HC Deb 16 June 1890 vol 345 cc994-1001
(3.10.) MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

I beg to move— That the Order [June 2nd] that the Bill be committed be read, and discharged, and that the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of Nine Members, Five to be nominated by the House and Four by the Committee of Selection. That all Petitions against the Bill presented Three clear days before the Meeting of the Committee be referred to the Committee; that the Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents, be heard against the Bill, and Counsel heard in support of the Bill. That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records. That Three be the quorum. I have also to move a corresponding Motion in relation to the Pier and Harbour Provisional Order (No. 4) Bill for legalising certain dues and charges in reference to the Scilly Islands. In making these Motions, I am asking the House to sanction some further inquiry into the circumstances and proposals of these Bills, before the assent of Parliament is given to them. I do not ask the House to refuse them altogether, but only to refer them to a Select Committee, and the reasons which induce me to do so are these: in the first place, the circumstances are exceptional, and not of the ordinary nature of the Provisional Order Bills, such as are passed every day without discussion; and secondly, if I may be permitted to refer to the Motion wich I moved upon the Second Reading of the Pier and Harbour Bill——




If the Government dissent, of course I will not, but I think it would expedite business if I were allowed to do so. I will confine myself, then, to the first Bill, and the reason why I desire that it should be referred to a Select Committee is that it sets aside the principles of legislation which was sanctioned in 1888, and again last year, without an adequate cause. As the President of the Local Government Board objects to my mentioning the second Bill, I will defer my observations in regard to it, until I can bring them more regularly before the President of the Board of Trade.


I only interposed because it is out of order to discuss another Bill now.


This Provisional Order Bill has grown out of the 49th section of the Local Government Board Act of 1888, which was passed with the view of giving a separate constitution to the Scilly Islands, and which provides for the performance within the islands of the duties of a County Council. The spirit and letter of the Local Government Act of 1888 provide that the persons elected to the County Council shall have the right of discharging the duty of electing their own Chairman, and the object of Section 49 of the Local Government Act, and of similar clauses in the Scotch Act of last year, was to provide the same machinery, rights, privileges, and powers for outlying county electors. It is obvious that the Scilly Islands could not be included, so far as local government is concerned, with the County Government of Cornwall, and, therefore, it was necessary to secure a separate and distinct Government for these islands. At the same time, I maintain that the Local Government Act never contemplated what this Bill does, namely, the conversion of the Scilly Islands into a Crown Colony with a permanent Chairman. Shetland and Orkney occupy a similar position to the Scilly Islands. They have been given a County Council, but they have a right to choose their own Chairman, and to arrange their own affairs exactly like anyother county in England and Scotland. It has not been suggested in regard to those islands that any single individual shall have conferred upon him the rights of a statutory chieftain. The Duke of Sutherland possesses an infinitely stronger claim from his territorial rights in Sutherlandshire than Mr. Dorrien Smith possesses in Scilly, but a suggestion to make the Duke of Sutherland the statutory Chairman of the County of Sutherland would have been scouted. All I ask for is inquiry. In the pre amble of the present Bill, at page 4, the lease by which Mr. Dorrien Smith holds the Scilly Islands is referred to, and the rights, "powers," "franchises," and "jurisdictions," which have been handed over to him by the Duchy of Cornwall, and they are specially reserved for Mr. Dorrien Smith under Clause 31 of the schedule. I do not know what the terms of that lease are, and, therefore, I ask for inquiry, in order that we may ascertain whether in any way they confer a right upon Mr. Dorrien Smith to control the electors in the management of their ordinary business, and whether they contravene the rights and privileges which the Act of 1888 confers upon county electors. I shall be told, of course, that the people of the Scilly Islands have not petitioned against this Bill. That is perfectly true; but I venture to think that the House may draw from that very fact some ground for an inquiry into the matter. Certainly the fact is established that the Bill contravenes, without assigning a reason, one of the principles of the Act of 1888. There are one or two matters connected with the history of this proposal which it is desirable that I should mention. When the proposal for giving a County Council to the Scilly Islands was first discussed, the suggestion of Mr. Dorrien Smith was that the Council should not be elected by ballot, but by open Vestry; but the Local Government Board very properly insisted that the elections in the islands should be con ducted on the same principle as those upon the mainland, namely, by ballot. I think it may be inferred that the proposal to make Mr. Dorrien Smith permanent Chairman was meant as a solatium. It is no secret that in the original draft of the Bill Mr. Dorrien Smith desired to have himself called "lord paramount" of the island, and it was only when it was pointed out that that was a title which would be in conflict with the rights of the Duchy of Cornwall that the claim was withdrawn. This shows, to some extent, how these questions have grown up, and I think I have shown, at all events, a primâ facie case for referring the Bill to a Select Committee. It will be said that the inhabitants have not protested against the Bill. Their position is peculiar. Mr. Dorrien Smith is proprietor of the islands, under the Duchy, and his power is absolutely paramount. The people are afraid to oppose his wishes in any respect whatever; but I think the House of Commons, has a right to go into the matter and ascertain what his rights are. In regard to the second Bill, there are one or two questions I would like to put if the right hon. Gentleman would prefer to answer them now; but, if not, I will defer them.


Perhaps the hon. Gentleman had better put them now.


They refer to the Pier and Harbour Bill.


As they are not connected with the subject-matter of the Bill now before the House they had better be deferred.


Then I will conclude by moving the Motion which stands on the Paper in my name.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Order [2nd June] that the Bill tie committed, he read, and discharged, and that the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of Nine Members, Five to be nominated by the House and Four by the Committtee of Selection; that all Petitions against the Bill presented Three clear days before the meeting of the Committee be referred to the Committee; that the Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents, be heard against the Bill, and Counsel heard in support of the Bill; that the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records; that Three be the quorum."—[Mr. Channing.)


I should have no wish to complain of the action of the hon. Member in making this Motion, if he could show that there has been any serious departure from the provisions of the Local Government Act. But I must remind the hon. Member and the House that provisions are contained in that Act for dealing' with the special requirements of any district in which it might be necessary to set up a County Council; and an examination into the circumstances of the Scilly Islands showed the framers of the measure that such special powers would be necessary when the time should arrive for establishing a County Council there. It is to meet an anomalous condition of things that such a course has been taken. I cannot help expressing my regret that the hon. Gentleman in moving the Motion, actuated only, as he told the House, by honest and sincere motives for the interests of good Local Government, should have made statements in reference to Mr. Dorrion Smith which, I think, he will find very few people to endorse.


Will the hon. Gentleman pardon me? I did not say a single word that could reflect upon the action of Mr. Dorrien Smith. I most fully recognised his efforts to improve the condition of the people of the islands.


The hon. Gentleman said that representations had been made to him which induced him to believe that the people of the islands were in a state of fear, and that they were unable to represent freely their own case. I leave the House to judge for itself whether that does not imply that the government of Mr. Dorrien Smith is of such a nature as to frighten the people of the Scilly Islands. I must, therefore, repeat my regret that the hon. Gentleman was not able to make the Motion without indulging in an imputation of such a nature against Mr. Dorrien Smith. Section 49 of the Local Government Act says that Provisional Orders shall be, as far as possible, in consonance with the principles of the Act, and that is what the present Order is. Anybody who knows the Scilly Islands and has made himself acquainted with the condition of things there will be aware that it is simply ridiculous to say that the position of the Duke of Sutherland in the County of Sutherland can be compared with the position of Mr. Dorrien Smith in the Scilly Islands. The present Provisional Order has passed through all its forms. The hon. Gentleman says that the fact of there having been no Petition against it ought not to weigh on account of the peculiar position occupied by the inhabitants. Now, every pro vision contained in this Order was laid most carefully before the people of the islands, and every opportunity has been afforded for the presentation of Petitions, and no objection has been raised except by the hon. Gentleman opposite. The hon. Gentleman has not given any ground for departing from the in variable rule in connection with Pro visional Order Bills, and the point he has raised could be as well dealt with on the Second Reading as in Committee. The rights of the county electors in the Island of Scilly will not be in any way interfered with. Mr. Dorrien Smith is practically the Governor of the islands, and anyone who has taken the trouble to visit them must be satisfied that he has done his best for the interests of the inhabitants and that his rule has been a most beneficent one.

(3.30.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

I gladly recognise the able manner in which the hon. Member for East Northampton (Mr. Channing) has dealt with this matter; but in regard to the remarks which have fallen from the Secretary to the Local Government Board, I think it is desirable to make it quite clear to the House that there are sufficient grounds for our opposition to the Bill in its present form. The hon. Gentleman has complained of the way in which the hon. Member for East Northampton dealt with the matter as far as Mr. Dorrien Smith is concerned; but, after the ample tribute which has been paid to the beneficent action of Mr. Dorrien Smith and his family in connection with these islands, I think it is unfair to take my hon. Friend to task for his reference to the condition of the people of the Scilly Islands, which is undoubtedly an important factor in the case. The hon. Gentleman twits my hon. Friend with having no support from the people, and he says that, being fully cognisant of what was going on, they had an ample opportunity of petitioning. He aided that, as they have not done so, it is a proof that they are in favour of the Bill, or that they do not care sufficiently about it to oppose it. I must say that the absence of opposition affords proof, to some extent, that the liberties of the people of these islands are scarcely worth fighting for; but I have had letters from different persons living in Scilly which state that the inhabitants are in a state of fear, and believe that any action on their part would result in their being forced to relinquish their holdings and being turned out of the islands. All I can say is, that if the inhabitants are so timorous and so wanting in pluck it will only serve them right if they suffer in future. They will only have themselves to thank, and nobody else. But, so far as the proposal to establish Mr. Dorrien Smith as the permanent Chairman is concerned, that is a matter altogether apart from local feeling. It is a distinct departure from a fundamental principle recognised in the Local Government Act, and I failed to find in the speech of the Secretary to the Local Government Board a single justification for this extraordinary departure from the settled policy of the Local Government Act. The only reason assigned by the hon. Gentleman is that Mr. Dorrien Smith is the Governor of the island—an autocrat on whom the welfare, liberties, and prosperity of these people depend. That, I think, is a strong reason why we should not increase and extend the power of this gentleman by constituting him Chairman of the Council and the future controller of their destinies for all time to come.

(3.45.) MR. BOLITHO (Cornwall, St. Ives)

List autumn the Local Government Board sent down an experienced gentleman to inquire into all the circum stances of the case. That gentleman took evidence, and the present Bill is the outcome of his inquiry. No doubt there are anomalies in the case, but the Scilly Islands themselves are an anomaly. For my part, I hold that the Government have been wise in placing a clause in this Bill as an incentive and stimulant to the temporary owner of the property to reside amongst the islanders and give them the benefit of his influence and advice. If any man deserves encouragement and support in connection with the Scilly Islands it is Mr. Dorrien Smith. When he came into this inheritance he found the people in a deplorable and impoverished condition. He has encouraged their industry, especially in the growth of flowers, and they are now frugal, industrious, contented, and prosperous. They are not afraid of speaking their own minds, and I know from experience, that if they felt dissatisfaction, neither Mr. Dorrien Smith nor anybody else would prevent them from expressing it.

(3.50.) The House divided:—Ayes 105; Noes 179.—(Div. List, No. 135.)


I have a similar Motion on the Paper in regard to another Bill; but, after the Division which has just taken place, I do not propose to proceed with it. I should like, however, to hear from the President of the Board of Trade why the dues on exported shell fish and flowers are not regulated and controlled by the Provisional Order for which the right hon. Gentleman is re sponsible, and why these dues are left to the absolute discretion of Mr. Dorrien Smith?


It is impossible in the schedule attached to a Provisional Order to schedule every article, but I believe that in this case the schedule has received the approval of the fishermen them selves. If the hon. Gentleman requires further information, and will put a question upon the Paper, I shall be happy to answer it.