§ MR. R. H. PAGET,
in rising to call attention to the incidence of local taxation; and to move—That, in the opinion of this House, the injustice of the present incidence of local taxation on owners and occupiers of real property should, without further delay, he remedied by an adequate increase of contributions from general taxation,said, he did not approach this matter from any point of Party politics, as it was essentially a national question. It had been his fortune a short time ago to introduce to the Prime Minister a deputation from the Central Chamber of Agriculture on the subject, composed of a friendly alliance of owners and occupiers of land, who had combined to endeavour to obtain redress from their grievances, which had become well nigh insupportable. He was quite sure the right hon. Gentleman would admit that the deputation had formulated its demand with precision, had pressed it with moderation, and had exhibited a remarkable unanimity. That deputation claimed release from the burdens placed upon them, which they asserted were financially unjust. The tenant's complaint was that since he had entered into his farm fresh rates had been imposed upon him, and old rates increased by the direct action of Parliament. Of the new rates, that for education was the one which pressed with exceptional severity upon him, it being, in many instances, no less than 7d. in the pound. Then the abolition of turnpikes had brought about a large increase in the highway rate for 1286 the maintenance of roads, which, he contended, ought to be a national and not a local charge. On all points, he thought, the tenant's case for relief was unanswerable, and that nothing could justify a continuance of the existing system. The landlord's case was somewhat different. He complained that, from time to time, his property was burdened with new charges for services of an Imperial nature, the cost of which ought to be borne by the community at large. He pointed to the vast amount of personalty of which the wealth of the country was mainly composed, and which was constantly increasing, while the value of real property was stationary or deteriorating. What was the amount of this burden of which the landlord complained? Taking the whole amount raised by rates at £26,000,000, there was, as nearly as possible, £18,000,000 applied to the services for the suppression of crime, for the maintenance of main roads in town and country, for sanitary purposes, and for education. This amount was thrown absolutely upon real property, the average rate being not less than 2s. 8d. in the pound, or something like 13 per cent, so that £1,000 a-year derived from land had to pay no less than £133 a-year in taxation, whilst the same amount derived from securities or other moneys paid absolutely nothing at all. It was contended that the services provided out of this £18,000,000 a-year were of an Imperial character, and ought therefore to be supported at the general charge. The Imperial nature of those services was, indeed, recognized by the State, which not only insisted on having official control over them, but also contributed towards all of them, except the main roads, to which he contended the State ought to contribute. One of the arguments against the redress for which he pleaded was that these local burdens were hereditary burdens. The land was said to be held subject to charges imposed by the State; those charges were sometimes assumed to be in the nature of a rent-charge, from which the owner had no right to attempt to free himself. That was the argument which was frequently employed. But which of those rates was hereditary? Was the education rate hereditary? Nobody had ever dreamt of such a rate till 1870. Was the sanitary rate hereditary? That was as recent as the education rate. 1287 Nor had the highway rate, imposed in substitution of the old turnpike charges, any better title to be termed hereditary. All these rates were but of yesterday. If the hereditary argument was worth anything, it proved that there were no charges whatever upon land, and rate after rate might be added and the whole income produced by the land eaten up by these "hereditary burdens," and yet the land would have no charges upon it, these rates being the "property" of the State. The absurdity of the reasoning to which he was referring was thus clearly shown. Why should not the income tax be called "hereditary?" It had been in existence for a generation; stocks and shares had been bought, sold, and inherited subject to it—and yet no one had dreamt of calling it an hereditary tax on personal property. But the land tax, he might be told, was certainly hereditary. If the land tax, why not the house tax? Both were imposed originally in the same year—1696—in conjunction with the window tax. But both these taxes had been freely dealt with by the State. The house tax was repealed in 1834, only to be some years afterwards re-imposed in substitution of the window tax. But in that re-imposition modifications were introduced, and whereas the old tax attached to a £5 rental the substituted tax did not apply to rentals under £20. He claimed that the State had on at least five separate occasions repudiated the hereditary principle and dealt with charges on land solely with regard to public policy. Some of those occasions were the Poor Law Act of 1834, the Union Chargeability Act of 1855, the Eating Act of 1874, and the Highway Act of 1878. On the same public grounds he asked for a re-adjustment of these burdens. It might be that in some matters land escaped easily, as in the succession duty; but that slight advantage was more than compensated by the unfair assessment of income tax. A far larger income was taxed than ever reached the pockets of the landowner. It would only be fair that the net, and not the gross, income should be taxed. On that subject he could quote no better authority than the Prime Minister, who in 1853, in introducing his Budget, said that the method of income tax assessment on land made a tax of 7d. in the pound gross equivalent to a tax of 9d. in the pound net. "Why 1288 should not personalty bear some of the local burdens which now fell exclusively on real estate? Frequent reference was made to the Statute of the 43rd of Elizabeth; but that statute was founded on just principles and rated every £100 of income to the same extent, from whatever source it was derived. He did not think the principles of the philosophical Radical school, which drew a distinction between landed property, which it asserted to be held merely in trust for the nation, and personal property would commend themselves to the House. Surely no one would venture to assert that the State had a right to confiscate the improvements of a landlord. It was solely by the expenditure of money that land was reclaimed. No sooner was an improvement effected upon land than down came the taxing officer to lay a burden on the annual value. This law applied specially to England. In Ireland the case was very different. You had there a fixed valuation; and he believed that in Scotland no change was made in the rating during the term of a lease. But in England you could not build a house without the Assessment Committee pouncing down upon you as soon as it was occupied. This system of rating was a direct hindrance to the improvement of land. What, then, was the remedy? The remedy, he ventured to suggest, was this—that there should be an increase of contributions from Imperial taxation. He used the word contributions advisedly. It did not specify how aid was to be given. Under the term contributions might be included carriage tax, dog and gun taxes, the fees for licences, or whatever the Chancellor of the Exchequer might choose to hand over. To the deputation which he had the honour of introducing to the Premier the other day, the right hon. Gentleman said—"Do you ask that if I have no surplus I should impose fresh taxation for the purpose of giving relief to local taxpayers? "And his (Mr. R. H. Paget's) reply was the only one that could have been given. The income tax was voted from year to year at so many pence in the pound. Suppose the Chancellor of the Exchequer had a surplus, and was able to do with a fourpenny instead of a fivepenny income tax, but he chose to keep on the fivepenny tax. That would be held not to involve any increase of taxation. Was there a shadow of 1289 difference between the retention of a penny of the income tax and the imposition of an additional penny? He sincerely trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would not have to encounter the difficulty of a deficit, but would have a surplus to deal with. There were plenty of precedents for what he asked; the change of the malt duty into a tax on beer was one. He thought that his suggestion that one-half the cost of the in-door poor should be defrayed by a State subvention offered a prospect of considerable reform, not only in local administration, but in local finance, and he trusted Her Majesty's Government would see their way to adopt it. If he might make another suggestion, it would be that these reforms should be effected by two separate Bills instead of one—that the Government should not overweight their County Government Bill with financial reforms, but should deal with these two subjects separately. He would most strongly urge upon the Government that the case he had been putting forward was as much that of the occupiers as the owners. In speaking of owners he wished to call special attention to a class, the interests of which he did not think were considered so much as they ought to be, but which had been called the mainstay and the backbone of England—he meant the yeomen farmers. A mere division of the rate would give no relief whatever to yeomen farmers occupying their own land, and would be a mockery and a delusion. The rate would be divided, and they would be asked to pay both halves. The yeomen farmers were a class deserving of their utmost sympathy. They had suffered bitterly from the agricultural depression, and had borne their sufferings nobly. It seemed to be thought that those who would be affected by this change were enormously wealthy men. That was not so. The last Domesday Book showed that there were 200,000 owners of land owning under 10 acres, and that there were only 60,000 landlords owning over 100 acres. The class of yeomen was still numerous, although it was unfortunately dying out under the pressure of these local burdens. He asked the House and the Government to show these sturdy citizens that their right to what they claimed was recognized. He had no objection in principle to a divided rate, if it were accompanied 1290 by complete financial redress. If a new rate were imposed, which God forbid, by no means let it be put upon the occupier alone. Let the landlord bear his share; but he protested against the notion that a divided rate would settle this question. If the House agreed to his Resolution—which he hoped would be the case—it would have the effect of granting remission from a grievous burden which now directly increased the cost of production and hindered the improvement of the land, and which was felt as a great wrong by millions of Her Majesty's most loyal subjects. He begged, in conclusion, to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
§ MR. DUCKHAM,
in seconding the Resolution, said, that this subject had been brought forward for many years past. It had been repeatedly advanced against the proposed change that the Poor Law had been much more severe previous to the new Poor Law Act than it now was. That he readily admitted; but the system in those days was altogether different, and he rejoiced that the poor were no longer being pauperized by the laws of their country. He maintained that the introduction of a Free Trade policy, while it had advanced the interests of this country, had made a re-adjustment of the burdens necessary. Previous to that change it might have been right to place heavy burdens upon the land; but he thought that a fair and equitable re-adjustment of local burdens was now imperatively required. To explain the present condition of the farmers they must go back to the Crimean War and the wars that followed. The effect of those wars was to create a false value for land. Notwithstanding the great improvements that had taken place in agriculture, all the efforts of the farmers had been baffled by the disastrous seasons through which they had passed, and by the heavy burden of local taxation they had to bear. There were the rates for the police, highway rates, education, and several other minor impositions. In his own parish the highway rates had increased fivefold since 1862. Then the rates for building lunatic asylums and Union houses were thrown upon the tenants. If it was considered right that real property should have those burdens, they should be borne by the landlord, and not by the tenant. The rate for 1291 education had been alluded to by the hon. Member. He himself was paying a rate of 8d. in the pound for the education of the poor. Now, 8d. in the pound rate upon a farm meant 16d. in the pound income tax. The tenant farmers had also numerous additions in the shape of registration and other fees for the general benefit of the public. A very high authority had said that the police should be made a national force rather than a local one, and that the efficiency of the force would thereby be greatly enhanced. As had been already remarked by the previous speaker, the tenant farmers had to pay for improvements in the cultivation of the soil. And now they were threatened with a further and, he feared, a very serious additional burden upon the passing of the Floods Prevention Bill. They looked to the Prime Minister to afford them relief from the taxation which they had so long and patiently borne; and he would remind the right hon. Gentleman of the sentiments he had expressed the preceding Session in favour of some measure of relief for the ratepayers. He trusted the Government would give this important subject the attention which they felt it deserved.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, the injustice of the present incidence of local taxation on owners and occupiers of real property should, without further delay, be remedied by an adequate increase of contributions from general taxation."—(Mr. Richard Paget.)
§ SIR MASSEY LOPES
wished to say a few words in support of the Motion of his hon. Friend, than whom no one, as Chairman of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, could be more entitled to bring that question forward, and who had brought it forward in an able and comprehensive manner. The Motion was, he thought, well-timed and most opportune, because at no period had the agricultural interest been so depressed, and it would place the grievances of the ratepayers before the Government, who would, he hoped, have an opportunity of redressing those grievances. His hon. Friend would not be told, as he himself had been told on a former occasion, when he made an almost similar Motion, that he was too late, that the surplus had already been appropriated, and the financial arrangements of the year complete. That was a question not of Party or of 1292 politics, but rather of political economy; and the grievances complained of might be summed up in a very few words. Real property bore nearly all the burdens of local taxation, while personal property almost entirely escaped. When the present system of rating originated, there was no other property in the country that could be assessed than land. Then personal property was infinitesimal and comparatively insignificant. Since then it had wonderfully increased in value, and the income from it now was more than seven times the amount which was derived from the income of land. Again, previous to the year 1846, land enjoyed great privileges and immunities. It had, for the good of the community, since been deprived of those privileges and of protection. He did not complain of that; but he said they ought also to have removed the exceptional taxation that was imposed on land because it had those privileges. Instead, however, of carrying out the recommendations of Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell in 1846, when they told them that if they took away Protection they ought injustice to remove the exceptional burdens on land, Parliament had, from time to time, been accumulating fresh burdens upon it. They were in a much worse position now than they were eight years ago, when he made a similar Motion to this one in the House, and when, by a considerable majority, it was decided that it was only just and necessary to relieve the ratepayers from exceptional taxation. It was true that the late Government gave them some State subventions. Applying only to England and Wales, those subventions amounted last year to £l,580,000; and, he said, a great deal more taxation than they had thus been relieved from had been placed on ratepayers and on real property within the last 10 years. The education rate which had been imposed on them amounted last year to £1,600,000, and besides that they had added £600,000, which was paid last year for highways; so that they were in a much worse position than when the House, in 1872, passed a Resolution that it was only just to relieve ratepayers from some of their burdens. The sanitary rate was also a considerable imposition on them; and, therefore, their case was stronger than when he brought it before the House. Now, he did not ask the House 1293 of Commons to rate personal property. He considered that it would be impolitic, impossible, and even undesirable to attempt it. He asked for some equivalent in lieu of the privileges and exemptions which this property enjoyed towards admittedly national burdens. Neither did he ask the Government to make any difference between land and houses. They were not asking for any class legislation, or advocating any class interests. He did not ask for the re-imposition of Protection. It would be undesirable to ask the House to impose any taxation on food. There were, however, several modes by which the Government might redress their grievances. They might develop further the policy and principle of State subventions. He was afraid the Prime Minister was opposed to that course; but it was a just and defensible one—there was a great Constitutional relation between contribution and control. But there was another mode. The Government might transfer the whole expense of certain local but national institutions to the Imperial Exchequer. He alluded more especially to the police and lunatics. The Government might also hand over to local authorities licences which were locally raised, such as the carriage tax, the dog and game licence, and also public-house licences. He thought the principle was sound that taxes locally raised should be handed over to local authorities to expend. He believed that principle prevailed in France and Germany, and was found to work well. As to the injustice of the present system of taxation, why, he asked, was the tenant farmer to be rated on different principles from the ordinary householder, from the shopkeeper, or the professional man? Their basis of assessment was the value of the house they occupied. Land was simply a raw material. It was valueless unless capital, skill, industry, and labour were expended on it, and they might as justly rate and tax the goods in a shopkeeper's window, or even the raw material in the warehouse of the manufacturer, as tax the land, which was the only means by which the tenant farmer could make his profits. The profits of the farmer were far more precarious than those derived from any other business. He was dependent upon the seasons, which of late years had been very adverse to him Beyond that, he said that 1294 those taxes were taxed indirectly on the necessaries of life for the people; they tended to enhance the price of the necessaries of life. These burdens gave an unfair bonus and premium to the unrated products of the foreigner. The system really amounted to this—that the foreigner was protected and the value of his produce enhanced, while, on the other hand, before the English farmer could bring his produce into the market he was compelled to pay from 10 to 20 per cent upon its value. At a recent deputation to the Prime Minister it had been conclusively shown by a tenant farmer to what extent in some locality he was rated differently as connected with land from those who were unconnected with land; and the result of his figures showed that while every other class paid a tax amounting to 4s. 10d. upon every £100 of income, the tenant farmer, upon the same income, paid no less than £5. That was the case of the education rate; but the same proportion of payment was equally applied to every other besides the education rate. The Prime Minister had promised to introduce measures dealing with the local government of the counties and other matters, but they did not expect to get any large relief from those reforms. Again, they were told that the division of rates was to be the great panacea and specific for their troubles; but there had been a division of rates in Scotland and Ireland, and the system in force there had not allayed their grievances, which were just as pressing there as in this country. What relief would division of rates be to the yeomen, who were the backbone of the country, whose numbers were diminishing under the pressure? The clergy also suffered from the present distribution of taxation, having to pay taxes even upon their professional income. They would experience no relief. The incidence of taxation would be precisely the same. Meanwhile personal property escaped scot free. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington), the other day, told them that any re-adjustment of burdens would be a very inadequate relief; but they were grateful for small mercies, and any small boon in the shape of relief would be appreciated by the ratepayers generally. The farmers were reproached with not putting sufficient capital into their land; but where was the capital to 1295 come from? There was a golden opportunity at the present moment for any hon. Member to invest some capital of his own, and give practical effect to the theory that land might produce double what it did. It was not owing to the prevalence of entailed estates that capital was not forthcoming; not one tenant in 30 knew whether the farm he held was entailed or not. What capital desired was confidence and security. Capital was very coy, and without that security it would not be attracted. The Prime Minister, at Leeds, had explained the reason why such an undue amount of taxation fell upon the land. He had said that—The collection of Imperial taxation was always a matter of serious difficulty, while the collection of local taxation was always comparatively easy.They had found out, indeed, that there was a fatal facility in the collection of rates, and hence their imposition. The Prime Minister also pointed out that the rates in towns had also increased with great rapidity. But in towns they possessed such luxuries as gas, water, markets, recreation grounds, washhouses, free libraries, and various other advantages, which the country people must pay for if they wanted them. He was not drawing any invidious distinction between town and country. What he asked for was relief for ratepayers generally, and he did not make the appeal to the House on their behalf ad misericordiam, but as a matter of simple justice; and if it was not granted a glaring injustice would be done, and a grievous anomaly perpetuated.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
said, he desired to take part in the debate as a Member representing a town and not a county constituency. In the first place, he ventured to set the hon. Gentleman who spoke last right when he asserted that those who lived in the towns had the luxuries of gas and water included in their rates. He could assure the hon. Member that in the towns there was a special rent for these articles, and that they formed items entirely distinct from the rates. Personally, he did not think the question ought to be discussed as a question either of town or of county. Bearing in mind the composition of the House of Commons in the past, it was almost impossible to put forward any view which should not be that of the 1296 owners of land. Unfortunately, the landowners in the House of Commons had used their privileges of taxation in the past almost exclusively in their own favour, and they were not slow now to press them upon the attention of the House and of the country. In the first place, he wished to point out that, speaking roundly, about one-half of the rates of the country was paid by the towns, and it was therefore only fair that, whatever relief was given or proposed to be given, an expression of opinion should be afforded to the towns. It was absolutely necessary that there should be some principle of justice both in the remission of rates and in the increase of rates; but, at the same time, it must be remembered that it was not the towns which had pressed this question upon the Government, but that it was entirely the landed interest that was asking for relief. He deeply sympathized with the sufferings which both the farmers and the landlords had been passing through during the. last five years; but it was a great mistake to suppose that it was only the agriculturists who had been suffering. He represented a large manufacturing and commercial constituency, in which the assessment of the municipal borough amounted to something like £1,000,000 per annum, and, therefore, the interests of that great community were equal in point of assessment and importance to those of many of the counties of this country. Having an intimate knowledge of the condition of things in the North of England during the last few years, he did not hesitate to say that the manufacturing and commercial interests had been almost as sorely depressed and distressed as those of the farmers and the landed proprietors. The great difference was that the former had borne in silence what they had had to bear, whereas in regard to the latter there was an evil habit on the part of agricultural Members, on both sides of the House, of making the House ring with their complaints. He was reminded of the story told of the Irish officer who was lying wounded on the battle field with an English soldier lying sorely hurt beside him and making a great noise. The Irish officer at length called out—"Shure, can't you be quiet; do you think nobody's killed beside yourself." Hon. Members on the other side were per- 1297 petually raising the question of agricultural distress, and he could not help remarking that it was precisely the same class of Representatives who, seven or eight years ago, when the country was in a state of great agricultural and commercial prosperity, and when the Government possessed an overflowing Exchequer, supported a spirited foreign policy which involved the country in a largely increased expenditure. He ventured to point out to hon. Members opposite that he was the true friend of the agricultural interest who pressed on his friends the necessity of observing rigid economy in the public expenditure when the country was in a state of prosperity, in order that on proper occasions relief might be given to all classes of the community from the burdens of taxation which all alike were compelled to bear. Hon. Gentlemen argued as though the agricultural interest was called upon to pay much more than its share towards the general revenues of the country. Exactly the contrary was the case. Hon. Gentlemen knew quite well that if, as representing the land, they paid their full share towards the local taxation of the country, it was notorious that the humbler classes paid far more than their share of the Imperial burdens of the country. It came, therefore, with indifferent grace from those who were already in a better position than their neighbours that they should seek to throw additional burdens upon the working classes of the community. He believed it was a great mistake to suppose that the farmers had suffered since the time referred to by his hon. Friend the Member for Herefordshire (Mr. Duckham)—the time of the repeal of the Corn Laws. So far as one important item was concerned, of which they had heard a good deal lately, namely—the growth and sale of wool, although the price was, no doubt, a little depressed now, it was well known that since the repeal of the Corn Laws the average price of wool had been from 25 to 30 per cent higher than in the corresponding period before the repeal of the Corn Laws; and it was not the only item in which the produce of the farmers had ranged higher since that period than in a similar period antecedent to it. That was quite true of meat, butter, and various other items, and it was altogether a delusion to suppose that the 1298 agricultural interest had been heavily weighted by the change which had been effected in our national policy. He ventured to put before the House this general consideration, that no substantial relief—at any rate, no relief to the full extent the farmers thought they were entitled to—would come to them from the re-adjustment of local burdens. If the money was not raised locally it must be raised from Imperial funds, and he believed that it would be more economically administered if raised locally. Therefore, he was an advocate for local taxation and local administration as a question of national policy. Take the case of the police. It would not be denied for one moment that since the local authorities had been in the receipt of a considerable grant from the Exchequer in aid of the police force there had been no less money spent, but the result had been that three men had been employed where formerly only two were. [Cries of "No!"] He thought the fact was far too well known to require that he should answer any challenge of it in that House. He had been a member of a large Corporation, and he knew very well that when money came from a foreign source, the tendency altogether was not to treat it as money raised on the spot, and for which the locality was responsible would be treated. He therefore strongly objected to the principle of subvention; but, at the same time, he believed there were questions in regard to which money might be profitably handed over from the Imperial funds and applied to local uses. It was important that the money raised locally and Imperially should be distributed among all classes of the community; and he warned hon. Members who represented the wealthy classes in the House of Commons that they were not advocating a wise policy when they sought to throw an increased share of the burden of taxation upon the humbler classes. Above all things, they ought to support a wise and peaceful policy on the part of Her Majesty's Government, seeing that the prosperity of the agricultural interest must depend, in a large measure, upon the prosperity of commerce and the towns, and that manufactures and commerce could never thrive amid wars and rumours of wars. It was only by avoiding the risk and danger of foreign embroilments that it was possible for 1299 both town and country to prosper. From long and painful experience he was fully prepared to say that nothing was so disastrous to the manufacturing interest of the country as continual threats of war, and the state of uncertainty which arose out of them. Such a condition of affairs put an end to all enterprize, and led to suffering and depression. If time allowed he could read to the House accounts, which were simply appalling, of honourable and upright men who had been brought to ruin and bankruptcy through no fault of their own, but by the caprice of fashion or the state of uncertainty which apprehended hostilities in Europe produced. Many of these men had become hopelessly bankrupt, and had been cast out upon the world in a state of absolute pauperism. In the towns there was a deep feeling of sympathy for those who had suffered from agricultural depression; but it must by no means be believed that the misfortune and suffering had befallen the farmers alone, or that it was confined to one class of the community.
§ MR. O'SULLIVAN
said, he hoped the Government would see their way to support the Motion of the hon. Member for Somersetshire (Mr. R. H. Paget). As an Irish Member he should rejoice to see something done to relieve the burdens now imposed upon the ratepayers in regard to local taxation, and he was sorry to find that the debate was being diverted to the question of taxation as between the towns and the country. He thought that that was not at all the question before the House. The question before the House was the present incidence of local taxation. As a member of a Board of Guardians for more than 20 years, he found that the local authorities bitterly complained of the taxation imposed on them from time to time by the Imperial Government. He would take, as an instance, the case of the registration of births, marriages, and deaths. The Poor Law Guardians were called upon to pay all the expenses connected with the registration of births, deaths, and marriages, while the Returns themselves were of no use whatever to the ratepayers. It was a Return required for Imperial purposes, and should be met by an Imperial tax. He certainly failed to see why the Returns should not be paid for by the Government which 1300 required them, and the local ratepayers relieved from the burden of paying for what they did not want and what was of no interest to them If the Government could not go so far as to accept the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Somersetshire (Mr. R. H. Paget), he hoped they would closely investigate, as they had promised to do, the question of the taxation which ought to be paid out of the Imperial Exchequer, instead of being placed as a burden upon the shoulders of the local ratepayers. He understood that that was what the Government were asked to do now, and he believed they had already expressed their willingness to consider the question with the view of affording some relief. Then, again, there was the question of the Returns which the Poor Law Unions were required to send from time to time to both Houses of Parliament. In Ireland there were no less than 163 Unions, which were required to send in these Returns, and the Returns themselves were supplied entirely for Government purposes. Although many applications had been made by the Unions to the Government to pay the expense of collecting and making the Returns, he had never known of any occasion, with one exception, in which the Government came forward to repay the money expended. The practice was to place it upon the ordinary expenditure of the locality to which it was really of no benefit whatever, nor would the Returns have been required or asked for if the Poor Law Guardians had been left to themselves. One matter, which had already been referred to by the hon. Member who brought forward the Motion, was the charge for income tax on land in Ireland. He could not agree with the hon. Member in his views on that matter. He thought the charge was far more fairly imposed upon the land than it would be upon the industrious classes, because land, as a general rule, brought from 40 to 50 per cent more than Griffith's valuation for rent; whereas the income tax was only levied upon Griffith's valuation. [A laugh.] Hon. Members might laugh, but the facts were precisely as he had stated them; and the landlord who got 40 or 50 per cent above the fair rental value of his land could well afford to pay the income tax. He could not, therefore, at all agree with the hon. Member for 1301 Somersetshire in regard to the imposition of the income tax upon the landlords in Ireland.
§ MR. R. H. PAGET
said, he had confined Ms remarks in reference to the income tax to England, where the income tax was levied on the gross rental in an entirely different way from that in which it was levied in Ireland.
§ MR. O'SULLIVAN
said, there was another point in which he thought the taxation levied in Ireland was unfair to the taxpayers—namely, the charge for lunatics. Some relief had been given by the late Government in this respect; but he failed to see why the Government did not relieve the ratepayers from this charge for lunatics altogether. There were many of them retained in the Union-houses in Ireland which were altogether unfit for them, and there were no lunatic asylums proper to which they could be sent. All the expense was thrown on the ratepayers and the owners of property in Ireland, and they obtained no relief from the Imperial Exchequer, although he believed that it was formerly the intention of Parliament to grant such relief. As to Poor Law taxation in Ireland, they all knew it was a matter which every man ought to bear his fair share of; but, unfortunately, in Ireland nobody paid it except the owners of real property. This was a great injustice to the owners of property, and he certainly could not see why the owners of bank stock, railway shareholders, and others should not pay their share of the relief of the poor as well as the owners of real property. These were matters affecting the incidence of local taxation which he asked Her Majesty's Government to take into their consideration. There were various rates, such as that for the support of pauper lunatics, which ought to be borne entirely by Imperial taxation, and there were others to which the funds of the State ought reasonably to be required to contribute.
§ MR. GURDON
said, he should like to say a few words before the debate closed. There were a good many hon. Members on that (the Liberal) side of the House who felt deeply on the question of local taxation, and he knew that the county he had the honour to represent (Norfolk) had suffered as severely as Somersetshire or Devonshire. He had listened to speeches ad nauseam at 1302 Boards of Guardians, Chambers of Agriculture, and public meetings, resolutions passed at Quarter Sessions, and opinions which had been expressed everywhere with great unanimity in favour of some relief being granted by the State. He thanked his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. R. H. Paget) for having brought the subject forward, because he believed that it was only by continually knocking at the door that they were likely to obtain a redress of their grievances. He thought they had a better chance of getting these grievances attended to now than they had had for some time. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had already acknowledged the state of depression under which the agricultural interest had been suffering for some time. Without giving up the right of the farmers to grumble, he would willingly admit that last year had not been as bad as the year before, and equally that 1880 had not been as bad as the year 1879; but, nevertheless, there had been very little money in the country, either in the hands of the farmers or of the landlords, and therefore it was only right that they should ask for a little relief. He did not think that the remission of local burdens would do all that was required to cure the grievances complained of. Although entire unanimity had been expressed at all the meetings as to the burdens they had to suffer, there had not been the same unanimity as to the way in which they wished to have them remedied. Those whom he represented entirely endorsed the opinions so well expressed by the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Massey Lopes), and he hoped the Government would be able to see their way to relieving the owners of real property in the counties from some of the burdens which they looked upon as Imperial and not local at all. This opinion was certainly strongly felt in regard to lunatics and education, and he hoped the Government would consent to allow burdens partly local and partly Imperial to be administered by local bodies, by that means avoiding centralization. If the Government could see their way towards granting the relief suggested by the hon. Baronet, and would give to the localities a great part of the money now contributed to Imperial purposes from local taxation, they would earn the 1303 gratitude of the people, and confer immense advantages upon the country.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, that at that late hour of the night (12.15) it was almost impossible to do justice to the subject they had before them, and therefore he only desired to make a very few observations before they heard what his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board had to say upon this important matter. His hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire was to be congratulated upon the statement he had laid before the House, although he was unfortunate in having been compelled to delay it until so late a period of the evening, when full justice could scarcely be done to it. The subject was not only important in itself, but it had attracted a considerable amount of attention on the part of the public out-of-doors for many years past. In one sense it was true that the case of the owners and occupiers of land and the owners and occupiers of house property was to be regarded as one. Although the difference between the taxes placed on land and those placed on houses was very great, it was impossible to draw any practical distinction in dealing with them. No doubt it was true, as had been pointed out by the hon. Member for Bradford opposite (Mr. Illingworth), that the cry for redress had come almost exclusively from the occupiers of land. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler), in speaking of the depression of the landed interest the other day, pooh-poohed the notion of any remission of local taxation being of advantage to the farmer, because he said at the outside it could not amount to more than 1s. 6d. in the pound. But a remission of taxation to the extent of 1s. 6d. in the pound would be a remission of one-half of the local taxation which the farmer had to pay, and he ventured to say that the remission of 1s. 6d. would be regarded by him as a very great relief indeed. The great objection which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken to relief of this kind was that it was not relief to the farmer, but to the owner of the property. He could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman in that opinion, because he knew sufficient to induce him to believe that such a proposition was entirely fallacious. At the present time, or, indeed, at any time during the last 1304 few years, it was monstrous to suppose that any landowner would add any remission granted in local taxation to the rent of his tenant. He put that idea aside as being absolutely out of the question, and he was prepared to say that any remission which might be made of local rates throughout the country would be gratefully received by the farmers in the present day. Why was it that the occupiers of land had this keen sense of injustice with regard to local taxation? In the first place, it was a ready-money payment out of pocket which he could not avoid and which fell upon him at a time when it was inconvenient to make it. He was nevertheless obliged to pay it, however inconvenient it might be, and this was one reason why the education rate, as a charge upon the owners and occupiers of land, had been regarded as a flagrant injustice. Take the case of a large landed estate in a neighbourhood where it had been found necessary to institute a school board. All of a sudden, without any anticipated arrangement between the landlord and tenant, a school board was set up for the benefit of a town population in the centre of a large parish. The landlords and the owners were rated for their houses and gardens, while the rates, which were paid almost entirely by the occupiers of land in the parish, were paid exclusively for the benefit of the children belonging to a neighbouring town. That was a great injustice, and in his opinion the Legislature had made a mistake in allowing the burden to be so imposed. If the education rate were uniformly imposed throughout the country he believed the grievance would become so strong that the Government would be compelled to remove it. The reason why the demand for a more equitable adjustment of taxation in respect of school boards had not been much more general than it was arose from the fact that the grievance was only felt in the neighbourhood of the large towns and populous places. He now came to the reason why the cry for remission proceeded from the occupiers of land and not from the occupiers of houses. In towns and populous places the burden of the rates was quite as heavy as in the country districts, and yet the complaint was not so great. Why was this? It was because every man felt that the house in which he lived was, 1305 in a certain rough way, the measure of his ability to pay. A large population packed in a town found different houses at their disposal rented in proportion to their real value, and the occupier in selecting one chose it as the measure of his capacity to pay both rent and rates. The consequence was, that whether the rates amounted to 3s., 4s., or 5s. in the pound, the burden was determined with a certain degree of fairness in reference to the means of the occupier. It was said that the proper way to deal with the question would be by handing over the administration of certain taxes to the local authorities. Unless he was very much mistaken, the effect of that undoubtedly would be that an undue proportion of the relief would find its way into the pockets of the wealthy residents of populous places, whose cry for redress had not been, up to the present moment, very conspicuous. For his own part he would like very much to see another kind of relief coming to the ratepayers—a relief following from a reduction of the general expenditure of the country. The question of how the taxes for this purpose were to paid would not then arise, because there would be a surplus revenue of the country from which the Government would be able not only to remit taxation, but to assist the local rates. He much wished that some reduction would take place on the enormous amount of taxation prevailing throughout the country during the last four or five years, and that by means of this reduction some judicious remissions might be made for the benefit of all classes. There was one tax which bore upon land with extraordinary severity—namely, the property tax under Schedules A and B. The amounts extracted from the pockets of the ratepayers under these Schedules represented frequently sums which had never been received. He gave every credit to the Treasury for the readiness with which they had permitted claims for abatement to be made; but it was well known that money once paid out of pocket was generally recovered with exceeding difficulty, and this was the case with the claims to which he referred. There could be little doubt that the operation of Schedule A at the present time, and for some years past, had been to extract a very undue amount of contribution from the owners and occupiers of land. In con- 1306 clusion, he would express a hope that Her Majesty's Government would make some statement of an encouraging kind with reference to this question.
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has spoken of a principle which is an extremely sound one. He wishes that it were in the power of Parliament to give relief to particular classes, not by burdening the general community, but by some reduction of expenditure which would place new funds at the disposal of the Government without levying additional burdens on the country. No doubt, that is a very sound principle, and it is one which, for my own part, I should be glad to see take effect; nor, so far as the efforts of the Government are concerned, can I say that we have been slack in this respect. But the right hon. Gentleman knows that the tendency of this House, which is intended by the Constitution for controlling public expenditure, has become an agency for continually stimulating its increase. I think that is a practice most unhappy and most unfortunate for the House itself, and one which, if it continues, must lead to great changes. We cannot carry much further the system under which the responsibility for expenditure nominally rests with the Executive Government, while the irresistible pressure for augmentation of expenditure is continually proceeding from the House of Commons. It is a change which has now been in operation for about 25 or 30 years, and which must lead to the most unfortunate consequences, and, perhaps, to some very large alterations for the real protection of the public, so that if the House of Commons is to become the agent, not for diminishing charges, but increasing them, the House and its Members shall assume the responsibility of that augmentation in the face of the country, and not cover themselves under the responsibility of this or that Administration. But that is a subject upon which I shall not now enter. I have referred to it only because of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and because I am glad to hear anyone introduce protestations, if they be only of a general character, against the tendency alluded to. The right hon. Gentleman says that he hopes there will be some assurance given by 1307 the Government on this subject, or, if not, that the hon. Member who made the present Motion would press it to a division. I cannot be surprised at his expressing a desire that the sense of the House should be taken on the Motion, if no assurance of any kind came from the Government; but what I am surprised at is that it should appear to have escaped him that the Government have already, in the most solemn and formal manner - in a manner more solemn and formal than I could supply by any declaration at this Table - pledged themselves to open the whole question. We have advised Her Majesty to acquaint the House that they will be invited to deal with proposals for the establishment in the English and Welsh counties of local self-government. Parliament has been told that this measure will enlarge the powers of administration-that is, of local administration- and promote the diminution, so far as we can supply it, of powers of unnecessary centralization. Further financial changes will be proposed which will give the House the opportunity of considering both as to town and country, what may be the proper extent and the most equitable form of contribution of Imperial taxes to the relief of local burdens. Now, I think that the hon. Member behind me who seconded this Motion will perceive that it would be the height of rashness on the part of any Government, to advise those words on the part of the Crown, unless they had made up their minds seriously to open this question. Sir, I do not wish to meet the speeches which have been made this evening in any hostile or captious spirit. On the other hand, I do not say that I subscribe to everything put forward in them. For instance, I cannot subscribe to the historical reminiscences of the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devonshire (Sir Massey Lopes), who says that at the time of the repeal of the Corn Laws, Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell pointed out, in connection with the removal of Protection, that Parliament ought to enter into a revision of local burdens. I know not whence he has drawn that. I was an active participator in those proceedings, and I say that, unwittingly, he has precisely inverted the declaration and doctrines of Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell, because they most vehemently each op- 1308 posed themselves to an inquiry in this House into the burdens upon agriculture for the purpose of seeing whether they were open to Imperial compensation. [Sir MASSEY LOPES: They gave certain sums.] That is quite true. Sir Robert Peel gave certain sums in 1846; but to point to them as prospective of their intention to give compensation in connection with the abolition of Protection, is an entire mistake on the part of the hon. Baronet; and I have good reason to recollect it, because, whether wisely or unwisely-perhaps I was misled on that occasion-I gave a vote for the Committee to inquire into the pressure of local burdens on agriculture, and I gave it against Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell. I do not say that I attempt to enter into all the points that have been raised in this most complex question. It is impossible that we can discuss them in a satisfactory manner upon this Motion. Moreover, it is quite impossible to afford this pledge considering the advice we have given to Her Majesty, as indicated in the Speech from the Throne. It is quite impossible for Her Majesty's Government to shrink from the responsibility for the initiative to which they have pledged themselves. We are constantly pressed, and justly so, to take up one question or another; but I venture to remind the House that when the Government has pledged itself to take up a question it is usual to allow them an opportunity of laying their proposals before the House, and it is not usual, before they have had an opportunity of opening their proposals, to pledge themselves to the propositions of independent Members. As I perceive, there is one great allegation which lies at the root of the principal part of the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Devonshire. It is that there is no reason why personal property should not be made to contribute to local burdens in a degree either equal to, or, if not equal to, yet more nearly approaching to the manner in which real property is made to contribute to those burdens. That is a proposition of great breadth and sweep. At the same time, it is one which we have undoubtedly pledged ourselves to open by the advice we have given to Her Majesty as indicated by the Speech from the Throne. It is impossible for us to open that proposition except in connection with the finance of 1309 the year, nor can we place ourselves under promises which are large and indefinite in their terms before we know what measures can be adopted in redemption of those pledges. We believe we have gone as far as any Government can go to meet the wishes of those who say that the present system of local taxation—especially since the introduction of new rates—has borne with great severity upon the occupiers of land. The whole view of that question we have pledged ourselves to open with a view to remove this grievance. The question as to the mode in which relief can be given on principles of equity to the different districts of the country, town and rural, the question of how to carry such reforms into effect without abandoning or impairing the ancient principles of local self-government in this country, are questions of the greatest depth an complexity. It will certainly tax the best of our energies to place before the House schemes which we can hope will be deemed satisfactory. But, Sir, I plead for that liberty which is usually, and something more than usually, given to a Government when about to introduce a plan of the kind to allow it to produce that plan as a whole, and unfettered by abstract Resolutions to which no one is able to assign any clear, definite, or positive meaning. It is by no means an uncommon thing in this House, when a Chancellor of the Exchequer has his Budget in prospect, and the Government has given no pledge on the subject, to press the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and even to endeavour to bind him by a pledge. But I must say that I do not recollect any single occasion in my experience on which an attempt has been made—I do not say the hon. Member means to make it, evidently he thinks it ought not to be made—to bind the Government by a Resolution of the House upon a subject which they have, in the most solemn manner, pledged themselves to open. Her Majesty's Government can be no parties to any such Resolution. But there is no difficulty whatever with respect to the general principles upon which a measure of this kind should stand, because we have allowed spontaneously, and in the most formal manner, that there is a case which requires to be opened, and a grievance which requires to be met. We cannot, however, consent to relieve ourselves of responsi- 1310 bility by taking refuge in generalities which go no way in acquittal of our duty. It is our duty to submit proposals which must enter into the finance of the year, and it is only in connection therewith that we are able to submit them. I have frankly admitted to the hon. Gentleman, as I before admitted to the deputation which waited on me, that the question whether personal property should be made to contribute more largely to the local expenses of the country was one which it was fair to open, and upon which we should have proposals to submit to Parliament, especially with a view to the relief of the occupiers of the soil. I hope that will be deemed to be no unconciliatory language. I do not attempt to discuss all the large and difficult points involved in the question, or to add to the promises we have already made, because they cannot be properly expounded till the time comes for considering them in connection with some definite financial plan, when hon. Members will be able to judge whether we are honestly or adequately redeeming our pledges. I should be very sorry, however, to be placed in conflict with the hon. Gentleman; but I hope he will not think it his duty to bring us to a declaration at the present moment, but that he will rather leave us a free initiative in the matter. As we do not desire to meet this Resolution with a negative, we shall adopt the regular course of moving the Previous Question; though we do not admit that it is in accordance with expediency or good policy that we should accede to indefinite pledges in anticipation of the fulfilment of promises which we have already given in the most spontaneous and solemn form.
§ MR. R. H. PAGET
said, he had not ventured to introduce this Motion without having given the subject his most careful consideration. He was perfectly aware, as every Member of the House must be aware, from the terms in Her Majesty's Speech, that there was an undertaking on the part of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) to do what he called "open the question;" but, in putting this Motion down, he (Mr. R. H. Paget) thought he should strengthen the right hon. Gentleman's hands, by enabling him to see what the feeling of the House was. This was no new question suddenly sprung upon the House. The 1311 financial details were clear to the mind of anyone who choose to go into them, and the financial mind of the right hon. Gentleman could have grappled with those details with the greatest facility, and proved to him that the only method of redress must be within the lines of the Resolution he had the honour to move. He could not think that in asking the House to express their opinion upon this matter he was placing the Government in any difficulty. Their course was a clear one. They might well accept his Resolution; but, if not, he should feel it to be his duty to take the sense of the House upon it.
§ MR. DODSON
I hoped the hon. Gentleman would not put the House to the trouble of dividing, and would not compel me to rise and make the Motion I am now about to move, which is "the Previous Question." I must point out to the hon. Member and to the House why it appears to me that the Government could not accept the Resolution moved by the hon. Member. I do not find fault with the tone of the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite, or of any hon. Gentleman who has spoken in this debate. That, however, is a very different thing from the Government being asked, after the undertaking in Her Majesty's Speech, to accept a Resolution which in itself is ambiguous. As far as I understand, the hon. Member wishes for, or would be content with, contributions from personalty; but from the language of the Resolution it is not clear whether the hon. Member means the contributions to be derived from taxes on labour, or whether he only wishes one class of property to be called upon in aid of another. Then, again, I must point out to the hon. Member what is, perhaps, the greatest difficulty in the Resolution. He asks us to agree to say that the owners and occupiers of real property should without further delay be relieved by an adequate increase from general taxation. What is the meaning of adequate? Does adequate relief mean some contribution from personalty or from general taxation, or that local burdens are to be equally divided between personalty and realty, or between capital and labour, or is it simply a vague and general term which means that which is adequate in the opinion of any Gentleman who will vote for this Resolution? I will not detain the 1312 House any longer; but I think that, after the pledge which the Government has given with regard to dealing with this matter financially, and with regard to county government in the Queen's Speech, we cannot agree to accept a Resolution in terms so perfectly ambiguous as those of the hon. Member. Therefore, I am obliged to submit the Motion of the Previous Question.
§ Previous Question proposed, "That that Question be now put."—(Mr. Dodson.)
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I will only detain the House one moment; but I cannot help taking notice of an observation by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. The right hon. Gentleman says this is an ambiguous Motion, and that it ought not to be accepted in place of the clear declaration in Her Majesty's Speech. It seems to me that precisely the inverse of that is the case. The information afforded to us in Her Majesty's Speech seems to me to be extremely ambiguous, and that my hon. Friend's Motion is one the intent and meaning of which are absolutely clear. The proposal in Her Majesty's Speech is that we shall be invited to deal with proposals for the establishment of local self-government, and connected with various questions of large powers of administration. There are to be financial proposals, which will give you an opportunity of considering what may be the proper extent and most equitable form of contribution from Imperial taxation. My hon. Friend proposes that we should declare that the present incidence is too heavy for real property, and that whatever is done should be done in the way of an increase or contribution. It seems to me that my hon. Friend's proposal is the very reverse of ambiguous.
My right hon. Friend did not speak of a clear statement in Her Majesty's Speech. The words have been put into his mouth, but were not used by him. The declaration in Her Majesty's Speech is the responsible declaration of responsible Ministers, supposed to have the confidence of the country and of the House of Commons, pledging themselves in the face of the country to open up this question—a pledge which I put it fearlessly in the face of the House no Ministers could have made in the terms they used un- 1313 less they had intended to propose a measure of relief, and I stated when I rose before that I believed this was the first occasion on which an endeavour has been made to bind them by the terms of an abstract Resolution, in anticipation of the plan they are to propose on their own responsibility; and I shall be curious to see by whom this attempt is supported.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he had fully intended to support the Motion of the hon. Member, and he was anxious that his hon. Friends should support it; but he thought, after what the Prime Minister had said, that the proper time for raising this financial proposal would be when the Budget was considered. For his part, he should never hesitate to increase the national expenses, as the Prime Minister had said hon. Members were doing, or to face his constituents after doing so. It was the poorest people in Ireland who paid the poor rates and the county rates; but he thought this matter might wait till the Budget came up. But when the Prime Minister brought up his proposal he hoped that if he did not include Ireland in his scheme he would, at least, give Ireland some share in the relief. If the right hon. Gentleman attempted to give relief to England and Wales and left out Ireland he would probably have a good deal of trouble.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 105; Noes 110: Majority 5.—(Div. List, No. 18.)