HC Deb 01 August 1898 vol 63 cc743-59

formally moved the Second heading of the Bill.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

This Bill has been introduced without any inquiry and without the pledges given by three Governments having been carried out. It is 10 years since the new system was inaugurated of giving special grants in lieu of the old system of grants. At that time we were promised that it should be inquired into and determined what was the proportion to be paid and received by each country, and for three years the Chancellor of the Exchequer of that day put down a Motion for the purpose of appointing a Select Committee to inquire into the matter in order that we might know what our proportion was. It so happened that the Welsh Members were desirous of having Wales included, and owing to their action we had no inquiry for three years. Then, in 1892, another Government came into power, and they also pledged themselves to appoint a Select Committee, and year after year the then Chancellor of the. Exchequer, now the Leader of the Opposition, was always willing to do so, but he was busy with his Budget, and so the Select Committee was postponed by that Government. Then during the present Government we were told the matter should be inquired into by a Royal Commission and the whole subject thrashed out. For two years this has been dangled before us, and now Ireland objects. For three years—because Wales objected, afterwards because the next Government was too busy with other matters, and now because Ireland objects—we have this new system of finance carried out, and Scotland is being ignored. We were put off month after month and year after year, and now we are to have fresh legislation without an inquiry or anything else. All one can do is to strongly object to this course. It is a course which was not attempted as far as England or Ireland was concerned, but I suppose the Government think that Scottish Members will stand anything, and that they can, be ignored. Under this Bill we are to have some more money handed over to the Special Fund. We are to have a sum equal to seven-sixteenths of the amount raised in Scotland. Well, I think, at least, as far as the proportion between the equivalent grant and the similar grant to England is concerned, we are being treated more fairly than I expected. Our demand two years ago was passed by because Ireland wanted the grant, and as Ireland's pressure was greater than ours it was conceded to her. But now that we are about to get it the Treasury is, as usual, acting very niggardly towards Scotland. If it is right new to give us seven-sixteenths it was right two years ago. You refused us justice two years ago. You are now conceding it, and I cannot understand why we should be deprived of the two years' arrears. The estimated amount of the grant is £95,000 a year. That is £190,000 which we have not received in consequence of the action of the Government, and, as far as that amount is concerned, both in Committee and otherwise, we will try to press the Government to give it to us. By virtue of the course taken two years ago we were deprived of it, and I see no reason why we should not have it now. There are some other points connected with the Bill, such, as the distribution of the money, which, however, can be raised during the Committee stage. In the last clause there are two provisions, and I cannot understand why they have been inserted at all, because we thrashed out very keenly, eight or nine years ago, whether these grants should be distributed on a basis of population or of assessment, and after two discussions we came to an agreement that the basis should be partly population and partly assessment. If we distribute an assessment the result will be that rich parishes with a high rateable value and a small population will get a large portion of the grant, whereas poor parishes with a small rateable value and a large population will get less. These provisoes should be put in as clauses. They appear as provisoes, as if they related to some other portions of the Bill, but if they are permitted to remain the effect will be to rob the country districts for the benefit of the boroughs. That is the proposal of the Government. We are getting this money because of agricultural distress, and yet by these two provisoes you propose to rob the agricultural interest for the benefit of the towns. The Lord Advocate has not said a word about the Bill, but I should like to ask him why this course is being taken. The right honourable Gentleman is himself a county Member. These provisoes will militate against his constituents, and I do not see why they should be included at all. I am only now going to again protest against legislation until we hare had a full and complete inquiry. For 10 years our inquiry has been postponed on one pretence or another, and it is time this question should be thoroughly thrashed out, either by a Royal Commission or a Select Committee, and I myself think that a Select Committee is better in some ways than a Royal Commission. I take it that the Government have given up the intention of appointing a Royal Commission to consider the financial relations of the three kingdoms, and surely it is not now too much to ask that we shall have this question thrashed out between ourselves and our great neighbour, England.


Mr. Speaker, I do not intend to oppose the Second Reading, because that would be depriving Scotland of money to which she is entitled. I must, however, express my disappointment at the statement of the Lord Advocate when we debated the matter last week. There was then a very general feeling among Scottish Members for an alteration in the method of distribution, and also that the money to be given to education should not be distributed in this way, but that the whole matter should be reconsidered and that there should be inquiry and legislation. The very way that the Bill now before us proposes to distribute this money really challenges the opinion of the Scottish Members on that subject. We have gone under the machinery of the Scotch Educational Department since 1890, and there is universal discontent in Scotland at the way in which the Department has been allowed to have the distribution of the money. I do not say there is any want of trust in the Department, but it is felt that Scotland ought to be consulted and that this House should have a voice in the matter. There is no use in laying a Minute on the table of the House and hoping for a discussion after midnight. But another point arises on clause 2, which again suggests the necessity for legislation. It is with regard to the two provisoes, but as I understand some suggestions are to be made in Committee, I will not now anticipate the points which may be raised there. That is a matter which cannot be done without legislation; at any rate, it affords another reason for insisting that the Government shall give us legislation on this subject at the earliest possible moment. I earnestly hope that the Government will reconsider that. I believe it to be the general wish of honourable Members, that they will give some satisfactory answers.

MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

I won't go into the history of the different reasons why the Royal Commission was abandoned. I ask the right honourable Gentleman whether or not he cannot persuade the Government to give us this inquiry into the financial relations between the two countries. I hope the right honourable Gentleman will give this matter his attention. We have had it up for seven or eight yeans. If we are going to get it at all, it is time we got it.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)

The question to which I wish to call the attention of the House is as to the equivalent grant, and the change this Bill produces in giving to Scotland a grant upon the same principle as the giving to England of half of the agricultural rate. We find, on examining the principle on which they give money to Scotland, that they do not adopt the equivalent grant out and out; sometimes they give the equivalent grant and sometimes they give a grant on lines similar to those an which money is given to England. If it were the equivalent grant, or if it were on the lines of similar treatment to England, there would not to so much to complain about. But we find that whilst we might in some cases lose by payment on the principle of the equivalent grant we would gain by the application of the alternative principle. The principle on which the grant is given to Scotland is that you shall give the least possible to Scotland. The Lord Advocate comes forward with this Bill, and says that the same principle does not apply; but Scotland is entitled to half her rates, just as England is. What is the cause of this change of front? Nothing more than that Ireland also objected to the principle of the equivalent grant. We come forward and say that our proper sum is one-half of the rates in Scotland, the same as is given in England, and we are quite entitled to refer to the change of front on the part of the Government. For a policy of their own the Government found it expedient to find money for Ireland in order to relieve Irish landlords of certain rates. We are entitled to say to tine Government, "What principles are you going to treat us upon; are you going to treat us on the principle of the eleven-eightieths? What we object to is that you go between the two; one time it is the equivalent grant, and the other time it is different treatment according to whichever method gives the smaller sum to Scotland." Now, as regards the rate. England gets her money as from the 31st March. You admit that we should have half the rates; and why don't you make the date to run the same as in England? We are entitled to have the benefit of the same date. This sum the Bill proposes to give to Scotland, and you are making the payment to Scotland run from the six months ended 31st March next, after the passing of this Act. Well, obviously we are not getting the same treatment as England. It is no answer to say that Ireland is not getting the same period. Ireland protested against the same period. England has got the whole of her money from the original date of March, 1897. Instead of the Chancellor of the Exchequer being put up to defend these payments, he puts the Scotch Office into the position of defending them. The Lord Advocate must be satisfied in his own mind that in the interests of justice the date of payment should run from the same day as in the case of England. I don't see why because one Bill happens to be before the other the last ought to suffer. England is always getting money for particular purposes, and then we follow as a matter of legislative order of precedence. Whether our Bill is a year later or not, we ought to have the money at the same date as England. Another point in regard to this Bill is that the payments are to run for five years during the currency of the Agricultural Rating Act, 1896. We are entitled to point out that, while Ireland is getting her payments perpetually, we in Scotland are getting the payments only during the currency of the Agricultural Rating Act. The same reason for making the grant perpetual in the case of Ireland applies equally to Scotland. The money is to be applied to various purposes, including police and secondary education; and in the case of secondary education it is impossible for the money to be properly applied unless it is perpetual. I think, therefore, that we are entitled to complain that these payments are to be made only during the run of the Agricultural Bating Act. I do not, of course, go into the different modes of applying the money; that can be discussed in Committee. The funds available under this Act will be considerable. In all, you will have the sum of £175,000 for the purposes of elementary education in Scotland. That is a very large sum, and it is one that ought to be under some comprehensive scheme worked out to the greatest possible advantage. If the money has once been given to different interests in Scotland, it will be almost impossible to get that money back again if you are going to formulate a general scheme. Therefore, I think that the Government will do wisely if, even yet, they will consider the matter, so far, at any rate, as this money is concerned—consider how far they are able to tie up that portion of the money so that the whole question of secondary education might come up at some future stage next Session, under some comprehensive scheme whereby the money could be utilised to the greatest possible advantage. That, of course, must be the object of the Government, as it is the object of this side of the House. There are no party politics in the question of education, and the whole matter is to have a comprehensive scheme upon such lines as will produce the greatest possible advantage from the money that is given for secondary education.


I do not think that? it is necessary for me to go exhaustively into this Bill to-night, on the Second Beading, because, as honourable Members are well aware, the Resolution in Committee disclosed the whole Bill, and I was able to explain its provisions upon that occasion with a fulness which, I think, leaves me with little to say to-night. The honourable Member for Caithness may, or may not, be under a misapprehension, but I am quite certain that his words would convey the impression to the minds of those who read them that he is under a mis- apprehension as to the question of how the money is to be calculated, because his remarks would lead one to suppose that we were here substituting seven-sixteenths as more liberal than eleven-eightieths as the calculation for the grant. Of course, we are doing nothing of the kind. As I explained, the fractional figure of seven-sixteenths is simply due to the small rectification which is necessary in respect to the agricultural valuation, which in Scotland includes buildings, and in Ireland does not. The honourable Member for Mid-Lanark more correctly apprehended the question when he said the money was going- to be given to Scotland by way of similar treatment. I do not find in his remarks that he has really anything to complain of in the similar treatment. His speech comes to this—he thinks it necessary, more or less, to twit the Government because certain distinguished Members of it have on former occasions dealt with Scotland by way of grant. I do not think, if the honourable Member will look rather more carefully at the words which I used on the introduction of the Bill of 1896, which were read out by himself or by some other honourable Member, that he will find there is very much fault to be found with those words, because I think that in my expressions it will be found I did not say that the equivalent grant was a counsel of what I may call abstract justice, or the logical outcome of justice, but what I did say was this, that it was impossible simply by applying the Bill of England to Scotland to effectuate a just result, because I pointed out that the rating system in England was absolutely different and dissimilar from the rating system of the other countries. If you, in so many words, give relief in the proportion of the English rates, and then calling the rate by the same name, apply it to really something perfectly different in Scotland, if you allow the same words to operate in Scotland, you obviously reach different pecuniary results. That is absolutely plain to anyone who remembers that although there are certain rates which bear the same name, such as the Public Health Rate, and the Poor Rate, common to England and Scotland, those rates in their incidence are perfectly different in the two kingdoms; roughly speaking, the English rate being paid wholly by the occupier, and the Scotch rate half by the owner and half by the occupier. I do not think it very much matters if my words were accurate or not, but as they have been quoted, perhaps I may stand up for the accuracy of my expressions. I think it will be found that what I said about the logical outcome hinged upon the question of the rates being not identical in incidence, and it was not equivalent to a justification of the equivalent grant on the ground of eternal justice. I think the honourable Member for Lanarkshire scarcely gave the Government the credit that in proceeding as we now do in this Bill by way of similar treatment, we wipe out the mistaken course of proceeding by equivalent grant as in 1896, because payment in the present Bill represents the total payment The sum payable under the former Bill is merely treated as a sort of credit item to account. It really does not matter what it was, because what is to be paid is the difference between that and the whole sum, calculated on a basis of similar treatment. The honourable Member, with his experience as an accountant, will, I think, see that it really does not matter what that first sum was; if the balance is paid, it is sufficient. Now, the honourable Member for Caithness illustrated the treatment that was meted out by the right honourable Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he gave up certain arrears that had accrued. The reason that my right honourable Friend did that was that he was then acting simply according to the letter of his contract. There had been really a miscalculation. It was found that really by the Act of Parliament a certain amount was to be paid year by year to Scotland, and that amount had been miscalculated.


The right honourable Gentleman is mistaken. Instead of giving us 10s. per head, they gave us the equivalent grant. They cease the equivalent grant to give us something equal to 10s. per head.


Really, the honourable Member must not confuse matters. The honourable Member came in the middle of what I said, and has got hold of the wrong end entirely. We are talking about arrears. The 10s. ques- tion is a totally different question. What he said was, "Why do not you give the arrears?" Now, that question of arrears was nothing to do with the 10s. payment. The question of arrears is this: it was found, after a certain number of years, that there had been a miscalculation—that is to say, that it did not amount in fact to the eleven-eightieths. Of course, the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day could technically have protected himself by this, that all the sums of money are voted annually by Parliament, and, accordingly, the real fault was that too small a sum was put on the annual Estimate. Well, the right honourable Gentleman did) not try to protect himself under that, but said, "I will give you the arrears." In the true moral sense it was carrying out the terms upon the contract. Well, now, of course, you are not in that situation at all. There was no Parliamentary contract in 1896 to give Scotland similar treatment, and my right honourable Friend explained perfectly clearly the other day when he spoke upon the Resolution, that it was no question of arrears, and that the Scotch money only dated from this year simply and wholly because the policy of giving Scotland similar treatment was brought into force at the same time as the policy giving Ireland similar treatment. The position in 1896 was different, because at that time it was not the policy of the Government at that moment to give what I may call similar treatment either to Scotland or Ireland. No doubt they gave a payment by equivalent grant, but when you give a payment by equivalent grant, I take it the reason of that is not because you are going to mete out similar treatment to one country and the other, but because you are simply what may be called giving it as a contribution. If you are giving a contribution to one of the three kingdoms out of the Imperial funds, there may be a certain equitable hardship upon the contributors to those Imperial funds who do not take any benefit from that treatment which has been meted out. That, of course, is the consideration which leads to an equivalent grant, but when giving similar treatment and not an equivalent grant, you get other considerations altogether, and that is why this Bill deals with it, and by the very fact of dealing with it, sweep away, once for all, all consideration of equivalent grant in this payment at all. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen asked me to consider again this question about education. Well, I am sorry that I have nothing more to add to what I said upon the Resolution. I think I have explained that when we come to have the whole question in a systemised scheme before us, it may be that we shall find there are difficulties we cannot face without legislation, and in that case we shall have recourse to legislation. But, what we do object to at this present moment is to legislate until we have first of all seen what sort of scheme it is that the Departmental advisers can evolve with the money now placed to their credit. I think the only other topic in the speeches to-day was this question of the provisoes in the Act. There are two provisoes. One proviso is simply the technical words which are necessary to effectuate the change in the pleuro-pneumonia change from one fund to the other. The second proviso is a proviso which was put in as a sacrifice to the great god of uniformity, but the practical working of it has been brought to my notice by the honourable Member for Renfrewshire, the honourable Member for South Lanarkshire, and the honourable Member for Caithness, and I have come to the conclusion that, at any rate, it is best not to take up that question at present. It will be quite a proper occasion if we should come to attack the question which the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen spoke of—I mean the question of taking away the option and putting the money to education. That would be a proper occasion, but at present I think it is not proper to encumber this Bill with any alteration of the pecuniary advantages or liabilities as at present existing, and, therefore, I shall be prepared in Committee to put down an Amendment which will take out that second proviso.


As I had an opportunity in Committee on the Resolution to express my opinion on many points raised in this Debate, I shall not detain the House now. But I should like to ask the few English Members who have been present to-day, whether they have listened with much edification to the elaborate explanation which has come from the Lord Advocate if the present proposals of the Government; whether they understand, whether they really understand, why this grant is being proposed to Scotland now? The Lord Advocate has denied that he defended the equivalent grant system two years ago on the ground of what he calls eternal justice. I will read the grounds upon which he actually did defend it, and I shall venture to say he puts it on much higher grounds; he puts it on the ground of common sense. These are the Lord Advocate's words— As obviously the intention of the Government is to confer an equal benefit on the two kingdoms, you cannot let the relief in Scotland be conditional, as it is in England, as to the amount by the rate relieved, but you are driven logically in the Scotch case to the principle of an equivalent grant.


By the rate relieved!


Yes, but two years ago the intention of the Government to confer equal benefit on both countries led to the logical result of an equivalent grant. What is the intention of the Government now in proposing this increased grant? This is what I want English Members to take some cognisance of. Here is the true story of the whole proceeding. If the right honourable Gentleman himself did not defend the limited grant of two years ago on the ground of justice, it was defended upon that ground, and upon that ground alone, by the First Lord of the Treasury, if I am not mistaken, and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if I am not mistaken. They defended the limited grant for Ireland, as for Scotland, on the ground that justice required so much and no more, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the particular case of Ireland, declared that from this position the Government would not recede. They have receded from it. And why? The account of that transaction is to be derived from the statement of another Minister, a Minister who is not present to-night. The Chief Secretary for Ireland did not disguise the fact that the increased grant to Ireland was necessitated by the fact that the Govern- ment could not pass the Local Government Bill without a grant to the landed interest. That they considered necessary, and that additional grant to Ireland is the price they had to pay for the passing of the Bill. This treatment of Ireland was not on any logical principle, not on any principle of justice at all, but avowedly was the price which had to be paid for the passing of the only possible Local Government Bill for Ireland. Then the Lord Advocate himself admitted that this increased amount having been, given to Ireland, it was impossible to resist on the part of Scotland a demand for treatment on similar lines. It is quite true that the Lord Advocate is not in any way responsible for the Irish policy of the Government in this matter, but the Government, as a whole, is in this position, that two years ago, having defended one sum both for England, Scotland, and Ireland, as doing justice between these countries, has been obliged, in consequence of the Irish transaction, to come down now and ask for a much larger sum; a larger sum having been given to Ireland, the same must, as a logical consequence, be given to Scotland. I do hope that this is the last occasion upon which we shall be tormented with this unsatisfactory mode of dealing with public money. I hope we shall have no more of these grants or doles for local purposes, resulting, as they have done, in muddlement of the whole of our international systems. This is a grant which Scotland cannot refuse, but which we never asked for, and in the application of which the feeling of Scotland has been to a very small extent consulted. I should not have risen on this occasion except that the Lord Advocate appeared to me to be assuming virtues in himself and in the Government, which he so ably represents, to which they are not entitled.

SIR J. JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le-Street)

I do not, as a rule, intrude into what I consider Scotch debates. I think an English Member must be rather rash to do so, but after the appeal which has been made by my honourable Friend below me, I think I must put my modesty on one side and enter a protest with him against the whole principle of these grants. I have always been opposed to giving these grants in aid. In principle, they are bad, and the results arising from them are bad. I think that there is nothing that leads to such a waste of money as when people spend money which they have not to raise directly themselves. Whether it is in our Imperial affairs, or in our local affairs, I find that the greatest extravagance takes place on the part of those people who have money to spend which must be raised by other people. Now, Sir, as I have said, I have always been opposed to these grants. What is the origin of the grant that we are discussing now? Simply depression in agriculture. Now, let us go to the foundation of these grants. In two or three counties in England—in Essex, in Hampshire, in Suffolk, and in Norfolk—there was depressed agriculture owing to the low price of wheat, and because there happened to be depression in these few counties the Government, in order to give a benefit to their friends, thought it was a desirable thing to show their interest in agriculture by giving something like a million and a half spread over the whole of the Kingdom. Well, what follows? A large grant is given to Ireland in the same way, and then a further grant is given to Scotland, about £200,000, in the shape of an equivalent grant; and now the Government are going to give something like £93,000 more to Scotland in order to give her some satisfaction, having given to Ireland a large grant with the Local Government Bill. I protest against the way in which this money is given. The Scotch people, who are generally very economical in spending their money, have never asked for this money, and positively they do not know what to do with it. There seems to be a division of opinion between the Scotch Members and the Government as to how they are to get rid of this money—of this generous gift.


No, no!"


Well, I heard the discussion when the Resolution was before the Committee, and I maintain what I say, that there is a difference of opinion. The Government brought forward a scheme to dispose of this money, which evidently does not meet with the approval of Scotch Members. There were Amendments moved, first to one part, and then another, and, as a matter of fact, this money is thrown at them, and they do not know what to do with it. I protest against this policy on the part of English Members. I do not understand this policy when the Government are making no remissions of taxation. Money has been coming in by millions during the last three years, all of which they have spent, and now they are throwing these hundreds of thousands into Ireland's pocket, into Scotland's pocket, at the expense of the general taxpayer. I think that the system is bad, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will, when they come to give an account to the country, find that their recklessness, with regard to the financial management of the concerns of the country, has met with its due reward. Now, Sir, I am not going to occupy the time of the House any longer. I do not as a rule occupy its time. I think, in the interests of my constituency, I may say England generally, this thing should not pass without, at all events, some English Member showing what feeling he has on the whole transaction. I do think that this system of giving these grants, which seems to be peculiarly favoured by tins Government, is thoroughly bad. I think all Governments have committed errors more or less, but I always found that when once we give grants of this kind, we get accustomed to give a great many more, and I protest in the strongest terms against the grant now made.

MR. J. PARKER SMITH) (Lanark, Partick

In spite of what the honourable Member says, I think Scotland in general is thoroughy agreed as to how this money is to be spent. I do not think there is need to discuss that any more. The only thing I wish to speak about is the distribution of the money to be devoted to education. I hope that the Lord Advocate will rise superior, as he said just now, to the great good of uniformity, and will not think it necessary to distribute this money according to population, still less according to valua- tion. It is absurd to offer it to Edinburgh or Glasgow, where the only difficulty is to find people enough to use what there is already, and I think that much more can be done by taking areas, or some other system of that kind, and not taking the system we have had heretofore, based on population. I hope the Department will take care not to commit itself permanently, because, I think, we shall very soon have to discuss an improvement on the basis of legislation. The right honourable Gentleman said that the Government would look into the question, and if it was found necessary to disentangle matters, they would propose legislation. But there is another point of view, and that is the House of Commons point of view. We want to have an opportunity of discussing the question of education and how the money is to be spent upon the Bill, and not merely after 12 o'clock at night, when you cannot get a House together, and have then but very limited time in which to criticise the Education Department. I think we ought to enjoy an opportunity of having the scheme as a whole put before us.


I do not want to go into this question at length, but I wish to point out that the very lucid explanation given by the Lord Advocate and similar treatment does not meet my difficulty at all. My objection to both lines of treatment is this, that they are not founded essentially upon the needs and demands of Scotland in relation to Scotch questions. That seems to me to be the main point of objection to the Government system. We want to have more time and more opportunities for discussing and of expressing Scottish opinion for the guidance of Parliament on all these Scotch, questions.

MR. MCLEOD (Sutherland)

There is one point to which I desire to draw attention, and that is that we ought to have some inquiry into the whole of these questions. Whilst there is no one desires to understand the Lord Advocate more than I do, that what my honourable Friend has called his lucid explanation has left me in more doubt than ever as regards these financial dealings. It seems to me that the sooner we have an inquiry into the whole question such as we have been promised by several Governments, the sooner we shall come to understand where we are. I hope the Lord Advocate will, if he gets the opportunity, let us know whether he has yet made up his mind to recommend to the Government the necessity for this inquiry. Now, there is another point which I should like to refer to, and it is this: that the Treasury with their usual generosity towards Scotland professes to give us £93,000 or £94,000. Now, as a matter of fact, they have given at the same time some £6,000 in the Estimate of marine superintendence. Now, it seems to me that it would be a very much fairer, and certainly a more honest policy to make it perfectly plain that, in giving this sum to Scotland, that they were getting out of a certain payment for other purposes. I hope the right honourable Gentleman will give the matter of this inquiry his careful consideration.

Question put— That this Bill be now read a second time.

Agreed to.