HC Deb 19 December 1888 vol 332 cc835-43

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Assignment of share of probate duty grant to Scotland and Ireland).

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

said, he wished to ask one or two questions which would facilitate the progress of this Bill. He had ascertained today that there was a unanimous feeling on that (the Opposition) side of the House that the distribution of these Probate Duties proposed by the Government was most unsatisfactory to the Scotch people. What he would ask the right hon. Gentleman was, whether he would consent to limit the operation of the Bill to the present financial year, and so leave entirely to be considered on its merits the question of the distribution next year? He would also like to know, if the right hon. Gentleman would consent to do it, whether he could see his way to promise that the distribution of this money should be dealt with in the Local Government Bill? That would be a very satisfactory arrangement to the Scotch Members.


The Government will be prepared to accept the suggestion which has commended itself to the judgment of some hon. Members for Scotland, and to some others in the House, as regards the Scotch portion of the Bill, to confine its operation to the present financial year, leaving the House quite unpledged with regard to the distribution of the larger sum that will fall to Scotland in the next financial year. I would propose to carry out that arrangement by leaving out all the words in Clause 2, page 2, after the words— In the financial year ending the thirty-first day of March next after the passing of this Act, the same shall he distributed, and by inserting words to the effect— In manner hereinafter to be provided by Parliament. In effect I propose to leave out the whole sub-section, and that, I think, would carry out the view of the hon. Member. At the same time, I must say that we proposed the arrangement for next year simply in order to provide against the contingency of a breaking down in the legislative proposals for Scotland during the ensuing Session. It is our intention, as the House is aware, to bring in a Bill for Local Government in Scotland early next Session; and that Bill must be followed, if not accompanied, by a recasting of local taxation in that country. I believe it will be in our power to deal simultaneously with the two questions; and, that being so, I am prepared to leave the points now raised by the hon. Member.

MR. R. T. REID (Dumfries, &c.)

said, he did not desire to stop the progress of the Bill, or in any way to dissent from what had been stated by the hon. Member. On the contrary, he assented to the suggestion that words should be inserted in the Bill making provision for one year only; but he hoped it would not be understood by the people in Scotland, who would have the benefit of the money for one year, that the fact of their receiving it was to in any way hold out to them the expectation that they were going to have it again; because he was satisfied that the distribution proposed could be greatly improved. In fact, he thought that in two ways it was most unsatisfactory. He hoped he might be allowed to add that the sum of money in course of distribution would nearly suffice to provide that which was very much desired in Scotland—namely, free education. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would, between this and next Session, consider the desirability of devoting this money to the freeing of education in Scotland.

SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

said, he hoped that next year Scotch Members would have an opportunity of considering not only the distribution of this money, but also the amount of the grant. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not able to give them the figures bearing upon this question when it was under discussion before; and he thought the Scotch Members had a right to claim that information.

MR. BLANE (Armagh, S.)

said, he should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he could not amend his Bill, so that the Probate Duty might bear more fairly on real and entailed estates?


That point is totally irrelevant to the present clause.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 2 (Distribution in Scotland of share of probate duty grant).

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

said, he wished to move an Amendment, but he did not wish to press it to a Division, because it was an alternative scheme to that of the right hon. Gentleman. He only brought it forward in order that it might be before the people of Scotland. He proposed to insert in line 20, after the word "distributed"— £87,000 in relief of fees in public elementary schools in Scotland in such proportion and manner as may from time to time be directed by the Secretary for Scotland. The ground on which he made that suggestion was that practically, under the mode of distribution in the Bill, the vast majority of the people of Scotland would derive no benefit, except in relief of the poor rate; and how little that would be the Committee could judge from the fact that the total amount of the poor rate in Scotland was only £165,000 per annum. When eleven hundredth parts of the Probate Duty was granted in reduction of the poor rate the reduction would amount to 1d. in the £1 out of 8d., and that 1d. would be divided between the owners of houses and the occupiers, so that the total benefit which the occupiers in Scotland would obtain from this Bill would only be one halfpenny in the £1. Now, he would trouble the Committee with one or two figures to show the extraordinary result of this. He would take Aberdeen as an example. He had also figures relating to other towns; but as they showed a state of things very similar to that in Aberdeen he would confine himself to the figures relating to Aberdeen. In that town there were 7,721 occupiers, who paid rents not exceeding £5 a-year; and the utmost relief which those 7,721 would obtain would be 2½d. per annum. That was the extreme limit of the benefit they would get under the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman. The number of occupiers paying rent between £5 and £10 were 9,445; and the utmost benefit that anyone in this class would get under the scheme would be 5d. per annum. Then he went to a class higher—namely, to occupiers who paid between £10 and £20. There were 3,470 people in this category, and not one of them would obtain more than 10d. per annum by way of relief under the operation of this Bill. Now, he gave those figures for the reason that altogether they came to 20,000 occupiers under £20 rent; and because he thought, with regard to Aberdeen, that occupiers of houses not exceeding £20 a-year rent were almost daily in the habit of sending their children to Board schools. This class of persons, therefore, would be conterminous with those who sent their children to Board schools; and there were some 2,000 who paid rents above £20, most of whom would not send their children to Board schools. Under these circum-stances, what would be the effect of adopting the Amendment he proposed? The effect of the Amendment would be that £170,000 would be available ultimately for the reduction of the school fees. The total of the school fees in Scotland was about £245,000, according to the last figures he had—he knew these were not quite the latest figures, but they would do for his purpose. Now, this £170,000 would clear away at one fell swoop two-thirds of the school fees paid in Scotland. It so happened that the number of scholars paying fees over 3d. exceeded by 9 per cent those paying fees under 3d. Therefore, he took a low figure when he said that the average fee in Scotland was 3d. per week. Now, they could easily estimate what would be the advantage of his proposal to 20,000 occupiers who had children to send to school. Suppose they had four children at school, the actual payment would be 8d. for each householder, and that amounted in the year to 32s. Therefore, it was plain that by applying this money in the reduction of school fees they would give to 90 per cent of the people of Scotland—at least, those who were parents and had children at school—a benefit equivalent to 32s. a-year. This would be a very large benefit; whereas by adopting the plan which had found favour with the Government, the extreme benefit a person occupying a £20 house would obtain under the Bill would be a saving of 10d. per annum. He maintained that if the object was to attain a maximum amount of benefit out of this money, the Government would do well to consider, between this and next Session, the propriety of adopting the course he suggested. The Committee would observe that the sum of £170,000, if it was frittered away over the Highlands and Islands, and over the roads, and over the parochial rates, would come to an amount absolutely insignificant, and would give no perceptible relief to any class of the community; whereas, by paying £170,000 out of £240,000 school fees, they would produce an enormous effect, and a benefit which would be felt and appreciated by the enormous majority of the people of Scotland. And now just one other word, as he did not wish to prolong the discussion beyond stating the absolutely necessary figures. The year after next, or next year, there would be raised the question of licences in Scotland to deal with, or, at all events, a still further distribution between the local and Imperial Exchequer, which would give the Government £40,000 or £50,000 in addition to the £750,000, and that would justify the Government in introducing a measure to entirely remit fees from the schools, for the amount that would be required, in addition to the present rates, would be very small—£10,000 or £20,000. Therefore, he held that the Government were in a most unfortunate position. Without doing injury to anyone, or taking away any money from anyone, they could give about two-thirds on the road towards free education; and having advanced two-thirds on the road it would be a very easy matter to accomplish the remainder of the journey. He did not, however, ask the Government to pronounce any decided opinion on the matter this year. He only asked them to be good enough to allow the question to be decided on its merits next year. He should now content himself with moving his Amendment.

Amendment proposed, In page 2, line 20, after "distributed," to insert—"(1) in paying a sum of £87,000 in relief of fees in public elementary schools in Scotland in such proportion and manner as may from time to time be directed by the Secretary for Scotland."—(Mr. Hunter.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


I think the Committee will feel it almost impossible, at this time of the Session, to enter into an argument with regard to the granting of free education to Scotland; but I must say it would clearly have been impossible to adopt in Scotland the principle of free education without extending it, at the same time, to England and Ireland. I do not think the Government could have proposed a measure for remitting school fees in Scotland without imposing the greatest possible grievance upon England and Ireland, and creating a powerful demand for a similar measure, and an identical measure for England, Ireland, and Scotland, providing for the abolition of school fees, would entail a very large burden upon the State. Then, again, would there not also be a grievance in Scotland, though it would be a grievance not, perhaps, felt by the friends of the hon. Member (Mr. Hunter), if while in England and Ireland we make personal property contribute to local rates as well as realty, we were not to apply that principle to Scotland at all? Hon. Gentlemen must bear in mind that the principle of the whole measure, both as regards England, Ireland, and Scotland, was to do something to remove what has always been a grievance—namely, that personal property does not contribute to local rates equally with realty. It is with that view that the Probate Duty, which is a tax on personalty, has been in part applied to the relief of burdens on realty. I hope the hon. Gentleman will excuse me for not entering into a discussion of the statistics he put before the Committee; but although I do not discuss them, I may say at once that I do not accept them. I am scarcely able to follow the hon. Gentleman in the statistics; but let me say this with regard to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland—that the case is a very strong one indeed for relief from local burdens, those burdens being extremely heavy. The burden of these rates in the Highlands is exceptional. There are some districts where the rating is nearly 12s. in the £1, and others where it is 10s. in the £1. Surely, then, if ever there was a locality where it is necessary and desirable to assist in relieving these burdens imposed on local taxation, it is the Highlands and Islands. I will follow the example of the hon. Gentleman, and will not extend this argument; but I should like to say that the proposals before the Committee were, with the exception of some minor modifications, submitted in the form of Correspondence to the Secretary for Scotland and myself as far back as June. We put that Correspondence before Parliament, in order to give the Scotch Members an opportunity of studying the plan in its general features; and I may say that scarcely any protests whatever have reached us—have reached either the Scotch Office or myself—with regard to any want of equity in the distribution of this money; so that it has come upon me rather as a surprise that there should be so great a difference of opinion on this matter. I know the hon. Member told me he had not seen the Correspondence; but I think most of the Scotch Members will have seen it, and will have looked upon it as very important, bearing on the intentions of the Government in regard to this matter. I trust that the Committee, as we have simply arranged to take the money for this year, will not feel it necessary to go at length into arguments with respect to the various clauses. I can assure hon. Members that we will put ourselves into communication with the Board of Supervision in Scotland, to see what plan will be best for carrying out the proposal in regard to the Highlands and Islands.

MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)

said, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was aware that certain communications passed before the Correspondence referred to was published, and subsequently, on the distribution to be arranged; and the right hon. Gentleman would recollect that there were, by Members of the House and others, representations made to him that he should, if possible, see that part of this money, at any rate, should go for educational purposes in Scotland. He did not think that the demand was quite put in the form in which it was made by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter); but there certainly was a desire expressed that, if possible, some of this money should be given for the furtherance of educational purposes in Scotland. There was no doubt that there was a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman in the spirit of his observations—there was no doubt a strong demand in Scotland for the State payment of school fees; whereas he did not think there had been a very urgent demand for the relief of local burdens in the way proposed in the Bill. Further, he would only say this in support of his hon. Friend's scheme—that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had already admitted that aid should be given out of this fund for the relief of educational rates in the Highland and Island parishes, so that there was a precedent for the payment of school fees in the case as it stood. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider before next year whether the educational needs in Scotland could not in some way receive part of this subvention. They wanted aid to higher education, particularly in the country districts, and they were continually asking for an addition to the grant for the Universities. There was the keenest interest taken in Scotland in educational matters, and there was a demand for more money for it. When money was given to Scotland, and given to them practically without their asking for it, they should try to get it distributed amongst them in a way which would give most satisfaction to the people generally.

SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

said, that there was a point raised in the way in which the Chairman had put the Amendment—namely, that the words— In paying a sum of thirty thousand pounds for the relief of local taxation in the parishes in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland stand part of the clause. He did not think the point had been mentioned, though he knew that other Members had desired to raise it. He supposed those Members had now gone away. Admitting all the force of the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the claims of those very poor parishes to some special relief, the point was that, as we were a United Kingdom, and there were congested districts which required relief, should not that relief be given, as in the case of congested districts in Ireland, from the Exchequer of the United Kingdom, and not as a special grant from Scotland? The Lowland counties had as much right to special relief where it was needed as had the counties of England or the Highland and Island districts.

MR. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

rose to express his gratitude to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the plan of the distribution of the money proposed in the Bill. He (Mr. Mark Stewart) was satisfied the plan gave a great deal of satisfaction in Scotland; and though he quite concurred with the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hunter) that if they had more money at their disposal they would be very glad to receive some portion of it, at all events, for the purpose of education, still he thought they could not conceal from themselves that, after all, the educational rate was relieved, as also was the maintenance of pauper lunatics under this clause. He thought the ratepayers would be perfectly satisfied with the proposal.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Motion of the CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, the following Amendment made:—In page 2, line 20, after "distributed," insert "in manner hereinafter to be provided by Parliament."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

The Chancellor of the Exchequer said last night that he would make a statement to-day as to the mode in which it was proposed by the Secretary for Scotland to deal with the £30,000. He (Mr. Hunter) would not ask the right hon. Gentleman to make that statement today; but he would appeal to him to put the statement in a short Parliamentary Paper to be distributed amongst Members.


I will do so.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill reported; as amended, considered; read the third time, and passed.