HC Deb 13 May 1927 vol 206 cc865-78

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

At this hour of the day, my description of this Bill will not be a long one, and a long description is the less necessary because we have given a very full Memorandum as to the character of the Legislature which it is proposed to set up. The Legislature proposed is a single Chamber of 148 Members, elected from the present constituencies. It will have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Scotland. The executive power will continue vested in the King, who will be represented in Scotland by a Lord High Commissioner. Administrative action will be through the Lord High Commissioner, advised by an Executive Committee of the Scottish Privy Council which is to be set up. Practically all subjects that are dealt with relating to Scotland in this Parliament, by this and the other House, will be dealt with in future by the Scottish Parliament, with the exception that the Army, Navy and Air Force, and questions of foreign policy, will be dealt with under a form of "Joint Services," for which the two countries will be responsible. In that connection a Joint Consultative Council will be set up which will apportion the cost that should be borne by the two countries, and will also declare rights and deal with any questions of difficulty.

The Scottish Parliament will have power to levy taxes, and will have a Scottish Treasury; but, inasmuch as in Scotland we always give service for anything received, it will defray the cost of national services under their control out of that Fund. There will be, instead of an appeal to the judicial House of Lords, a Supreme Judicial Court set up in Scotland as the last court of appeal. There will be a, right to petition His Majesty for leave to appeal to the Privy Council in the class of cases that now can be carried to the Privy Council. The representation of Scotland in this House will cease at the date when the Scottish Parliament is constituted. I may say, however, that in this regard we are not proposing the question which was found to be an exceedingly difficult one in connection with the Irish Home Rule discussion. We do not find that at the present time, with no scheme of devolution before the country, we could launch out into any constructive policy in that regard, but, should such a scheme be set up, and should there be a separation of purely Imperial affairs from those that are more local and are to be delegated to England, Scotland, Wales, or any other portions of the country that may be marked out, then, certainly, Scotland would desire to have a worthy part and share in the administration of those Imperial affairs, and also in the larger field covered by what we now know as the Commonwealth of Nations.

The Bill proceeds on the principle of self-determination. It proceeds throughout on the basis of Scotland being a sovereign state. We may well wonder that separate legislatures for different parts of this country have not been set up sooner. On the 4th June, 1919, by 137 votes to 34, this House, in the interests of the Imperial Parliament having more time for general discussion of Imperial and general matters, remitted it to a, Committee, which came to be known as the Speaker's Conference, to go into details as to how the setting up of such separate legislatures or councils could be determined. In the end there was considerable difference of opinion as to the character and composition of the bodies that would be set up under this scheme of devolution, but there was no difference of opinion as to the advisability of relieving the Imperial Parliament of its present congestion, nor was there any difference of opinion that Scotland should have such a legislature, and, in the interim, a council, as was proposed by the Speaker. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury is not present, or I should have liked to refer to the Memorandum which he appended to the Report of the Conference on that occasion, and for two reasons. In the first place, he made a remarkable admission in regard to the sentiment that prevailed in Scotland in regard to this matter— a remarkable admission, I would say, coming from one holding his political opinions, and so opposed as he was to any Measure of Home Rule. He said: It was quickly made evident that, so far as Scotland and Wales are concerned, at all events, no scheme would be acceptable which failed to satisfy the sentiment of nationality. In the second place, he made a special difficulty on this account, that, if you had an Imperial Parliament which dealt with all British affairs— if you had in addition to, say, a Welsh and a Scottish Parliament, an English Parliament dealing with English local matters— those matters would be more entrancing and attractive than the matters that are dealt within an Imperial sense by the Imperial Parliament; therefore it would have the effect of diminishing the position and the prestige of Ministers of the Crown. The result would be that the Ministers of the subordinate Parliaments would come to be looked upon as more important while the Ministers of the Crown would correspondingly decline in popular estimation. But I think, without any special reason of that kind, we have seen, and we see, how what has here been described to-day as the best Government in living memory has been able, without any artifice of that kind, to decline in the popular estimation.

I should like to say a word on the demand for the Measure. It was as far back as 1889 that Dr. Clark brought forward a Measure of Scottish Home Rule. It was in an uncongenial atmosphere but, notwithstanding that, on the very first trial, so far as Scottish representation was concerned, he almost carried a majority, the Scottish Members voting being 22 against and 19 for. By 1912 there were 43 voting for Scottish Home Rule and only 6 against, and in 1919 we had 35 voting for it and only 1 against. On one occasion we had no fewer than 13 Scottish unionist members voting for a Home Rule Measure. I would appeal to representatives of Scotland to be worthy of their noble past in this regard.

What I have been showing is that, whether this House voted for or against Home Rule, ever since the first trial in 1899 we have had a large preponderance of Scottish representatives who took part in the vote going in favour of Home Rule. I find that the "Glasgow Herald" and other Scottish papers are indicating that the problem is already sufficiently met by the new status which has been given to the Secretary for Scotland. I think that really shows rather a low estimation of the vastness of the problem we have to deal with and a rather high estimation of the miracle that has been wrought by giving a new title to the Secretary for Scotland. This is not a political measure and the principles it embodies draw support from all sections of the community. I do not say that the Duke of Montrose is a supporter of this Measure, because he thinks the question has got into bad hands. That is how he describes it, without being perhaps too personal in his allusion. But he goes on to say very clearly that a great many good things would happen if there was such a measure in Scotland. He says for one thing we should have no Erribol cases, and I am sure that would be a great relief to the House of Commons— and that there would be no land raids, with the consequent frequent imprisonment of ex-service men and crofters. He uses these words: I cannot believe that for all time coming Scottish affairs will continue to be settled by Englishmen in London. In many departments of our public life in Scotland we have peculiar laws and customs of our own. I take the land question, which presents vaster problems in Scotland than it does in England. I made a reference offhand the other day to a leading article in the "Glasgow Herald," because I thought it was very significant that a paper with such traditions and such a political outlook should use these terms. The article, which appeared on 2nd August, 1921, said that if sport were to be developed in the Highlands instead of land settlement the result would be that in the normal course more than half the acreage would be permanently out of cultivation and it says: Already in many wide stretches which once contained thousands of crofter families and hundreds of sheep farms, human society is represented only by a handful of gamekeepers. … A given acre of average quality will maintain ten times as many people under a decent crofting system, combined with sheep farming, as it would if it were given over entirely to sport. … All who have the welfare of rural Scotland at heart are agreed that drastic steps must be taken to free agriculture and rural life from the unprofitable incubus of excessive sport. I believe such drastic action will never be taken till we have such a Legislature as I am proposing. I need not quote the words which have been often repeated from the report of the Scottish Land Court in 1916 to the same effect. Not only have we a different system in rural areas with regard to land but in urban areas also. I should not give away a confidence but I had a conversation with a Member of the Front Bench not long ago and I found he did not know what a feu duty was, and when I explained it it was a revelation to him that it had anything to do with buildings or land. The question of housing presents a most grave problem in Scotland. We are waiting for the organisation, the supervision and the uplift which only a national Parliament could give. I have referred to the Church. If it had gone by the vote of the Scottish representatives in 1843 there would have been no disruption in the Church at all and the course of Church history would have been different; for 25 Scottish Members voted for Fox Moule's Motion and 12 against. With regard to education, we do not do any boasting. I have been told of a girl, who on being asked by a mistress why she did not mention when she was engaging her that she was Scotch, said "because I do not like to boast." I am not going to boast, but in regard to the Scottish Educational system I would like to read the words that Lord Macaulay, speaking of the Act of 1696, used in this House in 1847. He said: An improvement such as the world had never seen took place in the moral and intellectual character of the people. Soon, in spite of the rigour of the climate, in spite of the sterility of the earth Scotland became a country which had no reason to envy the fairest portions of the globe. In regard to recent Acts, particularly of superannuation, we have been warned, even by Labour Secretaries for Scotland and on all sides, that we must keep strictly in step with England. Owing to the custom by which we get 11/80ths of what is spent we have a Board of Education in Scotland which is parsimonious in the same sense and degree as that in England. I would like to say two other things. Our whole literature pulsates with the passion for Scottish freedom and Scottish nationality. Burns says: The story of Wallace poured a tide of Scottish prejudice into my veins which will boil along there till the flood gates of life shut in eternal rest. On the 10th of April, 1790, he wrote to Mrs. Dunlop:— Alas, have I often said to myself, what are all the boasted advantages which my country reaps from the Union that can counterbalance the annihilation of her independence and even her very name. I often repeat that couplet of my favourite poet, Goldsmith: 'States of native liberty possessed, Though very poor, may yet be very blest.' Nothing can reconcile me to the common terms, 'English Ambassador,' 'English Court,' &c. And I am out of all patience to see that equivocal character, Hastings, impeached by the Commons of England. Tell me, my friend, is this weak? The last point is that we are seeking to restore, in a more effective form I trust, the right that we have to the independent Parliament that was ours. That Parliament has an ancient and honourable history. It goes back to the year 1326. Its influence was impaired by the Union of the Crowns. James VI, writing from England, said: Here I sit and govern Scotland with my pen. I write and it is done; and by the Clerk of the Council I govern Scotland now, which others could not do by the sword. These words would be very appropriate to the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is the James VI of our time. When that Parliament was taken from us, it was against the, protests of the whole nation. The Royal Burghs were against it. The General Assembly of the Church appointed a special National Fast. The Cameronians, the most stalwart of the Covenanters, to the number of 200 met in the streets of Dumfries and burned the Articles of Union at the Market Cross. In Glasgow, which has not altogether lost its sturdy character, there were riots, and Daniel Defoe said that Scotland had gone mad against the Measure. Plato says that there is a certain divine madness and I believe that it was such madness which existed then. We lost the Parliament by wholesale bribery. A sum of £ 20,000 was paid to the Members of the Scottish Parliament. It is a humiliation to confess that they accepted it. [Laughter.] Yes, and the Englishmen who offered it were equally guilty. A sum of £ 30,000 was given to the Union Commissioners for their services, £ 250,000 to the Darien Company, and no less than £ 398,000 were given under the euphonious name of an equivalent grant. I would like to quote one verse from a poem of Robert Burns on this transaction: What force or guile could not subdue, Through many warlike ages, Is wrought now by a coward few For hireling traitors' wages. The English steel we could disdain, Secure in valour's station; But English gold has been our bane, Such a parcel of rogues in a nation! He does not define whether the nation he refers to is Scotland or England. On the occasion of almost the last meeting of the Scottish Parliament, on the 2nd November, 1706, when the Parliament was as good as lost, Lord Bellhaven said: None can destroy Scotland, save Scotland's self. It is because we believe to-day that none can save Scotland but Scotland's self that we ask for a Second Reading of this Measure. Another famous saying was spoken by Lord Chancellor Seafield, on the 25th March, 1707, at the last meeting of the old Scottish Parliament, when he said: There is the end of an auld sang. Hon. Members will grant that there is nothing better for an old Scottish song than that it should be sung over again. We propose that it should be sung over again in richer, fuller and clearer notes, to call the people of Scotland to new hope and a higher and nobler endeavour.


I beg to second the Motion which has been moved so eloquently by my hon. Friend. I only desire to ask the attention of the House for a few minutes in order that I may give the Secretary of State for Scotland an opportunity to throw his hat enthusiastically into the ring with ours, and let us have a unanimous Scotland for once. On the last occasion that this Bill, or a similar Measure was before the House in 1924, we failed to get a Division, and I am not enthusiastic that we shall succeed to-day. But a Division will not be necessary if the Secretary of State for Scotland and right and hon. Gentlemen opposite will let us have this Second Reading by consent. Whatever differences of opinion we may have on the details of the Measure can quite easily be thrashed out in Committee.

I would call attention of hon. Members opposite to the fact that as far back as the 4th June, 1919, they supported and voted for the appointment of a Speaker's Conference, setting up a Committee of Inquiry to see whether such a Measure as the one which my hon. Friend has moved would be practicable. The Speaker's Conference, composed of Members of all shades of political opinion in this House, arrived at what they call a large measure of agreement. There was general agreement, they said, upon all financial questions. They were unanimous on the question of the judiciary, and the only question upon which there was a division of opinion was the exact composition of the Parliament that was to be set up in Scotland. It was a question whether it was to be a Parliament, or whether large powers should be given to county councils, and other local authorities.

I want to put another point of view this afternoon. Since 1919 there has been a constantly increasing drain upon the finances of Scotland through the exaction of legal expenses operating through this Parliamentary machine. The City I represent here has had to pay no less than £ 41,966 in order to obtain a Provisional Order giving them powers which they ought to have been able to have obtained in Scotland. The members of the Commission which conferred these powers were not at all acquainted with the local facts, they were utterly incapable of giving a reasonable decision on the questions submitted to them. But at the same time that English Members, utterly unaware of the facts, are sifting in judgment on local affairs in Scotland, at the same time that this farce is going on, local ratepayers in Scotland are being bled to the extent of large sums of money. Edinburgh and Leith have had to pay for powers to amalgamate £ 51,771 in legal expenses at this end.

The City of Glasgow came here a year ago for a Provisional Order, brought up witnesses, housed the men in hotels, hired Parliamentary counsel, and spent many days in giving evidence before three or four English Members of this House in Westminster Hall. And one of these English Members, who had to determine this question, actually thought that the town of Yoker was the name of a drink. It cost the municipal ratepayers of Glasgow alone no less than £ 46,308, not counting the town clerk's fees which have not yet been paid. This is very much like the bribery which occurred at the time when the Act of Union was passed. Apart from the cost to the municipal ratepayers of Glasgow, there is in addition to that the expenses incurred by parish councils, by the local education authorities, and by all the other local authorities, who were equally compelled to send witnesses here and pay their expenses. Probably there was a total cost of between £ 70,000 and £ 80,000 incurred to decide the simple question whether or not the City of Glasgow should be allowed to extend its boundaries. In face of these facts it is idle for this House to talk about economy; it is idle to talk about economy unless hon. Members are prepared to give greater powers to Scotsmen and Scots women to conduct their own affairs in their own country without being put to the unnecessary expense to which I have referred,

The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland controls sixteen departments. He cannot do it; there is no human being capable of controlling sixteen departments. Scottish local Government is being further broken up. It is a fact that Scottish Boards are being broken up, and the right hon. Gentleman is bringing the officials down to Whitehall. I know he is not doing it in the first 24 hours, but everybody knows the ultimate purpose. The tendency is day after day and year after year to break up local control in Scotland. Hon. Members opposite broke it up by the Education Act of 1918. They are to smash it in the Poor Law proposals. Step by step they are taking away local control from Scotland. I submit that the time has come when this pooh-bah business, this conglomeration of sixteen offices in the person of one individual, is an insult to a proud nation. It does not make for the better Government even of the British Empire. We cannot give enough time here to the discussion of Imperial affairs because of the consideration which must be given to petty affairs in Scotland, England and Wales. I remember reading of a little town in Argyllshire, Dunoon, which actually had to come to this House to get power to increase its pier dues from 1d. to 2d., and it cost the ratepayers the equivalent of 2d. rate for four years in order to pay the legal expenses incurred. I trust that the Secretary of State will to-day ennoble his office and enhance his own reputation— it badly requires it— and do something for our good old country by declaring that he gives his assent to the proposals of the Bill.


I listened with great delight to the speech of the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Barr). I think we have all enjoyed it. All Scotsmen especially enjoyed it, because it brought back so much of the ancient history that we learned in our youth. It is perfectly true criticism that at the time of the Act of Union Scotsmen were offered great bribes. There is no doubt about it. But I do not think it lies in the mouth of the hon. Member for Motherwell to criticise, because in this Bill he is offering the biggest bribe that has ever been offered to any Parliament, seeing that he proposes that there shall be no members for Scotland in this House. The Secretary of State for Scotland has been likened to James VI. That is rather cruel, because it is recorded in history that James VI was known as "the wisest fool in Christendom." How did the Union come to pass? There had been an age-long hostility between the two races, and I believe that the thrusting, dominating, tyrannical procedure of Edward I— Malleus Scotorum— was responsible for it. When I saw his gravestone, and saw on it the words Malleus Scotorum the "tide of Scottish prejudice" of which Burns speaks began to pour through my veins. The business of Edward I seems to have been to unite this island into one, and he proceeded to do it by exterminating the Welsh. Unfortunately he did not succeed. He was not up to the full standard of efficiency there. There was a great deal that he left undone, and we are still suffering for it to this day. He did not meet with success in the northern part of this island. In fact he created such hostility and prejudice as accounted to a great extent for the divisions which existed between Scotland and England down through the centuries. Prior to the Scottish wars of independence, Scotland was the educated and civilised part of Great Britain— [HON. MEMBERS: "And is still!"]— and Englishmen were more or less savages. Well-to-do people in England sent their sons to Scotland to undergo some civilising process.

That hostility developed, and there were constant wars and raids between the one country and the other until it came near the time of the legislative Act of Union, and after the Union of the Crowns. The state of feeling was so tense between the two countries that according to my study of history they would have been at war within a twelvemonth or less and there would have been the dreadful tragedy of a renewal of the war between Scotland and England. It was the knowledge of that fact by politicians of both countries— I suppose I can call them statesmen, seeing that they are dead— that led to the hurried Act of Union which I have no hesitation in agreeing with the hon. Member for Motherwell would not have been carried by the votes of the Scottish people. Lord Rosebery describes in his work on the poet Burns the feeling of depression and regret among the ordinary people of Scotland for a century after the Union until Burns came and then there grew again the spark of national spirit and aspiration. It was a tragic business for Scotland, but I think it was a good thing for the British Empire. It may have been a great hardship to Scotland that she was sacrificed to such an extent; but I look at this matter to some extent from the point of view of the Highlander, and I am not sure that the Highlanders have anything for which to thank the rest of Scotland. My reading leads me to believe that in 1745 there were no greater repressors and hunters-down of the poor Highlanders than the Lowland Scots. They were far more cruel and bloodthirsty than the English, and they assisted the Duke of Cumberland in his attempt to exterminate the Highlanders at a time when outrages were committed in the Highlands, and tragedies occurred beside which the tragedies of the late War in Belgium pale into insignificance.


It was the Hanoverians.


It was so bad that most of us, with a few of the most distinguished exceptions, went to America and the far West of Canada. I think the spirit that is given expression to in this Bill, the desire to have a little more control of our own affairs in some form of devolution, is perfectly sound, but the instances given by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) are not going to help us. It is not the fault of the English Parliament that Scotsmen come to town for private Bills, but the fault of the local authorities. They can get Private Bill procedure in Scotland, but do you think the town councillors want to go to Edinburgh Or to Glasgow if they can get a jaunt to London for a few days? The whole business or a great portion of it can be done under the present procedure in Scotland, but the opportunities which have already been given are not fully exercised at all; if they were, a great mass of the expenditure might be saved. I agree with the hon. Member for Dundee that certainly the present procedure is far too costly and expensive, though it very often results in the distribution of considerable sums of money among a very deserving class, among whom there are a larger proportion of the unemployed than in almost any other industry. I refer to lawyers and skilled witnesses.

Incidentally, I always think it is rather hard on those Members of Parliament who preside over Committees on private Bills to reflect that the lawyers and skilled witnesses who are pleading in front of them are getting large sums of money, while they themselves are getting nothing. I think this Bill is far too divisive in itself. After all, we are all put into one little island, and if you are to pass more and more laws it is a dangerous thing. The curse of the United States of America is that there they have something like a million and a half Statutes owing to there being so many States, with the result that nobody knows the law. It is difficult enough in this country, but if you have the Parliamentary machine constantly turning out new legislation the result will be the overwhelming of the legal profession. That is a danger, and that is one of the reasons why I object to this Bill.

Sir PATRICK FORD rose— —




I am surprised at the levity with which some hon. Members opposite would wish us to dismiss such an important subject. It would be scandalous if the Debate were not allowed to go on before a decision was sought to be taken. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) that there is great room for improvement in the procedure in regard to Scotland, but I am afraid this evil is not quite as easily dealt with as was suggested, because it is not a matter of Committee points. It is the whole structure of this Bill, which, I think, is wrongly conceived. I want to look ahead to the future, and I notice that more and more the little racial and local differences are tending to die out and merge— —

Mr. STEPHEN rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


I was saying— —

It being Four of the Clock the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at One Minute after Four o'Clock until Monday next (16th May).