§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ SIR. J. CARMICHAEL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)
moved the Second Reading of this Bill, which, he explained, was entirely of a non-Party character, and absolutely of no interest whatever except to those subject to its provisions. There were only two provisions of any importance in the Bill. The main provision was to assimilate the system of assessment with regard to land in the case of minerals, under leases of 31 years and 21 years, to the system at present existing in regard to leases beyond those periods. The result of that would be to bring within the net of taxation a very large amount of property which at the present time escaped taxation altogether, and, by extending the area, it would tend to lessen the burden and make the Valuation Roll more accurate than it was now. The Bill was based upon the Report of a Select Committee of the House, appointed in the year 1890, of which the present Lord Advocate was Chairman, and it largely embodied the recommendations laid down by that Select Committee. There was no new principle involved, and lessees would, of course, have the right to all relief given, under the Valuation (Scotland) Act, 1854. The only other provision was to extend to Magistrates and Councillors of burghs the same rights as were given to Commissioners of Supply, to deal with the Valuation question by Committee, instead of by the whole corporate body. He begged to move that the, Bill be now read a Second time.
§ SIR CHARLES J. PEARSON (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's University)
said, he wished the hon. Member had explained a little more fully the provisions of the Bill. It did appear to him that more should be said than had been said by the hon. Gentleman, to satisfy the House as to the necessity or expediency of such a change in the method of taxation as that proposed by the Bill. For himself, he 1181 should like to hear more as to the grounds upon which the change was desired, and to have a free hand as to the second or third clause of the Bill. With regard to the more important part of the Bill, he believed that was in conformity with the recommendations of the Select Committee which sat some few years ago. That was a recommendation arrived at unanimously by the Committee.
§ SIR J. CARMICHAEL
said, the Committee were unanimously of opinion that the law required alteration, and the Amendments embodied in this Bill were the Amendments suggested by the Committee.
§ SIR C. J. PEARSON
said, that according to his recollection the Committee did not commit themselves to the Amendments which were embodied in the Bill. He was under the impression the Committee reported alternative Amendments. One of the two alternatives had been chosen, and it seemed to him there would be some difficulty in working that alternative out, and that in practice it would introduce into the Valuation Roll some unreality. The improvements on the land which was under lease, although they belonged to the tenant, were to be entered in the ownership part, so that they would introduce in the ownership part a class of persons who were not really owners in the ordinary sense at all. That, in his opinion, would be a course which would tend to disturb the uniformity of the Valuation Roll. He therefore thought they were entitled to a little more explanation than they had as yet received.
§ *THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR,) Clackmannan, &c.
said, that, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knew, the difficulty in dealing with cases of this kind had arisen, from the fact that it would not be just to put this tax upon the owner who received the rent apart from the improvement. Yet in comparison with the rest of the territory of the country this property was escaping taxation. He therefore thought they would all be agreed that whatever division took place between the landlord and tenant, the different parts of the territory of the country should pay proportionately. The object of the Bill was to bring that result about. As between landlord and tenant it would not be just to make the landlord, who was 1182 receiving the rent of the unimproved subject, pay as the landlord of the whole during the currency of the lease. Whatever might happen when the lease came to an end was another affair. In the meantime, inasmuch as the improvement had been made by the tenant for his own purposes, it seemed only right he should be the person to pay. Even in the Act of 1854 there were already cases in which the ownership and occupancy were artificially re-arranged. But any points of that sort were rather for Committee than for this stage. The Bill was intended to carry out a very useful reform, and might very well be read a second time.
§ MR. J. CALDWELL (Mid Lanark)
did not altogether agree with the Lord Advocate. There would be no injustice in the landlord paying the taxes and keeping up the uniformity of the valuation roll, when on the expiry of the lease he would become the owner of all the improvements. He thought the introduction of this new principle in the valuation roll in Scotland would be fraught with a good deal of difficulty. He did not intend to resist the Second Reading of the Bill, though the measure involved a good many changes, which would require to be very carefully considered when they got into Committee.
§ Motion put, and agreed to.