HC Deb 13 December 1922 vol 159 cc3099-106

There is one point which I wish to raise now, which has no relation to the question of coal, but for the convenience of the Prime Minister I desire to put it straightaway. In this Parliament, Scotland is in the unfortunate position of not having any Minister to deal with Scottish affairs. In ordinary circumstances Scotland is represented in the Government by the Secretary for Scotland, the Lord Advocate, the Solicitor-General and the Minister of Health. The right hon. Gentleman, in forming his Government before the General Election, omitted to remark that his choice of Ministers would not coincide with the choice of the electorate of Scotland, and so he finds himself in this Parliament in the unfortunate position of not having in the House of Commons a single Scottish Minister who can reply to Scottish Members on Scottish questions. More than that, the Prime Minister has made what is to me a very unfortunate choice in electing to have the Secretary for Scotland in the House of Lords. It is the duty of the Secretary for Scotland to deal with questions put to him from the 74 Members who represent Scotland. My right hon. Friend knows we are not only entitled to that at Question Time in the House, but we are also entitled to have the presence of the Secretary for Scotland in the House when we are discussing Scottish Estimates. This year the Secretary for Scotland will not be able to come further into the House of Commons than the Peers' Gallery, but he will not be entitled to take part in Scottish Debates, and unless my right hon. Friend finds seats for the three Ministers who are not here, the Scotsmen will have to rely upon him to deal with Scottish affairs.

Further, any Bill which affects Scotland must go upstairs to a Standing Committee, and Scottish Members on both sides of the House are entitled to the assistance of the Law Officers of the Crown for Scotland and of the Scottish Secretary. There, again, the Scottish Secretary will not be able to attend the meetings of the Scottish Standing Committee, except at the table with the officials, but he will nor be able to take part in those discussions, and I want to ask the Prime Minister what he intends to do between now and the Recess. I presume he is looking around for seats to accommodate those Members. I remember referring to the matter jocularly to him in the Lobby, and he suggested that some of us might resign our seats in order that his Ministers might find room in the House of Commons, but there is a better plan than that. Take Mr. Kidd, who sat for Linlithgow, and was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of Health by the Prime Minister. The electors of Linlithgow preferred an hon. Gentleman who sits on the Opposition side of the House. Why not transfer the office to the choice of the electors of Linlithgow? It would be a very interesting experiment. After all, I think the Prime Minister recognises that he must make some kind of arrangement before we meet again in February, by which there shall be some responsible Minister in this House. The Minister of Health has not at present a seat in this House, and Sir Arthur Boscawen, who holds that office, has a very unhappy record in regard to his ability to keep any seat that is offered to him, and I do not know that the Prime Minister would not be well advised to make Lord Novar Minister of Health and make a fresh appointment to the Secretaryship for Scotland, because the Secretary for Scotland ought to be in this House. Therefore, the point I want answering by the Prime Minister is. What arrangement does he propose between now and February? If he is unable to find seats for those Ministers, will he find new Ministers before we moot in February?

There is one other point in connection with this that I think we ought to raise at this moment. For long enough the Secretary for Scotland has been the one Member of the Cabinet who is not a Secretary of State. He has got more work than any other Cabinet Minister. He attends to 11 separate Departments. He has got a less salary than Ministers who do less work on that Bench. I put a question to the Prime Minister the other day in regard to the Committee that dealt with the question of salaries, and he will remember that the gist of that report was that certain Ministers of certain rank ought to have certain salaries. Is he also prepared to raise the status of the Secretary for Scotland and to make it comparable with the status of other Secretaries of State so that Scotland may be brought into line, with the other Departments of the Government?


I wish to associate myself with all that has fallen from the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). I am happy indeed to find a subject on which he and I can agree. I hope, before the end of the Debate, there will be a Minister in this House who is solely in charge of Scottish business. May I say at once that no one on those Benches has the slightest complaint whatever againt the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works. He is an old and a valued friend of most of us, and has always helped us, but ho has no responsibility. He is unable even to answer supplementary questions, although he may, and probably does, know the answer perfectly well, but he cannot give it because he has no responsibility. Under those circumstances, how can he possibly deal with all the multifarious matters which come daily before the majority of Scottish Members? The Secretary for Scotland is responsible, I believe, for something like 14 Departments. How can the First Commissioner of Works look after 14 Departments, and, in addition, attend to his own duties? But I have noticed that the questions addressed to the First Commissioner in his own capacity are very few. On the other hand, at every question time there are numbers addressed to him as representing the Scottish Office. My hon. Friend has suggested that a change in Ministers might be made. I agree with him. My suggestion is somewhat different. Why should not the First Commissioner of Works and the Noble Lord change places? Let the First Commissioner of Works become Secretary for Scotland, and the Noble Lord become First Commissioner of Works, and be responsible for answering Scottish questions whenever they may occur in another place. I make that suggestion in all friendliness to the Government, and as one who feels goodwill towards that Government. I do not want to see the Prime Minister put into the position of finding a Scottish seat for the Lord Advocate or the Ministers who have, unfortunately, not got seats in this House. Such a course might indeed be fraught with danger and attended with results which would cause us on these benches a very considerable pang. But, however that may be, I do hope that we shall hear of some satisfactory solution of this question, as otherwise it does seem to me that Scottish business and Scottish interests will be relegated further into the background than is usual in our present Parliamentary system.


I gave notice—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up!"]. I can make myself heard as well as anyone, if the House will keep quiet.


The hon. Member must not be too sensitive to a little interruption. The House will always listen better to a Member who speaks quietly than to one who shouts.


I was going to do that. I gave notice that I would raise this question to-night for two reasons. The first was because, when we wanted information in connection with the money paid out by the Parish Councils in Scotland, we have almost required to go across to the other side of the House and drag it out of the hon. Member who was to reply. The Government seem to have cultivated the fine art of trying to put one off or to give one no satisfaction. To-day, I asked a question about 23,000 women in Scotland, who are unemployed. It was quite a pertinent question, as I think the Prime Minister will agree. Instead of getting any reply, I was referred to something that was very indefinite and that came out upon some other day.

We feel that Scottish business is being neglected. I have the usual amount of clannish feeling for the Prime Minister, and I am quite sure that, so far as in him lies, he will try to see that we get a fair share. Humanly speaking, however, it is not possible for the Prime Minister to do that, and we regard to be treated, in regard to these national questions, in a different way. I do not presume to suggest to the Prime Minister how he should run his Government. I think it is much better that he should do that part of the work himself, because if he took our suggestions it would to some extent disarm us. I would prefer that neither of these Gentlemen should be considered at all, but that the Prime Minister should make his own selection, and then, when the time comes, we shall be able to try to do our work. I would appeal to the Prime Minister to try and find some road out of that dilemma, and make some suitable arrangement whereby Scottish business will be attended to, as it is not the case at present.


I am sure the House would not like to pass away from this subject until I have thanked the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) for the most interesting suggestion he offered to the Prime Minister. Should the right hon. Gentleman consider the advisability of appointing myself to the honourable position which has been mentioned, I assure him that I have no time to undertake so onerous a task. I should like to say, however, that the Prime Minister must be very careful indeed about the selection of gentlemen for positions associated with the Scottish Office. Unless he is very careful, there will not be one safe seat left in Scotland from the Government point of view. If my information is correct, and I have reason to assume it is, it will be a very difficult task for the Government to find secure seats for those who at present occupy Government positions associated with the Scottish Office. We on these benches have a claim on the Prime Minister, who is a Scottish Member. With all his faults and limitations we cannot forget he is associated with Clydeside, and to that extent we take a certain pride in the association. At all events, our claim on the Prime Minister, our national claim, entitles us to some consideration at his hands. I submit that Scottish questions have been ignored in this House from the beginning of the Session. Of that there can be no doubt, because it is obvious that in replies to questions the information furnished has been very meagre and of a kind entirely beside the point of the question itself, and sometimes inaccurate. I do not want to exaggerate, but to be as moderate as I possibly can, and, under the circumstances to be fair.

[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I assure hon. Members that I wish to be fair to an inexperienced Member of the Government who has been placed in a most unfortunate position because of the inconvenience to which the Government has been placed as the result of Scottish political opinion. I hope sincerely that, having regard to the importance of Scottish issues and to the fact that in bygone days, with which the Prime Minister is more familiar than I, Scottish questions did not receive the consideration which they were entitled to receive, the right hon. Gentleman will go into this question immediately and not to lavish too many favours on hon. Gentlemen who do not stem to be capable of securing favours from other people, from people from whom they ought to receive favours. Let him choose capable men from hon. Gentlemen opposite, men who will give satisfaction, and will answer questions to the satisfaction of hon. Members. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give us the consideration we deserve.


I am really very much obliged to the hon. Members who have spoken. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell) has confessed to a certain feeling of clannishness, which I am inclined to think does apply to Scotsmen. Whatever one may say about the Scot, he is always apt to turn upon anyone who attacks a fellow Scot. But I would venture to make this remark to the hon. Member for Northern Lanark (Mr. Sullivan). He is new to the House of Commons, and he complained that, in answer to questions, he was often referred to something that had been said before, which was not very plain. I have had that experience myself very often, as a Member of the House of Commons, but I do not think that would cease to exist if we had a dozen Secretaries for Scotland in this House instead of none. The difficulty about this matter is, as I said the other day, that we have too few Scotsmen in the Government, f HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!" and "No!"] That is an obvious drawback. But, so far as Scotland making itself heard is concerned, I think the effect of the absence of Scottish Members from this bench is likely to be more than made up for by the vigour and energy of those who sit in other parts of the House. I was touched by the speeches which were made by two hon. Gentlemen, the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) and the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and Haddington (Major Waring). I do not quite know what to make of them in this sense: that I felt that it was at least the beginning of that Liberal reunion of which we have heard. My difficulty was that at the moment I could not quite make up my mind whether I ought to rejoice at it or to lament at it —and I am not quite sure yet!

As regards the point which was raised, I it is obviously a serious one, and the difficulty consists in the strange fact that Scotsmen who, all other people think, are so wise, seem to be curiously out of gear at this moment when it comes to political considerations. Of course I realise that we could not go on as we are. I will I tell the House exactly what the position is. As regards the Secretary for Scotland being in the other House, I do not really think that there is much ground for complaint on that score. The Secretary for Scotland has many other duties to deal with. I remember very well that, while I was still a Member of this House, a Liberal Secretary for Scotland was transferred to the other House, and still continued to carry on his functions there, so that, from the point of view of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, there is not much to complain about.

What we intended to do from the first was this: I thought that the Session I would be shorter than it has turned out to be, and that the House of Commons would feel that it was not too much to ask that we should go on as we are until the end of this Session. The House knows that the absence of a Minister for a long period from the House has often happened before, but of course, as has been truly said, the Secretary for Scotland represents a great number of Departments. He has most important duties to perform; but it was always considered in my time, and long before, that there was no office that Scotsmen were so proud of as that of the Lord Advocate, and therefore there can be no ground of complaint when he is in this House.

As regards the Under-Secretary, I think the hon. Member himself will feel that in the case of Mr. Kidd, of whom, though I have not had many opportunities of judging him, I formed a very good opinion as to his ability—I thought it would be extremely had to say at once that he must give up his office. I do not think the House will think it unreasonable that, on the chance of his obtaining another seat, he should continue, in that office until we meet again. If that does not happen we must make another selection. As regards the Lord Advocate, I am certain that by the time the House meets he will either have a seat in this House or arrangements will at least have been made for his immediately seeking a seat as soon as Parliament meets. The arrangement will be made before the House meets.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time; and committed to a Committee of the Whole Rouse for To-morrow.

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