rose to ask His Majesty's Government what relief is to be given to ratepayers in view of the admission made in this House that the education rates are so heavy as to constitute a distinct hardship in certain parishes in Scotland; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, last year I put down a Question with regard to the working of the Educational Act for Scotland and the very grievous burden imposed upon the ratepayers. I will not now go through the arguments I then used, but I pointed out that two years ago —I am taking as an example only one parish with which I am well acquainted—the School Board rate was £240 for the year. Last year, when I was Chairman of the Parish Council, I was horrified to get a demand note for £1,797, an increase of nearly 800 per cent. There were only forty-five children in the parish, and it worked out at about £40 per child, as
compared with a general expenditure over the whole county of £9. The noble Lord who replied on behalf of the Government informed me that the matter would be looked into. I demurred to the whole principle of the system of rating involved. The noble Lord, in his answer, used these words—
"This substitution of the county for the parish as the administrative and rating unit for education is a foundation principle of the Act and cannot be departed from; but there is no doubt that its general application, particularly in the case of sparsely populated agricultural or pastoral parishers merged in a unit mainly industrial in character, constitutes a grievance amounting in certain cases to hardship. Such cases are engaging the attention of the Department with a view, if possible, to devising some suitable form of relief."
I was glad to have that reply, and was hopeful that there would be a reduction in the sum to be levied on the parish in question. This year, however, the demand note, instead of being for £1,797 is for £3,100 odd—for the education of forty-five children. The parish has to collect this sum of money but has very little, if any, control over its expenditure. It seems to me that this is a distinct evil.
I might mention that the landowners in Scotland have to pay one-half the rate imposed whereas in England the rate falls entirely on the occupiers. In Scotland the landowner has to pay half of the whole of the rates. You now have more than one taxing authority in the country; you have the Imperial authorities; you have your county council and parochial taxing authorities; and, in addition, you have the education authority, who, no doubt, have to carry out the terms of the Education Act, but who fix a rate quite irrespective of what the wretched ratepayer has already had to pay for living in this country. It has therefore become a crushing evil rather than a hardship. I hope that the noble Lord who answers this question will be able to give some indication that this evil will receive some measure of redress. This Act was passed during the war, in 1918, at a time when public attention was directed to events in France and elsewhere, and the Act then passed constitutes an enormous burden which has to be borne by a comparatively small section of the public.
It seems to me to be an absolute violation of the principle of "No taxation without representation." There is even no power of protesting—at least, no power of protesting successfully, against the imposition of this heavy burden. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, observed that it was very cheap indeed to secure peace and good will among the people of the country by an expenditure of £2,500,000. But every bureaucrat says the same thing. "Give me this money," he says, "and I will produce, a new world." I have just had sent to me the account given when the new rating assessment was being discussed in Lanarkshire. That marked the whole tone of the discussion—that you would be preventing social war in the future. Whether you will achieve that by imposing these education rates on a small section of the public I do not know. It is very unjust in its incidence, and, if the whole of the country is to benefit by the expenditure, then the whole of the country ought to bear the burden, which should not be placed upon a very small number. I hope that the Secretary for Scotland will make good the promise that where there are cases of real hardship the grievance will be inquired into and redress will be given.
My Lords, I desire to support everything that the noble Lord has said. We in Scotland, living in very widely scattered areas, are suffering most severely from this Education Act. In the part of the country in which I am interested our education rate has risen 300 per cent.
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Lamington for his courtesy in postponing this Motion until to-day. Since the discussion in your Lordships' House to which reference has been made the situation has been considerably altered by two circumstances. The first is the payment since that date, that is, in March and April of this year, to education authorities in all parts of Scotland of a sum of over £900,000, to be applied in the first place to the extinction of the debit balances taken over from the outgoing school boards, and the balance (some £300,000) to be credited to the relative parish council as against any assessment made, or to be made, on them by the education authority under Section 13 of the Act of 1918.The second is the concession, not to all authorities but to the necessitous Highland counties of special percentages (60, 75 and 80), of the "approved expenditure as" grant, instead of the normal 50 per cent. This concession is estimated to have added some £130,000 to the income of the Highland counties from sources other than rates, and correspondingly reduced the necessary rate levy. It is obvious that these additional grants must have had a considerable effect on the situation as it stood in December, 1919, and the information of the Scottish Office is that in the Highland counties, at all events, the cases of special hardship in comparison with the rates payable in 1918–19 have largely, if not wholly, disappeared. But the facts cannot be accurately ascertained until the statements of expenditure of the education authorities for the year 1919–20 have been received and examined. These statements were due to be received by June 28 of this year, but many of them are still outstanding. As regards the current year the normal grant payable to education authorities in terms of the Minute of June 28 last is estimated to exceed the grant payable last year in terms of the Minute of December 9, 1919, by at least £500,000. This increase of grant should pro tanlo reduce or eliminate cases of special hardship, but when the amount assessable on individual parishes has been ascertained, which cannot be for some time yet, the matter will be carefully gone into with the full knowledge of the facts. It will then become apparent whether in individual parishes the education rate is so heavy as to constitute a distinct hardship, and whether, or how far, further relief may be given in these cases.
My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord for his reply. I hope his concluding remarks mean that something is going to be done, and that it is not going to flicker out in mere words. The noble Lord says, "special hardship." It is a wide term, and I do not know what interpretation is to be put upon it; I hope it will be a very liberal interpretation. I gather from the figures he has given that there will be an additional grant of £500,000 for, I presume, the last year. Reading from the account of the meeting to which I have already referred I see that the chairman, Sir Henry Keith, said that next year £1,000,000 additional grant is expected to be available. Therefore, I presume that the half-million grant for the last year will be insufficient. But these remarks are made without any real testing of the figures, for which I have had no time. I hope the noble Lord will put pressure upon the Scottish Office, so that something may be done, because there is a growing feeling of resentment against the rapid increase of the education rate. The noble Lord, Lord Sempill, spoke of an increase of 300 percent., but in my part of Scotland the increase is 1,200 per cent., as compared with two years ago.
House adjourned at ten minutes before one o'clock.