Page images

aware of the existence of any legal publication which applies to the practical and detailed application of this particular statute besides that which I composed in 1844, and to which I have now added various observations and remarks, and in which I have made some corrections, arising out of the decisions of the courts which have occurred during the last ten years. No alteration in the law has been effected by the legislature. The rateability of railways and the mode of assessing them have, indeed, excited great attention, and have been much the subject of judicial consideration. The difficulties in which the matter is involved appeared to be so great, that the court of Queen's Bench lately suspended their judgment that Parliament might interfere. But that which was difficult for the court to settle was equally difficult for Parliament to regulate, and the court were ultimately reduced to the necessity of deciding, upon the materials before them, the proper mode of applying the rules of the Parochial Assessment Act to railways. I believe, however, I may safely state, that after the decisions which have been pronounced upon numerous matters involved in the consideration of their rateability, it is found by no means impossible to arrive at a fair and reasonable result in the application of the statute to railway property.

Although no law has been passed to alter or amend the Parochial Assessment Act, the subject has not been altogether neglected in Parliament. In 1846, a committee of the House of Lords was appointed to consider and report upon the subject of the peculiar burdens which affect land, and in the evidence which was given by Mr. Coode before them, will be found much valuable information as to the application of the Parochial Assessment Act to many subjects of this rate. The committee made no important recommendation upon the general subject of parochial assessments.

In the spring of 1850, Mr. Cornewall Lewis introduced a bill into the House of Commons, for the purpose of amending the law of parochial assessment. He proposed a more precise and accurate definition of the rateable value of property than that contained in the 6 & 7 W. 4, c. 96, and a distinct rule for the assessment of tithes. He also proposed a scheme for ascertaining and settling the value of rateable property, to be permanently acted upon.

Soon after the introduction of his bill Lord Portman moved for a select committee of the House of Lords, to consider the laws relating to parochial assessment, which was appointed. It sat from the 27th of May, heard a great deal of evidence from witnesses, many of whom possessed much practical knowledge, and made a report on the 18th of July.

They recommended, among various other matters, that measures should be adopted for assimilating the practice of rating to the principle of the statute 6 & 7 W. 4, c. 96. They proposed a particular mode of obtaining a correct valuation of property. They recommended that all mines should be assessed, and that railways should be valued according to an agreement, to be entered into between the parish officers and the railway companies, with a power to the Poor Law Board to appoint a person to arbitrate; that the tithe rent-charge should be rated as other property, and that no special deduction should be made.

When this report was laid before the House the session was far advanced, and Mr. Lewis's bill was dropped.

In 1845, a bill was introduced into the House of Commons to extend the exemptions granted to literary and scientific societies, and passed through a committee, but was then dropped.

After various unsuccessful attempts by different persons, Mr. Halsey, in 1850, carried the Act now printed in the Appendix, which enables the owners of small tenements, under the annual rateable value of 61., to be assessed instead of the occupiers.

This is the only measure affecting the assessment of property to the poor-rate, which has received the sanction of the legislature since 1843, with the exception of the annual Acts, whereby the exemption of stock in trade from being rated has been continued. The necessity of this exemption is completely established by the clear and interesting evidence of Mr. Lewis, given before the committee of the House of Lords, and since published in a separate pamphlet.

I have deemed it right to confine this treatise to the single subject of the statute 6 & 7 W. 4, c. 96, and to those matters which arise out of its provisions. Hence, I have abstained from entering into the discussion of the large subject, becoming daily more intricate, of the property exempt from rateability, by reason of the purpose and object of the occupation, or of the express statutory enactment. It is right that I should mention this here, to prevent any misunderstanding with reference to the contents of the work.

Feb. 12, 1853.

W. G. L.




The importance of the poor-rate is not to be estimated by reference to its own object alone. It is now the basis upon which most other parochial taxes are settled and charged; it forms one of the subjects which constitute the qualifications for the enjoyment of parliamentary and municipal franchises; and, in many cases, affords a test of qualification for offices.

As it is applied, directly, in the raising of six or seven millions annually; and, indirectly, in the raising of three millions, in addition of other local taxes, and of five millions of the property and income tax, too much attention cannot be given to the procuring of accuracy in the assessment, with reference both to substance and form. The property rated ought to be correctly estimated, in regard to amount and property described in the assessment, while the party intended to be assessed should be clearly designated.

The Act, introduced by Mr. Scrope, has therefore produced most beneficial results, in causing the proper mode of assessing property to this rate to be distinctly defined by the legislature, and prescribing uniformity both in the mode of laying that assessment, and in setting it forth in form; while a provision, much needed, for procuring the valuation of property is supplied, under such restrictions as to prevent unnecessary or fruitless expense. At the same time, it cannot be denied, that it is mainly through the instrumentality of the machinery established by the Poor Law Amendment Act that the statute has been carried into full effect.

The Act, though relating to one subject, embraces three distinct provisions; namely, the principle of assessment, the procuring of valuations, and the providing a less expensive mode of appeal than that previously in force. It appeared that it would be convenient to bring together the various matters which have occurred in relation to the statute during the seven years that it has been in operation, and to show the interpretation which has been given to the language, the general object and purpose, and to the spirit of the Act; and, at the same time, to communicate many practical details, which are not generally known, and can only be learned through the extended view which the peculiar constitution of the Poor Law Commission affords. These matters would not warrant separate publications, but when combined supply sufficient materials for a short treatise, and hence this commentary is offered to the public.

The statute having been prefixed, the commentaries on the separate sections follow in which the principles of the Act are explained, and practically applied to the

« EelmineJätka »