§ The duties of the Commissioners relating to the valuation to be made of all land in the United Kingdom pursuant to Section 26 of the Finance (1909–10) Act, 1910, shall be suspended during the continuance of the present War.1704
§ Clause brought up, and read the first time.
§ Mr. E. JONES
I wish to submit a point of Order with regard to the effect of this Amendment on the Finance Bill. Would it not, if incorporated in that Bill, make it impossible for the Bill to receive the certificate of Mr. Speaker that it is a pure Money Bill? I may recall the fact that on two previous occasions similar Amendments to this have been ruled to have that effect. I will ask if this particular Amendment will not have the effect of causing this Bill to cease to be a pure Money Bill under the Parliament, Act?
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I submit that that is not a point of Order. I do not see how it comes within the rules of order. If the House of Commons chooses to put a Clause of any sort or kind into a Bill to which it is germane, it is entitled to do so. There is not a Revenue Bill this year, so far as I know, and, therefore, we shall have no other opportunity of dealing with a question of this kind.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Certainly I should be going rather outside my province if I were to answer a question of this kind, because it will be for Mr. Speaker, when the Bill reaches its final form, to say whether or not it can receive a certificate as a Money Bill. Members of the Committee can form their own opinion as to the effect in that direction of this particular Amendment, but it is not for me to rule it out of order on any such ground.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."
The object is to suspend during the War the operation of the Increment Value Duty. I have carefully put it in that form in order to avoid any charge being brought against me of breaking the truce. Attempts have been made, I believe, to say that this Amendment does break the truce. When that statement was made to me I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman who made it that it required some argument on his part to prove it. The only argument he could advance was that if the Clause was suspended it would make it more difficult in the years 1916 or 1917, whenever the end of the War came, to make the valuation. I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman who made that observation that it would be quite as easy in 1916 or 1917 to make a shot at the value of a property in 1909 as it would be in 1915. If the valuation had to be made on the value 1705 at the present moment, there might be something in the argument which was addressed to me. But as it has to be made upon the value as it existed in 1909, six years ago, it really makes no difference whether the valuation is made in the year 1913, or 1914, or 1915, or 1916.
The hon. Gentleman could not dispute that argument, and so he fell back on the statement that in his opinion it was a breach of the truce. I told him, "Your opinion is not a sufficient argument, and the mere suspension of the Act of Parliament is not a breach of the truce, because already a very controversial Act of Par-has been suspended, namely, the Irish Land Bill, and if you can suspend one Act of Parliament without its being a breach of the truce, it is as easy to suspend another." I contend that in bringing forward this Amendment I have done nothing which can be held to be a breach of the truce. I have also been very careful to leave out any reference to the Mineral Rights Duty, because that does bring in a considerable amount of money with practically very little expense, and, as my desire is to afford the Chancellor of the Exchequer every possible facility to obtain money, I have been most careful to leave out the Mineral Rights Duty. I do not know whether the Committee is aware that at the present moment there are really only three duties—the Increment Value Duty, the Undeveloped Land Duty, and the Reversion Duty, and of these but one is being collected. I am not proposing to suspend all three duties. I am only proposing to suspend one, because the other two have already suspended themselves. I will bring forward proof of that statement.
I think, too, I shall be able to show that the Increment Value Duty is really not being collected. It brings in £50,000 a year, and my authority for that statement is the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, on the 19th May, in answer to a question put in this House by the hon. Member for the Leith Burghs (Mr. Currie) informed him that the estimated yield from the Increment Value Duty that year was £50,000. I have looked at the Revenue Account, and I find that the cost of collecting it is about £600,000 a year. Therefore what I am endeavouring to do is to save the Chancellor of the Exchequer £550,000 a year. I know he will tell me he cannot get rid of the men who are collecting the duty, but I am going to show him a way by which he can otherwise employ these 1706 gentlemen, and thus save the nation £550,000. I had the pleasure of listening to a great speech by the Prime Minister at the Guildhall this afternoon, and the right hon. Gentleman said that the great thing he wished to emphasise, a thing which was very vital and necessary, was economy, and that there should be no waste. Making a short speech myself later on, I ventured to suggest to the meeting my hope that the Government would I set us an example which I was sure we would be anxious to follow. I am now going to give the Government an opportunity of setting an example with regard to economy and waste. No one will contend that this annual expenditure of £600,000 in order to collect £50,000 is not an absolute waste. I had better give some evidence in support of my statements so far as they have gone. In this House, on the 19th May this year, in answer to the hon. Member for the Leith Burghs, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer said:—For the current year the Increment Value Duty is estimated to yield £50,000. The collection or Undeveloped Land Duly and Reversion Duty is temporarily in abeyance, owing to judicial decisions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1915, col. 2366, Vol. LXXI.]I think I have shown from the mouth of the Government itself—from one of its greatest Members, if he will allow me to say so—that two of the three duties are already in abeyance, and that the remaining duty is only bringing in £50,000 a year. I am not at all sure that I have not a case here showing that the remaining duty is practically in abeyance as well, because as a result of decisions in the Law Courts a great portion of it cannot be collected unless those decisions are reversed. I have the decisions here, but I do not propose to trouble the Committee with them. I shall probably be told that, according to the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, at the present moment, something like 3,700 are employed in collecting this £50,000 per year at an expense of £600,000. In 1913–14 the number was 4,650, but that was reduced as a result of 1,000 members of the staff having been given permission to serve in His Majesty's Forces, and further of the balance available at the beginning of the year 1915–16 the services of some 1,700 will have been dispensed with in the course of the year, so that although the actual figures at the beginning of the year showed that 3,650 men were thus employed in this particular Department, 1,700 men will have been taken away by the end of the year. Supposing that is so, there still remain 2,000 men.
1707 I have had a letter from a gentleman in the Civil Service—I have his letter in my pocket; perhaps I had better not mention the Department—who has been lent by one Department to another because the Department for which he was working had not any work for him and the other Department was short. This gentleman writes to me to say he wants to serve in the Forces, but that the Government will not let him go because the Department to which he has been transferred says there is a demand for men. I would suggest, if the right hon. Gentleman says in reply to me that he could not dispense with the services of the 2,000 gentlemen who are employed upon the valuation staff because they are permanent members, that he could use one of them in order to let this gentleman who writes to me join the Forces, and he could use the remainder in whatever work is necessary. There is no need to dismiss them. They could be used in making munitions or anything else, or in any military work which is necessary at the present moment. I think I have clearly shown that to continue this valuation during the War is a mere waste of money, and that at a time when we are spending £3,000,000 a day and are adding to the National Debt at the rate of £1,000,000,000 or something of that sort, we should be absolutely foolish to spend £600,000 in order to get £50,000.
I am told that what these gentlemen are doing is not actually sitting in their office doing nothing, but that they are going round and making certain valuations. About ten days ago I had a letter from a gentleman saying that he proposed to call at my house in London to make a valuation. I wrote to him and pointed out that it had taken him a very long time to come, and that as he had waited from 1909 to 1915—that is, six years—it would not hurt him to wait another year if by so doing we were enabled to get another silver bullet with which to carry on the War. He wrote to me and said he was coming to see my house. That was ten days ago. I have the letter in my pocket. I wrote back to him saying that nothing would give me greater delight, and that he would be received with every courtesy, but I ventured to suggest that he would be occupying his time more advantageously to the State if he were to join the service of the Crown and fight for his country abroad, or did something in connection with the great 1708 question which was before us, namely, the War. He did not answer that letter, but he gave me notice that on a certain day Mr. So-and-so would come round. I told my servant to be very careful to attend to him and to show him every courtesy. He came round. My daughter happened to be sitting in one of the rooms when he came in and looked round and said, "Ah, a very pleasant room—very nice!" He was delighted. A lady friend of my wife's told her the next day that a gentleman—I do not know whether it was the same gentleman—had come in and had looked round her house. She was in her drawing-room. He said to her, "Your wallpaper is much prettier than the wallpaper in the room of the adjoining house." She said to him, "I think you would be using your time much better if you were fighting the Germans instead of coming round and making observations as to my taste in drawing-rooms, or as to the taste of my neighbour in her drawing-room."
No doubt these gentlemen are doing this. I do not blame them. It is not a very unpleasant occupation to go round and look over houses. If I were interested in the architectural development of the country I should be very glad, if there were no War going on, to go round and see how people were decorating their houses. I submit, in all seriousness, that this is the wrong time to do that sort of thing, and that even if we were getting a sufficient sum of money from the taxes to provide for the expenses, even then we had better not do it. As a matter of fact, what are we doing? We are losing £550,000 a year, and putting nothing into our pockets. It might, perhaps, interest the Committee to know what the result of all this has been. The result is that since the beginning of these taxes they have yielded £689,000, and the cost has been £2,938,000. If you deduct one sum from the other, you will find that the loss to the State is a little over £2,000,000. What does that mean? It means that we are minus a "Dreadnought." [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Instead of having a "Dreadnought," or an old age pension provided out of these taxes, if we had not had these taxes we could have had one more "Dreadnought" than we have at the present time. I think I have made a good case. [Laughter.] I am glad it meets with the general approval of the House. In these circumstances, I do not think it will be necessary to say anything more, 1709 unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer is, if I may say so with all respect, foolish enough not to accept my new Clause.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I will follow the example set by the hon. Baronet in making an entirely uncontroversial speech, and will try, as far as I can, to submit my case to the Committee, as he has done, without expressing any opinion on the merits of the taxes, although, perhaps, in the closing part of his speech the hon. Baronet was misled into a momentary abuse of the taxes. But I am sure that that was a slip. He intends only, as his Clause says, to suspend the operation of the Land Valuation Department. Am I right in that? May I take it that the hon. Baronet intends only to suspend it with the intention of resuming the full activity of land valuation after the War?
§ Mr. McKENNA
Of course, Parliament can always change its mind. The intention of the hon. Baronet is to suspend the operations of this Land Valuation Department, and to resume them in their entirety when the War is over. I think I shall be able to show clearly that the hon. Baronet's proposal is quite impracticable. I am treating it only as a serious proposal.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I am treating it as a serious proposal, based upon economy, without expressing any opinion upon the merits or demerits of the taxes. I am entitled to take that view. In the first place, let me say that the hon. Baronet is mistaken in saying that £550,000 a year is being spent for the purpose of receiving £50,000 a year. Whether it is right or wrong to spend money on valuation is one question, but if it be assumed to be right, if it be assumed that those who think it right believe it to be the case that valuation serves purposes besides the mere collection of that very tax, if that is true, it is a false argument to show any relation between the amount raised by a particular tax and the cost of the valuation. Therefore we must not assume that the cost of the valuation is only justified, or can only be justified or must fail to be justified, 1710 according to the amount of revenue now raised. The hon. Baronet is too good a financier not to know that the valuation has had a very considerable effect in bringing in revenue in other ways. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Undoubtedly that is so. Undoubtedly the effect of the valuation has been to raise materially the revenue from the Death Duties.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I think it has had that effect. However, I do not want to go into anything controversial or to discuss the taxes upon their merits. I am only arguing that those who support that valuation do so and have justified it upon grounds quite independent of the amount of revenue annually raised by the Increment Value Tax. Let me explain to the Committee the nature of the Land Valuation Department, which is what the hon. Baronet proposes to suspend. The corps—that is to say, the permanent body of the Land Valuation Department—is a staff of established Civil servants of nearly 600 in number. They have rights. They are Civil servants with established rights. [An HON. MEMBER: "Just like a soldier?"] Yes, like a soldier; and they cannot be suspended by a Clause of this kind without committing a breach of faith.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I do not know whether they will refuse it or not. I do not know whether the hon. Baronet thinks the House would be justified in passing a Bill which made use of his time, and used him for other purposes without his consent. After all, these are human beings and Englishmen, and are entitled to the same rights. The fact that they have entered into a bargain with the State to sell their services for a particular purpose does not entitle us to treat them as chattels and dispose of them in that way.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The right hon. Gentleman must not misrepresent me. Nothing in my Clause says they can be 1711 obliged to do other work, but it will be open to the right hon. Gentleman to say, "We will pay you, but you must do other work."
§ Mr. McKENNA
I am not at all sure about that. These are gentlemen qualified as valuers, and not qualified to do other work. If we suspended them, we should have to abolish their office or pay them in full. They could say, "You can either get rid of me on the abolition of office terms, or pay me in full while you suspend my office." That is what they are entitled to under their contract. The first effect of suspension is that we continue to pay—although we are now paying for their established services—and get nothing for it. That is the effect of the economy, because we have suspended their work and have to continue to pay for it. The first effect is that these gentleman, who are the most expensive part of the staff will have to be paid whether we employ them or not. Of these 600, a small percentage are serving with the Colours, and as far as they can be spared, they are allowed to enlist.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. McKENNA
In addition to the 600 there were, before the War, approximately 4,100 temporary members of the Valuation Staff on monthly engagements, recruited for the purpose of the original valuation. Independently of the War, as the valuation approaches completion, that staff becomes redundant. This was recognised in the Estimates for the current financial year, which allowed for a reduction of not less than 1,700 men, in addition to the loss of the services of 1,000 men already enlisted with permission. So that in our Estimates we have already contemplated a reduction of the dismissable staff. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is apart from the War?"] Yes, apart from the War, as the work progressed, we have allowed for a reduction of 1,700, and we have allowed 1,000 to enlist, with permission. That reduces the dismissible staff to 1,400, instead of 4,100. This process of reduction will necessarily continue during the War as others are allowed to go as soon as and whenever there is no work for them to do. The Committee must remember that already 97 per cent. of the valuations have been made.
§ Mr. McKENNA
That is not the point. But for the War the 100 per cent. would have been done before last March. There remains to be done 3 per cent., which will shortly be finished.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I think the right hon. Gentleman will see what is the point of difference between us. Ninety-seven per per cent. of the valuations have been made. I do not say completed. I am not going to conceal the point. It is part of my case. They will be only completed after agreement.
§ Mr. McKENNA
It is valuation. It does not matter whether it is for one duty or another. I quite recognise that the hon. Gentleman was led into a mistake by the speech of the hon. Baronet, who did not draw the distinction which he should have drawn between the duties and the valuation. Not all of these valuations have been settled. The owners or occupiers did not agree. It is a provisional valuation. Here comes in the point of agreement of all parties on the case for economy. The final settlement cannot be made until after the War, in many cases because the owners, occupiers and persons interested are not here. After the War there will be an accretion of the staff due to the return of the thousand who have been allowed to enlist and will be taken back. We require to retain the permanent staff to do the permanent work of valuation. The valuation has not only to be made but has to be kept up. For that purpose a permanent staff has been engaged and established and must and will be kept. But it is quite obvious that the temporary staff, which was nearly seven times as large as the permanent staff, will not be required once the valuation is completed, is not in a large measure required now, and may almost all be allowed to go during the War, provided that a sufficient number are retained to come back after the War, when we are once again in a position to settle the valuation. We have to retain our permanent staff because it is an established staff and has permanent work to do. We have to do the valuation of the remaining 3 per cent., which will shortly be done, and we have undertaken to take back a certain number of the temporary staff who have enlisted with 1713 permission, and when we get them back we shall be in a position to complete our work. I do not think on examination it will be found that on any ground of economy this Amendment could be accepted. I would ask hon. Members opposite to search in their hearts, if they support this Amendment, whether it is because they dislike the taxes, and, if that be the case, I would appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House—let us leave this controversy alone during the War. All that can be done in avoiding extravagance we are doing. We are keeping the permanent staff, and we have made arrangements for the return of those members of the temporary staff who will be needed for the completion of the work, and in the meanwhile we are only retaining such men as are necessary to do the work which we have in hand.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
I think I must be very careful in any observations I make upon this subject. I have no right or title whatever to speak for any of my Friends sitting on my right. Perhaps in the views which I shall express on this question they may be in total disagreement with me. Neither have I any formal right to speak for many of my hon. Friends behind me, though I think on this subject probably a great many of us will be very thoroughly agreed. I think my hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) made a statement which was conclusive for his object, namely, to show that an enormous sum of money had been wasted up to the present time in connection with the Valuation Department. He showed that an immense economy would be effected by the suspension during the War—and he was careful to limit himself to that period—of the present Valuation Department. We heard from the right hon. Gentleman that the services of many people employed in that Department have been terminated already, and there has been a very large reduction in the staff. This very afternoon the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend (Mr. Bonar Law)—two great leaders for years in this House—have been speaking at the Guildhall to urge upon all classes of the people in every direction the absolute and urgent necessity of making every reduction in expense that is possible during the continuation of the War. In a great measure their colleagues in this House absolutely refuse to practice what they are preaching. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I do not say with regard to the whole of 1714 their staff, because something has been done in this direction already. That strengthens and confirms the case which I have submitted—I hope in not too strong language. I may have said it with emphasis, but what I said was merely the absolute facts of what has been going on this afternoon. My hon. Friend has been urging this same duty on the House of Commons. I am, personally, in entire and absolute agreement with him.
The right hon. Gentleman, in the first place, says that the course suggested by my hon. Friend is quite impracticable, and that my hon. Friend is quite wrong about the purpose of the Act. Whether he is right or wrong about the purpose, it appears to me that he is perfectly right as to the result. The enormous expenditure is not denied, and the trifling sum that is derived for revenue is absolutely admitted. That is the case of my hon. Friend. I do not see what more there is to be said on the subject. But I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer was mistaken in one or two particulars. My recollection is clear upon this point, that as regards the Death Duties provision was made for dealing with them at a separate time and quite apart from anything connected with land valuation. He spoke with great pride of the permanent staff of 600 who are still retained, and he told us in addition that it was quite impossible to terminate their arrangements with the Government without a breach of faith. I was very sorry to hear it, because I said to myself, supposing this valuation continues in the future to be as great a failure as it has been up to the present, are we to understand that although it has failed we are still to go on paying this permanent staff, because that is the position in which we are left by the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Not quite. The hon. Baronet put this as a temporary arrangement, and that the work was to go on after the War. If we dismissed the staff now we should have to re-enlist a new staff, consequently we should be getting rid of 600 men and should then have to pay 600 new men to continue the work.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) and 1715 the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) that the proposal before the Committee is merely the suspension of the land valuation during the War. Therefore we must assume resumption afterwards.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
I was replying to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I was going to say that although that undoubtedly is the proposal before the Committee at this moment, yet when the right hon. Gentleman talks about the staff being reappointed, or another staff being selected, a great many things may happen before then. He speaks of that with very great confidence, but I cannot conceal from myself the possibility that if this land valuation continues to be such a failure as it has been in the past, that perhaps another Government when the War is over—
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
Yes, and it is even conceivable that the Chancellor of the Exchequer might himself be a Member of that Government, and for the financial welfare I should be heartily glad if he were, so far as I can judge of the way he has filled his position up to the present time. Therefore I do not think that the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to the staff was deserving of any very great consideration. He says that 97 per cent. of the valuations have been made. I was very much surprised to hear that. I have been favoured with some information on this subject, consequently I intervened to ask him, "What about the valuations of agricultural land, have they all been made? I am advised that they have not all been made. This is the information I have got:The Courts have decided that all the valuations hitherto made of agricultural laud have been made on a wrong and illegal basis.That is the decision of the Courts. That is the position of the Land Valuation Department at the present time, and it has been so for a very considerable time. What has been the result of that?Since that decision was given no more such valuations have been served for any agricultural land or for any property where there is garden grounds or trees or anything growing on the land.In view of that information, I have considerable difficulty in reconciling the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that 97 per cent. of the valuations have 1716 been made. Probably he was not aware of this fact. My informant goes on:—The valuations of all these classes of property may therefore be divided into two categories: (1) those valuations served prior to the judgment of the Court, which are now pronounced illegal, and of which there are an enormous number, and (2) those which have never been served at all and which are extraordinarily numerous in the case of agricultural land.Unless I have been misinformed, and unless all that I have said in support of this proposal of my hon. Friend can be contradicted, I shall still remain of the opinion that I think the proposal in this new Clause is one which the House of Commons would do wisely and well to accept.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
The hon. Member who moved this Clause suggested it as a mere matter of saving a certain amount of public revenue, but I think we see something very much more in it than that. He says that no breach of the party truce is involved in this Clause, but I maintain that whatever may be done in this House it will lead to a breach of the party truce outside these walls if this Clause is adopted. The object of the Clause is to scrap the machinery of land valuation, to ensure that when the War is over there shall be no machinery in existence, and it will have to be built up again. We have our suspicions, because we know that the land-owning party in this country have opposed these land valuation duties because of the valuation. It is valuation they have been afraid of. The Scottish Land Values Bill passed this House and went to the Lords, and it was thrown out there. The great fight over the Budget of 1909 was over valuation, and when we have had Revenue Bills brought up to amend this valuation we have had the most bitter opposition to face. Therefore, I say that we see in this Clause of the hon. Baronet's a determination to scrap land valuation. We believe, at any rate I do myself, that there is to-day, or there will be in the future, a very much greater reason than in the past why certain classes of this country who are represented by the hon. Baronet should wish that this valuation should be discarded. We know that immediately the War is over the great issue before the country must be the cost of the War, and very important questions will arise out of that. Taxation will have to be considered, and undoubtedly new forms of taxation and new sources of taxation must be sought for. The politics of this country will circle round the question of taxation in the first place, and certainly the issue must arise as to the question of the taxation of land. Therefore, the hon. 1717 Baronet, knowing very well that that must come about, is desirous, and naturally desirous, to see it rendered as little likely as possible that the taxes should be levied on land, and for that purpose he desires to see the valuations scrapped.
When this War is over, when great industrial unrest arises, and when the men who have gone to the front return, I believe there will be developed, and I have no doubt the hon. Baronet realises it too, a more determined attack upon the land monopoly of this country than in the past. Land valuation is the machinery of that attack, and I can well realise the determination of the hon. Baronet to take advantage of the opportunity to see that valuation put an end to. For my part I raise my voice against any attempt to sell the past on the part of the Government in this matter. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made a statement which will satisfy very largely myself and those who stand for land value taxation reform, but it does not satisfy the hon. Baronet. I should resist to the uttermost, and I am sure my Friends will also resist to the uttermost, any attempt whatever to alter the condition of affairs as regards valuation, because it will have the effect of breaking up the political truce if this Clause is proceeded with, and because I believe that the men who have gone to fight for their country abroad when they return to this country will be determined to have a greater share in it than they have had in the past. Look at the incitements which are being made at the present time to men to recruit. Here is a poster I got from the Recruiting Committee. It says, "Your country needs you." It represents a Highlander gazing down upon a village, and underneath are the words, "Is not this worth fighting for?" I maintain that those people who have gone abroad to fight for their country will, when they return, be, determined to fight for a greater share of their own country here. We were told at the start, but we do not hear so much about it now, that it was a fight against Junkerdum. I find that is translated as landlordism. Our men are now fighting against landlordism, Prussian landlordism and its results, and when they return they do not want to find landlordism more firmly established here. We have had experience in the past on that score, and history would repeat itself if this Clause were accepted. The people of this country once before fought against militarism and a military despot on the Continent. What 1718 happened then? When they were fighting to overthrow the despotism of Napoleon, the landlords here were filching from them the common land of England and Wales.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
I understand, Mr. Chairman, that you had ruled that the question was that of suspension during the War. Is the question of Napoleon and his despotism, which the hon. Member is now coming to, in order in accordance with your ruling?
§ The CHAIRMAN
The fact is that I tried to get the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Chaplin) to keep to the Clause, but he departed from it, and I thought it proper to allow a reply to what he said. But after this speech I think we might get back to the subject of the Clause.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I was devoting my remarks to the question whether this is a breach of the party truce or not. I am only saying in this House what will be said on many platforms in the country if this issue is raised, and it will certainly be raised in Scotland, as I was about to show when I was interrupted. Whilst the Scottish Highlander was fighting over a century ago for his country and his hearth and home, at that very time, in 1814, the Southern clearances were in full force, and the smoke was rising from the Strath of Kildonan and people were being driven out to the bleak North Coast. They were expelled from their homes, and their homes were burned. This shows whether the party truce will be broken or not if you raise this question of the taxation of land. We have seen during the last few days, and we have seen it on other occasions since the beginning of this War, many limitations of liberty by the custodians of liberty. Under the Defence of the Realm Act freedom of speech has almost been abolished. We have seen restrictions placed upon labour, and in many other directions we have seen liberty limited, but in this measure of land value taxation we see an extension of liberty, and we who stand for that cause are not going to submit in any way whatsoever to the selling of the past by the Government at the present time. If this Clause were accepted, or if the Chancellor of the 1719 Exchequer showed any disposition whatsoever to meet the hon. Baronet and his proposals, I can tell him that this Clause and this question will be taken outside the walls of this House on to every platform in the Kingdom to determine whether, whilst men are fighting for their country, landlordism shall be more firmly established in it.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Now that we have had one speech from either side, each of which went beyond the new Clause entirely, I hope the Committee will support me in restricting discussion to the subject of the Clause, which is the temporary suspension of land valuation during the War.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
I am not one of those who favour this valuation, but I think that although the valuation has been most extravagant and has cost us far too much money, and though I still think it is a costly toy, yet when we are so near finishing it we might just as well finish it. We have been rather misled as to this valuation and as to the methods of it. I remember the Scottish Bill and I remember Lord Shaw saying very clearly that all that was wanted in the valuation was another column in the return to be filled up. That was quite right, but when we come to the valuation under the 1909 Act, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions (Mr. Lloyd George), who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, seemed to get persuaded by a lot of doctrinaires to introduce a most elaborate—
§ The CHAIRMAN
We are diverging again from the question raised by this Clause. The question is whether the valuation should be suspended during the progress of the War.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I was coming to that. The valuation has been to a large extent accomplished. I will not go as far as my hon. Friend who said 97 per cent., because a lot of the valuations are still in abeyance. But the great bulk of the work is done, the staff is now being diminished, and I think that it would be a very extravagant thing to stop the work now and recommence it after the War is over. I think that it had better go on and be finished. Let us be done with it. What it will produce hereafter is another matter, but I would appeal to the hon. Baronet to withdraw his Amendment and let the thing go on.
§ Mr. J. A. PEASE
During the period of the War it does seem to me advisable that the Government should, as far as it can, economise in every department of public expenditure It is also important that if there is to be a suspension of any of the work connected with this Department the machinery should remain in existence and should be capable of being utilised the moment the War is over. The hon. Baronet proposes to suspend the operation during the course of the War. Many of us believe that that will not be real economy. The Government, by proceeding with their valuation will, in the long run, I think, economise most by maintaining some of the permanent staff on this work. But I do suggest to the Government that perhaps it might be possible not to employ the whole of the staff of 600 during the remaining period of the War. Six hundred seems to be a large number. Several of them might possibly be relieved of their duties in order to join the Colours; others might possibly be qualified to help in another Department. But I know how difficult it is, when you have specially qualified Civil servants in one division, to remove them to another Department in the hope that they can properly undertake the work of other officials, when they have not been trained to those particular duties. It is possible that some little transfer might take place, but I think that the important thing which we might all agree to in these times is to keep the machinery running and reduce so far as possible the staff. I am informed that the reduction this year as compared with last year will amount to a saving of £120,000. That, at any rate, is a substantial sum saved for the country, and I think that if the Government indicate that they are trying to economise so far as they can, at the same time maintaining the machinery of the staff at their work, which should be taken up with increased vigour as soon as the War is over, perhaps we might come to an amicable arrangement in connection with this proposed Clause.
§ Mr. SANDERSON
I support the proposal of the hon. Baronet simply on the ground which he has put, namely, that it is so desirable for us to economise. I hope that I shall abide by your ruling and not be led into the controversial matters which were dealt with by the hon. Member below the Gangway. I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said just now. In regard to a Department of this 1721 kind it is, of course, necessary to keep some of the officials, I suppose all the permanent officials, in active service, and I want to make it quite clear that the hon. Baronet when he was speaking never suggested in anything which he said that those permanent officials should be dismissed, or that any attempt should be made to dismiss them. The only point he made was this: Inasmuch as there was no valuation going on at the present moment the services of those gentlemen might very well be utilised for other purposes. With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon said in reference to agricultural land, I think that he was perfectly correct when he said that agricultural land at the present moment lies in two categories, first, that which has never been valued at all, and secondly, that which has been valued, and the valuation of which has been entirely upset by the decision of Mr. Justice Scrutton. As to that which has not been valued, the valuers do not know upon what principle to proceed. Therefore the valuation of the land is entirely at a standstill at the present moment. With regard to that which has been valued, the valuations of which have been upset by the legal decision, nothing can be done until that matter is settled.
Everybody knows the case which is referred to, the Inland Revenue Commissioners versus Smythe, in which the decision of the very learned judge upset all the valuations which had been made with reference to agricultural land. That decision is at present the subject of appeal which will not be heard until the Michaelmas term, some time after October, because I see it marked in the list as adjourned until Michaelmas sittings. If it is heard then I suppose that whichever party loses will go to the ultimate tribunal, the House of Lords, and in all probability, so far as we can see, that ultimate decision will not be arrived at until some time next year. I sincerely hope that by that time the War will be over. It may not be, but I hope that it will be. At all events, my point is that a very considerable time, not a few weeks and a few months, but it may be a year from now, must elapse before we can get a final decision with regard to that matter which will enable the valuers to ascertain the right principles on which to make their valuation. Therefore the consequence is obvious. If you cannot have ascertained the principle on which you are going to value your agricultural land, why can you 1722 not agree to the proposition which is now made by the hon. Baronet that you should suspend all valuations during the continuance of the War? The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that if this Clause is carried we shall have to go on paying our permanent servants their salaries, and they will have nothing to do. May I join issue with him on that, not in any controversial spirit? I cannot help thinking that if those 600 servants had it put to them, "The House of Commons has decided that during the War this valuation is not to continue. Do you mind assisting the Government in other matters which are I more pertinent to the War?" every one of the 600 would agree, and they would be only too glad to do it, because they would prefer to be employed in some Department which is more connected with the War, than in adding up figures or perhaps inspecting property which could be perfectly well done in the year 1916 or 1917.
I agree entirely with the closing words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he said let us leave controversy alone during the War. That is just what the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London is proposing to do by this Clause. These valuations are the things which have given rise to more controversy and more annoyance than anything that I know, except perhaps the papers which we receive in connection with Income Tax from the right hon. Gentleman's officials. But all that controversy and annoyance will be done away with if the right hon. Gentleman will only accept the Clause which the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London has proposed. In reference to the statement that 97 per cent. of the valuations have been made, I suppose that, strictly speaking, by the card, that is correct. I dare say that the valuers have made provisional valuations in respect of 97 per cent. of the total. But that means that they are only at the very beginning of it. That does not give any material information. We want to know what is the percentage of the valuations which have been completed, and how many of those completed valuations will now stand, having regard to the decision of Mr. Justice Scrutton in the case of the Inland Revenue versus Smythe. I do not suppose that he has got those figures at the present moment, but the point is that though we have now I believe passed the statutory period when the valuation ought to be re-done, for it should be re-done every five years, here we are in this ridiculous position that we have got nowhere near 1723 the end of the first valuation. The statutory period has elapsed, and these valuers have to go through the operation—to my mind perfectly ridiculous—of making an estimate of what the site value was on the 30th April, 1909, whereas we ought to be now reconsidering that valuation.
When you remember the figures that the hon. Baronet gave this afternoon, which have not been contradicted, you will see that whatever the purposes—and I do not care what they are—of these land valuations were, the fact remains that you are spending an enormous amount of money at the present moment and you are not collecting anything like what you ought. You are spending something like £13 in order to collect £1, and this at a time when every penny that can be saved is of value. The Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day appealed to us to go down to our constituents and ask them to be economical, and yet here he is absolutely approving of a scheme which is so extravagant as my hon. Friend has pointed out. If my hon. Friend does not get any further satisfaction out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the point, I hope that he will take the matter to a Division. That is not raising any controversial questions: it is trying to postpone them and at the same time to save money for the country.
§ Sir G. TOULMIN
I do not think that anyone can have any doubt after the course of this Debate as to whether the truce has been broken or not. It is perfectly evident that this is a wanton interference with the agreement that has been arrived at. Not one single word has been said by any Member who supports this Amendment in favour of the statutory discontinuance of this valuation, instead of the administrative economies which are being undertaken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. No one would object to the conduct of the Department in such a manner as would use the Members of that Department, so long as the work was carried forward in the best possible way, during the present emergency, but that you should shove this ramrod into the machinery at the present moment is I think absurd. I do not believe it to be economical, and I have very great difficulty in believing that the hon. Baronet who introduced this Amendment was sincere in suggesting that that was his main consideration. The War is to be over next spring, it is 1724 said, but, for the comparatively short time which is to elapse, according to the hon. Member who has just sat down, we are to have this Department thrown into confusion, and a number of permanent established Civil servants thrown out of their offices.
We are referred to a speech in which the Prime Minister has made the appeal that there should be no waste. It is a very bad business that does not pay for bookkeeping, and a great many of us look upon this valuation as the foundation of our national bookkeeping, and we want a straight line to be drawn and permanently established whereby that portion of our national estate, the land, may have its value entirely known, and a just amount of taxation put upon it. The weakness of the argument of the hon. Baronet is shown by his continued repetition of what is practically a false argument, that the whole of this expenditure of £600,000 a year has been incurred in order to get £50,000 worth of taxation. It is perfectly well known to anyone who cares to know anything about it, that the valuation itself is considered to be of great political value, and because this is a political question, therefore, you make this attempt to break the truce. I do not wish to speak very long upon this question, from the very fact that it is a breach of the truce. I believe that each Member of this House at the present moment feels that he is not Member alone for those who elect him, but for everyone who is taking part personally, or by those dear to him, in the War. I do not think that there is one of my opponents in Bury who would have wished that this question should be raised at the present moment. I believe that each of us feels that he is Member, not merely for those who voted for him, but for every elector in our constituencies, and I think it is a breach of something that ought to have been an honourable understanding, that such a question should have been raised at this present moment.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I think the hon. Member opposite is really unnecessarily excited. I am quite certain that there is no intention whatever of any breach of the Parliamentary truce. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I am speaking for myself, anyhow. Nor do I think that anyone seeks to press the Amendment on the right hon. Gentleman, if he is not prepared to accept it, and if he shows, as he has shown, very reasonable cause why he should not. 1725 The right hon. Gentleman knows, as we all know, that this valuation has for all reasonable and practical purposes at the present moment a ramrod in its machinery. Yet you want to supply oil to machinery which is standing. No one wants to go back to old controversies or raise them now. There is time enough when the new Government comes into power, with a different view from that which is held by hon. Members opposite. I think there are certainly greater economies than the right hon. Gentleman has yet been able to make in his Department. I do not ask that established officials should be interfered with in any way, but I wish to point out from information that has been sent to me, that a large number of these temporary appointments that have been cancelled have been in the case of men who are older than forty years, while men in the same office, under that age, have been replaced. If in any particular office, while the War is going on, they cancel the appointment of ten or a dozen temporary clerks, I should certainly hope it would be the appointments of those under forty and not of those over forty. I know of a case where the appointment has been cancelled in the case of one over forty, and I do not think that ought to be. So long as the right hon. Gentleman does his level best to reduce the quantity of oil applied to the standing machinery, I am sure we shall be satisfied.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
I have no desire to aggravate feeling in regard to this matter, but it is impossible to acquit hon. Gentlemen who have raised this discussion of a deliberate attempt to break the political truce. They are offered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer those administrative economies they have asked for. Why then has this Debate been proceeded with, and why have we been told in speech after speech that unless we give them something further there is still this threat of a Division? We are told that 97 per cent. of the valuations have been made, and this Amendment says that the other 3 per cent. under no circumstances must be proceeded with. It may be wise or it may be unwise to proceed with the valuation, but what business man, having expended nearly £3,000,000, which we are told is the amount in this case, in accomplishing 97 per cent. of the work upon any undertaking, would break down at the last 3 per cent. of the work remaining to be done, without spending the small additional sum necessary for the purpose of setting 1726 the whole machine going. What does this Amendment propose further? Every case of valuation is to stop. Not a single valuation is to be made. The hon. Baronet says that all we have got to do is to find out how things stood in 1909, and then we would see what was to be done after the War. But if the hon. Baronet were to sell his property, this beautiful property, with its beautiful wallpaper which excites so much admiration, would it be as easy after the War as it would be to-day to ascertain what the value is now, and when the property has changed hands? He knows very well that it would not. He knows that it is not easy to assess the increment, and he knows that what we propose to achieve is not merely the bringing about of some administrative economies. This proposal seeks to smash the machine, and we will not stand idly by while that is attempted. I urge that the political truce should be maintained. May I remind hon. Members of the terms of that political truce? It is not a truce that applies simply to the two great political parties, the great Conservative party and the great Liberal party. It is a truce, we were informed by the leaders on both sides, which was to extend to every section of this House, however small it might be, if it represented a distinct section of opinion. The Prime Minister speaking in this House on 31st August said:—It is our desire that no party in any quarter of the House should gain advantage or should suffer prejudice from the suspension for the moment of our domestic controversies.We say in the clearest manner that in our view we would suffer prejudice, and those opposed to us would gain advantage, if the proposal contained in the new Clause were carried out. That is sufficient to show that the political truce would be broken if the Amendment were carried. Can anyone expect a party truce to proceed on that basis? The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, now a Member of the Government (Mr. Bonar Law), said on the same occasion:—It is certainly our desire, as a result of the War, that nothing should be done in regard to any controversial matter to place any of the parties to the controversy in a worse position than they were in before the War broke out.So far as the hon. Members with whom I am associated are concerned, we have observed the political truce to the full. We believe—I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen are aware how profoundly we believe—that if the taxation of land values, which we have advocated so often from these Benches, were adopted, you 1727 would find a method to finance the present War infinitely superior to any other. We find to-day that our local authorities, because the House is unable to give them the financial assistance intended, in consequence of the War, are now threatened, in many cases, with the greatest financial difficulties, and they could be relieved from these to-morrow if the proposal of land values which we have so often advocated here were adopted. We believe that it would secure great advantages to the bulk of the people of this country—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. Member is going back to the larger question of the merits of land valuation. We are agreed that the discussion should be confined to the Clause, and to the matter of the suspension of the valuation.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
What I desire to say—and I hope it will be in order—is that we have not raised this question because we desire to maintain the political truce. That is the point I make. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman opposite that, when we have made these sacrifices which, whether he believes it or not, are very real sacrifices to us, he and those associated with him should act in a corresponding way, and not press this matter. We, for our part, do not intervene to prevent these administrative economies for which the Chancellor of the Exchequer presses. I would point out that here is a staff of some 4,650, according to the figures given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That number is reduced automatically by dismissals which are contemplated in this year's Estimates, till it is reduced to 1,400. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that it can be still further reduced, making a permanent staff of 600, who cannot be dispensed with. We do not interfere and say that those economies should not take place but we do say that this machine, which we regard as of great importance in the bringing about of a reform vital to the interests of the people of this country, should be maintained. It could not be maintained if this proposal be pressed to a Division and carried into effect. I appeal to the hon. Baronet, who is as anxious as any of us, that we should concentrate ourselves upon the War—even should there be some expenditure of money which he thinks unnecessary and wasteful—and by so co-operating bring nearer the period when these controversies may be renewed, 1728 when the House will be freer to deal with them, and when we shall be able to advocate those great reforms to which we are so much attached.
§ Sir JOHN ROLLESTON
I should like very much to support the Motion of the hon. Baronet that the Land Duties should be suspended during the War, as an important economy bearing on national expenditure, but as you, Sir, have ruled that we cannot do that, then I bow to your decision, and we shall probably have to bring these matters up outside the House. Although this is a democratic country, this House, which is the great platform of the nation, where grievances can be brought forward, where burning questions of great interest can be decided, but which have no effect on foreign relations or on the War, is subject to a merciless closure.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am sorry I cannot allow that to pass. If the hon. Gentleman had read the Clause we are discussing he would have seen that it proposes suspension of the land valuation during the War. All that I have done is to ask the Committee to discuss the proposal before it. If the proposal had been to repeal the land valuation, then, of course, the whole question would have been open to discussion, but that is not before the Committee now.
§ Sir J. ROLLESTON
I regret the proposal was not to repeal the land valuation. I bow to your ruling, but I regret that the discussion has been shorn of its chief interest.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
May I ask the Committee if it would be possible to come to a decision. The matter has been very fully discussed. There are a large number of other very important new Clauses on the Paper, and it is getting late. As I understand the object of the hon. Baronet is that he desires, forgetful of all old controversies on the merits of the Land Taxes, to achieve economy during the War. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out, to a very large extent the Motion which he has moved would not achieve it. There is a permanent staff and a temporary staff. With regard to the permanent staff, we can assure him that some members of military age have already been allowed to enlist and join the Colours, and whenever it is possible to spare the services of an individual member we shall continue to allow enlistment from that permanent 1729 staff. With regard to the temporary staff, there is already a reduction this year over last year in the Estimates of £123,000, and during the current year I can give him my undertaking that the Inland Revenue will do everything in their power to speed the work which must be done, and to reduce that temporary staff as the work progresses, and we do hope to make substantial economies even on the money which the House of Commons has voted. I do not think we can go further, and I would urge the hon. Baronet to withdraw the Motion.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The right hon. Gentleman has met me to a considerable degree. As I understand, he considers it advisable to economise in his Department, and that he will, as far as is possible, withdraw and reduce that temporary staff, and that the permanent staff shall be given other work if it is possible to do so.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
No. I only said we will continue to allow those to enlist who can be spared from the valuation work.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is with regard to the permanent staff. I think the right hon. Gentleman could have gone a little further. In the War Office, for instance, a large number of temporary clerks have been engaged for a month or two months, and it would be perfectly possible for the right hon. Gentleman to avail himself of the services of gentlemen of the Land Valuation Department in the War Office. That would not in any kind of way interfere with the continuation of the Land Valuation Department afterwards, because they could go back. A large number of officials are being lent in that way. If the right hon. Gentleman will give me an assurance that as far as possible he will do that, then I shall be pleased to withdraw the Clause; otherwise I must go to a Division.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
I wish to support the Clause on a ground that has not yet been mentioned, and which has been pressed on me frequently by my Constituents, and that is that the continuation of the valuation during the period of the War is having a very serious effect, and detrimental effect, on recruiting. [An HON. MEMBER: "HOW?"] Because many men are engaged in the valuation who are well qualified to enlist in the defence of their country. Young men say to those addressing recruiting meetings, "Here is the Government calling on us and all the 1730 while employing eligible young men about a valuation that cannot come into operation for a certain number of years." I submit that that is a strong consideration, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make the greatest possible reduction in the staff. As to economy, practice is better than precept. The Government have asked us to be economical and they should practice what they preach, and might surely reduce some of the expenses in this case. Let me say a word about settlement, not in any controversial sense. I confess at once I believe there could have been a better way to have a valuation of the land of the country than that which has been adopted, but if we could have a complete and equitable and fair valuation of the whole of the land of the country and of the property of the country, I think it would be beneficial. Unless this system is postponed, it is impossible to attain that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that 93 per cent. of the valuations have been made, but they have not been agreed upon and may be upset by the decisions of the Court, so that practically there is no valuation settled. Having regard to the circumstances of the case and the necessity for every true Briton to do what he can for the country without distraction, I think this is not time for settling such a controversial question as is raised by this Motion. Hon. Members opposite think I have given away my case by saying that. Let me say I feel strongly that this question has reduced the output and interfered with the food supply and made it dearer, and has deterred the building and the provision of cottages for the working classes.
Hon. Members opposite say that we have raised controversy. That is not so. We could make out a case that the action that has been taken is disastrous to the country. We ask that this should be suspended until the War is over and then we might try to make out a fair valuation. It cannot be done now, having regard to the fact that a large number of the parties interested are at the front fighting their country's battles. The 93 per cent. is entirely ficticious. You might have taken the rate books of the country and copied the valuation from them and have been quite as correct as you are now. Therefore I submit that we shall have to begin again. I honestly say let us begin and try to make a job of it, but this is not the right time, as so many are at the front, and it is wrong for the Government to 1731 push forward this question. I appeal to them to suspend the matter from every point of view, and especially from the recruiting point of view, as it has been thrown in my teeth that we are addressing meetings in favour of recruiting while the Government are employing all those fine young men going about valuing. When we have a settlement let it be a settlement by consent, and not a settlement that shall be dragooned oh an unwilling people, who, after all, have to live and carry on their industries under this valuation. It is, therefore, important that the valuation should be just, equitable, and well considered, so that we shall be able to carry on our industries in the highest interest of the country.
§ Mr. McKENNA
We are so much in agreement. It is on the ground of the very arguments put forward by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that the staff has been reduced by some thousands.
§ Mr. McKENNA
We are getting back to the merits. Let us assure the hon. Baronet we shall treat this Department exactly as we treat all the others. Where economies can be effectively made administratively we shall make them. Where the services of any member of the staff can be better employed in the War service in any other Department we shall lend them. We are doing everything we can administratively, and we do not think we need any help from Parliament to do it. I hope we shall now come to a decision.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.