§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ *(12.7.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE,) Tower Hamlets, St. George's
This being a Money Bill, I hope the House will permit some verbal Amendments to be made. I think it will be of advantage.
§ Several verbal Amendments made.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Ritchie.)
§ MR. CALDWELL
I do not rise for the purpose of opposing the Third Reading, but with the object of pointing out the position taken up by the Government on the occasion of the Second Reading. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) then pointed out that if the licensing clauses were dropped the whole Bill would go.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. It may save him 1990 some trouble if I deny having made such an assertion. What I said was that if any Amendments were adopted which would alter the character of the Bill the measure would be dropped.
§ (12.13.) MR. CALDWELL
The right hon. Gentleman said on the Second Reading—Unquestionably if the hon. Member for Barrow is successful in his onslaught the whole Bill will have to go, and none of the powers, which I think are universally approved, will go into the hands of the Local Authorities.The right hon. Gentleman also made other observations to the same effect, and I think that it is perfectly obvious that the Second Reading of the Bill was carried on the pledge of the Government that in the event of the licensing clauses being defeated the whole Bill would go. I think that is the plain interpretation of the right hon. Gentleman's words. Well, the licensing clauses have gone, the Government having practically been defeated by Mr. Caine. The whole object of putting on the additional taxes was to provide funds for the compensation of publicans, and the balance was distributed for other purposes. I venture to say that the Government, having got the money and brought forward the Bill for an express purpose, it is a breach of faith with the House and the country to proceed with the measure when they declare that in the event of the compensation clauses being dropped the whole Bill will go.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square
No declaration of the kind was ever made. It was said that if the Motion of the hon. Member for Barrow on the Second Reading was carried the whole Bill would go; but the two matters are entirely different.
§ MR. CALDWELL
I have read the words of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, and the public can form their own opinion. As to the education question, the Government were very anxious on the clauses dealing with the Scotch portion of the money that it should only be applied for the purpose of freeing education in the compulsory standards, but it has been pointed out 1991 that in the great majority of schools—in all but 98— the school fees are abolished in all the compulsory standards already, and that the grant under the Bill will go for the purpose of relieving education in subjects above the compulsory standards. The point I wish to emphasise is that the position taken up by the Government in respect of free education in Scotland will bind them when they come to deal next year with the same question in England, and will compel them to free education, not only in the compulsory standards, but in all the schools.
§ *(12.19.) MR. ASHER (Elgin, &c)
Before this Bill is read a third time I desire, in a very few words, to make an appeal to the Lord Advocate with respect to that part of Clause 2 which limits the application of the £40,000 to relief from the payment of school fees in the compulsory standards in Scotland. The Lord Advocate has undertaken that the money will be distributed among the State-aided schools, in the same way as was done with the grant of last year; and we, of course, know that the right hon. Gentleman will do everything he possibly can to fulfil that (undertaking. But the point to which I wish to direct the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, before it is too late, is whether it would be possible, under the Bill as it stands, for the Education Department to fulfil the undertaking which he has given. The clause in question is divisible into two parts. The first relates to the application of the money, and the second to its distribution. Under the first part it is expressly enacted that the money shall be applied in relief from the payment of fees in the compulsory standards. Under the latter part the Education Department merely have power to regulate the manner in which the money is to be distributed among the schools. The serious difficulty which seems to me to arise is that the Scotch Education Department, who are to exercise the function of distributing the money by Minute among the State-aided schools, will have no power to give a share to those schools in which, prior to this Act, the fees have been abolished in the compulsory standards. I will 1992 illustrate the difficulty by taking a particular case. Take the case of a school in which the grant of last year was sufficient to cover all fees in the compulsory standards, which were therefore abolished, and in which the grant, under the present Bill, will be sufficient to cover the fees in the standards other than the compulsory standards. Now, I understand that it is the intention of the Government that the schools in that position are to receive a share of this grant. Well, it seems to me that two difficulties will be encountered. The Education Department has to pass a Minute. They have got to distribute the grant among the schools. I should think their first duty would be to see how, under the Act, the grant is to be applied, in order to discover what schools are to participate in it. By the Bill, as it stands at present, the grant, when it is given to an individual school, must be applied in relief of the payment of fees in the compulsory standards, and if the Scotch Education Department find that a certain number of schools, prior to the passing of this Act, have no fees in the compulsory standards, and could only apply the money, therefore, in relief of fees in the non-compulsory standards, they will be driven to the conclusion that these schools cannot participate in the grant. Then, what can the School Boards do with the money if it is given to them? They must look to the Act to see what they have to do with it when they get it. The Act says it shall be applied in relief of school fees in the compulsory standards. How are the Boards to administer it, when fees have been already abolished in the compulsory standards? They cannot apply it in relief of fees which have been already abolished, and under the Bill they cannot apply it in relief of fees in the non-compulsory standards. Are they to go through the fiction of re-imposing fees in the compulsory standards for the mere purpose of remitting them? It is a serious misfortune that the sum of £40,000 has not been increased to £90,000, but it would be a matter that every one would lament if by any possibility, through the retention of unnecessary words in the section, the intention of both sides of 1993 the House were to be frustrated as to the division of the £40,000 amongst all the State-aided schools in Scotland, on the principle of the Capitation Grant. My reason for interposing at this stage is that, after carefully considering the matter and forming the best opinion on it I can, I am convinced that difficulties of the most serious character will arise in the administration of this grant if the words limiting its application to the compulsory standards are retained in the clause. I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will still see his way, either by re-commitment or in the other House, to clear the Bill of the ambiguity which the presence of these words involves.
§ (12.26.) MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON
I have listened to the hon. and learned Gentleman's observations with very great surprise. I have not observed that the hon. and learned Gentleman has been present during recent Debates, and I conclude from his speech that he has not heard or read any Report of our proceedings, because the very question which has caused him so much wonder and anxiety has been discussed over and over again in this House, in Committee, and on the Report stage; and every point which has preyed on the hon. and learned Gentleman's mind, and from which he desires relief, has been pressed on the attention of the House and the Committee by hon. and right hon. Gentleman sitting on the same Bench as himself. The hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me, therefore, for not entering into detail on the matter. The long statement he has given us, with admirable lucidity, has been made in various forms during the hon. and learned Gentleman's absence, and if he has not been supplied with an answer to that statement, I would venture to refer him to any Report of the Debates, where he will find full corroboration of his own views from Gentlemen sitting on his own side, and an ample answer, if not refutation, of them from mine.
§ *(12.29.) MR. C. S. PARKER (Perth)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has simply repeated his conduct on the first occasion when this matter was brought forward. There were then two quite different and distinct Amendments before the House, one to in- 1994 crease the sum of £40,000 to £90,000, and the other to provide that, if the sum remained £40,000, it should be applied without restriction. The right hon. Gentleman, instead of dealing with this latter Amendment, confused the two, alleging that the second was a mere repetition of the first, and, therefore, required no answer. In consequence, I raised the question again on the Report, and then the right hon. Gentleman was discreet enough to hold his tongue. If my hon. Friend should search the Debates for any answer from the Lord Advocate he will find none. The Solicitor General spoke for the Government, and all he said was that, practically, the £40,000 could be applied at the discretion of the School Boards, so that I had not succeeded in showing what harm these words would do in the Bill. I think a case has now been made out as to the harm they will do, namely, that they will, at the very least, create a legal ambiguity. I regard it as most unsatisfactory that the Chief Law Officer of the Crown in Scotland should have slurred this question over without an answer.
§ (12.30.) SIR W. LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)
I do not exactly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Mr. Caldwell) in thinking the Government were bound, when the licensing clauses were done away with, to withdraw the Bill altogether. I do not think they could help themselves. Having provided for the raising of the money, they were bound to do something with it. I regard the Bill as one of great importance, which should not pass to another place without a word of recognition from us. It is, no doubt, the great Bill of the Session, and it is the Bill which makes this Session memorable. We spent 25 nights over it, and I believe the country does not think we spent too long a time. 406 Bills have been before the House this Session, and I think this one has excited more interest in the country than all the other 405 put together. It seems to me that the system of giving to Local Bodies large sums of money raised by local taxation is a very bad system. I am sorry to see it seems to be becoming popular, because I am sure it will lead to a great deal of evil and corruption in our local affairs. The 1995 Bill, however, might have been a great deal worse. What we feared when we fought it was that it would have led to the strengthening and the consolidation of the great drink interest throughout the country. Now the money is to be spent on a very good purpose, namely, the promoting of the education of the people. Some of it is to be used for police purposes. That is a very good thing too, because we all know the police would be hardly necessary in this country if it was not for the expenditure on drink. On the whole, we have a good deal to be thankful for, and can part with the Bill in pretty good humour. I shall always remember it with interest because it is the first Bill ever brought in by a responsible Government which has been based avowedly on the principle of trying to make people sober by act of Parliament, and reducing intemperance by diminishing the temptations to drink. I cannot help shedding a tear over the suspensory clause. The Government appear to be like game-preservers. They bring up the game, and when they have arrived at maturity, they shoot them. I hope, however, the Government will not be discouraged from pursuing the course they announced when they brought in the Bill. I have read of wild talk about there being no more legislation of the kind for the next 20 years, and about the foolish action of the Prohibition Party. When I see that, I always remember the words of Mr. Disraeli, who once said:—"Never take the words of your opponents." I hope the Government will not say that, because they cannot get a certain amount of money to strengthen and endow the liquour trade, they will never do anything more for temperance. They have declared plainly in this House that there are far too many liquor shops, and I think they ought to do something to get rid of them. Although we had to fight against this Bill, I can assure them the Prohibition Party are ready and anxious to assist them in any attempt in that direction, and I am sure that in such an endeavour they will have the support of the great majority of this House, and the immense majority of the people.
§ (12.37.) Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.