Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [27th April], "That the Bill be now read a Second time." And which Amendment was, 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 re-adjusting the burdens of local taxation, is of opinion that is inexpedient and unjust that relief granted from Imperial taxation to rateable property should be restricted to one class only of such property."—(Sir Henry Fowler.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question." Debate resumed.
MR. GRANT LAWSON (York, N.R., Thirsk)
said, that when his speech was interrupted the previous night by the adjournment of the Debate, he was beginning to analyse and criticise the argument that the State should not readjust the burden of certain rates because those rates were said to be an hereditary burden on realty. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment himself laid some stress on this extraordinary doctrine, though how the right hon. Gentleman made it fit in with a desire for the readjustment of the burdens of local taxation he was at a loss to understand. 19 But as against the Bill itself, if there was anything in this doctrine, a plausible argument at any rate had been discovered. He would state to the House the grounds on which he contended that this doctrine was not only untenable in theory, but also one which the House had consistently refused to adopt in practice. The doctrine was that the support of the poor was not only a moral, but a legal obligation on the owners and occupiers of the land, not on the community—that was to say that every pauper had a hereditary right to be maintained out of the realty of the country. That was a very dangerous doctrine in view of pauper immigration. If it was allowed to go forth from the House that any pauper alien could acquire a hereditary right to an annuity charged on the land a great stimulus would be given to this undesirable immigration. Or was the doctrine to be confined to paupers of British origin? In any case, if it were adopted this result would be brought about—that the land of England no longer belonged to the owners thereof, but was the hereditary property of the paupers thereof. Even if the doctrine were put in this way—that the land and houses of England were bound to bear the expense of the poor of the parish in which the property was situated, its advocates were confronted by the Equalisation of Rates Act, which was based on a proposal that the land of one parish should bear part of the burdens of another parish, so that it was almost impossible to get hold of a correct definition of this supposed hereditary burden. A more difficult question was—How did this burden first come to be imposed on the owners of land and houses? Did hon. Gentlemen opposite attribute to landlords of this country so great a generosity as to suppose that they voluntarily undertook to keep the poor of the country without consideration? If not, what was the consideration? Three years ago it would have been possible to answer that the Death Duties on land were lighter than those on personalty. But it might be said that this obligation was imposed by Act of Parliament. It was not imposed by the law of Queen Elizabeth, which contemplated contribution from all according to their liability to pay, and that principle had remained 20 to the present time. The great landowners' Parliament in the last century allowed a state of things to grow up under which personalty escaped from its fair share of the burden, but if old liability to a charge made it a hereditary burden, then personalty ought not only to come in and help to bear the burden, but also to pay up 50 years' arrears. For his own part he was quite ready to relieve houses as well as land from this hereditary burden. Therefore he was speaking not only in the interests of the occupiers of land but of the occupiers of houses when he contended that relief ought not to be refused because the burden was hereditary. Then he came to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. With regard to the desirability of the readjustment of the burdens of local taxation, the Conservatives had no quarrel with that part of the Amendment, which, in fact, they welcomed as being a valuable expression of opinion on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite on the subject. Whenever an attempt had been made by the Conservative Party in that direction, the Party opposite had done their best to kick the proposal downstairs. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter] It was clear, therefore, that both sides of the House desired that there should be a readjustment of local rates; but while the Conservative Party desired to see some steps taken in that direction, hon. Gentlemen opposite evidently wished to remain like signposts, pointing out the road, but never attempting to move in its direction. ["Hear, hear," and a laugh.] He did not deny that rates in town were too high, but he maintained that the cause of the rates being too high was the action, not of the Conservatives, but of the Progressives on the borough councils. The right hon. Gentleman by his Amendment went on to ask the House to express their 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." He admitted that it would be unjust if the restriction to one class of property were to be for all time, but it was the intention of the Government that the relief should be extended as soon as possible to the towns, and they had intimated their intention of taking 21 the necessary steps for bringing about a readjustment of the burdens of local taxation in towns as well as in rural districts. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman meant that it was inexpedient and unjust that the restriction in question should apply for the present Session only, then he should join issue with him on the question of expediency and justice. If nothing was to be done until relief could be given to all classes of ratepayers, the relief of any particular class of them would be very remote. ["Hear, hear!"] The agricultural situation, however, would not wait, and required immediate steps to be taken for its relief. To have attempted to make the present Bill give relief to all classes of ratepayers would have been to make it absolutely valueless. To readjust the burdens of local taxation generally would cost some four millions of money, while the present Bill disposed of two millions only. If he were asked why more of the surplus had not been devoted to this object, his reply would be that the rest of the money at the disposal of the Government had been applied to the purpose of building of new ships, which were required in the interests of the trades that were carried on in towns. If these ships were not built the farmer might, perhaps, suffer a little as far as his patriotism was concerned, but he would have his money in his pocket. A large portion of the surplus had thus been already devoted to the interests of trade in towns. But even as regarded the relief from the burden of rates, the turn of the towns would come, and that turn would be accelerated by the passing of this Bill, which would go far to show that the claims of the ratepayers to relief were stronger than those of other taxpayers. ["Hear, hear!"] It was no part of his case to say that the rates in towns were not higher than those in the country, but how was the money that rates produced spent? It was expended in the towns in the erection of public buildings, of baths and wash-houses, in providing parks and pleasure gardens, and in providing museums and libraries, from which the ratepayers derived personal advantages. That, however, was not the case in the rural districts. Moreover, the ratepayer in the towns obtained a much larger income 22 as compared with the amount of his rates than the farmer did. If he understood the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolver-hampton rightly, that right hon. Gentleman's contention was that a man ought to be rated according to his profits. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that the farmers would have no objection whatever to be rated according to that principle. It had been said that, if the occupiers of land were to be relieved from the burden of local taxation, the money would merely go into the landlords' pockets. It appeared to him that hon. Members opposite cared very little what became of the money produced by the local rates as long as it did not go into the landlords' pockets. ["Hear, hear!"] If the landlord was going to get all this relief they were paying a very high compliment to the farmers of this country who had asked for some relief from local taxation, because they were attributing to them an unselfish and even altruistic feeling which did them infinite credit. [Laughter.] He should fancy, however, that the farmers were getting a little bit for themselves. It was supposed by the theorists that all the land of this country was let at a deplorable rack-rent, but, as had been shown in the evidence before the Commission of Mr. Turnbull, an agent of immense experience, the farmers, when taking a farm, did not enter into a minute calculation as to the amount of the rates. Only last Wednesday they had been told that the farmers were not capable of entering into any contracts, and that they ought to have a Court for their assistance. [Laughter.] Everyone would admit that the landlord was very heavily taxed and rated at present, and he did not know anything against landlords as a class which would make it prima facie wrong to give them a chance of getting some relief. The argument that the landlord paid all the rates was not one that he could quite understand, yet it was a necessary argument for the case of those who said that the landlord would get all the benefit from the reduction in the rate. What was the meaning of the proposal which came from the other side, that the rates ought to be divided between landlord and tenant if the landlord already paid 23 the whole of them? If the hypothesis was correct, it was certainly a generous and kindly proposal. As to the question of extravagance, if half the rate were taken off all future rates on agricultural land, whatever they might be, then, indeed, a stimulus would be given to extravagance; but that was not the plan of his right hon. Friend, who fixed the amount of the grant on the amount paid during the last year before the passing of the Act. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment quoted the fact that the poor rates had increased since 1888, but that really did not help his argument, because, since 1888 there had been circumstances which seriously affected the increase in the expenditure on the poor, and that had nothing to do with Imperial grants. They must not forget that during the last Parliament a most vigorous attempt was made by hon. Gentlemen opposite to remove from those who had the keenest interest in economy all control over the expenditure of the Poor Law. Plural voting, the property qualification, and ex-officio guardians were removed, and all these changes did not tend to economy. They all desired readjustment, but the Government was young; in its riper years it would no doubt be able to bring to its legitimate conclusion the principle which was embodied in this Bill. For the present it was expedient, both for reasons of money and time, that they should proceed to this destination by steps, and it was just that they should go first to the assistance of those who had a less capacity to pay the rates, and who derived the least advantage from paying them. [Cheers.]
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
said the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, in a speech full of superlatives, had referred to the ''terrible'' deterioration of land. He had for some time been a student of agricultural statistics, and he thought a very few facts and figures would show that this terrible deterioration did not exist. It would be shown, if it did exist, by the inability to continue the growth of a crop on the decreased yield of the soil. He believed he was right in saying that there were no authentic figures before the House as to the crop per acre of land until the year 1884, when they 24 were regularly published in the agricultural statistics. He would, therefore, take the 10 years from 1885 to the present time, and he found that the average yield during those years of the land for wheat was 29.32 bushels per acre, and in 1894 it was 30.59 bushels. For barley the 10 years' average yield was 33.01, and in 1894 34.50. For oats the 10 years' average yield was 38.14, and in 1894 41.64. There were the usual differences in those 10 years; 1894 was, no doubt, a good year, and showed a larger crop, but there was no warrant in these figures for the expression ''terrible deterioration," as the average included better and worse years. There was no doubt that the acreage in wheat had very much decreased, and for a very good reason—because there had been a fall in the price of wheat. ["Hear, hear!"] There was less bare fallow, which was a good sign, but the land cultivated for hay had risen beyond the amount that had been lost to the corn crop. An acre of hay at 1½ tons per acre was better than 30 bushels of wheat at 3s. a bushel. The proposed remission in the rate was too small to employ any more labourers, and it would not add to the wages of the existing ones. There seemed to be three parties in the mind of the President of the Local Government Board—the landlord, the tenant, and the labourer. The landlord's position was that his rents had been reduced from 10 to 33 per cent. Where he was encumbered with mortgages and settlements his income was still more seriously-reduced. The tenants' profits had been reduced to almost a zero point. The incoming tenant always took the taxes into consideration in tendering for a farm. He would not get the advantage of a reduction in taxes. The present tenant would hardly get it, as the landlord would remember the reduction in taxation when aiding the tenant in those various and constant improvements which all landlords had to make. They had to ask whether this Bill would benefit these three classes, and whether it was a just and fair Measure to the Commonwealth. It was a Measure to bestow £1,500,000 or £2,000,000 on what was called the agricultural interest, and he thought it was quite clear that the labourer would not get any portion of this sum. He maintained 25 also that the tenant would not get the abatement of the taxes, but that the landlord would get it first or last, and probably first and last. It was a grant to the rural landlords and the great capitalists who owned land; and it looked to him as if it was going to be a permanent grant. If it was a Bill of a temporary character, more might be said for it, but it was to be a permanent tax on the community for the benefit of one class—permanent, that was, until the House of Lords repealed an Act which conferred great and permanent benefit on themselves. Let them look for a moment on the question as to who paid the money that had to go into the landlords' pockets. Out of £95,000,000 of taxation £46,000,000 was raised by Customs and Excise to which the entire community contributed in accordance with their consumption; the landowner, poor man, probably spent per head the same in articles of consumption; £14,000,000 in stamps was paid mainly by the commercial classes; and £15,000,000 Income Tax was raised by assessment on £705,000,000 of property. Of this assessment £150,000,000 were houses, £350,000,000 profits on trade, £90,000,000 salaries and annuitants, and £56,000,000 occupation, hardly any of which was paid by the farmer. The sum of £56,000,000 on agricultural land was all that was contributed by the landowner as such, whilst out of £11,754,000 Death Duties only £850,000 came out of rural England. [Laughter and cheers.] It was not a Measure for the labourer or tenant, but it was a Measure for the landlord. The figures given by the right hon. Gentleman as to the number of acres which would be relieved under the Bill agreed with the analysed return of Doomsday Book, and he had looked to see who was going to get the money. In Bedfordshire 17 Peers and other large landlords held 114,000 acres out of 287,000. In Berkshire 26 landowners held 168,000 acres out of 433,000. In Buckinghamshire 22 landlords held 207,000 acres out of 459,000. He should not trouble the House with all the cases. He took his own county. Sixteen landlords held 213,000 acres out of 567,000, and in Lincolnshire 68 landlords held 671,000 acres out of 1,600,000.
SIR J. PEASE
Arable land. [Laughter.] The Bill did not deal only with arable land. [''Hear, hear!"] These were the people who were to receive the money which would be paid by the rank and file of the people. As Dr. Hunter, whose absence all who knew him regretted—["hear, hear!"]—said, that £10,600,000 was raised by Imperial taxation for subvention of local rates The working class and the lower middle class suffered a loss of £7,000,000 a year, which was transferred bodily to the richer members of the community. So perfect and beautiful was the system that the poorer a man was the more was taken from him; and the money was to go to those who were '' positively gorged with wealth.'' After all, the point was—What would be the effect of this on cultivation? His right hon. Friend below him pointed out that the grant of 1s. would have no effect on cultivation, but that was not the worst of it. He had worked out the sum and it came to this—that the poorer the land the less money the man would get; the man who required it most would get least. He was a member of two Chambers of Agriculture in the north, where, in Durham, North Yorkshire, and Northumberland—agriculture had not suffered so much as in other districts; but there many industrial works had been profitless for years. Every farm vacant was easily let. There was no farm unoccupied, and no farm was derelict for want of tenants. Feeding stuffs were considerably lower than they were 20 years ago. He had asked hundreds of landlords and tenants in the north of England, and they all told him that, while the right hon. Gentleman opposite was declaring that this subject would not brook delay, rents had never been better paid than they were at present. [Cheers.] No doubt many of these landlords were owners of the minerals, and these mineral estates brought markets right to the door of the tenant. While the miners had been reduced to working five days in the fortnight, while the mineral tenant got little or no profit from his work, the mineral tenant and the miner were both to be taxed to relieve the wealthy landlord. Thus the money was taken out of the pockets of the working and middle classes to help the large landowners, who, in many cases, were Peers of Par 27 liament. He should like to take two cases that he knew. One was a landlord in the county of Durham. He had 18,000 acres, his mineral rents were over, he was certain, £50,000 a year, and that House, if it passed this Bill was going to hand over to that gentleman half his taxes on his rent-roll on 18,000 acres which had been improved in value by the tenants of the minerals. It did not seem to him fair or honest or just to take money out of the pockets of the general taxpayers and put it in the pockets of a few, comparatively speaking, in each county. In the mining districts of North Yorkshire there were seven gentlemen who owned about 30,000 acres of land. To those gentlemen, whose rents last year were over £60, 000, to them the Government were about to hand over half the rates on their land, whilst they left the tenants of the minerals entirely out in the cold, the one set having their rents regularly paid, the other sot having very little or no profit upon the capital employed. No one denied the fall in prices, but the fall had not been in agricultural prices only. Between 1890 and the present time wheat had fallen 4s. or 5s. a quarter, but there were periods when the fall was much less. The statistics had been put in a concrete form by the Statistical Society. In 1890 the agricultural vegetables, including corn, were 65 per cent.; in 1895 they were 54, showing a fall of 11 points in the 100. Animal food fell 4 points in the 100. Minerals fell in the same period 18 points in the 100, and textiles fell 14 points. Therefore, whilst agricultural produce fell 11 and 4 points, minerals, which constituted the wealth of the working classes in the north and mining districts, fell 18 points, and the textile manufactures of Lancashire and Yorkshire fell no less than 14 points. It was impossible to get over the figures. He farmed land himself, he lived amongst farmers, he represented farmers, and he maintained that what the Government proposed was not what farmers asked. [Cheers.] They asked not for another Imperial subvention towards local taxation, but for an entire revision of the whole system of taxation, for they were wise enough to know that a revision meant a permanent alteration of the whole system 28 which would help the industry in which they were engaged, while a temporary dealing with the question only added to the extravagance of local governments, against which he was constantly protesting. The handing over of £1,550,000 would not materially assist the farmer, it would not aid agriculture, but it was to be taken from the hard earnings of the lower, middle, and wage-earning classes. It swallowed up more than the whole of the Death Duties from agricultural land, therefore the whole value of the Death Duties they were going to hand back, as it were, to the landlords. As between county and county the proposal would work unfairly, and he maintained that the state of agriculture did not require anything to be done with unjust haste. The present Government came into power promising to do more and more for the working classes. Instead of doing anything for the working classes, however, they were now endeavouring to relieve the taxation of the House of Lords and the great landlords at the expense, as Dr. Hunter clearly put it, of the lower, middle, and working classes. [Cheers and cries of ''Oh. Oh!"] Everyone admitted that this relief would go into the pockets of the landlords—[''No, no!"]—and that the taxes on tea, tobacco, and spirits were very largely paid by the rank and file of the community. He could not conclude his speech better than by quoting words uttered by the present Colonial Secretary, namely:—And what makes it worse is that in this case Peter is represented by the landless millions who have no other wealth than their labour and their toil, while Paul is the great landlord with 20,000 acres, who is seeking to relieve himself of the share of taxation by shifting it on to the shoulders of his less fortunate fellow countrymen.Holding these views, he should support the Amendment of his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton.
§ MR. VERNEY (Warwickshire, Rugby)
said, although he was one of those people who thought that nothing short of some Measure which would once more make wheat-growing a paying concern could possibly restore agriculture to that state of prosperity which they wished to see it attain, he did not hesitate to say that the agricultural community in Warwickshire would 29 welcome this Measure as an honest attempt to relieve that inequality of taxation which, owing to the smaller profits received from farming and the decrease in prices, was becoming every day more and more intolerable. Farmers in the Midlands would feel that this Measure might not, perhaps, improve their industry as an industry, but that it would at any rate do something, however small, to improve the harassing conditions under which it was carried on. All the classes interested in agriculture were, he felt, intimately bound together; one could not be injured without injury being done to the others. Take the agricultural labourer to begin with. It was said the labourer was not likely to benefit from this relief. On a great many estates, however, there were many agricultural labourers who were allotment holders, and lately it had been the custom to require allotment holders to pay their own rates. As an allotment holder the labourer would obtain some direct benefit from the proposed relief, and anybody must admit that anything which was calculated to give the farmer a little more hope would react with advantage on the wage-earning classes. The labour question in agricultural districts was coming to such a pass that it was not now a matter of high or low wages, but one as to whether there would be any people in a position to pay wages. It was to be sincerely hoped that the renewed stimulus which might be given to agriculture by this Measure would cause the farmers to keep on the men whom it was very probable they would have shortly been obliged to discharge. It had been said the landlords would reap all the benefit of this Measure in the shape of increased rent. It was notorious that at the present time it was far easier for a tenant to obtain a farm than it was for a landlord to obtain a tenant, and that the farmer was never in a better position to make good and fair terms with the landlord. Those hon. Gentlemen who suggested that a sum equal to half the old rates would in future be added to the landlords' rents, could not have gathered their knowledge of agriculture from living in the country, or from a study of the conditions which prevailed between landlord and tenant. [Cheers.] But 30 suppose the landlords did keep the whole relief, that would not constitute a valid objection to the Bill. It was pointed out on the First Reading that there were a great many small landowners, the old yeoman farmers, or those who by their industry and perseverance had been enabled to save enough money with which to acquire a small holding, and whom it ought to be the object of every good Government to protect and encourage, and then there were the country squires, or the landed gentry, whom it was said were gorged with wealth. In Warwickshire the gentry were not gorged with wealth, indeed, they were landed in a very hopeless state, from which he hoped this Bill would tend to extricate them. In his opinion, the idea that the people in the towns were unfairly treated by this Measure only existed in the minds of certain political speakers, because if one went down, at any rate, to the large towns of the country he would find that the people recognised to the full the truth of agriculture being a national question, and were broad-minded enough to see that anything, however small, which tended to attract some of their unemployed into the country districts and placed the farmer in a better position to spend his money in the towns, was for their ultimate if not immediate advantage. He did not envy the feelings of any hon. Gentleman opposite representing an agricultural constituency when he went down and explained to the farmers the reasons why he refused them this small modicum of relief.
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
pointed out, in reply to the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, that in the county of Warwick, external to Birmingham and Coventry, the relief given to the rates from the taxes was close upon a quarter (taking the latest available figures, those of 1892), whereas in Birmingham and Coventry, omitting the School Board rate for reasons already stated in the Debate, although, if included, it would strengthen his argument, the relief was 18 per cent. That fact sufficiently answered the statement of the hon. Member for Warwickshire and others that there had been great neglect of agricultural districts in the past. Continuing the comparison, what was the proportion of local expenditure 31 which the ratepayers in those two respective districts had to bear in relation to the rateable value? Now in Birmingham and Coventry it was 22 per cent., and in the county outside it was 13 per cent. That was to say, in the county the central authority paid 25 per cent. of the ratepayer's local expenses, and what he had to pay amounted to a tax of 13 per cent. upon the rateable value, whereas in Birmingham and Coventry what the central authority paid was 18 per cent. of the local expenses, and what the ratepayer in Birmingham had to spend to meet his local burdens was an amount equal to 22 per cent. upon the rateable value. In these circumstances, what did the Bill do? It did not go to relieve the Birmingham ratepayer; it went to relieve the ratepayer in the county outside, and the relief which, after this Bill was passed, the central authority would be giving to the agricultural landlord would be this—that of the whole local expenditure in his area, they would pay out of the taxes furnished by this House no less than 62 per cent. whereas in Birmingham the central authority would continue to pay the 18 per cent. In other words, 62 per cent. of the local burdens upon the agricultural interest in the county were to be paid by this House and the remaining 38 per cent. by themselves, whereas in Birmingham 18 per cent. was to be paid from the taxes raised by this House, and the remaining 82 per cent. by themselves. That was very far, indeed, from being a twopenny-half-penny relief. But there were other and far more serious cases. Take the case of London. London paid between one-third and one-fourth of all the rates raised throughout the whole of England and Wales, and what relief did London get from the Exchequer to its local burdens? In London the amount of local expenditure which was borne by the taxes was 15 per cent. There were only five places in Great Britain, and none of them counties, where there was less than that borne by the Exchequer, namely, Blackburn, Preston, Hastings, Middlesbrough, and Leeds. In those 32 towns there was a slight percentage less, but in every other place in England a greater proportion was contributed than was contributed to London. He knew of no county which received in 1892 less than 20 per cent. of its local expenditure from the taxes, while in the great majority of the counties it went up to 25, 26, 28, 30, and even 33 per cent. Yet in London they were to get no relief whatever, and in those counties which he had described, one-half of the rate upon agricultural land was to be relieved in addition to that great relief. He heard a great deal during the late election from London Conservative candidates, who did not seem to throng the Benches opposite now, about the necessity of relief to the rates in London, but here they were now, and the London ratepayer was not only not to be relieved, but he would have to contribute enormously to this particular dole. London ratepayers to this contribution of £2,000,000 to the landlords, or to the agricultural interest, would have to raise from the taxes £400,000 a year, which was equivalent to a 3d. rate. What was the actual rate in London? The actual rate in London per pound averaged 6s. 0½d. in the last year, but the rate raised in the country districts was 2s. 6d; in some instances it might go as high as 3s.; in many cases it was lower than that. In different parts of London—the poorer parts—the rate was greater than 6s. O½d. In St. James's, and St. George's, Hanover Square, the rates raised were under 5s.; over three-fourths of London the rates raised were above 5s. 8d. The House would, therefore, see how serious was the pressure on the poorer parts of London which were yet to be called upon to contribute to a relief so enormous in districts which had already been relieved so seriously. At the last Election one of the points urged by hon. Gentlemen opposite, much more than by Liberal candidates, for London constituencies was this—if London were relieved according to the actual taxation it ought to have been receiving since the rearrangement in 1888, and subsequent years, £420,000 a year more money than 33 it had been receiving. Yet there was to be no relief for London under this Bill. The rates in Bow and Bromley were 8s. 2d. and 8s. 1d. respectively, and this, too, after the Equalisation of Rates Act. By that Act a sum equal to sixpence in the pound to Bow and sevenpence to Bromley was given by that Act, which, moreover, gave the most efficient control over the expenditure of the rate; it was insisted that the Local Government Board and the County Council should be satisfied as to the way in which the additional grant was spent. But where was provision made for anybody being satisfied as to how the grant was spent which was now being given to agricultural districts? [Cheers.] Other London districts were a melancholy array of heavy rates and no relief, and though many of the London constituencies became supporters of the Government, the reiterated claim was often made by them, "We want relief of the heavy rates." [Cheers] Take the case of the county of Norfolk. In Norfolk where agricultural land and houses were about equal in rateable value, the rates over the whole county, excluding the School Board rate, were 10 per cent. or 2s. in pound—really 2s. 3d. if they included "empties" and other failures. What was the rate of Norwich? It was 8s. 8d.; yet the hon. Member for Norwich thanked the Government for what they were about to do. What was the relief granted in the two cases? The relief granted to Norwich at present for the central authority was 16 per cent., but in the county of Norfolk the amount of relief was 28 per cent. In future the position in Norfolk would be that 64 per cent. of the local expenses throughout the agricultural part of the county would be borne by the central authority, and in Norwich only 16 per cent. Again, take the county of Chester. He selected this case because, between 1870 and 1894, the gross value of agricultural land there had risen and not fallen. In the county of Chester the relief at present given to local burdens from the Exchequer was 24½ per cent. By the relief afforded by this Bill, the total amount of relief would be raised to 62 per cent. On the other hand, the relief given to the town of Chester was only 17 per cent., and this amount of relief would continue. But had the trades of 34 the town not suffered equally with the agriculturists in the country districts? In Chester the amount that would ultimately fall on the rates was 20 per cent. of the rateable value, whereas in the county it was only 12 per cent., and in future it would only be 6 per cent. of the rateable value. An hon. Member opposite said that the Government were only making a beginning, but in his judgment they were making a beginning by making things worse than they were at present. The amount of relief in the county of Lancaster was at present 20 per cent.; under this Bill it would be raised to 60 per cent., and, therefore, the Secretary to the Treasury, when he went before his constituents, would have to defend this discrepancy between the borough which he represented and the neighbouring county. In the county districts of Lancaster the rates were about 3s. in the pound; in Preston they were 7s. 3d. in the pound. He thought he had said enough to bring out the extraordinary unfairness of the operation of this Measure, and to show how unreasonable it was for hon. Members opposite to speak of the Bill as in any sense a beginning of the work of putting right the terrible tangle of the rating question in England. It had been said in the past, both by the First Lord of the Admiralty and the President of the Local Government Board, that relief given to rates found its way ultimately into the pockets of the landlords. The Government's proposal was to give in perpetuity £2,000,000 to the country landlords, which meant that to the selling value of the land they were going to add a capital sum of £60,000,000, and they were going to take the money out of the pockets of the people who were paying extreme rates in London and elsewhere. Under the plan of the Government it would be impossible to discontinue this subvention without the consent of the House of Lords. Surely that House ought not to place itself, tied and bound, at the mercy of the other branch of the Legislature. He suggested that the Bill should be terminable at the end of five years or some period of that kind. Then the Government would be able to rectify their error, should they find that they had committed one, and that the Bill had not resulted in relieving the farmer and the labourer. 35 The Bill would encourage the useless expenditure that was incurred whenever grants-in-aid were made. This was not the first time that the agricultural industry had been in great distress, and circumstances which could not be fore-seen might plunge other industries into equal distress before many years were over. These were, then, good reasons for making this a terminable Bill. He was waiting in great curiosity to hear what would be said by Metropolitan Members sitting on the Ministerial side of the House. He only saw one of those Members in his place at that moment, and he appealed to the hon. Member to say what he and his colleagues intended to do with reference to this Bill. Were they going, blindfold, to put £60,000,000 of capital into the pockets of the agriculturists of England? Right gladly would he see the agricultural industry benefited to that or even a greater extent, if it could be done justly. It was their duty, however, to consider the affairs of this country as a whole, and they had to consider the interests of the ratepayers of London. If they wanted to inquire into the condition of things in places where poverty was rampant, where did they begin the investigation? Did they not go to the poorer districts of the east and south of London? Yet for the inhabitants of those districts the Government held out no promise of relief. On the contrary, they held out the proposal of additional taxation in those places, where the rates were 8s. in the pound, in order that they might relieve other places where the rates were only 2s. in the pound, to the extent of one-half.
MR. F. G. BANBUBY (Camberwell, Peckham)
wished to say a few words in defence of his action in supporting this Bill. He did not think the hon. Member who had just sat down understood clearly the object with which this Bill had been brought in. The hon. Member had not said one word about the fact that the rating of agricultural land was extremely unjust as compared with the rating of houses and other property in towns. The hon. Member said that in Birmingham the percentage paid on the rateable value by the taxpayer for local purposes was 20 per cent., and that in Warwickshire the amount was only 13 per cent. He 36 should like to ask the hon. Member what the income of the town of Birmingham was, and what the income of the county of Warwick was. The hon. Member totally forgot that the rateable value of a holding in the country was certainly as much, and probably more, than the income of the farmer; whereas in the town the rateable value of a man's house was very much less than his total income. The farmer was practically paying a second Income Tax on his income, whereas in the town the owner of house property was only paying a rate in a very small proportion to his income. Any Bill which would do anything that might result in inducing the labourers to stay in the country ought to be acceptable to London and other large towns. The hon. Member had referred to promises made at the last General Election by Conservative Metropolitan candidates with regard to a reduction of the rates. All he remembered saying on that subject was that the result of having a Progressive County Council was the burden of a very heavy rate. [''Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member had said himself that the St. George's, Hanover Square, district and the St. James's district were the only districts where the rates were low, and neither of those districts returned Progressive candidates. The hon. Member said that the payments sanctioned by the Bill would be equivalent to a threepenny rate in London. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, however, had said that the burden imposed would be borne by the Income Tax payers, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget speech, had told them that during the last 25 years the increase of taxation had been borne by the payers of Stamp Duty and the payers of Income Tax. It would appear, therefore, that the wealthier portion of the community would bear this new burden. He had risen in answer to the challenge of the hon. Member, to give his reasons for voting for this Bill. He should not be afraid, after he had voted, to visit his constituency, and he did not believe that the introduction of this Bill would make any difference to any London Member's prospects.
§ SIR JOSEPH LEESE (Lancashire, Accrington)
said that, as the representative of one of the most populous districts 37 in Lancashire, he could not give a silent vote on this occasion. The bulk of his constituents were working men who gained their living by daily labour, and he must protest against the plans of the Government, on their behalf as personal property owners, as urban ratepayers, and as taxpayers. This Measure, whatever its demerits might be—and in his opinion they were legion—did not, at any rate, fail in frankness. It boldly declared that its object was to give relief to rural ratepayers alone, and it unblushingly directed the Commissioners of Inland Revenue to pay the proceeds of the Estate Duty derived in England from personal property to the Local Taxation Account for the purpose of this agricultural relief. What the representatives of urban districts said to the Government was this: You are going to take the money of all the taxpayers, and you are going to devote it to the relief of some of the ratepayers—rural ratepayers who now pay the lowest rates. You are going to do nothing for the taxpayer by way of remission; you are going to do nothing to relieve the urban ratepayer who is paying the highest rates, and you are going to take the taxpayers' money, the bulk of which is subscribed by men who live by their labour, and you intend to devote it to the relief of property-owners who live out of their property. He would examine each of these propositions. Was not all the money of the taxpayers to be taken? He admitted that by Sub-section 3 of Section 2, the Bill did endeavour to ear-mark the proceeds of the Estate Duty paid by personalty for this purpose; but it appeared to him that that clause was unnecessary, unless it was put in to satisfy a little political spleen. Surely the money subscribed by the nation belonged to the nation, and it was quite clear that this £950,000, and the subsequent £2,000,000 a year were the moneys of all the taxpayers, and could not be earmarked. Therefore, he submitted that his first proposition was correct. His next statment was that this money was to be devoted to the relief of ratepayers—viz., the rural ratepayers. The very title of the Bill justified him in saying that, and he submitted that if that propositon—that the Government were taking the money of all the taxpayers, 38 and were about to devote it to the relief of only a part of the ratepayers stood alone, the Government would require tremendous justification for their action, His next proposition was that the ratepayers who were to be relieved were now paying the lowest rates. If right hon. Gentlemen would turn to the Report issued by the right hon. Gentleman below him from the Local Government Board in 1893, they would find that in county boroughs the urban rate for 1890–91 was 4s. 6½d. in the pound, in non-county boroughs 4s. 4½d., and in other urban districts 3s. 11d. Thus the average urban rate was about 4s. 1d., or 4s. 2d. in the pound throughout the country for 1890–91, while the rural rates averaged only 2s. 3d. Therefore the money of all the taxpayers was being taken to relieve some ratepayers who were paying the lowest rates. His next proposition was that nothing was done by way of remission for the taxpayer, and in connection with that he asked—What was the working man going to get out of this £1,700,000 of a surplus; out of which the Government were going to pay their political debts to their friends and squires and the parsons? It seemed to him that all the interest the working man was going to get out of it was the pleasure of paying it and looking as pleasant as he could over it. He would like to see some of the Conservative representatives of the great populous districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire go down and defend this Bill before their constituents. He did not think they would meet with a very good reception. He next contended that nothing was to be done for the urban ratepayers. Yes, something was promised to them—a Parliamentary Inquiry! They offered the Government their thanks for nothing. They had already had an Inquiry. It had resulted in an excellent Report, which was up to date and which disclosed the fact that the lowest ratepayer was being relieved at the expense of the highest. That Report accentuated this Bill as a piece of class legislation and ear-marked this subsidy as a piece of preference and favouritism. The Government might regard it as an honourable discharge of apolitical debt, as an acknowledgement of electoral services rendered, but the working man taxpayer protested against this policy of paying political debts 39 with their money; and they ventured to remind the Government that they were trustees for the nation in the distribution of these national funds; not for a Party, and, least of all, for a section of a Party. There remained but one more proposition, and that was that by this process of grants in aid of the rates, the Government were taking the money of the bulk of the taxpayers, who lived by their labour, to devote it to the relief of property owners who lived out of their property. Was that true? Mr. Gladstone said in 1883:—The transfer of rating charge to the Exchequer, in whatever form it is done, is a question of a transfer from a fund supplied almost entirely by property to a fund supplied in a very large degree by labour. Every time we place a grant in aid upon the Consolidated Fund we commit the offence of laying upon labour a very large proportion of the charge heretofore borne by property.Surely that was sufficient confirmation of his proposition, and if any further evidence was needed, he would refer hon. Members to the valuable tables prepared by his hon. Friend Dr. Hunter in 1893, whose absence from the House was so much deplored. But the proposition was simple enough. The indirect taxes formed the bulk of the Imperial revenue. The largest proportion of them was paid by the greatest number of consumers, and the greatest number of consumers were the poorest taxpayers. How did the poorest taxpayers get their living? By labour. Therefore the money earned by labour went to relieve rural ratepayers, and ultimately the landlords, who got their living out of property. Thus, the proposition now ran: ''You take the money of all the taxpayers to relieve the rural ratepayers, who pay the least rates, and you do nothing by remission for the taxpayers whose money you are taking, nor for the urban ratepayer, who pays the highest rates. And you do this by money chiefly supplied by labour in relief of property." Surely, if that proposition were true, it required a tremendous amount of justification; and if he was to use the word ''landlords'' instead of ''property'' he would not be far wrong, for was not this a Landlords' Relief Bill? The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, when he was taxed with this, 40 put in a plea of confession and avoidance and he answered the question by asking another, and said: ''Why should the owner of agricultural land suffer or be punished?'' Nobody desired that. It was the other way about. The right hon. Gentleman was taking our money without so much as "by your leave''—to relieve the landlords. Then, what was the justification for the Government proposal? He must take it that it was in some way intended to relieve the depressed condition of agriculture. It was argued that agriculture was the greatest industry of the country, and that it was in a depressed condition. He agreed. Agriculturists said they were suffering from low prices. How about a letter which appeared in the Government organ, The Times, a few days back, which stated that landlords were drawing £2,000,000 more in rent than in the fifties? This did not altogether look like the workhouse. But suppose they did concede their sympathy with distressed agriculture, were the taxpayers to pay because trade in agriculture was bad? In Lancashire and Yorkshire, and other great commercial centres, they had cotton, coal, iron, and wool. Prices were very often low and trade was bad, but they did not come whining to Parliament for relief from their local obligations. They sought to lower the cost of production and to meet low prices. What was this halo of sanctity that surrounded ownership of land? Why should a dealer in leases and farms be exempt from the consequences of bad trade, or, it may be, from bad management. The House of Commons had no special mission to protect one class of traders more than another, even though it were the largest and in a distressed state. What, then, was the justification of the Government? Was it the fulfilment of some of their promises? But they made no promise of this kind. They never promised to pay local rates out of Imperial taxes. If they had done so three months before the last election, instead of six years before the next, the Benches opposite would not have been so well filled. He was afraid that this ''was a cool attempt to hand over in the most audacious way, the money of Peter to pay Paul.'' It rested with the Government to show—(1) that 41 this was the best way to relieve agricultural distress; and (2) that the relief will be worth having. As to grants-in-aid, in the unsophisticated populous districts in Yorkshire and Lancashire, they looked upon them as bad in every sense. The spending authorities were not directly responsible to Parliament nor to the taxpayers whose money they distributed, and experience showed that this could and did not mean economy. The money was not raised from constituents; it came as a windfall, like manna from heaven; and as there was no trouble in getting it, there was no care to make it go as far as possible. The second and far greater objection to this proposal was that in most cases this money of the taxpayers would go to improve the property of the ratepayer, so that he would benefit in two ways—he would not only be freed from his local obligations, but he would have his property improved at the public cost. But would the Bill improve agriculture? To do this, was not something much bigger required? Was not a great reform of land tenure required? Without presuming to find a remedy, he might ask—was not a greater knowledge of science wanted? Did our farmers and landlords make the land produce the best and the most under present conditions? Were not farms too highly rented? Were they not too large in area? In other trades the way to meet bad trade generally was to lower the cost of production and to turn out the best article possible. What was the meaning of this Bill? Was it not a falling back on the threat of Lord Salisbury when he said:—Budgets come and Budgets go; they do not matter very much, and your blunder, if detected, can be set right in the Budget that follows.Of course, the equalisation of the Death Duties was the ''blunder''—the imposing of equal Death Duties on land and on personalty. But the new duties were not to be repealed; they were only to be exceeded. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech had said:—Under all kinds of death duties in the year—including payments to Local Taxation Fund—personalty has paid £11,751,000, and 42 realty £2,218,000, of which it was a rough estimate that about £850,000 was paid by agricultural land.But agricultural land now was to get £950,000 for six months, and £2,000,000 a year in perpetuity, so that agricultural land was not only to pay no Death Duties, but was to get a handsome surplus. This was compensation for the late Chancellor of the Exchequer daring to make land pay taxes like other interests. The principle of equality did not apply to anything so sacred as agricultural land. The Conservative Party was nothing if not loyal to all its friends. As the result of the last election the squires were to get £1,500,000, the parsons £500,000, and, at present, the brewers nothing. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said:—In my belief the brewers never had a better year. I think I may make this claim upon their unselfishness on behalf of their old allies the agriculturists that they will consent to a continuance of this temporary duty of 6d.He heard that word ''temporary'' with alarm, because to his mind it portended compensation. In conclusion he affirmed that this proposal had all the elements of class legislation. It must create jealousy between those who benefited and those who did not, and especially those who provided the means. The proposal stood condemned because it was unequal and unjust; it stood condemned because it did nothing practically to meet the evil; and it stood condemned because it was paying political debts with public money. To him, as representative of working men in large townships, it was unjust and unfair, and he should give it in every stage, on their behalf, his strongest and most bitter opposition.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. WALTER LONG,) Liverpool, West Derby
said, the last speaker had challenged those who represented urban constituencies, especially in Lancashire, to go down to their constituents and defend the proposal of the Government. The hon. Member appeared to think that the representatives of popular constituencies in Lancashire were on the Opposition side of the House, but the vast majority of them were on the Ministerial side; and in his own constituency, which was a working-class one, and in adjoining constituencies 43 at the last election, the question of a generous relief of agricultural depression was supported, and not only by hearty responses from audiences, but in speeches made by working men. He did not know what sort of relief might have been contemplated, but he had not the slightest fear of meeting his constituents or facing an election on the merits of this Bill. Anyone listening to the speeches of the hon. Members for Barnard Castle and Accrington might think that agricultural depression did not exist, and that the idea that it did was a complete delusion. Agriculture was said to be in a better position than some other industries—["Hear, hear!"]—and the landed classes were gorged with riches. ["No, no!"] Well, he would withdraw that expression; but the speeches of some hon. Members opposite had suggested that agriculturists were a prosperous class, and that neither landowners nor occupiers were entitled to any special consideration. [''Hear, hear!"] The Leader of the Opposition and other supporters of the late Government expressed their sympathy with the sufferers from agricultural depression, and their regret that they could do nothing for them; but they appointed a Royal Commission specially to inquire into agricultural depression and not into the depression of coal-mining or any other industry. When the Commission was appointed, why did not hon. Members opposite raise their voices and say it was not needed? Why did they, when the Commission had reported, suddenly declare that the agricultural interest required no special consideration and was not entitled to special help? When hon. Members were told that it was proposed to inquire into the position of ratepayers in urban districts and the disabilities under which the owners of realty suffered as compared with the owners of personalty, they deprecated the suggestion and said: ''We do not want your Inquiry; we have had an Inquiry, and we know the facts, which are in the Report of the right hon. Member for Wolver-hampton." And an able Report it was; but if hon. Members had had their Inquiry and knew the facts, why did they not deal with this question during the last year and a half they were in office? If they had all the information they wanted, if they were in a position 44 to reduce inequalities and to redress grievances, and if they did nothing when they had the opportunity, why should they reproach the Government for doing something now?
§ MR. LONG
continued, that, in the opinion of the Government, the position of the urban ratepayers required further inquiry and report; and he had a shrewd suspicion that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton would admit that there was a good deal to be inquired into before a comprehensive Measure could be passed. The hon. Baronet the Member for Barnard Castle fell foul of the Bill because he said the Government were going to relieve an industry which did not need relief.
§ SIR J. PEASE
I said other articles had fallen in price since 1890 even more rapidly than agricultural produce.
§ MR. LONG
Well, that other industries were suffering and agriculture was not specially entitled to relief. He himself admitted that there must be inequalities in the relief of local taxation. He did not think they could discriminate between the different classes of land or, with justice, distribute relief so as to give exact measure according to the difficulty of the individual ratepayer. Whether that was so or not it was not upon that principle that the Government recommended this Measure to the House. The principle on which this 45 Measure was based was the fact that the agricultural ratepayer, as such, was called upon to pay his rates on a standard which put him in a position he should not be put in, and which was unjust as compared with the position of other ratepayers, and that view he would endeavour to justify. Hon. Members opposite could not agree as to the way the Measure should be opposed or what their views about it were. They had a remarkable instance of this the previous night in the speech of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, which was very able and showed a thorough knowledge of the subject. He opposed the Bill root and branch. But the speech of the hon. Member for South Somerset, who seconded his Amendment, was not in the same direction as his. The hon. Member declared that the rates were a grave injustice to the agricultural labourer, and suggested that the police and other similar rates should be met out of the Imperial Exchequer. He did not know that there was any great difference between the proposal of the Government and that of the hon. Member. The main point of the hon. Member was that money was being taken from general and public taxation and devoted to a particular industry. If the police and the maintenance of highways depended on the public Exchequer the taxes would be used to defray other local charges. He was not talking of this as applied to rural districts because, as the right hon. Gentleman knew, this was not relief extended simply to rural districts, but to the agricultural ratepayer in all districts, whether rural or urban—in other words, to agricultural land. The proposals of the Government were based on the Report of a Royal Commission which was appointed by the late Liberal Government. He asked anybody who had followed the agricultural difficulty and the whole history of local taxation whether it was possible for the late Government to imagine that if a Commission were appointed to inquire into agricultural depression it would not inquire into the subject of local taxation and make a strong report on the subject. When his predecessor did him the honour to ask him to join the Commission and he asked what the subjects for consideration would be, and whether the Inquiry would be limited or not, he was assured that 46 with the exception of one subject—which the Government held could not be inquired into—they would inquire into everything that affected agriculture. He would not specify what that subject was [laughter]; but they had been attacked by those who thought it would be a remedy for agricultural depression for not having inquired into it. If the late Government had remained in office would they only have adopted the recommendations of the Commission with which they agreed and disregarded those they differed from? If so it was a pity they appointed the Commission at all. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton had expressed his sympathy with the depressed state of agriculture. But the friends of agriculture were tired of mere sympathy, and considered that the time had come when something more practical than sympathy should be given to them and an attempt should be made to deal with the difficulties that had surrounded this great industry. He was surprised to hear the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton speak of the relief proposed to be given as a miserable dole, while some hon. Members opposite talked of it as amounting to many millions of money. In the latter case he should be inclined to call it a magnificent contribution. When a subvention was made in aid of the rates generally it was described as a subvention, sufficient or insufficient, but when a contribution was made in relief of a particular industry hon. Members opposite called it a dole, and it was spoken of with contempt. It was satisfactory to know what the view of hon. Members opposite was with regard to this great industry and the efforts of the Government to assist it. [Cheers.] Whatever fears they might entertain for the Government and their supporters when they had to meet their constituents, those of them who represented agricultural constituencies would have difficulties at least as great as any of theirs. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, in studying the evidence given before the Commission, had been badly coached, or he must have overlooked a good deal of it. He understood him to describe the evidence given with regard to local taxation as insufficient. But he had overlooked the fact that on page 13 of the main Report there were no fewer than 34 names of tenant-farmers who 47 gave evidence in support of local taxation being dealt with, and maintained that the burden of local taxation was unjust. Apart from these 34 tenant-farmers, whose names were selected from the mass of those who gave evidence in that direction, there was expert evidence from Mr. Dalton, Assistant Secretary to the Local Government Board, who was a, high authority on the subject; from Mr. Dodds as to the Scotch classification system; and from Mr. Little, who had made this subject his special study and was a high authority on all agricultural questions. But the most remarkable point in the speech of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton was that there was not to be found in the evidence before the Commission sufficient justification for a report in favour of the reduction of local taxation as proposed by the Government.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
My point was that there was not sufficient evidence to show that the relief given by the Government would be any appreciable mitigation of agricultural depression. I have had no coaching; I have read the bulk of the evidence myself, and I found nothing to convey to my mind anything beyond dissatisfaction—which I admit is universal in the rural and also in the urban districts—with the present system of rating.
§ MR. LONG
said he thought the intention of the right hon. Gentleman was to suggest that the evidence did not justify the Government proposal. But now he understood he did not go as far as that, but contended that there was no proof in the evidence that the relief of local taxation the Government proposed would be adequate. Of course there could be no doubt that there would be cases where the actual sum received would be a small one, but it had never been suggested by the President of the Local Government Board, or any one else speaking from the Government Bench, that this proposal would either put an end to agricultural depression or even be a sufficient remedy. While the present Government, like all Governments, had to meet the attacks of hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, they also received many assurances from their own friends in the country that their proposal did 48 not go far enough. This much, however, he would say—that in the evidence not only of experts, but of the great body of tenant farmers, they would find proof of the fact that, in their judgment at all events, local taxation was a great burden, and, in their opinion, the State ought to assist. ["Hear, hear!"] In the extra Reports made by the Members of the Commission allusion was made to the same subject, the opinion being expressed that the incidence of the rates required alteration, and that in the present position of agriculture further relief was urgently needed. ["Hear, hear!"] Nobody pretended that this Bill dealt with the whole rating question. Before they could do that they must deal with the great difficulty of the assessment question, and, if time could be found for it, considerable relief would be afforded by altering and amending the system under which land was at present assessed. ["Hear, hear!"] He believed also that they could do much good by an alteration of the boundaries which were at present the limits of local taxation. One of the greatest difficulties in the rural districts arose from the fact that there was very little variation of rateable property. He had a Return before him, from which it appeared that there were many cases in which the proportion of the rateable value of agricultural land to the total rateable value of the hereditaments in the unions varied from 80 up to 93 per. cent. of the whole. These were extreme cases, but there were others which showed vast differences. In the Union of Pewsey, in his own county, agricultural land bore a relation of 70 per cent. to the total rateable value, while in Swindon the proportion of the land to the total, instead of that, was 25 per cent. Of course, the main burden to their rates in rural districts was the Poor Rate, and, so long as the union was limited to its particular area, the Union of Pewsey, where the land was 70 per cent. of the total rateable value, derived no benefit whatever from the increased power given to unions at the other end of the county, and this was one of the difficulties which certainly had to be dealt with before they could deal in a comprehensive way with the question of rating. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton had told them that there had been a very small increase in the 49 expenditure in the rural as compared with the urban districts, but he failed to tell them why this difference arose, although he must have been perfectly well aware of the reason. In many rural unions there was often a desire to provide better and more suitable workhouse accommodation, or otherwise alleviate and improve the condition of their suffering poor, but it was found that the unions could not bear any further expenditure, so that it was impossible to carry out such objects. The reason why the rural councils fell so short of the urban districts in this regard was because, however anxious they might be to effect any good work, they were deterred by the fact that the condition of the unions was such that they would not enable them to incur the required expenditure without every ratepayer feeling the pressure of taxation from it. ["Hear, hear!"] They had heard a great deal about extravagance, and it was wonderful how differently hon. Gentlemen viewed this question according to the side on which they sat. They spent a considerable time during the tenure of office of the late Government in passing a Bill which had for its object the equalising of the rates of London. What did that Bill propose to do? It gave to the authorities in the poorer districts of London power to fall back upon the ratepayers in the richer districts who were to assist them with money to meet the expenditure in their own districts. Of course, hon. Gentlemen would tell them that that was no encouragement for extravagance, because the money was not taken out of the pocket of the Imperial taxpayer, but came from the ratepayers in the richer for the benefit of those in the poorer parts of London. He confessed the distinction was too fine a one for him. It seemed to him the principle of extravagance, if it existed at all, would be found equally, whether the stranger's pocket was that of a ratepayer or that of an Imperial taxpayer. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought hon. Gentlemen overlooked the fact that the grant to be given by this Bill was a fixed grant; that it met the expenditure as it existed at this moment; but if fresh expenditure was incurred the ratepayer of agricultural land would have to bear his share well as the rest of the ratepayers in the district. ["Hear, hear!"] It had 50 been constantly said that the Government were going to give back half the rates paid by agriculture, and that they were going to make a distinction between houses and buildings and the land upon which the farmer carried out his industry. He was surprised to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite indulging in this line of argument. He remembered on former occasions their urging the necessity for land being treated differently to other classes of property, as it was that upon which so large a portion of the population depended for support. One proposal of the Government was to relieve land from unjust burdens, and they were asked, why make this distinction between land and other classes of property and give the landed ratepayer an advantage that was not given to other ratepayers. He thought that position an inconsistent one. They were told they were going to give the money of the general taxpayers for the benefit of one class, and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton said there were distressed shopkeepers and artisans in the agricultural districts to whom they were giving no relief at all; and he asked, Why did not they give them relief as well as the agriculturists? The right hon. Gentleman, it seemed to him, confused cause and effect in this respect. The difficulties under which these shopkeepers in agricultural districts were suffering were very much the outcome of the agricultural depression which had paralysed the capitalists who gave employment in the neighbourhood, and unquestionably, if the proposed relief happily resulted in putting agriculture into a better condition it would also find its way among the artisans and shopkeepers. ["Hear, hear!"] The Resolutions which the Government had received in enormous numbers in support of their proposal came from societies of both farmers and shopkeepers, auctioneers, and other residents in the district, and he thought they might take it from that that the shopkeepers and artisans sympathised with the desire of the agriculturists to get this relief, and they would not find fault with the Government if they granted what they conceived to be a reasonable demand. ["Hear, hear!"] He would ask the House to realise that the Government, in making this proposal, did not do so, 51 as some hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to think, solely because of agricultural depression. It was perfectly true that that depression had hastened and accentuated their desire to do something for that industry, but old Members of the House would be familiar with the fact that the question of local taxation had been raised times out of number. ["Hear, hear!"] The contention had been held from time immemorial by the Party to which he belonged—and it had of ten found supporters in the Party opposite—that agricultural land as such was unfairly rated, and that the system by which they arrived at the share of local taxation it should bear was unjust and ought to be altered. That was the principle upon which their Bill was based. He did not think it was difficult to show that the system by which they rated agriculturists was one which placed them under special disability. In his Report, Mr. Wilson Fox cited two cases which might be taken as fair examples of that system. One case was that of a farmer who paid a rental of £1,280; he paid on a rateable value of £1,050 an amount of £157 12s. Id., and he gave his income, under Schedule B, as £560. A tradesman, living in the same district, paying Income Tax on £600, had a rateable value of £60 and paid only £13 10s. That was not an extreme case but was the result of taking as the basis of their calculation of what was to be paid the house and premises in one case, and, in the other, not only the house and premises, but the land also. When they rated the shopkeeper at the present moment they rated his house and premises, and what they said was that they should so rate the farmer. They should rate his house and buildings, and treat his land as being a different thing, liable to so much less taxation, and the Government's suggestion was that it should be one half.
§ MR. LONG
said he had not got any figures by him dealing with the manufactory, but he had examined every case, and he believed the most difficult was the case of a colliery or mine. It was difficult to arrive exactly at the system pursued with regard to rating where different Assessment Committees adopted different practices, but, even in the case 52 of the colliery or mine, so far as he could ascertain, the assessment was based upon the rent for which the premises would let. Mr. M'Donald Brown, a Fellow of the Surveyors' Institute, quoted another case which showed how hardly the present system operated in the case of a man who was both owner and occupier. He showed that there the agriculturists paid £50 in rates, while the tradesman, with a larger income, paid £5, or only one-tenth of the amount paid by the agriculturist. Those were the cases that had led the Government to make their proposal, on the ground that the standard by which they measured the liability of the ratepayer to pay rates was unjust and placed the agricultural ratepayer at an unfair advantage. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, dealing with the larger expenditure in urban districts, told them that the rates there were very much higher, and that the greater ratepayer did not get relief while the smaller ratepayer did. But the right hon. Gentleman forgot to tell them that, while the expenditure in certain districts had increased, the rateable value had also largely increased, and that in the rural districts, where their expenditure had decreased, there had been, unhappily, a heavy decrease in the rateable value. Apart from that, however, anybody who knew what the expenditure in urban districts was for, must realise that the return which the urban ratepayer got for his money was infinitely greater, was more direct and immediate than anything which was conferred upon the rural ratepayer. ["Hear, hear!"] There was another distinction which he desired to point out to the House. In the expenditure incurred mainly for union expenses, the maintenance of the poor, for highways, and for police, the rural ratepayer was compelled, whether he liked it or not, to pay that rate, whether it was big or small. Would it be said that in the great towns, the working men did not control the representation of their great municipalities? They could say who their representatives on the city or town councils should be, and what their policy should be. He knew very well—and, for his part, he did not regret—that the expenditure in the towns had gone up; but anybody 53 who knew the handsome buildings that had been established, the admirable working-class dwellings that had been erected, the improved system of sanitation and water supply, and various other matters that had taken place, would agree that, though there might have been some extravagance, on the whole the money had been well spent, and that enormous benefits had been conferred upon the working classes in the great towns—["hear, hear!"]—and that, though the expenditure was greater, the benefits to the individual ratepayer in those towns was very much greater than anything the ratepayer in the rural districts got for his money. ["Hear, hear!"] In the rural districts many of the advantages which were possessed by the ratepayer in the urban district had to be obtained at the ratepayers' own cost. Some reference had been made that afternoon to the prosperous condition of the country. The House would remember that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech alluded to the fact that the prosperity, which had happily reached the community as a whole, seemed to leave the agricultural interest out altogether. He had had a comparison made between the figures given in the Paget return and those given by Sir A. Milner the other day. The figures had to be adjusted to some extent, but on the whole, they were fairly accurate. As to the value of the property then, if they took railways they would find that there had been an increase in income of £2,700,000 and in capital value of £247,000,000. On various other properties the increase of income had been of the same description. With respect to agricultural land, on the other hand, there had been a decrease in income of £9,000,000 and in capital value of £624,000,000, and therefore it was apparent that the relief given by the Measure was given to a much-suffering industry, and one which for years had been steadily decreasing in value while other forms of property had at least been holding their own. ["Hear, hear!"] It had been said that the proposal of the Government was one which set town against country, but at least in the city which he represented—Liverpool—and in other places a different view was taken. The Conservative newspapers in that city 54 and in Nottingham, which circulated largely among working men, had spoken of the Bill as one which met with entire approval from the working classes, showing that in at least one large working class constituency no such apprehensions were entertained with regard to the proposals of the Bill as were expressed by hon. Members opposite. The Leader of the Opposition had stated that by his Budget operations he had given £800,000 to agriculture, but as much as £650,000 of that was upon houses—which, so far as he knew, did not affect the agricultural interest—and the remainder was more than wiped out by the Death Duties, leaving the burden on the land even worse than it was before. ["Hear, hear!"] This Bill was introduced because the Government believed the land was at present unfairly taxed according to its capacity, and because the agricultural ratepayer was placed in an unfair position in relation to other ratepayers. The Government were not concerned to deny that the urban ratepayer had a case, and a very strong one, which was entitled to consideration, and which they hoped would be inquired into, for not only would the investigation throw further light on the subject, but it might indicate possibly more than one way in which assistance might be given. The Measure was proposed because the Government believed it to be a just one and one which was demanded by the conditions under which the land of the country now rested. It was ridiculous to say that they put it forward as a cure for agricultural depression or that it was going to restore the land to prosperity. But they did believe that it would give encouragement to agriculturists as a body and confer advantages on all classes connected with the land. It was the land they wanted to relieve and not any class upon the land. They thought that agriculturists would not be much frightened by the bogey which seemed to have taken possession of hon. Members opposite. They believed the Measure to be a fair one, and that, if it was passed, it would show to the agricultural community that Parliament was alive to their wants and needs, and was determined to do its best to give them a fair chance. [Cheers.]
§ MR. W. S. ROBSON (South Shields)
said it had been shown in the course of the Debate, that a marked difference of 55 view prevailed, even among hon. Members opposite as to the merits of the Bill. On the Opposition side of the House, hon. Gentlemen were glad to have had at least one clear declaration from the President of the Local Government Board when he introduced the Measure—namely, that ultimately the burden of the rates fell upon the landlord. He had been curious to note how the declaration would be met by hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Thirsk had stated that those who held that view were theorists, while the hon. Member for Warwickshire said that they knew nothing of country life. The President of the Local Government Board might be a theorist, but it certainly could not be said that he knew nothing of country life. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members on that side of the House fully agreed with this declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, and congratulated him on the clear statement he had made of what was really the fundamental fact of the controversy—that the whole burden of the rates fell ultimately upon the landlord. Therefore, the landlord alone would ultimately receive the whole benefit of the Measure. So far as the farmer was concerned, therefore this was only to him a Measure of very temporary relief, for if the whole benefit ultimately went to the landlord, the benefit to the farmer must necessarily be only temporary. ["Hear, hear!"] In those circumstances, he thought he was entitled to ask the President of the Local Government Board, what, in his opinion, would be the length of time that this temporary relief to the farmer would last, and if the farmer was to benefit, though only to this temporary extent, he should like to know how the labourer was to be benefited, because the farmer and the labourer together really made the agricultural industry. ["Hear, hear!"] Rates were based on rents, and he contended that in true economic rents was practical relief for the agriculturist mainly to be found. The rents drawn by the landlords of England were either true economic rents—that was to say, rents representing the surplus after the working agriculturist had made a fair profit on his labour and capital, or they were not. If the farmer could not make his industry pay and could not pay his labourers, then the landlord must go 56 without his rent, just as persons connected with other industries sometimes had to go without their dividends. ["Hear, hear!"] If the landlord would not accept this situation—if he would insist on extorting from his tenants rents which were not true economic rents, then he himself was the greatest enemy of the agriculturist; and, in such circumstances rather than discuss a Measure which would grant relief to the landlord, he would rather discuss the propriety of such a Measure as was before the House a few days since, a Measure which would, if passed, take from the landlord the control of the rent of his land. [Ministerial laughter]. Hon. Members might laugh, but they might see even a stronger Measure than that introduced, if the land-owning class endeavoured to take advantage of every opportunity to make raids of this kind on the public Exchequer, If landowners chose to do so, let them come to that House in their own proper persons and on their own merits and ask for relief, but do not let them do so on the ground of agricultural depression. If they were receiving their rents, as he believed they were, either there was no agricultural depression to be relieved or they were themselves the depressors. The landowners were the least productive class of the community, and if they were not absolutely gorged with wealth they were at all events among the most wealthy classes of the land. Every class in the community had had during recent years to suffer some diminution of its income, and yet it was only this wealthy class that came to Parliament for relief. Why were the hard earnings of the working classes to be depleted in favour of the landowners? When the landlords' advocates got up in that House and prayed for relief for their clients from their fair share of the national burdens, they always were careful to keep the landowners in the background, and to base their plea upon agricultural distress, or the necessity of keeping up our national food supply, or something or that kind. The landowners were now seeking to obtain special exemption from the burdens which they ought to bear in common with the rest of the community. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other night congratulated the country 57 upon having a magnificent war reserve of £200,000,000, but this Bill presented to the landowners a sum of £60,000,000, and thus one-third of that war reserve had been got rid of. They were also told that they were to have an inquiry into the hardships resulting from the excessive rating in towns. He wished to know whether the rating of towns was to be dealt with upon the same principle. [Cries of "Yes."] Well, then, what became of the remainder of the war reserve? Had hon. Members opposite so soon forgotten the warning, if not the threat, uttered by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing the Budget, when referring to the repeated demands upon the Exchequer, he said that if we kept on this depletion of the national income they would have to abandon the present system of taxation and would have to revert to the old system of indirect taxation—in other words, to the taxation of trades and industries? He protested against such a mischievous and terrible revolution in our financial system. He should like to ask the banking and mercantile Members in that House whether they could regard with equanimity the proposal to follow such a policy as that, because if it were accepted the sound industrial and financial system upon which the Empire was based would be entirely swept away. This threatened change in our methods was to be effected for the benefit, not of the poor and laborious classes, but in favour of that wealthy class to whose greed in wringing the last farthing of rent from the land we owed the drunkenness, the vice, and the incest that prevailed in our miserably-overcrowded slums. The Bill would do nothing for the industrial working classes who had poured millions after millions into the pockets of the wealthy landowners, but would still further increase the wealth of the latter by enormously increasing the value of the land. And hon. Members must bear in mind the small number of which that wealthy class consisted. More than half of the agricultural land of this country was held by some 4,000 individuals, and it was perfectly well known that many of the wealthiest among them had benefited enormously from the development of our great provincial 58 towns, yet those were the persons who complained that the food of the people was too cheap. ["Hear, hear!" and loud cries of "No!"] The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury had during the last General Election turned an observation of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition into the reproach that he was actually glad that the price of wheat was so low. The fact was that this was a class question, and as such the democracy of the country would deal with it at the next General Election. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] The landowners of the country, who were now asking for the exemption of a special class from their proper share of the national burdens, were presenting a very dangerous object lesson to the working classes which would not be lost upon them in the future.
§ * MR. C. A. CRIPPS (Gloucester, Stroud)
denied every premiss upon which the hon. and learned Member had made his attack. He denied that this was the raid of one class upon the Exchequer, that that class was unproductive, that the owners of agricultural land in this country were the wealthiest class, or that they had brought forward class measures for their own advantage. He admitted that his hon. and learned friend might disagree with the arguments which were brought forward on that side of the House; but he would not admit his right to say that those arguments were hollow pretences. When they came to the real difficulty of the present position, he thought it turned on two points. First of all they had to consider whether the proposal of the Government would in effect bring about some mitigation or relief of the present condition of agriculture. He did not care whether they used the word "relief" or the word "mitigation," but he should not be in favour of this proposal, if he did not believe that, whatever word was used, something substantial would be done to the advantage of the most important, and the most depressed industry at the present moment—the national industry of agriculture. Neither should he support this proposal, if he did not believe that it would bring substantial mitigation or relief to agriculture, or if he thought that that relief was bought at the price of placing an unfair burden upon the urban constituencies. The hon. 59 Member for Shoreditch gave illustrations of the proportions in which borough and urban rates were helped by subventions from Imperial resources, and pointed out that in the urban constituency of Norwich only 16 per cent. of the rates were paid by subventions from headquarters, while the rates there were 8s. 8d., in the pound, and that in the county constituency of Norwich 28 per cent. of the rates were paid by subventions, while the rates there were only 2s. 2d. in the pound. But if they applied those proportions to those rates it would work out as between the urban and the rural constituency that a larger proportion of the subventions in aid were given not to the rural but to the urban constituency. (Hear, hear.) In all these matters of so-called percentages they had not only to consider the actual percentage, but also the figure in reference to which those percentages were calculated. As regarded the general comparison, and the statistics given by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, no one disputed the heavy burdens of urban rates, but they had to consider whether the actual rate in one part of the country pressed more hardly on the industries carried on there than did the rate in another part. The burden of rates at the present moment pressed more heavily on agriculture than on any other industry in the country. That was a factor which had to be considered, and was of the greatest importance when it was urged that the Government were bringing forward some proposal for the advantage of the rural constituencies and throwing some corresponding burden on the urban constituencies. The proper way of looking at this proposal was that it was to relieve an admitted injustice up to a certain point, and it had been expressed as the intention of the Government to see whether the same injustice could not be relieved as regarded the urban rates which they were now proposing. As regarded the rural constituencies, of course the whole principle of subventions in aid could only be justified on the ground of the unfair incidence of local taxation. If local taxation were fairly distributed at the present moment, as between realty and personalty, there would be no justification for subventions in aid at all. He thought Sir Alfred 60 Milner's figures were of the greatest importance, and those figures showed that about half the property of this country—that was, the personal property—did not at the present time share in local taxation at all. By their present proposal the Government were seeking to rectify this injustice, because, if the incidence of local taxation were fair agriculture would be only rated at about half the amount at which it was rated at present. It was a most important factor that they were seeking to deal with an admitted injustice. He had not heard any hon. Member grapple with this point—that whereas agriculture at the present time, according to Sir Alfred Milner's figures, was paying twice what it ought to pay for the purposes of local taxation, the Government proposal merely sought to remedy what was in itself an admitted injustice. He did not think the argument as regarded extravagance applied with the same weight at present as under the old conditions. He would admit that conditions might exist which would make it inequitable to propose to relieve agriculture alone, and not to deal with the whole question of local taxation; but the reason which justified the present proposal was that the condition of agriculture was so exceptional that it was necessary that it should be relieved without delay. He thought it could be clearly shown that the advantages would not go into the pockets of the landlord. He lived where the depression was severe. It was picked out among the districts by the Surveyors' Institute as, next to Essex, suffering most by agricultural depression. A very large portion of agricultural land was no longer in cultivation, and a still larger portion of it must go out of cultivation unless some remedy was brought forward. Let them take that condition. Even if land was not brought into cultivation, but land was prevented from going out of cultivation, who got the advantage? He did not suggest that the wages of the agricultural labourer should be increased, but it was as important to him to have the certainty of constant regular employment as it was that his wages should be raised. He said without hesitation in that district, a district which he knew well, and with regard to which he had informed himself, that there 61 was no doubt that a large proportion of the benefit of this Bill would go to the advantage of the agricultural labourer. Then, they came next to the tenant farmer. He would not discuss whether the tenant farmer knew his business best or not, but it could not be denied that at the agricultural meetings a large number of tenant farmers had asked for the very form of alleviation which the Government had brought forward. The hon. Member opposite forgot that it was the tenants who paid in the first instance, and it was the tenant who got relief in the first instance. It was his full belief that by far the largest part of relief would go to the tenant and not to the landlord. He admitted that some proportion would go to the landlords, but the answer to that was given on the First Reading. If they refused relief to agriculture because possibly the landlord might get some of the benefit, there was no use discussing this question of agricultural depression. ["Hear, hear!"] He would give an illustration. When he first became a Member, the question of the Import Duty on cotton in India was raised. Would it have been a reason for refusing to entertain the question because, perchance, the millowner might get some advantage as well as the artisan? As far as he was concerned he took the view that in all these industries, whether mines, iron works, or cotton works, there was a community of interest as between the capitalist on one side and the workmen on the other. They had the same community of interest as regarded the agricultural industry. The landlord was not only the rent taker, he was also the capitalist, who, in buildings and in improvements, had provided the greatest proportion of what he might call the stationary capital. If that was so, would the hon. Member say that no relief was to be given to agriculture on the mere ground that some advantage might go to the landlord in the case of agriculture, as to the capitalist in the case of other industries. Nothing unfair was done to the urban population by the Bill. He admitted there was some difference of opinion as to the source from which this fund was to be obtained. It would not come from the poor people through indirect taxation. It would come, according to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, from the Income 62 Tax, the payers of which included the wealthier class. They must bear in mind that the landlord paid more than his fair share of Imperial taxation. The only question was, whether it was fair to give relief to the rural districts and not to the urban? Why was the former dealt with first? Because agriculture was in vital need of assistance. If the conditions had been reversed, he hoped from a national point of view, they would have given relief to the urban population. This population had reaped enormous advantages owing to the low price of agricultural produce, and as the Bill proposed to take away an admitted injustice he should vote for it. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,
§ MR. ALBERT SPICER (Monmouth Boroughs)
asserted that, despite the eloquent denial of his hon. and learned Friend who spoke last, this Bill was a piece of class legislation. Speaking as the representative of three boroughs he frankly admitted that the agricultural industry needed help, not only in the interest of the farmers, the agricultural labourers, and even of the purely agricultural landowners, but of the industrial and labour communities of the towns. Take the question of labour in towns. He had read carefully a large number of the Reports issued by the Sub-Commissioners of the Labour Commission who reported on the state of agricultural labour, and had come to the conclusion that when an agricultural labourer was unable to obtain an average weekly wage of 14s. or 15s. throughout the year he drifted into the towns and cities, and thus added fresh difficulties to the problem of employment in urban centres. The present Government had enormous advantages in dealing with this question if they chose, in a broad and statesmanlike way. In the present Government were included representatives of all the chief industries connected with land. There were representatives of the town landlords; representatives of the purely agricultural landlords; and representatives of the commercial industries of the towns, who knew the difficulties that occupiers and workers in our industrial 63 centres had to contend with. But, nevertheless, he was bound to say that the promoters of the Bill had only looked at the question from one side and had dealt with it in an unfair manner. They had simply drawn the Measure from the standpoint of one interest and one class alone, and they had forgotten what was due to and due from the other classes. The Bill proposed to benefit immediately the occupiers, and ultimately the owners of agricultural lands. But he would remind the House that there were two classes of landowners, and in dealing with land they must ever remember that fact. They had, first of all, the town landowners. Ever since the abolition of the Corn Duties and the introduction of Free Trade the town landowners had had the satisfaction of seeing their incomes going up regularly and continuously, thanks to the enormous increase of the population in our urban centres. On the other hand, there were the purely agricultural landowners who, ever since the abolition of the Corn Duties and the introduction of Free Trade, had seen the gradual decline of their incomes, especially since new lands across the seas had been brought, by steam communication, into competition with the more highly rented agricultural lands of this country. But not only the landowner, but the occupier, the agricultural labourer, and the tradesmen of the town, who were dependent upon those classes, had suffered, more or less, from foreign competition. But he desired to keep prominently before the House the fact that the great town landlords had their incomes continually increased, owing to the investments and labour of the town communities, while, at the same time, the income of the agricultural landowners was being continually decreased, as the farmers of new countries were being brought more and more into competition with agriculturists at home. If those facts were borne in mind it seemed to him that it would not be very hard to find a remedy for the present difficulties. It was the agricultural class this Bill was designed to benefit, and in order to benefit this class it was proposed to take a million from the general taxpayers, the large majority of whom, he contended, 64 were already overburdened with taxes and rates. He was willing to admit that the agricultural interest in certain districts needed helping; but the money was to be taken from overburdened taxpayers, whilst nothing extra was taken from the great town landlords, who had reaped the benefits of the abolition of the Corn Duties and of the introduction of Free Trade. The Bill, too, dealt with all agricultural land practically in the same way, and the result would be that the poorer the land, and the more distressed the district, the less would they receive. He had lived a good deal in Essex and knew every village and parish, and he knew how the people had been suffering. Those who were connected with the free churches knew how the churches had suffered, and what had had to be done to make up for the steady drifting of the population of the rural districts into the large towns. The great mistake of the Bill was that, in treating all upon one plan, it gave the larger subvention to those who were least distressed. The last speaker did not attempt to show that the relief was to be given in an equitable way. The relief would not go to the class that needed it most. Coming from a class that was already overburdened the relief would be given on the pernicious plan of meting out doles from a central fund without proper control. A paper had been read recently before the Statistical Society on the incomes of an Oxford college and a London hospital derived from land all over the country. The figures showed that in the pastoral counties the value of land had gone down 18 per cent., while with corn growing counties it had gone down 42 per cent., and by this time the fall would be more than 50 per cent. In these latter districts the Bill would be hardly worth having. If we were to give relief to a class, let it be remembered that the town landlords owed a debt to the agricultural landlords, because for 50 years and more the town landlords had been reaping what their agricultural land owning brethren had been losing. Why not boldly propose that there should be an extra annual charge put upon the incomes of town landlords? And it would be fair to supplement it by an extra charge on the larger assessments of the Income Tax paid by those who engaged 65 in industry and commerce had obtained great advantages from the introduction of Free Trade. This was a piece of class legislation. The Government had missed an opportunity of dealing with the matter on broad and statesmanlike lines. Instead of that they proposed to deal with one class in a very unequal way, seeing that the greater the distress the less would be the subvention, and this at the expense of those who were overburdened and who ere long would rise up in judgment against the authors of this Bill.
§ CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
said, the moderate tone of the last speech was in marked contrast to that of the hon. Member for South Shields, for there was an admission of agricultural depression which something ought to be done to relieve. For himself he supported this Bill not as asking for an eleemosynary grant from the Consolidated Fund, not as asking for anything in the way of charity to a distressed industry, but he made a demand, as a matter of right and a matter of equity, on the ground that agriculturists were rated upon their land much more heavily than were occupiers in towns. The agricultural interest had an equitable claim, which had been made for many years, and which had been accentuated and emphasised by the legislation of 1894. Before that time those who opposed the claim of the agricultural party to a modification of the rating law justly said to them, "You contribute much less than do others to Imperial taxation." That was a fair reply, but the right hon. Member for Monmouthshire had removed that grievance, and it would not be denied now that the landed interest paid its due share of Imperial taxation. It might be admitted that residents in towns who were rated for business premises had the same claims as agriculturists to relief in taxation. The case of Wolverhampton, where it was said the rating of premises was higher than that of houses, must be an exceptional case; but he quite admitted that persons living in towns who had their business premises rated had a claim as against other householders in the same way, but to a less degree than they had for their business premises as against other houses. This was an equitable claim of the agricultural interest, and he did 66 not see how it could be denied. Obviously everything depended on the way they contrasted the rates. If they said that persons living in towns paid 5s. or 6s. in the pound and the farmer in the country, 2s., the comparison was in favour of the dwellers in towns. But every one saw that to take a position like that was an absurdity. What they had to consider was what was the proportion of absolute rent paid by each individual in respect of the industry he was pursuing and contrast them. The usual illustration taken was that of a farmer of 300 acres and a person of similar income living in a town. It had been clearly shown that the agriculturist had a much greater burden of rating to pay. Using the illustration in another way, he could show that gentlemen opposite misconceived altogether the way in which the rates pressed on the small incomes of farmers. A man farming 300 acres had a capital of £2,100. That, at 5 per cent., would produce £110 a year. A man with an income of £110 in a town would live in a, £15 or £20 house, upon which he would pay a rate of 6s. in the pound, or £6 a year. The agriculturist would pay a rate of £30. The income of the agriculturist would be £140 and the dweller in the town £116, and the fair contrast was what was the proportion between the rate of £30 paid by the agriculturist to his total income of £140 and the £6 paid by the urban holder to his total income of £116. But if a man's income was only £110, was it altogether so extravagant to say that if he were relieved of half the rates, or £15, it was not a considerable addition to make to a small income like that? This was the true way to look at the Bill, and he believed it should be strongly supported on the ground that it was a just concession at last made to agriculturists; and although, superficially considered, it seemed a small thing—only 1s. or 1s. 4d. in the pound—if they took a concrete case such as he had given and contrasted a man's yearly income with the relief he was likely to get, it was by no means an unimportant addition. The advantages that dwellers in towns obtained over those in the country, even though their rates were heavier, had already been pointed out. What he believed to be sound economic doctrine was that taxes 67 should be levied on property that could fairly bear it when necessity arose and property was purchased subject to certain conditions. If those conditions changed, there should be relief from the taxation, no matter how long ago it was imposed. Where rates were imposed on land many years ago the conditions had so changed by the diversion of the value of property that taxes once fair were no longer so. These questions could not be fairly discussed unless they put on one side altogether the individuals who lived by agriculture—landlord, tenant, and labourer—and considered the charges as altogether charges upon land. To attempt to differentiate the interests of these three classes only led to miserable confusion, which would prevent any just result being arrived at. For his part he declined to discuss what might be the different advantages with burdens borne by the three classes of persons who lived by the land, as that would only further complicate an already complicated question. The true position for those who favoured this Bill to take up was that the burdens upon the land, no matter who paid them, were now unfair, and that there was an equitable claim for their readjustment. So long as they took up that position they stood upon firm ground, and they took up a position that was unshaken. Even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, who certainly was not prejudiced in favour of the landed interest, by no means traversed this main proposition, for in his speech he more than once said he was disposed to agree that realty was unfairly rated, only he thought if the subject was touched at all it ought to be touched as a whole, and not as this Bill touched it. The objects of the Bill, therefore, were agreed to even by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, only he maintained that it did not go far enough or do the thing in the right way. Still that was going a long way towards the approval of the principle of the Bill, and it was not that ruthless and stern opposition which the Member for South Shields, for example, hurled against it. He was very glad to find the Member for Wolverhampton took up, as he thought, a less hostile position to the claims of agriculture than he had adopted before, and he was very sorry the right hon. 68 Gentleman did not see his way to exercise more fully his powers of acknowledging the equitable position taken up by the supporters of the Bill. Why should the right hon. Gentleman be so ungenerous when he recognised as he must have done that the claims of the rural were much older than those of the urban holder, and that the burdens they had been bearing all this time were burdens that were borne by a prospect of continually decreasing value. Those who spoke in favour of this Bill had no hostile views to oppose to the claims the right hon. Gentleman made on behalf of the urban holders, and they regretted as much as he did that there was not money sufficient or time ample enough to overhaul the whole of this local rating question, which, he admitted, required it very much. He hoped the President of the Local Government Board would in a near Session take upon himself the difficult task of considering the whole question of the assessments of real property, of consolidating the law with respect to them, and of endeavouring, if possible, to find some means by which the claims of those who were taxed in respect of real property might be alleviated by bringing into assessment personal property. That was, however, such a difficult task that he did not wonder his right hon. friend had not attempted it this Session, but he approved his action when, not being able to deal with the whole, he had at least dealt with that portion of it which he himself believed to have the fairest claim upon the consideration of Parliament—a claim which he trusted the House of Commons would support and ultimately pass into law.
§ MR. R. W. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth)
as representing an agricultural division, said he did not wish to vote without briefly stating the reasons which led him to vote as he intended to do. They were invited by Her Majesty's Government, which included among its most distinguished member representatives of some of their great cities, to give to the rural districts what was unquestionably in his judgment a bounty to a particular class carrying on a special industry, and he presumed that before Ministers of the Crown, representing cities like Birmingham and Bristol, 69 and places like Paddington, could have proposed to that House to impose upon the general community, the Income Taxpayers and consumers of commodities, a tax for the benefit of the rural districts, they must have been actuated by very strong reasons indeed. The question he had to put to himself, as representing an adjoining Division of Lincolnshire to that represented by the President of the Local Government Board, was, what were the reasons why the agricultural owner, occupier and labourer, so far as the last of these classes participated in this bounty, were to refuse this generous offer, made to them by a Party so largely supported by the towns of this country? They had been told, in language of great eloquence and rhetorical force, by the hon. Member for South Shields, that this money was going wholly, absolutely and almost immediately into the pockets of the landowners of this country. He did not propose to argue whether it was the owner or the occupier who would be immediately benefited. It was sufficient for him to know that in the Division he represented, especially in the marshes of Lincolnshire, there were an enormous number of small owners occupying and farming their own lands, who, as a rule, were only assisted in these small holdings by the members of their family working with them, and, so far as these 800 or 900 small freeholders were concerned, it was not a question of division between the owner and occupier, but these were people who would derive benefit, however large or small this contribution, or bounty, or grant-in-aid might be. Then take the case of lessees. There was a fewer number, and he believed a dwindling number, of lessees in North Lincolnshire who, so long as their leases lasted, would unquestionably derive benefit from this reduction. What would happen when these leases fell in he did not know. His own conviction was that the owners of these farms would principally participate in the advantage which was to be given by this Bill, and if that were the case he thought it was absurd to scoff and scout the idea that the capitalised value represented by this yearly grant would not be of very large dimensions indeed. He did not suppose it would amount to anything like £60,000,000 sterling. But 70 it was perfectly clear, if they were going to make in perpetuity a grant of £2,000,000 a year for the relief of the agricultural industry, and if they multiplied that £2,000,000 by 30, they arrived at a sum of £60,000,000. But who imagined anybody who knew anything of the value of property was going to capitalise the annual bounty now proposed at 30 years' purchase, having regard to all the exigencies, emergencies and uncertainties which surrounded such a bounty. The hon. Member for South Shields told them that no sooner would the Liberal Party come into power than that this would be in some way rectified. That was one of the contingencies which a purchaser would unquestionably take into account. Many arguments had been presented in favour of this Measure. They were told that agriculture was a depressed industry, and, therefore, must be specially assisted. The shipping and cotton industries were depressed—but were they to roam round the whole extent of the commercial hemisphere and discover seriatim what were the various industries that were depressed, and assist them turn by turn? Why not, asked an hon. Member below him? He did not propose to answer that question. Possibly they were entering upon some such costly and unbounded pursuit as that. For anybody to say that agriculture was not depressed was to show a lamentable ignorance of the state of that industry, especially in Lincolnshire. One of the difficulties which he had to meet at the last election was the fact that the register was reduced by the removal of 300 labourers, because their employers were not able to give, in connection with wheat-growing and other forms of agriculture, the same amount of occupation they had done in times gone by. He might be told, and told truly, that this gratuity, or bounty, or contribution, or pecuniary aid, would not help a farmer appreciably to meet a difficulty of that kind. He did not think it would, but in his county a shilling an acre, on an acreage of 1,660,000 acres, which was the average in Lincolnshire which would be relieved by this Bill, came to £83,000 a year; and should they refuse that because some other class of the community ought to participate in it, which the Government did not at the present moment see their way to 71 relieve? If they were asked to give this bounty to this industry, he thought the time was not far distant when they would be asked for similar grants to other decaying or decayed industries. They had been told that farmers must thus be liberally treated because they were rated upon an unsound system. The new theory of rating, now propounded, was that they must take into consideration the profits that a man made in his shop, in his industry, his factory, his warehouse, his office. They had also to take into consideration, he understood, the area in which he worked. He was not impressed with the argument that it was always immoral to relieve a special class. They were told in the last Parliament, and they received the statement rapturously, that they must put the heaviest burden upon the shoulders best able to bear it. If it was a legitimate thing to impose a burden, why was it not a reasonable thing to take away a burden from a special industry? He would ask, who was going to pay for this? Clearly not the people of his Division. They had very few payers of Income Tax in the Division he represented, and most of those did not support him. Nor had they many consumers of taxable commodities for they had a sparsely-populated district. This bounty of £ 1,500,000 to the rural districts would be paid for by other people—by Oldham, Preston, and other densely-populated places—who appeared to be pining to grant this advantage to the rural districts. Supposing they did not take this money in their Division; supposing they said they would have nothing to do with it unless their poor neighbours in the towns were simultaneously relieved. Where would the money go to? The Government might possibly give it to the publicans. He did not want that. They might possibly give it to the parson. He did not want it to go to the parson. He would infinitely rather give it to the depressed agriculturist in the Division of Lincolnshire he represented than he would run the risk of this large sum going to the parson or the publican. For these and for other reasons he certainly intended to vote for the Bill.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
said, the President of the Board of Agriculture, in the earlier part 72 of his speech that evening, stated that it seemed to him that hon. Members of the Opposition were inclined to regard agricultural depression as a delusion. He did not think any such idea existed among his hon. Friends. On the contrary, they had as acute a sense of that depression as hon. Members opposite. It was indeed a most serious matter, one that deserved the attention of every Party in the state and of every Government. He was glad that any Ministry should take up a question of this kind and endeavour to find some solution of the problem. They had in this depression not only an industry of the greatest importance to the nation placed in a very parlous state, but they ran a great risk, in its continuance, of diminishing, if not of losing altogether, that corn-producing area which he thought was essential to their national existence. [Cheers.] He hoped that, sooner or later, they might find the means of encouraging an industry which he thought was essential to the safety of the nation, but he was afraid that a true method had not been devised in the Bill before them. He did not complain that the Government should in this or in any other Bill look for some means of relieving agriculture and of lessening the depression; but, at the same time, he could not congratulate them on the manner in which they had approached this serious condition of things. He thought the position should be faced, but he did not think that the Bill, in the form in which it was placed before the House, was a worthy method of facing a condition of great seriousness and of great national gravity. A Commission had been appointed to inquire into the question, among others, of agricultural rating, and, as the result of some two-and-a-half years' labour, and of four thick volumes of evidence and of the numerous Reports of Assistant-Commissioners from all over the country, they had produced the present Bill. Those who had produced it had said it was no remedy, that it was not a means of relieving agricultural depression. They confessed it was only something to mitigate that depression. He thought that, after all this preliminary array of work, and after the repeated discussions in that House, they had come to a very ignoble conclusion when all that was to be 73 given to agricultural land was 1s., or rather less, per acre. It was an amount of dole that was insufficient to relieve it; it was an amount of dole that would not stimulate the industry, and would not lead to the increased cultivation of the land. He did not think a Bill of this kind was a worthy result of such prolonged deliberation. If it were in any way calculated to stimulate the industry or to encourage new experiments by which the industry might be developed in the future, then he thought there might be something to say for it. In looking over the Blue-books they found witnesses who came forward with suggestions as to how agriculture might be improved. One of the witnesses gave a description to the Commissioners of visits he had paid to certain parts of the country, where he had studied the subject of Small Holdings. In his evidence he said:—There must be many parts of the country where similar experiments might he tried, and, so far as I have been able to judge, they appear to be likely to be successful.If this money had been going to promote experiments of that kind, it would have the effect of introducing into their agricultural practice new methods of cultivating the land in smaller patches, and it would bring about the location of a larger number of people on a given area of land. If that experiment was found successful in a score of places throughout the country, as it had been found in some places where it had been tried, it would gradually lead to the bringing back of a larger number of people to settle on the soil and add to the productiveness and general cultivation of the country- ["Hear, hear!"] As it was, the money would be simply and practically thrown away. It would not be sufficient to help, to any large extent, the recipients of the boon, and it would not be an amount of money that would in any way enable them to place more labourers as cultivators of the soil. Hon. Members on both sides of the House doubtless deplored that our agricultural population was constantly growing smaller. To every nation an independent peasantry was a source of strength, but in this country it was becoming less in every decade. This Bill, however, would lead to no greater development in the cultivation of the 74 soil, nor to the increase in the number of those who were able to obtain their living in the agricultural districts. ["Hear, hear!"] The main cause of the depression in agriculture had been the fall in prices, and that fall in prices had affected agricultural workers all over the country. The effect of it had been general, though in some places it had been more severely felt than in others. As the Chairman of the Royal Commission had pointed out, there were three districts in England in which the depression had been felt with varying effects. In the eastern and southern districts the depression had been great—so serious, indeed, that rents had fallen some 50 per cent. In the north-eastern and the central or midland districts the depression had not been felt so severely, and rents in this area had fallen some 25 per cent., while in the north-western and western districts—Lancashire, Cheshire, Cumberland, Westmorland, and Wales—the depression had been felt less than in either of the other districts, and rents had fallen about 10 per cent. only. What was the effect of the Bill in regard to those three districts? It made no difference whatever in the treatment of them. ["Hear, hear!"] It gave to one and all the same consideration, yet those districts varied greatly in their methods of agriculture and in the depression in which they were placed. The Bill proposed to give to Essex and the eastern counties, where the distress was perilously severe, the same treatment as to Wales, Westmorland, and Cheshire, where a condition of bankruptcy was by no means within measurable distance. This was unjust. But the Bill did further injustice. In all those districts the rates were different; in some places they were high and not unfrequently they were high where the depression was greatest; but, taking the three districts generally—taking the whole of the country together, it was found that the average rate was now 2s. 4d. in the pound. The rates, however, were less than they used to be, and, taking 20 typical rural unions from all parts of the distressed districts, including a few outside, it was found that the rates per acre had fallen 30 per cent., or to 1s. 9d. per acre, on the average, and to a greater extent than the rents had fallen in 75 those particular places. The burden of rates had, therefore, really diminished to a greater extent than rents during the period of agricultural depression. The general conclusion of the Commission and of nearly every witness examined was that the rates were a great burden. Of course, every one, agriculturist or trader, always complained of the rates being a burden; and the complaint applied to the shopkeeper no less, if not to an even greater extent, than to the farmer. ["Hear, hear!"] It was a bad precedent to relieve one man who complained of a burden at the expense of another man on whom it bore equally hardly and who had equal right to complain of it—to give special exemption to one class of citizens and ignore the bitter complaint of other classes. The crudest feature of the Bill, in his opinion, was that it proposed to relieve the rates on agricultural land in the same proportion all over the country. ["Hear, hear!"] He would pursue this view a little further. Why should it not be possible to devise some scheme by which the greatest relief might be given where it was most needed? Surely that would be only acting on principles of ordinary justice. [''Hear, hear!"] The fundamental defect in the Bill was the crudeness and roughness with which it was conceived, for it did not differentiate between those who were in want and those who could hold their own. [''Hear, hear!"] Now, he found that, generally speaking, rates were low in many of the districts where rents had fallen considerably, and they were low because very often the farmer paid on a small assessment. On the other hand, where rents had kept up, the farmer had usually suffered less acutely, and therefore, paying more on rates he would get more benefit. Let them take the case of 200 acres of land in one place and compare it with 200 acres in another place. In the first case which he had in his mind, the land was in a purely agricultural district, and the average rent had fallen to 10s. an acre or lower. The rate per acre was 1s. 2d., so that the total rates of a man farming 200 acres in that district would amount to £11 13s. 4d. The farmer would be relieved of one-half of those rates by the Bill or a sum of £5 16s. 8d. Why, such an amount to a man in circumstances of great distress, and strug 76 gling with land that had gone down 50 per cent. in value would be no relief at all; it would be a mere bagatelle, a mockery of his distress, and it could have no appreciable effect on the continuation of his industry. [Cheers.] Now, let them take the case of a man farming 200 acres in another place where the depression had not been so severely felt, where the land had kept up its value to £1 per acre, and where the rate was below the average, or 1s. 6d. per acre. On that ratal, in a comparatively prosperous district, the farmer would pay £15, and he would get half, or £7 10s., taken off his rates as the result of the Bill. But this amount, to a man doing fairly well, would be a trifle, altogether insufficient to enable him to keep a single additional labourer, or to enable him to more efficiently till the soil. ["Hear, hear!"] There were many places, near large towns for instance, where land had kept up its value, and where, in many cases, it was worth £2 and even £3 an acre; and the man who tilled 200 acres of such land as this, and who had probably not been much affected by the depression in agriculture, would get six or eight times the amount of relief that would be given to the poor struggling man in the districts where the depression had been most felt. [Cheers.] The Bill was, therefore, most unjust in its method of distribution. He might further illustrate this by referring to two cases which had been published by the President of the Commission, Mr. Lefevre, than which there was no man who had given this question more careful consideration and he did not think he could adduce two cases bearing more strongly on the point he was urging—the unfair method of distribution by the Bill. Mr. Lefevre said:—Let me take a farm of 300 acres in Essex, of which the rent has been reduced to 10s. per acre, including the tithe paid by the owner, averaging in that county 4s. per acre, and compare it with a farm of the same size in Lancashire rented at £2 per acre, with tithe at 1s. 6d. per acre. For the Essex farm, after deducting the value of the house and building and the tithe, and estimating the rates at 3s. in the pound, it works out that the relief afforded by the Bill will be £4 13s., a most insignificant item. For the Lancashire farm with similar deductions, and putting the rates at 2s. 4d. in the pound, the relief afforded works out at the substantial sum of £30 1s. 8d., or more than six 77 times the amount afforded to the Essex farm. The comparison will be still more invidious in the case of land near to towns, where the rent is often £3 to £4 per acre, and when the rates were perhaps 4s. in the pound.He was astonished that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen belonging to the Party which had made so many professions about their desire to relieve agricultural distress had not been able to devise a scheme which was not open to this grave and serious objection of doing most where it was least needed and doing least where the people were practically starving for want of help. Again, the inequality of the rates in one district as compared with another was a condition of things which perhaps more than any other caused a sense of rankling injustice as regards rates. One man was paying 1s. or 1s. 6d. in the pound in rates, and another 4s.; or, if he happened to go into a town, the rates might even run up to 6s. or 7s. To give an example. In the Garstang Union the rates in the pound were 1s. 1d., and when this Bill passed, if it did pass, they would be reduced to 6½d. or 7d. In one of the poorest and most distressed districts in England, Dunmow, on the other hand, the rates mounted up to 4s. in the pound; and under this Bill they would still be paying 2,s., or four times as much as in the first named comparatively prosperous agricultural district. [An HON. MEMBER: "Reduced by half.''] And the matter did not altogether end here. In Lancashire towns not so very far from Garstang, there were people paying rates from 5s. to 7s. in the pound; they would get no reduction whatever, but they would have to contribute indirectly to the relief of the rates of the Garstang Union, already exceedingly low. It was not in human nature—even Lancashire human nature—to like a situation of that kind. And the question had still another aspect—would not this induce extravagance in future? He saw no adequate provision in the Bill to prevent extravagance. Where they had a lowrated district they might have an extravagant amount spent in future, because by far the larger portion of that expenditure would fall on the householders who live apart from the agricultural land. And that brought him to this point—that he thought this Bill would require that there should be a Redistribution Scheme 78 with reference to the working of the Local Government Act of 1894 and boards of guardians. At the present time boards of guardians consisted usually of representatives from each of the various parishes in the union, and several representatives from the small towns in the union. He knew districts even in his own constituency where the towns had the right of returning three or four guardians, while the parishes all round sent up farmers—occupiers of land mostly—to form the rest of the board. What would happen in these cases? Where the rateable value was reduced the representation of farmers, of course, ought to be affected, and the Local Government Board would have to frame a Redistribution Scheme in order to try and arrange the differences which would be necessary in the composition of those boards. For otherwise not only would they have the farmers ceasing to represent by one-half the rateable value they did formerly, but these men would be able to go to the boards of guardians and encourage extravagant expenditure, knowing that the greater part of that expenditure would be paid for by the people who live in the neighbouring towns. One other point only he wished to allude to, and it was with reference to the attitude of these smaller towns in districts such as he had mentioned. In many unions, composed partly of agricultural land, there were to be found great manufacturing works going on or colliery undertakings. Under this Bill the industrial population would have to contribute out of their earnings the amount of money which was to be given to the relief of the agricultural industry. He did not think that the colliery-owner, who was deprived practically of any representation on the spending authority, would much like his rates remaining as they were or considerably increased, while those of the neighbouring farmer were diminished. What affected the colliery-owner affected the colliers and other employers of labour. All those men would have a still harder time before them, because out of the proceeds of the profit of their employment would have to be taken a certain sum to benefit the agricultural population of the district. This would not conduce to good feeling, satisfaction or contentment among the 79 manufacturing population. This subvention system had always been regarded by the working classes as a hardship on them. His hon. Friend, Dr. Hunter, had dwelt specially on this point and had pointed out that in this country out of £10,000,000, £7,000,000 were taken every year away from the working classes and contributed for the benefit of more favoured classes. The same evil course was being followed now. All the vices of the subvention system of the past clung to this proposal of the Government. Hon. Members opposite had more than once threatened in the country that the great Finance Act of 1894 would be tampered with as soon as the Tory Party came into power. If this was the method of tampering with the Finance Act he could not congratulate them on their ingenuity or their plan. It appeared to him that in drafting the clause in the Bill dealing with the Estate Duty and indicating the proceeds thereof for the Agricultural interest the Government had made a grave mistake. It would be impossible to ear-mark the money so raised. In any case, it would be an attempt at retaliation, and a bad imitation of the old doctrine of ransom which at one time was so greatly hated on the Benches opposite. While the small tradesman in the towns could ill afford to have his burdens increased even in-directly for the purpose of relieving the agricultural interest, he believed that he would suffer this, if the relief were distributed in such a fashion as was likely to be of lasting good to the farmer. The Bill as it stood was to be a permanent Measure. He thought that this would be unwise, considering that the Government had pledged themselves to go into the whole question of the incidence of taxation, and its distribution. He should like to see the Bill made a temporary one, and if the Government made it temporary he believed that they would take away one of the features which rendered it most objectionable. While he could not give support to this Bill he would have been as delighted as any one to support a Measure which effectually increased the efficient cultivation of the land and added to the labouring population employed thereon. If the Government had adopted the 80 policy of doing something to increase the sub-division of large holdings into small ones, of making loans to landlords and tenants to enable them to put up homesteads necessary to the creation of small holdings, they wold have done a piece of good work for the agricultural prosperity of the country and the welfare of the labouring population. But they had turned away from the wise course which was open to them. They had adopted a course which was full of difficulties, which was unjust and unfair, and which he believed would be resented by the working classes of the country as placing an additional tax on them for the benefit of a privileged class. [Cheers.]
§ MR. W. YOUNGER (Lincolnshire, Stamford)
said that of all the proposals placed before the country during the past few years for the benefit of agriculture and those engaged in its pursuit, agriculturists generally and tenant fanners especially, had looked forward to some such proposal as this with the most hope for the alleviation of the industry. Year after year agriculturists had seen the land they cultivated giving less returns for the time, labour and energy expended upon it; and they asked for this Measure of relief as a means of alleviating that condition. They saw the land bearing its large share of Imperial burdens while at the same time it bore more than its fair share of the local burdens of the country. It bore burdens which were local in their incidence but which for the most part were national in their character. Agriculturists claimed this relief under the Bill as a matter of right and justice—a claim which was borne out by the finding of the Majority Report of the Royal Commission, a Report which had been signed by Gentlemen in whom the country had every confidence as possessing a thorough practical knowledge of the subject. He took it for granted that this Bill would receive very strenuous opposition from hon. Gentlemen opposite. He regretted that the hon. Member for Mayo, speaking on behalf of an agricultural people had nothing but opposition to offer to a proposal for the benefit of their fellow agriculturists in all parts of the kingdom. Such opposition was somewhat remarkable. When the late 81 Government was in power its supporters always assured the House that it was impossible to do anything for the relief of agriculture until this Commission had presented its Report. Now that the Commission for which right hon. Gentlemen opposite were themselves responsible had presented their recommendations they were received by hon. Gentlemen opposite with unqualified hostility and opposition. If every proposal of the Government for the relief of agriculture was to be opposed by hon. Members, what was the alternative they would offer to this claim made by agriculturists of all classes in all parts of the country? Hon. Members representing urban constituencies resisted this Measure because they said that it would give a dole to one particular industry which had no special claim to consideration. In his opinion agriculture had a special claim upon the people of this country, for the depression and decay of that industry was a matter that affected all classes. Its decay affected the towns in an indirect manner, as it affected the country districts in a direct manner. Many of the smaller towns were feeling acutely the effects of the depression in the country districts round them, owing to the fact that there was less money coining in to be spent and circulated in them; and in the case of the great towns there was no question that they felt its effects severely. Last year 500,000 acres went out of wheat cultivation, with the result that thousands of families lost their occupations. Many of these poor people had found their way to the great centres of industry in search of employment, thereby intensifying the difficulty already existing in those towns. The right hon. Member for West Monmouthshire had said that it was unnecessary to give permanent relief to the industry because the depression would probably only be temporary. But what grounds were there for hoping that it would be only temporary? Foreign competition in all branches of agriculture had increased enormously; the wheat produce of the world had more than doubled in the last 60 years, and there were still millions of acres yet undeveloped which were suitable for cultivation. Then the freights of ocean transport were so low that very few 82 steamship companies could pay their way. Therefore, he failed to see how they could hope for any permanent improvement in agriculture. But they did not ask for this relief on philanthropic grounds. They asked for it on the grounds of right and justice, and if such relief was to be of any use it must be given at once They could not wait, as had been suggested they should do, until the whole system of local taxation could be inquired into. That inquiry would take too long a time. He wished to say a few words with regard to the facts of the case, and in the first place with regard to the share of Imperial taxation which was borne by land. Hon. Members opposite took general exception to the figures given by Sir A. Milner before the Royal Commission, asserting that the figures had been arranged hastily, and on insufficient evidence. But the Report said that although the calculation was only approximate it was the best that could be made, and Sir A. Milner himself asserted that in the present state of our knowledge any calculation of the kind could be no more than approximate. The real bone of contention was as to whether the Land Tax should be introduced into the calculation. The majority of the Commission were of opinion that not only the unredeemed Land Tax, but also the redeemed Land Tax should be taken into consideration. The Chairman of the Commission, however, thought that it was impossible to take this tax into consideration, because it was practically a rent charge, and argued that the whole of Sir A. Milner's calculation was upset by its introduction. But Mr. Shaw Lefevre omitted to pay regard to the question of the incidence of the new Death Duties, which had a very strong bearing upon the facts of the case. If they took the figures which Sir A. Milner gave as to the share of Imperial taxation which was borne by land and other rateable property and by non-rateable property, and added to that the share of the new Death Duties borne by each of those various classes of property, it would be found that agricultural land, if the calculation, was made upon its annual value, bore very nearly the same amount of Imperial taxation as was borne by non-rateable property, and that if the 83 calculation was made upon the capital value it bore somewhat more. Therefore, giving hon. Members opposite the benefit of the doubt with regard to the incidence of the Land Tax, it would still be found that the agricultural land of this country bore its full share of Imperial burdens and at the same time was expected to bear the whole weight of the local burdens, of which the supporters of the Bill complained as being unequal and unjust. There were two objections to the proposal to grant this relief, to which he would like to reply. In the first place, it was said that the rates themselves had not increased, and that, therefore, there was no necessity for relief in respect of local taxation, and in the second place, it was contended that whatever relief was given would find its way into the pockets of the landlords. The objection that the rates had not only not increased but had actually decreased, had been adequately met by the hon. Member for the Thirsk Division in his letter to The Times and also by the Report of the Royal Commission, which proved that in recent years the rates had shown a tendency to rise again. But even if that was the case there was now far less ability in the rural districts to bear the rates. Agricultural produce had fallen to a much more extensive degree. The price of wheat and barley alone combined had fallen 50 per cent. At the same time wages had risen materially, and it was clear that agriculture would now have to grow double the amount of produce to pay the same amount of rates. In the existing conditions of agriculture he thought it was very improbable that the benefit of the Bill would go into the pockets of the landlords. He did not believe that any landowner, even if he desired it, would be able to appropriate the benefit. If he demanded from a tenant an increased rent in proportion to the benefit given to the tenant under the Bill, and the tenant preferred to quit the holding rather than to pay it, he knew 84 perfectly well that he would have great difficulty in getting another tenant, and even if he did, that it would probably be at a reduced rent. That alone would be a guarantee against the landlords appropriating the benefit. In his own constituency the labourers were beginning to find out that their interest was very much interwoven, with those of other classes. They found that the tenant farmers, when they had these heavy rates to bear, had to reduce their labour bill materially. But there was another large class, who owned and farmed their own land. It was calculated that 14 per cent. of the land of this country was farmed by its owners. Hon. Gentlemen might ascertain the condition of this class from the report of Mr. Wilson-Fox, on the condition of Lincolnshire at the present time. That Gentleman stated that these men by enormously hard work, were just able to keep their heads above water and to pay the interest they owed to the money lenders, and he was sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would be glad to afford some relief to such a deserving class. Some hon. Gentlemen were of opinion that this was not so much a question of rates as of rents. Mr. Wilson-Fox stated that the rents in Lincolnshire had fallen on the average from 40 to 50 per cent., while at the same time the outgoings on the properties had materially increased during the past 15 years. That showed at any rate that the landowners had attempted to do their utmost during these times of depression. With regard to the question of the division of rates, he did not object to it in principle, but he thought it would be a great mistake to introduce it suddenly along with this Measure. Moreover, it would necessitate the opening up of the whole question of rents and thus give the landlords an opportunity of appropriating some part of the benefit of the Bill if they so desired. He thought a clear case had been made out for some measure of relief, and, in conclusion, while thanking 85 the House for the kind way in which they had listened to him, he would only say that he should support the Second Reading of the Bill with very great pleasure, and would assure the Government and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division, that his constituents would regard with great satisfaction and feel deeply gratified to the right lion. Gentleman and his colleagues for this practical proof of their sympathy with a great national industry which was so much in need of help.
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Stafford, Lichfield)
said he might describe himself as one of that deserving class to whom the hon. Member who spoke last had referred, namely, those who farmed their own land, though he did not know that he was deserving enough to take the taxes of the country. He congratulated the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on having made up their minds to devote so large a sum to an industry which was seriously depressed. He had all along advocated something being done to relieve the distress in agriculture; but the question arose, what was to be done with this large sum. If the Bill was likely to do much good to depressed agriculture, he would be one of the first to support it; but it came to this, that where an attempt was to be made to keep the labourer on the soil, to prevent the land going out of cultivation, and to relieve the distress of farmers, the sum given was so ridiculously small that it came to nothing at all. He had selected two or three instances from the cases quoted by the late President of the Local Government Board last night, from the evidence before the Royal Commission. The right hon. Gentleman quoted a case of a farm in the Maldon District of 111 acres on which the assessment was £38, the rent £25, and the rates £8 18s. 5d., at 7s. in the pound. The relief under this Bill in that case would amount to £4 9s. 3d. or less than l0d. an acre. In another case in the Dunmow district, 86 a farm of 265 acres, with a rent of £15 7s. 2d. and rates £18, benefited to the extent of £9, being a fraction over 3d. per acre. Mr. Jabez Turner, one of the inspectors, in his Report said:Probably these farms will soon be added to the list of land going out of cultivation in the county.In the same Report, referring to land in the Frome district of Somerset, Mr. Turner said:I gather some interesting information; 200-acre farms were best, and in ordinary years in cheese alone produced a profit of about £250.The inspector went on to say—I first visited several farms in the dairy district south-west of Frome. Being fresh from the arid plains of East Anglia, I was much surprised at the flourishing appearance of the pastures.In one of these flourishing farms of 200 acres, assessed at £460, the rates being 4s. in the pound, the benefit was £46, being 4s. 7d. per acre. In the case of a farm at Leyton, 9 acres of meadow land, let at £42 12s., the rates being 4s. 6d. in the pound, the benefit was £6 13s., or 14s. per acre. In another farm of 145 acres at Wethersfield, near Braintree, let at the gross rent of £55, the landlord paying £30 for tithe, leaving a net rent of £25, the benefit was £6 13s., or 1s. per acre. In Norfolk, on a farm of 400 acres, the benefit was £15, or 9d. per acre. In another case of meadow land in Hampshire, where the rent was £4, the benefit was 8s. l0d. per acre. These figures showed that the benefit received under the provisions of the Bill in the case of poor land which was going out of cultivation would be sometimes as low as 1s. per acre, whilst flourishing farms would receive from 7s. to 9s. per acre. The rich landowner, whose, property was near a town, would receive a very large proportion of the benefit, while the poor landowner, whose property was situated in a remote country district, would 87 scarcely obtain any advantage whatever under the provisions of the Bill. As to the hereditary burdens, any alteration of the incidence of taxation needed the strongest reasons. There was no doubt that agricultural depression was a strong reason for altering the incidence of taxation; and, if they could prove that this Bill would really mitigate the agricultural depression, they would be perfectly right in removing what had been called the hereditary burdens. But he disputed that this Bill would touch the real depression prevailing on the worst land in the country, and it would not affect the farmers who were being ruined, the labourers who were being driven off the farms, or the landlords who could not get any rent. Any mitigation of this rating ought also to include the division of the rate between landlord and tenant. There was another thing that ought to be considered, and that was the question of tithe in these counties; but this was not touched upon in the Bill. The only thing that this Bill did was to give large grants to the rich land of the country, and very small ones to the poor land. He should have been ready to give his support to the Government in regard to any Bill that helped the country; but the money which was to be taken from the Exchequer for the purposes of this Bill was contributed to a certain extent by the very classes in the country. He believed it was the Secretary for the Colonies who instituted the theory that nobody who had less than £50 a year should pay any taxation at all, and he had always considered that, except in time of war, that was a very fair suggestion. But the very poorest in the land helped to pay the duties on tea and cocoa, and thus contributed money to the Exchequer which it was now proposed should be drawn out for the relief of agriculture. There was another class who ought to have been considered in this proposal, and that was the artisans working in semi-agricultural and agricul 88 tural districts, who had been encouraged to buy their houses and their small plots of land. These men were quite as deserving as the poorest farmer, and they were in many cases colliers, who were only employed for two or three days a week. It was a shame to extract the money, which was contributed to the Exchequer partly by the poorest classes, for the benefit of the richest people in the country. The Bill would benefit these landlords by saving them, to a certain extent, the necessity of reducing their rents in the future or making temporary reductions.
§ MR. HAROLD FINCH-HATTON (Notts, Newark)
, in a maiden speech, said that the speech of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, to which he had listened with the most profound attention, was conspicuous for the ability with which figures were analysed, but was marred by what he might venture to call a want of financial perspective. Molehills were magnified into mountains, and vice versa. The information as to the relative proportion of the taxation borne by the great towns and urban districts was extremely interesting, but it was not, he submitted, the question before the House. The question they had to consider was whether agricultural land could continue to pay the amount of taxation which it paid at present. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech told them in a most serious tone that this Bill was in the nature of a revolution, and that it was the first step towards the nationalising of the poor-rate. That was a very serious statement. The right hon. Gentlemen then proceeded to sneer at the Bill, arid say that it only gave relief at the rate of a shilling an acre. He ventured to say that a moment's reflection should have convinced him that this was an argument against his own contention. The fact was that this relief of only a shilling being received with rapturous delight was sufficient proof of the sufferings they had endured. ["Hear, hear!"] There was 89 a wider basis, and that was that the agricultural industry was in a grievously depressed condition. That question had been answered in the affirmative even by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The next question was, would it recover if left alone? Everyone answered that in the negative. The next question was, would the Bill tend to alleviate the present distress? They believed that it would, and for that reason they should support the Bill. In and out of the House he noticed considerable surprise expressed at the opposition whsch came from various sections of the Radical Party. He was not in the least surprised at the attitude of the Radicals on the land question. It might be summed up thus—that to hold a large estate was a crime, and the larger the estate the greater the crime. In the speech of the Member for South Shields they had an example of that creed. He had lived in Australia for ten years, where he had considerable experience, altogether extending over 20 years of Australian land legislation, and he thought that the experimental legislation in Australia on this subject ought to be watched with the extremes interest. ["Hear, hear!"] When he went to Australia 20 years ago, it was the most rapidly-increasing community that the world had ever seen, and it continued to he so until he left it 10 years ago. [Laughter.] It even survived his departure, for the country prospered for two years after. When he first went there, there was no such thing throughout its length and breadth as a workman who could not get good wages and save money if he liked. What happened? From the time that this creed was adopted that it was a crime to possess a large estate, the change began. In 1884, in New South Wales, a Bill was brought in breaking the leases of the squatters, confiscating their improvements, and raising their rents.
§ MR. FINCH-HATTON
I shall come to that. In 1889, the rents were raised again, in defiance of the fact that portions of their leases were unexpired. He would give a case. Property let at £140 in 1884, was raised to £2,212 in 1889. The landowners said this might be law but it was not justice.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but he is now dealing with matters which he is not entitled to go into, and which have no bearing on the question before the House.
§ MR. FINCH-HATTON
, continuing, said that last night the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton told them a great deal about the fall in rates and the fall in the assessment of land; but he did not tell them anything about the fall in prices, neither did he say anything about the ruinous impost upon land in the shape of the Death Duties, for which the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was responsible. While he supported the Bill with the utmost enthusiasm, he believed that the moral effect of the Bill would be infinitely greater than the material effect. As very properly pointed out by the hon. Member for Lichfield, the material effect would not, in many instances, be very great; but, small as it would be, agriculturists welcomed the Bill with open arms, because they believed it amounted to the dawn of a new departure in legislation. They believed they had, for the first time, a Government in power who were prepared to give a direct negative to the assertion so sedulously made by the Radicals of the country that land was a playground, stolen from the people by a vicious and idle aristocracy. They believed they had now a Government in power who were determined to see that the pockets of the landlords were not to be open bags, out of which every Chancellor of the Exchequer should fill the national coffers. They believed they had now for the first time, a Government who recognised the, fact that the land was the 91 life of the people, and that the interests of the land were bound up in and were coterminous with the scope of our national existence. In the history of the world no country had continued really great and prosperous after her land ceased to be productive and her agricultural population was reduced to the condition to which our agricultural population was rapidly approaching. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire was co-equal with and caused by the decay of her agricultural population. The success of the ancient cities on the Mediterranean passed away because it was built up on an exclusively commercial basis. For the same reason the Dutch Republic succumbed, and made way for other countries that were based on the wider foundation of agriculture Without hesitation, he asserted that we had now come to a place where two roads divided. We must make up our minds that we would either allow our agricultural population to drift into hopeless ruin, or do something to rescue them. It was rather inconsistent that Members of the Opposition never ceased to taunt Her Majesty's Government with not fulfilling their promises, and, yet the moment the Government attempted to redeem a pledge, there was a howl of fury throughout the country. There was another point which must not be lost sight of, namely, that it was almost exclusively from the agricultural population that the strength of our military and naval forces was drawn. For these reasons he intended to give his hearty support to the Bill.
§ MR. H. C. F. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavistock)
said, that he had welcomed the references in the Queen's Speech to agriculture. He had looked at the Government's Measures with an inclination to support them; but the more he examined into them—and especially the present Bill—the more disappointment he felt, and the greater the objections seemed to be. He did not object to all the principles on which this Measure was founded; and he differed from some of his hon. Friends in not objecting to the principle of subvention. He thought grants-in-aid more necessary to lessen the burden which the poorer districts had to bear. That policy was established in 1834, when the parish was no longer allowed to remain the unit for rating 92 purposes, but when several parishes were grouped into a union. Again, of recent years, the principle had been extended by the Bill for the equalisation of rates in the Metropolis. It might not be so economical to make grants-in-aid—there might be waste—but there was certainly more fairness. But he objected to the present proposal of the Government in that it was inadequate, unequal, and, in many respects, unfair. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had himself stated that it was not intended as a remedy for agricultural distress. It was, in fact, nothing more than a palliative. It had been proved by Mr. Shaw Lefevre that the Bill would be very unequal in its bearing on different parts of the country; that where the relief was most needed it would be least given, and vice versa. But the Bill purported to give relief to the occupiers. If that were really the intention, why not reduce the occupiers' rates by one-half, and throw the burden on the landowners? Or even make the proposition a quarter for the occupier and three-quarters for the landowners. But it was not the occupiers that the Government wanted to relieve. At any rate the Bill would not relieve all classes connected with the great industry of agriculture. If that was the desire of the Government, why had they not included buildings and other hereditaments in the relief afforded by the Bill? No doubt agricultural depression had affected landowners, tenant-farmers, and labourers in many parts of the country, but it had also affected small tradesmen in small towns. If agriculture were going back, our small towns and villages were also going back. One need not travel to Ireland to see a deserted village. ["Hear, hear!"] Therefore, if the Government wanted to relieve agricultural distress, they must not only relieve the farmers and landowners, but also those who lived in small rural towns and villages. But did the Bill relieve those classes? No; on the contrary, there was a prospect that it would be the means of largely increasing their financial burdens. It might be said that personalty was going to contribute towards the relief which was going to be held out to the agricultural interest. He wished it were. He thought it was only right that personalty should be made to contribute. 93 When local taxation was first framed in this country, "in the days of Good Queen Bess," it was clearly laid down that everybody should contribute according to his capacity. But that was not done to-day. Personalty did not contribute its fair share, and if it were required to do so he thought that the large landowners would be asked to pay a great deal more than they were now asked to pay. The Government would have been wise had they decided to deal with this question of local taxation on a large scale. They might, for instance, have proposed an assessment, made not by the local Committees, but by a central authority, by which personalty would have been made to pay its fair share with realty towards the taxation of the country. The Government might say—"We propose to make personalty pay because we take this money from the Death Duties and hand it over to the relief of the local rates." He thought that argument was ridiculous. It was impossible for them to ear-mark the Death Duties for the relief of distressed agriculture. What they proposed to do was to take from the dead landowner money in order to give it to the live landowner. It had been a mystery how bimetallism was to be a remedy for agricultural distress, but now it was all explained. One great defect in the Bill was that it contained no provision for the division of rates between owner and occupier; and if the Government had gone thoroughly into the question they must have introduced such a provision, which had been reported upon favourably by Committee after Committee. Another great fault of the Bill was that it would be a direct discouragement to landlords making permanent reductions of rent where such reductions would be fair and might be expected, for those who have been giving temporary reductions from year to year would find themselves much better off than those who had made permant reductions. The Bill offered an inducement, not to make any reduction permanent, but to give a reduction temporarily from year to year. For one, he did look forward to giving some relief to agriculture, and it was to be done by extending the area of taxation, by making personalty pay its fair share, and by making the very wealthy pay 94 for the poor. He looked forward to the time when we should change our system of taxation, when we might have a graduated Income Tax, and, probably only one tax, when we should have much more of direct, and much less of indirect, taxation, when all would pay according to their capacity, and when there would be no reason why grants-in-aid should not be made by richer districts to poorer districts. Such arrangements he would be among the first to welcome. He wanted to see something done for agriculture; but what was proposed was totally inadequate and it would do nothing to revive agriculture. Let them have some Measure satisfactory to the agricultural interest generally—something which above all would be fair, and would give relief to those who required it most. The Bill gave most where it was least required; it was inadequate, unequal and unfair; and, therefore, he could not give it the support he should otherwise have wished to give.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shrop shire, Newport)
said, they often heard of object lessons, but he thought he had never seen a more striking object lesson in the House of Commons than the contrast between the speech of the hon. Member for Shields and the speech of the hon. Member for the Stroud Division who succeeded him. And there was not a follower of the Government who had heard those speeches who did not share his intense satisfaction that the hon. Member for Shields sat opposite to the hon. Member for the Stroud Division on the Ministerial side of the House. [Cheers.] The lesson those speeches taught everyone was to try and avoid the exceedingly offensive and violent language that had been used by hon. Members opposite, and treat this matter as one of national importance. In that spirit he would try to say a few words, and he would not be blamed if he pointed out the difference of opinion that existed between those who had spoken in opposition to the proposal. Each right hon. and hon. Member had metaphorically cut the throat of another. The objection of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was that the Bill raised an enormous question, that the possibility of a national poor rate was great, and they ought to hesitate before they touched the fringe of such a dangerous 95 doctrine. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton objected to the Bill, not because it opened a vast dangerous field, but because it was so small, and did not include rural as well as urban expenditure. Another Gentleman objected to it because it was trumpery and inadequate, and a London Member denounced it because of its magnitude and the extent to which it gave relief and the abominable impost it would be on those who would have to pay the bill. What he would say to the Opposition was, "For goodness sake choose your ground of battle and do not keep changing it, and we will cross swords with you." Hon. Members opposite told them that the towns had no interest in the Measure, but were opposed to it. He wondered if those who were acquainted with country towns in country districts would echo that? Did they not know that the only days on which there was any life in small country towns was on market days; those towns would fall into absolute apathy and ruin, and it could hardly be denied, that if by this Bill money was circulated round country districts a certain amount would find its way into those country towns and revive the trade that was languishing there. Another hon. Member opposite argued that it was no use bringing in this Bill, because it would only enrich one class of the community. The supporters of the Bill frankly allowed that whenever a case could be made out showing that the urban districts were as much in need of the Bill as rural districts, their case should be met in the same way. They were now trying to meet the real and proved need of the rural districts. Both demands could not be met at once, and if they only had the means of doing good in. one direction it was better to do good in that direction than to fritter money away in two directions, doing no good in either. It was better that the urban districts should have the ultimate benefit that would arise from an investigation of their condition and then they should get the full amount rather than set up a demand now to share with the rural districts a sum which was all insufficient to satisfy the latter. If the urban districts thought of it from that point of view, they would have every reason to be grateful that the Government had taken this question up; 96 they would see that they themselves shared in the advantage which the relief given by the Government would afford, although their rural brethren, perhaps, got the advantage before them. Some people had talked as if the landowners were an absolutely worthless class. The violent Gentleman to whom he had just alluded said there was not a less productive class in the community. He himself thought there was something less productive than a landlord, and that was the man who made a speech simply provocative of ill-will and bad feeling, like the speech of the hon. Member. The same hon. Member went on to lament the depletion of their war reserve, in consequence of the enormous amount to be added to the value of land. But there was a war reserve of much greater importance, and which consisted of a countryside full of agricultural folk, and a contented people at home. The hon. Member for Shoreditch argued that the introduction of this Measure would lead to an increase of taxes and rates; but, as far as he could see, no such result, either in London or elsewhere, would follow from the Bill. If there was to be any increase of rates or taxes, it was much more likely to follow the return to power of the Party which was identified with increased taxation and rates, and probably the common sense of London would urge them to keep such a Party out of power as long as possible, for fear of what might happen. They were told that, above all things, they should look at this question from a national, and not from a small-minded point of view. That was precisely how hon. Members on his side of the House did view the subject. They did not say this Measure was perfect, or that it would have far-reaching effects; but they said that in the position in which they were placed they knew of no better way of giving that assistance in the immediate form in which it was necessary. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite could tell them of a better plan, they should be only too delighted to benefit by their wisdom and experience. They recognised the claims of the urban ratepayers, whose wrongs they were anxious to see redressed as well as those of the dwellers in the rural districts; but as common-sense men, they said the rural districts were in the greatest need at the present moment. 97 They granted there would be a certain inequality, and they wished it could be redressed; but it was no use pointing that out without pointing out a single way in which it could be redressed without long years of waiting. He contended that as they were situated now, the Government were using the opportunities given to them in the best possible way, and the one which would be productive of the greatest benefit. He had not the least doubt of the way in which the country would receive this Measure, but he should have considerable doubt as to how the reputation of the other side would come out when the country recollected that during the whole time they were in Office they talked of that which they were going to do for agriculture, and that now, when their own Commission had reported in favour of definite action, they raised a chorus of "We will do nothing at all. We will not accept what our own Commission urged, nor shall we support you in anything you do." He should most strenuously support the Bill, and he should vote against the Amendment.
§ Debate further adjourned till Tomorrow.