§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. HENRY CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
formally moved the Third Reading of the Agricultural Land Rating Bill.
§ MR. H. H. ASQUITH (Fife, E.),
who, on rising to move "That the Bill be read a Third time this day three months," was received with cheers, said they had now arrived at the last stage—[Ministerial cheers]—of the discussion of a Bill whose history from beginning to end presented a succession of remarkable and even startling features. [Cheers.] 450 Its origin remained, up to that moment, wrapped in profound and impenetrable mystery. [Ministerial laughter and Opposition cheers.] They were still within 12 months of the General Election of 1895, at which much was said and promised by hon. Gentlemen opposite on the score of agricultural depression. But so far as his knowledge went, this proposal for the indiscriminate payment out of public funds of half the rural rates of the country was, at that time, never suggested or even dreamt of by any responsible politician. [Cheers.] At what time, under what influences, and in whose brain the idea was conceived he did not know. All that was certain was that, upon the eve of the assembling of Parliament, an interim Report was hastily extracted from the majority of the Royal Commission which, above the signatures of two Cabinet Ministers, embodied propositions even more extravagant and even more indefensible than those which were contained in this Bill. Upon the basis of that Report this Measure had been founded. The Cabinet, when challenged upon the matter, pointed to the recommendations of their two colleagues in their character of Royal Commissioners as an independent and unimpeachable authority—[laughter]—while the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, in his character of Cabinet Minister, explained to them that he had been obliged reluctantly to cut down the conclusions at which he had arrived in his other character of Royal Commissioner in deference to the remonstrances and the economic pressure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This duplication of parts, which he believed was a common expedient in comic opera, had, for the first time, been imported, in connection with this Bill, into the sphere of political activity. [Laughter and cheers.] So much as to the origin of the Bill. He was bound to say that its career, since it came into existence, had been in entire keeping with its antecedents. It was produced in alleged performance of the promise in the Queen's Speech that the Government would attempt to deal by legislation with agricultural depression, but after it had been battered about for a few days upon the sea of criticism, and indeed, if he remembered aright, had only escaped shipwreck by being 451 converted from a permanent into a temporary Measure, it was found convenient to discover for it an entirely different purpose. It was no longer exclusively or even mainly a Measure for the relief——
§ MR. ASQUITH
asked if the hon. Member knew better than Her Majesty's advisers? [Cheers.] He had quoted the declaration made in the Queen's Speech, and he said that after a few days it ceased to be exclusively, or even mainly, what was then promised, and they were told it was a first step—a moderate, tentative, experimental instalment—in a root and branch scheme for the reform of their whole system of local taxation. [Cheers.] One of these two different conceptions of the Bill had been alternately advanced and withdrawn.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
§ MR. ASQUITH
repeated that it had been alternately advanced and withdrawn—[cheers]—to suit the exigencies of Debate. At that moment he did not know—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would tell them—which was the authorised version. [Laughter.] Though it might be presumptuous for an outsider to do so, he would venture, even at that eleventh hour, discarding both these official theories of what was the meaning and purpose of the Bill, to propound an alternative theory of his own which appeared to him to be much more in accordance with the actual facts of the case. He ventured to suggest that the Bill, whatever might be the motives of its framers and by whatever considerations its actual shape had been governed, was in effect a Measure to compensate the landed interest of the country for the Finance Act of 1894. [Cheers.] That Act was an attempt, not, indeed, entirely to remove, but to mitigate the gross and glaring inequalities which up to that time had prevailed in the relative contributions of land and personalty to the public Exchequer. That, shortly, was the intention with which it was carried out, and, as they knew from the Budget statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer this year, it had to a large extent already realised the expectations of its framers. [Cheers.] No 452 attempt had been made directly and openly to upset the settlement which was then arrived at, but this Bill, if carried into law, would undoubtedly have the effect of re-establishing, by payments from the public Exchequer as a subvention to local rates, the inequalities which the Finance Act was intended to a large extent to remove. [Cheers.] They were told that the contribution which was to be paid under this Bill from the Exchequer to local rates was to be paid out of the Estate Duty upon personalty. Everybody knew, and no one better than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that that was a mere form of words—that it was impossible to hypothecate any particular branch of the public revenue for this purpose, and that the contribution must come out of the general taxation of the country. [Cheers.] It would be a much truer thing, he ventured to suggest, to put into the Bill that if this contribution was to be paid out of the Estate Duty upon personalty it was to be handed back from the Estate Duty and the other duties paid on land to those who contributed these duties for the purpose of public taxation. Upon that point he would fortify himself by a quotation from something said or written by the present First Lord of the Admiralty in 1871, when he expressed his hope that—in any Measures required to redress grievances springing from increased local taxation, the opportunity might not be taken of shifting-hereditary burdens to new shoulders.They could not have a more apt description of the purposes and effect of the Bill now before the House. [Cheers.] This Bill, which was not before the country at the General Election and had never been explained to or approved by the electorate, was of equivocal origin and ambiguous purpose. It mortgaged for five years to come no less than £ 10,000,000 of prospective revenue, of an equivalent of 1d. on the Income Tax during each of those years, not, they believed, in the interests of the country at large, but for the benefit of a particular class, in a partial and unjust Measure. [Cheers.] If ever there was a Bill which the Opposition was entitled to discuss and insist upon having explained at every stage so that the country should understand it, it was 453 such a Bill as this—["hear, hear!"]—and even now the vital clause of the Bill, that which defined its whole scope and application, the pivot upon which it hinged—the ninth clause—had never yet been discussed in detail except at a time and under circumstances which made it impossible to secure for it anything in the nature of dispassionate or thoroughgoing criticism. [Cheers.] He might summarise their objections to the Bill when he said that, in their judgment, it would confound their system of local taxation without giving real relief to agricultural distress. ["Hear, hear!"] He would ask the House to consider the second branch of that proposition first, and what would be the actual effect of the Bill upon agricultural distress. A Measure for that purpose should, as he conceived it, have two characteristics. In the first place it should be directed to the removal of a real and serious burden, and, in the second place, it should be adapted in the scope and degree of its application to the relative circumstances of particular districts and even of particular classes. The whole case of this Bill as a Measure for the relief of agricultural distress rested on the allegation that the growth of rural rates was an effective cause in producing, or at any rate in aggravating, that distress. That remained wholly unproved as a genera] proposition. The figures, which had been carefully arrived at after prolonged investigation by impartial authorities, proved conclusively that, whatever might be the exceptional circumstances in particular parishes or districts, looking at English agriculture as a whole since the conclusion of the great war of 1815, the rateable value and the agricultural rental had risen by something like £3,000,000, whereas the rates, described by the First Lord of the Admiralty as hereditary burdens upon that rental, had fallen from something like 4s. to something like 2s. 3d. in the pound. [Cheers.] Those were incontrovertible facts which no one in the whole of these discussions had attempted to contradict, or minimise, or explain away. [Cheers.] Until they could be got rid of, or until some theory could be offered, such as had not yet been suggested, which would displace them, the fundamental proposition on which this Bill rested, that rates as a burden upon 454 land had increased, or were increasing and ought to be diminished, was entirely opposed to the actual facts of the case. [Cheers.] If it were the fact that, looking at agricultural land in England as a whole, the rates were not higher than an average level of 2s. 3d. in the pound, which meant practically 1s. per acre, a Measure which would reduce those rates, so far as the ratepayer was concerned, by one-half—that was to say, which would provide 1s. an acre to meet agricultural distress—whether or not it was well founded in fact, was one of the most ludicrously inadequate provisions to deal with a threatened and even, as they had been told, a moribund interest which had ever entered into the calculation of any sensible man. ["Hear, hear!"] He would undertake to say there was not a distressed district in England in which the reduction of the rental by 1s. an acre would make any substantial difference in the way of improving the capacity of those who cultivated the land and enabling them to battle against foreign competition, low prices, and the other disadvantages to which agriculture was subject. ["Hear, hear!"] He submitted there was another condition to which any Measure of this kind ought to conform. It should be, adapted to meet the actual requirements of the particular cases. Agricultural distress, it was admitted, existed in this country, and in some parts to a terrible degree. But it was equally true that that distress was partial and varied, and the relief given by this Bill was universal and undiscriminating. ["Hear, hear!"] The relief was to go to the just and the unjust; where it was unsought for and unmerited; and where it would be wasted just as much as where it might afford a temporary and moderate boon to those actually distressed. With the exception of the Education Bill—now defunct—[cheers]—he believed there was absolutely no precedent for dealing with an evil which was admittedly of a partial and varied character in this wholesale and absolutely undiscriminating fashion. ["Hear, hear!"] To whom would the relief ultimately go? It was as nearly as generally an admitted proposition among economists as perhaps anything could be in the sphere of taxation that the ultimate incidence of rates levied 455 upon agricultural land was upon the landlord and not upon the tenant. It had been sought to controvert the suggestion that the relief given by the Bill would ultimately, in accordance with that law, go into the pockets of the landlord by two arguments. First, it was said the Bill was of a temporary character. He agreed. In form it was a Bill to last only five years, but, as everybody knew and as all Parliamentary experience proved, grants of this kind once given were not, in fact, revocable. He did not believe there had been any case in which subventions had been made by Act of Parliament out of Imperial funds for local purposes which it had ever been found possible afterwards to recall or even diminish in amount. The argument, therefore, that the Bill was limited to five years—under the exigencies of Debate and the pressure of a section of the Government's own followers—was wholly irrelevant to the point he was now discussing. Then it was said that the conditions of agriculture were such in this country that the landlords were eager to obtain tenants on any terms, there being no competition for the farms, and that the landlord would not have it in his power to obtain for himself more favourable conditions, and that this remission of rate would fall to the tenant and not to him. He did not believe that was at all an accurate description of the conditions of agricultural tenure and agricultural economy all over this country. The counties and districts in which there was no competition for vacant farms occupied a very small area—["hear, hear!"]—and even where the competition for farms was not what it used to be, where the nominal rent was deliberately kept at a figure which did not represent the actual payments by the tenant, because under a system of abatements he actually paid less than he contracted to pay under his tenancy; even where these nominal rents existed they would find after the Bill came into operation the landlord would naturally and necessarily not have the inducement he had now for making abatement, or making it so large. Therefore, on both of these grounds, it could not be denied that in the long run in the operation of this Measure this relief of rates would find its way for the benefit of those upon whom the burden of the 456 rates ultimately fell. ["Hear, hear!"] As to the other aspect of the Bill—namely, that it was a reform of local taxation—he would point out that it was a Measure which introduced for the first time a number of most invidious discriminations between different classes of property and different districts of territory. In the first place, it made a discrimination, which, again, they were told was only to be temporary, between town and country. But it had been proved over and over again that the burden of local taxation weighed infinitely more heavily on the shoulders of the ratepayers of the towns than on those of the country. In the county boroughs the average local rate at this moment was something like 4s. 6d.; in the rural districts it was 2s. 3d., so that it was precisely double in the towns what it was in the country. But by this Bill they were going—for five years at any rate, possibly much longer—out of the public funds, out of the taxation to which every ratepayer alike was compelled to contribute, to relieve to the extent of half the rates of the rural ratepayer, and provide no relief at all to the ratepayers in the towns. [Cheers.] The Government, not content with that, proceeded to create another distinction between land and houses. He did not deny there was much to be said for the separation of land and houses for the purpose of assessment. But the separation which was made by the Bill was one which could not fail to introduce in every rural union throughout the length and breadth of the land immediate and internecine conflicts between those two interests, the owners of land and the owners of houses, as to the fair valuation of the one as compared with the other for the purpose of local taxation. ["Hear, hear!"] As regarded all new rates the occupier of a house was to pay twice as much as the occupier of land. It was impossible to conceive that in their Assessment Committees and among all the authorities who had to deal with the question of local valuation the existence of this new discrimination between the two classes of property would not introduce elements of discord which had never yet existed. He had spoken of the distinction between town and country and land and houses; and there was one further distinction which would give 457 rise to possibly more ill-feeling—he meant the distinction in the town itself between the house and the agricultural land, which was, for the first time, under this Bill to receive special treatment, not merely as regarded sanitary rates, but also as regarded the hereditary burdens of the Poor Rate to which it had always been subjected from time immemorial. This was a question which he could assure hon. Gentlemen opposite would not be lost sight of by the country. The illustration he was about to give would expose, he would not say the insincerity, but the hollowness of the pretence that this Bill was one for the relief of agricultural distress. Take the case of the Metropolitan area. They had asked again and again out of the voluminous records of the Royal Commission, on whose authority the Government founded themselves, they should produce one single instance of a case of agricultural distress within the Metropolitan area. They had not done so. He believed that within a radius of 15 miles from the centre of the Metropolis it had been impossible to produce one single instance of a case of agricultural distress even in the most mitigated form, and yet no one doubted that there was within that area a large quantity of agricultural land within the definition given of agricultural land in the ninth section. ["Hear, hear!"] The result was that, by the Government's own admission, over this enormous area every acre of land which corresponded to the statutory definition incorporated in the Bill would be entitled to have half the rates paid out of the public Exchequer, even though admittedly there was not one acre of it suffering from distress, and even though, as they knew and as was a matter of common knowledge, it had been let at rents sometimes of £3 and £4 an acre or, at any rate, at rents which were extravagantly high as compared with the average rental of the whole of England and Wales. [Cheers.] He pressed this point again in favour of the opposition to the Bill, and he asked the right hon. Gentleman when he came to address the House to justify before the House and the country the expenditure of this large sum of public money to relieve the rates levied on land which was only agricultural within the statutory definition and on which no distress 458 prevailed. [Loud cheers.] He knew the right hon. Gentleman could not and he knew he would not. Why? Because in Committee he admitted that he could not justify it, and by that declaration he should be bound. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman said, and his words were upon record, that "in principle" he admitted that this land, which he then described as accommodation land, ought not to obtain the relief which was given to agricultural land pure and simple which was distressed land. ["Hear, hear!"] Did the right hon. Gentleman recede from that admission or not? [Cheers.] Of course he could not. The right hon. Gentleman had made many pathetic speeches, but of all the speeches which appealed to his feelings, which had wrung his sympathy—[laughter]—the one which most excited sentiments of compassion—[renewed laughter]—was the one in which the right hon. Gentleman said:—Neither I nor my colleagues have the means of putting into plain English words which will prevent this great, this gross abuse.[Cheers.] They endeavoured to provide the right hon. Gentleman and his friends with words. The Amendment was a very good one; and the Solicitor General, lawyer like—[laughter]—tried to pick holes in it; but, in substance, no one doubted that it was possible for a person who had an English dictionary at his elbow to frame words which would prevent land in the neighbourhood of great towns, for which £3 and £4 an acre was paid, from receiving relief under this Bill as distressed land. ["Hear, hear!"] That was a problem which they were still told was insoluble. In conclusion he wished to say a word from the point of view of the taxpayer. Here the House was voting £2,000,000 a year for five years to come. This money was to come from the pockets of the taxpayers of Great Britain and Ireland. It represented, as he had said, 1d. in the Income Tax and 2d. in the pound on tea. They were going to take out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, pro tanto at any rate, the power to reduce the Income Tax by 1d. in the pound. They were going to impose this burden not for the advantage even of the landed classes, but in the interests of persons some of whom were distressed, 459 and some of whom had land paying a high rental, for which there was no difficulty in obtaining tenants. [Cheers.] He looked upon the opposition to that Bill from the beginning not only without shame or regret but with complete satisfaction. [Renewed cheers.] The Bill was sprung upon them as a surprise. When it was introduced it was only partially understood in the House and not understood in the country. In the course of these Debates they had made its meaning clear. ["Hear, hear!"] It was a Measure which was never contemplated by those who put the present majority in power. He believed that the Bill, in point of justice and principle, inflicted an enormous hardship on the taxpayers of the country without doing any appreciable good to anyone, and it was on those grounds that he moved that the Bill be read a Third time that day three months. [Cheers.]
§ *MR. C. A. CRIPPS (Gloucester, Stroud)
said of all the Bills which were promised at the last General Election none was more important than the present, both from the point of view of the assistance which it gave to agricultural depression, and from the point of starting a most important reform in local taxation. His right hon. Friend spoke of the impenetrable darkness of the Bill, but he should have thought that after the discussions which had taken place there was not one clause or line of the Bill which had not been thoroughly explained and understood. However much he recognised agricultural distress, he would not have supported any Bill except on the basis of local taxation. In all the discussions which had taken place it was not denied that real property was overburdened; and, that being so, they attacked that point where the burden was most keenly felt. What was there in that in the nature of inconsistency? His right hon. Friend said that he had discovered at the eleventh hour that the Bill was brought forward merely as a compensation for the injury which might have been inflicted under the Finance Act passed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It was singular that this discovery should have been reserved for the eleventh hour. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman next contended that the President of the Local Government Board, by refusing 460 to insert some definition of agricultural land, had not only left his pledges unfulfilled, but had introduced the elements of injustice and inequality into the most material part of the Bill. But the definition of agricultural land in the Bill was the same definition as was found in the Public Health Act of 1875, and was substantially the same as had been applied in all cases of discrimination of rating since 1848. [Ministerial cheers.] Everyone who knew anything of rating must know that accommodation land in the ordinary sense was included, and was intended to be included in that definition, and yet the right hon. Gentleman opposite said that there was no analogy and no precedent for what was done in this Bill. [Ministerial cheers.] The difficulty was not to find a definition of accommodation land. He admitted that by apt words they might define accommodation land—[Opposition cheers]—but he challenged any hon. Gentleman opposite to find any such definition in any Act dealing with discrimination in rating. Accommodation land was included in the Bill, and why was it included I Because it would be very unfair to exclude from the benefits of the Bill land in the neighbourhood of large populations, in boroughs, in borough districts, which had been included in all such Acts dealing with the subject of rating. Why should a man whose land was near a populous centre be denied the benefits of the Bill? Why should land in the neighbourhood of populous centres be excluded from the benefits of the Bill, when it was included, and properly included, in the discrimination in rating made by the Public Health Act of 1875?
§ *MR. CRIPPS
admitted that it might be a fair argument to say that the Poor Rate ought not to be included in the operation of the Bill. [Opposition cheers.) But, starting from his premisses that the rate in question was a rate that ought to be dealt with in the purview of the Bill, the analogy between this Bill and the Public Health Act was complete, and the Public Health Act was an exact precedent. Another argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman was that, as rates in urban districts were higher than rates in agricultural districts, any 461 reform in the system of local taxation ought to begin with the urban districts. But the point was not the actual amount of rates. The point was the extent to which the rates were pressing upon a particular industry. [Ministerial cheers.] When the burden of rates in urban districts and its effect upon urban industries were compared with the burden of rates in agricultural districts, and its effect upon the industry of agriculture, it must be admitted that it was necessary to begin the reform with agricultural rates, because, apart from the amount of those rates, they pressed more heavily upon the agricultural industry than did the urban rates on urban industries. [Ministerial cheers.] He was thoroughly in favour of the reform of urban rating; and if they believed that urban rates were pressing more heavily on urban industries than agricultural rates were pressing on agriculture, they ought to begin the reform with the urban rates; but it was because all the evidence was the other way—it was because the agricultural industry was suffering more than any other industry—[Opposition cries of "No!"]—especially from the heavy incidence of local taxation, that it was right and just and proper that they should begin with the reform of agricultural rating. Another argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that the arguments advanced from the Opposition side of the House in regard to discriminating between different classes of land and giving relief in proportion to necessity had never been answered. These arguments had been completely answered. The Government had said that if they introduced reform of local taxation, as it affected agricultural land, they must apply the relief equally and equitably all round to all classes of land. It was not possible to draw a distinction between prosperous land in one locality, and unprosperous land in another locality, and he was satisfied that in the whole history of rating a precedent could not be found to support the proposition that in dealing with one subject-matter—as in this case the rating of agricultural land—they ought to discriminate or that they could discriminate between different shades of prosperity in agriculture. [Ministerial cheers.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked, who got relief under 462 the Bill? His view was that although some advantage was received and properly received by the landlords, the bulk of the relief would go to the farmers, and so far as it did not go to them, it would go to the agricultural labourers. [Ministerial cheers and Opposition laughter.] They had to consider from whose pocket the rate comes at the present moment. It was not the landlord, but the tenant who paid the rates. [Opposition cries of "No!"] That showed that some hon. Members opposite knew very little about the rating history of the country. The tenant-farmers in every part of the country had not only asked for the Bill, but they had asked for it as the one possible method by which, at the present moment, they could get relief. [Ministerial cheers.] He doubted very much whether any meeting of tenant-farmers could be found at which a resolution in favour of the Bill was not passed on the ground that the largest portion of the benefit would go to the tenant-farmers. They were the men who were entitled to the benefit; they would get by far the larger share of the benefit, and while he admitted that the Bill would bring some advantages to the landlords, whatever portion of the benefit did not go to the tenants would, in the main, go to the labourers. Everyone admitted that agricultural distress was different in different parts of the country, but there were consider able portions of the country where the question as between land keeping in cultivation and land going out of cultivation was trembling in the balance. He believed the effect of the Bill would be to prevent land going out of cultivation, and bringing back land into cultivation, and in that way it would benefit the agricultural labourer. [Min sterial cheers.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman also complained of the distinction drawn in the Bill between houses and lands. But, as the President of the Local Government Board had already pointed out, that distinction was already drawn in 2,000 rural parishes, and probably in all urban and borough districts. And was there a single instance of this friction between the householder on one side and the landowner on the other, to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded? No, not one, although the law had been in force in Public Health Acts since 463 1848, and for this reason, that householders had recognised that the distinction made was fair and equitable. The House had also been told in the course of the discussions on the Bill that it proposed to take this money from the poor taxpayers and hand it over to the rich landowning class. But the right hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton had disposed of that argument by pointing out that this charge—so far as it was possible to allocate it—would come out of the pockets of the Income Tax payers, and that £2,000,000 a year was equal to 1d. in the pound on the Income Tax. He was not going to discuss whether that view could be substantiated or not; but if it was right that personal property should have its fair share of local taxation, then this Bill was founded upon justice and equity, because it did nothing more than take away from agricultural land some of the burdens in local taxation which at present it had most unjustly to bear. [Ministerial cheers.]
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
said that many speeches had been delivered on the Bill, but, in his opinion, the injustice of the Bill had never been so thoroughly exposed than by the speech to which the House had just listened. [Cheers.] The hon. and learned Member commenced his speech by adopting the phraseology so popular on the Treasury Bench, and describing the Bill as a Bill dealing with a pressing and vital difficulty. But the hon. and learned Member soon dropped that argument, for he did not give one tittle of evidence in support of the existence of the difficulty which it was said the Bill was introduced to remove, but proceeded to deal with the arguments of his right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife in reference to the unfair working of the Bill in its details as affecting local taxation. The hon. and learned Gentleman laid particular stress on the argument in favour of there being no exclusion of accommodation land from the benefits of the Bill, inasmuch as no such discrimination existed in the present law, neither in the Public Health Act in boroughs, nor in the Local Expenses Act in rural districts. But the hon. and learned Gentleman did not attempt to deal with the awkward and unanswerable argument that there was no analogy between 464 the taxation dealt with in those Measures and the taxation dealt with in this Bill. [Cheers.] The relief that was given to agricultural land under the Public Health Act was relief given exclusively in regard to sanitary rates. There was no relief given to agricultural land under that Act or any other Act in respect to the Police Rate, the Poor Rate, or the Borough Rate. [Cheers.] "Why," asked the hon. Member—should we limit the operation of the Bill in regard to agricultural land? Why should we exclude land situated in large county boroughs from the benefits of the Bill?Yes; why should land which was now let at £10 an acre for nurseries and market gardens—land which one day would be let as building land, when the £10 per acre would be turned into an enormous capital value—not have the benefit of the Bill? Why should that land not have half its rates paid, while the shopkeeper, the artisan, and the ordinary resident had not only to pay their rates in full, would not only receive no benefit from the Imperial contributions, but would, in the case of the rates being raised—as they must be raised by this Bill—have additional burdens thrown upon them? [Cheers.] The hon. and learned Gentleman admitted that urban rates pressed heavily on the ratepayers. That was why they (the Opposition) asked that, if local rates were dealt with, they should be dealt with all round, instead of in favour of one particular class. The hon. and learned Gentleman also stated that the farmers wanted the Bill, and asked for the Bill. Would the hon. and learned Gentleman produce from the vast pile of evidence taken before the Royal Commission on Agriculture a single statement by a responsible or representative farmer that local rates were the cause of the agricultural depression, and that the relief of agricultural rates would relieve the distress? [Cheers.] On the contrary, it had been said that if they relieved the land from every penny of local rates, they would not touch the fringe of agricultural distress. ["Hear, hear!"] He noticed that there was a great delicacy on the Treasury Bench in alluding to what the farmers really asked for. The farmers wanted two things to relieve them 465 from their difficulties—they wanted Protection, and they wanted Bimetallism. The President of the Local Government Board was now almost the last apostle of the creed of Bimetallism. [Laughter.] Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman might he able to convert his colleagues in the Ministry to that creed, but, so far as might be judged from their official utterances, made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Bimetallism had not found favour with Her Majesty's present advisers. [Laughter.] The President of the Local Government Board said that in many districts the decision as to whether the land should remain in cultivation or not was trembling in the balance; and though he did not say so, he evidently implied that this Bill would throw the balance on the right side. Of course the land going out of cultivation must be the most distressed, and 10s. an acre, no doubt, would be a large rent to charge for such land. And yet they were told that 6d. an acre—the extent of the relief to be given under the Bill—would keep such land in cultivation. [Cheers.] What the Bill really was and did was pointed out by his right hon. Friend, and it would have to be repeated over the length and breadth of the land. [Cheers.] This was not a Bill for transferring from some already existing accumulated resources in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer funds which he did not know what to do with. This was a Bill for imposing new taxation—[cheers]—in respect of the benefits which this Bill was intended to confer. Last year, if this Measure had not been in contemplation, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have had a surplus of £2,000,000 more than that which he announced to the House, and it would have been the duty of the Chancellor to propose a readjustment of taxation putting into the pockets of the taxpayers that £2,000,000. [Cheers.] The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had contended that the object of the Bill was to combine the relief of pressing distress with the reform of local taxation. It was impossible to say what was the position of the Government on this point, because every night they had changed their position. [Cheers.] When the strength of the argument was against reform of local taxation, they relied on the relief of 466 agricultural distress; and when the strength of the argument was against the relief of agricultural distress, they relied on the reform of local taxation. [Cheers.] As a matter of fact the Bill would not relieve agricultural distress, and it would not reform local taxation. A maximum relief of 1s. per acre, or, an average reduction of 5 per cent. on the rental, was to save the agricultural community from distress! As far as such relief went this Bill was an idle mockery. [Cheers.] He did not know what the farmers at the market ordinaries expected from the present Government; but when the agricultural interest was told that the beginning and end of the relief which the great Conservative majority was to give them was 1s. an acre, he did not think there would be any exuberant gratitude. ["Hear, hear!"] Where the distress was real the relief would be an idle mockery, and where the distress was not real—and there were large parts of the country where it was not—the relief would be a squandering of public money. [Cheers.] As to the reform of local taxation, the hon. and learned Gentleman had fallen into the error which had pervaded the whole course of this Debate and had confused real property with agricultural property. The whole burden of local taxation at the present moment undoubtedly fell on real property; but his point was that the real property in towns—the land on which the mill, the shop, and the works were built—was as much entitled to relief from a monstrous injustice as was agricultural land. [Cheers.] It was not possible to remedy one injustice by creating another as this Bill proposed to do. It was not possible to reform a great national grievance by diminishing the sphere of its operation in one direction and intensifying and aggravating its operation in all other directions. [Cheers.] The injustice was to be relieved as far as £4,000,000 of taxation was concerned, and was to be made far worse as far as £20,000,000 was concerned. He did not deny that our system of local taxation was unjust and unfair now, though it was not in its inception. When first imposed there was no other property but land, and in the reign of Elizabeth any rate must have been levied on the land of the locality. But what was right in the reign of Elizabeth was not right in 467 the reign of Victoria. He was quite ready to admit the injustice, but he wished to see it remedied on statesmanlike principles. Before the Government had entered on their promised Inquiry—an Inquiry which they believed to be necessary, but which he did not—as to the necessity and possibility of some day relieving the injustice in the towns, they had made up their minds as to the reality of the grievance in the rural districts, and they were now throwing away—there was no other word for it—[cheers]—two millions of money which would have been available for a great and national scheme. As to the unjust working of this Measure as between town and country, between one kind of land and another, between districts distressed and districts not distressed, he could assure hon. Gentlemen opposite who represented large towns or counties where the urban districts preponderated, that there had been no answer given by the Government, because no answer was possible. [Cheers.] The manufacturer in Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, or Sheffield would still have to be convinced of the fairness of rating him to the full upon his property in respect of all arrangements in which his neighbour shared as much as he, while that very neighbour, who happened to be in possession of such improving and increasingly valuable property as agricultural land in the neighbourhood of an urban community, was receiving a large dole from public funds—that was to say, money was to be taken from the man who was worse off and given to the man who was better off. The hon. and learned Gentleman in his speech had kept clear of the poor rate, but that was the crux of the whole situation. The highway and sanitary rates, and even the excessive School Board rate, were but a bagatelle as compared with the poor rate. [Cheers.] The danger of anything approaching a national poor rate had already been pointed out. This Bill was the first step towards making the poor rate a national charge to be defrayed by the House. ["Hear, hear!"] There were many hon. Gentlemen opposite well acquainted with local administration, and they must know that nothing could be more fatal to good administration of the Poor Law, or more productive of extravagance and far worse economic consequences, than defraying the poor rate out of national funds 468 ["Hear, hear!"] This Bill was unsound in its fiscal aspect, and why? The schedule of the Bill consisted of a list of "spending authorities," and "spending authority" was the right name. [Cheers.] It was where the spending authority was different from the taxing authority that there was extravagance. Money was to be raised out of the national taxation, to which all classes contributed, and then Parliament was to have no control over it or check upon it. It was to be handed over to these spending authorities which were so widely and fully described in the schedule of the Bill. That would be the reason why the money given by the Bill would lead to extravagance, and would to that extent defer that thorough reform of local taxation which was so much desired He believed that this Bill, as far as the farming interest was concerned, was a mockery, a delusion, and a snare; that it would inflict on the urban ratepayers a gross injustice, and that it would involve the House of Commons in a great sacrifice of public money with no corresponding advantage to the public good. (Cheers.)
§ *MR. B. L. COHEN (Islington, E.)
said if he thought for a single moment that this Bill was going to raise the price of corn or contribute to bimetallism, he should not stand up to advocate it in the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said this was in no sense a Bill for the relief of agricultural distress. So much had been acknowledged by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, if by that phrase it was intended to insinuate that it was believed the Bill would restore affluence to a distressed industry. But surely the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton was too good a man of business to say that, I though they could not raise a man's income it would do nothing to relieve him if they diminished his expenditure. To the extent that they diminished the amount to be levied from agriculture in the shape of rates, pro tanto they relieved the pressure under which it suffered. He was personally grateful for the limit of time placed upon the Measure under the pressure of Metropolitan members. During that time there would be an inquiry into the incidence and burden of local taxation, and it was because he 469 was confident that urban constituencies in general and the Metropolis in particular would emerge with such a strong case for some more equitable adjustment of local taxation that he thought the limit of five years a valuable concession. He conceded the point that there was land in the Metropolis which was going to receive a large amount of "unmerited relief,"—land which was not £4 but £10 an acre, and was rapidly approaching the condition of building land. But surely that was not an argument against the Bill, limited as it was in its duration. It was at any rate a slight compensation for the extra burden which was being placed on urban constituencies.
§ *MR. COHEN
It does not compensate all those who will have to pay the extra burden, but it is pro tanto compensation to a section of the inhabitants of urban constituencies. He should not be at all afraid to go before his constituents and tell them that this Measure would possibly impose upon them some-extra burden during the time it was in operation, but at the same time they would recognise, as he believed they fully recognised already, that it was a Measure in relief of an industry which was far more depressed than any Metropolitan or urban industry, and, moreover, the Bill would not realise expectations if it did not result in a large diminution of migration from the rural districts into the Metropolis and urban centres generally. It was undeniable that the severity of the pressure, almost the starvation and ruin in agricultural districts, had operated during the last five or ten years far more severely than in urban districts. He had not the least fear of the reception of this Measure in the country.
On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,
§ *SIR JOSEPH LEESE (Lancashire, X.E., Accrington)
said, as a representative of one of the most populous parts of Lancashire, he endeavoured on the Second Beading to place the views of his constituents before the House, and stated then that unless a tremendous justification were made out for the Bill, it ought to be condemned. The Government proposed 470 to take the money of the taxpayers of the country and devote it to the relief of the ratepayers of the country who paid the lowest amount of rates. They had hoped that as the Bill was discussed it might be toned down by Amendment or concession on the part of the Government, but the right hon. Gentleman had refused every Amendment, and day by day the right hon. Gentleman had, to use the classic phrase of the First Lord of the Treasury in respect to another Bill, made the Bill more and more detestable to the urban constituencies. They regarded this Bill as a bad example of class legislation, and they conceived that the Government had no right to take the public money and devote it to one particular class in this way. Moreover, if they were going to relieve agricultural districts they ought to relieve those which were poor and needed relief. The discussion on the Bill had brought out this undoubted fact, that in this country there were whole counties which were not suffering from agricultural depression, and did not need help from the rates. They were bound in common sense to discriminate therefore. But there was to be no discrimination. They had tried by their Amendments to limit the relief to those parts which needed it, they had argued that land round large towns, accommodation land, market gardens, orchards, etc., occupied by men who were carrying on a prosperous trade were not in need of this subsidy, but with no avail. The artisans in the towns would have to pay half the rates of their prosperous neighbours. The Government did not discriminate between the paupers and the prosperous, and if the prosperous man was a proud man he would repudiate their charity. In the discussion on the Bill there had been disclosed another fatal objection—there was very little chance of this Bill ever being repealed, or at any rate, of this grant-in-aid being repealed. When a farmer took a farm, the first thing he did was to look at the local burdens on the farm—the rates, tithe, and local outgoings For the next five years it seemed to him all future leases would be drawn between landlord and tenant on the basis of the tenant paying half the rates; and when the time came, as he hoped it might before five years, for them to repeal this 471 obnoxious Measure, the tenant would meet them with this argument—I reckoned that I should have to pay only half the rates, and now yon are going to call upon me to pay double.That argument would be a strong one. But supposing the farmer about to make a lease did not believe that this would run beyond the specified five years, he certainly would not enter into a long lease. It was in the interests of the farmer, the landlord, and of the land itself that the lease should be as long as possible, as that gave the tenant-farmer a chance of developing the land with a hope of getting some return and of doing justice to the land. He thought on the ground of public policy it was a mistake to do anything which should have the effect of limiting the leases to a shorter period than at present. When the time came, the Government must either go to the country after having treated the urban and rural districts alike, or they would have to explain on what principle they had treated the urban districts unfairly. The rates of the rural districts were to be relieved to the extent of two millions; and as the rates in urban districts were altogether between 17 and 18 millions, they would have to find between seven and eight millions if they were going to treat them in the same way as the rural districts. In order to do this, would the Chancellor of the Exchequer face the country with a 4d. increase of the Income Tax, an 8d. increase on tea, or 2d. an ounce on tobacco? Taxes would have to be put on if they were to treat urban and agricultural districts alike. And if this were done, it would only be taking the money out of the pocket of the taxpayer—who was, for the most part, the indirect taxpayer—in order to put it into the pocket of the ratepayer; and it would be nothing less than a fraud, for the payer and the receiver would be one and the same person, and would give no real or substantial relief. It had been denied that this was nothing but a landlord's relief Bill; but if it was true that the landlord was to get no benefit from this Bill—[Mr. STRUTT: "No!"]—he had heard it said a great many times, perhaps not by the hon. Member—what possible ground was there for refusing the Amendment, which proposed some restriction on the 472 landlord in regard to raising his rent, or dealing adversely with the tenant as a consequence of the passing of this Bill? Those whom he represented, so far from thinking that this was a fair and equal Bill, regarded it as most unjust—as being calculated to set town against country—as piling up unjust and unnecessary burdens upon the general taxpayer in favour of a limited class. For these reasons he felt bound to oppose the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. GEORGE WHITELEY (Stockport)
said that in opposing the Motion for the Third Reading of this Bill, he should be enforcing his demand that the Government should appoint a Commission to consider the whole subject of rating. If he were given to understand that such a Commission would be appointed, he should refrain from opposing the Measure. Upon such a Commission there ought to be representatives from towns and of real property other than agricultural land, so that it might command the confidence of the country. In his view the passing of this Bill would be even more disastrous to the Party represented by the present Government than had been the failure to carry through their Education Bill. He had overwhelming evidence to show that not only in his constituency, but in every town in Lancashire the Bill was repugnant to the great majority of the electors. He was willing to put the matter to the test by vacating his seat and to take his chance of re-election on the ground of his action with regard to this Bill. He endorsed everything that had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton in the course of his able speech on this Bill. He denied that there was greater depression in agriculture than there was in many trades in towns. Those who denied the accuracy of that assertion could not be acquainted with the condition of towns in the north of England. In the second place he entirely denied that rates pressed more heavily upon agricultural land than they did upon other kinds of property. The statistics that had been quoted in the course of the Debates upon this Bill showed clearly that while rates had largely increased in the boroughs they had decreased in the agricultural districts. He further denied that the proposal that half of the rates 473 of agricultural property should be paid out of the Consolidated Fund had been brought distinctly before the country, during the recent General Election, because, if it had been, in all probability the composition of that House would have been very different from what it now was. This proposal had never been adumbrated in any speech, document, letter, or address of candidates who came forward at the late election on behalf of the Unionist Party. He did not deny that something ought to be done to relieve agricultural distress, but the Government, as far as their mandate from the country at the last election was concerned, might just as well have proposed to put a duty upon corn as to bring forward this Bill. Speaking as a democratic Conservative, he believed that the only real way of assisting agriculture was to make a large reduction of rent. Adequate relief could not be given by merely tinkering measures of this kind. If landowners found that they could not pay their way they ought to turn their attention to something else in order to make a living. He looked upon this Measure as a betrayal, well, he would withdraw that word and say a surrender of the interests of the towns to those of the country. It was because he believed that this Bill would be injurious to the Party to which he belonged, that he had opposed it in the manner that he had done.
§ SIR JAMES JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le-Street)
said that he was glad to have heard the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, who had expressed his willingness to sacrifice the interests of his Party to those of his constituents. In his opinion this was a most unjust Bill. If a Commission were appointed to inquire into the incidence of rating he thought that the evidence that would be given before it would astonish those hon. Members who thought that land bore more than its fair share of rating. He should like to know what personal property did not bear its fair share of rating. It was said that the railway interest ought to pay more. He knew something of railway working, and he knew that wherever a large assessment could be made on the property of a railway company, it was always done. The hon. Member for Stroud said that the occupier paid the rates. He would 474 not reply to that himself, but he thought it well to remind hon. Members of the opinion held by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill. Speaking on a very different proposal to this, namely, the division of the rates between the occupier and the owner, the right hon. Gentleman said:—The effect on the owner is that if the rates are high, he gets less rent, and if they are low he gets more rent; and I maintain that it would not be difficult to show that ultimately the whole burden of the rates falls upon the owner of the land and no one else.He thought that stated the case most accurately. He was convinced that the more this Bill was discussed the better the country would understand it, and once the country understood its true character, he was certain that the statement made by the hon. Member who had just spoken, that Her Majesty's Government would lose a large amount of support, would prove true. The object of the Bill, as he understood it, was to relieve distressed agriculture, but the question to his mind was this, was agriculture so much more depressed than other industries that the Government were justified in making this proposal to take a large sum from the pockets of the ordinary taxpayer in order to compensate that industry? He represented a Division of the county of Durham, and he had yet to learn that the farming industry was in greater distress in that county than many other industries. The general condition of the mining industry was just as depressed, even more depressed, at the present time than agriculture. He would challenge any hon. Gentleman opposite to give him one single instance of a derelict farm in either the county of Durham or the county of Northumberland. On the other hand, he could point to many derelict mines in the county of Durham, in which hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of men used to be employed, and not only had these men lost their employment, but the owners had lost their capital. There were parts of the country, no doubt, such as Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, where many derelict farms were to be found, but the Government refused to deal with these special cases. They were not content to deal with the unhealthy districts, but insisted on applying the same help to the 475 healthy districts. The congested districts in Ireland had been dealt with specially, as well as certain districts in Scotland under the Crofters' Act, and he could not see why the Government could not have accepted the suggestion made to them to withhold their help from districts in England in which agriculture was still in a good condition. He objected to the Bill on another ground—namely, that the whole system of giving large grants in aid was a very bad one. He believed in the old-fashioned maxim that taxation and representation should go together, and that where money was raised, those who raised it ought to have control over its expenditure; and he was certain that the system which was now being pursued by Governments in this country would ultimately lead to great waste and difficulties in the future. He maintained that there should never be a grant in aid from the Imperial Exchequer unless an overwhelming case was made out for it. What did the Government propose to do? They proposed to give relief to the land at the expense of all the other ratepayers, and who were the people who were to get the benefit? In the county of Durham there were minerals all over the county, and, generally speaking, owners of the surface were the owners of the minerals, and the Bill proposed to tax all the other ratepayers in order to relieve the wealthy proprietors of minerals in that county. That was a monstrously unjust thing to do. Surely these gentlemen, who were receiving their £10,000, £20,000, and even £50,000 a year from their mineral properties, were not the men for whom the Government ought to put their hands into the public purse. In his own county the rates had been going up by leaps and bounds. He had had the curiosity to look into the rates in the Chesterfield Union. Every ton of mineral produce used in this country contributed its fair share of taxation in the form of rates to every improvement in the district where it was worked. Minerals, in fact, paid more rates than did land, for agricultural land enjoyed certain exemptions. For example, whilst minerals paid the full rate in sanitary matters, land paid only one-fourth, and minerals had always paid the increased Death Duties. Therefore, when there 476 was any depression in the mining industry, that industry had a much stronger claim to assistance than the landed interest. Twenty years ago the rates in a certain area in Durham were £2,200, but there had since been a gradual increase, and in 1896 the amount paid was £9,500. In other words a £1 rate was paid in 1875, but now, owing to increased assessments, a rate of £4 15s. was payable. The rates were likely to increase still further, because miners were prone to take advantage of Statutes like the Free Libraries Act, and the Parish Councils Act, which afforded them opportunities of improving their position. He feared that grants in aid like this grant to the agricultural interest were likely to engender extravagance. The amount of the relief granted to land would have to be made good by householders, shopkeepers, etc. It appeared that the agricultural interest were anxious to take advantage, at other people's expense, of legislation like the Light Railways Bill and the Artisans Dwellings Bill introduced by Lord Londonderry. This Measure would be most unjust in its operation. Until 1832 there prevailed in this country a system of class legislation, all power being in the hands of a small section of the population. Since that time they had done their utmost to abolish class legislation, and to remedy the evils due to legislation of that kind. But this Bill was an attempt to reintroduce the old pernicious system. It was class legislation, and he should not be surprised if the example which it set were adopted by the working classes, who now possessed the voting power. The result would be legislation in the interests of class instead of legislation which was just to the whole community.
§ *MR. CHAPLIN
said that if ever the time arrived when the Government would be required to justify before the country their action in connection with this Bill, he would be quite ready to meet all opponents upon this question—[ironical Opposition cheers]—confident that the course which he had pursued would meet with approval. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife had referred to what he termed the remarkable features of the Debates that had taken place. He agreed with the right hon. Member that those Debates 477 had been marked by some remarkable circumstances, and one of the most remarkable was that, in the main, the opposition to this Measure had been conducted by the Welsh contingent of the House—[laughter and cries of "Order!"]—headed by the chief Welsh Member the Leader of the Opposition, who had been more violent in his denunciations of the landed interest and of landlords than anybody else. ["Hear, hear!"] But he understood the right hon. Gentleman's action, because he thought it was quite within the bounds of possibility that it might have cost him his seat hereafter—the seat in which he had found a refuge—[cries of "Order!" and cheers]—if he had adopted a different and more usual course on the part of a Leader of the Opposition. He did not wish to repeat the descriptions which had been given of the character of the opposition which had been offered to the Government in the course of these Debates. At one time, no doubt, insinuations were freely made against Gentlemen on the Ministerial side of the House, attributing to them pecuniary motives, and almost attributing to some of them personal corruption—[cries of "Oh!" and, cheers]—insinuations which he thought were now generally regretted. But there was one very gratifying feature to which he might refer, and that was that, with the exceptions which he had indicated, the Debates had, upon the whole, been conducted in a good humoured spirit on both sides of the House—[Opposition laughter]—in spite of the bitterness of opposition and the sharp division of opinion. The right hon. Member for East Fife had asked questions as to the origin of this Bill, saying that it was wrapped in the deepest mystery. The right hon. Gentleman had given the House his own conception of the motive by which the Government were animated, that motive, according to him, being a wish to compensate the landlords for the injustice done to them by the Finance Act of the right hon. Member for West Monmouthshire. That was quite a new view to him, and that the right hon. Gentleman found it necessary to put it forward would seem to show that he was gravelled for lack of matter in his opposition to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had gone on to say that the report was extracted from the 478 Royal Commission; but what really happened with regard to that Report was very simple. A unanimous decision—he begged the House to mark that—was arrived at by the Commission, appointed by the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a Member, that an interim report on certain questions should be submitted to the House of Commons and the country, and that decision resulted in the issue of a report which was supported, not unanimously it was true, but by a large majority. How, under those circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman could describe the Report as a Report extracted from the Commission he failed to understand. Then the right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill was not before the country at the time of the General Election. But how could it be? Gentlemen who were out of Office did not go about the country during a General Election with a bundle of new Bills in their pockets. [Opposition cries of "You were in Office!" and laughter.] True, he had forgotten for the moment; but, at any rate, they had not been in long enough even to think about their Bills—and it was the fact that the large majority of Ministers had pledged themselves at the time of the Election to deal with the question of the burdens upon land. ["Hear, hear!"] He named that subject himself in his own electoral address. Then said the right hon. Gentleman, "Rents have risen since 1815 and rates have fallen." Why did the right hon. Gentleman select 1815? If he had taken the period since 1879 or 1880, when the agricultural depression began, and if he had referred to a return relating to that period, which was signed by the late President of the Local Government Board, the right hon. Gentleman's own colleague, he would have found a very different state of things. Between 1879 and 1894, according to that return, the gross annual value of land had fallen from £51,800,000 to £10,000,000, or something like 22 per cent., and, of course, it was notorious that the condition of things had become much worse since 1894. The right hon. Gentleman had quoted from some other return, taking the figures from 1870, and giving different results, but he had omitted altogether the qualification given by his colleagues in the same 479 memorandum, which stated that the reduction in the assessments on land since 1870 did not represent the whole fall in the value of land. ["Hear, hear!"] Then the right hon. Gentleman fell back upon an old formula, which had been repeated again and again, and said that the Government had altogether changed the description of the Bill since it was introduced—that at first they based it on the existence of agricultural depression, and in a few days afterwards based it on the ground of the unfair rating of the land. A yet more extraordinary statement by the right hon. Gentleman was that, to avoid shipwreck of the Bill, the Government converted it from a permanent into a temporary measure. But he (Mr. Chaplin) volunteered that concession on the Second Beading, and before he had been subjected to any pressure whatever, except, of course, the impartial requests made to him in various parts of the House. [Opposition laughter and cheers.] One or two of the right hon. Gentleman's own colleagues suggested, with great courtesy and kindness, and without any pressure or threats whatever, that they would be very glad to see an alteration of the kind in the Bill; but to say that he gave way to inordinate pressure on this particular point was contrary to the fact. [Cheers.] Why, by far the greater part of the speech he made on the introduction of the Bill was devoted to the inequality of local rating as between land and other descriptions of rateable property, and during the whole course of the Debates on the Bill no attempt had been made to answer a single word he said upon the matter. [Cheers.] At that time he quoted instances to bear out what he stated. He quoted from the reports of Mr. Hunter Pringle and Mr. Wilson Fox, in reference to Bedfordshire, Lincolnshire, and Northamptonshire, and he thought that even at that late hour hon. Gentlemen opposite might, if they could do so, try to answer the arguments which he submitted to the House on the introduction of the Bill. [Cheers.] Then the right hon. Gentleman said that the relief given under the Bill would go everywhere—where it was wanted as well as where it was not wanted. [Opposition cheers.] He was not aware of any place where the relief was not wanted. [Cheers.] But he had the majority report of the 480 Royal Commission who had investigated the matter during the last three years, and they came to the conclusionthat there is no part of Great Britain from which depression can he said to be altogether absent. With Tare exceptions it has existed and increased in intensity throughout the whole country for the last 12 or 15 years.[Cheers.] Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to challenge him to give a single case of depression in the metropolitan area. Now, he ventured to say that in the face of an authoritative report like that to which he had just referred the onus lay upon hon. Gentlemen opposite to show that he was wrong. [Cheers and Opposition laughter.] He had not had very much time to meet the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman, but he had some cases which he thought would convince the House that it was utterly wrong to say that there were no cases of depression within the metropolitan area. ["Hear, hear!"] Mr. Pringle, in his report dealing with the district of Ongar, in Essex, about 20 miles from London, and running on all sides into the metropolitan area, said:—Unless some change takes place whole parishes will be entirely out of cultivation. Farmhouses, farm buildings, and labourers' cottages are becoming ruined, and where all this is in the midst of a network of railways and within easy distance of London.If he had had time to examine the evidence on the subject, no doubt he could have specified particular cases quite sufficient to contradict the statements made by hon. Gentlemen opposite. [Opposition laughter.] But he would mention the case of a meeting at St. Albans last year, when a gentleman was examined as to the farms that had been unoccupied for a length of time. He said that one of the best farms in the neighbourhood had been in the market for nine months and he would not take it if it were rent free, and that the whole of the district around was suffering. That was within the metropolitan area. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman further said that in separating houses and buildings from land the Government were entering upon an internecine war, and that there was no analogy between the Bill and the provisions of the Sanitary Act. But this 481 Bill affected the borough, School Board, sanitary, county, and highway rates, and the farmers claimed that they got less benefit from them than any other class of ratepayers. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, who had been a singularly frank and fair opponent of the Bill, had alleged that there was a great injustice with regard to the burden of rates on real property. The only difference, so far as he could see, between the right hon. Gentleman and the Government was this—that whereas the Government in the present Bill dealt with one branch of the question, the right hon. Gentleman thought they ought to deal with the whole subject at once. The right hon. Gentleman repeated his apprehensions that the Bill would lead to extravagance, but he forgot altogether that the Measure contained very considerable safeguards against any extravagance whatever. He saw no reason for those apprehensions on the part of the right hon. Gentleman as to extravagance, and he confessed that had he shared them he should have hesitated to introduce the Bill. He had been anxious throughout their Debates to avoid as much as possible controversial subjects, but it must not be understood on that account that he had not desired many times to reply to some of the charges which the Leader of the Opposition had made against the landlords of this country, and which the right hon. Gentleman had said were founded on evidence, every line of which he had read and studied, in these Reports. In view of those attacks, and without making any reflection upon the right hon. Gentleman, he desired to give the House some few particulars to show how far these attacks were justified by the evidence before the Commission. The right hon. Gentleman made it a capital charge against the landlords that they had allowed the farmers to suffer by far the heaviest burden of these taxes—Nine-tenths of the burden, I may say ninety-nine-hundredths, have been borne by the tenant,the right hon. Gentleman declared, and in order to support that statement he told the House that he had read the very important and instructive Reports of the Assistant Commissioners. One of 482 the first that he looked at was the Report relating to his own county of Hampshire, by Dr. Fream, and he quoted two letters from farmers in that county to Dr. Fream which he need not repeat, but the drift of which was to show that there had been little, if any, reductions of rent, and that the landlords had been guilty of the conduct which the right hon. Gentleman attributed to them. But what did Dr. Fream say himself? He had not only had these letters, but he had seen and heard and examined farmers all over the country. The allegation of the right hon. Gentleman was that the landlords had done nothing in the reduction of rents—You demand the relief of the tenant farmer,he said,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.That was a statement founded on Dr. Fream's Report. This was what Dr. Fream said:—In the cases that came under my observation, I did not meet with a single exception to the rule that rents have been reduced during the last 12 years. (Cheers.) In some cases these reductions have been so great that tenants are practically keeping on the farms at their own rentals. A large tenant farmer said to me:—" It has come to this. You may regard the land as practically of no value and look upon the rent as merely covering the interest on house and buildings.' And he added that, by the time the landlord has met all expenses, he has scarcely got anything left for himself. Not only are the rents a diminishing quantity, but some have not been paid for years, though the reduction may have gone almost as far as possible without extinction. The landlord does not get even a fair interest on the cost of the buildings, and yet with 'rents down to nothing,' as it was expressed to me, many of them continue losing money.This appeared in the Report, every line of which the right hon. Gentleman said he had read, but every word of which he had suppressed both from the House and the country. [Cheers.]" The following description of Hampshire," Dr. Fream went on to say," does not look as if the cause of depression was high rents," and then he proceeded to give a lengthy account of the general condition of the county, in the course of which he said that old family mansions were 483 deserted, landlords were practically ruined and had left the country, and that rents had been reduced until the landlords had got absolutely nothing to live upon. It was a description which it would advantage every hon. Gentleman in the House to read. Then he came to the evidence of Mr. Stratton, every line of which the right hon. Gentleman said he had read. Mr. Stratton said:—It seems as if the purely agricultural landlord will he ruined. Many estates in Hampshire have not paid working expenses for a long time, and then the tenants are being ruined.That was again in the right hon. Gentleman' sown county. ["Hear, hear!"] Mr. Stratton further said:—A great deal of Hampshire land is not worth occupying at 1d. an acre; it is now worth nothing at all.The right hon. Gentleman had also quoted Mr. Lander, of Shropshire. Well, Mr. Lander had stated that—I must say that the landowners of Shropshire have, as a rule, perhaps met the farmers fairly.["Hear, hear!"] Then he took Mr. Row's Report, where he quoted the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce as saying that—the landlords have lost probably not as little as £25 per acre the whole county over, or £30,000,000 in a period of 20 years.He fancied that before any long time elapsed the right hon. Gentleman would be confronted with statements which would show, on reliable evidence, that, so far from the landlords never having lifted a little finger to help their tenants, their losses in capital value during this period of depression were estimated at something not short of 1,000 millions of money. In Cambridgeshire Mr. Fox, the Commissioner, said:—It is safe to say that rent in the western side of this county has gone down 70 per cent.Did hon. Gentlemen know what that meant?. It meant that there was absolutely nothing left for the landowner at all, and if they were to have the division of rates they asked for, in such a case he would have to meet that division from other sources if he possessed them, or else they would drive 484 him into a position which would mean bankruptcy and ruin. He could go on giving any number of cases showing, on reliable evidence, that rents had fallen 50 per cent., and in Wiltshire from 20 to 70 per cent. In Dorsetshire Mr. Rew quoted Mr. Homer, who said:—he believed landowners had dropped 33 per cent. of their rental within the last five years, and, as the outlay is the same, their incomes are reduced 50 to 60 per cent., and their net income from 75 to 100 per cent.—that is, the outgoings are equal to the rent in some cases.The right hon. Gentleman referred to Lincolnshire, where he said rents were something like 20s. per acre, and quoted a particular friend of his, Mr. Edmund Turnor, as an instance. The real facts were that Mr. Tumor's income—and that was all found in the evidence—had decreased 59 per cent. and his rents, instead of being 20s., averaged 8s. 3d. an acre. [Cheers.]
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said if the right hon. Gentleman had read every line and every word, he had also read what he had just stated. [Cheers.]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Will the right hon. Gentleman read from the Report where Mr. Turnor says his rental is 8s. 3d.? It is not there. [Cheers.]
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I will read again what I say; I give the exact particulars. His net income in 1877–8 was £21,000. In 1893–4 it was £8,000, a decrease of 59 per cent., and that only nets 8s. 3d. an acre.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
replied that it was. The right hon. Gentleman was confused between the gross and the net income. [Cheers.] He was quoting these particulars, not for the purpose of attacking the right hon. Gentleman, but simply to defend the thousands of landlords in this country from what he thought was a wholly mistaken impression of their conduct. [Cheers.] There was a remarkable case which the right hon. Gentleman omitted to mention. That was the case of Lord Ancaster's estate in Lincolnshire. The outgoings from 1872 to 1893 had been upwards of one million sterling, and 485 Mr. Wilson Fox, the Commissioner, said:—the expenditure represented 66 per cent. of the gross rent received during that period. The net income in 1893 represented 2.2 per cent. on the money spent on new buildings, drainage, repairs, fences, and grass seeds between 1872 and 1893, and 4 per cent. on the money expended on new buildings only between 1872 and 1893, without taking repairs into account.He thought the House and the country would now have the opportunity of judging whether the somewhat violent attacks which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman in his series of Second Reading speeches were not altogether without that foundation on which such charges should alone be made. [Cheers.] He believed that the landlords, as a class, had been most unfairly attacked, and he thought it would be only courteous on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to make some admission, at all events, that they did not deserve all the charges and insinuations that had been levelled against them during those Debates. ["Hear, hear!" No one was more thankful than he was that they were at last approaching the close of these discussions. [Opposition laughter.] He thought one result of them would be to show more clearly to the country who were the friends and who were the foes of agriculture at the present time. [Cheers and counter cheers.] He believed there was distress in other industries, and he greatly deplored the fact. He had always held a very strong conviction as to the cause of the depression and distress which existed so widely throughout the country—[Opposition laughter]—but there was this distinction between the two classes of property, that whereas the Party opposite appointed a Commission to inquire into the distress in one case, they did not think it necessary to appoint any Commission to inquire into the other. ["Hear, hear!" Agriculture had suffered long from an acknowledged injustice in the manner in which, as he had always contended, it was unfairly rated and taxed as compared with other kinds of property. He had endeavoured by this Bill to some extent, at all events, to repair that injustice. He had been encountered throughout by an opposition the like of which he never remembered in that House, [Ministerial cheers and 486 Opposition laughter.] He would ever rejoice that he was permitted to undertake, and had been successful in carrying to a conclusion, a Measure which he had supported because he believed it to be wise, expedient, and just, and because he regarded it as an instalment of that reparation to a distressed and suffering industry which had been due for so many years. [Cheers.]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT,
who was received with Opposition cheers, said: The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that I owe some special reparation to himself and his class for misrepresentations as to their action and position. Sir, if I thought that charge was well founded, I hope there is no one who would be more willing and would feel more bound to make that reparation. ["Hear, hear!"] But upon what ground has he founded it? He says I stated—and certainly I did state and am prepared to maintain the proposition—that, in the agricultural districts of this country, the main burden and weight of that distress has fallen upon the tenants and not upon the landlords. ["Hear, hear!"] How did I establish that proposition? I established it out of the statements of the right hon. Gentleman and out of every page of these Reports, because the right hon. Gentleman and his friends are never tired of saying that the tenants of this country are ruined, that their capital has gone, that they make no profits, and that their distress is indescribable. Is that true or is it not? It has been asserted over and over again, and it has been made, in the main degree, the foundation of this Bill. Is that true of the landlords of England? In the very speech he has just delivered the right hon. Gentleman has said, and has given the very figures himself, that the rental of England at this moment is.£40,000,000. That, at all events, is not ruin. ["Hear hear!"] He has stated that the reductions of rent from the very highest point ever reached was from £51,000,000 to £40,000,000, and will he say that the reduction of the capital and profits of the farmers is not more than that [Cheers.] Everybody knows that it is, and I read from the pages of the Report that the rentals of landlords in many and in most parts of England are varying from 20s. to 30s. per acre, and that the instances he has 487 given, which exist unfortunately in large portions of the country, where rents have been greatly reduced to a very low figure are not the governing principles of the rents of this country, otherwise the reduction of rent would have been a great deal more than 22 per cent., which is what he himself in this very speech said has been the reduction of the rental from the very highest point it had reached. He talks of 50 and 70 per cent., but was it worth while? Unfortunately there are instances of that kind, but he has given the demonstration himself that the average reduction has not been more than 22 per cent. If we had the map before us, as we ought to have, which has been prepared by the Agricultural Department—[Opposition cheers]—we should have an answer to all these statements.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. WALTER LONG,) Liverpool, West Derby
interposed the observation that the map to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was only prepared in the Agricultural Department in order to illustrate the figures presented to them, and beyond this the Department were not in any way responsible for it.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
What does that map show? That this agricultural distress of an acute character is of an extremely limited nature. [Opposition cheers.] A large portion of the map shows that the assessable value in this country has not diminished at all, but has increased. [Cheers.] When the right hon. Gentleman was speaking just now of St. Albans and giving that as an example of the great distress that existed in the neighbourhood of the Metropolis, I looked into a paper, which is also prepared by the Agricultural Department, to see how the thing stands in Hertfordshire. There are columns giving districts and unions in the country where the reduction is under 10 per cent., where it is between 10 and 20 per cent., between 20 and 30, and where it is above 30. There are about 600 unions dealt with in this paper, and the number where the assessable value has fallen below 30 per cent. is 82. Out of the. 600 there are upwards of 500 unions where the reduction has been under 30 per cent. There are 125 unions where it has been under 10 per cent., 488 and there are 103 where the assessable value has increased. When St. Albans was quoted I looked under the head of Hertfordshire to see what were the unions where the assessable value had increased and I found that the union in which it had increased was the union of Hatfield. [Opposition cheers.] The persons interested in that union will receive a reduction of half their rates. [Cheers.] I take only a single page. The lowest union upon that page is Hertford, and the union where the assessable value has increased was the union of Hatfield. [Cheers.] The first county named upon this column is that of Bedford, and the first name where the reduction of assessable value has been under 10 per cent. is the union of Woburn. That is a specimen of your agricultural distress, and it is in this direction that the right hon. Gentleman bestows his benevolence. [Cheers.] I maintained before, and I maintain again, that where rent is being received to the amount of 20s., 25s., and 30s. an acre, that interest has no right to come in forma pauperis for a reduction of rates at the public expense. [Cheers.] That is the proposition I laid down. I did not say that the landlords of England had made no reductions in their rents. I know they have in many cases. Take Lord Leicester and others, too, they have made reductions to a very large amount, but what I did maintain and still maintain is that the landlords who are deriving 20s. and 25s. an acre from land, and who are asserting that their tenants are ruined, have no right to come upon the public for that relief which they ought themselves to give. [Cheers.] That is a proposition which I believe will be ratified and accepted by the country. [Cheers.] What business have they to come here and say—Our tenants are ruined, they are paying their rents out of capital, they are making no profits, while we are making 25s. an acre out of the land.That is the proposition I have placed before the House, and that is the proposition we are prepared to place before the country. [Cheers.] With reference to this Bill, it has a feature in common with all the great legislative Measures of the present Administration—it is entirely different from the Measure they 489 announced. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] In the Queen's Speech we were told we were to have an Education Bill to help the Voluntary Schools. When the Bill appeared it was a Bill for the revolution of the whole system of education in the country. ["Hear, hear!"] In the same way, in the Queen's Speech we were told that we were to have a Bill for the relief of agricultural distress, and certainly we had every reason to suppose that that was to be the main and leading object of the Bill. Is that the main and leading object of the Bill? Will you be prepared to say that? [Ministerial cries of "Yes," and Opposition laughter.] What was the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the promoter of the Bill? He shirked the question of agricultural distress, and—like the hon. Member for Stroud, who, being an accomplished advocate, skimmed over the weak part of the Bill—took refuge entirely in his profound knowledge of rating. [Laughter.] That is not the popular impression as to this Bill. I take a leading newspaper of June 26, and this is what they say on the conception of the present Bill:—We have admitted from the beginning that the proposal of the Government cannot he defended logically as a measure of normal legislation.If it was a Measure of rating reform I suppose it could have been described as a Measure of normal legislation—It is an exceptional remedy demanded by a state of things which is both exceptional and urgent. The distressed condition of British agriculture requires no elaborate proof. It is unfortunately self-evident, and Parliament has decided that a measure of relief should be adopted, on the same grounds upon which assistance was given to Ireland after the failure of the potato crop half a century ago—a policy often renewed in later years on a minor scale—and for the cotton manufacturing districts during the war of the American Secession.That is the amount of profound wisdom with which the public is instructed by its principal lecturers. I should have thought, if anybody knew anything at all, it was that during the terrible distress of the cotton industry during the American war, Parliament deliberately determined that it would not make grants out of the Imperial Exchequer which had to be borne by local 490 taxation. [Cheers.] I remember in those terrible times that that great industry, suffering as it did, did not come to Parliament suing—like the gentlemen receiving 25s. an acre as the rent of land—for relief from the public taxpayer. [Cheers.] That is not the spirit in which you deal with the cotton industry of Lancashire. [Cheers.] That is not the spirit with which you are prepared to deal with the iron or the coal industry, and, as the right hon. Gentleman chose to taunt me with my constituency, I will say with the tinplate industry, which is suffering quite as much or more as the agricultural industry at this moment. The right hon. Gentleman does not know probably what the tinplate industry is. [Laughter.] The speech of the hon. Member for Stockport reminds me very much of a memorable speech delivered a week or 10 days ago from those Benches by another hon. Member, who told you you were going back to the bad principles of class legislation which have always characterised the Tory and the landed party when they had the means of laying their hands on the public purse. In the distress of the cotton industry what was said? I have before me a book giving an account of it—The first method which might have been adopted," it was said." was one of national grants, but the experience of the Irish famine, when large sums were misspent, if not wasted, in this way and the general conviction that charitable grants from the public Treasury are demoralising both to the dispensers and recipients forbade their mention at this moment.It has been well said that there is nothing so demoralising as indiscriminate charity. This is a Bill for indiscriminate charity. [opposition cheers and Ministerial cries of "No!"] In the case of indiscriminate charity you relieve sometimes, no doubt, deserving sufferers, but a large part of the money always goes to the sturdy beggar. [Cheers.] Sturdy beggars are a class which have infested the country for a long time. [Cheers and langhter.] What becomes of the false pretence that this Bill was introduced simply as a rating reform. If this had been a question of rating reform you would have endeavoured to have, based it upon some sound principles which should have been applicable to 491 all ratepayers who were subject to the same injustice. That is the true test of whether this Bill is, as the hon. and learned Member for Stroud submitted, mainly a Measure of rating reform. In all former cases where you gave subsidies—whether that system was wise or, as we believe, very unwise—at all events it had this element of justice in it—you gave them to all classes. But for the first time you come forward with what you call assistance to the rates. The First Lord of the Admiralty gave £4, 000,000 in assistance of the rates, all of which has disappeared, and no one thanks him for it. Your £2,000,000 will go, and no one will thank you for it. Formerly your help was given to everybody alike, but the conception of picking out one class and giving to that class, and that alone, the assistance of the rates never entered into the heart of even the Tory Party to conceive until they had a majority of 150. [Laughter and cheers.] You see how sturdy beggars get on, as their majority increases. [Renewed laughter.] You say you are redressing an injustice under which all the labourers in this country suffer. The money paid in rates in this country is £30,000,000, and you are going to relieve—how much?—between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000, and the other £26,000,000 you are not going to relieve at all out of the money you have at your disposal. But you say, "Five years hence we will see what we can do for you." What sort of justice is that? What sort of offer is that to make to the ratepayers of this country? How do you know there will be anything to give at all? And if you give it in the same proportion that you are giving this assistance it would require at least 14 millions of money to meet the case and double the present Income Tax. What sort of prospect is that to offer of rating reform? You take the whole available surplus. That is something you can touch and handle. You keep that yourselves, and you give the rest of the ratepayers of the country the chance of getting an equal share if you double the Income Tax. What sort of offer is that to make? If this be of real assistance to the agricultural interest there are two conditions it ought to fulfil. It ought to do something effectual for agricultural distress, and in the next place it ought to concentrate 492 itself on the places where distress exists, and not spread itself over the places where it does not exist. Your Bill does not fulfil either of those conditions. The Bill unquestionably upsets the whole of your present local finance. That is a serious matter. Are you going to accomplish anything of real advantage to the agricultural interest? The President of the Local Government Board has over and over again said:—We do not pretend that this is any real relief to agricultural distress. It would be absurd to say anything of the kind. It is simply showing our sympathy.Are you going through all this dislocation of local finance throughout the country and the injustice of giving a boon to one class of the community while denying it to others, and yet bring about nothing that deserves to be called relief for agricultural distress? Are you going to add to that the absurdity of giving relief to districts which are not distressed at all? Yet the country has been led to believe that you are going to do something for agricultural distress. Unfortunately, agricultural distress does exist, and to a terrible extent. Who denies that? We know it; we deplore it; and if you had brought forward a Measure which in those districts which are severely suffering would have done real good you would have had support from every part of the country and this House. [Ministerial laughter.] I do not know why gentlemen should treat that with incredulity. We assert it most sincerely. In the Highlands of Scotland, judging by the title of a Bill about to be introduced, you apply your remedy to the "congested districts," as you have in Ireland. While we admit and deplore that there is distress in many parts of the country, we deny that the remedy in this Bill is an adequate or proper remedy. We say first of all that in the distressed districts it will do no good, and in the districts which were not distressed you are using public money for the purposes for which it should not be applied. That is the character of our opposition to this Bill. We have pointed out that there are large districts in the country which are not distressed, and which have no title to obtain money from the public taxpayer of this country. The President of the Local Government 493 Board is not in a position to dispute that. He admitted it in principle. He-knew, as everyone knows, that in the Metropolitan district there is not a single distressed parish. He was challenged to find a single instance. He has had a week to find one, but has not found one, and has been obliged to go off to a place outside the Metropolitan district to endeavour to establish his case. There is no such case. Yet you are going to give relief to the owners of land who are not distressed, but are receiving large—I might almost say immense—rents at the expense: of the householders of the Metropolis. This is equally true of all the great towns in England, of all the urban districts. Yet you are establishing this invidious distinction. When we protested against it we were told that the principle of your Bill was against all discrimination, and no discrimination would be permitted. I have been reproached with bringing forward and supporting Amendments which were against the principle of the Bill. But what else are Committee and Report for? [Cheers.] Was there ever such an extraordinary argument that you are not to introduce any Amendment which the authors of a Bill say is against its principle? I wish I had had the benefit of that doctrine on my Budget of 1894—[cheers]—when, day after day—not night after night, because I did not ask for night sittings—[cheers]—week after week, and month after month, hundreds of Amendments, renewed every morning, and every one of them against the principle of the Bill, every one intended to destroy the Bill, were brought forward by Gentlemen opposite, and in a great degree by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. [Cheers.]This doctrine that has been invented, that no Amendment is to be admitted which is against the principle of the Bill, is certainly one of the newest and most ridiculous Parliamentary doctrines that I ever heard of. [Cheers.] We never had the definition we asked for, and the Government said that it was quite impossible to draw up a definition. The hon. Member for Carnarvon, who has rendered great services with regard to this Bill services which were recognised by the House—[cheers and ironical laughter]—after the Government had spent weeks 494 in endeavouring to find a definition of accommodation land, and after the President of the Local Government Board, with the assistance of the Law Officers of the Crown, had proved quite incapable of drawing up such a definition—after all that, my hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon handed you a ready-made definition, drawn by your own Government, and contained in your own Bill, lying on the Table of the House at the time, and a definition almost identical with the Amendment which the Government had refused to receive from us. [Cheers.] I never saw Gentlemen so nonplussed—[cheers and laughter]—as the Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench when confronted with the definition which they said it was impossible to draw up, and which was found to be endorsed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. [Cheers and laughter.] I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on being so successful in defining accommodation land in the Irish Land Bill when the President of the Local Government Board and the Law Officers of the Crown had absolutely failed. [Laughter.] Only I think that, if there had been a little more solidarity in the Cabinet, the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have communicated to the President of the Local Government Board and the Law Officers of the Crown after he had, with the greatest facility, done that which they themselves found it impossible to do. We should have been quite satisfied with the drafting of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What we demanded was this—that you should somewhere or other lay down the principles that land which was paying £4, £5, or £10 an acre in rent should not come upon the Exchequer for relief from the rates. [Cheers.] The question has been raised with reference to these rates. The right hon. Gentleman who conducts this Bill has said that this was the recommendation of the majority of the Commission. But it was not the recommendation of all the Gentlemen who signed the Majority Report. Two Members of the Commission who signed the Majority Report expressly dissented from this particular plan, and it is a remarkable fact that the two gentlemen who dissented from the plan were the late Chairman of that Commission and the 495 present Chairman. The question is, who is going to get this relief? The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill says that it is the tenant. [Ministerial cheers.] Only the other day I saw a remarkable letter from a landlord on this subject—a gentleman named Price, who apparently lives in Wales. [Laughter.] It is a letter written to recommend the virtues of a Conservative Government to the tenants. It says:—The Conservative Government have this Session passed a Measure by which it is arranged that exactly half of all the rates payable by you shall be paid out of the Imperial Exchequer.…This, I calculate, amounts to very close upon a reduction of 8 per cent. on the rent of each tenant on this estate. It amounts to exactly the same thing as if I were to send Mr. Watkin (the agent) round to you and say that I had decided to reduce your rent by £8 in each £100, and the same in lesser proportions.Thus the virtuous Conservative Government is doing for the landlord what he might otherwise have had to do through his agent. [Cheers.] The letter goes on:—The Conservative Government actually bestow upon us reductions which save our pockets and from which we derive appreciable benefits.[Cheers.] The Bill is perfectly construed by landlords in Wales, and I expect elsewhere. [Loud cheers.] I will not argue further as to who gets the benefit of the reduction of rates, but I will give one authority who will have influence with Gentlemen opposite. There was a speech made by the Marquess of Salisbury in the year 1892 at Exeter. It was addressed to the agricultural interest, and it dealt with the question of rates. The argument was—We great landowners are too weak. We should like to create a body of small independent freeholders, who may reinforce us for the protection of our interests.
If we get such a body we shall be able to do what we want to do. We may then be quite certain that this question of rates will be thoroughly overhauled.
Yes, and in whose interest? Was it for the tenant farmers? [Ministerial cries of "Yes!"] Wait a moment. [Laughter.] You want a little more instruction
by your Leader. [Laughter and cheers.]
There is no such crying injustice in this country as the system which places upon the owners of land and houses the support of the poor and, where there are the School Boards, the education of the poor.
§ [Ministerial cheers.] The hon. and learned Member for Stroud says that everyone knows the occupier pays the rates. Yes, and I dare say that the hon. and learned Gentleman's servant often pays his bills. [Cheers and laughter.] The principal proprietor in the Union of Hatfield knows extremely well where the benefit of the reduction of rates will go. It is to redress the crying injustice to the owners of land: and the suggested creation of a body of freeholders itself shows that the question is one for the owner, and not for the occupier. [Cheers.] We had a very remarkable speech in this Debate from the hon. Member for Stockport. He told you why he had been silent hitherto. I suspect that there are many hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent urban districts and who hold very much the opinion of the hon. Member. Party loyalty may guarantee their votes today, and may have secured their silence throughout these Debates; but they know perfectly well that what the hon. Member for Stockport has said is perfectly true, and that the more this question has been discussed, the greater has been the repugnance felt in the industrial centres of the country. [Cries of "No!" and Opposition cheers.] It has been our duty, as it was our right, to concentrate public attention on the bearings of this Bill upon the different branches of the community. I do not wonder that the Government have been impatient at the examination we have given to the principles and consequences of this Bill. There is a dose, as they will find, which will become less and less agreeable the longer they postpone the tasting of it. The Amendments that we have moved have been calculated to demonstrate the inherent vices of this Bill. The Leader of the House, in his funeral oration over the Education Bill said that it would be buried, and the circumstances attending it, in the unfathomable bog of "Hansard." We all rejoice that it has received Christian burial; but it is happy 497 for that Bill that it will be forgotten, and then, perhaps, it may be forgiven. But this Bill is not so fortunate in its euthanasia. It is to live, and as the hon. Member for Stockport has told you, you will have no reason, as a Party, to rejoice in its life. ["Hear, hear!"] This Bill will enjoy a more extensive circulation than the volumes of "Hansard;" it will appear and reappear in that quarterly publication called the demand note of the rate collector. [Cheers.] It will be represented in its invidious injustice to every householder in the country, who will know that he is made to pay twice what his more favoured neighbour is called upon, to pay. The great majority of the householders will be perpetually reminded of the injustice of which in this Bill they are made the victims. The dwellers in the towns and the populous districts, in the words of Sir Robert Peel when he spoke of the Repeal of the Corn Laws, will find when they earn their daily bread with the sweat of their brow that it is leavened with injustice. [Cheers.] This Bill has its origin in the same spirit which inspired the Corn Laws. [Cheers.] It is to give a monopoly and privilege to a particular class, and it will be an injustice which will be felt as the injustice of the Corn Laws was felt. The money which you will give in many cases to the richest classes of the community under this Bill will be extracted from the taxation of the poorest classes, to whom you offer no equivalent relief. [Cheers.] The odious and invidious character of this class legislation will be brought home to the householders day by day and week by week, and it will be bitterly and justly resented; and I desire to repeat what the hon. Member for Stockport has said with such deep conviction, that you will suffer in reputation more by the Bill which you carried to-day than by the Bill which you abandoned last week. [Cheers.] To you will belong the lasting discredit of having abused the vast majority with which the country intrusted you for the purpose of unjust class legislation. We shall have the satisfaction that to this iniquitous Measure we have offered to the utmost of our power a resolute though fruitless resistance. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
It is manifest from the peroration 498 of the right hon. Gentleman, what, indeed, has been manifest from our previous Debates, that he thinks the Speech which has been so often rehearsed and has now been brought to the highest pitch of perfection, is going to serve him well on the platform in the course of the approaching autumn. [Laughter.] I have no doubt, though I shall not be there, unfortunately, to hear, there are many provincial audiences which will be delighted with the hundredth repetition of a drama which has been so admirably played out in its earlier stages upon this scene. Though I do not doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will make an effect with his speech elsewhere as he has already and deservedly made an effect here, I am not sure that when the country has had five years to reflect over the Bill, which it will have before the Bill comes to an end, that it will come to the same conclusion, or that even the right hon. Gentleman will remain of the same opinion which he has so confidently announced. And I am not sure that when he has to draw up a programme for his Party at the next election, in the forefront of the programme will appear the repeal of the Act, or the allowing to drop of the Act which we are now passing into law. ["Hear, hear!"] All I can say is that if he does pursue the course which he has now adumbrated, it will not receive a cordial reception from certain constituencies which now send him supporters to this House. [A laugh.] The right hon. Gentleman has told us that there is one peculiarity which marks all the Measures we introduce; and that is that they never answer to the description previously given of them in the Queen's Speech. If we have a peculiarity so have right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and their peculiarity is that whatever Bill we introduce to redeem our pledges, they always tell us it is the worst possible Bill we could have introduced, but that if we had introduced a different Bill on different lines they would have given us their cordial and enthusiastic support. [Laughter.] I have a strong belief that, however much we might trim our sails in order to catch the favouring gale of the votes of hon. Gentlemen opposite, we should always find that the one thing we decided to do was the one thing which their duty to the country, to their Party, and to themselves, obliged them 499 to resist. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman has of course—"it is his nature to "—attacked this Bill on the ground that in its essence it is what he calls class legislation, and legislation designed not for the general class of agriculturists, but for that more limited class the owners of land. If that is the right hon. Gentleman's view, I should like to know what kind of Bill he would like to see introduced in order to assist agriculture in Norfolk and Essex, and in other counties which even he would admit are suffering from agricultural distress. I will guarantee to prove by precisely similar reasoning that whatever Measure is introduced in order to benefit agriculture will, by the natural economic effect of competition, give the whole benefit to the landlords. [Opposition cheers.] I do not think the reasoning is sound, and if I had time, and this was the proper opportunity, I could refute it. But taking it as proved, I say that in common consistency the right hon. Gentleman ought to refuse to give any relief to agriculture, because, by the reasoning he has adopted, either this or any other conceivable Bill would, by the natural effect of the competition of those who desire farms, throw the whole advantage to the owners of the soil. That such a conclusion can be drawn from such reasoning is sufficient to prove that the reasoning itself is fallacious. [Cheers.] An hon. and learned Gentleman opposite told us the other night that he wished we would use our brains more and our majority less. It was not a very polite remark, but the hon. and learned Gentleman is not a very old Member of the House, and I doubt not he intended no insult to those whom he was addressing. I do not intend to retort in kind on hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I admit I am puzzled at some things which they seem absolutely unable to comprehend. There are two things at least which no amount of explanation appears ever able to drive into their heads, although the two things in themselves are neither obscure nor very perplexing. The first of the things which they seem unable to grasp is that it may be worth doing something for agriculture, even though that something be not enough to relieve agriculture in its present deplorable position. We never contended that this Bill will set agriculture 500 on its legs again; we do contend and assert that this Bill will do something, and something material, for agriculture, and I confess I am utterly unable to understand how hon. Gentlemen themselves are in a position to deny it. I observe that when they are engaged in trying to demonstrate that the landlords are to get the whole benefit, then the figures mount up to a tremendous total, and they speak of an "enormous dole" which the Government are giving out of the resources of the general taxpayer to the owners of the soil. But when they are considering not the owners, but agriculturists generally, then the proportion at once diminishes until you would hardly think you were giving anything at all. [Laughter.] The truth of the matter, of course, is that what we are giving may not be as much as we should like to give, but it is something material, and what we give will not go to a single class or single interest connected with land, but will, as we believe, go in the main, no doubt, to the occupiers, and in no small measures to the tillers of the soil, and will, no doubt, in some cases go, and rightly so, to the owners of the soil also. The second proposition which no amount of argumentation appears to be able to drive into hon. Gentlemen's heads is that a Bill may have two objects, and it is not inconsistent to claim on its behalf that it serves not one purpose, but two. I never heard that he was a particularly expert thrower who tried to kill two birds with one stone, and yet, according to hon. Gentlemen opposite, it is a gross logical inconsistency to say on one hand that we are endeavouring to remove a great fiscal injustice, and on the other that, inasmuch as that fiscal injustice falls on a distressed industry, this was a peculiarly favourable and opportune moment for dealing with it. Is that an absurd position? Is that an inconsistent position? Is there any incompatibility between those two propositions? They seem to us to be obvious, to be defensible. Let it be remembered that the Party on this side of the House have not taken up this position now for the first time. It has been consistently maintained on these Benches for a generation, and for more than a generation—long before agricultural depression pronounced itself in any acute form, 501 long, indeed, before agricultural distress was thought of; it has always been maintained by us that the present system of assessing the local rates was grossly unjust as far as agriculture was concerned—["Hear, hear!"]—and no opportunity has been lost by us which legitimately occurred of enforcing those views upon the House and the country. That is the real answer to much that has been said about the monstrous absurdity of giving out of the general resources of the country to those persons engaged in agriculture who, from local pecularities, do not suffer from the general depression which characterises that industry. If this be a Measure of just relief, why are we to deprive from its operation a particular class because their pecuniary position does not specially demand it? The right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate to-day compared the destination of the money which is now being given to a diminution of the Tea Duty, and he said, "How much better it would have been to have taken 2d. off the Tea Duty." But if you were to take 2d. off the Tea Duty, which might be a very proper thing to do, you would not try and prevent the rich consumer of tea from benefiting by the diminution in the price. [Cheers.] You would not say, "It is a very proper thing that the poor man's tea should not be taxed, but the rich brewer"—I take a brewer because he is so often specified in this House [laughter]—"shall not have his tea cheaper because he can afford to buy costly tea, and must pay the full price for it." In the same way, what we are giving to agriculture is equivalent, said the right ho. Gentleman, to 1d. on the Income Tax. Well, when you take 1d. off the Income Tax—and I hope the time will not be long before that tax is reduced—[cheers]—you do not go round and say it is very proper to relieve the small income-tax payer, the small rente payer, as he is called in France, but the rich man must go on paying 8d. in the pound. [Sir W. HARCOURT: "That is what we did in 1894."] The right hon. Gentleman's Party did nothing of the kind—["Hear, hear!"]—because they left the man with £1,000 a year to pay precisely the same amount per pound as a man with £100,000 or,£500,000 a year. When you are dealing with fiscal injustices, these exceptions are not exceptions 502 you can take into account, and no one can deal fairly by the proposal of the Government unless they are prepared to do what they have never yet done—namely, to meet the cases brought forward over and over again by the President of the Local Government Board, in which he showed the gross injustice to land of the present system of assessment. [Cheers.] If you show that the present system of assessment is just, I admit you have proved that our Bill gives a dole, and nothing but a dole, to a distressed industry, and it is open to all the objections that may be brought against the system of giving doles to distressed industries; but if my right hon. Friend be right, and no one has yet attempted to prove he is wrong, then this is not a dole, but an act of tardy justice—[cheers]—to a particular class of ratepayers: and, being an act of tardy justice, it is none the less well-timed because we are able to perform that act at a time when the agricultural interest, in whose behalf we are doing it, is suffering from prolonged and undeserved depression. [Cheers.]
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
said that, while he was prepared to listen with respect to the speeches delivered by hon. Gentlemen opposite, he thought that he and his hon. Friends had some right to express the views of their constituents on this matter, which was of the utmost importance to them. He had never been able to understand the logic of the position assumed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. One section—agricultural experts—asked what was the use of bringing in a Bill which only put relief into the pockets of the agricultural classes to the amount of 1s. 6d. an acre. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer said just now, "What was the use in the county of Essex of giving relief which only amounts to something like 1s. an acre," and added that it was like pouring a tea-cupful of water on the Essex soil. In Essex they did not try to rehabilitate depressed agriculture by pouring a tea-cupful of water upon the soil. They had too much water in that county already. Another section of hon. Members declared that this was a Hill to take money out of the pockets of the poor men and to put it into those of the rich. That was not the case; certainly it was not in the part of the country which he 503 represented. Hon. Gentlemen talked a good deal about the land in the Metropolitan Police District, but he knew that within 20 miles of Whitechapel Church there was land now lying derelict, and going out of cultivation. The hon. Member for Stockport had told them just now that this was a question of rents and landlords. If his hon. Friend believed that agricultural distress was a question of rents he was capable of believing anything. The hon. Gentleman asked why, if agriculture did not pay, they did not drop it, and added that Lancashire millowners shut us a mill directly they found it did not pay. That was all very well; the hon. Gentleman might shut the door of a mill and go to Monte Carlo, or anywhere else, but farmers could not close their farms. If they did that the land would go out of tillage, the labourers lose their employment and crowd into the workhouses or the towns, where they did more harm than good. To shut up farms was precisely what landlords in his part of the country did not do. He was only a small landowner—had he been, a large one he would have been in Newgate or the Bankruptcy Court by this time—[laughter]—and only recently he had let some land rent free and tithe free simply and solely that it might be kept in cultivation, and the occupier might be able to get a living out of it. From his point of view this was not a question whether urban rates were high or rural rates low, but one of the Government seeing that land which was going out of cultivation by miles was brought under tillage again if possible. The other day the hon. Member for North Islington seemed to infer that in Essex there was nothing but milk and honey. Surely his hon. Friend could not believe that. His hon. Friend was too good natured a man to wish to take away from the Essex Members their one ewe lamb, by which they I might endeavour to obtain something from the Government, and that was, agricultural distress in East Anglia. He was prepared to admit that the Bill was not perfect. Since he had been in the House no Measure introduced had been perfect; but, as the late Chancellor of the Exchequer said when he dealt with the Probate Duty, "This is half a loaf, and half a loaf is better than no bread." Had he been consulted before 504 the Bill was introduced, he should have advised that land paying 10s. an acre should receive more relief than land paying a greater amount—[Opposition cheers]—he should have advised a division of rates between owner and occupier—[renewed Opposition, cheers]—and, although he was not a member of the Church Party in the House, he should have advised a reduction of the tithe rent-charge. But he and those he represented were grateful for the Bill. The Government had done well, but he hoped that they would go one better in the Sessions that were to come. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ *MR. J. E. BARLOW (Somerset, Frome)
said the hon. Member for Stockport had spoken very strongly about the opinion which was entertained of the Bill in the part of the country from which he came. During the last fortnight he had been in the hon. Member's district, and he could assure the House that the hon. Gentleman had not spoken one whit too strongly. There was no doubt that not only in the north, but throughout the country, this was the most unpopular Bill the Government had brought in this Session. The Education Bill was disliked by a section of the community, but it was not so universally disliked as the Bill they were now discussing. To him it was a most marvellous fact that this Government, which relied for its majority chiefly upon the large centres of population, should, in their first Session, bring in a Bill which was particularly detested by the people of those places. [Cries of "No, no!"] This was a Bill which would undoubtedly have the effect of reducing the rates of a certain portion of land, and the deficiency would be made up by grants from the Imperial Exchequer, and those grants would be supplied, in some part, by money whish came into the Imperial Exchequer from taxes on consumable articles. Did they mean to say that the intelligent artisans of Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham did not know already that they would contribute to make up this money in every ounce of tea they consumed, every glass of beer they drank, and every pipe of tobacco they smoked? This was well known already to those portions of the community, and it was a fact which would not be forgotten by them at the next General Election. But he was 505 much pleased to hear the President of the Local Government Board say that this Bill was brought forward in some degree to relieve pledges which the Government gave at the last election. It showed that the Government were beginning to think of their pledges. [Laughter.] Looking at the legislation they had attempted to pass during the present Session, there was a remarkable absence of Bills for the benefit of the great mass of the people. There had been nothing, for instance, with reference to Employers' Liability. The Bill before the House was for the benefit of one particular class of the community, and would benefit the landowners of this country far more than all the other classes put together. He had not heard anyone say that the relief was such that it would enable the farmers to employ a larger number of men on their farms, and it was not urged that the effect of the Bill would be to withdraw some of the congested population from the large towns. No; the effect of the Bill would be to reduce that portion of the rates which was, in the first place, payable by the tenant, and therefore give the landowner not so much reason for making those temporary reductions of rent which had in many cases done great harm, because they have allowed rents to be kept up at a nominal and fictitious rate which the land could not pay. This Bill was not wanted by the friends of the Government. It would do them an infinity of harm in the country. It attempted to give relief to one section of the community at the expense of heavier burdens, not only on the consumers of consumable articles, but also, in the long run, at the expense of putting heavier-burdens on householders of the middle-class, factory owners, shopkeepers, and tradesmen in the country. Therefore it was a Bill for the crippling of industry. It would cripple industry in small country places, because if rates were increased larger sums would have to be paid by the owners of factories and workshops. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE, (Carnarvon Boroughs)
speaking amidst, cries of "Divide!" remarked that the Leader of the House had said that no answer had been attempted to the instances given by the President of the Local 506 Government Board of the injustice to land of the present system of assessment. One instance was the case of A, who had invested his money in land, and B, who had invested his money in stock. A was paying a £50 rate while B only paid £13. The answer to that was that A invested his money in land subject to charges on the land. But in 10 years the Poor Rate had gone down from 59,000 to 43,000. The President of the Local Government Board said this Bill was promised in their election addresses. He had studied the election address of the Leader of the House, and he wished the House to notice sequences of the legislative Measures there mentioned. The First was the Better Housing of the Working Classes.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said he had been very careful to do that, and he challenged the right hon. Gentleman to point out a single speech in which this Bill was indicated. Next to the Better Housing of the Working Classes came the encouragement of freehold occupancy, the amelioration of the lot of the aged poor, the protection of agricultural tenants in their improvements, the preservation of Voluntary Schools, compensation for injured working men, and next, and last, the "easing of the heavy burdens under which British agriculture is in danger of sinking." What were the burdens under which agriculture was in danger of sinking? In the appendix of the Report by Mr. Rew there is the case of a farm in Suffolk. Last year there was a loss of £307 on the working of the farm. The rates amounted to £98, but the rent paid was £1,200, and what the Leader of the House called "easing the burdens under which agriculture was sinking," was to pay £40 of the rates, leaving the £1,200 rent exactly as it was. The fact of the matter was the Government were making hay while the sun shone for their friends—[cries of "Divide!"]—and making it in a hurry as if they anticipated an early break up in the weather. But they meant to be assured that when the time came the landlords' hay should not be left out in the wet, and that was what this Bill meant. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 292; Noes, 140.—(Division List, No. 305.)
§ The announcement of the numbers was received with Ministerial cheers.
§ Main Question, put, and agreed to; Bill read the Third time and passed.