§ As from the fifteenth day of May next after the passing of this Act and during the continuance thereof the annual value of all agricultural lands and heritages in Scotland—
- (1) shall for the purpose of the occupiers' consolidated rate leviable by county
1705 councils, including the portion thereof leviable under the Public Health (Scotland) Acts, be held to be the nearest aggregate sum of pounds sterling to three-eighths of the annual value thereof as appearing on the valuation roll; and
- (2) shall for the purpose of the occupiers' share of the poor rate, the school rate, and other rates leviable by parish councils, be held to be the nearest aggregate sum of pounds sterling to three-eighths of the annual value thereof as appearing on the valuation roll, subject to the deductions in pursuance of Section thirty-seven of the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, 1845.
§ Provided that where lands and heritages are classified in terms of Section thirty-six of the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, 1845, if it shall be certified by the Secretary for Scotland that the rates leviable on the occupiers of agricultural lands and heritages in pursuance of the classification are less than, or as nearly as may be the same as, the rates which would without classification be leviable on such occupiers in terms of this Act, such classification (hereinafter termed a certified classification) shall have effect, and this sub-section shall not apply.
§ Provided always that, in the case of any holding in a crofting parish, the Crofters' Commission in fixing a fair rent for such holding shall not be entitled to take into account the relief effected by this Act from a proportion of the consolidated rate, poor rate, and other rates before mentioned.
§ The expression "agricultural lands and heritages" means any lands and heritages used for agricultural or pastoral purposes only, or as market gardens, orchards, or allotments, but does not include woodlands or land occupied together with a house as a park, garden, or pleasure ground, or any land kept or preserved mainly or exclusively for sporting purposes. Provided that if any question shall arise as to the lands and heritages falling within the foregoing definition it shall be determined summarily by the sheriff, whose decision shall be final, except that where the decision is given by a sheriff substitute it shall be subject to appeal to the sheriff.
§ The expression "parish council" includes school board where a school rate is levied directly by a board school.
§ MR. CALDWELL moved to leave out Clause 1. He said, that Sub-section (1) dealt with two rates collected by County Councils in Scotland. The first was the occupiers' consolidated rate, and the second was the public health rate. The combined effect of Clause 1 and Clause 5 was that for the future classification under Section 36 and deductions under Section 37 of the Poor 1706 Law Acts were abolished The practical effect of that would be to place the public health rate on all-fours with the consolidated rate; and as regards both rates, the valuation roll would be taken as the basis of assessment. There would only be two classes of ratepayers—the agricultural and the non-agricultural. The non-agricultural would be rated at full value and the agricultural at three-eighths of the full value. The consequence was that, as regards Sub-section 1, every occupier of agricultural and non-agricultural land in Scotland would, as far as the consolidated rate was concerned, reap the full benefit of the reductions under the Bill, while, as regards the public health rate, the occupiers of agricultural land would reap more or less benefit according as the parish was classified or unclassified. What were the purposes for which the occupiers' consolidated rates were levied? In the county of Stirling the total consolidated rate was 4¼d., and of that no less than 3¼d. was levied under the Roads and Bridges Act. Hence, as regards Sub-section 1, they were dealing mainly with the roads and bridges rate. Prior to the Roads and Bridges Act the farmer who paid £300 of rent and had about 150 acres, paid as much as £40 a year in tolls; now he paid no tolls whatever, but by the present road rate in Stirlingshire he paid a rate of 3¼d. on his rental, and the amount he paid now was only £4. The large householders who used the roads very little felt aggrieved also, because they were rated at the same rate per pound as the farmer who got the main benefit of the roads. If there was to be a classification it should be to reduce the householders' contribution as regarded the road rate to 3–8ths. Another class who suffered greatly were the mill tenants and manufacturers who sent goods solely by rail, but who were assessed equally with the farmers. If they were to go on the principle of classification on a just basis, the classification should be the reverse of that in the Bill—that was to say, instead of 3–8ths to the agricultural tenant, it should be only 3–8ths to the non-agricultural tenant. In the counties they had the exact converse of the case which existed in burghs. They had the road rate which was levied mainly in the interest of those who used the roads, and 1707 if householders in counties were treated as agricultural tenants were treated in burghs, then householders in counties should be rated only on l–4th of their valuation as regarded the road rate, which was the main rate under Sub-section 1. He felt, therefore, bound to oppose the injustice of this Bill, which not only charged the householder the full rate, but which actually let the wrong man off with paying only on 3–8ths of his valuation. And this was done out of moneys which were allocated to Scotland as Scotch moneys, belonging to every community in Scotland. It was an application of Scotch money for the purpose of relieving the wrong man in the county, the man who gets the full benefit of the rate and more than the full benefit as regards the heaviest consolidated rate of the county, the road rate. The result therefore was this, that the agricultural tenant who, before 1878 paid £40 a year for the use of the roads, by that Act his payment was reduced to £4 a year, and this Bill would reduce him to 3–8ths or 30s. a year for a farm which yielded £300 of rental for the purpose of maintaining the roads. Then on to Sub-section 2. Here also the Government had refused to reduce the amount to be given in relief to the agricultural tenant. There were Highland parishes in which the poor rate and school rate were far above the normal poor and school rates of Scotland, and this not from bad administration or any fault of the people who lived there, but simply from the circumstances of the Highlands. The result was that whilst in the more prosperous districts they might have a rate of 6d., they had a rate of about 7s. in the congested districts in the Highlands. If the Government had been going to relieve the inhabitants of those districts, they might have applied their money a little better. They might first of all have considered the case of the most neccessitous agricultural occupiers; they might have taken into consideration the case of those who were now overburdened through no fault of their own with heavy road rate, a heavy poor rate, and a heavy school rate, and yet the Government had refused any attempt made from the Opposition side of the House to show some little consideration so far as this particular section of Scotland was concerned. There could be 1708 no question that when leases fell in the benefit of the relief given would, under a system of competition rents, go to the landlords, because as they reduced the rates as a necessary consequence they would simply keep the competition at the same ratio, and the landlord would get more rent as the rates were made lower. Dealing with the argument that this Unionist Government had treated the agricultural tenant in Scotland exactly in the same way as it treated the agricultural tenant in England, he asked, what was the position of the tenant in England? The English Bill said that he should pay half the rates, but at the present time the Scottish agricultural tenant paid no more than half the rate; so that the English Bill simply brought the English tenant to the same level as the Scotch tenant. But now the Government were making the Scottish tenant pay three-fourths of the rate as against half in England. There was no Unionist principle in the matter. The present Government claimed to be a Unionist Government. But when they came to deal with the legislation of the United Kingdom, they always separated the counties into different nationalities, and always treated them as such. The only point on which they did not treat them as separate nationalities was when they went into the Division Lobby; and the author of that separatist policy was the First Lord of the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman began the principle in 1888 in the Local Government Act for England. That was the first time the Imperial finances of the country were separated into national finances. The only illustration before that time was the Union, when the Land Tax of Scotland was separated from the Land Tax in England. It was said that classification had the effect of assessing occupiers of property upon their means and substance. He was not an advocate of classification, and he did not think that the Lord Advocate had improved the Subsection by retaining classification, because they never could by classification bring about anything like an approach to means and substance. The Government classified all the shops together as one class, but in that class they had the most varied means and substance. The only correct principle was to take the rental of the community as a whole or to take it as a 1709 parish, and then they must make every man pay according to the rental of the parish or the county. The moment they departed from that principle, that moment they got into inextricable confusion, and injustice and great hardship were caused by dividing into different classes. Again, they had the statement of the Lord Advocate that realty in Scotland bore the whole brunt of local taxation. The Lord Advocate confounded two things—the man who paid with the amount determined by the amount of heritable property which he occupied. It was not realty that paid, it was industry that paid rent and taxes. Realty had only to determine the amount the tenant should pay out of personalty.
MR. J. McLEOD (Sutherland)
called attention to that part of the grant which would go to county occupiers. He agreed with the view expressed that the county occupier had undoubtedly received considerable ad vantages from the Imperial Exchequer within recent years, and that there were various classes, perhaps not directly depending on agriculture, who were in very much greater need of relief than the actual agricultural occupiers. The particular point to which he wished to call attention was the inequitable manner in which the classification with regard to county rates would operate. For this purpose the counties in Scotland were to be taken as a whole. They knew well that the rates varied in each county. In certain counties they were much higher than in other counties. It was also a peculiarity of the position that it was the counties least able to bear the burden that had to bear the charges—the counties of large area, sparse population, and very low valuation. It was proposed to adopt a plan under which exactly the same relief would be given to the rich counties as would be given to the poor counties. The average Lowland community would get exactly the same amount of relief as Highland counties whore the rates were higher and the people less able to pay them. In the Lowland counties, practically all the public works had been executed, many of them with money provided from the Imperial Exchequer. But in the Highland counties whole districts were with- 1710 out roads and they could only be provided with roads out of money from the pockets of the local ratepayers. If the House was going to subsidise local county rates they ought to give the money where it was wanted for the execution and completion of public works. Some method ought to be devised by means of which counties or districts of counties where there ought to be a large capital expenditure on public works would benefit to a greater degree under this Bill than Irish counties where public works already existed in a complete state. The small agricultural occupiers in the Highlands would not benefit at all under this Bill. The money would not go into his pockets, but into the pockets of the large capitalists. That would be the result of the particular form of classification adopted in the Bill. The clause might produce certain small advantages, but he nevertheless conceived it to be his duty to vote against it as a whole.
§ DR. CLARK
said that he had understood the Government to have three objects in view—namely, the relief of the occupier of agricultural land, the improvement of congested districts in the Highlands and the payment of Land Tax in certain burghs. It appeared, however, now, that the Government had a fourth object—namely, the Amendment of the law with regard to the classification of lands and heritages. In reforming the law of classification the Government were at the same time professing to relieve a class of men who were doing nothing for agriculture. The English Bill only relieved agricultural occupiers, and if this Bill were going in the same way only to relieve that class in Scotland, something might be said for it.
§ DR. CLARK
said the first clause of the Bill contained in itself practically six clauses. The Bill had been so drafted that they had to discuss under this clause the proposed reform of the law of classification and the proposal to give relief to occupiers of agricultural land. Parishes where there were classifications under which agricultural ratepayers were only paying three-eighths of the rates were not to be affected by the 1711 clause. It was unfair not to treat agriculturists in Scotland exactly in the same way as they had treated agriculturists in England. He did not know that the Scotch agriculturist required assistance so much as the English; but the House was in this position, that the money which was given as an equivalent grant to Scotland in consequence of a certain grant having been made to a sdecial class in England, would not be limited to that class in Scotland. The fact was that in a great many parishes, had it not been for the Amendment of the Lord Advocate, unfortunate agricultural tenants, instead of having their burden reduced by this Bill, would actually have had it increased, for under the present classification, which was being abolished by the Bill, they would be paying less than they would when this Bill became law. They were farmers in certain parishes, who were only paying a quarter, and their burden would be increased by the Bill from a quarter to three-eighths. But, moreover, this money was not to be used exclusively for the agricultural tenants. In some parishes the money was to be used for the benefit of all ratepayers alike. And that was one of the reasons why some hon. Members objected to the clause. It was because under a Bill intended for the relief of agricultural tenants, a large portion of the relief in several districts where money was not wanted, was to be given to other ratepayers who had nothing at all to do with agriculture. He could not see any reason why these people should get this money, and nothing had been said by the Government in defence of it. This was a grant made to Scotland as an equivalent to that made to England, and it ought to be confined to the benefit of the same class of ratepayers.
Question put, "That the words of the clause to the word 'Scotland,' in line 7, inclusive, stand part of the Bill."
The House divided:—Ayes, 137; Noes, 58.—(Division List, No. 386.)
§ MR. CROMBIE moved, after the word "Scotland," to insert the words "in which the rent has not been raised since the passing of this Act." The 1712 Lord Advocate, in his exceedingly clear and succinct speech, stated that whatever was the purpose of the Bill it was certainly not to put money into the pockets of the landlords. He did not, of course, doubt the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity in committing himself to that statement. But he must be endowed with an extraordinary amount of guilelessness, and he proposed the Amendment, not so much to test the sincerity of the Government, as to remove the guilelessness of the Lord Advocate. It was perfectly evident that if rents were increased after the passing of the Act one of two things must have happened—either the man who could pay the increased rent had ceased to be a distressed agriculturist, and, therefore, did not deserve relief, or the landlord had pocketed the relief. No answer had yet been given to the argument adduced over and over again that the relief must go into the landlord's pocket. So long as the present leases remained, it was perfectly true that the tenant would get the relief meant for him, but as soon as these leases fell in that relief must certainly go to the landlord. In the days of 19 years' leases this would not have mattered so much, but these leases had fallen into disfavour, and leases were now only for five years. Many of these leases would fall in during the next five years, and in all these cases the relief would go into the landlords' pockets. It had been brought out that the sort of land which would most invariably fall in first was precisely the land with which none of them had much sympathy—namely, accommodation land. In this case the landlord would receive the relief almost at once, for these lands fell in generally in a year, and often within six months. The Government had expressed sympathy with the idea of excluding accommodation land, but their difficulty was to find a definition. By accepting the Amendment they would, to a great extent, cut out accommodation land. They would also prove the sincerity of their statement that they did not want the money to go into the pocket of the landlord, and he was hopeful and expectant that the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to adopt the Amendment.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
said the hon. Member could scarcely expect him 1713 to accept an Amendment moved with the object of corrupting his present state of innocence. [Laughter.] The question whether the relief would go to the landlord had been discussed both on this Bill and on the English Bill. In England leases were from year to year, and yet, notwithstanding that fact, there were many on the Benches opposite who confessed that they did not believe that even under that system the relief would go to the landlord. If everything could be brought to a mathematical nicety in the way of competition, there would be a great deal to be said for the position taken up by the hon. Gentleman. But that was not so, and he did not know whether he could do better than take hon. Gentlemen opposite who were landlords and ask them whether they supposed that when their leases fell out they would really take into account this not very large relief given to the tenant. What hon. Members opposite seemed never to have realised was that in the real and true sense there was a partnership in the land between the landlord and the tenant. They always looked upon these two as enemies with daggers drawn, and taking advantage of the situation whatever it might be. ["Hear, hear!"] That might possibly be the case in Ireland, but he was happy to say it was not so in England or in Scotland. He would give one reason which, without any other, would be sufficient to prevent his accepting the Amendment. By accepting it, an absolute deterrent would be put to the making of improvements by the landlord, because if he made improvements upon which extra rent was to be charged, then at once the relief given under the Bill would be withdrawn.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN
said this was a very important question. The circumstances of England differed from those of Scotland in this matter. There was no doubt that on a well-managed English estate the sitting tenant went on from year to year at the rent he was paying before. But in Scotland rents became more commercial as the date of the lease was longer, and in the case of five, 10, and 19 years' leases the revision was a very genuine revision. Scotch farmers felt deeply on the subject. A considerable number of 1714 five years' leases would expire in the course of the next five years, and they regretted that the Government had not recognised the fact that the benefits derived from the reduction of rates would be secured to the landlords in the form of increased rents. It would be an argument of considerable force if this could be shown to have the effect of checking landlords in making improvements, but he submitted this was not likely to be the case. There were two classes of landlords' improvements, and those which consisted in making a tenant comfortable in his holding, providing proper buildings, giving him a sound roof and giving him a comfortable habitation, these were improvements for which no good landlord expected to get a special rent. But it was another matter when the improvement was a distinctly agricultural improvement, carried out by expenditure upon which a certain amount of interest had to be paid. It was well known that landlords had borrowed money to carry out such improvements and had charged the tenant an amount that went towards a sinking fund for the payment of capital and interest. This was a simple transaction between landlord and tenant, as, for instance, the charging of five per cent. on the outlay for drainage works. If the Government would accept the principle of the Amendment it would be easy to find words excepting an arrangement of this kind. He did not think the argument of the First Lord of the Treasury was a sound one against a proposal to meet what practical farmers would recognise as a grievance with regard to the Bill.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
appreciated the argument against the Amendment on the Paper, but if the Bill was to carry out its ostensible object, the relief of the occupiers of agricultural land, some Amendment of the kind was necessary. In Scotland rents were far more competition rents than in England, and under a system of competition rents, at any lapse or breakage of lease, or re-arrangement of reductions for the bad times, the benefit must undoubtedly go to the owner and not to the occupier. This 1715 point had been brought into stronger relief by the Amendment with regard to the crofters.
MR. J. B. BALFOUR (Clackmannan and Kinross) moved to add to the proposed Amendment the words:—
unless in so far as increased rent is stipulated to be paid in respect of improvements made by the landlord.
Words added to proposed Amendment.
Question proposed, after "Scotland" to insert:—
in which the rent has not been raised since the passing of this Act, unless in so far as increased rent is stipulated to be paid in respect of improvements made by the landlord.
§ DR. CLARK
said he had had an Amendment of the same character, which he lost the opportunity of discussing in Committee, his object being to see that the Bill carried out the statement first made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—namely, that so far as the Scotch Rating Bill was concerned, every precaution was taken that only occupiers should get relief and the statement of the Lord Advocate that it was in no sense a dole to landlords. There were two or three forms in which landlords might get the benefit where they were occupiers, in cases where the land was held from year to year, and then, of course, the rents would very soon be modified; and thirdly, there was the case of expiring leases, where the new rents would undoubtedly give the landlords the benefit. Certain improvements were made by the landlord and paid for by the tenant, not as rent. Under the Crofters Act he had heard of a landlord who agreed to make certain improvements on a croft, on condition that, it being a commercial transaction, he should get interest for it. The argument that it would prevent improvements by landlords did not weigh, the addition would be interest and sinking fund, and not rent, for which he supposed the landlord could sue under commercial law. If the Government refused to take any precautions to carry out the Chancellor of the Exchequer's declaration, then Members were justified in saying this was a dole to landlords just as much as the English Bill was a dole to landlords.
That the words 'in which the rent has not been raised since the passing' of this Act, unless in so far as the increased rent is stipulated to be paid in respect of improvements made by the landlord' be there inserted.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 49; Noes, 119.—(Division List, No. 387.)
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,
MR. ALEXANDER CROMBIE (Kincardineshire) moved, in sub-section (1), after the word "Acts," to insert the words,—
in so far as the amount per pound of that rate does not exceed the amount per pound at which it was levied during the financial year ending the fifteenth day of May, one thousand eight hundred and ninety-six.
§ This Amendment had been moved on a previous occasion, and in the division the votes of the Scottish Members were in the proportion of two to one in favour of it. The practice of the Scottish people, moreover, showed that the majority were rather in favour of the Amendment and its principle. The Bill of the Government, as far as it was understood in Scotland, was something like this. They believed the assessment of Agricultural lands was to be reduced to three-eighths, and that the hole created would be filled up by money taken from Government sources, and no one would therefore be a penny the worse. He hoped that the Bill was disapproved of in principle by the Scottish people, but the majority felt that their pockets were not touched, and accordingly they had no particular objection to the Bill. But if the rate should be raised and the Government relief was stereotyped, any excess in the rate, instead of being met by a Government giant, would have to be borne by the rest of the community, and the average man in Scotland would not approve of that. A large minority of Scottish parishes had enjoyed for 50 years power to do that which by the First clause of the Bill was provided as far as the poor rate and public health rate were concerned, but few of them had used it. Therefore they would object to the principle whereby agricultural tenants should pay three-eighths and the rest of the community should have to make up the deficiency.1717
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
said that this question had already been discussed in Committee and a Division taken on it. He was not moved by the considerations which had now been advanced by the hon. Member, though he believed that the Scottish people would be disposed to give effect to a policy which was consonant with the principles of justice. He feared he had nothing to add to what he had said in Committee.
§ MR. ROBINSON SOUTTAR (Dumfriesshire)
said that a certain amount of dread was felt as to the results of this legislation. It was only in accordance with human nature that people should spend money more freely than they otherwise would when the money could be spent at other people's expense. Scotchmen were no freer from that fault than other people. It should be remembered that the landowners and farmers generally exercised a preponderating power in County Councils and other rural bodies, and it was hardly to be expected that they would forego spending money when they would know that they would themselves have to provide only a fractional part of it. This was a temporary Bill, and he feared that there would be a tendency during the next five years to make hay while the sun shone. He was, therefore, sorry that the Government had not entertained favourably the request that the poor rate should be excepted. Experience showed that farmers were not to be trusted in the matter of the relief of the poor, and it was well-known that some years ago in England the farmers gave out-door relief promiscuously in the counties. When the farmers of Scotland realised that they would have to pay only three-eighths of the poor rate, they would be tempted to be free in granting out-door relief instead of paying adequate wages to the labourers.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
said that the state of things would be the same as under the old classification.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
said that the next proviso, that which had been 1718 moved by the hon. Member for the Hawick Burghs, was really not in its proper place. He wanted to give it a place to itself. He therefore proposed to omit it, undertaking to insert it as a new clause later on. He begged to move to omit the following proviso:—Provided always that, in the ease of any holding in a crofting parish, the Crofters' Com-mission in fixing a fair rent for such holding shall not he entitled to take into account the relief affected by this Act from a proportion of the consolidated rate, poor rate, and other rates before mentioned.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ MR. MCLEOD moved to omit from the next paragraph of the clause the words "or pastoral," so that lands used for pastoral purposes only should be excluded from the scope of the Bill. The Bill, he understood, was intended for the relief of agricultural occupiers, but the effect of the clause as it stood would be that large pastoral tenants who did not carry on any agricultural pursuits in the proper sense of the term, would get the benefit of the grant. He might observe, in reply to some criticisms passed on this Amendment when it was moved in Committee, that there were no small occupiers in Scotland whose holdings were purely pastoral. They all more or less had agricultural land which would bring them within the provisions of the Bill. This Measure being for the encouragement and relief of agriculture, that House ought not to do anything to aid men who were buying up large areas of land upon which no cultivation of any kind was being carried on. But if those who had holdings of this description chose to cultivate a certain portion of them, he should not object to their getting relief. There were pastoral farmers and owners having land, not a single acre of which was cultivated. Thousands of these acres might be under crop, and by the policy which these owners and pastoral farmers were pursuing, they were shutting out a considerable proportion of the population from occupation on the land.
§ * MR. J. M. WHITE (Forfarshire)
supported the Amendment, because a large amount of agricultural land, as distinguished from pastoral, had gone out of cultivation in Scotland. It was, he thought, universally held that they ought to do 1719 everything in their power to encourage the highest development of the land. The more land was turned into pasture, the more labourers would be turned off the land, and on that ground he objected to this relief being given to pastoral land. Pastoral land was rated higher than agricultural land, for this reason, that supposing land was worth £2 an acre for agricultural purposes, when laid down in permanent pasture it was probably worth £3 an acre. In this way pastoral land had an undoubted advantage in the relief given. If this Amendment were carried, not only would it take relief off pastoral land, but it would leave more to be given in relief of agricultural land.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
said that the Amendment now proposed was somewhat different to that proposed in Committee. It was now proposed to omit the words "or pastoral," so that the clause would read "lands and heritages used for agricultural purposes only." This would not only exclude the big pastoral farmers, It would also exclude the man who cultivated a small quantity of land along with his pastoral holding. He was, therefore, afraid he could not accept the Amendment. It was impossible in a general Measure of this sort to make these distinctions, and he hoped hon. Gentlemen would forgive him if he said that this Amendment seemed to be rather an attempt to get at those gentlemen in the northern counties who had more than one holding.
§ DR. CLARK
could not see why pastoral land should get the benefit of the Bill. What they wanted to do was to encourage agriculture and to include pastoral land would rather tend to encourage more and more the laying down of land in permanent pasture. The result of that would be to lessen the production of the land, and so to lessen its value to the community and restrict the field of labour. Two classes of land would be affected by the Amendment, namely, the permanent pastures already in existence in the south, the landlords of which were now getting an increased value, though their creation brought loss to the community at large and to those who looked to agriculture for labour. The other class of land was the large grazing tracts in the north, which were used partly for raising sheep and 1720 partly for sporting purposes. It was true that the Bill excepted land kept or preserved mainly or exclusively for sporting purposes; but it was difficult to see how the rating authority was to determine the question of whether land was mainly used for that purpose. Probably, if the sporting rent was greater than the agricultural rent, the land would be treated as mainly used for sporting purposes. At any rate, he did not want to see the value of that class of land increased. It ought to be decreased, and this Amendment might have that effect. If the Government really wanted to encourage and aid agriculture they would do all they could to give relief where it would have the effect of keeping more men on the soil. Anyone who knew anything of agriculture in England and other parts of the world would admit that the best results had been got from the old Scotch system. It secured the maximum use to the community and employed the maximum of labour. Where the English system of having permanent pastures had been developed in Scotland, it had always been bad for that country. There was nothing at all to be said in favour of the pastoral system, and he wished the Government would accept the Amendment, and so strike a blow at a system which was lessening the power of production of the Scotch soil.
§ MR. ROBINSON SOUTTAR (Dumfriesshire)
said he sympathised entirely with the economic view that had been taken of this matter. It was no doubt economically sound to say that the agricultural farm employed more men. But how would the country stand without pastoral farms now that cattle had been shut out? We must have cattle, and we must have sheep, and therefore it was beside the question to argue against pastoral land. The reason that weighed with him was that pastoral farmers had been suffering as much in the main as agricultural farmers. Hon. Gentlemen who had spoken had been judging from the pastoral farmers in the north of Scotland. No doubt many of them were very well off; but men who had been engaged in raising sheep had suffered especially. The price of sheep had not been at all good. Many sheep farmers lost money last year. In his county, certainly, there were a great 1721 many men who were accustomed to raise a few sheep, and who ought to have the benefits of the Bill if there were any to be got from it. He would not for a single moment say that his constituents ought to have doles if doles were going; he had not said that. What he said was that if farmers were to receive doles there was no more reason why the agricultural farmer should receive them than there was that the pastoral holder should receive them.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ MR. MCLEOD moved, after the words "pastoral purposes," to insert the words "and upon which the occupier resides." This Amendment, he said, was also discussed to some extent in the Committee stage, but it was admitted that the form of the Amendment then was defective, with the result that there was a considerable difference of opinion. Had the form of the Amendment been as he moved it now, he believed there would have been practical unanimity. The object of the Amendment was to insure that one of the objects of the Bill should be carried out, namely, that the actual bona fide agricultural occupier should get the benefit. There were a very considerable number of cases where the landlord was the occupier, and as the Bill at present stood he would get the benefit. As he understood, the object of the Government was that this relief should go into the pocket of the agricultural occupier. It was a notorious fact that since the rents of sheep farms had shown a tendency to go down, a large number of owners, instead of re-letting their farms at a reduced rent to the occupier or to a new tenant, had taken the lands into their own hands, and were endeavouring to keep up rents in that way. To give these owners relief under this Bill would be to defeat one of the objects of the Bill, namely, to encourage agricultural occupiers. The Amendment moved in Committee was in such form that it would have shut out small owners who bonâ fide occupied their holding. This Amendment would not have that effect. The words were very nearly the same as those in the Crofters Act. In that Act Parliament 1722 decided that no tenant should get the benefit of the Act unless he resided upon his holding. His Amendment did not affect owners of agricultural holdings who were bonâ fide occupiers, but it would be reducing the whole proceedings under the Bill to an absurdity to propose that men in the position of His Grace the Duke of Argyll and others he could mention should participate in this relief. He did not think it could have been the intention of the Government that that should be the case, and they could therefore have no difficulty in accepting his Amendment.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
said he could not accept the Amendment. He would remind the hon. Member that the Act from which he had borrowed the expression, the Crofters Act, dealt with a very different matter. There the point was what persons were to have the right of being recognised by the Act, and the idea was that although they were not the owners of the soil, they represented persons who had been on an unwritten tenure from time immemorial. When that tenure was to be recognised it could be only in respect of persons who had been in bonâ fide occupancy of their crofts. In this case they were not dealing with personal relief, but with the question of how agricultural land was to be placed in the matter of rating, and he was afraid men like the Duke of Argyll would be just in the same position as anyone else. He did not think it was legitimate in this matter to look at the person who happened to be the occupier in his personal capacity. That was a principle which no taxing system could possibly follow. He recognised the temperate spirit in which the hon. Member had moved the Amendment, but he must refuse on behalf of the Government to accept it.
§ DR. CLARK
regretted that the Government were not prepared to make one or two of these desirable changes. If the Amendment of his hon. Friend was adopted, no poor man could suffer. The only persons that would suffer from it were a class of pluralist farmers in the north, who had big farms, and many of them, and who by virtue of their capital had cut out the people from the soil and caused those congested districts on which the Government proposed to spend money.
§ DR. TANNER (Cork, Mid)
Mr. Speaker, I beg to call your attention that there are not 40 Members present.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member does not behave himself in a respectful manner, I shall have to call the attention of the House to his conduct.
§ DR. CLARK
said the House was not going to legislate directly, as in the Crofters Act, for cutting down these farms, but there was the opportunity of doing something to lesson the evils resulting from that system of pluralism. These men were large capitalists; a man who spent £3,000 or £4,000 yearly in rental was probably employing capital of 10 times that amount, and these men were not the men who required any relief under the Bill. Using their capital in any other way, they would take the chances of the market, and why on earth should this class be relieved when their very existence had a baneful effect on the community. The operations of a large manufacturer had a beneficial and a healthy effect, but in farming the reverse was the result, and those landlords who had displaced the working bees for these big drones would admit that the results had been bad for the community, and often attended by financial failure.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
reminded the hon. Member of the Amendment, which did not admit of the discussion at large of the merits of large and small farms.
§ DR. CLARK
said the Amendment was a proposal not to pay the rates in cases where a man held more than one farm, and he was about to argue in support of this proposal that this pluralism had a baneful effect on the community. Going back to Tudor times, when there was a similar condition of things in England, the fact was recognised by legislation putting extra taxation on occupiers of more than one farm. In discouraging the system the House would be proceeding on good constitutional lines.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON
said if the Bill were founded on any strict and definite principle, he thought he could 1724 understand the argument addressed against the Amendment by the Lord Advocate, but he did not think there was so much principle in the Bill as to prevent the Amendment being considered from an empirical point of view. If landlords were ostracised under the Bill, as theoretically they were, he saw no reason why plural holders of farms should not be put in a similar position. It was a bad system of culture and not confined to the Highlands.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
said, in reply to the remarks just made, it was to be remembered that landlords were not theoretically ostracised by the Bill, and if a landlord was in occupation and paid an occupier's rates he would get the same relief as other occupiers would get. If it was a bad system in the interest of the land itself to have the same man tenant of several farms, why did landlords let their land in that way? He was not affected by the argument that they ought to do certain things in contradiction with the principle of the Bill in order to do good in other directions, and he could not accept the principle of the Amendment.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 52; Noes, 132.—(Division List, No. 388.)
§ MR. H. C. F. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavistock)
, moved to leave out the words "together with a house," and to insert instead thereof the words "or used." He wished all land which was occupied as a park, whether with a house or not, to pay rates to the full extent. The Bill was mainly to relieve the occupier of agricultural land, and people who owned parks ought not to have the rates reduced. As it was, the man who cultivated his land had to pay far more in rates than the man who kept his land idle for the maintenance of deer and rabbits. By implication, a park without a house was to obtain the benefit of the Bill; and that would be an encouragement to owners to keep the land idle. He supposed that the word "park" meant a park in the English sense, and it was quite possible to have a park without a house. The house might have been burnt down.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
could not accept the Amendment, because in the opinion of the Government the definition was very much better as it stood. The answer to the question of the hon. Gentleman was this—that "park" was a term which had no legal signification; it was merely a word of ordinary parlance which had to be interpreted according to the context. Moreover, if the Amendment were accepted, and the words "together with a house" left out, then "park" might mean a grass field, and that would not meet the object the hon. Gentleman had in view. Of course, there were infinite possibilities as to houses tumbling down and all the rest of it, but he was not aware of any deer-parks in Soctland not occupied together with a house. The object the hon. Gentleman had in view was fairly struck at by the clause as it stood.
thought there were certain places where they would find deer parks without a house upon them, and he instanced on the spur of the moment a case in Skye and another in Sutherland. He thought, therefore, there was something in what the hon. Gentleman had urged; at the same time he was perfectly willing to accept the assurance of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it was certainly the intention of the Government not to allow parks of the kind described to come within the purview of the Bill.
§ Amendment negatived.
MR. DALZIEL moved, after the words "pleasure ground," to insert:—
or any land which, owing to its being situate within or to its proximity to any Burgh, as defined by the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892, boars an increased value over and above its ordinary value as agricultural or pastoral land.
He said the question had been before the House on several occasions, but it was regarded by Scottish constituencies as so important, that it was the duty of Scotch Members to bring it before the House on every possible occasion. The Lord Advocate, in the previous Debate, had practically admitted the justice of the principle, but his difficulty seemed to be that it was impossible to frame a definition which would carry out the object in view. He thought it was not too much
to expect that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, with his great legal experience, would be able to give them some definition which would be satisfactory to all parties. He proposed the Amendment to test the principle so far as the House was concerned, and to see whether the Lord Advocate had now made up his mind on the subject. If the House carried the Bill as it stood, he maintained that it would be taking a backward step, so far as the question of taxation of land was concerned. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1871, pointed out that land like that referred to in the Amendment, instead of escaping taxation, ought properly to bear increased taxation. The right hon. Gentleman said:—
The result of the present, state of things has been that many great improvements in the Metropolis, in Liverpool, Manchester, and other large towns, has been in the last ten years at the cost of the occupiers without the landlords contributing a single shilling.
If that was true, then it was much more true at the present time, and the effect of the Bill without this Amendment would be to allow this class to escape taxation. The Royal Commission of 1884 and the Select Committee on Town Holdings in 1892 also passed recommendations that this land ought to bear more taxation, while the late Parliament unanimously passed a resolution that—
No system of taxation can be equitable unless it includes the direct assessment of the enhanced value of land due to the increase of population, wealth and growth of towns.
He submitted that in face of these authorities it was reasonable to ask the right hon. Gentleman to exclude this land from the advantages of the Bill. In Glasgow, for example, there were 11,861 acres, 3,500 of which consisted of building land. That land was practically paying no taxation at present to the ordinary expenses of Glasgow, and yet it was going to obtain relief under the Bill.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
said he was not prepared to accept the Amendment. The subject was fully discussed in Committee in the Debates on the English Bill. He was not much moved by the excerpts which the hon. Member had read. He did not remember the exact passage quoted from the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty, but he 1727 apprehended that the right hon. Gentleman was there dealing with capital value and the escape from taxation of land within burghs. In the same way the Resolution quoted must be taken as one entirely dealing with capital value. The hon. Member spoke about the increment value of Glasgow due to the industry of the community. He would not enter into the problem, but he believed that the increment value was nothing more than this—that a particular person who happened to hold a particular article secured an increased value through competition. He had never been able to see a distinction in principle between the right of a man who happened to own land near a town and found its value go up, and the right of a man who held cotton or any other commodity and found the market price rise. He thought that the value of the land rose, not because of the industry of the community, but because there were persons who wanted the land. According to that principle they ought just as much to tax increment in every commodity—cotton, wheat, and other articles held for the rise. But this argument dealt with capital value, which obviously had nothing to do with the Bill; the Bill had only to deal with the occupier's claim to be assessed at the agricultural value, which was being brought in at the moment. Nobody knew what agricultural value was, because it must obviously be different in different places. Agricultural value was enhanced or diminished by the advantages or disadvantages of every particular situation. It varied from year to year according to the means of transport, the water supply, and other circumstances. Accordingly, the difficulty before the Committee was not a difficulty of definition, but the difficulty that, in the nature of things, there was no standard which they could apply. To set up an arbitrary and artificial standard of agricultural value, and to say that land exceeded that standard because it was near a town or because it was supposed to have certain other advantages, would be a very inexpedient course, because it would involve complications and difficulties. He could not accept this Amendment because in his opinion it invited them to do something which was impossible.
thought the Lord Advocate hardly showed his usual acumen when he said that he had never been able to draw any distinction between land and other commodities. The distinction was that, whilst land could not be increased or decreased by one single inch, other commodities—cotton, for example—could be increased or decreased according to the wishes of the community. The Amendment was intended to effect the release of land which was unhappily beng held back from the community for speculative purposes, The object of the Amendment was to discourage the system of holding land back with a view to obtaining an enhanced price for it subsequently. If the Government were serious in their avowed desire to benefit agriculture and to reform rating, they ought to accept this Amendment. In connection with the matter to which the Amendment related, there was no question of agricultural distress at all. The question of rating reform was alone involved. Instead of reducing local burdens upon land in the vicinity of large towns, and even villages, it would be even juster to put an extra tax upon such land, which had an enhanced value because there happened to be an industrial and industrious community in the vicinity.
§ MR. J. B. BALFOUR
thought the difficulties of the question could be got over by their agreeing to exclude from the scope of the Bill land in or near to any town or village, which bore exceptional value as accommodation land over and above the ordinary letting value for such land occupied as an ordinary farm. It was a moot point in some quarters whether it was better as a matter of policy to rate an object upon some estimate of its capital value, or to rate it upon its letting value as estimated by the rent if it was let; or, if it was not let, upon an estimate of what it would realise, taking one year with another. Scotland had adopted the second of these methods. He did not understand that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy meant to limit his case to capital value, but undoubtedly the words of the Amendment would cover capital value. They might, therefore, be viewed as words intended to introduce an entirely novel basis for rating. It was to meet 1729 that criticism that he supported the alteration which he had mentioned. One of the objections of the Lord Advocate to his hon. Friend's proposal would be met if they were to agree to consider lettable value as implying annual value. A standard of comparison might be arrived at by comparing the letting value of accommodation land with the ordinary lettable value of land occupied as an ordinary farm. This problem ought not to be given up as insoluble, and he submitted that what he had proposed came, at all events, pretty near to a solution. The words he had put on the Paper had been framed with considerable regard to what men called town parks. Those who had to judge whether a particular piece of land fell within a definition or not, would, he imagined, go to look at the land; and if they came to the conclusion that it had urban uses, and so got a differential rate, they would then classify it as land falling within the exception, and he submitted that that should be so.
§ MR. HALDANE
thought that the Amendment provided a definition of accommodation land which was sufficient for practical purposes. The problem was not insoluble, as was clear from an admission made by important supporters of the Government on the English Rating Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Stroud laughed at the notion that it was not possible to frame a definition of this kind of land. His right hon. Friend had, he thought, suggested a definition which would be interpretable by any ordinary tribunal. Where he was not sure that he was in agreement with his right hon. Friend was in the notion that, because this land could be defined, the lands referred to by his hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy ought to be excluded from the scope of the Amendment. This was a Bill for the relief of agricultural distress. It proposed to afford that relief by giving to the land which was subject to agricultural distress exemption from a portion of the rates. It was said by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy that at all events land which was near a town, and which, though not let at a high rent, had an excess capital value over the market value, owing to its proximity to a centre of population, ought to be excluded from the Bill. It was true, as his right hon. Friend said, 1730 that land of an increased letting value was clearly on a different footing to agricultural land. He wanted to know why land, the capital value of which had increased by the movement of population in its vicinity, was not also in the same position? It was land which did not come within the class of land the Bill sought to relieve. He was assuming that the principle of the Bill was right, but why should it be applied to land in the neighbourhood of towns, which had a capital value much in excess of the ordinary agricultural value? Why did the owner leave it in the category of agricultural land? Because he believed that as time went on he would get more and more for it, and would get a capital value far in excess of the number of years' purchase of ordinary agricultural and. For these reasons, it seemed to him that in such land they had got something, not only the subject of definition, but something which it would be a wrong to the taxpayers of the country to bring within the category of lands to be the subject of a special tribute; and he would be glad to see the House accept the Amendment, because they would only be doing an ordinary act of justice to the community.
§ * MR. ALEXANDER URE (Linlithgow)
said the Lord Advocate did not oppose the Amendment as being against the principle of the Bill, which was to rectify the inequalities in rating. The right hon. Gentleman would be quite willing to admit the Amendment if he could realise a standard by which land which did acquire an adventitious value could be distinguishd from land with an ordinary agricultural value. The right hon. Gentleman went further and said that, if he could only get this standard, he did not despair of the draftsman being able to frame a clause which would meet the desire of Members on the Opposition side of the House. What was wanted was to ascertain whether a particular piece of land really was of the average value of agricultural land in the district, or had some adventitious value. It did not appear to him that there was any serious difficulty in ascertaining the difference, because they did find in a district that the average value of purely agricultural land was easily ascertained and well known to experts; and, on the other hand, that land which 1731 had acquired an adventitious value was equally easily ascertainable. Indeed, the Lord Advocate, in the latter part of this very clause, provided a means for ascertaining within what category a particular land should be placed. The Amendment would in no way interfere with the principle of the Bill, and he hoped it would be accepted.
§ DR. CLARK
, while supporting the Amendment, thought that not only should they refuse to give this aid where there was an increased annual value, but also where there was an increased capital value. Surely the Lord Advocate ought to be moved by the consensus of opinion which existed among the leaders of both Parties. The Commission which sat 12 years ago, and which contained many representative men, was unanimous in making this recommendation, and nothing had yet been done to carry it out. There had also been a unanimous expression of opinion on the part of the House in the same direction. He read the speeches of a great many Unionist candidates last year, and they were all very strong on this question, though, perhaps, these gentlemen had now changed their minds. He did not know whether the Lord Advocate pledged himself to it.
§ DR. CLARK
said he was afraid that the right hon. Gentleman was about the only candidate in the north and west of Scotland who did not pledge himself to this principle. This land had an annual value apart altogether from the ordinary agricultural value, and the class of men who held this land were not, in the ordinary sense of the term, farmers or agriculturists. A large portion of the land was in the hands of cow feeders and dairymen. The value of land was determined by two elements. The first was the value of the soil, and that the Amendment would not touch; then there was the value given by the site, and it was that value that they wanted to exempt from the operation of the clause. They wanted to exempt that class of land, both in respect of annual value and capital value, from having any benefit under this Bill, because Parliament and all the Select Committees and Royal Commissions that had been ap- 1732 pointed had recommended them to take that course.
§ MR. JAMES BAILLIE (Inverness-shire)
desired to point out to the right hon. Member for Clackmannan, that the Amendment might cause a considerable amount of hardship in some cases. For instance, on his own property he had a considerable number of crofters close to the town of Inverness, and he had no doubt that the capital value of that land, if he were to sell it for building purposes, would be very much enhanced owing to its proximity to Inverness. But he thought it would be very hard on those crofters that they should be deprived of the benefits of this Bill.
§ MR. J. B. BALFOUR
said the hon. Member's point was that there might be capital value in certain lands which would not show itself in the rental. It was for that precise reason that he framed his Amendment so as not to touch capital value.
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said this was a repetition of the struggle they had had in reference to Irish land, and it was hard to realise that, while Members of the Government in another place were arguing in favour of the principle of accommodation land having distinct treatment, Members of the same Government, and at the same time, in the House of Commons, adopted the opposite attitude, declaring they could not provide a definition.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
said the hon. Member was probably absent during the discussion, or he would know that he (the Lord Advocate) never said it was impossible to supply a definition.
§ MR. DILLON
said as he understood, the difficulty of the right hon. Gentleman in the way of consenting to the Amendment was that it was impossible to fix a standard for accommodation land. In relation to accommodation land or town parks in Ireland the difficulty, apparently, did not exist at all. The princple had full operation in the Irish Act. The term as applied to land that bore additional value from the fact of its proximity to a town was well known in legislation, and had led to exemption from the Irish Land Act. It was monstrous that a Bill intended for the relief of agricultural distress should apply to accommodation land, as to which 1733 there had been no fall in rent or value, and there was no ground upon which such land could claim any share in the relief granted by the Bill.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said his right hon. Friend had described himself as being in the happy, and, it might be said, the unique position of having pledged himself to nothing. He was the only Member of the Government in the House who could honestly make this avowal, and he was to be congratulated on his position. Ever since he (Mr. Robertson) had been in the House—eleven Sessions—he had been pledged to protest against a system whereby land in or near a great town was rated and valued as available for agricultural purposes only, while, in fact, it was held for building purposes, and withheld from the market for the sake of obtaining a higher price. One obvious consequence of this was to produce congestion in the town, and so it was in Dundee, where thousands of people were huddled together in one particular part of the town paying high rents for very meagre accommodation. The question before the House was whether this kind of land, treated with such monstrous partiality by the present system, should have the special relief provided by the Bill. Why should it have this special privilege? His right hon. Friend, whose ingenuity was only equalled by his courtesy, had, night after night, thrown out one principle after another in defence of the Bill. With all his ingenuity, the Lord Advocate had not mentioned one reason which justified opposition to the Amendment. He should vote for the Amendment in defence of a principle which no single Liberal or Liberal Unionist in Scotland would be prepared to deny.
§ * COLONEL DENNY (Kilmarnock Burghs)
thought that in all the arguments used by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had spoken, they had erred in treating the question as one solely connected with landlords. They 1734 were endeavouring to put into the Bill provisions for dealing with a certain class of landlords. He thought the hon. and learned Gentleman had been pouring water on a drowned mouse. No one on this side had any sympathy with landlords who prevented towns from ex tending, or otherwise used their power, detrimentally to the public interest in connection with their lands. One of his election pledges was to deal with that state of things as soon as possible. It was right, however, that the House should clear its mind thoroughly on the subject, and recognise that the special provisions had nothing to do with the landlords. The hon. Member for East Mayo erred in thinking there was any similarity between the Government Measures affecting town parks in Ireland and those affecting accommodation lands in Scotland. In Ireland it was a question between tenant and landlord, while in Scotland it was simply between tenant and taxpayer.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON
said that land round towns was invariably held for a period not longer than a year, and generally not longer than six months. Whereas most Scotch Members on the Ministerial side of the House were pledged to increase the taxation on land of this character, the Government proposals would lighten that taxation.
MR. J. G. HOLBORN (Lanark, N. W.)
said that this land was not held in any sense as agricultural land, nor was it held on lease. The bulk of it, moreover, was in the hands of the proprietors themselves, and not in the hands of tenants. There was a strong feeling in Scotland that this land should not be rated at its annual value, but at the landlord's estimate of its rateable value. There was a fair claim for some concession from the Government. It was not that the Lord Advocate could not fix a standard; it was that the Government were unwilling. However, it was not too late yet for the Lord Advocate to make some concession on this point, 1735 even if it was more limited in character than the Amendment of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted.'
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 61; Noes, 143.—(Division List, No. 389.)
§ *MR. URE moved, after the word "final," ("whose decision shall be final") to leave out the words "except where the decision is given by a Sheriff-substitute it shall be subject to appeal to the Sheriff." He said that he entertained a very strong preference in favour of the machinery as provided in the Bill when originally drafted. He had a strong preference, also, for the decision on this simple question being pronounced by the Sheriff substitute and his judgment being accepted as final. It was providing far too elaborate, expensive, and tedious a procedure to give appeal against the decision of the Judge of first instance on the question whether lands were agricultural lands or not, when the question was susceptible of ready and easy ascertainment by the Sheriff-substitute, who was resident on the spot. He had simply to go to the lands, see them, and give his judgment. In 99 cases out of 100 it would be unnecessary for the Sheriff-substitute to take any evidence at all. It would be sufficient for him to see the lands and decide the question there and then, and it would be desirable that his decision should be made final. This was not a question of principle, but a question of fact and circumstances; and there was no risk whatever of diverse principles being settled in the various Sheriff Courts of Scotland. He did not propose to move the Amendment on the Paper, but to move his Amendment in the above form, the effect of which would be to restore the clause to the shape in which it was originally presented to the House.1736
§ MR. J. B. BALFOUR
supported the Amendment on the ground that it was highly important that disputed questions should be determined speedily.
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE
said that, as hon. Members wished apparently to revert to the original form of the Bill, he was quite ready to accept the Amendment.
§ MR. CALDWELL
observed that, though he was responsible for the change made in the clause in Committee, he should not oppose the Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to. Clause 4,—