§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [24th July], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ And which Amendment was, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Alban Gibbs.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
MR. T. H. BOLTON
(continuing his speech which had been interrupted under the Standing Order of the House on the previous night) said, he was endeavouring to point out that this Bill was not really what it professed to be. It was not a measure for the equalisation of rates in London, but a Bill rather for the purpose of taking a contribution from some parishes towards the rates of other parishes, and instead of alleviating the unfair incidence of taxation, it would, if anything, increase the difficulties and inequalities. He also endeavoured to point out that this was a Bill which ought to come after, instead of before, other large reforms in connection with local government, and the difficulties which were involved in attempting to deal with these questions in this piecemeal and unsatisfactory way. He wished it to be understood that he did not object to a Bill which would further equalise the rates in London, provided that such a measure proceeded upon satisfactory lines, for he believed there was room for a considerable equalisation of the rates in London. He altogether differed with the Government as to the mode of and time at which they were endeavouring to carry out this professed object. He knew it would be said that he and the hon. Members who thought with him were opposing a Bill for the equalisation 898 of rates in London, and that they would suffer some disadvantage from the misrepresentations of their opponents. But whatever was done in that regard, he repeated that their opposition to the Bill did not mean that they were opposed to equalisation, the necessity for which they all admitted, but to the provisions of this particular measure. It was a strange thing that the hon. Gentlemen who advocated the Bill had had become less and less enamoured with it as the Debate proceeded. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced it introduced it as a Bill to equalise the rates, but the hon. and learned Gentleman who had had more to do with this matter than anybody else had almost in terms thrown over the Bill as brought in, because the hon. Member for Hackney said the Bill did not make the rates equal, and that it would be an unfair thing, without examination, to make them equal in the sense that the amount per £1 should be the same in every district. He did not know what equalisation of rates meant unless it endeavoured to do what the hon. and learned Gentleman said it was never intended to do. If it was not intended to make the rates equal he really did not know what its object was. He wanted to emphasise that declaration of the hon. and learned Gentleman, who, as he said, was more the father of this Bill than the right hon. Gentleman who introduced it. What did the hon. Member who represented Shored itch say? He said that the principle was that the richer districts should contribute to the poorer. That would be a reasonable principle if it were justly applied, but might come to be not only unreasonable, but a hardship if capriciously applied. Surely it was a capricious thing to take a certain class of ratepayers and arbitrarily place upon them a heavy burden for the sake of handing over the money extracted to be spent by other ratepayers in another part of London. It appeared to him that the advocates of this Bill did not understand what its principles were. It professed to be a Bill to equalise rates and redress inequalities. In fact, it created as many inequalities as it redressed, and such as were redressed were redressed in a capricious, unsatisfactory, and partial way. The difficulties connected with this Bill were such that he could not help thinking the House would hesitate before it was passed through its final stages. 899 Before such a Bill was placed before the House they ought to have a large readjustment of the governing authorities of London. At the present time they had a number of Vestries and District Boards dealing with sanitary and other local matters, while the County Council was dealing with other matters common to the whole of London, but there was no broad distinction between matters that were local and which should be dealt with by the District Councils and those which were general, and should be dealt with by the London County Council. The time had come, he thought, when there should be a very considerable readjustment and rearrangement of the Local Authorities of London. What did the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hackney say in regard to this argument? He said it would be better if they could divide London into homogeneous districts, so as not to have districts which were partly rich and partly poor. He did not understand what he meant by that or how the suggestion could be carried out. But there was a rotundity of oratorical expression about the hon. and learned Gentleman's statements, and a mystery about them, showing that he had no clear conception in his mind as to what the situation was. He understood the hon. Gentleman admitted there was a great defect in the Bill owing to the antiquated divisions to which they clung. He agreed to that, and that this Bill could not be satisfactorily worked, and that before any Bill on these lines should be carried there ought to be a readjustment of the areas of London and a rearrangement of the duties and powers of the various authorities, local and metropolitan, and of the proportion of the rates. This was a very difficult subject, which could not properly be dealt with without the gravest consideration and full inquiry. The fact was, that this was a short Act to deal with a very important subject, and, like all short Acts, it was calculated to make matters worse rather than better. He did not know why the Bill should be pressed forward at this particular moment. He heard an hon. Member say that London was waiting. London had, however, waited for several Bills, and London could not have everything at once. He believed that gentlemen from Ireland were complaining of waiting, and there were other sections of Members who also had to wait. At that very moment an 900 important Commission, appointed by the Government, was sitting to consider the large question of the unification of London. In a few days that Commission would make its Report, and that Report would probably recommend very large changes in connection with the municipal government of London, changes which would lie at the root of any readjustment on which a sound alteration of taxation could take place. Surely it would be reasonable not to press forward this Bill until the Report of the Commission had been presented. This Bill was based upon the principle of grants in aid. It was, therefore, a little inconsistent with declarations that had proceeded over and over again from the Treasury Bench. Two of the leading Members of the Government had in season and out of season denounced the impolicy of handing over money as a gift to be spent by Local Authorities. As far as the question of policy was concerned, it did not matter whether the money came from Imperial or from local funds. When grants in aid were made it was important that they should be appropriated to specific purposes, and that the Local Authorities to which they were made should have to spend an equal amount derived from local sources upon those purposes. When this system was adopted it imposed a certain amount of responsibility on the Local Authority. He certainly thought that the giants in aid to be made under this Bill should be distinctly ear-marked, and that there should be a provision that an equivalent amount should in every case be provided for the same purpose by the Local Authorities. In some parishes where sanitary matters, lighting, and street improvements were already well attended to, the authorities might not care to spend anything more upon those purposes, and the handing over of this extra money would, therefore, encourage experiments and extravagances. At the present time, taking the average rate as from 5s. to 5s. 6d., more than 3–5ths of that rate was, he believed, already equalised. There was another matter which bore to a certain extent upon the question of equalisation. Under the Local Government Act of 1888 the County Council had power to declare certain roads to be main roads. If the London County Council had declared some of the large arterial roads in London to be main roads they would have 901 equalised some of the very burdens which it was proposed to equalise under this Bill. The Vestry of the parish of St. Luke's had called special attention to the matter by presenting to the House a Petition, in which they said that they were under great pecuniary disadvantages by reason of the fact that their parish was intercepted by great trunk roads, which they had to keep up, although such roads were not so largely used by the inhabitants of the parish as they were by the general public of London. The roads they mentioned were the City Road, the Goswell Road, and Old Street. If the London County Council had maintained such roads as those, and either undertaken the management of them or contributed to the expense of maintaining them, they would have practically effected equalisation. This, however, was not altogether in accordance with the policy of the London County Council or of the Government. Their policy seemed to be to make as much noise about equalisation as possible, and to get as much credit out of that attempt to deal with it as possible, whether that attempt was wise or not, instead of usefully and sensibly applying the powers they at present possessed, and thus in a practical way alleviating the burdens of London. He wished to know whether it was desirable to attempt to do by means of a short Act that which ought only to be done by a large and comprehensive measure? Was it desirable to embark upon experiments in equalisation when there were means of equalisation already available which, if used, would benefit poor parishes quite as largely as probably this Bill would do? Nothing, in his opinion, could be more fallacious than the principle of distributing this money according to population. The fact that there was a large population in a particular parish did not necessarily involve greater needs either as to sanitary matters or as to lighting. Probably there was something to be said on the subject with regard to sanitation; but as far as lighting was concerned, where the population was aggregated in barrack-like buildings, as it was becoming more and more aggregated under the new system, an increase of population did not necessarily mean an increase of expenditure upon lighting. It had been shown by statistics that the result of distributing the money according to population would be 902 most capricious and unfair. It would produce alleviation of burdens where it was not much wanted, and would not give assistance where alleviation was necessary. It meant the taxation of all rate-paying occupiers for the benefit of a certain class of property owners in the crowded districts of London. If such a proposal had been made from the other side of the House he did not know what language would have been too strong for some supporters of the Government to have used in denunciation of this subsidising property owners at the expense of the rates.
MR. T. H. BOLTON
said, he had been pleased to see that two hon. Members opposite had had the courage to say that although their districts would derive a large pecuniary benefit from the passage of the Bill they thought it so unfair and unreasonable that they could not support it. The small shopkeeper generally paid his rates himself, and certainly in such parishes as that of St. George's, Hanover Square, the small shopkeeper would get no benefit from this Bill. No doubt the ratepayer in the district which the hon. Member below him (Mr. Benn) represented would get some benefit from the Bill. But was it the policy of the hon. Gentleman and the London County Council to count noses and see how a particular increase of rates would benefit a certain class of persons whose votes they wanted, regardless of how that increase would affect other persons?
MR. T. H. BOLTON
said, he did not think that was the case, but he would not go into that point now. The mistake made in the Bill was that of supposing that the poor of London were all lumped together in particular districts. One hon. and learned Member had argued that the poor ought to be collected in particular districts, although he had not been able to show how such a proposal could be carried out. If such a proposal could be carried out it would be one of the worst things that could happen. As it was, the poor of London were distributed over the whole of the Metropolis, and there 903 were districts mainly inhabited by well-to-do people which contained persons quite as poor as those who lived in what were called the poor districts. Mr. Booth, in his Labour and Life of the People, said upon this very point that in the West End there were six separate districts each containing much poverty which was not apparent from the figures given in the statistical tables, because well-to-do and wealthy streets were lying contiguous to the streets occupied by the poor and were included in the same district. He had looked through the Return with regard to the Bill recently presented to the House with a view of ascertaining whether there would be any difference in the operation of the Common Poor Fund and this proposed equalisation fund; whether there were any cases in which the Common Poor Fund inflicted charges whilst the equalisation fund would give relief, or in which the Common Poor Fund gave relief, while the equalisation fund would create charges. He would contrast the effect of the two funds. It was very difficult to get at the exact figures; but as far as he could understand, in Chelsea the Common Poor Fund gave a benefit of about 1½d. in the £1, while the Bill would give a relief of only about ¼d. in the £1. In Clerkenwell the Common Poor Fund gave a relief of about 5d., and this Bill a relief of 4d. In St. George's-in-the-East the Common Poor Fund gave a relief of about 2s., and this Bill of only about 5½d. In Whitechapel the Common Poor Fund gave a relief of about 6d., and this Bill gave a relief varying from about ½d. to about 5d. In St. Luke's the Common Poor Fund gave a relief of only about 5d., and the Bill of only about ¼d. In St. Paucras the Common Poor Fund gave a relief of about 2d., and this Bill about 1d. He wished to know why there should be these discrepancies when the underlying principle of both the Common Poor Fund, and this Bill was equalisation of rates and adjustment as between the well-to-do ratepayers and the ratepayers who could not afford to pay heavy rates? In the case of Battersea the Common Poor Fund made a charge of about 1½d. in the £1, on the ground that Battersea could afford to contribute to the relief of other parishes, but this Bill would give a relief of 3d. In Islington the Common Poor Fund made a charge of nearly 2d., whereas this Bill gave a relief of about 3d. In Lewis- 904 ham the Common Poor Fund imposed a charge of about 1½d., whilst this Bill would give a relief of about ½d. In Wands worth the Common Poor Fund made a charge of rather more than 1¾d., whilst this Bill would give a relief varying from ½d. to 1d. In view of these discrepancies, if the principle on which the Common Poor Fund was based was right the principle on which this Bill was based must be wrong. The whole thing was monstrously absurd. Two funds were to be set up in London, the one charging parishes with a contribution to the Common Poor Fund upon the ground that they were well able to contribute to the relief of poorer parishes; the other giving relief to the very parishes so charged. Then came the cases where the common fund gave relief, and this Bill would impose charge. Let them take the case of Marylebone, which was relieved under the Common Poor Fund to the extent of about ¼d. in the £1, but this Bill would charge Marylebone with about 1½d. in the £1; the Holborn Union was relieved to the extent of 5d., whereas under the Bill parishes within the Holborn district—not the whole district—were to be relieved to the amount of from about ½d. to 4d. in £1; St. Giles's, under the Common Poor Fund, got relief amounting to about 2d. in the £1, but under the Bill that parish was to be charged to the extent of 1½d., thus cutting down the relief obtained to about one ½d.; St. Olave's, Southwark, was now relieved to the extent of about 2d. in the £1, but would be charged under the Bill from 09 of a 1d. to about 5d., according to the population of parishes in that district. St. Saviour's, Southwark, was an extraordinary case. It now obtained relief amounting to as much as 6d. in the £1, but would be charged under the Bill with a contribution of from ¾d. to 3d., according to the population of parishes within the district. The parishes which were so unfairly treated were those specially deserving consideration. The professed object of the Bill was to have sanitary improvements provided in the poor districts where such improvements were specially required. The district of St. Saviour's was recently in such an unsatisfactory condition that the Mansion House Committee for the Housing of the Poor called the attention of the County Council to the subject, and the medical officer of the County Council, Dr. Shirley Murphy, was sent down, and reported 905 that, "compared with the rest of the population of London, the population of St. Saviour's, Southwark, is poor." Yet that poor district was to be charged under the Bill in the way he had indicated.
MR. T. H. BOLTON
said, that showed the fallacious character of this particular Bill. The parish also contained warehouses in certain portions, bringing down the rate over the whole district to about the figure named by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
Perhaps I may point out that St. Saviour's benefit from the tolls of the market, and, therefore, the actual rate is only about what I stated.
MR. T. H. BOLTON
said, that recently a large expenditure had been incurred and there was a heavy debt, and the tolls of the market were thus largely absorbed. There was practically at present (so he was informed) no benefit from these tolls. This only showed how little the Government, in dealing with this question, had looked into the details. In part of the district of St. Saviour's, Southwark, the rate was much heavier than that stated by the right hon. Gentleman. In regard to his own borough the Bill was most unfair. Looking at the matter simply from the point of view of the hon. Gentleman below him (Mr. Benn), why should Islington, which was certainly no poorer than St. Pancras, receive something like 3d. under the Bill, while St. Pancras would only get 1d.? Mr. Booth, in his well-known work Labour and Life of the People, had reported that St. Pancras was the poorer. It would no doubt be said—"If you will not accept this allocation of the money, what have you to propose instead?" His answer was that, the County Council being overloaded with work which it could not properly attend to, he hoped they would get a readjustment of the local government of London. A rearrangement of Local Authorities must lead to a rearrangement of local taxation, and that would be a more satisfactory way of dealing with the question than that proposed by the Bill. But there was another line on which they might proceed. Where was the difficulty of carrying out a further reform in connection 906 with the Poor Law in London? Why not equalise the poor rate for London, and create a central Poor Law Council with District Committees under that Council? The complete equalisation of the poor rate would be an enormous relief to many parishes. It was said that this would destroy the independence of Local Authorities. He did not know that there was any great amount of independence possessed by local Poor Law Guardians. He had been a Guardian of two of the largest parishes in London, and he always felt that perhaps five-sixths of the work they had to do was routine work concerning which they had very little discretion. If, however, they determined to give relief to sanitary expenditure, he thought there might be a sanitary rate devoted to specific purposes, the contributions in aid to amount to no more than one-half the local expenditure on the specified objects. He could not help thinking that the Bill was brought forward much more with the object of making political capital rather than with an earnest desire to give satisfactory financial relief to overburdened ratepayers. He could not, imagine that the Bill was brought forward with any serious intention that it should pass. It had been subjected, to his mind, to most destructive criticism. The criticism spent upon it last night would have killed any ordinary Bill; and if there were only time to make known the objections to it, he believed the pressure that would come upon the Government from all quarters would be such as to drive them to find some excuse for dropping it altogether—for this year, at all events—and then, in the light of experience, and after further inquiry, a satisfactory measure might be submitted next Session.
§ MR. H. L. W. LAWSON (Gloucester, Cirencester)
said, he felt no call to apologise to the House for intervening in the Debate, for though he had ceased to be a London Member he had not ceased to be a London citizen. He would not try to rival the hon. Member who had just sat down in the portentous length of his oration, which had recalled the achievements of the late Mr. Biggar in the height of his career, when, in order to occupy time, he read long extracts from the Blue Books. Without resorting to that expedient, the hon. Member had 907 spent an hour and a-half in dealing with a Bill of three clauses. Personally, he gained something in being detached from local interests and local temptations, because the question to be decided was whether this Bill, in its application, would do justice to London as a whole. So far the Debate had turned too much upon details—upon the amounts in the £1 which would be received or paid by this or that parish. It was overloaded with fractions of 1d. The rejection of the Bill had been moved by an hon. Member for the City, which was more lightly taxed than any other part of the Metropolis, and it had been seconded by the hon. Member for Marylebone, who grounded his whole case on the effect the Bill would have upon that borough. But was the opposition to the Bill going to be pushed to a Division? It was said that this was an attempt to do something with a rush. Yes; but London had to wait for everything half a century longer than the rest of the country. It was not until 1888 that London received free and representative local government, and yet the hon. Member thought that the fiscal reform of London could afford to wait. He left the hon. Member to settle that matter with his constituents. It was said that the central authority should take over the main roads of the Metropolis; but the definition of the main road in the Act of 1888 would make a main road of almost every road in London. It was generally admitted that in practice it was impossible to apply to London the provisions of the Act of 1888, which were meant primarily for provincial counties. Then it was said that the application of the Common Poor Fund must be extended, but he would be a bold man who would advocate that the principle should be applied to the extent of allowing unlimited outdoor relief in every Union in London. Some Unions were set against outdoor relief, and in Whitechapel there was none; and differences in the conduct of Boards of Guardians affected the distribution of the Common Poor Fund. The principle of the Bill was perfectly plain; it was to establish a Common Sanitary Fund throughout the Metropolis. Could it be denied that the arguments which justified the existence of the Common Poor Fund applied with tenfold more force to the sanitary condition of the Metropolis? If they were good in the one case they 908 were good in the other, and he begged to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman opposite to his own speech on the Second Reading of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1869. The right hon. Gentleman took high grounds in this House, declined to go into an addition to the rates there or subtraction from the rates there, and said that it was really of national importance that the charges should be spread over the Metropolis, subject to control, and said he thought the House would not consider Metropolitan pauperism was a mere matter of local interest. If Metropolitan pauperism was not a mere matter of local interest Metropolitan sanitation was not, and all the arguments used then would apply to the question now. On the occasion to which he referred, the right hon. Gentleman said that hundreds of thousands of men were driven into London who were not indigenous to the soil. Of course, if they had to be provided for, if it was necessary for the State to step in and prevent them absolutely starving on the streets, surely it was equally important to the Metropolis generally to see that the sanitary condition of the houses in which they lived and of the parishes in which the houses were situated was satisfactory. He did not know whether the House realised the difference in sanitary expenditure in different parts of London. He would take two typical cases; one being the parish in which he lived. So far from gaining under this Bill, he believed that parish was mulcted to the extent of 5d., and he supposed he should have, pro rata, to pay his share. He took the cases of Bethnal Green and St. George's, Hanover Square. Bethnal Green had a population of 139,000 and St. George's, Hanover Square, about 80,000. Now, in scavenging and watering Bethnal Green spent only £17,000 and St. George's £28,000; in public lighting Bethnal Green spent £3,500 and St. George's £9,000, and in dust removal, while St. George's spent £4,000, Bethnal Green spent so small a sum that it was included in the general rate for roads. Was there anything in the nature of things which should make it desirable that the scavenging of streets and the supervision of the local sewers should be better attended to in St. George's than in Bethnal Green? It was of at least as much importance, considering the danger 909 of contagious disease, that money should be spent in the sanitation of the poorer districts. He should like to know whether they were to condemn this Bill simply because of a few anomalies, which could be easily accounted for, and a few holes they could pick in it? He did not believe any more satisfactory test could be found than the one which had been adopted, and he believed the Bill would give more general satisfaction than the Common Poor Fund. It would lead to sanitary reform and to better administration throughout the parishes and districts of London, and he was not to be deterred from supporting it by the fact that a few isolated cases might be found in the length and breadth of the Metropolis where it might work with some hardship. To apply an old couplet—Whoever hopes a faultless tax to see, Hopes what never was, nor is, nor e'er will be.In regard to a London rate, it was impossible that they could make it absolutely just, and what they wanted to do was to make it practically equitable in its incidence. He believed that in a common sanitary rate as proposed in the Bill the best step was taken with a view to the improvement of the sanitary state of the Metropolis.
§ MR. R. G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
said, that he was in favour of the equalisation of rates, and when the question was discussed in this House no Conservative Member opposed it. This Bill, however, dealt with the question entirely on the basis of population. In a part of the borough he represented—namely, that portion known as Somers-town, from the fact that the Midland Railway Company had greatly encroached upon it, the population had materally decreased and shopkeepers experienced great difficulty in earning a living. What would be the result of this proposal of the Government? Why that these very shopkeepers from the fact that the population had decreased would not receive the equitable treatment to which they would have been entitled if they had remained in the district. In Islington and other parts where this population might have gone to, and which would not be poorer, but perhaps better off than St. Pancras, they would receive 3d. in the £1, whilst St. Pancras would only receive 1d. in the £1. If the Government had wished to draft a Bill for the fair equalisation of 910 rates in London they would not have considered solely and absolutely the question of population. They had had comparisons in regard to the expenditure on roads in Bethnal Green and St. George's, Hanover Square; but nobody had considered the width of the roads in St. George's, Hanover Square, or Bethnal Green, or the amount of the traffic over the roads. Again, as to the cost of dust removal, a great deal depended upon the facilities for this work, which varied very much in different districts. He contended that the equalisation of rates, to be just, should be based not solely on population, but on the amount of work which each district ought properly to answer for in regard to lighting, cleansing, and other sanitary matters. If a system of that sort were devised it would meet with approval on both sides. Regarding the rating of various districts of London, he did not think enough had been made of the fact that people who took houses of a certain description, say, in St. George's, Hanover Square, knew that they would have to pay from £50 to £65 per year for it, whereas in a poorer district they would only have to pay £40 for the same class of house. Assuming the rates in the latter district were 6s. in the £1 on £40, that would only cause the ratepayer to have to pay £12 a year, whereas if he had to pay for a similar house in St. George's, Hanover Square, only 5s. in the £1, that individual would have to pay in St. George's, Hanover Square, a sum of no less than £15. He would, again, like to point out that the leakages in the poorer districts were not so great as the leakages in the wealthier districts. In a great number of the wealthier districts of London houses were very difficult to let at the present time, whereas in the poorer districts there was no such difficulty experienced in the letting of small tenements. A system had grown up in the poorer districts of a sort of tenant right. That was to say, a tenant not wishing to remain in a house any longer, so to speak, sold his key to another tenant, and if the owner found the newcomer was a respectable man he very willingly accepted him as the new tenant. One of the greatest sources of leakage was the system of compounding. As a result of such system in some of the poorer districts of London where the rates were 911 nominally high, owners received an abatement of 25, and in some cases 30, per cent. in respect of a very large proportion of the houses rated in the district. In Bethnal Green there were 16,542 inhabited houses, and no fewer than 13,850, of which the rateable value did not exceed £20, received an abatement of 25 per cent. In Bromley, out of 9,000 houses and shops of all values, the owners of 7,937 received an abatement of 30 per cent., or a sum of very nearly £12,000. He could not understand for one moment why the Government had brought in this Bill at the present time. They knew that when the members of the London County Council put up for election they had various proposals to submit to the ratepayers. They were for rating all owners, for the taxation of ground values and various other matters, but there was no proposal for the equalisation of rates then brought before the Metropolis by the candidates for the County Council, and he ventured to say if this scheme now put forward by the Government was that of the County Council it was not one which would tend to increase their popularity. It was not by shifting the burdens from one class of ratepayers to another that they could relieve the ratepayers of London. There were poor people in all parts of London, even in St. George's, Hanover Square, and the real way to aid the ratepayers was by devising some tax by which they should receive a large sum of money without adding to the burdens either of themselves or any other ratepayers. By the action of hon. Members opposite, and also, he regretted to say, of some hon. Members who sat on his own side of the House, the Londoners lost £500,000 a year by their recklessly and foolishly doing away with the Coal and Wine Dues, that sum of money being, practically, absolutely thrown away. The scheme of the Government to take off one set of ratepayers the sum of £250,000 and put it on the shoulders of another set was only like taking money from one pocket and placing it in another. The net result of the Bill was to take £223,000 from the City and eight Vestries and to give it to 27 Vestries and District Boards. He maintained that the principle adopted in the Common Poor Fund with regard to the relief of the poor should be applied in this Bill with regard to road making and sanitary arrange- 912 ments, and observed it was a remarkable fact that several districts that now had to pay under the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund would receive under the scheme of the Bill. For instance, Islington, which now paid £14,000 in aid of this Common Poor Fund, was, under the scheme of the Government, to receive £21,000 in aid of local taxation. It was obvious, therefore, that this proposal of the Government could not be described as an extension of the Common Poor Fund, because it went in many districts totally against it. Some of the poorer districts in London had institutions which were not in their own, but in other districts. Take the parish of St. George's, Hanover Square. As a matter of fact, a great portion of their paupers were in the parish of Chelsea.
§ SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
The workhouse is in the parish of St. George's; it is tinder their own control.
§ MR. R. G. WEBSTER
expressed the opinion that his statement would be found to be correct, and, if so, could there be a greater anomaly than that the parish of St. George's, Hanover Square, having to pay for their paupers residing in the parish of Chelsea, that these paupers should be counted in the population of Chelsea, and the parish of St. George's should not only have to maintain the paupers in their particular buildings, but should then have to pay the parish of Chelsea a sum of money for the paupers being in their district? There seemed to him a subtle element of irony in the suggestion, which only those who had thought the question over could thoroughly appreciate. He would like to point out that there were several parishes in London—such as St. James's—which had to spend large sums in the maintenance of roads, because these roads, owing to their situation, were used not only by the inhabitants of the district, but by the people of London generally; and it was manifestly unfair that if their rating was low these very ratepayers in these districts should have to pay in aid of outside parishes who had no such expenditure with regard to roads. There were certain parishes in London, such as the riverside parishes, where the day population was much larger than the night population. He contended that the day population had much greater 913 requirements than the night population. The day population required the cleansing of the streets, the maintenance of the roads, and absolute sanitation, and as they did not return to their homes till 8 or 9 o'clock at night they required, especially during the winter mouths, efficient lighting of the streets. Therefore, by dealing with this question solely on the basis of population, it would not only hit the City very badly, but also a vast number of poorer parishes, especially in the East End of London, where a large number of workmen were employed during the day, but slept elsewhere at night. His greatest objection to the Bill was that it provided for no control whatever over the expenditure of the grants from the equalisation fund similar to the check which was placed on Boards of Guardians receiving contributions from the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund or otherwise. For years past the Local Authorities in London had been obliged to send in to the Local Government Board Taxation Returns in which was given from time to time the amount of their average expenditure. He ventured to say that if these Returns were carefully investigated by a strong Parliamentary Committee a standard might be devised by which each area would receive an adequate amount from the common fund for sanitary purposes. In the case of Local Authorities in London, the County Council, no doubt, had some authority; they could, for instance, examine all the loans proposed by them; but when the argument was adduced that one district had spent 6s. or 7s. in the £1 and another only 4s. or 5s., he thought they ought to examine how much public work had been done in the one district and in the other, for very likely in the latter district the ratepayers had not expended large amounts in the luxury of a new town hall, electric lighting, and other things that the other districts had indulged in. As a matter of fact, under the proposed scheme the district that had been economical, and had done its best to keep its rates down, would be made to pay for the extravagance of another part of the Metropolis. They did not know exactly in this matter whether the Government proposed to take into consideration at some future stage of the Bill the actual work that had been done in the district or whether they did not. The Government 914 based their proposals mainly on the question of population, and what would be the result of that? He feared that it would have the effect of causing people to crowd into districts like Islington, which was already overcrowded, where the rates were lower than elsewhere in the Metropolis, with the result that overcrowding would be intensified, and this, of course, would be contrary to the true principles of sanitation. They had recently had some knowledge of a fearful plague in Hong Kong—a place he had visited more than once. That scourge was due simply to the population being too crowded together. The streets were too narrow and the people were herded together in such a way that no proper sanitary work could be done. If they based the Bill upon population they ran the risk of making some of the districts of London more overcrowded than they were at present. He had ventured to prepare some Amendments which he would move if the Bill passed the Second Reading. He would suggest that the lines upon which they should proceed in this matter should be that an equal charge should be put upon all ratepayers in London for similar services rendered by the Local Authority, taking into account the work they had done and the work they ought to do in connection with the removal of dust, scavenging, painting, lighting, and the supervision of the work of sanitation. This Bill, though it professed to be a Bill to take money away from the wealthy part, of London and give it to the poorer, did not altogether do that. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board whether he maintained that Islington was a poorer district than Bermondsey or Fulham or Rotherhithe? What would happen after the Bill became law? Why, Islington would only have to pay 4s. 11½d., whereas Bermondsey would have to pay 7s., or 2s. more. Fulham—in which there were a large number of poor—would have to pay 6s. 6d., and Rotherhithe 6s. 8d. He maintained that Bermondsey, Fulham, and Rotherhithe needed a greater measure of relief than the comparatively speaking, wealthy district of Islington. He had asked the question, and he had been unable to solve it in his mind, why the Government had brought in a Bill. Could it be that they simply desired to put it before Members, to have it discussed 915 in a perfunctory way, and then to drop it after the Second Reading, as they had dropped other measures? Their object in that case could only be to secure votes in some of the districts of London. The system the Government proposed would be so little under the control of a Central Authority that he believed, if it were adopted, it would cause extravagance all over London. He could scarcely believe that the Government had brought in the Bill as a bribe to certain districts in the Metropolis with a view to obtaining Party support; but he could not help perceiving that they were very willing to transfer money from one class of people to another, as was shown not only by this Bill, but by the Evicted Tenants' Bill. Although his constituents would be benefited nominally by the Bill—and the benefit would only be nominal, for though St. Pancras would gain 1d. in the £1 after the first year, it would lose 2d. or 3d. on the general aggregation of rates—yet he could not see his way to accept that benefit unless it was given in a fair and equitable way. If such an equalisation scheme as he had ventured to suggest—a scheme by which the actual work done in the district and the actual requirements were taken into consideration—were adopted, he thought that much better results would be attained. He looked at the matter not from a local, but from a Metropolitan point of view, and he contended that the present scheme, based as it was solely on population, was inequitable and unjust, and would prove completely unworkable.
§ MR. W. SAUNDERS (Newington, Walworth)
said, the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill had informed them that he did so in consequene of the Resolution passed by the House in February last year proposing or urging on the House the necessity of making provision for the equalisation of rates in London. This Bill did not give effect to that Resolution. Only in a small degree would it operate, and in no degree did it recognise those important causes which brought about an inequality of rating from which so much injustice and suffering arose to the industrial classes of London. The action of the Bill was limited to areas and amounts, and it did not apply to those more important inequalities which arose from various causes, one of which was inequality in the method of assessment. 916 The method of assessment varied in different localities, and inquiries that had been made by the County Council showed that throughout the Metropolitan area there was a great tendency to undervalue large properties. These large properties were under valued to the extent of at least £2,000,000, and the ratepayers of London lost £500,000 per annum from that circumstance alone. Surely a Bill which did not take such an important circumstance into account could scarcely be regarded as carrying out the Resolution of the House. The inequalities applied to all areas, and the mere shifting of the rate from one area to another would not in any way lead to an adjustment of the most serious inequalities. If the House had resolved that it was necessary to make provision for the purification of the Thames it would not have been sufficent merely to introduce a Bill which would provide for the taking up of a spoonful of mud from the lower part of the Thames, and carrying it to the upper part. Such, however, was practically what this Bill did. In the district in which he lived the inequalities of assessment were amazing. Where a mansion was surrounded by 10 acres of land, those 10 acres would be rated at £4 an acre, but the land adjoining the house of a tradesman, surrounded by one acre only, would be rated at £80. When these large properties came into the market and artizans' dwellings were built upon them the rating immediately went up from £4 to £80 an acre. These were the inequalities to which he wished the Government had addressed themselves. The present method of taxation not only imposed upon the ratepayers the whole burden of the cost of improvements, but compelled them to pay in rent of land the value which these improvements created. Some time ago the County Council established a free ferry at Woolwich; that ferry was maintained at the expense of the ratepayers, and the result of its establishment was a large increase in the value of the neighbouring land. The County Council afterwards required 11 acres of land near the ferry for the purpose of an open space, and they had to pay £5,500 more for that land, because they had established the free ferry. The ratepayers of London, therefore, had first of all to pay the full cost of improvements to the rate collector, and then they had to pay to the rent collector the value which they added to land. The rates 917 in London amounted to something like £8,000,000 per annum. Without the expenditure of those rates for the purpose of improvements and maintenance there would be no value in the land of London; and yet, in addition to paying £8,000,000 in rates which created the value of the land, the ratepayers had to pay £18,000,000 annually in land rent. Surely it was inadequate to present to the House a Bill which merely transferred from one district to another a few pounds annually of the large amount paid, and left the incidence of taxation precisely as it was now. The County Council had urged upon the Government the absolute necessity of taxing the value of land, which was of far greater importance than the mere distribution of rates according to population. The Government had pledged themselves—and he thought that without that pledge they certainly would never have attained power—to the taxation of those values which were created and improved by the expenditure of the rates. Until this was done there could be no pretence that there was anything like equalisation of rates throughout London. If a park were opened and people wished to live in the neighbourhood of the park, although they had already fully paid the cost of providing it, they found they had to pay an additional £5 or £10 a year for a small house or perhaps £20 or £30 a year for a larger house because of the outlay they, as ratepayers, had made upon the park. The right hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) said in reference to the Thames Embankment that the tradesmen and working men of London had paid for that improvement, but that the landlords of London had benefited by it, and that the landlords of London ought to have paid for it. He extremely regretted that he had not had the full opportunity afforded to him to give the Government his cordial support in reference to taxation. He thought that the introduction of this Bill was intended to give the idea that something had been done towards the fulfilment of the Government promises of the adjustment of taxation. As a matter of fact, the Bill did not make the slightest approach towards the fulfilment of those promises, as it did not alter the incidence of taxation in the slightest degree. The Bill altered the distribution of taxation in an infinitesimal 918 degree, but this did not in any way fulfil the promises of the Government. He did not know whether the Government would have a further opportunity of fulfilling their pledges. They had already had unlimited opportunities of doing so. No one could deny that the equalisation of rates throughout London and the adjustment of taxation were the topics that occupied the minds of the electors during the last election, and he felt certain that the present Government would never have been placed in power if it had not been for these pledges. This Bill did not in the slightest degree approach that. The claim they had always had on the Government for an adjustment of taxation and an equalisation of rates would be the same after the Bill was passed as it was now. Unless the House kept that in mind this Bill would prove an injury to London rather than a benefit. He trusted that the electors and the Government would see that the fulfilment of Ministerial pledges in reference to taxation was a matter of absolute necessity, as far as the ratepayers of London were concerned. He hoped that the Government would give him and others who desired to do so an opportunity of supporting them in an attempt to carry out their promises.
§ MR. BURDETT-COUTTS (Westminster)
said, he hoped he would not be accused of arguing this matter upon any local or individual basis if he made one or two references to the constituency which he represented, and which he might be pardoned for considering the most intelligent and enlightened in the Metropolis. At any rate, it was one towards which, he believed, Members of the House might entertain some tender feelings, as they spent so many happy hours within its precincts. He only desired to refer to the district of Westminster as entirely destroying any idea that the basis of the Bill, or the result of it, was to make a rich district contribute in aid of poor districts. The right hon. Gentleman who brought in the Bill included Westminster amongst the rich districts, and it seemed to him (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) that the right hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the constituency must have been confined to walking down Victoria Street. If he had extended his peregrinations between that thoroughfare and the river he would have found a great number of very poor people with whom the 919 struggle for existence was as keen as in any part of the Metropolis, and who would not be able to get over the cardinal feature of the Bill, which he himself (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) could not get over—namely, that each one of these poor and struggling people would have to pay 2½d. in the £1 extra rating, which would go to relieve better-to-do people in Islington, and in other parts of the Metropolis. He opposed this Bill, because he considered it a very bad, unfair, and unjust Bill, and he believed sufficient criticism had been passed in the House, since the Bill was introduced yesterday, to establish this proposition very amply and fully. He did not propose to go over the various points of weakness or injustice which had been made very apparent in the course of debate. It was extremely difficult at this period of the Debate to say anything that had not already been said; but there were one or two points which, he believed, had not been brought before the attention of the House. The Bill was, of course, founded on the hypothesis that there were inequalities in the local rates. It seemed to him that before that proposition could be properly established they required a re-valuation of property in London. Taking the existing state of things in regard to valuation, it was unfortunate to have this Bill brought in a year before, and not after, the quinquennial valuation. But apart from that, it seemed to him a more complete, a more uniform, system of assessment was urgently needed throughout London, and until they obtained some such system it was impossible to find out what the real burden of taxation upon any particular district was. He (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) would favour an Amendment (which he was quite sure the right hon. Gentleman who brought in the Bill would not accept) that the operation of the Bill should be postponed until some such uniform system of assessment in London had been established. Moreover, in any measure of equalisation the amount of the local rate and especially of the local debt should be taken into consideration. The weak point in the present Bill was that neither of these were considered. A parish might have a rate of 20s. in the £1, and a debt of £1,000,000 sterling; but unless its population was greater and more dense than the population of neighbouring parishes, it 920 would receive no relief. If financial relief was to be given to any parishes it should be given to those where the expenditure was large, the rate high, and the debt considerable, and not to those in which one could count most heads. There was another point of great importance with regard to the Census if the basis of population, which was the worst conceivable, was to be taken. In common fairness there should be a special census for London for the purposes of dealing with this question, and it should not be a night census, at least in the central parishes. The last Census was taken upon a holiday, and was altogether misleading so far as the West End was concerned. For instance, the parishes of St. Margaret and St. John had a population nominally of 55,000 to provide sanitation and roads for. The real population for which they had to provide was more than 100,000. These figures had been carefully computed, and it seemed to him (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) very unfair that the provision for relief in this Bill should rest upon such an unsound basis. Of course, the City supplied a still more glaring instance of this unfair computation. There was another point in connection with this question of population. The Census took place every 10 years. The rating was, of course, altered every year. Now, it was quite possible that a parish which was now overcrowded might greatly alter and decrease in population, and yet the fact would not be established, as bearing upon the relief given by this Bill, until eight or nine years had passed over. He did not want to trouble the House with mere theories. He would state a fact. In Westminster, the site of Millbank was to be devoted to the erection of model lodging - houses, barracks, &c. This would mean an increase to the population of Westminster of from 4,000 to 5,000 souls. This increase would not be taken into account until the year 1901; but every year the rateable value in West-minister increased by £20,000 a year. Therefore, while Westminster (which he only mentioned for the purpose of illustration) was deprived of the aids to which it would be entitled by reason of the increase of population, it would be mulcted on its increased rating more and more every year in sums which would be given to parishes whose populations might be decreasing, and where the need might be much less than in the parish or 921 district from which the money came. He thought that, for the purposes of this Bill, a Census should be taken every year. He believed the whole principle of the Bill was a bad one. It seemed to him local government was only conducted with economy, because those who spent the money were responsible to those who found it. This Bill violated this cardinal principal of local government. He (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) could suggest to the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill one or two ways in which the Government might have rendered good service to the ratepayers without introducing a scheme so full of unfairness and injustice. They might have given to London the £166,000 on account of Probate, Customs, and Excise Duties, and £6,000 on account of criminal jurisdiction, which Mr. Gomme, the statistician of the London County Council, had estimated London was entitled to receive. This would have gone far toward raising the sum of £200,000 provided by this august Bill. He (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) would venture to suggest another method. It might possibly be said this method would bear more favourably toward the district he represented than toward any other. But it might be news to some hon. Members that Government property was rated in an entirely different manner from property in the occupation of ordinary tenants. For instance, the value upon which the Government contributed to the rates of Westminster was £53,000, but the value of their property was over £200,000. He would give a special illustration of this under-valuation of Government property. On one side of Bridge Street (the Government side), Government property was valued at £300 an acre, and private property on the other side at the rate of £17,000 an acre. That was an extraordinary difference. The Treasury buildings in Whitehall were paying on a value of £4,600, whereas the County Council valuer had estimated the value of the site alone, as distinct from the buildings, at more than double that sum. Surely the Government might turn their attention to the need of some readjustment of the principle on which they paid rates on their own property. The whole principle of the Bill, he repeated, appeared to him to be destructive of the real principle of local government. 922 Local government, so far as he understood it, implied the raising of money from a certain set of individuals to be expended for the benefit of those individuals, and by representatives who were responsible to those individuals. If, on the one hand, they took money which was contributed by certain people out of the control of those people, and if, on the other hand, they placed in the hands of a Local Authority money which had been contributed from a source to which they were not responsible, they seemed to be violating the cardinal principle of local government. He (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) envied hon. Members who, representing constituencies and districts which would receive a benefit under this Bill, had been able to get up and oppose the Bill. These opportunities of heroic self-sacrifice before an appreciative audience were so rare and so attractive that he would gladly have supported the Bill—although he represented a district which was heavily mulcted by it—if it had been a fair and just Bill. But he was strongly opposed to it, because he considered it unfair and unjust, and a Bill, he could not help thinking, that had been brought forward for other purposes than those of the relief of the ratepayers of London.
§ SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)
said, he agreed entirely with the last speaker that this was a useless Bill in dealing with the taxation of London. Though his constituency would receive one of the largest sums of money under the proposal, the scheme was, in his opinion, altogether wrong, and the gauge to be used for estimating the proportion of the grant to be made to the different districts was one that ought never to have been adopted. What had the number of the population of a district to do with the question of the maintenance of the streets, and such matters as lighting and paving. They were told that there was no other gauge by which to arrive at the proper amounts to be received by each district. It was certainly time that they should have a better equalisation of rates, and he had no objection to the proposal that, a common fund should be formed out of which to defray the sanitary, lighting, and paving expenses of the Metropolis. The proposed rate of 6d. in the £1 was not unreasonable, nor would the fund thus formed be any too large for the purposes for which it was to 923 be applied. There were other means by which the desired object of the Bill could have been carried out. A very simple way of arriving at the amount to be received by the different parishes would be to take the returns of each parish of the amount expended respectively on sanitary work during the last 12 months. The figures so obtained could be treated as the basis upon which grants should be made. A sum could then fairly be allotted from the main fund to the districts thus shown as needing the grant, and any adjustment that might afterwards be necessary could be made at the quinquennial valuation. The Bill was evidently brought forward to help some parishes which were suffering a good deal from the rapid increase in their rates, and no doubt a more equal distribution of the burdens of London was necessary. No reason, however, had been brought forward by the Government to show the necessity of at once proceeding to equalise the rates, and it would best perform its duty by re-organising the taxation of London. This was clearly a "haste" Bill. If the plan he had suggested was adopted, an Instruction could be given to the Committee to distribute the fund in proportion to the cost for sanitary work that had been incurred by each parish that could claim it for the year ending April 6, 1894. No extra cost would be incurred under that plan, and a far more just distribution would really be made than could be the case if the distribution were made on the proposed population basis. A readjustment could be made every five years. There would be more sense in that arrangement than in the proposal of the Bill, which did not provide for a census being taken for the purposes of estimating the grant, and therefore it would have to be calculated on the out-of-date returns of the Census of 1891. Nothing improved the value of property in a neighbourhood more than a perfect system of lighting and paving, and whatever sum was spent in that way by the Local Authorities was got back again by the increase in the rates which the enhanced value of the property gave. In 1881 the number of persons who slept in the City of London was returned at 50,000; in 1891 that number had fallen to 37,000. Surely no one could argue for a moment that the cost of maintaining the streets of London 924 was less now than it was 10 years ago, and yet the City was to receive a quarter less. Therefore, it seemed to him that to base the proportion of the fund on the returns of the persons who slept in a particular district was absurd. That fallacy was equally obvious when the test was applied to outlying parishes, where the major part of the working population left in the day to attend to their business, for it certainly could not be said that their return home in the evening materially increased the cost of maintaining the streets. If the test he had suggested was substituted for that of population, then he thought that not only would the Bill be a useful one to Londoners, but that the scope of the Bill should be extended so as to deal directly with the whole expenditure of the rates. Members on that side of the House hoped that when the Government brought in a Bill dealing with the question, it would have been a practical measure that they could have supported on its merits, instead of the present absurd proposal, which seemed to have been framed solely to please certain members of the London County Council, whose constituencies would considerably benefit by this particular method of calculation. The idea of equalisation of rates had been accepted on that side of the House, and he had not heard of a single Member of the Party to which he belonged who did not acknowledge that something should be done in that direction; but all were agreed that the subject was one that should be carefully considered, and those who had spoken against the Bill had done so because they felt that the measure would in no way meet the difficulty. It would, in fact, make things worse than they were at present. He was surprised that a Government that boasted so much about being trusted by the people did not dare, in return, to trust the expenditure of the fund to the London County Council, or some other important body, and leave it with them to see that it was honestly and properly expended. Unless an assurance were given that the Government intended to alter some of the provisions of the Bill, he should certainly vote against the Second Reading, because, as he had said, he believed that the Bill would do more harm than good, and would delay rather than advance the reform in the present system of London 925 rates which they desired so sincerely should be carried out. He trusted that the Party to which he belonged would make it thoroughly understood that they accepted the idea of the equalisation of rates, though they did not believe in the question being properly dealt with by such a Bill, which was founded on a bad gauge and an improper division of the money to be devoted to these purposes.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
A good many references have been made to myself in the course of this Debate—references of a double character. Allusions have been made to my being the Representative of St. George's, Hanover Square, a parish that will have to contribute £30,000 to the proposed fund, of which £20,000 is going to be handed over to Islington; and, in the second place, references have been made to me as one who has dealt in former times with the equalisation of rates, and as one who has claimed to have been—and who ventures to claim that he is still—a reformer with regard to municipal finance. If hon. Members think that my double capacity as Ex-President of the Poor Law Board and Representative of St. George's, Hanover Square, places me in a position of difficulty, I can assure them that that is not the case. To deal first with the personal reference, I may say that I had the honour to pass the Act of 1869, which I am glad to think has relieved the parish of Bethnal Green by 2s. 7d. At that time I was a Member for the City of London, which contributed a very considerable portion of the amount which was then distributed among the poorer parishes in the Metropolis. As at the time when I was a Member for the City I was able to view the situation with an open mind, so I trust, as Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, I shall be able to take a broad and open view of this or any attempt to reform municipal finance. We have had in the last two days a novel and, I think, a refreshing experience. We have had a real Debate on the question. It has not been a Debate, like too many we have had of late, where the discussion has been mainly confined to one side. But Members from all parts of the Metropolis have felt that here was a question in which their constituencies were interested, and in which their duty to their constituents required them to interpose. I congratulate the House on that 926 fact, and on the further fact that, though in this Debate it may have been said that wealth and poverty are opposed in the consideration of the question, we have had no reproaches flung to and fro with regard to the selfishness of the one or the greediness of the other. Though we have argued the matter with reference to the particular gain or loss of particular constituencies, nevertheless the question of administration has been kept to the front in the bulk of the speeches. I hope, however, hon. Members will turn their attention to this point—that the gain to these constituencies will be a loss to the Metropolis, and ultimately to those constituencies themselves, unless the Bill so hedges round the expenditure of the further funds placed at their disposal as to secure increased efficiency and the proper disposal of the money. There is no point in the Bill to which wise criticism can be more profitably directed. No security whatever is taken in the Bill to secure increased efficiency or even to secure that the money which is intended for purposes of sanitation should increase the efficiency of that sanitation. That is a great defect in the Bill. Now, Sir, the Debates of 1869 have been referred to. In 1869 the extension of the principle of a common burden imposed for the metropolitan poor was carried out. It was said that in those Debates exactly the same things were said as were being said to-day; but as the responsible Minister of that day I used different language from that which is used by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The hon. Member for the Cirencester Division of Gloucestershire, who made an able speech, quoted the actual words which I then used, and the word "control" is in the passage. The word "control" was prominent in those Debates, because in imposing additional burdens on the richer parts of the Metropolis it was the aim of the Administration of the day—an aim in which they have been successful—that the further burden placed on the wealthier parishes should have the effect of raising the Poor Law administration. I shall have to examine the Bill from that point of view, and to ask what securities we have in this respect in the measures before us. I think it is satisfactory that there has been a general agreement on both sides of the House that further equalisation, properly carried out, is desirable. 927 There has been no opposition to this principle from any hon. Member on this side of the House, and I am far from being an exception. I admit the fact that there ought to be no further equalisation; I admit the fact that the passing of the Public Health Act, imposing higher requirements as to sanitary affairs, has placed a burden upon the poorer parishes of the East End with regard to which they may fairly look for some assistance. I acknowledge that, and I acknowledge, with other Members, that the question of the sanitation of London is not a local one for any particular district. Disease in any part of the Metropolis—in the East End or in the poor parts of the south side of the river—is a matter of Metropolitan concern; therefore, as regards the general objects of further equalisation with regard to sanitation, I say, as representing one of the wealthiest parishes of the Metropolis, that I am with the House in general; and I am glad that hon. Members whose constituencies will be hit by this scheme have not shrunk from declaring that they, too, will be prepared to advance in the direction indicated—of assisting the poorer portions of the Metropolis in carrying out sanitation, if all such securities are taken as can be taken with regard to the case of the Poor Law. The House will see that I have insisted on control. It is essential that we should look at the Bill from that point of view, and it will be seen that from that point of view it is thoroughly defective. I pass now from the general question to the consideration of some points raised by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill. He devoted a considerable portion of his speech to bringing before the notice of the House those inequalities in rating with which we are all familiar. It is admitted that those inequalities exist. In some parishes the rates reach beyond 7s., and in others they sink to 4s. In explaining the reasons of those inequalities, the right hon. Gentleman referred to a point which has excited some interest in the course of the Debate, and that is the unequal valuation which he believes to exist in different parts of the Metropolis. Hon. Members on both sides of the House seem to have admitted that the present system of valuation is not fair. I regret it is not perfect, but I can assure hon. Members that the present system of valua- 928 tion is now perfection when it is compared with the state of things 20 or 25 years ago, when the Government of which I was a Member passed a measure affecting the valuation of the Metropolis. That was an honest and, on the whole, a fairly successful attempt to secure a generally fair valuation of the Metropolis. There was one point in the measure which was criticised at that time; the surveyor of taxes was brought in, and he was to have a voice, so that he might be sure that there would be no undue exemption with regard to valuation in any parish. I should have thought, considering that surveyors of taxes are men of considerable ability and severity, they would have seen that in every parish the valuation had been raised to the proper height, and I was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman holds that so much requires to be done. But if much has to be done, then the proposals for further equalisation of rates should be accompanied by provisions introduced not by the County Council or by a private Member, but on the responsibility of the Government, dealing with valuation and securing that uniformity which is essential if we are to make progress in the direction of equalising the rates in the Metropolis. If you wish to do this, while at the same time holding out the differences of rates as they affect the poor, you are bound to remove all imperfections which decrease confidence in the figure of that rate per £1. If valuations are imperfect, of course comparisons as to the rates in the £1 are useless. The second point is this, How far is the apparent inequality in rating due to the system of compounding? There, again, I say, if there is to be further progress in the direction of equalising the rates, it will become a question for Metropolitan Members to consider whether that system of compounding should not be so revised as to secure much greater uniformity than at present exists in the different parishes. I think it is essential in London to continue the system of compounding; but it cannot be right that in two parishes contiguous to each other allowances of a totally different character should be granted to the owners of property. Is it not time, looking at the period which has passed since the Compounding Acts were passed, to consider in the interests of the 929 parishes and of the ratepayers themselves whether the gain given to the owners is not larger than the risks which they have taken on their shoulders in the parishes? I do not know whether the matter has ever been investigated with regard to the 30 per cent. which has been mentioned, but it would be interesting to ascertain whether it is, in practice, worth the while of the parish to give the present percentage to the landlord who compounds for his rates. That is a point which deserves the attention of this House. I am bound to say that I am astonished at the information that has reached me upon this subject. My information is to the effect that in a district like Bethnal Green out of some 15,000 houses 13,850 are compounded for, and that in consequence the landlords of those compounding houses pay 25 per cent. less rates than the nominal amount of the rates. Thus the total amount of the rates actually received is less by nearly one-quarter than their nominal amount. Therefore, I want to ask whether, in the districts where compounding prevails, will not the owner and not the occupier profit by any relief that is given to the rates? In Bromley, for instance, where 8,000 out of 9,000 houses receive an abatement, the actual rates paid represent 5s. 10d. in the £1, instead of the nominal 7s. in the £1 at which the parish is assessed. Again, in Poplar, the rates paid are less by 15 per cent. than the amount of the assessment. I say that to contrast the nominal amounts of the rates of such parishes with those of the parishes in which compounding does not exist is to compare like with unlike, and is misleading this House. In approaching the question of the equalisation of the rates we ought to be careful to see that both valuation and compounding are taken into account. I do not think that there can be any difference of opinion among hon. Members who represent Metropolitan constituencies with regard to the two subjects of valuation and compounding. I now come to another question, which has been suggested to my mind by the consideration of the principle of compounding—it is an old question, which has often been discussed in this House—I mean the question of who pays the rates. That is a question which, in considering the subject of the 930 equalisation of rates, cannot be put out of sight. It has been admitted by every speaker, with one exception, that this is a Bill intended to relieve the ratepayers and not owners. But it has been stated generally on both sides of the House that it is occupiers and not owners who are interested in the amount of the rates. It is now some 20 years since I contended in this House that, in parishes where there is a demand for house property, the owner, even where compounding exists, is able to get from the occupier the main portion of any increase which may be made in the rates. ["Hear, hear!"] I hope when I come to another view of this subject by-and-bye none of the hon. Members who say "Hear, hear" to that proposition will endeavour to slip away from it, because, if it be true that the occupier pays a considerable portion of the rates, it is the occupier and not the owner who will have to pay any increase in the rates. In that case it is the occupier, and not the owner, who will have to contribute towards any increase in the local burdens of the Metropolis. This is a very serious matter. It is a very poor consolation to an occupier who is asked to pay increased rates that, inasmuch as his owner is exacting a high rent from him, he is living in a wealthy parish. I hope I have made my point clear. It is because his rent is so high that he is asked to pay higher rates in order to relieve those whose rents are lower and whose rates are, therefore, lower. In seeking to equalise rates, therefore, if great caution is not exercised great injustice may be done, because those who are compelled to pay high rents may also be compelled to pay increased rates, which will go to relieve those who for the same amount of accommodation pay lower rents and, therefore, lower rates. This shows the difficulty inherent in the whole case. If the principle of this Bill were pressed too far all the occupants of the smaller class of houses in the so-called richer districts of the Metropolis would be penalised. In the case of St. George's, Hanover Square—the House will, perhaps, pardon me for introducing in this discussion the case of my own constituency—there are occupiers who are in a worse position than a similar class in any other part of the Metropolis. Out of a total of 12,300 houses 931 in that district 5,800 have a rental below £50 a year. In Kensington, out of 23,000 tenants, 13,000 are below £20 in value. A struggling tradesman who has difficulty in earning his livelihood pays £60 a year rent for a house and shop in St. George's, Hanover Square, which he would only have to pay £45 a year for in another part of London. Although his rates are nominally less than in other Metropolitan districts, he will, taking that rate at 5s. in the £1, have to pay £15 a year in rates, whereas in another district the man whose rates are, say, 6s. in the £1, and who pays only £45 a year rent for the same accommodation, will only pay £12 a year for rates. Every hon. Member who represents a Metropolitan constituency ought to bear that fact in mind. Every artizan or small tradesman who lives in St. George's, Hanover Square, or in Kensington, will have to pay heavier rates under this Bill than similar classes will have to pay in happy Islington, while they have the disadvantage of paying a higher rent to their owners. See how that must come home to the struggling tradesman when he has his rates raised 4d. or 5d. in the £1, especially when the tradesman in Islington gets a reduction of 3d. in his rates, and at the same time pays a much lower rent. I have ventured to call attention to this point not merely as the Representative of St. George's, Hanover Square, but in the general interest of the Metropolis. It is our duty, while endeavouring to do justice, to be extremely careful that we do not perpetrate in new injustice in seeking to bring about equalisation. I now turn to a different point. We have in the past generally proceeded on the principle of equalisation where there was the double condition of a common purpose and a common necessity, and on the other side the possibility of control and security against extravagance. We have gone in the direction of a common poor fund, or of a common fund by which the poorer districts could be relieved; we have centralised in dealing with such matters as lunacy, education, police, and fire brigades; but in all those cases you have either got the control of a central authority like the Local Government Board, or you have a central authority like the County Council; or you have taken precautions that there should be no excess by limiting the assistance of the 932 Poor Law. There is no precedent—and here I take exception to the Bill—where there has been a grant in aid unaccompanied by any precautions in the Bill for the scale of expenditure, for efficiency, or, in fact, for any expenditure at all. Therefore, I say that I hesitate very much to accept a precedent of this kind. I now pass from Poor Law purposes to municipal purposes, and here I find that there are three points to consider in connection with the Bill—the mode of distribution, the purposes to which the money is to be applied, and the authorities who administer it. All these are, as hon. Members will see, extremely important points. A matter which has been very fully discussed, and which requires discussion, is whether the test of the population is a fair test. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has been driven to the population test by his inability to find any other. I frankly admit that it is an extremely difficult thing to find a method of distribution at once just, safe, and wise. The late Government, when they had occasion to look into the matter, examined the test of population, and were convinced, with the best means at their disposal to assist them, that the test of population would land us in every kind of anomaly. We did not, therefore, accept the population test. This Debate has, moreover, proved conclusively that, whatever kind of test might be applied, the population test, taken by itself, must break down. So much has been said on the subject that I will not dwell long on the question of population. The hon. Member for St. George's-in-the-East spoke of the numbers of people who had been "thrust forth" from certain parishes, and he said that my own parish had thrust forth its population to the extent of 10,000, while the City had "thrust forth" 13,000; and the hon. Member urged that those districts which had so thrust forth large numbers of their population ought to be penalised. I should like the House to hear the state of my own constituency. The Census of 1891, I would remind the House, was taken on the first Sunday after Easter. You could not have had a worse day as a test. Many residents were away from London, not having returned from their holidays. Moreover, the larger houses in my district are occupied by 933 persons whose residence in London is chiefly confined to the London season. To base a test upon that Census would be extremely unjust to the poorer parishioners. In 1871 the population of St. George's, Hanover Square, was 89,000, and between that time and 1881 it was practically stationary. But in 1891 the figure was only 78,000—an apparent decrease of 11,000. The medical officer for the parish states, however, that he knows no reason for believing that such a decrease in population has really taken place. A large number of persons are out of town on a Sunday, and, the day chosen being the Sunday after Easter, many of the inhabitants had not returned from their holidays. This shows the danger of accepting the Census taken on that particular day as the standard for distribution. There had, no doubt, been large clearances, but there are now large constructions going on, under the auspices of the Duke of Westminster, where thousands of the working classes will come in a year or so—some have already returned—and these poor people will find that they will have to pay a higher rate than before owing to the passing of this Bill, and simply because the Census was taken before the dwellings were erected. The Member for St. George's-in-the-East also spoke of the City having "thrust out" a great many persons. What is the cause there? The language used by the hon. Member and others jarred upon me considerably. They spoke of magnificent buildings displacing the artizans and the working classes. Why are those buildings magnificent? It is in order that the employés who work in them should be enabled to enjoy, in a greatly increased degree, the comforts of civilisation. It is to the public spirit of their employers that the construction of these better buildings is due. Great clearances have been made in the City for a great railway station. Do hon. Members opposite represent that if a Railway Company is obliged to make a clearance in order to obtain facilities to bring into London large numbers of artizans and others, and to enable the workers in the Metropolis to pass to and fro freely to their work and to their homes, that then the richer toilers are "thrusting forth" their poorer fellow-labourers? All this is to the advantage of commerce; and the 934 advantage of commerce is the advantage of the poorer population. It is to the advantage of everyone in the City that that there should be proximity and accessibility to all the various centres of activity. I have thought it right to animadvert on this line of argument, because I do wish that the County Councillors would not act and speak in the interest of any particular class, but would remember that they represent the Metropolis as a whole. I wish that they would rise to a more general conception of what is in the interest of that great Metropolis which they represent. It is said that the night population is sufficient for the purposes of calculation, and very curious arguments have been addressed to the House to-day on the subject. Do you accept the principle of the population test for all purposes? No. In some cases you do not, because in some cases that test would not give you money enough—if you were to take the day population of the City, for instance. I really think that the instruction given by the Government to the draftsmen of this measure was to prepare a Bill so that the City should have to pay £100,000, and St. George's, Hanover Square, a proportionately large amount. You talk of sanitation. Do hon. Members opposite admit that the persons who frequent the City by day require sanitation? I presume that you would admit that bad drains and smells would kill the day population just as much as it would kill the night population. Then you ought to regard the matter from the point of view of what is the necessary sanitation for a great city, looking to the vast population of that city. The paving of the City and the lighting of the City are of great interest to the day population. It is not for the sake of the caretakers and night population alone that these things are necessary. I am taking the broader ground. Is the principle of population generally to be adopted? On what ground is it to be adopted? And, if it is to be taken as the test, will you not have this difficulty: that you will find that the most overcrowded districts will be the lowest rated and it is just to those districts that people will flock. There are two kinds of poverty in the Metropolis. There are two kinds of poor districts to be considered; the first are the districts which receive all the waifs 935 and strays of the Metropolis, the districts to which the decayed members of the population flock from all parts, and which are undoubtedly overcrowded; and the other parts of London, which also deserve your consideration, are those where the population is falling off owing to want of prosperity, and where the tradesmen see that there are no customers who flock to their shops, and that the streets are comparatively deserted, because their industries have passed away from them. Yet the streets have to be lighted and paved as before. It is just these districts that will be badly treated under this Bill. I hope the House will admit with me that in arguing the matter on the grounds that I have chosen I have not brought myself within the complaint made against some hon. Members, that they have argued the question in too much detail. So far as I go I have not attempted to go into the matter as a question between one constituency and another; but I have attempted to show that the principle of population is a dangerous one to introduce for the first time, because, if you accept a principle of this kind in an emergency and with a desire to meet a temporary demand for relief for poorer districts, it is then made a precedent for the future, and you are told that the House has already accepted the principle. Against that principle we shall protest to the last, and we shall continue to do so in Committee, if this Bill reaches Committee. It is a matter of the deepest importance. It need not involve Party strife or contention between different parts of the Metropolis, but still the principle is a dangerous one to introduce. Considering the number of examples that have been given by other speakers, I will spare the House more than one illustration. Fulham now has a rate of 6s. 9d.; it gains 3¼d., and that will reduce the rate to 6s. 5¾d. Camberwell is less highly rated; its rate is 6s.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Possibly; I cannot say for certain; and Fulham may be rising too; but for purposes of comparison we must take the same year for all. The House must deal with the figures placed before it.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
I used in all cases the figures for last year, and the rate for Camberwell was then 6s. 6d.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
If it were 6s. 6d., it was still 3d. below Fulham; and it gains 4¾d. as against 3¼d. gained by Fulham. Camberwell ranks second with Islington in the successful raid upon the other parishes of the Metropolis. Somehow, it is not conveyed to me that Camberwell is so poor as Bethnal Green; but Camberwell, by some fortunate circumstance, is a parish which, like Islington, will draw largely from others. I have other instances, but the case of the anomalies has been so fully stated that I will not trouble the House with any more remarks upon them. I pass from the test of population, and the curious results of the application of the Bill, to the objects for which the money in required—sanitation, lighting, and paving. We are quite prepared to admit that those are very desirable objects to promote. The President of the Local Government Board quoted the language I used in 1869, to the effect that not only should there be relief of burdens, but that there should also be better administration. Well, I want to know what security is taken by the Bill that there shall be better sanitation, lighting, and paving. There is no protection in the Bill for the proper expenditure of the money. It is simply handed over to the Local Authorities to reduce their rates; that is admitted to be the primary object. If there is to be better sanitation, you ought to take some security for the spending of the money, as you have done in almost every analogous case. This is the first time it has been proposed to hand money over without any inquiry as to how it is to be spent. No power is given to the Local Government Board; and the Local Authorities may simply receive the money and allow everything in sanitation, lighting, and paving to remain just as it is. We are not content with that. I have another complaint against the Government, and it is that they have not told us how much is spent upon these objects by the Local Authorities. I believe the members of the County Council have some figures on this point; but other members have not. There is one Return in which the County Council show how much in the £1 on the rateable value is spent by the Local Authorities; but that is not to the point. It strikes the imagination, but it does not 937 inform us of the amounts; and I hope the Government will give us a Return of the amounts spent by the different part of the Metropolis. If this money is to be given, it will be absolutely necessary, by Amendments in Committee, to devise means to secure that the objects avowedly aimed at shall be attained. We cannot leave the Bill as it is, and hand over money without any security whatever. I admit to the full the extreme difficulty of devising a satisfactory scheme, but that difficulty is enhanced by the fact that we have not the necessary information before us on which to found our Amendments. If we knew what was the expenditure upon the objects stated we might see what arrangement can be made to carry out the general object of the Bill. So far as I am concerned, I should prefer that the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund should be taken as a precedent. We have to get over the difficulty of retaining local management in conjunction with the control of some central body. I would lay it down as an absolute proposition, with which I think the President of the Local Government Board will agree, that we must concentrate our contributions upon the objects stated. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Islington that the money should be distributed according to the best discretion of the County Council. If it were, I would not wish to be a member of the County Council; it is too delicate a matter to confide to any elected body.
§ MR. BARTLEY
I safeguarded the suggestion by saying that the principles on which the money was to be distributed should be laid down in the Bill.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
As to laying down distinct principles in the Bill, that is a point to be argued; I should not reject the proposal, but I would examine it narrowly. What is essential is that we should know on what the money is to be expended. We should examine how far the expenditure in some parishes is on the same basis as the expenditure in others. Where as in St. George's, Hanover Square, the expenditure is so much higher than in other neighbourhoods, I should inquire whether that is due to something like extravagance or munificence, or to the necessity of the case; and in the case of Bethnal Green, where it is alleged they spend too little, I would 938 examine how far they cannot afford to spend more, or whether it is on account of the need not existing. Just as in the case of the Poor Law we had all the facts before us, so here we ought to know what is the expenditure in each locality, and then we should see how far it could be equitably apportioned. I would bring my remarks to a conclusion by a suggestion which the President of the Local Government Board might see my observations lead up to. It is that we have not sufficient information to enable us to legislate clearly upon the subject. It is extremely late to ask us to undertake to legislate at all. We are not against the principle of equalisation, but it would be necessary for us to endeavour to reconstruct almost every clause of the Bill. This is a task which I think is a very difficult one, and what I think would be a fair compromise on the part of the right hon. Gentleman is that, if this Bill is read a second time, we should have a Select Committee at the very beginning of next Session to examine into all the points involved.
§ SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
said, that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was one of extreme interest and also one of great value, as all his speeches on rating questions were. What the discussion, however, had failed to produce had been an alternative plan. The criticisms which had been showered on the Government proposal had, he admitted, been somewhat damaging on points of detail, but they had yet to hear that any plan could be produced to which equal objections could not be raised. He ventured to say, from his knowledge of the Common Poor Fund, that if it had been debated with the same minuteness when it was first brought in, even greater holes might have been picked in the principle on which that fund was established. The right hon. Gentleman insisted on more information in regard to expenditure, parish by parish, on lighting and cleaning, and so on. The Return, however, annually laid before this House of Vestry expenditure showed everything that could be shown in that connection, and everything that could be got. Some rather wild schemes had been thrown out in the course of the Debate. One hon. Member suggested a graduated rate according to the extent of valuation of property—a system which prevailed in the 939 great towns of France, but had never been attempted in this country. But in London there was a hardship which would be produced by anything like graduation of rates on poor districts, and that was that the publicans already paid, as he thought, an undue proportion of the rates in London, and graduation of rates in the poorer districts would throw almost the whole increase of rates on the back of that one class of the community. One would find streets of houses with a general rating value of £36 and £38, and suddenly come to a figure of £400 or £500 — the latter being a public-house, rated on its value not as a house, but as a business. It was suggested that the whole sanitary rate of the Metropolis should be one and uniform, and that the County Council should be absolutely despotic as the Sanitary Authority of London. That was a startling suggestion to come from the Conservative side of the House, and I cannot imagine that any such proposal has the least chance of being adopted. And it is curious that such a suggestion should be thrown out at a time when a Royal Commission is proposing to chop London up into eight new districts. I believe both proposals will be rejected when they come to be fairly considered, and, therefore, what we have to do is to make the best of the existing districts. The great majority of the speakers have suggested that the money should be paid to the different districts for services rendered, but the most extraordinary anomalies would result from the application of that principle.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
So far as I am concerned, I said that every one of these cases would have to be examined to see what the anomalies were in order to reduce them to a common denominator. I said that it was only a common denominator that should be treated as a central expense. I only threw out a suggestion.
§ SIR C. W. DILKE
The right hon. Gentleman did not commit himself, but so many speakers have laid it down that we should be safe in paying for services rendered, that I venture to point out the extraordinary result of that proposal. The City of London, for example, would receive under that system, while St. George's-in-the-East would pay. Hampstead, which is a rich district, would receive; St. James's, Westmin- 940 ster, would pay heavily; and St. George's, Hanover Square, would pay more heavily than under the present Bill. Therefore, you would not be able to say that under that system you would be giving to those who have most—though that would be the case in some districts. Great anomalies would be created all over London. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down to-wards the close of his speech, examined certain individual cases, and took the case of Fulham and compared it with Camberwell. The principle of this Bill is that of a ratio per head of the amount of the assessment to the population. That is the test, and taken by that we find that Fulham having a higher valuation per head of the population than Camberwell certainly is not in so favourable a position as Camberwell under the Bill, though they are both receiving. That is the natural explanation. The case of Islington has been dealt with in every speech made against the Bill. I think we must admit that under the Bill the case of Islington is to some extent an anomaly, and it is possible that in Committee some suggestion may be thrown out for dealing with it as an extreme case. The broad ground upon which I think the proposal of the Bill can be supported is that all the poorest parishes will receive and all the richest parishes will pay. Of the rich parishes that will pay not one will by its payment be raised above the average rate of London, while of the poor parishes that will receive hardly one will be reduced below that average rate on the figures of this year. That is a great removal of anomalies as far as it goes, and it seems to me as nearly perfect as any system likely to be devised. As to one or two poor parishes, we shall find that their rates will be lower than the general average. I may express a hope as to those parishes that as their sanitary expenditure at the present time is not high they may be induced to spend a little more in the future. The right hon. Gentleman doubts whether, in the absence of control, the poor parishes that will be aided will spend more on sanitary purposes in the future. But a certain measure, not of control, but of publicity, has been introduced by the system under which the County Council, on condition of receiving a full report, 941 pays half the salary of the medical officers in the different districts. This publicity gives a certain control—a newspaper or Parliamentary control, if you like. The right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, inclines towards the extension of the principle of the common poor fund. I have had something to do with the administration of that fund, and would like to give the House some reasons for pausing before extending that principle. The Common Poor Fund involves a very large amount of central control. It is obvious that you must have it, otherwise it would be to the interest of every parish to plunge its hands into the pockets of its neighbours and spend as much money as possible. If you have a common fund you must have a large central control. That control is carried to a point that is almost ridiculous. The smallest possible increase of salary must receive the consent of the Local Government Board. Indeed the control is so close that it is somewhat obnoxious to the self-respect of those who serve the Boards of Guardians, and now that these bodies are to be elected on a wide suffrage, that control will be bitterly resented and will lead to sharp conflicts with the Local Government Board. But although that control is so severe it is often an illusory control. Many officers of Boards of Guardians spent a great deal of their time in considering the best means of evading it. Constantly Boards of Guardians, sitting with closed doors, discuss among themselves in the most open manner means of evading the control which, in the interest of the Common Poor Fund, the Local Government Board is obliged to exercise. When there is a question of raising a salary this is invariably the kind of conversation that takes place: Someone says—this being a salary coming out of the Common Poor Fund—"We could get a man for £250 a year." Someone says, "Such and such a parish pays £400." At once someone says, "Let us pay £400; we may get a better man than we could get for £250, and as we only pay one-fortieth ourselves of the difference between the two amounts we will take the higher figure." That is to say, that every parish pays the highest sum it can by any means persuade the Local Government Board to allow it to pay. I admit that the Common Poor Fund has contributed to 942 efficiency, but, on the other hand, it has contributed enormously to extravagance, and to the breaking down of the principle of self-government, and I hope the House will pause before extending the system. The scheme of the Bill is, in view of the great difficulties of the case, the most excellent that can be devised, and I shall give it my hearty support.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
I rise to make an appeal to the House now to come to a decision upon the Second Reading of this Bill. Everybody feels that there has been a very full, and certainly quite an adequate, discussion of this subject. The announcement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who speaks on this subject with well-deserved authority, that he does not desire that a Division should be taken on this Bill, indicates that the time has come when the Second Reading should be allowed to pass in order that it may go into Committee, when the Amendments that he has indicated may be considered. I make this suggestion at this moment because there is on the Paper a notice to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. Of course, the Government could not assent to that, but I am sure I shall speak with the assent of the right hon. Gentleman opposite when I say that if that Motion is to be made it ought to be disposed of this afternoon. When the Second Reading is disposed of the field will be clear for proceeding with that matter. Everybody seems to agree that the Bill should be dealt with in Committee as soon as possible.
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House."
§ SIR J. GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)
said, he wished to move— 943That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee composed of all the Members who represent London constituencies, together with Fifteen other Members to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, and that the Committee be subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 47 so far as they are applicable: that the Chairmen's Panel nominated under Standing Order No. 49 do appoint one of their Members to be the Chairman of the Committee, and that the provisions of Standing Order No. 50 do apply to the Bill when reported by the Committee.This proposal was founded on the course which had been adopted by the Government in the case of the Scotch Local Government Bill. What was good in such a case for Scotland, the population of which was less than that of the Metropolis, could not be bad for London, which was really the most important part of the United Kingdom and the centre of its Government. The proposal in the case of the Scotch measure was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland in a speech which he (Sir J. Goldsmid) had in his hand, and which it might be possible in many respects to parody in order to support the present proposal. The right hon. Gentleman had said that in Scotch questions in the House when decisions were taken Members came in and voted without having heard the Debate and knowing nothing of the subject. Well, the same thing happened on London questions. The House had seen what a small attendance there had been to-day whilst the Bill was under discussion, and how, when a Division was expected, Members thronged in from other parts of the building. Then, the right hon. Gentleman had proceeded to point out that the time employed by the Committee upstairs would be time gained by the House of Commons for other matters, and he had said that there would be a number of outside English and Irish Members on the Committee who would be competent to advise, though not to control the Scotch Members. Of course, that was so in regard to this London Bill—though probably the Secretary for Scotland would not be so warm a supporter of the principle he had advocated in the present Bill as he had been on the Scotch Bill. They could not help noticing that there was a difference between the composition of the Scotch Members and the London Members. He was told that there was a con- 944 siderable majority supporting Her Majesty's Government amongst the Scotch Members, and that the right hon. Gentleman had calculated on the hearty support of that majority in carrying his Bill. If rumour spoke truly that hearty support had hardly been given. He could not say whether that was the case or not. But, at any rate, as he had heard from the Chairman of the Committee himself, an enormous amount of work had been done and a very large amount of discussion had taken place, so that to that extent the statement of the right hon. Gentleman as to the saving of time had been verified. Whether it had tended to expedite the business in hand remained to be seen when the Scotch Bill came up on Report. So far as it went the principle laid down by the Secretary for Scotland seemed to him to apply more strongly to the case of London. As an hon. Member had said last night, with great truth, the House of Commons as a whole was not fond of London questions. It always tried to get out of them, but there was no doubt of this: that London questions to Londoners were at least as important as Scotch questions to Scotchmen. He proposed on this occasion that the whole of the London Members should constitute a Select Committee, together with 15 other Members. It would be admitted, he thought, that among the London Members there was great variety of information, of opinion, of experience, and of knowledge, and those Members alone would not form an inadequate or incapable Committee, but under his proposal some of the ablest men in the House might be appointed to the Committee in addition. Thus a Committee might be formed who would carefully and adequately consider the whole matter and the various suggestions that had been made in the course of the Debate. Moreover, if such a Committee was appointed, an opportunity would be given for the consideration of those other plans which the President of the Local Government Board said he had dismissed as not being as good as the plan which the Government had adopted. For his own part, he was not satisfied that the best plan had been adopted, and he should not be convinced on that point until he had had an opportunity of comparing it with the other proposals. At present the material 945 for forming an opinion was wanting. Much of the discussion had depended upon information with reference to sanitary expenditure. The right hon. Baronet who had just spoken had said that he and one or two others had had access to some figures. Certainly, he (Sir J. Goldsmid) and other Members he could name had not seen them, and it was not fair that conclusions should be arrived at depending on figures which were not accessible to the great majority of the Members of the House. Figures were better examined in Committee upstairs than they were in Committee of the whole House. Having seen a good deal of Grand Committees, he was bound to say that the manner in which they dealt with these things had impressed him very much. They had applied themselves to the work in hand from time to time with ability and zeal and without the least waste of time. Looking to the state of Public Business, he thought there would be little chance of dealing satisfactorily with the Bill in Committee of the whole House. The Notice Paper showed that the Evicted Tenants Bill would occupy considerable time in Committee. He was informed that already several pages of Amendments had been handed in, and he ventured to predict that they would be a long way into August before that stage of the Evicted Tenants Bill was completed. After that there were several other Bills to be brought forward and Supply to be disposed of, so that if this programme of business was to be gone through, apart altogether from the present Bill, an early adjournment would be impossible. It had occurred to him, therefore, that the plan he proposed would facilitate business. He had heard it said, and he was sure it was true, that in all previous experience there had been a slaughter of innocents at one period of the Session, and that later on there was a second slaughter. They had only so far had the first. As he had said, he thought the best course, on the whole, would be to refer this Bill to a Select Committee. He wanted to meet the desires of the Government as far as possible, and to reconcile them to the possibilities of the case, and he begged to move the Motion that stood in his name.
Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "Committee of the whole House," and add the words
Select Committee composed of all the Members who represent London constituencies, together with Fifteen other Members to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, and that the Committee be subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 47 as far as they are applicable:
That the Chairmen's Panel nominated under Standing Order No. 49 do appoint one of their Members to be the Chairman of the Committee, and that the provisions of Standing Order No. 50 do apply to the Bill when reported by the Committee."—(Sir J. Goldsmid.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. SHAW-LEFEVRE,) Bradford, Central
said, that the Government could not assent to his hon. Friend's proposal. The Bill consisted practically of one clause. His right hon. Friend opposite had announced that very important questions were to be raised on that clause, and in the opinion of the Government those questions had better be discussed in Committee of the whole House. It would be recollected that the proposal to send the Scotch Local Government Bill to the Scotch Grand Committee gave rise to a discussion that lasted several days. That, no doubt, was a novel proposal, but the proposal now before them to relegate London matters to a Grand Committee composed of London Members was still more novel, and if it were supported by the Government it would probably give rise to a protracted discussion and thus occupy much valuable time. It appeared to be thought that if the course recommended by his hon. Friend were taken, he would feel himself justified in referring to the same Committee all the other schemes which the Government had considered and rejected; but that was an erroneous view. He had no intention of submitting either to a Committee or to that House a number of worthless schemes which the Government did not think it worth while to entertain. Not one of those schemes appeared to be of the smallest possible advantage, and, under these circumstances, he must say that the Government could not assent to the proposal.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, that if the right hon. Gentleman wished to make a speech calculated to prolong these proceedings he did not think he could have made a better one than the one he had made. At the last moment the right 947 hon. Gentleman spoke contemptuously of other plans as "worthless," but he would do well not to overlook the fact that his own plan had been shown to be very imperfect. The right hon. Gentleman, as an excuse for refusing to refer this Bill to a Grand Committee, pointed to the circumstance that at present it consisted of only one or two clauses. But Amendments were to be moved, and the Bill might really necessitate as much discussion as a Bill of nine or ten clauses. He was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman had not jumped at the proposal now before them. A minute or two ago the Secretary for Scotland was sitting next the right hon. Gentleman, and he thought that the right hon. Baronet had probably come in to report the great success which had attended the proceedings of the Scotch Grand Committee. Those proceedings had enabled the Government to persevere with a Bill upon which they were defeated by their own supporters. After that defeat they neither withdrew the Bill nor resigned. Were hon. Members aware that the voice of Scotland was sometimes silenced in that Committee by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Scotland, with the assistance of Saxons? [Sir D. MACFARLANE: On what occasion?] On an occasion so grave that the Secretary for Scotland seemed to have been very doubtful for some time whether he would proceed further with the Bill. Did hon. Members opposite think that the Scotch Grand Committee constituted a successful experiment? If the Secretary for Scotland had not discreetly left the House they might have appealed to him to say how much success had attended the experiment. Where was the Secretary for Scotland? If the proposal had been so successful in the case of Scotland they wanted to test its application to London. His hon. Friend invited the House to refer this Equalisation of Rates Bill to a Select Committee of Metropolitan Members formed on the analogy of the Scotch Grand Committee. If the plan was good for Scotland, why was it not good for London? It would undoubtedly relieve the House from some of the pressure of business at a time when the Session was very far advanced. However, it appeared that, in the opinion of the Government, what was suitable for Scotland, where there was a Radical majority, was not suitable for London, 948 where there was a Conservative majority. That was the real explanation of the opposition of the right hon. Gentleman to this proposal. But what did the Radical Members for London think of that opposition? Would it not be pleasant for all the London Representatives to be gathered together? [An hon. MEMBER: Absurd!] Why should it be more absurd for the London Members to be gathered together than for the Scotch Members? Here was a distinct Metropolitan question, and why should the Government desire in connection with it that the voice of London should be silenced by Scotch and Irish votes? The attitude of the Government and their supporters was inconsistent. That of the Opposition, on the other hand, was perfectly consistent; they could not support the proposal before the House because they disapproved of all plans for dividing the House up according to nationalities and localities. But after their action on this occasion the Government could not logically ask the House next year to appoint a Grand Committee of Scotch, Welsh, or Irish Members. The Government, it was plain, were only in favour of referring Bills to Committees like the Scotch Grand Committee when such a course answered their own purpose and when the Committee was so constituted that the Liberals were in a majority. London had just as great a population as Scotland. [An hon. MEMBER: Greater.] Yes, greater; but it was so represented that it did not suit the Government, as they were doubtful whether with the assistance of 15 added Members they would be able to outvote the London Members. However, the Government refused this Committee, and the Opposition noted it. The Metropolitan Members were content with the House of Commons as the best tribunal for the discussion of all Bills, and by the verdict of that tribunal they would be prepared to stand.
§ SIR J. LUBBOCK
said, that the principal reason given by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill against the proposal was that the discussion on the Scotch Grand Committee took five days; but if the Government would entertain this Motion it might be accepted at once. If they opposed it, surely it was unreasonable after a Debate of 20 minutes to refuse to London what had been given to Scotland. He could not 949 help thinking that the reason was that in the Debate a large majority of the London, Members had spoken against the Bill. He supported the proposal of the hon. Baronet for two reasons—first, because if it were carried these important questions would be determined by the votes of those who had heard the Debate; and, secondly, because if it were carried this London Bill would be determined by the votes of London Members.
§ Mr. JOHN BURNS
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. R. G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
said, he did not see why London should not have a Select Committee to consider this important question. It was not a general, but a purely local question—such a question as the Public Health (London) Bill, which was discussed in the last Parliament. That Bill was referred to the Committee on Law, and 15 London Members were added. Nearly the whole of the discussion on that Bill took place between those 15 hon. Members. The London Members had been in the House during the discussion on this Bill during the last few years, but how many hon. Members who did not represent London had been in the House? He strongly protested as a London Member against the action of the Government. The Bill ought to be referred to a Committee strongly posted up in the question, and he thought the hon. Member had shown wisdom in bringing forward his Motion.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, he must confess he could not understand the position of the Government. Early this Session they fought for and obtained the Scotch Grand Committee. He had been on that Committee for some time, and the chief votes he had given had been votes to rescue the Secretary for Scotland from the hands of his friends. He had generally found the Secretary for Scotland opposing the bulk of his friends, and the main function of the 15 added Members had been to save him from his friends. He could not see why the Government should object to sending this Bill to a London Committee, and he thought they would wind up the 950 Session very well by sending the Evicted Tenants Bill to an Irish Committee.
§ SIR J. GOLDSMID
said, that as the Motion was opposed by the two Front Benches, he would ask leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.