HC Deb 04 August 1888 vol 329 cc1619-34

Resolution [3rd August] reported.

Resolution read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

MR. ANDERSON (Elgin and Nairn)

said, he desired to call attention to the manner in which Scotch Business had been conducted in Parliament during the present Session. The country had been told that the present Session was to be an English and Scotch Session; but nobody would deny that practically, so far as Scotch Business was concerned, the present Session had been an absolute and entire blank. One of the measures promised in the Queen's Speech was the Burgh Police Bill, and another was the Universities Bill, and there was also a promise that some action would be taken with respect to the cost of Private Bill legislation. There were several questions also which he thought the Secretary for Scotland ought to have taken in hand. There was, for instance, the question of the rents now being enforced under leases in Scotland. He (Mr. Anderson) had brought that matter before the House; but it was treated in the manner in which most Scotch questions were treated, and put on one side. The Government informed him that, though they sympathized with the tenants, the landlords were also sufferers, and they did not intend to legislate on the question. He referred to the Clanricardes of Scotland, who insisted on carrying out their bonds under their leases, and he was sorry to say there were many of them. On that subject nothing whatever had been done by the Government. They were told that a Scotch Fishery Bill had actually been drafted. He wanted to know why, if that were so, the Bill had not been introduced? In fact, it was promised before Easter. The condition of affairs was very unsatisfactory, because some proprietors were setting up a claim to stop fishing for salmon and trout in the upper waters of rivers, usurping rights which they did not really possess, and were practically denuding the upper portions of the rivers by netting to an extraordinary extent. There was another fishery question which affected the people at large, the prohibition of the fishing for trout in various rivers in Scotland. Considering the enormous rights the proprietors of salmon fisheries had appropriated to themselves, he thought it was a cruel thing for them, where the people had exercised the right of fishing for trout without restriction, to now prevent this very harmless fish- ing. How could it interfere with the privileges of the Duke of Richmond that certain persons wanted to go out on a summer evening to fish for trout at Fochabers? Upon that subject no legislation had come forward. There was another point. Everybody knew that the Scotch Fishery Board had proved an entire failure, and the Government had promised to take that matter into their serious consideration. The number of things the Government had taken into their serious consideration was perfectly wonderful; but the results of this serious consideration were absolutely nil. The First Lord of the Treasury told them months ago that the Fishery Board was to be re-organized; but what had been done? Nothing. The fishermen in England had been more fortunate, because the Government had brought in a measure for the purpose of creating Local Fishery Boards; but they had not made any of the proposals that were necessary for Scotland. Then there was the Crofter Question. The Government knew that the greatest injustice existed in counties which were not covered by the Crofters Act, and it was one of the first duties of the Government to bring in legislation on the subject. He supposed it would be said that the Government had agreed to the Reference of the Committee on Small Holdings being extended to Scotland, and he hoped some good might come of it. But even here the Government was to blame; for why had Scotland not been properly represented on that Committee? So little attention did Scotland get from Government on this subject, that actually it was appointed without a single Scotch County Member being upon it. How did that want of attention to Scotch Business come about? Who was responsible for it? They had a very expensive Staff for Scotch Business. There was the Secretary for Scotland, who received £2,000 a-year, and what did he do? Where were the Bills that he ought to have produced? In that House they never saw the Secretary for Scotland, because he was in "another" and better place. That was one of the disadvantages they laboured under in that House—they could not have access to the Secretary for Scotland by speaking to him and asking him Questions. What happened was that the Executive Business of Scotland, which, of course, was conducted in that House, was entrusted to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate. Let the House think what was the position of the Lord Advocate. Individually and officially he was not responsible for the Executive work in Scotland, and when they asked the Lord Advocate any Question with regard to the general administration of Scotland, all he could do was to act as the mouthpiece of the Secretary for Scotland (the Marquess of Lothian). That was a very humble position for the Lord Advocate to occupy. When Questions were asked they were placed in a great difficulty. The Lord Advocate rose and read out an answer from some Paper which he got from the Scotch Office. When they tried to get further information, the Lord Advocate very often rose from his seat and asked for Notice of the Question. Inasmuch as those were functions of the Lord Advocate, he seriously asked this question—What was the use of having a Lord Advocate in that House?—because, as he understood, the Lord Advocate had very important legal functions to pursue in Scotland. His legal duties were in Edinburgh. He was the Legal Administrator, but the Government went through the form of having upon the Treasury Bench a right hon. and learned gentleman who had no information as to the various matters concerning the government of Scotland, and what he did was simply to read out certain answers sent from the Secretary for Scotland's Office. They had reason for complaint even with regard to the Lord Advocate's legal position. The Lord Advocate had on several occasions during that Session refused to give information on legal questions. He had always understood that the Law Officers should give information to the House upon legal questions; but the position and attitude of the right hon. and learned Gentleman was this—He was satisfied, so far as the administration of Scotland was concerned, that he had nothing to do except read out answers to Questions, and he actually refused to do that which he (Mr. Anderson) contended the right hon. and learned Gentleman was bound to do—give information upon important legal questions involving the public affairs of Scotland. That was the position the right hon. and learned Gentleman had asserted on several occasions, especially in regard to the Crown rights in salmon fisheries. There was a large community to whom that question was interesting; but the Lord Advocate's reply was—"You may read the Act of Parliament for yourselves, and find out for yourselves." That was a monstrous way for the Lord Advocate to treat the Members of the House of Commons. What did they pay the Lord Advocate his enormous salary for? He sat on the Treasury Bench, and it gave them great pleasure to see him in the House; but he represented most truthfully one of the unemployed Members of the Government. Acting in the interests of the ratepayers, he (Mr. Anderson) protested against paying the Secretary for Scotland the high salary of £2,000 a year, and the Lord Advocate was absolutely wasting his time in doing nothing. There was another Member of the Government who was called our David—the Solicitor General for Scotland—what was he doing in the House of Commons? He, no doubt, assisted the Government with very able speeches on Irish Questions; but he did not think they should pay the Solicitor General and the Lord Advocate these high salaries, because their function was to attend to Scotch Business. They had three Officials for Scotland—the Secretary for Scotland, the Lord Advocate, and the Solicitor General—who seemed to combine together to do as little as possible for very considerable salaries. That was a thing that had gone on long enough, and ought to be stopped. Here they were at the end of a long Session, and about to pay these enormous salaries with nothing done, and only vague promises of something in the future. The Government so treated with contempt Scotch Business, that now it was said, as a sort of act of grace, they might have a half-day on Wednesday to discuss those two miserable Bills which were not original, but had been found by the Government on the shelves of their office, when they came into power. His (Mr. Anderson's) object in addressing the House was to place on record his views of the conduct of Scotch Business.

MR. WALLACE (Edinburgh, E.)

said, he wished to take that opportunity of saying a few words as to the position in which Scottish Business stood in that House at the present moment. He considered that position to be one of the most deplorable character—dishonourable not only to Scotland, but to that House, and to the managers of Business in that House. Making a selection among the offenders in connection with this state of things, he thought that his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Anderson) had been felicitous in fixing upon the Secretary for Scotland (the Marquess of Lothian) and his Coadjutor in that House, the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate (Mr. J. H. A. Macdonald). Now, in speaking on that question, he (Mr. Wallace) did not wish to say one word unkindly or discourteous either of Lord Lothian or the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate. They knew them, and respected them privately as most courteous and honourable Gentlemen. But, setting aside their personalities, and looking at them simply as public characters, he wished to have every possible freedom on the present occasion in discussing them. The fact he wished to fix upon was the general position of Scottish Business at the present moment under the action of the Secretary for Scotland—the most disappointing action, considering the hopes entertained in Scotland when his great Office was created. Under that action Scottish Business, Scottish Members, and Scotland altogether, to his mind, had now reached the very lowest level of contempt. In every deep, it was said, there was a lower still, but that was simply a comparative statement. They must touch bottom some time, and he thought they had very nearly reached it in the present Session. He saw the two Representatives of Scotland on the Government Bench smiling incredulously at that description of matters.

THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)

No, no.


said, he was glad that these Gentlemen were in accord with him. Looking at the present state of the House, he asked if it was not the most complete and graphic description of the utter contempt in which Scottish discussions and Scottish Business were held that could possibly be afforded? What were they there? Rari nantes in gurgite vasto, and simply because it was a Scottish discussion that was on. Accordingly, he did not think he needed to file proof that Scottish Business now had really sunk to a level of contempt below which they had, at all events, the melancholy satisfaction of reflecting that it could not descend. At the same time, he thought it was proper, for practical purposes, that they should try and understand the causes and the reasons for this. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith), who ought to have been present on that occasion, had often professed an interest in Scotland. Five or six months ago he heard the right hon. Gentleman describe Scotland in a deprecatory tone as an interesting portion of the Empire. Well, it might be so; but it did not seem to be very interesting to the right hon. Gentleman, otherwise he would have been present that day to verify his description. The statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury yesterday seemed to him (Mr. Wallace), if people would properly understand it, to be an awful one. Scotland was a community of some importance—he would not say in the world, but in the Empire. At all events, the Scottish people were an aggregate of human beings who had ordinary human rights, and who required to have attention paid to their interests, and who, moreover, paid, according to their ability, a considerable portion of the Revenue of this Empire, and, in point of individual responsibility, they really contributed the most highly per head to the Revenue of this country. He wished, however, to move upon a higher level than that of paying taxes. He wished to put the discussion upon what he would call a national level, upon the claims of an historic, important, and progressive nation. The manner in which Scottish Business was treated by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury and his Coadjutors was most humiliating to the Scottish nation and to those who entered into the full power and feeling of Scottish Nationality. What was it the right hon. Gentleman told them? He told them it was proposed to give them a Wednesday Sitting, and he did so with a gasp of astonishment at his own liberality. And he did not seem to be at all staggered by the fact that what was proposed to be done was not only a discussion of an important reform of the Scottish Law of Bail, but also the carrying of the Burgh Police Bill—a measure which consisted of nearly 600 clauses, with the addition of a waste howling wilderness of schedules, appendices, and regulations which were almost as long as the main body of the Bill itself. The right hon. Gentleman said that that could be conveniently pressed through in the two or three hours which, at the most, remained, if Scottish Members would only be diligent. It seemed to him (Mr. Wallace) that the right hon. Gentleman could not possibly have been considering what he was saying at the time. He had due respect for the upholstery of the right hon. Gentleman's intellect, but one piece that was deficient in it was imagination; and he thought if the right hon. Gentleman had that faculty in normal proportion to his other powers, he would have realized that the thing could not possibly be done. He defied the Clerk at the Table—who occasionally read out with such precise and careful elocution the libels of The Times—to simply read through the Burgh Police Bill in the time that the right hon. Gentleman thought sufficient for them to discuss all the clauses. There was more matter in the Bill than there was in the Iliad, a work which they could not read through in the course of a Wednesday afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury said the Burgh Police Bill had been considered by a Select Committee, on which there were actually Scottish Members, and that, therefore, they ought simply to pass it without further consideration. That was another illustration of the unconscious contempt with which the Members of the Government regarded Scottish measures and Scottish Members. It showed them quite clearly that, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, if a few Scottish Members were upon a Committee, they carried with them the opinion of all the other Scottish Members. He did not seem to think that there was any individuality in Scottish Members; that they were simply a homogeneous class, like a dozen of oysters, and if they got two or three they had got the substance and the similitude of all the rest. The right hon. Gentleman thought he could sample them like a bag of beans, or a ton of Parnellism and Crime, or any indiscriminate stuff which could be safely recognized by putting in their hand and pulling out an accidental specimen. He entirely disputed the position of the right hon. Gentleman in this matter. Of all Nationalities in the world, Scottish Nationality was distinguished by its individualism. He would not call them national or political Ishmaels, nor would he say that every man's hand was against his brother for evil; but for the purpose of eliciting truth they were the most controversial nation that in the course of his ethnological inquiries he had discovered. It was quite ridiculous to say that because there were on the Committee some Scotsmen undefined and indiscriminate and, in his own mind, utterly unknown with respect to their individuality, that, therefore, this Bill could be easily passed through the House. The thing was utterly ridiculous. And after all was done, he told them he would give that impossible Wednesday only if a certain Irish measure could be passed on Tuesday. Now, his experience in that House had been that when the Irish Members were disposed strongly to contest a measure, it was a very imprudent thing for the Government to make promises on the condition that the performances of the Irish Members would be exhausted on a particular day. His own opinion was that their prospect of getting this ridiculous Wednesday was simply an ignis fatuus. He would make no excuse for detaining the attention of the House on this matter, for he should be untrue to his own proposition if he were in any degree apologetic either in the length of time or the strength of language he might use in considering this matter. He had further to refer to the right lion. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury and the promises which the right hon. Gentleman—he had no doubt bonâ fide—had made, but which through necessities which he did not foresee he would have to retreat from in practice; and he had satisfaction that he could now do so in his presence. It was a practically contemptuous view which the right hon. Gentleman had taken of Scottish Business yesterday. He would not say intentionally contemptuous, because he did not believe that the right hon. Gentleman was a Gentleman who was animated by malice either toward individuals or nationalities. But there was such a thing as personal malice and legal malice, and while he entirely acquitted the right hon. Gentleman of personal malice he could not say that the right hon. Gentleman was not sometimes guilty of political malice, and he thought on this occasion he had been guilty of political contempt towards Scotland. But the right hon. Gentleman was much to be excused in the matter, because he was simply reflecting what was now the attitude of all the Nationalities represented in this House towards Scottish Business. It was perfectly well understood by the Scottish Members, and it was getting gradually to be understood by the Scottish Nation, that they were systematically selected by the three other Nationalities as the nation that was to be despised. [Cries of "No!"] It was very polite of them to say "No," but he went by facts and not by words, and he knew that they were to a certain extent looked upon as the legitimate laughing stock of the Three Nationalities. That was very much owing to the action, or rather the inaction, of the Secretary for Scotland and the inefficiency of his Coadjutor the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate. Whatever the deficiencies of the faculties of Scotsmen might be, they had the usual array of ordinary senses; and he, for one, had the sense of hearing in a pretty average condition of operation, and he could not help hearing what was said, while going about in the Lobbies, about Scottish Business. He could not help hearing it said amongst, he supposed, the wits of the other Nationalities, that when a Scottish discussion was on it was what was called "a haggis debate," and it was called so by persons who he believed could not distinguish between a "haggis" and a "philibeg." He was speaking principally at present of the English section, and he would give a proof of what he said. They had great pride as a nation in the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate personally. They admired the radiant and spacious spectacle of the right hon. and learned Gentleman holding the coign of vantage on the Treasury Bench against all the world, like some Incarnate Judgment in rem. But how were the right hon. and learned Gentleman and those who were associated with him and the Scottish nation represented? How did they appear in English eyes? There was a journal published weekly in this City called Punch. He was told it was a comic journal. He would not have known it himself, but that might arise from a national deficiency. He would accept the description on the faith of those who said they had authority for speaking in such matters. They had heard a great deal about libels directed by The Times against the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) and his associates; but, he said, they could not hold the candle to the libels directed by this alleged comic journal against the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate, the Scottish Members, and the Scottish Nation. In a recent illustration, instead of recognizing the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate as a Gentleman who was wearing himself to the bone—or as near to the bone as he could get—in the service of his country, they described him as reposing upon the Treasury Bench in adipose indolence, spread out like Milton's Leviathan— Slumbering on the Norway foam, extending many a rood, and in no way occupied about Scottish Business, except to turn his back contemptuously on Scottish Members, and to ward off any possibility of getting on to Scottish Business. That was the normal English idea, he would not say of the right hon. and learned Gentleman personally, but of him in relation to the Scottish Members, the Scottish Nation, and Scottish Business. Was that a state of things that it was comfortable for Scottish Members to consider? Then, with respect to their Irish Friends, Scottish Members did their best humbly to support them when the cause of their Nationality was at stake; but he must say, that while he admired their patriotism and the entire engrossment of their minds in matters that pertained to their Nationality, he sometimes wished that they had a little sympathy with Scottish Members, and would give them a small deducted portion of the time which they themselves occupied. In reference to that, he was not sure that the Irish Members paid the Scottish Members the respect which the Scottish Members paid to them; but if he felt any grudge against them on that account, he was amply avenged by the vindictive and punitive and judging power which the accident of certain Scottish Representatives being on the Treasury Bench had directed upon them. He would simply mention the two Law Officers for Scotland and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland; and if he were vindictive, he would say that he thought the style in which the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate received many of the arguments of Irish Members, particularly those concerned with the distresses of Ireland, was a sufficient punishment. Last night, for instance, the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate, at the moving description of the unhappy man who was driven lunatic by the treatment he received in prison, was unable to restrain his laughter.


I expressly contradict that statement. I would like to explain that it is very difficult sometimes not to be amused at the way in which hon. Members opposite put things. I think they would themselves be very much surprised if we did not laugh; but certainly I never did so in reference to the facts.


said, he accepted at once the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and would at once recall what he was going to say. But he thought he was not mistaken in saying that, in the case of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, Scotland was amply avenged for any want of attention on the part of Ireland by what he might call the Highland fling which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary executed—with a superlative amount of finger snapping and the proper amount of shrieking—over the tenderest sympathies and fondest aspirations of the Irish nation. Then, with respect to the third Nationality in this House of Commons—he found that even Taffy, with the larcenous consciousness of that marrow bone hanging about him—even he exalted the horn against the Scottish Nation, and told them to their face that what they had was not a language, but only an accent, just as if the melancholy gibberish which he himself talked at his Cymrodorions and his Eisteddfods, or whatever else he called them, was not in reality a reproach to civilization and a serious impediment to human progress. [A laugh.] What he wanted to say was, that although the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary might laugh, it was really becoming a very serious matter for Scotland and Scottish Members. It took a long time to get some things into a normal Scottish head; he believed a distinguished anatomist had said it was impossible to get a joke into a Scottish head without the assistance of a surgical instrument. That might be; but if so, he was not sure that it was an unmixed calamity; for while he had been in the House it had been his fortune, or misfortune, to listen to some of the most remarkable, and at the same time awful, products of human cerebration, falling from lips strongly touched with that Anglican brogue which was naturally distasteful to ears which had been accustomed to the classical pronunciation of the Saxon speech, and which he was told were English jests; and hearing such things he had felt inwardly thankful for that providential, if pachydermatous, prophylactic which was protecting him from such a painful and hideous invasion of what he would venture to call his mind. But if that were so, there was a limit even to that position of things. He said that now the iron—or rather the irony of the situation—was entering into the Scottish soul. It was 181 years since the Union, and it had taken a long time for the matter to penetrate, but it had been gradually entering the Caledonian mind, and now the hideous joke of what was called Scottish Business in this House had finally got into the Alexandrian cranium; and when once it was there, they might rely upon it it would not be easily removed. It was not like one of the Resident Magistrates of that distinguished Scotsman, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who—he did not say it in an uncomplimentary way—was a reproduction of the Bloody Mackenzie. It showed the remarkable productivity of the Nationality to which he belonged, for, just as in those days his race was able to produce on the one hand the Covenanters, it was also able to produce on the other the bloody personage to whom he had referred, a man of great abilities, of fine sensibilities, of extreme literary culture, but defective in that element of human sympathy without which the noblest endowments were vain and nugatory. But to return from that excursus—now that this idea of the complete contempt in which Scottish Business stood, and in which it was viewed with a certain amount of unanimity by all the three Nationalities re- presented in the House of Commons, was evidenced in the treatment which Scottish Business received, and in the fact that they did not get any attention at all—he begged Gentlemen in the position of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to remember that this idea having once penetrated to the centre of the Scottish consciousness was not removable like one of the right hon. Gentleman's Resident Magistrates. That was the compensatory element in the alleged slowness and tardiness of the Scottish nature. If it took a long time for an idea to penetrate the Scottish mind, it took eternity itself to get it out. He said in all seriousness the notion of Home Rule for Scotland was now growing—each step being irrevocably assured in the Scottish mind. He was not a red-hot enthusiast in respect of Scottish Home Rule. He did not want his country to sink into a sort of North British Switzerland, very comfortable but very small; into the position of a respectable Vestry among the nations. He should be sorry to see the Scottish democracy dissociated from what he believed the splendid career that lay in the future of the great English democracy. But if they could not get anything done for themselves, they were driven into a position in which they must make a fight for some kind of independence; and they might rely upon it that if Scotland went in for independence at all, it would not be a fractional independence. It would not be a milk and water matter. They were accustomed to stronger drink than that. They should have something worth getting, or they should have nothing at all, but they would not have nothing at all; and therefore they would have something worth seeking. The present state of things must be attributed to the Secretary for Scotland. It was necessary in this matter to have a scapegoat of some kind, and the only scapegoat they could make was the Secretary for Scotland and the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate. When he thought of Dover House; the large amount of money spent in maintaining it; of the Scottish Secretary with his clerks; of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate with all his attendants; of the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Scotland, and those who obeyed his behests, and the great retinue of offi- cialism which they commanded; and when he also thought of the effect they produced as regards Scottish Business, he was reminded of that celebrated picture of Hogarth's, in which he pourtrayed a great machine with immense motive power, with no end of wheels, with cog and pinion, piston and pulleys, wheel and shaft and cylinder, wheel within wheel, all working in the most intricate and ingenious order and relationship to each other, but all that immense power resulting in simply extracting a cork from a pint bottle. Similarly, the results of the elaborate machinery of Dover House amounted to nothing more than extracting five hours in 12 months from the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. And yet the right hon. Gentleman stood up, and, with a smile which was "child-like and bland," told them he was going to give Scotland the proper allowance of time by giving them three hours on a Wednesday! That was not according to Cocker. His (Mr. Wallace's) arithmetical calculation of the proper amount of time to be given to Scotland was not three hours, but three weeks—excluding the Autumn Session, of which they would take account when it came on—three weeks of sober, serious, careful, and industrious application of Scottish Representatives to Scottish legislation. This was not a composition which any honest debtor would offer to a creditor. It was not a farthing in the pound. The conduct of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury reminded him of what was said by Lord Bacon long ago when an articled clerk—for he was always sure that impostor Shakespeare would be found out—when he said—"A man may smile and smile and be a——" well, an opponent of Scotch Business. Of course——

It being half after Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.


asked, what place the First Lord of the Treasury proposed to assign on Monday to the debate which had just closed?

THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

said, the discussion would be put down in the first position on Monday. He trusted the debate would not be continued at great length, in view of the very pressing charac- ter of the Business they had to undertake.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.