§ The borough of Dewsbury (including the added part of Soothill Upper amalgamated therewith), and the urban districts of Ravensthorpe, Soothill Nether, and Thornhill, which in pursuance of the Dewsbury Extension Order, 1909, as confirmed by the Local Government Board's Provisional Orders Confirmation (No. 6) Act, 1909, were, as from the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and ten, to form one borough to be called the borough of Dewsbury, shall, notwithstanding anything contained in that Order, continue for the period of fifteen years from that date to be separate urban areas for the purpose of Scale 3 in the First Schedule to the principal Act.
§ Motion made and question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."—[Mr. Hobhouse.]
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Herbert Samuel)
The Committee will remember that the Finance Bill of 1909 contained a provision that there should be fixed certain minimum license duties in county boroughs and other urban districts. These minimum license duties varied on a scale of the population of the places concerned, as stated in Scale 3, Schedule 1, of the Finance Act of 1909–10. While the Bill was under consideration representations were made on behalf of the borough of Stoke-on-Trent in connection with which a particular Amendment was made. Stoke-on-Trent at that time was being combined with a number of boroughs and urban districts into one single county borough under a Provisional Order, which was for a long time under the consideration of this House. But that Provisional Order recited that for twenty years, although those various localities should bear the title of Stoke-on-Trent, and should for many purposes be one, there should be differential rating, and they should not be financially homogeneous. It was pointed out that the effect of this Provisional Order then passing through the House would be that all the public-houses in Stoke-on-Trent 1176 would come upon the higher scale of minimum duty. Every publican would have to pay a minimum licence duty of £35, and there would be a minimum duty of £23 10s. for every beerhouse. It was suggested that this was an injustice, especially in view of the fact that Parliament, in the financial provisions of the Order provided that 20 years were to intervene before the borough for financial purposes should be a single borough, and consequently a provision was inserted in the Schedule to the effect that during those twenty years Stoke-upon-Trent was not to be regarded as one locality under the minimum scale, but should be counted as several localities, as it was in the Provisional Order. When the Bill was passed into law representations were made by the publicans of the borough of Dewsbury, showing that they were in precisely the same position as Stoke-upon-Trent. There is no other town in the country except Dewsbury in that position. They also were under the Provisional Order being changed into one large borough from several smaller towns. The effect would be to bring the public-houses of this small place under the higher scale of minimum duties. If the districts had not been so combined, the public-houses would have come upon a lower scale of minimum duties. They pointed out also that the Provisional Order made it clear that for a period of fifteen years the rating was to be differential, and they were to be considered a single corporation only for certain purposes, but not for financial purposes. This precise analogy of Stoke-on-Trent having been pointed out, it was impossible to resist the claim that the same provisions should apply to this place also. I hope, therefore, with that explanation the Committee will be able to do justice to the publicans of Dewsbury, even though they are represented by a Minister in this House.
§ Mr. GRETTON
This is a very remarkable Clause and requires some little examination by the Committee before it is accepted in its present form. I am not opposing this Clause, which gives some relief to the licensed trade in Dewsbury and the district, but I claim that the relief now granted should be extended to other places in the same position. My objection to this Clause is that the relief granted is so limited as to be a very small thing. It will only affect Dewsbury and the surrounding districts, though it has reference to a grievance which affects very large areas indeed in the country. The remark- 1177 able thing about this Clause is that it is a direct acknowledgment by the Government itself that these minimum licence scales were a real hardship and that that hardship should be remedied in this particular case. Can the House think that if this borough had been represented by a Member on this side of the House it would have had the same consideration?
§ Mr. GRETTON
I am glad to hear that, because we are going to move an Amendment to make all boroughs in the same position. I will take that as a pledge that that Amendment will be accepted. These minimum duties are extremely onerous. They commence at £5 for a public house and £2 10s. for a beer house in districts of less than 2,000 population, and they amount by successive increases in districts where the population is 100,000 to £35 in the case of a public house and £23 10s. in the case of a beer house, or exactly the same rateable value as in the smaller districts. They are crushing out of existence a large number of licensed houses in this country. I have in my pocket——
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is really discussing the scale. The scale does not affect an exception in regard to any particular case.
§ Mr. GRETTON
My purpose is to show that this case is not an isolated one as argued by the Government, and that the exemption ought to be extended much further than about Dewsbury. I have on the Paper an Amendment which proposes to extend this exemption to other boroughs which are not represented by Members of the present Government.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Perhaps as a matter of convenience, I might inform the hon. Gentleman that the Amendment is not in order because the Clause would not read after the Amendment was put in. The Clause, at a later point than that where the hon. Member moved to insert his Amendment, contains the words: "Shall not, notwithstanding anything contained in that Order." Obviously, those words do not apply if the words proposed by the hon. Member were inserted. With regard to the other Amendment which has been handed in by the hon. Member for Sheffield, I do not think he can move it as an Amendment of this Clause, it must be moved as a new Clause.
§ Mr. GRETTON
The operative part of this Clause which the Government moved 1178 is the admission of the Government as to the existing injustice. It exists in every town in this country, and the complaint we make is that it is adopted by the Government for one borough only, and that borough happens to be represented by a prominent Member of the present Government. In the absence of some explanation much more thorough than that which has been just given by the Postmaster-General to this Committee, the only conclusion we can arrive at is that the Minister for Education is educating the Government in methods of using his influence for the benefit of his constituents which would not have been used for the benefit of any other constituency of this country.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
Will the hon. Member give me any other case in which the circumstances are the same?
§ Mr. GRETTON
Yes; other cases are coming forward in a few weeks. I understand that there are Provisional Orders before the House which are almost certain to be passed this Session, and which will create the very same circumstances, and there has been no indication by the Government that they are prepared, and there are no provisions in this measure which would permit them, to deal with other cases in the same way as they are dealing with the borough of Dewsbury. I suppose in a Bill of this nature we cannot urge an amendment dealing with the whole principle under discussion, but I can assure the Committee and the Government that there is no greater hardship on the licensed classes than the minimum scale, and that it is a matter we shall have to oppose to the utmost at every opportunity. Meantime I am glad to have from the Government an admission that they are prepared to apply the same principle to all cases which are on a similar footing to the borough of Dewsbury, and I shall hold them to the pledge they have now given publicly before the House and the country to introduce into the Revenue Bill the words of a new Clause which will enable them to carry out the undertakings that are inserted in this Clause and clear themselves of the suspicion that they are carrying out a bargain in the interests of a Member of their own Cabinet.
§ Mr. CAVE
I think it is rather remarkable that the Government when it deals with a grievance which has been raised now for some months affecting a number of places only proposes to remedy the grievance in one place. For some months past complaint has been made that where you 1179 either turn a rural district into an urban district, or combine several urban districts or enlarge an urban district or a borough, the effect is automatically under the minimum scale of the Act of last year substantially to increase the Licence Duties of a number of public-houses. There is no doubt whatever that there are other eases besides the case of Dewsbury. I do not know whether there is any other complete case, but other cases are going to be completed immediately in which exactly the same point arises. Take one, for which I happen to have the figures. The effect in the Borough of Cambridge is this. There is in course of completion an order for extending the borough of Cambridge, with the result of increasing the population from about 38,000 to over 50,000. The effect there would be to increase by something like 50 per cent. the minimum duties upon the public-houses in that borough. Out of the 212 licensed houses in Cambridge no less than 154, or more than three-quarters, come under the minimum clause. With regard to those 154 houses, the effect of simply extending the borough would be to increase the licence duty by an average of £7 10s. per house. But besides that the order will bring into the Borough of Cambridge other houses which are now outside, in the rural districts. I am told there are thirty-one of those houses to be brought in. The effect on those houses is to increase their average Licence Duty per annum by about £12 10s. per house. Some of them will make a sudden jump by the mere fact of becoming part of this borough, from paying a duty of £5 to paying a duty of £30. The minimum is £5 outside the borough, in the rural district, and £30 is the minimum inside a borough having a population exceeding 50,000. Even as regards the rural beerhouse, paying £3 10s., it will suddenly jump to £20 under the minimum under the scale. This is hard upon houses which will not increase their custom owing to the mere fact that the arbitrary line of the borough boundary is extended to include it in the borough instead of its being outside. Here you have an instance of real hardship of the same kind as that to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and yet no step is taken in this Clause for remedying that hardship. As a matter of fact, it is only an instance, as my hon. Friend has remarked, of the many ways in which this minimum scale works injustice. If we get an oppor- 1180 tunity we shall certainly ask the House to consider whether the whole minimum scale ought not to be reduced to a more reasonable form. I cannot argue the whole point now, but I think I am entitled to add that in every case of extension, or urbanising or conversion into an urban district, this is what immediately occurs. And, more than that, we have the operation which is just going to take place of the Census Law, and the ascertainment of the result will immediately increase the Licence Duty of a number of these houses. I was astonished to find, on seeing the figures, to how large a proportion of cases the minimum duty applies. I was under the impression that only a small proportion would be subject to the duty, but I find that the minimum applies to three-fourths of the houses.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The minimum scale is not the subject of discussion; at the same time, the minimum scale has some bearing on this particular Amendment.
§ Mr. CAVE
I am not going into the general question of the minimum scale, but I am giving an instance where, without increasing custom, and by the mere operation of the Census Law, the Licence Duty is automatically increased. My argument is that the Government ought to have provided, not for one isolated case, but for all cases coming within the same purview and having the same grievance. They should have come within a general clause. The mere operation of the Census Law will, owing to this minimum scale, increase the duties of a large number of houses, although everybody knows that in rural districts no increase of custom will come. I am not going to argue the whole case, but I have said enough to show that it is not right to deal with the matter in regard to one instance alone. I do not for one moment suggest that the Clause is due to the fact that a Member of the Government represents Dewsbury, but I cannot help thinking that if the Government had taken a little thought they would have seen that the grievance is a general one. I am unwilling myself to see one particular grievance dealt with alone, because I think the opportunity has come when the whole matter might be considered and dealt with by the House, and we ought not to restrict ourselves to one case only without considering all the others that are to come. 1181 I think we ought to have some further and better explanation why the Government have chosen to deal with one case, and not considered the whole matter which was fully before them.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The Postmaster-General wants instances of cases similar to that of Dewsbury. I rise to call his attention to a case in process of completion which is of a very important character—I mean the extension which has already taken place, and is taking place, of the boundaries of the city of Birmingham. That municipality has already included, by a Local Government Board Order, and an Act passed in pursuance, the parish of Quinton, and there the work of unification is complete. But a very much more important scheme has passed through this House, and is likely, it is generally anticipated, to pass through another place—at any rate, it has been approved by this House, and as far as this House is concerned, the work of unification is complete—that is the annexation on an enormous scale by the city of Birmingham of another borough and urban and rural districts in my own Constituency. I am afraid I have not got the exact figures as to the population, or as to the effect of the Licence Duty, as was done with so much effect by my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Cave); but perhaps I may say this, as regards my own Constituency of East Worcestershire, there are, roughly, 25,000 electors in that constituency; and I think about half of them will be annexed by the Birmingham Bill—the whole of the rural districts of Yardley, King's Norton, and Northfield, which come in the Division of the hon. Member for North Worcestershire. Part of that is undoubtedly urban area, but part of it is essentially rural. There are many in stances of absolutely rural land over which there is no prospect of building for a good while to come, which will be included.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
That is a question which we cannot now discuss. I have taken no part in the discussion myself as to whether they ought to be included or not, being in the position of having one-half of my Constituency of one way of thinking, while the other half is of the other way of thinking. By the proposal promoted in this House and now before the other House, there is every probability that this enormous area will be brought into the city of Birmingham. It 1182 never could have been in the contemplation of the Government, and it certainly was not foreseen by them when the Finance Bill was passed, or when this Bill was before the House of Commons, that one result of the two Bills working together would be to automatically raise the Licence Duty of a great number of publicans, while other circumstances which affect their trade and the income that they could make would remain exactly the same. I cannot conceive on what principle the Government have acted. The Postmaster-General seemed to resent any suspicion of the fact that the Member for Dewsbury is one of the Cabinet, that he had peculiar opportunities of impressing the grievance of his constituency upon the Government, and that his own views should have weighed with the Government at all. But they must have known as well as everybody else that the borough of Dewsbury does not stand alone, and even if it were the only case which was completed up to the present, excepting the case of the Potteries town, which has been already dealt with, they must have known that the same kind of case would be constantly occurring in future, and if it was just to provide for the case of Dewsbury, it was equally just to provide for other cases. Why in these circumstances they should have singled out Dewsbury, except from the fact that Dewsbury had a powerful advocate in the Government, I have not been able to discover, and the Government have not been able to explain. I do not complain that in the case of Dewsbury the Government have met a real and admitted grievance; I do not want to blame them for anything they have done in that case; but I do say they are absolutely bound to extend to other constituencies which are not represented in the Cabinet the same treatment which they have given to the case of Dewsbury.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
The right hon. Gentleman calls for some further reply, although I had hoped I would be able to make the clause abundantly clear by showing the Committee quite distinctly that Dewsbury and Stoke-upon-Trent stand in a completely different category from any other borough in the country. What I have to say now will be to some extent a repetition of what I said before. Of course everyone is well aware that local Government bounds are frequently changed owing to changes in local circumstances. Almost every year extensions are made by some of the municipalities to include outlying areas, and this has an 1183 effect, not merely upon the Licence Duty, but upon the local rates. The householder who has been paying rates in a rural parish suddenly in one year, owing to the extension of the municipality, finds himself paying rates on the urban scale.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
In the case of Birmingham special rate privileges are accorded to districts which are incorporated. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Not all of them."] I think there was one case, but in that instance the rate was higher than in Birmingham. I believe that in every case in which the rates were lower these special rate privileges were accorded for a term of years, extending up to twenty years in one case.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
I am taking the general case given by the hon. and learned Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave), who stated that Cambridge is extending its areas to places which are rural parishes. He did not say that there was any differentiation allowed to those parishes.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
As a rule, with Provisional Orders, the outlying districts are simply taken in, and the publican, like any other ratepayer, finds that the burden placed upon him is on the urban scale instead of, as previously, the rural scale. So far no cases at all have been brought to the knowledge of the Treasury, until this moment the case of Birmingham, which are on all fours with Stoke-upon-Trent and Dewsbury—not one. I have inquired of the officials of the Board of Excise, who say that not a single instance has come to their notice in any part of the country in which a town has been placed in a position such as Dewsbury and Stoke-upon-Trent have been placed in, namely, of having been united into a single borough within quite lately, and at the same time a long period of differential rating allowed, showing that, in the opinion of those who made the Provisional Order, the borough was not yet really one homogeneous borough.
That is the basis on which we proceeded, and it is that which differentiates Dewsbury from other towns, and not the fact that it happens to be represented by a Cabinet Minister. I am astounded that the hon. Member, such as the hon. Member for Rutland (Mr. Gretton) should have thought it worthy of himself or of this House to suggest that this was done for Cabinet reasons, or that it was done for 1184 corrupt motives, and that we are giving revenue away in order to please a Member of the Cabinet, and not on any ground of principle. I was delighted to hear the hon. and learned Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave) do what anyone would naturally expect from him, and immediately express his entire disagreement from so unworthy a suggestion. The only differentiation between Dewsbury and other towns is, of course, that there has been the differential rating allowed for a period of fifteen years following a Provisional Order, and we have allowed differential rating for the same period for the assessment of the Licence Duty. In the case of Stoke we took a period of twenty years, because that was the period fixed in the Provisional Order relating to that town. Let hon. Members opposite, if they will, criticise the whole plan of the minimum Licence Duty, and we shall have a good answer to give, but on this particular occasion I think I have succeeded in showing that there is a differentiation with regard to Dewsbury from other towns.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
If in the case of Birmingham the facts are on all fours then, of course, the matter must be considered on a similar footing.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
It is not on all fours. We must investigate into these cases if hon. Members are good enough to give particulars, but all I can say is that their constituencies have not been very well served since, with the analogy of Stoke-upon-Trent standing upon the face of the Act of 1909 they waited all this while, to the last moment before representing the case.
I think the last sentence has come very oddly from the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman. He is perfectly aware in the first place, or at least I imagine I am right in saying that the Members for those boroughs represent the old and not the extensive boroughs. Then what is the meaning of the taunt, the perfectly unnecessary taunt in any case and now meaningless?
The old borough may be injured, but the injury is obviously greater in the districts which are added to 1185 the municipal borough but which are not added to the Parliamentary borough, whose local interests a Member of this House is bound to consider. Quite apart from that rather trifling point made by the right hon. Gentleman, I think he will see that the defence of the Government is utterly inadequate. The right hon. Gentleman objects, and very strongly, to the suggestion that the policy pursued by the Government is due to the fact that it is because Dewsbury happens to be represented by a Cabinet Minister. Let me say he must have perferctly well known that as the borough, to which this Bill alone referred, was represented by a Cabinet Minister, that it was all important to the Government, from their own point of view, to do their very best to show that they were not applying a general proposition to a particular case, that particular case being one of their own immediate friends. Why have they not taken the trouble, and if they will not take that trouble, why do they complain of the natural inference which the policy pursued inevitably suggests. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Treasury made anxious inquiries, but despite all their inquiries, they never succeeded in finding out what was going on in even the unknown and populous city of Birmingham. They are not only ignorant of what was going on in Birmingham, but as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) pointed out, the Bill dealing with this very question of Birmingham has been before this House on more than one occasion.
I must say that if that is the principle on which the right hon. Gentleman is going, it is surprising. In this case it is not denied, whether it is a universal case or not, that there is a differential rating. The right hon. Gentleman admits that where there is differential rating that there the publicans have a case. Here is an example of a Bill that has passed this House, which is supported by the Local Government Board, which has every possibility of passing into law, and yet because it is not passed the whole interests of Birmingham and East Worcestershire are to be brushed aside. That is an incredible policy. In my opinion the Government case absolutely breaks down on the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. His statement does not go far enough. He lays down the proposition apparently that where there is no different- 1186 tial rating the publican can have no complaint. He says you bring in from outside of a borough a certain number of ratepayers, and, instead of allowing them to come in and pay the old rates, you immediately impose the heavier rate, which presumably existed within the old limits of the borough, and that where that is done the publican shares the fate of the ratepayer. The ratepayer is a ratepayer, but the publican is a taxpayer with no connection with the borough, and the two cases are quite different. I am not here to defend the equity of our rating arrangements. Everybody, including the Government, admits that the rating arrangements of this country leave a great deal to be desired, and press with great hardship and severity on certain classes of ratepayers. That is not denied. But simply to say that a man has to pay more taxes because he pays more rates when no other claim whatever is made, that surely is not a principle which the Government are going to lay down as a principle with any common-sense equity or high statesmanship.
Here is the case of a publican whom you thought was adequately taxed, and I am not now speaking of rates. You put on him a Licence Duty of £5; you suddenly raise that Licence Duty for taxation purposes, and not for rating purposes, from £5 to £20. We say, why do you raise in and quadruple it when no alteration has taken place, when he has no more customers, and when he is under no more favourable circumstances? Why, when he is not better able to pay that £20, is he to be mulcted? You cannot show from any single point of view that that man is more properly a subject for taxation when he has been forced into the bigger borough or bigger population than he was before. Surely there must be some principle underlying the policy in this case. Why is the Dewsbury publican, apart from his felicity in being so admirably represented, apart from that exceptional piece of good fortune, why is he to be spared taxation that his brother publican in another and neighbouring borough, to which he has been attached or is in process of being attached, is to have no relief from at all. It appears to the right hon. Gentleman that the Dewsbury publican is specially worthy of being relieved from his taxes because an arrangement has been come to which relieves him of his rates. Why is that a claim for relief from taxation? I should have thought that he was exceptionally fortunate in enjoying that privilege, and that he had no additional claim to relief from taxation.
1187 The broad equities of the case surely are perfectly clear. They do not admit, of doubt. I do not believe any hon. Gentleman on the other side will contradict the broad proposition that if it be not just and right because a publican suddenly finds himself without any increase in his means of livelihood that he should be taxed four times his original amount simply because, by an arrangement with the Local Government Board, he is suddenly transferred to a larger area, if that is the broad principle, and it is the only principle which underlies the policy adopted in the Dewsbury case or the Potteries case, then you ought to extend that principle wherever it applies. If you do not extend that principle wherever it applies you are open to the charge or suspicion that some unknown motive not connected with the principle is really moving you. I should have thought the Government, in their own interests, would see the absolute necessity of extending to all cases, properly and equitably applied, the principle which they have chosen to embody in legislative enactment in the case of the Potteries, and which is now proposed in the case of Dewsbury. I think that they have behaved right in the case of Dewsbury and in the case of the Potteries, and they have applied a principle plainly capable of extension, or rather which should be plainly capable of extension outside those two boroughs, and if they wish to earn the title that they are really treating similar cases similarly without respect of party, without prejudice, without discrimination, then it seems to me absolutely necessary, even from their own point of view, that they should give a just and logical extension to a principle the equity of which they themselves have admitted both in the Bill before us and in the Act of 1909.
§ Mr. THEODORE TAYLOR
I wish the right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House knew a little more about Dewsbury. I happen to have some knowledge of it. I did not intend to take part in this discussion, but after the exhibition of ignorance on the part of the Leader of the Opposition as to this particular case which we are discussing I do so. I happen to have lived within two miles of Dewsbury all my life. There is a very material point of difference between the Potteries case and this case, and any other case that I have heard mentioned here to-night unless new Birmingham is to be in its 1188 essence an aggregation of separately, and almost equally, existing places before, which we know it is not. This is a case of a small area that is having some large areas added to it, and no doubt on a large scale. The important feature in the case of Dewsbury, and any one who knows the district will confirm me, is that whereas in the case of the Potteries, five towns, more or less equal, were combined in one, three of them, I think, boroughs, and one or two urban district councils, in this case one borough is being combined with three and a-half urban districts, but some of the districts are almost equal in importance to the borough of Dewsbury itself.
Will the hon. Member tell us why it makes a difference that joined bodies should be equal, and that there is not that difference when the planet falls into the sun?
§ Mr. THEODORE TAYLOR
I will try without any reference to the planet to explain. There really is, in my humble opinion, a difference in principle where a number of smaller bodies, that are practically offshoots of the central body, are joined in one from the case of several independent bodies which are highly organised, which have their own sewerage works, separate gasworks, and in several cases separate waterworks, and some of which once did not expect and did not desire to be joined to Dewsbury. I helped the proposal through the Committee upstairs, although I belonged to the borough of Batley, which is supposed to be somewhat jealous of Dewsbury. I am not in any way partial to Dewsbury, and Batley is supposed to be a rival as well as a close neighbour. But when that scheme came before the Committee upstairs arguments were brought forward which I think showed that this special treatment should be given. In one case a large part of the population is separated from the remainder by fields. This case is more a combination of several similar areas than a case of planets falling into the sun, if I may employ the metaphor which has already been used. It is quite different from the cases of Cambridge and Birmingham.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I do not think the hon. Member is familiar with 1189 the district of which Birmingham is the centre. The hon. Member lays stress on the fact that large populous districts included in Dewsbury are separated by areas of fields.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I can show him several cases exactly like that if he comes down to Birmingham.
§ Mr. THEODORE TAYLOR
I believe the Government will treat the right hon. Gentleman's constituency as fairly as they are treating the constituency of the Member for Dewsbury. I cannot believe that any Gentleman has made in good faith the insinuation that they would do otherwise. This is a public matter, and it would be absurd to think that there could be smuggled through Parliament a Clause which was unfair to the rest of the community. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If hon. Members opposite think that that could be done they certainly underrate the ability of the junior Member for the City of London. I assure the Committee that the reasons which justify exceptional treatment in the case of the townships of which Dewsbury is now made up are very similar in character and apply to the same extent as in the case of the Potteries. I have not taken any part in this matter, public or private; nobody has asked me to speak, but after hearing what has been said I could not help feeling that the House ought to know from one Member who is familiar with the district that it is not at all the usual case of a large borough having subordinate areas incorporated with it. There are the same reasons for giving the publicans in this district preferential treatment as have operated in inducing a Committee of this House to give the added parts of the borough of Dewsbury preferential rating for the next fifteen years. I take it that the principle of amalgamation will not be fully consummated until the end of that fifteen years' period. The real question is not whether the principle of levying higher rates for licences in large populous centres than in smaller areas is right or wrong, but whether in this particular case that principle is being equitably applied. Speaking, as I think, with great knowledge and without any prejudice in favour of Dewsbury, I offer the House my sincere opinion that this is an exceptional case, practically, if not quite, on all fours with the Potteries district, and not on all fours with cases like Cambridge or an ordinary 1190 large borough which has a few smaller areas added to it. The hon. Member for Kingston referred to the Census. But the Census has nothing to do with the matter. It is only recognising facts which already exist. The real question at issue is whether the principle already laid down by Parliament is being fairly applied in this particular case, and I wish to offer my humble but well-informed opinion that it is.
May I also give my very well informed opinion? If Birmingham and the places which are taken into Birmingham are not treated in the same way as Dewsbury the Government will be doing an immense injustice to the locality which I represent. In my division there is the case of Erdington, which has been an urban district, with from 10,000 to 15,000 inhabitants. According to the original Act, the minimum duty on publicans' licences was £20, and on beer house licences £13. Now that Erdington is to be added to the City of Birmingham the minimum publican's licence will jump up from £20 to £35, and the minimum beer house licence from £13 to £23 10s. I am sorry the hon. Member for Aston Manor (Mr. E. Cecil) is absent through illness. Had he been present he would have spoken for Aston Manor. Personally I can only say that if the Government do not give a pledge that they will treat these districts in the same way as they are treating Dewsbury, I, and other Members on this side, will go all over the country declaring that the Government have been guilty of a very great job. Supposing we had been on the other side of the House, and hon. Members opposite had been criticising us; it would have been in every paper in the country and in every Radical leaflet that the Conservative party, the landlord party, the publicans' party, the licensed victuallers' party, had been guilty of a great injustice. If the Government and the Radical party act as they intend to do at present and do not give justice to Birmingham and the other districts which we represent, they will be guilty of a monstrous injustice. I hope that even at this late hour the Government will give a definite assurance that justice will be done to us who are so deeply affected.
§ Mr. W. F. ROCH
I should like to be satisfied that the case of Dewsbury cannot be met by some general words or by some general principle which would bring in any other case in which the same facts exist. It is well known to many Members 1191 that the Brmingnam Bill was said to be a general test Bill and a forerunner of another Bill in which a similar policy would be adopted. To me the case of Birmingham seems very similar to that of Dewsbury, and in future, when these various solar systems have evolved, or the lesser have been swallowed up by the greater or vice versa, we shall have the cases of Birmingham and Dewsbury multiplied. I cannot see why, with the galaxy of legal talent on the Treasury Bench, general words covering the case of Dewsbury could not be drafted. I do not mean to say that there is any unpleasant flavour about mentioning Dewsbury, but it is curious drafting, and a very poor method of drafting to set up as a precedent. I hope that even now the Attorney-General will satisfy us that this case cannot be met by general words. Personally I shall not be able to vote for this proposal unless I am satisfied in that respect.
§ Mr. SAMUEL ROBERTS
I hope the Government will see their way to accede to the request made by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Roch). They have got into an untenable position. It will be said all over the country that the town of Dewsbury is being specially favoured because it is represented by a Member of His Majesty's Government. It is impossible for them to get over that difficulty, and I strongly advise them to follow the course sugested by the hon. Member opposite and bring up a clause in general terms. I have handed in an Amendment to this effect:—That this provision shall apply in the case of al future extensions of boroughs in a similar manner.The Chairman has informed me, however, that I could not move that as an Amendment to the Clause; it must be introduced as a new Clause. The difficulty is that if I put down a new Clause it will come at the end, and I shall not get a chance of moving it. I would suggest, therefore, that the Government, having heard the arguments, and, I think, being impressed by the difficulties of their position, should give an undertaking to bring up such a Clause on Report. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about making a distinction between extensions where there is a differential rating and cases where there is not. The Leader of the Opposition broke down that argument completely. The reasons are absolutely the same whatever be the extension. The publican is the same. What does it matter 1192 to him whether there is differential rating or not. The principle of differential rating is very common indeed. It is applied in the Committee Rooms almost every week. I had experience of it when in practice in a large city in a case in which we were obliged to give way to the outside areas by agreeing to differential rating for fifteen years. Now that the grievance has been pointed out to the Government I hope that they will meet it. I am told that inside the boundaries of the present town of Cambridge there cannot be any further building. There is no room for it, and the population cannot exceed 50,000. But under the extension which is going on it is to be artificially increased to over 50,000, with the result that the higher scale will apply. That is a grievance which will be felt both inside and outside the town of Cambridge. Therefore, I hope the Government will meet us in a reasonable manner.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
The reason, may I once more explain to the Committee, that the Borough of Dewsbury was proposed to be dealt with was not on account of the merits of the particular case, but because our information was that it was the only case. The representations did not come to us from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman) but from the publicans of Dewsbury. The representations which were made by the publicans of Dewsbury—who, by the way, are not supporters of the Minister for Education, but are his most bitter opponents—were representations which could have been made by publicans in any other locality similarly situated. That is the sole reason why this particular instance was proposed to be included in the Clause. But I take it that it is the general desire of the Committee that an effort should be made to see whether or not general words should be used in this connection. While I give no pledge upon the subject, the Government are willing to withdraw this Clause, and to see whether or not this principle of differentiation is the right line of discrimination in these cases. If it is, then we will see in what form words, to give effect to that principle, should be embodied in the Bill.
§ Mr. W. R. PEEL
After the criticisms which have been made upon them I am very glad that the Government are practically going to withdraw this Clause. I only want to call attention to one very peculiar point in connection with this case. The right hon. Gentleman has stated 1193 that the reason this Clause was put down by the Government had nothing whatever to do with the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Education. He said that it was entirely due to the fact that representations were made to the Government by the publicans of the district. I should like to call attention to a very remarkable fact in connection with this Clause. In the first place the Clause was put down in the name of an hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House, who, I am informed, is the Parliamentary private secretary of the President of the Board of Education. It is still down in his name. Apparently this story about the representations of the publicans of Dewsbury is all very well, but it certainly came first from the Gentleman I have mentioned. No doubt the private secretary came to the President of the Board of Education, and the President naturally used his influence in order to back up his private secretary, to back up the publicans whose vote he hoped to get. But let us be quite clear about this. Does not the action of the Government, the representations to the Government, come to this: That the Government take up a private Member's clause, that private Member happening to be private secretary to a Minister who happens to represent the particular town to which this particular Clause happens to apply. It is a most extraordinary set of coincidences, because we are assured by the right hon. Gentleman that the President of the Board of Education had nothing whatever to do with it.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
I did not say so. I said that the representations were initiated by the publicans of Dewsbury. They naturally went to their Member of Parliament, as publicans in any place would do. Of course, the President was acquainted with all the circumstances of the case.
§ Mr. W. R. PEEL
Then apparently it was intended that the publicans should be backed up, and powerfully backed up, by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education. That only makes the whole thing worse. I want to understand how it was that these arguments were put forward. When they were brought before the House of Commons they were found to be so weak that the right hon. Gentleman himself could not support them—and there is no more ingenious arguer than the right hon. Gentleman. He had to give way. I listened to the observations of the hon. Gentleman 1194 behind him. After having supported the right hon. Gentleman he has run away! He said that my right hon. Friend below me knew nothing whatever about the case. My observation to that is that I think ignorance is far better than knowledge, because the hon. Gentleman opposite only produced arguments that I confess I could not understand at all. The argument of the hon. Gentleman who knew all about it was an argument which proved exactly the converse of the circumstances of the case which the right hon. Gentleman got up to defend. I have been very interested in hearing these arguments, for I must say that if the Government were going to do something for one of the distinguished Members of their Cabinet they might, to support it, produce arguments more plausible.
§ Mr. CHARLES ROBERTS
I raise no objection to the Government withdrawing this particular Clause. That may be the right course for them to adopt. But I should very seriously object, so far as my own opinion was concerned, to our sliding away from this particular case of Dewsbury, which can be, I think, distinguished on certain grounds, into the general principle, as I understand, that wherever you have differential rating in future you are going to differentiate the Licence Duties in districts such as we are dealing with. I see absolutely no grounds for such action, and I sincerely hope the Government will not adopt that principle at all. What is the principle on which minimum Licence Duties can be justified? I imagine it is this: that in populations of particular areas where licensed premises form part of a given community you may expect such an amount of trade that it is but a fair and proper thing to require a minimum payment to the State as partial compensation for damage done by licensed premises, and as some guarantee that they should not be more numerous than is desirable for the State as a whole. If that is the principle, as I imagine it is, the mere fact of amalgamation means that these licensed premises in the district which are brought into the area are really part of the larger community and ought to pay those minimum Licence Duties which this House has, in the Finance Act, thought proper for populations which, by the fact of amalgamation, it is admitted that they form a part of. To say that in future, on the mere grounds of differential rating, you are going to differentiate the tax, would, I think, cause great grievance and be manifestly unfair.
1195 Obviously there will be difficulties where-ever you draw the line. But why differentiate in reference to the rating? I believe it almost invariably is the case that this differentiation of rating is conceded because it is necessary to concede it in order to get amalgamation through, and for no other reason whatever. That is part of the bargaining which goes on. Therefore, I see absolutely no grounds whatever for differentiation in the case of Licence Duties, and I sincerely hope the Government is not going in future to say that in all these cases where there is differentiation of rating the Licence Duties are themselves going to be differentiated. What is the only ground on which you can justify special exemption? Take the case of Stoke. Stoke, we remember, was a point during the Debates on the Finance Act in 1909–10, because Stoke was in process of amalgamation when the Budget was actually passing through the House of Commons. It was perfectly fair, I think, for Stoke to come forward and say: "Here is an arrangement being made over our heads, before we have realised what is involved in the amalgamation. In this measure now passing into law we make our special bargain, our special compact in the circumstances of the case." In the case of Dewsbury, it seems to me to be mainly a question of date. The confirmation Order is apparently dated 31st March, 1910, just about when, I daresay, there may have been a great deal of uncertainty as to whether the Finance Act was to be passed into law or not. In that case, owing to the doubt as to whether the Finance Act would pass or not, there may be a case for the special exemption of Dewsbury, but I must end as I began by saying that I most sincerely trust that the Government is not going to give a general exemption. Take the case of Birmingham. When the amalgamation was brought forward we heard not a single word of this. It must have been in some of our minds. Certainly it was in my mind. Surely it was in the minds of those interested in the licensed premises of Birmingham when the Act was passed. Not one word of special circumstances was mentioned. The arguments put forward possibly justify the exemption of Stoke, and perhaps also the case of Dewsbury. If the Government withdraw this Clause perhaps they will find that that is the best way out of the difficulty.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.