HL Deb 21 August 1907 vol 181 cc811-6

Before the House adjourns I wish to make a statement as to what passed earlier in the day with respect to the question put to me by Lord Lansdowne. On considering the statement he made as to the intentions of the Opposition with respect to the Small Landholders (Scotland) Bill, and after consultation with others, I have to state that it is not the intention of the Government to proceed with that measure. Assuming that the Bill is only of be read a second time for the purpose of recasting it on the lines indicated by my noble friend, it seems to the Government that such a proceeding is not likely to be in any real sense abone fide Second Reading. It would, in fact, he not a case of reading one Bill a second time, but reading second time another Bill entirely different from the first both in principle and effect, and, therefore, any time spent in that proceeding would be practically and really a mere waste of time and would lead to no fruitful result. I think it would be more in keeping with the duty of the Government and the frankness we owe to the House that we should say that we should offer the most strenuous opposition to such a proposal as that put forward. In these circumstances we think it better not to waste the time of the House by taking any further steps with regard to that Bill.


I am bound to say that we have heard the second statement of the noble Marquess with very great disappointment. The observations which he made to the House earlier in the evening led us to hope that we might count on the cooperation of noble Lords opposite in bringing within the reach of the people of Scotland some, at any rate, of the advantages which we believe they so much desire. Our co-operation would have been given gladly and in perfect good faith. It is quite true that there were certain proposals made by His Majesty's Ministers which we could not accept; but there were others which we were ready to discuss with them, not only with an open mind, but with a belief that they might have been passed into law greatly to the advantage of all concerned. Without the co-operation of His Majesty's Government it is quite clear that our task would present great, if not insurmountable, difficulties. All I can say is that we must consider the new situation which has been created, and that we greatly regret the decision at which the noble Marquess has arrived.


I did not hear the preface, I am sorry to say, with which my noble friend began his announcement with regard to the fate of the Scottish Bill. I did not hear the ground on which he founded it, and, therefore, I am not prepared altogether to take up what he said; but I heard the announcement with which he concluded his remarks, in which he said it would be a waste of time for the House to continue its labours on that Bill in the circumstances of the remarks made by my noble friend behind me this afternoon. Well, I do not complain at all of the decision of the Government. I should he the last to complain of that decision of the Government, so far as it regards the Lowlands of Scotland. I deplore their disinclination to continue the valuable discussion in which we had entered, because—I hope my noble friends opposite will not think me discourteous in saying it—I had looked forward to the prolongation of the debate for the production of some one single argument in favour of the Bill. That argument has not been adduced in any discussion to which I have listened in this House. It is, however, a mere academical regret that the Bill is fated to disappear without any argument in its favour having been adduced in this House. What I would venture to point out to noble friends opposite is this, that they take on themselves a great and serious responsibility in throwing aside for another year those parts that relate to the crofters of Scotland, which have been received with great acceptance in this House, and which were eagerly looked forward to by the Highland population which they affected. They have done this in consequence of an announcement, not hostile to the policy of small land holdings of Scotland as a whole, but because the Bench on this side declared their preference for one of the two options of small land holdings policy offered by the Government, They preferred the English option as against the Scottish option. It is not on the ground of a hostile policy, that is what I want to make clear; it is on the ground that they are preferring one Government policy for another Government policy over that part of the island which is called the Kingdom of Scotland. I have one more thing to say—I am not sure I am in order in saying it; but whether I am or not, I am determined to say—that it is on the Government, and on the Government alone, that rests the postponement of all legislation for the amelioration of the condition of the crofter population in the Highlands, which was held out as an inducement to Parliament.


I think my noble friend who has just spoken has hardly realised the situation in which the Government has been placed by the action taken by the Opposition. What does that action amount to? The action they propose to take was simply to eviscerate the Bill proposed by the Government. I do not think that noble Lords opposite will deny that that is the effect of the proposals made by the noble Marquess. Under these circumstances it was impossible for us to meet noble Lords opposite. There was no desire to help the Bill through on the lines on which it wets introduced, and it is impossible for us therefore to accept the proposals that were made. It was an impossible thing for us to ask the other House of Parliament to join in such a proceeding as noble Lords opposite have tried to force upon us.


I would like to ask the noble Lord, did the members of the crofting counties who waited upon the Prime Minister complain that the Bill had been eviscerated, or did they ask him to proceed with the crofter clauses?


I believe we are all out of order, but, in reply to the noble Viscount, I can say that I believe, so far as my information goes, and it is not very extensive, though I hope so far as it does go that it is accurate, that those who were most qualified to speak for the northern parts of Scotland are quite willing to combine with those who represent the other counties in Scotland in supporting the action of His Majesty's Government in this matter.


If necessary I will put myself in order, but I ask the House to grant me the same indulgence as it has granted to other noble Lords. We have never yet had any explanation of why the Government changed their original and excellent intention of legislating for the crofter districts of Scotland in a Bill by itself. That Bill was announced in the most gracious Speech from the Throne at the commencement of last session. At the same time it was intimated that other parts of the country, by which I suppose are included the Lowlands of Scotland and England, were the subject of inquiry, and that when those inquiries were completed legislation would be introduced. We have never yet had any explanation of the change from that original and excellent intention, but that change has been the cause of the difficulty in which we have been placed.


Before the adjournment of the House, might I ask the noble Marquess a question with regard to another matter—the Land Values Bill. I understood the noble Marquess to say that he proposed to take the Second Reading on Friday. I wish to point out to him that there are already one or two Motions on the Paper for Friday, and also that it is a very early day to propose to take the Second Reading of a Bill which has only been brought into your Lordships' House to-night. We shall be on this Small Landholders Bill certainly all tomorrow, and if we proceed at the present rate we shall not finish to-morrow. Then I understand there is the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, the Patents Bill, and also the Amendments to the Evicted Tenants Bill. In those circumstances I hope the noble Marquess will not hurry us so very much, as he will if he takes the Bill on Friday.


I rise to move that this House do now adjourn. In doing so I have to say, in answer to the noble Lord who has just sat down, that perhaps it would be rather hurrying to take the Bill on Friday, and I would propose to take it on Saturday. I am afraid I shall be obliged to ask the House to meet on Saturday at twelve o'clock and sit till six, and, under those circumstances, I will put the Bill down for Saturday' When I move the adjournment of the House on Friday I shall make the Motion that we meet on Saturday from twelve till six.

House adjourned at five minutes before Twelve o'clock, till Tomorrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.