HC Deb 26 February 1914 vol 58 cc2098-104

I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."


I rise to call attention to a matter which arose yesterday at Question Time. I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how it was that he was able to announce the policy of the Government with regard to the rating of land values before the Committee, which the Government themselves had appointed to advise them on this matter, had reported, and more particularly having regard to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman himself in this House had said that it would be unfair for him to express any opinion upon the question until that Committee had made its Report. The right hon. Gentleman then said he would have to look into the quotation. I have no fault to find with that. I do not think anyone could be expected to carry in his mind all his own dictums upon which he may be criticised, and least of all the right hon. Gentleman. I therefore have given him private notice of the reference, and I now propose to call the attention of the House to it. The date was the 16th February, 1912, and the occasion was an Amendment to the Address, moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher), in which he asked for an additional subvention from the Treasury for the local authorities. To that Amendment the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme himself moved an Amendment proposing to leave out the last words of the original Amendment, in order to add the words and urging the hastening of the valuation on the full site value of the land now being prepared under the Finance Act, 1910, in order that the increased subvention may be levied in the only just and effective manner. We called attention to the fact that this Amendment consisted of two parts. The hon. Member asks, in the first place, for a hastening of the valuation, and, in the second place, that the subvention should be levied in the only just and effective manner, and he did not fail to make it clear that he considered the only just and effective manner was the rating of land values. Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in dealing with that, made the statement to which I refer. He dealt with the first part of the Amendment, namely, the hastening of valuation, with which he agreed. With regard to the second part, he said:— My hon. Friend will not expect me to express any opinion upon the latter part of his Amendment as to the question of local taxation. I am anxious not to express any definite opinion until the Committee reports. It would not be fair, because that would be expressing an opinion on the whole case before we have got the Report of the Committee—the Committee that has been appointed expressly to advise the Government on that particular subject. As my hon. Friend knows, facilities have been given to put their side of the case before the Committee, and all due weight will be given in the Report of the Committee to his evidence, as well as to the evidence of those who make suggestions for the solution of this problem. That was a proper attitude. He had appointed a Committee to advise him, and had taken evidence both in favour of the rating of land values and against it, and he said that it would be unfair to express an opinion on the question. The right hon. Gentleman observed the same attitude in the course of his land campaign until he went to Glasgow. Until then he did not make any announcement with regard to the Government's policy on the question of the rating of land values. Yet another Member of the Government—Lord Lucas—on the 21st of January, 1914, said:— The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in all his speeches devoted to the land question, had not yet reached the question of rating. The chief thing the Government were waiting for was the report of the Committee. The Noble Lord said it would be rash to make any statement before the Committee reported, but all of a sudden there was a change in the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman when he went to Glasgow. I say the reason for that change was that he had a pistol presented to his head by the Land Values League, and they clearly indicated to the right hon. Gentleman that his visit to Glasgow would be wholly unwelcome unless he made a definite pronouncement in favour of the rating of land values. My reason for saying so is an article which appears in the February number of "Land Values," which is the official organ of the land value group, signed by the hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. Outhwaite), in which the following passage occurs. First, he deals with the land inquiry in England, and then he says this:— Then came a check. It was necessary for Mr. Lloyd George to carry the campaign to Scotland, and the agents of the Land Inquiry Committee were duly dispatched to that country. But they were at once met with an inquiry as to who had appointed them and by what authority from Scottish Liberals. In the face of this discouragement they faked up a report on the lines of that which had served for the well-controlled Liberals of England and Wales, who are accustomed to dance to whatever tune is piped from official headquarters. But from Scottish Liberals came an emphatic warning to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that to come to Scotland and make a speech except on the taxation and rating of land values would split up the party. So the Scottish report never saw the light and the Chancellor postponed his Glasgow speech from 11th December to 28th January. This gave the United Committees of the Scottish League for the Taxation of Land Values the opportunity to step into the field. At great demonstrations held at Glasgow. Dundee and Aberdeen the position of affairs was revealed. Immediately the breeze of discontent rose to a storm, of which Glasgow became the centre, and on 21st January the executive of the Scottish Liberal federation, by way of a resolution unanimously carried, sent an official warning to the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer that a declaration for the taxation and rating of land values was essential. Again the Glasgow meeting was postponed; this time to 4th February.. Then came 4th February, and a pronouncement was made by the right hon. Gentleman definitely committing him — at least -according to the interpretation placed upon it by the hon. Members sitting below the Gangway; but whether he did commit himself or not, I leave him to fight out with those hon. Gentlemen. He did, at all events, state that the Government were committed to the policy of rating land values, and that they would give effect to it by legislation. The Solicitor General for Scotland, who shares with the Chancellor of the Duchy the position of a Minister of not having a seat in this House, and who for some time has not had a seat in this House, moved a Resolution foreshadowing legislation of a far-reaching character, dealing with the rating of land values and expressing his welcome of the pronouncement, the definite pronouncement, made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Undoubtedly it had a marvellous effect, because the hon. Member for Hanley, who previously was very dissatisfied and said the Liberal land policy was not worth fighting for and was only started for the purpose of getting votes, then said that his anxiety had been removed and that he was quite satisfied.


I did not say that the Liberal land policy was only started for the purpose of getting votes; I said that the only way you could get votes would be to advocate the taxation of land values.


I have the words of the hon. Member. What he said was this: "It is not that the Liberal Government—" [An HON. MEMBER: "What paper?"] It is from a report of the hon. Member's speech in the "Express." If the hon. Member disputes its accuracy he can say so, but this is what he is reported to have said:— It is not that the Liberal Government want to tax land or that the Liberal party desires to do so. I prefer to put it that Liberal Ministers want to remain Liberal Ministers, and that the Liberal party desires to remain the Liberal party. The fact is the Liberal Government desires to remain in office, and the time has come when it has to find a new policy with which to get votes. That was the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman. No doubt he will be able to produce statements near his own by the Prime Minister and others in support of the same policy of land rating and valuation. No doubt he will be able to produce these. But I think they have been, if I may say so, kept in cold storage, to be produced at election times or as electoral or Parliamentary exigencies require. But, in any case, the right hon. Gentleman had appointed a Committee to inquire whether this policy was practicable. It was one of the matters expressly referred to them. If you turn to the reference you will see it was to examine proposals which had been before before the Royal Commission on Local Taxation, 1901, and, among others, was the rating of land values. The majority of that Committee had reported against it, and the minority had damned it with faint praise. The matter is a serious one, because this is largely an important question affecting a great number of persons. That Committee, when appointed, ought to have been given a fair chance of making a Report before the Government committed itself. It is a question which, whatever its theoretical attractions, may be is beset with practical difficulties. Speaking for myself, I was looking forward with interest to the Report of this Committee to see what they would say about the practical difficulties. [Interruption caused by circulation of the figures announcing the result of the Leith Burghs election.] It really is unfair to the Committee that the right hon. Gentleman should have taken that course. The Committee was appointed to deal with this particular question.

It is a question of great difficulty and importance, and they ought to have had an opportunity of dealing with it thoroughly. I do not say that any Government is bound to take the advice of a Committee which it appoints, but I do say if they appoint a Committee, they ought at least to consider its Report before they come to a decision. I propose to close with these words. I use no harsher terms about the right hon. Gentleman than he used himself by anticipation in February, 1912, when he said that this was grossly unfair. I say it was unfair to the Committee, unfair to the witnesses called before that Committee, unfair to this House, unfair to the large class of persons who have an interest in this security, and who are not drawn, as the right hon. Gentleman thinks, in the main from Dukes and Baronets, but in the main from the most thrifty of the working class community.

The CHANCELLOR Of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd George)

rose— [Interruption].


What effect did your Glasgow speech have on Leith? [An HON. MEMBER: "Order in the compound."]


Unless I am mistaken, it at any rate means a larger progressive majority than ever. It is a majority of 3,000 for progressive proposals—for Home Rule, for Land Reform.


For Welsh Disestablishment?


Including the taxation of land values. That is an increased majority for the taxation of land values. I have but a very short time to deal with the hon. and learned Member's question. I am not complaining that he has not left me time, because there has been an exciting little episode which has intervened. The hon. and learned Gentleman is a great discoverer of mare's nests, and this is the finest specimen in a very large collection. What is it of which he has complained? He said that his suggestion was that the Government had never committed themselves to the taxation of land values until I made a statement at Glasgow. He knows perfectly well that that is not so, because he anticipated my answer. The Prime Minister himself, I believe, in the House of Commons, in February, 1908, made a declaration—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—if hon. Members will listen to the declaration they will then see how it was carried out. He said:— For the local expenditure which is ultimately to be charged locally you will have to rely, first, upon an improved system of rating, and, secondly, upon additional revenue to be derived from some system of taxation of site values. I am most anxious to have an early opportunity of dealing with local taxation, but, I repeat, I cannot put the matter in train for legislative solution until, first having swept aside the cumbrous system of assigned revenue, we next get a proper system of valuation in working order, and so can do even-handed justice, not only as between the Imperial Exchequer and the ratepayers of the country, but also as regards the localities. That was in February, 1908. In 1909 it was taken out of cold storage. You had the valuation set up—that is, the valuation which will be completed next year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, Oh."]


Now they are frightened.


You had that admission; you had the admission materialised in the following year in the valuation. The only thing I said at Glasgow was this: I committed myself to the principle, but I said distinctly that the alternative methods of putting it into operation were under consideration by the Government. There was the inquiry by this Committee. There are two or three other inquiries proceeding. [HON. MEMBERS: "What inquiries?"] I am referring to the inquiry by the Glasgow Corporation, among others. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that in reply to my hon. Friend. I stated that I could not commit myself because of this Committee. What was it to which I would not commit myself? I would not commit myself to his proposal that the whole of the subvention should be raised by the taxation of ground values until the Committee had reported. I have not committed myself to that at the present moment. Neither has the Government. I stated distinctly "I cannot commit myself until the Committee has reported." The Government are uncommitted at the present moment to the raising of the whole of these subventions by means of the taxation of site values. There is no committal. The hon. Gentleman thought he had discovered something, as he has done many a time before. There is absolutely no more in it than the other things which he has discovered. I apologise on his behalf because he has no time to do so, for keeping everyone out of bed for twenty-five minutes.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-five minutes after Eleven o'clock.