HC Deb 07 December 1954 vol 535 cc776-81
49. Mr. Carmichael

asked the Prime Minister if he will give an assurance that, before the Government puts into operation any of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs, this House will be afforded the opportunity of discussing the Report.

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland proposes, with permission, to make a statement at the end of Questions on the detailed implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs. Last Thursday the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) requested an opportunity to debate these matters, and this can be considered through the usual channels.

Mr. Carmichael

As the Secretary of State for Scotland is going to raise this issue later, shall I be allowed to put supplementary questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland?

Mr. Speaker

This is a question for me. As there is to be a debate later, I hope that there will be very few supplementary questions.


The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. James Stuart)

By leave of the House, I should like to make a statement. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 18th November, the Government accept, subject to one qualification, the recommendations of the Royal Commission that there should be transferred to the Secretary of State from the Lord Chancellor, the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, and the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, their responsibilities in Scotland for justices of the peace, roads and animal health. The qualification concerns operational control of epidemic diseases of animals. For the reasons given by the Gowers Committee, which reported at about the same time as the Royal Commission, the Government consider that this matter must continue to be dealt with by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries for the whole of Great Britain; but the Minister will act in close consultation with the Secretary of State in matters of policy.

As regards roads, I should explain, to remove any doubt, that the transfer of responsibility from the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation will extend to bridges and tunnels forming part of the highway system. Pending the transfer, I will, of course, keep in close touch with the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation on all aspects of Scottish roads administration and, in particular, in regard to the Scottish projects to be included in the extended roads programme to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred last week.

It will, I hope, be possible to effect the transfer of functions from the three Ministers concerned by mean's of Orders under the Ministers of the Crown (Transfer of Functions) Act, 1946. Procedure under this Act requires the Order in Council to be 4aid before Parliament, where it is subject to negative resolution. Specific legislation may be required on certain matters—for example, the Road Fund, and to authorise the issue of Scottish documents relating to the appointment of justices under the Scottish Seal in place of the Great Seal of the Realm. Parliament will thus have an opportunity of considering the proposed changes before they are effected.

As regards the date of transfer, much will depend on the detailed study which is now going on. I hope that in the case of justices of the peace it may be possible to make the change at the end of the present financial year, and during the summer in the case of animal health. In the case of roads administration it will be necessary to identify, out of the many statutory provisions relating to transport, those under which powers are to be transferred. There are accounting problems arising from the existence of the Road Fund which must be resolved. The necessary staff must be assembled and given an opportunity of acquainting itself with the work involved in advance of the change-over. I do not think that it will be possible to complete the necessary preliminary work in time to make the change next April: and, as it can most conveniently be made at the beginning of a financial year, the present intention of Her Majesty's Government is that it will take place on 1st April, 1956.

As regards law reform, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate has reconstituted the existing informal committee as a permanent body with broader terms of reference as recommended by the Royal Commission. The new committee will be known as the Law Reform Committee for Scotland, and Lord Walker has agreed to act as its Chairman.

The Commission also made a number of administrative recommendations with which, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, the Government are in general agreement. The President of the Board of Trade has since intimated that the powers of the Board's Scottish controller over the allocation of existing factory space have been substantially increased, and that he has been given authority to approve capital expenditure up to £20,000 on any extension: his Department and mine fully appreciate the importance of working in close cooperation on distribution of industry matters, and we intend they should continue to do so.

As to the Commission's recommendation that there should be an interchange of senior civil servants between Whitehall and Edinburgh, I stated in reply to a Question on 25th November that the Government are in agreement and that arrangements for exchange of officers serving in my Departments and in London will be considered as and when suitable opportunities offer.

Mr. Woodburn

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is no personal antagonism in our wishing that he should make statements to this House on the affairs under his charge, and that we were anxious to have a detailed statement. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the statement he has now made, which gives much of the information for which we asked.

I should like to ask the Secretary of State—we hoped that he would do this today—to amplify what the Government propose to do in regard to education in Scotland, on the lines of the statement by the Minister of Education in regard to England. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us at a later date whether he proposes to do anything in that regard.

One very important point of the Royal Commission's recommendations was in regard to the status of civil servants in Scotland: that there should be civil servants in Scotland with authority to make decisions without too much reference being made to headquarters. That is the case in some Departments, but in other Departments there has been a resistance to making the civil servants of a sufficiently high status to be able to decide matters of policy in Scotland. Can the Minister amplify these two points?

For the reason, which you, Mr. Speaker, and we have understood, that at some later date there will be an opportunity to discuss this subject, we do not propose to push the matter much further today.

Mr. Stuart

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I hope I am not thought to be conceited in saying that I did not think there was any personal antagonism towards me. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement on 18th November accepting in general terms the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

Regarding education, about which the right hon. Gentleman asked, he has a Question on the Paper today which was not reached, but I have given a very full answer, which will be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT. As to the status of civil servants in Scotland, we accept in principle the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and to the best of our ability we will carry them out.

Mr. Carmichael

When does the right hon. Gentleman intend to submit the Report to the House? Some of the recommendations, he suggests, will commence to operate in 1956. Surely, in justice to Scotland, the right thing is to debate the Report here, at once?

Mr. Stuart

The Report of the Corn-mission is in the hands of hon. Members and of the public. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stated today that if it was the desire of the House to debate the Report, the matter would be considered through the usual channels. I have never objected to debate.

Sir W. Darling

While congratulating my right hon. Friend upon his excellent statement, may I ask whether he can give any information as to the fate of projects which have already been agreed to by the Minister of Transport? I take it that they will not be delayed until 1956 but will be proceeded with normally.

Mr. Stuart

I can only say that if there is to be a debate in the House at some date to be arranged, that question would be within the scope of the debate.

Miss Herbison

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all the Scottish Members, on this side at least, expected him to make some statement on education? Is he also aware that to give an answer to a Question that is on the Order Paper will not satisfy either the Members of this House or the people of Scotland who are interested in education? Perhaps, with Mr. Speaker's permission, the right hon. Gentleman will answer it now.

Mr. Stuart

I think that all I can say to the hon. Lady at the moment is that, as she has taken the trouble to tell the House before now that I have never been properly educated, I therefore took the opportunity to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education to make a brief statement in his speech because—wait for it—as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this afternoon, I do not think that the House would wish me to speak about twice on every day of debate on the Gracious Speech.

Mr. John MacLeod

Can the right hon. Gentleman say anything about the recommendation made that a senior administrative officer of the Department of Agriculture should be transferred to the Highlands, to Inverness?

Mr. Stuart

The answer to that is that we contemplate legislation to deal with Principal Taylor's Report on crofting conditions in Scotland, and that during the reorganisation that will then be necessary we can, I think, deal with the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. H. Morrison

Are we to understand from the Secretary of State that, in his view, he is Ministerially, if not mentally, inferior to the English Minister of Education? Has it now got to the point that the Secretary of State for Scotland, despite all the talk of the Government about the rights of Scotland, has delegated his duties of explaining Scottish educational policy to the English Minister?

Mr. Stuart

The right hon. Gentleman is most unfair in his reading of what I said. He knows very well that I never said that I had not been educated. It was the hon. Lady who said that. I was educated in England, where the right hon. Gentleman was educated, so we are in the same boat. But the answer is, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, that no Minister, Secretary of State for Scotland or any other, would be tolerated by this House if he intervened every day during the debate.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

I must ask the House to bear with me. I have more Members wishing to speak on the subsequent Question, namely, the Address, than I can possibly accommodate, and, in these circumstances, I think it will be in the interest of the House as a whole—which I have to watch—to say that the Clerk will now proceed to read the Orders of the Day.