HC Deb 15 June 1864 vol 175 cc1819-23

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, that as he had no opportunity of explaining the Bill on the second reading, he wished to advert to it now in reference particularly to that part regarding farm servants, for though he proposed dropping at present, in consideration of the farming interest having been, as they thought, taken by surprise, he would propose it again next Session. By the present law of Scotland, when servants were not hired for a stated period, it was presumed that the hiring extended to a term of six months, or a year, according to the nature of the service; and the result was that, at the end of that time, servants generally left their employments, and the constant separations between masters and servants led to great inconvenience. He proposed to remedy the evil by providing that, whenever the duration of a hiring was not specified, it should be deemed to be for an indefinite period, but terminable, as in England, by a month's notice on either side. No objection, he believed, was offered to the Bill as far as it regarded domestic servants, but the farmers were under considerable apprehensions as to its effect in respect to agricultural labourers. The case of farm servants was entitled to great sympathy and consideration. Formerly the distance between the farmer and the farm servant was not great. The latter lived with his master, and from the great number of small farms, and the little capital required to cultivate them, a steady form servant, if he saved a little money, might look forward to raising himself to the position of a farmer. The prospect of this was a great stimulus to good conduct, and a protection against the temptations to which that class are chiefly exposed. But now that farming was becoming more and more a pursuit of a manufacturing kind, and required more capital, the small farms were being swept away, and the relative position of the farmer and of the farm servant was becoming less and less familiar, while the hope of passing the gulf from the position of a farm servant to that of a farmer was nearly entirely gone, and along with it the stimulus to good conduct and industry. More care was, therefore, necessary to keep them out of the way of evil. One mischief of the existing service was, that at the close of the six month's hiring the servants were sent adrift, and they resorted to the market towns, where they stood to be hired, and were engaged generally without inquiry as to their characters. As might be expected, these meetings were productive of much profligacy and excess. He believed that the alarm of the farmers was groundless, that the measure would tend to foster more satisfactory relations between them and their servants, that it would lead them to be more considerate and accommodating towards each other, and that consequently it would give permanence to the engagements between them. He trusted also that the moral condition of the employed would be greatly improved. He proposed, however, for the present to omit the words, "farm servants" from the Bill; but, if the Bill should pass, he hoped next year to propose an extension of its provisions to that class. Many intelligent and benevolent persons in Scotland, he might add, cordially supported him in the endeavour to pass the Bill.


said, he was reluctant to oppose a measure which he knew was proposed with a desire to promote morality and good order amongst the servants in Scotland. If the hon. Member had preserved with the second part of the Bill, relating to farm servants, a great deal of good might have been done. As the Bill stood, however, he thought that the advantage in the case of female domestic servants would be altogether in favour of the master and against the servant. The knowledge on the part of masters and servants that they were compelled to live together for six months very often led to their making up their differences and living amicably together. As far as he had been able to learn, the proposed change was not desired by one person in then in Scotland, and he hoped it would not be allowed to be carried out. Among other public bodies, the highland and Agricultural Society was unanimously against it, and the great majority of the farmers were likewise opposed to it. He should move that the House should go into Committee on the Bill that day three months.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee,"—(Mr. Black,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he doubted whether the Bill, if passed into law, would improve the condition or morality of the farm servants in Scotland. Statute fairs, though giving rise occasionally to scenes of impropriety, were yet a great boon to the respectable portion of the farm labourers. He doubted whether the hon. Gentleman had gone the right way to work in the remedy which he had proposed. In Scotland the farm servant held his cottage not from the lord of the manor but from the farmer who employed him, and if his hiring was terminable on a month's notice he might be turned out of his home at a time when he might not be able to get either work or a lodging. As regarded the farmer, a dishonest labourer, if he could leave at a month's notice, might quit his service at the most critical time of the crops, or, taking advantage of the month's notice, demand exorbitant wages. He thought, however, that the provisions of the Bill might be applied with advantage to domestic servants, who stood in a different position from agricultural labourers. He had heard great complaints in Scotland of the six months' engagement of domestic servants, and thought that the custom in England was preferable. To remedy the inconvenience felt from the old term being kept in some places with the new term in others, he would on some future occasion propose to provide that the half-yearly terms—where no stipulation to the contrary existed— should be the 11th May and 15th November.


said, that as regarded that part of the proposal which related to farm servants the information upon which the hon. Gentleman had proceeded was of a limited nature, and did not apply to farm labourers throughout Scotland generally. He did not know a more intelligent or respectable class of men than the farm servants in Scotland. He deprecated the introduction of anything calculated to sever the connection which then existed between them and their masters. He be- lieved that the present measure would have that tendency, inasmuch as it would, give the master power to dismiss his married farm servant upon one month's notice, the house of the latter being generally considered as part of his yearly wages. He (Mr. Caird) spoke as an experienced man upon the question, and he advised the hon. Gentleman, before he proceeded further with his measure, to seek for further information as to its objects and effects.


said, the system which at present prevailed was a one-sided system, inasmuch as it was binding against the employer but not against the employed. He had once a keeper who, he discovered, was a great poacher, and, as he detected him in the act, he, of course, dismissed him upon the spot. But that man brought an action against him, and he (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) had actually to pay him six months' wages. Was not such a state of things monstrously unjust? With regard to farm servants, he could not agree in the opinion expressed by his hon. and gallant Friend behind him (Sir James Fergusson). He considered that the system of hiring for six months led to a state of things that was disgraceful to a civilized society. He regretted that the hon. and learned Gentleman had withdrawn that part of the Bill which related to farm servants. He trusted they would receive the amount of protection proposed by the Bill—namely, that in the absence of any specific agreement the hiring of servants should be held to be on the same basis as in England—namely, one month's warning or one month's wages.


thought that great inconvenience arose from the different character of the hiring in Scotland to what it was in the other parts of the United Kingdom. On the whole, he preferred the system that prevailed in Scotland.


admitted that the measure would be worthy of their best consideration if it tended to diminish the evils attending the holiday system; but he doubted much whether any legislation in that shape would have the effect supposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman who introduced it.


said, he viewed the Bill as a harmless measure, inasmuch as it would not interfere with the practice in Scotland except in cases where there was no specific agreement entered into.


said, he hoped the Bill would pass, and he was only, sorry that the most important clause had been withdrawn.


said the class of whom he spoke was that of unmarried farm servants. He was glad the discussion had taken place, and he assured the hon. Member for Stirling that he would consider his suggestions. All he proposed was, that people should be left free to make a contract; but if they made no contract then the hiring should be for one month.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


proposed to add corresponding words to the preample.

Amendment proposed, In page 1, line 3, after the word "months," to insert the words "and whereas differences of usage are followed in certain counties or districts of Scotland in the observances of the half-yearly terms of Whitsunday and Martinmas respectively; and whereas this practive:"—(Sir James Fergusson.)

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 116; Noes 7: Majority 109.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered on Friday.