§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir John Gilmour)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hurd) has just addressed himself to you, Sir, upon the question of the length of the speeches made on the previous Bill dealing with this subject. He will, I hope, have no fear that I shall detain the House at very great length. At the same time, I shall have to claim, I fear, rather more than that percentage of time which the hon. Member suggested, as compared with the time occupied by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in the speech which he delivered upon this subject. I think the House is in general agreement, whatever differences of opinion there may be upon minor, and even major, provisions of the Measure, that the explanation which my right hon. Friend gave to the House of the purport of the Bill was a clear and even convincing argument in favour of taking action. It follows in due course that I have the honour of introducing a measure dealing with these matters as applicable to Scotland. In the main, the objects which the Government desire to achieve are similar in both countries, namely, to assist industry and agriculture, to relieve necessitous areas, and to simplify and strengthen the organisation of local government. If there is any doubt as to the necessity for dealing with these problems, I am quite satisfied that a very short description of some of the existing conditions in Scotland will convince hon. Members that they call for consideration by Parliament at the earliest possible moment. The present rating system, whatever may be said in its favour by hon. Gentlemen in this House, is, I think it will be agreed, unequal in its burden and presses in a great many cases very unfairly upon the necessitous areas.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
The total amount of rates, including water rates, collected 860 in Scotland has risen from £7,400,000 in 1912–13 to £21,400,000 in 1927–1928, and the amount per head of the population has risen from £1 11s 3d. in 1912–13 to £4 7s. 6d. in 1927–28. In other words, the rates have almost trebled within the last 15 years. It has happened, I think, in the course of those years that many firms employing large numbers of people have actually paid more in local rates than they have paid in profits. It will also, I think, be the finding of this House that larger units in local government are required, particularly in consequence of the de-rating proposals which the Government are making, because of the reduced rateable valuation available. Of the smaller burghs, after de-rating takes place, there will be two burghs in Scotland where a rate of one penny per £ will produce less than £10, and there will be 113 where one penny per £ will produce less than £100. The principal case for this reform is, I think, to be found in the inadequacy of the present divisions of local government for modern needs. If it is said that none of the existing authorities in Scotland have asked for this reform—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—and I note that it is said, then I would beg to remind the House that that really is not so, and that the County Councils Association had already formulated measures of reform which were almost inure far-reaching than some of the reforms which we propose.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
The Royal Commission on the Poor Law for the United Kingdom, the Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland, the Maclean Committee, the Haldane Committee, the Des-borough Committee, the Consultative Council on Local Administration in Scotland, the Mackenzie Committee on Hospital Services in Scotland, have all drawn attention to the variations and deficiencies of the existing system. The administrative areas are too small to discharge their duties efficiently or to justify a separate organisation for the great major services with which we have to deal in these times. If you take the variations in the parishes alone they are enormous. At the one end of the scale you will find a parish where, I believe, the population is as low 861 as 78, and at the other end of the scale you get the parish of Glasgow with 600,000. It is a notable fact, and one to Which I draw the attention of the House, that these parish areas have been in existence since times when poor relief was administered through the churches and under conditions totally at variance with those in which we live to-day, dating back to 1845. You find that 77 per cent. of the pauperism, for instance, in Scotland is to be found within 37 of these parishes situated in the larger burghs of over 20,000, and that the remaining 23 per cent. of the unemployed are scattered over 832 parishes.
I could give an infinity of figures upon this subject to show the enormous inequalities and the glaring differences which exist. But the gist of them is that there are 617 parishes, or 71 per cent. of the total, each with less than 50 paupers, the average number being 17, and that in these parishes the total number of paupers is 10,500 and the total number of parish councillors is about 4,300, or one councillor to every two and a half paupers. There is indeed another case, in, I think, the county of Berwick, where there are 32 parish councils with 244 councillors and an aggregate of 270 paupers, or one councillor practically to every pauper within that area. When the House realises that these differences do exist, is it not true to say that there is ample room for a change and for progress in this matter?
If one looks at the cost of administration, in the large parishes, where, of course, they are dealing with larger circumstances, the cost of administration works out at about 3 per cent., but in a great many of these parishes it runs as high as 18 or 20 per cent. of the amount spent on relief. Among the burghs you have got two burghs with a population of less than 500, 19 with a population of less than 1,000, and 63 with a population of less than 2,000. These small authorities are obviously unable, of themselves, to supply and administer the duties of hospital accommodation, and may I say in regard to that, that however efficient these small authorities may desire to be, however anxious they are to make progress in providing hospital accommodation, the fact remains that because of their small size they are really precluded from 862 having, except at an absolutely excessive cost, an up-to-date institution with all the latest appliances.
But if it is difficult for these small authorities to deal with poor relief and public health, it becomes also a very clamant problem when you come to deal with highway administration. If you take what has happened in Scotland, everyone will agree that in the last 25 years there has been a complete revolution in the method and system of highway construction, and that during that time we have made practically little progress in the method of dealing with the administrative side of this problem, with the result that there fall upon many districts unequal and unfair burdens. The number of highway authorities in Scotland at present is 308. There are eight undivided county councils, there are 99 county district committees, there are seven large burghs, and there are 194 other burghs. But if you come to the inequalities, the average road rate in the county districts of Scotland for 1926–1927 amounted to 2s. 11d.; in the burghs it was 1s. 0¾d., and the highest county district rate was 12s. in the Lewis district of Ross and Cromarty, and the lowest 1s. 7d. in St. Andrews district of Fifeshire. The highest burgh rate was 4s. in Kintore and 3s. in Culross, and the lowest 2d. in Cockenzie, with its 1.8 miles of public highways.
I should like to draw attention to another instance of inequality. If you take the route known as A.929, connecting the burghs of Dundee and Forfar, that road passes through two county districts, and everyone knows the enormous traffic which goes along it. In 1925 it amounted at some points to 1,350 tons a day, and it may be said that that is still increasing. The road rate in Dundee in 1927 was 1s. and in Forfar 6d. in the £, while the county district rates were 3s. 8d. and 3s. 7d. respectively. These assessments represented 9s. per head of the population in Dundee, 3s, 1d, in Forfar, and £1 13s. per head in the county districts.
Now in addition to that you have in Scotland peculiarly, almost more emphasised than across the border in England, a multiplicity of departments. There may be differences of opinion, but I venture to say that this multiplicity of authorities does cause con- 863 fusion, does cause waste, and does obviously cause overlapping and an unnecessary duplication of staffs; and when I hear people talk of officials and bureaucracy, I am constrained to ask them whether they are content to let the existing conditions continue without a more careful examination than possibly many have given them.
There are nearly 1,300 authorities in Scotland, dealing with a population of something less than 5,000,000, and each of these authorities have their elections and you have got county councils, district committees, town councils, parish councils, education authorities, hoards of control, and standing joint committees This duplication of elections, I venture to say to my countrymen, causes confusion in the mind of the ordinary elector, which is manifested by the small percentage of those who go to the polls in a great many cases, and in the case of many of the parish councils in our country we have an infinity of difficulty in finding people to fill the posts upon these authorities.
If we look at the inequalities of rate burden, in which some hon. Members are peculiarly interested, these, I think, emphasise the defects of our present local government system, and I would give just a few examples which will show what I mean. If you take the county of Rossshire, you find that in the parish of Contin the poor rate ranges from 11s. 4d. in the £ to 17s. 3.2d. in the parish of Lochs in the same county, whereas in Fife, my own county, you find the range from the parish of Moonzie, where the rate is nil, a happy condition, and ⅜ths of a penny in Anstruther Wester, rising to 5s 9⅞d. for the parish of Culross. One could rive many more of these cases, but in the area of Glasgow Burgh the poor rate varies from 6d. to 4s. 10½d. in the £.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Could the right hon. Gentleman give the parishes in Glasgow where those variations occur?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I have not got them with me. Apart from the step which was taken when there was some alteration in education, there has been no great reform of local government since 1894, and, for myself, I think the time is long overdue when this should be dealt with.
864 If I turn to the financial relations which have existed, and more particularly will exist in the future between the local government and the central government, one; of course, will realise that in consequence of the alteration of that balance alone, some alteration is called for, and, indeed, it would be impossible for the central government to make these changes without having some alteration. If the de-rating proposals of the Government had been in operation in 1926–27, the relationship between grants and rates would have been in Scotland, roughly, from grants £16,200,000, or 48 per cent., and from rates £17,300,000, or 52 per cent. In these circumstances, I submit it is essential that changes should be undertaken.
I will turn now to the Bill itself. It is a Bill of 61 Clauses and seven Schedules, that is, less in size than the Bill presented by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, but I am quite certain that it is as important, and, from the Scottish Members' point of view, carries with it, I admit, momentous changes. At any rate, they are submitted to this House after very careful consideration on the part of the Government. They are submitted to this House after very careful communication and discussion with the many authorities in Scotland, and whatever complaint may be made against my office for making these proposals, at least I think it cannot be said that we have not taken every opportunity of meeting the authorities and of discussing with them all the aspects of this problem. This Bill is divided into four parts. The first part deals with local government administration, the second part with the rating of agricultural, industrial and freight-transport, lands and heritages, the third part with the Exchequer grants and other financial provisions, and the fourth part with general points. I do not doubt that to-day it is the first part of the Bill, that dealing with local government administration, which carries the greater and immediate interest to Scottish Members. With regard to Part III, we will, of course, have a further opportunity on Wednesday of more carefully considering the financial aspects of this Bill.
The services which are affected by the changes proposed are contained in Clauses 1 to 5 and th4, first Schedule to the Bill. They include the Poor Law; 865 the major public health services, which include hospitals and other medical services; town planning; the maintenance of classified roads; police; education and valuation. It is proposed to set up the new authorities in units of administration consisting of the counties and burghs of 20,000 population and over. The bodies which will be abolished are to be found in Clause 5, and consist of 869 parish councils, 27 district boards of control, 98 district committees, 37 education authorities and 33 standing joint committees. Out of a total of 1,298 authorities, 1,064 are to be abolished, leaving 234 authorities, namely, 33 counties and 201 burghs.
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
I am not quite clear about these 201 burghs. Is 201 the total, or is it 201 above 20,000 population?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
The total. Turning to the question of parish councils, no doubt the House will agree that by far their most important function has been the administration of poor relief. This is to be transferred to the county. I said previously that there had been difficulty in filling some of these smaller local authorities. Let me give the House a few figures to substantiate that statement. At the last election, in 1925, there were 76 parishes, or 8.7 of the total, in which less than the requisite number of candidates was nominated. In landward districts, out of 869 parishes, there were only 261 in which there were one or more contested elections in 1925. In some of the wards the percentage of electors voting was as low as 14 per cent., and the average number voting may be taken at not higher than 50 per cent. I would like to say here with regard to this problem, that when I met the Parish Councils' Association to discuss with them the problems of the future, they themselves admitted that the day of the parish as a unit was gone, but they desired, of course, to see retained in some form or another their share of administration. As my right hon. Friend said when speaking of the similar institutions in England, there is no intention on my part to decry or belittle the excellent work which men and women have done in carrying out these duties. Rather am I arguing that the machine which they have had to use has been inadequate and out-of-date, and that it 866 is essential, if the greatest efficiency is to be arrived at, that these areas should be broadened.
Under our scheme, the main duties of the parish councils—and, after all, the relief of the poor has been the main duty of the parish councils in Scotland—are being transferred under the Bill to the county councils. At the same time county councils, in carrying out these duties, must submit schemes which will show how they will divide up into fresh or new areas the duties which Parliament imposes upon them. Under the Bill, it is proposed that there shall be a Statutory Committee dealing with this question of Poor Law within the county council, and it is suggested that there shall be added and utilised within the districts—for of course there must be devolution of many of these duties—by the method of co-option, those who are conversant with these problems; and it is laid down that, in the first instance at any rate, there shall be taken into the central parent committee, representatives of the existing parish councils in order to carry on the continuity for the first election.
I am aware of the criticism which has been directed at the system of co-option of these individuals for a variety of purposes under this Measure, and all I would say at the present moment on that subject is that I am quite prepared to listen to any proposals which may be made which might set up within the new, freshly-devised areas, local bodies elected within those areas. I wish to make clear that the parish council and the parish area as we know them to-day have served their day and generation, and cannot remain. What I am submitting to the House is, that the new and freshly-constituted county councils will have the power of surveying the situation for themselves, under the new and fresh condition as and of altering the boundaries, and possibly linking parishes, or cutting froth one parish and adding to another—at any rate, doing exactly that which the Parish Councils' Association, through the mouths of their representatives, admitted was one of the essential and proper things to do—to scrap the existing parish boundaries and to re-cast them, according to the fresh circumstances, in a form more suited to the times in which we live.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me the exact terms of the recommendation of the Parish Councils' Association on that particular point?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I have not got the recommendation here, but, whatever words were used, the Parish Councils' Association admitted that the existing parish boundaries were out-of-date.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am sure my right hon. Friend will understand that I do not rise unnecessarily, but this is a very important point. The whole of our case depends largely upon the attitude of the existing parish councils, and I should like my right hon. Friend to make it perfectly clear—because his arguments are based upon this point, and ours will be—at what time did the Parish Councils' Association say that their boundaries should be altered in all cases? I understand that the parish councils are willing to say that their boundaries might be altered, but it surely cannot be true to say that in every case the parish councils say that their boundaries should be altered?
§ Mr. J. STEWART
Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that the authority to set up the new parishes will be the county council, without any review from any authority outwith?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), all I have said is that, when I met the deputation from the parish councils, they admitted that the present parish boundaries were out of date. [HON. MEMBERS: "In some cases!"] There will be some cases where the area under the new scheme, after mature consideration, may remain the same as the existing boundaries, but, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Rollox (Mr. J. Stewart), I would say that these schemes must be submitted by the county councils, and will be reviewed and published and open to consideration by all the authorities concerned, and they will be finally approved by the Secretary of State.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
These schemes must be submitted to the Secretary of State, and obviously the proposals will be available to the general public, and opposition to and criticism of them no doubt will be heard. But all that I am saying to the House is that I am prepared to listen to a proposal, as regards recruitment of these local committees, that they should, rather than be co-opted in all cases, be secured under a method of local election within the district. I am prepared to consider that. It must be clear that these local committees will be linked up with the elected representatives of the central body, and it must also be emphasised that in Poor Law the financial control will be in the central body.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Will not this require a new Bill? If the right hon. Gentleman proposes to establish newly-elected bodies, will not that require an additional Bill?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
No, I think not; it can be achieved by an Amendment. I am prepared to listen to Amendments, and to have this matter discussed on the Floor of the House. I present the Bill in its present form, and all I am saying is—before I pass on to say a word or two about education, which presents a different aspect of this problem—that I am prepared to listen to schemes and to discuss schemes on the Committee stage which may achieve something upon the lines which I have sketched.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
That is in a different position. The transfer of the functions of the education authorities to the county authorities is an integral part of this scheme; the financial unification of local services is one of the main purposes of the scheme also. Indeed, I would say to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen from Scotland that I think that, when these new and more widely authoritative bodies come into being in Scotland, it would be a tragedy and a disservice to education if education were left outside the purview of this reform.
Mr. ROSSLYN MITCHELL
Do we understand that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to consider, with regard to education, some scheme similar to that 869 which he has outlined in regard to the parish councils, so long as the financial control remains with the county council?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will permit me to finish what I am saying. I am dealing with a difficult problem, and I desire to be frank and clear. The Government have decided that it is an essential part of their scheme that education should be transferred to the new county authorities, and to the four large cities, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen. There is a difference in the case of education which is well known to those who are interested in this problem, and it is concerned with the representation of what are known as the transferred schools. Transferred schools include not only the schools belonging to the Roman Catholic denomination, but to the Episcopalian and Presbyterian bodies. There are a certain number belonging both to the Church of Scotland and to the United Free Church. Whether they are great or small, I have given an undertaking that there shall be statutory committees dealing with education, whether in the four large cities or upon the new county councils. It will be necessary for these authorities to appoint to these statutory committees by co-option some representatives of the transferred schools, and I have given undertakings to the Churches that there shall be co-opted as representatives those who are conversant with what is known as use and wont in religious education. Each one of these authorities will have to submit schemes applicable to their special circumstances. It is desirable that as great elasticity as possible should be given in the formation of these bodies, in order that they may meet the circumstances of the particular districts to which they apply; but I repeat that these schemes must be submitted, and they will be open to criticism and review by those who are interested, and will be submitted to the Minister, whoever he may be, occupying my post as Secretary of State.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Is it not true to say that the right hon. Gentleman or his successor will be the final court of Appeal, and that this House will have no right to express an opinion on the merits of any particular scheme which is submitted to the right hon. Gentleman?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I think that it will be found that these schemes will be open for consideration by all the authorities concerned, and that they will be reviewed and discussed. The Department of Education will, of course, interest themselves in this problem, but all those who are affected will have an opportunity of putting their point of view—
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
It is essential that in this Committee dealing with education there shall be a measure of co-option. That is a difference which I hope I have male clear to the House. Questions of course arise such as the duties of the Standing Joint Committees. I think that it will be found that the county councils have power to deal with problems which should be in their hands, particularly those dealing with the police and with borrowing; there is special provision made for control over capital expenditure and borrowing in the proposals which we make under Clause 21.
I now turn to the position of the smaller burghs in Scotland. No one who has had to face the problem of the reconstruction of local government in Scotland, can fail to observe that one of the most difficult and clamant problems is that of the smaller burghs. They have grown up out of the past with a very fine record. In their origin, they were in many cases isolated centres of safety which could be found only within their walls, and there was a time when the rest of the country was in a very different state from that which we know to-day. I would like the House to realise that, in any proposals which I am making with regard to the burghs, I am not insensible to the splendid records which they have achieved, and the work which they have done for Scotland. There will be transferred to the county councils certain functions of the smaller burghs, by which I mean those under 20,000 population. The principal functions to be transferred are: maintenance of the classified roads, police, the major health services, including infectious diseases, maternity services and child welfare, milk and dairies, adulteration of food and drugs and unsound food, valuation of lands and town planning. The burghs with a population of 20,000 and over, which at present maintain police forces, 871 will continue to be police authorities. Otherwise, the county council will be the police authority.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
In the White Paper which I issued, there was taken away from the smaller burghs a considerable number of other functions than those which I have presently mentioned, but, after meeting with all the authorities in Scotland, and having considered the representations which were made to me on the subject, I was able to concede to the burghs the retention of certain powers which do not interfere with the main structure of the Government scheme. The following functions will remain with the smaller burghs: housing, water supply, sewerage and drainage, general sanitation, trading services, including slaughter houses, baths, markets, gas and trams, regulation of buildings, public amusements, public parks, licensing, licensing of hackney carriages, etc., lighting, cleansing, maintenance of unclassified streets, regulation of traffic, weights and measures, burial grounds, smoke abatement, control of fire brigades, allotments, libraries and shop hours. In addition, there will remain to them, naturally, the power of actually rating. It cannot be said, therefore, that the attack of the Government upon the position of these smaller burghs is a very severe one; but there are certain services which fall to be dealt with by these smaller burghs, such as sewage and water supply, both of which are often closely into, locked with the life of the communities immediately outside their boundaries, and nobody who knows the circumstances in Scotland can deny that there have been many cases where owing to a lack of reasonable co-operation between the burgh authorities and the county authorities the public have suffered.
While this concession is made to the burghs, specific power is taken for an over-riding power of the central authority, for the Secretary of State for Scotland, 872 after a local inquiry, to deal with just such problems. But I hope that that central power may never be called upon, and that the fact that it is actually there may be a warning to any, if such there be, who would in future disregard a reasonable arrangement for the common services of the burgh and the county. It has been said that we are taking away from some of these small authorities in Scotland more than has been taken by my right hon. Friend from similar authorities in England. I do not think after examination that this will be found to be really the case, nor, indeed, will it be found that such differences as may exist are not concerned with subjects which ought properly to be taken from them. It will be found that apart from the treatment of infectious disease, town planning and river pollution, which are being transferred to the county councils in Scotland, there are no marked differences in the functions which will he left to the small authorities in the two countries. In England, as far as infectious diseases are concerned, the county councils are required to make a general survey of the problem and to report how best the county resources can be utilised for the service; and if anyone disagrees as to the problem of town planning or of river pollution, I am satisfied that when they come to consider this as a practical proposition they will agree that it is right that these things ought to be in the hands of the larger authorities.
This brings me to the reconstitution of the county councils. The county councils will be reconstituted, as explained in Clause 8, to include representatives of, first, the landward areas who will be elected for electoral divisions; secondly, of the small burghs, who will be appointed by the town councils; and thirdly, of the large burghs, except the four cities, who will be appointed by the town councils. The small burghs will he represented for transferred services, the large burghs will be represented for education, and in some cases also for police. The burgh representatives will not vote where matters are under discussion in which they are not financially interested. Of course, it will be necessary to publish a scheme, and I hope to be able to submit that in outline to the House at a later date and at any rate before we proceed to the Committee stage of the Bill. 873 That will show how it is proposed to adjudicate between the respective claims of the rural and urban areas in the formation of these bodies. Quite obviously the question of population and valuation will have to come into consideration in making an estimate of what a proper representation would be, but there are a considerable number of other factors, and all I can say at present is that, working on a basis which has been established in practice before and is in an existing Act of Parliament, we will submit a scheme showing how in every instance these proposals will work out. It will then, of course, be open to those within the areas to express their views and to have those views heard and considered, and I hope it may be found that a satisfactory solution will be arrived at.
I ought to say here that the Bill provides in Clause 10 that certain small burghs shall be united for all purposes, and that certain small counties will be combined with other counties for purposes for which small burghs are included in the counties. It is clear that under existing circumstances quite a number of local authorities combine voluntarily. They recognise, as everyone is bound to recognise, that of themselves they are incapable of fulfilling all these duties. All I would say now about this problem is that it is perhaps as acute in my own native county of Fife as in any other, but these proposals are directed for the purpose of efficiency, and I hope they will not be regarded as being directed against the personal interests of any one of these burghs but, rather, as being conceived on behalf of the common interests of the community which they serve.
I have spoken already of the statutory committees of the county council which will he set up under Clause 12. There will be, of course, the education statutory committee and police and poor relief committees in counties, but not in burghs. The police and poor relief committees are statutory and, of course, there will be ample opportunity for the setting up of other committees, and of subcommittees as provided for in Clause 14 of the Bill, and this will give that local co-operation and local touch which we desire to retain. Under Clause 13 the county councils may delegate functions to town councils of the smaller burghs, and I do not doubt that in a good many 874 cases they will do so. I have already said that these schemes of administration must be submitted; that will be found in Clause 14. And there are questions as of borrowing and auditing. But all these, I think, are of minor importance compared with the general scheme of which I have spoken and are such that they can be debated on the Committee stage.
If I turn to Part II of the Bill, I come to the question of de-rating. This de-rating is common to both countries. The total amount of rate loss represented by these reductions in industrial and agricultural subjects will, it is estimated, amount in Scotland to £3,200,000 a year. With regard to the agricultural side of it, since I published the White Paper I have had the opportunity of discussing this problem with the representatives of agriculture throughout Scotland representing all parties, both of the large and small farmers, and representatives of the larger owners, and I have since then announced that the fraction of de-rating proposed in the White Paper, which was then stated as one-sixth of the gross rental of the unit, would be one-eighth. I can at a later stage produce figures which I think will convince hon. Gentlemen on all sides of the House that that, as nearly as may he, brings our position in the de-rating of agricultural subjects into line with de-rating in England.
The question of finance, in Part III of this Bill, is explained in the Financial Memorandum which is attached to the Bill, and we shall no doubt have an opportunity of debating this more fully on the Financial Resolution. The scheme is the same as in the English Bill, but with certain modifications to adapt it to the Scottish system of local government. The total net cost to the Exchequer in each of the first five years is estimated at £4,125,000, and the total extra revenue of the local authorities in each of the first five years from new money and general Exchequer contributions is £750,000, with additional Exchequer grants £1,000, and supplementary Exchequer grants £171,000. This makes a, total of £922,000. Perhaps I ought to say that the same guarantees are being given in Scotland as in England, and as those were explained at length by the Minister of Health I do not think I need trouble to go over the points.
875 The effect, broadly, of the guarantees will be that in the first quinquennium it is estimated that only three counties out of 33 will require an additional grant to bring the gain up to 1s. per head in compensating them for the loss of rates and grants, and no large burgh will require an additional grant, the gain in every case being in excess of 1s. per head. Briefly, the new money to be distributed, £922,000, represents the sum of 3s. 9¼d. per head of population according to the census of 1921, and it is estimated to be a rate of 6¼d. per £ of the reduced rateable value of Scotland. The effect of the new money, therefore, will be an average reduction of 6¼d. per £ over the rates of the whole country. That in itself will be no small matter. Of the 179 small burghs, 115, or 64 per cent., will have their rates reduced; of the 869 parishes, 585, or 67 per cent., will have their rates reduced; and it is calculated that every industrial area will gain. In addition, seven persons out of every eight in Scotland will gain. I will only say that, if that calculation is accurate, it represents a rather better state of things than that which was described by the Minister of Health as regards England.
Part IV of the Bill is general and deals with certain powers to make orders. It is impossible to anticipate all the minor difficulties of administration which may arise in a change of this magnitude, and therefore it is essential that certain powers should be taken to deal with them. I hope that in what I have said I have explained sufficiently the material difficulties between the application of this scheme for Scotland as compared with the English scheme.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
The formula has been decided by taking concrete cases, and it will work to the material advantage of practically every part of Scotland. In a Bill of this magnitude, it is impossible to deal with every point in a Second Reading speech. I am not desirous of detaining the House at any greater length, and I would rather hear the criticisms of hon. Members in all quarters of the House. Strange to say, I am not a little surprised to find that, while hon. Members below the Gangway admit in all their publications that these reforms are necessary, although they tread upon people's toes, 876 when they are made hon. Members opposite put down an Amendment running away from dealing with these problems.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The Secretary of State for Scotland has made a very explicit statement. He says that the Liberal party have made themselves responsible for certain proposals similar to those contained in this Bill. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to state here and now where he finds those proposals in any publication?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I think the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I said that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway have stated in the Yellow Book and the Tartan Book that these problems urgently call for reform, and that obviously they were bound to tread upon the toes of a great many people. I am a little surprised to find the lack of enthusiasm with which these proposals have been received on the part of hon. Members opposite. I shall be glad to hear in the Debate which will follow how far they are prepared to admit to their constituents the necessity for agricultural relief which inevitably must carry with it an enlargement of the areas if their constituents are to obtain the benefits which we desire that they should receive. With regard to the terms of the Amendment to be moved by hon. Members opposite, all I can say is that, at any rate, I shall listen with interest to the discussion, and I am satisfied of this, that there has never been any other proposal which has touched the relief of the necessitous areas in any measure approaching that which we are now suggesting. If right hon. Gentlemen on the Labour benches have any better proposals, I shall be glad to listen to them.
In dealing with this problem, I have always kept in mind the early education I had when working upon a local authority. I have endeavoured to maintain local interests; I have endeavoured to strengthen the power of the local authorities by giving them, through these systems of block grants, greater freedom in dealing with the problem of local administration, and a relief from that ever necessary interference from Whitehall which is part of the percentage grant system. By far the larger part of the bigger burghs accept these proposals in full or, if not in full, in the main. The 877 greater part of Scotland, representing the larger part of the population, have not expressed their opposition to these proposals, and indeed, with regard to the smaller burghs in Scotland, I have met them in what I hope will be recognised as being a generous spirit, and in an endeavour to hammer out mutually a satisfactory solution of this problem. With regard to education, I would again emphasise that in my judgment it would be a calamity if this question were left outside our great scheme. It is interesting to know that the scheme which I submit to the House to-day is the same scheme that was the original intention of those dealing with education in 1918.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
That Measure was rejected under a misapprehension as to what they were doing. In any case, those who represent the teaching profession have, by a large majority, declared themselves in favour of this scheme. I submit this Bill to the House, and I hope in its further stages we shall observe that courtesy and good will which the House has accorded to my introduction of it.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House declines to assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which, in defiance of the emphatic protest of local governing bodies in Scotland, attacks the democratic foundations of local government by the co-option and nomination of unrepresentative persons; dissipates effective local interest in administration and creates a new and costly bureaucracy; perpetuates the indefensible system of treating unemployment as a local and not a national responsibility; is calculated to hinder necessary developments in the public health services; and will add burdens to already harassed tenants and shopkeepers, while relieving wealthier sections of the community of their proper share of financial responsibility for local government.The concluding passages of the right hon. Gentleman's speech gave us some hope, although perhaps not too much, that he would be prepared to amend this Measure very drastically. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was prepared to consider and entertain a better 878 scheme if that scheme were submitted to him in the course of this Debate.
§ Sir. J. GILMOUR indicated dissent.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman withdraws that statement? Whether the Secretary of State for Scotland is or is not prepared to accept a better scheme, he may rest assured that before this Debate is over a better scheme will be produced in this House. I am afraid that interest in these discussions will suffer somewhat through the prolonged discussions which have taken place on the English Bill. Although the right hon. Gentleman was at some considerable pains to attempt to allay the apprehensions about this Bill, it nevertheless remains a fact that this Bill is more drastic, more reckless, more desperate, and more deadly in its attack upon local government and democracy than is the Bill presented by the Minister of Health. Let me for a few moments attempt to show wherein, and on vital issues, this Bill is more reckless and more desperate than the English Bill. To begin with, the method of calculating the rateable value in Scotland is different. The heavier the local rate appears in the valuation roll the less is the effect of the proposal for de-rating, and therefore the less will be the relief which Scotland will get, and that very fact vitiates the formula. That is my first point.
My second point is that there is a vital difference in regard to the question of the treatment of agricultural land, due again to the difference in our rating system. To-day, the farmer is only rated upon one-fourth, and the owner is rated on three-fourths. Under this Bill the owner is to get a reduction to one-eighth on condition that he hands over half of his share of the public swag to his tenant during the existing tenancy. The landlord in Scotland is to get a share of the public relief on condition that he hands over half of what he gets to the farmer. In England, land without a house upon it pays no rates at all. In Scotland, such land is to be rated at one-eighth, and we arrive at this admittedly curious position, that in Scotland, under the right hon. Gentleman's proposal, the owners of land are to be relieved to the extent of £770,000 per annum, while the relief in respect of occupiers' rates is to 879 be only £110,000. It was admitted by the Secretary of State for Scotland, in reply to a question which I put to him in this House, that £770,000 was going to the owners and £110,000 was going to the tenant farmers on the condition that half of what the landowners receive goes to the tenant farmer during the currency of existing leases.
Of course, when the lease falls in, it is inevitable that the rent will go up, and, when the rent goes up, it will be apparent to everyone, as it is to most people in Scotland now, including the National Farmers' Union, that the whole of this rating relief, so far as agriculture is concerned, will reach the pockets of the owners of land, and will be a subvention to them. It has been sometimes said that the owner has been hard hit by reason of the changes in the value of money and so on, but the fact is that the average lease in Scotland runs for anything up to 18 or 19 years, and, therefore, it is a fair estimate that from one-half to one-third of the existing leases have been contracted in 1920 or subsequent years. In other words, they were contracted at peak prices, when the landlords knew what their rate obligations and burdens were, and included those high rating obligations and burdens in the rent. Rates have fallen since, so that to-day the landlord is actually getting a greater net return than he was getting in 1920.
There is one further point that I want to make to show the difference between the Scottish and the English systems. I may be wrong, and, if so, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to correct me at once. With regard to the payment out of the Road Fund towards general Exchequer contributions, there is, on page vii of the Financial Memorandum, a furtive reference to a sum of £3,000,000 for Great Britain, and to the fact that 11/91sts is the due proportion for Scotland. Since when was 11/91sts Scotland's due proportion? We have always understood hitherto, since the days of the Goschen formula, that Scotland's estimated share was 11/80ths, but here, furtively, without a word of explanation, without, so far as I am aware, any explanation having been given in the country, in the Press or in this House, 880 the right hon. Gentleman accepts 11/91sts as our share, and consequently Scotland loses a very considerable proportion of what it has hitherto believed to be its just financial right.
I begin with the subject of education, and what this Bill proposes to do in regard to it. It proposes to transfer, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, the functions of the education authorities, which are now on a county basis, to the county councils. But it is immediately obvious that those functions cannot be transferred to the county councils without making a change in the structure of the county councils themselves, because the county councillors have already sufficient work in hand. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is inevitably compelled to commence a system of co-option. He is driven to it. Whenever he goes in for a county council area and county council control, he is compelled to go in for a system of co-option; and, bad as the existing system is in some respects for the county areas, at any rate there is this much to be said for it, that it is on an elective basis. The right hon. Gentleman proposes to scrap that elective basis and to transfer, for the first time, the control of education—because that is what it is coming to—to a non-elected, nominated committee. It is quite true that the Bill says that on the education committees, which the county councils are to set up, a majority of the members must be members of the county council; but everyone knows that these county councillors, having other duties to perform, will not be able to attend as regularly as the nominated, specially interested persons, and it follows, therefore, that the control, save for large-scale financial measures, will fall into the hands of these non-elected, nominated members. It is intended, of course, that financial control shall remain in the hands of the county council.
In the old days we used to have secondary education committees in the counties, and I was a member of one for many years. That secondary education committee was composed of representatives of all the school boards in the county area, and to those representatives were added representatives from the county council. Those committees functioned for many years, and, so far as I know, perfectly satisfactorily. They 881 dealt with bursaries, secondary education, medical inspection and treatment, preserving intact the right of the localities to look after their own affairs; and all that it was necessary to add was a national regulation, such as there ought to have been long ago, fixing a uniform scale for teachers' salaries, which could have been imposed on all these authorities. Then we should have had a unification of function and, at the same time, democratic control. But a previous administration tore up that system by the roots, and, since the old school boards and secondary education committees in the counties have gone, there has been a lack of interest, and most certainly lack of control, and now we are to have the added folly of co-option. The Secretary to the Scottish Board of Health, I see, wrote an article a fortnight ago in which he made the statement—I hope he was treating it as a joke—that at any rate the school management committees would remain. Why, they cannot buy a duster. No one with any sense of self-respect will sit on them. They are powerless, they are useless, they are only a camouflage for county control. An illustration from the town in which I live will throw light on this. Three weeks ago, rain was pouring down through a broken window at the local school, but the management committee could not order a local joiner to come and repair that window; they had to telephone to the county authority, and the county authority had then to give their permission for a glazier to come and put in the window.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Major Elliot)
That is the county education authority?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Not at all; I am coming to that in a moment; I am dealing now with an article which the hon. and gallant Gentleman wrote in a Scottish educational journal, in which he stated, as a defence for these proposals, that the school management committees would remain, and I am pointing out to him that the school management committees on which he rests his defence are useless, dummy organisations which have no power whatsoever. Not only so, but 882 over large areas their meetings have been abandoned. Decent men will not meet under these conditions, and in some cases, I believe, school management committees have practically ceased to function. What will this Bill do so far as education is concerned? Will it benefit education Will it develop education? Nobody has ever alleged it. What it will do will be to reopen and extend a theological war. The right hon. Gentleman laughs, but he will laugh on the other side of his face before he has finished with this matter. [Interruption.] I speak by the book on this matter, and I have documentary evidence in my hand.
In sub-section (4, b) of Clause 12 of his Bill, he makes arrangements whereby representatives of the two chief theological organisations in Scotland shall have representation on the education committee, and the representatives of the transferred schools, who for all practical purposes are the Roman Catholics, are to have at least one nominated representative on the committee. The managers of these transferred schools transferred their schools, under the existing Act, on a very definite pledge that they would have adequate representation and that they would have adequate control over the theological training and teaching of their children. I have here a letter from one of the three gentlemen who visited the Government, on the authorisation of the Catholic community in Scotland, in July, 1917, for the purpose of dealing with this matter. Those three gentlemen were Bishop Toner, Bishop McArthy and Mr. Mitchell Quin. They got definite pledges that the Catholic school managers, who had built up these schools and so on, would still retain effective control, and here is what they say now about the right hon. Gentleman's proposal, which only gives them a minimum of one co-opted representative on this education committee, which, be it noted, has no power over finance. Here is what Mr. Mitchell Quin, representing his flock, writes on the subject of this Bill. He says that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman has been put into the Bill without consultation with the catholic community, and that they were never even asked—
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I am not disputing that, but I say that this Clause was put into the Bill without informing them and without consultation with them. Here is their comment on this Clause of the Bill:The proposal is an outrageous and atrocious despotism, and the arrogance of it provokes the most indignant resentment.The right hon. Gentleman may laugh, but I assure him that the Catholic community in Scotland believe that they are being tricked by this Clause to which I have drawn attention. Mr. Mitchell Quin was one of the three gentlemen who represented the Catholic community in July, 1917. Is that denied?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
But not since 29th November last, when he wrote this letter to me. [Interruption.] And then there is the Protestant section of the community. What is their position under the same Clause? There has been a voluminous correspondence between the right hon. Gentleman and Dr. White and others representing the Protestant section of the community. What is going to happen to them? They are easily satisfied if they are satisfied with this. What is it they get? I am the last man to want to stir up theological fury in Scottish education. I know enough about it. Will the right hon. Gentleman face this while yet there is time to stop it, and not when it is too late? What does this Clause do for the Protestant churches in Scotland? It says that at least one person conversant with the custom hitherto obtaining in religious instruction in the schools will be co-opted on this Education Committee. A man may be conversant with the facts and be an atheist. He may not hold any religious convictions at all. He may represent any community. It does not say in this Clause that he is to represent the Protestant community. It does not say he is to be a believer. All it says is that he is to be conversant with the practice that has gone on in the past and, if the right hon. Gentleman thinks he will get away with this Clause among the Protestants of Scotland, there is a rude awakening coming for him. The Clause even, as it is drawn, makes no provision for Jews nor for all sorts of other groups of theo- 884 logians who cannot be very well specified in an Act of Parliament. Whenever the right hon. Gentleman begins co-option and nomination and takes the right of way from the people to vote by a majority as to whom they want on the committees, he is immediately in trouble.
He said, "Look at England." Well look at England. He is perfectly well aware—no one better, I am sure—that the system he is proposing is not the system that is in operation in England now. I am informed that in Lancashire there are 61 authorities, outside the managers of the theological schools altogether, superintending primary education now, apart altogether from Manchester and the big cities. In Lanarkshire under this Bill, taking away Glasgow, there will be only one. In England, where boasted progress has been made, I see from a letter in the "Times" they are only spending 1s. 8d. per head on books. I am informed that in Scotland we are spending 5s. The sacred word "unification" is to cover all this multitude of sins. The human child, the most delicate mechanism in the world, is to be united with sewage farms, public loans, trains, waterworks, and so on all jumbled together in this monstrosity which the right hon. Gentleman calls unification. I suppose he has seen these quotations but there is no harm in repeating them. The "Times" educational supplement of 25th August last says:The town councils, especially of the four large cities, with separate education authorities are so loaded with existing duties that they could not possibly undertake the added administration of education except by delegation, which is very much the same as loss of control. Nor do their composition and interests render them fit for such a task.The report on the Education of the Adolescent, 1926, said that Scotland has now, and always has had, a higher degree of unity between the different stages of education. The right hon. Gentleman, with almost incredible levity, has not offered one single educational argument as to why these existing organisations, admittedly performing their functions well, should be uprooted and thrown with sewage farms, public rates, police and all the rest of it into the omnivorous maw of his enlarged and 885 swollen county councils. What he is doing is to create a huge bureaucracy which will strangle us all.
He referred specifically to the attitude of the parish councils on the matter. I asked him if he would mind reciting the exact words of the Parish Councils Association Resolution, which he held in some mysterious way that I could not understand to be a justification of his position. Here is the Resolution:That the administration of Poor Law in Scotland be by an ad hoc authority elected for convenient areas to be determined by a Commission set up for the purpose instead of the proposals contained in the White Paper.The Resolution is in direct and vital antagonism to the proposals the right hon. Gentleman is making. It goes on:The members recognise that the day of the parish as the unit of administration has been superseded, but they are not at all satisfied that counties and burghs are any better suited as a unit of administration. They, therefore, recommend that convenient areas should be mapped out by a special commission, and they accept the recommendation of the Poor Law Commission of 1909 that there ought to be an authority elected for the purpose of devoting itself entirely to the work of relief.If words have any meaning at all it is the considered opinion of the Association of Parish Councils in Scotland that the right hon. Gentleman's proposals are very unsatisfactory indeed.
Then he said he had a warranty from many previous commissions and reports. I am going to quote him some previous commissions and reports, and I would ask him where he has got his warranty. He proposes to smash up parish council administration and to put county council administration of the Poor Law in its place. The majority report of the Poor Law Commission of 1909 did not recommend him to do that. On page 602 they were definitely against such a proposal. The minority report of the Poor Law Commission of 1909, page 554, specifically says they will not venture to decide whether parish councils should continue in existence in Scotland. The majority and the minority reports give the right hon. Gentleman no warranty. The amazing Munro Report, as it is called, because of its Chairman's name—I say "amazing" because it recommended the absorption of burghs into county areas with a population of 50,000 and not 886 20,000—bad a sub-committee presided over by the Noble Lady.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of EDUCATION (Duchess of Atholl)
It was another committee quite separate from the Munro Committee.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
It is in the same document and it is called Consultative Council of the Highlands and Islands. The Noble Lady presided over that committee and it is attached to the Munro Committee Report as a Government paper. It says:The parish council has proved an efficient unit of local administration in rural affairs in the past and we do not think that it could be dispensed with without serious loss of efficiency.I do not want to misrepresent the Noble Lady. I knew there were other proposals in the Report about co-option, but I am dealing with the point the right hon. Gentleman made, that in previous Commissions and reports he had a warranty for the proposal he has now brought before the House.
Duchess of ATHOLL
May I ask the hon. Member to look at the date at which that report was issued? It was in 1921 and at the beginning of the long period of seven years unemployment which has caused a very heavy and unequal burden of the Poor Law on different parts.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I simply repeat that the Noble Lady has said she does not think the parish council could be dispensed with in rural areas without serious loss of efficiency. If she has changed her views, as we are all entitled to do, I trust we shall have a detailed statement during the discussions on the Bill as to how it was possible in 1923, after all these years, for the parish council to be efficient, and that recommendation made that it could not be abolished without lack of efficiency, and what has happened during these intervening four or five years to make these parish councils inefficient. In flat defiance of the expressed opinion of the parish councils of Scotland, the people 887 who know the work best, the right hon. Gentleman proposes to proceed with the Bill. What kind of areas is he proposing to have now? County areas in the Highlands for the ultimate supervision of Poor Law relief, with collectors and assistants, paid men of course, dotted all over the Highlands, but this applies to all the county areas. Let us see what some leading Conservatives say about it. I know the right hon. Gentleman would not pay any attention to what we would say. At the Highland Parish Councils' Association meeting at Inverness in July of this year Cameron of Lochiel, who is closely associated with local government in the Highlands and who is a leading supporter generally of the right hon. Gentleman, though he is breathing fire and brimstone about him now, says:In some districts in Inverness every time they"—that is the members of the county council who have now to look after poor relief—go home from the meeting it will be time to start for the next meeting. It will not be possible for the representative for Barra, for instance, to get home and return for the next meeting. During the time that a man will come from Barra to Inverness and back, another man can go from Inverness to London, spend the whole day in the City and go to the play in the evening before the first man has got from Inverness to Barra. Is that democracy, to take the power away from the representatives of the people and put it in the hands of men with time and leisure. I admit that I am a Conservative in politics, but I am a democrat.And that is more than the proposers of this Measure can claim to be. There are 30 parishes in the Highlands each with over 100,000 acres. One of them, Fortwilliam, has 267,000 acres. Each of these parishes is far larger than some 15 of the Lowland counties to whom Poor Law functions are to be transferred. Some parishes in Inverness-shire are 100 miles from the county town without adequate road transport facilities; a fourth of the distance from Glasgow to London. In these county areas, control gone, a bureacracy triumphant, the right hon. Gentleman proposes to hand over the control of poor relief. And it is not only in Highland areas; it is in some Lowland areas too. In the part of the county in which I live, the eastern portion of Dumbarton, we are not even attached to the rest of the county. To get to Dumbarton, the county town, we 888 have to go through Lanarkshire and we have to go through Stirlingshire. We are 40 miles away from the county town. The right hon. Gentleman proposes to make some kind of geographical entity out of what has no common economic or social attachment.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the present parish areas were not suitable. I agree. I do not see how anybody can justify the continuance of the present parish area in every case as a suitable unit. Let us face the great bulk of the facts and not confine ourselves to an isolated unit. I believe that the more satisfactory and better business way to deal with parish council areas in Scotland is for the right hon. Gentleman to set up a Commission on delimitation. Let him send that Commission round the country, and let it recommend to him new areas, not necessarily in the same counties, but areas selected rather on the basis of, if I may use unfortunate words, geographical propinquity, on the basis of the social arrangement of places that are adjacent to one another. Let him take places even in different counties. Let him unite these places into a parish area where representatives from the various villages can meet in the centre town at night, where they can still maintain control over the little affairs of their lives, and where we shall not have this destruction of local government as it proposed in the right hon. Gentleman's Bill.
He tells us that his excuse for all this is the problem of poor relief, particularly able-bodied relief. Well, there is a problem there which we ought to have grappled with in this House years ago. Cardross has a rate of 2s. 5d. for able-bodied relief, Dundee 3½d., Greenock 3s. 7d., Bonhill 2s. 4d. We know that these things cannot be justified, but it. is not the fault of Greenock or of Port Glasgow, or of Cardross, or of Govan, or of Bonhill that. the rates are high. It is not their fault. It is not due to any essential weakness on the part of their administration, or, incidentally, to any laziness or unwillingness to work on the part of the people. It is due to high policy on the part of the State. It was the policy of the reparationships which was settled in this House that paralysed the Clyde. You will not settle this problem by delimiting your area for poor relief on a 889 county basis, because you still leave the problem of differentiation between one county and another. You will not solve it by making your areas on a county basis at all. I submit to the right hon. Gentleman that the fairest and most reasonable and most equitable way is for the Government to take over entirely the cost of able-bodied poor relief in Scotland, and, in addition, to take over the cost of maintaining the mains roads. That would be £1,740,000 for able-bodied relief, excluding miners' dependants' allowances, and £3,200,000 for the cost of public roads. Add these together and you get a sum of £4,940,000—a sum under £5,000,000—which is not much more than the total of the de-rating money, what he calls the new money, for which the right hon. Gentleman is asking in this Bill. Take public roads. Admittedly, they are not a local concern. They are used by everybody and ought not to be paid for by small local authorities, but ought to be made a national charge. Able-bodied poor relief is also, admittedly, not a local charge, but is due to national causes, due to high policy over which the localities have no control. Take these burdens off the necessitous area. Take these burdens off the local ratepayer. In doing this, you will not merely be benefiting the favoured few.
One further point about parish councils. We hear a lot about overlapping. Well, break up the Poor Law. Transfer the functions of your parish council to other publicly-elected bodies. But you are not doing that by this Bill. You are maintaining the Poor Law intact. All you are doing by this Bill is to take away what local control there is in the administration of the Poor Law and to hand over that administration to the gentlemen who sit on the county council. There is no uniformity in the administration of the Employment Exchanges. The manager of one Employment Exchange deals with the unemployed in a different way from the manager in an adjacent Employment Exchange, with this result, that owing to the activities or inactivities of the Ministry of Labour, we have some areas—I will give illustrations if the right hon. Gentleman wants them—where there is no change in the proportions of unemployed, but where the amounts spent on unemployment relief by the 890 parish councils fluctuate from 100 per cent. to 150 per cent. It is due to the Ministry of Labour; it is not due to the local authorities at all.
I come to the question of the small burghs. The right hon. Gentleman proposes to take small burghs of 20,000 population and under and take away from them the major health services and hand them over to the county councils. I have served, as I am sure many of my hon. Friends behind me have served, for many years on a small burgh, and I am prepared to challenge here or elsewhere the contention of the Government that the small burgh is less efficient in public health or in any other form of its administration than the large swollen burgh or the county council. The right hon. Gentleman made this statement again. His friends make it repeatedly. They go about declaring it, but they never prove it. To take the test of the death-rate. Is it not the case that the infant mortality rate in the small burghs is lower than the county infant mortality rate, as is the death-rate under 5, under 10, under 15, and under 25? It is only when we get up to the old age groups that the counties beat the small burghs. There it is due entirely to industrial employment and has nothing whatever to do with local administration. The right hon. Gentleman said that no small burgh can afford to provide a hospital for infectious diseases. [HON. MEMI3ERS "But they do!"] That was his contention. Well, it is true, but what do they do? They unite to create infectious diseases hospitals. They unite to run them. They do not only unite in the same county, but they have had the sense, in their desire to keep down the local rates, to amalgamate with authorities in other counties Take the small-pox hospital in Dumbartonshire to which Glasgow is attached—county councils, small burghs, they are all in together. In regard to infectious diseases hospitals, they are all in together. The right hon. Gentleman said that small burghs cannot be burdened with them. What does he say about Oban? Oban has an infectious diseases hospital. The Lorn district send their patients to the Oban Burgh Hospital by arrangement, and now it is proposed to take away from Oban, and those running the hospital, the control of the hospital, and to hand 891 it over to the county council. It is the same in St. Andrews, and the same with regard to 20 or 30 authorities, the names of which I can give to the House.
The right hon. Gentleman says: "Oh, well, the death-rate is not a fair test." Well, what is a fair test? Efficiency is a test. I take it on commercial grounds. I know a small burgh, the burgh in which I live, where we are selling our gas to ordinary consumers at 2s. 1d. per 1,000 feet, while over an imaginary line the great Corporation of Glasgow is selling gas, not at 2s. 1d., but at 3s. 8d. per 1,000 feet. We are selling gas to villages in other counties, and we are prepared to sell that gas at an infinitely lower rate, and are actually doing so, than Glasgow is able to supply the gas. We are selling water to Lanarkshire County Council, in the Lenzie district, at 7½d. per pound of rental, while the great Glasgow Corporation, with its great area, is selling water on the other side of the street at is. 7½d. per pound of rental. Now, we are asked to hand over our efficient service to a less efficient county council which is to operate them 40 or 50 miles away.
We have no guarantee under this Bill that our burghal representatives will be placed on the health or roads committee of the county council. Perhaps it may be said that is because they cannot get anyone to serve. We cannot get candidates to spend their time at county meetings, the result being that in hundreds of county council seats there is no election: elections have disappeared. Now, the right hon. Gentleman proposes to make things worse by taking away our major health services and handing them over to the county councils and allowing nominated persons to deal with them there. Worse than that, by amalgamating all these functions in the county councils he will limit the numbers of men and women who are legally qualified to stand for the county council. In Grange-mouth, we find that the Provost is the Registrar; consequently he would be ineligible under this Bill, as a paid official, to stand for the county council. The junior Bailie is the headmaster of a school and he is ineligible to stand for the county council. The Judge is an inspector of the poor, and he, too, is ineligible. Another councillor has a contract for the laundering required in the 892 schools; therefore, he is ineligible. Whenever you take all these county councils and amalgamate them under one county council you automatically limit the numbers of men and women who have a legal right to be nominated for election to the county council.
I challenge the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who has taken a very keen interest in these matters and is probably as well qualified as anyone in this House with facts at his disposal, to name areas where the small burghs are less efficient than the county burghs adjoining them. Where are they? I can tell him of areas where the burghal rate is 3s. in the pound less than the county rate, and for that smaller rate we get well-lit streets, backcourts cleaned, public parks, with music, child welfare centres, a town hall, slaughter house, 200 houses provided under the Addison scheme and 100 houses under a sum clearance scheme, while over in the county area, with its high rate, we get no good lighting in the streets, no provision for clean courts, no public parks, no music, no town hall, no slaughter house, no houses whatever provided under any housing scheme, slums reeking all around the place, and yet it is to such a county council we are to hand over our major health services. Take milk and dairies inspection. We have to hand that over, too. Who en earth contends that milk and dairies, food and drugs, can he better inspeete3 from 80 miles away than they can at your own door? Who better can challenge unfit food, or diseased milk, than the people on the spot? The right hon. Gentleman, without a word of explanation, proposes to take away local control of milk and dairies, food and drugs and hand it over to the county council. In regard to rivers pollution, he proposes to hand over that service to the people who have been polluting the, rivers.
There are Committee points that we shall be able to put forward which I trust the right hon. Gentleman will find of substance. For example, water is excluded from the grant under this Bill. That leaves the tenants and the small shopkeepers to pay the public water rate in the future. The public water rate for fountains and the rest of it will henceforth be maintained entirely by the tenants and the shopkeepers, who are to get no rate relief.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The hon. Member must surely be aware that, despite the Exchequer grant, there are services to which there is to be no rating relief given; services which are to be entirely maintained without grant by the local residents. If he will spend a little more time in studying the Bill before we come to the Committee stage, perhaps he will not make an interruption of that kind again. In regard to the collection of rates, the small burghs are to be compelled, under Section 20, to hand over the rates in full, on the 15th January next year, whether they have collected them or not. The instalment periods are not yet up. The burghs are to be compelled to borrow, as they will have to do in some instances, in order to hand over their funds to the county authorities. We are to be allowed to retain our medical officers of health and our sanitary inspectors until the existing ones die. In the meantime, we have to pay far them, but when they die the county council will step forward and provide us graciously with new ones. I should like to commend to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman what was said by the greatest constitutional historian we ever had in Scotland, and what he said about the small burghs. Cosmo Innes, in his preface to "Ancient Laws and Customs of the Burghs of Scotland," published by the Burghs Record Society, said this:In the homely burghs of Scotland we may find the first spring of that public spirit; the voice of the people, which in the worst of times when the Crown and the law were powerless and the feudal aristocracy altogether selfish in its views, supported the patriot leaders, Wallace and Bruce, and sent down that tide of native feeling which animated Burns and Scott and is not yet dead … whatever of thought, of enterprise, of public feeling appears in our poor history took use in our burghs, and among the burgess class.Now, the right hon. Gentleman proposes to put an end to that old song.
I will say little about the block grant and the percentage grant. That subject was well thrashed out on the English Bill, and some of my hon. Friends will draw attention to that phase, especially the effect of the block grant upon infant welfare and maternity services. We have had some experience of the block grant.
894 In 1899 the medical relief grants were stereotyped at £20,000. In 1892 the Lunacy grant was stereotyped at £115,000. In 1913, under the Mental Deficiency Act, there was an express provision that one-half of the sum expended on mental defectives should be repaid from Treasury funds. Now, that is to be 'abolished. In regard to certain schemes expenditure has been incurred but the work has not yet been completed. I refer particularly to the Mearnskirk Sanatorium, which has been arranged for by the Glasgow Parish Council, the Gogarburn Mental Deficiency Hospital for Edinburgh, the Caldwell Hospital for Govan and at Lennox Castle, bought by the Glasgow Board of Control. These works have not yet had their expenditure fully completed and will not rank for the percentage grant this year and will not rank for the block grant.
The right hon. Gentleman now proposes that all this growing expenditure, already contracted for, shall be met entirely by the local ratepayers, and only by a section of the local ratepayers. Tenants and shopkeepers are to face a sure and certain rent increase, a new bureaucracy arises, democracy is being strangled. The only hopeful feature about this Bill is the widespread resentment which is spreading now from Solway Sands to John o'Groats. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members opposite, laugh. One of his own candidates in Glasgow, at his party meeting, said that if this thing goes on Conservative candidates will disappear like a row of ninepins at the next election. [Laughter.] Hon. Members still laugh. What about Cameron of Lochiel? Does the right hon. Gentleman laugh at Cameron of Lochiel? He laughs.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) has put it on record and the Secretary of State for Scotland puts it on record that they laughed to scorn Cameron of Lochiel. Do they laugh at Sir Henry Keith? They are becoming a little more silent. Do they laugh at large numbers of representative Members of their own party who, serving on public boards all over the land, have publicly declared that the proposals in this Bill are an 895 attack on democracy, that they will not make for efficiency and that in the long run they will make for inefficiency. There is no connection between rate relief and the destruction of local government as revealed in this Bill. If it is desired to give rate relief, let the Government give it in the way I have suggested by making able-bodied poor relief and the cost of the public roads a national charge. That is not proposed by the Government.
In this House last year, we had the spectacle of Audit Bills being introduced, and boards of guardians in England being wiped out of existence because they were accused of having spent more in public relief upon trade unionists and others in their areas. The essential principle of the Audit Act is that boards of guardians were giving more to the working classes than the Minister of Health thought right and proper. What do we find now? This is not giving relief to the working classes, they are not getting a penny, directly. It is the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman opposite who, if you please, are to get exceptional relief out of the national Treasury. Take the mineral royalty owners. A gentleman in Lanarkshire who already gets relief of 5 per cent. under the Rating Act, 1926, is now to get 75 per cent. relief of his rates, that is 80 per cent. relief, whilst the collieries, in desperation, and starvation and despair, get nothing whatsoever. Mineral royalty owners in Glasgow, and, curiously enough, there are mineral royalty owners in Glasgow, already get 5 per cent. relief of rates under the Act of 1926, and a relief of local municipal rates of 47½ per cent. Now they are to get an additional 75 per cent. relief. For the honour and glory of the thing they might as well be paying no rates at all.
Take some gentlemen who appear on the Glasgow valuation roll as beneficiaries under this Bill. I think it should be on record that a, firm like MacFarlane Lang and Company are to get £2,482 a year; Bilsland Brothers, £1,902 a year; Tennants Breweries, £3,091 a year; a distillery on the canal bank, 22,996; Stephen Mitchell, the tobacco firm, for one place gets £380 a year; F. and J. Smith, another branch of the great Glas- 896 gow tobacco trust, making huge profits, gets relief to the extent of £706 a year in respect of one place; Buchanan's, confectioners, £2,377 a year; Gray and Company, confectioners, £1,458 a year; J. and D. Hamilton, Limited, oil merchants, £768 a year; Albion Motors, £1,497 a year, Wallace Scott and Company, tailors, £1,102 a year; Coopers Stores, £1,393 a year, in respect of one factory; Liptons, Limited, £1,474 in respect of one factory; Waddells, sausages, £808 a year; Steel Coulson and Company, brewers, £651 a year; Templetons, carpets, £5,397 a year; Collin's, printers, £1,997 a year; Barr's, ginger beer, £665 a year; Bryant and Mays, matches, 2778 a year; Cross, seed merchants — [Horn. MEMBERS: "Agreed!"]—£1,093 a year; Sir William Arrol—hon. Members opposite will have a difficulty in defending this in their constituencies with nothing going to the tenants—£5,231 a year; £13,117 to Fairfield; £4,532 a year to Barclay Curie; £5,574 a year to D. and W. Henderson; £1,978 a year to the firm of the chairman of the Conservative party in Glasgow, Mechans, Limited; £14,744 to the North British Loco Company: £3,380 to G. and J. Weir, Limited—and so on.
That is a very queer list. In Glasgow the assessment value which is to be relieved only amounts to £898,000, and on that sum three-quarters of the rates will he paid, but £7,470,000 of the property belonging to the poor, the tenants and shop-keepers is to get no relief at all. Hon. Members who propose to justify this in their constituencies have my heartiest commiseration. It is worse than selling honours. The Government are looting the national Treasury for their friends, a small class. They are raiding the national fund a few months before the General Election, and they propose to hand over these funds to the relief of royalty owners, who produce nothing, to ground landlords, company directors, and the rich, while tenants and shopkeepers get nothing. I have, therefore, the greatest possible pleasure in moving the Amendment.
Mr. W. M. WATSON
I beg to second the Amendment.
The Secretary of State for Scotland, since the issue of the White Paper, seems to be an entirely different individual to the Secretary of State we have known 897 in the past, both here and in the Committee Room upstairs. We have been in the habit of looking upon him as a man who would yield nothing; he would give us nothing. We have never been able to get anything out of him here, but since he issued the White Paper he has made some concessions. We were assured that the White Paper was merely drafted for the consideration of local bodies in Scotland, that the right hon. Gentleman was going to meet these local bodies and discuss the situation with them before the Bill was prepared. It is quite true that between the issue of the White Paper and the printing of the Bill certain concessions have been made. So far the Secretary of State was going on all right. First of all he allowed the larger burghs to retain control of their police force. The original proposal was that the police force in the larger burghs should be handed over to the county council, but as the Bill is drafted the larger burghs are to be allowed to retain control of their police force. In the ease of the smaller burghs, he has also made some concessions. It was proposed that public health, housing, roads, and, in fact, all the major services should be handed over to the county council. The Secretary of State has given way on that point, and now the smaller burghs are to be allowed to retain their major services as well as some of the minor ones.
I wonder to what this is all due? Is it a change of heart? I hope it is. It may be that as the General Election is approaching the Secretary of State is going to mend his ways. I am afraid, from what has been said this afternoon, that there is another reason for it. I was interested in the passage between him and hon. Members on this side when he was referring to the parish councils and to the fact that he is prepared even now to consider a scheme of election for certain areas. Where are we going to be led under a scheme of that kind? Does the Secretary of State mean that these parish council areas that are to be grouped are to be separate entirely from the county council control, that is, apart from any financial control which the county council may seek to exercise? If the Secretary of State is prepared to consider the delimitation of areas for parish council administration then he may find a considerable measure 898 of support for his scheme, but that will make a breach in his great scheme for having everything centralised, either in the larger burghs or the county councils. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head; if he means that these elected bodies that are to administer the Poor Law are to be under the control of the county council then I should like to see the scheme before I express any opinion upon it. I want to know exactly what is in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. Evidently he feels that he is on unsafe ground in seeking to centralise the administration of the Poor Law in the hands of the county councils. At the present time county councillors have quite enough work to do without having added the duty of administering the Poor Law and education as well. These services should be undertaken by specially elected bodies.
I notice that the right hon. Gentleman did not claim that any representative body of opinion in Scotland supports this particular scheme. He clutched at the County Councils Association. I should have been surprised if the County Councils Association was not prepared to give the right hon. Gentleman a certain measure of support, but I want to assure him that a number of county councils look with a great deal of suspicion on the scheme embodied in this Bill; and are not by any means whole-hearted in their support of it. I should not be surprised if it was supported by the large cities and burghs.
As far as the larger burghs are concerned, they are going to lose nothing of local administrative power. They will have added duties. They will have the right to elect representatives to the education authority and they will have the administration of the Poor Law. Therefore, so far as the larger burghs and county councils are concerned, we can understand their supporting the scheme. But when we come to the parish councils and the education authorities and the smaller burghs, we find that they are whole-heartedly opposed to the scheme. In the country generally it will be found that the feeling is that this scheme is alien to the Scottish character. The feeling is that democratic institutions are being undermined and that the Government is seeking to centralise everything in the hands of the county councils. That 899 is a very serious change, perhaps the biggest change there has ever been in local government in Scotland, and undoubtedly feeling is very strong against it.
My hon. Friend, in moving the Amendment, mentioned certain interests that are to be benefited by the scheme. There is no doubt as to who is to benefit. It will not be the ordinary ratepayer, nor the working man. As has been said in an earlier Debate, the miners will not benefit by a penny piece under the scheme. If the desire were merely to relieve industry of its burden we might have agreed to allow the Government to try the experiment. There is, at any rate, one way in which the Government ought to have relieved the ratepayers. The Government ought to have relieved them of the burden of the able-bodied unemployed, which has rested upon parish councils in Scotland and boards of guardians in England since 1921. In that event the Government would not have had the excuse for seeking to tear up the whole of our local government system in Scotland.
It is because of the problem of the necessitous areas that we have had the demand for wider areas for parish administration in Scotland. I agree at once that there is such a demand. We all agree that the parish unit is too small. But there has been no justification for asking the parish councils to bear the burden of unemployment to the extent that they have done during the past few years. I dare say all hon. Members have seen a very interesting statement made on behalf of five parish councils in Scotland—only five. Within seven years those five parish councils have paid out over £5,500,000 in relief of the able-bodied unemployed. That is only a sample. The problem of unemployment is a national problem and should have been met out of national funds. If this burden had been taken off the shoulders of the ratepayers there would not have been the outcry about widening the parish area in order to make everyone pay alike. Consequently, the Government would have been robbed of their justification for coming forward with this scheme and proposing the most retrograde step in Scottish local government that we have had in our time.
900 I want particularly to draw the attention of the Secretary for Scotland to what I think was a slip on his part. He referred to the duties of the Standing Joint Committees. Those bodies, I understand, are to be wiped out and are to have no control in future over the police or the borrowings that the county council require to undertake from time to time. So far as I can see we are to have a huge centralised body controlling practically the whole of our local life, apart from the larger burghs and some of the smaller burghs that are to retain certain services. It is too much centralisation. The general feeling in Scotland is that the Government is seeking to centralise too many duties and that the county councils cannot possibly undertake them. Before it is too late I hope that the Secretary of State will agree to meet the wishes of the people of Scotland to a much greater extent than hitherto. He has allayed a certain amount of feeling in the larger burghs by allowing them to retain control of their police forces. I am certain that they are not Anxious to have the administration of the Poor Law, because what is happening is this: The area that these local authorities will have to draw upon for their rates is reduced: the larger burgh that has to administer the Poor Law will have the right to levy rates in a smaller area than the parish has had in days past.
This is an important point. Most of the ordinary poor and the able-bodied unemployed are centralised. It is rather unfair to the burghs to say that they must have a more restricted area for levying rates. I know very well large burghs which will have the administration of the Poor Law. While the parish in that district has been able to carry on pretty easily and has met all the claims of the ordinary poor and even of the able-bodied poor, the part that lies in the county will in future be rated by the county and will pay its rates to the county council, while the mass of able-bodied unemployed, in addition to the ordinary poor, will be centralised in the towns, and the burgh ratepayers will have to make up any deficiency that occurs in the accounts. That is unfair.
I believe that even the large burghs are not very enthusiastic about this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has met the case of some of the smaller burghs by allowing them to retain certain services.
901 When we come to the county council we find a body that it to be overwhelmed with work. I have been a member of the Fife County Council for 15 years. I do not know whether I shall be a member after to-morrow's election. I ought to be electioneering to-day instead of being here. I think I shall pull through. For 15 years I have been a member of the council, and they are not enthusiastic about this scheme. I tried to persuade them to condemn the scheme, but they would not. They are not enthusiastic about it because they do not know what is behind it. Even they are suspicious when the Government bring gifts; they are beginning to look the gift horse in the mouth. That county council has quite enough to do.
It is not the ordinary county council meetings that take up the time of members but the committee work. Now the Government come along with a proposal which will extend materially the work of the councils, for in addition to the existing duties they are to do the work of the district committees as well, plus the work of administering the Poor Law and the Education Act. I hope the Secretary of State will try to meet the wishes of the people of Scotland by allowing them to retain their education authorities as they are. Before long the right hon. Gentleman will find that the people are not willing to accept this drastic change. The education authorities are new bodies. It is only 10 years since they came into existence, and during that time they have been preparing the way and working out their schemes, and they have got the educational system in a satisfactory state. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give way on that point. Even if it leaves his scheme a little lop-sided, it will be more acceptable to the people of Scotland than the present scheme of the Bill.
I come back to the point about the parish councils. The ordinary member of a county council is not interested in the work of the parish council. He is not interested, either in education or in the administration of the Poor Law. He may be interested in drainage, in water supply, in reconstructing and maintaining roads, and in health services and matters of that kind, but it will be exceedingly difficult to get the ordinary county councillor interested in these particular schemes. Then I would ask the 902 Secretary of State, what is his proposal with regard to parish council representation on the Poor Law authority? The county council is to appoint a Poor Law committee on which parish councils are to be represented. Is each parish council in a county to have one representative? If so, I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should be prepared to consider another scheme. In the county of Fife, for example, there are 59 parishes. If each is to have one representative, and if there is to be a majority of elected councillors on the committee you will have, not a committee, but a mass meeting. If each parish is not to be represented, how are the parish councillors to be selected? Are they to be selected by the county council? I agree that the county council is to co-opt, but is the county council to select out of these 59 parishes one individual or three individuals or six individuals or whatever the number may be, or are the parish councils, before going out of office, to select the number necessary to serve on the Poor Law committee?
It will he interesting to find exactly what the right hon. Gentleman intends with regard to that important point. He has given the House the impression that he is prepared to consider an elective scheme. If he is prepared to consider an entirely new scheme for the administration of the Poor Law—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Then I am afraid some of us are under a misapprehension but, if we are, it will not lessen our opposition to the scheme. Had the right hon. Gentleman been prepared to meet the wishes of the Parish Councils' Association and to form areas where the Poor Law would have been administered by specially elected bodies, then he would have found a very large measure of support on this side of the House. But if he is going to have some sort of farce of an elected body for a special area, completely dominated by a county council, then we shall have as little sympathy with that scheme, as with the proposal that our educational affairs are to be administered by the county council. I would advise the right hon. Gentleman to let the county councils do their own work. They have been doing it fairly well and the district committees have been doing their work fairly well. It may be true that the parish councils have spent large sums in recent years, but the county councils 903 have been doing the same. It has been unavoidable; and I hope, before it is too late, the right hon. Gentleman will change his mind with regard to the administration of the Poor Law and education—that he will devise an entirely new scheme for dealing with the Poor Law, and leave the education authorities as they are. The county councils have enough to do, and the district committees can do good work in the future, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will prepare for the people of Scotland something which they will welcome, in place of something to which they are antagonistic as they are to this scheme.
§ Mr. BUCHAN
I should like if I may do so without impertinence to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, not only upon the very clear and concise speech with which he introduced this Measure, but on the whole way in which he has handled this matter since the first publication of the White Paper. This Bill proposes certain local government changes in order to carry out the Government's de-rating proposals, but it goes much further than that. It attempts to review the whole Scottish system of local government, to discover its faults and to put it, for the future, upon a more businesslike basis. There has been a great deal of criticism in the Scottish Press and among Scottish Members—a criticism not absent from the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. T. Johnston)—that in this matter Scotland is being treated in a different way from England. I entirely agree that Scotland is being treated differently, and I think that is perfectly proper. The Scottish system is in many ways different from England. Scottish problems, both in country and town, have many points of difference from those South of the Border and I cannot understand how anyone who believes in perpetuating his national individuality should object to differential treatment in this case. It is perfectly true that while under the English Bill only two administrative bodies lose their powers, under the Scottish Bill some half-dozen lose their powers. It is perfectly true that while many of the smaller Scottish burghs lose some of their powers, English urban districts which are often far smaller in 904 population remain untouched. But I am prepared to argue that that is not a defect in the Scottish Bill but a merit, and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has, in this respect, done better by his country than my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has done by his.
The point which the House must remember is that this Bill proposes local government changes to meet the Government's scheme of de-rating, but also other changes which are believed to be right on their own account. Therefore, I would beg of my countrymen to deal with the Bill upon its merits as an attempt to solve our problem and not to confuse debate by irrelevant comparisons with England. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee deserves to be congratulated on the most interesting and most exhaustive speech in which he moved a not very intelligent Amendment. I always differ reluctantly from the hon. Member on a Scottish question but I differ from him in this case wholly, though I agree with a good many things in his speech. For example, I liked his deference to Conservative opinion. One of his principal arguments was that a large number of Scottish Conservatives were against the Bill. I liked also the almost passionate enthusiasm which he has for the status quo. He is more Conservative than I am. I can understand his admiration for our ancient national institutions but I can hardly follow his admiration for institutions which are not ancient but only of yesterday, and which were mostly created by Conservative Governments. But if I cannot follow him to that length, I can at least do what the hon. Baronet the Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley) told us in the House last week was done by simple-minded people in the case of things they do not understand—pay the tribute of sincere respect.
I do not propose to touch upon the main principles of the de-rating Measures, for these have been argued and will be argued to satiety in connection with the English Bill. I confine my few observations to the specific local government changes in Scotland which differentiate the two Bills. My right hon. Friend has explained the principles upon which these local government changes have been made, and I think those principles are not disput- 905 able. There is no difficulty about diagnosing the trouble. The only question is this: Is the remedy applied the right remedy? I think every Scottish Member ought to examine most carefully and jealously, any changes in Scottish local government. It is obvious from the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee that this Bill is going to receive that scrutiny and criticism. But I hope that the criticism will be constructive. After all, there is only one major interest for all Scottish Members and that is the good government of our native land.
Many of the points raised by the hon. Member for Dundee are more suitable for the Committee stage, but there are three matters on which I should like to touch because they seem to raise principles of some moment. The first is the position of the country districts. Under this Bill the county councils will be the authority, composed of county councillors elected in the ordinary way and a number of co-opted members from the localities. I should like to urge upon the Secretary of State that the system be altered so as to make the members from the localities, who are to staff the local committees, elected members. I do not like the idea, of large villages and populous parishes having no direct share in local representation. Of the four directly elected bodies that we have at present in Scotland, the county council, the borough council, the parish council and the education authority, two are going to disappear. That seems to be too drastic. I think there should be an intermediate stage between the cot-house and the county. I should like to see the local members for these local committees elected instead of being co-opted, and carrying their local knowledge into minor administrative duties. I should like also to see these local committees charged with the work of a school management committee. If this Bill passes, school management committees will be the only ad hoc bodies left in the land. Is there any reason for perpetuating this relic? It seems to me that school management should be entrusted to these local committees and the teachers could sit on them. Obviously, they could not sit on the county councils, who are their employers, but on local committees their ex- 906 perience and knowledge would be of the greatest value.
The second point I should like to raise is the question of the smaller burghs. The Scottish burghs are almost the oldest local government units in the land. The county councils have existed for some 40 years the parish councils for about 34 years the education authority for 18 years but the Scottish burghs go back to the beginning of our history. Because they are long-descended they are proud, and because they are proud they are for the most part efficient. I do not believe there are any more efficient local authorities in the land than a half-dozen of the Scottish burghs I could name. In the darkest times of Scottish history these burghs were the only living parts of democracy. Even to-day they are often far more vital units of local government than the county. I think the county as a rule has more to learn from the small burgh than the small burgh has to learn from the county. We all of us have knowledge of Scottish shires where the landward parts are almost stagnant, where the old laird has disappeared and his place taken by transient shooting tenants, and where the old yeoman farmer is gong, and his place being taken by the rancher with half a dozen "led" farms, where the only inhabitant is a shepherd and his dog. I confess that I studied the provisions in the original Paper with the, greatest possible suspicion and dismay, but I am glad to say my fears have been on the whole removed. The smaller burghs are to be left to deal with water, housing and drainage, which are the most vital services, and all that is taken from them is the major health services, the police and the control of classified roads within the burgh boundaries which are often a nuisance to the smaller burghs. I do not think that what I am anxious to see preserved, this individuality, will be impaired. I do not think the independence of the town councils will be weakened. But I should like to be, assured that in the new councils the smaller burghs will be fully represented. I believe it is from these smaller burghs you will get the best administrative talent and experience on the new councils.
My last point is on the question of the education authorities. I am bound to say that this is a, matter on which I 907 think the arguments are most evenly balanced. There has been no charge brought against the efficiency of these authorities. Obviously the change has nothing to do with de-rating. They are not too small units; they are very large units—only 37 in all Scotland. There is no need to control their expenditure, since the expenditure is already regulated by the Government. If any part of the purpose of this Measure was to assimilate the Scottish educational system to the English system, then I should say that to that extent it would be bad. I do not think that the Scottish conditions are parallel in any case. Any candid mind must admit that there are strong arguments against the change. But I am inclined to think that the arguments put forward for the change are, on the whole, more considerable than the arguments that can be advanced against, and my chief reason is an educational reason —the interests of education itself. I do not want to see education divorced from other social duties. I do not want to see education being dealt with exclusively by people who have only one social interest, one public interest, an educational interest, for they are apt to be cranks. I believe that the people who can best handle education are men and women who deal with all public duties and services. That is especially true, I think, of agricultural and technical instruction, which cannot be divorced from ordinary life. As an example I could refer to the present position of agricultural education in Scotland and the difficult circumstances of agricultural colleges.
Therefore, though I had a good deal of doubt at first, I have come to the conclusion that the educational provisions in this Measure are right. If the educational committees are carefully chosen, I think they will represent all those elements of Scottish life which in the past have made our education so vigorous a growth, and I do not agree with the forecast of the hon. Member for Dundee that we shall have a kind of clerical Armageddon. It seems to me that if you have the clerical element introduced by co-option, you will get rid of that sectarian feeling which is always apt to appear in an ad hoc election in Scotland.
These are questions, however, to be discussed more fully in Committee, but, 908 as one to whom education is a major interest, I should like to express my general agreement with the Government's proposal. I am a great believer in direct election, and that is why I propose direct election of the local committees. But I want direct election in order to get men and women who shall represent the minds and possess the confidence of those who elect them in all matters of local interest. I see no reason for isolating one particular service and making it the subject of direct election. These new councils will be virtually local parliaments in miniature. If you take from them one of the five great services I think you will seriously cripple their powers and impair their usefulness. As for education, if you segregate it in a compartment, and keep it from the wholesome interaction of the other public services, you will make it in the long run weak and sterile.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
My hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) who has just sat down began his speech with a graceful compliment to the Secretary of State for Scotland, a compliment with which I agree. He also said, at the beginning of his speech, that he thought that this was a good Bill, but he came to the conclusion that I and my friends have for some considerable time held, though he put it in a different way, that the Bill was in direct conflict with the wishes and the aspirations of the Scottish people. Indeed, it was such a Bill as would never have been introduced had there been a Parliament in Scotland. I agree that this Bill is neither sound in sentiment, nor in good sense, nor in fact. When the Secretary of State for Scotland made a claim that his Bill was built upon the traditional structure of local government, he made a claim which was neither true in substance nor in fact. It is an absurd claim to make in relation to a Bill of this kind, for of all Bills introduced into this Parliament, or into any other Parliament, it has the least pretension to this claim.
What are the facts? It was hurriedly introduced in the wake of an English Bill dealing with peculiar English matters and conditions. That English Bill created a storm of criticism. It was in its inception a Bill to abolish the boards of guardians in England, but a, storm arose which side-tracked that Bill because of 909 the feelings which arose not only in the minds of Members opposite but throughout the whole of England. That Bill was side-tracked until the occasion arose when unemployment was so pressing and urgent a problem that it was ingeniously conceived by the Minister of Health, and used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who thought it would be a good idea to couple the destruction of the board of guardians with rating proposals, which would mean, in any case, hard cash to a great many ratepayers in this country, even if at the same time it meant unfairness and inequality to others. It was necessary if such a Bill was to be introduced into England that a similar Bill should also be introduced into Scotland. And what arose? I venture to say this is the history of what took place: It was necessary to find some parallel in Scotland to the boards of guardians in England. The nearest parallel in Scotland was the parish council. They, at any rate, had something to do with Poor Law relief, so it was decided to destroy them; and in solemn conclave at the Scottish Office someone said: "While we are at it, let us have a holocaust; let us destroy also the district boards of control, the district committees."
We have the spectacle, in Clause 5 of this Bill, of the destruction, not only of the parish councils, but—and not even in a Clause but in a Sub-section of a Clause—the destruction of the district boards of control, the district committees, the education authorities, the parish councils, and the standing joint committees. Never in the history of local government, either in Scotland or in England, has there been so devastating and reckless a decision as that taken in the Scottish Office. What has happened as 'a result of this Sub-section put into this Bill so hurriedly introduced? No less than 1,064 bodies are swept out of existence, not to speak of introducing new complications in at least four counties and six burghs. It was said of Edward I that he was "Mallets Scotorum," the Hammer of the Scots. History will say of the present Secretary of State for Scotland that he was not only a Hammer of the Scots, but a Herod of the Scots, for never was there such a massacre of innocents in so short a time.
Did the right hon. Gentleman consult anybody before he took this step? During 910 the course of his speech I tried to find out if he consulted anybody and, if so, whom. I could not find a single reference in his speech to that consultation. He recited the names of a good many commissions and various bodies. He introduced the name of the County Councils Association, but even that association has not unanimously expressed an opinion in favour of the so-called reform of this Bill. He could not cite a single instance in any of the commissions which supported a single reform such as is in the Measure now introduced in the House of Commons. Was there any consideration at all of the wishes of the people of Scotland? I say there was none. It is only now that we are beginning to see that the wishes of the people of Scotland, through their elected representatives, are beginning to make themselves felt. The right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that there was a strong storm of resentment and feeling against the proposals to abolish the parish councils. It is only now that he comes forward and tells us that he himself has come to the conclusion that some form of elected body must take their place. I understand that to be the case. If I am wrong, I will sit down and let him correct me, because this is a thing that will be discussed in every parish in Scotland to-morrow, and it is as well that he should take the opportunity of explaining clearly to the House what it is that he means. I understood that those bodies were not to be co-opted, but were to be elected bodies to deal in practically the same way that parish councils deal now with Poor Law relief and other administration. If that is not so, I give him the opportunity of correcting it, but that is how I understood what he said.
Did m right hon. Friend consider what he was doing when he introduced the Subsection destroying all these bodies? I remember the anxious deliberation which in many cases the Scottish Education Act caused us in 1917 and 1918. I remember the care with which the provisions in that Bill were formed and fashioned, how the wishes of the people of Scotland were consulted in relation to every single Clause. Yet, without a word of consultation with anybody, the whole of that Measure is destroyed by a single Subsection of a single Clause. Not only was there no consideration given to any of the deliberations in the past by the duly 911 elected representatives of the people of this country, but the first time that we ever heard of the proposals in their entirety was when we saw them in the Bill presented to the House. I know of no Members of Parliament who were consulted as a body in regard to them. I know of no great body of opinion in Scotland that was consulted in regard to the Bill in its entirety. I have heard of negotiations with certain councils and associations, but no single individual or association in Scotland ever contemplated the ruthless nature of the Bill as it is presented to the House at the present time. Whatever the merits may be in connection with the abolition of the boards of guardians in England, I emphatically say that no case has been made out for the abolition of the parish councils in Scotland. The Minister of Health made out a pretty good case for the abolition of the boards of guardians, but he stopped at 1888 which he made his crucial year. But the parish councils in Scotland were introduced six years afterwards as a triumph of democratic government to the people, particularly in the rural districts in Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland is beginning now to realise the just and legitimate resentment of everybody who is concerned with local administration at the wholesale abolition of these important public bodies.
I venture to lay down three propositions with regard to local government with which even the Government Front Bench will agree. The first is this: I have always thought it wise and advisable to associate the people of the country with its government, in however humble a capacity. Secondly, I have yet to learn that good and satisfactory government is necessarily dependent upon massed population or upon mere extent of territory. Thirdly, I think it unwise to make it statutory in Scotland that you must be one of the "Big Four" in the City line —namely, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen—or a county of territorial magnitude before you can become a complete unit in the administration of the country. May I ask at this juncture—and it is a question that is being asked by every single Member of Parliament in every part of the House, including my 912 hon. Friends opposite—what earthly connection there is between de-rating proposals or, as they are called in Scotland, differential rating proposals, and the abolition of local government? Nobody as yet has been able to answer that question. The English Member sitting opposite suggests that I should read the Yellow Book. I ask him to point to a single sentence in the Yellow Book which conforms to the view which is embodied in this Bill and in the English Bill. The Secretary of State for Scotland seemed to suggest that it would be a bad day for me and my colleagues if I opposed this Bill because of the de-rating proposals which were to benefit certain parts of my constituency. I tell him here and now that I and my constituents refuse to be bribed. I am perfectly confident that no body of reasonable electors in Scotland would accept a bribe of this kind at the expense of the loss of their rights and liberties in the democratic government of their country.
I remember very well the election of the first parish council in Scotland. My right hon. Friend seems to think nobody takes any interest in them. In those days, there was great excitement. It was the first time that electors in a narrow area had had an opportunity to elect men from among themselves to look after their rights. There was great excitement then, and, though I will not say the excitement is so great to-day, I will say that the interest is maintained. My right hon. Friend pooh-poohed the idea of anybody taking any real interest in the parish council to-day. What he said about the parish council applies just as much to the county council; there is just as much difficulty in getting good men to stand for the county councils as ever there was in getting good men to stand for the parish councils. Yet one is discredited by the right hon. Gentleman, though I do not know for what reason, while the other is applauded and is given powers, which, when the county council was instituted, were never thought of in connection with a body of that kind. The parish councils have been taking all along a tremendous amount of interest, not only in the local affairs of their parishes, but in everything connected with Poor Law administration and public welfare.
913 I would just remind the Secretary of State for Scotland of the visit which he paid to the capital of the Highlands in October of this year to meet the Highlands Parish Councils' Association. I could not more usefully or more ably put the case for the Highlands parish councils than that case was put by the chairman of that association, namely, Mr. Mackenzie, who represents a certain parish in Ross-shire. He made it very plain that the parish councils, as a whole, ought to be maintained, particularly in rural districts, for these reasons; First of all, their representative character; secondly, their efficiency based on local knowledge; thirdly, the fact that they have duties to perform other than the administration of the Poor Law; fourthly, the prevalence of strong Scottish sentiment in favour of the administration of poor relief by elected bodies in small self-contained areas; fifthly, the geographical features of the Highlands and the large size of many of its parishes. Many of the parishes in the Highlands are larger than many English counties. The hon. Member laughed at remarks made by Cameron of Lochiel, but they are true in substance and fact. The parishes in the Highlands are enormous, and something has to be done by decreasing the area there or increasing the area in other parts.
I am sorry the Noble Lady who represents the Board of Education has left her place. Some reference was made by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) to a report of which she was the authoress. She signed it as the Chairman of the Consultative Council which sat to consider the question of parish councils in the Highlands and Islands. Nobody knows better than I do how supremely gifted the Noble Lady is in all matters connected with Scottish local administration. On her own merits, she has made a name for herself in that respect. It was no surprise to us that she was appointed Chairman of that Consultative Council to consider this harassing and difficult problem of parish council administration in the Highlands. This Report was issued in 1923—not so very long ago—and what is it that the Noble Lady says: 914We therefore consider that the parish council, or some similar directly elected authority within the parish, is an essential part of local government in the Highlands and Islands. The parish council has proved an efficient unit of local administration in the rural areas in the past, and we do not think it could be dispensed with without serious loss of efficiency. We accordingly recommend that parish councils should continue, and that they should be charged with the duty of administering outdoor poor relief, but that the provision of indoor relief should be transferred to the county councils.That was a statement made as recently as 1923, and I know that no problem, not even that of unemployment, could possibly have arisen to make the Noble Lady alter what I know was her considered view at that time, and which bears out the facts of the case, particularly with regard to the rural areas. May I deal for a moment with the small burghs, and ask my right hon. Friend why he should have made an attack on the small burghs which, as he said, were built on the traditional structure of Scottish self-government? No tribute was more eloquent than that of my hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities, and I feel sure that every Member agrees with that tribute, and warmly applauds it. These old burghs, which are now to be discredited, are historical, and have a wonderful record of communal administration and public service. Some of them were in existence long before the county of Fife was ever heard of. I have three in my own constituency, royal and ancient burghs 700 years old; they still keep up an interest in public welfare and public life, and no three burghs are more efficiently administered. I am certain that other Members have small burghs in their constituencies which are doing the same class of work in a thoroughly public-spirited manner. These burghs are not like Old Sarum; they are real live places and keep themselves abreast of the times in administration and usefulness. Not only from these old burghs, but from all parts of Scotland, from counties, from burghs, from parishes, from associations I have a postman's bag full of letters every morning, but I was particularly struck with the memorandum which I received from one of the newer burghs, North Berwick. In the course of its memorandum they say—and it is true:The burghs of Scotland generally have been the pioneers in all communal develop- 915 ments, and their present government ensures a degree of efficiency and detailed attention which members of a county council drawn from landward areas with landward interests, can never render. Local experience of county council management has not created any desire for its extension nor given any token of improved efficiency.In the first White Paper the right hon. Gentleman made the county council responsible for housing, water and sanitation which are now undertaken by burghs with a population of 20,000. Why is that number taken? It is a purely arbitrary number, and what virtue is there in it? I know a burgh of 19,500 which is as competent to look after its own work, its own interests, and its own efficiency as any burgh of 20,000 and over. I find that even the county of Forfar, upon which my right hon. Friend seems to rely for all his assistance, denounces this arbitrary standard of 20,000, and points to a case of a burgh of 19,500 which has every right to he regarded as what is called one of the major burghs under the Bill. Had the original proposal been carried out, the result would have been to strip the old burghs of Scotland of every shred of real responsibility, and to leave them in the position of lamp-lighters and street-cleaners, but the Secretary of State was compelled to give way. Why? Because the case which was put up for these burghs was unanswerable.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR indicated dissent.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
My right hon. Friend shakes his head, but he took a real pride to-day in reciting the number of different duties and public services that he allowed these burghs still to retain, and he said he had made a concession to them. It was not a concession; it was a very grudging and halfhearted condescension, and he had added to this condescension an overriding power in the county council. He has had experience of burghs and counties, and so have I, and he can take it from me, and he will agree with me, that there is no love lost between the town council of a burgh and the county council of a county in which that burgh is.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I think that there is. Let me develop my argument. I think that I am within the recollection of the House when I recall the fact that the Secretary of State said there was an overriding power in the county—
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. William Watson)
The overriding power is in the Secretary of State, and not in the county council.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The county council can take over the services of the burghs—with the consent of the Secretary of State if you like, but the fact remains that they are placed in a derogatory position. If at any time it is found, after some sort of consideration by some authority, that they are not performing their duties, the Secretary of State can, with his overriding power, ask the county council to undertake those duties. Is that not the fact?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
If a complaint is made, either on behalf of the county council or of the burgh, that a service is being operated to the detriment of the general ratepayers, a local inquiry can be held, and an overriding power can step in. There is no difference between the treatment which is to be meted out to the county which fails in its duty and to the burgh which fails in its duty.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has made that clear, because I am not the only one who has understood the position in a different way. If, along with this concession which he has made to the small burghs, he places them in the same position as the county councils, it is perfectly fair. If I have made a wrong statement, or if my colleagues have made a wrong statement, we unhesitatingly withdraw, and it will be a consolation to these burghs which have been misinformed about the situation, when they hear that they are placed in a position no different from that of any other body which may be called on at any time to explain their defalcations, or their misfeasances, or their lack of enthusiasm for the public duties which they have to perform. There is only one other concession, as far as I know, which the right hon. Gentleman has made. He told us in his speech that, instead of the fraction for gross annual value 917 being one-sixth it was now to be one-eighth. I supported my right hon. Friend when he introduced the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Bill in his fight to maintain the traditional system of Scottish rating, and I am sorry that he has not seen his way to change the one-eighth to one-twelfth. I have no doubt that in the discussion on the financial aspect of the question he will produce facts and figures. I noticed that Mr. Batchelor, a noted Scottish agricultural authority, challenged the Secretary of State to produce these figures. He stood by the figures that the Chamber of Agriculture has placed before the Secretary of State, and he made it perfectly plain that Scotland, from the agricultural point of view, instead of being placed in the same position as England, was in a much inferior position altogether.
May I ask my right hon. Friend why he is still insistent upon giving the relief direct to the landlord instead of direct both to the landlord and the tenant? Why is he still insisting upon this relief going to the tenant only during the existing tenancy? That is a very important point. If the relief be just, what merit is there in maintaining it merely as a relief during an existing tenancy? If it be right and good that the tenant should get that relief, he should get it during all his tenancy. That seems to me to be the contention of the Farmers' Union—it seems to have a good deal of soundness in it—and I would support the right hon. Gentleman if he took his courage in both hands and made that proposition possible. If he does not do that, is the relief going straight into the landlord's pocket at the end of the existing tenancy? I would like to ask this very important question. At the end of the existing tenancy, the tenant can no longer get any relief. The landlord can. The landlord can get all the relief after the end of any existing tenancy. If he gets all that relief on a capitalised value of £750,000, it amounts to £17,000,000. That is a calculation which it is for my right hon. Friend to dispute. As we understand the situation, there is not any doubt that all these millions of money will ultimately go into the landlords' pockets. They may be entitled to it; I have nothing to do with that; but I cannot understand the differentiation 918 between the landlord and the tenant in a matter of this kind, and I should like my right hon. Friend, either to-day or on the Financial Resolution, to make it clear what exactly the position is, and what he proposes to do with regard to that very important point.
Before I sit down may I deal with one more question, that of education? Again I ask: "What earthly connection has a Bill for the abolition of education authorities to do with a Bill which brings in de-rating proposals?" Education in Scotland has always been a noble rage of the people, a rage which penury could never repress, and I am certain the proposals with regard to education adumbrated by the Secretary of State are bad proposals, fundamentally bad. Education in Scotland has been associated with the best thought of the people of Scotland, and it has always been regarded by the outside world as Scotland's finest and best asset. Now, quite suddenly, as part of a Sub-section of a Clause, the whole of Scottish educational administration is thrown into the melting pot—administration, mark you! It was dealt with by this House only so recently as 1918, after great care and deliberation and thorough discussion, and there are some provisions in the Bill of 1918 which have not yet come into operation; yet the right hon. Gentleman now comes forward to tell us that we must scrap the whole lot. Surely there must be something wrong somewhere, and is it to be wondered at that there is resentment in every class of the community in Scotland? There is not a single one of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters behind him in the House or in the country who has a good word to say for the education proposals of this Bill as a whole—not one; and I am perfectly certain he has not got a good word for them himself. The fact is, he made up his mind that all outstanding offices of administration should be scrapped and put into the melting pot and come out by what is called a unified process; and all this to prevent what is called overlapping in finance in the administration.
The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) described this Bill as revolutionary, and said it was getting local government in Scotland by the throat. Of course it is. In the case 919 of education you are by this Bill stifling every generous instinct which has inspired the best men and women in the community, without fee or reward, to take a deep and abiding interest in the education and upbringing of the children of the country. My hon. Friend who has just spoken said he had no great love for the ad hoc authority. I believe myself that for education the ad hoc authority is the right authority. Everyone in this House who has studied the people who are on education authorities knows that there are men there who very likely have no interest at all in sewers or drains or roads, but who have a profound interest in the education and upbringing of the children; and in my own experience I know scores of men and women who will spend day after day on a matter of this kind though not taking the trouble to do anything in regard to roads and other similar matters. I believe it is a mistake to give these powers to county councils. The county councils are very good in their way, but they are already overloaded, and I cannot imagine how my right hon. Friend can now come forward with a proposal which was regarded as reactionary as recently as 1917 and attempt to make the education authority merely part and parcel of a body which is ad omnia and not ad hoc at all. In 1917 the people of Scotland insisted upon the education authority being an elected body. Nobody loves co-option. As one hon. Member said to-day, he hated to get on to an education authority by the back door. The proper way for an elected authority to be created is by direct election by the votes of the people, and I, for one, am convinced that the Bill will have to be amended in that direction before it is placed upon the Statute Book.
There is the great question of religious teaching in schools. I know perfectly well that the custom has been the custom of use and wont, a custom which has been observed with very special care by everybody connected with Scottish education, and there is a strong feeling now that you have taken away the election from the people some express Clause should be put into the Bill making it quite clear that there is to be no discontinuance of use and wont. That is a very reasonable point which has been 920 raised by the Churches in Scotland, and I hope my right hon. Friend will take it into consideration. Except incidentally, I have not dealt with the so-called de-rating proposals, nor with the perplexing formula, whether in its major or minor forms, but I am convinced that no bribe, alluring or illusory, can ever compensate my country for the loss of rights and liberties under this Bill, rights and liberties which have for long been closely associated with the democratic life of her people.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Hon. Members have made some references to the report of a Consultative Council of the Scottish Board of Health, of which I was a member, one part of which has been said to be somewhat at variance with the proposals in this Bill, and I hope the House will allow me to make a brief explanation. In the first place, I wish to explain that the position of the parish councils was not the only question under consideration; the council had had remitted to it the whole question of a reformed local health administration, not for Scotland as a whole but for the Highlands and Islands, and I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross-shire (Mr. Macpherson) for having told the House that one half of the proposals made by the Consultative Council for the Highlands and Islands in regard to poor relief coincided with the proposals of the Bill. The report recommended that the Poor Law institution should be taken over by the county councils, a rather important matter. However, what I chiefly wish to say to the House is this, that when this report was drawn up in 1921 or 1922 —it was not published till 1923, but we were certainly considering it in the summer of 1921 and I think we finished our consideration of it at latest in 1922—there had been no long spell of unemployment. We were not at the end of many years of prolonged unemployment, as now.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
May I interrupt the Noble Lady to point out that the figures of the unemployed in that year were higher than they are now?
Duchess of ATHOLL
That was due to an exceptional cause, the coal strike in the summer of that year. The point is that we were not then at the end of seven years of prolonged and 921 serious unemployment as we are to-day, and the Highlands and Islands Consultative Council therefore were considering the question of normal poor relief uncomplicated by the problem of the able-bodied unemployed who are now putting so serious a burden on so many Poor Law authorities.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Hon. Members may perhaps not realise that this problem, though it is not so acute in the Highlands as in many other areas, is yet causing an inequality of burden as between one rural parish and another. I could give the hon. Member a list of parishes in my own county which, because they happen to be situated on the road to various temporary centres of employment, such as the Glasgow Electricity Scheme or the Highland Road running up to Inverness, have to meet applications for casual relief from hundreds of able-bodied men who have come out from the towns. Is it fair that this burden of providing for, perhaps, 800 or 900 able-bodied men in a year should fall on some few parish councils because these men happen to pass through their parishes and not through others? I think it must be admitted that that problem was not in the minds of anyone who had to consider this question seven years ago, and I feel that it constitutes a very strong argument for the spreading of the burden as between one rural area and another, to say nothing of the further point that to-day there is in the burghs generally a heavier burden of poor relief due to the unemployed than there is in many rural parishes. This prolonged unemployment puts the whole question of poor relief on an entirely different footing from what prevailed in 1921 or 1922.
The other question which was not before the Consultative Council when this matter was considered is the relieving of industry through the, de-rating proposals of the Government. Those proposals furnish so great a hope of assistance to industry in its prolonged depression that it seems to me to outweigh the question of the, separate existence of the parish councils. It is well known that there are many parishes where as a result of de-rating a penny rate will not raise £10. How is a parish council which is in 922 that position to deal with a sudden influx of able-bodied unemployed, in addition to its own normal poor? Those two considerations in themselves show that today we have to consider this problem in an entirely different aspect from that which it presented when the Consultative Council reported. But I value very much the representative character of parish councils, and therefore I welcome the statement made by my right hon. Friend to-day that he is ready to consider proposals which county councils may make to him for obtaining an elected element in the local committees which they will be empowered to set up to assist them in administering relief. If we can spread the burden more fairly over a county by putting the financial responsibility on the county council and at the same time ensure that the county council is assisted by elected representatives in the various local areas, by men and women who are cognisant of this work, I think we shall have a fairer system and, I hope, a more uniformly efficient and adequate system of poor relief than sometimes prevails today in the rural areas of Scotland.
§ Sir HARRY HOPE
The present state of trade and industry in this country demands that this problem should be considered, not only as far as local considerations are concerned, but also from a broad national standpoint. What is the problem with which we are faced? Agriculture is depressed and the rural population is suffering accordingly. More land is continually going out of cultivation, and it is a fact that there is less land under cultivation in Scotland at the present time than there was 50 years ago. Many of the vital industries of Scotland are almost dying, and, in a situation like that, it is necessary that something should be done to relieve the present position. The future of our nation and our race depends upon the prosperity of trade and industry, and therefore we must look beyond points of political differences and concentrate our energy in trying to remove those obstacles which stand in the way of our national welfare.
We know that the national position at, the present time is very serious by the enormous figures of unemployment. I was rather struck with the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) in which he quoted a long list of sums which would be given to various firms in 923 Glasgow in consequence of the passage of this Bill. Does the hon. Member not appreciate that by the concession which has already been given to the railway companies, through reduced freights on coal for export, the coal industry has been relieved of 6d. per ton on the cost of production? That benefit is not going to the individuals who were named by the hon. Member, but to the workmen who are engaged in the industries which are carried on by the men whom the hon. Member has named. Those great vital industries, agriculture, coal, steel, iron and cotton, are depressed in a way in which they have never been depressed before. I think, in those circumstances, we must take stock and do our best to remove whatever obstacles stand in the way. We know that in many districts the rates are very high. We heard the Secretary of State for Scotland announce that the rates in some districts have trebled during the last few years. On this point, I will give just one quotation from the Yellow Book:Not only are rates heavy but their burden is spread most unequally between different industries and districts. The depression of the exporting industries during the last few years has led to abnormally heavy expenditure on poor relief, and consequently heavy rates in those districts where the exporting industries are centred. Thus the very industries which are the worst hit and have the greatest difficulties to overcome are, by reason of the vicious incidence of rating, subjected to the heaviest deterrents.The Liberal Amendment on the Paper adopts a rather negative attitude and contains certain verbal niceties, but the country will know, if that Amendment is passed, that the relief given under it to the agricultural districts will be much less than that which is now proposed in this Bill. I am not surprised at the Liberal party refusing to make the concession we are asking for the agricultural community. I remember in 1896 when the Agricultural Relief Bill of that year was passed the party opposite opposed that Measure and, therefore, they are only doing now what they did at that time. I am sure that the people in the country districts will fully realise what the Liberal party is once more offering to do for them. In the Socialist Amendment the alternative scheme is that the heavy burden of Poor Law relief should be shifted on to national shoulders, 924 and that the money should come from the National Exchequer. I think the main opposition to this Bill in the country up to now has been that the people are afraid that by the re-organisation of local government there will be less local touch and control in the various localities. If the Socialist Amendment is adopted, all the money would come from the National Exchequer, with the result that the local authorities would have absolutely no control, because the State, by reason of providing the money, would assuredly take over the control of the expenditure. Therefore, the very thing which we are trying to avoid by this Bill would be brought about by putting the Socialist policy into practice. The more this Bill is understood the more it will be realised that we are emancipating our industries from a, crushing burden, and at the same time keeping on, and continuing the maximum possible amount of local control.
I would like to say a few words in regard to some of the details of the Bill. As regards the rating of agricultural land, Personally I have always considered that in Scotland farm houses, cottages and farm buildings should have been assessed separately from the land as in England. I observe that my right hon. Friend has not taken that course, but I do not think it is any use saying anything about it at this stage. I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend has made a concession by giving one-eighth instead of one-sixth, and I am sure that a very substantial benefit to agriculture will come from that concession. I should have been very pleased if we could have got more, but still I am content to accept one-eighth, and I am confident that it will be a real benefit to our agricultural community.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) referred to the distribution of the landlord's share of the relief. On this point, I think we should look at the matter in a more dispassionate manner. The landowners of this country have done a great public service to the State in the past. They have provided houses, steadings, fences, drainage, and other improvements. There are many places in Scotland to which I could take hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite where the rent which is now being paid 925 for farms is no more than 5 per cent. on the landlord's outlays, and the land goes for nothing. In general, I am perfectly certain that the landowners of Scotland do not get more than 2 per cent, on their invested capital from their estates, and I am sure that commercial men do not render so great a service to the State. It is quite untrue to say that the landlords have acted in the Shylock manner which is sometimes attributed to them. As regards the workmen on the estates, when they become too old for their work they either are kept on at easier work or they get pensions. What other industry provides houses for the workmen engaged in it, like the landowners do? The commercial and industrial classes of this country might well take a leaf out of the landlords' book in this respect. We know what services the landlord class have rendered to the State. The great improvement in stockbreeding in this country is largely due to the public spirit and activities of landowners. Some 40 years ago there was a good deal of unpopularity attaching to landlords, and it was largely on that account that the Radical party got the support of the electors. Now that misunderstanding is being removed, and people in the country districts have begun to realise the public services rendered by the landlord.
At first, there was a good deal of misgiving in the country owing to the White Paper which was issued before the Bill was printed. The scheme outlined in the White Paper no doubt took the Scottish people by surprise because it was a big mouthful to swallow at one gulp and at first it took the people's breath away. Now they are beginning to understand the Bill much better, and they realise the necessity for it. They also appreciate its progressive and statesmanlike character. I felt a little misgiving myself in regard to it at first. I have had some connection with local boards. Before I came to this House 19 years ago, I had served 18 years on local boards, and I was fully acquainted with their public-spirited actions.
In approaching this question of reorganisation, I think we should always be influenced by two main considerations. Firstly, we should be appreciative of the good work which our local bodies have 926 done in the past; and secondly, we should do nothing to discourage, far less destroy, a continuance of public spirited action in the future. I think my right hon. Friend has fully met those two affirmations by the concessions which he has now given to burghs in the direction of leaving them with the control of their housing and water services. People are now getting to understand the Bill, and to realise that the present condition of some industrial towns and districts, which are bearing on their own backs the brunt of poor relief, is impossible, and that a co-ordination of ameliorative work done under the name of health services will give to the general community a better and more complete benefit, whether it be through sanatorium treatment for consumption, fever hospitals for infectious cases, maternity and child welfare treatment, the feeding and clothing of children, and the care of mental deficients and others. There is a wide field for sustained advance in improving the physical welfare of our people.
With regard to the subject of Poor Law administration, I think it is essential to maintain as much local connection as possible, and, therefore, I would like to see, if possible—and I thought my right hon. Friend rather hinted at it—the creation of elected district committees, who would act under the central authority and keep all its work done in accordance with local sentiment and aspirations. These committees would act as a medium for keeping the work of the central authority done in a way that I think our local districts would appreciate. With regard to Clause 12, I think the people of Scotland desire to see a continuance of religious instruction in our public schools. The Churches—by which I mean the Church of Scotland, the United' Free Church, the Free Church, the Baptist Church, and also, I believe, the Methodist Church—have all arrived at a joint understanding that the "use and wont" system, which is at present in force, should be continued. We do not ask for a mandatory Clause; we only ask that the "use and wont" system should, by the introduction of the word "continue," get a rather more secure position. Those Churches, as I have said, are unanimous. My right hon. Friend may say that we can trust the representatives on the new 927 central authority. The present county education authorities, however, are ad hoc bodies, and a great many clergymen have been elected members of those ad hoc bodies; but I think it will be agreed that the probability is that in the future fewer clergymen will come on to the central county authority, and the result will be that there will be less security for a continuance of religious instruction than there has been in the past. That is my reason for thinking that there should be some full and proper safeguard on this point. We cannot think of this question without expressing appreciation of the splendid service which the teachers of Scotland have rendered in willingly giving religious instruction in the past.
I support this Bill whole-heartedly. I think it is a great forward scheme, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his able and lucid exposition of it, not only in this House but to those public authorities who came and expressed their views in deputation to him. I think we are taking a wise step in relieving our great industries of the burden which at present is crushing them out of existence, and, although some people may ask why anything should be done to change our local administration, we realise that it is only possible to carry out this relief by making the changes in our local government work which are now proposed. I feel sure that in the future we shall look back upon this Bill as a great outstanding scheme in the interests of the trade of our country and the good government of our local authorities.
§ Dr. DRUMMOND SHIELS
It is natural that attention should have been concentrated upon the discussion of those parts of the Government's general scheme which are applicable to Scotland rather than upon the de-rating proposals which are common to both Scotland and England. We on this side of the House, however, join with our English colleagues in their criticism of the de-rating proposals, and agree with their view as to the ultimate effect. We believe, with them, that unemployment is a national problem, and, whether or not industry improves under these new proposals, that the problem—to be effectively dealt with —should have been attacked nationally. Whatever uncertainties there may be, 928 however, about the results of the Government's scheme on industry and unemployment, there is at any rate no uncertainty about the drastic character of the changes which they are making in local government. Strangely enough, Scotland has been singled out for much more severe handling in this connection than has England. Compared with the Scottish Bill, the English Measure is a kindly gesture. The hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) criticised us for objecting to a differentiation of treatment. What we are objecting to is not differentiation, but that the same principle is applied in Scotland as in England, but is carried in Scotland to a most ruthless extent. We are certainly not enjoying any favour because the scheme is adapted to our national character — quite the reverse!
Frankly, I am not altogether surprised to find another attack on Scotland made by this Government. The proverbial disregard of Scottish opinion in Parliament has been carried to an extreme length under the present regimé, and in this Bill we have the latest onslaught on the liberties and institutions of Scotland. Our local government system in Scotland, is being ruthlessly torn asunder, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman feels some remorse as he hears Member after Member on his own side stating that the White Paper, which was the first intimation of these proposals, struck them with dismay and caused serious misgiving. Whatever our criticism of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals may be, we cannot but admire his courage. He has spread alarm in the ranks of his own supporters both in putting forward his proposals in the country and in bringing them before this House. Further, the concessions which he has been compelled to make in his original scheme, in deference to the criticisms, not only of people of our views but also or people of his own political party, show that his original ideas were very far from being in line with Scottish opinion.
We object, among other things, to the traditionally democratic character of local bodies in Scotland being destroyed by the introduction into them of persons responsible to no one but themselves. Education authorities themselves are to 929 go! The ad hoc principle in education, it seems to me, symbolises to some extent the special place which has always been given in Scotland to education. This ad hoc principle in educational administration in Scotland had the expressed approval of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister only a year ago; but I dare say he would tell us to-day, if he were taxed with this, that it is only another example of the many-sidedness of truth. As has been pointed out to-day, this change in the educational system has no connection at all with the de-rating proposals, or even with the question of block grants, and the price that we are paying for a supposed uniformity with England—which every patriotic Scotsman is always anxious to avoid—is much too great. The similarity, in any case, is not achieved. We wish to know why hundreds of small authorities are retained in England, and why the work of the large Scottish areas, which is amply sufficient to justify a separate administration, has been handed over to already overburdened city and county councils. One result of this—and it is a result that was probably not unforeseen by those who drew up the Bill—will be that working-class representation in the local bodies of Scotland will now be made more difficult, if not, in many cases, impossible.
Then parish councils are also to go: If this meant the abolition of the Poor Law system, many of us would gladly welcome it, but that is not to be the case. The Noble Lady, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, who made a personal explanation, seemed to suggest that, because the scheme which was drawn up by her Commission was for a normal time, it could not be compared with the proposals of this Bill; but, surely, this Bill is designed for a normal situation, and we are not introducing legislation on the basis that the present disastrous condition of things is going to last for ever. I fear that the explanation of the Noble Lady was rather a reflection on the position into which the country has got under a Conservative Government, when it looks to her as if we are never going to be rid of this terrible burden of unemployment and poverty.
The smaller burghs of Scotland have been referred to already, and I think 930 there can be no doubt that they have been badly treated. The storm of protest has caused some concessions, but the definite loss of status remains, and the overlordship of county councils is a slight and a real injury which will not be readily forgiven. The system of indirect election to county councils by the burghs is not satisfactory, and does not make up for the partial obliteration of their individuality. In regard to the health services transfer from the smaller burghs, there is something to be said theoretically for a large area; but we have to deal with facts as they are. With one or two notable exceptions, the county authorities are less progressive in health matters than are the smaller burghs. You will see around every small burgh in Scotland a ring of new houses, a result of the vigour with which they have tackled the housing problem. You generally find also that they have child welfare and maternity services. In the rural areas, on the other hand, you find that little advantage has been taken of the general housing Acts, and, in regard to the Rural Housing Act of two years ago, the Board of Health has failed to get county councils to co-operate in the rehabilitation of damaged houses and defective cottages, so many of which are a disgrace to the country areas. The councils have proved in this matter, which has a direct relation to health, that they are not progressive and are not prepared to get a move on. In the little part of a county area I represent, burghs have pleaded with the county council to tackle the question of river pollution in their own areas, for which they have powers. They will do absolutely nothing, and yet this is the hind of authority to whom these progressive, small burghs, with a vigorous and progressive spirit, are to be compelled to hand over their health services.
I believe also that the burghs stand to lose financially under the Bill. We have previously had de-rating in Scotland. Musselburgh, which I represent, has already had experience of this de-rating following the Rating Act, 1926. As a result of this, to take one item alone, although the requisition of the education authority for Midlothian this year is, £11,797 less than for last year, Mussel-burgh, instead of having to contribute proportionately less, has actually to pay £776 more than in the previous year as 931 a result of the previous concession to agricultural interests. However the remaining percentage grants, the block grants, and the supplementary contributions work out, it is quite certain that the burden of any increased expenditure over that of the standard year is going to fall on the householders and the shopkeepers of the smaller burghs, and not on the de-rated agriculturists and industrialists. I do not think the spokesmen of the Government, either in regard to the English Bill or to this Bill, have ever faced the difficulty of the period between the standard year and the end of the following quinquennium. Yet the burghs, if there is to be any progress made at all, or even, possibly, if the standard is to be maintained, will have to contribute heavily and out of all proportion to the contribution of the general county area. Further, they will have less control over that expenditure than they have now, and it will be the de-rated agriculurists in the county councils who will rule the roost. One of the merits of this scheme is said to be that there will be less interference with the county authority than under the present arrangement. They will be given the money and have a fairly free hand. It is not unlikely that the county council, in utilising a block grant mixed up between roads and public health, may be inclined to sacrifice the interests of public health in the interests of transport facilities.
I wish also to protest against the arbitrary joining up of burghs without any local inquiry or consultation with the burgh authorities. Two fishing ports in my constituency are to be joined up with Prestonpans, a mining area, which has little in common with them, and which has, incidentally, a considerable amount of debt, though the Prestonpans authorities are not to be blamed for that. This is a Committee point and I do not wish to argue the merits of it, but I do not think it was tactful or wise to carry this through in a high-handed way without at any rate having had a preliminary consultation with or giving a preliminary intimation to the local authorities concerned. The present Government have got off too easily before for their attitude to Scottish interests! They have, however, made a mistake this time. They have aroused the patriotism of the 932 smaller burghs, which has been a notable and happy feature of Scottish life for many hundreds of years. In connection with this whole series of proposals, we are going to make an alteration not only in education, but in the whole form of our national institutions. We are a modest people, but we have to admit the truth that Scotsmen are fortunate and successful all over the world. Why it is I do not know, but it is presumably because of the possession of some special qualities which mark them out and make them somewhat different from other people. Are these qualities not, to some extent, produced by the importance given to education and by the working of our local government institutions —by these very things that are attacked in this Bill? If the right hon. Gentleman is able to make Scotsmen exactly like Englishmen, the world will lose the special contribution that it has been our privilege to make in the past. The smaller burghs are a historical feature of Scotland and are intensely proud and patriotic. They look with a kind of good-natured contempt on their county councils. It is unfortunate both for sentiment and efficiency that such changes have been proposed.
I come now to what, I think, is the most dangerous part of the Bill and one which has a special interest for me, that is, the effect of the block grant system on public health. It is an extraordinary thing that public health should he selected as one of the services to be subjected to the grave risks which this method involves. This is not a Bill for removing the percentage grant system. It is only a fraction of the system that is affected. The total grant paid to local authorities in Scotland in 1926–27 was £13,000,000. Out of that amount £11,200,000 is to continue to be paid on the present basis, and that leaves only £1,800,000 for the block grant system which is to be devoted to public health, the grant to agricultural rates, the grant for classified roads and the equivalent grant. The remaining £11,200,000 is for education, housing, police, unemployment grants and Treasury contribution in lieu of rates. I have not time to develop this argument fully, but I should like to point out some of the dangers I foresee. We are dealing, in connection with public health, with a rapidly developing ser- 933 vice. The police, and even education, are comparatively stabilised and the changes in these services in the quinquennium are not likely to be considerable. But in the public health services we are dealing with something which, even in the last dozen years, has enormously extended. Within that time, by the direction of this House or of the Board of Health, local authorities have had to deal—in addition to the ordinary infectious diseases—with venereal disease, tuberculosis — first pulmonary tuberculosis and later all forms of tuberculosis—child welfare and maternity. Here local authorities have had to step out from the old division of public health as compared with private medicine, public health administration being previously confined to infectious diseases. Child welfare and maternity service was followed by the local authorities being compelled to supply insulin to diabetic patients. And recently certain duties in regard to both acute and chronic encephalitis have been laid on local authorities.
To give the House an example of how greatly the service has extended, I will mention the figures of my own city. In Edinburgh in 1917, when the child welfare scheme was first started, the net expenditure was £35,000. In 1920 before the amalgamation with Leith took place, the expenditure was up to £81,000, and now, in the larger area, the amount is £115,000 as compared with £35,000 only 11 years ago. This development also is only the beginning of a larger prospect of services in view of the problems which are facing local authorities today. We have, for instance, the question of the rheumatic child which has been tackled by the London County Council and also by Birmingham, and in which the Minister of Health has shown considerable interest. The question of the treatment of crippled children, many of whom are stranded up and down the country is important and 75 per cent. of them could be made self-supporting if they were properly treated in their earlier years. There is the question of mental deficients, on which public opinion is now being aroused, to be dealt with. To give special education to mental deficients up to the age of 16 and then to throw them out without any further public supervision, unless in the case of certifiable persons, is simply 934 to invite disaster both to them and to the community.
If you take also the subject of cancer, something may be discovered at any moment in connection with it which would need supplying, and even now it is just being realised that radium, which is very expensive, is essential in the treatment of this disease. Take child welfare. Child welfare and maternity work is ready for a very big advance, and public opinion is ripe for that advance. We have been hearing a great deal of talk about maternal mortality. I would like, if I might, to quote from the figures of Dr. Finlay, the child welfare and maternity officer of Edinburgh. For 1927 in Edinburgh the figures of the maternal death rate among mothers who had no ante-natal attention were 11.2 per thousand confinements, while in those ante-natally supervised, it was only 2.4. The total figures are not large enough for the actual scientific determination of the proportions, but it is plain that, as Dr. Finlay says: "We must conclude that ante-natal clinics very definitely assist in lessening the maternal death-rate." We have not enough now of this work either in Edinburgh or elsewhere to meet the need in this standard year. Yet this standard year is going to determine the relative proportion of money for this service to be given in the block grants for the next five years. Therefore, if the extension of this service is proposed in Edinburgh or other places —there are already suggested schemes for children's homes and for extended and enlarged ante-natal clinics—the Treasurer or the Chamberlain, the person responsible for the finances, will say: "No, we cannot go on with that now. We have got our grant on the basis of the standard year's expenditure. We must wait until the fourth year, the next standard year to come along." That is a very unsatisfactory position for a vital service, and it seems to me that the 6¼d. which the right hon. Gentleman told us was going to be saved in rates or given as a present by this Bill will very soon be wiped out by the inevitable increases in expenditure which will result from even normal development after the standard year, and which will have to be met on a very narrow rating basis causing an appreciable increase in the rates.
935 The same is true of venereal disease. At the present time the State pays 75 per cent., and the local authority 25 per cent. Now, the local authority is to pay the whole 100 per cent., and while it is likely that large cities like Edinburgh will maintain their service, there will be no stimulus to those backward areas which have never provided any efficient venereal disease service to increase the expenditure of the standard year and impose on their own ratepayers the charge for the extension of those services. The Government took up a very strong line against the proposals which the Edinburgh authorities put forward for compulsory treatment in venereal disease. They have turned those down! At the same time, in this Bill they have cut out the grant for propaganda. If the voluntary system is to be successful at all in venereal disease, propaganda is absolutely essential, and propaganda must be national because voluntary contributions from local authorities have been tried before and have been unsuccessful. Such things as films and pamphlets cannot be supplied by individual authorities but must be supplied nationally. This has all been cut out. Some people have said that they look forward to this Bill as a great help to public health. I wish I could think so. I would be delighted to support it if I thought so. I think that it is a backward Measure, and that it is going to be a great danger to the development of public health. Its standard is barely going to be maintained during each quinquennium, and if it is improved it will only be by the sacrifice of local authorities in rating their own people rather than letting the necessary or desirable developments be stopped.
There is one last word with regard to hospitals. I would like to have information about that, because the point has never been made clear. Under this Bill the town and county councils are going to take over institutions such as the large hospitals in the cities which at present are run by the parish councils. We have two hospitals in Edinburgh, Craiglockhart and Craigleith. It is thought likely that all the poor people will be taken from Craiglockhart to Craigleith, which has been restored to us after the war pen- 936 sioners have been using it. I would like to see Craiglockart used as an overflow for the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which has a waiting list of over 2,000, many of them urgent cases. What is to be the position? Is it the case that Edinburgh Town Council will only be able to treat in that hospital necessitous poor, and will they be compelled to get back from the relatives of people so treated any sum expended on their maintenance? I think that is a very important point. The right hon. Gentleman will know that in Aberdeen at the present time there is an anticipatory working arrangement, and that the parish council hospitals have been handed over to the public health committee of the town council and are being worked by them. In Glasgow there is a similar working arrangement with Stobhill, one of the finest fitted-up hospitals in the country. There have been no poor-law methods so far.
What is going to be the new position? Do the new proposals compel the town council to treat the people in those hospitals, if they use them as general hospitals, differently from the people in their tuberculosis hospitals? That is a very important point, and I would like to see it cleared up. Another point which is of some importance is, that one of the advantages of the new proposal is said to be that these institutions which are taken over are going to be brought up-to-date. We know that many of the Poor Law institutions—not all, but many of them—are out-of-date and badly equipped. Who is going to pay for bringing them up to the proper standard of equipment? Has the local authority to pay for this, or, if a sinking fund is instituted, will that count for a future contribution and then only if it happens in the standard year? These are things that we must clear up.
There are certain people who are so keenly wedded to the voluntary system that they would rather see people suffering and being deprived of medical assistance than impinge upon the system. I hope that no considerations of that kind will prevent every necessity being recognised and advantage taken of all possible accommodation for the medical service of the people who require it. There may be opposition from those who believe that a well-equipped and well-run municipal hos- 937 pital would tend to damage the voluntary hospitals in the district. For many a long year there will be plenty of room for both kinds of hospital, and I hope that the municipal authorities will be encouraged to use these institutions to their full capacity. I should like to know, also, what is to happen in regard to the Highlands and Islands Medical Fund. Is that Fund outside this Bill or is anything to happen to it?
For the reasons which I have given, and especially because of the great danger which appears to me to be present in the Bill for public health, I feel that I must very strongly oppose the Bill. I believe that instead of this Bill being for the Conservative party a life-buoy, it will be—in Scotland at least—a millstone around their necks.
Mr. R. W. SMITH
I do not propose to take up the time of the House in discussing the de-rating proposals. I feel that the general opinion of the country is that the de-rating proposals will be of real advantage, and I also think that with regard to local government reform the general feeling, at least in my constituency, is that it is a good thing. There are, however, certain points which people do not quite like, and I do not like one or two features of the Bill. There are three features which I do not think are good. The first which I do not like is the question of the very large powers which are given to the Minister. The second point which I dislike is the large amount of co-option in the Bill, the large number of co-opted members who are allowed to serve. My third point of objection is one which the Secretary of State for Scotland has rather met to-day by his proposals in regard to local committees to take the place of the parish councils.
I should like to deal briefly with these three points. With regard to the power of the Minister and the central department, I admit that for the working of the Bill it is, no doubt, necessary that certain powers should be given to the Minister and probably, in certain cases, to the central department, but it seems to me that in giving these powers the Bill ought clearly to define the broad principles on which the Minister must act before he gives his approval to schemes. Another point is, that all schemes, regulations, and orders, cer- 938 tainly if they are important ones, should be laid on the Table of the House. It ought not to be left entirely in the hands of the Minister. I should like to draw attention to Clause 14. This is a very important Clause, because it will depend upon the schemes that are drawn up under this Clause whether the Act works well or not. What I object to is the power of the Minister. In regard to that Clause, the power of the Minister is absolute. Sub-section (4) says:The Secretary of State may approve the scheme either as submitted or with such modifications and amendments as he thinks proper.Therefore, there is no limit to the power of the Minister in this respect. If he thinks proper as an individual, he can then put a scheme through. I maintain that schemes drawn up by a county or burgs council or by the Minister—the Minister has power to draw up a scheme if the council does not do so—certainly in the case of schemes which are drawn up with respect to the administrative functions of the county council, should be laid on the Table of both Houses of Parliament, in order that we, as Members who have been elected to this House, may be able to discuss the scheme.
Clauses 10 and 11 deal with the question of uniting burghs and counties. It seems to me that in a case where it has been decided to unite certain burghs and certain counties, everything should be clearly laid down in the Bill as to how the unification is to take place, and nothing should be left either to the central department or the Secretary of State. If certain burghs and certain counties are to be combined, let us have everything provided for by the Statute. Do not let us leave it to the Minister to decide. For instance, it is provided thatThe Secretary of State may, by Order, make provision for financial adjustments,and for other things. The financial adjustments are very important. If these financial adjustments have to be made, this House ought to be able to review them. If we make proper provision in the Bill, then, in future, in case of a voluntary combination or a compulsory combination of counties or burghs, it could be used as a precedent for the form that the Secretary of State could draw up when dealing with a 939 voluntary or compulsory combination. It is most necessary that we should have that in the Bill.
With respect to the number of co-opted members, I understand that in practically all committees and sub-committees to be set up, about one-half the members are to be co-opted. In the case of the education committee the majority is to be of elected members. Co-option is a most dangerous system, because we may have a committee at which all the co-opted members are able to be present and one or two elected members are not able to be there, and something may be passed by a body of people who are really responsible to nobody but themselves. I distrust very much the system of co-option and the weakening of the powers of elected members. If we are to have co-option, it should be used very sparingly and in very small numbers. No doubt when the changeover is being made, a certain number of co-opted members will be necessary in order to facilitate the work, but as far as possible we should get away from the co-option system.
Now I come to my last point; referred to by the Secretary of State to-day. I was pleased indeed to hear his remarks with regard to the local committees he proposes to set up. If the Bill is to work properly and the county councils are to do their work, we must see that there are councils to which they can delegate their powers. The only body suggested was a committee of the county council with power to co-opt members; and that suggestion I did not like. In England they are much better off. They have the district committees and the guardians committees. I do not want to dictate to the Government as to what they should do, but I feel that if they want to have the wholehearted support of the people in the rural districts of Scotland they must be sure that their local commitees are purely elected bodies. That is the one thing our people do want. I have discussed this Bill with many in my own constituency and I have put to them the point whether they would be satisfied if they had a local committee which was an elected body, with certain statutory powers, and in almost all cases they said that if they had that they would approve of the local government proposals. I hope the Secretary of State will consider 940 the suggestion that besides having these local committees to take the place of the parish councils, setting them up and making them elected bodies, that he will also give them certain statutory powers.
I am not asking for anything very extreme, because if you look at the English Bill you find that the guardians committees have statutory powers. They are not merely to have whatever powers have been delegated to them, but certain other powers actually given to them, and I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland will seriously consider the question of giving certain definite powers to local committees. I feel strongly that if these local committees are to be a real living force in the local government life of our country we must give them a really large amount of work to do. The whole complaint with regard to school management is that they have nothing to do. Personally, I should like to see local committees have the powers not only of the guardians committees with regard to the Poor Law relief, but powers also in connection with education, health services locally, and road services locally, in fact, any service which happens to be set up under the county council. I hope the Secretary of State will consider this point. If the scheme of local government is to be a success the county councils must delegate their functions as far as they possibly can and have them carried out locally. You want to be sure that you have the advantage of local knowledge and local experience. You must see that local interests are realised, not neglected. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Dr. Shiels) that this Bill prevents the representation of the working class element. That might be the case if you had only the county councils and these non-elected bodies, but if you have these local committees, set up as I have suggested, you would have a body on which working men would be able to give their services. They would meet in the evenings, in the same way as the parish councils do now, and if that is done it cannot be said that the working classes are debarred from taking part in the local government of the country. I was interested in the speech of the Minister of Health when introducing the Second Reading of the English Bill when he said:I can note how in one place the load has been growing and growing, until it 941 has become far greater than the shaft that was originally designed can hoist.I do not want the Government to make the mistake of putting too heavy a load on the shaft of the county councils; and that is rather I fear the tendency in this Bill. The Minister of Health went on to say:I can see remnants of old gears designed long ago which now only serve to weaken and hamper the working of the more modern plant."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1928; col. 69, Vol. 223.]I sometimes think the Government are apt to see the big wheels and do not remember the small cogs. There are small cogs in every piece of machinery and if you do not have the small cogs working properly the thing will not go. I hope the Government will be most careful to see that these local committees are purely elected bodies and are given some work to do. If that is done I am certain the Bill will meet with the approval of a very large number of people in the country. You will get in the country what happened to-day in this House when the Secretary of State intimated his intention to bring forward some form of local committees, many of those who came to scoff have remained to praise.
§ Mr. BARR
I desire to confine myself to the educational aspects of this Bill. We in Scotland are very proud of our educational system. It is not a system which has been built up by one section, one group, or one denomination, but by the nation as a whole. From the moment that St. Columba came to Iona in 1563 he so planted schools and colleges that, it is interesting to note, the Venerable Bede in the Seventh Century tells us, English boys came to the ecclesiastical school in Iona, not having anything equal to it in their own country, and were not only provided with education but with free books and food as well. Down through the Middle Ages and for four centuries before the Reformation, we have had the system of parish schools in Scotland. Three of our famous universities owe their origin to the Roman Catholic Church. The University of Glasgow was founded because of the salubrity of the climate and also because of the abundance of all victuals and the necessaries of life. The hon. Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine (Mr. R. W. Smith) will be interested to know that the University of 942 Aberdeen was founded by the Roman Catholic Church, because they said that it was in a most remote—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
This is a most effective preamble to the hon. Member's speech, but I suggest that it should not be unduly extended.
§ Me. BARR
I was just on the point of finishing that sentence—I hope I may be allowed to do so—that it was in a most remote part of the country with very high mountains, in which dwelt men rude and ignorant of letters, and almost barbarious. I was leading to a particular point that even after the Reformation, when there was the ideal of a school in every parish, that that was not fully realised, and that in the year 1696 there was a new stage in education when a new Rating Act was passed for the endowment of schools in every parish. Speaking in this House, in 1847, Lord Macaulay said:An improvement such as the world had never seen took place in the moral and intellectual character of the people. Soon, in spite of the rigour of the climate, in spite of the sterility of the earth, Scotland became a country which had no reason to envy the fairest portions of the globe.The Royal Commission of 1864 to 1867 revealed a state of affairs that should prevent us from being exalted beyond measure. We find that this national system was able to account for only about one-quarter of the children, that the church schools and adventure schools had to supplement them, that 20 per cent. of the church schools and 20 per cent. of the national schools were declared to be very imperfect indeed. That brings me to a point that is very relevant to this Bill, namely, that in 1872 the Education Act was brought in. First of all they adapted the ad hoc system, which in a more imperfect way had prevailed hitherto. They had the burgh schools, but they said that although those were most satisfactory yet they preferred to have a purely ad hoc system. The second point is that they adopted for the religious instruction what we know as use and wont. I agree with the position of the Secretary for Scotland in resisting what is known as the mandatory Clause. The churches are no longer demanding it. I would like to read the words that were used in 1872. The Lord Advocate of that day said: 943But because it was expected from some of his utterances that the Government would decline to enjoin by a statutory requirement the teaching of religion in the national schools, there was a great outcry, and it was said that the religious feelings of the people would be violated. His answer was, first, that no such requirement existed now; and, secondly, that it was somewhat strange to be accused of violating the religious feelings of the people in the matter of religious instruction in the schools if you proposed to leave that matter to the people themselves.I trust that the Government will maintain that attitude while not disturbing the present system. I should say the same as to the supervisor of religious instruction, whether a State supervisor or one appointed by the Church, I think he would have a disturbing influence. Here I would quote words used recently by Principal Martin, of the United Free Church:The great teaching profession did not need any interference or supervision from the Church, and the profession met the ministry of the Church in Scotland on level terms in this matter or any other.9.0 p.m.
We should think twice before raising the religious issue in any form. In 1924, under the education authority of Glasgow, there were only 325, apart from the Jews, who claimed exemption from that teaching. Only one teacher in the last 28 years has taken advantage of the Conscience Clause. The instruction is of an educational nature and is given in a very fine way. It depends on the voluntary service and good will of the teachers. It has been said that the public control under the new system is much more remote, but that, in my view, is not a reason for forcing any new and impossible mandatory system, but is a reason for going further and arguing that if the people have not control of their religion it is equally true that they have not control of the great questions of education and of social advance in education. They have not control on the question of the free use of books or the raising of the school age or feeding or clothing. These also are really practical religion:Is not this the fast that I have chosen? … Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, … and when thou see'st the naked that thou cover him?Reference has been made to 1918, when it was first proposed to have a system 944 almost entirely in agreement with what is proposed now. Mr. Munro, the Secretary of State of that day, was obliged to withdraw it. Here are the words that Mr. Munro used, on the Second Reading of the amended Bill, on 26th June, 1918:I have come to the conclusion that there is considerable opposition to the proposal. I have formed the opinion that indirect election and the provision for co-opting members is not, generally speaking, acceptable to public opinion. I recognise that my views have not prevailed. I, therefore, bow to public opinion as I understand it.I wish the present Secretary for Scotland would also bow to public opinion. It is not less to-day, but is far stronger and more widespread than when Mr. Munro withdrew his Bill. Why is this proposal made in the Bill? We have had hardly any argument; not a word has been said by the Secretary of State as to the education of the child. It is not a question of area. We have the county already as the area for education authorities. It is not a question of uniformity of rating. There is uniformity of rating in the large towns and in the counties now. It is not a question of a block grant. To the extent of 90 per cent. the grants to-day are largely of a nature of a capitation grant and they are enjoined by statute or approved by the Education Department, and only to the extent of 10 per cent. are they discretionary. We need not argue that point. Speaking in December, 1925, the Parliamentary Secretary instanced these as block grants in education and spoke of the wonderful advance that Scotland had made in the five years preceding. The tribute which she paid to Scottish education I would wish to have remembered now.
As far as I can make out, the main reasons of the Secretary of State for Scotland are simply unification, simplicity and symmetry. He insists that in length and breadth and height this house shall he equal to the English house, And that it must have exactly the same number of storeys as the English house, in order that future generations may be able to point to its symmetry and say, "This is the house that Jack built." But no sooner has he set up this house of perfect symmetry than he is bound to extend it, 'as we have seen to-day, and to patch it up again. When he was speaking to the representatives of the Northern parish 945 councils, in deference to the strong opinion expressed both in the North and in the South, he referred to:The Government proposal to retain through a central body with local committees, that local interest and local advice which local knowledge alone could give.The word "local" is four times repeated. Having destroyed local government, the right hon. Gentleman begins to piece it together again, and is obliged to bring in co-option. I do not know if it was the right hon. Gentleman himself who used the words, but someone defending this co-option system said it would serve those who would not agree to face the trouble and uncertainty of a contested election. Why should we not have it in Parliament then, if it is a good thing? Quite a number of hon. Members, particularly on the opposite side, are looking forward with dread to the uncertainty of contested elections. If it is wrong in Parliament, it is wrong in local government also. What is the practice here? We appoint committees and co-opt people who will work with us and give reports as members of commissions, but we do not bring into our system any outsider who shapes our daily proceedings. These people, as a rule, will have no sympathy with the social ideals by which we are animated, or with democratic ideals of education. The provisions of Clause 12 relate not only to the establishment of committees, but to a vast system of sub-committees in which you have repeated co-options.
The education authority of Glasgow, for instance, has 22 different groups of schools, 14 standing committees, a great number of sub-committees, and 49 elections of members of the authority to represent them on various public bodies. You have not only the education committee with its co-options, but you have then further co-options to the sub-committees, and also people elected to represent on other public bodies a body to which they themselves do not belong. You have unlimited powers of sub-division and unlimited occasions of overlapping. I rarely relate any anecdote in this House, but I knew of a man who left the church which he attended because, he said, the minister did not preach the simple Gospel. He went to another church, but it was not long before he was back in his old fold. He said: "Yon was simplicity simplified." When I heard the Secretary 946 of State explaining his scheme on the ground of simplicity, I thought it was simplicity mystified.
There is another very important point. These committees will not meet in public. In the School Board of Glasgow, of which I was a member for 11 years we had a long battle to establish the system of public meetings, and I believe the establishment of that system has given great interest to education in that city. You are now taking away publicity and putting education into committees, and it will no longer have the wide interest which it formerly had. A good deal has been said about overlapping. I think things are very well arranged at present in that respect by means of constant cooperation. I would call attention to the law on this subject. In the Act of 1908, in the Section dealing with the feeding of children, medical inspection, and so forth, it is laid down quite definitely that this is extra treatment only to be done when no other authority is attending to it, and it is to be done on special grounds. It is to be done where the child, from lack of fit food and clothing is unable to take advantage of the education provided. I was connected with the struggle which secured that Section in that Measure and a long difficult uphill struggle it was. The point of it was this —that the child should he fed without bringing in the Poor Law and without any taint of pauperism. Now we are going to take away that special treatment given on educational grounds, and throw it over on the Poor Law and I regard that as a great blemish in the Bill.
Other reasons given are the multiplicity of elections, the lack of interest in the elections and the small percentage who vote. If you are going to scrap bodies whose elections do not excite popular interest, you will, first, have to scrap the county council itself. Then reference has been made—I think by the Prime, Minister himself in his Glasgow speech—to the cost of these elections. There are 37 of these elections possible in regard to this educational aspect of the subject and at the last triennial elections in 1925 the total cost for these elections in Scotland was £23,874 representing one half of a farthing on the gross valuation of Scotland. We have heard a great deal about formulae and mathematics but that represents 0007 947 of the annual general expenditure or 7/10,000ths of it.
§ Mr. BARR
The Under-Secretary has given some reasons to which I should like to refer. I should like first, however, to mention one more which the right hon. Gentleman himself gives, namely, that you must not segregate education, but that you must bring it right into the arena of the whole populace. I hold that by putting it into these committees you are taking it out of the arena of the populace, and tending still more to segregate it. The Prime Minister said that if you segregated education and did not put it into this common pool the ratepayers who were indifferent to education, when they received their rate for education, would take a further aversion to it because they were paying a special rate for it. I would like to know whether it is proposed to change the present system in regard to rates. When we get our assessments for rates at present, all the items are totaled out. Is that to continue, so that we will know exactly what we are paying for each, or is the bill to be such that we will not know, and will be blinded? It would appear from a leading article in the "Glasgow Herald" of 3rd July last that there is a purpose in this proposal. The article says:This authority through its finance committee will secure that each service gets its proper share and that the cost of services does not mount beyond the ratepayers' capacity.I think I see in that something of the motives of this Bill. It is to retard expenditure on advancing social services, and it will certainly have that effect.
The Under-Secretary used an argument at a meeting not long ago which I might paraphrase as follows: It was a great misfortune to have a service like this run by experts. If you had an ad hoc body, they came to regard themselves as experts. Instead of experts, what was desired was the commonsense of the community, and you get that better from an ad omnia than from an ad hoc authority; and it would therefore be disastrous to have it run by experts. It occurred to me that the British Medical Association is run by experts and that 948 that might lead to disaster, and one might propose that their business should be carried through by a system of co-option. They could be co-opted on to such a society as, say, the Anti-Vivisection Society or the Society for the Protection of Dogs, and they would have on it, in the language of the Bill, at least one person experienced in medicine and one thoroughly familiar with the medical trade unions of the country. There is only one other reason which has been given that I should like to refer to. I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not present. He said, at Selkirk, on the 26th October last:Who would say that it was not necessary that they should move with the times and adapt themselves to the circumstances in which they lived?What I say is that the times are reactionary and are the creation of this Government. To move with the present times is to move backward, and the Government will find that the times are adverse to their Bill and to the right hon. Gentleman. It used to be that the Church of Scotland, in its Presbytery in Glasgow particularly, was one of the bulwarks of the present Government. Yet; we find the Rev. J. Maclagan, parish minister of Merrylea, saying this:He mentioned that to emphasise the point that there was a very strong feeling in Scotland at the present time that the affairs and the opinions of the people were not receiving the attention they ought to receive. They were treated with callous indifferenceWe are not standing for the reconstruction of this Measure, particularly in regard to education, and in other respects, but we are standing for its withdrawal. If it were merely for political interest, we would say: "Go on with your Measure. Go on until Pollock and Kelvingrove are as safe for Labour as Gorbals and Bridgeton." The Secretary of State and his Government are rushing on blindly to their doom.There is a poor blind Samson in this land,Shorn of his strength and bound in bonds of steel,Who may in some grim revel raise his hand,And shake the pillars of this common weal,Till the vast temple of our liberties,A shapeless mass of wreck and rubbish lies.949 In their blindness, they are pulling down the temple over their own heads, and, ere this Measure comes into operation, not only will they have brought clown the temples of our liberties, but they will have overwhelmed the Government and their party in this ruin, till we can say of it also that it,A shapeless mass of wreck and rubbish lies.
§ Lieut.-Colonel THOM
The tragic picture drawn by the hon. Member who has just sat down is as true as the picture drawn by Members on the opposite benches who have preceded him. I confess that when the White Paper was issued in July I was full of doubt. But I found that my misgivings were due to not having read the White Paper, and, when I made further inquiries, I found that the opposition was due to the same cause. One or two gentlemen in Scotland aroused opposition against the Measure among the various local authorities in Scotland, who concerned themselves mainly, not with the White Paper, but with the terms of the criticism to which I have referred. It is essential I think, especially in view of the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) that this House should realise the extent of the opposition to this Measure in Scotland. I have been in Scotland as often as the Member for Dundee recently, and I have seen no signs of the agitation against the Measure amongst the people in Scotland to which he referred. May I add that I see little sign of that opposition here to-night. It is said that the Labour party in Scotland are enthusiastic in their opposition to the Bill.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
If the hon. Member does not wish to misrepresent me, I would ask him to say if he has had any interviews with members of town councils and what is the attitude that they have adopted?
§ Lieut.-Colonel THOM
I may inform the hon. Gentleman that I have had these interviews, and that I have been singularly unimpressed by many of the arguments advanced. What is more I have taken the occasion to tell those I have met that they represent no one but themselves in this matter. They do not represent the views of the great mass of the people of Scotland. I have gone about my own constituency to explain 950 this Measure and, wherever I have done so, I have found the opposition to which the hon. Gentleman refers to be nonexistent. We are bringing forward this Bill and have to go through with it, and we are prepared, with every confidence, to go to the country on it in May of next year. Of course, it was natural that there should be opposition to this Measure. After all, it interferes with the existing order of things. Therefore, it was only to be expected that members of parish councils and education authorities who have done excellent work in the past should start off with prejudice against the Measure. This is what has happened. But what is happening now is that the Bill is becoming more and more understood, and more and more public opinion is veering round in favour of it. A very great deal of assiduity had been exhibited by those who have criticised the Bill. If that same assiduity had been evinced in an attempt to expose the demerits and imperfections of the present system of local government in Scotland, then the urgent need for reform of local government would have been completely vindicated, and I think the public interest would have been better served.
I wish to come to one of the most important questions raised not' only in the discussion to-day, but in the Debate which took place last week upon the English Bill. Our opponents ask: "Why link up de-rating with local government reform?" If we were going to consider purely our chances at the polls at the next General Election, probably it would have been wise and expedient, if it were possible, from the purely party political point of view, to have simply come forward with a de-rating Measure and to have left local government reform until later on. I believe that this Measure of local government reform is an absolutely essential concomitant of the de-rating scheme, and one of the main reasons why that is so is to be found in the existence of necessitous areas. You have de-rating, and you have your industrial concerns in your necessitous areas, and if you have a lessening of the reservoir from which the local authority in those necessitous areas, can draw the money to enable it to administer the services which it is called upon to administer, 951 you must have what is called an extension of the area of charge.
I know that our political opponents say that if you made the burden of the able-bodied unemployed a charge, not upon any local exchequer but upon the national Exchequer, you would have got rid of a great part of the difficulty, and really have got rid of the reason why de-rating and local government reform should be linked together. I have in my constituency two definite necessitous areas, and I have always taken the view that it is quite unfair that these poor districts, which have suffered for many years from industrial depression, should be called upon themselves to bear the whole burden of their able-bodied unemployed. I have always thought that it would be well, if it were possible, that the burden of able-bodied unemployed should be borne by the national Exchequer, but I believe there are difficulties in the way of such a scheme which are absolutely, or at any rate, almost, insurmountable. To begin with, as was pointed out by the Minister for Health last week, if you introduce a system by which your able-bodied unemployed are to be tended and cared for by money drawn from the national Exchequer, then the necessary result would be the building ups of a system of national officials which would be the apotheosis of bureaucracy. This is no new question. It was considered by the Blanesburgh Committee, which was a very representative Committee. On that Committee sat the hon. Lady the Member for 1Nallsend (Miss Bondfield), and other notable Socialists.
§ Lieut.-Colonel THOM
The charge of the burden of able-bodied unemployed was considered by this very representative Committee which made a unanimous Report. It has been one of the characteristics of our people that they have always been very reluctant to apply for poor relief, and that is a characteristic which should be encouraged; but, undoubtedly, if you made 952 the charge of able-bodied unemployed a charge on the national Exchequer, you would be discouraging that very virtue. May I read one of the paragraphs from the Report of that Committee in which they refer to the characteristic I have mentioned? They say:The dislike of most insured persons to resort to Poor Relief is natural and laudable. We would encourage it. Poor relief would be no less unwelcome to the genuinely unemployed because it is partly provided by State funds.They continue further on:We should, from the point of view of unemployment insurance, regard regular Government aid to the local public assistance authority for the purposes of outdoor relief to able-bodied unemployed as highly dangerous. If such payments were to be made, it seems obvious that some State supervision would be necessary, and in cases of this kind where assessments of individual claims are involved, supervision would mean control. It would then not be long before an organisation arose little different, in the eyes of the claimants at least, from that required for the payment of unemployment benefit. It would be unfortunate if a state of things were created under which anyone whom the authorities of the insurance scheme declined to pay were paid at once by the guardians. In that case the administration of unemployment insurance would be seriously compromised, since if anyone to whom the authorities of the insurance scheme properly refused benefit could be at once relieved by the local guardians partly out of moneys provided by the State, the refusal would he a matter of indifference to the claimant.There is the considered opinion of a very representative Committee which sat upon and considered this very question, and which had the advantage of having before it evidence which this House has not before it to-night. While I, myself, would like to see the whole charge of able-bodied unemployment put upon the national Exchequer, I believe it is impossible for reasons to which I have referred, and I think the very greatest regard ought to be had for the recommendations of that most representative Committee. It is not an easy matter, apart from the effect that it would have upon the Unemployment Scheme, to arrange a system under which a fair division of the national funds could be made to each district suffering from depression and unemployment. Different districts have different degrees of wealth and poverty, and the cost of services in any one district is entirely different from 953 that in another district. It is just because of the varying conditions of different districts that up to now no Government have succeeded in producing a formula under which a fair and equitable distribution of national funds for this purpose could be effected. At any rate, we on this side of the House have failed to produce a formula under which this could be done.
May I remind the House that this very question was considered by the Labour party when they were in office in 1924? I would like, further, to remind the House of the statement which was made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. A. Greenwood), when speaking in this House on 4th August, 1924:There is no Member of the House who does not feel very considerable sympathy with those particular black spots which, during the long trade depression, have suffered very acutely. It is true that many of us on this side of the House believed in some special treatment for necessitous areas. It is an open secret that there has not been a Minister of Health since the War who was not favourably disposed towards some special treatment of that kind, and who, having examined the problem, has not come to the conclusion that the practical difficulties in the way of any formula are almost insuperable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th August, 1924; col. 2601, Vol. 176.]No formula was produced by the Socialist party nor has it been produced by anybody else, and when hon. Members opposite say that we ought to make the able-bodied unemployed a burden on the national Exchequer, I think, in view of what has taken place in the past, it is up to them to produce a scheme which will stand criticism on the Floor of this House. What the Government have done in this Bill seems to me to be the only practicable and feasible step in the circumstances. They have taken the existing historical divisions of the country, have endeavoured to build up on title existing foundations and have produced a formula under which grants will be made to various districts. These grants will be so regulated that the districts which need them most will get most, and the districts which need them least will get least.
§ Mr. E. BROWN indicated dissent.
§ Lieut.-Colonel THOM
My hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) shakes his head, hut, at any rate, that is 954 the intention of the Bill, and I have no doubt that when we come to discuss this matter in Committee, the hon. Member, who has just given great study to this subject, will have an opportunity of advancing his criticism of the formula which has been included in the Bill. May I say a word about the formula? The Minister of Health said that it has been the subject of a good deal of cheap satire. I have met with a good deal of silly criticism about it. For some reason or other, the great majority of people to whom I speak say that they do not understand it, and seem to glory in the fact that they do not understand it. Their attitude in regard to the formula presents a curious study of human nature. It is a proclivity which is observable in other directions. It is a fact that when a man is inebriated and alone in that state he endeavours to conceal his state with an exaggerated gravity. On the other hand, if he finds himself in the presence of a number of people in the same state as himself, he rather seems to glory in his hilarious condition. This is just what has happened in connection with this formula. Some people have the idea that it is difficult to understand. I agree that it is not easy, but, if you read it two or three times, there is not much difficulty in understanding it. People who wish to oppose the Bill say that this formula is difficult to understand, and they join in a gleeful chorus of professed ignorance.
§ Lieut-Colonel THOM
My hon. Friend asks me to explain it, but I will not detain the House. After all, there are others who wish to speak.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The hon. and gallant Member has been boasting about his knowledge, in a quiet Scottish way, in regard to what is called the formula. If he looks at page xx of the Financial Memorandum he will find a statement in regard to the datum line. If he looks on page xxi he will see it stated thatthe loading follows a different mathematical curve according as the proportion is more or less than 100 people per mile of road.955 With his knowledge of mathematics, will he tell us, since you have a datum line running one way towards increasing density, and another running another way towards decreasing density, how a factor described by a mathematical curve representing a two part factor, can be applied to an all inclusive datum line?
§ Lieut.-Colonel THOM
I am quite willing to endeavour to explain this on the Committee stage, or to give the hon. Member any assistance.
§ Mr. HARDIE
You are the "drunken" man, and you are trying to hide the fact, and you do not know it.
§ Lieut.-Colonel THOM
There is only one point in regard to the formula to which I wish to refer. It starts with the basis of population. If the formula is to work out correctly and achieve just and equitable results that basis must be correct. I understand that the basis is taken from the Census of 1921. It is a fact that, because of events which are fresh in our memory, the Census was taken in the summer of that year, and therefore we have a distorted result, for in many places there were a lower number of people because of the efflux to the holiday resorts. That is a question which should be considered, and I should like to have some information as to how the basis of population is to be fixed. With regard to the question of co-option, the Secretary of State has indicated that in the case of parish committees, he is willing to consider some scheme by which they should be elected. On the other hand, the principle of co-option is to remain in the education authorities.
This principle has been made the target of a good deal of unreasonable criticism, and one hears it at political meetings. It is always put in this way: What use is any man who is afraid to go before the electors and give an account of his stewardship and fight a popular election? I am far from believing that because a man stands up before the electors of a country, county or district 956 and is elected he is endowed with any special virtue to enable him to carry out his work. I believe, of course, that by some method of popular election we must arrange to have democratic and popular control over policy and expenditure, but that is quite consistent with a certain measure of co-option. It is undoubtedly a fact that there are a large number of people in Scotland, as in this country, who would be willing to give voluntary and enthusiastic service to education, but who are unwilling for one reason or another to face a popular election. Their services might be very valuable, and it would be wrong for the country to refuse to avail itself of that great reservoir of voluntary service. During the War, in the nation's time of trial, we co-opted right and left and got men into positions of great responsibility, controlling millions of money and being responsible to nobody; and, generally speaking, they efficiently and economically performed the functions that devolved upon them. So long as you have democratic checks, it would be very unwise for the House to denounce and condemn the principle of co-option as applied to local government. Indeed, local government has become so complicated, and such an intricate matter, involving so much time, that it will be impossible in future to carry it on without a large measure of co-opted service.
It is said that the small burghs are going to lose precedence and be put under the over-lordship of the county authorities. No one has a greater respect for the part that the burghs of Scotland have played in the past than I have. Within their own boundaries they have built up a magnificent set of social services, and they are justly proud of their traditions, but I believe that there is a wider scope for their great experience and administrative abilitiy. After all, the opposition to this scheme is due in no small measure to the fact that it has not been visualised as a whole. If it be looked upon from the point of view of the machine which throughout the country is going to afford the best service, not only to the urban district as it exists at the present moment, but to the rural district, it will be recognised to be a scheme in the operation of which these small burghs can and will play a creditable part. While I have great respect for the members of cor- 957 porations and of these burgh councils, I believe that they will be false to their traditions if they allow any parochial pride to impede the progress of the nation to a higher plane in the administration of its public and social services.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The hon. and gallant Member for Dumbartonshire (Lieut.-Colonel Thom) has used a great many words, but all I could gather from his observations was that he supported this Government Measure on the ground that it provided a scheme of local government which was the best in existing circum stances. If I may say so, that is a reason which is far from satisfactory. It is not sufficient to say that because the Opposition cannot suggest proposals contrary to the proposals which have emerged from the Government that the Government's proposals are adequate. We have never been called upon to furnish proposals, and, for that matter, neither have the Government. These proposals are an innovation. Not a word was said at the last General Election about the need for a change in local government. The right hon. Gentleman who asks us to believe that the present Measure arises out of an urgent need for a change in local government ought to submit reasons why the people of Scotland require such a drastic change. Scotland, I say quite emphatically, has never asked for this Measure, Scotland does not want this Measure, and, over and above all that, the proposals of the Bill cannot solve the industrial or local government problems with which Scotland is confronted.
A great many points of a Committee nature have been, raised to-day, but little has been said about the fundamental basis of this Bill—I refer to the de-rating proposals. It seems to be assumed that because last week three days were devoted to the discussion of the English Measure we, the representatives from the Scottish constituencies, ought to be content. Speaking for myself, I am far from content with the treatment which the proposals received last week, at all events from a Scottish point of view. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he invites us to accept this very important and, as he called it, first-class Measure, to prove to us that the de-rating proposals are capable of providing a permanent solution of our industrial and unemployment problems 958 in Scotland. The whole speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Dumbartonshire was directed to prove, as far as proof could be adduced, that unemployment could be dealt with in this fashion. He talked of the impossibility of placing the burden of unemployment on the shoulders of the State, and assumed that this Measure could deal effectively with that unemployment and industrial problem. In a few words I want to show that the Measure cannot solve the economic and unemployment problem in Scotland, or, for that matter, in any other country.
I will begin with the North of Scotland. In Aberdeen, one of the large centres which will be affected by these local government proposals, there is a' considerable fishing industry; indeed, I believe it is the principal industry in that neighbourhood. Will the right hon. Gentleman or his friends say that the de-rating proposals which are the basis of this scheme—and there is no doubt that no local government proposals would have been submitted had it not been for the de-rating plans of the Government—will produce more employment for the fishermen of Aberdeen and district, or will induce more people to buy the products of the labour of the fishermen? I believe that to be a fundamental issue, for, unless hon. Gentlemen opposite can furnish such evidence, then the whole case for de-rating as a solution of the unemployment problem in Scotland falls to the ground. Let us travel farther South. In Dundee there is a large jute industry. What is their particular problem? Does it arise from high rates, or does it arise from the competition of the products of the Indian jute factories? Clearly it is Indian jute, produced by cheap Indian labour, which is at the bottom of the trouble confronting the jute industry in Dundee. You may reduce costs by such a figure as your de-rating proposals may provide, you may reduce freights, but you will never cross the bridge which divides the Dundee jute industry from the jute industry of India. Therefore, in the case of Dundee, as in the case of Aberdeen, the local industry on which the inhabitants depend for their livelihood cannot be affected by these proposals.
Now I come to coal. A few days ago I asked the Secretary for Mines how far the de-rating proposals would affect the cost of production of coal in Scotland.
959 He said that the reduction in the cost of production is Scotland would amount to 1½d. per ton of coal. As we all know, coal for internal consumption, apart from that intended for the steel and iron trades, is not affected by the reduction in freight; such relief as is applied to that section of the coal industry is derived from the ordinary de-rating proposals. The loss on every ton of coal produced in Scotland is 1s.3½d. per ton, and the average loss over the whole country is 1s. 5d. per ton. Surely, hon. Gentleman opposite will see that a reduction of 1½d. per ton on the coal produced in Scotland cannot affect the situation in face of the considerable loss which is now being sustained. I should imagine that that would be axiomatic, and would not require any argument to convince hon. Members opposite.
Let me furnish another example which applies not only to Scotland but to the whole country. We learned last week from the "Financial News" that the Polish coal-owners entered into a contract with the Norwegian State Railways to provide coal for an extended period, and the contract provides that the coal is to be sold at 5s. less per ton than the British offer. The British coal-owners were in the market, but the Polish coal-owners were able to meet them on more favourable grounds, and they obtained that very useful contract at 5s. a ton less. Does the Secretary of State for Scotland contend that the amount of relief which is offered by this Bill can possibly affect that situation? If he contends that that situation will be affected by the Bill, then I am bound to confess that I am in a difficulty, and I shall be glad if any hon. Gentleman opposite can get me out of that difficulty. If they can, then they will take the coal industry out of its present difficulty. In my view, neither 1½d., 7d., nor 1s. per ton can affect such a situation as that which I have described.
I come to the shipbuilding industry which is the staple industry of the Clydeside. I presume that the Secretary of State for Scotland desires to improve the position of that particular district The Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company is to be de-rated on its here-ditaments, and the amount of rates 960 from which they will be relieved will enable them to paint one new vessel, and no more. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman will not contend that that will bring relief to the depressed shipbuilding industry. That argument can be extended right throughout the industrial undertakings of Scotland.
We have in the constituency which I represent the shale oil industry, which is in a very impoverished condition. That industry recently derived a measure of relief, or, at all events, it was so alleged, from the imposition of the Petrol Duty. Now the hereditaments owned by the Scottish Oil Company Limited in West Lothian and neighbourhood are to be de-rated. If the result of that is a reduction in the cost of shale and shale oil that will bring no relief to the workpeople in that neighbourhood, and it cannot possibly lead to a reduction in the price of oil, because Scottish Oils, Limited, is a subsidiary interest of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. That company is responsible for the importation of a considerable quantity of oil into this country, and a reduction in the price of oil is impossible, because this subsidiary interest in Scotland cannot compete against the Anglo-Persian Oil Company; in fact, it dare not do so.
Secondly, relief of this kind cannot affect the position of the Scottish shale oil industry. I agree that there are small industrial undertakings in Scotland of a minor character which may be slightly improved in consequence of the de-rating proposals, but, taking Scottish industries as a whole, taking unemployment and the poverty problem as a whole, I submit that the de-rating proposals cannot touch the fringe of those problems. It is idle to pretend that the local government scheme which arises from the de-rating proposals is likely to be of any advantage to Scotland.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I shall be delighted to do so at the proper time. We have told hon. Members on previous occasions the alternatives which we propose. We are now dealing with the proposals of the Government. If I had to address the House upon a solution of the unemployment problem, I should tell hon. Members 961 that the real problem of unemployment to-day is not so much one of finding work for the unemployed as adequately maintaining them. The problem arises from the effect of rationalisation processes which have not been properly controlled and which have involved a wrong distribution of producing and consuming powers. No one pretends that you can overcome these difficulties by such a Measure as the one we are now discussing or, indeed, by any Government without considerable funds and some time at its disposal. This Government has neither intentions nor anything else that is likely to prove of much value in the solution, or even the partial solution, of the unemployment problem.
I submit to the House that all that has been said about the mechanism of the local government proposals is beside the point. It does not matter a tinker's cuss whether you change the local government situation in Scotland, whether you divorce the parish councils from the localities, or whether you transfer the education authorities to the county council. You cannot deal with the problems which are troubling the people of Scotland in that way. The question of parochial relief has been referred to, but we were not told that one out of every 17 persons in Scotland is compelled to apply for pauper relief in some form or other. That is a very startling fact. In England and Wales one out of every 40 applies for pauper relief, and, presumably, obtains it, but in Scotland, a country that prides itself upon its independence, one out of every 17 persons is compelled to apply for pauper relief. That is an astounding condition of things, and the mere changes that are proposed in this Measure cannot deal with such a profound difficulty.
I want to submit to the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, that he is not coming here because he has good intentions about local government. He never thought of it at the last General Election, and he never thought of it before these de-rating proposals formed themselves in the mind of the Government. He said that there had been Commissions dealing with this question of local government in Scotland, and deliberating for a period of years. He must have known about those deliberations at the last General Election; he must have known about them between the last General Election and 962 the submission of the Budget proposals this year; yet he never said a word about the matter, and we are compelled to come to the conclusion that, even if these ideas were lurking at the back of his mind, and germinating in the brains of hon. Gentlemen on the other side who are supporting these proposals now, at least they did not think it desirable to come forward and present them to the House of Commons for its consideration. Therefore, I want to say, as representing an industrial constituency that is impoverished, and is likely, so far as I can see, to remain so for a considerable time unless something drastic is done, that these proposals are unsatisfactory and inadequate, and, in my judgment, are E. mere sham.
I now want to draw attention to what I regard as the really grave defects on the local government side of this Measure. Some of its worst features have been referred to by other speakers in the Debate, and I noted with some pleasure that one of its weaknesses was referred to by the hon. Member for Kincardine (Mr. Boothby), who is not on this side of the House but on the other side; and it was very strange to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Dumbartonshire speak of the absence of opposition in the country, when, only half an hour before he spoke, a very strong speech was delivered from the benches apposite in opposition to the main features of this Bill. What are the defects? There is, to begin with, the anti-democratic method of selecting the representatives of the burghs on the county councils. I shall not refer to the Bill itself; I feel sure that the right hon. Gentleman will take it from me that the point I am making is quite accurately expressed, the position being that, although the landward areas are to be democratically represented on the county councils, and the normal method of election is to operate there, yet within the burghs there is to be no such method, and the town councils are to appoint from among their number representatives to, the county councils. [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) saying something which indicates that he approves—
§ Mr. SKELTON
No; I only said something indicating that they were them-selves democratically elected.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
It amounts to the same thing. If the electors within a burgh are to he entitled to elect representatives on the town council, why should they be deprived of the opportunity of electing their representatives on the wider county council? In effect, it amounts to disfranchising electors within the burgh. It may be argued that the town council will select the right person or persons, but, surely, the electors within the burgh have a prior right to determine who their representatives shall be on the county council itself. That is a serious defect which I think ought to be remedied in this Bill. At the present time, all those who are entitled to vote for county council purposes vote in the normal fashion, and why it should be sought to change the method at this time I am at a loss to understand. I come to my final point, and it is in reference to the wide powers that are to be left in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, it might be said in this connection that the whole of this Measure, on its local government side, is ambiguous, that it is not definite, it is not clearly expressed. Much remains to be said, and, apparently, what is to be said is to be said by the right hon. Gentleman; he has the last word, and, of course, he has the first word in addition—
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Or his successor. Even if his successor were of a political colour more akin to my own, I should still object to such wide powers remaining in his hands. I cannot speak for my friends, but for my own part I am not prepared to leave such extraordinary powers in the hands of any one person. I should like to direct the attention of the House to what this really means. A scheme is to be prepared by the county council, but what that scheme is no one knows, while the manner in which the county council is to be constituted is very much in the air. There is a skeleton of a scheme, but no one knows what its powers will be when it is constituted. This mysterious, mystical, hypothetical new body is to prepare a scheme, and, when that scheme is prepared, apparently with the full consent arising from the wisdom of the representatives who have been appointed by the electors and from 964 the burgh councils, if the Bill goes through in its present form, the Secretary of State for Scotland is to be allowed to decide whether it is satisfactory or not.
I submit quite respectfully to the right hon. Gentleman and his friends that it is too much to ask of the representatives of Scottish constituencies to leave this matter entirely in his hands. We are not prepared to do so. At the very least, it ought to be laid down quite definitely that the Secretary of State should not, after approving of a scheme, be allowed to put it into operation without laying it on the Table of this House for the consideration of hon. Members. That is the very least that we are entitled to expect. If this is not done what follows? The scheme is approved by the right hon. Gentleman whatever kind of scheme it may be, satisfactory or unsatisfactory, adequate or inadequate. It may not appeal, for that matter, to the electors within the county council area. That is very likely. There may be protests raised against it. The Secretary of State may hear these protests but that is all. He may pay no attention to them other than merely listening to what is said. But what follows is that the right hon. Gentleman puts the scheme into operation and, willy-nilly, the electors are compelled to accept it. If there was to be an annual election it would not be so serious, but the elections are triennial. For three years the electors are to he prevented from expressing their opinions in respect of the method of conducting government and it seems to me monstrous that the right hon. Gentleman should come forward with a proposal of this character.
While these may be regarded as Committee points, they undoubtedly affect the main structure of the Bill. We want to know what is in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. He is very affable and pleasant and suave, and his friends even more so on occasion. What we want to know is what is the motive behind this. Is it a desire for a better form of local government, or is it the desire to strengthen the hands of the bureaucracy and to make it less possible for democracy to operate? Is it the intention of the Government to control the machinery so as to prevent the onward march of democracy? Are 965 they afraid of the hordes of Labour? Are they afraid of the Labour majorities that are gradually obtaining a hold over local government? Is that the trouble? If it is, let us have it. Let us know exactly what is in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman so that we can meet him in the open. But to come forward and contend that. you are anxious for a change of local government with a Bill of this kind when, as a matter of fact, there has been no express desire for it and it can have no possible useful effect is simply to indicate that the Government with its present majority, with its temporary power, is using up the last few months of its term of office to put into operations proposals which may strengthen their hands against democracy and, on the other hand, weaken the opportunities of the Labour movement. For these reasons, and for many others which have been mentioned, and many others which have not been but will be mentioned belong long in Committee, I oppose the passing of this Measure.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I am not going to follow the hon. Member in first of all declaring that it is a matter of no importance what form local government takes, and then making rather superficial criticisms over a wide area. I wish to approach the Bill in quite another way and within a much narrower compass. It must be clear to anyone who looks at the movement of opinion fairly and squarely in this matter that opinion has moved very much in favour of the general principles of the Bill within the last six weeks and, in particular, it is clear that, however much those who have been, or are members of education authorities, for instance, may feel upon the topic, the great body of Scottish opinion is by no means disturbed by the proposals to put education in the general body of public questions to be managed by the county authorities. Nor am I surprised that that opinion should have been reached, because it clear that the control of policy or of finance which remains in the hands of the education authorities is not such as to give any real reason for a separate body remaining in existence.
It is not, however, with regard to the education authorities that I desire to speak, nor do I desire to say more on the 966 general topic than what I have already said, that nothing has been more striking to an observer who tries to be impartial than the movement of opinion in favour of my right hon. Friend's proposals. It is only with regard to one of these proposals, but by no means an unimportant one, that I wish to say a word or two. I confess, speaking for myself, I was profoundly disturbed at the proposal in the White Paper to do away with parish councils. I refer, for a moment, not to parish councils in the urban districts which the House must remember are purely ad hoc bodies, with no function except that of the Poor Law, but to parish councils in the rural areas to which we gave in the 1894 Act functions quite distinct from and over and above their Poor Law functions. We gave general functions of local government. It may be said that they were very small in scope—and so they were—but they were general in nature, and I confess that I locked with great alarm at the idea, of their remaining in the purely rural districts of Scotland, with no representative bodies dealing with smaller areas except county councils.
It did not seem to me to make the matter any better whether one looked at it from the point of view of the large village or of the rural parish. It seemed to me to be equally necessary that there should be some representative institution in the country districts. When one further considered that, leaving out of account for the moment the degree to which functions of the small burghs were interfered with—and for the purposes of what I want to say, that is immaterial—my anxiety was added to from the point of view of the rural districts by the recollection that as far as the urban districts were concerned, their representative institutions remained. It was, I believe, to anyone knowing Scottish rural life, a legitimate source of anxiety that had the original proposal been carried out, there would have been no local institution short of the county council. Let me say one word more on that point. I am well aware of the statistics with regard to the number of contested elections in parish councils, of the statistics that there are certain parishes in which it is difficult to find the rural quota of representatives, but I think the answer to that class of argument is that where you 967 have no definite political division, where there is no burning question, where people are content with their representatives, as they naturally are, in a local district where they know each other, you are out of the sphere where the test of the importance of a body is the activity when it has an election. I think that that is generally agreed.
I might be asked, and I shall have to answer this point: What does it matter if the parish council or some local institution in the rural or village districts should be abolished? It matters for this reason, that they act as a focus, as a central point of the rural life, as a means whereby people of different classes, different outlook, different points of view, meet on a common basis. It is true that the life of the ordinary rural parish is not very exciting and that therefore the subjects for discussion at the ordinary rural parish council are not very exciting. But the fact is that in Scotland they are the sole connecting link, the sole focus of the life of the small rural district. It was along that line of argument that I was greatly alarmed at the idea that they should be abolished. I think the whole situation has been radically altered by the statement which my right hon. Friend made to-day, that he had now come to the conclusion that there should be some elected body of a smaller area than the county council. It is on the basis of that new position that I am most anxious to put a point before-the right hon. Gentleman. I understand that under the original scheme, when you were dealing with a committee, the idea was to get it nominated by the county council, but that idea is now out of the way. It is no longer to be a body nominated by the county council.
The proposition that I am most anxious to put before the Government at this stage is this: Why not in the rural districts return to the parish council idea? The Parish Councils Act set up, in 1894, parish councils in the rural districts, giving them definite functions, such as looking after rights-of-way, etc. They were not very large functions, but those original functions have been somewhat Added to. They have been given the churchyards to look after, and the War memorials have been entrusted to them. One of the original functions entrusted 968 to them was looking after parish halls. I think I am sight in saying that the Post Office and Telephone Acts give them the duty or the right to guarantee funds for the installation of telephone exchanges in the rural districts, a function which I know from my own constituency is often made use of. Here, therefore, we have already a small nucleus of functions, apart from the Poor Law, residing in the parish councils.
Unless it is absolutely necessary, speaking for myself, I am most unwilling that we should go through the process of, first of all, abolishing the parish council, removing its various functions, rights and possessions to the county council, and then re-establishing another local body by way of committee. Now, that there is to be an elected body in the rural districts, we could adopt a far simpler and more straightforward method, and I commend it to my right hon. Friend. Let him retain the parish councils, let him pass over to the county councils only the Poor Law functions, which is only one section out of the Parish Councils Act. Let him leave with the parish councils all their remaining functions. Let him, unquestionably, follow up his idea of letting the county councils re-arrange the boundaries and the areas, because I think everyone will agree that in many places the re-arrangement of areas is necessary, but keep the continuity of the parish council, no doubt often the council of more than one parish. Do not destroy the life of this institution, which has gone on for 35 years, and then dump down another in almost exactly the same spot, with a new name.
With regard to the Poor Law side, my suggestion would be this, that the county authority should delegate to the parish council, just as under my right hon. Friend's scheme they would delegate to a district committee, the administrative functions which it is thought right to give to a local body in regard to the Poor Law. There is nothing in the past history of the Poor Law administration of the parish councils in Scotland to make any Member of this House think that they would overstep whatever authority was given to them by the county councils. The Scottish record of Poor Law administration by parish councils is, so far as I know, entirely without blemish. Hon. 969 Members opposite will acquit me of any desire of raising controversial matters, but there has been, as far as I know, no phenomena in Scotland equivalent to certain doings of certain boards of guardians in England—
§ Mr. SKELTON
The hon. Member does not follow my argument. As far as I know—I am open to be corrected by facts, not by an interruption—there has been no case where parish councils have been forced to forgo their duties of Poor Law administration, and I suggest that it would be perfectly safe to entrust parish councils with the administrative functions of the Poor Law which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to give to these committees. It may seem only a question of name, but it is a little more than that. Although their life has only lasted 35 years parish councils, particularly in the rural districts, have bitten deeply in to the local life of the country and, if it can be avoided, it is a matter of real importance to maintain continuity in that respect. There seems to me to be one other step necessary. Even if the county councils give back some of their administrative functions to the larger parish councils with regard to the Poor Law, some of their powers will no doubt be removed; therefore, let us see if we cannot add to their functions. To leave these bodies without adequate functions to perform is very foolish. The hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) suggested that parish councils might be given the work which is at present done by the school management. committees.
I do not at all agree with some of the criticisms of the school management committees, and I know, as a matter of fact, that there are certain small rural districts where the work of this body is not regarded with such complete contempt as the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) suggested. Why not hand over this work to the parish councils, give them another job of work to do; make them a real institution? If you give to parish councils the work which is now done by school management committees the result will be that instead of having rather widely extended areas, with two bodies 970 sometimes in each of them—namely, the parish council or the committee and your school management committee, you can have a smaller area, because they will have more work to do even if they have smaller areas. I suggest that you give to purely local government this advantage. Try and get. your areas pretty small because it enables people who have not motor cars and much leisure or time to attend the meetings, whereas if you have an area which is rather extended you do restrict the class of person who can attend. On a purely local body this is a great mistake. I do not wish to expand further than I have on this subject because I see a well-known figure opposite with a good bundle of notes in his hand, and I am the last person to postpone hearing what those notes contain. May I repeat, not that I like repetition but for the sake of clearness, that once my right hon. Friend has adopted the principle of election for his local committees then pray let. him reconsider the question of the abolition of the parish councils, and see rather whether he cannot fit into the existing institutions the functions he wants to give to the new councils, thereby taking away the necessity of destroying an old institution and erecting a new one. Further, let him take all possible thought as to the further functions which can be given to this local body. I have suggested the work of the school management committee. It may be that those who are more expert in local government may be able to find other functions for it to do. But, believe me, there is an immense advantage in building upon what you have, and not destroying and then reconstructing from the beginning. In my judgment, although their work is unspectacular, just as the life of the ordinary parish is, and though it is easy to laugh at the parish pump and to criticise the very small number of first-rate questions that come before the parish council, in my experience of a rural constituency, which is about as long as that of anyone on this side of the House, the parish councils of Scotland and the rural districts fulfil a really useful function and act as one of the binding forces in the local community; and I know of no matter which is more important in the political life of to-day than that we should keep intact every possible element that binds the rural community 971 together. We should not destroy even the thinnest strand that keeps it together. I have confined myself to these observations, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will give them full consideration. because they are not made on the spur of the moment, but from close study of the facts.
Mr. WILLIAM ADAMSON
The Secretary of State in his opening remarks informed the House that, whatever our ideas might be regarding the Bill, he thought we would all agree as to the need for reform. I do not think there is anyone in any part of the House who will disagree with that statement. It is only when we come to examine the Measure which the right hon. Gentleman has produced that we find ourselves in disagreement with him. Not only has he found that those on this side are in disagreement with him, but that scarcely anyone who has spoken from his own side is in complete agreement with the terms of the Bill. The last speaker is a splendid example of what has been happening amongst the supporters of the Government during the course of the Debate. I do not think that the Secretary of State can plume himself that he has had a successful afternoon. The last speaker has said that there was a growing feeling in favour of the Bill, but I state quite frankly that the overwhelming majority of his fellow-countrymen are very much opposed to the Bill. One has only to look at the attitude taken up by many of the local authorities. Parish councils, borough councils, education authorities and other local bodies are entirely against the provisions of the Measure. The right hon. Gentleman has also found that there is a considerable body of individual opinion which is largely against him. To such an extent is that the case that he has been compelled to make a change of front this afternoon.
The Bill before us is not the Bill which he outlined in his speech. In one respect, at least, if not in more, there has been a very important alteration. He has informed us that he is prepared to depart from the principle of co-option, as far as certain committees are concerned, and to provide for their election under some scheme prepared by the county council. The right hon. Gentleman has been forced to do this in order that better 972 provision may be made for relieving the necessities of the poor. I hope when he comes to consider that proposal that he will pay particular attention to the remarks of the hon. Member who spoke last and who impressed upon him the way in which the work of our parish councils has bitten deeply into the life of the people and, particularly of the poor, in the various areas in Scotland. In making arrangements for this new committee I hope the right hon. Gentleman will keep in mind all the functions which in recent times have been undertaken by the parish councils.
The parish councils of late years have not only had to look after the needy poor, hut, in many instances, the able-bodied have been dependent upon help from the parish councils. Those of us who are dealing daily with the problems of the poor know that not only have the parish councils had to look after the needy poor, and the able-bodied, but that those entitled to unemployment insurance benefit who, for one reason or another, have had their claims unduly held up, have also been dependent on the parish councils. Further, those entitled to compensation under the Workmens' Compensation Act whose claims have been held up for several weeks, have been indebted to the parish councils for tiding them over the difficulties. Again there are those, with large families to maintain, who have been dependent either on workmen's compensation or on unemployment insurance benefit. They have had to look to the parish councils to supplement their incomes from either of the sources I have named.
I hope that the Secretary of State will be induced to take into consideration at least the present conditions in Scotland, and will continue the parish councils in their work. If he is determined to go on and make the changes he has outlined in his speech to-day, then I hope that the practical points to which I have drawn his attention will be kept in mind. The Secretary of State has also informed us that in the case of small burghs he is going to endow them with certain powers, and that one of the powers that he intends to put into the Measure in regard to small burghs is the power to rate. Will he inform us whether he is prepared to give these small burghs the power over expenditure? Because in another part of his speech he told us that 973 the financial control was to remain in the hands of the county council. Unless he is prepared to give these small powers so that they may have, to some extent, power over expenditure, then the provision will be a barren one as far as the small burghs are concerned.
This Bill will kill working-class representation, as far as we can see, for our local bodies. If it is to be pushed through in anything like its present form, it will undoubtedly make working-class representation on all our local bodies impossible, for no working-class representative can afford to attend as many county council meetings as will be involved if this Bill is passed through this House in anything like its present form. Working-class representatives cannot afford to pay the travelling expenses involved, nor the loss of remunerative time. It is true that the Secretary of State has made provision in regard to travelling and personal expenses, but unless he is prepared to carry that a stage further, it will be of no use for working-class representatives. Unless he is prepared to make the same provision as was made in the Education Act, 1918, it will be impossible for working-class representatives to take part in local government in the future. In the Education Act, 1918, not only were travelling expenses and travelling allowances provided for, but there was a payment for time necessarily lost from ordinary employment. Unless the same provision is made in this Bill, it will be a fatal bar to working-class representation. I hope that, if he is going on with the Bill, this point, for which I had some responsibility in 1918, will be kept in mind. Even if the suggestion I am making is given effect to, it will only remove the difficulty from a very small number of the working classes in Scotland, because there are many who are well qualified to represent their fellow-ratepayers on the county councils who cannot afford to be absent from their work, nor can their employers afford to allow them to be absent, for the length of time that will be required if this Bill is given effect to. I hope before this discussion closes a bigger change will be made in the Measure than has yet been outlined by the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Another point with which I want to deal is that of the benefits provided for 974 in this Bill. We were informed that they were to help agriculture and the depressed industries, but we find both in the English and Scottish Measures that others are going to share in the help that is being provided who do not really require the assistance in the same way as the industries which the Government had particularly in mind. There are considerable numbers of them in Scotland which will benefit which are really not distressed industries at all. There are the breweries, distilleries, tobacco manufacturers, confectionery manufacturers, royalty owners and land owners. In all these cases none of them could claim that they are depressed or are unable to pay their way. It is freely admitted that such industries are able to stand on their own feet and cannot be described as depressed but they are to share the money that ought to be provided for agriculture on the one hand and for depressed industries on the other. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell) was quite right in saying that this Bill only touched the fringe of the difficulty in the mining industry and in the other heavier industries.
Then we are informed that the landlord, as far as agriculture is concerned, will pass on to the occupier and the farmer one-half of the reduction provided for in the Bill, hut when the present lease of the occupier has expired there is nothing to prevent the landlord from increasing his rent to such an extent is will rob the occupier or the future tenant of a farm in Scotland of any advantage that may come from the Bill. I want to ask the Secretary of State if he is prepared to put a provision in the Bill that will prevent the landlord in future from robbing the occupier and the tenant farmer of any Fart of the advantage that this particular provision will offer during the currency of his present tenancy. Unless he is prepared to do that, he is helping one side of agriculture which is not in need of help, and taking away from that side of agriculture which really requires assistance part of the assistance which everybody expected would be provided for it.
I would like to refer to two points mentioned by the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan). He was evidently of the opinion that those who had control of the education of the 975 children would be better to have mixed duties committed to them. He did not think that it was a good thing for a committee to have only one duty to perform, and he was of the opinion that the committees that dealt with education should have other duties put upon them. Evidently he had forgotten that under the terms of the Bill the education committees will have only one duty committed to their care. May I further remind the hon. Gentleman that education has been a separate service in Scotland for a long period of years. If we go back a long time in the history of Scotland, we find that education has been a separate service, and those who have dealt with the education of the children have had only one duty committed to their care. We feel that education is so important that it ought to be in the hands of a body set up for that special purpose.
In the part of the country from which the Secretary of State and I come, we have had an excellent example of the value of the work that our education authorities have been able to perform. The work of the Fife Education Authority has been a great advantage, particularly to the working classes. It has brought within reach of the children of the working classes, not only secondary education, but the wherewithal for promising children to proceed to the university. While some of those who have spoken recently from the Government side -of the House have been pleading for the continuance of the parish council, we on this side equally strongly press upon the Secretary of State the necessity for continuing the education authority. Those authorities have done excellent work, and it would be well for Scotland and for the future of education in Scotland if the Secretary of State, among the changes which he is evidently prepared to make, will provide for continuing the life of the education authorities. Had time permitted, I was going to remind the Secretary of State of some of the things that have recently been said by the Prime Minister and the Under-Secretary of State as to the value of the work of the education authorities.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.