§ The House went into Committee of Supply.
§ Mr. MELLOR in the chair.
§ On the Vote for £4,439,258 on account of all charges for the Civil Service and Revenue Departments,
§ SIR R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)
desired to know if anything had been 358 done in the way of equalising the re-numeration of the gardeners in the Royal Gardens at Kew with the re-numeration given to similar officers in the Royal Parks in London. The other day the First Commissioner of Works said the matter was under consideration, and he desired to know whether the right hon. Gentleman had come to any conclusion.
THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY, Sir J. T. HIBBERT (Oldham)
was sorry his right hon. Friend was not present at that moment. He could say, however, that the matter was still under consideration, and it was not improbable the concession would be made, though he was not able to say definitely for the present.
§ *Sir A. K. ROLLIT (Islington, S.),
on Vote 13, called attention to the question of the non-rating of Government property. The matter, he said, was one which he had brought before the House on a previous occasion and it was a subject deserving the serious consideration of the rating authorities in the interest of those who had to pay the contributions, not only in the Metropolis, but throughout the Country. Latterly there had been a strong contention that undue burdens of taxation were cast upon certain localities, and those who had gone into the relative contributions made on the one hand by the Government and on the other hand by private property, must feel that if the matter were thoroughly investigated it would be found that localities were subjected to burdens which, if removed, would lighten very greatly the amounts which had to be paid by the ratepayers in every parish of the Metropolis and elsewhere. Claims were frequently made for subsidies on behalf of local rates, but it was sometimes forgotten that here was available much more than any subsidy to which, as a matter of justice, the ratepayers were fairly entitled, and which, if made by the Government, would be the means of the readjustment and lightening of the pressure of local taxation. Under the present system the Government had the unique privilege of valuing its own property for rating purposes. If every Government was its own valuer, and other authorities were in a like position, he did not doubt they would equally take advantage of their privilege, and the 359 result would be that the receipts for local rating purposes would be further materially diminished. It would be no exaggeration to say that in London alone a sum of £40,000 or £50,000 a year might be gained for the local authorities if this grievance were thoroughly rectified. Even that estimate was too low if it was borne in mind that in the calculation only the rateable value of the sites was taken into account, no addition being made for the buildings upon them. He believed the same remark might be made with reference to the provinces, and in the like proportion. There was one group of buildings in the constituency which he represented which illustrated the anomalies of the position forcibly. He found, for instance, that the County Court, Pentonville Prison and Holloway Prison, the Post Offices and Sorting Offices, the Telegraph Factory and Offices, and the Office of the Surveyor of Taxes at Islington were valued by the Government for the purpose of contribution to rates by themselves at £4,246 per annum. He did not hesitate to say that almost any two of those buildings, which would let well, being in the midst of a dense business population, might be made to make a considerably larger return. But a contrast would show how unfair the present system was. The acreage of Holloway and Pentonville Prisons was about 22 acres, the former being rated, or rather valued by the Government, at £1,250 and the latter at £1,600 a year. In the immediate neighbourhood was the Holborn Union Infirmary, which covered only one-seventh of the area, but, being subject to parochial assessment, was rated at £3,084 a year; while Islington Workhouse, having little more than half the area of Holloway Prison, had a rateable value of £2,709, and the Cornwallis Road Workhouse, covering about one-half Pentonville Prison area, was rated considerably higher. Moreover, structurally all these Government buildings were of much higher value, apart from their sites, than those which were rated so much higher. He was instructed that the Islington Vestry considered that there was room for a substantial increase in the Government contributions in respect of the buildings to which he had particularly referred. He admitted the Secretary to the Treasury 360 was entitled to some credit for having materially improved the position, and for having, from his point of view, acted in a liberal spirit. The only observation he would make on that was, that the increase in the contributions of the Government, which had been large in some cases, only emphasised the gross magnitude of the injustice under which local authorities had previously laboured. If, as he found, there were instances in which the Government contribution had been increased by half, one-third, or even a quarter, it only showed how tolerant the local authorities had been for nearly 50 years past. He expected that the statement made on former occasions would be repeated again by the right hon. Gentleman—namely, that the Government had acted liberally to local authorities in this matter, and that they were satisfied and had not been coerced by the official argument that the Government being free of rates they ought to be thankful for whatever they might receive. Now, he had taken the trouble to communicate, within the last few days, with several of the chief local authorities in London, and he might add that he had also communicated with some in the country. In Hull, for example, there was a very strong feeling indeed that the Government did not deal fairly with local authorities in rating matters, and that the Government contributions were much too low compared with the ratings of private properties What did the local authorities in London say? He admitted, in the first place, that there were some, not many, who said that on the whole, and having regard to the circumstances, they were fairly satisfied, and that they had no strong ground of complaint. There were others who took a different position. He would not think it fair to mention the names of particular authorities, but he would quote verbatim from letters addressed to him. In one case it was stated-The question of Police Stations is an important one. We have two—one rated at £125, the other at £84, which is only about half their market value. The Receiver of Police contends that he is entitled to entire exemption, and only assents to these ratings as an act of grace, "on the authority of cases decided;and so on. In another case the local authority wrote that the Vestry had 361 accepted the rating—or, rather, the Government's own valuation—but that—practically they had no option in the matter. The present very recently revised value for the Parcel Post premises is £5,500, but seeing that about nine acres of land are occupied I cannot but think that if it were in the hands of private owners it would be considerably higher.In another case it was said:—I am unable to say definitely whether the Government property is under-assessed to any large extent, but it is probable that, on going into the assessment of such properties as Burlington House, War Office, Geological Museum, Board of Ordnance, &c., we shall find that we have a good claim for requiring an increase in these valuations.In another case he was informed as follows:—I do not for one moment think the total amount of the assessment represents the true rateable value of the properties.And again—The Assessment Committee are not satisfied with the existing valuation of Government property settled by the Treasury itself.And in another case—We consider the Government valuations much below the real value.These had all been received within the last few days. He drew particular attention to the following:—Whereupon Mr. Griffiths, of the Treasury, called upon me and drew attention to the fact that the hereditament was not legally rateable; but the Treasury were willing to base their contribution upon hypothetical rateable value of £60 instead of £69, and in support of his valuation stated that additions cost, pro rata, more money than if they were carried out as part of the original work, and he considered his value a fair one upon the whole building. My Overseers felt they had no option but to reduce the figures, which they did; but I cannot disguise the fact that had this been private property we could have maintained our figures before the Committee.One of the most important Vestries in London wrote:The Vestry do not consider that the contribution from the Treasury, in respect of Government property in this parish, a just one.He had many more which he would not trouble to read, but their general tenour was of the same character. He thought he had shown that a large amount of property in the various local authorities was undervalued—in the case of Islington he thought he had shown it was very 362 considerably so—contrasting either the structural value of the property, or their area, or their possible letting value. He ventured also to say he had met by anticipation the usual official argument addressed to the House on these occasions, that the Government was disposed to deal not only fairly, but liberally, in this matter, and had shown some grounds, at any rate, for thinking that the right hon. Gentleman was misinformed when he stated that his officials did not hold over the heads of the Vestries the very forcible but, he thought, very unjust argument that they were not liable to be rated at all, and whatever the Government chose to offer ought, therefore, to be gratefully accepted. He hoped there would be not only a renewal of the assurances of the past, but also the expression of a determination to deal with this matter on a really fair and equitable footing, and he conceived that footing could only be, that property belonging to the Government should bear its fair and an equal share of local taxation, for any other principle was a differential taxation of the localities in favour of the whole community, whereas, if there were any such difference, it ought to be in favour of each of the localities as against the State as a whole. But what he asked for was a just and equal assessment of local taxation. He moved to reduce the Vote by £500.
§ *MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)
said, it was undoubtedly now admitted by the Government that something ought to be done. The present moment was a very important one for London, for the Quinquennial Valuation was about to take place, and, therefore, the Committees and the Overseers would be considering the whole question. He was aware, personally, and certainly up to the present time, that the Government Valuer had dealt with the Overseers in a very high-handed manner. He had, practically, said:You must take what we offer you or you will get nothing, because we are not bound to pay any rates at all on Government buildings.If they went back to 1874, when this question was raised, we found there was a Treasury Minute which stated distinctly that Government buildings were to be assessed in the same manner as adjoining buildings, and as near as 363 possible to the same value. The Government had admitted by the recent increases they had allowed, that those buildings had been under-assessed, and he wanted to know why the Government should take up this position at all, that it was an act of grace on their part to allow the buildings to be assessed? Why should they not allow these buildings to be assessed by the local authorities just the same as Board Schools and other public buildings were assessed, and then, if they were not satisfied with the work of the local authorities, let them appear before the Assessment Committees and object? That was the only way of finally settling the question. The gentlemen generally employed by the Government seemed to know nothing about the assessment of buildings and did not take into consideration points that the Overseers and Assessment Committees would in assessing similar buildings. He hoped the Government would frankly adopt the course of allowing these buildings to be assessed by the local authorities, for he did not think there was likely to be any injustice done. At the present moment there was a great injustice, because the Government buildings were not fairly distributed over all the parishes; otherwise it might be said it came out all right in the end. As a matter of fact, the Government buildings were placed a great deal more in one parish than another, and, therefore, a particular parish suffered because somebody else had to make up what the Government did not pay.
§ MR. R, G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
said, he thought this was essentially, or at least very largely, a London question, though no doubt it affected other parts of the country. He believed the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury had acted very fairly under the representations of the Vestries, but would it be credited that, until very recently, the House of Commons was not rated as high as was the Westminster Palace, and this in spite of the fact that the Westminster Vestry had to pay their quota of the police outside the building, and that the fire brigade charges had to be paid out of the central fund. When one looked at the question one asked oneself how it was 364 that London had not received fair treatment in this matter. The theory was that it was impossible that Government property should be rated like any other property. He failed to see how that should be the case. The local authorities were able to assess town halls, schools, libraries, and police courts, and why they could not assess the rating value of Government buildings appeared to him to be perfectly incomprehensible. They had also been told that the local authorities of London and the country had never made any complaints regarding the contributions they received from the Government. Probably they had not done very much until recently, but as the result of the action of the Westminster Vestry he believed there had grown up a very strong feeling in the other parishes of London. He admitted the right hon. gentleman had done his best to meet them, and to see whether he could not give them some more equitable assessment of their various properties.
§ MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
asked, on a point of Order, whether this discussion arose on Vote 8 or Vote 13? If on Vote 13, then he desired to ask a question on Vote 8.
said he was about to call attention to the fact that this was a little irregular. It arose on Vote 13, and the Amendment had better be withdrawn for the present and brought up a little later.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. T. GIBSON BOWLES
said. he desired to ask, on Vote 8, a question with regard to certain lighthouses abroad, which were maintained under the authority of, and indeed by, the Board of Trade. On a previous occasion he called attention to this matter, and pointed out that many of these lighthouses were in a defective and improper condition, inasmuch as the lights were irregular in their intervals. His information with regard to the lighthouses was drawn from the Admiralty Book on lighthouses, which was issued every year, and in which there was a detailed report of each lighthouse. The lighthouse on Sombrero Island and various other lighthouses in the West Indies were reported to be irregular. The irregularities of these lights were very misleading, and he would ask the 365 right hon. Gentleman if he could assure the House that all the lights brought under his jurisdiction were working satisfactorily and at proper intervals.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. J. BRYCE, Aberdeen, S.)
said, he was sorry notice had not been given of the question so that he might have brought the data with him. He could not answer the hon. Member at present. He remembered that when the Estimates were coming on last August he had satisfied himself that the condition of these lighthouses were satisfactory.
§ MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES
said, he had referred particularly to the light on Falkland Islands, but he would not press the question.
§ MR. J. BRYCE
said, if the hon. Member would give him notice of the question he would endeavour to obtain the information.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.),
on Vote 12, called attention to an item of £23,000 for the improvement of Peterhead Harbour. He did not see why an Irish harbour should not be assisted as well as a Scotch harbour.
§ *MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON (Preston)
pointed out that this work, according to the Estimates, would be going on for something like 20 years. Since last year the Vote had been considerably reduced, and he should like to know if that was in consequence of the abandonment of part of the intended works, or whether there had been any reconsideration of he scheme.
§ MR. J. BRYCE
said, the harbour had been, to some extent, modified from time to time. Efforts had been made to effect economy in the works, and the matter had been under consideration lately. It was now going on satisfactorily.
§ MR. J. BRYCE
said, the subject had been before them, and certain parts of the work originally intended were not now to be carried out.
§ MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES
pointed out that a sum appeared under the head 366 of Purchase of Land and Works, and asked if it was proposed to purchase any more land?
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, the present estimate of the engineers for the completion of Peterhead Harbour was £737,000, and he would like to learn on the authority of the Secretary to the Treasury if that was all that would be required?
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
said it was a matter under the control of the Admiralty. So far as they knew, the estimate of £737,000 was the estimate of the total cost, but it was impossible to say whether that would be sufficient.
§ MR. R. W. HANBURY (Preston)
commented on the absence of the Secretary to the Admiralty. Although his right hon. Friend had given all the information in his power, he thought it was only right that the Government should be fairly represented on the Treasury Bench. This was the second occasion within the last few minutes on which, when important questions had been asked on that side of the House, they had received the reply that the Minister was not present. The ordinary course, on occasions of that kind when a Department was not properly represented, was to move to report progress, and they should undoubtedly take that course if, when important questions were brought before the House, there was only the indefatigable Secretary to the Treasury to represent the Government.
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
thought there was some excuse for the absence of hon. Members of the Government, as no notice had been given that these questions would be brought forward.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, they would not have another occasion on which to discuss these subjects, and unless Ministers were sent for they would have to report progress that evening.
§ *MR. A. C. MORTON
desired to join in the protest. He asked if the Admiralty had the control at Peterhead, appointed officers, and superintended the work?
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
said that was so. He pointed out that the matter might be discussed on the Report.
§ *SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
complaining that no one representing the Admiralty was present on the Treasury Bench to answer the questions of hon. Members, moved on that ground that progress be reported.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY
said, that until a representative of the Admiralty arrived, he wished to refer to convict labour at Peterhead Harbour. From the Estimates it appeared that about £750,000 was to be spent on the harbour. He wished to know what saving would result from the employment of convict labour; whether more convicts were being employed and what was the progress of the work? Ten years had passed since it was commenced.
§ MR. J. BRYCE
explained that the harbour works were not under the jurisdiction of the Board of Trade. But, as regards convict labour, a Commission had been investigating the whole subject of prisons and prison labour. He believed that a very valuable result had been arrived at by the Commission. Its Report was nearly ready. That Report would probably gratify the laudable curiosity of the hon. Member on the points he had raised.
§ *MR. TOMLINSON
, seeing that the Civil Lord was now present, pursued the subject of Peterhead Harbour. It had been promised last year that the engineers should be consulted as to the order in which the work should be done, and whether one part should be accelerated and the other delayed. He wished to know the result of the consultation.
§ THE CIVIL LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. EDMUND ROBERTSON,) Dundee
admitted promising last year that the question of accelerating the works should be considered. The Director of the works had consulted with the engineers, Messrs. Coode and Matthews, and they stated that more rapid progress could not be made. As to one part of the work being delayed and the other accelerated, they advised that the course taken should be continued.
§ MR. R. G. WEBSTER
, reverting to the question of London rating, expressed indebtedness to the hon. Member who had raised it. The London County Council estimated that London lost £40,000 a year by the present arrangement; another authority put the sum at £87,000. When the House was trying to equalise the rates in London they merely proposed to take money from one pocket and put it into another. But under the arrangement he had referred to it was proposed to take money from the Imperial Exchequer in aid of the London rates. Government buildings in London were used in the interest of the whole country, and the whole country should contribute towards the rating of them. London had not had fair play in this and other directions. While thanking the Secretary to the Treasury for the action he had taken, he wished to know what steps he proposed taking in the future?
§ SIR R. E. WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)
said, those who had studied the question of London rating were staggered last year by the figures that were given as to the extraordinary low rating of some of the Government buildings in London—Somerset House, for example. The subject should now be considered, for they were entering upon a fresh valuation, and owners of private property were being rated to the full amount. There had recently been the case of the Imperial Institute. Many might think that justice was meted out hardly to that Institute. Be that as it might, there they had a quasi public institution rated at a high figure, to which the figures given last year had no comparison. He did not say that the Imperial Institute should not pay its proper quota to the rating of the Metropolis, but if similar institutions were to be treated in the same way it behoved the House to see that Government buildings bore their proper rating value. It was not fair that individual ratepayers in London should bear larger burdens than they ought because the State—which meant the ratepayers all over the country—got off cheaply for the reason that public buildings—where work in which the whole country was interested was done—did not pay their fair share. The matter was very pressing last year, and it was still more so this year, because people's 369 rates were being put up, and he therefore hoped they would have a full and satisfactory statement from the Secretary to the Treasury.
COLONEL LOCK WOOD (Essex, Epping)
said, he wished to state the case of the local authorities at Waltham Abbey in respect of the Government gunpowder factories there. If London has a grievance, there was a still greater one in connection with these factories. He would confine himself to figures supplied to him by local residents, who felt keenly the pressure upon the rates. The site of the Clifdon Hill factory, the scene of the last explosion, was bought in 1889. Since then there had been erected upon it a large building which was filled with machinery, and yet the contributions in aid was still based upon the same valuation as at first, which was the price given for the site as agricultural land. In the meantime the rates had been largely increased from various causes, including the action of the Government itself, for some of the widows and children of the sufferers by explosions are chargeable to the rates. Then the School Board rate has risen, greatly from the necessity of finding school accommodation for the children of the workmen employed in the factories. Expensive machinery had been put into the Waltham Holy Cross, and yet since 1888 the contributions in aid had been diminished. A large number of good middle-class houses had been built, but occupants had been frightened away by explosions, and many houses are now empty. The rates at Waltham Abbey had risen from 2s. to 3s. 4d. in the £, and a farmer who was rated at £700, said the difference to him amounted to between £46 and £48 a year. This was serious when coupled with the agricultural distress in Essex. He was sure the Secretary of the Treasury would see that the case deserved more attention than had been given to it. The new District Council had presented a petition in which they said the contribution in aid of accounts of the various factories were £5,000 now, compared with £5,769 in 1888, although in the interval there had been enormous additions to the buildings, and the Government had refused an application to have a re-valuation made by an independent firm of valuers. In 1871, the capital value of the factories was 370 £310,000, and since then enormous additions had been made, including a residence for the Superintendent, in respect of which not a farthing was paid. Altogether the Government paid about £5,000 in aid of rates, when a private firm would have to pay very much more in rates, and owing to the difference in income thus produced, the District Council was prevented from undertaking improvements they were anxious to carry out. It might be said that the town of Waltham benefited by the factories, but the neighbouring farmers did not benefit, because labourers were taken away from them by the superior attractions of being blown up and getting higher wages, and there was often great difficulty in obtaining labourers.
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
said he had not the least fault to find with the hon. Member who had raised this question. He was perfectly justified in raising it, and had done it in a fair and moderate manner. To show that the question had not been lost sight of by the Treasury, he need only mention that the increased charge on the Estimates this year for rates on Government property was no less than £48,000, and that was exclusive of increased charges that were in the process of discussion between the Treasury and local authorities, not only in London, but in other parts of the country. In 1887, the Contributions amounted to £226,105, and this year the total amount was £315,105. These figures showed that considerable additions were made from time to time. In discussing the figures, he did not think it was expedient to speak of so much being lost by London or any other place. It was better to look at the matter in a plain and simple way, and to consider whether Government property in any parish or union was paying its fair quota to the rates levied upon other property in the district. He entirely agreed with those who said that Government property ought to bear its fair share, and, so far as he was concerned, his influence had been used since the question was discussed last year on the line of bringing, as far as possible, the local authorities in touch with the Treasury Valuer, with the view of ascertaining whether it was right that in any case the valuation adopted should be increased. No doubt some of the properties had not been 371 valued for a great number of years. He did not know whether that was the case at Waltham, but he could promise that the same mode of dealing with Government property that had been adopted in London during the past year should be carried out at Waltham. He was not able to deal with the figures that had been given, but he would say that a strong case had been made out for reconsideration, and for sympathetic reconsideration. The hon. Member for Islington said that workhouses were rated higher than Government property, and if that was the case it was a matter for consideration. He did not know whether the Vestries or the local authorities in any district had made application for a revision of the valuations, or whether they were paid. Sir A. K. Rollitt said such applications had been made. He was sure that if they were made they would get every consideration. He admitted that there would be an injustice of some magnitude if these properties were not valued fairly and equally with other property of the same character. He could not go back for 50 years, because it was only in 1874 that the Government consented to give grants in aid. He would now state what had been done since this question was discussed in Committee last year. In view of the approach of the quinquennial valuation, he thought that the different authorities had a fair right to bring up the question of the valuation of Government property. The first to communicate with the Treasury were the parishes of St. Margaret's and St. John's, Westminster, who had a vast amount of Government property in their district. Their representations were carefully considered and a revised valuation had been settled with which they were perfectly satisfied. In a communication received from them it was stated that it was a fair and just valuation, and that they had pleasure in signifying their unqualified satisfaction with it. Then other representations had been made by the following assessment committees and parishes in London: the Strand Union (comprising the parishes of St. Clement Danes, St. John the Baptist, Savoy, St. Mary-le-Strand, St. Paul's Covent Garden, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and the Liberty of the Rolls), the parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields and 372 St. George, Bloomsbury; the parish of Plumstead (Woolwich). He might add that the Vestry of the last-mentioned parish had made application not only to have a revision of the amount of valuation, put they also asked that some impartial gentleman should be employed to look into the matter. Then the Assessment Committee of the City of London Union, the Vestry of the parish of St. George's Hanover Square, the Vestry of the parish of Marylebone, the Vestry of the parish of St. Andrew Holborn; the Vestry of the parish of St. Luke Middlesex; and also the Overseers of the parish of Wandsworth had all made representations to the Treasury, which were now being considered. He would deal with one authority, the Assessment Committee of the Strand Union, who had a large interest in the question in Somerset House and other Government property. A communication from this body was to the effect that—having regard to the statement of the Treasury valuer that the revisions made would be carefully considered, and would be submitted to the necessary authorities before any definite conclusion was come to—the committee considered the course taken by the Treasury satisfactory. This was a very important case, and had been under the consideration of the Treasury valuer in conjunction with the Assessment Committee, and he was happy to say that a satisfactory settlement had been come to. He was told that at a conference which had taken place between the valuer and the representatives of the Assessment Committee, a resolution was agreed to in which was declared that, in their judgment, a fair settlement had been made. He only mentioned that to show that the Treasury were going forward, and he hoped hon. Members would be satisfied when he said that similar measures would be adopted with regard to other Government property in the Metropolis. But the same question arose in the country; and there, too, the Treasury were carrying out the same principle. They did not want to throw money away, but they did want to satisfy the local authorities and local justice in this matter. He did not think he need say more than to assure the Committee that the valuations of Government property should be very carefully watched and 373 that the Treasury would try to give satisfaction to the different local authorities in the country.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)
quite admitted that the statement, which the right hon. Gentleman, had just made with his usual fulness and courtesy, would be very satisfactory to many of the authorities in the country. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman's statement constituted a considerable advance and showed that the Government was approximating to a fair valuation of Government property in the Metropolis. Notwithstanding all this, however, he could assure the Government that the Ratepayers of London would never be satisfied in regard to the rating of Government property in the Metropolis so long as the present system continued. The rating authority in London had to determine a ratable value of no less than £33,000,000 sterling annually. Why should Government property within the jurisdiction of that authority be taken out of their hands? Why should not Government property be rated by the same authority as other property? If that authority was competent to impose such a great amount of taxation by determining the ratable value of London, why was it not competent to determine the ratable value of Government buildings? The present system constituted a great injustice to the ratepayers. They could not understand why the Government was to be a judge in its own case. It made the ratepayers of London feel that they were bearing more than their fair share, and that it was all due to the Government setting up an exceptional and abnormal authority. He quite acknowledged the excellent and ample manner in which the Secretary to the Treasury always answered, and the satisfactory nature of the reply he had just given; and he only hoped that the advance now promised would be perpetuated. Year after year this question would be raised from his side of the House until the Government should be good enough to establish a uniform, equitable, and equal system for the valuation of all ratable property in the Metropolis.
§ DR. MACGREGOR (Inverness)
said it was all very fine for London Members year after year to insist on levying a 374 higher portion of the rates on Government property, but it meant an increase in taxation in the country.
§ DR. MACGREGOR
said that the provincial ratepayers helped to keep up Hyde Park and the Museums and Picture Galleries of London. In Scotland they had to keep up their own parks; and why should they help to keep up public buildings in London? He thought the right hon. Gentleman was making a mistake in promising a reconsideration of the matter.
§ Mr. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
reminded the hon. Member that this was not at all a question between London and the Provinces, and he thought that fact was indicated by the circumstance that two Members, representing country constituencies had spoken on the question, and taken the same side as the London Members. The hon. Member was mistaken in supposing that all Government property was situated in London. The provinces were equally interested with London in pressing this question on the attention of the Treasury. When this subject was last before them it was stated that the Westminster Vestry was satisfied with the assessment of the Government property within the district. He doubted that; but, at any rate, the right hon. Gentleman had now informed them that a very considerable increase had been made in the assessment. The figures were significant. The result of this appeal to the Treasury by Westminster had been to raise the assessment of Government property from £53,000 to £89,000, and to increase the Government's contribution to the rates to the amount of £9,000. All London was interested in the Westminster case, because, if the property in any particular parish was under-assessed it affected the whole of London. The result of the appeal in the Westminster case was highly significant of the present under-assessment of Government property generally throughout the Metropolis, and these figures more than justified the statement made a short time ago by the Valuer for the London County Council that upon the whole, Government property in London was under-assessed by 50 per cent. at least. They had heard 375 some satisfactory statements from the right hon. Gentleman that evening. The right hon. Gentleman had acknowledged that this demand on the part of the Vestries was a demand which they were entitled to make, and that it rested upon the highest authority short of statutory authority—namely, an engagement entered into with that House. If, then, it was conceded that Government property ought to pay a due share of local burdens the most simple and natural method they could adopt for assessing Government property was the use of the same assessment machinery as was applied to the neighbouring private property. There was only one possible objection to this. If a private owner thought that he had been unjustly treated by an Assessment Committee he could appeal to a Court of Law, and have his case decided there. It would not be open, however, to the Government to appeal to a Court of Law, because in law Government property was not assessable, and therefore the Court would hold that it had no jurisdiction in the matter. But this legal difficulty could be got over by passing a short Bill or introducing a clause in a Bill in order to make this Government property legally assessable. Then the Government would have no reason to complain, and would be placed in the same position as their private neighbours.
MR. W. F. D. SMITH (Strand, Westminster)
did not think that the Strand District Board was quite as well satisfied as the right hon. Member had led the Committee to believe. Its views had been met to a considerable extent, he admitted, but there still remained a large amount of Government property within the limits of the Strand District Board, which it was thought was under-assessed. To a parish which had been so hardly treated in the past, it was of the utmost importance that adequate relief should be given in the future. He trusted that a short Bill would be introduced for the purpose of putting Government property in respect of valuation on the same footing as private property.
§ *SIR ARTHUR HAYTER (Walsall)
asked for information as to the property of the War Department, which was to contribute so largely to the rates. Out of a sum of £48,000, £28,000 was to be the contribution in aid of the rates in 376 London, leaving £20,000 as the contribution from the War Department in aid of rates elsewhere. Was this contribution in respect of new buildings or the increased values of old buildings?
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
replied that the increased contribution was due partly to the erection of new barracks and partly to increased values.
§ *MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES
said, that the State was charged with £3,300 gross for the payment of the rates of houses occupied by the representatives of Foreign Powers. Some of the foreign representatives, however, repaid £1,450 for these rates, so that the sum which the people of this country were called upon to pay was reduced to something under £2,000. He was of opinion that all the representatives of foreign Powers ought to pay the rates in respect of their houses. That they had not to do so was greatly due to the fiction that the premises occupied by a Foreign Ambassador were extra-territorial. But it was monstrous that the taxpayers should have to pay £2,000 a year in discharge of the rates of gentlemen who came over here to promote the interests of their own countries as against our interests. But if this charge must be made it ought to be included in the Foreign Office Vote, as it was a subsidy to the Foreign Embassies. He wished to know who were the Ambassadors for whom this money was paid. He agreed with the hon. Baronet the Member for Kingston that, in respect of rating, the Government ought to put themselves under the ordinary rules. The Government ought to pay their fair share of local rates, and the assessment of their property ought to be made in the usual way. If the Government were to submit to the existing rules of rating there would be no further need for the Treasury Valuer and Inspector of Rates, who cost the country £1,200 a year. Why should it be supposed that local authorities would rate Government property less fairly than they rated private property? The only solution of this question was, that the Government should give up their pretension to occupy a particular position in connection with rating.
§ *MR. H. L. W. LAWSON (Gloucestershire, Cirencester)
said, that the question of rating Government property had now 377 been narrowed down to a very small issue. It was clear that the Government had adopted the principle that Government property ought to contribute to local burdens equally with other property. The only point now left was whether the right hon. Member could give a pledge to introduce a Bill for the purpose of submitting Government property to the ordinary tribunal of assessment. The question was, whether the Government could allow the Assessment Committees to do what they liked with respect to the valuation of Government buildings. The hon. Member for King's Lynn asked why it should not be treated exactly as other property was treated? He would tell the hon. Member why. In the case of other property there was an appeal to the Courts of Law, whilst in the case of Government property there was no such appeal. The Government could only be given a right to appeal by Act of Parliament, and it would not be possible, he thought, to adopt that course in respect of the property of the Crown for one purpose only. He did not believe that the Treasury would agree that the Crown should be placed in the position contemplated by those who advocated the introduction of the Bill. But there being no right of appeal, the Government had not the protection given to ordinary occupiers. If Assessment Committees assessed the property of the Government unfairly, the Government could not go to law. What could be done was to ask the Secretary to the Treasury to extend the application of the principle on which he had acted, and to allow Government property to be treated just as if it were in the hands of private individuals. They could not go further and ask for a Bill drawn on exceptional lines. If they obtained, a pledge from the right hon. Member to the effect which he had indicated they ought to be satisfied. No one had objected more strongly than he did to the system of exemption that prevailed formerly, but that had now been changed. If the Government continued in the course which they had now begun, and if they would give further opportunities to local authorities to make their wishes known, he should be satisfied, and he did not believe that the hon. Member for Islington would ask for anything more.
§ *MR. A. C. MORTON
did not agree with his hon. Friend. All that was asked was, that the Government should put themselves in the same position as other people. It had been said that the Government was not represented on the Assessment Committees. In London they sent their Surveyors of Taxes to these Committees, and they could take a similar course in other places. One of the difficulties at present was the dictatorial tone adopted by the Government Valuator. He would ask his right hon. Friend to allow an appeal from this official to the Treasury, so that local authorities would know what to do if they were not satisfied with his valuation.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY
said, they had not got beyond the old method of dealing with this matter by an arrangement by which the local authorities were still at the mercy of the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman represented that these authorities were satisfied, but they were not. [Sir J. HIBBERT: "I have it in black and white."] Of course they were extremely grateful for the increased amount they received, but what they desired was that Government property should be assessed in the same way as private property. That was the only way of settling the question.
§ MR. R. W. HANBURY
fully agreed that the only way of solving the difficulty was by putting the Government in exactly the same position as anyone else, but if they adopted that principle with regard to rating, they must carry it a great deal further. They would have to put people employed in Government factories in exactly the same position towards the Government as they would be in regard to a private employer. With regard to health and the protection of life they ought to have exactly the same rights against the Government as against the private employer. This proposal, therefore, was only a step towards sweeping away privileges and rights which the Government, by a mere fiction, maintained. He would support the Motion for the reduction of the Vote in order to drive in the thin edge of the wedge, believing that if the principle was conceded with regard to the ratepayers, the workpeople would also press their claims.
§ *SIR A. K. ROLLIT (Islington, S.),
disclaimed any idea of distinguishing as between London and the Provinces in 379 this matter. They had not only had assurances from the Government from time to time, and now a renewal of them, but the hon. Gentleman had done a great deal in giving practical application to the principle he had laid down, and in the belief that the right hon. Gentleman meant to carry out that principle as completely as possible, he would ask leave to withdraw his Amendment. The hon. Member for King's Lynn said there was no Government property there—but had not King's Lynn a Custom-house, an Inland Revenue Office, and Post and Telegraph Offices? It had, therefore, an interest in this matter.
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
said, in answer to the hon. Member for Peterborough, that there was an appeal now. The Government Valuer did nothing without the approval and confirmation of the Treasury, but he would consider whether the hon. Member's suggestion could be carried out.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON
That is to say that local authorities, if they are not satisfied with the valuation of the Government Valuator, can appeal to the Treasury.
§ Leave to withdraw the Amendment was refused.
§ The Committee divided:—Noes, 107; Ayes, 192.—(Division List No. 36.)
§ COLONEL NOLAN
called attention to the entries in the Vote as to arterial drainage and the sink drainage, with no money after them. Was it a case like the chapter on snakes in Iceland?
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
was understood to say that the items were entered formally, the matter being dealt with elsewhere.
asked whether, when dealing with arterial drainage, the Treasury would take into consideration the Barrow drainage?
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, there was a conflict between two railway companies—the Waterford and Limerick Railway and the Midland and Great Western Railway—at Claremorris. The two companies met in this small but charming town. There was, however, no connection, and there were two stations. He thought that some attempt should be 380 made to remedy this state of affairs. He regretted the President of the Board of Trade was not present.
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
said, he quite saw the annoyance that was caused. He hoped there would be some chance of success if the Board of Trade tendered its service.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
asked whether the whole of the money with reference to the Galway and Clifden line had been paid, and when the line would be completed? He hoped that the Secretary to the Treasury would be able to give the information. He also pointed out that £50,000 was expended each year on the railroad in Connemara, instituted by the present Leader of the Opposition. This line had done a great deal of good, but he understood that now, in this time of distress, the workmen would be discharged. He wished to know what was being done in connection with this line, or whether an effort would be made to provide some other work for these men so as to soften the hardships which would result to them from a sudden stoppage of work.
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
said, there was not much chance of the line being opened the whole way before the end of this year. They were very anxious to see the line opened as quickly as possible, and probably he might be able to give more definite information when the Vote was reached in Supply.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
wanted to know whether the information just given was guess work or whether it was based on fact. Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether the work would go on until next January?
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
said, he had nothing to do with the relief works in Ireland; these belonged to the Department of the Chief Secretary.
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
said he answered a question of the hon. Member on the subject three weeks ago. He then stated that the Treasury had considered the case of the men, and it was thought that some case had been made out for granting some gratuities to those who had earned them in connection with this work.
§ *SIR JOHN HIBBERT
said, that a certain number of workmen were entitled to gratuities—those who had been engaged for 15 years—according to the number of years they had served. A few additional workmen had been discharged in whose case it was doubtful whether they were entitled to gratuities; but on further consideration, the Treasury decided that gratuities might be given to them.
§ MR. W. FIELD
Am I to understand that favourable consideration would be given to the further cases I have brought forward?
§ *ADMIRAL FIELD
rose to move a reduction of £100 in the salary of the Home Secretary, in order to call attention to a grievance in connection with the Inspectorships of Reformatory and Industrial Schools. He regretted to have to take this course, because he had reason to be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind and conciliatory answers which had been given to questions affecting grievances in connection with the inspection of reformatory and industrial shool ships. His present grievance, however, was a very serious one, though he was bound to admit that he had obtained more in the way of reform from the present Home Secretary than he had obtained during the tenure of office of the late Government. There had been a vacancy in the Department of Inspectorships of reformatory and industrial schools. A very important officer had recently retired. In past times the office had been filled by good men; and when the vacancy occurred he thought it was a grand opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to show his interest in the subjects to which he had drawn his attention by appointing, if possible, a Naval Officer eminently qualified for the post, thoroughly master of the whole question, and familiar with the duties of the office. If the right hon. Gentleman had taken this step he would have conferred a public benefit; but it seemed to him that no one cared two straws about the manning of the Mercantile Marine. Here was an opportunity to do good in this direction by appointing a Naval Officer to look after these ships, but instead of 382 appointing a competent man, at least from his point of view, to this important office—a Naval Officer or an Officer connected with the Education Department—the Home Secretary had appointed a chief clerk out of the Home Office. No doubt the gentleman so appointed was an able officer in his own Department, but he could not be said to possess the qualifications necessary for the post of Inspector of Reformatory and Industrial Schools. It was well known that many of the Committees in charge of the reformatory and industrial school ships had behaved in an extraordinary way in connection with some of the appointments to them, and he thought the occasion which had arisen was a fitting one for the right hon. Gentleman to have done something to lessen the, scandals in connection with them. One man might be as good as another in mental qualifications, but one man was not as good as another for the inspection of semi-penal establishments. There were now 80,000, seamen properly so-called, in the Mercantile Marine, and of this number 27,000 were foreigners. If that state of things was to continue he should like to know upon what the Navy was going to depend in time of war? There were eleven training ships, and £60,000 a year was paid over to them; £300,000 was spent on the Reformatory and Industrial School System. He advocated the affiliation of those ships to the land schools. By the present system, which was most wasteful, we turned out and sent to sea barely 400 boys a year, whereas the ships were capable of turning out 2,000. The gentleman appointed by the right hon. Gentleman was no doubt an excellent man, but he could know nothing about the inspection of schools or of ships. The matter was of great importance from an Imperial point of view, but he could not get anyone to look at it from a Naval standpoint. Every one wanted to get men for the Navy, but they would not take the trouble to improve the men of the Mercantile Marine, on which the country would have to lean in time of war. He begged to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. H. H. ASQUITH,) Fife, E.
was obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for the 383 tribute he paid to him, but he thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman was a very ungrateful man, and he would not encourage him to go on making concessions to his demand. He had put forward a most extraordinary demand. Because there happened to be amongst the industrial and reformatory schools, of the country eight or ten training ships—very valuable institutions indeed, but still constituting an insignificant fraction of the total number of reformatory and industrial schools—he complained that he (Mr. Asquith) had not appointed a Naval man to supervise all the schools. He did not think he would have exercised his duty properly if he had done anything of the kind. He had provided what had never taken place before, namely, a Naval inspection of the ships. Every ship was in charge of a competent Captain, and hon. Members would remember that in the case of the Liverpool training ship he had insisted on the reinstatement of the Captain even at the cost of a loss of the Government grant. He would continue to use every legitimate means in his power to promote the efficiency of the ships, and to see they were carefully and properly inspected. But when he had to appoint a gentleman to the chief inspectorship of all the schools of the country he must look to a wider range of qualification than the hon. and gallant gentleman seemed to contemplate. He chose the man who, after a most careful consideration of the claims of all the candidates, he believed best fitted for the multifarious duties of that very responsible position. He believed he could not have selected a man more fitted for that special duty.
§ CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
said, the right hon. Gentleman omitted to say anything about that part of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech in which he pressed so urgently, as he had so urgently pressed before, for something in the nature of an affiliation between the industrial schools and industrial ships. On more than one occasion his hon. and gallant Friend had pointed out how extremely advantageous to the nation it would be to weed out from the industrial ships the boys unsuited for sea life, and permit their place to be filled by strong and robust boys, who might turn out admirable sailors.
§ MR. J. L. WHARTON (York, W.R., Ripon)
desired to confirm what the right hon. Gentleman had said with regard to the appointment he had made. When he was sitting on a Departmental Committee at the Home Office, the gentleman in question acted as Secretary to the Committee. Judging from the ability the gentleman displayed, and from his courteous demeanour, he was convinced he was well fitted for the post the right hon. Gentleman had appointed him to. The gallant Admiral spoke of the semi-penal character of the industrial institutions. Industrial schools were institutions where boys who were not convicted were trained. They were boys taken on the threshold of crime, and who were brought up, he hoped, as good and useful citizens. No doubt it would be a very good thing to weed out all the strong and healthy boys and those who showed a desire to go to sea, and send them to the training ships. He was delighted to hear the Home Secretary say he had provided for the inspection of the training ships by properly constituted officials.
§ MR. ASQUITH
said, he quite recognised the importance of the question of affiliation, or at least a closer mutual relation between industrial schools and industrial ships, and that, together with a number of other questions connected with the management of reformatory and industrial schools, was about to be submitted to the consideration of a Departmental Committee.
§ *ADMIRAL FIELD
was obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his conciliatory reply. With regard to the phrase semi-penal, he did not mean to apply it to industrial schools, but only to reformatory schools and reformatory ships. As to the training ships forming an insignificant portion of the industrial institutions of the country, he had only to say that if the industrial ships were used to their full complement, it would be found that instead of £60,000, £120,000 or more would be required to be spent upon them. He asked leave to withdraw his Motion.
§ MR. C. B. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
said, what the Home Secretary had told the Committee was only in fulfilment of a promise made two years ago by the present First Commissioner of Works (Mr. H. Gladstone). The right hon. Gentleman said, he had 385 made arrangements for what might be called the Naval inspection of these Naval Industrial Schools. He should be glad to know of what the inspection consisted. The statement made two years ago was to the effect that the Admiralty should lend an Inspector engaged in inspecting their own training ships, and that that would, somehow, be an economical arrangement. On the general question, it was hardly fair to expect that these Naval training ships should provide the same proportion of boys for the training ships in the Admiralty, because they were a class less physically fit for the Service to start with, and because there was considerable opposition amongst parents to their boys being sent into the Mercantile Marine without their consent. Personally, he was convinced that that result would not be very much furthered by the appointment of Naval Inspectors. These ships were now officered and captained by Naval men, and therefore all that could be got by Naval skill was already present on their management.
§ *MR W. CROSFIELD (Lincoln)
said, the hon. and gallant Admiral spoke of the capacity of the industrial training ships to hold a larger number of boys. Those who had experience of training ships knew that many boys, who supposed they had a disposition to follow the sea, as it was called, were sent to training ships, but on examination they were found to be physically incapable of discharging the duties of sailors, and consequently had to be eliminated, and to revert to land occupations. Therefore, the argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Eastbourne was hardly to the point.
§ *ADMIRAL FIELD
said, the hon. Gentleman had misunderstood his point, which was that the captain of a training ship should be allowed to send back to land schools boys who were found to be unfit for the sea.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ SIR R. E. WEBSTER
desired to bring under the notice of the Home Secretary a very important matter, to which his attention had been drawn by the civil guards and male nurses of Parkhurst Prison, Isle of Wight, and which had given rise to considerable 386 complaints amongst officials holding those positions in all the prisons. That was, that the assistant warders got 14 days' leave of absence, while male nurses and civil guards, whose position in the service in regard to pay and hours of duty were identical, got only 11 days. It was impossible for him to understand why such a distinction should be drawn between those officials. On inquiring of the Home Office for an explanation of the distinction, he was informed that the extra three days were given to the assistant warders in consequence of the very slow promotion open to them. He could not see any relation between these two things; but, in any case, he was told by the civil guards and the nurses that their promotion was quite as slow, if not slower, than the promotion of the assistant warders. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would remove this invidious distinction, which was giving great dissatisfaction to a very deserving class of prison officials.
§ MR. ASQUITH
said, the whole question of the position of the prison officials referred to was most carefully investigated as late as 1891 by the Prisons Committee, and the arrangements now in operation were those recommended by that Committee. To touch one point meant to touch every point of the prison service. If this concession of three days' extra holiday were given in the case of the officials of the Parkhurst Prison, referred to by the hon. and learned Gentleman, he had no doubt he would have a similar application in respect to other officials, from every other hon. Member who had a prison establishment in his constituency, and he did not know how he could well refuse it. He must, therefore, look at the matter from the point of view of the service as a whole; and if he found, on investigation, that it was possible, without establishing an invidious distinction between one class of officer and another, to place a particular class of officer in a better position, he would be happy to do so.
§ SIR R. E. WEBSTER
said, it was because the distinction he alluded to was invidious that he brought it forward.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY
said, that as Islington was rich in prisons, he had received a great number of memorials from prison officials urging that they should be treated like the other branches of the 387 Public Service; and he thought there were many reasons why the matter should be favourably considered by the Home Secretary.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
asked when the Report of the Prisons Committee, appointed last year, would be presented to the House? He understood that in some of the Metropolitan prisons there were instances of the non-enforcement of the rule of compulsory retirement at the age of 65, with the result that many men physically unfit were retained in the service, and promotion was retarded.
§ *MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON
called the attention of the Home Secretary to the complaint of prison clerks, that while, owing to the diminution in the number of prisons and other causes, the highest salary they could reach was something like £150, they had been charged in examinations for appointments the full fee of £3, which was applicable to cases in which the maximum salary was from £400 to £450, and that they had been led to enter the service by expectations which had not been realised.
§ *MR. A. C. MORTON
asked the Home Secretary whether he would allow local authorities to appeal to the Home Office in cases in which they did not agree with the valuer's assessments on police stations, which were the Government buildings he had previously referred to as being under the control of the Home Office?
§ MR. ASQUITH
, dealing with the various points that had been raised, said, that the question of there being an appeal in the matter of rating from the valuer to the Head of the Department, he would carefully consider in conjunction with the Secretary to the Treasury. As to the Report of the Departmental Committee on Prisons, he expected it every day, and there should be no delay in laying it before the House. As to the 65th Rule of age retirement, so far as he knew it was inflexibly enforced in the prison service, subject to the exception that where officers were taken over from local prisons prior to 1877 their rights as to age, status, and retirement were preserved by a section of the Prisons Act of that year. As to the position and pay of the staff, that was not one of the matters referred to this Committee, but it was a subject he was always ready to 388 consider. The case of the prisons' clerks had been frequently before him, and although he had not the facts before him to enable him to reply to the hon. Member for Preston on the spur of the moment, he might say that, having carefully investigated the matter, he was satisfied that these officers had no substantial grievance as to the particular point which had to be raised.