HC Deb 16 July 1889 vol 338 cc593-604

[Consolidated from Local Government (Scotland) Bill and Local Government (Scotland) Supplementary Provisions Bill.]

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Amendment proposed, Clause 19, page 10, line 29, omit Sub-section 3.


In order to afford the Government an opportunity of explaining the course they intend to take, and how they propose to apportion the Probate Duty, I beg to move, Sir, that you do now report Progress.


Order, order! It would be rather irregular to make such a statement on a Motion to report Progress.


Perhaps I can satisfy the hon. Gentleman. He knows, I think, that, under the concessions made by the Government in the course of the earlier discussions, the sums to be allocated in relief of school fees in Scotland were largely increased. As the matter now stands, the sum of £246,500 will fall to be applied for that purpose out of the total derived from the Probate Duty and License Duty, aware that this will go a very long way, That sum will be employed under a Minute of the Scotch Education Department in relief of fees, and for that purpose alone. The Committee is probably if not the whole way, towards covering the amount required to free the first five standards. I do not know that it is necessary to go into the figures more minutely, and all I need add is some information with regard to the contribution of the present year. This year, instead of the £246,500 which will in future years be allocated, there will only be a sum of £169,000. That will be payable at the end of the financial year in relief of school fees, but those fees will only be dealt with from October 1. The £169,000, therefore, will go towards recouping the school managers in the various counties and burghs of Scotland for the amount that they will lose by the remission of fees from October 1 next. This amount of £169,000 is more than half the annual sum which will have to be provided in future years; but, of course, it is well that the managers should be started with some balance in hand, and the allowance, so far as this year is concerned, is on a somewhat more liberal scale than will be the case in succeeding years. If hon. Members have any other questions to ask I shall be happy to give all the information in my power.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 19, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, and 27 omitted.

New Clause (Local Taxation Licenses) read first and second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause (Grant of portion of Probate Duty after 31st March, 1890,)—(The Lord Advocate,)—brought up, and read the first and second time.

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen,N.)

I have a small Amendment to suggest in this new clause. In the first place, I may say I hold that the new clause is a great improvement on the clause for which it is substituted. I think that the Government deserve to be thanked for the manner in which they have accepted the opinions of Scotch Members, and have made financial arrangements which will give general—aye, universal—satisfaction in Scotland. But there is a point I should like to raise in connection with the grant of £10,000 to the Highlands. As the Committee is aware, that is a subject which we discussed on a previous occasion. The Government are perfectly well acquainted with the arguments advanced against making a special grant to the Highlands. But evidently they entertain a very strong opinion in favour of handing over some sum, however small, to the Highlands. I think, however, that there are two objections to their proposal. In the first place, the grant is insufficient to give complete relief in the matter of school fees; and, in the second place, although the sum is so small as to be almost childish, the County Council is only to be allowed to distribute it in a given manner. I think that as we are giving this money in a generous spirit to the Highlands, the discretion of the County Councils in distributing it ought not to be fettered. I beg, therefore, to move an Amendment abolishing the restrictions.

Amendment proposed, New Clause, Sub-section 1, line 7, leave out the words "to the relief of local taxation, for the purposes of this Act."—(Mr. Hunter.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."


Before the Government consented to reconsider their proposals on this point I had on the Paper an Amendment to the effect that in allocating this sum of money the County Councils should be unfettered. The Lord Advocate at that time explained that the Government intended to meet me, and, therefore, I am rather disappointed at their present proposal. Surely the people on the spot know the best way in which to apply the money? I hope my right hon. Friend will accept the Amendment, for I fail to see what purpose can be served by laying it down that the County Councils shall apply this money for the relief of local taxation. To all intents and purposes the matter might as well have been left in the hands of the Secretary for Scotland to apportion the money. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there are a great many methods less open to objection in which the money might be applied.


I do not agree with my hon. Friend who has just said it would have been equally agreeable if this sum had been handed to the Secretary for Scotland for distribution as he liked, because we have had a recent experience of the exercise of his discretion.


I said it might just as well have been left in the hands of the Secretary for Scotland as in the hands of the County Councils, if they are to be allowed to apply it only to one special purpose.


Well, I think it is a great improvement to secure that this money is to be paid over to the County Councils. As to the words which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen wishes to have omitted from the clause, I am rather inclined to agree with him. I am really at a loss to know on what ground the Government now base their grant of £10,000 to the Highlands. We were originally led to infer that it was for the relief of the necessitous parishes; then we were told it was a bonus intended to make up the difference between the proceeds of the Licence Duties now allotted to the counties and the sum hitherto received by them in the way of Parliamentary grants. Now, however, we are told that the Licence Duties are not to be earmarked in the counties; therefore I cannot see exactly on what ground this £10,000 is to be distributed. Will the Government give us some information on this point?


I confess I am rather surprised that this opposition should have been raised, considering the very ample manner in which the Government have met the wishes of hon. Gentlemen, and more especially considering the fact that this is a part of the country of which we have heard so much as one requiring special relief. The County Council is a body of Trustees, and they ought to apply this money for the purposes for which they exist. Do those who support the Amendment object to the words "for the purposes of this Act"? If so, they mean that the Councils may apply money for other purposes. Do they object to the words "for the relief of local taxation"? If so, they object to what is the sole function of the County Councils. I am at a loss to understand what is the other channel of liberality which is contemplated by hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.


I am sorry that the Government will not give the County Councils a free hand in dealing with this matter, for I think it would be very judicious on their part to leave the Highland County Councils to allot this £10,000. We hear frequently of various ways in which public money could be spent judiciously—such, for instance, as in the improvement of communication with the Highlands. I could easily understand that the County Councils might think it more advantageous to apply this special grant in that direction. Again, it is desirable to improve the telegraphic communication. The Imperial Government are frequently being asked for subsidies for railways and other means of communication, and if the County Councils could use this money for such a purpose, it would lessen the demands on the Imperial Exchequer.


I do not object to the Highlands getting this £10,000, or to its going to the Local Authority in relief of local taxation. But there is one point which I should like the Government to consider, and that is the division of the money between the different counties. Why is the grant really made? Is it to meet the distress——


Order, order! That does not arise on this Amendment.


I think that the Government have already explained the reason why they are giving this money; it is because you are establishing a new condition of things which, in a financial sense, will act detrimentally to the Highlands. The only question is as to the method of application. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that the Member for Sutherlandshire has given notice of certain Amendments for the Report stage, with a view to allowing the money to be expended on piers and harbours as well as other public works. If this Amendment is carried—as I trust it will be—the County Councils will have the power of applying the money to purposes which will most benefit the counties concerned, and it may be expended on works on which the prosperity of the counties themselves mainly depends. Surely this would be the best means of lessening 1ocal taxation, for it would increase the wealth, develope industry, and enrich those who pay the taxes. Under the clause as it now stands, the money will go not to those who most require it, but to those who only visit the Highlands for a couple of months every year in order to kill deer. It means simply reducing the rates of the sporting tenants, and not ameliorating the condition of the people as a whole in the Highlands. I appeal to the Government to be just as well as generous, to allow the County Council to have control of this money, and to use it in the manner most advantageous to the people generally.


I sincerely regret the attitude which the Government have adopted in this matter. I look upon this proposal of the Government as a sop to the landlords in the Highlands, in compensation for the reductions which have been made by the Land Commission in their rents. The sum offered by the Government is after all infinitesimal; but surely it would be very much better that the County Councils should have a free hand in the distribution of it. If this concession is not granted, it will only be opening the flood-gates for applications for assistance to the Government for various public purposes.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 159; Noes 104—(Div. List, No. 217.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be added to the Bill."


On this question it is only right I should express our satisfaction—as far as I am acquainted with the feelings of my friends around me—at the way in which the Government have dealt with this difficult question, and our thanks for the substantial concessions—I do not wish to use the word "concession" in any offensive sense—which the Government have made to us in regard to this matter. There were two points about which we were especially anxious. In the first place, we were anxious that the largest sum of money that could be obtained should be devoted to the purpose of relieving the people from the payment of school fees; and, in the second place, we were opposed to the original proposal that the Licence Duties should be left in the hands of the Local Authority, thereby, as many people in Scotland thought, giving the Local Authorities too direct an interest in the increase of those licences and producing evils which would be greatly deplored. The Government have succeeded in finding a way out of this difficulty, and at the same time of granting what we desired in respect to the relief of school fees. It is quite possible there may be points in this clause and in the scheme of the Government which we may find to be open to criticism when we have had a longer opportunity of examining them; yet I am sure that, in the main, the concession of the Government will be received with the greatest satisfaction in Scotland.

MR. W, P. SINCLAIR (Falkirk, &c.)

Before we part with the Bill I should like one or two points with respect to the allocation of the balance of the Probate Duties grant to educational purposes to be cleared up. The other day the Lord Advocate stated, in answer to a question I put to him, that the total amount of the funds available for the freeing of the compulsory standards was £265,000. The amount that is allocated now is £246,000. The small balance must be provided for from some source. I presume it will have to come from the rates. Is it quite clear that there is legal authority for applying monies derived from the rates to the freeing of education? Again, without desiring to anticipate the discussion that will probably arise on an Amendment on the Paper, I should like to ask what the effect of the abolition of school fees will be on the 9d. limit? It is known that the Government grant cannot be obtained by schools unless the average of fees is not over 9d. for the entire school. The average of 9d. is obtained by high fees in some classes and low fees in other classes; and I wish to know whether the abolition of the fees in the lower standards will take away the basis upon which the 9d. limit is calculated? In conclusion, I desire to join with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs in thanking the Government for the great concession they have made to Scottish opinion and sentiment. I feel sure the Government will, in the long run, reap the benefit of the course they have adopted.


I do not know that we can with advantage enter into the minutiœ of the Government proposal at this stage. I will merely repeat that the sum of £245,000 is to be used for the purpose of diminishing school fees; but there is no proposal which the Government has in contemplation which will throw a fresh burden upon the rates or upon any Imperial source.


I should like some information as to the section re- lating to pauper lunatics. Are we to understand that, in future, the sums granted in aid of pauper lunatics are to be fixed?


I do not think there is any ambiguity in the clause. It provides for the sum of £155,000 being devoted to this purpose.


I understand from the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland that there is no intention of throwing any further burden upon either Imperial resources or upon the rates. If the £246,000 is not sufficient to free all the compulsory standards the balance must be found from some quarter. If from the rates, are the Government satisfied that there is statutory power to allow the ratepayers' money to be applied in this way?


The Government do not propose to alter the law with regard to the power of school districts to rate themselves, or to make any enactments which will compel any school district to use the funds at its disposal for the purpose of making up any deficiency left after the grant has been exhausted in the manner I have indicated. I. would remind my hon. Friend that in such large districts as Glasgow, on whom the financial strain to which he alludes especially comes, power is given to enable the Authorities to set up fee-paying schools.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause added.

New Clauses (As to Secretary of Scotland's power respecting efficiency of police), (Supplementary provisions as to Local Taxation Account and Exchequer Contributions Account), read the first and second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause (Payment of school fees from certain endowments), brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."


This is a very important clause, and I hope the Govern- ment will not press it in a hurry: it raises the whole question of applying the funds of the needy poor to higher education. In the case of a trust in my constituency, it was proposed to devote the money to higher education. We succeeded in our resistance to the application, and the result was that a new scheme was made, and a considerable amount was allocated to the purposes of elementary education. If this money is to be devoted to higher education, and nothing else, great dissatisfaction will be created in the constituency I represent. At the time the endowment was made—[Cries of "Time."] This is a very important clause. If the Government are willing to give it up, or to modify it, I shall be exceedingly pleased to desist in my opposition.


It is of the greatest importance we should get this stage of the Bill to-night. The hon. Gentleman will have ample opportunity on the Report stage to discuss this point.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause added to the Bill.

New Clause (Compensation to certain teachers for loss of school-fees), brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."—(Mr. J. P. B. Robertson.)


I should like to know whether there is any chance of School Boards having any trouble as to remuneration in case of a change of teachers?


I do not think there is any fear of that. The intention is to carry forward the rule laid down in the Act of 1872, and that rule provides that the teacher shall not stand in the way of any modification of the arrangement of the school, but should be entitled to compensation.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause added.

New Clauses (Amendment as to fixing school fees), (Payment of school fees by parochial boards), read first and second time, and added to the Bill.


Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this be the Schedule of the Bill."

MR. CAINE,) Barrow-in-Furness)

I only want to say I protest against the inclusion in this Schedule of licenses for the sale of intoxicating liquor, and to give notice I will bring the question up on Report.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill reported.

* THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand, Westminster

In rising to move that the Report be considered on Monday, I take the opportunity of expressing to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite the thanks of the Government for the assistance they have given us in Committee in dealing with this somewhat complicated Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be considered on Monday next."


I hope the right hon. Gentleman does not really intend to take the next stage on Monday. That is much too soon to allow us the opportunity of carefully considering the many important changes that have been made in Committee. I am very anxious to give consideration to the amended Bill myself, and I think the people of Scotland should have an idea of what the Bill now proposes, and its bearing upon the subsequent proposals for District Councils. Much is left over, too, for decision on Report, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree to put it down for a later day.


Much might be said in favour of going rapidly through the remaining stages of the Bill this week, in order to relieve Scotch Members from the necessity of attending the House, but that consummation is impossible, and so I think the right hon. Gentleman might allow a little longer interval, and fix the Report stage for a later day than Monday.


I am anxious to meet the views of hon. Members as well as I can; but I may point out that an interval of six days between Com- mittee and Report is a reasonable time at this period of the Session, and gives ample opportunity for proposing Amendments hon. Members may desire to bring forward. It must be remembered, too, that the Bill has to be considered in another place, and it may be that it may come back to us with Amendments submitted for our consideration. I do not think I am asking too much when I ask the House to take Report on Monday.


Will the right hon. Gentleman promise to reprint the Bill, as amended, as quickly as possible?


Most certainly. That shall be done with the utmost rapidity.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be considered upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 334.]

Forward to