HC Deb 25 November 1926 vol 200 cc584-95

Notwithstanding anything in any enactment relating to the levying of a rate in a Royal or Parliamentary burgh the police rate in a Royal or Parliamentary burgh shall be payable by owners and occupiers in equal proportions.—[Mr. Westwood.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

Scottish Members who have been associated with local administration will understand that the total cost of the police in the Royal and Parliamentary Burghs of Scotland is borne by the borough general assessment, which is an occupiers' assessment, with the result that the cost of the police is borne entirely by the occupiers. The purpose of this Clause is to levy the rate for police purposes equally on owners and occupiers. While I am prepared to admit that the police do look after the lives of people, and sometimes look after personal liberty, I beg to submit that they are chiefly occupied in defending property and looking after property and, for the life of me, I cannot see why the tenant should have to pay for the cost of protecting the owners' property. Several burghs in Scotland have passed Resolutions in favour of this rate being borne equally by the owner and the tenant. In my own constituency, the Royal Burgh of Peebles unanimously passed a Resolution in favour of this course, and I understand that a Royal burgh represented by the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) was really, shall I say, the instigator in getting other Royal burghs to pass Resolutions in favour of this scheme.

I hope the Lord Advocate will be as reasonable in this matter as he was in regard to the suggestion made by education authorities. I approached him on both these subjects, and want to say, here and now, that he was very courteous, and met me in every way possible, with the exception of giving way—though he has given way on the first suggestion I made, it was not in exactly the way that I proposed. I sincerely hope the Lord Advocate will agree to accept this new Clause, which would bring about the equalisation of rating for police purposes. I know that one of the arguments he will use—at least I am expecting it—is that it will create an anomaly, because in police burghs, which have control of their own police, the system in operation since 1889 will continue. If it be wrong in the case of the Royal and Parliamentary burghs—and I submit it is—for the rate to he borne entirely by the occupiers, it is equally wrong so far as the police burghs are concerned, and the Lord Advocate can rest assured that we on this side of the. House will place no obstacles in the way of having equalisation of rates for police purposes in the police burghs as well.


I beg to second the Motion.

No matter what happens there will be an anomaly here. In the counties the owners pay their share of the police rate equally with the occupiers and the Government give a 50 per cent. grant. In the Royal and Parliamentary burghs the owners get off scot free, subject to the fact that they pay some Imperial taxation, and, through that Imperial taxation, contribute towards the State grant for the maintenance of the police. On this one occasion I can agree to support my hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Mr. Westwood), and I trust that when the Lord Advocate sees he is opposed by a united front he will concede what we are asking.


I regret that in spite of the blandishments of my hon. Friends I am unable to accept this Clause. They themselves admit that even if it were accepted there would still be anomalies, and it is material therefore to see what would be involved by accepting the Clause. May I first point out that there is no separate police rate at all in Scotland. The expenses of the police are included in the burgh general assessment, and the total amount of the burgh general assessment throughout Scotland payable by occupiers is £2,500,000. Therefore, the acceptance of this New Clause would mean putting on to owners a burden of some £1,250,000. That may be justifiable or not, but it is quite outwith the scope and purpose of the present Bill, which is to shift the incidence of rating as little as possible. It is quite true that in two comparatively trifling matters there will be a shifting of incidence as the result of this Bill. One is in the abolition of the average rate—that is rather a technical matter, and I need not spend time on explaining that—and another is the counterpoise in the abolition of the equal division of the rate between owners and occupiers before it is levied. Occupiers' arrears always being greater than owners' arrears, the occupiers' rate is generally found to be greater than the owners' rate, because of the greater arrears. That system being swept away will put those arrears on owners as well as occupiers, but, on the other hand, the owners' average rate in the counties is being abolished, and, roughly speaking, they just about cancel out each other.

I would point out that the proposal in this new Clause is against the recommendations of the Dunedin Committee, and, further, that under the Rent Restrictions Acts the owners will be barred from getting any increase of rent in respect of this increase of rates. We should require to amend the Rent Restrictions Acts in order to put things on to a fair basis. I think it is sufficient, in the first place, to note the admission that, even if we accept this new Clause, we shall not get perfection, because there will still be anomalies, and, in the second place, that by doing this we shall be shifting the large sum of £1,250,000 on to the owners. For those reasons, I ask the House not to accept the Clause.


With reference to what has been said about the. Rent Restrictions Act, we must not overlook the fact that under that Measure owners can obtain advances of rent in respect to alterations to their property. Those alterations are not, being made, but the people themselves are having to pay for the repairs, and that in itself is one of the anomalies which has to be recognised in connection with the proposal we are making. Owners are in a much better position to meet the rates, and the equalising of the charges suggested in this new Clause is a fair proposal, even though it does involve a considerable change for those who are better able to bear the burden.

5.0 P.M.


I was astonished at the Lord Advocate's line of reasoning. In my view owners of property in burghs aught to bear a proportion of the police rate, just as owners of property in a county area bear one-half of it. All we are asking the Government to do is to apply to the towns the same principle that is now applied to the counties. I do not suggest that the Lord Advocate was trying wilfully to mislead the House, but in effect he did mislead it. He pointed out the unfairness it would be if we were to put an increased rate on the owners of property in the burghs, but he overlooked the fact that just now, as is shown by the returns in connection with burghal assessments, the owners of property are not paying more than one-fifth as compared with the occupiers. I could give him the figures of one burgh. At the time I took the figures, the total assessment was 5s. 1d. in the £, and the owners of property were paying 11d. and the occupiers 4s. 2d. That is going on over the length and breadth of Scotland, and the proposal in this Amendment is generally supported by the people of Scotland, except those few people who own property inside the favoured burghs. Instead of creating an anomaly, this proposal would only be an act of justice, and we hope the Government will reconsider the position and accept the new Clause.


The case put forward by the Lord Advocate is, roughly, that this is a Rating Bill which is not meant to alter the incidence of taxation as already placed on owner and occupier, and that it tries, as far as possible, to avoid alteration. But I notice that in later Amendments put down by the Secretary of State for Scotland it is proposed to alter the incidence of taxation, as, for instance, to increase the house factors' commission for collection from 21 per cent. to 5 per cent. As the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Sullivan) well said, in the counties the tenant is rated one-half and the owner is rated the other half. Some of us on these benches think that is not equitable from the point of view of the tenant, We think a strong ease can be made out for putting the whole of the police rate on the owner, because the property for the protection of which the police are largely maintained belongs to the owner and not to the tenant. The great bulk of the police charges in Scotland arise out of offences and crimes against property, yet the very people for whom the property is maintained, and for whom the police are necessary in the burghs, are not to be asked to make any special contribution for the police. I want to hear a defence of that system. It is quite true that this Bill may not be the proper vehicle for a change; but it can be made the vehicle for it; and, if we are adjusting grievances and altering things which are wrong, why does the Lord Advocate reject this new Clause? As the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) stated, it may be true that this will place a charge of a little over a million pounds on the owners of property, but that million pounds is to-day being paid by somebody else, and somebody else who is less able to pay it. If that burden should not go on the owners of property, far less should it go upon the tenants.

The cost of police is rapidly rising in all parts of Scotland particularly in the south. Recently, the Secretary of State for Scotland sent a letter to Glasgow Corporation asking them to pay certain arrears of wages which were due to the police, and which he thought they ought to get. I am not going to argue whether the wages cost of police is right or wrong, but what I insist upon is that the cost of police is increasing far more in Glasgow than any other social service, health or sanitation, or any of the other public services. The increase in cost in respect of these has not been anything like so great as the increase in the cost of the police. The Secretary for Scotland has a chance of remedying this matter, but he refuses to do it. I understand one of the leading arguments of Members opposite for giving the factors an increased commission is that it is done in England. If it be an argument that what is done in England should be done in Scotland in that matter, how much stronger is the argument that if a neighbouring county, say Lanark, does it, why should not the burghs, some of which may be in that county, levy the rates on property? I believe the Lord Advocate strives to be fair, but I think all pretence of fairness goes west when he refuses this New Clause. I would like to hear him defending the arrangement whereby the owner of property pays nothing towards the upkeep of the police. The Lord Advocate has sought in many ways to justify his refusal of this Amendment, but he has never given us any argument on the merits of the Amendment itself.


I think the Lord Advocate was quite justified when he said that this is a machinery Bill, and that it is not a Bill for altering the incidence between one ratepayer and another. It is true that it does it in one or two small details, but these are mainly Dart of the working of the machinery. Hon. Members opposite who have been talking about this Amendment are talking nearly 50 years too late.


We were not here 50 years ago.


That was the good fortune of our ancestors. If this question had been raised in 1889 there would have been something to have been said for it, but these rates have been levied in this way ever since then. It may have been an injustice when it was origiNally imposed, but properties have been bought and sold since then, and the original persons upon whom this injustice was inflicted have gone, and people have adjusted themselves according to the burdens. You will not put that right by inflicting the burdens which were not put upon their ancestors upon the people of the present day. You cannot turn hack the hands of time in that way. A very old tax of this kind is no longer a tax. You have to pay it, but to take it off one set of ratepayers and put it upon another is to inflict a greater injustice than that which was origiNally instituted. There has been a confusion in regard to the word "property" in relation to police protection. I demur altogether from the suggestion that the police are mainly engaged to protect heritable property. The position is nothing of the kind. The word "property" is a word that is capable of misinterpretation. What the police are mainly engaged in protecting is movable property, which does not belong to the owners of heritable property. OccasioNally a man takes lead off the roof of a house, or there may be an odd case of malicious fire-raising, but that is about all that happens to heritable property. I will give hon. Gentlemen opposite an instance. I am informed that in the Burgh of Oban—I have it from a correspondent—the whole cost of the sewers, which is about the same as the cost of police, is visited upon the owners, and yet it is not the owners who fill the sewers; it is the occupiers. You can always point to such anomalies. Hon. Members opposite, if they come back to power, may bring in a Bill to alter the incidence of taxation all over, and this may be one of the changes they will make. It may be that you will get quit of rates and have local Income Tax instead, because it is a hardship that you should tax industries which have made no profits for years, and tax harbours and so ort. Taxation should be much more modified on property, and the local Income Tax might be a very proper thing to have.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)

The question of the local Income Tax cannot be considered on this new Clause.


To tack this Clause on to the Bill and alter what has existed for over a generation may be consistent with abstract justice, but it is altogether outwith the scope of this Bill. At the time of the Second reading I said I considered the whole Bill was disadvantageous to rural districts, and I opposed it on that ground, but the adoption of this new Clause would be the alteration of a custom which has existed far a very long time. If the proposal had been the other way about, if the taxes had been all levied on owners and it was to be put on the occupiers, my argument against the change of incidence would have been the very same, namely, that a tax which has been long-existent, and which has entered into everybody's calculations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Whether right or wrong!"] I would remind hon. Members of what was said by a famous Lord Chancellor: It is not so important for the lieges that their laws should be absolutely consistent and coherent with abstract principles, as that things should he fixed so that people should know where they are. That is a very sound principle in legislation. It is on that account that I think the Lord Advocate has wisely refused to accept this Clause, which would be contrary to the principle on which his Bill is based, that this is merely a machinery Bill.


I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to grant us this small concession. I think it can be justly stated that the poor people in our big cities require this particular Clause. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) has been arguing that people have always paid this rate, and it would be wrong to break away from the old practice. Only yesterday the hon. and learned Member voted against keeping up art old practice in regard to the marking of foreign goods. We believe that it is a fair and just proposal that the owners of property should pay some share of the police rate.

We have been told that the local authority controls the police, but that is not so, because they only pay the expenses of the police, and that is why we think the owners of property ought to pay some share. Is it fair that the occupier of a small house in a slum paying 10s. per week rent should be called upon to pay the police rate? The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire said this was moveable property which the police had to defend, but if the hon. and learned Member went down to some of the slums of Glasgow he would find that there even the property itself moves occasioNally, and it requires no protection. The only thing that does require protection is the inmate. It is useless to talk about the police protecting that kind of property because everybody's idea is to get away from it as quickly as possible. If people are condemned to live under those conditions, and if there are owners such as I have referred to, then they ought to pay a fair share of the police rate, and I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland will he able to meet us in regard to this New Clause.


The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) is always entertaining, and today, drawing from his large store of knowledge, he has been trying to make the House believe that it you put a tax on long enough it will become part and parcel of the system under which we live, and no one should think of changing that system. I wonder if the hon. and learned Member is willing to apply that principle to whisky.


Would the hon. Member be in favour of shifting the whisky tax on to the shoulders of the people?


I was going to point out that when the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire was a member of the Glasgow Town Council the position in Glasgow was that the fire brigade was paid only by the occupiers of houses, and it was only after a great agitation by the Labour party that we got what we are asking for by this new Clause. It seems to me that if the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire be correct, he would require to leave the party to which he now belongs, because the whole of his argument is right up against everything that his party claims in relation to the question of the rates when they are out electioneering.

Is there any injustice in this new Clause? Is our proposal just or unjust? Surely there is nothing unjust in asking that those who are receiving service should pay for that service. We all know that the bulk of police service deals with property. If you take the civil cases in Scotland and take them in proportion even to the expenditure in relation to the rates, you will find that there is not one-sixteenth paid on what is called the civil side, and the remainder goes for the protection of property night and day. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire knows this as well as I do. He knows, for instance, that in Glasgow every night there is a continuous police patrof, while the citizens are in bed. What are the police doing then? They are there chiefly to protect property, and that is the position. OccasioNally, there may be a poor wanderer, and the police-man, while looking after property, will Come up against this chap and put him inside another bit of State property.

I cannot understand why it is that, when it comes to a question such as is dealt with in this Clause, which has a real sense of justice running through it, hon. Members opposite oppose it, because, after all, since service is given to the community why should any part of the community be exempt? I hope

the Lord Advocate will see that his reputation for doing justice will not suffer by accepting this proposal. The Scottish people have always been noted for their sense of justice, and if this Government agrees to place this new Clause on the Statute Book it will add to their reputation for doing justice.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 74; Noes, 167.

Division No. 500.] AYES. [5.26 p.m.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) John, William (Rhondda, West) Sexton, James
Baker, Walter Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)
Batey, Joseph Kelly, W. T. Sitch, Charles H.
Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith) Kennedy, T. Slesser, Sir Henry H.
Bromfield. William Lansbury. George Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Buchanan, G. Lawrence, Susan Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Cluse, W. S. Lawson, John James Stamford, T. W.
Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. Lee. F. Stephen, Campbell
Connolly, M. Lowth, T. Sullivan, J.
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities) Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan) Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)
Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh) MacNeill-Weir, L. Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) March, S. Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)
Day, Colonel Harry Maxton, James Thurtle, Ernest
Dennison, R. Morrison, R, C. (Tottenham, N.) Viant, S. P.
Fenby, T. D. Oliver, George Harold Wallhead, Richard C.
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Palin, John Henry Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Grundy, T. W. Paling, W. Westwood, J.
Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Ponsonby, Arthur Whiteley. W.
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Potts, John S. Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Hamilton. Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland) Purcell, A. A. Windsor, Walter
Hardie, George D. Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Wayday, Arthur Ritson, J.
Hirst, G. H. Robinson, W, C. (Yorks, W. R.. Elland) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield) Sakiatvala, Shapurji Mr. T. Henderson and Mr. Charles
Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose) Scrymgeour, E. Edwards.
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Clarry, Reginald George Grace, John
Albery, Irving James Clayton, G. C Graham, Frederick F. (Cumb'ld., N.)
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Cobb, Sir Cyril Grant, Sir J. A.
Apsley. Lord Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Greene, W. P. Crawford
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Conway, Sir W. Martin Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (W'th's'w, E)
Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W. Cope, Major William Grotrian, H. Brent
Astor, Viscountess Courthope, Lieut.-Col. Sir George L. Gunston, Captain D. W.
Atholl, Duchess of Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Hacking, Captain Douglas H.
Atkinson, C. Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick) Hammersley, S. S.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Curzon, Captain Viscount Hanbury, C.
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Davies, Dr. Vernon Haslam, Henry C.
Balniel, Lord Dean, Arthur Wellesley Hawke, John Anthony
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Dixey, A. C. Henderson, Capt. R.R. (Oxf'd,Henley)
Berry. Sir George Eden, Captain Anthony Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)
Birchall. Major J. Dearman Edmondson, Major A. J. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.
Blundell. F. N. Ellis, R. G. Hennessy, Major J. R. G.
Boothby, R. J. G. Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.) Hills, Major John Waller
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Everard, W. Lindsay Hogg. Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)
Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Fairfax. Captain J. G. Hurd, Percy A.
Brass, Captain W. Falle, Sir Bertram G. Hurst, Gerald B
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Fielden. E. B. Hutchison, G. A. Clark(Midl'n & P'bl's)
Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Finburgh, S. Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y) Ford, Sir P. J. Jacob, A. E.
Buckingham, Sir H. Foster, Sir Harry S. James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James Foxcroft, Captain C. T. Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William
Burman. J. B. Fraser, Captain Ian Kidd, J. (Linlithgow)
Butler, Sir Geoffrey Galbraith, J. F. W. Kindersley, Major Guy M.
Cazalet, Captain Victor A. Ganzoni, Sir John King, Captain Henry Douglas
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.) Gates, Percy Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement
Chapman, Sir S Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip
Charteris, Brigadier-General J. Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)
Christie, J. A. Gower, Sir Robert Loder, J. de V.
Laugher, L. Penny, Frederick George Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.
Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere Perkins, Colonel E. K. Templeton, w. P.
Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome) Thorn, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)
Lynn, Sir R. J. Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Assheton Tinne, J. A.
Macdonald, B. (Glasgow, Cathcart) Ramsden, E, Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
MacIntyre, Ian Rawson, Sir Cooper Wallace, Captain D. E.
McLean Major A. Reid, D. D. (County Down) Waterhouse, Captain Charles
McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John Rentoul, G. S. Watson, Sir f. (Pudsey and Otley)
Macquisten, F. A. Ropner, Major L. Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Margesson, Captain D. Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A. Wells, S. R.
Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Wheler, Major Sir Granville C. H.
Meller, R. J. Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham) White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dairymple-
Merriman, F. B. Sandeman, A. Stewart Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)
Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark) Savery, S. S. Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden) Skelton, A. N. Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)
Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Smithers, Wafdron Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr) Somerville, A. A. (Windsor) Wise. Sir Fredric
Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury) Spender-Clay, Colonel H. Withers, John James
Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive Sprot, Sir Alexander Wolmer, Viscount
Murchison, C. K. Stanley, Col. Hon G. F.(Will'sden, E.) Womersley, W. J,
Neville, R. J. Stanley, Lord (Fylde) Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)
Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Steel, Major Samuet Strang
Nicholson, O. (Westminster) Scott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.) Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C. Mr. F. C. Thomson and Captain
O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser Bowyer.