§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR (Leeds, Central)
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, its object was to remove the difficulties which at present beset the system under which waterworks were assessed to the rates. This Bill applied only to waterworks which belonged to Local Authorities; but he was prepared, if such were the sense of the House, to amend it in Committee so that it should apply also to waterworks owned by private Companies. The present system of rating was established by the Parochial Assessment Act, 1836, and was based on a valuation of what a hypothetical tenant would pay for the undertaking. That system worked well enough in cases where the waterworks were confined to a single parish; but difficulties arose when the waterworks passed through more than one parish, which was usually the case with regard to undertakings in the hands of Corporations. These difficulties were further increased by the necessity of distinguishing between those parts of the undertaking which were directly productive of revenue, and those parts which were only indirectly productive. In some parishes through which the works passed, there might be no sale of water at all. The Bill proposed to abolish altogether their old friend the hypothetical tenant, and to simplify the system by fixing the rateable value in proportion to the amount of gross revenue received from the actual sale of water—the proportion to be smaller in the case of pumping works than in the case of gravitation works, on the ground that the former cost more both in original outlay and for maintenance. As to the distribution between the different parishes, it was proposed to divide the rateable value into two unequal parts, two-thirds and one-third. 1028 Two-thirds was to be divided between the parishes actually supplied with water in proportion to the amount of gross revenue derived from each, and the one-third was to be distributed among the parishes through which the works passed, according to the amount of capital expended in each. It was possible that under the Bill waterworks would be assessed rather lower than at at present. If so, as the Local Authorities did not desire to escape from any just burden, it would be easy in Committee to alter the figures in the Bill. The Bill was confined to waterworks, and not extended to other undertakings, such as gasworks, partly not to overload the Bill, and partly because water was a commodity in a category of its own. The advantage of the scheme proposed by the Bill was that it would effect great simplification of the present law and produce clearness and certainty where at present there was confusion and uncertainty, and probably would tend to diminish litigation. If the Bill were read a second time, he should be satisfied that it should be referred to a Select Committee.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. G. Balfour.)
§ MR. ADDISON (Ashton-under-Lyne)
, in moving the rejection of the Bill, said, it was most mischievous, and he would give it his most strenuous opposition. The Bill was framed for the purpose of reducing the rating of waterworks, but excluded all other undertakings of a kindred nature. At the present time the principle applied to the rating of waterworks was precisely the same as that applied to the rating of gasworks, mines, railways, and other subjects of rateability. It was calculated what rent a tenant would pay for such undertakings, and certain deductions were made in order to arrive at the net assessment. The system had been in operation for 50 years at least, and, in the long run, had been eminently satisfactorily. The ingenuity of surveyors and valuers had devised a method of calculation by which the rateable value of large undertakings was readily arrived at, and he had heard no complaints with regard to it. The satisfactory manner in which the system worked was shown by the few appeals 1029 which took place, and the fact that only a few special matters had ever come before the Courts with regard to the subject. It was proposed by the Bill to upset this whole system, and to introduce a mysterious rule of thumb, based on no principle whatever, that one-eighth of the gross revenue should be rateable value on pumping works, and one-sixth of the gross revenue on gravitation works. How was this one-eighth arrived at? It was by the experience based on the Act of Parliament which this Bill proposed to supersede. If the system of rating was to be altered, why, in the world, should it be done in the case of waterworks only? Why should gasworks and railways and mines be excluded? It was really an attempt on the part of the Local Authorities to get rid of their fair share of the rates. He regarded the Bill as of a mischievous character, and he begged to move that it be read a second time that day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Addison.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. STANSFELD) (Halifax)
said, that the Bill of the hon. Member appeared to deal with the question of the method rather than with that of the principle of rating waterworks. In his opinion, the whole subject of the method of rating waterworks, mines, and similar enterprizes ought to be considered together and not piecemeal. Had all the measures dealing with the various branches of this subject been referred to a Select Committee this measure might also have been efficiently referred to them; but he was not prepared to accede to the hon. Member's proposal to refer this measure by itself to a Select Committee. He might say that the House was occupied at the present moment with matters of a different character and of a larger order, and that it would therefore be difficult to get a working Committee to consider the subject at the present moment. If they agreed to the second reading of the Bill they should have committed themselves to the principle that the method of ascertaining the 1030 value of waterworks should be that of taking for the rateable value some proportion of the receipts. He was not prepared to commit himself to that proposition, and if the hon. Member thought it right to divide he should be compelled to vote against him. He would therefore suggest that the best course would be to adjourn the debate.
§ MR. JACKSON (Leeds, N.)
said, he considered that the suggestion thrown out by the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly fair and reasonable, and he therefore moved the adjournment of the debate.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
, in seconding the Motion for the adjournment of the debate, thanked the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. G. Balfour) for having brought forward a practical suggestion towards the settlement of this question. He, however, regretted that the right hon. Gentleman opposite had not held out any hopes that the Government would take up this subject when the other more pressing and more engrossing subjects, which no doubt filled the mind of the House, had been disposed of.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Jackson,)—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Tuesday 25th May.