HC Deb 16 June 1876 vol 229 cc2015-9

Before you leave the Chair, Sir, I must say a word or two on the conduct of Scotch Business, according to the Notice I have given. It appears to me that it is becoming more and more evident that Parliament is not in a position to cope with the whole of the legislation of these Three Kingdoms. Whatever may be the case with regard to Ireland, some kind of Home Rule really seems to be necessary for Scotland. I was told before I entered Parliament that there was a small Scotch Parliament that met in the Tea Room, or in some corner of the House; but even that little fragment of Home Rule has been taken from us, and now it has come to this—we are either to go without legislation, or we are to submit to the mild despotism of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate for Scotland. My experience is that we must take what the Lord Advocate is pleased to give us, without discussion, or have nothing. We have heard something to-night of an enlightened despotism being fit for the island of Malta; but I say that despotism, whether enlightened or unenlightened, is not fit for Scotland, and this is a despotism which it appears to me is not fully enlightened. The feeling on this subject is growing very strong indeed in Scotland. If we are likely to have nothing from Parliament, it would be better for Government not to come as they have done to place several large measures before the House. As it is, the Government have succeeded in bringing a nest of hornets about their ears. London is at present full of deputations from Scotland—London is positively swarming with Scotchmen who have come up aggrieved, and justly aggrieved, by the proposals of Government. I see that the Home Secretary is beset everywhere. In passing through the House of Lords' Lobby recently I saw a large assemblage. I thought a fight was going on, but it turned out that the Home Secretary was beset with Scotch deputations. There is only one way of clearing them away, and that is by enabling Scotchmen to return peacefully to their homes, by giving a due share of the attention of this House to Scotch Business. I must remind the Government that in this island most successful rebellions have originated in Scotland, and if the Ministry, strong as they are, succeed in irritating the feelings of the people of Scotland, I think it likely they will fall from that strong high position they now hold. A Scotch Member recently inflicted a crushing defeat on the Ministry. They did not resign on that occasion. Her Majesty did not then see fit to send for the hon. Member for Linlithgow, but if this sort of thing goes on, my hon. Friend will have to be sent for before long. Let us look what is the actual state of affairs in regard to Scotch Business. Last year one important Bill was passed in absolute silence; and this year only one very infinitesimal Scotch Bill, because, I suppose, on the principle of de minimum, nobody cared to take any notice of it. Not only has no Bill of importance been passed, but, so far as I can see, there is no prospect of Government making any arrangement for discussing Scotch Bills. There is the Scotch Poor Law Bill, in regard to which I may say there is a strong feeling in Scotland. There is so much bad in that Bill, they would rather have no Bill, ["No!"] We would only have it like the Irishman's gun, when it was fitted with a new stock, a new lock, and a new barrel. It would certainly require considerable discussion before it can be made acceptable. It is a Bill which proposes to destroy local government. ["Order!"]


here intervened, reminding the hon. Gentleman that it was out of Order to discuss the principle of a Bill not before the House.


I bow to your decision, Sir; but perhaps I may name the Scotch Bills now pending respecting which we have had no proper discussion. The Poor Law Amendment Bill has been smuggled through two stages without discussion. The Roads Bill, which we are more anxious to see passed, has been waiting for the appointment of a day, and there is not the least chance of its being brought forward. I saw from the Minutes that the Roads Bill was read a second time last night, but that I am now told was a mistake. It either has been read a second time without discussion, or it is not likely to be read a second time at all, because there is no day on which it is likely to go on. The Sheriff Courts Bill is another important Bill, and so is the Agricultural Holdings Bill; and the Ecclesiastical Assessments Bill raises some difficult questions in regard to the incidence of local taxation. Then we have the everlasting Game Bills, Liquor Bills, and other smaller measures. What prospect is there of these being discussed? I say the Government have made no arrangement to lead us to hope that they will give us time to discuss them. We must take them in silence or not at all. I say we are greatly ill-used in this matter. Last Tuesday we were given to believe that one of the Scotch Bills would be brought forward. I thought it likely that the Government would have taken a Morning Sitting to-day, and devoted it to a Scotch Bill; but they have not even fixed next Tuesday for that purpose. I hope that now we have been so often told that the Government hope to dispose of Scotch Business, they will be able to tell us something definite, and to say whether they really are going to do anything or nothing; because if they are going to do nothing, it is time these deputations should be enabled to go home to attend to their own affairs, instead of dancing in attendance here in a hope which is not likely to be fulfilled. I trust we shall have definite information given to us.


It is only with the permission of the House that I am entitled to speak at the present moment. I have spoken before; but if the House will allow me, I have two or three words to say as to what the Government will do. I think the hon. Gentleman could not have been in his place last night, for it was then stated that we had fixed certain days for these Bills, with the intention then of naming some day when it would be practicable to bring them forward. It was our intention that the Bills the Government could bring forward should then have a day specially appointed for them, so that they should not be brought forward on a day when there was no opportunity of discussing them. As to the deputations, I am extremely glad to see them; and, more than that, the fact of their having been here has, I believe, greatly contributed to the solution of the Roads question. Having said that, I can only say further that I think it is likely that the Roads Bill and the Poor Law Amendment Bill will be arranged for this Session.


said, he was quite sure that no one could have been less satisfied with the manner in which Scotch Business had been conducted, not only that Session, but during the present Parliament, than the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate himself. The Bills that passed last Session were passed by the Clerk reading their titles at the Table. There was no opportunity for discussion, and they were told they must either take the Bills as a whole or reject them altogether. That was not the mode in which the Business of any section of this country should be treated. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer received Scotch Members with great courtesy and attention, but more was wanted than these courtesies—the people of Scotland wanted that their circumstances and feelings should be considered. That had not been done. The only important measure that received any discussion was one the passing of which was not now regarded with pride, but rather with regret—that was the Bill for creating a new franchise for the election of ministers in the Church of Scotland. He felt, therefore, that they were justified in taking an opportunity of the present kind to say that they must receive not only the courtesy they had already received from the right hon. Gentlemen, but that the Business of Scotland should be treated with the respect paid to the legislation of every other portion of the Empire. He did not think it would be a satisfactory mode to substitute the Tea Room for the House; but he thought it was worthy of the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman that some means should be devised by which, without impeding general legislation affecting the Empire, the Business of Scotland should receive greater consideration than had yet been given to it.


said, he wished to say two or three words on this subject. In the earlier days of his Parliamentary experience, the Lord Advocate was good enough to assemble Scotch Members in a convenient place, and from them received not only information as to Bills brought before the House, but as to the support he would receive in conducting that Business to a satisfactory and rapid conclusion, and he ventured to say that it would be of great advantage to Parliament if that process were re-introduced. If the Lord Advocate would consult the Scotch Members upon Scotch Bills, and would accept not the votes of the majority, but would form his own opinion, and then introduce his measures into Parliament so shaped that he would have a reasonable prospect of carrying them through, as had been the former practice on Scotch measures, he would do good service.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.