§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
said, he hoped the hon. Member would remove his objection. It was important that Ireland should get her share of the Probate Duties, and they would not be able to pass this Bill unless they took this stage that night. It was not in the interest of the Government, but in the interests of Scotland and Ireland that he pressed this Bill.
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
said, he hoped the objection would be withdrawn, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would make a statement on the Bill.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, the object of this Bill was to distribute to Ireland and Scotland their share of the Probate Duty grant in relief of local taxation. As regarded Scotland, hon. Members would see from the terms of the Bill how it was disposed of. He might say the grant this year to Scotland would be £156,000, and that would be increased by another £78,000 in the next financial year. The £156,000 was disposed of as follows:—The counties would receive for roads £59,500, and the boroughs for roads £10,500, making £70,000 altogether for main roads. The Parochial Boards would receive, in respect of pauper lunatics, &c., about £15,000, and for boarded-out pauper children £6,000; and a further contribution of £35,000, which would be divided amongst them in proportion to the cost of management. This brought up the amount to be distributed to £126,000. There was, besides, a special grant of £30,000 to the Highlands and Islands, thus making up £156,000. With regard to Ireland, the proposal was to give £5,000, as before, to the Royal Dublin Society for the improvement of the breed of horses and of cattle, and the balance was distributed in this way:—One-half was distributed amongst the Guardians of unions in Ireland, in proportion to the sums the Local Government Board certified had been expended by the Guardians of each union during the past year on the salaries of their officers; and the remaining half would be distributed among the Road Authorities in Ireland in proportion to the sums spent by them on roads and bridges during the past year. This would be the arrangement for the present year. Next year half as much again would be given to both Ireland and Scotland. In Ireland they proposed to distribute the additional sum on the same principle as in the present year. Everything over the £5,000 going to the Royal Dublin Society would be equally divided between the Guardians and the Road Authorities. In Scotland they proposed to give only £5,000 more to the Highlands and Islands, and the balance would be distributed again between the roads and the Parochial Authorities. They had endeavoured to hold an equal 788 balance between the various interests, between the counties, on the one hand, represented by the roads, and, on the other hand, the Parochial Authorities, the bulk of whose receipts would be a relief to urban districts. In Ireland they had made an equal distribution between the County Cess on the one hand, and the Poor Rate on the other. They had endeavoured to make as equitable a distribution as they possibly could. He did not lay this down as being an absolutely permanent arrangement. When a Local Government Bill was introduced respectively for Scotland and Ireland, a review of local taxation would be made in each Case, and other arrangements would be effected.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, £128,000 this year, and £64,000 additional next year. The total for Ireland would be £192,000 next year.
§ MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)
said, he had to complain of the delay in bringing in this Bill. It was many months ago since the proportion was fixed which was to go to England, but it was only within the last few days that this Bill was brought in, and the Scotch Members had had no opportunity of conferring with the various Local Authorities as to the effect this Bill would have upon the taxation. What was the object of the Bill? It was to give an Imperial Grant in Aid of local taxation. Upon what principle was it that this Probate Duty was divided between England, Scotland, and Ireland? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer knew that the amount of the Probate Duty was singled out for distribution among the three Kingdoms, and the amount of the distribution in each of the three Kingdoms was according to the amount which they paid as Probate Duty.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, that was not so. The distribution was not in proportion to the amount of Probate Duty paid in Scotland or Ireland. It was the total amount of the contribution made by each of the three countries to the revenue which was considered, and it was on that basis the distribution was made.
§ MR. CALDWELL
said, their contention was that they paid as much, or 789 rather more, per population in Scotland as in England. If they were giving a Grant in Aid he would point out that the party who required the largest amount of that grant was necessarily the poorer party. In that Bill Scotland was to get 11 per cent, and Ireland, the poorer of the two countries, was to get nine per cent. That Bill, therefore, gave the larger amount of the grant to the richer country, and the smaller amount of the grant to the poorer country. Now another thing connected with that Bill was this principle of £5,000 to be given to the Highlands. They were deducting this £30,000 off the proportion to be given to Scotland, and they objected to that. They held that the country must be treated imperially, and it was hardly fair to saddle any special destitution of Scotland upon the Scotch population. The Government were keeping up nationality in one case but not in another. In the case of London they treated it as belonging to and being the capital of England, whereas when they came to deal with the Highlands they treated the Highlands as belonging to Scotland. He objected to any increase in the direction of the roads on the ground that in Scotland these county roads were for the benefit of a special class, and were not managed by popularly elected bodies. In the case of a Grant in Aid to parochial boards every class in the community would be benefited, but to give money for these turnpike roads was practically to grant a large subsidy to landed proprietors. With regard to the sum that was to be given for the poor rate—£125,000—one half of the poor rate was payable by the landlords, so that they would be giving them relief to the extent of £62,000, and he contended that a Grant in Aid should not be used for such a purpose. He did not think the feeling of the country would be in favour of relieving taxation which simply affected the property of landed proprietors. He considered that boarded-out children should not be an element in the distribution. Some parishes had boarded-out children and others had not, and he did not see why that principle should be adopted in the calculation. With regard to the increase of 50 per cent provided for in the second clause, he was certain that would meet with opposition. They had good ground for complaining 790 that a Bill of this importance should have been delayed till the last moment of the Session. The principle could have been fixed months ago instead of being left to the last moment.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, a Paper had been on the Table for a long time, which showed the principle on which the grant was made. It contained a correspondence between himself and the Secretary for Scotland on the mode of distribution and it had been before the people of Scotland a long time.
§ MR. HUNTER
said, as he understood the Bill, Scotland would get £156,000 for the first year, and £240,000 the year after. Of this £240,000 there was only a sum of £70,000 for the roads, which at the present moment had a claim on the Imperial grant. Therefore, as regarded the balance of £170,000 there was no fund in Scotland that had, so to speak, a vested interest in the distribution of the money. Under these circumstances, he ventured to say that there seemed to be very grave doubt as to whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer had hit upon the most popular way of spending this money. The total grant would be £240,000. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knew well that there had been no cry from Scotland corresponding to the cry in England about the relief of rates. It was not a question felt in Scotland as a serious grievance at all, and all the relief given to the rates would be perfectly insignificant, and, more than that, would not be relief to the poorer classes of the community, but rather to the richer classes—the owners of property, because the poor rate was divided between the owners and occupiers, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would find the landlords paid something more of the road money than the occupiers. He ventured to point out to the Chaucellor of the Exchequer that this large sum of £240,000 gave him the opportunity of earning for himself a degree of popularity in Scotland which no English statesman ever had before, because this sum was amply sufficient to pay the whole of the school fees of Scotland, and with this sum they could, at one stroke, give Scotland that which most Scotchmen heartily desired—namely, the total abolition off school fees, and they could have free education in Scotland. There was no question in politics more popular in Scotland than 791 the abolition of school fees, and with £240,000 they could abolish them. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not force this Bill through before this question was considered by the people, who had not yet had the opportunity of considering it. He was quite sure there would be a unanimous opinion in favour of the relief of school fees instead of the relief of local rates. What he would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman was this: That he should be content to take so much of Clause 2 as provided for the continuance to every road authority of the moneys heretofore provided by Parliament until the 31st day of March next. That would be a preliminary step to which no objection could be taken, and then the right hon. Gentleman could leave the question to be fully considered next year, when the subject of the Local Government Bill would come forward. If the right hon. Gentleman would consent to that course, he had no further objection to make to the Bill.
§ MR. ANDERSON (Elgin and Nairn)
said, the Bill had only been printed a few days, they had had no information about it, and it had not been considered by the people of Scotland. Some of the provisions of the Bill were of a most singular character. The first Sub-section of Section 2, for instance, was almost without precedent, and seemed to leave the sum of £30,000 to be paid to very vague districts called the Highlands of Scotland—a term which nobody in Scotland was agreed about. That was bad enough; but at the end of the sub-section it was worse, for it was provided that this money should be distributed—In such proportion and manner as may be from time to time directed by the Secretary for Scotland.He objected to this matter being left entirely to the Secretary for Scotland as to what local taxes the money should be put to. He confessed he had not much confidence in the Secretary for Scotland giving satisfaction on that point, and before passing such a provision they ought to be able to see what were the local taxes and what were the Highlands of Scotland to which this money had been voted. There ought to be no difficulty in inserting the necessary definitions, and unless he had some satisfactory assurance on these points he should oppose the Bill at every stage.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he understood that the phrase the Highlands and Islands of Scotland was perfectly well known through the Crofters' Act, but at all events a definition should be put into the Bill, stating that the expression the Highlands of Scotland meant the counties of Argyle Inverness, Ross, Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness, Orkney, and Shetland; and in Committee he would be prepared to state what plan would be adopted for the distribution of the £30,000. They would satisfy hon. Members both as to the mode of distribution and as to the control exercised in regard to it. If the hon. Member (Mr. Hunter) desired to discuss the points he had raised in Committee, he would have an opportunity of doing so, and he hoped they would allow the Bill to be now read a second time.
§ MR. HUNTER
said, on this assurance he would withdraw the objection he had raised to this stage being taken.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.