§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD HAILSHAM)
My Lords, on behalf of the Government it is now my privilege and my responsibility to submit the Local Government Bill for your consideration. I hope that I shall not be misunderstood if I say that it is a task which I approach with very considerable diffidence. The Bill whose Second Reading I am to move has been the subject of discussion in the country for some months past. It has been the subject of repeated conferences between the Minister of Health, to whose statesmanship we owe its conception, and the local authorities whose activities it affects in so many ways. I cannot be blind to the fact that in this House, which numbers among its members so many who have taken a leading part in the administration of local government in their own counties, the Bill in its main outline, and even in its details, must be familiar to many of those before whom I am introducing it. On the other hand, before this House is asked to give its approval to any measure, your Lordships, I think, are entitled to expect that the principles and provisions of the measure shall be expounded here, so that every one of your Lordships may be in a position to form an opinion on the merits of the proposals which you are asked to approve.
I have thought that the most helpful course which I can pursue would be to indicate in broad outline the difficulties which this measure is designed to overcome, and the means suggested for overcoming them, and then to ask your Lordships to be good enough to go with me through the principal provisions of the measure itself, deferring, preferably for a later stage, discussion of the minor details, which go, I hope, to make a consistent whole. Local government in this country is firmly rooted in our traditions and forms part of the essential framework of our democracy. Since the limits 1049 of local government must be defined by Statute, and cannot have the flexibility of Common Law, it follows that, as the conditions change, difficulties must arise which the old traditions are unable to meet; and development must be hampered by restrictions which, by the effluxion of time, have become obsolete. When I remind your Lordships that the present system of local government was laid down as long ago as 1888 and has not been substantially altered since 1894, when we think of the changes which have taken place in our civilisation, in our means of transport, even in our conception of the duties of citizenship since that date, it is not surprising to know that the time has now come when a change is almost essential if the efficiency of the machinery is to be maintained.
The first problem with which this Bill occupies itself is one which has long been recognised as urgently requiring consideration. I mean the problem of the Poor Law. The present system of Poor Law administration dates back to 1834, when the present Poor Law unions were established. Boards of guardians were set up charged with the responsibility of relieving poverty within their areas, with powers of raising money, which no local council could interfere with or control, in areas which have remained fixed ever since, although the whole industrial revolution of this country, with all the changes of distribution of wealth and population which that revolution has brought about, has taken place after the date when these boundaries were first allotted. These boundaries in many cases cut across local government areas and embrace in one union parts of different parishes or different districts or even counties. As an instance of the inequalities and injustices which have grown up, I would remind your Lordships that the poor rate varies to-day in different unions from as little as 2½d. in the pound to as much as 10s. 6d. in the pound, and in the same county you can find one union which levies a poor rate of 7s. in the pound and another which levies one of less than 1s. in the pound. It is no reflection on the capacity of the men and women who have in many instances given many years of invaluable service to a very laborious public work, to say that the present 1050 system of boards of guardians is obsolete in its construction and unjust in its operation. Its abolition has been advocated by every Party in the State. That point was one upon which both the Reports of the Royal Commission of 1909 were agreed and it was the subject of a unanimous recommendation from the Maclean Committee some nine years later.
The second difficulty with which the Bill seeks to deal relates to the maintenance of the roads. In ancient days, when locomotion was difficult and the only traffic was horse-drawn or pedestrian traffic, it was perhaps not unreasonable that inhabitants of any given district should bear the cost of maintaining the roads within that district, although even in the eighteenth century the burden cast by travellers from a long distance upon roads to which they made no contribution, imposed a cost upon rural districts which they could ill afford and created feelings of injustice and discontent. To-day, with the growth of motor traffic, the enormously increased load which modern roads are called upon to bear, the injustice of saddling the expense upon the district in which the roads are situated has become more and more apparent, and in spite of the assistance given by the Road Fund and by the taking over of the main roads by the county councils, the burden of maintaining the highways has proved grossly unequal in its incidence and very burdensome in its effect on individual districts. To take one County, the highway rate in Glamorgan varies from 10s. 6d. in the pound in one district to 1s. 10d. in the pound in another. There are to-day something like 500 districts charged with highway responsibility with a total population of less than 5,000 people. There are 35 of those districts in which a penny rate produces a total sum of less than £20. Can it be wondered at that the Minister of Transport had to tell the House of Commons that more than one of these highway authorities, with no lack of willingness to do their duty, had to admit to him that it was impossible for them to carry on the discharge of the duties with which they were entrusted and that, in effect, the machinery has broken down. The solution to these two difficulties has been sought in the first instance in increasing the area over which the burden 1051 is spread. The unit which we have chosen is the unit of the county or of the county borough. The advantages of that solution and the details by which it is worked out I will elaborate when I come to those particular portions of the Bill.
But those two difficulties, grave as they are to-day, would become infinitely graver if they were not dealt with, owing to the Government's derating proposal, which is the third subject dealt with in this Bill. As your Lordships are aware, rates were originally levied mainly for the relief of the poor and the payment of certain minor county expenses such as the cost of Assizes and the like. When, during the middle of the last century, public interest began to awaken to the importance of the public health and to demand from the rates the provision of adequate social services in the way of drainage, water supply and so on, England's industrial supremacy was still at that date unchallenged. This country was in effect the workshop of the agricultural countries of Europe, and any burden which a local factory was called upon to bear could be passed on without undue difficulty to the consumer in markets of which he held the practical monopoly. All that is changed to-day. To-day we find ourselves in every foreign market competing bitterly with those who were once our customers and who are now our rivals.
To-day the burden of taxation may make all the difference between the survival and the extinction of an industry. Of all taxation, rates are perhaps the most burdensome because they form part of the original cost of an article and are not merely a charge upon, profits. Further, rates press most heavily upon those industries which are least able to bear them, and I include in that category the great industry of agriculture with which so many of your Lordships are intimately acquainted. If an industry is depressed and only able to work for shortened hours upon a reduced output the burden of the rates is instantly increased. The very fact that a factory is only able to find a market for half its potential product doubles the rates upon that reduced output and so renders it increasingly difficult to find a market with a profit even for that which is left. I need not, I hope, elaborate this argument before your Lordships because 1052 the principle of the derating of agriculture and of the partial derating of industry has already been approved by Parliament last year. This Bill makes the necessary provision for giving effect to the decision then arrived at by relieving agriculture altogether, by reducing the rates on industry by three-quarters, by relieving the rates on our railways by a similar proportion, and by making provision that the benefit of this last relief shall be passed on to those heavy industries where its stimulus will be most valuable in encouraging employment and in enabling our manufacturers to meet competition.
Criticism has been levelled at the proposal on the ground that it extends to all industrial hereditaments and not only to those which are badly off. Such a criticism entirely fails to appreciate the basis of the Government's proposals. This derating is not being given as an eleemosynary grant. It is being given as an act of justice. Now that the rates are the recognised means of providing so many social services which in old days were entirely outside their scope, it is not right that industry should be called upon the bear the full burden of their provision without regard to the question of its ability to bear the burden, or whether there are funds available out of which to make provision. Your Lordships are aware that since every improvement in a rateable hereditament increases its rateable value, the burden of rates acts as a most effective check in that development and improvement of our factories to which we must look if our industries are to hold their own in competition with foreign nations. The suggestion that the relief should only be granted to those industries which are not being carried on at a profit is, in effect, a proposal to levy a fine on efficiency and to subsidise the inefficient by the penalty inflicted upon those who are able to make their industry a success. But in fact it does so happen that the industries which most need help, such as coal, steel, shipbuilding, cotton and the like, are precisely those industries which will benefit most by the derating proposals embodied in this Bill. Further, the Bill contains provisions for the passing on of the relief granted to the railways, to selected agricultural, fuel, and iron and steel 1053 traffic, so that those industries in which unemployment, is most acute, and which feel the stress of foreign -competition most severely, are those which tend to reap the greatest benefit from the Government proposals.
The fourth great subject matter of the Bill is the relationship between the National Exchequer and the finances of local government areas. At present a very great part of the assistance rendered by the State to the local authorities for the maintenance of their local services is rendered by the method of the percentage grant. The result of that method is that the amount received by the local authority depends, not upon its need, but upon its expenditure. The rich area which is able to afford a large expenditure on a complete and elaborate service receives from the National Exchequer a corresponding amount of public money. The poor area, where perhaps the need for the same service is even greater, is, because of its poverty, deprived of that assistance which it most urgently needs. It is obvious that the derating proposals of the Government would in any event necessitate the recasting of the financial relations between the State and the local authorities. Mr. Chamberlain has seized the opportunity afforded by this fact so to adjust these relations as to secure that the Exchequer grant shall go where it is most needed, and that the provision of money from the National Exchequer shall be regulated in such a way as still further to redress the inequalities which the spreading of the areas would not completely extinguish.
I hope your Lordships will bear with me if I explain in as simple language as possible the means which the Government have adopted to obtain this result. It is, I think, obvious that the first factor in determining a fair distribution of the money between different areas is to distribute it according to the population of each area, but a simple distribution according to population would leave out of account certain considerations which materially affect the need for help, and the amount of expenditure required in the particular area. In order to bring these matters into the calculation there has been evolved what is known as the formula for weighting the population. While the population is taken as the basis 1054 of distribution, the actual number of the population has an addition made in any given district in order to allow for these other factors. There are three factors which it has been found necessary to bring into account. Those three matters are: first of all, the poverty of the district; secondly, abnormal unemployment in the district; and, thirdly, the sparsity of population in the district, affecting particularly the cost per head of the roads. In order to make allowance for the poverty of the district an addition is made to the actual numbers of the population by taking into account two matters:—(1), the rateable value; (2), the number of children under five years of age. This latter factor is brought in because it has been found in practice that the poorer districts are those in which the larger number of children are to be found.
The method adopted is to take £10 per head as being the datum line for the rateable value, and to increase the estimated actual population in proportion to the deficit below £10. For instance, if the average rateable value equalled £5 instead of £10, there would be an addition of 50 per cent, to the population. In the case of children the population is increased in the proportion by which the number of children under five years of age per thousand exceeds fifty. If, for instance, the number of children were seventy-five instead of fifty the population would be increased by 50 per cent. Each of these factors is applied to the actual population, so that, taking both the illustrations I have given, if an area had an average rateable value of £5 and seventy-five children under five years of age per thousand of population the population would be doubled. Similarly, allowance is made for abnormal unemployment in the same sort of way. Your Lordships will not, I think, desire to be troubled with details of the calculations at this stage. Finally, outside London the population as increased by the children and rateable value factors is raised according to the density of the population per mile of public road in the area. The formula admittedly is complicated in statement as an arithmetical formula, but in operation it is quite simple. By its aid it is believed that a means has been evolved which, without any claims to mathematical accuracy, 1055 does so adjust the grant of public money from the National Exchequer to the various local areas as to ensure that each receives according to its needs and that the inequalities of the past will disappear for the future.
This consideration brings me to the last of the five problems with which the Bill has to deal. The inequalities and injustices which we are trying to redress have been occasioned in part, at least, by the inelasticity of our present system of boundaries and the absence of any adequate machinery for altering them to meet changing conditions. We desire to ensure that in the future there shall be no similar rigidity and no recrudescence of the problems which we are to-day seeking to solve. Accordingly we are providing in the Bill machinery for the easy readjustment of local boundaries both between districts and electoral areas. These in very broad outline are the subjects with which the Bill has to deal. It will probably be convenient to your Lordships now, if I proceed to ask your Lordships to study with me the skeleton of the Bill so as to see how it is proposed to treat each of the matters which I have discussed.
Part I deals with the transfer of the administration of the Poor Law to the county councils and the county boroughs. It requires that the new Poor Law authorities shall prepare the scheme of administration of the new powers; they are to constitute Public Assistance Committees to which they are to refer all matters relating to the exercise of their Poor Law functions, except the power of raising money. The Public Assistance Committee may contain non-members of the council up to one-third of the total membership of the Committee. In the case of counties, Guardians Committees are to be set up in each area consisting of nominees of the district council, members of the county council for the divisions in the area, and outside members to the extent of a maximum of one-third. These Guardians Committees are charged with the actual administration of the poor relief in their area, and they may be asked to inspect, or even to manage, institutions within that area.
The name of the Guardians Committee is deliberately retained. It is hoped that many members of the old boards of guardians who do not care to become mem- 1056 bers of the county council or of the district council may be willing to serve on the new committees, and may bring to them the knowledge, experience and sympathy which they have devoted for so long to the discharge of those duties in the past. They are to include women. It is obvious that women are peculiarly suited for such service. The Public Assistance Committees and the Guardians Committees may act, if necessary, by sub-committees. Provision is to be made in the scheme for those services which at present local authorities may provide under special Acts, and which, in the absence of special provision, the guardians have to find for the destitute poor.
One of the great advantages of this part of the Government scheme is that the overlapping which has existed in the past ought in the future to cease, and that it will be possible, by centralisation and specialisation in selected institutions, to provide a far more highly skilled service than is possible to-day. There is even power for different Poor Law authorities to combine for the provision of an institution which neither singly might be able to afford, but which may be essential in isolated cases. The Bill provides that the existing disqualification of guardians who have received Poor Law relief shall be extended to the new authorities, but that the disqualification shall not exist by reason only of the receipt of medical or surgical relief in an institution. Express power is given to the county councils for the provision of hospitals and maternity homes, or for the making of subscriptions or donations to existing hospitals and institutions. Provision is made for the recovery from those who accept assistance in these public institutions of a contribution towards the expense, but this does not apply to treatment in infectious hospitals, including those for the treatment of tuberculosis and venereal disease, since it is in the interests of the public at large that persons should be isolated in those institutions as soon as possible. Further provision is made to enable the Minister to postpone the operation of the Bill in those cases in which it has been found necessary to supersede the existing boards of guardians by reason of their default.
Part II of the Bill deals with an entirely subsidiary matter. Owing to the 1057 supersession of boards of guardians it is necessary to transfer to the newly-constituted authorities the duty of employing and paying the registration officers. Your Lordships will remember that last year a Private Member's Bill passed through another place, which was intended to give to registration officers the right, if they chose, to come on to a salaried basis instead of being paid, as at present, by fees. The Bill met with the approval of all parties, and passed without discussion in another place. When it reached your Lordships' House the Session was already far advanced, and Lord Strachie on behalf of the Liberal Party, and Lord Parmoor on behalf of the official Opposition, insisted, as was their undoubted right, that they would not allow the Bill to become law without further time being given for its consideration. The result was that the. Bill was lost, to the bitter disappointment of the officers who would have benefited by its provisions.
In those circumstances we have thought it fair to include in the present Bill substantially the provisions which formed part of last year's Bill on this point, and provision is made in Part II that in future registration officers are to be cm a salaried basis, and that existing registration officers may either come on to the new basis or remain under their existing conditions of employment. Provision is further made for the raising of the fees to be charged so as to cover the cost of the salaries and to secure that the service shall be, as far as possible, self-supporting. It is thought chat this will not entail any undue hardship on any individual, because neither birth, nor death, nor, in this country at any rate, marriage is an experience which is often repeated in any individual case.
Part III of the Bill embodies the amendments of the law with regard to highways. It provides that the county council is to be the highway authority in all rural districts within the county, and responsible for all roads in those districts, and that all classified roads in urban districts shall pass to the county council. Any urban authority having a population exceeding 20,000 is given the right to claim to undertake the maintenance and repair of any county road 1058 within its district. There is power given for all other district councils to apply to a county council for delegation to them of the maintenance and repair of the roads in their districts. In the case of unclassified roads the county council is bound to grant their petition unless satisfied that, in view of the circumstances of the general highway administration, the application should be refused, and there is an appeal from such refusal to the Ministry of Transport. In the case of the other roads the matter is left to the discretion of the county council. Financial control of the roads whose maintenance and repair is delegated remains with the county council, and the district councils act as their agents. In view of the constitution of the county council as the highway authority, provision is made in this Part of the Bill for the county councils to be given powers under the Town Planning Act—powers which many people think they ought to have had from the commencement. So far as Parts I and III of the Bill are concerned, the Government believe that it has succeeded in combining the direct control of detailed administration in local hands with the financial control in the hands of the central body.
Part IV of the Bill embodies certain miscellaneous provisions, mainly bated on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Local Government presided over by my noble friend Lord Onslow. It contains provisions giving the necessary elasticity of boundaries in local areas. Clause 44 provides that the county council in each county shall carry out a survey of the county, and make proposals for alterations of boundaries of districts, and of non-county boroughs or of county boroughs if the latter agree. The proposals have to be submitted to the Ministry, and, if any objection is made by a local authority, they cannot be confirmed until a local inquiry has been held. Power is further given for a general review in later years, at intervals of not less than ten years. The existing powers for altering areas of boroughs and county districts are preserved and amended, and Clause 48 provides for a review of the county electoral divisions, after the completion of the review of the administrative areas. This clause was added in another place, and it will give effect to 1059 the express intention of the original Local Government Act, 1888, for equality of representation from the different areas.
Clause 49 is another clause which was added in another place. It enables county councils to pay the travelling expenses of their members in the discharge of their duties. It does not allow any payment for lost time, and it only allows payment for such committees as affect the whole county. The clause does not apply to London, which is not quite in the same position as an ordinary county and has its own special Acts. Provision is further made for various minor alterations in local government law; for instance, the acceleration of the process under which medical officers of health become full-time servants of the State, and the making of regulations prescribing the qualifications of such officers and of health visitors. Provision is made for a survey to be made by county councils of the existing accommodation of hospitals for infectious diseases, and the preparation of a scheme, where necessary, for the provision of adequate accommodation.
Part V of the Bill is the Part which carries into effect the derating proposals. As I have explained, it provides for the complete derating of agricultural land, and the derating to the extent of 75 per cent. of industrial hereditaments and of freight-transport hereditaments. In a later clause of the Bill, Clause 128, and Schedule XI, provision is made for the passing on of the relief given to the railways to the selected agricultural, coal, iron and steel traffics which that relief is specially designed to help. This Part of the Bill also contains a number of supplementary provisions to deal with the cases in which rateable value is made the criterion of certain rights and liabilities, such as jurors' qualifications, water rates, and the like, for which the rateable value is no longer a fair criterion after the derating scheme has come into operation.
Part VI of the Bill deals with the financial relations between the National Exchequer and the local authorities. The Bill provides, in the first place, for a general Exchequer contribution to be made annually towards local funds. The general Exchequer contribution is to be made up of the amount which the local 1060 authorities lose by the derating proposals, estimated at about £24,000,000, the amount which they lose in the way of grants, amounting to £16,500,000 and an additional sum amounting in the first period to £5,000,000, making a total of £45,500,000. This is fixed for a period of three years known as "The First Fixed Grant Period." That period will be followed by a period of four years, which is known as "The Second Fixed Grant Period," and thereafter, the fixed grant periods will be of five years each. At the end of each fixed grant period a review will take place of the amount to be paid for the next period, which will be ascertained on such a basis that the extra money provided beyond the loss of rates and grants is to bear the same proportion to the total rate-borne expenditure of the country as the £5,000,000 bears to that expenditure at present. That general Exchequer contribution is allotted between the counties and the county boroughs in accordance with the formula to which I have already drawn your Lordships' attention.
Further, the Government guarantees that the amount receivable by each county and by each county borough shall not be less than 1s. a head beyond the amount which they are now receiving. The amount necessary to make up that guarantee is known as "the Additional Exchequer Grant." In addition to this guarantee, which is perpetual, the Government guarantees that no county district shall be worse off by reason of the change during the first five years of the operation of the Bill and that any necessary rate adjustment consequent on the scheme will be spread evenly over the next fourteen years thereafter. The sum necessary to provide for this guarantee will be made up as to the first half by deductions from the gains from other districts in the county, and as to the other half by a further provision from the Exchequer which is known as "the Supplementary Exchequer Grant." It is estimated that the annual amount which the Exchequer will have to find by way of additional Exchequer grants during the first period will be a sum of £650,000, and by way of supplementary grants, £1,680,000. The effect, therefore, of the scheme will be that every county and every county borough will be at least 1s. a head better off; most of them, of 1061 course, will gain a great deal more, and any loss in any individual county district will not come into full effect for at least nineteen years. Long before that happens, the general improvement in employment and in general efficiency which is to be anticipated as the result of the Government's scheme ought to compensate, even from a purely financial view, for any immediate loss.
This Part of the Bill contains a very valuable provision against inefficiency in administration or extravagance by any county council, because by Clause 96 the Minister is empowered to reduce the grant to any authority if he is satisfied that it has failed to maintain a reasonable standard of efficiency and progress, and that the health or welfare of the inhabitants is likely to be endangered thereby, or that it has incurred excessive or unreasonable expenditure, or if the Ministry of Transport certifies that the roads have not been maintained in a satisfactory condition. Any such action by the Minister has to be reported to Parliament, which may disallow his action. In the view of all of us the sanction afforded by the clause will probably render it unnecessary ever to bring its terms into operation. In addition, there was inserted into this Part of the Bill in another place a provision that at the end of seven years the working of the rules of the formula and of the scheme of county distribution should be investigated by the Minister in consultation with the local authorities, and that the result should be reported to Parliament. If, therefore, it should happen that any injustice or any difficulty in working the scheme emerges, it will be possible to make any necessary revision or redress.
Part VII of the Bill deals with the transfer of properties and officers necessitated by the delegation of responsibility for the Poor Law to the county authorities. The only provision to which I desire to call your Lordships' particular attention is Clause 106. There are at present outstanding some £6,000,000 of monies borrowed by boards of guardians under the authority of the Minister of Health and under mortgage of their revenues, but of this sum no less than £4,000,000 is owed by four unions. The Bill provides that the responsibility for the loans shall be transferred to the 1062 counties and county boroughs, that they shall be paid over a period of fifteen years instead of ten years as at present; that no interest shall be charged; and that, where the annual charge for repayment would amount to more than the equivalent of a 9d. rate on the reduced rateable, value, the balance shall be remitted by the Treasury. This provision operates as a very substantial grant to what are known as the necessitous areas. The provisions as to the transfer of the existing Poor Law officers follow the precedents of the Hating and Valuation Act and provide compensation for any whose offices are abolished or who are required to perform duties not analogous to those with which they were previously charged. The provisions are believed to be fair and satisfactory to those concerned.
Part VIII, the last Part of the Bill, contains a series of miscellaneous provisions. One clause to which considerable attention has been attracted is Clause 123, which gives power to the Minister, in cases of difficulty arising in the application of the measure to any exceptional area or in bringing into operation any of its provisions, to do whatever is necessary to remove the difficulty. It is obvious that, in the application of detailed provisions of this far-reaching character all over the country, it is quite possible that there may be local conditions or exceptional circumstances which would render it impossible to bring the measure into operation without the provision of some machinery to overcome local and minor difficulties. The clause follows the precedents of more than forty years past. As originally introduced, it was regarded in the House of Commons as offering too large a discretion to the Minister, and accordingly its language was modified by the adoption of suggestions made in the course of the debate in Committee in that House. The power is believed now to be no more than is necessary to meet the requirements of the situation. It is, as your Lordships will see from looking at the clause, a purely transitory power, and it ceases to exist at the end of next ear. Any Order made in exercise of the power is to be laid before both Houses of Parliament, and can be annulled by a Resolution of either of them. The only other clause to which I need call attention in this Part is Clause 127, which was inserted in another place in order to make it clear—as was always the intention of 1063 the Government—that if further services involving substantial additional expenditure are imposed on local authorities, it will be for Parliament to provide the further Exchequer assistance required.
That completes my survey of the provisions of this Bill. I ask your Lordships to say that the Government have correctly diagnosed the ills under which local government is suffering, and that the remedies which they have prescribed are well calculated to cure those ills. Finality in progress or perfection in execution are beyond human achievement. I make no claim for either in this Bill. But I do claim that for many years to come this Bill will stand out as a landmark in the progress of local government in this country, and as a monument to the vision and courage, to the breadth of conception and mastery of detail of the statesman with whose name it will always be associated, my right hon. friend the Minister of Health. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD PARMOOR, who had given Notice to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read 2a this day six months, said: My Lords, I rise to move the Resolution which stands in my name. I should like to say at the outset in answer to what I may call the general argument in the very clear and lucid speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, that I join issue with him entirely on almost the last words that he used. He said that if the diagnosis is right the remedies are justified, having regard to the nature of the evils which exist. I desire to say, on the other hand, that if the diagnosis is wrong the suggested remedies will not meet the difficulties to which he has called your Lordships' attention. In his speech the Lord Chancellor rightly took the course of selecting certain heads and dealing with them for the sake of clarity and convenience. In fact, I think it would be impossible to deal with a Bill of this bulk and magnitude in any other way. If we look into the details of the Bill, it really comprises, as has been said elsewhere, matters sufficient for five or six Bills, each of them complex and difficult.1064
§ One desires, in expressing one's view that the Bill ought not to be read a second time, not to pass over any of those questions of real importance to which a great deal of criticism should be directed. I propose to deal with the Bill under five heads. The first of them is that the Minister of Health put it forward that the main object of his proposals was to put an end to what was called an inequitable system of rating, which, in his view, was so serious as to lead to the strangulation of our agriculture and other productive industries. There is wide exaggeration in that statement. The real inequity in our rating system, to which I shall have to call attention, is not removed and is not remedied. The industries will not be affected, even indirectly, to the extent which he lays down in his final statement.
§ The second point to which he referred and which, to my mind, is of very great importance indeed, is the giving of assistance to agriculture and certain other industries. As to agriculture, there is an indiscriminate distribution of funds over so wide an area that advantage to agriculture in any particular case is hardly possible. There are, at the present time, a little more than 30,000,000 acres under arable and grass cultivation apart from mountains and heathlands, and if, as the suggestion is, the proposed money (I think it is about £4,000,000) is indiscriminately distributed, you will give nothing more than a shilling or two as regards each individual acre—a nominal sum which is unequal to dealing with the conditions of agriculture at the present time and which, if it could be dealt with at all, could be more readily dealt with by what would really mean a nominal reduction in certain particular rates.
§ Upon the question of industries I do not think the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack appreciated the criticisms which have been made. They came originally, no doubt, from the Report of the Royal Commission on Rates and Taxes, which was issued in 1901, and they point out, as I shall have to point out, that if you attempt to classify properties so different as those used in connection with differing industries, it is impossible that you can deal with all under one heading, as is proposed, without producing anomalies and inconsistencies which 1065 really show that the scheme as it at present exists cannot be supported on any firm and consistent ground. So far as the railway subsidy goes, that is really not concerned with the question of rating at all. It is a proposal to give a bounty in respect of certain matters, especially the export of coal. I shall have to point out later what the Schedule is; but I say at once that I can find no justification for these preferential rates so far as they are export rates, and that the result will be to give advantage to industries in other countries which are competing with our home products and manufactures.
§ Then we come to the readjustment of the powers and responsibilities of our local authorities, which I have placed last in my list. I say at once that I agree that the guardians have to be superseded; but when I come to the details, particularly in the very useful White Paper published, I have no doubt, by the authority of the noble Earl opposite, I shall point out what the difficulties are. I do not think that those difficulties have been adequately overcome, though the method of overcoming them is rather a matter of detail for Committee than for general discussion at this stage.
§ Having summarised those five heads, let me say a word regarding rating reform. The inequity of our rating consists in placing on ratepayers who, I quite agree are very hardly treated, a charge for mainly national services. That is particularly hard in our poorer districts. Naturally those services ought to be met out of Income Tax resources. As our rating system is at the present time, they are thrown largely on the poorer rating districts and create the very depression which we all desire so earnestly, if we possibly can, to remove. I have not the exact figure at the moment, but one penny on the rates produces very much less than one penny on the Income Tax. At one time it only produced a third or a quarter of what a penny on the Income Tax produced, and the effect is that you put a charge on the poorer ratepayer while you absolve from any liability a large number of Income Tax payers who ought properly to be responsible for these national charges and national services.
§ It must not be forgotten that this is not a mere theory. It is a thing which is being done from day to day in our 1066 poorer local government districts, and it is an injury pointed out in detail long ago in the Report of the Royal Commission on Imperial and Local Taxation. The Bill does nothing to put an end to this glaring inequity. On the contrary, it tends still further to diminish the sources of local revenue, and limits the operation of the State subsidies in favour of certain selected industries. The occupiers and owners of small houses and those carrying on some small local businesses will still be called upon to contribute large sums, towards the expenses of national services, while at the same time other people will be relieved from contributing to those expenses, and, therefore, the poorer districts in that respect will be worse off than they are at the present time.
§ The need for the Bill has been stated in extravagant language by the Minister of Health, and I think he spoke—I do not think he was followed in this respect by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack—in an atmosphere of exaggerated pessimism. There is no doubt a large measure of depression and unemployment, but we have, as I think the Lord Chancellor himself pointed out, to rely now, and shall have to rely in the future, on what I may call the exceptional energy and ability of our artisan working classes. I think that we could get a much fairer picture of the conditions as they now exist from other sources. I would refer in this connection to the latest statistical returns from the Ministry of Labour, which stated that in the year 1928 there was only serious depression in unemployment in, I think, six of our great industries. I would also refer to the speeches of the chairmen of our great banks, who showed, I am glad to say, a spirit of hope and gave nothing like a picture of despair. Lastly, I would refer to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade the other night, in another place, on the balance of exports and imports. He gave a fair summary of our financial position and showed that, giving effect to the invisible exports and imports, there is a margin of £150,000,000 in our favour.
§ I am sure of one matter. If the system of rating is largely the cause of our industrial conditions—which I doubt—I think far too much importance is given to one factor only. The Government proposals give no effective or permanent 1067 remedy of any value. I join issue entirely with what was said by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, that he expected from the reforms in this Bill such a new era of progress in our industries that after a period of years—I think it is nineteen years—there could be no doubt that the increased prosperity would be more than sufficient to make up any practical deficiency. More than this, the amount to be paid from the National Exchequer—a sum which, as stated in the White Paper, has not yet been finally ascertained, but is said to be £24,000,000—is proposed to be distributed in such an indiscriminate and wild manner that it is largely wasted, in some cases it is apportioned to persons and interests which have no claims whatever on the national purse, and cannot plead either poverty or any other basis on which the proposed "doles" or bounties should be granted in their favour. I think it is to the honour of some of these proposed beneficiaries that they have themselves protested against being subjected to the charge of injustice, and have said that they would rather not have these "doles" and that, so far as they are concerned, the Government had much better take their charitable proposals elsewhere.
§ Just one or two questions on agriculture. Is it a fact that the proposal to exempt all agricultural land from rates and excise agricultural land from the rate book will give any substantial benefit to the industry of agriculture at present and under present conditions? The exemption proposed in regard to agricultural land is contrary to every principle of our rating system, and, accompanied as it is by the excision of that land from the rate book, it withdraws for all time one of the substantial sources open to our local authorities for the discharge of their local obligations. I think a mistake has been made upon this point. I do not want to revert to the discussions which took place in the Royal Commission, but there were very prolonged discussions there both on the question of classification and on the question of exemption, and it was laid down in the strongest terms that exemption could not be justified, and that agricultural land could not be relieved from all liability and excised from the rate book 1068 without creating unfairness and injustice towards other ratepayers. It really creates an inequity in favour of the land owner, who will ultimately receive the lion's share of the resulting benefit.
§ And I think it is an inexcusable mistake, if I may say so without suggesting any reflection on the Lord Chancellor's speech, to deal with classification and exemption as if they were one and the same process. As a matter of fact, the recognition of classification rules out the principle of exemption. The two cannot live side by side. They are different things. They deal with different purposes, and the results in the two eases are substantially different. Of course, classification in English law has been prevalent from the earliest times. It was recognised in 1836. It was recognised in the Public Health Act, 1875, and in its relation to agricultural land it was finally settled in the year 1925 by adopting the classification as regards agricultural land which has for long been enforced in Scotland, where classification has always been followed more fully than it has been in this country. What is the effect of exemption as distinct from classification? It permanently narrows the sources of revenue open to local authorities and this, too, at a time when, under modern conditions, to which the Lord Chancellor gave full weight, claims for expenditure are sure to increase. The existence of this limitation will, in an especial manner, be detrimental to those local areas in which agricultural land constitutes a large source of rating revenue. According to one of the White Papers, in some of the existing areas 60 per cent. of the local revenue is derived from agricultural land.
§ I have present to my mind a special reference made to the same matter as regards this question in Scotland. No doubt, there is to be an alteration—and I agree that that is absolutely necessary—in those local areas within which rates are charged by local authorities. But the principle remains the same. I can find no justification, nor have I heard any justification so far maintained, for the exemption of a large part of the source from which our local revenues are derived—namely, the whole of the agricultural land wherever it happens to be situated. There is no way in which this limitation of local resources can be effec- 1069 tively provided against, certainly not by estimates depending on a variety of uncertain factors as regards future expenditure. It will be felt whenever additional charges are imposed or in the event of fluctuations in local expenditure which are certain to occur from time to time. There are, moreover, special reasons why agricultural land should not be exempted from local charges and excised from the rate book. The owner does, in fact, receive a considerable benefit from localised expenditure and he ought to be prepared to bear his part of a common burden. This expenditure has often opened the way, and is opening the way each day, towards converting agricultural land into building land. It is really changing sand into gold, if I may use an expression utilised by Mr. Arthur Young. I know that in my own County of Buckingham London has extended, and as agricultural land comes into these building areas it becomes worth as much as ten times its former value.
§ I wish the owners would consider how deeply they are interested in not paying less than their equitable share of localised expenditure. Exemption separates them from a full share and interest in local government. That is to say, they are not local ratepayers in respect of the main portion of their property. It will raise a barrier and it will create prejudice between themselves and the occupiers of all classes of small and poor property other than agricultural land. This exemption of agricultural land, wrong in itself—I do not think too strong language can be used upon this point—will not make the proposals of any real advantage to the farmers. I regard the suggestion that this Bill is going to benefit the agricultural industry as merely a pretext for this exemption of agricultural land, the benefit of which will not go to the farmers but, in the main, to the landowners. Rates are not charged on profit, as was pointed out by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. It makes no difference whether the farmer is prosperous or not, because rates are charged on the localised property which belongs to the owner, and so far as the farmer is concerned rates stand in the same position as his rent. It is no wonder that there is no wild excitement amongst farmers and that they show no overwhelming gratitude in their meetings 1070 to deal with this Bill. They know too well that they will get no benefit from proposals of this character.
§ Let me give one or two statistics. I do not think that a matter of this kind can be discussed merely in the abstract. You must take conditions as they exist and see what effect these rating proposals are likely to have. I recollect that the late Sir William Harcourt, when similar proposals were made years ago in another place, said they would be of no benefit to agriculture, but that they might be sufficient to enable a farmer to give a present at Christmas to his wife and children. I doubt whether these proposals go even far enough to engender the hope of resources for a present of that kind. Take an illustration of land rated and let at 5s. an acre. The relief by that exemption so far as this Bill is concerned is 1s. 3d. per acre. It is only a quarter of the 5s. If you put it at 4s. 8d. in the pound—a figure at which I have had one or two rating returns before me—it is only a few pence. It does not make much difference if you put it at 10s. in the pound. It only comes to 7½d. an acre. If you take land let at £1 an acre, which I think is not unfair, and take the rates on that land at 10s. an acre, the result can be of no benefit whatever as regards the agricultural industry in this country. Even in that case it would be only a nominal amount.
§ I want these questions to be answered. I understand the noble Earl opposite, Lord Onslow, is going to sum up for the Government. I have asked him questions on previous occasions and I thank him again for giving me answers of considerable value. I want to ask three questions. The first question is: Will the Government's proposals bring about the reconversion to arable farming of an acre of land laid down to grass? Of course, the answer is "No."
§ LORD PARMOOR
Yes, but I should like it to be confirmed by the noble Earl. Will the Government proposals help to convert into grass a single acre of arable land naturally unsuited and unsuitable for grass farming? The answer is again in the negative. If not, will a single additional labourer be employed 1071 for this expenditure of more than £4,000,000 of State money? Of course no additional labour will be employed, unless you get a reconversion of grass land to arable, or you can deal with the arable land in unsuited and unsuitable localities. I would like to give an illustration of my own knowledge to show what the problem is. A farm, mostly arable, a few years ago employed nine men. The same farm in substance now is a grass farm, and employs only three men, and those not for the whole time. I can see no advantage to agriculture in this Bill. I can see in it a rating proposal which is not justified, no increase in employment, nothing to put the industry of agriculture upon a better or firmer foundation. I do not want, of course, to go into other remedies. This House knows the remedies which we put forward for the agricultural difficulty—remedies of a very different character indeed.
So far I have been speaking on the assumption that the subsidy will go to the farmer and the tenant, and I have been arguing that, even if the whole is going to them, it will still have no appreciable effect upon the industry of agriculture. In fact that will not be the case. I make no charge against—I was going to say myself or other landowners, nor should I desire to do so, but landowners are not superhuman, and when new rents are fixed the influence of rates is always considered as a natural business issue. The rating remission heretofore given may not have increased rents, but its effect has been to maintain rents over a decade of increasing agricultural depression. It is far too wide a generalisation to say that rents have not been affected by remissions of rates in the past. If such remission has gone to the tenants, and yet the agricultural industry is in its present state of depression, it only emphasises and makes more certain the argument that no real remedy as regards the agricultural industry can be expected within the limitations of the present Bill.
I want to say next a few words upon the proposals for classification as they affect our productive industries. There is no exemption of these industries from the rate book. The proposal is to classify a 75 per cent. reduction—a reduction which, if I understand it, is to apply to any productive factories or premises 1072 of any kind, whether in existence now or to be built and constructed in the future. The question is really this: Can it be said that the occupiers of productive industrial premises on the whole pay more than their fair share of local taxation? It is a question which arises whenever you consider classification. Classification is not a matter of principle, but of inference from particular conditions. I do not think there is any inequity to be found in the present classification of our industrial factories. Of course it is a different question if you desire to give a subsidy to a depressed industry. That will depend upon particular conditions and particular circumstances; but to make that an occasion for giving a special reduction in rating liability to certain or a large class of productive industries, is nothing more than placing a new inequity upon the poorer ratepayer in the poorer districts, particularly in some of those in which some of these works and factories are situated which are not prosperous at the present time. If you wish to give assistance to these industries, do not let it be given under the guise of a proposal which is not getting rid of inequity in rating but is really causing inequities greater than those which exist at the present time.
The Lord Chancellor referred to the effect of the general classification of industries as a whole in one class, that is to say, for a 75 per cent. reduction. Everyone who has studied the rating question knows that the classification of all these industries in one class has been distinctly and in terms condemned, because an attempt to make such classification produces necessarily injustices and anomalies. No one supposes that local conditions or local factories or works are the same in all these cases. I take a familiar case. Take a comparison between brewery works and the mining industry. Because mining industries, because of their depressed condition, are to be allowed a subsidy by a reduction of 75 per cent., is there any inference to be drawn that a similar reduction should be allowed in the case of brewery premises, or premises where mere luxuries are being produced at the present time? There is no justification for this adoption of too wide a classification. Yet I think the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack 1073 used this as a reason why you must treat all your productive industries alike, whether they are breweries or not.
The result of that is such an anomaly that the principle itself stands condemned. So far as I can see, you cannot argue on any ground that all industries must be classified in the same way, and you cannot argue from that that prosperous shareholders, and owners of such businesses as brewing, tobacco or chemicals, are to be made a charge to the extent of about £8,000,000 upon our national resources, at a time when our national resources are overburdened, and when there is a large element of unemployment, causing untold misery in some of our mining centres. You cannot attribute the stagnation in certain industries, at any rate in industry as a whole, to this rating problem. The loss of markets consequent on war dislocation, the supersession of coal by oil and electricity as a motive power, the supply of former markets in Italy and France with Reparation coal from Germany, and other wide-reaching causes, both national and international, are at present being considered by a Special Committee appointed at Geneva. No one, however, would care at present to criticise too narrowly any help which can be given just now to the mining industries and the mining population. I, at any rate, am not prepared to do that; I am prepared to go further, and to say that subsidies are allowable to specific industries if, after careful inquiry, they are found to be in a depressed and unsatisfactory condition. At the present time we know that there is an appalling national tragedy in our mining districts. What a contrast! What do you find in the Rhondda Valley on the one side, and a subsidy of £400,000 to the brewers and distillers on the other? I must, however, say this to the honour of Colonel Gretton: he has protested against being given this "dole" which he does not want, and to which he feels that the breweries and the brewery shareholders have no claim.
I come next to the question of rating in connection with the railways. There is no rating question as regards the railways at all. It is a mere question of a subsidy, which may or may not be justified. At present under the system of 1074 our standard rates which have come in since the conclusion of the War, there has been an agreement on rating questions between the railways on the one side and the local authorities on the other. It is not proposed to upset that arrangement. It is not proposed to introduce any new principle in railway rating. It is not proposed to re-classify the railways. What we find in the case of the railways is a Government subsidy of about £4,000,000, given in order that this subsidy may be handed on under a system of diminished charges made by the railway companies. This is dealt with in two places. It is dealt with in the introduction to the White Paper, which the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, I understand prepared, or at any rate had prepared by his Department. He says that this subsidy will be used as regards 20 per cent. for certain agricultural charges, as to 10 per cent. for certain miscellaneous matters, and as to 70 per cent. in connection with coal. Now, refer to Schedule XI of the Bill, which shows in what way this 70 per cent. will be utilised. It will be seen that it is all to be utilised for one or two purposes—either as in the nature of an export bounty, or in respect of coal carriage to our heavy iron and steel industries. The last I do not wish to deal with; it may be a necessary subsidy.
But just read the Schedule. These bounty remissions are to be given toExported coal, coke, or patent fuel. Coal, coke, or patent fuel delivered to and used in iron or steel works.That I do not dwell upon.Coal delivered to patent fuel works; to the extent that it is exported as patent fuel after manufacture.That is export.Coal delivered to a washery…Again a case of nothing but export.Coal delivered to a coke oven (not being situated at an iron or steel works), to the extent that it is, after being converted into coke at the coke oven, exported or delivered to iron or steel works.Thus we may say in substance that a very large proportion of this subsidy will certainly go as a bounty in favour of export coal. That is unfair in two ways. It is unfair as giving the opportunity for industries abroad to get a special advantage in competition with 1075 industries in this country; in other words, a special preferential advantage as regards the coal rate; it is unfair also as regards the position of our coastwise traffic—and this I think is a very important point.
I want to read a passage from the report of the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Association, issued not more than a week or two ago. They say:—The coasting trade does not ask for preferential treatment. It only asks that it shall be allowed to light its own battle unhampered by preferential treatment to its competitors.That is a phrase used in connection with the proposals to give a bounty to coal exports.It recognises that it must give full value for what it charges and that it must charge less than the railways because of their superior advantages. It is prepared to meet fair competition, and Parliament has recognised, through the creation of and the powers given to the Railway Rates Tribunal, that it is entitled to fair competition.The Railway Rates Tribunal and the Railway and Canal Commission are founded on the condition that no railway company is entitled to give any traffic preferential treatment.The coasting services, and the port facilities all round the coast that they use, have been built up over years and represent the investment of substantial capital and find employment for many men. They have played an important part in the development of our trade, and by healthy competition with the railways have rendered available to the producing industries rates which they would not otherwise have enjoyed. They should be allowed to continue to play their part in a fair field.Could any of your Lordships doubt the fairness and the accuracy of that statement? Why should these export bounty rates be given in this form? I can understand giving subsidies, as I can understand giving financial assistance direct from the Government to the exporting interests. But how can you justify this preferential treatment, giving to an exported commodity advantages which are denied to similar services for trade in this country? If I look at the passage on page 56 of the White Paper I find room for another criticism. It is that this preference is given, as I understand, to bunker coal for foreign vessels. Is it given when bunker coal is sent to British ships?
§ LORD PARMOOR
As I read the Memorandum, exported coal comes within the phrase referring to coal sent for bunkers in foreign ships.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Then I am right in this, and it seems to be an additional reason for criticism. If they are not going to foreign ports they do not get the advantage. There is a double disadvantage, because, where you send coal to be carried coastwise in this country, you do not get the advantage, whereas, where you send coal to be carried to foreign ports, either in foreign or English ships, the export bounty is given. That is exactly what I understood from the criticism of the Shipowners' Association. It is unjust, and not only is it unjust but it is totally foreign to every principle of carriage and railway law that we have hitherto followed in this country. It is the present Government which has given this preference to foreign competition and foreign trade, yet it is this Government which from time to time has affected to say that if any preference of a similar kind is given in a country against Great Britain, that is dumping, and we ought to introduce the necessary legislation to meet it.
I want to deal now with the other side of the case, that part of the case which deals with the local government provisions. I have already stated that I find no fault with the transfer of the powers of the guardians to the central county authority, namely, the county council, and I agree with what the noble Earl has stated on page 4 of his Memorandum:—It is obvious that members of a county council will not be able personally to deal with applications for Poor Law relief from all over the county, nor is it desirable that they should do so. Machinery is required for a more local consideration of such matters.That is a recognition of the value of the work which the guardians have done, and I should very much regret if any one thought for a moment that I was inclined to criticise the splendid work which the guardians have done in connection with our Poor Law. I was once a guardian, but my apprenticeship was very short and it was a long time ago, so that in praising the guardians I hope I am not 1077 taking any merit for myself. When you come to the succeeding pages of the Memorandum you find very complicated provisions in order that, consistently with central power vested in the county authority, you may have local and other authorities of various kinds in order to give the same local consideration, if possible, as is given at the present time.
I have looked very carefully at these provisions. It is not a matter of principle but of detail. The complications involved are of a very difficult and complex character. Worse than all, although they give this power of consideration to local bodies they do not give the local bodies responsibility as regards the policy to be followed, the money to be provided, or the officials to be appointed. How can you expect work done in those circumstances to be adequately done? For instance, at the present time, there are 2,500 women amongst our guardians. Is there any provision that in these various bodies the women shall have the same place as they have at the present moment? No one with any interest what-ever in the Poor Law can doubt for one moment that their influence has been all for the good. One knows perfectly well that the tendency of a county council in matters of this, kind is not the same as the tendency of a board of guardians. The Memorandum states, on page 6, that provision must be madein order that the knowledge and experience of local conditions, which have been acquired by local authorities, shall be available in the final settlement as well as in the actual operation of the scheme.I agree with that whole heartedly.
There is one point on which I want to make a special criticism. It was referred to by the Lord Chancellor, but I do not think he appreciated the nature of the criticisms which have been made. Take an ordinary county council. It is utterly impossible that the working class, the poor class, can be adequately represented unless provision is made for the payment of reasonable expenses. I know that that has been very much discussed on the Scottish Bill and I am not quite certain how the matter stands at the present time. If the noble Lord will look at Clause 49 of this Bill, he will, I am sure, agree that the provision is altogether inadequate. In the first place, there is no compulsion whatever. A particular county council may make no 1078 advance for the payment of expenses of any kind to those who cannot afford to pay them. The clause says that it shall be lawful for the council to defray expenses; but knowing, as one does, the tendency of county councils (I do not want in any way to criticise them unduly) an obligation should certainly be placed upon them, so as to ensure that at any rate there is some representation of the working and poorer classes. What is meant by subsection (3)—No expenditure by a county council under this section shall be taken into account for the purpose of determining the amount of any sum payable to the council out of moneys provided by Parliament"?Does that mean that if it is done they do it, as it were, as a special expense, and that as regards block or other grants the amount is not taken into consideration? It is an invitation to them not to do it.
Then look for a moment at subsection (4):—This section shall apply to any committee of a county council appointed for the discharge of functions throughout the whole area…and so on. Why is there that limitation? Supposing the work is done in a particular area, why is there that limitation? There is to be no money found for expenses unless for the work of a particular committee appointed to discharge functions throughout the whole area. I really think that this clause cannot stand as it is in the Bill because it does not face the obligation. It cannot stand because it does not meet the real difficulties, and because the inference from the other subsections is to discourage in every possible way grants of this character.
I do not think there is any other particular matter that I want to refer to regarding the transfer of the Poor Law powers of the guardians under Part I of the Bill; but there is an outside matter connected with it which is of the utmost importance. The vast majority of students of our Poor Law system, to whatever Party they belong, feel, I believe, that the expense of able-bodied unemployed should be a charge on the State and not on a particular locality. There is nothing local in a matter of that kind. As the noble Earl knows, we are dealing with those who do not get the benefit of the insurance scheme. I am told that the expense 1079 at the present time is about £7,000,000. A little time ago it was £10,000,000, and it is sure to fluctuate from time to time. If you want to put an end to an inequity in our rating system and our local charges, if that is the real purpose of the Government, you ought not to hesitate for a moment to put a charge of this kind on the National Exchequer, and not on the local rates, more particularly because such a charge will fall most heavily on the poorest districts. I have said what I have to say for the moment on that point, but we shall have to raise the question again on the Committee stage.
With regard to the registration of births, deaths and marriages, if the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack is right that every one is agreed and that the registrars themselves like the change from fees to salaries, well and good; but that is not the information that I have. I have received some letters, I had one this morning from the union of officials, in which these registrars protest against the change from fees to salaries and against the powers given for their regulation to the clerks of county councils or county boroughs. I will not deal further with that at the moment; I will look into it again; but, as I have said, the information which has come to me is not only that they are not satisfied with, but that they are protesting against, the proposals in Part II, except only that they recognise, as everyone must, that if the boards of guardians are disestablished and swept out of the way their appointment must rest in other hands.
With regard to roads in counties, I have had twenty-five years' experience of a county council and I say frankly that I do not think it matters very much whether road work is done by the county council itself or by certain district authorities under its superintendence. The difficulty is, of course, that you get too much supervision and you may get supervision from two different bodies which do not agree. But I want to make a different point. I think the time has come when all expenditure on these county roads both as to construction and maintenance should be transferred, as a national charge, from the shoulders of the local authorities. I recollect that the Lord Lieutenant of my County, 1080 Lord Cottesloe, made an admirable speech some time ago showing how heavy was the burden in such a county as Buckinghamshire through which a large number of main roads run.
It was reported as long ago as 1901 that a charge of this kind should be taken off the local resources. Since 1901 the whole atmosphere has been changed by the enormous increase and the importance of our motor traffic. Just think for a moment of the difference between the roads and the railways. The railways were not made by the local authorities and they were not maintained by the local authorities. On the other hand, by means of their rates they gave a very considerable source of revenue from which the local authorities meet their obligations. Of course, there is no question of deriving revenue from motors on the roads which are now to be called county roads throughout the country. But, surely, in the cause of justice this expenditure should be taken from the shoulders of the local authorities, and that provision ought to be incorporated in this Bill. It is not a question of giving subsidies or assistance but of the taking of the whole charge off the backs of the county councils and transferring it to where it ought to be—to the National Exchequer.
I do not think I need deal with Part IV, "Miscellaneous Local Government Provisions." There are criticisms regarding it which we may have to advance in Committee, but I really cannot trespass much longer on your Lordships time now. When I come to Part V, "Rating and Valuation," I turn to Clause 65, which purports to produce a new principle in rating with regard to tied cottages and farmhouses in agriculture. Surely it is impossible to justify a provision of this kind. Why are not industrial cottages to have this advantage? Why are agricultural landowners to squeeze the ratepayer to the last drop, while similar advantages are denied to an industrial district? I think that the present system of rating is right. You rate property in connection with the use to which it is in fact applied. There is no reason to take into consideration that it can only be applied for that particular purpose. I think there are many objections in connection with tied cottages, but they are not to the present purpose. If you want to give this advantage to the 1081 agricultural owner, why not give a similar advantage in the case of the industrial districts? I cannot myself see any reason whatever for the differentiation which is here being attempted.
As regards Part VI, which has to do with the grants, personally I think that a block grant is a mistake, and, although, as the Lord Chancellor pointed out, there are provisions by which the possible evils of a block grant may be provided against, in my opinion the far better way is to found the grants on efficiency. When you do that they have a double purpose: they not only help the ratepayers but they go a long way to ensure that the services are efficient. I have always thought—and this I believe is common ground among the people most interested in local government reform—that if you want efficiency you should let the grant depend upon it. It is a simple form; it goes direct to the particular matter and avoids all the difficulties which are incurred in the principle of a block grant. I think the Exchequer grants and other financial provisions are very ably explained in the Appendix on page 38 of the White Paper, and I leave any criticism on this portion of the proposals till another time.
What does my criticism come to? That the so-called rating reform is reactionary because of the rating anomalies it produces; and that the co-called subsidy to the railways is giving an undue preference to coal to be exported and used in foreign industries, largely perhaps in competition with ourselves: especially is it unfair to coastwise traffic, as stated in the annual report of the Steamship Owners' Association. The other matters of local reform are no doubt more in the nature of detail than of principle, but if the guardians are to be disestablished you should make ample provision so that their duties will be carried on as efficiently as in the past. If you are to treat local authorities fairly you must take away from them the unfair burden of providing for the able-bodied unemployed, and if, beyond that, you want in the various other matters to which I have referred really to produce a reform in local administration—a most important matter—you have to be certain that these reforms are brought about by a close consideration of the 1082 actual factors. It is useless in a Bill of this kind merely to talk of generalities and not to descend to the actual factors involved on which, and on which alone, its ultility can be established. If that utility cannot be established the Bill stands condemned. I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name.
Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Parmoor.)
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I remember that when the Law of Property Bill was before this House I expressed a hope that it would be a very long time before any Government introduced again a Bill of that length. I admit that this Bill is not as long as that one, but it covers 177 pages and contains 12 Schedules. It has not been an easy Bill to follow. It has had numerous changes made in it in another place, and, again, many alterations made on Report and under the "guillotine," so that there was no discussion. In order to find out what changes have been made in the Bill it has been necessary to read an old print with the new print, and we have only had the new print in our hands for one week. It has been rather a tedious matter. I am not complaining of the use of the "guillotine." All Governments now use the "guillotine," and it seems to have become part of our usual procedure.
I am very interested in this Bill because I am a member of my county council, of my rural district council and of my board of guardians, and I notice that under the Bill I, as a guardian, transfer my functions to myself as a county councillor, and, as a member of a rural district council, I transfer my roads to myself as a county councillor. I believe the transfer of the rural roads to the county council is good, but the transfer of the functions of the guardians to the county council is rather a more open question. I hope it will function and work smoothly and economically. I certainly noticed with interest, what the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken referred to, that I am going to receive my travelling expenses, and I should not be surprised if that does not lead before long to a further subsidy.
1083 Generally speaking, I support this Bill. I think that the derating of the producing industries and the derating of agricultural land will be a great assistance, but there are one or two Amendments that I hope will be put into the Bill in Committee. I should like to draw the Government's attention to Clause 65 which deals with the valuation for rating purposes of agricultural dwelling houses. When the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Act, 1928, was before your Lordships, I drew the attention of my noble friend Lord Peel, who was in charge of the Bill, to the desirability of assessing agricultural labourers' cottages on their value to such an occupier. The provision in Clause 65 regarding the farm houses is quite satisfactory, but it is far otherwise with the agricultural labourers' cottages. When the Bill was introduced in another place it only applied to tied cottages. The Land Union, in another place, through Lord Hartington, raised the question on the Committee stage, and the Government promised to see what they could do, and in the Report stage, under the "guillotine" (so that there was no discussion) they slightly widened the meaning of the clause; but now it only includes a fraction of the cottages that are let to agricultural labourers.
Take a village in which a good many agricultural labourers may be living who rent cottages, not from the farmers but from somebody else, and pay rents of 2s. or 3s. a week and work on the neighbouring farms. These cottages do not come under the Bill, and unless this clause is altered I am afraid there is going to be trouble. The cottages to which I have just alluded are being assessed by local authorities at what they can be let for to week-enders, and not at what they are worth to an agricultural labourer. Sometimes, I am told, they are being assessed at anything from £12 to £20, because the owners need not let them to agricultural labourers but could let them to week-enders. If the owner of a cottage which at this moment is assessed at £5 is going to be assessed at £15 or £20 in future, it means that the Bill is asking that owner to turn out the agricultural labourer. If, on the other hand, the agricultural labourer now pays the rates himself, it is a new direct assessment on the agricultural 1084 labourer which he cannot afford. The land on which the agricultural labourer is working is going to be derated, but a new assessment is going to be put on his house, and it may in some cases have the effect of de-housing the agricultural labourer. When we come to the Committee stage I shall certainly move an Amendment to the effect that all houses occupied by those who come under the Agricultural Wages Act shall be treated in the same way as the farm houses are treated, and I hope that that Amendment will be received with the greatest sympathy.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, from my point of view I welcome this Bill, especially from the London aspect. Many points of criticism that have been discussed this afternoon have already been before the people of London at the last election in November, and although the majorities that were obtained were not as great as might have been hoped for, yet London showed itself very much in favour of this Bill. I may say that I am chiefly referring in connection with that to the question of derating. There was, unfortunately, published a confidential Paper from the Ministry of Health showing what the future rates of London possibly would be under the Bill. Those statements were purely hypothetical because they were not based—and could not have been based—upon the figures for the standard year, which is the year March, 1928–1929, but on the preceding year. The result was that in a great many constituencies in London the rates were supposed to go up under this Bill in consequence of the ceasing of Exchequer grants. The election was fought on those misleading statements and a considerable advantage was gained by both Parties who were opposed to the Municipal Reform Party.
I am sorry to say—and I am glad to see some of the Liberal leaders here this afternoon—that those statements are still being repeated, in spite of a table which has lately been issued by the London County Council, based upon the proper year, in which it is clearly set forth that in no part of London will the rates be raised in consequence of this Bill, but that, on the other hand, owing to the Government grants, there will be considerable benefit in a great many of the 1085 boroughs. These statements are made in a paper issued under various aliases by the Liberal Party. It is stated in regard to Paddington, for instance, that this Bill would raise the rates of Paddington by 6d. in the pound. This paper, as I have said, has a variety of aliases. In Paddington it is called the Paddington Industrial News. In another part of the country it is called the Mining News, and in other parts of the country it is called the Liberal Magazine. I am sorry that these false statements should still continue to be made.
I hope that if any noble Lord wishes to earn a prize he will get a copy of this paper, because I notice that £250 is going to be awarded to the person who designs the best poster, £250 for a scheme of pictorial posting, £250 for the best method of advertising, and, above all, £250 for the best Liberal slogan. It is open to any one, and I will give your Lordships the address to which to send. It is the Liberal Campaign Committee, Old Queen Street, Westminster, S.W.1. What a chance, for any members of the Labour Party even, to earn all this money if they can design a beautiful poster or invent a slogan, which seems to be the desperate need of the Liberal Party! I am sorry to have to refer to this matter, because I think that the Liberal Party ought to be truthful on this question. A great deal of misconception has already been created. I am sorry to have trespassed for so long on your Lordships' time in dealing with this matter. We in London welcome this Bill, because in no part of London will there be any loss, and in a great many boroughs there will be a substantial gain.
There are one or two other matters with regard to the Bill from the London point of view to which I should like to refer. I should like to say that an agreement has been come to by the borough councils and the London County Council and the Standing Joint Committee of the borough councils by which the Poor Law is to devolve upon the County Council, and, so that the County Council may not be unduly burdened, certain health duties will pass to the borough councils. This is a matter of agreement, and another vary important thing that has been agreed is that, in order that there shall be justice all round, there shall be one member of the London County Council upon each 1086 of the various assessment committees. I do not think any of the three Parties objected to that proposal.
There has been, and there still is, a great deal of misconception, not confined to London but all over the country, about certain valuations. In London, of course, as most members of your Lordships' House know, there is a quin-quennial valuation, but in many parts of the country revaluation has not taken place for a great many years. In consequence, a good deal of alarm is felt because assessments have been raised under the Rating and Valuation Act. That is to say in some cases—I am going to give an example—where the assessment has been £200 a year it is now £400 a year. But may I point out that it does not follow that the ratepayer, because of his increased assessable value, will be called upon to pay any more. For instance, if his house or property is assessed at £200 a year, and he is rated at 10s. in the £, and he pays in rates £100 a year, there is no reason why, because his assessment is raised to £400 a year, he should pay any more per year. Of course, if he chooses to put into power a body of an extravagant complexion, then the money which he will have to pay in rates is likely to go up, but as regards the Rating and Valuation Act and this Bill, when it becomes law, there is no reason for any apprehension on the part of any ratepayer.
The noble Lord who spoke before my noble friend on my right did not seem particularly enthusiastic about this Bill, but really with one, exception I can find very little criticism. It is very easy to be destructive in any criticism you may make, but I find little real opposition to the principle of the Bill. He has already informed us on previous occasions that he objected to some of the prosperous businesses deriving benefit from the Bill, but, as it has been remarked over and over again, the prosperous business of to-day may be the bankrupt business of to-morrow. If that is really the argument, it is extremely difficult to define where the line should be drawn. The noble Lord should be very grateful to the Government for giving him a very good election cry. He can point to the brewers and say: Look at these rich people deriving considerable benefit while the mining 1087 industry is so badly treated! That sounds very well, but it is not true in fact. Then we were told that all that money should have been given to the mining interest. The noble Lord said that in certain exceptional cases he was in favour of subsidies, and then, on the other hand, he went on to denounce the giving of subventions to agriculture and all businesses. I might remind him that there was no Division in the House of Commons on the question of the help to be given to agriculture. There was no Division, and the Government got that clause without any opposition.
Again, he goes on to say, and that, I think, was his main criticism, that the able-bodied poor should be made a national charge. That, of course, is an old question, and it comes to this really—whether it is more in the interests of economy and efficiency and the prevention of fraud that the expenditure on the able-bodied poor should be administered locally rather than nationally. I think any one who has given study to the question will realise that you must administer this service locally rather than nationally, and that in practice it would be impossible to administer the relief of the able-bodied poor by the Imperial Government. It is a question which has often been debated, and, on the whole, I am convinced that the sound system is that which has been adopted by the Government.
There is one other point which I should like to make. The noble Lord spoke about the burdens which should be paid out of Income Tax instead of out of rates, and said that the richer person should help the poorer. If there is one part of the country where that has occurred it is London. In London enormous sums have been paid by the richer parts to assist the poorer. I may be allowed for one moment to tell the House what has been the net contribution of certain richer boroughs for the half-year ending March 31, 1928. The City of Westminster for that half-year contributed to the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund £418,224; the City of London, £407,090; and Kensington, £88,883. In the same period Poplar received £239,629; Bermondsey, £130,411; and Stepney, £171,609. So that the argument as regards London administration is not a good one. However, the richer boroughs 1088 of London have not complained of having to help the poorer boroughs. What we welcome under this Bill is that there will be given some system of control, so that one portion of London shall not be able unduly to draw upon the pockets of the ratepayers.
Of course the transfer of the Poor Law to the London County Council and other county councils will be a great experiment. In London, I believe, you will find men and women quite willing to come forward and help in this great work. It will, I am sure, result in greater efficiency all round in the Poor Law services, because you will get the family and the necessities of the family under one authority, where they can be followed right through, instead of being divided up partly under the Poor Law, partly under the Education Authority, and partly under the Metropolitan Asylums Board and other authorities. In that way great advantage will be secured not only from the economic but from the social point of view, because it will help the family where assistance is required. In many respects this Bill has been presented in its various aspects to Londoners, and I am quite sure that when it comes to the General Election both Oppositions will find that in London they will derive little benefit from their opposition to this Bill.
I know we shall be told that in Batter sea the Government were beaten. A noble Lord opposite says "Hear, hear," but I should have thought that if he closely examined the means by which the result of that by-election was arrived at—the intervention of a certain class of people who are rather upset by the introduction of the "Tote" and the Betting Tax—he would realise that he had no great reason to congratulate himself upon the alliance. Those hundreds of motor cars and speaking trumpets cannot come down at the General Election. I think that on the whole this Bill will be of great benefit to the country. Speaking on behalf of many friends in London, I am glad it has been brought in; it will remedy a great many abuses, and I believe it will be of substantial assistance, not only to trade and industry in the country and in London, but to all classes of the community.
§ LORD JOICEY
My Lords, I feel sure that those who heard the introduction of this Bill by the noble and learned 1089 Lord on the Woolsack will have come to the conclusion, as I have done, that it is an absolute necessity. I listened with great interest to the points he made, and I think he made them so clear that it is impossible to imagine any other scheme which could be adopted at the present moment which would do so much good. No doubt many of us would have liked to see the expenditure, in connection with both the local rates and the Imperial Exchequer, reduced. I have for long considered that the Government have not carried out their pledges to reduce expenditure, and I look with some degree of alarm, too, at the enormous sums which are going to be transferred from local rates to the Imperial Exchequer. I have always thought it was a very valuable principle that those should spend the rates who have to supply the money. But I am afraid this Bill does not carry out that principle very well. However, taking it as a whole, it is, I think, an absolute necessity, and I am prepared to accept it, although I do not agree with everything in it.
I listened to the speech of my noble friend Lord Parmoor with great, interest. He always puts his case very clearly and very strongly. I regret that he is not present at the moment. But I was somewhat struck by the strong attitude he took against the export of coal. I thought it would have been a good thing if he could have made that speech in Durham or Northumberland, or in South Wales, Yorkshire, or Lancashire, and argued there that it was not necessary to give a subsidy in order to retain the export trade in coal. There may be some disadvantage, I admit, in supplying your competitors abroad at a lower price, but there is something to be put on the other side. What, for the last fifty years, has paid the cost of the food of this country more than coal? What does the export coal do? It employs our ships. The vast quantity produced reduces the cost of production, and enables the collieries to supply our various industries at a very much lower price than they could if the export trade in coal were lost. What is the cause of all the distress in our mining districts? It is that we have lost our export coal trade; and, depend upon it, unless we are able to get that trade back again, we shall find that large numbers of collieries will not reopen. I should have thought that any careful 1090 student, like my noble friend, would have realised that the loss we suffer by having large numbers of people out of employ men was ten times greater than the loss incurred by exporting coal to our competitors abroad.
We have great difficulty at the present time in maintaining our position, but we have had some help from the weather. Storms sometimes bring good, and I am glad to say that, owing to the severe weather stopping the export of coal at Danzig, blocking up the canals, and almost blocking up the sea, we have been able to get back some of our trade. Depend upon it, this concession which the Government have given us will enable us to retain it. The export of coal enables us to provide coal more cheaply for our own industries, simply because, if you increase the output, you necessarily reduce costs. What else could we do to reduce costs? Seventy per cent, of the cost of coal is wages. How can you get your costs reduced? It can only be done by reducing rates or Income Tax. There are so many things that the remaining thirty per cent. has to supply that it is quite impossible to make any reductions there. We have the utmost difficulty in bringing down our costs, unless we go into wages, which we do not wish to do. I am, therefore, very glad that seventy-five per cent. is to be taken off our railway rates, because it will, I hope, be the means of opening some pits which have been closed but not altogether abandoned.
There might have been many ways of dealing with the question of rates in the case of the railway companies. In my part of the world we have a great many private railways. I see that some people say that these private railways were built in order to avoid paying rates upon the public railways. Evidently the gentlemen who say that know nothing about the question. These private railways were made before the public railways, and I need not tell your Lordships that that great mechanical genius, George Stephenson, tried his first locomotive on a waggon way which had been in existence long before the North-Eastern Railway was established. And most of these various private railways are run by stationary engines and gravitation. No doubt, if the public railways had wished to swallow up the private railways they 1091 could have done so on reasonable terms. But, as they never made any attempt to do so, I think it is rather hard for the private railways to be penalised, simply because the public railways have persuaded the President of the Board of Trade not to give them the grant that he has given to the public railways.
There is a very bitter feeling in the North of England on this question. I admit that we get the benefit to a certain extent by the railway rates, but the method which has been adopted gives an advantage to the users of public railways. The rates on private railways are somewhat less, although it is very difficult to estimate what they are because they have so many privileges upon which it is difficult to put a value—free house, free coal, and things of that kind. And, even if it is the case that they are able to move their coal at something less than the public railways, it is simply because the distances are shorter. The Government might, for instance, have said that they would only give rebates to collieries situated a long way from the ports of shipment. That would have created great dissatisfaction. What would the farmers have said if the Government had said they were not going to give any rebates to people who had bought their own farms? They would not have stood it. It would have been so unjust. It is just the same with us. We are not getting the whole benefit like the users of the public railways are. The difference is only 4½d. a ton, but, when you are competing, that is a considerable sum. I have lost contracts for hundreds of thousands of tons over a penny. You are simply encouraging competition among ourselves instead of with the foreigner. I am sure that many of the users of public railways who get this benefit will use it to get contracts which at the present time are possessed by the users of private railways.
Various deputations have waited upon the Ministers of the Crown representing the London Chambers of Commerce, the North Country Chambers of Commerce, the Tyne Commissioners, the Wear Commissioners, the Seaham Harbour Commissioners and other bodies from those districts where the people, understand the question and are anxious to get equality of relief. It is not the railway 1092 companies that are giving the money. The railway companies are simply distributors of the relief given by the Government from the public Exchequer. We in the north of England who have interests in private railways consider we have a right to more consideration. You have, no right whatever to make a difference between one class of colliery and another. The Government ought to try to understand the question and realise what it means. They will not get a single vote in those districts where the private railway question is understood. It is not only the men in the mines who are suffering, some 69,000 of them, but every shop, every co-operative store, every church and every chapel in the district understands the question and feels that these districts are suffering from a great injustice. I hope that in Committee the Government will again consider this matter and throw over the Home Secretary, as they have had to do in another matter, and do what is just and right. In doing that they will benefit themselves in the districts where these private railways exist.
We in this country have had a terrible time since the War finished. Our industries have suffered more than those of any other country. We have seen Germany get rid of practically all its internal Debt owing to the mark becoming of no value, we have seen France and Italy prospering and America abounding in prosperity, and yet we have 1,500,000 unemployed. One must realise that there is some cause for this. I attribute it very largely to the enormous costs that we have in connection with rates and Imperial Taxes. I hope the Government will realise that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, after having promised to take off £10,000,000 a year, imposed a new tax instead. The last tax he put on, by which he gets a year's Surtax from the estate of a deceased person, was very shabby and very mean. When the Duties go up to 40 per cent, on large estates, to put on another tax is not what a really good financial Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to do. I hope that, if this Bill goes forward, your Lordships will give consideration to the points I have raised, because in doing so you will not only confer a benefit upon yourselves but upon the country at large.
§ LORD STANMORE
On behalf of my noble friend Earl Beauchamp, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Stanmore.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to and debate adjourned accordingly till tomorrow.