§ (1.) After the thirty-first day of March next during the continuance of this Act, that is to say, the period of five years, 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.3
§ (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. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs) moved to leave out the word "buildings" and to insert the word "land."
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. HENRY CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
said, that it appeared to him that the effect of the Amendment would be to defeat the whole object of the Bill.
§ MR. D. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said that it was asserted on behalf of the Government, that the Bill only proposed to give relief to land, and not to buildings upon it. The question was whether they should give relief to agricultural buildings as well as to agricultural land.
§ MR. JOSEPH A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside)
asked whether he misunderstood the Bill altogether. Yesterday the Committee had refused to allow "buildings" to be included in the value of land. Why was not that same principle to be carried out in this part of the clause. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would explain the cause.
§ Question put:—"That the word 'buildings' stand part of the clause."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 107; Noes, 50.—(Division List, No. 158.)
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that in the absence of the hon. Member for East Northampton, who was somewhere in the buildings, he begged to move after the word "hereditaments" to insert the following sub-section:—(3) When any person, receiving rent in respect of any agricultural land, has agreed to pay rates, or is rated under the Poor Rate Assessment and Collection Act, 1869, or Acts amending the said Act, he shall, for the purposes of the provisions of this Act, be deemed to be the occupier.4 Unless the Amendment were accepted, the occupier, in the case of the landlord paying the rates, would obtain no benefit under the Bill. The Duke of Richmond, who had acted fairly to his tenants, would really be punished by being only relieved to the extent of one-fourth instead of one-half. Where the owner was liable at present for the payment of rates, he would get no relief at all, unless this or some equivalent form of words were put into the Bill. They wished to benefit landlords who had acted generously and fairly to their tenants.
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
said, in the case referred to by the Amendment, the owner would be the occupier in point of law, and he thought it was a matter as to which the owner was perfectly able to take care of himself. He could not see that there was any necessity for the Amendment.
§ * MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
said, the Amendment, which stood in his name, was taken from the original clause in the Bill of the First Lord of the Admiralty in 1871, but now that the main proposal of the division of the rates had been negatived, it did not seem necessary to proceed with this sub-section, and he would ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
MR. LLOYD-GEORGE moved, after "hereditaments" to insert—
out of which owing to depression in agriculture no rent has for the three years next before the passing of this Act been derived.
The object of this Amendment was that relief should only be granted where relief was necessary. There were districts where no rent had been received, and the owner had lost money in laying down permanent pastures or making improvements, and he thought that a very strong case for exceptional treatment existed. Near the Welsh watering-places land—not accommodation land—was let at £3 or £4 an acre on account of the excellent market close by, and it would not be fair to relieve that land of half the rates without also relieving the rates in the watering-places adjoining, the existence of which tended to increase the value of these farms. The very first
words of the Report of the majority of the Commission put the case for the relief of the burdens on land on the ground that the land was going out of cultivation owing to the excessive burdens upon it. Several witnesses for Essex had complained of the tithe as well as the Poor Rate, and it was rather remarkable that the tithe, which was 7s. per acre, should not be touched, whereas the Poor Rate, which was only 2s. 4d. or 3s. per acre, was to be relieved to the extent of one-half.
* THE CHAIRMAN
said, if the hon. Member would look at the Amendment, he would see that in the shape in which he proposed to move it, it did not make sense. This Amendment ought to have come after the word "England" in order to run in a proper form. He did not say that it could not be moved as a proviso to this sub-section, but he did not think he ought to put it to the Committee in the form in which it now stood.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
MR. LLOYD-GEORGE moved to add after the word "hereditaments," the following proviso:—
provided always that this section shall not apply except in respect of land out of which, owing to depression in agriculture, no rent has for the three years next before the passing of this Act been derived.
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
thought the Amendment was one which it would be difficult for the hon. Member to defend, and numerous cases might be found where farmers holding farms on a lease, and paying no rent, would be worse off than farmers holding better land and paying a small rent for it. The Amendment would inflict great injustice on the great majority of tenants.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS
said he thought the right hon. Gentleman had entirely misconceived the object of the Amendment. He ventured to submit that this Amendment afforded the Committee an opportunity of differentiating between different classes of agricultural property. Some kinds of agricultural property would be receiving, if the Amendment were not adopted, 6 precisely the same relief—which they did not ask for or require—as was extended to those necessitous cases to which the proviso referred. He had been himself connected with a concern which employed hundreds of workpeople from which no profit had been derived for more than three years, and yet that concern was not going to receive any relief under this or any other Bill. The Amendment gave the Committee an opportunity of differentiating between the agricultural interest that really suffered, and that which did not suffer at all, and he therefore supported it.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, that unless some such proviso were inserted, land out of which no rent had been received would practically receive no relief at all. Certainly there was no such thing as rateable value on that farm, and they were entitled to claim accordingly as a matter of right. The occupier got no relief whatever from this Bill. The cases which were deserving of relief got no relief at all. Take the case of Cheshire. If they took Cheshire, they would find that the rent had gone up absolutely, and the Cheshire landowners would receive a larger measure of relief than they would have done 10 years ago. The farmers who were not able to pay any rent at all would receive no relief under the Bill, which was a Measure for handing over money given for agricultural distress to persons who were not suffering from agricultural depression at all.
§ MR. ARTHUR JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
did not want to prolong the Debate, but he wished to point out that the hon. Member was wrong in his references to land paying no rent. The land that paid no rent had to pay rates. [Opposition cheers.] That was a matter for the assessment committee. He knew of no land which was occupied, and which paid rent, which got off paying rates altogether. The only farm exempt was the farm which was derelict. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
said, they might try and have a clear statement from the right hon. Gentleman if he would not accept the Amendment. There was a case of rent hardship with regard to the amount, and then with regard to the prosperity of the place in which the land was situate. They had heard from the Member for Essex, and 7 he ought to know something about agricultural distress, that all the persons he knew had paid no rent. His hon. Friend suggested a remedy for such lands, and such cases ought to be remedied. In the metropolitan area lands which produced no return were not rated. The great objection he had to the Bill, and the reason why he supported this Amendment, was that there was no test of distress in the Bill. They were going to take the relief from the poor people and give it to the rich. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * MR. JOSEPH A. PEASE
said he wished to suggest that the Government should admit the principle of graduation in the right direction and should be prepared to make some variation in the relief afforded by the Bill, which now worked inversely to the necessities of the case. In the district from which he came nearly all the large estates were paying fairly well and the landlords had no difficulty in obtaining their rents. The tendency of the rent was upwards, and there were minerals under the estate in almost every case which contributed nothing to the rates, and some of the landlords were drawing from these minerals £60,000 to £70,000 a year. It seemed unfair to call upon the taxpayers through the State to contribute in such cases where no relief was at present required.
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
said the effect of the Amendment would be to limit relief to land which paid no rent during the three past years, and to exclude every other tenant farmer in the kingdom from the benefits of the Bill. How could he be expected to do anything of the kind? It would be making both himself and the Bill ridiculous.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
reminded the Committee that, with regard to accommodation land, the right hon. Gentleman held out some expectation that he would make provision. Why should that be granted? Because it was felt that accommodation land was so high in value that it was utterly unreasonable to give this exceptional relief in regard to rates on that land. Why, it could not come under the title of agricultural distress. Was this Bill to be looked on as a mere ratal Bill or a rating reform Bill having regard to agricultural distress? That was the real difficulty in 8 all these Amendments which had been put forward on the ground that it was a mere Agricultural Rating Bill. If it was that, of course, there would be no ground for exempting accommodation land. ["Hear, hear!"] If the right hon. Gentleman would hold out some expectations that he would consider this matter—that where it appeared that, in consequence of the character of the district, it could not fairly be considered that that district was suffering from agricultural distress—he would do a great deal to forward the progress of the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] The principle which applied to accommodation land applied also to many parts of the land in the country. In 103 unions there had been no increase of assessments, and was there any fairness in the proposal that they should propose to make this exceptional relief to the rates in those 103 unions? Surely there were cases which should not come within the Bill? He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would hold out some expectation that relief would not be given where agricultural distress did not exist.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
urged that the principle of differentiation had been decided in the negative.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
did not follow the right hon. Gentleman, as he did not find accommodation land mentioned in the Bill. He could not see how it could be raised.
* THE CHAIRMAN
said, he had decided that the question should be submitted to the Committee, so that it might have an opportunity of considering it on the words "let at." Let at nothing at all was not covered by former Amendments.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
disclaimed all idea of questioning the Chairman's ruling. What he had urged was a reason for resisting the Amendment.
§ * MR. CHARLES HARRISON (Plymouth)
desired to call attention to the terms of the Amendment, as regards the class of land which its adoption would exclude from the benefits of half rates conferred by the Bill. The Amendment referred to agricultural lands, from which no rent had been derived, and not 9 merely that for which no rent had been paid during the three years. Rent might not have been derived from the land, because either the land was derelict and out of cultivation, or was let to a tenant—as some farms were in Essex—rent free and tithe free, or else was let to a tenant who was unable to pay rent. Taking the first class, that of derelict farms, what possible good would the Bill do towards reclaiming and placing again into cultivation derelict and abandoned farms. Take a case of a derelict 100 acres farm. The rates on such a farm at 2s. 6d. net, assuming a rateable value of £100 a year, would amount in full to £12 10s. only, and to suppose that a grant of one-half or £6 5s. would suffice to bring back such a farm into cultivation was ludicrous. At least from £8 to £10 per acre capital was required for any farm, and it would be for the House to judge how far that which required a £1,000 capital would be met by a grant of £6 5s. Again, taking the case of land let as mentioned in the other instances, what good would a grant of £6 5s. be to a tenant who held his land rent free, or even to one who could not afford to pay his rent. Grants in such cases would only be doles to the landlords, and would confer no benefit on the agricultural industry, and in such cases the grants ought not to be made, and for these reasons he strongly supported the Amendment, which would exclude lands unfarmed, derelict, or from which no rent had been derived, from the operation of the Bill.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
thought the Government might have gone even further than the Amendment of his hon. Friend. If there were no rents he thought there should be, not any half-rates, but no rates at all. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought they should try to prevent money being thrown away, as it was, he feared, going to be in this case.
§ * MR. FREDERICK CAWLEY (Lancashire, Prestwich)
declared that the constituencies of Lancashire would never have voted as they had done at the last election if they had known that relieving agricultural depression meant compensating landlords for having to reduce their rents. He believed the First Lord of the Treasury had declared in favour of the referendum. It was said 10 that they on that side of the House had a hostile feeling to the landlords; they had nothing of the kind, but when landowners wished to keep themselves at the public expense it was another matter.
§ MR. LOUGH
explained that the object of the Amendment was to relieve those lands that were paying no rent. The Bill would give no relief in such cases. In his new character as standing up to explain the action of the Government, the Member for Lynn Regis was not a success. The Government had admitted the principle as to accommodation land. They were asked that the principle should be carried a little further and that land unable to pay rent should be freed from any rate.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he did not profess to explain the intentions of the Government. He had a great difficulty in discovering what they were, [Laughter] What did their promise amount to in regard to accommodation land as it was called? They were then discussing matters within the four corners of the Bill as it at present stood, and not as it might be at any future time, and from that point of view he submitted that so far as the Bill had gone there was no admission of the principle of differentiation. ["Hear, hear!" and Opposition laughter.]
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Stafford, Lichfield)
said, he did not entirely agree with the terms of the Amendment, though he admitted the principle, and thought that if the Government would make some concession on the point under discussion—that was to say, if they would consent to insert some clause or provision in the Bill to exempt from rating all land which at present paid no rent—it would greatly facilitate the passing of the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"]
* THE CHAIRMAN
said, that any such Amendment, or clause, would be out of order, because it would be beyond the four corners of the Bill.
§ * SIR HENRY MEYSEY-THOMPSON (Stafford, Handsworth)
wished to point out to hon. Gentlemen opposite that the effect of the Amendment would be to exclude their old friend "three acres and a cow." ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.]
§ * MR. J. W. LOGAN (Leicestershire, Harborough)
said, the object of hon. Members on his side of the House was to endeavour by all means to prevent any of the alleged relief granted by the Bill going into the pockets of the rich landowners, who did not want it, instead of into the pockets of the men whose land paid no rent at all. In support of the Amendment he would point out to the Committee that during the last 20 years, embracing the whole time of the agricultural depression, there were landowners in the country who, collectively, had received over £1,000,000,000 as rent from agricultural land. Surely there should be some discrimination to insure that those landowners should not participate in the relief granted. It should be confined to those who needed it, and especially to those who needed it most. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. HENRY BROADHURST (Leicester)
said, he thought it would be convenient if the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill explained the purpose of the Amendment to his own followers, for certainly some of them did not appear to understand it. For instance, the hon. Member for South-East Essex had apparently taken it to apply in an opposite direction to that intended by the Mover, while the hon. Baronet the Member for the Handsworth Division imagined that it would not apply to the small holdings of "three acres and a cow." He took it that the Amendment would apply to all holders of land, whether of two, 50, or any other number of acres of land which paid no rent. Therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman would take the trouble to explain the purport of the Amendment to his followers, the explanation might result in a large addition in support of it in the Division Lobby. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.]
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S. E.)
said, he perfectly understood that the effect of the Amendment was to give relief solely to land which had paid no rent for three years, and with that limitation he did not agree.
§ * MR. JOSEPH A. PEASE
said he feared that the effect of the Amendment would be to exclude from the relief granted, large numbers of yeoman farmers, rather over 9,500, in the country 12 who paid no rent, and suggested, in order to avoid this difficulty, that some such qualification as "lands over 30 acres," or some such words should be inserted in the Amendment. If the Government would admit the Amendment, it would as it stood omit a most deserving class and be fatal to the intention of those who had supported the proposal.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, the two objections raised to the Amendment by the hon. Baronet the Member for the Handsworth Division and the hon. Member for the Tyneside Division—namely, that it would exclude allotment holders and a large number of yeoman farmers from the relief granted—related to matters of detail rather than to the principle of the Amendment. But he was quite ready to accept words which would exclude both those classes from the operation of the Amendment. The principle he sought to lay down by his proposal was that relief should only be given in cases where the agricultural depression had made it impossible for a rent to be paid. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 82; Noes, 190.—(Division List, No. 159.)
* THE CHAIRMAN
The next Amendment which is in order is standing in the name of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil.
§ MR. GEORGE LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
asked why his Amendment, which was out the Paper, was out of order—to insert after "hereditaments" the words:—And, in consequence of such decreased rating liability, no occupier shall be liable for any increase of rent, nor shall any abatement of rent which has been allowed by a landlord to an occupier of agricultural land be withdrawn during the operation of this Act.
* THE CHAIRMAN
The Amendment imposes, although in an indirect way, certain restrictions and conditions as to the relations between landlord and tenant, and therefore it cannot be brought within the four corners of the Bill.
§ * MR. LOGAN
asked why his Amendment was out of order—in proposing after "hereditaments" to insert:—and where the land occupied does not exceed two acres in extent, the occupier thereof shall not be liable to assessment on account of such occupation in regard to any rate to which this Act applies.
* THE CHAIRMAN
Because the Amendment alters the general law of assessment in this country; and the only way in which that law can be altered is by a proper Bill, brought in in the ordinary course.
§ * MR. LOGAN
asked why his second Amendment was out of order—after "hereditaments" to insert:—where the land occupied by any one tenant exceeds 50 acres in extent, and one quarter only of the rate in the pound payable in respect of buildings and other hereditaments where the holding is of the extent of 50 acres or less.
* THE CHAIRMAN
The Committee cannot go back on the decision which it has come to that the occupier should pay one-half the rate. If Amendments to that decision were admitted, there would be no end to the different fractions which could be moved as Amendments.
MR. LAMBERT and MR. LOUGH were raising further questions, when
* THE CHAIRMAN
called them to order. He said: I think I have explained very fully the grounds of my ruling, and I must now call upon the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil to move his Amendment.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE,
on behalf of Mr. DAVID THOMAS, moved, in Subsection (2) after "except a rate" to insert:—(a) Which is assessed under the Act of the 43rd year of Elizabeth, Chapter 2, for the relief of the poor.He said that the object of his Amendment was to add the Poor Rate to the exceptions from the Act. That rate had been imposed ever since the days of Elizabeth, and it was fully recognised as an hereditary burden on the land. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in one of his former Budget speeches, had admitted that, and had said that it was paid out of the landlord's pocket. The Poor Rate and the tithe-rent charge were originally imposed for the same purpose; and about the nature of the tithe there could be no doubt. 14 The difference in their objects was only a matter of modern growth. Would it be, fair when land was so subject to a charge in a family settlement in respect of a mortgage on tithe rent, that the House of Commons should intervene and say, "We shall relieve the half of that charge and practically hand the difference to the landlord." He thought it might very fairly be said that by far the greater part of the land in this country had changed hands since the Act was passed imposing the Poor Rate as a burden upon the land. Every purchaser who had bought land since the Act of Elizabeth bought it with full knowledge that this burden was imposed upon it. At the time the charge was originally imposed it bore a much higher proportion to the value of the land than it did at the present moment. The tendency of the Poor Rate had been gradually to go down, and it was never so low as now. So that the burden which was imposed upon land three hundred years ago, subject to which every transaction with regard to land had been carried through, had been decreasing year by year, yet, when it had come to the lowest point to which it had ever attained, the Government said they must relieve it to the extent of one-half! Within the memory of hon. Members of that House the burdens on land amounted to something like 30 per cent. of the value of the land. Let them assume that at that time a purchaser bought land knowing there was a burden upon it of something like 30 per cent. of its value. The first thing he would take into account would be the burdens upon the land. In Essex the first question would be, what was the Poor Rate and what the tithe rent? The tithe rent there was 7s. per acre, or about one-fourth of the rent of the land. In Wales the tithe rent would be something like 1s. or 2s. an acre. The purchaser in Essex would pay less for his land, owing to the fact that the tithe rent was higher there, than would a purchaser buying the same class of land in Wales, where the burdens were not so high. If that was true with regard to tithe rent, why should it not be equally applicable to the Poor Rate? If the Poor Rate was a burden of 30 or 40 per cent, on land, the purchaser would discover that in calculating the amount he would derive by way of per centage 15 on his investment. He would take into account the burden on the laud, whether it was the Poor Rate, the tithe rent, the Improvement Rate, or one of those rates which were charged in the Fen District for drainage purposes. The Bill excepted any rate, which is assessed under any commission of sewers, or in respect of any drainage, wall, or embankment, or other work for the benefit of the land, and yet the Government would not make it in respect of a rate which was very much older. If there was a case for making an exception in favour of an embankment set up 100 or 200 years ago, on what ground did they make the exception? The exception was in favour of a charge upon land in respect of which a rate was proposed by Act of Parliament for the special benefit of the land. But was not the Poor Rate for the special benefit of the land? [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] Who did it benefit? Who were the people who fell upon the rate in the rural districts? The labourers, who had been spending their lives upon the land. The hon. Member said it was for the benefit of the land to set up an embankment and keep it in good repair, but it was not for the benefit of the land to relieve their poor, their labourers, who had been spending their strength and health upon the development of the laud. Labour was cheap, of course. The hon. Member would differentiate in favour of an embankment and drainage, but he would not extend the same favour to the labourer who had been expending the whole of his strength upon the land. His claim was that, if the Government were prepared to make an exception in favour of a main drain, they should extend the same exception in favour of the labourers who had been doing so much for the land. There was no argument in favour of any proposition incorporated in the Bill which did not equally apply to this case. Here, in the Bill, they made an exception in favour of a charge for drainage. Why? Because it was a charge upon the land, because every man who purchased the land knew there was this charge upon it. It might be imposed by Act of Parliament, or it might be in the form of a rate, but at the same time it was a charge upon the land which every purchaser knew of, and would reduce the purchase-money 16 by the value of that charge. That charge had been made two hundred years ago, but here he was proposing an exception in favour of a charge upon land made by Queen Elizabeth in respect of Poor Rate in the year 1601. Since then he did not believe there was a tenth part of the land in this Kingdom which had not changed hands. It had changed hands subject to that charge, and if they were going to make an exception in favour of main drainage, the Public Health Act, General District Rate, or an embankment rate, it ought to be made in favour of this, which was equally a charge and which was imposed over 300 years ago. He begged to move the Amendment.
§ * SIR HENRY MEYSEY-THOMPSON
said, the hon. Member for Carnarvon had founded the principal part of his argument on the assertion that tithes and the Poor Rate had been imposed with the same object and for the same purpose. He agreed with the assertion, but entirely disagreed with the arguments founded upon it. The hon. Member's theory was, that because tithes, which formerly represented poor and education rates, had now been fastened upon land (although undoubtedly personalty was formerly equally subject to them), therefore personalty should escape Poor Rate altogether. It seemed to him the argument pointed in exactly the opposite direction. Personalty and realty were both equally subject to tithe. Personalty had shuffled out of its responsibilities and shifted the whole burden on to real estate, but in his opinion that constituted an argument for saying that personalty ought to bear its full share of the burdens of the Poor Rate, and not that it should be allowed to shuffle off that responsibility also. The argument was strengthened by the fact that exactly the same thing happened with regard to the Land Tax. The first Act of 1692, which was called an Aid to the King, in the second Section laid the tax on all personal estate; the third Section laid it on all salaries and pensions; and it was only the fourth Section that laid it on the land. These duties on salaries and pensions, entitled the Land Tax, which had been up till then voted annually, were made perpetual as late as 1836. Now, however, as 17 in the case of the tithes, personalty, offices, and pensions had managed to shuffle off all responsibility with regard to this tax on to the land, and that was a strong reason why realty should not bear the whole burden in the case of the rates. He disputed the proposition that these had become hereditary burdens, because land had been bought and sold subject to them. In the case of land purchased since the imposition of tithes and Land Tax the purchasers would be entitled to say that as land was already so heavily taxed in these ways no further taxation could be imposed upon it, and they would have a right to look to some reduction in their burdens as those on the rest of the country were lightened. Mr. Pitt, in his speech on the Land Tax in 1798, said that it ought not to be diminished until many burdens which weighed more heavily on the public had been taken off. It was probable that every single one of the burdens of taxation Mr. Pitt had then in his mind had already been abolished, but the Land Tax still continued. He could not admit that because personalty had successfully evaded the burden of tithes and Land Tax and placed them on other shoulders, there was any reason why it should be allowed to do so in the case of rates.
§ MR. DAVID THOMAS (Merthyr Tydvil)
remarked that the hon. Member who had last spoken had argued that the Poor Rate was not a hereditary tax on land, but this was what the First Lord of the Admiralty—who had been conspicuous by his absence from these Debates—said in 1888:—A large portion of the rates are hereditary burdens, subject to which property is bought and sold and which, therefore, should come distinctly from the pockets of the landlord.["Hear, hear!"] In the same year the Marquess of Hartington said:—I fully admit that portion of the rates which are paid by real property, such as the Poor Rate, are an hereditary burden upon the land from which land has no right to be exempted.["Hear, hear!"] Yet the right hon. Gentleman who had introduced this Bill proposed that the taxpayers should contribute half towards the relief of a rate which the First Lord of the Admiralty had said should distinctly come from the 18 pockets of the landlords, and which the Marquess of Hartington had stated was one from which land had no right to be exempted.
§ MR. LOUGH
said he wished to hear the views of the First Lord of the Admiralty on this Amendment, which was in accordance with principles which the right hon. Gentleman had advocated for 20 years. The poor rate, in its present form, was an ancient heritage which the country poor had benefited by for three centuries, and of which they ought not to be hastily deprived. The average poor rate was only a little over 9d. in the pound in England, and in many places it amounted to only a few pence. Therefore it was not high and it was falling. There was no precedent for paying the rate out of Imperial taxation. If this burden were imposed on the Imperial taxpayer the result would be local extravagance, a diminution of responsibility, and an increase of pauperism. At present localities had absolute control over the rate and its dimensions. The question ought not to be meddled with in an injudicious way. If the poor rate was to be relieved at all the relief should be given in towns, because when a countryman felt the pinch of poverty he generally migrated to a town. In agricultural districts, where the poor rate was but a slight burden, there was no need of relief.
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
opposed the Amendment on the ground that it would prevent the accomplishment of at least half of the good work which he hoped would be done by this Bill. If the poor rate and the highway rate were exempted from the operation of the Measure, the sum which it was proposed to grant for the relief of agriculture would be reduced by about £800,000.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
said, that no complaint was made of the old poor rate by the witnesses who gave evidence before the Royal Commission, and it had been stated over and over again that it was a decreasing rate. He admitted that the poor rate was paid by the landlord, because the tenant knew what the amount was and could take it into consideration in estimating the rent which he was prepared to pay. He objected to the proposal to pay half this rate out of Imperial funds, because it was the 19 first step towards a national poor rate, which would be without doubt, in an economic sense, one of the greatest calamities by which this country could be cursed. The proposal would bring back all the old evils which existed prior to 1834, and which involved an amount of agricultural distress compared with which the agricultural depression of to-day was absolutely insignificant. That was the point of this Amendment. The question of the highway rate was practically covered by the decision to which the Committee had already come, and he thought they must not go through rate by rate; but his hon. Friend raised this question not on financial grounds affecting the Bill, but on general economic grounds. It was a fact that they were removing a large element of economic expense from the control of the poor rate and introducing extravagance into the administration of the Poor Law. Assuming that the contention, was correct, the Government were going to exaggerate that extravagance; they were going to intrust a body which might be extravagant with the uncontrolled expenditure of money paid by Imperial taxation. That was a considerable danger. There was no doubt that, so far as the urban ratepayers were concerned, their position was much more to be complained of with respect to the poor rate than with respect to any other rate. How did they get this low average of poor rate? They obtained it because the low rate in the agricultural districts counterbalanced the enormously high rate in larger towns. In the towns there were no 9d., 10d., or 1s. poor rates. The town he represented paid 3s. or 4s. in the pound, because the influx of pauperism was inevitable into the large towns, and the towns had to pay an increased poor rate really to provide for the paupers that came from the agricultural districts. He did not ask much for the large towns. He wanted to keep down the expenditure of the poor rate, and the only mode of doing so was by strict local control, accompanied by local responsibility and local liability. This was a new question, therefore, and he thought it ought to be dealt with upon rather broader grounds than any effect it might have in destroying the Bill. The Amendment would not destroy the Bill; but he maintained that on every ground they ought to keep, if they 20 could, this relief outside the poor rate proper.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
thought that he ought to say a word as to the argument advanced by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman's objection to this provision of the Bill was that it was a step towards a national poor rate. He did not propose to argue that question, nor did he think it would be right to argue whether a national poor rate would be good or bad. He was quite ready to admit for his own part that if ever such a proposal was carried out it would be open to many of the dangers to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred. But the Government denied altogether that this was a step towards the national poor rate. It was a contribution from national sources to the poor rate, but it left with the locality ample inducements to economical administration of the Poor Law. On the farmers of the country would remain after this Bill passed the duty to provide half the poor rate. Surely the right hon. Gentleman would not complain that the necessity of providing half the poor rate would not impose on the farmers of the country an ample inducement to the economical administration of the Poor Law? Every guarantee for economical administration appeared to him to remain under the new system in almost as great force as under the old system If the removal of this portion of the burden was really likely to tend to local extravagance, he feared that both the measures of the Government of the right hon. Gentleman and other measures for which the present Government was responsible stood concerned. [Cheers.] Only two days ago every hon. Gentleman opposite maintained that the rates should be divided between the owner and the occupier. They proposed that the occupiers should be relieved of half the rates, and if that was a proceeding which would induce occupiers to go in the direction of extravagant administration of the local rates, how could hon. Gentlemen opposite take upon themselves the responsibility of making any such proposal? It was felt that the burden of the rates was an ample inducement to economy in administration of the whole of the rates. What hon. Members felt, therefore, was 21 that there should be a division of the rates between occupier and owner. What the Government felt was that the rates should be halved and a part borne by the State. Hon. Gentlemen would thus feel that they were guilty of some inconsistency in supposing that any material inducement to extravagance would be introduced in our system, or that any material motive for economy would be removed by the proposals now made by the Government.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS
thought that the Leader of the House had not sufficiently met the important point raised by the right hon. Gentleman. No one could doubt that there would be additional extravagance if the Bill was carried in its present form. The Measure was to be a temporary one, and rural local authorities would consider it to be their duty to make hay while the sun shone. They would increase their expenditure as much as possible during the five years for the purpose of obtaining the relief which rural ratepayers would receive under the Bill. If there were, for example, any additions to union buildings needed, the authorities would take this opportunity to carry out the erections. The Bill relieved landlords of considerable obligations under which they were placed at the present time. The poor rate to some extent must be a rate in aid of wages, and if the Committee took away one-half of the amount of the poor rate from the agricultural population the practical result would be to put that additional amount into the pockets of the landlords. In the past landlords had in a large measure allowed the cottages to fall into disrepair, so as to get rid of the obligation to support the agricultural labourers. He hoped that his hon. Friend would press his Amendment.
§ * MR. CHARLES HARRISON
maintained that this was the first occasion in 300 years upon which legislation had been brought forward in favour of exempting property from the Poor Rate. In 1833, 1835, and 1875 careful investigations were made in connection with this subject, and special relief was granted to land in respect of certain classes of rates, but among them the Poor Rate had never been singled out for legislative treatment. In 1835, when the poor law rate was first introduced into Ireland, 22 the Government made no difference in classification of land, such as between land and buildings, but imposed the Poor Rate, and adopted the expedient of relieving the occupier by dividing the rate between the tenant and landlord, and threw half the rate on the landlord. So also in 1874, the Rating Act of 1874 added to instead of exempting from Poor Rates, woodlands, sporting and other rights, and various classes of property in land and mines which had not hitherto in law been subject to Poor Rates, thus showing that hitherto various classes of real property had been in modern years added to that class which the statute of Elizabeth 300 years ago had already made subject to Poor Rate on the very ground, as stated in the Act of 1874, that poor rates should be imposed and extended to that class of property, and this showed that all property alike ought to contribute, and contribute equally, to the Poor Rate.
§ On the return of the CHAIRMAN after the usual interval,
§ MR. J. H. JOHNSTONE (Sussex, Horsham)
said a good deal was heard from time to time about hereditary burdens on land. But it should not be forgotten when that question was being considered that the hereditary capacity to bear those burdens had been diminished not only by economic causes, but by the action of the Legislature—as, for instance, by the measures for the relief of the poor—during the present century. ["Hear, hear!"] With regard to the present Amendment, the only faint meed of praise he could give it was that it was grammatical, which was more than could be said for a great number of the Amendments on the paper. [Laughter.] But when he said that he had said all that could be advanced in its favour, for it was really one of the worst Amendments which had been put down to the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] The Bill was founded upon the Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, which pointed out most plainly that when this hereditary burden for the relief of the poor was originally imposed by the statute of Elizabeth it was in one sense a national poor rate, for it was imposed on the inhabitant occupier not according to the amount of land he held, but according to his 23 ability to pay. But that principle had been largely departed from during the latter half of this century; for the Poor Rate, which at one time fell upon all descriptions of property, was now borne by land alone. How could it be argued with justice or with reason that burdens which were of Imperial importance, which concerned Imperial welfare, and especially the burden of the relief of the poor, should be allowed to fall on one class of property alone—the class, too, that had greatly diminished in value and importance—when it was the original intention of the Legislature that they should be borne by all classes of the community?
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
congratulated the hon. Member on getting off the speech which was so ruthlessly clotured by the Leader of the House last night, and congratulated the Leader of the House on his instinct in cutting short that speech, for a more damaging one to the Bill, could not well be made. The hon. Member had said that by the statute of Elizabeth the rate for the relief of the poor was imposed upon all classes of property. True, and every class of property bore it now. The only difference was that realty asked to be relieved of 50 per cent, of the burden, and personalty said, "no, we want things to go on as they have gone on since Elizabeth." The Government had made no attempt to answer the arguments advanced by the Opposition. Practically the answer of the President of the Local Government Board came to this—"I will not answer your arguments, it is quite enough to say that if the Amendment is carried the plunder provided by the Bill will be less for the landlords; the £500,000 that would otherwise go into the pockets of the landlords would not go there if the Amendment were carried." He hoped the country would realise that that was practically the only answer vouchsafed by the Government to the arguments of the Opposition. The Leader of the House had contended that if the Bill were carried in its present form it would not have the effect of encouraging extravagant expenditure in the administration of the Poor Law. He would take a few unions in Cambridgeshire, which was a purely agricultural county, and would point out what the effect of the Bill could be upon those unions 24 unless the Amendment were adopted. The total expenditure in one of the unions was, £7,111. At present the Treasury subvention to the union was £1,238. If things remained as they were there would be a strong inducement to economy, because the bulk of the expenditure would come from the pocket of the owner of the land. But the Bill would add another £3,000 to the Treasury subvention. In that union in the future £4,238 would be paid by the Imperial Treasury, and only £2,873 would be borne by the local rates. Where was the inducement to economy in such circumstances? There was no such inducement. On the contrary, the tendency would be to increase the poor rate, and subsequently to increase the Treasury subvention. The Treasury subvention was limited only by the expenditure of which it formed one-half, and there was, therefore, every inducement to extravagant expenditure. The capacity of land to bear burdens was higher than it was at the beginning of the century. The trustees of Guy's Hospital were then receiving £1 an acre for land in Lincolnshire, which now yielded them 34s. an acre. As rents had gone up the burdens on land had gone down. In Anglesey the rate had gone down by 50 per cent., whilst the rents had gone up by 125 per cent. There was legitimate ground of complaint that the Government did not attempt to answer the arguments of the Opposition.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
I wish I had been able to rise ten minutes ago, because there was then present a Member of the Government of high authority on these questions. [The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY returned to his place amid cheers and laughter.] We are on a question which is by far the gravest involved in this Bill. As I said upon the First Reading, the question of the operation of the Bill upon the Poor Rate is by far the most important and grave consideration involved in the whole Bill. There is one great authority upon this subject whose absence I began by regretting, who is not always absent, but who, in the words of a celebrated phrase, appears from time to time as a transient and embarrassed phantom—[laughter]—going backwards and forwards like the ghost of a departed 25 opinion. I refer to the First Lord of the Admiralty. He has held by far the most authoritative opinions on this subject. His opinions are well known; they have been declared over and over again. The doctrine of the hereditary rate has been denounced, but he is the inventor of that phrase; he applied it to the Poor Rate, the old County Rate. It is now proposed to pay one-half that rate out of the national Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman may say, "Circumstances have altered since I expressed my opinions about the hereditary rate;" but, as has just been indicated by the hon. Member for Carnarvon, the rate has fallen in every county in England. In the county in which the right hon. Gentleman resides the rates have fallen by 1s. 2d. in the pound since his opinions were expressed. In a great part of the country, as the hon. Member for Carnarvon has said, rents have not fallen, but they have risen. We have the broad fact that, in a great part of the country at all events, rates have diminished and rents increased. We are entitled to know from one particular Member of the Administration introducing this Bill how far and for what reason he has altered his doctrine of the hereditary rate, when a Bill of this kind, affecting the whole framework of the rates of this country, is introduced. We are told by the Minister for Agriculture that this is above all a rating Bill, and that the question of agricultural depression is quite incidental to this reform of the general principles of rating in this country. If that is the character of this Bill, have we not a right to hear from the First Lord of the Admiralty what are his views of the hereditary rate dealt with by this Bill? It is sometimes said that "silence gives consent," but I am not sure that his silence is of that character; but, if it is, it is a silence and a consent that require explanation. ["Hear, hear!"] This is a reform of the principles of rating in this country; it sets aside the whole doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman as to the hereditary rate. This is one of the features of this Bill for the reform of the general principles of rating in this country. In it there is also a principle which the right hon. Gentleman never advanced, and that is the reform of rating in this country in the interests of one class 26 alone. That is a principle which requires some justification. Whoever has thought on this subject has felt the infinite perils which surround the paying of the Poor Rate out of the National Exchequer. On the introduction of the Bill I called attention to that danger. I referred to the opinions of Sir George Cornewall Lewis on the danger of a national Poor Rate. We all know what were the mischiefs produced by the condition of things which existed before the new Poor Law. With the facilities there were for increasing the Poor Rate farmers paid little or no wages and maintained their labourers out of the Poor Rate, thus reducing them, even in times of what were considered agricultural prosperity, to a condition of degradation amounting almost to servitude. At various times Ministers have made proposals to alleviate the pressure of rates by subsidies in country districts and also in town districts; but these subsidies have always been subject to the payment of particular expenses; there has never been anything approaching this system of taking one-half the rate; that is an entire novelty; no such proposal has been made before; and the dangers are so obvious that they have been recognised by the First Lord of the Admiralty in the subsidies he gave as well as by Sir Stafford Northcote and by Sir R. Peel when he gave assistance in the maintenance of the police. This Bill takes the first step towards a national Poor Rate; I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen opposite have reflected upon the consequences of a national Poor Rate to the interests with which they are specially identified. I know very well there are persons in this country who would be glad to see a national Poor Rate, but I am very much astonished that they should be found among the landed interest and in the Conservative Party. Depend upon it, the small modicum of relief they will get out of this Bill they will bitterly repent taking when they come to see what are the results of a national Poor Rate. They may get sixpence under this Bill; but I should be sorry to estimate the amount, the hundreds and thousands they will have to pay if this principle is once established. That is by far the gravest part of the Bill. It is said, "Oh! but it is only half." 27 Yes; but how soon will it be the whole? The principle upon which this claim is made is one which is not for half only; no distinction in principle can be made between a demand for half and a demand for the whole. You are on a descending scale when you have accepted—not relief for the distress of the agricultural interest, which we are told is not the material point; it is the reform of rating in this country—as a principle of reform in rating the throwing of half the rate upon the national Exchequer. How long will it be before you take the whole from the national Exchequer? [Cheers.] This is a most rash and a most unwise proposal, not only on account of the inequalities with which it is to be administered, but of the danger of the principle which is involved. We can only raise our warning voice today—a voice which we know is unavailing. It is quite right that the Committee and the country should understand what are the consequences of a Measure of this character—a Measure which professes to be founded upon an interim Report hurried upon the Table of the House without any discussion of the principles of rating which it professes to reform, a Measure which is advocated in the sort of speeches to which we have just listened—["Hear, hear!"]—speeches which display the smallest knowledge of the principle of rating.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. G. J. GOSCHEN, St. George's,) Hanover Square
The right hon. Gentleman repeats over and over again, like hon. Members opposite—["Hear, hear!"]—isolated passages from old Reports, and I must say that the way in which he uses the quotations shows the very small degree to which he has gone to the bottom of the question. The right hon. Gentleman reminds one of the elementary school boy who repeats certain formulæ out of the catechism without any explanation or modification, and shows no real intelligence in the matter. ["Oh!"] The right hon. Gentleman wishes to know whether I stand by the doctrines I laid down in previous years. There has been no change whatever in my views. Because the burden on the land is an hereditary one, hon. Gentlemen think it ought not to be touched. Have there not been what are called hereditary exceptions? 28 Do hon. Members not remember that land has been exempt from other charges, that the Death Duties used not to be imposed upon land? Hon. Members make quotations from speeches I made when land was prosperous, when rents were rising, and when the whole position was entirely different, and apply them to the present state of things. One hon. Member spoke of plunder for the landlords. It has been proved over and over again that this is a temporary Bill, and even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton acknowledges that relief only ultimately goes to the landlords; it is acknowledged by all who understand the question that relief under the Bill does not go into the pockets of the landlords. Under the Leadership of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth the statement as to the landlords has been repeated ad nauseam, and hon. Members on this side have been obliged to put themselves under restraint—[ironical cheers]—and listen to the charges made against them, charges which have been refuted over and over again. A greater misrepresentation than that this is a national Poor Rate could not be made, but the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has a particular power of putting into the mouths of his political opponents opinions which they do not hold, and which they have not expressed. If I thought this was the first step towards a national Poor Rate I would not be a party to it; I am thoroughly against a national Poor Rate. The principle of the Bill is that land is to be assessed at half its value. ["And the other half?"] There is a subvention. [Opposition cheers.] All Governments have given subventions which have gone to the relief of the Poor Rate. The right hon. Gentleman is pushing the argument beyond legitimate limits when he says this is distinctly a contribution to the Poor Rate. I hold as strong objections to a national Poor Rate as the right hon. Gentleman, and I see nothing in the Bill which, in the slightest degree, goes beyond what has been done before, either in amount, or in principle, or in organisation, or in any other way.
§ * SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
said, that on the question of rating he had always sat at the 29 feet of the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken; to the right hon. Gentleman he always turned for an exposition of the true principles relating to the question. One sentence uttered by the right hon. Gentleman in 1871 particularly appealed to him, but he would not quote if he thought that circumstances had done anything to alter the right hon. Gentleman's opinions. The right hon. Gentleman said:—With respect to the Poor Rates, I rejoice to say that it seems that the turning point has arrived, and, unless the House shall take the dangerous step of supplementing the Poor Rates by grants from the Consolidated Fund—[Opposition cheers]—there may be some hopes of the Poor Rates being reduced. But I am quite sure that no step is more certain to increase our expenditure on poor relief than if the House were to open the flood-gates of the Consolidated Fund—[Opposition cheers]—a course which would damage, not only the administration of Poor Law, but also injuriously affect many other institutions of the country.If that sentence had been spoken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton on the Second Reading he was sure he would not have been called to order. ["Hear, hear!"] Its force was as great now as it was then. It was an eternal principle which could not be affected by lapse of time, or by any considerations arising from agricultural depression. The truth of the prophesy had only been too well proved by the result of the great subventions which had been given from the Treasury, for which the right hon. Gentleman himself was so largely responsible. During the four years which preceded the great subventions to local administration the general local expenditure rose only by about £400,000 or £500,000 a year; but during the four years that followed these subventions, it rose by a sum exceeding a million. What then was likely to be the effect of this great subvention of £2,000,000 which was to be given mostly in relief of the poor rate? And to what districts was it to be given? They were not the districts that needed it the most. He had been looking through the unions in the different counties, and taking the poor rate alone, he found that in Staffordshire the highest rate was in the Unions of Wolverhampton, Walsall and West Bromwich; in Worcestershire, in the Kidderminster Union; in Derbyshire in the Derby Union; in Chester, in the 30 Chester and Birkenhead Unions; in Lancashire, in the Salford Union; in Kent, in the Medway Union; in Durham, in the Hartlepool Union; and in Northumberland, in the Tynemouth Union. This showed that the expenditure on the poor, which was common to town and country, was as a rule far higher in the country than the town; and the passage he had quoted from the right hon. Gentleman went far to show that this Bill was likely to be a calamity rather than a benefit to those districts which it was intended to relieve.
§ MR. LOUGH
contended that this question went to the very root of the principle of local taxation in this country. Although the conditions of agriculture had changed so much for the worse in the last 20 years, it was possible that they might mend again, and therefore the House ought not to adopt permanently a principle on which they might never be able to go back. What did the Members of the Government do on this question? They stood up in their places and made one remark, apologised for making it, and then sat down. The First Lord of the Treasury contended that a subsidy from the Imperial Exchequer would not interfere with economy; but experience was against that statement. Subsidies always had interfered with economy. It would be found in Ireland, for instance, that the more the House of Commons contributed by way of subvention, the more the local rates increased. He appealed to independent opinion on the other side of the House. Was his hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn wishing to see a National poor rate established? If so, why did he not get up and say so? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin often lectured hon. Members around him. He was sure the House would very much like to hear some expression of opinion from the right hon. Gentleman. He was told also that he ought to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London to tell the House what he thought on this matter. He believed that hon. Members opposite flattered themselves that it did not matter what they did because this was a Bill for five years. He advised them not to harbour any such delusion as that. If they accepted this bad principle 31 to-day they would never be able to go back upon it. The contention of the Opposition was that by this step all the evils that were put an end to by the reform of the Poor Law in 1834 would be revived, and the result would be extravagance and an increase of pauperism. He hoped the Committee would excuse him for intervening a second time in the Debate, but his excuse was that he felt deeply on the question. In this country the principle of leaving the charge for the poor on local taxation had always been placed on local taxation and he hoped the Government would not alter that principle.
§ MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Isle of Thanet)
hoped the Committee would bear in mind that the system of subventions was not a novelty and was not being introduced for the first time. Rightly or wrongly it had prevailed for many years. Very great caution ought to be exercised against abuse where grants of this kind were involved. The real danger which they had to face, where subventions were concerned, was that the money might be got hold of by a set of persons who had fads of their own which they desired to carry out. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had voted the other day to place half the rates upon the owners, while, on the other hand, they denied them fair representation on the body that spent the money. In many parishes the land was held by only three or four owners, and of course they found themselves in a minority of one to the hundred in the Parish Council. It was a mockery to say in such cases as that, that the owners had a practical representation on the Councils. Therefore the greater portion of the burden of the local taxation was placed upon the shoulders of those who were not fairly represented. During the discussion upon the County Council Bill it had been pointed out, over and over again, that the larger share of the local burdens would be placed upon those who practically had no representation. He hoped that the Government would take some precautions against the abuse that he had pointed out, and that they would reconsider the whole question of local expenditure with the view of checking the scandalous extravagance of crotchet-mongers, who were, no doubt, most benevolent and philanthropic persons, but who appeared to be interested in 32 spending as much money as they could on technical education, free libraries, and other similar matters. He had always been in favour of the nationalisation of the poor rates, so that the local charges should fall upon the taxpayers as a whole. In the old days the country gentlemen were too proud of their important position, and would never listen to any proposals which touched their importance, and they now equally resisted the attempt to place the control of the local expenditure in any hands but their own. That was the real reason why the local burdens were not equally distributed, and had been thrown altogether upon the land. Some means ought to be adopted for clipping the wings of the various local bodies, many of whom were really worse than the School Board.
§ * MR. JOSEPH A. PEASE
said, that allusion had been made to the hereditary burdens upon land, and he desired to point out that the Poor Rate, admittedly an hereditary burden upon land, had, in the case of the eight Unions selected by the Royal Commission on Agriculture, which were presumably typical of the whole country, fallen from £49,512 in 1867 to £25,772 in 1894. Notwithstanding that fact the landlords were now asking that an additional £12,500 should be taken off the local taxation and placed upon the shoulders of the general taxpayer. He admitted some other rates had been increased, but as a whole the rates had been reduced considerably. There was certainly no case for any reduction of the Poor Rate upon agricultural land, for it had during the past quarter of a century steadily declined and gone down 50 per cent. He therefore supported the exclusion of this rate from the operation of the Bill.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE, Mr. J. W. LOGAN and Mr. ABEL SMITH (Herts, Hertford) rose together.
§ * THE CHAIRMAN
withheld his assent, because it appeared to him that the Committee was prepared shortly to come to a decision without that Motion.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
pointed out that an hon. Member on the Government side of the House had risen to take part in the Debate.
§ * THE CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member for Hertford has been in this House long enough to make known his intention to speak without it being necessary for the hon. Member for Carnarvon to intervene.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, that he rose to make an observation in the general Debate. He did not intend to intervene on the point of order.
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 238; Noes, 119.—(Division List, No. 160.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee:—Ayes, 112; Noes, 246.—(Division List, No. 161.)
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (on behalf of Mr. DAVID THOMAS) moved an Amendment exempting the operation of the clause from rates assessed for the maintenance of highways other than main roads. He said there were two kinds of highways—main roads and subsidiary or branch roads. With regard to the former, it was no doubt unfair that the farmers should bear the whole expense of maintaining them, as they were used by cyclists and people from the towns quite as much as by residents in the country. The case of branch and subsidiary roads was different. Those had been made almost entirely for the convenience of the owners of land, and were scarcely ever used by the general public. His experience of such roads was that they were in so bad a state that not even the most audacious cyclist would venture upon them. It was exceedingly unfair that the occupiers in urban districts, who never used these roads, and to whom they were no convenience, should be expected to bear half the cost of keeping them in repair. In towns the cost of maintaining the main roads was borne by the general public, and the cost of repairing bye-streets and 34 alleys was met by means of an improvement rate. The Legislature had in the Public Health Act and District Rating Acts recognised the principle that a road which was not a main road was practically an improvement on property, and, if this was so with regard to branch and subsidiary roads in towns, it should be adopted with regard to similar roads in country districts.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said he could not accept the Amendment, as it would lead to great inequalities. It had been left to the discretion of the County Councils to main or dismain roads as they pleased and they had acted on their discretion to a large extent. That being so, he hoped the hon. Member would not press the Amendment.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS
said, that experience proved that Treasury subventions led to great extravagance. It would be found, he feared, that in the next five years the aggregate amount spent upon the construction and repair of roads would be very much larger than it had hitherto been.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, that in view of the remarks of the President of the Local Government Board, he would not press the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. LAURENCE HARDY (Kent, Ashford) Moved, to omit the words, "wall, embankment." He said the adoption of the Amendment would afford a vast amount of relief to a particularly afflicted district. He referred to Dungeness in Kent, where, owing to circumstances about which no one had any idea, the sea had encroached very largely upon the land. The expense of keeping up the defences against the encroachment was enormous, and the whole of it fell upon the agricultural land of the marsh. In one locality 24,000 acres of marsh had to keep up the sea wall, and in one or two years the rate had amounted to as much as 8s. in the £1. At the present moment it was 5s. in the £1. In another portion of the marsh—about 14,000 acres—the rate had gone up to 7s. and 8s. in the pound. A large amount of very rich land was so borne down by the weight of the rates that it was almost impossible to carry on the agricultural industry there. He hoped 35 the Government would see their way to grant the relief which the adoption of his Amendment would afford.
§ * MR. ROUND (Essex, Harwich)
seconded the Amendment. In Essex a similar state of things existed as his hon. Friend had described in Kent, and there was a vast extent of walls which had to be kept up against the encroachment of the sea, and the expense fell entirely upon the land. The Amendment would give relief which was deserved; as it was in the general interest of the nation that such land should not revert to waste.
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
was quite aware of the difficulties in cases of this kind to which the hon. Member called his attention, and he could quite understand that the rate in the £ had very seriously risen. But these rates were imposed because of expenditure incurred for the benefit or improvement of that land alone, which probably would have been worthless without it. He gathered that much of it was land which had been reclaimed, and which, but for this expenditure, would have been worthless. He could not, consistently with the principles of the Bill, accept the Amendment.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
hoped the Amendment would not be pressed. In the case of the Thames Valley embankments had been erected against floods, but they were erected entirely in the interest of landlords. To call upon the public exchequer to pay half the rate would be monstrous.
§ * MR. EDWARD STRACHEY (Somerset, S.)
trusted that the hon. Gentleman would go to a division. There were many agricultural constituencies which were much affected by floods. Only a few years ago nearly 200,000 acres in Somerset were flooded owing to a river embankment giving way, and very great expense and loss were entailed upon occupiers of land and houses. The distress amongst working men was very great, and thousands of pounds were raised to relieve it. This was not a 36 landlords' question. In fact, the land itself was rather improved. But this did not compensate the tenant for the loss and inconvenience caused by a flood. Especially should help be given in the interest of the labourers working on the land and living in districts liable to floods. These men not only for months were out of employment owing to the floods, but their cottages were made uninhabitable and their goods damaged. He hoped the Amendment would be pressed to a division, and that hon. Members on both sides of the House whose constituents were liable to the danger and loss caused by flood, would unite in the effort to help the Commissioners do more than they had hitherto been able to do for the protection of those living in houses liable to be affected by floods. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On the Motion that the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill,
§ *MR. JOSEPH A. PEASE moved that the clause be omitted. He said that if the Government had been prepared to meet the views of the Opposition in any way, or in a way that the merits of the case justified, he should not have felt called upon to move the Amendment. He was aware that the first clause raised the whole principle of the Bill, but the Government had refused to accept, or even to entertain, any proposal whatever tending to modify the Bill. The only concession they had made was to introduce a few words at the beginning of the Bill limiting its operation to five years; but it had been urged by several hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Bodmin, that if the principle of the Bill relating to the division of rates was once accepted, 37 it would surely operate, not for five years only, but in perpetuity. ["Hear, hear!"] Amendment after Amendment of a reasonable character had been proposed by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, but to no practical purpose. Amendments had been submitted proposing that the rates should be graduated in accordance with the necessities of the case; that the rates should be divided between the owner and the occupier; that, in order to give time for a fair and proper re-valuation, and for appeals to be heard, an extension of time before the Bill came into force should be granted; and that afternoon an important Amendment relating to the effect the Bill would have in relation to the poor law rates had been moved, but to all these, and yet other Amendments, the Government had replied simply by a plea of non possumus. No effort whatever had been made by the Government to meet the points raised by those Amendments, either by way of fact or argument. ["Hear, hear!"] He was aware that he was urging upon the Committee an Amendment which, if carried, would be fatal to the Bill, but for his own part he should only be too glad if such a result could be acheived, because he had regarded the Bill from the outset as a very objectionable one—as a Measure which was intended for the benefit of one class, namely, the landlords, at the expense of the general taxpayers of the country. The First Lord of the Admiralty had stated that the landlords would not derive benefit from the Bill, but hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House took an entirely different view, and believed that after five years had elapsed the landlords would themselves have derived the benefits proposed to be conferred upon the occupier. No one who was familiar with the management of an estate could ignore the improved position of the occupier in respect of rates, and agents or landlords, when treating with a tenant, when any application 38 was made for contributions to permanent manures, to drainage, or for additional accommodation, or say, for covered yards, would temper their generosity in accordance with the improved position in which the State had placed the applicant. In the case of abatement or new tenancy, it was obvious on the face of it that the full benefit would immediately go into the landlord's pocket. He condemned the clause because it would be unjust to the urban ratepayer, and especially to the taxpayers of the country, and he moved that the clause be rejected.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE,
in supporting the Amendment, said that, notwithstanding all the objections that had been urged against the clause, some of which had not been contested, the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had consented to introduce, as the hon. Member for the Tyneside division had stated, only one modification; and yet that modification, which imposed the five years' limit, was only a nominal and not a real and effective one. For the right hon. Gentleman knew as well as everybody else that if rates to the extent of 50 per cent. were once taken off any property it would be impossible—taking the exigencies of Party, and other points, into consideration—to afterwards re-impose them either at the end of five years or at any other time. ["Hear, hear!"] Of course, it might be done by Act of Parliament, but what Government of any Party would undertake such a task? Practically, therefore, this relief would be permanent, and he repeated that in those circumstances the one concession made by the right hon. Gentleman was only a nominal one. ["Hear, hear!"] The discussions which had taken place on the Bill in Committee had already had one useful effect. They had shown, notwithstanding the declarations made in the Queen's Speech, and by right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite as to the object of the Bill, that the real purpose of the 39 Measure was not to relieve agricultural distress, but to unfairly relieve one class of property—agricultural land—of half the rates at the expense of the rest of the community. [Cheers]. The second Amendment was moved with the same object in view. They said, "If you won't take the test of assessment, will you take the test of rent?" But the Government said, "No!" and so, from Amendment to Amendment they had put this matter to the test time after time. And the discussions in Committee had been exceedingly valuable upon this clause, were it only as an exposure of the pretext on which the Bill was introduced. Even that day, he pointed out in an Amendment which was moved with the view of confining this Bill, a case where the distress was so great that no rent was received by the landlords, and the farms were derelict, but the right hon. Gentleman refused the Amendment, which was absolute proof that this Bill, whatever else it had been introduced for, was not introduced for the purpose of relieving agricultural distress. He did not think there was any doubt as to the real object of the Bill. The real object of this clause was not for the purpose of relieving the landlord—not for the purpose of relieving the tenant. The object of the Amendments had been to secure that the relief should go to the tenant and not to the landlord. Whatever the ostensible object might be, he said the real effect of the clause would be to increase the value of land, and practically to put the money into the pockets of the landlord. He could quote an exceedingly high authority for that. He was referring to the President of the Local Government Board, who ought to be reminded, as well as the Committee and the country, of what he had said. He knew it was not an agreeable quotation of the right hon. Gentleman. He said: "When rates increase rents decrease; when rates decreased rents increased." Let them test this clause according to the dictum 40 of the right hon. Gentleman. He brought in a clause which would have the effect of diminishing the rateable value of the land by 50 per cent. According to the right hon. Gentleman's own test, that would necessarily involve an increase in the rent of that land by 50 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman said that in a good many cases it would not involve an increase. He quite agreed. The tendency of rents was to fall, but the effect of the Bill would be to arrest the fall. What would occur would be this. The tenant would go to the landlord and ask for the usual abatement. The landlord would say: "No, I am not going to give you an abatement; you have got your relief from the Imperial Exchequer." This was practically a clause for the purpose of asking the Imperial Exchequer to pay the abatement, which the landlords had been allowing for the last few years. It was on that ground he objected to it. If there had been a great fall in rents, if rents had got to the vanishing point, and the landlords were a distressed industry, then there might be a case for the Bill, but under present conditions there was no case at all. Compare the rents at the beginning of the century, or immediately before the passing of the Corn Laws, with the rents at the present moment. In spite of the abolition of the Corn Laws, rents had gone up, even in the corn-growing counties. In Lincolnshire, immediately before the abolition of the Corn Laws, they were paying 30s. rent; now the landlords were receiving 34s. He maintained that there was really no case in favour of an abatement of 50 per cent. in the rates in the rural districts. If there was a case for a reduction at all, it would be in the urban and not in the rural districts. In rural districts they were only paying 2s., and the rates were going down. He took the rates in 1870 in a purely agricultural Union, and he found that for Poor Rate purposes they were £4,977, or about 2s. in the pound. In 1878–9, 41 they had gone down to £3,147, while in the year 1893, they were £3,117, or a reduction upon the charge on land of £1,800 in the course of 20 years. What was the case with urban districts? So far from there being a reduction of £1,800, there had been an increase of about 50 per cent. in the same time. Instead of being 2s. 3d. in the urban as in the rural, they were paying 7s. 1d., 7s. 6d., while in some districts the rates had actually gone up to 8s. If there was a case for relief of one-half the rates, the case was not in the rural, but in the urban districts, and as the representative of an urban district, he would take that last opportunity on the first clause to enter his protest against a Bill which reduced the rates where they did not require reduction, and placed the burden on the urban districts.
§ * MR. LOGAN
said, he intended to oppose the Bill to the end. He had the strongest possible objection to this clause, because the effect of it would be to put on the taxpayers of this country for ever and a day, the Poor Rate. If there was one charge which the land of this country ought to bear it was the duty imposed for the maintenance of the poor. If a case had been made out for the relief of rural land, then the burden of that relief should have been placed upon the owners of urban land, who were well able to bear it. Instead of that, it was proposed under this clause to throw an additional burden upon the already overburdened ratepayers and taxpayers of their towns, and he ventured to say that the wit of man could not devise a better system for increasing and perpetuating pauperism in this country. He might have been reconciled in some degree to this clause if hon. Gentlemen opposite had made some endeavour under it to give the additional relief to the most necessitous and most deserving portion of the rural population. This Bill professed to be a Measure for the relief of the distressed agricultural community, but he was inclined to think that the agricultural 42 labourer would say, "Where do I come in?"
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY rose in his place, and claimed to move: "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 249; Noes, 117.—(Division List, No. 162.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 248; Noes, 111.—(Division List, No. 163.)
§ And, it being after half-past five of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.