HC Deb 24 July 1885 vol 299 cc1860-4

Order for Second Reading read.


Sir, I wish to move the second reading of this Bill. It will not be necessary for me to take up any large amount of the time of the House in stating the contents of the measure. No doubt, there has been for some years a desire in Scotland that a special Officer should be appointed to take charge of what may be called the adminstrative part of the law of Scotland. I am quite aware, and hon. Members generally are also aware, that the Lord Advocate, acting as Under Secretary of State, has had very large powers in regard to Scotland, and it was always my privilege and my pleasure, when I held the Office of Home Secretary some years ago, to assist in Scotch legislation and Scotch administration so far as I could. But, undoubtedly, there has been a growing feeling in Scotland for a long time that the people of that country are entitled to have a separate Officer, quite apart from the Secretary of State, who should look after the affairs of Scotland. One way of proceeding was that that Officer should be simply a lawyer, like the Lord Advocate. No doubt, in former times, the Lord Advocate was not so distinctly a lawyer as he has been of late years; but the desire was that some person more intimately connected with the general wishes and feelings of Scotland, and quite irrespective of legal attainments, should deal with these matters, instead of the Secretary of State. When the Government, which immediately preceded the late Government, were in Office, they brought in a Bill to establish an Under Secretary for Scotland. That measure did not, however, meet with much favour, and it was withdrawn. The present Bill is not introduced for the first time, for this is the third year that it has been before the country. I understand that it has been canvassed in every part of Scotland, and that there is a general feeling in that country in its favour. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Lyon Playfair) is of that opinion or not; but, from all I can gather, the general feeling in all parts of Scotland is that a Bill of this kind should be passed, and that this particular Bill, having been threshed out for three years, has eventually come to meet the wishes of the Scottish people. For this reason I have great pleasure in moving the second reading to-night. Hon. Members will see that it transfers the whole of the duties now performed by the Secretary of State connected with the administration of the Poor Law, lunacy, public health, Fishery Boards, police, prisons, and other matters of that kind, entirely to this new Officer. [Sir LYON PLAYFAIR: And education.] I will come to that presently. I am speaking at present of the functions now performed by the Secretary of State and the Lord Advocate. They will be found in the first part of the Schedule, which does not touch the question of education at all. Then, by the second part of the Schedule, it will be found that there are transferred all the powers now vested in or exercised by the Privy Council relating to the Board of Manufactures and the public health. In the third part of the Schedule the powers and duties of the Treasury are transferred to the same Officer; and when we come to the fourth part of the Schedule and to Clauses 6 and 7, I am quite aware that we shall in Committee touch a point about which there is a considerable difference of opinion—that is to say, whether the educational functions which are now carried on by the Privy Council in England shall be transferred to this Officer for Scotland or not. The 6th clause says that— It shall be lawful for Her Majesty from time to time, by warrant under the Royal Sign Manual, to appoint the Secretary for Scotland to be Vice President of the Scotch Education Department; and the Scotch Education De- partment shall mean the Lords of any Committee of the Privy Council appointed by Her Majesty on Education in Scotland. And by the 7th clause it is provided that— After the appointment of the Vice President of the Scotch Education Department, all powers and duties vested in or imposed on the Scotch Education Department constituted under the Education (Scotland) Act, 1872, shall be transferred to, vested in, and imposed on the Scotch Education Department constituted under this Act, with the new Secretary for Scotland at its head. Of course, that Officer will be one of the great Officers of State in Scotland; and although he will not have all the privileges and powers of the Lord Advocate, no doubt many of the duties of the Lord Advocate will for the future be vested in this high Officer. I do not think it would be wise in me to take up any more of the time of the House, except to say this—that so far as that part of the Bill is concerned which relates to education, and which is the only contentious matter in the whole of the measure, it seems to me to be specially a matter for discussion in Committee. So far as the establishment of this Officer is concerned, I believe he will be established by general consent from one end of Scotland to the other. Whether all these functions are to be transferred to him is a question to be decided when you, Sir, leave the Chair; but at this late period of the Session, and looking to the fact that there is other Scotch Business to be brought forward, if possible, in the course of the Session, I do sincerely hope that this particular stage of the Bill may be passed to-night, I will not say without discussion, but, at all events, without any long discussion. There will be an opportunity for discussing the Bill when we move that you, Sir, do leave the Chair; and I am sure, knowing what is the feeling of the Scotch Members on this subject, and the way in which their debates are always carried on, they will have no desire to have two discussions where one would be enough. Therefore, without further detaining the House, I bog to move that this Bill be now road a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir R. Assheton Cross.)


, in moving the adjournment of the debate, said, the Scotch Members had been assured by the responsible Minister who had charge of the Business of the House that this Bill would not be brought on that night. There was only one Scotch Member besides himself on that (the Opposition) side of the House, and there was not a single Scotch Member unconnected with the Government on the other side, so far as he could observe. This was a Bill which extremely interested the Scotch people. It was not a Bill upon which there was a common agreement. He was opposed to it in principle from beginning to end, and he had given Notice that he should oppose it on the Motion for second reading. He had fully understood, and, indeed, had been informed—not only that day. but for several days past—that the Bill was only nominally on the Paper that night, and that there was really no intention of proceeding with it at the present Sitting. If it had been believed that it would have been brought on, the Scotch Members would have been there in an entire body, for they were extremely interested in the Bill, and it would be excessively unsatisfactory if the Bill should pass without any discussion. Of course, on a Motion for Adjournment he could not go into the principles of the measure; but he could assure the House that it would be a great disappointment to the Scotch Members if the Bill were taken that night. He did not suppose there was any breach of faith on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary; but the Scotch Members had all been informed, and several of them had gone away fully under that impression within the last quarter of an hour, that there was no intention of bringing the Bill on that night. He therefore moved the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir Lyon Playfair.)


hoped the debate would not be adjourned, on the understanding, which he willingly gave, that there should be a good opportunity for discussion on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair. It seemed to him that at that time of the Session this was the only mode of dealing with such a measure. He was quite sure his right hon. Friend (Sir Lyon Playfair) did not desire to discuss the Bill twice, for there was really only one point to discuss. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would allow the Bill to be read a second time now.


joined in the appeal to his right hon. Friend (Sir Lyon Playfair) to allow this stage of the Bill to be taken that night, on the understanding which had just been given by the Home Secretary that there should be a proper opportunity for the discussion of the important point at issue, and any other point that might be raised on the next stage. The general question had, he thought, been pretty well threshed out and settled, for there had been a similar Bill under the consideration of the country before. Under those circumstances, it did not seem to him to be a Bill which needed so minute a second-reading discussion as ought under other circumstances to be given to it.


consented to withdraw the Motion for Adjournment on the full understanding that there would be ample time given for discussing the next stage, and that it would not be taken at so late an hour of the night as this, when it had come on entirely by surprise, and when the Scotch Members were not present.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday next.