§ Amendment made: In page 31, line 22, column 3, leave out the word "Section" and insert instead thereof the words "Sections three hundred and forty-six and."—[Sir J. Gilmour.]
When will it be in Order for me to submit a Motion "That the Kill be re-committed in respect of the First Schedule"?
It would be in order for the hon. and gallant Member to move that as an Amendment to the Motion for the Third Heading of the Bill.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
658 I am certain that the House, particularly the Scottish Members who have followed closely the Debates in Committee and have taken part in our discussions here, will believe me when I say that I am indebted to Members in all parts of the House for the way in which they have dealt with the Bill. I wish to express the indebtedness which we on the Scottish Standing Committee owe to the Lord Advocate for the clarity with which he has explained the various Clauses. I am sure that all of us recognise how complex and difficult a Measure of this kind can be. The Government and I are indebted also to many representatives of local authorities, town councils and county councils, and I would like to say that throughout the period since this Bill was introduced, in the discussions which have taken place both in London and in Scotland, we owe a great deal to the interests concerned. It is clear that in any Measure of this kind, which makes fresh arrangements, there are bound to be differences of opinion among those who are concerned and among Members of this House. But this Bill, in its conception and passage, in the main commends itself to the people of Scotland. I believe it will bring about simplification and a measure of economy in administration, and, if that is done, it may pave the way in future days for other Measures dealing with this problem. I hope that hon. Members who may have been disappointed because they have not secured for the various interests for which they have spoken, all that they desired, will recognise that the Government have endeavoured to hold an even hand between the various disputants.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I desire in a few words to acknowledge what has been said by the Secretary of State for Scotland regarding the Scottish local authorities and the Members on this side of the House, and I also desire to join in the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's tribute to the care which has been shown by the Lord Advocate and to his courtesy 659 in receiving innumerable deputations in connection with this Bill. We on this side differ from the Government on many occasions and we certainly differ from them on certain vital principles in this Measure. For my own part, I think the great difficulty about the Bill which is now about to leave this House is that it, continues the system of deductions from gross valuation for the purposes of local rates. True, it sets up a certain uniformity as regards different classes of property in Scotland, and then proceeds to impose local rates upon the gross valuation so reduced. We made it plain during the Committee stage that we believed in the original recommendation of the Dunedin Committee, that the ideal system was to impose local rates upon gross valuation. Had that been done we would have got rid of a great many of the anomalies and difficulties which attend this Measure, even in its present form.
The Government argued all along that while this was an ideal course it was impossible under existing conditions because of industrial depression and other problems of the kind. While we on this side are fully aware of the weight of industrial depression to-day, we cannot admit for one moment that this is a final argument for the perpetuation of a rating system which leaves so many anomalies in our midst. I believe, Personally, that if some time had been given for the application of the simpler principle I have indicated many of the difficulties arising from industrial depression would have disappeared. I will only say in conclusion that while we agree with the administrative economies which this Bill will introduce and while we have supported many of its proposals and have ourselves made proposals, I think practically all my colleagues are agreed that we must look to the time in the future in Scotland when these deductions will disappear and when we shall have a true uniformity on the basis of the ideal laid down origiNally by the Dunedin Committee that local rates in Scotland should be imposed upon gross valuation.
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "be" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsre-committed to a Committee of the Whole House in respect of Schedule I.660 It has come as a surprise to Members of the House to realise the position in which we are placed in the matter of altering this Schedule. The Schedule was put into the Bill and the Bill was read a Second time. There was no chance of amending it at that stage. The Bill then passed to a Committee, and it comes back from the Committee in a form in which, in many respects, it cannot be altered. No Member of this House, whatever may be thought of this Schedule, is at liberty to move Amendments to redistribute these burdens, beccause the Rules of the House do not permit of that being done during the Report stage. I get one crumb of comfort from this situation. If the Scottish Members in the Scottish Committee, dealing with any of these financial matters, can secure sufficient support to impose their will upon the Government, then the Government will be powerless when they come to the House to override the decisions of the Scottish Committee in those financial matters—unless, of course, they re-commit the Bill. In the ordinary way, on the Report stage, they will not have power. It will be good news to Scottish Members that, at any rate, this small measure of financial control is conceded to them, is they can only win their way in the Committee.
The particular reason why I wish the Bill re-committed in respect of this Schedule is that a great injustice is being done to a public utility organisation in favour of a privately-owned organisation. I represent the port of Leith. We have a Dock Commission there, and the people who serve on the Dock Commission receive no salaries. It is not a profit-making undertaking. Its sole object is to he efficient and to pay its way, and it gives back the benefits which it earns by its efficiency in the form of lower charges and, consequently, lower prices to the consumers of the goods which pass through the port. A few miles away is another port owned by a railway company. The amount allowed off for that railway dock is greater—although the railway is a private undertaking—than the amount which is allowed off for the publicly-owned dock, run solely in the public interest. If we had had an opportunity of putting this case to the Members of the House—and I understand the hon. and gallant Member for Dumbartonshire (Lieut.-Colonel Thom), 661 intended to do so—I do not believe that on a free Vote of the House we would have failed to secure our point. The Lord Advocate has given two reasons for this Schedule, both of which have proved fallacious. One is that the railway docks were already too highly rated. That has been shown by the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) to be a mistake. The second was that the railway docks were not separately valued as such. That also is low known to be an error. There is no reason, in practice or in justice, for this differentiation, and I move to re-commit the Bill in order that Members of all parties who feel the injustice of this inequality may have an opportunity of convincing their fellow-Members that their case is right and securing a majority in the Lobby on its behalf.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I beg to second the Amendment.
I do so for reasons not precisely the same as those advanced by the Mover, and in respect of another matter altogether. I join with what has been said regarding the ability and skill with which the Lord Advocate has piloted this highly technical Measure through Committee and through the House, and I regret that be has shown so little resiliency and so little responsiveness to our reasoned appeals in this matter. He has gone on the assumption that what was origiNally in the Schedule must be stuck to at all costs, no matter what any section of Members of the House may be able to prove as to its injustice and unfairness. I refer particularly to the case of a publicly-owned ferry. There is one publicly-owned ferry in Scotland, the Newport Ferry, on the River Tay at Dundee. No profit is made there. It is a public undertaking and, as far as I am aware, it is the one undertaking which will suffer financially as a result of this Bill. I think both the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Lord Advocate boasted that no undertaking in Scotland would be worse off as a result of the Bill.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I am sorry if I misinterpreted the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Do I understand him to admit that some interests are worse off 662 as a result, of this Schedule? Certainly there is one—the only one so far as I know—and it is this particular public utility. This ferry is principally used for the conveyance of workers to and fro across the Tay. At present the undertaking is allowed deductions of 45 per cent. from the Dundee Town Council, 75 per cent, from the Newport Parish Council and 50 per cent, from the Forfar Council. Under the Bill all those deductions are cancelled and they are only to be allowed a 20 per cent, deduction. I would have no grievance whatever if every other ferry in the country were treated in the same way, but ail the privately-owned ferries, the ferries belonging to railway companies and running for profit, are included in the railway companies' property and get 25 per cent, deduction. To this moment I have not heard a shred of argument to show why a privately-owned ferry from which profit is taken, run as part of a railway undertaking, should be allowed a 25 per cent. reduction while a publicly-owned ferry from which no profit is taken should only be allowed 20 per cent. deduction?
The Lord Advocate says, as he said upstairs, that, he could not afford to vary the Schedule; that if you would lower the burdens to one you would increase them to another. He varied his charges to night. He allowed Greenock a benefit for five years. I saw what was happening and I asked him if he admitted that that was a financial concession to Greenock. He said, yes, but it was an infinitesimal amount and only for five years. This means an increase of £100 per annum for the Dundec Ferry. To give the Dundee Ferry the same terms as are given to private enterprise ferries, would only mean this on a variation of this Schedule, 007 of a penny. Yet he declines to do it. He throws this burden of £100 on the publicly-owned ferry. I very gladly and willingly second the Motion moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith that Schedule be recommitted.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I feel that we have not had quite credit. There is no doubt that this thing got through the Committee by a very small majority— three. One mistake that was made was an error of figures. It was said by the Lord Advocate that a railway under- 663 taking including harbour and stations and lines is valued as a whole and on a construction cost. He also stated that railways got a 75 per cent. deduction on burgh rates on their undertaking, which includes the harbour, when it is within the burgh. He also said:The ordinary harbours get none. On working out the figures we find that the 25 per cent. exactly reproduce the existing deductions on railways, including their harbours. On the other hand the average figures relating to the harbours which my hon. Friend represents, came out considerably below the 20 per cent., and they are to gain as a whole very considerably. I am not prepared to accept this proposal from people who are to gain under this Bill on the average."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee on Scottish Bills), 15th July, 1926; col. 193.]That was an error. The railways never got 75 per cent. They got 75 per cent. on the steel rails. On the harbours there was a cost of construction basis which as a matter of fact works out at a slightly higher percentage than that which the public harbour is already getting. Supposing the whole of this deduction was to be given, it does not amount to £26,000 per annum on the whole rateable value of Scotland and 06 per cent. That may be a variation in the technical sense and may be increasing the terms, but it reminds me very much of the scientific proof that if you take a bucket of water out of Campbeltown Bay, theoretically you lower the level of the surface in San Francisco Bay.
Even in the case of the Clyde Trust in a few years it will work out at £100,000. We all know that Glasgow is the Clyde. I do not think anybody will accuse me of being in any sense hostile to private enterprise, but I do not believe in it getting an advantage over the public institutions owned by public corporations. The balance should be held evenly between them. It is far more important that justice should be done in a thing of this kind. We have got along with our rating up to now. It is very unsatisfactory but we can very well wait. By the perfectly proper ruling of the Chair we have been foreclosed from dealing with the injustice between the two.
At the moment, the Question before the House is that the Bill should be re-committed. We are not now on the Third Reading.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I would like to quote the exact words used by the Lord Advocate in regard to the point of making concessions on Nos. 4 and 5 in Schedule 1.The effect of this alteration in the Schedule is very trifling, because these are localised works and the effect in the particular parishes is really to maintain the existing incidence as regards these subjects. If on any of the other Amendments the Movers can satisfy us that the Schedule does not reproduce the existing position, and that their proposal does, of course we shall accept it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee on Scottish Bills), 13th July, 1926; col. 180.]Thus Dundee Ferry stands alone in Scotland as a statutory ferry. It is well that we have in view that at the present time at the end of the financial year or in May last there was a debit on ferries of £6,875. There is £100 of difference which is now agreed between the parties and involves 12 per cent. increase upon present rates. This is a ferry largely used by the working people in Dundee. Substantially the point of the Amendment to recommit the Bill is that we should get the opportunity of going into this matter. That ferry is a very subsidiary matter compared with all the important questions which includes the Harbour of Dundee. Under the old classification to which the Lord Advocate referred when dealing with some of the other Amendments, we must bear in remembrance that the railways receive advantages throughout the generality of the parishes in Scotland. That in itself is one of the strong reasons why we should keep in view now the stage that would be considered if this Amendment were carried, namely, that the harbour authorities, not only in Dundee, but in Leith and other parts, are very greatly handicapped by the fact of having to increase their dues, and we should really do something to encourage the shipping interests that are so much in need of stimulation.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
I support this Amendment net for the purpose of obstructing this Bill, as many of us on this side are anxious to see the Bill on the Statute Book. Although it may not be good in all its parts, it is good in some of its parts, but I feel sure that a very grave injustice will be done unless this Amendment is agreed to. Not only the trusts will be affected, but we have many municipalities in Scotland which have control of their own docks and harbours. The Town Council of Kirkcaldy have a harbour under their control, as has the small Burgh of Dysart, and these burgh undertakings under the control of municipalities are not going to be allowed more than 20 per cent. deduction, whereas the privately-owned harbours on each side of these municipal undertakings will be allowed 25 per cent. deduction. It seems to me that the Government are doing all they can to make it as difficult as possible for municipal enterprise, and they will lose nothing in accepting this Amendment. If the House decide to reject this 25 per cent., let the responsibility be that of the House. If the Government agree to accept the Amendment and re-commit the Bill, it would not take half an hour's time, and they could allow, without any discussion at all if they like, a free vote of the House as to whether we are going to penalise municipal undertakings and harbour trusts to the extent of 5 per cent. as compared with harbours which are under the control of private enterprise. I plead with the Lord Advocate, because I think we can all agree that he has really been very courteous all through the discussion of this Bill. Surely, when he has almost got his Bill, he can do the finest act of courtesy of all by agreeing to allow the House to decide whether we are to get a fair deal for the municipal undertakings which have control of docks and harbours.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
My right hon. Friend has already explained why the Government cannot accept a Motion for recommittal, but I would like to say, in reference to several of the illustrations which have been given, with regard to proposed variations in Schedule I, that, taking first of all docks and harbours, it is quite true, as the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) has said that 666 the position of the Government throughout has been that Schedule I is an attempt to reproduce as near as possible the existing situation, only you must bear in mind that it is reproducing it on an average, and, therefore, it is not a criticism of the Schedule to bring up the case of an individual ratepayer, and to say he is suffering. What you would require to show would be that one of the existing classes under the present classification is not fairly dealt with under Schedule I. Therefore, the My ferries, which have been referred to, are individual ratepayers at present dealt with in the matter of deductions along with the other ferries in the country, and it cannot, be denied with any fairness that the deduction given to the ferries generally is as nearly as may be a fair repetition of the average of the existing deductions. To give an illustration, of course, where you are striking an average, some of the units or individuals on whom you strike the average will be below, and others will be above. That is how you get your average, and naturally the person who is lowest below it is the worst hit, and is the one who claims first and says: "Let me out, or give me special concessions, and it will not affect you very much." But once you begin letting out, your average gradually gets higher and higher, until it disappears altogether. Therefore, however sorry one may feel that the Tay ferries will be hit, even to the limited amount suggested—somewhere about £100, which means less than a twentieth of a penny—
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
That is not an argument. We must stick to a logical classification and keep the classes the same, for if you once begin modifying because one single individual suffers, I cannot say what in tato it would mean. You must keep your class complete, or else you cannot compose your Schedule, I make that point, because I want to come to the next one, which affects directly this suggestion, which I still think is quite a wrong-headed suggestion, from the argumentative point of view, about the railways and the harbours. An examination of the figures which are in the White Paper shows quite clearly —and I do not think anyone disputes it 667 —that as a result of this Schedule, if you take the harbours by themselves, their position will be improved by this Bill, and materially improved. If you take the railways by themselves, you will find that they are going to be improved, but not so much as the harbours. It is not very much either way, but the fact remains that the new position between the railways and the harbours is going to be better for the harbours than it is at the present moment, and, therefore., if there be any ground for a grievance at all on the part of the harbours, it is not on this Schedule, because it puts them in rather a better position, and it must be on the existing state of the matter.
Let me say a word on that. The whole of this suggested grievance of the harbours is founded on a complete fallacy. While it is quite true that one sentence of one of my remarks in Committee on this subject may be said to be not quite accurate—that is to say, that when I referred to the fact that railway undertakings get 75 per cent. deduction with regard to burgh rates, I omitted to say specifically that it is only the lines that get that deduction—as a matter of fact., the figures were perfectly correct. One cannot help in Committee having a little looseness when describing a thing generally, but the figures were absolutely accurate and were made up in the right way. I want, however, to get away from figures as much as possible. The harbours say, "It is true that, relatively to the railways, we are going to be better off as the result of this Bill than we were before, but the railways are unfairly competing with us, because whether we are better or not, in fact, they are getting 5 per cent. more." That is where the fallacy comes in. Railway undertakings, as a whole, which include far more than harbours, are getting 25 per cent. or over, but no one has the right to say that railway harbours by themselves are getting 25 per cent. Railway harbours only form less than 7 per cent. of the total railway undertakings in Scotland, and the subject for which the 25 per cent. deduction has been given is the whole railway undertaking. Then how can they say, "Railway docks and railway harbours are getting 25 per cent. and we are only getting 20 per cent?" You are not comparing like with like. The truth is there 668 is a fallacy at the basis of the whole of this claim, and it. is really enough to point out, in the first place, that it must be admitted, as all along it has been admitted, the harbours, taken by themselves, are to be better off under this Bill than the railways—I am not talking about railway docks only—as a whole are. The only argument beyond that which it is sought to enforce is that railway docks are better off when they get 5 per cent. more. Where do you find that they are? They are not separate, and therefore the whole of that argument falls. Accordingly, if there were to be any Recommittal, it would have to be with regard to all the points on which there have been rulings, and at this stage it would be impossible to do that. Accordingly the Government must oppose the Motion.
Inasmuch as, by the latitude you have allowed, we have been able to discuss the points upon which we felt very keenly that we were being unjustly deprived of discussion, if the Seconder agree, I am prepared to withdraw the Amendment for re-committal.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question again proposed. "That the Bill he now read the Third time."
§ Sir A. SPROT
I will only say a word in commendation of the Bill which has arrived at its last stage. It is a Bill which has long been desired in Scotland, and I believe the result of it will be to simplify and make much more efficient our system of rating.