§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ On Question, "That the Preamble be postponed?"
§ MR. R. W. DUFF moved that the Chairman report Progress, because the Bill raised important questions as to the assessment of railways, besides other matters, and it was impossible to enter into them at that late hour.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Robert Duff.)
§ SIR GRAHAM MONTGOMERY
urged that the late period of the Session rendered it necessary to proceed with the Bill. The question of rates on railways had been settled by the Select Committee of 1870; and all he proposed to do was to carry their recommendation into effect. He, therefore, hoped the hon. Member opposite (Mr. R. W. Duff) would allow the Bill to proceed.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, the measure involved important principles with regard to rating. He was not prepared 1942 to say whether he approved altogether of those principles or not, as embodied in the Bill; but they were so important as affecting the incidence of taxation in Scotland, that he questioned whether it was competent to introduce a measure on the subject in the form which this Bill had taken. It presented a new mode of levying taxation, and, in point of fact, added to the taxation of the country; or, at least, provided that it should be levied upon a higher valuation than at present. This was not a time for the discussion of the question. It might be quite true that these matters had been reported upon by the Select Committee of 1870; but that very fact showed that a measure of so much importance ought to have been brought forward on the responsibility of the Government, and not by a private Member. The public of Scotland, who were so vitally affected by the Bill, knew nothing about its present provisions; for, since its introduction, it had been entirely altered, and they had had no opportunity of knowing what change the measure proposed with regard to the mode of levying taxation. The effect of the Bill would be to increase the taxation upon certain classes of property for the benefit of others. Under these circumstances, he thought the people of Scotland ought to be informed, as they might be by a report of this discussion in the newspapers, what was the real nature and effect of the change contemplated by the Bill in its altered form. He would appeal to the Chairman whether a measure dealing with so important a question, and affecting the taxation of the people of Scotland, ought to be introduced in the form in which it was now brought forward?
ruled that the Bill, in its present form, was in Order, as it dealt with a question of local rating only.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
thought it was scarcely fair to proceed with the Bill at so late an hour, and, therefore, supported the Motion for reporting Progress, as a reasonable proposition. It could not be complained by the hon. Member (Sir Graham Montgomery), who had charge of the measure, that it was likely to be damaged in any way by putting the Committee off for another night or so; because the hon. Gentleman would, no doubt, have a fair chance of bringing it on between 1 and 2 o'clock 1943 on some of the nights in the course of next week. He, therefore, hoped that the hon. Member would not proceed with it now.
§ MR. ADAM
expressed a hope that the hon. Gentleman (Sir Graham Montgomery) would persevere with the Bill to-night. It was absurd to say that the Bill was not known. It had long been before the public, and they had had ample opportunity for making themselves acquainted with the changes it contemplated. To say that the hon. Member (Sir Graham Montgomery) ought not to bring the Bill on at that hour of the night was, considering the advanced period of the Session, as much as to say that he should not bring it forward at all. It was hard that an hon. Member should sit there till a late hour, in order to bring on a Bill, and yet be told that he must not proceed with it, because the hour was late. If Bills of that kind were not taken at a late hour, they could not be taken at all. He, therefore, trusted that the hon. Member who had charge of the Bill would persevere with it, as it was a measure which ought to be passed, and was much wanted in Scotland.
shared the view just expressed by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adam). The Bill had long been before the House, and for many weeks in its present shape before the public. If it were proceeded with in Committee, the public would, in no way, be damnified. The discussion of the Bill, if opposed on Report, would not come on at a later hour than half-past 12. He hoped the hon. Member who had charge of the Bill would do his best to get it through Committee to-night. There was not the smallest danger of any injury to constituents, as the hon. Member below him (Mr. R. W. Duff) would, if the Bill passed through Committee in a shape to which he objected, still have it in his power to prevent its discussion at the next stage at any hour later than half-past 12.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, passing Bills was one thing, but passing bad Bills was another. The House, which had been sitting for many hours, would have to meet at 2 o'clock the next day; and he did not think it was either convenient or desirable to proceed with the discussion of a Bill at an hour when the Committee could not very well arrive at right conclusions. It was an objectionable 1944 practice to force Bills through at a late hour. It was resorted to generally towards the close of the Session; and he did not think that legislation, under such circumstances, was calculated to effect improvements. He hoped the Motion for reporting Progress would be agreed to. It was much more difficult to discuss Bills at that late hour than it would be at 2 o'clock the next day.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF
did not wish to appear as an obstructive. This was an important Bill. It was true that it had been before the country, and the consequence was that many representations had been made to him of the unfair character of the measure. It was really a most audacious attempt on the part of the railways to assess other properties, and to save their own from taxation. The existing Act provided that one-half the expenses of improvements might be deducted; but this Bill proposed to levy the whole of the expenses upon other property, entirely excluding that of railways. If that principle were adopted in Scotland, it would next be applied to England. Under these circumstances, he thought the Committee would acquit him of obstruction, if he persevered with his Motion for reporting Progress.
THE LORD ADVOCATE
said, the proposal of the hon. Member (Mr. R. W. Duff) would have been a most reasonable one if he had limited his opposition to the clauses which dealt with the matter in question. The Bill contained some very valuable clauses, which had not been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. For his own part, he did not see why the hon. Member who had the Bill in charge should not be permitted to go on with the clauses, excepting those which the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. R. W. Duff) had objected to. If that course were adopted, a discussion on the latter might be taken at a future stage. The Bill contained provisions which were necessary for the administration of the law of valuation in Scotland.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
deprecated proceeding at that hour of the night with a Bill to which there were no fewer than 23 Amendments. The Committee could not fairly consider so many at that time. No doubt it was a very meritorious measure; but as it would, if passed, be made a precedent for both England and Ireland, he protested 1945 against its being considered at 10 minutes past 1 in the morning.
§ SIR GRAHAM MONTGOMERY
, referring to what had just fallen from the hon. Member opposite (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) as to the number of Amendments on the Paper, assured the Committee that their consideration would not occupy more than five minutes, as they were all agreed upon by the parties interested in the Bill. With regard to the remark that the rating of railways was a question which the Government ought to undertake, he could only say that they had never been able to find an opportunity to deal with it, but the present attempt had their approval; and, therefore, he hoped the Committee would consent to proceed with the Bill.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 29; Noes 57: Majority 28.—(Div. List, No. 227.)
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, he had to move that the Chairman do now leave the Chair. He wished to explain that this was a very important measure, as it altered the incidence of taxation in Scotland. The right hon. and learned Gentleman (the Lord Advocate) had said that the subject had been before, and had been reported upon by, a Select Committee; but if that were so, and if the Bill were approved by the Government, surely it ought to have been brought forward as a Government Bill. But he wished particularly to call attention to Clause 9, which raised a very important question as to the incidence of taxation. He might fairly say that the people in Scotland did not know anything as to what was proposed in the Bill. It would, no doubt, be very acceptable to the Railway Companies, as it would relieve them of a very considerable amount of taxation; but he hoped that the Government would see that there were a number of Scotch Members who were determined not to allow the Bill to pass through Committee that night.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. J. W. Barclay.)
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that all he wished to point out was that there 1946 were two questions in the Bill. There was one, which he granted was a very important question—namely, that which was contained in the 8th clause, and had reference to the rating of railways, and he thought that ought to be fairly discussed by the House. But all the other part of the Bill was matter about which there was no dispute. Of course, if the Committee were determined not to go on with the Bill, he would advise his hon. Friend in charge of it not to get into a wrangle and waste time; but he certainly was of opinion that the Committee might get through those clauses about which there was no dispute. They were matters which were absolutely essential for the rating in Scotland, and had nothing whatever to do with that part of the Bill which dealt with railways.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF
asked, whether the Government would give an assurance that the 8th and 9th clauses of the Bill would not be pressed until the principle contained in them was adopted in England?
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, that his name was on the back of the Bill, but it had been placed there before these particular clauses were added. The Bill had had for its objects the establishment of committees of assessment and the giving certain facilities for appeal. It had since been extended to other matters, and he was not at present prepared to say whether he agreed or disagreed with them; but he thought his hon. Friend in charge of the Bill was quite entitled to take the first seven clauses, which really were the original Bill, and the rest of the clauses might be left over for future consideration.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, that after the explanation that had just been given, they ought not to take the Bill at all at that hour of the night; for it appeared that some of the most serious clauses had not appeared in the Bill when the hon. Gentleman's name was upon the back of it. It was, as a matter of fact, another Bill substituted for the original measure.
§ MR. RAMSAY
said, he was very much in the position of the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman), for his name was on the back of the Bill; but it had been placed there when neither the 8th, 9th, or 10th clauses were in it, and those were the very parts of the Bill to which objection 1947 had been taken. Therefore, he had not wished to interrupt the progress of the Bill, and had, accordingly, left the House when the division took place; but he felt that if the Home Secretary would say that the Government were going now to object to progress with the 8th, 9th, and 10th clauses, then he would beg of his hon. Friend the Member for Banffshire (Mr. R. W. Duff) to allow them to proceed with the useful clauses which were contemplated when the Bill was first introduced.
§ MR. RAMSAY
said, that that was not enough. He wished the Government to say that they would not proceed with them at all. If they would do that, Members on his side of the House would allow the useful part of the Bill to pass.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
thought it would be better to adjourn the debate, as it was only wasting time to go any further.
§ Motion (Mr. J. W. Barclay), by leave, withdrawn.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Tuesday next.