§ [SECOND READLNG.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, this is a Bill which has come up from the House of Commons practically as an agreed Bill. It is founded upon the Report of the Joint Select Committee of Lords and Commons which was appointed last session and over which the Duke of Devonshire presided. A great deal of thanks is due to the noble Duke for his untiring efforts and to the Committee for the great amount of work they did and for the practical Report they issued. The object of this Joint Select Committee was to consider the principles which should govern the financial adjustments as regards England and Scotland made under the Local Government Acts of 1888 and 1894 consequent upon alterations of areas. This Joint Committee reported in favour of certain principles to govern not only England but Scotland.
The Government have not embodied in this Bill any reference to Scotland, for the reason that it was found desirable not to include Scotland for various considerations. The first, which of course naturally would occur to anyone's mind, was that if you made this applicable to Scotland difficulties would be created, because the Scottish Local Government Acts of 1888 and 1894 are very dissimilar to those of England; in fact, if you made this Bill applicable to Scotland you would have to strike out the greater part of the Bill itself. There was also a further consideration, and a much more urgent one. The local authorities of England, the County Councils Association and the Municipal Boroughs Association, agreed to take this Bill as a compromise and a settlement of the dispute which has been going on for so long between them; but unfortunately the Scottish authorities were unwilling to come to a compromise. The subject was raised in the House of Commons, and the Secretary for Scotland explained that it would kill the Bill if a provision making it applicable to Scotland was applied; but he undertook, if an agreement could be come to between the Scottish local authorities, to consider the desirability of bringing in a Bill early next session to deal with the difficulty.
1677 As no doubt some of your Lordships may be aware, the main point in dispute was whether there should be compensation for loss of rateable area. It had always been treated as right to give compensation to the authority that lost rateable area up to the year 1894 and 1897, when that claim, although it was regarded as admissible up to then, was decided by the House of Lords to be indefensible. The conclusion to which the Committee came was that while it would not be just to give to either party compensation for loss of rateable value as such, yet each party should be entitled to produce evidence to prove that in carrying out the administration of their areas they would have imposed upon them the increased burden in reference to some particular head of administration in consequence of the taking away of part of their area and that compensation should be paid to the party having to bear such increased burden. The Committee also dealt with the method of adjusting receipts payable to the Exchequer Contribution Accounts of counties and county boroughs.
That conclusion is embodied in this Bill, and I think the noble Duke will agree with me that this Bill carries out the recommendations which were made by the Committee as far as England is concerned. The terms of the Bill have been settled by the Local Government Board in consultation with representatives of the various classes of local authorities affected. Clauses generally on the lines of the Bill have been inserted in the Provisional Orders issued by the Local Government Board for the extension of boroughs and the constitution of county boroughs this session and last, and these clauses passed without opposition in both Houses. That being so, and there being general agreement as regards this Bill amongst the English local authorities I trust that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading to-day.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Strachie.)
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, as I had the honour of presiding over the Joint Committee to which the noble Lord referred, I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my thanks to those who took part with me in the work we succeeded in accomplishing, and to thank the Government for having 1678 brought forward this proposal. The question I admit was a complicated and difficult one, and the Committee owe a great debt of gratitude to the rather formidable array of eminent counsel who assisted us on that occasion and also to the number of witnesses representing various features of local life for the help and assistance they gave us. Certainly every attempt was made by all who took part in that Committee to arrive at a fair conclusion as between the various contending parties, and I hope we arrived at a decision which is of some practical value and which will enable these long, tedious, and extremely costly disputes to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion. The whole trouble to my mind, as far as one can judge, is in the paucity of the English language to supply a word to cover exactly what everybody wants to be done.
As your Lordships are aware, under the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1888, ten county boroughs were established, and sixty-one others were added to the Schedule during the passage of the Bill through Parliament, and a body of Commissioners were appointed under the Act, generally known as Lord Derby's Commission. This Commission took upwards of two years to complete its labours, and eventually laid down a series of general principles which up to 1904—when what are generally known as the Caterham and Hartlepool cases came up for consideration before the House of Lords—were generally recognised; but the practice established by that Commission was practically reversed. The trouble which we had on the Committee was in endeavouring to find a form of words which, while neither using the word "compensation" nor "adjustment," would provide that none of the parties would be worse off than they were before. Whether the language which we used in paragraph 10 of our Report, and which I think is practically adopted in the Bill, has succeeded in doing that or not, I can only say we made the best attempt we could to arrive at that conclusion. This is certainly a matter which requires rather more than an Act of Parliament, because these questions ought to my mind most unquestionably to be settled by give and take on both sides. It is extremely difficult to lay down a series of general rules where conditions and circumstances and characteristics are so entirely different.
1679 Before I had the honour of presiding over this Joint Committee I was connected, as Mayor, with a town in the South of England which was asking for powers to extend itself into a borough. We were able to come to a very satisfactory arrangement with the county council, and although this took place very nearly two years before the Joint Committee sat, the conclusions we arrived at in that case were practically identical with those arrived at by the Committee after hearing the evidence that was placed before it; and I hope that many of the cases which are bound to come up, probably in increasing numbers, in the future, will be settled without long delay being occasioned and great cost and inconvenience to all parties concerned. Although we may have settled to a large extent many of the outstanding difficulties which arise in consequence of the creation of new areas, the impression was left very strongly on the Committee that the time was rapidly approaching when many of the questions which were raised and which came before us must be treated from an entirely different standpoint. It is impossible at this moment to go into the question of local and national taxation, but all through the course of our inquiries one of the great difficulties which we had to contend with was the question of main roads. It was abundantly proved to us that the main roads were becoming, from force of circumstances, more a national burden than a local one, and that if further steps were taken towards a readjustment of national and local expenditure on services of this character you would do a great deal to do away with the difficulties which appear when questions of the readjustments of local areas come up for consideration and decision. In the passage of this Bill I hope that that far wider, and in many ways far more important, issue will not be allowed to be lost sight of.
It was clear to the Committee that this measure must necessarily be of a temporary character. I feel confident that the only way in which a final and permanent settlement can be effected is by a thorough investigation into what are local and what are national services and what money is to be provided for them. In the meantime the Bill, I think, clearly carries out the spirit and the letter of our Report, and will I hope deal with the cases which immediately come before us and be of some practical value. I was glad to 1680 hear what the noble Lord had to say with reference to Scotland, because certainly the case of Scotland demanded separate legislation. Strange though it may seem to your Lordships who may know more about Scotland than I do, the Committee found themselves in a position to state in paragraph 19 that the case of Scotland presented fewer difficulties than the case of England. It is not usual for Scotland to present fewer difficulties than England, but when we completed our inquiries we found that they had made a considerable advance in Scotland; we found in the case of Scotland that a sum of upwards of £40,000 had been spent in fighting these cases. I hope it will be possible at no distant date to bring in a measure applying to Scotland.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I do not rise to offer any opposition to the Second Reading of this Bill. I merely wish to ask one question with regard to it, which perhaps the noble Lord will answer. How does this Bill affect the administrative county of London? The noble Duke called attention to the fact that this Bill omits Scotland altogether. The Committee over which he presided were presumably perfectly impartial in the matter as between the towns and the counties. Whether the towns in England agreed I am not aware, but it seems to have been stated in the other House that some of the Scottish burghs disagreed, and it is because agreement has not been arrived at in that case that Scotland is not included in this Bill. But, as the noble Duke said just now, there is even less difficulty in the case of Scotland than there is in the case of England. If this Bill becomes law with regard to England it is not improbable that when Scottish cases are brought to Parliament counsel will immediately call the attention of the Committee to what has become law in England and what is recommended by this Joint Committee, and it is not at all likely that the burghs will gain anything; on the contrary, it is much more likely that they will lose money by not acceding to this recommendation which holds good in England. I do not know whether I heard Lord Strachie correctly, but I think he said that if agreement is arrived at between the burghs and counties in Scotland a Bill will be brought in next year. I must ask him to go a little further than that. Will he give an undertaking that this question of Scotland shall 1681 be dealt with in a Bill next year whether agreement is arrived at between the interested parties or not? On the answer which is given to that question our attitude must depend a good deal in the future.
§ LORD STRACHIE
I will answer the questions which the noble Earl has put to me. London would, of course, come under this Bill if the London County Council thought fit to apply for a Provisional Order to extend the county boundary; but, on the other hand, it would be perfectly clear that no alteration of so extensive a character could be dealt with by a mere Provisional Order, and it would have to be by a public Bill. So strongly was that felt in the House of Commons that the President of the Local Government Board undertook that if it was necessary for London to enlarge its areas it should be dealt with by a public Bill. I hope that undertaking will satisfy the noble Earl on that point. As regards the other question which the noble Earl addressed to me, I would remind him that I am only representing the Local Government Board in the absence of Lord Allendale; and I cannot pretend to represent the Scottish Department at all, because that Department is represented in this House by the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Then who represents the Scottish Office in the absence of the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies?
§ LORD STRACHIE
The Secretary for Scotland has expressed his readiness, if the Scottish burgh and county authorities were agreed, to consider whether it would not be desirable to do for Scotland what had been done in the case of England and introduce a Bill carrying out a joint settlement in their particular case. But the noble Earl went further and asked whether, in the event of there not being agreement, I would undertake on behalf of the Secretary for Scotland to bring in a Bill next year. It is, of course, impossible for me to give any such undertaking without consulting the Secretary for Scotland.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
The only reason why Scotland is not included in this Bill is that the authorities concerned have not come to an agreement. Therefore the statement that if agreement 1682 is arrived at the Secretary for Scotland will bring in a Bill proceeds on the principle that the authorities in Scotland will take a course quite different from that which they have taken up to the present time. No doubt the noble Lord will have seen the Secretary for Scotland by the time we go into Committee on this Bill, and I will repeat my question on that occasion.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.