HC Deb 08 December 1927 vol 211 cc1726-32

Order for consideration read.

Bill considered accordingly.


The Clause on the paper in the names of the two hon. Members for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour and Mr. Johnston) is out of order, first, because it imposes a charge on the rates, which cannot be done on Report stage, and, secondly, because it makes a proposal which requires notice being given to the people concerned, according to our procedure. The hon. Members will be able to raise the point on the Third Reading of the Bill.

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


We had no intention in any way of seeking to oppose the Bill, but on learning that those who had charge of its procedure had not been able to accept the particular Clause which we had down, we felt it would be necessary to ascertain some reason why they had not been able to accept it as well as the others. Our procedure, of course, was to put down an intimation of the Motion so that it might work out, if possible, for the reinsertion of the Clause. As a matter of fact, we had the good advice the Chairman of Committee as to the possibility of such a step being taken successfully in the event only of an agreement being arrived at here. That was somewhat doubtful, but at the same time, we have now the opportunity of putting some points in favour of the Clause.

I would just mention, in regard to the Clause itself, that this estate of Belmont was originally the estate of the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and it was acquired by the late Sir James Caird, of Dundee, who purchased it for £55,000. His sister, who strangly enough passed away at the beginning of this week, made it over as a gift to the City of Dundee, and, as explained in the course of the proceedings before the Committee, it was put down very clearly that the desire of the benefactress was that, first and foremost, the mansion of Belmont should be available for disabled soldiers. That has been followed out in its entirety. The second recommendation that she was good enough to make was the adaption of the mansion for the purpose of a home of rest for workers. That provision had for me a special interest. We have in the City of Dundee the Bannatyne Home for Women, and when there was a possibility of securing an arrangement of this kind, I certainly, like many of the other workers in the City, was very favourable to its being done. As a matter of fact, that Clause was inserted just as unanimously as other Clauses in the Order, and we hoped it would go through. As it transpired, there apparently had been perhaps in the minds of some a feeling that the witnesses put up for the Corporation had not been so fully prepared to satisfy the Members of the Committee in regard to this particular Clause as they might have been. One of the stipulations was that if the Corporation did not see fit to run the institution in that way by themselves, then it could be run by any particular organisation. It was left open for that to be done.

11.0 p.m.

There were two farms which, being let out, produced an income of £1,270 between them, and that was taken towards the adjustment of the estate. Apparently it was felt that with the deficiency on the estate, for the last nine years, of £7,000 to £8,000, probably it would be inadvisable to have this proposal as in the Clause, that the mansion and the estate should be placed on the rates instead of being on the Common Good. In the Clause the provision was an optional one for the exaction of a rate not exceeding one penny, but, as a matter of fact, the legal representative of the corporation agreed, in view of the evidence, to reduce that penny to a halfpenny, so that the rating, if any exacted, should not exceed a halfpenny. The city engineer showed that the reduction in the debt was very considerable, and when asked a question as to how many workers would be provided for, he said 120 men or thereabouts, and that as an anticipated deficit of no more than £3,000 would be met by a halfpenny rate, the whole thing seemed a feasible proposal. Because of the procedure adopted by my colleague and me in trying to get this considered in the way we are doing, the city Press took up an attitude of antagonism to anything being done at all. In addition, the Lord Provost of the city took upon himself an attitude of severe criticism. I think it right to give an indication of what has been put forward regarding our attitude, and to deal with it from a defensive point of view. The leading article says: The action of the Committee in striking out this bit of 'something for nothing' Socialist politics was most proper, and we have little doubt the majority of the town council were glad to get quit of it. But under the pressure of Wellgate via Westminster the Committee has now pledged the town council to insert the rejected Clause in the next Provisional Order. … (The Bill) authorises a great deal of far from essential expenditure, and the council could have saved 10 times as much as the sacri- ficed costs of promotion by abandoning some of the schemes the Order authorises. A selection 'could have been made which would have vexed nobody but the people concerned in the blocking manœuvre. The proposal, as far as I was concerned, was in no way impelled by any organisation other than the Dundee Corporation, and my attitude has all along been that, if I can conscientiously support anything the corporation have tried to do, I have done it; and I have done it in this House, and, having followed that course, I submit it is very far from a proper attitude on the part of the Lord Provost to take exception to Members of Parliament for the city following out only what the corporation wanted to secure. Now you find that a very ridiculous opposition is exhibited, not only by the Press, but by the Lord Provost himself. Another article in the Dundee Press said: The serious result of the blocking of the Order was pointed out. The cost of the Order itself would run into four figures, and the extra expense incurred through blocking the Order would be considerable, as Parliamentary agents and counsel had to specially consider the new situation. Had the blocking motion been persisted in the effect would have been serious for the city. It would have amounted to the whole Order being lost. In the whole of our proceedings we have in no way sought to oppose the order. We have simply been guided by those whom we are entitled to have as our advisers in this House to secure anything that might be reasonable. All the time we were making it clear that we did not want to injure the interest of the Bill. The point about the ½d. is that it has been stated that we had not given proper attention to the Clause as it stood in the original, and that we bad probably made a mistake. The "Advertiser" says: The public, however, will note a curious halt in their enthusiasm"— that is a reference to myself and my colleague— The Clause as it appeared in the original Bill authorised the council to expend on the Belmont ' Home of Rest' project the produce of a penny rate. In the Motion now on the Paper for the reinsertion of the Clause the penny rate is reduced to a halfpenny. What is the explanation of this strange and uncharacteristic break towards economy? Do the local members think that to spend a penny rate would be an un- warrantable extravagance, or have they merely blundered in the labour of copying? I will read from the evidence, from which the House will see how far the Lord Provost, along with the editor of the "Advertiser," has got lost: Supposing you have got 100 inmates in Belmont, how much would you estimate it would cost to keep them there?—There was prepared a statement which I do not have with me, but there was to be a loss of about £3,000 a year. How many people would be in that estimate?—120 people would be in the house under that estimate. What does a 1d. in the £ on the rates give?—£6,000. So that ½d. in the £ would meet at present your estimated loss of £3,000?—Yes. I am quite sure that ½d. in the £ would meet the deficit if it was turned into a home of rest. That was the evidence of Mr. Baxter, the city engineer. Then said Mr. Mackintosh, their advocate: We would be prepared, in view of the evidence, to amend the Clause in question to read 'Provided such expense shall not exceed ½d. per £' instead of '1d. per £.' I know that to some hon. Members this may not be of particular interest, but I feel that I am discharging my duty. The "Advertiser" having gone wrong, the Lord Provost has lost the road as well. I have gone to the official evidence. We were so careful that we followed out exactly what had been asked for. I do not reckon that I am going to be subject to the dictatorship of any Lord Provost or editor. As a matter of fact I am here in spite of them. It has been said that we were adopting a little propaganda. I am convinced, and I shall be able to prove, that the propaganda is on the other side. The Lord Provost, being a Die-hard Tory, is working for some other prospective candidate, to see what can be done in the next Election. I do not believe in doing electioneering business on a basis of that kind, but he is not so scrupulous. I say that in the past I have been available for doing the business of the Dundee Corporation. When I was asked by my colleague whether I intended to do anything of this kind I said "Yes." because I felt that the Corporation had asked for it, and there was no evidence against the Clause, and yet it was deleted. I found that something for which the Dundee Corporation had asked had been struck out without any explanation, and if I had not taken action I think I would have been regarded as being at fault, and very likely I would have been taken to task if it had suited the Lord Provost and the "Advertiser." I have done my duty, and there has been not a single iota of risk to the Measure. The Bill will go through in proper form.


I would like to endorse what my colleague has said about the Belmont "Home of Rest," and to utter an emphatic protest against the decision, unanimously taken after due consideration, by the Dundee Town Council and members of all political parties, no political question arising. It was a question of the lives and the health of ex-service men and aged workers in the City of Dundee. There was no protest against this Clause from any section of the ratepayers of Dundee. Then the Clause came before a committee of two Peers and two Conservative Members of this House, who, so far as I know, had no representations made to them.


The hon. Member is not entitled to attack the tribunal, nor is he entitled to attack the procedure adopted by members on the tribunal. The hon. Member himself might be sitting on a tribunal not in his own county or city, and he would not like other Members to discuss his action.


I desire to point out that a decision, democratically taken, unanimously taken, by persons representing all classes in the City of Dundee, has been turned down and thrown out of the Bill without a word of explanation. I merely want to add my protest against that.


I want to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland a question in regard to the Scottish Office. Did this Measure come before the Scottish Office for consideration? Seeing that the Dundee Town Council unanimously agreed to this, and seeing that nobody appeared before the tribunal to oppose it, I want to ask whether the Scottish Office took exception to it on the ground of the increase in the rates, or on any ground in any way connected with that Department?

The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir John Gilmour)

This matter was considered by the proper tribunal. Evidence was given in support of it, and was deemed by the Committee to be insufficient and was struck out of the Bill.