§ (1.) During the continuance of this Act, that is to say, the period of five years after the thirty-first day of March next after the passing of this Act the occupier of agricultural land in England shall be liable in the case of every rate to which this Act applies, to pay one-half only of the rate in the pound payable in respect of buildings and other hereditaments.
§ (2.) This Act shall apply to every rate as defined by this Act, except a rate—
- (a) which the occupier of agricultural land is liable, as compared with the occupier of buildings or other hereditaments, to be assessed to or to pay in the proportion of one half or less than one half, or
- (b) which is assessed under any commission of sewers or in respect of any drainage, wall, embankment, or other work for the benefit of the land.
§ *MR. JOSEPH A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside), moved in Subsection (1) to leave out "five" years and to insert "four" years. He said that in Committee the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill indicated that the Government were prepared to consider the proposal of appointing either a Committee of that House or a Commission 1705 to inquire into the whole subject of the incidence of taxation. The object of an Inquiry was to legislate to remove injustice and redress grievances, and he submitted three years was ample time for the Committee to report and for legislation to be framed and passed. It seemed to him that in view of that the House would be well advised in coming to the conclusion that a shorter period than five years should be introduced into the Bill, so as to enable the House to act promptly upon the Report of the Committee or Commission whenever it reported. The right hon. Gentleman gave no reason why five years should be introduced into the Bill in preference to any other period. The only concession of substance yet made was the limitation to five years, pressed by the supporters of the Government. If, however, this concession had not been made, the Bill would have been now as dead as the Education Bill. The Bill was justified by the Government on two grounds—first, that it was in mitigation of the agricultural depression which had existed for the past few years; and, secondly, that it tended to a readjustment of taxation. On the first ground, he would like to inform the House that a very interesting return had been published by the Agricultural Department since the Debates in Committee, and he found from that that the depression had been somewhat exaggerated by Her Majesty's Ministers during their discussions on the Bill. This Return showed that the number of landowners farming their own land was gradually diminishing. In 1888 15.9 per cent, were farmed by owners, in 1896 14.9 per cent. They were able to secure tenants for their land more and more every year. The Report showed, too, that in the last ten years, in spite of railways and of the expansion of towns, only 34,000 acres of land in Great Britain had gone out of cultivation. Last year the decrease was only .09 per cent of the total land in cultivation. He noticed that the number of horses had increased in 1895 as against 1894, cows had increased in the last year by 26,000 and cattle by 93,000, also pigs. There had only been a decrease in sheep, and that might be attributed to the severity of the frost last year. The price of wheat had risen, and the average crop of barley had materially increased. 1706 He submitted, therefore, that on the ground of depression, there was no reason whatever why the Bill should operate for so long a period as five years, or that the House should anticipate five years of continued depression. Let them take the other ground on which the Bill was justified by the Government, and it would secure justice and a readjustment of taxation. They, on that side of the House, only wanted to do what was fair to the agricultural interest; but they believed that, by operating for five years, the Bill would do a great injury to many of the urban districts. They thought the injustice was on urban rather than on agricultural districts, and the longer the period for which the Bill was in force the greater would be the injustice which it would tend to perpetuate. He found that over Great Britain, while the urban valuation was £98,000,000, £17,000,000 of rates were levied on the urban population; and that in the purely rural districts, while the valuation amounted to £53,000,000, the rates only amounted to £2,100,000. These figures showed that urban districts were paying four times more than agricultural. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton had pointed out how the tendency had been for the rates to decline in rural districts and to rise in the urban districts.
§ * MR. J. A. PEASE
said he wished to impress on the House the fact that the Bill, by operating for so long a period as five years, aggravated,the evils to which he had referred. The longer the period of its operation, the more certain it was made that the relief given would go into the pockets of the landlords. ["Hear, hear!"] He believed, moreover, that the Bill would lead to extravagance, for all Imperial subventions for particular objects tended in that direction. For his own part, he should like to see the Measure limited to one year only, and, in the circumstances there were very good reasons to limiting it to four years at the most. In Committee on the Bill, the right Hon. Gentleman in charge of it made no concessions of any substance to the arguments and representations brought forward, and he would appeal to him and the Government to show a 1707 more conciliatory spirit to this and other Amendments that would be moved.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. HENRY CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
said the question of limitation of the operation of the Bill was discussed at great length in Committee, and he thought it was hardly necessary to raise it again. But he could not quite understand the course adopted by the hon. Member, for while he had expressed the opinion that one year's operation of the Bill would be sufficient his Amendment was to reduce it from five to four years. The hon. Member complained that the Government had made no concessions to the arguments advanced in Committee, but he had forgotten that one of the largest and most important alterations made in deference to the views of Members on both sides, was to limit the Bill to five years. The Bill would involve a great deal of work both in the House and beyond it, and it would be simply absurd to make it operative for one year only. It would be a waste of labour to do so. In his opinion the same argument would apply to any reduction of years below the five proposed. The hon. Member had stated that the allegations of agricultural distress in the country had been greatly exaggerated, and that the condition of things was improving in England and Scotland. He had had opportunity on the Commission which was still sitting, and through other means, of gauging the existing agricultural distress, and he was merely stating the fact when he said that it was absolutely impossible to exaggerate the extent of the distress that prevailed over a large part of the country, though it might vary in certain districts. ["Hear, hear!"] For the reasons stated the Government could not accept the Amendment.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said the right hon. Gentleman had not really met the point raised by the Mover of the Amendment. It was admitted that the Bill was exceptional in character, and the original intention was to make its operation permanent. But the opinion and feeling were so strong against this—the representations, that, as the Bill dealt with one class of rates only, it would be unjust to make it permanent, were so urgent and powerful—that the Government had to give way, and, yielding to 1708 general opinion, the right hon. Gentleman was obliged to change the Bill from a permanent into a temporary one. But the question was, whether the temporary period fixed upon was too long. ["Hear, hear!"] Why should this exceptional treatment of a particular class in reference to their rates be continued for five years. ["Hear, hear!"] The question had been asked that day when the tribunal which was to consider the whole question of rating was to be appointed. Why were they to assume that it would take five years for that tribunal to arrive at a conclusion as to whether or not all rated property could be treated on a fair and equal footing? ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that the Bill was unpopular in a large portion of the country in consequence of its exceptional treatment of the landed interest, and therefore it should be his desire not to prolong the operation of the Bill a day longer than was absolutely necessary. It had been admitted that the Government had no right to give the proposed advantage permanently to one class of property alone; and, therefore, under any circumstances, it should not be given a moment longer than necessity demanded. It was class legislation of the worst character. ["Hear, hear!"] The Government said the Bill should be passed immediately, because of the existing distress in agriculture, and because there was not time to consider the whole question of rating. But, admitting this, why should this class legislation be prolonged for a period of five years, when it should be the object of the Government to make the system of rating and taxation a fair one to all classes as soon as possible? ["Hear, hear!"] It was absurd to say that it would take five years to consider the question, for any Government ought to be able to deal with it in a much less period. For his own part, he should say that two years was ample time for a Government to consider how all classes of property should be fairly dealt with in the matter of rating. ["Hear, hear!"] On what principle, or for what reason, could it be maintained that advantages should be given to land which were not given to houses, or to the manufacturers of the country? He was speaking as a Member for a constituency where there were industrial 1709 interests in quite as distressed a condition as agriculture—the iron and tinplate industries. ["Hear, hear!"] Why were those interests to wait five years before they received similar treatment? No; before that period all classes should be treated alike. ["Hear, hear!"] There was nothing more vital to the Bill than the term during which its exceptional treatment was to operate, and he hoped that before the Amendment of his hon. Friend was disposed of, the Government would give some further and stronger reasons than they had already alleged why that term should not be shorter than five years. ["Hear, hear!"] The Government held out the expectation that they would deal with the matter of the subsidy when they came to deal with the general question of rating. The only method by which they could compel the Government to deal with the other interests was by shortening this term. That was exactly what they did in a Railway Bill. They gave the time in which the function, whatever it was, should be performed, and if it was not performed in that time, the power was to cease. If they sufficiently limited the time within which this advantage was given to the landowners, they would compel the Government to do that which he ventured to say they would find it extremely difficult to do, and which he was sure they would not be willing to do—namely, justice to the other interests in the country. It was from that point of view he thought this a most material Amendment.
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
thought that if the right hon. Gentleman would only recall to his mind the reasons which induced him to limit the Bill to five years, he would accept this Amendment. In his buoyancy of spirit at the time the right hon. Gentleman agreed to limit the operation of the Bill to five years, but neither he nor any of his colleagues could now be sure that five years of life remained to the Government. ["Oh!"] Well, if he was sure he must be a very sanguine man. When would the five years from the date mentioned in the clause end? As the Act would commence to operate after the 31st of March after the passing of the Act the five years would end in 1902. He did not think the Government's life could possibly last as long as that. There 1710 were, therefore good reasons, according to the right hon. Gentleman's own argument, why the present Amendment should be accepted. Three years would bring them to 1900, and as long as the Government had a great task to accomplish they ought to put their hands to it and do it before even 1900. He represented an unfortunate constituency in London, where some people had calculated what this Act would cost. On the most moderate calculation this Act would cost London, £400,000 a year. If that pension to the farmers went on for five years, it meant to Londoners £2,000,000, if for three years £1,200,000. If, therefore, they could shorten the term by one year, London would save £400,000, if by two years £800,000. It was not, under the circumstances, too much to hope that his hon. Friends representing London constituencies who sat opposite would say a word in support of this Amendment.
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
said there were some considerations which ought to weigh heavily with the Government. The first was that when the question was last before the House, the right hon. Gentleman agreed that an Inquiry should take place, and that the subject should be dealt with during the existence of the present Government. That meant, surely, that the Government were prepared to reopen the question within the next five or six years. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that urban districts had grievances. That being so, the operation of the Bill ought to be so limited that the Government could deal with the whole question during their tenure of office. If, however, the term of five years stood, it was absolutely impossible that this Parliament would be called upon to deal with the subject. According to the Government's calculation, the Act would expire in 1902, but in the ordinary course of things the next General Election would take place about July 1901. How, therefore, could the present Government deal with the question again?
§ MR. J. STUART
did not intend to twit the Government with their misfortunes. Indeed, on all the stages of this Bill he had endeavoured to improve it. He was extremely desirous that this Bill should not stand in the way of the most speedy settlement that could be 1711 made with propriety of the rating question generally. He thought, however, if this Bill were allowed to operate for five years, not only would the Government make the excuse that they should not meddle with the rest of the rating question till the end of that time, but they would not be able to deal legislatively with it until the end of that time. They were establishing something by Act of Parliament with respect to the agricultural districts affecting their rates for five years, and would they or any other Government intervene and shut short that period when once established by Act of Parliament? He said they would not do so, and that practically they could not. That being so, it was not possible to deal with the general rating question of this country without dealing with the agricultural rating question, as well as the urban rating question. The two would have to be taken together. He said, after the fullest examination of the Bill, he did not believe it was possible to incorporate this particular reform with the general reform of rating they were all seeking for, and, in consequence, they would have to wait for their general reform until the five years were up. The disturbance of this settlement for five years, so far as agricultural rating was concerned, was an impossibility. That being so, look at the difficulties they were leaving to their urban populations in great cities and towns. He would not refer to the point that had been touched upon by the hon. Member for Islington, as to the urban populations having to pay for the relief that was given to agriculture under this Bill. He looked at the rating question alone, and he pointed out the enormous inequalities and irregularities that existed in urban rating as compared even with agricultural rating. He maintained that the body which suffered least was the agricultural interest. That was a perfectly different thing to saying that there was no agricultural distress, which he admitted fully. Take the case of London. They had a complaint in London—and it was in no sense a Party complaint—that they received under the Local Government Act of 1888 £400,000 less than they ought to receive. They had endured that state of things for a number of years, and they were now going to be 1712 compelled to endure it for five years longer. The grievance was admitted, and he asked that it should be corrrected in less than five years. He had already demonstrated that it was not possible for the Government to deal with this general question of rating so far as legislation was concerned before the expiry of the five years. If they were prepared to do so let them say so. He saw no reason why such legislation should be deferred for five years. If the investigation into the position of local taxation and grants were to be begun at once he thought it could not take at the most more than a year and a half or two years to think out and frame some satisfactory Measure, and to put it at five years was quite over-drawing the thing altogether. He should support the Amendment because it was a reduction of the five years, which he regarded as much too long a period.
§ * SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
had noticed that the Chambers of Agriculture in his own district had accepted this gift of the State towards the agricultural interest, but the acceptance had been accompanied in every case by a resolution asking for that which they had asked for many years—namely, a revision of local taxation. The farmers were wise enough to feel that the longer this Act was on the Statute book, the longer, in all human probability, would the time be postponed when they would receive that which they thought their due—the full revision of local taxation. They were wise enough to see that this was a temporary expedient. On behalf of the Chamber of Agriculture with which he was connected, and the general feeling of his agricultural constituents, he urged for a shorter period for the operation of the plan of the Government. This plan was not a satisfactory one. The exigencies of different parts of the country were very different, and he asked the President of the Local Government Board to make this transition state as short as possible, and to bring about a fair incidence of local taxation upon the agricultural interest, in as short a period as was possible.
§ MR. GEORGE WHITELEY (Stockport)
, who intimated that on this Amendment he should follow the course he had 1713 adopted since the Government introduced the time limit and not vote at all, urged the Government to shorten the period of five years if they found they could possibly do so. He could not but recognise the fact that boroughs would have a grievance during the currency of this Bill when it became an Act. They would then be called upon for the next five years, not only to pay their own heavy rates, but also to pay their taxable share in order to reduce the county rates by one-half; therefore it was manifest that the shorter the period in which they would have to bear that additional burden the better it would be for them. ["Hear, hear!"] He would press upon the Government that they should appoint this Commission or Committee to inquire into the whole question of the burdens on rateable and non-rateable property as soon as possible, and give a pledge to the House, if they were not able to accept this Amendment, that, as soon as the Report of the Committee or Commission, were laid before them, they would legislate upon the lines of such Report. He hoped the Government would use every means in their power to shorten the duration of the Act.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
said the hon. Gentleman opposite had earned the thanks of every urban community by the action he had taken in connection with the Bill. He had obtained an important concession from the Government, and he hoped they would respond to the further appeal he had made. This Bill was not given in relief of a depressed industry, but in payment for services rendered, and in these circumstances he considered four years was quite long enough and five years much too long. In the end the money would percolate into the pockets of the landlords. If the period was five years there was a greater chance that it would do so, but, if four or three years, considerably less. It was said that the period of five years had been fixed to enable the Government by means of a Commission or Committee to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. As a matter of fact, all the essential facts in connection with rating in this country were already in the possession of the Government. It was monstrous for a purpose of that kind that a period so long as five years 1714 should be fixed. He objected to agriculture being specially favoured when other industries were equally depressed and needed assistance. It was unjust that urban authorities should have to pay increased rates under this Bill. For five years London would have to pay £400,000 a year as its contribution towards agricultural rates. He believed that in the country the proposal of the Government was condemned.
§ MR. ELLIS GRIFFITH (Anglesey)
said the Bill not only touched agricultural land but the rates paid by buildings. If that were so the passage of the Bill would prevent the proper consideration of wider questions later on, and he asked whether, when the result of the proposed inquiry came to hand, he would reconsider the question in a broad and comprehensive scheme.
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
appealed to the Government to shorten the duration of the Bill to four years.
§ Question put, "That the word 'five' stand part of the Bill."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 258; Noes, 140.—(Division List, No. 257.)
§ *MR. J. A. PEASE moved to leave out the words "thirty-first day of March next after the passing of this Act," in order to insert instead thereof the words "thirtieth day of June one thousand eight hundred and ninety seven." He thought that nine months would not be an adequate time for making the new valuation of agricultural land throughout the whole of the country which would be rendered necessary by the Bill. In order to ascertain what the Government proposed to do in the matter, he formally moved his Amendment.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said that in reply to the question of the hon. Member for Tyneside as to the intentions of the Government in relation to this matter, he had to state that they would adhere to the date for the Bill to come into operation which stood in the Bill. The date proposed by the hon. Member for the Bill to come into operation would be an inconvenient and an awkward one, as it would break into the financial year. 1715 The Local Government Board would have ample time under the Bill as it stood to make the necessary valuation.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The next Amendment which stood upon the Paper was in the name of Mr. HERBERT LEWIS, who proposed to insert after the word "Act" the words—
or until twelve months after the inquiry on the incidence of rating has been concluded; whichever is the shorter period.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
ruled this Amendment out of order, on the ground that the House had already agreed to the date, "the 31st day of March." The Amendment of the hon. Member was thereby excluded.
§ MR. R. J. PRICE (Norfolk, E.) moved to leave out the word "agricultural," in order to insert the word "arable." He said he was anxious to give relief where relief was most needed. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board made as one of his most important points, that it was advisable to relieve the burdens imposed on agriculture because the land was going out of cultivation and the country districts were becoming depopulated. That statement applied not so much to grass land as to arable land. He did not think there was any dispute as to that, and accordingly he proposed by his Amendment that larger relief should be given to arable land than to grass land.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said the object of the Amendment was a very laudable one, and it had a most attractive appearance; but he was afraid it would be impossible to measure the relief according to the existence of depression; for this reason, that the depression varied not only in large districts, not only in every county, but very often even in parishes. Thus they would be lost in interminable confusion if they endeavoured to give effect to the views of the hon. Member. He was willing to concede that the depression began in the corn growing districts, but as a matter of fact it was the case at this moment, as was attested by the large majority of the members of the Royal 1716 Commission, that with rare exceptions the depression was practically universal at the present time. He had other objections to the Amendment. It would be contrary to all existing precedents, it would be opposed to the principle of the Bill, it would be accompanied with great practical difficulty, and land which would be relieved to-day because it was arable would cease to enjoy relief to-morrow because it was changed to grass. The proposal of the hon. Gentleman was as laudable as it was impracticable, but the Government could not accept it.
§ MR. WARNER
said this was one of a series of Amendments which sought to help arable land more and grass land less. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the object of the Amendment was a laudable one, and there were other ways of carrying out that object if the right hon. Gentleman would accept one of them. The supporters of the Amendment would be glad to accept any Amendment that would prevent land going out of cultivation. In some districts where the land was almost entirely arable it was actually going out of cultivation, and the utmost relief it would get would be about 1s. an acre; while the rich land would, under the Bill, get very large relief, in some cases as much as 14s. an acre. The contention of those who supported the Amendment was that the poorer land should get more relief than the rich land.
§ Question put, "That the word 'agricultural' stand part of the Bill."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 252; Noes, 116.—(Division List, No. 258.)
§ *SIR J. PEASE moved after the word "land," to insert the words "let at an annual rent of less than twenty-five shillings per acre," so as to provide that the relief to be given by the Bill should be limited to occupiers of land let at an annual rent of less than 25s. an acre. His object, he explained, was the same as that of the hon. Member who moved the Amendment which had just been rejected, but he claimed that his proposal was more practical. The Bill as it stood would give aid where it was least wanted. Land the rental of which had not gone down would get a large amount 1717 of relief, whereas in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Lincolnshire, and elsewhere land which had gone down greatly in rental value would get very little help. To take an example. A 200-acre farm let at 5s. an acre would receive £5, but a 200-acre farm let at £2 an acre would get £40. It was to prevent the relief from going where it was least wanted that he proposed this Amendment. This Bill appeared to be full of anomalies, but the worst anomaly was that to which he called attention. The principle was so exceedingly unfair that he trusted the Government would accept the Amendment.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said that the object of the Amendment was practically the same as that which had just been decided. He admitted that where a man at present paid very little rate there, of course, the relief would be equally small, and where the rates were high there the relief would be proportionally greater. That was a position which could not be avoided. The whole of the rating assessment was a mass of anomalies from beginning to end, and it was impossible to get rid of existing anomalies by this Bill. The fact that a man paid high rent would be testimony to the fact that he was entitled to and required relief. The Amendment would have the effect of refusing all relief to that class of farming where land was highly cultivated, as in the case of hop grounds and market gardens, where by far the largest amount of labour was employed. Rent was paid according to the quality of the land. In each case a tenant who took the land made his calculation of the margin of profit. The case of the Government from the beginning had been that farming land was unfairly rated and taxed as compared with other descriptions of property, and therefore it was right and fair that it should be relieved all round.
§ * MR. H. E. F. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavistock)
hoped that the Hon. Member would press the Amendment to a Division, because it was a sensible and reasonable one. There was a wide difference between the two Amendments. He did not see in the first instance that the proposal was a practical one, because there was really no distinction between arable and grass land. This proposal, however, defined the land which was of 1718 high value and the land which was of low value. The Amendment proposed to remove one of the existing anomalies, and he maintained that they should try and relieve districts which were most distressed, and which might be gauged by the amount of money they paid. The right hon. Gentleman stated that farms let at a high rent required relief as much as farms let at a low rent. That was an admission that he was trying to help the landlords by keeping up high rents, that he was proposing to relieve landlords and not the tenant farmers, but the Amendment would relieve principally those who had the heaviest burdens to bear and who could least afford to pay. He supported the Amendment.
§ MR. REGINALD MCKENNA (Monmouthshire, N.)
said that any Bill which proposed to relieve the unfair burden of rates on agriculture should not be introduced except on a special occasion, and unless due regard was had to other instances of still more unfair incidences of rates on the industries of the country. He had a letter from a colliery proprietor in his constituency showing that the amount of rates in the district reached one-fifth of the amount of the income of the colliery. No farmer was rated to the same extent as the collieries in this district.
§ Question put, "That the words 'let at an annual rent of' be there inserted."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 108; Noes. 208.—(Division List, No. 259.)
*MR. J. A. PEASE moved after the word "England," to insert the words£
on which the total rates were in the year ending the thirty-first day of March one thousand eight hundred and ninety six more than two shillings and sixpence in the pound.
He contended that the Amendment embodied a fair principle—namely, that the Act should operate only where the rates were excessive.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said the Amendment would create another and a greater anomaly than any of which hon. Gentlemen complained, and he really could not accept it.
§ MR. T. R. WHITTAKER (Yorks, W. R., Spen Valley)
, who had an Amendment of similar sense on the Paper, said it would give relief just where it was most needed and in proportion to the need. Take the case of where land was let at 20s. an acre and the rates were 2s. 6d. in the pound. That land would not go out of cultivation for the sake of half the rate. The landlord would allow 1s. 3d. to save 18s. 9d. rather than let the land go out of cultivation. Parliament ought not to give relief where it could be done out of rents; it was not their duty to keep up rent at the public cost. He pointed out that, according to a recent Parliamentary Return, rents in some counties were considerably higher than even at the time of the Corn Laws; therefore it was clear that agricultural distress was limited to certain districts. In every county of Wales the rental value of agricultural land was 25 per cent, higher in 1894–95 than it was in 1852–53 and 50 per cent. more than it was in 1815. Since that date it had risen from two to three millions, and therefore, unless rates were excessively high, there was no necessity for giving relief. Essex had suffered more than other counties, but not so much as they were led to believe. The rental value of the county was little less than it was at the beginning of the century and only 25 per cent, less than in 1852–53. It was a county in which a large amount of land had been taken for building purposes, thus reducing the quantity available for agriculture. Allowing for this reduction, the value of agricultural land in Essex had not, on the whole, seriously fallen since 1852–53, and rates then were higher than to-day. If rents had not fallen, and if rates were higher then than now, no case was made out for assisting the people of the district. The Amendment would have the effect of confining relief to where there was real pressure and rates were high. The clause, as it stood, would afford aid in many districts where there was no pressure; and it would not adjust the burden of the rates, because it would leave the relative proportions of the rates in the agricultural districts precisely what they were to-day. The Bill ought to relieve land that was heavily rated and not that which was 1720 lightly rated. It had been pointed out that in the distressed districts the fall in rents had not reduced the rates. Where the rents had been 20s. an acre and the rates 2s. in the pound, if the rents had been reduced to 10s. an acre, the rates would have gone up to 4s. in the pound. The clause would practically make the rates Is. an acre in both cases; but the Amendment would leave the rates at 2s. an acre on 20s. land, and 1s. 3d. an acre on 10s. land. In the distressed districts it would give the reduction of rates desired, while it would do less where there had been no fall of rent, and consequently little or no serious pressure on the rates. The President of the Local Government Board contended that relief should be given to all land alike, because at present it was unfairly taxed as compared with other property. But it had been shown that this was not so; and further, so far as there was any case at all, it was the landlord and not the tenant who was overrated. Yet this Bill sought to relieve the tenant. The Bill had ceased to be a Bill to readjust the incidence of rating; it was a temporary Measure to meet an urgent necessity, to meet pressing distress; but there could not, he said, be any urgent necessity or pressing distress in districts where the rates were only 2s. 6d. in the pound. Take a district where land was let at 10s. an acre and paid 1s. 3d. an acre in rates. That was not distress. A tenant would get a relief of 7½d. an acre, which would be £3 2s. 6d. on 100 acres; and that was not going to save agriculture or relieve it in any way whatever. This Amendment would test whether the Bill was really what it was represented to be—whether it was intended to relieve distress, or whether it was merely intended to shovel £2,000,000 a year into the pockets of the landlords. [Ministerial cheers] It was said it would not relieve landlords because it was a temporary Measure; but it would prevent the abatements that landlords had been accustomed to make, and on entering upon new tenancies tenants would be apt to be misled into supposing that the relief would be continued. The Amendment would prevent land that was not heavily rated from being relieved, but it would 1721 allow relief to be given to the occupiers of heavily-rated land, and further than that they ought not to go.
§ MR. LEWIS
said the right Hon. Gentleman in his brief reply—[Ministerial cheers]—those cheers indicated that hon. Members opposite wished to hear as little as possible—[renewed cheers]—had said the effect of the Amendment would be to restrict the amount of the relief given by the Bill; and that was precisely the object of the Amendment, because they wanted as little as possible of this money to go into the pockets of the landlords. The rental of agricultural land in Anglesey was £81,000 in 1814, £129,000 in 1842, and £182,000 in 1894. In Brecon, since 1889–90, it had risen from —190,000 to £192,000. If relief was to be given at all it ought to come out of rents that had been so largely increased. The argument that relief would reach a tenant rated at 2s. 5d. in the pound and not one rated at 2s. 6d. was an argument analogous to one used upon the Education Bill when objection was taken to stopping at boroughs with a population of 20,000; but the objection was immediately met by the rejoinder that they must draw the line somewhere, and so in this case the line was drawn at 2s. 6d. in the pound. What they wished to do was to give assistance to those who really required it.
§ MR. LOUGH
thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be inclined to entertain the Amendment sympathetically, because it would save money, and something would have to be done to economise somewhere if the scheme were to be carried through in England and anything was to be left for Scotland and Ireland. The Amendment touched the principle on which the Bill was based. Of the three burdens on land—rent, tithe, and rates—rates was the lowest, and they were not increasing in England. During the last 30 years rates had declined on the average 5d. in the pound on agricultural land in England. Yet the position of the Government was that nothing was to be done with rent or tithe, but that it was rates that would ruin agriculture. It could not be argued that a rate of 2s. 6d. was a serious burden in any part of the country. In London rates varied from 6s. to 8s. in the pound; in many urban districts they were 8s.; and even in Ireland they 1722 averaged 4s. How on earth the Government would deal with those cases when they came to them was beyond him to say. The farmers could not be materially benefited by this slight relief in their rates. If a man were ruined before, the Bill could not save him. The Government were dangerously tampering with local rating, without accomplishing any good for the people whom they professed to serve.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
said that this Bill would not be the first that Parliament had passed in order to relieve agricultural distress. Money had been voted with great lavishness out of the Exchequer in order to relieve distress in the West of Ireland and in the Highlands of Scotland. But what had been the test of the distress in those miserable districts? It was the great amount of the rates. It was because the rates in those districts had gone up to 5s., 6s., and 8s. in the pound, and at last could not be paid at all, that the House went—generously and rightly and justly, but slightly under the pressure of necessity—to their assistance. But in many counties in England to which this Bill applied, the rateable value had gone up and the rates had gone down. In his own county of Northumberland, where the rents had been raised between 1855 and 1870 by something like 70 par cent., the rents had, since 1870, hardly fallen at all, while the rates had gone down enormously. And yet it was proposed by the Bill that for five years one penny in the pound should be added to the Income Tax of his constituents in Glasgow in order that the farmers in Northumberland might be relieved of half their rates. That was a monstrous piece of injustice, and he should heartily vote for the Amendment.
§ MR. T. R. LEUTY (Leeds, E.)
said the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had advanced as his reason for opposing the Amendment the argument that he could not draw a distinction between a man who paid a rate of 2s. 6d. and the man who paid a rate of 2s. 7d., the difference between them was so minute, in the application of the benefits of the Bill. It was wonderful how the right hon. Gentleman who had shown such a capacity for swallowing at camels strained at this little gnat. 1723 [Laughter.] The answer to the right hon. Gentleman obviously was that a man whose rate was only 2s. 6d. had a burden that did not demand national assistance, while as to the man whose rate was only a penny more, and who yet got relief, all that could be said was that he had reason to consider himself a very lucky fellow. But really discrepancies of that character were inseparable from all legislation. There was no royal road to doing away with those anomalies, and to making the incidence of every rating or taxing arrangement absolutely fair and equitable. If that were the only reason the right hon. Gentleman had to urge against the Amendment, it might be said that he was reduced to having no argument at all.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said he observed that hon. Gentlemen opposite were a little impatient of the discussion. But they should remember that this was the first time the Bill had been allowed to be discussed. [Ministerial cries of "Oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite might call the all-night sitting a discussion of the Bill, but, in his opinion, the Bill had not yet been discussed. [Opposition cheers.] It was quite certain that the Bill would be discussed very fully elsewhere. They knew very little of the people of this country if they were not aware that a charge which bore on its face the stamp of inequality would be very closely scrutinised by the people. The right hon. Gentleman said, as a reason for opposing the Amendment, that he could not make a distinction between the man who paid a rate of 2s. 6d. and the man who paid a rate of 2s. 7d. But the Bill made a distinction of what he would call the most gross character. [Opposition cheers.] The Bill made a distinction even between two people living together. One of them who was a farmer got half his rates knocked off, and the other who lived next door, but had not got a farm, had to pay the whole of the rates. [Opposition cheers.] The real question at issue was, ought they in dealing out public money to give that money equally to those who wanted it and those who did not want it? There was a disposition on all sides—a natural and fair disposition—to give some assistance to those districts that required it. But the 1724 great fault of the Bill, which the Amendment desired to mitigate to some extent, was that it proposed to give large sums of money to districts that had no need of assistance. [Opposition cheers.] It had been asked, what had the rate to do with assessable value? His answer was that the rate depended entirely on the assessable value, and nothing else. If they had to raise a certain sum the rate would be low where the assessable value of the land was high, and the rate would be high where the assessable value had fallen considerably. Therefore the whole question was, what was the assessable value of the land in the districts to which they proposed to give relief? He would show that a large portion of the two millions voted by the Bill would go to people who—as was shown by the assessable value of the districts in which they lived—were not distressed at all. [Opposition cheers.] He had got a Return which showed that out of the 600 and odd unions of the country there were 103 where the assessable value had increased since 1870. Therefore in 103 unions to which the Bill proposed to give money the people were not worse off, but better off, than they had been in 1870, and they had no right to make a demand upon the public purse. [Opposition cheers.]
§ CAPTAIN PRETYMAN (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
asked whether the increase in the assessable value of those unions was in agricultural land or in property of all kinds. [Ministerial cheers.]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said he got his information from a map prepared by the Agricultural Department, showing the districts in England where the assessable value had increased and where it had only decreased by 10 per cent. The map showed the decrease between the year 1870 and 1894 in the rateable value of land. It was only a synopsis of a Return laid before Parliament. The map really showed the condition of agricultural distress—[cheers and cries of "No"]—as far as it was represented by the assessable value of land. There were 103 Unions where there had been an increase in value; and there were 125 where the decrease had been less than 10 per cent, since 1870. Those together formed a large proportion of the Unions of the country. Therefore, it was impossible to represent that in all Unions 1725 alike there was the demand for relief—[cheers]—and some discrimination ought to be made, because it would be felt that money was being given, to those who did not need it, and was being taken out of the pockets of those who did need it very much. [Cheers.] He knew of no better test of agricultural distress than the assessable value within the last 25 years. It was not exact, but it was the fairest test that could be obtained. He should support the Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
heartily supported the Amendment. The Government had announced their intention of carrying out an exhaustive and scientific inquiry into the incidence of local taxation on all classes of rateable property, and that fact, together with the fact that the Measure was limited in time, made out an irresistible case in favour of restricting relief under the Bill to cases of real agricultural distress. The landlords and tenants who were not now in distress might have a claim to some relief, but they could wait until the Inquiry promised by the Government had been concluded. The Amendment might not effect an ideal adjustment, but it afforded a fair test of where the distress began to be felt. Then, again, any Amendment which put a limit on the level of the rate below which relief would be afforded was obviously an inducement to many landlords to offer, instead of temporary abatements, permanent reductions of rent, which would carry with them permanent reductions in the assessment, and so bring the rateable value within the limits of relief.
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER after the usual interval,
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
said that unfortunately the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had not thought fit to give any explanation of the anomaly in the Bill that whereas a man who paid less than 2s. 6d. in the £ rates received no relief, the man who paid 2s. 7d. in the £ received relief to the extent of 50 per cent of his rates. The Amendment of a similar character to the present one which had been placed upon the paper, in the Committee stage of the Bill could not be moved. By the present Amendment 1726 it was merely proposed to apply to England the limitations that had been inserted in the Irish and Scotch Acts, and which were always applied when the State came to the relief of any industry. The right hon. Gentleman in moving the Second Reading of the Bill had brought before the House some very sad cases in Essex where the heavy clay lands that were only fit for wheat growing had gone out of cultivation, and the rates on which were 23s. in the £. The farmers in those cases would receive relief to the extent of 11s. 6d. in the £. In such cases no doubt there was great depression, and it was only just, that the farmers should be relieved of a portion of their rates. But of the 50 per cent, so given in relief of rates, what proportion did the Government intend should go to the relief of agriculture, and what proportion to relieve real property from the unfair burden which they said it had to sustain. Why did not the Government make up their minds to give relief to agriculture only in cases where the relief was required. There were several counties in England where there was little or no agricultural depression, and yet in those cases the Government proposed to give as large a share of relief as would be given to those parts of the country where there was the greatest depression. No reply had been given to those questions by the Government. A similar Amendment had not been moved in Committee because of the action of the right hon. Gentleman, the First Lord of the Treasury—were the Government after having applied the gag in Committee now going to enter into a conspiracy of silence?
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
asked whether hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House were to have no answers given to them before they went to a Division on this Amendment. The Amendment was an attempt on the part of hon. Members to introduce the principle of discrimination into the Bill. He did not know that the Amendment proposed to apply that principle in the best manner but at all events it did propose to apply it in some form. They ought to be told why the farmer who paid 2s. 6d. in the £ rates was to have no relief while the farmer who paid 2s. in the £ was to receive relief to the extent of 50 per cent. It was a necessary case 1727 that a man who paid 5s. in the £ in a town should receive no relief while his neighbour who lived just just outside the municipal boundary should be relieved from half his rates. This Amendment was a bona fide attempt to find some means of discriminating between that land which should have the benefit of this gift, and which land should not. There were districts in Essex where the distress was very great, and where the land was actually going out of cultivation, and was rated in some cases at over 3s. in the pound. Those were the districts it was desired to relieve, and this Amendment was moved in order to find some means of discriminating between districts like those and districts in the north of England, where the value of land had gone up. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to give some argument why he should refuse to accept the Amendment.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. T. W. RUSSELL,) Tyrone, S.
said there were three reasons why the Government could not accept the Amendment. The first was that it was part of the policy of the Government not to differentiate between the holders of agricultural land. Hon. Gentlemen opposite said that the plan of the Government would create anomalies, but the Government were certain that if they departed from their plan they would create greater anomalies still. The second objection was that if the Amendment were adopted the result would be to penalise the holders of agricultural land in those districts where, by careful management, the rate had been kept under 2s. 6d. in the pound. Surely that could not be the object of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and yet no one could deny that that would be the direct effect of carrying this Amendment. It would, in fact, be an absolute premium on extravagance, because, in order to get the relief, there might be a party who would connive at the rates being carried to over 2s. 6d. in the pound. The third reason why the Government could not accept the Amendment was that it would involve the recasting of the Bill. Two or three clauses would have to be completely recast. The Government were not prepared to enter into any such undertaking, and for these 1728 reasons must decline to accept the Amendment.
§ * MR. MCKENNA (Monmouth, N.)
contended that differentiation already existed in the Bill, inasmuch as agricultural land was differentiated from all other land. The hon. Gentleman's argument as to penalisation was most extraordinary. Surely, all land which was now heavily rated was penalised in comparison with land which was not so heavily rated. The hon. Gentleman also contended that the Amendment might lead to extravagance, but the Amendment was only proposed to apply to land rated at over 2s. 6d. in the pound on the 31st March last. Therefore it could be no inducement to extravagance in the future. If the hon. Gentleman considered his own answer, he would find that in every point the case he had presented was a hopeless one.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said they were all indebted to the Secretary of the Local Government Board for his explanation of the views of the Government, and they would all welcome his more frequent participation in the Debates on this Bill. But the hon. Gentleman had hardly improved the situation. The hon. Gentleman said there were certain anomalies in the Bill, but that this Amendment would create greater anomalies; but his hon. Friend put forward the Amendment with a view to meeting the obvious case that the occupiers of land which had increased in value would gain by this Bill. The contention was that where land had increased in value there was no bona fide case of agricultural distress. The Government admitted that occupiers of land who did not deserve to gain would gain, and he asked them what they were going to do to meet such a case? The supporters of the Amendment held that there ought to be discrimination. Where there was real agricultural distress there was a case for the Bill; but the Government had no ground whatever for asking the House for money in the name of agricultural distress, in order to give it to the occupiers of land which had increased in value of late years.
§ Question put, ''That those words be there inserted.''
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 66; Noes, 129.—(Division List, No. 260.)1729
*MR. C. SEALE-HAYNE (Devon, Ashburton) moved after the word ''England," to insert the words—
not being a tenant whose rent has been raised after the passing of this Act.
His object, he said, was to protect tenants against grasping landlords who might wish to obtain for themselves the benefit which the Measure would confer. When the Bill was introduced the Government said that it was for the relief of agricultural distress, by which phrase he understood was meant the relief of the farmer and occupier of agricultural land. This Amendment would carry out the expressed intention of the Government, and he trusted, therefore, that it would have their support. The Government had consented to confine the operation of the Act to five years in order to convince the House that it was the tenant's interests and not the landlord's which they desired to serve. But even during five years it would be quite possible for a landlord to raise his rents, and thus to put a great deal of this contributed money into his own pocket. That was what he desired to prevent. No injustice would be done to a good landlord by the Amendment, which aimed simply at preventing injustice on the part of bad landlords. It would not prevent any justifiable increase of rents, and where rents could be raised legitimately, there could be no agricultural depression, and, consequently, no need for this statutory relief. It was the tenant farmer who was entitled to relief, because his capital had been expended during the past 10 or 15 years in paying the owner's rent, and it was highly desirable to insert a provision of this kind in the Bill in order to prevent tenants from being robbed of the proposed benefit by bad landlords. He did not refer to landlords like hon. Members opposite, who, he was convinced, were all liberal-minded. [Laughter and ''Hear, hear!"] He urged the Government to accept this Amendment; as without some such safeguard the Bill could only be regarded as a Bill for the relief of landlords, and securing no benefit to the distressed cultivators of the soil.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said that the main object which the right hon. Gentleman seemed to have in view was to prevent 1730 rents from being raised. From his knowledge of the present circumstances of agriculture, he asserted that an Amendment of this kind was probably less necessary to-day than at any period during the last 25 years. How, where, and by whom were rents to be raised, having regard to the freedom which farmers at present enjoyed?
§ * MR. SEALE-HAYNE
explained that what he had in his mind was an increase of rents in consequence of the doles which were to be given under this legislation.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
asked whether it was conceivable that landlords would immediately raise their rents all over the country in order to gain the benefit of relief which was so small that the right hon. Gentleman called it a "dole.'' The right hon. Gentleman said that there were good landlords on the Government side of the House, though there were a few exceptions. But those exceptions would be controlled by the force of existing circumstances against their own will. He could state on his own responsibility, and from the experience and knowledge he had, that in the vast majority of cases throughout England it was not possible to raise rents. There might be exceptional cases, but a more uncalled-for Amendent than this he had never heard of in his life. [''Oh, oh!"] By the relief of agriculture the right hon. Gentleman, said that he meant the relief of those farmers engaged in the cultivation of the land. But he understood the ''relief of agriculture'' to mean the relief of all classes engaged in any way with the agricultural industry of the country. Why should they exclude the landlords and the rural labouring population from the category of those whom the right hon. Gentleman desired to relieve? What were the opinions of the farmers themselves? Did hon. Members opposite not think that the farmers might be trusted to know what was for their interest and what was not? Would the right hon. Gentleman go before the farmers and leave them to decide whether it was for their advantage or not?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I must say that a more absolutely unsatisfactory answer—[cheers]—to this Amendment could not be given, and the right hon. Gentleman will learn, if he does not 1731 know it now, that this is a test Amendment on this question. The pretence put forward by the Government is that this Measure is principally, or exclusively, for the benefit of the tenant farmers, but the moment a security is proposed—[cheers]—in order that the tenant-farmer may get it, the right hon. Gentleman says:—''Oh, I meant it for all classes—the landowner and the labourer.'' But how is the labourer to get it? The labourer is going to pay this out of the taxation of the country; lie is the person who will contribute to this payment whish you want to secure to the tenant-farmer. I should like to know the grounds of the contention which the right hon. Gentleman had made that there are no lands in this country upon which it will be possible to raise rent. He must have studied the volumes of the Agricultural Commission very little; he must know very little of the map prepared in the Agricultural Department——
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
By the Department of Agriculture. I know how the Agricultural Commission have dealt with that map, but I am speaking of the map prepared in the Agricultural Department.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
In order to be presented to Parliament for the public. [Cheers.] The Royal Commission on Agriculture has endeavoured to keep that map back; they will not succeed. [Cheers.] The map has been prepared at the public expense by the Agricultural Department, and the public shall have it.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
We will reserve that for another occasion. There is in this country a large amount of land upon which it is perfectly easy to raise rents, and upon which rents have been raised within the last few years. [Cheers.] That is a fact upon which I will pledge my responsibility against that of the right hon. Gentleman. It is notorious that there are thousands of acres on which rents can be raised—lands in the neighbourhood of towns for 1732 example. If there be such land, why should occupiers not have this protection? We have given protection to the Irish tenant against the raising of rent upon the improvements, but this Amendment is to prevent the rents from being raised on public doles. [Cheers.] Depend upon it the taxpayers are not going to accept the kind of answer given by the right hon. Gentleman. The object of the Amendment and the effect of it will be to prevent the rents of the country from being raised in consequence of a contribution out of public taxation on the occupiers and tenants. Hon. Members may vote against it to-night, but it will be understood to-morrow what they have been doing, and the principle upon which they have been acting. Why is it that this Bill is confined to five years? Because it is known that, unless you have a regular re-settlement of the system of rating in this country, the Bill will be most unfair and unjust in its operation. The Amendment is designed to prevent that injustice, and we ought to have, and the country will expect to have, a very different answer from that given by the right hon. Gentleman. [Cheers.]
MR. GRANT LAWSON (York, N. R., Thirsk)
said that the Amendment was intended to prevent rents from being raised after the passing of the Bill. But it might be the end of an improving lease, or a new house had been built on the premises; and yet the rent was not to be raised, according to hon. Members opposite, on the exclusive advantages of this Bill. It seemed to him that the Amendment had been drawn in such a way that it could not possibly have the effect designed, and therefore he hoped that the Government would resist it.
§ * MR. G. LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
maintained that the old tenants had been suffering for a long time, paying rent out of capital in hundreds of instances. He defied the right hon. Gentleman to deny this from the evidence given before the Royal Commission. He was prepared to meet the right hon. Gentleman on the merits of this Amendment, on any platform he chose to name. When he heard the right hon. Gentleman speak about "uncalled-for Amendments'' he believed that there was something in them, as the same epithet was applied to a Bill he introduced which 1733 obtained a very large measure of support from tenant farmers. He would like to know how the labourer would get the benefit of this Bill in a case where the tenant-farmer was receiving an abatement of rent and the landlord withdrew it on account of this Measure. If the labourer was to get the benefit, then give relief to the tenant-farmer, who would be able to employ more labourers, and be able to better cultivate the holding. If the absentee landlord, on the other hand, received the benefit, then the money would simply be spent elsewhere, and the small shopkeeper, the artisan, the labourer, and the rural community generally would not benefit in the least degree. This Amendment was designed to test the sincerity of hon. Members opposite towards the tenant-farmer. He maintained, too, that it was the old tenants who ought to get the benefit. They were undoubtedly paying rent out of capital, and their rents were being screwed up to the utmost possible pitch. He knew of cases where landlords had refused to let their farms until they had seen what benefit would accrue to the land from this Bill, and where other landlords had refused to enter into fresh arrangements or give the same reductions next year as they had given this, because, they said, the tenants would get so much abatement under this Bill. The acceptance of this Amendment would enormously increase any benefit that might accrue from this Bill in the agricultural districts.
§ MR. ELLIS GRIFFITH
, dealing with a statement of the President of the Local Government Board, that in 99 cases out of 100, a change of tenancy was accompanied by a considerable fall in rent, asked whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware that in two Welsh counties, Breconshire and Cardigan, rents had advanced by thousands of pounds in the last five years. It was said that those who supported the Amendment were conferring post hoc and propter hoc. Not at all; they only said that when the rates payable in respect of agricultural property were lowered, the tendency was that rents would increase. In fact the right hon. Gentleman in other days admitted that rents and rates increased and decreased with one another. If this was a Bill for the relief of agricultural depression in the 1734 sense of relieving the farmers, what harm could this Amendment do? Either rents would be raised or they would not. If they would be raised, were they not entitled to say that the landlord was getting direct relief under the Bill? The right hon. Gentleman and his advisers told them that the landlord would not get any relief. Therefore, presumably, rents would not be raised. If so, then the Amendment would not apply, and therefore no harm would be done.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
observed that surely it must occur to the intelligence of hon. Gentlemen opposite that where land was going out of cultivation by miles, it was absolutely impossible to raise rents. The right hon. Member for Monmouth said how was it possible that the Bill was going to do any good to the labourers? The reason was plain and obvious. Why had labourers wages gone down? Of course it was because of agricultural depression. What had caused agricultural depression? Low prices and high taxes. That being so, surely the relief given by this Bill would enable the farmer to pay the labourers better wages than before. He had always considered a division of rates was the corollary of this Bill, but as this was simply a question of raising the rent, and as raising the rent was an impossibility, he should vote against the Amendment with a light heart.
§ MR. LEWIS
said the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Rasch) had committed the fallacy of arguing from the particular to the general. He only spoke of facts within his own knowledge, but in some parts of the country, so far from land going out of cultivation, higher rent was being exacted for it. In 1814, the rents in Breconshire were £143,000, in 1842 they had gone down to £139,000, in 1889, they had risen to £190,000, and in 1894–5 this figure went up to £192,000.
§ MR. DALZIEL
had no doubt that in Essex, as they had been told, there were farms without tenants, but the House had to deal with cases where there were many persons anxious to get a particular farm. He knew of many instances in Scotland in which persons were prepared to give 20 and 30 per cent. more rent for farms than was now being paid. The whole point of the supporters of the Amendment was that rent was largely determined by the circumstances of taxation. If hon. Gentlemen had any doubt on the subject he referred them to the letter in the Daily News from a farmer who had received from his landlord a notice that in consequence of this Bill he was going to make an important revision in the rent of the farm. If a higher authority were wanted, they had it in the words of the Colonial Secretary, who in 1886 said he did not doubt for a moment that when rents were settled the question of taxation was taken into account, and to some extent affected by the amount of rent.
§ MR. MCKENNA
said there was a way in which the objection of the hon. Member for Thirsk could be at once met. There was already a provision in the Bill for separating the value of the holdings from the value of the land. If the two were separated for rateable purposes, they could be equally well separated for rental purposes. No valid argument had been advanced against the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman had said the farmers who knew their own business liked the Bill. He assured the right hon. Gentleman that they liked this Amendment just as much as they liked the Bill.
§ * SIR WALTER FOSTER
said that up to the present no sufficient answer had been given to the Amendment. Then could be no objection to the Amendment from the point of view of the promoter of the Bill, because its adoption would 1736 not alter the Bill in any particular. The only effect the Amendment would have would be to secure that the 1s. per acre, or whatever the amount of the relief was, would go direct to the tenant-farmer and should not be taken away from him. The right hon. Gentleman said it was a bad time for raising rent. It might be a bad time to do that in certain parts of England, but there were portions of the country where it was a very good time to do it. There were 103 Unions where agricultural land had gone up in value. He knew scores of instances in which land was fetching a better rent than it did in 1870. ["Oh!"] The late Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that there was a competition for farms in some places. Wherever there was such a competition there was every inducement for landlords to take the 1s. per acre. If this experiment was being made for the benefit of agriculture, and if it was for a limited time it was well all the benefit should go to the industrial people, to the people actually engaged in the cultivation of the land. There were 125 unions in the country out of some 600 where the rent had been reduced since 1870, 10 per cent, or under, and in those cases the landlord might be induced to say that as the tenant was getting 10 per cent, benefit out of the Rating Bill, he could not allow the reduction any longer. ["Hear, hear!" and Ministerial laughter.] In those districts agriculture was not in a depressed condition, and there were no miles of land out of cultivation as had been stated by the hon. and gallant Member for East Essex was the fact in his part of the country. What he and other hon. Members desired was to insure that the cultivating occupier of the land should receive the benefit granted by the Bill, in order that he might be able to improve the cultivation of the soil, and, if possible, increase the earnings of the labourer. ["Hear, hear!"] In cases where there was no opportunity of raising rents, the Amendment could do no 1737 harm, while in those cases in which there might be such opportunity it would secure the benefit to those who actually cultivated the land. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. C. A. CRIPPS (Gloucester, Stroud)
, in supporting the Amendment, said the hon. Gentleman opposite had confused two matters that were quite distinct—the point of the nature of the reform of local taxation as proposed by the Bill, and the point as to who would get the relief to be granted under the Bill if that reform was carried out. As regarded the first point—namely, the reform of local taxation, it was obvious that any such proposal as was made in the Amendment would be illogical and improper if the subject matter was considered. The basis of the Bill was that land, or the agricultural industry, was unfairly treated in the matter of taxation at the present time. If that were true, and it was generally admitted, there could not be any such discrimination in regard to the conditions of the land in different districts, as it was proposed to make in this and other Amendments of a similar character on the Paper. If they were dealing, for instance, with unfair taxation in relation to any other industry—the coal or the tin industry—they could not discriminate in particular cases as regarded the rent paid, or whether it was raised or not. Similarly, they could make no discrimination of the kind in relation to land. They were dealing with land as a whole, and if it was unfairly taxed at the present time all land ought to be relieved, whether it was prosperous or not, or whatever the rent might be. ["Hear, hear!"] The second point—namely, who would get the relief given by the Bill, was distinct from the question of the reform of local taxation. He regarded the Bill, indeed, as a first step in the reform of local taxation, and he hoped and believed that after this Measure had passed the work would be carried on and applied to the urban districts. ["Hear, hear!"] He believed that in the vast majority of cases the 1738 tenant farmer would get the benefit of the relief granted. There were some cases in which the labourer would get it, through land being thus kept in cultivation; in some instances, probably, the landlord would get the benefit, and he ought to get it. It surely could be no objection to a Bill in which they were dealing with the reform of local taxation that the landlord should get a portion of the benefit of that reform. ["Hear, hear!"] He contended, therefore, in the first place, that the discrimination in regard to the land proposed to be made by this and other Amendments could not be accepted, because it would destroy the principle of the Bill; and, in the second place, that the great bulk of the benefit to be conferred by the Bill would go to the tenant farmers. In those circumstances he should vote against the Amendment.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
said the hon. Member who had just spoken had simply repeated the speech he made in Committee on the Bill. He had said, he did not know, with how much knowledge, that the object of the Bill was the reform of local taxation. But in the Queen's Speech the object of the Bill was declared to be, not the reform of local taxation at all, but for the relief of agricultural depression; and for any hon. Member opposite to come forward now and assert that the purpose of the Measure was the reform of local taxation, was to reduce the proceedings of the House on the Bill to absurdity. [Cheers.] His interest in the Bill was that of a Scotch Member who was much afraid that, in the circumstances in which they were placed, Scotland would have only the alternative of robbery to face in this matter. It was quite possible that in the present state of business they would get none of the corresponding grant which was promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that speech which was the basis and root of this Bill. The other alternative was that they might have a Bill such as this.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
said he hoped it was in order to say that he resisted the principle of the Bill, which was attacked by this Amendment for fear it should be carried in the corresponding legislation for Scotland. He asked the House whether there could be any confusion in this case. Supposing the State gave 2s. 6d. an acre in relief of rates, and supposing that was followed by 2s. 6d. an acre increase in rent, were they not justified in saying that it was on account of the relief in rates that the increase in rent took place? In such a case as that the whole of the relief in rates would go into the pocket of the landlord. They thought that relief to the extent of £2,000,000 a year, which if capitalised meant more than £100,000,000, should not go into the pockets of the owners of land. They proposed by this Amendment to take care that, whoever else got the relief, the landlords should not get it, but that it should be the struggling tenant. He asked the Government to accept the Amendment, which would have the effect of preventing the landlord, by making an increase of rent, from pocketing this enormous subsidy from the resources of the nation.
§ MR. GEORGE HARWOOD (Bolton)
thanked the hon. Member for Stroud for his fairness in stating that the object of the Bill was the relief of the taxation on land. He ventured to say, however, that it was not so understood in the country. It was understood in the country as a Bill to attempt to relieve the distress in agriculture. He thought the Bill ought to be put before the country honestly. If it was meant to relieve agricultural distress, let that be understood. If it was meant to readjust the taxation on land, let that be frankly stated, but to move from the one to the other seemed to be inconsistent with a great Party like the Conservative Party. He would like to say to the hon. Member for Essex that that county was 1740 always trotted out whenever the question of distressed agriculture was raised in this House, as though it was a fair sample of the state of the country in general. He ventured to say it was not so, and if the House was going to be guided by Essex as to what ought to be done to relieve agriculture throughout the country, they were going to make a great and costly mistake. The distress of agriculture did not arise merely from low prices or high rating. It arose from the fact, which had been most conspicuous in the county of Essex, that for years and years the land had been bled by the landowners. It had not been properly fed, and it was now running about after tenants to feed it, in order to make it worth while anyone holding it. Mention had been made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite of the division of landlords into good and bad landlords, and it had been suggested that good landlords would not raise their rents under any circumstances. It was not really a question of good landlords or bad landlords. It was a question of the ordinary play of the common laws of political economy. The largest portion of the agricultural land was not let by landlords personally, but by a steward, who was, generally, a man who did for one's own benefit that which one could not for shame do for oneself. It was not a question of landlords living in England. He could cite instances of many landlords who had admirable reputations personally, but whose affairs were administered in as keen-fisted a spirit as the affairs of the keenest man in the country. The idea of representing that rents were fixed in an arcadian manner, with a jolly landlord slapping on the back a jolly tenant, was all nonsense. Therefore, they had got to look at how these things would settle themselve by the ordinary laws of political economy, and he said that the laws of political economy would make it necessary, whatever their wishes might be, that the benefit of this Measure would 1741 ultimately go into the pockets of the owners of the land. It was asked, would they raise their rents? There was a kind of quibble in that expression. They would not raise their rents, possibly, but it must be remembered that a large portion of the land of England was at present held under an absurd and un-businesslike tenure. That was to say, landlords had not brought their rents to a business level, but had gone on giving remissions. What would they do now? They would not raise their rents, but they would give less remissions, which meant the same thing. [Cries of "Oh, oh!" and "Divide."] He stood there on behalf of a large population, and, as they had got to pay the piper, they had some right to say what the tune should be. In the division between the landlord and the farmer, the agricultural labourer was supposed to benefit by the prosperity of the farmer, but figures did not bear out that contention, for in past days, when the farmers and landlords had been most prosperous, the agricultural labourer had been having much lower wages than now. Unless some Amendment of this kind were carried, some such result would occur as he saw illustrated by a scene he witnessed in a pantomime. A clown and pantaloon had robbed a fish shop, and they were dividing the plunder, as the landlord and tenant were supposed to be dividing the plunder here. The clown said to the pantaloon, as the Government said to the landlord and farmer, "there is one for you, and one for me," taking to himself a salmon, and giving the pantaloon a sprat. Then he said, "there is another for you, and another for me,'' giving himself another salmon, and the pantaloon another sprat. The result was that the clown required a handcart in order to take his share away, but the pantaloon took his away in his pocket. It was because he desired that the farmer should have his fair share of the salmon that he should vote for this Amendment.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
appealed to the House to bring this discussion to a close. The general principles which appeared to guide hon. Gentlemen had been discussed over and over again, and it was quite evident they could not come to an agreement. Let it then be understood on the other side of the House that landlords were all grasping individuals, that there was very little agricultural distress, and that the sole object of the Government in bringing in the Bill was to give a certain amount of money to the owners of real property. [Laughter.] Let them argue these questions no longer, but each side go away with their own opinions. ["Hear, hear!"] But after all, even if those opinions were as sound as hon. Gentlemen opposite believed them to be, they would not justify this Amendment, which would be as utterly devoid of any solid foundation as any Amendment that ever was suggested. ["Hear, hear!"] It was easy to see that on any principles the Amendment was inadmissible. If rents were to continue to fall, the Amendment would not carry out the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite, because rents that would fall irrespective of this Bill would, on their own hypothesis, not fall so much after the passing of the Bill, as the landlord, according to them, would take the whole amount which was now going to give relief to the rates. It was clear, therefore, the Amendment, in a falling market, would fail to carry out the object with which it was proposed. On the other hand, every means which made it impossible for any landlord to improve his land, and by doing so make it earn a legitimate rent, should be opposed by the House of Commons. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is limited to five years."] Were they to be told that the House of Commons was for five years going to announce to every owner of property in the country that, if he was fool enough to improve the value of his land, he was to be mulcted by the 1743 House of Commons? [Cheers.] Whatever views hon. Gentlemen took of the incidence of the rates and the wickedness of landlords, he begged of them, at all events, not to press further the discussion of an Amendment which did not carry out its own object in a falling market, and which would entirely put a stop to every kind of improvement of land by the owners of that land.
§ * MR. LUTTRELL
said the object of the Amendment was to secure to the tenant the benefit which the Bill proposed to give. There were very good landlords, but there were also bad landlords, and what it was desired to do was to prevent the bad landlords reaping the advantage of this Bill by taking unto themselves the benefits which were intended to be given to the occupiers of the land. It was not a question of raising of rents because of the increase of the value of land; it was a question of raising of rents because of the lowering of taxes upon land, and he declared there would be held out a great temptation, nay, a direct incentive and inducement, to bad landowners to raise their rents in order that they might get unto themselves the benefits it was proposed to give to depressed agriculture. Then as to good landlords—of which he was glad to say there were many. Take a case of re-valuation, the valuer would be bound to take into consideration the reduction of rates in making a new valuation. He was informed that the Duke of Bedford—than whom there was no better country landlord—was going to have a re-valuation of his Devonshire property. The Duke would ask the valuer to value the land fairly, and this gentleman must take into consideration in making such re-valuation the fact that the Government proposed to pass a Measure which would very largely relieve those who were interested in agriculture and the rents would be raised in accordance with the amount of money it was proposed to give. That was a point which had not been answered from the 1744 Government Bench. The Amendment was designed to prevent such a state of things and to insure to the tenant farmer the relief to which he was entitled.
§ Question put, ''That those words be there inserted."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 102; Noes, 216.—(Division List, No. 261.)
MR. ELLIS GRIFFITH moved after the word "England," to insert the words—
''who at the period to which any rate relates is not entitled to deduct the rate to which this Act applies or any part thereof from the rent, dues, or consideration payable in respect thereof.
standing on the Paper in the name of Mr. HARRISON (Plymouth), the effect of which was to provide that, where the tenant deducted the rates from the rent, there should be no deduction from the rates under this Act. This Amendment, he said, would again test the sincerity of the Government on the question whether the Bill was for the relief of landlords or of tenants; and he asked that the Amendment might be considered in a friendly and sympathetic spirit.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said the Amendment seemed to raise in another form a point settled by the last Division. There might be cases in which a tenant deducted the rates from the rent, but the instances were extremely rare and exceptional. There would be difficulty in giving effect to the Amendment. How was it to be ascertained by the overseer whether the tenant deducted the rates or not? A tenant who was permitted to deduct the rates was not in the same position as one who paid them himself. If he required further relief it was always open to him to go to the landlord and ask for a reduction of rent; and in the majority of cases landlords might be trusted to give the relief which was right and necessary. In these cases the tenant had no claim to relief, and for that reason he could not accept the Amendment.
§ MR. HENRY LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said he had listened to the arguments for and against the Amendment with a perfectly open mind. He always voted on an Amendment entirely according to its merits. As he listened to his hon. Friend who moved the Amendment, he thought a good case had been made out in its favour, but, with his mind still open, he waited to see whether the President of the Local Government Board would produce any arguments that would shake his confidence in the wisdom of his hon. Friend. The right hon. Gentleman had not done so. The right hon. Gentleman practically admitted that the Amendment was a good one, but that the cases to which it applied were so rare that it was not worth while inserting the words in the Bill. He could not admit the force of such an argument. If an injustice existed in one case—the case of the humblest and poorest person in the country—it ought to be remedied. The right hon. Gentleman also admitted that the clause, as it stood, would benefit some landlords. [Laughter.] They had been told again and again that the object of the Bill was not in the main to benefit the landlords, but to benefit the tenants. Here was a test case in which it was admitted that the tenants would not benefit by the Bill, and yet the right hon. Gentleman refused to extend the scope of the Bill so as to include them. The right hon. Gentleman said further that it would be difficult to distinguish in a parish whether the landlord paid the rates or whether the tenant paid the rates. Surely the overseer would know. The very fact of the rarity of the cases would lead the overseer to know them. But a still more extraordinary argument was the argument of the right hon. Gentleman that he could not accept this fair and reasonable proposal because, forsooth, if any injustice was done to a tenant he could go to the landlord and get a reduction of rent. Every tenant would go to the landlord for a reduction 1746 of rent if he thought he would get it. They all knew perfectly well that in all cases tenants were charged too much rent. [Ministerial cries of "No!"] That shout showed that there was a landlord majority on that side of the House. Why, then, bring in this Bill?
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Gentleman's remarks are hardly relevant to the Amendment. [Laughter.]
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. It was the interruption of an hon. Member opposite that led me astray. [Laughter.] I have only to say that I hope the arguments on the Amendment will be thoroughly threshed out.
§ MR. LEWIS
said he regretted that the hon. Member who had drafted the Amendment was unavoidably absent, but as the hon. Member was one of the greatest rating authorities in the country, he was sure the House would treat the Amendment with the respect it deserved. Unless the Amendment were accepted, the landlord in a number of cases must absolutely benefit. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had said he had not the slightest doubt that the relief given by the Bill would go wholly to the tenant. It was to make the Bill square with that declaration that the Amendment had been moved. The fate of the Amendment would be the touchstone of the sincerity of the Government in regard to their expressed desire that the whole of the relief should go to the tenant. In the cases affected by the Amendment the whole of the relief would go entirely into the pockets of the landlord.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER
said it was somewhat difficult to understand the principle of the Amendment. It was one of those abstruse Amendments which required a good deal of debate. In the last Amendment they were 1747 deavouring to secure that under no circumstances should the tenant be deprived of the benefit of the Bill. There were some cases in which the benefit would not go to the tenant, because he had been relieved by contract from paying rates. In such cases the landlord would get the relief which it was most desirable should go to the cultivating tenant. It would then be put into the soil or be the means of employing more labour. If there was one person who more than another had felt the distress and been crippled and half starved by the fall in prices, it was the cultivating tenant. He admitted the Amendment was difficult to understand, but it might be put into such a form as would force the landlord to give the benefit under the Bill to the tenant. He should support the Amendment as a protest against the money being paid into the pocket of the man who did not cultivate the soil.
§ Question put, ''That those words be there inserted."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 97; Noes, 222.—(Division List, No. 262.)
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said there was an Amendment standing in the name of his hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth which he desired to move.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
submitted that, having regard to the definition clause of this Act, this Amendment was not in order. If carried, the Amendment would not alter the Bill in the slightest degree.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said there was then all the more reason for moving it. As a friendly matter, he had no doubt his hon. Friend would vote for the Amendment.
§ MR. STUART rose to move an Amendment which stood in his name, the object of which, he said, was to omit from the operation of the Act those agricultural lands that are situate within the limit of a borough, or a county borough.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
pointed out to the hon. Member that this Amendment and the two next Amendments on the Paper related to the same subject. The first proposed to exclude boroughs, the second 1748 the metropolitan district, the third urban sanitary districts. He thought the convenient course would be to put certain words only which were common to all three, and therefore he would call on the hon. Member to move his first Amendment, but the question he should put to the House would be that the words ''not being situate in" be inserted. If those words were accepted other words might be added to them.
§ MR. DALZIEL
asked if the House would be giving a proper expression of its opinion, having regard to the fact that the urban sanitary authority was distinct from the borough?
§ * MR. SPEAKER
said he thought the hon. Member hardly followed what he had said. That proposition could be argued upon the question put, and if the House decided the question in the negative it would mean that the House did not desire to accept any of those Amendments. If in the affirmative, each hon. Member could endeavour to add his own words.
§ MR. STUART moved after the word "England," to insert the words "not being situate in a borough or a county borough," upon which Mr. Speaker put the question ''that the words 'not being situate in' be inserted." When they were discussing this matter in Committee, the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill, at the end of the long sitting held out the expectation that he would consider this question with regard to land situated in the neighbourhood of large towns, to see whether it was not possible to exclude them from the operation of the Bill. He had no desire to press the point too far, but the impression that the right hon. Gentleman's language left upon his mind was, that at all events he would consider the matter. He now asked the right hon. Gentleman not only to consider the subject, but to consider it favourably. He should like to point out to hon. Members on both sides of the House that his Amendment would not in any way interfere with the principle of the Bill, and that there would be no difficulty in carrying it out. He proposed to limit the operation of his Amendment to those special centres or districts in which without doubt agricultural distress in its ordinary sense did not exist, that was to say to agricultural land in boroughs 1749 and county boroughs and in the Metropolitan Police District. He proposed by his Amendment to deal with such agricultural land as was used for market gardens and orchards in the neighbourhood of large towns. Take, for instance, the case of Nottingham, although there were very few of our large towns in the neighbourhood of which large portions of agricultural land were not used for market gardens. This land was highly rated, and was most productive, and realised large rentals. It could not be said that such land was subject to agricultural depression. The Bill proposed to give relief in accordance to the amount of the rates. But wherever land had suffered from agricultural depression, the rates were low, and wherever it had not suffered from such depression the rates were high. In the neighbourhood of Norwich, where the land was used for the purpose of growing cucumbers, the rates were high, and they sometimes amounted to several shillings in the pound. Could it be said that such land was subject to agricultural depression? Taking the case of the Metropolitan Police District, there was a large amount of agricultural land in the counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, and Hertford which was highly rated. The occupiers of such land, however, were in the immediate neighbourhood of the London markets, and obtained the best prices for their produce. He found that the rateable value of such land amounted to £800,000 per annum, and taking the average rates at 5s. in the pound, that would give a total rate of £200,000 per annum. If the Bill applied to that land, the relief given within the Metropolitan Police District would amount to £100,000 per annum. In his opinion that sum ought not to be given in relief to such land, but should be distributed over distressed land. He thought he had made out a very reasonable case for dealing with and separating these particular areas. There would be no difficulty in discriminating in these cases, because the dividing line could be actually drawn on the map, and was not a fantastic line in any sense whatever. He therefore appealed to the right hon. Gentleman and the House to amend and improve the Bill in this direction. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman on the ground that he undertook to consider the matters which bore 1750 on this important Amendment. If the Amendment were adopted it would undoubtedly greatly improve the Measure.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said he quite appreciated the spirit and the tone in which the hon. Gentleman had moved the Amendment. It was perfectly true that when this matter was being discussed in the early hours of a certain Friday morning, he did undertake to consider it before Report; but what he said on that occasion was that he could not accept the Amendment in its then form and could not give any undertaking that he would be able to do so at a later stage; but that he would be ready to consider the question before the Report stage and examine it again. He did not, however, wish to be understood as giving any kind of pledge on the subject. All he could now say was that he had considered the matter, and he would tell the House the conclusion to which he had come. The hon. Member had stated—and it was quite true—that within these boroughs there was some agricultural land used for market garden purposes, and that those who cultivated it were exceedingly prosperous. The hon. Member then stated that the rates in these localities were very high, and gave that as a reason for accepting this Amendment. There was a matter which appeared to have escaped the hon. Gentleman's attention altogether, and that was that there was a great deal of land in many of these boroughs of another description, which was used in the ordinary course of agricultural cultivation. He had obtained some figures from which it appeared that in one borough there were 20,420 acres of agricultural land, in another 17,608 acres, in a third 12,828, in a fourth 12,015, in a fifth 8,728, in a sixth 8,908, in a seventh 6,750, and in an eighth 7,096, and so on. The hon. Member also referred to the Metropolitan Police District, in which he said the whole of the counties of London and Middlesex were included and parts of Surrey, Kent, Essex, and nearly the whole of Hertfordshire.
§ MR. STUART
explained that the Metropolitan Police District extended 15 miles from Charing Cross, and that only a part of Hertfordshire was included.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said that the Amendment would exclude thousands of acres of agricultural land from all participation in the relief conferred by the Bill, although that land was as much entitled to such relief as other parts of the country. Within 15 miles of London there were places in Essex, Hertfordshire, and Surrey, where the agricultural depression was as severe as in any part of England. He had received a great number of representations entreating him under no circumstances to accept the Amendment, and he did not see how he could ask the House to support a proposal which would certainly create a fresh anomaly. For these reasons he must oppose the Amendment.
§ MR. A. J. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)
said that since the discussion in Committee, when he moved the Amendment which had been referred to, he had conferred with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, and they had come to the conclusion that what might be done with advantage was to fix a population limit, say 10,000. Land within the limits of boroughs having a population of 10,000 would then be excluded from the scope of the Bill. He would again draw attention to the state of things in the borough which he represented. The total area of the city was 19,000 acres, of which 10,000 or 12,000 acres were so-called agricultural land. The rates paid by the constituency generally amounted to something like 8s. in the pound. The right hon. Gentleman opposite proposed that these 10,000 or 12,000 acres of agricultural land, which was practically accommodation land paying rent of from £2 to £4 an acre, should be relieved in respect of half the rates. But could this be called a case of agricultural depression, and were the owners of the land entitled to the relief which the Bill would give? There was, of course, no agricultural depression here, and it would be absurd to extend the relief given by the Bill to the owners of this land, the chief of whom, if indeed he was not the exclusive owner, was a noble Duke who was a Member of the Government. This land was steadily increasing in value, and much of it would be eventually be built upon. 1752 To speak of relieving the owner of this beneficial property of half the rates on land realising from £2 to £4 per acre, land which was coming into use as valuable building land, was monstrous, and that those engaged in industry should contribute to such a relief as this. The right hon. Gentleman, he was sure, had not given the matter all the consideration he ought to have devoted to the subject.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
hoped that the House would not be misled by the pretended object lesson of so called agricultural lands in the borough of Sheffield. Those lands lay in the division he represented, and not in the right hon. Gentleman's.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY
said the area was that which lay between the inhabited part of the borough and the county boundary. Relief was not going to be given, as might be inferred from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, out of the pockets of the rest of his constituents; it was coming from other sources. He did not suppose that a man in Sheffield imagined that the Duke of Norfolk would get a shilling out of this Bill. When he passed round among the farmers in this area, he did not see that they appeared to be of that substantial kind which was seen in the Lothians of Scotland and other prosperous districts.
§ MR. H. E. KEARLEY (Devonport)
maintained that it was a gross injustice to include an acre of land in the neighbourhood of populous towns that was not suffering from agricultural distress. It was said that within 16 miles of the Metropolis there was a great amount of agricultural distress. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman had not an intimate knowledge of the Metropolitan district; he, on the other hand, knew it well, and he asserted that there was no agricultural distress in the Metropolitan district; Take Kingston-on-Thames, Wimbledon, Richmond, Romford, Watford, or Chislehurst.
§ And, it being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.