§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
*THE EARL OF ONSLOW moved—
That this House, before assenting to the Second Reading of this Bill, desires to express its opinion that proposals for the assessment of capital values instead of annual values, and for creating new and arbitrarily-defined areas of taxation such as are contained in Clause 41 of the Bill, ought not to be embodied in a Private Bill; but, if found just and equitable, should be based on general principles laid down by Parliament.
He said, that the dimensions of this measure had shrunk considerably since it was first presented to Parliament. Originally it provided for the expenditure of £5,250,000 upon improvements, but now it provided for the expenditure of less than £1,000,000. Instead of vast improvements, such as a now thoroughfare from the Strand to Holborn, the proposal was now confined to the rebuilding of Vauxhall Bridge and to making approaches to Woolwich Ferry and the new Tower Bridge. The London County Council had seen fit to whittle down their first proposals, the reason being, as he believed, that they were not so much intent on effecting great improvements as on passing a particular clause in the Bill—namely, Clause 41—which would revolutionise our present system of Local Taxation. The County Council had felt that the only way by which they could get Parliament to sanction that clause was by limiting the extent of their proposals, so as to provoke the smallest possible opposition. The rateable value of the property that would be affected by the improvement with which the Bill was concerned was not more than £3,300 a year. "Betterment" was a curious American word, which
might be said to be an algebraical expression denoting the moiety of an undefined quantity—namely, the enhanced value of property affected by the improvements of the County Council. The County Council themselves had likened it to throwing a large stone into a, millpond, when waves of betterment were raised in immediate propinquity to the stone, falling off into ripples, until they finally died away at the edge of the pond. The Bill was referred by the other House of Parliament to a Hybrid Committee of nine Members, five of whom were supporters of the principle of betterment. The conclusion of that Committee was, therefore, a foregone conclusion. He was not prepared to say that the principle of betterment, which was that where a property received a special benefit it should pay a special contribution, was an entirely erroneous one. He thought, indeed, that it might lie possible to devise a scheme under which property should contribute when it was really benefited; but, if that principle were adopted, they ought also to adopt the correlative, which was that where property was diminished in value by so-called improvements the owners ought to be compensated. The Bill as it stood violated the principle dear to the Liberal Party, that representation should accompany taxation. The charges which were to be imposed would fall upon the owners of property, and not upon the occupiers, and yet the Bill contained no proposal for giving representation to owners. Surely, if they were to be taxed, they ought to be given some share in the imposition of that taxation. If this clause passed, owners of property would be subject to taxation by a Body on which they, as owners, had no representation. Every Commission that had reported on this subject had reported most strongly in favour of the owners being represented on the Body which administered the rates. He had no doubt, however, that the members of the London County Council would not welcome upon the electorate a large accession of owners; but why should their Lordships be asked to sanction what was unjust and inequitable in order to suit the political exigencies of the London County Council? It was an invariable rule of our system of taxation that the burden of the year should fall on the annual value of property;
but under this Bill it was proposed that the charge should be an unvarying one, whatever the nature of the property, and should remain for all time. The County Council, instead of following the practice of spreading the taxation over a well-defined area, asked Parliament to empower them to select for themselves, in an arbitrary manner, the area over which the taxation should be spread, and even the individuals within that area who should be the subjects of taxation. Unless members of the County Council were differently constituted to, and had less human nature than, the majority of those interested in political questions, he could not help thinking it would be extremely difficult for them, in selecting individuals as subjects for this taxation, to dissociate entirely from their minds the question whether those individuals did or did not support the views of the Council. It was also proposed, for the first time he believed in the history of taxation, that unoccupied houses and land should be charged. Property in a district might remain unlet, as when the sugar bakeries of Silvertown were done away with, and when the Spitalfields silk-weaving industry fell off. Populations might come and go, but the charges of the London County Council went on for ever. There was no means of ascertaining how far property had depreciated in value. Then it was proposed to levy this taxation as a capital charge in the nature of a mortgage, and the Council would have power to enter on the premises and sell them for what they would fetch if the charge was not satisfied. That was an absolutely novel departure. It would be impossible for those over whom this sword of Damocles was hanging to dispose of their property at all. If the Council had wished to deal fairly in the matter they would have made provision not only for the increment, but also for the detriment. During the last three years the Council had spent £30,000 in Parliamentary costs. The expenditure of £1,000 or £1,500 in the promotion of this Pill could only be justifiably in order to effect a substantial relief in the rates; but their Lordships would hardly credit him when he said that the Council had never taken into consideration the amount they were going to get from the scheme. Their surveyor admitted in evidence that the
total sum that could be levied would be £10,000, a moiety only of which would go to the Council, which, at 3 per cent., would produce the magnificent income of £150 a year. For the sake of 1–12,000th part of the income of the London County Council their Lordships were asked to revolutionise the whole system of Local Taxation in this country. The ideas of the Council were ambitious. Their employés were to receive the highest rate of wages; to approach the Australian acme of "eight hours' work, eight hours1 play, eight hours' sleep, and eight bob a day." The slums were to be pulled down and model lodging-houses put in their place, and the Council themselves were to be lodged in a palatial manner in a building which should not compare unfavourably with the Hôtel de Ville of our neighbours across the Channel, where, he understood, the most numerously attended balls in the world were given at the expense of the ratepayers. These were charming schemes, but, unfortunately, they cost money. London already owed £40,000,000, and the rates had increased since 1868 by 104 per cent. The long-suffering ratepayer was beginning to cry out at last. Meetings had been held, and there was grave danger that the Council might become unpopular. Therefore, with the next election casting its shadow before it, the Council were looking round for some new victims who combined wealth of property with poverty of votes. Who so suitable as the ground laud-lord? It would be impossible to establish our rating system on a permanent basis until the distinction between personal and real property was removed, and until the whole of local property bore the whole of local burdens. The honest and straightforward course for the Government to take would be to accept the terms of his Resolution, and to bring in a Bill next year dealing with the question on a broad and comprehensive basis; but from the attitude of their colleagues in another place he was inclined to think they would ask the House to pass the Bill in its entirety, in the hope that it might bring them a few votes from London in favour of Home Rule. Their London team was becoming restive. North St. Pancras had kicked over the traces and bolted; Kennington had shied at the Local Veto Bill; and others were looking dangerous, so the Govern-
ment were now trying to set aside all the best traditions of legislation in order that they might pose before the voters of London as the champions of their interests. But the Government were reckoning without their Lordships' House, which he did not believe would consent to pull the chestnuts out of the fire in order that they might gain a little popularity among the voters of London. They might reckon that their Lordships, knowing that the great Home Rule contest in which in a few weeks they would be engaged would be submitted for the opinion of the constituencies, would not risk damaging their popularity with the electors by throwing out the measure. But he did not believe that House would give up the position which they now held, in the opinion of all those whose opinion was worth having, that of revising legislation which was designed not in the interests of the community at large, but with the view of catching votes; and he was satisfied that any unpopularity would not fall upon them, but upon the shoulders of the Government, who had sacrificed to an attempt to break up the Empire all the traditions and principles of legislation which they had inherited, and all the real interests of the people whom they professed to serve. He hoped, therefore, their Lordships would agree to the Motion of which he had given notice.
Moved to resolve—
That this House, before assenting to the Second Reading of this Bill, desires to express its opinion that proposals for the assessment of capital values instead of annual values, and for creating new and arbitrarily-defined areas of taxation such as are contained in Clause 41 of the Bill, ought not to be embodied in a Private Bill; but, if found just and equitable, should he based on general principles laid down by Parliament."—(The Earl of Onslow.)
§ * LORD HOBHOUSE
said, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, he should be sorry if their Lordships sent it to a Committee hampered with the noble Earl's Resolution. As he had to meet two lines of attack—that just delivered and that awaiting him from Lord Portsmouth—his best plan would be to state the case for the Second Reading of the Bill without qualification, and meet the noble Earl's objections as they occurred. He wished that the noble Earl had kept more to the point. His speech had degenerated, as a good many 414 speeches from his side did, into a general attack on the County Council and the Government. Everything the London County Council had done was wicked in his eyes, and not only what they had done, but what they had not done, and what only a few members of their Body had thought of doing. However, he would not be led aside from his point by those vague hits at the Body he had then the honour to represent. The Bill was for effecting four improvements in London. The first of these was the improvement of Wood Street, Hammersmith. That was a small matter, and the parish contributed part of the expense, which was a somewhat primitive and rude method of betterment—i.e., the principle that those who benefit most should pay most. The second was the rebuilding of Vauxhall Bridge, a much larger affair, as it would be of general public benefit, and was not calculated to benefit private properties in any special manner. Therefore the provisions for betterment in the Bill would not apply to that improvement. The third was the improvement of the approaches to Woolwich Ferry, a small matter of £3,000, which would not excite controversy. The fourth was the construction of a new access to the Tower Bridge. That was an expensive affair; and it was calculated to benefit the properties contiguous to the new road, and therefore attracted the principle of betterment. It was upon this work, the cost of which was estimated at between £400,000 and £500,000, that the controversy concerning betterment centred in the House of Commons. If their Lordships were to refuse the Second Reading of the Bill they would put a stop to works as to which there was no real controversy, and which it was desirable—and, as to Vauxhall Bridge, somewhat urgent—to execute. The noble Earl said he did not find any fault with the principle of betterment, which was that an owner should contribute something towards the cost of an improvement by which his property was benefited; but he objected to the proposed application of that principle in this Bill. But he could hardly have read the Bill sufficiently. It was not correct to say that this was purely a charge upon owners, nor was it the fact that the County Council could levy the charge as it thought fit. Under the Bill the area of betterment was confined within limits 415 of deviation which were to be settled by Parliament, and everything had to be submitted to an independent arbitrator, appointed by a Government Department, and it was he who would decide whether the marketable value of property had been increased, and what charge should be placed upon it. The noble Earl complained that damage to property was not to be compensated. The question of "worsement," as it was called, was totally different from that of betterment, and should be separately treated. Moreover, it was almost impossible that in such a plan as this any case of worsement could arise; the whole controversy was confined to the limits of deviation. On the merits of this principle he would take the liberty of stating it in a proper shape thus: In all dense populations it is necessary for the purposes of health, access, traffic, and so forth, to execute public works at the expense of the public. The community—in this case the county—as a whole paid for them and benefited by them. But there were some individuals, the owners of land contiguous to the works—in this case a road—who benefited, not only more in degree, but in a different kind and mode from the general public. Not only bad they the chief use of the road, but their land bad its market value increased at the expense of the county, not of themselves. It had long been felt in London that there was great hardship in compelling all the inhabitants to pay for an improvement to private estates, and that the owners should contribute nothing. Well, the principle of betterment was simply that the landowner should repay something out of the increased value which he had received. It was said, indeed, that he did contribute something, because he paid a higher rate. That was quite irrelevant to the present question. Every man whose property had increased in value since the last assessment was liable to pay an increased rate; though it was to his parish and not to the county. But besides the fact that the rate was an inadequate contribution; besides the fact that it goes into the wrong Treasury, that of the parish and not that of the county, there was this consideration—that the same result would happen if the landowner made the improvement out of his own pocket. The same result happened to his neighbour 200 yards off, who effected an improvement out of his own pocket; so 416 that for the special boon that the improvement in question was paid for, not out of his own pocket, but by the community, the landowner paid absolutely nothing. That this was not just was almost universally agreed. The noble Earl did not assert that it was just. But he objected to the mode of remedy; and by his Resolution he asked the House to affirm that it ought to be sought by Public and not by Private Bill. With regard to that question, they had great Codes of Law affecting multitudes of daily transactions, and without which their affairs would be sadly hampered—such as the Lands Clauses Act, the Companies' Clauses Act, the Settled Estates Act, the Enclosures Act, and so forth, which were all the outgrowth of private transactions legalised by Parliament in the majority of instances by Private Acts. A private Canal Bill, a private Railway Bill, a private Estate Bill, a private Enclosure Bill, proposed arrangements respecting the matters dealt with. Each of those arrangements was an innovation in its day. Some of them—e.g., expropriation powers—were great innovations. But they appeared to meet the necessity of the case: they were allowed upon a small local or personal scale, and if found beneficial they were adopted in subsequent cases of like nature. Then came a time when the most beneficial clauses could be culled out of those Acts, brought together, and set up as a branch of general public law. Surely that was the wise way of going to work. If a new method were just in principle, if it was calculated to allay a deep and widespread feeling of injustice among a large community, surely it was better to begin on the small scale which befitted a Private Act, and then, when experience had been gained, general principles could be laid down by public enactments. But the noble Earl wanted to begin at the other end, and to start general principles before they had obtained experience, and so to reverse the practice in regard to this kind of legislation. If the noble Earl were to have his way, it would lead to endless delays and to friction and irritation, of which there had been too much already. He did not admit that there was any innovation in principle in this Bill. The principle of betterment proposed was simply to make a man pay back part of 417 that which he had received in the shape of benefit or increased value. That had been done in many Acts, public and private, and in various ways. The only novelty here was in the method, and surely that method was peculiarly a subject for a Committee to deal with. He, therefore, begged their Lordships to read the Bill a second time, and not to take upon themselves the responsibility at this stage of the proceedings of saying that this Clause 41 as to betterment, which they could not here properly discuss, should not go before the Committee, and that practically the wishes of the Londoners to introduce some more equitable principle into the payment for London improvements should be postponed sine die.
* THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
said, the noble Lord should not have to complain of him for not sticking to the point. He would address himself, in the first place, to the question raised by the Resolution of the Earl of Onslow, whether the proposals in this Bill wore not more properly matters for public than for private legislation. To that proposition he gave his most hearty assent; and he should certainly vote with the noble Earl, partly on the grounds which had been stated by the noble Earl, and partly for reasons which he would now proceed to state. In the first place, then, the proposed change of assessment from annual to capital value was a matter of public and not merely of private and local interest. He believed it to be an absolute novelty in the local taxation of the English people. This, of itself, was a good reason for public and not for private legislation on the subject. Again, secondly, there was no principle for the purpose of taxation in the "area of deviation." Then, thirdly, beyond this, an Executive officer of Her Majesty's Government was not a proper person to go to for the ascertainment of capital values.
§ LORD HOBHOUSE
said, it was not a Government official, but an arbitrator named by the Government Department to act between the parties—one of the commonest things in the world.
* THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
said, he was not aware there were many instances of this at all, and if such a principle wore extended into the Government of this country it would lead possibly to the greatest corruption. These were reasons, 418 even if they stood alone, in his opinion, for the Resolution of the noble Earl. But he was opposed to this Bill on the merits, as well as the form of its proposals. Most of their Lordships probably had read a paper circulated that morning stating that the Bill ought to receive support because it was of a purely local character and would effect purely local objects. But if a Private Bill proposed to forfeit and confiscate property, was the Imperial Parliament to take no notice of that? Was the property of a particular locality to be placed at the absolute power of the Local Authority? He had no wish to say a word against the London County Council. He thought that the powers of municipal government would probably receive in this country very large developments, and in certain directions, no doubt, large extensions of local powers would have to be given. But in other directions the progress of modern society had been in the direction of greater limitation and restraint. In Scotland, prior to the Reform Bill, the Municipalities possessed the most arbitrary powers of taxation. All that had been, however, taken from them. Free Trade had spread throughout the country, and the Municipalities had not been allowed to continue to exercise such arbitrary and monstrous powers as they formerly possessed. Their Lordships should, therefore, look above all things to what powers it was fit and safe for the Imperial Government to hand over to Municipal Authorities, and new principles of arbitrary taxation ought not to be conceded to them without the most careful and public examination. It might come to this—that great powers of taxation ought to be given to the London County Council on some novel principle; but he agreed with the Earl of Onslow if that were done it should be done by public Act of Parliament, and with full consideration of all the consequences involved. Nobody acknowledged the principle of betterment more readily than he did. But what was meant by the term "betterment"? They all knew what the promoters of the Bill meant by it. Their meaning was, however, not his. He did not accept it in the arbitrary and artificial sense put upon it by the Lord Chancellor. It reminded him of the extreme Darwinians. He acknowledged their principle of development, 419 but it did not follow that he must adopt their doctrine of natural selection—a juggle of words and nothing else. He contended that under the present system the legitimate object of betterment was practically attained, and far more justly and equally than it would be under any of the artificial proposals of the London County Council and their friends. On what other principle could the benefit or increased value derived by a man's property from any improvement be ascertained than that of annual value? There was only one other basis which he knew of, and that was political corruption and jobbery. That was what this proposal of assessment upon capital value would undoubtedly lead to, as it had led to that result in America. Betterment simply implied that he whose property gained in value should be called upon to pay in proportion to that increased value. But the gain must be ascertained as fact, and as tested by actual market values. With regard to the corruption existing in the Municipalities of the United States, an article appeared about two months ago in The National Review, which was written by the Chairman of a Committee appointed by the Corporation of Boston, for the purpose of investigating the question to what extent that corruption existed; and in that article it was stated that only two Municipalities throughout the States were not notoriously dishonest and corrupt, and the Corporations of those two exceptional Municipalities, one in Washington and another in Illinois, were appointed by Central Authorities, and not by popular vote. Some few years ago when he was entering New York harbour he saw a vessel engaged in raising mud from the harbour basin, and he was informed that it was engaged in useless work, because the mud it raised was deposited in other parts of the harbour, and that the whole business had been started by the Corporation of New York in order to enable them to pay high wages to a certain class of workpeople for the purpose of obtaining votes. A public Committee in New York had reported that the corruption that prevailed among the Corporation was "appalling." What was the source of all that corruption? It arose to no small extent out of the system of taxation which it was now sought to introduce here. The object of that system was to make capital pay for everything. In 420 saying what he had done he did not desire in any way to make accusations of corruption against our existing Corporations. On the contrary, he believed those Bodies at the present time to be singularly free from the slightest taint of it; but he protested against the adoption of a system which he believed would bring corruption about in the course of time. He was not a landowner in London, but, on the contrary, he was one of the aggrieved leaseholders, and he had suffered pecuniary loss in consequence of having renewed a long lease of certain property at a largely enhanced rent, and having had to pay rates which had been more than doubled since the renewal of the lease. The fact was that he had been called upon—as the cant phrase goes—to pay increased rents and rates "upon his own improvements." As a general rule the rates were really borne by the landlords, who got less rent for their property in places where the rates were high than they did where their property was situated in low-rated districts. That was to say, there was no real grievance at all in the matter; but people could not be taught to believe in anything they could not sec with their two eyes, however true the principle that the landlord really paid rates because he received less rent than he otherwise would. He, therefore, preferred the Scotch principle of the rates being equally divided between the landlord and the tenant. That was so equitable that people were reconciled to the incidence of the taxation. It was impossible to look at this Bill without seeing that important principles of taxation and municipal government were involved in the 41st clause. That clause, therefore, ought not to be proposed as part of a Private Bill. If it was thought desirable to pass such a provision, let it be introduced in a more general Code, such as the Municipal Corporations Act.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Earl of ROSEBERY)
My Lords, I only want to interpose with one remark after what the noble Duke has said. Unfortunately, I had not the opportunity of being present during the whole of the discussion; but I came in in time to hear a long diatribe from the noble Duke on municipal corruption in America. I have sometimes a difficulty in adapting the noble Duke's speeches to the subjects which 421 they are supposed to illustrate, and I confess I never had more difficulty in that respect that when endeavouring to see the connection between the philippic delivered by the noble Duke against corruption in America and the subject before the House. The noble Duke stated that municipal corruption in America was due principally to one cause, and he went on to point out that American assessments are made on capital values, and that the assessors appointed by the Municipalities are able to make assessments at their own sweet will. I confess if that wore the case here the noble Duke would have some ground for saying that the measure proposed by the London County Council was likely to give rise to those municipal evils. But where does he find that provision within the four corners of this Bill? And why does he come down to your Lordships' House and denounce the London County Council in the language he has used, a Body of which he knows little or nothing, and of which I happen to know a great deal, upon a matter with which his denunciation has no more to do than it has with the major and minor prophets? The provision made in this Bill, that, if after public improvement has been made, if in the opinion of the Local Authority it does conduce to an improvement, or an increase in the value of property, the London County Council may then apply to the Local Government Board to have that improvement or increased value assessed. The Local Government Board thereupon, and not the County Council, will appoint an arbitrator, and the arbitrator will then assess the increase in value from that public improvement, and of that value the County Council will deal not of the whole, but of half. Therefore, every possible precaution against the jobbery which the noble Duke denounces has been taken in the Bill now before Lordships' House.
* THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
My Lords, I desire to say but a few words in explanation. The noble Earl has mistaken my argument. What I meant to say, and believe did say, was that the London County Council will, under this Bill, have very large powers of assessing values, but that they may enter into a corrupt bargain with the Executive Government of the day. What I have endeavoured to point out is that we have 422 to guard not only against corruption on the part of Municipalities, but against the possibility of it on the part of the Government—the Executive Government of the day.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My answer to that is that the noble Duke's pessimism appears to go very far. He seems to be troubled by the old question, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Before we can believe that the Government would be corrupt as well as the London County Council, we must become as great pessimists as the noble Duke himself. Then the noble Duke said that hitherto we have been absolutely free from political or municipal corruption in this country. Does he remember the opposition to Sir W. Harcourt's Bill? Does he remember an illicit expenditure of £12,000? Does he remember the employment of that large sum under the rose to promote agitation against that Bill, and to break up meetings in favour of it? Does the noble Duke remember these facts of a few years ago? If he is not aware of that episode I should advise him to scrutinise our municipal history in recent times a little more closely before he ventures to state absolutely that our Municipalities are absolutely free from corruption.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH,
who had on the Taper a Notice on the Motion for the Second Reading, to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, he was prepared so far to make concession to the noble Lord who had moved the Second Reading that he would not move the rejection of the Bill, but would content himself with supporting the Earl of Onslow's Resolution. As America had been referred to in the course of the Debate he might be permitted to make a comparison between the treatment and the betterment question there, and the way in which it was dealt with in the 41st clause of this measure. Taking the case of New York, which was more like London than any other city, every step in betterment proceedings was under the control of a Judicial Authority. That would not be the case here. For seven years by this Bill would the London County Council be able to keep an unknown betterment charge hanging over property. Who would buy property in such circumstances? It would be impossible for an owner to sell it if he wished to. Another injustice was that 423 even if the principle could be practically carried out the charge for betterment was to remain on the property for ever. Surely it ought to cease when the capital spent upon the improvements and the interest upon that capital had been paid off, and after the locality had received the whole benefit of the improvements. It was unnecessary to prolong the discussion, and he could only offer his noble Friend (the Earl of Onslow) his hearty support.
THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (The Earl of KIMBERLEY)
My Lords, I should not like this matter to go to a Division without expressing my opinion. The noble Duke's speech surprised me because having begun by saying he would keep closely to the point, I hope he will not be offended at my saying that I never in my life heard a speech which so barely touched the question. I must forgive my noble Friend, to some extent, because the principle of betterment has been otherwise largely discussed; but this Motion is upon a particular point—namely, that this question ought not to be dealt with by a Private Bill. That is quite an intelligible point, and it has nothing to do with the subject of corruption of Municipalities and all the rest of it, here or in America, that I can possibly see. Upon the I question immediately before the House, no doubt at first sight the suggestion that the subject of betterment should be dealt with in a general Public Bill is rather attractive. I believe, however, that that plan would really be found to be beset with difficulties. It would be a rash thing to pass a general Act before we have any experience as to the working of this principle in a particular case. The question whether a principle should be applied must always depend largely upon the circumstances of the particular case to which it is proposed to apply it. I say at once I agree with the noble Earl that the principle of betterment I believe to be sound in itself; and the reason I say it is this: I think it must occur to any person, as a mere matter of justice and fairness to all, that if a large amount of public money is spent in a town, by which the value of property is increased, the persons so benefited by the expenditure of public money should, if it be possible to devise a fair mode of doing it, contribute over and above the 424 sum paid by the rest of the ratepayers in proportion to that improvement. It seems to me, when boldly stated in plain words, that the principle cannot be controverted. The real difficulty is how to apply the principle. No doubt there are serious difficulties in that, but here is a practical proposal made by the London County Council. The noble Duke opposite spoke of arbitrary powers. I do not know what my noble Friend meant. Surely arbitrary powers mean powers exercised without the control of the law. Can any such powers be found within the four corners of this Bill, which most accurately defines what those powers are to be? Then I was astonished to hear that exception was taken to the appointment of an arbitrator. It seems to me to be thought that we have arrived at a point in this country when a Public Department cannot be intrusted with the appointment of an arbitrator; but there are hundreds of cases in which arbitrators are appointed by the Board of Trade, under Acts of Parliament, for the purpose of dealing with a variety of matters affecting private interests. Is it to be believed that, because the County Council has to deal with this matter, it will exercise a sort of influence upon the Local Government Board and induce that Body to appoint an arbitrator who will act in concert with the County Council to rob the owners of property? A more extravagant notion I have never heard; and when such an argument is used, I think there must be a very bad case against the Bill. This question has nothing whatever to do with the position of ground landlords, or the question of the raising of the rent by the landlord at the close of a long lease. No doubt those are important questions, but the proposal of the Bill has nothing whatever to do with them, and such subjects can only be introduced in order to create prejudice against the Bill.
* THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
pointed out that both those points were specially put forward in the paper which had been circulated by the London County Council in support of the Bill.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I am not the author of the paper, nor have I even read it with the attention it no doubt deserves. I think, myself, the wisest course would be to allow the Bill to go to a Committee, as is usual in matters of this kind, and there it will be 425 seen whether there is anything in the scheme which is undesirable.
* THE EARL OF ONSLOW
only desired that the Bill should go to the Committee with the Resolution of the House impressed upon it.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I cannot think that there is in this proposal, important as it is in principle, such a danger as will induce the House to reject it altogether. I would suggest to the House that they should not pass an unmeaning Resolution. If it is to amount to an Instruction to the Committee not to pass the Betterment Clause, I would only remind the noble Earl that it is in the teeth of his own argument, for he said he was not against the principle of betterment, speaking generally, but that he thought there was danger in this particular proposal. Surely the natural conclusion when you have assented to the principle that you should send a particular proposal for its application to be considered by the Private Bill Committee so that you may see whether there is anything in the proposal of a nature to induce you not to pass the Bill is to refrain from restricting the labours of the Committee. The noble Lord (Lord Hobhouse) has told you that it is not of the essence of the proposal that this particular mode of valuation should be adopted, and if the Committee are of opinion that that mode of valuation is open to objection, undoubtedly it is within their powers to deal with it. All I contend is that there is not in the proposal such a danger as should induce this House to reject it as a principle. The controversy lies in and turns upon whether we are going to admit this principle of betterment, or peremptorily to say that it should be rejected. The noble Earl has himself said that the principle should be admitted, and I think your Lordships will be prepared to send it to the Committee to see whether this particular application of it is wise and judicious.
* THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (The Earl of MORLEY)
said, he understood the principle of betterment to be this: that the owners of property which was benefited by the expenditure of public money should to some extent contribute to the improvement. That was a principle he could not cavil at; but the question before the House was an important one, because, if they admitted the principle in this particular 426 case, it would extend very largely, not merely in London, but elsewhere. As to its being carried out by public or private legislation, he had given the subject the best consideration he could, and he confessed it was not an easy one. He was inclined to agree that it would be extremely difficult by a Public Act to lay down principles that would apply to every variety of case that could occur not only in London, but elsewhere. He was not at all sure that it would be desirable or safe to lay down general principles which would be at once adopted without any experience being obtained. On those grounds, and on the ground that the application of the principle in this case depended entirely on local circumstances, he thought it was a subject that might legitimately and rightly be left to private legislation. They would then have the advantage of the application of the principle to individual cases, and by the growth of experience they would gradually get such an amount of knowledge as to be able to lay down principles for universal application. Still, in adopting for the first time a new and important and far-reaching change in local taxation, it was desirable that some general principles should be laid down for the guidance of the Committee. How that was to be done it was for Parliament to consider. This Bill had been very much cut down since its introduction, and the amount of betterment contemplated was very minute. Therefore, the case was one of small importance, except that by adopting it the House was adopting the principle. He would have felt safer if larger and more varied interests than would be affected in this case would be fairly represented before a Committee, for in a small matter like this he was afraid the Committee would hardly have an opportunity of hearing the very important and intricate points which the proposal must inevitably involve. Therefore, he thought that a decision on the adoption of this principle should not be taken except upon a larger question than that before the House. He hoped there would be no question of rejecting the Bill, and he, for one, would be sorry to thwart so important a Body as the London County Council; but he must repeat that, in his opinion, the adoption of this principle should only be resolved upon after careful consideration in their Lordships' House.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord HERSCHELL)
My Lords, as the noble Earl has stated, the question which will be determined upon this Motion is the view of your Lordships and the attitude of this House on the adoption of the betterment principle.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Marquess may say "no," but that is what is at the bottom of this Resolution. That is really what it amounts to. Those who are in favour of the principle of betterment will no doubt vote against the proposal of the noble Earl, and those who vote in favour of that proposal will be understood to be in favour of the principle of betterment. It was not a question of the difference between a Private and a Public Bill. The noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, with the experience he has, says the matter is better to be dealt with by a Private than by a Public Bill, though what the sum total of his advice was I was not able to discover. The principle of betterment has been dealt with before, and has been three times adopted by the House of Commons. It was adopted in the House of Commons in the last Parliament, when those who are now opposed to the present Government were in a majority. The matter was discussed and fought out on the question of Public or Private Bill. The Bill was read a second time, but the particular scheme was rejected, and the scheme of the London County Council was adopted in the last Parliament. The principle was again amply discussed in the present Parliament, and the House of Commons declared by a largo majority in favour of the principle of betterment as embodied in this Bill. Your Lordships are now asked to pronounce a decision which would put an end to the provisions adopted by the House of Commons, and that decision, I am quite sure, whatever may be said, would be understood as a pronouncement against the principle of betterment. I believe that the principle is thoroughly sound; that it may be safely dealt with in a Private Bill, and that the notion that it will lead to widespread corruption is a mere nightmare; and I shall certainly, with the greatest satisfaction, give my vote against the Motion of the noble Earl.
§ On Question, their Lordships divided:—Contents 55; Not-Contents 36.428
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Hobhouse.)
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed; the Committee to be proposed by the Committee of Selection.