Lord High Commissioner (Church of Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th April 1948.

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Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh North 12:00 am, 28th April 1948

I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add, "upon this day six months."

We have listened to a most interesting and, if I may say so, a somewhat impassioned speech by the Secretary of State, but I must say that we were aware of much of the information contained in it, particularly that part concerning the importance of the General Assembly and its historical development in Scotland. I would point out, however—and it is rather an interesting point which my right hon. Friend made himself—that the strength of the Church was precisely at the moment when it was poorest. My right hon. Friend quoted Buckle to tell us how poor the ministers were, and then went on to tell us of the magnificent achievements of the Church at that time.

I want to make it quite clear that, in opposing this Bill, we are not opposing the Church. Our opposition has nothing to do with the meetings of the General Assembly in Edinburgh, nor whether it should carry on its democratic discussions or not. This has nothing to do with that; and from conversations I have had with ministers of the Church, I find that they are the last to wish to be associated with a Bill which is against the policy of the Government at the present time. Secondly, this has nothing whatever to do with the traditions of Scotland. We are not seeking to break those traditions in opposing this Bill. For my own part, I cherish the links with the past, and perhaps I might say that I have good reason so to do because I happen to be in a trade devoted to preserving those links. But I always thought that the Socialist movement placed its emphasis on rather different links with the past from those favoured by people with other political beliefs. I thought, in connection with various gatherings and that sort of thing, that this emphasis would be placed in a rather different manner by a Socialist Government. We do not wish merely to follow what the Tories have done in the past; nor do we necessarily want to carry on with the traditions which the Tories and the Liberals have left us. We want to mould these ceremonial occasions more into keeping with our own outlook.

I would like to say that I apologise for, and that I regret sincerely, the unfortunate fact that incidents in connection with this Measure should have involved my right hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) in this controversy. I have never been guilty of talking about the Lord High Commissioner's salary or of making any personal attack on my right hon. Friend. In fact, he has carried out these duties in the last two years with great dignity, in my opinion, and I would be the last to say anything critical about that. I am quite confident, however, that without the sum allotted in the Bill he could still carry out these duties with dignity. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland shakes his head, but the argument in favour of this Bill is not the long historical speech that we have heard tonight from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State; it is the argument stated in "The Scotsman" last week—that it is necessary in order to maintain the dignity and the traditions of hospitality associated with their function and I would like that to have been emphasised rather more.

I am not one who associates dignity with expenditure. If dignity is dependent upon expenditure, make this Bill cover £10,000 or £20,000 expenditure, and then we can have a really dignified affair in Edinburgh; but, of course, that is not so. I am quite confident, that if £2,000 were spent, the proceedings could be just as dignified as they will be if more is spent. I should have thought that the idea of increased expenditure of this kind at this moment was quite alien—or should be quite alien—to our movement.

With regard to traditional hospitality, this country, this year, depends for its standard of life upon Marshall aid and upon charity. Many of us have spent the last year making speeches at the weekends, at all sorts of gatherings, trying to impress people with the seriousness of the economic position. More recently we have spent our time explaining the Government's White Paper on Personal Incomes. The Saturday after this Bill was laid before the House, I sat on the platform in the Central Hall in Edinburgh listening to what was probably one of the most serious speeches ever made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, telling the people of this country that it was impossible for them to get any more at the present time and trying to persuade them of that. Precisely at that moment the Government come along with a Bill nominally authorising this expenditure. That is what the people are concerned about, and it is very difficult to persuade them of the seriousness of our situation if we do not act as though it is serious.

On the question of traditional hospitality, I suggest that if a family is dependent on charity for its life, it is expected to cut down its scale of hospitality. I suggest that we cannot afford, in our present economic conditions, a scale of hospitality which has grown up in more luxurious days. Conditions are different now. It is for those reasons that I think this Bill is ill-timed. We were told in the House, in answer to a Question, that this question of the amount not being sufficient was recognised in 1931. If that is so, why should we wait until we are faced with the biggest economic crisis this country has ever known, before introducing such a Bill, and then expect people to take us seriously? Of course, people do not take us seriously.

I do not want to speak for too long, but I should like to register a protest because we have to discuss this Bill at this time of night. It is most regrettable that three Scottish matters, all of which are serious and exceedingly important to Scotland—one dealing with the manner of conducting Scottish Business, a second dealing with Scottish agriculture, and now this Bill—should be discussed on one day, with the result that we commenced this Bill at twenty minutes past ten o'clock. That is most unreasonable.

For the reasons I have given, I think that this Bill is most inopportune. I am fortified in my opposition to the Bill by the fact that in Edinburgh, at least, it is so unpopular that the borough Labour Party passed a unanimous resolution against the Bill, which I understand was forwarded from the Division represented by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate.