§ MR. BARROW (Southwark, Bermondsey)
said that, as a new Member, it was with great diffidence that he rose to ask the favourable consideration of the House to so vast a subject as the incidence of the taxation of London. He was somewhat relieved, however, by the knowledge that the subject was by no means a novel one in the House; neither was it a new subject to Londoners outside the House. This morning, in reading the papers, he noticed a statement—he did not know if it was true— to the effect that the London Conservative Members, at a Committee meeting on the previous day called to consider what action they should take relative to this question, had arrived at the conclusion that they should oppose the Resolution which stood in his name, and which was as follows:—" That provision ought to be made for further equalising the rates throughout the Metropolis." ["No, no!"] He was quite prepared to accept the denial of hon. Members opposite. He had wondered whether the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Macdona) would be a party to such a decision as that, seeing that his constituency as well as his (Mr. Barrow's) own was heavily oppressed by the anomalies of the incidence of taxation to which they were subjected. He was very glad to hear this denial of the London Conservative Members, because he anticipated the support of all the Provincial Members, and if they got a consensus of opinion, and they could agree amongst themselves in London, this subject would very soon be removed from the attention of Parliament. He would remind the House that London had spoken out in a very emphatic tone of voice at the last County Council election, which was mainly fought and won by the Progressive members upon the unjust and unfair incidence of taxation. ["No!"] Hon. Members 336 said "No," but he could assert that this subject was in the fore-front of all his election speeches. It also occupied a place in his address; and he knew that it held an equally prominent position in the addresses and speeches of other candidates at the election. Not only had the decision of London been pronounced in that large progressive majority on the County Council, but he would remind the House that there were more than twice as many Liberal and Radical Members returned to Parliament for London as sat in the last Parliament. From this he would argue that London was fully alive to the importance of this question, and that the demands of London could not be dealt lightly with. London was practically unique on the question of the anomalous condition of taxation. He did not know that there was another town or city so situated in the whole realm, no town or city in which the Governing Body did not raise equal rates. Now, in London they had 84 distinct Taxing Bodies outside the City itself. All kinds of rates were levied on all kinds of estimates of valuation, and there was no consistency whatever. For the reason that London was unique in this particular, he claimed the support of all the Provincial Members, so that London might be brought in line with what they themselves would hold to be common-sense policy. His Motion was by no means a revolutionary suggestion. If asked that there might be further powers for the equalization of rates, by which, of course, was inferred that there were some rates which were levied in common throughout London—as, for instance, the rate for Police, School Board, County Council, Asylums Board, and Poor Fund. But with regard to the last of these, although an amount was raised for the relief of the poorer parishes, conditions were connected with that relief which certainly were irksome, for they were to the effect that relief should only be given to those who were driven inside the poorhouse. To that he and his friends took exception. The rates which were raised in common for all London amounted to 3s. 3d. in the £1 upon all property assessed for rating. Out of the total rating of London of £7,750,000 this 3s. 3d. amounted to-£5,000,000, leaving £2,750,000 which was raised by the 84 Local Bodies in 337 their respective districts, for the making and maintenance of roads and for sanitary purposes, for local lighting, local sewers, and for the payment of interest upon local debts. These rates varied so much as to create a glaring anomaly and inflict serious injustice. For instance, in Bow and Bromley these local rates amouted to 3s. 7d. in the £1, and in Poplar and Mile End to 3s. 8d., while in St. James's, Westminster, they were 1s. 0¼d., in St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, 1s. 2¼d., and in St. George's, Hanover Square, 1s. 3d. —or, generally, about one-third the amount of the poorer districts. Let them take another comparison—the rateable value per head of the population. It was in Bromley £3 5s. 6d., Bethnal Green £3 5s. 11d., and Bow £3 15s. 4d., while in St. James's, Westminster, it was £29 16s. 2d., in St. Martin's-in-the-Fields £35 17s. 3d., and in St. George's, Hanover Square, £23 11s. 10d.—that was an average of nine times as much as the three poorer parishes. To emphasise the inequality he would point out that a 1d. in the £1 in Bermondsey represented about £1,500; in St. James's, £3,104; in St. Martin's, £2,184; and in St. George's, £7,703. The total rate in parts of Whitechapel was 7s. 6½d. in the £1; in Bromley, 7s. 3d.; Bermondsey, 7s. 4d.; and Bow, 6s. 11d.; while in St. Martin's it was 3s. 10d.; St. James's, 4s. 2d.; in St. George's, 4s. 5½d., and Gray's Inn, 4s. 0½d. The average rate in the City of London was 4s. 8d., and he presumed the objection of the City to be absorbed in London arose chiefly from their favourable position in that respect. There was another fault in connection with the rating, and it was this: In the method of assessing property for rating purposes there were gross inequalities. In all the poorer districts the assessors were always under the obligation of making the property as valuable as possible, because rates being so high it was extremely inconvenient for them to increase the poundage. For the converse reason the wealthy districts of London did not need to raise their assessment value, otherwise their rates in the £1 would be infinitely smaller, and would attract, in a greater and more emphatic way than at present, public attention to the contrast between the way they were taxed and the way the poorer districts were taxed. ["No, 338 no!"] An hon. Member said "No." He would give a case to illustrate what he meant. At present there were several standing appeals by the London County Council against wealthy neighbourhoods with a view of requiring them to increase their assessments. He could give the Member who said "No" a positive instance. Bermondsey had appealed against the rating of Kensington and got the rating value increased by £35,000. He would give another illustration of the unfair way in which the existing anomalies worked as against the poorer districts. The cost of the roads in St. George's, Hanover Square, was £855 per mile, which only involved a rate of 4¾d. in the £1. In Bermondsey the cost was £311 per mile, which involved taxation of 5¾d. in the £1. In Whitechapel the cost was £592 per mile, requiring a rate of 7¼d. in the £1, and in Mile End the cost was £530 per mile, which necessitated a charge of 10d. in the £1. And similar inequalities existed in regard to the construction and maintenance of local sewers. They would be asked before the Debate was over, perhaps—not in exact words, but in a manner which would convey the same idea—what had the West got to do with the South and East. Had it nothing to do with the sanitary arrangements of London—had it not as much to do with those matters as with the cost of the School Boards? If the funds were not forthcoming for sanitary improvements it would be a matter of interest to all parts of London. The moral of the present position was this that the nearer to the workhouse the more stringent was the exaction of rates from the poor ratepayers. High rates meant high rents, and high rents led to overcrowding of tenants, and that meant unhealthy surroundings, disorderly conduct, poverty, disease, immorality, and crime. High rates meant labour handicapped, hopes and the spirit of thrift blighted, enterprise crushed. It was one of the most painful duties devolving upon him in his magisterial capacity to periodically hear summonses for non-payment of rates and and to see how the small shopkeepers and tradesmen—and those who let lodgings were in increasing numbers—requiring relief from the burdens of taxation and drawing nearer and nearer to the borders of the union. The Government 339 had promised in the Queen's Speech to give more complete power to the County Council. They were delighted to hear in the early part of the week from the Treasury Bench the promise given of the unification of London government, which would mean the getting rid of the dual control in the Metropolis. He wanted them now to give a third promise. He wanted them to promise to carry out this Resolution in spirit, if not in the letter. While giving Home Rule, peace, and contentment to 5,000,000 of Irish people, would they also add peace and comfort and justice to the 5,000,000 inhabitants of London? He thanked the House for the indulgent attention accorded to him, and would close his remarks by simply formally moving the Resolution.
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "provision ought to be made for further equalising the rates throughout the Metropolis,"—(Mr. Barrow,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said, the hon. Member who had just opened the Debate on this difficult question with so much lucidity had brought forward a number of specimens of the inequalities of the rating which they condemned. There was no doubt that what the hon. Gentleman had said was strictly correct as to the contest in March in regard to the London County Council having been fought mainly on the question of the rating of London. The same question, it would be admitted, was one of the principal questions before Londoners at the time of the General Election itself. London suffered from great anomalies. It suffered anomalies because of the methed of its growth, and perhaps the greatest anomaly was that of the incidence of its rates. They had had several points before them in connection with this matter, which he only mentioned to put aside. The Resolution before the House did not refer to that wider issue of the alteration of the incidence or class of persons on whom the taxation was to fall. There was a Bill before them which would render discussion on that subject at the present time 340 irregular in connection with the taxation of ground values. As to the question of assessment, he did not mention it for any other purpose than simply to put it one side—or to deal with it in conjunction with the subject of inequalities which were of a character that bore most heavily on the poorer districts. Whatever the reason, some of the richer districts were considerably under-assessed, and they hoped to bring before the House a Bill for the correction of the assessment of London. But what they had to do this evening was to deal with a totally different question—namely, the incidence of the rates in one locality as compared with another locality. He would not make the bold assertion that in other towns there was no inequality between one part and another. That question he would turn to in one moment; but in London the inequality was of a more remarkable kind—and not only that, but it was of an order entirely different. It had this peculiarity that where the people were poor the rating was high, and where the rich dwelt it was correspondingly low. That was general throughout London. In the poorest district of London, Mile End New Town, the rateable value per head of the population was only £2 13s. 1d. and the rate was 6s. 11d., the point at which it generally stood; while in St. James's, Westminster, one of the wealthiest districts, the rateable value was £30 per head, and the rates were only 4s. 2d. in the £1. Rateable value per head was taken as the fairest test of the riches or poverty of a district. He hoped the House would consider the general aspect of the matter. The average rate of London was 5s. in the £1, and there were 41 poorer parishes which had, without exception, a higher rate than the average. And it was a remarkable fact that of the 42 parishes in London which had a rateable value per head below the average, 41 had rates above the average, and only one had rates below the average. Nor was this all. The rates of the poorer parishes he had mentioned were not merely a little, but very much, above the average—as high as 7s. in some cases and 6s. 11d. in others. On the other side there were nine large and rich parishes in which the rateable value was £28 per head, and in every one of these the rates were below 5s., varying from 341 4s. 2d. to 4s. 11d. In other districts anomalies existed to a greater or less extent. Let them now glance at other centres of large population. In Nottingham and Norwich, for instance, inequalities in the rating of different districts of those places had arisen recently through local circumstances, but the anomalies were trifling in comparison with those that existed in London. What were the methods by which those other towns had remedied, or proposed to remedy, the evil? They did so by means of a Private Bill. London, however, was under the great disadvantage that it was not permitted, by the Standing Orders of the House, to take this course, and, consequently, the Members for Loudon were compelled to bring the 'grievance before Parliament. They had no other means of obtaining redress. This was a remarkable instance of the manner in which the hands of the great Governing Body of London were tied in matters in which they certainly ought to be free. The origin of the difficulty lay in this: that Loudon, in the process of growth, had absorbed a great number of separate communities, which had their own poor and rich residents and were governed by their own Vestries. When the reform of London government took place, the Vestry was made the Governing Body, and the rates imposed in the districts remained in the hands of the Vestries, so far as municipal purposes were concerned. The growth of London had been accompanied by a great change within the limits of those various districts. Some of them had become the homes of the poor alone, and others of the rich alone, and, the reform not going on along with growth, one of the results was that the poor were highly rated while the rich were not. In particular rates for local purposes the anomalies were very great and very unjust to the poor. Much had been done in connection with the equalisation of the poor rate, the amount raised in London for the relief of the poor—about £1,750,000. Of that amount all that affected the indoor poor and other charges was raised by a common rate of 8d. over London. Another amount of nearly £500,000 was equalised by the Local Government Act of 1888. The poor rate, however, was not completely equalised. He wished to call attention 342 not to the poor rate, but to those local burdens which were municipal in their character, and which included the sewers, lighting, roads, scavenging, and all sanitary work, the expenses of administration, and the payment of debt. These reached a total of £2,000,000, and the incidence was very unequal. In Bethnal Green it was 16½d. per head; in Camberwell, 18¼d.; inLambeth, 18¼d.; in St. George's-in-the-East, 22¾d.; and in Greenwich, 23d. Among the rich parishes, St. James's paid 8½d. per head; Kensington, 14d.; Paddington, 12d.; and St. George's, Hanover Square, 9d. He could show the inequality by the contrast between one of the poorest parishes —Bethnal Green, and one of the richest— St. George's, Hanover Square. In the former the rateable value per head was £3 5s. 11d., and in the latter£28; while Bethnal Green was nearly double St, George's in population, and had a total rateable value of only £425,000, as against £1,848,000. In 1890 Bethnal Green spent £1,400 on sewers, and St. George's, Hanover Square, which had the same length of streets, spent £3,600. The rate in Bethnal Green was nearly 1d.; that in St. George's was only íd. On street lighting Bethnal Green spent £3,300, representing a rate of 1¾d., and St. George's £9',400, representing a rate of a little more than 1d. If ever there were a matter of common interest in a Municipality it was the street lighting, for it affected the police rate, the poor rate, and a large number of expenses common to the whole of London. On the maintenance of the roads, paving and cleaning, Bethnal Green spent £11,000 and St. George's £36,000. Of that which was called the road expenditure of the parishes of London, amounting to close upon £900,000 a year, very nearly a half was for the sanitation of roads. On the removal of dust and refuse, on which the health of all London depended, Bethnal Green spent £3,300, representing a rate of nearly 2d., and St. George's spent £4,800, representing a rate of ½d. If they wanted a case for establishing a greater equality of the rates, the figures he had given made out such a case. The cost for lighting and common sanitary work came to about £900,000 per annum over the whole town; and if all the expense of managing that common work were added, the total would be 343 raised to considerably over £1,000,000. There were precedents for the equalisation which he ventured to urge upon the wisdom of the House. In the first place, they had certain annual rates all over London, which were managed by Central Authorities such as the School Board and the County Council. That was the method by which the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund was managed. He should mention that the first method applied to something like £3,000,000, the second method to £1,000,000, and the third method to £500,000. The third method, which was adopted in the Act of 1888, was that a common rate was raised by a Central Body and distributed amongst the Local Bodies in proportion to their poor. A very groat advantage was got in London from a certain amount of central administration, but a very great advantage was got, too, from a certain amount of local administration, and what they had got to do in London was to combine the two— certain subjects being more fitted for central administration, other subjects being more fitted for local administration. The ultimate relations between the Central Bodies and the District Bodies would be settled by a Bill which he hoped they would soon have—the London District Government Bill; but there was no necessity whatever for waiting for that Bill in order to carry out that equalisation of rates which partook of the character of a grant in aid, which was common all over the country —in London as well as outside London. In order that the method arrived at might be the proper one, there were only two possible suggestions really worth the consideration of the House. The first was, that the distribution of the rate should be in accordance with population. It was obvious that the rate raised according to rateable value and distributed according to population would exactly meet the needs of those poor parishes which were at present mulcted in high rates and whose poverty was a source of danger to the whole City. He did not venture to dictate to the House as to which of the methods he had indicated should be adopted, though he had a predilection for the third method—that of imposing an equal rate which could be distributed in aid of Local Bodies, because he thought it was 344 the simplest method and the easiest reform to carry out. No one could say that redistribution which he advocated was taking from the rich—at the expense of the rich—and giving to the poor. It was carrying out the idea that London sanitation was a matter of common concern; it was carrying out the idea that London was a town or community of existence, and it was carrying out the precedent that had been established year after year for the last 30 years. Now, what would be the practical result of carrying into effect the scheme he proposed for the equalisation of a certain rate, and its distribution according to population? In the case of Mile End New Town the rates would be reduced from 6s. 11d. to 5s. 7d., while in the case of St. George's, Hanover Square, the rates would be raised from 4s. 5½d. to 5s. 10½d. Therefore, the rise in the rates in wealthy parishes would be less than the fall in the rate in the poorer parishes. Again, taking the parish of Bethnal Green, the rates which now stood at 6s. in the £1 would be reduced to 5s.; and in St. George's, Hanover Square, the rates which now stood at 4s. 5½d. would be raised to 4s. 10½d. The change he had indicated would be general throughout London. The result would be an approximation to a more equal rating, and it would be an approximation also to that common burden which justly ought to be borne by the whole of London consistently with the Central Authority and the peculiarities of Local Vestries. He had had to deal with what he feared had been a tiresome mass of figures. But the House should remember that, though the figures might have been uninteresting, they were the very life-blood of some of the poor people of London. These figures were well understood throughout the poor districts of London; they went into the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of these districts—hard-working and poverty-stricken people in many cases—and in these figures lay their hope-largely for a better state of things. He urged this question upon the Government and upon the House, reminding both that it was not a claim for additional powers for the London County Council in the hope that that being so hon. Members opposite might lay aside their antipathy to that Body and view 345 the matter in an unprejudiced light. They had to deal with a question that lay entirely between the various districts of London; it was a question that had nothing at all to do with the County Council, but dealt with one of the most urgent reforms that the great town of London was confronted with. Some dealing with London taxation was an urgent necessity. He could say, on behalf of his colleagues in the representation of London, that they were unanimously of opinion that the reform which they pressed on the attention of the House was most urgent; that it had the great merit in the present state of Public Business that it could be embodied in a very short measure, and that it was also foundation precedents in London itself. It assimilated London rates to those of other large towns—a fact which should appeal for support to hon. Members from the country; it assimilated them in an essential manner, and it brought relief to London where relief was most needed.
§ MR. ALBAN G. H. GIBBS (London)
said, he would not have taken part in this ebate—being a new Member— were it not for the attack made by the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken on the City of Loudon, which he had the honour of representing. He begged to say that their objection to being taken over by the County Council lay far deeper than on any mere question of the equalisation of the rates. The hon. Gentleman had told them that the Government had promised him the unification of London. He believed the Government had only promised a Commission to inquire, and he and his colleagues in the representation of London would have many opportunities of expressing their opinion on that subject before the time came for action, if it ever did come. In May of 1889 a Debate took place in the House on a somewhat similar subject to that which was now under consideration—a proposal to unify certain parts of the poor rate. Many difficulties were shown to exist in the way of the proposal at that time; and he did not think the hon. Member had in any way removed these difficulties. He had expected that they would have had a great deal more stress laid upon the efficiency and the economy that would be 346 induced by this proposed change. As he had tried his best to follow the hon. Member as to the means by which he proposed to effect this unification, he had to say that he had entirely failed in grasping them. It seemed to him that it should be done in one of two ways— either the County Council must do everything and leave nothing whatever to the Vestries, the Boards of Guardians, or whatever Local Authorities Parliament would still allow to exist in the land, or else the Guardians or the Vestries must spend the money, and the County Council pay for it. He did not think there was anything like economy or efficiency in the scheme by which one Body would spend the money and another supply it. In the old Proprietary Clubs it was the fashion for all members to dine together, and it was the fashion for the spirited proprietor to give a grant in aid, in the way of paying for four dinners to assist in the economy of the performance. They had in that a system of the equalisation of rates; every member ordered all the wine he wanted for himself and the others paid for it, but it was found that the system did not lead to much retrenchment or economy, and so it was discontinued. Another reason had been advanced by the Mover of the Amendment in its support— it was a reason he had heard also advanced for the dismemberment of the Empire and the dismemberment of the Church, and that was that local opinion favoured it. The hon. Gentleman had not said how he had ascertained that local opinion favoured it, except it was through the medium of the County Council. Now, they had a very high authority which they were all bound to respect, and which hon. Members opposite were bound to follow—he meant the authority of the Prime Minister, who had on the previous night enunciated the following principle: "I have an old Parliamentary habit of looking to the statutory representation of a country as the proper, legitimate, and organised expression of public opinion." Now, had the constitutional Representatives of the Metropolis—namely, the Metropolitan Members of Parliament, or anything like a majority of them, expressed any opinion in favour of this change? He thought not; and he did not think that even the hon. Member opposite thought so, for he had considered it 347 better to appeal to the Provincial Members to aid him in getting his scheme adopted. This matter was thoroughly argued in 1889. The House then decided by a large majority not to proceed with it, and he trusted they would decide in the same way again.
§ MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
said, if there were an equalisation of rates throughout London the people of the borough of St. Pancras would still pay about the same rate in the pound as they were paying now. Therefore, he could bring a disinterested judgment to bear upon the Motion. He did not think anybody would, in principle, deny the injustice of charging on one portion of the City a heavier rate than another part for purposes really common to the whole City, and there were a great number of purposes common to the people of London that ought to be provided for out of a common fund borne by the whole City, and this had been asserted and acted upon by the House over and over again. The common poor fund to which the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. J. Stuart) had referred showed that the House had made some provision for the equalisation of rates for purposes which they considered common to the whole City. The question now before the House was whether that principle which had been so asserted and acted upon should be pushed further—whether there ought to be a further equalisation of rates in the Metropolis. Speaking as a man who had had some little experience of Local Government in London, he believed that the principle could be extended, but he was free to admit that the extension of that principle brought with it considerations of a very much larger character. If representation and taxation went together, the people from whom the money was raised should control the expenditure of it. A rate raised throughout the whole of London should, more or less, have to be controlled by a Central Authority, and should be used for purposes that were essentially common to the whole City. There were matters at present in the hands of Local Authorities which could be better controlled by some Central Authority, and there were a good many things controlled by a Central Authority which might be much better managed by Local Authorities, and, therefore, when the Government came to deal with this 348 question thoroughly, they would have to consider the policy of readjustment of control as well as of readjustment of taxation. Dealing with a Common Fund was very easy. At Boards of Guardians when a proposal was made to raise the salary of an officer which came out of the Common Poor Fund, the Guardians, liking the officer personally and anxious to reward him, often said, "What does it matter? it comes out of the Common Poor Fund." That was the danger that necessarily existed in allowing Local Authorities to spend money out of a Common Fund raised over a large area—in effect, to spend money raised outside their own district. If the entire expenditure of London came from a common fund, it would have to be entrusted to a Central Authority, and he doubted whether a Central Authority could efficiently and economically control the expenditure in so vast and varied a community as the Metropolis. At present 3s. 3d. out of the 5s. 4d. average rate of London in various ways came from a Common Fund, but the expenditure of that Common Fund was tied down by very strict rules, and the Local Authorities had very little control over it. If the House extended the principle and brought in the remaining 2s. 1d. of the rate, they would have to still further restrict the power of the Local Authorities. The question was whether the principle of the Common Poor Fund and the equalisation of rates could be extended further. He thought there were some things that ought to be got out of a Common Fund, but he was not an advocate for the complete transfer of all burdens to a Common Fund, because he saw in it the destruction of local control, which was essential to economy. Take the Poor Law as an example. Indoor relief and part of the office and other charges were paid out of the Common Poor Fund; but outdoor relief was a local matter, provided for out of local rates and under the direct control of the Guardians. Now if they placed the outdoor charge on the Common Poor Fund and handed over the management to a Central Board they would at once destroy that personal interest which the Guardians now take in the individual persons who received relief, and destroy also that local control and management which was essential to effective and economical out- 349 door relief. Therefore, in any extension of this principle of equalising rates in London the Government would have to consider how far it could be carried; so that while giving relief to local burdens there should be a margin left for the control of Local Authorities, which would stimulate them to exercise judgment and discretion. The question of lighting had been mentioned. The borough of St. Pancras had embarked on a large experiment with regard to electric lighting. They were one of the few communities in London who were determined to take the question of lighting into their own hands, and they had raised £100,000 for an installation in one part of the district. But was that to be transferred to a Common Poor Fund? Were the people throughout London willing to bear the risk of that experiment, and to contribute to the special lighting of a portion of the borough of St. Pancras? Were the people of St. Pancras not to reap the benefit of their enterprise, assuming this installation to turn out a success? He doubted, also, whether the principle of the Common Poor Fund could be practically applied to sewerage in relation to building speculations in new neighbourhoods. He was surprised to hear his hon. Friend appeal for sympathy to the President of the Local Government Board in asking for grants in aid. If there was one man in the House who had denounced the bad policy of grants in aid that man was the right hon. Gentleman. He did not think they could do much in the matter in the shape of grants in aid. When the Government dealt with District Councils, as he trusted they would in London before long, if not in this Session in the next, he hoped they would consider the policy of discriminating between the expenditure which was to be put on the whole of London and the expenditure which was to be raised locally. He admitted that it appeared hard that some of the rich parishes should escape to the extent they did, and that some of the poor parishes should be punished to the extent he knew they were, and therefore he would not object to some safe extension of the principle favoured by the hon. Member as a temporary expedient, and he believed it would be a relief which would be appreciated by the people; but above 350 all this must be borne in mind the policy of keeping the expenditure of the money under the control of the people who paid it, and of dividing the work between Central and District Authorities, with a view to keeping the government and finance of London on safe and sound lines.—[Cheers.]
§ MR. B. L. COHEN (Islington, E.)
said, he noticed that the hon. Mover and Seconder of the Resolution laid great emphasis on what they described as a cardinal and crucial question which they said was especially before their constituents when they returned such a large number of Progressive members to the London County Council. He believed it was true that the success of those candidates for the London County Council was due, to a great extent, to the promises which those colleagues of his gave, that they would do what they could—though he thought it was very little—in that arena so to vary the incidence of taxation that it would fall in a different way to what it did at present. But he wished to point out that there was a very great difference between varying the incidence of taxation and arguing for the equalisation of rates. This question had been a little obscured by its having been presented to the House as a question between rich and poor. It was by no means a question between rich and poor. The Return which was presented to Parliament in June last year, on the Motion of the Member for Bethnal Green, showed that the rates did not at all vary according to wealth and poverty. He found that the rates for Hammersmith and Fulham—not very poor districts — were 6s. 3d., or within 1d. of the highest amount; whereas the rates for Mile End Old Town and Lambeth were 5s. 9d. and 5s. 10d., and Clerkenwell 5s. 4d. He was not concerned to deny that there was a very considerable discrepancy between the amount of the various rates; but he thought that before Parliament committed itself to such a drastic proposal as was involved in the Resolution, it was well to see what had been the causes which had contributed to these various discrepancies in the rates. He found from the Return that the total value of rates levied in the Metropolis during the year ending 25th March, 1891, was £8,406,414 on a total rate- 351 able value of £31,630,017, or an average rate of nearly 5s. 4d. in the £1. Looking into the figures still further, he found there were 13 out of the 27 districts which were above the average, 12 below the average, and two whose rates were exactly the average. The margins above and below the average were considerable; but when he inquired into the causes of the discrepancies, he found they furnished of themselves the strongest possible argument against the Resolution. The causes were almost entirely those which they were justified in describing as being absolutely within the control of the Local Bodies. To give an example. Taking the parishes of Lambeth and Mile End, he found that their total rating was practically identical for the purposes of calculations, respectively 5s. 10d. and 5s. 9d. in the £1; but while there was a discrepancy of only 1d., the poor rate for Lambeth was 3s. 7d., and for Mile End it was only 3s. 3d. He cited that in order to show that whilst there was a difference of 4d. in the £1 in the poor rate of the parishes of Lambeth and Mile End, there was a difference of only 1d. in the total rating, showing clearly that the amounts spent on what he might call local reforms—lighting, paving, street cleaning, and other expenses — were those which were entirely within the control of the particular local administration, and which would be very lavishly and irresponsibly administered if complete equalisation were to be sanctioned for one moment. As regarded the poor rate, a great contribution towards the equalisation of the charge for the poor was made by the Local Government Act of 1888, which provided for a contribution of 4d. per day per head for each indoor pauper, payable out of the county rate. The effect of the payment of that county rate had been towards the equalisation of the rates. In the parish of St. George's-in-the-East the contribution from the London County Council for paupers was 12d. in the £1, owing to the large number of poor, while in the City of London it was only ⅝d. in the £1, owing to the small number of poor. The result of the discrepancy was that the county rate levied in the City of London was 12⅝d., whilst the rate levied in St. George's-in-the-East was a trifle less than 352 1¼d. So much for the statistical portion of the case; there remained the ethical or, perhaps, the equitable aspect of the question. The House might be aware that the incidence of local taxation formed the subject of a most able Report by the Local Government and Taxation Committee of the London County Council, presented to the Council in November, 1891, by Lord Hobhouse, who laid it down that local needs should be met, to a large extent, out of the value of local property, and that the persons who receive the benefit of local property should contribute to the local needs each his fair share. With that wholesome canon he respectfully agreed, but he thought the House would see that the Resolution directly violated it. Besides the equitable aspect of the question, as laid down by Lord Hobhouse, there was also an economic point of view, powerfully emphasised by the Member for St. Pancras, who last addressed the House. If there be any divisions of the County of London which were economically administered, they would have a stimulus to extravagance; and if there be any which were extravagant, they would have the pressure withdrawn, which would influence them to be economical. Finally, he came to the question of who was to be the Body upon whom was to be cast the duty, and the responsibility of levying this rate. He imagined they would be told it was the London County Council, of which he had had the honour to be a member since it was first instituted. He dared say it would undertake that duty; he never knew it refuse to undertake anything. The profession of "undertaker" was one which it particularly cultivated. But was it wise to concentrate this vast duty on one Body, be it ever so powerful or able, and was this the moment to legislate in the direction of such undue centralisation? They bore in mind the measure promised in the Queen's Speech dealing with District and Parish Councils, and the Prime Minister told them on the first night of the Debate on the Address that great expectations were formed concerning those Local Bodies. But the hon. Member who moved the Resolution could not share those expectations, as the Resolution went to deprive them of their first and chief duty, that of controlling the expenditure 353 and levying the rate in the district they would govern. Were it not that they were accustomed to inconsistency in the Party opposite, he should say that one of the most astonishing features of this Debate was that a Resolution such as they were debating, which, above all others, was opposed to and almost subversive of Home Rule, should be supported by the opposite side. He believed the principle of Local Government in its truest, wisest, broadest, and safest sense, was attacked by the Resolution which was now under consideration, and which he sincerely hoped would be rejected by a decisive majority.
§ MR. W. SAUNDERS (Newington, Walworth)
said, that in adjusting the incidence of taxation in London it would be necessary to consider not merely what was equitable between one district and another, but also what was equitable between one ratepayer and another in the same district. It was in those inequalities between ratepayers that the greatest evil resulted. If hon. Members who resided in the metropolitan area would consult the valuation lists in their own parishes they would find incidence that would surprise them. In his own parish a millionaire who enjoyed 10acres of land around his house as gardens and pleasure ground was rated for those 10 acres, which were worth £2,000 per acre, at £40 per annum, whereas a man of business, occupying two-thirds of an acre of land around his house in an adjoining locality, was rated at £60 for that portion of land. The hon. Member for East Islington told the House that this was not a question between the rich and the poor. He would, indeed, it were not so. But how could the hon. Member explain such facts as he would now bring before him? An owner of 30 or 40 acres of land in his parish died, and the land around his house had been purchased by the Artisans' Dwellings Company. During the owner's life it was rated at £4 per acre, but the moment it came into the possession of the working classes that identical land was rated inaddition to the value of the building, at £80 per acre. There could be no Member of the House who would not desire to adjust inequalities of that kind, and he sincerely hoped there would be cordial co-operation between Her Majesty's Government and the London County Council in re- 354 ference to this matter. The London County Council thought it their duty to examine the lists which were made at the last Quinquennial Valuation, and most surprising facts came under their notice. They discovered that the under-assessments, mostly of large properties in London, amounted to £2,000,000; so that, at the present moment, the poorer ratepayers of London were paying £10,000 a week, or £500,000 a year in consequence of the under-assessments of very large properties. Those properties consisted, to a very large extent, of mansions; but he might mention that the Bank of England was enormously under-rated, and nearly all the property of the City Companies in London was rated very far below what it ought to be. The County Council had been opposed at every turn, and the action they had taken had resulted mainly in enormous benefit to the lawyers. This was a case in which they wanted the assistance of the Government. They saw large properties under-assessed and small properties fully rated. A case was brought under his notice this week by a Member of this House, who explained to him that a mansion of very great cost was rated at £2,100 per annum, whereas a factory in the same district, which cost far less than the mansion, was rated at £29,000. These were inequalities which they wanted to adjust, and he believed that by the hearty co-operation of the Government and the County Council the adjustment, so far as the Metropolis was concerned, might very properly and easily be made.
§ MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had made a speech which was really directed to assessments and not to inequality of rating. Supposing that this proposal was carried, and the Government lent their authority to some such measure as was indicated in the Motion, the inequalities which the hon. Gentleman had mentioned would not be altered, but the assessments would remain exactly the same. This was a question which had nothing to do with rich and poor, although he was very sorry to say that the speeches, with the exception of that of the hon. Member for St. Pancras, had all been in the nature of an attack upon the rich. This was simply a question of business, and 355 that being so he ventured to think that the old Liberal maxim that taxation should go with representation was one to which they should give due consideration. In order to carry out that maxim they would have to create some Central Authority, and that was the reason, he supposed, why they had heard nothing from hon. Gentlemen opposite as to this Central Authority because the aim of the Government and its supporters was decentralisation and not centralisation. One of the great remedies for agricultural distress which had been suggested by one of the Members of the Government in a speech delivered some time ago was Parish Councils. He did not himself think that Parish Councils would do much to improve the position of the farmer. If they were going to establish Parish Councils the first thing they ought not to do was to take the power of raising money and the rules out of their hands. Supposing this measure should come about, what would be the result? Poor parishes would be able to spend a large sum of money over which the people who provided that money would have no control whatever. He contended that directly they took the control of the purse out of the hands of the people who provided the money, and put it into the hands of the people who did not provide the money, not only waste and extravagance, but even perhaps corruption would ensue.
§ SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)
thought every Member on his side of the House who sat for the Metropolis would agree that if it was possible, without injustice, to give a benefit to the poor districts by the equalisation of rates it should be done. But how they were to do so was another question. They knew very well that as regarded the poor rate there was little or nothing to complain about. They knew that matters such as fire brigade expenses, registration fees, compensation to officers, vaccination fees, &c, and all subjects nearly, came out of the common purse, except matters of lighting, dust, and sewers. Nearly all other subjects were already equalised. Now, in St. Pancras they had a very large electric light installation for the supply of all who desired it, and for lighting the streets. Did hon. Members propose to. hand over 356 the lighting to the London County Council? Would not Bethnal Green and Shoreditch want to be lighted by the electric light? Where were they going to stop? Again, there was the question of the paving of the streets. They could afford in St. Pancras to levy an extra rate for wood paving; but if there was a common fund, every back street in London would be asking. to be paved with wood, and there would be no limit to the extravagance of the City as a whole. He believed that the Vestries in London and the Boards of Guardians did their best to manage the affairs of the different localities, and, generally speaking, they did it most satisfactorily. But if it was nobody's business and nobody's responsibility to look after the rates, extravagance would exist in all quarters. He had been looking through the expenditure of the different localities for 1891. He found that even in the locality of Bethnal Green they were most generous. They gave to the Vestry clerk, for instance, £700 a year, whereas in Chelsea they gave their Vestry clerk £515 per year. If the whole of the rates of London, however, were to go into one common bag, they all knew what would be the result. Vestry clerks would then none of them get less than £1,000 a year to begin with, with a large increasing scale. He was sure it was not necessary the House should be detained much longer with this question. They were all unanimous in regard to the general terms in which this Resolution was drawn; and they on that side of the House were not opposed to any equalisation of rates provided that that equalisation or contribution towards equalisation was done in such a way as not to bring discredit or injustice upon any class of the community.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER, Wolverhampton, E.)
Mr. Speaker, I shall only interpose for a very few minutes between the House and the decision which it wishes to arrive at. The hon. Member who has just sat down rather startled me by winding up with saying that all agreed in accepting the principle of the Resolution, although his speech was, in fact, couched in terms to show that the Resolution was impracticable and impossible. I should like the House 357 to understand that, so far as the words upon the Paper are concerned, and I think so far as the intentions of the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution were fully explained, this proposal has nothing whatever to do with the Poor Law. We need not trouble our heads about the management of the Poor Law in the Metropolis, about a Common Poor Fund, or about the mode in which the wealthy parishes in the Metropolis do undoubtedly contribute in aid of the poor parishes. But I should be slow not to recognise the value of the existing present system and not to recognise the value of what my predecessor did in 1888 for the Poor Law, when he made a grant of 4d. per head towards the poor of the Metropolis, which I think most just and fair. Just let me ask the House in one sentence what the principle of the Resolution is? The principle of the Resolution is that London is one great city, one community, one municipality, having common interests, and therefore liable to common burdens for the discharge of common duties. It is no question as between rich and poor, but the principle which my hon. Friend wishes the House to adopt is that there shall be a community of burdens in London in the same manner—they do not even ask to the same extent, but in the same manner—as exists in all other Municipalities. Hon. Members opposite have dealt with roads and lighting as if the proposition was that there was to be one common purse out of which all the streets of London were to be paved with wood, no matter what the locality; and all lighted with electricity, no matter what the requirements might be. If it were so, that would be a proposition open to severe criticism, but that is not the proposition of London Members at all. What they have based their case upon is the principle that London is one; and let me tell the House, as the responsible Minister for Health in this country, it is of vital importance to St. George's, Hanover Square, and St. George's-in-the-East that they should be as one. You cannot draw a cordon between the rich and the poor in that sense. It is our common interest that the health of London should be equally safeguarded, to say nothing of our duty to those 358 whose capital consists in their health and nothing else, that they should have that fair contribution which the whole community can give, in order to preserve that state of health. The state of things in London which is now complained of has grown up from the gradual aggregation of London, and from the sad neglect of this House and of Parliament in not giving to London that self-government and those municipal institutions which every other part of the Kingdom possesses. I quite agree that London should have a distinct as well as a general system of government; and if the present Government remain responsible for the affairs of the country, I have no doubt they will submit a scheme for the complete unification of London, and also a system for distributing amongst the various localities of London those separate powers of administration which are best administered in localities for efficiency and economy. This principle is no new principle. Already we have £8,000,000 of taxation in London, £5,000,000 of which are already administered upon the principle criticised to-day, and if it is good for £5,000,000 why should it not be good for the £3,000,000? There is no complaint of extravagance from the present principle. One hon. Gentleman has drawn a terrible picture of the result of a common fund, and of the County Council handing out money to localities regardless of requirements. That is not the principle upon which the House is asked to proceed or which prevails at present. Let us deal with the case of a Common Poor Fund. There is no handing round of a certain sum of money to each locality. What the Local Government Board does is this: They ascertain what is the entire amount necessary to be produced for the whole of London, and what that represents at a rate of so much in the £1. They say to one parish, say St. George's, Hanover Square, for instance, your contribution ought to be so much, your share out of the fund so much, and you hand over to the Local Government Board—which is a sort of Clearing HouseȔthe difference, if against you, so much. If St. George's-in-the-East, or the other side of London, is on the other side of the account, they have to receive so much, and, therefore, there is no handing out of money out of the 359 Common Fund, but simply a Clearing House arrangement, so to speak, of local taxation which continues to be administered locally in the manner for which hon. Gentlemen contend. So far as the Government are concerned, I say frankly we accept the principle of this Resolution. We believe the time has arrived for a further equalisation of rating. We pledge ourselves to no machinery; we pledge ourselves to no details. I do not disguise from the House that this is a very difficult question properly, completely, and satisfactorily to work out. Perhaps I may not be considered guilty of egotism if I say that at this moment I am at work on this question. I am endeavouring to consider it in all its bearings, and the House will admit that I have a good deal on my shoulders just now, whilst I am sure the London Members will afford me that consideration which I think I have a right to claim. I will proceed with this matter as rapidly as I possibly can, and I will endeavour to prepare a scheme which will stand the test of criticism and which will carry out what they desire without inflicting any injustice upon any locality. That, shortly and simply, is the case I wish to put to the House. I think it is very unnecessary to introduce into a question of this sort those clap-trap remarks about sewers which came from a certain section of the House. We have our Party conflicts; but when you come to deal with the administration of the great Metropolis of London, when you are dealing with the carrying out of that administration on fair, equitable, and just grounds, I am sure the present Government are entitled to claim the credit of being actuated by honest and straightforward intentions in their policy which we, on our part, never denied to the late Government. I do not accept the view of the hon. Member for the City at all. I say the principle he has laid down is in direct antagonism to the principle that has prevailed in every other Municipality in the world—the principle that a Municipality is one and has common interests, and that those common interests are best served by an equal distribution of the burdens, and having the expenditure under proper central and local control. We accept that principle, and we think the time has arrived for its further development. The details will 360 require most careful consideration. It is not necessary to assert that there will be either injustice, extravagance, or an imaginary raising of salary all round. All these things are trivial and unworthy of the Debate, and, so far as the London County Council was concerned, I think it was very unfair to them, because if they have erred at all in reference to the remuneration of their servants, it has not been an error in the direction of extravagance. I think no Public Body, in London or elsewhere, has administered that part of the machinery with a greater regard to economy than the London County Council. But that, perhaps, is beside the question. My hon. Friend does not ask us to accept the principle that anything is to be handed over to the London County Council. No increase of power is to be conferred upon them, therefore that terribly abused Body may be left out of consideration. He asks the House to accept the principle—broad, elear, and distinct—that there ought to be a further equalisation of rating in the Metropolis. If the House accepts that principle, it will then become the duty of the responsible Government of the day to consider what is the wisest and best mode of carrying out that proposition.
§ MR. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
Mr. Speaker, I will not detain the House for long, but I would like to say a few words on this very important subject. The matter is one that requires to be considered with extreme care, and should receive the attention of the Government. I am glad to notice that the right hon. Gentleman opposite has done justice to the arguments which have been addressed to the House from this side, and it is satisfactory to know that the Government are personally looking into the whole subject. I think, and I understand, that if this Resolution be adopted, they will consider themselves bound to do what they can to give proper and just effect to its terms. I am anxious to congratulate my hon. Friends of the Unionist Party upon the fact that this Debate has produced one or two important admissions from gentlemen opposite. The right hon. Gentleman, in referring to the work that was done by the late Government, did not altogether follow the views that we have heard in the country. We were told in the country that an enormous 361 sum was given by the late Government to the landlords. Yet to-night we find the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the head of the Local Government Board, and a responsible Minister, stating that it is the intention of the Government to follow somewhat similar lines to those of the late Government, and reminding the House that the late Government gave large sums in relief of rates. It is now admitted that the question of rating is not one for landlords alone; it is one for tenants and landlords. This is the first time we have been told that we have done anything for the working classes, and we welcome this tardy admission. [Mr. H. H. FOWLER dissented.] I am not referring to the right hon. Gentleman, who dissents, but to the hon. Members behind him, who stated in the country that we never did anything for the wage earners, but devoted all our attention to the landlords. We have heard the views expressed this evening with great gratification indeed; and I only wish hon. Gentlemen would speak outside this House as they do in it. I have only to add that we on this side accept the principle of this Resolution. We have no intention of dividing the House upon it. We cordially and heartily endorse the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman has met the Resolution.
§ MR.PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
said, the subject of the Resolution was one in which he had taken a great interest, and he could not avoid expressing his pleasure at the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Government. The speech would be read with great satisfaction by the ratepayers of London. But they would be anxious to know when something was to be done to relieve them from the burdens under which they suffered. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to complete his scheme and introduce a Bill during the present Session.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, That provision ought to be made for further equalising the rates throughout the Metropolis.362
§ Resolved, That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee of Supply.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."