HC Deb 30 July 1913 vol 56 cc686-93

In the application of this Act to Scotland—

"(1) In lieu of reference to the Local Government Act, 1888, and the specified Sections thereof, there shall be substituted reference to the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1889, and Sections 50 and 51 thereof, and to the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1894, and Section 46 thereof;

(2) In lieu of reference to the Local Government Board there shall be substituted reference to the Secretary for Scotland;

(3) Sub-section (1) (a) of Section I, Part I., and the proviso to paragraph 1 and paragraph 3 of Part II. of the Schedule, shall not apply."

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time.''

The Scottish question was fully gone into by the Committee equally with the case in England, and the Committee pointed out that the case in Scotland presented fewer difficulties than the case in England. The Exchequer contributions do not enter into the question and in the case of the two most important burghs, Edinburgh and Glasgow, contributions under statute are made towards the upkeep of the road and so forth. Since then there has been an adjustment of boundaries as between Glasgow and the county, upon the basis of the recommendations of the Committee. I think that the Bill is just as much in the interests of burghs as of counties. There is great difficulty in getting an extension of burgh boundaries, as I have found quite recently in the case of my own municipality, and the difficulty is very general in Scotland. Though the difficulties will continue I think there is an equitable basis of arrangement. The proposal to extend the Bill has been supported by the County Councils Association of Scotland. Some opposition has been offered to it by the Convention of Burghs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, Hear."] That is quite true. On the other hand I believe it will be found that a good many burghs are in favour of it. I speak as the Provost of the burgh. I do not know any other hon. Member that can do that.

I certainly say without any hesitation that it would be to the interest of the burghs if extensions of the boundaries were facilitated by the extension of these proposals to Scotland. So long as no equitable basis for extension is provided so long will counties oppose every extension of borough boundaries. Opposition in many cases is successful, and it usually costs a great deal of trouble and money. I will not labour the question because a statement of the case has been admirably put forward by the Secretary of the Association of County Councils. I may add that not only in the case of Glasgow but also in the case of Dundee the basis of the Report of this Committee was accepted. I do not know what reasons can be urged against it except that certain burghs are opposed to it. I see no logical, and, what is more important, no practical grounds, on which an extension of this Act can be referred to Scotland. The whole of the question has been exhaustively considered by the Joint Select Committee, and since the Committee have pointed out that the application of these proposals is more easy in the case of Scotland than of England. I certainly hope that no opposition will be given to this proposal; that the time of the Committee will not be thrown away, and that this advantage will be given to Scotland.


I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that we most distinctly need in Scotland some arrangement of an equitable kind for adjusting the differences between those concerned in the case of boroughs applying for extensions. As a chief magistrate I have had a good deal of experience. Opposition on the part of the counties has brought many burghs to Parliament at great expense. There is the recent case of Stirling which cost thousands of pounds. They did not succeed in the end largely owing to the fact that there was really no visible means of adjusting the differences with regard to voting and financial responsibilities. My name is down as a supporter of the Clause, and I have received a letter from the Town Clerk of one of my chief burghs asking me to vote against the Clause. I have replied that I could not do so, as I thought the proposal a perfectly proper one. As to Glasgow and Dundee, the Report of the Committee was acted upon. Extensions would be very much more readily secured in future if a basis of this kind were made; if the rule were quite consistently applied in cases of extension. I am informed, I do not know with what truth, that the Scottish Office thinks that if a Bill of this kind is passed there ought to be a separate measure applying to Scotland. I do not know whether that is true, but perhaps the Secretary for Scotland would tell us later on. I think the burghs of Scotland are extremely ill advised in not availing of the opportunity now. It is all very well to talk about a separate Bill, but it is very difficult to get a Bill through this House, and in my opinion they are making a great mistake in not availing of this opportunity to have this matter settled now.


I support this Clause. I think it is very unfortunate that Scotland should be excluded from this Bill after a Joint Committee, having in its reference a specific question as to Scotland and having a Scottish member upon it, brought in a report covering Scotland as well as England and Wales. Upon that report this Bill is founded. The report is very lucid and comprehensive and it specifically states and shows conclusively that not only do defects exist in Scotland, but that they could be redressed as easily and simply as the defects in England and Wales. I should like to know what the Secretary for Scotland was thinking of when he allowed the President of the Local Government Board to bring in a Bill redressing evils in England and Wales and leaving Scotland out. We, do not require a separate Bill for everything in Scotland. When the differences are so great and the terminology is so different that it is impossible to adjust evils in Scotland in the same Clauses that adjust evils in England and Wales, then I believe in having a separate Bill for Scotland; but in this case the report shows that the difficulties are just as great in Scotland and could be easily remedied. The remedy laid down in this Report applies equally to Scotland as to England.

12.0 M.

If the grievances of Scotland can be remedied by the same Bill as those of England I see no valid reason why Scotland should be excluded. It is said the burghs have not had time to consider the question. The Report was brought in in August, 1911; it has been circulated in Scotland and published in Scotland and the Lord Advocate committed himself to it and expressed the opinion that if the views of the Committee should be made statutory for England they should without doubt be made statutory for Scotland. Not only is that so, but I asked the Secretary for Scotland nearly three weeks ago whether he would bring in a separate Bill for Scotland or if he would extend this Bill to Scotland, and he said he would consider the question. Here we have a Report issued two years ago, and we have had this question discussed in the Press and raised by questions in the House, yet we are told the burghs have not had time to consider it. Evidence for the Royal burghs was given before the Committee, the County Councils Association gave evidence, and the whole thing happened two years ago. Yet we are told they require more time. What chance is there of getting any legislation at all in such circumstances? I think this a very serious thing for Scotland. The Report simply establishes a formula by which financial differences will be adjusted when the boroughs extend their boundaries.


I do not oppose this as an English Bill, but I desire to place one or two considerations before the Committee which seem conclusive against the suggestion that this Bill should apply to Scotland. Apart from the merits of the question, I really think that this method of legislation for Scotland is highly objectionable and scarcely a decent method. You introduce an English Bill and after it has been some time before the House a proposal is made that it shall apply to Scotland with certain modifications. I have never seen a worse case than this. It consists of 153 lines and the proposal is that about forty of them should apply to Scotland. That from any point of view is a highly undesirable method of legislating in the interests of Scotland, more especially when we remember that there is a separate Bill dealing with Scotland before the House. The burghs in Scotland have had no opportunity of considering this particular Bill. It is idle to refer to the Report of the Commission two years ago, before which Scottish evidence was given. This was a purely English Bill until four or five days ago and the result is that no burgh in Scotland has had the opportunity of bringing this Bill before the local town council and asking whether or not they think it is desirable to apply it to Scotland.

I do not believe that a single town council has had that opportunity, and, in these circumstances, and looking to the enormous importance and complexity of the subject Which is dealt with and involved in the provisions of this Bill, I for one, quite apart from the merits of the Bill, will certainly resist any proposal to apply the measure to Scotland, and, if this Amendment goes to a Division, I shall vote against it.

Colonel GREIG

I am quite in favour of this Amendment, because those who are interested from the point of view of county government, are desirous that the principles of this English Bill should also be adopted for Scotland. I quite admit that it is not a very draftsmanlike way of dealing with the matter, and that it would be a piece of Chinese legislation, but rather than not have it apply to Scotland I would have it done in this way. There is, however, actually a Bill on the Order Paper for Scotland alone for this particular purpose. It is a very much shorter Bill than the English Bill, and I would suggest, as a matter of compromise, that that Bill should be given a Second Reading, made a Government Order, and sent to a Scottish Grand Committee where the burghs could be heard. It could then be dealt with before the end of the Session. If we are tacked on to the end of the English Bill, I am afraid that there will be difficulties for us. I therefore make that suggestion as the most workmanlike way of dealing with the matter.


I feel sure that the Scottish Members are unanimous in not wishing to injure the English Bill in any way, but there is a good deal Of dissension among them with regard to this sudden proposal to add to an English Bill dealing with local administration a Clause dealing with local administraton in Scotland. It was only put down this morning and I only heard of it this afternoon, and I have had no opportunity of consulting the burghs of my Constituency in regard to it. I therefore think that we ought to get an assurance from the Secretary for Scotland that he will use his best endeavours with the Prime Minister to allow us to get the Second Reading of the Scottish Bill dealing with this very question either to-night or in the near future.

The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. McKinnon Wood)

I think that the argument that has been used against introducing in an English Bill at the eleventh hour a Clause applicable to Scotland is one rather difficult to answer. I would point out that to apply this Bill to Scotland even by the methods of the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Stirlingshire means that you take out of it three pages out of the four. This shows that the application to Scotland of this English Bill is not a very pretty piece of legislation. It is quite clear that the circumstances of Scotland and England differ so much that it is not fair to the Scottish burghs to treat them with surprise, as my hon. Friend has done, seeing that he only put down his Amendment yesterday.


The Bill itself has been on the Paper four or five days.


I have received telegrams from several Royal burghs, and from an important city like Edinburgh, protesting against this Bill being applied to Scotland. The hon. Member for Ayr Burghs says his own burgh—of which he has been chief magistrate—objects.


No, the burgh I have the honour to represent—Ayr.


That ought to be a quite sufficient argument. It is true no adequate notice has been given of the intention to apply this Bill to Scotland. I congratulate the President of the Local Government Board for England on having secured unanimity on his Bill. But we have no such unanimity in Scotland. The Members for the counties are supporting it, but the representatives of the burghs are not satisfied, and until we have something approaching unanimity I do not think it would be fair to force its provisions upon them by surprise.


It is said it is unfair to spring this proposal on the Scottish burghs at the eleventh hour, but is it not still more unfair that the discussion of Scottish matters should be delayed until so late in the Session, and that in the early days of the Session the affairs of Scotland are so totally overlooked? They ought not to be ignored in that way, and it certainly is not our fault that this proposal is brought forward at so to speak the eleventh hour.


I had hoped that when the Secretary for Scotland spoke he would have given some indication of his intentions to follow in the footsteps of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board for England.


Oh, yes, I will follow in the footsteps of my right hon. Friend, and when there is agreement in Scotland I will introduce a Bill.


When the right hon. Gentleman has shown himself as desirous as the President of the Local Government Board in trying to bring about an understanding, and as competent in taking the initiative we shall have some confidence that that understanding will be come to. But meantime under the circumstances I cannot see my way to withdraw my Amendment and I must press it to a Division.


I wish to raise a point of Order. Can you accept this Clause? This Bill, as read a second time, was a purely English Bill; there has been no Second Reading of any proposal that it should be made to apply to Scotland. I submit, with all respect, that Mr. Speaker will, when this Bill goes back to the House, have to carefully consider it in the light of his ruling on this point; he will have to consider whether this extension is covered by the Second Reading of the original Bill.


I think there is very good reason for taking care not to wreck this Bill on the Committee stage. In reply to the point of Order, I have to say that the title of tie Bill is a general one, but I had great doubts myself when I saw the Amendment on the Paper. It begins by offering in the second line of the Bill its adaptation to Scotland, and it is almost the introduction of a new Bill alongside the English Bill; still, I did not see sufficient ground for saying it was out of Order.


I would suggest to the right hon. Member for Leith that as the Secretary for Scotland realises the importance of this question, and has promised, so soon as agreement has been obtained in Scotland as in England, that he will introduce a Bill, it would be well to withdraw the Amendment.


I wish to join with the hon. Baronet opposite in his appeal. In this matter we were supported by the Scotch counties, and I should be extremely sorry to be obliged to vote against anything which represented what the Scotch counties ask for. In view of the fact that, rightly or wrongly, this proposal is not at present acquiesced in on all sides in Scotland, we are wishful that the matter should be allowed to stand where it is, and we are anxious in England to stand by our Scotch friends in order to get some agreement arrived at in Scotland, and I hope the Amendment will not be pressed to a Division.


I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the third time, and passed.