Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £107,021 be granted to His Majesty to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1947, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland; salaries and expenses of the Scottish Home Department; expenses in respect of private legislation procedure in Scotland; a subsidy for transport services to the Western Highlands and Islands, etc.; a grant in lieu of Land Tax; contributions towards the expenses of Probation and Remand Homes and grants in connection with physical training and recreation
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
On Subhead D we are suddenly asked to take an Estimate from the sum of fro to a sum 12,499 times the original Estimate. I take it that we shall have some sort of explanation of this revised Estimate. There are several items under this head on which I would like some informa- 1136 tion. You did rule earlier, Major Milner, in respect of the National Trust that the Government are not responsible for the details of the working of that body. But, in this case I think you will regard it rather differently. Here is a subsidy from the Treasury to a company which, in the first place, is paid for carrying mails, running between given ports to a timetable stated by the Ministry of Transport, the Post Office and the Scottish Office. The Government Departments concerned are closely interested in the day to day working of this service, both in respect of the carriage of mails and the controlled carriage of passengers and goods. The Joint Under-Secretary might well give us a fairly detailed explanation of -this extraordinarily increased Estimate, which, originally £10, has risen by £124,990. It would have made the figure easier had another £10 been added to it.
There is one point on which I wish him to give us some explanation; that is, with regard to the expenses of the Government director on the board of McBrayne's steamers. We have had various representations made in respect of him from time to time. He is a benevolent gentleman of the age of about 77 or 78 years, and the Government give him an even more benevolent salary, under this Vote of £400 a year for attending, I believe, two meetings annually. That works out at about £200 an hour for two meetings lasting one hour each. This is a matter in which the Government are interested—the running of this service in the public service. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that that part of the Vote in respect of the activities of this gentleman is justified, and has he proposals in that connection in regard to the subsidy? I suggest to him that this Government representative has not justified that part of the Vote which is paid in respect of his activities. He has not given, so far as the Scottish Office and the Ministry of Transport are concerned the report that should be called for by them. They have perhaps been lax in not demanding it; he has been lax in not proffering it. I should like some sort of information on that subject. Has my hon. Friend anything to say in respect of the efficiency of that gentleman in the carrying out of his duties? I should like him to know that we in the areas so badly served in this respect are not satisfied by one elderly gentleman sitting on a Board. The determina- 1137 tion of the present contract in respect of the director must come up at the end of the financial year, covered by this Vote. I hope the Government will have consultations, and will give assurances that they will consult with the people in the areas concerned—Members of Parliament and others.
This Vote is out of proportion to the character and efficiency of the service run by McBrayne's Steamship Co. We are unfortunately obliged to discuss this matter under this Vote because we have not the advantage of having it included in the Government's nationalisation proposals. I know that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence), who is a champion of private enterprise, is at one with me in requiring of the Government that they should pay heed to the problem of the Islands service and he would welcome nationalisation, too. Nor are we satisfied with the running of this service I cannot go into the details other than I have already done in respect of our watchdog on the McBrayne board, but I expect that the Under-Secretary to give us some sort of reason why we should pass this vastly increased Vote tonight. unless we have assurances that this service is to be stepped up to the requirements of the people in this area. Perhaps inure than any corresponding service in. Britain this service should be at the highest peak of efficiency. We are throttled from the economic and social point of view as an island population by the inefficient organisation. I hesitate to pass without criticism an increased Estimate of this kind unless I receive the strongest assurance from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister of Transport and the other Ministers associated with this Vote, that the utmost pressure will be brought to bear upon this company.
There is one point in connection with the administration of the service. I hope that the Minister will consider whether he can say what are the intentions of the Government with regard to accommodating not one but more than one Government director on this board, until such time as other measures can be taken by legislation to control it adequately. We are not satisfied that the service which the Islands need is provided. We feel 1138 that we could make a much bigger contribution to the economic development of the counrty if we were given an efficient service. The people have much more to offer than they are allowed to offer, and much more to contribute than they are able to contribute while they are throttled by bad transport. I hope the Joint Under-Secretary will endeavour to justify this extraordinary increase.
§ Colonel Gomme - Duncan
Having listened to the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan), I do not think that we on this side of the Committee can agree with what he said about the old gentleman. But we can associate ourselves with his request for a clear statement from the Joint Under-Secretary explaining this big jump from £10 to £125,000. I hope the hon. Gentleman will tell us how it was not possible earlier to say that this would be required.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
I want to make it clear that the vastly increased sum required is not something which has taken us altogether by surprise. Indeed, some indication of the reason is given in the details of the Subheads of the Supplementary Estimate. When the main Estimates were presented, these vessels, which are owned by the two companies operating to the Islands of the West of Scotland, were requisitioned by the Government. At that time we made only a token Estimate of £10 in respect of their services. The vessels which were on war service were derequisitioned on 2nd March, 1946. Since then the Ministry of Transport have been negotiating new contracts with the operators. These new contracts, when concluded, must be laid before Parliament. At that moment hon. Members who wish to make detailed inquiries into the nature of the services provided by these operators will have a very full opportunity. The present contract year will come to an end on the 31st March, 1947, and a sum in excess of the sum provided for in the Estimate will be necessary. We have had to make payments to the operators up to the amount set out in the Supplementary Estimate to enable them to continue to operate the service pending the conclusion of a new contract, and that is the reason for this vastly increased sum in the Estimate.
1139 My hon. Friend the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) asked me a question about the Government director on McBrayne's. I do not wish to discuss in a detailed way the work of the Government director, but I think that, since my hon. Friend has raised the matter he might be interested to know that the Government director in question was employed under contract for a period of 10 years, which period expires on 31st March this year, and, indeed, the appointment of a successor to this gentleman is under active consideration. He asked me further for an assurance that the service would be improved, and again I repeat that I consider that the details of the service could be best discussed when the new contracts are laid before the House.
§ Mr. M. MacMillan
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could give me an answer which will afford more consolation to the local people, and also indicate if there will be local consultations before appointing the new director?
§ Mr. Fraser
I should imagine that there would be certain consultations with local people. I am sorry if my hon. Friend is able to give the Committee the assurance that there have been none so far, but I can give him an undertaking that I will take to heart what he has said and the pressure he has put upon us that there should be some local consultations, and will place them before the appropriate authority.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding,£107,021, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1947, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland; salaries and expenses of the Scottish Home Department; expenses in respect of private legislation procedure in Scotland; a subsidy for transport services to the Western Highlands and Islands, &c.; a grant in lieu of Land Tax; contributions towards the expenses of Probation and of Remand Homes and grants in connection with physical training and recreation.