An Explanation of the REASON the 1873 Return was called for, WHAT the difficulties were and, WHY.
THE EARL OF DERBY asked the Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Halifax) whether it was the Intention of her Majesty’s Government to take any steps for ascertaining accurately the number of proprietors of land and houses in the United Kingdom, with the quantity of land owned by each proprietor. He should not trouble the House at any length, because he understood that the suggestion he had ventured to put into his question was acquiesced in, and would be acted upon by the Government.
They all knew that out-of-doors there was from time to time a great outcry raised about what was called the monopoly of land, and, in support of that cry, the wildest and most reckless exaggerations and mis-statements of fact were uttered as to the number of persons who were the actual owners of the soil. It had been said again and again that, according to the Census of 1861, there were in the United Kingdom not more than 30,000 landowners ; and though it had been repeatedly shown that this estimate arose from a misreading of the figures in the Census returns, the statement was continually reproduced, just as though its accuracy had never been disputed. The real state of the case was at present a matter for conjecture, but he believed, for his own part, that 300,000 would be nearer the truth, than the estimate which fixed the landowners of the United Kingdom at a tenth of that number.
He entirely disbelieved the truth of the popular notion that small estates were undergoing a gradual process of absorption in the larger ones. It was true that the class of peasant proprietors formerly to be found in the rural districts was tending to disappear – for the very good reason that such proprietors could, as a general rule, obtain from 40 to 50 years’ purchase for their holdings, and thereby vastly increase their incomes. In the place of that class, however, there was rapidly growing up a new class of small owners, who, dwelling in or near towns or railway stations, were able to buy small freeholds. He believed this new class would fully replace, and perhaps more than replace, the diminution of the other class to which he had referred. He apprehended that through the agency of the Local Government Board it would be easy to obtain statistical information, which would be conclusive in regard to this matter.
The returns ought to include the name of every owner and the extent of his property in acres. He did not wish to have included in the Return the exact dimensions of very minute holdings ; that could be met by giving the aggregate extent of holdings not exceeding an acre each, the number of separate owners being stated, but not the extent of each holding.
Other speakers followed: The Duke of Richmond, Viscount Halifax, the Marquess of Salisbury, and the Earl of Feversham.
“ALL THE statements and information contained in this Return, with the exception of the addresses of the owners, are derived from the valuation lists, which are made out for the purposes of rating, in every parish.
A short time prior to the year 1836 the Poor Law Commissioners had issued an order directing that the poor rate should contain certain particulars, but the Parochial Assessment Act of 1836 contains the first statutory provision which requires the poor rate to be made out in a prescribed manner.
The present valuation lists are, however, prepared under the provisions of the Union Assessment Committee Act of 1862, which was introduced by the Right Hon. C.P. Villiers, the then president of the late Poor Law Board. This Act provides for the appointment of an Assessment Committee by the Guardians of every Union for the investigating and supervision of the valuation of the several rateable properties in each parish within the Union for the purpose of assessment, and as a preliminary step to such investigation and supervision the overseers of every parish were required to make out a list of all the rateable properties in each parish, with the annual values thereof, in the following form, viz. :-
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