§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (Sir GEORGE TREVELYAN, Glasgow, Bridgeton) moved the Second Reading of this Bill.
MR. J. CALDWELL (Mid Lanark) rose to move the following Amendment—
That this House declines to proceed with a Bill to make further provision for Local Government in counties in Scotland which does not confer upon County and Parish Councils power to acquire land by compulsory purchase for the purposes of erecting workmen's dwellings, public halls, and public reading rooms, upon terms of compensation similar to those paid by railway companies or promoters of other parliamentary undertakings; and further, which does not abolish the existing standing joint Committee in counties, and which does not confer upon County Councils power to pay out of the county rates the reasonable travelling expenses of County Councillors attending meetings of the Council and its committees.
He said that the Bill had a high sounding title of a very wide scope, but when they looked into it they found that
it dealt mainly with the amendment of the existing law. This was a Bill to obtain power to provide new county buildings; and to obtain additional borrowing powers of County Councils. Its provisions dealt with the purposes for which a County Council might acquire land; powers for acquisition of land by a County Council; the re-adjustment of county boundaries; the change in the levy of the public health rate; power to make by-laws respecting houses, &c.; and returns to be made by registrars of births and deaths. Then, there was a clause to obtain the power to deal with infected milk supply, and he would point out to the Lord Advocate that this provision would require to be more elastic than it was. There was nothing to prevent infectious milk being sent to another district, when there was an Order made out to prevent its being supplied in one particular district. These were matters for Committee. Then, there were clauses as to bridlepaths, cart roads, footpaths, and footbridges; regulation of ferries by County Councils; power to make agreement for the use of fire-engines; the change of the date of the election of County Councils, and landward Parish Councils; loss of qualification and absence from meetings; and the removal of disqualification of a solicitor. These were all the provisions contained in the Bill; they were not matters of very great interest or importance so far as the ratepayers were concerned. He could not conceive how far it would be possible to have a Debate on the Second Reading of a Bill which dealt so entirely with detail, as this Bill did. There was nothing in the Bill of a Party nature, and it was remarkable, not for what it made provision for, but for what it left out. The first point of his Amendment was, that the Bill did not confer power upon county and parish councils to acquire land by compulsory purchase for the purpose of erecting workmen's dwelling-houses, public halls and public reading rooms. This provision, though it was not in the Parish Councils Bill of last Session when it went to the Scotch Committee, was put in by a large majority on that Committee, and afterwards adopted by a large majority of the House. It was only thrown out by the House of Lords. The Government
stated on that occasion that they intended to re-enact the provision, and, naturally, when the present Bill was brought forward they had expected that this clause would have been included in the Bill. This question was of far more interest to the people of Scotland than any provision in the Bill, and the feeling was that land for workmen's dwelling-houses was as much a public necessity as land for a railway, or other public undertaking, and that land for this purpose ought to be acquired on the same terms as those on which a Railway Company acquired land. He did not see why county councils should not be able to acquire land in this way. In Scotland, at the present moment, there was hardly a village which possessed a public place, or hall, where the people could meet. They had no recreation grounds either. He had been surprised to find that in many parts of Scotland the workmen's houses had practically no playgrounds at all attached to them, although there was plenty of vacant land available. There was no ground for the children to play upon. With regard to the abolition of the existing Standing Joint Committee, he was surprised that the Government should not have dealt with the matter in this Bill. They had dealt with it in the last Bill. The success of the Government depended upon the boldness of its policy, and upon how it might arouse the enthusiasm of its own supporters, and he should like to know why they had omitted to deal with the matter on the present occasion. With regard to the travelling expenses of the County Councillors, it was a reasonable thing that men who travelled some distance from their homes to attend the necessary meetings, as was the case in many instances in the Highlands, should receive reasonable expenses out of the local rates. This applied especially to the Crofters district. He pointed out that the Government had adopted the principle of the Payment of Members, so that payment of the expenses of those County Councillors was a very small step. If they did not seek to obtain those Amendments when a Liberal Government were in power, when could they hope to get them? Were they to wait until a Conservative Government came into power, if that ever took place, in
order to try to get them inserted in the Bill?. He ventured to say that he would rather see this Bill in the hands of a Conservative Government than in those of a Liberal Government. Why? Because they knew very well that the Opposition always had the power of amending a Bill brought in by the Government, and of getting concessions. When the Local Government Bill for Scotland was before the House they were able to introduce a proviso for having the matter of education grafted on that Bill in spite of the opposition of the Government. So, if this Bill had been brought in by a Conservative Government, they would have been able, in opposition, to get larger concessions than they would now secure, because this Bill represented almost the maximum of the Liberal demand, and probably before it came out of Committee it would be whittled down a good deal by those who were opposed to it. So long as a Liberal Government were in power the people of Scotland expected them to bring forward measures in the interests of Liberal principles and Liberal policy; but in that regard the present Bill utterly failed. He begged to move the Amendment that stood on the paper in his name.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN
said, the Debate had not so far turned upon the contents of the Bill. But his hon. Friend had brought forward a very serious Motion, which, if carried, would undoubtedly kill the Bill; and, while he had, in the course of his speech, made many interesting remarks, with some of which he heartily agreed, he did not think his hon. Friend had brought forward any reason why the House should decline to proceed with the Bill. It was quite true that the Bill had a title which his hon. Friend had described as high sounding. It was called the Local Government (Scotland) Bill, and it was a measure for the purpose of supplementing and completing the machinery of the Act of 1889. He would have chosen a humbler title, but he did not know that the House was very greatly concerned with that form of ambition on the part of the Government; and while he admitted that the title might embrace greater questions, yet he thought, on the 781 whole, that it was very appropriate to the Bill. His hon. Friend objected that the people of Scotland were not interested in the Bill—that it only interested those who were employed in carrying out the Act. That was a very great exception. When they were introducing an administrative Bill it was very high praise to say of that Bill that it interested those who were concerned in the administration. His hon. Friend thought they ought to decline to proceed with the Bill because it did not make provision for three questions which he regarded as of considerable importance. The first was in reference to the acquisition of land by compulsory purchase for the purpose of erecting workmen's dwellings, public halls, and public reading rooms. The hon. Member included in those conveniences for the public the provision of recreation grounds, but he must have forgotten that by the Bill of last year parish councils were enabled to acquire and to maintain recreation grounds for the community, and that they were able to obtain the necessary land by compulsory purchase. With that first part of the Amendment he heartily agreed. The Government had a Bill drawn which would entirely carry out all his hon. Friend asked for, and they were prepared to pass that Bill if they could find the time to do so. They were also prepared in Committee on this Bill to consider any proposition that might be raised and which might come within the scope of the title of the Bill. He did not think that in the Bill, as it stood, it would be possible to deal with the question of the local assessment of unoccupied land. It would raise questions that would take the whole of the Session to discuss, and he doubted very much whether they could be solved by this Parliament. With regard to the question of abolishing the existing standing joint committee in counties, that might be started in Committee upstairs on this Bill. On that point the Government had had no serious practical complaints, and if it was necessary to pay the price, in order that this Bill might be sent upstairs, of leaving that question of the Standing Joint Committee alone, he must say he should be prepared to pay it. As to that part of the Amendment 782 which dealt with the payment of reason able travelling expenses to county councillors, it was a proposal with which the Government were heartily in sympathy, and he had certainly brought down on himself a good deal of criticism for having strained the existing law to enable money to be paid to councillors under certain circumstances in some of the large, straggling areas of the Highlands. It must be remembered that when the Fishery Bill was before the House of Commons it was proposed, not in Committee upstairs, but in Committee of the whole House, that the expenses of the Members of the Fishery Committee should be paid, and that proposal was accepted without a Division. If that question were brought forward in Committee upstairs, and it was one which could be placed before the Committee, it would, no doubt, be seriously considered, and he confessed that he should like to get the opinion of the representatives of the whole of Scotland upon it. But for the reasons alleged by his hon. Friend to refuse, on the Second Reading of a Bill of this nature, to send it upstairs was a course in which he trusted his hon. Friend would not get many to support him, and he hoped, therefore, he would not persist with the Amendment, especially as he did not gather from his speech that he was hostile to the Bill, except in so far as he regarded it as a partial measure.
§ * MR. C. B. RENSHAW (Renfrew, W.)
said, that with regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mid Lanark and the opinions expressed by the Secretary for Scotland he did not see that hon. Members on his side of the House were called on to interfere in what appeared to be a little domestic quarrel. He understood from an answer which was given by the Lord Advocate a short time ago, that the Government had drawn up a Bill dealing with one of the most important points referred to in the Amendment; but it seemed as if the hon. Member for Mid Lanark was losing patience a little. He seemed to be a little doubtful about what might be the prospects of any such Bill in the future. Perhaps the hon. Member thought that unless he got the provisions he wished inserted in this Bill, there would be little opportunity of securing them in the 783 measure, that was promised. On that point, however, he did not feel called upon to express an opinion. He did not at all agree with the hon. Member for Mid Lanark as to the provisions of this Bill being of a comparatively unimportant character, nor with his view that its provisions had not been and would not be much discussed by the various local authorities in Scotland. Last week he attended a meeting of the County Councils Association at Edinburgh, and the provisions of the Bill were thoroughly discussed at the conference, together with other matters of local government not dealt with in this measure. What he regarded as one of the most important changes contemplated by the Bill was laid down in the 8th Clause, which provided for a change in respect to the system under which the Public Health Rate was levied in counties in Scotland. The effect of that clause, if it were passed, would be to do away, as far as the Public Health rates in counties were concerned, with the system of deduction and classification—a system of rating which was extended to counties in respect of these rates by the Local Government Act of 1889. He thought that every county rating authority in Scotland would agree that the present system under which they had to levy a county rate was a thoroughly bad one, inasmuch as the amount having to be raised by a rate, fixed by the County Council, the system under which the rate had to be raised was to be fixed, not by the County Council, but by the Parish Councils. He thought he was correct in saying that, in 1869, two years after the passing of the Public Health Act, 1867, the whole amount raised by the public parochial authorities under that Act only amounted to something over £6,000, whereas, in 1893, a sum of £69,000 was raised by rate and was supplemented by a sum of about £40,000 from the Treasury. These figures showed how large a sum of money was being dealt with through the rates levied under the Public Health Acts. He thought they might well feel some timidity when they saw how these local rates tended to grow. In 1848, all the rates in Scotland only amounted to £900,000, whereas, in 1893, they were £3,779,000—a rise from 1s. 9d. to 3s. in the £. The House would, therefore, 784 do well to watch jealously the way in which the rates were now proposed to be levied, and the transferring of the burdens of those rates from the shoulders of those who now bore them to the shoulders of others. The system at present in force was one of classification and deductions. Section 37 of the Poor Law Act, 1815, provided that assessment should be levied—under deduction of the probable annual average cost of repairs, insurance and other expenses, if any, necessary to maintain such lands and heritages in their actual state, and all rates, taxes, and public charges payable in respect of the same.That was a system which applied equally to owners and occupiers, and to all Poor Law and Public Health rates. But the system of classification went beyond that, and provided that where in any parish a system had been adopted by which one class of subjects, as they were called, were rated at one rate, other classes of subjects might be rated at different rates. There was sound reason for this when the system was adopted. What was aimed at was that it was intended to approximate the individual contribution to the rates to the individual means of contributing to those rates. The system of classification amounted in many Scotch parishes to this: Houses might be taken as Class 1, factories and workshops in Class 2, railways and canals in Class 3, and land in Class 4. The effect of this in parishes which had a classification, was to throw a less burden on some subjects than on others. That was a perfectly right and proper thing. He desired to call the attention of the House to the effect which this clause in the Bill would have in sweeping away the whole system of classification. He would take, for example, the case of a parish of the gross rateable value of £5,000, of which, say, £2,000 was houses and £3,000 agricultural land, and where, under the existing system, a sum of £140 had to be raised for public health purposes by the county authorities. Under the present system of classification and deductions, the amounts paid would be as follows: By owners of house property, £25; by owners of farms, £43 15s.; by occupiers of houses, £50; and by occupiers of farms £21 16s. 8d. only. Under the 785 proposed new system the £25 would be raised to £28 2s. 6d., the £43 would be about the same—namely, £42 3s. 9d., but the, amount payable by occupiers of house property would fall to £28 2s. 6d., while the contribution of the poor agriculturists would rise from £21 16s. 8d. to £42 13s. 9d. This was the point he desired to impress upon the House, for undoubtedly the effect of sweeping away the system of classification and deduction would be to throw an additional and heavy burden on agriculturists wherever classifications had hitherto existed. He could understand it being argued that, after all, classification did not exist in every parish, but then it must also be borne in mind that in a purely agricultural parish there was no necessity for classification. It was certain that unless some system of classification in mixed populations were continued, a hardship on agriculturists would undoubtedly be inflicted. There were, he suggested, two ways in which the objection which he entertained might be overcome. In the first place, it might be overcome by allowing the counties themselves to fix the system of classification which was to apply to the whole of each county, or, in the second place, the Government might propose to deal with this question as it had been dealt with in the House before, in respect of boroughs, by Section 94 of the Public Health Act, 1867. Passing from this most important question to the consideration of the next clause in the Bill, which dealt with the powers conferred upon County Councils to make by-laws in respect of "houses," he was bound to say that he viewed this clause with very great apprehension. He thought Clause 9 would furnish more grounds for discussion in Committee upstairs than any other clause in the Bill. It was, moreover, so large and inclusive, that he thought no County Council would be ready to adopt it. The Secretary for Scotland (Sir G. O Trevelyan) had stated that this clause proposed to give no further powers to the Scotch County Councils than were now exercised by the English County Councils, but he had failed to discover any similar powers conferred by the English Act. Under the Public Health Act, 1890, special powers were given to urban authorities, and those powers might be adopted by rural authorities. 786 But there were provisions in Clause 9 of the present Bill which went further than anything contemplated by the Public Health Act. Clause 9 provided that County Councils might from time time make by-laws with respect to various matters connected with houses, and then paragraph (e) of Sub-section 4 provided—In this section the expression 'house' includes schools (not being public schools within the meaning of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1872), factories, and other buildings, in which persons are, or are intended to be, employed.In the Factory Bill upstairs, which applied to the United Kingdom, provision was made that at least 200 cubic feet of air must be provided or persons working in factories and workshops. The clause in this Bill would go beyond that. In his opinion it was undesirable that Scotch County Councils should be given the power to issue factory regulations which night go beyond the general factory law of the country. What was really essential was—that provision should be made under which, before any buildings were erected in counties, the sanitary inspector and the medical officer would have the right to see the plans and to give or withhold their consent to them in respect of the conditions of drainage. At present the sanitary authorities could go in after buildings were erected and say: "This is all wrong. You must take all these drains up; they are unsatisfactory." As long, however, as a building was in course of erection, the sanitary authorities had no power to do anything. That was wrong. He had already spoken of the apprehension felt with regard to the probable increase of the public health rates. All the expenditure under this clause would be additional expenditure falling upon these rates. The following special provision had been inserted in the clause:—A district committee, or a County Council shall, for the purposes of this section, be entitled to require the services of the medical officer and sanitary inspector of the district or county respectively.He was sure that the existing local sanitary officers would be unable, in many cases, to render these additional services. They would require additional payment, and 787 in many counties the existing staffs would have to be largely increased if the provisions of this clause were really intended to be carried out effectively. The effect of what had been done by the Legislature in recent years, with respect to factory inspection, had been to remove a large amount of work from the shoulders of factory inspectors who were paid by the State, and to throw it upon the representatives of local authorities, namely, the sanitary inspector and the medical officer who were paid out of the rates. He regretted, therefore, that it should now be proposed to make a serious addition to the already large demands made upon the public health rate. If the by-laws which were to be agreed to under this clause were really to be passed by the County Councils, it ought to be made perfectly clear that no representatives from the police burghs or burghs would be entitled to vote on the subject of the adoption of such by-laws. Regulations which affected only the rural parts of counties ought not to be passed by the votes of the representatives of burghs. The hon. Member for Mid Lanark had referred to the clause conferring power to deal with infected milk supply. Very strong criticisms had been passed upon this clause, which said—If the medical officer of any district has evidence that any person in the district is suffering; from infectious disease attributable to milk supplied within the district from any dairy situate within or without the district," etc.One result of the clause apparently was to give power to the medical officer of a district to go into another district and to supersede, as it were, the medical officer of that district in the matter of inspection. Strong feelings were entertained by medical officers on this point, and practical effect might be given, much more effectually to the intentions of the framers of the clause. He suggested that the earlier part of the clause should be made to read as follows:—If the medical officer of any district has evidence that any person is suffering from infectious disease attributable to milk supplied from any dairy situated within the district, or that the consumption of such milk is likely to cause disease to any person in or without the district.By this change they would avoid the overlapping of medical authority, which 788 should be prevented if possible. By Clause 12 an entirely new power was proposed to be given to the County Road Boards, and he did not understand why at this stage of their career these Boards should be entrusted with a power of borrowing money which they had not possessed up to the present time. At the annual meeting of the County Council Association in Edinburgh a resolution was passed unanimously declaring that it was desirable to introduce in this Bill a clause providing for the total abolition of County Road Boards. With that recommendation he heartily agreed, for he believed that a County Road Board had now no work whatever to do. Under Section 16 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1889, the County Road Board was to be appointed by the County Council out of their own members. The executive work of road administration under this system was performed not by the Road Board but by the district committees of the Board. The Board met twice a year, received the reports of the district committees, and solemnly handed over these reports to the County Council. That was practically the only function which the Road Board discharged. But two statutory meetings in the year must be held, and it being known that the duties to be discharged were only nominal it was often exceedingly difficult to secure a quorum at the meeting of the Board. Under the existing system of county government there was no necessity for a County Road Board, and he therefore urged the Government to do away with the institution, and thereby to simplify the procedure relating to road administration. There was another point to which he wished to call the Lord Advocate's attention. In this 12th clause it was said—That a County Council might declare that any cartroad or bridle-path or footpath or footbridge which was not maintained out of public funds should be maintained as if it were a highway.These words might exclude certain roads in Inverness-shire and other counties which were maintained out of the resident grant, which was a public fund. He suggested the adoption of the word "assessment," in order that these particular roads might not be excluded from 789 the operation of the clause. The 3rd clause in the Bill made provision for the erection of county buildings, and it was proposed that the expenses incurred should be defrayed out of the general purposes rate. County buildings were used for various purposes: for the meetings of the County Council, for the transaction of the business of the Justices of the Peace, and also for the meetings of the various district committees. The rate for county buildings was a rate levied upon boroughs as well as upon counties, and he thought the House ought to make provision by which the cost of erecting county buildings should devolve partly upon the county general rate, but that a certain proportion of it should be made a charge upon the district rate. With regard to the borrowing powers in the fourth clause, the proposal to extend the period of repayment to 30 or 40 years—was, no doubt desirable; but it seemed anomalous, when they were making that provision in regard to certain classes of county expenditure, that they should leave the matter of police stations out of sight altogether. The county councils were building a large number of police stations, but by the Act of 1857 the limit of repayment was placed at 20 years, and he suggested that the time had come when that term should be extended in accordance with the borrowing powers proposed by this clause. He ventured to appeal to the Government really to make an effort in this Bill to define more clearly—firstly, the position of county medical officers and sanitary inspectors in regard to boroughs; and, secondly, the voting powers of the representatives of police boroughs at meetings of county councils and district committees. He knew nothing which more hampered and retarded the progress of business in regard to county council administration, than the undefined powers of the borough representatives. He gave a concrete example of the anomalies of the position. In the lower ward district of the county of Lanark, it was proposed to appoint a new road surveyor, salary being fixed by a meeting of the county council at £300 a year. The gentleman who got this post was appointed by a majority which consisted in the proportion of 11 to 3 of representatives of police boroughs who 790 paid no portion of the salary, and had nothing whatever to do with any administrative act which this official might discharge. That, of course, was an altogether undesirable state of matters. The duties and responsibilities should be so defined and laid down that it should be impossible for borough representatives to vote in any matter in regard to which they had no responsibility for expenditure incurred. If the Government would take in hand the matters to which he had ventured to call attention, they would do a great deal to promote the easy and effective administration of local affairs in Scotland.
§ * MR. CYRIL DODD (Essex, Maldon)
felt he ought to apologise to the House for intervening in a Scotch Debate, but he ventured to suggest that the Government might find this Bill a convenient opportunity for remedying the defects in Scotch Local Government with regard to labourers' cottages and workmen's houses. He was aware that when English Local Government was being dealt with it was suggested that the Bill should contain some provision which would enable land to be taken, and labourers' cottages to be built by parish councils under proper restrictions. It was then said that it would be hopeless to insert such a provision, because in another place there was no probability of its being passed. Things had moved a little since then. At that time the opponents of the Government were saying that the English Local Government Bill was a revolutionary measure, and one which the people in our villages would find would saddle them with great expense. The Act had now been in operation for some time, and the Tory Party were now saying that so far from the Act being a revolutionary measure it was a very trifling measure and did very little. For his part, he believed they were nearer accuracy when they said that the Local Government Act for England was a small measure which effected little than when they spoke of it as a revolutionary measure which it was dangerous to introduce. The experience of the English Local Government Bill having been that their opponents now said it was only a trifling improvement, he thought the Government might now have been a little bolder than it was perhaps possible for 791 them to be when the English Bill was brought in. That such a measure was needed in Scotland, at least as much as it was in England, could hardly be disputed by Her Majesty's advisers. He spoke not only with the knowledge of Scotland which an Englishman had—and which, perhaps, was not very great but he spoke from a perusal of the reports of the various Commissioners who were sent out by the Labour Commission to report upon the state of affairs in Scotland. Mr. Rutherford, in his report, summing up the whole matter, stated that in regard to the cottage accommodation over the whole of the districts with which he had to do, he was aware that there was a larger area where the supply of cottage accommodation was insufficient than the area where it was found sufficient. Mr. Pringle, in his report, stated that between Inverness and Dingwall there were many places where the labourers' cottages were improper, and where they could only be described as utterly unfit for human habitation. The same complaint ran through most of the reports. When dealing with Perthshire, Mr. Pringle said that in many places the labourers' cottage accommodation was good and fairly sufficient, but he pointed out with regard to the dwellings of the crofters, that they could only be described as wretched hovels attached to the crofts, and many of them quite unfit for human habitation. He thought it was plain from these reports that in Scotland there was, at any rate, need for increased housing accommodation for the working classes. He found also the same complaints that were made in England as to the tenure of these cottages. There was in some districts of Scotland the same system that prevailed in many English districts, by which the cottage was not let direct by the landlord to the labourer, but was let with the land to the farmer, and, therefore, the labourer was entirely at the mercy of the farmer with regard to his tenancy. That was to say, the moment he ceased to be employed he had to leave his cottage. That was a condition of affairs in England of which the labourers complained strongly, because they said it left them too much under the power of the farmer. Where they had any difficulty with their master it meant 792 that not only had they to seek employment elsewhere, but they must leave their homes and move to some other house which was a serious matter where house accommodation was limited. That system of letting the cottage with the farm was complained of in Scotland. It was also complained of in England, and that was the reason why they ventured to think that in Scotland, and in England also, it was necessary that power should be given to the local authorities compulsorily to buy cottages, or to buy land and then to build cottages. He thought that under proper control, and subject to proper conditions, this power was necessary to make local Government complete, whether in England or Scotland. He had regretted ever since the English Local Government Bill was passed that such a provision was not inserted in that Bill, and failing that he could not help regretting that the same omission should now be made in regard to the Scotch Local Government Bill.
§ * MR. W. J. MAXWELL (Dumfriesshire)
observed, that while the intervention of an English Member was welcomed in a Scotch Debate, it was somewhat dangerous for an English Member to enlighten them on Scotch matters. The hon. Member for Maldon had told them that when a cottage was occupied by an agricultural labourer in Scotland in connection with a particular farm, the farmer could bring the tenancy of the cotter to an end on very short notice. If the hon. Member had known the custom in Scotland he would know that the agricultural labourers in Scotland occupied these cottages as part of their wages, and they were entitled to a great deal longer notice than a week. They were entitled to at least forty days' notice, so that their position was not quite so hard as the hon. Member would lead the House to understand. The hon. Gentleman further said it was prophesied that the English Local Government Bill would be a revolutionary one, and very expensive to work. He did not think that any Unionist Scotch Member said that their Parish Council Bill was a revolutionary one, but several of them ventured to prophesy that some of its clauses would turn out expensive, and they had already had experience of that in the very unfortunate provision, 793 making the election of the first council in spring, and not at the time the election for the county council took place. This had resulted in a very large expenditure, which was quite unnecessary. The Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Mid Lanark raised three questions of considerable importance. The first, that of taking land for providing workmen's dwellings, was one he himself would be inclined to give favourable consideration to, if put in a separate Bill, and if thoughtfully and carefully worked out. But he thought it was far too large a subject to be dealt with in a Local Government Bill of this description. The other two matters relating to the Standing Joint Committee and the payment of the expenses of County Councillors were questions as to which the majority of the County Councils in Scotland had not found any grievance. At present the County Councils took the position of Commissioners of Supply, and if there was to be an increase in the number of constables or a new police station, they had power to give their approval to the expenditure, so that in very important matters the Standing Joint Committee could not act without their sanction. He thought the Government were well advised in not dealing with these questions in a Bill, the main purpose of which was to amend and remedy certain defects in the Local Government Act of 1889. He considered that on the whole the Bill dealt satisfactorily with the questions with which it dealt, though it was open to criticism in regard to certain details which could be discussed in the Committee upstairs. There were, however, one or two points which appeared to him to affect matters of principle. In the fourth clause a very large power was given to the Secretary for Scotland with regard to exempting certain districts from local taxation. Undoubtedly, it had been the tendency of the present Secretary for Scotland to extend this power. That was largely done by the Bill of last year. He did not complain of the way in which that power had been exercised, but unquestionably some of the inquiries which were held under that Bill were conducted by those who did not inspire great confidence as to their inquiries, and he thought, if this power were to be given, the inquiry into the subject should at 794 least be made by some judicial authority who should present a formal Report to the Secretary for Scotland. Again, he thought it was a sound principle that, when Parliament had made over any part of its duties to a local authority within a certain area, no other local authority should be entitled to deal with these subjects. He found in this Bill, in certain matters which might not be of very great importance, two local authorities were given powers to deal with the same subjects. The County Council were given powers to maintain footpaths, and by the Bill of last year the Parish Councils were entrusted with the duty of maintaining all public ways which were not administered by the County Council. He thought the further powers given to the County Council with regard to allotments quite unnecessary. The duty of seeing that people who wanted allotments got them was already entrusted to the parish councils; and there was a danger that if this duty were given to two authorities one would leave it to the other to discharge, and so between them nothing would be done. He objected on somewhat the same grounds to Clause 11. That clause gave power to the medical officer of one authority to go down to the district of another medical officer and make an inquiry; and if he thought; that the milk of any farmer within that district was infected, the Local Authority for which he acted could summon the farmer before them. It seemed to him that that provision would certainly lead to conflict and confusion. The county of Dumfries, which he had the honour of representing, was a large milk-producing county, and sent milk to populous centres throughout the country. There might, therefore, be in that county a case such as this. A farmer of the county might think it necessary to summon the medical officer of the county to see if there was a case of infectious disease on his farm, and the medical officer, after an examination, might decide that there was nothing wrong. But it might be that on the very next day the medical officer of Dundee, to which the farmer sent his milk, would visit the farm, and coming, perhaps, to a different opinion, the farmer would be summoned within 24 hours to appear before the Town Council of Dundee. 795 That would be putting the farmer to unnecessary trouble and expense. The dairy-farmers of the kingdom carried on their business under the most stringent regulations, and had to compete with the dairy-farmers of other countries who were not subjected to the same restrictions. He, therefore, thought it would be unwise to impose any fresh regulations of a vexatious kind. It should be remembered also that in a case such as he had mentioned the farmer was not only prevented from sending his milk away, but he was also prevented from turning it into cheese and butter, and he got no compensation for his loss. It was plain that the clause must be reconsidered by the Government. If it should be thought necessary to give power to one Local Authority in this way to take independent action in the district of another Local Authority, it should be done through the Local Government Board or by communication with the medical officer of the district from which the infection was supposed to come. This was, he thought, a very important matter, for the interests of the producers as well as the interests of the consumers should be considered; and, while every precaution should be taken against the risk of infection, it should not be done in such a way as to impose unnecessary trouble and expense on the farmers. Another point he wished to deal with was the position of police burghs in the administration of the Public Health Acts. He thought the police burghs had good reason to complain that, while they had to contribute to the cost of the county medical officers and sanitary inspectors they were not entitled to the services of those officials. He was aware that it was difficult to deal with this matter in a satisfactory manner; but, at the same time, it must be kept in view that in those small areas the Public Health Acts were not worked in so thorough and efficient a manner as the large areas. It had been suggested that it might perhaps be admissible that all burghs under a certain population should be included in the counties for public health purposes; but he did not think that that would altogether meet the difficulty. Probably the difficulty might be settled by giving the burghs some inducements to accept the 796 services of the county medical officers. He agreed with the hon. Member for Renfrewshire that Clause 9 went a little too far. He thought its operation should be limited to matters that affected the sanitary conditions of buildings. There was a danger that the local authorities might not exercise their powers under such a clause, as they might be apprehensive of going beyond the public opinion that backed up those local authorities. He was surprised that the Government, if they thought any amendment of the existing law necessary, had not inserted in the Bill a clause dealing with the sanitary condition of all existing labourers' dwellings. The Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn, which had passed its Second Reading, dealt only with a limited class of labourers; and the attempt which he (Mr. Maxwell) and other Members were making to enlarge the scope of that Bill would have been obviated if the Government had inserted in the present Bill a clause dealing with all labourers' dwellings. In conclusion, he had only to say that when amended in a few details to which he had drawn the attention of the House, the Bill would, he thought, be a useful and beneficial measure.
§ MR. T. H. COCHRANE (Ayrshire)
said, that when the last Scotch Local Government Bill was before the Grand Committee, an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn, to give powers to the Parish Councils to compulsorily acquire land for the erection of workmen's dwellings, led to considerable discussion, and was opposed by the Secretary for Scotland. He was one of those who thought there was something in that amendment and who approved of its principle. He had never heard of a case where it was difficult to obtain land for the erection of workmen's dwellings owing to the opposition of the landowner; and the Mover of the Amendment had failed to instance any such case. But to obviate any such difficulty that might arise in the future, he voted for the Amendment, which was carried by a large majority, despite the protest of the Secretary for Scotland, who said it would wreck the Bill. Eventually the Amendment was struck out by the House of Lords, and the Bill restored to its original condition when 797 introduced by the Secretary for Scotland. But the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy came down to his constituency and denounced him as one of those who had destroyed what the hon. Member called this beneficial proposal.
§ MR. COCHRANE
said, that all the House of Lords had done was to restore the Bill to the position it occupied when introduced by the Secretary for Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the Amendment would wreck the Bill, and the House of Lords, thinking that the right hon. Gentleman was speaking sense, knocked out the Amendment, Gould they conceive a more ridiculous state of affairs than that. What step was his hon. Friend going to take under the present circumstances? The Secretary for Scotland was not going to accept the Amendment from the hon. Member for Mid Lanark. Was the hon. Member going to denounce the right hon. Gentleman when he next went down to Kirkcaldy? He (Mr. Cochrane) thought there was something in the principle of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mid Lanark, and that with certain safeguards some such Amendment might be adopted. The hon. Member for Essex (Mr. Cyril Dodd) did not quite understand the Scottish system of engagement by the term for a year. One of the reasons the hon. Member urged in favour of the proposal was that if an agricultural labourer were turned out of his cottage he should be able to get accommodation elsewhere. If an agricultural labourer were not required on a farm where was he to get work? And if the farm cottages were to remain vacant there would be a great waste of money. Generally speaking, it seemed to him there was not much of a very contentious nature in the Bill, and that the whole measure might have been passed in the time spent in discussing whether they should set up a Scottish Grand Committee, a very roundabout and cumbrous method for securing the passing of the Bill. There was one matter personal to the county he had the honour to represent. Clause 3 provided for the acquisition of county buildings. The case of Ayr was a very special one, and the clause did not meet it. The County Council there had 798 buildings they held under an Act of 1816. The buildings were vested in Commissioners as trustees, and they were occupied jointly by the Council, Sheriffs Officers, and the Burgh Mayor. The burgh contributed about £500 out of the £30,000 which the county buildings and prisons collectively cost. The county had not taken advantage of the Sheriff's Court Houses Act, and counsel, whose opinion had been taken by the county authorities, maintained that the trustees could not divest themselves of their trust. The consequence was the county paid about £200 per annum for the repair and maintenance of the county buildings, of which about half should be returned on account of the Sheriffs Court House. If the right hon. Gentleman could not amend the clause so that it would meet the case of the county buildings of Ayr, perhaps he would afford facilities for a private Bill to meet the case. Clause 8, which dealt with the future condition of rates, was one which no one could find any fault with, but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would prevent the possibility of a farmer living in a special water district being heavily rated in respect of a water supply of some neighbouring village from which he received no benefit at all. He agreed with all the hon. Member for Renfrew and others had said as to Clause 11, which dealt with infected milk supplies. It seemed very cumbrous and unfortunate that a medical officer in one district should be able to interfere with the duties of a medical officer in another district. It also appeared to him that the efficient working of the clause depended entirely upon the medical officer getting evidence. It was sometimes very difficult to get evidence. The Notification of Diseases Act was not adopted in all the smaller burghs in Scotland, and it was to the smaller burghs where the small dairies and small shops were they might look very frequently for the origin of the infectious diseases. It was in those very places there would be difficulty in obtaining evidence. And after an order had been made there was nothing in the clause, he was afraid, to prevent a dairyman selling milk out of his district. He could not see any words which would prevent a man who 799 might live on the borders of two different districts supplying milk in one of the districts. If there was anything in that point it ought to be carefully looked into. Certainly in any case a medical officer of one district should be compelled to give official notice to the medical officers in neighbouring districts of the existence of any infectious disease. In many districts there were evasions under the Pleuro-pneumonia Acts; removals of cattle took place owing to the want of official knowledge being imparted to neighbouring districts. Reference had been made to the question of compensation. He thought that a farmer who had shown no negligence, but had faithfully carried out all the regulations of the Public Health Acts should be entitled to reasonable compensation if his trade were stopped in the public interest. That was the principle adopted in the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act, the Cattle Plague Act, the Pleuro-pneumonia Act, the Act dealing with insects destructive to crops, and also in certain of the Public Health Acts. There was another point the Lord Advocate promised him last year he would consider—namely, the removal of the disqualification for the County Council, which existed in respect to the supply of road material. He noticed the right hon. and learned Gentleman had the point in mind, and therefore would not say more in regard to it. He wished the Road Boards had been entirely done away with. Some of the evils which resulted from the present rather cumbrous method of procedure would be remedied by the Amendments which had been put down, to the 58th Section of the Bill, but there were certain other inconveniences which arose, owing to the indefinite delay which took place in the proceedings of the Board. As to the exclusion of some of their best men from the magisterial bench if it were not ultra vires he should like to move an Amendment to that effect, simply because men happened to be writers or solicitors they were debarred from sitting on the bench. He instanced the case of a writer who had never practised and who was called in to make a quorum of three. The conviction was quashed on the ground that this J.P. was not qualified to sit as a magistrate. 800 He thought they ought to improve the Bill in this direction.
§ * SIR W. WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)
said, he rose to draw attention to one or two matters. With regard to the Standing Joint Committees, they were told there had been no great feeling regarding them. But this was not so in his constituency. There was a feeling that justice had not been done to the principle of representation, and that the present County Government did not represent all the component parts and all classes of the community. His complaint was, that by means of the Joint Committees, additional power had been given to the landed class— the class which already had too much power in the counties. Another point, upon which he wished to say a few words, had not yet been referred to—he meant the position of the police burghs. That matter came under considerable discussion in the Scotch Grand Committee last year. He had many representations made to him from different parts of his constituency, where there were large and important police burghs, such as Buckie and Keith, much larger than many Royal burghs, and the desire, therefore, was, that these should be placed in the same position as Royal and Parliamentary burghs. One other point he had to refer to, and that had reference to working men's dwellings. The proposal of the Bill was to make an arrangement for getting fresh dwellings. That was good; but he was sorry to say that in his neighbourhood they were suffering from the gradual loss of those dwellings they already possessed. In some cases agricultural labourers' dwellings had been pronounced unfit for human habitation, and the remedy had been to pull them down. That, of course, had been a serious thing for the men and their families, and it also raised a difficulty for the medical and sanitary authorities, because they were afraid to condemn these dwellings which, though unfit, were better than no dwellings at all. He had brought this matter under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman, and he trusted he would give it his careful consideration.
§ * SIR CHARLES PEARSON
said, that there were only three points touched 801 upon in that discussion to which he wished to address a few observations. One of these was the public health clauses in the Bill, and other matters touching upon public health. The right hon. Gentleman would remember that in 1892, when the then Government had a Burgh Police Bill, a large number of clauses were put in by the Committee after careful consideration, but the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman deprecated in the strongest manner the House passing those public health clauses, because, as they said, it would tend to stave off a Public Health Bill for Scotland. Here they had the present Government going to deal with public health matters in a Local Government Bill, and therefore staving off any large scheme of that kind during the life of the Government. He wished to refer to two other matters, quarries and ferries. There seemed to him to be no fair spirit in dealing with ferries. The ferries were mostly in private hands. At present, the fares can be regulated by the Justices. It was now proposed that the County Council, a body representative of the public who use the ferries, should have the final regulation of the fares. He agreed there should be some regulation, but what was done should be fair; and at the least an appeal ought to be provided against the decision of the local body to some Central Department, such as the Board of Trade. Then as to roadside quarries. Under the old Turnpike Acts the local authorities had power to take stones, gravel, and other material for mending roads, from the estates through which the roads ran. At the time that power was given none of the modern appliances had been introduced, and no compensation was provided, probably on the ground that to improve the road was to improve the adjoining estates, and the effect of the exercise of the powers was comparatively insignificant. But with the modern appliances and steam machinery those powers became very different. To give them to the County Councils was apparently to carry out the policy of the Turnpike Acts, but really it was to depart utterly from the spirit and intention of those Acts. Even under the present very limited right of the public authorities in this respect, he had known cases of considerable hardship to the 802 private landowner, involving him in considerable pecuniary loss; and the owner would run still more risk of loss in the future if the clause in the Bill were passed without some such restriction as could easily be suggested. The provision would lead to very grievous injustice. His main purpose in addressing the House was to invite some further explanation of the position of the Government with regard to the Bill. A supporter of the Government, the hon. Member for Mid Lanark, had moved the Resolution which the House was discussing, and as the hon. Member had been told on the authority of his Leader that if the Resolution were persisted in it would kill the Bill, he supposed that the hon. Member would withdraw it. But the Secretary for Scotland had referred sympathetically to certain of the views propounded by the Resolution, and those views might be brought forward again in the Scotch Grand Committee. They were highly contentious. The proposal of the hon. Member was that no legislation of this kind should proceed unless the Government intended to abolish the Standing Joint Committee set up under the Act of 1889. The Secretary for Scotland introduced such a proposal in the Bill of last year, but it was withdrawn, because it was so contentious. It would not be too much to ask for a similar undertaking this year, but he should not be satisfied with that. His experience in the Scotch Grand Committee last year had made him think that the Government were inclined, on Bills of that sort, which were apparently non-contentious, to use the Scotch Grand Committee for the introduction of highly contentious matter. The Government had already expressed their willingness to take into consideration certain highly contentious matters. But if they opposed them in Committee, it would only mean that their followers would be afforded the unwonted luxury of voting against and defeating the Government, without the Government reconsidering their position, although the matter had been declared to be vital. That was exactly what took place in the Committee last year on a matter not so important as this; and he feared that the Secretary for Scotland, after all that he had said that day, had not only given no guarantee that 803 what happened last year would not happen again, but had actually expressed his willingness to consider an Amendment on the lines of the Motion now before the House. If, after considering those Amendments, the Government came to the conclusion that they were inadmissible, the Government would be defeated in Committee by their own supporters, and on Report the Government would inform the House that they were going to acquiesce in the decision of the majority of the Scotch Members. Thus a measure which, according to the declaration of the Leader of the House, could not be sent to the Scotch Grand Committee unless it were an uncontentious measure, would be converted into a contentious measure in Committee, and would be then supported by the Government because it had passed through Committee. Unless the Government made their position perfectly clear, there would be an abuse of the conditions under which alone the House had allowed the Scotch Committee to be set up. The Opposition at least were entitled to assurances on the subject from the Secretary for Scotland.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said, he could not understand the point which had been raised by the right hon. Gentleman, because the Secretary for Scotland had made it perfectly clear that at any rate he would not be disposed to consider an Amendment proposing the abolition of the Standing Joint Committee. But the most vital point in connection with this discussion was the absence from the Bill of any proposal to give power to the local authorities to purchase land for workmen's dwellings. The right hon. Gentleman could hardly urge that that was a contentious matter which raised opposition on either side of the House; because the right hon. Gentleman himself took an active part in the work of the Select Committee which unanimously reported in favour of such a provision. The Secretary for Scotland had every reason to be perfectly satisfied with the discussion on the Bill. The Bill, as it stood, was certainly a good Bill. It contained many proposals which would be of great advantage in the working of Local Government in Scotland; and there were several clauses, particularly the ninth, which he regarded 804 as of great importance. But the complaint of Members on the Ministerial side of the House was that the Bill did not go far enough. After the unanimous Report of the Select Committee, which was composed of Members from both sides of the House, and which had taken evidence from all parts of Scotland, they complained that the Government had not embodied the proposal to which he had referred in the present Bill. The hon. Member for Ayrshire had made it a grievance that he (Mr. Dalziel) in common with some of his colleagues went to Scotland and complained of the action of the Opposition in respect of this proposal for the provision of workmen's dwellings as contained in the Bill of last year. What was the history of the case? The proposal was certainly not in the Bill as first introduced, and the Secretary for Scotland certainly stated that if it were, carried it would endanger the passing of the Bill. But in spite of that the Scotch Grand Committee adopted the proposal, and the Secretary for Scotland was respectful enough to the Grand Committee to accept its decision on the point. But the right hon. Gentleman thought the proposal would endanger the passing of the Bill in another place, and he proved to be right. The House of Lords were responsible for throwing out the proposal: certainly it was not the Government or their supporters. Would the hon. Member for Ayrshire suggest that if his Friends on both sides of the House had supported the proposal, the Secretary for Scotland would not have embodied it in his Bill at the first, and that the House of Lords would not have passed it into law? When the question was brought forward on Report last year, the Secretary for Scotland made a declaration that, if assent were given at that time to the action of the House of Lords the Government would bring forward another Bill this year to carry out the spirit of the proposal. But in the present Bill that proposal found no place. Truly, the right hon. Gentleman said that another Bill had been drafted which would embody this proposal. That was satisfactory to some extent; but did the right hon. Gentleman seriously think that such a Bill would pass into law in the present Session, and still more in the present Parliament? Considering the 805 amount of Scottish legislation before the House, in the light, of past Sessions, he would be a bold man who would say that, a Bill which had not, yet been introduced would be passed through Parliament in the present Session. He hoped that the view held by the right hon. Gentleman would be justified by events. But at present they had arrived at Whitsuntide, and the right hon. Gentleman was still confident that a Bill which had not yet been introduced, raising points of considerable importance, would pass into law during the present Session, or even during the present Parliament. He would look forward with interest to the end of the Session in order to see whether the right hon. Gentleman's view would be justified. But if the Government had meant business with regard to the housing of the working classes, giving power to local authorities to deal with the question, they would have found a place for the necessary provisions in the present Bill. It was a matter of urgency, and he therefore hoped that the Government would not lose sight of the proposal. If it were possible to embody it in the present Bill upstairs he hoped the Government, would do so, and that they would do all they could to carry the provisions into law at the earliest possible moment.
§ * MR. T. PARKER SMITH
said, there were some points in the Bill to which he should like to call attention. In the first place, there was the eighth clause on the question of public health rate. The only reason for dealing with the question was a technical one and the great complexity which the present system produced. The vast number of different rates which had to be imposed in each county was a matter of complexity which fell on paid officials whose duty it was to work out those difficult arithmetical sums. In order to meet that technical difficulty, however, it was proposed to make a serious change in the whole incidence of rating. That was too high a price to pay for the mere obtaining of symmetry, however desirable this might be in itself. It had been pointed out that a serious burden was thrown in many cases on farmers by the change. It would double the amount thrown on farmers, greatly increase the amount thrown on the railways, and 806 diminish the amount to be paid by occupiers of houses. He submitted that they could not make a great change in the incidence of rates without raising a great deal of feeling and without raising a great many other questions concerning the incidence of rates. If the Government were anxious to deal with this difficult question there were many ways to deal with it. They might have a statutory classification imposing a classification which would be pretty fair for the agriculturists, but which, so far as it altered the classification in the opposite direction, would be opposed in other counties; or they might leave the counties themselves to arrange the classification, or it might be done by districts. There were many plans by which, without abolishing classification and throwing the whole burden on the unfortunate agricultural community, the present system could be amended, but all plans were open to the objection that they opened up a great question with regard to which the; people were at present tolerably satisfied; and he thought that wisdom dictated—" Let sleeping dogs lie." Then there was the ninth clause, dealing with public health. He thought that this was open to a great deal of criticism which might, be more suitable for the Committee upstairs. There were many provisions in that clause which seemed to him to be extremely fancy provisions. His idea was that they had the power under the Public Health Act, to deal with nuisances in existing houses, but they had not the power at present to prevent houses from being erected in which those nuisances would exist, and with power to abate them. Power ought to be given to prevent the creation of those nuisances, and which, when created, they would have the power to abate. There should be a power to control the erection of houses placed in the hands of the county authorities. If the Government however, were going to touch the question of public health at all why did they not do so on a much larger scale? In Scotland the Public Health Act needed amendment; therefore, why not amend it so as to bring it up to date with the provisions of the English Acts? There was a Bill before the House to which the Government had privately shown themselves favourable. That, was 807 the Bill dealing with Farm Servants' dwellings? To amend the Public Health Acts was needed, not for farm servants alone, but for all classes. Why favour one class? He strongly objected to class legislation of this kind. If a reform was needed, let it be carried out for all houses throughout Scotland; but he objected altogether to the selection of a particular class of the community, like the farm servants, whose houses required no more care than the houses of their neighbours. He should like to see all houses treated alike. Why, then, did not the Government go further and take what provisions of the Public Health Acts were considered to be expedient and of general advantage, and insert them in this Bill, if they really wished to deal with public health? Another point was, the position of representatives of police burghs on the County Councils and district committees. These representatives were put to great trouble in going through elections, and much feeling was aroused; and after all what was their power? Their only function was to make up a quorum, but they had no power to interfere in the action of the District Council to which they had been elected. This was absurd, and he should like to see the Bill put the election of these representatives on the same footing as the representatives of other burghs; let them be nominated by the Commissioners instead of being elected. The Bill contained a Dairy Clause, and here the question of compensation was raised. Supposing a dairy to be shut up, the results would be very serious to the farmer. It might happen that the closing of the dairy arose through no fault of the farmer. One of his children might have caught scarlet fever at school, and the dairy would be closed for a long period. This was an extreme hardship to the farmer, and it seemed to him that it was one of those cases where compensation might fairly be granted by the Treasury, as in the case of pleuro-pneumonia and cattle disease. What action did the Government propose to take with regard to the amendments upstairs? Was the Secretary for Scotland going to say: "I am bound by the decision of the Committee, and I support the Bill in the form in which it came from the Committee?" 808 It would quite clearly be a breach of faith if the Government were to introduce in Committee a batch of contentious Amendments, and it would be just as much a breach of faith if the Government were to allow their supporters to carry contentious Amendments over their heads, and not to use their utmost strength, both in the Committee upstairs and subsequently in the House, to prevent that being done. He thought that the House ought to have an assurance to the effect that the Government were pledged to the Bill substantially as it left the House to go to the Committee.
§ * MR. SEYMOUR KEAY
said, that he did not propose to enter into any very lengthy discussion of the details of the Bill, but as his hon. Friend the Member for the Partick Division had endeavoured to elicit from the Government a statement that they would not accept contentious Amendments in Committee, he thought he was entitled to remind both the House and the Government that no one could have listened to the arguments of the different speakers in that day's Debate without having one conclusion forced upon his mind—namely, that the proposition to introduce into the present Bill a provision for the acquisition of land compulsorily for the erection of workmen's dwellings had obviously very deeply impressed the House. He was entitled, he thought, to remind the House very briefly of the course which that proposition ran last year in the Grand Committee, in the House, and in another place, in order to show that its supporters had special claims for urging on the Government the necessity of giving some favourable assurance with regard to it of a stronger character than the Secretary for Scotland had yet given. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he had another Bill drawn for the introduction of that provision based on the Report of the Feus and Leases Committee; but it had already been pointed out that to introduce it in another Bill would be practically equivalent to shelving the question altogether, for there would be no possible chance of another Bill passing through Parliament this Session. He would remind the House of the very special position this matter had attained in Parliament. 809 The Amendment which he had the honour to introduce last year in the Grand Committee was carried by no less a majority than two to one, and was supported by every one of the usual supporters of the Government, though not by the Members of the Government themselves. It then came down to the House, and was supported, on the Report stage, by a majority of between two and three to one. Therefore he thought they might well urge the Government to give some explanation why a provision of that importance was not introduced into the Bill now before the House as a part of the Bill itself. Last year the Bill went to the House of Lords and came back with that clause expunged. The Government were asked to re-introduce it, but they objected to do that, not on the ground of the non-importance of the clause, but solely on the ground that to do so would endanger the passing of the Bill. According to the Times Report, the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion, said that—The Report by the Feus and Leases Committee was a very strong Report, and it was impossible that it could remain without result. The Government heartily endorsed the recommendations of the Committee, and at the first Opportunity they would bring in a Bill to embody these recommendations, but the rejection of the Lords' Amendment at this period of the Session would seriously imperil the Bill.That was the only ground on which the Government objected to disagree with the Lords' Amendment. It might be alleged that this important matter was not introduced in this Bill because it would infuse an element of contention into it. That, however, was hardly an exact statement of the case. Since the Report of the Feus and Leases Committee the matter had practically ceased to be contentious. That Report was issued 23 days after the Grand Committee had ceased its labours last year, and was all in favour of a provision of this character being introduced into the present Bill. In that Report there was a paragraph which stated that the want of land for the erection of workmen's dwelings was a "public evil demanding a remedy by legislation," and it went on:—The remedy which, the Committee suggest is that the local authority, whether town 810 council, county council, or other elected body, should be empowered to purchase land by agreement, or compulsorily, for the purpose of building dwellings for occupation by workmen or other persons.Therefore, he ventured to impress on the Government that the introduction of a clause to that effect must be held to be no longer contentious, and he begged the Lord Advocate, who would no doubt indicate the mind of the Government on the subject, to give some assurance that the Government would either themselves bring forward or support such a clause in Committee upstairs, or would at all events now give the House clearly to understand what had been the dominating reason in their minds for omitting this important matter from the text of the present Bill.
MR. GRAHAM MURRAY (Buteshire)
said, he wished to say a few words on the Amendment, because he could not help thinking that the declaration of the Secretary for Scotland was, as it stood, very oracular and ambiguous. He did not propose to examine at present the question whether there was any particular necessity for legislation in the direction suggested by the hon. Gentleman, who had just sat down. The hon. Member for the Maldon Division of Essex said that he had read from a Report applying to the county of Perth-shire. The two passages the hon. Gentlemen read were passages from two perfectly different Reports. The first passage, which praised the condition of labourers' dwellings in the county of Perth, was from a Report which did apply to that county, whereas the other passage which the hon. Gentleman read applied to quite another part of Scotland. Although the housing of the working classes was not in itself a contentious subject, there was no doubt that it might be dealt with in a contentious spirit; and the hon. Member who had just addressed the House had forgotten that one of the great objections to this Amendment last year, and an objection which was taken by the Secretary for Scotland, was that it would have wrecked the Bill—not, as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy had too ingeniously tried to make out, in the House of Lords, but in this House. The objection taken by the right hon. Gentleman was that, when you deal with the housing of the 811 working classes, you must deal with it on a well considered scheme, and not by a crude and ill considered proposal like the Amendment, simply putting it in the power of a county council to acquire land and saying nothing more about the purposes to which it was to be devoted. If the Amendment now proposed had been incorporated in the Act of last year, it would have accomplished nothing that its supporters desired, for either it would have remained a dead letter, or else it would have been likely to lead to a vast misapplication of public funds. He took that view last year when he said that, if the proposal had passed as it stood, county councils might have transferred the ownership of nearly all the land of the country without any regard to the erection of workmen's dwellings. The point he pressed was that the subject was one that required careful treatment. The Secretary for Scotland had practically given his adhesion to that proposition by saying that the Government had got a Bill prepared for dealing with the subject. He wanted to know why it was not introduced as part of this Bill. Was there a good reason for withholding it? If there was a good reason, then he protested against the Secretary for Scotland allowing someone else to propose, by way of Amendment, what, as the responsible Minister, he would not adopt in the framing of this Bill; there were great difficulties in the way of introducing a proper scheme by way of Amendment. If the right hon. Gentleman came to the conclusion that a scheme ought to accompany this Bill, then he ought to stick to his guns, and he ought not to allow it to be brought in as an Amendment. It was not an imaginary but a real danger that the county councils or other local authorities, who were provided with money for building purposes and authorised to act as house agents, would become parties to building speculations and jobbery. Non-contentious provisions to guard against such abuse could not be supplemental to a clause introduced as the substitute for a complete scheme; and if the Government had such a scheme they ought not to allow it to be concealed in the form of an Amendment.
§ MR. CALDWELL
said that, as he was satisfied with the explanation of 812 the Secretary for Scotland, he begged to be allowed to withdraw the Amendment.
§ The question that the Amendment be, by leave, withdrawn, provoked some cries of "No!" but, on being put a second time was declared to be agreed to.
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN
said, his hon. Friends who had objected to the withdrawal of the Amendment could hardly have calculated the effect of a refusal.
§ MR. H. T. ANSTRUTHER (St. Andrew's Burghs)
, rising to order, asked whether it was not competent for the House to negative the Amendment, objection being taken to the withdrawal?
§ * MR. SPEAKER
It was competent; but I understood that the challenge which was at first given was not insisted upon, and that the objection to the Amendment being withdrawn was dropped.
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN
said, he would now avail himself of the opportunity of responding to some of the appeals that had been made to him during the course of the Debate. The Amendment which had been disposed of contained three propositions; and with reference to one of these he had to say that the question of a Joint Standing Committee had been before the House already in connection with the further question whether this was or was not a contentious Bill, and he considered that the Government were bound not to make that part of the Bill, and not to support it in the Committee upstairs. With regard to the questions put to him as to the conduct of the Government in the Committee upstairs, some of these questions were not altogether happily framed. The Government would not be at the pains to defend themselves from any vague, airy, and prospective charges of breaches of good faith. In the position of the Government in the past there had been no breach of good faith. The Act of last year effected a great change in local administration. One charge had been made and reiterated against the Government, and it was that they supported the conclusions of the Committee rather than risk the Bill, an attitude in which he was supported, if not in words, at all events by the cheers of the leaders of the Opposition. Having taken that 813 attitude with regard to an Amendment, supported by Members of the Opposition, he was bound to maintain it with regard to an Amendment moved by his own supporters. Then, if the Government had not accepted the Lords' Amendment, they would have taken upon themselves the responsibility of depriving Scotland of the Act for a year, and perhaps for several years. In regard to the future, a good many proposals had been made in the course of the Debate, and some of them involved thorny and contentious questions. With regard to these he was not going to bind himself by pledges beforehand. The Government acted with good faith last year—and intended to do so again—in giving effect to the real opinions of Scotch Members upstairs in dealing with a Bill which would give general satisfaction to Scotland. When the Committee came to a close there would be nothing hon. Members would be able to charge him with inconsistent with what he had said to-night.
§ Bill read 2°.
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN moved that the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Scotch Bills.
§ * SIR C. PEARSON
said this was a convenient opportunity to endeavour to extract from the Government some foreshadowing of what their policy was likely to be upstairs, in elucidation of what the right hon. Gentleman had just said. He would tell the House the chief objection they had had all along to the constitution of the Committee last year—and it was not much better this year. The chief objection was, that, owing to the peculiar position assumed by the Government in that Committee, especially towards the Amendment of the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn, the ordinary rule of Government responsibility was absolutely disregarded. The objection went far deeper than anything that could be brushed aside by protestations of good faith. That was not the ground of accusation. It was that the so-called success of the Committee depended very much on the unjustifiably peculiar position assumed by the Government during the Sittings of the Committee. He would point out the extreme 814 peculiarity of that position. The Government brought in a Bill in which their followers thought there were certain conspicuous omissions. One of these was attempted to be sup plied by an Amendment brought forward by a supporter of the Government. That Amendment was regarded by the Government as so important and vital to the Bill that they assured the hon. Member that it would be fatal to the Bill if persisted in. It had no reference to what the House of Lords was going to do, because the purpose of a responsible Member of the Government, in making that remark, was to induce their supporters to withdraw that Amendment. Their supporters saw their opportunity, and were afforded the rare luxury of voting down their own Government without affecting, the least in the world, governmental responsibility; and that on a matter on which the Government had declared their support vital. This was the plain English of it. There was no accusation of bad faith. The accusation went far deeper, and to the very root of the position which the Government assumed last year, and which he maintained from a constitutional standpoint was utterly false. They wanted an assurance that this would not be repeated. It was proposed to send another Scotch Local Government Bill to a Committee constituted practically as it, was Last year; and there had been more than shadowed forth an intention on the part of supporters of the Government to move Amendments adverse to the Bill—to include certain proposals which were not in it; and all they wanted to know was, whether the Government intended to repeat the conduct of last year. The hon. Member for Mid Lanark proposed—in a Resolution which he was wise enough to withdraw—that no legislation whatever affecting local government for Scotland should be proceeded with unless it provided for the purchase of land by public bodies for workmen's dwellings. That was a very taking proposal, but he (Sir C. Pearson) did not think the country would find the Opposition side of the House lag in the least behind the opposite side in the promotion of it. But was not the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman's assertion that opposition would be fatal to the Bill last 815 year this: that he saw that the introduction in the Local Government Bill of powers to local bodies to purchase land would draw with it large proposals both in the way of the compulsory taking of land and the advance of money? Unless they allowed local bodies to go into the matter with absolute recklessness and become land-mongers and house-mongers—unless they were prepared to do this—the thing must be carefully safeguarded. He believed the Secretary for Scotland said on that occasion that the complexity of the clauses which it would be necessary to introduce into the Bill—even, if the minor proposal of the Member for Elgin and Nairn were introduced—would, of itself, be fatal to the passage of the Bill. There was a still more singular proposal now—to resuscitate, by way of Amendment to a Bill, which was sent to the Grand Committee on the footing that it did not raise contentious matters in a Party sense, the abolition of the Standing Joint Committee. That Committee had two functions: A pecuniary function—to safeguard the expenditure of capital; and an administrative function, in the way of control of the police. The Secretary for Scotland knew very well that that would make the Bill a highly contentious measure, and last year he dropped that clause as a condition of being allowed to go into Committee. [Ministerial cries of "Oh!"] Yes: Section 51 of the Bill of last year, which contained the proposal to abolish the Standing Joint Committee, was abandoned before the Committee stage, so contentious was it considered to be. Barring protestations of good faith—which no one thought of impugning—the House had received no assurance from the Government, during the discussion that had taken place, that they would not take the, same course as last year. In that case, what would happen? Here was a Bill sent to a Grand Committee on the assurance of the Leader of the House that, if it contained any contentious matters, it would not be sent there; because the practice of sending contentious Bills to the Committee would tend to break up the system of Grand Committees. Amendments were imposed on a reluctant Government by its fervent followers, notwithstanding the struggles of the Opposition to save the Government. 816 The Government declared it vital as the only important Scotch measure of the Session, stood the brunt of an adverse Division, and instead of resigning—he did not expect them to do that—or even considering their position; instead of showing the remotest indication of a sense of Governmental and Ministerial responsibility attaching to such a situation; they came to the House and said:—It is true that proposal was withdrawn from the Bill, and that the Bill would never have gone to that Committee if that proposal had been in it. But we have been over-ruled by the majority, in which our own supporters voted against us; and we are going to adhere to the views of Scotland so expressed.This was what the Opposition were concerned about. It seemed to him that it would have the effect he had indicated, and it was only fair to give the Government ample and distinct notice that if the Bill became contentious in its passage through the Committee, and turned out to be a measure which would never have reached the Committee stage had this Amendment been, broached by the Government before it went there, the passage, of the Bill through its future stages would not be so easy as the Government might suppose. He again—although, he was afraid, hopelessly—invited the Government for an assurance upon the matters to which he had referred.
§ * MR. J. PARKER SMITH
said, the House was entitled to have an answer from the Government to the appeal of his hon. Friend. The question was much too serious to be passed over in silence when put formally, as it had been, to the Government. No questions of personal good faith were raised, but one much more serious—of how Ministers were to conduct business through the House. The Secretary for Scotland had actually taken credit to himself for having, on the floor of the House, upheld the concessions made in the Committee He could not, personally, remember any such concessions. The Bill was altered in certain points by the general sense of the Committee, and not in concession to the views of any particular section. Assuming there had been, concessions, was any virtue to be assumed by a Minister who, in order to meet and conciliate opposition, made concessions which might be unpalatable. Could credit be 817 claimed for having adhered to such concessions subsequently. Where a man had made a bad bargain and paid the price, he must stick to it. That was one thing, but it was a different matter where they allowed themselves to be overruled and pressed from behind into a position in which they were completely unable to assert themselves and carry their point. [Ministerial Cries of "Oh?"] It wax a question not so much of good faith as of the mode in which the business of the House was to be conducted, whether, when a Minister had made a concession in order to got rid of the Opposition to a Bill, he should allow himself to be over-ridden by his own supporters, and compelled to set aside; the arrangement he had entered into with his opponents. A Minister was not entitled to allow his hand to be forced by those over whose actions he had control, and he was bound, on his Ministerial responsibility, to exercise that power to the full where he had made any agreement with the Opposition on the footing that his Bill was to be carried through. He, therefore, thought that before this Bill went to the Scotch Committee they were entitled to some further assurance than the mere airy declaration of good faith which the right hon. Gentleman had made.
§ SIR JAMES CARMICHAEL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)
hoped that the Government would not give any assurance of the kind suggested by the hon. Member for Partick (Mr. James Parker Smith). They had spent a great deal of time in reducing the Standing Committee on Scotch Bills into a microcosm of the House, whatever that might be, but if every Amendment that might be brought up in the Standing Committee was previously to be discussed in the House, and if the Government were to be pledged to accept or to reject those Amendments, they might as well give up the Standing Committee altogether. It would be perfectly impossible to conduct the Committee upon those lines, and he hoped that the Government would be left perfectly free to deal with the Amendments as they thought fit in Committee.
§ * MR. RENSHAW
said, that there was one point upon which he thought the House ought to have some information from the right hon. Gentleman, the 818 Secretary for Scotland. The Bill as it stood proposed to amend the Local Government Act of 1889. Did the right hon. Gentleman propose that it was to be open, to his followers, or to the Opposition to introduce in Committee Amendments dealing not only with the Local Government Act of 1889, but also with the Local Government Act of last year creating parish councils? If such questions were to be opened up, an enormous number of Amendments might be moved in Committee. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would adhere in the Bill to what he believed was his intention, namely, that the measure should be an Amendment of the Act of 1889 only, and that the Government would not allow subjects which were irrelevant to that Act to be dealt with in this Bill.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ * SIR C. PEARSON
asked the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland, which of the two Bills now referred to the Committee would take precedence.
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN
said, that he hoped it would be convenient that the Fatal Accidents Bill should come first. That was the intention of the Government.