HC Deb 06 August 1913 vol 56 cc1687-93

(1) A school board or a parish council shall account for and pay annually to the district board in respect of each defective for whom they are responsible as the local authority concerned, and who is placed by them respectively in an institution for defectives or under guardianship, with consent of parents or guardians, or is so placed by order under this Act, all contributions received by them (whether under an order or otherwise) in respect of the defective from the defective or his parent or guardian, or otherwise on his account; and shall also pay annually to the district board in respect of each defective as aforesaid a sum equally as nearly as may be to one-half of the cost of maintenance as hereinafter defined; and such last-mentioned payment shall be charged to the school fund or the poor rate as the case may be. Such payments shall be made by periodical instalments or otherwise in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Board.

(2) The balance of the cost of maintenance, and the expense of providing the institution as hereinafter defined, shall be paid by the district board in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Board, and such payments shall be charged to the assessment authorised to be levied by the district board under the Lunacy Acts and this Act.

(3) In this section the expression "cost of maintenance" means the annual expense incurred in maintaining a defective of the class dealt with, at rates fixed with approval of the Board, in an institution for defectives or under guardianship, as the case may be, including the expense of certification and (where required) of obtaining a judicial order, and the expense of conveying the defective to or from an institution or to or from guardianship (but not including the expense of providing the institution) after deducting all contributions as aforesaid made in respect of the defective by the defective or his parent or guardian, or otherwise on his account, or out, of moneys provided by Parliament; and the expression "expense of providing the institution" means, in the case of an institution for defectives provided by the district board, the like expenses in relation to such institution as are specified in Section 54 of the Lunacy (Scotland) Act, 1857, in relation to a district asylum, and means, in the case of an institution which is not provided by the district board, such payment for each defective of the class dealt with in respect of the like expenses as the Board may approve with consent of the managers of the institution.

(4) Nothing in this Section contained shall require or authorise a school board, parish council, or district board to incur any liability or make any payment in respect of a defective placed or to be placed in an institution or under guardianship by order under this Act, where the defective or any person on his behalf is willing to incur such liability or make such payment.

Amendments made: In Sub-Section (1) leave out the words "for and pay" ["parish council shall account for and pay annually"].

In Sub-Section (1) after the word "Act" ["is so placed by order under this Act"] insert the word "for."

In Sub-Section (2) leave out the words "to be levied by the district board."— [Mr. McKinnon Wood.]


I beg to move at the end of Sub-section (4) to add:—

"Provided that any expenses incurred by a district board of control or a parish council or a school board in the exercise of their powers under this Act for purposes other than the fulfilment of their obligations under this Act shall not in any one year exceed an amount equal to that which would be produced by a rate of one halfpenny in the pound on the property liable to be assessed for the purpose as assessed for the time being for the purposes of that, rate."

The position stands thus: there was some discussion about this matter in Committee upstairs, and although the Amendment I now propose was not brought forward, it was suggested that the Scottish ratepayers should have the same protection that English ratepayers have. The hon. Member for Midlothian had an Amendment on the Paper to the effect that local authorities, so far as maintenance was concerned, should not be required to provide more than one-half the amount, the State having to provide the other half, and that Amendment was accepted by the Government. Subsequently the right hon. Gentleman, when discussion as to capital expenditure came up, agreed that the Government should pay half the expenditure, so far as it was obligatory upon local authorities, not only in regard to maintenance, as my hon. Friend had proposed, but also to capital expenditure, and I agree that the Amendment he moved on Clause 26 carries that out. In addition to the protection given in the English Bill, that local authorities should not be bound to pay more than an equal sum to the Government's contribution, there was inserted in Clause 32 a proviso to the effect that local authorities, in the exercise of the powers which they had, as distinct from fulfilling the obligations they were under, should not be required to contribute more than the amount of a halfpenny rate. Several attempts were made to ascertain what the probable cost was likely to be to the ratepayers in carrying out this Act. Figures were given by Members on the Government side as to the probable cost, and I think some suggestion was made by the right hon. Gentleman that he would endeavour to ascertain in some way what the estimated cost was. We have not yet had the figures, but I cannot see why, if the English ratepayers are not to be subject to a higher rate than a halfpenny in the £, so far as the optional as distinct from the obligatory powers of the local authorities are concerned, the Scottish ratepayer should not have the same benefit.

2.0 A.M.

I cannot understand why that should not be done. The reason I am making my Amendment is in order to ensure that the Scotch ratepayer shall not be liable to have a higher rate put upon him than the English ratepayer is. I want to know why the Scotch ratepayer is not to have protection similar to that given to the English rate-payer. We in Scotland have three rating authorities—namely, the District Board of Control, the Parish Council, and the School Board, and my Amendment proposes that none of these three bodies shall be entitled to impose upon the ratepayers a higher rate than a halfpenny in the pound in order to discharge the expenses which may be caused by the rating authority exercising a power, as distinguished from discharging an obligation. Why that limitation should not be given in favour of Scottish ratepayers, as it has been given already in favour of English rate-payers, I do not know. I quite see that the Amendment I am proposing may be open to the construction that it may allow three halfpennies to be levied on the Scottish ratepayer, but even that would be some limitation. It may, that is to say, allow the District Board to put on a half-penny, the Parish Council to put on a halfpenny, and the School Board to put on a halfpenny. But even that, as I have already indicated, might be some limitation, because though definite figures are not forthcoming, the figures put forward in Grand Committee upstairs by Members sitting on the Government side went to show that if these optional powers were to be exercised so as to make this a really workable Bill, the rates might run up to threepence, fourpence, or even fivepence in the pound.

It is out of the question, I submit, that the ratepayers of Scotland should be made liable for such a burden as that unlimited charge would put upon them. I have no hope, I confess, of carrying the Amendment, but I want to have it on record that the Government's attention was distinctly called to the matter, not only upstairs in Grand Committee, but in the House during such consideration of the Bill on Report as we are able to give it at this hour of the morning. I would not for a moment like it to be thought that the Bill was passed without that matter being placed before the Government. I want also to hear the reason why the Government consider it necessary to protect the English ratepayer by putting on this limitation that not more than a halfpenny in the pound is to be imposed for the purpose of these optional charges. The Government, so far as Scottish ratepayers are concerned, do not consider it necessary to have that limiting provision. According to my information which, I say again, I have derived almost entirely from the supporters of the Government, the rate required to carry out the Bill, if it is to be made properly workable, will be very much higher than a halfpenny rate. What justification is there for the Government putting the English ratepayer in a protected position and refusing the Scottish ratepayer a similar measure of protection?


I beg to second the Amendment.


I would remind the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite that it is not very safe to draw comparisons between the English Bill and the Scotch Bill in reference to financial questions, because the system of administration provided in the Scotch Bill is quite different from that in the English Bill. Moreover, let me say that the system laid down under the Scotch Bill has been approved by the Grand Committee upstairs largely composed of Members from Scotland and also by the local authorities in Scotland. We are making less change in the system of Government than is proposed in the English Bill. The fact that we are dealing here with hundreds of authorities—900 parish councils and school boards—renders it extremely difficult to carry out such an operation as the hon. and learned Gentleman proposes. Nor do. I think that anybody who believes in local government and is prepared to trust the local authorities will consider it at all necessary to adopt a limitation like that proposed in the Amendment. The local authorities are directly responsible to the ratepayers, and I cannot see any necessity for restricting their actions as the Amendment would do, whilst I think also that it is not desirable from the point of view of the local authorities themselves. A very important deputation from the local authorities who saw me expressed their views on the subject, and I would point out that in the Amendment which I have put down to Clause 35 there is very complete protection for local authorities. These authorities really are not compelled to spend more than they think right, and there is the proviso that there is no obligation on them of any kind, unless they receive half the amount from the Treasury. That is quite a sufficient protection. It would not be possible, without complicating the finance of the Bill unduly, to put in this provision, and I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not press the Amendment.


I will not press the Amendment to the extent of dividing the House upon it, but I do desire to point out that every one of the arguments the right hon. Gentleman has used is equally applicable to England, and it is no novelty at all to limit the power of assessment, even so far as optional measures are concerned. Therefore, while I will not press the Amendment to a Division, I cannot say that I am convinced by what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman.


Perhaps I may be allowed to say that there is this great difference which, from an administrative point of view, is of considerable importance. In England we are setting up new authorities to deal specially with this subject, but in Scotland the authorities which will deal with the defectives are the authorities which are already dealing with the lunatics, the idiots, and the imbeciles, as well as those who are feebleminded. In these circumstances it might easily be profitable in certain cases for a local authority to spend more than the proceeds of a half-penny rate, because merely by transferring an obligation they may actually be lessening the cost of the total obligation.

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and negatived.