HC Deb 25 June 1896 vol 42 cc117-27

(1.) The Local Government shall, as soon as may be after the passing of this Act, certify the amount—

  1. (a) of the annual grant to be paid to the Local Taxation Account; and
  2. (b) of the share of such grant to be paid annually to each spending authority

under this Act, and for that purpose shall determine in the prescribed manner the amount which for the purposes of this Act is to be taken as having been raised during the last year before the passing of this Act by any rate to which this Act applies for the expenditure of each spending authority.

2.) Such proportion of the whole amount so taken to be raised in respect of any hereditaments or parishes as the Local Government Board estimate to be the proportion of the total rateable value of those hereditaments or parishes which represents the value of agricultural land, shall be taken for the purposes of this Act as the amount raised during the said year, by the said authority, by the said rate, in respect of agricultural land, and one half of that amount shall be taken as the deficiency which will arise from the provisions of this Act in the produce of the said rate.

(3.) A sum equal to the total amount of the deficiencies thus estimated for all the spending authorities in England shall be the amount of the annual grant, and a sum equal to the deficiency thus estimated in the case of each spending authority shall be the share of that spending authority in the annual grant, and the Local Government Board shall certify the same accordingly.

(4.) The Local Government Board, in acting under this section, shall obtain and make such information and inquiries, and in such manner as they think fit.

(5.) The Local Government Board may amend, or for the purpose of meeting any alteration in an area or authority to which a certificate relates may vary, a certificate under this section, and any such amendment or variation shall nave effect from the date of the original certificate, or any later date fixed by the Board; but save as aforesaid, a certificate shall be final and binding on all persons.

(6.) The Local Government Board may give a provisional certificate, if they think necessary, for the purpose of enabling the first payments to the Local Taxation Account under this Act to be made, before they have sufficient information to enable them to give a final certificate.


on behalf of Mr. HERBERT LEWIS, moved in Subsection (1), to leave out the words "as soon as may be," in order to insert the words "within twelve months." His object was to give a direction, as it were, to the Local Government Board that they were to do this work within a specified time. Unless they did so, it would lead to considerable confusion.


Order, order! This Amendment is not in order having regard to Section 2, which has been passed. Under Section 2, the money, which cannot be paid until these proceedings have been taken under Section 4, is to be paid in by the 31st of March, so that already, under the Act, having regard to what has already been enacted under Section 2, "as soon as may be" means as soon as may be before the 31st of March, because the Act already provides that something must be done, which cannot be done under Clause 4, by the 31st of March.


said in that case he would move the second Amendment standing in the name of his hon. Friend to insert "before the first day of January 1897."


The second Amendment is simply an alternative to the first Amendment, and is not in order.

*MR. McKENNA moved to leave out the words "for the purposes of this Act is to be taken as having' and to insert instead thereof the words "has actually." This Amendment had got a meaning behind it which did not appear on the surface. When a rate say of 2s. in the £1 was levied upon any district, the amount which was actually produced was not the amount which was supposed to be produced by the rate. A certain amount was not paid and the rate which was levied at 2s. in the £1 only produced on an average about as much as a rate of 1s. 11d. would produce if everybody paid in full. As the Act originally stood it was proposed to take for the purposes of the relief, not the amount which was actually raised by a given rate in a given parish, but the amount which the rate would have produced if the rate had been paid in full. The right hon. Gentleman accepted in Committee an Amendment to Clause 6, and having done that he must necessarily, as a consequence, accept this Amendment also.


This Amendment appears to raise the same question as the Amendment of the hon. Member for Anglesey.


said that with great respect, he thought there was a wide distinction between the two. The Amendment of his hon. Friend referred to the amount which should be paid in each year, the amount varying in each year, and not the actual amount raised in each year. His present Amendment proposed to settle once for all what the amount was that was to be paid. His Amendment stated that the amount that was to be paid was the actual amount raised in the year 1896. He thought it would appear to be really, as the Bill now stood in Clause 6, only a drafting Amendment, consequential upon the Amendment which was accepted on Clause 6. Under Clause 2, in respect of the deficiency, something had to be paid to the local taxation account and, by the local taxation account, to the Spending Authority. That was to be paid, and by Clause 4, the Local Government Board "shall determine in the prescribed manner the amount which, for the purposes of this Act, is to be taken as having been raised," and so on. Clause 6 said that the returns "shall be made to the Local Government Board in accordance with the prescribed regulations." This was one of the prescribed regulations:— (a) By every Spending Authority in relation to the sums actually received by them or their predecessors during the year next before the passing of this Act by any rate to which this Act applies. Therefore they had a return from the Spending Authority of the sum which was actually received by the Spending Authority. Turn back to Clause 4, and they found in line 36 "shall determine in the prescribed manner"—it now became "the actual amount received by the Spending Authority in 1896." It was no longer the amount which, for the purposes of this Act, was to be taken as having been raised, but which, for the purposes of this Act, was actually received in 1896. Under Section 6 the return which had to be made was not a return of what the rate would have produced, but what it actually did produce. It was upon that return only that Section 4 must now be based, and consequently the words "which for the purpose of this Act must be taken as having been raised during the last year were inaccurate." If the Amendment were not accepted there would be difficulty hereafter in the courts of law. The local authorities would claim to have the rate which ought to have been raised, whereas the courts of law would hold that the amount they were entitled to was the actual rate which had been raised.


remarked that the Amendment which he accepted in Committee on Clause 6 of the Bill had really nothing to do with this point. The Amendment he accepted related solely to the returns which were to be made to the Local Government Board, but the present Amendment, which he was also asked to accept, related to the certificates which were to be made to the Local Government Board.


They are to be made on these returns.


said they were to be made on these returns in such a manner and in such way as the Local Government Board thought fit, and it was in order to give them some latitude for the purpose of arriving at a fair and average estimate of what the expenditure had been that the clause was worded as it was, when it said they— Shall determine in the prescribed manner the amount which, for the purpose of this Act, is to be taken as having been raised, instead of "having been actually raised." It was in order to enable the Local Government Board to meet any case where the sums raised in the last year had been much greater or much less than they ought to have been, because of the balances which might have been for or against the local authority during that year, and to enable them to arrive at a fair average of what the expenditure for the year might have been that the clause had been so drafted. Let him point out what would be the effect of accepting the Amendment of the hon. Member. If the Local Government Board were forced to do what the hon. Member desired, they would, in the case where any local authority—owing to any accident or irregularity—raised three half year's rates in the year ending 31st March last, have no alternative whatever but to give the spending authority an undue share of the grant. In precisely the same way if, by accident or irregularity, one-half year's rate only had been raised during the year, an irregularity in the amount of the grant would again arise. Owing to the way in which the Bill had been drafted, the Local Government Board would be enabled at all times to make an estimate of the grant on what the Government felt to be equitable principles. He thought this explanation was perfectly clear; he hoped it would be satisfactory to the House, and that the hon. Member would not think it necessary to press the Amendment.


observed that under Clause 6 they got a return of the sums actually received. What did they want it for at all, unless, indeed, upon the assumption that his hon. Friend was right in the explanation he had given in moving this Amendment? The right hon. Gentleman had said that because of some accident a man might not have paid his rates for a particular half year. The way to induce him to pay was to make the grant dependent upon the rates the man had paid, and not upon what he ought to have paid. By accepting the Amendment the right hon. Gentleman would give a new inducement to the ratepayers generally to pay their rates in the particular half year or year, and no parish had any right to complain when judged by what it had done rather than by what it owed. Having accepted the Amendment to Clause 6, which had been referred to, the right hon. Gentleman ought to be consistent and accept this further Amendment, which was consequent on the one he had already agreed to. Even if he declined to do so, it might be construed by the courts into the section now under consideration.


regarded the point as one of considerable importance. The right hon. Gentleman had pointed out one objection to the acceptance of the Amendment—namely, the case of a parish which conducted its business in rather a loose and haphazard manner, and made three rates in the course of one year. But surely the right hon. Gentleman could meet that case by means of another Amendment. What he objected to in the words as they stood was that they were too loose and gave too much latitude to the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman himself had rather admitted this view, for he had said he was in favour of the clause as it stood, because its wording gave the Local Government Board a certain amount of latitude in dealing with these parishes. That was exactly the reason why he personally objected to the words. He did not think the House of Commons ought to give out of its own hands power of this description to any Government Department. The Local Government Board would have the power to deal arbitrarily with different parishes unless an Amendment of this character were accepted. When parishes raised a certain amount of money they had something definite and clear to go upon. They would not raise it until they really required it, and it was the best possible test as to the ground on which they made their certificate. Supposing £1,200 was raised in a parish last year. A certain official of the Local Government Board might say: "It is true you raised £1,200 last year, but I shall take the amount to have been £1,000." The official might have reasons of his own for this. In a case of the kind, what appeal had that parish got? It had no appeal to the House of Commons. It was proposed to place in the hands of an official of a particular Government Department a power which would not be given to any Judge in the land. It would be a judicial and not an administrative duty to decide on complicated points with power of appeal. If there would be power of appeal, how would the appeal be presented, and would the appellants be heard by counsel or witnesses or by documentary evidence, or would the whole thing be decided by correspondence?


asked the President of the Local Government Board for an indication of the system upon which the calculations of his Department would be based. Parishes differed as to the amount of the rate raised in each year, and without the means suggested by the Amendment, he saw no satisfactory way of arriving at it without going over a series of four or five years. If all these enormous calculations were to be conducted by the Local Government Board, where was the machinery to do the work? The existing staff could not possibly do it. It would have to be doubled or trebled. The object of the Amendment was to fix a definite figure and sum and save the Local Government Board needless and almost impossible investigation as to the amount at which to strike the rate.


asked the Solicitor General to take a case in which the rateable value was £1,000. A rate of 2s. would produce £100. But it might only produce £90. Would £50 be given to such a parish or £45?


replied that the suggestion made by the Amendment was that they should take the sum which appeared to have been raised in a particular year before the passing of the Act as a criterion of the amount of relief that district was to get. Could anything be absolutely more unreasonable in one district where it happened that year to have been high, or in another where it happened to have been low because there had been more or less expenditure in the preceding year? Surely the right and reasonable thing was, while laying these materials before the Local Government Board, to let that Board decide what was to be taken as a fair average of the amount raised in that year. He submitted that to make it subject to more or less being raised would be absolutely and utterly unreasonable. With regard to the other question, the amount to be assessed by the Local Government Board was the amount to be taken as actually raised.


said the Solicitor General had given away the whole case of the Government. Hitherto they had said the fixed sum to be given to the local authority was to be determined by the actual amount paid to it last year. Now it was said that the sum existed only as a figment of the imagination, and that in order to get at the sum an official of the Local Government Board was to go to every locality and to hold a fishing inquiry, with the object of ascertaining, not how much was paid last year, but how much ought to have been paid. When he was told that so much had been paid, he would say it ought to have been so much more, and he would fix the amount to be received so much higher. A fishing inquiry would lead to no end of confusion. Hitherto they had been told that they were to take last year's contribution as the basis of this Bill; that was the accepted proposition; every time the question was raised a representative of the Government assured them this was a fixed sum whether the rates went down or up. How came it now they admitted they had no basis to go upon, and they were going into every locality to hold a fishing inquiry to find out what the actual condition of things was? A case had been made out for the Amendment, and he hoped it would be pressed to a Division.

The House divided:—Ayes, 244; Noes, 109.—(Division List, No. 277.)

MR. DALZIEL moved to omit Subsection (2). He said the Government had presented no case for the retention of the sub-section, nor had they stated how far they expected it would contribute to the value of the Measure.


who spoke amid cries of "Divide!" said the sub section meant that the Local Government Board were to estimate the total rateable value of every parish. The Local Government Board were totally incompetent to do anything of the kind. Besides, it was one of the most revolutionary pro posals that had ever been made——


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put, "That the Question be now put."

The House divided:—Ayes, 247; Noes, 112.—(Division List, No. 278.)

Question put accordingly, "That Subsection (2) of Clause 4 stand part of the Bill."

The House divided:—Ayes, 253; Noes, 112.—(Division List, No. 279.)

MR. W. S. ROBSON (South Shields) moved after the word "rate" at the end of Sub-section (2), to insert the words:— In estimating the value of agricultural land for the purpose aforesaid in cases where such land is rated together with buildings, the Local Government Board shall take as the value of such buildings the sum it would cost to rebuild them, and the rateable value thereof shall be taken to be a sum equal to five per centum per annum on the said cost. He said the Amendment was designed to supply a remarkable omission in the clause. The Bill provided that the relief should not extend to buildings, and clearly it would be very unfair that householders who happened to be farmers should pay less rates on their buildings than other people. Therefore, the scheme was that the farmhouse should continue to be rated to the full extent. But although the operation of distinguishing between the value of the farmhouse and the value of the farm was altogether a novel one so far as rating law was concerned, the Bill indicated no principle on which the valuer should proceed. The valuer had before him a very wide choice of valuation principles, some good and some bad. For instance he might take the value of the farmhouse at its general letting value apart from the farm altogether. If he adopted that principle he would practicalty value the farmhouse at nothing. If, on the other hand, he chose to value the farmhouse as part of the farm, he would have to apportion the rent between what might possibly be ascribed to the house and what might properly be ascribed to the land. That would be an entirely novel operation in assessment, and the valuer would find that the operation would result in a mere conjecture. He would be called upon to assess farmhouses, not upon the letting value, which was one basis, and not upon cost, which was another basis, and it would be left to his own caprice to put a value upon the buildings. The Bill ought to contain some guide or warning to the valuer to prevent his adopting an avowedly vicious method of valuation. Practically, the valuer would have to decide how much State money should go to each parish affected by the Bill. When it was proposed to allow an official of this kind to distribute the taxpayer's money, it was monstrous that he should be left to proceed upon any principle that he liked or upon no principle at all. It would probably be said that the valuations would be made under the supervision and control of the Local Government Board; but it could not be supposed that the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his Department were going to undertake a new survey, and to value all the farms and lands in the country. The Local Government Board officials would be obliged to adopt the local valuations, and the money of the taxpayer would be distributed according to the valuations of local parish overseers, whose tendency would be to minimise the value of the buildings in order to increase the amount of the State grant, and the object of his Amendment was to check that tendency. Why had not some principle of valuation as between land and buildings been laid down in the Bill? Was the reason this—that, as in respect of accommodation land, the Government were not able to draft a single clause for the purpose of averting an avowed injustice? Right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench always said that they were dreadfully puzzled when it was a question of drafting a clause to prevent injustice from being done under this Bill. ["Hear, hear!" and cries of "Oh!"] It apparently was a good deal easier for right hon. Gentlemen opposite to use their majority than to use their brains. [Cheers, and loud and prolonged cries of "Divide" from the Ministerial Benches.] He was not prepared to accept these professions of incapacity on the part of the Government.


observed that the hon. Member had evidently just returned from some festive entertainment. [Loud Opposition cries of "Order" and "Withdraw."]


There is nothing disorderly in the observation of the right hon. Gentleman. [Cheers.]


said he could scarcely believe that the hon. Member was serious in moving the Amendment. The hon. Member adopted a new principle and said that the buildings were to be valued at what it would cost to rebuild them. Tumble-down and bad buildings were thus to be valued at what it would cost to replace them by, new and good buildings. [Laughter.] Then the Local Government Board were to undertake the work, though a protest had been made earlier that the Department had already too much to do. The Amendment would deprive the farmers throughout England of the larger part of the advantage they would derive under the Bill, and he opposed it.


did not think that the Amendment was either grotesque or absurd. It was a most reasonable and a most necessary Amendment. The result of the right hon. Gentleman's view of the case would be that in the majority of the parishes in England, buildings would be valued at nothing at all in order to get a larger grant from the Treasury. Farm buildings without the land would not let for any rent; this was the case in Ireland, and he believed it to be the case in this country also.


rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that question.

Debate resumed.

And, it being midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.