Past Times: “Back to Norway?” asks peer

From The Shetland Times, Friday 8th April, 1960

Suppose Norway wanted Orkney and Shetland back? Lord Saltoun, Laird of Fraserburgh, asked the House of Lords on Tuesday when all parties welcomed the Highlands and Islands Shipping Services Bill which will allow the Government to finance two ships to maintain communication with the outer isles of Orkney.

“I do know,” he said, “that Kirkwall contains the oldest public library in Great Britain. As I go north I find that the culture and learning of the general population increases as you get nearer the North Pole!” (Laughter).

“For that reason I ask the Government to keep the same friendly eye on Shetland as they do on Orkney.

“If my history is not out of date, Her Majesty’s title to Orkney and Shetland is that they were a pledge for the payment of a queen’s dowry.

“If we neglect Shetland I wonder what would happen supposing the kingdom of Norway wanted to pay the dowry and resume ownership of the islands?”

Lord Craigton, Minister of State, Scottish Office, explained that the two ships operated by the Orkney Steam Navigation Co., the Earl Sigurd and the Earl Thorfinn, were more than thirty years old and their replacement was more than the islands could bear.

The Government, therefore, proposed to finance the provision of two new ships to charter to a suitable company if so formed.

Lord Stoneham, for the opposition, complimented the government on the “neatest piece of nationalisation we have had for nine years.”

This drew from Viscount Massereene and Ferrad the rebuke that it was not nationalisation for the State to intervene for community purposes.

As one who had spent much of his life in the Highlands and Islands, Lord Massereene said he hoped charges would be controlled.

The excessive freight charges charged by the MacBrayne boats were “renowned throughout Scotland,” to bring hay from Glasgow to Mull cost in freight 80 per cent of the cost of the hay.

“The charges, if you send your car are far too great,” he continued. “If you send it by MacBrayne’s they can drop it into the sea or bash it around and you get no compensation.” (Laughter).

“A short time ago we had to drive on two planks and it was a balancing act. Just like the tightrope. If the tide was low you came back down with a bang on deck and it was odds on that you might go into the sea! But,” he added, “we have got a crane now.”

Lord Craigton replied that freight charges and many other things would be covered in the agreement for the operation of the new ships.

It would probably provide that no charge above the general level should be made without coming back to the Secretary of State.

The Bill was given an unopposed second reading.


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