§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)
I beg to move "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
I do not think it will be necessary for me to undertake a very exhaustive examination of the Bill now in view of the lengthy proceedings on the Report stage. But there are one or two observations which I thought I would like to make to the House. First of all, I should like to say how very grateful I am for the very great consideration which I have received from all sides of the House during the passage of what has been a very lengthy, a very technical, and, I am afraid, a very tedious Measure. The Bill, perhaps, is not what is known as a popular one. It has been very difficult to keep clearly in one's mind the various propositions in the various Clauses of the Bill. The Bill is unusually complicated, and perhaps we are all a bit wearied with the details of it. Let me, however, say that our discussions have been conducted with a good temper and earnestness which I greatly appreciate. I want to assure the House that I am very grateful to hon. Members for having taken so much trouble to understand the provisions of the Bill, and endeavouring to correct what seem to them to be errors.
Speaking for myself, I believe it is the most difficult piece of legislation for which I have been personally responsible. I do not profess that I could have carried it through to its present stage if I had not been singularly fortunate in the colleagues with whom I have worked. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has shown an industry which has been indefatigable, and a mastery of details of the Bill which has never failed, and his tact, patience, and good humour have earned him the approbation of the House, as they have earned my gratitude.
The Bill as it stands to-day differs in many respects from the Bill which left the House on Second Reading. In real essentials, however, in my opinion, the Bill remains unchanged. Therefore, it seems to me that those who supported the 2720 Second Reading can support the Third Reading more warmly, and that those who objected to it will possibly find that they have had a great many of their fears removed. Perhaps it might be for the convenience of the House if I just run over a number of the alterations which have been effected. First of all, I would mention two important omissions. The omission of the Clauses relating to railways and London. In these cases the omissions do not mean the abandonment of these Clauses. The railway Clauses will, I expect, be introduced next year in a new Bill, in which will also be included the necessary arrangements with regard to the Anglo-Scottish railways. There will be no material difference, as far as I can see at present, between the Clauses as they will appear in that Bill and those which have been omitted from the present Bill. London will also have to be the subject of separate legislation at a little later date. I have promised that in drafting that Bill full consideration shall be given to the desires expressed to me by representatives of London, and I hope, therefore, when that Bill is introduced, that it may be found that we can arrive at a solution which is, at any rate, not highly controversial.
The one alteration of principle which has taken place since the Second Reading of the Bill concerns the Revenue officer. As the House is aware, the Bill met with some rather stormy seas in Committee upstairs, and when it emerged into calm waters it was discovered that the Revenue officer had been washed overboard. I know that that did not occasion any great grief to some of my hon. Friends, who believed that the presence of the Revenue officer on board was for the purpose of carrying out some sinister designs which they assigned to the Revenue Department, but the curious thing was that the Revenue Department was not to be found amongst the mourners for the disappearance of the Revenue officer. On the contrary, they appear to take the view that he will find another craft on which to complete his voyage, and that as he will be in sole command on that craft he may be expected to bring back a far richer cargo than he would in a subordinate position upon this craft. The Revenue Department are bearing up as well as can be 2721 expected under the circumstances. The real mourner is myself, and the reason why I still regret the disappearance of the Revenue officer is because I was counting on him to secure to a greater degree a national uniformity of valuation. I am sorry I am not to have his assistance in securing that very desirable end, and I fear that uniformity will come about more slowly, at any rate, by reason of the fact that he is not there. But it would be a great mistake to suppose, because we have lost the Revenue officer, that therefore the prospects of uniformity in valuation have been ruined. Quite the contrary. As compared with what is the case to-day, the cause of uniformity in valuation will be materially advanced by this Bill. I would like to remind the House of some of the safeguards which have been introduced into the Bill and which still remain to bring about this particular purpose. Take the assessment committees, the committees before whom come the draft valuation lists for revision, and who are regarded, and I think rightly regarded, as the most important factor in shaping those valuation lists. The new assessment committees are to function over very much larger areas than we have had before. The areas for which they will be responsible will be areas of county boroughs, or areas which will be constituted under a scheme formulated by county councils and approved by the Minister. There will be every possibility of combination between two or more county boroughs, between two or more county councils, or between county councils and county boroughs. By means of these larger areas of assessment, and the appointment of assessment committees for these areas, I expect to see uniformity of valuation throughout the whole of those areas, which will be a great advance over the existing uniformity, which is confined to individual parishes.
Again, having provided for uniformity within the assessment area, we have also provided machinery for securing uniformity between one area and another. We have set up county valuation committees which will cover the whole area of the county, and it will be their business to promote uniformity; and, by means of conferences with other county valuation committees, they can extend their opera- 2722 tions even beyond the area of the county —they can go into two counties. Finally, on the question of national uniformity, we are setting up a central valuation committee with a statutory duty to represent to the Minister what they think to be necessary in order to secure or to promote uniformity stretching from one end of the country to another; and, whilst their power is limited to making representations, I think we have got to take the view that the powers and duties of this committee will probably develop as more experience is gained, and that in future it may be an even more influential body than it will be at first.
There are other provisions I would like to mention which, I think, will work in the same direction. First of all, I would refer to the deductions from gross valuation. Hitherto these deductions have been left to the discretion of local authorities, and have varied to a considerable extent. They are now to be laid down by statute and will be made uniform. Secondly, we are instituting a system of quinquennial valuations, which will put an end to what I cannot help characterising as a scandal to-day, namely, the long period for which valuation has been neglected in some areas—very unfairly neglected when one reflects that those areas are, with other areas, paying contributions to common charges. Those contributions are based upon the valuation of the areas and their neighbours, who, being more up to date, and feeling their responsibilities more keenly, have brought their assessments up to proper standards, are consequently mulcted in a larger share of the common contribution.
All these forces may act gradually, but we have set up an elaborate series of machines all of which are going to exercise a common pressure in the same direction, and therefore I feel that though progress may be slow it will be sure, and it will always be going on in the direction which we desire. As has been many times observed, the objects of this Bill are to secure simplification rather than to alter the principles of rating or to shift the incidence of burdens as between one class of the community and another. There are two provisions to which I should like to refer. First of all, there is the relief of farm buildings which brings them into line with agricultural land. As to that 2723 all I will say is that it always seemed to me that that was the natural line, to assimilate farm buildings with the land. In so far as it does bring about an alteration in the incidence of local taxation—I admit that it does make an alteration to some extent—it is mitigated by the fact that simultaneously we have deductions from the gross value in the case of small dwellings. We began with the process provided for in the Bill. Then the Committee increased the allowance of 25 per cent. in the case of houses under £20 to 30 per cent. and on the Report stage we have increased the allowance in certain cases to 40 per cent. That means that special consideration has been given to the case of these smaller houses, and that will do something to make up for any increase which may be thrown upon them by the alteration in the treatment of farm buildings. Of course these may be affected by the increased valuation which is likely to take place when the first operation of this Bill comes into effect.
The other provision is the Clause which deals with the rating of machinery, and that stands rather in a different position. It is not only an act of justice which has been long delayed but a real step towards relieving existing inequalities in regard to rating between one district and another. That this arrangement will benefit trade was admitted in the debate on the Motion for the rejection of the Second Reading of this Bill. Of the two alternatives—the one in the Bill and the one in the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill—the one which would have made the larger change and the greatest disturbance would not have been the one in the Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "It would have differed from Scotland."] Perhaps so, but I do not think we ought to make much of that point. There is a number of minor Amendments which I do not think I need to discuss now. I might, however, just mention the postponement of the appointed day, which seems to have given rise to an impression that the whole operation of the Bill has been postponed for 12 months, whereas that is not so. Of course, the appointed day is the day upon which certain changes which are inherent in the Bill will come into operation, and the reason why we have post- 2724 poned the day is because as it stood in the Bill it did not have sufficient time for the local authorities to make the necessary arrangements to bring them into operation on the 1st April next, and as we did not wish to make this change in the Bill in the middle of the financial year, we thought it best to postpone the day until the 1st April next going right over the complete year, and we make the appointed day the first day of April, 1927. We have taken steps to allow some authorities to begin their work before the appointed day. It is only fair to say that the postponement is more apparent than real, and that, in fact, the operation of the main part of the Bill is not postponed at all.
There is one suggestion which was made in the course of the Report Stage which could not be embodied in the Bill at the time, but as it seemed to have support on all sides of the House, I have considered the matter—I refer to the proposition that the owner occupier should receive some sort of allowance comparable with that given to owners who, under Clause 11 of the Bill, were rated instead of the occupiers. I practically said to the House that while I was very sympathetic towards this suggestion it was one which offered a great amount of difficulty. This abatement or allowance given in cases of compounding under Sub-section (1) of Clause 11 is really a payment for services rendered, to remunerate for the cost and trouble of collecting the rents and for the possible risk, and in some cases for the payment of the rates. It is rather difficult to find a logical justification for making these allowances.
Again, under the Bill, Clause 11 contemplates two classes and one of them cornea under Sub-section (1) of Clause 11. These are owners who are compulsorily rated by resolution of the local authority, and in that case they get an allowance not exceeding 10 per cent. The second is the case of a voluntary arrangement between the local authority and the owner under which the owner undertakes to pay the rates upon his house so long as it is occupied whether the tenant pays the rent or not. In that case the owner is entitled to an allowance not exceeding 10 per cent. If we were to say that where an authority has made an agreement of 2725 that kind they should extend the benefit to the owner occupiers of the same class of houses then you might have some curious anomalies. This is an agreement which is not made with all but only with some and you might have side by side owners not occupying their own houses in receipt of the abatement, owners occupying their own houses not in receipt of the abatement, and owner occupiers in receipt of the abatement, and I do not see how you could justify that arrangement because none of these services can be rendered by owner-occupiers.
The whole thing is really very difficult, and what, I think, the House desires, and what I mean, is that the root of the problem is that where you have a municipality owning its own houses making an agreement with itself as owner to collect the rates and paying to itself an abatement, the whole or part of which in its capacity of owner is handed on to its tenants, then you ought to do something for the owner-occupier of similar houses so that he shall not be placed at any disadvantage. That is the way it seems to me in which the inequality arises, and that is the point I am trying to meet. While I have not actually framed the Amendment to be introduced in another place, the basis of my Amendment will be that where those circumstances exist and where a municipal authority being the owner of houses of a certain class, the whole or part of the abatement which it gives to itself—which may be 10 per cent.—where it does that, it should also be obliged to give a similar percentage of 10 per cent. to the owner-occupier of houses of the same class. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad to hear by those cheers that my suggestion meets with general approval, and I hope we shall be able to find suitable words to embody that idea in the Bill to be inserted elsewhere
Finally, in my review of the alterations in the Hill, I may say that there have been a very large, perhaps an exceptionally large, number of drafting Amendments. That was inevitable in a Bill of this nature. A good many of them were put forward by my own Department. We had discovered small errors or had thought that the meaning of a particular Clause needed to be made more clear. But a great many others were suggestions that had come to us from outside, from 2726 those interested in the Bill, from associations of local authorities and others, and I just want to acknowledge my debt to those who have helped us in that way and to say I very much appreciate the assistance which we have received. I commend this Bill to the favour of the House. It embodies reforms which have been wished for, asked for, and prayed for for long years, not by the general public, but by those who themselves administer local government and who are deeply conscious of the anomalies, injustices, and the waste which characterises our present system. I believe that this Bill will correct many of those errors. I believe that it will introduce order and method into what is now a confused and disorderly conglomeration of old and new processes. I believe that it will promote efficiency and at the same time will make possible substantial economies; and I believe also that it will pave the way for further important reforms in our local government. Its effects will not be apparent all at once; in fact, I think before it fully matures many years perhaps may elapse, but I personally feel confident that in the days to come this Act will rank among the milestones on the path along which local government will progress and that future local administrators will be grateful to those who have overcome so many obstacles and have placed it on the Statute Book.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Before dealing with the general question of the provisions of this Bill, I should like to pay a tribute to the ability and courtesy of the Minister and of the Parliamentary Secretary in the very difficult task of piloting this complicated Bill through an extremely long Committee stage and through a hotly contested Report stage until we come to the final Third Reading to-day. I think we should acknowledge that the Minister has shown himself a master of the details of a very complicated subject. This Bill has been projected for very many years, and its parentage is still the subject of dispute. I understand that one of the Ministers has told us that the real father of it was the late Lord Long. I have seen its birthday carried back earlier than that. I have heard it suggested that originally it came from the late Lord Goschen. But it has been the fate of the Minister of Health to introduce this Bill, and, if so be that it really was first formed 2727 by a Liberal Unionist, it is perhaps suitable that a Liberal Unionist should bring it forward. This Bill, while it has a certain structure which has remained firm, has in the course of time accreted a number of additions, and I have never known a Bill to acquire so many curious provisions in the course of its passage. Let us glance at what this Bill was intended to do. It was intended to create uniformity out of chaos, to do away with a curious historical survival, namely, the attribution of the functions of rating, valuation, and assessment to boards of guardians instead of to the newer general authorities that have sprung up throughout the country. It aimed also at getting a larger area than the old-fashioned parish, and in so far as the Bill set out to deal with the machinery of rating, we were, when this Bill was introduced, generally speaking in favour of it.
But since then the Bill has changed in character to a very large extent. Throughout the Committee stage, we on this side of the House, supported sometimes by Members on the other side of the House, were endeavouring to redress certain of the anomalies of the rating law, and those anomalies were in the main concerned with the incidence of rating. We wanted to get equity between the various classes of ratepayers, but we were met by this argument from the Minister from the start: This Bill is one to deal with the machinery of valuation, rating, and assessment, and not with the incidence of rating. We have found, subsequently, that in order that the Minister might obtain this Bill, he has had to make a large number of concessions to its opponents in the shape of altering the incidence of rating, and that, while throughout we on this side of the House have had any suggestions that we put forward refused on the ground that this was not a Bill dealing with the incidence of rating, at a very late stage, the Report stage, the Minister has had to make all kinds of concessions to sections of those who should have been supporting him, and we are entitled to complain that large sums of money have in effect been taken from certain of the ratepayers and given to certain favoured classes, without its being possible to take into account 2728 and make a general review of the whole question of the rights and wrongs of the present rating system.
When this Bill first came before us, it contained an important provision, the provision as to the Revenue officer, which, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, has had to be thrown overboard. We on this side regret that, but the casting overboard of the Revenue officer is only the most prominent of a number of instances where, in order to get this Bill through, the very provisions that were put in to ensure that the system of rating, valuation and assessment should be just, should be fair, and should be the same all over the country, have been thrown overboard. The Revenue officer has gone. We have certain provisions—I think very illusory provisions—for some sort of committee to establish uniformity in different parts of the country, but we are without the wide information that the Revenue officer would furnish, and we are without that entirely independent assistance which the Revenue officer would furnish. The new assessment committees that are set up by this Bill are not democratic bodies. In fact, every possible effort was made in Committee to prevent these important bodies from consisting of persons who had to come before the ratepayers and stand for election, and they will be in a large measure—they may be entirely—composed of appointed persons who are not elected members of any authority. The matter of the Revenue officer and the matter of the composition of these committees as it appears to-day in this Bill are the results of an intense pressure on the Minister by Members from his own side who did not want to have this reform made in the system of valuation and assessment of their properties.
This Bill was denounced as a Socialistic Measure, and, I think, the late Lord Long must have turned in his grave at that, if it be true, that he was the real father of the Bill. It is quite clear, however, that a large number of Members on the other side of the House have not progressed nearly as far as the late Lord Long had in the matter of fair rating and assessment. Almost every Amendment that has been made in this Bill with regard to the machinery of rating, as compared with the Bill when it was first introduced, has been reactionary, has been designed, not to get 2729 a just valuation, but to establish those powers that rule in the countryside to-day more and more securely in the position they have held for so many years and with such disastrous results to the rating system. Let me take the matter a little further. It was admitted on all sides, when the Bill was first introduced, that there was something rather anomalous in introducing the provisions with regard to the rating and the de-rating of machinery into this Bill, and it was quite obvious that, if the de-rating of machinery had stood by itself, the Minister would have had the greatest possible difficulty in securing the support of the Members on his own side of the Committee; and it was quite clear that the Minister, having once embarked on this Bill, and his amour proper being concerned in getting it through, he was obliged to give all kinds of inducements to get the people who did not want this Bill to vote for it, particularly in the case of the de rating of machinery. There was, it is true, a powerful group, the industrial group, who supported that, but there were many other Members in this House who were strongly opposed to it. In order to get that provision through, it was necessary to mobilise the big battalions of the rural Members, and the big battalions of the rural Members would not march without their wages which they got on the Report stage to a pretty big tune. Again, there were experienced Members who knew something of the matter of rating and valuation, who would not have marched to the support of the rural Members unless they also had got their wages in the de-rating of machinery proposals. And so we have a Bill that, in its essence, as it appears to-day, was disliked by two of the most important sections of the Government party, but each of those sections is prepared to roll the log for the other.
What has been left out of this Bill has been consideration for the ordinary rate payer who does not happen to be a farmer, who does not happen to be a rural landlord, and who does not happen to be an owner of machinery; and the provisions of this Bill are such that, owing to the fact that no financial provision whatever has been made to take the place of the amount of rates that will be lost by local authorities, the inevitable result is to narrow the back that is to 2730 bear the burden of the rates. Let us see who these classes of ratepayers are that are going to bear this additional bur den. There is the very large class known as the shop-keeping class. It was quite specifically said by an hon. Member, on the Report stage, that, after all, in the country towns, they could very well afford it. I hope the shop-keepers in country towns and elsewhere will remember this when next they have to consider any matters of election. Then there are other workers than agricultural workers in the rural areas; there are numbers of various small craftsmen and so on, and small industries; and all of these are going to find their rates in creased in order to provide this annual subvention of £600,000 to agriculture—because that is what we have in this Bill. This Bill as we see it to-day is merely a companion to the Measures which the President of the Board of Trade is at present trying to put through this House. But agriculture is very wise. I doubt whether even one of those Committees which have been set up by the President of the Board of Trade would have said that agriculture was justified by efficiency to be safeguarded as an industry: but, by means of this back door of the Rating Bill, they are getting a subvention of £600,000 a year in the matter of farm buildings, and a considerable part of their tied cottages, which is being handed over to this industry without its having to go through the farce of an inquiry by a special Committee.
London, I am glad to say, is outside this Bill, and I think London may congratulate itself. The Bill was an endeavour to bring the rest of the country somewhat up to London's standard, but, if this Bill had been applied to London, so far from its raising London's standard, it would have dragged London's standard down to the level of the rest of the country. I am not going to say much with regard to the omission of the rail ways and the dropping of the special properties Clause. It was quite clear that something had to be dropped out of this Bill if it was to get through. But I do complain of the many sins of omission in this Bill in regard to things that might have been put in. We on this side would not have been opposed to taking the rates off farm buildings if the cost of that re- 2731 form had been put where it ought to have been put, namely, on the land value. We should not have been opposed to relief for machinery if there, again, it had either been put on land values or if compensation had been given by a proper allocation from the national Exchequer to the rating resources of local authorities, as was done in the case of the Agricultural Rates Bill. Our complaint is of the unfairness, in a Bill like this, which is concerned with the machinery of rating, of altering over large areas of the country the incidence of rating. In the same way, we have had some con cession, I agree, in the case of small cottage property and so on, but there were many other concessions that we might have had. In all the discussions on the Bill the only people who got any thing were private enterprise, and the public interest was neglected all the way. When we look at the Bill as it emerges to-day, as compared with when it was first introduced, while admitting that there are valuable provisions, while admitting that on the whole the provisions with regard to areas is an advance on the lines on which we hoped to see an advance on local government, although that is offset by the grossly reactionary nature of the composition of the assessment committees, looking at the Bill as a whole we are forced to oppose it because it has ceased to be a rating and valuation Bill. The Minister is saving what he can of it, but it has become the prey of contending interests, and in order to get it through, and in order to save his face, we have had the spectacle of two great interests voting, each of them, for things they disapprove in return for benefits for each of them at the expense of the rest of the country, and therefore we shall oppose it on the Third Reading.
§ 12.0 N.
Marquess of HARTINGTON
It is always difficult and disagreeable to oppose one's own leaders, and it is particularly disagreeable when the Minister has been so extremely patient and conciliatory as the right hon. Gentleman has been, but although he has gone to the utmost limit of concession in matters of detail, the main principles of the Bill remain un changed, and I am in the unfortunate position of finding the main principles of the Bill entirely detestable. If I under stand the right hon. Gentleman correctly, 2732 his reasons for introducing it have been that he believes it will lead to economy and uniformity in the system of rating, assessment and valuation, and will there fore lead to simplification and to fairness in the system of distributing grants-in-aid of local rates from London. Whether it will lead to economy in the large towns I cannot possibly say, but I am quite prepared to admit that in the larger towns and in industrial districts the parish system is out of date and that this Bill, so far as the large towns are concerned, may do nothing but good. But I believe I can prove that so far as the rural districts are concerned it must lead to greater expense in valuation and collection of rates. I asked the right hon. Gentleman a day or two ago what was the cost of collecting the rates in rural areas. He was unable to tell me, so I had to fall back upon my own constituency. In the rural area in which I live the cost of valuation and rating comes to less than 2 per cent. of the total amount of the rates collected. It seems almost impossible that any substantial economy on that can be effected. If an economy can be effected the Government must plead guilty to having robbed the Church, and they ought hastily to bring in an amending Bill, for they have taken 5 per cent, from the poor parson as the cost of collecting his tithe, although tithe, being paid by fewer persons, should be very much cheaper to collect. But I think it is unlikely that either rates or tithes can be collected for less than 5 per cent. once you abandon the existing system by which most of the work is done by the overseers and assistant overseers, who receive no more than a very small allowance. If you desert that system and employ instead full-time officials, the cost is bound to be very considerably higher than it is now in the country districts. The right hon. Gentleman has circulated a memorandum showing that the Bill will reduce the number of rating areas from somewhere over 10,000 to 648, and it seems to be assumed that this reduction in itself must lead to economy. Why should it? It seems to me that the cost depends upon the amount of work to be done, and the amount of work to be done depends not on the number of authorities doing it, but on the number of ratepayers, 2733 which is, of course, unaffected by the Bill. The number of pages of rate books and the number of forms to be filled in must remain substantially the same, whether they are filled in by 10,000 assistant overseers or by 648 centralised officials. There is only one parallel I can think of—one business which is strictly on all fours with this business of rating and valuation—and that is the business of a great industrial insurance company. So far as I know, none of the insurance companies have even contemplated a departure from their existing system, which is to employ a vast number of part-time agents, paid a commission on results, rather than to employ a smaller umber of whole-time, centralised officials such as are contemplated by this Bill.
The case for the Bill rests really on the assumption that overseers and assistant overseers are not efficient. We hear stories of under-assessment, of what is called back-scratching, and various scandals of that kind. I sit for a rural constituency and I have not observed on the part of the rural voter any disposition to suffer his wrongs, real or imagined, in silence. He is prepared to grumble about the crops, the roads, the weather, the state of the country, even, though it may seem incredible to the right hon. Gentleman, about the Government, and more incredible still, even sometimes about his own government. During the last three months I have been inquiring eagerly for cases of scandals of the kind that were suggested during the Report stage by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle - under -Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood). I have not been able to hear of one or of a single rural authority that has anything to do with rating that is in favour of the Bill. It seems to me incredible that if there really are scandals of the kind that have been suggested, if it is really the case that some rate payers are scandalously under-assessed at the expense of the rest, there would not have been a storm of protests long before this. My contention is that although the Bill may be necessary for the great towns, although it may cut away many of the abuses there, some provision should have been made so that the rural rate payers, who are on the whole satisfied with their existing system and are well served by it, should not be sacrificed. 2734 The right hon. Gentleman talks about 10,000 rating authorities, but of course he knows that many thousands of them really cost hardly anything at all. My own union area consists of, I think, 53 parishes. In nine of them the work is done without any payment at all by the overseers, and in the other 44 there are assistant overseers, who receive very small sums—£ 5, £ 6, up to £ 20 a. year.
We have no assurance whatever that the 648 new authorities will be more efficient, but we have every reason to fear that they will be a great deal more expensive. It is a fact known to anyone who has ever had any connection with a Government Department or with municipal government, or with any other system in. which officials are employed, that once you have started a department, an office, the tendency is for the cost to rise steadily. Councils and Parliaments change; they come and go, but once you have set up a Department it goes on for ever. Once the officials have got a foothold, they tend to increase by leaps and bounds. There may be periods of economy, and the cost may be checked, but it is only temporary, and sooner or later the growth will go on again. That is common experience. We have right hon. Gentlemen saying quite openly that they are unable to cope with the Increase of the Departments under their control. That is the invariable tendency, when once you start a new class of public officials. The costs are bound to grow.
The assistant overseers have been, on the whole, efficient. I do not say they have been perfect, but in the country districts they have done their work well, and they have been very cheap. They have been cheap because they have no establishment. There is a very real danger that by this Bill we shall definitely establish a now class of public official. Once we have given that new class establishment, there is every reason to fear that the cost will grow very considerably and rapidly. I do not suggest that the costs will grow very rapidly while the right hon. Gentleman remains in control. If he had been less modest and had realised that it is very unlikely he will have a successor as efficient as himself, he might have given the Minister less powers than he has in this Bill. With a less efficient Minister there is every reason to fear that these 2735 new authorities will grow very rapidly in cost. All of them, as far as I can see, will be able to make out a case that they must have a motor car, on the ground that they will not be able to travel round their district without one. Then they will be able to make out a case that they must have assistants to mind their shop while they are out in their car. And so it will go on.
The present system has been, perhaps, rough and ready, but it has not been very far out. If you are going to make a really efficient and up-to-date valuation in the country districts, there are almost no limits to what you might spend. Values vary there far more rapidly than they do in the towns, and there are no limits to what you might spend. There is every reason to fear that 20 or 30 years hence we may be spending very large sums for what is now done for very little, and the only result will be that an already sorely overburdened industry will have yet another straw placed on its back. The right hon. Gentleman hopes not only for economy as a result of this Bill, but also for uniformity. Uniformity is a very good word, almost as good a word as the blessed word "co-ordination," of which we used to hear a great deal. This House has swallowed a great many extravagances in the name of "co-ordination," and it has always been found in the end that it has meant the employment of more officials and the spending of more money. I am very much afraid that it will be the same with this new system of uniformity. The Bill may perhaps go some way towards securing uniformity, but it is very unlikely that uniformity can be obtained, while it is certain that a great deal of money can be spent on the attempt. The Government does not seem to believe very enthusiastically in the uniformity which they pretend to desire. They refuse to swallow their own medicine. What is good enough for the rural ratepayers is not good enough for a. Government department. We in the rural districts might feel rather less suspicious in regard to this Bill if the Government which imposes it upon us did not themselves refuse to be governed by it.
There is another aspect of the Bill to which I would commend the attention of the House, and that is the extent to 2736 which the Bill brings local self-govern-government under the control of White hall. All through the Bill, and particularly in the more important Clauses, the words occur "As the Minister may decide," "Subject to the approval of the Minister," and so on. Clause 16, Sub section (7) is a particularly flagrant example of that. It is full of danger for local self-government. That is only an example. The Bill is full of Clauses very much like that one. I regard the Bill as a very serious threat to the pockets of rural ratepayers, and as an even more serious threat to their liberties. During the War we had perpetual Government encroachments upon the individual liberties of our people. There have been so many changes of Government, and so many right hon. Gentlemen are to be found in all parts of the House who are more or less permeated with the official mind that I do not think I shall find many to agree with my point of view. I wonder if these right hon. Gentlemen realise what a fearful scourge they are to the over-governed, over-administered people of this country. One of them decrees that we may not eat, drink, sing, dance or even smoke, except when he thinks fit. Another sets up horrid abominations in our public places and we cannot get them taken away again. Another decrees that we must pay for all these things. We are now going to have another who is going to take away from us what little bit of local government we have left.
If the right hon. Gentleman's contention is right, and even if we do mismanage our own local affairs and waste our own money, why should not we? After all, they are local affairs, and it is our own money which we waste, if we do waste it, although I deny altogether that we do waste it. At any rate, it is our own local affair. I belong, perhaps, to an out-of-date school of thought. I was brought up to believe, and I do believe, that nothing, no cheapness, no efficiency, nothing except the actual national safety means more than our own liberty, and I say quite seriously that I believe in the long run it is better that the local people should mismanage their own affairs, rather than that they should have them well managed for them by someone else. In the one way they will learn, but in the other way they will not learn.
Marquess of HARTINGTON
The right hon. Gentleman contends that it is not our own money we waste, but grants-in-aid. Had he begun at the other end and had proposed some different system of distributing grants-in-aid, I would never have dreamed of opposing it. I cannot profess to know how it could be done, but it seems to me that these various objects which are assisted, schools, housing, roads, health work or whatever they may be, could be assisted on a better basis than a poundage basis or a bask in which the rates come. I cannot see that this difficulty with regard to grants-in-aid is a sufficient justification for sweeping away the foundations of local self-government. That is what the Bill does. The hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Roy Bird) put the case in a nut shell when he said that what the Bill did was to nationalise local government. I shall vote against it for that reason. It will very seriously affect the liberties of our English country people, and it is one step further along the road that we have been travelling for some time in giving more and more power to centralised authority at Whitehall. I do not know whether many hon. Members on this side of the House will be in the same Lobby as myself. Probably the right hon. Gentleman has endeared himself to them so much that they will support him. But I believe that there will be very many in the years to come, when we have travelled still further on that road and handed over the last of our liberties to Government Departments, no matter how efficient those Departments may be, who will wish that they had made a stand for liberty while there was still time to save it.
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day three months."
I move this Amendment with very great regret. In spite of the many criticisms of this Bill, I still believe that in normal times the Bill would be a very consider able step in the evolution of local government in this country. My hon. Friend, the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) said that the Bill had been rather sadly spoiled by the heavy wages which the Minister of Health had been obliged to pay to the two approaching battalions of soldiers within his own army. We on 2738 this side have marched and fought very sturdily indeed on behalf of the right hon. Gentleman during the progress of the Bill. All those things which he, with his experience as a very efficient local administrator, stood for and wished to do, we have also fought for, and we have defended him nobly both in Committee and in the House, from the attacks of the more reactionary friends behind him. But in spite of the way we have tried to help him to make this a good Bill, we have had no wages. Unfortunately, constituencies such as that which I represent, cannot afford to take the very admirable stand which has been taken by the Noble Lord who has just spoken. He is opposing the Bill in spite of the heavy wages offered to his friends. He drew a picture which excited our admiration. It would have been suitable, perhaps, for a "Punch" cartoon, for he so obviously can afford to do without those wages far better than the districts which many of us on this side of the House represent. I have never known anyone to show the Noble Lord's dexterity in giving us admirable premises and drawing the wrong conclusions from them. His effort to reconcile us to things as they are is not at all the reason why some of us are asking that this Bill should not be put into operation at the present time.
We ask for the postponement of the Bill, not because we dislike the promises of the Bill, but because we know that all our own safeguards have been taken from it one by one, and also because the passing of the Bill will put the local authorities whom we represent into a completely in tolerable and impossible position. Let me emphasise the difficulties that the Bill will cause. I will give the salient financial facts about the town which I have the honour to represent. I am told by responsible officials that the coming into force of this Bill immediately means very heavy additions to the local rates. In a small town, with 130,000 inhabitants, we are already bearing the cost of relief for nearly 20,000 people every week from the rates. We have the lowest rateable value in the country. A penny rate brings in only £ 1,250 now, and it will bring in considerably less when the Bill makes it impossible for us to rate machinery. The right hon. Gentleman knows these figures very well.
2739 I admit that in many ways he has been as helpful to us as he can be, but the fact remains that this Bill will reduce our absurdly small income still lower, and will give us no concession to counterbalance that reduction in any way. Yet all the time a Committee is meeting to consider whether and in what way help could be given to necessitous areas. The Bill seems to be entirely unjust to those areas which every party in the House says ought to be assisted. Much as we would like the passing of this Bill in normal times, we realised that at the present moment it is likely to put the necessitous areas into an impossible position, and the whole object of our Amendment is to give the Government time to pursue further their investigations as to the method by which they are to assist the 72 areas in which local administration is becoming almost a farce.
I am not denying that the derating of machinery in normal circumstances is a very wise course to pursue. It is very good Socialist doctrine not to tax machinery and the means by which the people live. But the problem is that, although such taxation may in the long run bring some remuneration to us, at the present time it is going to involve us in a capital loss which we are entirely unable to sustain. We are in the position of a small business man who knows that if he spends £ 10,000 on improving his plant and machinery, he will be able to get much greater returns on his capital in future. But trade is bad, times are hard, competition is keen and money is tight, and that business man knows very well that an investment of £ 10,000 made at such a time might end in bankruptcy. Those of us in the manufacturing and industrial areas who will be hard hit by this Bill are in exactly that position. We do not deny that the Minister's proposal for derating machinery will be of some assistance to us ultimately, but we can not see how we are to live during the interim period, unless the Minister of Health, and, more particularly, his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer, are to give us some special guarantee and consideration.
It is absurd that we should be in this humiliating position. As my hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse said, if only we had the power of rating the values 2740 which our people have created in our towns, we could well afford to say, "Well, the land has been put there by someone else. We can tax that, and we need not tax the product of your enterprise and capital investments and encouragement of our industry." Every method by which we can recoup ourselves has been re moved The right hon. Gentleman, for all his knowledge and experience, for all his progressive ideas in handling this Bill, has not shown that progressive side of his character which we admire on these Benches, when it came to giving us any actual cash to get on with it or any means of raising that cash. The Minister has, possibly, an unrivalled knowledge of the administrative difficulties. He makes machinery to run beautifully smoothly. He gives us a wonderful engine, but he will not allow us to have a supply of petrol to start the engine working. I impress upon the House that the present policy is making matters more difficult for the mining, shipbuilding and steel areas in this country, the areas where our export trade is being hardest hit. You are making it harder and harder for them to live by the policy of the present House of Commons. We have to relieve more people out of local rates; we have to do more town improvement out of local rates; we have to educate the children more than ever out of the local rates. To spend all the money from the local ratepayer's pocket instead of the national taxpayer's pocket, appears to be the considered policy of the party opposite. This is not the occasion to dispute it, but it is the occasion to say that if you persist in making the poor keep the poor, making the dog live on its own tail, making the hardest-hit areas bear the heaviest national burdens, then the present is not the time to pass a Bill taking away part of the already inadequate income which these affected areas enjoy.
§ Mr. WHITELEY
I beg to second the Amendment.
I congratulate the Minister on the optimistic tone of his speech in re commending this Bill for Third Reading. Personally, I hope this optimism will be fully justified, but experience in these matters leads one to expect a very large depreciation in actual practice of the optimism expressed in speeches of that character. The Minister acknowledged the complexity and technical 2741 nature of the Bill and said it had received an exhaustive examination, but had the Bill to go through any further stages I am prepared to say the Minister would still receive many suggestions from outsides parties for its alteration. The right hon. Gentleman has acknowledged that, apart from ordinary drafting Amendments, many alterations have been required in this Measure since it came from Committee, and as a matter of fact members of his own Party during the Committee Stage have sought to make extensive alterations in the Bill. Not only have there been complaints, but it is obvious that it is a very contentious Measure and one which could very well be delayed in order that we might have an opportunity of finding a real solution of the difficulty with which it seeks to deal.
The Government have set local bodies in opposition to one another by endeavouring to bring this machinery into operation, but I am particularly concerned in opposing the Third Reading because of the effect of the Bill on those areas which are at present experiencing serious difficulty. Members representing those areas desire that some consideration should be given to their future position under this Measure. I live in a rural area where the rates are 22s. 6d. in the £;in my constituency the rates are even higher, yet this Measure, while giving relief in certain directions, means a large increase in rates in both those areas. The relief given to farm buildings and in the de-rating of machinery has to be made up from some where, and the Minister told the House definitely on the Amendment exempting farm buildings, that there could be no relief from the Government and that the amount involved would have to be placed on other rates. There fore, a heavy burden will be placed upon those who are not in a position to bear it. We have heard many times that the derating of machinery will give an opportunity for the development of industry, and that the employers will use this relief for the extension of their industries and the absorption of unemployed. I have heard that argument so many times that I regard it as obsolete. In reality that is not the effect of a relief in taxation. We have had relief given in Income Tax and in other respects which has not found its way into industry, as was foretold by 2742 Members of the Government. As a matter of fact much of the relief in taxation in recent years has found its way to other countries, because capitalists can get a higher percentage for their money in those countries. The patriotism of hon. Gentlemen opposite appears to be very thin when they are asked to use relief given to them in taxation for the extension of industry in this country and the provision of employment. Instead of doing so as patriots, they regard that relief in taxation as new capital, and take it to other countries to make them selves richer.
§ Mr. WHITELEY
It goes in other directions, and it is in view of past experience of the effects that I ask the Government to take this matter into consideration. In Durham County we are approaching a very serious state of affairs, and the Government should formulate a scheme and indicate to the local authorities that they are going to give some real assistance, until the time comes when we can place matters on a proper basis in order to meet our difficulties. On these grounds I associate myself with the Amendment. I hope the Government will give some attention to the very serious position in which some of our people are placed to-day.
§ Captain WATERHOUSE
During the last few days a crowded Committee of Ways and Means has discussed at length the preliminaries of a Measure which is going to affect three comparatively small trades for a comparatively short period of years, but here to-day we are discussing a Bill which is going to affect every man and woman in this country for a very long time to come. Whether they be rich or poor, whether they be workers by head or hand, this Bill is going to touch them all. I urge, therefore, that we must be very sure that we are on the right lines before we give a Bill such as this its Third Reading. The rates affect a much larger section of the community than any other single tax. One can get around every tax if one is clever enough, or does not drink beer or tea and makes one's life generally miserable, but the rate collector is always after you, and you cannot get away from him. I have not been in this House very long, but I have been here 2743 long enough to realise that the House of Commons will not be driven, but what ever the majority behind the Minister may be it is, speaking generally, not sufficient in itself to force Measures through. The Government must depend on one of two things: either on the wisdom of its Bills or on the ability and the character of the Ministers it puts in charge of them. I submit that in this instance the Government has relied almost entirely on the latter of these two alternatives, and that it is due to the ability of the Ministers in charge, and not to the wisdom of the Bill, that it has got down to its present stage.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health is, without doubt, the greatest expert, certainly, in this House, and one of the greatest experts in this country, on this subject, but I suggest that even his expert knowledge is derived to too large an extent from urban experience, and that he has been advised by gentle men whose experience is also urban, and while, as the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) has said, this Bill undoubtedly gives considerable advantages to urban districts, the country districts in general are not going to be benefited by it at all. We have been given to understand that this Bill is only a preparatory Measure, and that it is paving the way for a more comprehensive Bill that is going to come afterwards. The Minister is really in the position of a gentleman who lived in a different age and a different land, but who shared with the Minister his extra ordinary power of persuasion, and who came before the country and asked to have paths made straight and the way prepared for something large and un known that was coming afterwards. We are now preparing the way and making straight the paths for another Measure, and we do not quite know what that Measure is to be. The Minister, in effect, has said: "If you do not allow me to commit the petty larceny of robbing the parishes of their overseers, if you do not allow me to crash down the boundaries of the unions, I shall be quite unable next Session to violently assault the boards of guardians." I am a guardian myself, and I am not quite certain that I appreciate being violently assaulted.
2744 This Bill contains a great many Clauses that I consider bad, and many that I consider entirely unnecessary, be cause it was introduced with the idea of bringing uniformity, and I think that uniformity could have been got with a great deal more simplicity. It is interesting to note that the bulk of the Bill is based on the practice in London, and that other considerable sections of the Bill are based on the practice in Scotland, and yet this Bill, which is going to bring about this much desired uniformity, excludes both Scotland and London from its scope. The first Clause of the Bill abolishes overseers and, in doing so, cuts away the powers of a body of men who have fulfilled a useful function honestly and well over a long period of years. Their duties are to levy and collect a rate, they and their assistant overseers prepare the register, they have power— and I have never heard this mentioned in the House yet—of giving immediate relief to the necessitous poor in their parishes, and they have power to give orders for admittance to the workhouse and to protest against any fresh licences which it may be proposed to grant in their parishes. I think these are valuable powers, and I think that the parishes are really being deprived of valuable unpaid services when overseers are being abolished.
The Minister said he was going to do away with something like 13,000 rating authorities, meaning that he was going to do away with the allocating and the collecting of rates by parishes: but is that fair? Is it fair to regard every Inland Revenue official in this country as a taxing authority? Is not the taxing authority His Majesty the King, as represented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer? I submit that when the Minister says he is going to do away with 13,000 rating authorities, and to put in their place 700 or 800, he is really misleading this House in that direction. There have been a great many curious arguments brought forward for doing away with overseers, but perhaps the most interesting was that brought for ward by the hon. and gallant Member for the Frome Division (Captain G. Peto), who said he was an overseer him self, and who told us of the dreadful things that were done in his parish. He said he was anxious to get out of it, and 2745 that the only way of getting out of those duties was by abolishing overseers, and therefore he would vote for that Clause.
That seems a peculiar attitude, and I can hardly believe that it can be true, for if it were I do not think any constituency would send him to represent it in Parliament. Clause 15 breaks down the boundaries of the present unions. These unions have been, especially in the rural districts, familiar for generations to every ratepayer. Clause 15 is, to a large extent, going to change the towns to which people have been in the habit of going to protest against assessments. The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head, but I think that one of the provisions of this Clause allows the county councils to make larger areas, and surely you cannot have several places of meeting for an assessment committee within any of the new areas. If these towns are done away with as a meeting place of the committees, it will be at least a generation before people will go with the alacrity that they now do to protest against the assessments which in rural areas, hon. Members opposite tell us, are so biased, unfair, and altogether wicked. As a constituent of the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire, I endorse what he said about that particular union, because I happen to be a member of that council, and I very much appreciate his eulogistic re marks. We are efficient, and I do not think we are exceptional. This Bill is going to do away with 750 assessment areas, and is going to make between 1,700 and 1,800 new assessment areas. When that statement was made in the House a day or two ago, the Minister dissented, but I hope, if I am wrong in my statement, that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, will tell us how many assessment areas it is proposed to substitute for the 750.
This Bill gives very wide powers to the Minister. It cannot, I think, be called in any sense a democratic Bill; it is bureaucratic, and as such it must be repugnant to every section of the best feeling in this country. But it has its bright spots, or, rather, it has got several such spots, but the brightest of these bright spots, I think, is Clause 24, which deals with the rating of machinery, and which enforces a rule which has long been enforced in the constituency I have the honour to represent, and which therefore 2746 is probably a very good rule. It is going to do away with the rating of process machinery, and I do submit that there are other people better able to bear that burden than the manufacturer, and through the manufacturer the workman, because we on this side, at any rate, believe that they must both suffer together. I do feel that it is the banks, the great insurance companies, the great merchants, that it is to a large extent the great shopkeepers, the great stores and places of that sort which really get off too lightly to-day in our local Burdens. We believe this Clause, by putting a burden on them, cannot increase unemployment, and by taking the burden off industry, will actually decrease unemployment. It is true, we admit, that it is bound to a certain extent to increase the rates on cottage property, and I know we must all regret it, but in believing it will decrease unemployment, we believe the benefit to the workers as a whole is going far to outweigh any disadvantage under that head. It is because of this Clause, and because of the Second and Third Schedules to this Bill, which I look on as roses set about by quite unnecessary and lamentably sharp thorns, that I shall vote against this Amendment and support the Bill.
§ Mr. BATEY
I rise to support the Amendment. I am glad the Members from the North of England who have spoken this morning have raised their voices against the Bill, and I want to join my voice with theirs in opposition to this Bill. The industry in the North of England is very depressed, and we believe this Bill will tend rather to increase that depression than to help it. In the earlier part of the Session, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer was introducing his Budget, he said that one of the objects of the Government was to relieve the burden on industry. We were glad to hear that, because we thought the Government meant it. We have learnt since it is quite the opposite, and instead of this Bill relieving industry, it is going to depress and injure it. I have been in the coal industry all my life, and one is naturally jealous and anxious for that industry, and one naturally asks oneself whether this Bill will tend to help the coal industry in the position in which it is at the present moment. One cannot find the slightest signs in the Bill that it will 2747 do anything towards helping the coal industry, which was never worse than it is to-day. It was bad last year and bad at the end of July, but it is worse to-day than at the end of July, when the Government took what I consider to be the wise step of giving a subsidy to the industry.
I agree with the principle of the subsidy. I think it was a wise step to help the industry, but still we have to admit that the industry to-day is worse than it was at the end of July, and I want to remind the House that coal pits are generally sunk in county areas and we find that this Bill is going to help the agricultural interest in the counties. It is going to relieve agriculture of 75 per cent. of the rates, not only on the land, but also on buildings. If it is going to relieve the agricultural industry, it is going to throw an additional burden on the coal industry. I am quite prepared to admit that, perhaps, the agricultural industry is not in such a flourishing condition as many would like to see it, but I do not see that it is in any worse position than the coal industry at the present time, and if the agricultural industry want this relief of 75 per cent. in rates on land and buildings, then, certainly a case can be made out for the coal industry being relieved of an equal amount.
§ Mr. BATEY
If this Bill had dealt with the whole of the machinery of the coal industry, we should have got some relief, but it is not going to relieve a single coal mine in connection with its machinery. The whole of that machinery will be rated as in the past. That is one of our complaints. Just as we com plain that agriculture has got relief at the expense of the coal industry, so we contend that we get no benefit from the exemption of machinery,, and that is an additional reason why we oppose this Bill.
There are two other points in the Bill I want to criticise. One is this. Perhaps if this Bill had been passed 10 years ago our complaint would not have been as strong as it is now, but this Bill relieves property owners of 40 per cent. 2748 where the gross value is under £10, and 33⅓ per cent. where the gross value is under £20. The whole of the houses in colliery districts, at least, pay the £20. To-day we have thousands of men living in colliery houses who cannot pay rent. The colliery owners are calling upon these men to pay rent for these colliery houses either out of their unemployment benefit, which is small enough, or out of relief received from the Poor Law, and while these men are paying rent, the colliery owners owning these houses are going to be relieved to the extent they are for the whole of the houses, because the, whole of them at least come within the £20. The workman has got to pay rent out of unemployment benefit or parish relief, while there is nothing in this Bill that will compel the property owners or colliery owners to transfer that benefit to the workmen who pay rent. We want to see the benefits given to the workmen who is compelled to pay the rent. We consider that is an additional reason why we should oppose the Bill.
There is another criticism in regard to the assessment committees. It is rather strange that in this morning's north country papers in the county of Durham one reads of boards of guardians who are in trouble so far as expenditure is concerned. One believes this—that while it might have been a wise thing 10 or 20 years ago to remove the assessment committees from the boards of guardians and put them in the hands of the county councils, and while it might be a wise thing to do it 10 or 20 years hence, to do it at the present time is not a wise thing, because these boards of guardians have undertaken to spend much money and have huge expenditures because there are so many workmen out of employment. We believe that these assessment committees at the present time should retain the powers of assessing property and raising money in order to pay this relief. Taking away from the assessment committees all these powers at this time means that the assessment committees have got to go on with their large expenditure while they have not the power of assessing property for the purpose of raising money to pay for relief.
I want the Minister of Health to notice the different way in which he treats the county boroughs and the county areas in the formation of these assessing com- 2749 mittees. The county borough is going to have the power of fixing the number of members of the assessment committees, and by fixing it they will, in spite of the other Clauses, be able to have and retain a majority on those committees. For instance, if a borough council fixes the number of members at 16, then one-fourth of the representation is to go to the guardians and one-fifth to outsiders. We disagree strongly and altogether with any outsiders coming on to these bodies, but still they are to be there. That would mean seven out of 16 to go to either the board of guardians' or outsiders, and would leave the council with nine. That is a majority of two, but still a majority. When we come to the county areas, we find the Minister of Health does not apply the same principles to the county councils as to the county boroughs, because in the counties it is provided that the assessment committees shall be appointed from the rating authorities, the board of guardians and the councils, and the proportion in which such authorities shall be represented will be determined by the scheme of constitution. The same principle is not given to county councils as to county boroughs. The county councils may, under the new constitution of the assessment committees, be placed in a minority rather than in a majority. We believe that the county councils ought to have been safeguarded and put in the position of being sure of having a majority on the assessment committees rather than run the risk of being put in a minority by this Clause.
There is just one other thing in regard to the assessment committees, which I am sorry this Bill does, and that is the Clause which says there will be no payment for attendance where these assessing committees have got to be set up, although members will have to travel a long way. Members on the other side of the House will understand it when we say that we are anxious that upon these new assessment committees there should be as many working men as possible. But it is altogether a different thing for the working man who has to travel many miles to attend the assessment committees from what it is for a rich man. Most wealthy men would be able to attend the assessment committees and go there in a motor 2750 car, but there are no motor cars in the case of working men. Instead of this Clause making it definite that there should be no payments for attendance at assessing committees, we believe that the Clause should have been quite in the opposite direction, and should have made provision for the payment at least of reasonable expenses to members of these committees who have to travel long distances for the purpose of attendance. With these criticisms I have much pleasure in joining my colleagues in opposing the Bill.
I rise, in the main to support this Bill, and to add my voice to those who have congratulated the right hon. Gentleman who has been in charge of it, and also his very able lieutenant, in the way they have conducted affairs. But having said that, I would like also to draw the attention of the House to another side of this matter. I am among those who spent a certain amount of time in 1919 and 1920 legislating and in 1921 and 1922 in un-legislating, and I think at the present time there is a very great deal too much tendency, not particularly in this Government, but in the minds of every Government, to legislate too much in a hurry and to place too much on the Statute Book at one time. That is my own personal feeling, and I feel that if this year—and I think I have a right as a private Member to protest in this matter—we had dealt with the Pensions Bill and gone into that rather more fully and had dealt with the legislation which we discussed in the last two or three nights' Debates—if we had done both those things, then I think we should have got through a fairly good legislative programme for one Session. It seems to me that every Minister, directly he gets into office, becomes obsessed with the idea that he has nothing whatever to do but to produce legislation. His first object, surely, ought to be administration. I do deprecate this kind of idea, which seems to run through every Minister's mind, that they are in a sort of "Daily Mail" egg-laying competition as far as legislation is concerned. The trouble, as I see it, is that they produce, or are apt to produce, a vast number, if I may use a very old story, of curate's eggs.
2751 Going on from that to another point of view—and I wish the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury were here— we have a big burden to bear in the House and on Committees. The Minister does it extraordinarily well and helps us, but if the Minister of Agriculture were here, I am sure he would be able to explain to his colleagues, that we have to explain these things to the electorate in our turn, and they are not very easy to explain. In this particular case, I wish to ask the Minister one or two questions. In the first place, and I put the proposition the other day, we want to know quite frankly what we are to say when we are faced with this proposition. You are placing on the assessment committees by this Bill, I think it is one-fourth, but anyhow a certain percentage, of guardians. Supposing when guardians come to any of us and say, "Is it worth my while going on to them, is it a position which is likely to become permanent, and when you abolish guardians how is that form of representation going to be made?"—I know it is difficult and that it is looking into the future—but when you are building, as I understand you are building, a great bridge between the old system of rating and valuation and the new system, I do not want to see only this one section of the bridge, and not know what is going to happen when you get beyond this section on to land on the other side. So far as that is concerned I should like to have soon it made very much clearer.
We were told just now by the Minister that part of the cargo that had been thrown overboard was the matter of railways. I should be out of order in dealing with that. However, he has very rightly promised that this matter shall be dealt with at another time. May I ask him when he is going to deal with another form of property? There is no doubt that at the present time, that so far as certain services are concerned, their accounting is grossly bad, they do not contribute their share to the Government, and they are practically subsidised out of taxes, as, for instance, the Post Office. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us some undertaking that when he deals with the question of the railways he will deal with this other question which many of us believe of vital importance? I refer, as I have suggested, to national property of one form or another. May I 2752 also say, going from that subject, that I was very much interested to hear the statement of the right hon. Gentleman about the Revenue officers. I am one of those who from the very commencement of the Bill pleaded that the Revenue officer ought to be taken out. I am glad that we in Committee were unable to take him out, but apparently, having extracted that gentleman, and having, as we had hoped, slaughtered him with fair thoroughness, he has now, as has been said, got on to another ship, and is larger, and more prosperous, and even in a better position than before—or he will be so. Many of us felt very much that we had improved the Bill in this respect. We welcome the Minister's decision in this matter, and we hope that in the future he will not allow the Revenue officer to get too much power wherever he may find himself.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I should not like to have any misunderstanding on that point. I did not suggest that the Revenue officer was going in the future to have anything to do with the provision of valuation for rating purposes. What I meant by my simile of getting on to another ship was that he would have his own independent valuation under Schedule A. I suppose my hon. and gallant Friend does not want to abolish him altogether?
I did not suppose in dealing with the gentleman, nor perhaps did any Member of this House, that there was any prospect of having no tax gatherers at all. That position is reserved to some of us, we hope, in another world. Personally, I do not represent a very large agricultural area, but I do welcome the fact in regard to the present position of that industry: that the right hon. Gentleman has been able to see his way to make permanent the relief which has been granted by successive Governments from both sides of the House, and so let those connected with agriculture know more or less where they stand. I believe he has granted in that respect a very great boon to the agricultural interests. I am glad he has taken this opportunity of making the position absolutely clear in the Bill.
Another relief which has been granted, or rather promised, and I welcome the fact, is that the right hon. Gentleman 2753 is going to try and improve the position of the owner-occupier under this Bill. Many of us have felt great distrust, perhaps I should not say distrust but. very great feeling, that it was not quite right as the matter stood before, and together with other Members,. I really appreciate the fact that the Minister is trying to help us. There is another point which I should like to mention, and that is the cost of the valuation, which comes in really every five years. That is to the good. This will get the valuation up to date. But I would rather like to know, before the Bill goes away from us once for all, what is going to be the cost of the valuation? We have not heard, either in Committee or here on the Report stage, very much about that valuation. I think we ought to have a somewhat closer knowledge as to how much that valuation is going to cost. The noble Lord who represents Western Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) has his own particular views of self-government. I think, however, that many of us agree with him that these small localities, with their various differences in the work of self-government are also efficient training schools for thought, character, and independence in our nation. We very much regret that their area or their powers may in some way or other be curtailed. They produce men and give them a real knowledge of how to govern their fellow men, it may be in a very, very humble capacity indeed, but at the same time it gives— and this is the point I should like to make very, very strongly indeed—it gives to these small localities a real chance of accomplishing work and a chance for the working men to take their share in local self-government. That is one of the things that our party wants more than anything else.
In my last words I should like to call attention to a very interesting point of this Bill. This Bill now passing to-day has not been a question either between the opposite side of the House or this; it has been a struggle in the main between the various ideas within the Unionist party as to how they should shape this great Measure of constructive social reform. Some of us have thought one thing and some another. The remarkable thing is that we have taken a 2754 main constructive part in this Measure. So far as the Liberal party are concerned they have not contributed in any great measure. So far as the Opposition are concerned, we have listened to a large number of speeches, including those from the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the one idea seems in this matter of social reform to tax the raw material of industry on every occasion you possibly can. That is the contribution of hon. Gentlemen opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes. If hon. Gentlemen who interrupt read the speeches to which I refer they would see that that has been said again and again and on every occasion. After all, what is the raw material of industry? It is the land. But we want cheap land on this side of the House for reconstructing our industries. However, after all, that is merely a party point, though it may be worth making. I should like, before I sit down, to congratulate the Minister very sincerely, on his performance in this Bill, and to say that though I regret that it was not held over for perhaps another year—for more thought on it would have made it a better Bill—on the whole I recognise that this is a real beginning of trying to get the greatest possible amount of equity into our rating system. For that reason I have, on the whole, given it my support, and I shall continue to give it that in this House and outside in the country.
§ Major CRAWFURD
I rise not to answer the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, but to say one or two words on the final stage of this Bill. May I at the same time just say this, if the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health does not think it impertinent, that we on these benches, both here and in Committee, have admired very much the ability) the pertinacity, the lucidity and the courtesy of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues throughout the passage of this Bill. More than that, I myself have always particularly admired his unperturbed demeanour, not only in the almost tropical noontimes of the early summer, but in the arctic rigours to which we have been more recently subject. It is not uncommon, I think, to find men of mental ability and others with physical endowments, but it is very rare to find anybody who is so endowed mentally as is the right hon. Gentleman and possesses at 2755 the same time the physical characteristics of the salamander and the Eskimos.
On the whole, I think this is a Bill which ought to be supported on Third Heading. Most of the criticisms are criticisms, I think, not that it is a bad Bill but that it is not good enough. Personally, I support this Bill on the ground that it is a large contribution towards certain very much needed reforms in local government. Our chief criticism of the Bill—I think our chief criticism—is one which we are not entitled to discuss, perhaps, on Third Reading, because it refers rather to what the Bill leaves out than what it puts in. As to the criticism which we hear very often from the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Chancellor of The Duchy of Lancaster (Colonel Wedgwood), even that, I think, is one reason for supporting this Bill, because a Bill which relieves rates upon machinery and upon farm buildings must take us a step towards that time when all rates will be levied not upon the extent of the improvement, but according to the value of the services given at any particular spot by the moneys collected and expended through those rates. If that be so, it is only a question of time before the principle of rating according to site value and not according to the value of the composite holding which we believe in as well as hon. Members on the Labour Benches— will be the law of the land.
Another criticism is that the right hon. Gentleman has made many far-reaching changes in the Bill. I think he might have made another in the interests of more accurate assessment. I refer to the fiction which is known as gross value. Under the provisions of this Bill, in the Second Schedule, the right hon. Gentleman, by assessing rateable value by the present method and then making a deduction, will stereotype inequalities, because when there is a definite deduction over large masses of property the deduction must be made in respect of some elements in value which are not susceptible of and not capable of annual repair. Take the case of a shop of high value in, say, Bond Street, and a shop of comparatively low value in the East End of London. They have the same deduction made from their gross value to arrive at the rateable. In the case of the shop in Bond Street, an 2756 enormous part of the deduction is made in respect of site value which, of course, cannot possibly be repaired; another instance is where, in the case of licensed premises, deductions are made from a gross value which includes the value of the licence. It seems to me it would have been much better to be thoroughgoing in this matter, and arrange in the Bill not for valuation lists made up from forms filled in by owners and occupiers. In days gone by hon. Members opposite were wont to make considerable fun of what has now become the historic Form 4. I think Form 4 will be regarded as a model of lucidity and simplicity by comparison with the Forms which may have to be filled in under this Bill. It would have been better to arrange, not for a valuation list to be filled in on these principles, but for an accurate valuation to be made by competent people. Then, after having arrived at the rent paid by a hypothetical tenant paying not only the usual tenant charges but also repairs, a deduction should have been made in each district which really represented the approximate value of the repairs on that kind of property. That is a rather fundamental change which the right hon. Gentleman might have made.
I sympathise with a remark made by an hon. Member opposite as to the bureaucratic nature of the Bill. I would refer to Sub-section (7) of Clause 16, where the right hon. Gentleman, or his successors, will have the power, as I understand, of overruling any plans for arranging assessment areas made by the authority in a county. It says:Any scheme made under this Section may be revoked or varied(a) by a new scheme made and submitted to and approved by the Minister,orby a new scheme made by the Minister after consultation with the councils and boards of guardians concerned.It will be noticed that it does not say after the consultation with and approval by the authority. The Clause gives the right hon. Gentleman power to revoke or vary a scheme made by the competent local authority, and that seems to be carrying bureaucracy a little too far. Further, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has protected the ratepayer in the matter of appeals. A ratepayer appealing against the assessment of his 2757 own property may be charged, if the appeal is carried to Quarter Sessions, with the whole costs of both sides. The fact that he may incur a penalty of that kind may be used as a threat against him to deter him from appealing. There are other minor criticisms to be made, but in the main the Bill is a step forward; and we on these benches hope it is a step towards putting the rating of property on its real basis, that is, that property will eventually be rated, not According to the improvements made by the occupier or the owner, but according to the services given, and the measure of it will be not the improved value but the site value.
§ Brigadier-General CLIFTON-BROWN
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), when he opposed this Bill, criticised the Minister for his concession to agriculture on the plea that it was a sop to the landlord and meant higher rates for agricultural labourers.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I said that the sop was mainly to the farmers—something to the landlords, but mainly to the farmers.
§ Brigadier-General CLIFTON-BROWN
I thought you said "the agricultural landowner." I would point out that the biggest ratepayers in the rural districts are the agricultural landowners, and that the best friends of agricultural labourers in the agricultural districts are agricultural landowners, who in so far as they farm their own land, are able to do more for them. I am sure Members on all sides of the House would like people who have the money to do so to put it into their own land, and in so far as they farm their own land and get the advantage of this concession they are to be encouraged rather than discouraged. It has been said that it would be a good thing to bring the standard of country unions up to the standard in London. It was also argued that if this Measure is a good thing for London why not for the country? That is the fundamental error underlying this Bill, and I submit that if hon. Gentlemen opposite will come down with me into the country wearing the boots they are wearing now they would soon get very cold feet, and if I came up to London in my country boots I am sure that I should very soon have sore feet. What is good for the towns is not always good for the country. Although I congratulate the 2758 Minister on the concessions he has given to the country party, it is very difficult to make concessions in equity. There is the question of the concession to agricultural land. Since that has been made it has been represented to me that those who own osier land should get the benefit in the same way as those who own agricultural land because it is land covered with water, which cannot be developed in any other way. This osier industry is hardly hit by foreign competition, and if you gave it the same concession as agricultural land you would be doing more good than by putting it under any safeguarding regulations. I bring this point to the notice of the Minister in case that matter can be assisted in any way later on.
My chief objection is the way in which the boards of guardians have been treated. The Minister of Health knows that the chief opposition in the country has not come from farmers, but from the boards of guardians. I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do away with boards of guardians altogether in two or three years' time. How can you expect people under sentence of death to be willing to help and give that assistance which is necessary in order to carry out the provisions of this Bill. In any future Bills whether dealing with the Poor Law or anything else the right hon. Gentleman should pay more attention to the views of those who have been administering the Poor Law for so many years. There are something like 20,000 men and women of ripe experience with great sympathy and knowledge of the administration of the Poor Law. In the country they not only administer the Poor Law as it is, but I venture to say that you could not administer it better than it is being now administered in a majority of the unions of the country, no matter what changes are suggested. I should like to take the Minister of Health round to some of these country boards of guardians where they have six or seven acres and often own a little farm, providing vegetables and milk for their institution much cheaper than it could be bought in London, while at the same time providing good and useful work for the vagrants and the aged inmates of their institutions.
If the right hon. Gentleman can better those conditions, he will indeed do a great thing; but if he cannot do that 2759 and he requires full knowledge of it, he should study the subject a little more. I think it would be a retrograde movement in the rural areas to do away with the boards of guardians, and that is a point I want to put before him. I want the right hon. Gentleman, in any future legislation, to remember that the Government get a large amount of support from the country, and there are many supporters of the Conservative party connected with boards of guardians. Therefore I ask the Minister of Health to proceed slowly with any further legislation on this question, and not introduce Bill after Hill hitting at our old institutions, which, after all, have carried out their work in a sympathetic and kindly way which will be very hard to replace by any hard and fast Government Regulation.
§ Mr. RENNIE SMITH
I rise to support the Amendment which has been moved from these benches. I was a Member of the Committee which considered this Bill, and I have followed its proceedings with very great interest and with a very great appreciation of the labours of the Minister in charge of the Bill. I would like to express my own appreciation of the very valuable, learned and patient way in which the right hon. Gentleman has worked and carried through this Bill. At the same time I cannot help being persuaded, as so many other hon. Members have been, that if the Minister in charge of the Bill and his colleagues had had as wide an experience of rural constituencies and the general problems of rural government, this Bill might in its final stages have been very much better than it is now. I think in the whole evolution of local government in the past we have been too much under the influence of urban conceptions, and therefore have not always done the wise things which are necessary from a rural point of view.
I have the general impression at the close of the very long debates on this Bill that Birmingham and London have been too much the models upon which the Bill has been framed. We have been reminded of the special traditions and the social units' which characterised rural areas in the country. All these are matters of first-class importance which 2760 have not been fully realised in working out the details of this Bill. In rural life the whole problem resolves itself into evoking a certain amount of civic interest upon local bodies. It is difficult to get people to take a hand in the work of parish councils and boards of guardians. I think the tendency of this Bill is to remove those bodies still further from the sphere of local interest, and to set up the same kind of problem we have in regard to county councils, which are only too frequently dominated by well-to-do people, because they do not appeal so much to the local man for election purposes.
This tendency is all the more pronounced because the Ministry of Health has refused, in the setting up of these assessment committees, to adopt the principle of the payment of expenses for attendance of members of these assessment committees, which is a very important matter in rural areas. The result will be that the assessment committees will consist mostly of well-to-do citizens, and you will not be dealing effectively with the real problem in the rural districts from the point of view of assessments. There is in the country in rural areas a great deal of prejudice because the assessment work has been carried out by the well-to-do citizens of the country, and if we are to get justice and equity worked out in practice we want on these assessment committees more relatively poor men with a good knowledge of local affairs, and we require a proper proportion of these kind of men and women on the assessment committee. I want to raise my protest against the general structure of this Bill, which will not help in the least the state of things I have mentioned. I want to see working men and women taking a very definite part in the work of the assessment committees, and this Bill, instead of helping to attain that object rather hinders it. I should have welcomed it, if, in the second place, this Bill had been kept exclusively to the treatment of structural problems and had not dealt with financial problems. I cannot help thinking, as I look back over the last three months' work on this Bill, that its would have been far better if the Minister had definitely made up his mind in the first place, and not as he is now doing, in the second place, what he proposes to do with 2761 the boards of guardians. When we look over the various Amendments that have been accepted, it is perfectly clear that the position of the boards of guardians in relation to this new Measure is very uncertain, and I think the difficulties have been increased from the general point of view of determining whether in this country we are going to have a continuation of boards of guardians or whether we are going to bring that particular form of local government to an end.
The whole of the country would have been served better if the Minister had taken the bolder course of dealing first with the major problem, and then afterwards tackling the relatively minor problems which are dealt with in this Bill, From the point of view of finance, it seems to me that the Minister would have done far better if, instead of tackling these very important financial modifications in local government he had left the whole of the problems of finance for separate consideration. There is no matter more urgent, as has been said over and over again in the course of these Debates, than the complete overhauling of the financial relations that subsist between the Central Government and the various local governing bodies. There is no problem that is more urgent from a national point of view, and I think it is most unwise that two important Measures like the derating of machinery and the relief of rates on the part of those connected with the agricultural industry should have been tackled in a Measure which is primarily concerned with modifications in the structure of local government.
I was one of those Members on this side of the House who approved of the principle of the derating of machinery. I even went into the Lobby with the majority of the Government on that issue, because I believe it to be a sound thing that we, should unload the burdens upon the very sources of production. I think, certainly, that the derating of machinery, as expressed in this Bill, is a far wiser method for restoring the productive capacity of the British industrial system than the measures of safeguarding industry with which the Government are at present busy. At the same time, I do want to point out that the whole effect of that derating is to throw an added burden upon the average ratepayer in the country 2762 Similarly, I have no objection at all to considering the merits of reducing the rates upon the agricultural industry in the country. We are perfectly clear that we cannot do too much in a wise and statesmanlike way to open up the possibilities, not only of a temporary, but of a permanent and progressive improvement in the oldest of our national industries. At the same time, the net effect of this change is to transfer a very serious burden to the average working man ratepayer throughout the country: and, again, I think that a problem of that kind, namely, what to do to improve the agricultural industry of this country, ought not, certainly at the present time, to be made a matter of local consideration. It ought to be primarily considered from a national point of view: What can the State do directly to help to improve the agricultural system of the country; not what can the State do by throwing added burdens on to local ratepayers and in that way assist agriculturists? Therefore, as I see the matter, I am bound to take some exception to the treatment which, from a structural point of view, falls upon the rural areas in the changes proposed in the Bill; and, in the second place, to protest against the financial burdens which are going to be thrown upon working men and women ratepayers as a consequence of this Measure.
I am glad that the Government are considering the question of the de-rating of machinery. I am glad that the Government are considering the question how to improve the agricutural system of the country, but I do not think that these are the ways in which those improvements can best be brought about. Above all, when we remember what the effect of these financial provisions is going to be— to put a further added burden upon ordinary working men and women in their local rates—and when we remember that that tendency is not an isolated tendency, but part of the cumulative method and programme of the Government to improve upon all and every occasion the position of the well-to-do citizen and always to consider last the position of the great mass of the working men and women in the community, then I do want to protest very strongly against the effect of this Bill from a financial point of view, and to say that, so far as we on this side of the House are concerned while we wel- 2763 come many of the features in the Bill we are bound to protest against the over-urbanised point of view which characterises it in the first place, and, in the second place, to regret that a Government which is concerned about improving agriculture and about improving industry should seek to do it by adding still further to the burdens of the great mass of poor people in the country.
§ Mr. RHYS
I do not feel that I can let the Third Reading of this Bill go by without a few words of farewell. I think I can fairly claim to have been in the forefront of the battle in the summer, and I now get up to say that I propose to vote for the Third Reading. It has been interesting to see the completely changed attitude of the Labour party on this Bill. When it was first introduced, many of us thought that it was an extremely bureaucratic Measure, and that it was going to place the ratepayer at an undue disadvantage compared with the Inland Revenue. It was stated quite frankly in Committee upstairs by hon. Members who were leading the Opposition that they were prepared to support the Government and help them to get the Bill through provided it remained as it was. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, however, has seen his way to eliminating the bureaucratic proposition regarding the Inland Revenue officials, and I cannot understand the point of view which says that we are reactionary when we wish to give as much liberty to the ratepayer as possible, whereas the Labour party wish to put him more and more under the heel of Whitehall. There have been many other improvements made in the Bill. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has been able to keep a large measure of local representation on the assessment committees by allowing two parish representatives to be present when the affairs of that parish are being dealt with. That is a great step forward and will help the Bill a great deal in the country. I have never disguised the fact that I did not like the Bill, but now that it is going forward I am anxious only to do whatever possible to help it to work, and I think that that is rather the feeling of the House to-day. I have listened very carefully to most of the speeches from all parties, and I was very much struck by 2764 the moderation with which the arguments were put forward. This Bill affects every individual in the country—not only the rich, but the poor also—and it is for us to see that it is made as easy and as workable as possible.
I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has met all our arguments. Some of them he has seen the force of, though on others he has not been able to give way. During the Report stage, I was much struck by the argument of the Opposition that everything has been given to the agricultural interests. I recollect thinking that, if only we could have had the President of the Farmers' Union here during the Report stage, that body might not have taken up the line of opposing the Minister of Agriculture. I hear an hon. Member say that they are insatiable. I am quite prepared to admit that the agricultural interest have had a good deal done for them, but I think that, as agriculture is our basic industry, every possible measure of assistance should be given to it. I say quite frankly that in this Bill the Acts relating to the relief of agricultural rates are perpetuated, and various concessions have been given, and I do not think that agriculturists can really say now that they are not being fairly treated in the Bill, as compared with urban interests. I do not propose to make a long speech, because I have taken up a great deal of time on this Bill already, but, as I have said, in view of the alterations that have been made in the Bill, making it less bureaucratic than it was, I propose to vote for the Third Reading.
§ Mr. ROBERT RICHARDSON
I do not want it to be said of me that I allowed the Third Reading of this Bill to pass without making my protest against it. I protest against it as unfair in its incidence. Everybody knows that it is impossible in certain districts to get the necessary amount of money by way of rates. It has got to be raised somewhere, and this Bill simply transfers the burden from the shoulders of one ratepayer on to the shoulders of another. I suggest that, at any rate in the North of England, this transference of the burden of rates is from shoulders that are better able to bear at on to the shoulders of those who are least able to 2765 bear it. An hon. Member on the Government side suggested that mines were going to be relieved of a good deal of taxation by the non-rating of machinery, but let me assure him that that is not the case. It is certainly the case that machinery that is not fixed is going to be clear of rates, but, in the mining districts, at any rate as far as my Division is concerned, we cannot for safety's sake use machinery that is not fixed. We, therefore, are going to be placed in the position of having to bear the burden of other industries that are being relieved by the non-rating Clauses of this Bill.
Some years ago, when this Bill was brought before the House in the form of a Measure dealing only with the rating of machinery, we went very carefully into this matter in Durham, and found that in some areas additional rates to the extent of no less than from 30 to 33 per cent. would have to be thrown on to other people as a result of those proposals. This Bill goes a little further, and gives relief to agriculture as well, and that, of course, will also be thrown on the mines and on the householder who is connected with the mines. Altogether, we are going to be in a much worse position than we were prior to the passing of the Bill. I suggest to the Minister, and, indeed, the Government have already realised it, that there is no industry in this country that needs more careful attention than that of mining. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is the very lifeblood of this country. It is by exporting coal that we get cheaper food, which we do not grow in our own country, though I suggest that we might grow a good deal more than we do. I suggest, also, with regard to mining, that the right hon. Gentleman has there a very fruitful source of money for the relief of rates. In Durham about £1,250,000 is taken from the mines every year without being rated at all. The mineral royalty owners ought to have been brought into this Bill and made to pay their fair share of the rates required for the carrying on of the county. I suggest that this Bill will do more harm and cause more expense to the local authorities than to any of the landowning profession in the country. Their public buildings will be let down, their 2766 schools will be let down, their rates will be let down, while these people take all and pay nothing.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
I suggest to the hon. Baronet that the royalty owner is a. different person from a colliery owners.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
Let me again point out that minerals never enter into any rate book; they are not there. What is done is that the colliery owner is rated on the amount of coal produced, but the minerals lie there, and the owner may keep them there as long as he likes and do whatever he likes, and we cannot rate him. I suggest that it is unfair that persons who are well able to pay should be let off. There is £7,000,000 a year paid to the mining royalty owners every year out of the industry, without anything being given in return. I suggest to the Minister that here he has missed an opportunity that may not come again for many years. I hope the House will reject this Bill. I know that a new Bill for rating and valuation is necessary, and I wholly agree that the assessment areas ought to be larger as far as county areas are concerned. I agree that there are county areas at present where they are getting rid of unemployment and helping employment, and they are very much concerned in these matters, because they require the people's labour to keep them going. I agree that a widening of the areas is very much to be desired, but the considerations against this Bill very far outweigh anything that is in favour of it, and I hope the House will reject it.
§ Mr. BETHEL
I will not in any way attempt to combat the arguments of the hon. Member who has just sat down. I have heard them so often that practically they are getting threadbare.
§ Mr. BETHEL
I rise to support the Bill, as one who has been for 20 years a member of a town council in the heart of an industrial constituency, and 2767 who, fortunately or unfortunately, has already taken part in the taxation of machinery. I realise that what has just been said by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. R. Richardson), where the machinery is already taxed there will be some burden which will remain, but when we remember that there are so few authorities in this country that have already taxed machinery, and there is a great number who do not tax it, we come to the question: Is it right or is it wrong? It can only be right or it can only be wrong. My experience of boards of guardians is that the bulk of them are not representative of the electors of the constituencies. In one election, in my constituency where there are over 4,000 voters, slightly over 200 polled, and a representative was elected who, I think, only secured 147 votes.
The Eccles Town Council will welcome a change on these equitable lines of bringing assessments all over the country into harmony with each other. We only levy and collect our district rate. The overseers collect the poor rate. May I point out, if this appertains in a great number of unions, what will be the saving? We have our borough treasurer and staff. We levy only the district rate. A different establishment is kept up with overseers, offices, duplicate sets of books and duplicate staffs. It is a fight with the officials more than with the guardians. Although I voted against the derating of machinery, I feel that it will be an injustice to some towns; but as time goes on, and we get this uniformity of rating, the injustice will disappear, and that will help to provide employment for some of the works which were so heavily rated that in a time of depression it has taken them all their time to carry on. Who can assess better than the town council? A town council is fully representative of all shades of politics, and every party, and who can assess the works and the property better than the town council who were elected yearly to render service to the citizens of the borough and to do what is just? Take a little rural district. There are one or two I have in my mind. You may have to walk about a mile to the next house, and the resident there may be on the assessment committee. Too much local influence creeps 2768 into the assessments in those areas. This Bill will abolish the local influence which has in the past, without any doubt, affected the assessment. You will find in some districts a pair of semi-detached houses built on the same plan, and a man in one house is assessed at £5 more than the man who lives next door. This Bill only brings in uniformity, which is so desirable in the country, and although it will do great injustice to those towns which ought never to have been allowed to assess machinery, it will do good to the community, and I hope it will go through.
§ Mr. RILEY
I was one of those who welcomed the Bill on its first presentation as a long deferred instalment of democratic advance, but as it has emerged from Committee and Report stage, I can only regard it as a reactionary Measure. I thought that at long last we were going to bring the whole question of valuation, assessment and rating for local purposes into some kind of relationship with the tremendous change which has taken place with regard to population and the extension of local government since the establishment of the Union Assessment Committees in 1834. The necessity of reviewing our old system of valuation, assessment and rating in consequence of the growth of great municipalities in the last 60 years, has often been discussed and everyone engaged in public work has been looking forward to that change. At last a Conservative Government are going to have a great advance made in placing the responsibility for this public work upon the public councils who now administer local government. I am sorry, however, to find that in the course of the passage of the Bill through Committee, with all its good intentions, the Minister and his assistants, whose patience and wonderful knowledge and skill we appreciate, have surrendered from stage to stage so that to-day we are considering the final stage of what is a reactionary Measure.
The purpose of the Bill, as set forth in the Clauses, was to place upon rural district, borough, county borough and county councils, the whole responsibility for making the valuation, forming assessment committees, and levying the rates. Now, in its final stage, we find that there is no express duty placed upon a county borough council, for instance, adminis- 2769 tering annual sums of millions of money, to become responsible as the council elected by the electorate, responsible to them, to see that they make the valuation and the assessment. Whereas in its first presentation to the House it provided that local councils might appoint not less than one-fourth of the guardians upon the assessment committees, while three-fourths might have been from their own numbers, now that limitation has been removed. Now as it stands the Clause says that there must be at least nine-twentieths of the members of the assessment committee who are not members of the council. Although there is a possibility, as the Bill now stands, that on the assessment committees there may be 11 out of 20 who are members of the council, there is no obligation upon the council to see that that is done. If a council thinks fit to do so it may appoint members entirely outside its own members. That has been responsible for losing the support of many of us on this side who welcomed the Bill on its presentation to the House.
I am dissatisfied with the Bill because, although the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary repeatedly stated in Committee that it was not intended to alter the incidence of rating, but only to deal with the machinery of rating, the Bill makes a fundamental alteration in the incidence of rating. Take the question of making permanent the rebate of 75 per cent. in rates given to the occupiers of agricultural land. A fundamental change of that sort, which makes permanent a differentiation in the liability of one class of property against another in respect of rating, ought not to have been put into this Bill, and passed without full consideration. The issue is so big that it ought to have been submitted to the House as a separate principle, and fought on its merits, rather than have been pushed through the back door in this way.
Having regard to the statement of the Minister of Health that the Bill was not to alter the incidence of rating, I want to show exactly what this concession means in the incidence of agricultural rating. According to the Annual Report of the Ministry of Health for 1923, the gross value of agricultural land in England and Wales in that year liable to rating was £35,900,000. In rough 2770 figures, £26,000,000 was the assessable value of agricultural land in England and Wales liable to rating. It is interesting to note that that figure corresponds with the number of acres of grass and arable land, 26,000,000 acres, and therefore it works out at about £l an acre. That £26,000,000 was stated by the Ministry of Health in 1923 as being the amount liable at the full rate to have rates levied upon it.
Owing to the passing of the 1896 Act, giving 50 per cent. rebate, and the giving in 1923 of a further 25 per cent. rebate, instead of the £26,000,000 being liable for rates, only £6,500,000 were so liable. In other words, £19,000,000 of declared assessable value escapes its contribution to rating purposes. Under this Bill that is made permanent as a system of rating in this country. How is this made up? In 1923, according to the Government figures, the amount which had to be raised from agricultural land in England and Wales for rating purposes was £11,500,000. Towards that sum in 1923 the Exchequer made a Grant-in-Aid of £2,840,000. Then from the Act of 1896 there was a further contribution of £1,320,000, making a total Exchequer grant of £4,500,000, leaving a balance of £7,000,000 which had to be made up in 1923 by the occupiers of property other than agricultural land. That burden of £7,000,000, which under ordinary assessment should have been placed upon agricultural land, has had to be borne by working people, small occupiers, shopkeepers, tradesmen, and so on. We say that is an inequitable incidence of taxation which is not defensible.
I join the lion. Member for Penistone (Mr. Rennie Smith) and I agree with him that any equitable means that can be adopted to assist agriculturists deserves support. I would agree to the 75 per cent. rebate which is being made permanent in this Bill, if, along with it, the Government had taken the precaution to take steps to make it a condition that no agricultural rents should as a consequence be raised. Two things will occur because of what has been done in this respect in the Bill. It has been argued by hon. Members on the other side that rents will not be raised as a result of this concession. What will be the case in small pasture districts adjacent to towns, where a tenant vacates his holding? 2771 Now that it has been finally settled and made permanent that there is to be a 75 per cent. reduction in regard to the rating of agricultural land, competing tenants for the vacant holdings, who will know that they are not liable to local rates at a percentage of 20s. in the £, but only 5s. in the £, will be able to offer a higher rent to the owner of the land.
A further consequence of the un-wisdom, the unstatesmanlike act of giving this kind of relief, given indiscriminately to all forms of agricultural land, is that it is being given to valuable land in the neighbourhood of large towns which is ripening for building purposes. The owners, because of the fact that there is a low rateable value placed on the land, will be able to afford to allow it to stay as it is, in spite of the fact that it is wanted for building. There is a final argument, and that is that the purpose of this reduction of 75 per cent. was mainly to assist depressed agriculture and agriculture particularly concerned with wheat growing, and with arable land which was badly hit by world competition.
What does this concession grant? It gives the least assistance to the persons who are growing wheat and the most assistance to people who own land near industrial centres. I have here a few figures which I will quote. I will take the four counties of Cambridge, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk. These are four agricultural counties where arable cultivation predominates. They have a total area of 3,000,000 acres, of which 2,197,000 is arable land and only 807,000 acres grass land. There are, therefore, nearly four times as many acres of arable land as of grass land, By the 75 per cent. relief which this Bill gives, there will be received by them £382,000 per annum as relief of rates. Now take Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. They are pastoral counties which raise stock and are not supposed to be depressed. They are of the same acreage, approximately, as the other counties, namely 3,096,000 acres. In Lancashire Cheshire, Derby and Stafford the area of grass land is 2,336,000 acres, and of arable land, 830,000 acres. The figures there, it will be noticed, are the reverse of those which I 2772 have previously given. When you come to the relief given by the concession of 75 per cent., these pastoral counties get £608,000, which is almost twice the amount received by the other four counties mentioned.
I submit that from the point of view of the purposes of this concession, it does not attain its object. It gives most to those who need least, and gives least to those who need most. There is one final reason against this Bill. In addition to this enormous sum of £7,000,000 per annum, which should represent the liability attached to agricultural land for assessment purposes, but which the non-agricultural occupiers of land have to bear, there is another concession of £600,000 as relief on farm buildings. To that additional burden the Treasury proposes to make no contribution, and the change will go on to the small occupiers and ratepayers and the urban districts. It is because of these defects in the Bill that those who welcomed it as an instalment of democratic advance are compelled to vote against it.
§ Mr. S0MERVILLE
Hon. Members have borne testimony to the great patience and outstanding ability with which the Bill has been conducted throughout its stages. I join most willingly in that tribute. The Minister has spoken of uniformity as one of the chief objects of the Bill, and undoubtedly in the enlargement of the assessment areas and in providing the check of a county committee that object would be very largely achieved. From personal experience I know that one assessment area often suffers in the incidence of the county rate in comparison with another assessment area, and I think that that will be very largely remedied by the Bill. But in trying to achieve complete uniformity the Minister pays rather too high a price, because he has treated the parishes rather hardly. The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) said that the parish had come down to us from Saxon times and that it holds very strongly to customs and traditions. It is not good, especially for those on this side of the House, to disregard those customs and traditions.
The parish has been deprived of its overseers and powers of rating. But that will be to a certain extent compensated by the granting of two representatives 2773 of the parish on the assessment committee, when the affairs of the parish are being discussed by the assessment committee. The word "co-opted" has been used in connection with those two Members, but I maintain that that is a misnomer. The two Members are elected and chosen by the parish council, and they have the right to speak and to vote on the assessment committee. The party opposite opposed the appointment of these two representatives. It is rather a remarkable thing that the Socialist party which is trying to capture the vote of the agricultural labourer should oppose the agricultural labourer having a voice in the management of his own affairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The agricultural labourer is powerful in the parish council. We have come to regard the party opposite as the inconsistent party. It spends Tuesday in trying to persuade the country that it is the champion of free speech, and then on Thursday it excludes the Press from the Gallery in this House. The hon. Member who has just spoken objected very much to the concession of 75 per cent. on agricultural buildings. I do not know how he voted on the question of machinery, but if you un rate machinery there is a very strong reason for granting this concession to agricultural buildings. Those buildings are the machinery of the land, and it is only just that they should get a concession if industrial machinery gets it.
Let me deal next with the question of boards of guardians. Our object is to keep people on the land and to attract people to the land. To do that it is necessary to keep the life of the countryside as rich and full as possible. Bodies like parish councils and boards of guardians do create interests on the countryside, and these interests it is unwise to disregard. I can speak from personal experience of the work of boards of guardians. They are ad hoc bodies, elected for the care of the poor, and, on the whole, I think it is just to say that they have done their duties carefully, conscientiously and humanely. There is nothing that is more keenly felt than the hints let fall by the Minister and others that this Bill is a prelude to the abolition of boards of guardians. We have not yet got the Minister's scheme before us, and it may be that when it 2774 appears it will greatly modify our opinions; but I put it to my right hon. Friend and to the Parliamentary Secretary that it is not wise to impoverish the life of the countryside by abolishing the boards of guardians. If I may venture to suggest one criticism of the Bill, it is that it has been drafted much more in the interests of the town than in the interests of the country, and again, I express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the intention of abolishing the boards of guardians.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Sir Kingsley Wood)
As I understand there is other business which it is hoped to transact this afternoon, I venture now to reply to some of the questions which have been asked during the Debate and to make some brief observations upon the speeches we have heard. In the first place, I thank hon. Members for their very kind expressions in relation to my right hon. Friend and myself—they have been generous indeed in those statements. The opposition to this Bill, as expressed this afternoon, is of a varied character, and I do not think I ever heard in this House speeches in opposition to a Measure couched in terms so regretful as the speeches of to-day. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill described it as a considerable step in evolution as regards local administration, and even the fiercest critics of the Bill have alluded to its bright spots, and many people, although criticising it, expressed the view that it has many good parts in it. It was of particular interest to me to hear the speech delivered by my hon. Friend the Noble Lord the Member for Western Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington). He expressed, I think, an individual view when he said that it would be far better to leave committees and authorities to do just as they liked, to spend as much money as they liked, and even to mal-administer their affairs if they liked, provided they had freedom. On that occasion we witnessed signs of a new formation in this House, because I think that proposition had most support from the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who showed very evident signs of approval in that connection—and I am not surprised that it should be so.
2775 I think the principal objection expressed to the Measure was that of the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill and who stated the case for the necessitous areas and urged that the Bill would work harshly in respect of those areas. He asked that the necessitous areas should have more cash and argued that the alterations made by this Bill would be to the detriment of those areas throughout the country. I would remind hon. Members opposite that the question of these areas has long been before this House. This is not the first time, as the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley knows, when requests have been made for their assistance, and I will read to the House a statement made on this subject on another occasion, which I hope will receive the assent of hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson)—as one might expect—had raised the question of necessitous areas, and this is the statement made in reply to him:A very interesting point was raised by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough in relation to the grants made to necessitous areas and I should like to give him a definite statement of our policy on that point. The hon. Member dealt with the deputation which went to the Ministry of Health with a proposal that special assistance should be given to necessitous areas by means of a grant based on a complex formula. After careful consideration the Government had not been able to accept this. The formula, if applied, would give rise to the most grotesque differences in the grants to the various necessitous areas. It is very difficult to find a formula which would be fair. The general policy of the Government is to extend the unemployment programme and in this way greatly to relieve the local authorities of some of their burdens that is definitely the policy of the Government on that point.Then—again as one would expect—the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough rose to his feet and asked to what extent the Government were prepared to increase grants to local authorities in these areas with regard to work for the unemployed and the reply was:I think I must stick to the reply I have given that it is very difficult to find a formula which will be fair. I cannot go beyond that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1924; cols. 2086–2087, Vol. 170.]That was the statement made on behalf of the Ministry of Labour in the late Government in regard to necessitous 2776 areas, and hon. Members opposite will appreciate that, if that was the view adopted then—and there is a good deal to be said for this view—it was a definite rejection on that occasion of any extra assistance to the necessitous areas.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
The hon. Gentleman fails to point out that that policy was carried into effect of relieving local Poor Law rates—by the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1924—of considerable sums, and that coterminous with this Bill the policy of this Government is to put those burdens back again.
§ Sir K. WOOD
If this matter is to be dealt with in the way which the hon. Member has just mentioned, under the unemployment insurance scheme, I hardly understand why requests are being made to-day. But the main criticism of the Bill undoubtedly is that, especially in connection with the de-rating of machinery, further burdens would be cast upon these areas and, in fact, all industrial areas. An hon. Member opposite complained very strongly against this matter being dealt with now in this Bill, but I do not think many hon. Members will agree with that view. Everyone who has studied the question, whatever view they may take of the de-rating of machinery, must agree that matters cannot remain as they are. You have in one area a committee which rates all machinery, another where the committee rates it partially and another where it is not rated at all That state of affairs cannot continue. That situation has to be faced, and I think that is the justification for dealing with it in this particular Measure. I think the best reply—at any rate a good reply—on the question as to whether the derating of machinery will throw burdens on the industrial class of the community was made by a right Hon. and gallant Gentleman who is not, I regret to say, in his place to-day, but who attended ail the meetings of the Committee. I must say I regarded him, with every respect to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, as the leader of the Labour party in connection with this Bill. I refer to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle - under - Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood). He said only a little time ago that he regarded the rating of machinery as an overhead 2777 charge on the cost of production. These are his words:If we reduce these overhead charges, we benefit the consumer, and not only the consumer in this country, hut we are able to export our goods to foreign countries at a cheaper price, and are thus better able to compete in the neutral markets of the world with goods produced in other countries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1925; col. 1470, Vol. 188.]
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) has always contended that another source of revenue should be found in order to take the burden off industry. Everyone in the House knows that.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I want to be fair to the right hon. Gentleman, who I am sorry is not here to-day, but let me tell the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, because I have no doubt that he wants to account for the curious position in which members of the Labour party stand on this matter, that both upstairs in Committee and here on the Report stage of the Bill this matter was fully discussed. It was pointed out that there would be no Exchequer grant so far as the derating of machinery was concerned, and the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster voted for the Clause notwithstanding the fact that no such provision was to be made. He did it knowingly, and as a matter of fact I believe he stated that his party was going to vote for it. Therefore, there was no question of any reservation in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, as the right hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) will agree.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
You are doing the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme an injustice. He has always advocated taking burdens off industry and replacing them by the taxation of land values, and I should have thought that everybody in the House knew that.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Certainly, but this is what he calls the first step towards what he regards as a desirable end. The fact remains that he stated that he regarded this matter of the derating of machinery as one of the best steps that we could take to improve trade and industry and by that means to decrease unemployment in this country. It is also said by our critics that we are now for first time exempting farm buildings and that that 2778 is another nail in the coffin of the poor people of this country, and again I would like to quote what the right hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said on that matter. So far from regarding it as anything detrimental or as any reason for the rejection of this Bill, he said:It represents a step in the right direction of reducing the burden upon capital invested and helping to produce more wealth."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1925; col. 1922, Vol. 188.]That was said really only a few hours ago, and it certainly represents an opinion which I can very well press upon the House, and especially upon hon. Members opposite, at this time. But apart from that, because, after all, than may be an expression of opinion, with which anybody is entitled to disagree, even Members of his own party, I think it ought to be stated that at the same time as machinery was derated, further assistance was given to agriculture. A very substantial concession was made so far as the owners of small property in this country were concerned. When this Bill was introduced to the House, we fixed a deduction of 25 per cent. in relation to property under £40. When the matter came before the Committee upstairs, that was increased to 33⅓ per cent. in respect of property under £20 gross value, and to-day that has again been increased so far as property of the gross value of £10 is concerned. Therefore, I venture to say that there is no doubt that a very fair adjustment has been made all the way round.
I could answer very many other points of criticism, but I do not want to delay the House, because if any Bill has been-exhaustively discussed in this House, it is this Bill. Nobody can say that this Bill has not received fair and faithful consideration from the House of Commons and the Committee upstairs, and I hope that, now that Members have expressed their particular views upon-this proposal, they will not only allow us to obtain a Division, if it be necessary, on the Bill, but that we shall receive the support of the great majority of Members of this House.
§ Mr. BARNES
The Parliamentary Secretary is, I think, correct in stating that in the earlier stages of this Bill the general inclination of Members on this side was to support him, and it is only 2779 since the Report stage of the Measure that our attitude towards the Bill has changed. If we are opposing it on the Third Reading, however, both himself and the Minister of Health are responsible, and not we. In reference to the quotations taken from the right hon. Member for Newcastle - under - Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), the hon. Gentleman could very likely say the same against many other hon. Members here. Quite frankly, I am in favour of the derating of machinery, but only provided it is carried through with the reorganisation of the rating system and a different allocation of the burden. While I am in favour of the derating of machinery, I am not in favour of taking it off an employer in the paying sense and passing it on to the shoulders of the employed in their rent and on to small shop property. That is not relieving the situation at all; that is merely transferring the burden which now exists from machinery to other factors in the locality.
We were well disposed towards this Measure, because we considered it the foundation of the reorganisation of the rating system of this country, but since the Report stage we have seen that it has emerged a characteristic Tory Measure. The industrial interests and the agricultural interests have joined hands for the purpose of dividing a certain amount of the spoil between them. The agriculturists, in the first instance, were inclined to oppose the de-rating of machinery, because their arguments were to the effect that it would place an additional burden on agriculture, but directly they saw the possibility of getting farm buildings relieved of 75 per cent. we found more unanimity on the other side. It is because the Bill has now adopted the very vicious principle of transferring that quota of the rates derived previously from the rating of machinery and farm buildings to shop property and the small householders that many of us are opposing the Bill at this stage, and it is now, as I say, a characteristic Tory Measure, for the reason that it has emerged, like almost every other Measure brought in by this Government, a Measure to try and relieve those persons in the community that are best able to bear the burdens of taxation and rating and place them on to those who are not.
2780 The whole argument of post-War politics with regard to Income Tax on that side of the House has been that if we were to relieve the burden of Income Tax, there would be an improvement in trade. Income Tax has been relieved since the War to the extent of 2s. 6d. in the pound. What improvement in trade has there been as a result of that policy? In the Finance Bill we had the imposition of silk duties—another attempt in the form of indirect taxation to produce a greater measure of revenue from the great mass of the community, instead of getting it from the capital-owing section of the community, and even in the Safeguarding of Industries Bill there is another category of four articles—cutlery, gloves, incandescent mantles and paper —all used by the mass of the people or in trade which serves the mass of the consuming industry of this country, on which another group of duties is going to be placed for the purpose of raising more and more of the revenue and the rates of the country from the mass of the people, rather than from those most able to bear it.
The Parliamentary Secretary's reply about the necessitous areas, quoting what some previous Minister said, does not meet the situation. He knows very well the whole of the legislation of the Labour Government in 1924. That item was not considered by itself. The relief, or rather the increase of unemployment insurance benefit, had to be taken side by side with the Budget of the Labour Government, which relieved indirect taxpayers to the extent of over £30,000,000 a year—the only Budget in the post-War period that has given the bulk of its relief to the indirect taxpayer; whereas the Governments of hon. Members opposite in three Budgets have presented a relief of direct taxation to the extent of £120,000,000 a year. The Old Age Pensions Bill of the Labour Government brought nearly 200,000 persons into pension without any contribution, and the test of the Labour Government's administration was that during our period of office we relieved, approximately, the total amount of destitution in this country by 25 per cent. But we were not satisfied with nine months administration. You have had thirteen months, and you have not done a quarter, not a twentieth part of what 2781 the Labour Government did, and those of us who represent necessitous areas are entitled to say that, during the passage of this Measure, we have had a very clear example of the characteristic of all Conservative legislation, that you use your political power in this House to strengthen your economic power outside. You accuse this party of being a party of inconsistencies. I would rather be attached to a party that is not consistent than be attached to a party that is always concerned with exploitation. You are a party of exploitation.
§ Mr. BARNES
Widows' pensions are part of your whole policy of making the poor keep the poor. The workers of this country have to pay for those pensions in the same sense that the people in necessitous areas, working men and women, have to pay. You do not live where the rates are 23s. or 24s. in the pound.
§ Mr. BARNES
That would be just as applicable, in so far as, I think, you live-in the City of Westminster. Therefore, the general argument that I am addressing to Members opposite, I think would apply to the City of Westminster as well. But my real point is that this Rating Bill, as it emerges from the Report stage, does not lead to any more equitable distribution of the burden of local government. It has been characteristic of legislation from the party opposite since they have been in power, that, instead of relieving the inequity of our present incidence of rating, it has worsened it, and that is the reason we oppose the Third Reading, whereas we were inclined to support the Bill in the early stages.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
I was very glad this morning to hear the Minister of Health say that it was his intention to draft a Resolution, to be presented in another place with regard to Clause 11, that is, to bring the owner-occupiers within the meaning of that Clause, and to give them the benefit of the compounding Subsection. It will be remembered that when this particular Clause was going through, we took strong exception to an Amend- 2782 ment on the Paper in the name of the Minister himself, to exclude the municipalities from that particular Clause. There was a great deal of apprehension upon these benches regarding that Amendment. We were very pleased at its withdrawal, and are just as pleased now that the owner-occupier, who seemed to be overlooked in that sense, is now being put in.
My main object in rising is to support the Third Reading of the Bill. I differ, of course, from most of my colleagues in this matter, but in the last three General Elections I have spoken in favour of the derating of machinery, and I am now glad to get the opportunity, under whatever circumstances possible, to support it in this House. With regard to the amount of rates to be put on to other shoulders, I think that that has been greatly exaggerated in this House, and also by those people who kindly supply us with circulars day by day. I had a very influential deputation, representing my constituency and the district far beyond, interviewing me with regard to the amount of rates that would be placed upon the householders. They said that in our district it would be something like 9d. in the £ in addition to the general rate. I asked them how they worked it out so as to get this large increase. Their replies were entirely unsatisfactory to me. I went into the matter, and instead of an increase of a ninepenny rate I find that in our city there will be great difficulty in making out an increase of Id. per £. Hon. Members who have spoken have lost sight of what the Minister said here on the Second Reading. He clearly explained that machinery would fall into three different categories. One would be obviously assessable for rating, the second obviously would not, and the third class would be doubtful and would be subject to the discrimination of a committee. I cannot see where the enormous increase, that in some cases has been put as high as 3s., is going to arise under the provisions of Clause 24.
A colleague of mine on these benches said that the derating of machinery was an eminently Socialistic proposal. I agree with that, and although national provision is not going to be made in compensation, I am still going to support this' Socialistic Measure. He spoke about land values being the source from which 2783 such revenues should be got, and that so far as this particular Clause was concerned he would support it, provided that the burden was to be put upon land. I submit that one of the ways of indefinitely deferring the taxation of land values is to support the present state of things. In other walks of life we have an indiscriminate charity and a multitude of charitable organisations because the country does not take upon itself the burden of providing for the infirm and the poor. One of the best ways of postponing that ideal of the taxation of land values which we stand for is to keep things as they are.
This country alone in the world is the only country where movable machinery is taxed. Our shipyards stand alone in this for not even in Scotland is movable machinery taxed. All haulage machinery, all tools that are carried about are taxed here in our shipyards. Scotland got rid of that in 1902. From the workman's point of view I want to give an instance of why I am in favour of the removal of the tax on movable machinery. Ten years ago we signed an agreement in this City conceding the important principle that where an improvement was obtained by the use of machinery and the output was thereby increased we were entitled to at least one-half of the benefit. A particular machine which is largely used in our shipyards and engineering works is still hanging fire for the reason that we are getting half or a little more than half of the benefit, and the other half is not quite sufficient for the upkeep and capital cost of the machine. The result is that the use of these machines, which give us 33 per cent. benefit in wages, is not being increased at the rate we should like to see, or at the rate which the industry demands. We would like to get costs down in our work, and especially for the sake of this matter of pneumatic machinery we would like to see the Bill go through. I again support this Bill for I have spoken in favour of such a Measure at three General Elections.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SCURR
It is interesting that the whole of Friday afternoon should be spent in discussing a new method of rating, when we are faced with so many grave problems of unemployment and poverty, with which the Government can find no 2784 time to deal. I want to protest against the way in which this business has been conducted. Originally the proposals were brought forward by the Ministry, which circulated them to all local authorities. We were told in the accompanying memorandum that we were to have uniformity and co-ordination. We have not got either of these things. The Bill has been totally altered from what it was when it was originally introduced, and, of course, the various interested parties, who form a very large section of the forces of the party opposite, have had their will in regard to this Measure.
As regards this afternoon's Debate, the most interesting speech was that delivered by the Noble Lord the Member for Western Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington). True to his family traditions, he stood up entirely for the Whig principle that we want our local government to spend our own money and to muddle along. All the time he was saying this I was wondering who he meant by "we." He did not mean the agricultural labourers of the Derbyshire division, but he meant those members of the class of which he is a. distinguished ornament, who think that they, and they alone, are able to control the destinies of this country. We have the true Whig doctrine put forward by him. My last word is to make my protest against what the Minister has done all the way through, against his surrender and against his alteration of this Bill from the original Bill which I supported and tried to get through. This Bill is not the Bill of the Minister of Health. I think that we must commemorate his activities by preparing for him a new coat of arms. I am not an expert in heraldry, but I have ventured to sketch out my ideas of this coat of arms which experts will be able to put into proper heraldic language. I suggest that the design of the left quartering should be that of an overseer, a farmer and the landlord engaged in the pleasant task of rating one another's property. For a motto they should have:For the cause that Jacks assistance.For the wrong that needs resistance.For the future in the distanceAnd the good that I can do.On the other hand, this Bill ought really to be described as the Bill of the hon. 2785 Member for Oxford City (Captain Bourne). He, and he alone, is responsible for the alterations that are made. Therefore, we must have a representation of him rampant, holding the rod of correction over the head of a Minister; near by the pickle jar. The motto should be:Absence of punishment always encourages people to worse offences.Then, what I regard as most important is that given to the Minister of Health himself, couchant holding a copy of the Bill with the Clauses erased, the motto on it beingVixi dubius, anxias morior, nescio quo vado!
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill is rather in the position of the person of whom we are told everyone speaks well. He will forgive me if I add to that that I have seen many Bills conducted through this House, and both himself and his able lieutenant have been courteousy itself and have met the attacks from those of us on these benches in a way that, at least, we appreciate. All this, however, does not at all take away from myself and other people the responsibility of saying just what we think about the Bill. We have been told that the pathway to a certain place is paved with good intentions. I have no doubt that those who pilot us to those places are as suave and as courteous as the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have been. This Bill is a Bill of machinery. A week ago I was trying to protest against the Government devoting all its time to the reform of the machinery of administration, of justice, of tithes, and now, of rating. I further said then what I want to repeat to-day in regard to this Bill, that I am quite certain that in the end the great mass of the people will neither be better nor worse for the Bill. I think the saving, if any, will be infinitesimal, and that the benefit that it is going to confer upon the people that most of us on this side represent, will be nothing at all.
One of my hon. colleagues who represents a South Wales constituency would have liked to have said something, but he has been obliged to go away. [A laugh.] I am certain that the hon. Gentleman opposite is not laughing at the condition of the South Wales coalfields, nor at the fact that the people there are 2786 absolutely starving. The hon. Gentleman opposite knows something about the matter, and I do not think that he would deny that what I am saying is perfectly true. I feel, however, that this House is, at this time, spending its efforts on Bills of this character while we should rather be spending our time on other work. I know the answer that will be given by some of the newspapers, and, perhaps, by hon. Gentlemen opposite to people like myself, that if we would not oppose these kind of Bills we should have more time here to hammer out other proposals.
I for one would just make this observation to whomever it may concern—that I know at least a dozen of us here, and probably very many more, who would sit quite dumb—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear! "]—if the Government or anybody else in the House would bring forward some Measure for the relief of the people that I mentioned a moment ago. It is all very well for us to come here day after day and week after week, and knowing the conditions that are prevailing, do nothing but legislate in the manner we have been trying to do of late. [An HON. MEMBER: "Question."] I shall be quite prepared when Mr. Speaker or the Chairman is good enough to call upon me to say my say about the Safeguarding Bill, which I think is the most idiotic set of propositions that were ever put forward. Talk about pills to cure earthquakes? Like other people, I am in favour of derating machinery, and on that simple issue I should vote for the derating of machinery; but if I vote for this Bill I shall have to vote for a lot of other things, vote for the remission of 75 per cent. of the rates on agricultural land and in favour of excluding certain farm buildings from rating. We have not yet come to the point when the House has been asked to relieve the buildings of manufacturers from rates, but some limit must be put to the amount of relief to be given to various interests unless another source of revenue is supplied. In many poor districts, by reason of the expansion of population, land values are increasing a hundred- or a thousand-fold; and any Government that were tackling rating and were going to deal with the rating of machinery in a uniform way ought to have made up their minds what they are going to do. One justification for speaking is that the Government tell us they are 2787 going to bring in a Bill to deal with London. Therefore, it is certain that the derating of machinery will apply to London one day. Our borough council have unanimously asked me to do what I cannot do, that is, to vote for leaving things as they are, not because they are in favour of the present position, but because if the rates are taken off machinery, and there is no provision for making up that loss, it is going to mean an increase of rates. It would put 1s. on the rates of Poplar, which everybody knows are very high. We feel, I feel anyhow, that for that reason if for no other, the House ought not to give this Bill a Third Reading, and that we ought not to part with this Bill until we have found another source of revenue for local authorities. I have never thought of the National Exchequer as that source, because with more central grants there must come very much more central control; but when I know that from Poplar, poor as it is, there go thousands of pounds each year in ground rents to noble lords and others who own land there; when I know that there are several noble lords who take very big incomes from the Borough of Stepney, year by year, without contributing anything to the expenditure of the borough; and when I know
§ that these boroughs are heavily rated, I cannot help feeling that it is true, as an hon. Member said just now, that when this Government do legislate on these questions, they just put more and more burdens on the poor.
§ I oppose this Bill not so much because it includes the derating of machinery but because it does not provide an alternative to the derating of machinery. There is no representative of an industrial area such as I represent here who could do otherwise than protest against such a Bill as this. With regard to the taking away of the revenue officer I think he has always been a good safeguard wherever his presence has been felt, but he is out of the Bill now and there is nothing more need be said about that matter. So far as I am concerned I am not going to allow any of these Bills to go through without protest, and I shall go on protesting against this House continuing to sit day after day and neglecting the one and only problem with which we ought to be dealing, and that is the condition of the poor people who are existing on the verge of destitution.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 205; Noes, 58.2789
|Division No. 461.]||AYES.||[3.16 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Fermoy, Lord|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Caine, Gordon Hall||Forrest, W.|
|Albery, Irving James||Campbell. E. T.||Foxcroft. Captain C. T.|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Fraser, Captain Ian|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Frece, Sir Walter de|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, E.||Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Ganzoni. Sir John|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Gates. Percy|
|Balniel, Lord||Clarry, Reginald George||Gee, Captain R.|
|Banks, Reginald Mitchell||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Glyn, Major R. G. C.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Grace, John|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Grant. J. A.|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Connolly, M.||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Greene, W. P. Crawford|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Cooper, A. Duff||Greenwood. Rt. Hn. Sir H. (W'th's'w, E)|
|Bennett, A. J.||Cope. Major William||Grotrian, H. Brent|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish-||Craig, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. C. (Antrim)||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Berry, Sir George||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.|
|Bethell, A.||Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Hall, Vice-Admiral Sir R. Eastbourne|
|Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Crookshank, Cpt. H.(Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Hall, Capt. W. D.A. (Brecon & Rad.)|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Blundell, F. N.||Dalziel, Sir Davison||Harrison, G. J. C.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Davidson, J.(Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)||Hawke, John Anthony|
|Bowater, Sir T. Vansittart||Davies, Dr. Vernon||Headlam. Lieut.-Colonel C. M.|
|Brass, Captain W.||Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Drewe, C.||Henn, Sir Sydney H.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Eden, Captain Anthony||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Herbert. Dennis (Hertford, Watford)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks, Newb'y)||Elveden, Viscount.||Herbert, S.(York, N. R., Scar. & Wh'by)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Erskine. James Malcolm Monteith||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South)||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)|
|Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan||Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Holland, Sir Arthur|
|Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D.||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Holt. Captain H. P.|
|Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Meller, R. J.||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Hopkins, J. W. W.||Merriman, F. B.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.||Meyer, Sir Frank||Smithers, Waldron|
|Howard, Capt. Hon. D. (Cumb., N.)||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)||Moore, Sir Newton J.||Stanley, Col. Hon. G.F.(Will'sden, E.)|
|Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'nd, Whitehn)||Morden, Col. W. Grant||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Nelson, Sir Frank||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.|
|Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Hurst, Gerald B.||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Hutchison, G. A. Clark (Mldi'n & P'bl's)||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|King, Captain Henry Douglas||Pease, William Edwin||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Pennefather, Sir John||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-|
|Knox, Sir Alfred||Penny, Frederick George||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Phillpson, Mabel||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Looker, Herbert William||Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington)||Warrender, sir Victor|
|Lougher, L.||Reid, D. D. (County Down)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Lowe, Sir Francis William||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Rice, Sir Frederick||White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dairymple|
|Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Lumley, L. R.||Salmon, Major I.||Winby, Colonel L. P.|
|MacAndrew, Charles Glen||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Sandeman, A. Stewart||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|MacDonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)||Sanderson, Sir Frank||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus||Sandon, Lord||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyde)|
|McLean, Major A.||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)|
|Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Scott, Sir Leslie (Liverp'l, Exchange)||Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's Univ., Belfst)|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Skelton, A. N.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Margesson, Captain D.||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon||Commander B. Eyres Monsell and|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Ammon, Charles George||Kelly, W. T.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Kennedy, T.||Thorne, W. (West Han, Plaistow)|
|Barr, J.||Lansbury, George||Thurtle, E.|
|Batey, Joseph||Lawson, John James||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Abravon)||Varley, Frank B.|
|Bromley, J.||MacLaren, Andrew||Viant, S. P.|
|Buchanan, G.||March, S.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Cape, Thomas||Mitchell, E. Rosslyn (paisley)||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Cluse, W. S.||Montague, Frederick||Weir, L. M.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Naylor, T. E.||Westwood, J.|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Potts, John S.||Whiteley, W.|
|Dunnico, H.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Riley, Ben||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Gosling, Harry||Ritson, J.||Windsor, Walter|
|Groves. T.||Saklatvala, Shapurji||Wright, W.|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Scurr, John|
|Hayes, John Henry||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Smith, H. B. Lees- (Keighley)||Mr. A. Barnes and Mr. T.|
|Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Smith. Rennie (Penistone)||Henderson.|
|Jones. Morgan (Caerphilly)||Stephen, Campbell|
Bill read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.