HC Deb 25 April 1895 vol 32 cc1670-83

In asking leave to bring in a Bill to make further provision for local government in counties in Scotland and for other purposes,


said, the sixth year of county government in Scotland is now drawing to a close, and it is a tribute to the soundness of the system that those who are engaged in working it take the greatest interest in amending it. It is also a great proof of the practical character of Scotchmen that they are agreed as to the sort of amendments which ought to be introduced. Last year the Government proposed, as a separate part of the Parish Councils Bill, a number of amending county clauses. But the work on that Bill was so heavy that the county clauses had to be deferred. They can now approach the undertaking, however, with several distinct advantages. We have the experience of two three-year periods of County Councils for the modelling of our proposals, and that experience is embodied largely in the Report of the Scotch County Council Conference, to the general tenour of whose deliberations I attach the greatest value. The Government also have the advantage of being able to consider the views of the Scotch Members of Parliament, as incidentally expressed in the course of the Committee last year. The Government have not only the County Council Act of 1889 to go upon, but the Parish Councils Act of 1894, so that they are in a position to amend the former Act with the whole map of Scotch rural administration before them. In the Bill which I wish to introduce several old clauses are included without any great amendment. The power of the county councils to provide new county buildings; the power to borrow for services for which at present that power does not exist, and to spread the loan over a period not exceeding 40 years; a simple and inexpensive procedure for the acquisition of land by county councils for public purposes; the readjustment of county boundaries for purposes of valuation and for the distribution of the Government grants, carefully guarding any interference with political Parliamentary arrangements; powers to construct bridle paths and footbridges, and to repair certain damage to roads of the nature which is so frequent in the Highland counties; the giving to the county councils the powers and duties of road trustees and justices over ferries, and powers from the Burgh Police Act extended to the county councils over vagrants: these were the old clauses. By the eight new clauses we alter the levying of the public health rate, and propose that it shall be imposed on lands and heritages within the area to be assessed according to the annual value, as appearing in the valuation roll, in the same manner as the consolidated rates. That is the form for which there was a very strong demand at the county convention, and it was essentially the proposal of the late Government in their Bill of 1889. That is one new clause. A strong necessity has been felt for giving what are popularly known as dean-of-guild powers to the county authority. That feeling we have met in a manner which I commend to hon. Members. Speaking broadly, at present the rural authority can proceed against old buildings as a nuisance, but they have no power over new buildings. That power it is proposed to give them. It is proposed to give to the county council the power to make by-laws with regard to the sanitary arrangements of new buildings. The execution will be committed to the district committee, which is the health authority on the spot and in practical exercise of health administration. They will have the power to insist that works in conformity with the by-laws shall be carried out, or that the owner shall pull down or remove buildings, or they may do the work themselves. Already the county authorities in England have these powers, and this is one of the cases in which Scotland is decidedly behind England. The Government propose to give dean-of-guild powers without a Dean of Guild. The counties have medical officers and sanitary inspectors, and by the provisions of the Bill the services of these officers are placed at the absolute disposal of the local authorities for these purposes. But the clause may be applied either to the whole or to a specific part of the county, and this is absolutely necessary in dealing with the Highlands, where many of the houses are built by the people themselves and are lamentably deficient in much that ought to constitute human habitations. We cannot possibly call upon, the poor crofters, and the still poorer cotters, at once to place themselves either on the recognised level of the demands of modern health requirements or to make themselves practically houseless. Therefore, the provision will be elastic, but it will be strong. Medical officers have done good service by their reports to the county councils, but there is great difficulty in getting statistics with regard to births and deaths and the cause of deaths, and that information is the very A B C of a real statistical system. They have hitherto got that information by a voluntary arrangement, but the Government now propose to give the medical authorities of the counties a legal title to obtain it. I now come to the question of protection against fire. There is considerable need in the counties for a better means of getting appliances for this purpose. The Scottish Office have been urged by several counties to allow money to be expended on this purpose out of the Equivalent Grant, on the ground that it is a work of public utility; but it is extremely difficult to accede to the request, because, though a work of public utility, it is not a work of public utility for the whole county, and, therefore, money given for the utility of the whole county can hardly be used for this purpose. We propose that the counties shall be able to make arrangements with the burghs to contribute a certain sum to the support of the fire-extinguishing apparatus and staff, and to have the command of it under certain conditions. If that is not sufficient, we propose that in a special water district a certain number of ratepayers may apply to the county council to provide engines, buckets, and pipes, and appoint officers. They will be allowed to appoint a superintendent, who may be a chief officer of police or a constable; but we have left out the words which occur in the Burgh Regulations, "erecting suitable dwellings for firemen." If hon. Members think fit to re-insert those words, the Government will offer no objection. Engines may be used outside the district, but a reasonable sum may be recovered from individuals whose houses or property are on fire. Attention has been called to the difficulty of providing against the communication of disease by milkcans, owing to their being washed will affected water. In the county I know very well there were no less than 100 persons attacked with typhoid fever, and 20 died through the washing of the cans of a single dairy, which had a large clientèle, with affected water. The Government propose to give the very strongest power to prohibit, under very severe and rapidly recovered penalties, the sale of milk from any dairy where infectious disease exists. We go farther than the English Act of 1890. In that Act it is stated that the powers can only be put in force when infectious disease is caused by the consumption of milk. In this Bill we have added the words—"or is likely to arise from the consumption of milk." Under the Local Government Act, the county councillors are elected in the month of December. It is proposed that the election shall take place on the first Tuesday in April, and I believe that that is in accordance with the general feeling of Scottish Members. The first election, according to the Bill, will be held in April 1896, and till then the present members will hold their seats. There is one difficulty, and one only, which stands in the way. The parish councillors for rural districts will be elected in April along with the county councillors, and in burghs and police burghs in November along with municipal councilors; and, therefore, in parishes partly rural and partly burghal the elections for the two parts of the same council will be at an interval of five months. If the House resolve to change the election to April, it will have several alternatives. The election of parish councillors in burghs may be altered to April, and an election can be held altogether separate from the municipal elections. But on the grounds of expense and inconvenience that is not what we recommend to the House. Then, if parish councillors in burghs and police burghs be elected in November, and in counties in April, one of two courses must be adopted. Either the new burgh parish councillors may remain idle for five months while the old councillors continue to serve, or the new burghal councillors may take office on the day of their election along with the old councillors from the landward districts. That is what we propose. It will have this good feature about it—that it will give some little continuity of administration to the council. The smaller provisions I can name in four or five sentences. We propose to enable writers or solicitors who are chairmen of district committees and parish councils to be justices of the peace as in burghs. We propose to remove the condition of "material change of circumstance" so as to enable the Secretary for Scotland to alter the number of county councillors and the electoral divisions, on the representation of a town council or county council, whenever that council may think it necessary to make such a representation. We propose to enable the surplus of the pension fund of the police force to be invested in loans raised for county council purposes, and to enable county councils to borrow three-fourths of the amount of the prospective rates instead of one half, so as always to have money in hand. I know it has been suggested that the local authorities should be allowed to raise a greater sum by taxation in a given year than was wanted, in order that they might have money in hand; but we think the most secure plan was to allow them to borrow three-quarters instead of one-half of the prospective rates. We also propose to allow the local authorities to use the best and most modern appliances for breaking stones for the roads. These are the proposals new and old, of the Government, and I hope, when they have been reviewed and supplemented by the experienced criticism of hon. Members for Scotland, the system of County Government for Scotland will be as complete in its plan, and as smooth in its working, as its best friends could desire.

*SIR CHARLES PEARSON (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)

said, the House was indebted to the right hon Gentleman for his statement of the provisions of the Bill. The details of the measure were, however, of such a character that one could not be expected, until they were printed, to express assent or dissent in regard to them, but his own feeling, taking the statement of the right hon. Gentleman as a whole, was one of agreement, to a very large extent, with his proposals. One thing was suggested very forcibly to his mind, as, no doubt, it was present in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman in the consideration of the measure, viz., that it was desirable to attack, at long last, the general question of the public health of Scotland. They went at the question, year after year, by piecemeal, and there were several provisions of this Bill which would more naturally find places in a Public Health Measure. He did not quite gather from the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and it would be interesting for the House to know exactly—whether the modification of the law in regard to the notification of diseases was to be confined to county areas, or whether it was to be common to the whole of Scotland. In reference to the changes in the public health rate, there was a considerable body of opinion in favour of reverting to the identical proposal made by the late Conservative Government in 1889, or to something like it. There was no doubt that the perplexity to which the maintenance of the old rule of rating as to public health had led, had created a desire for simplification. It was the case that, in the matter of public health rates, the subjects that would be rated would naturally fall into different categories, because it was quite obvious that certain classes of subjects derived little or no benefit from the public health rate, as compared with others. But he understood the Government did not propose to differentiate the rate, but to make it one rate, and he thought there was a great deal to be said for the decision. It was the simplest arrangement, and would probably lead to the most easy administration; but it should be considered whether it would not need some modification in the direction to which he had pointed. The alternative which the Government had selected with reference to the change in the date of the elections seemed to him to introduce a totally new system into the constitution of representative bodies. Hitherto, the general desire was, that the new bodies should be constituted as nearly as possible at the one time. But the change of dates involved a gap which the Government recognised could not be bridged over; and, as he understood the proposal, the Councils would now be constituted partly of the old members and partly of the new. However, with the exception of these few details, he found himself in the main in very hearty agreement with what the right hon. Gentleman had said, and he was sure there would be a general concurrence of opinion amongst hon. Members that the Bill, though a modest, was yet a useful measure.

*MR. C. B. RENSHAW (Renfrew, W.)

was glad, as one who knew the feelings of those who were interested in the present system of County Government in Scotland, that many of the provisions they had asked for in 1894 were included in the Bill, to its distinct improvement. In the enumeration of the old clauses which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to include in the Bill, he omitted the clause in reference to County Sanitary Authorities and Police burghs. He hoped, however, that was a mere inadvertence; and that they would have clearly laid down within the four corners of the Bill, what the precise relations were to be between the county Medical and Sanitary Officers and the burghs. If the right hon. Gentleman proposed to place those County Medical Officers in more responsible relations with the small burghs which might be created from time to time, he could view it with pleasure, because he thought it would contribute to improvement in public health in those areas. He thought the clause which dealt with the assessment under the Public Health Scotland Act would give rise to considerable discussion. Everyone who knew anything about Local Government in Scotland, parochial or county, would welcome a change in the present system of rating. The system under which county authorities had to levy the whole of the county rate on one basis, and then adopt a parochial basis which might be changed from year to year in regard to the assessment of the public health rate, was most unfortunate, and, in his opinion, exceedingly expensive in its operation, for it gave an enormous amount of work to County Officers and Clerks. But the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties would begin when he tried to remedy that admitted difficulty. At the conference to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded there was a considerable difference of opinion in regard to the matter. Two views were submitted to the consideration of the conference: One suggested that the public health rates should in future be levied by the County authorities, not upon the basis of the system of deduction and classification limited to the particular parish, but upon a special system which would go beyond the parish, and which would empower the County Council—the authority that levied the county rate—to collect the rate upon a special system, with deductions and classifications which the County Council could fix in respect of the districts in which they levied the rates. That plan would simplify the existing system, and it would give a certain continuity to a recognised system in regard to the public health rate, which had increased more than any rate, and which would still further increase as demands for better sanitary arrangements in the dwellings of all classes of the public in Scotland were raised. As an alternative to that proposal there was the proposal in the Bill, which was that the County Council should in future assess for the public health rate on the gross valuation of the county. It must be perfectly obvious that, having regard to the special benefit which public health rates conferred on the more populous areas, there would be serious objection raised to the proposed change, unless they discriminated between agricultural holdings and other holdings, and therefore, in his opinion it would be better to adopt the first proposal. He was afraid this would be found to be a bone of contention when they came to discuss it. Whilst he should welcome the change, whatever was the ultimate way adopted in regard to it, he was in favour of the earlier alternative to which he had referred, and which, he believed, would be the fairer system to adopt in arriving at a determination of this question. With regard to the matter of the Dean of Guild jurisdiction, he was not quite sure, from the right hon. Gentleman's statement, whether it was to be in the power of the County Dean of Guild authority to deal with the character of the buildings erected and the particular sites selected for the purpose of erections. If that should be the case he thought it was to be deprecated. The county health authority, before any building was erected, should have the power to deal with the question of its sanitary arrangements and so forth. If in the case of buildings in counties where, as a rule, there was plenty of air, it was proposed to give the more drastic powers which were necessary in the case of town buildings it would be a mistake, and would lead to a considerable amount of contention. One other point to which he desired to refer was that which related to the question of "fire." That was one of the weak spots in their system of county administration. The burgh authorities had almost invariably shown themselves ready to assist in the extinction of fires when called upon by the county authorities. But there were parts of counties which were so remote from any burghs to which an appeal in such a case could be made, that it was high time that they had in the counties some such powers as the right hon. Gentleman proposed to give them in one clause of this Bill. He understood, however, that while the right hon. Gentleman proposed to give general powers of payment by the county authorities to the burghal authorities where the latter rendered assistance, that the proposed new provision would be limited to special water areas. He presumed the right hon. Gentleman meant that the rate which had been levied for the purpose of establishing these fire engines or escapes within that water area would be limited to the area within which the water rate was collected. If that was the case it would be only proper and right, in order to render these particular appliances available over adjacent parts of counties, that payments should be made by other portions of the district in respect of the use of the appliances. He hoped that that was the intention of the right hon. Gentleman, because it was exceedingly desirable not to cramp the power of the committees in the use of these appliances. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the proposal he had made to alter the date of the County Council election from December to April. He believed the general feeling of those in touch with local government in counties in Scotland would be found to be very largely in favour of the election taking place in April instead of December. No doubt difficulty would occur in regard to the appointment of members from parishes which were partly burghal and partly landward, but on the whole he did not imagine that such difficulty would be of a serious character. After all, the number of parishes of that kind was limited, and the work which the members who would have to represent the Parish Councils in the future had to discharge on these committees was not of that character that any great obstacle would be found in adopting the solution of the question which the right hon. Gentleman had suggested to the House. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman, not only upon what he had put in the Bill, but also upon some omissions from the Bill. He was exceedingly glad to see it was to be made an even more non-contentious measure than he could have ventured to hope. He was glad of this, because he was of opinion that on account of these omissions the Bill was more likely to pass quickly through this House. He believed that the Bill, containing the provisions which the right hon. Gentleman proposed, would conduce to good local government in the counties in Scotland, and he looked forward to its passage through the House with interest.


desired to know if the right hon. Gentleman proposed under the Bill to give security of tenure to medical officers of health, and also power of appeal to a central board before they were dismissed for, perhaps, too faithfully doing their duty? If not it would be a weak point in the administration of the sanitary law, for it would not be reasonable to expect that medical officers could do their duty if they were liable to be dismissed by defaulters.


There is no clause to that effect in the Bill at present.


Then I give notice that I will move it as an Amendment in Committee.


observed that, as regarded what the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken had said about the medical officers of health, he supported him in the action he took on this question last year, and he should be prepared to do so again. As regarded the Dean of Guild jurisdiction which the right hon. Gentleman had intimated that this Bill was to introduce for the first time into the counties, so far as it was devoted to sanitary improvements he was quite in favour of the proposal. But he would say at once he hoped it was not going any further. He hoped, in other words, it was not proposed to assimilate their life in the county to life in the towns in the matter of putting up buildings. The law of the Dean of Guild as applied in towns was very much law based on private Acts, and which would not be applicable in many respects to counties. He thought, for instance, it would be perfectly absurd if a person could not put up a new hay shed, or add a bath to his house, or put in a new window without having first to go to the county Dean of Guild to got leave as was the case in towns. He did not know whether there was anything of the sort in the Bill, but if there was he should certainly feel it his duty to oppose it. With this criticism he desired to associate himself with what had been said by other Members who had addressed the House.

MR. H. T. ANSTRUTHER (St. Andrews Burghs)

invited the right hon. Gentleman to make a little clearer the proposals he had foreshadowed as to giving powers to local authorities with regard to the employment of mechanical appliances in quarries and other such places. He took special interest in this point, which had been brought under the right hon. Gentleman's notice by a memorial from the County Council of Fife, and he desired to thank the right hon. Gentleman for acceeding to the wish of that County Council by giving the Amendment in the law which was introduced in the Bill. There was one other point as to which he did not quite catch the nature of the proposals. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the powers which the Bill proposed to give to the County Council or the Finance Committee of the County Council to invest the surplus of the Police Pension Fund to carry out extensions &c., with regard to roads. He should like the right hon. Gentleman to make this matter a little clearer. He agreed that it would be a great improvement to hold the County Council elections in April instead of in December, but he foresaw considerable difficulty in the scheme the right hon. Gentleman had suggested inasmuch as part of a Parish Council would be elected and take office in November, while the remaining members would only come into office under the election which was held upon the first Tuesday in April. When they saw the Bill in print they would be better able to judge of particular provisions, and with these criticisms he should welcome the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman, whilst he was sure that those associated with him would assist in passing the Bill quickly through this House.

MR. J. CALDWELL (Mid Lanark)

did not agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite that the effect of the omissions from the Bill would be to enable it to pass more quickly, but believed the reverse would be the, case. There was one omission with regard to which they should, perhaps, be able to do in Committee what they did before with regard to a similar omission, and that was to induce that House to supply the omission which the Government had neglected to supply, and leave it to the House of Lords to throw it out if they thought fit. He referred to the power to Parish and County Councils to acquire land for the purpose of erecting dwelling houses. That clause was carried through the House of Commons and was rejected by the House of Lords, and the Government said that whilst for the sake of the Bill they would agree to the Lords' Amendment on that occasion, they would at the first opportunity introduce the clause again. Now something was due on the part of the Government to its supporters in this matter. The Scotch people looked with great interest upon this proposal, and the supporters of the Government did not wish to have it thrown in their teeth that the Government had not carried out their pledge.


, in reply, said the Government had a Bill prepared which entirely carried out the promise which they made last year, but he did not believe that the Bill could properly be engrafted on the one now before the House. He remembered very well the Debate and Division which took place on the question of medical officers and of the support which his hon. Friend got, and he had no doubt that, the matter being germane to this Bill, would be reconsidered when the Bill got into Committee. With regard to the powers given to the local authority to use steam in quarries, he believed the Bill fulfilled the wishes of the influential County Council which had been most active, in demanding these powers. The words of the Bill were:— In any land wherein the County Council as the road authority or other persons authorised by them, have power under the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Act, 1878, to search for, dig, and carry away materials, they are hereby empowered to use steam engines or electrical or other mechanical appliances for boring and blasting rock, or for breaking rock or rock-metal. The rest of the clause contained provisions to guard against the abuse of those powers. They appeared to be an absolute sine qua non. In regard to the Police Pension Fund, Clause 19 provided— Sub-section three of section eighteen of the Police (Scotland) Act, 1890, shall be amended to the extent and effect that the surplus of the annual income of the pension fund of a police force may be invested by the police authority as a loan to any County Council for any purpose for which such County Council is entitled to borrow money With regard to the days set apart for the different elections the Government quite acknowledged that difficulties existed. Whether the very bad councils after being elected should remain without functions for five months and should have those functions prolonged for five months at the next election was a small matter to which the Government would gladly accede. The Government thought their own proposal preferable, but whatever the result it was a small price to pay for a strong public desire.

MR. JOHN WILSON (Lanark, Govan)

called attention to the omission from the Bill of any extension to police burghs or burghs other than royal burghs of the power of licensing. That was a grievance which was much felt in the burgh he represented. That in a large constituency of upwards of 60,000 people the governing body, the magistrates, should not have the power of either granting a licence or preventing one being granted, while they were responsible for peace and order in the burgh, and that in a royal burgh like Renfrew, having only 5,000 of a poplation, the magistrates should have such power, was a most anomalous state of affairs. He hoped his right hon. Friend would concede this power under the present Bill to the larger burghs.

Leave was given to bring in the Bill, which was presented accordingly, and read 1° to be read 2° upon Thursday next, and to be printed. [Bill No. 215.]