§ MR. SHIRESS WILL (Montrose, &c.)
I beg to ask the Lord Advocate whether his attention has been directed to recent decisions given in the Sheriff Courts of Forfarshire and neighbouring counties in regard to the administration of the law as between farmers and farm servants on the question of forfeiture of wages; whether any custom entitling farmers without express agreement to retain a portion of the wages agreed to be paid to farm servants during the first six months of a year of service, and to forfeit such portion in the event of the farm servant leaving at the end of the six months, must be immemorial, certain, and invariable both as regards the question of a right on the part of the farmers to retain a part of the wages, but also as to the amount or proportion of the wages so to be retained; and whether, in the present uncertainty of the law, he is prepared, in the interest of agriculture, to introduce any legislation on the subject?
§ * THE LORD ADVOCATE (Sir C. J. PEARSON, Edinburgh and St. Andrews Universities)
My attention has only been directed to the decisions referred to by the question of the hon. Member. I do not understand them to have involved any question of forfeiting wages. As I understand it, the farm servants were engaged for twelve months from Martinmas, but no stipulation was made as to paying their wages half-yearly; and I am not aware of any rule of law in such cases that they are to be so paid. It depends on practice or custom. The law as to custom affecting contracts is not uncertain; it is laid down quite clearly in the ordinary text-books. The uncertainty arises in its application to the facts; and if this causes hardship, the parties have the remedy in their own 1230 hands by either stipulating when the wages are to be paid or By making the engagement a half-yearly one.
§ MR. SHIRESS WILL
I think the right hon. Gentleman has not apprehended the second part of my question, as to the custom being certain and invariable?
§ * SIR C. J. PEARSON
That is a pure question of law, upon which I would refer the hon. Member to the text-books.