§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS (Southwark, Bermondsey)
, in rising to move the following Resolution:—That the present system under which, in England and Wales, the first Incidence of Local Taxation (with some slight exceptions) falls on the occupier and not on the owner of lands and tenements, is unjust; that such owners ought in equity to bear at least a moiety of those charges; that the system under which country mansions are rated is unfair; and that the owners of ground rents in towns are liable to no part of those charges, the outlay of which is essential in order that the property may possess any marketable value whatever,said, that since 1831 down to last year scarcely a year had passed without some Act bearing on local taxation being added to the Statute Book; and during the last 50 years there had been constant debates, generally on one aspect of the question, and very considerable changes had from time to time been introduced. To deal exhaustively with this question would require a speech of 10 or 20 hours at least; and he could, therefore, only call attention to a few important points. Practically, local taxation commenced with the Poor Law Act of Queen Elizabeth, and since that time, with short interruption, 1644 it had been the universal practice to levy the whole of local taxation on what was commonly called real estate, and in England and Wales upon the occupier only of real estate; whereas in Scotland and Ireland such local taxation was shared by the owner and occupier—that was to say, they were divided in a nearly equal moiety between the two parties interested. Originally, the whole of the local taxation of Scotland was levied on the owner; and it was only when the new Poor Roll was introduced in Scotland, owing to the disruption of the Scottish Church, that a division was made between the two parties. In the latter years of Queen Elizabeth's Reign, and for some time afterwards, there were in England a large number of occupying owners of land, tenant farmers being comparatively rare. The property of these occupying owners was then obviously the property on which to impose taxation, the division between owner and occupier being disregarded in consequence of the rarity of occupying tenants-at-will. In course of time, however, the ranks of these occupying freeholders were sadly thinned; for, acting under the 1st clause of the Statute of Frauds, great landowners declared that persons who were not possessed of documentary evidence of their title to the land occupied by them should be treated as tenants-at-will. A generation or two afterwards came the appropriation of common lands under various Acts of Parliament. Between 1710, the date of the first of these Acts, and 1854, 9,000,000 acres of land were appropriated by private owners. The resulting state of things in connection with the maintenance of the poor having become intolerable, various attempts were made to effect an improvement. In 1870 a Committee was appointed, at the instance of the then President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Goschen), to inquire into the whole subject of local taxation. The Members of that Committee were men of proved capacity, and were peculiarly familiar with the subject referred to them. They published a Report, but it had not yet been acted upon. In it they recommended the division of rates between owner and occupier, as he did in his Resolution. The chief reason which the witnesses examined before the Committee gave for suggesting this change was that it would be 1645 likely to result in a more careful and economical administration of the rates. Since the time of the appointment of the Committee diverse Motions had been proposed in the House, from which it was a matter for regret that Sir Massey Lopes, Mr. Pell, Mr. C. S. Read, and Sir Baldwyn Leighton were now absent, because they had made the subject of local taxation their peculiar study. Of late the efforts of the landowning interest with reference to this subject had been incessant, and attended with much success. Sir Massey Lopes successfully pushed the doctrine that the question of local taxation was one of national concern, and insisted that the maintenance of the poor and other charges ought to be recognized as national burdens. The result of such efforts was that the local rates had been relieved, he was afraid, without much resulting economy, of the maintenance of prisons and criminals, and to a large extent of the maintenance of turnpike roads. The result was that at present, so far as he could make out from the Returns of the Local Government Board, the Exchequer was paying nearly £2,500,000 in aid of local taxation.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN; (Birmingham, W.)
, interrupting, said, that £2,500,000 was the amount of the contributions made for the purposes mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. There were, however, many other contributions, which brought the total up to a much larger sum.
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS
said, that the sum he had named was all that he could find; but, of course, he was a person of limited intelligence.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN
said, he would refer the hon. Gentleman to the Civil Service Estimates, where he would see the total amount to be something over £4,000,000.
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS
begged to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the information. He had looked through all the Papers, and anything more hopelessly puzzling and confusing he had never met with. He hoped, therefore, he might be excused for having understated the cost; but it only strengthened his position. Now, he would ask, who paid this money? Where did it come from? Of course it came out of the Income Tax.
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS
said, it no doubt came out of all the taxes, because they were consolidated; but, as a matter of fact, it was not the custom—it was not, at least, the experience of Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench—to put on new taxes, for that would be objected to; but they screwed up the Income Tax a penny, and he had little doubt the bulk of these £4,000,000 had been taken from the Income Tax, and it fell with peculiar severity on persons whose incomes were between £400 and £1,000. He thought there was no class of persons who contributed more to the Exchequer, in proportion to their resources, at such a sacrifice to themselves. It had been said very truly that the burden of taxes had a tendency to remain on those on whom the taxes were imposed. That was the case, except, perhaps, in the case of shopkeepers and tradesmen. They were able to, and no doubt did, shift the taxes imposed upon them on to their customers by raising the prices of their goods. He did not blame them. Every person who was able to transfer a tax from himself to his neighbour must have the sympathy of every right-minded person. But, with that exception, taxes would always stay with those upon whom they were imposed. He believed that was a statement that no economist would dispute; and not only so, but some of these taxes must remain there, and it always required a pretty strong effort to get them off. It would probably be said that the local taxes were always paid ultimately by the owners. If that were the case, there could be no harm in putting them entirely on the owners in the beginning. There was not the smallest doubt that if 1,000 occupiers were asked who paid the local taxation, 999 of them would reply that the greater part of it fell on their shoulders. They might be wrong; but he wished to urge upon the House the expediency of making the division he suggested. If the contention of the landlords that local taxation weighed unduly upon them was correct, they could not possibly lose by his proposal, because it simply amounted to a transfer to them of the process of paying that which, according to their own assertion, they had to pay in the end. The adoption of the division he 1647 proposed would certainly be a great concession to popular sentiment, and a very considerable means of stifling popular discontent. Again, why should great houses, splendid pictures, and a vast library altogether escape taxation? He did not know what price the founder of the house of Churchill gave for the Raphael, for which the nation paid £75,000; perhaps not £750. But why should pictures like that remain untaxed? The same complaint was made by the local taxpayer about paying for the cost of roads which were absolutely necessary to the landlord for the enjoyment of his property. He had no particular objection to the present state of things; but he deprecated that affectation of public spirit which held that these roads were of national importance like the road from Chester to Holyhead and the highway to the North. He thought that a great case was made out for the division of local taxation between the owner and occupier, and that such a change would materially modify a vast amount of discontent which now existed. He might be told that what he proposed would disturb existing arrangements; that it was an ancient custom for the occupier to pay the rates, and that it was an indelible part of the Constitution. He very much of the mind of an ancient friend of his—Dr. Buckland—who, having been shown over a cathedral, had a spot pointed out where the blood of a saint was said to be "indelibly" marked. Dr. Buckland was a man of an inquiring mind, so he wetted his finger, rubbed it on the ground, and putting it to his mouth, said, "Bat's dung." Then, as to the rating of country mansions, that was done in accordance with 5 & 6 Will. IV. The language of the Statute would justify the Justices in putting on those houses a nominal value. He would not be surprised if they were to put on them no value whatever. In the United States the value of property was taken at the letting value; and they did not give the owner the same advantage as he got in England, for they taxed the empties on the principle that the State ought not to assist a man in keeping his goods out of the market. He would remind the House that there was an awkward spirit in the air. There were numbers who argued thus—"I, with my wife and family, live in one room, for which I have to pay 3s. 6d. or 4s. a-week. 1648 I pay it with difficulty, all the more because the rates are so heavy; and I know that Lord So-and-so has a house with 150 rooms, for which in rates he pays next to nothing." It was a bad thing that this kind of spirit should get abroad. Those who profited by such a condition of things would do well not to mark the distinction between themselves and their neighbours by a sense of injustice. He desired to raise no prejudice against them; but unless something were done in the direction of his Motion there would be a growing feeling of grudge and dissatisfaction at the escape of wealthy men from local contributions. It had been always thought desirable to tax luxuries if they could be got at; and if a person abandoned the use of a half-a-dozen houses while he lived in one, he ought to be taxed for the whole. As to the third part of his Motion, he thought he had better not press it, as it had been already debated. The last part of his Motion referred to ground rents. He had no special grudge against ground rents, and saw no more reason for taxing ground rents exceptionally than for taxing a successful lawyer or physician. It was only one form of fertility, and had as much right to be protected as any other. But what he did complain of was that the ground rent was constantly being rolled up by the contributions of the tenant. They were engaged in London in improving the ground estates of landlords at a rate which was enough to make the hair of Irish Members stand on end. He found that the amount of local taxation or debt, the main part of which had been incurred in what might be called non-reproductive consumption, was no less than £159,000,000. This principal and interest, almost the whole of it, was being paid in terminable debts by the occupier. The occupier was engaged in England to the extent of £159,000,000 in making still more valuable the great estates, and particularly those great estates in London which had come into the hands of their possessors Heaven knows how. He had seen the lease of the Covent Garden estate, which was squeezed out of Westminster Abbey. The lease was granted to the first Lord Bedford in the time of Queen Elizabeth. The estate was about 300 acres, and it was let at the time of the lease for a period of 30 years at £40 a-year. He 1649 should not like to say what it was let for now; but he should think that it went a great way into six figures. This estate had been improved without the outlay of a single 1d. by the noble Duke. It had been improved by the tenants, and this was what he complained of as being grossly unfair. Seeing the necessity of roads, a supply of water, and the carrying away of sewage to property, he contended that if justice were done the highway rate, the water rate, and the sewage rate ought to be paid by the ground landlord. As it was, a great portion of these rates were being paid in instalments by the temporary occupiers. This was a question which ought to be debated; and the solution of it appeared to him to be imperatively necessary. There was a great deal of discontent abroad. People came to him from poor places complaining not only of the exorbitant rates which they had to pay, but that Public Bodies did not dare to undertake many useful and necessary works, owing to the cost that would be incurred. This was notably the case with the scheme which had been prepared by the Local Government Board for the purification of the Thames by conducting the sewage of the Metropolis down to beyond Condy Island, where it could be so dealt with that only pure water should be emptied into the river. That useful work, however, had not yet been undertaken, simply because it would cost £4,000,000. He submitted that the expenses of permanent works such as this should be borne by the estates of ground landlords, who benefited by them as well as by occupiers. Some alteration in the law with respect to the matters he had referred to was imperatively necessary if that galling sense of injustice under which the public found they were paying to improve the estates of their neighbours out of their own hard-earned incomes was ever to be removed; and it was, therefore, high time that this most important subject of local taxation, of its incidence and distribution, should be considered and dealt with by Parliament. In conclusion, he moved the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
§ MR. PICTON (Leicester)
, in seconding the Motion, said, there was one aspect of the question to which his hon. Friend had not referred. He did not think that his hon. Friend had spoken 1650 of the great improvement that had been made in the system of Imperial taxation. Thanks, in a very largo measure, to the financial genius of the present Prime Minister, Imperial taxation was now much more fairly distributed than it was a generation ago. Local taxation, however, practically remained just as it was. Now, he objected to rent as the sole basis for assessing local taxation; and he contended that such taxation should be imposed, as far as possible, upon superfluities and accumulations. By imposing local taxation upon rent they diminished the amount of money available for employment in reproductive operations. This they should endeavour to avoid. It was altogether a fallacy, he maintained, to assume that rent was any fair or just criterion of the amount a man ought to pay to local taxation; and yet no other criterion was taken. Take, for instance, the large class of shopkeepers, many of whom had to pay enormous rents in order to secure proportionately small profits. These were the people who, as a rule, felt more keenly and resented more bitterly than any other class of the community the increased rates rendered necessary by modern scientific and social progress. They very often heard people say that shopkeepers were a narrow-minded and Conservative class. About their Conservatism he would not say much; but he knew that they were an ill-used race. But it should be remembered that when the struggle of life was made bitter to any man, that man concentrated thought upon himself and his own sufferings; and this involved probably, in many instances, a certain amount of narrowness and prejudice. Shopkeepers were a powerful class on account of their numbers, and they naturally offered a strong opposition to all schemes for improvement, and more especially in the direction of culture as represented by School Boards. If any vulgar ignoramus wished to be elected upon the School Board for the purpose of retarding the progress of education, ten to one that he looked to the shopkeepers for his chief support. Well, he (Mr. Picton) could not wonder at such action on the part of shopkeepers. As human nature was constituted, it seemed to him almost impossible that they should act otherwise, because the expense of the modern means of progress must bear more 1651 heavily and more cruelly upon shopkeepers than upon most others; and shopkeepers ought not to be condemned as a class till the cause which impelled them to this line of action had been removed. It should be remembered that they were not only aggrieved by the heavy taxation levied upon themselves, but were still further aggravated by the different line taken with regard to the assessment of magnificent mansions which were scattered throughout the country. It was said that those great mansions had no letting value; but that was not the point at issue. The question was, what was the amount of accumulated wealth which they represented? That was what should be made liable to taxation. Let them take a long lease of land in an open suburb where the rates were light in consequence of there being little or no population. Population, as the House knew, always brought unforeseen rates; but it also brought unforeseen value to the owner; but the fact was that the occupier paid all the local rates. This was especially so in regard to ground rents; and there was, consequently, a strong case made out for the taxing of ground rents. But the present system of levying local burdens upon the occupiers of land was unjust; it created discontent, and caused needless friction in our social progress. Believing this he, therefore, very heartily supported the Motion of the hon. Member for Bermondsey.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the present system under which, in England and Wales, the first Incidence of Local Taxation (with some slight exceptions) falls on the occupier and not on the owner of lands and tenements is unjust; that such owners ought in equity to hear at least a moiety of those charges; that the system under which country mansions are rated is unfair; and that the owners of ground rents in towns are liable to no part of those charges, the outlay of which is essential in order that the property may possess any marketable value whatever."—(Mr. Thorold Rogers.)
§ SIR RICHARD PAGET (Somerset, Wells)
, in rising to move, as an Amendment—That, while the apportionment of the payment of Rates between landlord and tenant may be desirable, as part of a complete scheme for remedying the admitted inequalities of the Incidence of Local Taxation, this House is of opinion that the financial injustice complained of can only be removed by a comprehensive measure, and that an equitable re-adjustment of 1652 Taxation, as between real and personal property, is urgently required,said, there were many things which fell from the Mover of the Resolution with which he was in complete accord; but he still thought the hon. Member had failed to grapple with the root of the difficulty, and the remedies which he set forth were entirely insufficient to settle this problem. The hon. Member complained of the transfer of prisons from the Local Authorities to the State; but if there was one thing more than another which completely justified the action of Lord Iddesleigh upon this question, it was that the administration of prisons, as regarded both economy and efficiency, had been materially improved. The expenditure per prisoner was less than it was before, and it must be so when they considered how many prisons had been given up; and at the same time they had secured a system of absolute evenness in diet, discipline, and treatment. The prison expenditure had been transferred from the local to the Imperial authority, and it was misleading to speak of it as a subvention or grant in aid of existing local expenditure. As to the incidence of local taxation, the principle that had found general acceptance was this—that the natural tendency of the rates was in the main to fasten upon the owner; yet the occupier was always supposed to bear a portion of them. That portion was estimated by Mr. Dudley Baxter to be one-forth, and his estimate was generally accepted. Every farmer and every tenant knew that he was liable to the increase or decrease of rates which might occur after he had entered upon his tenancy; but, taking one year with another and spreading the rates over a long period, the result was that one-fourth of the rates fell upon the occupier of a farm. In the case of houses the proportion might approach a little nearer to one-half. As to roads, the proposal that the land should bear all the cost was manifestly inequitable, for all the great main roads were the property of the nation, and were so treated in every other country. In France roads were divided into three classes, and those of the first class, corresponding to our main roads, were maintained by the State. The law as to mansions had been accurately stated, but it applied to all houses. If there was do one to pay rent, you must 1653 assume a hypothetical tenant and ascertain what the rent would be. If you went beyond that you were landed in the principle of the taxation of personal property. If you went beyond what was assumed to be the rent, you taxed a portion of property which bore no rent; and if you taxed one portion why not all property of the same nature paying no rent? If an owner, instead of lavishing wealth in the luxury of architectural detail, had chosen to buy pictures, he would have spent his money in a form that could not have paid rent. If you were to tax buildings you must tax pictures and other personal property. [" Hear, hear!"] He was glad to find that recognition from hon. Members below the Gangway; but if you taxed pictures, you must tax books, plate, and diamonds. If you taxed them in the mansion of the Duke, you must tax them in other houses too. If the Motion meant anything, it meant that all property in every house was to be subject to local taxation. If you levied taxation upon personal property and furniture, which bore no income at all, surely you must levy it upon the funds and the stocks which do?
§ SIR RICHARD PAGET
said, he was glad to have that admission, which showed that he was not straining the hon. Member's argument, and was only showing what it would lead to. It came to this—that for the purposes of local taxation we should tax all furniture, all property, all stock-in-trade—in short, all personal property enjoying the protection of the State was to be liable to local taxation. If this were admitted they had advanced a very long way. He rather understood the hon. Member not to be prepared to levy a rate on any kind of stock-in-trade. He should not outer into this question, because it would occupy too long; but he would ask the hon. Member what shadow of benefit would a divided rate confer on yeomen owning the land they occupied? If any class deserved their sympathies that was the one. That was the class they were anxious to increase; but how could they recreate that class with the one hand if, with the other, they crushed them with the burden of taxation? He failed to see what benefit they would confer by 1654 this divided rate. The yeoman would receive no benefit whatever; and the Motion would fail to confer any advantage on the class they all wished to help. As to the principle of divided rates, he had nothing to say, except that it was no remedy. He wished to draw the attention of the House to the great difference as to the incidence of local taxation on the two great classes of property—he meant real property and personal property. There was an opinion which he knew was held out-of-doors that land and houses largely escaped their fair share of Imperial taxation. In the matter of Death Duties, he admitted that real property paid less than personal property; but he suggested that they could not argue from an isolated fact. They were bound to consider every item in the account and balance the totals, and then see on which side the advantage lay. The class whom he represented wanted nothing but justice; and if on investigation it was shown that land and houses were not sufficiently burdened, then he said let them bear the burden, however grievous it might be. If, on the other hand, it was capable of proof that the burdens which oppressed land and houses as compared with personalty were of a grievous and intolerable character, then they had a right to demand that those burdens should be decreased. He found, from a Return presented to the House on his Motion, that whilst the direct Imperial taxation on real property was apparently 4.2 per cent. that on personal property was 3.3 per cent. That calculation, however, required correction, in consequence of Income Tax on land and houses being levied on gross rental; and the amended figures worked out showed that direct Imperial taxation on income of real property was about 5 per cent. and on that of personalty barely 3½ per cent. But, in addition to that, there was the fact that local taxation fell almost entirely and solely upon what was called real property. This local taxation amounted to 7½ per cent. so that altogether real property paid 12½ percent in taxation, while it could in no way be made out that personal property paid one-third of that sum. If these figures were right—and he maintained that they were indisputable—they were approaching the time when the justice of their contention would be made so clear that 1655 no delay in remedying the injustice could be any longer allowed. They all wanted that there should be a multiplication of those who owned the soil; but it was in vain to attempt to create this multitude of owners while they rendered it impossible by imposing taxation on them three times heavier than what would have fallen on them if their money had been invested in personal property. One answer to these arguments was that they had no case because their burdens were hereditary, and that the land had been bought and sold with these burdens on it. That argument, however, would not bear the light of day. How long must a tax have been borne before it assumed an hereditary character? Was the education rate of £2,200,000 an hereditary burden? Was the maintenance of the main roads thrown on property in consequence of the abolition of turnpikes an hereditary burden? Was the maintenance of the police an hereditary burden? Rate after rate had been heaped on the owners and occupiers until, indeed, the burden had become too grievous to be borne. The Prime Minister was in the habit of saying in discussions of this kind that there was an unsettled account between labour and capital. He was ready and willing to enter into the great question of whether a re-adjustment was necessary between the claims of labour and property; but that question was outside and beside the scope of this Motion. Another answer that was sometimes made was that land was a very small portion of the whole of real property, and that houses paid the greater share of the taxation. It was true that the value of houses had increased; but there was no evidence to show that there had been any transfer of the burdens upon land, which had remained intact, and there was no ground for the contention that the taxation upon land had been eased by this increase in the great body of house property. The last answer that was made was—"Wait for some great measure of local government reform." Again and again they had been told that it was their duty to sit still, and everything would be put right when they had got this grand scheme. But they had waited too long. What reasonable chance was there of any scheme of local government being brought into practical operation in the course of the present year? Were they 1656 to be told that it was impossible this year, but it might come next, and that, therefore, they were to be content to go on bearing these burdens under which they were now groaning? He hoped, therefore, that the House would assent to his Amendment as a matter of urgent necessity. At this moment all concerned in agriculture, whether as owners, occupiers, or labourers, were suffering under a depression so great, so grievous, and so rapidly increasing, as to fill all concerned with dismay. They were told that the remedy lay in a reduction of rent. But he could assure hon. Members that rents were being reduced rapidly enough by natural process; and they had only to look at the evidence given lately before the Commission upon trade to see the effects of this depression upon all classes connected with agriculture. If the vast amount of personal property could only be made as visible to the naked eye as real property was, then he felt certain the great majority of the new electors would, from their sense of justice, be of opinion that these local burdens should not be restricted to those connected with landed property, but should be spread over the broader shoulders of the whole community. He begged to move the Amendment which stood in his name.
§ MR. JASPER MORE (Shropshire, Ludlow)
, in rising to second the Amendment, said, when he remembered the hon. Gentleman the Mover of the Resolution as a distinguished Professor of Political Economy at Oxford, he feared the hon. Gentleman might think him (Mr. More) presumptuous in seconding an Amendment which did not altogether seem on the same lines as the original Motion; and when he listened to the speech of the Mover he felt diffident in doing so. His apology was that they had lost the presence in that House of several Gentlemen who, when they were hon. Members, were great authorities on the subject; and also because he had, 20 years ago, presided at the first meeting held by Chambers of Agriculture on local taxation, when the Royal Agricultural Society held their show at the town represented by the hon. Member who seconded the Motion (Mr. Picton). At that time the new school of County Local Taxation Reformers were sanguine that they could rate personalty, and he then advised them to try to do so indirectly, 1657 as far as those branches of local taxation were concerned in which Government already interfered, the object of the advice being that when farmers had begun to stir in their own interests they might achieve some result speedily; secondly, that result might not lead to more centralization. He advised them, after that, not to push their application for grants from the Consolidated Fund too far, but to advocate a reform of local government; because he was always afraid of the retaliation upon Succession Duty, which the hon. Baronet did not seem to fear, as long as the reform of local taxation was a very comprehensive one. Since that the farmers had had to wait 20 years for a reform of local taxation and a reform of local government, and he hoped they would not have to wait another year. He was not aware whether the object of an abstract Motion in the hands of a private Member was to test the opinion of a new House on his particular views, or to impress those views on the policy of the Government by the extraordinary ability with which they were supported. But the circumstances of the Motion were peculiar in two respects—first, that the last part of it had been anticipated by a Resolution of the House; and, secondly, that a comprehensive scheme had been promised by the Prime Minister in his Mid Lothian Manifesto; whereas this Motion only touched the fringe of the question. With respect to the rating of mansions, if the hon. Member had served on assessment committees in the country he would have known that no country mansion was considered worth more than £200 rateable value. Country mansions might be rated at more, and it might not be worth while for owners to dispute the assessment with their neighbours; but let anyone try to let Blenheim, and they would find the truth of the small letting value and unequal assessment. But mansions were now raised in value where there were peculiar local advantages, as in Cheshire, where most of the large mansions had been rated over £300, and were now raised to four times that sum. With respect to the division of rates between owners and occupiers, that he had always advocated, and that a Select Committee of the House had reported in favour of; but not unless it was part of a comprehensive scheme. The last 1658 paragraph of their Report was to this effect—Your Committee are of opinion that the inquiry on which they have been engaged forms only one branch of the general question of local taxation, and that other considerations besides those which have been submitted to their investigation should be previously taken into account in any general measure giving effect to the above recommendations.The best argument for the division of rates between owner and occupier was that in Ireland, where the poor rate was thus divided, there had been no complaint of local taxation. He had acted on the advice of the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and had used the Report of the Commission on Agricultural Distress; but used it as a guide to Ireland, and found it an excellent help to the study of the Land Question on the spot. He never found any complaint as to local taxation in Ireland. The same might be said of Scotland; and there the same explanation might be given—namely, the division of the rates between owners and occupiers. But, whilst agreeing with the hon. Mover of the Resolution so far, he disagreed with him bringing in abstract and piecemeal Motions. The Prime Minister had promised a comprehensive measure. He said in his Mid Lothian Manifesto—In the reform of local government, the first objects to be aimed at, in my judgment, are to rectify the balance of taxation as between real and personal property; to put an end to the gross injustice of charging upon labour, through the medium of the Consolidated Fund, local burdens which our laws have always wisely treated as incident to property; to relieve the ratepayer, not at the charge of the working population, but wholly or mainly by making over for local purposes the carefully chosen items of taxation; to supply local management with inducements to economy, instead of tempting and almost forcing into waste and expense; and, most of all, to render the system thoroughly representative and free.He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would lose no time in giving effect to that statement. He believed the right hon. Gentleman was not unlikely to prove a better friend to the agricultural interest than they expected. When the right hon. Gentleman was President of the Board of Trade, the farmers approached him with the view of obtaining an equalization of weights for grain. Two deputations advocated different weights, and he invited them to meet each other; but, at the same time, 1659 he wrote a letter to show his appreciation of the agricultural interest. The right hon. Gentleman wrote to him as follows:—December 18.I am well aware of the efforts made in some quarters to represent the present Government, and myself in particular, as unfriendly to the farmers; but nothing can be more untrue or unfair. I have always said that agriculture was the largest and most important of English manufactures, and that the prosperity of all other industries is more or less dependent on its well-doing.With respect to the difficulty experienced by the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Thorold Rogers) in reading the Estimates, he could give the correct figures. The subventions to Local Authorities in England were just under £2,000,000; those to Ireland £339,000; to Scotland, £220,000; total, £2,555,000. But Ireland received £1,685,000 in grants spent by State officials to £1,054,000 received by England, and £103,000 by Scotland, besides the grants contributed to Bodies not Local Authorities—£206,000 to England, £70,000 to Scotland, £116,000 to Ireland. When he was in the House before, he adopted the course of the hon. Member for Northern Carnarvonshire (Mr. Rathbone), and moved the House to reprint the evidence of Sir George Lewis on parochial assessments, which was consented to. Sir George Lewis was both Secretary of State for the Home Department and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he was asked this Question by Lord Portman, the Chairman:—I think I collected from you, that the rate upon personal property is not altogether applicable to local charges?—What I stated was, that there is great difficulty in imposing any local tax upon money, for the reason which I mentioned—namely, that it is not easily identified with any one spot—and upon stock and furniture, on the ground that it is difficult to estimate their annual value.Why should not the rate upon personal property be made applicable to those charges of a local nature which the Government have already taken upon themselves, such as the salaries of schoolmasters and medical salaries?—There might, no doubt, be a general tax imposed exclusively upon personal property, for the purpose of defraying those charges; but then their amount is scarcely sufficient to justify the imposition of a separate tax for that purpose. I have here the exact amounts which have been paid of late years by Parliamentary grants both for the county rate and for the poor rate. The Government grants in aid of the county rate have risen from £82,000 in 1836 to £248,000 in the last year.1660 The grants were thus then only £250,000, too small a sum for a tax on personal property to be entertained. The grants to Local Authorities were, however, now £2,500,000. He had now to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to try to give them a real Bill, to discuss which would be a welcome change in that House after continual abstract Motions. One consideration he offered for the introduction of a Local Government Bill was that he was sure the right hon. Gentleman wished the labourer to have land as proposed by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings); and it was the general opinion that the existing Local Authority would not put the provisions of that Bill into operation, so that new Local Authorities must be formed before the poor were likely to have any land as proposed. He seconded the Amendment.
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "while the apportionment of the payment of Rates between landlord and tenant may be desirable, as part of a complete scheme for remedying the admitted inequalities of the Incidence of Local Taxation, this House is of opinion that the financial injustice complained of can only be removed by a comprehensive measure, and that an equitable re-adjustment of Taxation, as between real and personal property, is urgently required,"—(Sir Richard Paget,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
said the hon. Baronet who had moved the Amendment had raised an entirely different question from that which was covered by the Motion. He was in the position of poaching on another man's land. The Motion before the House was not as to the difference between the taxing of personal and real property, but the injustice with which the tax charged was levied on real property. He agreed that it was most unfair that personal property should be exempt from its due contribution to local taxation. The main question before the House was the division of rates between owner and occupier. There was an old saying that injustice always came home to roost; and the exemption which owners of property had secured 1661 for themselves from the direct incidence of local taxation would be no exception to the rule. The effect had been that, not feeling the direct incidence of taxation, owners of property in England had dissociated themselves in the most dangerous way from the active management of local affairs, especially in towns; and they had ignored the dangerous and rapid increase of debt for which their property was and must be the ultimate security. It was distinctly in their interest, therefore, as well as for the benefit of the occupier, that they should take upon themselves their share of the direct incidence of taxation while there was yet time to ask for direct representation in return. This was one of the most important reforms in local government, for no country could afford to have its leisured and wealthy classes dissociated from the duties which wealth and leisure ought to impose. This had been felt by such men as Sir Massey Lopes and Mr. Clare Read, and also by many Members on the Liberal side of the House. The Democracy of this country, if the majority of the wealthy classes continued to dissociate themselves from the work of the country, might soon begin to ask for the raison d'être of such a class. He did not mean that in this country, with its reverence for justice and law, any legislation of confiscation would follow, but taxes might be so levied as virtually almost to amount to that; and he ventured to assert that they would be so levied unless the leisured and property-owning classes, while there was yet time, came forward and took boldly and justly their fair share of public burdens and of public work. This subject could not be too strongly impressed upon the attention of the public. Easy, lavish, increase of debt meant wasteful, unprofitable expenditure. That danger had been recently dwelt upon by the Prime Minister as affecting Imperial indebtedness; but the increase had been far more rapid in local indebtedness. Indeed, while the Imperial Debt had been decreasing local indebtedness had been increasing. In the six years ending with 1883, while the total Imperial indebtedness decreased at the rate of £2,600,000 a-year, the amount of local indebtedness increased at the rate of £8,800,000 a-year; and though a considerable portion of the money was well spent in providing for the health and comfort of the 1662 people, undoubtedly much of it was not expended as carefully or as remuneratively as if it had been looked after carefully by owners of property, especially in many of the smaller local government districts. This evil of extravagance was one from which a Democracy such as we had now established was far from being exempt. Recently, for the first time, Mr. R. P. Porter, acting for the United States of America, had made some estimate of local taxation and the increase of debt there. There, as here, the increase had been most rapid in municipalities. He would not take the notorious example of New York. But there were nine cities in the State of New Jersey which actually paid an aggregate of $2,138,000 interest on debt, while their total annual expenditure for carrying on local government only amounted to $2,307,000; and the aggregate debt amounted to one-sixth of the total assessed capital value of the property in these cities; while one town, with a property assessed at $3,093,000, had a capital debt of $1,690,000; and another, with property assessed at $13,579,000, had a debt of nearly $6,000,000—in the one case more than half, and in the other case nearly half, the capital value of its property. It was worthy of note that in the United States contributions from the Federal, as in this country from the Imperial, Treasury, given without sufficient safeguards, instead of relieving the localities, only stimulated prodigality—as, for instance, when $28,000,000 was contributed towards the relief of the Local Bodies in 1836. That was not the occasion to deal with the various remedies which had been suggested to meet that danger; but he ventured to think one of the most valuable and important was to so levy taxation that it might be just to all, and bring home to all sections of the community that it was their interest and their duty to attend to those matters. On the grounds of justice to the occupiers and safety to the owners, he should heartily support the Motion before the House.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, the question appeared to him to be one of dividing all local taxation between the occupier and the landlord. It had for some time past been the custom to attack landlords; but he held that the men who employed their money in building 1663 houses in the towns were as useful a body of men as could be found in the community. Again, landlords were increasing largely in number in the country. There were not only the large and wealthy landlords, but also the small and struggling ones. By building societies and other means many working men had become owners of property; and whilst it was all very well for Liberal Members to "play up to the gallery" by calling for more burdens upon owners, they might, perhaps, discover by-and-bye that there were a larger number of owners in the gallery than in the stalls. He wished to ask the House to consider whether it was possible in any way to prevent the occupier from paying practically the whole of the rates and taxes? It was the consumers who in the ultimate resort paid the taxes, and therefore the Motion was founded on the same fallacy as Fair Trade, the promoters of which tried to make believe that by taxing imports we should make foreigners contribute to our National Exchequer. Of course, the tax must come out of the pockets of the consumers of the article imported. If an Act were passed for the purpose of dividing the taxes between the occupier and the landlord, still the result must follow that the occupier, who was really the user of the property, would pay the entire charge. No one, he thought, could say that those tenants in whose rents rates and taxes were included did not pay their full share. Some thought that the difficulty might be got over by putting an extra tax on the owners of ground rents; but that would lead to great anomalies and inconveniences, as in the case of two houses being next door to one another, the one freehold and the other leasehold, each would have to pay different localrates. He was one of those who wished to see freeholders become very much more numerous than they were at present, and he believed in that the real solution of the question lay. He believed that the whole system of local taxation should be carefully looked into. The way of meeting the question was by adopting the Amendment which had been proposed, so that there might be a complete investigation of the whole system with a view to the re-arrangement of the local taxation of the country.
§ MR. L. A. ATHERLEY-JONES (Durham, N.W.)
said, he could not help 1664 thinking that the hon. Baronet who proposed the Amendment and those who had followed him had attempted to raise a false issue. It was not a question whether the House, in supporting the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Thorold Rogers), should impose burdens on landed property, or whether they should remove burdens from small owners and put them on large owners; the question was the recognition of the principle that capital value should be the subject of taxation rather than earnings or income. He believed it was on that principle that taxation was originally levied in this country. Reference had been made to the rating of mansions. Now, he thought that the rating of mansions might be taken as a very fair illustration of the injustice of the present system of local taxation. He could conceive no greater scandal than the present system of taxing mansions. If a man were to build a house or shop in a populous district, at a cost of say £4,000, the rental by the Local Authorities would be estimated at about 6 per cent on the capital value. On the other hand, if a person were to build a mansion in a country district 20 miles away from London, on which £20,000, or even more, might be expended, what would happen? It would be found that so far from the taxable rental being based at 6 per cent it would be based at less than 1 per cent on the capital value, and in some cases on no percentage at all. Reference had been made to Blenheim; but in the case of Blenheim he might point out that while the acreage, amounting to 2,367 acres, was taxed at £2,580, or at the rate of £1 1s. 9d. per acre, the mansion itself was almost altogether left out of the rating, though the possessor might do what he liked with that capital value on the acreage. He believed it was in accordance with the original intention of the law that a hypothetical estimate should be taken in the case of mansion houses. That principle was carried into effect with regard to gas works, railway stations, and similar structures; but not in the case of mansions. It was the practice of magistrates and the owners of these mansions to affirm that the rating of mansions should be based on what the mansion should fetch if let to a tenant, according to a particular section of the 1665 Act; but no human being in his senses would dream of taking Blenheim on a yearly tenancy. Probably it would not be let at 20 years' tenancy. But, at the same time, the persons who possessed Blenheim had the advantage of the position which was naturally incidental to the possession of a dwelling of that character. What he maintained was that it was only reasonable and just that if a person could afford to sink £20,000 or £30,000 or £100,000 on the erection of a mansion, that person should be taxed according to value; that was, its capital value at the time the assessment might be made. As a matter of fact, it would, he believed, be found that while Blenheim was paying nothing in the way of rating per room—and the same remark would apply to similar mansions—the rooms occupied by the working classes in such buildings, for example, as the Peabody dwellings were paying 200 and 300 per cent more than was paid for the rooms in the mansions of the rich. If it were necessary, he could multiply instances of this kind; but he had no intention to weary the patience of the House by entering into these details. He would give one instance, however, and that was in relation to a part of the country with which he was himself acquainted. In Northumberland there was a very beautiful place named Beaufront Castle. This castle was really a magnificent mansion, which stood in large ornamental grounds. The House, however, would be surprised to learn that this beautiful mansion was rated at the sum of £84 per annum. Now, in the same township, there was a house known as Stagshaw Close House, a comparatively small one, and greatly inferior, of course, to Beaufront Castle; yet the smaller house was rated at no less a sum than £220 per annum. Now, in the name of common sense, was there any reason why so ridiculous a disparity should exist in the rating of these two different dwellings? Again, this question of rating had never been decided by the Superior Courts, and why? Because when the case was brought before the county magistrates those gentlemen, with that natural sympathy which they might be expected to exhibit for their brother landowners, at once decided that it was not fair or reasonable to do anything but tax the rental at what the owner of the mansion could actually let 1666 it for. He might also mention Wootton, the property of the Duke of Buckingham, which was also rated at an exceedingly low figure, the magistrates refusing to allow the case to be taken on appeal to a Higher Court, on the ground that the figure in question was the letting value, and also that the appeal could not be taken unless with the consent of the parties interested. What he and his Friends contended for was the right of the State to insist that the capital value of the property which he had described should be taxed for the benefit of the State.
§ SIR JOHN KENNAWAY (Devon, Honiton)
said, that the hon. Gentleman who moved this Resolution had jumbled up a number of questions into one Resolution, and asked the House to assent to several propositions which did not depend upon one another. If the hon. Member had stopped at the recommendation that it was desirable to divide the rates equally between owners and occupiers, he (Sir John Kennaway) would have been glad to support him, for with that proposition he agreed with all his heart. That proposal had, in fact, been recommended by a Committee which sat on the matter, and it had also been recommended by the Royal Commission on Agriculture as one of the points which the Members of the Commission considered afforded some hope of benefiting the agriculturist. If the Resolution had been confined to that point he would, as he had said, gladly support it. But the hon. Gentleman went on to the rating value of mansions and parks. There was no doubt that there was a great deal in what the hon. Member had said about the comparative rating of different properties which happened to be, as it were, set down side by side. No doubt there was an anomaly between the rating of Blenheim and other houses; but it would be more to the point to compare Blenheim with the cottages outside it than with town property. The anomaly was one which had an invidious appearance, and which, therefore, it was wise and desirable should be looked at fairly in the face and dealt with carefully, so as to remedy any grievance which might be found to exist. But how did that anomaly arise? It arose from the fact that the basis of assessment had been taken to be the letting value; and, that being so, it was 1667 not correct to say that it was the fault of country gentlemen sitting as assessment committees that county mansions were assessed as they now were. The gentlemen who sat on those committees had the law to guide them, and they followed its guidance honestly and to the best of their ability. That was the state of things at present; and, therefore, it seemed to him that it was desirable that the whole question of the incidence of taxation should be carefully considered. It might be found desirable to raise the assessment of these mansions or property, or it might be found desirable to rate property on its value, as in agriculture; but whatever course it was found desirable to pursue, they should take care to do what was fair and just. As to ground rents the question was before a Select Committee, and before coming to any decision upon that part of the question they had better wait for the Report of the Committee. It had been admitted by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister himself that this was a question which must be dealt with; but he (Sir John Kennaway) contended that it must be dealt with as a whole, and for that reason he supported the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Somerset (Sir Richard Paget). The question was particularly urgent at the present time, because one of the greatest, or he should say the greatest and most important industry in the country, and employing more people than any other industry—namely, the great industry of agriculture, was suffering to an unprecedented and alarming extent at the present time; and it was suffering not only from the economical state of things from foreign competition and low prices, but because of the excessively heavy burdens which it had to bear, and from which other classes of the industrial community were exempt. There was no doubt that it was very important that a wider basis should be found for distributing the burden of local taxation; and he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister that the question in what way personalty should contribute to these local charges was a question which should be approached carefully, and fully and fairly considered. It should be remembered, however, that the agricultural interest was practically subject to an Income Tax of 3s. or 4s. in the pound 1668 above other classes of the community. It was well known what a great deal of grumbling there was among ordinary Income Tax payers upon an increase of 2d. or 3d. in the pound; but nothing was thought about the increase in the rates, which practically ran up the burdens of agriculturists to the excessive amount he had indicated. Agriculturists were proverbially an easy-going and good-tempered sort of people who struggled on quietly under their burdens. He supposed they were born a patient and long-suffering lot; but times were now so critical that it was to the interest of the country to take the matter up, and to make an honest endeavour to lighten some of those burdens under which agriculture was being crushed. Sir James Caird had, many times of late years, written to show how the value of property was increasing in the country; but he spoke in a very different tone this week, for he said the income of the landlords of the country had been diminished by £20,000,000, and the income of the tenants by about the same amount, whilst the income of the agricultural labourer had been diminished by about £2,500,000; and what was the result of this serious state of things? Why, the result was such as might have been expected. A large amount of land had gone out of cultivation for corn. An area to the extent of the whole county of Devon had, within the last two years, been withdrawn from cultivation for corn, and turned into pasture; and anyone could form an idea of the extent to which such a change as that must diminish the amount of labour required upon the land, and the amount of food produced for the use of the country. But where was relief to be found? It was idle to suppose that Parliament would seriously consider any proposal for re-imposing a duty on corn. The return of this country to Protection was out of the question altogether. Protection had been once and for all abandoned, and wisely so, no doubt, for the great population of this country must be fed; but then the agriculturist might very well say that if he were not to raise produce for his own benefit, but for the benefit of the State, then it was but right that the State should relieve him from the burdens which were so heavily pressing upon him, and pressing upon him in a way which they did not pres-upon 1669 other classes of the community; and he might say also that while the productions of the foreigner were admitted for the benefit of the population at large, he, the agriculturist, who was ruined by the admission of such produce, should at least be relieved from the burdens of local taxation. There was no doubt that the burden of local taxation was also felt by owners of house property; but not in the same overwhelming degree. The occupiers of shops and warehouses undoubtedly suffered. They found themselves assessed very heavily while in these times their profits were light; while, at the same time, capitalists who counted their income by thousands or tens of thousands might only be rated to a very small amount for the offices which they might occupy. These occupiers of shops and warehouses were also pressing for relief in respect of local taxation. But it was not a selfish cry on the part of the agriculturists or owners and occupiers of house property. It was merely a demand for fair and just treatment. The Commission which was appointed to inquire into the housing of the poor said in their Report that the present incidence of local taxation stood in the way of progress and improvement in the dwellings of the poor. Those were weighty words, and the House would do well to bear them in mind, for they spoke more powerfully than he (Sir John Kennaway) could do in favour of the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Somerset. The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Thorold Rogers) spoke of the large increase of indebtedness of Local Bodies in recent years; and there was no doubt that if Local Authorities were created as proposed by the Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. Jesse Collings), with powers similar to those enjoyed by Municipalities, there would be a marked increase in the burdens of rural districts for the carrying out of schemes, some of which might be for the advance of the community, or they might not; but, at all events, they were schemes which would involve a large addition of expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) had spoken about providing comforts for the people, which was all very well, but expensive; and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Jesse Collings) had proposed that the Local Authorities should 1670 have power to buy land and distribute in lots of holdings to the people; but it had been shown that the buying up of one yeoman holding in every parish in the country would inflict a charge of £50,000,000 upon the rates. In conclusion, he would again express his concurrence with the principle of the first part of the Motion of the hon. Member for Bermondsey—that was, of the part which was in favour of dividing the taxes between owner and occupier; but as he thought the matter ought to be dealt with fully and comprehensively he hoped the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Somerset would be carried.
§ MR. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
said, he had listened with great pleasure to the very interesting, and, upon the whole, satisfactory discussion which had been engaging the attention of the House. For his own part, he might at once say that he could accept both the Motion and the Amendment, which did not seem to him at all antagonistic to each other. The Motion raised three points which, in his (Mr. Everett's) opinion, the Mover most ably argued and established. The Amendment simply said that the Motion did not cover the whole ground—that there were other phases of this great question which the Motion did not contemplate, and in that view he completely agreed. The division of the rates between the owner and the occupier was a measure which had long been called for by influential classes of the community, and was one which should undoubtedly be carried out. Whatever might be the ultimate incidence of the rates in a purely economical point of view, there could be no doubt the division of the rates between owner and occupier would remove a sense of injustice which often arose in the minds of tenants when new rates were imposed or old ones were greatly augmented. Therefore, it was to him a source of great satisfaction to find that no argument had been brought forward in any part of the House against a division of rates between the owner and the occupier. Of course, he need hardly say that in carrying out this division, whenever it was made, existing arrangements and engagements should be respected. That, it was evident, would be only right and just. Then there was a point upon which he laid great stress—namely, that 1671 the division of the rates between owners and occupiers would unquestionably have the great advantage of bringing in a new class of ratepayers to check expenditure. No doubt, in recent times, when the value of land was going up by leaps and bounds, and everyone thought that this state of things would continue, the landlords were somewhat careless about the imposition of new rates, the burden of which did not fall upon them; but that was no longer the case. The landowners were no longer indifferent to the imposition of new burdens upon the land; and that being the case, it was, he thought, very desirable that we should be able to enlist the opposition of every possible class of ratepayers against the increase of old rates or the imposition of new rates. It would, therefore, be both just and politic to invite the aid of the owners in this matter. Then there were other points, on a few of which he would touch, which required attention. It had been clearly shown in the course of the debate that mansions were now rated infinitely below the rate of taxation which they ought to bear, and that there was a large measure of wealth of this kind which thus escaped the fair contribution which it ought to make towards the burdens of the country. Then there was another portion of wealth which also escaped, and that was chattel wealth—wealth in the shape of pictures, ships, plate, carriages, and other similar things. He did not, for his own part, understand why, if a gentleman chose to lavish his thousands on these luxuries, he should escape paying his fair share of taxation, whereas he would be liable to pay it if he invested the same amount of money in land, or in the building of houses. On the contrary, it seemed to him that the man who invested £10,000 in building houses for the poor was a greater benefactor than a man who paid £10,000 for a picture. He did not think that this question of rating would ever be permanently settled unless we had a taxation of chattels. Then there was personalty income. The income under Schedule A was now little more than one-third of that comprised in the other Schedules under which the Income Tax was charged and levied, so that we had something like two-thirds of the income of the country going perfectly free in regard to local rates. Here was an anomaly which 1672 required redress; and he could not help thinking that a good deal of this wealth which now escaped rates was wealth that was best able to bear taxation, while we dealt hardly with respect to houses in which the people lived, and to the land which they cultivated, and out of the produce of which we got our food. In point of fact, under our present system, we left untaxed a great part of the wealth of the country which could and ought to bear taxation. Of course, Imperial taxation must be considered as well as local taxation; and no settlement could be arrived at without a careful consideration of the contribution which wealth of every sort ought to pay to wards the burdens of the State. He had, since he had sat there, observed a great disposition in the House to think that all evils could be cured by laying heavy burdens on land, although land and houses now bore the whole of the local taxation of the country, which very much of the personal wealth of the country escaped. He trusted, however, that this debate would tend greatly to modify the bitter feeling which appeared to exist amongst some Members of the House towards those who had invested their capital in the soil of the country. He had, for his own part, often thought that the country gentlemen had made a great mistake in treating this matter of local taxation as if it were one between town and country people. It was nothing of the kind. It was one between two different classes of wealth, and not between the people who lived in town or country. He was glad that, except by the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken, the question had been lifted to a higher atmosphere, and that the discussion had been placed on its proper basis. He trusted that in future the question would always be dealt with, not as one between town and country, but as it regarded the ability of all classes in the country to contribute their fair share towards the burdens of the country, whatever might be the source of their income or the kind of property they possessed.
§ MR. H. R. FARQUHARSON (Dorset, W.)
said, it was admitted that the agricultural interest was practically on its last legs, and rents were going down while rates were not. What the agricultural interest formerly demanded as a matter of justice it now demanded as a matter of imperious necessity. No 1673 relief could be obtained from Protection, it was said, and the local rates were the only source which could be looked to for relief. Those who occupied country mansions now were no longer their owners; they were let to men who had enormous fortunes and kept enormous establishments; and they ought to pay their fair share of the rates. They used the roads far more than any of the neighbours, and yet they got off with the payment of a tenth part of the rate paid by their neighbours in proportion to the relative amount of their wealth. The poor, the roads, and the system of elementary education ought to be supported by the wealth of the country, and yet such occupiers of large mansions escaped their fair share of this burden. The agricultural interest had a right to ask that not simply these mansions, but the wealth of those who lived in these mansions, should bear their fair proportion of the local rates. If rates were to be levied upon pictures, furniture, and other wealth of this kind, would that not rather conflict with the idea of dividing the rates between owners and occupiers? If that division was carried out, would not the owner, before letting a house or farm, be concerned to know what personal property the tenant would put into it to be subjected to the local rates? Then the Resolution would interfere with freedom of contract, and that existed now, for a farmer could judge pretty well what rates he would have to pay before he took a farm. He should, therefore, support the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, and oppose the Resolution; because, if the Resolution were carried, he feared they would be placing one more obstacle in the wav of rating personal property.
§ MR. BRINTON (Kidderminster)
said, he considered that all the inequalities which prevailed with regard to the taxation of property had not been covered by the Motion of the hon. Member for Bermondsey; but there were others which ought to be touched on and remedied by a comprehensive scheme of legislation which alone could deal with the case. The House had never liked abstract Resolutions, and they had the highest authority for condemning them; but the case was different when the Resolution pointed the way to practical legislation. The idea of just valuation of property was what it would let for to 1674 a responsible tenant paying the outgoings; but, in his opinion, it would not exactly do to adhere strictly to that definition. There were often extensions made of ornamental character—such, for instance, as a large range of greenhouses, which, though not adding to the letting value of the property, ought, in his opinion, to be taxed. There were also difficulties and anomalies with regard to the rating of woods and forests, scarcely any two parts of the country in this respect being rated on the same principles. It was urgently necessary that some definite principle should be laid down indicating the duty of the assessment committees in matters such as these. He also held a strong opinion as to the necessity of making personal as well as real property bear local burdens. It was a monstrous iniquity that whilst agriculturists and merchants were bearing the burdens of the poor rate, the school rate, and other local rates, the owners of personal property should escape scot free. There was a good deal of just complaint in respect of the non-rating of ground rents and the irregularities connected with the rating of country mansions; yet these could be dealt with in a short Act of Parliament. What was wanted was a measure dealing in a comprehensive manner with the far larger and far more important question of making personal as well as real property subject to local burdens. Holding that view, and inasmuch as the Amendment of the hon. Baronet appeared to touch this important branch of the subject most closely, he considered it his duty, as a practical man, to give it his support.
§ CAPTAIN COTTON (Cheshire, Wirral)
said, he was in partial harmony with the hon. Member who brought forward the Motion on the part of it dealing with the question of the division of the rates between owner and occupier. He believed that in regard to house property the rates did in many cases fall on the occupier, owing to the agreements having been made years ago, when the rates were much lower than now. But he thought that the rates in rural districts ultimately chiefly fell on the owners of farms, since it was a well-known fact that the rent of a farm upon which the landlord agreed to pay all the rates was much higher than it otherwise would be. He could give one 1675 or two instances which would help to prove his assertion. In the first place, they knew that when farmhouses were let free of rates and taxes, as they were in certain cases, the landlord was entitled to his equivalent by some advance in the rent he received; and, again, they knew that if an assessment committee was valuing property for the relief of the poor, one of the first duties of the overseers or valuers was to make inquiries and ascertain whether the land was let free of rates and taxes or tithes. If the occupier paid them, it was taken into consideration in the rateable value being more nearly assimilated to the gross annual rental. He mentioned these cases because he thought they were sufficient proof of themselves that the tenant or occupier had to give a very substantial quid pro quo for his advantages, either in the way of increased rental to his landlord, or else in being more highly assessed. He could quote a stronger argument than that. Professor Fawcett, in his work on political economy, dealt very largely with that question, and pointed out unmistakably that certainly, so far as the rating upon rents of farmhouses was concerned, the burden of rating did fall most heavily on the owner, and not on the occupier. Another authority, the present Secretary of the Local Taxation Committee, Major Craigie, in a Paper contributed to the Royal Agricultural Society's journal in 1878, pointed out that the proportion of rates between the occupier and the owner fell upon the owner and the occupier in the proportion of about 10¾ to 6½. He thought those figures showed that the burden upon the owner of farmhouses and land exceeded that which fell on the occupier, as far as local taxation was concerned, by about 35 per cent. Under these circumstances, he could not feel that the hon. Member had made out the first part of his proposal. But he was glad to agree with him in the second part of his proposal, and he did so solely on account of the fluctuations—or rather the deviations—of rates and taxes from time to time. He was quite aware that in suggesting the division of the rates he was not removing the burden of the taxation off the land—that was another question altogether. It was what he might call a provisional measure to suit the exigencies of the present time, because he believed, from 1676 his own knowledge and experience, that a great part of the reduction of rates which was now asked for did not only proceed from bad times and the generally depressed state of agriculture, but also because the farmers were unable to pay the heavy rates which were now placed on their shoulders. He was aware that that did not do away with the main question of removing the burdens off the land; but it would have the advantage of making the tenant feel that, if the rates went up, his landlord as well as he would have to bear the burden; and, further, that it would give the landlord increased interest in the economical ad ministration of the poor rates. He had acquired some knowledge of the subject from his position as chairman of the assessment committee of a largo union, and the committee believed that they had full power to deal satisfactorily with the assessment of mansions, and that if complaints were made the committee were to blame. The only fair way of dealing with large mansion-houses was to assess separately the house and the deer park or park adjacent, and to assess the house on its fair lettable value without special regard to the cost of its construction. The park land ought then to be rated as if it were land—other things being equal—in the neighbourhood used for agricultural purposes. Owners ought not to be allowed to escape their fair burdens by giving up a large portion of their land for purposes of pleasure and enjoyment. He felt sure he was right in his view that there was no especial harm done in the present system of rating mansions, inasmuch as the two great authorities on rating — namely, Penfold and Castle—laid no particular stress on the question of these mansion-houses of which so much had been made in the debate. He felt some perplexity as to how he should vote, as he recollected a little time ago three successive divisions on one question. He agreed with the hon. Member for Bermondsey on one portion of his Motion; he partially agreed with him on another; he was totally opposed to him on a third; and on the fourth division of his Motion he did not wish to vote at all. In these circumstances, what was an unfortunate new Member to do? He thought rates ought to be divided between owner and occupier, and he agreed with the last 1677 speaker that the chief thing wanted was a thorough and comprehensive reform of the whole system of local taxation.
§ MR. A. E. PEASE (York)
said, he must deny that the hon. Member for Bermondsey had any desire in this matter to interfere with the freedom of contract as between the occupier and owner of land. The hon. Member for West Dorsetshire had said he looked to the rating of personal property for local purposes as affording some relief from the local burdens which now weighed heavily upon the agriculturists of the country. He (Mr. A. E, Pease) hoped that personal property would be made to contribute towards local taxation: but hon. Members must remember that if such property were rendered liable to local taxation, the farmer's personal property—a farmer's goods and chattels and stock and balance at the bank—might become subject to taxation, and that, heavy as the burdens endured by the occupiers of the country districts were, the injustice was far more glaring in the case of towns. In the first place, the rates in towns were, as a rule, very much heavier than those in the country districts; and, in the second place, the increase in the rates in country districts during the last 10 years had not been anything like so large as the increase in the rates of towns. From the Local Government Board Report for 1884–5, he found that the increase in rates during the last 10 years of which the Report took cognizance was £5,600,000. Of that increase only £200,000 was contributed by purely rural districts, and £1,100,000 by mixed urban and rural districts. Purely urban districts, therefore, contributed upwards of £4,250,000 out of the increase of £5,000,000. These were two very important reasons why he thought the unfairness in the incidence of local taxation was a question of more importance to those living in towns than to those living in the country places. But there was still another consideration which influenced him in supporting the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Rogers); and that was that the occupier in the town, by the improvements for which he had to pay as a ratepayer, contributed largely to the value of the property of someone else. Supposing £100,000 was borrowed for 21 years by an urban authority for town improvements, and that a rate of 1s. in the pound was levied to pay interest 1678 and principal, at the expiration of the 21 years an owner might find his property improved without any expenditure whatever on his part. Furthermore, the rate would be remitted, and in that respect also his property was vastly improved; and, in the third place, an owner with the rates remitted, and his property improved, would have an opportunity of raising his rents to a very large extent. These considerations also induced him (Mr. A. E. Pease) to support the first part of the Motion. He acknowledged that the rating of country mansions was not satisfactory. It was well to remember, however, that the rating was fixed upon a definite principle—namely, the letting value of the property; and so long as that principle remained in force, taking into consideration the enormous number of mansions now to be let, care must be taken not to overtax the owners of country mansions. A tax levied on these properties on a different system to that on which it was levied on other property would, in his opinion, be grossly unfair. It would result in a tax upon the building trade, upon the employment which the residents in country mansions give to a large number of people on the estate, and upon the residents in the country, and it would also result in a premium on absenteeism. He was persuaded his hon. Friend would not countenance any unfair assessment of country mansions. He would, however, like to see the whole question put on a different footing, for all must acknowledge that country mansions did not at present contribute their fair share towards the rates. He intended to support the Motion in preference to the Amendment for another reason, and that was that he considered the circumstances required immediate action.
§ MR. DUNCOMBE (York, E.R., Howdenshire)
said, it was a strange thing to a new Member to think that year after year this question came before the House, and yet was no nearer a settlement. They all saw the necessity for some change; but it was only on those occasions which, unfortunately, were only too rare, when a Conservative Government was in power, that anything like a practical step was taken. Even those who were only indirectly connected with land must admit that the grievances of the landed and agricultural interest had a considerable degree of reality about 1679 them. The necessity of taking some steps for remedying the unfairness of the incidence of local burdens might be inferred from the fact that in many places land was going out of cultivation altogether. In other places land which a few years ago let for 35s. an acre now only let for 15s. an acre; and it now happened every day that land put up to auction was withdrawn without a bid being made for it; whereas a few years ago it would have been sold for 30 years' purchase. It seemed to him astonishing that, with that state of things before them, it should have been thought by the hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution that any re-adjustment of local burdens could meet the difficulties of the case. It was impossible to conceive that the mere shifting of burdens from the tenant to the landlord could possibly be an adequate way of grappling with the difficulty. He had no hesitation in saying that if there was such a complete revision of local taxation as to leave to the land lord payment of the whole of the rates the difficulty would not be materially touched. Under the circumstances he thought they had a right to come to the great Council of the Nation and ask that something should be done for a great industry. Without exaggeration, he might say we were standing by the deathbed of one of our greatest English industries. Surely it was not too much to ask Parliament, which was supposed to represent the sound common sense of the nation, to do something to avert a great and impending calamity. Unless something was done very speedily, the whole country would suffer to an extent it would take great detail to describe. One of the results of the existing state of things was that the agricultural labourers were being driven from the country into the towns, thereby adding to the number of the unemployed, and increasing the depression from which the towns were suffering. Another result was that we were becoming more and more dependent upon foreign countries for our food supplies; and if this was to be recognized as a permanent state of things, if we were to be almost exclusively dependent on foreign supplies for our sustenance, then he thought the House was bound to listen to the arguments of the gallant Representative of the Naval Service (Lord Charles Beresford), and give 1680 us a Navy that would protect us from blockade; that would preserve to us our food supplies, and save our countrymen from possible death by starvation. He was quite aware he would be met by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the usual argument that the Reserve Funds at his disposal were not sufficient to meet all the demands made upon them; and possibly some other Member of the Government would rise, and in an outburst of petulance tell those who were taking this view of the case they were advocating unsound finance. But money was sometimes forthcoming for objects not so worthy of consideration as that for which he pleaded. It was just possible that hon. Members who would upbraid him for asking for a comparatively small sum for a necessary object would come afterwards and ask for an enormous sum, amounting, perhaps, to £100,000,000, for purposes the necessity for which was not altogether apparent. After all, there was nothing unreasonable in the request the agricultural interest made. They only asked that towards burdens which were called local, but which were, to a great extent, connected with national objects, more contribution should be made from the National Exchequer. They asked that the owners of funded property who resided in the country, and who received the advantages of local rates, should contribute something towards those rates, which at the present moment fell exclusively upon owners and occupiers—and they asked that the Railway Companies should no longer harass and oppress an important British industry by giving the foreign producer a preferential advantage in railway rates. Surely these were not unreasonable demands; and he trusted that this new House of Commons would show an active and practical sympathy with an interest which, whether depressed or prosperous, must vitally affect every other industry of the country.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
said, he had listened with a great deal of attention to his hon. Friend (Mr. Thorold Rogers) who introduced the Motion, and his argument had brought him to quite a contrary conclusion to the hon. Gentleman opposite. He hoped the new House, in close touch with the people as it was, would do what it could to redress the wrong inflicted in 1681 the past by putting the weight of the burden on trade and commerce rather than on the landed interest represented on the other side of the House. One main reason why he supported the principle involved in the incidence of taxation recommended by his hon. Friend was that if that principle were applied, if landlords were made to bear their fair share of local taxation, he felt confident it would lead to an increased economy in local expenditure. A large amount of spending power was in the hands of ex officio Guardians; and he did not see why those who had to do with the expenditure should not bear their share of the burden. It would add greatly to economy to have that burden fairly distributed. It was perfectly monstrous the way in which mansions were taxed. If they were fairly taxed they would pay on what they cost, not on what they let for. Did hon. Members happen to know that trade was taxed on what was expended on it? Nothing stood out more clearly as an injustice in the country districts than to see ordinary houses of the middle and poorer classes rated at their full value, while mansions were rated very much below. This was an injustice that the sense of the House would sooner or later remove.
§ MR. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)
said, he did not see why it should be unjust for the first incidence of taxation to fall upon the occupiers, seeing that they agreed when they took premises to pay the rates. It was not pretended that the occupiers were a class incapable of making their own bargains. An occupier knew perfectly well when he took premises that he had to pay rates. He should like to know upon what principle it was unjust for a man to perform his own contract—that was to say, for an occupier to carry out an agreement made between himself and the landlord. The only man who could properly pay the taxes and take the responsibility was the man who resided on the spot, and was in a position to deal with the expenditure connected with the neighbourhood in which he lived. There could be no injustice in an occupier, who was the owner for the time being, paying the tax which he had agreed to pay, and which formed part of the conditions of his tenancy. Although the present system of taxation had been condemned, he had not heard the slightest suggestion 1682 as to how, or in what way, it way proposed to collect the Revenue if the existing system should be abolished. The present system was nearly as simple as it could be. The full value was taken in the assessment made—and he never heard of any unfairness or partiality in the assessment of property—the occupier paid, having made his bargain with his immediate landlord, and the landlord with his mortgagee, and so on. They had not heard from Gentlemen who condemned the system the faintest shadow of a suggestion how the injustice they alleged was to be remedied, or how we were to have a system which would be equitable. And now a word with respect to the owners of mansions. It had been said that everything was to be taxed according to cost. He denied altogether that the cost of a thing ought to be the sole criterion of its actual value. A man might spend much more on a house than the house was worth. A friend of his had built a house, and as he wanted to go elsewhere for the benefit of his health he tried to dispose of it; but everyone who came to see about it always made the inquiry how many gardeners would be required, and so on. A thing should be taken with its encumbrances. As to that part of the Resolution which stated that the owners of ground rents in towns were liable to no part of those charges, the outlay of which was essential in order that the property might possess any marketable value whatever, he might observe that in all cases within his knowledge where there were ground rents, the owners of those ground rents were the people who laid out the land for building, and the streets, who made the sewers, laid down the water-pipes, and made all the arrangements necessary for habitation, and having done that they let out the land at ground rents with a view to compensate themselves for the outlay. It was the money thus laid out which made the houses habitable. It should be borne in mind, too, that ground rents already paid their proportion of Property and Income Tax, and that remark held good of all the owners, legatees, annuitants, and so forth. It should be also remembered that in every case the ground landlord let the land for a term of years, say 60 or 80, and during all that period the increased value would belong to the tenant. Why, therefore, should the 1683 ground landlord, who had let his property on the condition that the tenant should pay the charges, be called upon to do what the tenant by the terms of his contract had undertaken to perform? He opposed this Resolution, because he conceived it to be calculated to do exceedingly great mischief. When the country was distressed, and the attention of the House ought to be given to matters which affected our commercial interests and the development of our trade, was it right or wise that they should occupy their time with questions, directly in the nature of class questions, which could only tend to disturb the relations between landlord and tenant, and render those relations, which were now amicable, disagreeable to both? Was our legislation with regard to Ireland so successful as to encourage us to enter upon a similar course for this country? In his view of the case, and after an experience of some hundreds of years—[Laughter.] He congratulated hon. Members upon their disposition to be merry; but he could not congratulate them on their intelligent understanding of what he was saying. What he was about to say was that this system of collecting from the occupier had been approved by the experience of hundreds of years. Having regard to that experience, and to the fact that those who proposed this Resolution had not suggested any substitute for the present system, he would oppose the Motion as impracticable in itself and calculated to disturb the relations between landlord and tenant.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN) (Birmingham, W.)
said, that he did not propose to follow the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down—he really did not feel competent to follow an hon. and learned Gentleman who, although a new Member, had had an experience of hundreds of years. [Mr. AMBROSE: I did not say so.] He was quite content to leave the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman to be answered by hon. Members sitting on the same side of the House. Until the hon. and learned Member got up to speak, there appeared to be really a general agreement on both sides of the House as to the main principle which they had to consider in this debate. The hon. and learned Gentleman occupied rather an exceptional position, 1684 and he was sure he would excuse him if he passed over his argument and considered those which had been offered by his Predecessors in the debate. The hon. Baronet who moved the Amendment spoke of this as being a very dull subject. He supposed the hon. Baronet was right; but he thought that the House would agree that they had had an interesting and an instructive debate. He could not conceive any subject introduced more favourably to the House than this had been by the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Thorold Rogers), who certainly had shown skill and power to invest a dull subject with interest not very common in debate in the House of Commons. In dealing with this subject he felt a certain difficulty — he found his hands tied behind his back—because it would not be right to anticipate any statement that might be made hereafter when a Bill was introduced on behalf of the Government for dealing with the whole of this question. All he could do was to refer to general principles, without making any disclosures of the actual intentions of the Government. It appeared to him, however, that almost for the first time in the history of this subject there was really something like general agreement upon principles. This was the first occasion on which local taxation had been debated in the present House of Commons; but in the last House of Commons the subject was one of continual controversy between the two sides of the House. That would not be so that evening, as far as he was concerned, as he was in the exceptional position of being able to agree with everybody. He agreed with the introducer of the Motion, and he agreed with the Mover of the Amendment. It really appeared that the House of Commons was for once a sort of happy family. Might it long continue. Although he agreed with the conclusions of his hon. Friend and of the hon. Baronet, he would not pledge himself to agree with all the arguments and statements which they had made in the course of the debate. The hon. Member for Bermondsey had proposed that there should be a division of rates as between owner and occupier, and the hon. Baronet included that in his Amendment. The hon. Baronet, from the terms of his Amendment and from his speech, was of opinion that a more complete re-adjustment 1685 of rates was necessary. He thought that there would be very little difference of opinion in the House as to the desirability of that re-adjustment. He did not himself anticipate any very great practical result from such a re-adjustment; but he thought it would give satisfaction to interests which at present considered themselves to be the subjects of injustice. He did not doubt for a moment that when rents were settled the question of taxation was taken into account, and to some extent affected the amount of the rent, and that the injustice, where it was injustice, applied to the case where there had unquestionably been increased taxation since the terms of the lease had been settled. If that were so, was there any objection to the change, although, perhaps, it should make them cautious of expecting any advantage from it? There was, however, one point of great importance, if this change were to be made, to which his hon. Friend had not referred, and as to which he had not given any definite opinion himself. If a portion of the rates were to be charged against the owner, it was said that it would be interfering with existing contracts. The whole of the matter had been discussed very fully at the time of the celebrated Report upon Local Taxation by his right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Goschen). His right hon. Friend proposed in his draft Report—and the Committee subsequently accepted it—the recommendation that this re-apportionment of taxation between owner and occupier should only come into effect after a few years' interval, and that then the owners should be entitled to charge the average amount of the rates for the previous 10 years, in addition to the rent in his lease; so that as far as existing leases went there would be no increased charge upon the owner, and the recommendation only took effect with regard to new leases. That was a recommendation made a long time ago, and would not be now adequate to meet the public sentiment which at present existed upon this question. He should be very sorry to pledge himself or the Government on this question; but he was bound to point out that it would be very desirable, in the interests of owners and occupiers, that satisfaction should be given within a limited period whenever the present system was interfered 1686 with. He believed that satisfaction would only be given if the effect of any change was immediate and applied to all leases, past as well as future. It had been objected that this was an interference with contracts, and was, therefore, altogether unjustifiable, and that it was relieving one class of taxpayers at the expense of another. He wished to point out that that was the result of every new tax. To his mind, at all events, it was not a complete nor a conclusive answer to a proposal of this kind that it altered the incidence of taxation between owner and occupier, and because it seemed at first sight to be an alteration of existing contracts. They had not to consider the question of contract between owner and occupier; they had only to consider whether, as a matter of fact, the owner paid too little and the occupier paid too much, and in what way they might alter it by the imposition of new taxation. Then the hon. Member proposed another important change, that the law of rating, as regarded the taxation of parks and mansions, should be altered; and he thought that the hon. Member had made out a very strong case in favour of that change, which had probably struck every Member of that House. The hon. Member behind him, who sat for one of the divisions of Durham, said that this matter had never been brought before the Courts, and that the assessment committees throughout the country were acting upon an interpretation of the law which had no legal authority; but he had before him the particulars of a case in the Queen's Bench Division, where a decision was given to the effect that in considering the rating of parks and mansions the rate must be made on the basis of what the tenant would pay if he were not likely to be disturbed in his tenancy. Take the case of Blenheim, which he had never seen, but which he believed was a white elephant, a tremendous palace presented by the nation to the Duke of Marlborough, the mere expense of keeping up of which would require a very large income. If the present owner desired to give it up it would be almost impossible to find a tenant for it upon any terms whatever; therefore, the local assessment of Blenheim was ridiculously small, probably smaller than that of some moderate houses in the same or 1687 other parts of the country. It had also been suggested that instead of assessing the parks and mansions according to their rent they should be assessed according to their original cost. What would be the effect of that? The proposal sounded primâ facie a fair one enough; but, in his opinion, the House would not be wise in accepting it. The result in such a case as Blenheim would be that with any percentage upon the original cost of the mansion the rate would be so high that an ordinary tenant would be unable to continue his occupancy; and the owner, unless he happened to be a person of exceptional wealth, would be obliged to give up his occupancy also and to pull down the house. And, therefore, if the idea of cost were taken as the basis of rating in every case, it would lead to the destruction of many of the most splendid historical places in the country, and of many very old and interesting country houses which, as now maintained, were part of the tradition and the glory of the country, but which could only be maintained if a reasonable valuation were placed upon them. But although he found himself quite unable to agree that cost should be taken as the basis of valuation, on the other hand he did not think that the present system of valuation was satisfactory. He would be inclined to take the view of the Committee on Local Taxation, who proposed that in the first instance there should be taken the selling value of the property, and that the ratal value should be something like 4 per cent on that selling valuation. This would not be oppressive, and would, at the same time, be considerably more than the present assessment. The hon. Baronet opposite, by his Amendment, raised a question which had been frequently discussed in that House, and had instituted a comparison between the incidence of taxation on real and on personal property. The hon. Baronet had asserted that his figures were indisputable; but, for his own part, he did not know of any figures which were not disputable. But he could assure the hon. Baronet that his figures were particularly so, and that they had been constantly the subject of dispute since this question was raised in the House of Commons. The difference between him and the hon. Baronet consisted very much in the way in which he 1688 used his figures. The hon. Baronet always spoke of real property as including houses and land; but, after all, his interest was entirely confined to land. ["No!"] But it was so.
§ SIR RICHARD PAGET
said, his Amendment was directed to local taxation and its incidence on real property, including houses.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN
said, he could not help retaining his own opinion that it was the land which chiefly interested the hon. Baronet. At any rate, he felt certain that hon. Gentlemen opposite would consider as ridiculously inadequate any alteration of the law which dealt only with houses. It was the land occupied by the farmers and owned by the landlords which they were anxious to relieve from what they said was an excessive burden of taxation; but when they came to prove that it was subject to excessive taxation they always included houses, which, after all, was a kind of property which it was very difficult indeed to distinguish from personal property. But in the larger sense in which the hon. Baronet was willing that his Amendment should be interpreted he was willing to agree to it, as he was desirous that all classes of property should contribute fairly to local as well as to Imperial taxation. He had publicly stated on many occasions his opinion that personal property did not at present contribute fairly to taxation. But the hon. Baronet had ridiculed the argument often put forward that when they came to consider the burdens on land they had to separate what had been called hereditary burdens and the burdens of additional or new taxation. He made merry with the term hereditary burdens, and said the police and education rates were not hereditary burdens. But that was not the question. In reality, it did not matter under what name the taxation on land was levied. The first question to ask was whether the present taxation on land was, as a whole, greater than it was many years ago. How would the hon. Baronet like to go back to the hereditary burden upon land? Was he prepared for the 4s. land tax? That was a larger question than any raised by his Motion; but when the hon. Baronet talked of hereditary burdens he would answer him by saying that, as a matter of fact, he did not believe that at the present time the 1689 burdens on land had been materially increased during the last 100 years; and in these circumstances they had the right to consider that a large proportion were hereditary burdens, in this sense that they were the State rent on the land—not a tax on current expenditure—under which all land transactions had taken place for a great number of years.
§ SIR RICHARD PAGET
said, that what he meant was that the land tax should be levied, as it was originally levied, on all property.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN
said, that here the hon. Baronet invited him into a historical disquisition on the land tax, for which he did not think the House was at present prepared; but whenever that matter arose properly in the course of debate he would be perfectly prepared to state his opinion, which was that the hon. Baronet was entirely mistaken, and that the 4s. land tax, which the hon. Baronet imagined was levied on all kinds of property, was, in fact, collected only from land, and was in no sense a tax on personal property. But, after all, the hon. Baronet spoke chiefly from a large experience of land, and the occupation of land in the rural districts. He could speak from a large experience of the effect of local taxation in towns and urban districts; and he was bound to say that the grievance was much greater to the shopkeeping population than it was in the case of the farmers and the landowners. A shopkeeper in a town was charged for all local improvements in proportion to the premises which he occupied. So was the manufacturer, or a banker; but it might happen that a banker was making an enormous profit out of premises which had a comparatively low rating. He might be rated at £1,000, for instance, and might make an annual profit of £20,000; but £1,000 would not be a heavy rating for a large shop, the profits from which could hardly be expected to exceed £3,000 or £4,000 a-year. Therefore, the shopkeeper would pay five times as much as the banker in proportion to his profits; and in the same way he might establish another series of illustrations equally exhibiting anomalies and injustice. He knew of a very curious case—the case of a man who died leaving an enormous fortune—something like £1,000,000, and who had lived in a 1690 house the value of which did not exceed £30 a-year. Could there be a greater anomaly than that of a man whose income was probably £60,000 a-year rated to the local taxation of the town in which he lived on not more than £30 a-year? He was bringing forward these arguments in aid of the hon. Baronet, for he was going to accept the Amendment; but hon. Members opposite seemed to think he was arguing against it. Quite the reverse. As far as the Amendment went in establishing a principle he entirely agreed with it. He thought that such anomalies as those to which he had pointed ought to be redressed, and the redress would be much more important in the case of the urban population than in the case of the rural population. But how was this rearrangement to be brought about? The hon. Member for Bermondsey had suggested that personal property in a house should be rated as well as the house; that they should rate the pictures, plate, books, and furniture in the house as well as the house itself. This system had been tried in America; but the best information he could get showed that it had practically broken down. Property of that kind was most difficult to identify or to value. They could not put a fair value on it. The State, which was the collecting authority, had always the worst of it in valuing property of that kind. The Treasury officials said that they had no difficulty in valuing or getting a fair value on a large portion of the personal property disposed of by will; but, on the other hand, it was found impossible to assess value on furniture, plate, and pictures. A system of this kind would be unpopular, because it would be inquisitorial, while it would not add much to the Revenue. In the next place, there was a proposal which had hitherto found favour with hon. Gentlemen opposite. Time after time they came to the House with the same story, averring that the taxation on real property was always greater than it ought to be. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, he knew it; and whatever concessions were made to them their grievance still remained the same, and so it would remain to the end of the chapter, so long as they dealt with it by the process that commended itself to hon. Members opposite. They came forward with these propositions, and ended by demanding an additional subvention 1691 or grant from the Consolidated Fund towards local taxation; and though, like the daughters of the horseleech, they cried, "Give, give," it was always in this direction that the change was expected. Already their demands had been yielded to to an enormous extent. The amount of the grants from the Exchequer now made in aid of local taxation was very large indeed. His hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey said he could not understand the Return in the Estimates. That Return might be open to criticism, but it was perfectly intelligible. It showed that the grants in aid of local taxation and the charges transferred from local to Imperial funds for the year 1886–7 were—for England and Wales, £3,500,000; for Scotland, £540,000; and for Ireland, £2,078,000; making a total of £6,118,000. For the sake of clearness, he would deal only with the charges in England and Wales. In the first place, there was a sum of £177,000 for the rates on Government property; but this was merely an arrangement. It was found inconvenient to subject Government property to local assessment, and accordingly a fixed sum was paid in lieu of rates by arrangement to the Local Authorities. He agreed that the hon. Baronet was entitled to deduct the amount from the rest of the subvention. Then there were sums of £242,000 towards disturnpiking main roads; £300,000 connected with Poor Law Unions; £495,000 for pauper lunatics; £150,000 in aid of criminal prosecutions; £1,400,000 for police; and £637,000 for prisons and reformatories. Then it must be remembered that there was an enormous grant from Imperial funds in aid of the education rate, which did not come under that list of subventions. Let them consider these subventions in the form in which they were at present managed. He would say nothing about the prisons, although the result of removing the prisons from the control of the Local Authorities had been to stereotype administration, and he was very sceptical as to the economy of the change. He knew that there had been a nominal economy, but believed that better results could have been achieved by an arrangement in accordance with which some of the gaols would have been given up and the prisoners transferred from one county to another. But when he came to the case 1692 of the police he asserted that, instead of subvention having resulted in saving to the ratepayer, it had resulted in an increase of expenditure. For every penny that the Local Authority spent on the police the Government contributed an extra penny. Now, what happened in many instances? The Government had established in connection with this subvention a supervision by officials. The officials went down and inspected the county or the borough police; they complimented the chief of the police on the character of his force; and then they went on to express surprise that he could get on with a force so much smaller in proportion to the population than the force of another county or borough. The chief of police was always anxious naturally to increase the efficiency of the force under his control, and he went to the Local Authority and said they must give him an increase of his force; and if any question was raised as to cost he pointed out to them, and they pointed out to their constituents, that for every penny they contributed they would get another penny from the Government, so that they would have two pence of advantage for each penny of charge. That was an irresistible argument. The result was that since these subventions had been made, and especially since they had been largely increased, the cost of the police force, in many boroughs and in some counties, had been very largely increased. He said, then, that, in his humble judgment, this attempt to secure a larger contribution from personal property by means of subventions of this kind was a mistake. That it was a great disadvantage to the Imperial taxpayer was perfectly clear, and that it was no advantage to the local taxpayer was, he thought, capable of easy proof. There were other ways in which the matter might be dealt with. It was not for him to anticipate any statement which might hereafter be made on behalf of the Government. All he would do now was to lay down the principle, in the first place, that it was desirable that personal property should be brought in to contribute to local expenditure. He had himself, in various public speeches, referred to this question, and suggested on several occasions that an appeal might be had to the Income Tax, and the idea he had had in his mind was that the Local Authorities might have 1693 in some way placed at their disposal a local Income Tax. He was bound to make the frank confession, and to say now that, having gone into the matter more carefully and with the advantage of official information, he believed the difficulties in the way were insuperable. He believed it was almost impossible to localize the Income Tax, and he also believed that was the conclusion which had been arrived at by others who had pursued a like inquiry. There were cases of persons who had residences or places of business in many districts, and it would be difficult to divide their payment between those districts. That was an objection, though not an insuperable one. Another objection was that a vast amount of the Income Tax of the country was assessable in London and other large towns. Of £216,000,000 returned under Schedule D, £100,000,000 was assessable in the London district, and of the remaining £116,000,000 by far the larger part was assessable in towns of more than 20,000 inhabitants. The contribution of the country districts would, therefore, be a mere nothing. He was, therefore, obliged, with great reluctance, to dismiss from his mind the possibility of having anything in the nature of a local Income Tax; but it did not follow that the Income Tax or some other tax which distinctly brought personal property under contribution might not be called in aid of local expenditure, only he held it to be a principle in that case that the contribution should be a fixed contribution, and that they should leave to the Local Authorities the advantage of all the influences which now made for economy, and not make the contribution conditional on increased expenditure. He thought he had said all that was necessary on the Motion and the Amendment before the House. He should be very glad if his hon. Friend and the hon. Baronet, after the statement he had made, saw fit to withdraw both the Motion and the Amendment. He thought that, on the whole, would be a convenient course, because it was not generally desirable that the House should be pledging itself to abstract Resolutions. If, however, a division were insisted upon, all he could say was that he could take no objection to it which would lead him to vote against either the original Motion or the Amendment, which latter, indeed, 1694 seemed to him to include and cover the Motion.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
I have nothing whatever to complain of in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I think that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman has been marked throughout by a considerable appreciation of the arguments of those with whom the right hon. Gentleman differs, and by great sympathy with the hon. Baronet behind me (Sir Richard Paget) who moved an Amendment to the Resolution of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Thorold Rogers). The right hon. Gentleman, however, did make one or two observations which I think are open to a few words of comment and criticism. The right hon. Gentleman entirely accepts the view that personal property should, if possible, and in so far as possible, be brought in to contribute to the local rates; but he severely, and I think rather unfairly, criticized the system of subvention by which that end is now imperfectly and partially obtained. The right hon. Gentleman told us that subventions invariably increase expenditure, and conduce to extravagance on the part of the Local Authority. I think that in that assertion the right hon. Gentleman has confounded increased extravagance with increased efficiency. It is undoubtedly true that the Central Authority has, in those cases in which subventions have been given, obtained a right to criticize the expenditure, and it is also true that there have been increased charges. For instance, there are the police charges. The increased cost of the police is not the result of increased extravagance; but the direct result of the demand made upon the Local Authority by the Central Authority that increased efficiency should precede the grant of a subvention. Therefore, it is an incorrect and misleading statement to say that in all cases where there has been increased expenditure it has been the result of extravagance. In the second place, all admit, on this side of the House, that the system of subvention is only a mere stopgap. It is a crude and clumsy method of obtaining some of that justice which is wanted both for the owners and occupiers of property in matters of taxation. That being the case, we look forward to the time when the right hon. 1695 Gentleman or some other statesman will bring in a Local Government Bill to redress the anomalies of the present system. In reference to that matter, I would express again the regret which I have expressed more than once in this House during the last few months, that while Her Majesty's Government had occasion to consider the question of local government in several instances in connection with various Bills which have been laid before the House, they have not yet held out the slightest hope that they intend in the near future to give us that measure of local government of which they talked so much and so loudly when they were before the constituencies of the country a few months ago. I will now go to another point which was touched upon by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman, in attacking my hon. Friend behind me (Sir Richard Paget), put forward the strange theory that because the land has borne particular burdens for a great many years, that therefore those burdens have ceased to be burdens, and must be ignored in all future imposition of taxation. That theory is perfectly absurd. If by exceptional taxation you reduce the value of the funds, surely the permanent value of the funds will suffer. But why should you say that because you have taxed the funds for 20, 30, or 40 years, and the tax has become a kind of hereditary tax upon that species of property, that therefore it is to be ignored in the imposition of new taxation; and that you may go on increasing the taxation upon the funds without paying the slightest regard to the existing burdens? There is one other point which I ought to criticize in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman made a very remarkable statement with reference to the relations of owners and occupiers, in so far as taxation is concerned, in cases where those relations are determined by existing covenants. The right hon. Gentleman said, I think, that the Committee known as Mr. Goschen's Committee had reported in favour of dividing the rates between owner and occupier; but had coupled that with a further recommendation that the division of rates should be carried out only through a gradual process by which existing leases and contracts 1696 should be saved. Then, said the right hon hon. Gentleman, a good deal of time has elapsed since that Report was made. Is the House to understand, then, that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that in 1886 public opinion has so changed both in this House and in the country with regard to the sanctity of covenants, that a different rule should now be applied to that which was proposed to be applied under Mr. Goschen's direction in 1870? If that is the right hon. Gentleman's opinion, I confess that I think it gives a gloomy augury of the future legislation of this House. What does the right hon. Gentleman himself propose? Let me take a concrete case. Let me suppose the case of a landlord and tenant with a lease that has run 10 years, and has 10 years more to run. That lease was framed on the understanding that the tenant was to pay certain rates, and during the first 10 years of the lease he did pay those rates. If the right hon. Gentleman gets his way, that person, in the next 10 years, would cease to pay half of the rates, which would be thrown on the landlord. Now, what would happen at the end of the term? It would be necessary to make a new lease, and the landlord would be able to get back in the shape of rent the whole of that which he had been obliged by law to give up for 10 years in the shape of rates by the mere natural operation of the market. It has been demonstrated, as the right hon. Gentleman might have seen, that, in effect, through the remainder of the currency of the lease, you would simply be depriving the landlord by an arbitrary act of this House of that which belongs to him, and handing it over to the tenant. I now leave the rather ungrateful task of criticizing the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I come to that part to which I can give him the fullest and most hearty concurrence. I never heard anything better put than the right hon. Gentleman's criticism upon the strange proposal of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Thorold Rogers) for imposing exceptional taxation upon those unfortunate individuals who happen to be the owners of large country houses. The hon. Member talked as if he envied the people whom he described as blessed with a possession of these mansions. If the hon. Member knew a little more of big 1697 country houses, he would find that there is very little of a blessing, and not much to envy in the possession of them. The truth is, that the whole of this strange proposal of the hon. Member is a manifestation of disease.
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS (Southwark, Bermondsey)
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I said nothing of the kind. The right hon. Gentleman is a little mixed. I only said that the rates as levied now are too low, although I thought the country gentlemen in assessing those rates acted entirely within the four corners of the law. That is all I said; and I do not understand the comments of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That may have been, and I do not doubt was, the substance of the argument of the hon. Member; but I appeal to everyone who heard it whether a speech which took 20 minutes in delivery can be adequately compressed into those few words?
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS
The right hon. Gentleman is again wrong. ["Order!"] I must explain. These are gross misrepresentations. My speech took an hour and five minutes.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My statement, then, if it erred at all, erred, as most of my statements do, in being too favourable to the hon. Member. I said he had spoken 20 minutes, whereas it appears he spoke an hour and 10 minutes.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
One hour and 20 minutes. Then the speech of the hon. Gentleman was exactly one hour worse than I thought it was. That speech, however, and those of several other hon. Members who spoke from that side of the House on this particular part of the question, appear to me to afford a very curious example of a disease which is now extremely common in this Parliament. I mean "Landlordphobia." Whatever crimes a landlord may have committed, those crimes have been amply atoned by the possession of the big country house, which the hon. Gentleman envies him. When the House comes to the question of taxing those big country houses, I observe the most extraordinary divergence of opinion in the means proposed to be adopted. Nobody denies 1698 that the present system is legal. Nobody denies that it is in exact accordance with the method adopted in regard to other kinds of property—that is to say, that the owner of a big country house pays the taxes in exactly the same manner as if it were a cottage. ["No!"] I say yes. The only question is whether the possession of a large country house is of so exceptional a kind that an exceptional method of taxation ought to be adopted in regard to it. Nobody will deny that that is a fair statement of the case. There are two entirely different methods in which hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to think that a readjustment of taxation ought to be obtained. There is the comparatively reasonable proposal of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Thorold Rogers) to take the annual value, or, in other words, the price at which it would sell, and rate it on that. That proposal, whether it is good or bad is, at all events, I admit, not based on an irrational or unjust system. As to the system itself, it would do very little injury to the owners of houses; but I do not think it would in the slightest degree benefit the Exchequer. Why, Sir, what is the selling value of a big country house, separate from the estate of which it forms part? Is there a man so abandoned, so idiotic, so utterly lost to the first glimmerings of self-interest that he would deliberately be saddled with one of these gigantic structures without the estate of which it forms part? That is the selling value of the house, and I do not think the owner of the house would have much to complain of if you only taxed the selling value. But other hon. Members sitting on the opposite side of the House—among others, the hon. and learned Member for Durham—have made another proposal. And what is it they propose? Not that the selling or letting value should be the measure of the taxable value, but that the amount the structure originally cost should be the measure of that value. A more grossly unjust system it is hardly possible to conceive. Is that proposal to be adopted with regard to other property? Take a great mill in the locality where the industry which once flourished has deserted it. Such a building is now worth scarcely anything to the owner. Are you going to tax that building on the original cost? Are you going to 1699 tax it in accordance with the system you propose to adopt in regard to big country houses? Then, again, take the case of a considerable increase of artificial water in a park—the mania of some wealthy predecessor of the owner, who may have spent many thousands of pounds in producing this wretched sheet of water. Is this a case of accumulated wealth—as hon. Gentlemen put it — and are you going to tax it upon the original cost to the man who put it there? I feel that it is only necessary to state a proposition of that kind to show its gross absurdity. The truth is that hon. Gentlemen opposite desire—and I do not blame them—to impose taxes on luxuries; but the essence of a tax on luxuries is that if a man who enjoys a luxury desires to leave it off he escapes the tax. How is the owner of a country house to leave off that luxury? [An hon. MEMBER: By selling it.] No doubt, he might sell it; but it is wished to take the letting value as the value of the house. How else is the unhappy man, who is the victim of a mania of his ancestors in bricks and mortar, to escape the tax on his luxury which it is desired to impose? This is, in truth, not a tax on luxury, but simply a tax on sentiment. The man whom you tax can only avoid the tax by throwing up his country house. Nothing else will save him from the tax-gatherer; and if he does not do that, the only thing which prevents him is the fact that it is his home in which he was brought up. Round that home many sentiments have crystallized. It is the home in which he and his family have lived, perhaps, for generations; it is those sentiments—and those sentiments alone—which induce him to retain that home; and if the House taxes that man in the method some hon. Gentlemen propose, it will tax not his luxuries, but his sentiment. I do not think I have much more to say. The hon. Member for Bermondsey appears to be labouring under an obscure idea, with which I, on my part, heartily sympathize. The hon. Member, in the second part of his Resolution, deals with the question of country houses; and he seems to be animated by the view that there are certain wealthy persons who escape their fair share of contribution to local burdens. I agree absolutely with the hon. Member; and I will go much further than he does. These wealthy 1700 persons who live in these big country houses are not the sole persons who excite the hon. Member's envy. I agree with him that there are many persons who now escape their fair contribution to the rates of the district in which they live, and from the rates of which they derive all that makes life tolerable and bearable; and I earnestly trust that the evil will be remedied. If it is remedied it will be by the adoption, not of the hon. Gentleman's Resolution, but by the Amendment put by my hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire (Sir Richard Paget). This House largely consists of new Members, who may not be acquainted—or but imperfectly acquainted—with the long series of Resolutions which have been carried in former Parliaments on the subject of local taxation. Over and over again, in the teeth of the Government of the day, has this House carried the principle laid down by my hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire. This House, when it suits it, can express its concurrence with an act of its Predecessors; and the act of its Predecessors, to which I now call attention, is not an isolated performance on its part. Over and over again have Government after Government, and Parliament after Parliament, assented to the justice of the principle which my hon. Friend has laid down, and which he asks the House to adopt. I shall, therefore, vote for it. It is in accordance with precedent, and in accordance with justice. It is not put forward by my hon. Friend, and ought not to be accepted by the House, as a boon to the large landowners of the country. It is a boon—and a large boon—not to the large landowners, but to the small landowners, to the occupiers, to the farmers, and, above all, to that vast mass of occupiers in the towns, who, at this moment, are struggling against unnumbered difficulties to pay those rates, of which an undue share falls upon them. It is in their behalf, and not in behalf of the large landowners, of whom so much has been said in the course of this debate, that I ask the House to accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend, and it is for their sake that I shall go into the Lobby with him.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 205; Noes 186: Majority 19.1703
|Abraham, W. (Glam.)||Flower, C.|
|Abraham, W. (Limerick, W.)||Foley, P. J.|
|Forster, Sir C.|
|Acland, C. T. D.||Foster, Dr. B.|
|Allison, R. A.||Fowler, H. H.|
|Asher, A.||Fox, Dr. J. F.|
|Ashton, T. G.||Fry, L.|
|Balfour, rt. hon. J. B.||Gardner, H.|
|Beamont, H. F.||Gilhooly, J.|
|Beith, G.||Gill, T. P.|
|Bennett, J.||Gladstone, H. J.|
|Biggar, J. G.||Glyn, hon. P. C.|
|Blake, T.||Gower, G. G. L.|
|Bolton, T. H.||Green, H.|
|Brand, hon. H. R.||Grenfell, W. H.|
|Broadhurst, H.||Harcourt, rt. hon. Sir W. G. V. V.|
|Bruce, hon. R. P.|
|Buckley, A.||Harrington, E.|
|Burt, T.||Harris, M.|
|Cameron, C.||Hayden, L. P.|
|Campbell, Sir G.||Hayne, C. Seale-|
|Campbell, H.||Hooper, J.|
|Campbell-Bannerman, right hon. H.||Howard, E. S.|
|Howard, H. C.|
|Carbutt, E. H.||Hoyle, I.|
|Carew, J. L.||Hunter, W. A.|
|Chamberlain, rt. hn. J.||Illingworth, A.|
|Chamberlain, R.||Ingram, W. J.|
|Chance, P. A.||Jacks, W.|
|Channing, F. A.||Jenkins, Sir J. J.|
|Clancy, J. J.||Jenkins, D. J.|
|Clark, Dr. G. B.||Johns, J. W.|
|Cobb, H. P.||Johnson-Ferguson, J. E.|
|Cobbold, F. T.|
|Cohen, A.||Jordan, J.|
|Coleridge, hon. B.||Kay-Shuttleworth, Sir U.|
|Compton, Lord W. G.|
|Connolly, L.||Kelly, B.|
|Conway, M.||Kenny, C. S.|
|Conybeare, C. A. V.||Kenrick, W.|
|Cook, W.||Kilcoursie, right hon. Viscount|
|Corbet, W. J.||Lane, W. J.|
|Cossham, H.||Lawson, H. L. W.|
|Courtney, L. H.||Leahy, J.|
|Cowen, J.||Leicester, J.|
|Cox, J. R.||Lockwood, F.|
|Craven, J.||Lubbock, Sir J.|
|Crawford, D.||Lyell, L.|
|Crawford, W.||MacInnes, M.|
|Cremer, W. R.||M'Arthur, A.|
|Crilly, D.||M'Culloch, J.|
|Crompton, C.||M'Donald, P.|
|Crossley, E.||M'Donald, Dr. R.|
|Deasy, J.||Magniac, C.|
|Dilke, rt. hn. Sir C. W.||Maitland, W. F.|
|Dillon, J.||Marjoribanks, rt. hon. E.|
|Egerton, Admiral hon. F.||Maskelyne, M. H. K. Story-|
|Ellis, J.||Mason, S.|
|Ellis, J. E.||Mather, W.|
|Esmonde, Sir T.||Mayne, T.|
|Esslemont, P.||Mellor, rt. hon. J. W.|
|Everett, R. L.||Mildmay, F. B.|
|Farquharson, Dr. R.||Molloy, B. C.|
|Fenwick, C.||Montagu, S.|
|Finlay, R. B.||Morgan, rt. hon. G. O.|
|Finlayson, J.||Morgan, O. V.|
|Finucane, J.||Morley, rt. Hon. J.|
|Fletcher, B.||Morley, A.|
|Moulton, J. F.||Shaw, T.|
|Mundella, rt. hon. A. J.||Sheehy, D.|
|Nolan, Colonel J. P.||Spencer, hon. C. R.|
|Nolan, J.||Spensley, H.|
|O'Brien, W.||Spicer, H.|
|O'Connor, A.||Stack, J.|
|O'Connor, J. (Tippry.)||Stansfeld, rt. hon. J.|
|O'Kelly, J.||Stevenson, F. S.|
|Otter, F.||Stevenson, J. C.|
|Peacock, R.||Strong, R.|
|Pease, A. E.||Stuart, J.|
|Pease, H. F.||Sturgis, H. P.|
|Pickard, B.||Sullivan, D.|
|Pickersgill, E. H.||Swinburne, Sir J.|
|Pilkington, G.||Tanner, C. K.|
|Pitt-Lewis, G.||Thomas, A.|
|Playfair, rt. hon. Sir L.||Tuite, J.|
|Portman, hon. E. B.||Vanderbyl, P.|
|Powell, W. R. H.||Vivian, Sir H. H.|
|Power, P. J.||Warmington, C. M.|
|Price, T. P.||Watt, H.|
|Priestley, B.||Wayman, T.|
|Pulley, J.||Williams, A. J.|
|Pyne, J. D.||Williams, J. C.|
|Reid, H. G.||Williams, P.|
|Richard, H.||Wilson, C. H.|
|Richardson, T.||Wilson, H. J.|
|Rigby, J.||Wilson, I.|
|Robson, W. S.||Wilson, J. (Durham)|
|Roe, T.||Winterbotham, A. B.|
|Roscoe, Sir H. E.||Wodehouse, E. R.|
|Russell, Sir C.||Woodall, W.|
|Russell, E. R.||Woodhead, J.|
|Ruston, J.||Yeo, F. A.|
|Salis-Schwabe, Col. G.|
|Seely, C.||Picton, J. A.|
|Sexton, T.||Rogers, J. E. T.|
|Addison, J. E. W.||Chaplin, right hon. H.|
|Agg-Gardner, J. T.||Charrington, S.|
|Allsopp, hon. C.||Churchill, rt. hn. Lord R. H. S.|
|Allsopp, hon. G.|
|Ambrose, W.||Cohen, L. L.|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, E.||Colman, J. J.|
|Baden-Powell, G. S.||Commerell, Adml. Sir J. E.|
|Baily, L. R.||Compton, F.|
|Baird, J.||Cooke, C. W. R.|
|Balfour, rt. hon. J. B.||Corry, Sir J. P.|
|Balfour, G. W.||Cotton, Capt. E. T. D.|
|Bartley, G. C. T.||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Baumann, A. A.||Cross, rt. hon. Sir R. A.|
|Beach, right hon. Sir M. E. Hicks-||Cross, H. S.|
|Crossley, Sir S. B.|
|Beach, W. W. B.||Crossman, General Sir W.|
|Bentinck, rt. hn. G. C.|
|Bethell, Commander||Currie, Sir D.|
|Bickersteth, R.||Curzon, Viscount|
|Bickford-Smith, W.||Dawnay, Colonel hon. L. P.|
|Birkbeck, Sir E.||Denison, E. W.|
|Blaine, R. S.||Denison, W. B.|
|Blundell, Col. H. B. H.||Dickson, Major A. G.|
|Brinton, J.||Dimsdale, Baron R.|
|Bristowe, T. L.||Dixon-Hartland, F. D.|
|Brodrick, hon. W. St. J. F.||Douglas, A. Akers-|
|Brookfield, Col. A. M.||Duff, R. W.|
|Campbell, Sir A.||Duncan, Colonel F.|
|Campbell, J. A.||Duncombe, A.|
|Dyke, rt. hn. Sir W. H.||M'Lagan, P.|
|Makins, Colonel W. T.|
|Eaton, H. W.||March, Earl of|
|Egerton, hn. A. J. F.||Marton, Maj. G. B. H.|
|Ellis, Sir J. W.||Maxwell, Sir H. E.|
|Evelyn, W. J.||Mills, hon. C. W.|
|Farquharson, H. R.||Milvain, T.|
|Feilden, Lt.-Gen. R. J.||Mount, W. G.|
|Fellowes, W. H.||Muntz, P. A.|
|Fergusson, right hon. Sir J.||Murdoch, C. T.|
|Field, Admiral E.||Norton, R.|
|Finch, G. H.||O'Neill, hon. R. T.|
|Fisher, W. H.||Pearce, W.|
|Fitzwilliam, hon. W. J. W.||Pease, Sir J. W.|
|Peel, right hon. Sir R.|
|Fitz-Wygram, Sir F.|
|Folkestone, Viscount||Pelly, Sir L.|
|Forwood, A. B.||Percy, Lord A. M.|
|Fowler, Sir R. N.||Pomfret, W. P.|
|Fraser, General C. C.||Price, Captain G. E.|
|Gathorne-Hardy, hon. J. S.||Raikes, rt. hon. H. C.|
|Ramsden Sir J.|
|Goldsworthy, Major-General W. T.||Rathbone, W.|
|Ritchie, C. T.|
|Green, Sir E.||Robertson, J. P. B.|
|Gregory, G. B.||Ross, A. H.|
|Grimston, Viscount||Rothschild, Baron F. J. de|
|Gurdon, R. T.|
|Hall, C.||Round, J.|
|Halsey, T. F.||Russell, Sir G.|
|Hamilton, right hon. Lord G. F.||Sandys, Lieut-Col. T. M.|
|Hamilton, Lord E.||Saunderson, Maj. E. J.|
|Hamilton, Lord F. S.||Sclater-Booth, rt. hn. G.|
|Hamley, Gen. Sir E. B.|
|Hankey, F. A.||Selwin-Ibbetson, rt. hon. Sir H. J.|
|Hastings, G. W.||Seton-Karr, H.|
|Heaton, J. H.||Sidebottom, W.|
|Herbert, hon. S.||Sitwell, Sir G. R.|
|Hervey, Lord F.||Smith, rt. hon. W. H.|
|Hill, Lord A. W.||Smith, A.|
|Hobhouse, H.||Smith, D.|
|Holland, rt. hon. Sir H. T.||Stanley, rt. hn. Col. Sir F.|
|Hope, rt. h. A. J. B. B.||Stewart, M.|
|Howard, J.||Sturrock, P.|
|Hughes-Hallett, Col. F. C.||Sykes, C.|
|Talbot, J. G.|
|Hunter, Sir G.||Temple, Sir R.|
|Hutton, J. F.||Tollemache, H. J.|
|Jackson, W. L.||Tomlinson, W. E. M.|
|James, C. H.||Tottenham, A. L.|
|Johnston, W.||Valentine, C. J.|
|Jones, P.||Walrond, Col. W. H.|
|Kennaway, Sir J. H.||Walsh, hon. A. H. J.|
|Kenyon, hon. G. T.||Waring Colonel T.|
|Kimber, H.||Watson, J.|
|King, H. S.||Webster, Sir. R. E.|
|Knatchbull-Hugessen, hon. H. T.||Westlake, J.|
|White, J. B.|
|Knightley, Sir R.||Whitley, E.|
|Lawrance, J. C.||Wiggin, H.|
|Lawrence, Sir T.||Winn, hon. R.|
|Lawrence, W. F.||Wortley, C. B. Stuart-|
|Lechmere, Sir E. A. H.||Wroughton, P.|
|Lewisham, Viscount||Yorke, J. R.|
|Llewellyn, E. H.||Young, C. E. B.|
|Long, W. H.||TELLERS.|
|Lowther, hon. W.||More, R. J.|
|Maclean, J. M.||Paget, Sir R. H.|
Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday 6th April.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS - BEACH (Bristol, W.)
Sir, I think we are becoming accustomed to very erratic courses on the part of Her Majesty's Government. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Chamberlain) commenced his speech by informing the House that he was happy to be in agreement with everybody. I am bound to say that on this subject I was very glad that he was able to make that statement; but he went on to add, as I think, with great distinctness—I speak within the recollection of the House—that it was his intention to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire (Sir Richard Paget). And, naturally, after what we have been accustomed to when a division is called, we saw the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues proceeding into the opposite Lobby, I would venture, therefore, to ask the consideration of the Government, and also of the House, to the present position of this question. I think the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board was quite right in saying that there had been, generally speaking, an agreement in principle during the course of this long debate. The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Thorold Rogers) had placed before the House certain subjects on which, in his opinion, the present incidence of local taxation was unfair; he desires that the owner should be taxed as well as the occupier; he desires that the pet objects of his indignation—the occupiers of country mansions—should be made to contribute to a greater extent; and he also had something to say as to the owners of ground rents—a matter with which this House has already dealt by referring it to a Select Committee. But the hon. Gentleman himself, in arguing his case as he did, of course, with all the knowledge and learning that he possesses, admitted that the question could not be solved if the particular points that he brought before the House were dealt with. He admitted—and it has been universally admitted in the course of this debate by speakers in all quarters of the House, and notably by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Chamberlain—that the great grievance is the 1705 exemption of personal property from local taxation, and that merely to deal with certain specified cases of this kind would be but to touch the fringe of the subject—that great subject, with which many a Government, and many a House of Commons, has attempted, hitherto unsuccessfully, to deal. But now we have, by this remarkable action, or perhaps by the ordinary course of action on the part of Her Majesty's Government, seen the general Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire (Sir Richard Paget), which really was a Motion dealing with the whole question, and dealing with it in a spirit which I do not think was objected to even by the hon. Member for Bermondsey, rejected through the opposition of Her Majesty's Government; and, therefore, the House is now called upon to decide upon this great and important matter of local taxation on a Motion of a purely partial character, dealing with cases of hardly more than an individual character, and cases which, if dealt with as the hon. Member for Bermondsey would desire them to be dealt with, would even, in his opinion, by no means settle the question of local taxation. Why, it would but increase the injustice if these cases were singled out for the burden of fresh taxation, while such instances as those which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board referred to—of persons having £60,000 a year, and living in houses of only £30 rating — were not charged with any greater amount of local taxation than that to which they are at present liable. Therefore, I hope that, having secured the rejection of the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire, Her Majesty's Government will appeal to the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway (Mr. Thorold Rogers) not to prejudice this question by the adoption of a vague and really insufficiently-worded Resolution on a matter part of which has already been referred to a Select Committee, and part of which would be an absolutely inadequate treatment of the great question of local taxation. For my own part, I must say that if Her Majesty's Government should feel themselves disposed to accept such a Motion as this, I trust that we, at all events, on this side will record our protest against 1706 it, as an utterly unfair dealing with one of the greatest and most difficult questions which can occupy the attention of Parliament.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN
I confess that I have listened with some surprise to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I have always been accustomed to regard the right hon. Baronet as a Gentleman of the greatest possible acumen; and I cannot understand how he should have so entirely misconceived the observations that I recently addressed to the House. I said to the House I hoped we were tolerably agreed on the principle which is involved in both the Resolution of my hon. Friend and the Amendment of the hon. Member for Somersetshire (Sir Richard Paget). I felt myself somewhat in the position of Captain Macheath—"How happy could I be with either?" The difficulty I had was to find the means of voting for both proposals. Under the circumstances, I confess that I ventured to recommend that both the original Resolution and the Amendment should be withdrawn; and I thought, from the signs of assent in various parts of the House, that that course would probably have been accepted. But when a division was called—I do not know why—but, at any rate, some exception was taken by the minority of the House, and it was necessary for me to take a decision. If I could have voted for the Amendment of the hon. Baronet opposite, I should have done so with great pleasure, provided that, in doing so, I should not have had to vote against the Resolution of my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Thorold Rogers). I was in favour of both; but I was obliged to take them in turn. The first Motion that was put was that of my hon. Friend—namely, that his words should stand part of the Question. On that I was obliged to vote in the affirmative. If the Resolution had been defeated it would not have been a matter to me of serious regret, because then I should have the pleasure of voting for the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire (Sir Richard Paget). I really regret that the Forms of the House have not permitted me to give two votes on the question; but, as it is, I stick to the vote that I have 1707 already given, and if another division is called I shall vote for the Resolution of my hon. Friend.
§ MR. GATHORNE-HARDY (Kent, Medway)
I am afraid that hon. Members on this side of the House have been placed at a disadvantage. I came into the House after dinner, and in walking up the Lobby I met a Friend, who told me that the President of the Local Government Board had made a most excellent Conservative speech. I was exceedingly glad to hear it, and could not help thinking that, under the difficult circumstances of the case, the right hon. Gentleman was, perhaps, endeavouring to make himself friends of the Mammon of unrighteousness. However that may be, when I came into the House I met four or five hon. Friends, who certainly would not have voted with the Government, leaving the House after hearing the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, under the impression that the Government were on their side, and that it was quite clear there would be no division. The result was that not only were hon. Members led to believe that they would be supported by the Government in these circumstances, but Conservative Members who wished to support their principles left the House, believing that the Government had taken one course, when, in reality, it turned out that they took another. That seems to me to be a very unsatisfactory state of things. It gives no pledge to the country that a proper number of votes would be recorded on this side. I trust that when the Members of the Government make speeches in future they will clearly lay down the course they intend to adopt.
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
I rise to a point of Order, Sir. I wish to know whether it is in Order to amend the Motion now before the House?
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE
Then I move that the following words be added:—That this House is of opinion that the financial injustice complained of can only be removed by a comprehensive measure of reform, and the equitable readjustment of taxation between real and personal property.
§ MR. O'KELLY (Roscommon, N.)
I rise to Order. I want to know whether the words now proposed to be added by 1708 the hon. Baronet are not really part of the Question which has already been decided by the House?
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
On the point of Order, I wish, Sir, to ask your ruling. I imagine that the decision to which the House came was, that between the words of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Thorold Rogers) and those of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire (Sir Richard Paget), they preferred the words of the hon. Member for Bermondsey. But I do not understand that such a decision of the House precludes a Motion being made by any other hon. Member to add to the Motion of the hon. Member for Bermondsey certain words which undoubtedly very closely resembled the words of the hon. Baronet, and which the House has declined to prefer to the words of the hon. Member for Bermondsey. That is the point which I wish to put before the House—namely, that the House is not necessarily precluded from adding the words of the hon. Member for Somersetshire.
§ MR. SPEAKER
There were two alternatives before the House—the proposition of the hon. Member for the Bermondsey Division of Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers), and the proposition of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire (Sir Richard Paget). The proposition of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire has been negatived by the House by the decision that the words proposed to be left out should stand part of the Question. The words now proposed by the hon. Member for Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) are precisely the same as those which have already been negatived.
§ MR. RAIKES (Cambridge University)
I also rise to a point of Order. I wish to ask whether the words proposed by the hon. Member for Somersetshire (Sir Richard Paget) have ever been put to the House as a Question? As I understand the way in which the Question was put, the words proposed to be left out were affirmed to stand part of the Question. Those were the words of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Thorold Rogers). We have not yet had an opportunity of affirming our opinion with regard to the words proposed 1709 to be inserted by the hon. Member for Somersetshire. I wish to ask you, Sir, whether, that being the case, you lay down as a Rule of this House that words cannot be added at the end of the Question upon which no substantial Question has hitherto been put?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT) (Derby)
I would ask, Sir, whether, upon the Amendment which stands on the Paper, the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire (Sir Richard Paget) was not to leave out all the words after "That," in order to insert certain other words? I wish to ask if the division was not taken on the Question whether those words should be inserted? ["No!"] I am not asking hon. Members opposite, but I am asking the Speaker for his ruling upon the question; and I ask you, Sir, whether the consequence of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman opposite would not be that you, Sir, might go on dividing all night on the same Amendment, by proposing after a division over and over again to add the same words to the Resolution, and whether the effect of this would not be that we should be taking another division on the same Amendment?
§ MR. SPEAKER
In reply to the right hon. Gentleman, I have again expressly to say that words cannot be added to the original proposition which has been by Parliamentary construction directly negatived.
§ Main Question put.
§ The House divided: — Ayes 216; Noes 176: Majority 40. — (Div. List, No. 42.)
§ Resolved, That the present system under which, in England and Wales, the first Incidence of Local Taxation (with some slight exceptions) falls on the occupier and not on the owner of lands and tenements, is unjust; that such owners ought in equity to bear at least a moiety of those charges; that the system under which country mansions are rated is unfair; and that the owners of ground rents in towns are liable to no part of those charges, the outlay of which is essential in order that the property may possess any marketable value whatever.