HC Deb 02 May 1900 vol 82 cc525-33


Order for Second Reading read.

* MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)

The Bill which I now introduce to the House is not in a sense a very large one. It is not a new Bill, because the Bill has been before the House on many previous occasions, but no opportunity has ever before arisen for having a Second Reading discussion upon it. I ask the House to consider the desirability of exempting certain institution, established for the purpose of training imbeciles, from rating. These institutions are as follows:—Earls-wood, the Royal Albert Asylum at Lancaster—with which I am to a certain extent personally connected—the Eastern Counties Asylum, the Western Counties Asylum, and the Midland Counties Asylum. These are large, well-appointed institutions; they are purely philanthropical; no one receives any profit out of them, and they are supported to a great extent by voluntary contributions, and to a certain extent also by contributions from boards of guardians; because where an imbecile child is under the care of a board of guardians they oftentimes send it, partly on philanthropic grounds and partly with a view to relieving the rates, to one of these institutions and make a certain payment for it. There is a peculiarity about these institutions. They receive contributions from the large districts to which they minister, and they contribute in rating only to the particular union or towns in which they are situated. When the Royal Albert Institution was established it was outside the area of Lancaster; but Lancaster has since been extended, and the institution is now, included. The assessment committee, however, deals very fairly with it, and there is no serious complaint as to the oppressive character of the rating. Still, there it is, and it is felt to be a matter which hinders the work of the institutions. As the House is aware, the subject of exempting certain institutions—not only such as this Bill deals with, but also hospitals—has met with a good deal of support; but even if it were thought right that hospitals should contribute to local rates, there would still be a ground, on the principle already adopted by the House, for exempting these training institutions. The Voluntary schools are exempt under 60 Victoria, cap. 5; Sunday and Ragged schools are exempt under 32 and 33 Victoria, cap. 40; houses, buildings, and land used for the purposes of science, literature, or the fine arts are exempt under 6 and 7 Victoria, cap. 36; and in Ireland similar institutions are already exempt. These institutions are not, properly speaking, hospitals so much as educational establishments. Medical treatment is, it is true, a large element in their system, but they are really educational institutions. The only patients received are those capable of improvement. Those unhappy beings who are not capable of improvement are not received, and if they come on probation they are sent back when it is found that they are incapable of improvement. I claim that these institutions are really educational institutions. Our claim for exemption is not based on the fact that they are medical institutions, but that they are places for the training and education of imbeciles, in. order that they may be fitted, as far as possible, for such duties as they may be able to perform in life; and it is a great matter for satisfaction to know that some of the children trained in them are developed so-far as to be able to take care of themselves, and even some are able to earn their own living. This subject of exemption of these institutions has been more or less under the consideration of Parliament for several years. On the 12th March, 1895, a deputation representing several institutions, and including the Duke of Norfolk and the Marquess of Bristol, waited on Sir John Hibbert, the then Secretary to the Treasury. Sir John Hibbert said he could not take an active part in promoting a Bill on the subject, but he strongly recommended that the claim should be pressed forward, and he also stated that he would use his best influence with the Local Government Board to get something done. Well, we have not yet succeeded in getting anything done. We claim, however, that these English institutions should be placed on the same foot- ing as similar Irish institutions. The districts in which they are locally situated derive great benefit from them, and I believe if a new institution were to be established on a basis of absolute exemption from rates there would be keen com- petition between towns to have it placed within their area. It is not necessary to elaborate the Bill further, and I offer it to the consideration of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Tomlinson.)

* MR. BOUND (Essex, Harwich)

I congratulate my hon. friend on having at last found an opportunity of placing this Bill before the House. I have been associated with my hon. friend for some years past in endeavouring to secure its discussion, but we never previously succeeded in getting it on the Order Paper at a time which would permit of its discussion. I represent on this occasion the Eastern Counties Imbecile Training Institution, which is supported by five counties in the east of England, and which is doing very good work. It seems to me absolutely unjust that this institution and similar institutions, carrying on the work of educating and training imbecile children, should be required to contribute to the local rates, because if they did not exist the local authorities would have to perform the duties discharged by them. That is the chief ground on which we bring forward this Bill, which has the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I do not think it would have been brought forward were it not for the arbitrary way in which some local authorities assess these institutions, My hon. friend did not specially complain of arbitrary rating, but it nevertheless exists in connection with some of these institutions. Earlswood, which is the largest, provides 700 beds and has 150 acres of land. Its present assessment is about £3,000, and the rates amount to about £600 a year. The Royal Albert Asylum has 600 beds and 105 acres of land. That is assessed at £1,300, and the rates amount to £137. The Eastern Counties Asylum has five acres, and its rates last year were more than £300. That shows that the rates are of considerable moment to these institutions. The deputation to the Treasury to which my hon. friend referred, pointed out that the ten- dency to exempt similar institutions from rates had been recognised for several years, and that several towns had exempted hospitals from improvement and other rates. On that occasion Sir John Hibbert, than whom no one knew more about local taxation, or had a wider experience of Government departments, approved of the principle of the Bill, and I think it is something for us to be able to quote his advocacy of this matter as a private individual. I only hope that the hon. Gentleman who now represents the Local Government Board will agree with what Sir John Hibbert stated with regard to this Bill, and that he will be able to give it his support. Sir John Hibbert, of course, did not compromise the Government, and spoke merely as a private member. I will conclude by asking the sympathy of the House for this Bill. I believe it to be an absolutely just measure, and I commend its principle to the consideration of the House and the Government.

MR. W. F. LAWRENCE (Liverpool, Abercromby)

I should be sorry, even in the few minutes in which I desire to address the House, to appear to be criticising this Bill in any way. As a matter of fact I have been asked to speak on behalf of the Association of Poor Law Unions, who have very properly given this Bill their careful consideration, and to point out that according to the views of that association the Second Reading of this Bill does not seem entirely opportune. They do not desire in any sense to be antagonistic to the Bill on its merits, but they think that until the whole matter of exemptions from rating has been more carefully discussed, it would be a pity that this Bill should pass into law. I am asked to urge the promoters of this Bill and the Government to postpone further proceedings on it until there has been a proper consideration of the whole question of exemptions from rating. Now, the particular institutions embraced in the. Bill are no doubt partly supported from the rates, but they are also largely charitable; and if this Bill became law, all charitable institutions, hospitals, and such like, would demand the same exemption from rating. It is absurd that the London Library in St. James' s is exempt from rating, and that these institutions, doing a great educational and charitable work, are not. Such an anomaly as that is perfectly indefensible. While I rise to- day to express some doubt of the opportuneness of the Bill becoming law, speaking for myself I cordially approve of the idea that such institutions as these should be exempt from rating. I trust, therefore, when the Government express their views through my hon. friend sitting below me, they will do what they can to promise that this matter shall have a very careful discussion. The question of the rating of hospitals was raised earlier; in the session.† I myself do not like, to use a popular phrase, to give myself away on this important question, until I have been more of its general merits. But the more I look into the question, the more I am convinced that we ought not to have special exemptions from rating, but that the Government should formulate a scheme laying down what institutions should be rated, and what should not be rated. Therefore, I hope that my hon. friend who introduced the Bill will not think the Association of Poor Law Unions is inimical to it, but only anxious to secure that symmetry in rating which is so desirable.


My hon. friend who moved the Second Reading of this Bill opened his speech by saying that the question is not a very large one, but he admitted that the principle of the Bill is of considerable importance.


What I said was that the principle of the Bill was not a new one.


I know that it is not, but the principle is one of considerable importance. No one can fail to sympathise with the objects of the institutions which are carrying on this work, and nothing I shall say to-day will detract from their value in any way whatever. At the same time I think the House ought to realise that this question of exemption from rating is a very large and serious one. The law at the present moment is that wherever there is a beneficial occupation of any property, that property should be rated; and that principle is applicable whether or not the property is occupied for charitable purposes. I am aware that certain exceptions have been made to the ordinary law, but †See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxxx., page 1189. the House can readily see that the principle of exemption from rating is one that can he very easily carried too far. The House ought to remember that every exemption places an additional burden upon the general ratepayer. I think it right to point out these facts before the House comes to any decision upon the Bill. Undoubtedly of late years a very considerable feeling has been aroused with regard to some institutions that are held to be exceptionally dealt with in this matter. Only this session my right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board received a large and influential deputation representing hospitals claiming exemption from rating. It was one of the largest and most influential deputations that ever waited on any Minister of the Crown, and repeat that it is impossible not to sympathise with the object that deputation had in view. After that deputation was received a question was put in the House asking what the Government meant to do in the matter, and the First Lord of the Treasury stated in reply * that the subject was one of considerable difficulty, and that before arriving at any conclusion in regard to the exemption of hospitals from rating it would be necessary to have an inquiry by a Select Committee of the House, and he undertook that that Committee would be appointed. What the Government propose to do in regard to this Bill is this: They quite see the force of the contention of my hon. friend, who has put the claim for exemption of these institutions on educational as much as on charitable grounds, quoting the precedent of the Voluntary schools. The Government quite see the force of that contention, and I am authorised to say that in reference to the Select Committee these institutions will be included, and that therefore that inquiry will cover institutions for imbeciles as well as ordinary hospitals. No matter how much the House may sympathise with these institutions, and recognise that they may be as-handicapped by being rated, we must see that if the principle of exemption is admitted in their case, it will be pressed home in others, and if the door is once opened we may depend upon it it will not be easily closed. For these reasons, and from no lack of sympathy with the * See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxxx., page 1189. imbecile institutions, I would ask my hon. friend to consent to the offer which the Government now make in, order that the question as it affects all these institutions should be referred to the Select Committee. If the House accepts that view it is perfectly impossible to pass the Second Reading of this Bill, for that would be practically to prejudge the question.

MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S.W.)

I hope that the promoters of the Bill will accept the very reasonable proposition of the Secretary to the Local Government Board. This question of exemption from rating is very serious to all local authorities, and as year after year goes by we have continually brought before us in the House and in the country reasons why particular institutions should be exempted from rates. I quite see that unless some very hard-and-fast rule is laid down in this regard, we shall soon have everybody in the country exempted from rates. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board said truly that there was no difference between these institutions, so far as rating is concerned, and hospitals and other kindred institutions.


I do not admit that.


I know my hon. friend does not admit that, but I entirely agree with the Secretary to the Local Government Board. I do not think a stronger case can be made out than that on behalf of hospitals, but I must not be understood to say anything derogatory to, or to take exception to the principle of the Bill which my hon. friend has introduced. I think all these institutions are deserving of the most generous treatment at the hands of the Government, because, obviously, they must exist, and, if they are not maintained by voluntary subscriptions, sooner or later they must become a permanent charge upon the rates. I think that the suggestion made by the Secretary to the Local Government Board is deserving of acceptance by the promoters of the Bill. It will avoid any controversy upon the question, and, above all, will avoid the question being prejudiced. I hope that this Select Committee will be appointed at once. [Mr. T. W. RUSSELL: Hear, hear!] I hope the members of that Committee will not be partisans of any particular class of institutions, but gentlemen who by their knowledge and experience are qualified to enter into the discussions, which must necessarily be of a technical character, and require some acquaintance with questions of rating. We are very apt in this House to let our sympathies run away with us in matters of this kind, and unless common sense is brought to bear upon them we may be carried too far. I trust that a satisfactory solution of the question may be arrived at.

MR. RENSHAW (Renfrewshire, W.)

I hope that the case of Scotland will not be omitted from consideration by the Select Committee, and that the inquiry will cover all parts of the United Kin dom. There is one point of considerable importance which ought to be included in the remit to the Select Committee, and that is that the area of rating is not always coincident with the area which is benefited by the institution. That is really a difficulty at the present time where local authorities have the power to grant exemptions from rating. Not infrequently it occurs that the benefits of an institution extend far beyond the limits of the particular district which the local authority rates for. Therefore it is impossible for the rating authority to do justice to their own ratepayers by granting that institution exemption from rates whose benefits extend far beyond the exemption locality. In such cases exemption would benefit all parts of the country at the expense of one locality. That is an important matter, and therefore I hope it will receive full consideration.


I am bound to state that it would be ungenerous on the part of the promoters of the Bill to oppose the position which the Government have taken up. We maintain, of course, that these institutions are in a distinct position from that of hospitals in regard to the very large area which these institutions serve, coupled with the fact that the area of taxation is a very small one, and, further, we put their educational character in the forefront. I understand my hon. friend is prepared to consider the terms of reference to the Committee, in the sense of preserving the distinction between the case of these institutions and that of hospitals. The only course left for me is to ask leave of the House to withdraw the Bill, which I now do.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.