HL Deb 24 June 1919 vol 34 cc1041-4

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this very modest Bill had a rarely tranquil passage in another place, and I think its only opponent was Sir Frederick Banbury. It is, in actual fact, a little Education Bill. I think it deserves that term better than some Bills so called, because it is intended to provide instruction of a kind which has been too much neglected in the past. Some years ago Miss Octavia Hill, who was a great practical philanthropist with special knowledge of the life of the poorer classes, wrote these very significant words— The practice of compounding for rates is at the root of the reckless and us less expenditure which we see everywhere incurred by local authorities. The very moment that the large body of voters felt that they paid the rates, that moment we should leave deliberate expenditure. If it were large it would at least be incurred because it was believed to ix really good. At present the large body of electors do not realise that it affects them. Weekly tenants have the vote; weekly tenants do not realise that their rent includes rates; weekly tenants vote expenditure involving loans for sixty years, but can remove from the burdened area at a week's notice. It is neither fair nor wise. These views were very strongly emphasised in your Lordships' House on June 24, 1908, by Lord St. Aldwyn, whose presence at our debates we shall always sadly miss.

I think it may be said, and almost said as an axiom, that one cause of the reckless public expenditure which we deplore is the fail of most voters, whether Parliamentary or municipal, to realise that they have an interest in checking wasteful expenditure. Many people seem to think that there is an inexhaustible gold mine belonging to other people on which they can draw indefinitely, and that the more public expenditure there is the more prosperity there will be. This doctrine has been very widely preached, and it does account for the fact that retrenchment, which was once a popular plank in the platform of a great political Party, has now almost entirely disappeared.

The one principle of this Bill, as stated in Clause 1, is that every document containing a "demand for rent or receipt for rent, which includes any sum for rates paid or payable under the existing law" by the owner instead of the occupier, shall state the amount of such rates. That principle has already been put in practice voluntarily in a very large number of cases, and I think it has been conclusively proved that there is no practical difficulty whatever in carrying it out. I could show your Lordships booklets and cards by which this principle is worked, and it seems to be extraordinarily simple. The effect would be that the rent-payer would have information as to the part which is played by rates in the demand made upon him, and therefore he would learn to take a personal and direct interest in checking unnecessary expenditure.

It was pointed out in another place that this Bill was also required to enable the Rent Restriction Act to fulfil its objects and prevent fraud in connection with that Act. The Bill does touch in any way the question of compuanding; but under the Act of 1915 it is laid down that where an increase of rent is demanded on account of a rise in rates the landlord must give particulars. It was pointed out by Colonel Yate, who introduced the Bill in another place, that at Leicester out of 60,000 houses on which rates were levied no less than 43,000 were compounded. Personally, I think compounding is an evil which is beginning to be widely recognised, but, as I have said, this Bill does not touch the question of compounding, except in so far as it would render the practice a little less attractive in regard to future buildings.

The only criticism of the Bill that I have heard is that it will cause a great deal of trouble to the rating authorities in the case of large blocks in the City of London which are let to a considerable number of tenants at different rents The Local Government Board has looked into the question and says that the Bill would not have this effect, and I think myself it would not. But if there is any doubt in your Lordships' minds, of course words could be added in Committee which would make that point perfectly clear. I think I have said enough to show that this little Bill is needed as an educational force in the direction of economy in local expenditure. It is a very small measure and does not touch the vast field of national expenditure, except in so far as it might teach some tenants to realise that all wasteful expenditure in the long run must recoil upon the community as a whole. This House has shown an earnest desire for economy, which is not conspicuous, elsewhere, on very many occasions, and it has shown most distinctly that it does desire to check reckless extravagance, which is now leading us, I believe, straight into bankruptcy. I therefore confidently commend this humble effort in what I think is the right direction to the favourable consideration of your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill he now read 2a.—(Lord Sydenham.)


My Lords, my noble friend has correctly stated that this Bill passed through the other House with a minimum of criticism and without a Division. My noble friend is responsible for the provisions of his own Bill, and on behalf of the Local Government Board I have no objection to offer to the Second Reading.


My Lords, do not rise to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, because with its objects one must have great sympathy. That owners should be encouraged to state the portion of the rent which represents rates is a very good thing, but it seems to me that it may be hard upon them that they should be bound to do so under the penalty of fine. There are a number of small owners who will, as far as I can understand, have constantly to make a number of minute calculations in order to be able to comply with this Bill. I hope that in Committee some Amendments may be inserted which may diminish that hardship. If, fur instance, an owner, having once made his demand, did not think it worth while to show that in future another halfpenny would be rates and not rent, and if he did not mean to raise his rent by reason of the halfpenny rise in the rates, I think it would be well to save him the necessity of making a number of minute calculations spreading that halfpenny of rates over weekly payments. I cannot help thinking that those who framed this Bill did not see how complicated some of the accounts would be, but that could be met by some clause in Committee, and I hope that by the time the Committee stage is reached I shall be able to produce some provision which will satisfy the noble Lord who is i n charge of the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.