HL Deb 24 July 1862 vol 168 cc728-32

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, that its object was to secure the uniform and correct valuation of property rateable to parochial assessments in parishes in the unions of England. In 1850 a Select Committee of their Lordships' House was appointed, which took evidence and made a report on this subject. A Bill was introduced shortly afterwards to carry out the recommendations of the Committee; but as the machinery was not acceptable, the measure was dropped, and the subject was not revived for many years. The difference, however, between the real value and the rateable value of property in many parishes was so great—amounting to as much as twenty, thirty, and even fifty per cent — that a more equitable assessment was greatly to be desired. Mr. Poulett Scrope's Bill was to a certain extent a remedy for this inequality; but the overseers of parishes had, in many cases through carelessness, and sometimes from a worse motive, made untrue returns; and so long as the overseers made the statutory declarations required under that Act, the magistrates were bound to give effect to those declarations. The result, of course, was to inflict injustice upon the majority of ratepayers, and the only remedy being the expensive process of an appeal, that remedy was very seldom resorted to. Recent legislation had, however, rendered absolutely necessary that which was before desirable. Certain establishment charges and expenses of the irremovable poor were last year removed from the parishes and thrown upon the unions. Some uniform rating of the parishes composing the unions was therefore generally demanded, and the more so because one-third of the unions of England contained parishes in two different counties, in which a distinct mode of assessment usually prevailed. It was proposed that the board of guardians of the union should select from their body a committee to be called an assessment committee, consisting of not less than six and not more than twelve guardians, one-third of whom should be ex officio. It was by no means intended to introduce the principle of union rating in this Bill; the assessments would be simply parochial, and a right of appeal was given not only to individual ratepayers of the parish, but to the parishes of the same union if the overseers of such other parish should think the valuation unjust. The Bill, which resulted from the recommendations of a Parliamentary Committee, after having been framed, had been sent down to every union in the country, and had met with the general approval of boards of guardians. As their Lordships would have an opportunity of expressing their opinions on the details of the measure in Committee, he would only now ask them to give the Bill a second reading.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.


said, that having been a member of the Select Committee which inquired into this subject in 1850, he could bear his testimony to the necessity of a more equitable and uniform system of parochial assessment. He believed this measure would effect a great improvement on that head; but he felt bound to state to their Lordships, that unless an Amendment were made in Committee to the 15th clause, which altered the whole system of rating throughout the country, and had, by an Amendment in the Com- mons, varied the intention of the promoters of the Bill, he should think their Lordships would find it advisable to pause before they passed this Bill this Session.


ventured to differ both from the noble Duke and the noble Lord who had just spoken. He doubted whether the alteration would effect all the harm the noble Lord imagined; and so far from the Bill being a valuable measure he doubted whether the very limited object sought to be obtained would prove at all commensurate with the trouble and expense of working. So far also from boards of guardians being in favour of the Bill, he believed the majority were against it.


thought the measure would require a great deal more consideration than it had yet received. He did not think the guardians would be very likely to take much trouble in revising the assessments of their several unions. They would be much more likely to come to some general arrangement, by saying—"If you give your vote in favour of letting us settle our rates in our parish in our own way, we will give you ours to permit you to do the same." The machinery of the Bill was most complicated, and the delay it would occasion in making and levying the rates would be extremely great. He believed, if this Bill were adopted, there would be at least three months' delay between the making of the rate and levying it; and if there were any alteration or amendment, or any objection raised to it, the delay would be greatly increased. As a present rule, the repairs of houses were mostly done by the landlord, and it was too often the case that they were rated on the whole rental, instead of the net. He thought the best course would be to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, because he was quite convinced that it would require a great deal more consideration than their Lordships would be disposed to give it at this advanced period of the Session. In its present shape it created considerable apprehension throughout the country.


considered that it would be of the greatest possible advantage to establish a fair system of union rating, but he did not believe that the machinery of the present measure would be at all practicable in order to carry out that object. He therefore suggested that the Bill should be withdrawn (it being the first step towards union rating), and that a sound measure should be introduced next Session at a sufficiently early period to ensure its full consideration.


in reply said, the House ought not to regard this measure as a hasty piece of legislation, seeing that the subject had engaged the attention of Parliament for the last twenty years. Those who objected to the proposal as the first step towards union rating forgot that the first step was taken last year, and that this Bill was merely introduced to remedy defects in the working of the former measure. Instead of exciting those apprehensions of which the noble Lord had spoken, the answers received from those boards of guardians which had replied to the circular sent out by the Department, were, he believed, without exception, favourable to the Bill. In regard to the objections which had been taken to the 15th clause some slight misapprehension existed. The clause in its present shape was not originally included in the Bill; but was introduced on the Motion of the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. G. Bentinck) under the impression that some difficulty and uncertainty would be thereby removed. The Government assented to the clause, believing that it did not alter the law, but only settled that which was unsettled before. Doubts, however, had since been raised, and apprehensions expressed with regard to its probable operation. The Government, therefore, would be willing to omit the clause; but, as this was a privilege Bill, they feared that the omission of the clause might imperil the passing of the measure. The following proviso had been submitted to those who objected to this clause, and had met with their approval:— Provided that nothing herein contained shall repeal or interfere with the Provisions contained in the 1st section of the said Act, 6 & 7 Will. IV. c. 96, defining the net annual value. He himself thought that it would be better to omit the clause; but that, it appeared, would be considered a breach of the privileges of the House of Commons. That objection seemed to him to be rather a straining of the privileges of the other House. It was, at all events, a serious inconvenience, and he thought it would be desirable if possible to obtain from the House of Commons at the commencement of another Session, by some friendly communication, a more accurate definition of what they considered to be their privileges in this respect, in order that it might be more clearly defined what were the obstacles to legislation in that House.


said, he did not attach the same importance as the noble Duke opposite appeared to do to the opinion of the Poor Law guardians, because they acquired additional power and importance under the Bill. If the views of the churchwardens and overseers had been asked, it was very likely that a different opinion would have been elicited. He did not intend to oppose the Bill, but considered that the best course for the Government to adopt would be to defer legislation on the subject till next Session.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.