§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
Before I proceed with my argument in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill, I should like to say how unworthy I feel to occupy this position in the presence of hon. Members who have taken up the question for years past, and how I feel my inability to do it justice. It is identically the same Bill as the measure which has been introduced on three occasions, in 1887 by the hon. Baronet the Member for Oxfordshire (Sir B. Samuelson), in 1888 by the hon. Baronet the Member for Manchester (Sir W. Houldsworth), and in 1889 by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Tomlinson). I think I may say that I speak for the textile manufacturers at all events, and for manufacturers generally throughout England. The Chambers of Commerce have unanimously petitioned the House in favour of the measure, and Resolutions in its favour have also been passed at the Trades Union Congress. I believe I shall be able to show the House that it is a Bill which affects not merely the employers of labour, but the industrial classes throughout the country generally. The grievance complained of is that gradually—owing to successive legal decisions—the interpretation of the Rating Law has been considerably altered, with the result that one by one owners and users of machinery have been attacked all over the country by the Rating Authorities, until in self-defence they feel themselves obliged to appeal to Parliament for redress. In Scotland the same attack has been made, but effectually resisted, and no machinery in Scotland has ever been rated, or is now attempted to be rated. I think, therefore, that I shall have the solid support on this occasion 606 of the Scotch Members in passing this Declaratory Bill, which only proposes to leave the law in England precisely on all fours with what it is at present, and has always been, in Scotland. I might rest our demand solely upon the Report of the Committee of this House which sat in 1887, but I am afraid that it is my duty to go a little more into detail. I am quite aware that the leading lawyers have been arguing the question before the Courts for many years, but I would ask the House not to attach too much weight to the views they have taken in regard to the interpretation of the law, but rather, as the House of Commons is above all the Courts, to put the law on such a footing that in future the Judges will be able to interpret it in accordance with the common sense of the community. First of all, let me ask what is the Rating Law under which local rates are levied in this country? They are levied under the 43rd Elizabeth, c. 2, which directs the overseers "to collect rates from land, houses, and coal mines." That is one reason why it is proposed coal mines should be exempted from the operation of the present Bill, namely, that they are the one industry specially included in the first Act dealing with the question. Other Acts were, 13 and 14 Charles II., c. 12, "An Act for the Better relief of the Poor," the 6th and 7th William IV., c. 96, known as the Parochial Assessment Act, and by which "rent" was made the test of rateable value. Since then we have had a Declaratory Act, 3 & 4 Victoria, c. 89, renewed annually since 1840, by which—Overseers have been prohibited from taxing any inhabitants of the township or parish in respect of any profits arising from stock-in-trade or other property.This Declaratory Act states in the Preamble that it is an Act to exempt from liability to be rated, to the relief of the poor, stock-in-trade and other property, and it further instructs the OverseersThat it shall not be lawful for them to rate people upon such stock-in-trade and profits in future.This is the Rating Law—and upon that Rating Law the rating has been conducted since 1840, and the owners of machinery have till recent years been able to watch 607 with comparative indifference attempts made to widen the area of rating. It was not until recent years that any encouragement was given to Bating Authorities to rate the machinery and appliances of ordinary manufactures. This brings me to the story of the decisions of the Courts. The first and second cases quoted before the Committee were, prior to the Act of 1840, passed in consequence of these and similar attempts to rate personalty. It was in 1769 a question of rating a room containing cotton machinery driven by a small water wheel, the whole premises being rented for 36 guineas a year, came before the Courts, when the Judges ruled that there was attachment to the hereditament, and the whole, being one entire rent, was rateable. The second case occurred in 1836—in re Guest—in regard to iron machinery used in iron works, when the decision was,—That all real property must he rated according to its actual value, combined with the machinery attached to it.Four years later the declaratory Act, 3 & 4 Victoria, was passed. In 1849, in the case of the Southampton Dock Company, Lord Campbell based his decision entirely upon the question of attachment.This is a rate upon the buildings to which these machines are attached," &c.In the case of the Worth Staffordshire Railway in 1860, a step appears to have been taken in the direction of straining the law a little further, and it was decided that certain things should be regarded as irremovable—articles attached to the freehold were clearly rateable—and such things as turntables and weighing-machines standing on foundations specially built for them. The decision in this case was—Where things, though capable of being removed, are yet so far attached that they were intended to remain permanently connected with the purposes of the undertaking,should be taken to be things liable to increase the rateable value of the property. So far it will be seen that attachment was the point which governed all these rulings. The hon. and learned Member for Staffordshire (Mr. S. Hill), in his evidence before the Select Committee, admitted that up to 1860 attachment was the test; and that 608 in the case of "Walmsley v. Milne," hay-cutters, corn-cutters, and grindstones, the two first were held to be rateable, but the latter was not. After that year (said the hon. Member) a series of cases arose connected with different articles—as, for instance, the looms of a mill, which were discussed in a technical way, and] Baron Parke held, in "Halle-well v. Eastwood,"that—Before machines became attached they were mere chattels.That is the principle of the present Bill. From 1849 to 1886 the question of attachment was looked upon as the ratio of rateable value, and then the Courts (said the hon. and learned Member for Staffordshire) began to return to less technical rules. I altogether disagree with the hon. Gentleman, and my contention is that by all these earlier decisions it is only anything that is part of the mill and attached to it that could be rated; and in a case heard in 1866 before Lord Chief Justice Cock-burn, Mr. Justice Lush, and Mr. Justice Blackburn, it was laid downThat whenever a thing became so far a part of the premises that it would pass by demise, it was capable of being rated.In this case of a gas works, the retorts, steam engines, and gas purifiers were instanced,Because, without them, the premises would be worthless for the purposes for which they were erected.I come now to 1878, when it was that the first decision was given which seriously alarmed manufacturers. Up to the shipbuilding case "Lang v. Bishop Wearmouth," and the case of the Tyne Boiler Company, there had been no such attempt to attach the tools and the machines of manufacturers; and it was in the Bishop Wearmouth case that Lord Cockburn for the first time introduced a new principle. He said that certain machinery was essentially necessary for shipbuilding premises, and must be taken as intended to remain permanently attached to them asLong as the premises were applied to shipbuilding purposes.These were new and most dangerous words. No one would dream of the retorts and purifiers of a gas works changing hands with the premises— 609 the retorts and purifiers are the gas works, but it is quite different in the case of shipbuilding works. In the latter case all the personalty might be sold off, and the yard and sheds let to another tenant, who might introduce entirely different machinery of a more modern character, or more suitable to the tenant's means and trade. In 1885 the decision in the Tyne Boiler case was given, and it has been productive of infinite trouble and annoyance to manufacturers generally, as well as having been a great source of profit to the legal profession. The words of the Judges in the case differ slightly, but none of them vary very much. The Master of the Rolls, Lord Esher, whose judgment has been so often quoted, held that things which were on the premises were liable to be rated when they were there for the purpose of making, and did make, the premises fit to carry on a particular trade. If this be so, what becomes of our old friends annexation, attachment, or adaptability? All these requirements are gone, and the pure naked thing remains that, wherever machinery is on premises, and makes the premises fit for the purposes for which they are being used, it is liable to be rated If this principle holds good, why not rate the books in a barrister's chambers because they are on promises for the purpose of being used for the business of a barrister. The hon. Member for Staffordshire demurred to that view, because ho said that the business of a barrister could be carried on anywhere; but I should like to know, if he took his books to chambers in White chapel, how many clients would follow him? There is not a single trade or profession —even a bootmaker's or a barber's shop —which this decision of Lord Esher would not sweep into the rating net! The declaratory Act of 1840 says that no personalty shall be rated, and no one will doubt that machinery is personalty. Certainly the manufacturers object to have their personalty rated unless you are going to rate personalty everywhere. Lord Justice Lindley, one of the Judges who tried the Tyne Boiler case, gave a Judgment less sweeping than that of Lord Esher, and his remarks show that there was some difference of opinion upon the point. He said— 610That nothing was included in the nature of machinery which would be mere loose machinery and which would not pass to a tenant to whom the works were demised.That is the same point we lay down in this Bill, but the Judgment quoted is always that of Lord Esher and not of Lord Justice Lindley. Our Bill leaves it perfectly clear that everything in the mill, for the purpose of making it a mill, as distinguished from a warehouse, is rateable; but that everything put in by the tenant or occupier for the purpose of carrying on a particular trade is not rateable. In his evidence before the Select Committee the hon. Member for Staffordshire said —He did not apprehend from the decision in the Tyne Boiler case that any movable machinery could be rated;but Mr. Myers, of Preston (Questions 575 to 578), and Mr. Marshall (726), two experienced valuers for rating purposes, took an entirely different view, holding that under the Tyne Boiler decision all machinery could be rated. Mr. Marshall added (730) that to act upon this decision would "more than double" the rating of mills. The hon. Member for Stafford shire, before the Select Committee, said—That it was necessary to look to the mode in which machinery was annexed."(Question 67.)If the machines were not annexed, and were without a special foundation, then they were merely chattels and were not rateable. But that is the principle of our Bill. The hon. Member went on to say that if machines were there for the carrying on of the works, they must be regarded as part of the realty, and as such were liable to be rated. Of course all machinery, all appliances, and all tools would be on premises for the carrying on of the works, for what other purpose could it be there? The hon. Member was asked whether, apart altogether from the question, whether the machinery was attached to the building it would not be rateable simply because it formed part of the essential means of carrying on a particular business, and his answer was—I think not; the machinery must be connected with the building, and specially adapted to the business carried on in it.611 In question 113, he was asked—I think we may take it to be your opinion that there should be some adaptation of the premises as an essential element in the matter?And the answer was, "Certainly." He went on to say—Both conditions are necessary and must co-exist.In reply to the hon. Baronet the Member for Manchester, he said (I refer to Questions 75, 76, and 77)The new spinning mules were put in the mill for the purpose of the works being carried on in the way they were being carried on;and yet he declares, in Answer 79, that they should not be rateable! The opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman at that time was that the two conditions I have referred to should be co-existent, and in reply to 296 he declares that one without the other is not enough. And if I can show him—as I can—that one of those two conditions has been entirely dropped, in a subsequent case, I claim the fulfilment of the promise he made before the Committee, namely, that if the Hating Authorities did act in that manner, he would re-consider his judgment as to the necessity of the Declaratory Act. I have alluded to annexation and adaptability of the premises to the machinery and the machinery to the premises. This has all been dropped, legal hair-splitting having brushed it all away. What I desire to bring out is the uncertainty of the law as it at present stands. How can business men make their arrangements with the law in this uncertain state? If at this moment I had to erect a mill giving employment to 500 or 600 hands, I should assuredly think twice or thrice before doing so in England. I should consider whether it would not be advisable to cross the border. The law in Scotland is clear and understandable. No machinery is rated there; and after the decision of Lord Eraser, I think no attempt will be made to rate it. Well, is such a state of things good for the English operatives or manufacturers? Across the Channel, in countries under the Code Napoleon, premises used for industrial purposes are specially exempted from rating. The Bill does not propose this; it would be most unfair to do so; but what I want 612 to point out is, that those great industries on which the well-being of the working classes of this country so much depend are far better circumstanced in Scotland and on the Continent than in England. I cannot help thinking that I have said enough, as regards the legal decisions, to show that the state of the law is irregular and uncertain, and requires alteration. I point out, further, as proving this irregularity in practice, that lace-making machinery is not rated at Nottingham, whilst it is rated at Chard, and that machinery is rated at Sheffield, Hudders-field, and Sunderland, which is entirely exempted at Kidderminster and three-fourths of Manchester. Before the Select Committee Mr. Dalgleish described the system of rating practised, and my own experience bears out his testimony. Machinery is not rated at anything like its value, but a compromise is effected. A rate is decided upon by the Rating-Authority, and the manufacturer is threatened that if he does not pay, legal proceedings will be instituted. He pays his £300 or £400 extra rating rather fight, and the Assessment Committee is satisfied. Sometimes, if he is a strong man, he refuses to pay, and threatens in his turn to fight a battle in the Law Courts, and then he is often left alone. But, in the case of the small manufacturer, usually when he is threatened with an action he pays without further resistance. This witness says—The appeals have been very few. There have been hundreds and hundreds of eases of appeal to the Assessment Committee, but those have only been friendly arrangements," &c.Evidence was given before the Committee showing that machinery is often valued at such a low sum as will not justify the manufacturer in going to the cost and risk of an appeal. The Birmingham people are a law unto themselves. The Birmingham system is not to rate movable machinery, but to rate everything, fixed and movable, at 50s. per horse-power. That is a very rough-and-ready way of arriving at a result, but it is exceedingly unequal in its operation. A witness from Birmingham was asked before the Committee whether the machinery was rated on the nominal or the real horse-power, and he replied that the rating was on the nominal power, and that, as everyone knows, is, in modern 613 engines, very different to the real horsepower, which may be double or more. The witness was asked why the Birmingham people started the idea of 50s. per horse-power, and he said it was on a Judgment of Lord Denman's in 1837. Their system really means that one manufacturer might have expensive delicate lace or jewellery machinery, and another manufacturer a brick-making machine, the former representing a value of £20,000, and the latter a value of £200, and yet both be rated on the horse-power ! I come now to the latest case of all—the Chard case—being tried in the Appeal Court this day. In that case the Rating Authorities were represented by Mr. Balfour Browne, Q.C., who is well-known to many Members of this House. It was a particularly hard case. I have already said that Nottingham lace machinery is not rated at Nottingham. The people in this case had moved down into a country district from Nottingham. Everyone will agree that it is a great blessing for a country district to have employment for the women and children, and that the taking of a disused mill confers enormous benefit by giving the women and young people a, chance of obtaining employment, and thus diminishing the general sum of pauperism. Mr. Castle was called in, and valued the building at £1,300, the fixed machinery at £1,500, and the lace machinery at £23,220, so that if the rating had been conducted in accordance with that valuation, the mill would have been rated at five times the value of the hereditament, or at £29,000 instead of £5,800. Mr. Balfour Browne, in opening the case, said the question was not whether the machinery was rateable, because clearly it was not, but whether the machinery should be taken into account in fixing the value of the buildings and manufactory. He argued that the factory was no good for the purpose intended without the machinery. Why did he not go a step further and say it was no good without the material? I do not see where the line is to be drawn. The Chairman of Quarter Sessions was afraid he smelt a rat with regard to agricultural machinery. It occurred to him that if lace machines were necessary for carrying on a lace factory, ploughs and harrows were neces- 614 sary for agricultural operations. He, therefore, asked whether the value of a farm-shed would be enhanced if ploughs and harrows were put in it. Mr. Balfour Browne replied No, because the shed was only for the purpose of holding something used on the farm, "whilst the lace factory would be bought and sold as a lace factory with all the machinery in it." That is not correct. Nine-tenths of the textile factories of England are, without any structural alterations whatever, just as well fitted to manufacture silk as cotton, cotton as wool, and wool as hemp. Mr. Castle, in cross-examination, explaining how he had valued the mill, made a very singular slip. He said this was the first case of any importance he had taken since the Tyne Boiler case, but in recent times he had included similar machinery in his valuation, "unless stopped by the Assessment Committee." That is what I believe is the fact, that Assessment Committees, in the great majority of cases throughout the country, have refused to allow that to be done. As to the general practice being in conformity with our Bill, the evidence was overwhelming. Mr. Thomas Leng, the Controller of Bating in Lancashire districts, stated so. (201, 212, 274, 275.) Mr. Myles Preston distinctly said so (360 to 366, 372, 373), and so did Mr. Marshall (685–6, &c.) In fact, the evidence on the point was almost unanimous. As to the enormous increase of assessment which would ensue if the Tyne boiler case were carried out logically the evidence again was clear. One witness says (Q. 220) it would drive certain trades out of the country altogether, and that it would raise the assessment of cotton mills by 125 per cent., so that a cotton mill now rated at £3,000 would be rated at £7,500. Mr. Marshall says"(729, 730) it would more than double the rating;" and Mr. Long, Mr. Myers, and Mr. Marshall all agreed that they would have to alter their system of rating altogther if the Tyne Boiler decision was to be carried out. Mr. Marshall (631 to 936), and Mr. Myers (634, 635), admitted that, in logical sequence, agricultural implements would have to be rated. Now, Sir, manufacturers demand nothing' but justice. They demand that the law shall be as it always has been here, and as it is in Scotland. But they tell you, frankly, 615 that if you are going to rate chattels they will insist on the same principle being applied to every bit of personalty throughout the country Then, Sir, I come to that glorious Scotch decision. It sweeps away all the flimsy pretences under which manufacturers' tools and implements have been rated in this country. The caseisthat of the North-British Railway Company, and Lord Eraser delivered a most righteous judgment, in which he knocked on the head the contention that the precedent set in the English cases was good law and should be followed, and said that the only machinery that could be taken into account was that which was so fixed that it could not be detached without destruction to itself and injury and destruction to the building. I have shown the House that the first principle of the Rating Acts is to avoid taxing personalty. The personalty of the trader, what is it but the implements of his trade, his tools, and his machines. If you tax them you will have to tax all personalty alike. You will also have to withdraw the millions you now give as contributions from the Imperial Exchequer in aid of local taxation, because those aids are given as the contribution from personalty, and because of local taxation being levied on realty. You will also destroy the last argument so often used (rightly or wrongly) in defence of the differential Death Duties. Now, what is the opposition to this Bill? We are opposed, of course, by overseers, who naturally want to make the net as wide as they can, and to screw up the assessments where they can. There are some landowners, no doubt, and some Railway Directors, but not all, as the hon. Member for Stirlingshire (Mr. J. Bolton) has written to me expressing regret that he cannot come to support the Bill this afternoon. There may be among our opponents some lawyers who think it a good thing to leave the law in its present unsettled state, so as to cause a plentiful crop of litigation. I do not think the House will take the same view. Then we have the usual counsels of procrastination. There is, on the Notice Paper, a Motion by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Heneage), which is nothing but a Motion of procrastination. But this is too serious a matter for delay. The traders of the country refuse to wait. Wo shall be 616 happy to entertain any suggestions for amendment. We hope the Government will not oppose us, and we will gladly accept from them any Amendments which do not affect the principle of the Bill; but procrastinate we will not. If you wish for a new system of taxation let wealth be taxed, and not industry. Tax the honey when the bees have made it—but do not stop the making of the honey by taxing the bees. Tax the golden egg when it is laid, if you like, but do not kill the goose that lays it. I appeal to the House to pass the Bill. The traders of this country look with the greatest interest to what the House will do in this matter; for my own part, though a manufacturer, I would not have taken part in forwarding this legislation if I did not believe that the interests of labour were more bound up in it than even those of the manufacturers. Any extra, tax on industry must rebound on the wages of the employed. It is true that the division of profits, as between capital and labour, are often unfair. But that is not the question here. The question is whether, if you handicap the earnings of manufacturers, you will not diminish the earnings of all classes engaged. Any tax on industry, I repeat, must re-act on wages. You cannot leave industry too free, and I appeal to the House to remove this special taxation from the manufacturing-interests of the country, and to give fair play at a time when many of them are subject to severe competition. I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Winterbotham.)
§ *(1.35.) SIR W. HOULDSWORTH (Manchester, N.W.)
I am quite sure the House must recognise the very great ability and clearness with which the arguments in support of this Bill have been stated by my hon. Friend who has just sat down, and I should not have intervened in the debate except for two reasons. In the first place, I was a member of the Committee which considered, a few years ago, what was practically the same Bill as the one now before the House; and in the second place, the Bill refers to a subject and to circumstances which are of vital import- 617 ance and interest to the great industries of this country, especially those in the North of England. I will endeavour to summarise, in as short a manner as I can, the main arguments why legislation seems to be necessary, and will say at once that this Bill is an honest attempt, after very careful consideration, to provide a remedy for what we think is a grievance. At the same time, I am quite sure that the majority, if not all of those who support the Bill, and who have framed and considered it, are perfectly prepared to consider any suggestions or Amendments which may be made consistent with the principles which form the basis of the measure. I admit it is a most complicated and difficult question, and I doubt whether any Bill could be framed which would cover the whole of the question of rating. Therefore, it is quite possible that whatever Act is passed by this House there will be certain exceptions to be made. Already there are exceptions in the general law of rating, as, for instance, in the case of gas and water works and other industries, and so there may have to be other exceptions. The three reasons which influenced those who have supported the Bill are these: In the first place, the uncertainty of the law with regard to rating; secondly, the gross inequalities which exist throughout the country in the administration of this law—inequalities due very much, no doubt, to the uncertainty of the law—and, in the third place, the gradual, and, I think I may say, insidious extensions which have been made of recent years to the law as it stands, based upon judicial decisions. Whether these decisions support the extensions or not may be an open question, but at any rate they have been made, and the time has arrived when some effort must be made to put this question on a clear and equal footing. The evidence before the Committee fully proved the uncertainty of the law. We had before us a considerable number of experts, who are supposed to have studied what the law is, and yet it will be found by anyone who takes the trouble to read the evidence, that no two of the witnesses agreed as to what the principle of the law was. I will only give three specimens of these differences of opinion. 618 In the first place, we had placed before us the judicial decision in the Bishop Wearmouth case. The form of that decision was this:—That in estimating the ratable value of premises used as a manufactory, machinery and plant placed therein for the purpose of making them lit as premises for such machinery are to he taken into account as enhancing the value of the heraditaments, although they are not physically attached to the premises.Whatever that judgment really means in the estimation of Bating Authorities, it means that all machinery, of whatever character, whether it be small or large, must be rated, and we know that certain Rating Authorities have taken that as their text, and acted thereon. Then we come to the valuable opinion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Staffordshire (Mr. Staveley Hill). He did not back up this view of the law. He took another principle, namely, that there must be adaptation in the premises in which the machine stands, or some connection with them and the machine, before that machine can be rated. But he went so far as to say that, even if an ordinary floor be altered from wood to concrete for the purpose of a single machine, a machine, which otherwise would not be rated, then became rateable, although not attached in any way, and still movable. I do not think this is a principle which can be supported by common-sense, even though it may be supported by law. In many cases within my own knowledge it is quite common in fireproof factories to put a wooden floor in order that the spinning mules—which he distinctly said in his evidence were not rateable—may be attached to that floor. In that case we should have not an adaptation of the building such as I think the hon. and learned Gentleman had in his mind, yet one which on his principle would render these mules liable to be rated. Then they had a third definition of the law given to the Committee, principally by Mr. Edmunds, the London and North-We stern rating agent He adopted a very simple principle. He did not go into the question of whether or not a building was adapted to the machinery, but said that if a machine was not driven by any motive power it was not rateable, but if it was so driven 619 that moment it became rateable. That is another interpretation of the law which is put before the Rating Authorities, who have therefore to grope about amongst these various interpretations. One of the most important reasons for some action on the part of the House is this absolute uncertainty of the law. The hon. and learned. Member for Staffordshire tried to convince the Committee that there had not been any change in the law, and that it was perfectly well understood; but while he may theoretically make out his case, practically, when we have to deal with the thousand and one circumstances in which the industries of the country are placed, we shall find there is not any satisfactory rule for the Rating Authorities to go by, and that they are bewildered by the many judicial and other decisions which have been given. The consequence is that there is an enormous inequality throughout the country in the mode in which these assessments are made. The case of Scotland has been alluded to by my hon. Friend opposite, and I would just emphasise the statement that in Scotland there is no uncertainty whatever with regard to the law. It was certain even before the judgment of Lord Eraser. There is no difficulty, because they deal with this question solely with reference to what is or is not heritable. The learned Judge said the law of Scotland was that the lands and heritages to be assessed included all machinery fixed or attached to them; but that it must be fixed in such a manner that it could not be detached from the building without destruction to itself or injury or destruction to the building. That is a principle with which the Bill is thoroughly in harmony, although it may appear to be a slight extension. There may be heavy machines in addition to engine boilers and shafting, which if removed might destroy or disturb the buildings, and in such cases my own impression is that it would be perfectly fair to rate them. If words could be devised in Committee on this Bill which would give that additional extension I, for one, would be very glad to accept them. But I believe that the cases to which it would apply would be very few indeed throughout the country. I have found amongst my notes a quotation which I 620 have not verified from the Irish Act 23 Vic., c. 43—In making the valuation of any mill or manufactory or building erected or used for any such purpose the Commissioner of Valuation shall in each case value the water or other motive power thereof, but shall not take into account the value of any machinery therein, save only such as shall be erected or used for the production of motive power.That is precisely the Bill before the House. We have therefore a clear law in Scotland and Ireland. What we want is that England also should have a clear law and more equality in the mode of making assessments throughout the country. At present the law is strained, and decisions have been given which the Rating Authorities are bound to use. We want the extensions of the law by these decisions to be stopped. I know that it is said that Lord Esher's decision does not go as far as some of the Rating Authorities contend; but it is quite evident that it means one of two things. Either it means structural fitness, in which case heavy machines on a concrete floor will not be rateable, or it means that all machines that are necessary for the trade which is being carried on will be rated. If the latter is the law then I think it is obvious it must go very much further and include the furniture of furnished houses as well as the machinery of certain industries, because the question really is this—are premises to be treated and rated as furnished or unfurnished? If Lord Esher's decision is taken in the larger sense we are treating manufactories as furnished buildings. There is no doubt that a very great change has taken place owing to this decision, and therefore it is not too early for us to call upon the House to put a stop to the great inequalities which will take place if it is acted upon. In the case of Manchester the Rating Authorities have refused to change their system or to adopt the recent decisions; but the Chorlton Union, which is really a part of Manchester, have felt bound—and nobody can blame them—to adopt those decisions. There are, therefore, two Rating Authorities in one place acting on diametrically opposite principles, and competitors in the same industries are treated on principles entirely different. This is not merely the question of a few pounds. It means 621 a difference of twice or thrice the amount, and, as in the Chard case, even five times the amount of the assessment. These unequal burdens on competitors are manifestly unfair. Very strong evidence was given by all the Rating Authorities that they entirely disapprove these new decisions, and they have delayed putting them into operation. But that cannot go on very much longer. They are bound to the whole of the ratepayers to follow the declared law, and the Select Committee was told that they are only waiting to see what is the fate of this Bill before deciding how they will act. If this Bill is thrown out then there is no doubt these Authorities will take immediate action, and there will be a complete revolution in the system of rating throughout the country. There will probably be an immense amount of litigation unless settlements are made, simply by deciding upon a money value which those who are assessed will accept. This will not be a settlement upon principle; and a more unsatisfactory mode cannot be found than that of negotiations of this character between occupiers and the Assessing Authorities. I trust, therefore, that the Government will accept the Second Reading of the Bill. On every ground they ought to do so. I think they will clearly see the urgent call for legislation. The promoters of the Bill are not so absolutely enamoured of their own work that they believe no improvement can be made. I would be glad if, after the Second Reading, a sufficient time were given before going into Committee, so that the Amendments might be carefully considered. I am sorry the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) is unable to be present; because as far back as June, 1878, the right hon. Gentleman, who was not then a Member of the Government, called attention to this subject, and he used these words —There was no doubt that machinery not attached to the freehold was subject to rating in some places and not in others, whilst by a recent decision of the High Court of Justice (the Bishop Wearmouth case) all machinery, even though it be not taxed, was liable to be rated. By the law a man would be liable to be assessed not on rent alone, but on the valuation of all his machinery.In reply to Mr, Ritchie, Mr. Sclater 622 Booth, then President of the Local Government Board, said the question of rating was not germane to the Bill then before the House, but he would be very glad to settle the question of the rating of machinery, as well as of coal mines and of schools, and such questions should find their place in a new Rating Bill, which he should not be reluctant to introduce if he found it possible. So there was a promise from a Conservative Government in 1878 that they would look into the matter and deal with it. We have waited for 12 years, the grievance is getting worse, and cases of complaint are arising throughout the whole country. I do trust the Government will give their support and sympathy to this attempt at legislation. I do not believe, after the inquiry made by the Committee, and the consideration they gave to the Bill, that it would be possible for a Government Bill to depart very far from the lines of the measure now before us, though I do not say that it may not be improved by Amendments. I commend the Bill to the consideration of the House, and urge the House to consider it as an attempt to deal with a serious grievance, which ought to find a remedy in legislation.
§ *(2.20.) MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
I rise to move the Amendment which stands in my name, and I have to thank the hon. Member for South Birmingham (Mr. Williams) for allowing me precedence on this occasion, and for his promise to second my Motion. I should not have taken any part in this debate if it had not been for the statement, widely spread, that this Bill has in its support the authority of the Select Committee of 1887. I demur very strongly to that statement. It is quite true, as I will show, that the Bill of 1887, introduced by the hon. Baronet the Member for Banbury (Sir Bernhard Samuelson), was amended by that Committee, but it was not until quite the end of the proceedings of the Committee, and after they had passed Resolutions not in consonance with the Amendments to the Bill. I quite agree with the hon. Member for the Cirencester Division (Mr. Winterbotham) it is most desirable that this question, and many other questions connected with assessment and rating, should be dealt with, but 623 what I object to is this question in connection with machinery being taken apart, while other questions are left untouched. We have been told of a promise of a Rating Bill made 12 years ago, and after this long period the promise remains unfulfilled, but if this Bill passes this Session, it will tend still further to defer the fulfilment of that promise. I object to losing the leverage that this question of the rating of machinery gives us. I have always considered—I am not going into the subject now—that the real solution of the whole rating question was that a revised property and income tax assessment should be taken as the basis of all rates, and I believe it will eventually come to that. But I do object to dealing with the question in this fragmentary manner. This Bill has the support of the hon. Member for Cirencester, but it is a curious fact that he is the only Member out of the six who 'back it who was not a Member of that Committee. I am quite ready to admit, with him, that the whole question of rating is unsatisfactory, but that was exactly the point that was taken up by the Committee in 1887, when they, having heard all the witnesses, sitting for nearly two months, and having adjourned for over six weeks to consider their Report, came to an unanimous decision to pass three Resolutions, the first of which, generally stated, was to the effect that the state of the law was unsatisfactory, and especially with regard to the rating of machinery; and then they went on to declare, in the words of my Amendment, that they believed the Bill afforded a basis for an equitable system of assessment in cases of industries depending mainly upon fixed motive power; and then the Committee expressed the opinion that the difficulties of defining a satisfactory principle of valuation for the purpose of assessment generally were so great as to render it desirable that the matter should be dealt with as part of a comprehensive scheme of local taxation. Now, that was the opinion of the Select Committee, and it was not until a fortnight after, and that when but a few Members were present, all more or less interested in the Bill under discussion, and by a majority of two, they decided, instead of reporting 624 the Bill without Amendments, that they would take up the Bill and amend it. It was amended, and sent down to the House, more or less, in its present shape. I, therefore, say the Bill has no authority from that Select Committee whatsoever, and that is only the expression of the opinion of a minority of the majority, for only six voted for the Bill in its amended shape out of a Committee of 13. I believe if it had been understood in June that this measure was to have been dealt with in Committee, it would have come down here in a very different shape. But we— many of us—believed that the Resolutions passed were passed in absolute good faith; and that the Committee were convinced, not so much on the distinct legal decisions given from time to time, as that there would be the greatest difficulty in dealing with this question alone, apart from the general question of rating. This Bill must stand upon its own merits and not on the authority of that Committee. The whole system of rating is an anomaly, and the method of valuation differs in districts in the same county, and why, I ask, should machinery alone be dealt with? We are told that overseers are only waiting for guidance in regard to machinery; but they are waiting for guidance just as much upon other subjects besides machinery. We are told the Bill is, more or less, identical with the Bill of 1887, and that was founded on the fear of increased assessments arising out of the decision on the Tyne Boiler Works case, confirmed by the Queen's Bench. We have also had the Chard case quoted, and the opinion of Mr. Balfour Browne. I prefer to take the opinion of the Master of the Rolls, and the other learned Judges. The Master of the Rolls distinctly repudiated the idea that at any time there was a right to limit the machinery rateable to either "fixed," "attached," or "annexed." He said—Things which are on the premises, all which are there for the purpose of making and make them (i.e. the premises) fit as premis for the particular purpose for which they are used, ought to be taken into account.We have been told that the other learned Judge (Lord Justice Lindley) did not go so far as the Master of the Rolls, but we heard nothing at all 625 about Lord Justice Lopes. He concurred in the decision and declared it was founded on "good sense" and "good law." We are fortunate, I think, in having good sense and good law going hand in hand in this matter. There is one point upon which this Bill differs from the Bill of 1887, and that is in the preamble. The preamble in the Bill of 1887—I am speaking from recollection, I have not the Bill before me—referred most distinctly to the Statute of Queen Elizabeth for the relief of the poor, by which all property locally situated and producing profit was made rateable in each parish, and, therefore, it was admitted that machinery ought to be taxed on the same principle as land, coal mines, and other property, under that Act. At that time, it should be remembered, agriculture bore the whole burden of local taxation, for it was the only industry of the country, but as soon as coal mining became a great industry, mines were taxed. In 1769, on a decision in "King v. Hogg," a house and machine rented together were adjudged to be rated together. In 1836 ironworks and machinery were adjudged to be rated to their actual value by a decision in the case "King v. Guest." Again, in 1848 in the case "Queen v. Southampton," machinery, though movable, was adjudged to be rateable if so far attached as to be appendages essential to its working, and increasing the value of the premises. These are examples of legal decisions based on the Statute of Elizabeth, that property should pay according to its ability. There was another case decided in 1866,"Queen v. Lee, "in which gasworks were concerned, and the rate-ability of machinery which would pass to a new tenant, and was necessary for the production of gas, was declared to be judged, not by the degree of annexation, but whether it was part of the premises. I think it will be found, also, that in the case of a shipyard," Lavy v. Weirmouth,"1878, a steam hammer and certain tools were held to be rateable on the same principle as in the decision of "Queen v. Lee." What was the decision of Justice Lush in the case "Queen v. Lee?" In "Reg. v, Lee" Mr. Justice Lush said—I apprehend that the premises to he rated are to be taken as they are, with all their 626 fittings and appliances, by which the owner has adapted them to a particular use, and which would pass as part of the premises by a demise of them to a tenant.Chief Justice Cockburn concurred that the machinery should be essential to the adaptation of the premises to a particular use. Therefore, I venture to say that in all these judgments the question raised has been whether there was any machinery which brought in profit to its owner, and where it was adapted for the particular business of that owner it has always been held that it was liable to be rated. I recollect the hon. Member for the Kingswinford Division of Staffordshire stating before the Select Committee that, in his opinion, the law was not altered in any way by these decisions. I think he went somewhat further, and said the Bill would not restrict the amount of machinery at present rate-ably assessed. It is my opinion, however, that the Bill will restrict the machinery which is, and has been for a long time, assessed to the rates, and unless this is its purpose I cannot understand why it has been introduced. As the law now stands, I hold that the dicta of the Judges has been perfectly consistent, and I am bound to say that if, instead of taking certain answers given in evidence by the valuers before the Committee, the whole tenour of their remarks is considered, you will find that they are more or less in agreement with the decisions of the Judges. The evidence of Mr. Myers has been alluded to; but the sum tot d of it all is that when he valued a general principle was laid down in regard to machinery that, whether it was attached or not, if it was specially adapted for the business it was liable to rating. The question of standing for the machinery forms a vital part of the Bill. The word you have to watch in it is "fixed," or, as a witness before the Committee put it, "bolted down." The Committee were informed that a great quantity of most valuable machinery is not bolted down or fixed at all, but it stands by its own weight on specially prepared beds. We have been told that the present law leads to much litigation, but this Bill, if passed, will lead to a great deal more, for it will raise many fresh difficulties. I repeat that the Judges, and the Rating 627 Authorities, are all more or less in agreement as to the law, and the real difficulty in the matter is that there is a difference of action among those whose business it is to make the assessment. What did Mr. Marshall say? He defines rateable machinery as machinery bolted down, and when pressed he included cranes and machinery walled in. As to the Tyne case, all he said was that the decision went a little further than the Bishop of Wearmouth case All the valuers called before the Committee seemed at first much frightened at the decision in the Tyne case, but their fears soon disappaared. The agent of the London and North-Western Railway Company straightforwardly told the Committee he did not consider that the decisions in either the Tyne boiler case or the Bishop Wearmouth case had extended the rateable assessment of machinery. This was the opinion of a man well versed in rating questions in half the counties of England. Therefore, I repeat that the Judges and Rating-Authorities are more or less in agreement as to the law; the real difficulty is the difference of action amongst those whose business it is to make the assessment. Is there not just as much difference of opinion and action in regard to other matters than machinery that came under the cognisance of the Assessment Authorities? What we want is a comprehensive Valuation Bill, which would settle these matters once for all, whereas the effect of the Bill now proposed would be to delay the introduction of such a measure. I contend, also, that this Bill is strongly opposed to the tendency of modern legislation, which has been to extend rather than to restrict the area of rating. In recent years the principle has been extended in many directions to mines, sporting lights, underwood, lunatic asylums, Crown lands, and advertising walls, and why should the House now retrace its steps in respect to one subject alone, and relieve from rating that which has hitherto been subject to it? Moreover, it must be borne in mind that others will have to pay the rates from which the owners of machinery are sought to be relieved. Upon whose shoulders will they fall? Are the small ratepayers in the country, the agricultural labourers, 628 or the small shopkeepers in the towns better able to bear them than the large manufacturer? I object altogether to this rating being taken off the manufacturer by this partial Bill, without knowing exactly on what other shoulders it will fall. I think the Select Committee were perfectly right when, after many weeks' consideration of the evidence brought before them, they decided that the question was one to be dealt with, not in a fragmentary way, but by a comprehensive Bill of local taxation, and I hope the debate, if it has no other effect, will hasten the introduction by the Government of the Valuation Bill which they have distinctly promised. I should like to know how hon. Members who voted for that Resolution in the Committee can justify their support of the Bill on this occasion, seeing that it only partially alters the law, and does not deal with the main question. I certainly think the present Bill is unnecessary, mischievous, and unjust to the smaller ratepayers in the country and in the towns, and that it would greatly militate against the chances of that reform in valuation assessment which taxation reformers have desired for many years. For these reasons I object to the Second Reading of the Bill, and I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name, and which embodies the decision unanimously arrived at by the Committee.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, whilst believing that the Bill affords a basis for an equitable system of assessment in cases of industries depending mainly upon fixed motive power, is of opinion that the difficulties of defining a satisfactory principle of valuation for the purpose of assessment generally are so great as to render it desirable that the matter should be dealt with as part of a comprehensive scheme of local taxation,"—(Mr. Heneage,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (2.43.) MR. POWELL WILLIAMS (Birmingham, S.)
I had given notice to move the rejection of the Bill, but when I learned that the right hon. Member for Grimsby had been a Member of the Select Committee on the subject I felt 629 no difficulty in giving way to him and contenting myself with seconding the Amendment. The hon. Member for East Gloucestershire has, in a very effective speech, described at great length the anomalies of the present system; but the task was unnecessary, and I think he was a little killing the slain, for certainly no hon. Member in any part of the House will deny that great anomalies do exist. Nor does any one say that those anomalies should not be remedied, and that there should not be uniformity throughout the Kingdom in relation to this question of rating. But this Bill seeks to give uniformity in the wrong direction. It is, in my opinion, a Bill for the relief of manufacturers, without any consideration whatever for those who will suffer if that relief is granted. It has been said that the decisions which have been given in relation to the subject are steps in the wrong direction, and that it is proposed by the Bill to remedy this. It has also been said that the decisions are doubtful; but, having read the decision in the Tyne Boiler case, I confess that it seems to me to be perfectly clear and to afford ground for practical action. Some reference has been made to the judgment delivered by Lord Justice Lindley in that case, and the hon. Member seems to think that that judgment does not altogether coincide with the judgment previously delivered by the Master of the Rolls. But Lord Justice Lindley, towards the end of his Judgment, said—It seems to mo that the true test is that which the Master of the Rolls endeavoured to lay down.So you have a clear meaning in the judgment of the Master of the Rolls, and Lord Justice Lindley agrees with it, and places his authority behind it. This question has been argued technically in the House already, and I should like to argue it practically. The hon. Member for the Cirencester Division said the effect of the decision in the Tyne Boiler case would be to double the rating of mills, and, further on in the course of his speech, he cited the Chard case, and showed to what an enormous extent the rating of a particular mill there would be raised in the event of this decision being pressed to its logical 630 outcome. I admit that; but the hon. Member left altogether out of sight the relief which would be afforded to the other ratepayers, and this is the most important element to be taken into consideration. The present Bill proposes to exempt from rating all machinery, except fixed motive power, and I am told that under its provisions shafts, wheels, and drums will be exempted. How would such a provision affect the great city, a division of which I have the honour to represent. It would undoubtedly diminish the present rating value of Birmingham to the extent of £25,000 or £30,000. Something has been said of the practice adopted in Birmingham. Well, I am not careful to defend that practice. But it does not profess to be an accurate system. The plan adopted there is an arrangement or compromise, which has been acted upon without dispute, as between the Rating Authority and the manufacturers whose machinery is rated. Undoubtedly the system has been productive of good practical results. Each nominal horse-power is taken at £2 10s. per horse per annum, and that is believed to include the value of the fixed or unfixed or removable machinery which is worked from the engine so rated. It is believed that the system has worked fairly well in the interests of all concerned. If, by passing this Bill, the rating value of Birmingham is reduced by £25,000 or £30,000 the burden will, of course, fall upon the shopkeepers and householders. This means that a sum of about £8,000, now paid in the rates by the manufacturers of Birmingham, will be levied on the other contributors to the rates. I maintain that that is a step entirely in the wrong direction, and, if adopted, it would inevitably lead to an increase of rents to small occupiers. By the introduction of machinery you make employment more scarce, yet you are asked to exempt from rates that machinery, and to put heavier burdens on the people, who find it more difficult to get employment because of the use of the machinery. I believe the result in the case of Birmingham would be to throw an extra 1½d. rate on the already over weighted shopkeepers, and, on their behalf, I protest against the proposal. The Motion which I have put on the Paper is directed against the 631 principle of the Bill, which, I think, is a wrong principle. In my opinion it is a principle which a Radical House of Commons would not be disposed to accept. In the United States of America not only house property and rent, but also chattels are rated, and unquestionably the tendency of things is in that direction here. If this Bill passes something will be done to contradict the principle, and, therefore, I hope the House will accept the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend.
*(2.58.) MR. MOWBRAY (Lancashire, Prestwich)
As a member of the Select Committee, I desire to say a few words in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby. It is perfectly true, as he has told us, that a Resolution was passed in the Committee to the effect that it was desirable that this matter should be dealt with as a comprehensive scheme. But another Resolution was also carried with equal unanimity to the effect that it was clear that the system acted upon by valuers varied in different parts of the country, and they recommended fresh legislation on the subject. The Committee also unanimously passed a Resolution that, in the meantime, it was desirable that the Rating Authorities should not depart from their present system. The system of assessment has since that been materially altered by the valuers and Rating Authorities, and, therefore, apart from anything else, we are justified in pressing the importance of this subject upon the House. Although we voted for the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby in 1887, yet in 1890 we are no nearer a comprehensive solution of the question than we were in l887. Judging from the favourable cheers with which the speeches of hon. Members have been received to-day, in favour of the Bill, I venture to think that the feeling of the House is against an Amendment of the procrastinating character moved by the right hon. Gentleman. The only point which the House has to consider is this. We are not asking for any special exemption of machinery from liability to rating. We are only asking in this Bill, that the principle which is believed by the majority of valuers to 632 govern rating shall be declared by this House to be the law of the land. It is not a preposterous proposition that it is the duty of this House to make the law of the land clear and intelligible. In spite of the very able arguments and evidence of the hon. and learned Member for Staffordshire, the Rating Authorities are still in very much doubt as to what are the true principles to be deduced from the decisions of the Judges. This Bill lays down clear and definite directions, which no Rating Authority will have very much difficulty in putting into force. We have been told that the law has not been altered by recent decisions. I am perfectly ready to admit that, if you like, but I say that the practice will be altered, and in support of that, I refer to the evidence given before the Committee of the House of Commons by Mr. Myers, of Preston. Asked whether, in the Bishop Wearmouth case, looms had not been considered furniture, he replied—Yes, I quite agree with that.From that you would judge that they did not intend to include looms, would you not?Yes, certainly.So much for the law laid down in the Bishop Wearmouth case.But your opinion is, is it not, that under the Tyne boiler case they would be bound to include looms?What is his answer to that?—Yes.And all similar machines?Yes, and all similar machines—mules, carding machines, would all have to come in.Then he was asked by the hon. Member for Stirlingshire whether, if the decision in the boiler case were carried out, it would not require that everything should be included—Yes; that is my belief.That is exactly the evidence which was given by almost every witness who came before the Committee. Whether the law has been altered or not does not matter, because there is no doubt whatever that the views of the people who act under that law have been altered, and that is what we have to deal with. The Rating Authorities are altering their principle of assessment, and what will be the result? That we shall have 633 heavy and expensive appeals, at great cost to the Rating Authorities, and at great cost to the people upon whom these new rates are placed. It is our duty as Representatives of the constituencies to do what we can to prevent this accession of costs, and to put the law upon a plain and intelligible footing, and that, I believe, is done by the Bill before the House. One word with regard to what has been said by the hon. Member for Birmingham. I do not want to go into the system of rating in Birmingham, beyond saying that it seems that Birmingham has made a law of its own, which is not laid down by the learned Judges. It is not the law as enforced in other parts of the country. Although Birmingham may he perfectly well satisfied with the Law of Rating as it at present exists, I venture to remind the hon. Gentleman that his constituents will find their position very materially altered in many cases if the decision in the Tyne Boiler case is put into operation. With regard to what he said about throwing on the general ratepayers of Birmingham a burden now borne by manufacturing industries, I do not know how far that may be true of Birmingham, but as regards industries in other parts of the country, the practice has not, up to now, been to rate machinery in the way in which it will be rated in future if this Tyne Boiler case is carried out. The change, if it is made, will press very heavily, not only upon the manufacturing industries, but upon the working classes who are employed in those industries. You may say what you like with regard to diminishing the rates of other people; hut if you put this additional 125 per cent. on to the mills of Lancashire, you will go far to impose a burden which the industry is unable to bear. I would remind the House that if you put a burden of that kind upon a particular industry the tendency will inevitably be to drive the trade over the border or into foreign countries. If you stop the mills of Lancashire you will not only take money out of the pockets of the wealthy classes of that region, but you will deprive working men of their labour and drive them to the workhouse, where they will he a greater burden to the other ratepayers than anything that would fall upon them by reason of any definition of 634 the law such as this Bill proposes. I venture to trust that the House will not be misled by the arguments which have been adduced to it, and that it will support the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ *(3.12.) MR. MATHER (Lancashire, S.E., Gorton)
Sir, the constituency which I have the honour to represent is one especially interested in this question. I have been asked to represent the feelings of large manufacturers, and I desire to say a few words in relation to the Bill which has been introduced by my hon. Friend. We are not discussing the abolition of a tax. There has been hitherto a comparatively uniform practice throughout the country, and the rating of premises devoted to manufacturing industries has hitherto been on a certain fixed principle. That principle has been recently interfered with, and certain alterations have been made during the last three or four years. And there has arisen in the minds of manufacturers generally throughout the country that eventually all machinery employed for manufacturing purposes is henceforth to be taxed in the same way as machines that are fixed. It is thought that system will be followed after the decision in the Tyne Boiler case. In my own constituency the chief industry is that of engineering and machine making, although there are some textile manufacturers in that district. Owing to the decision in the Tyne Boiler case this new practice is beginning to spread very rapidly; it is becoming the actual fact with regard to the industry with which I am connected, namely, that everything connected with the premises in which these manufactures are carried on, even to the smallest tool fixed to the bench, or lying on the bench, is already taxed by the assessors of that district. And they hold that the justification of that course is to he found in the decision in the Tyne Boiler case. If that is to he the interpretation of the law, I would ask any sensible man where are we to stop? What industry will escape from thus terrible enactment, which, I venture to say, has nothing-whatever to do with the wealth or poverty of the manufacturers, but simply 635 is a question of justice. The industries of this country are not carried on solely for the benefit of certain gentlemen who call themselves employers or manufacturers. They are carried on for the benefit of the whole country, and the working classes are more intimately connected with those industries than perhaps any other class of the community. Take my own works, in the town of Salford, which is practically one with Manchester. I have a pretty considerable engineering establishment in Salford, and I pursue my business with perfect immunity from all those taxes. But at Openshaw, only two or three miles away, my competitors are taxed down to the smallest machine tools. This is a gross injustice which would not be tolerated for a moment were there not some strange ambiguity about the law which neither Judges, assessors, or valuers understand. It is evident to those who have read the Report of the Committee that confusion becomes worse confounded as the witnesses are examined at greater and greater length. If you want to get at the state of confusion in which the Committee found itself you have only to refer to the Resolution which my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Heneage) has brought under our notice. I do urgently appeal to the House to take this matter into consideration as quickly as possible. The prevalent custom throughout the country is that premises for manufacturing purposes shall be valued according to the purposes for which it is intended. An exception, owing to the uncertainty of the law, is the case of the works to which I have alluded at Openshaw. Those works are taxed to the smallest machine, and yet, during the next three months, the whole of the machinery could be sold by auction and adapted to the purposes of some other business or manufacture, thus showing that the walls, and roofs, and windows, with engine power, are alone absolutely essential to the carrying on of any particular trade in those premises. Indeed, it is almost impossible to conceive a case, except such as a gas works or some such industry, where a special kind of structure has to be incorporated with the machinery, where this observation does not apply. Empty any one of the cotton mills of Lancashire of its looms 636 and spindles, and it would be capable of being used for some other purpose. I have a large building, which was formerly used as a woollen mill in my own works, and it is most admirably adapted, without the slightest alteration, to the purposes of a machine shop. You see, consequently, how we get landed in serious difficulties when we consider that the value of certain premises is enhanced simply because of the character of the machinery which it contains. I should like, for a moment, to allude to what has been said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby in relation to the question of relieving wealthy manufacturers and capitalists, at the cost of other ratepayers, who are well able to take care of themselves and who have always plenty of money. In my opinion the history of the manufactures of this country proves the very opposite of this; at any rate, in the North of England, with which I am acquainted, the manufacturers pursue their business with the desire to maintain their industry and give their employes the largest amount of work at the highest rate of wages they can possibly pay. The whole history of the industries of Lancashire and Yorkshire goes to show that employers feel the greatest pride in the continual promotion of the interests of their workpeople, so as to enable them to live in better houses, and, as far as possible, to attain a greater amount of happiness in their everyday life. But, if owing to the peculiar interpretation put upon the law, the manufacturers are to be subjected to a greater burden than heretofore — a burden which, perhaps, may not be imposed on competitors, say, in an adjoining county—then I say that such a course is unjust, and contrary to the true spirit of the law; and that, whatever may be the prosperity of the individual manufacturer, or body of manufacturers, they have a right to see, and are bound to see, that such legislation is passed as will make the burdens imposed on the industries of this country just and uniform, and as will remove such inequalities as are now complained of. The only desire of the manufacturers, whether engaged in the production of textile fabrics, the manufacture of iron, the bleaching of calico, or in any other industry, is to do equal 637 justice to all. If this House declares that all implements and tools shall be taxed we shall have no complaint to make; but, at the present moment, that is not the case. The case of Birmingham is not in any way a representative one. There they absolutely traverse the law, and say they have nothing to do with valuing machinery, boilers, or engines, but simply take engines of a certain horse-power, on which 50s. per annum has to be paid. The practice of Birmingham is not in conformity with the law, and does not affect the state of things in operation elsewhere, under which, over an area of probably five square miles, we have some manufacturers taxed to the uttermost extent, while others in the same locality are entirely exempt. This Bill will in no way interfere with the entire question of valuation being dealt with at a subsequent period; but we say that, in the meantime, the grievance to which attention is being called to a certain extent paralyses the industry of the North of England. I trust, therefore, the House will take the matter into its serious consideration to-day, and consent to the Second Reading of this Bill. When the Bill gets into Committee the House can impose such safeguards as will prevent various interests which have hitherto been protected from being injuriously affected by the operation of the measure. As the matter stands at present it is quite clear that there is danger that the industries of the North will be interfered with in a manner wholly inimical to their best interests, and the House is now asked to hasten to alleviate an evil which has already given rise to the greatest discontent.
§ *(3.25.) MR. H. S. WRIGHT (Nottingham)
Sir, I represent a town which, almost more than any other, is affected by this Bill, and I, therefore, feel it necessary to ask the indulgence of the House while I briefly state the opinion of the Nottingham manufacturers in regard to this question. This is a subject of vital importance to the trade of Nottingham. The trade of that place is already sufficiently handicapped by foreign competition, although their movable machines —used in the lace and hosiery trades— 638 are at present not rated; but if this Bill is not passed, and it is rendered liable to this rating of machinery, the trade of Nottingham will be driven out entirely. I would point out that, instead of this Bill bringing hardship upon the working men, the extra burdens that will otherwise be imposed will assuredly have the effect I have stated, and the result will be that the working-men of Nottingham and the thousands of girls employed in the factories, will lose their present employment, while ruin and suffering will be brought home to them and their families. The case of Birmingham has been alluded to, but we do not want to follow the lead of Birmingham in this matter. Birmingham is very good with regard to Imperial matters, but we are not inclined to follow it in the matter of rating, as to which it seems to be altogether an anomaly. The Nottingham Chamber of Commerce supports this Bill. A few weeks ago I attended a meeting of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, held in London, and at that meeting a resolution was proposed in favour of this measure. That resolution was carried without a single dissentient voice. What, I ask, will be the result if the House refuses to pass this Bill? Where will the line be drawn in future? At sewing machines perhaps? But there are different kinds of "sewing" machines. There are the sowing and mowing machines used in agriculture, and I would warn hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies that if movable machines come to be rated, it will soon be their turn to have burdens imposed on the scientific implements of agriculture. This Bill is merely a defining Bill—a settling Bill—and contains no innovation or alteration of the law as formerly interpreted. It simply proposes the adoption of the old principle that what is fixed to the premises shall be rated, but that what is removable shall not be rated. We want this matter settled without any further delay, and, for my part, I have great pleasure in voting for the Second Reading of this Bill.
*(3.28.) MR.STAVELETHILL (Kingswinford)
I do not intend to enter on a long speech in answer to the hon. Member for Cirencester (Mr. Winterbotham), 639 still less, to use his own expression, do I intend "to wallow in any legal discussion." I desire, as briefly as I am able, to lay before the House my views on the question which we have to decide. The matter which has been put before the House as the reason for bringing forward this Bill is simply this: Doubts have arisen as to how far machinery is to be taken into consideration in the process of rating, and it is this point with which the Bill proposes to deal: But, whatever may be the object of the Bill, it must necessarily be the consequence that if this measure is passed a considerable quantity of machinery will be exempted from the area of rateability and the rates formerly paid in respect of the machinery so rated must fall on other kinds of property. It was on this point that Mr. Clark spoke with reference to Birmingham. Birmingham has been spoken of as having a law to itself, but if we only look and see what is done in Birmingham, in regard to rating, there is no such thing as a Birmingham-created law, but Birmingham has taken, as I think, a very excellent way of rating machinery. Instead of taking the value of the machinery at its cost or its structural value, and putting upon it 7½ per cent., the assessment has been made at the rate of 50s. per horse power, so that the rateable value of a 100 horse-power machine would be £250 a year, instead of going to the trouble of finding out the capital value and getting 7½ per cent. upon it, and this figure includes all the machinery worked by the power. By this means, so far from exempting machinery the rate is raised on machinery, as Mr. Clark has shown in his evidence. The value of the machinery is put at a higher rate, he says, if taken at 50s. per horse-power than if taken at 7½ per cent. on the market value. Mr. Clark being asked as to the result if the Bill passed, said that £5,300, from which the owners of machinery would be freed, would have to be spread over the whole rateable value and that £5,000 represented about a penny rate.
*MR. STAVELEY HILL
Yes, in the parish of Birmingham. So then it comes 640 to this upon the witness's showing, that £5,000 taken out of the area of rateable value, this liability from which you release the larger machine owners would fall upon the smaller men. You cannot get out of that.
§ *MR. WINTERBOTHAM
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman state whether, from the evidence, I am not right in saying the difference would be between 6s. 7d. and 6s. 8d. to all the ratepayers?
*MR. STAVELEY HILL
It may be so as a matter of calculation, but it does not so appear in the evidence. It would come to an increase of the rates all over the parish of Birmingham to the extent of a penny or three half-pence. Now, that being so, what is put forward as the reason for this Bill? It is suggested that the Bill gives effect to the recommendations of the Committee of the House, which considered the question in 1887, notwithstanding which recommendations it is said Rating Authorities are seeking by harassing litigation to further increase the burden upon the use of machinery. Now, first of all in that Committee, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Heneage) has said, every witness and the answer to every question made the prospect of the Bill more hopeless, until at last the hon. Baronet the Member for Banbury (Sir Bernhard Samuelson) appeared to be willing to give up his Bill, and to accept the Resolution now put forward by the right hon. Member for Grimsby. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Mowbray) rather altered the actual state of things by reading the Resolutions in a different order to that in which they were passed. The first Resolution acknowledged the difficulties arising from there being no definition of the rating practice, and upon that followed the Resolution put forward now as an Amendment that there should be a general system and a general Rating Bill brought in to alter the whole state of things. If we are to take the authority of the Committee, it certainly was not in favour of the Bill; for the further examination of the Bill stood over for three weeks or a month.
The hon. and learned Gentleman will find that the 641 Resolution was passed on June 28th, and on the 5th July the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby moved that the Bill should be reported without amendment. That was negatived by a considerable majority in the Committee.
§ *MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
And the Committee reported that the Bill, as amended, would meet the case of industries depending mainly upon motive power.
*MR. STAVELEY HILL
On the 28th June the Resolution was passed, and July 5th was the next meeting, when the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Grimsby moved that the Bill be reported without amendment. This was negatived by six to four. Those hon. Members who have just risen to correct me were energetic supporters of the Bill and desirous of going on with the Amendments.
I recollect that it was put to us that if we reported the Bill without amendment it was tantamount to saying that the Bill should not be proceeded with during the Session. Therefore, in voting against the Resolution, we were in favour of discussing and amending the Bill before returning it to the House.
§ *MR. HENEAGE
My Motion was founded on the understanding implied in the other Resolutions, that the Bill should not proceed further. It was a formal Resolution, and I regret that it was negatived.
*MR. STAVELEY HILL
In our view it was negatived by a small majority at a meeting when many of us were absent, for we had ceased to take any interest in the Bill at all. Now, the next suggestion in this Memorial which has been circulated by the promoters of this Bill is that the Bill will assimilate the system in England to the settled practice in Scotland. But that is not the fact, as the evidence will 'show. The evidence of Messrs. Nesbit and Munro will show that it is by no means a settled practice in Scotland. Mr. Nesbit said it would be a good thing to get a proper definition of machinery fixed or attached, and that it was a general feeling among assessors that what is held to be heritage in succession should be 642 further defined, and he showed there was much difference of opinion. Mr. Munro, in his evidence, said, in the interest of machine owners, the Bill was undoubtedly most desirable. I do not propose to go at length into the comments upon my evidence made by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Winter-botham); but let me say, shortly, that the case for the Bill is, that there is doubt with reference to the present condition of the Rating Law. It is said there have been considerable changes effected by the decision in the Tyne Boiler case. Now, I do not know that it is very complimentary to the three learned Judges in the Court of Appeal to suppose that they have altered the law. We are generally accustomed to suppose that learned Judges are not the men who wilfully go against the law as enunciated in a series of decisions, and yet this is put before us in argument. These decisions have been going on for some three centuries, ever since the passing of the Statute of Elizabeth, with a certain developing, without alteration, until at last in the Tyne case and in the Bishop Wearmouth case, we are said to have three bad Judges altering the law. The law as laid down by Lord Esher and those who sat with him, thatThings which are on the premises to be rated for the purpose of making, and do make, the premises lit for the purpose for which they are used ought to he taken into account in ascertaining the rateable value of such premises.This is said to be an alteration of the law; but my hon. Friends may remember the decision of Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, which cannot be distinguished from the law as laid down by the Master of the Rolls to the effect that so long as machinery was kept in position, and added to the value of the freehold premises, it ought to be paid for. It is said again that advantage has been taken of the Wearmouth case and the Tyne Boiler case decisions, by valuators to go up and down the country harassing ratepayers by litigation and raising points that are only profitable to surveyors and lawyers. This was the prophecy made shortly after the Tyne Boiler case was decided, but the prophecy has not been fulfilled. Let me for a moment call attention to the special Report of the Committee, for it 643 rather places the Bill in a different position to that in which it has been placed by those who have introduced it. When the Committee had gone through the whole of the evidence, then, without going into the question whether the law had been altered by recent decisions, the Committee declared their opinion that the system acted upon by valuators had varied considerably, and the practice, in the absence of legislation, would in many cases be materially affected in the future. Then the Committee went on to express the opinion that the Bill would, if amended, meet the case of those industries, depending mainly upon fixed motive power; and the Committee agreed, therefore, to report the Bill as amended to the House. Well, but is there no question to be raised on the definitions in the new Bill? It is very well to say that words may be altered or introduced in Committee, but we must give those who framed the Bill the credit for having made choice of the best words they could use, and no doubt they have taken the best advice they could avail themselves of. The Bill says—From and after the passing of this Act in estimating for the purpose of assessment to the rates upon property rateable to the relief of the poor, the annual value of the machinery in this section specified upon such tenement or premises shall be taken into consideration; that is to say—first, water wheels, steam, gas, air, and electric machines, steam boilers, and all other fixed motive powers, and the fixed appurtenances thereof; secondly, shafts, wheels, drums, and other fixed power machinery which transmits the action of motive power to other machinery, fixed or loose.Are these words sufficient? Is no question to be raised as to the meaning of the expression "fixed appurtenances thereof and fixed motive power?" I venture to say that no words in the Statute of Elizabeth or any Act passed since are more difficult of construction. You are going by this Bill to discharge from the rates all cranes, weigh - bridges, and machines of that character. Is that fair? Is it fair that the owner of a small engine should be rated upon that, but not the man with a weighing-machine, out of which he makes considerable profit? The Bill will inflict great injustice on the small ratepayers. Then we have been told of the Chard case, where disused premises were being fitted with machinery by a 644 manufacturer to the great advantage of the people in the district, but that the owner was harassed by the imposition of rates on this machinery. The hon. Member for Cirencester read, with great unction, the argument addressed to Quarter Sessions by counsel whose ability I do not for a moment doubt, who was engaged on behalf of the Rating Authority. But surely this argument of counsel is not to be taken as indicative of the way in which judgment will go, and the case has not yet been decided by a Divisional Court, and it may perhaps be carried to the Court of Appeal, and even to the House of Lords. It shows the absolute poverty of my hon. Friend's resources in regard to finding evidence of the hostility of Rating Authorities towards machinery owners that this is the single case to which he has directed attention. Though I have been quoted at considerable length, and though I could find a good deal to answer under this part of the able speech of the hon. Member for Cirencester, I will not trouble the House further. I hope the Bill will not be carried, for I hold the view that the area of rateability should not be limited, and those who can afford to pay should not be free from their liability.
§ *(3.50.) MR. OLDROYD (Dewsbury)
I do not think there is much force in the observation that my hon. Friend's pointed reference to the argument of the counsel in the Chard case indicates the poverty of his resources, but rather, I think, we may infer poverty in the resources of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. The importance and the danger of the argument of the learned counsel referred to lies in the fact that after using that argument he had the decision of the Court in his favour. I will only detain the House a few minutes while I express my determination to support the Bill on the ground that it is an attempt by legislation, and in the form of a Declaratory Bill, to remove from the industries of this country what all Members will agree is detrimental to the industrial interests—the uncertainty 645 which now overhangs them. I wish to disclaim the insinuation which is made by some hon. Members that this Bill is brought in as an attempt on the part of manufacturers to evade the legitimate charges that ought to be made upon them for local purposes. I do not urge that manufacturers generally ought to be regarded as occupying that elevated place which the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Mather) has assigned to them, but they are free from liability to any just charge of an attempt to evade legitimate obligations. No doubt the history of legal decisions has shown a gradual extension of the area of rateability; and the tendency, following on the decision in the Tyne Boiler case and indicated in the action of the valuator in the Chard case, is to carry out the extension to the bitter end. I support the Bill because it is a Declaratory Bill, and not one for altering what I conceive to be the intention of Parliament. It is a Declaratory Bill with the purpose of limiting that over-widening of the area of rateability which has resulted from successive decisions of Judges. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Heneage) says that in the evidence of the witnesses before the Committee, and in the action of the Rating Authorities, there is more or less of uniformity, and I may agree with him, but in the sense that there is more of the less and little of the more. There is in the evidence an extreme divergence of opinion as to what is and what is not rateable. The right hon. Gentleman finds underlying the Bill the principle of taking off from those now rated a large portion of their liability. I repudiate that argument altogether. The intention of the Bill is not to declare off from rateability that which is now liable, but to guard against the increasing liability which seems to be threatening us in the future. The hon. Member for South Birmingham (Mr. Williams) has referred to the fact that in that city a successful plan has been adopted which avoids all litigation by assessing the motive power, including machinery, at 50s. per horse-power. Will it be surprising to the hon. Member to know that in Yorkshire, without pretending to assess machinery in that way, that is the very charge made so 646 that all the arguments used as to the immense difference between Birmingham and other districts come to nothing ! It has been said that the exclusion of machinery would raise the rates in Birmingham from 6s. 8d. to 6s. 9d.; but the fact is, that the adoption of the assessment of 50s. per horse power, as in Yorkshire and other districts, would cause the continuance of the rates exactly as they are now. It appears to me that the incidence of the taxation under the plan adopted in Birmingham must be very unequal, because there must be a great difference in the value of machinery adapted to different purposes, and, in some cases, you will have heavy and inexpensive machinery included at the same rate as delicate and intricate machinery in other cases. It is quite clear that limitations and definitions are, more or less, attended with difficulty, but, notwithstanding the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken, the Bill defines by an easy and feasible method what shall be the limits of rateability, and, I think, these limits are fixed on the general principle that freehold inheritances shall be assessed, and that machinery and chattels shall be exempted. In the case of Insurance Companies, this discrimination is made between the inheritance and machinery and chattels. The line of demarcation in the Bill follows that laid down in Section 5 of the Bills of Sale Act, 1878, where all that is to be regarded as part of the heritage is set out and described in three classes, and the division in that Act is identical with the terms of the Bill now before the House. It is a happy coincidence that the Bill of Sales Act, which draws a limit between what are chattels and what is attached to the heritage, should be identical in terms to the delimitation which is proposed in this Bill. I think that if the Bill be defeated and the practice with which we are now threatened on the part of the Rating Authorities is continued, we shall not be able to stop even at the very broad line which is laid down by the Tyne Boiler case We shall never arrive at any principle until we decide that all chattels shall be rateable, because it seems to me that if in the case of a mill the machinery in it is to be rateable, so 647 in the case of a restaurant or hotel all the appointments ought also to be rateable, and in the case of a residence all the furniture, and in the case of a farm all the agricultural and farming implements. It has been said, in opposition to the Bill, that machinery ought to be made rateable because it reduces manual labour. If, by the introduction of machinery into a manufactory employing 1,200 hands, 200 are thrown out of employment, it is hard upon the 200,but still the 1,000 are greatly benefited, inasmuch as they may have their employment assured to them for a longer period than they otherwise would. Those who are practically acquainted with manufacturing know that the repair and renewal of machinery—the keeping up with the times—is a source of very great expenditure and diminution of profit to the manufacturer. It is, indeed, essential for the supremacy of the industry of this country that the machinery used should not have added to it any additional embargo or burden. I hope, therefore, this Bill will be passed, and the country, and manufacturers in particular, will be relieved from the uncertainty which now attaches to the condition of the law.
§ (4.5.) MR. WALTER JAMES (Gateshead)
As the representative of an important constituency in the North of England which will be largely affected if this Bill passes into law, I must say I cannot quite see why I should support it. The case relating to the Tyne has been mentioned in the course of the discussion, and no doubt there has been a considerable opposition from that quarter to these proposals which have, for many years, been before Parliament. The Bill was brought in last year, and I thought it my duty, at a quarter before 6 o'clock one Wednesday evening, to intercept its further progress. I think my action caused some little annoyance to my hon. Friend the Member for the Cirencester Division (Mr. Winterbotham), but I imagine that, after the great divergence of opinion which has been expressed this afternoon in regard to the provisions of the Bill, he will agree with me that it is hardly a Bill the Second Reading of which ought to be passed without dis- 648 cussion. The two chief cases which have been referred to were not cases prompted by the valuation of the Local Authorities; but I think that some 15 or 16 years ago there was a general feeling in the North of England that many of the large manufacturing industries which had contributed so much to the prosperity of the district had not contributed their fair share or quota to local taxation. Now, the only point which I, as a layman, regard as of great importance is, that if you shift the burden as suggested, you, to some extent, break faith with the Local Authorities. These sums of money, which have been raised on the security of the rates, you will take from one interest and give to another. That appears to me a very important point, and I ask the Government, when they come to speak on the Bill, to give special attention to it. It is clear that if you shift the burden from the shoulders of the manufacturers you put it, in great part, on the shoulders of the small property owners. Take the case of my own constituency. If you diminish the rates you add to the wages of the working classes. That is all very true, but I hope the House will remember that there is one thing which is necessary to the workman in addition to his wages, and that is his home. These property owners are the owners of the houses of the working classes, and if you burden the owners with taxation you diminish, materially, the comfort and prosperity of the working classes. The rates in my constituency are extremely high—as much as 6s. in the £1, and if the property owners feel themselves burdened with increased taxation no improvement need be expected in the homes of the people, and the probability also is that the rent will be increased. I do not think that this is exactly the time for a change of the kind proposed. Certainly, so far as the North of England is concerned, this is not the time for the initiation of this kind of legislation. If anyone will go down the Tyne upon one of the penny steamers and notice the prosperity of the districts, he will quite understand the point I am urging. I think that the aim of this Bill should be taken into account when the whole question of valuation comes to be dealt with by the 649 Government. That will be the time when this exceedingly complicated question can most properly be dealt with by Parliament.
§ *(4. 10.) MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
I am sure the House will admit that we have had a most interesting and instructive debate, and it occurs to me that the time is approaching when we may ask the Government for some expression of opinion. I cannot but express my great regret at the absence—I fear on account of indisposition—of the President of the Local Government Board. We know he is familiar with all these questions, and we are aware that he always approaches questions of this kind in a wise and impartial spirit. But I am reconciled to the fact of his absence by the knowledge that the Secretary to the Local Government Board is present, who has displayed his ability on many occasions, and who is backed up by a Department which is second to none in the State for its industry and capacity, and which is particularly fitted to advise upon legal points its representatives in this House. Now, the case for the Bill is the uncertainty of the law. I cannot agree with the hon. and learned Member for Staffordshire (Mr. Staveley Hill) that there is no uncertainty in the law, nor can I admit that the judgment of Lord Esher in the Tyne case is free from doubt or difficulty. The hon. Member for Cirencester (Mr. Winterbotham) has spoken with his usual vigour and clearness, and the hon. Member for Manchester (Sir W. Houldsworth) has justly urged, in support of the Bill, the uncertainty of the law and the still greater uncertainty in the practice. We have a superabundance of evidence on that subject. The practice differs, we have been told, in Manchester and in the immediate neighbourhood of Manchester. The hon. Member for the Gorton Division (Mr. Mather) told us that within four miles of his works there are manufacturers who are subject to a rating which he escapes, because the Assessment Committees interpreted the law in different ways. That is an inequality and an injustice which ought to be remedied. The hon. Member opposite 650 (Sir W. Houldsworth) told us, and he apparently spoke with authority, that many Rating Authorities are waiting for the decision of the House upon this measure, and that if the measure is rejected the immediate consequence will be a crop of excessive assessments, which will lead, no doubt, to further inequalities, and further injustice and litigation. Let me point out to the House a practical inequality. I have referred to it in the case of Manchester and neighbourhood. But we know that the law in Scotland differs from the law as it is being interpreted and extended in this country. The law in Scotland is, practically speaking, the same as the proposers of this Bill wish the law in England to become. But we have been told by the hon Gentleman (Sir W. Houldsworth) that he believes the law in Ireland is also of the same character as is now desired. So far as we are at present informed the fact is, that in Ireland and Scotland manufacturers are at an advantage, and will be at a still greater advantage in the future than manufacturers in England, unless the Bill is passed. I do not like the notion of legislation by judicial decision. If it is brought home to us that the condition of the law is uncertain, and works with inequality and injustice, I maintain we are not doing our duty if we say we will not interfere in the matter, but leave it to the parties affected to fight the question out in the Courts. The evil of the present state of things is admitted, and, therefore, Parliament ought to set to work to find a remedy. In passing, let me say that this Bill is supported by a variety of large interests in different parts of the country. The hon. Member for South Birmingham (Mr. J. P. Williams), who opposed the Bill, is understood to speak in the name of Birmingham, but only to-day I learned that the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce supports the Bill. Now, there are two methods of dealing with the evil. One method is to pass a general Bill laying down the principles of rating applicable to all hereditaments or properties, and the other is to pass such a Bill as this. I do not think it is worth while entering in detail into the question of the difference of opinion amongst the Members of the Committee of 1887, but I think it well to point out that while 651 my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage) proposes to-day—That this House, whilst believing- that the Bill affords a basis for an eqnitable system of assessment in cases of industries depending mainly upon fixed motive power, is of opinion that the difficulties of denning a satisfactory principle of valuation for the purpose of assessment generally are so great as to render it desirable that the matter should be dealt with as part of a comprehensive scheme of local taxation.In Committee, on the 28th of June, he admitted, in a Resolution he moved, that it is clear from the evidence that the system acted upon by valuers in different parts of the country has varied considerably, and that the practice in many cases will be materially affected in the future. The right hon. Gentleman recommended legislation, and I find that, on the same occasion, a Motion was carried, with the right hon. Gentleman's assent, that it is desirable that, in the meantime, the various Rating Authorities should not depart from the present system of assessment. My right hon. Friend really wanted the Assessment Committees to hold their hands, but I want to know how is he to get them to hold their hands if they get hold of the judgment of the Master of the Rolls. I ask the Government whether they are prepared to at once bring in a general Bill dealing with the principles of rating as applicable to all the subject matter of rateability? I do not imagine they are. If they arc not, I contend they will undertake serious responsibility if they decline to avail themselves of this opportunity of legislating in this particular instance. Certainly I do not see why the Government should object to the Second Reading of this Bill, seeing that they would retain absolute freedom of action in Committee. They know perfectly well that this is not a Party question, and I believe that, in Committee, we may be able to shape the Bill so that it will be generally acceptable, and at the same time redress a considerable and growing grievance.
§ *(4.30.) THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. LONG,) Wilts, Devizes
The hon. 652 Member who moved the Second Reading of this Bill expressed regret that the task had not fallen into abler hands. Similarly, owing to the regretted absence of the President of the Local Government Board, I may myself be allowed to express my own regret that the task of replying on behalf of that Department on this question has devolved upon me, for it is admitted, both in the discussion. we have had to-day and in the evidence given before the Select Committee, to which reference has been made, that this is one of the most difficult and complicated questions it is possible to ask Parliament to decide. I hope that if I make any reference to remarks that have been made in this House or to evidence which has been given before the Select Committee on the part of the manufacturing interest—which may seem almost impertinent as coming from a man who has no practical experience of the industries affected—hon. Members will acquit me of desiring to offer more than legitimate criticism of the views advanced on both sides of the House in relation to this question. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and who has made one of those fair and kindly speeches which he is accustomed to make in this House, was good enough to invite me to tell the House what the opinion of the Department is as to the legal question. Well, I do not approach the task of giving expression to a legal opinion with any great amount of satisfaction. We have had a legal argument to-day, and the hon. and learned Member for Staffordshire (Mr. Staveley Hill) has given the House the benefit of his legal opinion, and told it that the law has not been altered by recent decisions. The opinion of the Department is that there has not been a variation in the law, but that there is evidence to show that there is some variation in the application of the law. Bat what have been the arguments addressed to the House in support of the Second Reading? They have not been based upon grievances already existing. No long list of cases has been given in which manufacturers have been unfairly rated. No manufacturer has ventured to say that manufacturing 653 industry has been depressed in consequence of unfair or undue rating. The hon. Member for the Gorton Division of Lancashire (Mr. Mather) has told us that the manufacturers appear here to-day, not so much as men of business, but rather as philanthropists desiring the good of those with whom they are connected. Well, I am quite certain every word the hon. Member said is absolutely true. I am convinced that the manufacturers desire that their workmen shall in every way be properly housed and properly treated; but still I have a suspicion that with the manufacturers, as with the agriculturists, the question of profit does sometimes enter into their calculations. Hon. Gentlemen who support the Second Reading have not spoken of the manufacturing industry as suffering under grievances at the present time. What they tell the House is, that the result of certain decisions is that Assessment Committees and Rating Authorities are about to effect a change which will do great injury to manufacturing industries in the future. Witnesses on the side of the Rating Authorities said before the Committee of 1887 that they had not increased the rates, but that if Parliament did not legislate on the subject they would increase their assessments. But now we are in 1890, and not one of the Gentlemen who have addressed the House, and who are fully competent to speak on the subject, has produced an instance of direct hardship or injustice existing at present. ["Oh!"] Well, I have heard of the Chard case, in which it was said that injustice was done. What has happened? The machinery has been rated, the owners have appealed, and I have just heard that the appeal has been over-ruled to-day. No instance of injustice has been alleged. All that hon. Gentlemen ask the House to believe is that there is a fear which operates injuriously to manufacturing interests, and that unless Parliament interposes injury will be done. Evidence has been adduced to show that there are different rules, which operate differently in different parts of the country, and that, so far as I have been able to understand, is the chief reason which has been advanced in favour of legislation. But let me remind 654 the House of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby told us a short time ago. He said that this question of rating was by no means confined to machinery. Any hon. Gentleman who examines the assessments of his own county will find the most incomprehensible differences in them. I think there is a great deal to be said for the principle that if the House is to take up this question of assessment it ought rather to deal with those who are admitted to be suffering under great difficulties than with those who, to judge by their representatives, cannot be regarded as otherwise than prosperous. ["Oh!"] An hon. Member behind me disputes that statement. I have not yet heard that manufacturers, as a rule, allege that they are suffering from bad times, or are depressed in the same degree as the agricultural interest all over the country. The right hon. Gentleman invited the Government to support the Second Reading, and assured us that if we do so he will give us his personal assistance in improving the Bill. But it would, undoubtedly, be a very difficult, if not impossible, task to amend the Bill in Committee so as to make it a fair compromise between the two contending parties. Speaking for those not connected with manufactures, and for the Government, I can say that they do not desire, in the slightest degree, to do anything unfair to the manufacturing interests, nor do they wish that the matter should be turned into a question between town and country. What they desire is that justice should be done, whether to the manufacturing interests or other interests. But the differences between the parties are very acute and hardly reconcilable. The manufacturers have laid down what they believe to be the right basis of rating. There is a party, with representatives in this House, on the other hand, who say that the result of the application of the definition of rating contained in the Bill would be that the manufacturers would get a benefit over the rest of the community. We have heard from the hon. Member for South Birmingham that in Birmingham the difference would be a sum of £8,000, which would be an increase to the rates of upwards of 2d. in the £1.
§ MR. P. J. WILLIAMS
Over 1d. What I stated was that the difference would be between £7,000 and £8,000, or an addition to the rates of about l½d. in the £1.
§ *MR. LONG
I meant to say upwards of l½d. in the £1. The evidence from Birmingham is sufficient to show that if the definition in the Bill is to guide the Rating Authorities, and those Authorities are to adopt what the manufacturers regard as the fair basis of assessment a great upset in the assessment of the whole country must result. It must be manifest to all that if in Birmingham £7,000 or £8,000 is written off the rates, that amount must be provided from other sources. Hon. Gentlemen, in supporting the Bill, assure the House that concessions made to the manufacturing interest will tend to the benefit of the industrial classes, and not to the benefit of the manufacturers. If this slight impost, by means of assessment, is removed by the Bill, I have no doubt that hon. Gentlemen who are manufacturers will give the benefit of the relief to their workpeople; but it should be borne in mind, at the same time, that if this relief is granted to the manufacturer, it has to be met by some other class of property. What would be the class of property upon which the burden would fall in those particular districts? It would be the property of the industrial classes, in whose interests the House is asked 'to pass the Bill as it stands. It seems to me, personally, so far as I am able to understand what the legal rulings on this question have been, that the law as laid down by the Master of the Rolls is the law which has been generally accepted and acted upon ["No, no!"] and which may be justly described, in the words of Lord Justice Lopes, as decisions which "were founded on good sense, and are good law." Hon. Members have appealed to the representatives of the labour interests to support the measure, and they have told us agriculturists of the terrible things that will happen to us if we do not pass it. One hon. Member on the other side has told us that unless a Bill of this kind is passed, our ploughs and harrows—and I suppose he would go on to say our spades and forks 656 also—will eventually be rated. That may or may not be the case. It will be time enough for us to be alarmed when a practical suggestion is made to carry that out. So far, no one has seriously contemplated that rating should go down to the harrow or the plough, because they are implements which go to the cultivation of the farm, and they have no relation to the assessment of the farm, which is fixed on the basis of rent, rent being fixed according to the productive power of the land. A farm is let as a going concern, without a plough or a harrow on it. The difficulty in this case is to define what are tenants' fixtures. That would be the difficulty we should have to face in Committee on this Bill, and we should find it very hard to arrive at a compromise which would be satisfactory to both parties. The difficulty seems to me almost an insuperable one. ["No, no."] I am only giving my opinion for what it is worth.
§ *MR. WINTERBOTHAM
The hon. Member is mistaken. This question is settled every day. Fire Insurance Companies invariably divide machinery into two categories—landlords' machinery and tenants' machinery. The whole of the machinery cannot be insured in one sum.
§ *MR. LONG
I hope that if the Bill is read a second time, the difficulty will be overcome with as much apparent ease in the House of Commons. It is, however, a difficulty which hon. Gentlemen will have to face, and I think it will be very hard to arrive at anything like a compromise satisfactory to the two contending parties. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Manchester, who seconded the Second Reading of the Bill, the question is a most complicated and difficult one. The hon. Baronet (Sir William Houldsworth) told us that, so far as he is concerned, he should be prepared to accept any fair Amendment which would not interfere with the real objects of the Bill. That is all very well so far as it goes. The difficulty will be to arrive at what are practical and fair Amendments which would properly give effect to the general wish of the House. It has been alleged, and I do not deny it, that there is a want of uniformity in the practice with reference to assessments all over the country. 657 But it has been said by those opposed to the measure that the law on the subject is perfectly clear and has been continuous, and that no change has been made by any recent decision. It appears to the Government that there is undoubtedly a very great divergence of opinion in the House on the merits of this question. It is a matter, however, which the Government think ought to be decided by the House itself. They cannot express their approval of it. Many are opposed to the principle of contracting the area of rate-ability or to any change which will have the effect of throwing increased burdens on other kinds of property. The Government feel, however, that evidence has been adduced pointing to a want of uniformity in the practice of rating, and it is for the House to say whether or not Parliament shall legislate at once on this portion of a greater question. I hold that if the House deals with the question of assessment it should deal with it as a whole. If, however, the House is of opinion that legislation is urgently necessary, and accepts the Second Reading of the Bill, then it will become the undoubted duty of the Government to ask that the next stage of the Bill should be postponed, and that an opportunity should be given to us to consider what Amendments we ought to propose. I shall support the Amendment of my right hon. Friend, not because I wish to create or perpetuate an injustice which presses on the great manufacturing industry, but because I believe this question of assessment should be dealt with as a whole.
§ *(5.0.) SIR HENRY JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
The view many hon. Members of the House entertain on this question is that a practical difficulty has arisen which, we think, ought to be removed. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Local Government Board has said that he declines to be a party to any limitation of the liability to rating that now exists, but can the hon. Gentleman decline to be a party to a mere definition of what ought to be rated? I may be told that such evils as exist have prevailed for a very long period, and that there is no pressing necessity for legislation. But I would remind the House how the present practical difficulty has arisen. In former times the Rating 658 Authorities had certain broad rules placed before them for their guidance. They were told to seek for that which was fixed to the freehold, that which is the landlord's fixture and not the tenant's, and to rate that which is fixed to the land and to omit to rate that which is moveable. These were the principles on which they proceeded. By degrees, however, those landmarks of the past have been encroached upon, and now these encroachments have so much advanced that none of the landmarks remain, and few practical men are now acquainted with the principles that ought to guide them in making assessments. The principle that has been laid down in the case so often quoted is, no doubt, legally sound, but the difficulty is that it is very difficult to know how to apply it. May I ask the House to listen to what every valuer has to bear in mind? He is told that he is to rate things on the premises which are there for the purpose of making those premises fit for the particular work for which they are used. Valuers apply that principle in different ways. While one valuer may decline to value anything which is not firmly fixed to the freehold, another may include the vice upon a bench as something which makes the premises more valuable for the trade for which they are carried on. The result is that one system of rating exists in one place, and another in another. The question the House has to consider is whether or not it will deal with this anomalous state of things, and secure that there shall be one uniform system of rating. This is a practical difficulty which must be dealt with some way or other. The question to be determined by the House now is not whether cranes or weighing machines shall be exempted from rating. This question can be dealt with in Committee when we reach the sub-section which defines what shall be the subject of rating. But there is no wisdom in leaving every valuer to exercise his own authority and interpret for himself this somewhat ambiguous rule. These are the facts which have lead some of us to support this Bill. We do not pledge ourselves to the details. We ask simply that the Legislature shall bear the responsibility of determining what shall be rated and that the point shall 659 not be left in that state of uncertainty which is very disastrous to commercial interests.
§ (5.8.) SIR R. PAGET (Somerset, Wells)
I object to the Bill as a nibbling at a very important trade question. When the right hon. and learned Member speaks of the encouragement afforded by recent legal decisions to Bating Authorities to rate machinery, I venture to think there must be some error, because the dicta of the Judges, whose Judgment has been quoted, themselves afford a refutation of the idea. Each hon. Member who has addressed the House in support of the Bill appears to have done so from a different point of view. One hon. Member told us that the Bill was only a declaration of the existing law, and that it made no change; but another hon. Member asserted that the Bill was necessary to prevent the extinction of manufactories in this country; yet not a single instance has been alleged in which the existing law, as interpreted, has caused, or is creating, any difficulty whatsoever. Of course, we have had a series of gloomy, forbidding, and dreary pictures of possible distress laid before us as likely to arise if the Bill is not allowed to pass into law. But I would like to point out that the decision of which hon. Members have made so much was delivered so far back as the year 1886, and that in the four years that have since elapsed none of the difficulties which they are prognosticating have arisen. The real object of the Bill is that property which has been declared to be legally rateable should no longer be rated. It is a Bill which will have the effect of withdrawing from the area of rating something that is at present liable to rates. It is a Bill advanced by one particular interest, and by one class of men; and it has nothing to do with the greater question of the inequality of rating. Anyone who is acquainted with the present system of rating knows that it is full of inequalities and injustices, and that it requires extensive amendments; and I venture to lay down this proposition—that a matter so intricate, so difficult, and affecting so many interests, is one which ought not to be dealt with in an accidental, haphazard private Member's Bill, but that it is of sufficient importance to be dealt with in a Govern- 660 ment measure. It has been argued as if the Bill were something entirely new; but, as a fact, it has been before the House year after year since 1885, and each year it has been brought forward by one of the leading manufacturers. I do not complain of manufacturers taking that line; but when we are told that the Bill is being advanced from philanthropic motives, I think we should bear in mind what class of property it is designed to remove from the area of rating. Reference has been made to the fact that, unless the Bill is passed, largo mills might become unoccupied, and that our national industries would suffer. I would like to know if there are not at the present time large areas of land which, in consequence of the inequalities of rating, are unoccupied and waiting the hand of the toiler. If the argument is applicable to manufacturers it is also applicable to the case of landowners, and it only strengthens my point that the question is one that should be dealt with as a whole. I contend that the Bill cannot, by any possibility, do any good. It will not settle the law, and the hon. Member for Manchester, in speaking on it, did not attempt to deny that it would require many alterations. The Scotch Law has been quoted; but I would like to know if the Bill will assimilate the English with the Scotch, or even with the Irish Law. I venture to assert that it will do nothing of the kind. But what it will do will be to relieve large manufacturers of a burden which will be thrown upon the poorest class of householders, who are already sufficiently heavily burdened. The Bill will intensify existing injustices instead of simplifying or settling the law, and under these circumstances I feel compelled to vote against its Second Reading.
(5.19.) THE EARL OF CAVAN (Somerset, S.)
The hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Government said that no case of hardship had been made out. Now, the case of Chard has been frequently alluded to in this debate, and there undoubtedly a ease of great hardship exists. A. man bought some works for £4,300 and also paid £1,500 for the machinery. He then put £23,000 into the business and acquired a large quantity of new machinery under the belief that the 661 same system of assessment would continue, when suddenly he had the now assessment sprung upon him. I have letters from three or four other manufacturers complaining that the new assessment presses very hardly upon them. We hope the House will agree to the Second Reading of this Bill not only because it deals with individual cases, but because it will enable manufacturers in England, as in the case of Scotland and Ireland, to know what their rating will be.
§ *(5.21.) MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
I regret that time does not permit me to submit the case of the mining industries with which I have been this day intrusted; but I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman in charge; of the Bill if, providing the Bill is read a second time, he will in Committee exempt coal mining machinery from the operation of the Bill?
§ (5.22.) The House divided:—Ayes 239; Noes 87.—(Div. List, No. 51.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill road a second time, and committed for To-morrow.