HC Deb 21 May 1930 vol 239 cc406-8

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to remove doubts as to the powers of the Court of Session. For the benefit of those Members who are not acquainted with the Scottish judicial system, I would explain that the supreme court in Scotland in civil matters is the Court of Session. It was instituted by the Scots Parliament in 1532, and therefore it has had an honoured career of some 400 years. The Treaty of Union between Scotland and England, which was ratified in 1707, made very careful provision for retaining for Scotland its own laws and its own judicial system, and in particular the Treaty provided that the Court of Session should remain as it was then constituted by the laws of Scotland and with the same authority and privileges as before the Union. To this day the powers and jurisdiction of the Court of Session remain unaffected by any Act of the British Parliament. It may be asked why, in these circumstances, it should be necessary to present a Bill to remove doubts as to the powers of the Court of Session? In Scotland we have no doubt; I had almost said on any subject, but in another place there has been some doubt on one important matter, namely, with regard to the adjudication upon claims and disputes relating to titles, honours and dignities of the kingdom of Scotland.

The people of Scotland are very jealous of everything Scottish; indeed, they have been wrongfully accused of being jealous of everything English; but they are at least jealous on this matter of their own judicial system, and for some generations they have been watching with anxiety the attempts that have been made by the House of Lords to arrogate to themselves the right of adjudication upon claims and disputes regarding peerages and other dignities which are purely Scottish. No attempt is made in this Bill to deal with the privileges of the House of Lords in regard to English peerages or dignities, but we in Scotland say that the House of Lords have no legal title whatever to deal with those relating purely to Scotland. May I remind the House that there is no doubt whatever that for some 200 years, from 1532 to 1732, all such cases were tried and decided by the Court of Session, but I find from the records that since 1732 the Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords have usurped this ancient and treaty right of the Court of Session to deal with such cases. The last case was the famous one of the Gordon Peerage of last year; and may I also remind the House of a still older case, the case of the Earl of Mar peerage. The decision of the Committee of Privileges with regard to that case caused such a turmoil in Scotland that a special Act of Parliament had to be passed afterwards practically reversing the decision of the Committee.

The crux of the question lies here. Claims for Scottish peerages may involve difficult questions of legitimacy, of succession, and of titles to lands, and with regard to these there have to be submitted documents which contain Scots legal terminology. There have to be produced original charters and other documents which have to be personally in charge of officials drawn from the Registry of Deeds in Edinburgh, from the Sasine Register in Edinburgh, and from the General Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths in Edinburgh. Further, not only are the claimants themselves Scottish, but their witnesses, their law agents and their counsel are all Scottish, and obviously it is for the public advantage that such cases should be tried and decided in Scotland. More than that, if they are not tried and decided in Scotland, there is a grave risk of a miscarriage of justice owing to the fact that the Committee of Privileges does not pretend to be and is certainly not a court of law. The decision of one Committee is not in the least binding upon another.

All I would say in conclusion is this, and I address it particularly to my Friends on the other side of the House, although they have no more partiality for peers than—for that matter—I myself have, we in this House ought to see that the Peers act justly towards one another. Further, and this is a matter which ought to commend itself, and I believe does commend itself, to Scottish Members of Parliament of all parties, and we should unite now in having the ancient treaty rights of the Court of Session vindicated by this Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Scott, Mr. Lovat-Fraser, Mr. Marcus, Mr. Macquisten, Major Graham Pole, and Mr. Duncan Millar.


"to remove doubts as to the powers of the Court of Session," presented accordingly, and read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 200.]