HC Deb 10 April 1933 vol 276 cc2336-42

12.13 a.m.

The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)

I beg to move, That it is expedient that a Tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, that is to say, the letting and allocation since the 1st day of January, 1928, of stances and of other premises in the markets under the control of the Corporation of Glasgow, and the circumstances attending and the negotiations prior to the said letting and allocation, and allegations of bribery and corruption in connection therewith, or in connection with other matters relating to the civic and municipal administration of the Corporation of the city of Glasgow and the licensing administration affecting the said city since the said date. I must apologise for having to detain the House for a few minutes on this Motion. It deals with a matter affecting a large number of people in the City of Glasgow. In recent years, numerous allegations have been made in the public Press and in communications addressed to Ministers and others to the effect that corrupt practices were taking place in the conduct of municipal business in Glasgow. Wherever these allegations have been of a sufficiently definite nature to enable the authorities charged with the administration of the criminal law to make investigations, such investigations have been made, but for the most part no sufficient evidence has been found to justify criminal proceedings. In February of this year, however, a Glasgow magistrate was indicted in the High Court of Justiciary for corruptly soliciting money as an inducement to or reward for his aid in connection with the allocation of market stances, and was fined £50 and declared incapable of holding public office for three years. The case itself aroused great public interest, and led to numerous representations to the Government in favour of a searching investigation into the administration of Glasgow Corporation affairs. The representations culminated in the passing of a unanimous resolution by the Corporation of Glasgow on the 2nd ultimo, asking me to take steps to have a tribunal appointed under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, to inquire into allegations of corruption in connection with the municipal administration of that city. The Government's decision to take the necessary steps to set up a tribunal was announced in the House of Commons on the 9th of last month, when I also made the following statement: I am authorised by my right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate to say that, in the circumstances of the present case and with a view to removing any obstacle to the fullest investigation of the matters to be referred, he feels justified in intimating that any person, other than a member of the Corporation of Glasgow, who gives evidence before the tribunal, which may involve an admission that he has committed or been implicated in any way in a criminal offence relating to the matters being investigated, will not be prosecuted for such criminal offence but will be regarded as being in the same position as a person who has been called as King's evidence by the Crown in a criminal trial. That means that, by the giving of such evidence the witness will automatically be discharged from all liability to prosecution."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1933; col. 1351, Vol. 275.] By proceeding under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, it will be possible to take evidence on with, and to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents, and it is hoped by these means, and by the measure of indemnity from prosecution promised in my announcement to the House of Commons last month, to secure an inquiry of a searching and conclusive character. As the inquiry relates to a local matter, it is right that the cost should be defrayed from local sources, and this the Corporation of Glasgow has undertaken to do. The members of the tribunal will be Lord Anderson, one of the Scottish High Court Judges, who will be Chairman; Sir Robert Boothby, K.B.E., manager of the Scottish Provident Institution and a director of the Bank of Scotland; and a third member whose name will be announced later. It will rest with the Commission itself to decide when they will open their inquiry, and where they will sit, but it is anticipated that they will sit in Glasgow. In making my statement to the House on the 9th ult., I expressed very strongly my view that a public duty rested on those in a position to give evidence relevant to the inquiry to tender such evidence to the tribunal. I desire this evening to reiterate that view, and at the same time to pay tribute to the valuable public service done by Mrs. McArthur in exposing the transaction which formed the subject of the recent prosecution, and enabling the criminal authorities to take effective action in that case.

Before a tribunal can be appointed, it is a. statutory requirement that both Houses of Parliament should pass a resolution that it is expedient that a tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter described in the Resolution as of urgent public importance. The terms of the Motion submitted to the House have been formulated in consultation with the Scottish Law Officers. In moving the Motion, I may be allowed to say that the fair name of the city of Glasgow is involved. It has fallen to me, a citizen of Glasgow, to appoint the tribunal and to secure a, searching investigation. Anything which adversely affects the city of Glasgow touches the proper civic pride of its inhabitants. Let all those whose whisperings and stories have suggested that allegations of corruption exist now come forward and show the same civic spirit as Mrs. McArthur or for evermore keep silent.

12.22 a.m.


I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he has acted in this matter. It gives me personal satisfaction, and also, I have no doubt, gives satisfaction to those with whom I was associated for a number of years in the City Council of Glasgow, that the matter is now to be attended to in the manner suggested in the Motion. As a member of that council, I also was subjected to hearing from time to time suggestions referred to in the later remarks of the right hon. Gentleman. I fully appreciate, and always have appreciated, that with the law as it stands officers of the Crown labour under certain difficulties which can only be obviated by the appointment of such a tribunal as is now proposed. I have known no one deny that circumstances, so peculiar in their character as to create great doubt in the minds of many persons, have attended certain committees. I do not want to say much at this late hour, except to express my gratitude for the action now taken. I may, however, express a little surprise that it has not been possible to give us the name of the third member of the tribunal, and I trust that in the very near future we shall have that matter attended to. I had hopes that I might be allowed to say a few words with regard to where the inquiry should be held, and that it might be held in Glasgow, but, as it was laid down specifically by the right hon. Gentleman that that matter is within their own discretion, I forbear making any comment on that point.

12.24 am.


I commend the action which the Secretary of State has taken in connection with what has been a very grave question for the City of Glasgow. I am sure there is no citizen of that great city who has not been affronted by the suggestions which have been made regarding the way in which the city's business has been carried on. There undoubtedly have been matters of very great difficulty, and the fact that the investigation which was expected to take place was not carried through in the ordinary course of justice, has left a feeling of dubiety among the population of Glasgow, and created an attitude of suspicion which may have very inadequate foundations. Accordingly it seems to me of prime importance that those things which have been currently rumoured should be investigated. I hope much of what has been alleged has no foundation at all. One knows that, wherever you have a disappointed feeling with regard to investigation which has not taken place, things gain currency which may be entirely unjustified. I do not know whether that is the situation at the present time or not, but from my intimate knowledge of Glasgow I know there are things which affront my conscience when I hear them reported when I make my visits to Glasgow, and I know from personal experience there is no one who does not wish these things to be thoroughly investigated.

I am aware there are difficulties as regards investigation, and I am certain there will be great trouble in knowing where to begin. I do not know how you are going to have the charges defined, and, if the charges are not defined, I am not certain how you will begin to get the necessary evidence. An inquiry at large is a very difficult thing to conduct, but there remains the fact with which we have to deal, that there is this suspicion with regard to matters in this great municipality which must be resolved in some way or other. I cannot imagine that in the circumstances in which the Secretary of State finds himself there is any better way than to say: "Here is an open inquiry, and here there is afforded to every witness who will come forward on behalf of his city complete immunity so far as any prosecution against him is concerned if he will only tell us what he knows." I can imagine no better way in which this matter can be finally determined. So far as I am concerned, and speaking for a very large proportion of the community which has in a sense entrusted its conscience to its representatives in this House, I am glad to commend the course which the Secretary of State has chosen.

12.28 a.m.


I desire to associate myself with the thanks to the Secretary of State for setting up this judicial inquiry into the allegations of graft and corruption in connection with the administration of the city's affairs in Glasgow. I am glad to see there is whole-hearted approval at this stage. I would rather the action had been taken almost three years ago, when within 48 hours of coming to this House I raised the matter on the Floor of the House. We have heard a great deal about the failure to make charges. I cannot refrain from stating that one of the men who appeared in the High Court recently on a definite charge of graft and corruption was laid by me at that time to the authorities in Glasgow. The whole of the Labour movement were notified of the activities of that individual in connection with graft that he had received in the city's affairs. While it is true that the Secretary of State for Scotland has given us that inquiry which was denied us by the previous Labour Government, I do say that, late in the day though it is, I welcome the inquiry into the activities of the city of Glasgow. I think the terms of reference are sufficiently wide and completely satisfactory. I have consulted large bodies of people in the city of Glasgow, including the Lord Provost, and every person with whom I have come in contact has been entirely satisfied with the action of the Secretary of State for Scotland and with the terms of reference. In connection with the personnel of the inquiry, I think that both names that have been announced are quite satisfactory—one, a man of business standing and the other, Lord Anderson, taken from the High Court in Scotland. Both of these gentlemen are eminently suited to the inquiry. I am sorry that the third name has not been announced here to-day. I recognise the difficulties of the Secretary of State for Scotland in getting complete personnel for this committee. It is true that he has had a little disappoinntment in the matter, but I hope that within the next day or two he will be able to announce to the House the third name.

The right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) has stated that many allegations have been made in connection with the city's affairs. I stated at the beginning that if, as I assumed, there is a desire to bring to light anything that is disgraceful in the affairs of the city, there are at least 29 witnesses who were never examined in connection with the last High Court case, and I am satisfied that, allegations having been made at that time concerning certain individuals unnamed, there is plenty of room for inquiries. We do know that this graft and corruption has been going on, and what the committee can dig up remains with them. I do not state that they will succeed, because individuals may not be able to come forward, but, if the business men of Glasgow have been subjected to a system of blackmail, then they will have no one to blame but themselves if they do not come forward now. The civic administration of Glasgow was once the pride of the world, and we hope that this inquiry will bring to light any disgraceful actions that might have been taken in the city, and that, in the end, honest and honourable men and women in that body will be able to conduct their proceedings in a harmonious and proper manner, and that the inquiry will make full use of the opportunities presented to clean up the city and let Glasgow settle down to a proper administration to conduct her civic affairs.

Resolved, That it is expedient that a Tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, that is to say, the letting and allocation since the 1st day of January, 1928, of stances and of other premises in the markets under the control of the Corporation of Glasgow, and the circumstances attending and the negotiations prior to the said letting and allocation, and allegations of bribery and corruption in connection therewith, or in connection with other matters relating to the civic and municipal administration of the Corporation of the city of Glasgow and the licensing administration affecting the said city since the said date.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

It being after Half-past Eleven of the Clock upon Monday evening, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-four Minutes before One o'Clock.