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Public Libraries (Scotland) Bill

Volume 41: debated on Wednesday 4 August 1920

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Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

My Lords, the main purpose of this Bill is to increase the maximum limit of the rate leviable in Scotland for the provision and maintenance of public libraries. Under the Public Libraries Consolidation (Scotland) Act, 1887 (which is an adoptive Act) the maximum rate which can be levied for library purposes is a rate of ld. in the £. Owing to the greatly increased cost of maintaining libraries under present-day conditions, a rate of ld. in the £ is, in most places, insufficient to provide the necessary funds. The Bill raises the maximum rate from 1d. in the £ to a rate of 3d. in the £, with the possibility of a further increase of 3d. in the £. with the sanction of the Secretary for Scotland, or the Scottish Board of Health, according as the rating authority is a town council or a parish council. In view of the increase of the rate, the opportunity has been taken of providing that in future the accounts of the library committees shall be audited along with, and as part of, the accounts of the rating authorities concerned. An Act was passed last Session which removed the rating limit in England, and a Bill relating to Irish libraries similar to this one passed through its final stages in your Lordships' House last night.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.(Lord Stanmore).

My Lords, my noble friend has stated that this Bill practically means an increase in the rate for public libraries in Scotland to the extent of six times what it is now. As your Lordships well know, we have great professions of economy, but they are very seldom carried out. The idea now seems to be that every one is to economise except public officials and public Departments. A short time ago there was another Bill before your Lordships which was only for a penny rate, and that Bill was rejected. Your Lordships will recollect that we were informed that the Government had great sympathy with that Bill and had even given it facilities in another place, but when it came to the vote most of your Lordships present were pleaded to see a great thirst for economy on the part of the greater number of the members of the Government present at that time, and they overruled their great sympathy for the measure and voted against the Second Reading. I believe that if there was a free vote on this Bill, the same result would be seen. Not only is our Income Tax one of 12s. in the £ at present, but there are also separate Income Taxes such as Mining Royalties, and in the present Budget there is a tax on company profits and on corporations, and these taxes are, to all practical purposes, income taxes over and above those imposed during the last year or two. Moreover, there has been an enormous increase in the rates, and sums levied for education, health, and so forth, can really only be described as a second Income Tax on the ratepayers of the country. The only hope left to the harassed ratepayers of this country is in your Lordships' House. This Bill was only read a first time last night. And the first that was known of it to your Lordships was when you saw the Notice on the Paper for the Second Reading to-day. Therefore it was quite impossible to give notice of rejection. I propose nevertheless to move its rejection, and I hope your Lordships will support an unfortunate ratepayer in moving that this Bill be read a second time this day six months.

Amendment moved—

Leave out the word ("now") and at end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(The Duke of Buccleuch.)

I do not think my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch desires to close the free libraries in Scotland. He has not said so, and I do not believe he will say so. I think he is aware that if this Bill does not pass the free libraries in Scotland will close.

That is the case. For England your Lordships have passed a Bill identical in its terms with this, and only yesterday your Lordships gave a Third Reading to a Bill for Ireland also identical in its terms with this. There is the same difficulty everywhere. Unless the ld. rate is increased the free libraries will have to close. My noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch does not want that, I know. All he requires is that money devoted to these objects shall be frugally spent. I suggest that the proper course for him—and, if I may say so, the wiser course—is to assent to the Second Reading of this Bill and deal with the amount when we go into Committee. Whether it is to be a rate of 2d. or 3d. or 6d. is clearly a point to be discussed at a later stage. My noble friend may be able to show that in Scotland the increase granted to Ireland or England is not needed, and in that event the amount can be cut down. But I think it will be deplorable if we settle to-day that no increase shall be allowed. The effect of refusing to give a Second Reading to this Bill would be that the public libraries in Scotland would have to close. I should like to remind your Lordships that this Bill has the support of two accredited bodies in Scotland, one the Association of Parish Councils and the other the Convention of Royal Burghs.

My Lords, I am afraid that your Lordships are placed in a very considerable difficulty by the production of this Bill at this very late date with very little explanation. I do not, of course, complain in the least of the speech of the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading, but it must be apparent to your Lordships that the matter has received the very smallest possible consideration and that we are not really in full possession of the facts of the case. One thing we do know—that the taxpayers and ratepayers of this country are suffering under the most tremendous burden. We know that it has come nearly to breaking point. We know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his place in the House of Commons, has said that we have reached almost the limit of taxation, and I think the noble Duke is well advised in calling your Lordships' attention to the extra burden proposed to be imposed by this Bill. A sixpenny rate is possible under this Bill in addition to all the other great burdens which the ratepayers have to bear. The noble Earl the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster says that your Lordships' House has agreed—if I may say so respectfully, rather rashly—to some such proposal in respect of England and Ireland.

I said so, very respectfully. Noble Lords from England and Ireland may not have been so careful of the expenditure of money as noble Lords from Scotland. That is supposed to be a national characteristic and a very admirable characteristic. All that we can do is to deal with the matter when it is brought before us. I confess to a very great sympathy with the noble Duke. The noble Earl suggests that we should go into Committee and then that we should move to reduce the amount of the rate. I doubt whether that would be a very wise course for your Lordships to take, because we should be brought at once against the engine of the privileges of the House of Commons. It is true that the House of Commons might waive its privilege if we reduce the rate, but we have no security for that, and nothing but an assurance from His Majesty's Government that they will use all their powers in the House of Commons to induce that House to waive its privilege would be of the least avail. Therefore, I cannot say that I would adopt that suggestion. I do not wish to put the Government in a greater difficulty than possible and I would make this suggestion. There can be no very great urgency for the Bill, and I suggest that the Government should put off the Second Reading and the


Birkenhead, L. (L. Chancellor.)Astor, V.Hylton, L.
Annesley, L. (V. Valentia.)Joicey, L.
Linlithgow, M.Armaghdale, L.Ranksborough, L.
Colebrooke, L.Riddell, L.
Bradford, E.Cottesloe, L.Somerleyton, L. [Teller.]
Lucan, E.Denman, L.Southwark, L.
Lytton, E.Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.)Stanmore, L. [Teller.]
Onslow, E.Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)


Salisbury, M.Blythswood, L.Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)
Dynevor, L.
Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.) [Teller.]Erskine, L. [Teller.]Strachie, L.
Fairfax of Cameron, L.Sumner, L.
Faringdon, L.Teynham, L.
Midleton, E.Glenarthur, L.Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)
Morton, E.O'Hagan, L.Wester Wemyss, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committed of the Whole House.