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(Bill 98) Committee

Volume 220: debated on Friday 19 June 1874

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Order for Committee read.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Short title) agreed to.

Clause 2 (Extent of Act).

complained that they were now required, without Notice, and at the fag-end of a Morning Sitting, to deal with a measure of the greatest interest.

thought that as the Morning Sitting had been fixed for the specific purpose of considering the Intoxicating Liquors Bill, it was unfair to hon. Members, who had not expected this Bill to come on, that it should now be proceeded with.

said, he would not press on the Bill against the feeling of the Committee; but he had been entreated, both by hon. Gentlemen opposing and supporting the Bill, to bring it on as soon as possible. He thought it might be taken without occasioning much inconvenience.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 3 (Abolition of certain exemptions from rating).

, in moving as an Amendment in page 1, line 20, sub-section 1, after "to," to insert "all;" and in the same line, after "land," to insert "including Crown property," said, he did it to raise the question whether Government property ought not to contribute to the local rates. Any Bill which, while bringing real property owners, to a large additional extent, under the local rates, did not, at the same time, rate Government mineral property and woods, and plantations, such as there were in the Forest of Dean, must be viewed with apprehension. It had been proposed that the Crown should pay a contribution in lieu of rating; but he thought that no voluntary contribution would be as satisfactory as the placing of Crown property on a footing with other real property as regarded rating.

said, that his short answer to the hon. Member was, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Financial Statement that year, proposed that the House should deal with this question of Government property, for the present, at all events, by adding to the Estimates. That proposal having been accepted by the House, he thought the Committee would feel that it would be out of place at the end of the Session to insert an Amendment with the view of including all Government property within the purview of the Bill, especially as it was impossible to deal with all the circumstances of the case by a mere Amendment. The hon. Member was mistaken in assuming that his constituents would gain any material benefit from the rating of the Forest of Dean; the Government had for years made a contribution in respect of it, although in the hands of a private individual, it would have been exempt. Both in regard to the Forest of Dean and the New Forest, the ratepayers would receive contributions in respect of the enclosed plantations. It was manifest, however, that a proposal of the kind could only properly be submitted by the Government. With regard to real property generally, he could not agree with the view that the Bill would impose additional burdens upon it.

agreed with the view of the right hon. Gentleman that the Bill would not impose any additional charge upon real property generally. It would include within the rating area certain kinds of real property which were not previously included, but it would not touch the amount of the rates which were to be levied. On another point he was unable to agree with the right hon. Gentleman. If any hon. Member wished to raise the question, in order to secure the rateability of Government property, the Committee stage of the present Bill was surely the proper point at which to bring the matter forward. A very satisfactory solution of the question would, in one point of view, be to fix the value of Government property by arbitration or by means of a judicial decision, and then to rate it accordingly. While he believed that the most satisfactory solution of the matter would have been the one which he proposed to the late House of Commons, on the other hand, he had always admitted that there were reasons based in simplicity and convenience for the proposal contained in the present Bill, if the constituencies interested were prepared to leave it to the Government of the day to fix a fair contribution to be paid on account of Government property in lieu of rates. He thought, however, the Committee should fully understand that in rejecting the Amendment they would practically determine to accept the Government proposal.

said, the Amendment before the House did not in any way raise the question of the propriety of rating Government property. He therefore saw no reason for adopting an Amendment which would not add to the force of the clause as it stood in the Bill. As far as the language in the Bill at present went, it was equivalent to "all," and a division upon the Amendment would be a division upon nothing.

believed that if there was any dissatisfaction caused by the present system, it would not be removed by leaving the amount of the contribution on Government property to be fixed arbitrarily by Commissioners.

said, there was an evident misunderstanding relative to the Bill, for several hon. Members who had placed Amendments on the Paper were not in their places, and he appealed to the Government not to press the Bill any further at present.

said, that another objection to the Amendment, which had not been referred to, was that the Committee had passed the 2nd clause, by which the Bill was made not to apply to Scotland or Ireland. Well, if the Committee adopted the Amendment that was proposed by the hon. Baronet, the effect would be that while the National Exchequer would pay poor rates for all the Government properties in England, the people of Ireland and of Scotland would be made to pay their proportion of these poor rates for the Government property in England, without the Exchequer paying anything of the poor rates for Ireland and for Scotland. The same proposal was made last year. The attention of the Government was then directed to the point, and seeing the justice of it, they agreed to the insertion of a clause making the Bill applicable to Ireland and Scotland. But difficulties were found in the Forms of the House to taking that course, and after a good deal of delay and trouble, a separate Bill had to be brought in for Scotland and Ireland. Now, he understood a proposal had been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer which was agreed to by all parties. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he would prepare an estimate of the sum required, and that a fair allowance should be made in aid of the rates applicable to all Crown property in the United Kingdom. Well, if the Committee held to the agreement which was substantially made between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the House, everything would go right. And if it should be found hereafter that a better mode than that suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board last year, for rating Crown property could be devised, it might be embodied in a Bill, introduced for that special purpose in the next Session of Parliament, and that Bill could be made to apply to the three countries. But for the reason he had stated, he objected to the adoption of the Amendment of the hon. Baronet.

agreed with the hon. Baronet that it would have been more satisfactory if the course pursued by the late Government had been adopted by the present, and a scheme for rating all Crown property had been submitted to the House. He hoped, however, that his hon. Friend would not press the Amendment.

trusted there would be a declaration on the part of the Government that, although it did not accept the Amendment, it would not on that account consider itself precluded from taking up the question at some future time, and dealing with it in a fair and permanent way.

said, that in some sense the question was confined within very narrow limits, but in another sense, it might be said to comprise the consideration of the whole of the Crown property. In his locality a road divided two properties, the one belonging to a nobleman, and the other belonging to the Crown. The nobleman would be taxed, while the Crown, would be untaxed. That seemed to him to be an anomaly. It would be a startling proposition, if they were to pass a Bill bringing one part of the Crown property under taxation while the other was untouched. That was what the hon. Baronet seemed to protest against. Unless a decided assurance on the subject was given by the Government, he thought it was difficult to say that the proposition should not be adopted. He thought, however, that it was very unfair on the part of the Government to have forced the Bill on as they had, inasmuch as many hon. Members who took a considerable interest in the subject were absent, and it was impossible that the question could receive that discussion which it deserved. But unless some Amendment in the sense of that moved by the hon. Baronet were adopted, they would, instead of doing away with anomalies, be creating a fresh anomaly.

thought the Amendment had been brought forward inopportunely, raising as it did a question which should have been raised, if at all, on the Motion for the second reading of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman opposite then gave his reasons for not dealing with the question under discussion in this measure, and no one seemed disposed to question the soundness of those reasons.

said, that he had protested against every part of the Bill when it was before the House on the second reading. A great injustice would be continued, if the Government did not deal comprehensively with the question. The principle was what he contended for. He protested against an exemption in the case of an enormous mass of wealth which ought to contribute towards taxation as other property did. He trusted the Chancellor of the Exchequer would give some assurance that when the question of local taxation came to be dealt with, this subject should be considered.

believed it was the intention of the Government to bring in a Bill to fairly assess all the property of the description referred to which was in the possession of the Crown. He trusted that when they did so both it and the present measure would be made to come into operation at the same time.

said, it was not intended to bring in a Bill for the rating of Crown property, but to propose a Vote to Parliament for the purpose of making contributions in respect of Government property equivalent to what would be the amount of a rate. When he introduced his Budget, he explained that was the course they meant to take in order to avoid the many complications and difficulties which would have arisen under the Bill of last year. As to the anomaly of woods on one side of a road being rated because they belonged to a private owner, and woods of the same character on the other side of the road being exempted because they belonged to the Crown, the very same anomaly existed in regard to Crown buildings, and it was proposed to redress it by increasing the present grant. Government property had not contributed unless it amounted to about one-sixth of the parish; but it was intended to propose that in future the contribution should be given, whatever proportion the Crown property might bear to the rest of the parish.

said, he did not feel altogether comfortable at the idea of trusting this matter to a Vote. He thought a Vote, instead of an Act, was rather a precarious footing on which to rely for a contribution on account of Crown property. One illustration of the inconvenience of discussing the Bill at the present time was that hon. Members had not been able to procure the necessary documents.

could not accept the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as entirely satisfactory. In this case they were dealing with land occupied by woods, which bore exactly the same relation as the property of private individuals did for rating purposes. However equitable the Government grant might be, it would not give the same satisfaction in the country as would be afforded if Crown property was taxed in the same manner as that of private individuals.

said, that under the Bill all the mineral property of the Crown would be rated. The Government had given good reasons for not dealing in the Bill with all Government property, and as they had promised to deal with the rest of the question on a future day, he hoped progress would be made with the Bill. Unless they did, the agricultural constituencies of the country would scarcely believe they were in earnest.

wished to know whether the plan of having a rate from Government property was to be a temporary or a permanent one. If it were intended to make such contributions permanent, nothing, in his opinion, could be more inconvenient. The object of that rating Bill was as far as possible to abolish exemptions, and he could not understand why all exemptions in favour of Government property should not be abolished, making every allowance between different kinds of public property.

said, the arrangement which he had referred to would certainly not be brought forward with the avowed intention of making it merely temporary; but at the same time it must be regarded as necessarily only temporary until some method of dealing with this difficult question upon a permanent basis could be hit upon.

said, that in his county there was a large amount of Government property, and a strong feeling existed that it did not bear its fair share of the burdens which were imposed on all other property. The disadvantage of a Vote was, that it might or might not endure; whereas if they once got the question settled on an equitable basis in an Act of Parliament, they would know exactly where they stood. He would recommend the withdrawal of the Amendment.

was anxious the Bill should go forward; but its great fault was, that it did not touch the question of Government property in the way many hon. Gentlemen hoped it would have done.

asked if the contribution would be based on the assessment of the adjoining property by the assessment committee?

said, he would withdraw his Amendment, and take the discussion on the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for South Hants (Lord Henry Scott).

said, in his opinion, the noble Lord's Amendment was of such a nature that it could not be put.

said, that being the case, the Amendment before the Committee ought not to be hastily withdrawn.

said, the clause would be quite as effective without the Amendment as with it.

said, there appeared to be some inherent difficulty in dealing with the subject. The proposition was so slippery that no one could catch hold of it. He would move that Progress be reported.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman report Progress."—( Mr. Henley.)

said, that as the hour had arrived for suspending the sitting he had no objection to the Motion. He proposed to ask for a vote of £120,000 for this purpose.

Question put and agreed to.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Tuesday next.

And it being now five minutes to seven of the clock, the House suspended its sitting.

The House resumed its sitting at nine of the clock.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and 40 Members being found present—