§ (In the Committee.)
§ Upon the return of the CHAIRMAN, after the usual interval—
§ *THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. GRAHAM MURRAY,) Buteshire
The Committee will remember that two years ago a certain sum of money was given 288 to England by the Agricultural Rates. Relief Act, that sum being calculated upon half the amount of the total agricultural rates in England. At that time the amount of money which in the same year for kindred purposes was voted to Scotland was determined by what I may call the equivalent grant ratio of eleven-eightieths of the money which had been voted to England. This year, as the Committee are aware, there is a Bill before the House under which a pecuniary subvention is given to Ireland calculated, not in respect to any ratio as existing between Ireland and 289 the sum of money devoted in England under the Act to which I have referred, but upon the same basis as the English Bill—namely, one-half of the total agricultural rates raised in Ireland. Now, it was obvious, of course, that if the provision for Scotland had been allowed to remain upon the footing of two years ago, Scotland would certainly have fared much the worse of the three kingdoms. Accordingly, as honourable Members are aware, at an early period of the present Session a promise was given by my right honourable Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Scottish claim should be considered on the same basis, as that which had been given effect to, first in the English, and, secondly, in the Irish grants. Accordingly, the amount of money which I shall recommend the Committee to give will put the Scottish upon the same footing as the English and the Irish. The amount of money the honourable Members will find when they see the Bill will perhaps strike them at the first moment with a certain sense of unfamiliarity, although I think a few words of explanation will make them see how it is. The proportion of the money to be given to Scotland is seven-sixteenths. Now, the way we arrive at the seven-sixteenths is this: at the first sight it is a curious figure, but, of course, the sum which we have already got, and continue to get from year to year under the Bill of two years ago, was calculated upon the basis of the eleven-eightieths of the English grant. That is taken as a credit entry, as it were, and all that we can expect to get now is the difference between that sum and the full half of the sum received from Scotland upon the agricultural rates. Now, I daresay honourable Members will remember that there is this difference between Scotland and England. In Scotland buildings are rated along with the agricultural land, but in England the buildings are separated from the agricultural land. Therefore, if you give Scotland the whole half of the agricultural rate, you would be giving Scotland more than you would be giving England. Now, the calculation which was made at the time of the English Act was that the buildings represented one-eighth of the 290 total valuation. Therefore, inasmuch as we are remitting one-half of that sum, and one-half of one-eighth is one-sixteenth, deducting that from one-half of the rate, that leaves seven-sixteenths. That is done in order to make it absolutely equal with the English demand, and to secure exactly the balance of the English sum. Now that, I think, is all I really need say as to the sum of money which it is proposed here should be voted.
*MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
Of course, I cannot tell the exact sum, for this reason: we do not know at the present time what the owners rate is, but, according to the calculations which we have made, and which we have no doubt are nearly accurate, the total sum will be £95,000, and under that proposal the Scotch will receive identical treatment, so far as the amount is concerned, with England.
§ *MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
No; only so far as the money is concerned which is paid. That is all that is done in the Irish Act. That is one of the accidents of legislation. We are getting no more and no less than the Irish get under the Irish Act. Now, passing from the amount, I come next to the distribution, and no doubt whenever any person has sums of money to distribute he is put into a position of some difficulty, not from any lack of claimants, but from their excessive number, and the object, of course, which is always to be kept in view is really to select what one may call the preferential claimants before relief can be given; but I think honourable Members will agree that there is one consideration which, in allocating benefits, will always be 291 paramount, and that is to carry out any obligations which have already been entered into. There are such preliminary obligations to a certain class of people in this case. I am not speaking of extra-Parliamentary obligations, and I daresay that honourable Members know perfectly well to what I am referring, because it has been mentioned during this Session on this Bill. In the Act of two years ago, passed for the relief of the agricultural rates in Scotland, it was expected that on the ratio of eleven-eightieths of the English grant—the calculation of the Scotch Office had to be made upon that basis—the amount derived, which would be available for Scotland, would be £187,000. Of this, £180,000 was to go to the relief of the agricultural rates—that is, the occupiers' rates under the Act of two years ago, with which, no doubt, honourable Members are familiar. As a matter of fact, instead of £187,000 becoming available, only £160,000 was produced on the basis of the eleven-eightieths of the English grant—that is to say, the estimate upon which we proceeded at that time, based on the English amount of money, was over-estimated, and, in fact, £160,000 was the net result, instead of £180,000. The result of that was that, whereas, under the provisions of the Bill, the rating authorities were entitled to be relieved by some 12s. 6d. in the £, there has only been money enough to pay them 11s, Under those circumstances, I can scarcely doubt that the Committee will agree with me that this is a matter of obligation rather than of anything else, and that the first claim upon this money is to carry out what is neither more nor less than a Parliamentary contract with the rating authorities, and to supply this deficiency of money, so as to put them in the same situation as the effect of the calculation of 1896 would have done originally, if it had been correct. Honourable Members will find that the first distribution is—to pay £20,000 among the county councils and parish councils in Scotland, in addition to the amount they receive under the principal Act.Now, passing from that, we have to come to the question of how the residue of the money is to be expended. For a long time there has been a growing sense in the country of 292 the inadequacy of the Imperial contribution to the local authorities towards the pay and clothing of the police. Honourable Members will remember that the history of the Imperial subvention to the police force has been this: during the years up to 1889 the first subvention hat was given was first about a quarter and then a half of the expense of the police; up to 1889 it was put upon the Vote, and the last year that the money appeared upon the Vote was in 1888–89, when the expenditure for the police in Scotland was £308,067, and the grant from the Imperial Exchequer was £154,034, which, as honourable Members will see, was about half. Now it will be remembered that the local taxation account was started under the Act of 1888, and those who were in the House at the time will remember also that, so far as 1888 was concerned, there were temporary arrangements in that Act. The Local Government Act, 1889, stereotyped that the sum of £155,000 should be the contribution which was to be made by the Imperial Treasury to the police force. That was, in round figures, what had been the amount upon the Vote in the year before. Since that time the expenditure on the police has steadily and continuously increased. The figures in 1889 were £308,000. I need not read the whole of the figures to the House, but the amount has been steadily rising in a gradual ratio, and in 1896–97 the expenditure was £369,849, with the result that what was in 1888–89 a relief of, practically, 10s. in the £ is in 1896–97 a relief of only 8s. 5d. That matter does not quite stop with the mere statement of those figures, although the figures speak for themselves; but there is a particular grievance which is associated with this grant, and that is this: as a matter of fact, we may congratulate ourselves that we have had no particular outbreaks of disorder in Scotland, and there has been no increase of the police in Scotland, except that which is necessary owing to the increase of the population which has gone on, and which is an index of the prosperity of the country; but the result is, the increase of the police has taken place mostly in the large cities and mining districts, where the population has increased very rapidly. The effect is very hard upon what may be 293 called the poorer counties, because the counties which have had no increase of police have, nevertheless, got less of the grant which they formerly received from the Imperial Exchequer. Accordingly, it would appear that a very proper use to which to put some of this money would be to more or less restore what I may look upon as the ideal equilibrium of 1888–89, so that we may get back to the original idea of Imperial subvention to the extent of one-half. We do not propose to go the whole length of £30,000, which would be one-half. We only propose in this case to give £25,000 for the purpose of the subvention of the police force. Those are two heads of distribution of the money. Now I come to the third, upon which, in this Committee, I need say very few words. For years there has been a request that something should be done in the fishery interests, and honourable Members know perfectly well that over and over again there have been complaints that sufficient money has not been given to the policing of the sea-coasts of Scotland. Honourable Members may be aware that this policing of the fisheries districts in England fell upon the local rates, and that seems quite a proper expenditure to charge on what I may rightly look upon as Scotch money. We have got from the Treasury recently a contribution in the shape of the price of two extra vessels which are proposed to be used for the policing of the Scotch fisheries, and for the purposes of that it is intended to allocate a sum of £15,000 a year. That will not interfere with the fisheries Vote generally. In point of fact, the only item which will come off that Vote is maintenance, and anything else, for one cruiser. Now that leaves a balance to be distributed of £35,000, and we propose to devote that balance of £35,000 to the furtherance of secondary and technical education, including agricultural education. I would remind the Committee how the present sums available for secondary and technical education, including agricultural education, are paid in Scotland. I am speaking of Imperial sources now, because such local contributions as there are have nothing to do with this point. Under the Education and Local Taxation Act of 1892 there is fixed sum available of £60,660. That as honourable Members will remember 294 was taken out of the estate duty, formerly he probate duty. There is a certain proportion out of the Customs and Excise duties, under the provisions of the Local taxation and Excise Act of 1890. I night point out that under the provisions if that Act there is a fixed payment to police subvention, and to relieve school fees of children up to the compulsory standard, and sanitary officers, and then a fluctuating payment to pleuro-pneumonia account, and then a balance which goes to the counties and burghs in relief of the county and burgh rates, or to secondary and technical education, at he option of the county or burgh. Now, all those who are interested, or who have any particular cognisance of the working of the secondary education of Scotland, will know that one of the great disadvantages that the education authorities have had to cope with has been the uncertainty of the amount with which they had to deal. There are two causes which lead to the uncertainty: one, the option as between education and rates, and the other the far more difficult one with which to deal, of the fluctuating demands of the pleuro-pneumonia account. Honourable Members may not be aware that the basis of the pleuro-pneumonia account was this: provisions were made by the Board of Agriculture for stamping out pleuro-pneumonia to which Ireland has made no contribution at all, but to which England and Scotland contributed out of the local taxation account, the amount paid by Scotland being twelve hundredths of the amount spent year by year. The payments for the pleuro-pneumonia account have increased year by year. In 1894–95 they were £108,000, and in 1896–97 £144,000, with, of course the corresponding effect upon the balances available for technical and secondary education. And although counties and burghs have acted very fairly upon the whole, education had found itself indubitably crippled by these accounts and the uncertainty of the money. We wish now, so far as we can, to remedy that, and we propose to remedy it not only by giving this £35,000 under the Bill—a very substantial contribution—but we also propose to incorporate in the Bill a small reform. We propose to transfer the charge of the pleuro-pneumonia account, on 295 the balance provided under the Customs and Excise Act of 1890, from that account, and impose it on the balance of the education and local taxation account. Now, observe, these two balances are paid to exactly the same authority. They are both paid to the counties and burghs, but the purposes are rather different. Under the Education and Local Taxation Acts of 1892 the balance is distributed to the counties and burghs—half according to valuation and half according to population, to be used for a statutory purpose or scheme of public utility or in relief of rates. But, as a fact, nearly all the money has gone in relief of rates. Consequently, by this we shall transfer the risk of pleuro-pneumonia to the relief of the rates rather than education. Therefore, whatever we do under the Act, we shall indubitably free secondary education from that account, and it will be no more affected by the pleuro-pneumonia account. Then, as to the amount of money taken, in 1896–97 the sum actually available was £48,073. To that must be added the sum set free by the pleuro-pneumonia account being transferred elsewhere, and to that you have to add the fixed sum of £60,000, which I previously mentioned. So that in the future the sums available for the purposes of secondary education will be £60,000, £48,000, £14,000, displaced from the pleuro-pneumonia account, and the £35,000 which we give under the Bill.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
The £48,000 and the £14,000 would, as I understand, still be subject to the option of the local authorities as to whether it should be used for rates or education.
§ *MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
That is so; we cannot help that. But my right honourable Friend will remember that, speaking in the rough, the money has mostly been devoted to technical education. I think I can give him what he wants to know. Taking the 1894–95 accounts, first of all, out of the pleuro-pneumonia account, there was £39,295, which was available under the option, and the amount actually spent was £35,214.
§ *MR. GRAHAM MURRAY
Yes; and in 1895–96 the sum available was £39,262, and the amount expended was £34,291. Speaking generally, I think I was fairly right in what I said. Of course, I do not want to make any mistake. My right honourable Friend, of course, remembers it has nothing to do with the amount spent in relief of the rates under the other balance—the balance to which we are now putting the pleuro-pneumonia. Take the year 1896–97, the total amount available was £189,183. I have not got the figures as to what was spent, but I take it that most of it was spent in relief of rates. I think I have shown that where the burghs and county councils have fairly acted up to what my right honourable Friend would consider their duty, and really given these sums to education, and if that is so, surely they will be much more inclined to do so if you set before them what this Bill does set before them—a good chance of having proper secondary education. Because I think we may fairly hope to give this large increase of money, and take away the fluctuating quantity which has so much crippled education, and the effect of that will be to give an incentive to secondary and technical education, and will be the means of getting the local authorities to devote to that purpose all the moneys they can afford. Honourable Members will remember at the present moment there are representative committees, and I think the result of those committees will be to strengthen the position. So far as agricultural education is concerned, there has, up to the present, only been £2,000 a year devoted to that by a somewhat indirect and inadequate method, and that goes to the support of four establishments. Under this scheme we hope that sum will be increased. The particular way in which these sums will be distributed will be in such a manner and according to such conditions as are set forth by the Scotch Education Department. The object of the Department will be to consolidate effort, and to get the thing into central hands. This Bill makes such adequate provision to those centres as will greatly improve the cause of secondary and technical education in Scotland. Those are the provisions, which I hope I have explained with sufficient clearness, but the subject is rather 297 technical. To summarise what I have already said, the sum of money is given in precisely the same way as that given upon the Agricultural Rating Act. The estimated amount to come to Scotland is £95,000, and we expend that, £20,000 by making good the deficiency which already exists under the old Act, £25,000 in aid of the police, £15,000 in aid of the fisheries interest, and £35,000 in aid of technical and agricultural education.
§ Resolution put.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
The right honourable Gentleman, has explained to the House, with all his usual clearness, the very intricate position of affairs, and I am sure that the intricacy of it must have so struck the honourable Members who are at present in the House—there are not many—that they would not be altogether surprised, considering the importance of this Resolution, and the subsequent legislation that will follow upon it, if I rise mainly for the purpose of suggesting that this Debate should be adjourned in order that Scottish Members and the Scottish people should have an opportunity of thoroughly realising and comprehending what is set before them. I would say this, upon the whole position we have suffered for the last 10 or 12 years beyond what could have been conceived before to have been possible from these complicated accounts. Sometimes we proceed upon a fixed proportion by which Scotland gets 11–80ths of something else. At another time the system is followed of finding out what the real wants of the country are, and endeavouring to find a means of relieving those wants. Sometimes we are led to entertain a certain suspicion that whenever a method would entail the least cost to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and which, therefore, gave the least advantage to our country, that was the one which was adopted. It is natural that we should have that suspicion, although I have no doubt that the right honourable Gentleman will explain that there is no justification whatever for it. In England we give the sum upon a certain Vote. We give a certain sum to Scotland in relief of agricultural rates upon that fixed proportion. Then we 298 turn to Ireland and give it upon the merits of the question, and now we come back to Scotland, to redress the injustice which she is supposed to have suffered; but I do not know that we have improved our position in the three countries. Because, if I am not wrong, the relief that England receives is only given for five years, and the relief now advocated for Scotland is only given for five years, but in the case of Ireland it is given for ever and aye. It may be right or it may be wrong, but it is hardly a redressing of the balance between the three countries. That is a subject upon which so much has been said and which has been so much before this House, that I need not dwell upon it to-night. Now, the right honourable Gentleman has stated how he proposes to deal with this £95,000 a year, and he has enumerated certain objects to which the Government intend to devote it. I at once say that some of those objects have our entire sympathy, and we have upon various occasions always protested, in the name of Scotch opinion, so far as we are entitled to represent it, against sums of money of that kind being dangled before us and thrown to the mere relief of the rates instead of being bestowed upon some definite useful purpose, such as the Scottish people have at heart. Now, the first object to which the right honourable Gentleman referred was to make up the deficiency in the previous relief given to rates whereby certain parishes have not received the relief which was intended all parishes should receive. At last we have heard that the Act operates unequally, and one fact to which the right honourable Gentleman attributes this unfortunate state of things whereby the intention of Parliament was not carried out, is that to some extent the Bill happened to be passed in a hurry at the end of the Session, and therefore the calculations were not so accurate as they might have been. Now, I would venture to urge that as a warning and as a reason why we should not be too hasty in passing matters of this kind which are now before us, if a little further consideration might enable us to avoid such a mistake as that. I am sure that when we come to deal with the matter after a little consideration of it we shall be inclined to ask that the whole question should be held 299 over for a few months, which will be no loss to anyone, but will give us that great advantage of knowing what the people of Scotland would wish to be done with this large sum of money; so far as that sum is required to make good the promise which was made a year or two ago, I confess there is a case for it. Then I come to the large sum of £25,000 which the right honourable Gentleman proposes to give in aid of the cost of the police, and he says he gives that because that expenditure of the police has gradually but steadily increased in late years. But does he not see the expense of the police has increased precisely in proportion as these subsidies have increased, and that it is since this system of large subsidies has been so freely introduced extravagance has followed in the administration, so far as the police services are concerned, and, therefore, it comes to us for a still greater grant every day. That is the objection I have always had to grants in aid, because I think they are opposed to economical administration. I will not say anything in respect to the fisheries policy, but pass on to the larger question of technical education. I congratulate the right honourable Gentleman upon his proposal, not only to give this considerable sum of £35,000 for this purpose, but also upon his further proposal to make the sum at present available under the previous Act a more fixed sum and take away from the pleuro-pneumonia grant. That is one of the effects of the proposal of the right honourable Gentleman which I look upon with great favour, and I could only hope that more of this money went in that direction, but perhaps we may yet coax and induce the right honourable Gentleman in some way to alter his figures in that respect. I began by proposing that the Debate might be adjourned, and therefore will say no more upon the merits of the course which I and my honourable Friends may be disposed to take regarding this matter. This, I am quite aware, is only a preliminary Committee, and I am further aware from what the right honourable Gentleman has said that we shall not be fully acquainted with all these proposals until we see the Bill, and we cannot see the Bill until we have passed this Resolution in Committee. At the same time 300 we have had experience of cases in which when we came to discuss a Bill of this nature we found we were sorely hampered by the fact that we had previously agreed to the Resolution. It is with this fear before us that I now venture to move that the Debate may now be adjourned.
*THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHECHEQUER
I do not rise to oppose the adjournment which the right honourable Gentleman has moved, because I understand there is a general desire that that should be agreed to, but I must take some exception, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, to the observations with which the right honourable Gentleman has coupled it. He suggests that even in this Resolution we are not dealing fairly by Scotland.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
No; what I said was, that when we find this tendency to Change from one system of calculation to another, year after year, we naturally imagine that there must be a reason for it.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
We have proposed to change one system of calculation for another because it was distinctly to the advantage of Scotland, and therefore I think such observations as those of the right honourable Gentleman are unfair to the Exchequer. What is the position? No exception was made in 1896 to the proposal that certain grants should be made from the Exchequer in relief of English agricultural rates, and that corresponding sums in the proportions of 80, 11, 9, should be granted to Scotland and Ireland. No exception was made by Scotland to that proposition, but exception was taken in Ireland, and the result is that in order to introduce an entirely new system of local government in Ireland, we have agreed, after further consideration, to deal with the matter in Ireland upon the same basis as in England, and provide half the rate of agricultural land from the Exchequer. Therefore there is a reason for similar treatment being given to Scotland; but Scotland does not demand that she should be treated in that way. Scotland does not demand that half the agricultural rates shall be paid by the Exchequer. The right 301 honourable Gentleman would not support such a proposition as that, nor do I believe would it be supported by any Scotchman here. Looking at it from a purely logical point of view—as we are bound to look at all Scotch matters—I cannot see upon what grounds Scotland can claim to be treated as if she wished to have half the agricultural rate paid out of the Exchequer when she does not desire it. She wants the money, but she wants to apply it to some other purpose, and when my right honourable Friend the Lord Advocate, acting in a spirit of the utmost generosity, proposes that instead of half the agricultural rate being paid by the Exchequer, Scotland shall have the same amount of money devoted to other purposes, which are, so far as I can gather, not at all objected to; the right honourable Gentleman will not allow the Resolution to proceed, which must be the foundation of the Bill, because he says they may possibly desire to apply it to some other purpose. Indeed, he has suggested that Scotland might take the money and apply it to no purpose at all. I always interfere with Scotch matters with the utmost timidity, but I interfered in this matter because, if the Scotch representatives are not willing to take the money for the purpose for which it has been given to the other two countries, and are not able to decide for what purposes it should be used, and yet want the money, it does seem to me to be a very doubtful proposition whether the money should be given from the Exchequer at all.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)
I cannot understand by what logic the right honourable Gentleman has arrived at his last conclusion. I cannot see the logic of his last observation. As I understand we are to have this money because we are entitled to it.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
This is one of two alternative methods of doing justice to Scotland as compared with England and Ireland. Whether it does her justice I leave to the English Members to consider. It is not Scotland or Ireland which is being treated unfairly, but England by this lopsided arrangement. But 302 granted that Scotland is entitled to something equivalent, how does that form an objection to my right honourable Friend's proposal. Speaking, as he does, for all the Scotch Members on this side of the House, his demand is that this question shall be postponed for further consideration. Why? Because, if we allow the Resolution to be passed, we should be hampered when we discussed the Bill.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
I only wish to make it clear that we make that demand lest we find our hands are tied by passing this Resolution.
§ SIR W. WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)
desired to know whether any portion of the money allocated to the fisheries could be used for the purposes of the harbours?
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That it is expedient to authorise the annual payment, out of the Consolidated Fund, during the continuance of the Agricultural Bates, Congested Districts and Burgh Land Tax Relief (Scotland) Act, 1896, of sums to the Local Taxation (Scotland) Account, equal to the difference between the sums payable to that account under section 3 of the said Act, and a sum equivalent to seven-sixteenths of the total amount certified by the Secretary for Scotland as the amount to be taken as having been raised by rates by county councils and parish councils from the owners and occupiers of agricultural lands and heritages as defined in the said Act during the year ended the 15th day of May, 1896; and also to make provision for the distribution and application of such sums—
§ Debate arising.303
Motion made, and Question put—
That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.)
§ Agreed to.
§ Committee reported Progress; to sit again to-morrow.