§ On the return of Mr. Speaker, after the usual interval,
*THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. Chaplin, Lincolnshire, Sleaford) moved the Second Reading of the Agricultural Land Rating Bill. He said: After having spoken already on two occasions with reference to this Bill, I am sorry to be obliged to intervene for a few moments to ask the, permission of the House to allow me to make a very short statement dealing with a single matter, which arises in this way. A gentleman who had some connection indirectly with this Bill—the Chairman of the Royal Commission now sitting upon agriculture (Mr. Shaw - Lefevre)—has
thought it his duty to make a communication to the Press which appears only this morning, and which I saw only this afternoon, in condemnation of my attitude and the attitude of my colleagues and the Government and also a large majority of the Commission in reference to this Bill, and I think it. perhaps only due to myself and the House that I should make a brief reply to those statements. He begins by stating, in reference to my speech made upon the introduction of the Bill, that although 10 out of the 17 members of that Commission are in favour of the recommendation of the Commission—not, he says, 12 gentlemen, as I stated in my speech—there was no inquiry made whatever into the merits or defects of the proposal. That statement is wholly inaccurate. What I said in my speech was that 12 gentlemen on that Commission, with some reservations, signed the majority Report, and, as a matter of fact, there was any amount of discussion on the merits and defects of the proposal which was made. He goes on to say that "there was no evidence taken in favour of relieving the land by a certain proportion." In the month of February 1895, a witness was called from the Scotch Office, on this question, and he gave a great deal of evidence; in March 1895, when the right hon. Gentleman to whom I am referring was President of the Local Government Board, one of the officials in that office was called. He gave evidence, and among other great authorities he quoted Sir George Cornewall Lewis in favour of the proposal. He was asked whether he himself was in favour of the proposal, and he suggested that more evidence was desirable before a decision was come to by the Commission, especially from Scotland. In the summer of 1895 the Commission took any amount of evidence on the point. He says, "The Scotch system is different from the gigantic scheme of relief proposed by the Bill." I would remind the House that the Leader of the Party opposite spoke of it the other night as "a dole attempted to be dealt out to a depressed industry. [Cheers.] "Up to January 22 of this year," he goes on to say, "he had no idea that any such scheme was in contemplation." I am not surprised at it. After our experience of that gentleman
on that Commission I think there are few members of it who would be disposed to take him into their confidence. "On that day," he says, "January 22, the scheme was sprung upon the Commission." What happened was this. The Commission met on January 23, and the Report was circulated on the 21st. He says, "They were asked on the following day to commit themselves to the Report." It is not so. They were asked to consider on that day whether an ad interim Report was desirable, and, if so, to agree to consider the Report which was circulated. Again he says, "henceforth it was pressed with the utmost haste." What are the facts? The moment it was agreed to consider an ad interim Report, the proceedings were adjourned for a week at the express request of this gentleman. The part of the Report dealing with local taxation was agreed to be still further postponed, and it was postponed until the 6th of February. As that part of the Report consists only of four pages and 17 paragraphs, I should think that that was a reasonable allowance of time in which to give proper consideration to the question. I may be asked why it was not produced before, and thereby hangs a tale. We were waiting for a promised Report on the part of the Chairman of the Commission. We received it in two parts—the first part on the 17th of December, and the second early in January. When we received it there were two points which appeared to me to deserve our very serious consideration and to impose upon the Royal Commission the task of deciding what course, under these exceptional circumstances, it was necessary for them to take. The first of those points was this. It appeared to meet with so little favour or support on the part of any members of the Commission that there was no chance whatever of its adoption. It was met with a motion by one of those who are called the minority calling upon the Chairman to take back his Report and to recast it more in accordance with the evidence. We should have been left with nothing whatever to consider. The second point is this—that all reference to the question of local taxation was omitted, and there appeared in his
Report, under the heading of "Local Taxation," "I leave it to the Commission to make recommendations on this head." ["Hear, hear!"] There was very little time to decide what we had to do. It resulted in the recommendation of the course which received so much condemnation at his hands. He goes on to say:—
The real sequence of events was that the Report was made in order to bolster up a scheme already decided on.
I should like to ask on what possible grounds he can be justified in making such a statement. ["Hear, hear!"] To that statement I give the most unqualified contradiction. [Cheers.] I have had to consider many schemes in connection with this question, and for any one to say that the scheme I have submitted to Parliament was decided when that Report was made is absolutely untrue. [Cheers.] But the most extraordinary statement, and one which stands sufficiently self-condemned, is in the next paragraph. Those who have read this extraordinary production will know that it does nothing but denounce the scheme which was proposed. He says that it is fundamentally bad; that it must lead to the nationalisation of the poor rate; that it will give most relief where least is required and least relief where most is required; that it is rash, inequitable, and unwise; that it sets up a condition of glaring and gross inequalities; that it is intolerable and unjust in the highest degree. And yet, in the next sentence of his letter, this incorruptible Chairman informs us,
If I had been interested in agricultural land I should, I doubt not, have been equally unable to refuse the proposed boon.
He is entitled to speak for himself, and I have not a doubt that he has truly described his own motives and his own methods, but let him not speak for others. We supported the proposals that we made in that Commission, and I support the proposals we have made in this House because we believe them to be wise, because we believe them to be expedient, and, above all, because we
believe them to be just. [Cheers.] And when he goes on to say that,
The constitution of the Commission is such that no one could be surprised that a majority of its members should jump at it.
I take leave to tell the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of this Commission, on behalf of my colleagues who have been serving on it for two years, that I repudiate his statement as a libel and a calumny on a Commission which he ought to have been the first person to defend. [Cheers.] After what I have said already, I do not think the House will be surprised if I tell them something else. I regret to say. I grieve to say, that in the course of the labours of the Commission there have been occurrences which, thank God, have been foreign to my knowledge altogether upon any other Commission or Committee on which I have served in the course of my nearly 30 years' career as Member of Parliament. So many statements were made at the commencement of the proceedings of the Commission injurious to the motives, the action, and the policy of the majority of the Commission, and they were so constantly reaching the Press, that it became necessary to propose that an honourable understanding should be arrived at among all its members that no communication whatever should be made by any one of its members to the Press without the sanction and knowledge of the Commission. Notwithstanding that understanding, we have had sometimes since then to complain of similar occurrences, and the Commission in consequence agreed to a Resolution which, I think, under the circumstances, I may be allowed to read to the House:—
The Commission considers that, in view of previous discussions and the general understanding which was arrived at by the Commission in their earlier sittings, no communication with regard to their proceedings except as to summaries of the evidence which has been taken, ought to be made to the Press without the knowledge and sanction of the Commission, and any such communications will be regarded by its members as a breach of faith to the Commission.
That Resolution, to which the Chairman was a party, was unanimously adopted, and yet, in face of this and behind the back of the Commission, not for
the first time, he goes and publishes what I think I am justified in describing as this tissue of fictions. [Cheers.] I have been a little surprised more than once in the course of our Debates at some of the statements which have been made by responsible and leading Members opposite. I used to wonder where on earth they could have got their information from. Now it seems to me possible that I may be able to understand. I wish to say that I entirely acquit every one of them in this respect. When I pointed out one or two misstatements that were made, nothing could be more generous than the way in which they were withdrawn by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. But it leads me to take this opportunity to reply to some of the observations that were made, in perfect innocence, I am sure, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton on the introduction of the Bill. He talked of this singular Report; he said there was no controversy between the Commissioners as to its wording, and that where the Commissioners differed was on the Report dealing with the one subject of the rates. Where he got his information from at that time I did not know. I knew it was from an entirely unreliable source, because it was untrue in every particular. The whole of the Report was discussed clause by clause; various Amendments were moved to it, and some of them were carried. When it was put to the vote in its amended form there were only two of the Commissioners who voted against it. Then, again, instead of dealing with one subject, it dealt with three. It dealt with the question of the Land Tax, the question of local taxation, and with the question of loans for agricultural improvements. Those were the subjects on which it was held to be important that a Report should be presented before the financial policy and the financial proposals of the Government for the year were announced. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton doubted whether there was any statement before the House showing where the Commissioners differed. The answer is very simple; it is in print. The majority Report is contained in 12 pages, and no less than 30 pages are occupied by members of the minority in explaining where
and in what respects they differ from the majority. Again, the right hon. Gentleman has been grossly misled in another case. He said that Sir Alfred Milner was not cross-examined. But, as a matter of fact, he was cross-examined on two different days at considerable length, and by the Chairman of the Commission himself. ["Hear, hear!"] There are many other matters in the letter of the Chairman of the Commission touching the merits of the Bill itself, upon which I shall say nothing at this moment, but which may very well be dealt with in the course of the Debate so far as it is necessary to deal with them; but I thought it right, in justice to my colleagues on that Commission and to myself, and in order that the House might not be misled, that I should take the earliest opportunity in my power to reply to the statements I have referred to, and I hope the House of Commons will think I am right in having done so. [Cheers.] I beg to move that the Bill be read a Second time.
*SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.) moved to leave out from the word "that" to the end of the Question, in order to add instead thereof the words—
This House, while recognising the desirability of readjusting the burdens of local taxation, is of opinion that it is inexpedient and unjust that relief granted from Imperial taxation to rateable property should be restricted to one class only of such property.
The right hon. Gentleman said: I am quite sure that the feeling which has prevailed on this side of the House since the General Election is one of regret that the right hon. Gentleman — Mr. Shaw Lefevre — was among those who were not fortunate enough to succeed in that contest—[cheers] — and that that feeling must now be intensified. ["Hear, hear!"] A gentleman is placed at a singular disadvantage when criticisms so exceptionally severe are passed upon his letter as have been made by the right hon. Gentleman to-night, and he has not the opportunity of at once explaining or justifying his action. ["Hear, hear!"] I have listened with great attention to what the right hon. Gentleman has said and I have no doubt that before the Debate closes my right hon. Friend will
find an opportunity, either through the Press or through some right hon. Member near me, to explain those points on which the President of the Local Government Board has commented in such strong language to-night. ["Hear, hear!"] I am not going to delay the House, for I do not think it necessary to do so, by any observations on the differences of opinion among the members of the Royal Commission on Agriculture. We are here to-night to deal with a Bill introduced by Her Majesty's Government, the Second Reading of which has been moved by the President of the Local Government Board. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition warned the Government the other night that this Bill meant the reopening of the whole question of local taxation. ["Hear, hear!"] But the Leader of the House treated the Bill to-night very jauntily. He seems to be of opinion that it is merely a one-clause Bill—["hear, hear!"]—that it is simple in its object and in its details and is being opposed only on Party grounds, and that the Opposition might be exceedingly brief in dealing with it. Before the Bill leaves the House I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that he has been considerably misinformed in this respect. ["Hear, hear!"] But whether the Leader of the Opposition was right or not in saying that the Bill would raise the whole question of local taxation—and I think he was perfectly right—there can be no doubt that it is impossible to discuss the proposals of the Government without having a very clear understanding in our minds as to the facts and figures relating to our system of local taxation at this time. We cannot deal with these proposals in an isolated manner; we must look at local taxation as a whole, and I propose, in the first instance, to trouble the House with a few of the facts of the case. [Cheers.] By the last Local Government Board Report for 1894–5, which, of course, refers to the figures of the previous year, local taxation in England and Wales, exclusive of all rates for gas and water, was, in round figures, £30,250,000, and those rates are levied on a rateable value of 160 millions. That sum of 30¼ millions averages all round 3s. 10d. in the pound. The first question I will put to the House is, Where are those 30¼
millions levied—by whom is that enormous sum paid? Now, London itself, including the Poor Law, at once absorbs ½ millions of the sum. The poor rate outside London—I mean the poor rate proper—is 5½ millions; the municipal boroughs and the purely urban districts are, 10¾ millions; the districts partly urban and partly rural (but which include the whole of the School Board rates outside London and municipal boroughs) are 3½ millions; and the districts purely rural account for two millions. [Opposition cheers.] When the present First Lord of the Admiralty 23 years ago reported on this question he stated the amount of local taxation to be 16 millions. In 1874, three years afterwards, that local taxation had reached 19 millions, and, as I have already said, in 1894 it passed 30 millions. Where has this enormous increase taken place? Because it is a very important element in the consideration of the question whether there has been an increase of recent years in any one particular denomination of property which entitles it to claim special consideration. The increase in the metropolitan area during the last 20 years has been 4½ millions; the increase in the urban districts has been six millions; in the partly rural and partly urban districts half-a-million; while the increase in the purely rural districts has been one-quarter of a million. [Opposition cheers.] The House, therefore, will observe that in the increase of 11 millions which has taken place during the last 20 years there is only three-quarters of a million in which the class intended to be benefited by this Bill has any concern, and not even to the full extent of this, because half-a-million of it is in districts which are partly urban and partly rural. I do not trouble the House with the apportionment of the rate, because there are no reliable figures since 1891, when the rateable value was seven millions less than it is now. In 1891 the rateable value of London was upwards of 31 millions, municipal boroughs and urban districts 67 millions, and rural districts 53 millions. It is estimated that that has since been increased in London to 34 millions and in urban and partly urban districts to 72 millions, and in rural districts the increase has been very slight indeed. I wish to make another ex-
planation to the House as to how the rating is calculated. We are told that the rates on purely agricultural land average 3s. 10d. in the pound. But these averages do not tally with the rates actually levied. London, the Boroughs and the rural districts raise larger rates than the averages given by the Local Government Board. The explanation of these discrepancies is very simple, but the House must understand them to appreciate their importance. Let me give an illustration. Let me take a certain district of which the rateable value is £24,000. To raise a £100 requires an average rate of a penny in the pound, but a penny in the pound will not produce £100, because there is a leakage in all rateable districts. There are the leakages of composition, of empties, and of bad debts, and for these and other reasons a larger rate must always be levied than the exact rate that would appear from the rateable value. Everyone knows that these leakages are much larger in towns than in rural districts, and that, therefore, a much larger allowance has to be made on that account in regard to the towns than the rural districts. Making the calculation on the principle I have explained as to rateable value, the Local Government Board in 1893 apportioned the uniform rate which was then 3s. 8d. in the pound as follows:—London, 5s. 0d.; county boroughs, 4s. 6½d.: non-county boroughs, 4s. 4½d.; urban districts, 3s. 11d.; and rural districts, 2s. 3d. Since then there have been some variations, but in the figures I am going to argue upon I shall take the rural rate now at 2s. 4d. But there is a disturbing element in rural rating which must be looked at. Totally apart from the general leakage to which I referred, there is a peculiarity in rural rating which disturbs the calculation—I mean the School Board rate. The entire number of parish School Boards as distinguished from London and the municipal boroughs, is 2,247. It is assumed that the purely rural School Board rate in 1891 is £456,000, and this in the Local Government Board calculations is reckoned as equivalent to a rate of 2d. in the pound. This is got by spreading it over the whole of the rural districts, whereas the rate in some rural districts, as some of us know,
is very much larger. There are 292 School Board parishes where the rate exceeds 1s.; there are 1,000 where the rate is 6d. and less than 1s.; and only 185 where it falls below 3d. I at once admit that I consider that a very heavy and exceptional burden upon rural districts. [Ministerial cheers.] That will make the rural rate, apart from School Board purposes, about 2s. 2d. Then there is the amount of local debt to be considered. The local debt of this country is rapidly increasing. It was upwards of £215,000,000 in the last Local Government Report. In 1891, when the figures were carefully analysed, it was £201,000,000, having increased £14,000,000 in three years. Deducting from the £201,000,000 upwards of £30,000,000 in respect of harbours, piers, and docks, which of course are charged upon these undertakings, there is a sum of £171,000,000 levied upon rating. And now observe the proportions of the burden of this debt. A sum of £153,000,000 was owing by urban districts, £13,000,000 by urban and rural districts, and £4,000,000 by rural districts. [Cheers.] The present Bill deals only with one class of property comprised in the rural districts. There are two great divisions in this Bill. There is the first division confining rural rating exclusively to agricultural districts, and, secondly, that is subdivided, confining it exclusively to agricultural land, forgetting that the agricultural depression from which large areas have suffered, and suffered severely, has affected the shopkeeper, the millowner, and the rural artisan quite as much as it has affected the farmers. What are the rates which those rural districts pay? There are the Poor Rate, the Highway Rate, and the County Rate. These are the old rates, the "hereditary burdens," a phrase for which I have been severely attacked. [Ministerial cheers.] Ah, yes; but I was not the author of that phrase. There was a speech delivered in this House in 1871—I only wish the right hon. Gentleman who delivered it would deliver it again in 1896—I mean the present First Lord of the Admiralty. He said:—
The House must distinguish between those rates which are hereditary burdens on account of Poor Law administration and those rates
which were adopted to make sanitary or other improvements. As regards the hereditary burdens, the hon. Baronet had said they almost became a rent-charge to the owners of land; but they have been so from the beginning. Most of the great estates in this country have been bequeathed and inherited, bought and sold, subject to those identical rates which, according to the statistics, have so greatly increased the burdens of property. Is that burden to be transferred from the land on which it had long been a rent-charge and added to the general taxation of the country, which is already high enough?
The Poor Rate in 1891 all over England was 9½d. in the pound, and in 1893 it was 10d. If the returns were brought down to the present time I think we should find that the Poor Rate now was about 10½d. That is the average. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, but you must take London out in making the calculation. London gets no relief under this Bill. The London Poor Rate is 1s. 3d., and, therefore, the average rate in the provinces is a decimal under 9d. in the pound; and anybody who understands anything of the subject will know that that is almost the lowest figure at which the Poor Rate has stood in this century. The Highway Rate is 6½d.; the County Rate 6d. These are the old burdens. The chief new burden is the Rural Sanitary Rate, and to that rate land is only assessed at ¼d. The burden falls upon houses. The average Rural Sanitary Rate is 2d. in the pound, of which only ¼d. or ½d. in the pound falls upon land. You must add to that the School Board Rate, of which I have already admitted the inequality, and the Parish Council Rate. I wanted the House, as will be remembered, to adopt the limit of a lower Parish Council Rate than the House in its generosity was inclined to adopt. I was beaten in the Division on that occasion by a majority composed of both sides, having nothing of a party character in it, and the maximum rate was fixed at 6d. in the pound. I do not know whether that rate has approached to that figure yet; but I had accounts sent to me the other day by a distinguished friend of mine, a member of a parish council in Surrey, and he called my attention to the fact that, though they did a great deal, their Parish Council Rate was only ½d. in the pound. Have those rates, old and new together, increased? The old rates as between
1868 and 1891 considerably decreased; the new rates have increased. The average in 1868 was 3s. 4d., in 1891 it was 3s. 8d. But, so far as rural districts are concerned, there has been a very large reduction in the assessments. I do not know whether, after the censures of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I may be permitted to quote from that minority Report which he has so strongly denounced; but I shall ask the leave of the House to read one paragraph. There are 20 unions taken in various parts of England, where, if
the assessment of land had been maintained at the same point as it was in 1870, the rate in the £ in 1893 would have been reduced to 1s. 9d., as compared with 2s. 4d. in 1868—a reduction of something like 25 per cent.
A large quantity of evidence had been given before the Royal Commission to show that assessments had been reduced. They have not been reduced as much as they ought to have been in several counties. One hon. Member the other night called attention to the fact that some clerk of a board of guardians was deliberately setting at defiance the law; but the law is clear as to what rateable value is, and no board of guardians and no clerk has any right to attempt to go beyond the law. Their business is to administer the law as they find it. The present proposal of the Government is to pay half of all those rates I have mentioned—the old and new, the hereditary burden or modern imposition—out of the Consolidated Fund, winch proposal assumes a grant of £2,000,000 from the Exchequer. The apportionment to England and Wales of that sum is £1,550,000. The agricultural land to be benefited by this grant amounts to 32,745,000 acres, of which the annual rateable value is £26,250,000, on which the present rates are £3,100,000. Therefore, those rates, at present paid on £26,250,000 rateable value, are to receive from the Exchequer this sum of £1,550,000. We are told that this contribution is to alleviate depression in agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman was careful to say that it was not to remedy; but several speakers classified it as one of the Measures to alleviate the condition of agriculture and to lighten the burden of the farmer. One hon. Member even said it would
benefit the labourers. [Ministerial cheers and ironical laughter.] Then one hon. Member advocated this Measure because it would show the sympathetic feeling of the House of Commons [laughter]—he might rather have said a section of the House of Commons—towards the agricultural community. Nothing is more easy than to be generous with other people's money——[cheers]—but outside the House the supporters of the Government have put it on a much higher ground They have censured my right hon. Friend (Sir W. Harcourt) and myself for presuming to question the wisdom of this procedure on much stronger grounds than those stated. Of two great organs of the Government in the Press, one has advocated this Bill as having been brought in "to avert a great national calamity." [laughter.] Another organ of the Government states that "the cultivators of the land are being crushed to death by the weight of local taxation"—["Hear, hear!"]—we will see about that presently—"and that the first necessity of the hour is to save British agriculture from complete extinction." [Ministerial cheers.] I should be glad to join hon. Members opposite in a Measure that would avert a great national calamity or relieve agriculture from total extinction; but I must ask myself, What is it that the Government propose? What is their scheme that is going to avert this national calamity, and to save agriculture from extinction? What is the scheme that is to relieve farmers from being crushed to death?
§ *MR. CHAPLIN
The right hon. Gentleman will admit that no one has been more careful than I have to say, on behalf of the Government, that this was not intended or pretended for a moment to be a remedy for agricultural depression. [Opposition laughter and cheers.]
§ *SIR H. FOWLER
This Bill has been brought in by the Government, and it has the names on the back of it of Mr. Chaplin, Mr. Balfour, Mr. Long, and others. I should be sorry to put into the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman words which he did not use, and I think he has expressly repudiated this wild nonsense that is being talked on this question. What, then, is this scheme? It is 1s. 2d. in the pound of rates, and it is less than 1s. an acre. And 1791 this relief is going to save agriculture from complete extinction! It is going to avert a great national calamity! [Laughter.] A farmer whose rateable value is £200 will get £11 13s. 4d., and a farmer whose rateable value is £500 will be saved from complete extinction by a dole of £29 3s. 4d. [Laughter.] One hon. Gentleman opposite said that the receipt of a £10 note would be a very pleasant thing for the agricultural ratepayer. Well, I agree that no man ever objects to receive a £10 note. I do not suppose that landlords or tenants or Members of Parliament would object to such a receipt. [Laughter.] But when there are to be 150,000 £10 notes, where is the money to come from? This money is to come from the taxation of the whole community. ["Hear, hear!"] You are, in fact, putting 1d. on the Income Tax in order to be able to pay this sum. What will be the extent of the benefit? I do not care to ask whether the landlord or the tenant will reap the benefit of this munificent contribution, because I am very doubtful whether there will be any benefit at all. This subvention, like its predecessors, will be a stimulus to extravagance. The last local subvention was given by the present First Lord of the Admiralty when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1888, and the amount that he then gave to boards of guardians was practically a million of money. The Poor Law expenditure in the preceding year was £8,366,000, and the amount of the expenditure last year was £9,670,000, an increase of much more than a million. It has been the same story in the case of the police, and in other cases where the men who spend the money are not the men who raise it. ["Hear, hear!"] Where the argument can be used "if we spend 1s. the Government will provide 6d. out of it," there is always a resistless temptation to incur additional expense. My belief is that boards of guardians, finding that they have a margin of 50 per cent. to work with, will use that margin. Hon. Members opposite will do well to read the powerful speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Local Government Bill of 1894 and his observations as to the future course of expenditure on the part of boards of guardians. They must see that if the present 9d. rate is reduced to 4½d. the 1792 temptation will be to raise the rate to its former standard. This Bill is the largest step that has ever been taken towards a national poor rate. It goes half-way towards it. Those who have read the Report of the Poor Law Commissioners of 1834 will see that the dangers which they describe as resulting from the old system are the dangers that will arise now. I must trouble the House with some extracts from the evidence given before the Commission on Agricultural depression with reference to "this great national calamity." I will take two or three typical counties and two or three typical witnesses. The first county I take is Hampshire, and the first witness Mr. Rainbird, Lord Bolton's agent. The property consists of 15,000 acres; and the witness said that the reduction of rent had approached to 50 per cent., and that there had been temporary abatements of from 10 to 20 per cent. That is good proof that this is a county where agricultural distress has greatly prevailed. The Commission, I ought to point out, received answers to about 70,000 questions, and I doubt whether 1,000 related to the question of rates. Well, Mr. Rainbind considered that the depression was partly caused by the rates, but chiefly by continued low prices. He said that the rates were lower than they used do be, and expressed the opinion that those who used the roads ought to pay for them, adding that the public already paid for the main roads. This witness, who was a typical land agent, had nothing more to say on the question of rates. Another witness was Mr. Stratton, a farmer who rents 3,500 acres in Hampshire, and whose average rent, tithe free, is only 11s. an acre. He complains very bitterly that land should bear the same taxation now that it used to bear when it enjoyed the privilege of protection. He says that, as land has now no exceptional advantages, it ought not to bear exceptional burdens. He thinks that the rate per £1 has increased during the century, and, speaking of the poor rate, he expresses the opinion that the increase has been gradual from the time of Queen Elizabeth, but he adds that he could not supply figures bearing that out. He considers it very unfair that 1,000 acres should be rated at £1,000. It is remarkable that when he is asked what 1793 his rates are he is quite unable to say. He says he will send in an account. He is perfectly in ignorance as to what they were. Well, he did send in a report, and he put his rates at a very low figure indeed, though he complained very much, I think, of the burden. Taking one farm, the rent in 1872 was £690 and the rates £80 14s. 2d. In 1882 the rent was £510 and the rates £72. In 1892 the rent and tithes were £352 10s., and the rates £42 10s.; and in 1893 the rates were £34. I do not think that is very strong case. ["Hear, hear!"] One of the Sub-Commissioners, Dr. Fream, gave some very important evidence. He said that there did not seem to be any great complaint of local taxation in the district he visited, though complaint was made of the highway rate. He said:—"I am afraid that local knowledge on these subjects is very limited." [Cheers.] He agreed that, if the local rates were all taken off, that would not be of much benefit. The fullest relief of local taxation would not meet the trouble from which agriculturists suffered. In answer to another question this gentleman said that he had had no evidence as to whether the rates in the pound had gone down, but he was sure there had been a heavy fall in the rates. A farmer of 800 acres had told him that at the best a remission of the rates would only benefit him to the extent of £30 a year. Now I go to Berkshire next, and I think some of the most valuable evidence before the Commission was that given by one of the greatest landowners in Berkshire, Lord Wantage. Lord Wantage has 18,000 acres in Berkshire and 28,000 acres in Northamptonshire, 4,400 of which he farms himself. What is the evidence given by him as to Berkshire? He was asked:—What is your experience with regard to local rates?and he said—I have not very much to complain of with regard to rates. Of course for the last two years I have been paying rates out of nothing.Speaking of himself as a tenant, he said that all that time he had been paying rates at a little over 2s. in the pound. He did not think they had risen, with the exception of the education rate, 1794 which had risen, and there was a special sanitary rate then coming into force. The rates had remained stationary, but the rents had fallen off. Then he was asked, "You say that the farmers in your district have had their assessments reduced?" and he answered, "Certainly." Then he goes into his Northamptonshire property, which I will not deal with now; but that is the beginning and the end of Lord Wantage in reference to the rates in Berkshire. ["Hear, hear!"] Then some rather interesting evidence was given by Lord Harrington's land agent as to this question of rating and renting. He put his average farms at 200 to 250 acres. The question was put to him:Have local rates been raised or lowered within the last 16 years?"—"I think they have been raised. In the next parish they have been raised to 2s. 8d.That parish turned out to be an urban district. ["Hear, hear!"] With reference to the rating of his farms, he was asked, "What do you suggest?" And he replied:I should like to see the rates merged in the Income Tax and collected in one sum, and spread over the whole country. If the system of local rates is maintained, in my opinion, the rates should be divided between the landlord and the tenant.Then there is one other case in this volume which I think is very interesting It is the evidence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom I do not see here to-night. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a very interesting account of the depreciation on his estates in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. He showed that there had been a reduction of rent, something like 50 per cent., and he claimed to have the full benefit of this reduction in the assessment. What does he say about the rates? He was asked:May I ask whether the rates on land have increased in your district in the past few years?"—"The Poor Rate has decreased, the other rates have increased.Asked whether assessment had decreased, he said:Where the reductions of rent have been permanent, no doubt assessments have decreased.Then the question was put:May I ask whether, in your opinion, the incidence of rates upon land is unfair and unjust in relation to other property?1795 And the right hon. Gentleman answered:That is a large question. I certainly think that it is so, but I speak, of course, from the point of view of the landowner.[Cheers and counter-cheers.] Then there is the evidence of Mr. Squarey, probably the largest land agent in England. He is agent of 195,000 acres, and consulting agent as to 60,000 acres. He has the management of land in Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, and Derbyshire. This gentleman speaks very strongly about the depression in agriculture. He thinks the depression from 1847 to 1852 was almost as acute as the depression of the present day. About 500 questions were put to him about the various remedies that were proposed. The Commissioners discussed with him the subdivision of farms, the currency, free trade, uncultivated land, and land laid down to grass, but the question of the rates was not put to him. The Commissioners seem to have had a curious instinct of knowing of whom to ask questions about the rates. [Laughter.] I should have thought that Mr. Squarey was exactly the man to know where agricultural depression was the worst, and where the national calamity lay. The witness went on to say that, in his opinion, there was still some inducement to tenants, notwithstanding the burden of the rates, to take the land for the purposes of endeavouring to make a living out of it, or, at all events, they would try to do so. Numerous other witnesses also gave their evidence before the Commission to a similar effect. Mr. Robert Turnbull, who managed the large estates in Northumberland, Cumberland, and Yorkshire, of Lord Carlisle, in the course of his evidence, said that the question of rates and taxes did affect the rent of a farm in the long run. He admitted that a farmer on taking a farm did not make any very exact inquiry into the amount of the local burdens, but roughly took them to amount to about 10 per cent. on the rent, and assumed that if he paid £1 an acre for rent, he would have to pay 2s. per acre for rates. The witness proceeded to say that, in a great many instances where farmers who had been cultivating the land for years were asked what the amount of their rates was, they were unable to say what it was. A farmer on taking a farm ought to inquire as 1796 to the average amount of the outgoings, but the witness added that many took farms without any precautionary inquiries whatever, because they were going to be married, and wanted a home, and consoled themselves with the thought that if they were hardly dealt with there would be 20 others in. the same boat. The result was, the witness remarked, that numbers of farmers did not generally take the amount of the rates into account on taking a farm. I abstain from quoting a large number of extracts I have as to the evidence relating to rates, but there was a general feeling in favour of a reduction of the rates on land. But it is the feeling of ratepayers everywhere in the United Kingdom that the rates should be reduced. I contend that there is no evidence whatever in the whole of these four thick volumes which indicates that the witnesses believed that the one thing necessary to relieve agricultural depression is that the rates should be lessened because the farmers were being crushed out of existence by their weight. ["Hear, hear!"] I have occupied the attention of the House for some time, I am afraid, in dealing with the question of the local burdens upon land in the rural districts, but I must now ask permission to say a word or two with regard to the burden of rates in the urban districts. ["Hear, hear!"] The first proposition I put to the House is that, as regards land in rural districts and real property in urban districts, the incidence of the rates is equally heavy and equally unfair. ["Hear, hear!"] The Government contend that it is unfair that one description of property in the rural districts should bear the whole burden of local taxation. I quite agree in that, but I say that this is the first time that an attempt has been made to treat the burdens borne by real property in the rural districts differently from those borne by real property in the towns. ["Hear, hear!"] When Lord Beaconsfield was speaking upon this subject he repudiated the idea of treating land in rural districts upon a different footing from real property in towns; and Sir Massey Lopes, when challenged upon the point, denied that he had attempted to draw any distinction in this sense between houses and land. My contention is that business premises in towns occupy 1797 the same relation to the trade carried on in them, that land in rural districts does to the trade of the farmer who cultivates it. It matters little whether a man's business is that of making bread, beef or mutton, or that of making cotton, iron or woollen goods, except that as a matter of fact the rates fall heavier upon the business premises of the town ratepayer than upon the land of the rural ratepayer. There are far greater discrepancies in the towns. There you have tradesmen and manufacturers employing a large amount of labour, incurring great risks and often making large losses, sometimes making very small profits and sometimes none, who pay rates on an enormous ratal as contrasted with the ratal of merchants, brokers, professional men, and opulent citizens retired from business, and the discrepancy is far greater than in any illustration that we have had with reference to the farmer. Then urban ratepayers have another peculiarity from which the agricultural ratepayers are to a great extent exempt; the urban ratepayer is not only paying these heavy rates, but he is paying off in his rates by sinking fund enormous debts. [Opposition cheers.] You have heard to-night of the debt of London; that debt will be paid off by the present tenants of London; the freeholders of London do not pay one shilling towards that—["Hear, hear!"]—and at the end of the time when those leases expire, enormous improvements, vastly enhancing the value of their property, will have been completed and paid for by their tenants. Is not that a case which calls for some consideration from the House when dealing with this question? There is nothing like a concrete illustration, and I will take the municipal borough of Wolverhampton which I have the honour to represent. Of the rateable value of Wolverhampton, 51 per cent. consists of works, mills, factories, collieries, railways, and gasworks, and only 49 per cent. of offices and dwelling-houses, and of that 51, one-half are assessments of over £500, and the rates in Wolverhampton are not 2s. 4d. in the pound—the rates are 7s. 4d. in the pound. I will take a case which I know. It is the case of two partners who have got business premises, shop and warehouse, for which they pay a rental of £750 a year. They are rated at £600 a year, their rates are 7s. 4d. in the pound; 1798 you will see that they pay £210 a year. They are also rated on their own residences, and there are men within a quarter of a mile of those premises who are not on a ratal of one-sixth or one-tenth of the amount at which they are rated, but who are, perhaps, making a four or five times larger profit. The hon. Member for Stockport the other night gave a case where a company was rated at I think, £3,000 a year, and they lost last year £8,000. There are no cases in these Blue-books which are worse than that. ["Hear, hear!"] When you are admitting the unfairness of putting this taxation on one description of property alone, why do you leave out the largest and most heavily burdened ratepayers in the Kingdom, and concentrate your relief on one kind of taxpayer? I have got a statement here of the rates in other places besides Wolverhampton. I do really believe that those hon. Gentlemen opposite who are exclusively connected with agriculture, and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, do not realise the enormous taxation that is paid in towns. The rates in Blackburn last year were 5s. 10d. and in Bolton 5s. 1d. in the pound, in Bristol they were 6s. 4½d., in Bury 5s. 8d., in Coventry 6s. 4d., in Dewsbury 7s. 8d., in Gateshead 6s., in Halifax 6s. 6d., in Huddersfield 6s. 10d., in Hull 7s. 1d., in Leicester 6s. 3d., in Leeds 7s., in Manchester 6s. 0½d., in Middlesbrough 7s. 4d., in Norwich 8s. 8d., in Nottingham 6s. 5d., in Oldham 4s. 4d., in Plymouth 6s. 1d., in Reading 6s. 5d., in Swansea 6s. 9d., in Wakefield 6s. 10d., in Wigan 6s. 10d., in York6s.5d., in West Ham 8s. 5d., and in Preston 7s. 3d. I think those figures must convince the House that there is a case for consideration in regard to the ratepayers of the towns. [Opposition cheers.] This is the first time that the towns have been excluded from these subventions. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty when Chancellor of the Exchequer did not exclude the towns—he gave them a share. But what share was it? The rateable value of London and the county boroughs was £67,000,000, and the rateable value of the administrative counties, which include all therest of the country, was over £92,000,000. In 1893 the taxation paid in London and the county boroughs was 1799 a little over £15,000,000, and the taxation paid by all the rest of the counties was a little under,£15,000,000. Of the subvention, the £92,000,000 of rateable value, raising less than £15,000,000, received £3,600,000, while the £67,000,000, raising more than £15,000,000, received less than £2,500,000. That was to have been an equal subvention, but that was the way it was worked out. We have now arrived at a point when the towns are to be excluded altogether. Now as to the mode in which the relief is proposed to be given. This is one of the simple matters which the First Lord thought would not occupy the attention of the House long. [Laughter.] We are told it is to follow the precedent of 1888. In the Bill it is proposed that this subvention is to be charged upon the Probate Duty paid under that portion of the Estate Duty which represents the old Probate Duty. And, as I pointed out last Wednesday, the first result of this muddling of our financial system is a misstatement of our position. I disputed then, and I dispute now on fuller consideration, the statement that the precedent of 1888 is being followed. That precedent transferred licences to local authorities; and I very much wish that the right hon. Gentleman had imposed on the local authorities the duty of collecting those licences. I never could see the justification for retaining the collection with the Inland Revenue and handing the money over.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. G. J. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square
There are so many difficulties.
§ *SIR H. FOWLER
I cannot see any more difficulty in that case than in any other. But the right hon. Gentleman divided the Probate Duty into two moieties; and he corrected us again and again when we talked about a 3 per cent. duty. He said that there was only 1½ per cent. on personalty and 1½ per cent. on land. But there is this still greater difference. The right hon. Gentleman in this manner paid a certain amount to the local authorities for local taxation. But this Bill is not in aid of local authorities, but of individuals. [Cheers.] It is a subscription—[cheers]—for a certain class of ratepayers in the rural districts. This money comes out of the Consolidated Fund, upon which 1800 it is charged; and that Fund would have to meet £2,000,000 less this year if this charge were not imposed on it. My right hon. Friend, in his great Budget speech, said that he meant to alter this circumlocution of the Local Taxation Account; but he had other things to do. This money is to come out of the Probate Duty on personalty. I say that is not possible. [Cheers.] But what does it mean? It means that nobody is to contribute to this subscription unless from pure personalty. The Gentlemen whose property consists of land are not to pay anything towards this subvention. People often think that the Probate Duty is paid by very rich people. That duty still remains at 1½ per cent., but a large proportion of that revenue does not come from the very rich people. One-third comes from people who die worth less than £10,000; and a great deal comes from people who die worth less than £5,000. ["Hear, hear!"] But this is a permanent charge—an endowment; and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall fight it at greater length than he imagines. [Cheers.] I say that it is absolutely impossible to put this on a level with the Consolidated Fund charges, which are taken out of the control of Parliament. If the right hon. Gentleman were levying a new tax, he might say; "I will give so much to personalty, and so much to realty," though the principle would be bad. But when you are dealing with an existing tax, any attempt at ear-marking it is most dangerous and misleading. [Cheers.] There was a similar precedent which Mr. Gladstone disposed of, and I should have thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was one who would thoroughly approve of that action. Before Mr. Gladstone's day the collection of the revenue was deducted from the revenue receipts, and never came under the control of Parliament; though, of course, collection is a payment out of revenue. To sum up. I say that the burden of local taxation is unfair. I say that personal property ought to contribute a much larger share than it does—[Ministerial cheers]—but all payers of local taxation have an equal claim to share in any contribution from the Imperial Exchequer. [Cheers]. As far as agricultural land is concerned, its depression cannot and will not be re- 1801 lieved by any contribution in aid of its rates—even if the whole rates were abolished to-morrow. I estimated them in my Report four years ago at 3s. per acre, including tithes and other properties. The calculation now is, on agricultural land, less than 2s. an acre, which represents the real burden upon the rates. The proposition is that 11d. an acre or 1s. an acre shall be taken off. I say if the whole 2s. were taken off it would not arrest a great national calamity. I say that as between agriculturists it is unfair. It treats all land alike. The good land and the bad land—the land worth 11s. an acre and the land worth £2 an acre—are treated alike. The land on Salisbury Plain is treated in the same way as the accommodation land near a large town. Whether the rates are high or whether they are low, every man who pays rates on agricultural land is to be treated alike. It distributes relief on an unfair principle. It excludes the relief of a large section of the community who have suffered in their trade from agricultural depression. It leads to extravagance in local administration, it will do no good to anyone. You might as well throw the money over Westminster Bridge into the Thames for all the good it will do the landowner, the agricultural tenant, or the labourer. The money is going to be thrown away, and I say that this House, which is trustee for the general taxpayer, has no right to impose a general charge for the benefit of any class. Therefore I ask the House to accept the words of my Amendment, that it is inexpedient and unjust that relief granted from Imperial taxation to rateable property should be restricted to one class only of such property. [Cheers.]
§ *MR. E. STRACHEY (Somerset, S.)
seconded the Amendment, contending that they could not single out one class of ratepayers for special treatment to the exclusion of other local ratepayers. It was clear that the President of the Local Government Board felt the difficulty, for 1802 he was reported in The Times (he was obliged to quote from The Times, as the official report of his speech was not printed) as saying that while the Bill only proposed to amend the law as to rating of agricultural land in England, it was not to be understood that the Government was not perfectly alive to the fact that other property was entitled to the equitable adjustment of the amount of its taxation. "The Government," he said, "recognised the grievances brought forward for so many years." But, though the right hon. Gentleman recognised there were great inequalities as regarded local taxation, he did not propose to deal with them. After being in office nine months, the Government said they would inquire into it, which meant putting the question off to another Parliament. He knew there was another, and a very strong argument—that there was not sufficient money to give relief to the urban ratepayers. He thought that a remedy for this might have been found by imposing other taxation in order to equalise local burdens between personal and real property. Now he was going to quote a statement of the hon. Member for North Somerset. His hon. Friend his colleague in the representation of Somerset, speaking in 1895 as the Conservative Candidate for the Division which he now represented, said:—He did not think that any such scheme as Protection would ever be tolerated in England again. But there were other ways in which agriculture could receive assistance. He was in favour of relieving the burdens on houses, lands and farms, and making an increased call upon people who derived their incomes from banks and breweries.He agreed with his hon. Friend in that; and he regretted that the Government did not propose to give relief to local rates in the manner his hon. Friend had suggested. He, personally, was perfectly ready to support the principle of giving relief to local rates. In carrying out that principle they ought to act on the maxim of equality of treatment, or in other words, that every man should 1803 pay according to his ability his fair share of local rates as well as of Imperial taxation. But the Bill of the Government did not do anything of the kind. It singled out one class of ratepayers for relief. Speaking as an agriculturist and the representative of an agricultural constituency, he felt that it was an unfortunate mistake that agriculturists should separate themselves from other ratepayers in this question of relieving local taxation; the urban ratepayers felt their own heavy burden of high rates, and freely sympathised with agriculturists in the depression from which they were suffering. In the old days the people living in the great towns thought that all local rates should fall upon land. But he rejoiced to say that that feeling no longer existed. There was now a pretty general agreement amongst Members on both sides of the House, whether representing rural constituencies or urban constituencies, that the maintenance of the poor, the education of children, the cost of the police, the making and repair of roads were national obligations—[Opposition cries of "No!"]—and should, like the maintenance of the Army and Navy, be paid for by all equally. He dissociated himself from hon. Gentlemen on his own side of the House, who thought that only real property should bear those heavy charges. If the argument of hereditary burdens of land was accepted, the argument of hereditary exceptions must also be conceded. In the last Parliament an hereditary exception which land possessed was taken away by the Finance Act of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and owing to that real property had a fair claim to be treated on an equality in regard to taxation. He could not help thinking that the Government were doing the right thing in the wrong way. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton that subventions had in the past proved to be very extravagant and wasteful, and had led to a 1804 want of due care in local administration. At the present moment nearly £7,000,000 was given by Imperial grants in aid of local taxation, and yet it was the rule to find the rates just as high as ever. And in some places the rates had even steadily increased. It was now suggested to give a new subvention of £1,500,000 towards the relief of a certain class of rates falling upon a certain class of real property. That, of course, was an entirely new principle, because, hitherto, subventions from the Imperial Exchequer had been given in relief of rateable property of all kinds. Difficulties, too, would arise under the Bill. There would have to be large re-assessments. In fact, it seemed to him there would have to be a new assessment in every county, in every union, and in every parish; it would mean great complication and expense. It was very probable, also, as his right hon. Friend had said, that relief would be given, to a great extent, in the very places where it was the least wanted—in the richer districts, for example. That point was clearly brought out in the March Report of last year of the Statistical Committee of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, a Committee of experts who certainly had a right to speak in the name of the agriculturists of the country. He objected to the Bill because it did not give relief to the ratepayers as fully as it might have done. He would have been ready to have supported an increased tax upon brewers, as suggested by the hon. Member for North Somerset, but if the Government said they could not impose an increased tax he could well understand why. Before, and during, the last Election the people were told it was intended to relieve local rates by handing over some special tax to local bodies—the Land Tax for instance. The Land Tax would have been a very appropriate tax to hand over; it represented about £1,903,843. He was aware that of this amount of Land Tax at the present moment the unre- 1805 deemed stood at £1,200,000, and that to the amount redeemed at £882,000. It was argued that, because part of the Land Tax had been redeemed, there would be no good in transferring it. Those who used that argument could not know much about the Land Tax. The fact that it had been redeemed did not mean that the parish did not any longer benefit from it; on the contrary, it received benefit as much as it did before. It reduced the amount to be found by the ratepayers as much as it would if the Land Tax had not been redeemed. The Land Tax was ear-marked; it was never lost sight of, and it was secured for the benefit of the parish, to help make up the quota. For practical purposes it still existed, and the argument of the supporters of the Government that it could not be dealt with because it had been redeemed was no argument at all. The Government might have paid some attention to the evidence on this question, given before the Royal Commission on Agriculture. Mr. Robinson, the Deputy Chairman of the Inland Board of Revenue referred to the unequal incidence of the Land Tax, and he said that the taxable capacity of Hertfordshire was deemed to be twice that of Lancashire, while now Lancashire's taxable capacity was from 14 to 15 times greater than that of Hertfordshire. If the Government had remitted the Land Tax to the local authorities in the different counties for their use in diminishing parochial taxation, they would have done something that would have been equitable in the case of Hertfordshire, which was paying doubly in comparison with Lancashire. Hertfordshire had suffered from agricultural depression a great deal more than Lancashire had done; it required a great deal more assistance than Lancashire; and it would have got that assistance if it had received the Land Tax. It was pointed out in the evidence before the Royal Commission, that the Land Tax was now heaviest in the poorest parishes; those 1806 which had suffered most from agricultural depression had to pay the larges poundage. If the Government had remitted the Land Tax to the local authorities, instead of keeping it as an Imperial Tax, they would have adopted the very best plan of helping the poorest districts while the rough and ready plan they had adopted gave most benefit in the richer districts and least in the poorer districts He could illustrate this by two parishes in his own county. One was an agricultural parish in which the land let at from £1 to 30s. an acre, and in this the Land Tax was 1s. 3d. in the pound; the other was a prosperous industrial parish, where the land let at from £3 to £4 per acre, and the Land Tax was only l¼d. in the pound. In these cases the remission of the Land Tax would have given the poorer parish 1s. 3d. in the pound, and the comparatively well-to-do parish only 1¼d. in the pound. That would have been giving relief from local burdens where it was most needed. Another way in which the Government might have given appreciable relief at small expense to the Imperial Exchequer was by remitting the Income Tax under Schedule B, which, in 1894, yielded £253,000, and last year only £180,258. That would have given relief direct to tenant farmers, and also to another class the House ought to have some sympathy with—namely, the diminishing class of yeoman farmers, men who owned and occupied their own land. The Government might have remitted the whole of the small amount of £189,000 under Schedule B, which would be a great help to the tenant farmers. An hon. Member had a notice on the Paper in which he drew attention to the fact that the Government were not doing anything to help manufacturers in agricultural districts, and he referred to the question of the rating of machinery. Small manufacturers in agricultural districts suffered a great deal from local taxation and the unfair method of rating of 1807 machinery. It was unfortunate that the Bill gave no assistance to small manufacturing industries in agricultural districts. The effect of heavy local taxation on small manufactures was to crush them out, and to drive those engaged in them on to the rates. In districts where there were small manufactures, not only were the rates reduced to the general ratepayer, and the farmer, but at the same time population was retained in agricultural districts instead of being driven into the towns. He was afraid the proposal of the Government would, by degrees, extinguish most of these small local manufactures. It was of the utmost importance to give relief to small manufactures in agricultural districts, because they played an important part in assisting our rural population. He might quote the cases of two parishes in Essex, from which county they were always hearing of agricultural depression. In Sible Hedingham, where there was no local manufactory, the population in 1871 was 2,097; in 1891 it was 1,785, a decrease of 312. The decrease in rateable value was more startling. In 1879 it was £10,468; last year it was £5,353, a decrease of £5,115, or a falling off of 50 per cent. Taking another parish in Essex, Earls Colne, where there were two agricultural engineering factories, the population in 1871 was 1,481, and in 1891 1,720, an increase of 239. The rateable value in 1879 was £7,164; in 1895 it was £5,514, having decreased by only £1,650, or 23 per cent. These figures showed that where there was a manufactory, not only did the population increase, but the rateable value, although it might decrease, did not decrease by more than one-half the amount in a parish where there were no small manufactures. It was unfortunate the Government should extend no relief to small manufactures in agricultural districts from local taxation when they were complaining of its incidence, and in some cases had been 1808 crushed out of existence to great extent because of the pressure of local rates. He thought those interested in agriculture should insist on these small industries receiving as much assistance as was given to the farmer or the small landowner in this matter. He expressed regret that in the Bill the Government gave no assistance to the clergy. The President of the Local Government Board, in his speech on the introduction of the Bill, said he very much regretted that the Government had been obliged to exempt tithe from any benefit received in reduction of local taxation under this Bill. He did not think the clergy, who, as a rule, over the whole of this country supported the Government at the last election, would thank the right hon. Gentleman or be inclined to be satisfied with the statement that the difficulties were too great, but would openly express their dissatisfaction at this poverty of resource of the right hon. Gentleman. The clergy had a great claim to assistance when it was remembered that an incumbent paid rates on the whole of his income, because as a rule the whole of the income of an incumbent was derived from tithe. Under the Bill the clergy would get no benefit at all, while they would have to pay full rates upon their tithe. It seemed to him that there was a strong argument, indeed, for the clergy asking for exemption. They had a very just claim when it was remembered that they paid upon the whole of their income, and were not allowed to make any deduction whatever for collection or anything of that sort. The clergy had been hit very hard of late years from the fact that the value of tithe had fallen to a great extent. Finally he wished to say that he did not approach the discussion of this Bill in any hostile spirit whatever. If he found fault with it was only in the sense that it did not go far enough. He should be ready to support a proposal of the Government in aid of local taxation if it had given assistance to 1809 every class of ratepayers, but he held that it was most unfair, unjust, and inequitable to dissociate any relief which was to be given to the occupiers of land from the occupiers of buildings and houses. The small shopkeepers, tradesmen, and mechanics in their country towns had suffered to a very large extent—and they were equally entitled to relief. The Government would have been better advised if they had grappled with this subject as a whole, and not taken it piecemeal, as they told them they were about to do. He was aware they professed their intention to deal with the whole matter in the near future, but he expected it would be a far future in reality before they would be prepared to deal with this subject as a whole. He supported the Amendment of his right hon. Friend on this ground, and he did so mainly because the proposal of the Government was unequal and unfair.
MR. GRANT LAWSON (York, N.R., Thirsk)
observed that the two speeches they had listened to with so much interest for the last two hours bore out at least one statement of the right hon. Gentleman who had introduced the Bill, and who commenced his speech by saying that the discussion of the Measure would be large. That he might not himself fall into the same line of argument, he would pass the very interesting speech of the Seconder of the Amendment, and turn to that of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton. That right hon. Gentleman had introduced to the House a large number of figures, with which, he thought, many of them were very familiar, because the whole of these figures and arguments were produced in 1893 in the Report on the subject of Local Taxation, which the Mover of this Amendment presented to the House when he was President of the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman opposite laid considerable stress upon the small amount of money raised in the rural districts as compared with the amount 1810 raised in the Metropolitan and semi-urban districts. A calculation of that sort depended entirely on how they made their difference between rural and urban districts. All such calculations were entirely arbitrary. There were many urban sanitary districts which very largely consisted of agricultural land. On the other hand, there were many districts in which the contrary condition of affairs existed. They would have to draw an arbitrary distinction between rural and urban, and they could make any calculation they chose as to the amount of rates to be borne by rural or urban districts. The next point the right hon. Gentleman took was that the enormous preponderance of local taxation was borne mostly by urban districts, and not by rural districts. But he omitted to tell the House what was one of the strongest reasons for that state of things. That state of things was produced by the fact that the rural districts throughout the country were under the control of quarter sessions, whereas the urban districts were under the control of popularly-elected bodies. His figures were a very good argument against popular representative government, but they had no bearing on the questions of the burdens borne by rural or urban districts. The next point mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman was one on which they would hear a great deal in the course of these Debates. It was the question of the hereditary burden theory. What was that theory? It was that land, having been bought subject to the expense of the Poor Rate, less was given for it, and therefore that the future rates were paid by the past owner. That was the only way in which it could be coherently stated. Take the case of stocks and shares. They were bought subject to the transfer stamp. As the transferee paid part of that duty he, on the same line of argument, gave less for the stocks and shares. Therefore, the tax on this transference was not a tax. It was an hereditary burden on those stocks 1811 and shares. If they were going to argue that the fiscal conditions in any way affected either the rise or the lowering of the price of any commodity at the time of the purchase, let them see what happened to certain matters which would raise the price of land. A great deal of land in this country was purchased at the time when the protection of the Corn Laws raised the price of land. It was then, he supposed, on the same line of argument, an hereditary privilege of land to have protection against the importation of foreign corn and foreign meat. But even an hereditary burden might be resisted if it was shown to be an unfair burden. If the care of the poor, for instance, was an hereditary burden, let them examine how it affected certain kinds of property. What were the limitations of the burden and how was it imposed. Take the case of a new house, or newly-reclaimed land—land which was, for the pourpose of rating, an absolutely new creation. Was it not rather ridiculous to talk of the new creation coming into the world with an hereditary burden upon it. Then look at the limitations, for there must be some limitation.
§ And it being midnight the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow.