HL Deb 06 April 1883 vol 277 cc1617-21

asked Her Majesty's Ministers, with reference to the demand which is being pressed upon them by certain parties in Scotland for the creation of a Secretary of State for Scotland, Whether they have arrived at any definite conclusions on the subject; whether a re-arrangement and consolidation of Scottish business are intended; and if so, whether the administration of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1872, will be transferred to the new Scottish Department? The noble Earl said, he knew propositions had been made to the Government on this subject; and he therefore thought it right to ask them whether they had made up their minds to do anything, and, if so, what was the nature of the changes they proposed to make? He confessed that he could not see himself what were the precise duties which ought to be made to devolve on a Scottish Minister. There were many things which he might superintend, and in regard to which his influence might, perhaps, be usefully exercised. But, taking the great Departments of the Army, of the Navy, Foreign Affairs, and the Home Office, to some extent, it was obvious that they could not have a separate arrangement as to matters concerning these great Departments available for Scotland. But there were certain matters which were peculiarly Scottish; and, perhaps, something might be done by giving a person of high political rank a kind of superintendence of those specially Scottish matters. He did not know definitely what the proposals were; but there were certain offices peculiarly Scottish which might be, perhaps, superintended to advantage by a purely Scottish Minister. There were many Boards in Scotland of which there was no counterpart in the other two Kingdoms—such, for instance, as the Board of Supervision for the relief of the poor, a very well-conducted office he believed; the Lunacy Board, the Fishery Board, and another as to which he felt very strongly, the Education Department. There used to be a Board in Edinburgh dealing with the subject of education, which had now been transported to London. He had always felt, from the beginning of that great change of policy, the giving of Imperial grants for education, very great regret that it was not resolved that Scotland should have the government and management of the whole of its educational matters as heretofore. Formerly the whole of the educational institutions in Scotland were managed in Scotland, and there was no reason why that should not be continued. He thought that was the only great and important matter connected with Scotland, as to which some benefit might be obtained by making a new arrangement which should enable the Scottish nation to manage its own educational concerns entirely without interference from Whitehall. He thought he was so far justified in entertaining that opinion by what occurred two years ago, when Lord Advocate M'Laren, at the instance of the Prime Minister, made a suggestion that certain taxes should be allotted to Scotland, and that the management should be left to local control much more than it now was. The argument was that these subventions to local rates constituted an expensive system. That, of course, was a very wide question; but what he now asked was that the Government would enlighten the House as to the nature of the changes which he imagined they had in contemplation; what were to be the duties of the new Department, if a new Department was made, and what was to be the local position of the Department—whether it was to be at Whitehall or at Edinburgh?


asked to be allowed to say a few words on this subject. There was much that fell from the noble Earl with which he could hardly agree. For instance, he had very good reason for knowing that there was a considerable amount of genuineness in the demand which had been put forward by the Scottish people for a Minister, although, not necessarily for a Secretary of State; and he believed that some considerable re-arrangement of Scottish Business was desirable. With regard to the administration of the Education Act, to which the noble Earl had alluded, he was bound to say that, on the other hand, there was considerable divergency of opinion. His object in raising this question two years ago was simply to endeavour to rescue Scotland from the irresponsible government of a Board located in Edinburgh, and the administration of the country from the hands of an Edinburgh lawyer, who, the more eminent he was in his Profession, the less likely he was to have much time to devote to Parliamentary Business. There was a strong desire on the part of Scotchmen for the dignity of a Cabinet Minister; but he had carefully guarded himself against urging such a proposal, if they could obtain by other means the practical advantages which they deemed necessary. He was well aware that there was a very considerable section of the Scottish people, and, perhaps, even a more considerable section of the Scottish Press, who were loudly demanding a Secretary of State for Scotland. He confessed that he had never been one of those. He had always been of opinion that the case might fairly be met by the establishment of a Scottish Department, presided over by an independent and responsible Minister, to whom Scotchmen might refer, and who might be able to acquaint himself with Scottish affairs and Scottish needs on the spot, a thing which it was impossible the Home Secretary could do. A very short time after he raised this question in their Lordships' House—he thought two months—a re-arrangement of Scottish Business did take place; and all Scotchmen heard with very great pleasure, which no one joined in more heartily than himself, that his noble Friend (the Earl of Rosebery), the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, had been made responsible for Scottish Business. But a rumour had lately gone forth that his noble Friend declined to be considered Minister for Scotland; and, therefore, it seemed to him that they were likely to drift into their old deplorable condition, without having even the forensic ability of the Lord Advocate to guide them. He would not now inflict on their Lordships the old arguments and counter-arguments on this somewhat worn subject. They had been told that the tendency of the day was to demand a Minister for everything; but he confessed he was utterly at a loss what possible connection there could be between the demand for a Minister for Agriculture and the demand for a Minister for Scotland. In Scotland the religious institutions, the educational institutions, the local government, and a variety of other things were all on an entirely different basis from what they were in England; and it seemed to him that when they abolished the Irish Office, and established similarity of customs in the Three Kingdoms, it would be quite, time to oppose this Scottish demand upon the ground that it would be an unnecessary increase in the number of Government Departments. He hoped the Government would not allow themselves to be prevented from taking action in this matter by criticisms in this House, but that they would really attempt to redress a real grievance, which had been calmly and patiently put forward by a people who had consistently proved themselves to be practical, orderly, and loyal.


said, it was an advantage to Her Majesty's Government to have had the opportunity of hearing the remarks of his two noble Friends, who were well acquainted with this subject; but at present the only answer he could give was that the matter had been for some time under the consideration of the Government, and they hoped soon to be able to state their intentions with respect to it.