HC Deb 26 June 1935 vol 303 cc1108-9
Mr. ANSTRUTHER-GRAY (by Private Notice for Mr. MILNE)

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware that recently several unemployed men have been committed to prison for failure to pay rates to the Fife County Council, one of them being a man of 70 years of age, an old age pensioner; and what steps he proposes to take to secure their release?

The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)

I understand that recently three unemployed men were committed to prison following on decrees by the sheriff at the instance of Fife County Council for failing to pay arrears of Fife county rates. This is a civil matter, and is not one in which I have any jurisdiction to secure the release of the men. I am, however, calling the attention of the county council to the hon. Member's question.


Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will keep in the closest touch with the position of these men, in order to assure himself that they are not suffering injustice?


I have no power, as I have already stated, to intervene in this matter. Directly my attention was drawn to it by the hon. Member I called the attention of the county council to the subject, and I have no doubt that they will seriously and anxiously consider the question which he has just put.


Are these prisoners treated as ordinary prisoners or is any differentiation made; and is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is the first case in Scotland for a long period of years of a local authority imprisoning men for non-payment of rates?


So far as I know, it is the first case that has arisen for many years. I understand that these men are treated as ordinary prisoners. I have no power to intervene, but I have called the county council's attention to the matter.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in any other kind of debt a creditor who places a man in prison has a contribution to make to his upkeep; is that to apply to the county council as well?


I will inquire further into that point.


Were any arrangements made for these persons to pay the arrears by weekly instalments?


I understand that that question did arise when the men came before the sheriff, and that the sheriff pointed out that if the men wanted to pay by instalments they would need to arrange with the county council.


Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why Scottish county councils are more harsh than Scottish landlords?