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Public Libraries (Scotland) Bill

Volume 41: debated on Monday 9 August 1920

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Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.— (Lord Stanmore.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Increase of rating limit, and provisions as to audit of accounts.

1.—(1) From and after the fifteenth day of May, nineteen hundred and twenty, section eight of the Public Libraries Consolidation (Scotland) Act, 1887, shall have effect, and shall be deemed to have had effect, as if for the words "one penny" therein occurring there were substituted the words "three pence" and the accounts of the Committee appointed under that Act shall be audited as part of the accounts of the rating authority, or, in the case of a combination of burghs or parishes for the purposes of the said Act, as part of the accounts of the rating authority making the largest contribution to the expenses of the committee: Provided that the Secretary for Scotland, or, where the rating authority is a parish council, the Scottish Board of Health, may, as regards any burgh or parish, as the case may be, sanction a further increase in the amount of the library rate to an amount not exceeding threepence in the pound.
(2) Notwithstanding anything in section thirty of the Public Libraries Consolidation (Scotland) Act, 1887, a library committee may, before such date in the current financial year as may be fixed by the town council or the parish council (as the case may be), make a supplementary estimate of the sums required for the purposes mentioned in the said section, and, on such estimate being reported to the town or parish council, the council shall act upon such estimate as if it were an estimate reported in terms of the said section.

moved to omit the proviso at the end of subsection (I). The noble Duke said: In the debate on the Second Reading I was sorry to put your Lordships to the trouble of a Division, but there was no indication from the Government that they would be in any way conciliatory. My noble friend the Chancellor of the Duchy recommended me to put down Amendments at this stage, and therefore I have done so. My noble friend stated that if I carried the Motion on the Second Reading half the public libraries in Scotland would be closed. I am very doubtful on that point, because it is possible even in these clays to make economies. I have no doubt that if economies were made it would not be quite as convenient on cold days for a certain number of young men would not get their betting news so early. But a great deal might be. done in public libraries by economy, and they would still be efficient.

But I do not wish to do anything to impair these libraries. The Bill, as introduced on the responsibility of the Government in the House of Commons, proposed that the rate should be increased from l d. to 3 d., in other words, that it should be trebled. My Amendment does not touch that proposal in any way. The Government proposal, as introduced in the House of Commons, will still hold good. I am quite certain that when this Bill was introduced the question had been very carefully considered, and that the Government were quite assured that an increase of the rate from l d. to 3 d. would be amply sufficient, even in these extravagant times. But in another place the limit of 3 d. was raised to 6 d. if the additional 3 d. were sanctioned either by the Secretary of Scotland or by the Scottish Board of Health. That is simply asking them to increase the rates and to put the extra burden on the taxpayer. It is simply an incentive to extravagance. Apparently His Majesty's Ministers, and

also a very large number of the public, suppose that there is some imaginary bag, such as we read of in the "Arabian Nights," from which unlimited gold can be pulled out without anyone suffering. But that is not the case here. I do not think any case can be made out for this, as the Government had evidently carefully considered the question. and what I propose is simply to put the Bill back into the form in which it was introduced by the Government.

Amendment moved—

Clause 1, page 1, line 15, leave out from ("committee") to the end of subsection (1).—(The Duke of Buccleuch.)

The provision that the noble Duke objects to was inserted in Committee in the House of Commons in order to meet special cases. In areas which have very low assessable rentals per head of the population the produce of a 3d. rate may not be sufficient for library expenses, in which case it is necessary to have some extension of the limit of rating. The fact that an increase must be sanctioned by a central authority—the Secretary for Scotland, or the Scottish Board of Health—seems sufficient safeguard against abuse. This power has been allowed in Ireland in a Bill which passed through your Lordship's House only a few days ago, and I fail to see why it should be denied to Scotland when it has already been given to Ireland. My right hon. friend the Secretary for Scotland tells me that he intends to be most careful as to what use he makes of this power.

I must say I think it most deplorable that the Government will not give way on this Amendment. It is quite a serious matter. One would really think that there was no demand for economy throughout the country. The demand for economy is urgent, and the burden of taxation is overwhelming. And yet the Government positively propose to your Lordships that we should sanction in certain cases a 6d rate. I do not want to underrate the value of public libraries; no doubt they are of a certain value, but I think I am within the mark when I say that those philanthropists and statesmen who promoted the Public Libraries Act have been to a great extent disappointed in their anticipations. That is not their fault at all. Still, as a matter of fact, though public libraries have undoubtedly been of a certain use, they have not been of anything like the value it was hoped they would be. And even if they had come up to the full advantage which was anticipated, surely the Government must recognise that we have very nearly reached the limit of our powers of contributing to the funds of the State. It was only the other day in another place that a colleague of noble Lords opposite told the country that we had practically reached the limit of taxation. That is a tremendous statement. It means that, whatever crises may be in front of us, we practically cannot raise another half-penny by the ordinary methods of taxation.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer. I suppose my noble friend will recognise him as an authority.

I read what he said in what may have been an abbreviated report, of course, but at any rate the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement of very great gravity. Yet we are asked to sanction a 6d. rate. It is really a most unreasonable thing. The noble Lord who very adequately discharges the duty of representing the Scottish Office, and who, of course, is not responsible for the provision, says that in certain cases the assessable value of a particular burgh may be very low. Is that any reason why it should be heavily taxed? It is a reason for the precisely contrary course, I should have thought.


Birkenhead, L. (L. Chancellor.)Annesley, L. (V. Valentia.)Southwark, L.
Lucan, E.Colebrooke, L.Stanmore, L. [Teller.]
Onslow, E.Hylton, L.Treowen, L.
Phillimore, L.Wavertree, L.
Astor, V.Ranksborough, L.Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)
Milner, V.Sinha, L.Wittenham, L.
Peel, V.Somerleyton, L. [Teller.]


Argyll, D.Midleton, E.Ebury, L.
Bath, M.Morton, E.Erskine, L.
Lincolnshire, M.Bertie of Thame, V.Fairfax of Cameron, L.

(Lord Great Chamberlain.)

Chaplin, V.Gisborough, L.
Salisbury, M.Hood, V.Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)
Doncaster, E.Hutchinson, V.


(D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)

(E. Donoughmore.)

Queenborough, L.
Rotherham, L.


Armaghdale, L.Ruthven of Gowrie, L.
Eldon, E.Avebury, L.Sandys, L.
Harewood, E.Chevlesmore, L.Sumner, L.
Malmesbury, E.Crawshaw, L.

Burghs whose assessable value is low are entitled to even more consideration than the others. Yet it is gravely proposed, because of the possibility here and there, in rare cases, of the closing of public libraries—which my noble friend who knows a great deal about Scotland doubts very much will happen—that this rate should be authorised.

If the Government are really in earnest about the national expenditure they will agree to this Amendment, which, I would remind your Lordships, is in the nature of a compromise. Those of us who sit on this side of the House and act together wanted to throw the Bill out, but your Lordships thought otherwise and we entirely accept the position. We do not propose to destroy the full efficacy of the Bill at all. We merely propose to restore the Bill to the condition it was in when, upon the responsibility of the Government, it was introduced into the House of Commons, and we do it having, some of us, made very strong public observations in favour of economy: not stronger than the Government, although as in many other cases the performances of the Government do not quite come up to their professions. I venture most strongly to urge upon them to agree to my noble friend's Amendment. It is not, of course, a matter of first-class importance because it applies only to a limited number of burghs, but if the Government are in earnest I hope they will agree to this Amendment.

On Question, whether the words proposed to be left out shall stand part of the clause?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 19; Not-Contents, 28.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Amendment reported (according to Order.)

Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended) Bill read 3a, and passed, and returned to the Commons.