Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [7th February], "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as followeth:—
Most Gracious Sovereign,—
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament. (Captain Bagot.)
§ Main Question again proposed:—Debate resumed:—
Another Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question to add the words,—
And we humbly express our regret that there is no indication in Your Majesty's Gracious Speech that measures will be submited to this House dealing with the ownership, tenure, or taxation of land in towns."—(Mr. E. J. C. Morton.)
§ MR. E. J. C. MORTON (Devonport)
I do not intend to take up more of the time of the House than is absolutely necessary for the purpose of bringing on a subject which I consider is of more importance than any other single subject which is dealt with by Parliament, in its influence and effect upon the social condition of the people of this country. I shall only endeavour to place before the House, as briefly as I can, the points which I regard as productive of the greatest evils which result from the existing land system in this country, and I shall, as shortly as possible, indicate one, or perhaps two, methods of dealing with this question. Now the reason why I have ventured to bring forward a question which, in the ordinary course, is of such great importance that it ought, perhaps, to have been introduced by a Member of this House of Cabinet rank, is that I happen to represent a constituency which, I believe, suffers more acutely than any other from these evils of the existing land laws of this country, and has inflicted upon it the very worst land system that is to be found in any town in the civilised or uncivilised world. We have in Devonport a condition of overcrowding which I believe, cannot be paralleled by anything to be found in the East-end of London, and, to my mind, this is particularly scandalous, because the reason of the congestion of population there is the existence of a Government dockyard. It seems to me, therefore, that it is a matter for which the Government deserves censure, that we have not heard anything whatever in the Gracious Speech from the Throne of any intention of dealing with the land question in the towns. In that Speech we have had certain Bills promised which may possibly touch some fringe of this question. We are promised, for instance, a Bill dealing with the government of London, and I imagine that any Bill that is to deal effectively 523 with that question must contain some provisions relative to the land system of London. We have also a Bill promised to enable the purchase of their holdings by small occupiers. But the case which I want to bring before this House is net a case where the grievance is that the inhabitants cannot purchase or become possessed of their holdings. It is a case where there is a famine in the land, and where the difficulty is to get land on which holdings can be built; where you actually have land held up by the landlord for the purpose, and with the intention, and effect, of running up the rent, of the remainder. Now, Sir, it seems to me that the difficulty can only be dealt with by drastic and effective legislation dealing with the whole land system and the whole of our land laws as affecting towns. I have had experiences, in this course of going through my own constituency, which are absolutely heartrending. I know one street of 51 houses with an average of a whole family for every room in it. I have gone into houses in which, going up the stairs, one is afraid that one would put one's foot through the wood—through the actual staircase—so absolutely rotten is the fabric. There I have found in one room a husband, wife, and five children. On the same landing, in the only other room on that landing, I have found the father of a family, an elderly man, and his wife, and a married daughter and her child living in one room, in which they have to do all their cooking and all their washing. They are living under conditions in which morality itself would appear to be almost impossible, and yet—and, to my mind., that is the most dreadful feature of the case—these people who exist in this condition are decent people—they are respectable people—and I have actually had people living like this come to me and beg me not to tell of the conditions under which they live, because they are ashamed of it themselves, and yet these conditions are absolutely inflicted upon them against their will, and without any remedy being possible by their exertions or the exertions of anyone else, excepting the exertions of this House. It is because of that that I have brought this matter before this House. This evil of overcrowding is, to my mind, the worst evil that we have to deal with with regard to the whole of the question, but it is not the only evil. We have in London and 524 in my own constituency instances of the way in which the land monopoly strangles the industries of a place. For instance, I may just give one illustration from my own constituency, and here, Sir, let me apologise for talking so much about my own constituency. I only talk about ii because it is the one I know best, and I have, therefore, taken my illustration from it. In the middle of my constituency, between the municipality of Devonport and the township of Stonehouse, which is added to the municipality of Devonport for Parliamentary purposes, there is a very narrow arm of the sea, which is about three-quarters of a mile long, or perhaps a little less than that. However that arm of the sea separates Stonehouse and Devonport, and it a1 so separates Devonport and Plymouth, and over it there is a bridge. Now, the whole land of Devonport was owned by one landlord, and the whole land of Stonehouse was owned by another landlord, and the ancestors of these two landlords, about 100 years ago—in 1796—got Parliament to pass an Act which provided for the building of a bridge, at their expense, over that arm of the sea; and by this Act of Parliament a toll was to be charged for passage over that bridge, and in addition to that, no one was to be allowed to use any other means of communication, either for one side or the other, except by the bridge. I will undertake to say this, that the whole cost of the building of that bridge and of the approaches thereto could not have amounted to more than £5,000. Since I have been a candidate for Devonport, and that is now eight years, these two successors to the two landlords who constructed that bridge 100 years ago have refused £120,000 to free that bridge. There, Sir, is a case in which we have got an absolute blackmailing of the industry of that place by the means of an artificial barrier put up between the two halves of one town which I have the honour to represent. I am at the present moment engaged in merely describing the evils of which we complain, the remedy to which is to be found, as I shall show, in my own opinion, at least, in a drastic reform of the laws affecting the land in towns. But, Sir, I have now mentioned two instances of the evils of which we complain—the overcrowding in towns and the paralysis of a town's industries, as in the instance I have just mentioned. 525 We now come to the way in which the land question and the land laws affect these evils in the next instance of grievance that I am going to mention. At the present moment we have the fact that the enormous value of land in towns has never been increased by anything that has been done, or by any money that has been expended by the landlords, but it has been done by the houses that are built upon the land, which houses are built at the expense of the immediate tenant of the landlord, who is a building tenant, and yet the extraordinary thing is this, that the value of land which has been brought about not in the least by anything the landlord has done, is absolutely free from any rate, whereas the houses which have produced that enhanced value are rated. The point I have to insist upon most strongly with regard to this is that you could not, by the ingenuity of man, devise a tax that would more heavily fall upon the shoulders of the poor than that system of rating houses when you do not rate land, for this reason: It is a matter of absolute notoriety that the poorer a man is the larger the proportion of his income which goes in rent, and if you rate a man upon his rent the effect is that the poorest people pay the largest proportion. That is a most iniquitous fact relating to the existing system of the rating of houses and land in towns, and it is one which I am sorry to think has not received that consideration from the public which it seems to me to deserve. The fourth point, or the fourth grievance, which I want to bring before the House is this: There is an enormous property of enormous value growing in our towns, and that value has been created by the community, and yet the community gets nothing out of it. Now, Sir, there has been a controversy recently going on iii my own constituency with regard to what the Lord of the Manor of Devonport takes from that town. In the first place, there is no doubt whatever about this fact, that he is an absentee. He does not own a house there, and, therefore, whatever goes into his pockets by way of rent does not come back to Devonport. In the course of that controversy it was urged that he took £80,000 a year out of Devonoort, for which he has never done anything. It was admitted by his agent that he took £40,000, so that we are, at any rate, within the mark in saying that that 526 amount of money—£40,000 a year—goes out by way of a constant drain upon the industry of the people of that particular town. But let me take a better instance—a more important instance—the case of London. Just let me for one moment, and I will hardly be more than a moment, epitomise, for the benefit of the honourable Members, what are the economic conditions of the land laws of London—and when I speak of London I speak of the area governed by the County Council. The County Council area of London is about 75,000 acres. Now we are all aware that if you take the rental of land in a ring round the County Council area of London which is used as agricultural land, I am putting it very high when I say that the rent of such land is about 25s. an acre per year, and the result is this, that the rental of that 75,000 acres would be, if it were used as agricultural land, about £100,000 a year. I am not concerned with any dispute as to whether it is more than that or not, be cause I am referring to land which is bonâ fide used as agricultural land. I am not referring to accommodation land, but to land on the London clay, on the same soil that is bonâ fide let for farming purposes. It does not matter, for the purposes of my argument, whether it is £100,000 or £250,000 a year, because I ask what is now the ground rental of London? I believe I shall not be far wrong if I say it is 20 millions. Some time ago a number of experts tried to make an estimate of what the ground rental of London was, and the result was that the smallest estmate made by any of them—I think it was ten years ago—was 15 millions, and, therefore, I am not very far wrong if I say it is now 20 millions. Now, Sir, that 20 millions of value goes into the pockets of the land lords, and very few of them, and it has been created by two causes; it has been created partly by the mere congestion of population, due to the fact that people want to live near their work, and their work is situated in London, and, there fore, the soil of London is not used as land for agricultural purposes, but is used as standing room or sleeping room for the population, and the com petition of these people for the room creates this enormous value. This being so, the actual rightful owners of that value are the people who created it. At any rate, it has not been 527 made by the landlords. There is one other source to which we can look for the inflation, of the value of this land, and that is the expenditure on the roads, upon improvements necessary for the benefit of the town, and so you have a landlord letting land at perhaps four or five times the rent that he could get for it for agricultural purposes, on building lease; and I suppose in London the common time for a building lease is 99 years. During the existence of that 99 years' lease you have houses built by the building lessee upon the land; you have streets made first of all by the building lessee, and maintained out of the rates paid by the occupiers or the building lessee; you have main drainage schemes carried out also by means of the rates; you have parts of the land bought up for open spaces for the benefit of the people; you have public buildings erected and paid for out of the rates by the occupiers or by the building lessee; but in any case not a sixpence is paid by the ground landlords; and yet, when this property has been made valuable by the expenditure of these rates, has been made valuable to a fabulous extent in some cases, at the expiration of the lease the whole of the value, to which not one single sixpence or one penny has been contributed by the landlord, becomes the landlord's. Now, Mr. Speaker, I know perfectly well that if we were to go to the logical conclusion which my argument leads me to, we should hear the word "confiscation." I think it was my right honourable friend the Member for the Cockermouth Division of Cumberland, who said that five syllables always fetches John Bull. The word "confiscation" is a dreadful bogey. I sometimes wish that that most orthodox of political economists, Adam Smith, would actually be read, and his teachings carried out, by some of those who are most opposed to the schemes which they regard as Socialistic. I recollect that in the last part of "The Wealth of Nations," Adam Smith argues that wherever in the necessity of things there exists a natural monopoly, that monopoly ought to be in the hands of the State. Well, land has become, by the nature of things, a monopoly since the days when Adam Smith wrote "The Wealth of Nations," and I can appeal to this great authority even in support of such a thing as land nationalisation. I have, Sir, made out as far as I can the 528 evils which, to my mind, are rampant, and which demand the legislative attention of Her Majesty's Government. It is no part of my business, as a matter of fact, to suggest a remedy; that is the business of the Government; but, nevertheless, I will suggest, at any rate, one remedy—a remedy which, to my mind, is called for, and is demanded by the horrible condition of things which I have referred to, and which I myself have seen in some of our towns. The remedy which will most meet it, and which, if properly carried out to the full, would probably be a complete remedy, is the taxation of ground values. I want particularly to point out the importance of the word "values" in that phrase. I do not mean merely that the landlord is to pay directly in proportion to the rent he actually receives; I mean that he is to pay both locally to the rates and also, if I could have my way, imperially to the taxes of the country, in proportion to the value of the land. Now, Sir, the greatest evil in the one instance that I have already mentioned of overcrowding is the fact that the landlord holds by the land, and will not let land at any price, because, by so doing, he is able to run up the rent of the remainder. A complete remedy for that particular evil will be, if you can bring a motive to bear upon the landlord to let the land, by rating the unoccupied land as well as the occupied land. It is a perfectly simple process in itself, and is a proposal which has a precedent. I do not know whether honourable Members realise the fact that it is universally the case in every State of the United States that they rate unoccupied land as well as occupied land. There is, at any rate, one exceedingly simple remedy that would do a great deal to remove the greatest of the evils of which I complain, and which I wish to bring before the attention, of the House. I said at the outset that I was not going to keep this House longer than I could possibly help, but I am bound to say, before I sit down, that I do not look with much hope to Her Majesty's Government for legislation to deal with this question. We have had some experience of them already. We know what their legislation would be like, as, for instance, in the Agricultural Rating Act, and I frankly confess that I have brought this question before the House simply because this House is the Grand Inquisition of the nation, and not 529 because I have any hope of getting any help out of Her Majesty's Government. The evils of which I complain are exceedingly old. I have here a most remarkable document sent by the local Commissioner of the Works at Devonport to the then Surveyor of the Navy in the month of January, 1697. In that document he complains of the overcrowding that was produced by the selfishness of the landlord of Devonport in that day, 200 years ago; and then the document goes on into an argument, with which I will not trouble the House, as to how the proprietor himself of those lands would probably make more out of them if he would consent to their being let for building purposes in what is now the municipality of Devonport. That, Sir, is 200 years ago, and from that day to this nothing has been done. Well, Mr. Speaker, I can call to mind the fact that as early—it is now nearly 60 years ago—as the year 1841, that was five years before the repeal of the Corn Laws, Mr. Cobden laid it down that in his opinion the evils resulting from the ineffectual taxation of land were as great as any evils of taxation that then existed. That was five years before the repeal of the Corn Laws. The Corn Laws have been repealed now for 50 years and more, but still nothing has been done of an effectual or drastic nature to remedy the evils of the land system of which Mr. Cobden then complained; and if I wanted to enforce that—and I think I have said enough to show what are the evils of which we complain—but if I wanted to enforce them on the attention of honourable Members opposite, I would quote the authority of one of their own colleagues, whom they certainly cannot gainsay in this matter. It was nearly two years ago that my colleague, the senior Member for Devonport, brought before this House on the Navy Estimates the fact that there were men in Devonport Dockyard who were receiving—grown-up and capable men—receiving not more than 18s. 6d. a week in wages, and he argued that the Government at least ought to 530 allow a sovereign. Well, now, Sir, what was the answer of the present First Lord of the Admiralty? It amounted to this, that it was no good increasing the wages of the men of Devonport Dockyard, because it would all go in increased rent. Here are his words. He said, in answer to my honourable Friend's demand—If rent were to be taken into consideration, it came to this: this was a claim that the rent of Devonport was extravagantly high, and therefore, if these men were to receive more than 18s. 6d., they would have to diminish wages in those places where there was an excess of cottage accommodation. It was not merely a question of money.And then he said there would be great discontent in other dockyards. He goes on—How would an additional 1s. a week do away with the difficulty of overcrowding? In the dockyards where the wages were raised, the rent of cottages had actually been put up. Devonport ought to see how far they could build artisans' dwellings.And then he goes on to ask how this increase in wages would remedy that state of things. He said—Devonport must concentrate the whole of its attention in getting better houses for the working classes.Sir, that is exactly what I would like to do; but the difficulty is this, that we have not got the ground upon which to build the houses, and it is ground that we want. Unless some legislation of the nature of which I have hinted at, the taxation of the value of the ground, is adopted by this House and by Parliament, I see no hope whatever of remedying this state of things. Now, Sir, I have said that I have not very much confidence in this Government doing anything in this matter. Sir, the last instance that I shall take, the last quotation that I shall make, illustrates and proves the ground of my want of confidence in this Government. I will not tell the story myself, because more briefly, and, I think, more trenchantly, than I could put it, the case was put some 13 years ago; and, although it was 13 years ago, it is as true in every detail to-day as it was when this speech was spoken. On the 20th October, 1885, a speech was made upon the land question, in which one particular instance was taken, and it is this—and I 531 think I shall study the economy of the time of the House if I read from this speech instead of giving the story in my own words—I will give you an instructive example. It is part of the history of the country; the whole of the circumstances will be found in the pages of 'Hansard.' In the year 1877 Mr. Fawcett called the attention of the House of Commons to the Bill which had been introduced by the Metropolitan Board of Works for a great Metropolitan improvement. It was proposed to carry a big street from Charing Cross to Tottenham Court Road. It was to go through a densely-populated and miserable neighbourhood, where there were hundreds of these wretched dwellings of the artisan classes of London which have since excited the commiseration and sympathy of Lord Salisbury and his colleagues. Well, the Metropolitan Board of Works proposed to take the land on either side of the street, according to their usual practice, and in some way to lessen the cost of the improvement by the increased value which the new street would give to the thoroughfare. But when the Bill came before the Committee of the House of Commons, one great landowner on the line of route, by his agent, opposed the Bill, and claimed the insertion of a clause for his special protection, which provided that the Metropolitan Board of Works should not take one inch more of his land than was necessary for the formation of the street, and that he should have the frontage along the whole line of his property. Just consider what that meant. It meant, in the first place, that this landowner was to have the fullest possible price for his land. It was to be bought from him at its prospective value. He was to have compensation for severance, and then he was to have 10 per cent. for compulsory sale, and, heaped upon all this, he was to have the enormous advantage and profit which the turning of his property into the front line of a great thoroughfare, so adding to its value, would give. Well, the Committee of the House of Commons, finding out that this proposal was altogether exceptional in its character, that there was only one single precedent for it, and that in the case of a great Tory Peer, a member of the present Government, Lord Cadogan, whose property had been protected in this way in connection with, I think, the Chelsea Embankment—finding that the proposal was altogether exceptional, the Committee of the House of Commons rejected the clause. But when the Bill got up to the House of Lords—this great landowner was one of its members, a Peer of great eminence in the Upper Chamber—the Committee of the House of Lords inserted this clause for his protection, and for his protection alone, although there were many other landowners affected by the same Bill. Mr. Fawcett, I say, called the attention of the House of Commons to this circumstance, and he moved that the House disagree with the Lords' Amendment, and, so strong was the feeling of the House of Commons, that the Resolution was started without a Division. A Tory Member, Sir James McGarrell Hogg, the Chairman of the Metro- 532 politan Board of Works, said in his place that if this clause were passed, it would imperil all future Metropolitan improvements, so greatly would it add to their cost; and another Tory Member, Mr. Bates, the Member for Plymouth, said the clause would be a fraud upon the ratepayers. Who do you think was the landowner, the conduct of whose agents was stigmatised by Members of Parliament in the language I have quoted? It was the Marquess of Salisbury, the Prime Minister of England.That is a fact which does not add to any hope that I might ever have held that this question would be taken up by Her Majesty's Government. But, Sir, any lingering hope that I might have had is completely dispelled when I know, as I do, that the speech from which I have quoted was made by the present Secretary of State for the Colonies, Since he made that speech, 13 years ago, nine and a half years have been occupied by Ministries which he has supported; three years and a half have been occupied by a Ministry of which he is an extremely important member; and yet nothing has been done to remedy the evils which he so eloquently, so forcibly, put before the country in the year 1885. Sir, I only know this, that whether the Government take up this question or whether they do not, it is a question which the people of this country are turning their attention to, and for which they are determined to find a solution; and therefore, although I have no hope whatever from the Government that now commands an unexampled majority in this House and an unexampled majority in another place, yet I have complete confidence that through the people of this country this question will have to be taken up, and will have to be solved, and will be solved. Sir, I beg to move the Amendment that stands in my name on the Paper.
§ * SIR JOHN BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
This Amendment ought to have been seconded by my honourable Friend the Member for East Northamptonshire, but as he has already spoken on the general question it would be out of order for him to do so. I have, therefore, with considerable doubt as to my abilities, taken upon myself that task. And it is, Sir, a matter of regret to me that my audience is not graced by the presence of the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, because we—most of us on 533 this side—have been for the best part of our lives disciples of the right honourable Gentleman when we have been considering matters of local taxation. There is no one, Sir, who has dealt more powerfully, and with greater and fuller information, with the question of local taxation than the right honourable Gentleman. I will imitate my honourable Friend who moved this Amendment in omitting to mention the name of any single landowner during the course of my remarks. This question is certainly not a question in any part of the country as against the individual. We complain not at all of the action of any individual landowner when he gets the full amount for his land which the law allows. Our complaint is, not against the individual, but against a system, and I therefore think it right to follow my honourable Friend in his reticence. I will take, Sir, two or three instances of what I have seen in a place where I have lived and where I have worked, to show the mischiefs of the system which endures to-day, and I will promise the House that what I say shall be said from the point of view of a man of business, and a cool-headed man of business. I was lucky enough, Sir, to be born in a place of a very sweet reputation—namely, Everton, where the toffy comes from. That was, at the time I remember it first, the prettiest suburb of a great town that you could find throughout the North of England. Its streets were lined with trees, and from one end to another you saw the houses and gardens of merchants and rich men. Then the town grew towards Everton, and the land of Everton became more and more valuable, until at last it was too dear for the rich man to live upon it. And I ask the attention of Members to that idea, and ask them to ponder over it, because they will find that wherever they go in England the rich men live upon cheap land and the poor men upon dear land. Now, when the land of Everton became too dear for the rich men to live upon it, they migrated to the south end of the town, where the land was cheaper, and as the land increased in value so it became occupied by the poorest—not quite the poorest, but very poor—people of the town, and Everton is now overcrowded to a disgraceful degree. I will take the case of a member of a very old Lancashire 534 family, who bought in the year 1845 an enormous extent of sand-hills in the west of Lancashire, near the seashore. I remember being told many years ago by the solicitor who advised that Lancashire squire, that he bought that property, a good many square miles in extent, for £45,000. The property had been at the time I was told this in possession of the family for less than 30 years. The income from that £45,000 was then £40,000 a year. It is now four times that, at the very least. And not one penny of rates—not one penny of rates have the owners of that land ever paid. That land had been vacant until it was occupied with houses. When it was vacant it paid no rates. Since it has been occupied by houses it is the tenants who have paid the rates. Well, Sir, I lived for 10 years in a manufacturing place in Lancashire, called Widnes, that is recognised, as a rule, not so much by sight as by smell. One knows when one is passing Widnes in the dark when going north, a little past Runcorn Bridge. I know the history of Widnes well. I was a personal friend of all the founders of Widnes. Widnes was occupied by chemical manufacturers on account of the fact that it had good railway accommodation, good water communication, and that it was near a coal-field, and coal was cheap. Now, Sir, the centre of the township—we speak not of parishes in the north of England, but townships—belonged to a family whose fortune is founded upon the purchase of land in Lancashire—land which had increased enormously in value, land which at the time of the death of the grandfather of the present head of that family was of such little value that his two sons doubted whether it was worth while to prove the will and claim that property. Now, Sir, that property is worth very decidedly over three millions, and the owners of it have never from beginning to end paid a penny in rates. Now, the centre of the township of Widnes, as I said, belongs to this family, the only wealthy landowners in the whole township. What was the result? The chemical manufacturers wanted cottages for workmen. They were prosperous men in those days; they were men who wanted to put money into their business which returned 10, or 20, or 30 per cent., and not to put it into cottages, which returned only 5 or 6 per 535 cent. But they were obliged to build these cottages. They could not carry out their work without cottages. They built cottageB—the poorest of cottages, the most wretched of cottages; and in these cottages, beginning with the year 1849 up to the year 1869, the workmen of these manufacturers lived. These cottages—every one of them built by the employer—every one of them rotted to such an extent that they were all condenmed as unfit for human habitation and pulled down. That is the result of the occupation of land in the centre of the township by one wealthy landowner, who paid no rates and no taxes at all for it. I have watched that land growing from a value of £40 or £50 an acre out-and-out until it has come to such a value that the representatives of the family thought it worth while to begin to sell, and they did not begin to sell until it had risen from £40 to £20,000 an acre, and not one copper of rates have they paid. Now, Sir, when we find not only a money injustice, but when we find a people living short lives, living unhealthy, immoral lives, in order that the landowner of the centre of the town shall become richer—then, Sir, I say we have a case for our serious consideration. Mr. Speaker, I will not go on. I believe that what I have said has been quite enough to impress every Member who hears me with the idea that I speak not as the enemy of any man because he is wealthy. (Laughter.) Well, my honourable Friends here evidently believe in my sincerity upon that point. I might go on, Sir, to speak of Bootle, which is practically the north end of Liverpool. When I lived as a child in my father's house at Everton, I remember very well looking over the fields towards the sea, and being unable in any direction to get two houses in a line between us and the sea. And now everybody knows—a great many people, at all events, know—what Bootle is. It is a very large and a very prosperous town, and it is all let upon short leases-building leases—and at the end of these leases, in the same fashion of which my honourable Friend the Member for Devonport has spoken, the whole of that town will belong to the owner of the ground; and in the meantime the occupiers of that town have first built their houses, then made their roads, then 536 their sewers, then bought their waterworks, and paid all rates, including those paid for the return of the capital borrowed from the Local Loan Com missioners—it has been paid off out of their hard-earned incomes—and then the whole, under the operation of this law, which I suppose will be maintained tonight by Her Majesty's Government, the whole lot will belong to one family. I might speak, Sir, of the power of the Borough of West Ham, with which I am familiar, because my firm has considerable works there, and I might point out that if the change in the law which my honourable Friend advocates, that is to say, the imposition of rates and taxes upon unoccupied land, or upon land kept under grass and held for building prices—if that change were brought about in West Ham, I believe that the occupiers of West Ham would be relieved to the tune of 1s. 6d. in the £ from the day when it came into operation. Well, Sir, I might go on giving instance after instance, but I will bring what I have to say to a conclusion in a few words. I say, Sir, that any Bill professing to provide easier means for the workpeople to get decent and healthy homes, any Measure whatever which does not provide a remedy for the inequalities in the law of rating will be a sham and mockery. Now, Mr. Speaker, I want to tell the Government that when I vote with my honourable Friend upon this question, I shall not be voting a censure upon them, but my vote will be a vote of encouragement.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
Sir, I have listened with considerable attention to the speeches of the mover and seconder of this Amendment. With regard to the terms of the Amendment itself, I must say that it seems to me to be so vague and so general in its character that it is difficult to form any precise conclusion from it as to the object which the honourable Member has in view. When I come to his speech, and to the speech of the honourable Gentleman who seconded the Amendment also, I must say I find but small justification for the course which he proposes to take—namely, to move for censure upon Her Majesty's Government. For what are the arguments upon which he has 537 founded a vote of censure upon us? In the first place, he dwelt upon a number of alleged shortcomings on the part of a great ground landlord in Devonport, and then he proceeded to refer to the fact—which, of course, was not unknown to the House before—that the unearned increment, as it is called, under the existing laws goes into the pockets of the landlords, without their contributing what he considers to be their fair share of the rates. For these shortcomings he says most drastic remedies are required, and they are to be found chiefly in two directions—the taxation of ground values on the one hand, and the rating of unoccupied land on the other. With the permission of the House, I will say a very few words upon each of the different points that he has raised. The House has heard the allegation which the honourable Member has made with regard to the landlords at Devonport. He says that Devonport all belongs to two landlords—I think he said two landlords—that there is great overcrowding of the population, that land is held up and cannot be got. He pointed to one street in which he quoted a number of instances where whole families of respectable people were living in each room; and I am bound to say that if there be no exaggeration at all in it, the statement the honourable Member made upon that particular point points to a position of things which I suppose all of us would agree is not at all satisfactory. But the statement made by the honourable Member to the House, admittedly, was an entirely ex parte statement, and I think it is only fair that the House should hear what is said upon the other side upon that particular question. I propose to give to the House some statements which have been handed to me by my honourable Friend behind me, who possibly is able to speak with as much local knowledge as the honourable Member on the subject, of which I have no personal acquaintance whatever myself, and which may give the House some opportunity of judging upon the merits of this particular case. Now, Sir, what is said is this. With regard to building upon this particular property, it has been the desire of the landowner to promote building; it is his desire to obtain as many builders as possible, and every facility for opening up new ground has 538 been and is offered to builders. The precise terms upon which these are offered are given: first, freehold; second, leasehold, for 90 years; third, leasehold, with the option of purchasing during four years, on the terms named at the date of the existing contract the freehold so as to allow the purchaser from the builder to select his own conditions; fourth, the power of applying any time during the 90 years' lease for terms for acquiring the freehold in reversion. It is also stated that about 1,200 houses, all adopted for the working classes, are in course of erection. In connection with them the landlord is laying out £20,000 in constructing works, such as roads; and this is not repaid by the district. Ground rents for workmen's houses vary from £1 to £1 10s. per annum, according to the frontage and depth, and in the case of houses of four rooms they are all, with the exception of one block of 30 houses, 25s. per annum. There we have two statements coming from two different quarters which I apprehend have some local knowledge, and which will enable the House to arrive at the conclusion that the representation made from the other side of this House this afternoon is very far indeed from being sufficient on that particular point to justify the honourable Member in the Motion he had made, which practically amounts to a vote of censure upon the Government. The honourable Member and his friends who supported him also dwelt upon the great iniquity of the fact that the unearned increment should go to the landlords. There are a vast number of arguments that can be adduced on both sides of the question, and I certainly do think that it is a very fitting and proper subject for discussion in Parliament. But there is nothing in the omission of this question from the programme of the Government, as put forward in the Queen's Speech, to justify a vote of censure on the part of this House of Commons; and if I say a word about its omission from the programme of the Government, still less do I find anything to justify any censure. The honourable Member has alluded to the remedies, which he thinks the Government ought to submit to Parliament without a moment's delay. One of the great objects which the honourable 539 Member has in view is apparently to compel owners of lands in towns to contribute more equitably to the rates. But the honourable Member appears to have forgotten that that is one of the matters which have been referred to the consideration of one of the strongest and most important Commissions that has ever sat in this country, and upon which they are deliberating at the present moment. He seems to forget that there is at the present moment a Royal Commission which has already made two reports, the reference to which is in these words—To inquire into the present system under which taxation is raised for local purposes, and to report as to whether the contributions to such taxation of real and personal property are equitable; and if not, what alterations in the law are desirable in order to secure that result.And we are censured by the honourable Gentleman because, in the face of the reports of the Royal Commission, we have declined to deal hastily at a moment's notice with a subject of such importance. The honourable Gentleman proposed another remedy which he deems of vital importance—that land which is unoccupied should be rated as well as land which is occupied; and he founds his argument upon the system of taxation in America. I daresay that it is perfectly true that that is the case with regard to unoccupied land in America, but it is perfectly notorious, although one of the remedies which he proposes is in existence in the country at the present moment, that there are numberless instances where the overcrowding of the population in America is quite as bad and in some cases infinitely worse than it is in this country. There are many questions of great, of supreme importance which might be discussed under the very wide scope of the Amendment put forward by the honourable gentleman, and upon a proper and fitting occasion the Government will be neither slow nor backward in discussing them. But for the Honourable Member to come down to the House on an afternoon like this and move an Amendment which practically amounts to a vote of censure on the Government, because they had not included in their programme or in their announcement in the Queen's Speech proposals for dealing 540 with a variety of difficult questions, some of the most important of which are being at the present moment considered by a Royal Commission that the Party to which he belongs themselves had appointed, is one of the wildest propositions I ever heard made in the House. I do not think it is necessary for me to say any more on the subject.
§ MR. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
I confess I cannot share, and I do not think the House generally shares the right honourable Gentleman's horror at the audacity of my honourable Friend upon this afternoon of actually having the temerity to suggest to the House of Commons that the Government have been guilty of neglect of duty in omitting- from their legislative programme a Measure of Social Reform which we on this side of the House regard as being of greater importance and urgency than anything the Government have included in that programme. I cannot conceive a more legitimate use of the opportunities afforded to the Opposition and to independent Members generally by the Debate on the Address than to bring out in pointed contrast the studied and continuous neglect which we have foreshadowed on the part of the Government to deal with this great question, while they have put before us a number of more or less homoeopathic and infinitesimal instalments of legislation in fulfilment of the long-delayed programme of Tory social reform. The right honourable Gentleman appears to me to very much minimise the importance and extent of this subject. I will not go into the questions of the conduct of that particular landowner in the town which my honourable Friend represents, because I have not the local knowledge which will help me to deal with the subject as to whether the state of things which my honourable Friend describes does or does not exist. I have the fullest confidence in my honourable Friend's local knowledge, and as I believe him to be incapable of making a statement without the fullest previous investigation, I have no doubt that he has put the House substantially in possession of the facts of the case. But that is not the issue here. The issue does not depend on any particular case; the question is, whether 541 or not the state of things which my honourable Friend has described as possible can exist, and in fact does exist, in many of the great centres of urban population in this country. Such, indeed, is the state of things that I do not exaggerate when I say that the only security the community in some of those urban centres has of the right to the use and occupation of the land, upon which its life and health depend, is the public spirit or the enlightenment and self-interest of a single individual. I do not desire to draw up an indictment against a class, although I do not dispute that we have in this country among the owners of land a large number of individuals who, in their dealings with their land, are actuated, some by a sense of public duty, some by self-interest, and some by a legitimate combination of both; but still I say that where the vital interests of a community are concerned it is not sufficient, as experience has often shown, to rely upon safeguards such as those alone. Now let me just in two or three sentences recapitulate the situation as we, at any rate, understand it. What is the present state of the law in relation to this matter? Take any of our great towns where the ownership of the soil is, as is very often the case, in the bands of the single individual. What is the case there? In the first place, the owner may capriciously, or from a mistaken sense of his own interest, or a thousand and one other motives, refuse to allow the use of his land for building and other purposes—land which is absolutely necessary for the due development of the community—and he may hold back that land from the market in the hope that at some distant date he would obtain for it an increased value. In the meantime there is no power vested in the community to obtain the land which is so essential to its life and health; and while that land is lying idle it does not contribute, under our law, a single penny to defray the growing expenses of the community. Is that an exaggerated description of the existing state of things? That it is possible under an existing law nobody disputes; it appears in case after case, town after town, and is within the experience of hundreds of honourable Members of this House. If the matter stood there alone, we should still have got an 542 abundant case against the Government for not bringing forward legislation. But that does not by any means exhaust the powers and privileges, exercised to the detriment of the community, which the law places in the hands of the owner of the soil. I go a step further, and point out that where the local authority has compulsory powers, as in the case of a work of public importance, which obliged him to sell his land, the landowner is entitled in respect to the land he sells—though it adds to the value of the land he retains—to claim the utmost value in the market; he is entitled to immediate compensation for what is called costs for severance and 10 per cent. for compulsory purchase. That, again, I say, is inconsistent with the most elementary principles of common justice. Now lei us go one step further still, in order to complete the case. As we all know, and as my honourable Friends have both pointed out, the landowner may, by letting out his land on the leasehold building system, gain the whole benefit of the improvements executed on the land at the expense of the occupying community, without contributing one farthing, either in the shape of principal or interest, to the expenditure so incurred. At the expiration of the lease, when the loans have all been paid off, in the form of what is called a reversionary bonus, he puts every penny of it into his own pocket. That, I say, is a state of things which calls for a defence—not such a defence as the right honourable Gentleman has attempted to put forward—and calls for remedies such as those my honourable Friend suggests. Are those remedies of a dangerous or revolutionary kind? Are they remedies in the direction of confiscation or injustice? Let us examine them for a moment. In the first place you ought to give to the local authority of every urban community vastly larger powers than it at present possesses for the compulsory acquisition of land upon terms which would make it possible for the community to employ the land so acquired with advantage to its own interest. In the second place, you do not need the indefinitely delayed Report of a Royal Commission to propose such a reform of the law of local rating as will make it impossible for a man to withhold land from public use—or, at least, if he does so, will compel him to 543 do so at the price of contributing to the rates in the same proportion as the public spirited landowner who does his duty, is required to contribute. Lastly, and most important of all, we want a system of municipal taxation, under which it will be possible, in every case of great works of municipal development, which do so much to enhance the value of land in our great towns, to throw an appreciable and just share of the cost of such works on the owners of the soil instead of, as at present, throwing the whole of the burden on the occupiers. That is a very simple and a very intelligible programme, and if anyone on the other side of the House, as representing the Government or as representing Conservative opinion is prepared to traverse or to challenge it, I will venture to put to him these two simple questions. In the first place, is my statement as to the existing condition of things exaggerated or unfair, and, if so, in what particular? And in the next place, is any one of the remedies suggested either inconsistent with true principles of economy or the elementary rules of justice? I am confident that neither of these questions can be answered against me, and I, for one, shall most heartily support my honourable Friend's Amendment.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I have listened with some surprise to the course of the Debate. On the Paper, the object of the honourable Gentleman opposite, who moved the Amendment, is stated in the most general terms. I waited for his speech, and I heard him describe no general evil, or great hardship awaiting a remedy, but some peculiarities which he alleged affect his own constituency and on the existence of which he bases, so far as I can make out, the demand for a revolution in the tenure of house property throughout the United Kingdom. Some honourable Gentlemen expressed doubt as to the accuracy of my version of the honourable Gentleman's speech. Those who did so can hardly have heard him. The honourable Gentleman gave us in great detail his view of the overcrowded state of Devonport and his view of the cause of it. The House was asked to accept from him, unchallenged, an attack upon a particular landlord.
§ THE FIRST LORD OP THE TREASURY
Three-quarters of the honourable Gentleman's speech was given up to it. The House was asked to accept from him his account of the doings of misdoings of a particular landlord who is not here to defend himself.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
It was a particular landlord and it so happened, I believe, that the estate of that particular landlord was brought under the notice of a Select Committee of the House. There was examination and cross-examination on the subject, and I am informed that the agent of that landlord contradicted, and was not shaken in his contradiction, the very statement of the honourable Gentleman.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Broadly, the statement of the honourable Gentleman was that for selfish reasons the owner of that property, taking, as the honourable Gentle man said, £80,000 a year from it—
§ MR. MORTON
I certainly did not say that. I absolutely and expressly stated that the only thing I had to go on was the admission of £40,000. I said the allegation was £80,000 and I expressly stated that I did not make the allegation myself.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Very well; but I have been shown a statement which makes out the amount to be £14,000—the statement made by the agent of the landlord in question. But it, after all, makes no difference to the matter in hand whether amount to be £14,000, the statement ment of the honourable Gentleman was that the landlord was drawing all these ground rents for selfish reasons, and so managed his property and so refused to allow any legitimate extension of cottages on his property that a condition of overcrowding was produced in Devonport, not only dangerous to the 545 health and comfort of the community, but even to then- morals. Is that an exaggeration? I am told that all these facts are incorrect; that those competent to speak of his property deny the accuracy of these allegations. However, whether these allegations or the contrary allegations be true or not, it really is not desirable that the time of the House on the Address should be taken up with statements which from the necessity of the case are ex parte statements with regard to the doings of one particular landlord, and it really becomes almost grotesque when on a foundation like this there is built up the shadowy future programme of the Nationalisation of the Land. I have listened to the speech of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for East Fife, who has told us that the present system of ownership of land in England throws into the hands of the great landowner who may happen to be the possessor of the soil on which a town is built an amount of power which no individual ought to be allowed to be possessed of and which I gather from him is capable of being used and, as a matter of fact, is used in many instances to the great detriment of the town. On the facts it is impossible, upon the Debate before the House, to come to any conclusion on the matter, but I am informed by such who have had a greater opportunity of looking into it than I have that those towns which are owned and have been laid out by large owners are better laid out and are treated more liberally than will be found to be the case when the property is broken up into innumerable small freeholds. I know there are cases which support the contention and many honourable Gentlemen in this House know of such cases. I will not attempt to strike the balance between the evils of the two systems, but the question is not to be decided by the mere suggestion of the right honourable Gentleman that such powers may be used by the landlords to the great detriment of the towns. Now, Sir, the right honourable Gentleman having thus indicated the broad outlines of the rather shadowy evil he desires to remedy, proceeds to indicate his method of carrying out the cure. If I understand him rightly, he thinks the extension of the compulsory power of sale is one remedy, and the rating of land, not built upon, is 546 another. These are the two remedies which he suggests ought to have been announced in the Queen's Speech. The right honourable Gentleman must know perfectly well that the subject which he affects to think is so simple, so elementary in its character, so simple to be dealt with, and the justice of which is so obvious, is on the contrary most complicated. I do not think the right honourable Gentleman has made himself acquainted with all the complications which must necessarily attend the revolution he proposes, whether such a revolution be justified or not. Let us not have, in this matter of the taxation of vacant land, the example of America thrown at our heads. The system of rating in America depends upon a wholly different principle. The system of rating in America is a system of rating the capital value of property of all kinds, personalty as well as realty, plant as well as land, debts, land occupied and land built over. That is a principle which necessarily carries with it the taxation of vacant land, and if, in the right honourable Gentleman's opinion, that may be a recommendation so strong that he would like our system to be so far assimilated to the American system, is he prepared to adopt the American system all through? If it is his desire that we should substitute capital value for annual value, which is our present system; if he does indeed look forward to a revolution of that kind, then I gather it is he, and not we, who will have to prepare and defend the Queen's Speech in which that policy is first announced. I have no doubt there are defects in both systems; that both of them are at the present time defective and neither of them can be made by any ingenuity theoretically equitable. I am certain, however, that he would be a very rash man who would attempt to-substitute the American system for ours. The defects in our system have never-been denied on this side of the House or the other; but we have done what honourable Gentleman opposite have never done, we have attempted to inquire exactly what those defects are and to find out some way of remedying them.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
When the right honourable Gentleman sets himself seriously to work to master the evidence taken before that Committee, and its report, he will not talk so glibly in this House of the simplicity of the problem he wants Her Majesty's Government in hot haste to take up. We all admit—all of us who take any interest in what is, I believe, the greatest social problem of our day, the condition of our great towns—that overcrowding is one of the greatest evils from which these vast aggregations of population suffer. Has anything been done to mitigate the evil in this country? If so, by whom has it been done? But that may be regarded as an unimportant aspect of the matter, and I will dismiss it at once. So far as I know, there is one Act, the existence of which appears to be ignored by the honourable Gentleman who initiated this Debate, and with which the right honourable Gentleman who supports him appears not to be acquainted, which gives local authorities compulsory powers to purchase lands for the erection of workmen's dwellings, whatever may be the view of the owner of those lands as to the propriety of erecting workmen's dwellings upon them. I do not know why the Corporation of Devonport has not attempted to put the provisions of that Act in force if they suffer from the evils which the honourable gentleman so eloquently described. But in any case the Act exists. It is a genuine attempt to deal with the specific grievance brought forward to-day; it is the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890; an Act that was passed by a Government, of which I was a Member, which belongs to the same Party as now sits on this side of the House. We certainly are not the Party who have shown ourselves oblivious of the magnitude of this problem, or have shown ourselves reluctant to deal with it. I am the last person to assert; but certainly no remedy which has been suggested from the other side is likely to do more in the direction which we all desire than that simple and practical clause, the general substance of which I have just communicated to the House. But there is another and a broader aspect of the case alluded to by the President of the Local Government Board, which ought not to be lost sight of. We are 548 all apt, especially if we have any crotchet of our own to serve, to attribute evils, which are common to many different systems, to the peculiarities of our own system to which we happen to object. The honourable Member for Devonport dislikes ground landlords in general, but one ground landlord in particular. He, therefore, says, alter your land system, get rid of these ground landlords, nationalise the land. The right honourable Gentleman who spoke from the Front Bench paid, I think, a very fair tribute to the public spirit which has animated a large number of the great ground landlords of this country, but he also has his views as to the particular alteration of taxation that he desires to see introduced, and he also, therefore, suggests to the House that if they will only take his particular nostrum for dealing with local taxation the great evils of overcrowding in our great towns will be, if not altogether removed, at all events, notably diminished. A comparative study of the conditions of life in the great towns, not in this country alone, but in Europe and America, altogether militate against that view. In my own country—Scotland—hardly any land, broadly speaking, is let on terminable leases. Almost the whole of it is let on perpetual leases. We have not escaped overcrowding in Scotland. In America they have that system of rating for local purposes which the right honourable Gentleman apparently so much prefers to our own. In America, just as in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin the evils crowd upon them. You will find them in Paris, Rome, Berlin, St. Petersburg—wherever you go, whatever the form of Government may be, whatever be the system of taxation and land tenure, there seems to cling, like a curse, upon the existence of great cities this difficulty of the overcrowding of the working population, with all its consequent evils, sanitary and moral. Therefore, in setting ourselves to the task of doing something to diminish this great social curse let us not be led astray by particular animosities against a class or particular predilections in favour of this system or that system of taxation. If it be necessary to give compulsory powers more liberally than they have been given for the purchase of land for dwellings, that is a thing evidently worth considering. There may be other remedies, other palliatives, 549 which this House ought not to neglect, but I am fully convinced that we should do more harm than good if we approached this great social problem in that spirit which I think has animated the mover of this Motion, and if we are more desirous of dealing a blow at particular classes or particular interests than of serving the needs and the great object of our population.
§ MR. HALDANE (Haddington)
Mr. Speaker. There is some reason, I think, to complain of the difference in tone between the speeches of the two right honourable Gentlemen who have addressed us from the Government Bench. The President of the Local Government Board addressed us in a speech that was all sweetness, but the Leader of the House, on the other hand, has spoken to us words that are full of acid. The President of the Local Government Board commenced his speech in a most conciliatory vein; his conciliation towards the close amounting almost to pathos. He told us, after what had fallen from my honourable Friend the Member for Devonport, that if his argument was well founded, it reflected a state of things that was disgraceful to our civilisation. He then went on to say that the whole question with regard to unearned increment was well deserving of consideration, and finally he appealed to us not to be led away with a notion that things were better this year than they were. When we were full of expectation that he was going to suggest a remedy, he shrouded his views in the graceful winding-sheet of the Royal Commission and hid them from us. The right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, was very different. He appeared to assume that there was only one grievous case connected with the land system, and appeared to think that the case centred in Devonport. It was on that basis that the right honourable Gentleman went on to ask whether on an assumption of that kind the policy of the nationalisation of the land should be enforced. The honourable Gentleman the Member for Devonport never, so far as I understood, proposed nationalising the land at all. Neither did my honourable Friend put forward the case, which he did put forward, in any other way than as an illustration. He described the evil as general, and 550 merely put forward the case of Devonport as an illustration of that condition of things which he suggested. In the course of the Debate the right honourable Gentleman who sits in front of me formulated a remedy, and the President of the Local Government Board complained that this should be done in general terms, and in the course of: the Debate on the Address. I agree with him it is inconvenient to discuss this matter on the mere general terms of a Motion, but whose fault is it that it cannot be discussed in the definite terms of a Bill. Can we bring in a Bill? We come here, and we raise this question on the Address because there is no opportunity given to private Members to raise it in any other way. Yet these questions must be discussed if we are to do justice to our constituencies. A good deal has been said about a class. I think there is another class to whom not only we, but the Government opposite, owe a duty; a class whose burden is very heavy and very hard to bear, and on whose behalf a word is very seldom said in any part of this House. I mean the class of the small shopkeeper, the man who is pressed down by this grievous burden of rates; a burden always increasing; a burden which must inevitably increase if our large towns are to be improved; a class who have as hard a struggle as any other class in the country, and with much less prospect. Take a shopkeeper in the Mile End Road, who builds up his business, and by years of industry and attention to it gets a goodwill of some value attached to his name and business, who finds his rent and rates are raised, and who cannot move because if he does he loses the custom which is attached to his name. It is on behalf of that class, I think, as much or more than any other, that the Government should, and I hope will, come forward before the termination of this Parliament with a remedy. Her Majesty's Government have muzzled their dogs and harried their children into the Church Schools, but they have brought forward nothing to touch this particular class and relieve it of this intolerable burden, which could be relieved by a moderate and reasonable amendment of the law. What has been suggested as the natural remedy for the condition of things with which we have to deal is shortly this. First of all, there 551 should be some moderate power of rating ground values given to the large and small municipalities; and, secondly, there should be some power conferred, which does not exist at present of purchasing the land compulsorily.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
You can purchase already for workmen's dwellings under the existing Act.
§ MR. HALDANE
Yes, in the most limited and vague way. I know the inside of this Act; the right honourable Gentleman does not. If the right honourable Gentleman had spent as many hours as I have in trying to see how the present Act could be put in force in any way which would be of the least practical utility, he would not put that forward as an existing remedy.
§ MR. HALDANE
I wish to see it used a dozen hundred times. In London it has been put into force, but only under circumstances of very great difficulty. It has been my duty to advise the London County Council in these matters, and I can assure the right honourable Gentleman it is not so simple a thing. The County Council have experienced the greatest difficulty in putting the Act in force in London. I admit it is an Act which the right honourable Gentleman deserves great credit for passing. It was a very useful consolidation Act, containing some very useful amendments of the law; but it does not give these municipal authorities as much power as they require to conduct their business. If they want to make improvements, if they desire to acquire more land for municipal works, for streets, or for anything except the very limited things which they can do under the Public Health Act of 1875, they have to obtain compulsory powers at great cost to the ratepayers. We are always running up the rates in this way by Private Bill legislation. Look, what a vast sum the London County Council has spent in this matter of Private Bills! The Act of 1890 was not anything like a remedy for that condition of things. Then there is the necessity of putting upon the owners of the poorer class of houses 552 some enforcible duty with a guarantee that it will be enforced for putting these dwellings into a decent condition, and keeping them in that condition. That is a part of the law which is extremely defective. I do not put these proposals forward as the end, or the beginning of the end, in this matter, but they are moderate reforms, which surely are within the compass of the Government. And, Mr. Speaker, not only are they moderate reforms, but they are practical reforms promoted by practical men. There is a great municipality in this country, the Corporation of Glasgow. That Corporation is, at the present time, in its corporate capacity, promoting a Bill for the purpose of acquiring power to tax ground rents. When a question gets to such a stage that one of the greatest cities of the Empire has to apply to Parliament for powers of that sort, surely it is little short of a scandal. But Her Majesty's Government say that this matter ought to be inquired into by a Royal Commission, in which the House is to do nothing, and not regard it as a practical question at all. Surely this is a very different thing to putting forward reforms which lead to land nationalisation, as was suggested by the First Lord of the Treasury.
§ MR. HALDANE
Then what the right honourable Gentleman implied was that this Motion was a slender foundation for it. The right honourable Gentleman attributes to my right honourable Friend a policy far beyond anything he advocated in his speech, and far beyond what, as an Opposition, we are pressing upon the attention of Parliament. Mr. Speaker, I venture to say that if we had in this House to remake the Land Laws of this country, particularly those which apply to our great cities and towns, we should make them entirely different to what they are now. The state of things in the past is a scandal. We cannot interfere with rights which have accrued, but at least we can do something to prevent that scandal which has already grown to such a magnitude in the past, and which, at all events, can be restrained in its dimensions if this Parliament will only be a little in 553 earnest about it. The present Government are now in their fourth Session, but they have given us no promise to deal with these questions, which are urgent, and which have been, for some time, more than sufficiently clear to enable a practical body of men to deal with. We cannot accept the plea of non possumus, and we must take it that there is a difference of policy between the two sides of the House on this question. The Government have entered upon their fourth Session, and yet have shown no signs of dealing with this question in fulfilment of the promises made at the last General Election of 1895, with the exception of the suggestion of a small Bill which we shall know more about when the Government bring it forward, and which, I should think, will be something like the Workmen's Dwellings Act, and if it is such a Bill it will be absolutely useless. If that, Mr. Speaker, is the only remedy they have to propose, then I despair of seeing anything done in the direction of Land Law reform in this Parliament. There is a great deal to be said for taxing the capital value of land in a way we do not tax it at present, but we are not concerned with that just now. We are concerned with an evil at home which is not only established but admitted, and I for one should like to see, before this Parliament comes to an end, some measure of reform, moderate it may be in its scope, but still constituting a foundation upon which subsequent Parliaments might build, and by which something substantial might be done towards remedying a grievance which amounts to a public scandal.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
I regret very much that this subject of the enfranchisement of leaseholds is brought up in this way, because it is impossible for us to consider it properly, and vote upon it as many of us wish to do. I spent several years in this House trying to obtain some reform upon this subject.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I may point out to the honourable Member that the enfranchisement of leaseholds and the housing of the working classes are subjects dealt with in Bills which are before the House, and, therefore he is not in order in discussing them now.
§ MR. BARTLEY
Then I will address my remarks strictly to the Amendment, and will deal only with the ownership, tenure, and taxation of lands in towns, which we are discussing. Of course, this question of the ownership, tenure, and taxation of land is a matter of very great interest to London Members. We have for many years urged that some alteration should take place in this very difficult and complicated subject, and, although I agree heartily with what the Leader of the House said when he stated that this is not a matter which was so easily settled, or so simple as honourable Gentlemen opposite imagine; still, we have pledged ourselves over and over again to support some Measure by which the owner ship, tenure, and taxation of land in towns shall be amended and altered. A subject which has been referred to is the taxation of vacant land, and it is one which Ave have also had considered before a Committee. Now, although I should be sorry to see anything like the American system introduced into this country, still there is a great deal to be said for the rating, for local purposes, of land which is unoccupied in towns, and which has to be protected and looked after at the cost of the occupiers of adjoining land. It seems to me that everything of this sort which tends to make the tenure of land more easy, and facilitates transfers, is a strictly proper measure for this side of the House to propose. I am debarred, Mr. Speaker, by your ruling, from referring to the enfranchisement of leaseholds, except as relates to the ownership, tenure and taxation of land. Insomuch as the ownership of land touches very closely on the enfranchisement of leaseholds, I may say that it was clearly brought out before the Committee a good many years ago that, although there Was the practical question of changing the ownership of land in certain cases, popularly known as the enfranchisement of leaseholds, yet it was practically impossible to formulate a system which would act fairly and properly all round. I am anxious to see the extension of freeholds and the ownership of land increased, because I think nothing will promote thrift better than an alteration in the system of ownership of land, which will enable people, with greater facility, to obtain their 555 freehold. But there is a question which strictly relates to this subject—and which we were never able to fathom—and that is how we are going to tax these ground landlords. It is practically almost an impossibility to make any system which will act fairly. It is quite easy to pass a Land Law by which the present owners of land shall be taxed, or shall be defrauded and robbed of what they ought not to pay, who had entered into contracts on definite terms, and would, if the law was altered, have to pay what others had stipulated. When these leases expire and change of ownership comes about, there is no conceivable way in which you could prevent the landlord from increasing the rent to the occupier, and so really throwing the burden upon him. This was the real difficulty we met with on the Committee, and, although I am not going to throw any cold water upon the system, still, I say that those who bring for ward a motion, such as the honourable Member opposite has done, in a vague and general manner, make it more interesting and practical by telling us how this thing is to be done, because the Committee came to the conclusion that it would be practically almost impossible to prevent this increased taxation, and not only this increased taxation, but the possibility of rises being added to the unfortunate occupier's rent during the tenure to provide these in creases that will have to be met. I hope that before this Parliament ends we shall be able to go into this great subject. I pledge myself always to support any reasonable scheme of this sort. I have tried to get a discussion of this question for ten years, and I hope that the Government with all its good intentions, which we all believe in thoroughly, will, in the declining years of its life, remember that the subject of the enfranchisement of leases, and the subject of the tenure and rating of land, are matters of the greatest importance to London, and I hope they will remember that, after all, London is not an un important factor in the present Government majority.
§ * MR. WILLIAM FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
I wish to take part in this Debate because it is a subject which touches Irishmen as much as Englishmen. With regard to the honourable 556 Gentleman who has just resumed his seat, he said that this was a Government which had very good intentions. There is an old proverb which says that there is a place which is paved with good intentions, and that will apply to this House and also to another House. The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House said this was a personal attack upon certain landlords. Now, I deny that entirely. From my point of view it is an attack on a system and a principle, and if that attack happens to operate against people who profit by the adoption of this principle, then I say that we should not be met by the argument that this is a personal attack upon certain landlords. The right honourable Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board went into a great deal of generalities, and spoke about various subjects. He mentioned certain cases in connection with Edinburgh, but does the right hon. Gentleman maintain that the ground landlords pay any local taxes, for that is the point of the whole discussion? The ground landlord absolutely pays none of the local charges, and he pays little in the nature of taxation. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board told us that they had a Commission sitting on this question, but when is this Commission going to report? When are we to have any actual practical results from this Commission? Don't we all know what Royal Commissions mean? What do they mean to every sensible and experienced member of the House? Why, simply a pretext for delay and an expensive procedure which leads to nothing; that is my experience of what Royal Commissions mean. I understand that this Commission on local taxation is going to last for another period, probably longer than the Government itself. I take it, that public opinion on this matter is pressing for something definite to be done. If we look around about us all over the three kingdoms, what do we find? We find that the general trend of events at the present moment is demanding a reform upon this subject. And, Mr. Speaker, what do we discover? We see that while the Government are decreasing the load of taxation on the agricultural community, our experience is that in cities and towns the load of taxation is 557 enormously increasing. Am I right or am I wrong? Therefore it is only fair that that favoured section which is rejoicing at greater incomes by the fact that ground is increasing in value should bear a fair share of taxation, and the time has come when they ought to be made to do so by the action of this House. Let me give you an example. I do not desire to make an attack upon any individual or person, but let me give you a concrete case of which I know the facts. The township of Kingstown, which is a few miles outside the city of Dublin, was a piece of agricultural land some 70 to 80 years ago. Leases were obtained for from 70 to 80 years, and now those intervening landlords who took long leases have been enriched by the fact that a harbour has been built there. These leases are ending about the year 1901 and 1902, and there has been any number of middlemen, and as a result of this system, we have had over-crowding, jerry-building, and all those other evils which always occur under the terminable of the leasehold system. What is the effect with regard to the whole township of Kingstown? This is a very remarkable case, because 70 or 80 years ago this place was simply a farm or an agricultural holding. Now in the year 1901 these gentlemen who are called "lords of the soil" (I don't know what that means, because I take the Creator to be the only lord of the soil) absolutely propose to take back, not only the land, but all the houses that have been built on that land by the industry and the labour of the inhabitants. They further propose to appropriate not only the houses, but the roads and all the improvements that have been created by the labour of the inhabitants in this township and the enhanced value arising from the taxation of the inhabitants. Now I want to know from the Conservative Government, who claim to be the protectors of property, upon what grounds they can justify the taking of the property of the inhabitants of this township, and transferring it from so many owners, who absolutely created this property, and putting it into the pockets and possession of the ground landlords. Where does equity or justice or philosophy come in there? I am giving this as a concrete practical case, with the 558 facts of which I am thoroughly acquainted. In connection with this matter there is another evil, which none of the honourable Members who have spoken have alluded to, and that is the evil of the middleman. When the term of a lease has expired we generally find that some dispute arises between the occupier and the landlord, and the result is that if a man is in business, and he has worked up the business, he must at any price purchase out that middleman in order to obtain the reversionary lease. The whole system is entirely wrong, and is opposed to the general good of the community at large. I maintain that this system injures a vast majority of the dwellers in towns, and if anyone desires to seek the reason for the prosperity of some of the towns in the North of England, remember it is to be found in the fact that nearly every one of the occupiers are owners of their own dwellings. I know something of this question, because I make it my business to inquire into the social conditions of those with whom I mix in business, and I find that wherever you have the owners of the houses in which they live, undoubtedly prosperity prevails in that city. Now, Mr. Speaker, I have no intention of criticising this Government any more than I have of attacking the late Government, for this reason, that both Liberals and Conservatives are equally blameable in this question. During the time the Liberals held office I presented 40 petitions from 40 different towns in Ireland upon this very subject, and I am bound to say that the Liberals were just as scant in their courtesy with regard to it as the Conservatives appear to be to-day. This is a social crux which must be agitated by the community outside. The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House and the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board appear to think that this is a question which was sprung upon the House this Session. It is nothing of the kind. It has been agitated in this House for a number of years. I hold in my hand a report of Her Majesty's representatives abroad respecting dwelling-houses in the countries in which they reside. The date of this report is so long ago as 1884, and this report was moved for and obtained by the late Lord Randolph Churchill. 559 Now what does this report disclose? Why, that in every country in Europe—in France, Italy, Belgium, and in Russia, and even amongst the unspeakable Turk—the majority of the dwellers in foreign towns have more security than they have in Great Britain or Ireland. That is a disgraceful condition of affairs in a civilised and constitutionally governed country. Some honourable Members talk about the benefits to be derived by the community from a single owner having the privilege of owning the ground that is covered by the community in a large city, but what are the privileges of that owner? Take Kingstown for instance. The privilege there is that that man has the power of life or death over the community. The privileges is that every man who lives under him is only a tenant at will at the end of a lease, therefore this is one of the greatest questions, that can engage the attention of this Parliament. No doubt there are honourable Members on this side of the House, and also on the other, who will say that this issue ought not to be brought in by a side wind. But how are these subjects to be brought in? The Government, since I came into this House, have monopolised nearly all the time of the House. They have taken the days formerly given up to private Members, and unless you introduce a discussion by an Amendment on the Queen's Speech, you positively get no opportunity of ventilating these questions. The right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury taunted the honourable Member who introduced this subject with not bringing forward a certain form of proposal which would remedy this grievance. We all know perfectly well that a private Member's privileges are reduced to a minimum, and Members of this House are used simply as automatic voting machines, and unless a Measure is adopted by the Government it has not the remotest chance of passing. Unless an opportunity on the Queen's Speech is seized, you don't get a chance of stating your convictions upon any subject which may be of the most vital importance to your constituency. (Oh! oh!") I challenge contradiction. The only privilege we have now is that of putting questions, and even some of 560 those are ruled out of order, and we do not know the reason why, or bringing in Bills which will never be passed. Again I challenge contradiction on these assertions, and those who disagree with me on the other side of the House will be forced to admit the truth of my statement. I have no desire to detain this House at any length, but I wish to declare that this question of security of tenure, of improvements, and the fixing of fair judicial rents upon tenants in large towns, is the most important problem that could be brought before the House this Session. We have had promises from Ministers about old age pensions which have vanished into thin air. We have had a programme circulated by the Government which they never mean to carry out; and here, in the meantime, you have in London millions of people existing who are compelled to add charges to their businesses by reason of the fact that whenever the opportunity offers the ground landlord doubles and sometimes quadruples their rents. I know a case of a building in the Strand which was rented at £40 a year some years ago, and now that rent is £200 a year, and similar cases are to found in Dublin. And who has to pay for that? Why, the community at large. Here is a state of things where one select coterie of persons grow enormously rich, and yet the people cannot understand why it is that they gradually get poorer. I look upon this as one of the greatest questions of the time, because in its settlement the interests of the urban community are concerned. This House has taken into consideration the interests of the agriculturists, and are we to be told, because a discussion like this has been introduced through the medium of the Queen's Speech, that this is not the proper time or opportunity to deal with it? If so, then I ask the Government to appeal to public opinion and to the representatives of the people. What are the facts? A Commission was appointed many years ago, in 1885, and that Commission made certain recommendations, which were not acted upon, because the Governments, one after the other, did not desire to deal with this question. Sir, I take leave, as an Irish Member, to remind the Government that if they are not prepared to deal with this question, public opinion wiil soon compel 561 them to do so. It is not a question that is to be burked by mere generalities in expressions of opinion. What are the Government in office for? Are they in office to solve public questions, or to depute their solution to private Members, who have been deprived of almost all their privileges in this House? I say, Mr. Speaker, and I say it solemnly, that this is a question the importance of which is going to grow. Let me tell right honourable Members who so serenely adorn the Front Bench that this is a question upon which almost every section in Ireland is absolutely united; a Motion upon which a great many men who differ upon other points in England are united, in proof of which we find the honourable Member for Islington supporting this Motion. Since I came into this House, not so many years ago, we have had dozens of Bills dealing with town tenants, the enfranchisement of leaseholders and the provision, of dwellings for the working classes. Do the right honourable Gentlemen who occupy the Front Bench think we are to be left out of consideration in this matter? I tell them, no. I say we are thoroughly in earnest on this question, and that public opinion is ripening. Justice has been done to the agriculturists, and justice must be done to the dwellers in towns, and the issue will have to be fought out before the constituencies.
§ * MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
Mr. Speaker, having had a good deal to do recently with an important conference of municipal representatives on the rating of ground values, I should like to offer one or two observations upon what fell from the First Lord of the Treasury in answer to the Motion of my honourable Friend the Member for Devonport. The eloquent, the forcible, and the thoroughly rousing speech to which we have just listened from an Irish Member will have given the answer to one of the arguments of the First Lord of the Treasury which seemed to me to be a petty and unreasonable argument—namely, that this was a purely local grievance. Now, Sir, I hold in my hand a report of the conference, the most important and representative conference ever held on this subject, and attended by a large number of Mayors, Aldermen, Town Councillors, 562 Town Clerks, and other representatives of a large number of the most important municipalities in the country, besides many representatives of the London County Council, Metropolitan Vestries, and other bodies. I have no desire to detain the House with many details, but I should like to give examples of the state of things in one or two important towns which were laid before that Conference, not, be it observed, by special pleaders or Members of Parliament, but by officials representing the local authorities of those towns. I will first take the evidence of an alderman of the town of Harrogate. The Burial Board of Harrogate, desiring to extend their cemetery, asked the adjoining landlord what he would take for his land. He replied that he wanted £1,200 an acre. The alderman thus sent to our Conference to represent the Town Council of Harrogate told us that he was curious enough to go to the overseers to see what this land was rated at. He knew that it was poor agricultural land, and found that it was rated at 5s. an acre. He thought that he would be giving a fair price if he gave twenty years' purchase; if he gave twenty-five years' purchase, a very good price; and if he gave thirty years' purchase an extraordinary price. The landlord, however, demanded 4,800 years' purchase. The right honourable Gentleman, the First Lord of the Treasury, had gone on to speak about his Working Classes Act, which some of us on this side had helped to pass; but he knows perfectly well that the reason this legislation is a dead letter in many parts of the country is that the local authority have to give these gigantic prices for the land, imposing such enormous burdens upon the ratepayers that, burdened down as they already are by the continual pressure of rate after rate, these improvements cannot be carried out. Now, let me take the town of Huddersfield, as stated by its representative at the Conference. That is a town owned, practically by one landlord, who is reputed to receive not less than £100,000 annually from a property that was originally acquired by his ancestors, I believe, for the sum of £1,000 sterling; and the estate is being continually improved by public works at the expense of the occupying ratepayers. At 563 Huddersfield, "in the case of the Green-head Park, 28 acres were purchased for £30,000, of which the estate returned £5,000." Thus the landlord pockets £25,000 while "the Corporation spent many thousands in laying it out, and if they saw the houses since built they would see how it had improved the value of the sites." "They expected, in Huddersfield, to have to find money as a municipality for an institute for secondary and technical education; but 'if,' as stated at the Conference, other municipalities are in the position of Huddersfield, they will not be able to place additional burdens upon the rates without producing a revolution among the ratepayers." I might multiply illustrations from the facts collected in the inquiry for our Conference, and facts, etc., quoted by the delegates. I will give one or two more. In the city of Glasgow the Corporation recently paid £29,000 for eighty-two acres of land, to be laid out as a park, or £350 per acre. The price of the land in the immediate neighbourhood at once rose from £300 per acre to £500. In Halifax a certain piece of land was bought twenty years ago at 10s. per yard and had been left idle ever since. When a road was made by the Corporation the land was sold, in 1898, for £4 per yard. In another case land was bought in 1896 at 1s. 9d. per yard. A road was made by the Corporation, and the land sold in 1898—only two years afterwards—at 5s. to 7s. per yard. I do not want to weary the House, but I give these as one or two instances to answer the flippant argument of the right honourable Gentleman, in reply to the admirable speech of the honourable Member for Devon-port, that this was a mere local grievance based upon local animosities. If the right honourable Gentleman had attended our Conference and listened to the speech I heard from the representative of the municipality of Devonport, a speech couched in language far more scathing than that of my honourable Friend, he would have realised there was an ample case as to Devonport itself. Well, the cases in those other towns which I have named—and it is the same all over the country—are all germane to the subject. I could produce hundreds of cases. We had representatives of many municipalities at our Con- 564 ference. Over 200 local authorities, many of them large municipalities, petitioned this House last year for a reform in this matter. It is idle, therefore, to say that this is a local and not a national question. The right honourable Gentleman surprised me by his lack of information on the elementary points of this question. He referred to the housing of the working classes, and boasted of it as a question his own side had dealt with. He forgot, however, to mention that the Commission out of which the Bill of 1890 originated was appointed by the Liberal Party. In referring also to the question of rating ground values, he wished to attribute to my honourable Friend and Members on this side of the House a desire to plunge this country into rash and novel experiments in local taxation, and to introduce American methods. Where was the right honourable Gentleman's knowledge? He ought to have known that the Commission appointed in 1885 —one of the strongest and most representative Commissions which ever sat, containing some of the ablest men in English public life, and it would be remembered that the Prince of Wales himself took part in it—specially recommended the local taxation of unoccupied land in order to drive the owners of unoccupied land in the neighbourhood of large towns to use that land for the erection of dwellings for the working classes. The right honourable Gentleman not only forgot that recommendation, but he also forgot the very machinery which that Commission recommended for carrying out that object. It was idle for the right honourable Gentleman to attempt to parry this great question by asserting that it was wished to introduce American methods of valuation for local rating. He ought to have remembered that the Royal Commsision recommended the determination of the capital value of unoccupied building land as the only sound method of arriving at the true annual value for local taxation purposes. We know perfectly well that the unoccupied land in our large towns, is largely land which is used for agricultural purposes and let at a nominal rent compared with its true value. We know further that the owners of this land at the present time, under the Agricultural Rates Act of 1896, are receiving back half their rates. That adds to the gross. 565 scandal of refusing the proposed reform. Now, Sir, as to the general question of the rating of ground values. The right honourable Gentleman—I think both right honourable Gentlemen have twitted us with having no proposal ready for the acceptance of the House. The honourable Member who has just spoken has pointed out with force and with judgment that it was not for us to suggest the methods, but the Government. But, Sir, at the Conference to which I have already referred, a suggestion has already been made, and I believe it was communicated to the Government. Our suggestion was that there should be a separate quinquennial valuation of sites as distinct from buildings, and that a rate should be made to fall on the owners of such land. That is a plain and useful basis for a Bill which might easily be drawn up. I do not think it comes well from right honourable Gentlemen opposite to introduce the principle of the separation of the assessment of land from buildings in the Agricultural Rates Act for the benefit of the landlords, and refuse to introduce the principle, which their own example shows to be easy of application, for the benefit of the suffering ratepayers in our great towns. Mr. Speaker, I well remember the speeches of the First Lord of the Treasury before the election in 1895. The burden of the whole of them was the intolerable suffering of the ratepayers of this country. He appealed to the ratepayers to give him a majority in order that he might relieve their sufferings and protect their interests. But all that he has done in this direction since he has been in power has been to pay half the rates on agricultural land, and to do so, in such a way, by refusing even the continually-promised division of the rates between the owner and the occupier, as to insure that only a small portion of the benefit shall go temporarily to the unfortunate farmers, who have been used as a tool to rob the Treasury for the benefit of the landlords.
§ MR. J. H. JOHNSTONE (Sussex, Horsham)
I do not wish to intrude in this Debate, but I do wish, Mr. Speaker, to draw the attention of the House to two points which it seems to me should be borne in mind when, we are dealing with this question. The first is, whether the 566 system of ground leasing is a good or a bad one, it has been an enormous factor in the development of our large towns. And for this reason—the building tenant is, as a rule, a man who is desirous of acquiring a plot of land and of erecting houses upon it. He is not, generally speaking, a man of large capital, or a man who is willing to lock up his capital in purchasing the freehold. If he can keep his capital in his pocket he can turn it over in the shape of bricks and mortar, he can render himself responsible for the rent, which he can pass on to the occupier of the house. I think, Sir, that that is a point which never ought to be lost sight of in considering this question of ground values; because when we increase the accommodation, which I quite admit is not sufficient in our large towns, we want to see more of these smaller houses springing up occupied by the working classes. I am quite certain myself, and I speak from some experience—that this system has been an extremely useful and valuable one for promoting the development of our land in towns for building purposes. The other point which I will deal with is that our system of local taxation continues as long as we tax, not the capital value, but the yearly interest. It will make no difference to the common purse out of which our expenses have to be paid if the burden of rating is to be divided between two or left to be borne by one. The net result to the common purse will be exactly the same—it will only be a little more trouble to the collector, who will have to take out two demand notes instead of one. That, Sir, is my contribution to this Debate, and I cannot help feeling that it will have some weight here.
§ * MR. SPICER (Monmouth Boroughs)
I desire to say one word in support of my honourable Friend the Member for Devonport. The occupants of the Front Bench opposite have complained that it is hardly fair to raise this Debate at this time of the Session, especially when a Commission is sitting in connection with the same subject. I think the justification, Mr. Speaker, for occupying the time of the House on this subject is simply this—that this is one of the most important questions that can be brought before the House this Session. It is a 567 question that is exciting, I believe, the greatest amount of interest in the country. If I may say just a word or two in reply to the honourable Member for the Horsham Division of Sussex, who has just spoken, I agree with him in his first contention as to leaseholds. I maintain that there is nothing wrong or unfair in the leasehold system. It is a question of taxation and rating that has made the unfairness to the leaseholders. It is the system of rating which has enabled the freeholder to take, in a large number of cases, the value of the goodwill of the business, or the occupation carried on on the land in addition to the value of the land itself. With regard to the division of the rates making no difference, if this matter is to be dealt with simply from the local or municipal point of view I believe my honourable Friend is correct. But if this matter is dealt with from a national standpoint, and extra taxation is put on the whole of the land of this country according to its capital value, I believe you will create a reform that will strike at many of the present evils in connection with our social system. Another reason, applying also to the arguments of the Front Bench, was the inconsiderateness of bringing up this subject when there is a Commission already sitting on the subject. I would remind the Front Bench that we have had occasions even during this Parliament when interim reports have been brought up on special matters, and when those interim reports have been made the subject for new legislation, and I would urge the Front Bench to look on this subject from its great importance and see whether they would not be justified in urging the Commission to present to this House a special report on this subject and then initiate legislation. At the commencement of my remarks I said I believed that this was one of the most important subjects, and I will go so far as to say the most important subject, to be brought before the House this Session. Why has it become so acute a question througout the land? I think it is for these reasons: During the last 40 years this country has grown into a land of great towns, and the pressure in those great towns is ever growing greater. We have constantly been told during the Recess that one mil- 568 lion out of five millions of children are outside the schools of this country. These figures show the residuum that we are crowding regularly and systematically in all our great towns. There is a constant inrush from the country into the great towns. A certain portion of those who come out of the country districts and take the chances of the great towns are failures. They are failures in the occupation to which they go, and gradually they become more and more crushed by the difficulty of getting housing accommodation. Another point, I think, that is emphasised in this question at the present time is that we are coming to the end, in a very large number of cases, of the first series of leases. It must be borne in mind that the duration of those leases is very different. In a Welsh town the other day I was surprised to find that much of the property there was built upon 40 years' leases. We should not think it worth while putting capital on to land where we only got a 40 years' lease. After all, the trust of the ownership of land is a fearful responsibility. I do not wish to make an attack on landlords. I believe it is due to their general wisdom and common sense, and thanks also to the system of settlements, that the great landowners of this country have not as much power sometimes over their own land as many of the heads of great industrial concerns. And that in itself has put a great check on their action and powers, and has compelled them in view of the interests of those succeeding them to deal with the land in the interests of the community as a whole. But now they are coming to the end of their leases, and the pressure is being felt very considerably when they are called upon, in entering on a new lease with no more opportunity of making profit than their competitors in business, to bear, not only the higher rent that comes with the new lease, but, in all probability, an increased charge for the outlay that is required to be put on the property under the terms of the new lease. There were besides largely increased assessment and largely increased rates. Under these circumstances all through the country at the present time pressure is being felt by the great mass of dwellers in towns and by tradesmen 569 in towns with regard to this question. I know this myself, from my own experience in my own constituency, where I have not a word to say against the ground landlord who uses his power with moderation, and with generosity. But this is not a landlord's question; it is a question of a wrong system of taxation, and it will only be as we deal with this question from a national standpoint that it will be effective and for the benefit of the whole community. In spite of what the First Lord of the Treasury said, the honourable Member for Devonport deserves credit for raising this Debate, and in trying to impress on the Government the importance of the subject. I say that any Government which deals with this question in a bold and generous spirit will sweep the country when we come to make an appeal to the constituencies. I heartily support the Amendment, and I trust this Debate will not be without its influence.
§ MR. ANDREW D. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars)
I would like to say a few words in regard to the remarks which fell from the honourable Member of Horsham, North Western Sussex, as to the development which he alleged had been made in our cities by means of the leasehold system. So far from development having been promoted by that system it has in my opinion prevented development to a very large extent. I could refer the honourable Member to as many instances as would fill a volume of the blunders which have been caused by the old leasehold system adopted a hundred years ago or so. There is not a district in the East End, or in the North side or the South side—the case is not so bad in the West End, where a different class of houses have been built —in which hundreds of buildings could now be found that are unfit for human habitation, and ought to be swept away. But these buildings having been erected on the leasehold system there is no power to the real owners of the land to deal with them until the leases actually fall in. I believe this system was dealt with by Lord Compton in a former commission. I might refer to the leasehold system in Scotland, where the land is let in perpetuity on an annual rent. Scotland is, generally speaking, free from the evils which grow up in England under the leasehold system. Within 570 the past few years I understand the leasehold system has been introduced, but in the whole of Scotland I believe there is only one town in which there is any land let on which to build houses on terminable leases. With the honourable Member who has just sat down I am sure that this House cannot but conclude that this leasehold system is one of the most serious and pressing social questions before the country. I am very surprised that the First Lord of the Treasury said that the grievances brought forward were shadowy, and to a large extent unreasonable, because the merest tyro who had inquired into or understood the system must be well aware of the great social difficulties that had grown up around it. Why, Mr. Booth published many years ago a book dealing with these difficulties, and he showed the bad economic results which followed from the unfair system of rating at the present time. The right honourable Gentleman cast a reproach on this (the Opposition) side of the House when he said that all that had been done to ameliorate those social and economic difficulties had been done by the party represented by himself He must have forgotten that the very first Commission appointed to inquire into the subject was by the Liberal Government in 1870, and the Chairman of that Commission was the right honourable Gentleman now the First Lord of the Admiralty. So important were the results of that Commission that its report was reprinted and distributed to the Members of the House about four years ago. There was also the Royal Commission of 1885 that was appointed by the Liberal Government, and so far as I know the only Commission to deal with this question appointed by a Conservative Government is that Royal Commission which is sitting at the present time. There is no foundation for the reproaches of the right honourable the First Lord of the Treasury that the Liberal Party had not given attention to the present pressing question. On the other side of the House we have had attempts to mimimise this question, and one reason given is that the big landlords are better than the little landlords. I am not going to discuss the point, though that was not shown by clear evidence. But what I wish to say in confirmation of what fell from my honour- 571 able Friend behind me—the Member for Northampton East—is that it is not against the landlords we make complaint. It is against the law. Probably we would all do much the same as they do if we were in the position of the landlords—we would do the best we could for ourselves. But under the present law the landlords who insist on doing the best for themselves will do very badly for the community. To reproach us, therefore, for bringing the question up on the Address in reply on such an afternoon as this— one of the few occasions on which we can do so with effect—is only another way for those who sit opposite to us of shirking a pressing social question. It was made a reproach to us that we would change our law for the American law of rating. Well, we should be much better off if we had the American law in regard to the taxation of cities, because then the full value of all land would be taxed, which it is not at the present moment. There are innumerable cases in which the land built upon escapes valuation because the houses were erected 40, 50, or 60 years ago, and until these buildings are swept away and houses are erected in their stead equal to the value of the land, the land will not be fairly rated. I was surprised to hear the First Lord of the Treasury say that the mover of the Amendment had made this a local question. And a Member for one of the Divisions of Lincolnshire said that there had been only a one-sided statement of the case, that there was no question but one of overcrowding, and that there was overcrowding not only in Devonport but in London and in every city in Europe and America. I would refer him to a remarkable series of articles which recently appeared in the Daily News, and in which the causes of the overcrowding are traced to the leasehold system. It is said that because there is overcrowding in Scotland and in the United States, it cannot be caused by the leasehold system. But the system of rating is as unfair in Scotland as in London. And as for the cities of the United States, anyone with the slightest knowledge at all of how these cities are governed would never suppose that these municipalities are very much concerned with measures to prevent overcrowding. To put it broadly, our complaint is based on unfair rating— 572 that is, the land in the cities pays too little, and consequently the occupiers of the houses in the cities pay too much. The value of the land in the cities is created by the aggregation of the inhabitants, by individual and municipal expenditure, and by the great industries carried on there. But just in proportion as the rental of the houses rises so in proportion the landlords reap the benefit, for the increased value falls into their pockets. The occupiers sometimes get a temporary benefit, but the permanent benefit falls to the landlords. The London County Council has an official valuer, and he says that, dividing the amount raised by rates into twelve parts, about seven of these parts go towards permanent improvements, which enrich the landlords, and five parts partly go to the landlords and partly to the tenants. There is a small fraction, the ultimate destination of which cannot be traced to the one or the other. Now there are numerous towns which require great public improvements, which require technical schools, and libraries, and new streets, but in many of these towns these improvements cannot be carried out because they have no means of doing them. The whole value created by the inhabitants is taken by the landlords, whereas that value would go to the municipalities as representing the community under a proper system of rating, and it could be applied for the general benefit. These improvements under the present system cannot be carried out except by the imposition of more rates, which again increases the profit of the landlords, who thus benefit at every turn of the screw. In regard to the non-rating of vacant land, that is perhaps worse than the evils arising from leaseholds. Within five minutes' walk of the House there are vast areas of land which only pay a trifle in rates, but which are worth thousands of pounds per annum per acre. The Commission of 1885 mentions several cases in which the value of land had been enormously increased by people building round it, and yet the people themselves received no rates from that land. That is why the suggestion was made by the Commission that all unoccupied land should be rated at 4 per cent. If that were done in London, what an enormous sum would fall to the London County Council! London stands on 75,000 acres of land. Leaving out parks, there are 573 14,000 or 15,000 acres that are rated at some microscopical ratio compared with their real value. There is a belt of land round London which pays on an average a rate of £2 per acre, but if it were rated at what the land is really worth, it would yield thirty times that sum. As a matter of fact, the amount raised by the rates goes largely to enrich the landlords by adding to the value of the unoccupied land. Instead of that unoccupied land paying a fair share of the rates, it pays practically nothing, while the increase in its value is created by the buildings on the adjoining land and the general expenditure of the rates. The remedy has been alluded to. There is no way of meeting this question except by separating the rating of land from the rating of houses. A Bill is to come before the House which will provide for the rating separately of lands and houses. It is the first Bill of the kind which has ever been presented to this House, and we shall then see what are the real intentions of the Government with regard to this question. The Government themselves are introducing a Bill to enable workmen to buy their own houses—to become their own landlords. Next after the small shopkeepers, on whom the rating falls heavier than on any other class, the workmen are most heavily rated. A workman pays a fifth of his whole wages in rent, and the rates will be a fourth or a fifth of that again. In some parts of London it is calculated that the rates paid by a workman are 5 per cent, of his whole money wages. There is no class of the community that pays in proportion to income such an enormous share of the rates. The Government ought to give us some indication of how they are going to deal in their Bill with this question If they are not going to improve the present law in some way, the Bill will be more worthless than that which was introduced two years ago. Unless the land is to be charged a fair rate on its value, then all proposals to enable workmen to buy their houses will be of no practical use, and the Government will remain, as reformers, mere pretenders.
§ * MR. JASPER TULLY (Leitrim, S.)
I intend to support the Amendment. This grievance, while it applies to England, also applies to Ireland. We have been agitating this question in Ireland for a large number of years, and I 574 am glad to see that it is now stirring up an agitation in this country. The recent land laws passed for Ireland have accentuated a great deal the difference between country householders and urban householders. A person in the country, whose lease expires, is protected when leaving his holding for the expenditure he has made on it; whereas a townsman is not so protected for his expenditure on buildings. The result is that we have the confiscation of the property of the townsmen. In the town I live in, I only get a short lease of the land, and at the end of that lease the house I have built is taken from me, and I become a trespasser in my own house. Whereas if I had built the house on agricultural land that house would have been mine, so long as I paid the judicial rent. If (the principle of the land laws that we have got in Ireland were applied to the towns here and in Ireland, instead of having the improvements confiscated they would be in the same position as those of the Irish farmer when he pays a judicial rent. That is one of the reasons which induce me, as an Irish Member, to support the Amendment. There is not a townsman in Ireland who has not felt this grievance, and the grievance is felt more acutely there than even in England. The question of rating is also important. I have heard a good deal as to the manner in which the rates are levied on property in England. Of course, in Ireland, the rating is done by a Government central authority — by the General Valuation Office in Dublin. There seems to be a different system applicable to England. In Ireland, under the system of rating that exists there I know that a great deal of hardship falls upon owners of houses in the towns. Speaking to an experienced Member of the Valuation Department, he told me that very great hardships fall on the townsmen who make improvements in their houses. He pointed out to me that so long as a townsman makes no improvement on his holding there is no power in the Valuation Board to come in and increase his valuation, and, therefore, his rating. In Grafton Street, the principal street in Dublin, there are houses rated at as low as £30 or £40, whereas other houses in the same locality, and of the same size, where improvements have been made, have been rated at hundreds of pounds. The result is to put a tax on industry and on a man's 575 own expenditure for improvements. That is a grievance that will have to be dealt with. There should be some equality of taxation in this matter. There is a further grievance which was accentuated by the Local Government Act of last year. In that Act the Government inserted a clause which provided for differential rating in Irish towns. Under the Towns' Improvement Act in Ireland the rates of the 1854 Act were levied on certain classes of property, but the full rate was levied on houses. The result was that the remaining three-fourths of the rates were put on the shoulders of the shopkeepers and traders. The Government last year inserted a provision by which they extended the vicious system of differential rating. The result is that county cess and other rates, instead of falling equally on towns and country— only a fourth falls on the land, and the remaining three-fourths on the towns—thus causing a great hardship to traders, shopkeepers and householders in the towns. I therefore support the Amendment before the House as a very proper and most useful Amendment. It is one that will command the approval of every townsman in Ireland who suffers from the grievances connected with the leases of house property. This question of the differential rate is one that bears with exceeding hardship on business people in Ireland, because town parks are excluded from the benefits of the Land Act, since they are supposed to be of greater value than land farther away from the towns. But there is not the least reason why they should be included in the differential system of rating. It is very hard that these town parks should only pay a fourth of the rate levied on the lands just inside the boundary of the town. Now, Sir, under the Act of last year, you have given Urban Authorities to Ireland. These Urban Authorities are bound to start systems of waterworks, street-lighting and improvement, and the erection of houses for the working classes. It will be a very exceeding hardship if the people in the towns—shopkeepers, and those who own houses on short leases, have to pay every penny of the rates to make these waterworks, to carry out a lighting system, and a scheme for the better housing of the working classes and after having paid for years, and added all these improvements to the town so as to im- 576 prove the property of the landlords, and add to its permanent value, while the landlords have never paid a farthing— to find that, at the end of their leases, they will be treated as trespassers, and left without a foothold on their own property. As I have said, this is an old agitation in Ireland. We have been ventilating this question of tenant right in towns for years, and I am glad it is spreading to England, and to see honourable Members on the English Benches advocating the redress of this grievance, as we have done for years in Ireland. I remember the time when English Members came over to our meetings in Ireland, and heard us discussing this question, how they looked on incredulous, and heard us with surprise. I am glad to know that, since then, the grievance is becoming felt in England and Wales and Scotland, and that the doctrines we preached years ago are now their doctrines. The agitation is spreading, and I am glad that we have found in this question one on which reformers can unite together.
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER after the usual interval,
§ * MR. BILLSON (Halifax)
Mr. Speaker, I think this Debate would not have lasted so long if the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury had not seemed to infer in his opening remarks that the grievance that was brought before us was one that depended almost solely on the isolated instances given by the honourable Member for Devonport. He mentioned the fact that the instance to which the Mover of the Amendment particularly addressed himself was one that was capable of two or three interpretations, and that possibly if the other side had been heard the grievance under which the people of Devonport suffered would, be found to be not altogether owing to the conduct of the landowners. That remark on the part of the First Lord of the Treasury, and the fact that he seemed to consider the matter rather a light one, has led to other speakers being constrained to get up and testify to the great importance of the Amendment that has been brought forward, and the great interest that is shown in this subject by large numbers of people throughout the country. I gladly rise 577 in order to bear my testimony also to the fact that this is a matter that is attracting a great deal of attention throughout the country, and that people are more and more beginning to think that it is in the direction of the reform indicated by this Amendment that the difficulties of our social problem will ultimately be solved. As evidence of the interest which is taken in this matter, I may call attention to the fact that upwards of 300 Municipal Town Councils or Urban District Bodies have passed resolutions expressing the opinion that unoccupied land in towns should be rated for local purposes. A year ago the Town Council of the constituency which I have the honour to represent (Halifax) requested me to move a resolution at the Conference of the Associated Municipal Corporations in this direction. In compliance with this request, I moved that resolution, and it was carried by an overwhelming majority in a meeting of two or three hundred persons. Now, these two or three hundred people who assembled at that Conference were men of considerable standing; they were not people who were actuated by the sort of motives which the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury seems to imply that the Member for Devonport is actuated by. On the other hand, they were Mayors of their Boroughs, Chairmen of their Finance Committees, and Aldermen of their respective Municipalities. These men, seeing that the expenses of the districts in which they were engaged in public work were constantly growing, and that new demands were constantly being made for further expenditure, looked about, as sober-minded, business men, to see in what direction they could find a new source of taxation, and they came to the conclusion that in these unoccupied lands, which are at present escaping from rating, there was a source from which it was reasonable and possible to obtain a new supply of funds for municipal purposes, and that these funds could be obtained in a perfectly equitable and fair manner. The matter now comes, Mr. Speaker, before us in this House, and, to judge from the attitude which has been assumed towards it by the First Lord of the Treasury, you would imagine that this was an entirely novel idea, that it had not been discussed or considered by other countries, 578 and that it had not been tested in other parts of the world. But, Sir, in the last year or two we have had brought before us very prominently the fact that this has become the law in New Zealand. They have introduced a system there for the taxation of land values, and, judging from all the reports we have received with reference to this system, the result has been such as to give the greatest satisfaction. The point we feel most strongly about here is this, that where a piece of land lies in the centre of a city, and is acquiring year by year additional value owing to the expenditure which has been poured out from the rest of the sources that produce wealth in the city, that land also should become liable to some assessment for the purpose of assisting in carrying on the municipal work of that city. Not only in New Zealand have land values been taxed, but we have been told to-night that in most of the United States there is a law to the same effect, and it is, I daresay, a matter of common knowledge to many Members of this House that in various parts of the Continent, notably in Germany, this is also the law. I do not think, however, that we who urge this proposition should conceal the fact from the House that there have been difficulties found in the way of carrying forward this particular amendment of the law. I notice, from a; Report issued by the Foreign Office last month, that it was there stated that the difficulties in the way of taxing unoccupied land had been found to be very serious in Berlin. It was stated, in regard to Berlin, that there was so large a difference of opinion as to the value of speculative land that there were constant appeals against the assessment, and that there were some who thought it would be wise to drop the system. I do not forget, Sir, that when the Budget of 1894 was before this House exactly the same sort of objection was made to the proposals then* brought forward for taxing capital values; but in spite of those objections that Finance Bill passed, and I fancy there are few in this House, and few up and down the country, who would wish to alter the law then made with such good results in the direction of increasing the financial income of the country. After all, if one considers what objections can be urged to this system of 579 taxing unoccupied land, the one that we have most clearly to consider is the objection which is urged against the taxation in England of capital. We are told that hitherto the whole system of taxation in England has been the taxation of income and not of capital, and so it is contended that if you once introduce the principle of taxing or rating the capital value of land you will, as the First Lord of the Treasury holds out with great apprehension, be bringing before this country the whole of the evils and difficulties of the American system. I do not see that at all, and I do not think the shrewd men who are now filling the positions of Chairmen of Finance Committees in the municipalities throughout the country will be at all frightened by difficulties of that sort. I do not think they will have any difficulty in rating the actual piece of land which they see before them, and which they consider ought to be made available for the general benefit of the community in which they live. I have always found, in talking over these matters with people who in political opinions may differ from me, that they did not find any particular objection to the taxing of unoccupied land, and they agree that a corner of land that is being held for a rising value ought to be made available for taxation. They say, however, "The difficulty we do see is, how are you going to rate and fax land which is covered with buildings?" The whole point of the contention which those of us who have urged these matters on the public have in our minds is that land should be used to its best advantage. When you have a piece of land in a crowded thoroughfare that is obviously worth several thousands of pounds, it cannot be said to be occupied for practical purposes if it only has on it a tumble-down shed which is merely producing a few pounds a year in rent. There are in our crowded cities pieces of land in satisfactory and fine positions which are occupied by warehouses entirely out of keeping with the general character of the streets by which they are surrounded, and which are being maintained there because the owner of the land is waiting for his rise in value, just as certainly as if it were not occupied by any buildings at all. I urge that those lands which are not used up 580 to their full value should also contribute according to the real net value of the land, just as much as properties which are not occupied at all. The course of this Debate has wandered over various features of the subject, and the discussion has certainly derived additional interest from the amount of attention which is just now being paid to the housing of the poor. Every one who has read the accounts in the Daily News and other newspapers of the vast number of people in London who are improperly housed, and who has tried to follow in his mind the causes which have led to this state of affairs, cannot but see that it has been owing in a great measure to the fact that land in London is of such enormous value. It is stated that in London upwards of 900,000 people are living in houses which come within the law preventing such houses being occupied. That shows how very important it is that Parliament should as soon as possible take such steps as may be found desirable for the purpose of extending the area of land that may be brought into use, and in this way render a larger amount of land available for building purposes. Well, Sir, there is another point which has been touched on to some extent, but not, perhaps, to the full extent. We are desirous of having taxation put upon unoccupied lands in our municipalities, so that in this way the burden may be more equitably distributed, and the oc occupiers round about no longer be required to pay in rates more than they ought to do because of the unoccupied land now escaping taxation. If I am occupying a suite of offices in a town, and adjoining there is a large piece of land which the owner is retaining for the purpose of getting a larger price— so long as he keeps that land idle and does not put offices upon it, I am paying a larger sum in rates than I would otherwise have to do. This reform, therefore, will not merely bring new land into rating and add in that way to the amount the municipalities will have at their disposal, but will also ease the burden of the ratepayers who are now paying high rates because at the present time their burdens are not shared as they ought to be by others who are equally liable. There is this peculiar feature about taxes on land, that they cannot decrease the utility of land. If 581 put on commodities, you handicap commodities. If you tax thrift, you make it less desirable. If you tax industry, you handicap industry. But you have this great advantage in regard to land, that however much you tax it you cannot tax it out of existence. You only make the owner of the land more eager to put it to such a use as will not only yield him the amount of the tax he is paying upon it, but also a profit. Constituents of mine have said to me—We have got our own cottages, and we pay rates and taxes on them. If you are going to add additional taxes, shall we not be worse off?And I have replied that we are going to bring into taxation land which hitherto has not had any taxation, and therefore we shall benefit them and reduce their taxes instead of making them worse off. I have in my hand a letter from the Town Clerk of Brisbane, Queensland, which I think is of great interest. In Brisbane they had our system of taxation, and the general rate was one shilling in the £. Being animated by the views which are moving some of us, they changed the system of taxation, and instead of raising it on the annual income value of the land, they raised it on the capital value of the land, and they struck a rate on it which would produce the same sum as previously. The Town Clerk of Brisbane in his letter says—The object of this Legislation was primarily to secure, an equitable distribution of the incidence of taxation, and we find that as a result vacant lands, which are in this way being taxed, are rapidly being filled up, and there has been a decided effect in urging on building operations.Coming to the point as to whether owners of cottages are likely to suffer by this alteration in the law, the writer calls attention to the fact that cottages on the outskirts of the town which were previously rated at £1 0s. 10d., were rated 'after this alteration came into force at 16s. 10d. The rating on superior houses was reduced from £3 13s. 0d. to £1 5s. 0d., and this fully bears out the estimate of one honourable Member of this House that if this system of rating all unoccupied land came into force in this country, it would reduce the rates of the ordinary ratepayers, 582 and especially householders, to the extent of 1s. 6d. in the £ at least. Therefore I contend that this is a matter which does not depend on the statement or experience of any particular Member for any particular constituency. It is a matter which has been brought before a great many municipalities, and has been discussed by them. They approve of the reform, and are eagerly looking; forward to its adoption. I have spoken in my own constituency and in many other constituencies during the recess, and I can assure the Government that this is a question which does attract the keen attention of the people of this country, who look to it not merely for a more equitable distribution of the burden of taxation, but also as a means of raising a larger sum for municipal purposes, and of bringing into industrial use vast tracts of land in various parts of the country that are not now being, used as they might be, with this further result also that home trade will be revived and encouraged, and the resources of our country developed.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
Mr. Speaker, I did not intend to enter into this Debate, but I think the right honourable Gentleman, the Leader of the House, introduced an unnecessarily personal tone into the reply he gave to the honourable Member for Devonport. This question is of vast importance, and is one that has been ventilated in the newspapers and in the speeches of public men for many years past. The great difficulty, even among those who agree in the main principle, is to decide on the very best possible way of dealing with this evil in this country. It was, I think, John Stuart Mill who once wrote:It is not because it is impossible to achieve perfect justice that no attempt to achieve any justice should be made.And it is not because it is not easy to find a remedy at first hand that men interested in public life should turn their backs upon the question altogether, and give it the "go-by" in the manner adopted by the First Lord of the Treasury. It is the old and familiar process of shelving. Some may think this is perhaps not quite so pressing a grievance in Ireland as it is in England. It is quite true that in Ireland ground 583 values are taxed to a very small extent—for the Poor Rate, the Water Rate, and the Income Tax; but they escape the great body of municipal taxes. I could give you glaring instances of the manner in which the rates of shopkeepers and the working classes are piled up for the purpose of making public improvements, whereas the men who are drawing immense revenues from ground rents practically do not pay a shilling. To state the case is, in my opinion, to demand a remedy. Take the case of Queenstown. A large landlord there is Capt. Rushbrook, and owing to the conditions under which the people hold their leases, the architect of the estate can dictate the class of house that is to be built, the manner in which it is to be built, and, as the leases fall in, fines are exacted and enormously increased rents charged, while Capt. Rushbrook contributes not a penny to the improvements. He may occasionally, like the man who "built a bridge out of his bounty at the expense of the county," give a trifle towards the erection of baths, etc., but it would be better for the ratepayers if he were brought into the meshes of legitimate taxation, and obliged to subscribe to the development and improvement of the town from which he draws these large revenues. There are many causes operating towards the impoverishment of Ireland, notably the system of landlordism. But if there is one thing more than another which has tended to keep many of the towns of Ireland in that backward, wretched, and dirty condition which so unfavourably impresses visitors and every traveller through it, it is the system of ground landlordism which enables one landlord to hold the land of an entire town in his grasp, and to refuse to part with it for building purposes except on the payment of enormous fines. There is no escape, under such circumstances, from increased rents when the leases fall in. There is nothing more depressing than to drive into an average Irish town and see the tottering cabins, on which no sane man would think of laying money out, because of the precariousness of the tenure, and the certainty that improvement would result in profit, not to the man who made the improvement, but to the ground landlord. It is different only in a degree in this country, but it is not 584 felt so much owing to the greater prosperity that exists. When first I came into this House this question was a burning question, and one which I thought would have been forced to the front within a few years. But it appears, so far as some of those who 14 years ago spoke in burning language—in their salad days of Radicalism—on this subject are concerned, that this social reform no longer occupies their great minds. It is depressing to one who believes in Radicalism and in Progressive ideas, to find the reactionary notions that seem to have taken possession of this House, and to some extent of the voters who elect this House. I would have thought that a very short consideration of the question would have led any reasonable man to believe that an unanswerable case for taxation of some sort or another has been made out. I would go further than the Amendment, and say that the unearned increment in respect of unoccupied land belongs not to the landlord, not to the nominal owner, but either to the municipality or to the nation. Owing entirely to the increase of population and to other peoples' industry unoccupied land in towns in the course of ten years gets a greatly increased value, and this increased value in its entirety ought, in my opinion, to belong to the municipality. But all that the amendment claims is that land of that character should be made to contribute in some way or another to the general benefit of the community. It is disappointing to find a Government, which came in such a short time ago upon a great programme of social reform, adopting this attitude towards a question of this kind. The electors of England were asked to withdraw their minds from the troublous questions of social reform like Home Rule, and to concentrate their minds on questions such as this. But, as it will be with Old Age Pensions so it is with this question of ground values, and all I can hope is that the Radical Party will buckle on their armour, push great questions of this kind to the front, and show themselves not unworthy of the Radicals of forty years ago.
§ * MR KNOWLES (Salford, W.)
Mr. Speaker, I do not rise to defend the landowners, but, as I happen to have 585 been a member of the Town Holdings Committee for several years,. I think I am justified in speaking on this subject. We have heard, in effect, from the speech of the honourable Member who moved this Amendment, the evidence of one of the witnesses who came before that Committee, but we have not beard an allusion to the evidence of the other witnesses. Now, according to the evidence of one of them, there was no great want of unencumbered sites for cheap buildings for the working classes in Devonport. The witness further explained that a great number of working men lived away from the town, and he pointed out that they lived, in some instances, as many as four miles from the town of Devonport. He gave as a reason that they belonged to those places in which they lived, that they had their friends and relations there, and that the conditions of their work permitted them to go to and fro. In addition to that, he stated that the Government authorities in the Dockyards had given facilities to their workmen in the shape of boats and launches, and so forth, to enable them to go to and from their homes. That gives a reason for working men not living so much in Devonport, and shows that it is not because they cannot find houses there. The witness was asked if a demand for small houses in Devonport for the artizan classes could be met, and he replied that a demand could be met, and that the landowners would be only too anxious to develop their estates. He also said that the builders were building as fast as it paid them to build, and that the landowners offered freehold property, but that there was a difficulty with regard to the sale of it, because the builders, as a rule, preferred to build on property on a leasehold tenure. I do not wish to labour that question. A comparison has been made in this Debate between the leasehold system and the freehold system in favour of the latter. But, so far as I could gather from the evidence taken by the Town Holdings Committee, the leasehold system has been vastly more to the advantage of the working classes. And for many reasons. Take the illustration of the London landlord. As the House knows, the London landlord—I take him as an illustration of the class—arranges that 586 the leases in a particular district shall fall in at a particular date. When that date arrives, the houses are taken down en bloc and rebuilt in a better way, and on a better scale. Thus you get uniformity of buildings, uniformity of sanitary improvements, and you get the advantage of modern sanitary improvements. Further, it frequently happens that the landlord vastly benefits the community by giving open pieces of land to be laid out as public gardens, so that the people can get fresh air. Let me give you an illustration of what I mean. Take the north-west corner of Berkeley Square. Look at the way in which the houses have been pulled down and rebuilt. No one can say the new buildings are not an improvement on the old. Then I take you to Bond Street, which is supposed to be one of the most frequented streets in the West End. Bond Street is practically freehold—its leases are perpetually renewable, which is much the same thing—and there you have side by side a comparison of leasehold and freehold property. Then, again, before the Town Holdings Committee it was argued that it would be to the advantage of the working man that he should be able to obtain the freehold for himself. It was a very fascinating proposition, but I noticed that those gentlemen who put it forward—mostly Members on the other side of the House—soon dropped it for various reasons, one reason in particular being that, however fascinating it might be to enable a working man to become a freeholder—and one could wish that every working man in the country might have his own freehold—yet, if you enable him to have it, you must also ensure that he will have permanent employment on the spot. We had instances of this brought before the Committee. A member of the Committee asked the question, "What would workmen engaged at slate quarries"—this was merely an illustration—" do when those quarries gave out?" They could not crawl about like snails with their houses on their backs, and it was generally felt that working-men would be in a difficulty if they had freehold property on their hands. The Debate to-night has resolved itself into a discussion on the taxing or rating of building land. That was a subject which was also considered by the Town Holdings Committee. Again, I do not 587 wish to labour the point, but the main reasons put before the Committee for taxing building land were these—that under the present system the owners of land available for buildings being only rated on the small yearly return it produces, if any, until it is used for building, are thus induced to hold their land out of the market, but that if they had a more direct incentive to part with it they would dispose of it at an earlier time, the price would be less, and that fact would be of consequent advantage to the working classes. One witness attributed overcrowding to the excessive price at present paid for building land, and another point was this—also urged by the opposite side—that building land is largely benefited by public local expenditure. Those are the main points, I take it, in favour of the taxing or rating of vacant building land, and the Committee dealt with them by saying that practical objection had been made to the proposal in question on the ground of the impossibility of defining what is vacant building land, or fairly estimating its value. And then they said—It is pointed out that if a distinction has to be drawn between building land and other neighbouring land not laid out, or not yet ripe, for building, great difficulties and in equalities must necessarily arise.… The existence of open spaces in private occupation, or of a semi-public character, which might be used for building purposes, such as pleasure grounds and large gardens, would give rise to further complications.Then they went on to say—As regards the effect of the measure in forcing land into the market, we are doubtful whether, on the whole, that result would be produced: "The effect would, we think, vary according to the different circumstances of each locality, and according to the conditions of the land-market and the circumstances of individual owners. It would, no doubt, add to the inducements already operating upon owners to dispose of their land as quickly as possible, but it would also promote the accumulation of land in the hands of rich proprietors or syndicates; and, as regards the smaller class of builders, it would tend to hamper their transactions.Then the Committee pointed out another objection to which allusion has not been made this evening, and that is with re- 588 gard to vacant houses. The Committee said—If vacant land is taxed, such a measure must, we think, logically be followed by the rating of empty houses.… For instance, an empty house evidently derives more benefit from the current expenditure, of the locality on such purposes as police protection, lighting etc., than is the case with vacant land. There can be little doubt that such taxation would check the supply of houses by making house property less de sirable and convenient as investments.… In view of these conflicting- influences we are not able to say that the measure in question will increase the supply of well-built houses, and thus benefit the working-classes… It appears to us that the only proper object of any system of taxation is to raise the sum required by the community in the most con venient and equitable way possible, and that it is unjust and impolitic to impose taxation with a view to forcing the owner of property to part with it before he thinks it is to his advantage to do so.This subject has been carefully considered and reported upon, and in answer to the last speaker, the honourable Member for North Cork, I may say that the reason why it was not forced to the front is given in the report to which I have just alluded. It has been said that there is no desire on this side of the House to deal practically with the subject of the Amendment. That has been already denied. Allusion has also been made to the Act of 1890, which enables local authorities to buy land compulsorily, and an inquiry is now-being made with regard to the incidence of taxation. It seems to me that sufficient energy is being displayed at the present time with regard to the subject of this Amendment, and that there is no reason for calling attention to it on the Address.
§ MR. W. REDMOND (Clare, E.)
Mr. Speaker, I desire only to intervene for one or two moments, but I have on the Paper an Amendment somewhat similar, as affecting Ireland, to the Amendment moved by the honourable Gentleman the Member for Devonport. I am given to understand that the honourable Gentleman's Amendment, which we are now discussing, is so similar to the one of which I have given notice, that mine will not be in order. Therefore I take this opportunity of making a few remarks in favour of extending the principle of the Amendment to Ireland. I noticed, 589 Mr. Speaker, that the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, and also the President of the Local Government Board, in dealing with the case made out by the Member for Devonport, endeavoured to centre the whole discussion on the reference made by the honourable Member to the particular case of Devonport. There is no doubt the honourable Gentleman who moved this Amendment did refer, naturally enough, to the case with which he was particularly conversant in his own constituency, but I am bound to say it was an extremely weak line of argument for the Government to take up, to attempt to make this House and the country believe that a Debate had been initiated having reference simply to the town of Devonport, instead of a Debate which, as a matter of fact, is of the deepest interest, not merely to Devonport, but, I venture to say, to every town and city with a large population, not only in Great Britain, but in Ireland as well. Now, Mr. Speaker, I was moved by several reasons to give notice of the Amendment which stands in my name, and one of the principal reasons is this—that I have recently had greater opportunity than I have ever had before of witnessing the extreme evil which exists in large centres of population like Dublin from overcrowding and the unsanitary way in which large numbers of the working people are obliged to Jive. A short time ago, while I was prosecuting my canvass for the Municipal Council for the city of Dublin, I had opportunities of visiting portions of the city which are inhabited almost exclusively by the working class, and I may say that I was shocked to find the crowded way in which they live, and to see the very insanitary houses in which they are obliged to try and bring their families up. I made inquiries as to what the principal reason of this overcrowding was, and there is no doubt that the principal cause of the overcrowding in Dublin, as elsewhere in every large centre of population, is to be found in the state of the law with regard to the ownership of land. I do not suppose there is any Member on this side of the House, or in the House, who would advocate, in supporting this Amendment, anything in the shape of confiscation. Nobody proposes to deprive a man who has acquired land which, through a set 590 of fortunate circumstances for him, has become very valuable, of participating in the increased value of the land, but what we do claim is this, that it is the business of the Government of the day, while allowing full and fair compensation to owners of land in urban areas, to put in practice a compulsory system of purchase which, while giving full compensation and fair value to the owner, will enable local authorities to acquire land on reasonable terms and build proper houses for the working classes, and, besides that, to let houses under fair conditions which will secure to all the enterprising men who have given up business, but who spend their capital in raising houses, some security that they will be allowed in perpetuity to enjoy the fruits of their industry and the money which they have spent. Some honourable Gentlemen opposite appear to think, that it is an extremely unfair thing to put into force the principle of compulsory purchase at all; but as the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has pointed out, that remedy is not, in any way, new in principle. It is a principle which has been acted upon, to some extent, by the Conservative Government itself. The Bill of 1890 is a Bill which recognises that, under certain conditions, it is the duty of the Government—
§ MR. W. REDMOND
I say that the Government give power to the municipalities to compel the landlord to sell, and an honourable Gentleman reminds me that the scope of the Bill of 1890 is limited, but nevertheless the principle of compulsory purchase is there. He reminds me that it is only in cases where it is proved that the sanitation of the district is imperfect and improper that the municipalities have the power to promote compulsory purchase; and I submit, in the face of the principle now in force and acquiesced in by the Government, that the Government ought not to be shocked or alarmed when they are asked to extend the principle of the Bill, and give the local authorities of the urban districts the power of acquiring land, at a fair value, for the purpose of letting it to persons who desire to 591 build upon it in order that they may have security for the capital and labour expended. What is the case in Ireland? In Ireland the Government has been compelled to interfere with what is called the rights of property in the rural districts; that is to say, the management of the land by the landlords; and the country generally has been found to be so bad, and the people have listed in such a miserable condition, that the Government has actually stepped in, in in the rural districts of Ireland, and taken the management of the property out of the hands of the landlords altogether. Now, why should not the same principle be applied to towns and large centres of population in the country? I cannot see the difference between the rural landlord and the town landlord. If the rural landlord is incapable or unwilliam to manage his land for the bench t of the community generally and the people at large, why should he have restrictions placed upon the management of his property, and the landlords of the property in the congested areas of the towns be allowed to have a free hand in the management of theirs? What I want is that courts should be established lished where the tenants in the towns in Ireland and elsewhere should have the power to appeal to perfectly impartial judges to have their rights protected and their property preserved from confiscation at the end of a lease of a limited number of years. That is very badly wanted in Ireland, and the towns of Ireland particularly require some reform of that kind. I do not see that it need in any way be feared that the Boards of Dublin and elsewhere would deal unfairly, or in any way unjustly, if they had this power in their hands; but certainly the system which is at present in force is one which, in my opinion, ought not to be allowed to continue for a moment. Just take the experience in Kingstown, where leases are falling in in all directions, and where the property of the people, which they have built and upon which they have expended their capital, is being confiscated; and they are obliged to consent to exorbitant terms for the renewal of the leases. We are told that this is owing to the glorious principle of freedom of contract. We are told that where a man has built up a house upon which he has expended his capital, and a business upon which 592 he has expended his labours and energy, that when his lease expires he is not bound to renew it, but that if the terms of the renewal are not satisfactory to him he can go elsewhere; but everybody knows what sort of freedom of contract it is that the tenant in Ireland has to meet when his lease runs out, when he is told that he must either pay a very much increased rental because of the buildings he has put upon the land or go elsewhere. I say that the present state of things is an unjust one. It is unjust to the country; it cripples enterprise; it prevents the expenditure of capital and the extension of business generally. As this Amendment has been moved by an English Member I do not desire to say another word upon it, and I should not have interposed in this Debate or made any remarks at all but for the fact that there is a similar Amendment of which I have given notice standing on the Paper in my name with reference to Ireland.
* MR. MUNKO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
Mr. Speaker, I was for some time, though perhaps not so long as the honourable Gentleman, a Member of the Town Holdings Committee, and, according to my recollection, we spent very little time on the subject of Devonport. We did not spend much time upon the difference between leasehold and freehold tenure; but we spent a considerable amount of time upon the question of the incidence of local taxation, and that, I imagine, is the subject of the discussion this evening. The honourable Gentleman the Member for Southwark spoke of the considerable length of the Report of the Town Holdings Committee; but that was not the only report that was issued by the Committee; there was a Minority Report, which expressed very contrary views. I only point out this to call the attention of the House to the fact that there was the same divergency of opinion expressed in the Committee upon the discussion of ground values as that which we have listened to to-night. The supporters of the Government upon that Committee were satisfied with the existing incidence of taxation; the Members of the Opposition upon that Committee were all dissatisfied with it. I believe that the real question before the House at the present moment is the unfair incidence of taxation, and it is urgent 593 not only because of the overcrowding and pressure of population, but because also of the pressure of taxation. The amount of the rates, especially in urban districts, is so high that the public service of the town is starved because of the want of adequate funds, they cannot raise more money out of the existing sources of supply. That is one of the reasons why we should look around us keenly and see whether there is not some section of the community, or some property, which could be made to yield a larger quota to the general rates. Now it happens that in the case of unoccupied building land you have areas of land, both inside the towns and outside, which bear a considerable value, but which pay nothing to the rates. This value has been enhanced by the situation of the lands, they sell for very large sums in the open market, yet often they do not contribute one farthing to the up-keep of the town which has given the land its value. Now, seeing that great public enterprises are being carried on, not only in Glasgow, but in all our great cities; seeing that works of sanitation and public health are impaired and starved by the want of the money necessary for their completion, because if the pressure put upon that section of the people upon which the taxation falls, is it fair that this great wealth, which has been created to a large extent by the growth of the town, should not contribute? Apart from the question of vacant building land, another subject which received considerable attention at the hands of the Town Holdings Committee was whether land and houses were fairly taxed—whether the same rate should be levied on both. In houses you have a property which has to be maintained, and the honourable Gentleman opposite knows what that means in connection with a large estate; but he will recognise that the value that conies from a ground rent is a nett rent. You could not possibly have two more different sources of income than the value coming from a ground rent and the value coming from a building which you have to maintain on the land. I think that there could be no fairer system than that which was, put in the Minority Report, which is that when you have a different rate on land to that which you have on houses, you ought to have a higher rate on land 594 than you put on houses. As the rates are levied now, an undue amount falls upon the owners of the houses, whilst the owners of the land values escape their proportion of the local taxation. The great relief that would come to the community from a change in the incidence of local taxation would be, first, that the vacant land would be taxed on its capital value; and, secondly, a larger rate would be levied on the owner of land than the owner of the house, because he gets a net income from the land instead of a deteriorating one from the house. When a community like Glasgow is prepared to take up the subject matter of this resolution and to bring it before the House as a private Bill, we may take it that this is an urgent matter, and whether Her Majesty's Government like to attend to it now or not, they will have to attend to it before long. It is far more important than any item in the Queen's Speech. All we seek in 'supporting this resolution is to secure absolute justice as between one class of ratepayers and another; we believe that the present system is wholly unjust. We do not profess by the proposals we make to-night to be able to provide against the overcrowding of the population, though we may make our towns the more worth living in for the working classes, but, what we do say is, that were such gross injustice is shown, as is shown under the present system, it is a question that ought to receive the immediate attention of the Government.
§ MR. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, W.)
I desire to add a few words to the remarks that have fallen from the honourable Gentlemen who have spoken in support of the motion now before the House. It appears to me that the whole matter is crystallised in the fact that under the present system the interest of the landlord is superior to the interest of the community which lives upon the land, and which forms the source of supply from which the rates are drawn. Like my honourable Friend the Member for Leith, I think that the honourable Gentleman, who quoted extracts from the Report of the Town Holdings Committee, hardly gave a strictly accurate account of what was the conclusion at which the Committee arrived. Not only was there 595 a Minority Report presented, as my honourable Friend the Member for Leith truly observed, but on the Report itself, when it came before us, for days and weeks a prolonged controversy occurred upon every clause and every line; and when in process of time the stage of the amended Report arrived the conclusions which were come to in it were only carried by a majority of one. The honourable Member opposite read particularly the recommendations made by the Committee upon the question of vacant land. I recollect that there was a strong difference of opinion upon that subject, and I have refreshed my memory on that point. I find that upon the clause embodying that part of the subject there were no less than seventeen divisions, the whole of which were only carried by small majorities of one or two. Now, the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, early in the evening, represented the matter which had been brought forward as an attack on a particular landlord at Devonport; I think that that was an unfortunate remark. I think that it is an unfortunate method to adopt in Debate, and, more than that, I think it shows great ignorance of the extent of the evil in the country. I remember perfectly well that in that Committee we had presented to us evidence from all parts of the country, England, Scotland, and, lastly, Ireland. We had evidence from Manchester; it is felt in Liverpool and in London, and, so far as I know, in various parts—in the greater part—of Scotland. It is sometimes said with regard to Scotland that owing to our system of feus the grievance is not so greatly felt there as it is here, but still we have it. But in Scotland there has been instituted a system of long building leases, and I know that in Aberdeenshire there have been communities founded under those long leases, and that the property of the men who have built their houses and made all their improvements upon them is falling into the hands of the landlords. The grievance is to be found there as it is in England. But we suggest that as ground values are to be taxed, so feus ought to be taxed. We know that the man who holds back his property in order that he may obtain greater feu duties is pursuing the same policy as the landlord in England who holds back his property to get a higher ground rent. 596 Now, there have been many instances given in the course of this discussion, but I will just say that there is a community with which I am connected—the town of Fraserburgh—where the whole of the town is owned by one individual, and the whole of the land around the town. He has held out for higher feu duties, and the consequence is that the growth of the town has been hindered. It is in a great measure strangled. It is the chief town of the herring industry' in Scotland, and, as many acquainted with the fishery industries know, the herring fisheries industry tends to gather in large centres, where the men so engaged must come to lodge. They come there now for a few months only, and then have to go back, but they would come for good if they could obtain suitable and permanent habitations. I believe that if the authorities of this town, and other parts of the north-east coast of Scotland, could acquire land to erect suitable and permanent habitations, there are many who are desirous of going into (hose towns and permanently living there, who would take advantage of the opportunity; but they cannot go there now because they cannot obtain a permanent and suitable habitation. It o light not to be in the power of a single individual, either for his own selfish interests or through short-sightedness, or sours other reason, to damage and hinder the development of a community. And the gentleman who obtains all the feu dues from the community pays nothing whatever towards the local taxation of the place. We think he ought to pay something towards the local taxation. And in the interest of the community, where such a thing as this is possible, the community ought to have compulsory powers to obtain land all round its boundaries for the purpose of extending them and giving suitable and permanent dwellings for the inhabitants. The interest of the community ought to be made paramount to the interest of the individual. That is the essence of the complaint before the House, and for the First Lord of the Treasury to say that this is simply a a personal, a local question is to endeavour to throw dust in the eyes of the House of Commons, or show that he must be blind to one of the most important questions of our times.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD
My right honourable Friend never said that this was a persronal or local question, what he did say was that it had been so treated in one of the speeches delivered this evening.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
And he treated it himself in that way, and if he looks upon it in that light it shows that the right honourable Gentleman is very blind to the importance of the grievance which is felt in all parts of the three Kingdoms, and which is a question which will be constantly urged upon Her Majesty's Government until they undertake to deal with it.
SIR W. FOSTEU (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
Mr. Speaker, I think in this discussion there are certain points to be regretted on both sides of the House. In the first place I think we must regret that the speech of my honourable Friend the Member for Devonport was misconceived by the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Local Board, and there was a misconception in the mind of the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House when he spoke also. They looked upon it as a local grievance, whereas it is a question which affects all parts of the three Kingdoms. We have evidence from Scotland, from Ireland and from England, that it is a burning question in the minds of the public. Under the circumstances, I regret that those speeches were made under that misconception, and I hope a Member of the Government will get up and reply, having regard to the importance which the subject has developed. I think that my honourable Friend the Member for Devonport delivered a most eloquent speech, full of convincing facts and illustrated by the locality with which he was best acquainted. I think he said that although he drew his illustration from his own locality there existed all over the country a grievance of a very burning character. Now the Debate is necessarily limited in its scope by your ruling, Sir. The form of the motion limits it to the towns and to the question of the incidence of taxation; but the question, if I may say so parenthetically, is as burning in the country. In the rural districts there are thousands and hundreds of thousands of labourers housed in a manner that is a disgrace to that civilisation in which we 598 live; and they cannot be better housed because the local authority cannot get the land upon which to erect proper dwellings. That being so, I think it becomes the more important that a Member of the Government should reply. I am glad to observe that the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty is at present in his place, because I am sure that both sides of the House would be glad to hear from him—a master of the subject—his views of the taxation which we are proposing. Now, the third point in which we have a matter of regret is that a good deal of the defence of the Government was founded upon the Act of 1890. That Act is absolutely useless in the rural districts of the country, and at the present time there is only one instance on record where the Act has been used to get land for improvements. There is one more point of regret that I might usefully for a moment allude to if I might trespass upon the kindness of the House. I would point out one great abuse upon which our case rests. In the first place this is not a new question; it goes back to the first Royal Commission on the Housing of the Poor. That Commission reported in 1884, and one of the most insignificant features of that report was the suggestion that there was need both in town and country for an alteration in the condition of local taxation and the conditions for acquiring land for the housing of the poor. It was under the stimulus of the report of that Commission in 1884, and under the stimulus of the crying evils that were then existing, that the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies made that speech, which has been quoted this evening by one of my honourable friends behind. I remember sitting near the right honourable Gentleman when he delivered it, and I remember cheering him in the expression of those admirable sentiments. We had, after that, a great Commission called the Labour Commission, and that also teems with evidence in the same direction; and there is plenty of evidence to be obtained from the report of that Commission to show that the housing of the poor in this country requires some alteration in the law, which is what we are now asking the House to adopt. We had the other day the Welsh Land Commission, which also 599 supported, by its evidence, the pleas that we are now urging. Therefore, I say the question is an old one, and does not want any more Commissions to report as to exact details. I think these Commissions have shown fully the necessity for something being done in the direction which we demand. The right honourable Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has tried to soothe us by saying that there is a Commission now sitting, and that they have been patiently waiting for it to present a report upon this subject. I do not regard interim reports from Commissions with the same affection as the right honourable Gentleman. We had an interim report of a Commission a year or two ago, and the right honourable Gentleman cannot yet have forgotten what occurred then; for although he carried his Agricultural Rating 15111 into law, I do not think it is a matter for much congratulation on the part of the Government that that Act was placed on the Statute Book. We have in the interim report a suggestion that we should also meddle once more with the Rating Act in order that we may remove some clerical errors, so that I am very suspicious of interim reports, and I don't want any more. Well, then there is a third ground upon which I wish to base the importance of this amendment of my honourable friend. It is not a question that has been got up by a few political agitators, and it is not a question which is new to this House. It is a question upon which I have shown the necessity for action; and more than that it is a question in which the great municipalities of this country have shown already a keen and living interest. My honourable friend behind me has pointed out that the Association of Municipal Corporations has practically adopted the principle of this amendment, urging that something should be done to carry it into law. I believe that 300 local authorities throughout the country have passed resolutions in favour of such a reform, and, therefore, it cannot be said that this represents simply a local grievance, for that argument is swept away by the fact that these 300 local authorities are demanding a reform in the direction we ask. This is also a matter of considerable importance to great cities like Glasgow and the Metropolis. In Glasgow a few years ago there 600 were some 300,000 people housed in houses of one room, but even at the present time it has been calculated that there are still 100,000 people living in houses one room. That condition of things, in many cases, makes decency impossible and morality a miracle. It is a state of things that ought not to exist in a civilised country, for it breeds poverty, disease, misery, and vice, and so great a municipality like Glasgow is now seeking to get powers by which it can overcome this great hot-bed of vice, disease, and misery. Glasgow, above all the cities in the United Kingdom, has already done some of the most splendid work in the way of improving the condition of the dwellings of the poor. We want that city, and other cities, to go on in the same blessed course, and we don't want the expense of private Bills forced upon different localities, but we want them to have general powers given them by Parliament. In the course of the Session, when the Government is going to deal with the great metropolis, there is a splendid opportunity for them to introduce into that Bill some provision that will give the various municipalities of London an opportunity of housing the poor. Why, it has been stated to-night, in this debate, that some 900,000 people in this metropolis are living under these conditions of misery to which I have referred—probably living in houses, or dwellings, or tenements of one or two rooms. In these new municipalities which you are creating you may have opportunities of making an instrument for a great and blessed work, and while it alters the condition of the poor as regards their dwellings, it will bring increased happiness, and wealth, and prosperity to the better classes by giving them less chances of disease, and the various things that result from the misery of their poorer brethren. I want something to be done in this direction, for every town in the country is, at the present time, crippled in this line of work by the conditions which we are endeavouring to alter. There is no municipality in the country that would not gladly do more for the public health than they do under the present system if they only had the power. My honourable Friend the Secretary to the Local Government Board, and the right honourable Gentlemen the President of that body know well enough that the 601 one cry, above all others, that comes from the local authorities when a question of sanitation, of water supply, of drainage work, or the isolation of disease has to be dealt with, is that the rating of the locality is high enough already. And yet to the suggestions of my honourable Friend contained in the Amendment we receive such replies as have been given us by the right honourable Gentlemen who have spoken upon this subject. I say that these bodies are afraid to carry out these improvements, and they fear to erect dwellings for the poor and carry out sanitary improvements which are necessary because of the burden on the rates. Some of them have been bitten very severely by the existing state of the law, and there is no better example than the City of Glasgow itself. That city, some hundred years ago, was foolish enough to sell a plot of land, which belonged to the Corporation, at about 2s. 8d. a yard, and this amounted to the sum of £800. One hundred years passed away, and the industry, energy, and capacity of the people of Glasgow made that land of great value, and the Corporation had occasion to buy the land back for municipal purposes. Now, what had they to give for it? Why, they had to give £35 a yard for land which they sold for 2s. 8d. a yard, and for that piece of land which they sold for £800 they had to pay £175,000 out of the rates levied on the people in order that they might get their land back. That is a scandalous state of things, and it is unjust to the ratepayers of this country, for it interferes with the sanitation, the health, and the well-being of the people. In the name of justice, and in the name of right between man and man; in the interests of these communities over whom they have charge, we ask you to do something that will enable local authorities to carry out their blessed work of improving the dwellings of the poor more easily and more justly than they have been able to do in the past.
MR. J. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesborough)
I do not intend to detain this House very ling with my remarks upon this resolution in favour of the taxation of land values, but as a Member representing a labour constituency in this House, I think I am entitled to say a few words in this Debate. Now, Sir, the honourable Member for Salford has 602 made one or two very remarkable statements to-night with regard to working men that I cannot quite understand. He said that leasehold property was more advantageous to the working man than freehold property because after the lease has expired the property has to be pulled down.
§ MR. KNOWLES
My argument was this: that leasehold property was more valuable than freehold because with freehold property it would be necessary that we should ensure permanence of employment on the spot.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
The honourable Member was quoting from a Report of the Committee, and he made the statement that one of the arguments brought forward by some witness who gave evidence before that Committee was to that effect. If any honourable Members of this House have had an opportunity of visiting the large towns, where there is a great amount of leasehold property, they will find that when the leases are about to run out the property is allowed to decay and falls into an insanitary condition, and consequently it is the working classes who suffer. It is not at all reasonable to suppose that any persons who have houses with some 20 years of their leases to run are going to spend a lot of money in putting their property in a perfect state of repair. Their whole aim is to do as little as possible to the property, because they know that, in the course of a few years, the leases will expire, and the landlord will get the property. Therefore, it cannot be to the advantage of the working man to have those leases. Now, Sir, with regard to the taxation of land values, I venture to say that once the working men of this country begin to understand this question, no party will be returned to this House who is not in favour of reform. If my information is correct, I believe the total amount of revenue derived from the land at the present time is less than £800,000. Now we have a certain amount of taxation in rates and taxes to get in for revenue purposes, and whilst the working man and the manufacturers and others are paying their fair share towards the taxation of the country, the ground landlord does nothing whatever, although he is scooping in his money, and is paying less than £800,000 towards the taxes of the nation. Why, Sir, in times of 603 depression the manufacturers suffer, and the working men have to submit to a reduction of wages. The manufacturers have to submit to smaller dividends and sometimes no profit at all. But the ground landlord is always there, and he will have his money even if he takes the property that is on the land. When we look at this question from that point of view, I venture to say that the only gentlemen in this House who can be opposed to the taxation of land values are the landlords. I tell you honestly if I were a ground landlord I should be opposed to the taxation of land values, because we always look at this question from our own point of view. ("No, no.") Some honourable Gentlemen say "No." Well, I am not a ground landlord, and, therefore, I think I can speak with some freedom. I confess that I do not know of any ground landlord, either on this side of the House or the other, who is at all anxious to tax land values. There may be some gentlemen more liberal on this question than I am, but I tell you I should be opposed to it. I think it is one of the burning questions of the day, and as sure as working men begin to realise the importance of this question as affecting the industries of this country, you may depend upon it that no party will be returned to this House who is not in favour of that reform. I will not add any more to the Debate, but I have great pleasure in giving this Amendment my hearty support.
§ MR. J. FLETCHER MOULTON (Cornwall, Launceston)
I should not have risen to-night if it had not been for the fact that I am one of those who, for many years, have put this question in the very foremost rank, and, therefore, I am bound not to be silent on such an occasion. I feel more that it is my duty to speak, because I find that the subject, both in its nature and its importance, is so little appreciated by those who sit opposite to us that I think it is time that someone should get up and tell them plainly our view of it, what we believe it to be and how we mean to work for it. Now I do not agree with the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury that this is a local question for the municipalities to wrangle out with the taxpayers. In my eyes, it is the next great step in putting the taxation of England on 604 those just and firm foundations which will make it last for many a century. The great question of Customs Duties was settled many years ago under the great man whom we have lost. The next great question, the just incidence of direct contribution, was settled in the last Parliament; and now we are coming to the third great source of national income, the contribution of the land. I do not say the taxation of land—the great bulk of it is no taxation at all—the great bulk of the contribution of the land is of a nature of co-ownership with the State in the land. It is a portion of the land that has paid to the State that never has belonged to the landowners, for which they have never paid, and in which until recently, when the Government started the example of lavishing public money on its own supporters, they had never participated. Now, as in the case of direct imposts, as in the case of the great income tax, and the great capital tax, the death duties, there was a vast injustice done both in the amount of the tax, which was not enough for the shoulders that bore it, and the incidence of the tax, which made it bear on earners and not upon owners, and both these two great iniquities were remedied by the Finance Act. Just in the same way, when you come to the contributions from land, you find the same thing. You find that both as to the inadequacy of the contribution from the land and the incidence' of that contribution a crying injustice is done, and instead of that portion of the tax being borne by the shoulders that can bear it, it falls almost entirely upon those who pay the rents. Now the object of those with whom I have worked so long is to remedy this, and remedy it radically, and to take care that in future the contributions of the land come from those people who receive the revenue of the land, and that those contributions shall be adequate to repay the services that the land is receiving from the lavish and the continuous expenditure of the community. Now, in order to realise bow this can best be done, you have got to go to the root of the matter. You have got to examine what is the nature and the origin of the contribution of the land. Now the land, happily, in England, from time immemorial, has been the subject of contribution. The idea was fully 605 realised by our ancestors that the land, which was the great wealth of the country at that time, must contribute to the expenditure, and I am not at all sure that if we had clung firmly to those ideas of contribution, and insisted upon it in past times, that this question would ever have assumed the critical position which it is in at present. Unfortunately, blind Governments allowed the redemption of the land tax. They allowed it to be fixed at some permanent sum, ignorant that the future was going to make the land enormously more valuable. But still, in one respect, the feeling that the contribution of the land must keep pace with its value remained unchanged, and in the towns our taxation of rates has always been intended to be—and always has been—the contribution of landed property. So that we stand in this position: that, by tradition, the land has paid these heavy contributions; that everybody who has purchased land has purchased it knowing that the full benefit of it did not come to him; that a fraction—it may be one-eighth, a quarter or a third—had to be rendered to its co-owner, the State, and that he only purchased and had a right to enjoy the remainder. But we have come now to see yet more clearly the justification of the taxation of land. I am speaking now of land in towns, because that problem is so much more pressing than the question of the land in the country, and I say that the growth of political economy, and the extent to which it has entered into the minds of the people, has made them realise what the true nature of the payment from land in towns to municipal expenses is. It is just as much a payment for services rendered as if they themselves employed the muncipality to do that which alone makes their land valuable. When I hear people say that it is unfair for the owners of the land of London to have to bear the heavy rates with which we are supposed to threaten them, I ask myself: what would be the value of their land if the municipality, for one short six months, declined to do anything for them. If it did not do the drainage and the lighting, and if it did not do the policing, what would be the value of the sites in Mayfair? What I say is that they would not be saleable if the landlords did not do, what they ultimately 606 would, and that is take the whole of these expenses on their own shoulders. Our right to claim from the landowers of London these high contributions is a right dependent not only on tradition, but it depends also on the fact that they should bear a fair proportion of the burdens which the wealth of this country ought to bear. It comes to this, that the municipality is tired of pouring out the wealth of the people simply to make the values of the towns sites yet more and more valuable. Just take the case of land which is lying there getting more and more valuable every day and paying only microscopic taxes. Every new street which is made is bound to give it better access and add value to it. Every improvement in lighting, and every increase in the amenities of the neighbourhood, makes that land more valuable. And what return is given by the owner of that land, what return is given for the expenditure which is absolutely necessary to give that additional value to his land? Why he grumbles if we attempt to put on him a tax proportionate to the value which, day by day, his land has acquired, and he wants us, seeing this, and knowing this to look upon that as agricultural land measured by its capacity for producing turnips. Well now, Sir, those are the two feelings and the two motives with which we start on our work. The one is that the great portion of this burden having always been borne, is no tax at all; it is a portion of the land which is as much, and always has been as much, the property of the State as the remainder which has been claimed by the so-called owners. The other motive is that whether that is so or not we are not going to admit that the municipality is under a perpetual servitude to spend this money in order that the land in the town should get more valuable. We consider this ample justification, and I can assure you that we consider that that is a strong enough motive for our action. What we have to consider is how can we do it, and how can we do it justly? How can we do it? Well, from my experience in the discussion of this question, I have always noticed a most amazing fact. Every alternate man who speaks to me about it says "it is not the slightest good whatever you do, for the landlord bears all the taxes." ("Hear, hear," 607 from the Ministerial benches.) There is the alternate man. Now about the other alternate man. He says: "it does not matter what you do, because the taxes have always to be borne by the tenant." I have often thought that it would be advisable to lock those two alternate men up, and let them fight the question out, and then I should be willing to argue it with the survivor. There is a certain amount of truth in what each of them says, but there is so much misunderstanding about the matter that both their opinions are equally useless. I think I shall be able to show you that it is quite possible for us by a simple plan to make this burden come on those who reap the revenue, but in order to do that we must start with one principle of action from which we must not swerve, and that is, that for the future we allow no divorce between burden and revenue. We will not allow contracts, custom, or anything to interfere with the revenue that comes from the land of the town paying its own share. The burden of rates and taxes, as all the speakers have testified, has grown intolerable. Why is that? Not because they are too heavy, but because by almost universal custom in England arrangements are made whereby a great part of the revenue of the landlords in the towns is divorced from its burden. You allow them to contract for their rates with people who probably do not own any of the property, except the right to occupy it at rack-rent. The consequence is that as long as we allow people to shift burdens on those who do not possess the property, our taxes must be, every time they vary, an intolerable injustice. I often hear it said, Why do you trouble about the rates of London? There is 28 millions of rental in London—cannot it pay an extra penny? Yes, exactly; but the people who pay the extra penny are the people who pay the 28 millions, and I would not care to bring about all the taxation of ground-rents that I have argued for, if the principle is not carried out to the fullest—that the money that is paid shall come from the man who gets the revenue on which it is paid. Without that you may complicate your tax-gatherer's papers, and do no good. If you follow up the money that comes from the land, and get from the person into whose pocket a hundred pounds 608 stops the taxes on that hundred pounds, you will be able to calculate what the increase of the burden is. Now, however, the bitter cry of the inhabitants of the towns is, when there is the slightest increase of the rates, that you do not know what misery and injustice you are inflicting upon even the most necessary and the most deserving increase of expenditure. Well now, one other thing. We talk about the taxation of ground values, and many people say, "If you are going to tax landed property and house property, you are justified in doing so: but why ground values?" Let me tell you that we shall be content with nothing short of clearly severing the value of the building and the value of the ground on which it is placed, and we shall not be content unless the ground is taxed much more heavily than the building which is put upon it. Now, what is our present system? Our present system is to put a tax on the total revenue from landed property. Where does it come from? It comes partly from the land and partly from the house that is upon it. Now it costs no more to build a house in a town than in the country; it costs less.
Ministerial cries of "Oh," and "Hear, hear."
§ MR. J. FLETCHER MOULTON
I am delighted to find that many gentlemen opposite, who have probably houses in the country, rejoice in thinking that houses may be built cheaper in the country than they can in towns; but, taking it all round, I think they are wrong. But whether that is so or not, what makes the difference between the rental of a house in a town and the rental of a house in the country? Why is it that a house in a town, if you take it as a freehold, is worth so many times the value of a house in the country We of course know that all the money spent on a town, the accumulated energy and enterprise of the people of the town, have made that site valuable. If you want to know that, get two landowners to talk, one possessing agricultural land, and the other town land. You will hear one say, "It is perfectly marvellous how, in this era of prosperity, we find values going up." You will find the other in the deepest despair saying, "Agricultural land has gone down terribly beyond all expectation" Why, that 609 portion of our aristocracy that has kept pre-eminently in wealth is almost entirely composed of those who had land in towns. If you put an over-all tax on the revenues of landed property, you are really letting off the land with one-half the real burden that should come upon it. Well, ought it to be in that position? In my view the land ought not to be let off with a burden equal to that on the house. We want people to spend money on good houses. We do not want to make our municipal revenues come from taxes which dissuade people from putting ample money into building enterprises. The consequence is, from the point of view of wise policy, we ought to spare as much as we possibly can the money that is used in building houses, and we shall do nobody any harm at all, except the person who has to pay it, by putting any tax whatever upon the land, because we can neither better the land nor make it worse, neither increase its amount or diminish it. It is therefore essential to our plan that we should separate the land from the houses; that we should put the just amount, but the full amount on the land, and spare as much of that capital which is put in the houses. Well, how are we to distinguish? It means a separate valuation, no doubt, of the site of the house. And here it is among us to see the way in which people drop their hands and say, "Oh, it is impossible; you cannot separate them in value." I see opposite on the Treasury Bench an old comrade taking notes (the Attorney-General). I trust this means that the hon. and learned Gentleman is going to give the House the benefit of his experience; and I challenge him, with all his unrivalled experience of compensation cases under the Land Clauses Act, to deny this statement—that whenever you meet the Surveyors to value the house and the land, the first thing they do is to value the land separately, and then they consider what the house adds to it. I say without fear of contradiction that the attempt to make it difficult to value broadly and accurately the value of the land site as distinguished from the value of the house upon it is a perfectly hopeless task. Any surveyor in the City of London would be perfectly willing, for adequate remuneration, to do so. Now, how are we to put a tax upon it so that we may be 610 perfectly certain that it comes out of the pockets of those who receive the revenue? Well, Sir, I do not think that it is difficult. We know perfectly well how to pursue revenue when we are dealing with the income-tax, and I see no reason why we should not apply the same principle to all rents. There is not the slightest doubt that we are justified in saying, if the value of a house is £400, and £100 is ground value, that this £100 is the first portion of the rent. If one man retains that in his hands as the superior landlord he is retaining the value of the land site, and if you allow people to deduct this ground tax all the way up, you will find that it comes out of the pocket of the man who really holds the revenue in his hands. But I am told to take the case of land let for £10 a year and now worth £100 a year, ask, what I am going to do there? I say again that the man who holds land under a rent of £10 a, year, the true value of which is £100 a year, is for that year a ground landlord to the extent of £90. He will have to pay under the scheme I advocate, the tax on his £90 just as if he were the freeholder. Well, I have detained the House longer than I ought to have done, but I should like for a moment to consider the question of introducing this system. Beyond question it is a very great gain to the nation to derive a large portion of its revenue from rates upon rent, because when those are once established they cease to be taxes at all. Rent must be paid to somebody, and every attempt to evade that law has always failed. But two people who are joint owners of a property cannot get any more rent out of it than if one person holds it. If the State and a landlord own a piece of land they cannot get from the user of that land any more together than if one of them held it. The consequence is that when the impost on land, measured by a fraction of the rent, has once been settled and has come into the coffers of the State, from and after that time it ceases to be any burden at all—that portion which alone becomes a subject for investment in the remainder, after the State has taken its proportion; and therefore we are lucky in places like Bengal, where we have the rent of the land to bear the expenses of the State. The difficulty when we want to make the change is that people who have in- 611 vested in land will find a much heavier burden put on them, and a much larger proportion taken out of their wealth; and, therefore, we have to be very careful, in inaugurating this system, that we do no injustice. I have never shut my eyes to that. But what I feel is this, that we can, with the very greatest justice, largely increase the impost on land. My first justification is this—that we are taking money for services not rendered yesterday, but rendered to-day and to-morrow. If people bought land, thinking that for all time the community would go on paying for that which gave their land value, they had no justification for thinking that the community would be idiotic for ever. We have a perfect right to say: "You shall, now that we realise the true source of the value of your land, pay us a fair return for the money which gives it that value." Then we have another justification. We have a perfect right within moderation to alter taxation, and when we find the evils that exist in towns by reason of this system, which enables a few people to hold land at little expense, until the crowding of the population makes the matter so unbearable that they get enormous prices for the sale or use of the land—when we see the consequences of that system of taxation, we are justified in altering it. If we had and doubt on the point, this Government has removed it. This Government has thought that Parliament is justified in taking a million and a half of public money, and giving it to the owners of land. That was not part of the return of the land which the landowners bought. They bought the land with the burdens on it, and, therefore, there is something for us to take back. That is not the property of the landowners, it is their plunder. When Parliament can remove burdens on land it can also put them on. The Government gave public money to its supporters, without even having whispered its intention at the time of the election, and I have come to the conclusion that a nation that has been thus treated will support us, if after full warning we put very much increased burdens on those people whose land has thus risen in value from the necessities of the community. That is the problem as we understand it. It is a great re-adjustment of one of the greatest sources of revenue 612 of this country. It is a re-adjustment based not only upon traditional burdens, but justified by the services of the day. It is a re-adjustment based on the nature of the property—putting the heavy burden on that part of the property which can bear it without loss to the community, and it is a re-adjustment which, though it may cause friction at the present time, will, I am sure, like the Franchise Act, be recognised, not only as a wise, but a righteous measure.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square
The honourable and learned Gentleman who has just sat down has been tackling one of the most difficult problems in politics. He has been endeavouring to settle whether rates are paid by the landlord or the occupier. It is a conundrum which many people have endeavoured to answer, but which few have been able to answer without in the long run contradicting themselves. Even the honourable and learned Gentleman has sometimes contradicted himself, for I learn, with reference to his last observation, that the boon under the Rating Act has gone into the pockets of the landlords. That was the statement made by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Fife; but the honourable and learned Member last June took pains to inform the farmers in the constituency which he was wooing that the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Fife was mistaken in that statement.
§ MR. MOULTON
I beg the right honourable Gentleman's pardon. I never did anything of the kind. I said that for a year or two the boon would go into the tenant farmers' pockets, but that ultimately it would go to the landlords.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
I do not carry with me the honourable and learned Member's speeches.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
The honourable and learned Gentleman does not deny that he said it would go into the pockets of the tenants.
§ MR. MOULTON
Excuse me, I do deny it. This is a personal matter, and I think I am entitled to say that, not once, but a dozen times in the cam- 613 paign I pointed out how, when there came to be a renewal of the lease, it would go into the landlords' pockets.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
The honourable and learned Gentleman said that the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Fife was wrong in his assertion.
§ MR. MOULTON
It was reported to me that the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Fife had said that no portion of it would go into the tenant farmers' pockets. I pointed out I did not agree with him because, for a year or two until the next adjustment of rent, it would go to the tenant farmers; but that after that it would inevitably go to the landlords.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
The Bill is only going to last for five years. But let me point out that I only wish to illustrate the point to which the honourable Member's answer refers—that it is extremely difficult to say into which pocket the rates go. It has been the difficulty over and over again, and I know frequently that those who on some occasions have argued that we were giving benefits to the landlords for the remission of taxation, have afterwards admitted that it was the tenants who were most benefited. It is notorious that it is one of the most difficult questions to deal with. I regret that I have causd any heat, and I am extremely sorry if I have said anything to give offence, or which would mar, in the slightest degree, the general tone of the discussion which has taken place. I will now come to the Amendment before the House. That Amendment refers to legislation regarding the ownership, tenure, and taxation of land. The question is, to which of the three has most importance been attached tonight? Some honourable Members have spoken as if the whole question were one of overcrowding. Others have said that the main point was that of local taxation. The honourable Member who introduced the Debate dwelt mainly upon the tenure and ownership of land, and it is to that I will, in the first instance, address myself. But let us remind the House that honourable Members have spoken of this question over and over again as a burning question, and as an 614 urgent question. When we speak of the urgency of this question let us begin at the beginning. Let us know, when we talk of recruits and of a burning question, when it began to be such. I welcome many Members as recruits in the field of local taxation reform, for it was a field in which I was occupied many years ago. One of the first speeches which I made in the House of Commons was as to the bitter outcry and the grievances which existed on that subject —I mean with regard to the division of rates between owners and occupiers, Distinguished statesmen, colleagues of many right honourable Gentlemen opposite, have been Chancellors of the Exchequer, have been at the Local Government Board, since that time, and I have not seen that the division of rates has been treated as a burning question during all that time. I do not deny that it is an urgent question, but why has the question been left over? It has not been entirely, I believe, from any indifference on this or on the other side of the House. But why has the problem remained unsolved? Because the question is not so simple as some honourable Gentlemen opposite seem to think it to be be; because so many people have endeavoured to deal with it, and because it comprises some of the most complicated matters which any Government can have to deal with. I drop for the moment the question of local taxation, and turn to that of the ownership and the tenure of land. It is to remedy the overcrowding that legislation is called for. It is said that it is urgent to give the municipalities more power, but the weakness of the Bill of 1890, although it has been asserted, has not been proved. It has been said that that Act has not been successful, but it has been a great success. If it has been unsuccessful, why have not its imperfections been pointed out, rather than these general remarks to which we have been listening? There was one argument which was urged by the Leader of the House, which Las never been replied to, and which, I believe, cannot be replied to, and I say that with the deepest regret, because it shows how extremely difficult the question is. My right honourable Friend asked: How is it that where there is no system of land tenure—how is it that where there is a different system of taxation altogether—how is it that in 615 New York, Paris, Berlin, and in all parts of Europe, and in almost all the large cities, you have the same state of thing's prevailing as you have here?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
They had a revolution in France, and killed most of the landlords, but that did not cure the system. Why is this? I do not say that the Government could not deal with it successfully, and if they saw their way to deal with it successfully something might be done; but the difficulty is that in these great centres of population more people wish to live in a particular spot than there is room for. That is one of the difficulties. Supposing you pull down old buildings and rebuild a better class of building; do you think that you would add to the prosperity of London? Do you think you would add to the trade of London? Do you think you would add to the rate-paving powers of London? Not a bit of it. It is not by means of that kind that you would be able to help either the working classes or the great manufacturing establishments in Wood Street or elsewhere. Where is room to be found? It is only to be found in the outskirts, and the question will baffle you because of that concentration of population which is beyond your power to remedy. Let me say, in passing, take care that by any new system you introduce you do not make building in the outskirts of London more difficult than it is. Take care that by some change with regard to ground rents or contracts you do not throw burdens on the land, you do not (make buildings more difficult, which would prevent the very erection of those dwellings some little distance from London which now we see continually springing up all around London. The subject is so large, and it is so difficult to deal with, that I am not surprised that right honourable Gentlemen opposite have not found themselves able to deal with it when in office, though they are able to speak upon it when they are in opposition. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for Fife, the honourable Member for Leith, and the honourble Member for East Lothian, have spoken upon this question this evening. But they have done more than speak on the question. They once introduced 616 a Bill. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for Fife endorsed a Bill when he was in Opposition, and that Bill never reappeared when the right hon. gentleman was in office as Home Secretary. Here it is. It is a Bill "to enable local authorities to value and purchase lands." That is a step in the direction of the speeches which have been made to-night. I see a number of names on the back of that Bill, and amongst them I see the names of the Member for Fife, the Member for Leith, and the Member for East Lothian. What became of that Bill?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
It was rejected at that time, but the matter became more urgent because another year had passed; it became still more urgent because two more years had passed. The overcrowding had gone on, but, when the right hon. gentleman was in office, what because of the Bill? Why did the right hon. gentleman not deal with the matter?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
No. I will tell the honourable Gentleman what happened to the Bill. I believe it was lost amongst the papers of the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church. Why do I point this out? In order to show the extreme difficulty of this question. If this had been an easy question, with this feeling in the country, which there must be; with this feeling in London, which there must be; why did not the late Government deal with it? Why has it not been dealt with before? They have had the ablest gentlemen to deal with the finances and with the local government of this country, but they found that this problem was one with which they could not deal. And the same with the rating question. They found that to be too difficult. If I may venture on a personal reminiscence, and I hope it will not be thought to be out of taste, I may say that some years ago when the late Mr. Gladstone was conducting his campaign in Mid-Lothian, he was questioned with regard to the taxation of ground rents and of ground values. What was his answer? I was sitting in the audience, and he paid me the compliment to say, "There sits a right honourable Gentle- 617 man who knows all the difficulties of this question and how it is surrounded on every side with every kind of impediment. And that was all the answer that Mr. Gladstone gave with reference to the taxation of ground rents. I have dealt with the question of over-crowding in this sense, and I say it is not the fruit of landlordism such as, we have, because the whole system of land tenure in other countries is different to ours; and it is not the fruit of local taxation, because the same difficulties occur in other cities where there is not the same system of local taxation. But if local taxation is a matter of the greatest possible importance, and of Imperial importance, it cannot be said that it is that which is responsible for over-crowding. My right honourable Friend expressed the views of the Government at an earlier period of the evening; but if other measures can be taken with reference to preventing over-crowding we should certainly look upon it, not only as our duty, but with the greatest satisfaction if we could contribute in some measure to that end. It is a pleasant reflection to those who held office in 1890 that by one Act we were able to do some good, and, at all events, to set an example and lay down a system which might possibly be followed and improved upon. That was in 1890, when many of the present Ministers were in office. I pass on to say something with reference to the taxation of unoccupied land and of the taxation of ground values. With regard to unoccupied land, the matter is not so simple as the honourable and learned Gentleman who has just sat down supposed. It is very difficult indeed to deal with. The honourable Gentleman caused a legitimate laugh by saying that this land should be rated as land for growing purposes. But that is precisely the attitude which some municipalities and the friends of the honourable and learned Gentleman opposite take with regard to this land when they want—not to tax it, but to buy it. Then they speak of it as prairie value. It is valuable to tax, but not when they want to buy it. That seems a difficult proposition to lay down. Reference has been made to the taxation of unoccupied land, but it is one of those details to which not many honourable Members have condescended, although they have expounded with great eloquence and ingenuity on 618 the general principles. It is very difficult occasionally to define what unoccupied land is. It is by no means one of those easy questions that some honourable Members probably think it is. I should have no objection that unoccupied hind, if it were to continue unoccupied, should be taxed, if it could be done upon just and fair principles, and if there would not be evasions. But you would have run up easily-constructed and-simple buildings of the most inconvenient, insanitary, and unsatisfactory description, and you would soon turn your unoccupied land into very badly occupied land. Therefore, you would change it and change its nature. But, besides this, I have seen it argued that it would not be desirable to force all the owners of unoccupied land to sell at once. Unoccupied land frequently means great expense in crowded portions of the metropolis. It is frequently not desirable to force a sale, it would be undesirable that every piece of unoccupied land should immediately be pounced upon by the speculative builder. What I say is this: that this is a matter which requires to be carefully thought out and investigated, as we wish it to be investigated, by the Commission, who have not to deal with general principles, who have not to lay down merely a system, but to elaborate a way by which a system could be carried out. That is the duty which has been put upon the Commission, which was appointed with every hope and desire that they would submit such recommendations as may enable us to make some reform in the system. I have still to deal with the question of ground-rents. Upon that point, the honourable and learned Gentleman who has just sat down was very ingenious, but his ingenuity did not reach to the point of telling us how it was to be done, although he told us what ought to be done, and he laid down certain conditions, without which, he said, it could not be done, and ought not to be done, and his great principle was the principle of divorce. He seems to think you can divorce the two things— that you can separate the house from the from the land.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY
He wishes for separation of the house from the land. You must, as the keynote of the system, be able to separate the two interests, and he says that it is always done in compensation cases. The Attorney-General, who has had great experience in these matters, says that that is not so, and that in the great number of compensation cases the tenement was valued as a whole, and the house and land taken together. In compensation cases you do not establish that divorce. Unless you do that you cannot carry out the honourable and learned gentleman's scheme. The only cases where you do value the two separately, are in cases of tumble-down houses which are to be rebuilt. I now come to the most difficult and complicated part of the honourable and learned gentleman's speech. Ingenious as his argument was, with all his ingenuity he was not convincing. He has given many years of study to this question, and it has been a labour of love to him, and, therefore, I listen to him with the greatest attention. The whole point is this:—He says that you can separate the two interests. He quoted the Income Tax, and said that income tax follows income tax. As an Ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, I can say that is so—only to get it out of the pocket of the tax-payer into the pocket of the Government. But whether all the income tax-payers consider that a portion of the tax ought not to be paid by somebody else is another question. Now the keynote of the honourable gentleman's argument is this:—He says you must be able, by law and by an iron system, to lay down, as an inexorable demand, that you ought to know what is the interest of the landlord, and what of the tenant. I say it is absolutely impossible. You may define it, in some cases of better houses, where there are long leases or where there are leases still to run, and where the interests in question are mixed up. In the case of tenements which are let to the working-classes at weekly rents, can you so separate contracts—so regulate rents as 620 to know how much of the 6 s. a week that the artizan is paying represents rate, or simply rent? I say it is absolutely impossible that you can do so. If honourable Members opposite have got a system by which it can be done, then let them put their proposals in a Bill, and it will give us extreme satisfaction to consider it. But I think the better thing is to await the result of the labours of the Royal Commission. Those labours are protracted. But why? Because, as every honourable Gentleman who looks at this matter, knows, the difficulties and complications of the question are very great. Take care that in endeavouring to reform the present system you put the burden on the shoulder which ought to bear it. But that is not at all certain. But is it to be supposed that you can trace in weekly tenements how much is rent and how much is rates? It would baffle every effort of statesmanship to fix ultimately where the taxation is to be placed. The question of the rating of ground rents stands on a different footing, but even there, I doubt whether you will be able to value the tax imposed in the way in which the honourable and learned Gentleman suggests. It is a problem, at all events, that many Chancellors of the Exchequer, and certainly many Presidents of the Local Government Board have looked at. I do not know whether the right honourable Gentlemen opposite have looked at it, but if they have they have shied at it, because in all their proposals when they are anxious to secure revenues in many ways, this is not a proposal which has seemed to recommend itself to them, although, theoretically, they would be glad if it could be carried out. I close, Sir, as I commenced. The Government have appointed this Royal Commission. They hope that its researches and recommendations will be valuable, and will be practical. We should value assistance in solving this problem from whatever quarter it came. Honourable Gentlemen opposite are mistaken if they think that on this question there is a clear cleavage of parties. Friends of the ratepayers sit on both sides of the House, and many efforts have been made to give effect to the desire to assist the ratepayers on this side of the house. This is not a Party question. I remember several years back that when first this question came to the front in 1868, we were not 621 ranged on each side simply as Liberals and Conservatives. There was a cleavage between parties, between representatives of town and country, partly because of the difficulty of seeing what the results of the change would be, and partly because the elementary problem could not be solved—namely, the incidence of rates as they are and of taxes as they are.
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)
The right honourable Gentleman said, it is not possible to separate the values of land and the values of buildings. I am only rising for the purpose of saying that if he will refer to the Agricultural Ratings Act, passed by the Government in this present Parliament, he will find that in valuing and apportioning the
|Abraham, Wm. (Cork N. E.)||Haldane, Richard Burdon||Pickersgill, Edward Hare|
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Hammond, John (Carlow)||Pinkerton, John|
|Allan, William (Gateshead)||Hayden, John Patrick||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Allen, W. (N, under Lyme)||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale-||Provand, Andrew Dryburgh|
|Asquith, Rt, Hn. Herbert H.||Hazell, Walter||Redmond, William (Clare)|
|Austin, M. (Limerick, W.)||Healy, Maurice (Cork)||Richardson, J. (Durham)|
|Billson, Alfred||Healy, Timothy M. (N. Louth)||Rickett, J. Compton|
|Birrell, Augustine||Hedderwick,Thomas Charles H.||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)|
|Bolton, Thomas Dolling||Humphreys-Owen, Arthur C.||Robson, William Snowdon|
|Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson||Jacoby, James Alfred||Samuel, J. (Stockton on Tees)|
|Bryce, Rt. Hon. James||Jones,David Brynmon(Swansea||Schwann, Charles E.|
|Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn||Jones, William (Carnarvonshire||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)|
|Burns, John||Jordan, Jeremiah||Shee, James John|
|Burt, Thomas||Kearley, Hudson E.||Sinclair, Capt. John (Forfarshire|
|Buxton Sydney Charles||Kinloch, Sir John G. Smyth||Smith, Samuel (Flint)|
|Caldwell, James||Labouchere, Henry||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Cameron Robert (Durham)||Lambert George||Souttar, Robinson|
|Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H.||Langley, Batty||Spicer, Albert|
|Causton, Richard Knight||Laurie, Lieut. -General||Stanhope, Hon. Philip J.|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Lawson, Sir Wilfred (Cum'land||Steadman, William Charles|
|Clough, Walter Owen||Lewis, John Herbert||Stevenson, Francis S.|
|Colville, John||Lloyd-George, David||Stock, James Henry|
|Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.)||MacAleese, Daniel||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Daly, James||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Sullivan, T. D. (Donegal,W.)|
|Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan||M'Dermott, Patrick||Tanner, Charles Kearns|
|Davitt, Michael||M'Ghee, Richard||Tennant, Harold John|
|Dillon, John||Maddison, Fred.||Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.)|
|Donelan, Captain A.||Maden, John Henry||Thomas, Alfred (Glamorgan,E.)|
|Doogan, P. C.||Mandeville, J. Francis||Ure, Alexander|
|Duckworth, James||Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Ellis, John Edward (Notts.)||Molloy, Bernard Charles||Wedderburn, Sir William|
|Evans, Samuel T. (Glamorgan)||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)||Weir, James Galloway|
|Farquharson, Dr. Robert||Morley, Charles (Breconshire)||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Fenwick, Charles||Morton, E. J. C. (Devonport)||Williams, John Carvell (Notts.)|
|Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith)||Moulton, John Fletcher||Wilson, Charles Henry (Hull)|
|Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond||Murnaghan, George||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Flynn, James Christopher||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Wilson, J. H. (Middlesbro.)|
|Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.)||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Woods, Samuel|
|Gibney, James||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||O'Malley, William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Grey, Sir Edward (Berwick)||Paulton, James Mellor||Mr. Thomas Ellis and Mr. M'Arthur.|
|Griffith, Ellis J.||Philipps, John Wynford|
§ amount of grant to the agricultural land you must separate the value of the land and the value of the buildings. It was contended, when that Bill was passed, on this side of the House, that you must take the rent as a whole on land and buildings, but the Government then maintained that it was perfectly possible to separate the land from the buildings, and it is the whole basis of the Agricultural Act that the land so separated from the buildings to determine the agricultural value and the rates that are to be levied.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ House divided: For the Amendment, 123; against, 157.623
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Gedge, Sydney||Milner, Sir Frederick George|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John.||Gilliat, John Saunders||Monckton, Edward Philip|
|Bagot, Capt. Josceline FitzRoy||Goldsworthy, Major-General||Montagu, Hn. J. Scott (Hants.)|
|Balcarres, Lord||Gordon, Hon John Edward||Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Man.)||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon||Mount, William George|
|Balfour,RtHnGerald W. (Leeds||Goschen,RtHnG. J. (St. Georges||Murray,Rt.Hn. A. Graham(Bute|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Graham, Henry Robert||Myers, William Henry|
|Barnes, Frederic Gorell||Gray Ernest (West Ham)||Nicholson, William Graham|
|Bartley, George C. T.||Greville, Hon. Ronald||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Barton, Dunbar Plunket||Hall, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||Northcote, Hn. Sir H. Stafford|
|Beach, RtHn Sir M.H. (Bristol)||Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Lord George||Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay|
|Beckett, Ernest William||Hanbury, Rt. Hn. Robert Wm.||Pease, Herbert P. (Darlington)|
|Bemrose, Sir Henry Howe||Hanson, Sir Reginald||Phillpotts, Captain Arthur|
|Bigwood, James||Hare, Thomas Leigh||Pilkington, Richard|
|Blakiston-Houston, John||Heath, James||Plunkett,Rt.Hn.Horace Curzon|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Helder, Augustus||Purvis, Robert|
|Bond, Edward||Henderson, Alexander||Rentoul, James Alexander|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith-||Hoare, Samuel (Norwich)||Ridley, Rt.Hn. Sir Matthew W.|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn||Hobhouse, Henry||Ritchie, Rt.Hn. Chas. Thomson|
|Broderick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Houston, R. P.||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)|
|Bullard, Sir Harry||Howell, William Tudor||Russell, Gen. F. S. (Cheltenham|
|Butcher, John George||Hubbard, Hon. Evelyn||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Carlile, William Walter||Hutchinson, Capt. G. W. Grice-||Ryder, John Herbert Dudley|
|Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)||Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, East)||Jessel, Captain Herbert Merton||Sham-Stewart, M.H. (Renfrew)|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Sidebottom, William (Derbysh.|
|Chaloner, Captain R. G. W.||Johnstone, John H. (Sussex)||Simeon, Sir Barrington|
|Chamberlain, J. Austen (Wrc'r||Kennaway,Rt.Hn. Sir John H.||Skews-Cox, Thomas|
|Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||King, Sir Henry Seymour||Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)|
|Charrington Spencer||Knowles, Lees||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)|
|Chelsea, Viscount||Lawrence,Sir E.Durning-(Corn||Stanley, Hon. A. (Ormskirk)|
|Clarke, Sir Edward (Plymouth)||Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool)||Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)||Stewart,Sir Mark J. M'Taggart|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Lea, Sir Thomas (Londond'y)||Strauss, Arthur|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Leckey, Rt.Hn.William Ed. H.||Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley|
|Compton, Lord Alwyne||Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie||Sturt, Hon. Humphrey Napier|
|Cubitt, Hon. Henry||Leighton, Stanley||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Curzon, Viscount||Llewellyn, Evan H. (Somerset)||Thorburn, Walter|
|Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Lockwood, Lt.Col. A. R.||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Davies,Sir Horatio D. (Chatham||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Valentia, Viscount|
|Denny, Colonel||Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (L'rpool)||Ward, Hon. Robert A. (Crewe)|
|Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph||Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller||Webster,Sir R.E.(Isle of Wight|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Lowe, Francis William||Welby, Lieut.-Col. A. C. E.|
|Doxford William Theodore||Lowles, John||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Drage Geoffrey||Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Williams, Joseph Powell- (Bir.|
|Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V.||Lucas-Shadwell, William||Wodehouse,Rt.Hn. E. R. (Bath|
|Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton||Macdona, John Cumming||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Maclure, Sir John William||Wyndham, George|
|Fisher, William Hayes||M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)||Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy|
|Flannery, Sir Fortescue||M'Calmont, Col. J. (Antrim, E.|
|Folkestone, Viscount||Malcolm, Ian||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Forster, Henry William||Maple, Sir John Blundell||Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Foster, Colonel (Lancaster)||Massey-Mainwaring,Hn. W. F.|
|Garfit, William||Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.|
§ Main Question again proposed:—Debate arising;
§ MR. H. LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
Sir, I hope the House will not be required to start on a new subject during the last few minutes of the week. I beg to move the adjournment of the Debate.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I do not wish to resist the motion, but I confess that I view with some alarm the encyclopædia contained 624 in the number of Amendments to the Address on the Paper. I truly hope that it will not be necessary to survey the whole field of politics before we reach the end of the Debate on the Address.
§ Question put.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned.
§ House adjourned at 11.40 till Monday next.