§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. HOLLAND (Salford, N.),
in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, said, it was identical with the Bill which had already been thoroughly and carefully discussed in that House, and which, as the result of thorough and careful discussion, was carried a year ago by the enormous majority of two to one. He noticed that within the last few weeks two deputations had waited upon the President of the Local Government Board—one a very large and influential deputation in favour of the measure, and the other, not so large, in opposition to it. At the second deputation one of the speakers complained that the Bill was constantly cropping up in the House of Commons, and stated that, no matter how often it was defeated, it was brought forward again and again. When they recollected that in 1892 the voting was 122 against the Bill and 232 in its favour; that in 1891 the Bill—or a similar one—was carried without a Division, and that in 1890 there were 87 votes against and 239 in favour of the measure, he thought if that was a record of defeat they might well hope that the Bill would be similarly defeated on the present occasion. Coming as he did from one of the great manufacturing centres of the North, he could testify that the course of this Bill year by year had created the intensest interest; and if there were not so many Petitions this year in its favour as they had a year ago, it was because not the slightest effort had been made to prepare the Petitions and present them to the House. There were some objections to the measure, which, he thought, were founded on a misconception of the Bill. It was urged as an objection that they wished to relieve manufacturers from the payment of rates, but in his judgment the main object of the Bill was to leave matters just as they now stood; and if the rates were left as they stood at present, it was difficult to discover how increased 1332 hardships would be inflicted on any section of ratepayers. He thought he had a right to repudiate the idea that they wished to exempt machinery from rating. The Bill proposed to do nothing of the kind. What it aimed at doing was the prevention of the over-rating of machinery. If he thought for a moment that the Bill was intended to exempt manufacturers from their just burdens, he should wipe his hands of it. By the present practice in the great majority of Unions, manufacturers already contributed substantially to the rates, not only on their buildings, but also on the machinery which provided the motive power. The Bill did not seek to interfere with this. Manufacturers sought only what was fair, and many of them thought that this Bill was fair. In support of that opinion he would refer the House to the practice in Scotland and Ireland, where rates were not levied upon this particular class of tenants' machinery with which this Bill proposed to deal. Many in that House desired to extend the area of rating as far as possible. He had strong sympathy with that policy, but he was in favour of carrying it out in a comprehensive and systematic way, and not of singling out such machinery as the Bill indicated. In the textile trades it was the practice of owners to let off tenements and supply steam power, the tenants supplying machinery and removing it when the tenancy expired. The tenant also supplied tools, and, of course, removed them also when leaving. Those articles came under the head of personalty, and the practice had been to rate realty and not personalty. Now, the machinery and tools mentioned and used in connection with these trades with which they were dealing were, and ought to be, classed as personalty. He did not think there could be any doubt on the part of the House that they were personalty; but whether there was or not, it was a fact that valuers for Probate had no doubt on the subject, for they included them as personalty and charged Death Duties accordingly. He would not attempt to discuss fine legal points, or to say what was the value of this or that legal decision. It was sufficient to know that the law was uncertain, and that, when the law was uncertain, legislation was inevitable. The existing condition of things 1333 might be agreeable to lawyers out of work—he did not suppose there were any of them in that House—but the general public looked at the matter in a different light. The real aim of the Bill was to prevent the decisions that had been given from applying to all the Unions throughout the country. They could not tax machinery without at the same time taxing those who got a livelihood by that machinery. The objections came from the agricultural districts; and if it were a fact that the provisions of the Bill would add to the burdens already falling on those districts, then he would be prepared to admit that the opposition would be justified. But how was that possible, seeing that the effect of the Bill would be to make no change in 19–20ths of the Unions of the country? No doubt, if the Bill were passed—as he hoped it would be—it might affect the rating in about a dozen Unions; but, on the other hand, if it were rejected, the rateable value of certain manufacturing districts would be very considerably increased; a fatal blow would be struck at many industries, and the army of the unemployed would be greatly increased. The rates that would be affected by the passing of the Bill were merely local; those that would be affected by its rejection were Imperial, so that whatever alterations were made in one locality would not affect, or would only affect in a very slight degree, other localities. Had it been a question of Imperial taxes rather than local rates the case would have been otherwise. There were some who objected to the measure on the ground that it would relieve the manufacturer and impose additional charges on the small property owners and on the small shopkeepers; but, in his judgment, there would be greater suffering among these last-named classes if the Bill were rejected, for the increase of rating would be such that many manufacturers would be compelled to close their works, and workpeople would be thrown idle, with the result that the small property-owners and the shopkeepers would suffer. The rejection of the Bill, they thus saw, was likely to inflict greater injury on the interests of those classes. It had been asked again and again whether the machinery in connection with collieries would be subject to additional charges; but he maintained, with the original pro- 1334 moters of the Bill, that the measure would not effect the smallest change in the manner of levying rates in that respect. At present there were rates on engines and boilers. That was the kind of machinery that they proposed to continue to rate. The manufacturer had keen competition and high tariffs to meet, and it would be easy for him to transfer his capital from one country to another if he were threatened with serious burdens of taxation and rating. But he believed the British manufacturer did not want the bribe of protection that existed in other countries. He would rather stay in the old country and employ British labour and pay his fair share of the rates. Nothing less, and nothing more. The Bill now before them was exactly the Bill that was introduced a year ago. It was a great length of time since the subject had been first brought forward in the House, and it had been dealt with from year to year up to last year. Any alterations that had been made in the Bill were alterations suggested during the discussions that took place in the House, so that the Bill now before them was the outcome of the discussion and consideration that had been devoted to the subject. The Assessment Committees throughout the country were strongly in favour of the proposals, and they were most anxious that the House should agree to the Second Reading that day, as the measure would be a guidance to them in the assessments which they had to make. He was sure the gentlemen composing these Committees would be regarded as absolutely impartial authorities in the matter, and they declared that the Bill would be a fair and reasonable settlement, and that they hoped and expected it would pass. The Representatives of the Government and of the Front Opposition Bench could, from their experience, understand the weight of authority that such an opinion carried with it, and they would acknowledge, he had no doubt, that the Bill provided all that was required. If the House did not accept the Bill a great injustice would have been done to the industries of the country, for, as he had shown, the application of the law was very unequal, and it was a case in which the majority should be allowed to settle the matter, Out of a total of some 652 Unions to which circulars had been sent out, he 1335 found that 435 had made no alteration in the rating, 11 were for including all machinery, 15 were for including a portion of the machinery, and 191 had sent no replies. He had said that only about a, dozen places would be affected to any extent if this Bill were passed. Birmingham would be affected to the extent of £16,000; Gateshead to the extent of £8,000. That would be the effect if the Bill were passed; but if it were rejected, then one Union alone—that of Oldham —would have its rateable value in mills and works increased by £325,000— namely, from £270,000 to £595,000. How did that compare with the small sums by which Birmingham and Gates-head would be affected? He fancied there were hon. Gentlemen who would not wish to see such an increase as he had indicated. In another district—that of Bolton—there would be an increase in its mill assessments on the rejection of the Bill from £110,000 to £235,000. Was that fair to Bolton? He might quote some of the instances which had been given to the President of the Board of Trade the other day by a deputation which waited upon him. In one case a firm was mentioned as paying at the present time £3,000 weekly in wages. If this Bill were rejected, the works would probably be closed, and these thousands would no longer be available for the workpeople. If necessary, he could go through many illustrations in connection with the measure. There was the case of that vast and unfortunate labour dispute in the cotton trade. He believed there were 200,000 workpeople affected, directly or indirectly, and the dispute was brought about by the employers proposing a reduction of 5 per cent. in the wages of those whom they employed. If this Bill were rejected, might it not be made an excuse for a further reduction—amounting, perhaps, in all to 10 per cent? They knew from experience that there was a very distinct tendency, when the margin of profit had disappeared, to attack the item of wages, and to diminish the rates of payment. It would be in the recollection of the House that in the Debate on the Address in reply to Her Majesty's Speech they had under consideration the question of the unemployed. No more momentous question could be submitted to the House. He would again remind the House that by rejecting the Bill it would 1336 add to, and not diminish, the army of the unemployed. By the rejection of the Bill, too, they would give the signal for revolutionary changes in the assessment of the country. The Bill was of the greatest importance to industries that contributed so much to the greatness of the Empire, and he hoped it would pass the Second Reading that day, and that it would soon become the law of the land.
§ MR. GERALD W. BALFOUR (Leeds, Central)
said, he hoped the hon. Member who had proposed the Second Reading would not infer from the many vacant seats on that (the Conservative) side of the House that the Party with which he (Mr. Balfour) was associated did not take an interest in this measure. It was well understood that the absence of the majority of his friends on those Benches was due to an important meeting which was going on elsewhere, and the fact that they were not indifferent to the Bill was shown by this: that he had risen to second the Motion of the hon. Member who had just spoken. He had come there that afternoon because the Bill was one in which he took somewhat of the interest of a father, for it was in reality the same Bill as he had introduced last year from the other side of the House. The supporters of the Bill would not require to extend their speeches to any great length, for what their opinions were had been adequately and ably stated by the hon. Member opposite. They would find many considerations to convince them that this Bill ought to be read a second time. The Bill did not propose to introduce any change, but rather to avert a change. It was singular in that respect among many Bills introduced into that House. It had been asserted that the Bill aimed at the transfer of the burdens that now rested on the backs of the manufacturers to the backs of the people. ["Hear, hear!"] An hon. Gentleman said "hear, hear!" but he could assure him that that was not the case. There was no intention to relieve the manufacturers at the expense of other people. All that was wanted was to prevent a revolutionary change which would inflict great hardship on the working classes of the, country. The next consideration in favour of the Bill was that it was supported by the Assessment Committees all over the country 1337 The Bill was introduced in the interests of the working classes. It might be said of the Assessment Committees that they had a special interest in the matter —that they wanted to prevent all rating of manufactures, but they had the curious fact that these Committees joined with the manufacturers and the trades or Unions in promoting the Bill. They saw them joining in deputations to the President of the Local Government Board asking him to give his support to the Bill. There was nothing that was being done by the one that was not being done by the other. What were the reasons for this singular union? There were two reasons: In the first place, the Assessment Committees wished to introduce an alteration which had been brought about in certain instances by what was known as the Chard case, which had increased the ratings to 100 and in some cases to 200 per cent. Was it surprising in such circumstances that the Committees were doing their best to alter the system? His hon. Friend had said that out of 600 or 700 Unions 435 had stated that they were still adhering to the system that was held to be the legal system of rating before the Tyne boiler case was decided, 11 had followed the ruling in the Chard case, whilst 15 had adopted that system, not wholly but in part. That was the second reason why Assessment Committees supported the Bill. They had to administer the law, and those who had to administer the law liked to know exactly what the law was. At present the law was uncertain. No doubt the latest decisions of the Judges were supposed to be an authoritative declaration of the law, but, at any rate, to the lay mind it was not advisable that their decisions should seem inconsistent and incompatible with previous decisions. He was not a lawyer himself, and he did not pretend to say whether that incompatibility was real or only apparent, but at least it was undesirable that it should exist, and he thought it would be to the advantage of all concerned that Parliament should take this opportunity of establishing once for all what the law was and what it was not. With regard to the latest ruling of the Judges, if the ruling given by Lord Esher on appeal in the Tyne boiler case—which was most clear—was to be carried out to its logical 1338 conclusion, his impression was that either the rating claimed by the rating authority would not be the full rating to which Assessment Committees would be entitled, or it would be impossible to discover any adequate reason why they should exempt from rating even the furniture of an hotel. It was not merely that the law was uncertain, but it was also not uniform— the practice was not uniform. The law in England was not the same as the law in Scotland and the law in Ireland. The law in Scotland and Ireland corresponded to what was believed to be the law in England before the decision in the Tyne boiler case, and what the law would be again if this Bill were passed. To say the least of it, it was unfair that a burden should be placed upon the manufacturers in England from which the manufacturers in Ireland and Scotland were free. Again, as had been well stated by the Mover of the Second Reading, the practice differed in different parts of this country. In the district of Sunderland the ruling in the Chard case had long been the established practice. Birmingham again, if he might so say, in this matter was a law unto itself, and its system of rating was not only different from that which was established in the Sutherland district, but it was also different from that which was observed by the vast majority of the Assessment Committees all over the country. He was sorry not to see the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) in his place, and to learn that in all probability he would not be present to take part in the Debate. If he had been in his place no doubt he would have again told them that if they desired uniformity in the system of rating the proper way to secure it was for all the Assessment Committees in the country to conform to the law as it had been laid down by Lord Esher, the Master of the Rolls, and followed in Sunderland. Well, he (Mr. G. Balfour) quite understood the point of view of the hon. Member. Perhaps if he represented Sunderland he should take up the same position; but, in the meantime, it appeared to him a little unreasonable to contend that uniformity should be introduced by making the practice of nine-tenths of England conform to the practice of Sunderland, instead of making Sunderland conform to the practice of nine-tenths of England. For his (Mr. G. Balfour's) own part, he 1339 considered that the action of the various Assessment Committees in declining to endeavour to establish uniformity by following the precedent of the Chard case, was fully justified by the recommendation of the Select Committee appointed to consider this question in 1887. The Report of that Committee was often referred to by the opponents of the Bill, because one of its recommendations was to the effect that this question of the rating of machinery should be dealt with not by itself, but as part of a whole comprehensive scheme of local taxation. Yes; but he did not know if opponents of the Bill would be equally ready to refer to another recommendation of the Committee. They further addedThat it is desirable, in the meantime, that the various rating authorities should not depart from the present system of assessment.Therefore, the Assessment Committees had the authority of the Report of the Select Committee for the action they had taken in declining to depart from the system of assessment which they had hitherto observed. No doubt if there was the smallest prospect that the Government of the day would take up this question of rating and deal with it in a comprehensive fashion, they would be satisfied. But if they had to waif until the Government took up this very large, difficult, and thorny question, they would be in the position of the countryman who waited upon the river bank hoping that the water would all flow by. In the meantime, while they were waiting for that, they felt that they were entitled to ask Parliament to give a favourable consideration to this Bill. Year after year this Bill had been brought in and either passed without a Division or by an enormous majority, but year by year it had been engulfed in the quicksands which awaited any contentious Bill brought forward by a private Member. The President of the Local Government Board had not pronounced for or against the Bill, but to a deputation had given an assurance that if the Bill passed this Parliament, as it did last Parliament, the question would become one to which the Government might reasonably give facilities in the Committee stages. If the Bill passed—especially by a large majority—he (Mr. G. Balfour) hoped the Government would be prepared to give effect to this promise. The objections to 1340 the Bill were raised from two quarters. In the first place, there was the objection which was urged from those urban districts which at present followed the principle laid down in the Chard case. If he might say so, they were the foxes who had lost their tails, and were anxious that other foxes should be placed in the same predicament. Here, again, he regretted the absence of the hon. Member for Sunderland, who had always been one of the chief exponents of the objection urged by these urban districts; but the hon. Member for. Gateshead was in his place, and if this argument was to be represented again, it was to be hoped the hon. Gentleman would supply the place of the Member for Sunderland. It was said that the effect of the Bill would be to transfer the burden borne by the manufacturers to the artisans who were in their employment. There were two observations to make upon that. In the first place, in a large part of the country, though not in Sunderland, the Bill would introduce no change at all; and, secondly, the artisans themselves, as represented by their Trades Unions, did not agree in that' particular view of their interests. It was possible, no doubt, that, if the principle laid down in the Chard case was to be the established principle of assessment prevailing all over the country, the effect would be that the rates would be lower by 2d. in the £1, and, therefore, that the home rate of the artizan would be reduced by, perhaps, 2s. 6d. in the year. He did not think it would be more than that. He would also assume that this 2s. 6d. went into the pocket of the artizan, and not into that of the landlord; yet he thought the artizan was perfectly right in holding that his interests would not suffer by this Bill, but would be promoted by it. The true interest of the artizan lay in the prosperity of the manufacturing industry of the country, and they would be more than repaid for any loss they might sustain by increased continuity of employment and increased wages. Now he passed to another objection—the objection which was urged by the agricultural interest. He hoped he should not be suspected of any want of sympathy with the agricultural classes in the depression from which they were now unfortunately suffering. He hoped he was as sensible of that depression, and deplored 1341 it as much as any Member in the House; but he could not help thinking that the Representatives of the agricultural interest in that House greatly exaggerated the significance and importance of the Bill. How would it affect them? They might divide the rating districts into three classes—first, there were districts purely urban; secondly, districts purely agricultural; and, thirdly, districts which were partly urban and partly agricultural. Now, it was quite clear that the interests of agriculturists could not be injured by the Bill in urban districts, as they did not reside there, nor could they be injured by the provisions of the Bill in purely agricultural districts, because there was no machinery there; therefore, the only districts' in which they could be injured were the third-class—namely, those districts in which the population was partly agricultural and partly industrial. He would ask this question of the classes interested in the cultivation of land, was it really to their interest that the mills and factories now existing in their districts should be transferred to other districts, or perhaps closed altogether? Was it to their interest that the futher development of mills and factories should be checked. For his own part, he could not believe that to be the interest even of the agricultural class in these mixed districts. In his opinion, it would be a shortsighted policy. In conclusion, he wished to say that he did not regard the Bill as one conceived in the interests of a small class; on the contrary, he considered it to be a Bill of public interest and of public importance. It could not be to the advantage of the community generally that the law should be uncertain and unequal. There was no doubt that if the Bill were passed it would produce greater uniformity in the law and reduce its ambiguity and make it more certain and more clear. If the Bill were successful in passing the Second Reading (and he spoke on behalf of gentlemen on both sides of the House who supported it), they would not insist upon every line of the Bill as it stood. They would be prepared to accept every Amendment, which would have the effect of defining more fully and more clearly the objects they had in bringing in the Bill. He begged to second the Motion for the Second Reading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Holland.)
§ SIR RICHARD H. PAGET (Somerset, Wells)
also desired to express his regret for the enforced absence of the hon. Member for Sunderland, who had undertaken the duty of moving the rejection of the Bill. It fell to his (Sir R. Paget's) lot to undertake the task, and he did so, although he was aware the matter was one of considerable difficulty and intricacy. The Bill which had been advocated in speeches of marked ability would hardly be likely to prove a practical solution of the existing difficulty, advancing as it did the "wolf cum lamb" policy. The Report of the Select Committee had been inquired into. It was part of the case of those who advocated the Bill that the whole matter had been carefully considered by the Committee which sat for a long time, debated at length, and reported very briefly. That Committee reported that in their view it was important that there should be uniformity, and they recommended that the whole subject of rating should be dealt with comprehensively by the Government without the least possible delay. That was the case of the opponents of the Bill. They wanted a comprehensive Bill; they wanted it from the Government, and they wanted it without the least possible delay. The present Bill did not pretend to do anything in the nature of a settlement. It merely dealt with a very small fraction of a big question. The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. G. Balfour) said he had no hope of a comprehensive dealing with this large question. Why was there no hope? Simply because the hon. Member and his friends, instead of allying himself with them to bring about a settlement which would affect them all, took up a position which necessitated antagonism. So far as he (Sir R. Paget) was concerned, he desired to take up a position of offering the hand of friendship to the promoters of the Bill, and of saying to them, "We think you have a grievance; we admit that the arbitrary interpretation of the law is not to be entirely defended, but our grievance is ten times as great as yours. Instead of travelling along different roads, we ought to travel along the same roads; we ought not to adopt 1343 the 'wolf-cum-lamb' policy, but work nnitedly in a cause which is of importance to both of us." The hon. Member who had moved the Second Reading had spoken about the deputation which had waited the other day on the President of the Local Government Board. He (Sir E. Paget) did not wish to set up the value of one deputation against another; but the deputation, of which he (Sir R. Paget) was one, was of a very representative character, and included members of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, who again and again, after careful debate, had come to the conclusion that this Bill was opposed to their interests, and therefore ought to be opposed on Second Reading. There was one remark which had fallen from the Mover of the Second Reading which pointed to the need of further inquiry on his part into that which was really a matter of history. The hon. Member had suggested that from time immemorial it had been the custom to rate realty and not personalty. But that statement was not founded on history. The law of rating dated from the Act of Queen Elizabeth, and under that Act every inhabitant of the land had to pay according to his ability, no matter whence that ability was derived; though no doubt as time had gone on personalty had managed to wriggle out of its liability. The hon. Member had argued that local rates were to be considered as something very different from Imperial taxes. Said the hon. Member, "Local rates in one district do not affect local rates in another district, and, therefore, no redistribution of rates could be complained of." But it appeared to him (Sir R. Paget) that there was a great fallacy underlying that argument. If within a given area the rates were levied in a certain way, and the Bill introduced a new method of rating, the effect of which was to shift a burden from the shoulders of one class to the shoulders of another, surely the class who had to bear the increased expense had as much right to complain as a taxpayer would have if his burdens were increased in order to give relief to someone else. Every time this measure was introduced the same arguments were always used, and the same lugubrious tones were made use of to give effect to the propositions advanced; but not a single illustration had been given to support 1344 the Bill. As the matter stood there was a world of apprehension and a mere fragment of fact. The proposal put forward by this Bill was to remove the rates that fell upon some people and increase the rates which fell upon others. It was said that this shifting of the burden would be infinitesimal; but he contended that it was perfectly impossible to get away from the fact that if the Bill were passed they would relieve one class and place an additional burden upon another class. The measure was one of a constantly-recurring crop of hardy annuals which came up on Wednesday afternoons; but all he would say about it was this: granted that on more than one occasion Bills somewhat of this nature had been read a second time, that imposed no obligation on the House. This was a new House of Commons, and to them this was a new subject. They had to decide the question upon its merits, and he hoped that on its merits, and its merits alone, the House would refuse to give a Second Reading to the Bill. As to some of the arguments that had been used in favour of the measure, he contended that it had not been proved —and it was incapable of proof—that the present law was uncertain in its operation. It was said that the law must be amended, or all sorts of unhappy things would follow. It was said that the rating law was Judge-made law, and as such it was spoken of disrespectfully. But Judge - made law was the law of the land. Parliament was apt to turn out its work from time to time in a more or less slovenly fashion, and it required the wisdom of a Bench of Judges to determine what it was Parliament really meant; but nobody could fairly contend that because the law had to be interpreted from time to time by the Judges, therefore it should be held to be uncertain and should be declared. He ventured to say that that was a statement which would not be endorsed by any lawyer in the House. As a matter of fact, the rating law was well-known, the decisions of the Judges having all been based upon the same principle. There was no difference between the conclusions-arrived at by the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls. The Lord Chief Justice said that—Things that are capable of being removed, and yet are so far attached to the premises that it is intended they should remain permanently 1345 with the undertaking as permanent appendages essential for the working of the undertaking.The Master of the Rolls said—Things on the premises for the purpose of making, and which do make, them fit for the particular purpose for which they are used.There was no distinction to be drawn between the two Judgments; they both closely followed the same lines. It, therefore, was not only not proved, but it was incapable of proof that the law was uncertain. It was said that unless the law were amended the land would become desolate, that the walls of the mills would crumble into decay, that the factories would become destitute of machinery. No one would regret more than he such a state of things, but really there was no foundation for the statement, and he did not think the House would be much disturbed by it. It was one thing to amend the law and another thing to declare it. If they declared the law, they did not amend it; if they amended it, they did not declare it. The proposal was to alter the law so that some people would be relieved, whilst others were burdened. Amongst others who would have fresh burdens cast on them would be the agricultural part of the community, who at the present moment were not in a condition to bear any increase of burden, however slight and infinitesimal it might be. Amongst the arguments in favour of the Bill was one he remembered being used two years ago by the hon. Member for Nottingham, whom he did not now see in his place. The hon. Member had told them that the Bill was for the protection of industry. Now the statement was, that it was only for the protection of one limited class of industry. If it had added "and for the aggravation of all others," it would have been more accurate. Now, he objected to a measure that was for the protection of only one industry. If the scheme were one which would effect a complete alteration of a great system of rating, and if it could be said to be one for the protection of all industries so that all might be equally subject to the law, the matter would be different. But the Bill was very limited in its application. The number of industries of which it took no account whatever. It was said that the law operated unequally, that there was a want of uniformity, that it was in operation here and not in 1346 operation there, and that, therefore, it gave rise to inequalities which were undesirable. He was not going to contest this point; but he would say that if the hon. Member who brought in the Bill, and those who were its promoters, aimed at uniformity in the matter of rates, they must apply themselves to a measure of a much larger character. All who were familiar with the system of rating knew that the whole essence of rating was to arrive at a rateable value which should be fair and just to all persons concerned. It was well-known that there were no two Unions in the country which were agreed. It was one of the scandals of the day that there were at this moment three methods of assessment: one for Imperial taxation, one for the imposition of the county rate, and one for the Union rate. Different scales of deductions, from gross to rateable value, might be enforced in the case of each one of these rates, leading to an entire absence of anything like uniformity. There was no law on the Statute Book which was so full of inequalities as the law of rating. This, unfortunately, was not a Party question. If it were, and Members could infuse all the animus of Party spirit into it, one Government or another would be forced to take it up and settle it, but it only affected every ratepayer in every parish throughout the Kingdom, and, therefore, it was passed by. He hoped the time would come when there would be a Government which would be able to deal effectively with some of the domestic questions which for years had been crying aloud for settlement. A Society calling themselves the National Society for the Exemption of Machinery from Rating had been good enough to send him a pamphlet, in which he found the following statement:—It is hoped that careful perusal of both the correspondence and the Bill will show that the only effect of the latter can be to clear up the existing uncertainty of the law, and to provide that factories shall be rated on exactly the same principle as all other rateable property.He would like to examine this proposition. Take the case of a farm. A farm consisted of land, house, and other buildings, and was rated on what was known as the principle of the hypothetical tenant. A factory was ostensibly rated on precisely the same principle. In the case of a farm, however, the occupier 1347 was rated not only on his ability to pay, but on twice the sum of his assumed property. A factory, on the other hand, was rated on the mere shell—the buildings and floors—plus a certain portion of the machinery, irrespective of any profits made. The farmer was rated upon the whole of his profits, and, more than that, upon double his profits. The manufacturer was not rated on his profits at all or his ability to pay. He always looked upon the manufacturer as a man rolling in molten gold. Who would deny that the profits of the country had been made out of the profits of manufacture? Where were the profits of agriculture? "Going—going—gone!" He asked the House whether there could be any sort of similarity between principles of rating which affected two industries in the manner he had described? If hon. Members who were interested in factories thought they had a grievance—and he was not going to contend that there was not something to be said on their side— how much greater was the grievance which beset the farmer and those who were concerned in the land industry, inasmuch as the rating fell upon the one to the fullest extent, and did not touch the fringe of the other's profits. He wished now to examine the Bill itself. To prevent mistakes, he stated generally that in using the terms "rateable machinery" or "machinery unrateable," he fully accepted the recognised doctrine that machinery was not rateable per se. Machinery could only be held to be rateable indirectly, as being attached in some way and enhancing the value of the factory in which the manufacture was carried on. The Bill proposed that unfixed machinery, with some exceptions, should be exempted from rating, and that machinery should also be exempted if it were partially fixed—that was to say, if it could be removed without the removal of any part of the hereditament. All other unspecified machinery would still be subject to rating. But there was a proviso which said—Provided also that the terms machines, tools, and appliances, for the purposes of this Act, shall not apply to any machinery, machine, or plant used in or on the hereditament for producing or transmitting first motive power, or for heating or lighting the said hereditament.He took it that if a gas-engine were applied in producing first motive power, 1348 whether it were fixed or unfixed, it would have to be rated. If the electric light were introduced, a dynamo, which could be shifted about at will, would be rateable, and a gas stove and all gas or water-pipes for heating and lighting would be rateable. All he could say was, that if these complicated and intricate provisions were to be read into the general law of the country, there was a rare harvest in store for the lawyers. The Bill, instead of settling, would unsettle the law, and it would be necessary to have a series of Judge-made decisions before there could be any certainty as to what was to be regarded as rateable and what as unrateable. The principles on which the Bill was grounded might be said to be entirely inapplicable to it. The measure would afford no relief whatever to the owners or lessees of coal mines, the whole of the machinery used in connection with which would still remain rateable. Its operation seemed to be chiefly, if not entirely, limited to textile factories. He might be asked whether he wanted to leave the law alone. He did not. He thought it was full of defects both in principle and practice, and he fully and entirely admitted that in the matter of machinery a line was drawn, or was attempted to be drawn, of an arbitrary character, for which there was a little to be said. He should like to see the subject dealt with in a different manner. He should like to get rid of the present difficulties, subtleties, and intricacies, to sweep away all the legal cobwebs which had obscured the question, and to settle it in a simple and broad way that all mankind could understand. One defect of the Bill was that, whilst all the tendency of modern alteration of rating law had been to widen its area, the measure proposed to limit the area of rating. He did not know whether it was necessary for him openly to disclaim any hostility to the manufacturers. He had not the slightest hostility towards them. The manufacturers asked the House for relief because the law pressed with some severity on their undertakings. The case of the agriculturists was stronger than that of the manufacturers. The two classes, however, ought not to be opponents, but allies, in this matter. If they could but form an alliance and bring the whole of their united forces to bear upon a 1349 Government, the time would not be far distant when the question would be dealt with in a comprehensive manner by a responsible Ministry. Did anybody believe that even if the Bill were read a second time it would be carried one step further? What would happen would be that the measure, as in previous years, would be added to the number of those infants which were slaughtered at the end of the Session. They could not hope to pass this Bill unless the Government took it up; and, in his opinion, it was not a Bill that deserved to be taken up by them. He would to say to the promoters that they should withdraw the Bill, as it was too limited in application and ought not to pass. Let them join together and ask the Government to give them a satisfactory Bill. If he might say so, without being offensive to the hon. Gentleman who had brought it forward, the Bill seemed to have something of personal interest in it—that seemed to be on the face of it. It was a Bill that ought not to be recommended to the House, because it was a Bill that proposed additional burdens for the struggling industry of agriculture, which was barely able to support itself in the trying circumstances of the day. He ventured to move, "That the Bill be read a second time upon this day six months."
MR. J. POWELL WILLIAMS (Birmingham, S.)
said, he begged leave to second the Amendment, and in doing so he wished to occupy a slightly different position from that taken up by the Mover. In the course of his argument the hon. Baronet informed the House that the manufacturers of England were rolling in gold. He could not quite follow him in that statement. The hon. Baronet asked them to look at the question from the point of view of his constituents, but this was not the point of view from which he (Mr. Williams) wished to regard it. He had listened with great attention to the statement of the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. G. W. Balfour). In the course of his argument that hon. Gentleman laid great stress on the fact that rating authorities throughout the country were in favour of this Bill. He seemed to think that that was a sufficient argument in favour of the Bill. If that were so, he rather disposed of it as he 1350 went on, for he declared with perfect accuracy and truth that at the present time there was great uncertainty in the law, and the persons who of all others who were entitled to seek a change were the rating authorities who were interested in the matter. The rating authorities had supported the Bill, because they were aware that if it passed it would render their task simpler and easier than it was at the present moment. The rating authorities had had to assert the Chard decision, and they supported the Bill simply because it would give them lighter duties, and not because of any merits it possessed. That accounted for the fact which the hon. Member for Central Leeds pointed out; and if they passed the Bill, the rating authorities would be called upon to depart from a system that had prevailed for years. In moving the Second Reading the Member for North Salford (Mr. Holland) gave them a description of what might happen if the Bill were not passed into law; but he also answered himself as he went along, for he quoted statistics to show that there was a vast number of cases throughout the country in which the Chard case had made no change in the general system pursued. He did not think the forebodings of the hon. Gentleman were likely to be realised if the Bill were rejected. The argument of the Member for Central Leeds was that, had it not been for the decision in the Chard case, and in the Tyne boiler case, they would never have heard of this Bill. There had been a system in operation for a long series of years, and the decision in the Chard case came like a bolt from the blue. It was in opposition to that system— and his hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds told them—and he accepted his statement—that the Bill was intended to make no change in matters as they stood, but to avert a change. He would like to look at the Bill, in the light of that statement, to see how it would affect the great town a portion of which he represented. But the hon. Gentleman did not apply himself to that point. He (Mr. Williams) might say, for his own part, that he did not for a moment contend that the decision of the Court in the Chard case was a decision that it was desirable to apply to the manufacturers of the country. He said that for the reason that it involved the rating of personalty. 1351 The promoters of the Bill said that they wanted simply to get back to the status quo ante of the Chard case—
MR. POWELL WILLIAMS
Quite so. If the Bill took them back to that, and no further, he was in favour of it; but it did go back further than that. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading said, "This Bill does not exempt any machinery from rating." But in Birmingham it would exempt it from rating, and they would have there a condition of things that did not exist prior to the Tyne boiler case and the Chard case. It was said that Birmingham alone would be affected; but the system that prevailed in Birmingham prevailed also in the immediate neighbourhood. This was what he complained of in regard to the Bill—that it would exempt from rating a subject of assessment which amounted to £20,000 per annum. That was to say, that the rating authority of Birmingham would be stopped by the Bill of their powers of taxing property of the annual value of over £20,000 a year.
MR. POWELL WILLIAMS
said that there was included in the assessment in Birmingham machinery which was not only motive power, not only shafting, but machinery attached to the freehold, and in some cases not attached, and which, if the Bill passed, would be exempt from rating to the value of £20,000 a year. Of course, the promoters of the Bill denied that state of affairs. But he did not give it on his own ipse dixit — his authority was the rating powers of Birmingham—namely, the overseers; and what they said was that if the Bill passed, they would be excluded from rating the motive power of manufactories on the gross at 50s. the nominal horse-power, which they were accustomed to do now. That taxation amounted to £6,000 a year; and if it were removed, it meant an additional 1d. in the £1 on the improvement rate of Birmingham. He put it to the promoters of the Bill, if that 1d. rate was not paid by the manufacturer, who was going to pay it? It must be paid by the householders.
MR. POWELL WILLIAMS
said, it would not be paid by the landlords for this reason: that by whatever amount they increased the rate the landlords had to pay they increased by so much what the tenants had to pay. The hon. Member shook his head; but there had been cases in Birmingham which absolutely proved his contention. In these cases the landlords of houses in the Compound of Birmingham had claimed more rent, on the representation — absolutely inaccurate and without foundation—that the Free Education Act of the late Government had increased the School Board rate. He had been credibly informed that there were cases in which landlords had on these statements been able to get 3d. a week more from their tenants in rent.
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
Will the hon. Gentleman permit me to say that surely in that case the landlord could have raised the rent without any such statement, whether false or true?
MR. POWELL WILLIAMS
said, the landlord could not raise the rent arbitrarily in that way without some plausible excuse. At any rate, he contended that if the manufacturers did not pay this 1d. rate, it would have to be paid by somebody else, who would undoubtedly be the householders. He believed that at least £3,000 paid in Birmingham by the manufacturers as rates on machinery would, if the Bill were passed, have to be paid by the artizans. It was said by its promoters that this Bill was merely intended to assert the status quo ante the Tyne boiler decision; but so far as Birmingham at least was concerned, the Bill would place the manufacturers in a much better position than they had been before that decision had been given, at the expense of the artizans. It had been said that it was bad policy to tax what were known as the sources of industry. That seemed a very good argument at first sight, but he wanted to know from those who used it where were they going to draw the line? He supposed that the building in which a manufacture was carried on was quite as much a source of industry as machinery. At any rate, it was a source of industry. Did the promoters of the Bill say that the building should not be 1353 taxed? Capital was also in the same sense a source of industry, but were the promoters of the Bill ready to propose that the capital invested in machinery and in industries was not to be taxed? The argument against taxing "powers of industry" did not prevail in America, for in that country not only were hereditaments taxed and rated, but all kinds of machinery and all kinds of personal property were also taxed and rated; and, in his belief, if the taxation of the sources of industry had been a bad thing for industry, their American friends would have found it out long before this. He met with, a short time since, a very interesting speech on this question which had been delivered by the present hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Havelock Wilson), at a town's meeting held in Sunderland in 1890. The hon. Member said in that speech—Why should they take the rates off machinery and put it upon the shopkeepers, to the disadvantage of working men?That was a principle which had been enunciated by the late Professor Thorold Rogers, who had said that the rating of shopkeepers was a tax on commodities, or, in other words, the more rating that was placed on the shopkeepers the more purchasers had to pay for the necessaries of life. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough also said—I wonder how it is made out that machinery increases labour. The improvement in machinery has unquestionably thrown labour out of employment, and, under the circumstances, I declare that it is altogether unfair and unjust to relieve machinery, at any rate at the expense of labour.The hon. Member also said in his speech that he could understand employers of labour supporting the Bill. So could he: for there was no question that the employers would benefit, but nobody else would benefit if the Bill were passed. He was very much struck by the fact that the Railway Companies, who were always so much alert in connection with any Bill, which they thought would affect their interests adversedly, were altogether silent about this Bill. It was an ominous silence; and some hon. Members, who were promoting the Bill, were Directors of Railway Companies. He had heard on an authority, which at any rate was good enough for him to use in the House, that if the Bill became 1354 law in its present shape, the works of the London and North Western Railway Company would be relieved of rating to the extent of £6,000 a year. The works of that company were mainly situated at Wolverton and Crowe, where there was a population almost entirely artizan. Who was to pay this £6,000 a year if the Railway Company did not pay it? Why, of course, the employés of the Railway Company. It would be the same in Birmingham.
MR. POWELL WILLIAMS
said that there was no borough—Birmingham was a city. The rateable value of the houses in the Compound of Birmingham amounted to nearly £300,000, and it was on these houses that the additional 1d. rate must fall.
§ MR. BARRAN
said that the reason he asked for the figures was that if the House were in possession of the information he could form a conclusion as to the accuracy of the hon. Member's statement which he did not admit.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The interruption is not in Order. The substance of it may be made in a subsequent speech.
MR. POWELL WILLIAMS
said his hon. Friend should have given him notice of this question. Since his time as a member of the Corporation, the boundaries of the city had been greatly increased, and he did not pledge himself to the accuracy of the figures. With regard to his statement that the rates of Birmingham would be increased by 1d. in the £1 if the Bill passed, his authority was the rating authority of Birmingham. The promoters of the Bill stated that it was merely intended to put the manufacturers of England back again into the position which they occupied before the recent legal decisions. He would ask the promoters a question and would test their sincerity on that point—if they would pardon him the expression —by the answer they gave to the question. Would they agree to insert in the Bill in Committee a clause directing the rating authorities to rate motive power at not less than 50s. a nominal horse 1355 gross—to use a technical phrase—unless in any particular case a sufficient reason was advanced to justify them in making a more lenient assessment. If they accepted that proposal, it would leave Birmingham precisely where it was now, and it left the manufacturers of the North of England precisely where they were now. If the promoters of the Bill did not accept that proposal, it became the more manifest that their intention was not to put the manufacturers back in the position they occupied before the legal decisions, but to confer on them additional advantages.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Sir Richard Paget.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR WILLIAM HOULDSWORTH (Manchester, N.W.)
said, the objection which had been taken to the Bill by the hon. Member who had last spoken simply resolved itself into this: that a system prevailed in Birmingham—he was not concerned to say whether it was good or bad—by which they assessed the value of the property on which rates were levied by so much per horse-power. He did not think that if the Bill passed there would be any objection whatever to any locality taking any mode it pleased by which to arrive at the rateable value. Birmingham was not the only place where what he might call the rough-and-ready way of ascertaining the value of the property in industrial hereditaments was adopted. In Lancashire there was more than one system in operation. It appeared to him that if they settled the principle by the Bill, the exact mode in which the valuation of a particular property is taken might well be left to the locality. A year or two ago he calculated very carefully the mode in which assessment was taken in Birmingham, and he came decidedly to the conclusion that the 50s. per nominal horsepower would work out very much the same result as if they took the hereditament itself and included in it the motive power and other things which the Bill allowed to be assessed. He doubted whether the 50s. per nominal horsepower would give a larger result than 1356 would be found under the Bill. He would like to point out to the hon. Member that Birmingham was not in the same position as other parts of the country, because he found that the borough surveyor of Birmingham in his evidence before the Committee was asked—'If you were to value the properties in Birmingham on Mr. Headley's principle would it not very much increase the value?' and he replied, 'No doubt it would increase the value.'Therefore, he thought the hon. Member for South Birmingham (Mr. J. Powell Williams) would be well advised in joining in the promotion of the Bill, because if an assessment were made of the industrial buildings of Birmingham according to Mr. Headley's principle, the assessment would be very much higher than it was under the existing system. The arguments which the House had heard on behalf of the agricultural interest from the hon. Member for Somersetshire were very old, and seemed to be based on a misapprehension. It seemed to the hon. Member that, if the Bill were carried, the machinery in industrial hereditaments in agricultural districts would cease to be rateable, and therefore a heavier burden would fall on the agriculturists. As a matter of fact, in 435 of the 652 unions of the country no alteration whatever had been made in accordance with the new principle deemed to be set up, and therefore in these unions no change would be made in the present practice of rating hereditaments and the machinery. In only 26 unions had a change been made, and in only 11 of these had any material difficulty arisen. The novel principle that had been introduced into the law had become more and more exacting every day. The hon. Member had not noticed that the promoters of the Bill had taken care that every justice should be done the ratepayers, because they had gone further than proposing to merely assess the shell of the factory, for they had included the steam - engines, boilers, and lighting apparatus. They had felt it was possible that the valuers, in the words of the original Bill, might possibly only value the shell of the building without the engines or boilers. They had expressed in the Proviso that it was not the mere shell that was to be 1357 valued, but the building itself was to be assessed upon the principle of the amount it might reasonably be expected to let at to a tenant under certain circumstances. It appeared to him that would be as far as justice would allow them to go, because the moment they departed from what really belonged to the hereditaments— treating the hereditaments not merely as an empty building or warehouse, but treating them as for manufacturing purposes—if they went beyond that they immediately introduced the question of personalty, and if that was to be introduced into industries it must be extended very much further to show how the law acted, and he was disposed to say absurdly acted, if the recent decisions were to be maintained. He would give an instance to show what he meant. In reference to a flour mill the proprietor said—The mill was originally assessed at £24. I have now changed my machinery from the old stones to the new system, and the Assessment Committee has put it down at the modest sum of £165 gross, £118 rating. I have not increased the size of my building one inch.That seemed to him not only to be a very great injustice to industries, but it was absolutely a penalty that seemed to be enforced against improvements in industries, and in the adoption of new and, if new, more economical methods of producing the products of our great industries. He had very great sympathy with the argument of the hon. Gentleman when he said he thought a general Bill was very desirable, dealing with the whole question of rating. He did not think that any supporter of the Bill had ever had any other opinion than that. The Select Committee that sat upon this question thought it was most desirable that the whole valuation system should be examined, and that a general Bill should be brought in to improve the present most anomalous system. The Committee said they desired that such a Bill should be introduced, but it must be remembered that, at the same time, this Select Committee reported in favour of this Bill. They did not profess this was a general Bill, but it was a Bill that would not only affect cotton factories in the North of England, but an immense number of industries throughout the whole country of different kinds. He thought that, having waited for 10 years 1358 since this Select Committee reported, the time had arrived when they should prevent this insidious system being carried further into new districts; and though they would cordially join in a general measure if the Government of the day would bring in a Bill for the purpose, they must, he thought, still support this Bill, which prevented a great injustice and evil being done to their industries. He should be glad to join their agricultural friends in any measure that would deal justly with them as well as any other industry.
§ MR. DODD (Essex, Maldon)
said, he must first apologise to the House that he had the misfortune not to come from Birmingham, but from the inferior portion of Her Majesty's dominions that lay outside the municipal boundary of that ancient city, and therefore he should be unable to follow the hon. Member for South Birmingham (Mr. Powell-Williams) as to the special law or practice in regard to rating adopted in Birmingham, and compelled to confine his remarks to the general law. Most hon. Members would agree with him that the law of rating did not stand on a satisfactory footing, and he was not surprised that hon. Members representing agricultural districts appeared here to oppose the Bill in the interests of those districts. But for all that he was going to speak in support of the Bill. The agriculturalists had, it appeared to him, a grievance, that they, as ratepayers, were taxed on that which was their stock-in-trade. There was no doubt that all taxes which tended to hinder the production of food were a great evil, and, therefore, he did not wonder that they, whilst such taxes remained, opposed a Bill that proposed to relieve a different class. At the same time, he should himself decline to adopt that course. He should be glad to see the whole matter dealt with comprehensively, so that the agriculturalist should be as lightly taxed as possible, as lightly as those who supported the Bill said the manufacturers should be to-day. A challenge was thrown down by one hon. Member with regard to the law. He said that no hon. Member who was a lawyer would venture to say there was any difficulty about the law. Well, he (Mr. Dodd) had the misfortune to be a lawyer, and yet he did venture to say that the law was in a very 1359 confused, intricate, and difficult condition, and he did not say so merely of his own motion, because he found two textbooks that dealt with it, one by Mr. Boyle and the other by Mr. Castle, expressing that opinion. Mr. Boyle said, "The law is obscure and ill-defined," and Mr. Castle said, "The law is to be found in a series of cases which it is impossible to reconcile." He ventured to regard this Bill as making the law definite on one special point, and as the commencement of something in the shape of relief for the productive industries. At present the whole law of rating was in an unsatisfactory state, the rates came on the letting value, and the letting value, it appeared to him, was not the true test of value. Let him take an example. If a man built a very expensive house, but an ugly house, and in an impossible situation, he would be rated upon what someone else would be likely to pay per annum in the shape of rent, instead of being rated upon the money he had thrown away. In a similar way, when a man had laid out his money well, so that his house would let easily, the rent was likely to be high, and consequently the rate was high. The present system tended rather to put the weight of the rate upon the wrong shoulders. This was done in the case of the farmer, who was heavily rated upon that land which he used for the production of food. He desired, as far as possible, to relieve all productive industries from taxation, and it was on this ground he ventured to say the Bill should be supported, to relieve the manufacturer. For himself, he represented what the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Gerald Balfour) called a mixed district; that was, where there were large tracts of agricultural land, and also small towns in which there were manufacturing industries. With regard to the manufacturing industries, they were by no means flourishing; the difficulties of transport, and the other difficulties they had to contend with, made their existence a continual struggle. It was of enormous interest to the whole population that these manufactories should be allowed to continue. It was of interest to the agriculturalists almost as much as to those employed in manufacture, and he ventured to support the present Bill, believing that upon the whole it was for 1360 the benefit of the agriculturalist that the Bill should be supported. He further thought they must all be inclined to regard it as an evil that the principle on which rating was imposed at present varied so considerably. Some seemed to have that special and peculiar law of Birmingham, which he could not understand, and others that of Sunderland, which appeared to be the law of England. It was hard upon the manufacturers that in some cases they should be dealt with in one way, and in other similar cases their competitors in another way, and therefore it would be far better to have a definite rule laid down. The present Bill appeared to have had the assent of this House on many previous occasions, so much so that the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Gerald Balfour), in his admirable speech on a former occasion, described it as "the hardy annual." He (Mr. Dodd) hoped on this occasion it would be-sufficiently hardy to get into Committee, and emerge in the shape of an Act of Parliament, for it was of the utmost importance that the law should be made clear and intelligible, and the law, as proposed in this Bill, was both clear and intelligible. It was in substance the same law as that which was in existence in Ireland. At the present day in Ireland the law was, in substance, that the motive power should be valued, but that the value of the machinery, other than the motive power, should not be taken into account in assessing the valuation. The House would be aware this matter was dealt with on a previous occasion, in 1887, by the Committee mentioned by hon. Members who had preceded him, and that there was a Special Report made which bore out that which he was saying with regard to the difference of system adopted in different parts of the country. The Special Report of that Committee said—It is clear from the evidence that the system acted upon by valuers in different parts of the country has varied considerably, and the practice, in the absence of legislation, will be materially affected in the future. They consider it most important there should be uniformity, and think the whole subject of rating should be dealt with comprehensively by the Government with the least delay.They then continued—The Bill referred to them will, as amended, meet the case of industries, and they, therefore, agree to report the Bill, as amended, to the House.1361 In conclusion, while agreeing most thoroughly in the conclusion arrived at by the Committee, that it was expedient the Government should take the whole subject in hand and deal with it in a comprehensive spirit, he confessed that, when he remembered the number of subjects which Her Majesty's Government had in hand, and which they had to deal with in a comprehensive spirit, and remembering the great assistance they received from gentlemen on the other side in dealing with these matters in a comprehensive manner, he doubted whether the Government would be able to take this in hand, and for that reason, therefore, he ventured to recommend the present Bill to the House.
§ MR. OLDROYD (Dewsbury)
said the hon. Member for South Birmingham (Mr. Powell Williams), so far as this Bill was concerned, had made a great many admissions. The hon. Member informed them that, if the principle laid down were to be universally adopted, personalty would in a large measure be subject to rateable value, and in a much larger measure than had been the case in past years; and, further, the hon. Member seemed very anxious that what he called the status quo ante should be adopted as the law of the land, and that the present practice should be continued by the assessment committees. The hon. Member told them, moreover, that in Birmingham, which was again held up to them as a pattern which everyone possessing ordinary common-sense would follow, the assessment authorities did have regard to machinery, and that having regard to machinery they came to the conclusion that an assessment at the rate of 50s. per nominal horse-power covered the whole ground, not only as rating the shell, and the boilers, and engines and motive power, but everything else.
MR. J. POWELL WILLIAMS
was sure his hon. Friend did not wish to misrepresent him; he did not wish to convey that the rating authorities failed to include all the machinery, and only rated a portion of it.
§ MR. OLDROYD
said it was very difficult to ascertain what the position of the hon. Member was. The hon. Member suggested, and proposed in fact, that it should be adopted in Committee on 1362 this Bill that, as a general rule, 50s. per nominal horse-power should cover not only the shell, but also the boilers, shafting, and other machinery — that was the position he took up and the suggestion he made—and that that should be taken as a sort of standard. The fact was, that this nominal horse-power was largely adopted in a large proportion of the districts of the rating authorities, not only in the West Riding of Yorkshire, but in the County of Lancaster. The hon. Member for South Birmingham now said not all the machinery, but certain proportions, were assessed by the assessors on the computation that came to an estimate of 50s. for nominal horse-power. The assessment authorities in Yorkshire and Lancashire did not profess to assess in that way, but they came to the same conclusion as to the value of these assessments, estimating them by nominal horse-power. He should have no personal objection to the introduction of such a clause as the hon. Member recommended if it met with the views of Members who represented other portions of the industrial parts of the country; but, at the same time, it must be clearly laid down that they did not admit that machinery in Birmingham was rated, that was to say, comprehensively rated; it was only rated in the same proportion as it was rated in other parts of the country, where they came to the conclusion that 50s. per nominal horse-power represented a fair estimate of the rate-abilities of the hereditaments. The hon. Member went on further to suggest that they ought to hesitate very much before they put any embargo on the sources of industry, and then proceeded to say that in rating any sort of property connected with our industries they were more or less putting taxes on that industry; and the hon. Member cited the case of the buildings themselves, and the capital employed in carrying them out. But what they wanted to arrive at was a fair and reasonable position with regard to the extent to which the property connected with industrial enterprises should or should not be rated. If the clauses in the Bill on that point were referred to, it would be found they were not proposing by this Bill to limit the area of rate-ability, so far as it at present practically obtained, but simply seeking to define that area consistent with the practice of 1363 the assessment authorities in the past, but inconsistent with the recent decisions of the Judges. A good deal had been said to-day with regard to the question being undertaken by the Government in a more comprehensive way. He thought every Member was agreed that such a thing was very desirable, but until that time arrived it was highly expedient that something should be done to arrest the present tendency of affairs, and the possibly increased unpleasantness of that position, because, as had been referred to already, a very large majority of the assessment authorities had not complied with the recent decisions of the Judges, and if they were to do so, as the hon. Member had said, a great deal of difficulty would be raised by the extension of the rateable area. Reference was made just now by the hon. Member for South Birmingham to the practice in America, and he said that there they not only rated the hereditament, but also the personal property. He quite agreed that was the case and he was not here to say that should not be the case in this country; but, seeing that it was not the case generally, they did not think it should be applied merely and solely to the manufacturing industries, which already had a large number of burdens cast upon them. Reference had been made to-day to the fact that the workmen of this country were in sympathy with this Bill. That was an indisputable fact, because a very large number of the trades unions of the country were represented on the deputation that waited upon the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) a few days ago on this question. The trades unions of the country supported this Bill because they believed the spirit of it was consistent with their interests. Not only that, but he believed the operative workers of the country had a further consideration which inclined them to support the Bill, and that was the feeling that every impost put upon our industries, and especially the textile industry as carried on in factories, would tend to diminish the prosperity of that industry, and an attempt would be made by those who were responsible for its conduct to evade these imposts. If the Bill did not pass, there would be a tendency to drive out of the factory a considerable quantity of 1364 light machinery, which would find its way to the houses of the workmen. He was not here to say our factory system was an ideal one, but every hon. Member would agree with him that our factory system was, at all events, a vast improvement upon that form of the sweating system that was developed by the introduction to the homes of the working classes of manual and light machine labour. Therefore, he trusted the House would consider seriously the importance of this question, and the possibility that by this addition to the rateability of the factories they might be driving into the houses of the workpeople, and militating against their domestic comfort, that class of work which was now conducted in the factory, but which would be driven into the homes of the workpeople. The only other point he would raise was that the law as now laid down by the Judges in this country was different from the law as it existed in Ireland, and also as it existed in Scotland. If there was to be one method of assessment in England, and a lighter one in Ireland and Scotland, the difference would very seriously affect the competition between individual firms in England and competing firms in Ireland and Scotland, therefore they could not treat this question lightly. He trusted the House would see the absolute necessity of identity in the law, so far as this question of rateability was concerned, between Ireland, Scotland, and England respectively, and would confirm the decision of previous Parliaments by passing the Second Reading of this Bill by a majority not less, but larger, than on the last occasion.
§ MR. WHITELEY (Stockport),
as a Member who had only been in that House a few days, excused his intervention in the Debate by saying he had throughout his life been connected with the textile and manufacturing industries of Lancashire, and this question was one which created a widespread impression throughout Lancashire. The Bill before the House had been termed a "hardy annual," ad the hon. Gentleman who had moved the Second Reading had said that the opponents of the measure frequently asked why it cropped up so frequently. The reason for the continual cropping up of the Bill was because the manufacturers of this country felt they were in some measure 1365 suffering under a grievance, and until that grievance was recognised and dealt with by Parliament they had adequate cause for bringing the measure forward each year. It had been shown that the Unions of this county were practically unanimous in favour of the measure; the House of Commons had on previous occasions voted in favour of it; throughout Lancashire and Yorkshire the Chambers of Commerce, all the trade bodies and communities, were entirely in its favour, and one might well ask why this little Bill, which would remove a disability from the shoulders of the manufacturers of this country, should not be dealt with by the House, when other heroic measures were placed before it to take up its time, none of which so vitally affected the working classes? It had been said that this Bill was very limited and very small. For his part, he was only sorry it was not more far- reaching, because whatever might be the position of the agricultural industry throughout the country—and he admitted it was in a bad state—he could say that these industries in Lancashire were not in a more prosperous condition at the present time. The hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill argued that it was not desirable to deal with this question in a fragmentary manner. Undoubtedly, that might be a very good argument, but it seemed to him that, if the Bill passed, no effective bar would be created to dealing with the question in a comprehensive manner at some future time, and, because justice could not be done all round, it was somewhat hard to the manufacturing clases of this country that this small matter, which would remove some injustice from their shoulders, should be further delayed. It was these petty harassings and these disabilities which so seriously interfered with particular trades; and compelled manufacturers to close their establishments or transfer their business to other parts of the world. The hon. Baronet who had moved the rejection of this Bill seemed to believe that manufacturers were a very flourishing class and that they were rolling in molten gold. He was a manufacturer, and he was open to allow that he was not rolling in either molten gold or molten silver. If those hon. Gentlemen who advocated the rejection of this Bill would cast their eyes down the share 1366 lists of the Oldham Mills at the present time they would find that the proprietors were not rolling in gold, but that the various companies had large debit balances on their books, which they would have to wipe out before they were even able to declare a profit. In regard to the spinning industry in the town where he lived he could say it was a diminishing quantity, and at the present time the spindles in and around Blackburn were not one-half as numerous as they were 20 years ago. It was argued that if this burden were removed from the shoulders of the manufacturers it would have to be placed somewhere else. But the question they had to consider was whether the burden was rightly placed where it was. If it was, then let it remain, but if not, and if its effect was to hamper and restrict the industries of this country, then by all means that burden should he removed. Very small matters affected trade, as was shown by the fact that in the cotton industry, which was in such a stagnant condition, a dispute was going on about such a small matter as 2½ per cent., and if, as had been alleged, this was a small Bill it dealt with a matter which undoubtedly detrimentally affected an important industry and afforded an additional reason for removing the grievance complained of. As one who was connected with one of the largest machinery manufacturing works in the world he could state that two-thirds or three-fourths of the whole of the machinery produced in Lancashire at the present time was going abroad, which showed that this country would have to face increased competition in future. In view of such facts, and in face of the disastrous position of trade generally throughout the country, he considered the House ought to cordially agree to the Second Reading of this Bill, which he hoped would be carried by even a greater majority than on previous occasions.
§ MR. JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le-Street)
regretted that the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) was not present to take part in this Debate, because he represented a district which was specially interested in this matter; and as he himself represented a portion of the same district, he was glad to have the opportunity of saying a word or two upon the subject they were now discuss- 1367 ing. Various allusions had been made to the number of times that this Bill had passed its Second Reading in Parliament; but he would remind hon. Members that last year this Second Reading was obtained by a coup by the promoters of the Bill at an Evening Sitting.
The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. The Second Reading was passed last year by a majority of more than 100, after Debate in a full House.
§ MR. JOICEY
begged pardon. He had made a mistake. It was the year before last that the Bill was suddenly rushed through at an Evening Sitting. On that occasion it was moved without any Speech whatever on the House resuming at 9 o'clock, and hon. Members who came down at five minutes past 9 were astonished to find that the Second Reading had been agreed to. Therefore, so far as that occasion was concerned, at all events, the supporters of the Bill were not entitled to claim credit for the circumstances under which it passed its Second Reading. There were some in that House who thought that Englishmen had an advantage over Irishmen and Scotchmen. He was glad to think there were hon. Members who recognised that, at all events, in regard to the rating of machinery, Scotchmen and Irishmen were on a better footing than Englishmen; but he scarcely thought that the hon. Members for Lancashire and Gloucestershire, and those who were supporting this Bill, should complain of that, because although the law had been distinct and clear for some time—at all events, since the decision in the Chard case—the manufacturers of Lancashire and Gloucestershire who had been promoting this Bill had really been in the same position as Scotchmen and Irishmen upon this question. They had not had an increase of rates put upon them. They had heard lugubrious statements as to what would happen if this Bill did not pass. He thought they in the North of England, in the Counties of Durham and Northumberland, who for many years had rated their machinery practically upon the basis of the Chard decision, had a right to congratulate themselves that they did not seem to have suffered to. any extent from this system of rating. He looked upon this Bill as entirely a Bill 1368 for benefitting textile industries. Its object was to relieve certain manufacturers of their fair share of rates at the expense of other ratepayers in the community. They, in their part of the country, had paid their fair share of rates, and whatever hon. Members might say, he maintained that the view the Assessment Committees in Northumberland and Durham took of the law was the right view, and that manufacturers in Lancashire and other districts, and the Assessment Committees in those districts, had not conformed to what really was the law. It was not until a North countryman—Mr. Hedley—insisted upon this view of the law being recognised that difficulties arose in Lancashire, and, as a matter of fact, instead of being thankful for the exemption they had had so long, their Lancashire friends came forward and said, "You should make that exemption permanent." He maintained that no real case whatever had been made out for the passing of this Bill. There were large industries, even in Lancashire, which were opposed to the measure. His hon. Friend near him, who spoke a few minutes ago (Mr. Oldroyd), stated that the working classes of this country were in favour of this Bill. He maintained that that was not an accurate statement. They had the coal trade of Durham and Northumberland, representing a very large number of workmen, and the whole of those workmen were opposed to this measure, because they believed that if it were to pass it would throw upon the mines in their districts rates which ought to be borne by manufacturers. The members of the United Coal Trade Association of the North of England were also strongly opposed to this measure. They said—The object of the measure is to relieve certain classes of machinery from rating, and the effect of it if passed would be to seriously diminish the rateable value of manufacturing districts by the exemption of a very large amount of machinery used in factories and works which has hitherto been liable, and consequently to largely increase the rates in order to make up the deficiency thus caused. Under the Bill no relief would be given to collieries, the machinery used at them not coming within the definition of that which is to be excluded from rating, and colliery owners, in common with other ratepayers, would therefore be paddled with a heavy increase in their rates in order to reduce those paid by the owners of factories and other users of machinery which the Bill proposes to exempt.
§ MR. JOICEY
said he was quoting from a circular issued last year by the North of England United Coal Trade Association. He, however, took the precaution to telegraph to the Secretary of the Association, and he assured him that the Association was still opposed to the Bill. There was a large population represented by these industries who were opposed to this Bill, and therefore he took issue with his hon. Friend when he said that the artisans of this country were in favour of it. Allusion had been made to the Borough of Gateshead. Now, Gateshead was a town of some 90,000 inhabitants, and these inhabitants consisted almost exclusively of artisans who worked at the various manufactories. The present rateable value of Gateshead was £272,000. It would be very difficult to estimate what the effect of the exemptions under this Bill would be upon that borough. As he said, the machinery had been rated practically on the terms of the Chard case, so that a much larger proportion of machinery would have to be exempt in that borough than probably in any other part of the Kingdom. Sunderland, Jarrow, South Shields, and all the boroughs in their locality were practically in the same position. It had been estimated by one authority that the rateable value would be reduced something like £42,000; by another that the rateable value would be reduced £20,000. These were the two extremes, but he thought the probability was, that an exemption such as was proposed would reduce the rateable value on the rating of machinery to something between the sums of £20,000 and £40,000. What would be the effect of this upon Gateshead? If the rateable value were reduced by £40,000, that would be nearly one-sixth of the whole rateable value. The borough rates for Gateshead were at present 4s. 9d. in the £1, and if they were to reduce the rateable value by £40,000 they would increase the borough rate to be levied upon the other ratepayers to 5s. 8d., an increase of no less than 11d. in the £1. Supposing they took it at just half that—£20,000— it would increase the rate to the extent of 5½d. or 6d., so that if they took the lowest sum estimated, the increase on the rates would amount to 6d. in the £1, 1370 leviable upon the ordinary ratepayer in the Borough of Gateshead. Well, Gateshead had borrowed under the Public Loans Act and otherwise to the extent of £200,000. What was the security for this? The security was the rates, and this Bill proposed, so far as Gateshead was concerned, to injure the security upon which this money was borrowed. He said that Parliament should consider well before it attempted to alter the law by a side-wind, as it were, and to interfere with important financial arrangements of this character. He considered that it would be most unfair to those who had lent their money to Gateshead—the creditors of the town —to tamper with their security in this way. Besides this, the Free Libraries Act was in operation at Gateshead. At the present time they levied the full amount allowed under that Act, 1d. in the £1. They spent one-third of the amount they received on repaying capital, they spent one-third on salaries, and one-third on literature; and if the rateable value were to be reduced by £40,000, their available income for the purposes of the Free Library would be curtailed to the extent of 17 per cent. That 17 per cent. could not be taken from the third that was spent on repaying capital, it could not be taken very well from the salaries of those who had the management of the Library, and, therefore, it would have to be taken from the amount spent in literature every year, which would be a very great disadvantage to the borough. And who were the men who were benefitted by this expenditure? They were the very artisans, the very employés of these gentlemen who at present contributed their fair share to the rate. He thought it was a monstrous thing to attempt to relieve these gentlemen when their own employés were the very people who got the benefit from the rates that they paid. The population of Gateshead was entirely composed of the artisan class. The House would at once realise that, when he stated that out of the entire rateable value no less than £77,000 represented tenemented property. What, then, would be the effect in Gateshead if this Bill should pass? The effect would be this: that the amount which was at the present time paid by the employers, whether it were 6d. or 1s. in the £1, would in future 1371 be paid by their workmen. In other words, they would have to pay a large proportion of the rates, so that their employers might escape from them. And what was the effect of that practically? The practical effect was nothing more nor less than a reduction of their wages. He could understand the action of the textile industries in trying to get rid of this charge upon their manufactures, but he did protest against manufacturers being exempt from these charges when they had to be borne by other people. Before they attempted to deal with this question they should have more information and more satisfactory evidence, so that all the different interests might be fully considered by a Committee or by the Government. He could well understand many people holding the view that personal property should be rated, but he could not understand why machinery, because it happened to be of a heavy description, should be rated, and machinery which happened to be of a light description should be exempted from rating. Every manufacturer who introduced machinery into his works did so for his own benefit, and he could not think that any question of rating would prevent a manufacturer from having in his works the best machinery he could get. He maintained that the textile industries have been very fortunate in the position they have occupied for many years, and that they have no right to the exemption they got. It was not according to law, because if it was then in their part of the country they had been robbed in excess of what the law allowed. According to the decision in the Chard case they were shown to have been acting in strict conformity with the law, while the Assessment Committees outside their district had not been acting according to law. Lord Salisbury, speaking some 12 or 15 months ago, stated that it was possible the time might come when personal property would have to contribute to the rates. He quite agreed with Lord Salisbury that it was possible the time might come when this would be necessary; but why should they now, even looking at the question from the point of view of personal property, take this retrograde step? It was a fair question for consideration by a Committee or by the Government whether we 1372 should tax personal property generally. He must say he agreed with the hon. Baronet who moved the rejection of the Bill that this was a matter which should be done by the Government. He did not believe in tampering with an important financial question of this kind without grave consideration. They had had a speech from his hon. Friend the Member for South Birmingham (Mr. Powell Williams) which he did not thank him for, because he was under the impression that he was in thorough opposition to this Bill; but in this case, as in others, they now found that Birmingham was only looking after its own interest. So long as the promoters of this Bill were prepared to give his hon. Friend his own little advantage he was quite prepared to throw overboard Members like the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Paget) and himself, who were speaking on behalf of those who have large interests at stake.
§ MR. JOICEY
I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. I understood him to say, and I think the House understood him to say, that if the promoters would undertake to limit the action of this Bill in Birmingham to a charge of 50s. per horse-power he would be prepared to withdraw his opposition.
MR. POWELL WILLIAMS
I did not limit my suggestion to Birmingham, but am prepared to see it made applicable to the whole Kingdom.
§ MR. JOICEY
said, he was not prepared to accept the suggestion of Birmingham. He hoped this Bill would be rejected. He should do his utmost to oppose it both on the Second Reading and in Committee, because he thought if there was one question more than another which ought to be dealt with by the Government it was this great question of rating which they were now invited to consider.
§ MR. A. F. GODSON (Kidderminster)
said, he represented a constituency which took a great interest in this question, and he wanted to say just a few words on the subject. He was strongly in favour of the Bill now before the House. At the election the question was put to him whether, if returned, he would support a Bill of this description, and he said he was prepared to do so, and he was there that day to do it. They were perfectly 1373 content with the law and the practice also, as they stood prior to the two decisions that had been referred to. Those decisions upset the system that had previously been carried out, and the promoters of the Bill only wanted to put things back as they had been prior to that time. All they desired was to do what was right and just between all parties. The view they put forward was that of the agriculturists of the country, as well as the manufacturers, and he would be sorry to learn that one party would do anything that could injure the other. They had been told that this was a Lancashire measure; but he could assure the House that other parts of the country were deeply interested. In the Midlands they feared that a further increase of charges would be made unless some final standard was fixed by law. He hoped the Bill would pass.
§ SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
I rise for the purpose of correcting a mistake made by one of the hon. Gentlemen who has spoken. I would point out that this question occupied us all day at a Wednesday Sitting in April last year, and the Report occupies 60 pages of Hansard. When the House divided, 232 voted for the Bill and 132 against. I can say also that a similar Bill was referred to a Select Committee four years ago—in 1889. The Committee sat from the 17th of March to the 20th of July; and I venture to think that never was a subject so thoroughly threshed out as this was before the Committee. My hon. Friend says truly that what we are trying to do is not to alter the law, but to bring it back to what it was before these decisions— before the Chard and the Tyne ease. Well, in the Tyne case, Lord Esher laid it down that all machinery was to be rated that was put into a building for the purpose of making the building more fit for the purpose for which it was intended. A more loose decision than that I never heard of. Why, all machinery is put into buildings to make them more fit for the purpose for which they are intended. None would think of putting expensive machinery into a building for any other purpose.
§ SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN
That is exactly what I say. I expressed it shortly. Now, what was the result of that judgment? Why, in the different unions different views are taken, and you have no uniform system. We have one system in one county, and another in another county, and we have quite a different system to any prevailing in Scotland and Ireland. This is very injurious to all interests, and this Bill has been introduced with the object of preventing this and securing uniformity. I cannot conceive anything more injurious or more mischievous than want of uniformity in the administration of the law. The Bill would give us the uniformity we require. I sympathise entirely with my hon. Friend who spoke about agricultural depression; but has there been no industrial depression? I was down in Lancashire the other day, and I was told that things were never so bad as they are at present. The question is, What is the just course to adopt? I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman, who said that very few who were suffering from agricultural depression would be affected by this Bill. It may be said that we ought to bring in a general and exhaustive Bill, and deal with the whole question. It is always stated that you ought to bring in a more exhaustive Bill; that is the common argument when a measure of this kind is introduced. Then it is said the Government ought to bring in a Bill. I have no hopes that the Government will bring in a Bill; and I do not see why we should not try, if possible, to pass this Bill, leaving the details to Committee. Just one word about the speech of the hon. Member for South Birmingham. His proposal, I consider, is one for Committee and not for Second Reading, and I think it would be well if he would let the Bill be read a second time, and then refer it to the Grand Committee on Law and Trade. This would secure its becoming law in a proper shape.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
said, the right hon. Baronet was a distinguished Member of the Committee to which he had alluded, which recommended that the Government, and not a private Member, should take charge of the Bill; but the Government did not take the matter up. 1375 The Government declined to follow the suggestion of the Committee, and now he came to the House in his capacity as a Member to criticise the Judgment of Lord Esher. If the Judgment had been appealed against it could have been reviewed in the House of Lords, and altered if not good law. Why did not the right hon. Baronet and his friends take the case to the House of Lords? The fact was this Bill did not propose to amend or explain the law, but to change it altogether. Why had not the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and his friends undertaken to deal with this matter? According to a circular he had received, the right hon. Gentleman had told the promoters of the Bill that he would grant facilities forgetting it through Committee on an early day. Why should such a Bill, however, be left to private Members, and why should the right hon. Gentleman anticipate the decision of the House? The rating authorities were said to be in favour of the Bill, but he could say that in his part of the country they were strongly against it, and they had passed resolutions against it. The agricultural constituencies and the farmers had always been appealing to this House for a reform of local taxation, but they could never succeed in getting any assistance from the gentlemen sitting on the opposite side of the House. And now the manufacturers demanded an Act of Parliament for the relief of themselves, and the Government supported them. He could not but describe the Bill as a rich man's Bill, the object of which was to remove burdens from the shoulders of the rich and to place them on the shoulders of the poor—to tax the small occupier, the farmer and the artizan, and to leave the capitalist scot-free. If the Bill were passed it would be for the advantage of the manufacturers, and certainly not for the advantage of the community. It was called a little Bill; but if it were a little Bill it would not have the enthusiastic support which was being accorded to it by the manufacturers. They knew very well its importance to themselves. The whole policy for many years past had been to extend the area of rating; and the Government would not even exclude elementary schools from the rating, whilst here they proposed to relieve one special 1376 industry, in the hands of private persons, leaving all others in the lurch. This was against public policy, against the principle of local taxation reform, and it was still more against the interest of the whole agricultural community. He should vote against the Bill.
§ SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN
I wish to correct the hon. Gentleman. I understood him to say that the Select Committee did not recommend the Bill to be passed. That was not the case. They wished that the Government should take it up.
§ MR. MATHER (Lancashire, S.E., Gorton)
said, some previous speakers had travelled very far from the question of local rating. There were two points in relation to the Bill to which he would direct the attention of the House. The Bill was a narrow and circumscribed measure, and its object was to relieve the country from a deadlock in the administration of rating for local purposes. It appeared that from the year 1840 to the year 1882 they had one uniform practice applied to those industries by which the country had secured its industrial position. During the intervening years Great Britain was pursuing her way in the progress of industry, and the custom that machinery should not be taxed prevailed. Then the question was raised by that ingenious gentleman, Mr. Headley, a surveyor in the North, that it was possible, under the Act of Parliament which had been in vogue for many years, to render machinery rateable, and not construe it to be goods and chattels, which were exempt. Immediately after this interpretation, which was supported by certain Courts, a case was brought in Scotland before Lord Frazer, who, in his Judgment with regard to it, was so clear and definite and precise that Scotland had since pursued the even tenor of its way; and the people, no matter what their occupations were, held to the old system. The learned Judge laid down that anything which was a tool or an instrument of manufacture in any premises belonging to the tenant or to the landlord, as the case might be, was not 1377 subject to any rating whatsoever. Scotland, however, had not formed an example for England. There was another decision in this country—the Chard case—and this left the matter more confused and confounded than it had been before, for Lord Esher in that case withheld a decision upon the only point which would have given any light or guidance to the Assessment Committees throughout the country. He declared that, as he interpreted the law, machinery in a building ought to be taken into consideration when the rateable value of the building was fixed; but he carefully guarded himself against staling what the consideration was. On appeal another Judgment was given which did not add any enlightenment. Mr. Justice Grantham was most thoroughly confused as to what was machinery and what was a chattel in a manufactory. The result was that the Assessment Committees and others interested were of one mind—that the House of Commons alone could rid them of the difficulty. As the matter stood the decisions were most confusing. They would understand how they bore upon changes in the value of chattels and upon new inventions introduced in the process of manufacture. It was customary in Lancashire to take out of mills machinery that might be worth, say, £20,000, and to put in new machinery worth £40,000, and under Lord Esher's decision it would be possible to double the assessment on such new machinery. The Assessment Committees had held their hands for the past six or seven years waiting for Parliament to do something. It had been declared that this was a manufacturers' question, and that the object of the Bill was to relieve the manufacturers of a burden; but in Lancashire the manufacturers had never had the burden in question put upon them, though they clearly saw that until the Assessment Committees had some clear method by which they could adjust the assessment of machinery it was impossible for them to be sure that a new burden would not be cast on them. It was not so much what the manufacturers felt now as what they feared might be put on them in the future. What they asked the House to do was to decide two questions—first, by the Second Reading of the Bill to affirm that the law previous to the late legal 1378 decisions had been for the advantage of the country; and, secondly, that the uncertainty of the new interpretation of the law since 1882 was so great that it left things in a worse condition than before. If the House accepted the Bill they would find that the manufacturing interests of the country would be dealt with in the same equitable manner as in former times. If the Bill were rejected, it was not so much the large manufacturer who would feel the burden of increased taxation as the small ones. Though he could not accept the peculiar metaphor of one hon. Member who had spoken—namely, that the manufacturers of the country were "rolling in molten gold," he did not deny that some manufacturers were fairly prosperous. Some of them managed to pay their way, and to lay by a little money to buy improved machinery and employ more and more people. The great pride of many manufacturers of this country was not to hoard up money, but to invest their savings in the development of their manufactories, the employment of more hands, and the giving of shorter hours. But the small manufacturers who did not come within this category were likely to be seriously affected if the Bill did not pass, and if the Assessment Committees all along the line put in force the judicial decisions of which complaint was made—these small manufacturers who were earnestly desirous to make their way in the world, but who under this decision would find their machinery, tools, and implements taxed so heavily as to place them at a great disadvantage. He, therefore, appealed to the House on the ground of the uncertainty of the law, on the ground of the long usage before this uncertainty was declared, on the ground that the industry connected with the least affluent of all their fellows would be seriously affected if this ruling obtained in future— on all these grounds he appealed to the House to pass the Second Reading of the Bill by a larger majority than before.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
said, there were many agricultural districts which would not be affected one way or the other by this Bill; but he thought that the agricultural districts which were affected ought to support it. It must be to the interest of those districts to encourage small village manufacturers; and yet if the Bill did 1379 not pass those manufacturers would be in danger of being driven out of the field. The Chard case was an instance in point. There the Assessment Committee had been empowered to put upon lace-making machinery the full amount of rating due to the value of the machinery; but when they came to the point they did not dare to rate the premises at much more than half the amount of the full value at which, by the decision in the case, they might have put the assessment. Those opponents of the Bill who represented industrial constituencies were in a small minority. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Joicey) represented a small number of people, except with reference to one subject. They knew that he was an extensive owner of collieries, and no doubt a large number of persons interested in coal, in the hon. Member's part of the country, took a strong objection to this Bill. Surely it would be better for these gentlemen, instead of opposing the Bill, to propose a clause or bring in a Bill that would place the rating of collieries on a better footing. There was no decription of property in which the rating showed greater inequalities throughout the country than collieries, and he would urge that hon. Member to consider what was the proper position in which to put this industry in that respect. The hon. Member, however, had raised a very important question. It would be a serious thing to diminish the security for money borrowed on the rates. But the real security was the prosperity of the town in which the rates were levied, and he believed that the prosperity of towns depended on the prosperity of the industries carried on in them. What would become of the prosperity of Gateshead, for instance, if the industrial pursuits of the place were interfered with? We were competing in our manufactures with all the world, and here we were absolutely giving manufacturers an inducement to carry their operations over to foreign countries, where, in order to encourage trade, manufactories were freed from rates either wholly or in part. In America, not only were these advantages extended to the manufacturer, but free grants of land were given, and in some parts of Europe manufacturers were even subsidised by the State, in order to increase the stability of the country. It 1380 was of the utmost importance that they should prevent our manufacturers being handicapped by over-rating, and he would suggest in the case of the collieries that a Bill should be introduced, or a special clause inserted in the present Bill, providing for the rating of collieries on a fair and uniform system.
§ MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
admitted that the Bill had received a considerable amount of support throughout the country, but could not help thinking that it had received support in some quarters through a misunderstanding as to its scope and effect. The short title of the measure had reference to "the rating of machinery," but really the Bill was one to relieve rateable premises occupied by machinery of certain portions of the rates put upon them. The impression, of course, was that tools, small machines, and movable articles used by the workman in his trade were liable to be rated under the existing law, and that the Bill was to prohibit that sort of thing. No doubt, under that impression a great many working-class organizations had joined in this movement, inaugurated by the manufacturers, and had been supporting the manufacturers. He held in his hand a Circular, issued by a very influential Trade Organization, in which it was pointed out that "the rating of movable machinery and tools constitutes a mischievous tax on labour." Those words were calculated to lead people to suppose that under the present law small hand machines, and tools were liable to be rated. He believed that under this misapprehension the promoters of the Bill had received a considerable amount of support throughout the country, which they otherwise would not have obtained. They had heard to-day of the interest the working man had in the question— they had heard it called a working man's question. Nothing of the kind. The manufacturer would not pay the workman a shilling more in wages because he (the manufacturer) was relieved from a certain amount of his rates; on the contrary, the workman would suffer by it, inasmuch as the manufacturer would pocket the saving of his rates and put the burden on the small houses occupied by the workman. To talk about this being a workman's question was a mani- 1381 fest absurdity. It was said that the law had recently been altered by the decision in the Chard case. But the Chard case, which followed up the Bishop wear-mouth case, only carried out to their logical result well-understood principles of law that had been laid down long before that case. As far back as the time of Lord Denman it was laid down that the value of the occupation was enhanced by the presence of machinery— that was to say, that the articles which were more or less associated with a building should be taken into account in fixing the value of that building. Lord Campbell, following on Lord Denman, laid down the law very clearly. He said that the machinery attached to a building for the purposes of trade should be assessed according to its actual existing value, without considering whether it was real or personal property, or whether or not it was liable to distress or seizure. The late Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, following on that, said—When things which, though capable of being removed, are yet so far attached to a building as that it is intended that they should remain permanently connected with the purposes of the undertaking, and remain permanent appendages to it as essential to its working, they must be taken to be things which increase the value of the land.The Bishop wear-mouth case, following on a line of cases, only laid down that in assessing shipbuilding premises to the poor rate the value of the machinery on the premises was to be taken into consideration in ascertaining their rateable value where such machinery, though some of it might be capable of being removed without injury to itself or the freehold, was essentially necessary to the shipbuilding business to which the premises were devoted. The Tyne Boiler case followed on the same line, and the Chard case only carried to their logical result those former decisions. To say that the existing law was new was therefore incorrect. The law as stated and enforced by all these decisions—which he ventured to say appealed to the common sense of the House—declared that premises were not to. be taken as mere shells, but were to be assessed for purposes of rating combined with the machinery that was in them, that was associated with them as premises, used for particular purposes and rateable accordingly. 1382 As a matter of fact, the proposal of the Bill was that the manufacturers of the country whom the hon. Member below him (Mr. Mather) had admitted had been making money and were on comfortable terms, buying fresh land and erecting new machinery from time to time, should be relieved of the burdens that fairly fell upon them at the expense of the small shopkeepers and householders. It was not reasonable that an alteration should be made to relieve people who were well able to bear their fair share of local burdens. They were told that terrible things would happen if this Bill was not passed — that trade would leave the country, and all that sort of thing. Nothing of the kind would happen; the manufacturers would go on as usual, and would not think of putting their money in 3 per cent. bonds They would buy new machinery, build new factories, and employ increasing numbers of people, just as they had done in the past. The measure was an unfair attempt on the part of the manufacturers to relieve themselves at the expense of the general community, therefore he opposed it.
§ MR. H. WRIGHT (Nottingham, S.)
said, he wished to support the Bill in the interest of his constituents who were working men, from whom, during the last four years that this question had been to the front, he had never heard a word except in favour of the Bill. It was all nonsense to say that this was a rich man's question. The working men knew well enough that a little more pressure would drive our manufacturers into transferring their works from this country to France, Germany and elsewhere. And that with it would go their own means of livelihood and that of thousands of women and girls employed in the Nottingham lace factories. They knew already that a great deal of trade had been driven away, and they did not want more to follow.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER, Wolverhampton, E.)
There is one point which has been made in the remarks that have fallen from hon. Members on both sides of the House with which I cordially concur, and that is that it is impossible for Her Majesty's Government to deal with the question 1383 this Session. It would be holding out false hopes if I did not state that most distinctly. I think the time has arrived when, whether the Government deals with the question or not, the House of Commons should do so. The history of the case is shortly this. Up to within a very recent period of time there was a general impression prevailing among the overwhelming majority of rateable authorities in the Kingdom that a certain interpretation of the existing law was correct. When that interpretation was subjected to the criticism of the Courts, both the Queen's Bench, as it then was, presided over by Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, and then afterwards the Court of Appeal, presided over by the Master of the Rolls, decided that the generally received interpretation was wrong, and that property which had been up to that time, with the possible exception of some in places in the North of England, exempt from rating where rateable. Well, legislation was proposed in this House on the subject as far back as 1887. Bills were brought in in subsequent years, and in 1890, when the late Government was in power, the House gave a Second Reading to a Bill by 239 to 87. That was a Division in which the Government of the day took no part as a Government. The House was left to itself to decide the question, and I need hardly say that the House at that time was a strongly Conservative House. The question came up again in 1892, and in the Division 232 voted for the Bill, whilst 122 recorded their votes against it. Therefore, you have a very strong indication as to the opinion of Parliament—I do not say that this Bill, but, at all events, that some Bill is absolutely necessary to dispose of the difficulty that has arisen. Then we have had a Report from a Select Committee of 1887. The hon. Member who has just sat down, and several others, have assumed that the law is perfectly clear. That Select Committee, who considered the Bill, reported thatWithout going into the question as to whether the law relating to the rating of machinery has been altered by the recent decisions, it is clear from the evidence that the system acted upon by valuers in different parts of the country has varied considerably, and that the practice, in the absence of legislation, will in many cases be materially affected in the future. They consider it most important that there should be uniformity.1384 That is a proposition with which I think all Members will agree. I do not think it proper myself that Assessment Committees should sit as Courts of Appeal on Judgments of Courts of Law. Whatever the law is, it ought to be carried out, and it is for Parliament to make an unjust law just. Last year Mr. Ritchie, who represented the Government, was asked—Was there any ground for supposing that the application of the law caused uncertainty and created difficulty? He thought the evidence was overwhelming, and therefore it was not necessary to elaborate the case.One of the greatest lawyers who ever sat in the House of Commons (Sir Horace Davey) said—The present state of the law was unsatisfactory. It was incomprehensible to laymen and to lawyers, and it was uncertain in its operation. Uncertainty led to litigation, which had to be paid for by the litigants. Some assessment committees, while profess;ng not to rate machinery, still considered it as enhancing the value of the premises, and the effect in some districts was that the value of the machinery was fully taken into account in the enhanced value of the premises. That appeared to him to be artificial and unsatisfactory. In the present condition of things there could be no doubt that the law ought to be defined and made clear and distinct and equal in its application to all parts of the country and all classes of the community.That is the attitude the Government take on the Bill before the House. The Government are of opinion that the time has arrived when the law should be made clear, and they think the question of rating is emphatically one for what I may call the unbiased opinion of the House of Commons. There are differences of opinion on both sides of the House, and I venture to say, with all respect both to past and present Governments, that this is eminently a question in which the general sense of the House of Commons is perhaps the best judge we can possibly obtain as to what should be done. The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Stanley Leighton) said I indicated that the Government would grant facilities for the further passage of this Bill. The hon. Member has not read an accurate report of what I said. What I said was that if this Parliament should, acting independently of political influences, and upon its own mature judgment, confirm the decision given over and over again by the last Parliament, I thought it was due to the ratepayers of 1385 the country, it was due to the persons who would be affected by those changes, and it was due to the House of Commons itself, that the repeated decisions upon the question should, at all events, have a chance of being embodied in an Act. As far as the general question of rating is concerned, it is a very large question. My inclinations would be not to contract the area of rating. The desire of the Local Government Board is that the rating area should be as large as possible—that rates should be low, but that the product of rates should be large. It will, of course, be for the House of Commons to decide what is the best mode of carrying that out. I can only give my opinion that the present incidence of our rating is not satisfactory. I have said it on that side of the Table, and I say it on this side. I think our whole system of local taxation legislation has been a series of temporary measures, passed to meet temporary emergencies, that it has been botched from time to time and patched up from time to time, whilst very unfair subventions have been granted from time to time. But that is not the question before the House. The question now is a proved grievance, an existing uncertainty as to the state of the law, and the House of Commons is asked this afternoon to declare its opinion as to what the state of the law is.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 287; Noes 134.—(Division List, No. 23.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday, 5th April.