HC Deb 04 July 1918 vol 107 cc1969-75

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £6,628, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1919, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of His Majesty's Secretary for Scotland and Subordinate Offices, Expenses under the Inebriates Acts, 1879 to 1900, and Expenses under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1899."—NOTE.—£12,000 has been voted on account.]


I do not grudge the Secretary for Scotland his salary, and I think we all congratulate him on the very hard work he has carried out in his post. He has travelled to and fro from Scotland in a way which has commanded the approval and admiration of us all. Before he gets his Vote I should like to bring one or two questions to his notice. There is now a great deal being done in the country in connection with bringing the Representation of the People Act into operation, and it is very difficult for those who are interested in that work to understand exactly what the relation is between the work being done in England and the work being done in Scotland. The Local Government Board in England are issuing a large variety of Orders, some of which apply to Scotland and some of which do not. It is very difficult for those who are trying to carry out this work, which is of enormous interest to all of us and to the constituencies for which we sit, to know whether or not it is being done properly, For instance, the forms of the register are different in Scotland from what they are in England. So far as I have seen, the forms in Scotland are much better than they are in England. Take the question of the absent voter or the proxy voter. The Local Government Board in England have issued a paper which gives all sorts of instructions about the drawing up of the claims, and it is difficult to find whether the same Regulations apply to Scotland. Take another instance, the English Local Government Board is drawing up, and I think has now issued, if not they will be issued in a few days, very elaborate instructions in regard to proxy voters. I confess I should like to see those greatly simplified, because, as they stand, it would be very difficult for anyone to understand them, and the result will probably be that a very small number of the proxy voters will actually give their votes at the next election. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Regulations with regard to the proxy voters will be the same in Scotland as in England?

Then another point is that the Local Government Board in England, on the representations of the Whips of the different parties, who were very anxious that the parties should help in every possible way in the preparation of the register, have agreed to supply the political agents, in different constituencies, copies of the lists of electors free of charge. The English Local Government Board have been in communication on the subject with the Treasury, who have raised no objection to a direction being given to supply a reasonable number of copies to such agents. The Glasgow assessor, presumably thinking that what is good for England is good for Scotland, gave some copies, but in Edinburgh that has not been done, the assessor there not having had any instructions from the Secretary for Scotland, and in other parts of Scotland also this has not been done. Will the right hon. Gentleman, if he has not already done so, give instructions for the supply of copies of the lists of electors? Undoubtedly the registers in Scotland are far ahead of those in England in the majority of cases, and it is evident from the returns I have had from different parts of Scotland that there will be a very large number of claims. However carefully you carry out this work, it is impossible to get, at the first go off, everybody on the register who ought to be on it, and the more you can get the assistance of the agents to make your register complete the better. Therefore it stands that if you give these registers free of charge, you get them more freely distributed and more widely examined than if you asked these agents to pay for them. It seems to me that in order to help to make the register, these draft registers ought to be circulated as widely as possible, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, if it is not too late, will give instructions that these registers shall be supplied free of charge in Scotland as in England, and that where payment has been made the money will be refunded.

Another point which is of great interest to us all and to all the electors is the charge that is to be made for the new register. In the old days in the constituency of Edinburgh it was possible to get the register for the whole of the city—for the four divisions—for a sum of 10s. But there has been a new Regulation issued—it is now on the Table of the House, and it applies to Scotland as well as England—under the second Schedule of which the charges are fixed for copies of the register, or so much as relates to any registration unit, at 4d. for the first 100 names and 2d. for each additional 100 or part of 100. On a register of 30,000 electors the cost would work out at £2 10s., and the comparison between the 10s. which had to be paid in the old days and the £2 10s. now demanded deserves consideration. It must be borne in mind that the number of voters on the register has enormously increased, so, too, has the cost of printing and paper, and therefore the cost of production has gone up. But we ought to regard this as a public charge, a considerable proportion of which should fall on public funds. I think it would be good policy if the Secretary for Scotland, in consultation with the President of the Local Government Board in England, would try and get a reduction in the price of these registers. The hon. Member for one of the divisions of Manchester and myself put questions on this subject last week to the President of the Local Government Board, and the answer was returned "that the Treasury was being consulted on the matter." All I ask—and of course I do not expect a definite reply to-day—is that the Secretary for Soot-land should make representations to the Treasury, pointing out that when an almost unlimited amount of money was allowed to be expended on elections copies of the register were cheap, whereas now the expenses are limited and restricted they are being made very dear. It seems to me that a charge like that ought to fall in its main burden on the public purse, and not on the private purse of the candidate.


Perhaps I may be allowed in a sentence to express my thanks to my right hon. Friend for the very generous allusion which he has made to my humble efforts in the execution of the duties of my office. In regard to the various points that he has raised I wish to assure him that none of them have been overlooked. The first was with regard to the Orders issued by the Local Government Board with reference to elections. My right hon. Friend may assume that none of the Orders issued by the Local Government Board in England have any application to Scotland. We shall look after our own literature on that side of the Border and issue any directions or injunctions which may be thought necessary. But so far we have not found it necessary or desirable to issue so many as have been issued in England. The next question is with regard to free copies of the election lists. I think the right hon. Gentleman said that such free copies had been arranged for in England and in the city of Glasgow. I am giving instructions that that shall be done generally throughout Scotland, and I am sure he will regard that as a satisfactory arrangement. With regard to the charges for copies of the new register, all I can say is that the amount has been fixed in consultation with the Stationery Office. One has to remember that these registers will contain twice as many names as formerly, and that the cost of production will probably be twice as great. I very much doubt whether, under these circumstances, it will be found possible to reduce the charges, but I will confer with the President of the Local Government Board and see whether anything can be done in that direction.


A question was put to the Secretary for Scotland to-day with regard to special constables in Glasgow and other large Scottish cities. The Committee will be aware that in London certain concessions have been made to special constables who have served for a certain time and who are of a military age by which they are exempted from being called up for military service. I suggest that special constables in certain cities in Scotland are entitled to the same consideration, in view of the work they are called upon to do. I know there is a strong feeling on the point as they have given up a great deal of their time at great inconvenience, and I therefore hope that it will be found possible to come to some arrangement with the Ministry of National Service to extend to them the concession which has been granted to the London special constables.


I want to draw attention to an appointment made by the Secretary for Scotland in July of last year—the appointment of a distinguished Member of this House, the Member for Edinburgh University, to a senatorship of the College of Justice or a judgeship in the High Court. The gentleman appointed was well worthy of the position, but my objection is to the date of the appointment. The Courts rise on the 20th July for a long vacation of three months. This appointment was made on the 21st of July, just one day after the long vacation had commenced, so that the new judge was in the position of drawing his salary for a period of three months, during which he had nothing to do. The nation thereby lost a sum of £900, and I understand that the distinguished gentleman appointed would have been quite willing to await the reassembling of the Courts before receiving has appointment. I have received letters pointing out that this is not a proper method of transacting public business. The Secretary for Scotland has been making very strong observations about the necessity for the nation saving in every respect. He made an historic speech in Edinburgh and made this most startling observation, that everyone who did not economise or everyone who wasted money at such a time as this was a traitor to his country. Yet we have him in his official capacity making an appointment in these conditions. I venture to think that he erred in judgment in so doing, and I do not know that there is any remedy for it except that in future appointments he will exercise the strict economy which he so eloquently desires the people of the United Kingdom to adopt. May I before sitting down associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Gulland) in what he said about his desire not in any way to begrudge the expenses of this Department of the Secretary for Scotland, and a fortiori the salary of my right hon. Friend, because the figures that are put down for the Secretary of Scotland's office are only £18,000, which, compared with what we have passed this afternoon for the Board of Agriculture, is a very small figure indeed. The expenses connected with the Secretary's office are therefore less than a quarter of the expenses of the Board of Agriculture, and I think we may safely assert that the Board of Agriculture does not do four times the good work which is done by the Office of the Secretary for Scotland, so that, judging by what we have thought right as a Committee to pass for the Board of Agriculture, we are fully justified in passing with pleasure the necessary sum for, the Secretary of Scotland's Office.


I wish to ask a question in connection with the salaries on this Vote. I do not take exception to the total expenses of the Secretary's office, but it has been apparent to many hon. Members connected with Scotland for many years past that that office appears to be overworked. Not that we take exception to the manner in which they perform their duties, but in view of the vast amount of new work which has been thrown on this office during the past several years it has seemed to me that the staff of this office might be increased with advantage to the public service. The total amount for this office is a very small figure, and if the office in the coming twelve months desires to increase its staff I am sure it will find that hon. Members from Scotland will not take any exception to such an increase. This increase is rampant in every other Department, and the numbers of officials of all types in these offices during the last twelve months have very much increased, but the total salaries in the Secretary for Scotland's office have actually shown a decrease. That, I think, is very clear evidence that where Scotland asserts her authority and the Scottish spirit of economy is not thwarted by English interference the result is eminently satisfactory. I desire to lay emphasis upon this, in view of the ever-growing increase of bureaucracy in this country, that the Secretary for Scotland's office, increasing its work and carrying through that work in a very satisfactory way, yet has been able to do so for a smaller amount of public money. I am sure I only express the minds of the Committee when I say that they hope and trust that this spirit which permeates the Scottish Office will permeate every other office in Whitehall.

Question put, and agreed to.