§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [27th April], "That the Bill be now read a second time:"—
And which Amendment was, to leave out from the word
"That," to the end of the Question, in order to add instead thereof the words—
This House, while recognising the desirability of readjusting the burdens of local taxation, is of opinion that it is inexpedient and unjust that relief granted from Imperial taxation to ratable property should be restricted to one class only of such property."—(Sir Henry Fowler.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:"—Debate resumed:—
§ COLONEL VICTOR MILWARD (Warwickshire, Stratford-on-Avon),
contended that agriculture was unfairly and even iniquitously overrated. It had been asked whether this Bill was a palliative or a cure. It was certainly a palliative; they did not pretend that it was a cure. They had for the relief of agriculture—first, the Light Railways Bill; second, they hoped to have a Bill for the Amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Act; third, the diminution of the Land Tax; fourth, relief under the 225 Education Act; fifth, the Bill as to Ports of Entry; and, lastly, the Agricultural Rate Bill. These, he thought, would place agriculture in a much better position than it was, and certainly the policy of the Government was a broader and more generous policy than that of the Opposition.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
said, he wished to offer a few remarks as a London Member to show how the Bill affected the Metropolis. Taking the matter from a national point of view, they could not look on this as a charitable dole, for, as far as he could judge, if the principle was accepted they would relieve one class at the expense of other classes—other classes as fully deserving of support and sympathy as agriculture. The Bill, however, as it stood would not carry out the purpose for which it was intended, the relief was of such an infinitesimal character. Moreover, the Bill would be unequal in its operation. It would give most to those who did not require it, and it would give least to those who, like the people in the eastern counties, needed it most. The Bill, whether right or wrong, would throw the burden on the shoulders of the working classes, who would pay through their tobacco, spirits, and tea. He should object to the Bill, irrespective of whether the money would go into the pockets of the landlord, the farmer, or the labourer; but it seemed to him that a large proportion of the grant would necessarily go, directly or indirectly, into the pockets of the landlords. But he believed that the whole scheme was of the nature of a Bill to cure an earthquake. What would do more good for the relief of agriculture would be a rise in the price of corn. ["Hear, hear!"] The majority of the Royal Commission had convinced themselves that the severity of the depression varied in different parts of the country. They were also told that it was not so much the average rate but the rating inequality which was a burden on the agricultural districts. He believed it was clear that in many cases the rates were lowest where agriculture was the most depressed, and that, therefore, it was the most depressed parts of the country that would receive the least relief and advantage under the proposal of the Government. That was very 226 much the principle on which the educational system was to be dealt with. Further, they had no guarantee that the whole of this additional grant would really go to the reduction of the rates, and not be swallowed up in additional expenditure. While admitting that agriculture was in a very depressed condition, he was much struck with the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing the Budget. The right hon. Gentleman stated that, contrary to the idea which had prevailed, when it came to the payment of the Death Duties, those possessing realty had been able to pay with far greater promptitude and ease than was anticipated. That showed there might be some exaggeration in regard to the position of agriculture and realty throughout the country. He asserted without fear of contradiction that there were other industries as greatly depressed as agriculture, and yet they were required to bear far heavier burdens than agriculture. In London they had their own burdens to bear, their own poverty to meet, and, he was sorry to say, their own unemployed question. They sympathised with any industry which was depressed, but the depression of agriculture was a matter of two-fold concern to them. In the first place, there was less opportunity of disposing of their commodities in the agricultural districts, and, in the second place, the labour market became crowded by the flight of agricultural labourers to the Metropolis. If the Government could show, either in regard to improved markets or to diminution of labour coming to London, that this Bill would have any practical effect, he would not be disposed to oppose it; but he thought it was obvious, from the speeches of supporters of the Measure, that the remedy they proposed was of a very small description indeed, and really could not be expected to put agriculture on a sound basis again. He believed, however, that the Bill would have a very serious effect upon his constituency, an industrial and manufacturing constituency, where the rates were enormously high at the present time; it would not prevent the increasing overcrowding, but it would place heavier burdens on the industries there in order that the agricultural interest might be kept going. 227 If there were any classes in the community who deserved assistance, he should say they were the small shopkeepers and the small industries. Those classes in London were in an infinitely more depressed condition than was the agricultural interest in many parts of England. He did not ask that they should be treated differently to any other class, but that they should be ignored while others were recognised was unfair and unjust. In Poplar the rates amounted to between 6s. and 7s. in the pound, and he asked the hon. and gallant Member for Sheffield and others, who told them so much about foreign competition, whether by this Bill they were not placing a larger burden on manufacturers and industrial people, thus handicapping them in their fight against foreign competition. He desired to state broadly and generally what was the position in London with regard to the rating question. His hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch stated with perfect accuracy the other night that since the passing of the Local Government Act of 1889 London, owing to the system under which subvention was given, had been mulct annually in a sum exceeding £400,000. The ratepayers had to pay a rate of 3d. a year more than they used to pay; and it was certain that, if £2,000,000 were granted to the agricultural interest, London would be mulct in a further sum of £400,000. While the rates in London had in the last ten years increased as compared with the rates outside the metropolis, the subventions had not increased in anything like the same proportion as those given to other parts of the United Kingdom. Ten years ago the rates in London were £6,300,000, and last year £8,500,000, an increase of no less than £2,200,000. In the same period the rates outside the Metropolis had increased from £18,500,000 to £21,500,000, an increase of only £3,000,000. The subventions given to London had increased in the ten years from £863,000 to £1,930,000. That was to say, the London subvention had doubled, whereas outside London the subvention had very nearly trebled. Taking the so-called new rates, he found that in London they had increased by something like 100 per cent., but in consequence of the increased valuation being unduly 228 raised, the rate in the pound had actually increased to 1s. 4d., while in the rural districts, as was admitted, the diminution had been 4d. in the pound. They were told that if only patience were exercised the question of London rates would also be dealt with, but to let the question stand over was to add meanwhile to the burdens they already bore and to discrepancies which already exist. And he for one thought that, seeing they had a strong Government in office, with a large majority, it was not right and proper for them to deal with a great question like this in a tinkering manner; they ought to have fairly grappled with its real difficulties. As regarded London, at any rate, their case was a strong and overwhelming one, and though he did not in any sense desire to deprecate the idea that there was a great depression throughout the agricultural districts, still he contended that the burdens were heavier and more grievous in other districts in which he was interested, and that, therefore, the Government ought to have dealt with the question as a whole, and not to benefit one class of the community at the expense of all the rest. [Cheers.]
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. HENRY CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
I am very sensible of the importance of the question which is placed before Parliament by the Bill of Her Majesty's Government, nor do I desire in the smallest degree to deny the fact that there is distress in other industries as well as in agriculture; but I have risen at this period of the Debate because it seems to me we have arrived at a time when the subject apparently has been fully and thoroughly threshed out. ["No, no!" from the Opposition Benches.] I do not quite understand the objection to that view, because it can hardly be denied that speech after speech, delivered with great earnestness and ability, I admit, has travelled over and over the ground which has been already trodden. I desire, therefore, to make some answer to points which appear to be most deserving of reply. With regard to the point raised at question time by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, as to the proportion of the rates which land is to pay in future, and by which the amount of the grant is 229 permanently fixed, I have to say that, whatever amount the rate may be in future, the land will always be called upon to pay one-half of what is paid by houses and buildings at the time. If that is not clear in the Bill—I think it is—it shall be made clear. In connection with this point the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that under the Measure we are going half way to a national poor-rate, and in the second place it must tend to extravagance. Both those statements are founded on a misapprehension. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton quoted a case of 20 unions, which, he said, were purely agricultural, and in which the rates amounted to £200,000, and the Government, he said, proposed to pay one-half of this—namely, £100,000. Now that is a mistake. It assumes that there is no other property in the union than agricultural land.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I beg pardon, it is so. He forgets that houses and buildings will still have to pay upon the whole, even though farm houses and farm buildings. All these deductions have to be made; and the deficiency to be met by the Government, though of course I have not had time to make out the calculation, will probably be much nearer £50,000, or even less.
§ SIR H. FOWLER
What I took was the minority Report, and I said that, assuming the rates upon agricultural land exclusively in those unions to be £200,000, the State would contribute one-half of that sum.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I am afraid I cannot express any opinion upon the minority Report, which was never circulated before it was published, which I never saw until it appeared in the Bluebook, and which I have not studied with great care. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that we are going to make the State the largest ratepayer in the country—
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I beg pardon; I must be allowed to proceed without interruption. [Cheers.] We are making, the right hon. Gentleman said, the 230 State the largest ratepayer in the country, and we are going to give the State no control whatever over the expenditure. Well, in the first place, the State, as I have already pointed out, will not be the largest ratepayer in the country, and I do not think the charge comes very well from the Gentleman who was the author of the Act of 1894, which practically to a great extent disfranchised the largest ratepayers, or, at all events, deprived them very largely of control over expenditure in respect of rates in the future. As to extravagance, I differ entirely from the views of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I think the Bill will have precisely the opposite effect. As I said on a former occasion, if there is an increase in the rates the burden of that increase will be borne by houses and buildings in a larger proportion than it will be by the land. [Opposition, cheers.] I pointed out at the same time that if, on the other hand, there was a decrease, and consequently a surplus in the annual grant, that surplus would go in relief of rates generally, and that houses and buildings would gain in proportion. I stated the conviction I entertained, about which I think no one appeared to differ at all, that farmers were certainly not the class which could be accused with justice of being guilty of extravagance in respect of rates—[''Oh!'']—and, if that was so, I said it is clear that under this Bill there will be a double motive to economy on the part of those who, I think, very probably have been usually responsible in greatest part for extravagance in the rates. I acknowledged on the First Reading of the Bill the grievances of those who in the towns will pay higher rates than those in the country. At the same time, however, I asked, what did they get in return for the rates imposed upon them? That surely is a matter which hon. Members must take into consideration. No one has refuted the assertion I made with regard to the vast variety of different matters which the ratepayers in the town enjoy; they get a far larger return for their expenditure than is enjoyed by the farmers. [''Hear, hear!"] That assertion has not been contested as far as I can remember, and if it has been contested nothing certainly has been said to show 231 that in that argument I was wrong. The House has to consider how far the two kinds of property were contributing in accordance with their ability to bear it. I am aware that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton takes a different view of what I say. He said:—My contention is that houses in towns occupy the same relation to the trade carried on in them that land in rural districts does to the trade of the farmer who cultivates it.But that is the crux of the whole question. The right hon. Gentleman acknowledged this; and it is on that particular point that the right hon. Gentleman and I differ. I maintain that the right hon. Gentleman said nothing to establish the proposition he seeks to defend; nor did he break down any one of the cases which I put before the House in support of the contention which I urged in support of the Bill. On this point I will cite a little later on some observations and opinions in support of my views from that authority so greatly venerated on this subject by the Leader of the Opposition—Sir George Cornewall Lewis. I admit that the burden of the rates in London is of course extremely high; but I venture to think that the extreme height of the rates in London is due rather more to the advantage, whatever it may be, of having an extremely progressive County Council. ["Oh, oh!" and "Hear, hear!"] This modest Bill will certainly not increase them, and it does not undoubtedly justify the assertion made by more than one speaker that we are imposing taxation on London in order to help the land. We are not increasing taxation by a single farthing by any proposal of this Bill. ["Oh, oh!"] At the same time I acknowledge the force of the arguments which have been urged with regard to towns. Many appeals have been made to me on the subject of a time limit. On that point I explained on the First Reading, in reply to an hon. Member, that we had in our Bill what I should call a tentative clause in that direction. Since then I have carefully considered the representations made to me on both sides of the House. I have come to the conclusion that the case is one which the Government ought to consider. I have to make this announcement, which I hope will not be unsatis- 232 factory to many hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and I hope also to the House generally, I am not willing to abandon the period of five years, but the Government will readily agree to make the clause to which I have referred effective, and so limit the operation of this Bill to the period of five years. ["Hear, hear!"] If this proposal is adopted it will necessitate some revision of the scope of inquiry which I had previously announced the Government intended to make. A vast number of other criticisms have been made on our proposals, many of which I venture to think have answered themselves. There is, for example, the amount of the grant. Some hon. Members described it as a dole; others a gigantic relief. Both statements cannot be true, and it is impossible for the Opposition to have it both ways. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] In view of the difference of opinion which exists on that subject on the other side of the House, probably the Government have pursued the right course in taking the amount they have put in the Bill. Throughout the whole of these discussions hon. Members opposite have argued on the basis that it was a gift entirely we were making to the landlords. ["Hear, hear!"] If that is so, why has no hon. Gentleman attempted to reply to the arguments I used on the First Reading and to the quotations of an opinion which I referred to advanced by a Member of the Royal Commission sitting on that side of the House, and who declared that the effect of the whole of the evidence given before the Commission which he had heard was such as to prove to demonstration, according to his view, that the whole of the rates were being borne now, and have been borne throughout the whole of the depression, and would be borne, by the tenants and no one else? I showed clearly that it is impossible in these days of perpetually falling rents for any landlord to appropriate the benefits given under this Bill without running the risk, which always accompanies change of tenancy in these days, of suffering an infinitely greater loss by a lower rent than anything he would gain by appropriating the benefits of the Bill. These loud assertions are not of the smallest use unless hon. Gentlemen can show in what particulars we have been 233 wrong. The hon. Member for South Shields challenged me on the interpretation of the term which I used on former occasions when I said that the whole of the burden of the rates would ultimately fall on the landlord. The hon. Member said, "We are entitled to know how long will this relief continue to go to the tenant? ''The answer is simple. It will go as long as the agricultural depression lasts. [Ironical laughter.] As far as I can see there is no prospect or hope of any change for many years to come. [Renewed laughter.] An hon. Member spoke of the rents that the landlords extorted in these days. [''Hear, hear!"] What did the hon. Gentleman know about it? [Laughter.] I speak from a vast amount of practical experience, as well as from the knowledge which I have gained by masses of evidence before the Royal Commission. What happens is this. It is the tenants who extort reductions—any reductions that they please where they are not voluntarily made. But they have been voluntarily made, as no one knows better than the Leader of the Opposition, who, we know, has read every word and every line of the four volumes of the evidence given before the Royal Commission. In those volumes there is a large quantity of evidence to show that the landlords have behaved as well as any class of human beings in respect of this matter of reductions, and record is made of reductions of 20, 50, 80, and even 90 per cent.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Ireland was not included in the Inquiry. Besides, the rents in Ireland are not fixed by the landlord. [Cheers.] Another complaint is this. It is said, ''The effect of your Bill will be to give most relief where it is least wanted and least relief where it is most required." ["Hear, hear!"] That is a most inaccurate and misleading statement. If it means that the larger the amount of rates paid by any particular occupier the larger the amount of reduction will be, that of course is true; but in proportion to the need of relief it is absolutely certain to my mind that the relief will be greatest where the depression is the most severe. Take the case I quoted in Essex, which I have every reason to believe is a 234 sample of many others, where the rates amounted to 23s. in the pound. The relief there would amount to 11s. 6d. in the pound, and in all probability that would be amply sufficient to enable the land to be kept in cultivation. Then I am told that there will be great inequalities under our Bill. Of course there will be; but are there not great inequalities now under the present system of rating? I remember hearing a description given of that system many years ago when I first came into this House. It was in 1870, in a speech delivered by a very able man, who said that the system was a chaos of blundering injustice, that the inequalities were enormous, and that it was unfair to different classes of property. Who was the Gentleman who made that speech? The right hon. Gentleman the present Leader of the Opposition. [Cheers.] He was speaking in violent opposition to a Bill introduced by the Government of Mr. Gladstone, of whom, at that time, he was not altogether a very cordial supporter. But the right hon. Gentleman has himself been in office during from 10 to 15 years since that period, and he has been Chancellor of the Exchequer four or five times; and, although he denounces us to-day for the efforts which we are making to deal with a small portion of these inequalities, he himself never lifted a finger to deal with them. The right hon. Gentleman opposite was good enough to say that the Bill which I had introduced was a preposterous and most unstatesmanlike Measure, and in accents of entreaty he implored the House to read the evidence of a gentleman whom he described as the soundest thinker and one of the soundest financiers whom the House had ever known—namely, Sir George Cornewall Lewis. Well, I have read that evidence, and I am inclined to think that the right hon. Gentleman is not quite so well informed with regard to the views of Sir George Cornewall Lewis as he would have the House believe. The right hon. Gentleman must have overlooked certain parts of the evidence given by Sir George Cornewall Lewis which have a most material bearing on this Bill. After pointing out that however desirable a parochial Income Tax might be, the practical difficulties in the way of carrying the plan out appeared to be almost insuperable, he goes on to 235 describe the practice in Scotland, and this is what he says:—We will assume a suburban parish which contains part of a town, with a rural district attached. We will first take the dwelling houses, which will be entered in the rate-book at 100 per cent.; then we will take the shops; we will suppose them to be rated at 75 per cent. Then we will take the manufactories and put them down at 50 per cent.; and then we will take agricultural land and put that down at 35 per cent.In this "ignorant and unstatesmanlike" Bill we have not gone quite as far, be it observed, as Sir G. Cornewall Lewis went:—An equal rate," he says, "is then imposed upon all those values; the result, of course, is that a certain classification of different species of property takes places.Further on he says:—There is no doubt that, generally speaking, the income of the occupier of a dwelling house bears a larger proportion to the rent of that dwelling house than the income of the occupier of a farm bears to the annual value at which he is rated; and, therefore, in adopting this mode you approach as nearly as you can to the principle of an Income Tax without going into the income of each individual. This is the mode of rating which Sir John McNeill, who is the chief member of the Board of Supervision in Scotland, and who is extremely able and has devoted much attention to the subject, informs me he thinks is the most equitable and the most practicable mode of rating that can be devised; and his opinion is that it has given great satisfaction in Scotland as far as it has been carried into effect.Thus the proposal that land should be rated in a smaller proportion than other rateable property has, it seems to me, the support of the very authority whom the right hon. Gentleman has appealed to. [Sir W. HARCOURT: "Is there any authority for paying the money out of the Exchequer?"] ["Hear, hear!"] That is not the point I am dealing with. [Opposition laughter and cheers.] The point I am dealing with is the question of differential rating, which the right hon. Gentleman denounced as one of the worst parts of my "ignorant and unstatesmanlike" Bill, and on that particular point I have the support of the authority which the right hon. Gentleman describes as one of the greatest in the country." ["Hear, hear!"] I have now dealt with most of the criticisms which have been 236 passed upon the proposals of the Government, and I think I am entitled to ask what are the proposals on the other side. If the right hon. Gentleman objects to the lowering of the rates, if he opposes every single suggestion that we make, what is it, I ask, that he has got to offer to the agricultural community? We have some right to ask, because it was the right hon. Gentleman who pointed to the Royal Commission and grounded his refusal to do anything whatever for the agricultural interest when he was in power on the statement that he must wait for the Commissioners' Report. Unless we are given some indication of what is in his mind as to the mode in which agriculture might properly be aided we shall be driven to the conclusion that during the whole period of his tenure of office, whilst he was professing sympathy in tenderest tones with the agricultural interest, he was in reality simply fooling the agricultural community. ["Hear, hear!"] I look in vain for any proposal from the other side of the House which is calculated to do anything, however small, to give relief to this suffering industry. The right hon. Gentleman had said something about tithes. Is it in that direction that he looks? Does he think that the burden of the tithe and the Land Tax should be removed from the land? Although the right hon. Gentleman appeared to advocate this the other night, although he had a good deal to say about tithe, then he is careful to be silent now, because it has perhaps dawned upon him that the Land Tax and the tithe are paid directly and entirely by the landlords. ["Hear, hear!"] The view of the Opposition appears to be that, because there is no complete remedy for agricultural depression, which we are prepared to submit to Parliament, we ought to do nothing at all. I think that in this matter, as in many others, half a loaf is better than no bread—["Hear, hear!"]—and it must be evident by this time to all those who are interested in agriculture that they have nothing at all to expect from right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I wish before sitting down to make one more appeal on behalf of the agricultural industry. It must be remembered that in one respect those who are engaged in agriculture and those who are engaged in trade and 237 commerce occupy very different positions. When times are bad, it is possible for the manufacturer to go on half-time, or sometimes even to close his workshops altogether. Not so with agriculture. There you are engaged in a never-ceasing contest with the powerful though silent forces of Nature. If you attempt to guide and lead and direct Nature, she is your friend and fellow labourer; but if you neglect and abandon her, then Nature at once becomes your worst foe. No half-time, no half-measures will do for agriculture, and if once the cultivator holds his hand he had better hold it for good and all. ["Hear, hear!] We propose this Measure because we think it to be wise and just, although we acknowledge, and have said so distinctly from the first, that we do not regard it, or pretend to regard it, as a complete or effectual remedy for agricultural depression, yet in our judgment it will do something to give some measure of relief, and especially in those parts of the country and in those cases in which relief is most especially needed. That being our position, I am persuaded, however bitter, however vehement, or however violent your opposition may be, Parliament will grant, and the people of this country will approve, the aid and assistance for which I plead to-night, not for a section or a class, but for an industry which, after all, whatever you may think and say, is the greatest, the most ancient, and the most famous industry in our Kingdom. [Cheers.]
§ MR. D. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon)
said, that the right hon. Gentleman had taunted Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House with having travelled over the same ground over and over again; but, in his opinion, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was the only one which was fairly open to that charge—["Hear, hear!" and laughter]—for the right hon. Gentleman had not only repeated the arguments of other speakers, but he had also repeated the arguments that he himself had used on the First Reading of the Bill. So far as he had heard the Debate, only two arguments had been put forward in support of the Bill—the first, that it was unfair to rate land on a different standard to that applied to personalty; and the second, that agriculture was so depressed that relief was necessary. 238 With regard to the first, he would point out that there was this difference between the two kinds of property—personalty was the creation of the industry of its owner; land was not so. Land had not been improved materially by the owners of the soil. His second point was that the burdens proposed to be relieved were only a commutation of the much heavier burdens which were originally imposed on the land. At one time the military burdens rested on the land, and also the burdens of law, justice, and police. Suppose the land still bore the heavy burdens to which it was originally subjected, it would have to bear ten times as much as the three or four millions now imposed on it for the poor-rate. He knew very well that the argument was used that it was unfair to reimpose burdens on the land because it had changed hands; but that argument was applicable also to the burden of the poor-rate, for the vast majority of estates had changed hands subject to that burden, and the purchaser had got it the cheaper by the capital value of the burden upon it. But there was another consideration. Since the burden of the poor-rate had been placed on the land, the value of land had enormously increased. That was owing to nothing done by the owners or occupiers of the land, because the land was no more productive now. What was it, then, that had increased the value of land so much? It was the trade and industry which had been created in the towns. It was owing to what had been done by the dwellers in the towns, as land had gone up, so also rates had gone down. The poor rate had gone down, because the volume of trade in the towns had so much increased as to provide employment for the surplus population, which would otherwise be a burden on the land. Yet it was proposed to tax the industries of the country which had thus increased the value of land for the purpose of relieving agricultural land. Hon. Members on the other side of the House advanced another argument. They contended that the Bill was brought in for the purpose of relieving agriculture; but he contended the relief was not for agriculture at all, but for the landlords, and for this reason. It was known for a fact that if this relief were not extended to the land, rents would inevitably go down. If agriculture 239 was really sinking under its burdens, one would have thought that the first thing done would be to relieve the burdens which weighed upon it. The burden per acre on land for rent was 25s., and the burden per acre for rates was 3s. 2d. Was it not common sense to relieve the bigger burden first? There was also another burden which had not been attacked, and that was the excessive railway rates, which, he contended, amounted to a much more serious burden than the rates. They were not attacked because there were too many railway directors and shareholders on the other side of the House. The relief that this Bill would afford was perfectly ridiculous. A man who was paying £100 a year for his farm, would pay about £3 10s. in rates. Under this Bill he would be relieved to the extent of one-half, or 35s. Could any man contend that relief to the extent of 35s. would save that man from ruin and help him to get on? But he contended further that the relief was a perfectly unfair one, and that it did not go into the right pockets. Take the case of accommodation land. The landlord bore the rate himself, and the relief would go straight into his pocket. In a small town with which he was acquainted, with a population of 1,500 or so, the rent of accommodation land was something like £1 an acre some time ago. It was now £4 an acre. Why had it increased by £3 an acre? Not on account of anything the owner or occupier had done, but purely owing to the fact that the town had increased in prosperity. In one case he knew of, a landowner in the neighbourhood of a town had derived benefit to the extent of £3 per acre from improvements that had been made out of the rates, and yet now he was to be relieved to the extent of half the rates on his improved property. He characterised this proposal as a gross injustice to the taxpayer. He knew of another case in which the owner of a field which at one time brought in a rent of £1 per acre now obtained a rent of £40 for it in the shape of ground-rents. This Bill proposed to tax the already overtaxed people in order to enable the Treasury to halve the rates of the landlords. His contention was that the whole of this so-called relief to the agricultural interest would go into the pockets of the landowners. They had heard a great deal 240 about the Agricultural Commission for England, and a considerable amount of evidence had been given before that Commission in favour of the reduction of rates; but the evidence also showed that the landowners would not reduce rents until their farms were vacated. A witness from Northamptonshire stated that there was not as much land in the hands of the owners now as there had been four or five years ago, and that the landlords had taken their land in hand themselves because they did not wish to lower their rents. The witness added that the landlords, having reduced their rents, found that they could now let their farms. This Bill, however, would enable the landowners to keep up their rents until they had exhausted the amount of the relief that was given to the local rates. If there was this great agricultural depression in the country, and he did not doubt that it existed, it was the duty of the landowners to lower their rents. There was a provision in the existing law that gave automatic relief from rates in cases where land was left uncultivated. It was stated before the Commission that farmers were making no profit, and that they were paying their rents out of capital, and, notwithstanding that fact, the rents in Wales had not been reduced. One Welshman who had given evidence said, that in one part of Wales the rents had been reduced by 10 per cent., but that that was a greater reduction than had been made in any other part of the country. And yet, because their profits had been reduced at the most by 10 per cent., the landowners came to that House begging for relief. ["Hear, hear!"] What would be thought of any other industry if they were to come to that House and ask for relief because their profits had been diminished by 10 per cent.? Why, their application would be laughed out of the House. ["Hear, hear!"] He maintained that there was no ground for the sympathy which hon. Members opposite accorded to the landlords. But let him ask, how was it that the farmers managed to pay their rents? A witness who gave evidence before the Welsh Commission, who was Earl Cawdor's agent—that noble Lord was a good landlord; the rack-renter did not come before a Commission in order to be cross-examined, and, 241 therefore, it was only those who represented the best managed estates who appeared as witnesses before it—that agent stated that the farmers were paying their rents out of capital, and that they had to apply the wages of their farm servants to pay their rents. And yet the landlords came to that House and asked for relief when they knew that their rents were paid by the wages of the farm servants. ["Hear, hear!"] But the landlords said they were not asking for relief for themselves, it was for the distressed farmer. It was the old professional beggar's trick—they pretended to beg for others, and the moment the charitable person's back was turned the stalwart ruffians spent the money in the nearest public-house. ["Hear, hear," and laughter.] The taxpayers of this country ought to put an end to this shameful business. The time had come for plain speaking on this subject. ["Hear, hear!" from Mr. CHAPLIN.] The right hon. Gentleman cheered that remark. He had some very interesting figures on this subject before him. He found that, taking the aggregate rentals received by the Ministry who came there to plead the cause of distressed agriculturists, they would benefit by this Bill to the extent of £67,000 per annum.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
By taking the Income Tax Returns. I see that the right hon. Gentleman himself benefits by the relief provided by the Bill to the tune of £700 a year. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. CHAPLIN
If the hon. Gentletleman will allow me. I suppose that I ought to know more about my own affairs than the hon. Member does. I shall not benefit under the Bill by a single 6d. [Cheers and cries of "Withdraw."]
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I will not withdraw a syllable. ["Hear, hear," and renewed cries of "Withdraw."] The right hon. Gentleman said that he should not benefit by the Bill, but his estate would. [Cries of "Oh!"] Taking the capital value of their land, the Ministry would benefit to the extent of two and a quarter millions by this Bill. ["Hear, hear," and cries of "No!"] And all this was done to 242 relieve the distress of the farmer. Having bled the farmer to the last drop of his blood, the landowners were now seeking to bleed the taxpayers, who were to be driven into the landlords' leech pond. They had a distressed industry in Wales—the tin-plate industry. ["Hear, hear!"] In that industry it was not a question of a reduction of 10 per cent. in the profits, for with very few exceptions there was not a single manufacturer who had made any profit at all for years. There was misery and actual hunger in the tin-plate districts, but where was the Bill for the relief of the tin-plate industry. [Opposition cheers.] An hon. Member had deplored the fact that the landlord must dismiss his carriage, that whereas he had had six gamekeepers he must now put up with only three or four, he must get rid of one or two of his men in buttons, and that was the distress of agriculture. Although they were giving a million and a-half to relieve the landlord who had had to dispense with a few luxuries, they would not vote a single crumb for the industrious and honest tin-plater who was starving at the present time. [Opposition cheers.]
§ * MR. C. H. STRUTT (Essex, Maldon)
said they had listened on that side with some degree of amusement to the speech of the hon. Member. According to the hon. Member Wales did not want the relief offered by this Bill at all. [A cry of "Oh!"] Well, if it all went to the landlords of Wales, and the landlords of Wales had only suffered a one-tenth reduction of their profits, he thought he should have the support of the hon. Member if he moved as an Amendment that the money which was now offered to Wales should go to the relief of distress in Essex.
§ * MR. STRUTT
said it would not, perhaps, be out of place for a representative for Essex to address the House on this subject. He had listened with the greatest respect to the speech of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, but if his statement that the whole of the last subvention had been practically wasted was correct, it was rather curious that the increase in the rates should be less in the country, where the subvention had gone most, than in the 243 towns. He quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that where money was given absolutely, as it had been for technical education, it had been to a large degree wasted, especially when it had been managed by people who did not thoroughly understand the question. In the agricultural districts the rates had lately, at any rate, increased, or rather the poor rate had, the reason being that there had been in the country districts a much more liberal feeling towards the aged poor. He hoped the Government before long would deal with the question of Old Age Pensions in a Bill. He thought a very good case had been given for money being spent for the greater happiness of the aged poor. They were not asking in this Bill for Protection or Bounties, but simply for what they believed to be an equalization of taxation that was right and fair. They did not, therefore, deserve to be called nothing less than highway robbers. The larger part of the surplus was given this year to the Navy, and the money which was to be spent in that way was practically a premium of insurance paid by the country for the benefit of the manufacturers and consumers in this country in time of war, and surely, therefore, the agriculturists were entitled to their measure of relief. They did not grudge this expenditure on the Navy, but they had the right to ask for what the greatest experts had declared to be but justice for the landed interest. An hon. Member opposite had said that tenant-farmers paid the rates—
§ * MR. STRUTT
said he did not see according to that argument why rents could not be raised now. He was speaking not as a landlord, but as a tenant-farmer, and he should be very much disgusted if this Bill did not put some money into the pockets of the tenant-farmers. He was more likely to know whether it would go into their pockets or not than the hon. Member.
§ * MR. STRUTT
said the hon. Gentleman's acquaintance was with land in Ireland, but it was with land in England 244 which this Bill proposed to deal. If the farmers did pay the rates, it practically amounted to an extra Income Tax of four shillings if they paid on their normal profits, and was it not better and wiser that that four shilling tax should be reduced to two shillings rather than that a penny should be taken off the Income Tax of the country? He believed the redeemed Land Tax should be taken into consideration in comparing the taxation paid respectively by land and personalty. Mr. Pitt when he introduced his Bill, was naturally asked by people—"Where this redeemed tax is taken off, will you guarantee never to put it on again?"—Of course, Mr. Pitt's reply was that he could not give up the right of the State to raise taxes, but he said that the redeemed Land Tax should not be taxed more than the unredeemed. But the right hon. Gentleman said, "That is a long time ago," and that time brought a change of conditions. Was there a change of conditions? A man who had bought his property gave more for it because it no longer had this tax upon it, and the State has got the full advantage now in the decrease of the National Debt. Another argument used by the right hon. Gentleman (and it was hardly worthy of him) was that when a man redeemed he made a good thing of it. So did every one who bought Consols at that time. Everybody knows the desperate state of our financial position when Mr. Pitt brought in his Bill, and that the passing of the Bill saved the credit of the country.
§ * MR. STRUTT
thought the redeeming of the land was a part of the argument used on the other side. The Leader of the Opposition had given some dogmatic utterances on this question. His argument was that this tax was originally paid out of personalty.
§ * MR. STRUTT
If you will kindly call on me, Sir, on Monday. [Laughter.] He would leave that and go on to consider 245 whether agriculture had any more right to be considered than any other interest in a depressed condition. He should give two reasons why distress in agriculture was of more national importance than the distress in any other interest. In the first place there was the question of the supply of food to the country during war. He knew Lord Wolseley treated this matter as a light affair. He hoped that they would not in the future find it was not a light one. During the Crimean war bread rose to 1s. a loaf. What was the difference between now and the time of the Crimean war? Population had increased enormously, and arable cultivation had decreased enormously. They sold their corn much more quickly now than in those times. When they wanted food for the people they could not have it unless they kept the country cultivated. There was one other point and that was this, the muscle, sinews, and health of the country largely depended upon the country population. ["Hear, hear!"] Are we to look forward cheerfully to the time when the towns have all the population and the country is all grass—no arable, no labourers, nobody in the country districts except a few shepherds and herdsmen? He believed a gentle influx of labourers was the best thing possible for the towns, increasing the health and vigour of the population. He wished to read an extract from a writer in Mr. Booth's book, dealing with the East End of London. He said:—London is to a great extent nourished by the literal consumption of bone and sinew from the country; by the absorption every year of large numbers of persons of stronger physique who leaven the whole mass, largely direct the industries, raise the standard of health and comfort, and keep up the rate of growth of the great city only to give place in their turn to a fresh set of recruits, after London life for one or two generations has reduced them to the level of those among whom they live.The Member for Stockport seemed to think that cotton was a greater industry than agriculture. He had a great respect for Lancashire, but he must say he had never seen a more anæmic lot of lads than those working in the heated and unhealthy atmosphere of the cotton mills. He went down before the election 246 to address some of his constituents and he was told by one of those candid friends, never wanting, that it was the worst speech he had ever heard. [Laughter.] His excuse was that he could not wax eloquent on the British Constitution and their glorious Empire in addressing men who got only 9s. a week. ["Opposition cheers and laughter.] He was glad to lave the cheers of hon. Gentlemen opposite at last. They on that side of the House had never denied that poverty and misery formed a kindlier seed-bed for the "tares" sown by hon. Gentlemen opposite than they did for the wholesome seed-corn sown by those in the Ministerial side. They wanted to do away with this seed-bed; and when they took into consideration the desperate condition of farmers and landlords in these very villages, he could not see any other way of helping the man at 9s. a week except by improving the condition of agriculture. In another village, a man said to him:—''It does seem hard that we should have been half starved through this winter and Farmer A. should have two stacks of corn there, and we are not allowed to have it to feed ourselves.The farmer was anxious to keep his corn in the hope of a rise in price, because, had he sold then, when wheat was 17s. and 18s. a quarter, he would have suffered a great loss. He did not know what could be done for those people, except to relieve agriculture. His learned opponent said the right hon. Gentleman opposite had reduced the Income Tax and behaved nobly about pigs. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman's reduction of Income Tax B, was open to the same criticisms as the present Bill, it gave an advantage to the richer payer rather than to the poor one.
§ * MR. STRUTT
said he was talking about the other part—to agriculture alone. They in Essex had not paid any Income Tax, and, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's benefit had not come to the farmers of Essex. For the last three years he had been to the Income Tax Commissioners to be relieved, because he had not made any profits.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
thought the hon. Gentleman was now travelling very wide of the question before the House.
§ * MR. STRUTT
thanked the House for the patience with which they had listened to him. He was glad if he had given them any amusement, but he trusted he had also given them some arguments.
§ MR. CHARLES HARRISON (Plymouth),
who was very imperfectly heard, said the Bill dealt with only one branch of the question of local taxation, but it necessarily involved a reconsideration of the question of direct and indirect taxation. There was not equality between the amounts realised by direct and indirect taxation. Indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told them the other night that the relation between the two bore the proportion of 52 to 48; direct taxation paid the lesser portion. For several years attempts to equalise the two had been made by Mr. Gladstone and his friends, but equality had not yet been reached. The policy initiated by Mr. Gladstone had, no doubt, produced extremely beneficial results. In a speech which he made a few years ago, the right hon. Gentlemen the present Secretary of State for the Colonies said he had been criticised a great deal for saying the rich paid too little and the poor paid too much. "Well," the right hon. Gentleman said, "I have given the matter further and careful consideration, and I maintain that statement;" and he made good that statement in a publication with which they were all familiar—"The Radical Programme."
§ MR. DISRAELI (Cheshire, Altrincham),
asked if the hon. Member was in order in referring to the Radical programme?
§ MR. HARRISON
said, he was about to show that the principles then advocated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham were quite at variance with the principles involved in the present Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said, that one of the first acts of Mr. Disraeli's last Government was to transfer several millions from local rates to the Imperial Exchequer, which was, as far as it went, a 248 relief of the rich at the expense of the poor. "This proves" he added—The enormous ascendency which the landowners still possess in Parliament. No readjustment"—and this sentence went far in support of the Amendment under discussion—of the local rates will be accepted ns complete, which is not accompanied by a thorough inquiry into the incidence of Imperial taxation.The question of the incidence of taxation as regarded town and urban districts was sent to a special Committee of Inquiry in 1886, and they reported in May 1892. Six years were consumed in inquiring into the question of local taxation in towns and urban districts. Was it not strange that the question of local taxation in urban and rural districts could be so easily disposed of as was now suggested. In the same "Radical Programme" the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said, that care would have to be taken that any relief which might ultimately be granted to local rates should not be a gift to the landlords in the shape of increased value, but that it should find its way into the pockets of the occupier who really paid the rates. That was immediately followed up by some expressions on the part of Mr. Gladstone. That right hon. Gentleman said that in the reform of local government the objects aimed at were the rectifying of the balance as between real and personal property, to put an end to the gross injustice of throwing on the Consolidated Fund local burdens which our laws had always wisely treated as incident to property, to relieve the ratepayer not at the charge of the working population, but wholly or mainly by making over for local burdens carefully chosen items of taxation, not out of the Consolidated Fund generally, but out of particular items which make up the system of local taxation, to supply local management with inducements to economy instead of tempting and almost forcing it into waste. The balance of taxation as between movable and immovable property, and still more between property and labour, should be carefully adjusted when occasion offers. Those were the principles which were laid down by Mr. Gladstone in 1885. 249 The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies stated that if the reforms he contended for were not adopted by the then Government of the day, it should be his business and duty not to join the Government, but to stand aside. Everyone of the propositions referred to the present Bill disregarded, and they had again not only a class selected, but a system of grants in aid adopted which have been deprecated by both sides of the House. They had these grants in aid, as they knew, first established in a small way as a temporary expedient. They had first a grant of £560,000 handed over to the local authorities for the purpose of improving highways, and now it had grown to the large amount of upwards of six millions. Given first for one reason and then for another, these grants in aid both weakened and demoralised self-Government. There was no condemnation more strong than that which had been uttered by the present First Lord of the Admiralty, who had declared that "grants in aid inevitably lead to extravagance"; while the late Mr. Fawcett, in his work on "Political Economy," had laid it down that "no device could be imagined which would more effectually weaken the guarantees for economy." Therefore the system of grants in aid adopted by this Bill had been condemned under all circumstances by all the authorities learned in the subject. Why, then, should that form of grant be adopted? By the Bill the rating authority was to receive only—or, rather, it was to be written down—one half of the rate in respect of agricultural land. Then the Bill provided that the deficiency was to be made good out of the Imperial Exchequer, while the expenditure was to be taken on the present basis. Therefore if the expenditure increased, the deficiency would be larger than the existing fund, and would have to be met in some quarter or another. It would not be met out of the grant in aid; therefore it would have to be met by the industrial classes in the locality where they would have to pay their full share, whilst those in the enjoyment of agricultural land would only be taxed on the moiety. The authorities, again, to whom the funds would be handed over, though designated in the Bill as the spending authority, would not be the real spending authority, 250 because they would simply be the hand to receive the grant from the Imperial Exchequer, and they in turn would hand it over to other bodies to distribute. What economy could they suppose would result under that state of things? There would be no control of any sort, because the authorities would have no body to control them. Whatever their expenditure they would know that they could resort to the Exchequer fund up to the moiety of that expenditure for the purpose of recoupment. There was another strong objection to the carrying out of this Measure. It was said that the agricultural distress was temporary, that it was fluctuating, that it was due to prices. Yet if there was any change whatsoever in prices during the next five years, there was to be no opportunity given to this House, in its annual Budget, to reconsider the question of the relief which was proposed to be given. The Bill put it in the power of the other House, largely influenced by considerations connected with the landed interest, to deal with a matter connected with finance and the raising of taxation in this country. It had been the undoubted view that the House of Commons only could deal with all questions connected with taxation. Why, therefore, should the House of Commons hand over to the other House such an important item as the local taxation of the country? The whole system of local taxation needed reform, and he would cordially endorse any proposal for the reform of the system. His view was that hitherto land had not contributed its due and proper share to the taxation of the country. He held that this was a Bill which, in fact, if not in words, returned to the landed interest an amount of money per annum in excess of the sum which the agricultural landed interest had paid in the shape of Death Duties. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said there were 6,850,000 acres of agricultural land, and the amount paid was £850,000 of duty last year.
§ MR. HARRISON
asserted that it was Estate Duty on the estates of deceased persons. But now it was proposed to return £975,000 in respect of this Bill. That sum would be 251 increased to £2,000,000 before the operation of the Act was closed, and therefore it was an undoing of the Finance Act, and a return to the landed interest of that amount of money, some portion of which they had paid in respect of the Death Duties. The Bill, indeed, was a repetition of the past policy of the Conservative Party, which always sought to undo the forward policy of the Liberal Party—a Party which had attempted for the last 50 years to equalise direct and indirect taxation. A great deal of the landed interest paid no Death Duty at all. How much Death Duty did the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, with their 278,000 acres, pay? He found that their estates were expressly exempted from taxation in respect of the Corporate Property Duty. The result was that all their great glebe estates were paying nothing towards Imperial taxation in the shape of Death Duties; yet they were the largest agricultural landlord in England, and this Bill proposed to return to them an amount of money which was equal to what they ought to have paid in taxation towards the Death Duties. For years it had been the policy of the landed interest so to arrange the taxation that every other interest should contribute. In Lancashire, for example, there was hardly an instance of any other tenure except that known as "the three lives." In London they were limited to the 99 years system. But a fiction of the law had made everything that was called leasehold personalty pay no less than three per cent., and to be included in the Probate Duty; so that, when a person died possessed of freehold land he paid only on the life interest, whereas every tradesman who had a shop or premises in leasehold, every millowner who held on a term of years, had to pay duty on the interest as if it was personalty. If they were to return to that state of things by restoring the Death Duties to the landed interest, and at the same time keep up the taxation on the leasehold interest, the House would be reverting to a state of things which was contrary to the continuous policy which had hitherto been adopted. There was also a system of giving grants in aid, and other sums, for the relief of the landed interest. In 1890 there was granted to local authorities £140,000 out of the Local Taxation Fund, in 252 respect of the Pleuro-pneumonia and the Cattle Diseases Act. In 1892 the aid was extended to foot and mouth disease; in 1893 it was extended to swine fever, and with the extension there was given an additional sum of £50,000. The result was that in 1895, when there was a deficiency in the fund, £95,000 was taken out of the Local Taxation Fund, causing a loss to England and Wales of £83,000. London lost 22 per cent. of that sum, or received a lesser contribution by £15,200. Where did the money go? But for the swine fever it would have been in the pockets of the London tax-payers; but it was diverted as a contribution to the landed interest; so that the few hundred pigs which were destroyed in London cost the metropolis £3,000 a pig, taken for the benefit of those in the rural districts. The principle laid down by the First Lord of the Admiralty of selecting particular items of local taxation distribution might be open to the same objection. Why was it that this fund was now taken and given to the agricultural interest, when they had a House Duty of £1,500,000? If that £1,500,000 of House Duty were handed over to the towns, it might be said that both urban and rural districts were equally compensated. There had been a good deal said about the selection of this particular class for relief. In the Inhabited House Duty already they fouud that from the year 1825, farm houses, occupied by labourers, had always been rated at half, and public-houses from 1829 had also received the same douceur; and, instead of paying 9d. in the pound, which was the House Duty for all persons occupying houses with over £60 a year rent, no less than £6,000,000 and upwards of ratable value was exempted from full duty, and that £6,000,000 belonged to the public-houses. They were rated at 2d., 4d., and 6d., and not at 9d., and the total exemption in Great Britain of all these exempted properties amounted to no less than £56,000,000 of ratable value. If the publican had had his turn, if he were to be rated at 6d. instead of 9d., he said that without inquiry they ought not now to deal with this subject, and to hand over to one particular interest this large sum, and to give the agricultural interest the reduction which this Bill proposed. That reduction would not tend in any way to 253 assist that industry, and it would not tend in any way to fill vacant farms. There was a unanimous proposal on the part of the Commissioners to proceed by the system of making loans at cheap rates to the agricultural industry, where such a system would assist them. Why was that system not to be carried out, and why was this particular system of class legislation preferred? They were told that rent did not include rates and taxes. All he could say was that the subject was for six years before the Town Holdings Committee, and, after taking expert evidence from all parts of the country, it satisfied itself that, as regarded urban taxation where leases are prevalent, that the great proportion of the rates fell upon the owner. When they made a proposal for taking a farm, it was at a rent which would enable them, after payment of the taxes, to carry on the industry. If there were no taxes, the rent would be so much more, and therefore it was clear that the rent really was so much paid in actual rent to the landlord and the taxes so much which would otherwise be paid to the landlord in the form of rent, and any remission of those taxes would go necessarily to the landlord. They would get so much more rent when they found that the land was so much the less burdened. This proposition was not so applicable to the town as it was to the country. He would ask, as it pressed undoubtedly very hardly upon the towns, why there was no attempt made to rate the land values in towns. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners, as landlords, drew in London alone upwards of £300,000 a year in ground rents, contribuiing nothing in respect either of Imperial taxation or local taxation, and, when they found such a state of things existing as that, it was time that they should have some proposal made that there should be a taxation of those land values in London and in other great towns. He was unable to see that any benefit would arise to the general community from this grant to the agricultural classes under existing conditions, and he urged hon. Members to bear in mind that land existed for other purposes as well as for the exaction of rent. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ LORD ALWYNE COMPTON (Bedford, Biggleswade)
said he wished at the 254 outset to thank the President of the Local Government Board, and through him the Government, on behalf of his constituents for having introduced this Measure for the relief of the agricultural community. He believed that the late Government lost a great deal of support in the rural districts at the last election in consequence of their neglect of the agricultural interest. A good deal had been said about pledges given at the last election. He was ready to admit that he gave a pledge on this question, and it was that he would support any Measure brought forward of the character and with the object of the present Bill. And he gave the pledge readily because he had good reasons to expect that if a Unionist Government was returned they would give some practical consideration to the urgent demands of agriculture. ["Hear, hear!"] He had not been disappointed. ["Hear, hear!"] One good result of the Debate on the Bill had been to demonstrate the views and policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite on this question, and he did not think their action would be any more acceptable to the agricultural classes now than it had been in the past. [Cheers.] He had listened with attention to the Debates on the Bill. Many arguments had been adduced, many figures given, many extracts read, and many theories advanced on the subject, but it seemed to him that the whole question revolved round this single point—was agriculture in a desperate condition, and, if so, was it worth preserving? Well, there could be no doubt, he thought, after the evidence that had been brought before the House, that agriculture was in a seriously distressed condition. Squires leaving their houses, farmers becoming bankrupt, wheat going out of cultivation, migration into the towns, lands lying idle in all direction, and the facts adduced before the Royal Commission, all attested the fact; and he contended that the State would be acting in the best interests of the country as a whole if, by promptly coming to the relief of agriculture, it could do anything to prevent that great national industry from perishing. [Cheers.] Hon. Members of the Party opposite were ever ready to express sympathy with the agriculturist, but they did nothing to give practical effect to that 255 sympathy. ["Hear, hear!"] Personally, he for one should be glad to see the whole incidence of local taxation inquired into and adjusted, especially in relation to agricultural land. The conditions in regard to land under which taxes were imposed were very different from the conditions that now existed. Then the land constituted the largest portion of the wealth of the country; now it was one-fourth of its wealth, and yet the burden of this taxation remained the same. Moreover, the ordinary principle of taxation in this country was that a man was taxed in proportion to his wealth, and on that ground again, namely—that the wealth of the land had decreased, the landowner and the agriculturist were entitled to some relief of taxation. ["Hear, hear!"] As far as he could understand the main objections of hon. Members opposite to this Bill were two—first, that it was a proposal to relieve one class alone—the landlords in the rural districts, and, secondly, that local rates pressed far more heavily and unfairly in the towns than in the agricultural districts. As to the first point, he must say that a great deal of nonsense and injustice had been talked about the landlord, who seemed to be regarded by many hon. Gentlemen opposite as a species of inhuman monster, who was ever seeking to take advantage of the tenant. ["Hear, hear!"] But his view of the landlord was—the good landlord, for, of course, there were good and bad—that he was the capitalist and practically the banker of the district, and that through him the money filtered into the locality in which he lived, and found its way to the village tradesman and to the labourer. ["Hear, hear.] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton had laid stress on the point that the money to be granted under this Bill for the relief of the rural districts was to come from the taxation of the whole community. But it should be remembered here that a great deal of money had been extorted from the country districts by the unfair and unjust operation of the Death Duties, and it simply came to this—that a portion of the money was being returned through this Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] As to the second point, that local rates bore more heavily on the 256 towns than on the agricultural districts, surely that was no reason why an act of justice should not be done to the country districts. As he had said, he should be glad to see the whole question of local taxation inquired into. If, on future inquiry, it should be found that the towns and urban districts had a strong case, showing that the rates bore unjustly heavy upon them, their demand for re-adjustment and justice would be made all the stronger by the passing of this Bill, for it could then be shown that on similar grounds relief had already been granted to the agricultural districts. [Cheers.] If it was agreed, as appeared to be the case, that the food supply of country was an important national question, that prosperity in trade and commerce must depend largely on the prosperity of agriculture, and that it was essential to maintain a vigorous population in the country districts, then it behoved those on both sides of the House who represented rural constituencies, to urged the Government not to relax their efforts, so well begun, to restore as far possible the prosperity of this industry—one of the most important of the whole of our national industries. [Cheers.]
§ * MR. JOSEPH A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside)
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury had remarked that afternoon that there had been a certain amount of reiteration of argument in the course of the discussion on this Bill. The Debate, however, had been characterised by the absence of the Leader of the House, and therefore the right hon. Gentleman had scarcely a right to complain of the reiteration of the arguments that had been used against the Bill. For his own part, he had sat out the whole of the three days' Debate upon the Measure, and he had been surprised at the diversity of the points that had been brought forward. It was most satisfactory to hon. Members who sat upon the opposite side of the House that they had already obtained two great concessions from the Government in consequence of the arguments that they had put forward. In the first place, the Government had promised that there should be a time limit to the Bill; and, secondly they had announced, that they were prepared to consider favourably 257 the proposal for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the whole incidence of taxation in urban districts. His first strong objection to the Measure was that it promoted the increase of Imperial subventions. Prior to 1888, the grants-in-aid were voted annually by Parliament and amounted only to about £2,600,000 in England, and to £300,000 in Scotland. In that year, the Excise licence was substituted, which gave £3,000,000 to England, £320,000 to Scotland, and £40,000 to Ireland, and we find the total of Imperial subventions for 1888 became £6,203,941. In 1889, one-third of the Probate Duty was added, which brought the total sum to £7,061,000. In 1890, the amount was raised by one-half the probate instead of one-third and the addition of the local licences for England, and became £8,523,891, and in 1891 it was further increased, by the local licences for Scotland, and by the surtax placed upon beer and spirits, to £10,180,665. For 1897, the House was now asked to vote another £995,000; the amount would be raised to £11,493,480, and in 1898 the amount would be raised by a further sum of £975,000, and assuming the other payments would remain the same, the total subvention would reach £12,500,000. He himself had had some small experience in the expenditure of a portion of this money, having been on the Finance Committee and the Educational Committee of the Durham County Council, who had upwards of £103,000 per year to spend, obtained from Imperial sources, and he had watched the growth of the Imperial subventions, and of the expenditure with considerable interest. Last year, the County Council had congratulated themselves upon the absence of an increase in the rates. Of course, the inference which the public drew from the fact, an inference based upon a misconception, was that expenditure of the county was only increased in accordance with the increase in the ratable value. But as subventions had increased so the public generally, not being sensible of the source from which the county revenue was derived, had been continually increasing their demands, which they would not have done had they had to find the money out of their own pockets 258 instead of out of the pockets of the taxpayers. It was a very easy thing to spend other people's money, but, unfortunately, it tended in the direction of extravagance. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool had taunted hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House with having supported the Measure introduced by the late Government for the equalisation of rates in London, and had remarked that they, therefore, could not consistently complain of the provisions of the present Measure. The right hon. Gentleman evidently failed to see the difference between rates and taxes. When the Imperial Treasury had to pay, the ratepayers realised that the revenue came out of the pockets of the taxpayers, but when the money came out of the ratepayers' pockets they were much more cautious in their expenditure. The hon. Member for Tavistock had said that he approved of Imperial subventions, because they constituted an aid from the rich to the poor. He thought that the hon. Gentleman was under an entire misconception upon the point, because, although the Imperial Exchequer had the bigger purse it was the poorer rather the richer section of the community who contributed to it. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Scotland had done his best to minimise the result of Dr. Hunter's investigations, but he failed to refute his figures. The return which Dr. Hunter had obtained indicated how many ratepayers there were at different rents, and how much of the valuation they represented; he also gave as his authority figures taken from the report of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. The propositions proved could be summarised in two sentences. In the article by Dr. Hunter which appeared in the Contemporary Review the writer said:—The effect of the system of Imperial subvention is to transfer from the working classes and lower middle classes to the rich ratepayers.Every occupier below the rent of £48 loses, and everyone above the line gains by the policy of keeping up taxes in order to lower rates.Let hon. Members who supported the Government refute if they could Dr. Hunter's figures, and prove their inaccuracy, or realise the extent and 259 value of their sympathy for all those who were rented below £48 per acre, who would have to find the money for the landlords of England under the Bill. He believed himself in the system of graduation. Just taxation should be in proportion to ability to pay, and the relief given should be in proportion to non-ability to pay. But the proposals of the Government graduated in the wrong direction, for out of the £2,000,000 to be given under this Bill for the benefit of a certain class, it would be found that, according to the proportions established by Dr. Hunter, £1,700,000 came out of the working classes, and £300,000 came out of the lower middle classes. The farmers who paid a low rent were most in need of this relief, but the Bill would give relief to the farmers who paid high rents and cultivated the best land, and even then it only would prove a temporary benefit. If it were admitted that the Bill in certain cases did redress a certain temporary injustice, it aggravated the injustice as existing between man and man. In the urban districts there was more difference between the contributions of one ratepayer and another in proportion to ability to pay than there was in the agricultural districts; and if any relief were given, it ought to be in remedying the more crying injustice in the urban and industrial centres. The Government had placed much weight on the argument that personalty did not contribute equally with realty to local taxation, and their supporters seemed to possess some vague idea that this inequality would be redressed by transferring money from the taxpayer to the ratepayer. But no additional tax on personalty was proposed, and, therefore, the owners of personalty as contributing to both rates and taxes, would contribute no more than heretofore. He was in favour of an inquiry into the incidence of local taxation, but it must not be restricted to the urban or the rural districts; it must include both. [Ministerial cheers.] He was glad to receive the cheers of the hon. Members opposite, but he was sorry the hon. Gentlemen who cheered that view should be supporting a view which anticipated the decision of such an Inquiry, and which would make it much more difficult to put the whole incidence on a proper footing. If the 260 Bill were put into operation for only one year, it would not be so objectionable to himself. For the first year a large number of deserving tenants would derive material advantage from the Bill; but no land agent would be doing his duty to his landlord if he did not consider the whole situation whenever the tenant came to ask something from the landlord. From time to time he had himself farms to let, and in arguing this question he would illustrate his point by placing himself in the position of a land agent. As a land agent his duty would be to look after the interests of the landlord, and whenever a tenant came to him for timber to repair fences, for contribution towards permanent manures, draining operations, or made application for covered yards or repairs to buildings, he was bound to look at the position in which the tenant was placed, and, consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, advantage would be taken of any benefit proposed by the Bill to be placed upon the oecupier. The agent would thus obtain for the landlord that benefit which hon. Gentlemen opposite intended for the tenant. Had the House realised how few people this Bill would benefit? Out of the 32,700,000 acres affected by the Bill 5,7 28,000 acres were owned by 400 Peers; 8,497,000 acres were owned by great landlords; and 4,319,000 acres were owned by squires. Therefore, 18,500,000 of the acres affected were owned by 4,217 persons; and if the 4,782,000 acres owned by 9,585 yeoman farmers were added, the result was reached that two-thirds of the land affected would produce money for the benefit of 14,000 at the expense of the nation. It was the most unblushing and barefaced piece of class legislation which had been introduced into the House for many years. A certain amount of sympathy for the agricultural labourer had been expressed from the Treasury Bench, but he failed to see what benefit the labourer would get under the Bill. The hon. Member for Peckham said that it would keep the labourers on the land; but no one had indicated how that was going to be done. As to the benefit he would derive in respect to his allotment, in some districts, at any rate, the labourer received the allotment free of rates; and therefore any benefit given in respect of allotments 261 would directly go into the landlords pockets; and the Bill would not give sufficient relief to any ordinary farmer to enable him to employ one additional labourer on his farm. Another strong objection which he felt to the Bill was that it promoted reliance on the State. If Governments were to introduce Bills of this kind it would have a most demoralising effect on all classes, and they would cease to be any longer dependent on their own efforts. It was notorious that the British farmer adapted himself to circumstances less readily than any other class in the community. He hesitated to change his system and to meet the varying conditions of the market and the needs of the consumer. He took very little trouble to acquire the scientific education which was now necessary for the proper cultivation of the soil, and he despised many ways of earning a profit, such, for instance, as poultry rearing. The want of co-operation and combination on the part of the farmers was something to be ashamed of. Why should we annually import from Denmark £5,850,000 worth of butter; from foreign countries 1,000,000,000 eggs, and 2,210,000 ewts. of cheese, when all these things could be produced in our own country? Not only could they be produced at home, but by a proper organised system high prices could be obtained for home produce. This fact had been proved in his own county under the dairy class promoted by the Technical Education Committee. But this system of doles, instead of teaching the farmers self-help, would teach them to rely on the State. And whenever periods of depression again arose, they would find the tenant and landlord coming hand in hand to again seek State relief. There were two expedients which might be resorted to in relief of agricultural distress—an amendment of the Land Laws, and the inculcation of self-help among the farmers. By increased security for improvements and fixity of tenure, by the abolition of primogeniture and the facilitation of the cheap and free sale of land, the farmer could be made to take an increased interest in his holding, because he would know that he would derive the whole benefit of it, instead of a portion going in rent. They had been told that there was a mandate from the constituencies 262 for this Bill; but that he denied. He would cite as an illustration the resolutions of two agricultural chambers with which he was connected, but which were composed to a large extent of gentlemen differing from his own political views. The Durham and North Riding Chamber passed a resolution before the General Election that ''the incidence of rates and taxes should be immediately considered," and the Cleveland Chamber passed a resolution that ''full inquiry should be held as to the incidence of local taxation, and the whole question should be treated in a comprehensive manner." But they did not advocate that the taxpayer should be called on to contribute to the benefit of the ratepayer. He held that this question had not been treated in a comprehensive manner—[Opposition cheers]—and although he represented a county district, he felt amply justified in voting against the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ * MR. H. KIMBER (Wandsworth)
said that two hon. Members opposite had done them the honour of asking them how they were to justify themselves to their constituencies for voting for a Bill which would benefit one languishing industry, without compensating every industry which was also languishing. They had also drawn attention to the great disparity between the rating in London and the great towns, and the rating in the country, and about 6s. in the pound had been adduced as the rating in the former, and about 2s. 4d. in the latter. As representing one of the largest London constituencies, he would say that his constituents and himself would support the Bill in the first place because they considered that the maintenance of the agricultural interest, when it came to the point of land going out of cultivation, was a matter of national concern. He quite agreed with the principle laid down by the last speaker, that self-help and self-reliance ought to be the first consideration for every class of the community, but this was true only up to a certain point, the point of exhaustion. After the hon. Member who had just sat down had spoken in terms of deprecation of reliance on the State, he enumerated a long list of legislative Measures which could only be passed, in fact, by the aid of the State. They must consider whether it was the 263 right thing to do to allow an industry which was essential to the well being of the country, and which, if it went out of existence, would be a national calamity. If it was right, they ought not to be deterred from doing it because their action might leave a larger proportion of the national burdens on the remaining portion of the community. If it was right they should do it because it was right, and, certainly, they would get some solatium from doing good to so large an interest as the agricultural interest. So far as he was concerned he had not made any extravagant promises to his constituents of relief for the London rates. He might have declaimed against the excessive rating that existed in London, but he had never unfairly contrasted that with the rate of the poor agriculturists. London was the greatest of the urban districts, and it had chosen to indulge in the luxury of a London County Council with the most extravagant deas on expenditure, and expensive School Boards, and these things were in a great measure the cause of the heavy rating, though not, he admitted, altogether. There still remained a very large disparity between London and the great towns and the country in the matter of rating. In comparing the two ratings they must consider the comparative strength of the two backs that had to bear them. The difference between the income strength of London as compared with that of the agricultural districts was quite equal to the difference between the two figures of 6s. and 2s. 4d. in the pound which had been cited. They must remember that for this rate of 6s., which was a high one, they had got admirably paved streets and good roads for purposes of commerce, and various other conveniences of life which were the means of enabling a larger amount of effective work to be done with less labour to the individual and with a larger resultant profit than was the case in the country. Moreover, the processes of money-making were very much slower in the country. They were not dealing with rating simply as rating, but they were coming to the rescue of a class of their fellow-subjects who were threatened with extinction. By curing the infirmities of any large and important class—especially of a class 264 that was essential to the community—they were doing good to the whole country. Therefore, even supposing that the burden of which they proposed by the Bill to relieve the agricultural classes would tend to weigh heavily on the rest of the commmunity, that weight would be lightened by the improvement in the well-being of the whole community. Moreover, the general rating of the country was not altered by taking off half the rates of the agriculturists. The relief was taken out of the taxes, as distinct from the rates. And on whom did this taxation fall? In part, at all events, it fell on those who were relieved. He contended that if it were admitted—as it was admitted—that relief should be given to distressed agriculture, the form of relief proposed in the Bill was about the best that could be devised. It did not put money into the pockets of agriculturists, but it left money in their pockets which would otherwise come out. There might appear to some minds very little difference in that, but there was a difference to his mind between the charity which tended to pauperise, and that species of thrift which tended to make a man more thrifty still. [''Hear, hear!"]
§ * MR. BATTY LANGLEY (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
said, in a maiden speech, that he would not have taken part in the Debate did he not feel that the Bill proposed to do a great injustice to the manufacturers and working classes of his constituency. The borough of Sheffield extended over 19,000 acres. In it were included thousands of acres of purely agricultural land which were let for £3 or £4 per acre. One man occupied 20 acres of that land for which he paid a rent of £60 a year. At present he was rated on one-fourth of his rent. But under the Bill he would be rated on only one-eighth of his rent, which practically meant that he would be rated at £7 10s. a year to the rates of Sheffield, the sum which a working man in possession of a cottage near this land for which he paid a rent of £10 a year, would be rated, though the farmer had the benefit of the proximity of his produce to the market. They had in Sheffield a nobleman whom they all highly respected and honoured, and who was one of the largest landowners in the country. He owned the bulk of the land 265 in the neighbourhood of Sheffield, and a great portion of it was let for £3 an acre. He maintained that it was unjust to the working classes and to the large manufacturers in his constituency to ease the tenants of that great landlord of so much of the rates and taxes upon land from which he received so large a benefit. These tenants had the benefit of the town lighting. Their roads were kept in good repair, and they would pay a merely nominal sum under the provisions of this Act to the rates and taxes of the city. They all knew that the agricultural land of this country could be divided into three classes. There was the good land, which always let; the indifferent land, in regard to which concessions and considerations had to be made between landlord and tenant to keep it in cultivation; and then there was the bad land of the country, which was difficult to maintain in cultivation. But this Bill treated all the land alike—the good, the bad, and the indifferent. He could quite understand if this Bill were really intended to relieve agriculture, and to do agriculture good and the nation good by keeping the land in cultivation, it might do so if it provided that this assistance should be given only where land was let at 5s. or 10s. an acre. ["Hear, hear!''] But to provide for the remission of taxation upon land upon which a rent of £3 to £4 an acre was paid was doing an injustice to the general taxpayer of the country. [Opposition cheers.] He happened to be a tenant farmer himself. He was interested in a farm in the Midland counties, the rent of which was £200 a year, and taxes altogether £16 a year, and the house was almost as large as the one he lived in himself in Sheffield, for which he paid something like £70 a year in taxes. According to the provisions of this Bill the house and farm buildings were to be rated as usual, the agricultural land only was to receive the relief. In all probability the agricultural land would be rated then at something like£10 or £12 a year, and he would receive a benefit of about £6 a year. But who would receive that benefit in the end? He was talking to a farmer in Yorkshire last Friday, who farmed something like 600 acres of land. He said he knew he should receive a benefit from the 400 acres he now held 266 on lease, but as soon as ever the lease expired, he knew that the landlord would receive the benefit. [''Hear, hear!"] He had spoken to several large landowners in that House on the subject, and he asked one if he would sell agricultural land to-day at the same price he would have sold it two months ago. His answer was this: "Of course we shall take the provisions of the Bill into consideration in determining the value of the land. [Opposition cheers.] They all knew full well that the main advantages under the Bill would ultimately find their way into the pockets of the landlords. He was asked: "What would you do? What is your panacea for the evil?" He knew as well as they did that agriculture was struggling with adversity, but he ventured to affirm that a great many of the colliery owners in South Yorkshire had not made a farthing, on the contrary, they had lost thousands during the last two years, while the agriculturists in the neighbourhood of the large collieries received benefit from their proximity. It was his opinion that this Bill would neither be a bane nor a blessing to agriculture. He hoped, in considering that question, they would consider the desirability of treating all industries alike. When trade was good agriculture received the benefit of it; and when agriculture was paralysed and depressed, then some portion of the towns suffered. What would this Bill do for the little villages and the little towns of the country? There were hundreds of them where the little shopkeeper had as great a struggle for existence as the farmer—["Hear, hear!"]—and they would not receive a farthing benefit from this Bill. In the name of the constituency that he represented, and of the working classes of their large towns, he raised his protest against the iniquitous provisions of this Bill. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * MR. ARTHUR JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
said, the contention of the other side was that the rates were high in the towns and low in the country. It was said that the rates in Sheffield and Wolverhampton were very high, but look at the return which the ratepayers received—schools, libraries, baths, lighting, drainage, and so on. If they were going to make a fair comparison they must take off the general district rate and the lighting rate. ["No, no!"] The 267 towns had lighting and deep drainage, and they did not want to pay for that. ["Oh!"] Whatever drainage or lighting they had in the country districts they did it themselves. Another thing, there was the School Board rate, and again the comparison was fallacious, because they had comparatively few Board Schools in the country. Their schools were mostly kept up by voluntary subscriptions. The farmer paid rates just as if there was a cottage or dwelling on every acre of his land. He had to pay on his actual stock-in-trade—even to pay for the tillages of the land. He had to pay the outgoing tenant a large sum. It was said by an hon. Member opposite that the shipping industry was very depressed. They did not pay on their ships, there were no rates on their commercial business; they only paid on the small premises that they occupied. Here again the comparison was fallacious. Again, the farmer was rated at about 2½ per cent. on his gross profits, whereas the commercial man paid only ¼ per cent., showing that the rate paid by the farmer was very oppressive as compared with the rate paid in the town. Then it was said that the tenant would derive no benefit because the landlord would take it all. It was even said that, if the relief was divided between the landlord and the tenant the latter would not gain, as his rent would be raised in proportion. He did not think that the rents would be raised. Did anyone suppose that for those few years any man would think of raising the farmer's rent. He did not believe that any landlord would do such a thing. Much the same was said in 1891 when the Bill was brought forward to relieve the tenant from paying the tithe and to throw it on the landlord. It was stated that it would come to the same thing, for the landlord would charge a higher rent to make up for the relief given to him. Since 1891 he should like to know whether anyone could tell him many instances where this extra rent had been exacted from the tenant. His experience was that the landlords had given a reduction. He knew that as a rule landlords who had paid tithe had not exacted a penny more rent, although in many cases the tithe had amounted to 5s. or 6s. an acre. Could it be imagined that these same landlords would raise rents because rates 268 were reduced by 1s. an acre? He did not believe they would, and occupiers did not believe it, or they would not have demanded this Bill in the way they had done. As a good deal had been said about small holdings, he would give the figures relating to one. It was a small cottage with an adjacent field. There was no school board in the parish. The charges upon the small holding were—tithe 3s., rates at 3s. 6d. in the £, 12s. 7d., and Income Tax and Land Tax brought up the total to £1 6s. 2d. The receipts were £3 5s. for the rent of the cottage and £1 for the meadow. Thus the outgoings were 35 per cent. of the receipts, without allowing anything for repairs. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton complained of one witness, Mr. Stratton, that he did not know what his rates amounted to; but this was not at all surprising, seeing that he farmed 3,500 acres in several parishes. No doubt before the Commission the witnesses did not make a great point of the reduction of rates, because they wanted much more; but they did say it would be a great blessing to have rates reduced. It was not pretended on that side of the House that the readjustment of rates could make farmers prosperous; but the replies received by the Central Chamber of Agriculture to questions put to the farmers' clubs of the country indicated a unanimity of demand that agricultural land should be assessed at one fourth of its annual value. The same resolutions had come from large towns like Southampton. Therefore, it was not only farmers, but people in the towns, who desired that the rating of agricultural land should be reduced.
§ * SIR H. FOWLER
I always admitted that the farmers wished it, but they never put it forward as a remedy that would save them from the calamity of extinction.
§ * MR. JEFFREYS
continued, that in that case he and the right hon. Gentleman were agreed. The farmers knew they could not get this great relief which would restore prosperity; and, therefore, they were content to go for what they could get, which was some amendment of rating. Although land might be worth nothing, as it was in parts of Essex, it did not escape assessment, unless it was allowed to go derelict. It was inconsistently argued that two 269 millions was a large sum to give to the relief of an industry, and yet that the relief would be insignificant in individual cases; but in the case of a farmer who had been mentioned, and who would benefit to the extent of £36, that was equivalent to 7 per cent. of his rent, and there was no farmer who would not be glad to get that reduction. One of the leading agricultural papers of that week said:—It is persistently alleged that this legislation is purely for the benefit of the landlords; but the fact speaks for itself; the Bill has been drafted at the most urgent request of farmers from all parts of the country.That agriculture was a decaying industry was shown by the last census returns, from which it appeared that in 20 years the number of farmers had fallen by 24,000, and the number of farm labourers had diminished from 900,000 to 735,000. In the Midlands and the south of England, the cultivator of wheat was being abandoned, and that was nothing less than a national calamity. Every year we produced less food, and gave less employment to labourers. In 1851 we had 4,250,000 acres and in 1895 only 1,500,000 acres under wheat. Could the House look upon this state of things with equanimity? Was it anything short of a national calamity that our land should go out of cultivation, and that we should produce less food and give less employment on the farms every year? He denied that this was class legislation; if it were, he would not be found supporting it. He supported the Measure because he knew the fanning class urgently demanded something of this kind, and he assured the House that this was the only practical way of doing good to agriculture at the present time. Hon. Members opposite expressed the wish to do something for agriculture. Could they point out any way in which they could do agriculture a bit of good except in the way proposed? If prices could be raised, if better crops could be grown, if the climate could be improved, agriculturists would be very glad; but all such things were impossibilities at the present time. The only possibility was to reduce the rates, and he confidently hoped the House would not be led away by some speeches which had been delivered to-night; those speeches in which 270 it was said there was no depression, and others in which it was declared that agriculture did not deserve all the benefits proposed to be conferred upon it. If English agriculture did not deserve these benefits, why did Ireland? In 1881 no less a sum than £1,000,000 was given to Ireland in the shape of remission of tithe; £1,500,000 was advanced in respect of union workhouses in Ireland, and in 1853 £1,370,000 of that amount was remitted. When they came to give a small sum to readjust the rates in England, men got up in alarm, and said, what a dreadful thing it was to assist one industry only! He trusted the House would pass the Bill by an immense majority, for he was convinced that it would be received with acclamation by every occupier of land in the kingdom.
§ * MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
said, that as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hampshire had referred to the resolution of the Central Chamber of Agriculture in regard to this matter, he would like to point out that that Chamber proposed to provide for the deficiency by allocating locally raised taxes. Their suggestion was that the Land Tax and the Inhabited House Duty should be entirely given over to the local authority—that the locally-raised taxes should be employed to meet the deficiency in the first instance. It was only in the event of the allocation of those taxes not meeting the requirements of a readjustment of the rating of agricultural land that they suggested recourse to the purse of the general taxpayer. There was, therefore, a very serious and important difference between the proposals of the Central Chamber and those of Her Majesty's Government. Perhaps he might be permitted to refer to the painful incident which initiated this Debate. He did not wish to associate himself with either side in the dispute with regard to the proceedings of the Commission, a matter which ought not to have come before the House of Commons at all, and he dissociated himself entirely from the reflections on the motives of the majority which had been made in letters in the Press, and he dissociated himself still more emphatically from what he thought was an unprecedented, an ungenerous, and an indefensible attack on an absent colleague made in the 271 House. In his own report he did not challenge, nor did he challenge now, the right of the majority to draw up any report they thought fit. He only maintained that the report of the majority of the Commission made it clear to his mind, and the course of the Debate had made it still more clear, that the Commission was not adapted to inquire into the question or to report adequately upon the question. The Report of the Commission was worth practically nothing for the purpose of this legislation. He was much struck by the change in the attitude of the Ministry, as shown in the speech of the President of the Board of Agriculture, as compared with the speech of the President of the Local Government Board. He agreed heartily with a great deal that had been said with regard to the unfair incidence of rating of agricultural land. The President of the Board of Agriculture had practically admitted that the question must be settled by a scientific, separate and proper analysis of the whole situation, and the Government had agreed to the appointment of a competent tribunal to try the essential issues of the incidence of local taxation on all kinds of property. He hoped that inquiry would go to the root of the matter, not only as to agricultural land, but factories and all kinds of property that could be made to contribute to local taxation. It should be a competent tribunal of experts, men of thorough economic knowledge whose opinion would bear greater weight than the Commission of which he happened to be a Member, only a few members of which were qualified to speak on local taxation. He hoped it would be a Commission and not a Select Committee. The former would be the most satisfactory. The admission that an Inquiry was necessary was an absolute refutation and sweeping away of the whole case for the Bill. There was no ground for allocating practically the whole balance of the surplus to remedy one type of injustice, no doubt very pressing and urgent, and assuming that they could go on counting on surplus after surplus to remedy every other type of injustice in equal and fair proportion. If this Bill had been drawn as the result of some such Inquiry as he had spoken of, and the principle had been connected with it, that the relief given to local taxation should be 272 given where it was most urgently wanted instead of voting against this Bill as he felt compelled to do, it would have been his pleasure to vote for the Bill. The terrible position of many farmers and the impoverished condition of many agricultural labourers had been alluded to. But he asked any practical man whether the employment of these labourers and the keeping up of the fertility of the soil did not depend on keeping as large an amount of the tenant farmers' capital in his own hand and employed in the work of the soil. There was no provision whatever in the Bill that the whole relief given should not pass to the tenant farmer and the landlord. He had no hatred of landlords, or objection to their being encouraged and helped to develop their estates. He was astonished that the Government had not adopted the unanimous recommendation of the Commission—that loans on the cheapest possible terms should be placed at the disposal of landlords. That should have been done, and there should have been guarantees given that by the division of rates between owner and occupier that the advantage of the relief given should remain with the tenant farmer, that he might carry on his industry, keep up the highest fertility of soil, and employ the greatest amount of labour. It was because this Bill was absolutely premature and putting the cart before the horse in regard to the scientific inquiry which the Government admitted was necessary, and because the relief given under the Bill would not go to the man who really required it, he felt himself reluctantly compelled (because he was aware of the enormous claims of agriculture to receive relief from the public purse) to give his vote against the Bill.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, that on one occasion an old farmer speaking to him of sympathy for distressed agriculturists said, "You cannot put sympathy in your pocket." The Government were to be thanked by the tenant farmers of this country for giving them something which they could put into their pockets. He wished to refer to the speech that had been made in the course of the Debate by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. G. Whiteley). They who were discussing the great question of agricultural depression, found they always 273 had a recalcitrant Member for Stockport as the Tory Party had fifty years ago. An able, but a slightly misguided man, was Richard Cobden, and an equally able, and he ventured to think an equally misguided man, was the hon. Member for Stockport at the present time. As representing the suburbs and the agricultural land around Stockport, and also the freeholders of that town, he ventured to say that the hon. Member for Stockport did not represent the feeling of that town. The Cheshire men, whether in town or country, were very clannish, and the men in the towns understood that low prices were the result not only of foreign competition, but of the competition of the agricultural labourers who had gone into towns like Stockport, and there reduced the price of labour. They, therefore, could see that anything that kept the agricultural labourers on the land would be of advantage to them. The hon. Member for Stockport had spoken, not as the hon. Member for Stockport, but as the Member for Whiteley. Hon. Members opposite did wrong in trying to make comparisons between the depression of agriculture and that of other industries. The one was the profession of the nation, all the others were private enterprises for private profits. Lord John Russell and Sir Robert Peel in the forties, declared that the burdens on land should be taken off owing to the great change made as to Free Trade, but these burdens, instead of being relieved, had been greatly augmented. This small measure of relief, if it would not be of great material assistance to the tenant farmers of this country, would be of great moral advantage, and would encourage the agricultural population by showing that the Government had not left them quite in the lurch, and that those who sat at Westminster were not forgetful of the claims that that interest had upon the nation.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.),
who was received with Opposition cheers, said: Though we have occupied several days in this Debate, I venture to think we have hardly yet touched even the fringe of the questions which are involved in the proposals that are now laid before the House. I, on that account, regret that we understand it is the intention and 274 determination of Her Majesty's Government to close this discussion whilst I am certain there are many and great questions relating to this matter which have not, even yet, been alluded to. ["Hear, hear!"] I know, certainly, for myself that in the time I shall be justified in occupying the attention of the House, I could not even allude to one-tenth of the number of important questions arising out of these proposals. But I can quite understand the reasons that should induce Her Majesty's Government to desire that this discussion should not be protracted. [''Hear, hear!"] Something has been said by the Gentlemen who have lately spoken on the subject of the Royal Commission upon Agriculture. We are told that these proposals are the result of the Report of that Commission. But, Sir, we have received no Report, in the proper sense of the word, from the Commission upon Agriculture. When that Commission was appointed it was directed to inquire and to report upon the whole state of agriculture and upon the measures which might be taken for its relief. What was the office of that Commission was to lay before the House and the country what they had found, upon the evidence, to be the general condition of agriculture, and to have discussed all the remedies that have been proposed, so as to enable persons who were not able to read all these four volumes to judge of the matters which they contained. We have had no such Report. ["Hear, hear!"] The Commission has done nothing of the kind; it has given us no information with reference to the evidence upon the state of agriculture at this time, and it has not stated the various remedies which have been proposed—I venture to say, the more important remedies that have been proposed—as compared with that now before the House. [Cheers.] The Agricultural Commission one fine morning came down and said it would have an interim Report. I will refer no further to the matter on which my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton spoke. I was very glad to hear from him the repudiation of the violent, I must call it the ferocious and unjustifiable attack made by the President of the Local Government Board upon the Chairman of that Commission—[Opposition cheers]—a thing unjustifiable in my experience, 275 and, in my opinion, utterly unexampled in political life. [Opposition cheers and Ministerial cries of ''Oh, oh!"] I could understand two gentlemen quarrelling on a Commission, but I do not understand a man in the responsible position of the President of the Local Government Board coming down and bringing these quarrels into this House. [Opposition cheers.] I hope that is an example that will never be repeated in the future.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
The right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say I did not bring these quarrels into the House. I was the person attacked, and my statement was the reply to attacks made upon me which I believe were absolutely without precedent. [Ministerial cheers.]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
If the right hon. Gentleman did not bring the quarrels into this House, I do not know who did. [Opposition cheers.] I thought it necessary to take notice of that transaction only to express a hope that such a thing may never again be repeated in this House. [Opposition cheers.] Well, now, we have had this interim Report. It is not denied that the proposal which is in this Bill was made for the first time to the Commission only on January 23. It was made just before the meeting of Parliament for the purpose of supporting a Government Bill, and that it might be just in time to absorb the whole of the surplus which might be available in the Budget. [Laughter and cheers.] That is the meaning of the interim Report by this Commission, which has never reported upon the general subject of agriculture which was submitted to it. What we ought to have had was some account of the condition of agriculture in this country which should justify the extraordinary and exceptional proceeding of making a grant to a particular industry on account of its condition of distress. ["Hear, hear!"] That Report we have not got, and have never had. The extraordinary thing, which we are not able to gather, is, What is the view taken by the Government and by its supporters of what the character of this proposal is? You would imagine, after the investigation of a great Commission upon the condition of distress of agriculture, that the Government were bringing forward some Measure which 276 was to be a remedy for the distress of agriculture. That is a matter which I think ought properly to occupy the attention and time of the House of Commons, but the moment we ask, ''Is your Measure a remedy for agricultural distress?" they say, "Oh, no, not at all." [Laughter.] "It is nothing of the kind. It is a trifle; it is an encouragement." [Opposition laughter and Ministerial cheers.] It is a sort of complimentary mourning. [Loud laughter.] That is the character of the great Measure which the Government have brought forward. [Cheers.] The general taxpayer of this country, who might be willing to come forward and to contribute a large sum of money for a Measure which was really to bring about some substantial advantage to agriculture, might very rightly, I think, and justly decline to take £2,000,000 for an encouragement. [Cheers.] I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire who said:—How inconsistent you are; you say that this contribution is so small, and yet you say that the sum is so large.Well, but these two things are perfectly consistent. You may spend a very large sum of money, and yet you may so distribute it that it does very little good in each of the instances to which it is applied. ["Hear, hear!"] In a garden you may water the ground, and you might use a very large quantity of water, but if you gave only a small teaspoonful to each plant you would do very little good, though you expended a very large quantity of water. Therefore the two propositions are not the least inconsistent, as the hon. Gentleman seemed to assume. What you have got to show first of all is that there is such a critical condition of agriculture or any other industry that calls upon and justifies so extraordinary and exceptional a Measure as a subsidy out of the general taxation of the country. I suppose that is a proposition that will not be disputed. I do not think it will be disputed by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who has a profound knowledge of this subject and who has a proper sense, I think, of the gravity of a proceeding of this character with reference to the public purse. [''Hear, hear!"] The next point is 277 that you should show that the contribution you are going to make will in point of fact do good, which alone would justify an interference of this character. I should like to say a word on both of these heads, because after all those are the matters which we ought to consider. Why has this question of rates been singled out amongst all the other matters for the purpose of giving this relief? It was not the only or even the chief subject which was brought before the Royal Commission on Agriculture. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton never said that the farmers would not be glad to have half their rates or all their rates paid. Why everybody would like half or all their rates paid. [''Hear, hear!"] There were many far more important questions dealt with in that Report. There was the question of rent. That was a far more solid and important question than the rates to the tenant-farmers of this country. There was the question of tithe, and the question of the division of rates, which is excluded from this Bill. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
It was not excluded from the Commission, but it is excluded from the Bill. [Cheers.] On that account I complain that we have no Report from the Commission to the House. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said that nobody in this House had read the four volumes, and he admitted that he had not himself. He had not, indeed. If he had he could never have made the speeches which he has made. [Laughter and cheers.] He rather charged me with a confession that I had read them. I have to make a little limitation. There was a considerable portion of those four volumes taken up with the evidence of professors of bimetallism. [Laughter.] I confess that when I came to them I did skip. [Loud laughter.] I knew it all so well already. But still there were a great number of matters upon which we ought to have had the information of a Report from that Commission in order to form any just opinion upon this subject. I said that this question of the division of rates was one put forward very strongly in the Commission by a great number of witnesses. The question of division of 278 rates has been recommended by every authority that has ever dealt with that subject, and now we are told that the rates are a great burden from which the tenant-farmer ought to be relieved, and there is no division of rates in this Bill. Why? Because, the right hon. Gentleman tells us, it would be very inconvenient to the landowners in the present state of agricultural depression. What reason is that to give? [Cheers.] You demand the relief of the tenant-farmer, and will not put forward a little finger to assist him yourselves, in that division of the rates which has been recommended over and over again. You will not make it with the landlord, but you will make it with the general taxpayer of the country. [Cheers.] Whatever else happens in this Bill, I venture to say that we will take the opinion of the House of Commons on the question whether there ought not to be a division of rates between the tenant and the landlord, and that the landlord should take his share, at all events, in that rate which you say falls entirely upon the tenant. [Cheers.] You state that the tenant is to receive the relief immediately, but that ultimately it is to go to the landlord. I thought that the explanation given to-night by the right hon. Gentleman on the subject of the rate was one of the most interesting and at the same time one of the most amusing I ever heard. He was asked with reference to the rate, and especially the new rate, by whom the relief would be given and to whom it was to go; and the right hon. Gentleman said that as long as there is distress in agriculture the relief will go to the tenant. Yes, and the moment the times are prosperous and rents rise, the whole of the relief—the whole of these two millions—will go to the landlords. [Cheers and laughter.] But if the tenant-farmer is to have the relief in the time of distress, and the landlord is to have it in the time of prosperity and high rents, it seems to me that that is very much like a system of giving to those who have. [''Hear, hear!"] That is the policy of the present proposal. What is the ground upon which the largesse in this Bill is to be made? It is not pretended that the Bill is to brought forward merely as a reform of local taxation. All of us are ready to admit that local taxation is a 279 matter that requires reform, but if the Government are bringing this proposal forward solely as a reform of local taxation, it should apply to all interests and all local taxation alike. [''Hear, hear!"] There is something like 180 millions of rateable value in this country. The Government deal with 40 millions of that sum belonging to the land. Why do they not deal with the remaining 140 millions? ["Hear, hear!"] Up to this time no one has ever dreamed of granting subsidies for the relief of local taxation, except upon the footing of applying it to all interests alike. If anybody had ever previously attempted anything of the kind he would have been denounced as guilty of the most flagrant violation of every principle of financial justice. [Cheers.] In all the Measures that the right hon. Gentleman opposite was a party to—in all the subsidies that he gave—did he ever dream of proposing any course except giving an equal benefit to all the rateable property to which the subsidies applied? There is a striking passage in a speech which the right hon. Gentleman made in that House, when, turning round to the country gentlemen who sat behind him, he gave them a warning and said to them:—I know that you are wanting relief of local taxation, but I would advise you to remember that the four millions that I give will only amount to a relief of 6d. in the pound.But the country gentlemen behind the Treasury Bench want more than that. Therefore I will do a small addition sum for them. If they want to get a relief of 1s. in the pound it would cost eight millions, and if they are not satisfied with even that and want 2s. relief, it will cost 16 millions. ["Hear, hear!"] Sir, the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I repeat, never dreamt of dealing with such a question as this except as affecting all interests alike, nor has anyone else up to the present time. ["Hear, hear!"] Then it is said that this principle is to be departed from now because agriculture is a ruined industry and that it must be saved. But the remarkable part of the matter is that hon. Gentlemen opposite tell us that this remedy is not going to save it. If that be so, then there is no pretext for departing from the principle to 280 which I have referred—an obviously sound financial principle in dealing with matters of this kind. [''Hear, hear!"] It may be said that agriculture is a ruined industry by people who have not read the Report of the Royal Commission, and it may be used as a popular phrase in parts of the country where the agricultural depression has been most keenly felt; but is it true that agriculture is a ruined industry on the point of extinction? At the present moment this ruined interest is assessed on an annual value on the Income Tax of 56 millions. That is upon the rental. And what is the rental of the country? It is the surplus of the produce after paying the cost of production, which goes to the landlord. Then 56 millions is the annual value of the rental of the country. It is a rather singular coincidence that the annual rental of land in the country to-day stands as nearly as possible at the same figure that it stood at in the year before the repeal of the Corn Laws. I should say here that in the figures I gave just now—namely, 56 millions—I included Scotland and Ireland. But in the year 1845 the annual rental for England was 40 millions, and in round numbers it is about 40 millions now. [Cheers.] As for saying that the landed interest was ruined by the repeal of the Corn Laws, the statement is contrary to the fact. From the period of the repeal of the Corn Laws up to the year 1880 the rental and annual value of land rose constantly and rapidly for 35 years. It is quite true that since that time it has fallen, and fallen rapidly. But if you choose to take the whole 50 years, the 35 years of rise and the 15 years of fall, you will find that on the whole since the repeal of the Corn Laws the annual value of land has been much higher than before. Rent, as I have said, is the balance that is left over after deducting the cost of production, and it ought to yield also a profit to the farmer. The assumption made in the Income Tax under Schedule B, which is a rough-and-ready manner of calculating the thing, is that the profit to the farmer is half the rent. Therefore the assumption is that the land ought to yield the rent to the landlord and half the amount to the occupier. Let me illustrate it in this way. Land, then, upon that assumption which yields £100 in rent 281 ought to yield £50 in profit to the occupier. You tell us that the farmers in this country make no profit. Is that true? [An HON. MEMBER: ''Yes.''] Well, then, how do they make a rental to the landlord? ["Hear, hear!"] How is that 40 millions of rent made if the tenant-farmers make no profit? Why, it means that you, the landlords, have taken the whole. Suppose it yielded before, in times of prosperity, £150, and it now yields less, we still say one-half, £75. Then, if, as you say, the farmer makes no profit and the landlord reduces his rent 25 per cent., what does that mean? It means that he has taken the whole £75 and left nothing for the tenant-farmer. If it be true—though I believe it is not true—that the tenant-farmers make no profit —because it would be intolerable to believe that while the tenant-farmers were making no profit the landlords were making any rent at all—there ought to be no rent. [''Hear, hear!"] The landlord and the tenant are partners in the cultivation of the soil. Each of them is entitled to his fair share in the cultivation of the soil, and, if the propositions which have been stated on the other side are true, it would follow as a consequence that the sleeping partner is taking the whole profit produced out of the land. You are going to reduce the rates in the rural districts to the farmer by 1s. an acre or thereabouts, taking the rate at a little over 2s. in the pound. Have you reflected that the same result which is to be reduced by this extraordinary Measure would equally be accomplished by a reduction of 1s. an acre upon the rent? ["Hear, hear!"] Why, what is now the average rental of this country? Of course it varies very much in different parts of the country, but there is a method by which you can form a general idea about it. You have in a return which was made by Mr. Lefevre, when he was at the Local Government Board, the numbers of acres of cultivated land and also the assessment of the Income Tax upon it. If you compare the number of cultivated acres with the assessed value you get at something like a general idea of the rental of the country. It will require some reductions, I know; but a comparison of those two figures would give you in different parts of the country an average 282 rental—sometimes more favourable, sometimes less—of about 28s. or 29s. an acre. [Opposition laughter.] I do not state that with very great confidence; I wish to argue the question as fairly as I can, and I will tell you exactly the grounds upon which I arrive at that conclusion. It is said, ''Oh, how can this be? The land of England is going out of cultivation." The land of England is not going out of cultivation. There are some spots which, under the peculiar condition of the soil and under the influence of a succession of extremely bad seasons, have been hit with extreme severity, and this has brought about a fall in the value of agricultural produce It is said that land is going out of cultivation. Will the House allow me to call their attention to one or two passages from the evidence of some of the Sub-Commissions on this subject? So far, in many parts of the country, from land having gone out of cultivation, one of the great complaints that the farmers make is that there is so much competition for land around them that it has a tendency to run up the rents. [Cheers.] The Blue-book is full of instances, and that is a point which, if there had been anything like a fair Report from that Commission, you ought to have known. I do not know whether this is among the passages which have escaped the attention of the President of the Local Government Board in his study. This is one of the passages in reference to Lancashire. First of all as to rent. In the neighbourhood of Liverpool the Farmers' Club stated that the rents within six or seven miles of the city ran from £1 10s. to £2 10s. an acre on the larger farms and up to £3 an acre on the smaller ones. The agent of the Earl of Sefton stated that the rents of property close to Liverpool averaged 42s. an acre. As to rents generally in that part of the country, the average rent per farm under 100 acres was 38s., 42s., 38s., and so on, on the different estates, and on the larger farms about 30s. Mr. William Fox said:—Reference has already been made to the keen competition for farms … This curious state of things exists—that, although at the present time there is almost a universal demand for the reduction of rent, there are plenty of men forthcoming who will agree to take farms at the same rent as those which it was said it is impossible to pay.283 The hon. Member who spoke last referred to Cheshire; it is a very distressed county, where it would be extremely desirable that this extraordinary relief should be given. Mr. Parker, on behalf of the Cheshire Farmers' Club, said that—there had been no general reduction of rent, but there have been reductions on a few farms. Competition for farms is as keen as I have ever known it. There is no difficulty in letting farms at the old rents.[Cheers.] Mr. Cook, a representative of the Cheshire Farmers' Association, also certified to the great competition for farms. He said:—Vacant farms are let at the same rent as 15 years ago—30s. to 40s. an acre. Labourers' wages were increased from 15s. a week to 20s. 10 or 15 years ago, and have since been maintained.That is not a ruined industry. Take the evidence that comes from Cornwall.—Rents have been reduced from 10 to 20 per cent. On those reductions there is no difficulty in letting farms. If a landlord has a fair reputation—an ordinary landlord—he will get 20 to 30 applicants for a desirable farm.The witness expresses the opinion that—Apart from last year, the majority of farmers in Cornwall made from 5 to 8 per cent. on their capital.Then the witness is asked—If last year was an exceptional season and we get fairly prosperous seasons in future, there will not be much to complain of in Cornwall?''No, certainly not,'' was the answer, ''if we retain the class of farmers we have now." Then he says:—The labourers were never better off than now. Their wages average throughout the year about £1 a week.There is no great indication of ruin here. I take next the report from Durham. Here it is said:—It appears, however, that, not with standing depression, there is competition throughout the county for farms of all sizes, but particularly for the smaller holdings. There are no farms unlet, and there is no difficulty in letting farms at the present rents.284 Mr. Wilson Fox, who quotes Mr. Hind-marsh, says:—It may be said that we farmers are to blame for the competition for farms. It is true we compete against one another, but competition also arises with tradesmen's sons from the towns, who like to take farms because they like the social position.''This preference for social position in a ruined industry is a peculiar taste. [Laughter.] Mr. Wilson Fox sums up the position by saying:—There is no difficulty in letting farms at the present rents, and in many instances there has been competition for them. Rents are being-well paid.Now I come to North Devon. Mr. Rew says:—There are practically no farms re-let in this district. I was told of two farms just unlet on a large estate There were 13 tenders for one and 12 for the other, the one being 60 acres and the other 200 acres. There is no lack of applications for farms, and, speaking generally, they can be let at not much below the old rent, except in those cases where the rent has not been reduced at all. This applies specially to small farms—say, up to 30 acres—but it is not far from the truth, as far as I can ascertain, as a general observation.There is another part of his Report where he says, "Farms are commonly let by tender." That is, of course, for the purpose of obtaining the highest possible rent.In the case of the large estates the agents have generally plenty of applications. The highest bidder, if suitable, gets the farm. Complaint was made in one district of a practice said to exist of offering a farm by tender and then selecting a tenant and endeavouring to induce him to make a higher bid. In nearly all parts of the district the farmers complained of excessive competition for farms, and it was frequently admitted that the farmers were themselves to blame for what they considered to be high rents. One witness, although he complained that rents ought to be reduced, stated that he did not blame the landlords for putting them up. He blamed partly the agents and partly the farmers themselves, and others said that the farmers were their own enemies for competing. I am bound to say, however, that it is more common to protest against the present rents as excessive, and to say that the landlords ought to reduce them. This was specially said by sitting tenants who did not consider that they had been fairly met by the landlords. A case put before me by one witness may be quoted as illustrating their position. He was an occupier of 500 acres, and had been for 35 years on his farm. Up to four or five years ago he held it on lease. It was then 285 revalued by a well-known valuer, who put it at £520. The agent, however, asked £570, and he was obliged to agree to pay this £50 above the valuation, but for the last three years he has received an abatement of 10 per cent. He holds the farm on a yearly agreement, and has applied for a permanent reduction of £15, or 20 per cent. To this the agent said he could not agree, and that he was prepared to take the farm if it was given up.Now, I say that evidence of this kind ought to be known and attended to—["Hear, hear!"]—and it would be known if there had been anything like a fair report, and not merely an interim report, from the Commission of Agriculture. The Commission upon Agriculture, in recommending this Measure for the relief of local taxation, without giving the House or the country any conception of what were the real contents of the evidence given before them, in my opinion, have acted extremely unfairly towards the House. ["Hear, hear!"] I am not pretending to give a full report of the evidence. I have never possessed it. But I say you ought to have given it. [Cheers.] You have given an entirely false impression of the contents of that evidence in the speeches you have made. [Cheers.] What I am endeavouring to show, and all I am endeavouring to show, is that there is a totally different side to the view which is contained in that evidence, which ought to be before the country before we decide a matter of this kind. ["Hear, hear!"] I have no right to occupy the time of the House any longer on this matter. I might go into dozens and scores of cases of the same kind to show how entirely unfounded and contrary to the evidence given before the Commission is this representation of universal ruin. [Cheers.] I venture to say that, when this question comes to be carefully, and fairly and fully considered, it will be found that the real question which lies at the bottom of the relief of agricultural distress is the question of rents—[cheers]—and the notion on the part of those who are interested in rents and who think they can shovel the thing off, first on the rates and then on national taxation, is an entire delusion [Cheers.] Those who are called upon to pay what they ought to pay should examine this matter and see how it really stands, and the notion of the First Lord of the Treasury, who tells us that this Bill is a 286 small matter, that the only question involved is a small question of a single principle, is a very mistaken one, and when he closures this Debate to-night—and I do not wonder that he closures it—[cheers]—because he does not want to have this question discussed. [Cheers.] Is it true that this question of rent has been too much discussed in this Debate? Have we gone into it as it ought to be gone into, and will be gone into? If you succeed in excluding it from this House, it will be discussed elsewhere. [Cheers.] I will read you the opinion of a distinguished politician, who, I am bound to say, whatever may be his opinions for the time being, always expresses them with lucidity, and who strikes the nail on the head—I mean the Secretary of State for the Colonies. [Ironical cheers.] He is well known for his perspicacity, and he has thoroughly understood this agricultural question. This is what he says:—The English farmer pursues a will-o'-the-wisp in the shape of protection, and he excites himself very much about the relief of local taxation. Well, he must be a very foolish person to imagine that the people of this country will ever again submit to the terrors of the small loaf, and he must be a very sanguine man to imagine that any relief of local taxation will make much difference to the local I rates. But, even if the farmer could get all he desires in these two respects, that would not benefit him one iota, though it might enable his landlord to extract a higher rent.[Cheers.] And then he draws a conclusion, and he says:—There is only one thing that can benefit the farmer, and that is a fair rent fixed by an impartial tribunal.[Loud cheers.] Who was that? Why, it was the principal Member of the Cabinet. [Cheers.] I say that that is at the root of the question of agricultural distress, and if you think you are going to escape the discussion of that question you are greatly mistaken. [Cheers.] There is a very odd idea which, ever since I have known anything of the agricultural interest, has always pervaded those at the head of the hierarchy, and that is that, by some sort of divine right, they are entitled to a certain amount of rent. That was fairly expressed in the frankest and most candid way a few weeks or months ago by the Duke of Devonshire. He said that the 287 landlords were not going to consent to any further diminution of rent; whatever happened, whatever might be the seasons, whatever might be the price of produce, or whatever might be the amount of produce, the landlords were not going to consent to any further reduction of rent.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
When did the Duke of Devonshire say that? [Cheers and loud cries of "Quote!"]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I do not pretend to give the exact words that the Duke of Devonshire used. [Ironical cheers and laughter.] That was the underlying idea. [Renewed ironical cheers and laughter]. Permit me to finish my sentence. That was the underlying idea of the old Corn Law times—["hear, hear!"]; and it was founded upon this assumption—it was said that you could not make, what I am told the landlords consider, not a living wage, but a living rent. [Cheers and laughter.] In the old days, in order to secure that living rent, wheat had at one time to fetch 80s. a quarter; and then, afterwards, the idea was somewhat changed, and the price was fixed at 60s. a quarter. With corn at those prices it was, perhaps possible for the landlords to obtain a living rent. [Cheers and laughter.] To the £40,000,000 of rent that at present exists the Government are going to add another £2,000,000 by this Bill, which money will ultimately find its way, certainly in prosperous times, into the pockets of the landlords. ["Hear, hear!"] What is this demand for the reduction of rates? They have already been greatly reduced by the subsidies of the right hon. Gentleman opposite—how greatly reduced is shown by the minority Report of the Commission. Certainly the reduction of rates during the time of this agricultural depression has been greater than the reduction of rents. [Cheers.] And that is a matter that ought not to be lost sight of when we are considering the question whether it 288 is the rent or public taxation that ought to contribute to the relief of the farmer. ["Hear, hear!"] Rates are the things of which of all subjects of complaint the agricultural community has the least right to complain. Of the £30,500,000 of rates raised in this country, about £2,000,000 are raised in the purely agricultural districts, and another £2,000,000 are raised in the urban and rural districts. Now that is the proportion of the charge that the land bears out of the whole £30,500,000 which the rates produce. There has been an increase in the rates of this country of £14,000,000 during the last twenty years, out of which only half a million has fallen on agricultural land. Therefore, as I have said, the rates are the charges of which the landowners have the least right to complain, especially in view of the fact that during recent years the rates upon that particular class of property lave been diminishing and not increasing. ["Hear, hear!"] If that is the case the relief ought to be given, not to those whose rates have been diminishing, but to those whose rates have been increasing. ["Hear, hear!"] Now let me say a word about the absurd inequality of the plan which is embodied in this Measure. A case was cited to us the other day by an hon. Member in which he showed that relief will be given to certain land to the extent of 14s. per acre. And why will the relief be so large? It is because the rent of the land is so enormously high. ["Hear, hear!"] Thus, where the land is very good and the profit made is large, the relief given is also very large, but where the land is poor and let at 10s. an acre, the profits are correspondingly small, and it amounts to, instead of 14s., only 6d. an acre. That, of course, is the result of the plan of the Government, and am I not right, therefore, in calling this Bill a most inconsiderate and a most un-statesmanlike Measure? [Cheers.] The Government are giving the greatest relief to the richest land and the smallest 289 relief to the poorest land. What shall I say about that ridiculous farce in the Bill of putting in the claim that this is to be charged upon the personal property under the Estate Duty? [Cheers.] Really, that is a comedy below the level of serious finance. [Cheers.] Why, Sir, if the Government did not make this charge they might take off half the tea duty; they might even diminish the duty on beer; and then, according to the theory of hon. Gentlemen opposite, they would take off the duty on barley to the extent of six or eight shillings. [Cheers and laughter.] They might even take a penny off the Income Tax; and therefore I hope that, for mere decency's sake, the Government will strike that clause out of their Bill. It is said that we have been discussing the same thing night after night. [Ministerial cheers.] But we have not. I have pointed out one thing which we have not discussed half enough yet— and that is the question of rent. [Cheers.] I will point out another thing which we have not been discussing, because we did not know of it till this afternoon—and that is, how you are going to deal with the increased rate, where there is an increase in the rate, and how it is to be apportioned. ["Hear, hear!"] All of us were under the impression that, as regards that, it was to be left under the old system, and everybody was to pay equally on it, as they did before. It is quite true that there is to be no increased contribution from the Exchequer in respect of the increased rate; but how is the rate to be divided? I take the instance put by my right hon. Friend in his question, when 80 per cent, is rural and 20 per cent. urban. That is not at all an unusual case in districts like the eastern counties. I take the case of an increase of the rate, and I put it at £100. At present the rural part pays £80 and the urban part pays £20. But what is it to be under this Bill? The rural part instead of paying £80 is to pay £40, and the urban 290 part instead of paying £20 is to pay £60. [Loud Ministerial cries of "No, no."] That is the way in which it was explained. [Opposition cheers and Ministerial cries of "No!"] Then that shows that we have not discussed this Bill enough. [Loud Opposition cheers.] Do I understand that there is no change to be made in respect of the new rate? Will you give us the figures? [The FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY: "Certainly."] Most distinctly my right hon. Friend and I took the words down from the President of the Local Government Board, and when it is reported to-morrow it will be found so. [Mr. BALFOUR expressed dissent.] I do not think the right hon. Gentleman was in the House.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I was dissenting from the right hon. Gentleman's arithmetic. [Cheers and laughter.]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
We want to know how this matter stands, and directly after the Government has made a counter statement on the subject they are going to Closure the, Debate. [Opposition cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me. The meaning of the Bill is perfectly clear on the face of it. All that is wrong in the arithmetic of the right hon. Gentleman. [Cheers and laughter.]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
We may be unintelligent. [Ministerial cheers.] But that is one of the reasons why we should be allowed to discuss the Bill more fully. I have read the Bill, and I confess that I thought the intention was, with reference to the future increase of rate, that the matter should remain as it was—that there should be the same protection as there is now against an 291 increase of expenditure. But I am told that that is not so; and I want to know exactly what the difference is. How much less is the rural district to pay, and how much more is the urban district to pay? Or is the rural portion to pay the same and the urban portion to pay more. That is the most important point in the whole of the Bill. [Cheers.] On that depends the construction of the Board of Guardians; because if you give to the rural population so much less and to the urban population so much more of the burden, you must reconsider that question altogether. There was no explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman in the introduction of this Bill with reference to this matter at all. We have been left to find it out for ourselves, and I confess that anything more unintelligible to me than the Bill it is impossible to conceive. ["Hear, hear!"] A great deal has been said upon the subject of the labourers, and it is said that they have been driven from the soil by agricultural depression, and that this Measure is in some way or other to restore them, or, at all events, to prevent their exodus in the future. Well, Sir, can such a proposition be gravely stated? I will take the case from the minority Report, already referred to, of two farms. On one farm in Norfolk of 750 acres, with a rent of £543, the rates were £39, and the relief was £20; how many labourers will be kept upon a farm of 750 acres at the cost of £20 a year. We know perfectly well it would not pay one labourer for more than six months. On another farm of 260 acres, with a rent of £168, the rates were £7 8s., and the relief £3 14s. How long are you going to keep a labourer upon this farm for £3 14s.? The thing is absurd on the face of it; and that is an illustration of what I said, that if you distribute this relief in this way all over the country, not giving it in the places where it is wanted, and spreading it over places where it is not wanted, you give it in such infinitesimal doses that it will do no 292 good at all, and certainly it will do no good to the labourers. If you give this £3 14s. to the tenant upon this farm, do you think he is going to give any increase of relief? [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] No; how would he be benefited by this legislation?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
How are you going to increase the 9s. a week which the labourer gets? [Opposition laughter.] If you had £3 14s. relief, how much a week would you give him? He would not get much benefit, I imagine. But, Sir, there is another fact with reference to the question of the labourers, which, I think, is new to the House. It is supposed that this great exodus of labourers from the country is due to agricultural depression; that is an entire mistake. By far the largest exodus of agricultural labourers into the towns took place at the very period when agriculture was at its highest prosperity—[Opposition cheers]—that is, in the decade 1871 to 1881. I think that rent was at its highest point in 1880, but listen to these figures. In Norfolk, in 1871, there were 41,620 labourers; in 1881—and this was the period of the highest agricultural prosperity—there were only 39,331. Take the decade from 1881 to 1891, the difference there was between 39,331 and 39,000. In this period of agricultural depression there has been a much less exodus than there was in the period of the highest agricultural prosperity. It is the same thing for the counties of Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, and Cheshire, and these are the counties where the reduction has been the least, and they are among those where the depression has been the worst. The real reason of it was that, in the period between 1871 and 1881, there was great prosperity and activity in the towns, and there was consequently a great inducement to the labourers to go to the towns, and they did go on that account. ["Hear, hear!"] 293 It was not at all from agricultural depression that they went to the towns. Here is another question which is involved, and which you will have to Debate before you get to the bottom of the agricultural depression, and that is, if you want to keep the labourers on the soil, you must do it, not by paying half the rate, not by paying 6d. an acre on the land, but by entirely reconsidering and reforming the system of land tenure in the country. [Opposition cheers.] That is the way the men who get only 9s. a week as day labourers are to be kept on the soil. It is not by these wretched doles, but by placing them in a position in which they will have an inducement to remain upon the soil. [Opposition cheer ft.] That is what I mean by saying that this Bill opens up a question of enormous magnitude—the question of the landed constitution of this country. I entirely repudiate and regret the theory of the First Lord of the Treasury that this is a Bill of one principle and one clause. It is like a leak in a dyke, which, by-and-by, will let in a great flood upon us. ["Hear, hear!"] The case for dealing with agricultural rates to the exclusion of urban rates has, in my opinion, failed. I admit that agricultural depression exists in a considerable part, but not in the majority, of the agricultural districts of this country. I should be extremely glad to see some efficient remedy applied to the parts that require relief without wasting money on parts that do not require it. I should myself be inclined to go somewhat further on the subject of the Land Tax. I think that the high rate put upon the Land Tax in some parts of the country is extremely unfair, and that it would be well to give relief in that matter to districts which are distressed. But that is a remedy of a totally different character to the remedy proposed by the Bill. It is a remedy which does not touch any dangerous questions, especially not the one to which I referred above all—the question of the national poor rate. You 294 may depend upon it that in touching the question of the poor rate, you are touching one of the most perilous questions in reference to Imperial finance upon which it is possible to enter. ["Hear, hear!"] Then we are told, in order to reconcile the uneasy spirits of Borough Members on the other side—[Opposition laughter]—that this Bill is to be limited to five years. I do not know whether that has any particular reference to a possible General Election at the end of that five years. [Opposition cheers and laughter.] But why are the borough Members and their urban constituencies to wait for five years for that justice which you are in such a hurry to give to your friends by an interim Report. [Opposition laughter.] Will this proposed new Commission come down with an interim Report next Session and say that the boroughs are to have the same justice meted out to them as is now being meted out to the landlords and the agricultural interest. [Opposition cheers.] What you have done in this case is to sweep up the whole of the surplus for your friends. [Opposition cheers.] But that is not all. You have mortgaged the surplus of the future to the extent of £1,500,000. [Opposition cheers.] When is there to be a surplus for the purpose of giving anything to the urban population? [Opposition cheers.] Our experience is that a country does not always yield a surplus. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech talked about coincidences. [Laughter.] I am going to mention another coincidence. The other day I saw the returns for the first month of the financial year, and I was sorry to observe that there was a considerable diminution in the receipts. I hope that is not an omen of the future; but it is one of those coincidences that was not unlikely to occur when further acquaintance was made with the present Administration. [Opposition laughter.] What, then, is the outlook for the urban population? The Prime Minister said, "We cut our coat 295 according to our cloth. We have got a couple of millions to dispose of, and we take it." But you cannot feed the urban population by cutting your cloth. You will have to apply £13,000,000 to satisfy the urban demand for the relief of local rates. Where is this sum to come from? I dare say you are going to raise it by indirect taxation; but I think the people will have something to say to that. [Opposition cheers.] I have told you what it will require to satisfy demands which, in my opinion, will be unanswerable when you pass this Bill. It means another 6d. on the Income Tax, or it means trebling the graduation of the Death Duties. [Opposition cheers.] That is one question that is opened up by this Bill which you will have to meet. You are drawing this Bill at five years—a Bill which, when it becomes due, will have to be redeemed by £13,000,000 of public money taken out of the Exchequer. He will have to pay for it. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board read me a lecture upon the subject of the evidence of Sir George Cornewall Lewis. I quoted Sir George Cornewall Lewis, and I recommended the right hon. Gentleman and other Gentlemen to pay attention to it. I could give the right hon. Gentleman the passage, but I could not enable him to understand it, and, when he read it out, it was quite obvious that he had not the slightest idea what it meant. [Laughter] He read out the Scotch precedent. I never objected to the principle which Sir George Cornewall Lewis commended. I did point out that Scotland, although it had tried it, had not largely followed it. What I quoted Sir George Cornewall Lewis for was this, to show the immense danger of establishing a national rate dealing with the Poor Law. The Scotch precedent had nothing to do with it. You classify your local rates in a district, but there was no principle there of paying half of the rate out of the public Exchequer. ["Hear, hear!"] That is the whole poison of your Measure, and to 296 imagine that the passage quoted had anything whatever to do with the argument I had employed shows that the right hon. Gentleman had not the smallest comprehension of what it was all about. These questions which I am arguing will all be answered by the right hon. Gentleman who is to follow me. [Mr. GOSCHEN: "No!"] Oh, you have suspended the 12 o'clock Rule, and I hope he will deal with many of the questions I am going to ask him. [Cheers.] I want to ask him specially what is his doctrine as to the duty of the State to relieve distressed industries. [Cheers.] He has the control of the public finances of this country. Let us have a clear and distinct statement of the Government as to what are the principles which are to be applied in future for the relief of distressed industries? Is it confined to agriculture alone? If so, why is it to be refused to the cotton industry? Will the same argument apply to the cotton industry when it languishes and the artisans cease to be employed? That is your great argument. Is it to be applied to the iron trade? Is it to be applied to the shipping trade? If they make no profits are they to receive relief from the national taxation of the country? Is it to be applied to the coal trade? The number of men engaged in that trade is about equal to the number employed in agriculture. The coal trade, as we all know, is making little or no profit. Are you going to assist the coal trade out of public taxation in order that 800,000 men may be kept employed? If not, why not? What distinction do you establish? It is a point on which we have a right to ask an answer from the First Lord of the Treasury. Let us have it from him to-night. I think there are some questions which still have to be answered and which have yet to be discussed. I feel, Sir, that I have already occupied too much time—["No, no!"]—but I have only touched upon a very small part of the matters which, in my opinion, ought to be discussed, dealing with so 297 large a question as this. I deeply regret that the Government are determined to put what I call a most premature close to this discussion. [Hear, hear!"] I think it is an abuse of the powers of the majority. ["Hear, hear!"] It is an unfair infringement of the rights of the minority in the discussion of a question of this magnitude which affects all the interests in this country. The responsibility lies with the Government for refusing what I regard as a fair discussion of this Bill. I do not know whether you will say that these sentiments which I and others have been expressing only come from political opponents actuated by partisan motives. If you think so let me quote a passage, which has been quoted already, but which I should like to put on record in this Debate. It comes from a Member of your Party, from one of the most solid and thoughtful financial organs in this country—a strong Unionist paper. I have said nothing stronger, I can say nothing more accurate, and I should like it put on record in this Debate. It is this:—The Bill is void of principle as it is of justification. It is a Measure conceived by a Ministry mainly composed of landowners in the interests of their own class." [Cheers.]They can force it through Parliament by the sheer force of their big majority, but at a great loss of public confidence and of public respect.[Cheers.] That I believe to be a most accurate judgment upon your Measure passed by a most impartial censor. ["Oh, oh!"] Do you say the Economist is an enemy of your Party? Not at all; it is one of its strongest supporters; and it is an authority upon questions of finance which everybody will respect. You came into office with a vast surplus. What have you done with it? What are you going to do with it? What remains of it after you have expended what you have reserved for particular classes which you specially favour? You have given all there was to give, or there probably will be for many years to give, to one class, and to one class alone. 298 The fragments that remain you are going to dispose of to denominational education. That is the outcome of the great surplus you have inherited. In my opinion this is class legislation of the worst description. ["Hear, hear!"] The principle of finance which has been consecrated for many years past, Which has been, I think on the whole, fairly observed by all Parties and by successive Administrations, has been to make a fair and equitable distribution of burdens, if burdens had to be imposed, of surpluses, if we enjoyed surpluses, among all classes of the community. That continuity you have now broken, as this Measure is a class Measure for giving the produce of the taxation of the industry of the people to one class, and to one class alone, to enrich that class at the expense of the rest, out of the earnings of the whole. This is the outcome of your great majority, of your General Election, this is the realisation of those promises of benefits to all classes—of old age pensions, of working men's dwellings, of all those baits with which you first bought and then sold the constituencies. [Cheers.] This is a policy so selfish, so unjust, so false in its principles, so perilous in its consequences, that whatever your majority may be, we at least shall have the satisfaction of opposing to it a firm and persistent resistance. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. G. J. GOSCHEN, St. George's,), Hanover Square
who was received with loud cheers, said—the peroration of the right hon. Gentleman reminds us of the policy of his Party before the late Election. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman speaks of class legislation, but what has been the policy of the Party opposite but to set class against class—[renewed cheers and cries of "No"]—and upon every occasion when they could be dragged in to attempt to set town against country—["oh!"]—to set the farmer against the landlord, the labourer against the farmer? [Cheers.] 299 Those were the methods, those were the kind of declamatory utterances with which the Party opposite hoped to win the last election—[cheers]—but the common sense of the country saw through them, and the result was that, not with standing those appeals to class which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are so fond of making, the country returned a majority against all those protestations. It was the same with the Parish Councils Bill. The labourers saw that class was being set against class. They tried to do the same in London, and the London local elections showed the result. [Cheers.] The country has been nauseated with these baits. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman has asked me some questions, and I hope, even at this late hour, to be able to reply to every question he has put to me, however briefly, and the right hon. Gentleman has himself be spoke for me a patient hearing. The right hon. Gentleman would be well advised when we have an important Debate to summon some of his supporters and colleagues who intend to address the House and point out to them what are the issues involved in the Bill, and then it would not be necessary to tell them, after four nights' debate, that they had only dealt with the fringe of the question. It would lead to a great saving of time. [Cheers.] There has been a repetition of irrelevant statistics such as we rarely witness in a fortnight's Debate.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I must call on the hon. Member for Mid Cork to refrain from disorderly interruptions. [Loud Ministerial cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
We should then have had this question dealt with at the last moment by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton and some of his able colleagues. As it is, the leader of the Opposition thinks he has started some 300 totally new ideas and has thrown fresh light on this complicated question. Yes, there are two new points with which he has dealt. He has dealt partly with a new theory of rent, and has minimised agricultural depression to an extent which surprised his own party—[cheers]—and certainly it would surprise the chairman of his own Commission, because even in the minority report it was said, "We think the above facts constitute a claim for further assistance from the State." [Cheers.] Then, what are we to think of the right hon. Gentleman? To-night he must have almost thought himself back at his old profession, when, instead of being a Statesman, he tried to make out plausible cases. That any Statesman should deal with the present condition of agriculture as he has dealt with it tonight would appear to be impossible. [Cheers.] There are a good many new Members in this House who have not had the advantage some of us have had, of hearing him when Chancellor of the Exchequer endeavouring to charm the agricultural interest in dulcet tones and recognising the depression as something universally admitted, and promising he would gladly assist it if only he had the money. [Laughter.]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
It is quite true I should have been glad to assist the agricultural interest if I had the money, but I did not say that if I had the money I would assist the agricultural interest and no one else. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I hope the House will mark what I had almost called the quibble of the right hon. Gentleman. [Cheers.] When you talk of taxing an interest you do not mean you are going to tax that interest and some other interest, but it expresses the opinion that you are going to tax a particular interest. The right hon. Gentleman, when he said, "I should be so glad to help the agricultural interest if I had the money," now says, on the spur of the moment, 301 what he will regret immediately afterwards, namely, that he did not say he would not assist any other interest. The right hon. Gentleman was prepared to give the agricultural interest £1,000,000. But the agricultural interest was part of the other interests whom he was going to assist; and if it was, perhaps, one-tenth of the other interests of the country, did he mean by that he was going to give £10,000,000, if he had got them, besides the £1,000,000 to the agriculturists? [Laughter.] That is the kind of sum the right hon. Gentleman has been putting to us. He says: "Of course, if you give £2,000,000 to agriculture, you intend to give £16,000,000 to the rates generally." The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well he believed at that time—I believe he believed at that time—[Opposition laughter.] It is most complimentary to him to believe that he believed. [Renewed laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen, below the gangway believe he did not believe, but I believe that he believed in the agricultural depression, and I believe that his belief has not been shaken by this Commission. Fancy how he has dealt with the matter in order to minimise the extent of the agricultural depression! He has chosen—and it was really inartistic on his part—a neighbourhood close to Liverpool. That would be different to ordinary agricultural land; and in the same way he spoke of Durham and other parts. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, but the right hon. Gentleman did not do it to show they ought not to have relief. He picked out quotations to support his own case, and, unless quotations are given which might be made on the other side, he would secure an advantage by the process he has adopted. I think, however, it will be seen through. ["Hear, hear!"] He attempted in that way to create an impression—which I cannot think he believes in his own mind—that the whole idea of agricultural depression is a chimera which has gained 302 ground among a certain portion of the population, and that it is practically in a sound condition. [Sir W. HARCOURT dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman did not say so, but he inferred that there was great exaggeration about the whole case, and he inferred that in face of the Report of his own Commissioner. [Cheers.] Suppose Mr. Shaw Lefevre was still in this House, and was a Minister with the right hon. Gentleman as Chancellor of the Exchequer, would the right hon. Gentleman then reject what his own colleague had put on record—that there was some claim on the State established by the evidence brought before him? [Cheers.] Would he reject the evidence of the Commission which he himself appointed? I cannot think that he would do so. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman has changed, and, in his intense desire to throw odium upon this Bill, he has depreciated the importance of that distress which is a national misfortune and which is well known, I believe, almost to every political thinker in all parts of the world. [Cheers.] I will deal shortly with the question which the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with as regards rent, and here he made an observation which I regretted to hear. He said the landlords would not lift a little finger themselves to redeem the situation; and he had read the Report; and he had read of the fact that the landlords had reduced their rents 10, 20, 30, 50, and occasionally 80 per cent. [Cheers.] And yet the right hon. Gentleman says that the landlords will not lift a little finger in order to improve the condition of agriculture. [Cheers.] I think that is scarcely dealing fairly by the class which, I scarcely know why, almost always falls to such a degree under the denunciation of the right hon. Gentleman. [Cheers.] But let me examine the fairness of some of the other propositions of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman said there had been no diminution in the rent which the landlords received. 303 He took two dates—an earlier date and a later date—and he said, "Look, there is no great diminution in the rents." Has it entered into his mind as a political economist, as a student of politics, that there has been such a thing as an enormous outlay of capital on the part of landlords on their estates—[Cheers]—and that the return for land, which has been improved by the expenditure of millions of money, has not been the same as the return simply on the land as it existed so many years ago? [Cheers.] But all that, again, is ad invidiam in order to show that the landlords are the persons on whom the whole of the agricultural distress ought to fall. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman said it was very hard that any rate should be paid while the farmer was not making profit, and he was loudly cheered by the men of business on his side of the House. But are there not many instances where business men have lent their money at 5 per cent. to enterprising traders, and those traders have made no profit, but still have continued to pay the 5 per cent. ["Hear, hear!"] How hard upon the traders that their whole profits should go to those who have lent the money! ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] Well, have the landlords not lent their money to the tenants in the shape, not actually of cash, but of improvements of farm buildings and in other matters. I see very little difference between the two. As a matter of fact, the landlords have met the case by those large reductions of rent which have taken place. [Cheers.] The great argument as regards the bestowal of this money has been this—that it is to go into the landlords' pocket. And here I would put the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton in the box. He agrees that the money does not go at once into the pocket of the landlords in the case of rates on property. I was not present in the House to-day, but I heard of a preposterous suggestion which was put out—that a certain sum, which could be estimated, would go into the pocket of my right hon. Friend who sits near me as the result of the passing of this Bill. Was ever a more preposterous and improper remark made? [Cheers.] Is this money going into the landlords' pocket? Is there a single Member who has traced how it will be 304 done, or who will show that knowledge of rural life which would enable him so to trace the money. [Cheers.] Hon. Members opposite have talked of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and said that a great deal of the money would go into their pockets. [Opposition cheers and counter cheers.] When? Do hon. Members opposite really think when this Bill is passed the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the landlords will direct a revision of the rents of their tenants? [Cheers.] Do they or do they not? [Opposition cries of "No, no!"] No, they do not. Then all this talk about the money going into the pockets of the landlords has been insincere, foolish, and vain. [Cheers and a Voice, "Ultimately."] Do hon. Gentlemen opposite quibble at the word "ultimately"? But they have not said when this money is to go to the landlords.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
Then the hon. Gentleman at once shows himself to be an ignoramus. [Cheers and loud and continued Opposition cries of "Withdraw."] I will withdraw the phrase. [Cheers.]
§ MR. LOGAN
said he accepted the withdrawal of the right hon. Gentleman, though he thought it might have been done a little more graciously. ["Hear, hear!"] He asked for permission to substantiate the remark he made. He said that this relief would go immediately into the pockets of the landowners for this reason—that after the passing of the Bill the farmers would not be able to exact from the landowners a reduction of rent as they were getting at the present moment in all parts of the country where there was great distress. ["Hear, hear!" and Ministerial laughter.] The immediate effect of the Measure would be that the farmer would get a reduction in his rates to the extent of 1s. an acre, and to that extent, therefore, he would get less reduction in his rent from the landlords. [Cheers and Ministerial laughter.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
The hon. Member thinks that he has got that universal knowledge of the rural mind that if this Bill does not pass—mark the precision of his calculation—there is going to be a shilling reduction on every farm in all parts of 305 the country. (Laughter.) Let us look the crux of this question fully in the face. I say that no one will seriously maintain that if this Bill is passed there will be an immediate revision of rents.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
There will be none within the course of the next five years. [Opposition laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may theorise about the matter. It is said, for example, that this is putting 60 millions into the pockets of the landlords, forsooth! I should like to know whether, upon a five years' capitalisation, any speculative competition would be prepared to give even one-tenth of that amount as the value which would go into the pockets of the landlords? [Cheers.] I think that even the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was under the impression that it might be 60 millions. [Sir W. HARCOURT shook his head.] No?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
No; but if you once give this out of the Exchequer to the rates, whether it be five years or 50 years, you will never be able to get it back again. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I am glad of that confession. The country will be so with us that you will never dare to insist on its being paid back again. [Cheers.] The country, in the estimation of this far-seeing politician (pointing to Sir W. Harcourt), will be prepared so to endorse its justice that the arrangement will last for ever. Then let us hear no more of this 60 millions going into the pockets of the landlords. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Why? Because you cannot prove it. [Cheers and laughter.] Because there is not a tittle of evidence in support of it. Because it is against all experience. Because it is against all political economy. ["Oh."] I will not labour the point any further, but I do trust there is no sensible person, who really wishes to deal with this matter impartially, who will repeat that which has formed the staple of this Debate, the allegation that we are putting the money into the hands of the landlords, and not of the farmers or any other class connected with agriculture. The farmers might be thought to know almost as much about it as some hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Chambers of agriculture 306 might be held to have some opinion about it. They do not think the money will go into the pockets of the landlords. Does the hon. gentleman think that this is going into the pockets of the landlords? Not at all. He knows very well that the money is going into the pockets of the farmers, and they are in the main the persons who are interested. May I deal for a moment with another question on which the right hon. Gentleman challenges me, and it is an important one? It is one in which the representatives of the towns naturally must take a great interest. They ask: "Is this relief which you are giving to the agricultural labourers fair, considering that they are not burdened with rates to anything like the extent with which the urban ratepayers are burdened?" The question requires to be answered The answer is this, and though it has been given many times, hon. Members continue to repeat the fallacy. To a great extent the expenditure in the agricultural parts is a compulsory minimum expenditure, for which those who pay the rates are unable to see any single positive advantage to themselves. But how about the urban rates? ["Oh, oh!" and cheers.] The farmer cannot see, except in the roads, any immediate changes such as the Londoner or the inhabitants of our great towns can see from the expenditure they have themselves incurred. I have here accounts of the prosperous town of Wolverhampton. The right hon. Gentleman complained that his rates were 7s. in the pound; he was to have no relief, while districts which were only rated at 2s. or 2s. 6d. were to have relief. But 3s. 6d. out of his 7s. is for improvements of which nearly every person in Wolverhampton can see the actual benefit. Money has been spent, and readily spent, on artisans dwellings. The artisans are better housed; the streets are better lighted and paved; there are fine public buildings; there the urban ratepayer, at all events, can see the gratification of what I may call his municipal ambition. He perceives that, if he has to pay heavy rates, he has a great deal to show for them. Look at London, where the rates are so high. Has the town not been beautified? Look at the expenditure of the London County Council—the beautiful gardens and open spaces, the 307 fresh streets. Are we to pay half from the Imperial Exchequer towards these local purposes, and ought not these to be excluded in any comparison with the rates imposed on the rural population? When the farmer comes home from his half-tilled fields and finds the rate-paper, does he know of anything that he has got in comparison with what the citizen of London or Wolverhampton or Birmingham knows he has got from the expenditure of the rates? These matters will have to be considered by the Commission. I hope there may be a revision in the towns which will give a fairer distribution of local burdens. What I protest against is the comparison which is made between the rates in the big towns and the rates of our country parishes. There is another point with reference to which the right hon. Gentleman challenged me, and from which I do not shrink. He asked whether, in the case of a parish where 80 per cent. of the property was agricultural land and 20 per cent. was house property, the rates on the latter would not be increased to 60 per cent. and the rates on the former reduced by 20 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman has made this mistake. He forgot that the reduction is not in half of the rate, but in half of the assessment, and the effect will be to render necessary more pence in in the pound in order to make up the deficiency, and in the provision of these pence in the pound the agricultural ratepayers will have to take their share as well as the urban ratepayers. That fact modifies the calculations of the right hon. Gentleman. [Sir W. HARCOURT: "Give me the figures."] I have not the figures before me, but at all events the right hon. Gentleman will see that he is somewhat wrong. [Laughter.] Well, I will give the right hon. Gentleman the rule and he can make the calculation. The assessment is reduced by one-half and that creates a gap, and whilst the rural ratepayer gains an advantage in having his assessment reduced he has to bear a portion of the increased rate. It is clear that the rural ratepayer does not pay so much of the increase as the urban ratepayer—["hear, hear!"]—but the contention of the right hon. Gentleman as a whole is wrong. Let me now put the counter-case. There is a corresponding advantage which is given to the 308 possessors of houses near these agricultural communities. The amount to be given by the Government for five years is stereotyped, and therefore that contribution will remain the same. But, in the event of further agricultural depression, the owners of houses in the natural course of things would have to pay more, because the assessment of the agricultural part of the parish would be diminished. If hon. Members carry out that which ought to be carried out to improve the assessment it would be found that the rural land would be much too highly assessed and that there would be a failure in the amount of the rate paid by the agricultural portion of the parish.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I am going to proceed in my own way. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Wolverhampton, made an arithmetical mistake.
§ SIR H. FOWLER
I do not admit that. I asked the President of the Local Government Board two questions. I did not understand his answer and I asked him a third. I did not understand that. He never told us who was going to pay the difference. I put a hypothetical case. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to say my arithmetic was wrong, but he has not proved it. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I have laid down a principle and I admit that the rural ratepayers would not have to pay so much upon the increase. As to how much, all that can be worked out. [Opposition laughter.] Hon. Members can hardly expect me to make a calculation while I am on my legs. Now. Sir, I should have wished, if I had time, but I shall not attempt to do so now, to speak with regard to the control and to meet the argument put forward, that the expenditure would be so much greater, because there would be no longer any motive for economy. From what party does that cry come? It comes from a party who have endeavoured in all local authorities to place as many of those who do not contribute to the rates at all as they possibly can. [Cheers]. I think that is 309 not denied. You will remember the Debates on the Parish Councils Bill, when every effort was made to take power away from those who contribute to the rates and to give it to those who do not. [Cheers.] The whole principle of representation and taxation has been changed. The principle used to be taxation and representation. Now it is taxation with very little representation, and much representation without any taxation. [Cheers.] That is now the great modern idea. But hon. members cannot really seriously think that while both parties will still suffer from any increase in the burden of the rates, there will amongst rural local authorities be any tendency to increase expenditure. Now, Sir, I think I have dealt with most of the questions raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. [Hear, hear.] He asked me, and asked me in solemn terms, towards the end of his speech, whether I would countenance the assistance by the State of a suffering industry, and if so on what principle and why in this particular case we were disposed to give that assistance. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether I would give relief to shipbuilding. Certainly I would if taxes had been placed on shipbuilding, and shipbuilding might be relieved by the remission of taxation. It is certainly the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, where an industry is subject to peculiar burdens, to find out where the shoe pinches, and to relieve it if possible by the remission of those burdens. We know that the relief offered by this Bill is not a large sum in itself, but the right hon. Gentleman has taken credit for what he has done as regards Schedule B for the farmers, and he has been complimented on what he has done, and has been told that no other statesman has ever before done so much for the farmer. In extending the limit of exemption under Schedule B, the right hon. Gentleman gave a sum of £70,000 or £80,000 per annum to the farmers. Compare that sum with the £2,000,000 that we are offering them now. That is the whole of the advantage which the right hon. Gentleman opposite offered, and he talks now of this being simply a dole, and says that this is a relief of 310 no importance. Of that let the farmers judge. [Loud cheers.] I believe that we on this side of the House, whether, like myself, we represent urban constituencies, or whether we represent agricultural constituencies, will, without any feeling of jealousy whatever, bestow this relief from heavy burdens upon the agricultural portion of the country, and we shall not fear the cry that is raised so loudly by hon. Members opposite, and by no one more loudly than by the right hon. Gentleman himself, that this is class legislation. [Cheers.] We have in the past done all that we could to convince the country that the interests of the landowners, the farmers, and the labourers are bound up together. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman has put this into figures, and he asks us as well to put it into figures, and to say whether so many more labourers will be employed if this relief is given. Well, we cannot calculate in that precise way; but that is a point which the farmers can judge of for themselves, and they know that if rent were entirely withdrawn from the landlords, and they could no longer live upon their estates, the labourers would be the first to suffer. I do not believe that if the labourers were left to cultivate their little patches of land without the assistance of capital, the farmer, or the owner, they would be one whit happier or better off. The labourers in all parts of the country see how much these interests are identified, and all the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends on the Opposition side of the House will not prevail to remove that conviction, or to inspire the idea that this Bill is given in the interests of a class rather than in the interests of an industry which is suffering from the most severe depression. [Loud cheers.]
§ At the conclusion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech several hon. Members rose.
§ MR. LOUGH moved the Adjournment of the Debate.311
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 335; Noes, 169.—(Division List, No. 123.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 325; Noes, 160.—(Division List, No. 124.)
§ Main Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 333; Noes, 156.—(Division List, No. 125.)
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed for To-morrow.