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The Scottish Office

Volume 40: debated on Tuesday 22 June 1920

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rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the strong desire in Scotland to secure the raising of the status of the Secretary for Scotland and the Scottish Office; and whether they propose to take steps for this purpose at an early date.

The noble Marquess said: My Lords, the restoration of the ancient Office of Secretary of State for Scotland has, ever since the suppression of that Office in the middle of the eighteenth century, been the eager hope of all Scotsmen who have cared for the prestige of their country in the Councils of the State, or who have valued the great traditions with which that Office is associated. The events of the last six years, both in respect of the general trend of thought in such matters and of the part that Scotsmen have played in the troubles and struggles through which we have passed, have been such as to strengthen the sense of nationality and to place a new importance on those things which are at once the symbols of such nationality and the links that bind us to an ancient and glorious past.

Consideration of the history of the Secretaryship of State for Scotland explains the intensity of feeling with which this question is regarded by all Scotsmen. It was as Secretary of State for Scotland, that Lord Seafield, on the Scottish side, negotiated the terms of the Parliamentary union with England, and from 1707 the Office was in uninterrupted being until 1725 when Sir Robert Walpole, finding in the then holder, the first Duke of Roxburghe, too tepid a supporter of his Administration, struck at the root of that statesman's power by abolishing his office. Nominally restored in 1731, the Office of Secretary of State for Scotland was finally abolished in 1746, after the troubled times of 1745. It will not escape the attention of the House that there is a distinctly punitive flavour about the repeated suppression of the Secretaryship of State for Scotland, and I can assure your Lordships that these circumstances are well remembered in Scotland, and deeply resented to this day.

From 1746, and for more than a century, Scottish administration was conducted mainly by the Home Office, assisted by the Lord Advocate, and nut until 1885 was the measure known as the Secretary for Scotland Act passed into law. This Act established a Secretary for Scotland in whose Office was concentrated the business relating to Scotland which before then had been transacted in various Departments. The Secretary for Scotland is, as your Lordships know, the representative for local purposes of various Departments of Government. From the point of view of administrative efficiency the Scottish Office, as at present constituted, is most seriously handicapped by the fact that its staff is quite inadequate to deal with the great and growing volume of business that pours into it from the many Departments for which the Secretary for Scotland is responsible. The situation is one of increasing difficulty, and I do not think I exaggerate when I say that nothing but the great capacity and devotion to duty of the present holder of the Office has averted something like a breakdown of the whole system.

Again, there is in the view of my countrymen no small difference between conditions as they now exist and the conditions which will take effect when Scottish interests and Scottish administration are in the hands of one of His Majesty's principal Secretaries of State and a Minister of Cabinet rank. Last week the Prime Minister in another place, in answer to a question on this matter, took refuge in the circumstances attached to the rejection by the House of Commons—I think in August, 1919—of a Bill touching this question of the Scottish Secretaryship along with, I think, four English Departments. We in Scotland cannot admit for one moment that this matter of the Scottish Secretaryship can be classed or debated along with that of a batch of English Departments. I beg your Lordships to believe that this is to Scotsmen a national question, and that it touches closely the deep springs of national consciousness and national self-respect, which it is never safe either to ignore or to affront.

The debate on the Second Reading of the Bill just mentioned was productive of a very powerful speech by the Leader of the House of Commons in defence of the financial provisions of the Bill; and indeed no one, I venture to say, familiar with the scope and variety of the work and responsibility of the Secretary for Scotland would be inclined to resist the raising of the salary attaching to the Office from the sum of £2,000 at which it now stands to that of £5,000 a year. Feeling in Scotland on this matter is strong to-day, and is growing in intensity. The Scottish Press has been as emphatic in this matter as it has been unanimous. Various representative bodies have reinforced the demand. Only last week the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce decided to memorialise the Government on this question. Within the last few days a Petition, signed I believe by almost the whole of the Scottish Members of the House of Commons, has been handed in to the Prime Minister asking that this change of status in the Secretaryship for Scotland should be given effect to.

There is an aspect, too, of this case indicated with his usual power by Lord Rosebery, who in a letter which he wrote last week to the Scotsman newspaper, and comparing the administration of Ireland, its status and emoluments, with those of Scotland, asked this question—

"We surely are not to infer that mere lawlessness establishes a claim which is denied to loyalty and orderliness?"

It will be a bad day for the cause of good government in this country on which there is any doubt as to the answer that is to be given to Lord Rosebery's question, and I am not without hope that the answer to my question to-day will be such as to reassure Scotsmen that that which they regard as a debt of honour, payment of which has been too long deferred, is now at last to be discharged.

My Lords, I have been asked to say a word in answer to the question which has been so forcibly put by the noble Marquess. No one has a clearer right than he to give expression in this House to a question upon which I know the opinion of Scotland is strongly held. He has, perhaps, chosen a moment not specially happy to recommend an increase of salary or an increase in staff. We have heard in this House in the course of the last month many strong indictments of the Government for choosing a moment like this, however meritorious the immediate provision might be, for any increase of staff or emoluments.

I may say quite plainly, because I do not desire that this matter should be disposed of by arguments which are not decisive, that I, and I think most Ministers of the Government, have very great sympathy with the case put forward by the noble Marquess. I myself have not been able to understand what historical accident deprived Scotland of the status and the importance which is supplied by the representation of a Secretary of State. The accident, as I have said, was an historical one, and it does occur to me that it is difficult to answer the question put by Lord Rosebery. It has always seemed to me difficult to answer the question as to the relative expenditure in the cases respectively of Ireland and Scotland.

I think that the noble Marquess did not do full justice to the attempt that was made by the Government to deal with this case. The noble Marquess said that the Leader of the House of Commons resorted to a subterfuge—I believe that was the word he used—by saying that it was impossible to deal with this case without also dealing with several other Cabinet Offices. I assure the noble Marquess that the Leader of the House was dealing with a situation that was of considerable difficulty. Where you have in the Cabinet three or four Ministers who always have been looked upon as being of equal status, and receiving an equal remuneration, it may surprise the noble Marquess to hear (which I assure him is a fact) that if you select one of these and promote him and increase his salary it excites quite a considerable interest amongst the colleagues of that individual Minister; and it occurred to us, therefore, that the proper method of dealing with this matter was by a general Bill which would cover the cases that seemed to us to be anomalous. Those included the case put forward on behalf of Scotland.

The House of Commons refused, if I remember its Parliamentary progress, to give the Bill a Second Reading, and they refused it on the ground of economy. I think the noble Marquess would agree that Mr. Wallace, the member for Dunfermline Burghs, is a very representative and tenacious compatriot of his. I observe that the noble Marquess neither affirms not negatives that. At any rate he has given this proof of his intelligence and clear-sightedness, that he asked exactly the same question in the House of Commons as the noble Marquess asked in the House of Lords to-day. Having asked this question, when these economic and financial objections were taken on the Second Reading of this Bill which would have put the whole of the matter right, Mr. Wallace voted against the Bill. So that, on the only occasion when we have attempted to give legislative shape to what the noble Marquess desires, one of the principal and most stalwart champions of his cause deserted his standard.

I have attempted to recommend to the noble Marquess to mobilise the persuasive forces of his countrymen. I have been a humble student of the history of the relationship between Scotland and England now for many years, and I have found that whatever Scotsmen unanimously demand they invariably secure. And if the noble Marquess will associate his countrymen in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords in a vigorous organisation for a reform which I feel to be called for and overdue, and legitimate and defensible, I believe that that reform will be forthcoming. The noble Marquess has fired to-day the first shot in a campaign which may be memorable, mad which one day I hope will be successful.