§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."— (Mr. Dodds.)
§ MR. LYELL (Orkney and Shetland)
I beg to move the rejection of the Bill. This Bill is the same as the Private Bill with the same title which was introduced last year, and rejected on the second reading. It is a Bill which is promoted by a certain number of private landowners in the Islands of Orkney, who seek to relieve themselves from certain liabilities which have been imposed upon them by the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Act of 1878. The object of 1200 the promoters is to revert, as far as they are concerned, to the arrangement which existed previous to the passing of the Roads and Bridges Act, and under which the principal roads in the Islands of Orkney were constructed. The Roads Act of 1867 was abolished when the Roads and Bridges Act of 1878 was adopted, and the latter Act was put in force in the County of Orkney in 1883. Under the Roads and Bridges Act, the county was made the unity of assessment, and the various debts incurred in making the roads were consolidated into one county debt, and imposed upon the property in land or heritage in the county. The debt allocated to these island proprietors was something like £9,000; and because they say that no debt is existing in the islands of which they are proprietors, they claim to be relieved from their contribution to the debt which exists in regard to other portions of the Islands, and to throw the whole debt on the owners of property in the Mainland. Now, I hold that to be unfair, because they have taken a large share in the management of the roads under the Roads and Bridges Act; and they have taken their part in the levying of taxation. But I have another objection to this Bill, over and above that—namely, the fact that by this Private Bill legislation, the promoters seek to override a public enactment, passed after considerable deliberation by this House. In 1867 the assessments were limited to 1s. in the pound on the owners of the land, and were fixed at a less sum on the owners of house property. This has been done away with, and the assessment has been uniform upon the owners of land and houses. It would, therefore, be impossible to revert to the state of things which existed prior to the passing of that Act. The promoters of this Bill, not content with the defeat they suffered last year, and not having been able to get other parties to join with them in proposing a modification of the Roads and Bridges Act, have further refused to compromise matters, and have insisted on proceeding with their Private Bill. I am quite ready to admit that in any general Act it would be impossible not to inflict some hardship on the different parties concerned in it. In a general Act, dealing with different districts and different classes of people, it is easy to rub against the 1201 grain in some way or other; but I hold that, by reverting to the original state of things, a far greater hardship would be inflicted, and that it would be unjust to relieve the promoters, who are well able to pay their fair share of a public debt incurred, in a great part, under their own management and auspices, and to throw it on the great bulk of small owners and householders on the Mainland. There is another great objection to the proposal contained in this Bill. The money has been borrowed for the making of these roads, and the creditors, who are petitioners against the Bill, declared, with justice, that the security given to them under the Roads and Bridges Act would be greatly depreciated by the narrowing of the area of assessment in respect of which the loans have been guaranteed. In point of fact, many of the promoters of this Bill, who are proprietors in the Islands, and who seek to be relieved, have not incurred any debt whatever in the making of roads in such islands. The roads have been made for the most part under a private arrangement between themselves and their tenants. It is impossible to get at the exact facts of the case; but it is generally known in Orkney that the roads have been made by a private arrangement between the proprietors and the tenants. Where the latter have been unable to bear their full share of the pecuniary burden, it has been taken out of them in the shape of labour in making the roads, and there has been a private arrangement with the proprietors, who paid the poor rates during the time the roads were being constructed. Therefore, at the time they were constructed both the tenants and the labourers received great benefit from the work; but because, under such circumstances no debt has been incurred by the proprietors, I maintain that that is no reason why the proprietors should be relieved from their fair share of the burden of the county debt. It is assorted that the roads on the Mainland are of no benefit to the people of the adjacent islands. But it is not so. The whole assumption on which the Roads and Bridges Act was passed, was that the roads throughout the county were of more or less benefit to the whole of the inhabitants of that county. It is quite true that there were no tolls on the Islands of Orkney; but 1202 the Roads and Bridges Act was passed to consolidate the road management and debts for the general benefit of the whole people, and it was held that the proprietors in distinct parts of the county away from the Mainland were interested in the road management, and should bear their fair share in the administration and payment of the consolidated debt which had been incurred prior to the passing of this Act in the formation of a road trust under the Act. For these reasons, I hold that it would be unjust and unfair to pass the Bill now before the House, and I hope it will be rejected on the second reading.
§ DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)
I rise to second the Amendment, on public grounds. I am aware that this House is not a very fit tribunal for entering into the details of a dispute between Local Authorities, and I should not attempt to ask it to interpose in the second reading of this Bill on any such ground. Broadly, this Bill is introduced by half-a-dozen landed proprietors, who wish to relieve themselves from the assessment imposed upon them in common with other proprietors similarly situated in Scotland, by the Roads and Bridges Act, 1878. Now, I maintain that if it is desired to amend a Public Act it should be done by a Public Act. It would be subversive of the principle which governs Private Bill legislation to allow an exception to be made in favour of persons who are rich enough to introduce Private Bills into this House, and to deny it to persons so situated that they are not able to indulge in the luxury of Private Bill legislation. The whole case of the half-dozen Orkney proprietors who are promoting this Bill is to be found in a Paper issued by them to Members of this House in a paragraph printed in italics. They complain, in that document, that the effect of the Public Act of 1878 has been to impose on them assessments for the payment of the debt of the islands. They say that having no roads or no road debt, or having extinguished their road debt, it is unjust to impose upon them any burden in con- 1203 nection with the debt incurred in the construction of roads upon the other Islands. But the burden they now have to bear is only similar to that which the proprietors of land in other districts of Scotland are called upon to bear. This subject was referred to in the Report of the Crofters' Commission, which states that it is felt to be a considerable grievance in many of the Highland counties, and one which requires further legislation. On pages 62 and 63 of the Report of the Commission, it is pointed out that in a place called Glen, in the Island of Skye, there is a population of 200 persons who are paying road assessment without possessing a branch road, or even a tolerable track, and living more than four miles away from the public highway. In the Island of Lewis, on the south side of Loch Snizort, there is a population of 17,000, and the Commissioners say that they have no road available for their local use; and if they go by land they have to go the best way they can for some 14 miles round the Loch in order to reach the main road. And yet they are called upon to pay the assessment for roads. On the north coast of Apple-croft there is an inhabited track, extending over 50 miles, on which there is no road, although there are 400 inhabitants, and they have to contribute to the assessment for roads, notwithstanding the fact that, as far as they are concerned, they have no roads to maintain. What the people of the Highlands complain of is, that they should be assessed for the maintenance of roads which they do not possess; whereas in the case of Orkney, these proprietors complain that they are assessed for the extinction of debt. That is a distinction without a difference. An assessment is an assessment in the one case as in the other. The Crofters' Commission recommends that the whole subject should be dealt with by general legislation, and I protest against this proposal for dealing with half-a-dozen proprietors specially. I beg to second the Amendment.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Lyell.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."1204
§ COLONEL MALCOLM (Argyllshire)
As representing a constituency which, in a great measure, resembles in its general features that of Orkney, which is now under discussion—inasmuch as it is broken up very much by arms of the sea, and also having very much the same division of the road management between different districts, I hope I may be allowed to say a few words on this subject. I feel bound to differ materially from the two hon. Gentlemen who have moved and seconded the rejection of this Bill, as to their interpretation of the Act of 1878. I believe that if the Trustees of the Orkney Roads had appeared in this House at the time of the passing of that Act, they would have been protected in their insular character exactly in the same way as different districts in the County of Argyll were protected. It is specially provided in the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Act, 1878, that—If at the passing of the Act any island or group of islands, or part of an island, is treated as a separate district, as respects the management of highways, such district shall in all times, after the commencement of the Act, in the county of which such district forms part, be considered to form part of a separate district, thereafter called an insular district for the purposes of the Act.Clause 58 relates to the construction of new roads and bridges, and the cost is confined especially to the district which is affected by such new road or bridge, and it is provided that—No proposal shall be carried into effect without the consent of the District Committee of such district, and that no assessment shall be levied in any part of the county for the expenditure upon such construction; nor shall any assessment be levied in such district for the expense of constructing any new road or bridge in any part of the county.That distinctly shows that the Legislature contemplated that the Islands and insular districts should be treated as entirely separate, or as counties in themselves. But, unfortunately, in the 71st clause of that Act, the whole of these districts are massed together for the purpose of paying the interest on debts already incurred. Therefore we meet with this difficulty—that these Islands are to be massed together as far as regards the debt, but that in every other respect they are to be regarded as separate districts. Now, it has been stated that the Gentlemen who are pro- 1205 moting this Bill are merely proprietors in some of the islands, who ask to be relieved from a payment to which they are justly liable. Well, that may be so to a certain extent, and under Clause 71 they undoubtedly are liable; but I believe that if they had not neglected their opportunity—if they had been represented at the time of the passing of the Act of 1878—they would have got some such clause inserted in that. Act as Clause 81, which, in the matter of the district debt of Argyllshire, provides that—The provisions of the Act shall not apply to the principal and interest due from the Mull district, nor to any debt incurred by a road district in any of the several districts into which the County of Argyll is divided.Thereby showing that the Legislature was ready at that time, on a representation being made to it, to treat the debt incurred by one district as a debt due from that district, and payable by that district only. This debt, I may mention, has not been incurred recently. It has been asserted by the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill. that some of the Gentlemen who are opposing the measure are of opinion that the security they possess for the existing debt is likely to be depreciated. Now, the real truth is that the whole of the money was borrowed under the Local Acts of 1857 and 1867—especially under the Orkney Road Acts of 1867, and even in that Act there was a distinction made in the case of the mainland district, which was allowed to borrow to the extent of 10 years of the gross proceeds of the assessment; whereas the Island districts, being much poorer, and not being able to raise so much money, were allowed to borrow up to 12 years of the gross proceeds of the assessment leviable in such districts. The distinction between the two has always been maintained, and the money was borrowed on the faith and security, not of the whole county, but of the separate districts. As to the roads being of no use to the general public, I think that any hon. Member who takes a glance at the map of Orkney will see that, really and truly, the roads are only available to the people of the different islands. I do not mean to say that they may not walk on them, but they would hardly go to the trouble and danger of transporting either horses or vehicles so as to make them make 1206 use of the different roads. Therefore, I think it is rather hard to levy on these islands, some 16 in number, which either have no roads, or else have no debt, having themselves made what roads they require—in some cases by the proprietors, and in others jointly by the proprietors and tenants—and who have already paid their share for the making and maintenance of their own roads—I think it would be a great hardship upon them to require them to continue their contribution towards the discharge of the debt incurred by the road trusts of other islands, simply because, by an oversight—you may call it neglect, and in that I cannot altogether disagree—they failed to make a proper representation of their case when the Roads and Bridges Act of 1878 was passed. But having been excluded from the exceptions contained in that Act by an oversight, I think it is hard that they should be taxed, having no debt of their own, as much as 9½d. in the pound upon their assessable rental for a contribution to the road debt of the mainland. Those Islands which gain under the present system, as brought about by the Act of 1878, are only two in number—namely, the mainland, which gains 4d. in the pound, and Westray, which gains 3d. in the pound. Perhaps I may be allowed to mention that many of the Gentlemen who are supporting and promoting the present Bill are large owners of property on the Mainland; but they think that as honest men, they ought to pay the debts they have incurred on the Mainland. They are also owners of property in the other Islands, and they are willing to bear their full share of the burdens incurred there. I trust that the House will read the Bill a second time, and send it to a Committee in the usual way.
§ MR. FINLAY (Inverness, &c.)
I desire to say a few words in regard to this Bill. I do not propose to say much after the fair and lucid statement which has just been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Argyllshire (Colonel Malcolm); but I wish very shortly to state to the House why I consider that this is a measure which ought to be read a second time. The hon. Member who moved that the Bill should be read a second time on this day six months, entered into the previous history of this matter. He informed the House that a similar Bill was rejected in 1207 the last Parliament. Now, what took place was this: the Bill then introduced was thoroughly examined in the House of Lords, who, after hearing evidence, reported that the Preamble was proved. It then came down here on the eve of the General Election, and, on a Division, the second reading was rejected by a majority of 1–81 voting against and 80 for the Bill being read a second time. So that it may go before a Select Committee, which should hear evidence and examine into the circumstances of the case, I wish to lay before the House in a few words what appears to me to be the real ground for reading this Bill a second time. There is every reason to believe that the application of the Roads and Bridges Act of 1878 to the Orkney Islands was the result of an accident, and that it was not intended by the promoters of that Act to apply to such a county as Orkney. That Act applied to turnpike roads and cases where Statute labour existed. There are no turnpike roads in Orkney, and no Statute labour actually existed, although Statute labour existed in point of law. Some person seems to have found out that fact, although it was generally unknown to the inhabitants, and the result has been the application of this Act to the Islands of Orkney, although it was never intended to be so applied. Now, the result of the application of the Act to Orkney has been to commit an injustice which is so flagrant that it ought really not to remain unredressed. There are in the Orkneys some 22 islands, which are set out in the first Schedule of the Bill now before the House. In 16 of those islands there was no debt at all for roads at the time this Act came into operation. In five of them, there were debts ranging from £1,336 to £3,390. In one of them—the Mainland as it is called—there was a debt of upwards of £30,000. Those debts have been contracted for the local purposes of each, island. Each island formed a district by itself. The inhabitants of one island get no benefit from the roads of another, and until this Act of 1878 came into force each island formed a district by itself, borrowed money for the purposes of its own road expenses, and neither contributed to, nor received help from, the other islands. The effect of the accidental application of the Roads Act of 1878 to the Orkney Islands was this—that these 16 1208 islands which had no debt at all, and the other islands which had a small debt of their own, are called upon to contribute to the debt incurred for the roads on the mainland, with which they had absolutely no concern. A great deal has been stated about the proprietors who are promoting this measure being actuated by interested motives. The House will be glad to learn that it is not the proprietors of property in the other islands who are solely promoting this Bill; but that owners of property in the Mainland, imbued with a proper feeling of justice, are also supporting it. I apprehend, whether the assessments are paid by the proprietors or by the tenants, the object of this House is simply to do justice; and if the Act as it now stands is clearly doing an injustice and a wrong which was never intended when the Roads Act of 1878 was passed, it is only right that we should remedy it. These debts were incurred for local purposes in connection with particular islands, and there is no reason whatever why they should be thrown on other islands which have had nothing to do with them. The hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow (Dr. Cameron), in seconding the rejection of the Bill, stated that there are other places in Scotland where similar hardships exist, and he read extracts from the Report of the Crofters' Commission to show that the Commissioners had considered the hardship and recommended that it was one which ought to be dealt with by the Legislature. But I venture to say that this is a more flagrant case of hardship than can be found in the whole of Scotland. It is an injustice which never could have been perpetrated except by accident. The hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow says that the Act of 1878 was a public measure, and that if any injustice was committed by it, it ought also to be remedied by a public measure. If the hon. Member will forgive me this is a very similar case to that of Argyllshire, in regard to which he is fully aware that the clause originally inserted in the Bill was modified by this House upon proper representations being made to it, and on application being made for redress. If exceptional treatment was required in that case I maintain that it is much more urgently required in this, and I can see no reason why redress should be indefi- 1209 nitely postponed in the hope that hereafter some larger and more heroic measure may be passed by this House. I trust that the House will assent to the second reading of the Bill and send it to a Committee upstairs in the usual way, where its merits can be fairly considered and discussed.
§ MR. LYELL (Orkney and Shetland)
I propose to say a few words only in reply to the remarks which have fallen from the hon. and gallant Member for Argyllshire (Colonel Malcolm), and the hon. and learned Member for Inverness (Mr. Finlay).
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Mr. COURTNEY) (Cornwall, Bodmin)
Before the House goes to a Division, I hope I may be allowed to say a word in regard to this Bill. The Bill now under discussion is identical with that which was discussed in the month of June last year, which I then recommended the House to read a second time, and to send to a Committee in the ordinary way so that its provisions might be properly considered. The second reading, however, was rejected by a majority of one. It has now been introduced again, and having given further consideration to it, I may say that nothing I have heard to-day affects the opinion which I had formed in regard to it last year. I think the proper course for us to follow is the usual course of referring it to a Committee upstairs. There are two points, however, which have been raised to which I think reference ought to be made. It is stated that this is an attempt by a Private Bill to interfere with the provisions of a Public Act. Now, I have always entertained an opinion that it is highly improper to have the public law interfered with by a Private Bill, but in truth this is an interference with a transitory provision, and not with what is properly called public law. It does not in point of fact deal with the Roads and Bridges Act of 1878, but with pre-existing debts in the Orkney Islands, which are on all fours with the preexisting debts in Argyllshire which were dealt with by the Roads and Bridges Act. It would appear that the debts of the Orkney Islands were not included by some oversight, and this is an attempt by a transitory provision to place the Ork- 1210 neys in the same position as Argyllshire in regard to its pre-existing debts. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill laid some stress upon the effect which the measure would have upon the security of the creditors who have advanced money for the construction of roads. Now, those debts were contracted by each particular district concerned, and this Bill involves no interference whatever with the creditors. It is possible that some of the bonds may have come into the hands of other persons by transference and otherwise, without notice; but, if so, the security of the creditors could be perfectly safeguarded by provisions inserted in the Bill. Under these circumstances, I do not think there is any justification for the proposal to prevent the measure from going before a Committee upstairs, and I hope the House will consent to read it a second time.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 219; Noes 139: Majority 80.—(Div. List, No. 4.)
§ Main Question put.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.