§ LORD PARMOOR rose to call attention to the burden of the rates on the industry of agriculture and to the principles on which the incidence of such rates may be more equitably adjusted; and to move for Papers. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the Notice which stands in my name was originally put down some weeks ago. The noble Earl who represents the Ministry of Agriculture, Lord Stradbroke, is aware of the reasons which prevented it coming before the House at that time and I am sure he agrees with me that it was necessary that the postponement should take place. I have had the advantage of indicating to Lord Stradbroke the main lines of my inquiry as to what the attitude of the Ministry is on the question immediately involved. A somewhat similar question has been discussed recently in another place, but I want to dissociate myself from the view that the present discussion has anything to do with the discussion in another place, although the two matters are necessarily intimately connected.
§ One thing it is not necessary to do. I am sure the noble Earl would not desire me to do it. It is not necessary to stress the plight of agriculture at the present time. It is not long ago, though it was I think before the noble Earl represented 936 the Ministry in this House, that I brought to the notice of the House the Report of the World Economic Conference at Geneva, which stated that agriculture should always be regarded as part of the whole economic and industrial question and that agriculture could not suffer without industry and economics generally being affected. They said that you must give equal opportunity to the industry of agriculture—there must be equilibrium between that industry and other industries—and as I see that the noble Lord, Lord Ernle, is present, I may say they seem to agree with him that what he called once, very drastically as I think, the lop-sided view of the agricultural question in this country was one which somewhat generally prevailed, but was very detrimental both to agriculture and to industry generally. Of course, the question of rents is and has been for a long time of vital importance to agriculture, but it is by no means the whole question. There is a large number of other matters which have to be considered: for instance, the question of land tenure, which has been dealt with by Professor Orwin of Oxford with so much authority, and the question of the effect of the stabilisation of the gold currency on agriculture, which has been so admirably stated by Mr. Dampier Whetham, who may really be called, I think, the representative of agriculture in Cambridge University. I mention those two works because neither of them comes from a political source; in fact, I believe both those gentlemen, although they do not apply politics to agricultural questions, are highly Conservative in the views which they hold.
§ One matter I wish to deal with which more nearly approaches what was discussed in another place, but upon which I wish to keep as distinct an outlook as possible. The exemption of any industry from rates is attractive. The problem, however, is never one of exemption but of the readjustment of the incidence of the charge, whatever it may be. When you come to the question of the readjustment of the incidence, the difficulty really arises, and it is because that is the underlying subject matter of rates discussion that it is impossible to deal fairly with the rates question unless you deal with it on principle, and not in reference to one particular subject matter or subject question. I recollect very well 937 a great authority on rating, who was, I suppose, the greatest authority of his time both theoretically and practically, Sir Harry Poland, saying before the Royal Commission of which I was a member—I am afraid not many members of it are left—"I am against all exemptions." His reasons for that statement were that you ought not to give exemptions in the readjustment of rating charges but to consider on what basis they should be imposed and how the contribution from the various parties rated could be equitably distributed.
§ The Royal Commission said that no further extension of the principle of exemption should be permitted. The Royal Commission had, of course, in a very special way before it the question of the rating of agricultural land. It had made an Interim Report dealing with it in what I would call the matter of principle, and not in the way of exemption. It was dealt with on the principle of what is known as classification. I want to impress upon the noble Earl opposite that in order to have any fair system of rating you ought to consider, not the principle of exemption, but the principle of classification. The classification which has been—or had been at that time—more developed in Scotland than in this country, means that, although a particular person or persons ought to be subject to a rate charge, yet the person or persons ought to be subject to it in differing degrees based on the extent of benefit which their properties may respectively receive. One must always bear in mind that although you assess properties you rate persons.
§ In the case of agricultural land the two persons involved are the farmer and the owner. The position of the farmer and that of the owner are extremely distinct. That is the reason why, as I shall point out in a moment, you can only have a fair adjustment of equitable contribution by means of what is called classification in the case of agricultural land. Classification was introduced into the Report of the Royal Commission. Classification was first introduced in England and Wales, as far as I know, in the Public Health Act, 1875, and it was introduced in this way. Certain properties, including agricultural land, railways, and certain others were, in regard to expenditure for public health purposes, only to be rated at a quarter of their value, because 938 the less benefit they received from the expenditure of the rates could only be fairly adjusted if that allowance was made. What the Royal Commission did was to apply that classification, not only as it had been applied to the Public Health rates but to a large number of other rates, practically to all rates which were placed on agriculture. Since that date all agricultural land and agricultural buildings—that is, all buildings used for farming purposes—have been classified; so that as a matter of fact they only pay on the basis of one-quarter, which was originally laid down in the Public Health Act.
§ There is another reason why that is very important. The principle of rating is that premises should not be rated except in respect of benefit received and in proportion to that benefit; where there is benefit, you can, as I say, apportion the equitable contribution on the classification system. But it surely cannot be said, when you talk of exemption from rates, that the owner of agricultural land is entitled to exemption. I agree that in this country the occupier is the person primarily liable, although in Scotland the rates are divided between the owner and the occupier. But that is not the question. The question really is one of the ultimate incidence. I can recollect the time (I do not know whether the noble Earl recollects it) when it was laid down as irrefutably true that ultimately charges in the nature of a rate placed on agricultural land fell upon the owner. That principle was stated too widely, I think, and amongst other matters in the Report of the Royal Commission to which I have referred, we found that although ultimately the rate in most cases came as a burden upon the owner, yet that could not be predicated as a general principle in all cases. What is the result of that? If the burden in the end falls upon the owner in a large number of cases, exemption is almost entirely ultimately a benefit for the sake of the owner of the agricultural land. It is impossible to say, of course, that the owner of agricultural land does not receive substantial benefits from rate expenditure. He receives some benefit in practically every direction. I am not now indicating the extent of the benefit, because that is a matter of classification; but I should like to ask the noble Earl this question, which to my mind is an exceedingly important one.939
§ Is it his view that helping, as I think we ought to help, farmers in the industry of agriculture implies that the owner, whose interest is distinct and who is certainly largely benefited in many cases by rate expenditure, is to have the whole burden of rates taken off his ownership of agricultural land? That, of course, is a very big question. Every one would like to give the remission; we should all be agreed upon that. But, as I say, it is not a question of remission but of readjustment. If the owner is relieved from rates in those circumstances, although he may have received considerable benefit, I should like to know to whom it is supposed that that burden, (whether in the nature of rates or of taxation does not matter for my purpose) is to be transferred. Like all other owners of property, the owners of land, of course, have to pay taxes as regards the profits they may receive as owners of land. That goes without saying; but it is a very different thing from saying that they are to be relieved from burdens for services which are certainly beneficial in many ways to the property they own and to be relieved in the sense that they must claim to put the burden, with which I now think they are justly charged, upon the shoulders of some other person who is not directly interested in the land in question.
§ In all these rating questions that is the real difficulty we have to face. I cannot imagine any other person except the owner who ought to bear the rate burdens expended on objects from which his own property undoubtedly derives a very considerable benefit. But that is outside the question of classification. If it is thought he receives less advantage than other ratepayers that does not constitute a claim to exemption, although it constitutes a claim for a difference in classification. Approaching the rate question from the point of view of principle—and it has been discussed very often as a matter of principle—I do not see how you can suggest on any basis that is fair, equitable and right that the owner of agricultural land should not pay his full contribution towards a burden of the rates which undoubtedly operates in many respects in favour of his property.
§ Let me take the next question. The real foundation of the difficulty of the rating problem is not in maintaining the 940 distinction which must be maintained between beneficial expenditure for the benefit of properties in particular areas and onerous and national expenditure where the ratepayer is unduly burdened—and if this were put right an enormous charge would be taken off his shoulders—but that he is called upon to pay for national services because, as regards many of these national services, it is convenient to have a local management. I want to deal with that point at a future time. I should like upon this matter to quote a few words from the Report of two great financial experts who certainly were not unfavourable to the Treasury's and the taxpayer's view—Sir Edward Hamilton and Sir George Murray. The latter, I think, succeeded Sir Edward Hamilton as the head of the Treasury, but if he did not actually succeed him both have been heads of the Treasury and they made a joint Report. It is well known that the Report was drawn up by Sir Edward Hamilton, one of the greatest experts we have had at the Treasury in recent years, and it was acquiesced in by Sir George Murray.
I think I can indicate what they said upon this matter by quoting a passage from their Report. They put down the chief characteristics of national expenditure which ought not to be charged upon the rates. First of all the principle is indicated. I will give that and afterwards a list of the subject matters which that principle would include, all being subject matters not properly chargeable on the rates although they are so chargeable to a great extent at the present time. I may state that as short a time ago as 1901, when the Report of the Royal Commission was made, the total rates outside London were only £38,000,000 odd and we know how enormously they have increased since that day. They have chiefly and to a very large extent increased in the national services which ought not to be placed on the rates. This is what is said:—
The chief characteristics of the class of services which we have described as national or quasi-national appear to be these:—
(a) The locality is required by the State to undertake them; and uniform principles for their administration have been laid down by the Central Authority.
There has been a very large extension of the national duties placed upon the local
authority under that principle, and it is an intolerable adjunct to the difficulty of administration that expenses should be charged in the locality itself in respect of matters from which the local owners get no special benefit and which are national services.
They go on to say:—
(b) Though undertaken by the locality for purposes of administrative convenience, they are really services which, to a very large extent, are performed in the interest of the community at large.
If any one would look at the local charges either of the county councils or of the district authorities at the present time they will find that a very large proportion of the rates are for matters which ought not to be charged upon the rate expenditure at all, and if that differentiation were made which has always been recommended by successive Committees and Commissions the rate question would largely be solved; and that is the only true direction in which you can get a matter of this kind re-established and reformed as a matter of principle. I will read one more sentence to show what was in the minds of those from whom I have quoted:—
On the whole, we are disposed to think that the best and simplest test which can be applied in order to determine the class to which any particular service belongs is the degree in which the ratepayer or the owner of rateable property derives direct or immediate benefit from it. From the expenditure on the relief of the poor—for example—the direct benefit to the individual ratepayer is probably nil.
In applying that principle there are various classes of charges which in the view of these great experts ought to be taken off the rate altogether—poor relief, police, main roads and county bridges. I would ask your Lordships what the comment is which they make upon that:—
which, though they may have lost some of their former national character, are likely to regain it by the development of new means of locomotion.
That expectation has been more than realised. What was meant was the divergence of a large portion of the old road traffic to the railways and what was foreseen has now happened—namely, that the traffic upon our roads by means of motor locomotion is an advance upon anything there has been in the past. There is one matter which ought to be recollected as regards the past, and that
is the principle of payment by the toll gate so that the person who used the road should be primarily the person charged. And there is education. No one can suggest for a moment that education is a matter of local concern.
§ There is one other detail I should like to give as regards road charges. It is perfectly monstrous that charges of that kind as regards our great main roads should be placed upon the local farmer. Some time ago, when there was a discussion on raiding the Road Fund, Lord Cottesloe, who has an enormous knowledge of all matters of local business in my County of Buckingham and who is also Lord Lieutenant and Chairman of Quarter Sessions, made a statement which surely as a matter of detail must bring the question home to us. He said that the reconstruction of main roads in the County with which he was concerned—he was talking of Buckinghamshire—cost about £15,000 a mile which was £8 10s. a yard or £2 17s. per foot of length of road. Towards that sum, he said, the ratepayer in the county had to provide £1 8s. per foot. Is not that a monstrous charge? How can an ordinary farmer be called upon to pay charges of that kind when, as in the case of Buckinghamshire, we have four or five great main roads running through the County; roads like the Great West Road, the road to the north through Oxford and the Great, North Road? Surely a matter of that kind can no longer be left as it is at present if any adjustment or readjustment of rating is to be made which is likely to be fair and right. I do not believe there is any one—I have never heard of any one—who contests the principle, or who does not admit the injustice of placing upon the local ratepayer onerous charges of a national character from which he gets no special benefit of any sort or kind.
I noticed the other day an article on rating, not giving the landowner's or the farmer's point of view, but written by Mr. Tennyson, Deputy Director of the Federation of British Industries. He enumerated amongst other matters the heads which I have summarised as being responsible for enormous sums of local expenditure, and that is quite true. He says it must be realised that the enormous increase of local expenditure has arisen in items which ought not to be a charge
on, local expenditure at all. Then goes on to say:—
Until this factor is grappled with the problem of rating cannot logically be readjusted and it is mainly from these sources that the average rate per £ on assessable value has increased between 1913–14 and 1926–27 from 6s. 8¼d. to 12s. 5¼d., or 85 per cent.
At any rate in my view it is useless to approach this question of rating as regards agriculture so long as you have anomalies of that kind. The expenses which had increased by 85 per cent. between those years are not local charges at all. They are national burdens which ought to be borne on the principle of what is called ability to pay, that is to say they ought to be a charge on the taxpayers at large. How can the matter really be stated in any other way?
§ I do not want to be too long this afternoon. Although the subject is in some respects a very large one, the principles are clear enough. Why cannot the principles be logically applied? There are two reasons suggested as to which I should like to say a word or two. First of all what I consider a wrong system has been enforced for some time and you cannot have suddenly a complete financial readjustment. I am not suggesting anything of the kind. What I do suggest is that the problem should be approached from a logical standpoint and it is only by so approaching it that any attempt can be made to bring about a real measure of general reform. It is the nature of the charge that has to be considered. It is the question whether a particular charge is in the nature of a national charge or is a local matter. There is another question which I think has been overstated. It is said that if you have local administration you must have some basis of making the charge a local burden. I do not think it is necessary to question that, nor do I intend to question it at the present time, but in reference to that I want to say two things. The first is that it is no argument in favour of making a wrong charge that you put the burden of the expenditure on a particular locality. I believe that our local administration is admirable, particularly our county local administration, but I believe it would be equally admiralble—and I was for twenty-five years a member of our County Council—whether the money came from one source or the other. The old view that the 944 farmers were economical can be put on one side. This large question of public highways would not be altered as regards the amount expended by any such consideration by local authorities at the present time. Even if it were so special precautions and special audits could readily be adopted.
§ I do not think I need say mare this afternoon. I agree that there is no country in the world in which it is more necessary to have provision as regards the future of agriculture than in this country. So far as agriculture is concerned, I think that under the principle of classification the charge should be almost negligible and perhaps completely negligible. But you must be careful that the remission which you give goes to the farmer, goes to the person who is conducting the industry, goes to the person whose industry is really in a bad plight at the present time. And beyond that you must make sure, as far as possible, that the distinction is realised between national and onerous burdens and local burdens of a beneficial character, what ought to be charged on the ratepayer and what ought to be charged on the taxpayer, because the ratepayer in his turn as taxpayer takes his full share of the national burden. I beg to move.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I am not going to dwell upon the subject matters that the noble Lord has raised, but I want to ask the noble Earl before he replies whether there is any reason why the relief that is foreshadowed for agriculture, and that is so much needed, is to be deferred in the way that has been proposed by His Majesty's Government. It was made quite clear in another place that the revenue derived from the new tax on petrol would be collected as from Wednesday last, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated that during the present financial year £14,000,000 will be raised by the collection of that tax, that in the subsequent period the sum will reach, I think, a figure of a little over £17,000,000, and in the following year rather more than £19,000,000. It is very patent that substantial revenue will be obtained almost immediately from the collection of this tax, and yet the Government are apparently postponing the relief that is so much required for agriculture and other productive industries, until the first payment that could be 945 made in connection with rates after April, 1929, or in other words, until October after the next General Election.
I do not want to suggest that this is merely an electioneering device. I presume that there must be some real reason why the relief is to be postponed, but it passes my comprehension why it is not possible for the relief to be given from the money as it is collected. The relief might even commence in July of this year. As the money is collected, so the relief might be given. That is the question that I desire to ask His Majesty's Government, because I think it is of vital importance to the depressed condition of agriculture that relief should be given at an early date and that it should be given equally to the other industries which need relief and are in such a depressed condition.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, I should like to say one word in support of the noble Lord whose Motion we are discussing, and particularly with reference to his remarks concerning the criticism that has been made that, if the charge for rates falls upon the taxpayer rather than the ratepayer, while the ratepayer administers these funds, there will be extravagance. He stood up for the economical methods of the county councils in general, and I quite agree with him. I will give him another illustration in support of his contention. I refer to the Territorial Army Association. This Association administers funds supplied by the Central Government and not by the ratepayer, and yet, from my own knowledge and experience as a member of the Association, I am confident that no fund is more strictly supervised or more carefully administered than that which it conducts. I think therefore that the criticism is wide of the mark as regards the ratepayer administering these funds, and that it will be falsified if the Government entrusts local authorities with this matter.
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF STRADBROKE)
My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships have listened with very great interest to the speech made by the noble Lord who has moved for Papers, as there is no one in this House better qualified than he to speak on this question of rating. I regret with him that the 946 matter had to be postponed, for unavoidable reasons, but we are very glad that the noble Lord has been in his place to-day and has put the Question that stands in his name. We all agree that the burden of rates is indeed very heavy and presses very severely both on agriculture and on other industries. The unfortunate thing is that the rates have to be paid whether there is a profit or no profit, and therefore the burden sometimes falls very heavily on shoulders that are ill-fitted to bear it.
Your Lordships are aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech set out a scheme of rating reform the essence of which, in its relation to agriculture, is to abolish all rates for public local purposes at present payable in respect of agricultural land and agricultural buildings. The burden is, of course, not exclusively, nor indeed mainly, an agricultural problem, but I think we shall all agree that it does press at least as heavily upon agriculture as upon any other industry. Parliament has long recognised the desirability of reducing the burden of rates on agriculture and by this method giving assistance to farmers. The noble Lord rather suggested that it was the owners, and not the occupiers who would in the end get the benefit, but I would ask you Lordships to remember that, in the discussions and debates that took place between 1896 and 1923, it was the farmers who especially brought up the question of the desirability of having the rates reduced, pointing out that it was they who would get the benefit. I think your Lordships will agree that they are the people who will benefit from a reduction in rates.
This principle has been supported by the Conservative Party for a number of years. So far back as 1896 the Salisbury Government of that day brought in an Act, the Agricultural Rates Act, which reduced the assesment of agricultural land for rating purposes by one-half. This provision, taken by itself, would merely have meant a redistribution of rate charges among the various classes of ratepayers. But at the same time an Exchequer grant was provided for, calculated to be equivalent to 50 per cent. of the rates borne by agricultural land in that year. I think the average rates at that time in rural districts were 2s. 8d. in the £, as against 10s. 10d. to-day. This grant, amounting 947 to some £1,300,000 for England and Wales, was intended to ease the transition from the old to the new method of distributing rate charges. No provision was intended or made for variation of this grant to correspond with future variations in the rates. The grant has therefore remained fixed at the same figure ever since, although the burden of rates in rural areas has increased about fourfold since that date.
During the post-War years, when rates reached their highest point, it was claimed by farmers and others that the hope raised by the 1896 Act was no longer being fulfilled because the Government grant, being fixed, fell far short of meeting the deficiency caused by the rating of agricultural land at one-half, with the result that the ratepayers, including the farmers themselves, had to pay a much higher rate in the pound. Agriculturists consequently demanded that the Act of 1896 should be, as they termed it, "brought up to date"; that is, that the Exchequer grant should be increased to make up the full amount of the deficiency caused by the lower rating of agricultural land. The granting of this request would have meant that a considerable portion of the increased Exchequer grant would have gone to the relief of non-agricultural ratepayers, who were paying the increased poundage.
The Government of 1922 took the view that it was the occupiers of agricultural land—and not the general body of ratepayers—who had especially made out a case for relief, and they therefore proposed that while the Exchequer grant under the Act of 1896 should not be interfered with, the assessment of agricultural land to rates should be further reduced from one-half to one-quarter, the further resulting deficiency to be made good by a new Exchequer grant. This proposal was carried out under the Agricultural Rates Act, 1923, which reduced the assessment of agricultural land to rates from one-half to one-quarter, and at the same time provided that an Exchequer grant should be paid to make up the deficiency thereby arising each half-year. The whole of this relief went to the benefit of the occupiers of agricultural land, as distinguished from the general body of ratepayers.
Unlike the Exchequer grant under the 1896 Act, the grant under the 1923 Act 948 varies each year, according as the deficiency varies. The grant under this Act amounts to nearly £3,500,000 for England and Wales at the present time, so that the total grants made under the two Acts now amount to £4,800,000 per annum. The rating of agricultural land at one-quarter of its annual value was made permanent in the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925. The Act does not in any way affect the Exchequer grants under the Acts of 1896 and 1923. Under the Act of 1925 farm buildings are as from the date of the first new valuation—that is, 1928 or 1929, according to the district—to be rated on the same basis as agricultural land—namely, at one-quarter of their value. In this case though it was made clear during the passage of the Bill that no provision could be made in the Act for an Exchequer grant, agriculturists pressed for the 75 per cent. exemption of buildings, despite the fact that some increase in the rate in the pound must inevitably result.
Under the Government's new scheme agricultural land and buildings will be relieved of the remaining 25 per cent. of the rate burden. The farmer will continue to pay rates on his residence in the ordinary way; but not on his land and farm buildings used for agricultural production. The whole business of assessment and reassessment for this purpose, so far as the farmer is concerned comes to a final end, except only in respect of the farmhouse. It is intended that this new relief shall come into operation in October, 1929. It is estimated that the new relief will mean about £4,750,000 to the farmers of England, Wales and Scotland, in respect of which there will be ample contribution from the Exchequer, though it will be realised—as was made clear in the course of the debates in another place—that the Government scheme of rate reliefs, Exchequer grants and local government reforms must be considered as a whole.
The noble Lord asked why the relief could not be given before October, 1929, but a great many matters have to be considered, the Exchequer grant has to be made, and the local government reforms must be dealt with, and all these matters have to be considered as a whole. It is clear from what has been stated that the matter cannot be taken piecemeal. The noble and learned Lord opposite has raised various questions affecting the 949 general principle of rating, but the Question on the Paper, as I understood it, referred to the burden of rates on agricultural land, and I have endeavoured to answer that Question, pointing out that the Government are trying to carry out the policy that the Conservative Government has adopted for a long time, of giving benefit to the farmers, as being those chiefly concerned with agricultural land. They feel they are doing that in a right and proper way by relieving the farmers of the very heavy burden of rates, which affects them very considerably and which undoubtedly they have felt to be a rather unjust burden, because, as has been pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, they are charged in the rates for benefits which do not really give them any great advantage, but which are for the advantage of the general community. I am sure that anything which has been said by the noble and learned Lord will receive great consideration not only from the House but from the Government. We all know what a very great authority he is on rating subjects and any criticism or suggestion which he makes will always receive the very greatest attention from everybody on either side of this House.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, the noble Earl who has replied on behalf of the Government has not, I think, really dealt with the case made by my noble friend Lord Parmoor. Lord Parmoor said that you will make no progress with this question until you have first done one great thing, and that is surveyed the whole of our expenditure, and separated what is for national purposes from what is solely for local purposes. He referred to a number of matters which he said were really for national purposes but which you rated for as though they were for local purposes. The principle which my noble friend put forward is a very great principle, and I do not gather that it is one from which the Government really dissent, but when they assent to it they do so in a very half-hearted way, and the only reply which the noble Earl could make was to give us a number of details of cases in which deviation of rates had been made in the course of this last generation in cases in which it was thought that the purposes involved were more than merely local matters.
It is a very good thing if those steps have been taken, but they do not throw 950 much light on the question we are dealing with at the present time. It is true that the Budget proposes to relieve the farmer of the payment of the rates remaining, except so far as they fall on his own house, and except in cases in which it is he individually who is to reap the benefit. The question raised by my noble friend is a much wider one than that. He asked what about other things in regard to which the burden does fall on the farmer, and which are not touched by the proposals of the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, pushed the point into another field by asking why is the relief not to be given at once—why is it postponed to the autumn of 1929? It is obvious that the noble Earl opposite could not answer that question.
Nor could he possibly have answered it. We in this House are in the very uncomfortable position that we cannot effectively discuss the Budget, and this is a question, it ever there was one, which concerns the Budget as a whole. The noble Earl hinted that not obscurely. I ask myself how far the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he were here—which I wish he were—would be able to tell us that the unfortunate necessity of revoking the proposed kerosene tax had interfered with his plans. And I should like to know from him how, taking the plans as a whole, the money was to be found for these large heads of relief for which my noble friend rightly asks.
I frankly say I begin to regret very much that 6d. which, in the zeal of this Government in its young days, was taken away. If we had had that 6d. we might have been able to deal with the grievances not only of the agriculturist and the landowners but of the industrialist, in a much more promising way than is possible at the present time. But we cut down the sources of national income very substantially, without looking ahead to see what we should immediately have to face in the shape of local burdens. I think the statement for which my noble friend beside me asked is an essential one, as well as a very valuable one. There ought to be a statement of an authoritative kind of what expenditure is national and what is not national. Some expenditure is obviously national. The noble Lord, Lord Lamington, spoke of the expenditure in 951 grants to Territorial Associations. That is obviously national; you could not throw it on to the rates if you wished. But there are other things which are more questionable. Part of the educational expenditure, I think, is national, but there may also be a certain amount which is primarily for the benefit of the population in the locality concerned; and it may be (I am expressing no opinion upon it) that it is better that that should be reserved—part of it, at least—for assistance from the ratepayer.
All these questions go to the root of any financial proposal which any Government may bring forward. We have had no indication that they have been authoritatively considered. There were Commissions and Inquiries, useful in their way, but they neither went to the root of the matter nor were they made at a time which affords much gudiance for the purpose of what we are considering to-day. The situation has changed and is changing, and until the Government adopts more scientific methods—not merely this Government, but every Government of which we have had experience—we shall never get at a real principle to enable us to sift out what proposals ought to be the subject of my noble friend's proposition and what proposals ought not.
There we come to the very root of the whole matter. The noble Earl could not say more than he did. He is limited by the information and instructions which come to him from the Ministry of Agriculture, and, remotely, from the Treasury. How much better it would be if, as I suggested the other day, without bringing in any great Bill for the reform of the House of Lords, which you probably could not pass, you changed your Standing Orders so as to enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come here and tell us about these things and why they cannot be done, and to what extent there is a prospect of their being done, and so as to allow somebody to go from here and speak to the House of Commons in the same sense. We should then get the two Houses into something like juxtaposition. At present, frankly, I think I have never listened to a more hopeless debate than that which has beer raised on my noble friend's Motion. It is a debate on which the Government could not give any answer, although it 952 involved really the whole policy of the Budget. So long as that remains true, so long shall we be doomed to sterility, and I think it would be a splendid act on the part of the noble Marquess opposite if he induced his Party to bring forward as part of their programme at the next Election a mere change of the Standing Orders, which would enable Ministers in one House to go and speak in the other House, particularly on matters which the other House was not free to discuss in detail. If the two Houses were to get into some communication of that kind I think we should get rid of the charge that our discussions in this House are sterile—sterile, not for want of ability, but sterile because responsible Ministers are not allowed to come here and make statements.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, I cannot think that those who are interested in agriculture can consider the reply made by the noble Earl to my noble friend at all satisfactory. I have no right to speak, as my noble friend has, for producers of coal and iron, but I think I have some right to speak on behalf of agriculturists. I am certain that they will regard the answer given by the noble Earl as entirely unsatisfactory. He did not deny that the Government would have plenty of money in hand from the Petrol Tax in order to give some help to agriculturists. They are in a different position as regards agriculture, because the Agricultural Rates Act is at present in force, and all that the Government have to do is to allocate £3,000,000 or 4,000,000 out of the Petrol Tax during the eighteen months before the proposals for the relief of rates come into force, in order that the present inequalities may be remedied. At the present moment in my own area it is estimated that the amount of rates which the farmer has to pay but ought not to pay if the full amount was granted under the Agricultural Rates Act is 2s. 9d. in the £. That is a very heavy charge upon him.
Agriculturists have had a very bad time indeed, and any relief that could be given to them ought to be given. Not only have they, like other producers, suffered from falling prices, but they have had a disastrous year. I do not suppose many know how bad the year has been. In my experience there has been hardly a year when the weather has been so bad 953 and prices have been so bad. I hope the noble Earl has not said the last word on behalf of the Government, but that we may have some assurance that the Government will consider whether some immediate relief cannot be given. We all know that tenants are giving notice right and left. It will not do to reply hat there are administrative difficulties in the way; it is the duty of the Government to see that those administrative difficulties are overcome, because the farmers are entitled to get the relief at the earliest possible moment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I confess that I am a little disappointed at the speech to which your Lordships have just listened; but I feel somewhat hampered in not having heard, owing to an important engagement, everything that has passed in your Lordships' House this evening. I certainly realise that the noble and learned Viscount made a very startling contribution to our debates by suggesting that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should come and explain his Budget to the House of Lords. That would be a very heavy extra burden to throw upon my right honourable friend. I think it took him three hours to disclose it in another place, and I suppose the noble and learned Viscount would suggest that he should be three hours in your Lordships' House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It will never do to treat the House of Lords worse than the House of Commons. If it came to that, we should have to have the whole thing and we should, no doubt, immensely appreciate it. Whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer would appreciate it quite so much I am not certain. This proposal of getting Ministers to speak in both Houses is not a new one. It exists in a great many Constitutions, and has often been suggested in connection with the reform of our own constitution. Hitherto it has always been found that the objections seemed to be insuperable.
As regards the actual Budget, our position on matters of this kind is certainly remarkable. We have no power over finance, nor over the Budget, and yet we always want to discuss it. I should be the last to desire to limit the scope of 954 your Lordships' discussions, and yet they must always be rather academical upon a matter of this kind. We have no means of enforcing our wishes, even if we have resolved upon a particular policy in respect of finance. Therefore, even if I could give all the assurances for which the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, has asked the Government, I should be unable to carry them out by any action of your Lordships in the matter.
I said just now that I was rather disappointed at the speech of my noble friend Lord Strachie, because if the Government are not doing everything they could wish for agriculture they are certainly conferring upon agriculture an immense boom in the proposals made in the Budget. We certainly thought that it was, I will not say, an audacious policy, but certainly a very bold policy to which the Government are committed in respect of rating reform. I need not say to the noble Lord, who knows these subjects quite as well as I do, that the relief to agriculture will be on better terms than the relief to any other of our industries under the Budget. In those circumstances we certainly thought we should receive from so notable a representative of agriculture as the noble Lord one word or one syllable of thanks while he was addressing your Lordships—something at all events to show that, after having urged this particular reform upon us for I do not know how many man years, he was a little grateful that at last we had been able in a measure at any rate to adopt it.
As for the particular financial necessity under which it is not possible to begin the relief immediately, that is a matter which I am not prepared to go into to-day in your Lordships' House. Undoubtedly great difficulties would arise if an attempt were made to give the relief before the necessary revenue had been collected. That is a matter which, of course, is carefully considered in the Treasury and so resolved. I really am a little bit surprised to hear noble Lords, in discussing subjects of this kind, speak as though none of these proposals had even been considered in the Treasury, but were suggested in your Lordships' House for the first time.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Many of these matters have been under the most careful consideration for a great many months.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
No. I would almost do anything for the noble and learned Viscount except tell him all the Cabinet secrets, and that I cannot do.
§ LORD GAINFORD
The noble Marquess will excuse me if I mention the point I tried to make when he was not in his seat. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has informed the country that he will have in the Treasury £14,000,000 during the current financial year from the new tax. I asked whether it was not possible for the Government to expedite the handing over of that sum of £14,000,000 after it was collected in order to relieve the industries of the country which are so much depressed and which require immediate relief. I wanted to know what was the reason, and up to the present I have not had a reply, why the money after collection could not be transferred in relief.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I assure my noble friend that the question has been put over and over again in another place in the discussion on finance, and will be thoroughly answered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The time will come when the Finance Bill will be before your Lordships' House, and I have no doubt the noble Lord will put that question to us then.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl who replied on behalf of the Government for the kindly attitude he assumed in his answer, and for the information he gave. That information is in accord with the principles which I stated as those applicable up to a certain date. The last date the noble Earl gave was 1925, and he stated that the principle of classification in rating (a very important principle), had been applied not only to agricultural land but to agricultural buildings, with the result that both agricultural land and agricultural buildings only paid, under that classification, at a quarter of their true value. I was not questioning what had been done. I think that is perfectly right and in accordance with 956 principle, and in accordance with principle a great advance has been made. I do not wish to restate what I have already said, and which has been emphasised by the noble and learned Viscount. The point I made was that the proposal for total exemption could not be justified. No one desires more than I, as an agriculturist, to get in one sense all that can be got; though I do not want to be unduly greedy. But I put this question to the noble Earl—how can you guarantee that the relief proposed will go to the farmer and none of it to the owner? I do not believe it can be done without very extended matters of detail, and I said, and I do not think he questioned it, that the owner was not entitled under any principle to a farthing of that provision. So far as the farmers are concerned, well and good; that is a different matter altogether.
I do not want to re-open the question. I am grateful to the noble Earl for what he has said. But with regard to the other matters involved, which were raised by my noble friend Lord Strachie, my own opinion is that they are not matters which can be raised or ought to be raised here. I certainly have not raised any such questions. They lead us into a by-path, and I agree with the noble Marquess that this is not the time for going into that by-path, although on some future occasion those questions might arise. I again thank the noble Earl for his kind answer to my Question, and I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.