HC Deb 25 June 1896 vol 42 cc110-7

(1.) Where any spending authority require in any half year or other period to raise from two or more parishes a sum by a rate to which this Act applies, they shall, in determining the net amount to be so raised, deduct the sum issuable to thorn in respect of the said rate on account of their share of the annual grant for the said half year or other period; and the net amount after that deduction shall, where it would otherwise be raised in proportion to the rateable value, be raised in proportion to the assessable value of those parishes.

(2.) For the purposes of this Act the assessable value of a parish shall be the rateable value thereof reduced by an amount equal to one half of the rateable value of the agricultural land in the parish.


rose to move the omission of all the words in the clause down to the words "and the net amount," but wished first to ask whether the Motion would exclude subsequent Amendments to the clause or whether the omission of the words of the clause up to the next Amendment would be the question put from the Chair?


said that in putting the Motion he should folow the usual course, so as not to exclude subsequent Amendments. He might add that the next Amendment, standing in the name of the hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, did not make sense as it stood upon the Paper. Perhaps some mistake had been made in printing it. If no mistake had been committed he could not put the Amendment.


said that he did not propose to move it.

MR. LEWIS moved the omission of Clause 3. He said that his object was to record a protest against what appeared to him to be one of the most repulsive clauses in appearance that could be contained in any Rating Bill. It was a clause which could not possibly be understood by the local authorities to which it referred. When the clause was before the Committee an explanation was asked for on all sides, and the Solicitor General contributed a masterly and lucid exposition of it. By this time, however, he feared that the House had completely forgotten what was the meaning and object of the clause. He did not envy the state of mind of any Board of Guardians or of any clerk to any rural or urban district council who had to interpret such a clause as this. It ought to be recast and made more intelligible. When the President of the Local Government Board was asked in Committee to explain the clause, he read out from a paper what he or his advisers conceived to be the interpretation of the provision, and when he had exhausted the contents of the paper he had nothing further to say on the subject. By the end of the Debate, however, the right hon. Gentleman had been convinced that the clause required reconstruction before the Report stage. He wished to know what was the result of the right hon. Gentleman's reconstruction of the clause. If the right hon. Gentleman was in a position to tell the House that he meant to introduce a more satisfactory clause, he should, of course, withdraw his Motion. He concluded by moving that the words of the clause down to the word "and" be omitted.


said that it was quite true that when the clause was last under discussion he undertook to ascertain, with the help of the Attorney General and Solicitor General, whether the provision required amendment and whether it could be made simpler and clearer. The clause had been considered accordingly, and the conclusion that had been come to was that it was quite intelligible and clear. It related to the question of contributions from more than one parish, and the effect, as he maintained, of the clause was to distribute the payment fairly between the different parishes according to the amount of the grant to which they were justly entitled. The contribution as certified by the Local Government Board under the terms of the Bill would be handed over in the first place to the spending authorities. Supposing that a spending authority required to raise a certain sum, say £500, and that the contribution as certified by the Local Government Board would be £100, then £400 only would be required to be raised by that authority instead of £500. The first part of the clause therefore provided that the contribution which was to be received by the local authority according to the certificate of the Department should be deducted from the amount to be raised. Then came the question of distribution among several parishes, and how much they were to have. How was this to be done? In order that each parish might get the full share of the grant to which it was entitled, the net amount which was required, after the deduction of the contribution—that was to say, £400—was to be raised on the assessable value instead of the rateable value, the assessable value meaning the rateable value of the parish minus half of the rateable value of the agricultural land in that parish. If the net amount after the deduction were to be raised on the rateable value this would follow, the greater or the less amount of the agricultural land in that parish would not be taken into account in the share they would receive. The consequence of that would be that in the case of a parish with a large amount of agricultural land, that parish would get less than its fair share of the contribution to which it was entitled. The further consequence was that more rates would have to be raised. There would be an increase of rate to make up for the deficiency caused by their receiving too small a share of the contribution, which would fall on account of property in that parish, and the further effect would be that property other than agricultural land would have to pay towards that increase of rate in the proportion of twice that of agricultural land. That was the general effect of this clause; that was the difficulty against which they wished to provide. But it was not so difficult or so unintelligible as hon. Members seemed to assume. At least, he hoped he had done something to make the clause clearer to hon. Members than it was before.


acknowledged that the right hon. Gentleman had given a lucid explanation of the clause, but he did not think that it worked fairly. In cases where parishes were grouped it would introduce confusion. In the first place, the buildings and the land would bear a very different portion of the rate where the rate was levied for one parish than where it was levied for two parishes. Supposing they levied a rate for one parish and not a group. After the rate had gone up then the balance was divided between the buildings in that particular parish and the land. Supposing they grouped parishes in the way proposed by this clause. Assume, for the purposes of argument, that there were three or four, more or less, urban districts in the union. In that union there were two or three small boroughs, the rest being agricultural parishes. How would the clause work there? There was a contribution from the Imperial Exchequer of £100. If the rate went up next year, in all the agricultural districts there was only a half for the land in that parish; the rest of the parish would make up the difference—the tenant farmer, as the occupier of buildings and farmhouses, and the squire, of his mansion, would have to make up the difference. It was clear that it was intended to shift the burden from the owners of buildings who, in agricultural districts, were farmers and landowners, to the owners and occupiers of buildings in the small boroughs. That was not fair.


agreed that the right hon. Gentleman had explained what no doubt was the object of the clause. He should like to know why, in the first place, it was considered necessary to deduct the money received from the Treasury under the Bill?


thought some answer was due to the hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who had pointed out a serious difficulty in combined parishes, where the deficiency caused by the relief given to some of the agricultural parishes would fall unfairly on those which were non-agricultural parishes. As far as they were able to understand this clause, the right hon. Gentleman had given a lucid explanation of it; but the right hon. Gentleman must excuse them as to their difficulty in the matter, when he pointed out that on a former occasion the First Lord of the Treasury agreed with him in saying that he had not the remotest idea what the clause meant. [Laughter.] He remembered that in one of the great State trials in the last century the Attorney General made a speech lasting three days in order to convict the prisoner, who was unanimously acquitted because the jury said that if it required three days to prove the prisoner's guilt he must be innocent. [Laughter.] So obscure was this clause that it seemed to prove the object intended to be carried out was wrong, otherwise an attempt would have been made to express that object more intelligibly. A friend of his in command of a Volunteer regiment, through giving the proper words of command, got his regiment into such confusion that it could not move. [Laughter.] He hit upon the expedient of dropping the use of technical terms, and said to the men, "You fellows know what I mean; go up Regent Street." [Laughter.] He had always held up that example to draughtsmen. He had said to draughtsmen, with reference to a Bill, "Could you not say, 'Go up Regent Street?'" [Laughter.] If there was an object to be accomplished by this clause, he recommended the right hon. Gentleman to say to the draughtsman, "Don't you think you can go up Regent Street?" and say in plainer words than these what the clause really meant. [Laughter.] However, that really was a question of drafting, but as regarded the substance of the matter they ought to have an answer from the right hon. Gentleman to show that the allegation put forward by the hon. Member for Carnarvon with great force was not well founded, and that in combined parishes the relief given to the agricultural portions of them would not throw an undue burden upon the industrial parts of the community.


thought many districts would have a difficulty in administering this Act unless a Memorandum was sent out explaining Clause 3; only he feared the Memorandum itself would be a tremendously long document, and they would want someone to explain the Memorandum. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not be disinclined, seeing that the Bill effected a great change in the incidence of local rating, and would cause revolutionary proceedings throughout the country, to give a further promise that between now and the Third Reading he would endeavour if he could to frame a phrase which would tell the authorities concerned, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman, how to go up Regent Street. He lived in an atmosphere of complaint in the urban district in which he lived, and of the Council of which he was a member, with regard to the rural authority, which always possessed a majority on the Assessment Committee of landlords and farmers. It was a constant complaint that the urban residents paid more than their fair proportion towards the cost of county rates and county administration. This, he feared, according to the statement of the hon. Member for Carnarvon, would still further enable local assessment authorities to increase the burden upon the district urban authorities and the small townships. Whether the Bill was good or bad, let them have it so that they could understand it, and so avoid further friction between the rural and urban authorities.


said no doubt the Government would take to heart the admonitions of the right hon. Gentleman, though, having regard to the manifold temptations of Regent Street, he did not know that he should recommend that particular street for the draftsmen to go up. [Laughter.] Really, however, if one would only follow the explanation given, he did not hesitate to say that the clause was, as far as one could judge, a simple and proper method of dealing with the question. There was not the least desire not to assist the local authorities, and no doubt what was done on former occasions, ever since the old Parochial Act of 1838 and the Union Assessment Act, would be followed in connection with this Act—namely, that a circular letter would be sent out to the local authorities concerned, and he was quite sure his right hon. Friend would be willing to have his lucid explanation handed down to posterity as part of that circular letter. The clause was perfectly clear when its meaning was understood. It was said that it would put a larger burden on the small boroughs. That really was an absolute fallacy. Of course hon. Gentlemen were perfectly right in objecting to the Bill as they did, on the ground that, if rates rise, an increased burden would then have to be borne by buildings and houses and land other than agricultural land. That was a blot, as hon. Gentlemen thought, on the whole Bill, but it had nothing to do with the particular clause. Conceding the principle of Clause 1, Clause 3 applied the principle perfectly and properly to the case where more than one parish had to contribute the amount that had to be raised.

Question put, "That the words of Clause 3, down to word 'and,' in line 22, stand part of the Bill."

The House divided—Ayes, 192; Noes, 93—(Division List, No. 276).

MR. HERBERT ROBERTS moved, after the word "period," to insert the words "from the sum required." He explained that his Amendment was only one of a drafting nature, in order to make the clause perfectly clear. It was obvious that if the spending authority had to deduct a sum of money, it must be deducted from some amount, and the words he proposed to insert were necessary to show the source from which the deduction would be made.


said the Amendment was absolutely unnecessary.


supported the Amendment, on the ground that it would make the clause more clear than it was at present. There was an earnest desire on the part of many hon. Members to see the clauses of the Bill constructed as clearly as possible, in order to shut out the possibility of litigation, and there was no form of litigation more expensive and vexatious than that arising between different parishes. It was with that object the Amendment was moved.


said that hon. Members opposite might take it from him that the clause was clearly drawn and worded, and that there was no reason to apprehend that it might lead to litigation from looseness of construction. ["Hear, hear!"]

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

MR. LLOYD-GEORGE moved in Sub-section (2) to leave out the word "Act," and to insert the word "section."

Amendment agreed to.

The next Amendment on the Paper, standing in the name of Mr. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.), proposed to insert after the word "Act" the words— The rateable value of agricultural land shall be deemed to be the rent which the occupier thereof is liable to pay and.


ruled the Amendment out of order, on the ground that it proposed to raise the rateable value and therefore increase the charge. The Amendment was also contrary to what the House had already agreed to in dealing with the first clause.