§ Order for Second Reading read.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
rose to a point of Order. He wished to know whether this Bill did or did not come under Standing Order 58, passed in 1707, which provided that the House should not proceed with any Petition, Motion, or Bill for granting any money or for releasing or compounding any sum of money due to the Crown, but in a Committee of the Whole House. Unless it were contended that the Standing Order referred only to the granting of money to the Crown, this Bill undoubtedly came within its provisions; and it was difficult to read the words of the Order in that way, because the words, "releasing or compounding any sum due to the Crown," distinctly contemplated the granting of money to the subject, 1324 and not to the Crown. The original title of the Standing Order was "debts due to the Crown;" the present title was a later edition. This Bill dealt with a sum of £214,500, which was not indeed charged upon the subject, but which was intercepted out of a charge already made before that charge reached the Exchequer. By Clause 3, Sub-clause 1, the Commissioners of Inland Revenue were directed to pay certain sums, not to the Exchequer, as they should do by Section 10 of the Exchequer and Audit Act, but to an account called the Local Taxation (Scotland) Account. The Bill further directed that a portion of this sum was to be paid out again to a new fund, described in the preamble as a fund to be created and to be dealt with by an authority not yet constituted, but to be constituted hereafter by Parliament. Meanwhile the Bill proposed that that portion of money was to be dealt with in an entirely exceptional manner. It was to be allowed to accumulate, and therefore to escape the well-known rule that a sum not expended within the financial year should be returned to the Exchequer. [Opposition cheers.] These provisions, he thought, brought the Bill within the Standing Order; and it also, he thought, came under that part of the Order relating to the releasing or compounding of a debt due to the Crown. By one of the clauses of the Bill a part of the sum paid into the Local Taxation Account was, strangely enough, to be repaid to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue in alleviation of the Land Tax in certain burghs of Scotland. That was the release of a debt due to the Crown. The contributory to Land Tax was released from his liability. Of course, the burden was shifted from shoulder to shoulder, but finally it fell out of the contributory to Death Duties. Under these circumstances he asked whether the Bill ought not to be first proceeded with in Committee of the Whole House.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member was good enough to furnish me this morning with the points he intended to raise. I think the Bill is quite in order; because, in the first place as regards the point that this is a grant of money, the 58th Standing Order relates only to a grant of money to the Crown. 1325 It does not, in the first part of it, contain the words "to the Crown;" but I am quite clear that the meaning of it is that no grant of money shall be made to the Crown, except in Committee of the whole House. That, I believe, is the meaning which has always been attributed to the words ever since the order was passed. As regards the other point—that the remission of the Land Tax is a release or compounding of a debt due to the Crown—the hon. Member seems to have confused two things, the repeal by statute of a statutory liability to pay a tax for the future and the remission of a present debt. This is not the case of a present debt to the Crown which it is proposed to release. If anyone owed Land Tax for last year or the year before and it was proposed to relieve him from the payment of such arrears of taxation, that would be the release of a debt due to the Crown and would come within the provisions of the Standing Order; but the present proposal being merely one to repeal an existing tax is altogether outside the Standing Order and therefore need not originate in a Committee of the whole House.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. GRAHAM MURRAY, Buteshire) moved, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
SIR HENRY CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs) moved to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words—
This House is of opinion that the money to he allocated to Scotland under this Bill ought not to he applied almost exclusively to the benefit of one class only of the people of Scotland.
He said that the House would be disappointed that the Lord Advocate had not taken this opportunity to supplement and extend the statement he had made in introducing the Bill. That statement was admirably clear, but it obviously and necessarily lacked completeness; and in several important points the House was in need of information as to the intentions of the Bill and as to the basis on which those intentions were founded; and also as to the condition of the law at the present time. ["Hear, hear!"] This was a Bill of a most peculiar character. It was the counterpart of the English Rating Bill, but it
was not a mere replica of that Bill adapted to the altered law and practice of Scotland. The proposals of this Bill were not the outcome of any spontaneous desire or demand or necessity in Scotland. ["Hear, hear!"] The Bill would never have been heard of but for the corresponding Bill for England. The truth was that Scotland and her representatives in the House were that day, not for the first or second time, placed by the action of the Unionist Government in a position of, he would even say, grotesque embarrassment. [Cheers.] It appeared to have become part of the settled policy of the Party opposite to grant occasional relief from rates, whether general or particular, by loose and indeterminate grants of money. These grants were apparently given on no settled principle, and they, were given merely in such quantities as might serve to stop the clamour of the friends of the Government who raised complaints and grievances, and possibly, also, to make for the Government fresh friends by the mammon of unrighteousness among the electors of the country. [Cheers.] He must express his unqualified disapproval of the whole system. These grants, subsidies, subventions, or doles did very little else than mischief. [Cheers.] They demoralised the community; they sapped the controlling power of the local authorities; and they had this further vice—that there was necessarily no finality whatever about them. They were, so to speak, the top of a slippery plane, and there was no reason why, with periodical pressure and given time enough to hon. Members opposite, they should not one day see the Imperial Exchequer take over the whole burden of maintaining the poor, the roads, and other administrative charges throughout the country. Of course, as the money comes out of the common Exchequer, common justice demands that a corresponding sum should be given to Scotland as was given to England, and so they had the spectacle of the Secretary for Scotland, and the Lord Advocate, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with all their wisdom and ingenuity, and after them the Scotch Members, with such humbler attributes as they might possess, endeavouring to ransack the country to find out some object to which the money could be devoted where it would not do
more harm than good. What a burlesque this was of financial administration! Instead of considering the circumstances and requirements of the country and finding money to meet those requirements, they got the money and then they looked about for the requirements. The money was dangled before the eyes of the Scotch people, and the Government, whose duty it surely was to foster the higher and more generous instincts of the people, made a direct appeal to their lower and more selfish feelings. [Cheers.] He was told it had sometimes been insinuated that the Scotch, both as a nation and as individuals, were fond of money. It was true that in their past history they had shown that they were endowed with a certain acquisitive faculty of which they need in no degree be ashamed, and which they had used with eminent advantage to themselves and to the Empire. But that was not their only characteristic. There were two things which the Scotch people hated with an inborn hatred. One of these was waste and the other was injustice—["hear, hear!"]—and because of this inborn feeling he was confident that the predominant opinion in Scotland would acquiesce in the denunciation he had made of the whole of this system of doles and subventions; and also he was confident that they would oppose this Bill, which had provisions in it which were grossly and gratuitously unjust. On one previous memorable occasion the House found itself in this plight, but happily then full opportunity was given for consideration. There was no attempt to thrust through a hastily-constructed scheme in the dying days of a Session of Parliament. The matter was postponed, and the people of Scotland, rising to the occasion, showed a power of taking a comprehensive view of their best interests as citizens, and the result was that, at the instance of Members of all shades of political opinion, Scotland led the way in the establishment of free education. Of this movement the inspiring spirit was his friend Dr. Hunter, whose deplorable failure in health—he said it with the deepest regret—deprived the House of his assistance when they were discussing a question very much similar to that. If time for fuller consideration were given now he felt certain they might reasonably expect that an
equally happy result would be arrived at. The Bill partook of the ambiguous nature of its English sister. First of all, were they sure agriculture in Scotland was suffering from such excessive depression as would justify its being singled out for special favour at the cost of other interests which were, if not equally, at all events nearly as severely distressed? There was nothing to which the maxim Ex nihilo nihil fit applied more truly than to the giving and taking of money, and they might be certain that, if a Bill put money into one man's pocket, there was one other man out of whose pocket it came. ["Hear, hear!"] He asserted with great confidence that in Scotland there was no agricultural distress at all comparable to the degree of depression which existed in many parts of the south and east of England. It was difficult to make a general estimate of the position of things in Scotland, for this reason—that the kind of agriculture varied considerably in different parts of the country. There was, for instance, the south and west of Scotland, where the principal industry was dairy-farming, as to which no one would say that there was anything calling for special intervention. Then there were the sheep-grazing districts, of which he could not speak with certainty. There were all the lands in the neighbourhood of large towns, where he should think there was nothing to complain of, the proximity of a ready and large demand for agricultural produce enabling landlords to secure and tenants to pay high rents. Then there were the carse lands—the heavy clay lands, which were costly to work, which undoubtedly had been visited with disastrous seasons, but which still had compensating advantages. He would confine himself to the common type of Scotch farm, with a mixed cultivation, where the farmer grew oats and barley, possibly a little wheat, potatoes and turnips with which to fatten cattle, and grass for that purpose. That being the common type of Scotch farm, he asserted with confidence that, although they had had their bad years, although last year, for instance, was almost a disastrous year from the low range of prices, still there had been nothing to compare in any degree with the state of things alleged in England. In dealing with the rents
of farms in Scotland they must not altogether accept as normal the range of rents that prevailed 20 or 30 years ago. At that time rents were forced up to an altogether unnatural pitch, mainly by the effect of artificial competition, caused, he believed, by the action of the law of hypothec. But he asserted, as far as his experience and information went, that there was no difficulty whatever in finding, not only a tenant, but probably a choice of tenants, for any moderate-sized farm of the mixed kind of cultivation he had described, which was conveniently situated as regarded a railway, at about 30 per cent. below the prices of 20 or 30 years ago. It might be said, of course, that that was not a good test, because the farmer had nothing else to turn his hands to. But was there anything in the condition of this industry which differentiated it from others? If the farmer did not make the same profit he did, what had the shopkeeper experienced in the last 20 years—["hear, hear!"]—what had the manufacturer, or the man engaged in any industry whatever in Scotland? [Cheers.] And supposing the landlords' rental had fallen in the last 20 or 30 years, had the man who invested his money in the Funds the same return now as he had 20 or 30 years ago? ["Hear, hear!"] The farmer had undoubtedly suffered severely and he had borne his sufferings patiently and well, with pluck and good spirit; but if a strict comparison was instituted between him and his neighbours he had not suffered more than they had. They were all willing to do anything they could by the alteration of the law or otherwise to improve his chance of making a more ample livelihood than he did, but, on the other hand, he did not think that even among the farming community themselves they would like to receive this boon, if it was a boon, if it carried with it a burden imposed on their neighbours who had suffered almost equally with themselves. ["Hear, hear!"] The farmer was to obtain relief by having his rates reduced. Were the rates excessive in Scotland? He ventured to say that over a large district of Scotland five times more harm had been done to the tenant for the next 10 or 20 years by excluding permanently foreign store cattle than good would be
done if they were to abolish his rates altogether. [Cheers.] The rates were not excessive in Scotland. The Agricultural Commission had conducted an Inquiry into the condition of agriculture in Scotland to some extent, and he found in the Reports of the Sub-Commissioners those three instances which he thought might be taken as very fair cases. Here was a farm of 400 acres in East Lothian, a rich part of the country. The average total outlay on that farm for 10 years before 1892, for labour, rent, feeding stuffs, fertilisers, and everything connected with the farm, amounted to £2,550. Of that sum rent supplied £900, and for what were known in Scotland as public burdens only £60. In 1893 the outlay was reduced by £100 by the simple process of the landlord taking £100 off the rent, but the public burdens remained the same. There were two cases in Kirkcudbrightshire. The total outlays were £4,314; the rent, £1,068; insurance, taxation, "etcetera" (whatever that meant), £69.
§ MR. ALEXANDER CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)
Does the right hon. Gentleman put forward these cases as average cases, or are they picked samples?
§ SIR HENRY CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said that they were taken from the Report of the Sub-Commissioners. There was another case in which the outlay amounted to £4,626; the rent was the same as in the previous case; insurance, taxation, "etcetera," £65. An elaborate Return was made in 1895 as to local taxation in Scotland. The average rates for parochial and county purposes were in 1856, 1s. 8½d.; in 1893, 2s. 0¾d., of which the tenant only paid a half; so that the average rates which the agricultural tenant paid over Scotland in 1893 was 1s. 0⅜d. What was the state of things in the burghs? There were only five burghs in Scotland where the rates were under 2s., and one was the burgh of Culross, which he represented. Then there were 100 burghs with rates between 2s. and 4s.; 50 between 4s. and 5s.; 34 between 5s. and 6s.; six between 6s. and 7s.; and two over 7s.—Tobermory and Banff. [Laughter.] The House could draw its own moral from the figures as to whether there was such a pressure of rates on the farmer as to justify a great boon being 1331 given to him mainly at the expense of the urban population. There was besides a contrast made between 1848 and 1893. In 1848 the average rates in the urban districts were 2s. 5d.; in the rural districts 1s. 6d. In 1893 the urban rates were 3s. 8½d.—an increase of 1s. 3d.; in rural districts they were 2s. 0½d.—an increase of 6½d. There was no very alarming increase over that long space of time, and the increase was much greater in the urban than in the rural districts. But if relief was given in this way to the tenant would it stop in the pocket for which it was destined? This was a Bill which was nominally to take effect for five years, and it created almost a revolution in the system of taxation in Scotland. When, once adopted this change could not be gone back upon at the end of five years; it was likely to become permanent. But taking the Bill for five years, he should like to point out that the great majority of leases in Scotland were for 19 years. Therefore a quarter of the leases in Scotland would go out during the next five years. Was he to be told that this advantage which the farmer was to receive would not be estimated as a factor in the settlement of his new rent? Then, with respect to existing rents, there was hardly a parish in Scotland where there were not one or two farmers to whom abatements were given. When these farmers asked for similar abatements next year did the Government suppose that the landlord or agent would not say, "The abatement was in consideration of the low prices last year; but since then you have received this great boon from the Government, and you cannot expect the abatement to be continued"? The House should remember that they were dealing with human nature, with flesh and blood. They were not dealing with a solid but with a fluid, and a fluid would find its level whatever they might do to prevent it. There was in this Bill the same comical provision that appeared in the English Bill as to the source from which the money was to come. It was said that the money was to come out of the proceeds of the Estate Duty, and that therefore there was no ground for complaint, for it was only a case of land paying to land, so that no one off the land would be a penny the worse. Surely 1332 the Lord Advocate did not expect his shrewd countrymen to swallow this transparent fallacy. ["Hear, hear!"] He had just spoken of a fluid, and he would recommend those who were responsible for the provisions of this Bill to study a little further the elementary principles of hydrostatics. [Laughter.] There were a number of casks into which flowed the produce of different kinds of taxation, and these casks all drained into one cistern—namely, the Exchequer. From that cistern discharge pipes distributed the proceeds of taxation among various heads of expenditure. If, instead of fitting a new discharge pipe for this relief to agriculture, the Government dipped their cup into the cask reserved for the Estate Duty, the other casks would only have to produce more in order to make good the deficiency so created in the Exchequer system. The taxpayer in the long run would have to find the money, and all these acrostics as to the Estate Duty were beneath the dignity of Parliament. ["Hear, hear!"] There was a difference between this Bill and the English Bill. The present Bill did at least recognise the fact that there were such places as towns in Scotland. A crumb was allowed to fall from the table of the Secretary of State for Scotland for the poor dog of a townsman—[laughter]—whom the President of the Local Government Board had scarcely deigned to recognise—but it was a very small crumb, £7,000 as a set-off against £192,000. But the Land Tax in the burghs was levied upon owners of land exclusively, so the same happy class were to receive the benefit of this relief in the burghs and in the counties. The tax which they had hitherto paid would become a new burden upon the general taxpayer. On the subject of this Land Tax and the proposals of the Government they missed the explanation which was due to them. How could the question be affected by the Finance Bill which was before the House? He also wished for information as to the mode of collecting the Land Tax in the counties. The mode of collecting it in burghs was old, costly and cumbersome. The collection was made by the officers called Stent masters, a class of officials who were probably beyond even the almost omniscient view of the hon. Member for 1333 Lynn Regis. [Laughter.] The collection of the tax caused some expense to the authorities in burghs, but the tax itself was not a heavy burden. Did the Government think that by providing for the abolition of the Land Tax in burghs they would get rid of all anomalies and inequalities? There was a saying of Walter Savage Landor's to the effect that statesmen like goats lived most gaily among inequalities, and he suspected that the right hon. Gentleman had by his proposals provided a sort of little browsing-ground for those who administered financial matters in Scotland. All burghs, he might point out, did not pay Land Tax, for many of them had redeemed it and others were now engaged in the process of redemption. Were these burghs to receive no recognition at all? Was no drawback to be given to them. When they realised that all their thrift and forethought had been wasted, and that the tax was to be abolished in burghs that had not been equally thrifty, were they likely to be satisfied? There were burghs equally worthy of consideration with the royal burghs, that would still have to pay the tax, and within the royal burghs themselves the tax was only to be remitted within the regality, and those who were outside it would have to continue paying the tax when their neigbours across the street were exempted. He could not, there-fore, consider the Bill to be a well-adjusted fiscal reform. With regard to the sum of £15,000 which it was proposed to hand over to some unnamed authority for the benefit of the congested parts of the Western Highlands, more information was wanted. What kind of objects had the Government in view? Did they intend to promote colonisation, migration, or the extension of piers and harbours? If any such purposes were contemplated, not £15,000, but £150,000, or more, would be required. He would say a word or two upon the proposed change in the law of assessment. This contemplated reform in taxation was the garment that covered the nakedness of the dole that the Government proffered. As very few people understood the present system of classification, he would read an extract from a letter written by the Board of Supervision 1334 in explanation of its origin and purposes:—Assessment for the relief of the poor was originally established on the equitable principle that every one should contribute in proportion to his income, and that principle has never been abandoned. But as trade and commerce have extended, and social relations have become more complicated, it has been found difficult to ascertain the amount of each man's income, and the inquisition required to effect that object was unpopular. Attempts wore, therefore, made to devise the means of maintaining the principle without the necessity of having recourse to an inquisition into each man's affairs. It was assumed that, as a general rule, men occupied dwelling-houses at rents proportioned to their income, and that an assessment on the annual value of houses would therefore be approximately an assessment proportioned to their means. A man whose dwelling-house was of the annual value of £100 would thus be required to contribute ten times as much as the man who lived in a house worth only £10 a year. It was found, however, that this rough-and-ready measure of men's moans was very imperfect, and that where 'lands and heritages' were occupied for different purposes, the income of the occupant varied with reference to the purposes for which the 'lands and heritages' were occupied. A farmer who paid £100 a year for his farm could not be supposed to have income equal to that of a man who paid a rent of £100 a year for his dwelling-house, and, if the principle that every one should be required to contribute in proportion to his income was not to he lost sight of, it was obviously necessary that facilities should be afforded for imposing different rates with reference to the different amounts of means represented by the different kinds of occupancies. Accordingly, in the Act of 1845 it was provided that it should be lawful to distinguish lands and heritages into two or more separate classes, according to the purposes for which such lands are used and occupied, and to fix such rate of assessment upon the tenants of each class respectively as may seem fit and equitable. It was thus made lawful to vary the rate with reference to the presumed income of the different classes of occupants. The Act of 1861, which abolished direct assessment on means and substance, has given increased importance to the equitable exercise of this power of classification.This was described by Mr. Skelton, in a Report in 1894, as being a rough method of adjusting the assessment to the taxable capacity of the rentpayer. That was the system which was left to the initiative and to the discretion of the parochial board, subject in the main to the approval of the central authority, and the principle had been continuously recommended by the central authority. He was quite aware that a great deal might be said both for and against this question of classification. The Lord Advocate had told them it had been adopted by 1335 190 parishes in Scotland, and though they were about one-fourth one one-fifth of the parishes in Scotland, it was a strong fact that it had been adopted by them. But, reasonable and fair as the system was, he had heard complaints that it had been oppressively used, sometimes at the instance of feuers and householders when they were in the majority, to the prejudice of the landed interest, and sometimes the other way round. Undoubtedly the system did present inequalities such as the right hon. Gentleman referred to, but he must point out that this system of classification did not refer only to agricultural land. It extended to all other subjects, as they called them in Scotland, and the elaborate list given in the Return showed the extraordinary ingenuity with which different schemes of classification had been framed. There were some of them much more elaborate than others, and in order that the House might see what a complicated and well-thought-out system it was he would merely quote two instances. There was the large and prosperous town of Paisley. This system had existed there since 1853, and there were no less than seven classes—banking offices, premises occupied by writers, accountants and others; manufactories, wholesale warehouses and places of business; dwelling houses, with or without gardens; schools, railways, works, dye works, print works; retail shops, and market gardens; and so on. All these were rated differently. The rate in Class 2 was one-third the rate in Class 1, and the rate in Classes 3 and 4 was one-sixth the rate in Class 2, and so on. This was a most elaborate system, but it was not the most elaborate. The most elaborate came to them from the parish of Campsie, which had eight classes. He need not go over them; they were of the same nature as those of Paisley. These arrangements in these particular places were of old standing, and were well understood, and if any objections had been made to them they had no doubt been attended to by the parochial board from time to time. But now the Government stepped in. They created a classification uniform all over the country in favour of land and land alone, and they abolished all other differences. They passed a sponge over all those elaborate arrangements, and the one sole property selected for 1336 the favour of a lesser rate was agricultural land. There was only one division allowed between agricultural land and that which was not agricultural. Public works, houses, places of business—all were to be assessed alike. Had the Government fully realised the confusion that would be created by this summary proceeding in those parishes enumerated in the Return, some of them very large towns? There were many classes who would pay more or less than they did now, and it was by no means the rich who would pay more and the poor who would pay less. In many cases it would be quite the reverse. ["Hear, hear!"] When they came to parishes which had been less ambitious, they met with a peculiar anomaly. It was a very common thing in an agricultural parish for the land to be classified at 25 per cent., but the proposal of the Government was that it should be three-eighths per cent., so that tenants in those parishes would actually have to bear a loss of one-eighth of a shilling per pound under this beneficent arrangement. He knew that the answer would be that as classification would be applied to the county rate they would benefit upon that head more than they lost upon this; but before they went on in this matter, it would be desirable to know in what proportion the county rate would be classified, and how this new system would work in the parishes to which he had referred. It was an ill wind that blew nobody good; and in those parishes where the tenants were to lose one-eighth of a shilling per pound, the villa residents and the householders, and so forth, who made no claim and put forward no pretence of being overburdened with taxation, would receive a handsome present consisting of the difference of one-eighth per cent., which was now paid by the farmers. He thought he had shown how complicated this matter was, and what confusion would be created by the proposal of the Government in a large number of districts. This classification might, he could conceive, be amended, and it would be desirable to have it more uniform than it was, but it was a large subject, to be undertaken with full knowledge and ample deliberation. But what was the moment chosen for introducing this change? It was the moment when the 1337 old parochial boards, which were dominated by the landed interest, had been superseded by the new Parish Councils, upon which all the ratepayers were equitably represented. Should they not wait to hear what were the views taken of this matter by the Parish Councils? Should they not give them time to take some action in the matter, either by going forward or going backward with this process of classification? And was it not rather significant that it was when the landowners had lost their parochial privileges that a Bill was to be hurried through Parliament taking away the local initiative hitherto allowed in the parishes, and conferring universally this boon upon the landed interest? He objected to the proposal of the Bill as being unfair and as being ill-considered. The Bill provided relief for one interest at the cost of others no less deserving of their sympathy, and introduced a summary change in their system of local taxation in a way which would create confusion and fresh embarrassments. Let him say in all plainness and sincerity what, in his opinion, the best course for the Government would be. This was not the simple Bill it appeared to be. It was a large Measure which, even if the princple were excellent and approved of on all sides, would require much detailed consideration. Being what it was it would receive, he was afraid he must say, the most stubborn and protracted opposition. [Cheers.] That being so, why should not the Government, in view of the already overladen legislative vessel which they were steering, withdraw this Bill—they knew how to withdraw a Bill—[laughter and cheers]—and let the money accruing to Scotland be held up until full opportunity was given for the Scotch people to form and express a judgment as to the object or objects to which this money should be devoted? ["Hear, hear!"] When that judgment was ascertained he felt certain that the object so selected would not be such as would benefit an individual class or interest, however deserving of sympathy and help it might be, but would be such as would be of lasting advantage to the community at large. [Cheers.]
§ *MR. THOMAS HEDDERWICK (Wick Burghs)
said that, in rising to second the Amendment, he desired to crave 1338 the consideration of hon. Members on both sides of the House. It was no easy task for him to speak for the first time in this Chamber, so august and so venerable, in which, to the ear of imagination at all events, the echo of great and historic voices still seemed to linger. But he was encouraged by the reflection that an appeal to the consideration of the House was never made in vain by a Parliamentary tyro, and also by the thought that he was discharging a simple duty to the constituents who sent him there. He was aware that there were many hon. Members who were much better qualified by knowledge of the subject than he was to second the Amendment of his right hon. Friend, but he ventured to say there was no one on that side of the House whose intervention at that moment could be more seasonably appropriate than his own, for he was one of the first fruits of the new agricultural policy of the President of the Local Government Board. [Laughter.] He wished he could think that he was a sample to the right hon. Gentleman's liking, though he feared he could not flatter himself with so fond a hope, but if that were so he might venture to say, without aspiring to the rôle of a prophet, that the future bulk would not please him any more than the sample. [Laughter.] With regard to the Bill, he agreed with his right hon. Friend that there were in it certain curious clauses which might be almost described as excrescences, clauses that, as it seemed to him, had nothing more in common with the Measure than a fungus with the rotten tree upon which it had been grafted by some wandering wind. [Laughter.] In the first place there was the provision giving to regality burghs, or baronies, the sum of £7,000. Those burghs were corporations consisting of the inhabitants which managed their own concerns. They possessed what was known as a "common good." Part of that "common good" consisted of land, and, as he understood it, the purpose of this provision was to redeem the Land Tax upon those lands. He congratulated the Lord Advocate on having discovered what the President of the Local Government Board had failed to discover—some accommodation land which it was possible 1339 to put into the Bill. But, unfortunately, instead of discriminating, as the President of the Local Government Board undertook to do, it seemed to him that the object of the Lord Advocate was to give to the owners of this accommodation land the same relief which it was proposed to give to occupiers who were supposed to require relief on account of their distress. But there was no question of distress with regard to these lands, which were very valuable to the burghs which possessed them. It was one of the grievances of some of those burghs that in times past those lands, or portions of them, had been parted with for an old song. They would be glad to get them back, for the land now let at a very high rent. If the purpose of the Bill was to grant relief to distress, why should this £7,000 be given to the burghs in question? The answer seemed to him to be obvious, and, speaking in plainer language than that used by his right hon. Friend, he would say that he regarded it as a bribe to the burghs, which, he would remind hon. Members, were Parliamentary burghs. ["Hear, hear!"] But if the Lord Advocate or the Government thought that these burghs were to be bought for £5,000, or that the Highlands were to be bought for £15,000, he could only say that the right hon. Gentleman did not really understand or rightly estimate the nature of the people. ["Hear, hear!"] It might be said by way of excuse that, after all, the inhabitants would not contribute towards the cost of the relief, because there was a clause in the Bill declaring that the money was to be taken out of the proceeds of the Estate Duty in Scotland arising from personal property. That point had been admirably dealt with by his right hon. Friend, and he would only add that he believed it would be as difficult for the Lord Advocate to attribute this relief money to any particular fund as for the Thames Water Supply Company to endeavour out of the commingled waters of the Thames to supply each of its customers with water from his own favourite tributary. [Laughter.] The second provision of the Bill also had no intimate connection with the main purpose of the Bill—the provision granting 15,000 to the congested districts in the Highlands. If this money must be spent on land, he could only say that he welcomed the 1340 recognition of the claims of the crofters to a share of the spoil. But before one could agree to or approve of a provision of this kind, it was necessary to ascertain to what purpose the money was to be applied and how it was to be administered. There was not a single word as to either in the Bill, and he confessed he was surprised that, from first to last, the Lord Advocate had not offered any evidence whatever to show that there was such distress in the country as would induce any reasonable body of men pretending to be legislators to grant relief of this description. ["Hear, hear!"] If this was a serious proposal to relieve the congested districts in the Highlands, the sum proposed to be given for the purpose was no more than a mere recognition—it was utterly inadequate. ["Hear, hear!"] There was another point for consideration. It was proposed with this paltry sum of £15,000 to create a new Board for the distribution of the money. But why create a new board? There was the existing Crofters' Commission, composed of men of experience and presided over by one of the ablest men of the Scotch Bar. Why should that Commission not be utilised? ["Hear, hear!"] The creation of a new Board meant the appointment of a new staff, and he feared that very little of the £15,000 would be left for the relief of distress after the expenses and salaries of a new Board were met. ["Hear, hear!"] The purpose of the Bill, as he understood it, was to give relief to agriculture in Scotland to the extent of £214,500. Here an important point would occur to a Scotchman. Was that sum Scotland's fair proportion? On what principle had that sum been arrived at? He was not satisfied that eleven-hundredths was the true proportion for Scotland. There had been a Commission to deal with the relative taxation between England and Ireland, and the result had been to find that Ireland had been overtaxed to the extent of £2,750,000. In such circumstances, how could they be certain that the proportion of eleven-hundredths was a fair proportion in regard to taxation for Scotland? It was a singular thing that, if the relief granted to Scotland were taxed on the rateable value of agricultural land, she ought to receive a much larger sum than it was proposed to give her under 1341 this Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] Scotland, in this case, was to receive relief to the extent of five-sixteenths of the rates, whereas England, under the English fill, was to receive relief to the extent of one-half of the rates. Surely, there was something unfair to Scotland in that arrangement, for the relief granted to Scotland in proportion to rateable value was much less than that granted to England. ["Hear, hear!"] He therefore denied that this could be called, as it had been termed, an equivalent grant to Scotland. ["Hear, hear!"]But there was an even more important point which demanded consideration—he referred to the principle underlying the whole Bill. As far as he understood the matter, that principle was this—that a particular industry, or interest in the State was to be relieved at the expense of the general taxpayer. If that were so, he had no hesitation in saying that the principle was an unsound and a dangerous one, and that the only possible justification for adopting it would be the extremity of the distress it was intended to relieve. As he had already said, the Lord Advocate had not given them a single instance of distress in Scotland. But if there were distress, then how did it come to pass that the Lord Advocate had £7,000 to spare for burghs where, admittedly, no distress existed? The real remedy for distress, if there were distress, was undoubtedly in a reduction of rent. It might be said there was land which was not capable of yielding any rent. He had never heard of any farm land in Scotland that was incapable of paying rent, but if there were such land, it was idle to attempt to render it profitable or to save the farmer upon it from ruin by relieving the farmer of five-sixteenths of the rates upon the land. There was plenty of evidence that the Government meant to get the money under this Bill from any other source than that from which it ought to come—namely, the landlords. hon. Members opposite called this relief, but he called it spoliation. The Government were robbing the industrial classes in order to enrich their friends; they had already committed one act of robbery, and in order to wipe out the memory of that offence, they proposed to perpetrate another. There was another matter well worthy of consideration by hon. 1342 Gentlemen opposite. Hitherto they had had a surplus, and it was easy to pay doles out of a large surplus. But suppose there came years when there were no fat surpluses to squander. The policy of the Government he believed to be a hand-to-mouth policy, and he supposed that, as in the past so in the future, they would leave to those who came after them the odium and the responsibility of imposing fresh taxes to meet the deficiency which their prodigality had created. This Measure, however skilfully it had been prepared, would fail to deceive the people of Scotland. There could be no greater mistake than for the Government to suppose that by a Measure of this kind they would conciliate the votes of the electors; indeed, in his opinion, the whole Measure was a mistake and a fraud upon the country, and therefore he had great pleasure in seconding the Amendment.
§ *THE LORD ADVOCATE
said the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment began his remarks by a diatribe upon what he called the principle of subventions and equivalent grants, and in doing so he only accentuated what most Members on the Government Benches already knew—namely, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite had failed to give the Government credit for the true principle which underlaid the English Bill and also this Bill. In the case of the English Bill they had to deal with the gross inequality between the burdens which for local purposes were borne by real as against personal property. The fact was that, roughly speaking, the personal property of this kingdom was worth about five times as much as the real property, and yet real property bore the whole brunt of local taxation. It was to redress to a certain extent that state of things that the English Bill was brought in. The inequality between realty and personalty was felt just as much in Scotland as in England, and the Government were trying to do the same tiling in Scotland as in England. The only way in which the principle of equivalent grant entered was simply upon the question of amount. The hon. Member for the Wick Burghs was not satisfied as to the proportion of 11 to 80, but if he had been in the House a little longer than he really had been he would 1343 know that that proportion was based upon figures which were embodied in a Return, and which had never yet been displaced by any adverse criticism. He began with the proposition that realty was asked to bear the whole burden of local taxation, and the injustice of that was almost more apparent in Scotland than it was in England, because what was called the hereditary burden argument had certainly less force in Scotland than in England. There were three rates which pressed most heavily. The heaviest, of course, was the poor-rate. That rate in Scotland had its origin in a Proclamation issued so long ago as 1579. That Proclamation imposed the rate, not upon land, but upon the means and substance of everybody in the parish. By a subsequent Proclamation there was given the option of levying one-half upon the owners of lands and heritages within the parish, or, in other words, it was taken that a landowner's means and substance was his land, and, no doubt, in the 16th and 17th century, that was a proposition that was probably true. According to its origin the poor-rate was not meant to be a tax exclusively upon land at all. By the Poor Law Act of 1845 the alternative methods were made legal, but in modern times the rate had been practically levied on land altogether. The incidence of the next heaviest rate—the school rate—dated only from 1872. Before that there was a certain burden on the landowners, but it was merely the payment of the schoolmaster and the provision of the school. The third heaviest rate was the road rate, and that dated from 1878. He thought he had, therefore, made good the proposition that certainly in Scotland it was shown that the imposition of the whole burden of local taxation upon realty as against personalty was an unfairness which could not be palliated by any idea of its having come down from generations past. When they had a Measure which had for its object partially to redress that inequality, the question necessarily arose where they were to give relief. Of course any real injustice was very much accentuated when the victim of the injustice was in a depressed condition; but, in supporting this Bill, he maintained that the claim of agricultural land to this relief was based upon 1344 the peculiar position of agricultural land rather than upon its depressed condition. The right hon. Gentleman, although his words were carefully guarded, seemed to go so far as to intimate that he did not believe in Scottish agricultural depression.
§ *THE LORD ADVOCATE
said the point was not whether the depression in Scotland was as bad as it had been in Essex, but whether there had been agricultural depression. On that point, he could only refer hon. Members to Reports which had already been published. What did Mr. Hope, one of the sub-Commissioners, say in reporting on the counties of Perth, Fife, Forfar, and Aberdeen? He said that on all hands and in all quarters, he had ascertained that depression of a very acute kind had prevailed during the past 10 years. The same gentleman, reporting on the counties of Roxburgh, Berwick, Selkirk, Peebles, the Lothians, Banff, Elgin and Nairn, said that throughout the whole of the districts he was informed that during the past 10 years there had been agricultural depression, and that it had been very severe in all the districts, with the exception possibly of a certain area in Mid and West Lothian. In these cases the depression was not quite so severe. Both landlords and tenants had felt the pressure of hard times. At no time within their experience had times been worse than they now were to Scottish tenant farmers. ["Hear, hear!"] Mr. Spiers, dealing with the countries of Ayr, Wigton, Kirkcudbright, and Dumfries, said that while in some districts the fall in rents had, comparatively speaking, been very little, in others, especially in sheep farming districts, it had been very heavy, and that while the farmers in the south-west districts might not be suffering so severely as those elsewhere, yet there was plenty of evidence to show that only those with long leases were doing any good, while the majority could hardly make ends meet; and, last of all, in the Report of the Royal Commission on Agricultural Depression, was the following:—It is undoubtedly true that the severity of the depression varies greatly in different districts, but we have come to the conclusion that there is no part of Great Britain from which it 1345 can be said to be altogether absent. With rare exceptions, it has existed in increasing intensity throughout the country for the last 10 or 15 years.Probably, so far as rent was concerned, nothing could be more convincing than the figures of the valuation roll. The gross annual value of land in 1879–80, which was the highest point in Scotland, was £7,760,303; in 1893–94 it was £6,251,898, a decrease of 20 per cent.; and he might explain that these figures did not represent the whole case. One thing which was very difficult to accurately estimate ought to be remembered. In the earlier Return unlet shootings were not entered, but in the meantime an Act was passed by which they were put in the valuation roll and assessed, and consequently they swelled the second Return. He did not need to tell the House that in some Scottish counties the valuation of unlet shootings represented a substantial figure. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman had said that this relief of rates would be really but a drop in the bucket. The figures he gave were taken from Mr. Hope's Return, and showed that the rent in a particular instance was £900 and the public burdens only £60. He (the Lord Advocate) would take these figures. The Report showed that the profit of the farmer was only £121. Under the Bill, supposing it to be in an unclassified parish, that farmer would get £37 18s. into his pocket, an addition of 30 per cent. to his income. [Ministerial cheers.] Was that "a drop in the bucket?" [Renewed cheers.] It was, of course, a small thing to some of his millionaire Friends on the other side of the House. [Laughter.]
§ *THE LORD ADVOCATE
said he would not deal with that observation further than to remark that it seemed to be thought by hon. Gentlemen opposite that, as long as there was any rent to be paid at all, the only relief given ought to come out of rent, they forgetting that, after all, land was the landlord's capital, and that they could not expect him to supply that for nothing. ["Hear, hear!"] The land was not got for nothing. He had often wondered what 1346 would be the result of a Return which would show how much land had changed hands in recent years. He hoped he had shown from the Reports he had quoted that the depression in agriculture in Scotland was, unfortunately, well ascertained, but he only showed it because it simply accentuated the claim for relief which he thought agricultural land possessed, totally independent of any question as to the existence of depression. In what did that claim consist? It was perfectly evident that a farmer's land represented his stock-in-trade in a way that nobody else's land did, who was rated upon the valuation, and accordingly, from the very earliest time the House would find that the justice of making an allowance to agricultural land had been admitted. There was the Commission upon Scottish Municipal Corporations in 1835. That Commission suggested that an exception in rating ought to be made to purely agricultural land. Then there was the Poor Law Act of 1845, by which the Scottish Poor Law system was crystallised. By that Act, where the assessing authority took the option of levying the assessment half upon the owner and half upon the occupier, then it was within their power to adopt a system of classification. The Baxter Act of 1861 followed, abolishing the old option and making it necessary in all cases to assess one-half upon the owner and one-half upon the occupier, but in each and every case where, through the operation of the Act, the old method was swept away, classification was made compulsory. Then there was the Committee of that House in 1871, which expressed the opinion that greater power should be given to the Board of Supervision to force the local assessing authorities to adopt classification, and a later Committee, presided over by his predecessor (Mr. J. B. Balfour) spoke on the great variety of the existing classification, arising from the fact that the initiative rested with the Parochial Boards, and suggested that undoubted evils existing should be remedied either by first giving the initiative as to classification to the Board of Supervision on the representation of any ratepayer in the parish, or, second, by providing a statutory classification, such as was done by Baxter's Act. All the Committees that had dealt with the 1347 subject had been at one, not only as to the inherent justice of classification, but as to the inappropriateness of the present procedure; but the matter did not stop there. There was also the burgh legislation. The first general Burgh Act in Scotland was passed in 1833, and even in that early Act Parliament seemed to have thought the same thing. They did not deal directly with it, because they were only dealing with burghs in existence at that time, and they did not include agricultural land; but they had the condition that the provisions of the Act were to apply to all people who lived in a radius of a thousand yards outside the burgh boundary, and even in providing that a man who lived within a thousand yards should be rated just as people in the burgh were rated, they particularly provided that if they occupied agricultural land they should not be rated on that amount. In 1862 was passed the well-known Burgh Police Act, and in the same year a classification was adopted for agricultural land being rated at one-fourth, and this was continued in the Act of 1892. That Act, he would remind the right hon. Gentleman, was entirely a joint one, and was the result of the laborious and careful study of a Committee which sat chiefly when the Party opposite was in power. A comprehensive view had been taken by Parliament that this thing was just in itself, but at the same time there was a blot on the existing system because of the variations. His right hon. Friend quoted a Return which was, he thought, moved for by Dr. Cameron in 1866. There had been changes since then, of course, and that return was not absolutely accurate up to the present day. He was able to give the House some information as to the existing variations. There were 158 classified parishes; 38 of them relieved land to the extent of one-half or less; 62 relieved land to the extent of more than one-half and not more than two-thirds; 44 relieved land to the extent of more than two-thirds and not more than three-fourths 14 relieved it to the extent of more than three-fourths. Out of the same 158 parishes 64 had only two classes—the view taken in this Bill; 75 had three, 13 had four, and five had five. That was not all, for, curiously enough, since parish councils came into sway two distinct 1348 tendencies had emerged. In some parishes were there was a landward burghal district, and where the parish council was elected practically by the burghal interest, they had been dropping classifications, and there was a most piteous wail from Renfrew this very season, the result of the action of the Renfrew Parish Council having been that the farmers in that parish had now got to pay exactly three times the rate they had to pay before. [Laughter.] As against that there had been another tendency in the north, especially in the crofting counties, to try and adopt what he might call a sumptuary classfication. They had sent up several classfications that were not accepted by the Local Government Board. The general idea of some of these, which were extreme cases, was that sporting tenants should pay two rents; people like bankers, or anybody else who looked well-to-do, should pay one rate; and that, coming down to the ordinary farmer, he should pay half a rate; and the crofter a quarter or an eighth. [Laughter.] He was afraid that the only general rule which was to be drawn from this was that in these matters local bodies would be governed to a great extent by the predominant interest in the local council, and he thought that in a question of this sort it was not desirable that the matter should be affected by local feeling, it being really a matter for the Imperial Parliament to settle. ["Hear, hear!"] The present Bill amounted to a practically compulsory classification between agricultural and non-agricultural lands. It did it, no doubt, at the expense of the Imperial taxpayer, keeping steadily in view the fact that this was a readjustment of the burdens as between real and personal property. It applied that relief to a compulsory classification between these two classes of land. The effect, of course, in the unclassified parish was very simple, because there, although the reduction was upon the valuation, the reduction upon the rate came to exactly the same thing. This, of course, applied to by far the greater portion of Scotland, because, out of a total of 877 parishes 719 were unclassified. The effect in the classified parishes was a little more complicated, and he recognised with admiration that the right hon. Gentleman did not make the mistake which seemed to 1349 be universally made in the Press of Scotland which represented the opinion which the right hon. Gentleman was supposed to favour. These newspapers seemed to think that all one had to do to see the effect upon a classified parish was simply to find out what the rate was at present and take three-eighths and five-eighths of that rate. This was absolutely erroneous, because they must take into calculation what was the proportion that the total valuation of agricultural land bore to the whole land of the parish. He would suppose the existence of a parish which consisted of only two subjects, one agricultural and the other non-agricultural, the valuation of each of which was £80. Take the existing classification at one-fourth. The rate on the agricultural subject was 3d., and on the non-agricultural one shilling. With a 3d. rate upon an £80 valuation there was a levy of £1 paid by the agricultural land; and with a rate of 1s. upon £80 there was a levy of £4 upon the non-agricultural land, making a total of £5 for the supposed parish. Clause 2, Sub-section 2, of the Bill provided that:—That part of the occupiers' share of each rate which represents the proportion borne by the valuation of the agricultural lands and heritages in the rateable area to the whole valuation of the rateable area shall, to the extent of five-eighths thereof ascertained and certified, be taken as the deficiency.Taking the case he was dealing with, that proportion was one half. The two things were equal here. Therefore it was a half to the extent of five-eighths of the deficiency. The half of five-eighths was five-sixteenths, and five-sixteenths of £5, the total levy, was £1 11s. 3d. Therefore in this parish £1 11s. 3d. represented the State contribution. If they deducted £1 11s. 3d. from the £5 that left £3 8s. 9d. to raise. That they had of course to divide between the agricultural and non-agricultural subjects according to the reduced rating. The agricultural land had been reduced to three-eighths, or £30, and they had to divide that sum in the proportion of thirty one-hundred-and-tenths, which was the same as three-elevenths, and eighty one-hundred-and-tenths, which was the same as eight-elevenths. The result 1350 came out—State aid, £1 11s. 3d.; agricultural tenant, 18s. 9d.; non-agricultural tenant, £2 10s.; total, £5. Most of the relief here had gone to the non-agricultural tenant, and that was perfectly right according to the Government view of what the Bill did, because the non-agriculturist had really been bearing upon his shoulders that which he ought never to have borne, and when the State had come and said personalty should bear this charge it was perfectly right to give it to the man who had borne it in the meantime. Take again suppositious figures. Lot him take the case of a total valuation of £10,000 with agriculture as before representing £5,000. The estimated expenditure was £500, and the rates before the Bill would be 6d. upon the owner, which would give £250 and 2⅖d. on the agricultural occupier, which would give £50, and 9⅗d. on the other occupiers, which would give £200. The grant in aid would be five-eighths of a half, which would be £701 2s. 6d. After the Bill the position would be that the non-agricultural owner would pay £125 instead of £200, and the agricultural occupier would pay £46 17s. 6d. instead of £50. He had looked for a parish which would interest the right hon. Gentleman and he had taken the parish of Meigle. It had a double classification—land ⅓, railways ½, and the other subjects 1. Working it out, the sum which it raised at present was £184; land paid £84, railways £31, and other subjects £69. After, the agricultural land instead of paying £84 would pay £63, railways £30 instead of £31, and other subjects £33, instead of £69, and there would be a Government grant of £58. Another familiar parish in Scotland was that of Barony. It had a totally different classification. For Barony the classification was, land one-third and other subjects one. At present agricultural land paid £144, and the others paid £63,990. After the Bill, land would pay £161, a slight increase, and the others £63,704, and there would be a grant of £269. There was a very elaborate calculation as to what would happen in Greenock. The sums, as worked out by Sir Charles Cameron and his friends, were wrong, because they had not appreciated the first condition of the problem, namely, that they must take the proportion of agricultural land to the 1351 total valuation. Still it would not make very much difference; and why? because whenever they had anything like the position of Greenock, which was very exceptional, where agricultural land bore a perfectly infinitesimal proportion to the valuation of the other subjects, and where they had a classification of various subjects, no doubt there would be a certain disturbance. He did not flinch from that, but that would really not affect very many places. It was in large towns where they would have this disproportion between agricultural land and other subjects. Aberdeen had only two classes; Kilmarnock was rather like Greenock; Kirkcaldy had two classes; Dundee had four classes, but it did not much resemble Greenock, and the difference between manufactories and houses was very slight. The one paid 10d. and the other 1s. In Paisley public works were only one-and-a-half more than houses, so that the effect would be the opposite of what it was in Greenock. In Greenock the people who would really gain would be the manufactories, at the expense of the houses. In Paisley it would be the opposite way. No doubt when they came to very elaborate classifications there would be certain disturbances. In the case of Greenock it was said that the bankers would benefit; but the banks in Greenock were valued at £2,130 out of a total of £288,000, so that the reduction to the bankers would be a mere drop in the bucket, because the number of banks was so small. The only real disturbance was where they had a number of manufactories, and they were in a different class from dwelling-houses. Where there was little agricultural land in a burgh it would have to pay something more, as in the case of Barony, but he did not think that mattered, because they found out automatically that device about which they had heard so much in the English Bill, namely, how to provide for accommodation lands. The subject was not so complicated after all, and the Bill was perfectly consistent with principle. In every reform there was pinching, but here there was no real pinching. Even where there was pinching, it was only because they were carrying out now the just and equitable principles which had been supported by everyone who had had to go theoretically into the subject. There was a dif- 1352 ference between the Scottish and the English Bill in the separation between houses and buildings and agricultural land. He thought that he could give a good reason for that. In England, the grant of money which they were taking out of the Imperial Exchequer was conditioned by the amount of agricultural land. Therefore, if they had thrown houses and buildings into the valuation it would have cost a great deal more money. In the Scotch Bill, the amount of money given to spend had been reached by a different calculation, and the only question was, how to distribute it justly. As the value of the houses and buildings bear more or less a constant relation to the value of the farm, it was obviously immaterial whether as between occupier and occupier the value of the buildings was or was not deducted. He came now to the Burgh Land Tax. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Amendment had wandered a little about it. It was not a tax upon the land in the burghs, but upon the burgh itself. He had been asked two questions on this subject. The first was how would this be affected by the Finance Bill? The Finance Bill would not touch it, because the provisions of the Bill were so drawn that they would have no application whatever. There was no place where the levy came to more than 4s. in the pound. As regards the burghs, the quota was fixed upon them by Act of Parliament and that was divided amongst them by the Convention of Royal Burghs. The relief given by the Finance Bill only operated where the tax amounted to more than 4s. in the pound. The second question was as to the position of the Land Tax in the counties. It was laid on the land and never split up unless an application was made and it was demanded by the collector of taxes and paid as part of the Income Tax. He had also been asked to say something with regard to redemption. He believed there was only one town which had the unique glory of having redeemed the whole of its Land Tax, and that was the burgh of Wemyss in Fife, though Dumfries had very nearly done it. But most of the redemptions were very small. For instance, Inverness out of £136 had redeemed only £3 7s. In fact out of the original quota of £8,000 only £957 9s. 11d. had been redeemed, leaving 1353 the present tax, as it stood, at £7,042; so that the right hon Gentleman opposite would see that there had not been as much redemption as from the phraseology he used, he appeared to think. He asked the House to remember two things, first that this was only a temporary Bill, and secondly, that after all the people who had paid were bygone ratepayers and quâ ratepayers, if not quâ individuals, were dead. There was no continuity of existence between the ratepayers of to-day and the ratepayers of long ago. Some remarks had been made upon the £15,000 to be devoted to the congested districts. It was not pretended that this would do everything that was required for the congested districts, but it would form a nucleus. It was thought unwise to cumber the Bill with any particular scheme. The hon. Member who seconded the Amendment surely misread the Bill when he said it was proposed to set up a new Board. The words in the Bill had been specially chosen in order that the matter might be left open. They referred to an authority to be hereafter determined by Act of Parliament. The hon. Gentleman indicated the Crofter Commission. It would be possible to make use of that Commission, or the Local Government Board or any other authority; but that was really a matter of detail which would have to be dealt with hereafter. With regard to the question of classification, hon. Gentlemen must remember that that was a subject which had to be faced. It would never have done to ignore the existence of classified parishes and simply to have given this relief over and above the relief already given by classification. The Government believed that the way they had chosen was really the logical and fair way. It offered a good opportunity for carrying out the recommendations of all those who had dealt with the subject. All those who had had any experience in the working of county finance would know that there had been great difficulty in connection with public health matters owing to this classification. The Government thought they were really effecting a much needed reform by taking this opportunity of putting public health matters on a proper basis.
§ *SIR JOHN LENG (Dundee)
said the burghs were tempted by the very small sum of £7,000 to assent to a proposal throwing 1354 upon them a burden of £192,000, or taking the sum to be given to the congested districts, £207,000. This offer might be regarded as soothing syrup, but even in that sense it was a very small homoeopathic dose. It was just about one-thirtieth of what was proposed to be given to the agricultural interest. A population of 1½ millions was to receive £7,000, while a population of 2½ millions was to receive £207,000. Assuming the Land Tax in the burghs to be abolished, they would soon be approached with a claim that the abolition should be extended to the counties. He could not see how, the Land Tax in the burghs having been abolished, there was any logical pretence for maintaining it in the counties. As to the sum to be given to the congested districts, he was sure no one would grudge something being given to the West Highlands and islands of Scotland, when money was going. But the sum proposed was really altogether inadequate for what was required, and it must be granted to an unknown authority for an unknown purpose. He would suggest that if the scheme was carried out, it could not be placed in bettor hands than those of the Crofter Commission, who had done much good service, and who from their knowledge and experience of these districts would appropriate the money to the best advantage. In this respect he thought the Bill was a great improvement on the English Bill. It did propose to apply a direct benefit to districts which were notoriously in need of some assistance, and if the same principle had boon applied in the English Bill, it might have done something to mitigate the opposition to it. But those on his side of the House objected to the extension of this system of grants-in-aid. They considered them vicious in principle and mischievous in practice, and they regarded them as devices to delude unthinking people into the idea that they were receiving gifts of money from the State. No money could be appropriated by one class exclusively without being taken out of the pockets of another class, and the great objection of the representatives of urban constituencies was that a Parliament in which landlords greatly preponderated, and in which one of the Chambers, being a House of Lords, was especially a house of landlords, was 1355 extending this most vicious system of grants in aid. The soundest political heads in Scotland most resolutely resisted this system when it was first introduced, and it was only when it was found that great injustice would accrue to Scotland by large grants being given to England in which Scotland did not participate, that these objections in principle were felt to become inopportune. But the proposal of the Bill seemed to Scotch Members to be utterly objectionable. First, as between burghs and counties. The right hon. Gentleman had not shown, so far as rates were concerned, that there was any justification for this proposal, and he should like to bring under the notice of the House the great inequality between towns and counties with regard to the incidence of rates. Taking the counties with which he was best acquainted, Forfar, Fife and Perth, and allowing for the fluctuations in the school rate, the average aggregate assessment was only 2s. 2d. in the pound. What was the case in the great cities? In Glasgow, which stood very favourably in this respect, the rates under the £10 rental amounted to 4s. 2d. in the pound, and over the £10 rental to 4s. 11d. In Edinburgh, which was more favourable than Glasgow, the rates were 3s. 10d., in Aberdeen they were 5s. 7d., and in Dundee they were 5s. 9d. In this connection it should not be forgotten that the great majority of farmers paid no Income Tax. They were assessed at one-third of their annual rental, and were at liberty to prove that their actual income was even less than that one-third. Yet they had these continual and persistent claims for the relief of agriculture. Many of them strongly sympathised with that interest, but they could not overlook the fact that there were other interests which, from time to time, and some of them for a very long time, suffered great and severe depression; and they never heard a proposal from the other side for any grant in aid to these depressed industries. Manufacturers of textiles regarded with a deep sense of injustice what was now proposed. Their industry in his district—in Dundee, Arbroath, Montrose and Forfar—might be correctly stated to have been for a considerable time past quite as depressed as that of agriculture. Manufacturers only received a reduction of 20 per cent. on the gross rental of their works for the 1356 purpose of poor-rate assessment; and they suffered a special disadvantage, as compared with agriculture, inasmuch as their whole stock in-trade was liable to be worn out and to become valueless. Take the case of the linen industry. He had known works which had cost upwards of £150,000 sold for £30,000, and there were at this moment, within the area to which he had referred, very large establishments which were closed, the proprietors being insolvent and the works unsaleable. And yet no man would ever think of bringing into the House of Commons a proposal for a special grant for an industry suffering as that industry had done. The same thing might have been said of many other industries at various times, yet never had there been a proposal to come to the aid of the manufacturers in this way. The worst of it was that the struggling manufacturers were to be made under this Bill to contribute to the aid of another class, who certainly were not so heavily taxed and who were not suffering more than they were. Then take the question of the relief to the agricultural occupier, as between the owner and the occupier. It was only fair to admit that the Bill made an honest attempt to limit the benefit to be conferred to the occupier; and, so far as a clause in an Act of Parliament could accomplish that, it would be accomplished under this Bill. But they could not, merely by inserting a clause providing that the benefit shall go to the occupier, insure such a result. As sure as a river flowed into the sea, so surely in time, and in no very long time, the relief which in the first place went to the occupier would go into the pocket of the owner. A burden removed from land was the same as an addition to its annual value. That was quite true, whether competition succeeded in maintaining or raising the value of the property, or whether depression diminished its annual value. The term of leases in Scotland had been very much shortened; and the benefit; of the reduction in rates would go to the tenant so long as his present lease ran, but no longer. And where the owner had been giving abatements it was not likely that he would continue them at the same rate if he could point to the fact that the Government had come to the tenants' relief in 1357 the manner proposed by the Bill. But the most objectionable feature of the Bill, as it was of the English Bill, was that the greatest relief would be given where it was least required and that where relief was most needed the least would be given. Its principle was "To him that hath shall be given." The tenant of poor land at a distance from a market would receive very little benefit; whereas, tenants near large towns with immediate access to market with all the benefit of being able to obtain their manure readily and many other advantages, who were paying and were well able to pay high rents, and who, comparatively speaking, did not feel the rates that accompanied these rents—they would have the greatest benefit under this Bill. He would give one or two illustrations. A farm in the centre of Forfarshire 300 acres in extent with a rental of £1 per acre would under the Bill receive relief to the amount of £8 10s., or 7d. per acre. In the centre of the Carse of Gowrie, where the rent averaged 28s. an acre, the relief would be 10d. an acre. Eastwards of Dundee, where the rent was £2 an acre, the relief would be 1s. 2d.; and westwards, where the rent averaged £2 10s., the relief would be 1s. 6d. per acre; while in the immediate vicinity of Dundee, where the rent averaged £3 10s. an acre, the tenant would benefit to the extent of 2s. an acre.
§ *THE LORD ADVOCATE
The hon. Member will see, I think, after what I have said, that it is absolutely impossible that these figures can be right, because he does not tell the proportion of agricultural land to the total valuation.
§ *SIR JOHN LENG
said no doubt it was a very complicated question, but he had the figures supplied to him by an agriculturist and statistician well informed as to the character of these parishes, and he thought they would be found to work out very accurately. There was, as he thought he had shown, this double injustice, that lands whose value had been enormously increased by their proximity to great industrial communities would have their value further swollen by public grants from Imperial taxation chiefly contributed by the inhabitants of those industrial communities. A farm of 300 acres near a large town would have its annual value increased by £30, whereas the occupier 1358 of a similar farm at a greater distance, and at a much lower rental, would only get £8 10s. As between one set of tenants and another they were going to increase the anomalies and inequalities. The Bill was a tax upon the towns for the benefit of the rural districts. According to a calculation he had had made based upon population and the annual contribution to Imperial taxation, the contribution for the relief of agriculture which under this Bill would be paid by Glasgow would be no less than £32,900; Edinburgh, £13,000; Dundee, £7,700; Aberdeen, £6,250; Leith, £3,450; Paisley, £3,300; Greenock, £3,150; and Perth, £1,500. A total of £71,250, or 36 per cent. of the whole, would be paid by the eight principal towns of Scotland.
§ *SIR J. LENG
said that argument had been rightly characterised by his right hon. Friend as not only grotesque, but comically grotesque. The attempt to ear-mark the money in that way would not deceive anyone.
§ *THE LORD ADVOCATE
Then I will say it comes out of Imperial taxation, and the towns do not pay Imperial taxation.
§ *SIR J. LENG
said the millionaires resided in the large cities rather than in the counties, and the attempt to geographically localise the source of the Estate Duty was beside the question. According to estimates he had made, the town districts, which had no share in the grant, would contribute 72 per cent. of the amount the right hon. Gentleman had allocated against only 28 per cent. to be paid by the rural districts. Discriminating between the classes of population on the basis of rental, it appeared that the working classes of Scotland whose rent was under £10 would contribute 62.8 per cent. of the amount, the lower middle class whose rent was from £10 to £15, 10.77, and those whose rent was from £15 to £20, 6.3. Following this line of calculation and taking the above classification of population, the grant in aid fell upon the people who lived by weekly wages in the following proportion. Those who were rented up to £10 contributed £132,618, or 69 per cent.; up to £15, 20,760, or 10 per cent.; 1359 and up to £22, £12,070, or 7 per cent. The Government might pass this with their mechanical majority, but the more the facts and figures relating to the Bill were looked into, as they would be in Scotland by the inhabitants of the towns and especially the industrial population, the greater the dissatisfaction would be, and the continuance of this class legislation—for the benefit of a class—would more and more open the eyes of the intelligent people of Scotland to the purposes to which the Party opposite were putting the majority given to them at the last election. The Bill had already caused the greatest dissatisfaction in the constituency he represented, and he believed the feeling would spread throughout Scotland. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ *MR. SHAW-STEWART (Renfrew E.)
said there seemed to be a misapprehension as to the manner in which the Bill was to be applied. He represented a county constituency, but he had a good many urban constituents in his division, and speaking for them he had no hesitation in saying that all they wanted was that justice should be done all round—[Opposition cheers]—and he did not think it difficult to show that this Bill was an act of justice. As the First Lord of the Treasury said the other night, it was an act of tardy justice, and if this could be shown he did not think the constituents of the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, or his own, would show dissatisfaction. On the contrary, when they came to understand it thoroughly, they would confess that, although they would like their turn to come, they would not grudge agriculturists this act of tardy justice, too long withheld. He contended that the Bill was just in principle. It sought to relieve burdens which had been imposed on agriculturists since the days of Protection. The burdens on agriculture had not been altered for 50 years, whereas commerce and trade had been freed in every direction. That in itself was a sufficient reason why such a Bill should be introduced. That depression existed in the industry of tilling and cultivating the land throughout Scotland was beyond all doubt. Mr. Speir, in his report as to the farmers of Wigton-shire, stated that he had been told by them that they were better off paying high rents 15 years ago than they would be now if they were rent free. 1360 Mr. Speir and his colleague were met with complaints on the question of taxation, and the chief complaints were directed against the poor-rates at present levied. They were levied on the wrong principle, and it was urged that there was no industry which created less pauperism than agriculture. There was no grumbling against the principle of the poor-rate, but it was strongly urged that seeing the changes in the condition of the country since the poor-rate was imposed by Statute, the mode of assessing it should be adjusted to the present state of things. There was a great difference also in the price of cattle. The price of store stock in 1882 was £16; in 1892, £13; fat cattle in 1882 realised £25 and in 1892 it had fallen to £18. In speaking of drainage and other improvements which had been considerably starved during the last few years throughout Scotland, the report of the Sub-Commissioner said:—On making inquiries, I was frankly told that tenants had not the necessary capital to enable them to do any improvements. With diminished rents the spending powers of the landlords had been crippled. The result was that all over the country the expenditnre on permanent works of improvement had been seriously decreased.This report was sufficient to convince any dispassionate hon. Member that agricultural depression existed in Scotland. He did not say this Bill would go a long way to meet it. But it was something—a step in the right, direction. The Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, which hon. Members opposite would admit was not a Tory organisation, had passed a resolution to the effect that the tenants of agricultural land should be relieved of their burdens to the extent of one fourth. Hon. Gentlemen opposite who belonged to that chamber, would agree that relief to the extent of one-fourth, would be only fair. Under the Bill they had not that amount of relief, but they must be content with what they had. He submitted that this was eminently a fair Bill. The relief the Bill proposed to give to the agricultural tenants would come from the Imperial Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow had said that the relief would be given at the expense of his constituents who 1361 had nothing to do with agricultural land. But the relief came from the general taxpayers who were the well-to-do classes [Opposition cries of "No!"] It was the well-to-do classes that kept the Imperial Treasury full. [Renewed cries of "No!"] He did not deny that poor men contributed something; but would hon. Gentlemen opposite contend that the greater part of taxation was not borne by the well-to-do classes? [Opposition cries of "Yes!"] Then what about the Finance Act, the Death Duties and the Estate Duties? [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Excise?"] Could the taxation of a man who paid no Income Tax be compared with the man who paid Income Tax? If a man who paid no Income Tax did not drink tea, or spirits, or smoke, he contributed nothing in the Imperial Treasury. He doubted whether any hon. Gentleman representing a city or a town would be able to say at the end of five years, during which the Act was to run, that his constituents paid a farthing more than they were now paying ill consequence of the Measure. It was said also on the other side of the House, that the relief would find its way into the pockets of the landlords. But the hon. Gentleman opposite did not say how it would reach the landlords. It must be remembered that under the Bill the Scottish landlords not only paid the full rate they had to pay at present, and that so far from the taxpayers of towns and cities having to bear the burden of the relief, a great part of it would undoubtedly fall upon those very landlords who were being accused of appropriating it entirely to themselves. There seemed to be an anti-landlord craze on the other side of the House. But hon. Gentlemen should not forget that if there were rich landlords—as, no doubt there were—they were rich, not because they had agricultural land, but because they had other sources of income; and for one rich landlord there were scores of landlords who were struggling against very hard times and striving to do their duty as the owners of land. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, professed to wish to see the land in more hands than it was at present—to see the class of small owners of land extended; but were they likely to hasten that time—which he, too, thought would be a good time—by their crusade against the owners of land, and their efforts to 1362 make land ownership more odious? Some hon. Members also objected to the setting aside of a sum of money for the congested districts, without knowing exactly how the money was to be applied. But there was a Congested Districts Board in Ireland; and he could say from his own personal knowledge—for he had recently seen some of the work of that Board in Donegal and Galway—that if the money proposed to be allocated for Scotland was expended in the useful way it was spent in Ireland, the Highlands would benefit greatly indeed. Hon. Members opposite had declared that they would try to raise feeling in the urban districts against the Bill. [Opposition cheers.] But what all the constituencies wanted was justice and fair play, and hon. Gentlemen would find it difficult to prove that it was not just to relieve the agricultural depression that existed in every part of Scotland. He did not deny that there were injustices in the way of local taxation to be remedied also in towns. The Government had foreshadowed their intention of dealing with the whole system of taxation, and there was no reason whatever why the inequalities of a portion of that system should not be remedied now.
SIR T. D. GIBSON CARMICHAEL (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian),
who was received with Opposition cheers, opposed the Bill in a maiden speech. He said he rose because he looked at the subject from a different point of view from many who sat on his side of the House, and because he had a natural desire to get his first speech over. [Laughter.] The Bill had been described as a remedy for agricultural depression and for certain defects in the system of local rating. He was perfectly willing to give the Government credit for a desire to do two good things with one Bill, but if this was the best they could do for one or other of those subjects he could not congratulate them. There was depression in agriculture in Scotland, though not so much depression as existed in England. Indeed, until England drew up to Scotland, which he did not see much prospect of—[laughter]—or until Scotland fell back to the level of Eng-' land, which he did not think Scotland would ever do—[laughter]—there would never be such agricultural depression in Scotland as there was in England. But 1363 everyone who knew the state of farming in Scotland, who attended the markets and was acquainted with the prices given for produce, knew that agriculture was not in that flourishing condition it once occupied in Scotland. It had been said that it was unfashionable to speak well of landlords. He himself was a landlord, and he had not a penny which did not come from land; but he should not on that ground take the part of the landlords, though he felt that in Scotland they had recognised the depressed condition of agriculture. This time last year the country was in the throes of a General Election. He himself was all right, though the fate of some of his hon. Friends was trembling in the balance; and everyone concerned with that election knew that the question of agricultural depression entered very much into the arguments used on both sides. In the east of Scotland, at any rate, the Tories stated that the Liberals had but a weak Government; that they knew nothing of agriculture; that the President of the Board of Agriculture did not understand the wants of Scotch farmers, and was ruled by the Irishmen; and that the Secretary for Scotland, though a Scotch Member, was an English landlord, whose ideas on this question were generally borrowed from his constituents, who had burgh interests. When the Unionist Government came in, it was triumphantly declared that now a strong Government had been returned, composed of men who understood the wants of the land, with a Secretary for Scotland of whom his worst enemy could not say that he was an Englishman, and with a President of the Board of Agriculture who was not afraid to discuss such points as "cumulative fertility" before the Edinburgh Chamber of Agriculture. Hopes and expectations arose; but where were they now? Hope deferred had made the heart of the Tory farmer almost sick. If the Bill was the Unionist remedy for agricultural depression, the Scotch farmers would not think much of it; though, no doubt, Scotch agricultural bodies would send up petitions in favour of the Bill, because they would think that every little helped. Landlords and farmers in Scotland recognised that, while the prices of produce every day decreased, and the cost of production every day increased, farming would not 1364 be in the position it once occupied, unless there was a large reduction in rents. He, personally, did not wish to let his rents down sooner than he could help; but it was recognised that there the alteration must come. The ex-Secretary for Scotland had spoken of temporary abatements of rent as the greatest curse of agriculture in Scotland. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman; but he would find that most of those temporary abatements had long ago been made permanent, at least, for the currency of present leases. But as long as there was the present large demand for farms among men who had not got them, the condition of agriculture would not greatly improve. It was only when tenants had learnt by bitter experience not to offer higher rents than the land would bear, and when landlords had learnt that it was not always the best policy to take the man who offered the highest rent, that the real improvement would take place. The Scotch farmers had, indeed, asked for some things. They had found that the Hares and Rabbits Act was a failure, and that the Agricultural Holdings Act was a sham, and it was amendment of the latter Act that they desired before anything else. If the President of the Board of Agriculture had displayed half the eagerness about the Bill for the Marking of Foreign Meat that he displayed about the Diseases (Animals) Bill, he would have had the support, not only of the breeders and feeders, but of the working men in the Scotch urban constituencies. He would admit that agriculturists had for a long time asked for a change in the system of rating; but was this Bill the reform that they expected? The Bill accepted the principle of classification, and, so far, he thought the Bill was right. In a large number of Scotch parishes that principle was adopted, and where it was adopted it would not willingly be given up. He congratulated the Government on that point in the Bill, and on the assertion of the principle that classification should apply to county as well as to parish rates. But this step, though in the right direction, did not go far enough. Scotch farmers saw living in their midst men who paid far too little, and who in justice ought to pay very much more. The Bill was of no use as a relief of agricultural depression; 1365 it was not a real attempt to deal with the local taxation question; and it dealt with the fringe of the question in a way which was fatal to the true desires of agriculturists. The proposals in the Bill would simply raise a storm of indignation in the urban constituencies. He objected further to the Bill because he thought the only effect of it would be to delay that thorough dealing with the question which he wished to see. It was such a small dole that whether it went into the landlords' pockets or tenants' pockets was beside the mark. Both the tenantry and the landlords of Scotland knew quite well that the rates were always calculated for in fixing rent. At the end of any lease the question of rating would be taken into consideration, and therefore he said that the relief, such as it was, given by this Bill, would go more directly into the pockets of the landlords of Scotland, than would be the case in England. He thought the method in which the relief was to be given was a great objection to it, and he protested against the Bill on behalf of his constituents, agricultural labourers, miners, shopkeepers and farmers, all of whom were paying more towards local taxation than they ought to pay; and he protested also on behalf of himself and others like him who lived in houses which were not exactly farms—[laughter]—and on behalf of others who had large residences, and who he believed could pay and ought to pay more than they did pay. [Cheers.] What they wanted was justice, and it seemed to him this Bill was likely to put off the day when they should get justice.
§ *MR. ALEXANDER WYLIE (Dumbartonshire)
supported the Bill because he held that the depression of agriculture was far greater than anything which the other leading industries had experienced. There had been times of depression in connection with the other leading industries, but these had been like the receding have of a flowing tide which was followed immediately by another have which marked a higher advance of progress and prosperity. But in the case of agriculture, especially during the last 20 years, the tide had been constantly on the ebb. Our national progress during the last 50 years, measured by 12 most important items, showed that while population had 1366 increased 42 per cent., wealth 124 per cent., trade 472 per cent., shipping 583 per cent., textile industries 206 per cent., hardware 412 per cent., mining 276 per cent., steam power 1,040 per cent., banking 572 per cent., revenue 73 per cent., instruction 340 per cent.; agriculture had actually decreased during that period of general prosperity 6 per cent. A fair way of distinguishing the relative progress of any industry was to take the number of hands employed in it in different years. Tried by this test, he found that in the woollen industry, which it was alleged had been in a very depressed condition, in Scotland there were in 1881, 35,646 hands employed, while in 1891 there were 40,034, and since that period the total consumption of wool had enormously increased. In the same way as regarded shipping, which was said to be in a declining condition, he showed that in 1860, the total tonnage was 4,660,000 tons; 1888, 7,465,000; 1891,8,279,000; and 1894, 8,955,181 tons; and that while in 1881 there were 45,000 hands employed in shipbuilding, in 1891 there were 62,000. He quite admitted that in the jute industry there had been a considerable decadence, but the statistics showed that in the textile industries generally in Scotland there had been considerable progress. Again, the total number of persons employed in mining in 1894 was 739,097, as compared with 435,000 in 1881, and shewing an increase of 20,250 persons upon the figures of 1893. It would be to the great interest of the mining population if some means of employment could be found for agricultural labourers who were so steadily drifting into the mines. It had been asserted by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that the land was going out of cultivation, but the returns published by the Board of Agriculture furnished a complete answer to that assertion.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said that the change had occurred in reference to the character of the land, and he took account of land under cultivation. The Return showed that there was a great deal more land under cultivation than was supposed.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire that he is replying to speeches made on the 1367 English Bill, and this is out of order, I hope that he will not continue that course.
§ *MR. WYLIE
said that in connection with those agricultural Returns the combined area of arable and pastoral land in Great Britain showed a decrease of 52,000 acres compared with 1894. There were 510,000 acres less wheat grown, and corn land fell off by nearly 455,000 acres. The figures of the last 20 years showed a steady decrease of arable acreage and an increase of pasture land, the total loss of arable area in that time being 2,737,000 acres.
§ *MR. WYLIE
I will do so. He found that the number of agricultural labourers from 1871 to 1881 in the United Kingdom decreased by 25 per cent. While in 1851 they constituted 6.93 of the whole population; in 1881 they had fallen to 2⅗; and in 1896 to 2¼ of the whole population. In Scotland the decrease had not been so marked. In that period it had only been about 15 per cent., and this had been very much owing to the intelligence, energy, and industry with which the Scottish farmers had been able to meet foreign competition. But the falling off in the agricultural labourers had been alarming. In 1871 there were 255,000 agricultural labourers in Scotland, but in 1881 the number had sunk to 234,000, and in 1891 to 220,000. In manufactures, commerce, mining and the professions in Scotland there had been, on the other hand, a very steady increase. The non-productive class had increased about 5½ per cent., the industrial class 10¾ per cent., the domestic class 15 per cent., the professional class 16 per cent., and the commercial class 37 per cent., while the agricultural class had fallen off 6½ per cent. He believed that the most painful feature in connection with agricultural distress had not been that the landlords had been receiving smaller and smaller rents, but the most deplorable feature had been the steady depopulation of the agricultural lands. Their rural labourers were 1368 becoming fewer and fewer, and the finest country in the world, with the best climate for the rearing of sturdy men and beautiful women was in many cases becoming a desolate wilderness. This principle of grants in aid had been described as a dangerous system, and the right hon. Member for the Stirling Burghs had declared it to be a vicious and mischievous principle. He said that it was a beneficent principle, a principle which might well be applied to other industries—to the sugar industry, for example, before it had been finally crushed out of this country by the system of bounties. He was glad to see that the principle had been carried still further in connection with the £15,000 for the relief of the congested districts in the Highlands. He recommended the Government to double the amount. The relief of the occupier of agricultural land might be effected in four different ways. In the first place it could be effected by the intelligence, energy and industry of the parties principally concerned—namely, the farmers themselves. In the second place, by an abatement of rent, and probably this was the most important of all. He thought that the abatements of rent should increase with the difficulties that presented themselves, and he was glad to think that the landlords in Scotland had shown themselves amenable to this consideration. In the third place, the occupier might be relieved by the assistance of the Government in granting facilities in connection with light railways and other means of transport, so as to enable him to compete with foreign competition, and by giving educational and other facilities. In the fourth place, the occupier might obtain relief by a portion of the rates being taken off his shoulders. Fifty years since the combined value of grain and wheat, which constituted the principal items of agricultural produce, had differed very little from what it was now, whereas rent and taxes had increased 36 per cent. The produce of agricultural land was taxed about 14⅓ per cent., while other produce was taxed 12 per cent., and according to this calculation if the rates were proportionately decreased there would be about £4,000,000 to hand over to the agricultural districts in the United Kingdom instead of £2,000,000. Though he represented a Scottish county, he was 1369 principally connected with commerce, and he did not think that the commercial classes would object to give this relief to the farmers. This Bill would give them a certain amount of relief, and in doing so he heartily supported it. By this means, and the other more important means to which he had alluded, he hoped that the prosperity of agriculture would be restored in Scotland, and that in the near future it would be able to hold out a magnanimous helping hand to other industries which might now be prosperous but which sooner or later might see a time of depression. On those grounds he gave his hearty support to the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. ROBERT WALLACE (Perth)
said that the hopes of many Scottish Members had been disappointed that the equivalent grant to be given to Scotland was not to be applied in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the Scottish Members. Clause 4 had been introduced in order possibly to conciliate the hostility or even to excite the sympathy of Members of the Royal Burghs of Scotland, of whom he had the honour to be one. He should give resistance, however, to a Bill which violated the most elementary principles on which local taxation should be based. They were not actuated by any hostility to the agricultural interest. On the contrary, they wished it all prosperity, but they doubted the wisdom of many of the proposals made to bring about that prosperity. He represented a city largely dependent on agriculture, and whose prosperity was bound up with the prosperity of the farmers of the district around them; and yet they had seen the Government with a desire to promote agricultural prosperity within the last few weeks doom to perpetual destruction the only agricultural industry which during the last few years had afforded any comfort or hope to the farmers in Scotland. They were told that the promoters of this Bill had two objects in view. The right hon. Gentleman said that in the first place it was a Bill for the relief of agricultural distress. He did not deny the existence of distress. To do so would be to deny the evidence of their own senses; but that discussion had shown that the relief given under this Bill would be very small in amount, 1370 and that most of it would go to those who needed it least. The right hon. Gentleman had also told them that the Measure was intended as a message of hope to the farmers, and as a proof that the Legislature sympathised with them in their misfortunes. He should have thought himself that a mere recognition by the Legislature of the existence of agricultural distress without the application of a practical remedy would not be a message of hope, but a message of despair. If a man who was about to become bankrupt were to ask a friend for a large sum in order to relieve him from his difficulties, and if the friend was to put his hand into his pocket and produce a few shillings he would be mocking at the misery which he was professing to relieve. That was just how the Government were acting towards the farmers. The Government were telling them that they recognised the evils of their condition, whilst declining to give them any relief worth speaking about. But it was said that if this Bill did not afford much practical relief it was, at any rate, a Measure for the readjustment of the whole rating system. He admitted that that system ought to be completely reorganised, and that it was very hard that the land which was not merely the workshop of the farmer, but the raw material of his manufactures, should be so heavily taxed locally. But this observation as to the injustice of the incidence of local taxation applied not only to land, but to mills and machinery, factories, and shops. He recognised, therefore, the necessity for the readjustment of local taxation. He might be asked, as that was the case, why he opposed a Bill which was intended to bring about a partial readjustment of that system? His answer was that he objected to the Bill because it would render the general reform of local taxation more difficult, by the introduction of a vicious principle. The Government could not pretend that in any attempt to readjust local taxation generally they would proceed upon the lines laid down in this Bill. Hon. Members on both sides of the House were rapidly coming to recognise the vicious nature of these grants. They were wasteful and extravagant, and the relief which they afforded was temporary and illusory. The Measure, viewed as a whole, was most 1371 dangerous in its tendency. They had been told over and over again that the late Government harassed every interest in the country. He ventured to say that if they did so they acted in the general interests of the entire community; but what the present Government were doing was this: They were harassing the entire community for the sake of a particular interest. Although the interests that had supported the present Government in defence of their monopolies might be strong, the Government would find at last that the community at large, slow though it was to express its anger, and slower still to avenge its wrongs, was stronger than even the combined interests that were supporting the Party now in power, and would speak and act in no uncertain way when the opportunity should present itself. In the interests of the public, he offered the most uncompromising opposition to this Bill.
§ *SIR W. WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)
said the Government had invited them to do something for the relief of distressed agriculture, but Members on the Liberal side were in some difficulty with the proposed scheme, not only on account of the nature of the proposals which were of an intricate kind, but also on account of the mode in which they had been brought forward. The scheme had been a very short time before the country, and they had not had an opportunity of consulting their constituents as to their views on the subject. His agricultural constituents were for the most part small tenants, many of them of the crofter class. They were a very hardworking, struggling class, and he had no doubt they were suffering acutely from the present depression in agriculture, They would, he believed, benefit, though it might not be in a great degree, from this Measure, and he would hesitate very much before he opposed anything that would benefit them in any degree. He was, therefore, in a dilemma in judging as to the merits or demerits of the Bill. The scheme, in his opinion, was not the proper way of dealing with agricultural depression, and a considerable share of the benefits would be intercepted by the class of non-workers. But on the other hand, a fair proportion would go to a very deserving class of toilers upon the land. There was another practical consideration. They were now under a Tory 1372 Government, and were likely to be so for five or six years longer. From the principles and practice of that Government, he could not expect anything better than the present Measure, and he was, therefore, inclined to take on the present occasion what he could get. The people country the general consumer and the taxpayer, must try to learn a lesson from a homely Scotch proverb, which told people not to expect too much under unfavourable circumstances. The proverb was "That you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," and if the working men of this country chose to return a Government of the privileged classes for five or six years, and to give them a majority of 150, they mutt expect that that Government would promote class legislation; and if the people saved anything from the wreck they would be very lucky. If the general consumer learned a lesson from what had happened, he would get value for the money he was now called upon to furnish. This Measure, as he had already said, was not the right remedy for agricultural depression. Agriculturists were not weighed down with the burden of rates. The chief burden from which they suffered in his constituency was that of rent, and what they wanted was, not a charity dole in the matter of rates, but fair play in the matter of their rents. They did not necessarily ask for a reduction. They asked for a fair rent, and for fixity of tenure, which alone would give them protection in regard to their improvements. With that protection they would display that energy and enterprise which were the qualities wanted to deal with agricultural depression. Holding that view, he had done his best to get the Crofters Act extended to Banffshire and other similar counties where crofters were found. But the Government were opposed to that, and therefore he would take what he could get. He believed a large share of the relief would go to the landlords, who do not need it, because where temporary abatements were given any relief to the tenant would, on the first opportunity, be absorbed by the landlord, who would discontinue the abatement. But in constituencies such as his a considerable benefit would go to the small holders who were also leaseholders. These men, held for periods 1373 exceeding five years and a very large number of them would get the benefit of this concession before any revision came about. He could not quite agree to the principle which underlay the Amendment. It objected to money being used exclusively for the benefit of one class. If they insisted on that rule too rigidly it would become very narrow. The general purposes of the Government would be very much limited if they were prevented from giving that assistance to specially suffering or weak classes, which it was in the general interests of the community to give. For instance, it was very much in the general interest of the general community that those hardy industrious crofters, of whom he had spoken, should not be extinguished, but should get such reasonable help as would enable them to hold their own and increase among the glens and valleys where they were found. In the same way, if that rule were rigidly enforced they would not be able to give reasonable help to the fishing industry in regard to harbours and other requirements. Supposing the money was not devoted to the purpose now proposed, it might, if left in the hands of the Government, be put to much more mischievous purposes. Large sums left with the Government by its predecessors had already been used for the purposes of those swollen armaments, of which Mr. Gladstone had spoken as wild, wanton, and most perilous, and on the Uganda railway, which was wild and wanton, and if not perilous, at any rate, fatuous. He was reminded, in now supporting this Bill, of a story he read the other day about a Newfoundland dog, whose duty it was to bring the family pie home from the baker's every Sunday. He usually drove off the other dogs and brought it home safe. But one day they attacked him in overwhelming numbers, and finding that resistance was hopeless, he set the pie down, and helped himself first. [Laughter.] He admitted that the principle of the Bill was very defective, and therefore he voted against it when proposed in the first instance for England. It had been carried by force majeure, and now, when the English farmer had got relief, he did not see how he could resist giving relief to the Scotch farmer. He therefore proposed to support the Bill, not because he 1374 thought it was a good one, but because he had no hope that a better Measure would be forthcoming.
§ *MR. JAMES McKILLOP (Stirlingshire)
said it had not been his intention to take part in the present Debate, but from the remarks and adverse criticisms made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, he thought it might be his duty to make a small contribution to the Measure under discussion. The Bill proposed to give £214,500 to Scotland as an equivalent grant to which it was entitled—["hear, hear!"]—and as against £1,500,000 to England, and appropriated in account with the Agricultural Rating Bill. He had listened with the deepest interest and attention to the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs, who had moved an Amendment to the Bill, and, although he said many things, he carefully avoided mentioning one fact—that this Bill did nothing more than apply universally—at the expense of the Exchequer—a legalised system that had existed in Scotland for upwards of 50 years. He referred to Section 36 of the Poor Law Act of 1845, which the right hon. Gentleman knew upwards of 180 parishes in Scotland had voluntarily adopted. That law provided and permitted heritors to classify rates, in order to put different taxpayers on a somewhat equitable basis. For it was a well-known fact, and had not been disputed from the other side of the House, that a person who was able to occupy a dwelling house at £100 rental had a very much larger income than the occupier of a farm at £100 rental, for the reason that an occupier of a farm paid on the value of the land whose produce made his living; in other words, the source from which he made his income was taxed, and classification of rates was meant somewhat to adjust this anomaly. The Report of the Royal Commissioners on Agricultural Depression stated that this classified system had been voluntarily adopted by no fewer than 21 out of 31 Scotch burghs, each having a population of over 10,000 inhabitants. Hence two-thirds of the Scotch burghs, and upwards of 160 parishes—mostly of an urban character—would be benefited by the Bill, because in future the Imperial Exchequer would bear the burden of concessions to agricultural holdings 1375 hitherto borne and voluntarily borne by themselves. [Cheers.] Every ratepayer in a classified parish now paying on his full assessment would be relieved by the Bill, and parishes which had not adopted a classification for occupiers of agricultural land would, for the first time, enjoy privileges hitherto limited to classified parishes. By the Bill every occupier in Scotland, whether great or small, would henceforth be assessed upon three-eighths only of the amount of the value of his holding as it appeared on the Valuation Roll. Ratepayers on subjects other than agricultural would, in a large number of cases, be positively benefited, and in no case would the urban taxpayer or the ratepayer in a town be injured to the extent of a farthing. He considered the Bill would reduce and adjust unfair burdens on agricultural subjects, and would better equalise the farmer's position on lines of uniformity more in accord with the other class of taxpayer. [Cheers.] Agricultural land was acknowledged by every impartial authority to be unjustly rated as compared with personal property. ["Hear, hear!"] He could not concur in the statements and conclusions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs that this Bill would benefit only one class of ratepayer, and that class presumably the landlord class. He did not regard the Bill in any sense as a landlords' Bill; nor was there any truth in the statement that taxpayers in towns would have to pay the rates of the farmers in the country. The fact was that had the Bill never been brought in by the Government, the working class taxpayer in cities and towns would not be benefited in the least. He was glad the Government was going to institute a searching Inquiry into the general question of the incidence of taxation, and was sure this would result in much good, especially as to the rectification of rating in towns, possibly, also, to the advantage of the poor dwellers there. [Cheers.] The wisdom of giving £7,000 by the Bill to relieve the Burgh Land Tax could hardly be honestly disputed; and £15,000 as the first instalment or formation of a neucleus to benefit the Highlands and Islands of Scotland could not be better spent. He hailed any Measure which conferred legislative benefits so widely and justly given to the people of Scot- 1376 land, urban and rural alike, and therefore would be glad to support the Bill by every means in his power. [Cheers.]
§ *SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
congratulated the Lord Advocate on his speech, after the delivery of which no man in the House failed to understand the Bill. They felt, after listening to him, that the old tradition of Scotland was maintained, and that they had in the Lord Advocate not only a great law officer but an administrator. It was fair to say that his speech was a defence of the principle of classification; but he gave that too large a sweep when he said that the principle which underlay the Bill was to correct the gross inequality which existed between real and personal property. That principle was not carried out in the Bill. The principle was not to remove inequality, but to create new and very serious inequality between house property and landed property. They could not agree with the Lord Advocate that there was any injustice whatever to land as opposed to house property. It was true that land was the stock-in-trade of the farmer, but the farmer himself did not pay the rates on that stock-in-trade, it was the landlord who paid them. When a lease was drawn up then the rates were taken into consideration. It was quite true that if there was any new rate during the currency of a lease the farmer paid that during the lease, but as to the rates which existed before the lease began, the landlord paid every halfpenny. The landlord at £5,000 a year in farms paid so much a year in rates, but the landlord at £5,000 a year in shops and urban tenements paid the same amount in rates in the same parish and in the same district—he was speaking of a non-classified district. Real property, houses and land, ought to pay alike. Real property might have a case against personal property, but as regarded real property land had no case whatever as against houses. He maintained that they had no ground for saying that classification at this moment was popular in Scotland. Since Parish Councils had been set up—and he had been following their operations very closely—a certain number of Parish Councils had adopted classification, and a certain number had abolished it, and he believed he was right in saying that the balance was on 1377 the side of those who had done away with classification. In a non-classified parish, that was to say, in four fifths of the parishes of Scotland, this Bill did everything for land and nothing at all for house property, and it did it in a most unjust way. During the five years that were coming, agricultural land, as far as occupiers were concerned, was to pay only three-eighths of the rate instead of the whole rate. In the next five years very important sums might be raised out of the rates, buildings might be built, public health rates of great importance might be levied, very large sums of money might be, and very likely would be, spent in the influence of the landed interest, and all this would be contributed to by the houses to the full, and occupiers of landed property only to the extent of three-eighths. The right hon. Gentleman described with perfect truth the great anomalies of the system of classification, and said this was a matter for the Imperial Parliament to settle. That was true, but the right hon. Gentleman passed too lightly over the fact that this was not a settlement, it was a change which was vitiated by a very great defect—it would not be final and permanent. Was the Land Tax in burghs to be abolished for good and all? Was this extremely complicated and troublesome system removed out of the way, with the enormous expenditure which collecting it involved? No. At the end of five years the sum would no longer be paid, and the Land Tax would remain exactly where it was before. It was a much more serious matter when they came to county finance. He admitted to the full the great difficulties of the classification system. It was against all the leading principles of financial reform that the local administrator should not know exactly what he had got to raise, and from whom he had got to raise it, and that the local taxpayer should not know exactly what he was going to pay. Instead of altering this system permanently and making a settlement, they just put the matter off for five years, and at the end of that time the whole difficulties of county finance would revive, in fact, there would be then greater difficulties than ever. He was afraid that this method of dealing with local taxation would prevent the reform of local taxation. If the 1378 Government had waited two or three years they might have introduced a great reform and settled this question of classification for ever, but instead of that, under this proposal the whole question would revive at the end of five years. The sum set apart for the Highlands, if capitalised, would bring in for their benefit £2,000 a year under the method proposed in this Bill. But there was another method which had commended itself to the wisdom of Parliament. Up to the 31st December 1894, nearly 15,000 holdings were dealt with by the Crofter Commissioners, and the rents were reduced from £75,000 to £54,000 a year. That was not £2,000 a year, but upwards of £21,000 a year given to the Highlands, and it was not given from the pockets of anyone from whom it ought not to be taken, but from the pockets of men who, if this Commission had not sat, ought to have done as the English and Lowland landlords did, and reduced their rents to that extent. That was the line on which, he thought, they ought to continue working, and he did not hesitate to say that if the Government had merely extended the Crofter Act to the leaseholders, as far as that side of the House was concerned, the Government would not have wanted more than five minutes for each stage of a Bill embodying such a proposal, and it would have done quite as much for the Highlands as this Bill did. To have brought in such a Measure as that, moreover, would have been working on lines already sanctioned by Parliament and proved by experience to be most just and successful. How were the towns treated in this Bill? It had been said by the hon. Member for Stirlingshire that in no case would the taxpayer in the cities be injured to the extent of a farthing, but if that were so why should not the Government pay all the rates of Scotland and England out of the taxes? If they had a method which would benefit everyone, and injure no one, they could not carry it too far. This £200,000 which it was now proposed to pay out of the taxes represented a tenth of the sum raised by 1d. on the Income Tax, 2d. a pound on tea, or 8d. a pound on tobacco. They might choose which of the three they liked—["hear, hear!" and laughter]. The gross valuation 1379 of Scotland was about £25,000,000 per annum. The rural rent was not much over £6,000,000, and to the districts and classes which paid the rural rent the money went. The burghs and house property, to reckon by the gross valuation, paid £150,000 a year taxes, out of which some of them got back £7,000. The rural districts paid £50,000, and they got back in the relief of local rates £193,000 per annum. What justice was there in that? The rural rates were not heavy, the total average rural rates throughout the country being only some 2s. in the pound. In the large towns, on the other hand, the rates were very high. In the course of the Debate that night the usual argument had been put forward that the town rates were high because of the increased comfort and conveniences which the residents in towns obtained. But a great deal was spent in towns upon what the rural population obtained for nothing. For instance, the urban population had to spend large sums upon parks to enable them to obtain fresh air which the rural population obtained free. Then there were the heavy police and poor rates that the towns had to pay. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire had candidly admitted that he was not prepared to assert that the present distribution of rates was unjust if it were not for agricultural depression. It was, therefore, perfectly plain that the Government themselves felt that the turning point in this discussion was whether or not agriculture of all the industries in Scotland was in a specially depressed condition. It had been stated that the extent of the fall in the gross valuation of land was 20 per cent., but an equal fall had taken place in the last few years with regard to other industries. No doubt people who bought land in 1873 were now receiving only a small amount of rent for their outlay, but the same thing could be said of those who bought shares and coal mines in those days. In England farmers had broken their leases with the consent of their landlords who had reduced their rents to enable them to live. But in Scotland the leases were kept in force, and the great majority of the landlords reduced their rents. Could it be said in that case, as one gentleman had said, that farmers were being steadily drained of their capital owing to 1380 their being so heavily rated? It was, therefore, only in exceptional cases that there was any claim for the farmers to be relieved of a portion of their just rates. It would be found from the evidence taken before the Royal Commission on Agricultural Depression that so far from farms being untenanted, there was a great demand for every vacant farm on such estates, for instance, as those of Lord Aberdeen, whose factor stated that he had over a hundred applications for farms which he could not meet. What was that factor's evidence?Does it generally result at present in your getting a larger rent than you got from the outgoing man?—Within this last year rents have been advancing. I should say that, generally speaking, with a smaller holding I can, perhaps, get an advance of from 10 to 15 or even 20 per cent. I do not like to induce the tenants to give more than a reasonable rent for the land.Then he was asked—Do you find plenty of men with sufficient capital making applications?—Yes.Is there no difficulty?—I have applications in my office from men with capital from £50 to £3,000.And in answer to a subsequent question he said—I may mention that I have let about 300 farms within the last four or five years.Then he came to Mr. Peile, likewise the factor of a great landowner. He was asked how much rents had fallen in his district, and he answered—10 to 12 per cent.—in special cases more.There are still plenty of competitors for farms?—We have fair competition.I suppose an estate on which the management is very liberal?—Yes, the management is iberal—we do a very great deal in reference to buildings and accommodation generally.With a reduction of rental from 10 to 12 per cent., are you able to let farms to good tenants possessed of capital?—Good farms always bring forward a certain amount of tenants. Some, no doubt, are better than others.The extent of the depression in that district was measured by a fall in rent of 10 or 12 per cent. He did not think a landlord could fairly come forward and say that he was badly used in comparison with men in other industries. Then a gentleman, who had acted as factor for Lord Galloway for 30 years, said that he 1381 had no difficulty in letting farms, and that none of the proprietors in his neighbourhood had any difficulty. Then there was Mr. Alexander Gordon, a landlord, Convener of the county of Aberdeen, who said—So far as I can see there is very little difficulty in letting all good farms, and sometimes even at a considerable rise of rent, even in these present times. Large farms, of course, are always more difficult to let than small farms, but for anything under 100 acres you will find any number of tenants at the present moment.He thought that hon. Members would feel that if, as he maintained, these were fair specimens of the evidence, he had shown the factors, farmers and landowners admitted that farms were easily let, and that rents were rising. What then were these rents? Mr. A. Hutcheson stated that every day land laid down in grass was let at £3 an acre. Mr. Hope, the sub-Commissioner, was asked what rent he was now paying, and he replied that the average was fully £4 10s. an acre. Then there was the case of another farmer who paid the reduced rent of £800 for 400 acres. Did anybody say there was no room for reduction there? Mr. Spier in his evidence was asked—If I recollect aright, in North Ayrshire you have said that the rents were reduced from 5 per cent. to 10 per cent. and in South Ayrshire from 10 per cent. to 15 or 20 per cent.?—Yes, about that.In Wigtonshire and Kirkcudbrightshire the reductions in rent have not been more than 10 per cent.?—In Wigtonshire I think it is a a little more.In Kircudbrightshire, how much did you say; rather less than in Wigtonshire?—Yes, it is less than in Wigtonshire. In fact, I might say that in Kirkcudbrightshire, there is almost a tendency to rise in some cases.All he said was that if in cotton, iron, coal, shipping, or jute, the interest on capital had fallen only 20 per cent., the people who pursued those industries would think themselves lucky indeed; and he must say that he was very glad to see that morning in The Time such an account of Scotch agriculture, as showed that if it was depressed at the time these Returns were made, it was not depressed now. He hoped his hon. Friend behind him (Sir John Leng) would be able to speak as well of the jute trade in his constituency. He 1382 himself could not say the same about the shipping industry in his constituency. He would not enter into the question whether under this Bill the farmers would get the benefit for certain, but he would like on that point to read a few sentences from Mr. Spier's Report on this matter of temporary abatements. That gentleman said:—Most landlords very considerately made these reductions permanent as soon as they were satisfied that the times demanded such, and that there was no immediate prospect of any improvement. Serious complaints were made against some landlords for only giving temporary reductions. Everybody condemns that system of giving temporary reductions instead of a revaluation, as it lowers the moral stamina of the tenant, in fact, pauperises and demoralises him, and makes him more a confirmed grumbler than an energetic and resolute man, determined to overcome all difficulties and make the most of the circumstances. One very important reason why landlords have contracted themselves so frequently out of the Agricultural Holdings Act, has been, owing to abatements in rent having been given during the currency of the existing leases. When these abatements were agreed on the tenants bound themselves not to make any claim under the Act.If the Government wanted to be of real assistance to the farmers, instead of remitting their rates, they would give them facilities for taking real advantage of the Agricultural Holdings Act. That was the thing they asked for before everything else. The Government had cut themselves off unfortunately from doing that which most of the farmers asked for—namely, from admitting Canadian cattle; but they had not cut themselves off from improving the Ground Game Act. The complaint the farmers made; was not against the Ground Game Act itself, but because wherever there were moor or wild lauds, under the Ground Game Act rabbits could only be shot for a very short portion of the year, and that restriction covered pretty well the half of Scotland. It was said that the farmers only wanted encouragement to do their best. One of the witnesses, Mr. Hutcheson, was asked:—Are there any parts in your district where it has got so bad that no rent is paid?—No, and never will be in Scotland.And there is no land out of cultivation?—No, and I never anticipate to see that time.The land is too good?—No, we manage it better than that. We never need to throw it up as a bad job. I do not think it will ever come to that in Scotland.1383Has it nothing to do with the' quality of the land?—Partly that, and partly the brains of the cultivators.It was in his opinion doing a cruel kindness to the Scotch farmers to give them special advantages in the way of rates for 5 years, and so to bring them into an increasing unpopularity with the town populations; so that when they asked for something that would really be of benefit to them, they would lose the sympathy of the burghs. Unlike the English Bill, this Bill did something for the burghs, but it did nothing at all for urban populations, which were not burghs. It did nothing for the coal centres like Mother well and Both well. He took it that that was the reason, if he was rightly informed, why the Lanarkshire County Council had already petitioned against the Bill. Again, it did nothing for the textile districts like Walker burn and Innerleithen. To certain royal burghs it did give something, but that something was so small that he did not believe any town population which knew something about local and Imperial taxation would be eager to jump at this miserable offer or would be willing to sell its birth-right for such a spoonful of porridge. The objection of the people of Scotland to this Measure was that they viewed with dislike and disapproval grants from the rates. They regarded them as unjust to the taxpayer, as demoralising to local administration, as leading directly to extravagance, carelessness and want of responsibility in the administration of any expenditure. They had very high authority for so thinking, for the First Lord of the Admiralty warned them years ago that no steps was so certain to increase their expenditure in poor relief as would be that of opening the door of the Consolidated Fund to the rates. They had only too clear an experience of this in Scotland. The grants to rates in Scotland were only too high before, but in 1890–91 they reached the present enormous figure of £750,000 a year. Between the years 1880 to 1891 inclusive, the expenditure on poor relief had never varied more than between £830,000 and £853,000 a year, and had only once risen above £850,000. It might be said that Scotchmen had got a way of watching their expenditure and keeping it at £840,000 a year. Then came these 1384 grants, and in 1892 the Poor Rate had risen to £871,000 by a jump of £30,000 in one year, and in 1894 it had risen to £894,000. He wondered what it would have risen to after the Bill had been in operation for three years? The feeling which largely prevailed in Scotland with regard to this matter was admirably expressed in an article in a newspaper which supported the Government. The Glasgow Herald of the 3rd inst., said:—We have had equivalent grant after equivalent grant thrown at us of late years, and in every case the natural process has been reversed, that is to to say, we have been presented with a sum of money by the Imperial Parliament, and have been told to find ways and means of spending it. Of course, the money has been spent, and, to a large extent, value has been got for it. All the same, the process is demoralising, and the principle is wrong. It is, therefore, with something like dismay that we learn that another sum of more than £200,000 is to be tossed to Scotland out of the Estate Duty, and that we approach yet another controversy as to the destination of the money.That was most true and weighty. The subventions to England, Scotland and Ireland at the present moment were equal to a fourpenny Income Tax and this would raise it to are Income Tax of fivepence. It was because this vast sum of money was taken out of taxation that was contributed to by all was given to one class, or if they would to one or two classes, that with most hearty and with full conviction, he was bound to support the Amendment of his right hon. Friend.
§ MR. ALEXANDER CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)
said that he had been as much astounded as it was possible for any Member of the House to be at the extraordinary nature of the argument which the right hon. Gentleman had presented to them. Hon. Members for Scotch county constituencies would be as surprised as he was to be told of the prosperous condition of Scotch agriculture and that factors had hundreds of applicants for farms. There were statesmen who lived in offices and spoke from Blue-books. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman was a speech from Blue-books and not from practical experience. There never was so disastrous a season for agriculture as that which had just passed. At the present time agriculture was suffering from a depression which was unknown in any other trade or industry. In 1385 Glasgow probably the only industry which could complain in any serious degree was that of shipping. Every other industry was in a most prosperous condition, and the position of trade in the engineering shops had not often been in such an excellent state. But what was the condition of agriculture? The industrial farming classes of Scotland were in a condition which had deprived them of a large part of their capital, they were making no profits, but were incurring large losses, and agriculture everywhere was suffering from serious depression. Owing to outside competition, the trade in potatoes, from which the landlords got big rents and the farmers large profits, had been wholly destroyed. These potatoes were selling at £1 per ton. Farmers would make mistakes; and, to speak plainly, the farming industry in Scotland was face to face with a catastrophe, which had come about in consequence of low prices, from which he saw no recovery. It was said that the £15,000 a year to be provided under the Bill was to be capitalised, and the interest only to be applied to the benefit of the crofters and the congested districts in the Highlands. He had no reason for supposing that the amount of money to be spent for the benefit of the congested districts was to be limited to the interest of the capital sum. He understood that the £15,000 was intended for the benefit of those districts, and he hoped his right hon. Colleague would not oppose that, or attempt to prevent the money being applied for its proper purpose. The right hon. Gentleman said great reforms should be just, popular, and final; and because this Bill dealt with a certain sum which had come haphazard, it, he said, did not come under the category of a great reform. If this Bill was to be defeated in that House, or successfully opposed in the country, it would not be on the basis of the abolition of the Land Tax, or because £15,000 a year was to be applied to the relief of the congested districts in the Highlands. It must be defeated on more serious grounds. He was a burgh Member, and he had no intention of helping the landlords if he knew it. He wanted to look at the matter from a tenant's point of view. What rate did a man pay who earned £1,000 a year from a shop or factory? He would 1386 generally be found paying on about a fifth of his income. But if a farmer made £1,000 a year, he was assessed on about a third of his income. A man in a town was rated on the value of his shop, factory, or buildings; but the farmer was assessed, not only on his dwelling-house and buildings, but also on his land. His land was his machinery and his raw material; and it would be just as fair and equitable to rate the manufacturer on the raw material that passed into his factory. He admitted that this Measure was just and equitable; if the landlord paid rates in the country, did he not also pay them in the town? He contended that, if he paid rates in the country, he paid them ultimately in the town. If, as was said, the landlords paid all the rates, why was the farce and pretence of charging one-half to the tenant and the other half to the landlord gone through in Scotland? But the question went beyond that. Where did the ultimate incidence of taxation fall? Did the workman pay the taxation? No; he transferred it to his employer. Why was the rate of wages higher in London than in Glasgow? Because the cost of living was greater. But did even the employer or the shopkeeper pay the rates? No; he transferred them on to his customers. These were points he asked hon. Gentlemen opposite to face. They brought him to the kernel of his argument, which was that their inquiry should be not who paid the rates, but out of what were the rates paid? They were all agreed that a man paid his rates out of his income, and, therefore, a man's rates should bear a proper proportion to his income. But that was not the universal rule in practice, for while the ratepayer in towns was rated upon one-fifth or one-sixth his income, the poor farmer was rated in the non-classified districts at one-third his income. Could such a system be defended? He might say that he was entirely against grants-in-aid. They were not to be defended in principle. [Opposition cheers.] But they were applied under exceptional circumstances, and were resorted to by both sides. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton division had quoted an article from the Glasgow Herald as if it were in support of his argument. But the trend of the article was, perhaps, best shown by some 1387 sentences the right hon. Gentleman did not quote. It stated that if Sir George Trevelyan meant to rise the workman against the farmer, by the clap-trap argument that the relief given to the latter would come out of the pockets of the former, the workman would not join hands in such a crusade. This relief was not given to agriculture as opposed to any other industry. It was given because agriculture had special claims to the relief, and he deplored that the great Liberal Party should have raised a question that might well have been left at rest in respect to the conflicting claims of town and country districts. Class legislation did not enter into the question at all. All that was asked for was even-handed justice. He therefore hoped that the opposition to the Bill would not be proceeded with to the lengths that had been threatened. At all events, the hon. Member for Leith Burghs could not join in that opposition. A deputation recently waited on the Secretary for Scotland. The hon. Member for Leith, who accompanied the deputation, declared himself greatly impressed with the injustice under which agriculture suffered, and expressed his strong conviction that the time had come for the redress of that injustice. But the hon. Member did more. He proposed a vote of thanks to the Secretary for Scotland for his reception of the deputation, and said he had faith in the intentions of the present Government to redress the wrongs of agriculture. [Laughter.]
§ *MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
said that this was not the first time the House had considered an equivalent grant for Scotland, but it was the first time that a grant of this character had been considered. All previous grants had been made with the object of relieving the ratepayers; though that intention had always miscarried. While the effect of those grants might have been to improve the condition of the police or of the poor, or to raise the standard of education; it was certain that no parts of the money had gone into the pockets of any one class or of any section of any class. There had been a great deal of waste attending these grants, but they done some good to the general community. But in the present case the object was new. He had how 1388 ever, failed to catch what were the undulying principles of the Bill on which the Lord Advocate laid so much stress. The Government had been riding two horses, going in different directions—at one moment it was reform of local taxation and at another it was relief of a distressed industry. Would the Lord Advocate defend the Bill on the grounds taken by The Times?It is self-evident that a measure of relief should be afforded on the same grounds as those on which assistance was given to Ireland after the failure of the potato crop, half a century ago, a policy which was also pursued in regard to the cotton famine in Lancashire.It was true that agriculture was depressed in Scotland. But that was not distress. He had heard it said that in prosperous times in Fife a tramp had been known to change coats with a scarecrow; he might not do so now, but a good many would be ready to change coats with an agricultural labourer, even in these days. There was no absolute distress connected with agriculture. A dole was to be given to agriculture to enable it to tide over the time before the Government inquiry into the burden of local taxation was concluded. But that was not the way to begin a permanent reform of local taxation—to give a dole for five years and rigorously exclude that class from benefit which paid the taxation. In Scotland all rates on agricultural land fell upon the owners; and yet the Government, by the very character of their legislation, were compelled to assert that the tenants alone would receive the benefit of the Bill. He did not speak as one who believed that the present incidence of taxation on agricultural land was fair; but it would be wrong to assume that there was no house property which was not overtaxed and no land which was not undertaxed. Much building land practically escaped taxation altogether; and a great deal of house property was quite as much overtaxed, if not more, than agriculturul land. The Death Duties have been equalised; it was fair to claim an equalisation of the incidence of taxation on personalty and realty. The hon. Member who spoke last had made up a speech for him, said to have been delivered at a recent deputation to the Secretary for Scotland. As a matter of fact, he accompanied a deputation of the Highland Society on the 1389 subject of agricultural education. When I it was over, he found that another deputation was present from the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, and, as he was the only Vice President present, he was asked to remain to return thanks to Lord Balfour for receiving the deputation. The deputation represented to Lord Balfour that, in any case of the reform of local taxation in England, Scotland should be allowed to enjoy equal advantages; and in his motion for thanks he pointed out that, since the Death Duties had been equalised, the Secretary for Scotland could not be surprised if agricultural bodies asked for the equalisation of the burdens of taxation on personalty and realty. But did the Bill do that? The worst feature of the Bill was that it prejudiced the case for that equalisation. A reform of local taxation was not merely the taking of a certain amount of money out of the pockets of the owners of one form of realty and the transference of it to the pockets of the owners of another form of realty. What underlay the principle of reform was that many persons enjoying large incomes paid little or nothing to the rates. He was not surprised to hear a Scotch Member opposite say that he should have liked to have waited a little longer before he had voted upon this subject, that he would have liked to have voted upon a scheme which embraced a reform of the whole subject of local taxation. But this was a Bill which, while taking money from the owners of house property, gave to the owners of another form of realty, and left alone the liability of personalty. He would assume with the Lord Advocate that agricultural land was overtaxed, and he quite agreed that too much need not be made of hereditary burdens in Scotland, especially in view of the fact that the poor law there was not very old. The Bill itself was more ingenious, as he should have expected, than that of England, but he did not know that because it was more ingenious it would be more effective. These grants-in-aid were not of Scottish growth. They had been regarded in Scotland with a good deal of suspicion, because they did not appeal to the judgment of a discriminating and thrifty people. Some of the money went to waste, and the rest of it, although it had done a certain amount of good, had 1390 not not been able to achieve the end for which it was devised. There was a considerable movement in Scotland towards a revision of local taxation, and probably it was only by some form of Income Tax upon personalty that they would be able to get a contribution from personalty to be distributed as a grant-in-aid towards local burdens. As it was, the Bill was more in the nature of a political manœuvre than a Measure of rating reform. A good deal of powder had been burnt by the other side to obscure the position of the owner in this matter, but he would defy the right hon. Gentleman to draft a clause which would earmark the money allocated under the Bill. There were as many year to year arrangements in Scotland as 19 years leases, nearly every lease had breaks, and therefore before the five years had elapsed more than half of the £200,000 a year would certainly be going to the landlord. He did not object to this relief going to the landlord. If any one was entitled to get it as a Measure of justice or reform he thought that the landlords and not the tenants would get it; but he thought it was extraordinary that so much time should be devoted by hon. Members to show that the owner was not entitled to get it, but a numerous class who were not so entitled. He objected to this dole in his own interest as a landowner as well as in the interests of justice. He believed that the landowners of Scotland had endeavoured during the past 20 trying years to do their duty by the tenants, and on the whole he thought that they had done well. They had added to the estimation in which they were held by what they had done during those years; but he did not think that their character would be raised by the receipt of this relief. Their public character was of more importance than five per cent. on their rents. He did not think that the grant would give any real relief to agriculture. He knew of two farms in the neighbourhood in which he lived where there had been a reduction of £700 in rent from the times of the old victual rents, and by this Bill the reduction to the tenants would be less than £30 a year. The anomalies created by the Bill and the hard cases bound to occur under it were such as to prejudice the case of the landlords when they came to ask for their just rights. 1391 If the money now being voted had been spent to encourage small holdings, experimental agriculture, agricultural education or forestry, the Government might have added to the number of those employed on the soil, but not one of those things was done by the Bill. He maintained that when crofters' rents were revalued the Commissioner must take into account the burden of rates, and that then, in many cases, the benefit of the relief would go to the owners of the land. The Bill, as far as its pecuniary provisions went, was not based on any sound principle, and he objected to the method in the allocation of the money. If the Government really wished to benefit production why did they not reduce the taxes upon forest land, upon which the rates pressed most heavily running up at compound interest until the crop could be cut. When that could not take place for a hundred or more of years the accumulation of interest absorbed the whole profit derived from the crop. Relief such as that would really stimulate production which could alone permanently benefit the community. The only real advantage that might result from this legislation was the advantage that would accrue if it were used as a lever for forcing on a settlement of the general question of taxation as between personalty and realty. It appeared from some things which had been said that evening that this Magna Charta of the ratepayer on realty was to emerge in five years' time as an election kite. It was to be used as a means of obtaining political support, and thus it would appear to savour of political manœuvring. But the ratepayers upon house property would want to know when their turn was to come, and bearing in mind that large sums had to be found by the Government for old age pensions and a social programme, they might be excused for doubting the intention or the power of the Government to assist them. It was to "the provisions of the Bill that 1392 they must look rather than to the benevolent intentions of the Government to determine whether it was a just Bill or not, and, in his opinion, they did not constitute a just Bill. It was not a Bill for the reform of local taxation, because it partook of the nature of haphazard benevolence, and it did more to disorganise taxation than it did to readjust it upon any permanent, satisfactory, or effective footing. He did not think, either, it would affect agricultural depression except that it might give a certain number of the larger owners some more money to spend on their estates than they might otherwise have spent. The Government had an excellent opportunity of dealing with the whole incidence of taxation in a manner which might have been final and satisfactory, but they had gone entirely beside the main question, if they had not actually prejudiced it by their present proposals. The Bill would do more harm than good if the interests of the community were considered comprehensively, and was one which should be resolutely opposed and unsparingly exposed. ["Hear, hear"!]
§ *SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
said he could not think that the hon. Member who had just spoken had given either a very cold or a very warm support to the Bill. He appeared to have been seating on the fence throughout the greater part of his speech. He must demur to what he had said as to the equivalent grant never having been passed for the benefit of a particular class of the community. Why the equivalent grant which went to technical education, which went to giving bonuses to various schools, which went to the teaching of butter-making and even to the teaching of cookery, was surely passed for the benefit of a particular class of the community. The instances which the right hon. Gentleman opposite gave of rents in Scotland were somewhat remarkable. They did not take a comprehensive view of the question, but 1393 dealt with particular farms in particular localities. It was stated that Mr. Hope paid £4 10s. for his land, but the right hon. Gentleman forgot to tell the House that that particular class of land grew a particular class of potatoes which found a ready market at the highest prices. It was for that reason, and that reason alone, that Mr. Hope was willing to pay so much rent for his farm. Then he instanced another case in Carse of Gowrie. Anyone who knew that district knew it to be a very garden of Eden. But those two instances did not disprove the fact that land had deteriorated throughout the length and breadth of Scotland, and although there were tenants willing to take farms at these prices, it was only on the condition of a great drawback of rent. The proprietors of Scotland had given very great remissions of rent, but the right hon. Gentleman must remember that they could not always afford to give these large sums. Unfortunately, many of the proprietors had very encumbered estates, and they were living on only a very small margin. Another point to be remembered was that trustees had not the power to remit rent, although it might be unreasonable to exact such rent. The Government had been twitted by hon. Members opposite for not having brought forward a more comprehensive Measure dealing with defects in the Agricultural Holdings Act, with the question of ground game, and other matters connected with land; but each of those questions would occupy a long time in consideration. He was at one with hon. Members opposite in the desire that those matters should be brought forward and dealt with by the House, but it must be borne in mind that the Government could only move step by step. This Bill was only an instalment, and as far as it went it was a boon to the farmer. ["Hear, hear!"] If hon. Members opposite did not think so, why did they not meet the Measure with a direct negative? [Cheers.] No, they dared 1394 not do that because they knew that if they did so they would lose every vote in the agricultural interest. [Cheers.] Consequently, while recognising the principle of the Bill, they sought to oppose it and get rid of it on side issues, and he did not think that was a fair and open way of meeting the Bill. [Cheers]. As to the alleged depression in agriculture, there could be no manner of doubt that great distress prevailed. The present year was the worst the Scotch farmer had ever experienced. He had thought that last year was the worst, but within the last few days reports had reached him which proved that this year was so far even worse than the last. Consequently the Bill could not have been introduced at a more opportune time to show their sympathy with the farmer and to afford him some relief. Moreover, it was a fulfilment of the pledges the Government gave to the agricultural interest in the Queen's Speech. At any rate, the Government had shown more desire to help the farmer in his distress than the late Government did during the three years they were in office. ["Hear, hear!"] And he might say that he for one did not regard this Bill as a final Measure. ["Hear, hear!"] He hoped the Government would introduce further legislation in the same direction. He confessed that he did not care much about State subventions; but he preferred subventions to nothing, and circumstances might fully justify subventions as in the present case. Hon. Members opposite seemed to forget one thing when they attacked the landlords, and that was the fact that while fixed charges on the land remained, expenses were always increasing. Whether the tenants demanded reductions of rent or not, the cost of the land to the landlord continually increased in many ways, and not least in the fact that more improved provision and accommodation than ever were now required and demanded for farming operations. The bulk of this cost came 1395 out of the pockets of the landlord. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite were always blowing the trumpet against the landlord, but where would the Scotch tenants have been in their present difficulties but for the landlords? People talked sometimes as if all landlords were rich through the land they owned. A greater mistake never prevailed. It was well known that many landlords did not get a shilling out of the land they owned. ["Hear, hear!"] For example, let them take the case of a man who was said to hold land worth £10,000 a year. Did they think he got £10,000 a year out of it? It was certain that in these times such a landlord did not get £5,000 a year from his land, and the probability was that he did not get more than £1,000. If these men were in business they would throw it up, but men who owned land could not throw it up. They could not sell outlying farms, but they must keep them up and in that way attract tenants. To say they were not living in most difficult times was really to show an ignorance of facts which anybody could ascertain if they went into the country and made the simplest inquiries. Let anyone go to bankers and ask them what was the state of the deposit accounts of the farmers who were in the habit of banking with them, and they would find those accounts set now down as nil, whereas years ago they stood at hundreds and thousands of pounds. What he was contending for was help for the tenants; the relief might be small but still it was something. Two instances had been given where the relief would only amount to £30. Would the men refuse it? No; they would be very thankful for it. One man had said to him he could not ask for a reduction as he received so much already, but he wished he could only have enough to pay his rates. His rates were £10, and when he received that amount it was surprising to see his joy. Farmers would be grateful if they got £5 from the Government. It was 1396 said the Government could not assist agriculture. They could; at all events they were trying to do so, by passing a Light Railways Bill and other Measures. He hoped they would persevere in such a policy, feeling fully persuaded they would not rue the day they did it. He honestly thought the main recommendation of the Bill was that it would really benefit the farmers of the country; it would confer great benefits on all farmers, leaseholders, and small holders. There were hundreds and thousands of men who were dependent upon land, and unless they could be rated according to their means, they could not be rated in a fair manner. The basis of all rating was assumed to be the means and substance of the persons rated. If a farmer paid £500 he was assessed at £500, but if a doctor made £500 a year he would be only rated at £30, and lived in a house valued at £30 a year, though just as able to pay as much as the other man. There was no doubt that the present incidence of taxation was unfair, for practically the farmer paid three times as much as the man in business did. They were not living in a fool's paradise. They believed that a great injustice had been done them last Session. Their advice on the Finance Bill was refused. They were willing to pay their due share, but the then Government ignored the fact that they paid all the local rates, such rates as the poor-rates, which should be shared and not all entirely thrown on the land. There was one more point, but he wished to avoid going into long details and standing in the way of Members who wished to speak on that question. He should content himself with saying this—that he did trust that the House would affirm the principle of this Bill by a large majority. He trusted that they would show that they could pass the Bill—which was a much better Bill than the English Bill—without any All-night Sittings. The Bill was better drafted and it was more comprehensive 1397 than the English Bill. By their concession as to five years, the Government had shown that they had no wish to stereotype the Bill on the Statute Book for ever. He for one believed that the whole question of taxation should be gone into—["hear, hear!"]—for he believed the land would get a great deal more and that it would come well out of the ordeal, being placed in a much more satisfactory position than it occupied at the present time.
§ *MR. J. W. CROMBIE (Kincardineshire)
said he understood that the complaint on the other side was that the farmer was rated upon his land which was the raw material, whilst the manufacturer was not rated on his raw materials at all. The answer they made to that was this—if there was an injustice by all means rate the manufacturer on the raw materials, but that was not what that Bill proposed. It proposed to to take the taxpayer's money and give a dole to one class without removiug the injustice. ["Hear, hear!"] They were told to support the Bill mainly because it was a boon to agriculturists and that they should think once or twice before opposing the Second Reading. He represented a county and he failed to see where the relief came in, for the reduction which the Bill would grant fell something below 6d an acre. He did not think that that could be called a great boon to agriculture. If the Government did want to give relief, let them repeal their iniquitous Cattle Diseases Act. A farmer could make far more than he would get under this Bill by feeding one or two Canadian oxen. He contended that this Bill was not intended fairly to do anything for agriculture at all. It would do something for one particular class, perhaps for two, but left all the rest of the tax paying community out of the question. The farmers might be, and the landlords certainly would be benefited, but what about the farm labourers? They heard a good deal at the last Election about the farm labourers, but now when the Bill was brought forward they were left out altogether. What then about the camp followers, for whom as wide a sympathy was expressed as for the farmer himself. The only privilege given to them was to go on paying; they were to furnish the money. They would have the privilege of paying up 1398 the extra rate. They objected to the Bill because it mainly relieved one class and because the class relieved would be, if not all, nearly all landlords. He did not believe that the landlords were endowed with a double dose of cupidity, but landlords at present were enjoying an exceptionally advantageous position, because in the Report of the Agricultural Commission it was pointed out that notwithstanding the existing agricultural depression, the demand for farms was increasing. A farmer knew that if the rates were reduced the rents would be increased, and long leases had now fallen into disrepute. In a few years the whole of the relief now proposed to be given to the land would fall into the landlord's pocket. Very often when it was found that a farmer was unable to pay his rent some small advantages were given him to enable him to live; but if the rates were reduced the landowner would make that an excuse for refusing to make those allowances. He thought it was quite right to use this money for distressed industries if it were expended properly. For instance, he was doing his best to obtain some of this money from the public purse for the benefit of the fishing industry in Scotland; but he did not desire that it should be applied in paying five-eighths of the fishermen's rates. Had it been proposed to expend this money upon some such object as the construction of light railways he should have raised no objection to the proposal. He protested against this money being doled out to the least deserving of the agricultural classes ["Hear, hear!"]
§ *MR. ROBINSON SOUTTAR (Dumfriesshire)
said that as a county Member it was just possible that he might be disposed to take a somewhat different view of this question from what hon. Members who represented towns did. He would be prepared to face his constituents after expressing his opposition to this Bill. He had very little sympathy with the comparison that had been made once or twice between the rates paid in the county and the rates paid in the town. There was not the slightest doubt that the man in the town got far more for his money than the man in the county. The constant exodus that went on from the county to the town was abundant proof that with all the difference in the 1399 rates and rents the man in the county believed he had a better chance of thriving in the town than in the county. Although he believed that the whole subject of the incidence of rating deserved to be at once gone into he could not allow that the subject could be definitely settled by an appeal to the demand note. He deprecated the attack which was perhaps too often made from that side of the House upon landlords. As the Lord Advocate said all landlords were not Plantagenets. There were many landlords who had paid a fair price for their land, and had very great difficulty in getting anything like adequate interest out of the land. A landlord would be very thankful as a general rule, if he could get 4 or 3 per cent. on his land. [Cries of "2."] He happened to know landlords who did not get 2½. Scotch agriculture was not in a desperate condition. He did not mean to say that agriculture was not to a certain extent depressed in Scotland, and the struggle of the farmer was a great deal harder than it ought to be. But it was not in a desperate condition. The price of grain, and wool, and of agricultural produce generally had fallen, but the price of other things had fallen as well, such as manures, feeding stuffs and farm implements. The Scotch farmers were making a living, and he certainly was not authorised to come into that House and make a poor mouth about it. He could not help feeling all through the progress of the English Bill that the representatives of English counties were not taking up a dignified position, and they knew that the money for which they clamoured came out of the pockets of the toiler in the town. The Scotch did not want panic legislation of this sort, and every plough-boy in Scotland knew well that they could not do away with agricultural depression by shifting their burdens on to somebody else's shoulders, which was the fundamental error which lay at the root of most of the suggestions he had heard in that House with regard to the relief of agriculture. There was nothing of permanent value and nothing at all statesmanlike in their Measure. He had heard a great deal about the reduction of rent; but in his view, even the reduction of rent was not a remedy for agricultural depression. It merely amounted to lifting the burden 1400 from the shoulders of the farmer and putting it on the landlord. The present Bill robbed Peter to pay Paul, and it might just as well be contended that a man might increase his capital by shifting his money from his right hand breeches pocket into his left hand pocket, as contend that this Bill could be of national benefit. There was no true way of raising any class in the country without raising the nation along with it, and there was no true way of adding to the wealth of those engaged in agriculture without raising at the same time the aggregate wealth of the people. If a way of doing that could be found, it would benefit the farmers, the labourers, the landlords, and every other class in the community. This Bill was going, in the first place, to give £7,000 from the pockets of the taxpayers to relieve the boroughs of a tax which was no real burden at all. In the second place, £15,000 was to be given for the relief of the congested districts. Why they were called congested districts he did not know, seeing that they were the districts in which the population was most sparse. He believed that the great landlords who had divided the Highlands and islands between them could do all this and a great deal more without robbing their establishments of a single liveried footman. The third thing the Bill did was to remit five-eighths of the farmers' rates. He would not deal with that in detail as so many Members had already discussed it. He would rather speak in a more general way. The fact was, that whatever misapprehension there might be on this side of the Border, about the value of rating Bills there was none on the other side of the Border. The Scotch farmers understood this Measure very fully. They knew very well that it would not give any real relief. A correspondent writing to him said:—Do you think a paltry £5 note is going to make a farmer sink or swim? My rates are £22 on a rental of £700. Suppose I get £10 or £12 reduction, is that going to set me on my feet?Then the Scotch farmers knew perfectly well that their money must ultimately go to the landlords. His correspondent went on to say:—What will happen then? The very first thing a factor or a landlord will do when he has a farm to let, will he to point out that public 1401 burdens are light and railway rates low.…. and into the landlord's pocket the whole benefit will be swept in the way of rent.This Bill would never have been brought in if the Government had grasped the true reason of agricultural depression; and he must candidly say, with all sincerity, that he had been greatly astonished to find how little the real reason for agricultural depression was grasped even in that agricultural House. He would go further, and say that the reports of the Agricultural Commission did not seem to him to grasp the real reason for agricultural depression.
§ And, it being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.