§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ (12.40.) DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)
In asking the House to read this Bill a second time, I do so in order to induce the House to affirm the principle that Local Boards entrusted with the important duty of administering taxation in Scotland should be constituted on an analogous basis with Municipal Councils, School Boards, County Councils, and other administrative bodies in this country; the functions performed by these local administrative bodies are of great importance. A sum of £728,000 is levied by them in the shape of poor rates, in addition to £546,000 of Education Rates, and other sums for registration, public health, burial grounds, &c., which bring up the total amount levied by the Parochial Boards of Scotland to at least £1,300,000 per annum—or an average taxation throughout Scotland of 1s. 4d. in the £1, and in certain parishes as much as 3s., 4s., 5s., and even 8s., and 9s. The incidence of other rates is prescribed by Act of Parliament generally, but in the case of rates levied by the Parochial Boards with the solitary exception that they are levied, one half upon the occupiers and the other half upon the owners, owing to a system of classifications and deductions, the enormous sum thus raised is allocated 1562 upon different classes of ratepayers at their own discretion. Consequently, in many parts of Scotland, houses, shops, and agricultural land all pay the same rating. In others, houses are taxed upon the full value, whereas land only pays one-third, one-fourth, or one-fifth of what is paid by house property. In some cases a dead set is made against offices and banks. For instance, in Greenock offices are taxed three times as much as houses, and banks pay four times as much; while in Aberdeen the taxation of shops is only one-half as high. The fact is that the preponderance of any single class of members on the Parochial Board gives rise to the danger of an unfair allocation of taxation among the various ratepayers for local purposes. There is this theoretical check: that the sanction of the Board of Supervision is required, but the Board of Supervision has no power of initiation, and its recommendations are treated with very scanty respect. The Board has been constantly recommending a fair system of classification, but so far only 180 out of more than 800 parishes have adopted any form of classification at all. It has been recommended that shopkeepers and farmers should be classified on favourable terms, but so far as the shopkeepers are concerned, the recommendation has been almost entirely disregarded, with the result that the shopkeepers almost universally consider that they are unfairly taxed in reference to the rates levied by the Parochial Boards. The Board of Supervision, in their circulars, have made a strong point of the income of the working men, and have pointed out how heavily the taxation falls upon the possessors of small incomes, but in no single instance has any reduction in the way of rating been accorded to the small householders. Yet the principle is well understood in Scotland in connection with municipal taxation, where, in many instances, half rates are levied on the occupiers of houses of less than £10 value. I believe I am speaking within the mark when I say that not in 50 out of the 835 assessed parishes is the local taxation allocated in accordance with the equitable principle advocated by the Board of Supervision, namely, that it should be proportionate to the means of the contributor. Unfortunately 1563 the public have no effective control over the constitution of the Parochial Boards, and I maintain that the first step in the direction of reform must be a thorough and radical reform of the Boards themselves. In Scotland there are three forms of government in existence in connection with the parochial system. The first is that which exists in the burghal and combination parishes; the next is that which exists in the rural parishes; and the last that which exists in the non-assessed parishes. The unassessed parishes are gradually dying out in Scotland. In 1860 there were 130, in 1870 there were 93, in 1880 there were 65, and in 1890 the number had fallen to 51. Passing from the non-assessed parishes, which, as I have said, are gradually dying out, I come to the burghal and combination parishes. That class consists of 11 parishes, of which three are very small—Stranraer, with a population of 3,000; East Anstruther, with a population of 11,000; and Queensferry, with a population of only 900. Queensferry enjoys the unique distinction among this class of having a larger number of managers of the poor than there are poor to manage. It is a Board which consists of 16 members, and they have only 14 paupers to look after. But these combination parishes contain eight of the most important parishes in Scotland, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Paisley, and part of Aberdeen, and comprising one-fourth of the entire population of Scotland. Dundee has been created a combination parish since the last Return on the subject. In the other seven parishes there are 156 members elected by the ratepayers, 36 representatives of the Kirk Sessions, and 16 representatives of the Magistrates. The elected representatives are thus in a majority of 156 to 52, or three to one. That principle might work well if the representation was a real and popular representation, but I think I shall be able to show that it is nothing of the kind. Let me explain how the Kirk Sessions have found a representation on the Boards. In olden times the Kirk Sessions of the Established Church were the medium through which parochial relief was administered in Scotland. The church door collections were devoted to the relief of the poor, not entirely but 1564 to a very large extent, and the heritors possessed a number of bequests which had been left to them by pious founders for the same purpose. When their parochial system was adopted in Scotland in 1846 it was provided that these funds should continue to be allocated to the relief of the poor, and the Kirk Sessions were granted representation on the Parochial Boards to the extent of four members. But so far as the bequests in their hands are concerned, they have never been handed over to the Parochial Boards, and no account has been rendered of them, although repeated attempts have been made in this House to obtain some account. So far as the church-door collections are concerned, out of the sum of £39,000 returned to the Board of Supervision as having been collected in this manner in 1890, only £16 was handed over to the Parochial Authorities for the purpose of parochial relief. Not only is this so, but I believe it is largely owing to the representation of Kirk Sessions on the Parochial Boards that manses and glebes have been allowed to escape altogether from the range of assessment for Poor Law purposes. One thing is clear, that these Kirk Sessions have no pretence to any right of representation upon the Parochial Boards. As to the elected representatives who stand in the proportion of three to one, how is it that they do not control the policy of the Parochial Boards in the public interest? No doubt, to a certain extent, they do control the policy of the Boards, but how are they elected? They are elected by ratepayers who, at the date of the election, have paid their yearly rates. The assessment notices for these rates are issued in the month of October, but payment is not exacted before January or later. In the majority of cases the ratepayers have no desire to pay the rates in advance. The poorer classes are not in a position to make any payment any sooner than they can help, and the consequence is, that when the Parochial Boards are elected in November and December, as is frequently the case, the majority of the electors find themselves completely disfranchised. Then again, the voting is upon a graduated scale, running from one to six in the case of each voter; and what 1565 makes the case worse, is the hole and corner manner in which the elections are carried out. Mr. Walker, the Chairman of the Board of Supervision, giving evidence before a Committee in 1878, after stating that the nomination papers were handed to the Inspectors of the Poor prior to the day of election, said that if there was an excess of candidates the vote of the electors present decided the election, but any 10 ratepayers could render the election void by demanding that voting papers should be issued to all the electors of the parish and district. Contests were extremely rare. In the parish of Aberdeen there has never been a contest at all. When I first introduced this Bill in 1883, on the faith of the evidence of the Chairman of the Board of Supervision, I supposed that this system had formerly existed in Glasgow and still continued there, but it turned out that that was not so, and I was consequently subjected to much denunciation. It turned out, however, that at the election of 1883 in Glasgow City parish there were three wards in which there were contests. The number of the Municipal electors was 45,000, and they must all have been ratepayers in order to have obtained a qualification; in addition to a number of owners who possessed a Poor Law qualification, but were disqualified for Municipal purposes, because they lived too far from the Municipal boundary, out of the total number of over 45,000 only 7,964 were qualified to vote at the time the election took place, and as a matter of fact only 1,400 did vote. Nearly five-sixths were disqualified owing to the time at which the rates were collected and the date at which the election was fixed. It is curious to note the influence that the date of the elections for the Parochial Boards has upon the reforming or anti-reforming tendencies of the Board. There is the Govan parish. The Board there is elected in April, by which time a large number of electors have paid their rates and are qualified. That parish sends up a Petition in favour of this Bill. The city parish, which has its election in December, Petitions against the Bill; it does not want reform, though I am bound to say that the majority against the Bill was only one. The Barony parish goes dead against the Bill. 1566 Its election is in November. These burghal parishes might be placed on a fairly good basis without any very fundamental or radical change. What we should require to do would be to remove from them all the ex officio members, to fix the date of the election sufficiently late to allow persons ample opportunity of qualifying themselves by the payment of their rates, to abolish the system of multiple voting, and to enact some simple uniform and intelligible system of taking the parish vote in the place of the very unintelligible and varying system that at present prevails. If you did this you would secure in these eight parishes a system of representation which would be satisfactory and popular. It is quite different in the case of the next class of parishes with which I have to deal, the non-burghal or rural assessed parishes. This class of parishes embraces 824 out of the 886 parishes in Scotland—it embraces very many important towns such as Greenock, Leith, Kilmarnock, Perth, Inverness, Stirling, and a large portion of Aberdeen. In these non-burghal or rural districts every heritor or proprietor who pays rates on more than the annual value of £20 is entitled to a seat upon the Parochial Board, and the Kirk Sessions are entitled to send six representatives to the Board. The smaller heritors and occupiers hold elections at which they choose such numbers of representatives as the Board of Supervision may think good to allot to them. Thus constituted some of these Boards are of the most enormous dimensions. There is Old Machar in Aberdeen, which is probably the largest deliberative and administrative assembly in the world: it has 2,180 members. Then comes South Leith, which at the date of the return had 1,639. Next there is Greenock with 1,134 members, and I could cite a number of cases in which the Parochial Boards have a sufficient number of men to completely fill this House of Commons. Taking all the Parochial Boards of this class in Scotland together, I find they consist of 90 per cent. of owners of property above the annual value of £20, to the extent of 5 per cent, of ex officios representing the Kirk Sessions and Commissioners of Supply, and to the extent of 5 per cent. of representives of the ratepayers and of 1567 the smaller heritors. The first proceeding of a cumbrous Board of this sort is necessarily to delegate its functions to a Committee sufficiently small to perform the work. On this Committee the routine work of the parish devolves; but if there is any stirring question, if there is some job to be perpetrated—the election of an officer for instance—mandates are canvassed for, and the decision of the Committee may be upset. But independently of these occasional occurrences, a most unsatisfactory state of matters in regard to the election of the Committee itself prevails. Here again mandates or proxies are made use of. A person may get sufficient number of proxies as to enable him to name the Committee himself. In this way it constantly happens that the ratepayers, after going to the trouble of electing representatives, find the elected representative turned out of the Committee of Management altogether. That was the case only the other day at South Leith. A meeting was held for the purpose of nominating the Committee of Management, and only one of the 15 elected representatives was nominated. Eventually, however, three more elected representatives were added to the list. It is a curious fact that mandates are valid until they are recalled, consequently if a member collects a number of mandates in respect of something which is to take place in 1891, he may be at liberty, if he preserves them, to use them, provided they have not been recalled, in respect of something which may take place in 1901. Over the whole of Scotland I find the Committees of Management consist to the extent of 60 per cent of proprietors paying rates on property above the annual value of £20, to the extent of 24 per cent. of elected representatives, to the extent of 14 per cent. of the representatives of the Kirk Sessions, and to the extent of 2 per cent. of the representatives of Magistrates and Commissioners of Supply. Almost in every case the heritor element cuts down the number of elected representatives; in no fewer than 30 parishes at the date of the Return they were turned out altogether. In only one parish—Colace, in Perthshire—at the date of the Return did the representatives of the ratepayers monopolise the Committee of Management. 1568 In four parishes the Committee was exclusively composed of members of the Kirk Sessions, and in 38 parishes the representatives of the Kirk Sessions outnumbered the heritors and the elected members combined. I am sure it is only requisite to make such a state of things known to a House elected by household suffrage to secure its abolition. When I brought forward my Bill in 1883 I was told that the system was full of anomalies, but it worked well. In 1883 I culled a considerable number of facts from Blue Books and elsewhere to show how badly the system worked. I do not think it is necessary to weary the House with those facts now, and I do not want to make any attack on individual Boards. Opinion in this House has vastly advanced since 1883, and I think I may assume that the principle is now admitted that Boards entrusted with such extensive powers of administration and taxation as are the Parochial Boards should be elected like other similar bodies. In 1883 the Second Reading of my Bill was supported by the Liberal Government then in power, and it was carried though not by a very large majority. In the Division there were three Scotch Members for the Bill to two against it. In 1888 the Bill was opposed by the Conservative Government on the ground that the Lord Advocate was about to introduce another Bill on the subject. I, however, went to a Division and was defeated, but on that occasion two-thirds of the Scotch Members who voted, voted for the Bill. Later on the Lord Advocate brought in his Bill. That Bill was gratifying to me, in so far as it went almost entirely on the lines of the Bill I had previously introduced. The measure did not expressly abolish mandates, but I have no doubt the omission was unintentional. The two Bills differed in this, that in the Bill of the right hon. and learned Gentleman it was proposed to divide the Members of the Parochial Boards into two equal parts, one of which was to be elected by owners and the other by occupiers. I presume his idea was that as owners pay half the rates they should have half the representation. I have not the smallest hesitation in saying that the Lord Advocate advanced vastly ahead of any of his predecessors. His predecessors only tinkered against the sub 1569 ject, but he went to the root of the matter. Had it not been for the vicious principle respecting elections which he adopted, his Bill might have been regarded as perfectly satisfactory. The principle of election the right hon. and learned Gentleman wished to establish was entirely novel, and so far as Boards of such magnitude are concerned entirely revolutionary. Various objections have been taken to my Bill. A most elaborate statement of them is to be found in the petition from the Barony parish; but every one of the objections will, I think, be found to apply to the Bill of the Lord Advocate. The first objection is that all parishes in Scotland, burghal and rural, will be placed in the same position. That is the case under the Lord Advocate's Bill. My Bill proposes, it is said, to revolutionise the existing system of election. That applies equally to the Lord Advocate's Bill. It will create, the Petition goes on to say, a second roll of voters. The Bill of the right hon. and learned Gentleman propound the same thing. Then we come to the objection as to the enfranchisement of the people who have not paid rates. That applies equally to the Lord Advocate's Bill. I must say I think the proposal is a right and proper one. In these days, when Parliament gives huge grants in aid of local taxation, when every person is compelled to contribute towards those grants in aid, it is absurd to argue that only those who pay rates directly are entitled to representation. But the main objection urged by the Barony parish is that under my Bill a number of non-resident ratepayers, people who at present pay large sums in rates, but who do not live within seven miles of the boundaries of the parish or municipality in which they pay, will be disfranchised. I have no desire to disfranchise them, and I am perfectly prepared to allow their names to be added to the roll. I do not think it will make any practical difference in the constitution of the Board. I want representation of the widest possible character—one man one vote, but as many voters as possible. But whatever the value of that objection is, it applies equally to the Bill of the Lord Advocate. Then the petitioners say this is not a complete measure. It is just as complete 1570 as the right hon. and learned Gentleman's. Neither Bill proposes to deal with a parochial system as a whole, and I am afraid that any Bill dealing with the whole subject would be sure to meet with defeat. There is only one other point on which I have a word to say, and that is the franchise I have selected. If you want an instance of Boards of modern constitution levying rates, half upon owners and half upon occupiers, I would point to the School Board. I am quite prepared to take the School Board franchise, but I know some people will say, a large number of people who enjoy that franchise do not pay rates. I know the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not like the School Board franchise, for he proposed to amend it last year. I wish to fall in with his views as far as I can, and I have adopted his proposed Amendment as to the School Board franchise. I did so because, by doing so, I at once met the objection which I knew would otherwise be raised. I thank the House for having listened to me with so much patience, and beg to move the Second Reading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this Bill be now read a second time."—(Dr. Cameron.)
§ (1.28.) MR. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
The House has listened with great attention to the long and able speech of my hon. Friend, but I wish to remind hon. Members that there is a side to the question which the hon. Gentleman has not presented. My hon. Friend has used strong language as to the present system. The present system has existed since 1845, and has, in my opinion, on the whole, worked extremely well. Let me, however, preface what I am going to say by stating that I shall speak chiefly for rural parishes, as my experience of Parochial Boards has been gained in such parishes. I have been the Chairman of a Parochial Board for nearly 25 years, and I have attended innumerable meetings. I have seen how things work out, and I have no hesitation in saying that the present system, although it is by no means perfect, secures fair and ample justice being done. The Bill is most sweeping in its character—it abolishes a system that has worked very well. The system 1571 which existed before 1845 has been explained by the hon. Member for the College Division. At that time there was no systematic assistance given to paupers except by the church door collections; the Kirk Sessions were the only recipients and distributors of relief, they and the parish clergy. Naturally, when the Act of 1845 was carried, the element of good in the system which had worked so well for many years was inserted in the Act. The system in Scotland differs a good deal from that in England. Poor relief is only given to those who are disabled, or partially disabled, by age or infirmity, or incapable of earning their own maintenance; whereas in England it is possible, I believe, to relieve able-bodied men, and such relief is given. Now, I think anyone who has had experience of Parochial Boards will agree with me that the poor are not taken care of. The only fault to be found—a fault that is found by the Board of Supervision—is that too much money is given, that there are too many paupers on the roll, that the roll ought to be purged. The Board of Supervision draws a strict line as to persons to receive relief and those who should be supported by their relations, whoever they may be. In the parish with which I am best acquainted the rule of the Board is to give relief to those who have for a long time preserved a position of respectability and industry, and have done their best in the parish. But we are confronted with a very serious difficulty arising in the City, a division of which the hon. Member represents. There are a great number of our poor who work out their lives there, and yet fail to obtain settlement of residence in the City of Glasgow, and come back crippled or in bad health, and are thrown upon the parish of their birth because they have lost that five years' residence which establishes a settlement in Glasgow. Glasgow, it may not be known to all hon. Members, has very many parishes so divided that the mere crossing of a street may be entering another parish, so that when it is difficult to trace an actual settlement the man is at once thrown back upon the parish of his birth. Now, the local management of the Boards which has been impugned to-day is, on the 1572 whole, I think good. You have anomalies, but the Boards are thoroughly well qualified to deal with the poor of the surrounding districts. The large proprietors are represented by themselves or their factors, and I should certainly hope that in any Bill passed by this House the system will be continued, which allows proprietors to give mandates. How is a Member of Parliament to discharge his duty to the poor in his own district when he has to attend to his duties in this House? A large proprietor long resident knows the circumstances of the poor in his district, and though hon. Members may object to the system practical experience has shown that it works well, and I hope it will long continue. Then you have also the elders of Kirk Sessions, who, generally speaking, live in the vicinity; they are in constant communication with the minister of the parish, and are usually on very friendly terms with any dissenting community in the parish, and their advice is quite as much regarded as that of the proprietor or the minister of the Church. Then you have the elected members specially representing the ratepayers. So you have in that way five or six different classes represented. All can "have their say" and give their vote in regard to the proper care to be bestowed upon their poorer neighbours. The system has worked so well that many of its branches have been introduced and, as I may say, engrafted upon other Local Bodies. A few years ago it was thought a strange thing in England to board out pauper children, but we have done that with advantage in Scotland for many years. We have placed such children in the hands of respectable families, and these children brought up without the Poor House taint, have become independent useful members of society. We have another system now being adopted in England of boarding out lunatics, and there are other matters I might adduce to show that this present system now so much decried, has done good and useful work in the country. No doubt the Board of Supervision has taken an active part and rendered itself unpopular with several Boards; but the Board of Supervision has done very useful work, reducing expenditure which would otherwise have fallen upon the 1573 ratepayers by the too benevolent intention of the Boards. The Board of Supervision has laid down the principle that a man shall be assessed according to his classification, but in rural parishes there is no classification. The hon. Member draws a line between house proprietors and shopkeepers.
§ DR. CAMERON
I said the Board of Supervision recommended that classification, but only a few Boards have followed that recommendation.
§ MR. MARK STEWART
I understood the hon. Member to urge that the Board of Supervision insisted upon it. My point is that we hardly know of such a thing, and that this experience of the Board has been extremely useful. I maintain that at the present time the change would be most inexpedient. We have recently had County Councils set up, and there have been discussions whether County Councils should take up this matter of local Poor Law provision working it through Committees. I do not think that County Councils have come to any resolution on the subject, and I am quite certain they have not considered it in its full bearing. I should be sorry to see any sweeping measure such as this passed, throwing over an old system, before we are thoroughly prepared to say what we are going to have in the future. I question very much if the County Councils could, or would, take it up, properly speaking. Of course they could do so, but whether they could know all the relations and connections of individuals with the parish to judge whether they would be proper recipients of parochial relief is matter for question. I should like to know has the hon. Gentleman received any letters or Petitions upon this subject—is there any feeling in the country in regard to it at all? I have received but one resolution from the burgh of Govan which, I think, has been alluded to. In that, by no means unanimously arrived at, several propositions in this Bill are disputed, and these objections constitute a strong argument against the Bill. Objection is taken to Parochial Board Elections taking place in April. They would like elections to take place every three years instead, of a third of the 1574 representatives going out every year, so inviting a possible election every year in parishes where so many elections already go on. Further they protest against the expense which might attach to members of the large burgh Boards being placed in the same position as burgesses on Town Councils. Further, they say it is only but fair that all ratepayers who have property in the burgh should be permitted to vote in that burgh—whereas the present Bill would exclude those who live at a certain distance from the burgh from exercising their vote. Now, if the present system works well—if there is no demand for such a measure as this—what is the reason for the anxiety of the hon. Member on the subject? It is improper to impute motives to hon. Members in this House, but I cannot help feeling that we are approaching or are within measurable distance of a General Election, and the hon. Member is influenced, perhaps, by the effect this Bill might have on the result. A word on the constitution of the Parochial Boards. The hon. Member has referred to the elective members being fixed and arranged by the Board of Supervision. This was settled many years ago; and, as a rule, there is no dispute about the elected members being too few or too many. The members nominated are well able to give their time and attention to the work; the members of Kirk Sessions are limited to four; and surely it is a very fair Board to decide on oft-times very difficult matters involving questions of law. I know the Scotch Law of Settlement requires a very much more acute mind than hon. Gentlemen may think who have not followed the procedure in Burgh Boards. I have alluded to the Kirk Sessions, to the owners of property over £20, and members elected by the ratepayers fixed by the Board of Supervision; and then there is the case of the Royal Burghs, where there are the additions, and where the system has worked well. One of the reasons that influenced the Committee of 1871 in drawing up their Report was that you ought to have persons who are specially responsible for the rates, occupying a strong position—not necessarily a majority—but occupying a strong position on the 1575 constituted Parochial Board; and they pointed out the necessity of some check on the action of those on the Board who, connected with the possible recipients of relief, might be disposed to throw upon the rates expenditure they might be required to bear themselves. The presence of the parish minister, too, on the Board has sometimes a tendency to increase the allowances and to foster objection to the application of the Poor House test. Further, they recommended the raising of the qualification of members from £20 to a minimum to be fixed by the Board of Supervision, but not to exceed £500. These were recommendations of a very strong Committee that took all this subject into full consideration. Hon. Members have but to look at the names on the Committee—they will see they were Members distinguished on both sides of the House. The Committee made a thorough inquiry extending over many days. They recommended that farmers paying the largest rent in the parish should be qualified to sit on the Board without election. To the proposed constitution of the Board under the Bill I do not object, but I do wish to see the constitution of future Parochial Boards, if we are to have them changed, so mixed that all classes will be sure to have a voice in the matter. I do not want to throw the influence into the hands of one class, and I deprecate the idea that owners should have a dominant voice. I do not, however, want to have that voice excluded, and so I would retain the owner's mandate upon matters of so much importance to himself and his neighbours. There is one point in the Bill I do not quite appreciate—that the elective Members may be females.
§ MR. MARK STEWART
I have never heard of them taking up that position, but, of course, if the hon. Member tells me I am wrong in law I accept his ruling. There is a further point in relation to the number on the Board. I think that in large parishes where meetings are frequent, sometimes fortnightly, it is desirable to have a full number to allow 1576 for the absence on business which many men find unavoidable. The hon. Member criticised the somewhat antiquated form in which the elections are conducted, and I am not concerned to defend it. There is ample room for improvement, but I would point out that it is rather a piece of testimony to good management that so little interest is excited in these elections. Time after time, year after year, in different parishes I have seen the same men returned without contest, the ratepayers being thoroughly satisfied with the work of the members. I do not defend the form of election, but I cannot admit it is a "hole and corner" election, and I do not think anybody will say so who is fully acquainted with the facts. If a person qualified to vote does not vote it is his own fault. The time of election was another point to which the hon. Member referred. Is he aware that years ago the Board of Supervision fixed the time in conjunction with the Parochial Board?
§ DR. CAMERON
There is a dispute whether the Board of Supervision was willing to accede to the request of Parochial Boards to change the date. Parochial Boards say they have applied for a change and the Board of Supervision has refused it. On the other hand the Board of Supervision say it is willing to suit the convenience of Parochial Boards.
§ MR. MARK STEWART
I have always heard there is no difficulty in making the change in special instances. You cannot expect it to be convenient alike in all parishes, and I believe the Board of Supervision is quite willing to acquiesce in a convenient arrangement. You cannot have a hard and fast line all over Scotland and if it is convenient in Glasgow to have elections in April or May, I think there would be no difficulty in coming to an arrangement. The elections are not held in a "hole and corner" manner, they are advertised I know ten days at least previously in the local newspapers, so that people have ample notice. I conclude my remarks with the Motion that the Bill be read a second time this day six months. There is no demand for the Bill, or very little demand indeed. The present Boards are in the main working very well, and though 1577 the system has some anomalies that require amendment, on the whole I think it works well, and I hope it will long continue.
(1.59.) SIR ARCHIBALD ORREWING (Dumbarton)
I beg to second the Motion; but in doing so let me say that, while I question very much whether such a change as this Bill proposes would be very beneficial to the country, I admit that the principle is one that we cannot oppose, seeing that it is a principle that has been recognised on this side of the House, that Boards for the management of their own affairs should be elected. I confess my first objection to the Bill is due to the fact of it having been introduced by the hon. Member for the College Division. It is a question of such delicacy and complexity that it should be dealt with by the Government. I am not against the extension of the elective principle; but I think hon. Members from Scotland and this House will be wise in rejecting the measure, in the hope that the Government will, either this year or next year, be able to bring in a large and comprehensive Bill which will change the present system and be satisfactory to Scotland. (2.0.)
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "this day six months."—(Mr. Mark Stewart.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ (2.21.) MR. SHIRESS WILL (Montrose, &c.)
If anything had been wanting to convince me of the necessity of the Bill before the House, the want would have been supplied by the speech of the hon. Baronet who last spoke. The hon. Baronet is a gentleman of great experience in matters relating to the business of Parochial Boards: he has told us that he is chairman of at least one Parochial Board, and it is not to be doubted that in the discharge of his duties he has studied carefully the many questions that have to be dealt with by those bodies. He is well versed in the necessity of getting people on the Boards who are capable of discharging the duties; and, bringing his experience to bear on the question before the House, 1578 the hon. Baronet has laid down two propositions. He has said that he approves the principle, that all Parochial Boards should be representative, and he added that he was generally in favour of the principle of the Bill; and how an hon. Member, holding those two opinions, and in face of the fact that the Government now in office brought in a Bill two years ago in the very direction of the proposal of the hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow, can find it consistent with his former action to vote now for the rejection of that measure, I cannot understand. But the hon. Baronet did give a reason and let us examine what it was—He said in effect "Although I am in favour of the principle of the Bill, and although I consider that all such Boards should be representative, although I admit that these Parochial Boards are not now representative, I intend to wait till the Government introduces some more comprehensive scheme." Well, the Scottish Members on this side of the House would like to know what more comprehensive scheme can be devised or has ever been suggested for reforming the constitution of Parochial Boards in Scotland. The hon. Member should have remembered the action of the Government in 1888. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate and the Government, of whom he was the mouthpiece on this question, acknowledged the necessity for reform by bringing in their Bill. What did that Bill acknowledge? Why, that these Boards, not being representative, ought to be made representative. It acknowledged, in the next place, that the present system of voting which now is multiple, as has been described, ought no longer to exist. It proposed to abolish the system and proposed a new franchise for the election of a representative Board such as is proposed in this Bill, and I believe I am right in saying that, substantially, the only point which the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman did not cover, and which this Bill does cover, was the question of voting by proxy for the Parochial Boards. What is it that we have to understand by the remark of the hon. Baronet who last spoke that we should wait until a Bill is brought in by the Government? Pass- 1579 ing, however, from that speech, I wish to say a few words as to the speech to which the House has listened from the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stewartry. The speech of the hon. Gentleman appeared to have for its abject the conversion of the Lord Advocate, because all the arguments used in it were arguments which must have been rejected by the Government, when the Government in their Bill in 1888 sought to do what it is sought to do now, though perhaps as regards details in not exactly the same form. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stewartry said he could find no fault at all with the present system, which is 45 or 50 years old. That was enough for him. Indeed, that it was a fine old crusted institution—which, as he said, had been doing good. I am prepared to admit, if the hon. Gentleman likes, for the purpose of the present argument, that the existing system has worked well, but I would remind the House that when the Local Government Bill for Scotland was passed it was said from the Benches opposite, and admitted from those on the Opposition side, that the Commissioners of Supply had worked well. The time, however, had come—and everybody acknowledged it—when representative bodies ought to have control of local business, and it was agreed on all hands that the existing Boards should be supplanted by the means which the Local Government Bill for Scotland effected Then, having used that argument, the hon. Gentleman went on to give a few other reasons why the Bill should not be accepted. He denied that there was any necessity for abolishing mandates, and said he would speak for rural parishes. I may be permitted to remind the House how the rural parishes of which the hon. Member spoke are nominated or elected. Every owner of land or heritages of the annual value of £20 or over is on the Board as a matter of course, without nomination or election. Then, in the next place, you have the Provost and Bailies of any Royal Burgh within the parish appointed ex officio. Then, again, you have the representatives of the Kirk Sessions—or, if there are more than six, you have six of them nominated by the Kirk Sessions. After that vast multitude of people—for the 1580 owners may amount in some cases to over 1,000, as has been pointed out by the mover of the Second Reading—you have a certain small number of elected members, the number being named by the Board of Supervision. Now, I cannot imagine, on the first blush of it, any Board more likely to work inefficiently, and to serve its purpose more inefficiently than a Board so constituted. What is everybody's business is nobody's business. If you have Members on the Board of a certain rateable value, they can give to some person a mandate to vote for them when he pleases, for what he pleases, and under what conditions he pleases. I should have thought that the time had come, when even the House of Lords having discontinued their system of voting by proxy—that this system of voting by proxy in the parishes of Scotland might very well be considered inadequate, or that something better might be put in its place. The next argument was that the members of the Kirk Session are on the spot—a most remarkable argument. I should have thought that other Ministers of the Gospel were also on the spot; and I assume that had we representative Boards we should also find the elected members on the spot. Then the hon. Gentleman says that the Kirk Session know all about the people. I challenge that entirely. I quite agree that the Kirk Sessions may know their own business, but I question that they know all about the business of other people. I think there are other Institutions in the parishes of Scotland, moreover, who know quite as much about the wants of the people. The hon. Gentleman spoke of boarding out lunatics, and said that in this respect the present Institution works remarkably well. I do not deny the efficiency of the hon. Gentleman as a member of the Boards to which he belongs, and that the duty to which he refers will be as efficiently discharged as it can be by a non-representative Body. Nevertheless, a representative Body would probably do it as well, if not with more satisfaction to ratepayers. The hon. Gentleman's next argument was in defence of the Board of Supervision. Nobody attacks the Board of Supervision in connection with the Bill before the House. It is a Board similar to the Local 1581 Government Board of England, and has a general control over the Parochial Boards and Rural and Urban Sanitary Authorities. It has been said that this Bill is not wanted, and that it has been introduced for electioneering purposes. I will tell him who wants the Bill. The Government wants it. They introduced it in 1888—and presumably because it was wanted—and I should have thought that a sufficient answer to the hon. Gentleman. Besides, my hon. Friend introduced substantially the same Bill in 1883, and more than once in the present Parliament. I appeal to the Government to allow this Bill to pass the Second Reading, so that it may go before a Committee. If the Government see fit to adopt the suggestion, Amendments on matters of details may be suitably introduced, and hon. Members opposite may have an opportunity of enforcing their views. It would be wrong to delay a measure which is wanted in Scotland, and can be made useful.
§ (2.50.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
I think it is about time that we had some arguments addressed against this Bill. There have been none so far. The hon. Member for the Stewartry is the usual exception to the rule, and, lurking behind his own trench, declares his opposition to this Bill. Probably he is the only man who, after an experience of 20 years of the present condition of things, would say that the present system of Parochial Boards in Scotland is not indefensible. The hon. Gentleman has not taken into consideration the circumstance that it is not every Parochial Board in Scotland which possesses so excellent a chairman as he is, and that those interested in the question have not found the Parochial Boards exactly the most representative Bodies even in recent years. The hon. Member very properly referred to a Report of 20 years ago on the subject, but I am not sure that the recommendations in that Report support his contention against a change in the present system. There has been a great number of changes within the last 20 years, and I am sure the Lord Advocate would be the last to use an argument based on a Report of 20 years 1582 ago. The hon. Baronet who seconded this Motion declared with great good sense that the present parochial system was entirely indefensible, and he frankly admitted that his whole and sole reason for opposing the Bill was that the hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow had introduced it. The hon. Member for the College Division made a most able and incontrovertible speech. In my constituency I have made a study of this parochial system, and I find that the land is assessed at one-fifth of the value of the dwellings in villages; that is to say, the first is assessed at 6d in the £1, and the other is assessed at 2s. 6d. in the £1. It is natural that the landlords, who are all influential on the Parochial Boards, should take as little out of the land as possible, and as much out of the villages and the householders as they possibly can. They have the power, and they use it. They follow out the policy of doing the best they can for themselves. But the system is one which I am sure will not be defended by the Government, or by anyone who has paid any attention to it. This subject, I say with all sincerity, is one of supreme importance. I know of nothing which affects the condition of the working classes more than the administration of the Poor Law. It is constantly coming to my ears that people belonging to the Dissenting churches are not cared for or looked upon in the same way as those who belong to the parish churches; and they feel it a matter of humiliation that in their troubles they cannot go to their own elder, or minister and have their case fairly represented. They find that it is necessary to go to the parish minister, who, thereby, has a superior position in the Kirk Sessions, compared with their own minister and their own Kirk Sessions. I am quite aware that members of the Kirk Sessions go out of the way to allay this feeling, and deprive it of force. But you cannot expect to destroy it, and it is a source of great jealousy and heart burning, widespread, and well understood in most of our parishes. It is said that the people of Scotland are satisfied with the existing state of things because they take no interest in the elections. But it only requires that a coterie should have the mandates in their 1583 pockets, and they can control the whole parochial system. The people know this, and that it is useless to manifest interest in the elections, so long as the wealthier classes have the control. My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcudbright has said it was a dangerous thing to give poor people the power of electing those who administer relief to the poor.
§ MR. MARK STEWART
I rise to Order. I read an extract from the Report of the Select Committee of 1871, I did not give it as my own opinion at all.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT
I thank the hon. Member for the explanation, but at any rate he read the opinion as one which he approved; if he does not approve it but condemns it, I should be glad to hear him say so. I maintain that it is a hard thing for the poorer class whose friends are placed in the unfortunate circumstances necessitating the receipt of poor relief to be told that they have no right to take part in matters bearing on the welfare of those in whom they take the strongest interest; for my part I believe that they would be more likely to arrive at just and fair decisions in regard to those with whom they can feel and with whom they can sympathise, than the better class who do not understand the wants and conditions of the poor as they do. I fully admit that there may be a good deal to be said regarding the details of this Bill, but those are matters which can be dealt with in Committee. What we now ask the House to affirm is, that the present system is anomalous, and requires Amendment, which the House ought to do the more readily seeing that both sides have already gone a long way in the direction of suggesting a large and substantial reform of our parochial system. What we need in Scotland as much as in any part of the Empire is a greater simplification of our Parochial Boards. I trust the present Lord Advocate, during the limited period of his power, may yet carry a measure which will bring about the simplification of these Boards; we have already gone a long step towards this; but I trust we may soon go several steps further, so that we 1584 may have these bodies elected on a similar principle to that which governs elections of School Boards, County Boards, and Parliamentary Representatives. The vote for Members of Parliament is of little consequence to the working man compared with the interest he feels in his own parish, and matters which are of constant occurrence at his own door. We have had trotted out to us the improvement that has taken place in the Law of Lunacy under the boarding out system. But where did that originate? Why, in places where a popular election was most thorough. For my part, I hope that this system will be greatly extended, as I believe it to be the means of doing much good. I will not, however, detain the House further; but for the reasons I have given I shall give my cordial support to the Bill. I think it will be shown that a large proportion of the Scotch Members will vote for it; and if it be rejected through Government using the overwhelming force of their majority against the Scottish people, they will merely be furnishing another argument in proof of the fact that although the bulk of the Scotch Members are endeavouring year after year to do the best they can for their country and their constituencies their demands are negatived by an adverse majority which neither knows nor cares for the wishes of the Scottish people, but merely uses its power at the bidding of the Government to frustrate the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the Scotch Members. I would remind the Government that these things are noted, and constantly noted, by the Scotch people, and I again warn them, as I have warned them on former occasions, that if they wish to prevent the growth of a Home Rule feeling in Scotland, it will be by listening to the reasonable requirements of the Scotch Members as put forth in this House, not unduly nor too frequently, but, at any rate, with earnestness and sincerity.
§ (2.50.) MR. A. ELLIOT (Roxburgh)
Perhaps I may be allowed to call the attention of the House to the subject with which we have to deal. We are not dealing with the question of the constitution of a legislative representative body, we are merely engaged 1585 in considering the constitution of a body whose function it is to deal with the administration of the Poor Law. For my own part, I have always been one of those who have taken a strong line in the direction of making the franchise as wide as possible in regard to the Representatives who are sent here for legislative purposes. But when we are engaged in the consideration of a measure relating to the constitution of a totally different body, charged with the control of a purely local system, the questions which arise are of a totally different character. What the House has to consider is, what are the functions the Scotch Parochial Boards have to perform, and how we are to get the Boards which will best discharge those functions. I must confess that on first reading this Bill I was struck with the importance attached to it. It should not be forgotten that it is intended that the Poor Law electors in Scotland are to be the same persons as elect the County Councils and Parliamentary Representatives. Doubtless, every householder in Scotland is interested in the manner in which we legislate here, and the decisions we arrive at on the general policy of the country. To my mind, it does not matter how much a man pays in rates and taxes as long as he is concerned in the course of policy pursued by Parliament; but when we are asked to deal with the mode of electing a Parochial Board who have to make the rates and raise the funds for the relief of the poor, and also to determine how the money shall be spent, it does strike me that it would be an unwise thing if the electors, having to choose the men composing those Boards, should largely consist of persons who pay no rates at all. I can understand that the rural labourer, the gamekeeper, or the gardener, who, doubtless, are much under the influence of their employers, should take their fair share in the Imperial concerns of the country; but, on the other hand, I do not think it right that the labourer, the gamekeeper, and gardener, who do not contribute a single sixpence to the Poors Rate, should be empowered to decide by their votes who shall be responsible for the local administration of the Poor Law. My hon. Friend (Dr. Cameron) in the 1586 exhaustive speech he has made has spoken of these Parochial Boards being constituted in some cases of hundreds and, indeed, thousands of individuals, and it is clear that we ought in some way to have the Committees properly constituted. Here arises the question whether certain individuals should be ex officio members of the Board. That is an important matter for our consideration. And with regard to the Kirk Sessions representatives, I would say I see no sense or reason in any ex officio representation of the Kirk Sessions as such. Again, I do not see why the Provosts and Magistrates of the rural burghs should not be entitled to act as ex officio members of these Boards. Nevertheless, I am not prepared, as a matter of principle, to support the proposition that all ex officio representation on the Parochial Boards of Scotland is to be condemned. The Magistrates in the burghs are generally men of great experience, and in the majority of cases the Provosts and Magistrates are found extremely useful on the Parochial Boards. With regard to the question of allowing those who do not pay their share of the rates to assist in controlling their expenditure, we have heard of remarkable cases in Ireland where relief which has come from sources other than the ratepayers' pockets has been administered in the most lavish manner. This is a thing that can hardly be possible in Scotland, but I think it will be generally admitted that there is always a tendency to be a little reckless in the distribution of relief, which has not been provided out of the pockets of those by whom it is administered. If this Bill is to be rejected I hope the Government will be enabled before very long to bring forward some measure of their own by which these Local Boards may be thoroughly overhauled and reconstituted. I cannot approve of the principle of the Bill, and must, therefore, vote against the Motion for its Second Reading.
§ (3.30.) MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)
I need not detain the House with any arguments in support of the Bill, because none whatever have been advanced against it, for what my hon. Friends have said by way of objection 1587 to the principle of the Bill applies with equal force to the Bill introduced by the Lord Advocate two years since. It is too late in the day now to try and do away with the elective principle, which it is the sole purpose of this Bill to extend to the Parochial Boards. We already have in the County Councils and School Boards of Scotland, the purely elective principle in force, and we are only asking that the Parochial Boards, which exercise much the same powers as the other bodies, shall have the franchise on which they are elected altered, so as to make it in conformity with the general principle. The Parochial Boards have to deal with a local taxation amounting to £728,000; the School Boards deal with a local taxation of £546,000 in addition to a Government grant of £500,000 sterling; and the School Board, which deals with the larger amount of money, is based on the purely elective principle. No one better knows the state of feeling in Scotland than the hon. Member for Dumbarton, and he says it is too late for anyone to dispute that principle. His only objection to the Bill was that it was introduced by my Colleague the hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow instead of by the Government. It has also been alleged that the Bill has been introduced in view of a General Election. But the Bill was originally introduced in 1883, and it has been before the House several times since. When the Bill was introduced in 1888 I voted against it, and for the reason that it was said the Government were about to deal in a comprehensive manner with local government for Scotland; and it was advisable to see their scheme before we began tinkering with existing institutions. But what has since happened? The Government have introduced their Bill, and we know that instead of having gone on the principle of a purely elective body, they adhere to the system of making the rates payable half by the landlord and half by the tenant, and of having a Board one half of which consists solely of owners' representatives. I venture to say that a proposal of that kind is most reactionary. I am not at all surprised to find that hon. Members opposite fear that the question of the constitution of 1588 Parochial Boards is one likely to influence the voters at the next General Election. The present system is manifestly unfair; and if the Government think to beat down Scottish opinion by simply defeating this Bill without argument, they will discover to their cost that the voters in the counties lay very considerable stress upon this matter. It may be said that if the landlord pays half the rates he is entitled to half the representation. The answer is that the landlord does not pay half the rates. He purchases the property with the burden upon it, and in paying the rates he is only paying that burden which he has taken into consideration when he fixes the price he gives for the property. The rate is really a tax upon industry. It is a mistake to suppose that only ratepayers have an interest in this question. What of those who do not pay poor rates? Is not that rate levied in order to give relief to those who are indigent? Have they no interest in the question of its administration? They have a substantial interest in the just and fair management of Parochial Boards, and ought not to be excluded from their just influence upon the elections. They may be few in number and not able to materially affect the general result; but, still, they ought to have their rights. I hope that hon. Members from Scotland will vote in favour of the principle of the Bill, which is in accordance with modern ideas and with those Liberal principles which predominate throughout Scotland.
§ (3.8.) MR. SOMERVELL (Ayr, &c.)
When hon. Members for Scotland who sit on the opposite side of the House discuss a Scottish measure they usually favour us with peculiarly Scottish opinions; they take the opportunity to instil upon our minds the fact that they alone are imbued with Scotch Liberal principles, and that they alone represent the people of Scotland. They are, too, always holding out terrible threats against the Government of the day as to what will happen if it does not follow the sound advice which they tender. But much of what has been said to-day is altogether beside the question we are now discussing. There are two points raised by the Bill, and in introducing his 1589 measure the hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow laboured considerably over the first—as to whether the present system of electing Parochial Boards should be continued. I am not going to occupy the time of the House in defending that system. I am of opinion it should be altered, and the sooner the better; but I cannot join in the wholesale condemnation that system has met with. The present constitution of the Parochial Boards is somewhat intricate, and not altogether devoid of the popular element. Objection has been taken to Provosts and Magistrates being members of the Board; but it seems to be forgotten that these gentlemen are elected by a popular vote; and if the Boards were elected by the proposed suffrage, it is probable that in many places these gentlemen would come in at the head of the poll. It is now on record thanks to the speech of the hon. Member for the Montrose Burghs, that the average number of owners of the annual value of £20 and upwards in Scotch parishes is 400; and it cannot be said that a Board consisting of 400 members would be wholly unrepresentative. The question is whether the Board proposed by the Bill is the best that can be suggested in the circumstances. Last night I gave as my reason for voting against a Bill my objection to its title. If I had merely looked at the title of this Bill I could have given it my most cordial support; but on looking through the Bill I find in every clause something to object to which is incapable apparently of being altered in Committee. The hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division objects to any consideration being given to this question who pays the rates. He thinks that while the rates are divided equally between owners and occupiers it is a very wrong thing that owners should be considered at all in the constitution of a Board which is largely responsible for the administration of the rates. The hon. Member was, I believe, in this House when the Scotch Local Government Bill was passed. That measure met with his unqualified approval, and in it he will find express recognition of the principle that due consideration must be given to the incidence of taxation. Yet now he says that property 1590 ought not to be considered at all, although it pays half the rates.
§ MR. CALDWELL
Perhaps I had better explain that I opposed those particular clauses in the Local Government Bill, and am, therefore, not to be held responsible for their adoption.
§ MR. SOMERVELL
I was not aware of that, and therefore withdraw the expression unqualifiedly. Still we have the fact that the majority of the House thought those clauses fair and proper. If the owner bought his property at a lower price because of the burden of rates upon it surely the occupier stands in the same position, and in deciding what rent he is willing to pay takes into account the amount of rates; therefore, if the argument of the hon. Member is good for anything at all, it applies with equal force to both owner and occupier. Whatever the opinions of the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division may be, we all know that the principle obtains in this House that taxation and representation should go together. Yet it is entirely ignored in the present Bill, and, therefore, I am unable to support it. There is another important point which ought to be borne in mind. It may be that in some of the parishes which elect the Parochial Board there is a populous place by reason of some special industry being carried on in it. If this Bill were carried it would be possible for that portion simply to swamp the agricultural interest, which pays the larger share of the rates. Reference has been made to the School Board franchise, but hon. Members have failed to point out that in that franchise there is a cumulative vote which secures minorities a chance of representation. No such safeguard is included in this Bill. Again, as it is proposed that one-third of the members shall retire every year, the majority might, by the exercise of brute force, so arrange things as to deprive the minority of any representation whatever. I have always been opposed to a system which would permit such a state of things, and it is because I fail to see the slightest appearance of fair play in this measure that I oppose it. I think it has only been brought in in view of a General Election. I am willing to support any measure which embodies the 1591 principle that taxation and representation should go fairly together; but this Bill violates that principle, and, further, I think it would be a mistake to tinker with the constitution of the Parochial Boards unless we are prepared to constitute a body to which may ultimately be transferred all the functions hitherto conducted within parochial limits.
§ (3.22.) MR. D. CRAWFORD (Lanark, N. E.)
This Bill is being opposed on various grounds. The hon. Member who last spoke, if I rightly understood him, did not oppose some measure of reform in the constitution of the Board, but I could not quite gather in what direction he wished that reform to proceed. Then the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill took up the position that the administration of the Poor Law was very well as at present, and he did not seem disposed to admit the necessity of any reform whatever.
§ MR. D. CRAWFORD
Well, the hon. Member at any rate did not indicate what reform he thought necessary; indeed, he was at great pains to defend the system as it stands. But I do not think that that is the position taken up by the Conservative Party. I hold that those who maintain that the law works well in its present form are assuming a Quixotic attitude. No doubt the hon. Member has exhibited much gallantry in his willingness to defend any weak system however indefensible it really is. But it is impossible to support the attitude he has taken up, and the Government are not at all likely to back him up. Accepting the Bill of the Lord Advocate in 1889 as embodying the views of the Conservative Party on this point, I think the issue between both sides is really a very narrow one, though it is not unimportant. My hon. Friend the Member for the College Division gave a very interesting and graphic history of this question. The story of the Parochial Boards in Scotland cannot be too often repeated; it is the example of an anomaly, a monstrosity, I might even 1592 say, in the administration of the affairs of Scotland, that is singular and unique. The Lord Advocate in his Bill accepted the franchise which was recommended, not only because it was popular, but because it practically became the basis of all the representative institutions of the country. The right hon. Gentleman was prepared at the same time to sweep away official representation on the Board, yet he coupled those proposals with one which I consider to be the most reactionary I have ever heard made in the House—to erect a new description of representation franchise, to separate the owners from the occupiers, and to make them into two equal classes. It is impossible too emphatically to condemn that principle, and I trust my right hon. Friend will never again make that proposal to the House. I can readily believe great pressure was put upon him from certain quarters to induce him to make such a proposal, but I doubt whether, if he consulted the landed interest, he would find a general fear of an open franchise even for the election of a Board for the administration of parochial affairs. The issue before the House is: Is this popular franchise to be retained for the purposes of the Parochial Board, or is it for that one purpose to be excluded when it has been accepted for all the other representative institutions of the country? We hope that in the two years which have elapsed since the Lord Advocate introduced his Bill he has changed his mind. We hope to find that he is prepared to accept the principle of this Bill, and that he will base the Parochial Boards on the popular franchise by which County Councils and School Boards are elected.
§ (3.30.) THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR SCOTLAND (Sir CHARLES PEARSON,) Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities
A good deal of the discussion has turned on the question as to how far the present administration of the Poor Law in Scotland is or is not defensible. I am not disposed to support the proposition that the present system is not open to amendment, and I will not enter into the questions regarding the abolition of mandates, the electorate, or the constitution of the Board. Those questions may well be left open for re-consideration. 1593 In considering this question we are at once met with the fact that the present system has not only been some time in operation, but has undoubtedly worked well in almost every particular. The hon. Member for the College Division (Dr. Cameron) has uttered some hardly veiled threats that he has a large armoury of objections to the working of the system.
§ SIR C. PEARSON
Yes, illustrations of cases in which the present system has not worked well; but the test is not to be found in instances here and there, where there may have been dissatisfaction or friction. One single fact which I will mention will show that no one can fairly say that the present system has not been successful in Scotland—the fact, namely, that while since 1868 the population of Scotland has increased by something over 700,000, the pauperism has decreased by something like 40,000. I think I would be unduly courageous if I endeavoured to satisfy the craving of some hon. Gentlemen opposite for arguments against the Bill. They have over and over again complained that there has been no argument brought forward by the opponents of the Bill. I rather think the explanation of that complaint is that the argument desiderated is argument which will convince those whose minds are already made up; and I cannot hope to change them. There are, however, two main lines of objection to the Bill, either of which is sufficient to induce the House to vote against the Second Reading. The one raises large considerations of policy; the other has reference to the Bill itself, as an ill-considered measure, labouring under serious defects, and one which will not work satisfactorily in the main. I cannot call it a hastily considered measure, because we are told it has been in the minds of its promoters for eight or nine years; yet in some serious respects it is an ill-considered one. On the important point of policy,—this Bill, if passed, will bring about a change not merely in the franchises in the country, but in the Poor Law administration of the country, which is a totally different 1594 thing. The measure seems to me to contain elements of risk and danger as regards a Poor Law administration which has been built up with the utmost care through a long series of years. This may well make the House pause before giving a Second Reading to the Bill. What is the justification which the Mover of the Second Reading has pleaded in this House? I apprehend that, apart from the general consideration of the benefits of representative government in all spheres, the hon. Member's main illustration of the necessity for the change is based upon a matter which the Bill hardly touches, namely, the inequalities between various parishes in Scotland as regards the classification of assessment. The Member for East Aberdeenshire carried that further, and said that in his investigations of the administration of the Poor Law he found a totally different state of matters in each parish.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT
The hon. and learned Gentleman, I am sure, does not wish to misrepresent me. I never should have thought of saying such a thing. What I said was that there are material differences.
§ SIR C. PEARSON
If the hon. Member says there is no particular or specific difference, I will say no more on the point; but what I think the hon. Member really meant to say was, that apart from the differences in the constitution of Boards in burghs and country parishes there is a marked difference of classification. Well, that is a matter which is really not touched by the present Bill. Those who support the Bill may think this is a thing which will be amended by the operation of the Boards which will be called into existence by this Bill, but the question of classification depends on a Statute which this Bill does not displace, namely, the Statute of 1845; and the Board of Supervision in this matter of classification will continue to control it as before. Another serious question is raised by the illustrations given by hon. Members opposite as to the analogy which they think exists between the franchise for municipal and School Board elections and the franchise they desire to introduce for Parochial 1595 Boards. But, again, I will remind the House that this is not in the main a question of franchise, but of the constitution of the Boards. Therefore we have to take into consideration in connection with this question the question whether there is an analogy not merely in the act of voting for the one Board and the other, but in the operations of the Boards. It is true that School Boards have power to assess, and they have Government grants; but the assessment and the Government grants are distributed on certain fixed lines, which almost exclude discretion, and which act almost automatically, as in payment by results or on average attendance. But it is different in the case of Parochial Boards. Their funds are not spent on public works or matters like education. They are spent on what are, though not legally, yet, in the larger sense, really charitable purposes, and are, therefore, open to all the difficulties and niceties which surround the distribution, of relief. I need not enlarge upon those difficulties, but they are difficulties which seem to me to touch very nearly the question which has been raised as to the constitution of these Boards, and it appears to me that the references made on this point to the Government Bill of two years ago are entirely beside the question, unless we take into account—first, the constitution of the Board in view of its duties; and, secondly, the position of the question in 1889. The position two years ago was that owners, all along had, ipso facto as owners of a certain value; a seat on the Parochial Board. It was, therefore, reasonable for the Government Bill to say that if we are to alter that state of things, and to cut down, say, the Old Machar Board from 2,000 members to 20, it can only be done fairly by proposing, as the Government Bill did, to allow owners an equal representation in respect that they pay one half of the rates, while the occupiers pay the other half. I dispute, therefore, the analogy between the Bill of 1889 and the present one, because it fails at the vital point—to wit, the constitution of the Board. Let me remind the House that the present system of Poor Law administration in Scotland has been built up with the utmost care for a long series of years. I 1596 deprecate any proposal to remit the matter to a totally new body, who will not regard the policy and the traditions of that administration, which are so necessary to prevent the dislocation of the whole Poor Law administration. I say so advisedly, and I can point to the absence of any reasonable objection during this discussion to the present system so far as actual administration is concerned. I would add that it is in the highest degree not only unfair, but dangerous, to put the administration of the Poor Fund into the hands of the class who are nearest to the pauper class itself. That would operate unfairly to those who have to pay one-half of the assessment, and, in the second place,——
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
The system which the Solicitor General is condemning obtains at present in all the burghal parishes.
§ SIR C. PEARSON
I do not quite follow the application of the hon. Gentleman's remark, and I do not think he and I can be referring to the same thing. I rather think that the history of the Poor Law, both in Scotland and England, shows that the risk to which I was about to refer is a real one, namely, that when we get so low in the scale as to give a preponderance to a certain class in the administration of the Poor Law, there is a tendency to wastefulness and to pauperisation.
§ SIR C. PEARSON
I understand the hon. Member's point now; but I think the hon. Member forgets that the franchise is a graduated franchise, and, moreover, entirely fails to discriminate between the two matters under discussion, namely, the franchise under which the election takes place and the constitution of the Board. I have been speaking of the constitution of the Board. To come to my second point, I think the Bill is open to the observation that it has not been pre- 1597 pared with sufficient care. It is a remarkable fact that the Bill will operate largely as a disfranchising measure. The Barony parish in their Petition have shown that the result of the Bill will be the disfranchisement in that parish alone of £1,250,000 of annual value out of £1,750,000.
§ SIR C. PEARSON
I think that is quite an unnecessary interruption. This disfranchisement of rental represents in the rating of that parish the disfranchisement of £22,000 a year of poor rates, out of £29,000 a year. The hon. Member says that the Bill of 1889 was open to the same objection, but that Bill contained provisions which by their operation removed the slur which the hon. Member's remark would throw upon it. Again, the clauses of this Bill operate towards disfranchisement in another direction. The hon. Member proposes for voting purposes to take the burgh or the county roll. In the case, therefore, of a ratepayer who has property in parishes A, B, and C, whether in a burgh or a county, the Bill will actually disfranchise him in regard to all but one.
§ SIR C. PEARSON
I do not think it was so in the Lord Advocate's Bill; but I will pass from that point. So far from this Bill simplifying the electoral roll—and the hon. Member for the College Division seems to think there should be one roll, one franchise, and one area for all purposes—actually another roll will be necessary to give effect to this Bill. Then the hon. Member proposes a sort of sliding scale, according to population, to fix automatically the number of members of each Parochial Board. At present the Board of Supervision fixes the proper number according to the needs of localities, because many things have to be taken into consideration besides population. Moreover, the Bill contemplates a maximum of 100,000 of a population as determining the number on the Board; yet the Barony parish of Glasgow has a population of over 300,000. Upon the principle of representation you must have regard to 1598 the fact that a parish may largely exceed your maximum. On the grounds I have stated I think it will be obvious that the only course open to us is to support the Motion for the rejection of the Bill.
§ (4.0.) SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
The hon. and learned Gentleman, in the beginning of his speech, seemed desirous of leaving out of sight the evils of the present system; but it is absolutely impossible for us to leave these evils out of view, for on these evils turn this Debate. Scotland has waited long enough for the redress of these evils, and it is most extraordinary proof of the vitality and tenacity of a great abuse that such an exposition as my hon. Friend the Member for College Division made of the system of parochial elections in Scotland in the year 1883 should yet have been followed by eight years during which no serious attempt has been made to correct these evils, and that now we are told by the Government that we are to wait for an indefinite time longer. Observe how indefinite the time is; for the hon. Member for Kirkcudbright (Mr. Mark Stewart), speaking with almost unnecessary courtesy, told us that he did not like to attribute motives, but he was afraid the Bill was brought forward with a view to the General Election. Why, think what that means. Suppose we have a General Election 18 months hence. After that at least two years must pass before the Government which succeeds, or the present Government, can bring in a Bill to correct these evils. So that means Scotland is to wait three and a half years for the redress of these abuses, so flagrant that they are almost incredible when they are enumerated. The hon. and learned Gentleman has brought forward objections, every one of which, with one exception, is an objection which could be removed in Committee, and this I think the hon. and learned Gentleman himself will not deny. When the hon. and learned Gentleman seriously objects to the Bill upon the Second Reading because it fixes the number of members of a Parochial Board in parishes of different sizes, a principle already laid down in our Education Act, I say that is a principle which, if he objects to it, he can alter as much as he likes by the 1599 aid of the Government in Committee. He can hardly be serious in making this a Second Reading objection. But upon one point he goes strongly against the Bill, and grapples with it; and that point had been previously treated by my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburghshire (Mr. A. Elliot). It is not fair to say no argument has been adduced against the Bill, because on this point both my hon. Friend and the Solicitor General argued fully, though not, I think, in a satisfactory manner. The real point upon which the Debate turns between the Government view and the Bill is whether there shall be a separate franchise of owners and occupiers, or whether all members of a Parochial Board are to be elected by the great body of the people. On that point it has been argued that there is something very different between the functions of a Parochial Board and the functions of a School Board or Municipal Council. They allow that the franchise we propose is the franchise upon which these other bodies are elected; but what does my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh say, and what does the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Scotland say? The functions of the bodies are different, says the hon. and learned Gentleman; these Parochial Boards have to discharge delicate and important duties in relation to the distribution of parish relief; but what have these other bodies to do except to take over the Government grants and give them out in the manner laid down by Statute? But can it really be maintained that a School Board has not the power to involve the community in very serious expenditure by means of the policy it adopts. I do not mean only in the necessary form of expenditure for buildings, or the proportion of schools to population. In Glasgow the School Board had the power to settle the question whether elementary schools should be fee-paying or not. Then, when you turn to Municipal Bodies, remember the London County Council has not only the control of enormous funds, but I believe the Council has taken over the debt of its predecessor of £40,000,000. How can you say that the franchise upon which such bodies are elected is not fit for the election of a Parochial Board when it is 1600 deemed safe in relation to the administration of the municipal affairs of London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leeds, or Sheffield?
§ MR. A. ELLIOT
What I wished to put was this: that the electors under the Bill would be entirely different from the electors under the School Board or County Council elections, because a vast number would come in as electors who never saw the face of the collector at all, were never liable to the rates, or charged with the rates.
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN
In the first place, I was replying to the special argument of the Solicitor General, but I quite understand the point of my hon. Friend. In towns so far from it being the case that the School Board electorate is less wide, though I allow in country districts it is, so far from it being less wide than the electorate that elects to the Municipality, it is a very much wider electorate, and no one knows that better than the Lord Advocate. What we maintain is that, as in the School Board and the Municipality, so in the Parochial Board it is not necessary to have any special representation of a class for the protection of that class. Surely if an owner is a man who takes a real interest in the affairs of a locality he will get elected to the Board; and if he is an owner in that rare position of being a Member of Parliament and has to come up to London, he must have a badly managed popularity if he cannot get a relative, an agent, or a trusted friend elected in the district where his interest lies. Wealth rightly administered will always be able to exercise a legitimate influence in any elective body. Not only is the present system a bad one, because under it elected members are swamped by ownership votes, but its evils are aggravated in proportion as communities become more active and rich, and, presumably, more intelligent. I take the constituency the Lord Advocate represents. In Bute there is a parish called Kilbride, a comparatively small parish in which there are two elected members—or I take another parish, Kingarth, though it is not so strong a case for my purpose—in Kingarth there are 25 owners to two elected 1601 members; but in Rothesay, which we presume to be the centre of energy and thought in the district, you actually find 399 owners to seven elected members. This is not by any means the strongest case we can find. Take an instance in Invernessshire in Barra, a parish of an extremely rural description, there is one heritor to three elected members; but in the town of Inverness there are 616 heritors to 12 elected members—that is to say, the non-elected members are 50 to 1 of the elected members. Then, in Roxburghshire, in that, in most respects, delightful parish of Minto, there are four heritors and only one elected member. Then in the old town of Hawick we find seven elected members to 290 heritors, a proportion of 40 to 1, and anyone who knows the circumstances of Hawick must acknowledge that this is a preposterous proportion. Much has been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman about a Petition presented against the Bill; but I am authorised to say that the Petition was passed by the majority of one, and I think hon. Members will agree that when a body comes within such a narrow majority of voting its own dissolution, then it is time for that body to put its house in order. In these burghal parishes, though it is quite true that the great body of ratepayers vote, yet in the first place they vote under a very defective system of registration and under the plural system of voting, and, according to the extent of his property, a man has from two to six votes to his neighbour's one. And now a word to show how extremely important it is to deal with this matter quickly. It is not the case that Parochial Boards have only the function of administering to the wants of the poor. In addition to that, under the Act introduced by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, they take part in those District Councils which is the first instalment, I hope, for the whole of the United Kingdom of the right method of conducting local government. They send representative members to take part in functions which my hon. Friend behind me must allow are of the highest importance—matters relating to the public health, to the administration of roads, and other matters of great importance. Now, when we consider under what influences these Parochial Boards are, 1602 when we hear my hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire—not a man to speak at random—declare from his experience that the practical effect of the present system is to put, subject to certain limitations, the administration of the Board funds in the hands of the parish minister; and when we consider that the best answer is that from the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Mark Stewart) that Nonconformists can always rely on the kindness, sense of justice, neighbourliness of the parish minister—or words to that, effect—when we find that outside the Kirk Sessions there is this extraordinary system of ex officio representation on these Boards, then we say to send one or two members of Parochial Boards from each parish to manage roads and administer Acts in relation to public health, is to give the merest fragment and mockery of representation to the great body of the people. I conceive that no English Member can have been present during this Debate without feeling that the system which has been described is an absolute monstrosity, and I trust our English friends will assist us to abolish it. Some of them have heard the speech of my hon. Friend; more of them have heard the answers, and they must feel that no argument of any sort or kind has been brought forward against my hon. Friend except this claim that owners should have the right of special representation. Therefore, I trust they will assist us on this occasion. A great deal has been said about the Members of the Opposition wasting time. I know of no instance of it, but here is an opportunity for the Government to save time by accepting this Bill. There is only one objection urged to the principle, and only one of any serious kind to the details, of the Bill of my hon. Friend. If the Government would allow this Bill to be read a second time they would be doing a very gracious action indeed, one that would send the Bill through the House, so far as this side is concerned, with unanimity and great celerity, and a desire to stretch every point we could to meet the Government view. If the Bill is read a second time to-day it might be taken again on either the 27th of May, the Derby Day—and I earnestly hope the House, breaking through a bad custom, may meet on that day—or the 3rd or 1603 17th of June, and the Bill could easily pass this Session, and thereby the old scandals of the existing system could be swept away. I do not doubt that to-morrow certain newspapers will throw every sort of contumely upon this Debate, which will be characterised as dull and a mere waste of the time of the House of Commons, and other things will be said that Scotchmen care very little about. If the Government accept the Bill they will give to Scotland a satisfactory measure of Home Rule, and excellence of detail and of practice is sure to follow where a right principle has been established.
§ (4.24.) THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. P. B. ROBERTSON,) Bute
Repeated references have been made to the Government measure of 1889, as it related to Parochial Boards, and we have been invited from more than one quarter of the House to state how far we adhere to the spirit of the proposals made at that time. The House will remember that we then laid before the House what unquestionably was a very large and extensive measure of local government. It was thought well by the Government that there should not be exempted from that general overhaul of local institutions the Parochial Boards of Scotland, and in that view, and more especially as, in the Local Government Bill as presented to the House there was direct connection established between the Parochial Boards and district administration, it was considered necessary to present the views of the Government as to Parochial Boards. I should be the last to underrate the anomalies of the existing system of election to Parochial Boards, and the Government in no way recede from the views which they formerly expressed on that subject, nor would they refrain, did any favourable occasion present itself, from taking advantage of the opportunity of carrying their views into effect. We have heard the word "abuses" used several times; and if this means that the present system presents many anomalies and complications susceptible of improvement in 1604 many particulars, then I assent to the use of the word "abuses," though I regard the use of the word "anomalies " a more appropriate. I deny, however, that there are any abuses in the system as far as the relief of the poor is concerned. The Government are entirely with those who desire to put the Parochial Boards upon a more rational and sensible footing as regards their mode of election, whilst they desire to preserve the same spirit of administration that has characterised them during the last 45 years. The Government desire that the representation of both owners and ratepayers should be simplified, and in presenting in 1889 a proposal that the Boards should be constituted half by owners and half by occupiers, we thought that we were presenting an instrument or engine for the administration of poor relief, equitable and free from the anomalies that may render the Boards unpopular. But I turn to the proposal now before the House; and in reference to what has just been said by the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Trevelyan), I feel bound to point out that it is not legitimate for a Government to do even gracious acts at the expense of the vast social interests concerned in Poor Law administration. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he will hear nothing from me tending to minimise the importance of this question, which concerns so deeply the social life of Scotland. My objection to the Bill is that its essence and pith is to entrust to a popularly elected body, the majority of whose constituents are the poor, the administration of Poor Law relief. That is a novel and dangerous experiment, and contains the germ of evils from which the country is at present free, and may lead to a lax administration of the Poor Law. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton (Sir G. Trevelyan) was not exempt from a fault which has vitiated many of the arguments in support of the Bill. We have heard much of the defects of the present system, but what was missing from the speech of the right hon. Baronet as from preceding speeches was any perception of the subject-matter of the administration which is entrusted to the Parochial Boards differing in essential details from 1605 the functions of other bodies. It has been said that, after all, this is merely a question of rating, and that the Government ought not to be too diffident in trusting a body which, to a large extent, will represent occupiers. Sir, let us open our eyes to facts which are not of so remote occurrence as to render them inapplicable at the present time. It is said on the other side that this has been a bad system of Poor Law administration, and that you would get a better one if you had popularly-elected Boards. There have been systems of Poor Law relief which have succeeded, and some which have failed, and I ask can you say that the evils of the systems which have failed are not more likely to recur if you have popularly-elected bodies than if you have Boards constituted of more firm material? What are the functions these Boards have to discharge? Parochial Boards have to consider such questions as this—Shall A B receive relief, A B's case involving similar action in many other instances; or shall C D have the offer of the House, as it is called, or receive out-door relief? These are cases which require to be dealt with by firm Boards, and not by persons, in a small community, elected by those who are in close relation with the recipients of relief. Let me point out the proper way to consider this matter. It is not to have regard to the more prosperous and orderly parts of the country, but to have regard to those parts where there is or may be distress. In these cases, if you have a popularly-elected body, are you not running a very great risk of popularity being obtained by immorality in the administration of relief, more especially when poverty is at the door of a considerable number of the electors? I am not speaking with the smallest disrespect of those who would elect or those who would be elected. Fortunately, it would be the more amiable weaknesses of human nature that would influence Guardians in giving way to popular feeling in relieving distress, whereas the general interests of the country and the interests of industry and prosperity require that the Poor Law shall be firmly and not laxly administered. I do not think the evils which at one time existed in connection with the 1606 parochial system would necessarily be repeated under the Bill before the House; but I appeal to the House to consider whether it is not a subject of the most delicate description—whether for a Government to do a gracious act upon matters involving such consequences would not be the height of political folly, and whether it is not better for the House to adopt an attitude firm and cautious upon this most grave and serious subject? I think anyone who has heard the whole of this Debate, and looks back on it, will see that I have touched on topics that have not been grappled with by hon. Gentlemen opposite. We have heard a great deal about admitting everybody to vote upon every subject, and of assimilating the administration of the Poor Law to the administration of the Education Act, but we have not had the smallest contribution to the discussion in the way of discriminating between the subject-matter of administration as regards Parochial Boards and as regards these other bodies. It is said we need not be afraid of the ratepayers' representatives wasting the ratepayers' money. I say you are quite safe in this sense: that if there be a little extravagance in the way of adopting pretty extensive schemes under the School Boards or Municipalities, it is all to the good—the money is there; but if, on the other hand, you are extravagant in the matter of poor relief, and spend money in a manner that has a demoralising effect upon the poor in rendering them disinclined to seek employment or to shift for themselves, the money is not there; it is lost to those who have contributed it, and you have done evil instead of good to those who receive it. I hope the House will pardon me for regarding this aspect of the question as one which deserves its primary attention and consideration. The House has not realised the fact that in Scotland there is no precedent for an election upon any such footing as that laid down in the Bill. We have as an ingredient of the Parochial Boards elected members, but they are elected on an ad valorem scale.
§ MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON
The hon. Gentleman's phraseology may be more 1607 correct than mine; but when I say ad valorem, I mean that when a man pays £50 for rent he has so many votes, and when he pays £100 he has so many more. I should have, therefore, thought that the phrase ad valorem more correctly described the system than cumulative.
§ MR. J. P. B. ROBERTSON
Yes, but the number of votes admitted under the smaller amounts are so large as to put altogether out of question any distinction there may be between the gentleman who pays £5,000 and the gentleman who pays £500. The hon. Member's interruption assures me that in the hurry of arguing this matter out he has not had present to his mind facts which he ought to have taken note of in giving comprehensive consideration to this question of the administration of the Poor Law. We have to face a state of society where, while there are many Parochial Boards to which it would not much matter who were or who were not elected, there are many districts where a very different state of feeling would prevail, and the question would be viewed with widely different eyes. You must ask yourselves whether you are going to set up a safe or unsafe system of relief. In maintaining the view which I have stated, the House will not be surprised to hear that the Government must support the Amendment. The position I take is not one of receding from the proposals of the Bill of 1889. It is not one of indiscriminate or general admiration of the existing system. It does not involve the giving up of any hope of being able to rectify the anomalies which characterise that system, but it represents our definite resistance to a system which presents the possibility of danger from which politicians ought to shrink.
§ (4.43.) DR. CLARK
If we have been unable to meet the case of the right hon. and learned Gen- 1608 tleman, it is because until now we have not heard anything against the principle of the Bill, and also because the hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow has adopted the principles of a Bill for which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is himself responsible. It is doubtful whether the Solicitor General for Scotland and the Lord Advocate agree, because the bulk of the arguments and most of the speech of the former were dead against the principle of the Bill introduced by his hon. Colleague. We seem to have the Government on this occasion speaking with a divided voice, the Solicitor General for Scotland declining to go on the revolutionary lines marked out by the Lord Advocate. I have frequently thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is revolutionary when he attempts reforms; and the Government now see that that is so, and that they are being led in Scotch matters by a gentleman of a revolutionary turn of mind, though the Conservative element is coming out to counteract his views. I will now reply to the two arguments which have been used against the principle of the Bill. Just now we have in the burghal parishes and in the two great combinations of Edinburgh and Glasgow no members on the Boards representing the heritors. The Boards are composed of members elected by the people, with one or two representatives of the Kirk Session and one or two representatives of the Magistrates, and one or two representatives of the Barony. Then there are four members of the Commissioners of Supply. Taking the case of the Barony, it is constituted of 21 elected members, four members of the Kirk Session, and five of the Commissioners of Supply. These members of the Kirk Session and Commissioners of Supply are entirely overwhelmed by the elective members. In the whole of the combinations of Edinburgh and Glasgow there are no representatives either of the Kirk Session or Commissioners of Supply. I cannot concede the point made by the Solicitor General for Scot- 1609 land that you would be reducing the number of the elected members on the Barony Parochial Board by this Bill. You would reduce the total number from 29 to 24, but you would increase the number of elected members from 21 to 24. In from one-quarter to one-third of the entire population of Scotland you have now got Parochial Boards dominated and controlled by popularly-elected members, property, as such, having no representation at all on them. If a Bill on the lines suggested by the Solicitor General for Scotland or the Lord Advocate is brought in and carried, it will replace on these Boards men who are elected by the people, by men who represent nobody but themselves. But the ad valorem vote exists there. Let us look at that ad valorem vote. It is true that owners have a right to vote for the men elected in the parish, and that they have up to six votes. But if you take that vote it is not 10 per cent. of the other, so that so far as 90 per cent. is concerned you have the great principle to which you object of popular representation. If you give the representation to property you at once open the door to extravagance, for, in order to be popular, men would be liberal—they would compete with one another. Twenty-four or 25 years ago I was member of the Parochial Board of Govan, which is now in the combination. At that time we had several thousands of heritors, and about 30 were elected by the people. Where a system of that kind prevails the Board performs no function at all. It only has two half-yearly meetings, and all the work is done by an elected Committee. Having adopted the system of popular control has there been any change? Do the men now elected profess liberality, and have you any increase of the rates? No; and any argument to the contrary cannot be supported by facts. In the town districts you have popular control, and in the country districts you have control by the heritors, and I maintain that the latter system is working badly. In a place in Ayrshire you have 2,164 heritors who do not pay half the rate on the Board as against 20 elected members. Of course the Board cannot itself work, and has to carry on its functions by means of a Committee. That Committee is composed of 34 heritors and six ratepayers. 1610 They think very little of the Kirk Session there, and do not put one representative of it on the Committee. In Ayr there are 428 heritors on the Board and 12 members elected by the ratepayers, and the Committee is composed of 17 heritors, 6 ratepayers, and 1 member of the Kirk Session. In my own parish of Kilmarnock there are 603 heritors on the Board, 18 elected members, and six members of the Kirk Session; and the Committee is composed of 22 heritors, 12 elected members, and two members of the Kirk Session. That, I maintain, is altogether unfair, the ratepayers having nothing like the representation they ought to have. Another point is that, in altering the law, something should be done to put an end to a system which is not very creditable to the Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland, as compared with the Church of England, is pure in the sense that she has no useless offices, no sinecures. The ministers of the Church have to work hard for their money, and none of them are overpaid. The Kirk Sessions have the right to put a certain number of members on the Parochial Boards, because the kirk door collections are for Poor Law purposes, though they do not go exclusively for those purposes now. About £39,000 is collected at the kirk doors; but of this only £16,000 goes to Poor Law purposes, the remainder being illegally spent for other purposes. The Church really steals that money from the poor, though I do not say that the money collected by the Church ought not to be spent for Church purposes. In this matter some churches are, legally speaking, honest, and others are not, though there is no one to see that the latter class do not misappropriate the money. The Member for the Ayr Burghs is an advocate of the doctrine that taxation and representation should go together; but he is going to oppose the Bill, though he is in favour of that reform. He thinks that the two do not go together under the Bill. As a matter of fact, he is fighting for the ad valorem vote. Is that a system hon. Members would like to apply to the representation in this House on the plea that a large amount of money is spent by us? Certainly not. You do not disfranchise the heritors in the case of the House of 1611 Commons. They still have their votes, and, under this Bill, the same principle would be applied to the Parochial Boards who spend a comparatively small amount of money. On the whole, I think the present condition of things in regard to the Parochial Boards is unsatisfactory. Evidently the Government are unable to suggest any remedy, and are inclined to let the present system go on until they are replaced by some other Government, who will deal with a state of affairs which is admitted to be anomalous.
§ (4.59.) MR. ANGUS SUTHERLAND (Sutherland)
The Lord Advocate stated that there had been no attempt made by any hon. Member on this side of the House to grapple with the essential difference between the business which has to be transacted by the Parochial Boards and the business which has to be transacted by other Boards. He said that if the Bill passed it would lead to bidding for popularity in the poorer parishes, and would bring about an increase of the rates. But everything depends on what the right hon. Gentleman supposes the Parochial Boards exist for. If they exist for keeping down the rates, I could understand the argument; but the matter can be looked at in another light. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to say that there is no bidding for popularity the other way?—that gentleman would come forward asking to be returned in order that they may keep down the rates? And do not the same arguments apply in the case of School Board elections? Do not gentlemen come forward to solicit the support of the ratepayers, saying that, if elected, they will keep down the rates. The Solicitor General has said that the claim for the special representation of property holders on the present Parochial Boards is dependent on the fact that before 1845 they alone were entitled to sit on the Parochial Boards, but the right hon. Gentleman forgot to say that before 1845 there was no rate at all for the main- 1612 tenance of the poor; consequently, if they alone had the power of administering parochial relief at that time, they alone paid for it. But, subsequently to 1845, it was found necessary that something further should be done, and the rate hitherto levied on property holders only was extended to the general ratepayers, with the result that the only return they got was the miserable fragment of representation they now enjoy. It has been said that taxation and representation should go together. To that there can be no objection, and I ask why is it that the Government do not carry out that principle now that they have so good an opportunity? They have already, by a proposal presented to this House, asserted that the property owners are entitled to half the seats on Boards because they pay half the rates, but I fail to see in what way the Bill of my hon. Friend imposes any injustice on those persons. True, he takes away their present monopoly of representation and puts them on a level with the other electors; but what injustice is done to them if they, who pay half the rates, are put on the same level as those who pay the other half. In point of fact, I have not heard a single tangible argument against the Second Reading of this Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite oppose it not upon its merits, but in order to support their Party. I quite agree with what has been said as to the effect the rejection of this Bill will have in Scotland. The people there are of opinion that their wishes ought to be dealt with in this House according to the views put forward by the majority of their Representatives; and if they find that those views, when thus expressed, are constantly overridden by the action of a Party majority, they will be more and more driven to the conclusion that they will never be enabled to give effect to their demands until they have obtained the control of their own affairs.
§ (5.5.) The House divided:— Ayes 159; Noes 185.—(Div. List, No. 68.)
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.