HC Deb 15 April 1937 vol 322 cc1238-68

Order for the Second Reading read.

5.54 p.m.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. T. M. Cooper)

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

The attitude of the great bulk of the people of Scotland towards the preservation and custody of national records has been until recently one of almost complete indifference, but in recent years, particularly since the War, thanks to the efforts which have been made, in part by scholars, in part by various learned societies, some of which have come into being quite recently, and in part by certain public bodies, notably the Convention of Royal Burghs, the public conscience has been awakened to the magnitude of the problem that has been created by the neglect of centuries. This has led to a many-sided attack being made upon this problem from a number of different angles. It is just 10 years since a committee under Lord Wark attacked the problem of the Sheriff Courts. Subsequently to the report of that committee steps were taken with legislative sanc- tion, first in 1927 and then in 1928, for a reform of the administrative side of the Sheriff Court Clerk service and the Register House service, and the ground was thus cleared for the formulation and execution of what I might describe as a general record policy, and it is as an instalment of that general record policy that I would ask the House to regard this Bill.

After the 1928 Reorganisation of Offices Act, under which a Keeper of the Register and Records was established and provision was made for comprehensively dealing with the Register House and its staff, the whole situation was reviewed and reports were made. Following upon that, in 1933, considerable additions were made to the staff in the Register House, of persons expert in the work of archives, and in February last further additions were made to the staff on that side of the work and further additions to the staff engaged in clerical duties and in the very important work of cleaning and arranging the masses of records which have so far not been classified or indexed in any way. The net result is that, by means of those additions to the staff, very considerable progress has already been made in overtaking the substantial arrears, and I am confident that the Government will continue to display, in their attitude towards the completion of this task, the same sympathy that they have shown during the last few years in the administrative steps that I have described.

But there are many difficulties to be met—difficulties of accommodation and difficulties of staff. It is literally impossible to do work of this kind in a hurry. A great deal of time is necessary for the training of experts who have to do the work. Anything in the nature of mass production methods in the handling of this problem is entirely out of the question. From that brief explanation I hope that I have done something to provide the House with the background and setting against which I shall now ask them to look at the terms of the Bill.

In Part I we are concerned with court records. I shall not need to say very much about that. Clause r does really nothing new. It deals with the High Court and Court of Session records, and its effect is simply to regularise and simplify the existing practice, which is regulated by a very large number of antiquated statutory provisions. Clause 2 deals with Sheriff Court records and in substance gives effect to one of the recommendations of Lord Wark's Committee in favour of centralisation of all Sheriff Court records in Edinburgh, in so far as they are records which are more than 25 years old. These powers will require to be exercised gradually and systematically. I do not think it would be wise in any way to collect a mass of local records and, as it were, to dump them until Edinburgh is ready to receive them and to deal with them and make them ready and available for consultations by scholars and students. The process will be gradually and systematically put into operation, beginning with the Sheriff Court records, which are most in need of better housing than they enjoy at the present time. This Clause is in substance the statutory recognition of the principle of the centralisation of Sheriff Court records.

I now pass to Part II of the Bill which deals with State, Departmental and local authority records. In Clause 3 we have an almost romantic touch, because direction is given for the transfer from the Public Record Office in London to the Keeper of Registers and Records in Edinburgh of certain celebrated documents set out in the First Schedule to the Bill. The key to the First Schedule is to be found in the eighth item in the Schedule, which is an inventory dated 20th September, 1282, an inventory which was prepared on the instructions of Alexander III and which records all documents of the nature of public records which were then in Edinburgh Castle. There were no fewer than 170 of them described in that inventory, dating, I think, from the time of William the Lion. Of those 170 documents only seven are known to exist at the present time. Those seven, the pitiful remnants of the national records of Scotland are the documents in the Schedule numbered 1 to 7.

With regard to these documents it is not without interest to note that some of them were removed from Scotland in 1291, when Edward I of England was invited to adjudicate upon the rival claims to the Scottish Crown. Document No. 9 in the Schedule is contained in the inventory which was made in 1291, when the documents were removed by Edward I. These were taken away from Scotland in 1292 to be handed to Balliol, who had succeeded in his claim to the Scottish Crown. There is evidence that the whole or the great bulk of the documents were in London in the year 1323, but since then, with the exception of the seven documents I have referred to, the Inventory itself, and the Letters Patent No. 9 described in the Inventory of 1291, all trace has been lost. It is interesting also to remember that by the Treaty of Northampton of 1327, which is frequently referred to during elections and by-elections in Scotland, provision was made for the restoration by England to Scotland of all documents touching the freedom of Scotland, and it is in a sense in fulfilment of that Treaty that some at least of the documents scheduled in this Bill are now being sent back to the custody which they should never have left.

I am sure that it will be a source of satisfaction to hon. Members on both sides of the Border that an incident which had its origin nearly 650 years ago is now being brought to a satisfactory conclusion, although I imagine that my fellow Members from Scotland will still want to know what has happened to the other 163 records. Copies of the scheduled documents, with translations, have been prepared in a convenient form and will be made available in the Library and elsewhere for any hon. Members who care to engage in the very interesting task of perusing these very remarkable records of 600 years ago.

Mr. Johnston

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House some information as to why No. 2 and No. 7 in the Schedule should be included in the list of Scottish documents?

The Lord Advocate

There are several reasons for that. I think probably the best reason is that these documents were in Edinburgh Castle in 1282 and were inventoried by instructions of Alexander III as Scottish national records. Therefore, whatever they may be in themselves, they were ours in 1282, and I should say that legally the onus is on England to show that they should not be sent back to Scotland. As regards the intrinsic nature of the documents, the right hon. Gentleman will find when he peruses the copy which I shall make available, that No. 2 is quite definitely a Scottish document. It is addressed to the Scottish Kings and was apparently sent to them. As regards No. 7, the position is that the Manor of Aldenstone in Cumberland was for many centuries part of the private patrimony of the Scottish Kings, but in 1281, for reasons associated with the imminent quarrel between England and Scotland, King Edward I apparently granted the Manor of Alden-stone to somebody else, and this document is, as it were, an intimation that the English King sent to the Scottish King that he had given the land to somebody else. I might add a third and last reason, and that is that the English records authorities agree that these scheduled documents ought to be sent back to Scotland, for the reasons which I have endeavoured to describe.

With regard to the other provisions of the Bill, might I draw attention to Clause 4, which deals with the transfer of records in the hands of Government Departments, boards of trustees, or other bodies of persons? This differs from Clause 3 in being a permissive and not an imperative Clause. The Bill if it becomes law merely empowers the transfer of documents under Clause 4. The material which would be covered by Clause 4 is literally enormous, far in excess of the capacity of Register House to absorb it, if it wanted to. In addition, a great deal of these documents are genuinely required for administrative purposes or legitimate purposes of some other kind, in the hands of the present custodians. As regards a great many others it has been found physically impossible to sever what may be described as Scottish records from British or English records without impairing and rendering them useless for any purpose as complete records. There is, of course, such a thing as documents being bound up together, and you might easily destroy them if you separated them. Therefore, all that has been found possible at this stage to do, and I think it is a useful stage, is to make provision in this Clause for arrangements being made in suitable cases for the transfer to Scotland of Scottish records which can be so transferred without prejudice or injury to a collection which is complete in itself, and without prejudice to the scholars and others who may desire and may require to consult the collection as a single whole.

As regards the remaining part of the Clause I would point out the proviso: that nothing in this sub-section shall apply to any burgh register of sasines or to any book or public record relating thereto. The explanation is that there was a Statute passed in 1926, the precursor of this Bill, which deals with burgh records, and it is not desirable to have a duplicate provision dealing with that subject. As regards the rest of the Bill I think I can pass over the remaining Clauses with the simple statement that they are machinery Clauses more suitable for examination in detail upstairs than at this stage of the Bill. I should like, however, to refer to Clause which falls into a wholly different category, because it provides for the discharge of the duties of extractor of the Court of Session. The position is that there has been attached to the Court of Session an officer called the Principal Extractor and an Assistant Extractor, who perform certain functions associated with the making available to litigants of the decrees of the Court. Since the reconstruction of the Court of Session and its associated offices under the Administration of justice Act there has been a very extensive redistribution of duties, and at the present time there is a vacancy in the office of Principal Extractor, and I think also in the office of Assistant Extractor. It is obvious, certainly to myself, that the duties hitherto associated with that Department could under the reconstituted procedure of the Court be adequately performed by the normal staff associated with the Court. No purpose will be served by maintaining these old posts in existence. A slight economy will be effected and no loss of efficiency is involved.

I have no doubt that when the Bill receives the narrow consideration which Scottish Bills almost always get there will be many points of omission and commission upon which hon. Members will desire to offer their contribution, but having exhausted the limit of time allotted to me I will content myself with expressing the confident belief that the Bill will be greatly welcomed by all, who whether for sentimental reasons or as students of the political and economic history of Scotland, desire, to see steps taken to make our ancient records more readily accessible and to secure that they are preserved in a manner more fitting to their great interest and historic value.

6.17 p.m.

Mr. T. Johnston

This is the first occasion since Scottish Members have imposed voluntarily a restriction of time on their speeches that I have regretted there should be any such restriction. We do not intend to oppose the Bill; indeed, we welcome it, but we shall most certainly do our best in Committee to widen its scope and improve it. I have come to a stage when on Scottish affairs I am thankful for small mercies. I have taken a keen personal interest in this question for many years, and I represent perhaps the most historic constituency in Scotland. Cambus-Kenneth Abbey, Bannockburn, and Ben Lomond and the bonnie banks and just on the borders of the city from which many of our ancient documents were stolen by the English in General Monk's time. Unfortunately it is quite true, as the Lord Advocate has said, that the great bulk of our fellow-citizens take no interest whatever in the matters dealt with by the Bill. They simply do not understand that yesterday is the parent of to-day and the grandparent of to-morrow, and that if we cannot understand the past we are utterly incompetent to discuss the present or to guide the future. It is unfortunately true that in historic research we in Scotland lag far behind our brothers south of the Border.

The first part of the Measure deals with judicial records of the Court of Session and the High Court. The Keeper of Records in Edinburgh has already got these records up to the year 1400, but we have no index whatever of anything from 1500 to 1800. For 30o years the records of the High Court in Scotland have not been indexed, and it is useless to send a huge mass of records into Edinburgh until they can deal with them and until they can get the necessary cash from the Treasury, commensurate with what the English get now. Until they get the cash and have adequate facilities it is no use sending further records for them to handle. The Lord Advocate is pleased that after so many centuries he is able to implement the Treaty of Northampton. But there is rather a doubt about that. We might ask for another part of the Treaty of Northampton to be implemented, and ask that the Stone of Destiny should be returned to Scotland. But for my part England can have the Stone of Destiny if she will send back the administrative records subsequent to the Union in 1707 of Scotland to the place where they should belong, the capital city of Scotland.

I doubt whether all the nine records referred to by the Lord Advocate are Scottish documents at all, but these nine documents are only a handful of the ancient and purely Scottish documents which still exist in England. I have a long list of them here, and the Lord-Advocate will probably hear something about these documents in the Committee stage. In the Public Records Office in London there is one Scottish document which goes back to 1065, and there are other documents relating to William Wallace and many other prominent Scotsmen which should certainly be returned as of more interest to Scotland than the ancient documents referred to in the Treaty of Northampton. The oldest Scottish document is lying at Durham. It is not in the control of the Keeper of Records. It goes back to 1093, and there are a number of old Scottish documents scattered up and down England. Surely, at any rate, we should get such papers as the Muster Roll of the Scottish Army in 1646. We have lost the records of many of our tribal relationships because they are lying buried in English archives.

In regard to Clause 2 the Lord Advocate was pleased that the recommendations of Lord Wark's Committee which reported in 1926, were being implemented. That is 10 years ago, and it is significant of the way in which vital Scottish interests are treated in this House. Ten years ago many Sheriff Court records were mouldering into decay, being eaten by rats, were being destroyed week by Week; but 10 years has to elapse after that report before time can be found in this House to bring in a Measure to implement its recommendations. I am glad to say that there are many sheriff clerks who take a personal interest in this matter and that many ancient records are being carefully preserved, but these records must be under the control of a responsible body.

The Lord Advocate dealt with Part II of the Bill with what I thought was unnecessary celerity. Hon. Members will observe that there is no mention whatever of ecclesiastical records. Why? The history of our country is largely bound up with the history of the kirk. Although the General Assembly has done something in recent years to collect and preserve these records, it is nevertheless true that there is a vast amount of the vital history of our country which at the present moment is in nobody's control, with nobody responsible for collecting it. I have a friend who picked up in Glasgow, on an old trader's barrow, for is. 6d. the Kirk Sessions Record of the Parish of Stoneykirk—priceless material which money cannot buy. [An HON. MEMBER: "He bought it for is. 6d."] I mean that you cannot set any value upon it. This particular Kirk Session Record will be handed over to the Keeper of Records, or the responsible authority whenever direction is given. Anyone who is acquainted with what Dr. Burns in his Benefice Lectures has to say on the ecclesiastical records of Scotland will be aware of the urgent necessity there is to get our old ecclesiastical records, our Presbytery records and our Synod records and our Kirk Session under public control.

I spent a long time going through Presbytery records in Glasgow, but nobody knows where it is possible to get the Synod records. I think they are lying in Ayrshire somewhere, but there is nobody with any authority or sufficient interest in the matter to see that they are collected and preserved. These are matters which must be amended in the Committee stage. I would remind the Lord Advocate that it is from the ecclesiastical records that we get much of our marriage and family history. If I had time, I could quote many instances of the delightful humour which appears in some of these old ecclesiastical records. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. J. Brown) of one that is to be found in the register of Ochiltree for 1704, where the parish minister recorded a baptism, for somebody with whom he did not get on very well, in the following words: This child is George Something, lawful son to What ye call him, in the Mains of Barskemming. There is also a very humorous record of a marriage at Strontian in Argyll. After the parties' names were given, the parish minister said: There has been something very odd about the above parties. They first contracted and then split, then agreed, and with much singularity married. Were not married passing five days when the weaker vessel set sail and steered her course for her mammy. It would be a great pity if the forcible old Scots language should be lost to us in so far as it is preserved in these records. I hope the Lord Advocate will also make an effort to get the quarter session records of the justices of the peace courts. At the present time they are not under the control of anybody. In them we get our history of licensing, a large part of our poor law history and certainly a large part of the history of our poor law children, and the history of how they were treated after the Napoleonic wars. We ought to get the records of our Commissioners of Supply, which were the predecessors of the county councils.

The Lord Advocate

They are covered by the Bill as it is now.

Mr. Johnston

Is the Lord Advocate sure? I have heard doubts expressed. If he is satisfied, I am very glad. All know is that the county councils, from whom we can take over the records, are not necessarily the bodies which are now in control of the records of the Commissioners of Supply. They ought to be, but they are not. I know of one county in which the county council is not in control of records of its predecessors. As the Bill now stands, it is lawful to take over the records only when they are at present in the custody of an existing local authority. There are also the Heritors' Minutes. It is true that we have power under the Church of Scotland (Property and Endowment) Act, 1925, to get these Heritors' Minutes—I speak subject to correction from the Lord Advocate, with his great legal knowledge—when their rights are extinguished. We can never get the history of education in Scotland until we get these Minutes. It was the Heritors who appointed the parochial schoolmasters and fixed their wages and the curricula. I have already referred to the Scottish administrative documents subsequent to 1707.

I hope the Lord Advocate will also do something in the Bill before it passes from his control to ensure that the births, deaths and marriage registers prior to 1855 shall be transferred from the place where they now are to the Records Office. We ought not to be called upon to pay a fee of £1 for research. It is iniquitous that we should have to pay that sum. If the Lord Advocate will make the contrast, he will find that last year the English Records Office took only £575 in fees, whereas in Edinburgh they took £2,000. That ought to be stopped. I do not know where the Commissariat Registers are, but I hope they will be included in the Bill. With regard to wages, the Lord Advocate must stop the scandal of our paying our scholars in the Records Office in Edinburgh from £300 to £400, according to the grade, less than is being paid for similar work in the Records Office in London. We ought not to permit further transfers of documents to be left to a gentleman known as the Master of the Rolls. What an impertinence it is at this time that an English lawyer should determine what records we are to get.

I have tabled an Amendment to the Bill, which I hope will be accepted, whereby a committee composed of three scholars appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland and three by the Home Secretary, representing England, would determine what documents we are to get. We ought not to leave the determination to an English lawyer: that is a pathetic state of affairs. I appeal to the Lord Advocate to use this golden opportunity which he has to get all the learned societies in Scotland—the Spalding Club, the Scottish Text Society, the History Society, the E.I.S., the Procurators of the Faculties, the Pilgrim Trust with its money, and so on—to do the work of indexing and calendaring the documents already at Edinburgh. We shall never get this done by leaving it to half a dozen civil servants. There is a large number of voluntary workers waiting to come forward if only their help is accepted. The Lord Advocate has a great opportunity, the sort of opportunity that knocks at our door only once in a generation. I trust that before this Measure leaves the Committee upstairs, it will be radically amended and widened. I hope the Lord Advocate will do something here for his country—Burns yearned to make a song at least—I hope the Lord Advocate will do something vital to enable us to get the real history of Scotland written as it has not been written in the past and cannot be written until we get the documents.

6.39 p.m.

Mr. Erskine Hill

The right hon. Gentleman the Lord Advocate is to be congratulated on bringing forward a Bill which will at long last enable Scotland to have her public records properly treated. Scotland has in this matter a story of almost unrivalled disaster. There was not only the episode to which my right hon. Friend referred of the seizure of those documents by King Edward I when settling the claim between Baliol and other applicants for the Scottish Throne, but later on Cromwell took all the documents he could lay hands on in Edinburgh and took them to England. In the year 1660, when they were being returned, disaster overtook the boat in which they were being brought back to Scotland, and those important documents were lost for ever. Later on there was a case which called for the production of a great many documents, which were brought from the Records Office. They were taken to a Committee room of this House and were lost in the fire which destroyed the House of Commons in 1834. I think that makes clear the necessity for the preservation of all the documents that are still left.

I venture to make a criticism of the Bill in that I do not think in its present form it lays sufficient stress upon the preservation of documents. If hon. Members will look at Clause 10 they will see that it is clear that regulations may be made regarding the disposal by destruction or otherwise of records, but there is nothing in the Bill to prevent documents being destroyed by neglect or by improper treatment. Although it may well be that the Keeper will take proper steps, there is nothing in the Bill insisting on it. If hon. Members will also look at Clause 6, they will see that The Keeper shall take such steps as may seem to him necessary for the cleaning, preserving, repairing and arranging of any records …. I think we ought to consider carefully in Committee whether the Bill would not be very much strengthened by insisting on regulations not only as regards destruction of documents, but as regards their preservation. In the preservation of records in France and other countries in Europe, decentralisation is generally the rule with a view to preventing the risk of fire destroying them. In England, on the other hand, the system of centralising documents has been successfully worked.

Naturally, the documents are very much more useful for purposes of reference and use by scholars for historical and other research if they are so centralised. I think the excuse for the system of centralisation which is being followed by the Bill is that the documents are made available. I would like the Lord Advocate to consider whether it might not be well to put in the Bill something regarding the making available of documents in Scotland. There is a provision dealing with the ordinary court records being made available, but I am referring to the State documents, many of which are being found from time to time as the work of research goes on. I think we are all agreed that this Bill should receive a Second Reading. The Government are to be congratulated on the step they have taken to protect the historical records of Scotland for the use of her scholars and those people who may find among the numbers of documents which have not yet been studied something which may be of real interest as regards the history of Scotland.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Dingle Foot

We in this part of the House welcome the introduction of the Bill. It is obvious from what has been said that it fulfils a considerable public need in Scotland and as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) has pointed out, everyone will be gratified at the fact that the documents impounded by Edward I are to be returned and that the Treaty of Northampton is to be implemented after a lapse of 610 years. Upon this occasion, at any rate, the Government are showing a scrupulous regard for the sanctity of treaty obligations. I have not the detailed knowledge which would enable me to survey, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling did, the various kinds of records which are to be preserved, but two points have occurred to me which I would put to the Lord Advocate. Clause 4, Sub-section (2), provides that it shall be lawful for the town council of any burgh in Scotland or any other local authority in Scotland, with the consent of the Keeper, to transmit any of their records to the Keeper for custody. There is no obligation on them to transmit their records, but they may do so if they think fit and if they obtain the consent of the Keeper. Sub-section (3) then says that if a document is wanted by a local authority or by the Department concerned, the Keeper shall retransmit it, but it adds: Any record so retransmitted, shall be returned to the Keeper as soon as may be after it has ceased to be required for the purposes for which it was retransmitted. I think we ought to have an explanation of this provision. It would appear that while it is within the discretion of the local authority to decide whether or not they will hand over documents to the custody of the Keeper, once they have handed over those documents, it is impossible for them to get the documents back, except for some special and temporary purposes.

Mr. Johnston

What other purposes does the hon. Member suggest?

Mr. Foot

Suppose a local authority came to the conclusion—I am not saying that there would be many such cases—that it wanted to reverse its decision to hand over certain documents and decided to rather retain documents say, which were of interest in relation to local history, it could only have the documents back for some special purpose under this provision. I am not saying that that is exactly a point of criticism, but I think it is one on which we might have some explanation.

The other point which I wish to mention arises on Clause 10 and has already been referred to by the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill). This Clause deals with the disposal of documents which are not to be preserved by the Keeper and in particular with the disposal of documents by destruction or otherwise. I have been comparing this provision with similar provisions in the English law and it is interesting to note that while there is a similar provision in Section 1 of the Public Records Act, 1877, certain safeguards are inserted in that Act. In the English legislation where rules are made regarding the destruction and disposal of records, they must be laid for a period of time before this House. Secondly, where authorities decide that documents are to be destroyed, a schedule of the documents must be prepared and laid before this House for a certain period. Those safeguards do not appear in this Bill.

I think we all agree that the greatest care should be exercised in regard to the destruction of ancient documents and that some sort of control should be vested in the House of Commons in this respect. There is a third safeguard in the English legislation in a provision that no record earlier than a specified date shall be disposed of or destroyed. In the Act of 1877 the date was fixed at 1757, but by a subsequent Act the date was fixed at 1660 and as regards England no documents earlier than that date can be destroyed. It may not be essential, but I suggest that a similar safeguard for very ancient documents might be included in the Bill. No doubt we shall be able to raise these points in Committee, but I submit them to the Lord Advocate's attention, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling that, while there are various respects in which the Bill is susceptible to improvement, everybody will welcome its introduction.

6.52 p.m.

Mr. G. A. Morrison

I am sure that all Scottish Members, and indeed, all Scotsmen, will welcome a Measure which proposes to do something for the better preservation of our national records and also for the provision of better facilities for their inspection. In saying so, I have in mind chiefly the interests of historical students, whether university men or not, and whether working as individuals or as members of learned societies. The present state of matters has been described by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) with a wealth of detail, and I shall be content to do no more than repeat the studiously moderate words spoken from the Government Bench in another place that: the present arrangements in Scotland for the care and custody of public records are susceptible of improvement. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate mentioned the sad fact that interest in Scotland in these matters is rather languishing. I suggest that part of the cause of that may be found in the lack of facilities for examination of records. Anyone who undertakes historical research is apt to find that historical research is its own reward. He has little chance of producing a bestseller, but one thing he is certain to do, and that is to spend a good deal of time and money and labour. I have not done much of this work, but I remember a friend of mine who worked for a number of years on the papers of the Seafield family. When he published a part of the results of his researches, he told me that most of the interest in what he had done was shown in America and that offers of assistance for the further prosecution of the work were confined to America. Before the war I met in Germany a young university lecturer, I think of Leland-Stanford University, California, who was at that time enjoying his Sabbatical year—a method of preserving freshness of mind in the teaching profession, which I cordially commend to the Scottish Office, not without some hope of living to see it adopted. This young man was interested in historical research and he got permission from the British Museum authorities to study some documents there which had not hitherto been examined. He worked for more than a year on this task. Two years later I met him on the steps of the British Museum and he told me that when he sent home the results of his first year's work, he was told that he was doing as valuable work here as he could do at the university, and that he was to continue it for a further period.

Clause 6 contains provision for the cleaning, preserving, repairing and arranging of records and for the making of calendars, indexes and catalogues. Reference has already been made to the question of staffs. The University Historical Schools have been training young men and women for this work and part of the present disadvantage in this connection is that there is so little scope for the employment of those people. I happen to know some who are well qualified to undertake this work, and I hope this Measure will give them their opportunity. In case temporary assistance should be required at the beginning of a big task like this, I suggest that the Scottish Office ought not to forget the claims of graduates who are unemployed. I have many letters, though fortunately not so many as I had two or three years ago, from graduates who have been unable to find situations. The Scottish Office has already done something by providing employment in the supervision of examinations, and I think some of these graduates could also be usefully employed on a task of this character.

Another matter to which I would call attention is that many records of the greatest historical value are known to be lying about in mansion houses all over the country. In many cases, the owners do not know what they have. They only know that a bundle of old records are there, and now and again some owner of the house invites a trained person to go through them and to see what he can find. It is astonishing what is found. Only last summer there were two articles in the "Times" by Professor Abbott recording the discovery of a most valuable historical document in a country house in Angus. If it became known that the Record Office had a qualified staff available for work of this kind, I am sure many invitations to examine documents in such houses would be forthcoming. There is another respect in which we have not, I think, done in Scotland what has been very well done in England. Here one can get in the British Museum excellent facsimiles of valuable documents and I suggest that for university classes and senior classes in secondary schools some of these documents could, by this method, be made available to a greater extent than at present.

6.59 p.m.

Mr. J. Brown

As Scotsmen, I am sure we must all be glad that this Bill has been introduced, but we trust that its scope will be much enlarged. I am much interested in the records of our native land, even in those extending back to such remote periods as those mentioned by the historian Buchanan. I am interested in all the records pertaining to our country, but I should like very well to get some more accurate knowledge than we have regarding the ecclesiastical records from the time when Knox introduced the reformation into our country. He was a reformer, and if Knox had got his way the education which my right hon. Friend was talking about would have been much stronger and more widespread, if he had not had our rapacious barons to deal with at that time. The hon. Member knows that I am speaking the truth. I hope that he is not in possession of any of these ill-gotten gains. If we could get this knowledge it would show the determination of the kirk that the poor would be taken care of, the ministers of the Word would be taken care of and education would have a much wider scope.

Among these records we might get some record of the marriage of the great reformer to the house of Stuart. It is perfectly true that in almost all the histories of Scotland we read—and there are many of them—we are informed of the fact that there must be some record pertaining to that event, and if we can possibly get these ecclesiastical records gathered together they would not only be interesting to Scotsmen in this House but very interesting to Scotland as a Whole. My right hon. Friend claimed that he represented one of the most historical places in Scotland. I am not here to quarrel with him to-night, but if I were I would dispute the claim and prove it quite easily, because I am assured that if you leave out the history of Ayrshire up to the Union of the Crowns you leave out most of the history of Scotland.

Mr. McKie

And Galloway too.

Mr. Brown

Galloway is connected. If you want to read the true history of Scotland read the history of Ayrshire down to the Union of the Crowns. There could have been no Bannockburn had there been no Bruce born in Ayrshire.

Mr. McKie

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that the campaign which ultimately ended in the glorious victory of Bannockburn was launched not in Ayrshire but in the Glen of Trool in Galloway in 1307?

Mr. Brown

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is accurate in that, but he is bound to know that some of his compatriots pursued Bruce inveterately and compelled him to take refuge. But we are talking about the records of Scotland, and I think that we are on the right lines in asking that these records should be as full as they can possibly be. I am afraid that I have been deflected, but I want to identify myself with those who are very desirous that the Scottish records should be restored to Scotland at the earliest moment, housed properly, indexed and all the rest of it, so that Scotsmen may have easy access to the records of their country, for I think that everybody agrees—Englishmen, Welshmen and Irishmen as well as Scotsmen—that it is a country well worth recording. It has always been in the van of liberty and I hope it always will be, but we want the records as far back as we can get them from the Treaty of Northampton. I am sure that there will be valuable informa- tion for us even if we can get them only in a patchy way. This Bill will go a long way to repair the injustices done to Scotland.

7.8 p.m.

Mr. Hannah

I do welcome this Bill with all my heart, if only from the fact that I happen to have had the privilege of being the nephew of Dr. Maitland Thomson, who spent his whole life working on the Scottish Records, and he told me once about the extremely poor provision for storing those records, despite the fact that a very fine building by Adam was in the eighteenth century erected in the new town of Edinburgh in order to house these records. We ought to have better provision for keeping the records once they have been restored to the place where they properly belong. I understand that rats and things like that have actually destroyed records in the very Record House itself. It was during the seventeenth century that Scotland annexed England when she was bankrupt of monarchs, and Manchuria conquered China, and in both cases the country which had annexed or conquered the other tended rather to become a province in the process. Scotland has lost something, although I think that on the whole she has gained by her union with England. There are relatively few of us who cannot say that we are quite as much at home in one country as in the other; and my ancestors saw the finest landscape in Scotland, the road that led them into England before I appeared. I do not think that there is any strong reason for sending back that stone to Scotland. After ail, it is a sad reflection to a Scot to realise that every church in which a King could be crowned in Scotland lies gaping to the sky and if the stone were taken back to Scotland where could we put it?

Mr. Hardie

At Scone, where it used to be, in the open air.

Mr. Hannah

It used to be in the Abbey of Scone and the Abbey of Scone is no longer in a fit position to receive it. After all, Scotland does not do so badly in the matter of the Coronation. If over a Scottish stone a Scottish archbishop places the Crown on a Monarch whose ancestors can be traced back further in Argyll than in England itself, Scotland has in the Coronation a fairly good share. I do feel the need for the better care of the records generally of Scotland. In this country the episcopal records for the most part are still intact in the respective cathedral cities. Unfortunately, our friend John Knox, responsible for so much, sent a lot of Scottish bishops flying all over the Continent. That we might have forgiven, but they took their records with them in many cases. I believe that we do not know whether or not a large number of these old Scottish documents are still extant in some remote Continental monastery or library. I had the singular fortune myself in the cathedral treasury of Sens, in France, to come across two of very significant importance.

In the Scottish mansions admirable work has been done in preserving documents, and here at least I think that the Socialism of some of our hon. Friends opposite would be strained when they come to compare, as far as Scotland is concerned, the Government record in preserving records and the purely private one. Among the documents of my own place in Scotland there is a rather interesting one, dating from the middle of the eighteenth century, in which a certain piece of land is described as being situate in that part of His Majesty's Dominion of Great Britain that formerly was known as Scotland. Whether words of that kind were usual or not I do not know, but I think there is no doubt of any kind that this Bill will do a tremendous amount to make Scottish people more interested in their own past, more anxious to get together the records that have been scattered to the four winds, and I hope, from my own point of view, that it will make them even more enthusiastic about the preservation of their ancient buildings. And so with the most tremendous enthusiasm, as an act of tardy justice, but one which I hope will be the beginning of a new historical era, I welcome this splendid Bill.

Mr. Johnston

Before the hon. Member concludes would he say whether he has really any evidence to justify the assertion that rats and mice in the Record Office in Edinburgh are even now eating up what records we have?

Mr. Hannah

I did not say "even now"; at least I hope that I did not. It was commonly stated that that was the case some time ago, but I do not think recently. Whether it is true or not the statement has often been made; it is not my own statement.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Mathers

I have no intention of following the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah), although one might be tempted to argue with him the question of whether, when Socialism is established, there will be any sense of looking after things belonging to the past.

Mr. Hannah

My whole interest was the past and not the future. I merely referred to the preservation of documents of the past and not of days to come.

Mr. Mathers

I understood the hon. Member to indicate that there was something against Socialism in his plea for preserving records. I do not wish to follow that, although I sometimes wonder how one with such intense antiquarian interests should be the representative of a constituency in the Black Country.

Mr. Hannah

My point was that the documents in Scotland in private custody have been better preserved in the past, on the whole, than those in the possession of the Government.

Mr. Mathers

I will leave the matter there. There are many who consider that matters of this kind are not worth troubling about and, indeed, that those with minds that go back into the past are not of much account. We have a standing refutation of that idea in my right hon. Friend who gave us such an interesting speech in leading from this side of the House. Had it not been for his desire and his bent for going back into the past we would not have had that important contribution to our literature, "The History of the Working-classes in Scotland," for which my right hon. Friend was responsible. It struck me as rather curious that the only reference which the Lord Advocate made to the question of staff for dealing with the records was one which indicated that a slight economy would come about as a result of the changes which will be made in a short time.

When I had the honour of representing—perhaps I should hesitate to say "representing" because I was a serious minority member—the constituency which the Lord Advocate now represents, I received many complaints about the con- ditions that prevailed in the Sasine office and the Register House in Edinburgh. It was made clear to me that those who did similar work on this side of the Border were much better paid than those in Edinburgh, and there was a clear indication that the Treasury were not so generous to the staff in the Scottish Department as they were to the staff in England. References have frequently been made to the lack of support given by the Treasury to matters affecting Scotland as compared with the support given to English departments of the same kind.

I hope that when the question of the staff who will have the responsibility of working in this office is dealt with, the Lord Advocate, the Secretary of State and those who are responsible will see that proper conditions and salaries are given to those who will be employed. Only recently I learned that from that and similar departments in Edinburgh a number of people have been discharged with totally inadequate pensions, although now that pension arrangements have been made to the staff there it is hoped that better allowances will be available. There is a great deal that requires to be safeguarded in respect of those who have the responsibility of looking after these records, and I hope that the material words which I am uttering in that regard, which are almost foreign to the object of this Bill, for it is more of a sentimental and antiquarian interest, will be heeded by those for whom they are intended.

7.22 p.m.

Mr. Guy

I congratulate the Government on introducing this Measure, which I regard as a valuable instalment in the direction of the development of our policy for dealing with Scottish records. Something has been said already about certain aspects of that policy. I am not so much concerned with the addition of large quantities of records, as has been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston). We cannot move all the records to the Register House that we would, like to see there. I would like to deal with one particular aspect of policy. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate referred to the principle of centralisation. That has been accepted in our record policy for over 100 years, but the real justification for it has in the past been neglected. The justification is, of course, that we should have in one building all the records available for research students and historical students. Although I think that a good many of the complaints as regards the neglect and the condition of these records in the Register House have been exaggerated, we find to-day that the facilities for reference to Scottish records are anything but what they should be.

I would draw the comparison between what we have in the Scottish National Library, where the contents have been fully indexed in recent years, and the Register House. If one goes to the Scottish National Library and gives the name of a book and the author, it is known that the book is somewhere on the miles of shelving and it will be available within half an hour. If one goes to the Register House knowing that a particular Scottish Record is there, and the name and date of it is given, it may be a matter of two or three months before it can be made available. The reason is that the record is tucked away in some volume and there has not been nearly enough done in the way of indexing and cataloguing and providing a system whereby a record can be made available for examination. I hope that in future the policy of centralisation will be developed in the proper way and that there will be far greater facilities for reference by research students.

May I mention a point with regard to the Treaty of Northampton to which reference has been made? The right hon. Gentleman opposite complained that there was no provision for the transfer of any ecclesiastical records to the Register House, but I would point out that in the Schedule to the Bill we have no fewer than three Papal Bulls. I had occasion recently to refer to the text of the Treaty of Northampton, and it is a matter of interest to find that some of the points in our foreign policy recently are not so up-to-date as one would expect, because in that Treaty one finds that in its provisions for possible trouble in Ireland and in France respectively, provision is made for mutual assistance in one case and non-intervention in the other. There are a number of points of detail in the Bill about which I am interested, but they can be dealt with on the Committee stage. I would like, however, to refer to one point because it raises a question of principle.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling referred to the possibility of some conference of representative bodies who would survey the whole question of what is to be done with the Register House and the records. My suggestion is that a permanent body should be set up. The Convention of Royal Burghs strongly backed a suggestion that there should be a Scottish record advisory council. I think that a small body composed of representative and expert persons would be very useful in assisting my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Lord Advocate, and also the keeper during the next five years, when there are bound to be difficult questions of policy and administration in dealing with the addition to the Register House. It may be suggested that it would be better to defer the appointment of such a council until all the records have been transferred and until the scheme has come into operation, but I believe that it would be far more valuable if it were set up under this Bill. There are many improvements that could be effected in the Register House and in the methods of dealing with our records, but we cannot expect to achieve all these results in one measure. We got a small instalment of reform in 1933 after the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) had taken the matter up when he was Secretary of State. There is bound to be a further addition to the staff, and I hope they will be properly qualified and highly trained men. We cannot expect that all these matters can be dealt with under this Bill, but I think that with certain alterations and Amendments it will constitute a valuable contribution to the improvement of our Scottish records.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Garro Jones

Before the Minister replies I should like to put forward a suggestion for what he might regard as a further improvement in the Bill. I refer to the tendency to loss by submergence of documents which in years to come will have a great historic and antiquarian value. There is a great tendency to under-estimate the value which contemporary documents will acquire in the eyes of posterity. We have a mundane example in the case of postage stamps, although it seems almost frivolous to mention them in this connection; but it is the case that important documents which to us appear of little interest tend to become submerged and to pass out of our possession. It may even be that some documents which bear the signature of the present Lord Advocate or the present Secretary of State for Scotland may acquire a value and significance in the future. We know that fire, water and time take a heavy toll of old documents, and we have heard of the losses in the reign of Edward I and of how an iconoclast like Cromwell destroyed old records wholesale, but there is a form of destruction which is even more potent, the loss of documents by acquisitiveness. That aspect of the preservation of documents has been overlooked in this Bill, because every provision of it leaves it optional for those charged with notifying the existence of these documents or sending them to the proper quarters to make proper returns.

When I speak of acquisitiveness I do not mean that people tend to steal these documents, but there is tremendous confusion in the law of the ownership of public and private documents, and it ought to be cleared up, otherwise the Minister may be leaving a leak in his Bill which posterity will have cause to regret. I will give one example which I regard as of paramount importance to illustrate the point I am making. I read in the Press the other day that a document which, though hardly 25 years old, will in years to come rank as one of the first documents of historic, military and antiquarian importance in the history of our country has already fallen into private hands. I refer to the order which the late Field Marshal Earl Haig signed with his own hand instructing the British Armies in France to stand with their backs to the wall and to fight to the death. Hon. Members will recall the words of that stirring order, particularly if they were among those to whom it was addressed. We know that as between this side of the House and the other there is a violent cleavage of opinion as to the validity of the private ownership of property, but I venture to think there would be no difference of opinion on the point that there are some things which transcend private ownership, and that document is one of them. I ask the Lord Advocate to consider whether some practical proposal cannot be devised to require those who in Government offices have the natural custody of documents to make returns, at any rate bring them to the light of day. We should also see whether something could not be done, although it might not be permissible to include it in this Bill, to clarify the law of ownership in regard to Cabinet minutes, military orders and documents of that kind. Unless that be done this Bill may be deemed 500 years hence to have failed of its purpose, and I hope the Minister will do what he can to close the gap which, I believe, exists.

7.35 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Evans

There is no doubt that there is a great loss of documents of historical importance, not only through disappearance but also through mishandling and mismanagement, and something ought to be done to repair that loss and provide for the due care and preservation of such documents. In supporting this Bill, which seems to be directed to a very useful purpose, I hope the Government will also bear in mind that Scotland is not the only part of the country where importance is attached to documents of this character. There is the same feeling towards them in Wales, and we have there, in the National Library, an institution which would be most suitable for accomplishing for Wales the function which this Bill is put forward to accomplish for Scotland.

7.37 p.m.

Mr. R. Gibson

I rise to join in the chorus of welcome to this Bill. We in Scotland do not really appreciate the great heritage we possess in some of our documents. When the Bar Association of the United States and Canada was visiting Edinburgh some 13 or 14 years ago I was conducting one of the judges of Nova Scotia round the Parliament House, and when I showed him the original copy of the National Covenant he was deeply moved. It was a document in which he was tremendously interested. It had been preserved for Scotland by the Faculty of Advocates, which I do not think has received sufficient recognition for the great services which it has rendered to Scotland in preserving old documents of that character. When the library became too large for the Faculty adequately to administer it there were two courses open to the Faculty. All the old documents in that great library were the private possession of the Faculty of Advocates, and they could have treated those priceless treasures as their own property and by selling them one by one at Christie's have amassed a very large sum of money; but they chose not to do that. The members of the Faculty of Advocates recognised that this was a great national heritage and the library was handed over to the country. The Faculty of Advocates nationalised their library, and I well recollect making mention of that fact at the first public meeting which I addressed when I was adopted as a candidate for Parliamentary honours. I am proud of the Socialist principles of the Faculty of Advocates as evidenced in that case.

One other topic to which I would allude concerning contemporary documents, which were referred to by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones). We in Edinburgh are accustomed to the value of contemporary historical documents, because our national newspapers in Scotland, the "Scotsman" and the "Glasgow Herald" do give us a current history of events, and I feel the lack of a file of the "Scotsman" and of the "Glasgow Herald," and in particular of the indexes, here in London. The Secretary of State for Scotland might turn that point over in his mind to see whether something useful could he done for Scottish Members in that respect. It is clear from what has been said by hon. Members that a considerable amount of work will be done in Committee on this Bill, which has come to us from another place, and I do hope that when it is passed into law it will become a great milestone in the history of the country which we love so well.

7.42 p.m.

Mr. Charles Williams

I think it is fitting that one English Member should say a word of welcome to this Bill, and congratulate the Government on returning to Scotland, where they rightly belong, a great many documents which, from what I can understand, are of purely Scottish origin. I think I may be allowed to say that because, although it is not usual for English Members to join in a Scottish Debate, some of us who have an immense respect and admiration for the Scottish people feel that we are doing here a necessary if tardy measure of justice to Scotland. I would direct attention to the Schedule for a moment, because although we should wish that the right documents should go back to Scotland it is well to point out that item No. 2 in the Schedule is the Charter of Richard I fixing the allowances to be made to Scottish kings visiting the Court in England. We have a great deal of experience of allowances of various kinds, and as there are so many Scotsmen in London doing so much good work I am not sure that this original record of the allowances made to a Scottish king ought not to remain in London, so that it would be more easy for them to see what happened in past days.

For that reason I should like to be sure, when we come to the Committee stage, that the interests of Scotsmen living in London are properly considered. I do not see any Members representing the North of England present, but item 7 in the Schedule refers to a document which clearly seems to have something to do with Cumberland. If we are to have English documents here and Scottish documents on the other side of the Border a document which so clearly refers to Cumberland ought in all probability to remain in England, unless there is some very good reason for its removal. Although I know little of these documents, yet, as one who has a great appreciation of the value of such things from a sentimental and historical point of view, I am glad that the Scottish people will house in their own capital documents which must be of such vital importance to their nation.

7.45 p.m.

The Lord Advocate

I can only speak again with the leave of the House. I do not propose to attempt in the few minutes which I shall occupy to appraise the almost embarrassing wealth of suggestions for the improvement of this Bill which have been tendered. I should like, however, to deal with one or two specific points on which I was requested to furnish an answer. In the first place the right hon. Gentleman opposite who opened the Debate from his side—and in his speech if I may say so I think all present would recognise the authentic voice of the scholar—referred with a faint touch of criticism to the fact that 10 years have elapsed between the report of Lord Wark's Committee and the presentation of this Bill, but I think he should re- member that part of the proposals which were envisaged by the Committee involved changes with regard to sheriff clerks, and the Register House in Edinburgh. These changes which were effected in pursuance of Acts of Parliament passed in 1927 and 1928 were necessary in order to clear the ground. I would suggest to him on reconsideration that the delay of 10 years is more apparent than real. He went on and he was supported in this by a great many hon. Members in all parts of the House to plead for an expansion of the area covered by the Bill in relation to ecclesiastical documents and even in the case of the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. G. Morrison) to documents in private hands. Speaking as a student, I have a great deal of sympathy with this; but I would ask hon. Gentlemen in thinking of the Amendments they may desire to put down for the Committee stage to remember that the scope of the Bill is limited to making provision for the public records of Scotland and it would be a very difficult problem to devise any scheme by which private documents in private ownership and custody could be compulsorily transferred to public hands.

Mr. Johnston

Does he suggest that we shall not be allowed to move an Amendment to bring in ecclesiastical documents?

The Lord Advocate

I cannot say what will be allowed, but I am only drawing attention to the fact that some of the sources of supply to which they look for furnishing the Register House with records seem to me to be private sources. Those who are possessed by that sacred thirst which every record scholar has may not be too conscious of the difference between meum and tuum in regard to any manuscript or record, but however that may be I wish to sound a word of warning that it will be very difficult—it may be impossible—to bring within the scope of this or any Bill provisions for expropriating from private ownership documents of the type in question.

Mr. G. A. Morrison

I did not suggest compulsory transfer of documents from private houses. What I was arguing for was an increase in the staff of the Records Office so that private owners might be induced to invite inspection of these treasures.

The Lord Advocate

I thank the hon. Member, but as regards ecclesiastical documents it is within my knowledge that the General Assembly passed in 1932 a deliverance enjoining all kirk sessions to transmit their records to their central library. The hon. Gentleman the junior Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) raised a point with regard to the transmission and retransmission of local government records. That is almost a Committee point but it does appear to me quite proper that if a local authority transmits its records for custody to the Register House, where they are indexed and placed in the proper place for custody, it seems proper that that body shall not be allowed to chop and change and say, "Give us our records back." They may have a particular document back, but they must return it to the Register House for preservation whenever their purpose is served. As regards the destruction of documents I quite see the point that further safeguards are desirable and I would be willing to consider sympathetically any Amendments directed towards that end and perhaps to suggest some for my own part. The suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. J. Guy), if I correctly understood him, requires correction. He rather suggested that an application made in the Register House for a particular deed might not be capable of being dealt with for a period of as much as three months. I have difficulty in understanding that statement. I am informed that practically any volume of records can be obtained in a matter of five minutes. You may certainly spend a long time studying the document to find what you want but what he suggests is not quite accurate.

Mr. Guy

If I have misinformed the House I apologise but I was only referring to the records which were not indexed and so were inaccessible.

The Lord Advocate

Even as regards that my information is that the volume containing the record will be quickly made available although you may have to spend a long time studying it and deciphering it. As regards the speech of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. Charles Williams) it is unfortunate that he did not hear what I said earlier in the Debate as regards the second and seventh items in the Schedule. Both those documents were in Edinburgh Castle on 29th December, 1282, when they were indexed by officers of Alexander III. Speaking, I am sure, with the support of all Scottish Members interested in this matter I think it will be found that they have the very strongest opposition to giving up any of the documents. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We have waited 650 years for them and have no intention of giving them up.

Mr. Johnston

Will the right hon. Gentleman say in addition that we have paid good hard money for them we were dunned for years by the English for that money, and having paid we want the documents?

Mr. C. Williams

I did try to look at this from a wide point of view. I think at any rate I was the only Englishman to come and say he was pleased you have the document back. I agree it has been a long while but might I not appeal to the Scottish people to let us have just those two documents as a witness of the good work they are doing to-day?

Mr. Mathers

Are we to understand the hon. Member considers he has conferred a favour on us?

Mr. C. Williams

Not in the least. If you are having these documents from England it is not a favour; it is a matter of courtesy when someone says he is glad as an Englishman to see them going back to Scotland. That is my wish, but I put in a plea for the two documents. At the same time I apologise to my right hon. and learned Friend for not having heard his previous speech, and I thank him for his courtesy.

The Lord Advocate

In fairness to the hon. Gentleman, as regards what was said I will simply repeat that the manor of Aldenstone was originally part of the patrimony belonging to the Kings of Scotland. The minute in question is an intimation by King Edward I to the Scottish King that he had of new made a grant of the manor to another party. That minute is truly a Scottish record. I venture to suggest the House should now give a Second Reading to this Bill.