HC Deb 14 August 1901 vol 99 cc819-22


Order for Second Reading read.


In moving the Second Reading of this Bill I wish to explain that its object is to relieve Belfast from a situation in which there might be no rates, no voters, and no jurors. In the opinion of the Government the Bill could be held to raise questions which are larger than the immediate difficulty in Belfast. The method of valuation in Ireland differs altogether from the method of valuation which obtains in this country. The original valuation was based on what is known as Griffith's Valuation. It being felt that there should be a revaluation of Ireland, a clause was introduced in the Act of 1898 enabling one to take place. Belfast and Dublin asked for a revaluation, and the consequence was that the rate which was struck at Belfast was subsequently declared to be invalid. The action of the Commissioner has been challenged, and appeals have been lodged against the assessment at which he has arrived. It would be most improper on the part of the Government to intervene in any way so as to give, as it were, directions to the court before whom the question may be argued. But though the question of law is sub judice it is not thought that the House should be debarred altogether from considering the larger issue which in the opinion of the Government has been raised. There is a novelty in the effect of the valuation laws in Ireland. That novelty has resulted in an increase of rates altogether outside any estimate formed by the inhabitants and Corporation of Belfast, and a new element has been introduced. The valuation of licences has been assessed in another manner than that which obtained before. Indirectly the result is a considerable remission made by Belfast to the Imperial Exchequer. The Government propose to appoint next January a Select Committee to consider the method of valuation in Ireland, and the terms of reference to that Committee will be as wide as possible. Such a Committee will be able to go into the whole question of the method by which Ireland is valued, and may afford a chance of improving the old system based on an Act passed fifty years ago which contains many obsolete provisions. I am quite sure hon. Members will accept that statement from me as making it certain that the Government intend to deal with this matter in this way. This subject has been pressed upon me very urgently not only by hon. Members opposite, but from all quarters of Ireland, and I make this statement in order that there may be some outward and visible sign of the policy we intend to pursue, and when we come to the Committee stage I shall move an Amendment to suspend the operation of revaluation for two years. I believe that it could not come into operation even if that Amendment were not moved, but at the same time I shall move the Amendment in order to show that the Government have some regard to this matter. If these brief remarks make the subject clear, I have nothing to add. The only other Amendment is one which will dissipate any doubts as to the status of voters and jurors in Belfast. I hope the Bill may now be read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Bill be now read a second time."

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

said that he had a motion upon the Paper to reject the Second Reading of this Bill. It was a most singular thing that the City of Belfast created more trouble in this House than any other part of Ireland; but thanks to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, it would not now be necessary to move that Amendment. So far as he was concerned, speaking for the Catholic population of Belfast, he was quite content with the statement which had been made, and he should not now move the motion which stood in his name.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)

congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on the position he had taken up. He thought that he had gone a long way out of his course in bringing in this Bill this session; at the same time he thought he would have to go a little further than he had gone. The people of Belfast had at the present time something like 12,000 appeals from the valuation of Mr. Commissioner Barton. The right hon. Gentleman would see, if he looked at the Estimates, that the people of Belfast had had to pay or would have to pay for this valuation a contribution in aid of the Government of many thousands of pounds, in addition to the £400 a year which the City of Belfast had to pay in the ordinary way. Now that the Government admitted that this valuation was to be hung up for two years, and that the House was to have a Select Committee to inquire into the matter, it would he a monstrous thing under those circumstances to allow these 12,000 law suits to go on. It would be an intolerable state of affairs and would plunge Belfast into a very swamp of litigation, and there was the fact that this system, which was to be hung up for two years, might result in a fresh method of valuation altogether. He hoped in these remarks he had the support of the hon. Members for Belfast, and that they would join in the appeal he made that, in mercy to their constituents, these 12,000 law suits should be knocked upon the head until two years had elapsed. He thought the Bill was defective, but he understood that the right hon. Gentleman intended to propose an Amendment to make it effective. He would support that Amendment when it was moved. He thought the Government had acted fairly in this matter, but at the same time he pointed out that the citizens of Belfast had had no value for the £400 or £500 which they had spent on the annual, revision. That question had not been given effect to in the Bill, and consequently the city would lose ratings to the extent of £10,000. The Bill had become a non-contentious matter, but he thought, nevertheless, that the grievances which he had pointed out should be considered, and that some provision should be made for them under the Bill.


hoped that in the Committee stage an Amendment would be moved to bring the rating up to date, so that the parties concerned should not pay more than their fair share and that the rate might he able to be struck at once. He cordially agreed that there should be no further litigation, and that the Bill should now be read a second time.