HC Deb 08 June 1920 vol 130 cc327-50

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Captain W. BENN

I was expecting the promoters of the Bill to have favoured the House with some explanation in order that there should be a case to be answered. Was my hon. Friend going to speak?




The hon. and gallant Gentleman will have exhausted his right to speak.

Captain BENN

In that case I shall be bound to trouble the House with remarks opposing a Bill which has not been explained.


The Bill is brought in from the Lords. It has passed the Lords and come down. If there are any objections to be raised now is the time to raise objections. It is not usual to introduce with a speech a private Bill which has come from the other House.

Captain BENN

In that case I shall be bound, as I should have exhausted my right to speak, to adumbrate what I imagine to be the case which my hon. Friend (Mr. Graham) proposes to make in order to meet it. But certainly I should have preferred to hear what he had to say before I attempted to answer him. However, if the order of debate is to be so I will fall in with it and attempt to answer what I imagine his case is going to be. This is a Bill which proposes to extend the boundaries of the City of Edinburgh in order to take in a large and important commercial borough which has enjoyed a measure of independence for a hundred years, and the character of which is totally different from the city which is desirous of embracing it. The onus of proof lies on the promoters of the Bill. It is not to be assumed naturally that because one area is contiguous to another therefore the best interests of good government are served by joining them together under one common administration. Therefore I shall expect the hon. Member who I understand is in charge of the interests of the Bill to explain on what grounds it is that he is making this proposal that the administration of Leith should disappear and that the City of Edinburgh should take over the charge of the administration of the new area. It is perfectly clear that the Bill is not moved because it is alleged that there is any inefficiency in the administration of the borough which I have the honour to represent. Mr. Gladstone was Member for the borough at one time and he came of Leith stock. His father was born within the confines of the borough.


He never sat for it.

Captain BENN

He was elected for Leith.


He elected to sit for Edinburgh.

Captain BENN

He was elected and his father, Sir John Gladstone, was born in Leith. It is not alleged by the promoters—I gather my hon. Friend does not base his case on it—that Leith is inefficient. He could not, because the witnesses called by his own party in the investigation which has taken place into this case have admitted that it has been a well-managed borough. Bailie Cameron, one of the bailies of Edinburgh, in his evidence said: It has been a well-managed borough, and to-day Leith is an up-to-date borough. The late Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir John Lorne McLeod, who, I believe, was one of the most active promoters of the Bill, was asked, "Is Leith an efficiently administered borough?" to which his answer was, "Yes." As an educational area and in the matter of public health and in the matter of business Leith is an efficiently administered burgh. The general evidence from the mouths of the representatives of Edinburgh I have already given.

On the educational side I need only point out that this house only a year ago had to decide whether or not the burgh of Leith should be made a separate educational area, and it was decided that it should be. It was decided that Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Leith should be the five burghs in Scotland that were to be made separate educational areas. Very properly so, for the educational task of Leith is comparable with, indeed it is a bigger task than that of 22 of the 33 counties in the whole Kingdom. It may be asked, is the work efficiently done? The answer is that it is done at a less charge per head, although Leith has a very much larger child population than the neighbouring city. As regards results, in the last seven years Leith has doubled the number of children which it has sent to the higher grade schools. This is some evidence of the efficiency of the educational work which is done there. It may be asked, what about health? No doubt, my hon. Friend will have a great deal to tell us, in explaining the provisions of this Bill, about the desirability of enlarging the areas—I presume indefinitely, because I do not know what limits he proposes to set on the areas—in the interests of public health. In theory, the hon. Gentleman may make a wonderful case, but in practice we must ask what are the actual results, because the efficiency of the health administration is susceptible to tests. It must be tested by statistics, and judged by statistics some very surprising results are seen.

The birth rate of Leith is considerably higher than the birth rate in Edinburgh, namely, 23.4 as against 15.8. If you consider the mortality rate of infants under one year, which is a very good figure to take as a test of the sanitary conditions of a town, we find very remarkable results For Edinburgh the number of deaths is 124 per thousand, while the comparable figure in Leith is 107. These figures certainly do not suggest that a burgh where this excellent standard of health is maintained, and it is a standard which is admitted all over Scotland, is likely to gain in public health by amalgamating with a city where the comparable figures are not anything like so good. In the matter of housing, those who know the City of Edinburgh and the town of Leith, and know how crowded the districts are, might expect to find the conditions of overcrowding worse in Leith than in Edinburgh, but the figures given by the Edinburgh witnesses before the inquiry show that whereas in Leith 8.2 per cent. of the tenements were one room tenements, in Edinburgh 9.5 is the comparable figure. So that in regard to the general efficiency of the burgh, in regard to its educational administration, and in regard to the important matter of public health, Leith certainly has no reason to fear inquiry, and the state of affairs there provides absolutely no ground whatever for any approach to this House by the City of Edinburgh to extinguish the independence of this ancient burgh.

We live in days when finance is a very important question, and this House will expect public bodies to set an example of thrift and in the careful husbanding of their resources. Judged on these grounds Leith is a real shining example of efficient municipal management. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer were here he would be glad to know that Leith will be able to raise this year £200,000 for housing at 5 per cent., money raised locally, which certainly shows considerable confidence on the part of those who live in the burgh in the administration under which the burgh prospers. The debt charges of Leith, which are a very good test, compared with Edinburgh, are very favourable. It is not my business, and it would be very distasteful to criticise adversely or to attack Edinburgh in any way which is not absolutely necessary. I am only dealing with the proposals she is putting before the House, and if we make this comparison in regard to debt charge we find that the position of Leith is a very strong one, as one would expect who knows the personnel of the administration there and the strong spirit of patriotism which animates the citizens, to which I can testify as one who has the privilege of being its representative, although a stranger and a political refugee. If you take the capital directly and solely chargeable to the rates, Leith has a capital sum of 12s. 4d. per head as against a capital sum of £3 2s. 2d. per head in Edinburgh. I am speaking of the capital debt directly chargeable to the rates. The total local debt which includes every debt not directly and solely chargeable to the rates is in Leith £2 1s. 4d. per head as against £4 17s. per head in Edinburgh. When a burgh has managed its affairs, not carelessly and in a slip-shod way, but in such a way as to produce a condition that whether you look at education or housing or health it has administered its affairs with thrift, prudence, and in an extremely praiseworthy manner, it seems a very hard thing that the neighbouring city should come to this House and ask that the independence of that burgh should be extinguished. The proposal has been made before. It was made 24 years ago. When it was made before, Edinburgh put forward the plea that the loan charges for unremunerative undertakings were high in Leith compared with Edinburgh. The charges were then 5d. in Leith as compared with 2d. or 2¼d. in Edinburgh. That was in 1896. Leither was given her independence or, rather, it was restored or renewed. Renewed is the proper word.


indicated dissent.

Captain BENN

My hon. Friend is splitting hairs. He will have an opportunity of saying what he wishes to say later. He represents a burgh which pleaded to be left out of the Bill, and now, when that burgh has been left out of the Bill, I understand my hon. Friend is supporting the Bill. I did not see that he was supporting it earlier. In the previous amalgamation proposals, where as Leith had a charge for unremunerative undertakings of 5d., compared with Edinburgh's 2d., she has, since she had her independence continued, reduced the charge to 3d., while the Edinburgh charge has risen to 8d. That is an example, if ever there was an example, of careful management of local finances. That deals with the first point I desire to make, which is that this Bill cannot be based in any sense on the alleged deficiency of administration, either in the matter of services or in the matter of finance. I am at a disadvantage, because I do not know what my hon. Friend the Member for Central Edinburgh is going to say, and I shall not have any opportunity of replying when he has said it. I imagine that what he is going to say is something of this kind. He will say, "Look at the map. These districts are contiguous." He will say that the City of Edinburgh envelops the town of Leith on every side, and that, if you look at the map, you will see how extremely unreasonable it is that Leith should stand out for separate administration. The map is, I take it, the great argument, because in a statemenlt on behalf of the City of Edinburgh there is a map as supplement thereto on which the whole case is based.

It is true that on the land side the city of Edinburgh envelops the town of Leith, because Edinburgh with great foresight has come previously, and piece by piece acquired the land surrounding Leith. It may have been a very proper thing to do, but having done so it failed to develop the land which surrounds Leith, and it now produces a map which shows Leith entirely enveloped by Edinburgh, and claims on that basis, having failed to develop the land which it has got, to acquire this thriving and independent borough. Then my hon. Friend will say that the whole boundary of Leith is contiguous to the boundary of Edinburgh except on the sea-side, but he will omit to mention that the sea boundary of Leith is four miles long, and that the land boundary is four miles also. He might as well say that England entirely envelops Scotland except on the sea-side, because the land boundaries are contiguous. Then I take it that my hon. Friend will say, "It is very inconvenient that the electricity supply for the two districts should be divided. Why not have a joint supply?" and he may say that the charge for electricity in Leith is slightly higher than the charge for electricity in Edinburgh, but I hope he will go on to point out that neither Leith nor Edinburgh is to be the final unit for supplying electricity, but that under the Government proposals perhaps the whole South of Scotland will be made one area. Whether this Bill passes or whether, as I think much more likely, it does not, will not in the least affect the supply of electricity for these two districts, and as regards the slight additional charge I hope he will go on to explain that it is due to our superior thrift, as we are making a steady series of payments to redeem the capital outlay, and £3,000 was redeemed this year, while Edinburgh is spreading its repayments over a long series of years, which was extended by five years only a short time ago.

Perhaps my hon. Friend in pursuing his case for the Bill will refer to what is called the Pillory muddle. Hon. Members all know that the Pillory was the manor of the Balfours, the family referred to in Stevenson's book, and they will be interested to know that the present owners of the Manor of Pillory are opposing bitterly the proposals of Edinburgh. What is called the Pillory muddle, which will be advanced as one of the reasons for amalgamation, is that the trams come from Pillory to Edinburgh by the cable system, and from Leith by the electric system, and the result is that those who desire to make the through journey have to change cars at Pillory. So far from this being an argument in support of amalgamation, it is one of the most striking examples of the evils of amalgamation. I understand that running powers between the two districts are not only easily acquired, but that they can be compulsorily enforced under the Ministry of Transport Act of last year. But in 1896, when the last attempt was made by Edinburgh to annex Leith, this tramway was one of the points which were put forward, and if we had been defeated in 1896 we should have been committed to the very cable system which is now such a colossal failure in Edinburgh. The superior civic foresight of the citizens of Leith at least saved us from this, and I hope that when Edinburgh electrifies its trams the difficulty of the Pillory muddle will disappear by the through running of cars exactly in the same way as the L.C.C. runs cars to East and West Ham and into Middlesex and the other counties adjoining London.

Another point which I conceive will be invoked in support of the Bill is that the boundary running through houses does cause considerable inconvenience. In theory there is no harm in a boundary dividing. That is what boundaries exist for. Every boundary is compelled to go through some place. In equatorial forests there may be chiefs whose families are divided by the equator, so that some are in the northern hemisphere and some are in the southern hemisphere. In the late War I have seen camps in which men slept with their heads in Asia and their feet in Africa, and I never heard that advanced as a reason for amalgamating Asia and Africa. There is no point in this boundary argument unless it be based on the idea that it is a danger to public health. There is a point of substance in that, but instead of indulging in vague generalities and a priori arguments, a better thing is to examine the systems of the two bodies concerned. That I have done, and I hope that I have shown effectively that Leith, so far from being placed under the serious disadvantages which my hon. Friend will no doubt refer to in connection with boundaries, is in fact a model to burghs even in Scotland. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman will say about other burghs, but it is possible he may say there are many precedents for this proposal. I do not think he will find a single precedent for this proposal. He will find amalgamation of cities, with their dormitory districts adjoining. That of Dundee and Broughty Ferry is a case in point. People work in the City of Dundee and sleep in Broughty Ferry, and it is very proper that the dormitory should be brought in to share in the burdens of the city. But that is not a case in pari matéria with the annexation of an independent town by a large city. In the case of Glasgow and Partick and Govan there was a deal. Hon. Members for both these divisions are supporting me in my resistance. Then take Rutherglen, which opposed and succeeded in its opposition. So I challenge my hon. Friend to produce a case which is on all fours with the present proposal. There is no case. It is because this case is without precedent that this House has resolutely refused in the past to grant the extension of the independence of the burgh.

Perhaps my hon. Friend will say that Leith is the port of Edinburgh. I deny that. Leith is a seaport adjacent to Edinburgh. Two-thirds of the goods which enter the port of Leith have nothing whatever to do with Edinburgh and do not go to Edinburgh. Leith is the East Coast port of Scotland. Some figures were compiled twelve years ago by the Dock Commission and they showed quite clearly that the argument that Leith is the port of Edinburgh is a complete misstatement. The figures show that 68 per cent. of the goods that enter Leith go from it by rail, that 14 per cent. go by water, and that 18 per cent. are distributed locally, of which about two-thirds are distributed in Leith itself. Edinburgh in not an industrial centre in the same sense as Leith. Edinburgh is not primarily industrial at all. Edinburgh is the great capital of Scotland. As a former Lord Provost said, it is the centre of education, of banking, insurance, finance, medicine, surgery, and law, and he added: "It has important industries, but it is an industrial centre almost in spite of itself." I think that is a very fair statement of the case. The whole nature and spirit of Edinburgh is not industrial. On the other hand, the whole breath of life of Leith is industrial. What is going to be the fate of a comparatively small commercial centre which depends upon business management, and is run by business men, if it is to be absorbed by a great city with enormous tracts of agricultural land, and all the interests of the sciences and the arts as the prime interest of the city, and not commerce at all? For the total number of premises there are twice as many business premises in Leith as in Edinburgh—thirty to sixteen—and in working men's dwellings the number is again as two to one.

I suppose that the hon. Member who will attempt to make some case for this Bill will say that my sentiments do me great credit, but this is a matter of the natural expansion of a city as against purely local sentiment, which, however creditable and honourable, should not stand in the way of the growth of a great municipality. I suggest that the geographical position of this town has stamped it with a character utterly different from that of the adjacent city. Leith has always been the open door of Scotland. It has been the fulcrum for all foreign attacks on Scotland. In the 16th century it was the centre from which the French interest was operated against the Scotch. If hon. Members think that this is simply a Bill for extending the boundaries of a great city in order to take in the overflow of that city, they make a great mistake. It is nothing of the kind. It is a Bill designed to take in a burgh of a totally different kind with a great historical record. It was held in the days of Mary on behalf of the French interests, and she resided there. It was besieged by the English, and, as illustrating the historical continuity of the story, it is only a fortnight ago that a very large meeting was held and addresses given from a mound erected by the English in 1554 for the purpose of battering down the walls of the town. So far from being a suburb or overflow of Edinburgh, Leith has in the past stood out against Edinburgh, and in one happy year it absolutely amalgamated the city of Edinburgh by the capture of Edinburgh Castle. That was in 1573. Charles II. reviewed his troops on the Links at Leith. Cromwell was at Leith. There was a time in the reign of James I. when for a short period Leith was the de facto capital of Scotland, and I think hon. Members will agree that it is rather a tall order to propose to amalgamate it with Edinburgh. Sentiment and tradition have got a very great deal to do with the performances of to-day. Sentiment is one of the strongest springs of action at all times. Take the tradition of hospitality. An hon. Gentleman who cheers is, I remember, a native of Leith.


No, Edinburgh.

Captain BENN

But he has family connections with it, and I have no doubt he will be a filial supporter. Many monarchs have landed at the port of Leith. James V. and Mary Queen of Scots were amongst the number. George IV. landed at Leith, Queen Victoria landed there and was received by the Provost of Leith, the Provost of Edinburgh being too late, through some unfortunate accident, to attend the function.


Queen Victoria landed at Granton.

Captain BENN

I am speaking of the landing in 1842. I am glad to say that the hon. Member who has just interrupted is also a distinguished son of Leith, to whose support we confidently look forward. This glorious tradition of hospitality was, I am glad to say, suitably maintained during the War. Since the Armistice no less than 50,000 prisoners of war were received by the civic authorities at Leith. Day after day, in extremely inclement weather, those men, after their great sacrifices, were welcomed by the citizens of Leith, and if hon. Members had been present they would have been touched at the gratitude shown by those poor men who, for the first time for many years, were welcomed on their native shores. I submit that these traditions have been of value to this country and of service to our national cause. Take the tradition in the matter of industry. Leith has industrial traditions which, I submit, it would be great folly to destroy. There is, for instance, the tradition of shipping, which has nothing at all to do with an inland city like Edinburgh, but which is proper and appropriate in the case of Leith. The biggest ship of the Middle Ages was floated at Leith in 1511. The Scottish Navy was founded there, and some of the great names of the men of that Navy still survive in Leith. The tradition of shipbuilding has persisted from that day to this. James I. caused the Union flag to be flown for the first time in Leith in 1666. The spirit of independence and of industrial adventure has persisted throughout the ages. The first steamship to cross the Atlantic left from Leith and arrived at the other side a few hours in advance of the "Great Western." Leith has been visited by the great preachers of Scotland. As an illustration of its industrial spirit, I may mention that Leith sent a steam-engine called "The Perseverance" to compete with George Stephenson's "Rocket." Unfortunately, or fortunately, George Stephenson's was deemed to be the better engine. Leith also has an interest in aviation, as the first balloon flight in these islands was made in the town I have the honour to represent.

The House may say, these are matters of sentiment which should not be taken into account, but I ask why not? It may be said that they have no value, but go to the evening schools at Leith and you will find the same type of men engaged in teaching youths to build ships and how to engage in technical and engineering operations. You will find men who have come straight from the shipyards instructing the boys who will later on go into those yards. Is it right that such a town should be joined with a large agricultural area and a city in which seafaring and all that it means will count for very little? This shipbuilding enthusiasm and technical skill was of the greatest service to this country during the War. After the battle of Jutland some vessels came to Leith to be repaired. Leith was busy in shipbuilding during the whole of the War and there was hardly any sign of any dispute between masters and men. Leith has been a gallant and patriotic borough doing its duty and doing it effectively. Leith men were renowned for their execution at the battle of Bannockburn. I suppose Leith is the only Burgh in 9.0 P.M. the Kingdom that has received an ultimatum from the naval forces of America, as Paul Jones attacked Leith in 1779 and actually delivered an ultimatum to the Provost demanding that Leith should be surrendered. So throughout the whole story of the Napoleonic wars Leith was to the fore. The shipmasters of Newhaven volunteered and did themselves such credit that a special medal was awarded to them, and I believe is still worn, for the services which were then rendered. The War record in the late War of the Burgh of Leith will compare with that of any other burgh in the whole of the United Kingdom. When the tank came to Leith, in four days £21 per head of the population was raised, which was a very creditable record. In the rich city of Edinburgh in six days £14 per head was raised, which was also a good record, but not so good as that of Leith. Of the 15,000 men in this burgh who served, 11,000 went voluntarily, and in addition many thousands were employed by the shipyards and not allowed to go to the War, but 4,000 only were conscripted out of the 15,000 who served, and of those 15,000 every seventh man was killed. That is the carrying on of the great war-like tradition of this old and honourable burgh, and it should be no surprise after what I have said for the House to know that an enormous sum has been raised in a few weeks by the Provost—£35,000 in this small burgh—as a memorial for the gallant sons of the burgh who fell.

How can this House tolerate the suppression of this burgh merely on the ground of some geographical expansion, and not on the ground of real necessity? Lord Rosebery, speaking of this Bill, referred to it as the Prussianism—a much stronger word than I should care to use—of Edinburgh, and said: If Leith is willing to surrender her individuality and illustrious traditions as an historic city, she will deserve her fate. What advantage or honour Edinburgh expects to reap from annexing free communities strongly opposed to the absorption is a mystery. I would compare that utterance of Lord Rosebery with another, which says: I hear there is a petition to make Leith a Corporation distinct from Edinburgh, which request is so just that I hope it will be granted, that town having been under the greatest slavery I ever saw. That was a letter addressed by one of Cromwell's officers in 1652 to Speaker Lenthall, who was occupying the Chair of this House at the time, and so through the centuries one gets the admission of the independence of the burgh. The onus of proof in regard to this Bill lies with my hon. Friend who supports the Bill. He has got to show either that we do not manage the affairs of the town well, or that the need of Edinburgh is urgent, or he has got to show some good public ground before he can ask us to approve of the Bill. I may say here that I shall propose to follow the unbroken practice of this House, which is that, while ventilating the views of the House on Second Reading, they will permit any proposal by private promoters to be examined by the judicial machinery of this House. It is not from any want of confidence in the opinion of the House as being ripe for expression now that I shall not ask for a Division to-night, but, as my hon. Friend knows very well, it is an improper thing when private promoters bring forward a Bill for the issue to be settled here until it has been examined by a Committee.

I must remind my hon. Friend that Edinburgh has got to make a case. Can he say that there is any public demand in Edinburgh for the Bill? Has he ever had occasion to canvas the citizens of Edinburgh on behalf of the proposal? We have canvassed the citizens of Leith with the most startling results, and as far as I know there are many public men even in Edinburgh who take the view that it is not right to bludgeon Leith into a coercive union which she does not desire. Is there any real need of the City of Edinburgh for this expansion? Is her life being strangled or shut in, or confined in any way so as to make it impossible without this expansion? Of course, the hon. Member cannot answer that question. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh said that the trouble there was a stationary population, and a non-expanding assessable rental. That is not a reason for expansion. Because they have a non-expanding assessable rental and a stationary population, it is no reason why they should be acquired at the expense of Leith. In the same way one of their councillors—Councillor Stevenson—said: What I wish to emphasise is that the development of the district is not dependent on the inclusion of Leith. Therefore, the ordinary case for amalgamation, which is that they must expand in the interests of good government and the healthy life of the community, does not exist at all in this case. I do not want to speak harshly of any proposal made by the capital of Scotland, but I think it really arises from a scheme which might have been very proper before the War—a grandiose, ambitious scheme of expansion, with docks, coal mines, and so forth. They want to get docks, a seaboard, a coal field; they want to make the East of Scotland equal in influence and power in its co-ordination with the West. Those are laudable ambitions which in the ordinary way I should be the very last to oppose; on the contrary, I should be very sympathetic, but I put it to the House that this is not the moment, if there is no urgent public need, for framing ambitious schemes which must involve a very large expenditure of the ratepayers' money.

The Edinburgh City Chamberlain, in giving his evidence, said it would add considerably to the debt. As I have pointed out already, the loan charges for Edinburgh have increased by four times in the last 24 years, while those for Leith have decreased by two- fifths. I want to say this, not critically, but I must point out to the House that in the financial estimates which have been made by Edinburgh from time to time in promoting these Bills a considerable lack of precision has been displayed. The bridge which they said would cost £60,000 actually cost £213,000; the city hospital which they estimated at £130,000 actually cost £300,000. I have no complaint to make of that, but I say it should be considered by this House when the city comes forward with a great scheme of expansion and invites Leith to share in a new burden of outlay. Leith is a thrifty commercial burgh which does its work well, and which only asks to be permitted to go on in a frugal manner suited to the spirit and needs of the times. Since the last Bill was introduced in this House Edinburgh's common good has decreased from £400,000 to £311,000, while Leith's common good has increased by 100 per cent., from £16,000 to £32,000. This is a fingerpost which shows that the burgh is well and thriftily administered.

My hon. Friend may say, "Well, look at the rates." He may say that the rates of Leith are higher in the total aggregate than those of Edinburgh. I would remind the House that in this calculation many charges are omitted which might fall upon Edinburgh. There are also many of which the public will soon be relieved. For instance, there is the superannuation fund which represents 1½d. in the £1. This comes into the scheme which has been already agreed to. Then the endowment of the schools must be taken into account. There is an enormous debt of £2,000,000 which will have to be renewed in 1924, and which is not likely to be renewed at the same rate of interest. There is also a very important feature as affecting Leith. This is that the Leith debt is fixed for much shorter periods. That is characteristic of the affairs of business men when dealing with finance as against the easier way of a large city which is not necessarily of so businesslike a character. In the payment of Edinburgh's debt there would not be so great a relief. I would warn the House against an argument of that kind. During the War the development of trade on the east coast, and especially with regard to Leith, was temporarily arrested, but it is now being restored and raised gradually to what it was before, and the revenue from the docks in the form of contributions to the rate will also be restored. I suggest that this is not a moment for the House of Commons to consent to an ambitious scheme which is founded upon general principles without regard to the facts of the case. It has been shown that Leith has been remarkable for the thrifty management of its affairs and has reduced its debt charge. When a scheme like this is put forward, Leith, therefore, should be encouraged and not extinguished. Can the hon. Member quote any precedent for an independent burgh being treated in this way absolutely against the wishes, almost unanimously expressed by its citizens. In 1838, after two inquiries, the House conferred independence upon Leith. In 1896 its independence was attacked again by Edinburgh and the House decided in favour of Leith. It was given a separate education area, and in 1918 the Boundary Commissioners granted the separate Parliamentary burgh to Leith and declined to include it in the City of Edinburgh. The whole of the inhabitants are practically united in begging this House to agree that Leith shall not lose its independence. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, no!"] I can give the figures of the plébiscite that was taken on the Bill. In that poll 88 per cent. of the electors voted: 30,000 voted against amalgamation and only 5,000 in favour. I think that comes very near unanimity. Why should the wishes of the people who have done so well be ignored and suppressed in this Bill? I submit that there has been no case made out for the Bill. There is no precedent for the taking away of the independence of this historic burgh, which is of a different character from the city and should not be joined to it. I have shown that it has done well in administration, in commerce and in war, and in its own efficiency, and I think the wishes of the inhabitants should have due weight with the House.


I think I express the feeling of Scottish Members when I say that we regret to find ourselves in opposition to the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) with regard to a problem of this kind In the course of his speech he has geographically gone as far as the Equator and historically back to the 16th century. A large part of his speech was devoted to historical matter, and I think that will force many of us to the conclusion that the case of Leith is, partly at any rate, not going to be decided upon present-day facts. He quoted a long series of interesting incidents which had no particular reference to this Bill. I cannot hope as an inexperienced Member of this House to equal the hon. and gallant Gentleman either in his historical research or in the wit and power of his address to this assembly. But I submit that that was not directed to the purpose of this Bill, and cannot very well be dealt with in this Debate. What we have to do, I think, is to make a primâ facie case for the Second Reading of the Bill and for its reference to a Select Committee of the House. All the facts that he referred to, historical and geographical, are matters which may come before that Select Committee. Therefore I shall not attempt to reply to the numerous questions that he has put. Indeed, I had great hesitation in speaking at all, because the hon. and gallant Gentleman had apparently satisfied himself that he has gone over the points of the speech that might be made in reply to him, and consequently it is hardly necessary for me to say very much. But I want to try to describe in outline the main facts, as we see them in the City of Edinburgh, which we submit to the House in making this primâ facie case for sending the Bill to a Select Committee.

There is no suggestion of a predatory attack by Edinburgh upon Leith. We do not attack the administrative efficiency of the burgh. The whole case for this Bill is not a local case at all, but it is really a case based upon broad national considerations at the present time, and I think it says much for the capital of Scotland that it should have undertaken an enterprise of this nature immediately after the War, an enterprise which is destined to confer real benefit in the economic development of our native land. The Bill proposes to amalgamate with Edinburgh the burgh of Leith. It is a proposal by 320,000 people, approximately, to take in 85,000 people in an adjacent district. Really they are one community, and it is from that point of view that we regard this problem. It is proposed to take in also certain suburban areas of Midlothian. These are the two proposals. Originally some of them were not in favour of this measure. There were thirty-nine peti- tions of opposition. That opposition has now dwindled down to four petitions, and even in the burgh of Leith, the parish council of Leith have now no opposition, and the Trades and Labour Council, representing the working classes, has just passed a resolution in general support of the principle of the Bill. So that my hon. and gallant Friend, notwithstanding all the eloquence and historical research, and the undeniable wit and charm of his speech, if I may say so, has not correctly represented the state of feeling in the burgh. Division does exist, and we are entitled to plead that for the purpose of our Debate now. There is, beyond that, a point to which my hon. and gallant Friend has made no reference at all. He has absolutely failed to refer to the fact that the community of interests affecting 400,000 people—320,000 in Edinburgh and 80,000 in Leith—has already been recognised in the provision which has been made for the supply of gas and water in that area. Gas in the combined area of Edinburgh and Leith and water in the same area are regulated in their supply by what we call trusts. The Edinburgh and Leith Gas Commissioners and the Edinburgh and District Water Trust are composed in the main of representatives of the town council of Edinburgh and the town council of Leith, but, for all practical purposes—and this is the important and essential consideration—these trusts, which govern and control a very large part of the finance, of the provision for public needs in that area, are not directly responsible to either corporation. They exist as curious, separate entities, with power, more or less, in their own hands, and the effect of that system at the present time is to withdraw from the control of the Corporation of Edinburgh 85 per cent. of the expenditure in this matter of the supply of gas and water.

My hon. and gallant Friend has made a very strong point of the democratic case. I remember well, some years ago, a leading Scottish newspaper saying of a then distinguished Member of this House that he was "bonnie on democracy." I have been powerfully reminded of that phrase in many of the arguments which have been applied by my hon. and gallant Friend, but nobody in Edinburgh has ever suggested that these trusts are democratic institutions in the strict and fair sense of that term. We make no charge against their efficiency. We do not suggest they have failed in their duty, but we plead very strongly indeed that they are not amenable to the ratepayers of the locality, that they cover great interests affecting the lives of the ratepayers, and that direct access, direct representation, is the only thing which we can tolerate for such a purpose. The object of this Bill, if it succeeds, as we all agree it will succeed, will be to restore to the combined area of Edinburgh and Leith a municipal status, to wipe out the existence of these separate trusts, and really to achieve a great democratic principle. From that point of view we, and not my hon. and gallant Friend, are the real democrats in this matter. Not only that, but under this Bill there will be supplied water for a considerable section of the county area of Midlothian. I do not require to weary the House with any proof that such supply is urgently necessary. No one denies that it is required for rural development and the general progress of Midlothian. From the general point of view it is essential in that district. That proposal is a part of this Bill, and is at least in itself an argument why the case should be very carefully considered by a Select Committee. In these times of economy, we hear a great deal about the value of unifying administration, and I observe that my hon. and gallant Friend has made no reference at all to that side of the problem.

I confess that it would be difficult to imagine any case in this country where the immediate results of a Bill are so far-reaching as they are in the case of the Bill which the Edinburgh Corporation is now proposing. In the area as it exists at the present time we have no fewer than 15 separate administrative authorities. Under this Bill, the 15 separate authorities would be reduced to three. Not only that. We have 10 rating authorities in the district at the present time to be replaced, if this Bill is carried out, by two, and instead of 33 rating areas, we propose to establish one. There cannot be the slightest doubt that, from every point of view—from the point of view of economy in administration, from the point of view of the unification of the district which is really one—it would be difficult to cite any case which, at one blow, wipes out such a great network of administration of all kinds, and establishes a real gain to the community on the lines we propose. My hon. and gallant Friend has said nothing at all about that side of the problem in a period when we are all discussing the value of efficiency in administration, and the supreme need of wiping out every form of unnecessary expenditure in the State.

I am bound, in plain duty to the great city we have the honour to represent, to make what case I can. My hon. and gallant Friend referred to precedent. We are as proud of Leith as Leith is proud of Edinburgh; there is no conflict at all on that point. But if we were to adopt the hon. and gallant Gentleman's principle, it would follow that no communities could ever be amalgamated, or, at all events, that would be the almost inevitable effect of the general adoption of such a principle. We do not require to dig away to the 16th century, or to ascertain how any king or queen landed, for this part of our discussion. We can take the year 1912 or 1913, when Glasgow took in the burghs of Govan and Partick with 89,000 people in the one case and 66,000 people in the other. There is also the case. in 1913, of Dundee and Broughty Ferry, and there is the case, of approximately the same date, of Dunfermline. I think I am correct in saying in all those cases there was opposition, but the thing which overrode the sentiment and the feeling, and the justifiable attitude of large numbers of people in those localities, was the undeniable public gain which was to be achieved by the adoption of a scheme of amalgamation. It is entirely on that ground that we present our case to-night. Beyond that, we submit that this Bill is demanded by the course of the Government's legislation in at least four spheres, namely, the spheres of housing, transport, electricity, and public health. Housing demands more and more larger areas, and Leith is incapable of expansion in any direction save out into the sea. Housing demands it. In the sphere of transport, to which my hon. Friend has referred, the experts tell us that we depend upon a continuous expansion of the trams, and the avoidance of all short disconnected lines such as are inevitably bound up with the artificial separation of these two communities. I need not emphasise from the point of view of the Electricity Bill the importance of the larger areas. The whole spirit, the whole tendency of that Bill, is in the direction of larger areas of supply and of providing for the needs of a greater number of people and for a variety of industries and interest. That is precisely what we propose to do with the electrical plant in the city of Edinburgh now; indeed, to confer all the advantages of our foresight, our thrift, and our enterprise upon 80,000 of our neighbours—if they will only give us the chance. These things are bound up in this Bill. A greater case of benevolent interference seems to me absolutely impossible to describe.

In conclusion, reference has been made to the democratic principle. My hon. and gallant friend has referred to the plebiscite. There is no doubt whatever that we must pay a tribute to the natural and justifiable sentiment of the people of Leith. I have said sufficient already to show that we are actuated by no animosity towards them; but at the present day economics and general political tendencies dictate the course which we are adopting in this Bill. Sentiment perishes every hour in our lives, and we require to make way for unity. In point of fact, we are really trying to provide an environment better and more up-to-date for that very sentiment upon which my hon and gallant Friend has expended so much eloquence to-night. The plebiscite undeniably was against amalgamation; but we must remember this was not a ballot of the people, but a plebiscite taken by people who are opposed to amalgamation. We have had no secret or private ballot on the usual lines so far as the ratepayers of Leith are concerned. Not only that, but, as I have already emphasised, the Parish Council of Leith is not opposing this Bill, and the Leith Trades and Labour Council, representing the organised labour of that burgh, has handed to us a statement which I need not read, but which is in support of the measure we are now discussing. The democratic principle! But is it unfair to argue in this Debate that we must have regard to the interest of this district as a whole? In the district of Edinburgh and Leith there are approximately 400,000 people. There is a very much larger number of people if we take into account the Midlothian area. I am perfectly safe in saying to my hon. and gallant Friend that the over- whelming majority of the people in that district are in favour of amalgamation. They believe amalgamation is necessary, not merely from the point of view of the economic development of the district, but because they think—and, I believe, rightly think—that the whole prosperity of the two communities, and not least Leith, and certainly the Firth of Forth, is bound up in this measure. The wishes of 400,000 people, or a very large majority of the 400,000, are surely entitled in a democratic age to override even the just and fair sentiment of one section of that community, which is really now united, but which holds out so far against this proposal. That is the case on which we base our defence of the democratic principle in Edinburgh, at all events, and in the wide area surrounding. I need only emphasise, in conclusion—and this is really our strongest point—that the reference to a Select Committee for this Bill is necessary, not merely for Leith, not merely for Edinburgh, not merely for the development of the Firth of Forth, but it is absolutely necessary for Scotland itself. Time and again in our experience we have felt that if we had a united community, we, on the East Coast of Scotland, could play a very much larger and very much more useful part in the economic relations with other countries than we can play if we remain artificially divided as we are to-day. On these lines, and with great respect, I submit that we have proved our case for a reference to Select Committee, and for the Second Reading of this Bill. I understand from my hon. and gallant Friend, in his almost expiring remarks, that he does not propose to risk a Division on this occasion.


What impels me to get up at this comparatively late hour to speak on a subject which I feel cannot be of vast interest to the bulk of this House, but which is of great interest to us, is that I am not only a Member of one of the Divisions of Edinburgh, whose citizens have honoured me with their confidence, but I was also born and bred a citizen of Edinburgh, and am of Leith extraction. I do not propose to follow my hon. and gallant Friend, who, with that magnamity which marks the English race, has offered the services of his intellect and wit to our less enlightened citizens of the North. I do not propose to follow him into his historical re- searches, for some of them seemed to me to be quite irrelevant to the case at issue. I think many of the excellent points he made, from his point of view, were very adequately answered by my hon. Friend and Colleague the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham). I want to say this: it seems to me that the hon. and gallant Member for Leith made a great deal of the matter of sentiment, and I should like just for a few moments to deal with the question of sentiment from the point of view of common sense kindled by local patriotism. Having these two relationships with Edinburgh and Leith, I should like to put it from that point of view. What we have got to look beyond is any little temporary difficulties and differences, to the expansion and ultimate good to be derived by the two neighbourhoods. I yield to no one in my admiration for all that Leith is and all that Leith has stood for in the past, and for the possibilities of Leith. But if Leith is going to cut itself deliberately off from the expansion of its larger neighbours and friends in Edinburgh, it is going to do itself a bad turn. It would suffer much more than Edinburgh. But I should like to see both of them acting together in a spirit of good fellowship, which is really apart from such political controversies as this has always marked the two.

Just one practical point of illustration. My hon. and gallant Friend talked about the marvellous response that Leith had made in contributing towards the war memorial. But all the neighbours in Edinburgh were circularised to contribute towards that memorial. I say that out of no hostility to Leith, but to prove that we had both one common interest in one common sentiment, and that when it comes to such a solemn matter as honouring our gallant dead, we are prepared to work together. I contend on the sentimental question that this is a factious opposition which has been worked up by those working to the disinterest of Leith, and it is not in the interests of Edinburgh. I think we ought to make up our domestic quarrels, and cement a union which is not only geographical, and incidentally I would like to say, if I am permitted, that I would be prepared to bet my hon. and gallant Friend—[HON MEMBERS: "Order!"] that I could put him down in a place on the borders, and he would not know whether he was in Leith or Edinburgh, the two are absolutely geographically bound together It is only in administration that there is separation. The sentiment of the two places is bound up together, their interests are one, and in the interests of the development of that great industrial centre in Edinburgh, we feel that we must take the two together to produce what will be a worthy capital of Scotland as a centre of development in all respects, both commercial, educational, literary, and artistic. By that means we are going to secure what appeals to all Scotsmen, a practical saving in cutting down by about one-half the expenses of administration. For these reasons I intervene to say that, as one qualified to speak for both parties interested, I think the best sense of both communities is that they should work out, not only their own salvation, but their development together.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.