HC Deb 21 July 1913 vol 55 cc1821-5

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

10.0 P.M.

The purpose of this Bill is to enable local authorities, when county boroughs are constituted or an extension of urban areas takes place, to make, financial adjustments as between themselves. It is founded upon the unanimous recommendation of a Joint Committee of the House of Lords and of the House of Commons. For sixteen years after the passing of the Local Government Act of 1888 no difficulty= was found in making these adjustments. They were made in accordance with regulations under that Act, but in two cases,. in the years 1904 and 1907, the House of Lords, sitting in their judicial capacity, entirely changed the practice with regard to awarding compensation for loss oil rateable value. The inequity and inconvenience caused by those decisions were very soon felt. I need not trouble the House with reciting all the difficulties that arose in consequence of those decisions, but it became absolutely necessary in the year 1911 to appoint the Joint Committee to which I have already referred to consider the whole question. Before the Joint Committee reported provision was made in Bills before Parliament that the principles of ascertaining those adjustments should be those recommended by the Joint Committee which had been appointed, and since then every Provisional Order Bill which dealt with financial adjustments has contained the provisions recommended by the Joint Committee. The present Bill is of a highly technical and complicated character, but I may just summarise its effect. As regards the proceeds of local taxation, licences and Estate Duty Grant, each area affected by the Bill is to receive the average amount of Grant paid in respect of the area during the last five years for Poor Law teachers,. pauper lunatics, public vaccinators, medical officers of health, inspectors of nuisances, registrars of births and deaths, and police,. and out of the balance the area is to receive the average amount of grant during the last five years for Poor Law officers, and half the average expenditure on main reads, and if roads have been improperly mained, or roads have not been mained which should have been, all that also will be taken into account. The residue will be. divided between the areas affected in proportion to their rateable value. The proceeds of what is known as the Whisky Money are to be divided between the areas, affected in proportion to their rateable. value and compensation for additional burdens caused by the alteration of area is to be given.That meets the claim for the loss of rateable value. The Bill has been drawn up in consultation with the representatives of the County Councils. Association, Municipal Corporations Association, and other bodies concerned, and I have every hope that it will satisfy the wishes of all parties.


May I ask does this Bill apply to Scotland? I believe that it does not. If so, what are the reasons for the exclusion of Scotland. I have representations from my county council and they are very desirous that it should apply to Scotland. Difficulties of a similar character to those in England exist in Scotland, and I understand that the Select Committee took evidence not only in England, but in Scotland also.


I am in a similar position. Certain Scottish councils desire that an effort should be made to have this Bill applied to Scotland. There may be a difficulty. I am not sure about the framework of the Bill, or whether the conditions.are exactly the same, but they are very anxious, if possible, that it should be applied to Scotland.


Have the small authorities or the associations representing them, the Urban Districts Councils Association or the Rural District Councils Association, agreed to this Bill, and is this Bill to go to a Grand Committee or to a Committee.of the Whole House?


In reply to the hon. Gentlemen from Scotland the Bill does not apply to Scotland. I am aware that representations have been made to Scottish Members on the subject, but it is found that there are some differences in the case of England and Scotland. This is a question which can be raised specifically in Committee, and I have no doubt that it will be considered. In answer to the first question of the hon. Member for Pontefract it is the case that the authorities representing the small areas have been consulted. In reply to his second question it is far more convenient, having regard to the period of the Session, that the Bill should be taken in Committee of the Whole House.


I do not propose to oppose this Bill. I assume that it is a good Bill when I find the Scottish Members asking for it, but I would point out that measures of this importance should be based on some general principle, and the idea of Committees upstairs considering and settling matters of this kind is all wrong. Surely a Bill of this importance ought to be introduced at the time when the House can apply itself to the consideration of its general principles, in order to ascertain whether they are reasonable or not! I rise more particularly because this is not the only Bill that we have to consider. The Government have accumulated during the Session a large number of Bills of importance, and they are allowing the House to adjourn at five, six, or seven o'clock at night, instead of finding time to bring these Bills forward at an hour and at a period of the Session when the House would be in a position to discuss and consider them. I protest against this practice and against these Bills being brought forward just at the end of the Session, when everybody is tired out. Here we have important Bills brought forward at ten o'clock at night, and I think that very few Members of the House are in a position to say whether they agree with its principles or not. It will really be passed without any discussion, but, if it had been brought in at the proper time, Members interested in the measure would have had an opportunity of consulting their constituents to see whether or not they agreed with its principle. I hope, in regard to those Bills which are hung up by the Government, that they will be allowed to stand over until next Session, instead of pressing them forward now, causing the House to indulge in legislation which will take up considerable time in subsequent Sessions either to repeal altogether or amend.

Colonel GREIG

I had representations made to me from my county also that they desire this Bill to apply to Scotland, but looking at Scotland it seems to me that it would be more feasible and businesslike to deal with the matter in a separate Bill for that country, because apparently it is a matter purely of machinery. I see the very first Clause of the. English Bill refers to an English Act which, I think, has no reference whatever to Scotland. A one-Clause Bill for Scotland could be discussed in a very short time, and I think it would be well if the right hon. Gentleman would ask the Scottish Office to look into the matter.


I agree with the hon. Member opposite that it is absurd to bring a Bill of this importance forward at this time of night, for I am certain that most Members of the House cannot be able to grasp the principles of the measure. I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman one question. This Bill, as far as I can make it out, alters the entire system of assigned revenues set up by the Act of 1868. So far as I can see, there is a change in the principle of the Act of 1888, which laid down quite clearly how the assigned revenues were to be divided between counties and county boroughs. It is a very important principle, in which a very important change has apparently been made by this Bill, brought forward for Second Reading at this time of night. I really think that we ought to have some further explanation from the hon. Gentleman. I only want to know that the Bill does not interfere with the principle laid down by the Act of 1888.

Bill read a second time, and committed to Committee of the Whole House for tomorrow (Tuesday).