§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, this Bill has been introduced into Parliament in compliance with a pledge that was given by my right hon. friend the Prime Minister last December that the office of Secretary for Scotland should be changed into a Secretaryship of State. Your Lordships will observe that no change whatever is proposed in the functions of the Scottish Minister. He already enjoys all the power of a Secretary of State so far as Scotland is concerned and there will be no addition financially, or modification of power. It is a change of name and a change of status and, as your Lordships well know, the Bill is introduced as a recognition of what is due to the position of the great Kingdom of Scotland in our polity.
It is not, as your Lordships are aware, altogether a novelty, because, following upon the union between England and Scotland, a Secretaryship of State in respect of Scotland was established, and between the year 1708 and 1746 there was a Secretary of State for Scotland. That came to an end—I presume owing to the political events of that time—in 1746, and from 1746 to 1885 Scotland was administered by the joint efforts of the Home Secretary, or what corresponded to the Home Secretary, and the Lord Advocate. But there was always pressure to change that arrangement and in 1885 the Secretary for Scotland was established. Two years afterwards that office was endowed with all the powers of a Secretary of State so far as Scotland was concerned. From the year 1892 onwards the Secretary for Scotland has always been a member of the Cabinet. I think your Lordships will agree that the last formal step might very properly now be taken, and that, already enjoying the full powers of a Secretary of State, that office should be conferred upon the Minister for Scotland. I need not say that that is, as we are informed, the general wish in Scotland.
716 Now I will turn to the Bill itself. The form of the Bill, of course, is a recognition of the act of His Majesty in creating a new Secretary of State. That has nothing to do with Parliament. That is a matter for the Prerogative. But the pay of the Secretary of State and the functions of the Secretary of State so far as he takes over the powers of the Secretary for Scotland have to be carried out by Statute. That is the reason for the present Bill. The effect is to increase the number of Secretaries of State. There are at present seven—the original Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary, War Minister, Secretary of State for the Colonies, Secretary of State for India, Secretary of State for Air, and the number is finally completed by the Secretaryship of State for Dominion Affairs, which was created last year. If your Lordships are pleased to pass this Bill there will be eight Secretaries of State.
Under a Statute of Anne only a limited number of Secretaries of State were allowed to sit in the House of Commons at one time. That was a necessary provision because, as Secretaries of State are a matter for the Prerogative, if there was no limit then the Sovereign might create as many Secretaries of State as he liked—if, of course, they could get constituencies to elect them—which obviously would be an abuse. Therefore it is necessary, not to limit the number of Secretaries of State, which is a matter for the Prerogative, but to limit the number who can sit at one time in the House of Commons. Originally the number was two, then it became three, then four, following on the gradual increase in the total number of Secretaries of State and, finally, five. At that time there were six Secretaries of State of whom five could sit in the House of Commons.
Now, should this Bill pass, there will be eight Secretaries of State and we suggest that six should be allowed to sit in the House of Commons. We do not go up to the full number; we leave a balance of two. I hope that these two will be found in your Lordships' House. Of course, there is nothing in the law that makes that necessary. All that the Bill will provide, if it becomes an Act, is that six shall be allowed to sit in the House of Commons. The Under-Secretaries of State follow exactly the same 717 rule and therefore the same provision has to be made. Consequently, the change so far as numbers are concerned is, as I have said, that whereas now five Secretaries of State and five Undersecretaries can sit in the House of Commons, if the Bill passes six Secretaries of State arid six Under-Secretaries will be able to sit in the House of Commons. There will be, besides that, two Secretaries of State and two Undersecretaries who cannot sit in the House of Commons.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ VISCOUTN HALDANE
My Lords, I do not rise to offer any objection to this Bill. Far from it. It has been asked for in Scotland, although not for any very powerful reasons, but in Scotland we love pomps and ceremonies and it is notorious that people there have desired to have a Secretary of State to themselves. I rise rather, as one who tries to be a watchful guardian of the Constitution, to ask the noble Marquess two questions. We are now going to have another Secretary of State and in terms there is nothing to restrict the effect of this appointment. Your Lordships know that the office of Secretary of State has this peculiarity, that every Secretary of State can act for every other. Consequently, we shall have a new Secretary of State for Scotland who can come and conduct the business of the Foreign Office, or the India Office, or the Colonial Office, or act as Dominion Secretary of State, or Minister of War, or Secretary of State for Air—the business, that is to say, of any Secretary of State, but not that of the Admiralty, which is not a Secretaryship of State at all.
I suppose that has been considered. In practice it does not work badly, but that provision is not a mere nullity. I myself, when I was at the War Office, not infrequenly took charge of the Foreign Office for short periods when the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was away. I have taken charge of the Home Office for very serious periods. I have even found myself compelled, as Secretary of State temporarily for Home Affairs, to write a formal letter of refusal of a request which I had made as Secretary of State for War to the Home Office, and the two letters went out from the one person who occupied two posi- 718 tions. That is all very well. It is a peculiarity of our Constitution which comes down from the time when there were very few Secretaries of State. I suppose it is all right. I suppose the Government say that, in practice, they will take care that nothing harmful comes out from this. But I do draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that you are putting very large powers into the hands of the new Secretary of State for Scotland.
There is one other question which I want to ask the noble Marquess. My eye has caught no provision for the appointment of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. It may be somewhere in the Bill. I could not detect it. It may be that it is the practice to draw these Bills so that the appointment is left as an executive act to be performed by the Crown. It may also be that when this matter comes up before Parliament on the provision for the salary of the Secretary of State and the Undersecretary anything that requires to be dealt with will be dealt with then, but I draw the attention of the noble Marquess to the fact that I have found in this Bill nothing specifically referring to the appointment of the Undersecretary. The office of the present Under-Secretary for Health for Scotland is abolished, but I do not see that anybody is provided for in his place. As I have said, it may not be necessary, but one would imagine that it would be found in a Bill of this kind. However, it may be contrary to the practice of the draftsman in these matters and it may not matter. The observations that I have made do not imply any objection to this Bill, which has been distinctly called for in Scotland, though not, I think, by the voice of any great authority.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I understood from my noble friend the Leader of the House that this Bill did not involve any increase of expenditure. Is that right?
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
If it should turn out that the wish of Scotland is to increase the salary of the new Secretary of State I take it that my noble friend will maintain a stiff back and not allow it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount is, of course, absolutely right in saying that Secretaries of State all rank together. They are all different examples of one function and any Secretary of State can act for any other Secretary of State. Indeed, in our Acts of Parliament they are referred to merely as Secretaries of State with no reference to any particular Department. The words are "a Principal Secretary of State" which covers every one of them and what is true of one is true of all. I believe that to be the law and no inconvenience has arisen from it in practice.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
As the noble and learned Viscount has himself pointed out, this power of asking one Secretary of State to take over the functions of another Secretary of State is very useful, though in one particular instance it appears that the noble and learned Viscount was placed in a paradoxical position. He also asked me whether reference is made to the appointment of the Under-Secretary of State. If he will look at Clause 1 (2) he will find that provision is made for the transfer of the function of the Secretary for Scotland to the Secretary of State and of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health for Scotland to the Undersecretary to the Principal Secretary of State. By inference, if in no other way, it would follow that the Under-Secretary of State is contemplated by that Clause. As to the exact constitutional position of an Under-Secretary of State I am not quite sure that I can rely upon my memory to inform the noble and learned Viscount, but I was certainly under the impression that an Under-Secretary of State is appointed by the Secretary of State and holds office under him and not as a Minister of the Crown. His salary, of course, has to be provided by Parliament, but that would not be directly within the cognisance of your Lordships' House.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I think it must be an office under the Crown. Otherwise he would not vacate his seat.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
No; that is exactly the point. He does not vacate his seat on appointment and differs in that respect from a Secretary of State. As in so many other parts of our system, there seems to be great variety in these matters. There is no symmetry of practice as between different Departments of the Government. My noble friend behind me spoke of the question of salary. That point does not, of course, appear in the Bill, but an assurance was given by my right hon. friend the Prime Minister in another place that there will be no change so far as the salaries of the new Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary are concerned. I do not enter into any question of the money value of my right hon. friend the Secretary for Scotland; I should have thought that he was worth as much as anyone else, but that is one of the many anomalies that we have to face. At any rate, so far as the economical soul of my noble friend behind me is concerned, he may be comforted: there is going to be no extra charge upon the public funds.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.