HC Deb 04 July 1889 vol 337 cc1493-503

Order for Committee read.

MR. ASHER (Elgin, &c.)

Before the House goes into Committee on this Bill, I rise for the purpose of moving— That the Local Government (Scotland) Bill, and the Local Government (Scotland) Supplementary Provisions Bill, be referred to the some Committee; and that it be an Instruction to the Committee, that they have power to consolidate the said Bills into one Bill. Although these two Bills are formally separate Bills, I think it is impossible to doubt that they practically form one measure. The subject matter of both Bills is the same, and I find that in the first clause of each Bill it is provided that the one is to be construed with the other, and the terms arid expressions in the first Bill are all interpreted by a clause occurring in the second Bill. This Motion of mine is for the double purpose of facilitating the discussion of the clauses in Committee, and in the second place to relieve those who will have the duty of administering the new system of Scotch Local Government from the inconvenience that would inevitably result from the Scotch Local Government Code being in two Acts instead of one. I had intended to lay before the House in some detail the grounds upon which I ask the House to adopt my Motion, but by the courtesy of my hon. Friend opposite, I learn that Her Majesty's Government, if they do not do so in the precise form I suggest, yet are prepared to give effect to my proposal by consolidating the two Bills into one. Under these circumstances I should not be justified in detaining the House by any lengthened statement. I will only say I am very glad the Government have taken this course. I cannot doubt that the consolidation of the Bills will render the passage through Committee much more smooth and easy, and also their operation when they become law.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Local Government (Scotland) Bill, and the Local Government (Scotland) Supplementary Provisions Bill, be referred to the same Committee; that it be an Instruction to the Committee; that they have power to consolidate the said Bills into one Bill."—(Mr. Asher.)


I entirely agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that it would be most desirable that these two Bills should ultimately, before receiving the Royal assent, be consolidated into one. I rise for the purpose of saying, in the first place, that the Government all along intended that that course should ultimately be adopted. In the first place, we considered it would be more convenient and expedient that the House should delegate to a Committee the consideration of the second or supplementary one of the two measures, but I understand that in all parts of the House there is a general disposition to undertake the work in Committee of the whole House, and I am confident that there is a general disposition that we should put our shoulders to the wheel and pass the two Bills. Under the circumstances the necessity for separate treatment of the two Bills disappears, I believe the hon. and learned Gentleman's instruction expresses the object we have in common, and accordingly I am prepared to accept the Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered— That the Local Government (Scotland) Bill and the Local Government (Scotland) Supplementary Provisions Bill be committed to the same Committee.

Ordered— That it be an Instruction to the Committee, That they have power to consolidate the said Bills into one Bill."—(Mr. Asher.)


The next Instruction stands in the name of the hon. Member for Leith. In my opinion the Committee will have power to make provision for the purpose of conferring on County Councils the power to acquire land as indicated in his Motion, and the Instruction is unnecessary. Then the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries has an Amendment to the Motion of the hon. Member for Leith to insect "and Town Councils" after the words "County Councils." That would not be within the power of the Committee without special instruction from the House, so I have thought it right to take the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries as a substantive Motion if he desires to move it in that form.

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

I am much obliged to you, Sir, for what you have said. I intended to put my proposal as an Amendment to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Leith, but as his Instruction is unnecessary I will treat my Amendment as a Motion in the same terms as that of my hon. Friend's notice, substituting "Town Councils" for "County Councils." The object I have in view can be stated without occupying much time. When we come to the Committee stage I wish to introduce a clause to give to Town Councils the power of taking at a fair price lands in the vicinity of their burghs when they require such for purposes of public utility, or for the benefit of the people of the locality. Inasmuch as my hon. Friend the Member for Leith proposes to confer similar powers upon County Councils, my proposals will not in any sense weight the Bill when I ask that Town Councils shall have similar powers in this respect to County Councils. I think the case for enabling Town Councils within reasonable limitations to take lands is much stronger than the case for County Councils. There is this condition of things in some Scotch burghs, that the national expansion of the place is checked or almost entirely perverted by the refusal of landowners in the district to sell land for almost any purpose, in fact, what is often attempted is to strangle the burgh, and prevent its free growth, so that, as fens cannot be obtained for building, the people are obliged to live under very crowded circumstances, and we cannot get land for industrial purposes, not even on long leaseholds. In one town I could mention a specimen of its class. A great number of the houses are built on yearly leases, tenures of the most precarious kind and most unsatisfactory character. This would not be the proper time for entering upon details, and all I am now asking is that the House should enable me to raise the matter by a, suitable Amendment in Committee, and I do that with the more confidence that, taken in conjunction with the Amendment my hon. Friend will propose, it need not consume much time. It would be improper for me to enter upon the character of the clause my hon. Friend will propose to secure the end he has in view. I will merely say that I should be very glad to arrive at a solution as regards Town Councils placing all reasonable limitations on the power I would confer. The land, of course, should be paid for at a fair price, and protection should be afforded for dwellings and amenities, and any proper limitations should be provided to prevent an unwise and extravagant use of such powers by any Town Council. I am expressing the opinion of a large number of people in Scotland when I say my object is to prevent the landlord, or a few landlords in a district, being the masters of the destinies of a burgh and being able to prevent the natural expansion of the town. I would give to the Town Council, with reasonable limitations, the power to acquire land for local wants. This is the outline of what I propose to do. It is unnecessary to dwell upon it now. I wish to obtain the permission of the House to engraft on the Amendment that will be brought forward by the hon. Member for Leith, provisions for conferring like power upon Town Councils. I cannot say that I feel very sanguine as to getting the assent of the Government; but I hope they may see their way to giving me the opportunity of raising the question in Committee, which would cause but little expenditure of time, in deference to the strong feeling that exists in some Scotch burghs, that such a power is required.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee, That they have power to make provision in the Bill for the purpose of conferring on Town Councils power to purchase land by agreement or by compulsion, for purposes of public utility, or for the benefit of the people of the locality."—(Mr. R. T. Reid.)


In consequence of your ruling. Sir, I will place a clause on the Amendment Paper which will deal with the point I wished to raise by my Instruction. I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend has reminded me of an oversight in my Motion, and that such a clause should deal with Town Councils as well as County Councils. Such a clause might be drafted in extremely simple terms, and if the Government will give us the opportunity for fair consideration of the proposal, I feel sure we might arrive at au agreement with very little loss of time. There need not be a lengthened argument. The feeling is very strong on this side of the House in favour of this principle of expropriation under certain circumstances, and with proper safeguards, and that it should be recognized in Scotland as it is in England and Ireland, but I am certain that there is every disposition to avoid a very long discussion of the point. I can from experience corroborate the truth of what my hon. and learned Friend says as to the difficulty certain burghs find in extending their area, and very often they are extended by means the reverse of natural, simply because on one side landlords absolutely decline to feu, and on the other side landlords demand an extravagant price. It is sometimes impossible for industrial undertakings to find the space necessary for their development. If the Government will only admit the principle, if it be only in the form of making a beginning to deal with the subject, it will go far to increase the popularity of this Bill, and greatly improve the conditions of life in many crowded districts.


I hope the House will not accept this Instruction, and indeed I hope my hon. and learned Friend will on consideration not think it necessary to press it. Really, when one contemplates the variety and magnitude of the subjects that would be covered by the Instruction, one stands aghast at the prospect of progress we should have. The present Motion before us relates to towns, and the first observation I have to make is that I thought it was by general consent of the House the Government had abstained from touching the burghs of Scotland. The Bill is confined scrupulously to dealing with the requirements of counties as distinguished from burghs. If we are to enter on the rights and privileges existing or possible of the Town Councils of Scotland I can find no limit to our labours. Further, these communities are necessarily quite different from those in counties, and this proposal would introduce into the Bill a wholly different state of organization, and an entirely different sat of subjects to be dealt with. You propose to introduce for legislation a mass of material in no way germane to the rest of the Bill. I would appeal to hon. Gentlemen to consider whether we have not got quite enough on hand, and whether it is desirable there should be an addition to the labours of the Committee by introducing a proposal in which it is impossible to see where the fertility, the ingenuity, the philanthropy of hon. Members may stop in regard to matters they might consider should be brought under such a clause. I hope we may put aside this Instruction and proceed to make progress in Committee.

MR. FINLAY (Inverness, &c.)

If the question of such powers being intrusted to the bodies on whom the functions of Local Government will devolve by this Bill had been foreign t) the Bill, and beyond the power of the Committee without special instruction, I should agree with the Lord Advocate that there is much to be said against the Motion. But as I understand your ruling, Sir, it will be within the power of the Committee to consider the question how far County Councils should be empowered to acquire lands for the purposes indicated, and it does strike me as a little ridiculous that if we are to go into that subject, we should not have the power to consider how far Town Councils should have similar powers, for I apprehend there is very little occasion for such powers being used by County Councils, though it might sometimes happen that they would be of use, but for once they would be used by a County Council they would be used a hundred times by a Town Council. After all, all that this Motion proposes is to place it within the power of the Committee to consider the subject, and under the circumstances I confess I do not see that any harm would be done by accepting the proposal of my hon. and learned Friend. Certainly I shall vote with him if he takes a Division.


As I have had a Motion down for the purpose of enabling Local Authorities of every description to acquire land compulsorily for purposes of public utility, I may be allowed a word or two on this subject. I very much regret that the Lord Advocate has felt compelled to resist the Motion. The Bill, after all, professes to be a Bill dealing with Local Government; it does not profess to be a Bill dealing with County Government alone, though I admit that in its scope it has been limited to County Government, as distinguished from the parishes and burghs within the area of the county. Still by its title it professes to deal with Local Government in Scotland generally, and not only so, but when our hopes on this side of the House were disappointed last year in the matter of the Burgh Police Bill, and we were denied the opportunity of effecting useful reforms in regard to the administration of burghs by that Bill, it was dropped upon the ground partly that many of the subjects included in it would find a place in the forthcoming Local Government Bill. The expectations then held out have not been fulfilled, and it would be a graceful thing for the Government to yield this point, seeing also that we are supported by the hon. and learned Member for Inverness, usually such a consistent and ardent supporter of the Government.

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, E.)

I think the Lord Advocate has adopted a somewhat exaggerated view of what is wanted. The only object we have in view is to enable the Committee, which already has the power to consider the question as it concerns County Councils, to consider how far it is possible by general language in the Bill to avoid the necessity for Local Authorities to come to Parliament on every occasion when necessity arises, and solicit a power such as is contemplated. The real object of the Amendment is to dispense as far as possible with private Bill legislation in regard to objects to which this proposal will be limited. It is a question of principle, and though there may be some difficulty in conceding this as regards County Councils, there can be no question of a difficulty of applying the same principle to Town Councils, if it should be adopted for County Councils. In point of fact, the same discussion that enables us to arrive at a conclusion in regard to County Councils will serve for the purposes of Town Councils without in any sensible degree enlarging the scope of the discussion. I hope the Motion may be accepted. I do not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right in anticipating that it would greatly add to the labours of the Committee.

* MR. CAMPBELL - BANNERMAN (Stirling, &c.)

I am as deeply impressed as the Lord Advocate with the danger of taking too much cargo on board this ship. I am quite aware, painfully aware I may say, of the large and complex nature of the subjects with which we shall have to deal, but really I think the Lord Advocate takes an exaggerated view of the consequences of accepting this instruction. I do not think my hon. Friend behind me wishes to introduce any elaborate proposal of the kind the Lord Advocate has in his mind. The Lord Advocate saw some "chimeras dire" arising from the pregnant invention, the ingenuity and philanthropy of Scotch Members, but I think he may rely that my hon. Friends will keep their philanthropy and ingenuity within reasonable bounds. As has been well pointed out the point is to be admitted for discussion as regards counties, but it is far more applicable to the case of boroughs, and it will take no more time to make it an inclusive discussion.

MR. S. WILLIAMSON (Kilmarnock, &c.)

I sincerely hope that the Lord Advocate will yield to this expression of opinion. I could give instances from my own recollection as a young man how landlords absolutely refused to grant fens to the inhabitants of a borough, and even the comparatively more reasonable landowners took ad- vantage of the necessities of the town to exact most exorbitant terms. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will waive the objection to the Instruction.

* MR. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

My hon. Friend speaks of the time when he was a young man. I do not know exactly what time he refers to, but certainly at the present time there is every inducement to landowners and every disposition on their part to grant fens for land adjoining burghs. There may be some exceptions to the rule, but they are few, for usually the proprietors are in too impecunious a state not to take advantage of the offers of Town Councils. I can see great difficulties in the way of introducing such a proposal into the Bill.


It is not possible for the Government to give way on this matter. It involves many points beyond those touched upon by my hon. and learned Friend, though I think the considerations that have been put before the House are sufficient upon which to ask the House to reject the proposal. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling seemed to think that we might fairly and properly discuss the powers which are proposed to be given to County Councils in connection with the propriety of extending similar powers to burghs, and he did not seem to think that this would materially add to the work of the Committee. But I do not at all acknowledge, with reference to the counties and County Councils, that proposals such as have been advanced are proposals which the Committee ought to accept, or which the Government can in any way sanction. Just let us look at the proposal for a moment. One hon. Member spoke of purposes of "public utility," and that is a sufficiently wide area over which to ask the Committee to travel. It might mean almost anything the mind of man could conceive, and certainly many Members would interpret the phrase in a very wide manner, and we should find ourselves embarked on a very wide discussion. Another hon. Member referred to "the extension of burghs;" a suggestion which raises very wide and extensive issues; while a third spoke of conferring powers on the Town Councils "to develop the industrial resources of the burghs," and that surely is an area over which it would be very unwise to ask the Committee to travel. I do not think the House has ever given to any Public Authority, either in Scotland or England, by means of Provisional Orders, power to take land for purposes such as are suggested by hon. Members. This raises another point. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that the proposal is that Parliament should be called upon to delegate powers of taking land compulsorily for practically any purposes the Local Authority proposes to take it. The hon. and learned Gentleman desires that there should be some much easier mode of obtaining land by means of compulsion than those now known to the law.


It is quite true I do want to avoid the necessity of an Act of Parliament whenever a Scotch burgh wants two acres of land. I would willingly consent to all reasonable limitations to prevent any unfair use of such power.


At present no Local Authority can obtain land for any purpose except by means of a Provisional Order, which is an Act of Parliament made easy.

SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy)

It has been said this is not a burning question. It is a very burning question throughout Scotland generally, and the Government will find at the next Election that this is so.

MR. C. S. PARKER (Perth)

I think it would be right to give such power as is proposed to County Councils and to Town Councils, but not without the sanction in each case of Parliament confirming a Provisional Order. It certainly would not do that whenever a Scotch burgh wants any two acres of land it should be able to take them, or that even a County Council should be able to buy out any landowner, without appeal.

The House divided:—Ayes 100; Noes 126.—(Div. List, No. 176.)


rose to move— That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert provisions in the Bill to grant powers to sea coast towns and villages in Scotland to raise money fur harbour purposes and fur giving collateral security for loans under the Harbour and Passing Tolls Act of 1861, similar to the power at present exercised by Royal, Parliamentary, and Police burghs under the Public Works Loan Act of 1882, and to create a Local Authority under the Act for this purpose.


The Instruction standing in the name of the hon. Member for Banff is, in my opinion, out of order. The Instruction treats with matters which seem to me to require separate legislation. It proposes to create bodies quite distinct from the County Councils, and confers on them powers not limited to the proposed areas of government.