§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordswhile assenting to the creation of a Secretaryship of State for Scotland, this House declines to increase the number of Secretaries of State, and would favour a reduction by making the political heads of the Army and Air Force parallel in status with the First Lord of the Admiralty.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Ronald McNeill)
On a point of Order. I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that this Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend is not in order. I think my hon. and gallant Friend has omitted to observe the form of the Bill. The Bill does not purport to create a Secretary of State for Scotland, which is a matter of the prerogative of the Crown. All that this Bill purports to do is to make certain consequential changes following upon the creation of a Secretary of State for Scotland, if it should please His Majesty to appoint him.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
On the point of Order. I submit that the number of Secretaries of State who can sit in this House is limited by Order of this House, and that, therefore, my Amendment is in order.
§ Mr. McNEILL
On the point of Order. That is one of the consequential Amendments which I have just mentioned, but you will observe, Sir, the terms of my hon. and gallant Friend's Amendment. It reads:while assenting to the creation of a Secretaryship of State for Scotland,but this House has nothing to do with the 606 creation of a Secretary of State for Scotland.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
On the point of Order. Surely, it would be in order on this Bill to argue that, rather than increase the number of Secretaries of State owing to the creation of this office, it would be better to limit other Secretaries of State, as in fact the hon. and gallant Member has suggested. That, surely, would be in order on the Second Reading? I submit to you, Sir, that the argument of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury would apply on the Third Reading, but not on the Second Reading, when the principle of the Bill can be discussed.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think the point of the objection that has been taken is sound so far as this, that the Amendment can be altered in its wording by leaving out the words,while assenting to the creation of a Secretaryship of State for Scotland,and making it read:This House declines to increase the number of Secretaries of State capable of sitting in this House.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I accept your suggestion, Mr. Speaker. I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsthis House declines to increase the number of Secretaries of State capable of sitting in this House, but would favour a reduction by making the political heads of the Army and Air Force parallel in status with the First Lord of the Admiralty.In any case it is immaterial, because my object is really to get some declaration from the Government and not to force the House to a division. In fact, at a crisis like this, a Bill of this character rather suggests a resemblance to the gibe that was made at Percival when he was Prime Minister, that the first thing he did in the midst of a crisis in the French Revolutionary war was to introduce a Bill for an increase of the pay of curates. It is not of very great importance and, as my Amendment suggests, I have no possible objection to a Secretary of State for Scotland. The proposal of the Government is only to revive what was done at the Act of Union, but the House has always been rightly jealous, and so has the country, of any increase in the number of Secretaries of State. One has only to examine 607 the history of the subject. We had one Secretary of State in the reign of Henry VIII. In 1539, towards the end of his reign, we increased to two, and we had that strange provision of a Secretary for Northern Affairs and a Secretary for Southern Affairs, mapping out the work. Then there was no further increase of any kind until 1708, when we got a Secretary of State for Scotland with the Act of Union. Then there was a rebellion in Scotland during 1745 and 1746 and we did away with the Secretaryship of State for Scotland. The result was that we had two Secretaries of State again. Then in 1768 the growing importance of the Colonies led to the creation of the position of Secretary of State for the Colonies. Then came the war of American Independence, and we lost the American Colonies, and the first Act of the Rockingham Ministry, in 1782, was to do away with the Secretaryship of State for the Colonies. The Motion was made by Mr. Burke, and it illustrates that after every war there has been a member of this House who has moved a reduction in the number of Secretaries of State. Mr. Burke's Motion was carried and the number was cut down.
Then in 1794, with the war, we had a Secretary of State for War created, and in 1801, when there was a probability of peace, in order to increase the importance of the position, they made the Secretary of State for War Secretary of State for the Colonies as well. But still there were only three Secretaries of State. In 1816 Mr. Tierney brought forward a Motion to do away with the position of Secretary of State for War and it was resisted by the Government on the ground that the Colonies that were tacked on were so important that the position could not be done away with, and there was no further creation beyond the three Secretaries of State till war broke out again. In 1855 the Colonies were separated from the War Ministry and a Secretary of State for the Colonies created in addition to the Secretary of State for War. That made four Secretaries of State, but the power of the Cabinet had grown so great by that time that there was no attempt to make a reduction after the Crimean War, and in 1858, the India Council having been created and the Indian Mutiny having occurred, a Secre- 608 tary of State for India was created, but he has since been shorn of his power. Side by side with the creation of the Secretary of State for Scotland we can surely take away the Secretary of State for India, because all the power rests now with the Viceroy and his Council in India.
From 1858, no further Secretary of State was created until again war broke out, and in 1917 we created the Secretary of State for Air. When that position was created in war the matter was hardly discussed in the House. Sir John Baird introduced the Air Force Bill, and he used two arguments, one wrong and the other fallacious, in favour of it. He said it was to make the Secretary of State for Air equal in position to the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty. The First Lord of the Admiralty is not a Secretary of State, and if he were, and the Secretary of State for Air had been made equal in position to the First Lord of the Admiralty, he would not have been a Secretary of State. The second and the only other argument advanced was that every officer has a right of access to the Sovereign, and he can only have access to the Sovereign through a Secretary of State. The Navy, which is the senior Force and the only permanent force by law established, has existed under that system of not having a Secretary of State, and we have never discovered that we have ever suffered from that fact. It is quite possible, I contend, to reduce the number of Secretaries of State by three by making the Secretary of State for Air and the Secretary of State for War equal with the First Lord of the Admiralty and reducing the Secretary of State for India to Secretary for India. In that way we shall reduce the number of demands of men who think they are entitled to Cabinet rank. They need not even be in the Cabinet. There is no necessity for the war services to be represented in the Cabinet. There is no necessity for the Secretary for Scotland to be in the Cabinet, because the Crown has the prerogative of summoning any Privy Councillor to a Cabinet Council. Therefore all the gentlemen outside the Cabinet would not suffer in any degree, and when we differ so much in the Services, it is far better that the differing political heads should be outside than inside the Cabinet, because then the Cabinet will have unity. 609 Indeed, Lord Rosebery in January, 1903, proposed that the Secretary of State for War should be outside the Cabinet. He proposed that Lord Kitchener should be made Secretary of State for War, and to use his own words, that he should bedeliberately cut off from the collective responsibility by remaining outside the Cabinet.I think I have shown that an additional Secretary of State is not necessary. Whenever we create a Secretary of State, we create a demand for a man in a privileged position to be a Member of the Cabinet, and that has led to the growth of the Cabinet, which is very much complained of. It has increased from seven in former days to 23. If you increase the number of people who have claims, you necessarily increase the size of the Cabinet—not that all claims are satisfied. Lord Derby complained that if he had satisfied all the men who really had a claim to Cabinet rank he would have had a Cabinet of 32. But it has become traditional in British policy that every Secretary of State should be a member of the Cabinet. The only time that we have broken with it was during the War period when we found it quite unmanageable to conduct the War with a large Cabinet, and we had a war Cabinet of five gentlemen. I could quote many great men of experience in the past who have complained of the growth of the Cabinet, and they were complaining of Cabinets of over 10:—Greville, the Marquess Wellesley, Peel, Palmerston, Disraeli and Lord Derby. It is very significant in connection with this question of the number of Secretaries of State that the first Act of the first Cabinet which we ever had in this country, which was established because the Privy Council had grown too large—the Rockingham Cabinet in 1782—was to reduce the number of Secretaries of State from three to two.
I do not want to deal with the history of recent negotiations which have been carried on in connection with the mining controversy; but I do feel that had these matters been in the hands of fewer men, we should not have had this deplorable state of affairs to-day. Three men conducted negotiations with three men, but in both cases they had to have reference to much larger bodies. There was the Cabinet of 21 on one side, and the miners' executive of 24 on the other side. 610 Then there was the great body of the Trades Congress Council, the numbers of which I do not know. I think things might have reached a happier stage if fewer men had conducted the negotiations on both sides.
This House cannot arrogate to itself any executive functions. It has a similar defect similar to that of a large Cabinet—it is much too large; but it is the bounden duty of this House to criticise the Executive and to see that things work smoothly, economically and efficiently. I do submit that I have shown that with the growth of the numbers of Secretaries of State, there has been a growth in the size of the Cabinet, that it is impossible for such Cabinets to work with celerity, unity and secrecy, and that a large Cabinet and the growth of Secretaries of State is alien to our history and makes for inefficiency.
§ Sir JOHN MARRIOTT
I beg to second the Amendment.
I do not propose to follow my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Park-stone (Commander Bellairs) in the erudite speech which he has addressed to the House. At any other moment such a speech would have been acclaimed not only as erudite, but as interesting. I cannot think that any speech on this question will interest the House to-day, and I certainly do not intend to inflict a long speech upon the House. I am in a dilemma. On the one hand, we must all feel the unreality of this Debate; but the unreality of the Debate is not due to the Amendment moved by my hon. and gallant Friend but to those who arrange public business and who have put down this not unimportant Bill for consideration to-day. My hon. and gallant Friend, therefore, is clearly acquitted of any desire, as I hope I may be acquitted of any desire, to fiddle while Rome is burning.
On the other hand, I feel that in ordinary circumstances it would have been the bounden duty of this House to submit this Bill to the closest scrutiny, because this is not an unimportant Bill although it is a short and simple Bill. I am sure the whole House will feel that this is not the moment for lengthened debate, or for nice argument on constitutional points at this time. This is not a Bill, as was quite properly pointed out by the 611 Financial Secretary to the Treasury, for the creation by this House of a seventh Secretary of State. That is not the business of this House; that is a part of the prerogative of the Crown. There is, however, one portion of the Bill in which the House is vitally interested, and that is the question as to the increase of the number of Secretaries of State who are permitted by law, not by prerogative to sit in this House. This Bill, in the third Clause, will enact when it becomes law, thatThe number of Principal Secretaries of State and of Under Secretaries of State capable of sitting and voting in the Commons House of Parliament shall be increased to six,….There will be, under the implication of this Bill, seven Secretaries of State, of whom six will be permitted by law to sit in this House.
I approach this matter from a slightly different angle from that taken by my hon. and gallant Friend. He is largely concerned as he showed by his speech, for the dignity of the great Service to which he belongs, and for the position of the First Lord of the Admiralty. I never thought that my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty occupied a position of less dignity that his colleagues at the War Office or the Air Ministry. It never occurred to me that anyone would suggest that such indignity was placed upon him. Although the position of Secretary of State is one of great honour, and relatively an ancient office, so also is the office of First Lord of the Admiralty, and I cannot see any distinction of real dignity between them. But my hon. and gallant Friend is right in pointing out that there is a difference in constitutional status between them.
The very last thing that this House would desire would be to deny a higher constitutional status, if they had the power of doing it, to the Secretary of Scotland, least of all to the present Secretary of State for Scotland. I submit that we have been of recent years somewhat lightheartedly, or I would rather say, airily, multiplying individuals among whom the ancient and honourable office is now distributed, with perhaps some little dissipation of its ancient dignity. I would remind the House of a constitutional point of importance that although we have many Secretaries of State we have only 612 one Secretaryship of State. It is true that the office is distributed among a certain number of individuals, but the office remains one, though the individuals have been multiplied. If it would gratfy Scotland, I should not mind the Secretary of State for Scotland being designated by a more exalted title, perhaps the title of Secretary of State is not the most appropriate title that could be conferred upon him. This is not a moment for debating these nice constitutional points and I shall content myself with formally seconding the Amendment in order to elicit from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury some explanation of the course they have taken to-day.
§ Mr. T. KENNEDY
I do not rise to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. I express no opinion on its merits. I do not agree with those who say that it is of no importance, but at the same time I think the occasion is not one on which to raise constitutional points. The debate on this Bill, and on the three following Orders, if it extends to any length, will be quite unreal and unrepresentative of the opinions of this House. It is quite impossible under existing conditions for the House to give reasoned consideration to this or any other measure, and I rise simply to suggest on behalf of Scottish Members who are interested in this measure that the House might very well give it a Second Reading —and this also extends to the three following Orders—without a prolonged debate on the understanding that the Government will not hurry this or the other measures through the Committee stage, but that in Committee we shall, I hope under happier cirmumstances, be able to discuss the Bills on their merits and present reasoned Amendments and arguments so far as we think necessary. That is all I need say, and I am expressing the feeling of the Members of this side of the House and I hope of the majority of Members opposite.
§ Mr. McNEILL
The hon. Member for York (Sir C. Marriott) in his speech made it a matter of complaint that in existing circumstances this Bill should have appeared on the Order Paper to-day. He did not give us any explanation why he made that complaint, and I must say that it strikes me, as far as I understand his argument, a strange suggestion to come from so high a constitutional 613 authority as the hon. Member that, because there are serious matters engaging the attention of the country, therefore the House of Commons is apparently to do nothing whatever. I do not know what functions the hon. Member would assign to the House of Commons at a time of national crisis, if it is not to be allowed, even on a Friday, to discuss a Bill like this, which certainly raises no highly controversial matter because all sides of the House have already intimated their acceptance of the principle of the Bill. I am informed that the Scottish Members who are chiefly concerned are almost unanimous in favour of the proposed change; therefore, what reason there is for complaining that it is put down for discussion to-day entirely passes my comprehension.
The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) who moved the Amendment had originally put it down in a slightly different form from that which has been put from the Chair. It was declared by Mr. Speaker to be out of Order as it stands on the Notice Paper, and the hon. and gallant Member has been allowed to put it in a rather different form. At the same time my hon. and gallant Friend was unable to resist the temptation to deliver the rhetorical disquisition which he had prepared on the Amendment as he had first put it down. I do not complain of that. However irrelevant it was, it was certainly interesting. I do not propose to follow him into the various historical matters to which he referred, as the whole of that part of his speech was entirely irrelevant to this particular Bill. His speech was directed to show that there are too many or quite a sufficient number of Secretaries of State and that it would be a mistake to multiply them. Tins Bill does not propose to add to the number of Secretaries of State, nor as a matter of constitutional practice and law, is the assent of this House necessary to the proposed change. But undoubtedly a Resolution passed by this House on a matter of this sort would carry great weight with the adviser of the Crown, whoever he may be for the time being, in what advice he would tender to His Majesty in regard to a matter of this sort. But that is a very different thing from the Bill now before the House, and I invite the attention of hon. Members to the actual provisions of 614 the measure, which really do not raise any great constitutional point such as that to which the hon. Member for York referred or which the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. T. Kennedy) suggested would require such careful consideration later on.
There is no question here of the size of the Cabinet. That is an interesting point, and it has been raised before. I have no doubt there are many Members who will agree with the hon. Member opposite in thinking that, if it were possible to restrict the Cabinet to a small number of Members, it may be an advantage. But this Bill is not concerned with that. Supposing the House were to reject this Bill to-day or the Government withdrew it, it does not make the smallest difference to the size of the Cabinet, consequently, what is the use in taking up the time of the House in discussing a question which is really not raised in the Bill? All the Bill does is this. It assumes that His Majesty is likely to create a Secretary of State for Scotland, and that, if it is done, will be in pursuance of a declaration made by the Prime Minister on the 17th of December last when in reply to a question put in this House he said:Yes, Sir. The King has been graciously pleased to approve my recommendation that the status of the Secretary for Scotland should be raised to that of a Secretary of State. The necessary legislation to bring this into effect will be introduced at the earliest date convenient next Session."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1925; col. 1613, Vol. 189.]This Bill simply carries out the promise made by the Prime Minister in December and merely makes some consequential changes which will be necessary and desirable if and when His Majesty is pleased to create a Secretary of State for Scotland. The purpose of the Bill is to make that change. The only Clause that can by any stretch of the imagination be thought to raise a constitutional point is Clause 3, which raises by one the number of Secretaries of State and of Under-Secretaries who by statute law can sit in this House. Assuming that it is agreed that there should be a Secretary of State for Scotland, does any hon. Member hold the view that because my right hon. Friend is made a Secretary of State, as I hope he may be, it will be necessary for him to be raised to the Peerage and go to the 615 House of Lords? That is the whole question that is raised. In these days in this House we feel that as many of the executive Ministers of the Crown as possible should be allowed to sit in the Commons rather than in the House of Lords. The sole effect of Clause 3 is to allow the number of Secretaries of State who can sit in this House to be six instead of the five which has been the limitation up to the present time, and to make a corresponding provision for the Under-Secretary.
The other Clauses of the Bill merely make the necessary changes in other Acts of Parliament in which reference is already made to "the Secretary for Scotland," and in addition they make the necessary formal transfer of powers now exercised by the Secretary for Scotland to the Secretary of State for Scotland. That is all that the Bill does. I hope that the House will not be led away by the suggestion that all sorts of important constitutional issues are raised when such issues are not involved in the slightest degree, or by the suggestion that any effect will be produced on the size of the Cabinet and the efficiency of the executive Government. The Bill is a very simple straightforward and businesslike measure for making the changes necessary when the addition to the number of Secretaries of State is made, and as far as I know the proposals of the Bill have the approval of all parties.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
I did not intend to intervene in the Debate, although it is gratifying to me to give my complete and cordial assent to the Bill. I have been prompted to speak by the speech delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Sir J. Marriott). He spoke of making a very short speech. It was an interesting speech. I am certain that I shall make but a short speech, and I am sure that the House is secure against any chance of my making an interesting one. I wish distinctly to point out the position in which we are. The point raised by the Bill is one that has been discussed for years, and the Bill's proposals have been strongly urged in Scotland not by one party only, but by every party unanimously. As has been stated, a pledge was given by the Prime Minister on behalf of His Majesty's Government. To postpone the Bill, which is universally 616 desired in Scotland, on the ground that some erudite persons like my hon. Friend the Member for York find that it incidentally raises certain curious points about the number of Secretaries of State that may be in the Cabinet—apparently the very same people can sit in the Cabinet when they are not Secretaries of State—and on the further ground that if we add the two mysterious words "of State" the holder of that title must be turned out of this House and go to the House of Lords, would be foolish. I hope that the Government will not be withheld from going on and making a practical use of this time of emergency, when the House is able to give time to the Bill, seeing that this is a subject which will raise no passion and no dissent except in those prolific-of-dispute brains which are concerned with minute and erudite constitutional points.
§ Sir ALEXANDER SPROT
I would like to add one word to express the gratification which is felt by all Scottish Members at the Step which it is proposed to take under this Bill. The hon. and gallant Member who moved the Amendment made a very interesting speech, but part of it would have been more appropriate to a later debate on the Ministry of Defence proposals. This Bill does not increase the salary of the Secretary for Scotland when he becomes a Secretary of State. He is already a Member of the Cabinet, so that no change is contemplated in that direction. Every Unionist Member for Scotland is wholeheartedly in favour of the Bill passing without Amendment, and I think I may say the same for Scottish Members in other parties. The Bill has caused the greatest gratification amongst the people of Scotland and I hope that nothing will interfere with its passing without Amendment
§ Sir ROBERT HUTCHISON
I wish to say how. much pleasure it gives to myself and to my colleagues from Scotland to support the Bill. The advance of the Secretary for Scotland to the position of a Secretary of State is long overdue. No one who has had the pleasure of seeing the right hon. Gentleman who so adorns the office of Secretary for Scotland would wish to see him moved to another place. We cordially accept the Bill, and hope that it will become law as soon as possible.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.