HL Deb 25 April 1939 vol 112 cc709-24

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill relates to the machinery of Scottish administration and is designed to give effect, so far as legislation is required, to the recommendations made by the Committee on Scottish Administration which reported in October, 1937. The Committee was presided over by the Right Honourable Sir John Gilmour, a former Secretary of State for Scotland, and was strong both in political and in administrative experience; and its inquiry into the organisation and duties of the Scottish Administrative Departments under the control of the Secretary of State for Scotland has been of the utmost value. I should like to take this opportunity of renewing the expression of the gratitude of His Majesty's Government to the Committee, whose recommendations had the merit of being unanimous and have been generally accepted by the Government.

The main recommendations of the Committee which require legislation are that the functions of the Scottish Education Department, the Department of Health for Scotland, the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, the Fishery Board for Scotland, and the Prisons Department for Scotland should be vested in the Secretary of State. At present, as your Lordships will be aware, the Scottish Education Department is nominally a Committee of the Privy Council, of which the Secretary of State is Vice-President. The other Departments concerned are separate legal entities and possess statutory powers distinct from those of the Secretary of State, though they are required to act under his general direction. It is desirable that the form of organisation should reflect the constitutional position—namely, that the ultimate responsibility to Parliament for all Departmental action must lie with the Minister; and this is the basis of the recommendations. Clause 1 of the Bill gives effect to the change and makes various consequential provisions. By subsection (4) the Secretary of State may make Orders for incidental adaptations of enactments, and subsection (5) provides that the Orders so made shall be laid before each House of Parliament for twenty-one days before they take effect. Subsections (7) and (8) are designed to facilitate procedure in relation to property vested in the Secretary of State and to legal actions to which the Secretary of State is a party.

The proposed transfer of functions to the Secretary of State will clearly pave the way for a Departmental reorganisation and a redistribution of certain Departmental activities. It is proposed, as recommended by the Committee, that in future there shall be four main Scottish Departments. Three will be Departments of Education, Health and Agriculture respectively, and the fourth, a new Scottish Home Department, which, broadly speaking, will take over the functions of the Scottish Office, the Fishery Board and the Prisons Department. These four main Departments will be of equal status, and each will be in charge of a Secretary responsible to the Secretary of State for the duties of his Department. The Secretary of State will also have the assistance of a senior officer—the permanent Under-Secretary of State—who will be outside the Departmental organisation and available as adviser on matters involving the co-ordination of Departmental action, or where the matter at issue falls outside the recognised province of any one of the Departments.

In the case of the General Board of Control for Scotland, whose functions, as your Lordships will no doubt be aware, relate to lunacy and mental deficiency, it is proposed, for the reasons set forth at some length in the Report of the Committee, to retain the existing type of organisation. The Board will, however, be reconstituted and brought into closer contact with the Department of Health. The reconstituted Board will comprise a paid whole-time Chairman, who will rank as an Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health, two paid Medical Commissioners, a paid part-time Legal Commissioner, a representative of the Scottish Education Department, and three unpaid members representing the general public. The necessary provision is made in Clause 2 of the Bill.

Clause 3 provides for a Scottish Fisheries Advisory Council. The present Fishery Board, whose functions are being transferred to the Secretary of State, includes four trade representatives, and after its abolition it is proposed, in accordance with the Committee's recommendation, to institute a Scottish Fisheries Advisory Council, so as to ensure the closest contact between the new Fisheries Administration and the fishing industry. The Council will consist of not more than twelve members, appointed by the Secretary of State after consultation with the various sections of the fishing industry. Clause 4 of the Bill provides for the appointment of the staff of the Registrar General, and is designed to clarify the existing statutory position. It is proposed, as recommended by the Committee, to associate the Registrar General more closely with the Department of Health. Clause 6 provides for the bringing of the Act into operation in accordance with Orders to be made by the Secretary of State. It is hoped that the general scheme of reorganisation will be ready by the forthcoming autumn.

A special feature of Scottish administration, which is fully dealt with in the Committee's Report, is the importance of basing administration on Edinburgh, where close contact with Scottish public opinion can be maintained, and, at the same time, of ensuring the effective representation of Scottish interests at the seat of government. For many years the day-to-day administration of the Scottish Departments, with the exception of the Scottish Office and of a section of the Scottish Education Department, has been carried on in Edinburgh. A branch of the Scottish Office was opened in Edinburgh in 1935, and it is intended that certain further branches of work should be transferred to Edinburgh. The Scottish Departments in Edinburgh will in the main be accommodated in the new Government building which is now approaching completion at Calton Hill, Edinburgh, and Dover House, in Whitehall, will be the headquarters of the representatives of the Scottish Departments in London for the purpose of keeping constant touch with Ministers and the London Departments, and for carrying on such branches of the work as may require to be done in London. The proposed reorganisation will substitute for the existing organisation, which has developed on different lines and not on any very ordered pattern, an organisation which will be more efficient and at the same time more flexible. I commend the Bill to the House as a useful measure for the reform of Scottish administrative machinery. I beg to move.

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

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think it would be seemly to allow this important measure, as affecting the Northern Kingdom, to pass without a word from this side of the House, and I rise to support the Bill. As your Lordships have heard from the noble Marquess, it is based very largely on the Report of the Gilmour Committee. A very distinguished member of my Party, the right honourable Thomas Johnston, took part in the work of that Committee, and it would not be right if a word was not said from this side of the House on this important matter, in the Scottish interest. My right honourable friend signed the unanimous Report, as the noble Marquess has said, but he did include a very important note, which is to be found on page 56, in which he regretted that the terms of reference to the Committee were somewhat narrow. I would like, respectfully, to support that. I was, for many years, in another place, and I remember that I always thought that the handling of Scottish business there was a scandal. How they could possibly take the whole business of Scotland in one day, usually a Derby day, and deal with all the great matters concerning Scotland, it was impossible to understand.

Mr. Johnston makes, I think, a most valuable suggestion—namely, that the Scottish Grand Committee upstairs, which deals with matters peculiarly affecting Scotland, should be given wider powers and should sit in Edinburgh in order to save the expense of witnesses coming before this Committee who have to travel to London—another, and I think a justifiable, grievance on the part of Scotland. I also regret with Mr. Johnston that it was not possible to examine into these proposals. I hope therefore that this Bill is one stage towards a measure of devolution for Scotland. The members of my Party are in favour of a much wider measure of devolution for Scotland, among other reasons—and not the least important reason—because of the hopeless congestion of business at Westminster. But this is a small step in the way of a better organisation of public business in Scotland, and therefore we support it.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, I would wish in the first place to thank the noble Marquess for the very clear and lucid exposition that he has given of the contents of this Bill, and I would like also to express my gratitude to the Government for introducing it, though somewhat belatedly. If I have any complaint at all to make about this Bill it is that it is so long since these matters were mooted which are now being the subject of legislation that the delay has become a matter of complaint among what I may call the least exacting and most uncomplaining people in the British Isles. I take leave to differ from the account which the noble Lord opposite has given of the conduct of Scottish business in the House of Commons. It is somewhat minimising the amount of time given to Scottish business to say that it occupies one Supply day in the Session and that that day is usually Derby Day. I have come more recently from another place than he has and I can assure him that Scottish business takes up a great deal more time than one Supply day. Of course, Scottish people are somewhat more laconic than the people South of the Border and they contrive to get through a vast amount of business in a very short period of time.

But there are in fact real objections felt by Scottish people to the way their business is administered and I hope that this Bill, in the new forms of administration which it gives us, will tend to cure a great many of them. For many years Scottish administration has been conducted in what I may call rather a ramshackle way. The various Departments which are in control of the business of Scotland have been, if I may use a Scottish word, a somewhat disjaskit collection of bits and pieces, and what this Bill contrives to do is to bring all those Departments together under one appropriate head. As the noble Marquess has said, the Education Department is at the present time a Committee of the Privy Council and I think that Committee has not met since 1913. That will show the kind of condition in which Scottish organisation has been left. It is quite true that the Secretary of State, who is a member of that Committee, has contrived to conduct its business by himself, but in this Bill we have the Education Department put under the control of the Secretary of State, who is made the sole person responsible to Parliament for the conduct of the educational business of Scotland. I think also it is a merit of this Bill that other Departments—namely, those of Health and of Agriculture—are put in the same way under the direct control of the Secretary of State.

There are perhaps some laments to be made for the dispersal of the Fishery Board because there is no Department which has worked more successfully than has the Fishery Board for Scotland; but I am glad to see that while that is brought into what is described as the Home Department of the Secretary of State's business, nevertheless there is to be continued an Advisory Council in connection with fishery which will indeed take the place of the old Fishery Board and have within it the knowledge and experience which will enable it to advise successfully the Secretary of State in the conduct of fishery business. There is another question which the noble Marquess mentioned—namely, that of the Board of Control, which deals with lunacy. As I understand it—I hope I am reading rightly the terms of the Bill—the Board of Control will continue to function just as previously, and I think that is a wise provision. There is nothing which is more delicate to deal with than lunacy and one knows that very many questions arise not merely of ordinary administration but of law which the Board of Control in Scotland have dealt with most successfully. They have gained the complete confidence of the whole population. I think it would have been a very great pity indeed if that Board of Control had been dispersed and I am glad to think that they will continue to function as previously.

Now what will be set up, as I conceive the lay-out of the Scottish Office, will be these various Departments with a competent Secretary at the head of each, all of whom will report to the Secretary of State and he of course will be the final voice upon all the questions that come before them. There is a certain difficulty which arises out of the fact that you have the Office functioning in London so far as Parliament is concerned, while nevertheless most of the business is conducted in Scotland. The difficulty was, as I understand it, to make a liaison between the two parts of the Office and still leave the Departments with the Departmental Secretaries with direct access to the Secretary of State. In these circumstances I think that probably the contrivance which has been adopted is as good as any other. It is certainly that which was recommended by the Committee under Sir John Gilmour—namely, to set up a Permanent Secretary under the Secretary of State who would form a connection between the various Departments and would also perform the function of meeting Permanent Secretaries of other Departments in the joint conduct of business which affects other Departments of the Government as well as those of Scotland. He will also represent the Secretary of State at conferences when necessary. That I think is probably as good a device as can be adopted.

But further it was suggested by Sir John Gilmour's Committee that the amount of business which is transacted by the Scottish Office is much more than one man with a Parliamentary Under-Secretary can accomplish. In fact the Scottish Office has, in the past, been something like a miniature Government with a great many Departments within it, and I think myself that its many functions are really far too great a burden to put upon the shoulders of any single individual. The suggestion of the Committee was that instead of one Under-Secretary, there should be two in order that this work might be distributed more fairly. I regret that this suggestion has not been adopted, and I hope that the Government will take it into further consideration in the future.

The noble Marquess has paid a tribute to Sir John Gilmour and his Committee for the work they have done, and indeed we all ought to express our deep appreciation of the care which they gave to the consideration of Scottish administration and of the recommendations which have been made. Sir John Gilmour perhaps deserves better of his countrymen than any other man of his time for the devotion he has given to Scottish business, and I am glad to see some of the fruits of his labour in the Bill which we have now seen presented to us. The noble Lord who has just sat down has made some complaint that not everything which should have been included is to be found in this Bill. For my part I feel it is a pity that the work of the Forestry Commission so far as Scotland is concerned was not also transferred to the Secretary of State in the same way as the work of other Departments. In Scotland the Forestry Commission has problems of its own which are quite distinct from any which have to be dealt with in England, and accordingly forestry might very well have been transferred. The duties of the Commission on Crown Lands in Scotland, also, might have been put under the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am sorry that these particular matters have been omitted.

But there are people who go much further than I do. There are people who, as I understand the noble Lord, would like to see all the various Departments transferred to Scotland in so far as they perform Scottish business. I am not going to embark on any discussion of Scottish Home Rule at the present time, but I should like to say that it is perfectly obvious there are Departments which it would be very improper to transfer. For example, take the case of transport; I happen to know a little about that. It would be the greatest mistake in the world if you were to put under a separate Department for Scotland the problems connected with transport which affect the whole country—for example, the railways. At the time when the new arrangement with regard to railways was passing through in 1921, as I am sure the noble Lord will remember, it was the Scottish members who made the most vigorous protest against the possibility of running the Scottish railways as a group distinct from the English railways. They insisted, against the opinion prevailing at the time—and their protest not only carried weight, but triumphed—that the Scottish railways should be worked along with the English railways instead of being confined to a separate system. That is only one example of the necessity of keeping the administration of problems which really affect the whole of the island under one body and only transferring those which are local, such as Scottish Agriculture or Scottish Health.

Let me take another example. It would be putting back the clock if you were to put the trade of Scotland under a separate Board from that which manages the trade of England, because the trade of the country is one and indivisible. Take, again, such a question as labour. It would be a monstrosity if to-day you were to try to administer labour problems in Scotland as distinct from those in England. Why, the trade unions themselves operate over the whole country. They do not divide up their organisations. They act as one when it comes to a question that affects, for example, wages. The railway unions act as one; the coal mining unions act as one; and it would be perfectly impossible, as it seems to me, to have any carving up of the labour problem in the way the noble Lord has suggested.

I am afraid I have divagated from the main theme, but before I sit down I should like to say that I do not think that this Bill, by itself, would effect so much if it were not that it is being accompanied at the present time by the building of offices in Edinburgh which will accommodate the whole of the Scottish Departments. Up till now these Departments have been scattered about in different buildings in Edinburgh—Departments carved in two, and all the Departments segregated, with no sort of connection between them, and with the result that business has been very difficult to conduct with efficiency. By the month of August of this year, I hope, we shall see the completion of the great building on the Calton Hill of Edinburgh which will house all the Government Departments and will provide proper accom- modation for the Secretary of State for Scotland himself. It was a scandal for many years that the Secretary of State for Scotland had to conduct his business in a little room off the Parliament House in Edinburgh with quite insufficient staff. It is that kind of thing which has roused resentment in Scotland rather than the larger problem which the noble Lord has indicated.

It is because these things have been left in a state of confusion and because the work of the Scottish Office has been impeded that the Scottish people have felt irritation. I hope these bad days are finished and that the Scottish people will have direct access to these various Departments in Edinburgh instead of having to make their complaints in London. I am perfectly certain that it will effect a real transformation in the conduct of Scottish business. I bless this Bill, but I bless it all the more because we are going to have, I hope, in the immediate future a system by which our business can be conducted in Scotland—the noble Marquess said these Departments will be based in future on Edinburgh instead of on London—and we shall have a much more satisfactory solution for the various problems which affect the Scottish people.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I am deeply conscious of the able way in which the noble Marquess expounded this Bill. It more or less adds the finishing touch to what many of us have agitated for, for many years—namely, the bringing together of all the various Scottish Departments under the Secretary of State. That is a thing for which we in Scotland have asked for many years. There is a great deal to be said for what the noble Viscount, Lord Horne, said just now, that we do want another Under-Secretary of State in order that there should be in Scotland a Minister to whom the various interests can go, in order to get the advice they require. I do not think it is beyond the wit of man to devise a scheme to provide for one Under-Secretary of State to be in Scotland and the other in England. I know that is felt very strongly, especially among people who want to promote Bills and other things in Scotland, and I think it is one thing that ought to be looked into in the future. I am only sorry that the Bill does not more clearly define the duties of the Board of Control. It is left entirely to the Secretary of State to lay down what those duties shall be. I would have liked to see a more careful definition of just what those duties are rather than that it should be left in the hands of the Secretary of Slate. The work that has been done by Sir John Gilmour and his Committee, who produced the Report on which this Bill was founded, has been most admirable, and I would like to testify in this House to the great gratitude we in Scotland feel towards Sir John Gilmour for having taken over this and other work relating to Scotland.

There is a very great deal to be said for what the noble Viscount urged in reference to the Forestry Commission. I think it would be a very wise thing if we could bring afforestation in Scotland under the Secretary of State, because we cannot really get a sound economic scheme for the re-establishment of the Highlanders on the land in the many deserted glens of Scotland unless we combine very closely the actual afforestation programme with the use of the land during the warmer periods of the year. One knows that in various parts of the world, in Germany and elsewhere, that has been very successfully done. Unless we do something of that kind we are not going to get any benefit out of the wonderful Report produced by the Economic Council of Scotland, which I read with very great interest and which I hope the Government are going to deal with satisfactorily. You will find from that Report that if you are to get an economic scheme, a scheme that will really be based on what can be produced by means of it, then you have to associate the cultivation of the land along with afforestation. That I am sure is one of the real foundations of successful resettlement of the Highlands of Scotlands.

There is one thing that I hope this Bill will ensure when it collects all the people into the new buildings in Scotland, and that is that when various grievances and schemes are put before the Board of Control they will keep their eyes towards Scotland and not towards Westminster. The curse in Ireland, as I saw it, was that whenever anything came up to Dublin Castle eyes were always directed towards Westminster to ascertain what effect any proposal or scheme would have there rather than to dealing with the real trouble in Ireland. I hope that when this scheme is worked out and is functioning the Board will keep their eyes on the real problem in Scotland rather than on the effect any proposal will have politically in London. Lastly, I would say this. If this scheme is going to be a real success, if we in Scotland are going to get a better administration of our affairs, it will depend very largely on how the money from the Treasury is going to be allocated. If we have to fight for every individual item in the various programmes that come forward, then I think we shall go back to the bad old days. I would much rather see an allocation of block grants towards the various Departments concerned than that. I will say, however, that we in Scotland think this Bill represents a great advance in the administration of Scottish affairs, and everyone most cordially supports it.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to pay my tribute of appreciation to the noble Marquess for the very clear manner in which he moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I should also like to give a welcome to the Bill, but in my opinion, for what it is worth, I do not think it goes far enough. I feel rather that it represents a lost opportunity. But if I may turn for a moment to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, I would like to say that I saw a speculation in a Scottish newspaper the other day as to what would probably happen if our nation became engaged in a war with a foreign Power and were defeated. The paper went on to speculate with some assurance that after the dismemberment of the Empire the first thing that would be done would be that a measure of devolution would be forced upon Scotland and upon Wales. I am very sorry to feel that any members of the Party for which the noble Lord speaks should share an opinion which has been attributed with so much confidence to our enemies. To my mind the Union of Scotland and England is a thing that is unique in the history of the world, and for my own part I would use every effort to make the relationship more and more close rather than foster the idea of dissolving it. In fact, my reason for feeling that this Bill represents a lost opportunity is that I think it would be to the advantage of Scotland if the Scottish Office were to be done away with alto- gether and the various Departments of Scotland were to be joined to the corresponding Departments in England.

Such a step would be to the advantage of the members of the Scottish Office themselves as well as to the advantage of Scotland. After all, the Scottish Office concentrates its thoughts and experience on Scotland alone, and to that extent it is detached and isolated from the general body of the Civil Service as a whole. That must bring certain disadvantages. It may be that it administers to Scottish pride, but at the same time it does bring great disadvantages, and I always feel that we suffer in Scotland from this detachment. I do not want to say anything that may appear like a reflection upon the very able and loyal body of men who compose the Scottish Office. I am quite sure that the Civil Service as a whole is distinguished above all bodies in the world for integrity, intelligence and industry, and I do not think the Scottish Office falls behind the Civil Service generally in those respects, but things have changed very considerably is the last thirty years. Thirty years ago a strong Minister could carry out far-reaching reforms in his Department. To-day, except in very rare circumstances, I do not think it is nearly so easy for a Minister to carry out wide reforms in his Department. If any Department of Stale gets into a bad condition of any kind, then the one thing that will save that Department is free correspondence and communication with the other Departments of the State.

There is another point. If Scotland is governed by Departments which are one with the Departments in England, then Scotland is far too big for anybody to rise to the head of any Department without Scottish experience. The result of that is that the servant of the State who is ambitious to get on will see to it that he gets Scottish experience. In that way Scotland will get the finest service in the world. It will get far finer administration than England is likely to get, and I want to see Scotland get the best that is going. My experience has been that those Departments of State which are common to Great Britain show a very high degree of sympathy, of local knowledge and of understanding of local conditions in the government of Scotland. I should be very glad to see an extension of this system, and I find that a great many other people share my view. It is the way the world is going. The Surveyors' Institution is not a body with which I would like to suggest that the Government should be compared, but not long ago the Surveyors' Institution came to the conclusion that an organisation for Great Britain would be far more useful than one for Scotland and one for England. They decided to amalgamate the whole body, and I am sure that will have a very useful effect in the future.

There is another question which people who have business to do with the Government have put to me. They say: "This new change is all very well. We shall have to go to Edinburgh to do business, and what shall we find when we go to do business with a Department? There is hardly a single question we raise that does not affect the Treasury. If we are in London, we ask who is the official concerned; we can get hold of him, and get the whole matter settled. But if we go to Edinburgh we may have to go away unsatisfied and return to get an answer another time." It is far more convenient to get the whole thing done in London, because, after all, London is the centre of government. Local patriotism can be carried too far. London is the place where the government of Scotland is centred and London, I think, is just as much the capital of Scotland as it is of England. For my own part I should very much like to see the union of the two countries made far more effective than it is at present, and I am perfectly certain Scotland would be very much better governed as the result.

5.4 p.m.


My Lords, I am very gratified to find that in all quarters of the House, though for varying reasons, this Bill is welcomed. Certain comments rather than criticisms have been made upon various of its provisions, and I can assure those who have made them that I will see that they are conveyed to the Secretary of State. As I understood it, my noble friend who has just sat down took a precisely opposite view to the view taken by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. The noble Lord who has just sat down said, rather unexpectedly to me, that local patriotism could be carried too far. As I understood his proposal it was to concentrate the administration of Scotland in London, whereas my noble friend Lord Strabolgi would have gone a good deal further than the Government have gone in this Bill in the way of delegating administrative authority to Edinburgh.

There was a point raised by my noble friend Viscount Home which I am not sure that I appreciated. It was with reference to the Forestry Commission. If I understood him rightly, he suggested that it might be made a branch of the Scottish Office. Unless my memory is at fault the Forestry Commission is a body which serves not only Scotland but England. It is a statutory body which was set up either during or very soon after the War to discharge certain functions with regard to the preservation and increase of timber and so on. It occupies a semi-independent position and is in fact not a Government Department at all. I am not sure, therefore, what my noble friend has in mind when he wishes to place it, so far as Scotland is concerned, under a Government Department.


I am afraid I expressed myself in rather a shorthanded way. I did not mean, of course, that the present body which exercises jurisdiction over the whole island should be transferred to Scotland. What I meant was that the functions which are exercised in Scotland by the Forestry Commission should be transferred to a Forestry Commission under the Secretary of State for Scotland. I think the Scottish problem is entirely different from the English problem.


I have no doubt that my right honourable friend will give due consideration to the suggestion which the noble Viscount has made. I think there was only one other major question raised upon which I might say a word, and that was in regard to the possible appointment of an additional Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Scotland. Reference has been made to the fact that in the Report of the Committee that matter was touched upon, but it was only touched upon because the Committee, as a matter of fact, were only reporting upon the permanent staff. They therefore made no recommendation but merely mentioned the suggestion that it had been proposed that an additional Parliamentary Under-Secretary might be required. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has had that matter under consideration, and he is of opinion that for the present an additional appointment of that kind would not be justified. That, however, does not mean that the possibility may not come under consideration again in the future if this Bill becomes law and the reorganised office has actually been seen at work.

I think those were the main points raised in the course of the discussion, and I need only add that I am most grateful to your Lordships for the welcome given to the Bill. My noble friend Lord Saltoun asks me to say something about the people who come to London to do business. They will be able to come to London to do business in the future, just as they do now, because the Secretary of State for Scotland will still be in London and he must necessarily have a portion of the Scottish Office with him in London. I really do not think that my noble friend will find that people who come to London to do business with the Scottish Office will be labouring under any greater difficulties than under the present system. They will have the same facilities as they enjoy now.

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