would be sorry to see the debate drop at the point to which they had now come, and to find hon. Members retire from the position they had taken, upon the unsatisfactory and flavourless statement just made from the front Bench. He did not know what to do about the Amendment, because he could not entirely agree with it; but, at the same time, he was certain that they must have some more precise statement from the Ministerial Bench than they had yet heard. If the Government did not mean to make rent the basis of value let them say so at once, and then the Committee would know the exact position in which they were placed. No doubt, on the whole, the Bill was a good one; but it would certainly be improved by the introduction of this principle. He knew there were many cases where it would not apply; but in 99 cases out of 100 they could by no possibility get a more satisfactory valuation than the one now proposed. If that were so, he hoped the Government would not, thus early in the discussion, discourage the Committee by giving so undecided an opinion on the matter as that to which they had just listened.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he did not quite understand 1842 the feeling of the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Pell), or what he wished, or expected to be said, more than had been said by his hon. Friend (Mr. Salt). His hon. Friend had said that this was a question of great importance, upon which the precise wording of the clause required careful consideration. But as regarded the principle, the Government would accept, and would desire to give effect to the principle that the bonâ fide rent should be taken as the basis of value. How to divide bonâ fide rent from other considerations required, however, careful wording.
§ SIR BALDWYN LEIGHTON
hoped that after what had been stated by the Government the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Ramsay) would not press the Amendment at present before the House. Many of the hon. Members who were in favour of the principle did not altogether accept the words of the Amendment, because, however well they might be suited to Scotland, they were not exactly what was wanted in England. The conditions of the two countries as regarded the letting of agricultural land were different; whereas in Scotland the land was let almost, as it were, by auction to the highest bidder, that was by no means the case in England. Speaking as the Chairman of an Assessment Committee, he could not support the Amendment of the hon. Member opposite.
§ MR. RAMSAY
was very much surprised at the feeling hon. Members showed against the introduction of any part of the Scotch law into England. The principle he proposed had been found to be of very great utility in Scotland; and yet a great objection was taken to it because it was a Scotch law, hon. Members forgetting that the law was made by this House. There was no distinction between Scotland and England, and he did not see why what was good for Scotland should not be applied in this country also. But, with the view of testing the question and setting himself right with the Committee, he would propose to amend his Amendment by leaving out the greater part of it, and he would make it read as follows:—And in estimating the yearly value of lands and hereditament under this Act, the same shall he taken to be the rent at which, one year with another, such lands and hereditaments might in their actual state be reasonably expected to 1843 let from year to year; and where such lands and hereditaments are bona fide let for a yearly rent conditioned as the fair annual value thereof, without premium, fine, or consideration other than the rent, such rent shall be deemed and taken to be the yearly rent or value of such lands and hereditaments in terms of this Act.If, however, his hon. Friends generally were of opinion that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer did promise the acceptance of the principle, without reference to the wording, he would not press his Amendment.
§ MR. STANSFELD
was of opinion that his hon. Friend (Mr. Ramsay) would be entirely justified in withdrawing his Amendment after the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They had been discussing the question under considerable disadvantage, due to the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Sclater-Booth). No doubt, his hon. Friend (Mr. Salt) felt this difficulty, and so had many other Members of the Committee. But after the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the authority which he naturally possessed, he thought his hon. Friend might withdraw his Amendment, for he had been able to give with sufficient explicitness and clearness the assurances which they required. He noted with satisfaction that the Chancellor of the Exchequer told them that words would be introduced in the Bill in order to carry out this principle of making rent the basis of valuation. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Yes.] That statement implied that some change would be made in the Bill, as at present drafted, and that was as far as the Committee could expect the Government to go at present.
§ MR. CLARE READ
said, he understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that he would take the bonâ fide rent as the basis of assessment. That entirely embodied the principle of his Amendment, and he was quite satisfied with the explanation.
§ MR. RAMSAY
was quite satisfied if the principle was conceded. He was in no way wedded to any precise words.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to, and ordered to stand part of the Bill.1844
§ Clause 7 (Form and contents of valuation list).
§ MR. HICKS
said, the clause at present stood thus—The valuation list shall he in the form given in the 3rd Schedule to this Act, or in such other form as the Local Government Board, after communication with the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, from time to time direct.He proposed to leave out all the words after the word "Act." There was at the end of the Bill a table of the way in which the valuation list was to be made up, and he had no doubt that table had been prepared with the very greatest care by the right hon. Gentleman who brought in the Bill. Still, should the table require any amendment, it surely could be amended before this Bill became law. If it required any amendment when the Act was in operation, he was of opinion that the alteration should not be made without the approval and the consent of Parliament. Of late years, a practice had crept in of delegating to officers of Public Departments duties which properly belonged to the House, and he considered it a most objectionable proceeding. He, therefore, would move this Amendment, and he felt justified in doing so by the remarks which had fallen from many hon. Members during the discussion on the Amendment just withdrawn with regard to the interference of the Surveyor of Taxes.
§ MR. SALT
explained that the words were inserted more as a matter of convenience than for anything else. It was not a matter of any great importance, except that it was felt undesirable to put Schedules into a Bill of this kind which could not be altered without an Act of Parliament. There was no intention of altering the Schedule in the Bill, and this provision was merely inserted as a safeguard, in order that slight alterations which might be subsequently found necessary could be made without going through the formality of passing an Act of Parliament. He believed that the Inland Revenue, under the present Act, had power to prescribe the form in which their Returns should be made, so that this proposition was in no way exceptional. There was no principle involved, and he hoped his hon. Friend would not press the Amendment.
§ MR. WHITWELL
asked whether the Committee Would be able, when 1845 they reached the Schedule, to make changes in it, as, unless that were the case, the present clause would prejudge the question?
§ MR. GOLDNEY
was by no means inclined to admit that there was no principle involved in the Amendment. If they allowed the clause to pass, the overseers would be very likely to get into difficulty in making out their Returns; while, if the table were in the Bill, there could be no difficulty. It would not do to have objection taken to these lists on the ground that some new rule or order had been issued from the Central Office in London, which varied or changed the whole course of procedure. He did not see why the House was not perfectly competent to deal with so simple a thing as the form of claim in a rate-book; and he did not see, also, why the overseers should not find in the Act itself full and complete information as to what they ought and what they ought not to do.
§ MR. HIBBERT
could not see any objection to allowing this power to the Local Government Board, although he thought the extension of the power to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue was very objectionable.
§ MR. PEASE
hoped the Amendment would have the support of the Committee, for he looked upon these words as another attempt to keep some matter under the control of these authorities in London, when they were perfectly capable of attending to it and dealing with it in the country. If the Schedule in the Bill were confirmed and approved by the Committee, it ought to be the one on which all Returns should be made. There could be no greater inconvenience than to allow the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or the Local Government Board authority to alter the Schedules on which these rates were to be made. All the House had to do was to see that the Schedule was properly drawn, and if then it did not work well, by far the best thing was to ask the House to amend it.
§ MR. CLARE READ
said, the Committee would see from the Amendment what a centralizing measure this was. It not only fettered all the local authorities, but it also gave these two Depart- 1846 ments in London power, in any way they thought proper, to override and annoy them. He hoped that his hon. Friend would go to a Division, and that all hon. Members would do all that was in their power to take as much of the mischief out of the Bill as they possibly could.
§ MR. ASSHETON
hoped the Government would give way, as these words ought certainly to be left out. Nothing could be more anomalous than to say that these tables were to be made out according to the form given in the Act, unless the Local Government Board preferred some other form.
§ MR. STANSFELD
wished to remind the Committee that this was merely a Consolidation Clause, enacting the existing law. It was simply the clause that was to be found in the Act 32 & 33 Vict. c. 67.
§ MR. RYLANDS
entirely agreed with the Amendment, and hoped the Committee would hesitate before they gave this power to any central authority to interfere with the Schedule. Before the Bill left the Committee, a proper form of Schedule could certainly be settled. He, for one, looked with so much jealousy upon centralization in any form that he sincerely hoped the question would be pressed to a Division.
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
hoped, on the contrary, that the matter would not be pressed to a Division, for he desired, and expected, that the Government would give way. It was impossible for anybody who knew anything about the ways of Government Departments in this country to feel inclined to trust them implicitly with powers of this kind. The Schedule, at present, was a long way off, and there was plenty of time for the Government to alter and improve it. If, however, it would not work in the form in which it passed the House, it certainly ought to be brought to the House for amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to; words struck out accordingly.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to, and ordered to stand part of the Bill.1847
§ Clause 8 (Deposit and transmission of valuation list to assessment committee and surveyor of taxes).
§ MR. PELL
moved, as an Amendment, in page 3, line 12, after the word "duplicate," to insert the words "and any special valuation made by the assessor of railways and canals." He was quite aware that, by proposing to insert these words in the clause, he was raising the question of the principle upon which a very large amount of property in this country should be valued. He certainly, therefore, would not have ventured to place this Amendment upon the Paper, unless he had felt that there were good reasons to be urged in favour of it, and reasons to which effect had been given in another part of the Kingdom—namely, Scotland. What was the present position of the overseer of a parish in the country, when about to insert in his valuation list an estimate of the value of the railway line which passed through his parish? What could that poor man know about the matter, and what reasonable means had he of coming to a conclusion? What he usually did was to go to the overseer of the neighbouring parish and ask him how he was to make his estimate? The reply he usually got from his friend was that he really did not know; but that he had made a shot at it of so much, and he might perhaps try a little more, and see how the experiment answered. In some such way valuation lists in the country were made out in respect of railway property, and such a thing was neither creditable to the country nor in agreement with common sense and prudence. Now and then, when a parish or a Union, under the apprehension that they were suffering from grave injustice, called in experts or professional men, it had happened that an assessment had been raised 1,400 per cent, while 300, 400, or 500 per cent was not at all an uncommon or an unusual increase. In these cases, too, the companies had nearly all agreed to the assessments. Mr. Justice Field, when engaged in a case of this kind for a Union, said—The parish officers have no means, before coming into this Court, of testing the accuracy of the figures on which the company rely.If that were so, the overseers certainly could have no means of ascertaining 1848 whether the valuation was correct. When railways were first constructed—and it was the case with canals also—the idea was that the companies would take a certain toll for the use of their road by the public; and if that had been the case, there would have been no difficulty in assessing the rateable value of any part of the line. But that was not the case. The railways were great carriers, and the idea of a person running his own engine along the line had never been practically carried out. But not only were the railways great carriers, but they were owners of steamboats and managers of hotels, and it was quite out of the power of persons who ordinarily filled the posts of overseers to form any opinion as to the amount of the valuation they should place in their lists. The Legislature were now endeavouring to help overseers and the public and clerks of counties to ascertain the rateable value of property. Up to the present the law had not done much. The 8 Vict. c. 20, which comprised, in one general Act, the scattered provisions of other Acts, enacted that each railway company should cause an annual account and abstract to be prepared, showing the detailed receipts and expenditure of the company for the year ending December 31. When that was prepared, the company was to transmit to each overseer a copy of the account. But how should an overseer, when he had these detailed accounts put into his hands, decide the amount for which that railway company was to be assessed for the mile or two of line which passed through his parish? It was perfectly monstrous that the law should remain in this state, and that no attempt had as yet been made, so far as he could ascertain, to put this matter upon a better footing. The only reason he could discover was, that the railway companies, who, undoubtedly, had enormous influence, were perfectly satisfied with the confusion and difficulty which at present existed. Even that was not all. The 32nd section of the Act said that the word "company" should mean the company which was authorized to construct the railway. But the practice of all the great railway companies was to absorb and buy up all the smaller and subsidiary lines that they could. They were not, in consequence, the companies which constructed the line; and where-ever a line had been bought or leased, 1849 the overseers did not even get the unsatisfactory statement of accounts provided by the Act, and all he got was the general report submitted to the shareholders by the directors at the annual meeting. This was a most unsatisfactory condition in which to leave matters, especially when they remembered that, in some counties, the assessment of the railways alone amounted to £250,000. The Committee would see what a material effect the unfair assessment of this property must have upon the other ratepayers. Of course, if they let off one class of property, the other classes must suffer unfairly. It was, as he contended, most unfair to leave a parish or a Union, desirous of fairly settling their assessment, to call in an expert, and to be forced to go to an enormous expense in order to find out at what amount a railway assessment should be settled. In Scotland a system was already in existence, which he proposed to introduce in a new clause later on in the Bill, and he was told the result of it was that it was as easy, if, indeed, it was not easier, to assess a railway for a whole county or Union as it was for a single parish, because the assessor or the valuer had to go into the whole accounts of all the railway, with all its branches, stations, and hotels, if he were valuing for a single parish, in just the same way, and just as precisely and accurately as if he were valuing the whole of the system. Surely it was far more in conformity with common sense that these valuations should be made by competent men for the whole county or Union, than that the assessment should be left to guess-work by the overseers as it was at present. He had new clauses to move at a later stage of the Bill, which would carry out the object he had in view; but he did hope that he should now receive some assurance from the Government that they would help him in getting what he was endeavouring to obtain. He was not wedded to the words he had proposed, and he merely wished to see the principle carried out, and the present very unfair and unsatisfactory system got rid of.
In page 3, line 12, after the word "duplicate" insert the words "and any special valuation made by the assessor of railways and canals."—(Mr. Pell.)
§ MR. HIBBERT
wished to express his entire concurrence in what had been said as to the desirability of placing the assessment of railways in a better and a different position. They all knew how difficult it was for these country overseers to make anything like a proper assessment. The proposal of his hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Peel) was, as he understood it, that for the future both railways and canals should be valued by an assessor appointed by the county Justices; but that was a system which, in his opinion, could scarcely be adopted in every county. The plan would probably work well enough in the great majority of counties; but he was by no means sure that it would do so in counties such, for instance, as Lancashire and Yorkshire. The county Justices would, he thought, be scarcely competent to make an assessment of the vast extent of railway property in those two counties. It would, therefore, be necessary that they should be divided for the purpose of assessment; but there were certainly many counties in England in which railways and canals might be easily valued by the county authorities. What, in the circumstances, he would suggest to his hon. Friend was, if the Government could see their way to acceding to the proposal, that he should frame a clause which would make the county authority, with the sanction of the Assessment Committee for the county, the authority to value railway and canal property, and that in those cases in which no such authority existed the Committee itself should be the authority for the purpose of valuing railways and canals. That would, in his opinion, be a great improvement on the present system, which involved considerable expense, and frequently led to a great deal of confusion. His hon. Friend would give the power to the Justices of each county to appoint an assessor of railways and canals; but the county authority established under the Bill would, he thought, be the best to fix upon for the purpose. There was another point to which he wished also to call the attention of the Committee, and that was the mode in which the remuneration to be given to the assessor should be defrayed. It was proposed that it should be paid out of the county rates; but that would be scarcely right, because there were many parishes in 1851 which there were no railways, and it would manifestly be unfair that they should be asked to contribute to the salary of an officer from whose services they would derive no benefit. It would, however, be easy to meet that difficulty by means of a separate clause. In conclusion, he desired merely to observe that he entirely sympathized with his hon. Friend in the object which he had in view, and that he should be very glad to support his Amendment in the modified form which he had suggested.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, the capricious manner in which the rating of railways was conducted under the present system had been very accurately described by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell), and there could be no doubt that some improvement in that system was much needed. What the Government ought, in his opinion, to do, in the first instance, would be to lay down a principle on which railway property should be assessed. The railway companies were most anxious that this course should be taken, for they were anything but satisfied with the existing state of things. The fact was that they were called upon to pay in many parishes, especially in the rural districts, very much more than their fair pro-portion of the rates. They also objected very strongly to being rated by persons whose interest it was to transfer the burden of payment from their own shoulders to those of the companies—which they, whether rightly or wrongly, imagined were in many cases better able to bear it. There was one other suggestion which he wished to make before he sat down, and he made it entirely on his own responsibility. The country had, in the Railway Commission, a public body which, although very distinguished, was certainly not very hard-worked; and to that Commission he thought the question of the rating of railways might very advantageously be delegated, for its composition was such as to render it probable that its decisions would be perfectly satisfactory to all parties. It was a mistake, he might add, to suppose that railway companies benefited by the confusion which now existed with regard to the rating of their property, and he, therefore, hoped some principle would be adopted on which the rating would be invariably made.
§ MR. WALTER
said, he had no connection with railways; but it appeared to him that there was no problem which was obviously less susceptible of solution than the question, how much of the net property of a line of railway was derived from each particular mile of country through which the line passed? What then, under the circumstances, he would suggest was that the Board of Trade, or some other Department of the Government, should furnish the various Unions throughout the country, every year, with its accounts of the rateable value of every railway in the Kingdom, and that upon that rateable value being so furnished, the proportion due to each parish should be divided per mile, and the net profits of a railway in that way distributed between the different parishes. To determine exactly the profits due to five or six miles of railway, and then the amount due to the next five or six miles, seemed to him to be impossible: and the plan he had indicated was therefore, he thought, worthy the consideration of the Government.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
regretted to find himself opposed to any proposal which was made by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Walter). He could not, however, help thinking that there could scarcely be a much less accurate way, or one which would operate more unfairly, of assessing railway property than that which the hon. Gentleman had suggested; for it was quite clear that a mile of railway in the parish of St. Pancras, for instance, was of far greater value than the same extent of the same railway in a parish in Bedfordshire. The problem with which the Committee had to deal was, he might add, far more complicated than the hon. Gentleman seemed to imagine, although it was not so extremely complicated as not to be tolerably satisfactorily solved at the present time. The real question for their consideration was how the assessment of railways and canals in a parish could be most easily arrived at. As matters now stood, the assessment rested with the overseer; but if he did not feel competent to the discharge of the duty, the Assessment Committee had the power—which was retained to them under the 47th clause of the Bill under discussion—to call in a scientific person to assist him in ascertaining the rateable value. It would, 1853 however, no doubt, be argued that that was a very expensive process; and, indeed, it was open to that objection, for the reason that when an expert was called in, the mode of paying him was by a percentage on the amount of rating which he established. That was an arrangement which was not only expensive, but which was bad in principle, and the point to be decided was in what way the services of a scientific person were most easily to be obtained to assist the overseer. All he could say was, that the railway companies would be delighted if his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Local Government Board could devise some satisfactory means by which such a person could be appointed, though whether it could be best done by the more limited appointments, by the Assessment Committees, or the more extended appointments by the Justices for the county, was not perfectly clear. What was really wanted was a person whose appointment would extend over a whole railway. The railway companies, at all events, would be very glad if some cheap and easy method of rating their property were established; for, under the present system, that property was, they believed, in many cases, very considerably over-assessed.
§ MR. PEASE
said, that the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) opened up a very knotty and a very complicated question. The assessment of railways involved not only the question of the amount of traffic and receipts, but also the question of the deductions to be made, which constituted, perhaps, the most difficult and important part of the whole subject. Under the circumstances, the best course to adopt, he thought, would be to postpone the Amendment for the present, in the hope that before the Report some means might be devised in the direction indicated by his hon. Friend, by which the present system of assessing railways would be simplified.
§ MR. CLARE READ
said, that every hon. Member who had taken part in the discussion had admitted that the present system of assessing railways was unsatisfactory. In his own opinion, no system could be much worse. The work of assessment was now done by the overseer, who was, generally speaking, the least intelligent parochial 1854 officer. ["No, no!"] Well, in the rural districts, at all events, he was invariably the least intelligent of parish officers, being simply a rate collector. That being so, he could not for the life of him see how the Bill, as it stood, would get over the difficulty. To show how unsatisfactory was the present system, he might state that in his own Union a railway which had been assessed at only £350 had the assessment afterwards raised by a valuer to £1,300, on which sum the company were very well contented to pay rates.
§ MR. SAMUDA
said, that although great fault had been found with the suggestion which had been thrown out by the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter), there seemed to him to be considerable weight in it. At all events, no other suggestion had been made which, so far as he could see, would meet the difficulty with which the Committee had to deal. The most simple way, in his opinion, of arriving at the rateable value of railway property would be to compel the railway companies to lodge with the Board of Trade, or some other Public Department, a statement of the cost incurred in the construction of each mile of railway. By that means, the actual sum of money would be ascertained on which, in some form or other, the assessment could be made. Then, if the dividends paid by the railways were taken into account, a fair arrangement as to the total revenue of railways which ought to be rated would be arrived at, and the proportion properly chargeable to each mile.
strongly supported the Amendment, expressing it to be his belief that a great saving to the various Unions throughout the country would be the result of its adoption by the Committee, and that it might also be found to be an advantage in the end to the railway companies to have one assessment and one appeal for a line of railway running through a county instead of half-a-dozen or more.
§ MR. SALT
said, that the Amendment touched upon a very large and difficult question, in a clause which itself proposed to deal with only a very small corner of that question. As far as was able to gather from the tone of the discussion, the general feeling of the Committee appeared to be that the clause proposed by his hon. Friend 1855 (Mr. Pell) did not at all adequately meet the case of the assessment of railways, and in that view he was disposed to concur. He would, however, point out that by Clause 47 an Assessment Committee might, with the consent of the Guardians, appoint some competent person to assist them in the valuation of the rateable hereditaments of a Union, and that he should be paid out of the common fund, but that the payment should not in any way depend upon the amount of the valuation which he might make. It was now proposed that the Justices of the Peace for a county should appoint an assessor; but he saw some difficulty in the way of the adoption of such a proposal. What, in the circumstances, he would suggest was that the Amendment should be withdrawn for the present; and his hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) would probably be able, in concert with his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, to frame a clause which might be inserted in the Report, and which would, as far as might be, meet the difficulties of the case.
§ MR. PELL
preferred that the county authorities, rather than the Justices of the Peace, should discharge the duty of assessing the railway property. He would be quite willing to withdraw his Amendment on the distinct understanding that the Government were prepared to bring in a Bill to deal with that difficult subject.
§ MR. FLOYER
said, that the proposition to appoint an assessor of railways for whole counties was a large and serious one. Being rather jealous for the authority of the Assessment Committees, he was of opinion that if responsibility was imposed upon them, they should have the power of dealing with all questions that might come before them; and that they should not be overridden in the discharge of their duties. Was it to be understood that the Assessment Committee was to appoint an assessor of railways for the whole Union, or was he to be appointed at Quarter Sessions? Again, was it proposed that this county assessor or valuer was to go through the whole county, and revise the assessment of railways in all the principal Unions? He asked these questions with the hope that they might lead the Committee to arrive at a 1856 fair conclusion. The idea of taking power out of the hands of the Assessment Committee and placing it in the hands of the local board or magistrates was, to his mind, objectionable, inasmuch as it was an unfair interference with their proper right and province. Practically, until this question was settled, the Assessment Committee could not go into the valuation of railways or canals. These Committees were a competent class of men, having great experience in railways and their traffic; it was, therefore, for them to decide upon the adequacy or inadequacy of these valuations. He thought it a little hard, and a considerable innovation of principle, to say that those Unions, which had nothing on earth to do with railways, and had no benefits to get from the assessment of the railways, should have to pay the bill of the officer who was to assist in the valuation.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, he could not help sympathizing with the hon. Member (Mr. Salt) in what appeared to be the indisposition of hon. Gentlemen on his own side of the House to facilitate the progress of the Bill. He (Mr. Rylands) considered it most objectionable to call into existence a number of officials through the country whose duties were likely to create considerable inconvenience. He wished to remind the Committee that the basis of the present Bill was the strengthening of the Assessment Committees; and that, in addition, it provided that there should be supervision by the county authority. He called the attention of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board to the fact that Assessment Committees were placed under great difficulty in consequence of the railway and canal companies refusing to give them the means of making a correct assessment of their property, and he had frequently known public companies to resist the Assessment Committee by keeping back information. In such cases, the Committee had been driven to assess the railway or the canal company in an amount which might have been considered unfair, in order to compel them to furnish a just valuation.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
pointed out that the provision of the Bill was not for the purpose of creating new officers, but for empowering the Assessment Committee to obtain all necessary information to enable them to put a proper rateable 1857 valuation upon railway property in parishes.
§ MR. GREGORY
thought a satisfactory railway valuation would not be possible under the present system of dealing with those undertakings piecemeal; they must be dealt with in their entirety. He approved the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for South Essex (Colonel Makins)—namely, that the Railway Commissioners should undertake the duties of assessment. If the railways were valued in this way, there remained, of course, the question as to the division of the rates between the parishes thro ugh which they ran. Upon that point, he suggested that the basis of population would be preferable to one of mileage.
§ MR. PELL
desired to correct a misunderstanding which appeared to prevail with regard to his new clause, which, when it was reached, would be found to contain nothing which gave any power whatever to the officer in question, beyond that of a simple adviser. All he proposed was that some proper officer should advise the overseer as to the proper amount for assessment, and then retire.
§ MR. STORER
hoped the Government would not accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) in its exact terms, because it was clear to him that the officer in question, whoever he might be, would in the end be an expense to the ratepayers.
§ SIR HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
believed that no one knew better than he how intricate and laborious a business was the assessment of railways; and he was quite certain that a proper solution of the question could be found, if it were clearly understood, that full justice would be done to both parties.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to, and ordered to stand part of the Pill.
§ Clause 9 (Notice to occupier where his liability is increased).
moved, as an Amendment, in page 3, lines 22 and 23, to insert the words "within fifteen days" in place of the words "as soon as practicable."
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
asked the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Salt) whether the clause did not go a little further than the present practice? He was acquainted with an Assessment Committee, whose custom it was to send demand notes to the occupier, who had to find out for himself whether there had been any alteration in the increase of his liability, besides having to pay a fee. He thought the clause went a little further than was necessary.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, the hon. Member (Mr. Salt) would, in his opinion, do well to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Gordon). The words "as soon as practicable" certainly admitted of being very widely interpreted; still, as the parties whose assessment might be included in the new valuation list had a right to be informed thereof, he thought a period of 15 days was not too long.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
thought 15 days was too long. The period ought to be seven clays. If the notice was to be really of use, it ought to be given immediately. He would move to amend the Amendment, by substituting the word "seven" for "fifteen."
replied, that the notices could be written pari passu with the making out of the valuation list, and they might be sent out without any delay.
§ Amendment, as amended, agreed to; words substituted accordingly.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
objected to the words at the end of the clause, "and where the value is increased, the amount of the old and of the increased value." Would the Government object to leaving out those words?
§ SIR BALDWYN LEIGHTON
thought a form, given at the end of the Bill, would meet the views of the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. SALT
would prefer to keep the words in the clause, unless the Committee very much wished them to be omitted. It was desirable to give as much information as possible; and though, of course, the clause as it stood would give the Assessment Committee more trouble, yet the object of the Bill was to bring the whole arrangements and charges of the rates to the knowledge of those who were concerned.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to, and ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 10 (Revision of valuation list by assessment committee).
moved, as an Amendment, in page 3, line 30, after the word "objections," to insert the words—Such meeting shall he held in open Court, and the Assessment Committee shall have power to summon witnesses and to examine them on oath.His Amendment embodied a principle of considerable importance. The clause dealt with objections to valuations, but these objections were virtually appeals; and although the question of appeals came on later, he was obliged to raise this question at the present moment, because of the peculiar construction of the measure. Hon. Members would remember that when the Bill was before the House last year, it contained a clause providing for an appeal to Petty Sessions. In the course of debate in Committee, very strong objection was taken to making the Petty Sessions a Court of Appeal, and after very considerable debate, that Appeal Court was struck out of the Bill, and nothing whatever replaced it. At that time, he ventured to suggest to the Committee that by eliminating the one appeal open to the poor man, and substituting nothing for it, they had practically rendered appeals impossible in many cases. Nothing was, in fact, left to the poor man but to take his appeal to the Quarter Sessions, where the expense was so considerable as practically to put him out of Court altogether. It was necessary in any Appeal Court that it should be speedy, that it should be inexpensive, and that it should be heard in open Court, where witnesses could be examined on oath, and the appellant might have an opportunity of appearing either in person or 1860 by his legal adviser. But what was the appeal now given by the Bill? There was none, until they got to the Court of Quarter Sessions, which was not inexpensive, but, on the contrary, was very expensive, and was not speedy, for appellants often had to wait two or three months before their case was heard. He maintained, on the other hand, that there was an absolute necessity of setting some Court of Appeal before they got to the Court of Quarter Sessions. It was asked why there should not continue to be an appeal to Petty Sessions against a valuation list? But the fact was that at present no such appeal existed. The only appeal was against a rate and not against a valuation list. Besides, the question of appealing to the Petty Sessions was brought up last year, and the Committee was then so entirely opposed to the institution of a Petty Sessional appeal, that he thought it a vain thing again to attempt to bring that proposal before the Committee. What he proposed, then, was to elevate the dignity of the Assessment Committee itself, so as to make it a sort of Court of Review of its own primary decision. He did not see why that Committee should not have power to summon witnesses, to examine them on oath, to review openly, in fact, the decisions which were often come to in what he might call a hasty and perfunctory way. He knew it would be said that this was an extraordinary power to give to a hybrid committee, composed partly of Justices and elected ratepayers, and that it was introducing a new mode of procedure. No doubt that was so. But the fact that the proposal was new was not in itself an objection; and, for his part, he could see no reason why a body of experts, specially chosen for this work, and with a special aptitude for this business, should not be intrusted with the power of summoning witnesses and taking evidence on oath. He ventured to think, if this were done, and each objection were heard openly, with the power to the appellants to have legal advice if they chose, a great majority of the appeals would be at once got rid of. They would provide, in fact, a cheap, inexpensive, and ready remedy, which the poor man certainly did not possess at present.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
had great pleasure in supporting the Amendment. 1861 It was not exactly in the terms which he would himself have chosen; but the principle on which it was based was so sound, and the alteration so necessary, that he felt bound in the interests of his constituents, who had communicated with him on the subject, to press its importance on the Committee. Nothing could be more absurd and unsatisfactory than the present mode of managing assessments. Assessments were made at the instance of a valuer or surveyor, and if a ratepayer objected, he was obliged to appeal, and in appealing to state the ground of his objection to the assessment. What, then, was the process? The Assessment Committee sat in a private room, closeted with their valuer. They heard in private all the valuer had to say in answer to the objection, the person objecting remaining outside and in ignorance of what was taking place within. He and the other appellants were then called in, one by one, and instead of being treated as persons who had a right to dispute their assessment, they were received and treated in the manner of culprits. They were cross-examined at the instance of the valuer, who, of course, wished to support his own assessment, and all the evidence that they had to give in support of their case was got out of them, in case they should decide to appeal to the Quarter Sessions. All this time the appellant knew nothing of the evidence of the valuer, because the sittings of the Committee were in secret. It really could not be called a fair hearing in which the appellant was treated as a hostile person, and cross-examined accordingly, with the Assessment Committee as judges and the valuer as prosecutor. Of course, it might be objected that the Assessment Committee was a mere administrative body, and ought not to be allowed to exorcise judicial functions. But if that were so, why was a power of appeal to them given? The fact that they were called upon to sit and hear, and possibly to reverse, their own assessment, implied a power of judgment upon it. But even if they were at present merely an administrative body, why should they not be turned into a judicial body for the purposes of the Bill? The Assessment Committee already was a judicial body to all intents and purposes; why should not the proceedings before them 1862 be conducted in a judicial manner and openly, instead of by these secret meetings with the indignity inflicted on any person who objected to the valuation of his property? He might be told that there was an appeal to Quarter Sessions. But why was a man to suffer the hardship of being driven there at great expense and loss of time? Why should not the first appeal be made a reality at once? In many cases, this first appeal would be quite sufficient, if all the proceedings were open and above board. A man, too, could afford to go to this Assessment Committee, while he would shrink from appealing to Quarter Sessions, with all the consequent expense of instructing a solicitor, of employing counsel, and of summoning witnesses. All that expense was quite unnecessary, and would be prevented by the acceptance of the Amendment. He would not, of course, abolish the second appeal; but he would remove the necessity for it in a large number of cases by making the machinery of the first appeal efficient. Under the system proposed by the Amendment, a man of business could state his own case quite well and easily, and the remedy would be both speedy and cheap. At present the appeal was a sham and an absurdity, and it was merely used to get out of the appellant as much of his case as possible before sending him to the Quarter Sessions. If the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board would accept the Amendment, he was sure he would receive very hearty and cordial support from both sides of the Committee.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
agreed completely with his hon. and learned Friend in the first part of his remarks, and only differed from him in his conclusions. He quite felt that this Court should be an open Court; for, in his opinion, nothing had so certainly led to many appeals as the fact that the proceedings were in secret. Of course, the valuer, not merely for the sake of his credit, but for the sake also of his percentage, would support the alterations he had made in the valuation. If, then, the appellant were out of the room, the valuer could easily earwig the Committee and put on one side all that had been urged on behalf of the appeal. But as to the formalities, he begged the Committee to remember that this second hearing 1863 was not an appeal, it was merely a revision of the valuation. If it were raised to an Appeal Court, it would certainly lead to the retaining of counsel, solicitors, and witnesses, and all the expenses of a regular Appeal Court. If it were, however, merely a revision the appellant could be heard in person, he would know everything that was said on the other side, and they would have a system which would be the very best for him.
§ MR. ASSHETON
said, his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Staveley Hill), in insisting on the necessity of having counsel and solicitors, was naturally looking at the matter from his own legal point of view. From his (Mr. Assheton's) experience as Chairman of an Assessment Committee, and from a considerable general knowledge of the subject also, he could see no necessity for any such thing. He did not admit that appellants were always treated as culprits; but still, if he had anything to do with an Assessment Committee, he would infinitely rather that the appeals were heard in open Court. In common fairness, each side should be openly heard.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said he had moved, in the previous Session, an Amendment to the clause making the Petty Sessions the Court of Appeal; and he certainly should support this proposition, because he thought it very necessary to give the Assessment Committee a firmer foundation. It was most necessary that the appeals should be heard openly; for, under the present system, many of the appellants went away with a firm conviction that they had not been properly treated. If, therefore, they were going to set up the Assessment Committee as a Court of Appeal, it was very necessary that it should be done in a manner satisfactory to the parishioners.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
suggested the addition of two or three words to the Amendment, so as to give the Assessment Committee power to examine the valuer as well as the witnesses. He would, therefore, move the addition, after the word "oath," of the words "and the person making the valuation." The ratepayer, then, would be able to make the valuer state on oath the grounds of his valuation. The Committee would see at once that it would be very undesirable for the valuer to have power to make a statement not on oath.
asked whether the power given to the Committee to summon witnesses and to examine them on oath did not necessarily include power to call the valuer?
§ MR. SALT
was quite prepared to admit that his hon. Friend had raised a point which ought to be met, if possible, in some way. The question in his mind simply was, whether they were not creating greater difficulties than those they sought to remove? At present the Committee did not at all act in a judicial manner, and it was only a rough and ready means of arriving at the best conclusion. There were extreme difficulties in the way of creating this Committee into a Judicial Court, and at that moment and in the form in which the Amendment stood, it was quite impossible to insert it in the Bill. It was very difficult, indeed, to say what would be the exact result of giving these judicial powers. He was, however, quite prepared to say that the meeting, at which objections to the valuation were heard, should be an open one. Further he could not go at present; and if any more was to done, it must be done by a new clause, dealing with the whole subject, and not by two or three words added in this way. If his hon. Friend (Mr. Paget) would accept that, of course it would be quite open to him to bring up a new clause dealing with the subject at some future stage of the Bill, and he would promise that it should have his very best consideration.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, there was no doubt that the multiplication of appeals to Quarter Sessions was undesirable and expensive; and, besides that, such appeal was, so far as his experience went, very much like a sham. He thought that the mere fact of the appeals being considered openly would be beneficial to the interests of the ratepayers, inasmuch as at present the Assessment Committees were inclined to adhere too much to their own opinions, which left the appellant under the necessity of abiding by the disputed valuation. He believed the Amendment would accomplish the desired result.
pointed out that the clause of the Bill, not his Amendment, gave to the Assessment Committee the dignity of a Judicial Court. He 1865 wanted the Court to be an open Court, and he would have preferred that it should have been empowered to take evidence on oath. The matter, as he was aware, was one of considerable difficulty, and he was therefore unwilling to hinder the progress of the Bill in order to further his wish. For that reason, he was ready to amend his Amendment, by omitting all the words after Court, and letting it stand thus—"and such meetings shall be held in open Court." Of course, much more would be necessary, in order to constitute this Assessment Committee a Court of Appeal, than the insertion of the words which he proposed to introduce into the clause. But that was not his intention. He simply desired that the powers given to the Committee should be extended, and that it should be obligatory upon the Committee to determine, so far as it could determine, openly; and, if necessary, he would re-model his Amendment to effect this object. He begged leave to withdraw his Amendment, for the purpose of moving the insertion of the words "and such meetings shall be held openly."
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
thought the Committee should agree to the insertion of the words "that the person appealing shall have the right to examine the valuer." It appeared to him perfectly idle to have any alteration of the hind proposed unless it was made complete. Why bring a person forward as appellant, without giving him the means of contesting the assessment? The appellant was to be told that he must submit to cross-examination at the instance of the valuer, who was to be present, and yet he was told that he had no right to question this person. He (Mr. Serjeant Simon) would move to add to the proposed Amendment the words "and that the person assessed shall have the right to examine the valuer."
pointed out that the hon. and learned Member was not in Order in making a Motion before the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mid-Somerset (Mr. Paget) was disposed of.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
ventured to doubt whether the word "openly" would accomplish the object 1866 of the hon. Member for Mid-Somerset (Mr. Paget).
§ SIR ANDREW LUSK
objected to the Amendment. He believed that there was a general feeling against the private affairs of individuals being discussed in open Court, and was, therefore, of opinion that the clause should remain unaltered.
§ MR. RYLANDS
thought the hon. Member for Mid-Somerset (Mr. Paget), by his later Amendment, had proposed to add to the clause words which would produce mischief, and that by sacrificing the Amendment in its entirety he sacrificed, also, the object with which the original Amendment was introduced. If the Assessment Committee could be constituted a Court, with power to summon witnesses, examine them on oath, and determine upon the evidence given, no doubt, in many cases, decisions would be obtained against which no appeal would be made at Quarter Sessions.
said, he had consented to alter the original Amendment with the view of bringing it up again at a later stage of the Bill, and for the purpose of facilitating the progress of the measure. At the present stage, he was content with the words of the last Amendment.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, he was glad to hear that the hon. Member had not given up the principle of his first Amendment; but he (Mr. Rylands) would remind him that by the course he was now taking he might carry an Amendment to the effect that the Assessment Committee should hear and decide the appeals in a Court open to the public, but that, when the subsequent stage of the Bill to which he had referred was reached, the proposal to give them power to summon witnesses and to examine them upon oath would be objected to by Government, and fall through. His view was that the questions between the parties whose property was assessed and the valuer—in fact, between the parties generally interested in the matter—should be, whenever practicable, arranged previously by mutual consent. This was done continually, and appeals were thereby avoided, because Assessment Committees had a certain amount of elasticity of action. He was ready to sacrifice that principle, if something equivalent were given to him in return; but he refused to accept the mutilated Amendment of 1867 the hon. Member which, in its present form, would do no good whatever. His advice was that the Amendment should be entirely withdrawn, and left for future consideration, and that a clause should be proposed for dealing with the question as a whole.
§ Amendment agreed, to; words inserted accordingly.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to, and ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday.
§ It being now Seven of the clock, the House suspended its Sitting.
§ The House resumed its Sitting at Nine of the clock.