HC Deb 05 August 1896 vol 43 cc1540-9

As from the fifteenth day of May next after the passing of this Act, and during the continuance thereof, section thirty-six of the Poor Law (Scotland) Act 1845, the Poor Law (Scotland) (No. 2) Act 1861, and all enactments which require assessments under the Public Health (Scotland) Acts to he levied in like manner as the assessment for the relief of the poor, and all classifications under the provisions of section thirty-six of the Poor Law (Scotland) Act 1845, shall have no force or effect.

MR. HALDANE moved, after the words "during the continuance thereof, "to insert" Sections 35 and. "He said the Amendment raised a point on which he understood the Government were willing to accept the view he ventured to put forward. Under Section 35 of the Poor Law Act of 1835, which relates to established usages, in any parish where the rate was distributed according to established usage it was left optional for the people of the parish to preserve the established usage. That was taken advantage of only in a very limited number of instances, he believed only 13 in all, but it had worked extremely oppressively. For instance, in Prestonpans in 1845 there were a large number of farmers, and very few owners of houses who were called farmers. The established usage, which at that time was quite fair, was that the rate should be divided in sixths, and that five-sixths should be borne by the farmers and the remaining one-sixth by the penars. Time went on, a railway ran through Prestonpans, the place became popular as a seaside resort, villas were built and coal pits sunk, and it was now a place where the non-agricultural interest predominated largely over the agricultural. But the established usage continued by which five-sixths of the rate were still paid by the farmers and one-sixth by the owners of property. That was a condition of things so monstrous that the North British Railway, who were not rated at all under the established usage, had, to their credit be it known, come forward and illustrated the untruth of the maxim that a corporation had no conscience, because they had said it was perfectly fair that they should pay half the rate to which they ought to be liable under an amended state of the law. Accordingly, he had framed a clause, the purpose of which was to suspend established usages just as classifications were suspended. This operated in very few parishes. The Lord Advocate had some words on the Paper to effect the same object, and he was quite agreeable to accept the right hon. Gentleman's words if he preferred it.


said he was thoroughly in accord with what had been said by his hon. Friend. There was no doubt that the established wages were not worth keeping, and some of them were a gross injustice. He accepted the Amendment, but he invited his hon. Friend to withdraw it at this stage, and he would move the appropriate words later on in the sub-section.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

THE LORD ADVOCATE moved, after the word "assessments," to insert the words "leviable by county councils."

Amendment agreed to.

THE LORD ADVOCATE moved, after "1845" to insert the words "other than certified classifications and all established wages."

Amendment agreed to.

THE LORD ADVOCATE moved to omit the words "thirty-six," and to insert instead thereof the words "thirty-five."

Amendment agreed to.

THE LORD ADVOCATE moved, at the end of the clause to add— Provided that, notwithstanding the provisions of this Act, a parish council shall have power (1) to alter any classification so as to enable it to become a certified classification, or (2) to depart from any certified classification.

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

asked whether the power to alter classification was only to apply to the incidence of rates on agricultural land, and was not to be continued to alter the classification as between subjects other than agricultural subjects.


asked whether during the next five years the parishes who had not adopted the system of classification, but might see fit to do so, had the right to adopt a system of classification so long as they preserved the three-eighths of the valuation for agricultural subjects?


said that the power which existed under the proviso did not enable an alteration of the classification of other subjects inter se. Under the clause the power to adopt inter-classification had disappeared.


suggested that the words "to adopt" should be inserted after the word "alter." It was quite true that the Board of Supervision generally confirmed any clasification that came up from the local authority, but he rather thought the ground for that was that the Board was very much disposed to pay great deference to local opinion in settling what the classification should be.


said he was much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but, in order to make the matter perfectly clear, he would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to agree to a small further Amendment, namely—to omit the word "to" and to insert "far as necessary."


signified his assent to this proposal.

Amendment agreed to.


proposed to omit from the proposed Amendment the words "depart from "in order to insert instead thereof the word "abandon."

Amendment to the proposed Amendment agreed to; Amendment as thus altered agreed to.

On the question, "That Clause 5, as amended, stand part of the Bill,"


said that, having regard to the Amendment that had just been made, he could not help thinking that the only thing their clause affected was the destruction of that state of things which the Lord Advocate promised should be preserved as much as possible during the continuance of the Act. The Lord Advocate had told the Committee that if the Bill passed it would be no longer possible for any parish during its continuance to adopt a classification. He thought that was a matter of very considerable importance. There was nothing wrong in classification per se. On the contrary it was a very right and proper principle, and he wanted to know why every parish should be prevented from adopting it during the five years the Bill was to be in operation. They were told that all the Bill did was to remedy in a partial manner what was believed to be an injustice—though it had never been proved to be one—and that pending such inquiry, this solatium was offered to the agricultural tenants. Assuming that to be a good object, he contended that this clause was quite unnecessary, except for the object of preventing Scotch parishes doing that which for a long time past, nearly half a century, they had been able to do. On that ground he opposed the clause.


said that the reason why it was proposed to take away their power was that the inquiry was pending, and it would be a great misfortune if, when general legislation was embarked upon, they should have to deal with more classifications of different kinds than then were existing.


contended that by abolishing classification the House was taking out of the hands of the new Parish Councils a very valuable power. What was wanted was discrimination and graduation, and they could only be obtained by classification; and now, just after the establishment of Parish Councils, they were to be prevented from making the necessary changes which would get rid of some of the unfairness that now existed.


urged that reform in local rating could not be had without classification. The Lord Advocate's desire was to stop all rating authorities from classifying, yet he told the Committee that it was immediately necessary to have an Inquiry. What would throw more light on such an Inquiry than an examination into what the local rating authorities had actually done. The new Parish Councils had not yet had time to look about them and make up their minds whether they would adopt the provisions of the Poor Law Act of 1845. He would appeal to the Lord Advocate not to maintain a rigid attitude upon this question, but to give to the local authorities a free hand to go on with classification during the continuance of the Bill.


said the Lord Advocate had made a very significant remark on the introduction of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Highland Parish Councils had persisted in sending up to the Local Government Board what the right hon. Gentleman was pleased to call sumptuary classifications; in other words, because the new Parish Councils proposed to place the burden on those who could best bear it. But was not this alleged sumptuary classification only their old friend "means and substance" in another form? Remarks had been made upon the comparatively small number of parishes in Scotland which had adopted classification, but it must always be remembered that in many parishes there was no call for classification, as, being purely rural, there was but the one class of property. In other cases, where there was no classification, it was due to the fact that the landlords and the Established Church clergy were practically the local authorities until the institution of the Parish Councils, and they objected to classification and were not likely to differentiate property for rating purposes in a way that would tell against their own interests. He, therefore, objected to a proposal that would tie the hands of the new Parish Councils and the Local Government Board in relation to this matter for the next five years. He was strongly of opinion that the Committee ought not to pass the clause in its present form. ["Hear, hoar!"]


said it almost appeared, from what had been said in the discussion, that the Board of Supervision was so anxious to get justice for agricultural land that it did not trouble itself with the injustice inflicted upon other property by classification. He hoped that the Inquiry would be entered upon as rapidly as possible.


said he could not allow the remarks of the last hon. Member to pass unchallenged. He (the Lord Advocate) did not mean to say that the Board of Supervision did not approve of classification. The members of the Board were actuated by the highest sense of duty in seeing justice done. What he had tried to convey was that the Board of Supervision, in approving of classification, must not be taken as approving of the principle upon which the classification had been constructed.


said that the essential point on which they were challenging this Bill, was that it would have the effect of taking away from the parishes in Scotland the power which they now possessed under the Act of 1845, to classify property for rating under the Poor Law Acts. They would be perfectly willing to agree that no further classification should take place, with the exception that agricultural land should have all the benefits to which it would be entitled under the provisions of this Bill. But that ought not to be carried one inch further than the benefit which it was intended to confer upon such land by this Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, however, went further and said, that pending the Inquiry that was to take place, he should proceed to make such an alteration in the law of Scotland as would take away from the parishes the power which they now possessed under the Act of 1845, of making a classification. Was it in the interests of the community that that power should he taken away from the Scotch parishes? He could not conceive what was the object of a proposal of that kind which was not rendered necessary by the objects of the Bill. Why should they gratuitously alter the law of Scotland in this respect, and deprive the parishes of the country of the power of classification, which they had possessed ever since the Act of 1845 was passed. He really trusted that the hon. and learned Lord Advocate would reconsider the position of the Government with reference to this question before the Report. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that the hon. Gentleman did not appear to have sufficiently appreciated the effect of this Bill, as far as it bore upon the existing state of things in Scotland, and that this Bill contemplated, at no distant date, a general dealing with the law of rating in Scotland. Under these circumstances, it was surely desirable to maintain the existing state of things. His hon. and learned Friend proposed to do exactly the reverse. It was much more reasonable that they should preserve the existing state of things pending the result of the Inquiry. After the Inquiry had been completed a general dealing with the law of rating was contemplated, and surely it was more reasonable that they should preserve the existing state of things instead of giving to the parishes the power of altering them. It was no use saying they had the power of altering them at present, as it was not desirable that they should exercise it pending the result of the Inquiry.


said the Government were at the present moment altering the existing state of things, and what they asked was that, subject to the alteration which they were making, they should not further alter the existing state of the law. They contended that the Goverment were taking away a liberty from the Poor Law authorities which they had enjoyed since 1845, and which had never been abused. They had only recently altered the constitution of the Poor Law authorities in a popular direction, and it was therefore perfectly needless to alter the Poor Law system.


said the Scottish Members were wholly unable to understand the metaphysics of the Solicitor General for England, who said that this Bill did not propose to alter the system of law which now obtained in Scotland.


said his hon. and learned Friend had entirely misunderstood him. Of course the Bill made certain alterations in regard to agricultural land and so on, but what he had said was, that in view of more complete legislation in regard to rating, it was not desirable that more extensive changes should be made through the action of classification in parishes.


said his hon. and learned friend had made confusion worse confounded. Under the present law every parish had a certain power in regard to classification, so that those best able to bear the burden of rating should bear the largest share. That was a system by which they set great store, and until that Debate they had certainly no conception that the Government would sweep away that provision without inquiry. His hon. and learned Friend said they were not really making a change, but were leaving things intact.


Preventing them from altering the status quo.


said that by doing that they would take away the power which was possessed at present of modifying the status quo in each parish. He hoped the Government would consider the matter between now and the Report stage.


said the Parish Councils would look on this Bill as a deliberate attempt to take powers from them.

MR. J. B. BALFOUR (Clackmannan and Kinross)

hoped the Government would consider the matter before the Report stage.

Question put, "That the word' five stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 163; Noes, 75.—(Division List, No. 382.)

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6,—

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