§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. T. JOHNSTON
Before this Clause is passed and before this Order is approved, it is essential that some brief statement should be made by the promoters of the Bill with regard to one part of it. By an Act of 1803 an assessment or tax was made for the raising of a fund to maintain the wives and dependants of militiamen, drummers and non-commissioned officers who were taken for the armies in the Napoleonic Wars. Relief was provided only for families who were unable through destitution to maintain themselves. The advance was on the most meagre scale. A weekly allowance of one day's average labour wage was given for a wife and one day's wage for every child under 10 years of age. There was no allowance whatever for children over 10. A certificate of inability had to be given by a heritor or by a minister of the parish. By Clause 21 of the Act, no substitute could be taken for any balloted man. After the Napoleonic Wars, there was a balance in this fund, undistributed to the wives and children, of £2,974, and that sum was handed1 over by the Commissioners or trustees who were then in charge of it to a County Buildings Fund, and since 1824 that money has been used to maintain parts of the county buildings. The parts of the county buildings maintained have reduced the sum to £1,568.
That money at 5 per cent. compound interest would have meant a sum now approaching £200,000, which, if it had been spent for the purpose for which it was raised, would have been spent upon the common soldiers or their dependants in the county of Perth. But during this period of over 100 years the money has been spent on maintaining several rooms in the county buildings for the following purposes: For balls during the meetings of the Perth Hunt; when the county Member gives a dinner or receives one from his friends (I do not know which 1724 county Member that refers to now); when any candidate for the representation of the county, whether successful or not, gives a dinner to his friends or receives one from them; or when a dinner is given by any county corps on a particular occasion. For these four purposes the county ballroom and supper-room have been used for over 100 years. It cannot be said that the Gentlemen who have been in control of these buildings have acted without knowledge of what they were doing. They were legally advised, almost threequarters of a century ago, that they were wrongfully spending public money raised for the maintenance of serving soldiers and the wives and dependants of those soldiers. Despite that legal advice, which they got in 1854, they have continued to spend that money up to now, and we have after 100 years the county gentry of Perth coming forward in this House and asking what is virtually relief for their wrongful intermission of public money. They are now handing over these public buildings to the county council of Perth and, in future, these buildings will, presumably, be democratically controlled. Therefore we have no further objection to the provisions of this Bill. I think however we ought to have an explanation from the promoters as to the reasons, if any, which they can offer in justification for using funds raised for ex-service men for class county purposes.
§ Mr. SKELTON
The hon. Member who has just spoken confined his opposition to the Bill to the one point, and even within the limits of the very few moments which I shall occupy, I hope to show that it is not a very substantial one. The facts are simply these. A militia fund was raised under Act of Parliament for the purposes which my hon. Friend has mentioned, but with this addition. The purpose of the fund was that it was to be used as a form of maintenance allowance to the wives and children, as the hon. Member said, while the recipient was actually serving. The fund, which was a properly constituted assessment by law, really was the predecessor of subsequent arrangements. The fund, as soon as the Napoleonic Wars were over, and the militia returned to civil life, had no legal function left. The question then before the commissioners of supply, who were the predecessors of the county council, was: Where was that fund to go? It 1725 was decided to hand it over to another body constituted by Act of Parliament, namely, a body which in 1807 had been charged with the duty of erecting county buildings in Perth. To that body, whose functions had not then been completed, the fund, which amounted to rather over £2,000, was handed over.
No question was raised at the time, and no question was raised for more than 37 years. The only question then was, not whether it should have been used—quite improperly—for the maintenance of the families of the militiamen who had been returned to civil occupation. The only alternatives then suggested were that it should be added to a fund known as the "rogue money" fund used for the apprehension, maintenance and prosecution of malefactors, or handed to the body charged with the erection of county buildings. Those were the two alternatives. The original function of the fund was discharged, and the alternatives were to hand it over to the "rogue money" fund or to another legally constituted body which was charged particularly with the duty of erecting county buildings. The latter alternative was chosen. The hon. Member does not suggest and, there is no room for the suggestion, that the fund when transferred to this properly constituted body was not properly used. It was used, first, for the completion of the work of erecting county buildings, which was the work the commissioners had been charged with by Parliament, and the balance was used for the maintenance of those buildings and has been so used since. As far as these interesting facts which my hon. Friend and I have stated to the House are concerned, I think their relevance is very slight.
What does this Bill seek to do? It seeks to transfer to the county council these buildings which, to some small extent, were built with the help of this Militia Fund, and for a period of years were maintained by it, that is to say, to hand over the council buildings to the successors of the people who handed over the Militia Fund for the purpose of building and maintaining the buildings. I do not think my hon. Friend has suggested that the money was misused or not spent for the purposes for which it was handed over to the legally constituted body, namely, the Commissioners for the erection of the Council buildings, and he has 1726 laid before the House no argument to show why he so passionately desires that the apprehension of rogues should have taken precedence over the job of building county buildings. It seems to me that, although the House is no doubt greatly indebted both to him and to me for an extremely interesting historical disquisition, there is nothing in his speech which should postpone the easy passage of the Bill.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Before the hon. Member sits down, would he address his mind for a moment to the purposes for which these buildings have been used in the past 100 years?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I had intended to say something about it, but I thought it was too personal. They have been used for the festive purposes for which, apparently, they were quite properly intended. I want to inform the House, in case it should be supposed that I have too great a personal interest in the matter, that neither as an unsuccessful county candidate, which I have been, nor as a County or City member, have I ever given or have I, unfortunately, ever received a dinner in these buildings.
§ Clause 2 (Short Title) ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Preamble agreed to.
§ Bill reported without Amendment; considered (under Section 7 of The Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1899); read the Third time, and passed.