§ Mr. F. LEVERTON HARRIS
I should like, with the leave of the House, to be permitted to make a personal statement 584 in connection with an incident which occurred on the last day that we were in Committee [18th August] before we met again yesterday. In the course of the Debate which took place on that day my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin University (Sir Edward Carson) referred to a speech which I had previously made in reference to the valuation by the Government of a property of mine for the purpose of assessing the Death Duties. He referred to this case as a striking example of how the right of appeal to a court of law from the arbitrary valuations of officials, to use his own wording, "kept those officials in order." The Chancellor of the Exchequer interrupted my right hon. and learned Friend, and afterwards, in his reply, he stated that he was armed with an official Report from the Death Duty Department, and he proceeded to contradict my right hon. and learned Friend's figures and my own figures. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said:—The Commissioners never valued in the case which he quoted at £50.000. The highest value was £12,800, and that was after they had received a valuation fixed by the hon. Member for Stepney, or his advisers, of £5,735.And then he continued:—The facts are that the hon. Member [that is myself], or his advisers, fixed the value at £5,735. The Commissioners put it at £12.800, and finally there was a compromise at £10,000. That is a very different story from that told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University, and is based upon the official documents and the official figures.I desire to say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been entirely misinformed.
What are the facts? First of all, what he calls my valuation of £5,737 had been withdrawn months before the settlement was come to, and a new valuation, which I hold in my hand, of £7,936, substituted for it. Secondly, the highest value was not £12,800, as stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but £41,000. With the permission of the House, I will read a short document which shows this to be the case. This is a letter written to me on 8th August, 1900, by the solicitors who were dealing with the property, Messrs. Baker and Nairne, 3, Crosby-square, Bishopsgate:—
§ "Dear Sir,
§ "Re J. L. Wylie, deceased.
§ "Estate Duty on Real Estate.
§ "On attending at Somerset House before the principal clerk with inference to the value to be placed on Camilla Lacy, he stated that he considered the property was under valued, as the land round it was ripe for building, and that it should be treated and valued as building land. He marked the account as follows:—
§ "'Apparently quite insufficient in view of the situation of the property and its capacity for immediate 585 development. It must be assumed that purchasers could be found to give £500 an acre for it.—C O. M'"
§ "Yours faithfully,
§ "(Signed) BAKER & NAIRNE.
§ "F. L. HARRIS, Esq.,
§ "81. Grace church Street, E.C."
§ And, lastly (but this is a small matter), the compromise was not £10,000, but £10,500. The facts of the case then are as follows: A value of £500 an acre, or £41,000, was placed upon this property by the Chief Clerk of the Estate Duty Office. After much negotiation, involving no less than four separate official valuations, after many months of delay, after an official valuer had been sent down to inspect the property, after I had threatened to fight and had asked to be assessed, and after I had offered to agree to a value of £10,400 in order to avoid litigation, the matter was placed in the hands of the solicitor of Inland Revenue, who recommended a settlement on the basis of £10,500, a reduction of no less than £30,500 of the original value, equivalent to a reduction from £500 to £127 an acre. Unfortunately I was not present when the incident occurred, but I took the earliest opportunity next morning of seeing the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of pointing out to him that he had been misinformed, and had consequently misled the Committee. I understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that he was anxious to put the matter right on the very first opportunity, and that he would do this when we went into Committee yesterday; in fact, he sent me a draft of his explanation which he proposed to make; but, as for some reason he failed to do this, I must thank the Committee for having given me the opportunity of clearing myself from a charge of inaccuracy which has been made against me.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
The last statement made by the hon. Gentleman is perfectly true. He came to me and showed me such documents as he had, and I also placed all the official documents at his disposal. I left him and the officials together to clear matters up. I did promise on the first opportunity, which I considered to be a relevant one—that would be on the Estate Duties, which I thought were to come up on Monday—to clear up the whole matter. I also said I would make a statement. What is the position? The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir Edward Carson) said the valuers had valued the property at £50,000, and not £40,000. That is the first error, which the hon. Gentleman him- 586 self admits. I stated that it was incorrect, and that I had official documents in my possession showing that the highest valuation was £12,800. Before I made that statement I had the official documents. There was only one valuation, and that valuation was £12,800. The whole of the documents are now in Somerset House. There is no other valuation except the valuation of £12,800. Now the valuation originally put in by the hon. Member was, as he will recollect, a valuation of £5,733. The first valuation by the Commissioners was a valuation of £12,800. The Member for Stepney showed me the documents in regard to the original statement. On that paper an official in the office who was then the chief clerk for Estate Duty, and who has since retired, made a note to the effect that the value suggested by the hon. Member was quite insufficient in view of the situation of the property, and that it must be assumed that purchasers would be found to give £500 an acre for it. This would have amounted, at £500 an acre for the whole estate, to £41,000. In regard to this note no record was kept by the clerk, and consequently there was nothing on the official statement to show that it was ever put forward. It did not, of course, express the opinion of the Commissioners, and the only value ever put forward as representing their opinion was the valuation of £12,810, which was arrived at after the property had been inspected by an expert of the Department. Of course it shows how important it is, both in the interests of property-owners and the public, that there should be an official valuation of these properties.