HL Deb 29 July 1920 vol 41 cc605-10

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill to which I have the honour to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to-day will, if it is passed into law, have the effect of raising the status of the Secretary for Scotland to that of Secretary of State for Scotland. Clause 1 extends the statutory limit of the number of Secretaries of State and Under-Secretaries of State allowed to sit in the House of Commons. Meantime, as your Lordships are aware, that statutory limit is suspended under the terms of the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916. Clause 2 transfers the powers and duties. of the Secretary for Scotland to one of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, and Clause 3 contains the provisions necessary to ensure continuity, both as regards the powers and the duties of the Secretary for Scotland, during the period of transition. Your Lordships will observe that there is absent from the Bill any provision as to. the raising of the salary attached to the office of the Secretary for Scotland. I desire to make it perfectly plain that such provision has been omitted only because, if it were part of the Bill, it would be an infringement of the privilege of the House of Commons in the matter of Money Bills.

This Bill has at least this merit— that it presents the case for raising the status of the Secretary for Scotland unprejudiced by any embarrassing entanglements with the case of any English Departments. The demand which exists in Scotland for the restoration of the ancient office of Secretary of State for Scotland may very easily be accounted for. The Secretary for Scotland discharges onerous and responsible duties of the first importance to Scotland, which, by general consent, entitle him to be ranked as one of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State. As your Lordships are aware, the Secretary for Scotland is responsible for all purely Scottish Departments of Government, and when Scottish interests are at stake it is to the Secretary for Scotland that we have to look to see that our interests are well watched. There is a natural, and I think a proper, desire to see revived one of the great Offices of State reserved under the Parliamentary Union of 1707. It will be within the knowledge of all your Lordships that the Union was bitterly resented by a large proportion of the Scottish population at that time. In the unsettled period which followed the Union it was the purpose of English statesmen to do what they could to obliterate the marks of Scottish nationality, and in pursuance of that policy the Secretaryship of State for Scotland was abolished, first in 1725, and finally in 1746. Happily the agitation which followed the Union was short-lived, and our forebears, recognising, in their good sense, that partnership is not necessarily repugnant either to the maintenance of self-respect or to the continuance of a separate individuality, accepted the situation and embarked upon a course of common enterprise and common sacrifice to which, whether in peace or in war, in good times or in bad, their descendants have adhered to this day. The principle of this Bill is supported by a volume and intensity of Scottish public opinion such as gives ample warrant for its translation into law. Representative bodies throughout Scotland have memorialised the Government in favour of the change. I have a list of twenty such bodies which have all passed resolutions, and yesterday a meeting in Edinburgh of the representatives of local and other public bodies from all parts of Scotland adopted a resolution urging the Government to raise the status of the Secretary for Scotland. In this brief survey I trust you will find an explanation and also a justification of the demands of Scotland in this matter, and I hope I may be so fortunate as to persuade your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Linlithgow.)


My Lords, the Government fully recognise the justice of the claim made by the noble Marquess that the status of the Secretary for Scotland should be raised to that of a Secretary of State. The Government hope to deal with this subject in the autumn session.


My Lords, the noble Lord says that the Government hope to deal with this matter in the autumn session, but he gave us no indication as to whether they are willing to assent to the Second Reading of the Bill now before your Lordships. I want to say one word on this matter as, if I did not, my silence might be misunderstood in this House and in Scotland, if it were known that I was present in the House. I want to say, as strongly as I can, that the feeling in Scotland is that the present position of the office of Secretary for Scotland is not quite in accordance with what is due to a country like Scotland. It is placed in an inferior position to that of other Departments. The question of raising the status of the office of Secretary for Scotland ought to be regarded as standing by itself and not mixed up with that of other Departments. In the past it has rather been so mixed up and it has prejudiced the case.

I believe this alteration would promote public convenience and be of great public advantage. When I held the office of Secretary for Scotland, some sixteen years ago, great inconveniences were found because the signature of the Secretary for Scotland, not being that of a Secretary of State, was not interchangeable with that of other kindred Departments. Noble Lords will know that one Secretary of State can often sign on behalf of another, and that a Minute need not necessarily be signed by the Secretary of State of the particular Department. That is not the case so far as Scotland is concerned. There is no one whose signature can be substituted for that of the Secretary for Scotland, and in case of illness or necessary absence, great inconvenience has sometimes occurred. There is also a great variety of work, and this variety is increasing. The Secretary for Scotland has to represent Scotland in London, and therefore he has a great deal to do in connection with the work of other Departments, which, in other respects, are English Departments, but the work of which also extends to Scotland.

We have a definite promise on the matter I know. This promise was given in another place. It was acknowledged that the demand was unanimous from Scotland and the Government said they hoped to deal with the subject in the autumn session. If I heard the noble Lord aright, he has repeated that promise, and has said that the Government hope to deal with it in the autumn session. One is accustomed to scrutinise in a friendly way declarations of policy, and hope is not a very certain thing upon which to build. We all know that "hope deferred maketh the heart sick," and I should rather like to have a more definite undertaking to the effect that the Government will deal with this matter before the present session concludes. It cannot take very long, and it is due to Scotland to have such a reply. As a whole Scotland is more unanimous on this matter than on anything else which I can recollect in my public life. I hope this unanimity will not be under-rated and that due weight will be given to it. In the present condition of the House, if the Government were to say that they could not assent to the Second Reading of the Bill, I should be the last person to against them. But various representations have been made to me by members of the other House who know Scotland, that if this Bill was passed through your Lordships' House it would facilitate work and save time, and, unless some very strong reasons are given why your Lordships should not pass this Bill, hope the Government will allow it to be read a second time.


My Lords, I have not the faintest right to intervene is this debate, except that I desire to express general sympathy with the Motion of my noble friend, Lord Linlithgow, and to express the hope, if an Englishman may venture to do so, that the Government will give the Bill a Second Reading. I understand, from what the noble Lord opposite has said, that there is some prospect that the proposal may be dealt with this session after the adjournment, and hope that that is the case. I hope, also, that the noble Lord's words mean that a favourable consideration is likely to be given to it. There is, however, this particular point to be borne in mind. What is called the raising of status also means the raising of salary, and in these times, when we are all preaching economy, the raising of the salary of an office cannot be regarded as a light matter. I hope, therefore, that when the Government are considering this question they will bear in mind, appropriately to the season of the falling leaves, that there are some other Ministries which might be shed conceivably at the same time, which would enable money to be forthcoming for the enhanced salary of the Secretary of State for Scotland without adding to the total burden of the taxpayer.


My Lords, I think it is quite true, as the noble Lord has said, that the expression of a hope that we may be able to introduce a certain measure is not always very reassuring to persons who are greatly interested in that measure. But I should like to underline the expression of this hope on the part of the Government, and to say that the Government really are anxious to proceed in this matter, and that although it is, of course, perfectly impassible for them to commit themselves absolutely to dealing with it in this year, it is cer- tainly not occupying a secondary place in their thoughts, or likely to occupy a secondary place in their programme.

As an earnest of our desire to deal with this matter the Government would be willing to agree to the Second Reading of this Bill if the noble Lord who introduced it would be prepared to leave the matter there for the present. In that case if, as we hope and believe, the Government are able to deal with the matter at a later stage of the Session, I think you will all agree it would be the most convenient thing that it should be dealt with by a Government Bill originating in the House of Commons, especially for the reason that there are certain very important provisions of the Bill which can only be adequately dealt with by that House. If, however, for any reason which I do not anticipate, the Government were prevented from taking up the matter at a later stage of the session, it would always be possible for the noble Lord, the Bill having been read a second time, to proceed with the further stages of it in this House.


My Lords, I desire to say only one word with respect to the observations of Lord Crewe on the matter of salary. We are all aware of the feeling which exists with regard to extra charges upon the public in these days. The matter is, of course, one of proportion and perspective, and if it were my duty to endeavour to persuade your Lordships that on all the considerations of the case it was proper and right to raise the salary of the Secretary for Scotland, I should have no fear for my success in doing so. I accept at once the offer put forward by the noble Viscount opposite, and in asking you to give a Second Reading to this Bill I do so on the understanding that it will lie on the Table pending developments.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.