§ (5.25.) MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
I rise, Sir,To call attention to the unfair incidence of Local Taxation in London and other large towns; and to move, That, in the opinion of this House, the freeholders and owners of ground values in the Metropolis ought to contribute directly a substantial share of Local Taxation.
§ *(5.26.) MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I wish to call attention to the position in which this Motion stands. The House will remember that the Town Holdings Committee, which has sat for several years, was re-appointed in 1889; but, owing to want of time, was not able to make a Report last Session. Two days ago that Committee was re-appointed for the purpose of inquiring into a special subject, namely,The question of imposing a direct assessment on all owners of ground rents, and on 934 the owners of increased values imparted to lands by building operations or other improvements.Thus the subject referred to the Committee is very much the same subject as that embodied in the hon. Member's Motion. I have not thought it right to interfere as a matter of Order, and to say that the hon. Member would not be in order in bringing this subject forward; but I think it is my duty to call attention to a course which certainly is unusual and, in my opinion, inconvenient. The Committee was only appointed two days ago, and has begun to take evidence, and the hon. Member proposes by a Motion to ask the opinion of the House upon one of the very points referred to that Committee. I know no precedent for the course which the hon. Member wishes to take, but I know no precedent against it, and I think it best to leave the matter to the judgment of the House.
§ *(5.29.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand, Westminster
After what has fallen from the Speaker, I must appeal to the hon. Member opposite not to create a precedent which may be found most inconvenient. I believe that on no occasion within recent Parliamentary history has a subject been debated in this House when it has already been specifically referred to a Select Committee for consideration. A Committee partakes largely of the nature of a jury, it being their duty to examine and weigh evidence for and against a proposal, and to interfere with their deliberations by a Debate in this House can hardly be right. The precedent which the hon. Member opposite wishes to establish would, I fear, result in destroying the authority of Committees of that House, and tend to produce among hon. Members an unwillingness to take part in the work of a tribunal whose deliberations might at any time be interrupted by Debates in the House.
§ (5.30.) MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
Sir, had I believed that the hon. Gentleman was introducing an innovation into Parliamentary practice, I should have been much disposed to have joined in the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman. But with very great respect, and undoubtedly with some reserve, because I have had no opportunity of fortifying 935 my recollection, I venture to say that the right hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension as to the practice of the House. I have in my recollection, though I do not like to give particulars to the House when I am not quite certain of them, a very important and conspicuous case in which, while a matter was under the consideration of a Committee, it was raised as the subject of Debate in this House, and very important consequences followed on that Debate, notwithstanding the fact that the Committee was sitting. I am quite certain that when Committees have been sitting, I have—when sitting on that Bench—used the argument that a subject with which I was desirous of getting rid of should go before a Committee. I am bound to say that that argument was received either with apathy or with symptoms of impatience by the House. It may be assumed with confidence that I am within the mark when I say that the right hon. Gentleman is not quite correct in his recollection of the practice of the House.
§ *(5.33.) MR. LAWSON (St. Pancras, W.)
I venture respectfully to draw attention to two precedents in connection with this very Committee. In the first place, it was appointed to consider the tenure of houses, and afterwards there was referred to it the subject of leasehold enfranchisement. Though it had not reported in 1889 a Debate took place on the Second Heading of the Leasehold Enfranchisement Bill; in fact, the Report was not presented until three months after that. The second precedent was this: In 1886 a Motion was submitted by Mr. William Saunders, then Member for Hull, covering the ground of this Motion, and it was referred to the Committee. Subsequently, Professor Thorold Rogers moved a Resolution to the effect that the owners of the ground value should be made to contribute towards local taxation. I venture to think that those are two exact precedents. As a matter of fact, the present Motion does not cover the entire Reference to the Committee, inasmuch as it deals only with the Metropolis, and not with the general question which is under the consideration of the Committee. Besides that part of the Reference affecting the Metropolis has already been dealt with, and there only 936 remain to be dealt with the Scotch feu system, and some other cases outside London. I venture to submit that on the present occasion it is very important that we should lay down a principle which the Committee may be able to apply in their Report.
§ (5.40.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury made the observation that a practice of this kind might discourage Members serving on Committees. I may remind the right hon. Gentleman that it has been the practice within the last year or two to dispose of questions by referring them either to a Committee or to a Royal Commission, and such a practice might, have the effect of closing the mouth of this House altogether. If you can only get a question referred to a Royal Commission, you may be sure that for three years the subject will not be heard of further. And if the Government go on pursuing this course of referring everything to Committees or to Royal Commissions, it is conceivable that the House might be dispossessed of such a subject, for instance, as the labour question for years to come.
§ *(5.42.) MR. W. H. SMITH
May I say one word on this matter? The right hon. Gentleman appeared to suggest that the Government desired to shelve a question of this kind by referring it to a Committee. We could not, and should not, advise the House that the system of ground rents was one which ought to be absolutely and unconditionally abolished. We hoped the House would be disposed to adopt the view of referring this Motion to a Committee which is already dealing with the subject, and all I desired to do was to represent to the House the inconvenience of discussing the question. So far as the Government are concerned, if it is the desire of the House to proceed with the discussion, we are quite prepared to so.
§ *(5.43.) MR. J. STUART
I wish to-put the right hon. Gentleman's even-mindedness to the test. If it be that this question is still under the consideration of the Committee, and the Government are desirous that this question shall not trouble the House, then will they do what the County Council for two years asked them to do, namely 937 pass an Act through this House or pass a Resolution in this House which shall show that the opinion of this House is that as to contracts for leases, and as to the bearing of rates and taxes, any future contracts which contract either party out of the rates or taxes will not hold good. The London County Council has petitioned this House in favour of a change in the law such as that which I suggest. It is quite clear that the existence of contracts puts a great deal of difficulty in the way of any change of the law. Will that change be facilitated by Her Majesty's Government? I am not asking anything new. In 1870 the Chancellor of the Exchequer said it was against public policy to allow landlords and tenants to contract themselves out of the rates, and he actually brought in a Bill to deal with the matter. Now, I am desirous of bringing this subject before the House, even though the Committee be sitting. I say nothing of the fact that the Committee has been sitting for five years, and if it continues to sit it would prevent the free discussion of this subject for years in the House. Sir, this question is not only ripe, but it is rotting for discussion. The subject was before a Committee of this House in 1866, and that Committee reported that the burdens upon the ratepayers of London—I have got the words here—had been incurred for the purpose of supplying wants arising from defects of former administration of the affairs of the Metropolis, and of effecting improvements which tended to increase the value of property. And that Committee reported in favour of some part of the expense being thrown upon the landlords. In 1867 the Government proposed that a threepenny improvement rate should be charged on to owners. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1870 proposed that the occupier should have power to deduct half his rates from the rent; and in 1871 he introduced a Bill on the subject, and he then used the very arguments I hope to use this evening. Under these circumstances it is not at all a new thing to ask, what is asked in the Petition of the County Council, that while the proper mode is being settled to relieve the ratepayers, an Act should be passed to insure that the future rates shall fall on the persons who shall be indicated as proper to bear the 938 burden of the rates. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequerr, with that Petition before him, and with the utterances he has himself made, whether he is prepared to introduce any measure or Resolution to carry out the object of that Petition. If he is, I am perfectly willing to withdraw my Motion, but on no other condition. Hon. Members on this side of the House who represent the Metropolis have decided it is well to confine the Motion to the Metropolis, and that the question, as it affects London, should be looked at in itself. There are many points which differentiate the Metropolis from other parts of the country. In London is paid one quarter of the whole rates paid in England and Wales. Our rateable value is one-fifth of the whole rateable value of England and Wales; our debt is one-fifth of the whole local debt of England and Wales. These striking figures render the case of the Metropolis peculiarly urgent. I had occasion in 1888, when the right hon. Gentleman was passing the Local Government Bill, to call attention to the scant justice which the Metropolis received, and to show that while relief to the extent of nearly a 4d. rate was given by that measure in other parts of the country, the relief afforded to the ratepayers in London amounted to only 1¾d. The answer given me was that the Metropolis had in the past received more assistance from the Consolidated Fund than other parts of the country. But if you take the total subventions given in relief of local burdens you will find that the Metropolis receives one-sixth of the total amount given to the country. If it were relieved in proportion to its rateable value, which I take to be a fair method, it would be bettor by £150,000 than it now is. The only grant made to us was that given by the Home Secretary, who gave us no less than one-half of the sum granted for police superannuation. But that goes a very small way indeed towards correcting the difference, because the expense of the police of the Metropolis, whom we cannot control, is not much short of one-half of the whole expenditure of the police of England and Wales. It is, in fact, £1,500,000 out of £3,800,000. I think I have made out a case which differentiates the Metropolis 939 to a considerable extent. Let me take the case of the debt of the Metropolis. Altogether it is about £40,000,000. The total local debt of the whole of England is something like £200,000,000. That is to say, the debt of London is one-fifth of the whole. But there are peculiarities of the debt of London which make that comparison very misleading. Because I am within the mark when I say that one-half of the local debt of £150,000,000 in other parts of the country is for remunerative works, such as gas and water undertakings. So that, in other words—of the local debt which really comes upon the pockets of the ratepayers, and which is for other than commercial purposes, one-third is located in London. The main part of the Metropolitan debt, £30,000,000 of it, has been contracted for permanent improvements, which increase the value of property in the neighbourhood. The amount of money spent in London on permanent improvements is out of sight greater than the amount that has been spent in any part of the country in the same ways. I think, therefore, I have made a fair division of this matter in order to bring it before the House, from the point of view of the Metropolis. But this debt for permanent improvement is not all that has been spent in the last 30 years. We have already paid off £10,000,000, so that £40,000,000 is not at all an over-statement of the amount. This is a question which affects not only persons rich enough to occupy houses, but the poor who live in lodgings and tenement houses are all affected in proportion to the rent they have to pay. It is a question deeply affecting those who pay the debts of the past and have to discharge the debts still to be incurred for the permanent improvement of the Metropolis. But it is said, when you make a bargain with the ground landlords, they take into consideration that these rates will come upon them. The ground landlord comes into the reversion of many things—the housebuilt upon the land; the improvements made by his tenant; and the increased value of his property arising from "unearned increment." But how is that met? It is met out of the rates, out of the pockets of the occupiers. There is not a Member of this House who will deny that 940 the residual value of the permanent improvements of London is to be found in the enhanced value of the property of the ground landlords and of the freeholders. The right hon. Gentleman will say that they can take account of that in their bargain. Have they done so? Since the year 1831 more than 60 per cent. of the houses in London, whether you take them by numbers or value, have been erected, and their leases have been made. I take the year 1831, because, speaking generally, none of the leases made in that year will be in existence after 1931. By that time four-fifths of the whole present debt of London will be paid off. It is in process of paying up to 1941. Now, the leases, which will have fallen in by that year, refer to two-thirds of the houses of London, and when they fall into the new landlord's hands he will have to make his bargain, and he will then take into account the coming rates for new and wider improvements, which will enhance the value of his property; but it is to be remembered that the whole of the improved value of two-thirds of the houses of London whose leases have expired—an improved value resulting from permanent improvements, the debt for which will then have been paid off—will fall into the hands of the ground landlords. It may be said that many of these leases were made in expectation of the coming rates. But does that apply to anything like them all? On the contrary, one half of those I have named, or one-third of the whole houses of London, were built and leased between the years 1831 and 1861. I take these dates because they go by censuses. By the year 1861, the Metropolitan Board of Works had only begun to get into action, and it was during the major part of that 30 years to which I refer that a third part of London was built. There was no expectation of any kind whatever that there would be any rates for the permanent improvement of London, or that if there were, they would not be treated as the sewers and other rates had been treated. Therefore, one-third of the property of London is at this moment absolutely demonstrably escaping entirely from paying any contribution towards permanent improvements. Hon. Gentlemen may very well ask what is 941 the amount of the rise in value of the property I am referring to—a rise in value which I attribute largely to the expenditure made out of the pockets of the ratepayers. The annual valuation of London shows an increase year by year. This is owing to the fact that, besides the new buildings and additions to buildings, an added value has been put by the valuers on the property generally throughout London. If the annual valuations are separated from the quinquennial re-valuations, it is found that London increases by £550,000 a year of rateable value, so far as new buildings and improvements are concerned. In other words, the annual rent is increased by that sum from new buildings and improvements. But every year an additional value of £300,000 is given to London. Part of that added value, no doubt, may be traced to the stricter methods of assessment; but the major portion is to be attributed to an actual rise in the value of the place. I will take as an example the parish of St. George's, Hanover Square. In 1869 there took place a re-valuation in that parish, bringing the value of the property up to its full valuation. But since 1869 there has been an increase of £518,000 in the valuation of the parish; and of this £436,000 was added at the quinquennial valuations, showing that the increase has been due to an increase in the value of the property. No doubt others profit from these rises besides the ground landlords. There are the holders of the leases, and the intermediate reversioners, and these, with the ground landlords, share the possesion of the value of London, among them. Either of the bodies of reversioners could be taxed upon their reversions. I do not say I am proposing a tax on reversioners. In local taxation it is impossible to have anything like absolute justice; but it would only be just if, at least, the equivalent of some taxation on the reversioner could be contrived. The reversioner would then be made to pay for some part of the increased value which he is receiving on his property, and which has been brought about by an unforseen expenditure on the part of the occupier. No doubt the leaseholder himself, and also the occupier, profit from the increase of value; but the occupier does not have 942 the whole of the profit, and he ought not to be compelled to pay for the whole. A division of rates between the owner and the occupier, such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has proposed, and the carrying back of a certain proportion after the manner of the Income Tax, is undoubtedly one of the elements of a fair distribution of burdens, but I wish to go further, and to get hold, for taxing purposes, of the reversioners. Then we come to the question of who pays the rates. There is no doubt whatever that the rates paid by the occupier in the agricultural parts of England are thrown on the owner. But in towns there is no doubt, on the other hand, that in many circumstances they remain upon the occupier. There are bargainings and arrangements in which the incidence of the rates is taken into account in settling the rent, and there are many instances in which it is impossible for a man who is paying the rates to get them deducted from his rent. The rates creep up little by little, and it is not easy to make an adjustment. I know that in London the occupier in the great majority of instances does not pay the rates directly. It has been estimated by Mr. Sargant that three out of four of the occupiers of London are not rated directly. I think that is an extravagant estimate, but but still the number is large. In that case the rates fall directly upon the owner, the first owner—I don't mean the ground landlord, but the owner nearest the occupier. However, one party may shovel the rates on the other, I maintain it is the duty of Parliament to make up its mind as to how the ultimate incidence would be just, and fix the incidence accordingly. You will then remove from the public mind a grievous misapprehension, as the advocates of the ground landlords call it, in the minds of the people. If we had a distribution of rates in proportion to the profit received from their expenditure, we should get rid of all those heart burnings and unfortunate conclusions which prevail amongst the vast multitude of the people, and we should get rid also of one of the greatest arguments in the mouths of the people who would go much further than myself, and would do positive injustice to the ground landlords. All I claim is that those who reap the profit should bear the burden. 943 Several methods have been suggested. The ground landlords would not pay a substantial share of the rates by the mere division of rates after the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they would only pay a very small portion, for their property is mostly in reversion. I suggested a plan in the Housing of the Poor Bill of three years ago which has since been very ably amplified in a pamphlet by Mr. Moulton: that was for the separation of the valuation of land from the valuation of houses, handing back the rate in the same manner as the Income Tax, upon such portion of the joint value as is due to the land. I think there are objections to that method, and I have given it up, as by itself a complete solution of the question. But there are points in it which I am perfectly convinced might be applied in certain circumstances with great advantage. There is a proposition to bring the charge to bear on the reversions of the leases. That proposition was made in a Bill introduced by the hon. Member who will Second my Resolution, and who is better able to explain it than myself. No doubt under that Bill, as at present drafted, the burden would be too great upon the actual freeholder, the intermediate enjoyer of the value of the ground escaping with too little notice. But the fact that none of these proposals are complete is no argument against some portion of them or some combination of them being adopted. There is another method which, I think, has more in it perhaps than any of the methods alone, although not perhaps more in it than all of the others taken together, and that is the method of increasing the Succession Duty. The Succession Duty is absolutely unfair as compared with the Legacy Duty. If you take a property in personalty and a property in realty and assume the ages to be 35, and the relationship that of a nephew, you will find there is very nearly three times the Death Duty upon the personalty that there is upon the realty. I say there is no more fitting or proper subject for taxation for local purposes than the real property of towns, and there is no more easy and better method of reaching its owners than by an increase of the Death Duty, or at any rate by an increase of the Succession Duty. A 944 Death Duty upon realty equal to the Death Duty on personalty would represent a tax upon owners who at present escape from taxation. The real property of London does not bear anything like the burden that land in agricultural districts bears. The owners of real property in London contract themselves out of the rates and bear none of the burdens which justly and equitably fall upon them. It is not only in the interest of the ratepayers but of the poor of London that we urge this measure upon the Government. The question of the housing of the poor hangs fire, and will hang fire until it is decided on whose backs these burdens are to rest, and it is just and right that before heavy additional expense is incurred in respect to the making of open spaces and broader streets, and other necessary improvements, we should require the Government of the country to endeavour to distribute these burdens aright. Without saying, at this point of the movement, that any specific one of these burdens ought to be borne by any particular person, I ask the House to make it clear that all those who profit largely by the expenditure of the rates must contribute a substantial share of the local taxation. I beg to move my Resolution.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, "in the opinion of this House, the freeholders and owners of ground values in the Metropolis ought to contribute directly a substantial share of Local Taxation,"—(Mr. James Stuart,)
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.
§ *(6.20.) MR. MONTAGU (Tower Hamlets, Whitechapel)
I rise to second the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch. I do so in the interests of the working classes and very poor of the Metropolis, a vast number of whom live in the Tower Hamlets, of which I am one of the Representatives. I believe that those classes suffer unjustly through the incidence of local taxation, and that the owners of ground values in London escape unfairly from taking their proper share of local burdens. My experience of nearly 40 years in East London convinces me that personal efforts and private benevolence 945 can do very little to ameliorate the condition of the labouring classes; whereas the Government could do much in that direction by distributing local taxation fairly between the freeholders and occupiers. Whitechapel may serve as an illustration of the injustice imposed upon occupiers by the present system. The interests of my constituency differ only in degree from those of other working class districts in London. The residents consist to a great extent of the labouring classes and of small tradesmen; therefore, the heavy burden of local taxation constitutes a larger proportion of their total expenditure than the average of London as a whole. There are few highly-rented premises in the district, because the houses are as a rule of the plainest construction, yet owing to the increased value of the land, rents are very high in proportion to the accommodation afforded. I believe a better house can be obtained for the same rent, say £50 or £60 a year, in any other district excepting the City or the fashionable parts of the West End. My constituency comprises some of the very poorest and densely populated localities in England; therefore, the high rents and heavy rates are of vital importance. A 1d. rate produces now only £1,600, consequently the total proportion of rates to rent is nearly 6s. in the £1 as against the average of 5s. if London were rated as a whole. White chapel suffers in full measure through the absence of landlords. I doubt if a dozen freeholders actually live in the district. Is it not reasonable, therefore, that these absentee landlords, who derive large and increasing incomes from the district, should be forced to bear a fair share of local burdens? Hon. Members are no doubt aware of the great increase in the price of land in the City, where within the last 20 or 30 years ground values have doubled and trebled. I will not trouble the House with many statistics, but will mention two or three instances within my own knowledge. A house in Cornhill was rack-rented 35 years ago at £350; the ground is now let at £900. In Broad Street 30years ago several small houses were rack-rented at £200; now the ground of each brings in £550. These are by no means extreme cases. I will, however, give a more remarkable instance from information supplied by 946 the estate agent concerned. A house in Cornhill was, up till 1862, let at the rack-rent of £150—equal to a value of, say, £3,000. The freehold in possession was sold at public auction in June 1862 for £11,000—nearly four times the value it would have realised when let in 1841 on a 21 years' lease. Twenty years later, in May 1882, it was again sold at public auction for £25,000—more than eight times the value, in about 40 years. That may have been an extreme case; but it was not an exceptional price, as the adjoining house, of similar size, is built on a ground rent of £1,100. But land has not risen in value only in the City, where wealth abounds, but also at the other extreme, where the direst poverty prevails. There is a piece of land, about four acres in extent, close to Commercial Street. The inhabitants who live on it are largely composed of the very dregs of social life. It is rightly stigmatised by the Rev. S. A. Barnett, Vicar of St. Judas, as the plague spot of Whitechapel. When the Whitechapel murders began, one of which was perpetrated on that very property, the concentration of police dispersed, to some extent, the criminal classes who lived there. The leaseholders of some common lodging houses could not, in consequence, get lodgers so as to pay their rent; they wished to cancel their leases; and, therefore, the freeholder was inclined to sell out. That was considered a good opportunity to buy the land, pull down the wretched houses, which were inhabited by prostitutes and other vicious classes, and utilise the ground, not for profit, but for artisans' dwellings and other useful purposes. Mr. Barnett formed a syndicate of eleven gentlemen, including two Members of this House, each to furnish £4,000. The income of the property was £1,800, and as much as 25 years' purchase, namely, £45,000, was offered, but the scare passed away, and the landlord preferred to retain his loathsome but increasing income. The Home Secretary, I think, knows something about that plague spot, and I rather think that he would not object to see that freeholder taxed for local purposes. All, I think, will admit that the owners of ground values in London are a favoured class; they enjoy the immunity all freehold 947 property enjoys from the full taxation applied to personalty, while they have the benefit of vast expenditure on improvements. In no other instance has property risen in value so generally and so greatly. I am, therefore, surprised that a class so able to bear increased taxation should have hitherto escaped. I am surprised that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not created a special tax for these ground rents, to tap this source of revenue.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square
Which? Ground rents or ground values?
§ *MR. MONTAGU
I would prefer ground values; but ground rents would be better than nothing. An objection has been raised to the rating of ground values on the plea that those who have purchased ground rents recently have not the benefit from improvements, and their investments have not increased in value. The reply to that would be that the intention to tax ground rents or ground values has been publicly declared on behalf of a large section of this House, and, therefore, purchasers have had ample notice that such would be the effect of legislation in the near future. Whenever a fresh tax is imposed, some cases, of unequal treatment will arise, but the owners of ground values as a class cannot reasonably object to a moderate tax. In my native town—Liverpool—city lands have been the object of greater regard and foresight than here in London. It appears that the Corporation has owned for many years nearly two-thirds of the parish of Liverpool. The leases granted by the Corporation, of which there are over 5,000, are as a rule sold for 75 years at a peppercorn rent renewal during the term by fines, in consideration of which payment the leases are extended to 75 years. Thus, private landowners are to a great extent excluded from the benefit of unearned increment, and from benefit arising from the expenditure of public money on improvements, all this goes to the ratepayers. Also, if any property is required for public purposes and improvements it can be more easily acquired by such a system. The leaseholders, too, erect more substantial buildings than they do in London. Two years ago and last year I introduced a Bill into 948 the House for the special rating of ground values in London on account of permanent Metropolitan improvements. I have not re-introduced that Bill this Session out of deference to the wish of those who thought it preferable to raise the money by a special Death Duty upon ground values. I will not trouble the House with any details of that Bill, but I may be allowed to read the Memorandum which explained my object—The object of this Bill is to charge, as in the case of a sewers rate, upon the freehold or inheritance of the land within the Metropolis, the capital sums now due, or hereafter to become due, in respect of loans raised, or hereafter to be raised, with the previous sanction of the Treasury or of the Local Government Board, after full investigation as to the class and nature of the work, and exclusively applied to carrying out permanent improvements.The Select Committee on Metropolitan Local Government (1866) reported—That nearly the whole of its (the late Metropolitan Board of Works) expenditure and obligations have been incurred for the purpose of supplying wants arising from the defects of former administration of the affairs of the Metropolis, and of effecting permanent improvements, which have tended to increase the value of property in the Metropolis.They conclude—Your Committee, therefore, recommend that in any arrangement of the fundamental resources of the Metropolitan Board, a portion of the charge for permanent improvements and works shall be borne by the owners of property within the Metropolis, the rate being in the first instance paid by the occupier, and subsequently deducted from his rent, as is now provided in regard to the General Property Tax.Then the Memorandum proceeds—The machinery by which it is proposed to give effect to this principle of local taxation is to take out of the amounts raised by any Rating Authority in the Metropolis such sum now included therein as represents borrowed capital or annual instalments for its repayment, and to substitute in lieu thereof a Metropolitan improvement rate, to be collected as a fixed charge from the occupier, as in the case of Land Tax. The occupier paying the same shall be entitled to deduct the amount from any rent payable by him to his superior in title, and each successive owner of any interest less than the fee simple shall have this power. All contracts whereby this rate is shifted upon the occupier or the owner of intermediate interest, are declared null and void.This was the explanation of the Bill which, for the reason I have stated, I have not reintroduced this year. In any 949 case there is no doubt that the ground landlords in London do not contribute sufficiently to local burdens. There are several causes which tend continually to appreciate the value of land in London, benefiting that specially favoured class, the ground landlords of this great city. There is the fact that in the capital of this prosperous country, land which is limited in extent is in the hands of a few and must increase in value. There is also the fact that the value is enhanced by the great mass of capital seeking sound investment, owing to the reduction of the interest on consols and the consequent reduction in the interest on many Foreign loans largely held by our capitalists. These are, perhaps, spontaneous causes, but there is also what is called the unearned increment arising from the industry of the tenant. This benefit to the freeholder arises frequently from the concentration of a large portion of the property of a locality in the possession of one owner. The last cause to which I would refer is the benefit which landowners in London derive from the vast expenditure of public money in permanent improvements such as the Main Drainage, the Thames Embankment, the Holborn Viaduct, making new streets, widening old streets, building new bridges and freeing old bridges. It is well known that the Metropolitan debt now amounting to about £35,000,000 was incurred by the Board of Works by loins chiefly for the purpose of permanent improvements. The amount is between £30,000,000 and £40,000,000, I will call it £30,000,000. The interest payable is about £1,000,000 annually, besides which £300,000 a year is raised for a sinking fund to redeem the capital at the end of about 50 years. For whose benefit is this rate for a sinking fund imposed? Not for the occupier for he is not likely to be in possession 50 years hence. It is not for the advantage of the leaseholder, his term will have expired or be about to expire at that time. The benefit will, as a general rule, accrue almost entirely to the freeholder. One can understand that the occupier might be required to pay a part or even the whole of the interest on the money laid out for permanent improvements, for it may be assumed that he enjoys the advantage during the time of his 950 occupation, but how about the sinking fund? Why must he also pay the £300,000 a year for a sinking fund to benefit the freeholder 50 years hence? At that time not only will the rate for the sinking fund cease, but the £1,000,000 for interest will also be wiped out with the repayment of capital. Is it just that this rate for sinking fund should be paid by any one but the freeholder? Rates and taxes are usually levied for current requirements, not for the advantage of a privileged class 50 years hence. The sinking fund is a sentimental provision. I am not finding fault with it, it is very right, but it ought either to be abolished and the repayments made by a fresh loan, or it should be kept up by taxes levied on the class which will ultimately benefit by it. The difficulty of making the ground landlords pay, arises from the fact that contracts exist by which leaseholders assume all liability for rates, except the landlord's property tax. That difficulty might be overcome by imposing a special Property Tax for permanent improvements, and that should be made untransferable. It might be argued that if the tenant is relieved, the landlord would raise the rent. Well, there is some force in that, but it would not be so easy to raise rent on account of a small and variable tax. But in order to prevent any such injustice a special Death Duty on ground values in London might be levied instead of a tax in aid of local taxation, and that Death Duty should be devoted to reducing the rates. I still maintain that it would also be advisable to impose, to a moderate extent, a special landlords' Property Tax, or rate, on ground values in London, an untransferable rate, and the proceeds should be devoted to the payment of the sinking fund rate, the surplus being spent on permanent London improvements. The rateable value of property in London is about £33,000,000, and the ground value is variously estimated from £13,000,000 down to £7,000,000. Take it at £10,000,000. A tax of 1s. in the £1 would produce £500,000, of which £300,000 would be paid into a sinking fund, which it is the absolute duty of the freeholder to provide, and £200,000 would be spent in permanent improvements which would also improve the ground values. With 951 this balance in their hands the County Council could carry out improvements in the East of London which certainly have long been needed. The Bell Lane area was condemned 10 or 12 years ago, but the improvement has not been undertaken on account of the great expenditure involved. Then there is the Blackwall Tunnel to be paid for, and, possibly, another tunnel under the Thames at Shadwell. One difficulty in the levying of Property Tax or ground values was provided for in my Bill. For the rare cases where the tax on ground values amounted to a quarter of the rent receivable, the amount of tax would be accumulated at 3 per cent. compound interest until the reversion should fall in. I trust that hon. Members on both sides of the House will admit that occupiers in London pay more than their fair proportion of local taxation; that in the words of the Resolution—Freeholders and owners of ground values in the Metropolis ought to contribute directly a substantial share of local taxation.At least, the annual payment for the redemption of Metropolitan debt ought to be paid by the freeholders; also, they should contribute towards future permanent improvements in London; and—whether the money be raised from the owners of ground values in London by a special Death Duty, by a special Property Tax, or in any other way, I hope the Resolution which I have the honour to second will be carried to-night.
§ *(6.45.) MR. G. W. BALFOUR (Leeds, Central)
I am rather surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Hoxton, after the suggestion you, Sir, made for the benefit of the House, should, notwithstanding, have thought it right to persevere with his Resolution. But I shall be still more surprised if he carries a majority with him into the Lobby. I have placed on the Paper an Amendment founded on the view which you have expressed; and I venture to think that view is not only in accordance with the usual practice of this House, but is also in accordance with the obvious dictates of convenience and propriety. It is not the practice of the House, nor is it desirable, that we should pass judgment upon a question pending the deliberations of a Committee appointed to consider it. Least of all should this be done in the case of 952 a question so difficult as that on which we are now asked to pronounce a decision. The hon. Member for St. Pancras (Mr. Lawson) has quoted two precedents in reference to the present position. I cannot think that either of these precedents affords a good example, but, rather, an example to be carefully avoided. The hon. Member made the further statement on which I cannot speak with personal knowledge, that the Committee have taken their evidence on the subject.
§ *MR. G. W. BALFOUR
I have been assured that the evidence taken was all from one side, and, so far from this being an argument in favour of this Resolution, a strong reason is afforded in the other direction. I do not think that under the circumstances it is essential that I should endeavour to refute the arguments the hon. Member for Hoxton has brought forward. It will be sufficient if I can show to the House that his Motion is premature—I mean in the sense that it asks the House to come to a judgment on this matter before the House is prepared to come to a judgment. I submit that in appointing this Committee only two days ago the House has clearly shown that in its opinion more light is required to be thrown upon the subject before it can express a decision. Nevertheless, it may be proper and convenient that I should follow the line of argument adopted by my hon. Friend the Mover of this Resolution. The Resolution raises questions not only of the very greatest importance but, as everybody will admit who listened to the speech of the hon. Member, questions of the greatest difficulty. I gladly recognise the ability which marked that speech and the moderation of its tone, but the hon. Member made a good many observations in the course of it which I do not say I differ from, because, being a member of the Committee, I do not wish to express a definite opinion, but observations, upon the accuracy of which there exists much difference of opinion. First let me observe, the actual terms of the Motion refer to the Metropolis alone. The Preamble to the Motion, however, has no such limited application—it is general in its terms— 953To call attention to the unfair incidence of local taxation in London and other large towns.and then the Motion goes on to declare—That the freeholders and owners of ground values in the Metropolis ought to contribute directly a substantial share of local taxation.If we examine the reasons given by the hon. Member for treating London apart from other towns I cannot altogether admit that they are beyond criticism. The first reason adduced is the great size of London and the enormous amount of its local taxation. Another reason the hon. Member gave was that London was badly treated in this matter, inasmuch as relief given to ratepayers in London had been less than that given in other parts of the country. Well; it does not appear to me that either of these considerations have very much to do with the question before us. No doubt, if we are to assume that the hon. Member is right in his contention that the present incidence of taxation is unfair, then of course they might constitute a reason for taking London before any other town. But this begs the question at issue before us. The third reason is more closely connected with the substance of the Motion, namely, the allegation that the public debt of London is not only very large but has been largely incurred for permanent improvements. Here we do come more or less to the heart of the subject, for no doubt the discussion must centre to a considerable extent around the question of permanent improvements. The hon. Member went on to say that permanent improvements are all provided for out of rates paid by the occupiers. I think, however, in a later period of his speech, he somewhat modified this, for he admitted that in many cases the rates are not paid by the occupiers. Then he went on to put the very pertinent question, "Who pays the rates?" I think it would have been of some advantage had he gone more closely into this question—Who pays the rates? Is it the occupier or the owner? Our final decision must turn very much upon the answer given to that question. It is one of the most difficult questions in the whole range of political economy. There was a discussion in the House the other day on the taxation of land, in the course 954 of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, taking hold of an admission made by the President of the Board of Agriculture (Mr. Chaplin), that in his view all rates ultimately fall upon the landlord, treated it as an acknowledgment that the subventions from the Exchequer in relief of local taxation must be for the benefit of the landlords alone. That is, no doubt, a possible view to take; but if you take that view you must not at the same time complain of rates being entirely thrown upon the occupier. I offer no opinion upon the subject: it is an extremely difficult one, and I cannot say that I have made up my mind as to what is the real incidence of taxation applied to urban property. But I think it is admitted that ground rents pay their proportion of local burdens, that is to say, if you divide the rack rent into two parts, and assign part to the ground rent and part to the rent of the structure, the share of taxation which falls on the part representing the ground is paid by the landlord. Many economists go beyond this and say that the whole eventually falls upon the landowner; and if I understand the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, he is rather inclined to that view. I admit that if there is ground for the contention of the Mover and Seconder of this Resolution it is in connection with permanent improvements. The hon. Member for Hoxton has told us that the unearned increment arises largely from the improvements paid for out of rates, and that the whole of it falls to the ground landlord. This last statement he again somewhat qualified later on and rightly qualified, by adding that until the lease falls out a large portion of the benefit does come to the occupier or building owner as the case may be. Now is it true that a large part of the unearned increment comes from payments out of the rates? This is an important question to raise and to answer, and I wish the hon. Member who moved the Resolution had gone a little more closely into that question. His argument was this: house property in London has enormously risen in value, to the extent, I think he said, of an annual increase in assessment of £300,000. This increase, he assumed, was owing to 955 the increase in value caused by public improvements. The rise in value maybe in part due to expenditure out of the rates; how much is a difficult point to determine, but I am rather inclined to think the increase in value is, for the most part, due not so much to the expenditure of the ratepayers' money as to the natural growth of the town, the increase of population, and demand for house accommodation, with the natural result that ground rents go up, and would go up if there were not these permanent improvements. A large portion, I may say much the largest portion, of the expenditure of the rates is not upon permanent improvements, but upon the wants of the current year. As to what the proportion between expenditure for permanent improvements and for yearly wants is, it is the business of the Committee to discover, if possible. So far as the interest on loans contracted for permanent improvements is concerned, I do not, myself, see that it is easy to make out that any unfairness exists. I admit it is otherwise with the sinking fund, and there I think there is a benefit accruing to the owner to which he does not contribute in any form. So far as the sinking fund upon these loans is concerned, there is, I admit, a good deal to be said in favour of the contention of the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution for a just redistribution of the burden. At the same time, before adopting any redistribution we have to consider whether a new plan will not create more unfairness than exists under the present system. I do not say whether it is possible to find a plan that will not do this. The hon. Member for Hoxton himself confesses that absolute justice is not to be expected; but unless we can see our way to a method that offers a greater approximation to justice we may well doubt the expediency of making any alteration at all. The hon. Member has mentioned a variety of ways in which the inequality or injustice of which he speaks might be remedied, but I did not gather that he expressed a decided preference. There was the proposal made by Mr. Moulton, a former Member of this House, of which I need only say that the hon. Member himself rejected it.
§ *MR. G. W. BALFOUR
I accept the hon. Member's correction. I do not understand whether any of the proposals he mentioned offer, in his view, anything like a complete solution. I will only observe that there seems to be a great variety of nostrums to deal with the situation—I will not call them nostrums, that may seem an offensive term prejudging the question; but the very variety of the remedies proposed forms an additional and strong reason why we should not now come to a decision, and why we should leave the Committee to their deliberations. The hon. Gentleman said this proposal was made in the interest of the poor. I have not the least doubt he was perfectly sincere in saying so; but many think the people who would gain from the change would not be the poor—certainly not occupiers on short tenancies—but the building owner or middleman of some kind or other. Here, again, I say this is a point on which we require further information. I have in the remarks I have made avoided expressing an opinion of my own, partly because I am a Member of the Committee and partly because I think the House ought to reject the Motion quite independently of the wisdom or error of the views it expresses. But I would remind the House of the extreme difficulty and complexity of the various matters which must be taken into consideration before we can arrive at a final judgment with regard to this question. First of all, we must consider whether ground rents have already paid rates, and, if so, what proportion of the rates? Next we must consider what are the interests usually concerned in house property in London, what part they respectively bear in contributing to rates, and what benefit each of them obtains from the expenditure of the rates. For instance, it has been brought to common knowledge by the inquiries of the Committee, that in London almost all house property involves three interests—that of the occupier, that of the building owner, and that of the ground landlord. Before we can determine the question of the rating of ground rents and ground values we must ascertain what is the relation between the freeholder and the building owner, and then what is the relation between the building owner and the occupier with regard to the 957 payment of rates and the benefit received from expenditure of rates. I can hardly conceive any inquiry more difficult and more complicated than that, and yet it is one which must be undertaken before we can give any satisfactory answer to the question which has been propounded. Having obtained accurate information with regard to these preliminary matters, we should next have to estimate the value of the reasons that have been adduced in favour of a change. Supposing we arrvied at the conclusion that it is desirable that the proposal of the hon. Member should be adopted, we should have further to consider how far the position is modified in cases where there are existing contracts in force. I was glad to gather from the remarks of the hon. Member for Hoxton that he thought that in cases where contracts are in existence new burdens should not be thrown upon the landlords which are not imposed upon them by the terms of those contracts.
§ *MR. G. W. BALFOUR
The hon. Member, at all events, admits that the existence of contracts makes a difference which must be taken account of. Then, again, if a change in the present system is contemplated, we have to consider what system to adopt in its place, and in doing so we shall have to exercise the utmost caution, otherwise it may happen that the supposed remedy will merely aggravate the evil it is intended to remove. Lastly, if we come to the conclusion that no substantial injustice is done by the present system, and no change is required on that account, we have to consider whether increased values of grount-rents, and vacant building-land are not proper objects for the imposition of a completely new tax. But this involves an inquiry more difficult even than any of the preceding, for it raises the question of the general principle of taxation in this country, and of substituting taxation on capital value for taxation on income. All these questions are under the consideration of the Committee that is now sitting to inquire into the subject. In these circumstances, I repeat it would be not only against the general tradition of the House but against the dictates of 958 common sense, for us to vote for the Resolution before us without waiting for the Report of that Committee. For these reasons I shall vote against the Motion of the hon. Member opposite.
§ *(7.7.) MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)
Had it been possible to move the suggested Amendment, I should have desired to second it. I have no wish to hang up this important question, and I do not deny that the present incidence of rates in London is a matter of the greatest interest to the population of London; but I say that when the House comes to legislate upon the question it ought to do so with authentic information before it, and after it has received the practical suggestions of the Select Committee in a form rather more distinct than have been the suggestions brought forward to-day by the hon. Member for Hoxton. In the meantime, I must say I hope that when the Committee inquires into this subject it will take a large view of the question of local rates. In former years, local rates were levied for a very limited number of local objects, and the burden was imposed entirely on realty. But gradually a vast quantity of objects have been brought into the area to which local rates are made to apply. All the tendencies of the time are in the direction of increasing the number of public objects on which local rates will be levied. In the last 10 years how many new public buildings have been erected, new open spaces laid out, new free libraries built, new baths and washhouses opened? All these are public objects, the utility of which I should be the last to dispute. Every sign seems to show that year after year more money will be spent on sanitary, educational, and architectural objects. I welcome that state of things. In the future the use of corporate machinery and agencies for the common good of local districts will add largely to the comfort and prosperity of the community; but I do say that in the future it will be impossible to keep the whole of the ever-increasing consequent burden on the shoulders of the owners and occupiers of land. It is impossible to distinguish in their nature between local public objects and those more national objects for which Imperial taxation is 959 levied, and for these latter purposes the burden falls not only on realty, but also on personalty. I imagine that one of the first duties of the Committee should be to inquire whether it would not be possible to put some part of the burden of local rates on the subject-matter of personal property. I maintain that that could be done, although, perhaps, not directly. If something is not done in that direction, and if the owners of personalty are not brought into the net of local rating so as to make an appreciable addition to the local funds, there will be a reaction and revolt on the part of the present ratepayers. I am anxious that the ratepayers of London should not find their burdens intolerable, and should not, in their impatience, get up an agitation against the useful public works which are being carried out at the expense of the rates. When I saw the hon. Member's Motion on the Paper, and considered the quarter from which it emanated, I could not help feeling that it was part of the general scheme of policy by which it is sought more or less to penalise the individual ownership of land in the country; and as I am one of those who think it should be one of our prime objects in public affairs nowadays to increase the number of freeholds both in town and country I am anxious to oppose the Motion, which seems to me to give currency to a mischievous idea, that you ought so far to penalise land ownership as to make it intolerable. I believe myself that the real remedy for the present, as I admit heavy and possibly unfair, incidence of local rates in London is to be sought rather in the direction I have referred to than in the vague and inadequate proposals before the House. Therefore, I shall oppose the Motion.
§ *(7.12.) MR. LAWSON
The hon. Member for Leeds is unable, by the Forms of the House, to move the Amendment he has placed upon the Paper. But he did his best to interpret its sense, and it seems to me rather curious that time after time, when Resolutions in favour of reform are brought forward, it is thought wise to meet them, not with a direct negative but with a dilatory Motion, such as the Amendment which the hon. Member opposite has placed upon the Paper, but which the Forms of the House prevent him from moving. This subject has 960 been hung up for more than 30 years. It is 20 years since the present Chancellor of the Exchequer presented the ablest Report on local taxation that the House has ever had to consider; and I think I can relieve the mind of the hon. Member for Leeds of his scruples in regard to discussing this Motion while the Committee upstairs is sitting. I am sure we all feel sorry that through ill health the hon. Member was unable to take part in the deliberations of the Committee last year, but I can assure him that so far as London is concerned we have obtained all the information it is possible to obtain. For four years we have had a long procession of surveyors and landlords, agents before us who one and all have declared against the principle of the Motion of the hon. Member for Hoxton. What the Committee want is light and guidance from this House in the direction in which they should frame their Report. This subject, as every one admits, is one of immense complexity, and it will be of great assistance if we know whether the House is of the same mind as it was in 1886, when, on the Motion of the late Professor Rogers, it passed the Resolution which it is asked to affirm now. The truth is, this is not a merefiscal matter; it is a social and humane question. I was glad to listen to the Member for Chelsea. He stated what I want to emphasise, namely, that we have arrived in London at a deadlock of ways and means. Objects of municipal utility have increased, and are increasing, and money must be found, yet the ratepayer is already driven to the last point of exasperation under the present unfair system. He will not consent to guarantee these loans which are absolutely necessary if you are to meet the growing needs of the Metropolis, and to pay for the immense arrears of government or misgovernment from which we suffer in a different degree to the inhabitants of any other City. I believe myself that on this question depends the health, beauty and, if I may say so, the liveableness of the Metropolis. You cannot expect that the occupiers and lessees will be content to pay back within short periods of time the vast sums of public money which ought to be spent on these improvements of which, up to the present, we have had 961 a very small instalment. I have no doubt that you will see a reaction even against the small enterprises in the direction of improvements of the London County Council. The ratepayers will say that they want economy. Prophets will go before them prophesying smooth things, but I am afraid the inevitable result will confute those prophesies as in the case of the School Board. You will increase the rating and the debt, and yet you will be unable to do what is absolutely necessary to extend the system of improvement which was inaugurated by the Metropolitan Board of Works early in the 70's to other parts of London, which at this moment are almost untouched. There is a very great difference, indeed, between the Metropolisand other towns. I do not mean to say that there are not other centres of population where the burdens of rating press very heavily on the community, but the House should recollect that the new era of municipal movement began later in London than it did elsewhere. Municipal boroughs obtained their reformed Corporations in 1835 before 1855 there was no government in London worthy of the name outside the City. There was a network of Paving Boards Vestries which did not even meet the every-day necessities of local life. Besides this, you have in London a system of tenure—a system of short leases—which emphasises every evil to be found in connection with the incidence of local taxation, and which creates the spirit of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer complained in such strong terms in the statement in which he conceded everything I have ever proposed in this House or out of it for the reform of local taxation. The necessities of London are peculiar. Where else is there the prospect of having to spend probably £2,500,000 in the next three or four years in absolutely transforming the present system of sewage disposal? Well, of coures, every owner of property in London is every bit as much interested in that as those who, for the time being, occupy the houses. You have in London an increase in local expenditure, debt, and rateable value such as you have nowhere else. Between the first quinquennial valuation of London in 1871 and that of 1886 there was an increase of £11,000,000 of valuation, or over 45 962 per cent. From 1870 to 1886 the gross valuation increased from £22,140,000 to £37,027,000, and whereas the rate under the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1856 was a fraction over 2d. in the £1, that of the London County Council in 1890 was nearly 14d. In 10 years—that is to say, from 1878 to 1888—the Metropolitan rates increased by one-third, whereas the increase in the rates of the great municipal boroughs was only by one-fifth. Altogether, since the Metropolitan Board of Works was established, we have spent upwards of £11,000,000 on 33 schemes of improvement, mostly dealing with streets and a few with artizans' dwellings; but those improvements have only affected a very small part of the West End of the Metropolis, and it is equally necessary to pierce the squalor of the slums in other quarters. To do that it is essential to find some new sources of revenue. On the Continent the beauty and convenience of cities is added to by the proceeds of the Octroi, the local import duties, as in Paris; but we have nothing of that kind in London, and have to look to other sources of income. London is mapped out into large and small estates, and the freeholder is taking increased values and is looking forward to large reversions, while the class which have least to gain are paying for the improvements. The freeholder benefits by the permanent and temporary improvements carried out in London; and while no one would ask that he should pay more than his due, do not let him escape altogether, and do not allow the cost of all the improvements to be borne by those who have least to gain by them. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer will remember very well the appointment of the first Select Committee on London Taxation in 1866. That Committee was presided over by Mr. Ayrton. Its Report has been quoted; but I should like to draw attention to one reason it gave for recommending a division of rates. The Committee said—Having regard to the progressively increasing charge on the Metropolis for the general purposes of the Board, and to the growing demands of the community for every kind of improvement, not merely to correct all the defects and neglects of centuries in the management of local affairs, but to satisfy the requirements of a daily increasing desire for greater convenience and even adornment of the Metro- 963 polis, your Committee are of opinion that the time has arrived when it is necessary to deal with the subject in a comprehensive and permanent manner.When the rateable value was £15,000,000 the debt was only £3,500,000, bat the debt is now £39,500,000. The recommendations of that Committee, therefore, have fallen through. But then you come to what is the greatest guide in all matters of local taxation, namely, the Report of the Committee over which the Chancellor of the Exchequer presided, and the statement he laid on the Table of the House. In his draft Report in 1870 he said—When the owner and occupier have entered into an agreement to pay all rates for a definite period, it is, of course, indisputable that the excess of rates falls exclusively upon the occupier.He said that three evils sprang up—(1) Two different sets of persons believe they are paying. (2) A sense of injustice has sprung up in consequence of a portion of those local taxes being devoted to permanent improvements by which the owner who does not pay gains so much as the occupier who does pay. (3) Disadvantage of exemption from administrative point of view. It can scarcely be overlooked that the result of the present law has been to impose many charges upon the occupier, which neither he nor the owner foresaw when they entered into the bargain.That is obvious to everybody who studies the question. No occupier contracting with the Metropolitan Board of Works would imagine that he would have to pay for the establishment of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, for creating open spaces, and for the better housing of the working classes. He could not have anticipated the Is. School Rate. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the Report of 1871, said—Since 1839 £6,500,000 of new taxation have been imposed for new purposes. No one can deny that real property bears an amount falling far short of the whole, the balance being part from the profits of the tenant farmer and by the occupiers of houses, or, as I have elsewhere styled them, the consumers of a commodity called a house, a commodity which I frankly admitted to be very heavily taxed. The result of the present state of things has been that many great improvements in the Metropolis, in Liverpool, in Manchester, and other large towns have been much within the last 10 years exclusively at the cost of the occupier without the landlords contributing a single shilling towards the expense.All this has become much worse since the right hon. Gentleman spoke. We 964 know that the right hon. Gentleman was prevented by circumstances from carrying his views into the legislative proposals of the next year; but I now ask the right hon. Gentleman to come over and help us. We are face to face with the greatest evils in connection with London government; we have appeals from every quarter for better provision for the housing of the people, for more playgrounds and open spaces for recreative purposes, and to nearly all these appeals we can only respond that we recognise the utility and advantage of these things; but we are unable to do what is asked without adding largely to the rates by borrowing money to be repaid at short periods by those who had merely a temporary interest in their houses. I do not believe it would be possible to meet the difficulty entirely by a re-adjustment of rates; but these objects of utility are multiplying every day, and it is unfair we should pay rates for new purposes which we could not and did not anticipate at the time we entered into the contracts. I quite see the illusive nature of the reform known as the division of rates. That would not meet the whole case, because where the district is crowded, and the values are rising, the landlord is able to shift the burden upon the tenant, and where we have got into arrear in the municipal expenditure required for different objects of public necessity, the demand for which is increasing every day, this tendency is more apparent. The hon. Member for Shoreditch has made one suggestion which seems to me to strike at the very root of the whole question. He says you will have to provide new funds, and you had better do it by means of a local Death Duty. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already shown us the way to do this. The right hon. Gentleman allotted some of the Probate Duty to local purposes, thus conceding the principle for which we contend, namely, that those who live in a locality should contribute, as property passes from generation to generation, to the funds for local purposes. Sir Thomas Farrar gave evidence to a Committee upstairs in support of this principle, and as the hon. Member for Leeds may not have read that evidence, I will quote from what Sir T. Farrar said. He said— 965I would suggest that the fund from which to help the ratepayers should be a proportion of the Death Duties on local and visible property. From the Exchequer contribution London at present receives £823,000 a year, about one-half of which comes from licences, and one-half from probate. The rateable value is now £31,700,000. Let us assume it to be £30,000,000 and to be worth 25 years' purchase. The capital value would be £750,000,000. According to the best information I can get from the Inland Revenue the average length of life of an owner of London property may be put at about 25 years. If so, the £750,000,000 will change ownership by death every 25 years, and there will fall to be taxed by Death Duties every year £30,000,000. Three per cent. on this would give £900,000.I do not think that this would be very hard measure for the owners of real property in London. Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer know that 60 per cent. of the houses built and occupied, will have fallen into reversion after half the present debt of London has been paid off, and that something over 15 per cent. will have fallen in after the whole debt of London has been paid off? Therefore, the unexhausted value of the expenditure will go into the pockets of those who then enter into possession of the lands or houses. It is not, therefore, a hard thing to ask that the owners of real property should pay, as it passes from generation to generation, some portion of the unearned increment towards local purposes. The hon. Member for Chelsea is in favour of local taxation on personalty. He must know, however, that there is enormous difficulty in localising pesonalty; and that in the United States where all personalty is assessed for local purposes, all sorts of jugglery goes on. Rich men living in one place are taxed in another because of their unwillingness to pay on the full value of their money and shares. You can get at their shares, but you cannot get at the debenture bonds they hold. Consequently there is immense difficulty in taxing personalty for local purposes. I do not decry the idea, but I say there is a far easier way of raising municipal revenue, and I beg to urge upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he shall extend the principle he adopted in 1888 by causing local contributions to be raised from the Death Duties to enable the Municipal Authorities to carry out the great work of improvement in their several localities. I have already quoted many figures, and I do not wish to weary 966 the House by adducing more, but I do think the time has come when the House should realise the position in which we in London find ourselves with our £40,000,000 debt, the greater part of which falls to the share of the London County Council and the rest to the City of London and the different local bodies. All, or nearly all, this money has been borrowed for purposes of permanent improvements, and I do not believe the existing body of ratepayers will allow us to contract any further debt. There is at the present moment great outcry as to the pressure of the rates, which are increasing every year. At the time the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. Fowler) was in office the average rate for the Metropolis was 4s. 6d. in the £1. It is now 5s. 3d., but even this does not put the case in its worst light, because it is unfortunately the fact that the rates are lightest in the richest parts of the Metropolis and heaviest in the poorest parts. In the East End and most of the poor districts the rate is over 6s. in the £1, and those are the parts of London which stand most in need of amelioration, because hardly anything was done by the Board of Works or has since been done by the County Council for their benefit. I do not look upon this question as merely one of readjustment. Probably those who suffer most are the small shopkeepers, though I fancy that the artisans pay, in the rents of their tenements, much more than their fair proportion of the general rate. But you have also to recognise this: that you cannot make life better worth living in the destitute quarters of the Metropolis unless you can tap new sources of municipal revenue. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to offer us some hope in this direction to-night. We are very anxious to deal with the great questions of social reform which he before us, the gravity of which increases year by year, and, to my mind, the whole future of London government depends on a satisfactory solution of this problem.
§ (7.10.) MR. J. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
I admit there is some force in the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman opposite; that it is difficult to discuss this matter with any great amount of interest with the knowledge that the Committee is sitting upstairs to consider the whole 967 question. Still the question is so large and important that it is not undesirable that the Committee should have some idea of the opinions prevailing in this House upon it. Therefore, with due deference to the observations that have fallen from you, Sir, I cannot help thinking that the discussion to-night will not be unprofitable if it only elicits from hon. Gentlemen, and especially from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, some expressions of opinion or suggestions, especially with reference to the particular proposal of the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Stuart). The question is one which involves not merely that of local taxation, but it also includes important matters of public policy. It is difficult to discuss it without regard to the much larger question of the readjustment of taxation as between imperial or national and local taxation. I believe the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) has said that a due readjustment of Imperial and local taxation would be the work of an entire Session. The question is one of great difficulty. In fact, the principles upon which Imperial and local taxation are levied are very difficult to explain at the present time. Doubtless the Chancellor of the Exchequer will admit that it would be very difficult logically to defend all that now exists as underlying the principles of Imperial and local taxation. We have tried to remedy the difficulties, and from time to time the Government have made certain subventions in aid of local rates, it being found that a great many public charges which ought to be borne by the national funds, have been thrown on the local rates and on a particular class of property. There are many National duties performed to the present time which are paid for by local rates, while other duties of a local character are paid for out of the national taxation. Attempts have been made to remedy the grievance in many ways. We have had grants in aid of local taxation, and also a readjustment as between Local Bodies by the creation of common funds like the Common Poor Fund of London, with a view of readjusting the inequalities existing between the taxation of those who con-tribute to the local burdens. The result has been a nearer approximation towards a certain amount of fairness in the 968 incidence of local taxation. I cannot help expressing the gratitude which I, and I believe the public generally who are interested in local taxation, feel for what has been done by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is incorrect to say that the grants made from the Probate Duty and the Licensing Duty have not very largely relieved local taxation. On the contrary that taxation has been materially alleviated by the policy of the right hon. Gentleman. This I am bound to admit in common honesty and candour. I have never had very much sympathy with the strict doctriniare opinions that have been expressed as to the impolicy and injustice of the subventions which have been granted from taxation on personal property towards relief of the burdens on houses and land; and inasmuch as I believe it is necessary to propose further relief, I do not see any source to which we can look except those which have been indicated by some of the preceding speakers. It is-generally admitted that local taxation falls heavily on a class of persons, and also on a class of property, less able to bear its burdens than other classes of persons and property. I do not know any class less able to bear either local or Imperial taxation, especially in London, than the small occupiers and small tradesmen upon whom the burden falls very heavily. The shopkeeping class throughout London are obliged, by the necessities of their business, to occupy premises which are highly rated, in order successfully to carry on their several callings, and upon them the poor's rate, and all the other rates, fall with crushing effect. All these people desire alleviation from the undue pressure of local taxation. It has been said by an hon. Member opposite-that the present system is one which does substantial justice. I do not think anyone who has given careful attention to this question will admit that that is so. On the contrary, the fact that a large amount of property in London of enormous and increasing value should largely escape the burdens of local taxation seems to me to be a monstrous injustice. In the constituency I have the honour to represent there is a large area of land recently purchased for the purposes of a public park. That land has been for many years let at a very 969 low rental and has been used as pasture land for dairy purposes, having been kept in hand by the owners successively, so that although it has contributed only a small amount towards the public burdens, it has risen, with the progress of the Metropolis, enormously in value. Probably at the commencement of this century £100 per acre was the full value of that land. But when it was recently acquired for a park the public had to pay £1,000 an acre for it. In the meantime, although the owner has contributed very little towards local taxation that taxation has vastly improved, not only the surrounding neighbourhood, but his particular property especially; nevertheless, towards the roads, sewers, and other public works effected in that district this property has scarcely paid anything. It can hardly be said that this is justice. We do not say that there should be confiscation, but we do say that there should be a taxation of the income accruing on property like this which should reach all who are receiving that income. We also say there ought to be a system that will get at the unearned increment of the capital value of the land. I know that the difficulties are very considerable, and, having given much thought to the subject, I am of opinion that the only practicable way by which this unearned value is to be reached is by a Death Duty—whether a special Death Duty or an appropriation of the existing Death Duty is another question. Following up the suggestion of the hon. Member for Shoreditch, I would press on the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Succession Duty might be increased to the extent of bringing it to the level of the Probate Duty, and that there should then be an allocation of the half the Succession Duty towards the relief of local burdens. I know that Sir Thomas Farrer has suggested that the Probate Duty is one that ought not to be resorted to for the relief of local taxation—that it is a tax on personalty and on property out of the district, and having no connection with it, and that, therefore, we ought not to resort to it. But I do not at all agree that personal property should escape, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows that the only practical way in which you can reach personal property for local 970 taxation is by means of the Probate Duty. I do not agree with those who think that we should give up any portion of that duty. I believe it is only just that we should have allotted to us a portion of the Probate Duty in relief of local burdens. I hold that we ought to have an extension of that principle with regard to the Succession Duty. The Succession Duty has been increased to the level of 1½ per cent. for Imperial purposes, while the Probate Duty is 3 per cent., namely, 1½ per cent. for Imperial purposes, and 1½ per cent. for local purposes. The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not allot to us any portion of the Succession Duty, because it was supposed that real estate was already sufficiently heavily burdened in other directions. The idea was to bring the two duties as near as possible upon a level; but I suggest that real property owes a special duty to the locality in which it is situated, and it would be just and reasonable to put an extra charge upon it for the requirements of its own district. There would be no practical difficulty, I apprehend, in carrying out this suggestion. The officials at Somerset House know where the property is situate. It is all separately valued and distinguished in the accounts rendered on successions, and it would only involve a little re-arrangement of the forms to ensure that the proportion of the succession handed over to the relief of local taxation should be payable out of the property. There would be no difficulty in ascertaining the amount. Unless some system of this kind be adopted, I think we shall not obtain from real estate that fair contribution towards local taxation which the public are entitled to expect. The suggestion has been made that the ordinary rates should be divided between the owner and occupier, and that there might be a graduated demand on each person having an interest in a property. If we had this, and at the same time an increase of the Succession Duty and an allocation of the increase towards the relief of local burdens, we should have in London a very considerable revenue that would enable many public requirements, in the shape of improvements such as are constantly being demanded, to be satisfactorily carried out. I hope there is a disposition on the part of the Chancellor 971 of the Exchequer to consider this question, because in what he has written and in speeches which he has made, not only here, but in the country, some of them before he occupied the position he fills at the present moment, I think I can see an indication that he is prepared to take a broad view of the entire question, and to recognise claims on behalf of the ratepayers such as are now put forward. The Resolution which my hon. Friend has moved simply proposes that this House should express an opinion that the freeholder and the owners of valuable leasehold interests, which he calls "ground values," ought to contribute a substantial share to local taxation. Possibly the words, owners of ground values, are scarcely sufficiently descriptive, because under the leasehold system there are many persons besides freeholders interested in property. As I stated when moving the Second Reading of a Bill a few days ago (the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act Amendment Bill), the principle of which the House affirmed, the interests dependent on leaseholds in London far exceed in value the freehold interest. I believe my hon. Friend when he uses the phrase freeholders and owners of ground values intends to cover all property interests generally: first, the interests of the freeholder, then that of beneficial lessees, and then all other interests connected with the land and houses rated. There would, I admit, be considerable difficulty in dividing the rates as between landlord and tenant in the case of urban property; but I apprehend there would be no difficulty in the country districts. In the case of agricultural tenancies there would be no difficulty whatever; the trouble would arise in the case of property in towns where a system of leases sub-letting prevails. If the owner is to be rated, he will probably ask for representation, and in these days, when we do not approve the principle of plural voting, it would, perhaps, be a rather startling proposition that owners as a class should have a separate and distinct representation in respect of property. That, however, might possibly be met by allowing the owners to vote as well as occupiers, and to vote with occupiers—a large occupier having no greater voice than a small one. After 972 all, these difficulties are not beyond the statesmanship of men like the Chancellor of the Exchequer or of the leaders on either side of the House. I feel that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Leeds is an embarrassing one. It puts my hon. Friend in some difficulty, and he may not, in consequence, think it necessary to divide the House on the question; but if he should divide the House, I shall vote with him to assist the principle of his Motion. The expression of opinion which I hope we shall elicit from the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have considerable interest for the country at large, and I trust he will say we are nearly approaching the time when he will give some additional relief to the already overburdened ratepayers. (8.10.)
§ *(8.43.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Stockport)
It is not my intention to discuss the Amendment, although I think it is a very sensible one. Person ally I would prefer to meet the Resolution proposed by the hon. Member for Shore-ditch (Mr. Stuart) with a direct negative. The matter is rather one of principle than of detail, and therefore, rather one for the House to settle than for consideration by a Select Committee. The Resolution is—That, in the opinion of this House, the freeholders and owners of ground values in the Metropolis ought to contribute directly a substantial share of Local Taxation.I suppose by "owners of ground values" the hon. Member means persons who are interested in the houses of the Metropolis but are neither the freeholders nor the actual occupiers. There are what are called brick and mortar values, but perhaps the hon. Member is not quite so familiar with the various manners in which building property in the Metropolis has been dealt with, and is still being dealt with, as some other hon. Members. Upon one point I think we are all agreed, and that is that rates in the Metropolis have increased and are increasing, while in the opinion of a great many of us they ought to be diminished. The hon. Member for St. Pancras (Mr. Lawson) who generally represents with so much ability the London County Council, drew a most doleful picture of what the result to the Metropolis, and the London County 973 Council will be unless such a Resolution as that under discussion is passed in the abstract and carried out in the concrete. As I understood the hon. Gentleman, the death rate will increase enormously, there will be no more improvements, and the slums will become more slumy, unless the London County Council are permitted to spend a great deal more money. Then he told us they will not be able to spend more money, because the ratepayers will not allow them to do so; the ratepayers are already overburdened, they will not permit any more rates to be levied, and therefore the County Council will not be able to provide free libraries, higher education, swimming baths, and a number of other things which the people rejoice to have and enjoy, unless they are allowed to pay for them out of some one else's pocket. By the Resolution we are informed that the money is to be found by taxation of ground rents. I think we should more clearly understand whether the proposition is fair or not, if we considered how, these ground rents have been created and are being created. What is the case? Someone, by purchase or inheritance, possesses some land in the outskirts of London or elsewhere, which, as the population draws nearer to it, he thinks will be turned into building land. He advertises that he has the land to sell or let for building purposes. Builders look at it, they know there is an increasing demand for houses in the neighbourhood, and they can see that if they can get the land on fair terms they will be able to build houses upon it and let them at rentals which will remunerate them for their outlay. They approach the landlord who may say, "I had to give a long price for the land, and you shall have the freehold for £1,000 an acre, or if you prefer it, I will give you a lease of 99 years, at an almost nominal rent, for £900 an acre." Probably the builder would reply, "I should be glad to pay you £900 an acre for 99 years, for practically a 99 years' lease is as good to me and as saleable in the market as a freehold, but the capital I have is all employed in my business, and I cannot afford to hand it over to you and leave nothing to trade with. Therefore, I should perfer to take a lease at a ground 974 rent, which will adequately represent the interest which you would obtain in the £1,000 if you were to put it in Consols." The landlord would probably ask a little more interest than he could get in Consols, point out that it would not be himself who would get the advantage of any improvements in the neighbourhood, and require the builder to undertake the payment of the rates and taxes. What is there in that bargain with which the State should interfere? What reason is there that the State should alter the bargains made in the past; or say that in the future no such bargains shall be made? It has been said, on the other side, that at the time the bargain was entered into it was not contemplated that the rates should be so high.
§ *MR. SYDNEY GEDGE
I am neither bound to know all my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has written, nor am I bound to agree with it. On this side of the House there is plenty of private judgment and liberty of opinion. We do not all tie ourselves to one leader or become Home Rulers, or anything else in a night because a right hon. Gentleman tells us to do so. Therefore, in spite of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer says, I shall venture to hold my own opinion, and to answer the arguments that have been put forward. Possibly the Chancellor of the Exchequer may not hold the same opinion now. It is said that at the time the bargain was made it was not known that the rates would be so high. But who is it that makes the rates so high? The ratepayers. With very few exceptions the rates are voluntary. The ratepayers and not the owners have the power of voting at the election of the Local Authorities, and it is only fair that those who have control over the expenditure should provide for it. It was always known that the rates were not a fixed quantity, and, therefore, I ask why should not the owner make a bargain, that if the rates do increase those who control the expenditure should pay for the increase, instead of the person who for 99 years will get no benefit from the increase. I know it is sometimes alleged that Income Tax is an exception, and that Parliament set the 975 example of interfering with regard to the tax. I think I can show that the exception is rather apparent than real. Income Tax is a tax on incomes from whatever quarter derived, and varies with the income of the taxpayer. It is for conversion only that it is collected from the tenants.
(9.0.) Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ *(9.3.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE
proceeded: The case is simple when a person takes ground from the freeholder at a long lease with the intention of building a house upon it, and giving up the house at the end of the term, and paying a ground rent during the term of the lease; but generally the arrangements are much more complicated, even as between the original freeholder and the lessee builder. This is a very common case. An acre of land is taken under agreement, the builder is willing to pay £100 a year upon it and the arrangement is that he shall build a certain number of houses, the ground rent upon each to bear a fair proportion to the rack rent, so that the ground rent is well secured. Bat the builder often comes to an arrangement with the freeholder by which he erects 10 houses on a quarter of the acre, and apportions £10 a year ground rent on each, leaving three quarters of the acre at a peppercorn ground rent. Then, the £100 being secured on the quarter of the acre the builder goes to the freeholder and says: "If you will allow me, I will build more houses and take a lease of each separately at £10 a year on consideration of which, and to supply me with capital, I will take from you £220 per house. Then the landlord does just what he would do if he put the money in the funds: he pays the builder a fair market price, upon which the ground rents are settled. If he had put this money in the funds he would be free from rates, and upon what possible principle, he having given far more than the original value of the land for the ground rent thus secured, on what possible principle is the State to come upon the ground landlord and insist upon levying an extra tax upon the ground rents for which he has paid the holding tenant? Is the landlord to be taxed simply because his security happens to be in 976 houses, and thus his income happens to be derived indirectly from the land? Then suppose that instead of continuing to pay the ground rents the builder sells his property, he escapes all rates and taxes though he has made the profit out of the transaction, but the freeholder is to continue to pay the extra rate? There is no justice or equity in the proposal. Then suppose a builder having got a lease at a peppercorn or small ground rent wishes to sell his house, and meets with a purchaser who is not able to pay the full value, but takes an underlease at an improved ground-rent of £50, how is that to be treated? Is that to be taxed on the improved value of £40. Or suppose again that the man having got the under-lease disposes of it for a premium. You have all sorts of complications and how is it possible to fix upon each interest the due proportion of rates to be paid. We have heard a great deal of the unfair incidence of the Income Tax in that it is levied upon fixed incomes in the same way as it is upon the incomes that depend upon the health and strength of the man who pays; but it seems to me the incidence of a tax such as is proposed would create even greater hardship and inequality than is complained of under the Income Tax. At present the position is simple. The law makes property rateable, and the State levies the rate, not troubling itself about who ultimately pays the rate, but leaving the parties who own and occupy the property to make their arrangements among themselves as to how the burden of the rate shall fall. One proposal made is that half the rates shall be borne by the occupier and half by the owner, but I cannot see how it is possible to apportion the matter between them under the many complications of land tenure. I know the popular idea is that the ground of London belongs to wealthy dukes, supposed to be rolling in riches and living in ducal palaces far away from London, and contributing nothing to the improvement of London, from whence their large incomes are derived. But a great many people besides dukes—a great many poor people are owners of freehold property—a very considerable number of shopkeepers and trades people are owners, or intermediaries between owners and occupiers, and the proposal of the hon. Member is to tax 977 all these with a special tax, and not only the wealthy landlords, supposing they are wealthy. Then, among other suggestions for the assistance of the ratepayer an hon. and learned Gentleman below the Gangway seemed to look to the octroi. But who pays that in the French towns? Not the freeholder but the occupier. It is a direct charge upon occupiers as much as the rates, so there is no relief to be found in that direction. Then, again, it is suggested there should be an extra Probate or Succession Duty. Now, I am of the decided opinion that at the moment real property, taking rates and taxes together, pays more than its fair share of taxation, and I should cordially welcome any proposal by which personalty can be made to pay more to the rates, but I can see the exceeding difficulty of such a proposal, for you cannot localise personal property. The hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Bolton) proposes that Succession Duty should be increased, and to that extent the rates should be relieved, and considers that is fair, because owners benefit by the expenditure to which they now contribute nothing. But the hon. and learned Member forgets that Succession Duty must be uniform for all real property throughout the country, therefore you would be taxing all real property by the means of the Succession Duty, both the property that benefits by the improvements and the property that does not. Why should freeholders in Scotland, Ireland, or Wales pay an additional Succession Duty because the property of other freeholders in London, Birmingham, and other great towns has been benefitted by expenditure of the rates? Then it is said although it may be fair that ratepayers should bear the rates that are made year by year for the expenditure of the year, it is very unfair indeed that they should have to pay the rates for permanent improvements, or at all events, if they pay the interest of the money they ought not to pay that portion of the rates which is applied to repayment of the capital. Well, there are two ways of meeting that. In the first place unless the lease has a very short time to run it is the occupier, or at all events the lessee, who will get the benefit of important improvements, and it is right he should contribute towards the expenditure until he gives up possession. 978 If the lease has a short time to run then he will not pay the whole, and as soon as the landlord enters into the property he will begin to pay for the improvements. There are not many improvements of which the benefits last more than 100 years. If it is considered that the amount to be levied by the rates for the repayment of capital falls unfairly upon existing ratepayers when spread according to existing Acts over 50 years, then let the term be lengthened. Even with a term of 50 years the amount having to be put by for repayment of capital is exceedingly small, about ½per cent. for 50 years, and about 1/6 per cent. for 100 years. I know that the value of a reversion at the end of 99 years is practically nothing, and to tax a man for the ultimate benefit to be derived at the end of such a term would be the reverse of just. Any hardship in these cases can be got rid of by Parliament permitting loans to be contracted by Municipal Authorities, County Councils, and others, for permanent improvements on terms of repayment spread over a larger period than is now allowed. That being so, I say no reason has been shown why the House should interfere with the freedom of contract Past or future. But it is said by hon. Members on the other side real property is not sufficiently taxed and rated and ought in some way to pay more. Now, hon. Members claim to speak very much in the interest of labour; and if there is any property which is of no use whatever unless labour is expended upon it, it is real property, and especially land. A house once built requires little labour expended upon it. Pictures and works of art may be enjoyed without any expenditure of labour. If a man possesses land he is foolish if he does not expend labour upon it. Therefore, taxation of land is taxation of labour in the most direct way; to increase taxation on land interferes with the power of the owner to employ labour upon it. I am speaking of land for productive purposes. I am not speaking of picturesque parks, though even in such cases there must be labour employed. In fact, I might go further and say that while other property may remain without deterioration, though no labour is employed, land deteriorates year by year unless 979 money is expended in labour upon it. Then, I say, the land of the country ought to have our first regard, because a tax upon land is an interference with labour. With regard to ground rents, I have shown the present system has not been forced upon people by the law; it has simply grown out of mutual convenience. In itself there is nothing unfair, and the burden of taxation finds its proportion according to the convenience of the parties. For the State to interfere and attempt to apportion the shares would be most unwise and unjust, and, indeed, impossible with equity. Various interests have adapted themselves to the system which has grown up. People living in London have obtained large advantages, for which they have taxed themselves, and I am disposed to think that in many directions they have gone far enough, and no reason has been shown why they should be encouraged to more expenditure for obtaining what they conceive to be benefits for themselves while removing the burden from their own shoulders. I therefore strongly oppose the Resolution.
§ (9.20.) MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
It is worthy of note that Metropolitan Members on the other side have been silent during this Debate, while one of them has attempted to burke the Debate by moving a count.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE,) Tower Hamlets, St. George's
I may remind the hon. Member that my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Whitmore) has spoken.
§ MR. J. ROWLANDS
Yes; I did not mean that the silence was absolute; the hon. Member for Chelsea has spoken against the Resolution. The speech we have just listened to is one of the finest examples of the laisser faire doctrine I ever heard. It has a great deal of interest because of the extreme views expressed. The hon. Member has little sympathy with new-fangled ideas of work to be done by Municipalities. I could not help noticing the way in which he alluded to public baths, free libraries, and free education, and I shall be astonished after his speech if he—should his Party give him the opportunity—supports proposals for assisted education. All that the hon. Member for Stockport has said is familiar to 980 Members who have had the privilege of sitting on the Town Holdings Committee. We have had representations from ground landlords, their agents and solicitors, describing all these processes with which the hon. Member interested the House just now. But they are not applicable, and especially not applicable in London; for where such arrangements exist, they were entered into some considerable time ago, before the taxation with which we are dealing was brought into existence. The only legitimate conclusion to the hon. Member's argument is that it is unjust on the part of Government to put any tax upon land, or to interfere at all with land. The hon. Member went so far as to say that when the rates were put on the State did not interfere at all with land, but allowed the rates to find their own level, as they might, between occupier and owner. That is quite true as regards England and Wales, but it is not true in regard to Ireland, and still less is it so in Scotland. In Scotland the State has interfered distinctly, and has said that a certain portion of certain rates shall be borne by the occupier and a certain portion by the owner; and so strong is the opinion in favour of that arrangement in Scotland that, while in 1888 Her Majesty's Government declined to make the division in England and Wales when introducing the system of local government, when in the next year they introduced the Local Government Bill for Scotland they had to embody the Scotch principle in that Bill—I think it is in Clause 27—and re-enact the principle of division of rates between occupier and owner, I ask the hon. Member's attention to this heresy on the part of his own Government. Only three year ago they renewed that principle, which they might have abolished if they had liked, or if they had dared, by means of their majority. The interference of the State in the division of rates has, then, been recognised, and it requires some better arguments than the hon. Member has adduced to show why, if the principle is good for Ireland and Scotland, it should not be applied to England and Wales. The hon. Member was very strong in the independence of his position, and I was sorry that while he was making his speech his worthy leader, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was not present. Of 981 course, when the attention of the hon. Member was called to the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had written and spoken strongly in antagonism to the position he was taking, the hon. Member could only assume a lofty independence of Party leadership, and I hope he may give us some further examples of that. Bat let me recall to the House the position taken up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In a work that is looked upon as a standard authority on the division of rating by all who have studied this question, and in speeches, the right hon. Gentleman has maintained the position that, though occupiers may receive the immediate benefit of improvements' and should be held liable, in the first instance, for the rates, yet the advantage goes beyond the occupiers, and it is right that those who derive increased incomes from improvements should contribute towards the cost. I am glad the Chancellor of the Exchequer is now in his place. He can answer the arguments of the hon. Member, to whom I commend the book which has been referred to. In regard to the illustrations the hon. Member gave us, he omitted to mention the causes that lead to the rise in the value of land when it ceases to be agricultural land and is available for building purposes near a large town. Is it not the development of the industry of the neighbourhood and the growth of population which send up the capitalised value of land the moment it passes from agricultural to building land? Surely the hon. Member does not contend that the land shall continue to be as free from the burdens incident to town life as before it was town land. Our contention is, that when land becomes town land and more valuable, then it must take the liabilities of town land, which are undoubtedly heavier, and must be heavier, than the liabilities in connection with agricultural land. With regard to division of rates, I know there are differences of opinion. I admit the difficulties but they have to be encountered, because the rates do not find their level and fall unfairly upon the occupiers, and we want to see the great landlords of the Metropolis paying something towards the improvements of the Metropolis. I acknowledge that more money is wanted for the larger municipal 982 life of London, and I fail to see why we should not obtain it when we can with justice do so from a new source of supply. This is no new view in regard to London; it was the view taken by the head of the Metropolitan Board, Sir John Thwaite, in 1869, when the Thames Embankment and other gigantic undertakings were only commencing. We are this evening trying to focus much that has been put before the Town Holdings Committee. Our contention is that nearly £40,000,000 of debt which has had to be borne by the London County Council, in addition to the rates expended locally, has had much to do with sending up the capitalised value of the Metropolis. We say that those who should have contributed to the payment of these charges have escaped them, and we are determined that they shall escape them no longer. I would call attention to the Petition of the London County Council which was referred to by my hon. Friend (Mr. Stuart) in opening this Debate. The Petition asked that while the proper mode of relief was being settled a suspensory Act should to passed enacting that the burden of the rate should be borne by such persons or classes of persons as Parliament may direct. If Her Majesty's Government is prepared to accept that and carry it into effect, we shall be quite ready to let this question rest where it is until the Report comes down from the Town Holdings Committee; but we cannot let the question remain where it is unless something is promised by the Government. We know how the ratepayers of the Metropolis are suffering under the heavy burdens imposed upon them, and we are anxious that some relief should be afforded to them. Committees which have sat from time to time have advised that such relief should be given, and we are only asking the Government to do some of those things which have been advocated for the last 20 years as reforms necessary for the welfare of the Metropolis. Some people think that another Embankment should be made on the South side of the Thames, but I think no member of the London County Council would, under the present system of rating, dare to ask his Colleagues to vote the Expenditure necessary for carrying out such an improvement. 983 Look at the way in which the London County Council has been hampered in the reforms it has tried to carry out. A tunnel is much needed under the Thames at Blackwall. What has hindered the County Council in carrying out that work but the fear of increasing the rates to such an extent that it would be impossible for the existing ratepayers to bear the increased burden F I hope some practical issue will come of this Debate. Those who have studied the information collected by the Town Holdings Committee can have arrived at only one conclusion as to the course that ought to be followed to relieve the ratepayers of the burdens under which they are now suffering.
§ *(9.38.) MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Newington, W.)
The hon. Member who has just sat down expressed a hope that some practical result would follow this Debate. I cannot say I think it is very discreet of those hon. Members who think with him to bring forward a Resolution, which is likely to be negatived, with the view of strengthening the Committee upstairs. The rejection of this Resolution will rather weaken the action of the Committee than strengthen it. I accept pretty nearly as my own the excellent speech delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Whitmore). I am, perhaps, somewhat at variance with some Members on this side of the House in thinking it desirable that the rates should be divided between occupiers and owners; and I am also of opinion, in regard to ground rents, that there is a period in the existence of such rents when the ground owners do not pay their fair share of the improvements effected by the expenditure of the rates. At the commencement of the period the parties contracting will see for themselves what new rates are likely to be imposed, and will make their terms accordingly. Towards the end of the term the reversioner will, of necessity, if he takes possession of the property, have to pay the rates on the enhanced scale. In that way he will pay on the value of his reversion, but there is a time between these two periods when, in my judgment—as a question of incidence of taxation—the ground landlord does not pay his fair 984 share of the rates. But, after all, the question of the incidence of the rates on the ground landlord or the occupier is not the principal question which has been brought before us to-night. That will not increase the quantum of rates, and it is to increasing the quantum of something that hon. Gentlemen opposite have chiefly addressed themselves. For instance, the hon. Member for West St. Pancras told us that the London County Council had almost exhausted the patience of the ratepayers, and he almost wept, like Alexander, because he could not find any other pockets to pick. He laid immense stress on the debt of London. A few years ago it was only 3½ millions, and now it is 40 millions; and the hon. Member takes credit to the government of London for that fact. The London County Council is now almost in the position of Argentina—bankrupt. Having run up an enormous debt, they appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other people in this country to act as guarantors in order to relieve them. In order to inspire us with confidence in his suggestions, the hon. Member tells us that there are vast schemes that the London County Council now have in view.
§ *MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE
Then I misunderstood the hon. Member, but it seemed to me that he spoke of social reforms without describing what these reforms were. Confident as hon. Members may be in the powers and integrity of the London County Council, some of us would like to know the character of the social reforms they propose to carry out before we give them money for effecting them.
§ *MR. LAWSON
I spoke of the need for street improvements in the East and South of London, and also of the necessity of dealing with the questions of open spaces and housing of the working classes.
§ *MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE
I thought the hon. Member spoke as the mouthpiece of the London County Council.
§ *MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE
At any rate, the hon. Gentleman is a Member of that august body. When the London 985 County Council did that which many people thought a foolish thing—that is to say, when they deprived themselves of a arge source of income from the Coal and Wine Dues which might have been devoted to the purpose of public improvements, although I thought their action one of pure folly, I stood up for them on the ground that we had created them, and should not quarrel with the discretion of our offspring. Before the Chancellor of the Exchequer is asked to provide a new source of revenue for the Metropolis in order to enable improvements to be carried out, it seems to me that we ought to know on what scale those improvements are likely to be effected.
§ (9.46.) SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
I am aware that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Shoreditch refers only to what he terms the ground values within the Metropolis; but the question is a very broad one, and affects some communities even more directly and to a greater extent than that of the Metropolis. If the House should accept the Amendment, and it becomes the substantive Motion, I should move to strike out the words "in the Metropolis," so as to bring it to bear upon the rest of the country. Whilst I am, in accordance with the terms of the Amendment, now dealing with the question as affecting the Metropolis, there are some general and very grave considerations which arise affecting the whole of the country. There are communities in Lancashire, the interests of which have been prominently called to my attention, which are suffering at this moment more than the Metropolis from the peculiar and unfair manner in which local taxation is raised. The House must recollect that this question is not one of mere money payment—of whether the burden is to be borne by the occupier or the owner. The occupier is the person who elects the representatives to the Sanitary Authority; he is the person who virtually has to determine whether there shall be a full and proper bearing of the burdens cast upon the community by the Legislature; and if it happens that the burden upon the occupier is too great, he will fail in his duty in carrying out the intentions of the Legislature in 986 respect of the sanitary condition of the people. We have—speaking of the Legislature as a collective body—been very philanthropic, very sympathetic, almost virtuous in doing what we can on behalf of those who require the protection of the Legislative Authority. We have enacted that a certain sanitary method shall be devised and carried out, and we have thrown the expense of it on the occupying ratepayer; but, how ever wise and beneficent that legislation may be, if it throws upon the occupier a greater burden than he can properly bear, the occupier will fail in his public duty, and the objects of the Legislature will be frustrated. This question, therefore, ranges beyond the mere question whether it is wise that either the occupier or the owner should bear the principal burden of local taxation, and we must approach it with the desire to cast the burden, if we can, not upon one particular class as against another, but upon the class that justly ought to bear it and is best able to bear it. First, I will refer to the point which has been mooted whether the mere ground landlord or owner should bear any greater burden than he does at present. What is the position the ground owner occupies? He enters into a contract practically with the person who becomes the building owner—who builds a house on the land for the purpose of letting it. The ground landlord seeks to be paid in two ways—first by the yearly return or rent that he receives for the use of his land, and next, ultimately, by the reversion falling in, and by receiving all that exists on the land. And the contract is made, as has been said by the hon. Member for Leeds, with the knowledge that the occupier is to pay all the rates. So that the contract is not made primarily with the occupier, but with the person who takes the land and builds upon it. No doubt that was practically the way in which the local rates were first imposed on the occupier in the reign of Elizabeth, when the first Poor Law Act was passed. It was found convenient then to impose the rates on the occupier. Time went on; that was the principle adopted; and even in the term of present existing leases, the ground rental being secured by those leases, local taxation is a burden of the 987 very smallest importance. But, as has been mentioned by many speakers in this Debate, since these leases were executed there has been a vast change in everything with regard to them. I confess that I have strongly preached the doctrine of the maintenance of contracts, and have held that contracts should be maintained, and fairly maintained, and not lightly set aside; but there is a doctrine in respect to every contract that is made that ought to prevail, and it is that if persons make a contract in respect to one condition of things and that condition of things entirely changes, if it is not in the power of such persons in those circumstances to change their contract or for a Court of Equity to interfere, it will be within the province and perhaps the duty of the Legislature to do so. Let us take leases, for instance, that were executed 80 years ago. The contract then intended to be entered into between the ground owner and the occupier, or agent of the occupier, was that the rates then existing, and for the reasons contemplated, should be paid by the occupier. But what has happened? No one then knew that the sanitation movement would come on, that there would be a police rate or a School Board rate levied, or that work of lighting and paving would have developed to the extent it has done, and so those rates one after another have grown year by year all over the country, and every one of them has been imposed on the occupier while the ground owner has escaped. Let me give an instance that has occurred, comparatively speaking, of late years. Our desire has been not only to improve the sanitation of towns, but to prevent the pollution of rivers. We have said, "We will have different methods of sewage created." The water in the river shall be pure; that is to say, it shall not be polluted with town sewage. In respect of this sanitary improvement you impose a burden on the occupier in the town through which the river passes or the locality that is affected by the sewage. What happens? You cast, it may be, a great burden on that locality; you render the water from the river tolerably pure, and therefore give a pure stream to the various wharves and works on the banks. You may in that way double and treble the value of those 988 wharves and works. No doubt, the tenants derive the benefit while they hold the leases, but the moment the ground landlord obtains the reversion he has the benefit which has accrued from the payments of the occupiers. Every work of local improvement, whether in the way of sanitation, in the purifying of rivers, or in any other form, has gone to immensely increase the value of the property of the owner on reversion, that increase of value being given by expenditure on the part of the occupiers, and the occupiers only—expenditure that was never anticipated when the leases were made. Further, in many districts, by local or legislative authority, conditions have been imposed on property, as in the case that houses shall be kept in better repair, the cost of which falls on the occupier, while the owner benefits by it on the reversion. There is another view of this question to which I venture to direct the special attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. All those who take an interest in the subject have great hopes in the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He made a speech in 1871 that attracted great attention both in and out of this House at the time, and it has almost been taken as a text by very many speakers on the matter since. The right hon. Gentleman then admitted the anomaly that exists, and said that something ought to be done. But, unfortunately, that is the kind of language that has been used on the question for many years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian, speaking to his constituents in the autumn of 1885 on the subject, said—The ground landlord is a gentleman we have been trying to get at for many years, but his position is of such a peculiar character that none of us have been able to find out how to attack him rightly.I think those views are, to a certain extent, those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is one particular reason why I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to consider this matter very favourably in the interests of the occupier. I presume it is the duty, as it will be almost the pleasure, of the right hon. Gentleman to find, if he can, someone whom he can tax with justice, and here he has an opportunity of doing so. 989 These ground rent-charges are a very valuable property indeed. A well secured freehold rent-charge is, I think, the best known property in this country next to Consols. There is not only the annual payment, but a capital value attached to it. Its value has altered very much. It has altered upwards, and there has in consequence been an increase in the value of the freehold rent-charges. In former years the price was 22 or 23 years' purchase; but times have changed, and for that change the Chancellor of the Exchequer was partly responsible. When he reduced Consols from 3 per cent to 2¾, diminishing to 2½ per cent., it made people look about for other securities. No property gained so much in value, in consequence, as freehold ground-rents in the hands of landlords. At the present moment those rent-charges are worth some 27 or 28 years' purchase. There has been an unearned increment to the ground owner which has been given him, I will not say providentially, but by the action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If it be true that the owner, from no action of his own, finds his property increased in value from £2,200 to £2,800, does that not present a favourable subject for taxation? The whole tone of this Debate has been one of appeal to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I appeal to my right hon. Friend now specially to consider that, whilst he has taken part in casting increased burdens on the occupiers, he has done nothing to increase the burden of the owners, for the pleasant arguments used a fortnight ago by the President of the Board of Agriculture to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian to show that the owner bears the whole burden of the rates do not apply to old leases, the rent on which is a fixed charge. The old ground owner bears none of the new taxation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has cast this increased obligation, or helped to do so, upon the occupier, will, I hope, cheerfully accept a means of taxing it by local rates and Imperial taxation. Now we come to the question with which I do not esteem myself competent to deal—how best to effect this object. I once, at the instigation of my constituents, attempted to draft a Bill on that 990 subject, and I admit fully that there is very great difficulty in carrying out our views, so many considerations having to be dealt with. There are high and low ground-rents, districts in which vast improvements have taken place, and districts where there have been none; there are reversions which are most valuable, and others which a man would rather not have. The hon. Member for Shoreditch said he wished to place upon the owner the exact burden he ought to bear, and I think the House will agree with that proposition as it stands. Sir, I think nothing but good can result from this discussion. If I may use the phrase, the more we knock this subject about the better it will be, although I admit I have no specific remedy in form and substance to suggest at this moment. I cannot say whether it ought to be taxation upon a reversion when it falls in, or whether a discretion should be given to the Local Authority or not. Yet I hope there are those like my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who will be able, either to-night or at some future time, to find some remedy for this evil. If we can bring home to the minds of those who can deal with the subject the fact that that evil does exist, the object of those who hare taken part in this Debate will have been realised.
§ *(10.8.) MR. GOSCHEN
I believe when it was suggested earlier in the evening that the Motion ought not to be entertained because there was a Committee sitting, it was called a dilatory suggestion. I can assure the House with all earnestness that that is not our opinion at all. But we did and do consider, and we are strengthened in that view by what has passed, that it is impossible to come to any conclusion on the question now submitted to the House until we have the evidence and the Report of the Committee, which we trust will throw light on the subject. I think two hon. Members suggested this was dilatory action—the hon. Member for St. Pancras and the right hon. Member for Derby.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
No, the right hon. Gentleman did not say it was a dilatory action, but, with a wave of the hand—that grand wave of the hand—he said—We understand the way in which inconvenient Motions are got rid of by referring them to a Select Committee.I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit that what he wished to suggest was that it was useful to a Government to escape from a discussion of this kind. Well, we are anxious to have the light of a Committee upon this most complicated subject. The House is aware that for many years I have given considerable attention to the subject of local taxation, ground-rents, and to the question of the possible taxation of reversions; but I am bound to say, after all the study I have given, that I am far from disposed to speak even upon the question of the incidence of rates upon owner and occupier with any kind of dogmatism or certainty, and, in all humility, I think I should be much the better for being able to read the Report of a Committee which has threshed this matter out to the very end. I wonder how many hon. Members opposite have realised, in fruition or expected fruition, the saying, "Oh, that mine adversary had written a book!" The quotations from the Report I made in 1871 and from sundry utterances of mine in times past have formed a very large portion of the present Debate. In this case I am not sorry that I embodied my opinions in a Report, for I see nothing in all the quotations read this evening that I am prepared to retract. At an early period of my Parliamentary life I considered this question of local taxation one of the most complex that could possibly exist, and I endeavoured to give it as much attention as was in my power. I have been quoted a good deal; but there is one portion of my opinions which, singularly enough, has never been reproduced either in past Debates or during this evening, and that is the degree in which I consider in that Report, and the Draft Resolutions which were accepted by the Committee, that existing contracts ought to be respected. There were distinct provisions in that Report as regards existing contracts, and I propose the following provision, amongst others:— 992That three years' time ought to be allowed to elapse before a reduction would be made from the owner's rent in respect of the rates,and it was provided that at the end of those three years, though the tenant might deduct half the rate from the landlord, the landlord should be at liberty to add a proportionate amount of rent equivalent to the rate during the last three years, I do not say whether this was a wise provision or not. Possibly some hon. Members may think that we have advanced considerably during the last 20 years with regard to the disturbance of existing contracts. We have heard some doctrines on that point this evening. One hon. Member suggests that the sanctity of a contract must depend on the date it was made; others have suggested that it must depend on the changes which have since taken place; but I think that I am entitled, while standing to what I have said in past years, to remind the House of what I may call the safeguards with which the proposals we made at that time were surrounded. There is another point upon which there ought to be no mistake. What was suggested then was that half the rate should be deducted from the landlord. But some persons have considered that deducting half the rate from the landlord would mean that if a man had to pay £5 in rates he should be entitled to deduct £2 10s. That is not what is fairly meant by a division of the rates, because the rent paid to the landlord would differ according to the terms of tenure. Some persons might have paid apremium; others not. What is meant by a division of the rate is this: Supposing the rate were 1s. or 2s. in the £1, then half that rate should be deducted from so much of the rent as was paid; that is to say, supposing there was 1s. rate in the £1, 6d. in the £1 might be deducted from £100 a year which might be paid in rent to the landlord. I am able to say, on behalf of the Government, that we stand by the view that it is wise there should be a division of rates between the owners and the occupiers. The right hon. Member for Derby threw doubt on our earnestness in that respect in a previous discussion. He said that we stood shivering on the brink and showed some reluctance. We showed no more 993 reluctance in dealing with division of rates between the owners and the occupiers than was shown by a previous Administration that was in Office for five years, and having been committed to that doctrine, never found time to carry out this difficult and complex proposal. We are prepared to accept this principle, difficult as it is to work out in practice, and to consider it as part of the views which we hold with regard to any amelioration of the system of local taxation. I concur very much in a remark which fell from the hon. Member for Shoreditch. He said that even in the interests of the landlords it was desirable that such a division should take place, because the fallacy existed that the landlords were paying nothing, and it was wiser that it should appear they were actually paying a portion of the rates. I think that in all the discussions as to who is paying the rates, whether occupier or owner, it is admitted that the owner pays some portion of the rates. In my opinion, he does not pay the whole of the rates. There is a certain portion which is paid by the occupier. From the Parliamentary point of view, it appears to me that where any contributions are made in aid of the rates by a Government, they are then taxed by their opponents with assisting the owners; but if a Government refuses to make any contributions, then they are said to be treating the grievances of the occupiers with indifference. I have been a Member of a Government which was attacked for years because they refused to assist the rate paying occupiers. There were majorities in this House who denounced the Government for refusing to assist the occupiers; but when as a Member of the Government I had the advantage of being able to make some considerable contribution in aid of the rates, then the whole situation changes, and we are told that it is not the occupiers at all, but that we are animated by a base desire to assist the owners of property by an outrageous sacrifice of the Public Funds. It was the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian who took that view, and who denounced us for having assisted the owners. My right hon. Friend withdrew from the position as regards the towns when it had been pointed out to him; 994 but my right hon. Friend first suggested that the whole relief had been given to the owners. I interposed, and my right Friend gently rebuked me for my interposition; but it had this effect: that it drew from my right hon. Friend the admission that as regards towns he did not hold that we had been assisting the owners. But I should like to know on which horse you would like to ride tonight. Is it the owners who pay rates, or the occupier? If it is the owners, then why should the right hon. Gentleman vote for the Motion, that we are to put a burden on the owners who, according to his hypothesis, are already paying the rates. That is his position. It is not mine as regards the towns, nor is it the position of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture. He (Mr. Chaplin) was speaking of the country, and this, I think, was recognised in that book from which Members have so often done me the honour of quoting. A distinction is there broadly drawn between the country and the towns. It is shown that in the country, after passing through certain stages, the rate is ultimately put on the shoulders of the owners, while in the towns a certain portion remains on the occupies. This is contested by some political economists, and though I have had reason to consider the point over and over again, I believe my original proposition is, in the main, correct. And now let me ask, are the occupiers weekly occupiers, leaseholders, or what? Which of these many intermediate interests is properly denoted by the term "occupiers?" ["All."] Well, then I wish to know, are all to be relieved? Who is to be hit by this Motion? Who is the occupier and who is the owner? I think we may interpret this Motion as the bitter cry of rated London for relief. It is a cry to which not only the hon. Member for Shoreditch, but the hon. Member for St. Pancras applied, I think, a vivid expression. "We have to spend, we wish to spend, and we are going on spending; we see an enormous vista of expenditure before us; we are at the end of our resources find us some new means. Can you devise any means by which you can come to our assistance?" I do not know whether the hon. Member for St. 995 Pancras intended to suggest that loans were to be given up in future, but that everything was to be done out of the resources of the year. He made some interesting but rather Utopian calculations as to the time when the whole of the debt of London would be paid off and the happy reversioners would enter into their property free from all liabilities and be able to enjoy the immense addition to their property which had been made.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
But how about the debts incurred next year and the year after, and the year after that again? I think we mast take care that the County Council, who are ambitious, and who have many plans, many of which will redound to the prosperity of London, should not get into the belief that they might be able to contract debts or increase expenditure, thinking that it may be thrown on the future reversioner while it is voted by the present occupiers. It is suggested that we are to find increased resources which will be spent by the County Council. So far as that goes, I sympathise to a great extent with the ratepayers and the occupiers of London. I think there is a great deal to be said for hon. Members utilising the whole of their ingenuity and straining every nerve to see whether they can discover fresh sources of revenue by which the improvements of London can be carried out. An hon. Member behind me suggested that personal property should be asked to contribute in order to assist the improvements of the Metropolis. Other hon. Members have pointed out the difficulties that stand in the way of our adopting such a course, and I am glad to find the hon. Member for St. Pancras, although a political opponent, is satisfied with what the Government have done in that direction. Her Majesty's Government have done their best to come to the rescue of the ratepayers by endeavouring to render personal property liable to local taxation. I may, however, say that I do not think 996 that the efforts of the Government in that direction have received adequate recognition.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
This Debate has been singularly free from any display of Party feeling, and therefore I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will admit that we have made an honest effort to assist the ratepayers of the Metropolis, and have done our best to afford them relief by bringing personal property into assessment. Hon. Members, however, must not suppose that this subject is altogether free from difficulty. One well-meant attempt which I made to relieve the local rates did not meet with the success that I think it deserved. When I heard the hon. Member for Shoreditch pleading in eloquent tones in favour of the poor ratepayers of the Metropolis, pleading for further funds for carrying out social reforms, I thought of what had been the fate of my proposal known as the Van and Wheel Tax. Notwithstanding the strong arguments in favour of that tax, so many objections were taken to it that even the strong desire that existed to place a source of additional funds at the disposal of the County Councils could not over-ride them. I venture, with great deference to hon. Members opposite, to inform them, as one who has suffered, that the next tax, whatever it may be, which they may propose in aid of the resources of the County Councils will receive precisely the same amount of opposition that was offered to the Van and Wheel Tax, and that they will be unable to bring it forward without such an opposition as may, if time be limited, lead to the defeat of the proposal. The hon. Member for St. Pancras called upon the Government to come to the assistance of the ratepayers, and asked whether we could not do something to relieve them from the oppressive burden which was imposed upon them. All I can say is that I am satisfied that whatever new tax might be proposed for the purpose of relieving the ratepayers, would be opposed with far more energy than the ratepayers would display in its support; and I am afraid that even 997 those hon. Members opposite who are now so anxious that we should come to the relief of the ratepayers might possibly be found in the van of those who would oppose any new tax that might be proposed, and which they might be persuaded would weigh upon industry, although, as a matter of fact, it would not do so. In all seriousness, I agree that it would be most desirable in the interests of the community that social, sanitary, and other reforms should not be hampered in consequence of local taxation being placed exclusively upon one class of property. But are we at this moment in a position to deal with this question? Hon. Members opposite seem to see this subject in a sort of glimmering and indistinct manner, and yet they appear disinclined to admit that it ought to be looked at by the light which would be thrown upon it by the Report of the Committee. They seem to see in a glimmering kind of way that there are at present some interests which they believe are not taxed, and which they think might be made contributory. The hon. Member for Shore-ditch has referred to several plans by which contributions to the funds of the County Councils might be secured, which have been suggested by various gentlemen. Here, again, is a strong argument why we should wait for the Report of the Committee. I do not know to what extent I should be entitled to trouble the House by referring to those different plans, but I have no objection to say a word or two with regard to each of them. Certainly it is the case that some plans which have been floating in the air for years have already disappeared under the light of public discussion. The hon. Member for Shoreditch seems to be of opinion that the only satisfactory suggestion was that of Sir Thomas Farrer with regard to the Succession Duty.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
I should like to say that to-night this subject has been treated with singular prudence and moderation, and we have heard of none of those wilder suggestions which have often been made in reference to this subject. We have not seen the great 998 landlords of London or any other particular class held up to odium; and the only clear proposition that has been put for ward is that those who enjoy advantages should be called upon to pay for them—and that is a suggestion which we on this side are not prepared to dispute. We, have, however, to ask ourselves how far those who enjoy those advantages are already paying for them, and what they are to get in the future for the extra payments they may be called upon to make. It has been said that we must rely upon the Succession Duties alone for the relief of local taxation. The right hon. Member for Bury made an eloquent speech, but was obliged in the end to admit that he had no plan to meet the difficulty. He knew what he wished to bring about, but he did not tell the House how his object could be secured. The difficulty really is that, in the complicated system that prevails in the Metropolis, no man can tell exactly whether he is an owner or an occupier. Well, I frankly say that I do not know myself whether I am an owner or an occupier. I do not know whether I am one of those who are to be subjected to an additional tax, or whether I am one of those who are to be relieved. Take the case of a freeholder living in his own house. Everyone will admit, I think, that the value of the land is fully taxed. The inexorable myrmidons of the Assessment Committee take care of that. He already pays rates for his house, and it is now sought to make him pay rates for the site on which his house is built. How is the rateable value of his house to be separated from the rateable value of the site on which it is built F There are persons who say it can be done; it is, I believe, a plan suggested by Mr. Fletcher Moulton. I think it would be very difficult to do.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
I will try not to be led away by interruptions. I say the task is almost impossible. The freeholder has paid the full value of the site and he has paid the full value of his house. How are you going to subject one part of his property to a particular tax? This is not a matter which so much touches the reversioner as the person who is the owner of the leasehold, 999 which is continually rising in value. It is the cardinal point in the whole of this discussion that the Local Authority gets at this moment for the purpose of taxation the full value of the site of the house. I do not say it gets it from the right person. That is the point, but in my judgment the Local Authority gets the full value. There are few plans by which you may increase the amount of the rates to be paid. You may shift the burden from the occupying owner to the reversioner in some way or other; but still, what I want to point out is that the Local Authority will not get an increased amount of rates. Therefore, the question narrows itself down to this, to what extent do we wish to relieve one man and tax another—a perfectly legitimate question to put, which is quite different from that of getting additional resources. Let us keep that in view. Mr. Fletcher Moulton proposes there should be a valuation all over the Metropolis. You are to ascertain what is the value of the site and the value of the house, and then put an extra tax on the ground value. The site is to be considered a more fit object for taxation than the house, and the site is to pay the sum of 5s. in the £1. Who is the owner of the site? That is a matter of great importance. Are you going to ask the reversioner of 50 years hence, who is to come into the possession of the site, to pay the additional 5s. that is being imposed on the value of the site before he becomes the owner of the site? I think not. Therefore, who is to pay it? It is the building-owner, it is the leaseholder, who is to pay the additional amount, because it is the taxation of ground values, not the taxation of ground rents—that belongs to a past period; we have got beyond ground rents. We are taxing ground values. Now, the ground value belongs for a certain number of years to the leaseholder, and therefore the proposal would be this: Take a street of shopkeepers who have made agreements for their shops. They have paid fines and premiums for their property, and they are not subject to rack-rentals. They have got something valuable, they have got ground value, which they will enjoy as long as the lease runs, and the proposal would be to put an additional tax on that ground value. I think that is a proposal against which we should 1000 have many protests from leaseholders when they found that the portion they enjoyed in the matter of ground value was going to be taxed. I am not surprised that the Member for Shoreditch did not give a very enthusiastic blessing to this plan of Mr. Fletcher Moulton which was issued by the "Committee for the taxation of ground values" at the cheap price of 1d. This is a very technical matter, and I will tell the House why I insist upon it. I wish to know who are the owners of ground values in London. So anxious are the Government to throw as much light upon this matter as they can, they are considering whether they could not produce a Return showing the number of owners, not only first owners, but various owners. It would be difficult to get this information, but it is of extreme importance. We talk about who is to be taxed. Let us know who are the people whom it is proposed to tax. What is the old original popular view? The popular view is this: that there are a few great landlords, who own the half of London—that they are men who have made great fortunes, and who have contributed little to the improvements going on in the Metropolis. The hon. Member spoke of the value, the rateable value, of London increasing from £15,000,000 to £32,000,000; but this is not an aggravation, it is an alleviation. The value of property in London, of course, increases continually. We have reached now a period when £31,000,000 or £32,000,000 represents the rateable value of London. Into whose pockets does that rateable value go? Amongst whom is it distributed? What proportion of the whole £30,000,000 or £32,000,000 goes into the pockets of the great original landlords? The proportion is, uo doubt, a valuable portion, but what proportion? Then what proportion is owned by the man who has got the lease which is increasing in value? Take the case of a man who pays £100 a year ground-rent, and whose rent is £300 a year. Through his neighbourhood becoming valuable, that house, originally worth £300, is worth £500. There is au increase of £200. He gets advantage of the £200 increase until the reversion falls in. The reversioner does not get it. He gets it—the building-owner gets it by living in the 1001 house, or he gets it being able to let it at an increased rent. But that may not belong even to the one person. It may be divided between three or four middlemen. May I ask that this point should be cleared up—that these increased rents go into the pockets of a very large number of persons? Then I come to another body of men whom I must notice in this case, and that is the owners of ground-rents, and not only of freehold ground-rents, but improved ground-rents. There we get a new set of owners.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
Quite so. That is the point I will explain. Mr. Fletcher Moulton wants to tax them. Whatever goes on scarcely touches them at all. They have got a terminable annuity. Therefore, we come to this—that we do not deal with bloated landlords, but with persons interested in these ground-rents, who consider them the safest and best security into which they can possibly enter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bury rather suggested that these investments were made popular because I reduced the interest on Consols. But did not debentures of Railway Companies and mortgages on land, which equally constitute terminable annuities, benefit from the same cause; and why-should I pick out a particular form of annuity for special taxation? I believe these ground-rent investments are very popular among Building Societies, Savings Banks, and Charities. I hope I have dealt fairly with the argument of the hon. Gentleman. What I am anxious to do is to analyse the case of the owners of ground values, because it is important there should not be any false ideas abroad in regard to the subject. I fancy, if the County Council should have the idea that in this £30,000,000 sterling they have got a nest egg which they can use for taxation purposes, they will find that this sum will be diminished by the leasehold values, belonging to men, many of whom are already great contributors to rates, by the ground-rents, and by a vast number of other interests which they will scarcely wish to touch. I do not say, it is for the Committee to say, whether they ought to be touched or 1002 not; but it is well to see where we are in regard to this large sum. I cannot repeat it too often. Land is not owned alone by great landlords, but by a vast number of individuals in every form; and, therefore, if we are going to tax ground values, we have to consider not only those who own the reversion, but those who own every interest connected with the land. Having dealt with the proposal of taxing the ground value separately from the house, and with the question of taxing improved ground-rents, I will now deal very shortly with the further proposal with regard to Succession Duty. The hon. Member has already worked out to his satisfaction that £900,000 would be realised by placing a duty upon those £30,000,000; and he has got some evidence that every London owner dies in 25 years.
§ *MR. GOSCHEN
Yes; it is an interesting calculation; I do not know upon what it is founded, but before I can accept the calculation it will have to be very narrowly scrutinised. I think the same hon. Member said the person who lived in the locality would pay the tax; I presume he meant to say it was the person who died in the locality who would pay the tax. But the point is that you are going to put the Succession Duty upon this £30,000,000. I have endeavoured to prove that this £30,000,000 is not realty in the ordinary sense; and if you put on this Succession Duty you will either have to be content with a smaller sum than £30,000,000, or you will have to tax for the Succession Duty the improved ground-rents of every form of leasehold property. Leasehold property pays Probate Duty as well as Succession Duty, and now you propose, in order to secure the £900,000 which is to be raised from Succession Duty, to tax the whole of that £30,000,000. I say, again, such a proposal would land you where you little expect to be landed. You would have to tax not only the reversioner, but the countless interests which I have analysed, before you would be able to realise your calculation. The question of increasing the Succession Duty stands upon its own merits. What I wish to point out is 1003 this—that you cannot, as Sir Thomas Farrer proposes, raise the amount which you wish unless you are going to put a special Succession Duty, and an additional Succession Duty, upon that particular form of the savings of the people which is invested in improved ground-rents and securities of that kind. You may propose it, and it is for the Committee to consider whether it ought or ought not to be enforced; but I am afraid I cannot give that blessing to the proposal which I am glad to give to any reasonable proposal for the relief of the ratepayers in London. I have to thank the House for listening to me so attentively and kindly on this very complicated question, but I should not like to sit down without considering for one or two moments more whether there is anything that remains over to be taxed, and whether there are any forms of interest in land which are insufficiently taxed, and which ought to be taxed. Now, I will say frankly it appears to me that the case of the reversioner stands upon a different footing from the case of many of the other interests of which I have been speaking. Let me go back to the position of the building owner. The building owner is practically paying every year full value both of the site and of the house. At the same time, it is rather hard upon him that a portion of his house is slipping away from him every year while he is being charged the full annual value upon it, and that enhances, to my mind, the danger and the difficulty of any such arrangements as would put an increased burden upon the leaseholder, who is part owner of the ground value, from my point of view. Well, now as regards the reversioner. It is said that the reversioner contributes nothing towards the taxation of the Metropolis. That point was ably argued by two of my hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. G. Balfour) and the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Whitmore). That the reversioner is paying a portion of the rates seems to me to be scarcely open to dispute. He does not pay the whole; he may not even pay the whole of the improved value which is given to the land, because there the builder steps in and himself takes the risk. But now let me treat the question as between the 1004 builder and the reversioner. The whole feeling is constantly against the reversioner; but let me examine the position of the builder. He takes a property which may either increase or decrease in value. He makes a bargain that he will pay all the rates. After he has made the bargain the rates increase, and the House seems disposed to think he has got a case to go back to the land-lord and say, "You ought to pay a portion of the rates." But suppose there is another element in the case, namely, the value of the site which he has taken; and suppose that, as the result of a change of fashion, or any other circumstance of the improvements which may be made at the expense of the ratepayers generally, the value of the house increases. Is the builder to have the right to change his contract against the reversioner, because the rates have increased, while he is to have the full benefit of the increased value from year to year which he has got from having acquired a site which at the date he acquired it was worth, say, £300, but which is now probably worth £500 or £600? Would it be right to disturb contracts for such a parpose as that? It is generally assumed that the value remains the same while the rates decrease; but in the vast number of cases the value increases not only pari passu with the rates, but in excess of the rates. Therefore it would be rather a strong order to say you should re-open the contract and let the builder deduct a certain portion of the increased rate from the owner, while he is to (have the full benefit of the increased value of the site. It appears to me he has made a double contract. He may say, "I take all my chance of increased rates, and all my chance of increased value of the site." I admit the shrewdest and most farseeing builder would have scarcely contemplated the possibility of a School Board going in for pianos. On the other hand, some builders by their shrewdness and foresight have developed estates until they pay rents far in excess of the rates imposed by the County Council, the School Board, and the other Local Authorities. There is another point which, so far as I have observed, has not been touched upon either in treatises or in debate. The House will remember 1005 that we have passed Bills for the equalisation of rates in the Metropolis. We have relieved the rates in the East End of London and increased the rates in St. George's, Hanover Square, and other parts of the Metropolis. The rates having been thus lowered in the East End, are we to take a part of the rates from the landlord because there has been, an increase of rates generally in the Metropolis, while, at the same time, the legislation of this House may have put the ratepayers in the East End in a better position as regards rates than they were in before? Hon. Members have spoken invariably of the aggregate increase in the rates; but they have not, so far as I have heard, touched upon the rate in the £1. I do not dispute that the rate in the £1 has increased; far from it. I am one of those who have thought during the last 20 years the rates have been very high, but, at the same time, there ought to be no exaggeration on the point. Through the labours of the Committee we may get to know where we are; but as regards St. Pancras, so far as I can make out, the rates during the last 20 years have increased only from 4s. 11d. to 5s. in the £1. I put that forward merely by way of meeting the suggestion made with regard to the increase of rating in the Metropolis, and without desiring in any way to minimise the fact that serious additions may have been made. Another point the Committee will have to examine is the degree to which the reversioner has been benefited by the rates, what rates he has benefited by, to what extent, and when the benefits will begin to accrue to him. Some hon. Members have gone far a field in that respect; they say that the reversioner benefits by every rate imposed; that on his coming into the property 30 or 40 years hence he is benefited by the expense which is now incurred by the education of the children of the parish in which his property is situated. The argument may be that the children, being intelligent, will be less likely to attack his property 30 years hence; but I think that would be a fine-strung argument, and I have not seen, so far, that education has had the effect at all of increasing the foundations on which property is supposed to rest. I confess there are 1006 some rates which I think might fairly be admitted to confer a permanent boon, but I cannot think the argument that every rate benefits the reversioner will be generally accepted as true. Reversioners may enter into their property 10, 40, 50, or 60 years hence; are you going to attempt to value them at these distant dates? I should like to know what the Committee will say on that point. To value, according to the years which are still to run, what interest the reversioner may be likely to derive from any particular rate—that, it seems to me, would be a Herculean task to undertake. Possibly hon. Members may suggest that it should be done by some kind of rough justice, that we should take some date after which we are not to respect contracts, or, I suppose, some date after which the interest of the reversioner is not to be considered. At the same time, I am much in the same frame of mind as regards the reversioner as the right hon. Member for Bury, except perhaps that I have somewhat more regard for existing contracts. At all events, I want to examine what benefit the reversioner has received, and whether the contract was so entirely in his favour as my right hon. Friend seemed to suggest. This might open a question for the Committee to consider, namely, whether, when the reversion falls in, it is or it is not then a fit subject for taxation either Imperial or local. When a reversioner enters into possession, you have at all events got something, the taxation of which may be considered to fall upon a benefit which has been derived. I therefore lay down these principles. I do not think that this House, as at present constituted, desires to tax reversioners simply because they are reversioners, unless it be proved that they are benefited, and until the time comes when you can ascertain the benefit. If you think you can ascertain it in advance of this, I think you will find it extremely difficult to do. I have been anxious to deal with all these questions not in the slightest degree in a tone of dogmatism. I have been anxious to show that we admit that the finance of the Metropolis is a matter which deserves the earnest consideration of this House. I have admitted that that finance is not in a satisfactory position, and that I think it 1007 desirable to consider the question of the; division of rates between owner and occupier, I have admitted it is desirable we should examine carefully how far any such division should take place with regard to existing contracts and under what conditions. I have admitted that it is desirable that fresh taxes should be found, and but for my own unfortunate experience I might have been sanguine that we might have found additional sources of taxation for objects with which we all sympathise. I trust, then, that I have met the Motion of the hon. Member in a fair spirit, and that I have not minimised the importance of the subject, and I hope also that I may have brought home to the House that this is a matter upon which they ought not to make any premature declaration before they have been able to examine it by the light which the deliberations of the Committee will supply. Do not let us raise false hopes; do not let us, by laying down any broad proposition such as that which is embodied in the Resolution, hold out hopes to the ratepayers of the Metropolis which we may not be able to satisfy to the degree they may desire. We may be able directly to tax owners and to mitigate the position of the present ratepayers, but to pass this Resolution would give the ratepayers the impression that greater things will be done than possibly we may be able to accomplish, and therefore I earnestly ask the House not to accept the Motion of the hon. Member.
§ *(11.22.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
The Chancellor of the Exchequer all through his singularly able speech has attached enormous importance to the deliberations of the Committee which has now been sitting for some five or six years. I agree with him that if we were about to settle the details of this question it would be advisable to have a fuller and more complete investigation than can possibly be afforded by a Debate in this House. The right hon. Gentleman has avoided to a great extent dealing with the principle of the Resolution, and has raised, with great ability, many objections on points of detail. He has said we ought to wait for light to be thrown upon this question by the Committee. I venture to say that we do not 1008 want the guidance of any Committee upon a question of principle. Questions of principle are settled by the House of Commons, and are not relegated to Committees, and, therefore, the opinions that a Committee may entertain upon what is not only a financial question, but a question of great public policy, cannot be accepted as binding upon the House. But as the Chancellor of the Exchequer and all the speakers on the Government side have laid such great stress upon the desirability of having light thrown upon this subject by a Committee, let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that a Committee has already reported upon the question. That Committee comprised some of the ablest men of the day in the House, including John Stuart Mill. In 1866 this question was in a very different stage, but every argument urged before that Committee can be urged now with tenfold force. The Members of the Committee included the present Duke of Rutland, Sir M. W. Ridley, Mr. Baring, and Mr. Ayrton. The Committee reported that the expenditure upon permanent improvements had tended to increase the value of the Metropolis, that the whole of such expenditure was of a novel character, and that in analogous cases one moiety of the charge had been imposed on the occupier and the other on the owner. They therefore recommended that in any re-arrangement of the financial resources of the Metropolis, a portion of the charge for permanent improvements should be borne by owners of property. Now that is exactly the recommendation we are asked to vote upon to-night. The House is not going to vote on Mr. Fletcher Moulton's plan or Lord Hob-house's plan, but on the question whether the freeholders of the Metropolis ought not to contribute some share of the taxation of the Metropolis. A large amount of evidence was given before the Committee by Sir John Thwaites, the then Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works. I will read but one question and one answer as summing up the whole case. Sir John Thwaites was asked—Is not the Board of Works, as at present constituted, a machinery for improving the property of the landlords in reversion at the expense of the tenants?His reply was— 1009I am not able to say that we have been appointed for that purpose; but the practical result is that we do improve the value of property in the way that I have described, and that the landlord does not contribute a fair share towards the cost of these improvements.The Chancellor of the Exchequer has challenged us to deal with this question on the point of principle, and has dwelt upon what he calls the impossibility of dividing the value of a house from the value of the land upon which it is built. I see no difficulty in the matter. There are two values. There is the value of the ground and the value of the structure erected upon it, and the value of the structure is entirely due to the capital expended upon it by the builder, whilst the value of the land, over and above its agricultural value, is entirely due to the presence of the town in which it is, and to the improvements introduced at the expense of the town. The Chancellor of the Exchequer must not suppose it is contended that houses should be exempt from taxation. Both houses and lands should bear their fair share. But the land has derived a value from the expenditure upon the locality, and that value becomes the owner's at the expiration of the lease. What is the principle we consider to be embodied in this Resolution? So far as I have followed the Chancellor of the Exchequer I think he will not deny the truth of the proposition, which is simply this: that where by public expenditure the value of land, whether houses are built upon it or not—and the House will observe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer never alluded to vacant land in his speech—when the value of the land, whether built upon or not, is permanently increased, the owner of that land should bear a fair share of the cost of those improvements. It is no answer to say there is great difficulty in applying that proposition. You may have to meet many technical difficulties, though I do not think in regard to London there are so many complications as have been described; the question of ownership of ground rents is a simple matter, and the questions that arise out of technicalities and various changes in ownership of houses may be left outside the main question. Now, during this Debate two questions have arisen, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has very adroitly 1010 answered the one by raising the difficulties of the other. The first question is, Are we satisfied with the present apportionment of taxation between owner and occupier? The second question is, Shall we apply additional taxation to the owner in respect of the special benefit his property derives from the public outlay? These propositions the Resolution lays down, and how has the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to escape from them? The Chancellor of the Exchequer was perfectly right when he said that under the present system we have the whole of the present value of property taxed, that by whoever it is paid the £30,000,000 or £34,000,000 under Schedule A. of the Income Tax represents the taxable income of the property of the Metropolis, and, therefore, the question is the apportionment of this taxation between the parties liable to payment. In addition, I would go a step further and say where it is definitely proved—where it can be shown that property has been increased in value by public expenditure, it is fair that the owner of that property should contribute his share to the public expenditure undertaken for his benefit. There is nothing new in this proposition. In local taxation the burden is apportioned according to the benefit conferred, but Imperial taxation is levied alike throughout the Kingdom. In rural districts people are not subjected to the taxation levied in towns, because they do not derive the same benefit as inhabitants of towns do from the expenditure. In my own county to such an extent is this division of interests carried that there are actually three police rates, the rural police rate in the agricultural part, the mining police rate in the mining district, and another rate in the pottery district. Where there is this distribution of benefit there may be this distribution of burdens. The hon. Member for Chelsea accuses us of a desire to penalise the ownership of land, and he says that there is no more reason why we should tax ground rents than railway debentures or Consols. But debentures and Consols do not increase in value by reason of public improvements as ground rents do. I put a parallel case. Take the rating of railway stations. They are not rated on a uniform basis, but in respect to the 1011 traffic carried on. A railway derives specific benefit from the traffic of a town, and is rated accordingly, and why should not the same principle be applied to land in the town? Passing now to the question of apportionment, and saying no more on additional taxation in respect to ownership, there is the question in regard to the incidence of local taxation—on whom does the burden ultimately fall? Now, if I may venture to say so, I agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his correction of his Colleague the other night. I think he was strictly and economically accurate—and his correction was accepted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian—that in the rural districts where the rates increase the rents decrease, and where the rates decrease the rents increase; therefore, in that case, the burden is borne by the owner, and therefore, any subsidy for the relief of rates is a subsidy for the relief of owners. But, said the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that does not apply to urban ownership. Exactly; it does not apply to ownership in London where the whole burden falls upon the occupier. ["No, no!"] The whole increased burden does. You may raise the question as to what it was when the lease was granted, but every new rate imposed since the lease was granted falls exclusively and entirely upon the occupier. This is one of the main proofs of an injustice which the proposition in the Resolution of my hon. Friend seeks to rectify. Where the whole rating falls upon the occupiers the occupiers naturally object to expenditure, and have an interest in keeping it down, and preventing the County Council from carrying out the public works they desire, and which in the interest of London should be completed. If you divide the burden between owners and occupiers the latter will be relieved and that difficulty will not arise. There is another class of cases the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not alluded to, and I am almost surprised that he does not look at it from an Imperial point of view—cases where large premiums are paid to owners of ground rents on renewal of leases. When and how are these premiums taxed? They do not contribute to Im- 1012 perial taxation, they do not contribute to local taxation; these large sums paid on renewals of leases escape taxation in any shape or form until indeed they are re invested by the fortunate gentlemen who receive them and come under the Income Tax. The Chancellor of the Exchequer desires to have the light to be thrown on these matters by the Committee, but let me refer him to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes. On one of the most important points in connection with this controversy the Commissioners draw attention to the fact that land available for building purposes in the centre of London, the capital value of which is very great, is only rated at its nominal value as vacant land; and the Commissioners go on to point out the public advantages that would follow if this land were more equitably rated. There is a large class of this property exempt from local and Imperial taxation which does not come under the Death Duties, and this property would be included within the terms of this Resolution. The next point to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer called attention to in reference to the difficulties in an apportionment of taxation, he associated with the question "Who owns London?" We reply that for the purposes of this Resolution, the freeholders own London. The landed property of London is estimated to be producing annually £35,000,000, and of this the proportion going to freeholders is estimated at half, or by some authorities a third. I should say in the City more than a half, in the suburbs probably less than a third. But whatever the proportion, a large part of this income of £35,000,000 belongs to the owners of the soil.
§ *MR. H. H. FOWLER
Ground rents or improved ground rents. I know there are intermediate leaseholders, but so far as ownership is concerned this Resolution may be construed as dealing with the freeholders. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bury says the Resolution might be extended to include other towns, and that is not unreasonable. He knows 1013 there are difficulties in Lancashire, and there are difficulties in other parts where land is not generally held on freehold tenure. But there is no case similar to London where such enormous sums have been expended for main drainage and other public purposes to which the freeholders have made no contribution, but of which they ought to bear a share. No doubt there are some rates which ought to fall upon the occupier and the occupier only, there are annual rates from which the living occupier derives all the advantage; but the point and gist of this Resolution is this, there are owners of property who have had their property doubled, trebled, quadrupled, aye quintupled in value, mainly by the expenditure of public money on public works, without which that property would probably have decreased in value—are they or are they not to contribute their share of the burden from which they have derived such great benefit? We shall vote for the principle contained in this Resolution. We do not for a moment conceal from ourselves or from the House that there will be very great difficulty in applying the principle as there are difficulties in applying any principle. But the difficulties, local or Imperial, can be surmounted. The broad and general principle is this, that those who derive a benefit shall share the burden. On this Metropolitan Members will vote to-night, and those who are in sympathy with the Metropolitan ratepayers will support this attempt to take one step forward in a much needed reform of local taxation.
§ (11.50.) The House divided:—Ayes 149; Noes 123.—(Div. List, No. 88.)
§ Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ SUPPLY,—Committee upon Monday next.