§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. AUSTIN (Yorkshire, W.R., Osgoldcross)
said, he had placed a Notice on the Paper of his intention 16 to move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the Motion of which the hon. Member had given Notice must be moved after the Bill had been read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time, "put, and agreed to.
§ MR. AUSTIN
said, he would endeavour to be as short as possible in the statement he had to make in moving that the Bill be referred to a special Hybrid Committee. The Aire and Calder Navigation Company was first called into existence in 1798. They were constituted Trustee Conservators, and, as their Bill stated, undertakers of the great water-way between the West Riding of Yorkshire and its only seaport, the Port of Goole. The Company had since become to all intents and purposes a private trading Company; their shares were never published, and there was no public record of their receipts, no public audit of their accounts, and they had the entire control of this great water-way as a simple trading Company. That a private Company should have control of this ancient river had long been a source of public dissatisfaction. In 1820 they obtained an Act of Parliament authorizing them to make a Canal from Knottingley in the West Riding to the seaport of Goole, and a clause was inserted in the Bill providing that the Canal was to be rated by agricultural value. An important statement had recently been issued in justification of the present Bill, from which it would appear that they had expended £2,000,000 on the extension of their docks and works. The Bill now applied for large and wide powers, and he maintained that there was no longer any justification for the exemption in regard to rating which had hitherto existed. The greater portion of the £2,000,000 expended on additional works had been really paid out of the profits arising from the navigation. Yet the Company gave it as one ground, notwithstanding that they had been able to pay in addition handsome sums as dividends, that the exemption should be continued. Now, he maintained that the Company ought to be just, and fulfil its proper obligations to the heavily-taxed farmers of the district before they came to Par- 17 liament with a Bill of such a large scope, and justified it on the ground that they had been great public benefactors. In order to show what the Company were asking the House to sanction, it was only necessary that lion. Members should read the Preamble of the Bill. It was promoted for the purpose of authorizing the undertakers of the navigation of the Rivers Aire and Calder, in the West Riding of the county of York, to construct certain works, to abandon certain other works, to maintain and enlarge existing works, and for other purposes. His proposal was that the Bill should be referred to a Hybrid Committee; so that, before Parliament consented to grant the powers now asked for, the whole position of the undertaking should be inquired into, in order to see whether the Company had fulfilled their obligations, and how they now stood in regard to various Acts of Parliament passed since the Canal was originally called into existence. As he had said, an Act was passed in 1820 exempting the under-takers from paying rates for more than agricultural value. But those powers were limited to works that were to be constructed within the period of 10 years, and he would call the attention of the House to the position of the Canal as it stood during those 10 years under this provision, and also how it stood now, and how it had affected the Port of Goole. When the concession was granted in 1820, as far as the Port of Goole was concerned, there were simply two small docks, capable of taking vessels of 100 tons burden. In 1887 steamships were able to enter the docks of 2,500 tons burden, and there was a tonnage at Goole in 1841 of 383,000 tons. In 1887 that amount of tonnage had increased to 1,200,000 tons, and the principal portion of that increase had taken place within the last 10 or 15 years. The increase in the last 10 years had been 75 per cent. There were now 41 steamships running into the docks, and the number of trading vessels had increased in proportion. During the last 20 years there had been a harbour constructed, 250 feet long, a ship dock of 700 feet, a railway dock of 600 feet, an Aldam dock of 461 feet, a steamship dock of about 4 acres, a barge dock of 900 feet, and a further steamship lock of 260 feet, a new lock just completed of 500 feet, together with 18 a graving dock of 225 feet, now being lengthened. Patent slips, many cranes, tip, and patent hoist capable of lifting 75 tons, timber ponds, warehouse conveniences, and all the appliances of a large and flourishing seaport; but, nevertheless, the entire rating of those magnificent docks and works came under the Exemption Clause, and the amount paid, including warehouses and the whole of the works, was only over £1,000 a-year; while at Grimsby docks, of a similar capacity, on the other side of the water, were paying from £3,000 to £4,000 a-year. There was a circumstance he might mention, in connection with the matter, which he thought would show the spirit in which the Company had carried out this exemption, and the grievous injustice inflicted upon the community so far as the Poor Law Unions were concerned. He thought the fact he was about to mention would astonish the House, if anything could astonish it, in regard to the proceedings of this Company. Previous to 1845, the site of one of the Company's docks was a market garden rated at £4 an acre. The Aire and Calder Company took possession of this market garden, converted it into a magnificent steam-ship dock, and, according to the agricultural standard of value, they did not even pay £4 an acre, but were rated at the very lowest agricultural value—namely, £2 an acre. Nevertheless, from the magnificent steamship dock which had been erected upon that site, the Company were sending out ships to every part of the world. So far as the contribution to the rates was concerned, the appropriation of this market garden by the Aire and Calder Company had reduced the contribution to the rates from £4 an acre to £2. When the Canal was opened in 1826 or 1827, the canal boats plying upon it were of limited capacity, with a tonnage of not more than from 40 to 60 tons. But now what was the position of the Canal? The Canal had been enlarged, deepened, and widened; the locks had been extended so that vessels of 130 tons burden could pass up and down the Canal, sea-going vessels could load goods and pass through the Canal at Leeds, and pass the Goole docks to the German Ocean. He could not imagine, then, that they would in justice continue to maintain the exemption from rating. The exemption was 19 not continued by Parliament in the Act of 1828, and it would then appear that Parliament became jealous in regard to the exceptional powers they had conferred. In 1828 the Company applied again to Parliament for further powers to construct further works; but the Committee to whom the Bill was referred refused to make any further exemption. Since then there had been an enormous increase in the value of the Canal. In 1845 the Act was passed which constituted Canal Companies, jointly with Railway Companies, general carriers. The Aire and Calder Company had simply been up to that time collectors of dues; since then they had been traders. Perhaps it would be desirable that he should contrast the rates paid by this Canal Company and by railways of the Lancashire and Yorkshire, which passed through the same agricultural district. The railway, which began at Knottingley and ran parallel with the Canal to Goole, was rated at £600 a-mile; whereas this Company only paid £33 per mile. The North-Eastern Railway, passing through another district, and approaching the seaport of Goole from another direction, was rated at £800 a-mile. The Canal approaching Goole from Lincolnshire, with not one-fourth the traffic upon it which the railway had, was rated at £300 a-mile. He thought those facts formed an ample justification for the Motion. It was most desirable that the whole proceedings of the Aire and Calder Company should be overhauled before any further extensions were granted. If that were not done, and the Bill were allowed to pass through the House, what would be the result? As he had already pointed out, the Company had large powers to appropriate property for private purposes. It was desirable, in the interests of the ratepayers of the district, that the position and proceedings of the Company should be thoroughly inquired into by a special Committee of the House. He understood that an objection would be made to the Motion, on the ground that other Canals enjoyed the same exceptional privileges. He believed that there were some few other undertakings in a similar position. But he could not help being reminded that whenever they approached a public grievance, and made an endeavour to rectify it, they were always told they had selected the 20 wrong time. He believed there were some 25 Canals in existence that were fully rated, and he hoped the House would deal with these questions of exemption from rating as they arose. The Poor Law Guardians in the locality asserted that this Company were not content with declining to pay their fair share of the public obligations in the maintenance of the poor collected in the district, but filled the Poor Law Union houses with pauperism the Company itself created. Bargemen, porters, coalheavers, and others similarly employed were not the most thrifty or prudent of men. The result was that the tenant farmers. were obliged to maintain them, while this great trading Company practically went free. It was the duty of the House of Commons to redress the grievances of the people, and he did not think it was possible to call attention to a greater grievance than that which existed in connection with the exemption of this Canal Company from contributing its proper proportion to the rates. There was not a class of men so patient under adversity, so untiring in their industry, so frugal in their habits, and so free from the spirit of public turbulence as the tenant farmers; and he appealed to the House in the name of justice on behalf of the tenant farmers, to pay some attention to their interests and grievances. He hoped that before the Bill left the House full and ample justice would be done to them, and that a full, impartial, equitable, and just rating provision would be introduced into the Bill. He begged to move the Resolution which stood in his name.
§ COLONEL GUNTER (Yorkshire, W.R., Barkston Ash)
, in seconding the Motion, said, he did not oppose the Bill in any way, but simply asked that an inquiry should be instituted into the state of circumstances which existed now in comparison with what it was in 1820. The Aire and Calder Canal was private property, and it was the only private property in the whole of the district that was not rated at its full value. The question brought before the House by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Austin) was one of great importance to his constituents. It affected them materially, and they were naturally much interested in it. When the Canal was made in 1820 the Port of Goole was a small 21 fishing village with something like 400 inhabitants; it was now a large town containing more than 14,000. When the original Act was passed, it was never anticipated that the Aire and Calder Navigation would ever attain the great position it now held. In fact, the dimensions of the locks and of the Canal, which were specified in the original Act, had been so much altered and enlarged that it was suggested that it was only fair that inquiry should be made as to the position of the rating question in regard to the Canal. Another point for the inquiry of the Committee was this—when the Canal was originally formed it was only intended to take tolls from boats making use of the Canal; but now the Company were general carriers themselves, both in regard to foreign and home goods. There were also great anomalies in the rating of the Aire and Calder Navigation. That part of the Canal which stood in the Hunslet and Wakefield Unions was rated at its full value. At the upper end of the Canal there were 684 yards, which were made up before 1820, and consequently were not exempted by the Act passed in that year. Those 684 yards were rated at £572 per annum, or about £1,500 a-mile; while the rest of the Canal was rated only at £33 a-mile, being the agricultural value of the land. Consequently, that small portion of 684 yards was paying more in rates than the whole of the remaining portion of the 17 miles. That being the case, the ratepayers in the locality were anxious to have the question inquired into. As he had said, they were not there to oppose the Bill in any way. They simply asked for an inquiry, and if the House, or the Committee, in the event of the Motion being acceded to, were to say that they considered the rating fair as it stood, all well and good. All they asked was that there should be an inquiry by a Committee. They would have taken up a different position, if it had been possible; but in the Bill now before the House no question of rating was raised, and consequently the ratepayers and the rating authority of the district had no locus standi to go before a Committee and oppose the Bill. Therefore it was necessary to raise it before the House, and to take the unusual course of asking that the Bill should be referred to a Hybrid Committee. In other instances, 22 such as that of the Liverpool and Leeds Canal, the principle of rating especially had been changed; and, therefore, they were not seeking to establish a new precedent. It must be remembered that Aire and Calder Navigation had had the benefit of this small rating for 70 years, and what the Company now asked was that the concession granted to them in 1820 should be continued and made to apply to a further extension of works. He wished to know if the ratepayers were never to have a chance of having the property re-valued, and placed in the position of other private property? As the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Austin) had pointed out, there was a large floating population in Goole, composed of labouring men and others, who, when they were ill or became paupers, came upon the rates, and the ratepayers had to support them. One point had not been referred to, and he believed that advantage would be taken of it by his hon. Friend the Member for the Basset-law Division of Notts (Mr. W. Beckett), who, he believed, was about to oppose the Motion—namely, that it was undesirable to make the case of this Canal exceptional; but that a general Bill should be brought in dealing with all canals. He thought, however, that the Aire and Calder Canal was in a totally different position from any other canal in the United Kingdom. In fact, the proprietors of the Aire and Calder Canal were the sole owners of the Port of Goole, and, therefore, there was no prospect of their being opposed there. They also enjoyed a monopoly of the Aire and Calder Canals, and also of the Ouse from Goole to the mouth of the Trent. Therefore, what might be proper in regard to other Canals, he maintained was not right or just in this particular instance. He begged to second the Motion of the hon. Member for Osgoldcross (Mr. Austin).
Motion made, and Question proposed'
That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee to consist of Seven Members, Four to be nominated by the House, and Three by the Committee of Selection.
That all Petitions relating to the rating of the Navigation or other property of the Undertakers presented against the Bill, within the time limited by the Standing Orders, be referred to the Committee, and that such of the Petitioners as pray to be heard by themselves, their counsel, agents, or witnesses, be heard on their Petitions, if they think fit
and counsel be heard in favour of the Bill against such Petitioners.
That it be an Instruction to the Committee to inquire, if they think fit, into the present mode of rating of the Aire and Calder Navigation Undertaking and property to all poor rates and other local rates, and whether it may be necessary or expedient to modify or alter the Undertakers' rights or privileges with respect thereto under any of their Local Acts or otherwise, and to make provision in the Bill for the same accordingly.
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.
That Three be the quorum of the Committee."—(Mr. Austin.)
§ MR. W. BECKETT (Notts, Bassetlaw)
said, he hoped that the House would not assent to the proposal of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Austin). Before dealing with the proposal itself, he wished to say that it was an extremely inconvenient practice to raise the general question of rating upon a Private Bill, which was simply promoted for the purpose of enlarging and extending the works of a particular undertaking. He was not there to say whether the general subject of the rating of canals was a fair one for discussion in that House or not. Perhaps it might be; but what he maintained was that the opportunity ought not to be seized of introducing the thin end of the wedge as to the general rating of canals into a Private Bill. Hon. Gentlemen who were now supporting the proposal before the House had had a full opportunity of placing their views before the Committee of the House of Lords, but they had not availed themselves of it. The Committee of the Lords sat for some time to consider the Bill, and eventually it was passed as an unopposed measure. It was quite true that on the third reading in the House of Lords a noble Lord presented a Petition purporting to be signed by a large number of land-owners and others in the West Riding of Yorkshire; but on examining the Petition he found that the signatures to it were only 42 in number, and were entirely confined to a very small district extending from Goole to a place five miles to the west. The opponents of the Bill had neglected to bring forward their case when the measure was before the House of Lords; and the effect of the Instruction, if it were adopted, would probably be to compel the promoters to withdraw the Bill altogether. From the remarks which had been made by the hon. Gen- 24 tleman opposite, it might be inferred that the Aire and Calder Canal was practically exempt from rates altogether. The hon. Member said that the rates paid to the Company amounted to only £1,000 a-year; whereas last year the whole amount paid for rating was £3,600. In the town of Goole the docks and other works belonging to the Company were rated at the very fair value of £500 an acre, and it was the agricultural land which the Canal traversed that was rated at only £33 an acre. The distinction was drawn for the reason that many years ago it was considered that the construction of canals ought to be encouraged, and on that ground the liability, so far as rating was concerned, was reduced. The Aire and Calder Canal was no more in an exceptional position than a dozen other of the principal canals of the country. The hon. and gallant Member for the Barkston Ash Division (Colonel Gunter) was badly informed, because, as a matter of fact, the principal canals of the Kingdom were exempt from the liability of rating. It had been the policy of Parliament of late years to encourage the extension of canals, and to oppose the absorption of them by railways; but the effect of adopting this Instruction would be to place a great burden upon the proprietors. If the Bill should not be proceeded with, it would not only be a great detriment to the Canal itself, but also to the town of Goole, which, it could not be denied, would be largely benefited by the extension of the Canal. The Aire and Calder Company had been alluded to as an extremely wealthy Company, paying large dividends; but the House had not been told that the Company was paying £70,000 a-year in dividends some years ago, while it was now only paying dividends to the extent of £50,000 a-year. The effect of imposing heavy burdens upon it would be to increase the tolls and rates charged upon goods, and to place additional burdens upon the general community. He trusted that, on general grounds, the House would not accept the proposition of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Austin) to give this Instruction to a special Committee. It might be the policy of Parliament to consider in some other Session whether all canals should not be rated alike; but he objected to the Aire and Calder Canal being singled out, seeing that it was in 25 no respect in a different condition from many other large canals.
§ COLONEL DAWNAY (York, N.R., Thirsk)
said, he earnestly hoped the House would consent to the Instruction. The hon. Member for the Basset-law Division of Nottinghamshire said that was not a proper opportunity for bringing the matter forward. It was, however, the only opportunity that could be had. The hon. Member said that the town of Goole paid a large sum in rates last year. They knew that 684 yards were rated at nearly ££1,500 a-mile, but their grievance was that the 17 remaining miles were rated at virtually next to nothing—namely, £33 a-mile; while railways in the same district were rated at from £600 to £800 a-mile. They were told by the promoters of the Bill that the form of rating was usual, and had applied to other canals; but that was hardly the case, because this form of rating was only in force with regard to a very few canals constructed before 1845, when the Canal Companies were converted into general carriers and their position altogether altered. Goole, which had only 415 inhabitants in 1820, had now become a flourishing port, and the traffic in that port had increased during the last 10 years by more than 50 per cent. What he wished to know was, whether this Canal Company were to be allowed to increase their works for ever to an unlimited extent, without being required to contribute their fair share towards the rating of the district through which it passed? An attempt to extend the existing exemptions in 1828 failed. He would give the House a statement in regard to the way in which Private Bill legislation was conducted many years ago by a statesman whose opinions would be received with respect and attention in every quarter of the House—namely, Lord Grey, who was then a Member of the House of Commons. Lord Grey said that in the earlier part of his Parliamentary life the manner in which Private Business was managed in the House of Commons was nothing short of a scandal. Whenever a Bill was promoted for the benefit of speculators, there was as energetic a Whip and as large an attendance of Members as if some great political question was about to be decided. Therefore, according to the testimony of Lord Grey, the fact that the sanction of the Legis- 26 lature had been given to a particular scheme in those days did not appear to be worth much, and there were strong reasons to believe that that legislation ought never to have been made at all. He, therefore, hoped the House would send the Bill to a Select Committee to decide what should be done in the matter.
§ SIR BERNHARD SAMUELSON (Oxfordshire, Banbury)
said, the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Basset-law Division of Nottinghamshire seemed to be of opinion that the question was not one that ought to be considered by a Select Committee upstairs, but ought to be settled by some general measure. In reply to the hon. Gentleman, he wished to point out that by an alteration made in the Standing Orders at his (Sir Bernhard Samuelson's) instance a few years ago it was distinctly laid down that whenever a Railway or Canal Company came to Parliament for further powers its existing powers might be reviewed. Before submitting that Standing Order to the acceptance of the House, Mr. Speaker Brand, as well as his counsel, the late Mr. Reilly, was consulted, and it was held that it was a fair and proper Standing Order to propose. The Standing Order was thereupon adopted, and it laid down that whenever a Railway or Canal Company came to that House for further powers, it should be within the competence of a Committee of the House to say whether the rates formed a fair question for revision. Whether the point now raised or any matter of detail in regard to this particular canal was a subject for revision or not was a separate question altogether; but there saw no objection whatever to the subject being fully inquired into by a Committee upstairs.
§ MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
said, he hoped the House would allow him to say a few words on the subject. He had been asked to do so, because he was Chairman of the Canal Association; and as legislation which affected one canal must indirectly have an influence upon another canal, he desired to express his opinion that those who proposed a reference to this special Committee had not laid before the House any reason why the procedure in that case should not follow the ordinary course. It had been competent for those who were now introducing the matter 27 to present a Petition against the Bill, so that they might be heard before the Select Committee, and stand or fall by the decision of that Committee. The course adopted by those who proposed the Motion appeared to him to be highly inconvenient. The question was raised at a late period of the Session, and if successful must be fatal to the Bill, because there would be scarcely any limit to the length of the inquiry which the Hybrid Committee was invited to make, and if the investigation was full and complete a large amount of time must be consumed. It was, therefore, not probable that the inquiry could be completed during the present Session in sufficient time to allow the Bill to pass. It had been the policy of Parliament for some years to encourage the extension of canals, and to do all that could be done to improve the water-ways of the country. He thought that those who took an interest in canals and in the improvement of British trade had reason to complain when canals such as the Aire and Calder, which endeavoured to give improved facilities, had an attack of this character made upon them. That Canal was not exempt from the payment of rates, except in a partial and limited way, and in regard to a considerable portion of it, was rated not on agricultural value only, but in accordance with the value of surrounding property, part of which was of a high character, and accordingly the Canal was rated upon a high scale. Reference had been made to the dividends which were obtained by the Company, and it was said that those dividends were too large. If they were large he did not see why the Company should be punished because they were rendering great service to the community. It was not true that the Canal was rated at a nominal figure. The rates paid in Goole last year amounted to £1,450, and the total rates paid by the Canal property were £3,600. Some comparison had been made between Grimsby and Goole with regard to the amount of rates; but surely there was a considerable difference in the value of the property in the two places. Goole, although a rising place, was not in the same scale of prosperity as Grimsby, and he asked why should this attempt on the part of the Canal Company to improve their property be made the means of taking away 28 from them the privileges which were given to them in former days? The Canal had been conducting its operations for nearly 100 years, and all that they asked now was that the House should allow the Bill to follow the ordinary course—namely, to permit an inquiry to be made of the ordinary character, and not to embark at that late period of the Session in the long inquiry which would, in all probability, be fatal to the passing of the Bill, and would be here-after a discouragement to great Canal Companies to make those improvements which it was desirable they should make in the interests of the public.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
said, he was not able to agree with his hon. Friend who had just sat down (Mr. F. S. Powell), nor did he think that the observations of his hon. Friend had any special application to the proposal now before the House. The House had been told what dividends this Canal Company had been paying; but they knew nothing of what the capital was upon which the dividends were paid. [Mr. W. BECKETT: £1,500,000.] He had now succeeded in extracting some little additional information; but even now the whole case was not fully covered. He wished to know whether that Parliament was to be governed by the policy of the Parliament of 1820? Another question was, whether the tenant farmers, who had been so long treated with injustice, were to continue under extraordinary burdens, in order that the burdens of this very wealthy Company might be lightened? It would appear that not only had large sums of money been paid in the shape of dividends, but that large additional works had been carried out. The Standing Order passed at the instance of the hon. Baronet the Member for the Banbury Division of Oxfordshire (Sir Bernhard Samuelson) provided that, whenever a Canal Company came to Parliament for new powers, an opportunity should be given to the House to review the position of that Company. In the case of this wealthy Company, considering the peculiar position in which it stood, he did not think the House ought to refuse an inquiry which might have the effect of removing a gross injustice.
§ MR. COWLEY LAMBERT (Islington, E.)
said, the hon. Member for the Bassetlaw Division of Nottinghamshire 29 (Mr. W. Beckett) complained that the House was asked to pursue a very inconvenient course. It might be an extremely inconvenient course for the hon. Member and others who were possibly connected with the Canal. Now, he (Mr. Cowley Lambert) had no connection with it whatever, but stood there as an outsider; and he was, therefore, disposed to treat the question as one of fairness and equity. The hon. Member said that it was introducing the thin end of the wedge; but he forgot that the Aire and Calder Navigation Company had been introducing the thin end of the wedge for some time. It was certainly unfair for a Canal Company to enlarge its locks and improve its private property as the Aire and Calder Company had been doing for many years past, and then to ask the House to legalize their operations under exceptional circumstances. They were now proposing to deepen the Canal by raising the banks for some miles from Goole, in a somewhat similar manner to the Manchester Ship Canal, so that large vessels might pass through; presently they would come to that House for power to widen a bridge, and at the same time to legalize the raising of the banks, which now they were doing without leave. It was said that the ratepayers ought to have represented their case in the House of Lords; but when the Bill was before the House of Lords the ratepayers had no more locus standi than they had now. Being a question of rating, and consequently a money question, the House of Lords had no power to deal with it. The hon. Member for the Bassetlaw Division had pointed to the fact that the Petition presented to the House of Lords against the Bill only obtained 42 signatures; but he forgot to state that the signatures included the seals of a number of Board of Guardians who represented a population of 350,000 persons. He did not think the House need be under any fear that the promoters would withdraw the Bill if it were referred to this Committee on the ground that the trade of the district would be damaged, because the traders were simply the Aire and Calder Navigation Company themselves.
§ THE CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Mr. COURTNEY) (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, the hon. and gallant Member for 30 Thirsk (Colonel Dawnay), in the observations he made a short time ago, quoted a passage from Lord Grey, in which that noble Lord expressed an opinion that the Private Bill legislation many years ago was in an unsatisfactory state. There might, perhaps, be said the same thing now; only, instead of the many suffering injustice for the few, the few might suffer for the many. In the absence of knowledge there was much the same risk as ever. Now, at all events, it was desirable that the House should know exactly what they were going to assent to if they adopted this Instruction. It was represented to be a case in which a wealthy Company was concerned; and, of course, where there was a wealthy Company on the one side, and a large body of ratepayers on the other, the interests of the multitude were more likely to be studied than those of the few. The question, however, was not so much between the tenant farmers of the country as between the landowners and the proprietors of the Canal. How was it that this contestarose? It arose in this way. In the year 1820 an Act of Parliament was passed authorizing the construction of this Canal, and in that Act it was provided that the land taken should be rated as agricultural land. That was the principle followed at that time as the general principle in respect of the rating of canals, and was no special provision provided for the benefit of this canal. On the contrary, it was common to all canals then and for some time afterwards, and was still the law in respect of a great many canals. They were not rated as they would be rated now, at their full value as railways were rated, but only upon the value of agricultural land. That was the principle in force in 1820, and the proposal now made in respect of this particular Canal was to refer to a Committee upstairs the question, as between the land proprietors and the Canal proprietors, whether that rule of rating should be altered or not. He was not going to lay down any abstract proposition upon the matter; but he must say that the argument of his hon. Friend the Member for the Banbury Division of Oxfordshire did not bear out what his hon. Friend asked the House to support. It was quite true that some years ago a Standing Order was adopted, 31 providing that whenever a Railway or a Canal Company came to that House for new powers it should be possible to examine previously authorized rates; but that meant the rates charged by the Railway or Canal Company for the business done, and the provision was that whenever new powers were sought of from Parliament in respect of a new undertaking, it should be possible to examine the rates levied in regard to their pressure upon the ocmmunity. In this case, it was not a question of re-examining the position of traffic rates as between the Canal Company and its customers, but a question of re-examining the position of poor rates between a Canal Company and its neighbouring landed properties. He would not say that that was a question which could not be considered; but he wished the House to understand what it was doing, and that it was doing something very different from what was authorized by his hon. Friend's Amendment of the Standing Order. It would not be an inquiry into the general question of the rates that were levied; but an inquiry into the propriety of an arrangement sanctioned by Parliament in 1820 which now affected the land-owners of the district adversely, as between them and the Canal Company. He thought it would have been much better to appoint a Committee specially for the purpose of reviewing this question of canal rating generally, rather than to seize the opportunity of a Canal Company coming to Parliament to force this revision of the principle of rating upon it. He thought the House should be warned as to the danger involved in such a proceeding, and he hoped that if it referred this Bill to the Committee proposed it would have some respect for the principles to which he had called attention.
§ MR. GILES (Southampton)
said, the Company obtained their exemption under an old Act passed in 1820, and he thought the present was just the very opportunity to seize for redressing a grievance. The Aire and Calder Company had had an immunity from taxation during the last 68 years, and he had no hesitation in saying that if such a clause as that which was inserted in the Act of 1820 was attempted to be passed now it would be ignominiously 32 rejected. The law as laid down in the Act of Elizabeth was that rates should be paid on the full annual value of the property let from year to year. He need only ask what would be the value of the Aire and Calder Canal if it were to be let at that moment? A pretty good indication of its value was to be found in the admission that a portion of it which did not come under the Act of 1820 was rated at £1,500 a-mile. He might point out that even hospitals and the property of scientific societies were subjected to rating; and as the law was enforced in in the case of everyone else, he did not see why Parliament should not interfere with the unjust exemption claimed by the Aire and Calder Canal Company.
§ MR. WADDY (Lincolnshire, Brigg)
said, that this Canal passed through a division not far from that which he had the honour to represent. He, therefore, could not help saying that the Chairman of Committees had put the matter upon an entirely false basis. Nobody proposed for a single moment to mulct this Canal Company. The fact was that for a long time indeed the Company had practically been mulcting the ratepayers. Whereas it was admitted that a certain principle of rating which was now used all over the Kingdom was a sound and proper mode of rating, this Company, and this Company alone, had succeeded in escaping from it for a very considerable period. What amount of work it had piled up in the meantime it was not necessary to inquire into; but all they said was that as the Company were now coming to Parliament for full powers to be conferred upon them by new legislation they should be proposed to go before a Select Committee in order that their exceptional privileges might be dealt with, and that their property might be subjected to the ordinary and just rule of rating which was applied to the property of everybody else. If the Bill were referred to a Special Committee an opportunity would be afforded of ascertaining what was the proper amount at which the Canal ought to be rated. There was no proposal to mulct the Company, but simply to see that the necessities of the unfortunate ratepayers were no longer neglected.
§ Question put, and agreed to.