§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The object of the Bill is to amend the existing Act of 1899 for the special purpose of bringing a larger volume of Scottish private legislation within the procedure established by that Act. The House is aware that by that Act a novel procedure was introduced. Speaking generally, that procedure is as follows: Draft Orders are deposited in place of Private Bills, and the Chairmen of both Houses have the duty of deciding whether they should be dealt with as Private Bills or inquired into in Scotland, under the name of draft Provisional Orders, by four Commissioners, usually two from each House of Parliament. If the report of these Commissioners is favourable, a Provisional Order may be made by the Secretary of State. This is afterwards submitted by him to Parliament as a Schedule to a Confirming Bill.
The system has been in constant use since 1899 and, as the House knows—and I think my colleagues from Scotland will agree with me—has worked most satisfactorily both from the point of view of the promoters of private legislation and from that of Parliament itself which has been relieved of the burden of detailed examination of some 540 of these Measures in the last 34 years. But in 1899, when the Act was established, the procedure was entirely novel and, not unnaturally, certain exceptions were made to, and limitations put on, its use. As all concerned have become increasingly familiar with it, the feeling has grown in Scotland that the time has arrived to review these exceptions and limitations and widen the scope of the operation of this system of Provisional Order and Confirming Bill. On becoming Secretary of State I reviewed the situation and, as the House will recollect, stated in the Debate on the Address last autumn that the extension of this system was one of 1724 the improvements in the public life of Scotland which I had in contemplation.
What, then, are the exceptions and limitations embodied in the Act of 1899? First and most important is this: If the Chairmen of Committees, or either of them, are of opinion that a, draft Order is of such a character or magnitude, or raises any such question of policy or principle that it ought not to be dealt with by a Provisional Order, the matter can only be proceeded with by way of Private Bill. The House will see, therefore, that either the character, or the magnitude of the draft Order, or its dealing with questions of policy or principle, are at present reasons for it being excluded from this procedure. These four existing categories, namely, character, magnitude, policy, or principle, are by the present Bill reduced to the single category of "questions of public policy of such novelty and importance" that they ought to be dealt with by Private Bill. The importance of this amendment may be judged from the fact that proposals for the extension of Scottish burghs, frequently dealt with on the ground of magnitude as Private Bills, will now be inquired into in Scotland as Provisional Orders. The vague word "character" also disappears. But the limitation in its new form will, I think, commend itself to the House. It secures that where a proposal involves questions of public policy, both novel and important, the House will have on the Second Reading of the Private Bill the opportunity of deliberating and deciding upon them. In my view, on such broad issues as these, Parliament cannot readily delegate its powers to Commissioners.
The second exception in the Act of 1899 is that the system cannot be applied to the authorisation and regulation of the supply of electricity for lighting and other purposes. There seems no good reason why this exception should be continued. It was introduced, perhaps, because in 1899 the use of electricity was still in its infancy and Parliament apparently felt that it should retain direct control over the extension of this dangerous and then unfamiliar force. Such a view belongs to a bygone age, and I think the House will agree it is time to discard it.
To summarise, I estimate that by the amendments I have just mentioned at 1725 least one-half of the Scottish Private Bills which came before the House of Commons would have been dealt with as Provisional Orders. For the future, if this Bill becomes law, every purely Scottish Private Legislation proposal, except those dealing with novel and important questions of public policy—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The Members of the House of Commons could be deprived of their rights by the Chairman.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Yes, but the point is that the Chairman can decide on a question of the utmost public importance and a. Member of Parliament has no redress against the Chairman. If the right hon. Gentleman can tell me what redress there is against the Chairman, I shall be obliged.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
It has been the case since 1899 that the Chairmen of both Houses have much larger powers, and I propose to reduce their powers very considerably. As I say, all these Measures may proceed by way of Provisional Order unless questions of novelty and importance are included. I think, therefore, the hon. Member will see that I have taken a large step to secure that these Measures will proceed by way of Provisional Order. Therefore for the future, as I was saying before the hon. Member asked a very proper question, if this Bill becomes law, every purely Scottish private legislation proposal, except those dealing with novel and important questions of public policy, will be inquired into first in Scotland, and, on the basis of the past, less than 10 per cent. will proceed by way of Private Bill, and even a smaller percentage than 10 per cent, in the case of opposed Measures. I can assure the House that the saving of time and money will be considerable, and that the extension of a system now so well tried out in practice will be regarded with satisfaction, I think, by all those who have to conduct local government or public undertakings North of the Tweed.
1726 The rest of the provisions of the Bill deal only with questions of machinery, but there is one which, though it can be so described, I think I should mention. It appears in Sub-section (4) of Clause 1 in language which is unavoidably somewhat complicated. It deals, however, simply with a situation which must be provided for. Let me explain it by way of example. An institution carries on its work in Scotland and in England. It desires private legislation which will affect it in both, countries. So far as Scotland is concerned, it would at present commence operations by a draft Provisional Order. So far as England is concerned, it would promote a Private Bill. The result might be that it would get different powers in England and in Scotland. This is a disadvantage so patent that it has, in practice, been dealt with as follows: The Chairmen of Committees have held that the Scottish Provisional Order was of such a character that it should be a Private Bill. Thereafter, there being two Private Bills, one English and one Scottish, these have next been consolidated and in that form passed through Parliament.
The House will agree, I think, that such a procedure is absurdly cumbrous. The Bill proposes to alter it as follows: Those who at present would have to present the draft Scottish Provisional Order will make application to the Secretary of State who, in consultation with the Chairmen of Committees, will, in proper cases, permit them to embody all the provisions in a Private Bill which will be common to both countries. I mention this not only because it is, in my judgment, necessary, but also because since the Bill was printed and circulated the complexity of the phraseology to which I have referred has resulted in a certain amount of misunderstanding and misapprehension of the proposed change. I do not intend, however, that the cases so dealt with should be extended as compared with the existing practice.
In framing the Bill I have had the advice and experience of the Chairmen of Committees, and I desire to express my appreciation of their valuable assistance. May I add that the provisions which affect their powers have been concurred in by them. If the House gives a Second Reading to this Bill I propose to move that the Bill should be com- 1727 mitted to a Committee of the Whole House. This appears to be the appropriate and convenient course, because I understand that if the Bill is automatically committed to a Standing Committee, the Ruling will be that this is not a Bill relating exclusively to Scotland. Accordingly, the Bill would not go to the Scottish Standing Committee, but to one of the other Standing Committees. Let me say, in conclusion, that although Scotland, which is keenly interested in this question, is a small country, it is inhabited by a proud race, and our national pride has at times resented the fact that purely local affairs such as burgh extensions and electricity Orders, which excite keen local interest, could not be dealt with in Scotland. This Bill proposes to rectify that state of affairs and opens the door to a large extension of the Scottish procedure.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
As far as the Scottish section of the Opposition is concerned, we do not intend to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. There are, however, certain provisions in it, which, while we do not take exception to them on points of substance, we wish to have amended, in order either to achieve greater clarity or to give greater power in the methods to be adopted for the conduct of private legislation in Scotland. An amending Bill to the original Statute, as this is, was highly necessary. With the various applications for powers that are put forward by municipalities and other bodies in Scotland that necessity has become more apparent. Local bodies seeking powers have had to come to this House, bringing from Scotland large numbers of expert witnesses and briefing counsels to appear for them here. This entailed very heavy expenditure, sometimes upon very small burghs. Those small burghs often had to incur that expenditure in opposing the extension of larger burghs which threatened to swallow them. There were also burghs which desired some extension of their franchise with regard to public services such as transport services. These had to bring their witnesses to London and, in the case of the Glasgow Corporation, witnesses have had to be kept in hotels here in London for several months when a Bill was going through Committee.
1728 This Bill, at any rate, will have the satisfactory result of keeping in Scotland a considerable amount of the inquiry which has to be undertaken before powers are given or refused to the local body which is seeking them. As I say, we do not oppose the Second Reading but we reserve our right to do what we can in the Committee stage to give strength to the Bill and to bring it a little nearer to approximation, at least, to Home Rule for Scotland, in the matter of local legislation. If we cannot get Home Rule in regard to Scottish national legislation, we shall try to bring a little nearer to the people of Scotland, Home Rule in the legislation which affects their burghs and counties and local services. I hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading and that we shall be able to get to work upon it, to do our best as an Opposition to improve it and make it more helpful to the people of Scotland.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Sir SAMUEL CHAPMAN
It is very gratifying that the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) has given his blessing to this Bill. He has had a good deal of experience of sitting on committees in Scotland dealing with important Private Bills. That brings to my mind a Debate in this House, nearly 10 years ago when my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan)—may I remind him of the fact in all good nature—appeared to be oblivious of the fact, as many people in Scotland are to-day, that there is such a thing in Scotland as this Private Bill procedure. Many of us take a great deal of trouble to sit in Glasgow and Edinburgh and elsewhere; according to requirements, for perhaps five or six days at a time. But one's closest friend may meet one in Princes Street, during some of these very important and interesting inquiries and say, "So they have let you away from the House. I hope you are enjoying your holiday." One of the things we want to get into the minds of the Scottish people is that we have Home Rule in Scotland at the present moment. [An HON. MEMBER: "Limited."] Yes, limited Home Rule but just the right kind of Home Rule, the kind we desire and deserve.
I am glad that after more than 30 years Members of this House are joined in appreciating what excellent legislators 1729 were Sir John Macdonald and Lord Balfour of Burleigh. We want Scotland to know, through this Debate, that no Scottish Local Bill will be sent to this House without previous inquiry in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals who looks out for the weak points in everybody's armour, asked the Secretary of State how he was going to preserve the rights of this House. I have been on many of these commissions and as far as I know what always happens is this. At some time after the commissioners have given their decision, the names of the Bills are read out here in the House, generally about eleven o'clock, for Second Reading. If my hon. Friend is as vigilant in the future as he has been in the past, he will be here on such occasions and if he does not desire one of these Bills to get a Second Reading, he can jump up and object and in that way he will ensure that that Bill will not get through without the rights of the House of Commons being considered. What we are doing this afternoon is extending a great piece of Tory legislation. Hon. Members on the other side used to call us "Tories." In recent years they have been more civil and have called us "Conservatives" but that does not matter. This was Tory legislation and it was good legislation and progressive legislation and it has done a great deal in the interest of Scotland. When this amending Bill has been placed on the Statute Book, the names of the Secretary of State and of Lord Balfour of Burleigh will go down to posterity for giving us what we really desire, the proper kind of Home Rule for Scotland.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Mr. MILNE
This Bill requires no apologies. It is a Bill to improve and extend the procedure under the Private Legislation Procedure Act which was passed in 1899. Though 34 years have elapsed, that Act has never been overhauled and the time is ripe for its amendment. When the Act was passed, many people prophesied its failure and said that the machinery was bound to break down, but the experiment has now been tried out and the system has been triumphantly vindicated and the system has come to stay. The purpose of the Bill is one which must appeal to all men of good-sense and good-will and I take it that the Second Reading is assured but there are certain features of the Bill 1730 which, I humbly think call for criticism, or at any rate comment.
Under the provisions of the principal Act a tribunal is established whose duty is to determine whether an Order which has originated in Scotland is appropriate for the Scottish procedure or whether it should be sent to London as a Bill. That tribunal consists of the Chairman of Committees in another place, and the Chairman of Ways and Means of this House. We have become so accustomed to the performance of this duty by these gentlemen, that it never occurs to anybody to question whether they are entirely suitable as the tribunal for this purpose. Nobody ever has and nobody ever could question their competence or their impartiality. But are they really the most appropriate tribunal to determine questions such as this? I venture to think not. The Secretary of State for Scotland is aware of all the facts and knows the local circumstances. He is equipped with a knowledge of the whole environment of the Order which is not available to either of the two Chairmen.
It may be said, however, that if this function were transferred to the Secretary of State for Scotland it would impair Parliamentary authority and would be an invasion of Parliamentary prerogative. Not in the least. I can assure the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that effective Parliamentary control is entirely secured in this way. Even an Order pronounced by the Secretary of State for Scotland has no force or effect unless and until it receives the imprimatur of Parliament and has been passed by both Houses. My proposal is not in the least revolutionary. It is not even novel, because it was the original idea of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, the author of the principal Act, and he was not a revolutionary.
§ Mr. MILNE
With a former generation the name of Lord Balfour of Burleigh carried more weight than any other name in Scotland. He was a man of sound judgment and vast Parliamentary and public experience. He, of all people, was jealous of the rights of Parliament and he would not have sanctioned any relaxation of Parliamentary control. The original Act was preceded by an inquiry. A Select Committee was appointed and 1731 evidence was laid before that committee. I have had the curiosity to turn up that evidence and read what Lord Balfour of Burleigh had to say on this point. He was asked:Would you object to a provision that the Scottish Office in some fashion or other should determine whether any proposal ought to proceed by way of a Bill, leaving it to the parties to appear before the Scottish Office?His answer was:Personally, I should not object at all, but I am afraid that those who think that the Secretary for Scotland has too much power in the Bill as at present drafted, would object to the proposal, and to obviate such an objection as that the Chairman of Committees was chosen.So, the original idea of Lord Balfour of Burleigh was that the appropriate person to deal with such matters was the Secretary for Scotland. The authors of this Bill seem to recognise the advisability of invoking the assistance of the Secretary of State for Scotland, because in Sub-section (4), of Clause 1 we find that the Secretary of State is conjoined with the two Chairmen for the purposes of that Clause. I wish that the authors of the Bill had had the courage of their convictions, and that throughout the Measure the name of the Secretary of State had been substituted for the two Chairmen; or, if that be too bold a proposal, that the name of the Secretary of State had been conjoined with that of the two Chairmen.
I turn to another feature of the Bill which also calls for some comment. The duty of this tribunal is to determine whether a proposed Order shall proceed as an Order or he removed to London. The original Act furnishes a test for the guidance of the two Chairmen and provides them, so to speak, with a formula. I am glad to see that the formula has now been altered, as the Secretary of State has told us. The word "magnitude" has been dropped out, and the result will be that in future an Order will not be withdrawn from the procedure and taken to London merely because it is an Order of magnitude, but have the authors of the Bill really arrived at the right formula? The formula which is at present in force says thatthe Chairmen are directed to consider whether the provisions or some provisions of the draft Order do not relate wholly or mainly to Scotland.1732 If they relate mainly to Scotland, at present the Chairmen have no discretion to withdraw the Order from the procedure. I should have expected to find in the formula in the Bill that the discretion of the tribunal would be restricted. Instead of that, I find that it has been enlarged. The proposal in the Bill is that the Chairmen are directed to consider whether in their opinion the provisions or some of the provisions of the draft Order relate to matters outside Scotland to such an extent that they ought to be dealt with by Private Bill and taken from the procedure. It might happen that an Order which related mainly to Scotland and which could not at present on those grounds be taken out of Scotland, could now be withdrawn from the procedure. I do not suggest that the Chairmen are likely to withdraw an Order which almost entirely related to Scotland, but nevertheless this provision is capable of being misapplied and misconstrued, and I suggest that it should be altered.
I pass to another feature of this Bill which I make bold to say is unreservedly to be condemned. It is the proposal in Sub-section (4) of Clause 1, to which the Secretary of State has referred. This deals with the case of what is called double promotion. A promoter may have an undertaking, let us say, in Dundee and another in Bristol, and he requires Parliamentary sanction in connection with the Dundee proposal. Under the existing practice he presents the petition for an Order and it goes by way of our procedure. If he wants similar Parliamentary authority in connection with his Bristol undertaking, he obtains at the same time a Private Bill. I am sure that the authors of the Bill did not intend this proposal. It is not the practice to attach side notes to Subsections, but if it were, I should suggest as a side note for this Sub-section "Invitation to London. Come to London." This provision may operate to incite and to instigate promoters to desert the Scottish procedure and to come to London. The Sub-section provides that where a promoter represents to the tribunal that he has an undertaking in Scotland and in England, and that for the sake of uniformity he would like to have the matter dealt with by one enactment, the Chairmen are authorised to withdraw the Order from the procedure 1733 and send them both to London to be dealt with as a single Bill.
I do not like that word "uniformity." It is too often prayed in aid when, the idea is really to assimilate our Scottish law and practice to that in England, to bring it into line with that in England, and to level it up or down as you please. There is a far worse objection to this proposal than that. It throws wide open the door to abuse, and it could only have been conceived in the mind of a draftsman far removed from the world of realities. I remember that some years ago a man, who knew well what he was talking about, said to me: "You would not believe me if I told you the amount of wire-pulling that goes on to have these Bills taken in London."
§ Mr. MILNE
It may seem strange to some hon. Members that there should be wire-pulling to have Orders taken in London. To us the 400-mile journey from Scotland to London is a weary, purgatory, but it is not viewed in that light by some other people. The hearings of these Orders are taken in London in the spring and early summer when London is at its brightest and best. A trip to London and all expenses paid. This Sub-section ought to be dropped outright. With regard to the provisions of the Bill generally, will they accomplish much? A responsible person said to me: "I do not think that there is much in your Bill." For my part, I hope and I expect that it will do a great deal to extend and improve the procedure, but, if the plain truth be told, our Scottish procedure will never function as it ought to be functioning unless and until another matter is attended to—a matter which is of urgent public importance: the Scottish Office must be moved to Edinburgh. The procedure Act has to a considerable extent disappointed the hopes of its authors. To some extent the Legislature has been frustrated. It was the hope and intention of the authors of this system that the draft Orders would be drafted by Scotsmen in Scotland. Lord Balfour of Burleigh attached great importance to that. I will again read from his evidence at another inquiry. He was asked: 1734Is there a separate class of Parliamentary agent at Edinburgh as distinguished front writers or solicitors?Here is his reply:No, I should say there is no profession of Parliamentary agents in Edinburgh, and the absence of that particular professional skill, I do not mind saying, has been a certain amount of disadvantage. … Undoubtedly the hold which the profession have in London upon that class of business has made it less easy to transfer much of the details of the work to Scotland than it would otherwise have been.I wonder if the House and the public realise that practically all these Orders—at any rate, all the more important Orders—are drafted in London by London solicitors. They are drafted by persons who are sometimes unfamiliar with the language of the law of Scotland, imperfectly acquainted with that law and have small knowledge of our customs and practices. I have no ill-will towards the London Parliamentary solicitor. I have no doubt that he does his work faithfully at an adequate remuneration, but I say to him: "We do not want to lose you, but we think you ought to go." It would be a depressing prospect perhaps for the London solicitors, but, if the London solicitors were depressed, their Scottish brethren would be correspondingly elated, so that the Secretary of State may rest assured that the sum total of human happiness would be undiminished.
The House would be impatient with me if I merely put it on those grounds. The reason that Lord Balfour of Burleigh attached importance to it particularly is that these Orders are afterwards to be turned into Acts of Parliament which will intimately affect other interests—Scottish interests—besides those of the promoters, and they ought to be moulded and fashioned by Scottish hands. It is true that the Secretary of State's expert advisers revise the drafts. All the initial stages of the procedure are still carried out in London before the Examiners, who carry out their work in London. That was not the intention of the Legislature. Section 14 of the original Act makes careful provision for the travelling expenses of the Examiners, but I am told, on inquiry, that long ago Examiners have been known to travel to Edinburgh, but within recent memory no 1735 one has ever seen an Examiner north of the Border.
What is the reason for all this? It is manifestly plain: it is that the Scottish Office still lingers in London. A year ago we had in the House a welcome announcement from the Under-Secretary that the Scottish Office should be moved to Edinburgh, and I rather think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) gave it his powerful support. Here is a task which will call forth all his energy, resolution and courage. I had occasion to visit the Scottish Office some time ago. It is always a pleasure to pay a visit there, for the officials are always helpful and ready to give advice, but I left the building with a certain sense of despondency, for I found it in the hands of the painters and decorators. They contemplate a lengthy stay, and there are no signs of an early flitting. The Scottish Office in most places in Scotland is viewed with feelings of dislike and distrust. I believe that nobody who is acquainted with the officials of the Scottish Office shares that view. This hostile atmosphere is largely due to lack of acquaintance. I believe that, in spite of all that is said against and about the Scottish Office, we in Scotland have a warm place in our hearts for it. The attitude of Scotsmen to the Scottish Office would best be described in the language of the poet:I do not love thee, no, I do not love thee, But yet, when thou art absent, I am sad.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. JAMIESON
Until I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne) I had very little to say about the procedure introduced in 1899, but the hon. Member's long official experience in connection with that procedure seems to have had a deteriorating effect upon his arithmetic. I do not altogether agree with what he says. I do not agree that the Scottish Office is 1736 looked upon with distrust in Scotland, but I do agree with him that it would be a great benefit to Scotland if a great deal more of the work of the Scottish Office could be transferred there. I agree with that on the same principle which leads me to agree with this Bill, the principle being that so far as purely Scottish local affairs are concerned, they should, subject to the control of Parliament, be conducted in Scotland. There is a general desire in Scotland that the 1899 Act should be extended so that more of the private legislation work could be conducted in Scotland than has been the case hitherto.
In introducing any reform it is necessary to see that you are not going to do something which is not practicable and that you do not sacrifice efficiency. While I agree entirely with the Bill, I would like an assurance from the Government that they have considered the question, and that they are satisfied that it will be practicable to man the tribunals and to conduct these inquiries in Scotland with Members of this House and Members from another place who have experience in this work, and who will be able to devote the necessary time to holding long inquiries in Scotland. This question arose when a Bill was introduced in 1898 and was sent by this House to a Select Committee to report on the Bill. That Committee took evidence, and among other witnesses who were examined was the then Lord Chairman of Committees in another place. Mr. Lowther, who was then Chairman of Committees in this House, and Lord Balfour of Burleigh, both reported that in their opinions it would be doubtful whether Members of the two Houses would be available for the conduct of local inquiries, which in some cases might be of considerable duration. The view of the Committee as disclosed in their Report was that, so far as this House was concerned, they thought it would be possible to get Members to go, but they did point out the very great objection that to detach Members for that work and send them to Scotland was going to deprive their constituents of their services and keep them away from this House when matters of great public importance might be taking place here.
That Bill in 1898 was not proceeded with, but in 1899, when the Bill which has now become the principal Act came on 1737 for Second Reading in this House, this question was again raised. The Lord Advocate of the day, Mr. Graham Murray, said that in his view it would be possible to get Members to go to Scotland to hold the inquiries, but as a safeguard, in case that proved not to be possible, an extra Parliamentary panel was set up.
§ Sir S. CHAPMAN
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman tell us how many Commissioners have gone from this House every year since that Bill came into operation?
§ Mr. JAMIESON
I was just going to say that I am glad that the Select Committee were right and that Mr. Graham Murray was right. The extra Parliamentary panel has only in very exceptional cases been called on at all, and the Commission bas been manned by Members of this House, of whom my hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh (Sir S. Chapman) is a notable example, and also my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. McLean). Hitherto there have been no difficulties. But we are now faced with a very different position. Hitherto it has been only the smaller Orders which have been taken in Scotland, and where an application for Parliamentary powers of very considerable magnitude has been presented the Chairmen have ruled that it should be taken by way of a Private Bill. A notable example was the Glasgow Boundaries Extension Bill, which occupied a Committee upstairs for 27 days. That, no doubt, was the high-water mark. But there have been many Scottish inquiries here before Committees upstairs, which have taken a week, a fortnight, or perhaps three weeks.
There is no doubt that when this Bill passes, as I hope it will, the call on the time of Members of this House who serve as commissioners is going to be very much more severe. If the work is going to be a success it is perfectly obvious that we must have commissioners who have experience and are qualified to do the work. The importance of a strong commission is obvious. The commissioners must command the respect and the confidence of both the promoters and the opposers of an Order. Not only that, but this procedure is a direct departure from our constitutional bi-cameral system of Legislature, because the decision under 1738 this procedure is given once and for all, whereas under our ordinary Parliamentary procedure, which applies to Private Bills just as much as to Bills introduced and discussed throughout in this House or in another place, if objectors have been unsuccessful in their objections before a Committee in one House, they have always the right to get their case re-heard by a Committee of the other House.
It may be said that under the 1899 Act provision is made for a Motion in this House, when the confirming Bill comes on for Second Reading, that the Bill should be committed to a Select, Committee of both Houses. That is not a proper safeguard. No one suggests that a Motion in this House objecting that the commissioners have gone wrong on the merits of the Order would for a moment be entertained. I have made inquiries, and I understand that that Section has been put in operation only once. In 1904 when the Leith tramways were promoting an Order, the Edinburgh tramways undertaking was refused a locus standi, and this House remitted the Order to a Joint Committee of both Houses. It was only in cases where the commissioners may have been flagrantly wrong that the machinery provided under the 1899 Act could be put into operation.
I have thought it right to raise this matter because it is very important at this stage. I would like an assurance from the Government on the point, because it is up to this Government and every future Government, if Scotland is to get proper attention to her rights under this procedure, to see that they send up, to conduct these inquiries, Members of this House and of the other House who have experience, and who are properly qualified to do the work. I was very much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about Subsection (4) of Clause 1, but I would seek from the learned Solicitor-General, who is to reply, some further information as to how far this Bill relates to matters which do not arise wholly in Scotland. One would gather from the Clause that unless the Chairmen order the proceedings to be taken by way of a Private Bill, if the matter relates to something out-with as well as within Scotland, it will be necessary to have both a Provisional Order and a Private Bill. But when one 1739 turns to Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 one finds it provided that if the provisions of the draft Order relate to matters outside Scotland to such an extent that they ought to be dealt with by Private Bill, it may be so ordered. I shall be glad if the learned Solicitor-General will give me and the House some explanation of how far the procedure provided for in the Bill is applicable to matters which do not relate wholly to Scotland.
There is one other question that I would like to raise. While many of the other provisions in this Bill are most useful, there is one very prominent omission, and that is with regard to how far Government Departments ate entitled to come forward and get modifications of an Order. Under the law as it exists at present, after a draft Order has left the Commissioners, after it has been approved by them, the Secretary of State may make modifications in it which are brought to his notice by other Government Departments, and it goes as far as this—that before making and issuing an Order he shall have regard to the recommendations of the Chairmen and of the Treasury and of other public departments.
The procedure with regard to the reports of Government Departments is most haphazard. Sometimes they arrive before the hearing by the Commissioners, sometimes they arrive only after the hearing has started. Sometimes the promoters and the objectors are able to get copies of the reports and sometimes they are not. I should like to see introduced into this Bill a provision that all reports and recommendations by Government Departments must be lodged with the clerk to the Commissioners in time to make them available to the Departments, and that machinery should be set up for making them so available. Further, I would like to see the Section of the 1899 Act to which I referred amended, because I think the procedure ought to be brought into line with that of Private Bill procedure here, that any recommendations of Government Departments ought to be supported by the Commissioners, who are the representatives of Parliament just as the Committees upstairs are, and that once these have been considered by the Commissioners, no further alteration should be made to the Order after it has obtained their 1740 approval. I hope the Government, before this Bill reaches Committee, will consider that point. In conclusion, I would like to ask how it is that the draftsman of this Bill has not given to the Secretary of State for Scotland the status which I am glad to say he now possesses, because throughout he is described as "the Secretary for Scotland."
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I welcome this Bill, principally because it opens up the opportunity for us here in this House to draw attention to the necessity for further devolution of the business of this House, and it gives us an opportunity of putting in a word for Home Rule for Scotland. The peculiar thing about it is that it is only a case of devolution concerning matters affecting the lawyers of Scotland. I support it, because it is a Scottish idea. The only objection I take to it is that the lawyers of Scotland should use all their available time and ability at this juncture, when Scotland is right up against it and when poverty is rampant in the country, to further the interests of the lawyers of Scotland. Suppose Glasgow wants to extend, owing to its housing schemes, and wants to go outside its original borders. We had a case in point a few years ago, when Glasgow annexed a great amount of territory to enable it to go in for extensive new housing schemes. To do that, they had to come down here, and it cost the city of Glasgow and the adjacent counties a quarter of a million of money. That money was spent here in London, and the lawyers in Scotland, quite naturally, object to all this money being spent down here and English K.C.s getting the cream of all the money spent in that way. They see all this money, all those briefs, going past their doors. I have no objection to that attitude, but what I object to is that they should have the power—this is the second time within a month—to use up the time of this House in the interests of the lawyers of Scotland instead of looking after the people whom they were sent here to represent.
The hon. and learned Member for Maryhill (Mr. Jamieson) refuted the statement that was made by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne), but I support the hon. Member for West Fife all the way. When you go into the Scottish Office, you are met with a 1741 douche. It is the coldest place, and they are the most austere officials that I have ever met in the British Government; and I have dealt with officials in all the Departments in the years that I have been here. There are none so cold as Scottish officials, the reason being that, they do not understand us; they are so far removed from the seat of trouble. They are 400 miles away, and they are a foreign race to us. This Bill is a proof of that. We are dealing here with another race, the Scottish race, a distinct race, and their problems ought to be dealt with in Edinburgh or Glasgcw—I do not care which. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am not putting up a plea for Glasgow just because I am a Glasgow man. I would be quite satisfied with "Scotia's darling seat" being again the seat of the Legislature. Well pleased would I be, and the very fact that we have this Bill is a proof that we Scots have distinct laws as apart from the English. Therefore we should not have to come down here and require to get power from an English Parliament to carry out what we and the folk in Scotland have decided should be carried out.
All the Members, even the Tory Members here, have spoken in favour of devolution and have agreed to it. This private legislation procedure for Scotland is essentially a lawyer's matter, and it is difficult for me as a layman to understand all that is involved here. I have to be very careful, because we have those who are on our tracks in anything where we may happen to deviate. If we do not understand something, they will take full advantage of it. They are mean enough for anything, so we have to be careful when we are dealing with any of these Bills that happen to be put before us by the legal fraternity. As I said at the beginning, I welcome anything that will give to us in Scotland the power to carry out our own wishes in Scotland as apart from England. With reference to a remark that fell from the hon. and learned Member for Maryhill, as to the individuals who form those Commissions, I have sat with them, and they are just as able as is the hon. and learned Member for Maryhill.
§ Mr. JAMIESON
If I had known that the hon. Member had so sat, I would have included him among the notable 1742 examples of those who had performed their work so well.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD.
It is not that you did not include me. I am not worrying about that. I am worrying about what you said, because, to me, you insulted Scotland.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I did not insult Scotland. The hon. Member must address me.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
The hon. and learned Member for Maryhill said he did not want matters of grave importance to be handed away to Commissioners, that those Commissioners would sit in Edinburgh, and that they would be settling matters up there which it would be far better to bring before this House, and then we should have all the ability of this House as against the ability of the Commissioners that had been appointed by the Select Committee or by the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. JAMIESON
The hon. Member quite misunderstood me. I did not say that these matters ought not to be put before the Commissioners. I said that I hoped that, if Scotland got her rights, the Government would see that Commissioners who were well able to perform the task would be sent to Scotland to do it, and I certainly want these Measures to come before the Commissioners in Scotland rather than to be taken before a Committee upstairs.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
That is the very point that I am making, that the hon. and learned Member said they had to be sure, as if in the past they had not been sure. There is no doubt that he was casting reflections on the Commissioners who had been appointed, and that is tantamount to saying that we should not have those Commissioners, but should continue with the old procedure, that the old procedure was far better than the new idea which is put forward in this Bill, of taking business away from this House. This House has too much business—it cannot conduct all its business now—and a great amount of business which should be done in Scotland is brought down here. On those lines, and as far as I understand this Bill, I welcome it.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. ALBERT RUSSELL
I think the Secretary of State must be gratified that 1743 in this Debate, so far, no Member has done other than give his blessing to the Bill. That is especially gratifying if one considers that several of those who have spoken have had actual working experience of the procedure as Commissioners as it has been carried on in Scotland in the past. The provisions of this Bill are designed to extend the scope of the private legislative business which has to be carried out in that way. I am sure one cannot under-estimate the importance of private legislation and very often the overwhelming necessity for taking great care, on the part of those who have to adjudicate, not only in acting in a judicial capacity in determining questions of fact, but in acting also in a legislative capacity, in determining what is the right policy to adopt, whether the granting of compulsory powers is expedient in the circumstances or whether the private interests that may be involved and endangered are adequately safeguarded in the Bill or Order which is presented. While one knows that the Act of 1899, at the time it was passed, occasioned a good deal of doubt as to whether it would prove satisfactory in working, one is glad to get the assurance of the Secretary of State that the procedure has given universal satisfaction in Scotland, and that no less than one-half of all the private legislation initiated in Scotland in those years has been dealt with by that procedure. It is remarkable as a tribute to the commissions who have been entrusted with the work in past years. It is always a question whether one should delegate powers which are reposed in Parliament to a small body, but I am quite sure that the satisfactory manner in which the scheme has worked has justified what the Secretary of State said about it.
But although the scheme has worked satisfactorily, and is now to be extended in the way this Bill provides, there is inherent in the scheme what one might call a certain measure of overriding control by a Department of Government, because even where an Order has been approved by the Commissioners, who have found everything satisfactory, there is still power under the Act of 1899 for the Secretary of State for Scotland to modify the provisions of that Order in such way as may appear necessary. There is one thing which I am sure this House does 1744 not wish to impose upon Scotland, and that is any extension of the system of Government by bureaucracy, any extension of the power of legislation or quasi-legislation given to a Secretary of State or to a Government Department. I myself have come across instances in which Departments of State have come forward very late in the day at an inquiry with some point with which the promoters had not time to deal. The points were not decided by the Commissioners, because the necessary information was not there, and after the Commissioners had approved of the Order modifications in it have been made in the Secretary of State's Department in order to give effect to a Departmental requirement or to some modification which the Secretary of State thought right.
It would remove one criticism, a minor criticism, admittedly, which has been put forward against the operation of the Act of 1899 if the Government would promise to insert in this Bill provisions to ensure that any modification which the Secretary of State desires to make in the provisions of an Order, or any suggestions which a Department desires to put forward, shall be submitted prior to the holding of the inquiry, and made known to the promoters and to those who are petitioning against the Order, so as to enable the point to be put before the Commissioners and to be decided on by them. And let that be the final say that Parliament has in determining the official form which the Order is to take, subject always to the reserved right of Parliament, when the Bill is introduced to the House for Second Reading, to modify it otherwise if it thinks fit. One has had experience of cases where the Secretary of State and his Department and other Departments such as the Ministry of Transport have brought forward modifications which were put into an Order without the Commissioners having had the opportunity of considering them. When we are extending the scope of the delegated powers it is most important that the power of Parliament should be delegated to those people whom Parliament sends to Scotland, and should not in the last resort be delegated to a Government Department. I press upon the Secretary of State the advisability of making some provision to meet what is, I think, a grievance in connection 1745 with the working of an otherwise very good system.
There is no doubt that hitherto no difficulty has been encountered in finding Members of Parliament to go down to Scotland to discharge the duties which this private legislation procedure puts upon them, but we must contemplate the probability that the work will be doubled in the future. While the volume of private legislation is not very big at the moment, we must realise that in the future it is going to be at least double what it was in the busiest time of Scottish private legislation under this Act. If that be so, steps must be taken to ensure that Commissioners from the Parliamentary panels will be willing to go down if it is known beforehand that a Provisional Order may well occupy three or four or five weeks of working days before the Commission. I think that difficulty might be met by increasing the Members on the Parliamentary panels. At present there are 15 from the House of Commons, 15 from the other place and an extra-Parliamentary panel of, I think, 20. If the volume of work is going to be doubled, and if any one particular Order is one which may last for several weeks, we want to make sure of finding people who will be able to absent themselves from this House for that time.
In conclusion, I would like to welcome the Bill as a further stage in delegating to Scotland control in a manner which relieves the work of the Imperial Parliament and in a manner which is dealing with purely local Scottish matters. It will undoubtedly result in a saving of time, trouble and expense to all concerned, and be of vital interest to the ratepayers of the municipalities who very often are the promoters of these Orders. If this procedure enables the work to be done on the extended scale as efficiently as it has been done in the past, with an added saving of time and expense, and if it should synchronise with the setting up of a Scottish Office in which we shall really have available in Edinburgh not only a mere offshoot of the London Scottish Office in Whitehall but a real, living, active Scottish Office, with officials who are administering the affairs of Scotland, I think it will do a great deal to remove a good deal of what one must realise is spurious and slightly thoughtout arguments as to the necessity of some measure of Home Rule for Scot- 1746 land. I welcome the Bill, and I trust that in Committee such Amendments as I have suggested may be made, perhaps introduced by the Government itself, to remove the defects to which I have referred.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I must confess that I cannot see the changes which are proposed in this Bill. As I understand it the Bill means that certain Provisional Orders which used to be considered in London will now be dealt with in Scotland. How many Bills have been taken in London recently? In the 10 or 11 years during which I have been in the House I can recollect only half-a-dozen, and yet we are told about the immense saving of time which will be effected. Even this Bill does not guarantee that a Bill will be taken in this House, because, as the Secretary of State fairly said, the Chairman of Ways and Means still has power to direct that Bills shall be considered here if he thinks they contain elements of public importance. In my time there has been a Glasgow Corporation Bill—two Bills, I think, and the Greenock Corporation have had a Bill. Those are all I can recollect, speaking from memory. I do not know whether the Solicitor-General can remember any more, but I cannot remember more than half-a-dozen in the last 20 years.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND (Mr. Normand)
Oh, yes, I have dealt with half-a-dozen here myself.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Yes, but the hon. and learned. Gentleman must remember that five of those years were not ordinary years. From the point of view of local legislation, the first five years following the War were a, different five years from any other live years. Nobody has proceeded with local legislation during the War, and there was a good deal to be done afterwards. But even accepting that there were 50 in 15 years, that works out at only a little over three a year, and yet we are told about the immense saving of time and money that is to be effected. I cannot recollect a Scottish Bill being taken in this House since this 1747 Parliament came in—not one. As a matter of fact, each year sees the tendency grow less. The chief corporation affected has been the Glasgow Corporation, and the chief subject dealt with was the amalgamation of boundaries. Take away extensions of boundaries, and there is very little left. At that time, the Chairman of Ways and Means would have decided that it would be heard here in any case, for the reason that there was a Commission sitting, dealing with boundaries in every part of the country. There are certain limitations as to how far towns may go on increasing in size. As a matter of public policy, the Chairman of Ways and Means was bound to have permitted that Committee to deal with the question, which was of very great public importance, because the Government was undertaking the limitation of the size of towns.
I cannot see anything in the Bill at all in regard to Lanarkshire. It proposes that, in these matters, the Chairman of Ways and Means shall allow them to be taken at the rate of three and more a year in Scotland. It is doubtful if there are three a year. We are told that this will mean extra people, but I cannot see that there is much in the Measure. I am anxious to safeguard questions of procedure and the rights of Parliament. I want to be perfectly frank, and say that in regard to these Provisional Orders there is a question which might have a different relationship and which raises a question of public importance far outweighing the town. There was a small Provisional Order which had one Section asking that Greenock should be given certain powers, which Greenock might have thought desirable, but which every other town in Scotland would have wanted, once they had been granted to Greenock. If general powers are to be granted, they should not be granted by a side wind, but by a Parliamentary Bill. Parliament itself should either undertake the responsibility or reject the proposal.
I cannot see that this Measure makes any great change in the present procedure. The position remains substantially the same. The Chairman of Ways and Means has to say whether these matters are of public importance before he allows three a year to be taken, but that is the working procedure now. The Chairman of Ways and Means rarely 1748 sends a Bill here unless it raises some fundamental question of public importance. If one goes over the figures for each year, one will find that the Chairman of Ways and Means is lessening the number that are taken here, until now there are almost none taken. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne) has done credit to someone holding revolutionary views. He speaks about someone manoeuvring to get trips. If I had said it, the whole House would have been up in arms. I will say this in defence of Glasgow, that everyone who knows that city knows that it likes its measures to be taken here. I was in the Glasgow Corporation for six years, but I was never on any deputation nor had I the time nor inclination for that. My experience has been that members of Glasgow Corporation always brought their measures here.
Glasgow is the object of a great deal of envy and jealousy from outside burghs. When the right hon. Member for Hill-head (Sir R. Horne) was responsible for the amalgamation, I was the only one to oppose the amalgamation proposal. Everybody else was looking to Glasgow constantly expanding its area, far outside Lanarkshire or Renfrewshire. There is a feeling among the small places, as one can see if he reads the proceedings of the Convention of Royal Burghs, for grouping together, in order to defend themselves against the oncoming of what they think are the big corporations. Glasgow must be considered. It has fully a fourth of the population of Scotland. Glasgow finds when Bills are taken locally—let us be frank—that while the commissioners try to do their work well, there are men who cannot step aside from the prejudices of a lifetime, and the consequence is that Glasgow would rather come here, because they feel that they get a much more impartial hearing and that their wishes are not viewed as those of a big city expanding, but impartially, in accordance with their needs.
I say that in common fairness to the City of Glasgow. I do not share the view that lawyers are not capable people. If I were in a criminal dock to-morrow, the more serious the charge with which I was concerned the more concerned I would be in seeing that there was a qualified legal man on the bench. I have said this in connection with another 1749 matter. One of the tendencies growing up and which is wrong is the preference for lay administration. I cannot understand this idea that Glasgow town councillors want a trip to London. Most of them, comparatively speaking, are comfortably off. They can take a trip to London whenever they like. Their business interests will give them all the trips to London that they want. You are likely to have manoeuvres much nearer to West Fife than you are to London.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
It was Glasgow that does the manoeuvring and it is Glasgow Bills that come here. The meaning was obvious to anyone.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I differ from the hon. Member who said that the first people to be considered were the ratepayers. The first consideration of this House ought to be to see that justice is done. It is of no use this House saving £1,000 or £5,000, if, at the end, litigants do not feel that justice has been meted out to them. The most important question is not that of saving a few paltry pounds, but that people should feel that they have had a proper trial and a decent consideration of their case. The number of cases affected is comparatively small, and so trivial as not to matter. In a great majority of cases, no alteration is made in the proceedings. The rights of Members of Parliament are still amply safeguarded in this House, and neither in the Committee stage nor now can I see myself rigging up a fight on this matter. I can see myself doing it on the Trout Bill and on a number of others, but this Measure is more a make-believe, and I cannot see a decent criticism to make upon it. I will allow the Bill to pass, neither condemning its promoters nor complimenting them, but saying that time will prove whether they have done good or bad.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I wish to compliment the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, on his success in commending this Bill to the House, a success so great that even the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) is unable to conceive any 1750 criticism which could be brought against it. Hon. Members have raised a number of minor but very interesting points, and a number of different views have been expressed. We are all, in every part of the House, interested to see that the Secretary of State is throwing open as wide as possible the door to the adoption of that Scottish Private Bill Procedure which, in the opinion of nearly every speaker, has worked so well during the last 20 years. In my view, he has thrown it open as widely as he can.
One question was raised by the hon. Member who has just sat down as to the powers of the Chairmen, and the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne) questioned the composition, and tried to suggest an alteration in the composition, of the tribunal which has to decide whether a draft Order gets, the benefit of this procedure. For my own part, I cannot think that it would be right to throw this additional burden upon the Secretary of State, as he seems to suggest. When he was discussing the composition of the present tribunal, he admitted that it was impartial and competent. I hardly think that you can find a better tribunal than one to which you can pay so high a tribute. I think that we were not only right from the constitutional point of view to retain power in the hands of the officers of Parliament to decide which Bill should enjoy the procedure but that, as we have a competent and impartial tribunal, we shall do well to keep it.
The hon. and learned Member for Maryhill (Mr. Jamieson) raised the question of the additional work which will be placed upon the Commission, and, therefore, on the Scottish Members of the House who will man it under the provisions of the Bill; but, while that point is an important one, I do not think that his doubts regarding it really bore the construction that the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) tried to put upon them. I do not think he desired to criticise the members of past Commissions, but what he feared was that it would be difficult to find competent people able to give the time for this additional work in the future, and that is a point which will have to be borne carefully in mind. On the other hand, I do not think he attached sufficient importance to the safeguard of control by this House, which undoubtedly exists in the fact that the House can, after a Provi- 1751 sional Order has been examined by the Commission, refer it to a committee. It is true, as he said, that that has only been done once, but that shows that it can be done—that the House has used this power, and would, if necessary, use it again. I think, however, that the House has been very wisely guided in determining not to use it except where the conviction is borne in upon Members of the House that it is absolutely necessary. We have sent these commissions to Scotland, they have been able men, and have done their work well; and the House has been right in saying, "These people have heard the case on the spot, they have been in touch with the people mainly concerned, and we are going to stand by the decision to which they have come." But the control which remains in the House of Commons, and which has on one occasion, though on one only, been effectively used, is an ample security on which we can rely.
I have some sympathy with the remarks of the hon. Member for Gorbals. I think the Secretary of State put the case perhaps a little high when he talked about the proud race widely extending its control over its local affairs. I certainly do not think that this will meet in any degree the views of those sections of public opinion in Scotland that believe it to be necessary and desirable that Scottish men and women should have fuller control over their own domestic affairs, nor will it meet the views of those who have pressed in all quarters of the House that there should be a greater control in Scotland over Scottish administration, that the centre of Scottish administration, as the hon. Member for West Fife has said, should be removed to Edinburgh. The Bill does not attempt to go as far as that; it has, indeed, a very modest scope; but still it is a useful Measure, which, for my part, I am glad to welcome, and which I shall hope to support in its different stages as it passes through the House.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
Few Bills have come before the House which have received so much appreciation as that which the Secretary of State for Scotland has introduced to-day. My remarks upon it will be brief, for three reasons. In the first place, I must maintain our native 1752 characteristic of economy in words; in the second place, I must keep before my mind the fact that this afternoon everything has been said with regard to the Measure that I think can he wisely or usefully or reasonably said; and, in the third place, I myself have some responsibility for having taken up this question previously in the House, and, indeed, the principles of this Bill are those which at that time I put forward. It was a refreshing experience to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) succeeded in dragging in some perfervid words with regard to the question of Home Rule for Scotland, but we are well aware of the attitude that he has taken up in the past on that question. It has always been one of a character which ended with a peroration, but it has seldom been reduced to anything in the shape of a scheme of practical politics, and one of the things that I hope to live long enough to see is the actual Bill which my right hon. Friend will some day, at long last, bring forward, I hope before we are all too grey to be strong enough to give effective consideration to his proposals.
As one who has read much in the public journals of speeches made in Scotland in recent times, I must confess that the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals produced on me an effect which another Member said he had had produced upon him—the effect of a cold douche. I am living in an atmosphere of belief that the fiery cross has been going round the Highlands on this subject; that the Clyde has been on fire because Glasgow's witnesses have to come to London in order to give their evidence in cases affecting merely local affairs, and that the beacons have been out on the Border hills in protest against the fact that Scottish lawyers are not allowed to conduct business which those in London have found so lucrative. To all that type of theory my hon. Friend brings a very cold, and, indeed, as I said before, refreshing douche. At any rate, he minimises the effect of this Bill, quite rightly, but I do not think—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I am afraid that, even with a fee, the right hon. Gentleman could hardly do otherwise.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I do not think that this Bill is of so small a character as my hon. Friend believes, though it is not, perhaps, of so large and spacious a type as the perfervid patriots of Scotland who seek Home Rule would desire. Certain views of differing character have been presented this afternoon. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) said that this was a lawyers' Bill. I hope he did not mean by that that it is a Bill from which only lawyers will derive benefit, because its chief characteristic seems to me to be that it will benefit people of very small means in Scotland who are often prevented from putting forward the opposition which they otherwise would put forward because of the expense of stating it in London. For example, if the sacred soil of Dumbarton were invaded by the great community of Glasgow, there are many people who, under the old arrangement, because of the magnitude of Glasgow's Bills, would find their mouths closed, but who, under the new provisions of this Measure, will, as I hope, be enabled at small expense to state their proper objections. I also listened with great interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne)—
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Is it not the case that the lawyers will benefit by this Bill much more than they would under the old conditions? The Glasgow Extension Bill has been mentioned, which was required to come here, and they will not benefit any the less by these proceedings being conducted in Edinburgh.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I hope the Bill will benefit all classes in Scotland, and not only lawyers, as my hon. Friend suggests. On the contrary, my view is that the whole of the populace north of the Tweed will have this opportunity of asserting their rights in a way that is denied to them to some extent to-day. My hon. Friend the Member for West Fife suggested, in his interesting and entertaining speech, that the Secretary of State for Scotland should be the sole judge as to whether a Bill should go forward as a Provisional Order or not. He deprecated any further appeal to the Chairmen of Committees; he thought that the Scottish Office might be left to undertake the duty of deciding that matter upon their own point of view. I have considerable sympathy with that opinion, 1754 but, at the same time, there are other considerations which have to be kept in mind. It is advisable that we should have the experience of everyone at our disposal in this matter, and, while I have the greatest confidence in the officials of the Scottish Office, at the same time they naturally have not the same wide experience as the Chairmen of Committees of both Houses, and, if it is necessary to consider, as I think it is, whether a particular Bill raises questions of principle affecting not merely local affairs but the interests of the whole Kingdom, it is right that that fact should be taken notice of, and a proper form of procedure observed.
It has also occurred to me that something might be done to enable papers in connection with these matters to be lodged in Edinburgh as well as in London, or in Edinburgh in preference to London. Many people, in order to lodge papers in London, have to employ London Parliamentary agents, and I think that that is an expense which might well be cut out. I hope that it may be possible to do something, even short of the ambitions and aspirations that we all enjoy—short of setting up the Scottish Office in a much more independent form in Edinburgh than it is to-day—whereby it might be possible to allow people to make their proper opposition to Provisional Orders by lodging their papers in Edinburgh. I hope, myself, that the day is not far distant when the Scottish administration shall operate to a far fuller extent in Edinburgh than it does to-day. In fact, my hope would be that the time may come when only that portion of the Scottish Office will remain in London which is necessary in order to conduct our business in the British Parliament, and I am glad to hear that at the present time arrangements are being suggested whereby the Scottish Office, in such circumstances, may be suitably housed.
I pass to the last consideration, namely, that which was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mary-hill (Mr. Jamieson), and this is a point to which I would like to direct the attention of the Secretary of State. Section 8 of the principal Act of 1899 provides, as my hon. and learned Friend pointed out, that, even after a Provisional Order has been disposed of so far as procedure is 1755 concerned, it then comes before the Secretary of State, and also before the Departments of Government. Individual provisions in the Order may be entirely dispensed with for reasons which may seem to the Scottish Office, instructed by the public departments, to militate against the reasonableness of those Orders being passed. That Section looks to me like a safeguard which was put into the original Act in reference to a new and untried form of procedure in order that, at the beginning at least, every precaution might be taken to guard against the possibility of mistakes being made. We have now had considerable experience and we might throw off some of our swaddling clothes. If the Government Departments have anything to say, they should say it in the presence of the commission, to whose members their contentions should be put forward. It seems to me to stultify in a considerable degree the very prerogatives which have been granted to Scotland in this matter if this final hurdle is allowed to check or nullify the considered opinion of the tribunal.
In principle this Bill seems to be sound. I think it will effect a considerable change in Scotland which will enure to the benefit of our people. The hon. Member for Gorbals pointed out that there have been only a very few Measures which have been treated by Private Bills from Scotland in recent years, but we must remember that these have been years of depression and, when the country recovers, I have no doubt that you will find a reversion to something like the figures that you had early in the century, and under the provisions of this Measure many proposals will be considered by Provisional Order in Scotland which otherwise would have been heard under the old procedure in London. The great change that is made is that no longer does magnitude form an element to be considered in deciding whether a particular proposal is to be heard by Provisional Order or by Private Bill. No Measure is going to be too big to be dealt with locally in Scotland. It might be of such novelty and importance that it would not be wise to deal with it entirely locally, but, short of that, every proposal that is made with regard to local affairs in Scotland is to be heard in the form of a Provisional Order. In those circum- 1756 stances, I think a great advance is being made and one in which the Scottish people will ultimately rejoice.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ The SOLICITOR - GENERAL for SCOTLAND
The Government have every reason to congratulate themselves on the reception of the Bill by the House. So far as I have been able to discover, they may equally congratulate themselves on its reception in Scotland, for I do not find anywhere any criticism of the principles of the Bill expressed either in the country or in the House. It is gratifying to know that it will receive the support in the Committee stage of those for whom the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) speaks as well as those for whom the right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) speaks. There was, indeed, perhaps some, I will not say criticism, but minimising of the Bill in the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). He said there had only been some 50 Measures in the last 15 years for Scotland which had come before Parliament and been dealt with by Private Bill. The right, hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) has pointed out that period includes several years of ft e most acute depression. Perhaps in the last two or three years fewer Bills of any sort have been presented to Parliament by private promoters than in any period of recent history.
But that is not the only point. What caused these Bills to be sent to Westminster instead of allowing them to be dealt with in Edinburgh was the provision regarding "magnitude." The consequence was that all the most important and the most lengthy promotions required to be dealt with by Bill. I speak from experience. There was the Greenock Bill and the Paisley Bill, and the Glasgow Bill only the year before last which occupied the time of Committees upstairs for weeks. Another provision of this Bill provides that in future all promotions for the purpose of electric supply will go to Scotland. I was in three successive Bills dealing with hydro-electric schemes which occupied me for many weeks continuously. Those Bills under the provisions of this Bill will be dealt with in Scotland.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) hinted that in 1757 his view this was a Bill for the benefit of lawyers. I think he meant for the benefit of Scottish as opposed to English lawyers. He was never more mistaken. If it were a choice between appearing for a certain number of weeks in Committee Rooms upstairs or appearing in Edinburgh on a Private Bill, I would never hesitate to choose if I were to regard only my private financial advantage to come to Westminster. Another point made by the hon. Member for Gorbals was that the essential thing was to secure justice. The roost important reason perhaps for the introduction of the Bill is that it secures justice. What happens at present? A wealthy promoter, when he starts a Bill, desires above all things to come to London. He does everything to magnify its importance, because he knows that the small man who would be an objector dare not face the expense which will he incurred, not only before a Committee of this House, but before a Committee of the other House in the event of its passing the first.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Is it not the case that in the Glasgow Extension Bill only two years ago Sir Lynden Macassey would not come into the business if it was in Edinburgh?
§ The SOLICITOR - GENERAL for SCOTLAND
No, that is not so. Any member of the English Parliamentary Bar can appear before the Committee in Edinburgh and any member of the Scottish Bar can appear upstairs here. Scottish counsel repeatedly appear here and English counsel in Scotland. Justice is far more likely to result from a procedure which is not bicameral in the Committee stage and which is certainly cheaper than by a procedure which is far more expensive, for the simple reason that it will allow a poor man to be heard whereas under a more expensive system he dare not risk the costs which he may incur, and is forced to abstain from expressing legitimate objection.
There have been one or two other points raised which I think I ought to answer. The most important perhaps is that raised by the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Jamieson), who said: "What does it matter how you alter your procedure if you do not make sure that your inquiries will hereafter be conducted with the same care and efficiency with which 1758 they have hitherto been conducted?" It is, of course, true that there will be imposed upon those who may go up to Edinburgh a greater strain in the way of exercising patience than has been customary hitherto. But there is no reason to doubt that any Member going to Edinburgh to consider a Bill of some special magnitude will properly discharge the duty he owes to Parliament and to himself. As far as the Government is concerned, there is no doubt that the Government, and I hope every future Government, will do all that can be done by the Government to make the discharge of the duty easy, and to secure that the consideration given to Provisional Orders by Commissioners in Edinburgh or elsewhere in Scotland shall be as full, fair and patient as are the proceedings in Private Bills at Westminster.
Another point raised was whether the decision that the promotion should proceed by Bill or by Provisional Order would rest with the two Chairmen. Hereafter it must be by the unanimous decision of the two Chairmen before a. Scottish Bill can be sent to Westminster. That is an important change. I agree with what has been said by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness and by the right bon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead. The proper tribunal is not the Secretary of State for Scotland, but the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Lord Chairman who in this matter represent Parliament. They are the proper constitutional authority, and they are undoubtedly possessed of the necessary knowledge and impartiality. It is queried whether we have devised the right formula for them to apply in order to determine whether the proceedings should be by private Bill. Of course, that is pre-eminently a point for the Committee to consider. The hon. Member for Maryhill asked to what extent the expressionprovision relating to matters outside Scotland to such an extent that they ought to be dealt with by private Billaffects the present situation. At the present time the words are somewhat different. They are:relating wholly or mainly to Scotland.Under those words, a difficulty does in fact arise in practice. Sometimes the 1759 emphasis is laid on the word "wholly," and the phrase is construed as meaning "wholly or nearly so." On the other hand, the emphasis is sometimes laid on the word "mainly" with the result that the scope of the phrase becomes much wider. I do not know that we have devised the very best phraseology, but at any rate we have eliminated the alternative, which has given rise to the difficulty. There is no longer a choice between "wholly" and "mainly." What we say is that before a Bill is sent to Scotland it must be found by the Chairmen that it relates to matters outside Scotland to such an extent that that course ought to be followed.
Another important question which was raised was whether the Secretary of State ought to have power, after the commissioners had reported to him, to modify the terms of the Provisional Order in consideration of representations made to him by Government Departments. At present, after the commissioners have decided upon the Clauses of a Bill, it is the duty of the Secretary of State to consider the Clauses before he presents a Bill to Parliament for the purpose of confirming the Order. The Statute places upon him the duty of considering representations from other Government Departments, and that power is not in disuse. It has been exercised, and it is exercised at the present time. It is suggested that there should be an additional Clause in the Bill depriving the Secretary of State of that power and relieving him of that duty, so that every Provisional Order will necessarily become law, if it becomes law at all, in the form in which it is reported by the commissioners.
§ Mr. JAMIESON
I would like to ask the learned Solicitor-General for Scotland if he could not substitute any alteration which the House might make for confirming those provisions?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND
I recognise that the point should be carefully considered, but I would point out the real practical difficulties. Bills are sometimes reported with Clauses which contain defects and require alteration. That fact may not be noted until the very last stage of the Bill before the commissioners, because some Clauses 1760 may be added on the very last day Instances have arisen in which the Secretary of State has intervened. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. C. Milne), who has taken part in advising the Secretary of State, will bear me out. It will be almost impossible to devise any other method than the one already on the Statute Book for achieving that result, except that the Secretary of State might present a confirming Bill to the House containing the terms of the Provisional Order, and, at the same time, put down an Amendment to it. I do not believe that that is a satisfactory means. I believe that the present method is the best, but I by no means close the door to the consideration of that and many other minor matters which have been raised in the Debate to-day and which will properly be considered on the Committee stage. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead said that there ought to be a Clause enabling Scottish solicitors representing petitioners to lodge documents at Edinburgh, and that it should not be necessary to come up to London in order to do so. There must be some misapprehension. The matter is not regulated by any Act of Parliament at all but by the Standing Orders, which provide that any petition, for example, may be sent to the Scottish Office in London by registered letter. It is erroneous to think that it is necessary to employ a Parliamentary agent to attend at the Scottish Office in order to lodge petitions.
It would be unnecessary, and the House would not expect me to follow up all the points which have been raised, and which can properly be considered in Committee. The Government by no means want to avoid any criticism of any sort. If any Member has either an Amendment of the Bill or a new Clause to suggest which will have the effect of achieving better the result at which the Government aim, we shall most sincerely welcome what will appear in due course on the Amendment Paper. Our sole purpose is to make it easy and less expensive for Scottish promoters to get the Bills they require, and to have them examined in Scotland at less expense both to themselves and to the objectors, and at the same time to make it easier for those who have legitimate objections to such promotions to have their cases 1761 heard and studied by the appropriate Parliamentary tribunal.
§ Bill committed to a, Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Sir G. Collins.]