§ 4.2 p.m
§ Debate resumed.
THE EARL OF ELGIN AND KINCARDINE
My Lords, if we may now return to the more mundane subject of local government in Scotland, in presenting the Second Reading of the Bill to your Lordships' House the Minister of State used these words [col. 1115]:to give local authorities increased financial independence and to encourage local authority electors to take a fresh interest in local affairs.I think your Lordships will all agree that that is a most laudable statement, but whether we shall all agree with the noble Lord's contention that the Bill presents 1139 that case, I am not sure. If I could be assured of it, both as an individual and as Provost of the Royal Burgh of Culross, I should give the Bill my welcome. But the noble Lord is aware that there have been considerable criticisms of the Bill in many places, and there is also the feeling that it may be presenting not financial independence but financial responsibility.
Speaking as a member of the town council of a small burgh, I would say that the present system of central controls is frequently extremely aggravating and has a most devastating influence on local interest and local patriotism. But at present I do not feel that I can quite go with the noble Lord the Minister of State in saying that the Bill presents the improvement which he was inclined to attribute to it. The Bill has been definitely criticised, both by the Convention of Royal Burghs and by the County Councils Association, and in spite of the small adjustments which have been made as the result of conferences and of the long debates in another place, I still feel that the Bill is one to which we cannot give a wholehearted welcome.
It seems to me that the Government are perfectly satisfied with the position from their own point of view, as indeed they should be, because by it they establish, absolutely fixed, their contribution to the schemes of development and otherwise which they carry out jointly with the local authority. But in doing so, they are handing over to the local authorities an uncertainty which may arise from the demands, particularly of education and of the provision for technical education, which may be increasing from year to year and which, even now, stand at colossal figures. The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, dealt with this question of joint action and the responsibility of the Government to take their proper share in this matter: and he raised, quite rightly, the point that the only assistance which local government authorities will secure from the Bill are increased receipts arising from the re-rating of industry. Surely receipts from rates ought to be in the possession of local authorities, and not of the Government; and unless local authorities do get assistance in that way, they are faced, as I have already said, with the uncertainty as to where the money is to come from for the various schemes 1140 which they have in hand and which all need constant attention. These demands cannot be avoided or neglected, and should surely be shared between the Government and the local authority concerned.
In any case, Scotland is perhaps being more harshly treated in this matter than England and Wales, which were dealt with in the Bill which was before your Lordships' House last week; because the re-rating which the noble Lord mentioned, in reply to Lord Greenhill's speech, cannot in Scotland be finished until 1960–61, and therefore the uncertainty remains much longer with us than with England and Wales. I feel, as I said at the beginning, that, while the intention may be laudable, we should like more proof that the Government are not only keen to get the Bill through but are prepared to give the local authorities a fair deal. That is the point that I want to bring before your Lordships to-day. It is one that is creating great anxiety among all local authorities in Scotland.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I do not like this Bill very much, and I think perhaps it is a little difficult for a Member of your Lordships' House who is not very enthusiastic about the Bill to decide how much or how little he ought to say, or whether indeed he ought not to choose the more excellent course of saying nothing at all. This Bill received its Second Reading in another place as long ago as December 17 last year, and it is a little sad for some of us to think that this was the last Scottish debate in which Walter Elliot made a speech. Since then, for the best part of six months this Bill has been in Committee in the other House, where it seems to have been discussed with even less than the usual brevity with which Scottish Members of that House are accustomed to express themselves. Now, if your Lordships were to do this all over again, and if your Lordships were perhaps to insert Amendments which had not been agreed to in the other House, we should then be accused of acting in an undemocratic manner and of frustrating the will of the elected representatives of the people, although on this particular occasion we might perhaps receive the support of some institutions and individuals in Scotland who are not usually at all favourable to a hereditary Chamber. 1141 On the other hand, if we were to let this Bill go through in complete silence, it might then be thought that Scottish Peers were neglecting a matter which is of great importance to our country, and that some of us might even have preferred the attractions of an English race meeting to the performance of our Parliamentary duties.
This Bill is supposed to confer two great benefits on the local authorities in Scotland. One is to give them much greater freedom in the management of their own affairs, which is a thing I always like to have; the other is to give them an additional £750,000 a year, which is a thing I should not particularly mind having, either. But, my Lords, the local authorities in Scotland appear to be singularly unappreciative of the bountiful generosity of the Government in this matter, and they have even circularised your Lordships asking you to regard the Bill in a most unfavourable way and to amend it out of all recognition.
I am afraid that in some respects I dislike the Bill even more than the Scottish local authorities do, because it provides for the re-rating of industry. Some local authorities are in favour of that, of course, because it would mean that every penny from the rates would produce, a good deal more revenue, but I have always thought that the rating of industrial buildings and plant is a thoroughly bad and vicious method of raising money. When industry was de-rated in 1929, I wished that it had been derated 100 per cent. instead of only 75 per cent. I deeply regret now that the rating of industry should have been raised to 50 per cent.
The collection of rates on the assessment of house property is not an entirely fair method of raising money, because it is quite possible that a millionaire, if he chooses, may live in a single room rated at £10 or £15 a year. Conversely, there are some people who are obliged by circumstances to live in houses which are far bigger than they can really afford. But if you rule out a local income tax—which is recommended by some people but which is, I think, opposed by most people for reasons which I think are good reasons—then the collection of rates on the assessment of the valuation of everybody's house is, on the whole, the 1142 least unfair method of raising money for local purposes.
That cannot be said for the rating of industrial buildings and plant. Imagine two people living next to each other, one of whom is a local industrialist who has spent all his life building up a business and has put all his money into extending his business. He has now got a factory employing, perhaps, 300 or 400 men. The whole of his means has been put into this business, which may be rated at £10,000 a year. If the rates are 20s. in the £, he will now be rated at £5,000. That is a direct tax on employment and a direct tax on production. It discourages employment, it discourages enterprise, and it adds to the cost of production and to the cost of our export trade. Now suppose that his neighbour has never put a penny into local industry, and suppose he has £1 million invested in Government securities from which he is receiving an income of £50,000 a year. He does not pay one penny in rates except, of course, on his house, which his neighbour does in any case. But he gets exactly the same value from local services, on which the money from the rates is spent, as his neighbour who has spent his whole fortune and means on something which is really socially useful to the community. That, my Lords, is the case against any rating of industrial buildings and plant at all. I think it is a bad and vicious method of taxation, whether local or national, and I regret it should have been raised in this Bill.
Now whether you re-rate industry or whether you do not, I think you will still be left with the fundamental problem of local authority finance, which I do not think this Bill does anything to solve. That problem is this. If you go back a hundred years, you will find that local rates at that time were raised mainly for parochial purposes—for purposes which affected the local ratepayers and not the country as a whole. At any rate they were never much more than 6d. in the £, so it did not much matter how they were assessed. The local rates now not only go up to 20s. in the £ but have to be levied mainly far purposes which are really for the nation and not for the locality, and which ought properly to be paid for by national and not by local 1143 taxation. That is the problem which you have to consider.
There are two possible solutions, and I think there is a good deal to be said for both of them. One is that you should give the local authorities not 38 per cent., as I think it is at present, of their expenses from the national exchequer, but something like 90 per cent., and to allow them to administer the services in the way they think best. What fun it would be to have to justify that to the officials of Her Majesty's Treasury! I do not know how they would take it, but it would be very interesting. However, I think it would be one possible solution. The other solution is to remove the services like education, which are really national services, from the control of the local authorities and administer them nationally in the same way as the poor law and the health services, both of which used to be run not long ago—in our own lifetime—by local authorities but which have now been transferred to national administration.
This Bill does neither of these things. It allows local authorities to collect a little more revenue than they are now collecting on their own by a thoroughly bad and undesirable method of taxation, and at the same time tries to fix, by this general grant, a contribution from the State towards these services of national importance which local authorities consider is entirely inadequate and which will always cause trouble and difficulty in reaching agreement on how those services ought to be run most efficiently in the public interest.
The late Walter Elliot, in the speech I have referred to, supported this Bill and I like to read that speech because I believe that it was so characteristic of the man. Twenty years ago, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland and I had the honour to serve with him as Under-Secretary, I remember him once saying to me: "You know, the only people in Scotland who really like me are the people to whom I can say, 'Here is a bag of money. Take it away and do what you like with it'." In his speech on the Second Reading of this Bill in another place last December, just before he died, he said something very similar, though not quite in those words. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT (Commons), Vol. 580, (No. 31), col. 314]: 1144When I was in the Administration all kinds of people with whom I was working said to me, 'For goodness' sake, give us a little money and let us go away. We will use it far better than if every penny we spend is checked and counterchecked, accounted for, scrutinised, audited and summed-up by the auditors in your Department'.He went on to say something of which I am sorry I did not have time to give the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Orr notice:I remember Lord Boyd-Orr when running the Rowett Research Institute at Bucksburn, which we all know very well, saying 'I will take half the money if I can have it in a box and not have to bother with all the checks and counterchecks that I have to go through with the Department of Agriculture.' There is something to be said for that point of view.Mr. Walter Elliot concluded by asking another place not to reject this Bill, and I certainly do not presume to ask your Lordships to reject it. I am utterly opposed to the re-rating of industry, and if there were an Amendment to that effect in Committee I should be glad to vote for it. But as for the Bill in general, I would only say to your Lordships that this long-term problem of local authority finance will remain with us. It will grow greater, and we shall have to decide sooner or later—and I think sooner rather than later—whether we are going to give local authorities a bag of money from the Exchequer and let them do what they like with it, or whether they are going to transfer education and other important services from the administration of the local authorities to the administration of the State.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH AND QUEENSBERRY
My Lords, as a member of a local authority for a good many years and chairman of a county council for much of that time I should like to say a few words in support of this Bill and in support of the action of Her Majesty's Government in bringing it forward. I should also like to express thanks for the confidence shown in local authorities and for the fresh encouragement which is being given to them. Affection cannot be shown for any legislation of this kind and universal acclamation cannot be expected. The Bill is, however, a natural development, carefully prepared by persons impartial and experienced, both in central and in local administration, to enable each to be carried on more easily, efficiently and economically.
1145 In 1929, the last occasion when a very big and necessary advance was made, the proposals were extremely unpopular. The opposition was very violent, and as a candidate for Parliament at that time I remember being strongly attacked from many directions, the election being fought on that issue with representations from education interests and teachers who forecast that I should be easily at the bottom of the poll; but the majority of the voters upheld and returned me. Though I was strongly denounced at the time as a supporter of the proposals, I remember that wiser and more experienced people quietly gave one assurances that the proposals were necessary and appropriate. During the next few years it was found that the results worked well, and although the changes were not popular they were inevitable. This time the opposition and the criticisms are much less; and although changes are unlikely to be entirely welcome, and there are reasons why they may not be fully appreciated, I have not seen or read any real arguments against them, nor any alternative methods suggested for finding the money to pay for the services.
My noble friends Lord Elgin and Lord Dundee should perhaps restrain me in my remarks and in the display of any optimism, as they have been much less optimistic, and perhaps even slightly critical. Perhaps I should have followed them, for this reason: that if one does not take that line it may be thought that local authorities are being treated too well or quite well enough. Although there are more frequent demands for more independence for local authorities and for less control by the central Government, interdependence is close and important; and I have felt that this Bill probably provides sufficient freedom and about the correct amount of independence for local authorities and of freedom from control by the central authority. If there were less control over expenditure, local authorities would often spend more than can be afforded. Pressure to spend more money is continuous, as if the money could always be provided from somewhere. Ratepayers, as well as taxpayers, pay heavily and need some protection, and I hope that nothing in this Bill will put upon them heavier burdens than they already have to bear.
The main criticisms I have heard in Scotland about the proposals are in connection 1146 with education and the block grant. I have a warm admiration for Scottish teachers, but I admire the determination of the educational institutes of Scotland more than I admire their arguments and forecasts. About the block grant proposal, I have not seen any facts or evidence that would justify in advance its condemnation. I find that the present Government and their predecessors did not in any way discourage or reduce expenditure upon education, and that there has been a steady advance—as much as possible, I hope, in accordance with what the nation can afford. I have one question about finance and estimates. In Clause 1 (6) which deals with the fixing of the amount of grant, there are references to grant orders being made in advance for two or three years, perhaps in the nature of general orders, and without as much certainty as would be welcome. I think it is important that councils should know as far in advance as possible the exact sums they are likely to receive.
Before concluding I should like to say that I feel that much thanks and credit are due to those who give a lot of time, often in busy lives, to local government work. Sometimes it is a few of the busiest upon whom much of the work falls, and I do not think it would be wise to give to local authorities more responsibility and duties than are already entrusted to them. I feel that the proposals in this Bill are to control not so much what different people would like to see done as the nature of the services and duties which fall upon us as representatives of local government. I feel that this measure is a genuine effort to take a correct step forward in the development and devolution of local government.
§ 4.33 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will allow me, not to follow the wide approach that has been taken by the noble Lords who have spoken before me on this Bill, but rather to speak to one narrower effect of its operation, and that is upon the salmon net fisheries around the coasts of Scotland. It may surprise your Lordships to hear that the effect of this Bill on such fisheries would be to re-rate them to 50 per cent. instead of the 25 per cent. which they at present enjoy in company with all other 1147 industries. I think it is important to see how salmon net fisheries came to be classed as an industry for this purpose. In 1896 agricultural lands and heritages were defined in an Act of Parliament as:Any lands and heritages used for agricultural or pastoral purposes only or as market gardens, orchards or allotments.In 1926 the Rating (Scotland) Act introduced certain rating differentials between various forms of lands and heritages, and in the First Schedule to that Act various forms of these lands were devalued to different extents. Among them were agricultural lands and heritages which were devalued to 100 per cent. in all; and there were certain other exceptions to the full rating. But among those exceptions did not appear salmon fisheries, and as a result of this it was found that, as they were not mentioned in any of the exceptions, they had to be rated to the full value of 100 per cent. and were covered by the general residuary clause, Section 12 (3) of that Act. As I believe the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, in 1929 it became necessary to devalue the rating of industry, and with this devaluation the benefit also came to the salmon fisheries. They were, in fact, expressly included by a special section in that Act, which rated them as industries for this purpose. It is perhaps indicative of the doubtful position they held that it was necessary to put in a special explanatory clause making it clear that they were industries for this purpose.
If these salmon fisheries are re-valued up to 50 per cent., I hope your Lordships will allow me to point to some of the very serious consequences that this will have, and also to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that this is a matter closely related to the Motion yesterday of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in that it is connected with employment in rural areas. These salmon fisheries are carried on chiefly in very rural parts of Scotland which have suffered and are continuing to suffer to a serious extent from depopulation. They are mostly small concerns—they have to be, because the rivers and estuaries in which they are carried on are small in themselves, and there is not room for a big concern to grow up in any of the places where there are salmon fisheries. I would give as an example a river 1148 I know very well indeed: the Beirie, in Kincardineshire.
The very smallness of these concerns is the important fact, because they are situated in parts of the coastal areas of the country all round Scotland where there are only small communities, where there are no big towns particularly close, and where communities would have to travel a very long distance to find employment if they could not be employed where they live. I can give one example on the same coast. There is a small village, a fishing village basically, called Johnshaven, where until recently there was a paper bag factory which I believe was a branch of a factory in Aberdeen. Within the last six months this factory has ceased operation. The result of that was that there was nothing whatsoever to do in Johnshaven for the people who used to work in that factory; they had to go to Montrose, the nearest big town. And gradually Johnshaven is moving to Montrose; this is the result of taking away the only industry there was in Johnshaven. This is going to happen over a very wide extent if the only industry in certain small communities is taken away and that industry is the salmon net fisheries.
There is one other point: it is a rural occupation and it fits in particularly well with the rest of the agricultural picture. The off season of agriculture happens to be the highest period of employment in the salmon fisheries, while, conversely, during the close season of the salmon fisheries agriculture requires peak employment, and therefore it is very useful for agricultural workers to have an alternative form of employment when they are not actually wanted on the farms. The stations are already closing down. One closed down very recently at Gourdon, on the same part of the coast, with which I am familiar. This re-rating will strike a death blow at the rest of them, and although it may not seem that the re-rating of this particular form of industry in itself is going to mean a great deal of money—that is quite true from the point of view of what rates will accrue from it—from the point of view of the people who are carrying on these concerns it will mean the whole difference between continuance and closure. Her Majesty's Government cannot think that the rating difference between 25 per cent. 1149 and 50 per cent. on salmon fisheries is really going to help very much in the overall picture. Do they think that that is more important than the depopulation of these rural areas?
The point of my legal analysis of all that has happened is this. The whole reason why the salmon net fisheries are classed as industries is the definition in the 1896 Act. When it came to the 1926 Act, which rated all lands and heritages, salmon fisheries were not involved at all, but as they were not mentioned directly they had to become a residual industry and so accept the 100 per cent. rating. Naturally they were delighted to have a 75 per cent. reduction in 1929, but to the argument that they were pleased to be regarded as an industry in 1929 I would point out that they would have been far more pleased to have been classed as agricultural land or a heritage, because in that case they would have received not a 75 per cent. but a 100 per cent. reduction—the more so under the 1926 Act, under which they would not have been rated at all. Cannot Her Majesty's Government take this opportunity of putting this matter right? In Scotland, as in England, fisheries are associated with agriculture. Could not these fisheries also join their fellows in that general department?
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ LORD LOVAT
My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross on what he has said, and I would follow his footsteps in emphasising in lesser degree the points which he has raised. I would refer particularly to the new form of rating which the Under-Secretary of State in another place suggested should be levied on salmon fisheries. I simply cannot comprehend how, in any way of thinking, an occupation as hazardous as the salmon net fishing industry on the bleak coastline of North Britain can be considered as an industry in any shape or form. As my noble friend has already pointed out, it should be looked upon as part of the agricultural working plan. As salmon fishers, we are producing a food. That food is not snatched from the sea without a great deal of hard work, not only in the final phase but also in producing the grown salmon.
It is common knowledge to all owners of salmon rivers that they cannot extract 1150 fish without putting fish back into the water. I am the owner of a small river in the North of Scotland, the Beauly, and I have spent a great deal of money in building hatcheries. The salmon are caught, the spawn is extracted from them and put in the hatcheries, the baby salmon, the salmon fry, are hatched out and put back in the river. All the time the river has to be closely protected from two-legged and four-legged and web-footed "enemy agents". And all that time the salmon are treated like a farm crop. They are nursed and protected through every stage of development until they return as fully grown fish five years later, when the coast nets have a chance of catching them, whilst those that survive are caught on rod and line, no doubt a method which your Lordships approve of much more than the idea of hauling them out by net and sending them down to feed London's large stomach.
If these salmon stations go out of production, there will be no question at all that salmon will be much scarcer and not more numerous. There will be a great deal of inshore poaching, which to-day is largely prevented by the activities of those employed in the netting stations, who take good care that there is no interference which would play havoc with their livelihood. I should like to tell your Lordships—I do not think it is any secret—of the netting company to which I belong, the Moray Firth Salmon Fisheries, which employs 190 men, who are all crofters. They are the best type of men we can breed in the Highlands. They have seasonal work in the fisheries as well as on the land, without which they would certainly drift into the towns or move south and be lost to the Highlands. If my noble friend Lord Strathclyde was in any way sincere, and I am sure he was, when we had the debate on Scottish unemployment yesterday, I feel sure that he would be the last person to wish to see an industry closing down which has splendid people looking after it.
This small company of which I am a director lost a good deal of money last year. Its wages bill runs to £25,000. How are we going to begin to face the future when the prices of materials and wages are mounting all the time (nets are a very expensive item) and when the price of salmon is falling—and it will fall still further? It means that we are going 1151 to have no netting stations working in Scotland and have the English fish markets flooded with Japanese salmon or fish imported from other countries. I hope that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde will reconsider a decision which was taken in a hurry and which, I feel there is no harm in my saying, was taken without an opportunity for full discussion. A hasty conference was held at St. Andrew's House, Edinburgh, but the netting representatives had hardly time to marshal their facts or attend.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, I would give my full support to what has already been said about salmon fishing in Scotland. If these fisheries are re-rated, it will merely mean that another depopulation nail has been driven into the coffin of the Highlands and the more remote areas in Scotland.
My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, I should like to say one thing: that is, that all my life (it is getting rather long now, I am afraid) I have heard complaints of the rating system in Scotland in precisely the same terms as those used by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, a few minutes ago. I feel that the re-rating of industry is a backward step, unless it can be justified by Her Majesty's Government in much more convincing terms than I have heard.
THE MARQUESS OF ABERDEEN AND TEMAIR
My Lords, I should like to say that every speech made this afternoon has my sincere support, because all that has been said is as true as can be. I think that we ought to help Scotland the best we can and make things more easy for those who really support the welfare of Scotland.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, we have had a number of very interesting speeches in the course of this debate and I will endeavour to the best of my ability to reply to the points that were made. The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, spoke of the difference between the Bill which we are discussing this afternoon and that which your Lordships discussed on Second Reading a week ago applicable to England. The noble Lord pointed out that the English Bill dealt with local government reorganisation. I would say to the noble Lord that, so far as I have 1152 been able to discover, there is no great enthusiasm among local authorities in Scotland to-day for a reorganisation of the present system; at any rate, if such enthusiasm exists, I have been unable to find it.
The noble Lord asked why, in spite of all the explanations that have been given, public anxiety still exists. But I do not know that it does. It certainly should not exist, I suggest, in the mind of any fair-minded person who has read and studied Clause 2 of the Bill. As I said in my opening remarks, surely no Government could give a fairer explanation of what they intend to do. I cannot understand how it can be said that this Bill tightens rather than loosens control.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, and the noble Earls, Lord Elgin and Lord Dundee, have spoken on the subject of re-rating. I thought that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, really answered the other speeches made on the subject. After all, one has to consider not only the ratepayer but the taxpayer also: we have to try to hold the balance fairly between the two. If industry has to be re-rated, then surely the taxpayer should get some relief, as in fact he will under the Bill. For, as I said, half of the total sum that will accrue as the result of re-rating will go to the Exchequer to recompense the Exchequer for the tax lost in consequence of this re-rating. That is also the answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, about why the local authorities will get only part of the total that will accrue as a result of re-rating.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, spoke also about industry being re-rated to 100 per cent., which he considered would be just. He said that the local authorities have to provide services for industry, and therefore they should be re-rated to 100 per cent. That, of course, is not strictly correct. After all, industry does not benefit very much from the education rate; and there are other matters. too. that perhaps will occur to the minds of noble Lords. What puzzles me about anyone who has taken such an active part in local government as the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, has, is how he can have anxiety about the future of education because of this general grant. It would 1153 seem to me that anyone expressing that view can have little real trust in the local education authorities, because, after all, the ball is at their feet; the money is there, and they can use it is they will. If the noble Lord feels doubts as to the future of education, it can only be because he fears that the local education authorities will not put the money given to them to the purpose of education to the extent they have done hitherto.
§ LORD GREENHILL
I always hesitate to interrupt a speaker when he is summing up a debate, and I certainly will not say anything which will introduce new argument or elaborate something that I have already said. However, I think the anxiety of those interested in education should be made clear. They feel not only that education as a service may suffer, but that in these times, when we all admit that inflation is part of the increased total of cost, the danger is that if the Government alone are to determine the amount then the scope of education will suffer. The Government's answer, I confess, is a reasonable one, because they determine standards and they control the rate of development. The criticism is that the local authorities want to be able to exercise that function and that right on their own, and not have to depend wholly, as they will, on the good will of any Government which happens to be in power.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
I thank the noble Lord for that explanation, but I do not quite follow it, in view of what I said in my opening remarks about the matters that would be taken into consideration in arriving at the total sum of the general grant. It may be that I have some little sympathy with the noble Lord when he speaks of the desirability of a change to ad hoc education committees.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
Perhaps more than that I had better not say. It may also be an interesting speculation whether local authorities would really welcome a reduction in their numbers. I must confess that when the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, spoke, I felt that he was a little half-hearted in his praise of the Bill; and indeed, he confirmed that later in his remarks. I do not know what 1154 more proof we can give than is contained in the Bill itself, arid in the White Papers the Government have issued, about our extreme desire to give local authorities the fairest possible deal we can. That has been our wish and our intention, and I hope that the noble Earl, after considering the matter further, may feel that we have at least gone some little way towards securing that.
I think the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, is quite correct in saying that the local authorities are unappreciative of the Government's generosity, but I have never known them to be wholly satisfied where the question of money is concerned. I realise his anxiety in relation to the re-rating of industry. I believe that if we can take a middle course between the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, and those expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, the Government may come out at about centre, and at the end of the day it may be felt, as I suggested earlier on, that they have arrived at the right total. I agree that the problem of local authority finance is one very difficult of solution and one that is likely to remain with us for a considerable time.
I sincerely thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, for the generous terms in which he spoke in support of the Bill. It was rather heartening that one Member of your Lordships' House, at least, should give the Government such support. I feel that the analogy which he gave between 1929 and 1958 may well prove to be correct, and that at the end of the day this Bill will be found to be of real benefit to the local authorities and, therefore, to local government throughout our country. The noble Duke asked me a question which is of considerable importance to local authorities, and I will endeavour, so far as I can, to make the situation a little clearer than I left it earlier on.
The point I want to make is how and when each local authority will know the amount of general grant it is to receive each year; and that obviously is of importance to local authorities. General grant orders, as I tried to explain earlier, will be made in advance for periods of two or three years, and they will be laid before another place for approval. But orders will not specify the sums payable 1155 to individual authorities. It will not be possible to do that until the total amount of the grant has been approved. I can tell your Lordships that I hope that the first order will be made in December next, and will be debated either in that month or in January, 1959.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
No, it is a matter for the other place, dealing with money. After approval of the order it will be possible to proceed with the calculation of the effect on each authority. This involves making the necessary adjustments provided for in the Third Schedule to the Bill and working out the distribution on the basis of the Second Schedule; estimating the additional rateable value arising from the partial re-rating of industry, estimating the effect of the changes on the equalisation grant; and, finally, calculating the transitional arrangements. Obviously, these calculations will take some time, but so far as can be foreseen at this moment we should be able to give the local authorities by the end of February, at the latest, the first estimate of the general grant they will receive. That will still be some two and a half months before the beginning of the local government financial year. It will not be possible to give local authorities at the same time the same details for the second year of the grant period, although as the aggregate amount of the grant for that year will be known the local authorities will have a broad indication of how they will fare. The reasons why we cannot make the detailed calculation for the second year in advance are that different figures of population and schoolchildren have to be used each year and that the Third Schedule adjustments will also differ from year to year.
I should like to join with the noble Duke in the tribute of appreciation which he gave to those who give so much of their time and energy to the service of our country in local government. I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, a moment ago that we should not 1156 have an opportunity of debating the general grant orders, but on the other hand, as I pointed out earlier, the House will be able to debate the White Paper which is presented with the order if they so wish.
My Lords, we had two very interesting speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Colville of Culross and Lord Lovat. I would assure them that the Government's earnest desire is to maintain the population in our rural areas, and we are doing all we can to that end. I hope, therefore, that re-rating will not, as they say, strike a deadly blow at our salmon fisheries. In that connection I would say to the House that the history of this matter is somewhat complicated, but for most rates levied before 1929 salmon fisheries received no relief and were not associated with agriculture for rating purposes. De-rating to 25 per cent., on the same basis as industry, was introduced for the first time in 1929. There is no similar de-rating for salmon net fisheries in England and Wales, although I admit that the positions in the two countries are not entirely comparable. Under the Bill the rateable value of salmon fisheries, like that of other industrial subjects, will be doubled. The Government have considered very carefully the representations made on behalf of the salmon net fisheries, that their liability to rates should not be increased but should even be reduced, but I regret to inform your Lordships that they have not felt that any sufficiently substantial case has been made out for making special provision in the Bill for salmon fisheries. Having said that, I would add this to the noble Lord, Lord Lovat. He spoke about hurried consultations and being unable to get together all the relevant facts. If the noble Lord has other information which he would like to put forward, I shall be very glad to consider it. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate for the helpful contributions they have made.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.