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in those cases where it is already getting equivalent relief, or more, in proportion to houses and other hereditaments. The simple meaning of this is that, as in the case of a district rate to which land usually contributes one-fourth only, in comparison to houses, it will continue to pay on that basis (one-fourth) to that particular rate and not one-eighth as some supposed. The only other exception is in the case of a rate which may be assessed under any commission of sewers, or in respect of any drainage, wall, or embankment, or other work for the benefit of land. This of course refers to such things as sewers in the fens or to sea-walls, but has nothing to do with the drainage of neighbouring towns.
The Bill had a stormy passage through the House of Commons. One night was occupied with its introduction, four more with the debate on Second Reading, and nine more (including two “all-night” sittings) in Committee and on Report. Many objections were raised to the Bill, some of the principal of which were as follows:
1. That it was no real remedy for agricultural dis
tress. 2. That it was unfair on the urban rate-payers. 3. That it was unfair in its distribution. 4. That it would benefit landlords more than
tenants. 5. That is would lead to extravagance. 6. That it did nothing for the clergy. 7. That it did nothing for other distressed
That it was no real remedy for agricultural distress was frankly admitted by the Government from the first, but they contended that it was a form of relief strongly recommended by a large majority of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, and that it was the best means they could see of giving some immediate relief to all classes connected with the land, with the limited means at their disposal.
The alleged injustice of relieving the rates on land, which are comparatively low, and neglecting to do so on urban property where they are high, was discussed from every possible point of view. There seemed to be a general consensus of opinion that personal property should contribute more directly and in larger proportion than it does at present towards local expenditure, but how to get at it was the difficulty.
With regard to the distribution of the relief, it was contended that where rates on land were highest rents were also highest and distress was lowest, so that the greatest relief would go where least required, but this theory was upset by overwhelming evidence that rates were much higher in proportion to rents in the distressed districts, and lowest in those districts where distress was least apparent.
Whether landlords or tenants would gain most benefit from the Bill led to much bitterness and exaggeration.
But the common sense view probably prevailed that as to sitting tenants they would take care of themselves, and that the small amount of relief given by the Bill would not practically interfere with present or future reductions of rent; that in changes of tenancy, if times improved, landlords might ultimately reap some benefit, but that considering there is no prospect of times improving during the five years for which the Act is to operate, it is hardly a matter worthy of discussion.
The extravagance theory had no considerable support, especially after it had been pointed out that the relief was going to the farmers who, whatever they were, were not extravagant, and that the mere fact of any extra expenditure in future having to fall on house property in the proportion of two to one would be more likely to lead to economy than the reverse.
The clergy, as to the glebe land in their own hands, benefit by the Bill, and when it is let, they have the same opportunity of gain, if any, as other landlords. But their real grievance is being rated on their tithes. Perhaps they could hardly expect to gain direct relief from a Bill avowedly introduced to mitigate agricultural distress. At the same time, their case was not ably represented, and it is to be hoped that after the promised inquiry into the whole question of local taxation, they may be treated more fairly.
So many were the other distressed industries trotted out in opposition to agriculture that it was difficult to
believe in the general prosperity of the country. But the unanswerable reason given for specially helping agriculture is, that agriculture is loaded with burdens for the good of the State that other industries bear in far less proportion, and that in reducing the rates on land the Government is only equalising those burdens so that they can be borne.
That the agricultural labourers would derive no benefit from the Bill was stoutly contended. It was even suggested that, in common with the working classes generally, they would contribute to the relief. They certainly will derive but little benefit first hand, but second hand in common with the tradesmen in the agricultural towns they will assuredly obtain some benefit, however small, from the increased spending power of the farmers.
These last objections practically answer themselves.
THE BILL IN COMMITTEE AND ON REPORT. The only amendment of any importance was the one made by the Government in deference to wishes expressed from both sides of the House to limit the Bill to five years.
Scores of amendments were ruled out of order or withdrawn, but the following list includes those of any interest, not one of which, however, was carried.
1. To divide the rates between owner and occupier;
4. To include buildings in the relief;
three years ;
9. To add the poor-rate to the exemptions from
the Act; 10. To limit the grant to £1,300,000 ; 11. Not to take the grant out of the estate duty; 12. To postpone the relief to September, 1897; 13. To appoint official valuers ; 14. To appoint public assessors to sit on the assess
ment committee; 15. To exclude land situated in boroughs or county
boroughs from the benefit of the Act; 16. That the relief should follow the rate; 17. That agricultural buildings should be valued
at what they cost to build and that their
It will be no exaggeration to say that the majority of the above amendments were proposed with the deliberate intention of obstructing the Bill, and not with any idea of improving it. It will not be necessary to investigate them at any length, but a few call for passing notice. To divide the rates between the occupier and the owner seemed to a certain section of the House far preferable to a division between the occupier and the State. Certain rates are so divided in Scotland and Ireland, and this was advanced as a precedent, but it was felt that the time was inopportune to place fresh burdens even upon
landlords. The elimination of accommodation