HC Deb 06 August 1913 vol 56 cc1709-17

The counties of—Argyll, Caithness, Inverness (excluding the Burgh of Inverness), Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland, Orkney, and Zetland.


I beg to move, after the word "Zetland," to add the words,

"The Highlands of Perthshire, that is to say, the Highland district of the county of Perth and the parishes of Aberfoyle, Balquhidder, Callander, Comrie, Killin, and Kirkmichael.

The Highlands of Forfarshire, that is to say, the parishes of Lochlee, Edzell, Lethnot, Glenisla, Lintrathen.

The Highlands of Aberdeenshire, that is to say, the parishes of Crathie and Braemar, Blenmuick, Strathdon, and Glenbucket.

The Highlands of Banffshire, that is to say, the parishes of Glenrinnes, quoad sacra of Mortlach, Glenlivet, quoad sacra of Inveravon, Kirkmichael, and Cabrach.

And such Highland portions of the counties of Moray and Nairn as the Board may from time to time determine."

This is one of the cases which was in the original Bill, and that shows the necessity of those particular districts. I would simply say that so far as Perthshire is concerned it is one of the most mountainous districts in all the Highlands, it is the most mountainous part of Scotland. With regard to the other, the Highland districts of the county of Perth, practically the same thing may be said. One is on the western side of the and the other on the eastern side of the hill. I would point out that a place like Kirkmichael, a district which is 29 miles across, with 21,000 acres, and which has not got a doctor. I think these necessitous parishes ought to be put into the Bill. I think I am entitled to point out to hon. Members who are appealing for other districts such as Aberdeenshire and Morayshire that many other parts of the Highlands and Islands are necessitous. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us an undertaking that if he cannot take this Amendment as it stands he will at least give us some assurance that he will be able to put many of these districts into a Bill of a similar nature next year. So far as Perthshire is concerned, I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to make an offer with regard to it, and, if the right hon. Gentleman will tell me what he proposes, I shall only be too glad to come to some agreement, as I am quite sensible of the way in which the Government has met me in this matter. We have not always agreed on the details of the Bill, but I would say this: I do know that our object and our aim are really the same, and I do not see really why we should quarrel about any particular place, but that we should go together hand in hand for the benefit of our own country.

Captain WARING

I beg to second this Amendment, for the reason that it concerns one of the districts which I happen to represent, and I am very glad to learn that the right hon. Gentleman has some statement to snake later which will render it unnecessary to enter into any long argument on the subject. There is not the slightest doubt that the district I represent is one of the most necessitous in Scotland. Anyone who has visited it in the winter would see that some provision should be made for special medical service. If any hon. Member will refer to the report of the Insurance Commissioners for 1912–3, and look at the reference made to this district, he will see the district mentioned as being fully as necessitous as any district, and for that reason I wish to second this Amendment; but I trust that the statement which the right hon. Gentleman is about to make will render it unnecessary to press the Amendment to a Division.


I think the recital of the names from the Chair shows this to be an Amendment which the Government could not possibly accept. The considerable uprising of Scottish Members two minutes ago is another indication of the difficulty. It was found, when we came to consider the matter, that every Scottish Member had a necessitous district. The fact of the matter is, that it is perfectly obvious if all these proposals were assented to, the £42,000 would be of very slender assistance to anybody. I would remind the House that the Committee's Report has resulted in a very generous Grant from the Treasury to deal with specific cases in Scotland, first, those of the Islands which, not merely from geographical circumstances, but by reason of the smallness of the rateable value, were unable to obtain a doctor, and also the Highland districts. So that the Grant was intended to deal with what was understood generally as the Highlands and Islands.

We find in the Report of the Committee that there is no recommendation of all the districts named in the proposal of the Noble Lord. The only one mentioned is the Highlands of Perthshire, quite a vague description. I am prepared to meet what appears to be an indication, although not a recommendation, in the Report of the Committee, by adding to the Schedule "the Highland district of the county of Perth as at present constituted under the terms of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1889." We cannot go further, but I may say that I have had a communication with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that the Government recognise there are other necessitous parts of Scotland, although they are partly dealt with by the Mileage Grant already given, and it is proposed that those other parts of Scotland which would come under the description, but which could not possibly be put in this Bill, shall be considered, and that the necessary money for dealing with them shall be provided next year. I have the authority of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for making that announcement and I understand it will meet the view of my colleagues in the representation of Scotland. Perhaps, in these circumstances, the Noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment and will allow me to substitute the one I have suggested to the House.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether this involves the introduction of a new Bill, or whether the Grant for other districts can be given without an Act of Parliament?


I should like notice of that question, but I think if it deals with places of inaccessibility, it can be dealt with as before without an Act of Parliament.


I beg to withdraw my Amendment, and to thank the right hon. Gentleman.


I congratulate the Noble Lord on getting something for Perthshire out of the Government. We understood, first of all, that this Grant of £42,000 was to be for the crofting counties in the North of Scotland, and we never understood that Perthshire, or the High- lands of Perthshire, were included in the Amendment.


Did not the hon. Member move an Amendment of that description?


I have no recollection of such a thing. I am concerned about the money we are getting for the North of Scotland. At this hour of the night I will not detain the House because, although I regard this as a serious question indeed so far as the Highlands are concerned, provided I get the assurance of my right hon. Friend that the Highlands counties as we know them in the North are not to be severely handicapped by the inclusion of the Highlands of Perthshire, I will not proceed any further with my speech. The only thing is that we must be satisfied that the Highland counties, which are really in great need of a Grant of this sort, are not to be caused any discomfort by the inclusion of the Highlands of Perthshire. I am greatly dissatisfied with the Government for having at this hour of the night come forward with a proposal to include the Highlands of Perthshire within the scope of the Bill.


I shall only occupy the attention of the House for a few moments, but I desire to register my emphatic protest against the decision of the Government to include parts of Perthshire within the ambit of this Bill. In the first place, I should like to say that the Highlands and Islands of Scotland have again and again been defined in measures which have passed on to the Statute Book, and in no Statute which exists at the present moment is any part of Perthshire included within that definition. A second reason for opposing the course which the Government propose now to take is that even in the Dewar Report there is no recommendation whatever that any part of Perthshire should be included within the ambit of this Bill. I challenge anybody to controvert the statement which I make that there is no recommendation whatever in that Report to include any part of Perthshire in the Bill. But the most important reason of all for opposing the course proposed to be taken is this: We discussed this matter at considerable length in Grand Committee upstairs, and the decision of the Committee—I admit frankly that it was arrived at by only a small majority—was that no part of Perthshire should be included. In favour of that Amendment, which I had the honour of moving, I had the support of two Members of the Government—the Secretary for Scotland and the Lord Advocate. Both voted for the exclusion of Perthshire from the Bill, and were supported by the majority of the Scottish Members on the Committee. Now, when the Bill comes downstairs again, my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland proposes deliberately to reverse the decision of the Scottish Grand Committee upstairs. He proposes, that is to say, that part of Perthshire should be included, and I suppose if the matter were pressed to a Division he would put on the Government Whips with the object of voting down the very Members whom he supported in the Division which took place on the same question in Grand Committee upstairs. The attitude the Government have adopted in these circumstances is a very extraordinary one and one that I feel bound to protest against in the strongest possible manner.


On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I wish to ask you whether it is in order for an hon. Member to wear his hat when seated in the side Gallery.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Maclean)

The place which the hon. Member in question is occupying is within the House, and the hon. Member is as much entitled to wear his hat there as if he were on the floor of the House.


I have only one further observation to make to the House. I do not think it is fair to other counties in Scotland, who have an equally good, if not, in some instances, a better claim than Perthshire to be included in the Bill, that they should in the meantime be excluded from the benefits of the Bill while Perthshire is included. I am very much mistaken if that view is not shared by a number of my hon. Friends sitting on this side of the House, but, of course, there is no desire to endanger the safety of the Bill. The master fact of the situation is that we all want the Bill, but at the same time I do desire to register an emphatic protest against the decision of the Government.


I am very sorry that the Secretary for Scotland has seen fit to give way on this question after the decision which was come to in Committee upstairs. I have the advantage of knowing every district which the Noble Lord represents in Perthshire, and, in fact, there is hardly any part of Scotland that I do not know. Therefore I can say, speaking with every confidence, that there are many other parts of Scotland that are infinitely worse off than these districts of Perthshire. I think it is very unfair, after the decision which was come to in Committee upstairs, where the Scottish Members were fully represented, that the Government should have given the Noble Lord the only Amendment which has been asked for. The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire (Mr. J. M. Henderson) wanted to include the districts of Strathdon and Glenbucket. I agree with the hon. Member for Inverness when he said that if he stood in Perthshire he could not, looking at it from the purely Highland point of view, tell whether he was in Perthshire, or Aberdeenshire, or Inverness.

I have no hesitation in saying that there are districts in Kirkcudbrightshire, Peeblesshire, and Lanarkshire, which are quite as bad as any in the Western Islands. Therefore, the basis of the Bill from the very first should have been that it should have applied to necessitous areas in Scotland wherever they exist. There are some portions of the Highlands that are as good as any other parts of Scotland. Therefore, I regret very much that my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland should have given way to one Member, when Members for other parts of Scotland representing necessitous areas whose claims were rejected were quite satisfied when the usual definition was applied to the Highlands and Islands. The only thing which comforts me is this: We have the pledge that next year something will be done to deal with the other necessitous areas. In these circumstances I think West Perthshire could have afforded to have waited until next year and not have set up a preferential claim to be regarded as a necessitous area. Moreover, if West Perthshire had waited and joined hands with other parts of Scotland, there would have been a better opportunity of carrying some legislation applicable to the whole of Scotland.


I have risen for two purposes. In the first place, I wish to commiserate with my hon. Friends in their desertion by the Secretary for Scotland, although in view of the history of this particular Bill I do not think they need be surprised. I would remind the House that the Bill as introduced contained West Perthshire, and my right hon. Friend was responsible for it in the form in which it was introduced. In Committee the right hon. Gentleman voted against his own proposal and I do not see that the hon. Member for Wick Burghs (Mr. Munro) need now be surprised that on the Report stage the right hon. Gentleman should be willing to vote for his original proposal. At the same time, the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Munro), who made an admirable and eloquent speech in Committee, may, of course, now feel surprised that the effects of that admirable speech should have been of such short duration. I wish in the main to deal with two points. I think everybody who represents Scottish interests will regret the unseemly scramble which has taken place for these Grants by representatives of different parts of Scotland. I myself have not asked for anything. The cause of the trouble has been that when the Committee was appointed no definite agreement was made indicating the areas which were to be dealt with.

That is the first statement which the Committee make in their Report, and it was on account of the indefinite nature of their instructions that they decided to take evidence from the areas which were originally included in the Schedule of the Bill. It is unfortunate, I think, that in giving an elastic interpretation to the term "Highlands and Islands" they only included one district outside what has been hitherto included in other Statutes as Highlands and Islands—I mean the district of West Perthshire. That brings me to my other point. My hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeen, who, unfortunately, has had to leave London to-night, wished to include Strathdon and Glenbucket. I should like to state very briefly the grounds on which I think this area, with which I am personally acquainted, should be included in the Bill. It is a very widely scattered area. It includes 334,500 acres, and there is a sparse population of 3,300 scattered over it. Many of these people reside in very inaccessible parts, which it is almost impossible to reach, especially in winter, and it is of the utmost consequence to them that there should be telephonic communication and the provision of a nurse. In view of the statement which the Secretary for Scotland has been able to make on the authority of the Treasury, that the claims of this area will be favourably considered next year, I have no doubt that my hon. Friend, who was to have moved the Amendment, would consent, under the circumstances, to the exclusion of West Perthshire.


I should like to know what position the Government intend to take up with regard to giving us the names of the Board before the Third Reading of the Bill. It is the usual practice of the House that we should know the constitution of such a Board before we agree to pass the Bill. I quite appreciate, at the same time, the difficulty in which the Secretary for Scotland finds himself at the moment with regard to these names. The second thing I want to say is this: Are we to understand that all the Amendments on the Paper dealing with what are called necessitous areas in other parts of Scotland will be dealt with next year? If these areas get money, or if they are included under this Act, will the people who administer the money be the Board appointed under this Act? It has to be remembered that this is an unpaid Board, and it is one thing to confine their activities to certain defined areas, but quite another thing if their activities are to be spread over all the counties in Scotland. I do not think it is fair to place that amount of work on this Board, and it. seems to me that in a great number of the areas mentioned in the Amendments the circumstances are not the same as obtain in the Highlands and Islands. In most of these areas the main difficulty is one of inaccessibility, but the real reason why this Grant was given was in aid of necessitous people in the Highlands and Islands. If Grants are to be given to areas merely on the ground of inaccessibility and not on the ground of necessitous circumstances, whom are you going to ask to administer them? Would it not be better in that case to make this part of the work of the Insurance Commissioners?


With regard to the second point raised by my hon. Friend. I do not think it would be advisable to decide the exact form of administration until we have formed the districts. With regard to the names I had hoped to be able to give them before the Bill left this House, but the Treasury is very much occupied during the last day or two. They have not quite made up their minds whether they should appoint a representative of the Insurance Commissioners, and besides that one or two of the people who have been asked have not yet given their assent, so that I am not able now to give the names. I promise to give them as soon as I can arrange, perhaps in answer to a question, before the House rises.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, at the end of the Schedule, to add the words—

"The Highland District of the County of Perth as at present constituted under the terms of the Local Government Act (Scotland), 1889."

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.

Schedule, as amended, added to the Bill.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Bill be now read the third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.