HL Deb 14 May 1850 vol 111 cc1-5

LORD PORTMAN moved the appointment of a Select Committee "to take into consideration the state of the law affecting Parochial Assessments." He had, on more than one occasion, endeavoured to impress upon the minds of their Lordships the immense importance of taking this subject into their serious consideration, in order that some alterations might be made in the present unsatisfactory state of the law. He felt certain that the longer such an inquiry was deferred, the more difficult it would be to legislate upon the matter. He deprecated the practice of passing an annual Bill for the purpose of exempting certain property from its operation. No greater evil can exist than to have the law on such a subject temporary and uncertain, and it is most desirable now to endeavour to render it positive and permanent. The burthen in 1848 was 28 per cent on the revenue of the assessable property, at the then value thereof. In 1850 that property is less valuable, say, for example, as perhaps an extreme case, that land is 25 per cent less valuable, then the burthen becomes 28 per 75l., instead of 28 per 100l. Moreover, there exists an increasing burthen on parishes already over burthened, by the addition of the rate levied for the common fund, which is raised on the average system, and not on the rateable value of the property of the union; and that plan requires to be considered as soon as an equitable mode of assessing the whole property can be devised. The foundation required is an honest parochial assessment. His object was to have an uniformity of rating on all the property of the country, and, with that view, every exemption should be removed. One of the greatest burdens on land was the law of settlement; and that question could not be dealt with until the whole system of rating had been altered and amended. That burthen has been much increased by the Act called the Non-removal Act, which is a great boon given to the estates in close parishes, where the cottages have been destroyed at the expense of the parishes, which are commonly called open parishes. In some cases, the latter pay 33 per cent on their assessable value, while the former pay only 1 or 2 per cent. As a modern law has added to the existing evil, that should be remedied by an extension of the area of contribution, so that gradually the evil may be corrected. He trusted that, if the Committee should be appointed, they would take into consideration the mode in which railways should be rated. The question of stock in trade ought to be carefully sifted. The mode of assessing the tithe property requires to be carefully investigated, not so much with a view to alter the law as to enforce it; for the grievance is very manifest. As the rate is now made, the titheowner is rated to the full value, which is known to all the world; while the occupier of lands and houses is rated at an estimated value, generally below the value. Another topic would be, the policy of forming one rate and assessment for all the local taxation, instead of continuing the endless varieties of rating in the same parish, for the many wants thereof. The question is well developed in the report of the Poor Law Commissioners, made in 1843, on local taxation. They should also consider whether they could devise some mode of avoiding the almost constant changes of rate. A rate is made at great expense under the orders of the authorities; and as soon as a new rate is made, the overseers, at their caprice, alter the assessment, and all the expense and trouble is so much labour lost. No assessment should be altered, when once well made, without cause being shown before a competent tribunal, such as the special sessions on questions of value, and the quarter-sessions on questions of principle. The questions of who should make the rate—who should be allowed to alter it from time to time—who should collect it—how far the auditors might be made to prevent any alterations of the rate, except by the constituted authority, are all necessary to be carefully considered. It is desirable to abolish the legal terms and mere technicalities, as far as is consistent with the safety of the ratepayers. There were also the questions as to the chargeability of small tenements, and of the various exemptions from payment of rates which must be sifted, inasmuch as, by the nice distinctions drawn by the decision of the judges, much substantial wrong is done. The case of the mineral mines, as distinguished from coal mines, seems to stand on no sound foundation. If they could devise some mode by which all the property of the country should be made to contribute its fair proportion of poor's rate, he thought it would be a great improvement. It was needful to bear in mind that, although in this House no measure on this subject can originate or be altered, yet that the investigation might be useful as supplying information on this subject which might enable this House to indicate an opinion upon this subject.


expressed his satisfaction at the probability of their Lordships acceding to the Motion.


, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, stated that there was no objection to the appointment of this Committee. On the contrary, he was delighted that the subject was taken up by one so well acquainted as his noble Friend was with all its bearings.


hoped that the examination before this Committee would not be so conducted as to lead to either an union or a national rating, of which he was somewhat apprehensive, as there had been an organisation of late for the establishment of a national rate. He thought that the Committee should inquire whether it was desirable that there should be a poor-rate at all, or a highway rate at all, or a county rate at all, and whether it would not be better that there should be one parochial rate for those local objects for which local districts must be responsible.


considered that public gratitude was due to the noble Baron (Lord Portman) for having brought this subject before the House. He could not, however, concur with the noble Baron as to the necessity of having a Committee to investigate the subject, as it would put off to another year any practical remedy for any grievance which might be discovered. Ministers ought to have brought forward some measures on their own responsibility to relieve parties from the unparalleled injustice which they now suffered from the inequality of parochial assessments. Lord John Russell and Lord Howick, when in opposition, had both promised redress for this injustice, but had both neglected to fulfil their promises since their entering upon office. He thought that all property of every description should be rated to the poor, and he calculated that if a poundage of 7d. was sufficient to produce a revenue of 5,500,000l. in the ease of the property tax, a further poundage of 5d. would raise a revenue equal to meet the present amount of the poor-rates. He recommended the noble Baron opposite, when he came to act as chairman of this Committee, not to mix up any other rate with the question of the poor-rate.


supported the Motion, but hoped that his noble Friend would carefully observe the quarters from which the evidence given before his Committee was derived. He considered the appointment of such a Committee to be an advisable measure, as it would enable the House to deal properly with any Rate Bill which might come before it. There could be no doubt that any parish which, by mismanagement, had increased the amount of its rates, would be exceedingly glad, by means of a national or general rate, to throw the burden on the shoulders of its neighboin's. Let them look at Ireland; if they had not localised the rate there, they would by this time have had a fearful battle between the property and the population of the country.

On Question, Resolved in the Affirmative.

Committee to meet April 16.

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