HL Deb 15 December 1937 vol 107 cc512-8

THE EARL OF MANSFIELD rose to ask His Majesty's Government if they are giving serious consideration to the suggestion contained in paragraph 107 of the Report of the Committee on Scottish Administration, which suggests the appointment of an additional Under-Secretary of State for Scotland; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, as many of your Lordships are aware, just over a year ago the Government appointed a Commission under the chairmanship of Sir John Gilmour, formerly Secretary of State for Scotland, to investigate the present position of Scottish administration. Their Report was brought out with considerable expedition, and is a most valuable document. The Government have signified their intention, I understand, of adopting at least its main recommendations, and a word is therefore necessary as to why I have put forward this Motion to your Lordships to-day. The reason is that the question which I venture to raise—namely, the desirability of appointing another Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—is not a recommendation of the Report. All the Report did was to recommend that consideration should be given to the question. In the meantime, we do not of course know what the result of that consideration will be, as it is always easier to make a fairly substantial alteration in a Bill before it is presented to Parliament than afterwards, I hope that these few words of mine may possibly, as they are backed with much greater authority than my own, help a little in inducing the Government to do as some of us would like.

The position of Secretary of State for Scotland to-day is an exceedingly onerous one. It may possibly not be known to all in your Lordships' House that the Secretary of State for Scotland has duties to perform in Scotland himself which are performed in England by the following Ministers: the Home Secretary, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Minister of Health and the President of the Board of Education. He carries out also a certain proportion of the functions of the Minister of Labour and of the Lord Chancellor. He has, in addition, a large number of undefined responsibilities, inasmuch as he is regarded by a considerable number of people in Scotland rather as being in the position of a Regent to whom they can apply in all cases of uncertainty or trouble. Your Lordships will, I think, agree that these are a very large number of offices to be held by one man, and that the single Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that is provided to assist the Secretary of State is not perhaps an adequate amount of assistance.

There are many Scottish Bills brought forward, usually a considerable number in each Session. At the same time, many other Bills—in fact practically every Bill with the exception of a few for England and Wales—which do pass through Parliament affect Scotland to a greater or lesser extent. The result is that the Secretary of State or his deputy has to spend a large portion of each summer sitting on Scottish Grand Committee whilst Scottish representation is required in some other Committee where Scottish interests are directly or indirectly affected by some Bill. In many cases the two Law Officers of the Crown for Scotland, the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General for Scotland, are not able to carry out these duties, as the questions involved are often administrative rather than legal. Then we are now in the process of transferring a great proportion of the activities of the Scottish Office, hitherto carried on from Whitehall, to Edinburgh. That is going to mean that some official of the Scottish Office, the Secretary of State or Under-Secretary, will have to be in Edinburgh and in Scotland generally considerably more in future than has been the case in the past, which will mean an even greater difficulty in carrying out the Parliamentary responsibilities of the Office.

At the present time the position, as far as your Lordships' House is concerned, is that some member of the Government is entitled to reply on behalf of the Scottish Office to all questions that may arise on Scottish affairs and to take charge of all Bills relating to Scotland. I suggest that that is really not very fair to Scotland, because the Scottish business that is carried on in your Lordships' House is, I consider, in no way inferior in importance to that which is done in another place, and as Scotland is in fact represented there always by two Ministers, I think it is only fair to my native country that it should have one of her own in your Lordships' House. Furthermore, the position of the Minister who has charge of Scottish affairs in this House is not an enviable one. Your Lordships are very fortunate, and so is Scotland at the present time, inasmuch as the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, carries out these very difficult duties with an ability and an industry which I think are appreciated everywhere, but I believe the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, will himself admit that his position is not an easy or a pleasant one, because he is forced to reply on behalf of an Office with whose normal activities he is not concerned. He is obliged to learn every question as it comes before him, often at very few days notice, and if supplementary questions in regard to administration should arise in the course of debate he is obviously unable to speak for the Department concerned and can only refer the matter to the Secretary of State.

That position, I suggest to your Lordships, is not a good one for Scotland, so far as the Minister who speaks for Scotland in this House is concerned. I think, therefore, that your Lordships' House is, for every reason, fully entitled to have a representative of the Scottish Office more or less permanently in it. There are a very considerable number of your Lordships who are interested in Scotland, not merely the Scottish Representative Peers but a large number of others who, like myself, are not Peers for Scotland but do also sit here. There are a large number of Scotsmen who, since the Union, have been given Peerages of Great Britain and the United Kingdom, and there are a considerable number of others who., although having no direct ancestral connection, have ties with Scotland through marriage, business, residence or other causes. In those circumstances I think that direct Scottish representation in your Lordships' House is very much overdue.

There is just one other further point I should like to make, and that is upon the purely political aspect of the matter. There is a movement in Scotland, not of very great strength, which would set up a separate Parliament for Scotland. That movement does not have the adherence of many responsible people in my country, but there is no doubt whatever that the one thing which is calculated to increase that movement is the feeling that Scottish affairs are not having due representation in London. The new conditions under which far more Scottish business will be transacted in Edinburgh is all for the good, and it should go a very long way towards satisfying the sense of grievance which a large number of people hold were Scotland given direct representation here. There has been in the past, undoubtedly, some cause for complaint of neglect of Scottish business. The new Bill which will be brought in as a result of this Report, will, I hope, go a very long way towards removing these causes of dissatisfaction. I think it would go still further if the course which I venture to suggest to your Lordships this afternoon were to be adopted. It is probable that the Government have not yet fully considered the Committee's Report. I do not therefore press my noble friend Lord Strathcona for a definite reply to-day. All I would ask him is that he will convey to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the Cabinet the substance of what has been said here this afternoon, and, with the hope that they will consider it as sympathetically as possible and, if they find it at all possible, grant us what we ask, I beg to move the Motion.


My Lords, the noble Earl was good enough to consult me some time ago before putting down this Motion and to indicate to me the lines upon which he intended to address your Lordships. The Report of the Committee on Scottish Administration, now known as the Gilmour Report, makes many valuable recommendations with the object of securing better organisation and increased efficiency. The Report is of great importance to Scotland, and I can assure your Lordships that serious consideration will be given—and is in fact now being given—to all its recommendations. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has already indicated that His Majesty's Government are in sympathy with the general intention of the Committee's recommendations, that intention being that so far as practicable Scottish administration should be concentrated in Edinburgh. The particular point which is now before your Lordships—the appointment of an additional Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—is not a matter with which the Committee on Scottish Administration were directly concerned, as the noble Earl has already pointed out. The Committee's inquiry related to the organisation of the permanent staff. In their Report however the Committee have drawn attention, as the noble Earl has drawn attention, to the heavy burden which falls upon the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the exacting nature of his responsibilities. The suggestion that there should be a second Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, possibly with a seat in your Lordships' House, was frequently put to the Committee in evidence; and the Committee have therefore called attention to the matter, though they have refrained from making any specific recommendation.

The suggestion that the Secretary of State should be assisted by the appointment of a second Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has been discussed in Parliament before. In 1919, the Ministries and Secretaries Bill was introduced, proposing that the Scottish Secretary should be given the status of a Secretary of State and the assistance of a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State—without affecting the appointment of a Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health under the Scottish Board of Health Act, 1919. The Bill, however, failed to become law owing to the opposition to the financial proposals. Again, as recently as 1932, the appointment of a second Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was suggested in the debate on the Address in the House of Commons when the then Secretary of State for Scotland indicated that the time was not opportune for discussing the suggestion. Now that the matter has again been raised by the Gilmour Committee the Government will certainly give it consideration, and in doing so they will give due weight to the views which have been expressed in your Lordships' House today by the noble Earl. Noble Lords will appreciate that I cannot give any indication as to what the result of such consideration is likely to be.


My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for an answer which is quite as full as I could have expected or deserved. I would just like to stress two points. The first is that since 1919, owing to the mass of new legislation, the duties thrown upon the Scottish Office, as upon every other Government Department, are vastly greater then they used to be. Secondly, as we are now going to have a complete overhaul of Scottish administration, now is the time to make the change. We do not want to have more frequent changes in administration than are reasonable, and it is certainly essential that this change should take place at a very early date. Surely, therefore, now is the time to appoint this additional Parliamentary Under-Secretary in order that the increasing amount of work which is being thrown upon the Scottish Office may be dealt with even more adequately than in the past. I thank my noble friend very much for his reply and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.