HC Deb 22 February 1900 vol 79 cc859-64

1. £20,000, Supplementary, Revenue Buildings.

MR. WARNER () Staffordshire, Lichfield

There has been very great delay in the completion of post offices all over the country. One case I know specially, namely, the Strand Post Office, in which I believe the agreement has been hung up for something like twelve months.


Unless the Strand Post Office is included in the Estimate it cannot be discussed.


It is not included in this Vote. I will give the hon. Member the information privately.

MR. CALDWELL () Lanarkshire, Mid

It is stated in a note to this Estimate that the increase is owing to greater progress having been made than was originally estimated. We should like to know if a considerable portion of this sum is not due to increased wages, and whether the right hon. Gentleman will give us some of the principal items in which the work has proceeded more rapidly than was expected, and also whether any of these buildings are in Scotland.


The increase is not accounted for by the increase of wages only. It has occurred because the year being an excellent building year, greater progress has been made than was anticipated. No larger amount than was authorised will be required, but more money is wanted for the current year Some Scottish post offices are included in the Vote.

2. £40,000, Supplementary, Public Buildings, Great Britain.

SIR ALBERT ROLLIT () Islington, S.

I should like to ask whether a sum is taken in this Vote to complete the alteration of Hertford House, and when the Wallace collection will be open to the public.


My right hon. friend the Secretary to the Treasury stated the other day, in answer to a question, that the collection would be open early in May. This Estimate does not include the whole cost in connection with the collection. We shall have to ask in the Estimates for 1900-1 for £2,000 for decorative and other work.

3. £12,000, Supplementary, Bates on Government Property.


I am glad to see this addition to the original Vote, because it indicates the gradual reduction i if a grievance under which local authorities have suffered for a long time—namely, that the Government has not been paying a proportionate sum with other ratepayers in discharge of its local obligations. It is quite true that the whole of the grievance is not removed. The Government, being its own valuer, remains, but I am glad to see that by means of these Votes a great deal of the grievance is being removed and I think it is due to the Secretary of the Treasury that this has been brought about. There, are, however, exceptions. The local authorities at Portsmouth still retain the feeling that the ratepayers have to bear an undue proportion of the burden because the Government does not pay a sufficient sum in lieu of rates. On the other hand, in Islington and elsewhere I have the testimony of the various clerks and others that almost the entire grievance has been removed. I hope the two returns which are on the Paper for tomorrow will be assented to, and that they will show that no reasonable ground for complaint exists. I hope the present course of action will be continued.


I admit, so far as England is concerned, that what the hon. Gentleman has said is perfectly true. In 1894, previous to the present Government coming into office, the amount England obtained was £214,800: the amount, including the Supplementary Estimate we are now asked to vote, which England will obtain for the current year is £368,000, making an increase of £153,200. Look at the case of Scotland. In 1894 the amount was £16,500, now it is only £19,000. In dealing with local rates we must remember what they are charged for. You have got museums and similar institutions for the benefit of the people in the Metropolis, and after the Government has paid heavily for the sites of these buildings the Metropolis says, "You must give us a very large sum in respect of local rates on account of these facilities which we and we alone enjoy." I think that is most dishonourable on the part of London. It has all the advantages of having these buildings in its midst, and I think it is very mean on the part of the Metropolis to require the Government to pay rates on them. The. Secretary to the Treasury tells us that this increase is made up of three items, an increase in the poundage of rates, contributions to new buildings, and increased valuations. Perhaps the light hon. Gentleman will tell us how much is to be expended under each of these heads. lam very glad that a return is to be moved for, which will show at once the great disparity existing between England and Scotland as regards Government rates. While Scotland contributes her fail' share to the taxation of the country she gets nothing to recoup herself in the shape of Government buildings or contracts. In the case of Ireland it may be said that she has the, benefit of Imperial money, lint there is nothing of that kind in Scotland. Of course this is only a Supplementary Estimate, and the whole matter will have to be discussed again. In the meantime, perhaps the Secretary to the Treasury would make an inquiry as to how far Government property in Scotland is being fairly valued. I think when this matter is brought to his knowledge he will at least see that valuation in Scotland should proceed on the same lines as valuation in England. There is this difference in Scotland, that the valuations are made up year by year, and there is no need to wait for a quinquennial valuation as in London. In that way the right hon. Gentleman may be able to remedy a good deal of injustice.


(Lynn Regis): Am I right in stating that the amount of the Supplementary Estimates consists entirely of contributions in lieu of rates?


Yes, Sir.

LORD HUGH CECIL () Greenwich

I hope my right hon. friend will not carry away the impression, from what my hon. friend the Member for South Islington has said, that those who feel this grievance are satisfied. That is not the case. I believe that many of the districts which have Government property in their midst feel the grievance that the Government values its own property and practically rates itself. There will not be complete satisfaction until an arrangement is made whereby Government property will be subjected to the ordinary operations of the rating law. I should be very sorry if my right hon. friend imagined that the grievance was completely removed, and accordingly put it out of his mind as a question that was settled once for all.


I distinctly stated that that was an objection which retained its full force, and that many local authorities contend that there ought to be some independent valuation.


As to Government valuations, it must be remembered that a large portion of Government property —such as arsenals, dockyards, and places of that kind—differs altogether from the ordinary kind of property, and it is certainly not advisable to let local surveyors make complete surveys of every nook and corner in such places. So far as we can, we have met the wishes of the local authorities; and there is the broad fact that assessment committees everywhere without exception have been fully satisfied and have agreed to the re-valuation made by Mr. Griffiths. Mr. Griffiths has left the public service, and we have lost a very valuable servant in him. He did his work of re-valuation remarkably well. With regard to the com plaint of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Lanark, the whole of his speech was a complaint that there were not sufficient public buildings in Scotland, rather than a complaint against the present system of levying rates. In Scotland Government rates are paid on exactly the same principle as in England: but of course there is nothing like the? same number of buildings, and therefore the sum voted in respect of rates in Scotland has not increased in the same way as it has in England. I can assure him that a re-valuation has taken place for the whole of Scotland, and that the assessment authorities are very satisfied, and have taken the valuations and placed them on their own valuation rolls for the first time. We are steadily keeping our rates up to the local level.


It is all very welt to say that Scotland has not got so many Government institutions, and therefore does not get so much out of this Vote. That in itself exposes the poverty of the argument. We do not enjoy the benefit of the institutions which England London especially—enjoys, but which are denied to Scotland.

Forward to