§ Lord Beaumont
wished to put a question to his noble Friend the President of the Council, and to draw his attention to an important document which had been laid on their Lordships' Table. The question he was desirous of putting was, whether it was the intention of Government to make any alteration in the law of rating this Session; and the document to which he was anxious to draw his noble Friend's attention was the Report of the Poor Law Commissioners on Local Taxation. In that paper there was the fact, which might be familiar to their Lordships, but was startling to those who had not well considered the subject—viz., that actually the amount of 12,000,000l. sterling was annually disposed of by the local authorities; that, moreover, there were twenty-four distinct rates, every one of which was, according to the original Statutes by which they were rendered lawful, regulated on distinct and different systems, founded on different bases, and intended for different purposes. The matter was so complicated that it had been found utterly impossible to 1026 conform to the law; and, consequently, the local authorities had been obliged, instead of complying with the law in practice on that subject, to establish a principle of their own, and they, therefore, levied those rates generally on the basis of the Poor-rates. The document stated also that no less than 250,000 officers were engaged in the collection of those various local taxes and, moreover, that the property on which they were imposed differed in nearly every instance; but that, although they differed according to the law on the subject, yet at the same time, it was usual in practice to impose them upon real property, on lands and houses. The document, after mentioning some other objections, concluded with a passage that was so clearly written, and expressed the case so strongly, that he would read an extract it from their Lordships:—Putting out of consideration the taxes and various modifications of them created by our local Acts of Parliament, there is found in Common Law and general Statutes authority to impose and levy for above 200 various and imperfectly defined purposes, at least twenty-four different local taxes, a large portion of which would, if the law were carried into effect according to its intention, be levied separately and distinctly in every district. Some of them are permanent, some occasional, and many of them for the purpose of raising a sum of money insignificant in amount. The definitions of the persons on whom the taxes are imposed often vary without apparent cause, and sometimes are inconsistent with what is generally supposed to have been the intention of the Legislature. The definitions of the property on which the taxes are assessed being still more various, and involved in still more frequent difficulties, a multitude of these taxes cannot be levied, if they are resisted, and others are gathered with great cost; while in some cases there is entirely wanting all protection, arising from the accountability of the officers who impose the tax, or collect it, or disburse it.Such was the extract, and after having read it he would again ask his noble Friend whether the attention of the Government would be directed to the subject during the present Session, and whether it was their intention to make any alteration in the law, so as to consolidate into one uniform rate these numerous and vexatious taxes, and remedy the cumbrous and expensive machinery which was at present employed to raise them? His noble Friend (Lord Lyttelton) had, last year, put a similar question to his noble Friend opposite, who then answered "not this year;" he 1027 was therefore induced to ask him now whether there would be any alteration in the law in the present year?
said, he could give no other answer than he had given to the same question when put to him by another noble Lord last Session—that it was not the intention of Government to introduce any measure on the subject in the present Session. A Bill relating to the Law of Settlement had been already introduced into the other House by his right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Home Department, which, it might be anticipated, would be sufficient to occupy the attention of Parliament.
§ Earl Fitzwilliam
said, it was perfectly true that there were not less than twenty-four of these different local taxes in different places and under different circumstances; but it had often appeared to him that it would be extremely desirable, instead of having raised upon the same community a different number of rates for different purposes, that there should be, as in the county rate, one rate that was applicable to a great variety of different purposes, among which should be the maintenance of the poor. Such a course would be a great improvement on the present system of levying local taxation.