*THE CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES.(The Earl of MORLEY) moved to resolve—
That it is desirable that a Select Committee be appointed to join with a Committee of the House of Commons to consider and report, whether, in the case of improvements sanctioned by Parliament, and effected by the expenditure of public funds, persons, the value of whose property is clearly increased by an improvement, can be equitably required to contribute to the costs of the improvement; and, if so, in what cases, and under what conditions, Parliament should sanction the levying of such contributions in Local Acts or Provisional Orders.
He did not propose to discuss the question of betterment, but thought it necessary to say a few words in explanation of the circumstances under which he had put the Motion on the Paper, and of the causes which had induced him to do so. It would be in their Lordships' recollection that, for the last few years the Loudon County Council had been attempting to devise some means for causing persons, other than ordinary ratepayers, to contribute to the municipal improvement of the Metropolis. The House of Commons had, during the last two years, refused to sanction the scheme brought before them, and the Loudon County Council determined to abandon the improvements proposed. This year, however, a very large scheme was brought forward. In consequence of circumstances which he need not go into, that scheme was cut down to much smaller dimensions, and as it came up to this House it only contained two comparatively small improvements for Loudon, but it contained the principle of what, for want of a better word, he would call betterment, which passed a Hybrid Committee of the House of Commons by a small majority, and was afterwards passed by a considerable majority of the whole House. On the Bill reaching the House of Lords a Resolution, proposed by Lord Onslow, was passed to the effect that before the principle, which was a novel one of a very difficult and complicated character, was sanctioned by Parliament,
some inquiry should be instituted and some general rules laid down for its applicability either by public legislation or otherwise In consequence of that Resolution the Committee to which the London County Council's Bill was referred very properly—indeed, they had no other course open to them—struck out the clause as to betterment, and in that condition the Bill was sent back to the House of Commons, who, however, refused to assent to the Amendment. That, it would be admitted, left the matter in a very unsatisfactory position; and his object in placing the present Motion upon the Paper was to endeavour to create some way out of that very difficult position, and to provide a means for a full and impartial inquiry into the very important subject which the Loudon Comity Council had brought before Parliament. His impression was that, while almost all the speakers in the Debate upon Lord Onslow's Resolution approved generally the principle that, where property was improved in value by the expenditure of public money, those who were interested in that property might not inequitably be called upon to pay something towards the expenses of the improvement, there was a general feeling that the principle required further investigation and inquiry. There were many complicated questions connected with which he need not then trouble the House, but which, in his opinion, could only be properly dealt with by such a Committee as be proposed. If the principle were once sanctioned its application could not be confined to London; and it was perfectly certain that other great Municipalities would adopt and apply it in carrying out public improvements. Under these circumstances, it was absolutely necessary that some guidance should be given to Committees as to the embodiment of the principle of betterment in regard to Unopposed Bills. In reference to Unopposed Bills, he, as Chairman of Committees, would be placed in an extremely difficult, almost impossible, position without an expression of the pleasure of Parliament in dealing with these matters. Therefore, it was most important that soma general principle should be laid down in what cases and under what conditions the principle of betterment should be applied in public measures, depending, as it did, so much upon local circumstances.
With this view he had given notice of this Resolution, believing, as he did, that a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament would be by far the most satisfactory tribunal to which the question could be referred, and it was one which would give an authoritative opinion, in which both Houses would undoubtedly concur. It might be thought that the present was not a convenient time to introduce this Motion; but he would point out that the time was approaching when the promoters of Private Bills would have to deposit those Bills before Parliament, and he, therefore, thought it right that the intention of the House should be very clearly indicated before that time arrived. The feeling of the House he took to be not, as had been somewhat unfairly stated, that their Lordships were opposed to betterment as a principle, but that they desired and were perfectly ready to give full and impartial consideration to the whole question, to see how and in what manner it could be fairly applied. He desired to say, in conclusion, that he had been in communication with the authorities in the other House, and he somewhat feared that Her Majesty's Government might not look with favour on the appointment of this proposed Committee in another place. If that were so he much regretted it, and he trusted that they might yet change their mind on the subject, lie had, however, thought it right to give their Lordships' House an opportunity of expressing the opinion that the question was deserving of impartial investigation. With these few remarks he begged to move the Resolution, in the hope that, if it were agreed to by their Lordships and accepted by the House of Commons, a way might be found out of the present very difficult position.
Moved to resolve—
That it is desirable that a Select Committee be appointed to join with a Committee of the House of Commons to consider and report whether, in the case of improvements sanctioned by Parliament, and effected by the expenditure of public funds, persons, the value of whose property is clearly increased by an improvement, can be equitably required to contribute to the cost of the improvement; and, if so, in what cases and under what conditions Parliament should sanction the levying of such contributions in Local Acts or Provisional Orders." —(The Chairman of Committees.)
* THE EARL OF ONSLOW
wished, as he had the duty of inviting their Lord- 1660 ships to pass the Resolution referred to, to say a few words on this Motion. He thought the House was much indebted to the noble Earl for bringing this subject forward, and for his endeavour thus to set the House right with the public and the London County Council. On a former occasion, when this principle of betterment was before the House, the Lord Chancellor summed up the Debate in a few pithy words by saying that, whatever views individual Members of their Lordships' House might express in favour of the principle of betterment generally, those views would obtain no credence outside, and that their Lordships in voting against it would be held to be opposed to the principle altogether. Events had shown that to his other gifts the Lord Chancellor added that most rare gift of prophecy, for almost every speaker outside that House had declared that their Lordships were opposed to the principle; but they never referred to the curiously-contrived caricature embodied in the London County Council Improvements Bill—a scheme which had been described by the President of the Surveyors' Institute (members of which had to be the arbiters in these cases) as the worst plan that could be devised for putting betterment into force. The noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, to whom they looked for guidance in all matters connected with Private Business, and who proposed the present Resolution, could not be accused of any reactionary views or of trying to bolster up privileges; and the fact that the Motion emanated from him was likely to cause it to meet with acceptance at the hands of their Lordships. He had heard the concluding remark of the noble Earl as to the probable attitude of the Government with astonishment — that he was afraid Her Majesty's Government might not be disposed to accept the Motion. He had heard that with surprise, because the President of the Local Government Board had drawn up a Report in which he stated that the House should first authorise the principle of betterment to be adopted before it was inserted in any Private Bill. That was exactly what the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees was now contending for. His surprise did not end there, because the President of the Local Government Board a short time ago 1661 addressed a Circular to Local Authorities urging them to proceed forthwith with certain improvements in order that they might avail themselves of the present large supply of unemployed labour. But the Loudon County Council had rejected the proposal of so warm an advocate of betterment as Sir John Lubbock not to delay carrying out improvements costing £1,000,000 which would give work to the unemployed simply because this House had declined to sanction a particular clause in the Bill. Mr. Benn, an influential member of the London County Council and colleague of the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary, said he would be prepared to accept the Motion were it not that their Lordships were so unreasonable; and another prominent member, Mr. Torr, stated that it was the feeling of the Liberal Party that they ought to have it out with the House of Lords on some good fighting question. He was rather inclined to think that there was a disposition to look upon the question of betterment as a good one on which to tight their Lordships. He trusted, however, with the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, that wiser counsels would prevail, and that the Government would give serious consideration to the matter. Grave reflections were cast upon the composition of the Committee which considered this question in another place, and the President of the Local Government Board said he thought it extremely unwise that those who had a partipris, who were members of the London County Council, or who were strongly opposed to betterment, should be nominated to serve upon it. He hoped the Chairman of Committees would bear that in mind when he proceeded to nominate the Members to serve on the Joint Committee. There would be many matters to be taken into consideration by them. One especially, the question of the depreciation of property, which did not appear to be sufficiently clearly stated in the Motion, but would also have to be considered; also whether the amount to be paid should be fixed once and for all or should be subject to review as in the case of rates every five years. Again, it might be well that a body should be appointed different from that which had hitherto been proposed, something akin, perhaps, to that constituted in America, consist- 1662 ing of a jury on which property owners would be represented. He hoped the Motion would be accepted, because there was now an opportunity of finally settling this matter in the proper manner for Parliament to deal with such a question. It was to the interest of all classes, not only those proposing great public improvements, but property owners themselves, that this question should be settled with as little delay as possible, so that the principles on which Parliament might determine that property enhanced in value should contribute to the cost of public improvements could be embodied in every Bill brought forward for that purpose, either in London or elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
said, as he was one of those who in the early part of the Session had voted and spoke in favour of the Resolution of the noble Earl (Lord Onslow) on this intricate and difficult subject, he had come down to the House that evening with the object of thanking his noble Friend the Chairman of Committees for the effort he had made to get a Joint Committee appointed to consider the merits of this question. That was a proposal which should commend itself to the good sense of both Houses of Parliament. He confessed he had heard with some surprise and dismay that the Government did not view the proposal with favour, and he would not believe it until he heard it from the mouth of some Member of the Government. In the meantime, he would point out that if a Committee was appointed the terms of the Reference to them ought to be very carefully considered. He objected to the wording of his noble Friend's Motion, because it did not give expression or definition to the so-called principle, betterment. Lord Onslow had referred to the speech of the Lord Chancellor at the close of the former discussion, and had dwelt upon the fact that the noble and learned Lord repudiated all the protestations made by several Members of the House that they admitted the general principle, but objected to the mode of application. The Lord Chancellor said pointedly in his speech that the House was voting virtually against the principle of betterment. He would rather have the Motion put in the simple form of "rating." Vulgar and absurd as the 1663 word "betterment" was, it was well-known to include a great group of questions, and he would much prefer at the head of the Motion a definition which was not erroneous. The result of this form would be to put Lord Onslow in a wrong position, and it so put the question that it would be quite impossible for their Lordships to answer it. They had it No, and he still answered it No; but as it was put now they should answer it Yes. The words were, that persons,the value of whose property was clearly increased by a public improvement could be equitably required to contribute to the cost of it.Of course they could. Whoever denied that? If that was the principle of betterment, there was no dispute. But what ho maintained was that under the existing law all persons, the value of whose property was increased by an improvement, were taxed upon the rateable value. There was no improvement in value from any cause which did not speedily find its way into rents, and on rents all improvements were assessed. Therefore, he objected altogether to the words of the Motion, because they put their Lordships in a false position, and made them appear as if they objected to persons whose property was improved being called upon to pay anything for it. Let the question go before a Joint Committee. He thought a much better Reference to the Committee would be:— To consider whether persons whose interest in any property will clearly be increased at some future time by an improvement, can be equitably required to contribute to that improvement before that time has come, and in addition to the contribution they have already made from such property in the form of rates. That would be a much fairer statement of the question, for the words as they were now drafted were misleading. It was of some importance to observe that this was not a question of argument, but of fact—what was practically included in the term "betterment." The London County Council had circulated a very elaborate paper on the subject in the early part of the Session, before the Bill came before the House. He desired to treat the County Council with very much more respect than some of its own members treated it. Lord Farrer had said a few days ago that 1664he had a higher opinion of the Council than many of the newspapers, but even he believed that an attempt of the Council or any committee of the Council to settle wages for any part of the world was a preposterous absurdity.He was not going to use such language as that, but would draw their Lordships' attention to these propositions before they voted upon the question. He had amused himself that morning by going over the paper issued by the London County Council, and extracting from it the propositions involved in it and which were truly involved in what they called betterment. It had nothing whatever to do with the assessment of people whose property was affected. The propositions were these—(1.) That increments or rises in the value of town property, following on 'street improvements' effected out; of rates—whether such increments are actual and immediate or only future and speculative—are to be regarded as 'special increases' due entirely to those improvements, and therefore as 'creations of the public expenditure.'That was their own proposal: all increments in value which follow direct from public improvements. That was John Stuart Mill's doctrine of increment put into the most absurd form. The second proposition was—That as such they belong absolutely to the public authority which is the 'creator' of them —so absolutely that the seizure of them by the public authority is not to be called or considered as a 'tax' or a 'rate' at all, but as a mere 'intercepting' of values which ought never to belong to the owner of the property at all.They were not thinking of taxation; they were not thinking of rating. It was not that; they were thinking of intercepting—a very nice word—the value of a man's property before it got into his pocket, because they thought it ought never to get there at all. The third proposal was—That in the meantime, and for the first case, the full sweep and application of this doctrine was to be veiled and modified by placing absolutely in the hands and in the absolute discretion of a member of the Executive Government of the day the decision of these two questions:— First, how much of any increased value is to be considered as a 'creation' of the public authority: and, secondly, what fraction of that value is to be left, as a matter of favour, to the owner, until any further call may be required.'That was to say, all of it belonged to the authority which created it, of right; but they generously would not take more than half at present, or such part of it as 1665 the Executive Government of the day might decide. That also was one of the principles on which their Lordships voted. Then the fourth proposition was just as important: a difference between this and former Bills before the House was pointed out—(4.) That former Bills erred and failed by adopting a 'particular geographical area,' which was the parish. This limitation revealed the inequality and injustice which would result from the application of the doctrine.The parochial idea was a mistake formerly; the attempt to apply the principle failed because it went upon the parochial area, which it was obvious was unjust. And what did they do now? Take their next proposition—(5.)That the new Bills avoid this error by substituting for the parochial area another, and smaller area, equally a 'particular geographical area,' but with this advantage that it is not defined otherwise than by the words 'immediate neighbourhood of the improvement'; and the possibility of testing its fairness is thus avoided.The dodge in that—for it was a dodge—was to avoid the definition of the parish and to indicate an area only which was immediately in the neighbourhood of the improvement. The next was—(6.) That town property so situated is to have its values taxed (or 'intercepted' from those to whom it now belongs) twice over and on two different principles—first, on the occupier assessed on the full letting value of the property as a whole; and, secondly, on the ground owner, not on his actual interest, but assessed on his speculative interest as it may be possibly realised at some future time, without definition or limit.The next was a very important point—(7.) That owners, when they bargain with occupiers that the occupiers shall pay the rates, are to be considered as not contributing to those rates at all, although rents are of necessity limited and adjusted according to that bargain, and, although the total sum which the occupier now pays in both rent and rates would obviously be the value to him of the house in the form of rent aloneIt seemed only a mathematical proposition that rates do now come out of rents. If the rates were not paid by the occupier rents would have a corresponding increase. It was a pure mistake that rates did not come out of rents. Then the last proposition was—(8.) That the object to be attained is to revise all such bargains, or defeat them, upon principles of assumed equity which need not be laid down or even indicated. (9.) That the settlement of all these questions, and the application of ail these doctrines to the pro- 1666 perty of every owner and occupier in London, can be safely delegated, not to any legal Court acting on known judicial principles, laws, or precedents, but to a nominee of the Executive Government of the day.He challenged contradiction of any man in or out of that House—no one could deny that every one of those propositions was contained implicitly or explicitly in the Paper which had been distributed to their Lordships, and it was against the application of those doctrines that they had voted before they had been adequately discussed. But he was all for having them adequately discussed—all for it. There might be cases in which, after an existing rate had been raised, it would be fair to assess upon the owners an improvement rate, although their interest in the particular improve-vent effected might be contingent and at a very distant date. Take the case of Kensington. No Member of their Lordships' House who had occasion to drive to Kew or Richmond but knew that in Kensington there was a serious block in the traffic in High Street, close to Kensington Church, owing to the bottle-neck character of the thoroughfare at that point. It had been the desire of the Vestry to effect an improvement there. That, no doubt, would be a legitimate outlay of public money, and he thought the owners and occupiers might very well be called upon to pay for the improvement; but how was it possible to calculate the difference which the improvement would make in the value of property a few yards off the main street? To take the case of his own villa—in his opinion, it would not add one farthing to the letting value of the property, although the improvement would be of great value to the whole traffic of London going westward, for which at present that narrow street was the only thoroughfare. He did not think it would be fair in the case of owners at Camden Hill to estimate what the value would be on the expiration of leases 40 or 50 years hence, and then impose upon them the full rate charged to the occupier. No man would say that was fair. That was an example of a thousand cases which might be quoted, and, therefore, if there was to be a Joint Committee, he did not wish that the question should be put in a leading form, so as to involve a certain answer upon one side, either in his favour or against him, and against 1667 the sense in which the House had considered the subject. He hoped, therefore, the Government would agree to the appointment of the Committee, but the question ought to be approached with a perfectly open mind. They would not enter upon its consideration upon equal ground in the form in which the question was put; and absurd, foreign, and vulgar as the word "betterment" was, he really thought it would be better to adopt it than to define the question in a manner which was unjust and unfair to one of the two parties to it. He quite agreed that the differences of opinion upon the subject arose very much from a misunderstanding of what were the betterment proposals, but the proposals of the London County Council were obviously unjust, and would strike at the basis of the whole fabric of society as at present existing. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would not only consent to the appointment of a Committee, but would agree that the Reference should be in such a form as would leave a free and open mind to be maintained on the question.
§ * LORD HOBHOUSE
said, ho had no desire to follow the noble Duke in his remarks on the question of betterment, though he would say a few words upon it presently. He did not wish to oppose any practicable scheme by which the Houses of Parliament should set themselves to consider the best mode of improving our local taxation, but regretted that their Lordships' House had not seen its way, as had the House of Commons, to a much more efficient method of attaining the object than could be devised by the inquiries of any Committee in the world; that was to say, the method of actual experiment and trial of a plan which had been carefully thought out. Lord Onslow had described the proposal of the London County Council as a "travesty of a plan," but their Lordships had refused to send the plan to a Committee, which was the only tribunal where such a plan could be threshed out, it being impossible to go into all its details in a Debate in the open House. As to the "travesty of a plan," the same thing had been said of other plans brought forward by the London County Council, and the same thing would he said, by those who objected to the introduction of this reform, of any plan which 1668 might be propounded. The County Council had in former cases yielded to the criticisms upon their plans, and had acquiesced in the rejection of them; but they thought in this case the criticisms were unfair, and they were not disposed to acquiesce in this rejection. What was a Joint Committee going to do? In the first place, it was to inquire whether the principle of betterment was or was not equitable. The noble Duke had said a good deal about the principle of betterment, and thought he could state that principle better than those who invented it and were trying to apply it.
§ * LORD HOBHOUSE
knew nothing of the document, but he had not caught from the noble Duke's reading anything to the effect that a man should pay a tax in prœsenti for a value in futuro. He thought the noble Duke might fairly take the Bill itself, and his explanation of the principle when introducing it, but not an argumentation proper from another quarter. The principle presented to the House in the Bill was accurately enough stated in the Resolution of his noble Friend—whether an owner whose property has had its value materially enhanced by improvements effected at the public expense should be compelled to contribute to the cost of those improvements, and the improvement must be visible and ascertainable at the time when the contribution was required; not something to arise 50 years hence, but something existing at the moment the owner was asked to pay. The other House, and all who had spoken in their Lordships' House, certainly Lord Onslow, had acquiesced in the principle, though they objected to the mode in which it was applied. No doubt the noble Duke had argued against a principle——
§ * LORD HOBHOUSE
No; against a principle which, he ventured to say, existed only in his own mind. His speech to-day showed that he had mistaken the principle. But if nobody disputed the principle, was it not a pity to refer the question to a Joint Committee? Suppose the Committee were to find in the negative, that such a principle was not equitable, could it be 1669 conceived that the inhabitants of large and growing towns would acquiesce in such a finding? Londoners were so convinced that the principle was right that nothing would shake their conviction but the failure of plans fairly tried in practice. They would come again and again with Bills embodying that principle, and if those Bills were to be rejected on account of a prior pronouncement of some Committee, they would go back to their constituents, and say their proposals were not receiving fair consideration; and a very irritating contest would arise. He therefore, should be glad if this first matter of Reference was omitted altogether, because he thought the finding would be superfluous if in the affirmative, and if in the negative mischievous. The next point which the Committee were to consider was in what cases, and under what conditions, the principle of betterment should be applied, and they might possibly strike out something. But he feared they were putting the cart, before the horse. Surely, each ease must depend on its own circumstances, and it would be for the Legislature in each case as it was brought up, and when the circumstances were explained, to say whether it was a fit case for the application of betterment or not. He thought it would be difficult for a Committee to decide abstract conditions—conditions which they should be able to apply to the majority of cases that came up for discussion without having before them concrete cases to instruct them. This seemed rather like an attempt to frame a Consolidation Bill, or a large part of one, without the experience which had invariably been antecedent to the framing of such Bills. For those reasons, he was afraid very little good could come of such a Committee. Probably it would not do much harm, because it seemed impossible there could be a finding in the negative, and against the principle of betterment when truly stated. Indirectly it might do some good, because it would be just one more discussion on the subject, and the advocates of the principle of betterment had found that from every discussion they had emerged considerably stronger than before. They might, therefore, welcome any contrivance by which the minds of a larger number of Members of the Legislature should 1670 become acquainted with what was really proposed by the London County Council in their Bill.
THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (The Earl of KIMBERLEY)
My Lords, the noble Duke seemed a little surprised at the information given by my noble Friend the Chairman of Committees as to the probable attitude of the Government, but I have no hesitation in saying that the Government cannot give this Resolution their support. In the first place, I do not think it is at all desirable that this House should pass a Resolution for a Joint Committee without some reasonable expectation that the other House will concur, and from some information which has reached me I do not think that the House of Commons will concur in this Resolution, and the Government, therefore, are not prepared to support it. I shall not enter into the question of so-called betterment; it is an interesting subject; but the Motion before your Lordships is, whether we should appoint a Joint Committee to inquire into the principle. This principle of betterment was embodied in a particular Bill sent up to this House. It was considered here, and, in consequence of a Resolution which was carried on the Motion of Lord Onslow, the Committee to which the Bill was referred did not proceed with that portion of the Bill. The matter went down to the House of Commons, and there, by a large majority, the plan which was embodied in that Bill was re-affirmed. The position we took up in this House on the occasion of that discussion was this: that, looking at the subject as a whole, it seemed to be much wiser to accept some particular scheme which embodied this principle than to attempt anything on a larger scale. The more I have reflected upon the matter the more convinced I am that that is the only safe mode of proceeding. Circumstances differ so much in the localities where this question may arise that you cannot lay down a cut-and-dried set of rules to apply to all cases until you have had some experience. The Bill was a distinct proposal; but your Lordships did not consider, as you ought to have considered in Committee, the exact merits of that proposal. Your Lordships preferred a Resolution of a very doubtful kind proposed by my noble 1671 Friend, which has been construed, not unnaturally, by a great many persons as a determination on the part of this House against the principle of betterment. Looked at strictly according to the words of the Resolution, it cannot be described as a Resolution against the principle of betterment; but it is a Resolution which declines to commit the House to any decision on the matter at all.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
Not exactly, but I do not wish to lay any stress upon particular words. It has had the unfortunate effect, however, of producing a general impression that this House has resolved that it will have absolutely nothing to do with the question of betterment. If the House desires to inquire into the matter on its own behalf in order to arrive at a conclusion, and in order to acquiesce in some plan, I can raise no particular objection to that course, because the House is master of its own proceedings. But as regards the action of the Government upon this proposal of a Joint Committee, I cannot, on the part of the Government, concur in the Resolution, because not only have I no reason to suppose that it would be acquiesced in by the other House, but because it is contrary to the view taken by the House of Commons by a large majority that a particular scheme ought to be passed. I think the appointment of a Joint Committee on a question of this kind is not really called for.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, it seems to me that the question whether the House of Commons is disposed to concur in this Resolution is hardly a matter we should formally consider. I have never before seen it laid down, that before we take a particular course it should be ascertained that the House of Commons is willing to concur in it. If we think it is a right course let us avow our belief to that effect, and throw on the other House, if they are inclined to take it, the responsibility of refusing to do that which we believe to be right. I desire also to call attention to the fact that, though it is true that in 1893 the House of Commons did come to a Resolution which might be interpreted as opposed to such a course, in one or two previous years they came to a 1672 different Resolution, and it is possible that in some future years they may come to a different Resolution still. I should not be sorry, therefore, to have it on record that this House wished to inquire into the matter, and some day it may be that the House of Commons will also take the view that inquiry should be made into the matter. However, that is hardly worth discussing, and if we think the thing is right, we had better propose the Resolution, and leave it to others to disagree with us or not as they think fit. But I protest against the noble Lord's test mode of introducing a great change in public assessment. He will not lay down the rules by which that assessment should be imposed; lie thinks that might be confusing and difficult. His only notion of ascertaining the proper course of procedure on this matter is the fiat experimentum in corpore vili. He proposes to take a little bit of the Metropolis, and without any rule or principle whatever laid down to guide us he wants to throw on the unfortunate inhabitants of that strip selected for experiment all the chances of litigation, in which there is no law to guide them, and from which there is no power to protect them if the decision should go wrong. We are not asked to decide how betterment shall be raised; it is too difficult for our intellects; but we are asked to throw it upon an unknown arbitrator, not yet selected, who will determine it by principles and by canons which he must invent for himself. Is that a reasonable way of taxing Her Majesty's subjects? Is it the way we have ever before pursued? If we are incapable of determining the means by which this new method of taxation is to be imposed, surely a hypothetical surveyor over whose appointment we have no control whatever is not more likely to be successful than we. I demur extremely to this plan of taxing the subject, and though I admit the principle asserted by the noble Lord and the noble Duke, that those whose property benefits by public expenditure may be fairly called upon to contribute to that expenditure, I say that the justice of the application of that principle depends entirely on the fact whether you get hold of the right man or not. It is not just to put an increase of taxation on B because A's pro- 1673 perty has been improved. And that is the danger which the noble Lord and his arrangements are perpetually incurring. The principle of the 14th clause of the Bill which your Lordships declined to accept was that proximity is the one test of improvement, and that if you are near a public improvement that shows that your property must have been improved by that public improvement, and you must pay accordingly. A more senseless suggestion was never put—and that is saying a great deal—into a Bill presented to Parliament. A new street is not an assistance to the old streets; it is a competitor with the old streets. In a new street the houses which are set up do not make the other houses more valuable; they make them less valuable. You might as well say that the South Eastern Railway ought to have paid for the construction of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway which runs by its side because it is in its immediate proximity, and that that was a case of betterment which the South Eastern Company ought to have recognised in the assessment. How you are to ascertain whether an estate has been improved or not, except by waiting to see, I confess I do not very clearly understand. I rather incline to the belief of the noble Duke that the increased assessment which will follow on increase in rent is the true test of betterment, and a true test of betterment and of the contribution which the owner ought to make. At all events, I demur to the idea that proximity is any test. There may be other modes of ascertaining this. Possibly, some effect might be given to Lord Monkswell's suggestion made in the last Debate that the various parts of London might be called upon to pay for their own improvements. I do not know whether that is possible or not. There is considerable reasonableness in the idea. But whatever we are doing in the matter we must recognise that this principle is absolutely new, that it is extremely difficult, and if we are not able to discover just rules for imposing this new burden, it is exceedingly unlikely that a hypothetical surveyor, over whose appointment we have no control, will be more successful than ourselves. There has been a great deal said in criticism of betterment, and its real meaning, and I think the proposal of my noble Friend, that we should have an 1674 inquiry by both Houses on the subject is really not open to objection, that it is thoroughly sound, and that it deserves our hearty support.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I cannot quite agree with the description the noble Marquess has given to the situation in which we find ourselves placed. He has just intimated to your Lordships that, in his opinion—and I observed that his remark was welcomed by those behind him—no more senseless proposal was ever put before Parliament than that contained in the Bill before your Lordships.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
May I correct the noble and learned Lord? What I described as senseless was the principle that proximity to an improvement necessarily involved improvement.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not know that that proposal can be said to be of the essence of the Bill which came before this House. That Bill, at any rate, received the assent of the Commons and of the Commons' Committee, and after the rejection of the principle by your Lordships, the other House insisted by large majorities in maintaining their position, that Clause 14 should be retained in the Bill; and now we are to ask the other House, whose proceedings it is alleged have resulted in a senseless proposal, to join with us in appointing a Committee to consider that senseless proposal. Not even the principle, which the Commons have affirmed again and again, is to be admitted; because the question is not whether the scheme shall be carried out, but whether the principle is right at all. That seems to be a strong argument against the Joint Committee. Neither do I agree with the noble Marquess that your Lordships now have an opportunity, which you had not when the Bill was before this House, of inquiring into the question. When the Bill was before your Lordships' Committee it was competent for that Committee to have made any modification of the principle they wished, and that Committee would have had the advantage, not possessed by the proposed Joint Committee, of discussing the matter in a practical light and in a particular case rather than at large, as is proposed. If it is within the ability and competence of your Lordships in Com- 1675 mittee to lay down for all cases and circumstances the proper conditions under which betterment proposals should be allowed, surely it was equally competent for the Committee to whom the Bill was referred to lay down the conditions under which they should have been allowed in a particular case. Therefore, to grant the proposed Committee would, to my mind, be the strongest condemnation of the course taken by your Lordships in refusing to consider the particular proposal which has been made or what modifications ought to have been made in it, because it was open to the Committee to have modified it in any manner they chose. But I cannot help thinking there would be very great danger in the action of a Committee of this description. I quite agree with what has been said, that the experiment should not be tried in the case of a particular body as a corpus vilum. I do not understand that to be a proposal at all, but that Parliament is much more likely to deal wisely with the question if it is dealt with in the first instance practically, and in relation to a particular case, instead of at once attempting to lay down conditions to be applicable to all cases. There are Statutes which are now incorporated in all Private Acts; but how did they come into existence? Not by the inquiries of a Committee, but by experience gained in particular cases. By proceeding by the light of experience an equitable result—the result which your Lordships propose—is much more likely to be arrived at than by attempting to lay down general rules upon which, in all conditions and under all circumstances, this principle of betterment should be dealt with.
My Lords, I cannot help thinking that my noble and learned Friend hardly appreciates the principle he has been supporting. Your Lordships are asked to appoint a Committee to inquire into a new principle which you are introducing for the first time into taxation without telling Overseers how they shall impose it by the rating of property. There is no difficulty in laying down rules for that purpose, though their application in particular cases may be difficult. That is all that we contend. But here you are introducing a new principle of taxation entirely, leaving it absolutely 1676 in the discretion of some unknown person—I do not care whether he is ascertained or not for this purpose—my objection goes to leaving it to anybody but the Legislature to say what taxation shall be imposed. The objection I have felt—and it is an objection to which the noble and learned Lord did not refer—is to your establishing a principle of this sort. The fallacy in using this term "betterment" has been abundantly shown in this discussion. If you are going to fix upon a particular person or locality, and say that person or locality shall be taxed as somebody else shall hereafter determine in proportion to the increase in value of their property from public improvements, you have established two principles: first, that he is to pay at present for something which is to exist in the future; and, secondly, that not the Legislature but somebody else shall have the power to fix the taxation. Supposing the betterment principle were adopted to-morrow, and your surveyor appointed, within what limits of proximity would he exercise his discretion? The question of proximity is merely a question of degree. Is he to determine for some 10 or 15 years hence what area of improvement will be established by the expenditure of public money? That is left entirely at large. Surely the Legislature should determine within what limits of inquiry the arbitrator is to go. It seems to me that objection has not been answered. The objection is not to trying a particular case only; you may try a particular case upon an ascertained principle with success; but here the principle itself is to be tried, and you are to leave it to an arbitrator to determine within what limits property or a street which is very near the improvement is to be assessed, and how far he may consider in the future, not in the present, that neighbourhood will be improved. That seems to me to be a matter which ought to be seriously inquired into. Then, again, there is another principle which I have not observed has been referred to—namely, compensation for depreciation of property in these cases. The Bill which came up to your Lordships certainly did not recognise that principle at all. If by the action of the Public Authorities a neighbourhood is improved in value and the owners of property in that neighbourhood 1677 are therefore to be taxed in excess of their ordinary rates, it seems to me to follow that where something is done which depreciates the value of property in a neighbourhood there should be a claim for compensation, and that something should be paid by the public. That also is one of the things which should be considered. Where you are considering the appreciation of property you ought to consider depreciation, and the compensation payable to those who for the sake of the public benefit have had their property depreciated in value. The proposed Joint Committee would consider within what limits the principle might be adopted in legislation, and it seems to me that the inquiry would be very useful for certain purposes, even if it were not conclusive either upon your Lordships' or upon the other House of Parliament.
§ On question? their Lordships divided: —Contents 35; Not-Contents 20.
§ Resolved in the Affirmative.
§ Ordered, That a Message be sent to the Commons to communicate this Resolution and desire their concurrence.