HC Deb 02 February 1931 vol 247 cc1588-96

I beg to move, That the Order made by the Secretary of State under the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, entitled the Local Government (Scotland) (Adaptation of Enactments) Order, 1930, which was presented on the 10th December, 1930, be approved. I will endeavour to be as brief and as clear in regard to this matter, which is of great complexity, as possible. Section 76 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, passed when our predecessors were in office, authorises the Secretary of State for Scotland to make an Order adapting or modifying other Acts in order to bring them into conformity with the Act of 1929. When an Order is made under that Section of the Act, it must be laid before both Houses of Parliament and must be approved by the Legislature within three months of having been so laid; otherwise, it lapses. The Order we are moving to confirm to-night was made on the 8th of December of last year. No Order can be made adapting other Acts after the 31st December last year. This Order has been approved by another place, and we are seeking now to have it approved by this House.

I shall endeavour very briefly—because I see hon. Gentlemen present who take a very keen interest in these matters—to explain the various Clauses adapting other Acts which it is sought to have confirmed to-night. The first Clause in the explanatory Memorandum which has been in the Vote Office since November last deals with the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, 1845. Under that Act, the old parochial boards, as they were then called, were required by Statute to summon two general meetings every year to amend the Poor Law roll. These parochial boards have been abolished, and it is impossible to have a meeting twice a year to amend the Poor Law roll, and, as their duties are taken over by committees of the county councils or of the town councils, it is by this adaptation Order made sufficient for the committees of the county councils or town councils, as the case may be, to hold two statutory meetings to go over the Poor Law roll.

The second adaptation deals with the registration of births, marriages and deaths. Under the old Act, the officer who summoned and called meetings together for the appointment of a new registrar was the clerk of a parochial board, the old parish council. Again, as the parochial board has disappeared and the officer has also disappeared with it, the appropriate officer is the clerk of the county council or the town council, as the case may be. The third adaptation deals with lands valuation. In the old days, when there was a local authority partly burghal and partly landward these two authorities had separate valuation systems, although they had one rating system, and if one of those separate valuation areas chose to undervalue it obviously harrassed financially the other partner in the rating authority. In these circumstances the aggrieved authority had the right of appeal to the sheriff, but as the two authorities are now one there is no purpose in maintaining the appeal to the sheriff, and therefore the Act is amended accordingly.

The next paragraph deals with the Burial Grounds (Scotland) Act, 1855. Here again, obviously, the man who should summon the meeting is no longer the inspector of the poor or the clerk of the parochial board, for he has disappeared, but it should be the county clerk or the town clerk, as the case may be. Paragraph (5) deals with the Vaccination (Scotland) Act, 1863. Here, again, the officers dealing with the Vaccination Acts are no longer to be confined to the officers in charge of the Poor Law department, but should be any officer appointed to do the work by the county or town council concerned. Paragraph (6) deals with roads and bridges. Perhaps I had better explain this matter more clearly. Sometimes in the old days the road rate was imposed on occupiers with the right of relief against owners. Sometimes the road rate was imposed upon owners with the right of relief against occupiers. Now there is no road rate, as such, because a consolidated rate has taken the place of everything—education, roads, Poor Law, health and so on. Therefore, instead of imposing a rate with the right of recovery against the occupier or the owner, as the case may be, it is only necessary to say that each party, owner and occupier shall pay half the rate.

The next paragraph deals with the appointment of sanitary inspectors. Previously, in the old days, the county council could only appoint a sanitary inspector from the ranks of men who had held the office of sanitary inspector on some other authority, but as the other authorities have all been abolished, or almost all have been abolished, there is now a very limited area from which to draw sanitary inspectors so far as the county councils are concerned. It has therefore only been considered necessary to ensure that the Department of Health shall provide adequate regulations for selecting the class of proper sanitary inspectors, and care will be taken to ensure that publication of these regulations will be timeously made. Section 7 is merely the recasting of language. Instead of saying: on the security of such part of the rates, we substitute other words, as are found in the Order before us. Section 8 deals with the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892. Here, again, there is no separate burgh police (Scotland) assessment, but only a consolidated rate, and it is essential therefore to recast appropriate words. In paragraph (9), we deal with the case of councillors who have been absent from meetings of the council. In the old days, their offices could be declared vacant as parish councillors, but obviously it does not apply to ex officio members, and we are taking powers to exclude ex officio members from the list of those whose office can be rendered vacant, and the words "district council electors" are substituted for the words "parish council electors."

In paragraph (10) we deal with the Orkney and Shetland (Small Piers and Harbours) Act. This is merely an alteration of words, to ensure that district council electors shall take the place of the old parish council electors. In paragraph (11) we deal with the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897. There again we simply amend words, but we do one thing further; we ensure that notices shall be posted at district registrars' offices instead of at district council offices. There is a district registrar's office in every parish, but there is not a distract council office in every parish.

Paragraph (12) deals with the Mental Deficiency and Lunacy (Scotland) Act, 1913. In the larger towns, like Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, the education area is the same as the public health area; but in towns like Mother-well there is a separate and district public health and local government administration area, and their education affairs are administered by the county council. It is therefore necessary so far as lunacy is concerned, to provide adaptations for these larger burghs outside the four I have mentioned. The last paragraph deals with the Rating (Scotland) Act, 1926. This is a mere alteration of words to ensure that in the case of the temporary as well as permanent loans borrowing by a local authority shall be covered by the Consolidated Rate, and not by the particular rate. I trust that with this explanation the House will see fit to approve of the Motion.


The Motion is one to which we on this side take no exception. It is, of course, the Order of 1930, number 1026, which is rather complicated and technical. It is explained in the memorandum, Command Paper 3742, which I understand has been in the Vote Office for some time. It is raised under the Section of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, known as Henry VIII Section in England and in relation to the Scottish Act as James VI Section, because it gives power to the holder of the King's Seal to alter a Statute by Order. There was some criticism in various parts of the House when we brought it forward, but an examination has shown that it is eminently reasonable. Of course, it is much more suitable that these adaptations of existing Statutes should be done in this way than by the passing of amending Acts, which might easily occupy many Parliamentary days. The form which we brought in was that actual affirmative resolutions had to be passed by both Houses of Parliament; that is to say, it could not simply slip through after Eleven o'clock at night, and affirmative resolutions had to be passed by both Houses. The matter has been brought up in another place, and is to be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Debates in that place of 29th January. Now it is brought up here.

The Under-Secretary has wisely devoted himself to the discussion of the explanatory memorandum rather than to the Order. I must follow his example, taking his assurance that the explanatory memorandum is bona fide explanatory of the Order. I see on the Order the name of "John Lamb," under whose authority the Order has been issued. Politicians may come and politicians may go, but the permanent officials of the Department go on for ever. The memorandum has been further expanded by the Under-Secretary, and I do not wish to take exception to any of the remarks which he has made. I notice that he says that the qualifications "such as may be prescribed by the department for the sanitary inspector" will be published. I understand also that he is willing that they should be issued in draft so that the timeous publication should not be the final completed document, but that people interested should have a chance of making criticisms before the regulations shall have the force of law. It is reasonable, seeing that this is a new department, that those whose livelihood is dependent on the regulations should have a chance of seeing them in draft.

The other changes are largely changes of titles. The abolition of the parish councils has meant that the district council and the district council officers have to be substituted for the parish council and the parish council officers. In one or two cases differences in area means that some rights have to be kept alive—differences in area due to the fact that the district council is in some cases rather larger than the old parish, and in other cases that the new health authority is not co-terminous with the education authority. But these are matters largely of drafting. We may say that, in spite of the misgivings with which the proposal was greeted in many quarters, it has, in fact, operated reasonably and well, and to-night in a relatively short space of time we ought to be able to deal with this matter in a businesslike fashion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I must remind hon. Members that the alterations were severely criticised from the other side of the House and were, indeed, driven through by us against great opposition. I think, as wisdom is justified by her children, we are justified by the child now presented for baptism, and if it is not presented by those who have legitimately begotten it, we bear no grudge on that score. We are pleased to see that our attempt to secure a more businesslike regulation of these affairs has been successful, and that it is now possible, under this procedure, to carry through in a short time what, under the older forms, might have taken a considerable time and might not have been properly done at all.


In view of the rather pointed challenge issued by the Under-Secretary, may I submit that a rather curious position arises in connection with these Orders, which are changing to a very large extent administrative officials in Scotland. I would remind hon. Members that these changes were bitterly opposed in a previous House of Commons by many members of the Liberal party, who do not happen to be very prevalent on the present occasion. Perhaps they are entering into some new alliance. There are some points into which we are justified in making inquiry. I wish, first of all, for some definite information on Subsection (7) dealing with the qualifications of sanitary inspectors. I wish for an assurance that the qualification of these inspectors is not lowered by this Order. I think that we have a right to lay it down that these officials should be properly qualified and efficient persons. I am sure that hon. Members also desire more information on the part of the Order which deals with the question of security for loans. There is a reference to borrowing on the security of rates. I am interested in this question from the point of view of the English taxpayer. We have to make certain grants to assist rates in Scotland, and I wish to know if there is any loosening of the administration in this respect so that the Scottish ratepayer will get off easier than he did before. It seems possible that the Government are not keeping as tight a hand on the Scottish ratepayer as they might in this respect. When we see two or three Scotsmen gathered together to agree among themselves, it is a very dangerous position for the English ratepayer, and when we see these two hon. Gentlemen agreeing that there is something good in this, I would like to know, purely from the point of view of an English representative, whether they are not letting the rates in Scotland fall down and not be paid so that the taxpayer may sooner or later have to pay the lot. From that point of view it is a very grave reflection on the capacity of the Government that there is no representative of the Treasury here. I know they are not living up to the old standard of the Treasury.

There is another point, and that is, Where is this peculiar place that is spelt "Zetland."? I never heard of it so far as Scotland is concerned. I thought it was on the coast of Europe. As the Scots are so dropping their educational capacity that they are breaking out into phonetic spelling, I think it should be severely checked when it comes before this House. In dealing with the mental deficiency and lunacy section, No. 12, I would like to ask the Under-Secretary of State to give us a clearer definition of that, as to whether he has got sufficient and adequate means for dealing with it. I agree that it is difficult to deal with.


You seem to lack facilities down Torquay way.


I know that this is an important Measure for certain Members opposite, but I say most clearly that we should not be justified in passing this Section unless we were clear that the money, most of which comes from the English taxpayers, is being efficiently spent.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; Rouse counted, and, 40 Members being present—


After that slight incident, I would remind the House that I was asking for an adequate explanation of Section 12 of this new Order. When I say "adequate," I do not wish to reflect upon the Under-Secretary of State, who gave his exposition with clarity and brevity, which in itself is commendable, but he left out two points, and I should be obliged if we could have some explanation of the financial question which I raised. As this is a result of an excellent Conservative Measure and is reorganising Scotland in many ways, it is an excellent Measure, and I think the House would be well advised to pass it. There is one defect in it. It would be better for the good administration of Scotland if most of the officials had been under an English instead of a Scottish designation.


I will reply to the four points which the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has raised. With reference to his question about sanitary inspectors, we are governed by Section 35 (2) of the Act which his Government passed last year; there will be no deterioration of the qualifications. With regard to the question of loans, there is no alteration whatever; it is only a question of this kind, that so far from loans being based upon separate rates, as in times past, they will henceforth be based upon consolidated rates, because the rates are now consolidated under the Act of 1923. With regard to the question of Zetland, that is the old and real proper name for Shetland. It is part of the Orkney and Shetland Islands, on the north-east coast of Scotland.


Why does the hon. Gentleman go backwards, instead of keeping to the modern name?


We retain the proper legal name. With regard to the question of mental deficiency in paragraph (12) of the explanatory Memorandum, I am within the recollection of the House when I say that I explained that paragraph at length. While there are four large areas—Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee—as specified on page 8 of the explanatory Memorandum, where the area of the education authority is precisely the same as the area covered for lunacy, that does not apply to an area or town or city like Motherwell, which for education purposes is included in the county area. Therefore, it is necessary, by a mere adaptation of words, to make the Acts scan and the words read.


With regard to the regulations about the sanitary inspectors, I take it that they will be issued in draft before being formally promulgated? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to reassure us that the technical people concerned will be able to see the draft before final instructions are issued.


I am authorised by the Secretary of State to say that he proposes to publish these regulations in draft, and it will then be open to any interested parties to make representations to him before he finally fixes them.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Order made by the Secretary of State under the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, entitled the Local Government (Scotland) (Adaptation of Enactments) Order, 1930, which was presented on the 10th December, 1930, be approved.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

It being after Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-five Minutes before Twelve o'Clock.