§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [13th July], "That the Bill be now read a Second time":—
And which Amendment was, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add instead thereof 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,"—(Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed:—
§ MR. ROBINSON SOUTTAR (Dumfriesshire)
, who was speaking at 12 o'clock the preceding night when the Debate stood adjourned, resumed his speech. The Lord Advocate, he remarked, when asking leave to bring in the Bill, said:—We give the agricultural occupiers relief. Note, that we give the relief to the occupiers alone. We do not touch the landlord; and I hope we shall hear no more of doles to the landlord. Speaking generally, the land in Scotland is let on five years' leases; and as regards that peculiar class, the crofters, it is impossible that relief to them can in any way reach the landlord.
§ *THE LORD ADVOCATE
I never said the land in Scotland is let on five years' leases, but on leases with a minimum currency of five years to run, which is a different thing.
§ MR. SOUTTAR
said it was the same thing so far as his argument was concerned. What the Lord Advocate had said in regard to the crofters was perfectly true in the parts of Scotland that were under the Crofters' Act, but crofters in parts of Scotland which were not under that Act would be in the same 1437 position as leaseholders of every kind. Again, what the Lord Advocate had said in regard to leases would be perfectly true and just if it were the fact that all leases began to run before the policy of the Government had been declared. But leases were falling in every day; and in the case of every lease that fell in now, or during the five years the Act would be in operation, the landlords would certainly discount this allowance to the occupier. It would be much more straightforward if the Government would boldly declare that they intended to reduce the land's share of the burden of local taxation, and that they did not care whether the farmer or the landlord got the benefit of the reduction. That would be an intelligible policy, though it would come with a better grace after the Inquiry Promised by the Government had been concluded. He did not believe that the Government grasped the true reason of the agricultural depression any more than the Royal Commission had done. The Commission's Report discussed various quack remedies, but none which did not merely shift the burden from the farmer to someone else. As to low prices, there was not a tradesman or manufacturer who was not suffering from them as much as the farmer. But the manufacturers kept abreast of the times, improved their machinery, and watched the markets keenly. No doubt agriculturists in Scotland were more abreast of the times than in England; and that was largely due to the fact that in Scotland there was a Board School in every parish. But he had visited places in England where farmers were making great profits, in one case out of new potatoes, in another case out of asparagus and fine vegetables, and in a third case out of strawberries. One of these places was in Cheshire, another' in Worcestershire, and the third in the eastern counties. And as to cereals, only last week Members were given an opportunity by a noble Lord of seeing some remarkable results obtained by cross-fertilisation. A Member of the House of Commons had spent his life and broken his heart in experimenting for the benefit of the English farmer; and that gentleman said that if common sense were shown in the cultivation of cereals, 400 millions could be added to the value of our agricultural 1438 produce. Scientists had declared that the soil of England ought to produce from 30 to 50 per cent. more than it was producing; and why did not the Government find some cause for that leakage? It was simply and solely the result of the conditions on which land was held in this country. He had nothing to say against landowners, but that did not alter the fact that if the farmer put energy, intelligence, enterprise and money into his land the landlord would ultimately get the benefit of it. The reason of the agrarian disturbances in Ireland 25 years ago was the miserable condition of the Irish peasantry. But a great change, largely due to the efforts of the Nationalist Members, had come over Ireland, and the Irish peasants were rapidly becoming thrifty and contented. The ease of the Scotch farmer was only different from that of the Irish in degree, and in the fact that his landlord was his own kith and kin, and of his own religious faith. But supposing the British farmer took up some new system of cultivation and made a great profit, how long would he be able to keep it to himself? Only till the expiration of his lease. No one who did not conceal his prosperity had the slightest chance of doing more than earn his living. The only remedy was to insure to the toiler the result of his toil. If the Government were to devote the money available under the Bill to enabling small holders to become possessed of their holdings, they would do much more good than by the present proposals. No compulsion would be necessary, as whole estates were only waiting for buyers. It was the magic of ownership which turned the sand into gold. If the Government would legislate on these lines they would earn the gratitude of all Scotchmen, and would do good to every class in the community.
§ MR. C. B. RENSHAW (Renfrew, W.)
observed that the hon. Member who had just sat down avoided discussing the particular clauses of the Bill, and he did not envy his feelings when he visited Dumfriesshire after opposing this Bill. He denied that, as the Amendment suggested, the money would be applied almost exclusively to the benefit of one class. He should show that that was not the case in many parishes. There 1439 seemed to be an underlying fallacy in the Amendment. The other side appeared to think there was a possibility of stirring up the feeling of the towns as against the rural population in regard to this question. He ventured to say that, suffering as the farmers did from low prices, there was no class which so benefited from the difficulties of the farmers as the industrial population in the large towns. There was a singular appropriateness in the suggestion of the fraction which was to be dealt with under this Bill. The tenant-farmer would be relieved to the extent of three-eighths of his valuation, that being exactly the amount on which he was now rated in respect of Income Tax under the Finance Bill of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. That was a strong reason why, in respect of his contribution to local expenditure, a similar amount should be fixed. In the circular issued by the Board of Supervision in 1868 it was laid down that in assessments for the relief of the poor the equitable principle should be observed that everyone should contribute in proportion to his income. That principle had been observed in most cases where classification had been brought into operation, but still there were other eases where genuine hardship was felt. Take the case of a farmer in a classified parish paying a net rental of £500 a year, and his county and parish rates 1s. in the pound. That made his contribution, paying upon the net rental, £25; but the professional man in the same parish, living in a house of £100 rental, would only pay £5. There could be no doubt that the farmer was not able to contribute to the local rates on his rent of £500 so easily as the individual who lived in a villa was to pay upon his £100 house. The proportion was altogether preposterous and ridiculous. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton in his speech rather suggested that there was practically no depression in agriculture in Scotland. The Report of the Agricultural Commission told a very different story. Mr. Hope, in his Report, stated that in all quarters he had ascertained that depression of a very acute kind had prevailed during the last 10 years. Mr. Spiers reported that in Ayrshire, Wigtown, Dumfries and Kirkcudbright depression existed to 1440 a greater or less extent, and that both landlords and tenants had felt the pinch of hard times. Mr. Hope, again, speaking of Fife, Forfar, and Aberdeen, of Roxburgh, Selkirk, Peebles, Linlithgow, Edinburgh, Haddington, Elgin and Nairn, stated that throughout all those districts he had been informed that during the last 10 years there had been agricultural depression, and that it was very severe in all districts with the exception possibly of a certain area in Mid and West Lothian. Mr. Hope, in his Report on Forfar, Aberdeen, and the other counties, said of the Poor Rate that the burden should not fall on lands and heritages only; it should rest on a fair basis, and should be distributed over all material wealth. Mr. Spiers said that when the bulk of the present burdens was imposed on land Protection was the order of the day, and, in his view, all wealth should be taxed alike. No one could read the evidence given in respect of the heavy burden which existed in the shape of rates on agricultural land without seeing that the farmers had a claim to consideration in this matter, and that the Government were right in making a response to it. The rents in Scotland since 1848 were about the same as now, notwithstanding the enormous expenditure which had taken place on farms. In 1879–80 agri-agricultural rents were estimated at £7,769,000; they had fallen to £6,000,000. But the rates were shown by Mr. Skelton, in his Report, to have increased from £463,000 in 1848 to £674,000 in 1893. It was said that there had been a fall in the Poor Rate during that period from 1s. 1d. in 1856 to 7½d. in 1893. But if hon. Members would look at the list of 15 agricultural counties, they would see that while the average Poor Rate fall in those counties had been 2¾d., agricultural land had during that period been heavily burdened by new rates, such as the Road Rate, the Education Rate, and the Public Health Rate. Therefore the aggregate burden on agricultural land had increased while rentals had fallen, and in consequence of lower prices agriculturists were far less able to meet the charges placed upon them than they were 40 or 50 years ago. The hon. Member for the Leith Burghs attended, along with a representative body of the Chamber of 1441 Agriculture, to interview Lord Balfour, the Secretary for Scotland. This deputation went to Lord Balfour representing upwards of 50 agricultural societies in Scotland, asking for a reconsideration of the burden of taxation of agricultural land in Scotland. In moving a vote of thanks to Lord Balfour, the hon. Member for Leith Burghs, whose factor had been one of the spokesmen during the discussion said that—former Governments had neglected the just claims of agriculturists in this matter, but they looked forward with confidence to the present Government adjusting the incidence of local taxation.["Hear, hear!" from Mr. MUNRO FERGUSON.] It was clear, therefore, that the hon. Member must have sympathised to a considerable extent with the objects which the deputation had in view.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
The hon. Member has quoted my words on the subject, and by those words I stand. I stated that I was in favour of a readjustment of local taxation, and to that opinion I adhere just as much now as I did then.
§ MR. RENSHAW
said that on the 8th of July a meeting of the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture was held to consider the Rating Bill for Scotland, and they passed resolutions highly favourable to the Measure of the Government. Mr. Prentice, the factor of the hon. Member, expressed approval of the resolution, saying that he thought it had been made perfectly clear at the deputation to Lord Balfour that the farmers of Scotland wanted justice only, and pointing out that since the repeal of the Corn Laws they had been unjustly taxed; the present system of rating was unjust, and he thought the Bill of the Government was in the right direction. Other speakers joined in the same expression of opinion, and Mr. Spiers, a Sub-Commissioner, was present.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON
Is it seriously contended by the hon. Member that because Mr. Prentice, my factor, who happens to be a Conservative and a country neighbour of mine, represents certain views, that thereby I am held to entertain the same views?
§ MR. RENSHAW
I do not suggest anything of the kind; I quote it as 1442 evidence of local opinion, and that this language was used at the deputation when the hon. Member was present. In the opinion of the skilled agriculturists, therefore, who had considered this matter, the opinion was prevalent that the Bill did not go far enough. A great deal had been said about the effect of the Bill. He was the owner and occupier of land in the neighbourhood of Greenock, and he was surprised to see, in the North British Daily Mail of Saturday last, the report of a long speech made by Sir Charles Cameron, and a long article founded upon it, supporting the arguments. He could not understand, as was alleged in that speech, how the rates could be raised, and he had been led accordingly to study the Bill carefully. Sir Charles Cameron alleged that the facts in connection with the Bill had only to be known in order to cause the Bill to be dropped—that agriculturists would not be much benefited by it, and that they would have to pay two or three times the rates they paid at present. Was this statement correct? Take a farm whose gross rental was £140, net rental £136 10s., assessed to the Poor, School and County Rates at £5 11s. 11d. Sir Charles Cameron said that the effect of sweeping away the classification at Greenock would be to necessitate an equal rate on all subjects in the parish of 1s. 2½d. in the pound. Taking this farm, and calculating it on three-eighths of the valuation, the effect would be to give rates on that farm of £4 8s. 1d. instead of £5 11s. 11d. The Bill would have an exceedingly beneficial effect upon the county rates, which were at present a very heavy burden upon the agricultural land, which were not affected by classification, and which amounted to a larger sum than the parish rates. Reference had been made to Paisley and Greenock, and as his works were situated in the parish of Paisley, he might say that under the old system of classification land was rated at one-fourth that of every other class, but the Parish Council had now adopted a highly-artificial classification which embraced six different classes, and by rating factories higher than dwelling-houses, tended to prevent the establishment of factories and the employment of 1443 workpeople. Whilst it was said that only 168 out of 882 parishes were classified, yet those 168 parishes included a population of 1,600,000 people. In Aberdeen only 10 parishes out of 83 were classified, but those 10 parishes covered a population of 147,000 out of 284,000; in Forfar, out of 53 parishes only 12 were classified, and embraced a population of 210,000 out of 277,000. He commended the benefit which the Bill would bring to those who, like himself, were interested in county administration, especially in reference to the Public Health Acts, and said that he strongly supported the Government because he believed it to be a Measure of justice which would certainly benefit the agricultural tenants, and he hoped the Government would soon see their way to introduce something which would go beyond the statutory classification which this Bill would give them, namely, a statutory system of deductions.
§ SIR ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)
said it seemed to him most desirable in the interests of the opponents of the Bill that they should discard all these irrelevant matters. This Bill was simply the putting the hand into the pockets of the boroughs for the purpose of giving money to a small number of persons who lived in the counties. ["Hear, hear!"] He wished to say a few words with regard to his own constituency. The Land Tax had been capable in comparatively recent years of being redeemed, and each of the ancient burghs had had allocated to it since the year 1805 the particular quota which it had to pay towards the total of the Land Tax, and which it had been authorised by Act of Parliament to redeem. A great many of the burghs in Scotland did not possess in the highest degree foresight and thrift, but there was one burgh which in a particular degree possessed those qualities. That, he need hardly say, was the Burgh of Dumfries. They had been paying off for the last 20 years, or even less, for the sake of saving themselves from the future incidence of this tax, the whole of their quota, until in this year came the last payment that had to be made in order to redeem themselves from this burden. The money had gone into the pockets of the British Treasury, and had 1444 been applied by them in some reduction of the National Debt. And now, when Dumfries was hoping to reap the advantages of all their care and foresight, in came the Government and said they were going to pay off the whole of this Land Tax, "and you will derive no benefit from the £7,000 a year." He hoped before the Committee stage the Lord Advocate would reconsider his decision, and recognise the injustice of such a proposal as this. The Bill divided Scotland into two classes, those who were agricultural and those who were burghal. It proposed to give absolutely nothing except this paltry sum of £7,000 a year to the burghs and to give nearly £200,000 a year to the counties. The next thing the Bill did was to divide the counties into two portions, namely, the agricultural part of the community which was to receive benefits, and the agricultural part of the community which was not. He considered the burghs were quite as deserving as the counties, and he thought that part of the agricultural community which was not to receive the benefit of the Bill—such as the labourer and the struggling shopkeeper or artisan—was far more meritorious in every point of view than those who were to receive its benefits. It was the farmer, and the farmer alone, living in a county area, who would get the benefit of this £200,000 a year. One other change was effected by the Bill. It interfered with one of the most democratic and just principles that could be conceived, and that was the principle which related to the classification of rating. The ancient Scotch law was that persons should be rated in proportion to their income and ability to pay. That principle had never been departed from altogether. There was no set of men more desirous of doing what was fair between different classes who were rated than the burghal authorities in Scotland. They had cast agricultural subjects at one-quarter of the rates; shops and factories at one-half; and general houses, in which they themselves lived, at the full rate. This Bill suspended the whole of this classification, and prevented any other for a period of five years. What would be the effect of the Bill in the case of burghs where classification was adopted? Shopkeepers 1445 and owners of factories would not pay a proportion of rate as heretofore, but they would pay the full rate. What had that got to do with agricultural rating? It was one of the exigencies and corollaries of the method in which the Government had brought forward the Bill that they must abolish classification. Classification existed in 21 out of 31 burghs of over 10,000 population, and in all these the whole thing was swept away.
§ *THE LORD ADVOCATE
said that, while the Bill in one sense abolished classification, in another sense it introduced a compulsory classification all over the country.
§ SIR R. REID
said that the Bill did not abolish classification so far merely as it affected agricultural subjects, but abolished it all over Scotland. Why should classification be abolished so far as the shopkeepers were concerned? These people got absolutely no benefit whatever in return for the abolition of classification, receiving no portion of the £200,000 which was to be allocated to agriculture. The result in parishes and counties was a little more complicated. Where, at the present time, there was a classification which rated agricultural subjects at one-quarter only of the rate, this Bill said they should henceforth pay three-eighths. He wondered whether they would like the improvement in their position which would be the result? On the general subject, he wished to say they were giving money which belonged to all to a very limited class of the population. Practically they were giving it to the farmers and to nobody else, although indirectly, and sooner or later, they were giving it to the landlords. They further reduced the proportion in which the farming class paid the rates, and threw additional burdens on all other classes of ratepayers in the county. The law of rating in Scotland, he admitted, required redress, and if the Government proposed a Measure for effecting this purpose he should be glad to support it, for there was ground for a careful inquiry into the incidence of local taxation in Scotland. It was not to be dealt with lightly. 1446 While agricultural tenants and occupiers might pay more in some cases than their proportion, it must be remembered that they have been in the habit of paying at least that proportion for 100 years. It must also be remembered that there were other classes than agricultural tenants who paid a great deal more than they ought to do, and that there were also persons owning land who paid a great deal less than they ought to do. He admitted that the system of local taxation required adjustment. The question was—in what direction? In his opinion it ought to be more apportioned to the ability of the person who had to pay. That might sound to English Members, accustomed to English principles of rating, a somewhat broad proposition, but it was the ancient Scotch practice which had never been departed from. He should like to see a graduated rate, and that he believed would come, for Scotland. The difficulty had been to find out the ability of the person, and so localise it as to be able to make him liable. But what was this Bill? It took £200,000; it did not distribute it to any persons according to their ability to pay, but to the just and the unjust, the rich and the poor, to everybody who was a tenant-farmer paying rates. A large proportion would go to people who were as well able to pay their rates as he and other Members of Parliament were. The Bill was a step in the wrong direction. It would suspend classification and the possibility of rating reform for five years. It was a crude and partial step in the interests merely of some, and mostly in relief of those who needed it least at the expense of some who needed it most. What fairness was there in giving in relief of rates in county areas and not in borough areas? The rates were increasing more in the boroughs than in the counties, and while he admitted that agriculture was not as prosperous as it might be in Scotland, they could not say that that meant distress. If they were to deal with it from that point of view, no one could say that in the burghs and in the counties there were not many classes besides agricultural tenants who were far more deserving of consideration than the farmers. Were there not many suffering from want of employment; was there not infinite mischief done 1447 from overcrowding and from scanty wages? Yet only the farmers were to be relieved—the very men whose thrift and care caused people to drain in to the burghs from the counties. He knew the extreme destitution and want that existed in Scotland of which the people never spoke. The poor people in Scotland were too proud to complain of it, but they would not tolerate injustice, and there would be a strong feeling of injustice when they saw how this money was divided even among the agricultural population, for it was to go to those who least required it. He did not deny that there were farmers who suffered a good deal, and who had seen their capital largely reduced. He wanted to see them relieved, but relieved in a way which would take from them their real burdens. It was no use giving them a small percentage from the rates. He believed the true solution was that given by Mr. Spier, who said:—Everybody is of opinion that nothing can rid agriculture of the millstone which hangs about its neck so much as a readjustment of rents in accordance with present prices.Let full compensation be given for everything the tenant adds to the letting value of land, and then, if you are strong and bold enough, take the railway companies by the shoulders and insist that they shall give fair rates to the farmers for the carriage of produce. If Parliament, instead of spending its time—with some heat which he thought would be reflected in the constituencies—in considering what they should do with the £200,000, and how they should allocate it to a particular class whom the outside world would say were their political favourites, would make the position safe for farmers in regard to the fruits of their labour, and see that they had an opportunity by fair rates and rents to make a living for themselves, he had no doubt they would be able to cope with the competition of the whole world. [Cheers.]
§ MR. T. H. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)
said the hon. Gentleman the Members for Dumfries Burghs was entirely wrong in thinking that the Bill was intended for the relief of agricultural distress. It was a small instalment of the justice to agriculture. Everyone admitted that agriculture was distressed; but that distressed industry was also 1448 suffering from a certain injustice in regard to local rating, and this Bill was primarily an attempt to remove that injustice, though at the same time it would probably do something towards relieving the distress. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling Burghs declared that the Bill would meet with the most stubborn and protracted opposition amongst his Friends. Those words bore a family resemblance to "wilful and persistent obstruction," for which the Standing Orders provided penalties. [Laughter.] But why had not the right hon. Gentleman taken the bold step of moving the rejection of the Bill? The reason was obvious. It was because the right hon. Gentleman knew that throughout Scotland the Bill was appreciated by very large classes of the community. [Cheers.] The Bill would relieve an absolute injustice to agriculture in such a way as would not impose a hardship on any other class, but which would, on the contrary, benefit every class of the community. Take the class of parishes where there was classification of rates. In those parishes the ratepayers would have returned to them from the Imperial Treasury the addition to the rates which they had to pay in consequence of agricultural land being rated on a lower classification. Then take the parishes where there was no classification at all. Did the opponents of the Bill mean to say that the crofter in those parishes would not be delighted to get £1 10s. out of his rates, and would not be enchanted if he had £2 10s. returned to him? He therefore hoped that the stubborn opposition to the Bill which had been foreshadowed would not be persisted in.
§ MR. JAMES BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
said the aspect of the House, as frequently happened during Scotch Debates, was not very encouraging to those who believed that arguments should tell in a Measure of this importance. The few Members present were Scotch Members, but when the Division was called a large number of English Members who had not heard the Debate, who, even if they had been present, would not have heeded it—would come in and overbear the opinion of Scotland. With reference to the opposition to the Bill, he would remind his hon. Friend who had just sat 1449 down that there were two kinds of opposition. There was the opposition by argument, even in the teeth of a large majority, which was sometimes successful—[Opposition cheers]—and there was also the opposition which was aroused in the country. The opposition which they expected to bring to bear upon this Measure was the opposition which they would raise in the country, and they felt bound in fairness to lay their arguments before the supporters of the Bill in order that they might know what they intended to repeat in the country. This Bill was an illustration of many Bills that had been introduced for Scotland; but a Bill had been introduced for England, and as a parallel to it something of the same kind must be done for Scotland. If there had been no Rating Bill for England they should never have seen this Bill at all. ["Hear, hear!"] The two Bills were supported by arguments which could be applied with more plausibility in the case of England than in the case of Scotland. The supporters of the English Bill tried to ride two horses, or rather to exchange one horse for another according to the exigencies of the moment. The Bill was represented at one minute as an attempt to relieve agricultural distress, and at another time as an attempt to reform the general system of local taxation. The hon. Member for Ayrshire supported the Bill on both grounds.
§ MR. COCHRANE
said his contention was that the Bill was a measure of justice towards the ratepayers, and that at the same time it would incidentally assist in relieving agriculture.
§ MR. COCHRANE
said his hope was that some day the incidence of Imperial burdens in Scotland would be inquired into, and that some of the sums which Scotland now unfairly paid would be returned to her.
§ MR. BRYCE
was glad of that admission that Scotland was not fairly treated in the matter of Imperial taxation. But let them look at the Bill in respect to those two questions—the relief of agricultural distress and the remedy of the injustices of local taxation. The Lord 1450 Advocate had said he looked upon the latter as the more important of the two. As to agricultural distress, everyone knew that farmers were suffering all over the country; but the distress had been very unequal. Travelling from the East to the West of England, it would be found that the fall in rents diminished the further west one went; and it was the same in the north as compared with the south. There was no case in Scotland like that of Lincolnshire and Essex. In some parts of Scotland there was still a great competition for farms, notably in Aberdeenshire. The farmers there were doing fairly well and they would be far more vexed with the Cattle Diseases Bill than they would be gratified by this Bill. Scotch farmers had not suffered so much because they had put more brains into the land; and their labourers worked with greater capacity. It was far more in the direction of improving the intelligence of farmers and labourers that a remedy must be sought than in doles of this kind, which would do no permanent good. As to local taxation, he did not assert that our system was perfect. But the Bill did not propose a thorough inquiry into the question; it only applied the crudest of all remedies—drawing a distinction between classes. The Government were applying their remedy first, and making their inquiry afterwards, which was the spirit of "Jeddart justice." If the Bill were worth anything it ought to be based on an examination of the facts; but the Government were launching out into a most complicated problem, without attempting to ascertain the principles on which it should be solved. Then the relief to be given was only temporary, and any reform of local taxation ought to be permanent. The Bill would only increase the confusion and difficulty of local authorities. Many people would receive relief who did not want it. Much would go to the landlords and much to the occupiers who were not in distress, such as market gardeners near large towns. It had been said that, if the Scotch farmers did not need relief, there was no need to pass the Bill. But it did not follow that the equivalent grant to Scotland should be devoted to the same purposes as in England. The right course would have been to carry this money to the Scotch account, and 1451 determine, after consulting Scotch opinion, in what way it could he most usefully applied. If money were to be given to towns it would be better to give it to great public improvements, and if to counties the relief of rates was not the best object. If it were expended on education it would be well spent. The relief to agriculture was so trivial that it would be useless where real distress existed. He had a graver objection to the Bill—it was a part of that principle of subventions from the Imperial Exchequer to local taxation which was fraught with great danger to the community. That principle promoted waste and extravagance. If the local taxpayer learned to look to the central Treasury as a fund on which he could draw, the motives to local economy would disappear. Moreover, a door was opened to much more dangerous enterprises than the present. In discussing the Home Rule Bill, one of the most horrible possibilities suggested in connection with a reckless local Legislature was an Imperial Poor Rate. Pro tanto that was done by this Bill and the English Bill. No small part of the Poor Rate would in future be defrayed out of the Imperial Treasury. Class legislation, also, was capable of a much more dangerous application; and, in future, other and larger classes might quote this Measure as a precedent for particular relief. It was a new thing for Parliament to be called on to relieve a temporary distress. The French Treaty concluded by Mr. Gladstone in 1860 brought considerable distress on our working classes and employers. He remembered for instance, that in Coventry there were distress and want of employment, which was the direct result of the action of the Government. That, therefore, was a case in which it might have been expected that some relief would be given, but no relief was given, and any claim of the kind was generally scouted. It was said the people must take their chance in this way; and if they were now to enter into this new policy of relieving an interest as bad times came, he could fancy many cases in future in which a dangerous use would be made of the precedent laid down. A great many of the worst precedents were made in small cases, where it was thought the insignificance of the instance was sufficient to sanction a 1452 dereliction of principle, and he believed the Conservative Party was quite as likely, if not more likely, to go wrong in that way than the Liberal Party. What would have been said of the Liberal Party if it had proposed to relieve any class at the expense of the general taxpayers. He looked with very great disquiet and anxiety at the course which was now being embarked upon. All he had been able to hear from Scotland led him to believe that this Bill was not regarded with any general favour, even in agricultural districts. If the Opposition wished to lower the credit of the Government in Scotland, and to damage them for the future, they could desire nothing better than that they should have brought in this Bill. To this Bill or any other Bill which aimed in the same way at sacrificing the general interests of the community for those of a particular class, or which extended the dangerous principle here laid down, he would continue to offer a constant and an earnest opposition.
§ *MR WALTER THORBURN (Peebles and Selkirk)
supported the Bill just because of the strong feeling existing in his constituency in favour of it. It was a small measure of justice too tardily offered. For years he had advocated a readjustment of taxes upon farms, because they were paying entirely out of proportion to any other class. Few of the right hon. Gentlemen who occupied the Front Opposition Bench knew from personal experience the actual state of agriculture in Scotland. He could not only speak with knowledge, but from painful experience. Whilst very much connected with industrial pursuits, he also held a farm which was tenanted by two noble Lords, brothers of the present Prime Minister. When they entered that farm the rent was £1,300 a year; when he took it the rent was £770. During seven years' tenancy only once had he a balance on the right side, and that was simply to the extent of £45, after charging his capital with interest. Every other year he had suffered largely, and, in fact, even if he had been farming at a small rent, he could not possibly have made ends meet. The cultivation of the land in the higher districts of Scotland had become a ruinous occupation, and only districts where agriculture could be carried on 1453 with any show of success was in the neighbourhood of large towns. He believed 90 per cent. of the farmers were not making any income, and, on the other hand, there was a steady process of exhaustion of capital. He knew a great many farmers, once well off, with investments outside their farms, who were now practically cleared out. It was said that rents ought to be reduced, but at all events, in his county, they had been greatly reduced. He knew many cases where the reductions of rents ranged from 30 to 50 per cent., and notwithstanding all that, farmers could not make ends meet. Hon. Members opposite were doing their best to convince urban ratepayers that their rates were to be increased in consequence of this Bill. But the assertions of hon. Gentlemen were purely imaginary, their object being rather to extract some political capital out of the Measure by appealing to the urban vote. By the practical compulsory classification under this Bill, two-thirds of the burghs in Scotland with a population above 10,000 would pay less than at present. The principle of the Bill had been embodied under the Poor Law Act of 1845. One hundred and fifty-eight parishes adopted the classification, and in those parishes the agricultural occupier would suffer slightly under this Bill; but in 750 other parishes they would get relief. There were two classes of opponents to the Bill—first, the Radical politician who misrepresented the Bill for purely Party purposes; and secondly the Radical urban ratepayers who wished that as much taxation as possible should be put on the land and as little as possible on his property. Farmers felt that this Bill was a welcome relief to them, and the farm servants knew that every pound which the farmers could save helped to furnish means to employ labour. In several of the southern counties in Scotland, farm labour was diminishing and agricultural labourers were being dismissed, with the consequent result that the rural population was being driven into the towns more and more. He believed, therefore, that the more this Bill was thoroughly understood by the people of Scotland, embracing both the agricultural and the urban interests, the more they would consider it a Measure of genuine justice to the agricultural 1454 interest, which ought, indeed, to have been granted long ago.
§ *MR. JOHN WILSON (Govan)
said that the hon. Baronet the Member for Kirkcudbrightshire had referred to the times when farmers were well off and had good balances at their bankers, but now times were changed, and asked who was to blame for this? No doubt the price of agricultural produce had gone down, but the landlords had not cut down their rents, with the result that farmers had either to quit their farms or remain where they were with the certain prospect of losing all their capital. He knew a farmer who was once well to do. He took a farm during the reduction of prices, and he lost capital so much that bankruptcy stared him in the face The farmer appealed to his landlord for redress; he showed the landlord his books; and being a man of great industry, thrift, and independence of character, he felt degraded that he should be required to go to his landlord and ask for a favour year after year. The result was that in the end the landlord, at the request of the farmer, was obliged to allow him to leave the farm. The man took another large farm subsequently, in connection with which the previous tenant had been ruined, and he got this farm at the reduced rent of 30 per cent. The farmer was now doing well and was fairly comfortable. This Bill, however, was at variance with the characteristics of Scottish character and of those engaged in fanning in Scotland. The farming class in Scotland could have little pleasure or satisfaction in taking relief when they knew that it was coming to them at the expense of those who were the consumers of agricultural produce. He believed that there would be a considerable reaction among the working classes in Scotland when the nature of this Bill was thoroughly understood. Where would the farmers and the landlords be without the industrial classes? No doubt there was some agricultural distress in Scotland, but it was not acute. The farmers and the landlords were a great deal better off than the inhabitants of the towns. He represented an industrial county, in which there was a police burgh with 70,000 inhabitants. Not a farthing under this Bill was to go to the toilers in this community. The landlords around large towns were reaping 1455 enormous harvests from the extension of industrial communities, and they were keeping up the price of agricultural land in the neighbourhood until the people were forced to build upon it. The Bill was unfair and unjust. If the money provided under it were to be allocated according to population, instead of his constituents getting nothing, they would receive £3,500 per annum. Did the Government think that the working classes were likely to tamely submit to this one-sided legislation? If they did they would find to their cost that such a Measure as this would be bitterly resented. It was chiefly the landlords who would be benefited by this Bill, of whom a Member of the present Cabinet once said, "They toil not, neither do they spin." The landlords had much less right to this money than the needy artisans of the towns. He had presented a petition to the House from the Parish Council representing the parishes of Govan, in which there were 280,000 souls. That petition declared that the principle of giving grants from the Exchequer to the local authorities was not a good one, that it was unjust that public funds should be applied exclusively to the benefit of one class of ratepayers, and that as the greater part of the agricultural land in Govan had a market value far beyond its agricultural value, and was being held for an appreciation, it should not be dealt with as proposed in this Bill. The Govan Commissioners, at a meeting held on the previous night, had also agreed unanimously to petition against the Bill. He did not understand how the Government could think that this Bill was going to be quietly put through, and that no protest would be made against it by the representatives of the people of Scotland. Whore was this pernicious system of subventions to end? Was every other industry that was supposed to be distressed to go to the Treasury for money? There were at the present moment in Scotland other industries besides the landed and farming interest that were languishing and in great straits; but they got no sympathy or charitable contributions from the Government. If the Government really desired to help the landed interest and the farmers, he counselled them to withdraw this Bill, and to substitute for it a Land Bill, for the purpose of giving 1456 the farmers fair rents. That was what they wanted, and if such a Bill were passed they would hear no more about agricultural distress in Scotland. For his part he should follow the right hon. Gentleman who had moved the Amendment into the Lobby.
*MR. T. SHAW (Hawick Burghs)
said that it would appear that either the Government viewed this Bill as unimportant in principle and trivial in substance, or that they thought they could at any time angle with every prospect of success for support in Scotland with a silver hook. But the Scotch Members did not consider this Measure to be unimportant in principle or trivial in substance, and they were determined not to have either the Scotch people as a whole or the farming class debauched by subventions such as that proposed to be given under this Bill. The standard of political thinking in Scotland was such that if the Scotch constituencies were polled, they would emphatically reject this Measure; and the standard of political principle in Scotland was, he believed, high enough to lead the people, both in town and country, to repudiate this offer scornfully. Either this Bill was intended as a Measure to mitigate agricultural distress, or it was a Measure for reforming the law of rating. As a Measure for the relief of agricultural distress, it was an utter sham; as a Bill for the reform of local rating, it was a gigantic fraud. The main grievance of farmers in Scotland, as was proved before the Agricultural Commission, was the inadequacy of the Agricultural Holdings Act. Scotch farmers were determined to have before long a legal right to just and equitable compensation for their improvements. That most important question was not touched by this Bill, nor the equally important question of just rents. It was probably too much to hope that the present Government would pass any Measure which would take anything from the landlords and put it into the pockets of the tenants. Year by year, and season by season, there continued in Scotland a process of confiscation of tenants' goods in favour of the landlord. It was a process to which they wished to see an end put, but this main grievance of the Scotch tenants was left without remedy by the Government. Next he would ask why when people held farms under contracts 1457 which they had entered into with full knowledge of the amount of the rates, the State should intervene to relieve them pro tanto of a hard bargain. The hon. Member for Peeblesshire had told them that he had held a farm for seven years, and that it had not paid, and after demonstrating that he had made a bad bargain, he said that he cordially approved of this Bill, which would pro tanto relieve him out of the British Exchequer in respect of his rates. Anything more opposed to sound economic principle he had never heard uttered on the floor of the House of Commons. It might be asked why the farmer did not put the good year against the bad year, as was done in other industries. Mr. Rutherford, whose evidence appeared in Mr. Hope's Report, gave some very blunt testimony on this point. He was asked, "What became of all the money made by the tenants in the good times?" and he replied, "it was all put into the land and the landlords got it by increasing the rent." Compensation for improvements and just rents were the things that the farmers wanted; they would be substantial benefits, but they were not found in this Measure. In those directions the Government would not lift a finger to help the industry of agriculture in Scotland. This Measure was not even accepted by those concerned in agriculture as a Measure of relief. If ever a Measure was damned with faint praise it was this Bill. The Secretary of the Scotch Chamber of Agriculture—a body to which the Bill might be supposed to be specially acceptable, had said:—It was too ridiculous for any one to affirm that the relief proposed to be given to agriculture was in any way connected with agricultural depression.He would adopt that language. It was too ridiculous to imagine that this was a relief at all. ["Hear, hear!"] Sooner or later—in England sooner, in Scotland later, but only a little later—this remission of rate would be conveyed into the pocket of the landlord. What was taken off in rates would be laid on in rents, and until rents were compulsorily and impartially determined it must be so. It was argued that, at all events, the position of the crofters was secure, and that they had fixity of tenure. He totally denied the proposition. They had fixity of tenure no 1458 doubt, but they had not fixity of rent. Every seven years it was open to the landlord to have the rent determined by the Crofter Commission, and the Commission was by statute bound to take into account the whole circumstances of the case. Did they think that the Commission would shut, their eyes to a cardinal fact in the new circumstances—namely, the relief pro tanto of the rates paid by the crofter tenant? In order to test the sincerity of the Government he would make them this offer—would they accept an Amendment to this Bill in the shape of a clause forbidding the Crofter Commission to take into account in the landlord's favour and against the tenant, at the next readjustment of rent, this remission of taxation? If the Government declined that fair offer they would be convicted of wilfully attempting to delude the entire tenantry of Scotland. They had in this Debate heard but few and feeble echoes of the taunt, "why if this is so bad a Measure, will the agricultural tenants accept it." He was not surprised that but few hon. Members who were offering this temptation to the tenantry sneered at them for accepting the offer. What was wanted in Scotland was less rent on the land in view of the decreased prices, and a just and not a delusive compensation for improvements. These were due from the landlord, but the Government stepped in with their handful of the nation's money and asked them not to press the landlord. They preferred to pauperise the tenantry rather than to make them independent.The strongest castle, tower, or town,The golden bullet beats it down.That was the policy of Her Majesty's Government. But they might depend upon it that, as their delusive favours slipped through the hands of the tenantry of Scotland, their vision would become clearer as to where the real remedy lay. The Government had raised the land question in all its bearings [cheers], and that, he frankly confessed, was his only consolation in regard to this Bill. As this sham Measure was exposed the people of Scotland would recognise the necessity for more radical proposals—proposals which were recommended by just principle, by the reports of commissions, and by universal experience. As to the statement that this Bill was one to change the 1459 incident of local rating, he denied it flatly. What they did was to make a hotch-pot of the subject of rating by importing Imperial funds into local finance in such a way as to commit a fraud on the general body of the people. ["Hear, hear!"] The subject of classification was not a difficult one—it was a variation of local rating. This Bill abolished classification altogether and enacted uniformity, but did it in such a way as to make the body of the people relieve a particular class. What had been the past history of this matter? For 50 years the parishes of Scotland were able to adopt classification if they thought it to be "just and equitable," but the Scotch parishes, by a majority of five to one, declared that it was unacceptable to the general body of the Scotch people. The theory of classification was that the locality knew best how to adjust its own burdens among the parishioners inter se. It made the closest approximation to an assessment upon means and substance The Lord Advocate in his speech on the Second Beading said that the Bill was an attempt to make personalty bear some equivalent share with realty of the local burdens, but in the next sentence he seemed to speak with scorn of a certain parish which had put an extra assessment on sporting rents. Why should not it do so? Sporting rents were the luxury of people of enormous means and substance, and why should they not pay a heavier rate for the benefit of the local parishioners? He would ask the House to assume that this Bill was founded on the principle of classification, but where had they found any classification in Scotland which would justify this Measure? Only one in five parishes had seen any justice or equity in classification at all; only one in 11 parishes had been divided into two classes; in only one in 18 had land been put in one class and everything else in another; and there was only one parish in Scotland which had adopted the principle of this Bill, namely, assessing the agricultural rents at three-eighths of the valuation. That parish ought to be mentioned—it was the parish of Forgan in Fife, with only 1,200 inhabitants. Happy Forgan!—home of political and financial wisdom for distressed Statesmen! The Government's finance was on the principle of "lightly come, 1460 lightly go," and being at a dead loss for a precedent for this expenditure, they had in their despair found rest in Forgan. What a confusion, also, the Bill was going to introduce into the classified parishes. It roughly came to this: that in the local finance of 120 parishes chaos would be produced, and that in a great number of these the agricultural tenants would be the worst lowers by the transaction. It really was not classification, it was class subvention. In his Report as an Agricultural Commissioner, Mr. John Clay had stated:—I do not consider that true relief can be assured for agricultural distress by resorting to a system which relieves one class of ratepayers at the national expense.The ordinary toiler had to contribute to the fund which it was now proposed to divert from its proper object to the relief of the rates of a class. Under this Bill the poor man in Scotland would be far worse off than the poor man in England, because while in the latter case the poor man would see only 64 per cent. of the relief pass his door to go into that of the rich man, in the former case the poor man would see 86 per cent. of the money pass his door to go into the pockets of the rich. The humble rural ratepayer in Scotland would only obtain 14 per cent. of the dole, the toilers in the Scotch towns would obtain nothing. People, however, were coming to understand the meaning of this Bill, which would have the effect of putting £7,000 out of every £10,000 of the relief into the rich man's pocket. The principle of classification was that the strong in a parish should help the weak, but the principle of this Bill was that the weak should bear the burden of the strong. ["Hear, hear!"] The result was that in Scotland the nation as a whole was on one side and the landed interest alone upon the other. Had the Government chosen to leave this question alone it would have slept as long as they remained in office, which apparently was a shortening period. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] What would happen in any of the Scotch counties when some extravagant expenditure was proposed? Why, the thrifty villages who paid the whole of their rates would oppose it, while it would 1461 be supported by the rural ratepayers who only paid 7s. 6d. in the pound of their rates. ["Hear, hear!"] To employ public funds in the relief of local taxation would be to encourage waste and extravagance. The Government did not appear to have any idea as to what they intended to do for the congested districts in Scotland. The attempt that had once been made to relieve those districts by sending the inhabitants of them abroad, had resulted in the most pitiable failure. The right hon. Gentleman desired to earmark a portion of this money. Let the Government consent to earmark the whole of it. To-day Scotland desired to pause and consider its position. It had done so before, with conspicuously successful results. Possibly all classes might be united on this subject if it were agreed to apply this money to the purposes of education. ["Hear, hear!"] He believed that in their hearts many hon. Members were with him when he made that proposal. The foundations of Scotch education were already laid broadband deep, and sure, and he thought that all Scotchmen would rejoice to see secondary and university education in the country also made free—thrown open to every capable son and daughter of Scotland by means of the money of the nation at large. His advice to the Government was that they should profit by past experience on this question, and that they should take counsel of Scotland with her broad and enlightened views rather than of England with her sectional demands. ["Hear, hear!"] If they took that advice they would do honour to their administration, this Bill with its pitiful errors would be quickly forgotten, and Scotland would remain the abiding debtor of this Imperial Parliament.
§ MR. J. E. GORDON (Elgin and Nairn)
said he had noticed that a great deal of the opposition to this Pill arose from those who represented burgh constituencies. As he had the honour to represent two counties, and was rather favourably situated from the fact that he was neither a landlord nor a tenant, he asked the House to allow him to make a few remarks. Until the hon. and learned Gentleman who last spoke rose, 1462 the Debate had been carried on with considerable good humour on both sides and it took a considerable amount of courage to rise as a Member of a degraded Party, who was seeking to debauch the farmers and commit fraud all round. [Laughter.] He had heard the hon. Member's remarks almost equally strong in another place when his mouth was closed, and on that occasion he found that there was no foundation for the statements. On the present occasion he would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to confer with the hon. Baronet who represented Banffshire, and who promised his support to the Bill when the Second Reading came on. He (Mr. Gordon) would put the support of the hon. Baronet against all the heated speeches made against this Bill. He himself telegraphed that afternoon asking how many of his constituents, in one of the counties he represented, would receive benefit by this Bill, and the answer was given to him—2,250. That was a pretty good number in one small county. It seemed to him that there had been much ado about very little in this matter. As a practical man he knew that this was not any relief to distressed agriculture. Relief to distressed agriculture could not be be effected by that House. It required better seasons, and higher prices, but the primary function of that House had always been to apply relief to those industries which required it. Let him remind the House that only a few years ago Members on the other side voted the Death Duties, the effect of which in his constituency was that on the death of certain individuals a large sum in cash would be removed therefrom. Under the provisions of this Bill a large amount of Imperial money would be left in his country. The farmers and the crofters and the other members of the agricultural population valued that, and he had never heard of any Scotch community that did not value the cash down. [Laughter.] He regretted that a great deal of the opposition to this Bill had been the suggestion of partial interests in the community—town against country and class against class. That was not statesmanship, and when it was brought down to the domestic circle it was called 1463 pure mischief making. He was in close touch with several burgh constituencies, and he had never heard a word from them objecting to this Bill. That was because the people in those burghs were sensible, and they lived on the prosperity of agriculture. No one regretted more than he did that the relief of local taxation to the farming interest and the cottagers would, under this Bill, be small. But what would the farmer do? The first thing he would do would be to go into the county town and spend the money in the county shop. This money arose from the fact that the Government had a large surplus to distribute; and he reminded the House that five millions of that surplus had been expended for the purpose of the Navy in town communities. The agricultural population in this country was suffering from the competition with foreign producers, who paid no share of the rates and taxes of this country. Until they relieved the home farmer of those local rates they were really penalising the home producer; and he therefore hailed this Measure as a step in the right direction. He did not agree with the argument that this money was coming from the poor man. While a large amount of the taxation of the country was raised from its cumulative wealth, another large portion was raised from the enormous prosperous industries of the country. He maintained that the surplus at the disposal of the Government was most distinctly obtained from the Death Duties, and also from the marvellous increase of prosperity in our financial and commercial operations last year. Therefore, payment was coming out of the capitalist class; and the capitalist class had not raised a word of protest. If anyone should complain, it ought to be the Income Tax payer, especially the smaller Income Tax payer. He thought it was a great pity that the Radical Party were so inclined to attack land. The landlord was held up as a sort of bogey; but, so far as he knew him, the landlord carried out his duties to the community with quite as much propriety as many members of other professions. He did not like to hear a member of a learned profession—a profession received in that House with unusual kindliness and dignity—talk of those who were interested in land, whether as hirers or 1464 owners, in the manner which they had just heard. The result of all that was very disastrous to a country community such as the one he represented, in this way: In all industries, whether it was coal mining, or cotton spinning, or land, the capital employed was always being eaten out and destroyed, and it was essential to the prosperity of land as well as other industries that further capital should be induced to come in and replace the old. They knew that when they talked of a landlord now-a-days it was a misnomer. The real landlords were largely bondholders. Thousands of middle class people who had insured their lives for moderate sums, and the real difficulty in remitting the rent of the farming class—which, of course, was the source from which the temporary user of land must recoup his position—was that the landowner was merely a steward, and that if they pushed him much farther they would find him approaching a condition of bankruptcy. If they had not so many political cries, there was lots of capital which would be glad to employ itself at an unusually low rate of interest, but that sort of replenishment for the country districts was closed in the, meantime. Inequality with regard to financial arrangements was not unusual. It was only a year or two ago that a most important constitutional Measure was introduced which would have landed us in this position—that on one of the islands we should have been paying 35s. a head of taxation, whereas on the other island it would only have been 7s. 6d. per head. As long as this world was carried on in its present rough form there must always be inequality. He urged the House to pay no attention to the red herrings that had been dragged across the path of the Debate. The Government sought by a very plain simple Measure to put the rating of land in a more favourable position. The hon. Member for Dundee explained his position with regard to mill owning. How would he like it if the Government came down and proposed to tax the raw cotton, or wool, or jute, brought into Dundee just as the raw material of the farmer was now taxed. In conclusion, the hon. Member said he was sure the House would pardon him for having intervened, but he could not but speak up 1465 for his two little counties, which contained a large number of people who would be thankful for this relief.
§ *MR. AUGUSTINE BIRRELL (Fife, W.)
said that, unlike the last speaker, he had foreborne to ascertain how many of his constituents would benefit by this Bill. He approached the consideration of the Bill from no such sordid standpoint. The hon. Member had, with great candour, as had other hon. Members, frankly admitted that this Bill was no panacea, and was indeed no measure of relief for agricultural distress. He thought, therefore, that his hon. Friend the Member for Peebles might have fore-borne making the House more melancholy, by telling them how great the agricultural distress in Scotland was and how lamentable his own experience had been. The hon. Member had with great candour admitted that the Bill was not a panacea or, indeed, any measure of relief, for agricultural distress. The microscopic relief afforded to the occupier under the Bill would in no way resuscitate agriculture or meet the constant complaint of the farmer with regard to low prices. The farmer could only be benefited in two ways—either by paying less rent, or getting higher prices for his produce. ["Hear, hear!"] There was nothing in the Bill either to lower rents or heighten prices, and, therefore, agricultural distress, if it existed, must continue. The difficulty in approaching the question was that, although the motif of the Bill was said to be the inequality which existed in the incidence of taxation, the Bill did not even profess to cure it. All the Bill did was to assert, without proving it, that the present system was unfair, and then proceed to give a dole in order to induce people to allow that unfair state of things to continue a little longer. It was as if one man were to say to another: "If justice were done I should owe you £10; but as justice is not to be done here is 6d." [Laughter.] He was not prepared to agree that the present system of local taxation in Scotland was unjust. All sorts of mythical persons had been invented. They had heard of the man of boundless wealth living in a remote agricultural district in a mean house, sometimes it was even hinted in lodgings, and who did not contribute as he ought to do to the local burdens of the community. He did not believe in 1466 these mute, inglorious millionaires. [Laughter.] He could not believe that any man who, ex hypothesi, might live a voluptuous life in a villa on the Medriterranean would live in lodgings in the Stewartry [laughter]; and he would remark that if once they began rating this individual in this way he would pack up his nightshirt and toothbrush and go away, for the only object one could have for lodging in the Stewartry was to effect economy. These persons to whom allusion had been made were persons not of boundless wealth, but of small means. Why should a man pay for roads when he had no carts to cut them up, or for educating the children of farm labourers whom he did not employ; or, under the Poor Laws, for men worn out in the service of other people than himself? There was something to be said for taking the rent of a man's house as some measure of his interest in a particular community. His own belief was that the Scotch system of local rating, which divided the burden equally between owner and occupier, and which allowed for classification, was as rational a system as it was possible to find. It was the system recommended for England by the Duke of Richmond's Commission. Speaking for a constituency where there was a great deal of classification, he regretted that the system was to be abolished. This Bill was the consequence of the English Bill, and was not the result of any genuine demand on the part of the people of Scotland. [Cheers.] The Scotch people would take a £5 note when it was offered them. [Laughter.] The hon. Member opposite who laughed would take 5s. if it was offered to him; but it was another thing to demand that the money should be offered to them, This was a lamentable example of England dragging Scotland in its wake. Scotland took the money because it was Scotch money, but it was not an unreasonable demand that it should be earmarked until the Scotch people decided how it was to be spent. He was certain, if they had time and opportunity to discuss it, the Scotch people would be able to devise some better way of disposing of the money than that suggested in the Bill.
§ *SIR J. STIRLING MAXWELL (Glasgow, College)
said he had the honour to represent a part of Glasgow, 1467 and his constituents were not, as a rule, backward in expressing their opinions. So far he had received no notice whatever of any hostile feelings on their part towards this Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] It had been known for some time that this Bill would come on, and in his opinion it was an honest attempt to meet the difficulty. He welcomed it heartily, and believed it was only denounced by those who knew little or nothing about agriculture.
§ MR. J. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)
said the case of Scotland was different from that of England. In England the owner paid no rates; the whole local rates in England were borne by the occupier. The object of the English Bill was to relieve distressed agriculture from what was alleged to be an unfair proportion of local rates borne by agriculture. The agricultural tenant in England, before these Bills were introduced, paid the whole rate applicable to his land. The Treasury had now stepped in and removed the alleged injustice by paying one-half of the tenant's rates. In Scotland there was no such injustice existing with regard to the rate as existed in the case of England, because in Scotland there was no agricultural tenant who paid more than one-half of the rates applicable to his land. Therefore the English Bill simply placed the agricultural tenant in the same position as the agricultural tenant in Scotland. Why then was this money given to Scotland? It was the result of the Separatist policy of a Unionist Government adopted in 1889. Scotland had got this money as a separate nationality. The amount given was without reference to agricultural distress in Scotland, but was simply the 11–80ths of the amount required for England. In the first place they objected to the amount—£214,500—which was given to them. The Lord Advocate said that the proportion was carefully calculated at the time of the Probate Duty grant. So was Ireland's share carefully calculated at the same time, and yet they had the Commission which had been considering the financial relations between the United Kingdom and Ireland reporting, or about to report, unanimously that Ireland had been overtaxed, and that she bore far more than her fair share of taxation. They had been pressing the Government for a similar Committee for 1468 Scotland to inquire into what Scotland's fair share was, and he had no doubt the same principle which was discovered in the case of Ireland would bring out an equal result in the case of Scotland. And in the case of Scotland there was no setoff, as there was said to be in the case of Ireland, because it could not be maintained that Scotland received anything more than her fair share of grants out of the Imperial Exchequer. Indeed, their complaint was that she did not receive as much as she ought to receive. Therefore they said, in the first place, that the money which the Government were giving here was not in fair accord with what was their just proportion; and they protested against the delay which was taking place in appointing a Committee to investigate this matter. They had gone on time after time adopting and giving effect to that proportion without having that proportion fairly ascertained by a responsible Committee of the House. The £214,500 being Scotch money, the question was how was it to be applied? Their contention was that, being Scotch money, it ought to be applied in accordance with Scotch wishes. They ought to give the people of Scotland the opportunity of being consulted regarding the application of the money. Scotland had had no such opportunity. The time had been far too short, and the Bill was to be rushed through Parliament on the English lines although the cases were quite dissimilar, and they were to be voted down by an overwhelming majority of Tory English Members in a matter which did not concern the people of England and which concerned the people of Scotland alone. This was not the first time that this question had arisen. It arose at the time of the Probate Duty Grant. Then the Unionist Government of the day intended by their Bill to deal with Scotland exactly as they had dealt with England. The money was to go to the relief of local rates, but opposition was raised to that method of dealing with Scotch money, and it was allocated to local authorities for one year only, and the next year the Government brought in a Bill, which had the unanimous consent of the people of Scotland, giving the money practically to free education. That was what they asked the Government to do in the 1469 present case. He would like to point out that although classification was competent and could he adopted by the landed interest in Scotland, yet they found that, out of about 900 parishes, only 150 parishes had adopted classification down to the present time. That showed that classification was not a popular method in Scotland. He quite admitted that, in the case of purely rural parishes, there might not be the same necessity for classification as in the case of burgh landward parishes; but, even in purely rural cases, they had the case of private villa and other residents, and there was no reason why, if they were going on the principle of means and substance, those should not have been classified if the people of the counties thought that was the proper assessment. By the Local Government Act of 1889, the Unionist Government of that time established a county rate, and they imposed it equally upon landlord and tenant. They observed no principle of classification in that rate, and therefore practically admitted that the principle was wrong, by imposing the rate half on the occupier and half on the owner. That was the modern principle which had been adopted in Scotland, but the present Bill proposed to depart from it, and to institute a classification under which the agricultural tenant was to get the benefit. If classification was to be adopted, it should be applied to all and carried out fully, but under this Bill agricultural land was to be made an exception. The principle of non-classification in Scotland was that every tenant should pay taxes upon the rental of the particular portion of the parish he occupied. The question was not one of rates, but of rental. If relief was given in rates, the tenant would necessarily take into consideration in offering rent how much the rates were, and would offer accordingly. Relief therefore should be given on the rental, and not on the rates. Consequently he thought the Bill was founded upon a wrong principle, and would lead to endless difficulty.
§ *CAPTAIN PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)
drew attention to the paucity of attendance in the House during the Debates on this Bill, and said he did so in order that the people of Scotland might know what degree of interest was taken by Members generally in matters affecting their 1470 national interests. This Bill would effect a revolution in the matter of voting in Scotland, and there ought to be good ground for its introduction. But he believed the only reason that could be truly alleged for its introduction was that a similar Bill had been brought forward for England. But no Measure deeply affecting the interests of the people should be introduced except in accordance with their wishes, and he considered that no evidence whatever had been adduced to show that the people of Scotland wanted this Bill, or even that there was any necessity for it. He admitted that depression might exist in agriculture in Scotland as elsewhere, but not to a greater extent than in other industries. In fact, there were some forms of industry at the present time in even a more depressed condition; and regarding Great Britain as a whole, he contended that agriculture was not so depressed as to justify the present legislation. But even were the depression greater than it was, why should the agricultural industry alone be selected for relief from the State? Why should not other forms of industry, which, perhaps, were suffering to a greater extent, claim, and be granted, similar relief? ["Hear, hear!"] He ventured to say that the Scotch farmer, whose great characteristic was the spirit of independence, would repudiate, and not welcome, the relief which it was proposed to give him under the Bill. It was the spirit of self-reliance and independence among the people which had made Scotland what she was, and the effect of a Measure of this kind would be to undermine that spirit. ["Hear, hear!"] No Measure would be welcomed which in any way whatever tended to destroy that spirit of independence which was a characterstic of the Scottish nation. It had been said by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire that the Opposition had not brought in a Measure for dealing with this purely Scotch money. It was not their business to do anything of the kind, but if they were to introduce a Measure it would be one for perfecting education in their country. It was a fact of which Scotchmen were justly proud that their nation was the best educated of any of the nations which formed the United Kingdom, and any 1471 Measure which would make their education even more perfect would be very acceptable to them. In introducing the Bill the Lord Advocate tried to make it more palatable by saying it was merely a temporary Measure. The right hon. Gentleman must either have been hard pressed, or he must underrate the intelligence of the Opposition to resort to such a subterfuge. It was maintained that the money would really go in relief of agriculture, but what was the benefit which could possibly accrue to the 80,000 agricultural holders in Scotland? On the average it would come to the vast total of 1s. per week each. The hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn stated that he had received a telegram to the effect that 2,250 constitutents of his would receive relief under the Bill. If 1s. each per week was what they would get, he did not grudge them the money. The hon. Baronet the Member for Midlothian, in speaking to the House yesterday, referred to some of the results which it was supposed the last General Election was to bring about. He did not, however, refer to what was maintained by many Conservatives, namely, that the the result of the General Election showed that Home Rule was dead. There was never a greater fallacy, and for hon. Members opposite to make such a statement proved conclusively how very little they understood the true feelings which animated Members of the Opposition who, when they adopted principles, adopted them not merely because it was opportune to do so, but because they intended to see them eventually paramount. The introduction of this Bill would resuscitate the cry for Home Rule, and he and his hon. Friends would not do their duty to their constituents if they did not do everything in their power to ensure the withdrawal of the Bill.
On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,
§ *MR. JOHN COLVILLE (Lanark, N. E.)
said it would be his duty in the Recess to inform his constituents of the great want of interest taken in Scotch affairs by the majority of hon. Members in the House. He thought it was 1472 another argument in favour of devolution in such matters. In his constituency there were thousands of miners who had suffered much more severely from the existing depression than the tenant-farmers of Scotland. He had, on the previous day, presented a petition from the premier county of Scotland, Lanark, a section of which he had the honour to represent, praying that the Bill should not be passed. There were a very large number of people directly engaged in industrial avocations in that county who, in his judgment, would suffer very severlely from the operation of the Bill. It was not disputed, and he should be sorry to dispute it, that there was undoubtedly agricultural depression existing, and there had been various propositions made for dealing with it. The miners to whom he had referred earned, many of them, only 4s. a day, and were often not able to obtain employment for more than four or five days in the week. These men did not live in the large burghs so much as in the comparatively rural districts and the little villages which were scattered over the country, and upon these men the effect of the proposed change would fall seriously. The hon. Member for Peeblesshire had challenged them to come down to his part of Scotland and attempt to get the ear and support of the ratepayers and electors. He was prepared to accept that challenge, and hoped that if he did visit that part of the country as proposed, the hon. Member would return the compliment and visit his (Mr. Colville's) constituency, where the hon. Members' arguments would not find favour with the vast majority of the electors. There were not many counties in Scotland that could claim to have a greater stake in agriculture than Lanarkshire, and yet its County Council, after mature consideration, had not hesitated to oppose the Bill and to petition the House against its being passed into law. If the rates were to be increased after the passing of this Bill, the result would be that the miners would have to pay the increase. There were many other industries which were quite as much in want of assistance as agriculture. The hon. Gentleman opposite had asked who it was that really bore the burden of these rates in Scotland. The question 1473 was not a difficult one to answer—it was the bone and muscle of the country, the horny handed sons of toil that paid not only the rates but the rents. There had been many suggestions made as to the proper mode of dealing with this question of agricultural distress. Although he could not pretend to have any special knowledge with regard to this important industry, he fully sympathised with its distressed condition, and he suggested that the Government, instead of trying to pass this Bill, should do their best to give the tenants security for their holdings, whilst the landlords should reduce their rents proportionately to the fall in the price of agricultural produce. The Government should also propose some scheme that would enable the tenants to become the owners of their holdings. That would be a far better form of relief to give than to grant this dole out of the public Exchequer towards paying a portion of their rates. The people of Scotland objected to the principle of the Bill, and to the proposal to spend national funds for the benefit of one class of the community. If this Bill were to become law it would be an inducement to other industries to claim relief on the same ground. He should oppose this Bill because he believed it to be unjust and injurious. ["Hear, hear!"]
*MR. JOHN McLEOD (Sutherland)
said that apart from the principle or rather want of principle underlying the Bill, the Measure had other objectionable aspects that would justify him in voting against it. If this sum of £200,000 were cut up among the various Scotch counties in the manner proposed, the poor counties in Scotland would get the least benefit from the Bill, while the rich counties would get by far the largest share of the grant. The road rate was admitted to be one of the heaviest rates, yet Sutherlandshire, with its 618 miles of road, would receive comparatively little relief; whereas Stirling, which had only 523 miles of road, would, on account of its high valuation, obtain an enormous amount of relief. The Highland counties, with their low valuation and high rates, would receive nothing like the amount of relief that the highly-rented carse-lands of Stirling would receive. In the same way the small tenants in the Highlands would get little 1474 relief, while the well-to-do farmers would benefit to a large extent. In his own constituency of Sutherlandshire, there were between 2,000 and 3,000 holders of land under £30 rental, and not more than 200 or 300 holders above £30 rental. The operation of the Bill would be that the small holders of land would receive some £600, whilst the large holders would receive from £1,600 to to £1,800. There were parishes where nineteen-twentieths of the population would not receive more than a £5 note between them, whilst a few individuals would receive several hundred pounds. The average crofter's rental in Sutherland was £3 per annum, and the average rate was from 1s. to 1s. 2d. in the £. The result would be that the utmost the crofter would receive from the Bill would be the magnificent sum of 3s. or 3s. 6d. per annum, while the large farmer would receive scores if not hundreds of pounds. The operation of the Bill would therefore be to put money into the pockets of those who least required it, and give next to nothing to those who really deserved assistance. As to the question of classification, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Advocate that the agricultural occupiers had no reason whatever to be afraid of the burghal authorities. In no single instance the right hon. Gentleman had mentioned would the Bill improve the position of the agricultural tenants in the burghs. The burghal authorities had already recognised that some system of classification should be introduced, and so much had they recognised the peculiar position of the agricultural occupiers, that they had gone further than the Bill would go in relieving them. Therefore they would do a great deal worse than to leave this matter of classification to the localities. He had made a calculation as to how the agricultural occupier in the parish of Inverness would fare under the Bill as compared with the present mode of rating, and he found that he would be worse off under the Bill than he was at present; and, in passing, he might just refer to the question of the Land Tax. The borough of Inverness, while this huge sum was being paid out to the counties, was to be bought off with the munificent sum of £156. He was very much mistaken if the people of Inverness were prepared to allow their whole system of classification 1475 to be overturned for so paltry a sum. In conclusion he would say just one word with regard to the grant of £15,000 to the congested districts in the Highlands. Supposing that every farthing of that money were to go to the congested districts for a much longer period than five years, it would not touch the fringe of the question. The amount of relief which would come to each crofter tenant in his constituency would come to about 3s. each. Under the Crofters Act they had had reductions of rent of from 4s. to 10s. in the pound. He had no hesitation in saying that the sum proposed was entirely inadequate, and the Government, by introducing a short Measure including the small leaseholders within the scope of the Crofters Act, would do infinitely more good to the agricultural community in the Highlands than would ever be done by this miserable sum of £15,000. In his opinion, to accept the sum in any way in lieu of the claim they made for a reform of the land laws would be selling their birthright for a mess of pottage, and he for one would never be a party to a Measure which struck at the very root of the finance of the country, and would do nothing whatever towards removing the undoubted grievances that existed. They desired no doles from the Imperial Exchequer. All they asked for was justice. Their complaint was, not that they were rated at too high a figure, but that they could not get sufficient land to be rated upon; and he said unhesitatingly that if the House were to place the enormous area of land that had been proved to exist at the disposal of the Highland people, with some temporary assistance they would be relieved from all their present difficulties.
§ *MR. J. MARTIN WHITE (Forfar)
said that on one ground he had to join hon. Members opposite in thanking the Government for what they had done. By this scheme a large number of Members of the House would have a great deal of money given to them, and thus the present Government were taking up in a practical fashion the Liberal policy of paying election expenses. [Laughter.] His only regret was that the bulk of the payment fell to the other side of the House. But, speaking seriously, he declined to accept the Measure because, as a landlord, most of whose farms fell 1476 in within the next two or three years, he knew that he would then get the full benefit of the Bill. Farmers and landlords would have to sit down and discuss the whole situation in the light of this Measure. Then he objected to the Bill because the distribution of the grants was entirely unequal and unjust. He had property in two parishes. In one there was classification, in the other there was not. In those parishes where there was classification very little relief was to be given. He should like to know whether it was urged that in these parishes agriculturists were not suffering from the depression while in other parishes they were. He should also like to know why farmers whose leases ran on for 19 years were going to get the benefit for that period, while farmers whose leases were for one year would only get the benefit for one year. Experience showed that the further land was from the centre of population, the greater was the reduction in the rent, but the Bill took no cognisance of that. It did not recognise, for example, that railway rates were kept high, though everything else had fallen in price, and that that was the reason why land in remote districts was in a much more distressed condition than land near to populous districts. The Bill was chokeful of injustices. He opposed it on the further ground that the Scotch were an independent people, who would not filch money from the general taxpayers, who, after all, included farmers and ploughmen. This Bill frittered away the money that was available. It was a mere drop in the bucket, compared with the relief that would come from the readjustment of the railway rates, or a change in the law regarding the importation of cattle or agricultural holdings. A case could, he thought be made out for an alteration in the rating of land. But a Committee was to be appointed on the subject of local taxation. Why should they not wait for two or three years. Several Scotch Unionists had admitted to him that they were entirely against this Measure. If the money was to go to the rural districts, it seemed to him by far the most satisfactory way would be to wait and take up the education money promised next year, and with the two sums to deal with the whole question of Scotch 1477 education at that time. They might in that way be able to have a splendid education scheme for Scotland. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. J. B. BALFOUR (Clackmannan and Kinross)
supported the Amendment. The Bill, whatever its merits might be, was somewhat in the nature of a surprise for Scotland. There had been Commissions and Committees, but none of the suggestions made before them had the slightest resemblance to those embodied in this Bill. He would take as the reason for the Bill that what had been stated by the Lord Advocate—namely, that its principle was to bring about a partial rectification or redress of the inequality which the hon. and learned Gentleman stated to exist between the rating of the real or heritable estate, as it was called in Scotland, and personal estate. He was not going to argue the question as to whether more should be laid upon personalty than at present, but he thought, under modern conditions there was a great deal to be said for making personalty give a larger contribution to local burdens than now, and that there would be a very prevalent disposition to consider any Measure directed to that end, not only in a candid, but sympathetic spirit. But was that what this Bill did, or anything in the least like it? What was done by the Bill was that there was a reduction of one class or kind of real or heritable estate to which a particular subvention was to be given and no account whatever was taken of any other real or hereditable estate. Upon that consideration alone, he should submit that there was a fatal objection to the Bill, because he utterly denied that the great problem of the controversy between contributions for real and personal estate could be dealt or grappled with unless they had placed before them at once the whole of the problem. One of the gravest objections to the manner of dealing with it in this Bill was that it practically prejudged by Parliamentary vote a portion of the question which should be left to the consideration of the Commission which had been promised on this subject. It would be vain to go to the Commission and adduce evidence upon that subject without feeling that the hands of the Commission were largely tied by the judgment which Parliament would be said to 1478 have pronounced if this Bill should become law. The Bill took no cognisance of an assessable ratepayer, but it took from the general taxpayer, altogether apart from his residence, a subvention for the purposes of the Bill. Whatever might be said with regard to the mode of dealing with personalty, he submitted it was clear that without having the means of deciding how the whole question as to realty should be solved, they could not arrive at a just decision. Here, however, it was not only that the whole realty of the country was not submitted for consideration, but there was not even a measure drawn as between urban and rural property. One kind of rural property was carved out, and that alone was made the subject of the provisions of this Bill. He said if the Bill was to be regarded as directed to that end, these were absolutely fatal objections to its being received. Whatever might be said upon it as defended upon these grounds, that was certainly one upon which it could not be defended. A good deal had been said with regard to the matter of classification. He thought classification was within its own limit and sphere a very fair and just principle. They had recognised it in Scotland down to this time in legislation, and very largely in practice, and it was not only under the Poor Law Act of 1845 that that had been recognised, but in the more recent Act of 1892 relating to police burghs the same principle had been recognised by which agricultural land was rated at one-fourth of the value of certain other kinds of property. He thought it was plain there were good reasons for such an arrangement, because there was no doubt that a very large proportion of the expense that was incurred in the administration of a burgh or rural community was one from which the agricultural land within it derived little if any advantage, such as in the matters of lighting, watching, and paving. There was a variety of classification in some parishes, and no classification in others—the majority of parishes. A good many reasons might be given for many parishes neglecting classification. If parishes were so circumstanced that all the property was of the same character there was nothing to classify. If the parish was purely rural, there was no 1479 material for classification under the Bill. Where there was property of different kinds in the same rateable area, some of which took the least benefit from the expenditure of local expenses, or cost less local expense than others, there would be not only two classifications, but in some cases as many as seven. This Bill proposed, indirectly, and without any rural community having been consulted, to enforce classification virtually under two heads, one being agricultural land, which, however, by the Bill, included a great deal not agricultural land, and the other property which was outside that description. It was plain this Bill at once destroyed a great deal of property of an intermediate character. There were, for instance, mines, a class of property generally placed between houses, shops and factories on the one hand, and agricultural land on the other. But without consulting those interested in the mining industry that classification was swept away from this class, and would be treated in the same way as houses and shops. He supposed they all knew that the industry of mining was sometimes a good deal distressed, and he was sorry to say at this moment, there seemed rather a dark cloud hanging over it. But here was a proposal indirectly and incidentally to place a very much larger charge on the industry of mining for the sake of giving a contribution to the industry of agriculture, and that was a very serious objection to the Bill. There were also burghal communities in which classification was abolished, and yet these were communities which derived no benefit whatever from the Bill. Not only would the urban communities get no benefit under the Bill, but it would be very injurious to them, and he did not see how it could be easy, looking at the framework of the Bill as it stood, to carve out these faults. He gave these illustrations to show how far the Bill was from being an attempt to deal with the great question of personalty and realty. It disturbed the assessment on realty without bringing it into contact with personalty at all. Therefore, under a Bill like this they had not the means of solving even any part of the problem, because it could not be solved in part. They must have all the elements for total solution, otherwise it would be much better to let it alone. [Opposition 1480 cheers.] Why should not the Government, when they were in the course of appointing a Commission to consider this great question as between real and personal estate, postpone dealing with the matter legislatively? [Opposition cheers.] They knew how to open suspense accounts when it was desired, because they proposed to put the relief for the crofters into a suspense account. [Opposition cheers.] He suggested to his right hon. Friend that he might do the same with the rest of the money, and then, if the result of the labours of the Commission were to recommend that the apportionment of the money should be in the way proposed by the Bill it could be done. But it did not require any prophet to see that the Commission would not do that alone. [Opposition cheers.] They would either do a great deal more or a great deal less. Let them look to what Parliament would have committed itself, and how it would have tied the hands of the Commission before that time. What was the excuse for taking up this fault and dealing with it, and leaving all the rest, not only undealt with, but leaving the case prejudiced? Because, if it should come to be the opinion of the Commission that a fair allocation from personalty should be different from that proposed by the Bill, this, at all events, would be mortgaged for five years, and probably in perpetuity. The certain results of the Bill would be to produce great hardship and injustice in some localities. He would like to hear the rural ratepayers on this matter. [Opposition cheers.] He had had no opportunity of saying a word about it. He would not go into the question of whether there was any defence for the Bill on the ground that it was to go in aid of a depressed industry, because that was repudiated by the Government, except as an incident of the Bill. But the great majority of the supporters of the Bill spoke mainly of the depressed industry, and said next to nothing about an adjustment of local taxation. [Opposition cheers.] Very great inequalities would be brought about in burghs. Urban communities, which would not get a single penny out of the Bill, would nevertheless have their whole system of taxation overturned, and those discriminations, which were called classifications between different 1481 descriptions of property, would be obliterated without any compensating advantage. That, to his mind, was the great objection to the Bill. He would not go into the question whether there was any defence for the Bill on account of its going to the aid of distressed agriculture, because that object was repudiated by the Government except so far as it was an accident of the Bill, although all, or nearly all, the supporters of the Bill spoke about the distressed industry and said nothing about the undue allocation of local rating as between personalty and realty. No one connected with Scotland could doubt that both the landlord and the tenant had suffered from the fall in prices of agricultural produce; and he was glad to say that in Scotland the landowners had shown a disposition to share the losses with the tenants. But, however that might be, there had not been, nor was there now, in Scotland that acute depression which should cause Parliament to anticipate the proceedings of the proposed Commission as to the rating of personalty and realty; and therefore there was not that urgency which would alone excuse hurried legislation in the interest of one class.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir ROBERT FINLAY,) Inverness Burghs
said that his right hon. Friend had advised the Government to carry this Bill into a suspense account. The Government had not the slightest intention of following that advice. [Cheers.] They intended to pass the Bill with the least possible delay, and in doing so—whatever hon. Gentlemen opposite might say—they would be carrying out the real wishes of the people of Scotland. [Cheers.] He heard with satisfaction the admission of his right hon. Friend that there was an injustice in the present system of rating as between personalty and realty. But his right hon. Friend complained that the Bill prejudged the result of the Commission which was to be formed without delay to inquire into the whole subject of rating. His right hon. Friend forgot that the Bill was a temporary Measure. The inquiry into rating must take some time if it was to be complete, and did his right hon. Friend desire that the agriculturists of Scotland should continue subject to an admitted injustice without the application 1482 of any palliative while this Commission was sitting? [Cheers.] It had been asked what the object of the Measure was. Most of the speeches from the other side of the House had been founded on a complete misapprehension of the subject. Hon. Gentleman after hon. Gentleman had declared that the Measure was paraded by the Government as a complete remedy for agricultural distress in Scotland, and that it was nothing of the kind. But the Measure did not profess to be a cure for the evils from which agriculture in Scotland was admittedly suffering. What it did profess to do was to remedy one specific injustice in the matter of local taxation from which agriculture in Scotland was suffering. The scope and object of the Measure were described in one sentence in a resolution unanimously passed in its favour by the Scotch Chamber of Agriculture. The Bill was an attempt, said the resolution, to redeem land of the excessive share of local taxation which it at present bore. [Cheers.] The Bill, in the first place, proposed to reform local taxation and to give some relief to the agricultural interest; in the second place, it proposed to set aside a sum for providing a fund for the relief of the congested districts in the Highlands of Scotland; and, in the third place, it proposed to put an end to the Land Tax in the Scotch burghs during the term of the Bill. Two justifications had been brought forward for the first part of the Bill, which dealt with the rating of agriculture. It had been said on the other side of the House that those justifications were mutually inconsistent. He disputed that contention. The Government said, in the first place, that the system of rating was unfair to agriculturists; and, in the second place, that there was a special urgency for the relief of that grievance, having regard to the depressed condition of agriculture in Scotland at the present time. What was there inconsistent in those two positions? Somehow or other personal property had slipped out of its due share of the burden of rates, and, owing to the facility of collection, the whole burden had fallen upon real property. ["Hear, hear!"] It was pointed out long ago by Adam Smith that a tax upon the value of a dwelling-house was one of the fairest 1483 taxes that could be devised, because by such a tax they got as near as they could get, without inquisition into details, to what a man's income was, as what a man spent on his dwelling was a fair test of what he had got to spend on himself and his family. But he had a greater authority on that matter than Adam Smith in the hon. Member for West Fife, who had enlivened the Debate with an admirable speech. [Cheers and laughter.] There was a story told of a friend of Sir Walter Scott's who prided himself on his conversational powers, and who, having once met an obdurate subject on whom he could make no impression asked:—Is there anything you would like to hear me talk about?" "Can you say anything clever about bend leather?asked the other—[laughter]—and the conversationalist had to confess himself defeated. [Laughter.] But the hon. Member for West Fife would have been equal to the occasion, because he had been witty on a subject compared to which bend leather was a trifle. [Cheers and laughter.] The hon. Gentleman said that a tax on dwellings was a fair tax indeed; but when agricultural land was assessed in the same way as a dwelling-house great injustice was done. It was not assessing the farmer on his income, but upon his business premises, together with his raw material and his stock-in-trade. [Cheers.] Would anything but the force of habit allow such a state of things to endure for a day? The principle of classification was introduced into Scotland to enable parishes to mitigate the evils of this system. So long ago as 1850 Sir G. Cornewall Lewis, in his evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Lords on parochial assessments, was strongly in favour of the classification system. But the principle of classification was left in the hands of the parishes, and it had been carried out very partially. In only 158 parishes out of 877 had the principle been carried out; but in every case it had told in favour of agricultural land, and what this Bill proposed was to make the system universal, so that the local diversities and divergences in particular parishes might be swept away. The hon. and learned Member for Dumfries had made it a matter of complaint 1484 that "local peculiarities" should be interfered with. But surely it was preferable that local eccentricities should be swept away and one uniform and intelligible principle of classification applied throughout the whole of Scotland. The question was whether there was not a way of palliating the admitted injustice to agriculturists pending the Inquiry which was to be instituted. There was a considerable depression in agriculture in Scotland. The right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division devoted a great part of his speech to proving that depression in agriculture did not exist in Scotland; but since the right hon. Gentleman spoke there had been a consensus of opinion on his own side that his statistics must, somehow or other, be quite wrong. [Cheers and laughter.] The Convention of Royal Burghs in Scotland, in their memorial of July 4, said:—Agricultural depression has reached a point unprecedented in this country, and that, notwithstanding that trade generally throughout the country has been increasing, particularly during the last year.He would refer again to the figures quoted by the Lord Advocate as to the fall in values, for the purpose of comparing them with the English figures. As between the years 1879–80 and 1893–94, while on the assessment in England on agricultural land under Schedule A there had been a fall of 23 per cent. in value, in Scotland there had been a fall of 20 per cent. Therefore, if it could not be denied that there was agricultural depression in Scotland, the Government were justified in claiming this as the time to remedy by a temporary Measure, pending fuller inquiry, what was admitted to be an injustice. [Cheers.] Language had been used by Gentlemen opposite which seemed to imply that the grant from the Imperial revenue meant an increased rate in the burghs. The hon. and learned Member for Dumfries had spoken of "putting your hand into the pocket of the burgh ratepayers," and some hon. Gentlemen had prophesied a storm of indignation in the burghs. He asserted that any pressure on the burghs in respect of this Measure would be absolutely inappreciable. [Cheers.] There was no such antagonism between the 1485 ratepayers of the burghs and the country in Scotland as hon. Gentlemen represented. The smaller burghs were closely identified with the country round them; and if agriculture suffered, they suffered. They would rejoice to see a Measure which promoted the prosperity of agriculture. His hon. and learned Friend opposite said this money was to be given only to the farmers in Scotland. He seemed to be under the impression that each farmer, as soon as he got a certain remission of rates, was going to dig a hole in the garden and there bury it. ["Hear, hear!"] The farmer was going to expend it on his family, with the result that more money would be spent with the village shopkeeper. The agricultural labourer, too, would profit. It would very often make the whole difference of that extra 1s. a week which the farmer would like to give, but which he could hardly give because of his present burdens. [Derisive laughter.] Right hon. Gentlemen opposite said that this would all go into the pockets of the landlords. Would it? In Highland parishes, so far as the crofters were concerned, it could not by any possibility, and as to landlords elsewhere, it could only do so where leases fall in. And, as this remedy was only for five years, it really was an extravagant supposition that in respect of a temporary remedy of this sort there would be an increase of rents even in those cases in which leases did fall in. The truth was that in this matter the language used on the other side perhaps justified the suspicion that they disliked landlords so much that, lest incidentally they should give any benefit to landlords, they were willing to continue an injustice to farmers. [Cheers.] The right hon. Member for Bridgeton spoke of the relief to the congested districts as utterly inadequate, and he arrived at that conclusion by mutiplying the £15,000 a year by five, and then said the interest on £75,000 would be perfectly contemptible. But who told his right hon. Friend that only the interest of this sum was to be applied to the benefit of the congested districts? ["Hear, hear!"] The Government proposed that this money should be intrusted to a proper authority, to be determined, for the purpose of applying not merely the 1486 interest but, as far as they thought right, the capital, and they believed a better investment could not be made. It was not desired to encourage emigration from the congested districts in the Highands; what was desired was to show the people there the way to live and thrive at home. The Government believed that this sum of £75,000, properly applied, might do a vast amount of good in districts which sorely needed such help. ["Hear, hear!"] As regarded the abolition of the Land Tax in Scottish burghs, did the House know what it cost to collect the £7,000 of Land Tax which was got from the burghs? The collection of that £7,000 actually cost £2,000, £1,300 of which was defrayed by the burghs and £700 by the Crown. Could anything more utterly extravagant be conceived? And had not the Government, in these circumstances, acted wisely in saying that the tax should be put an end to? [Cheers.] It was said that in some burghs this tax had been redeemed, and his hon. and learned Friend opposite waxed quite pathetic in depicting the woes of Dumfries and Wemyss when they saw their neighbours getting advantages out of this Bill which they had paid for in hard cash. He did not know whether the moving picture which had been drawn would soften the hard heart of the Lord Advocate, but the fact was redemption had proceeded to a very small extent with regard to the Land Tax in burghs. It was originally £8,000, and only £1,000 had been redeemed. In the Inverness burghs the tax stood at £156; of that they had redeemed £3 7s. In Nairn the whole £7 16s., which was the quota, remained unredeemed, and Forres with £15 12s. and Fortrose £3 18s. also remained unredeemed. This was precisely one of those imposts which, having regard to the trouble and cost of collection, it was proper should be brought to an end. [Cheers.] On the whole he asked the House to say that it was a beneficial Measure, one which would do good in Scotland, which would redress admitted grievances, and bring some palliation, if not a remedy, to a most deserving industry, the backbone of the country, which was suffering under severe depression. [Cheers.]
§ MR. R. WALLACE (Edinburgh, E.)
, who spoke amid cries of "Divide!" said his constituency took a simple and homely view of this Bill. A great deal of learning had been expended on this question, and a large amount of inchoate philosophy had been uttered. [Laughter.] But the people of the Canongate of Edinburgh took a direct view of the subject, and so far as he understood them their first blush of the matter was pleasant. [Laughter.] They were to have £215,000 of their own money returned, though when they looked at the way in which it was to be returned they were not so sure about its pleasantness. According to the Government the incidence of taxation in regard to personalty and realty was so obscure that a special investigation, to occupy five years, was to be instituted. At the same time, they were rushing through in this Bill what was a distinct and pronounced principle in the philosophy of taxation. There was no question in which a larger proportion of the electorate took a deeper interest and one specially antagonistic to the views of the Government than the susceptibility of realty to special taxation. The people did not like the look of the £7,000 remission of the Land Tax; they felt it was the thin edge of the wedge. Then £15,000 was to be devoted to the congested districts. The people of the Canongate were not quite sure what a congested district meant, and he thought it was a phrase which had crept into philanthropic politics without being thoroughly understood or what its consequences might be. But the Canongate was quite as much congested as any district in the Highlands, and why should not money also be devoted there, and if there, where was the system to stop? He thought that the relief to agriculture ought to have come out of the rents. In his constituency they did not believe in the divine right of the landlords; in fact, they had strong opinions as to the responsibilities of those who came into the possession of the soil, and he believed that he had correctly expressed the feelings of the vast mass of the people of Scotland with regard to the provisions of the Bill.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 276; Noes, 139.—(Division List, No. 331.)
§ The announcement of the figures were received with Ministerial cheers.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed for Monday next.