§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [27 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 read justing the burdens of local taxation, is of opinion that it is inexpedient and unjust
that relief granted from Imperial taxation to rateable property should be restricted to one class only of such property."—(Sir Henry Fowler.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ * MR. THOMAS SHAW (Hawick Burghs),
resuming the Debate, said, the Bill appeared to be not only novel in certain of its provisions, but also dangerous and far-reaching in its danger. It settled by the benefits which it conferred very little indeed, but by the principles which it enounced it unsettled and would unsettle a very great deal. He claimed, in the first place, that the House was entitled to know the entire Scheme of the Government. The Bill was part and parcel of an agricultural scheme of relief for the entire United Kingdom, and why had there not been some statement from the Government as to what their ideas were with reference to the relative Bills for Ireland and for Scotland? The hon. Member for East Mayo and himself had asked what was the acreage in Scotland and Ireland respectively to which the alleged beneficial operation of this legislation would extend? They had not been able to get a satisfactory answer; yet surely the Government ought to have satisfied themselves about so important a point as the number of acres in Scotland and Ireland to which the Bills corresponding to this would apply. ["Hear, hear!''] The Government had given them no particulars respecting the legislation for those countries.
§ MR. ARTHUR JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
asked whether the hon. Member was in order in discussing the Scotch Bill.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member will not be in order in going into those matters which will be pertinent to the Scotch Bill when it is introduced; but he will not be out of order in referring to the point that was stated when the Bill was introduced—namely, the proposed proportions of 80, 9, and 11 for the three countries, because, as I understand, if England receives 80, Scotland and Ireland would not receive more than 9 and 11 respectively.
§ * MR. SHAW
said that the proposed proportions of the contribution under the scheme of the Government were 80 per cent. to England, 11 per cent. to Scotland, and 9 per cent. to Ireland. What was the justification for such a division? [Home Rule cheers.] This Measure had been brought in, as he understood, to relieve an industry pursued in the three countries under climatic and economic conditions which were almost identical. In those circumstances, surely they were entitled to ask the Government for some better reason for their plan of distribution than that which related to the Probate Duties? He had inquired into the question himself, and he would give the House the results of his inquiries. In his opinion, the fact that ought to govern the proportions in which the benefit under a Bill of this kind was shared between England, Scotland, and Ireland was the acreage of cultivable land in the three kingdoms respectively. The cultivable area in England was 27,000,000 acres; in Scotland 5,000,000; and in Ireland 15,000,000. With reference to Scotland, he wished to enter a caveat. Until they were told what the plan of the Government was with respect to the large tracts of Scotland which were both under sheep and under deer, he was not prepared to accept any figures as conclusive. The attention of the Government ought to be given to the fact that they had to deal, in one of three countries at any rate, with a tract of land over which there were two territorial rights—the right to extract rent from the tenants on the farms, and the right to extract rent from sportsmen who went over the same ground. Could a case be made out for giving relief to a landlord who was paid two rents in respect of the same soil? Upon the basis, however, of the figures which he had given, England ought to have out of this grant 56½ per cent. instead of 80 per cent., Scotland 11½ per cent., and Ireland 32 per cent. instead of 9 per cent. The amount which the Government proposed to give to Scotland was but little below the mark; but he was curious to hear why Ireland was to get £460,000 less than she was entitled to. To deprive Ireland of nearly half a million and to give the money to England was a piece of Unionist policy which he ventured to say would be thought discreditable. ["Hear, hear!"] 104 What were the main objects of this Bill? Its two chief objects were the exemption of agricultural land from rating to the extent of one-half and the grant of a subvention from the Imperial Exchequer for the purpose of making good that half of the rates. He protested emphatically against both of these proposals. Why should the landed interest be favoured in this exceptional and extraordinary manner? The present First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1870, in a speech on the Rating Bill, laid before the House a broad and sound generalisation on this subject of the taxation of the land. He said:—In this country land has certainly been relieved both in respect of Imperial and local taxation more than any other country in Europe. There can be no doubt of that, whether we take the subject historically, geographically, or comparatively.The landed interest, as the right hon. Gentleman once very well said, was in the long run the landlord's interest, and under this Bill the interval before it became the landlord's interest would not be long. Language very apposite to the present situation was used by the First Lord of the Admiralty in his draft Report to the Select Committee on Local Taxation in 1870. The right hon. Gentleman then said:—Thus, as a general rule, both in the case of land and houses, where a fresh agreement is to be made with the owner of the soil, the whole of the existing rates comes out of the pockets of the landlord in the shape of a diminished rent; neither the farmer nor the builder, knowingly or willingly, intends any portion to come out of his own pocket; if it does, it is because he has miscalculated the future.These words were specially applicable to the case of England. In Scotland there was an admirable system of long leases, and in Ireland many tenants had fixity of tenure and fair rents. But in England tenants had neither long leases nor fixity of tenure. The contracts between landlords and tenants were short contracts which gave the landlords exceptional power. They could put pressure on whenever there were opportunities for re-adjustments. So the landed interest covered by this exemption would ultimately and at no distant period be the landlord's interest and nothing else. In all industries, except the agricultural 105 industry, what was done with regard to capital was this—a certain amount was written off annually for depreciation. The land of this country was deeply mortgaged, and, therefore, the pressure of dull times and low prices was felt severely by the landlords; yet they never dreamt of writing anything off for depreciation. It was different in other industries—the shipping industry, for example. A change in the construction of boilers had been known to bring ruin on many of those who were interested in shipping. Did the shipping interest come to the State and ask for subvention? Again, the mining interest, and in his own constituency the weaving interest had suffered most grievously, and so, if this principle of coming and clamouring at the door of the British Treasury for help was to be continued, the mine owners and shipowners and millowners ought, he supposed, to follow the bad example of the landowners. But in these other industries they lowered their expenses, they worked hard in their own interest, and endeavoured to promote it by legitimate means, and in doing so they did well in the long run and preserved their independence. ["Hear, hear!"] The landlords' depreciation fund had not yet been set up, but this Bill was going to set it up. It was the British Exchequer. ["Hear, hear!"] This Bill settled very little, but it unsettled a great deal. The ideal of the Party opposite under this Bill was said to be the assessment for local purposes of means and substance. They were now discriminating, not only between land and capital, but between agricultural land and other land. ["Hear, hear!"] If their ideal was the assessment of means and substance, why did they not start by placing a local rate on the ground rents in towns? [Cheers.] The discrimination was in favour of agricultural land as against other land and everything else. But there was in the Bill a worse discrimination than that. It was not to be in favour of that class of persons whose case had been so eloquently urged by speakers on the other side of the House—the small struggling farmer. The big and thriving farmers were to be relieved the most. He could understand discrimination in one case only, and that was in a case in which the legislation of the Government was crippling 106 the industry. There was in East Anglia and the north-east of Scotland a race of farmers who were a credit to their class. There were men coming to England from the north-east of Scotland who could make a profit where English farmers failed—[''hear, hear!"]—men who, when hard times pressed on them, were able to look abroad over the world and judge supply and demand as an international question. These men had turned their attention accordingly to the feeding of cattle, and out of this their rent was paid. He could understand discrimination being made by the Government where the means of resisting the pressure of hard times were being taken away by the Government by fostering the breeder at the expense of the feeder. ["Hear, hear!"] That was the only legitimate ground, in his opinion, in which discrimination could be justified. The policy of the Government had been to take away the last hope of the class of people to whom he had referred, yet there was no set-off against the cruel discrimination in the one case, by merciful discrimination in the other. ["Hear, hear!"] It was the same old story—State favouritism, class legislation bred at every step a rankling sense of injustice, not only in the whole body politic, but among the sections and subsections of the class meant to be favoured. ["Hear, hear!"] He desired now to deal very briefly with the second head of objection to the Bill, and that was the question of subventions from the Imperial Exchequer. He had the high authority of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for saying that no thinking man could view the growth of these subventions without alarm. He questioned whether in the whole list there was anything so curious and so hazardous as this. It was a novel and dangerous proposal to ask for subvention in favour, not of the entire body of ratepayers, not even of the entire body of ratepayers in a single county or parish, but of a selected body of ratepayers in selected portions of the country. Hon. Gentlemen opposite thought that they had come to an end of all things when they had lifted so much out of the Treasury. They omitted the preliminary inquiry as to who it was who filled the Treasury. ["Hear!"] The point on this matter was—when taxes went into the 107 Treasury and came back in the shape of rates, did the people who sent them in get them back equivalently in the shape of rates? Roughly speaking, the taxation of this country was represented, so to speak, by the large mass of the population, and when subventions were asked for from the Treasury, it meant that the many would have to contribute. His esteemed colleague, Dr. Hunter, whose loss from the House they all deplored, pointed out that the working classes and lower middle classes lost by division of taxes to the relief of rates as follows:—In England, 66 per cent. was lost to the humble ratepayer on a rent of under £20. That was to say, that for every pound which that taxpayer put into the Treasury in the shape of taxes, he received back in the shape of rates only 6s. 8d. In Scotland he only got back 20 per cent., and in Ireland 10 percent.
§ * MR. SHAW
said he would confine himself absolutely to the case of England. In England it came to this, that where the working man paid a shilling in taxation, he only got back 4d. for himself, while the other classes got out of his shilling no less than 8d. That was the position with regard to the distinction between the large mass of the population who pay and those who were to be benefited by subventions. But further, why should it be the case that under this Bill the contributions of the working classes in the towns of this country, who paid by far the largest amount of the taxation, should be appropriated for the relief of the landowners, while not a single fraction of the money was to go to the relief of the populations of the towns? This relation between the population of the towns and that of the rural districts was giving rise to questions of no light character. He had no desire to force such questions upon the attention of the House, but that had been done by the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] He had listened to the speeches of hon. Gentlemen who justly asserted that they represented the agricultural interest in that House, and in one of those speeches it was stated that the Bill was intended to convince the landed interest that Her Majesty's Government intended to do something to 108 mitigate the hard lot of the agriculturist. Was this to be the economic doctrine of the future subventions for the mitigation of the hard lot? ["Hear, hear!"] Hitherto the independence of the poor had on the whole been proof against the temptation of asking for relief, and they relied upon their industry, patience, and long-suffering instead of coming to that House for relief. Hard, indeed, had been their lot from week to week, their present a struggle, their future clouded with peril. ["Hear, hear!"] With bitterness and sorrow this large class of the community went for relief upon the rates, while the landowners, who, after all, were not so hard pressed as the poor, went with fervour and alacrity upon the Treasury. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] Why did not the wealthy landowner show an equal independence with the poor? Was not the price of this transient triumph on the part of the landowners a little too high? Would it not raise questions which it would be better to allow to sleep? Those questions would not slumber now. ["Hear, hear!"] The question of the burden which the landowners had to bear as compared with those which the population of the towns had to endure would have to be fought. ["Hear, hear!"] The duty of those who objected to this sort of legislation was clear—it was to oppose this Bill, which would tend to disrupt society into opposing camps, which substituted discrimination of privilege for equality of right, and was subversive of sound economics and finance. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR SCOTLAND (Mr. GRAHAM MURRAY,) Buteshire
said that he had not intended to intervene in this Debate. He was certainly unable to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down in the rhetoric with which he had concluded. He, however, felt called upon to answer, on behalf of the Government, one or two of the questions which the hon. and learned Gentleman had asked. He had the same fault to find with the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman as he had found with so many other speeches that had been delivered from the Opposition side of the House—namely, that it ignored the fact that the land bore taxes for so many things to 109 which personalty contributed nothing. What reason was there to be found in natural justice why a person possessing land should pay for the education of the whole of the children of the country, for the cost of intercommunication by means of roads, and for the support of the poor? Yet it was the land alone that bore the whole of these charges. ["Hear, hear!"] As long as agriculture was prosperous and could bear the burdens that were imposed upon it, the country had not been in a hurry to make any change; but now that the agricultural interest was depressed, and could bear these exceptional burdens no longer, the time had arrived when personalty should be made to bear, at all events, some share of the national burdens. ["Hear, hear!"] In answer to the first question of the hon. and learned Gentleman, he might say that, as the Bill was an attempt to make personalty contribute to the taxation of realty, it had hitherto been found convenient to take the proportions of contribution to the National Exchequer between the three kingdoms, as being 80 for England, nine for Ireland, and 11 for Scotland. These figures were taken from the contribution to Probate Duty, and, although a more accurate proportion might be arrived at when the Inquiry into the Financial Relations of the Countries was complete, yet he was bound to say that these figures of the Treasury had never been successfully attacked. They represented what might be called the proportional ability of personalty to contribute to realty.
§ * MR. T. SHAW
said that he wanted to know how this money was going to be disposed of under the provisions of the Scotch Bill.
§ * THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR SCOTLAND
said that the hon. and learned Gentleman would know that when he saw the Scotch Bill, and he did not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman would have to wait very long before he saw that Measure. The hon. and learned Gentleman had complained that a landlord had never to strike off anything for depreciation. He instanced the case of a shipowner. Of course a shipowner had to strike off so much each year for depreciation, but the landowner who had to effect improvements on his property and to build 110 labourers' cottages was always striking off sums of money for depreciation. The great difference between agriculturists and shipowners, or mine-owners, was that when they rated the agriculturist for local purposes they rated him upon his whole stock-in-trade, whereas in the case of a shipowner or the mine-owner the office was merely a badge of the business he did elsewhere, which escaped, and at present rightly escaped, local taxation. ["Hear, hear!"] His hon. Friend also said that it was not the large farmer, but the poor struggling farmer that required relief, and that it was the former the Bill proposed to relieve. But in Scotland, though the small farmer had suffered cruelly from the agricultural depression, he had been more able to make ends meet than the large farmer. His hon. Friend used, in this connection, a most unfortunate illustration. He reminded the House of the Bill to prohibit the importation of cattle, and said that if anybody was to be relieved it was the farmer who was interested in the fattening of cattle rather than in the breeding of cattle. But that farmer was in Scotland—the large farmer, and not the small farmer. ["Hear, hear!"] That was the only part of his hon. Friend's able speech which did not get a cheer from the Irish Members, and no wonder, because a discrimination of that sort would suit them very badly indeed. [Laughter.] The reason why the method of a subvention from the Treasury was adopted in the Bill was because it was the only way by which personalty—which was not taxed for local purposes—could be got to contribute to local taxation. He joined his hon. Friend in regretting the absence of Dr. Hunter from the House, and agreed that Dr. Hunter had devoted a good deal of attention to this subject. But the great point of Dr. Hunter's contention—which really did not touch the question dealt with in the Bill—was that the working man paid a great deal more than he ought to pay to Imperial taxation through indirect agencies. He paid little rates and no income tax; but he drank spirits and smoked tobacco, and it was Dr. Hunter's contention that so long as there were duties on spirits and tobacco the working man would pay more than his share to the Imperial 111 Exchequer. That might be, or might not be, but it was a matter that went to the root of the question of direct and indirect taxation, which was a big business, and was not dealt with in the Bill. If they did not apply the money to the purpose proposed by the Bill, how would they use it? Would they take off a penny of the Income Tax? It was the uppermost penny of the Income Tax that supplied this money, and the uppermost penny of the Income Tax was certainly not paid by the working man. In the preparation of this Bill the Government had kept steadily before their eyes what was the underlying fact of the whole situation—namely, that agriculture was a distressed industry; and that it had imposed upon it by one system of taxation burdens to which personalty contributed no share. He was sure that it would be generally admitted that the Bill was a just attempt to partially redress the balance between realty and personalty, and to come to the assistance of an industry which every one admitted was at the bottom of the true prosperity of the country. [Cheers.]
§ MR. GEORGE WHITELEY (Stockport)
said, he had understood there was a possibility—not to put it higher—that the Government would consider the suggestion which he made on the First Reading, and which had been supported by other speakers, that in addition to the Select Committee on urban rating, there should be a time limit given to this Bill, so that when the report of the Select Committee was before the House the whole matter might be reviewed in an unprejudiced way. In view of this, his language would be that of moderation, as compared with what he was prepared to use on the previous day. He assured the House, as an earnest member of the Unionist Party, that he should be most pleased if he could avoid the painful duty of voting against the Government. He understood, from representations made to him from hon. Members on his own side of the House, that although they were prepared to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, there were a considerable number who, in Committee, would vote for an Amendment limiting the operation of the Bill in the way he had described. ["Hear, hear!"] He opposed the Bill on the ground of the exceedingly cruel and grievous injustice 112 that would be done to the boroughs and urban districts. [Cheers.] It would constitute a unique example of ideas and practices that he had thought were long ago exploded and extinct. Standing by itself, and unaccompanied by any legislation to remove the grievous injustices under which they were suffering in the towns, the Bill would be a class Measure pure and simple, designed to benefit one peculiar kind of property at the expense of all others, transferring the burdens of one class to the shoulders of the general community, and appropriating national funds now enjoyed by the whole community. [Cheers.] It was introduced as a measure of justice. "O Justice," he was inclined to say, as was said of Liberty, "how many crimes are committed in thy name!" What, he asked, had the boroughs and urban districts done that their interests should be secondary and subordinate to the interests of the country and the land? The boroughs had in the past done yeoman service to the Unionist Party. It was owing to their efforts that the Unionist Party now sat on the Ministerial side. Living, as he did, among the working-classes in a populous county, he told the Government that if the working men and electors of the great towns came to believe that their interests were to be sacrificed to the interests of the country people, that they were but pawns to be used by the agricultural interest, that they were to be hewers of wood and drawers of water to the country party, he saw nothing in the future but difficulty and danger and catastrophe to the Party of which he was an earnest Member. Beyond this irreparable injury to the Party, the advantage now proposed to be gained would not be long lived, for any Measure founded on injustice and partiality was bound to be undone directly or indirectly by their successors. [Cheers.] He did not blame the Government entirely for their action. He allowed for the pressure to which they were subjected by the landed interest; but unless urban Members were prepared to take a leaf out of their book the Government would have great difficulty in holding evenly the scales of justice. He challenged any Member of the Government—he might say of the House—to place before the House a specific pledge in which the present proposals 113 were laid before the electors at the last Election. Every Member who represented a Lancashire constituency pledged himself to do what he could on behalf of Lancashire trade. What would the House say if millowners came and argued that they ought to have the rents of their mills paid? He was not going to argue the question as to whether this relief would ultimately reach the pockets of the landowner or the occupier. If the principle was right that half the rent of land should be paid at the present time he did not care into whose pockets the subvention went, though he confessed he would prefer it went into the pockets of the occupier rather than the owner. The Bill was supported on the ground of the great depression that existed in agricultural matters, and that rates fell more heavily upon land than upon any other class of property. He would remind the House that the depression argument cut both ways. If he, or a manufacturer, was to be called upon to come to the assistance of an industry because it was depressed, surely, on the other hand, if his own industry was depressed he had just as good a claim to ask for the same treatment. ["Hear, hear!"] In the previous Debate he had pointed out that the shipping, coal, cotton, glass, and other industries were quite as much depressed at the present time as the agricultural industry, and had been so almost as long as the agricultural industry. An hon. Gentleman, who represented a shipping constituency, had told him that if there were any justification for giving two millions to the landed industry, the shipping industry ought certainly to receive five millions. He commended that to the notice of the hon. Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool, in whose vote when the House divided he should be most interested. He had also been much struck with a remark of the chairman for the Coal owners' Federation, to the effect that so long had the depression in the coal trade lasted they would be able to face a long and protracted labour dispute in the near future in order to bring down wages to a fair ratio with the price of coal. Then half the tin plate works in South Wales were shut up, and as regarded the glass trade in Sunderland, 114 not only was it depressed, but a great part of it was leaving the town never to return. With respect to the cotton trade, he believed the figures he gave on a previous day were considerably smaller than he might have given, because the secretary of the Employers' Federation in Manchester, Mr. Tattersall, had sent him a return showing that at the present time in Lancashire 2,000,000 fewer spindles were running than 15 months ago, and of these 850,000 were in the borough of Oldham, represented by his hon. Friend who had supported the Bill. Beyond that the debit balances of all the limited liability spinning companies in and around Oldham over and above the loss of interest on the £6,000,000 of capital, came out at £344,000. In his own constituency a mill which sold a few years ago for £22,000, was disposed of within the last three months for £5,000, although rated at £680. Could any Member show during the last 10 or 15 years a similar depression in the agricultural industry? ("Yes," and "Hear, hear!") Coming to the question of the incidence of rating, he found that in 49 different towns in the United Kingdom the average rate amounted to 6s. in the pound, with an average water rate of 1s. 2d. in the pound, and that in six towns represented by Members of the Government the average rate was 6s. 1d., with an average water rate of 10d. He ventured to ask whether those towns had not exactly the same claim to assistance from the State as the agricultural industry. ["Hear, hear!"] If this two millions was contributed as a grant in aid to urban districts, it would represent relief to the amount of 3d. in the pound. It might be said that that was not much, but he would put it in a different light. Take the town of Oldham. The rates of Oldham at present were 4s. 4d., or, including a water rate of 1s. 6d., a total of 5s. 10d. If this 3d. was distributed as all other rates were, equitably, Oldham would receive in relief a sum of £8,174 per annum. Or if they capitalised that sum at 33½ years' purchase, it would amount to a cancellation of £272,000 of Oldham Corporation Stock. He understood the hon. Member for Oldham, who supported this Bill, was not so much elected on political as upon 115 the very trite programme, which might be summed up in three words, "Something for Oldham!" [Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman was going to put in his thumb and pull out a plum for Oldham, and he would not be happy till he got it. [Laughter.] In this Bill undoubtedly he had got it. Notwithstanding the state of the Oldham trade, the hon. Member was supporting a Bill which would grant the agricultural industry a sum of money which, if fairly distributed, would give his own borough £8,174 per annum. He should like to see him handing over £272,000 of Oldham Corporation Stock to the landowners. The hon. Member had the courage to tell the House that he represented Lancashire upon this point. He (Mr. Whiteley) had received a great deal of correspondence on the subject which did not bear out that statement. One letter was from Mr. Albert Simpson, who might be considered to be, perhaps, the leading authority upon cotton spinning and Lancashire trade. Speaking of his (Mr. Whiteley's) efforts in opposing the Bill, he said:—You will be pleased to hear how much your action is approved in Lancashire, for having been in the Manchester market, I can say there is only one comment upon it.Then followed the significant postscript:—Mr. Simpson has shown me this letter, and I tell you that Lancashire is unanimous in its opposition to the relief of the landlords at the expense of many other industries which are in as deplorable a condition as the farming interest. This action of the Government will cost them dear in Lancashire.[Opposition cheers.] The sting of the whole matter was in the tail, because this postscript was signed and added by a gentleman who was chairman of the Liberal Unionist Party in a constituency in Lancashire represented by a right hon. Gentleman, a Member of the Government. If his hon. Friends were desirous of taking the opinion of Lancashire, he could only say that he was perfectly willing to resign his seat if they would resign theirs, and take the verdict of the country upon these proposals. [Cheers.] Following out this capital sum calculation, he found that Manchester would lose £1,209,000, Liverpool 116 £1,320,000, and Birmingham £914,000. He wished he could speak in the hearing of the First Lord of the Treasury, because he should like to make an appeal to him. He wished to ask him if he considered it fair and reasonable that electors in towns should be compelled to continue to pay these exceedingly heavy rates, and also subscribe their portion of that sum of money which was necessary in order to reduce agricultural rates to 1s. 2d. in the pound. The right hon. Gentleman was a fair-minded man, and if he would say that it was meet and proper that his own constituents should continue to pay a rate of nearly 8s. in the pound and subscribe their share from the national fund in order to reduce the agricultural rate to 1s. 2d., he would promise to oppose the Bill no longer. There was no legerdemain about this question of rating. Manchester rates were charged upon the assessment of the property in exactly the same way that the rural rates were charged, and if hon. Gentleman wanted to reduce their rates they must reduce their rentals. ["Hear, hear!"] The President of the Local Government Board had quoted the reduction of the district rate on land in boroughs as a precedent for this Bill, but he contended that it told against it. They were told that if they voted for this Bill they would obtain a Committee to inquire into urban rating. Without a time limit being embodied in the Bill, that inquiry would prove a Dead Sea apple, a mockery, a delusion, and a snare. The agricultural interest was going to swallow up two-thirds of the surplus of next year, and some of hypothecated surplus of next year. He should only have been too glad if the Government had accepted his proposal for a time limit. By promising the appointment of a Commission they had acknowledged that the towns had a grievance, and let them not prejudice the matter by granting permanent relief to the landed industry, and then allow the towns to get what they could. If the Bill passed in its present form it would amount to this, that the Government would have given the agricultural interest a large amount of preference stock, while offering the towns, if their demand was proved to be just, a similar amount of ordinary stock on which no dividend had been paid, and in all probability never would be paid. He 117 pressed upon the Government the consideration of these arguments, and he said unless they did give the towns some consideration after the manner he had suggested, they would leave a burning feeling of grievance and injustice, among all their borough supporters and borough ratepayers. [Opposition cheers.]
§ * MR. WINGFIELD-DIGBY (Dorset, N.)
said he did not feel called upon to follow the hon. Member in his attack on county Members. He thought that if the hon. Member represented the views of the town Members they would never have joined the county Members in asking legislation for the benefit of agriculture. He should like to know where the Lancashire Members would have been without the support of the county Members with regard to the Cotton Duties not so long ago. As regarded the question of the towns, he was not at all alarmed, because he knew that the hon. Member had no following among their representatives on that side of the House. He might remind the hon. Member that the largest proportion of the surplus this year was to be devoted to the strengthening of the fleet, which was of importance in the first place to the towns. Perhaps, if the matter were put to the farmers, there might be some of them who would not be quite patriotic enough as to the large surplus going in that way. He should like to remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that although depression of trade most undoubtedly did exist in the towns, that depression was due in no small degree, especially in the smaller towns in rural districts, to the depression of agriculture. He knew that that was the case in three of four small towns in his constituency. Where would such small towns be if there were no such thing as agriculture? Why, they could not exist without it, because without it they would have no trade whatever. He was satisfied that the population of those towns were thoroughly convinced that something must be done for the relief of agriculture for their own sakes. If that were the case with regard to the smaller country towns, the same thing might be said in a varying degree of the larger towns in the provinces. Hon. Members must have listened with attention to the exceedingly able and interesting speech of the right hon. Gentleman 118 the Member for Wolverhampton, when he moved the Amendment which was then under discussion. Many hon. Members sitting upon the Government side of the House would be disposed to agree with the right hon. Gentleman's contention, that personalty as well as realty ought to be taxed in respect of the local rates; but the question was, how that desirable object could be attained. The present Measure embodied the proposal of the Government to tax personalty in aid of the local rates. He well remembered the right hon. Gentleman's speech, when the subject of the Death Duties was under the consideration of the House, in which he admitted the inequitable nature of the present system, under which realty paid the whole of the rates, and in which he said that the Death Duties would have the effect—in some degree, at all events—of equalising Imperial taxation upon personalty and realty. Hon. Members who sat behind the right hon. Gentleman also admitted that there was a most unjust inequality in our present system of taxation as regarded personalty and realty. From what he had heard he believed that the Government were prepared to consider later on the whole question of the incidence of local taxation in the towns as well as in the country. The people in the urban as well as in the rural districts knew very well that this subject of the relief of local burdens was as much a poor man's as it was a rich man's question. The artisan in towns had to pay high rates for his dwelling, and he could not fail to see that personalty ought to be taxed in aid of those rates. There were but few of those who knew anything about farming who were not aware that the labour bills on agricultural land were being curtailed year by year, with the result that the labourer was being thrown out of work in the rural districts. In reference to the speech of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, in which he alluded to the great difference that existed between the rates in towns and in the country, the obvious question struck him at once—why was there that difference between them? The answer to that question was that in the towns the people had beautifully paved footpaths to walk on, which were very different indeed from 119 the muddy paths and streets and lanes of the villages. In the towns it was quite possible, instead of the countryman's clod-hopping boots, to wear a thin-soled London boot. Then, again, the townspeople enjoyed the advantages of well-lighted thoroughfares, of an excellent sanitary system, of a sewage system, and of a good water supply. For all these advantages the townsman had to pay; whereas the country farmer, who did not enjoy them, did not have to pay for them. It was for these reasons he contended that the rates were higher in the towns than in the country. Then again it would be useful to institute a comparison between the assessments of the manufacturers and the farmer. The manufacturer was not assessed upon his raw material, while the farmer was assessed upon his land which was his raw material. The proposal of the Government, therefore, was to relieve the farmer of the half—not the whole—of the taxation of his raw material. As he understood the Bill, with the exception of the relief from local burdens on his land, the farmer would have to pay the full rates upon his residence and his farm premises. The position of a country Member sitting upon the Government side of the House did not require much explanation. So far from this being a landlord's relief Bill, all he could say was that when he, as a landlord, had looked at it in the faint hope of finding in it some small advantage to himself, he had failed to find that hope realised, because all residences and their surrounding grounds and parks were excluded from the relief which the Bill afforded. It was absolutely fallacious to say that the landlords would get all the benefit of this relief. If a landlord were to give all his tenants a year's notice he would find the utmost difficulty in getting fresh tenants at the present rents, notwithstanding this relief from the rates. It was absurd to say that the tenants would not obtain the advantage of the relief. He quite understood the position of some hon. Members who represented country constituencies on the other side of the House. The position of hon. Members on the Government side of the House before the last election, was based upon certain speeches which had been made by the present Prime Minister, 120 Lord Salisbury, who stated that the relief of agriculture would be one of the items of the Government programme. Lord Salisbury had offered to relieve agriculture from some of its burdens, and that when hon. Members opposite went down to their constituents they must have been aware of the promises that Lord Salisbury had made, and that he was a man of his word and would keep those promises. The Seconder of the Amendment had agreed with the programme of the National Agricultural Union.
§ * MR. E. STRACHEY (Somerset, S.)
said, that he had only done so generally and without pledging himself to details. What he said was that the Government were doing the right thing in the wrong way.
§ * MR. WINGFIELD-DIGBY
said that there was a memorial got up by the National Agricultural Union, and to the memorial the name of the hon. Member was attached.
§ * MR. STRACHEY
said that he was not aware that he had signed any memorial got up by the National Agricultural Union. He had given a general support to the memorial to Lord Salisbury, reserving to himself the right to oppose if necessary the details of any Bill that might be introduced, but he had never signed the memorial. He thought his hon. Friend was rather unfairly using that argument.
§ * MR. WINGFIELD-DIGBY
said he had no desire to use the argument unfairly. His hon. Friend was at the meeting at which a Resolution in support of a Measure for the relief of agriculture was carried. He was sorry that his information in regard to the signing of the Memorial by his hon. Friend was wrong; but his hon. Friend admitted that he gave the memorial a general support. On the morning after his hon. Friend had made his speech in opposition to the Bill he had received from the Somerset Chamber of Agriculture a resolution urging the Government to pass the Bill as soon as possible, as it was "a Measure of justice to the over-taxed occupiers and owners of land." He thoroughly supported the Bill, and if the Government proposed still further to equalise the burdens of local taxation on realty and personalty, he would give them all the support in his power.
§ MR. J. C. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
said, the House listened with great pleasure to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for the Hawick Burghs (Mr. T. Shaw). The Irish Members listened to the speech with especial pleasure and attention, because it bore directly upon the interests of their country as involved in the Bill under consideration. He understood that the relief to be given by this Measure, and others which were in contemplation, was to be distributed in the proportion of 80 per cent. to England, 11 per cent. to Scotland, and 9 per cent. to Ireland. The Government had received plain notice from the hon. Member for East Mayo that the Irish Members would regard such a distribution as utterly unfair and unjust towards Ireland, and he believed the Scotch Members had given notice that they would view it in the same light as respected their country. This Bill he regarded as uncandid in its title, as most vicious in its principle, and as unequal and unfair in the method of its application, unequal and unfair, not only as between the different counties and districts in England, but as between the three countries—England, Ireland, and Scotland. It was uncandid in its title because it purported to be a Bill for the relief of agriculture, while it was nothing of the kind. When sorely pressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, the President of the Local Government Board said it was not intended or pretended for a moment that this was a remedy for agricultural depression. What was it? It was a Bill to relieve the landlords of this country from taking that share of the burden of the agricultural depression which, in equity and justice, they ought to bear. That was clearly shown by the words used by the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Measure. If this were a Bill for the relief of the agricultural depression, if it could be proved that it was a Bill which would do something to relieve the depression under which agriculture in this country now laboured, he would not be found standing up to oppose it. But were they to be told that a reduction of rates to the extent of 11d. or 1s. and acre would relieve the agricultural depression, which was of such far-reaching a character as hon. Gentlemen opposite made it out to be? The 122 principle of the Bill was vicious. He did not propose to go into the very wide question whether this or that industry was or was not more depressed than agriculture, but that industries had been and were now depressed could not be gainsaid. Why was this one industry, no doubt a large industry, to receive relief which was denied to other industries? The Bill was unequal and unfair in its application. It was proved to demonstration that in those portions of the country where agriculture was most depressed the least relief would be given. As regarded Ireland, with which he and his hon. Friends around him were more immediately connected, he should show the Bill was most unfair and iniquitous. It was not easy to get the exact figures—
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I must tell the hon. Member that he is not entitled to go into the general question of the incidence of taxation between England and Ireland on this Bill. An incidental observation was made in introducing the Bill by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of it as to the proportions of England, Ireland and Scotland, but there is nothing in the Bill to say that a certain amount only was to go to England, therefore there is nothing in the Bill itself dealing with the question of proportion. It was only because of the incidental observation of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill that I have permitted any reference to the subject.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
On a point of order, sir, may I ask would we be entitled to comment, as a matter of principle, upon the exclusion of Ireland from this Bill?
§ MR. FLYNN
thought he perfectly appreciated the point of the Speaker's ruling. He had followed the speech of the hon. Member for Hawick Burghs, and it was only to the principle of the allocation of the 80, 11, and 9 per cent. for England, Scotland and Ireland respectively that he wished to address himself. The Irish Members had great reason to complain because the Chief Secretary had been questioned as to the manner in which the amount to be raised from Imperial taxation would be divided between the three 123 countries and they could get no satisfactory or definite information beyond this. The hon. Member for East Mayo asked a question with regard to the acreage of the rateable land in Ireland—
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! To explain how the money is to be applied when it reaches Ireland is out of order on this Bill.
§ MR. FLYNN
would not resume that line of argument. Perhaps there was another way of getting at the figures which the hon. Member for Hawick Burghs had brought before the House. What he wanted to say was that by consulting official figures he had arrived at the same conclusion as the hon. and learned Member—namely, that under this system of distribution they could prove that Ireland lost to the extent of £450,000 to £460,000. Taking the figures from "Thorn's Almanack," the Grand Jury Cess upon rateable land came to £1,254,286. Under the Bill as applied to England one-half of this money going in relief of agricultural rates, Ireland would be entitled to £627,000. Under the proposal of nine-eightieths the sum would be £168,000. As regards the 80, 11 and 9 per cent., look at the fallacy with which the Government endeavoured to bolster up injustice. The fallacy was this. This was not a Bill to allocate certain proportions of Imperial taxation between the three countries. It was a Bill to apply certain portions of Imperial money in relief of agricultural rating based upon rateable agricultural land, and therefore, in order that the Bill and the subsequent Bills to be introduced with regard to Scotland and Ireland should work out fairly and carry out the principle which the introducers said was applicable to England, and to the whole scheme, the proportion should be estimated not upon the Probate precedent as between the three countries, but upon the acreage of rateable agricultural land in the three countries. They gave notice to the Government that when the Irish Bill came to be taken they would 124 ventilate this point and press it upon the attention of the House and protest, as he now protested in advance, against a Bill which, bad in itself and as applied to England, vicious in its principle and uncandid in its title, would be ten times more intolerable and more unjust to Ireland were it to be applied in the manner which the Government seemed to have indicated by the speeches of the promoters of the Bill.
§ SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD (Somerset, Wellington)
observed that Members on his side of the House had been twitted by hon. Gentlemen opposite with having at the last Election made promises to the constituencies which they had not fulfilled. They had promised, for instance, to do the best they could to reduce the rates, and by this Bill they were going to carry out that promise. It seemed to him that the principal points of difference between the two sides of the House were four. Members of the Opposition said that the relief afforded by this Bill was a dole granted to a particular industry. He disputed that it was a dole to one particular industry or class, and declared that it was an act of simple justice and right. If it was fair in former days when agriculture was prosperous, when they had the protection of the Corn Laws, and when they were in a different position as regarded personalty and manufactures to that in which they were now, that land should bear these extra burdens that time had gone by, and it was only fair now that the burdens should be reduced. The second point of difference was this: The Opposition said this was a landlords' Bill, brought in by a landlords' Government for the benefit of the landlords of England, Scotland and Ireland. He preferred a Government of landlords to a Government of lawyers and literary gentlemen, and he did not seem to be singular in that preference. Wherever a landlord stood in a country district at the last Election on the one side, and a lawyer on the other, it was the lawyer who went to the wall and landlords had been returned in larger number to that House in the present Parliament than had ever been the case in any previous Parliament since the Reform Bill. Why was that? It was because the landowners had the confidence and trust of the farmers, the 125 labourers and the working men, both in the agricultural districts and the small towns of the country, and he wondered what the constituencies would think of the judgment of hon. Gentlemen opposite who described their representatives, who happened to be landowners, as mendicants and beggars who were always picking at the Treasury. They were told this Bill was brought in for the benefit of the landlord, and exactly the same thing was said with regard to the Budget of the present First Lord of the Admiralty in 1888. It was then said that the subventions given by that Budget would go straight into the pockets of the landlords who would be enabled to increase their rents and improve the selling value of their land. What was the fact? Ever since that time rents had fallen, the selling value of land had decreased, and no instance could be given when, in consequence of that Budget, a single landowner had increased either his rent or the selling value of his land. Supposing it was true that the relief of rates put money into the landlords' pocket, and that it was true that the landlords paid the whole of the rates, what became of the contention of the present Opposition used in the Debates on the Local Government Bill of 1894? If it was true that the landlord did pay the rates, all he could say was that a gross injustice was done to him when the Local Government Act was passed, because the whole of the representation was taken out of his hands and given into those of the occupier. He believed that the relief afforded by this Bill would go into the pocket of the small farmers, small freeholders and allotment holders. A third point of difference between both sides was the inequality of the rates between town and country. They were told by hon. Gentlemen opposite that rates were very high in the towns, and very low in the country, and therefore, if any relief were given at all it should be given to the town. But why were the rates larger in the towns? Because the people living in them wanted certain things, and if so, they must be prepared to pay for them. What did the farmer get for the rates he paid? First of all he got a certain number of roads which could be used by any other of Her Majesty's subjects, whether they lived in his or in any other parish. He 126 got one or more policemen whom he might see once a month, and whose time was taken up by looking after the property, not of the farmer, but rather of those who dwelt in villages. The farmer in a county in which there were perhaps a number of small towns, not county boroughs, had to pay for the repairing and the watering of the main roads. In addition to that he had to pay for the maintenance of the poor of the union in which he resided. The man in the town paid more in rates, but he received more for his money, as he had clean streets, free libraries, baths and washhouses, proper systems of water supply and of drainage, and the advantage of large public buildings. In another important respect also he had the advantage over the man in the country, namely, in the greater opportunity of obtaining cheap food. Another point which had been urged against the Bill was that the village tradesman ought to get as much relief out of the Measure as the farmer; but hon. Members opposite seemed to forget that even under this Bill the farmer would be placed at a great disadvantage as compared with the tradesman. The late Secretary to the Local Government Board stated on the previous night that if the Bill became law it would be necessary to have a redistribution scheme for the Parish and District Councils. He hardly expected that the hon. Member would have had so early an opportunity as this of knocking out the bottom of the Parish Councils Bill, in the passage of which he took so active a part. But why would a redistribution scheme be necessary? Because, according to the hon. Members, the farmer would pay less rates. Yes, he would pay less rates, but the tradesman in the village or small town would not pay a penny more in rates than at present. Then it came to this—that if the Bill passed a redistribution scheme would be required in order to give the village tradesmen more voting power or more direct representation on the District Council, not because he paid more rates, but because the farmer paid less rates.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E)
said, the contention of his hon. Friend the Member for the Ilkeston Division was that the urban districts claimed more representation on the councils on the ground of the rateable value, and that as the effect of this Bill, 127 if passed, would be to reduce by one-half the rateable value represented by the farmers, a scheme of redistribution would be needed to give that increased representation to the urban ratepayer.
§ Sir A. ACLAND-HOOD
said, it was well known that the urban districts had been always trying to get a majority of representation on the councils. ["Hear, hear!"] Another point of difference between the two sides of the House in respect to this Bill, had relation to the inequality between the different classes of land. The hon. Members for the Lichfield and the Tavistock Division had remarked that it was very hard that the better class of land should be relieved to the same extent as the poorer class of land. He admitted that there was a good deal to be said for this contention, but he thought it would be impossible to vary, or classify, the subvention in accordance with the views of those hon. Members without causing enormous difficulty in connection with the assessments, and great expense, and without causing great jealousy and ill-feeling between the various classes of farmers in the country, and even in the same Union. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for Lichfield seemed to be in favour of giving a larger subvention to certain poorer districts, and withholding relief from other districts in the country, such as grass farms or land. It would surprise many people to hear that there was a class of agriculturists who did not need any relief at all through reduction in their rates. ["Hear, hear!"] If this suggestion was carried out what would it mean? Why, that by granting a large reduction of rates on poor land, and none on grass land, a bounty would practically be given upon corn growing. Many hon. Members on his side of the House, and doubtless many on the opposite side also, would not care to support any proposal that would lead to any such result as that. ["Hear, hear!"] They had been told that this was the wrong sort of Bill to introduce, and that it would do nothing to change the condition of agriculture. He did not contend that it would change the condition of agriculture. ["Hear, hear!"] But he based his support of the Bill, not on that ground, but on the ground of simple justice, though that justice was 128 very tardy. ["Hear, hear!"] If this was a wrong sort of Bill, what, according to the views of the hon. Gentleman opposite, would be the right sort of Bill? The late Secretary to the Local Government Board had intimated that it would be one introducing great reforms, and proposing the advancement of large loans to agriculture. Then why did not the late Government bring in such a Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] The Party of the hon. Member had always expressed great sympathy with the agriculturists, and if such reforms and help were needed by the agricultural industry, why did not the Government, on which the hon. Gentleman was himself a Member, bring in a Bill to carry them out. ["Hear, hear!"] He regarded this Measure as one which was demanded by the bulk of the ratepayers of the country. During the last year or two they had heard a great deal about the mandates of the people, and whenever anybody ventured to criticise any of the multitudinous articles of the Newcastle Programme, he was at once told that he was opposing the will of the people. Well, he would appeal now to the democratic instincts of hon. Gentlemen opposite to show in this matter some recognition of the will of the people as expressed by a majority of over 150 in that House. ["Hear, hear!"] No question was put more clearly before the constituencies, whether agricultural or urban, at the General Election than that of relieving the burdens on agricultural land, and he was confident that, if hon. Members opposite would for once allow their democratic instincts to outweigh Party considerations, and would recognise the mandate of the people, they would support the Bill. [Cheers.] He was glad there was a Government in power who were willing to show their sympathy with agriculture in a practical manner—not by increasing the burdens on land, nor by increasing the taxation on agricultural produce, but by giving real help to the farmer; and he was confident that the Bill would be approved by every agriculturist and every labourer in the country. [Cheers.]
§ MR. HENRY LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said his democratic instincts would not lead him to vote for the Bill like the hon. Member opposite. 129 He had listened with attention to what the hon. Member had said, and the arguments he chiefly remembered that the hon. Member alleged in favour of the Bill were—first, that the hon. Member wanted some aid from the Legislature as a country gentleman, because his portly form obliged him to pay £300 for a horse with which to go hunting—[laughter]—and, secondly, because a Bill had been brought in to prevent cruelty to tame animals; therefore some consideration ought to be paid to the country gentleman. [Laughter.] He congratulated his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton upon the masterly way in which he dealt with this most obnoxious and iniquitous proposal to alter the system of rating for the benefit of the agricultural interest. The right hon. Gentleman's speech remained unanswered, and therefore he concluded it was unanswerable. ["No, no!"] He himself spoke with perfect impartiality, because he had not the slighest intention of voting in favour of the Amendment. The Amendment seemed to imply that under certain conditions the House might be inclined to give a further subvention to relieve local burdens. He objected entirely to all these subventions from the Imperial Treasury; he had always stood by the great principle that those alone who pay the money ought to have control over the expenditure of that money. He believed it was admitted even on the other side that the subvention to be given under this Bill would go ultimately to the landlords. For his part he believed it would go immediately in a great many cases, because landlords were in the habit of fixing their rents and making abatements, and when the tenant came for one of these abatements the reply would be, "You have received practically an abatement from the State, why should I make an abatement?" and the abatement would be done away with. At the last General Election gentlemen of Conservative persuasion made a great many promises. A great deal was said, for example, about old age pensions. Where were old age pensions now? There was much vague general talk about brightening and bettering the lot of the poor man. Did hon. Gentlemen think they would do this by passing the present Bill? [Ministerial cheers.] As well 130 might they tell him that, if they had promised to aid the factory girls in the East-end of the town, they would fulfil that promise by giving a subvention to the Aldermen of the City in order that they might have a double portion of turtle soup. [Laughter.] Did they really suppose that, if the agricultural labourers were the representatives of agriculture instead of landlords in this House, this would be the sort of Bill they would bring in to put an end to agricultural depression? Hodge was not quite such a fool as hon. Gentlemen seemed to think. He knew perfectly well what interested him. He would not get anything out of this. Would his wages be better or his food and clothes cheaper? Nothing of the sort. Landlords laboured under very strange delusions. They thought they were so useful and necessary that they ought to be artificially preserved in luxury and idleness by the State. The best thing they could do was to clear their heads of all that nonsense. What was an agricultural landlord? He was a State tenant. He was not in a true sense the owner of the land, and the rent he paid to the State took the form of an obligation to pay all the local burdens. What was the business of this landlord? His business was to sublet the land, and any margin between the head-rent he pays to the State and the sub-rent he obtains from the tenant is his profit. He was, in point of fact, a middleman and nothing but a middleman, but unlike many other middlemen, he did not himself work. [A laugh.] He was the drone in the agricultural hive. ["Oh!" from the Conservative Benches.] What did they do? They went out hunting; they went out shooting. Fruges consumere nati. In so far as their industry was depressed, agriculturists had his sincerest sympathy, but between sympathy and cash there was a wide difference. [Laughter.] He quite admitted it was a most undesirable thing for the country that land should go out of cultivation, but why had land gone out of cultivation? It was because in some cases landlords insisted upon asking rent for it. ["Hear, hear!" and "No, no!"] If they could show him any case in which land was not let although no rent was charged, and that the landlord was ready to give up that land to the State, and that then 131 it could not be cultivated on account of the burdens of the State, he should be in favour of doing away with those burdens, but until that was shown, so long as rent was obtained from the land, he objected to any reductions of the burdens.
§ MR. P. A. MUNTZ (Warwickshire, Tamworth)
There is no difficulty in showing plenty of land not paying any rent.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Will the hon. Member give it to me [Mr. MUNTZ shook his head] and I will pay all the burdens? [Laughter and cheers.] In order to obtain a rent the hon. Member wanted the House to reduce the head-rent to the State. Some years ago he brought in a Bill, with Mr. Bradlaugh, to deal with land not under cultivation. They proposed that if land remained out of cultivation the owner should cease to possess it. At that time, he remembered, he alluded to the example of an exceedingly Conservative country. In China there was in each district a district council or agricultural board, and if anybody did not properly cultivate his land or see that it was cultivated he was bastinadoed. [Laughter.]
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
could understand the feelings of the hon. Gentleman at the prospect of being bastinadoed. [Laughter.] If after having been subjected to this punishment he did not reform, then the land was taken away from him, and that ought to be the punishment in this country. This really was a Bill by which the community was to be taxed to perpetuate the present land system. But very few on the Liberal side wanted to perpetuate the present system. They regarded it as the worst system that existed in the whole habitable globe. There was a large amount of land hardly cultivated, because the person who holds the land was not the real owner; the dead hand was upon that land and crippled its usefulness. There were landlords whose land was mortgaged to such an extent that they could not remain on it and who were curses to their estates. Under our system land had gravitated into the 132 possession of the few; he wanted it to gravitate into the possession of the many. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not propose any policy of confiscation; but he was certainly not ready to interfere with the natural laws which appeared to be squeezing out the landlords, and, in the interests of the country and agriculture, he would be glad if they were squeezed out. He wondered whether, if hon. Members opposite who would profit under this Bill were to abstain from voting, the Measure would pass. ["Hear, hear!"] When they considered that the Cabinet was composed of great landed proprietors, and that many hon. Members opposite would benefit greatly under the Bill, surely he was not wide of the mark in suggesting that it had been brought in for their own personal advantage. He did not blame them—their action was only in accordance with human nature. [Laughter.] The Secretary for the Colonies in his palmy Radical days talked about the payment of ransom to the community by the great rural landlords. The right hon. Gentleman had now reversed his doctrine and wanted the community to pay ransom to the great rural proprietors. That was the principle and object of the Bill, and it would be its result. He regarded this as one of the most impudent Measures ever introduced. What it proposed was the spoliation of the workers for the benefit of those who neither toil nor spin. The largest gainers would be the Members of the House of Lords; and if this Bill were once passed it would be in the power of that House to prevent its ever being abrogated. It was a scandal that this Bill had been introduced, and it would be a crime if it were passed. He could not vote for the Amendment of his right hon. Friend, but he could and would vote against the Bill. Measures of this kind were attacks upon the poor for the benefit of the rich people who sat on the other side of the House. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * MR. R. A. YERBURGH (Chester)
did not propose to pay any attention to the observations of the hon. Member for Northampton on the landed interest because they were marked, he would not say by the spirit of buffoonery, but by the exaggeration which so often disfigured the speeches of the hon. Member. He supported the Bill because boroughs 133 like that which he represented were largely affected by the condition of agriculture. He had the honour to represent a borough which was the centre of a large agricultural district, a borough which, to a great extent, depended upon the money spent in it by the farming interest. It was therefore, of course, a matter of direct concern to the town that that interest should be in a flourishing condition. This consideration alone, for he believed that the city of Chester was typical of many others, would cause him to support this Bill. He remembered well the weekly visits paid in his youth to the small country town in Lincolnshire, where he was born, by the farmers and labourers of the neighbourhood. They spent a large amount of money in the shops of the tradesmen in the town. But now it was apparent to the most casual observer that a great blight had fallen upon the industries of the place, and this was due to the depression of agriculture in the county. An improvement of this condition of things might reasonably be hoped for if steps were taken to benefit the farmers. He supported the Bill also because the industry of agriculture was national in its character. That differentiated this industry from all others. It could not be said that the cotton, iron, and coal industries were as vital as agriculture to the existence of the people. If the agriculture of any country declined that had a blighting and withering effect upon the general life of the community. Upon agriculture would depend our food supply in times of difficulty The House was no doubt aware that at the present time Russia and Turkey—and in this connection it was wise to remember that Turkey was in the hands of Russia—provided 62 per cent. of the whole world's exports of bread stuffs, and Russia, Turkey and America together could provide 80 per cent. In the circumstances it was of direct interest to us that the industry should not decay, and it was, therefore, of the highest importance that the soil should again be brought under the plough. The hon. Member for Stockport contended that the industries of the manufacturing districts were entitled to the same relief as was proposed to be given to agriculture. But the agricultural interest 134 had a special claim upon the sympathy of the manufacturing districts, because these owed to a large extent the extraordinary development of their trades to the abolition of the Corn Laws, which gave them the advantage of cheap labour. He was not arguing in favour of a reintroduction of the Corn Laws. All he said was that with the abolition of these laws, began the depression in agriculture, and that it was from that time that the great forward movement in the manufacturing industries dated. [Mr. G. WHITELEY:"The improvement was due to the invention of the steam engine."] Against the opinion of his hon. Friend he would set that of Mr. Cunninghame, the well-known writer on industry and commerce. It was a well-known fact that formerly in Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, the small farmers and the cottagers not only derived a living from the soil, but also obtained considerable returns from the system of cottage weaving.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I think the hon. Member is now travelling beyond the limits of the discussion on this Bill. He is entitled to deal with the fact of existing agricultural depression, but not to go into the whole history of the matter.
§ * MR. YERBURGH
explained that he was pointing out that the manufacturing interest owed some small return to agriculture on account of the injury done to it by the circumstances from which that interest had derived such great benefit. It had been urged by hon. Members opposite that any relief given under this Bill would eventually find its way into the pockets of the landlords. There were certain Gentlemen in the House who, while opposing this Bill, said they had no desire to advance the arguments that the landlords would appropriate the benefit of the Bill; but if hon. Gentlemen refused this relief to the rural ratepayers on that ground, they would be bound also to refuse it to the urban ratepayers, for it was clear to the meanest intelligence that if money was advanced for the relief of the urban ratepayers, it would go into the pockets of the urban landlords. Was it to be supposed that the farmers were so dead to their own interests that they would ask for relief from rates if they believed for one moment that the money would go 135 into the pockets of the landlords? According to the Report of the Sub-Commissioner for Lincolnshire, every Chamber of Agriculture in that county, with one exception, had put this question on its programme of remedial measures for agriculture, and many public meetings had been held to advocate it. The small freeholders, too, made it their greatest grievance. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer the other night suggested that the Scotch system should be applied, and the rates divided between the owner and occupier. He had then asked the right hon. Gentleman what he proposed in the case of the yeoman farmer, and he replied that he would apply the Scotch system. Under the Scotch system a man who occupied his own land paid the rates both of the owner and the occupier, and thus the right hon. Gentleman would place the whole burden of the rates on that unfortunate man's shoulders. The hon. Baronet the Member for Durham, who spoke yesterday, pointed out that 68 landlords in Lincolnshire held 671,000 acres, but he forgot to tell the House what these landlords had done for their properties, the reductions of rent they had made, and the favourable regard in which they were held by their tenants. The number of small owners, holding from one to 500 acres, was 30,052, and they held 597,250 acres, and the late Chancellor of the Exchequer would place on the shoulders of those 30,000 men the whole burden of the rates. He knew the statement was made that this Bill would bring only very small relief to agriculture. That was true, but were hon. Gentlemen opposite aware that the agricultural interest, and especially the small holders, were up to their ears in mortgages they could not afford to pay off? Let them take the cases of a man receiving £12 and a man receiving £30 under the Bill. In the first case the amount would be sufficient to pay interest at 6 per cent. on a loan or debt of £200, and in the latter case it would be sufficient to pay interest at 5 per cent. 136 on a loan or debt of £600, and both men would be enabled to carry on their farming operations for another year, and would probably be enabled to recover their position. If he might express an opinion as to the direction in which he thought the Bill might be improved, he would suggest that a time limit should be fixed for the operation of the Bill. For his part he thought it would be well worth the while of the Government to consider whether, in view of the admittedly unequal incidence of this relief, and of the fact, which he thought could not be denied, that the absence of local control, to a certain extent, conduced to extravagance, and of the further fact that the whole system of local rating required careful consideration, they should not extend the scope of their proposed Commission to an Inquiry into the whole question of rating, urban and rural, and fix a time limit of three years to the operation of the Bill.
§ MR. C. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck),
wished to say that he could not see his way to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. He had the honour, with some of his colleagues in the House, to be closely identified with an industry which fell very little short of agriculture in its national importance, and which had been very much under consideration within the last two or three days. In that industry close on 800,000 people were employed, and many millions of money were invested, but it had been in a very depressed condition for a considerable number of years. Only two or three weeks ago Lord Londonderry was compelled to give notice of his intention to close one of his collieries because on last year's working there had been a loss of £15,000; and he could name two collieries situated in the constituency of his hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth, employing 1,000 workpeople, which during the four months of this year had not worked more than one day in four. Much of the depression in the coal 137 mining industry had unquestionably arisen from the heavy burdens which the landlords whom this Bill proposed to relieve, had imposed upon it. It was contended by the promoters of the Bill that this legislation had been rendered necessary by the Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, but he reminded right hon. Gentlemen opposite that they were themselves responsible for the appointment of a Royal Commission which inquired into the burdens the mining interest had to bear in the shape of royalty charges and way leaves. That Commission reported in 1893, three years before the Agricultural Commission. That seemed to him to establish a prior claim to relief for the mining industry, but the Government did not propose to take any steps whatever in that direction. The Commission which reported in 1893 estimated the amount of royalties and way-leaves at £4,873,240, and more than four-fifths of that amount was levied on coal alone. But, excessive as were the royalties, the wayleaves demanded by the landlords were still more excessive. And the very people whom this Bill proposed to relieve were the people who were bleeding the mining industry almost to death. [''Hear, hear!"] There was a small line of railway in his constituency some nine miles in length, covering in all about 70 acres, and for this the rent charged was £6,200 a year—a sum which the Commission estimated to be twice the value of the fee-simple of the land. And this rent was charged to each of the two collieries which were served by the line. There was another colliery in his constituency from which the Duke of Portland drew £50 a week in the shape of royalties; and yet he paid not a single sixpence towards the local taxation. The colliery proprietor and the local tradesmen had to keep the roads in repair and bear all the other burdens. And yet the Bill was to relieve the Duke of Portland, whose excessive charges prevented the full development of this colliery. ["Hear, 138 hear!"] In the last 12 months, in the counties of Northumberland and Durham, the miners had contributed £20,000 to support their fellow workmen who had been driven out of employment. None of the higher wages and better trade promised, if a Conservative Government were returned, had come to the industry with which he was connected. Indeed, the miners had twice suffered a reduction of wages since the accession to office of the present Government.
* COLONEL MELLOR (Lancashire, Radcliffe)
said that but for the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport, he should not have taken part in the Debate. He had been associated with the cotton industry for 45 years, and during that time it had had many vicissitudes. But the causes of the depression in the cotton industry, and in the coal-mining industry as well, were totally distinct from the causes of agricultural depression. In cotton the depression was due to a cause which foresight could have obviated—one of the chief causes being over extension—some would say reckless extension. The Act of Parliament which enabled a number of small capitalists to invest their money jointly under conditions which would hardly bear examination, had caused such a rush of capital to the cotton industry as had proved disastrous. His constituents were almost entirely industrial; and he himself did not possess an acre of agricultural land; but he should vote in favour of the Bill because he looked beyond the interests of those with whom he was associated to the great national interest, which demanded that this question should be considered in a dispassionate spirit. He was sorry that his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport had indulged in a vein of heated rhetoric. If the hon. Member's proposition with regard to a time limit had been made in a more becoming spirit; if he had not chosen to hold a pistol to the head of the Government, that proposition might have been listened 139 to. He himself thought that it was one of the defects of the Bill that it contained no time limit; and he was prepared to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, in the hope that they would consider that suggestion. While the causes of the depression in Lancashire were remedial, and would pass away in time, the causes of the depression in agriculture were chronic and even permanent; and it was of the utmost possible consequence, from a national point of view that every acre should be brought under cultivation. If they could do something to put agriculture in a sounder condition, he believed they would have done something to find work for the thousands of agricultural labourers who were at present swarming into our great towns and competing with our factory operatives for labour, and who would in time become burdens on the rates. He was not afraid of meeting his constituents upon this question, and if they placed this question before them in an honest spirit and told them the whole truth, he had no fear that his constituents would commend him for giving his vote in support of the Second Reading of this Bill. The operatives of Lancashire were not ungenerous, nor were they wanting in intelligence, and when they were told that the agricultural labourers, instead of earning that decent living wage for which they themselves were prepared to make great sacrifices, were living on a wage averaging from 12s., down to even 8s. per week, they would be the first to agree to a proposal for the benefit of these labourers. If the time should come when we might find ourselves at variance with a combination of the Great Powers of Europe, we should then regret extremely that the land of this country had not been kept in cultivation, and any Government which was shown to have neglected their duty in this respect would receive the severest condemnation.
§ MR. E. H. PICKERSGILL) (Bethnal Green, S.W.
said, they had heard only 140 one London Member from the opposite side of the House, and he spoke only in response to a direct challenge, and, as he said, without preparation—he referred to the hon. Member for Peckham. That hon. Member compared the case of the agriculturist with the case of the mere householder. That did not seem to him to be the true comparison. The great stress of the differential and unfair treatment dealt out by this Bill was exposed when they compared the case of the agriculturist, not with that of the mere householder, but with that of the manufacturer, the miner and the shopkeeper. He was not altogether surprised that London Members on the other side of the House were conspicuous for their absence. They had been returned to Parliament after making what he might call extravagant promises of relief to the London rates. Now, however, there was no relief given to the London ratepayer, but in place of that the Government proposed to dip their hand into the National Treasury, to which London largely and, he might add, disproportionately contributed, in order to pay £2,000,000 per annum to the agricultural interest. The Londoner knew very well that during the whole course of the present century London rates had never been so high as they were now, while rates in rural districts had never been so low as they were at the present time. Under these circumstances, he thought the House would easily understand how the London workman, clerk, and shopkeeper would regard every London Member who recorded his vote in favour of this Bill. The hon. Member for Stroud referred to the speech of the hon. Member for Shoreditch, who had pointed out that the ratepayer in Norwich paid rates of 8s. 8d. in the pound and received a Treasury subvention of only 16 per cent., while, on the other hand, the ratepayer in the county constituency of Norwich paid rates of 2s. 2d. in the pound, but received a Treasury subvention of 28 141 per cent.; and the hon. Member for Stroud said he had worked out the proportion, and found that as a matter of fact the ratepayer in the county received a larger sum in the pound out of the National Exchequer than did the ratepayer in Norwich, and the hon. Member argued that, therefore, the fact that the rates were in one case about four times more than in the other was immaterial. That, however, he desired to point out was not the principle of the Bill. As between agriculturists and agriculturists this Bill proceeded upon the principle of making a contribution in proportion to the rates paid, and what they asked was that the same principle should be applied as between the agriculturists on the one hand, and the miner, the manufacturer, and the tradesman on the other. The root vice of this Bill was that it assumed that, from the agricultural point of view, the most needy districts were those in which the rates were highest, while, as a matter of fact, as had been shown by the evidence before the Agricultural Commission, the height of the rates was, generally speaking, no measure whatever of the depth of agricultural depression. He differed from the President of the Local Government Board that the farmers had exhausted the resources of the existing law. But the right hon. Gentleman must know that the evidence showed that the Essex farmers were unwilling or unable to demand, their legal rights that their rates should be reduced. If they were unable to enforce the rights which the law gave them, then there was a great deal to be said for the suggestion of Mr. Little, that a public officer should be appointed whose duty it should be, in Mr. Little' s words to ''fight the case of one ratepayer or class of ratepayers against another ratepayer or class of ratepayers." The resources of the existing law ought to have been exhausted before the landlords claimed financial aid from the Treasury. It had been said that in some districts where 142 they were not fortunate enough to have that splendid stand-by—from a rating point of view—of a railway line, and there were few or no manufacturers, that if once they began reducing the assessment of agricultural land, in some cases the valuation list would fall to within appreciable distance of zero. If there were any such cases the law ought to have been put in operation, and the true value of the agricultural land in those cases should have been ascertained, for the reason that they would then have seen exactly where the districts were which were most urgently in need of financial assistance, and then the Government might have come with a very fine grace to the House, and asked for special aid for those distressed districts, and he had no doubt that the House, in some way or other, would, as it had done in analogous cases, have offered help in some way to the districts which had been proved to need it. The irony of the present situation was that the Bill was brought forward on the plea of urgency, but from an agricultural point of view it was precisely those districts which stood most in need of help which would not receive any appreciable advantage under the provisions of the Bill. The speech of the hon. Member for Louth was a more damaging attack on the Bill than any that had been delivered from the Opposition side, although spoken professedly in support of the Bill. The hon. Member said he intended to vote for the Bill. The hon. Member represented the yeomen and leaseholders of North Lincolnshire, and they could therefore understand why he supported this Bill. But he admitted that, apart from the yeomen and leaseholders, the whole benefit of the Bill would go into the pockets of the landlords. The landlord had now many facilities for putting into his pocket any relief the House might give, because, in a large number of cases, the landlords had declined permanently to reduce their rents, and had been compelled, year by year, to make 143 remissions of rent to their tenants. What would be the position next year? In those cases in which the tenant asked for the usual remission, the landlord would say: ''You have received your relief out of the National Exchequer, so I will not give you the remission which in former years I have granted." On public grounds, and from the point of view of public policy it was objectionable that the landlords of this country should insist upon maintaining their rents at a figure which, under existing economical conditions, could not be paid, and then year by year give to their tenants a kind of eleemosynary aid in the shape of a remission of rent; and the effect of the Bill would be to bolster up that unsound and impolitic system the President of the Local Government Board mentioned, the Scotch system of classification as a precedent for this Bill. If an appeal was made to that, the right hon. Gentleman should adopt it in its entirety. If that system were so adopted in the first place the payment of rates would be divided between landlord and tenant; in the second place the relief applied not to the whole of the rates upon the holding, but only to that part of the rates which the tenant paid; in the third place the relief would not be applied to all rates indiscriminately, but only to certain rates; and in the fourth place—which he felt keenly as an urban Member—shops and tenements occupied for manufacturing purposes would also receive a certain measure of relief at the same time that relief was given to agricultural buildings. That was the Scotch system of classification, and the right hon. Gentleman had no right to profess to base his Bill on this precedent unless he took those parts of it of which he did not approve as well as those which received his admiration. The question had been asked more than once—Who was it that would pay the £2,000,000 which, under the Bill, would be presented to the landlord? The Bill provided that the money should be provided 144 out of the proceeds of the Estate Duty from personal property. He understood there would be great difficulty in carrying out this. As far as he knew the produce of Estate Duty on personal property was not ear-marked at all. When Estate Duty was paid on personalty and realty the two were lumped together and not differentiated. Yet this Bill seemed to impose on the Inland Revenue officers the duty of ear-marking the produce of taxable property and keeping it apart. He believed there would be great difficulty from an administrative point of view in carrying out that provision. Why was that provision inserted. It was a gross piece of jugglery that deceived nobody. When objectionable expenditure was made, it was not for the authors of that expenditure to say the money was being provided out of this tax or that. Economists had proved—and it did not require any great economist to see it—that if there was a question of objectionable, disputed, or unnecessary expenditure, that expenditure came out of, and was provided by, the very worst taxes which were at the time existing. Therefore he was entitled to say that the £2,000,000 which they were presenting to the landlords were paid by the working classes. The Leader of the House said the Bill consisted of two or three substantial clauses, and the rest was machinery. The machinery provided was of a very sweeping, and, indeed, revolutionary kind. The Bill provided that between the passing of the Bill and the 31st March, every agricultural holding in this country should be re-assessed, and that the value of the buildings and the value of the land held therewith should be separately entered in the valuation list. At present land and buildings constituted one agricultural holding, and were entered in a valuation list as such. How were they to estimate the value of the farm buildings apart from the land to which those buildings are attached? The buildings had no value apart from 145 the land. The rent, which had been the great guide to overseers and Assessment Committees in the past, would be no guide. This novel difficulty could not be solved without the overseers, either by themselves or a valuer inspecting the land and buildings. A ''view'' would be necessary in every case, arid that would be an elaborate and expensive proceeding. As he understood the Bill, it ear-marked a Government Department to frame regulations to be of the same effect as if they were inserted in the Bill, which would completely override the existing law of appeal against rates. That was a very extraordinary proposition, and he for one would scrutinise closely that part of the Bill when it was in Committee. There was one crumb of comfort in the Bill, inasmuch as it provided that in the case of a single and undivided holding the overseers should have the duty imposed upon them of separately assessing buildings from lands. There were many people who had long desired to tax ground landlords in cities and towns, and they believed that the great problem of ground values could never be adequately and satisfactorily solved until, in the first place, they separated the value of the building from the value of the land upon which that building stood. They had a precedent here which he doubted not in future years they would be able to satisfactorily follow. Therefore some good might ultimately issue from the Bill, but it was certainly not intended by those who framed the Measure.
§ * MR. EVAN LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
agreed with the hon. Member for Northampton that in very many cases relief would be given at once under the Bill, because a large number of small holdings were occupied by men who were also owners. The number would, he was sure, astonish hon. Members. There were in England alone more than 1,300,000 men who occupied land of less quantities than 50 acres, not counting allotments, In Somerset there were 13,895 men occupying land of less quantities than 50 acres, not counting allotments, thus one in every five was the owner as well as the occupier.
§ SIR H. FOWLER
said, the hon. Gentleman would find there was an increasing number of holdings of less than one acre, and those practically meant residence.
§ * MR. LLEWELLYN
was not in a position then to answer the right hon. Gentleman, neither was he in a position to admit the statement; no doubt the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly accurate. The figures he had given were taken more than a year ago, and it was just possible that those occupying houses were entered in the list, but he thought not. The proportion of those who owned the land they occupied was very large indeed, and it was to be hoped it would increase. In the division of Somerset in which he lived, and which he represented, the Small Holdings Act had not been largely taken advantage of, but it was for the reason that land was already obtainable in small quantities. In opposing this as a Measure against landowners, were hon. Gentlemen quite sure they were not acting very much against the interests of a large number of men who they were anxious to assist? He was not at all surprised at the present opposition to the Bill. The title of the Bill was, "Agricultural Land Rating Bill," and that which was dealt with was agricultural land only. He was not surprised at the opposition to the Measure, because he well remembered that on the 27th of February 1891, the House was asked by one of the Members for Glasgow to pass a Resolution to the effect that "the charges and rates upon agricultural land and property were insufficient and should be increased." Not only was such a Motion made, but in the Division he thought he was correct in saying the then Opposition Whips told in its favour. That was then the view of hon. Gentlemen who sat opposite, and he had not heard anything to make him believe they had since changed their views. He desired to explain why he and his hon. Friends regarded the present incidence of taxation as unfair on account of being 147 excessive. He was positive many Members did not clearly understand what they were paying for when they paid the poor-rate. The poor-rate was not a landlords' tax, but it was paid by the tenants. Lately he knew a landlord owning many thousands of acres of land who did not pay a penny poor-rate in respect of those acres. To the poor-rate he paid nothing. Gentlemen might say, "We are delighted to pay the poor-rate because it is for the relief of the poor." That was not correct. Why did he contend that the poor-rate was a fit subject for relief? Because it went to the relief of taxation, to objects which benefit very largely those who at present were not called upon directly to contribute anything to it. Out of the poor-rate were defrayed police expenses, the cost of sanitary administration and of road maintenance to a large extent, also the expense attendant upon the carrying out of the Education Act, the Vaccination Act, the Registration Act, besides care of the insane and poor, and the like. Under this Bill they would be able to get contributions from men who at present did not pay anything. During the Debate more than one instance had been given of the unfair incidence of taxation. He might be permitted to give an instance that might be found in nearly every country village. They had on one side of the village street a farmer whose income was supposed to be £200, and that farmer was rated at say £360. On the opposite side of the street they had a man living in a small villa, whose income was also £200. The assessment of his house for the poor-rate purposes would be, say, £30. At 6d. in the £1, the farmer would pay £9, while the man with a fixed income, living in a small house, would pay only 15s., or about thirteen times as much. No one could say that was a state of affairs which did not call for attention. He would put to the House one question, was agriculture worth preserving or was it not? No thinking man could doubt that agriculture was worth preserving, not only for its own sake, but for those who were dependent on it. The effect of the decline did not end with the fact that many farmers had to leave their holdings, and that fewer labourers were year by year employed. The 148 effect on labour was still more important. In a recent Board of Trade Return it was stated that, since 1871, there had been a decrease of 199,496 in the number of agricultural labourers employed in the country. Those figures could not be viewed without dismay, for nearly every one of the great social problems of the day was directly attributable to this decline of employment in the rural districts. This Bill had been long enough before the country for the opinions of the farmers and labourers to be known; and, although they were disappointed that the recommendation of the Royal Commission had not been fully carried out, he could say of his own knowledge they were thankful for what had been done. The Bill would not set agriculture on its legs; but it was well worth having. It was an earnest to the farmers and labourers of the fact that the Government which they had returned were doing their best to redeem their promises to the country.
§ MR. T. W. NUSSEY (Pontefract)
said that, assuming the Bill to be founded on a good principle—and he could not agree that it was—it was surely unjust to apply that principle in favour of a particular district or a particular class, to the exclusion of other districts and classes, until the claim had been established. Therefore this Bill was certainly premature, and, as far as he could see, it was also inequitable. The real effect of the proposal was to hand over to the rated occupier a certain sum of money, dependent on and proportionate to the rateable value of his property. How beneficial this would be to the landlords was proved by the declaration of the Secretary of State for the Colonies that it would not benefit the tenant farmer one iota. This subsidy could not afford any substantial relief to agriculture. A farm rented at £200, and rated at £160, with a rate of 2s. 6d. in the pound, would pay about £20 a year in rates. The relief given would be one-half of the sum—£10. Of course, the occupier would be glad of that reduction; but could it be maintained that £10 a year would save him from ruin? If an extra £10 could insure his prosperity, then that prosperity must be on a very insecure basis. There could be no doubt as to the grave condition of 149 agriculture; but he did not believe it was so bad that £10 a year would make any appreciable difference to the farmer. The depression was not equally acute in all parts of the country; and it did not follow that the rates were highest where the depression was greatest. The poor, highway and county rates varied from 1s. in the pound in some parts to 3s. 8d. in the pound in others; while the School Board rate varied from 2d. to 2s. l1d. in the pound. But the Bill did not attempt to deal with these glaring inequalities. Agricultural depression was mainly due to the large fall in prices. Another cause was the rise of the wages paid to agricultural labourers. A third cause was the bankruptcy of landlords, preventing them from making improvements, or adequate reduction in rent. Further, by the present law, it was exceedingly difficult for such landlords to dispose of their estates. A fourth cause was that all farmers were not competent farmers; and a fifth cause was the burdens on land. These were the rent, tithe, land tax and local taxes. The Bill did not attempt to deal with any of the causes of agricultural distress or to suggest any remedy for any one of them. It only dealt with the smallest of the burdens on land. Rates in the towns had been increasing, and those in the country had been decreasing. In 1869 rates in the country were 2s. 7d. in the pound, and in 1894 they were 2s. 3d., since when they had risen to 2s. 4d. Taking the large reduction in the assessment into consideration, they found that the amount paid by agricultural land to-day was something like 25 per cent. less than it was 26 years ago. Another objection to this Bill was that the mode of giving relief which was proposed was the most extravagant mode which could well be devised. Suppose that a new rate were imposed on agricultural land, would half that rate be paid in accordance with the provisions of this Bill or not?
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. WALTER LONG,) Liverpool, West Derby
No; the sum is a fixed sum.
§ MR. NUSSEY
said he was glad to hear that, but he did not see what was to prevent their giving the same consideration to the towns in the future, or where they were going to stop in paying 150 the local taxation of the country out of he national Exchequer. He objected to the principle of promiscuous charity on which the Bill was founded.
§ COLONEL VICTOR MILWARD (Warwick, Stratford-upon-Avon)
said they had come back from the country with a distinct mandate to improve the condition of agriculture. Last year the hon. Member for East Norfolk had moved a Resolution calling attention to the existing depression of agriculture, and three Measures had been suggested for the relief of agriculture, namely—a Land Tenure Bill, a pure Beer Bill, and a Bill for the marking of foreign meat. Now, however, that the present Government proposed a Measure for the relief of agriculture, it was strenuously opposed by hon. Members opposite, and they appeared to think either that a veiled Protection was intended, or that this Measure was simply for the relief of the landlord. He confessed that he should be only too thankful to see any Measure for the relief of the landlord; he was not himself a landlord, but a manufacturer. There was nothing more painful or more deserving of sympathy than the position of the small English landlords—landlords who owned from 1,000 to 3,000 acres of land. They were men, as a rule, who had been brought up in the belief that they had property which they would come into, and who when they came into that property were unable to take up any other pursuit, and they soon found themselves face to face with a continual fall in prices and in the state of agriculture. They had had to give up the luxuries and enjoyments of life, their carriages, their gardens, and their subscriptions to charities, but it was impossible to believe that the relief granted under this Bill would come in any sense to the landlord. According to the figure given by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton the whole relief which could possibly come under this Bill was the sum of 10½d. per acre, and he did not believe that that sum would go into the pocket of the landlord. If it would, why was the tenant farmer so extremely anxious to see this Bill passed. As a manufacturer he was able to lay before the House some figures relating to the rating of that class. He was interested in two industrial concerns; one of them was situated in an urban 151 district in the country, it had a very considerable turnover and large premises, and it had to bear the urban improvement rate. The other concern was in a large city and also had large premises; it was highly rated, and had to bear a large School Board rate in addition. The average paid by these two concerns was 7s. 8d. per £100 sterling, that was, the rates were 7s. 8d. on every £100 of gross sales. That was a little more than ⅝ths per cent. These concerns were both on a rental of about £700 a year. He did not think that that rate would be considered a very heavy burden. He had taken the trouble to ascertain the figures in respect to two farms in South Warwickshire, one farm had rates amounting to 42s. per £100 of gross sales, and the other to 63s. 4d. He had gone through the farms cited in the Blue-books of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, and found that in North Cambridgeshire farm A was rated at 45s. per £100 of the gross sales; Northamptonshire, farm C, 11, had a rate of 63s. per £100; Northamptonshire, farm 4, a rate of 61s.; Mid-Norfolk, farm E, 2, 29s.; Suffolk, farm B, 19s.; Suffolk, farm A, 45s.; farm C, 33s.; Dorset, farm B, 5, 52s.; and in the whole of these farms the average rate was 39s., or 40s. per £100 of gross sales. The manufacturers were rated at 7s. 8d. per £100, so that the Government might have not only reduced the rates on agriculture by one half but by three quarters and the advantage would have still lain with the manufacturing producers of the country.
And, it being half-past Five of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned. Debate to be resumed To-morrow.