§ Order read for Committee of Supply.
§ On the Motion that Mr. SPEAKER do leave the chair,
*SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.) rose to call attention to the exemption of Government property from local rating; and to move—
That the exemption of Government property from rating is wrong in principle and unjust in its operation to the local authorities and to the general body of ratepayers, and ought to be terminated by legislation placing such property on an equality for rating purposes with that of other ratepayers.
He proposed, he said, by the Motion to afford the House an opportunity, for the first time, of giving a clear and definite decision as to the principle and practice of the exemption of the Government property from rating, and he hoped the facts which he and other Members would be able to adduce, would convince the House that a great hardship and injustice existed in this matter to large bodies of ratepayers in different parts of the country, and that
what was most unjust to the local authorities would be put an end to in consequence of the Resolution which he hoped the House would pass. He had had reports from, and correspondence with, the local authorities in nearly all parts of the country and London; and the feeling, both in London and the provinces was both strong and universal that the Resolution was one which should be favourably considered by the House. This was the period of the quinquennial valuation, and the assessment committees and overseers of the local authorities were looking with great interest to this subject as a means of materially reducing the burden of local taxation. When he spoke of the Government property, he ought, perhaps, to use the plural term Governments, because whatever complaint he made to-day was one which could be used against past, as well as the present, Government. He had to acknowledge that the present Government, through the Secretary to the Treasury, had shown a laudable desire, so far as was consistent with the present law, to meet the evil and materially reduce it. This was not a party, but a municipal question of very great importance, and he trusted the Chancellor, like his predecessor in 1874, would make his approaching Budget the occasion of redress to the ratepayers. He had modified his Resolution in two points. In the first place, before such a modification, he asked for a Committee of Inquiry, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer courteously intimated to him that there was a difficulty in regard to that—chiefly a constitutional one, and as he wished to press nothing which was objectionable, provided the main object in view could be achieved, he had reserved that portion of the subject. But he thought there were evils to be both considered and removed. He did not wish them to be removed inconsiderately, and if, even now the right hon. Gentleman should see his way to suggest the appointment of a Committee, that was a proposal with which he should be very happy to fall in. Secondly, he had taken from his Motion one part relating to Crown debts. The subject was cognate, but its inclusion would complicate the matter, and he would
only use it for the purpose of pointing a contrast, which was this: When the Crown had money owing to it from a ratepayer, it not only demanded priority over other debts, but non-payment was followed by, it might be, perpetual imprisonment. On the other hand, when the Government owed money for the rating of premises, it did not subject any Member of the Treasury Bench to similar penalties. In other words, when the Government was a debtor, it was lenient to itself, but when the Government was a creditor it put into operation obsolete processes which were now a gross and cruel anachronism, and which were really abandoned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Debate on his (Sir Albert Rollit's) Amendment on the Budget Bill, very much in consequence of the representations made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition; and if the abandonment had not taken place, he ventured to say the Government on that occasion would have been defeated. That was the only allusion he should make to the subject of Crown debts. It had often, been said that it ought to be the duty of the Government to set an example, and he hoped it would set an example, with reference to Crown debts in future. It was no good example to refuse to pay adequately the burdens upon its own property, and to cast those burdens upon the people; and in neither case was the example one to be followed. During the Debates upon the Budget there was a well-grounded feeling that the incidence of local taxation was unjust so far as the landed interest was concerned. No one would forget the controversy on that point, and the remarkable speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India (Mr. H. H. Fowler) which demanded, and which, he hoped, would receive an answer through the medium of a full inquiry by a Committee, which had now become a necessary preliminary to revision. The point to which he desired to call attention was that here was a means, not by way of a grant in aid or anything of that sort, to which system there were strong fiscal objections, but as a recourse of right, by which the pressure of local taxation might be at least some-
what remedied. He believed also it was the first step to a very considerable readjustment which would be more equitable than the present system, and he thought he should be able to show that there was a frequent opportunity arising in the House of raising this question upon the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. In the original statute imposing rating—namely, the first Poor Law which was passed in the reign of Elizabeth, it was clearly contemplated by Parliament that personal, no less than real, property should be rated for the maintenance of the poor, and was only a technicality in the Tudor times which saved the Crown—a technicality under which it was held ultimately that the Crown was not bound to pay its rates though Parliament had proposed and all but said that it should, and though judges had for a considerable period carried out the intention of Parliament to the best of their ability. That technicality was simply that the Crown was not named in the Statute, and as it could not be bound except by a clear expression, it was in the result held that the Crown was not called upon to pay for the rating of its property, and not liable to be rated. So the rating of the inhabitants in respect of personal property had been disused, arid in the early part of the present reign an Act was passed exempting stock-in-trade and personal property from rating. That Statute was re-enacted in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill year by year, but no one had yet taken the opportunity of pointing out the equities in the matter and of stating the strong grounds there were for inquiry as to the contributions which ought to be made by personal, no less than by real, property. The consequence of this process of legal technicalities and fictions had been that there had been a gradual accession of Government property which had escaped local taxation, although that property frequently comprised industrial works of the largest character which had been making revenue, which had added to the poor in the neighbourhood, and enlarged, to the prejudice of the parishes, the burdens for their maintenance. These exemptions of Crown, and, on that pretext, of public property, applied to all parts of the country, and included Government offices—comprising nearly half of some parishes
in London, and notably Westminster—royal palaces, the Houses of Parliament, prisons, military and naval, and civil, Government factories, public charitable institutions, post offices, arsenals, dockyards, barracks, militia premises, Government hospitals, the Mint, law courts and record offices, county courts, police stations, county buildings, judges lodgings, the post offices in every town and village, the Custom Houses, Inland Revenue and Excise Departments, Coastguard establishments, the British and other Museums, the National and other Galleries, Government literary, artistic, and scientific Institutions (such as the School of Mines and the Geological Museum), certain of the parks, Kensington Gardens and Primrose Hill, Brompton Cemetery (for the Crown, like the grave, takes and seldom gives), some of the bridges, notably Chelsea Bridge, which was exempted on the ground that it was erected by the Commissioner of Works, some county and municipal and other species of property, which he would deal with in a more detailed way, while, in the case of county property generally, there was no fund out of which the rates could be met, and so it escaped. In the case of the Lighthouses Parliament was to blame, through a clause in the Merchant Shipping Act, although the Government collected the light dues from shipping and yet insisted on its own ships being free from that taxation. Churches and chapels and voluntary scientific institutions, and volunteer storehouses were also statutorily exempt. Among other Parliamentary exemptions a most unjust one was the case of the Law Courts, which was protested against by the Strand local authority, because they were rated under the Act of Parliament on the basis of what was paid by the property which formerly stood on the site, and this sum could not be increased. He had now given a tolerably long list of properties which were taken out of the general law and placed, so far as the general property owners and occupiers were concerned, in a very invidious position, but the worst case of all was the telegraphs, which were rated under the old companies and were to be rated under the Transfer Act, but a Victorian like a Tudor technicality intervened and made them free, because
of an omission from of the Act of any remedy for the recovery of the rates. What was the effect of such a system upon local taxation in these days of rising rates? He had received from all parts an infinity of letters expressing the strong sense of injustice felt by local authorities. The London County Council valuation was, that in the Metropolis no less than from £40,000 to £50,000 a year was lost in rates owing to these exemptions. That was in Government property alone, and taking into account only the valuation of the buildings, and putting out of sight entirely the value of the sites. He did not, however, accept the County Council's valuation. One or two authors of repute and statistical knowledge had shown that the loss was much more probably £87,500, and Mr. Pickersgill had estimated it at no less than 50 per cent. He was informed by many of the towns, especially the military stations and the dockyards, that all the advantages of rating were most sedulously demanded by the Government authorities—the best sanitation, drainage, and the like, but when the reciprocal burden of payment was sought to be imposed for them, the greatest reluctance was shown to making an adequate contribution, even where the Government competed with the ratepayers, as in the products of prison labour. Thus the State benefited, while the locality paid, which, if anything, ought to be reversed; but all he desired was equality. What had some of the judges, who might certainly be taken to be impartial observers, said in reference to this system? He would quote Lord Chancellor Campbell and Mr. Justice Erle, who said—
Such burdens should be borne by all parties in occupation of the rateable property of the parish.
An exemption from rating in reality means that the rest of a parish shall pay the rates that would otherwise be due on the exempted property.
There is no reason why the rates should be paid by the Government's neighbours any more than the Government should occupy property without paying rent.
The cases were completely in pari passu. Other objections were, that these exemptions cast a special burden on particular localities. It was a most significant circumstance that so many Government Offices had dispossessed private property, and so removed a source of municipal income from the localities in which they were situate; of which the Palace of Westminster—the Houses of Parliament—was a notable example. The right hon. Gentleman indicated he was afraid he was not going to mention that after all the Government had some conscience. He did not think however, it was a completely developed conscience. Contrary to the law of evolution, the conscience was complete to begin with, but it dropped away afterwards, and now there were only the relics of a conscience, which the right hon. Gentleman was doing his best to develop. For, in 1874 a Treasury Minute was issued, in which it was said:—
The Chancellor of the Exchequer brings before the Board the engagement given by him to Parliament on the occasion of his proposing the Budget for that year, that property under the control of Her Majesty's Commissioners and not in the possession of any other occupier throughout the United Kingdom, should bear its due share of all local burdens.
That was afterwards supplemented by a Memorandum drawn up by the Treasury, in which these words occur:—
That Government property is to contribute to local rates equally with other property in the parish in which that is situate.
That was the conscience of 1874. But while he praised the right hon. Gentleman for what he had been doing by recent revisions, he maintained that the increases which he was making, and which were vast, were the measure of the injustice of the departure from the engagement to Parliament in 1874. How had the Government met the promise of 1874? It was the old Tudor story
of the Crown not being bound to do anything. The Government still adhered to the principle, of purely voluntary contribution, and what they paid was a kind of "conscience money," and, like conscience money generally, the payments were not frequent and not very large in amount. What was still more open to question, was that the Government, when its conscience asserted itself, insisted on protecting itself by making its own valuation of the property. If every man were his own valuer for rating purposes, what would become of the resources of the local authorities? The doctrine "every man his own valuer" was only made seriously in one place—namely, in Hyde Park on Sundays, when Socialist orators declared that no legal compulsion was necessary, and that if the matter were left to the consciences of individuals their contributions to the rates would be still larger than under the existing system! He proposed to give some typical instances of the undervaluation of Government property, but he would not repeat what he had recently stated to the House. A high authority on the Strand Local Board had written to him saying that Somerset House was still very inadequately rated, although there had been a revision in this case. The group of Treasury buildings, comprising the Foreign, India, Home, Colonial, and Local Government Board offices were valued by the Treasury at £11,600 a year, while the County Council valued the sites alone at £32,350. The Westminster Local Authority had asked the Treasury to increase the valuation to £25,000. The present contribution, it would be seen, was less than half this amount, and was grossly inadequate. The valuation of the Palace of Westminster for contribution purposes was less than the valuation of the Westminster Palace Hotel. It was at the rate of £550 per acre, whilst in the vicinity there were valuations of private properties at the rates of £8,000, £10,000, and
even £20,000 per acre. In Westminster alone, Government property was undervalued by £150,000, or 50 per cent. For Burlington House, comprising the University of London, which yielded a profit to the State from the fees paid by the students, the Geological Museum, the War Office, the Board of Agriculture, and other offices, the total valuation was only £12,000 a year and the contribution £2,596. It was evident that this group of buildings did not contribute its fair share towards the rates. In some vestries testimony was borne to the sincere efforts made by the Secretary to the Treasury to improve matters, but in a great many others it was stated that the under-valuations were gross and that the employment of the Treasury's own valuer was used as a lever in order to secure acquiescence in the proposals made to them by the Government. The vestries were told—
You must take what you can get and be thankful, for we are not bound to give you anything.
A communication which he had received from a Vestry Clerk showed how this subject was dealt with by the Treasury valuer. A passage in this letter ran—
The Government Valuer called upon me and drew attention to the fact that the hereditament was not legally rateable. My overseers considered they had no option but to reduce the figures, which they did; but, had this been private property, we could have maintained our figures before the Assessment Committee.
He read this passage to show that, taking his stand on the non-liability of the Government, the valuer could use a power which ought not to be exercised to coerce local authorities into doing that which was inequitable. It had been said on a former occasion that this was purely a London question, and one hon. Member had dwelt upon the fact that Londoners had the use of the parks free. His own observation, however, led him to the conclusion that the people who used Hyde Park mostly were foreigners and country cousins.
But to show that this was not only a London question, he proposed to call attention to the many complaints which he had received from the provinces. From Hull came the complaints that the valuation of Government property was very much below what it ought to be; that it had been stationary for many years in spite of the rise in value of property; and that the post office was certainly valued for contribution purposes at not more than half its proper value. At Weymouth and Portland where a harbour of refuge had been made, where there were large prisons and where the Government exacted the most perfect drainage and sanitation, the contribution was only £416. In the case of Southampton the Report was that the local authorities were anything but satisfied, and that the valuation of the Ordnance Survey buildings and Custom House was only half what it ought to be. Sheffield was not satisfied, "the valuation being much below what it ought to be." From Plymouth came the complaint, "We are most dissatisfied; we have to take what the Government will give," and it was said that the contribution was less by a penny in the £1 than that paid by other ratepayers. In Dover there had been no revaluation since 1874, and in the case of one parish not since 1861, when the property was valued at the rate of 2 per cent., when it ought to have been 5 per cent. Values had greatly increased since then, but there had been no corresponding extension of contribution, which was much below what it ought to be. Derby, the town of the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, wrote that the valuations there were absurdly low, those for the post office and gaol "being too little by half." At Huddersfield the corporation was very dissatisfied. The Government valuations were ridiculous; there had been no re-valuation since 1877, although other properties had been revised many times since then. In Windsor there was the utmost dissatisfaction. The town council
considered that they were most harshly and unjustly treated. The ratings for the barracks were old arid obsolete, and the Corporation had asked that they might be allowed to appoint an independent valuer, but access to the property was refused. The letter written to him contained these words—
The Government contend that the contribution is voluntary, and that it must lie accepted.
At Portsmouth the Corporation "were by no means satisfied," but Government claimed ordinary rights whilst saying that the question of contribution must be left entirely in their own hands. Leeds complained of the valuation of the barracks; Leicester of the valuation of the prison; Newcastle-on-Tyne of the general lowness of the valuation; King's Lynn of the inadequacy of the valuation except in the case of the Post Office. To show that this grievance was not confined to towns, he would refer to a portion of the County of Essex, where there had been great agricultural distress and disastrous explosions. Even in the case of rural Waltham no independent valuation had been allowed, and they were told by an hon. Member that the contribution was extremely inadequate. Moreover, an independent valuation had been refused, and the Secretary of the Treasury had admitted the need of revision. The figures he had used had been given to him by those local authorities whose intention to state the matter accurately could not for a moment be questioned, but he expected that the House would hear from the Secretary to the Treasury that he had made many revisions, and that the Local Authorities were satisfied. It was not probable that the Government valuer would give satisfaction to those who have to receive the contributions. Any partiality on his part was probably unconscious, but, nevertheless, it probably existed. He would also point out to the right hon. Gentleman that his legal plea of accord and satisfaction was a very dangerous one. It admitted an evil and
a grievance, and unless it was proved completely, it was damaging. So far from its being capable of proof, he had shown from figures that it had not been established, unless his figures could be proved to be incorrect. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to take the only possible step towards a complete and adequate remedy. It was, he thought, open to him to do so. He was certain the right hon. Gentleman had aimed in that direction, and he hoped the sum involved would soon be raised. The only possible basis of permanent satisfaction was the basis of equality in liability and contribution, equality between Government property on the one hand and that of ordinary ratepayers on the other. Equality was equity. What was the distinction between Government property and other public properties, such as town halls, board schools, libraries, and baths? Recently an institution of a public character, the Imperial Institute, had to appeal to the Courts from what was considered an excessive assessment. Why should that institute be called upon to pay highly in order to exempt other public property which was better able to bear the burden? The only difference was between the local and Imperial interest, and in his opinion, if either, though equality would prevent either, the Imperial interest, which was the more wealthy, should suffer, rather than the local, which was so heavily burdened. Why should the Government seek to persist in appointing their own valuer? Nemo debet esse judex in propria sua causa. No one could be trusted to undertake the duty of settling a matter in which he had so great an interest; and however the valuer might try to do his duties to his employers, he must unconsciously lean in the direction of their interests. Why should the Assessment Committees be distrusted? In London alone they had to value between 35 and 40 millions' worth of property annually. Any decision of theirs could be safeguarded by an appeal to the
Courts, and by that means he ventured to think that justice would be done, some uniformity would be attained, which was not the case at present, and contentment with the administration of the law would be promoted. In conclusion, he would deal with two objections which had been raised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman had pleaded that he had not the money. That was not a plea that the House of Commons could recognise at all. If the House was convinced that injustice existed, they would be only too willing to set other considerations aside and to help the Chancellor of the Exchequer to do justice to the localities. The right hon. Gentleman's other plea was wholly unfounded, and based on a complete misconception. The plea was that these were to be grants in aid to the towns. The local authorities wanted no grant in aid. They simply wanted their just right and due. The whole system of grants in aid was open to very great question, and if this was a grant in aid he would not ask it for any municipality in the country. So far from being a grant in aid, or a subsidy, this was simply a demand on the Government to pay their just debts to the localities. The Government, however, had found out a new way of paying old debts, by appointing their own valuer and putting themselves on a different footing to other debtors. This was, he believed, the first time that a plain and direct issue on the subject had been placed before the House of Commons. The House was now asked to express an opinion in favour of either justice or injustice, in this matter. It was asked to treat all property, including Government property, on an equality and not to deal unjustly or ungenerously with the State, but justly if not generously with those localities which had to maintain their poor—maintain the public health, and fulfil municipal duty in both town and country, for the safety and welfare both of the locality and the general community. He begged to
move the Resolution which stood in his name.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S. W.)
felt that the only really satisfactory solution of this matter would be to alter the law which exempted Government property, and, therefore, he had great pleasure in seconding the Amendment; and he might say that in this matter he spoke with the support and sympathy of those London Members with whom he usually acted. He desired to make it clear at the outset that this was not a question between the Metropolis on the one hand, and the rest of the country on the other. On previous occasions when the question had been discussed, some hon. Gentlemen, who seemed to be terribly jealous of the Metropolis, desired to present the question in that light, and to make out that the Metropolis derived great advantages from its close relations with the Imperial Government. As a matter of fact, the case was directly the reverse, as the supporters of the Amendment would be perfectly prepared to show, in connection with a Motion which stood lower down on the Paper, if they got the opportunity. He might just mention, however, that in the Report on local taxation which was issued by the right hon. Gentleman who was now Secretary of State for India, it was stated that the additional grant in aid of local taxation given in 1888 and 1890, worked out, as between London and the county boroughs, with this result—that, so far as the county boroughs were concerned the contribution was equivalent to 6d. in the £ of rateable value, whereas in London it was something less than 4½d. So much, then, for what they heard as to the advantages which London now enjoyed under the existing arrangement. If it was argued that London derived some advantage from the fact that it was the seat of Government, he would point out that that very fact imposed upon London an additional burden, and he was disposed to think that, so far as the ratepayers 1752 were concerned, the losses more than counterbalanced the gain. This question concerned every parish in which Government property existed. It had been said that the presence of Government property in a parish was an advantage, but it was not so if large works existed, for undoubtedly they attracted a very considerable residuum of poor people. In Woolwich, he believed, one-third of the total area of the parish was occupied by Government property, and the expenditure on poor relief in that parish was one of the highest in the Metropolis. But, for argument's sake, he would admit that there was an advantage in the presence of Government property; but he would point out that it often happened that whilst the loss fell on one set of persons the gain accrued to another set. He would assume, for the sake of argument, that the presence of Government property in a district was an advantage. Even so, the persons who profited were not the same persons who bore the burden. The rating area was a small area, whereas the benefit would be spread over a much larger district. Thus the neighbouring parishes shared in the advantages, but they did not share in the loss to the rates arising from the inadequate assessment of the Government property. He submitted that this constituted a burden which pressed hardly on the comparatively small body of ratepayers in the particular parish in which the Government property happened to be situated. On the last occasion that the question was discussed there was some suggestion that they were endeavouring to raise a large Constitutional question; but they were really not doing so. The question raised was connected with a well-known ruling that the Crown was not bound by an Act of Parliament unless it was named therein. As a matter of fact, Government property had been made, assessable, but subject to a restriction. The Post Office Sites Act of 1867 provided that 1753 land acquired by the Postmaster General under the Act should be assessable and rateable in respect of local rates. True, it was added that the rates should not exceed the amount chargeable at the time of acquisition; and that was a very important restriction. His point was, that here, at all events, they had, as far as the grave constitutional view was concerned, a precedent for making Government property assessable, without it being felt that they were raising a grave constitutional question, namely, that of the legal liability of the Crown in general. On the Paper there was an Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury), which proposed to enlarge the issue they had before them.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Although the Amendment stands on the Paper it will not be in order; it is quite foreign to the subject matter of the motion.
MR. E. H. PICKEKSGILL
was glad to hear that was so, because, whilst he personally sympathised with the hon. Member, it seemed to him that it would have been disadvantageously inconvenient that the two questions should be discussed together. The present question, he maintained, occupied an entirely exceptional position. They started with the Parliamentary engagement of 1874, to which his hon. Friend had alluded. They could not go behind that engagement, and he should think that any arguments which did not take that Parliamentary engagement as the terminus a quo, was now irrelevant. In bringing forward this Amendment they took their stand distinctly upon the Parliamentary engagement of 1874, which declared that property in the occupation of the Government should bear its due share of local burdens. Therefore, the question they now had to consider was purely a practical question, namely, how effect might best be given to that engagement so solemnly given to Parliament. It was agreed that the present arrangements were not satisfactory. The Government 1754 valuer occupied an invidious position; and, although he might display ability and diplomatic skill, the results were not just to the persons who were most immediately concerned. Having gone thus far they were bound to go farther; and satisfaction would never be given until the Government were placed in the position of the general body of ratepayers. For these reasons he had great pleasure in seconding the Amendment.
§ *COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)
said, he was old enough to remember the time when Government property did not make any contribution whatever to local rates. Thirty-six years ago he was secretary to a movement which sprung up in towns containing Government property, and the result of it was that in a year or two contributions were made. They were glad to get them as an acknowledgment of the principle, previously denied, that Government property ought to bear its fair share of local taxation. Since that time Government had not acted quite up to the principle they enunciated, because they had taken the valuation of their own property into their own hands, and they had not allowed an appeal to any other authority. That was the point involved in the Amendment before the House. In Woolwich there was Government property of the annual value of £65,000, but this was the valuation of 1860 with certain additions made since. He inferred, from a recent correspondence, that the Government promised a new expert valuation this year. Thirty-five years had thus elapsed without proper re-valuation, while all other property in London was re-valued every five years. Government property ought also to be re-valued every five years; and it would be better if the Government would allow their property to be put in the rate book, because they could protect themselves from injustice through the Courts of Law quite as easily as any other ratepayer. It was as well to look at the matter from the Government point of view, and see how they arrived at the 1755 conclusion to resist the appeal now made to them. Whilst giving the Government credit for having, by the Treasury Minute of 1874, admitted the principle that justice ought to be done, he was bound to admit that some Government property was very difficult to value. You could not easily determine, as to an earthwork or a bomb proof building which had cost thousands, what would be its annual value from year to year to an ordinary tenant. Overseers were very glad to have the assistance of Treasury valuers in these difficult matters, and they were willing to adopt figures that were just, rather than to fight about the value of this extraordinary property. With regard to manufacturing premises and the private residences of officials, there was no such difficulty, and overseers could easily find persons competent to value them. A letter from the Treasury, dated last month, contained this passage:—In these circumstances, and in view of the time which has passed since the last complete valuation of the Arsenal, their Lordships think that it would be satisfactory to the several interests concerned that a new valuation should now be again undertaken. The statutory conditions under which the Arsenal is held do not, in their opinion, permit of the building being simply included in the valuation lists in the same manner as though it were private property; but they are prepared, if such measure meets your wishes, to give directions for the entire re-valuation of the Arsenal by the officer at the head of the Treasury Department of Rates, whose ability and experience in such matters are well known to the Committee. They would propose to associate with Mr. Griffiths, an outside surveyor, whose name and position in the profession will be a guarantee that all the interests concerned will receive equal consideration in fixing the amount of the valuation.''He looked upon that as a considerable concession. If the Government would do this every five years with regard to all their property, discontent would vanish; but so long as they maintained their present position, they ought to allow an appeal against Government valuations. If the Government reserved the valuation in its hands, assisted by the local authorities to fix it, and would say that where 1756 the local authority were discontented with the inadequacy of the amount offered, they would exercise their power, and grant an appeal, this perhaps would be a better way, from the Government point of view, to meet the discontent than by accepting the Amendment and throwing all the Government property into the rateable area, which might involve a large number of appeals on the part of the Government on account of the difficulty of the overseers getting sufficient expert knowledge to assess the property and to fixing the proper valuation. He suggested, therefore, that if in the case of Woolwich the valuation should, in a few months, prove to be £10,000 less than it ought to be, the Government should allow the local authority to have the right of appeal rather than that the Government should stand on their strict legal rights. There was no alternative but to ask the Government to be placed in the same position as any ratepayer, and to give an opportunity to both sides to be heard, so as to settle the dispute with justice to everyone concerned.
§ MR. H. E. KEARLEY (Devonport)
said, that his constituency was naturally interested in this question, because the Government buildings there covered a large amount of ground. The Crown land in his constituency was alone worth £600,000, and the buildings £1,500,000; and as his constituency had a direct interest in the proposition of the hon. Member he supported it. It was obvious that those large Government establishments were of considerable advantage to the town. Practically they made the town, though at the same time they threw upon the local authorities a great deal of cost. The mere wear and tear of those places where the Government were continually taking heavy weights into the manufactories was of itself an additional charge which would not be incurred in an ordinary town of similar size. He had heard it contended on the part of the Government that they treated 1757 the local authorities very liberally in regard to their contribution. That was not the feeling of the local authorities. On the contrary, they felt, at all events in his own constituency, that were the contribution doubled, it would be less than what ought really to be paid. In Devonport they were especially unfortunate in their system of land tenure, and in other respects they were unfortunate because of the defaulting on the part of the Government in paying a proper contribution to local rates. In addition to that there were some bridges drawing a very large revenue which were exempted from local taxation. The desire all over the country was simply for equality of treatment. They failed to see why on account of antiquated provisions in an Act of Parliament under which exemptions were given to the Crown by accident, while the local burdens were increasing, the Government should have any preferential treatment whatever. If the hon. Member for South Islington pressed his Motion to a Division, if the Government did not see its way to accede to it, he hoped the majority of the House would support it. Their desire was to apply the sound principle of what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS (Westminster)
desired to support this Motion, and to endeavour to assist his hon. Friend who had brought it forward in placing the claims of the ratepayers to a full and equitable assessment of Government property in as clear a light as he could do from opportunities which he enjoyed as representing Westminster, the most glaring instance of the case that they were putting forward. He trusted the Motion would not be met by any jealous disposition on the part of Members representing the rest of the country. There were other patent financial grievances which London suffered from, such as its contribution to the poor rate and the police rate, which fell under the Motion on the 1758 Paper of his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London. With regard to these and particularly with regard to the grievance under notice, he would remind hon. Members that, whatever relief was granted to London ratepayers, to such relief the inhabitants of London would contribute even more than their proportionate share. Such relief, of course, would be paid out of the Consolidated Fund—that was out of Imperial Taxation. Now, out of the sum raised under those heads of Imperial Taxation which it was possible to localise, and which amounted to £40,663,269, London contributed £9,736,206, or 23.94 per cent.; that was to say, London, with one seventh of the population of the whole country contributed practically one-fourth of this portion of Imperial Taxation; and this particular item of rates on Government property, this additional cost of housing the National Government, would still be contributed to by London in a larger proportion than by the rest of the country. How had the exemption enjoyed by property occupied by the Crown for the public service arisen? It had arisen from the application of the legal rule, upon which all rating was based, that there should be an occupier having a beneficial occupation. Where property belonging to the Crown was in the possession of an occupier having a beneficial occupation, the exemption did not apply; hence the tenants of Crown lands (such as Hyde Park, the grazing of which was let), were rateable like tenants of land belonging to private owners. The rangers of the royal parks were rateable for their residences, and it had even been held that the inmates of Hampton Court Palace were subject to the rate, notwithstanding the precarious nature of their tenure. In the case of Kensington Palace, an arrangement was made between the Crown and the local authority by which an annual contribution of £450 was made in lieu of rates. Government property held for public purposes was exempted, on the theory of non-beneficial 1759 occupation. But the theory had been long since abandoned, and the principle that all Government property should be rated had been clearly laid down. This was conceded in express terms in the Treasury Minute of 1874, which his hon. Friend had read. But long before that, so far back as 1858, a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to go into the subject, and this Committee reported that—all lands and buildings used and occupied for public purposes, whether there be a beneficial occupation or not, according to the received meaning of the term, should be assessed to the local rates, and pay rates accordingly.This Report, therefore, in express terms, threw over the theory of beneficial occupation. But the Minute of 1874, while it laid down the principle that Government property should be rated, contained, in the method of application suggested for that principle, a serious blot, and one which had ever since prevented, and now prevented, the principle being fairly carried out. While it stated the intention of adopting in each case, as far as possible, "the same principles as are applicable to the valuation of private property," it declared that the Government should retain in its own hands the valuation of all Government property. That was the key of the situation. The principles applicable to the valuation of private property were to be applied, by a method essentially foreign to, and incompatible with, the valuation of private property, namely, that the occupier was himself to assess the property he occupied for rating purposes. What would become of the rates if such a principle were admitted? What had become of the contribution to the rates fairly due from the Government on the property it occupied, by the operation of this anomalous and unprecedented condition? He admitted that fairer valuations were now being made, but these were not due to the initiative of the Treasury, but to the fact that the Vestry of the constituency ho had the honour to represent, took 1760 up the matter in a vigorous and resolute manner, and, inviting the co-operation of other rating authorities of London, pressed for a re-valuation of these properties. The result of that pressure had been an increase in the assessment of Government property in Westminster of £34,423, and in the Strand Union, of £35,677. These two areas contained only about one-fourth of the Government property in London, and, assuming the same proportion in the other districts, the total increase would be £280,000, which, at 6s. in the £, would give an increase of £84,000 a-year in aid of London rates. He called the special attention of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir John Hibbert) to this estimate, because, somewhat earlier in the Session, he was asked a question as to a statement in a pamphlet written by Mr. Hayter, a gentleman who was becoming a recognised authority on these matters, to the effect that the undervaluation of Government property in London meant a loss to the rates of £87,000. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he could not accept the estimate of £87,000 arrived at by Mr. Hayter, but it would be seen that on the basis arrived at of the increase in Westminster and the Strand, those figures were, as nearly as possible, accurate. He admitted that the right hon. Gentleman was disposed to consider this subject in a kindly and sympathetic spirit, but the natural inclinations of the right hon. Gentleman were, he thought, warped and cramped by the demoralising influence of the Department with which he was connected. The right hon. Gentleman sheltered himself under his statement in Committee, on March 28th, which was, no doubt, furnished to him by his officials, that Westminster and the Stand were perfectly satisfied. He would have something to say about the satisfaction of Westminster later on. He believed that his hon. Friend the Member for the Strand Division (Mr. W. F. D. Smith) had denied 1761 that the Strand authorities were satisfied. [Mr. W. F. D. SMITH—"Hear, hear."] He made no apology to the House for introducing local considerations into this discussion, because the whole Bill was a local one, and the amount of relief to be obtained in this matter rested upon the aggregate of justice or injustice done in certain localities. Dealing with Westminster, which had afforded the most glaring instance in support of the present Motion, he might state, without going into details, that the value of 32 Government properties in that district, i. e., the value fixed for rating purposes by the Government itself, and for which alone the contribution had for many years been made in aid of the rates, was £43,632. It was proposed by the Vestry, on fair principles of valuation, that the amount should be increased to £88,122. The actual increase which the Government had allowed amounted to £34,423, or over £10,000 short of the estimated fair rateable value. But in addition, this increase of valuation left entirely out of account an element of great importance to Westminster, and one for which he asked a generous consideration by the House. This Palace of Westminster in which we sit was left by the Treasury as the most conspicuous instance in all London of under-valuation, because it was assessed only in respect of the Speaker's residence, and the rooms occupied by other officials and servants of the House. This rateable value was fixed at £7,392. But if the whole Palace were valued, as it should be, a fair estimate would be an increase in the assessment of £45,000, which would give another 3d. in the £ in aid of the rates. The Treasury made exception to rating the Palace of Westminster as a whole, because it was, they said, a Royal Palace, but, he would ask, was there ever a contention thinner or more untenable? Buckingham Palace, Balmoral Castle, and Osborne were residences of the Sovereign; but in no sense could this be 1762 classed as such, inasmuch as it was not a personal residence of the Sovereign, nor was it adapted to, or used for, any such purpose. It was just as much occupied for the public service as the Foreign Office, the Admiralty, and the other buildings upon which the Treasury had allowed an increase in the assessment. Parliament, which governed the country, was, in fact, the beneficial occupier of this Palace of Westminster, and he could not imagine that Parliament, because it happened to meet in Westminster, would consent much longer to deprive the ratepayers of Westminster of what he claimed as their just and equitable due—namely, a fair rate on the buildings occupied by Parliament. Under these circumstances he could assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that the Westminster local authorities were very far from being satisfied with the increase of assessments which had been made, and which, with the exception indicated, left altogether out of account this great dwelling-house of the representatives of the nation. But the right hon. Gentleman, in asserting that Westminster was "satisfied," had said, "I have it in black and white." He (the Speaker) also had something in black and white which he would venture to read to the House. It was a statement made to him by a member of one of the Westminster deputations which attended at the Treasury. He could assure the House that it was reliable and accurate, and he himself vouched for it:—In all we waited upon the Surveyor to the Treasury three times. We had asked to be allowed to state our views on the under-valuation of Government property to him, but we no sooner interviewed the Surveyor than we found the proceeding was to be reversed, and he was to lay his views before us. He lectured us in a high-handed fashion for publishing and circulating among other rating authorities a statement of the under-valuation of Government property within the area of our jurisdiction; he stated we had made uncalled-for reflections upon him; and declared that our proceeding had given Her Majesty's Treasury deep pain. We tried hard to assure him that we had no intention of reflecting upon him, and denied that anything in the report we published was capable of bearing that interpretation; if so, we apologised sincerely. The alleged reflections, however, were flung at us repeatedly on all three 1763 occasions. After the second interview, which we thought had closed our business with the Treasury, the Surveyor wrote to say that he proposed to deduct one-fourth of the gross values of the barracks instead of the usual proportion of one-sixth to arrive at the rateable, because this was the practice in the case of lunatic asylums. We therefore waited upon him again when he abandoned this proposition. At the close of the interview he read out a long document, couched in most effusive terms, which he had prepared. It stated that we were satisfied that the values conceded were fair, and that we appreciated the handsome manner in which we had been treated by the Treasury. Some of us demurred to subscribing to the fairness of the values. We suggested a qualification such as 'fair under the circumstances.' Mr. Vincent Griffiths told us, however, that unless we were able to agree that the values conceded were fair, it would be perfectly useless for him to try to get the Chancellor of the Exchequer to confirm the new valuations. Taking up the document containing the values, he said it might as well be torn up if we could not agree that the values were fair. Faced with the loss of an additional £35,000 to the rateable value of the parish, which we had after much trouble obtained, we signed the effusive document. I am entitled to speak only for myself, but I may say I signed it, not because I thought the values conceded were adequate, but because I was anxious not to risk the loss of the £10,000 per annum to the parish which it will now receive over and above the former Treasury contributions in lieu of rates. My signature at last was obtained by the pressure involved in the threat of that loss.The position would be easily understood. They were forced into signing the document prepared in the Treasury by having the threat held over their heads that if they did not sign it they would get no relief at all. They were one party to the suit, the other party were the judge. They were suppliants, and, naturally, they grasped at the crumbs thrown to them. But there, in the House of Commons, which was not the suppliant but the Master of Departments, he asked, was that the way in which a great Department should deal with such a question? was that the sort of satisfaction—that "black and white" document—obtained under such circum stances, on which the right hon. Gentleman was entitled to rely as an answer to the further just claims he was urging? He begged leave to return for a moment to the general question. The local rating authority was the unit, the collective individual, of the financial system. Was it just to mulct one of these individual out of proportion to the rest for the relief of the whole? By the operation of 1764 the law, or rather of the absence of a law, Government property was not legally rateable. This fell with a heavy hand upon certain of these individuals; and they were thereby, owing to the accident of containing within their area Government property, compelled to make a contribution to the Consolidated Fund, the fund that maintained the nation, entirely out of proportion to the rest of the individuals. Was this just? Was it not an inequality and an abuse which that House should be ready to level up and to remove—that House which was the last Court of Appeal against all injustice, if not for individuals, at least with regard to systems which affected individuals, however few and scattered the latter might be. But hon. Gentlemen might say this would need a Bill; and some sacred and hidden constitutional principle might be violated or tampered with in such a Bill. He wished that hon. Gentlemen on all sides of the House would be content to confine their tampering with the Constitution within these harmless limits. They would then have more of the time of the House to devote to the rectification of old irregularities that had escaped notice, and to the curing of new but irritating complaints that must from time to time arise in the most vigorous and perfect organisms. He thought a change in the law would be more satisfactory; but it was not essential to the remedying of this glaring injustice. The real remedy was for the Government to wipe out the blot in the Treasury Minute of 1874 and to allow their property to be assessed in accordance with the whole spirit of that Minute and of the Report of the Comission of 1858 by the same authorities and under the same conditions as those which applied to the property of the rest of the ratepayers all over the country. As to "tampering with the Constitution," all he could say was that he wished all tampering with the Constitution was confined within such harmless limits, because then more time in that House could be devoted to the removal of old irregularities which had escaped notice and caused irritating complaints—complaints which must, from time to time, arise in the most vigorous and perfect organism. There was no need of an Act of Parlioment to remedy this great injustice. It could be done easily if the 1765 Government would honestly and fearlessly remove the blot in the Treasury Minute of 1874, and consent to have this property in their occupation assessed by the same authority and under the same conditions as the property of the rest of the ratepayers was assessed.
§ *MR. W. F. D. SMITH (Strand)
thought that the constituency which he had the honour to represent might be classed with the constituency of his hon, Friend who had just sat down. No district had stronger claims than the Strand in this matter. The amount of property assessed was nearly £100,000 net. There were two points to which he wished to draw attention, and these were with reference to the Courts of Justice and Somerset House. He was perfectly aware that, as to the Courts of Justice, there was a particular local difficulty in the way. In the Liberty of the Rolls the Government paid on the site of the Courts of Justice £2,194 net, the amount being estimated at £13,800. He need not here point out the great loss of rating which the district had to bear. In the parish of St. Clement Danes the Government paid an £10,377 net, the amount being estimated at £57,017. Then, as to Somerset House, in St. Mary-le-Strand, the surveyor of the parish's estimate was £28,860, that of theGovernment£20,000 only. If the property adjacent was of a different character he could understand this, but Somerset House was surrounded by offices of enormous value—property of practically the same quality as Somerset House, and of the same description. He could not see where the difficulty could be with the Government surveyor, or why he could not come to a satisfactory settlement with the local valuer. It came to this, that in the Strand Union alone, the difference between the surveyors was something like £10,000, and this figure would have been increased if the Strand Surveyor had taken into account the unfinished Admiralty buildings. He need not go farther as to the Treasury Memorandum of 1874. The very same promises which had been made this year by the Government had been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1874. He rose only to call attention to some facts connected with his own constituency, and to show the very great hardship which was inflicted by the action of the Treasury in conjunction 1766 with the Equalisation of Rates Act passed last Session. If had been said that Government offices were of benefit to the districts in which they were placed. As matters stood, so far as the Strand was concerned, it was very much the reverse. These, large buildings decreased, to a large extent, the night population of the district, and the rates were, therefore, owing to the action of the Equalisation of Rates Act, considerably above the average. Apparently, the Government allowed that their property should be rated on the same basis as private property. ["No, no!"] He hoped they would before the discussion concluded. He hoped that there would be a clear statement to that effect, and, further, that Government, property would stand the same chance of being raised as the rates on private property were raised.
§ MR. J. CALDWELL (Mid Lanark)
said, the other great towns did not possess the great Government buildings which London possessed, and which led to a great outflow of money. This was a question which could not be met by Resolution—it was far too important a matter to be decided in that way. They must proceed by Bill. Was there no Government property? No betterment in Westminster and Buckingham Palaces? If these buildings involved a loss they would expect to find the rates higher in Westminster than in other parts of London. [An HON. MEMBER: "So they are."] He doubted that. In Westminster they reaped the advantage of land being more valuable in consequence of these buildings. Then they had St. James's Park and Hyde Park made for them and kept up without cost to the public. If great cities like Glasgow and Liverpool wanted a park they had to pay for it. There was the British Museum; did not the people of London get the benefit of having that Institution at their very doors? If the rating of Government property was to be considered, on the one hand, they should, on the other consider the benefits of the property to London on the betterment principle. If they were going to ask for more rates on account of the Government property, he did not see why the ratepayers of the United Kingdom should not propose that a considerable portion of Hyde Park and the Green Park should be 1767 leased for building purposes. In every one of the divisions of London in which Government property was situated there was a large amount of comparatively unrated property, but the existence of those buildings was a great advantage in many ways to the districts in which they were. What would be the effect, for instance, if St. James's Park and the ground on which Westminster Palace stood were leased for building purposes? Why, that the property of the neighbourhood would be greatly reduced in value. It was scarcely fair, therefore, that the rest of the community which had not the advantages to be derived from the presence of Government building in their midst, should be called upon to pay the increased rating proposed in this Motion.
§ *MR. W. P. BYLES (York, W. R., Shipley)
said, the Debate had failed to convince him that the case of those who introduced and supported the Motion was a just one. There was another side to the question than that which had been presented. The Motion had been introduced and seconded by London Members, who were supported by the hon. Member for Devonport, the hon. Member for Westminster, the hon. Member for Westminster, and the hon. Member for the Strand Division, in all of whose constituencies Government works or buildings were situated. So that if he had had no views at all on the question he should have been inclined to suspect, in these circumstances, that the Motion covered an effort on the part of a section of the community to obtain an advantage at the expense of the community as a whole. Much had been said about the right of a parish to claim the full rates which should accrue from Government buildings situated in it, and about the extent to which such parishes were now deprived of a fair source of local revenue. But not a word had been said about those who were to pay the increased rates which were claimed for those buildings in London, Woolwich, Devonport, and other places. The whole of the Debate seemed to have proceeded on the assumption that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had a treasure-house filled with gold, out of which he could easily grant the increased rates claimed on the public buildings. But every one seemed to have forgotten that the rates would have 1768 to be paid by the general community—or by that great part of the community which did not enjoy the benefits of the presence of Government buildings—including the small cotters of the Highlands of Scotland and the poor peasantry of Ireland, of whose distressed condition they heard so much in the House on the previous night. An hon. Member had stated that this was not a London question as against the provinces. That might be true in the letter, but it was not true in the spirit. It was a question of London and the other places in which there was Government property against the rest of the country in which there was no such property. But what would London be if it were not the seat of Government? What would Westminster be without the Houses of Parliament, or if Parliament was removed, say to Oxford, where it was once held? Why, it was obvious that the value of its property, that its rents, its trade, and its prosperity generally would be greatly reduced. The same argument might be applied to all other places in which Government buildings were situated. Devonport would be a desert and a swamp but for the dockyard there. There was no place in the kingdom now without Government property which would not gladly welcome any of the great national buildings referred to, even without the power of rating them, because it was well known that the presence of such establishments increased local trade and raised the value of local property. London enjoyed those advantages to a large degree, and might well be content. The provinces to a very large extent regarded London as a pampered child of fortune. When, therefore, he heard the representatives of London crying out for more money from the public funds—from the pockets of the people of other parts of the kingdom, his suspicion was aroused. He should Vote against the Motion.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, that as one of the pampered children of fortune representing London, he wished to say a few words in reply to the reply to the remarks of the last two speakers. It appeared to him that they had not regarded the question from a fair point of view. What was the claim made? Simply that those buildings which were used for national purposes 1769 should be rated in exactly the same way as other property. It was neither reasonable nor fair that a particular parish or town should suffer simply because Government buildings, used for the public benefit, happened to be situated in it. In some cases the existence of such buildings in a district might be an advantage, but not in all. Somerset House, for instance, did not in any way add to the prosperity of the Strand. The only fair way to pay rates and taxes in those districts was, that they should be paid out of the public Exchequer and the burden thrown upon those people who used them. The Motion did not apply to London only, but to an immense number of places besides. The hon. Gentleman opposite said that they had great advantages in the parks, but the parks had nothing to do with the question; there were two or three royal parks, but they paid for Battersea Park, Victoria Park, Hampstead Heath, and other parks because they were public places of general use. The question of building over these places was of course quite out of the question. What they had urged for years was, that there should be no special valuer for the Government property as there was at present. The appointment was a costly one, and was an absolute mistake. The valuation of these properties ought to be strictly on the lines of the valuation of other properties subject to the appeal to which other properties were subject. Technical difficulties might be got over by an Act of Parliament. They had come to the conclusion that the fair system was the one proposed, and they were encouraged in that view by the action of the Secretary to the Treasury. It was obvious that a system by which all these properties should pay no rates could not be maintained; the right hon. Gentleman had given way to a great extent, but he had not given way to the satisfaction of the localities. The localities would never be satisfied until the system was uniform. The right hon. Gentleman, by going as far as he had done, had, practically, cut the ground from under himself, and the next step must be that these properties should be assessed as other properties were.
§ MR. HARRY LAWSON (Gloucester, Cirencester)
said, the issue was an eminently practical one, and it was impossible to contend that it was one that concerned 1770 only the Metropolis. The figures showed that out of a total of, £1 90,000 given in respect of Government buildings London received £80,000, leaving £110,000 to the rest of the country, and therefore the greater part of the money went to districts and municipalities outside London. Besides that there was not a town which had not its post office and surveyor of taxes' house, and in respect of those they would be sufferers and would benefit by the change. He would like, if possible, to be a peacemaker between the Secretary to the Treasury and the Metropolitan Members, and he would ask the hon. Member for Islington to omit the word "legislation" from the Motion. He believed in principle that the Motion might then find favour with the Secretary to the Treasury. They could not go further than the Treasury Minute of 1874. In the case of disagreement some fair tribunal of arbitration between the Government and the local authority would have to be decided upon. He believed it might be possible to come to some arrangement in regard to that, and if so, he hoped his hon. Friend would not insist upon his Motion verbatim, but would withdraw the words "by legislation," and then he did not think a Division would be challenged in the House.
§ MR. HARRY LAWSON
said, that what they wanted was to arrive at a fair conclusion to this controversy; it was not a question of one side scoring eff tho other, but of obtaining a proper contribution from the Government property in London and elsewhere. He suggested that the House should agreed to a Resolution admitting the liability of Government property, and leave it to those interested to settle with the Treasury what a proper tribunal should be to decide in case of disagreement between the Government and the local authority.
§ MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, the basis of the argument was that the Government had no right to expect exceptional treatment. What they proposed was that the Government should submit themselves to the valuation of an ordinary local valuer. The Government. when it suited them, were only too ready to accept that valuation. They taxed him on the valuation of the 1771 local valuer, and, when he appealed, they referred him back to that valuation.
§ MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES
said, he was quite prepared that the Crown should have the right to appeal also. He expected equal treatment. The whole country got the benefit of the Government buildings, and was the Government not to pay also a proportionate part to the salary of some of the Ministers because most of that salary was not spent in Scotland? Then it must be remembered that the Government entered into serious competition with the business of small banks by their system of Post Office Savings Banks, and was it not monstrous that, under those circumstances, the Government should not pay the ordinary rates, as the banker did? Where the Government found it necessary to occupy buildings, those buildings should be subject to the ordinary charges, and should no longer be entitled to claim exemption. In a parish consisting chiefly of Government buildings, such as a fort or a dockyard, if those buildings were to be exempt from rates, a few houses held by private individuals might have to pay the whole of the rates. In his opinion the true principle that should be acted upon was that the Government should have no right of exemption at all. On the whole he should vote for the Resolution without hesitation.
§ DR. MACGREGOR (Inverness-shire)
said, that he should oppose the Resolution. It might not be admitted that on this particular question he could claim that his foot was upon his native heath, but as a Scotchman he thought he had a right to protest against this proposal. It had been stated that Westminster had been relieved to the tune of £34,000 a year, but as far as the rest of the country was concerned it was a question of taking out of one pocket and putting into the other. He did not oppose the Resolution from a feeling of jealousy, but he merely asked for what was just and right as between the different parts of the country. As a Scotch representative he wished to point out that if London was to be relieved by the full rating of Government buildings the rest of the country would necessarily have to make up for it.
§ *THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Sir JOHN HIBBERT, Oldham)
, in answer to the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, said that he need not be afraid of the Government giving way on this subject. At the same time he wished to see justice done to the ratepayers, to the taxpayers, and to the Exchequer. While he could not approve of the Resolution, he must say that he could not find fault with anything that its Mover had said. There were, however, two sides to the question. This subject had been a source of difficulty ever since 1858, when a Committee, which was appointed to inquire into the question, recommended that all property, whether held privately or by the Government, should be liable to be rated. In 1859 when Lord Derby was Prime Minister, an attempt was made to carry out the recommendations of the Committee, but, although those recommendations were embodied in a Bill, it was found impossible to carry a measure on the subject that would be satisfactory to the country. In 1871, when the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was the President of the Local Government Board, he endeavoured to deal with the question, and brought in a Bill on the subject which was equally unsuccessful with the one that preceded it. In 1873 the right hon. Member for Halifax was President of the Local Government Board and attempted to deal with the subject, and brought in another Bill, which was unsuccessful. In 1874, when a Conservative Government were in office, Sir Stafford Northcote thought that the difficulty which the subject involved was so great that he did not attempt to bring in a Bill dealing with it, but merely made a proposal which took the form of the Treasury Minute which had been referred to by the Mover of the Resolution. Ever since 1874 the Government of the day, acting upon the terms of that Minute, had gone on making grants in aid of Government property on account of rates. At that time Sir Stafford Northcote prepared a memorandum on the subject for the purpose of laying it before the House of Commons, which put the question in the fairest way possible, and showed clearly that it was the intention of the Government of the day to make all Government property liable to rating. Nothing could be 1773 clearer than the terms of that memorandum, which enunciated the principle that Government property was liable to be rated, but reserved the question of the mode of valuation in the hands of the Government. The hon. and gallant Member for Woolwich, in a speech which he had made upon this question, had pointed out the difficulty of dealing with the subject by means of legislation in consequence of the impossibility of putting a fair value on such buildings as forts. Were forts to be rated on the basis of the amount of money that had been expended upon them? The forts around our dockyards had cost, roughly speaking, something like, £20,000,000; and taking 3 per cent. on that amount as their annual value, the rates payable for them would be no less than £120,000 a year. A difficulty would be imposed on the Assessment Committees in dealing with such properties. It was said that the Houses of Parliament were not rated. All the official residences within the building were rated, but the houses themselves were not, and this was because they were supposed to be Royal palaces. [An hon. MEMBER: "Why?"] He could not say; but they had been so regarded from all time, and this was indisputable. That House of Parliament cost approximately £3,500,000, and this assessed at 3 per cent. would yield £26,250 a year for rates for that one property alone. Were they prepared to meet so great a charge? Representatives of London parishes might say they were willing to advance that large sum; but the Treasury had to think of the taxpayers of the country. Still, he admitted that many Government properties were not adequately rated. But he wished to show what had been done in London during the last few months. The re-valuation of property in London was going on rapidly, and he hoped the activity which was going on would bring forth good fruit. More than half of London had already been settled, and every case so settled was regarded by the Valuation and Assessment Authorities as fair, just, and satisfactory. Taking St. Margaret's, Westminster, the old gross annual value was £57,740; the new valuation was £97,079, an increase of £39,339. With regard to the Strand parishes, the increase in St. John the Baptist, Savoy, was from £1,440 to 1774 £3,000; in St. Mary-le-Strand the increase had been from £10,560 to £24,000. In St. Martin's in the Fields, which included the new Admiralty Buildings and the National Portrait Gallery, the increase had been from £32,415 to £51,182. In the Liberty of the Rolls, which included the new Record Office, there had been an increase from £6,240 to £15,799, or an increase of £9,559. In Marylebone there was an increase of £898, and in St. Andrew, Holborn, and St. George the Martyr of £1,967. In the parish of St. Margaret and St. John, Westminster, the Vestry had written expressing their "unqualified agreement" with the new valuation. The Vestry of St. Andrew, Holborn, and of St. George the Martyr stated that they "consider the new valuation quite fair and reasonable." The Assessment Authorities of all the other parishes had expressed their full concurrence in the new valuation as a fair and satisfactory one. With respect to the rating of the Royal Courts of Justice he quite admitted that the Strand Union had a grievance. The Royal Courts of Justice were rated under an Act of Parliament limiting the assessment to the rateable value of the property at the date of its acquisition by the Crown, and he proposed to obtain powers to make the Courts of Law rateable just like any other Government property, and do away with the exemption that existed. Legal advice was being taken as to the course that should be adopted for this purpose. With respect to other Local Authorities, the Treasury were prepared to consider any representations that might be made to them as to grievnaces that existed. Many authorities had been satisfied with the valuations since 1874, and had never appealed to the Treasury to revise them. If they were to do so the Treasury would be willing to consider whether a case had been made out for an increase or otherwise. The Treasury desired to deal fairly and loyally with the Local Authorities according to the memorandum on the subject. Replying to what had been said by the hon. Member for Woolwich he did not know whether the Treasury could grant an appeal from the decision of the Treasury valuer. The present system was that the valuer made a report to the Treasury, and the latter confirmed it or otherwise. It was difficult 1775 to say what appeal could be given, but he thought some kind of case had been made out for appeal between the Government valuer and the Local Authorities, and if it was possible to provide a satisfactory Court of Appeal, the Treasury would be prepared to do it best in that direction. The valuation of going concerns like Woolwich Arsenal was intricate and complicated, and the Treasury had decided to engage the services of an expert to assist the Treasury valuer in coming to a proper decision. He was inclined to think that would be satisfactory to the Assessment Committee of Woolwich Union. The expert would then go over the property, and the Union authorities might interview the Treasury if the Treasury valuation was not acceptable to them.
§ *COLONEL HUGHES
said, that the Woolwich Union had appointed a valuer to go over some Government buildings, but his application to inspect them had been refused.
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
said, that it was a matter that would have to be considered. At first sight it seemed that the local authority ought to have every information given to them.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)
asked, whether it was distinctly understood that where the overseers were not satisfied they might appeal to the Treasury?
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
said, that they already had the power of appeal. He was hoping to set up a better form of appeal. There were one or two other concessions which the Government were prepared to make. In addition to the Courts of Law, the General Post Office and the Customs House would be dealt with in the same way. He might ask the hon. Gentleman, who brought forward this Motion—he would not say not to press it—but to acknowledge that some progress had been made upon this question, in dealing with which it was possible to be in too great a hurry. Let them wait for this year's quinquennial valuation, and let them see whether any great grievance existed throughout the country on the same question. Then, if they were not satisfied with the bold way in which the matter had been treated by the Treasury, further action could be taken. It would be scarcely wise to take so great a step as the Motion suggested at the present time. He had 1776 confidence that the Government valuer, Mr. Griffiths, would deal with these questions so as to give satisfaction not only to the local authorities, but also to the Treasury. It might be desirable in the future that these questions of Government valuation should be liable to revision at each quinquennial valuation in the Metropolis, and from time to time in the country, when the valuations of the different unions were reconsidered. Having made this statement and being desirous, as far as he could bring any influence to bear on the question, to see the, spirit of the 1874 Memorandum loyally carried out, he hoped that the House would support the present system.
§ MR. W. R. BOUSFIELD (Hackney, N.)
said, that the supporters of the Motion ought to be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the concessions which he had offered. But the right hon. Gentleman had not entirely grasped the object of the Motion; and he hoped that, if a trifling alteration were made in its wording, the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to assent to it. It was suggested that the words "by legislation" should be left out, and the hon. Mover was willing to accept that Amendment. Everything in the Motion would then be consistent with what the right hon. Gentleman had stated, and would strengthen his hands in taking the action which he was willing to take. The right hon. Gentleman had fully affirmed the principle of the 1874 Memorandum, which set out the identical principle affirmed by the Motion. And why was the House asked to reaffirm that principle? Because it was admitted that the principle had not been consistently upheld by the Government, and that there were exemptions existing which were unjust. He suggested that the Government would be wise in accepting the Motion, as amended, and in so enabling the House to reaffirm a principle which had been challenged by some of the Government's supporters. Attempts had been made to reopen the whole question. It was said that the Government buildings were of great advantage to the localities in which they were situated; and that some sort of "betterment" was caused by them. After the admission of the right hon. Gentleman, it was not necessary to answer those arguments if they were serious.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make an explanation if the hon. Member who is speaking gives way to him.
§ DR. MACGREGOR
We challenge the principle on this ground—that Government property is not the same as private property, and therefore that it ought not to be rated on the same principle.
said, that it was evident that some of the Government's supporters took a different view from the Government themselves. The same arguments would equally apply to a large employer, who had a big factory. He hoped that, in view of the action of their own supporters, the Government would assent to the Motion with the words "by legislation" left out.
§ MR. WALTER LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
said, that he did not quite agree with his hon. Friend in whose name the Motion stood, nor with the hon. Gentleman opposite, who opposed the Motion on the ground that Government property should not be rated equally with other property. He failed to see why Government property should not bear its fair share of local expenditure. But he had listened to the Secretary to the Treasury with some surprise, be cause from what the right hon. Gentleman had said as to the history of the Treasury in this matter, it appeared that the application of the existing system was extremely unequal throughout the Metropolis, and that in some instances the local authorities had been bested by the Treasury. Therefore he was not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman proposed certain concessions; but the suggested Amendment of the Motion would seem to carry the House further than the right hon. Gentleman's speech had indicated. He was compelled to approach this subject not altogether from the point of view of the London Members. The question was a very large one, and the London Members asked for a considerable advantage when they called upon the ratepayers and taxpayers of the rest of the country to make up the deficit which would result if this principle were to be applied to its fullest possible extent. The Secretary to the Treasury had made a valuable concession 1778 in intimating that he would endeavour to arrive at some process by which there should be an appeal in this matter, but the right hon. Gentleman did not say whether legislation would be required or not. He presumed that if the Treasury assented to an appeal there would be no need of legislation. He did not know what course the hon. Member for Islington would take in face of the concession, but it appeared to him that, having regard to the interests of the, ratepayers not only of the Metropolis but of the rest of the country, the Resolution by itself would carry them a little too far. If the Resolution were to the effect that the House should proceed by legislation to deal with the whole question of the incidence of taxation, and the existing system of local valuation, he could see no objection to it; but London Members would not deny that if they got all they asked for there would be a deficit which would have to be made up by the taxpayers and ratepayers of the rest of the country. [Mr. BRUNNER: "Not ratepayers."] As a matter of fact, ratepayers and taxpayers were the same persons. He wished the House might be allowed to accept the assurance the Government had given that they would endeavour to remove the cause of injustice, and that they would not be called upon to pledge themselves to a matter which was not only open to practical difficulties, but to some charge of want of consideration towards the rest of the country.
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said, the Secretary to the Treasury had done a good deal in the course of the past year to meet what had been brought before him eighteen months ago. The London County Council brought this matter very prominently before the Treasury, and the deputation which waited upon the right hon. Gentleman reported to the Council that they found every desire on the part of the Treasury to carry out the Treasury minute; but for all that he could not accept as satisfactory the position taken up to day by the right hon. Gentleman. The presence in the Resolution of the words "by legislation" was in no sense essential. What was desired was that the thing should be done, and if it could be done, or largely done, without legislation, well and good. If, however, 1779 legislation were necessary, as it might be in certain cases, then legislation would have to be resorted to although that specific method was not included in the Resolution. He, therefore, thought the Resolution would be improved by the omission of the words "by legislation." He could not accept the view of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long) that the Resolution went beyond the position taken up, at least theoretically, by the Government because what the Government said was that they stood by the Treasury Memorandum of 1874. The words of that Memorandum were—We adopt the principle that property occupied for the public service should contribute to the local rates equally with other property in the parishes in which it is situated with due regard to its character in each case.After those words had been adopted by a responsible Government, he did not feel it at all necessary to answer the points which had been raised by hon. Members who had spoken in opposition to the principle of rating Government property for local purposes. But the proposal made by the hon. Member for Islington was really to carry out effectively the Treasury Memorandum. While they realised fairly and honourably that the right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to meet what had been urged upon him, and what was particularly urged upon him by the London County Council, and that he had done much in the right direction, they maintained that the doing of justice should not rest upon the arbitrament of the right hon. Gentleman or of his department. They claimed that henceforth justice should be done in the ordinary course of law. If the right hon. Gentleman accepted the Resolution he would have his hands strengthened in effecting the object which it was quite evident he wished to effect. If the right hon. Gentleman found legislation was necessary, it would be his duty to bring it in, and the duty of hon. Members to support him in the matter. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would do what they asked of him, namely, give definiteness and distinctness to the principles enunciated in the House, both by himself and all who had supported the Motion, and he could not do that better than by supporting the Resolution.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
submitted that the Secretary to the 1780 Treasury had made a valuable concession. At the same time, as the hon. Member for Shoreditch had pointed out, it was only a voluntary concession. It was based upon no system, upon no definite principle. It might apply to one parish which brought pressure to bear on the Government Department, whilst another parish, which probably had not the same municipal courage as a richer one, would perhaps not succeed in getting that fair valuation and assessment of Government property that the rich parish had been able to secure. The fact was, the question ought to be treated on higher grounds than it had been treated by both London and Provincial Members. In every country this problem had confronted the Government that had their representative chambers in any town or city, and an imperial city could only be governed from one of two points of view. The one was that adopted by the United States in the case of Washington, and such a system we in this country would not stand for 24 hours, and the other was that suggested by the hon. Member for Islington, namely, to make Government buildings amenable, generally speaking, to the conditions that applied to all sorts of property, and which the Assessments Committees of local authorities generously took into consideration when they were assessing. Washington had no Municipal Government at all. None of the citizens had votes, and there were no local rates and taxes. The system was most unsatisfactory, and the people were continually clamouring against it. Under a different system the Government property would be assessed at a much higher value than the Government were disposed to value it at. The second method of treating this question was that which London demanded, namely, that every Government building should be assessed at its fair rateable value on uniform lines and conditions. Some provincial Members seemed to be under the impression that if London lost by the non-assessment of Government buildings, she gained by the wealth and business which followed the Imperial city. But there was another side to the Imperial city which those gentlemen forgot. It was true that the Imperial city attracted wealthy people, and certain forms of business, but it also attracted certain undesirable things 1781 which added to the burdens of ordinary London ratepayers. In London there were 60,000 tramps, and about 10,000 criminals, which could not possibly be due to the ordinary criminality or destitution of London itself. Therefore, the advantages of the Imperial city were counterbalanced by its disadvantages.
§ DR. MACGREGOR
I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that the expenses of criminals come on the Imperial Revenue.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said, the hon. Gentleman forgot that there were many local charges, such as the cost of casual wards and other poor law expenses, which were attributable to the state of things he had mentioned. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury had asked the London Members on what basis a fort or arsenal could be assessed. Did the right hon. Gentleman think that the Assessment Committees of the local authorities would not discriminate between the valuation of a fort and a public house? Of course they would. Indeed, if a uniform and equitable system of rating of Government buildings were established, he was afraid the Assessment Committees would err on the side of generosity in assessing Government buildings, because they would be influenced by the desire to retain those establishments in their districts. It was also said by provincial Members that there were certain parks in London maintained at the expense of the country. But if the Government gave them a just and uniform assessment of all Government property in London, the people of London would not be indisposed to take over and maintain all the Government parks and open spaces. What the Government had done was to hand over to the London County Council certain parks with all their liabilities for maintenance, but without many of the recoupment revenues which the Government got when they originally took over those parks. For instance, the Government handed over Battersea Park, on which they used to spend £10,000 a year, to the County Council. The same sum was now spent by the County Council on the park. But there was a piece of land round the park which the Government got with the park, and from which they derived £10,000 a year in ground rents—the amount they spent on the park— 1782 and this land they retained in their possession when they gave the park over to the County Council. Another argument of provincial Members was that the London police stations and police force were maintained out of the Imperial revenue. The London people were quite prepared to maintain the stations and the police when they got control of the force. The London County Council originally paid only £7,000 in rates for their buildings. But the local authorities rose up in arms against the system of assessment, and in six years the amount had jumped from £7,000 to £63,000. He did not see why Government buildings should not pay rates as well as County Council buildings, and he was sure that if, next Session, the hon. Member for Islington brought in a Bill on the lines of his Motion, it would receive the support of the bulk of the Members of that House.
§ MR. JAMES ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
said, some provincial Members seemed to think that the question of the assessment of Government buildings was purely a London question. They failed to take into consideration the important fact that while London paid one-fifth of the rating of the United Kingdom, it had only one-third of the Government property. Another feature of the question entirely lost sight of in the Debate was, the position of parishes in London that were not so favourably situated as Westminster or the Strand, there were large Government establishments that, probably, recouped the parishes for anything they lost in the way of rates. In Finsbury, for instance, there was a militia barracks, occupied, most of the year, by a staff, from which the parish derived no benefit of any kind, in lieu of the rates. There were, also, in the parish three drill halls of volunteers that did not belong to the parish, and not one penny of rates was paid by those buildings. In fact, Finsbury lost, rather than gained, by its Government establishments. He thought the time had come for doing away with those exemptions. He desired to give the Secretary to the Treasury all the credit for the work he was doing towards settling the question, and he thought the hands of the right hon. Gentleman would be materially strengthened if the Resolution were placed on record as the 1783 expression of the views of the House on the question.
§ MR. H. T. ANSTRUTHER (St Andrews Burghs)
said, there were cases of authorities under the control of the Board of Trade being held justified in refusing to contribute to local rates because of certain statutory exemptions. The President of the Board of Trade would confirm him when he said that it was the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown that the Board of Trade had no alternative in the matter, and was not permitted under the statute to make any such exemptions as had been demanded by certain parishes in Scotland, and one especially in which he was interested. Therefore, as legislation would certainly be necessary in some such cases as were contemplated by the Motion of his hon. Friend, he should prefer it in that form. If the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to indicate that he would accept the Resolution in the amended form, it would go very far to mitigate his feelings in the matter, and to lead to that unanimity which they should all be glad to find.
§ *SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, he was willing to leave out of the Motion the word "legislation," his object being to reaffirm the principle on the line of the Treasury Minute, leaving it to the Government to determine how it should be carried out.
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
intimated that, even with the alteration suggested, he could not accept the Resolution, but should prefer to rely upon the principle expressed in the Memorandum of 1874.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 65; Noes 64.—(Division List No. 48.)
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)
said, he desired to call the attention of the House to the inadequate amount received by London under the present system from the Imperial Exchequer grants in aid of local expenditure, and to press for an inquiry into the system under which the grants were distributed, especially as 1784 regarded London. Their complaint fell under three main heads—namely, rates on Government property, the share of Exchequer contributions, and the contribution to police. As regarded the first point the House was aware that Government property was not rated. Government, however, had accepted the principal that a sum should be paid, fairly representing the rate. The London Members believed, however, and thought they should be able to satisfy a Committee that under this head London received £40,000 a year less than the sum to which she was justly entitled. The Exchequer contributions, to which he now passed, were apportioned according to the amount paid by Government in the year 1887–8 in respect of certain grants discontinued in that year by the Local Government Act, and this system was open to serious objections. In the first place the year 1887–8 was very unfortunate for London, inasmuch as they received less than 22 per cent., whereas for several previous years they had received over 23 per cent. In any case, however, he submitted that it was a very unsatisfactory plan to take the cost in one year of certain specified charges as permanent rates for the apportionment of rates in all future years and for all requirements. But, in the second place, these grants themselves were not based on any equitable system of division, as between county and county; in some of them, as for instance, those for roads, and for medical officers, London had scarcely any allotment. As regards the grant for main roads, out of a total of £500,000, London received £3,500 only; the fact that in the City they supported their own police at a cost of £50,000 a year, was left out of account altogether, and the consequence was that London received over £150,000 less than its fair amount.
§ [Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present:—
§ House adjourned at a Quarter before Eight o'clock till Monday next.