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Volume 202: debated on Thursday 30 June 1870

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said, he wished to ask the President of the Poor Law Board, Whether it be true that in consequence of the extra assessment made upon the building known as Nazareth House, Hammersmith, inhabited by a religious body called "The Sisters of the Poor," not being paid, the Guardians of the Poor of the Hammersmith Union have seized upon all the furniture and bedding of the inmates of that charitable institution; and, whether he is of opinion that assessment committees should not exercise greater forbearance in laying extra burdens of local taxation upon religious and charitable institutions?

Sir, the Poor Law Board have no official knowledge of the extra assessment and the seizure of furniture referred to. I have seen the statement in the public papers, and have received private letters on the subject; but it should be understood that the Poor Law Board have no power, jurisdiction, or right of interference as regards the proceedings of assessment committees when they are appointed. The assessment committees have strictly to follow the laws which require them to determine the rateable value of property on certain principles. If they violate those principles provision is made for appeals. As regards the seizure of the property by the guardians, I should think there must be some mistake. The guardians do not levy the rate. That duty devolves upon the overseers, and if they were to leave uncollected a rate legally assessed they might be held personally responsible, and be surcharged for the amount. The noble Lord further asks me my opinion as to the degree of forbearance which the assessment committee ought to exercise in assessing certain institutions. I have already stated that the Poor Law Board have no locus standi in the matter of valuation, and, therefore, my opinion would be an individual one only. If the noble Lord wishes to elicit the views of the Government on the general subject of the exemption of religious institutions from local rating, I can only say that we shall be prepared to state them when the Bill of the hon. Member for Birmingham comes on for discussion. The forms of the House do not allow an argument to be made in reply to a simple Question addressed to a Minister, and a bare statement of opinion without an argument would only mislead.