§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY,
in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, its object was to extend the liability to rating for purposes of local taxation to certain kinds of property not hitherto rated. This was the general scope of the Bill. No great question of principle was raised by it; but in order to explain the measure he should be obliged to trouble the House with some details which he feared would be very dry, but which he trusted he should be able to make very brief. The principal classes of property which the Bill proposed to render subject to local rating were—first, metalliferous mines; secondly, woods and plantations; thirdly, rights of sporting, when severed from the occupation of the soil; fourthly, some minor kinds of property used for the purposes of local government, which were not now subject to rates; fifthly, literary and scientific institutions; and, lastly, property belonging to the Government. With regard to mines, he might remind the House that under the present law relating to the subject—namely, 43rd of Elizabeth—only coal mines and quarries were rateable. The expression "coal mine" being used in a clause of that Act, it had been held on the principle expressio unius exclusio est alterius—that metalliferous mines were not included in the clause. The subject had been very often before Parliament, and the Local Assessment Committee, as some of their Lordships might remember, reported in 1860 that it was expedient that all mines should be assessed as coal mines are now assessed. Again, in 1866, a Committee of the House of Commons reported that there was no adequate ground for the distinction in respect of liability to rating between coal mines and quarries and other mines. It had, however, been represented by the owners of tin and copper mines that, owing to the fluctuations connected with the carrying on of those mines, it would be unjust—impracticable, in short—to treat them on the same principle as coal mines. It was, therefore, proposed by 974 the Bill to rate tin and copper mines upon the royalty. That principle had met with the general acquiescence of the owners of tin and copper mines throughout the country. As regarded other mines, which were not coal, or tin, or copper mines, the Bill would place them under the general provisions of the law under which coal mines were rated. It was estimated that at least £500,000 a-year would be made subject to rates by assessing these mines, and relief would thereby be given to the owners of other property throughout the country. He, therefore, hoped that part of the Bill would meet with the general acquiescence of their Lordships. With regard to woods, the Bill proposed to adopt a principle which had long obtained in Scotland, and to rate the land upon which woods and plantations were grown at the same value as the land would be rated if it were in a natural and unimproved state, and let for agricultural and grazing purposes, without any trees growing thereon. Where only saleable underwoods were grown, they were to be rated as if the land were let for that purpose. As to the rights of sporting, where the owner of land reserved to himself the right of sporting, it was reasonable to say that he should contribute whatever might be a just portion in respect of the value he derived from the land. Where the occupier himself had the right of sporting, there was no reason for dissociating the right of sporting from the land. The Bill proposed that in all eases the laud should be rated as if the right of sporting was enjoyed by the occupier; but where the occupier did not enjoy that right, he would be entitled to deduct from the rent paid to the owner so much as he (the occupier) had to pay in the shape of rates upon that right. He should, perhaps, next notice that there was an exemption at the present time for literary and scientific institutions, but under certain conditions. Their Lordships were not to suppose that all literary and scientific institutions, without exception, took the benefit of the law as it now stood. As it happened the richest literary and scientific institutions escaped assessment, but those which were poor were rated; and for this reason—that in order to maintain themselves from year to year they were obliged to let some portion of their premises. He submitted, as a general 975 principle that it was not desirable that the exemption of literary and scientific institutions should continue. It amounted to nothing more nor less than this—that the ratepayers in a district where a literary and scientific institution might chance to be established had to contribute towards its maintenance. While fully admitting the usefulness of these institutions, he did not see why the labouring man should be called upon to contribute to their maintenance by paying additional rates. He trusted, therefore, that their Lordships would approve that portion of the Bill. The last and most important part of the measure was that which proposed to bring under assessment all Government property throughout the kingdom. This portion of the subject had been under the consideration of Parliament for a very long time. In 1858 a Select Committee of the House of Commons, of which Sir George Cornewall Lewis was Chairman, made an exhaustive inquiry into the whole system of local taxation, and their Report was to the effect that all property with the exception of that in the personal occupation of the Sovereign, religious buildings, and a few other minor exceptions, should be subject to assessment for the local rates and rates paid upon it accordingly. From that period the subject had been constantly discussed in and dealt with by Parliament. In 1859, under a Conservative Government, a Bill was brought in by Mr. Sotheron Estcourt for abolishing all exemptions whatever; but that measure was not proceeded with. In the following year—there having been a change of Government—it was thought expedient to proceed by way of Vote of the House of Commons in respect of the payment of rates for certain Government buildings, and the sum annually voted for that purpose, which was then £35,000, was now £63,000. In 1863, the Treasury announced that, in all future cases, the Government would be willing to pay rates for fresh property acquired by them on the assessment of the land before it came into the occupation of the Government. This Bill proposed to bring all Government property under the general assessment; and, in framing the Bill, the Government had been influenced by the decision in the Mersey Docks case, which took away the exemption from assessment which had previously attached to land used for docks and other works 976 of a public nature. Then arose the question in what manner this large amount of property was to be assessed. If this vast amount of property were to be thrown down before the local assessment committees to rate as they might think fit, the greatest confusion might arise, and it would be impossible to say what liability the Government would be making themselves responsible for. The Bill therefore provided that the Treasury, in connection with the local assessment committee, should draw up a scheme for the rating of all Government property, situate within their Union or parish, and that in case of it being found impossible to come to any arrangement on the subject the matter was to be referred to arbitration, as provided in the Land Clauses Consolidation Acts. The results of these arrangements were to be submitted to Parliament, and the schemes were only to have effect when confirmed by Parliament. The proposition was the result of considerable labour and consideration, and he saw no reason why, if carried into effect, it should not work fairly. He thought, on the whole, that their Lordships would see no reason for refusing to accept this part of the Bill. There was a clause in the Bill which proposed to make perpetual an exemption in favour of stock-in-trade, which had existed for 33 years, Parliament passing an annual measure to continue it. Theoretically, no doubt, no reason existed for exempting this class of property from rating; but experience had conclusively shown that an attempt to rate stock-in-trade was almost certain to meet with failure. The time had now arrived when Parliament should definitively make up its mind on this subject, and should sweep away this anomalous annual Act from the statute book by rendering the exemption of stock-in-trade perpetual.
He now came to inquire what possible objection there could be to this measure. He was aware that a noble Lord opposite (Lord Henniker) had given Notice of his intention to move that the Bill should be read a second time that day three months, and therefore he had carefully considered the nature of the objections that might be raised to the measure. The question of local taxation having excited considerable interest throughout the country, and the Government having announced that they would 977 deal with the whole question, it was not impossible that it might be urged against the Bill that, in dealing with the question of local rating alone, Her Majesty's Government had merely touched a small part of a great subject, and that it was better, therefore, to delay passing a measure of this kind until the subject of local taxation could be dealt with as a whole. It must be remembered, however, that the question of local taxation was a most complicated and difficult one. Attempts had been made more than once to deal with the subject as a whole;—his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty had made such an attempt, but the experience obtained on that occasion was likely to make everyone chary of attempting so largo a subject all at once. So many interests would be touched by any scheme, and so many questions raised, that it was scarcely to be hoped that any scheme on the whole subject, however well framed, would meet with the assent of Parliament. The subject of local taxation had many branches. In the first place, there was a strong desire on the part of those who owned property now subject to assessment that a large amount of wealth which existed in this country which was not derived from real property, and which was not now subject to be rated, should be made liable to assessment, and should so be made to contribute, in some degree, to local taxation. Unsuccessful schemes to effect this object had been repeatedly brought forward, and a former Lord Privy Seal had proposed that this should be effected by means of an income tax;—and there had been many other suggestions. He admitted the necessity of dealing with this branch of the subject; but when they attempted to deal with it, they could not confine themselves to the question of local taxation only—they must deal with it in connection with the whole taxation of the country. But he thought that this measure, however small a part of so large a subject, might be conveniently passed in the meantime. Another important branch of the subject was the improvement of our local government. He earnestly desired to see our local government so strengthened, and its powers enlarged, as to enable it to relieve the general government and Parliament from a large portion of the intolerable burden of business now cast 978 upon them; but, at the same time, he did not think that the passing of this Bill would in any way prejudice that question. They would find that they could not deal with local taxation without dealing with the question of local government; because the question of local taxation involved the questions of the boundaries of counties—boundaries of various kinds which governed the local taxation. But in order to deal with that question it was necessary to have an inquiry with respect to it. A Committee had accordingly been appointed to investigate that branch of the subject by the other House, and he hoped their labours would result in Parliament being in a position to consider the whole matter next Session.
He had now referred to three important branches of the subject. It seemed to him a natural preliminary to any dealing our system of local taxation that we should perfect the system which we already possessed, extending it where it required to be extended, and making it consistent in itself. That was what it was proposed by the Bill to do; and it was not inconsistent with, but was a necessary preliminary to, a larger scheme of local taxation.
An objection raised against the measure was, he believed, that it was not accompanied by an Assessment Bill. An Assessment Bill had, however, been introduced by the President of the Local Government Board into the other House, although it had not been proceeded' with; and he saw no reason why, because the present system of assessment was not made perfect, the House should decide that it should not proceed in the direction proposed by the Bill. He would, moreover, beg to remind their Lordships that there had been very great improvements made of late years in assessment. He himself had had the charge of a Bill on the subject, and he recollected well that the whole question was in a state of the greatest confusion, and that assessments were made in different parishes without any arrangement among themselves. But since the establishment of assessment committees, although they might have turned out not to be on all points satisfactory, very considerable improvement in the system of assessment had, he was sure their Lordships would admit, been made throughout the country. He, at 979 the same time, admitted that further improvements were necessary, but they involved chiefly matters of detail. The present system of deductions was, no doubt, by no means satisfactory. Different committees established different scales of deductions, and it would probably be better to have some fixed scale, such as already existed under the Valuation (Metropolis) Act. He could, however, see in the existing state of things nothing which would render it undesirable that the House should proceed in the direction now proposed by the Government. In two most important cases—that of mines and Government property—the mode of assessment was distinctly laid clown; and although it might be contended that in the cases of woods and sporting there might be difficulties in the way of the working of the measure, he must say that so far as woods were concerned, he saw no reason why a satisfactory conclusion as to the value of lands covered with woods should not be arrived at. As to sporting there might be complications with which the assessment committees might not find it easy to grapple, and there might possibly be conflicting opinions on the subject; but he could not help thinking that they would yield to experience in the working of the law. He had only to add that he was lost in astonishment at finding that a Notice for the rejection of the Bill should have proceeded from the other side of the House. It had been a matter of complaint year after year that the agricultural ratepayer did not obtain that relief which would be the result of bringing other kinds of property under assessment. Chambers of Agriculture throughout the country had urged the propriety of assessing woods and the right of sporting, while from the West of England a cry had been raised for the assessment of mines. Yet now it was to be contended that that outcry on the part of the ratepayers was to meet with no attention, and that the Bill ought to be thrown out, because they were not to obtain that further relief which they might expect to get hereafter. He should have thought that the Bill would be welcomed as clearing the way towards those other measures, and if it were rejected the effect would be that it would be supposed in many parts of the country that their Lordships were not really anxious 980 to relieve the agricultural districts of the burdens of which they complained.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Kimberley.)
§ LORD HENNIKER
said, he would have been extremely unwilling, as so poor an exponent of the view taken of this Bill by many besides himself outside as well as inside their Lordships' House, to raise any opposition to it, did he not believe that a plain, a short, and a simple statement would induce their Lordships to accede to the Motion with which he would conclude. He would be the last person to say the Bill did not contain many good and excellent provisions; it was not so much the provisions of the Bill to which he took particular exception as to the mode in which they were proposed to be carried out. The plan for rating woods and so on was by no means in itself unfair, but it was incomplete. The person who hired a wood simply for the sake of the underwood was liable to be rated for the timber, although underwood growing with timber was far less valuable than where there were few, if any, trees. It was open to the assessment committees to rate the occupier in a case of this sort, either for saleable underwood or for the wood as a plantation, and it was in practice, out of the question to suppose the assessment committee would take the lowest valuation. This would not be at all fair, for the lessee could not possibly have any interest in the timber, and might be rated for it without any claim upon the landlord for assistance. Then, in Kent and elsewhere, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and other bodies let their estates, including woodlands, for leases on lives or a term of years, reserving the timber; in this case the lessee would pay the increased rates, and would have no power to claim assistance in paying them. Take also the case of copyhold lands; the owner, in many instances, could not cut trees without the permission of the lord of the manor, and, when sold, a third of the value belonged to him. This could easily have been provided for by a deduction of fine or quit rent. In rating game this injustice was fairly met. Then as to the rating of game—he did not object to the rules laid down, if game was to be rated; but the attempt to lay down rules for the guidance of the as- 981 sessment committees, rather than lay down a broad rule upon which they could act in their own way as the cases came before them, would probably end in litigation and misunderstanding. It was not always a question as to any real difficulty in dealing with a subject of this sort; it was a great thing to avoid any imaginary difficulty. Nothing was more likely to lead to an imaginary difficulty than the rating of game. The rules in the Bill might appear plausible enough; but it was no easy matter to rate so moveable and varying an article fairly, and he thought it would have been far better to have trusted the local authority entirely, for they must be the best judges of each case as it came before them. Then, with respect to the rating of Government property, that was, no doubt, a popular policy; but what did the clauses dealing with the subject do? They made the property liable to rating on principle, but they by no means enacted that it should be so. It was necessary to bring in a Bill for every scheme agreed upon. Was it really necessary to bring in one Bill to enable the Government to bring in another? He thought not; but that was all that was clone by the Bill. Surely, it would have been easier to have ascertained on what grounds an agreement could be made in one or two cases, and to have brought in a Bill or Bills, as necessity demanded, to really enact what was now only recited as a principle to be hereafter carried out. In this respect the Bill, in fact, did nothing practically. The system of arbitration appeared fair enough, but it was, to say the least of it, very extraordinary, for the umpire in certain cases was to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor, or any other noble and learned Lord who might fill that position! What did this amount to? The noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack, with all his varied duties, so important to the country, could not be expected to choose the umpire himself in every dispute over the rating of Government property, and the result would be that some one would be recommended to him. Either party to the suit could ask for the appointment, but one party would have it entirely in their own hands to appoint whom they pleased. He was far from saying this would not be fairly carried out, but the proposed provision was 982 unique in this respect. Then, as to the rating of stock-in-trade. This was a Bill for the abolition of all exemptions, and here they had the perpetual exemption of stock-in-trade, refused by their Lordships' House on a former occasion. It was true it was necessary to bring in a Bill every year to exempt stock-in-trade; but of all places to choose to insert a clause of that kind that was the most extraordinary. It was clone, too, in a roundabout manner; a few words would have embodied the enacting part of the measure and so made the Bill complete. The Bill said that no one should be rated in respect of his ability derived from his stock-in-trade. Upon this arose the question of what was stock-in-trade? Take machinery. It had been laid down by the Courts of Law that machinery bolted down to the ground was rateable. There would, perhaps, be a far larger and more valuable machine alongside of a smaller and less valuable one which required to be fixed in that way, while the larger one kept its place without anything of the kind. It was true it was impossible to rate stock-in-trade; but there would be no difficulty as to profitable machinery, and surely an Act of that kind ought to have been complete in that respect, for this was a Bill to do away with all exemptions, and the present state of the law was very unfair; yet the Bill left the matter just where it was before. Then why were Sunday and ragged schools exempted, and elementary and other schools to be rated? The only reason given was that the one class of schools had been exempted from rating before. There could be no sound argument in favour of that plan of proceeding. Sunday and ragged schools were only a certain proportion of the number of schools now existing in the country. Elementary schools were now one of the best institutions in the country, and either one thing or the other ought to have been done—they should either exempt all schools or rate them all. There was no profit attached to a school, as he knew full well, and it appeared to him they ought all to be exempted. However, he would not trouble their Lordships any further, for he thought he had proved the Bill required amendment. He would only call their attention to a dangerous precedent laid down in Clause 18, where the usual agreement was over-ridden, and the power of free 983 contract interfered with. It was usual for the lessee of a mine to contract in all cases to pay all rates and taxes which might be imposed by Parliament, except property tax, during the term of his lease; but here he was allowed to deduct one-half the amount he would have to pay under the Bill. That clause would, therefore, relieve the lessee at the expense of the lessor from charges which he had deliberately taken upon himself—except, of course, as far as coal mines were concerned. That was a most objectionable principle, and ought not to be adopted without consideration, at all events. The Bill was hardly to be recognized now when compared with its original shape. No doubt, many Bills had been brought into the House of Commons almost as a blank sheet, and had come out of it very useful Acts of Parliament; but if a Bill was passed in that way, sufficient time must be given for its full consideration and for every necessary Amendment. How much time, however, was given to their Lordships? They were told on good authority that next Wednesday was to be the very last Wednesday of the Session. But was that Bill one of the kind which he had described? It was brought in with all the ceremony of a Government measure, and he had the authority of the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who at the now well-known Nottingham Dinner spoke with pride of that measure as one of those which would make that Session compare by no means unfavourably, as far as important Government measures went, with former Sessions. But this measure was more important still, for it was brought in to redeem a pledge, given after a defeat in the House of Commons; and let them look at it for a moment in that aspect. A Motion was carried by Sir Massey Lopes by a majority of 100, which, whatever its wording might have been, was intended to say that local rates were now burdened with charges which ought to be borne by the Imperial Exchequer, and it asked that relief might be given in that respect; although no injustice was complained of where really local burdens were concerned. How had that pledge been redeemed? Three Bills had been brought into the House of Commons; two of them had been withdrawn; and that one, the third, was only printed on May 7, and brought 984 to their Lordships' House on July 22. That Bill was no doubt good in most of its principles, if there had only been a complete plan for dealing with a great question, such as local taxation. The three Bills, they were told, touched only the fringe of the question—in fact, were to pave the way only. Two-thirds of the foundation, however, was gone, and all they had was this Bill—which required amendment—with one of its most important provisions enacting nothing, but merely enabling other Bills to be brought in at some future time to rate Government property. He objected to that piecemeal mode of dealing with a question of that kind—one of no small importance. The necessary measures could have been brought in by degrees, but surely some general and complete plan ought to have been placed before them. Their Lordships were asked at the very last moment of the Session to consider a Bill acknowledged by Her Majesty's Government to be of very great importance, and to redeem a pledge given on more than one occasion. He trusted their Lordships would not consent to read the Bill a second time at a period in the Session when it was quite impossible to put it into a proper shape—such a shape as a foundation for a great measure, at all events, should take before it went out from their Lordships' House. There was a precedent to show that a Bill of this kind was beyond their Lordships' power to amend. In 1840 a Bill for exempting stock-in-trade from rating, to which he had before referred, was brought up from the House of Commons. Objections were taken to it; but it could not be amended. It was withdrawn, and at the last moment of the Session a similar Bill was brought in with its faults corrected, passed through all its stages in one night in the House of Commons, and passed through their Lordships' House without debate. He did not know whether that precedent applied in this case, but if it did it strengthened his argument considerably. They had been told by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Kimberley), that night, and they would often, no doubt, be told again, if they did not pass this Bill they would stop all re-adjustment of local taxation; but he would put it to their Lordships whether, after all the discussions there had been on the subject, when the principle was as good as 985 accepted, the Government could not easily, during the Recess, remodel the Bill, so that it might pass in a proper shape early in the next Session, and allow them to bring forward any other measures which might be necessary? However, he trusted their Lordships would reject the Bill, because of the lateness of the period of the Session, the impossibility of putting the Bill into a proper shape, and on the ground that the Bill, which professed to deal with a great question, only did what might now be done in a few weeks at the commencement of the next Session. He moved that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.
§ Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and insert ("this day three months.")—(The Lord Henniker.)
THE EARL OF MORLEY
said, he had expected to hear some more conclusive arguments than had just been urged to induce their Lordships to reject that Bill, and certainly, in their absence, there was ample reason why their Lordships should give it a second reading. He would endeavour to answer some of the objections raised by the noble Lord who had moved the Amendment. As to the clause relating to woods, the noble Lord had brought forward certain objections which he confessed seemed to have some force; but he might observe that when Parliament was imposing taxation on other occasions—he might instance the Union Chargeability Act and the school rate—it was not so careful of the interests of the occupier as to enable him to deduct from the owner of the property. Then, with regard to copyholders, he was informed that the copyholder could refuse to let the lord cnme upon the land to cut timber unless he paid some portion of the rate. The noble Lord (Lord Henniker) had urged that there would be extreme difficulty in working the provisions referring to the rateability of woods; but he would ask those of their Lordships who lived in Scotland or in Ireland whether that difficulty existed there? Further, in many parts of England woods were rated to the poor by local Acts. The present Bill followed almost the identical method employed in dealing with woods and plantations in Scotland—namely, assessing the ground in its natural and unimproved state; those words making it 986 clear that no capital was to be expended on the land, but that it was to be precisely in the position in which it would be if the trees were removed. In many cases the woods would be on land which was not of the best quality—for instance, on hill-sides. The exemption of woods was unfair in principle and unjust to the ratepayers not possessing woods. As to game, the noble Lord had argued as if the Bill proposed to rate the game itself, which was not the case; what was to be rated was simply the right of sporting, which was a very different matter. This was already the case when it was not severed from the occupation; and it was unfair to exempt it when severed from it, for the preservation of game diminished the rent of the farm, so that the district was mulcted of a portion of the rent on which the farmer would be rated. He apprehended no difficulty in assessing the right of sporting when reserved by the landlord, or when let to a person other than the tenant. With regard to Government property, the noble Lord was mistaken as to the manner in which the umpire was to be appointed—he stated that the umpire who was to decide in the case of a dispute between the Treasury and the assessment committee was to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor. [Lord HENNIKER: In certain cases.] He (the Earl of Morley) did not hear that limitation. The umpire was to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor on the application of one of the parties to the arbitration. It was out of the question to leave the assessment entirely to the assessment committee, owing to the variety of purposes to which such property was devoted. The full rating value obviously could not be placed on the Royal Parks. No fairer plan could have been devised of settling the relative claims of the localities and the Government. He agreed with the noble Lord in regretting the exemption of ragged schools; that was not so in the Bill as originally brought before the House of Commons, and he agreed with the noble Lord in regretting that the exemption should have been inserted; but the feeling of the House of Commons was so strong upon the subject that it was impossible to avoid yielding to it. The fault, therefore, did not rest with the Government, who had been obliged to abandon their original pro- 987 posal. The exemption, moreover, was not to be absolute, but permissive—it was left to the discretion of the assessment committees to exempt them or not, so that it was not so important a matter as the noble Lord seemed to suppose. With regard to the rating of mines, there could be no doubt that Clause 18 did to a certain extent override existing contracts. But every mine-owner and occupier had agreed to it—not a single person had petitioned or remonstrated against it. Hitherto metalliferous mines had been excluded from rating; but as their value had been estimated at £11,000,000, it would be admitted that the question whether they should continue to be exempted from rating was a very important one. It had been decided to rate them. But tin and copper mines would be rated on a different principle from mines of coal and iron. There were characteristic differences—tin and copper running in lodes of various degrees of productiveness, and the mining being so speculative that one year there might be a rich mass of ore and another year nothing worth washing, the Bill proposed to rate metalliferous mines on the royalty, representing a percentage of the produce; all other mines would continue to be rated on the rental. The Bill did not deal with machinery not affixed to the freehold, that not being germane to it; besides which it would be difficult to exclude furniture if machinery were rated. The exemption of stock-in-trade would be rendered permanent, and rules were laid down for the assessment of corporeal hereditaments. The measure did not pretend to be one of great dimensions, but it was one of practical utility, rendering justice to the classes of property now rated, while it was an indispensable preliminary to the great scheme as to local taxation to which the Government were pledged. It was most inconsistent for the Opposition, who had loudly complained that the present taxpayers were overburdened, to obstruct a Bill which would materially alleviate the burden. Not only did it extend the area of taxation, but by the admission of Government property it assisted local taxation out of Imperial funds, though not as largely as the noble Lord desired. All classes in Cornwall—agriculturists, miners, and assessment committees— 988 were favourable to the scheme, and failing more weighty arguments than those of the noble Lord, it ought not to be rejected.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
opposed the Bill on the ground that the principle of rating on which it was based weighed unequally on different kinds of property and most unfairly on the land. The assessing of underwoods was a great grievance, and would operate very unjustly. He thought it unjust to assess unproductive land, while machinery was unassessed. There was no difficulty in ascertaining the value of the latter, which was perpetually returning its cost.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
said, the noble Earl who represented the Home Department in their Lordships' House (the Earl of Morley), had informed them with great emphasis that the provision in the Bill with respect to the rating of mines had been consented to by every mine-owner in the country; but the fact seemed to be that the mine-owners had simply refrained from petitioning Parliament against the proposal. He anticipated that the same remark applied to the support which was said to have been extended to the Bill by the Chambers of Agriculture. And he was not surprised at the fact in either case, because the measure had been so altered, clipped, and transmogrified in its progress through the House of Commons that it was next to impossible for any one not actually present at, and listening carefully to, the discussions, to know what had been done, until after the measure had passed through the House. [The Earl of KIMBERLEY said, the main provisions of the Bill had not been altered.] He could not rely upon the general consent which was alleged to have been accorded to the Bill, and the speeches delivered that evening had rendered him yet more apprehensive than he was before with regard to the measures, and more desirous that it should not pass into law. One of the main reasons which had been urged in support of the Bill was that it would place a large discretionary power in the hands of the assessment committees; but this he regarded as a strong reason against the Bill, inasmuch as to throw down an ill-considered and ill-understood law for their administration, would have the effect of fomenting litigation among a 989 class with a strong natural tendency in that direction. Another great argument in support of the Bill was that it was preliminary to some great scheme of dealing with the question of local taxation which the Government had in contemplation. He, for one, objected strongly to piecemeal legislation on a great question like this, and ventured to urge that before they consented to clear the way for the Government scheme they ought to see it. He believed it was General Trochu who had always got a plan, but nobody ever saw it. Again, it was said that the measure would afford relief to the land-owning class, who alleged that from various causes, historical, financial, and otherwise, they had up to now borne burdens which had been unjustly laid upon their shoulders. But it would simply give them relief by shifting the burden from one shoulder to the other, which was practically no relief at all. It was because of the fragmentary nature of the Bill, the late period of the Session at which it was introduced in the House of Commons, and the fact that it was full of conditions and obligations to which they objected, but which, if they attempted to amend them, would land them in the middle of a squabble on the question of Privilege, that he advised their Lordships for the sake of uniformity in their legislation to reject the Bill.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
reminded their Lordships that in a remarkable speech the other day the noble Marquess who had just sat down said, there was a great decrease of the working power and the wish for work in their Lordships' House. But what had happened that evening? The only speeches, with the single exception of that of the noble Marquess, which had been directed against the Bill, had been expressions of opinion as to points of detail which would have been appropriate in Committee, but were out of place on a question of second reading. Even the noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill, expressed his approval of its principle, and objected only to the provisions by which it was to be carried out. The noble Marquess, on the other hand, made sweeping objections to the Bill; one of which was that it was introduced very late in the House of Commons. In answer to this he would remind the House that the House of Commons spent at 990 least a dozen sittings in elaborating the Bill, and that hon. Members of that House representing every one of the interests which could be affected by the measure worked most strenuously to bring it into the shape they thought most desirable. And now their Lordships, who were present in sufficient numbers to thoroughly discuss the principles contained in the Bill, proposed, after two or three short speeches, to reject the measure in a manner which he was perfectly sure, the country at large would most deeply regret.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
said, he should not have taken part in the discussion but for the manner in which the noble Earl (Earl Granville) had taken their Lordships to task for proposing to reject the Bill before the House. To the statement of the noble Earl that the House of Commons spent many nights in bringing the Bill to its present shape, he only desired to add that great differences of opinion existed with regard to its provisions up to the time at which it left the other House. All he could say was when a Bill came up to their Lordships' House in such a state as this was, and at so late a period of the Session, it was their duty to reject it. He doubted if his noble Friend himself had had sufficient time to study the Bill; and he ventured to doubt whether he would tell their Lordships that they might amend the Bill as they thought fit—for he apprehended that there were a number of clauses which their Lordships could not amend:—and that being so, it would be far better that their Lordships should reject the Bill. His noble Friend (the Earl of Kimberley) remarked at the close of his speech, in anticipating objections, that the Bill formed part of a very large scheme, and was only a fragmentary portion of the scheme. If he wanted a reason for rejecting the Bill it would not be easy to find a more cogent one. His noble Friend also stated that a Committee was sitting on the question of boundaries, though their Report had not yet been laid before the House, and that this very important point must be dealt with in connection with the rating question. Here again was sufficient ground for the rejection of the Bill. But another measure was so mixed up with the question of rating that the Government thought it necessary to deal with it—he meant the As- 991 sessment Bill, with which the Government had not proceeded. The absence of such a measure was another powerful reason against sanctioning the Bill now before their Lordships. No doubt some assessment committees did their work well, but there were large numbers of these committees which came to very different conclusions upon the same points. The carrying out of the Bill was put entirely into their hands, and that was a great objection to it. There was also great inconsistency in exempting certain classes of educational institutions and rating others; and though the exemption of ragged schools was not in the Bi11 as originally introduced, that was not the fault of their Lordships, who must necessarily deal with the measure as it was placed before them. Another clause, Clause 18, relating to mines, was open to great objection. It introduced the thin end of the wedge by overriding contracts; and if sanctioned now by their Lordships the precedent would certainly be quoted against them hereafter. Much had been said of the advantage to the public which would be gained by the assessment for the first time of Government property; but on reading Clause 10 it seemed to him that the question whether Government property was hereafter to be rated or not would be entirely in the hands of the Government themselves. Under the clause the Treasury were to cause to be prepared, and as soon as possible laid before the House of Commons, a scheme or schemes specifying the Government hereditaments in the various parishes "which, in their opinion, ought to be included in the valuation lists for the purposes of this section." So that Government property would only be rated if the Government themselves thought it ought to be rated; and what, then, became of the boon which was supposed to be offered to the ratepayers in this way? Believing that the Bill dealt with the mere fringe of a very large question, that the limited questions which were so dealt with were not treated in a satisfactory manner, and that it was impossible for their Lordships now to deal in detail with certain portions of the measure, he should give his vote against the second reading.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
said, that if the arguments which had been used against the Bill were to prevail, he saw no prospect of dealing with this question at 992 any time. He submitted that the proper method of proceeding was to clear the way for the greater scheme by a measure like the present. It was difficult in any other way for the Government to redeem their pledge to relieve local ratepayers of some portion of the burden which now pressed upon them. The Bill would give a real and substantial relief to the ratepayers of the country. As to Clause 10, relating to the rating of Government property, the noble Duke seemed to think that it rested with the Government itself to say what should be rated and what not. That was entirely a mistake. The clause provided that the rates shall be payable upon the rateable value of all Government property as shall be included in a valuation list for the time being in force, under the Valuation (Metropolis) Act, 1869, and other assessment Acts. It was to be rated like other property. As to the local assessment committees, he had some experience of their working, and believed that there would be no difficulty in carrying out the Bill through them. There was, indeed, no choice in the matter; they must be trusted to a very great extent in carrying out such a measure. As to the 18th clause, it only did that which had been done before in many cases.
§ THE DUKE OF RUTLAND
said, the speeches that had been made on his side of the House were quite sufficient to convince him that he ought to vote in favour of the Amendment of his noble Friend. The Bill proposed to rate the right of shooting. He wanted to know how it was possible to estimate the value of a "right?"
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
said, he had to apologize for interrupting the observation of the noble Marquess that no alteration had been made in the mining clauses of the Bill. Immediately after that interruption he recollected that the words with reference to tin and copper mines were inserted in the Bill after it was introduced into the other House. With reference to what had been said as to over-riding contracts in connection with the 18th clause, he would make this observation—that virtually a breach of contract between a lessor and lessee was committed when an Act of Parliament threw upon the lessee the whole of a burden which ought to be shared between the lessor and the lessee. 993 Instead of the 18th clause proposing to authorize breaches of contract, it seemed to him to be an attempt to apportion fairly between two parties—lessor and lessee—a new rate which Parliament thought fit to impose. He contended that their Lordships ought to agree to the second reading, and to go into Committee on this Bill, where they might strike out such portions as they deemed objectionable, and pass the other portions of it which were admitted to be valuable.
§ LORD CAIRNS
said, the 18th clause would justify a breach of contract in this way—where a tenant of a mine had contracted with his landlord that he would clear him of all rates that were imposed or might be imposed, this clause would enable that tenant, in breach of his contract, to throw half of a rate on his landlord.
§ On Question, that ("now") stand part of the Motion? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 43; Not-Contents 59: Majority 16.
§ Resolved in the Negative; and Bill to be read 2a this day three months.
|Selborne, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Ettrick, L. (L. Napier.)|
|Foxford, L. (E. Limerick.)|
|Saint Albans, D.||Gwydir, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Hatherley, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Hatherton, L.|
|Ripon, M.||Houghton, L.|
|Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)|
|Camperdown, E.||Kenry, L. (E. Dunraven and Mount-Earl.)|
|Devon, E.||Methuen, L.|
|Granville, E.||Monson, L.|
|Kimberley, E.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Morley, E.||Poltimore, L. [Teller.]|
|Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Falmouth, V.||Robartes, L.|
|Halifax, V.||Somerton, L. (E. Normanton.)|
|Acton, L||Sundridge, L. (D. Argyll.)|
|Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.) [Teller.]||Truro, L.|
|Camoys, L.||Ventry, L.|
|Castletown, L.||Waveney, L.|
|Eliot, L.||Wrottesley, L.|
|Buckingham and Chandos, D.||Bath, M.|
|Richmond, D.||Hertford, M.|
|Rutland, D.||Salisbury, M.|
|Abergavenny, E.||Bagot, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Boston, L.|
|Bantry, E.||Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.)|
|Beauchamp, E.||Cairns, L.|
|Brownlow, E.||Clinton, L.|
|Dartmouth, E.||Cloncurry, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Colchester, L.|
|Derby, E.||Colonsay, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buc-||Denman, L.|
|cleuch and Queens-||De Saumarez, L.|
|Feversham, E.||Fitzwalter, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Hartismere, L. (L. Hen-|
|Leven and Melville, E.||niker.) [Teller.]|
|Lonsdale, E.||Leconfield, L.|
|Manvers, E.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Powis, E.||Raglan, L.|
|Rosse, E.||Redesdale, L.|
|Rosslyn, E.||Saltoun, L.|
|Selkirk, E.||Sondes, L.|
|Verulam, E.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Clancarty, V. (E. Clan-||St. John of Bletso, L.|
|carty.)||Strathspey, L. (E. Sea-|
|De Vesci, V.||field.)|
|Hawarden, V. [Teller.]||Thurlow, L.|
|Strathallan, V.||Wigan, L. (E. Crawford|
|Abinger, L.||Wynford, L.|
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Nine o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.