§ Again considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)1593
§ Clause 11: Transfer to County Council of powers of Commissioners of Supply, Road Trustees.
§ Amendment proposed, to insert in line 17 before the word "there," the words "Subject to the provisions of this Act."—(Mr. Caldwell.)
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ * MR. CAMPBELL - BANNERMAN
I have an Amendment to line 21. I will not say it is the crucial Amendment to the Bill, but it certainly is one of the crucial Amendments: it raises the question, Are the Commissioners of Supply to continue or not? The Bill proposes to maintain the elaborate machinery for keeping up the list of Commissioners of Supply, and any expenditure that may attend upon it, for the simple purpose of enabling the Commissioners of Supply to form a Joint Committee with the new County Council. The Commissioners of Supply are only to meet once a year, and they are expressly told that on that occasion they shall transact no business other than the election of a chairman and the choice of seven members to represent them on that committee. They are, therefore, to be deprived of all independent functions whatsoever, and it is only for the purposes of the Joint Committee that they are to exist. What has the Joint Committee to do? Under the presidency of the Sheriff it is to be the Police Committee of the county, and is to have certain control over capital expenditure and over the borrowing powers of the County Authority. There is no question about it, that this matter turns largely upon the question of the control of the police. I believe we were right in what we said, in the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill—namely, that the idea of continuing the Commissioners of Supply was designed merely in order to prevent the control of the police falling entirely into the hands of the County Councils, and that the reason of the jealousy as to the control of the police was that there have been of late years difficulties in certain crofter counties of Scotland. I will not repeat all that has been said regarding the unfairness of punishing and curtailing the natural powers of the whole population of Scotland, because one or two counties, or one or two parts of counties, have behaved 1594 in an unruly manner. The truth is that the control of the police is the most elementary function of civic life. The Government know perfectly well that if this system of Local County Government is to be a reality at all, the control of the police must be given to the councils. I think the Government might very well have trusted the people even in the so called disturbed parts of the country, knowing that if the people were vested with responsibility in the matter they would not exercise their powers improperly. If they shrank from doing this, they might have made some exceptional arrangement to suit the exceptional state of things. But that all the counties of Scotland shall be shorn of this power on account of the supposed condition of things in some parts of the Highlands is a reason that I do not think will be publicly stated at the Table of the House. It is obvious that if our object is to simplify administration and to make the new system as complete as possible the proposals of the Bill can only be regarded as transitional proposals. Now, we have reason to allege that there is a strong feeling in Scotland in favour of doing away with the Commissioners of Supply. In two or three counties the Commissioners of Supply themselves have actually memorialized—or, at any rate, expressed publicly their conviction—in favour of transferring the whole business of the counties to the new bodies. Where that opinion has not been publicly expressed, I am satisfied it is largely entertained. I impress on the Government the expediency of giving way in the matter. This is not a point which is essential to to the scheme of the Government. Two or three years, or at any rate, ten or a dozen years, will not pass before all this part of the Bill is repealed. The Lord Advocate will admit that it is well to give the newer bodies he is creating the largest amount of dignity and the greatest extent of power that we can give to them. With regard to capital expenditure, it is very easy to insert such safeguards as have been inserted in other measures of this kind, which would avoid any danger of an abuse of the power, The Lord Advocate will not only consult the general feeling of Scotland, but will do much to secure good government in the Scotch counties 1595 he will consent to the transference of the whole of the powers now enjoyed by the Commissioners of Supply to the County Councils.
§ Amendment proposed, Clause 11, page 3, line 21, leave out "Save as hereinafter mentioned."—(Mr. Campbell-Bannerman.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ * MR. D. CRAWFORD (Lanark, N.E.)
I very strongly support this Amendment. The Lord Advocate will admit one or two propositions which I will lay down. In the first place, this limitation on the present scheme is one that cannot be permanent; it is one that cannot last more than a very few years. Secondly, this limitation is entirely opposed to the wishes and desires of the Scotch Members, and, thirdly, the functions for which the Joint Committee is created, and the Commissioners of Supply kept up, are really the only functions of any importance that the Bill deals with—namely, the control of the police and capital expenditure. This provision makes the Bill a delusion and a snare. You profess to set up a representative body which you call a County Council, and you withdraw from the control of that body the only two subjects of importance which are gathered within the four corners of the Bill. I hope the Lord Advocate will see his way to make a concession on this point. I think we may with perfect safety intrust the County Councils with the control of the police and with the expenditure of capital. Is it to be said that, on account of some temporary disturbance in certain counties, the whole scheme of Local Government is to be utterly spoiled and thwarted? That is a most unreasonable proposition.
§ * MR. FRASER-MACKINTOSH (Invernessshire)
Both the hon. Gentlemen who have preceded me have referred to certain parts of Scotland in which disturbances have taken place, and have said it would be very hard if, on account of these disturbances, the whole of Scotland were deprived of the control of the police. As the Representative of the largest of the Crofter counties, I should have no objection whatever to all the powers of the Commissioners of Sup- 1596 ply being vested in the new Councils. The Committee may rest satisfied that the powers would not be abused, but that the County Councils would act in every matter just as fairly and as honourably in the management of the police as the Commissioners of Supply, or any existing body. I protest in the strongest manner against my own county and also other counties in Scotland being deprived of powers which rightly belong to them, because of certain disturbances in the Highlands in recent years connected with a single question.
MR. BOLTON (Stirling, S.)
I rise to support, in the strongest manner, the Amendment of my right hon. Friend. Only yesterday I presented to the House a petition from the Commissioners of Supply of the county I represent, asking the House to put an end to the Commissioners of Supply. I do not know how many counties have followed that example; but I do know that all representative men in Scotland are in favour of some arrangement by which the Commissioners of Supply should be ended. Reference has been made to the necessity for safeguards. With respect to capital expenditure and borrowing powers, I do not think there would be any objection raised any where to make it a condition of capital expenditure that the approval of the Secretary for Scotland should be obtained; and with respect to the police, if the Government really entertain the belief that the Police Committee would not be loyal, or that some members of it would not be loyal, I do not think there would be any objection to make the Lord Lieutenant an ex officio member of the Committee. Surely, with such safeguards, we might intrust the management of the police to the elected Representatives of the people. I hope the Government will give this matter the consideration it deserves, and that they will pay some heed to what I believe to be the genera] wish of the Commissioners of Supply.
§ * MR. ESSLEMONT
I trust the Lord Advocate will not think me presumptuous when I say that the feelings of the people of Scotland with regard to this Bill depend upon his action in this matter. Representing one of the largest counties in Scotland, I cannot see how the position of the Government can the maintained. I have no objection whatever to the 1597 approval of the Secretary for Scotland being requisite in the case of capital expenditure, but I put it to the Lord Advocate, would not the Town Councils of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, and other burghs be placed in a most humiliating position if they had to go to another authority before they could make any capital expenditure? How can it be said that the County Council of Aberdeenshire will not be quite as fit to be entrusted with capital expenditure as the County Council of the City of Aberdeen? The population of the county is larger than that of the city, and the intelligence and business capacity of the people cannot be said to be inferior. Why, therefore, should the Lord Advocate set up in the county a Council which is an inferior body to the Council of the city? Will any hon. Member on the Government Benches say there is more danger in intrusting the control of the police to County Councils than to Town Councils? Can it be said that the people of the county are less law abiding? Are we to have this Bill spoilt on account of some little disturbances in one or two of the Highland counties? If this is to be a popular measure I cannot too strongly urge upon the Government the necessity of trusting the people in the counties in the same way as the people of the burghs are trusted.
§ MR. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)
The Commissioners of Supply of the county I have the honour to represent resolved unanimously, at their general meeting, "That there was no necessity for the existence of this Committee of the Commissioners of Supply." It is surely very absurd to refuse the control of the police to the County Councils when we intrust it to a small burgh of 7,000 inhabitants. I certainly am of opinion that in Highland counties the control of the police can safely be intrusted to the new Councils.
§ MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)
My right hon. friend (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) said that the Government were not prepared to avow at this Table the real reason for objecting to his Amendment. My right hon. friend does not give right hon. Gentlemen opposite the credit due for the courage of their opinions. If I am not mistaken, the Chief Secretary for Ireland in the debate on the Second 1598 Reading said that the reason they clung to the idea of a Joint Committee for police purposes was the disturbed state of certain portions of the Highland counties. Now the hon. Members for Invernessshire and Forfarshire, who generally act with the Government, and who do not take the same view with regard to what is called law and order that many of us take, have united in saying that as far as they know there would be no danger in intrusting the control of the police in the Highland counties to the Council elected by the people. I have the honour to be closely connected with the County of Invernessshire, as with the county I represent, and I must add my testimony to that of the hon. Gentlemen I have named, that the Government would be perfectly safe in intrusting the care of the police in Invernessshire to the new County Councils they are about to set up. Let me put forward another reason. The Bill proposes to transfer the powers of the Committee of Supply to the new County Councils. By setting up a Joint Committee for police purposes and financial purposes, you are really transferring to the new council powers very much less than those which the present Committee of Supply now have. That is a very great mistake. We have a right to demand that the new County Councils shall have powers co-extensive with the present Committee of Supply, and I hope the Government will see their way to give this. We on this side will gratefully accept and acknowledge the concession, which I assure the Government will do much to make the Bill in other respects acceptable to the people of Scotland.
§ * SIR A. CAMPBELL (Renfrew, W.)
I trust the Government will stand firm on this question of the control of the police. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs complains of the great expense of the Committee of Supply. What is it? The only expense is that at statutory meetings—those wishing to be enrolled make a declaration to the Sheriff, and their names are then entered in a book. No great expense that. I am afraid he has very little idea what the Committee of Supply costs. Now I come to the question of the Joint Committee. Hon. Members have kept 1599 clear of the fact that, unless the County Councils chance to be exceedingly extravagant, the whole of the money will come from the owners of property, who are represented by the Commissioners of Supply; therefore it is right and just that those who have to pay all the expenses of the police, except the amount paid by Government, should have some voice in looking after the management of the police. It is said that County Councils should have the same control over the police that municipalities have, but I would remind hon. Members that burghs ore self-contained communities easily got at, and everything that happen to a citizen in a burgh very materially touches the interest of every person in that burgh, while in a county an outrage committed in an outlying part of the county, does not arouse the interest of other distant and perhaps more populous parts of the county where the inhabitants have not the slightest interest in, or anything to do with the occurrence. I do not think the Government of a county is quite analogous to the administration of affairs in a burgh. It is necessary, I think, to have this Committee to control police arrangements, and to see that they are properly carried out, in as admirable manner as they have been carried out hitherto. I do not believe there is a single Member sitting on that side of the House or on this who will say that the Commissioners of Supply have not, up to the present time, done their duty in regard to the police in the most impartial manner. I have heard no animadversions on the management by the Commissioners of Supply. These Commissioners are no distinct class, whose interests are apart from the rest of the community, they are well-known and experienced, and I think the people have the utmost confidence in them and it is a questionable thing to place control in such matters in the hands of men who have had no experience in the management. Under the circumstances I hope the Government will retain the Commissioners of Supply in the position they have hitherto occupied. It is said by some hon. Members that this is casting a slur upon the County Council, but can it be a slur to be associated with gentlemen so well known and respected? Many of them I trust will be chosen as County Councillors.
§ DR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
The origin of this clause is very singular, so curious, that it is well worthy the attention of the Committee for a moment. Every Scotch Representative on this side of the House agrees that nothing is more absurd, more ridiculous than keeping up Commissioners of Supply for the sole purpose of forming a Joint Committee for the management of the police. It is one of those things difficult to account for, but the real secret of the proposal is to be found in a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, on the Second Reading of the Bill, May 23rd, when he used the following words:—The right hon. Gentleman appeared to think he had extracted from my right hon. Friend an admission of which he ought, it is suggested, to be ashamed, that this plan has been adopted because of the somewhat disorganized state of affairs in certain parts of Scotland, and he appeared to think that all that is necessary to set everything right in the Hebrides and the Western Isles is to give the people full control of the police. But if this were done, and the police were handed over to those who have not shown themselves over zealous for the law, serious consequences might ensue for which this House would then be practically responsible, I do not, however, deny that this was an argument which weighed largely with the Government when they were framing this Bill.It is a peculiar form of reasoning that, because two or three counties some years ago were the scene of conflicts between landlords and tenants, therefore the other counties of Scotland should be subject to this stigma, this insult, that they should be held incompetent to do that which every burgh in Scotland exceeding 7,000 inhabitants has done in the past and is doing at the present time. I have not had a long experience of the Highland Crofter question, but I have watched it closely as a Member of this House, and I can say that the only disturbance in these crofter counties of recent years was brought into existence when the right hon. Gentleman opposite was Secretary for. Scotland. That disturbance was created entirely by the action of the right hon. Gentleman himself, the right lion. Gentleman having conducted the Government of that part of the Highlands in a manner I had to characterize at the time, and further information has shown how he scandalously mismanaged the Government. Having so misconducted himself the right hon. Gentleman has sufficient 1601 influence with the Government to have this inserted in the Bill, as a sort of statutory fortification of his own policy, and he does not hesitate to insult all these counties by imputing to them a state of disorder that exists only in his own imagination. We know very well that in the Highlands, as in any part of Scotland, the law is observed to a degree that contrasts favourably with London and other parts of the kingdom. The disturbances, the breaches of law and opposition to the law, in those counties arose out of disputes between landlord and tenant, and it is generally known now, as it was known to those best acquainted with the circumstances then, that the landlords were demanding exorbitant rent from their tenants. Parliament at that time was too much occupied with other matters to pay heed to the grievances of the Highland crofters, but even the Crofters Act, introduced by the late Government, proved that, with the solitary exception when the right hon. Gentleman himself created a disturbance in certain part of the Highlands, peace and quiet has reigned throughout the whole of the Highlands. If the Government are prepared to stand by the history of this clause we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman, then the Government must be prepared for strong opposition from Scotch representatives, for neither as representing counties or towns will they be content to sit down quietly under this unfounded imputation on their country.
§ * MR. SHAW STEWART
I quite agree this is an important question of more than local interest; it is not only a Scotch question, it is a question the Government has to consider as involving the future peace of the country. I confess, when I first read the Bill, I was in favour of County Councils succeeding the Commissioners of Supply altogether, but on consideration I unhesitatingly made up my mind to support the Government proposal. I will not follow the hon. and learned Member for North Aberdeen in regard to the Chief Secretary, because it is not the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, but a Bill introduced on the responsibility of the Government as a whole, but I will just refer shortly to the remarks of the hon. Member for North East Lanark, who said the clause would 1602 spoil and thwart the whole scheme of Local Government in Scotland. Now, does he really consider that this proposed joint Committee would be a bad Committee for Police administration? I do not think from his knowledge of past administration by the Commissioners of Supply, he will say that it is likely to be a bad Committee?
§ * MR. SHAW-STEWART
I do not know exactly how it will be inferior. It will not be inferior in its powers as regards the control of the police, it will have ample powers. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling admits that there have been disturbances in certain districts in Scotland, because he said that special temporary arrangements might be made for dealing with the police administration in those districts.
§ * MR. CAMPBELL BANNERMAN
I said that if any difficulties arose from this cause they could be met by special arrangement.
§ * MR. SHAW-STEWART
Quite so. But are the Government to wait for disturbances to arise, and then deal with police administration in that part of the country? On the other hand, would it not be a most invidious thing for the Secretary of State or the Government to say, "We anticipate disturbance in this or that county, and so we must withdraw the control of the police from this or that County Council?" I think that any Member representing that particular county would make himself heard in this House with considerable effect. If I have had any doubts in making up my mind to support the Government proposal, I find consolation in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling. He tells us that if the clause is passed it can only exist for 10 or 12 years, and it is sure to be repealed at the end of that period. I am quite content to have the experiment tried for that period and then judge by the result if it is expedient to hand over the control to the County Council. It may be that then, if the right hon. Gentleman and myself have the honour of seats in the House, I may assist him in carrying out this suggestion.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF (Banffshire)
I notice that only two Scotch Members 1603 have spoken in favour of the Government proposal. Speaking as a Commissioner of Supply with some experience—I have acted in that capacity over a period of 28 years in three counties—I say at once that I thould not care to undertake this duty under the clause while the other functions of the Commissioners are discharged by the County Council, and this, I believe, is the feeling of Commissioners generally. In Forfar and Stirling the Commissioners have come to that decision unanimously. I can easily understand this. Many of the Commissioners will desire to become Councillors, and they do not want to he handicapped when they seek election by the prejudice in the minds of the electors against a dual representation. I would appeal to the Government to reconsider their determination and to simplify their Bill, getting rid of the finance difficulty by an equal division of rates between landlords and tenants, and, abolishing Commissioners of Supply altogether, have a popular representation. Any difficulties that are suggested to the present arrangement might be overcome, and existing leases, of course, might be exempted. The whole local taxation of Scotland is four millions, and the portion falling exclusively on landlords is only £150,000, and if this were equally divided between landlords and tenants there would be no financial excuse fox keeping up Commissioners of Supply Many hon. Members have spoken of the distrust of the Government who hesitate to entrust the control of the police to a popularly elected body, but if that is the reason, I am sure the Government are doing an injustice to the people of Scotland. That Commissioners of Supply have performed their duty well in the past I readily allow, but they cannot exist side by side with the new popularly elected body.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I should not have thought it necessary to intervene in this discussion were it not for the pointed references of the hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter) to myself and my supposed connection with this clause. The hon. Gentleman apparently regards me as the villain of the piece, and thinks it is due to my influence with my Colleagues that this provision has been introduced into the Bill. The hon. Member has twisted some sentences 1604 which fell from me on the Second Reading of the Bill into support of his assertion that I desired to insult all the counties in Scotland because I had been the author of certain disturbances in two of those counties. The hon. Gentleman is, however, very much at fault in his supposition. It is perfectly true that when I had the honour to hold the office of Secretary for Scotland I found it necessary to deal with a state of disturbance in the Western Highlands; but the hon. Member does me an injustice in supposing that I was the author of those disturbances. Whether any Government was the author of them or not I will not discuss; but I found them flourishing and in full swing when I came into office; and, therefore, if any Advisers of Her Majesty were responsible for this condition of things, they were the Friends of hon. Members who sit on the Front Bench opposite. But, as the hon. Gentleman is probably well aware, with the agrarian disturbances in the West of Scotland the Government of which I was a Member had nothing to do; and if any responsibility existed in regard to them it was for permitting them to go on unchecked so long that it became more difficult to deal effectually with them at a later stage of the proceedings. As regards the question before the Committee, let us approach it in a practical spirit. That question is, how far consistently with sound administration we can or ought to destroy the Joint Committee of the Commissioners of Supply and the County Council which the Bill proposes to set up. The clause divides itself into two parts. The matters to be dealt with are capital expenditure and the police; and the justification for giving control of capital expenditure to such a Joint Committee is obvious. The capital expenditure presses directly on the owners of land in Scotland. In England it may be that the increase of the rates falls, and continues to fall, on the person who first pays them; but that is not the case in Scotland, where the leases are revised every 19 years, or a less time; and in determining the amount of the new rents the rates and taxes are taken into account. Therefore it happens that any local expenditure which stretches over a long period falls on the owner rather than on the occupier of land. When, therefore, we are dealing with 1605 capital expenditure, the permanent and ultimate burden of which falls on the owner, ought he not to have some share in determining what that expenditure is to be? But under this provision we do not give him this power as logically we might; all we propose is to give the owner something less than half the joint management of this concern which is the owner's concern. The last speaker has admitted the force of that argument, because he has suggested the most violent alternative for getting rid of the difficulty. The hon. Gentleman says, let us divide the rates. Although that might be theoretically equitable it would have the effect of imposing a fine on the tenantry of Scotland for this Bill, and this the Government are not prepared to do. We do not think it would be expedient—whether it would be just or not I will not argue now—to adopt the suggestion thrown out by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Duff) and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) on the Second Reading, that as an alternative we should do anything so violent—to make such a violent alteration in the system of rating as to relieve the landlords of half the rates by imposing an additional burden on the tenants. With regard to the second function of the Joint Committee, no solid argument has been adduced against the proposal of the Government, only some speculative opinion that it is opposed to the abstract principle of representation. It has not been hinted by any opponents of our proposal that the police would be ill-managed by the Joint Committee; and no one has ventured to assert that if we give over the police in every county of Scotland simply to a popularly-elected representative body the police will be well-managed. Perhaps I ought to make an exception in the case of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Marjori-banks) who expressed serene confidence in the management of the police by the crofters. One hon. Member has suggested that a better plan than that of the Government would be to give to the Executive, to the Secretary for Scotland, or some other high officer of the Government, power to exclude certain parts of Scotland from the operation of the amended Bill in case the powers given by the amended Bill were abused. The alternative thus suggested is a violent 1606 one, and far worse than the proposal of the Government. As I object to halving the rates between the owner and the occupier in order to get rid of the injustice of throwing the whole capital expenditure into the hands of a popularly-elected body, so I object to the expedient of giving the Executive of Scotland the power of determining whether in this county or in that the Local Authorities should have the management of their police. There is no real resemblance between the conditions obtaining in a populous city and those of a county like Rossshire or Invernessshire. In a burgh everybody has so immediate and vital an interest in preserving peaoe and the law that we may and do with perfect safety intrust the management of the police to burghs in Scotland with over 7,000 inhabitants. But can any one but a doctrinaire say that the same principle can be applied to a scattered community in counties such as I have mentioned? I firmly believe that the ultimate interest of every man is bound up in the preservation of law and order. But what we have to consider is whether it is so bound up. Anyone who, apart from political considerations, considers how best to secure the proper maintenance of law in remote parts of Scotland must, I am sure, be convinced as the Government have been, that we should be running a very serious risk if we were to adopt the Amendment before the Committee. If this Bill is carried in its present shape, we are told that as soon as right hon. Gentleman opposite get into power they will modify the Bill in the way proposed. Let it be so, and let the responsibility rest upon them; but for my part I cannot be a party to a proposal which, while it would not conduce to better administration of the police in any part of Scotland, would in one or two parts of that country produce evils for which this House will, if it accepts the Amendment, make itself in part responsible.
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
There is one argument the right hon. Gentleman used on the Second Reading of the Bill, which seems to me to require a word of notice. Arguing in favour of keeping up this combined Committee because the capital expenditure of the rates ultimately falls on the landlord in Scotland in a different way from that in which it falls 1607 elsewhere, he explained a process which appeared to me to be extraordinary at that time—so extraordinary that I doubted if I quite comprehended the right hon. Gentleman's meaning. He has repeated it to-day in the clearest manner. His argument is that in Scotland the capital expenditure of rates ultimately falls on the landlord, because rents are remodelled and revised every 19 years or less—and I am willing to take 19 years, although I think the period nowadays is not more than half that—whereas, in England, the tenancies being at yearly rents, they are not remodelled in consequence of a rise in rates. Landlords in Scotland who know something of landlords in England, and landlords in England who know something of landlords in Scotland will say that during the last few years the process has been exactly opposite to that described by the right hon. Gentleman. In the North of England, where long leases exist, it has been the universal practice not to claim the existence of these leases against the tenants, but to lower the tenant's rent exactly as if he was a yearly tenant when prices went down, and agricultural distress began, whereas in some places in Scotland bad landlords—I hope very few—have used the long lease for the purpose of draining the tenants of their money, which ought to have been their reserve for agricultural operations in the future. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that when a revision of rent is made in England the change in rates is taken into account, and there is much more freedom than in Scotland in the matter of lowering the rents. I cannot think what this argument of the right hon. Gentleman leads to. It is certain that in political economy, whatever may be the case of this estate or that, a change of rates ultimately falls on the landlords. Therefore, by using this argument the right hon. Gentleman cuts at the root of giving Local Government to the great body of the people all over the United Kingdom in his desire to keep up this most anomalous single Joint Committee in Scotland. I cannot understand how a political economist like the right hon. Gentleman can think he has used a sound argument on this question of capital expenditure. So much for one of the two reasons for the keeping up of this Joint Committee. But with regard 1608 to the other question of the police, I beg to remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is a perfectly fair construction of his argument to say that the course of action of the Government has insulted the great body of the Scotch people for the sake of a few communities, because it amounts to saying that they are in each county not fit to be trusted with the care of the morality and security of their own confines. I believe communities in the Highlands can be safely trusted with the taro of their own police, and that this substitute that the Government have introduced is the most unfortunate that could be devised, having regard to what we afro told as to the experience of one or two of the Welsh counties. Do the right hon. Gentleman and the Lord Advocate really think that by proposing a Committee, half of which is to be elected by the Commissioners of Supply and half by the great body of the people, who believe they are suffering under a grievous wrong, they have done away with the difficulties in the management of the police? The best of the Commissioners of Supply will have been elected on the County Councils, and those who remain will bring to bear on the business before them very little except what I am afraid I must describe as the prejudices of a class. Those men who are free from class prejudices are the hardworking practical men of business who will be elected. The other half will be elected from the representatives of the County Council, who will put forward—as the experience of England has already shown—no one who is a Commissioner of Supply. I am told that the only bone of contention in some of the English County Councils is in reference to this matter of the Police Committee, the declaration of the Councils being that they will not put on it a single Magistrate, however good a man he may be. In those counties where there is some ill-blood, dissensions will at once begin in the Police Committees; whereas, if the Government trust the people, as I hope they will, throughout the whole of Scotland, the people will be put upon their good behaviour, and if any difficulties occur, the Government can come to Parliament and get any exceptional powers they require. I am quite sure that, as a supplement to the admirable system of revision of rents 1609 which is beginning to give hope and a sense of justice to the people of the Highlands, the next measure ought to be to show confidence in them by calling upon them to perform the first duty of citizens by keeping the peace in the counties in which they live. The worst thing the Government can do is to inflict a great injury and a practical insult upon the rest of Scotland because they distrust a portion of its people.
§ * MR. FIRTH (Dundee)
If this Amendment is carried, the system of Joint Committees proposed in this Bill will net be created. Well, we have not yet had a very wide experience of the working of the Joint Committees as established by the Bill of last year. I confess I thought then, and I think still, that the creation of these Joint Committees was a peculiarly unhappy expedient. By the present Bill the Joint Committees are to be composed of seven members from the County Council and seven from the Commissioners of Supply. It is true the Government have given a casting vote to the Sheriff, and I think if this division of the committee is to obtain, they have acted wisely in so doing, for we recently had before us the spectacle of a meeting of a Joint Committee to which there was no such power given. Six members of the committee had been appointed by one authority and six by another; and when it came to voting, six voted one way and six the other, so that it was impossible for the Chairman to say what ought to be done next. In the present case, as the Sheriff will have a casting vote, such a difficulty as this will not arise. But there will be other difficulties. The County Council will be a popular body in the sense that it will be a body elected by the people. It will probably send seven men, holding very strong views on the subject of police, to the committee, and they will be met by seven others holding equally strong views on the other side. You will not, therefore, have that joint action on the part of the committee, which from its name you might expect. The Chief Secretary for Ireland said just now that it would involve serious risk to place the control of the police in the hands of the more popular body. Well, that serious risk seems to arise everywhere. In Ireland we have had it until we are tired of hearing about it; in London 1610 we have had it till we are tired of hearing about it, and now a new and serious risk is discovered in the Highlands of Scotland, where the population are most loyal and law-abiding. So far as the Joint Committee is concerned, I should be glad to see an end put to it; and I cannot understand why the Commissioners of Supply should be dealt with in this way. Why should they not all stand an election to the County Council, and exercise through that body the functions which their character and position amply justify them in exercising? It seems to me that, under the system proposed by the Government, the Commissioners will, practically, have nothing to do. They will have one annual meeting at which they will elect somebody else—about the worst system of double election which could be created. I think, therefore, that the system of Commissioners of Supply might very well not be continued. You cannot have a body that will deserve public respect unless you give it public functions to perform, and the functions you are going to give to the Commissioners of Supply will be extremely inadequate. In two or three respects, especially in the exceptions that are made in regard to the Joint Committees, there is in the proposals of the Government great violation of the principle of giving the public greater control over their own local affairs. Therefore, if the committee cannot itself come to the conclusion that this Amendment ought to, be carried. I hope that the Government will prove amenable to judicious pressure in the matter.
§ * MR. MARK STEWART
If hon. Members on the other side of the House were as familiar with the ordinary practice of the Commissioners of Supply as they are with the provisions of this Bill, they would, I think, modify their views in regard to the Amendment. Having myself had some 2.5 years' experience on Police Committees, I can say that the Commissioners of Supply have hitherto conducted that part of their duties in a very satisfactory manner. The amount of crime and the expense of the police in Scotland are alike small. How, therefore, can it be said that relegating to these men who have managed the police for the last 20 or 30 years is a blot upon this Bill? I am convinced that very few people in 1611 Scotland at the present moment know who the managers of the police are, and that the subject does not trouble the public mind. Therefore, the observations of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee in regard to popular election, are not of much force. I know that popular control over the police is a Party cry with Gentlemen opposite; but however loud the cry is, the committee should not be diverted from its purpose, which is to have a good Act passed. As to the long leases to which reference has been made, though I admit that some Scotch landlords—whose conduct in the matter I, for one, earnestly deprecate—have not made allowances to the tenants for the great losses they have incurred of late; yet, on the other hand, there are many landlords who have made allowances. To say, however, as the hon. Member for Dundee has done, that the clause as it stands is a stigma upon, and an insult to the people of Scotland, is unworthy of the hon. Member, and so illogical that I have felt compelled to rise in order to offer a strong protest. I shall certainly support the Government, as I believe they command the assent of the majority of the country who are thoroughly satisfied with the position they have taken up. The clause is a very satisfactory solution of the question; and believing that it is a rational and sensible view, and the only view that the Government could, under the circumstances, have come to, I shall support it.
§ MR. A. ELLIOT (Roxburgh)
Before we go to a Division, I should like to give my reasons for the vote I am about to give, especially as there is great difference of opinion amongst us on this important question. To my mind, there is much in the Amendment that naturally commends itself to the House; but we have to deal with a difficult state of things, and the Government, on their responsibility, have put before us a proposal not as being in the abstract a proposal of unquestionable soundness, but as one to meet the particular difficulties of the time existing in particular districts. I was present during almost the whole of the discussion on the Second Reading of the Bill, and I heard with some sympathy the statement of the late Lord Advocate and the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the effect that the state of affairs in certain counties in Scotland 1612 was unsatisfactory in the highest degree. As these gentlemen spoke as having occupied positions of great responsibility, it seems to me that the House should attend to their words. What they said was that it was extremely probable that certain provisions would be required. ["No, no!"] I understood them to say that what would be suitable to the ordinary counties of Scotland would not be suitable to particular parts. I have not heard that contradicted before. Now, the question of police is one essentially different from other questions of local administration. The Commissioners of Supply do not occupy the position that Local Authorities in burghs occupy as to the police. The central administrative authority in the counties is the Sheriff, and I should like to know whether the ultimate intention is to give to the elected members of the County Councils greater power over the police than that possessed by the present authorities. ["No, no!"] It is desired that they should have the same authority over the police that the County Councils of England possess—["No, no!"]. Well I am glad to hear that that is not to be the case. What are we to do with regard to what are called the crofter counties? Are the Government mistaken when they tell us that it would not be safe to trust the elected members in these counties with the control of the police? One of the great functions of the police is to enforce not merely local, but Imperial laws, such, for instance, as the decrees of the Court of Session in Scotland. Supposing the Government are right with regard to the crofter counties, and those counties refused to enforce the decrees of the Court of Session, what would be the condition of things? Until some responsible person says that that cannot take place, I think we ought, in the interests of peace and order, to give our support to the proposal of the Government. No doubt, so far as regards three-fourths of Scotland, it will matter very little how the committee is appointed. It is all very well for Gentlemen to get up and say they would be willing to entrust the County Authorities with these powers. I must say, Sir, from the language used on both sides of the House with reference to this subject on the occasion of the Second Reading, it will be the duty of 1613 Members on both sides to support the proposal made by Her Majesty's Government in the interests of law and order.
* MR. J. B. BALFOUR (Clackmannan)
I should not have risen on this occasion had my hon. Friend quite accurately represented the tenour of my remarks on the Second Reading. While I fully recognize the importance of the subject, I gave reasons which I thought good for entrusting the control of the police to the County Councils throughout Scotland without the intervention of the Commissioners of Supply. I maintained then, and still maintain, that it was an unfortunate feature of the Bill that it should found elective bodies, and then proceed to withdraw from them powers certainly the most important, and which are entrusted to analogous bodies in towns. After we have had for so very long a period the control of the police in burghs entrusted to the elected Councillors, I apprehend that some very strong reason must be shown by those who decline to do the same thing for the counties of Scotland. I have scarcely heard any objection at all except that urged by my hon. Friend on the other side as regarded the manner in which they would execute their office. Reference has been made to the manner in which the Commissioners of Supply have discharged their duties. I do not think anyone complains of them. The question is whether the time has not arrived for establishing a great representative system throughout the whole of Scotland, and the very fact that there is a small amount of crime in Scotland is an argument of favour of the people of that country having control of the police, for it shows they can be trusted. The only remaining objection that has been stated to this part of our proposal is the difficulty which has arisen in the Highland counties. Undoubtedly, we have had experience of very painful troubles in a few of these counties, but I see no reason for altering the opinion I expressed on the Second Reading of this Bill—that even in these counties the County Councils—which would be elected by, and would represent the whole county, and not merely the disturbed parts—might safely be entrusted with the control of the police. But the scheme of this Bill is to leave the functions pertaining to the control of the police fulfilled 1614 by the Joint Committee, consisting in part of Commissioners of Supply. My hon. and learned Friend behind me seemed to be under the impression that I had intimated an opinion that the two counties in question would, or might, fail to allow the police force to be properly maintained or to be employed where their services were required.
§ MR. A. ELLIOT
My impression was that the right hon. Gentleman said that special conditions would be required.
* MR. J. B. BALFOUR
My hon. Friend has misapprehended me. What I said was this—that if our belief and expectation as to the Highlands turned out to be wrong, it would be perfectly easy to put into the Bill machinery which would deal with the case. I believe that exceptional provisions would not be required for these counties. If the Government, with the knowledge it possesses of the state of feeling in them, should think that such provisions probably would be required, it would be very easy to put them into the Bill. Ono suggestion was—that if a locality declined to maintain an adequate police force, the Secretary for Scotland should be authorized to intervene. I do not think it is probable that any County Council would decline to allow the executive officer of the law to put the police under its control into action. If they did, it appears to me that the powers of the Sheriff, as representing the Crown, were sufficient to entitle him to claim the services of the police. The question comes to be whether you, from an apprehension of that kind, are going to make a highly exceptional condition in a particular part of Scotland the basis of a general rule against the whole of the people of Scotland. I say it should be the other way. Exceptional circumstances should be met by exceptional provisions. There was another suggestion made in Committee about the propriety of leaving this in the hands of the Joint Committee, on the ground that the police rate had always fallen upon the owners of land. Whether the suggestion is accepted or not, I maintain that the rate should continue to be levied from those upon whom it has fomed a charge in time past. The rate has always been levied on the ownership of land, and for my part I do not see why it should cease to be so. What is called the county rate now 1615 is a mere fraction of the total rates paid in counties. So that I say it is not worth while to cut and carve upon a small rate like this. There is another function for which this Joint Committee is proposed to be appointed. I will not go into the question of political economy; but I do think the function is one which might very well be left to the County Council, and it relates to what is called capital expenditure. That capital expenditure involves matters of the greatest local importance—the construction of new roads and bridges, drainage works, water supply, and the like; but, according to the proposals of the Bill, sanitation—that which concerns the health of the community—is to be left not in the hands of the County Council, but in the hands of this Joint Committee. I submit that there is no reason for constituting an elective body, and then withholding from that body and give to some old body, the most important duties which the new body ought to perform. I hope that, on re-consideration, the Government, with whatever safeguards they may think necessary in respect of exceptional districts of Scotland, will see their way to accepting the Amendment of my right hon. Friend.
§ DR. CLARK
Only two arguments have been used in favour of the course taken by the Government, and with reference to the political economy argument I do not require to say anything. Political economists in Scotland, from Adam Smith down to Mr. Arthur Balfour, have taught the doctrine that ultimately all rates fall on the landlord. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland thinks the law of economy operates differently in England to what it does in Scotland. I am not prepared to follow Mr. Arthur Balfour's political economy, and I scarcely think it worthy of the high reputation he has obtained in other walks than that of politics. I have put down an Amendment to the Supplementary Bill which will have some effect on this question, and its object is to carry out a proposal that was made to have the Western Highlands formed into a county. That proposal is that Skye, Lewes, and Uist shall form a county of themselves. You are going to have special and exceptional privileges in certain districts of Scotland, and I say that if you give those privi 1616 leges you ought to lay down some limitation as to self-government. If you give six counties special privileges, and deny them to the rest of Scotland—local self-government and the control of the police—I think you ought also to have some limitation. The matter could be arranged if the Government would agree to my Amendment. I think I know something of the Highlanders. My hon. Friend the Member for Banffshire has pointed out that there is only a small amount of crime in the Lowlands of Scotland; but we have three times less crime in the Highlands, or, practically, none at all. Nowhere in the world is there so law-abiding a people, and nowhere is there such a feeling of mutual sympathy between the police and the people as in the Western Highlands. Why a policeman in the Highlands is like a little king; the community make him Judge and Magistrate, and give him, by local consent, the position of general arbitrator. It is only when the rights of property are interfered with to an extent which inflicts actual wrong, that the scenes referred to occur. I think, however, that these occurrences will never be experienced again, because this House, if it makes the law just, will find that the people will support the law and the officers of the law. If these scenes should recur, there is no force of police in the Highlands to put them down, and the Forces of the Crown would consequently have to be called in. I do not think that the rest of Scotland should be deprived of its rights because of the special condition of the Highlands, and inasmuch as you are giving special privileges to particular districts, I say you ought to introduce some limitation as to local self-government.
§ MR. FINLAY (Inverness)
I desire to say a few words on this question. I think the Committee will have listened with great interest to the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Clackmannan. The tone of that speech was very different from the tone of other speeches we have heard. The right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to recognize, as one who had experienced the responsibilities of office, that some exceptional treatment might be required. He showed the possibility of giving the Secretary for Scotland a controlling power over the Local Authority, 1617 but I apprehend that if the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to put that suggestion into the clause ho would find great difficulty in working out any scheme that would be practical under the circumstances. This being so, and as there is no other proposal which appears to me to meet all the conditions of the case, I feel that I cannot do otherwise than support the Government on this question. There is another aspect of the case which has been referred to. The Commissioners of Supply are to continue in existence for certain purposes in respect of the rate which falls upon them. It has been suggested that a transference of the rate might be effected. I apprehend that that would be a matter of some difficulty, and that a good deal of discontent would be caused in the counties of Scotland if the endeavour were made to give practical effect to that proposal. It may be that, from an abstract point of view, a good deal might be said in favour of these proposals; but if they were carried out I believe there would be anything but satisfaction created in many of the Scotch counties. I rose also to say that I was very much struck with the observation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banffshire with regard to the possible effect of the election of County Councils on the continuance of the Commissioners of Supply. I apprehend that every one in all parts of the House is agreed that it is must desirable that the County Councils to a considerable extent, at all events at first, should consist of those who have acted as Commissioners of Supply. It is very desirable that there should be a large element of that hind on the County Councils, at any rate when they take over the management of county affairs. But it has been suggested that the Commissioners of Supply might be very heavily handicapped in their candidature for seats on the County Councils, and that they might be met in many cases by other candidates who would come forward and say to the electors:—"Return me; do not return my opponent; he is a Commissioner of Supply. Are you going to put him into office as a County Councillor? It would be like returning to the House of Commons a Peer and giving him a double vote and double power." At present I see no proposal which we ought to adopt other than 1618 that of the Government, and, under the circumstances, I shall give my vote for it; but I should be glad if the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Banffshire were fully considered, and that some endeavour should be made to ascertain whether another plan which would obviate the serious difficulties I have referred to could not be devised.
§ * MR. A. SUTHERLAND (Sutherland)
I attach very great importance to the Motion before the Committee. The whole question of Local Government in Scotland is contained in the 11th clause. In past times the Local Government of Scotland was centred in a body called the Commissioners of Supply, and it is now proposed to transfer some of their powers to the County Council. I think Clause 11 is far more important in its exceptions than in the rule it lays down, and that if the Government are very anxious to solve this question they would afford facilities for so doing. But it is of no use to disguise the fact that the whole principle underlying this clause is mistrust of the people. Because of certain occurrences in the Highlands the people in the rest of Scotland are to be deprived of the control of the police. On the Second Reading of this Bill I wont the length of stating that, so far as I knew, the people of the Highlands of Scotland would be willing to be excluded rather than the remaining portion of the inhabitants should be deprived of the control of the police. I should like to point out that the circumstances referred to instead of being an argument against granting the control of the police to the people of the Highlands might be used as an argument in favour of giving that control to the people. If the police had been under the control of the people the disturbances alluded to would never have taken place, and we should never have heard of anything of the kind. We know very well that it was the pushing of the rights of property on the part of the landlords to the extreme in the Highlands which caused those outbreaks. Since then the contentions of the people in the Highlands have been submitted to an impartial tribunal. Is it not the fact that that was the cause of the disturbance in the Island of Skye? The accredited representative of the Government stood up in this House and asserted that the people never had the right to cer- 1619 tain grazings. He said that because he trusted to official information on the spot; but the very man who supplied that official information to the Government was subsequently made to produce documents before the Court, which proved that the people had the right of grazing. I maintain that the very fact that these disturbances were justified in the Highlands is the very strongest argument that can be adduced in favour of handing the control of the police to the people. The Government profess to be in favour of taxation and representation going together. I, too, wish that they should. If the landlords of the Highlands pay the rates, then it is only right that they should have control over the expenditure; but the fact is, the rates come out of the pockets of the producers, who are therefore entitled to share in the representation.
§ MR. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
Before the Committee divides I should like to make briefly a few observations upon this subject. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Inverness Burghs (Mr. Finlay) has addressed the House, and his arguments, as might be expected from his great talents and abilities, vary on different occasions, but his conclusion is the usual one. He falls into the stereotyped form whenever he reaches that portion of his speech in which it becomes his duty to announce his decision. He speaks as if in anticipation of the moment when he may take a distinguished seat upon the Treasury Bench, for which his abilities and principles appear alike to qualify him. To-day he has shown as much courage as on other occasions, and he has no difficulty in voting for the Government, although he admits that the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs with respect to the Commissioners of Supply is of the utmost importance, and that he is unable to supply any answer to it. He overleaps these difficulties with an agility which I have never seen surpassed in this House. On the general question the position is rather singular. As has been observed by the hon. Member who last spoke, in this clause the exception is much more important than the rule. The House is about to constitute for the first time an elective system in the counties of Scotland, and that 1620 which the Committee is now invited to do is to exclude from that elective system what may almost be called the alpha and omega of local government. The care of the police, I might almost say, is itself local government. Why was local government established? It was established for the specific and originally the sole purpose of discharging locally the very duties that are now in the hands of an organized police. And it was given to the localities, because so direct was their interest and so superior were their advantages in point of knowledge for dealing with the case, that local government grew up in order that the business of the police—namely, the protection of life and property—might be under the direct superintendence of the inhabitants, and not dependent on the Central Authority of the country. It is literally true that now we are called upon for the first time to give the people of Scotland a great boon, we are asked to exclude from the operation of the new system that which should be its principal and capital object. This debate has made it obvious that the balance of Scotch opinion as represented in this House—and represented in a manner which some of us think is rather inadequate and which is likely to be modified—is largely in favour of the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs, and if the proposal of the Government is carried it will be carried in defiance of Scotch opinion. I hope right hon. Gentlemen opposite will recollect this—that the effect of repeating and multiplying these denials to Scotland of what she wants in matters exclusively her own for the purpose of beating her into a sort of uniformity with England will have no influence in weakening any desires in Scotland for larger powers, but will be more likely to give a stimulus—perhaps even an unhealthy stimulus—to those desires; and if they wish to prevent that and get rid of the embarrassment likely to arise out of larger demands hereafter for the purpose of satisfying Scotch opinion, the best way of doing it is to take prudent precautions, and on occasions like this to allow Scotland to decide as to her own local affairs when we can do it without inflicting any injury on the rest of the kingdom. Reference has been made to the fact that in boroughs, both in Eng- 1621 land and Scotland, the care of the police is already in the hands of the Municipality; but the Secretary for Scotland seems to think that this is a very feeble argument when it is applied to the counties. But, in my judgment, and in the judgment of those who sit on this side of the House, the argument drawn on that question from the burghs is an extremely strong argument—an argument à fortiori. The most difficult portion of the population to be governed and I thank God that there are none that are really difficult to govern—is certainly not in the counties, but if anywhere, perhaps from some sporadic elements of disorder to be found in them, in the burghs; and considering that the population of the largest burgh in Scotland far exceeds the population in any of its counties, the argument to be derived from the fact that the burghs so successfully manage their own police is a very cogent and almost an irresistible one in favour of giving to the counties the control of their own police. Now, Sir, after listening to the speeches which have been made, I say it is quite evident that the present proposal of the Government is founded either on the supposed necessity of uniformity with England or else on the case of certain Highland counties. Reference has been made to the intimation by an hon. Member that if the proposal of the Government is adopted it will in a short time be repealed. I believe in that prediction, and I do not think it is disbelieved in on the opposite side of the House. The Minister who has spoken said—"Let it be done, and if it is it will be upon your responsibility." I think that this House has something better and more practical to do, and that its time is more valuable than to be occupied in building houses that they may be lightly thrown down. That is the only description I can apply to legislation of to-day, if we expect it to be destroyed to-morrow. It is not the first time it has been done. In 1867 we passed a Franchise Bill with all manner of limitations, intended to save the Constitution, by not allowing votes to men who had not paid rates personally out of their own trousers pockets; but all that was undone in 1869. Will the application of our time to legislation built up with the certainty of being soon 1622 pulled down again add to the dignity or the credit of the House? I am glad it is now understood that there is no admission on this side of the House that there will be a necessity in the Highland counties for special provisions. We are not here to legislate except for what is reasonably probable and likely. We have not to look to the extremely cases; if they should arise they can be dealt with hereafter. I say that, in our belief, there is no reasonable likelihood of such a necessity, and the burden ought not to be laid on us of now making provision for it. There might be many other ways of dealing with this matter. I will not discuss their respective merits; but the only reason assigned for the course taken by Her Majesty's Government is some supposed disorder in the Highlands which we on this side of the House think will not arise. We shall, however, be quite prepared to consider any reasonable proposition for dealing with such a matter; but no method could be so bad as to make the exception into the rule, and to establish over the whole of Scotland a system which has no shadow of justification, save in the state of things alleged to exist in a diminutive portion of that country.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 205; Noes 113.—(Div. List, No. 180.)
§ MR. HOZIER
I beg to move to insert at the end of the sub-section—And provided that nothing in this Act contained shall affect the powers and duties of the Commissioners of Supply with respect to the appointment of Commissioners for general purposes under the Property and Income-tax Acts, the assessing and levying of the Land Tax, and the division and allocation of old valued rent.
§ MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON
The duties referred to in the Amendment are of a very limited description. T he Government, however, have considered what can be done, and they propose to put down an Amendment in the second Bill by which the Sheriffs will be continued as Commissioners for the assessing and levying of the Land Tax. Under these circumstances I will ask for the Amendment to be withdrawn.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ * MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)
The Amendment which I have to move is one of some importance, and it has for its object to put upon the new County Councils 1623The duty of maintaining and protecting all public rights of way over roads, drove roads, bridle-paths, footpaths, ferries, and foreshores.I think it is only right that this duty should be imposed upon a public body, especially as there is now a growing practice, especially in the Highlands, of debarring people of their rights. What is everybody's business is nobody's business, and there having been no public authority to preserve these rights of way, they have been lost. And it is worse in the Highlands, where the population is poor and scattered. Seeing that the County Councils are to be charged with all matters of county administration, I think they will be the best authorities to undertake the duty. When the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer represented one of the Divisions of Edinburgh, he himself remarked that this was one of the duties which should be undertaken by the new authorities to be constituted. The difficulty in England was by no means so great as it was in Scotland, for in the former country the people are much more able to protect themselves. I hope the learned Lord Advocate will agree to the Amendment.
Amendment proposed, Clause 11, page 3, line 22, insert—
The duty of maintaining and protecting all public rights of way over roads, drove roads, bridle-paths, footpaths, ferries, and foreshores.''—(Mr. Buchanan.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL FOR SCOTLAND (Mr. MOIR T. STORMONTH DARLING,) Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities
We are engaged in setting up a new administrative body, and it strikes me as rather foreign to the purpose of such a body to impose upon it the duties which the hon. Member desires. What the hon. Member wishes to lay on the County Councils is the absolute obligation to maintain and protect all public rights of way. It must not be supposed for one moment that the Government have anything like an antipathy to, or jealousy of, the establishment of rights of way in Scotland. The position of matters at present is this:—The establishment of a right of way is a popular action which can be 1624 raised by anybody, and it often has been raised by the poorest of the population, for there has not been found the least difficulty in raising funds for the purpose. I do not think there is much disposition on the part of landowners in Scotland at the present day to resist the establishment of rights of way where they are reasonably exercised, and I am not aware that any extensive or serious grievance has arisen from the denial of those rights. It does seem to me that to impose on the County Council this new duty, which really involves the raising of law-suits, would not tend to promote its harmony and smooth working; and, therefore, for these reasons the Government are not prepared to accept the Amendment.
§ * MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
I should like to say a word or two on this subject, and in support of the Amendment of my hon. Colleague. There is no doubt that whatever may have been the duties assigned to local bodies in past times there are two duties which at the present time are daily becoming more and more incumbent. One is the duty of protecting ancient monuments—about which this Amendment says nothing, and the other is the preservation of rights of way. What is the state of things now? It is quite true—as the Solicitor General has said—that there is a remedy. In many cases that remedy takes the form of a number of persons assembling together armed with weapons in order to break down the obstruction to a right of way, and this sometimes leads to actual riot. It is possible by such means, or by very expensive actions at law, to raise the question of the right of way; but the proposal contained in this Amendment is to substitute a regular and more simple process, to make a public authority responsible for protecting these rights, and to put an end to the disreputable scenes which have occurred in the past. I hope that the Government will not resist this proposal, in favour of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke very strongly not very long ago.
§ SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy)
"It's all very well to dissemble your love, but why did you kick me down stairs." It seems to me that the Solicitor General's argument is a lawyer's 1625 argument intended to defeat the Amendment. He almost reduces it to a matter of absurdity. There is a gradual usurpation of the rights of the public continually going on, and it is time that some proper public authority was established to deal with the matter. It is absurd to talk of any poor man establishing a right of way. The landlords are adopting many direct and indirect means to discourage the use of public rights of way. In the case of one road, which was once a main road from the Lowlands to the Highlands, a notice was posted which was certainly calculated to discourage the use of the road. It was in these terms:—"Persons coming this way are requested to communicate with the gamekeeper, in case they should be shot." By rejecting the proposal the Government will be going in the most pronounced way against the feeling of Scotland. I hope that they will accept it, even if they should think it necessary to modify its terms.
§ MR. FINLAY
I wish the Government would adopt the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh. The Solicitor General for Scotland considers that there is no necessity for it, inasmuch as action can be taken by any one of Her Majesty's subjects. But to my mind one of the strongest arguments is to be found in the fact that these are popular actions in support of public rights; and what body is fitter to represent the public in this matter than the elective body we are setting up in every county in Scotland? The Solicitor General fears the granting of such powers in Scotland would tend to encourage litigation. In Scotland a great many rights of way have already gone, and there is therefore the greater necessity to protect those which are left. I believe that if the Amendment were carried, that very fact would tend to prevent the rights of way being interfered with. It might be that the County Council should be left some discretion in the matter; and if my hon. Friend will modify his Amendment in this sense—that the Council shall have the power, if they think proper, to take proceedings in respect of these rights of way, I will suggest to the Lord Advocate that it would be a right and reasonable thing to assent to it.
§ DR. CLARK
I should like to see the Amendment amended by the inser- 1626 tion of the word "bridges." When the Roads and Bridges Act was passed there were a number of roads and bridges not included in the schedule. Those roads were not taken over by the new authority, nor did they continue to be maintained by the old body, and the result is, that although many of them were much needed they have fallen into disrepair. I think the present a favourable opportunity for remedying the mistake made in the former Act.
§ MR. SHIRESS WILL (Montrose, &c.)
I submit that the answer given by the Solicitor General to the case made out on behalf of this Amendment is insufficient. In Scotland there is a very peculiar hardship in this matter. In England the process of defending these rights is an expensive one, although it is not so expensive as it is in Scotland. Actions in these cases can be, and frequently are, carried to the House of Lords, and very great cost is consequently incurred. I think some less expensive remedy should be devised, and I hold that the County Council is the proper body to undertake the duty of protecting the rights of way. They are the body to have control of the roads, and this duty cannot, therefore, be foreign to the purposes for which it was created. I hope that the Amendment will be accepted.
§ * SIR. C. DALRYMPLE (Ipswich)
One result of the uncertainty prevailing in regard to rights of way in Scotland is that societies have been formed for protecting these rights, and in many cases do mischief. This would be avoided if there was a properly-constituted authority for vindicating rights of way, and there would be also less risk of attempts to establish ill-founded claims. I think that the Amendment in the modified form suggested by the hon. Member for the Inverness Burghs would be valuable in itself, and I do not see that any objection could be taken to it.
§ * MR. ANGUS SUTHERLAND
I consider this a most important Amendment, and, speaking from my experience of those parts of the county with which I am most familiar, I say that unless some legislation of the kind proposed by the Amendment is adopted there will soon be no open roads in the Highlands at all. The Solicitor General for Scotland said that so far as he knew there was no disposition on the part of 1627 proprietors to deny rights which were reasonable; but, Sir, I take it that an inherent right of way requires no provision as to its reasonable exercise. Of course, I have no sympathy with the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ipswich (Sir C. Dalrymple) as to the evil effects of societies for the vindication of rights of way. If the Solicitor General for Scotland asks for an instance of how reasonably this right is exercised, I will give him an instance which will astonish him. I have in my mind a forest ranging about 100,000 square acres. On the margin of the forest there is an hotel, and whenever a traveller goes there he sees a placard to this effect—Lodgers in the hotel are warned not to trespass on the neighbouring deer forest for fear of disturbing the tenant's game.There is really more liberty of public right in the suburbs of London than there is in the Highlands of Scotland, and that that should be so is in my opinion shameful. In view of all these circumstances the Government ought to accept this Amendment especially seeing that there is a strong precedent in the Act of last Session.
§ SIR A. ORR-EWING (Dumbarton)
Some estates have been let to foreigners who unfortunately stopped botanizing and prevented people ascending hills to see the country; and in this way violence was done to the traditions that had prevailed, and questions of right of way arose.
§ MR. ASHER (Elgin, &c.)
I hope the Government will re-consider their decision with regard to this matter. My hon. Friend (Sir A. Orr-Ewing) has not, I am afraid, so much acquaintance with the disputes as to the rights of way in Scotland as he has of most other Scotch departments of business, because he seems to divide all question of rights of way into two classes, those cases in which the landlord admits that there is a right of way, and those cases in which the public are attempting to commit an illegal trespass. Now, there is a third and important class, namely, those cases in which the public have no intention whatever of committing an illegal trespass, but propose to assert a right of way over land the owner of which disputes the right. It is proposed to vest in the County Council the vindication of the alleged right of the public in such 1628 circumstances as make it appear to the County Council proper that that course should be taken. In this matter there are two interests to consider, the interests of the public and the interests of the landlord, and I confess I cannot understand how it can be suggested that either interest will be in the least prejudiced by the adoption of this Amendment. It is quite true as my hon. and learned Friend opposite says that at the present time the public right may be vindicated in the name of any individual. But my experience has taught me that that is not a satisfactory mode of vindicating these rights. What takes place is this. The public claim a right. They attempt to assert it and the landlord disputes it. Then there is in the first instance something very nearly approaching a breach of the peace. There is a great deal of local excitement, the hat is sent round, and after a considerable disturbance an action is brought for a vindication of the right of way, probably in the name of some person possibly not very well qualified to vindicate the right, being perhaps a poor man. What is now proposed is that the County Council, a body elected to represent the people, should have the power to consider whether the claim put forward by the public is primâ facie a sound one, and so well founded that it is proper they should, at the expense of the county, take proceedings to vindicate for the public the alleged right of way. It appears to me that is a very reasonable proposal as far as the public is concerned, and I do not understand what objection the landlords can have to it. At the present moment there is no doubt a very strong feeling in many parts of Scotland that old rights of way are being blocked up. It is not the function of any particular person to vindicate those rights, and there is consequently the greatest risk that they should be lost through lapse of time. It seems to me that we should have in every county a body able to look after the matter, and I believe one result of having such a body would be that the constant turmoil which questions of this sort usually cause, would be altogether obviated.
§ MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON
I should like to dispose of the suggestion that there is even the smallest reason for 1629 saying that there is anything of this kind in the English Act. The only clause which at all bears on the question provides that the County Council shall have the same power as a Highway Board to remove obstructions from land which serves the purpose of a roadside waste. The Amendment means nothing more or less than that the County Council are to uphold all rights of way. I strongly deprecate the proposal to impose on the County Councils duties of this description. It would be a standing menace to farmers, and there would be constant litigation. The hon. Member for Inverness seemed to think that was a most cheerful prospect. I say it is a very doubtful thing to entrust a County Council with the duty of promoting litigation against private proprietors. The rates, of course, will have to bear the expense, and see what will be the result. Is there a more popular claim at any time than a claim of right of way? A man would be sure of election if he based his claim to popular support upon a declared intention of levying war on some private owner. I think the granting of this power would interfere with the smooth working of the County Councils, by introducing duties which are totally alien to them, and I must oppose the Amendment.
§ MR. BARCLAY
As showing the necessity for some provision of this kind, I may say that in my own county recently a very important highway was the subject of litigation. A gentleman wished to shut up an important highway through a deer forest, and he would have succeeded in doing so had it not been for the public spirited individuals who came forward to litigate the case. I think it would be well to put this power in the hands of the County Councils, because wealthy people owning deer forests are too fond of bullying individuals, and very few people are ready to enter into a litigation which, as in the case I have referred to, may be carried to the highest courts. If the Government, however, will consider the matter before Report, I think the Amendment might be withdrawn. But unless they give us some promise to confer a power of the kind on the County Councils it will be necessary to divide.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand,
I must appeal to hon. Members to come to a decision upon this clause.
§ MR. HUNTER
This is far too important a question to be disposed of in that cavalier way. It is a subject which interests the whole of the working classes of Scotland. One of my earliest recollections is of a most important right of public way in the vicinity of Aberdeen being stolen under our very noses, simply and solely because there was no public body in a position to defend the public rights. It is simply preposterous to suppose that any private person can be called upon to find the money necessary for a litigation of this kind. It is one of the most obvious truths that where the whole public enjoy the benefit of a right, the whole public ought to maintain and defend that right. In the establishment of the County Councils we have an admirable opportunity of appointing a public prosecutor for the protection of public rights. We know that in Scotland the landlords have to a degree far beyond what they have been able to do in England stolen the rights of the people to the land.
§ It being ten minutes to seven o'clock the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again on Monday next.