§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £5,700, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1915, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Scottish Land Court."—[Note.—£4,000 has been voted on account.]1339
§ Sir GEORGE YOUNGER
I rise in place of the hon. Member for Buteshire, who is unable, I regret, to be present, and it devolves upon me to start the Debate on this particular Vote. It will be my duty, as it has been on more than one occasion in this House, to express very vigorously my views upon the Scottish Land Court, and I do not withdraw a single word of what I have said about it. But I am glad to be able on this occasion to acknowledge that there seems to be a decided improvement in the conduct of their business. Their unjudicial remarks have been complained of more than once—
§ Mr. PRINGLE
On a point of Order. I wish to ask, Sir, whether criticisms will be allowed on the procedure of the Land Court under this Vote? As you are aware, Sir, the members of the Land Court are in a judicial position, and therefore, as their salaries are not in this Vote, any obiter dicta from them in the discharge of their duties cannot come under the Vote we are discussing. As only the expenses are included in this Vote, and those are the expenses of the Court, I wish to ask whether any criticism can be allowed on the judicial conduct of members of the Court?
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
On the point of Order. Last year, before proceeding to discuss the Vote, you, Sir, ruled, and the Speaker has ruled since, that although the salaries are not on the Vote, and although we cannot discuss the action of individual Members, we are entitled on this Vote to discuss the procedure and work of the Court as a whole.
The hon. Baronet is quite correct in regard to the decision which I gave last year; he has quite accurately quoted it. Although it is true that the salaries and expenses are on the Consolidated Fund, that does not take away from the Committee the right to criticise the general procedure and work of the Court.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
This point of Order has been raised three times, and dealt with on each occasion; and I proceed to say what I was trying to say when the hon. Member interrupted me, namely, that I am entitled to make the statement that I made formerly as to the conduct of the Land Court and their method of procedure. They are much more fair towards witnesses and much more inclined to hear 1340 them; but though their methods have improved, I am afraid the results are exactly the same as before, and there appears to be an undoubted bias, which—
I did not catch the word. The hon. Baronet correctly stated himself the nature of the criticism which might be brought against the work of the Court, and that precludes any kind of charge being made which cannot be made against the judge of the Court.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I withdraw the expression, and I will content myself by saying that, although their methods show an improvement, the results are exactly the same as before. The duties of the Land Court are mainly to determine judicial rents, and to hear and pronounce upon schemes presented to the Court. The Land Court has been very much occupied during the last year in dealing with the question of fixing rents. They complain of the length of time which that has involved, and of the very great increase of work which naturally arose from the increase of rental from £30 to £50, which resulted in bringing in a large number of holdings which were exempt under the Crofters Act, in addition to all the other holdings in the other parts of Scotland, with which they have to deal. In dealing with the whole question of rents, and also with that of schemes, a great deal of litigation has arisen, largely because the interpretation put upon the Act by the Court has been very, very wide, and a large number of questions of great importance have had to be decided on appeal by the Court of Session. The constitution, for example, of a holding consisting mainly of a dwelling house with a little bit of land, perhaps half an acre or an acre, naturally, of course, raises the question of legal interpretation, and it appeared to be to anyone who intelligently regarded it as a very excessive stretching of the law. Undoubtedly the terms of the Act are extremely wide, and it may be that the Court was perfectly justified in a case of that sort in creating such holdings as statutory small holdings. Such, I think, was not contemplated by the framers of the Act, and it was very obvious that in cases of the kind questions of importance would arise which would have to be decided by the Court of Session. In the first three 1341 or four appeals the Land Court decisions on the particular questions were upheld, and they legitimately and naturally with a certain amount of pride call attention to that in their Report, and describe at length the decision in those cases, and their own decisions with regard to them. It struck me when I read the Report that it was rather a mercy it ended on 31st December, and was not brought up to date as the Land Court has had two very severe falls since that time. I think if the Report was up to date that they would pass over in comparative obscurity the four smaller points on which they were successful. Their decisions have been condemned by the Court of Session in those two cases.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
On a point of Order. I wish to know the exact position. The hon. Baronet is now discussing the decision in the first place of the Land Court in regard to the interpretation of the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act, and he goes into the number of cases which have been appealed to the Court of Session and the number of cases that have been reversed. If he criticises the decisions of the Land Court, are we entitled to discuss the decisions of the Court of Session, because the position of the Court of Session is exactly the same as this Court since the salaries of the Judges of the Court of Session are on the Consolidated Fund and the expenses on the Votes.
§ Colonel GREIG
Are these cases that have been decided by the Court of Session appealable to the House of Lords; if so, those cases may still be sub judice. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I do not really know how that can be a point of Order. I am not discussing the Court of Session. I am discussing merely the fact that in this Report which we are entitled to discuss, the Land Court register the fact that four of the cases taken to the Court of Session on appeal were decided in their favour. I am merely saying that two more have been decided against the Land Court by the Court of Session, and two cases of very much greater importance than those alluded to in the Report. I do so in order to make good my point, as to which I made a previous complaint, against the Land Court's administration of this Statute. As far as I can see that does not involve any question of judges' salaries or anybody else's salaries. It is a mere matter of administration.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE
May I submit my hon. Friend is doing no more than is constantly being done in referring to decisions such as that in the Lumsden case, and with regard to other cases arising out of the 1909–10 Finance Act.
I have the fortune or misfortune not to be a Scottish lawyer, and I must do my best. I did not understand the hon. Baronet to do anything more than relate facts, and nothing, I think, was said in the nature of criticism of the judicial acts of this Court.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
The fact is that those two hon. Members opposite know-that they have such a very bad case in supporting this Court that they are extremely nervous of what anyone may say on this subject. The best proof that my complaints are well founded is the nervous attitude of the hon. Members opposite.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I do not think the hon. Member is entitled to charge me with not saying what I mean. I always say straight out what I mean. I told the hon. Member just now and I am quite prepared to do so again should the necessity arise. I have said all I wanted to say on this point and I am glad, Sir, you allowed me to go on without any serious interruption. With regard to the very important question of the fixing of statutory rents in the case of small holdings by the Court there is really some explanation due I think as to the principles on which they proceed and continue to fix those rents as they are doing. I quite admit it would be impossible and quite unfair to discuss the very large reductions of rent which have been made by the Land Court in the case of certain statutory tenants, and in the course of fixing first fair rents, because the facts are not before us. We have no information as to why those reductions were made, and it might be that the grounds for those reductions were in many or most cases 1343 quite reasonable. It is impossible to say, as we do not know the details, but one thing that strikes me with great force, and I have mentioned it before, is that equally great reductions, or very nearly as great reductions, are being made by the Land Court on rents valued by their predecessors, the Crofters' Commission, within the last few years, and, in face of the fact, which everybody knows, that the whole of the produce of those crofts, both in stock and cereals, have improved in price during the period, and that agriculture is much more flourishing in Scotland than it has been in past years when those rents were fixed as being suitable as fair rents, and that, therefore, there cannot on the face of it be any sound reason for the enormous reductions which are being made on those valued rents by their predecessors in the Crofters' Commission. One is entitled to deduce from that fact, at all events, a doubt as to whether, as we do not think those reductions are quite fair, the other reductions are not entitled to be placed in a similar category. I do think the Committee is entitled to complain that the Land Court in this Report are absolutely silent as to the principles on which they are acting. Why should the country not know the principles on which they are acting? Why should they not disclose their reasons, not in every individual case, but generally their reasons for acting as they are doing, and what are the grounds for these enormous reductions on the rents fixed by the Crofters' Commission?
I thought they were getting near to saying something in one part of this Report on the question of rent when they made the remark that the average man did not understand the difference between equitable rent and fair rent. I am pretty certain that if the Land Court know the difference there is nothing in their decisions to show that they do. "Equitable rent" is a term imported into the Small Landholders Act in connection with statutory tenancies where improvements were made by the landlord, in order to make it perfectly clear that ordinary commercial rents would be fixed in dealing with those tenancies. We wanted to rule out any question of competitive or sentimental rents on the one side, and the extreme oh which fair rent is fixed on the other, leaving the ordinary market rent as the rent to be fixed in dealing with these statutory small holders. I see no sign whatever in any of the decisions which are known 1344 to me that the slightest difference is made by the Land Court between an equitable rent and a fair rent. I presume that this remark that the ordinary man does not understand the difference between the two is intended to cover the fact that they themselves do not recognise it. It may be held in Jaw—the case has not been decided—that the Statute itself makes no difference. What I say is that those who framed the Statute, those who were responsible for it as part of the bargain made at the time, intended that there should be a very considerable difference, and it is very unfortunate that they have not succeeded in making that clear. It was not the intention of Parliament at the time that there should not be an entire difference in the fixing of rents in the two cases.
With regard to the general procedure of the Land Court, I complained on the Second Reading of the recent measure, which is still on the Paper, but which does not seem to be in a very flourishing state, that the inspections made by the Land Court in the fixing of these rents were not at all of a satisfactory kind. No inspection can be of any use at all in deciding on the fertility of land unless it is made in the season of the year when the crops are in the ground. To go in the middle of winter, in a snowstorm or a fog, and dig down a few inches into the land and judge what is its natural fertility may be possible for some geniuses, but it is not possible, I think, for the ordinary human being. So long as the Land Court themselves, with their very limited staff, attempt to make these inspections over the whole of Scotland, and so long as they are tied up doing as they have been doing in that particular respect, just so long will there be great complaints of the delay which arises in the formation of small holdings. As it does not seem at all probable that we shall have an Amending Act this year, I think the Secretary for Scotland would be well advised if he would speed up the working of the old Act by getting the Land Court to delegate to someone else these particular powers of inspection and rent fixing, which occupy such a tremendous amount of their time. It is a perfectly easy thing to do. There is no reason in the world why the sheriff, sitting with a couple of agricultural assessors, knowing the local position, understanding the locality, knowing the conditions of his own district ten thousand times better than any member of the Land Court can ever do, and taking into 1345 account everything that the Act provides shall be taken into account, should not only fix the rents to the much greater satisfaction of everybody concerned, but also relieve the Land Court of this enormous burden of work which is occupying most of their time and taking them away from work which everybody would like to see them able to discharge more expeditiously than they do. I throw out that suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. I have done so before. It probably would not have been necessary if an Amending Act had been passed this year, but, as that is not at all likely to take place, the proceedings will certainly be much delayed unless some such scheme of delegation is undertaken.
I do not know that I have much more to say on this particular question. The Vote for the Board of Agriculture is probably more important; there are many more subjects to be dealt with on that Vote, and a certain amount of time is required for the other Votes. While I am glad to acknowledge an improvement in the methods of the Land Court, I am not: at all satisfied yet with the result of much of their work, and I do not think that anybody will be satisfied until we know the principles on which they are working. Is it too much to ask that we should be told? I know the Secretary for Scotland has repeatedly said in this House that the Land Court are independent of him, and that he has no control over them. That is quite true, and I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman would attempt to exercise a control which he does not possess. But a hint from him would be very valuable, and I cannot believe that such a hint would be ignored by the Land Court. I think they would be ready if they could to act upon it, more particularly if he held out any prospect of relieving them of an enormous amount of work by enabling them to do what the Act entitles them to do, namely, to delegate their powers in this respect. Let the Secretary for Scotland not forget that at the present moment one member of the Court is really doing this work. In one case I think he sat without any assessors; in other cases I think he sat with two assessors. A single member of the Court is doing it now; he is detached from more important work in Edinburgh, and sent to do it. Surely sheriffs with local knowledge, assisted by two local assessors, are just as competent as any member of the Land Court to undertake that duty, and give a decision in the matter. It could be done with perfect 1346 simplicity and ease. It might be either the sheriff or the sheriff-substitute. Many of the sheriffs have lots of spare time; they are not overburdened with work; and I am sure they would do this work quite satisfactorily. Such an arrangement would, at all events, assist in speeding up the other work of the Court, by which the House lays so much store, and which I know the right hon. Gentleman opposite so much desires to see carried out as speedily as possible.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I think, in the first place, I ought to offer the hon. Baronet opposite my sympathy on his failure to make the case which he would have liked to have made this afternoon. We all understand on what ground the Opposition have selected the Land Court Vote as the first Vote for criticism to-day. We know that the Land Court is an object of special aversion, and that it has carried out its duties in a way which is obnoxious to them. The hon. Baronet has made that perfectly clear by certain expressions which he used this afternoon—expressions which you, Sir, have declared to be out of order.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The Chairman certainly described one of them which he heard as out of order, and I am sure he would have visited with the same condemnation certain other expressions if he had had the good fortune to hear them. I think he would have described as equally out of order the statement regarding injudicial remarks on the Bench.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I sympathise with the hon. Baronet's touchiness on this point also. I quite understand that he feels his position keenly, and that, having failed to make his speech, he naturally resents any attribution to him of a slight failing in grammar. I am very sorry that I attributed a word to him that he did not use. It was purely a slip of the tongue on my part, and I hope the hon. Baronet will accept my apology. It is certainly the last thing that I would accuse the hon. Baronet of being guilty of, but I would say that his expressions indicated clearly the object of 1347 this attack upon the Land Court. The reasons for that attack were perfectly clear. The Land Court has largely reduced rents in respect of holdings over which it has jurisdiction. That, of course, is obnoxious to the party who are here to defend the interests of the landlords. The members of the Land Court have had the temerity in the course of their proceedings to treat factors, landlords, and land agents as if they were ordinary men. That, again, is a proceeding which should be visited with the most severe reprobation by anyone who represents the landlord interest in this House. The hon. Baronet objects that the Land Court have indicated no principle upon which they have acted in regard to the reduction of rents. He asserts that they have failed to make any distinction between what he calls a fair and an equitable rent. There, again, the hon. Baronet is entitled to sympathy. I believe he is the parent of the term "equitable rent"?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I think the Lord Advocate and the hon. Baronet collaborated, and the term "equitable rent" was the result of their unnatural collaboration. However, he says that it was the intention of the House of Commons that something different from a fair rent should be established, and the term "equitable rent" was used. He says that the House of Commons meant an equitable rent to be a commercial rent, but not a competitive rent. I always understood that any commercial value, whether it was of land or of any other commodity, was a competitive value.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I shall be very glad to be corrected if I am wrong, but I understood that these values in commerce were determined by competition for the article which was being bought, sold or hired, and that it was only as a result of competition that you arrive either at a commercial price or at a commercial rent. It seems to me that in the circumstances when the hon. Baronet says we meant an equitable rent to be a commercial rent and not a competitive rent that he, 1348 although not guilty of any failure in grammar—the last thing of course of which I would accuse him—is certainly liable to confusion in language. The hon. Baronet having failed to deal with the actual merits of the Land Court, was able at the end to reach a somewhat safer ground, and a ground which was really relevant to the Vote which we are now discussing, namely, the general procedure of the Land Court. He brought forth once again the one leading case which he has against the Court—a celebrated visit which the Land Court paid to a somewhat remote district in the North of Scotland where a snow storm was raging. He described how on one single occasion these gentlemen cleared a small patch of land where there was a few inches of snow, and were thereby able to discover, according to themselves, the natural fertility of the soil!
That is really the gravamen of his whole indictment against the procedure of this body, that the Members went, probably not foreseeing the state of the weather—that is to say, not knowing that in the North of Scotland a snow storm might be raging on their arrival—and not willing that the public money should be wasted decided, even under those conditions, to do their best to fulfil their very difficult functions. It is because of this that we now have the Opposition this afternoon raising the procedure of the Land Court as the first, most important, and most vital issue which can be raised on the Scottish Estimates. We all, of course, know the real ground. It was not the snow storm. It was these reductions of rent which have brought joy to the hearts of the small holders in Scotland. I was surprised indeed to find the hon. Baronet this afternoon offering an apology for the actions of the hon. Member for Buteshire (Mr. H. Hope), who, he said, had intended to raise this question.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I did not say he would raise the question. I said he intended to speak. I do not know what he-was going to say.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
He was not going to raise the question. He would certainly not be representing the views of the electors of Buteshire, and particularly of those resident in the island of Arran, by a speech like that of the hon. Baronet. I am inclined to think that his absence this afternoon, and the delegation of the duty to the hon Baronet the Member for the 1349 Ayr Burghs, may be explained by a perfectly natural and obvious reason—that there is a General Election not very far off. For any Member for Buteshire to make an attack upon the Land Court on the ground of the reduction of rents would be the last thing to commend him to the electors of Buteshire.
§ Mr. WATSON
I confess I am not surprised at the type of speeches which have conic from the opposite side of the House on the question of small holdings. I understand, and perhaps the House can understand, the reason why the hon. Member who has just sat down professes at least to be suspicious of the choice of this Vote as the first one to be discussed, because judging from what we have heard from him, both here and in Committee, I do not think he has yet appreciated the fact that one of the most important things—although I dare say he has said it in speeches on the platform—to be pushed forward in Scotland are small holdings; therefore one of the most important Votes in the Scottish Estimates is the question of small holdings. Some people always feel the electioneering platform influence: they do not play for anything else. They do not see or understand how other people can speak on the land question. So far as I am concerned, at any rate, I welcome this chance of discussing this Vote because I think by some suggestions we may be able to expedite and make more simple the promotion of small holdings in Scotland. Everybody knows that there is very grave delay in the operations of the Land Court, and some reasons far that are fairly obvious. There is congestion. One thing which is probably at the root of the evil of delay—and which I think speeches like that to which we have just listened undoubtedly contribute—is the enmity which is attempted to be stirred up against the landlords, and which naturally makes them look with unfavourable eyes on the creation of small holdings, and makes them more suspicion of the Land Court than they are at the present time. The opposite policy is the right one. I think every sensible person would agree that it is desirable to make as clear as possible—and as the easiest way in which small holdings can be formed—the principles on which the Land Court acts. That would encourage landlords, amongst other things, to agree with their tenants upon the formation of small holdings, and save the necessity of litigation, and the necessity of going to the 1350 Land Court. Even though I be a lawyer I think that is what had best be done.
One of the reasons for the congestion in the Land Court is their failure—a failure adverted to by the hon. Baronet—to give grounds for the reduction of rents—which have only been too numerous, as far as one can judge. If the reason for, or the principle on which, the Land Court reduced the rents were made known, not only to the landlord, but also to the tenants, undoubtedly there would be a better chance of the landlords and tenants agreeing without the necessity of litigation. On the other hand, by the apparent slicing off of about 20, 25, or 30 per cent., without any reason given as regards special cases, you are encouraging the tenant in the hope of getting ninepence for fourpence. Without giving reasons, good or bad, this is likely to put landlords against the Act. I think this is a very unfortunate situation. One thing that undoubtedly would save this congestion to a considerable extent would be if the Land Court would explain the principles—for surely they have principles!—upon which they act in the reduction of the rents which they have almost invariably given effect to. One other reason, I think, of delay is that the absence of giving their principles increases their work. Apart altogether from the question of agreement with the landlord you would have fewer cases. It is a familiar thing in the Law Courts to have cases that establish a leading principle which will apply to a great many cases—which are thereby obviated. We do not find that in the Land Court. That is one of my greatest complaints against it. Something was said about appeal to the Court of Session. I would remind the Committee that these appeals are on points of law only. The Land Court is final as to questions of fact. In a case which is stated for appeal to the Court of Session the facts are stated by the Land Court itself. They prepare the statement of facts upon which the question of law is asked.
One regard in which they have shown great and serious delay is in respect to the revisal of these stated cases. The hon. Member opposite referred to the Arran case. It is just a year since these cases were decided by the Land Court, who were asked to state a case. That case has not been stated yet by the Land Court, and there is no immediate prospect of it being ready for the Court of Session. Those who are familiar with the facts will know 1351 that some eighty-six cases altogether were concerned, because the Land Court would not agree to having a test case. Very important principles were concerned. A whole year has been lost—taken up, I should say, because, undoubtedly, some of the cases would take up a reasonable time. I think that is another good instance of the kind of thing which increases the congestion in the Land Court and causes delay and a great deal of heart-burning amongst the applicants, a great many of whom are waiting now. If any suggestion that we can make to-day whether from these or the opposite benches will save that delay, I trust it will be welcomed by the right hon. Gentleman, and I think will certainly justify our putting this Vote down as the first Vote for discussion.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
The points which have been raised seem to me, in the first place, to suggest that the rents have been lowered in too many eases and to too great an extent. I was amazed to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken speak of the reductions of rent being only too numerous, as far as he could judge. Anyone familiar with the rents which still prevail in many parts of Scotland will be very much surprised at the last statement—that is, if he has the interests of the people at heart. I observed, too, that the hon. Baronet who spoke first made various observations about rents, and put forward what, to my mind, was rather a new theory. His complaint seemed to be that although prices of farm produce have rather gone up in recent years, that rents have nevertheless been reduced. I would like to point out—
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
May I remind the hon. Member that I was dealing entirely with the question of rents fixed by the Crofters' Commission and revised by the Land Court; not with rents as fixed first by the Land Court.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
I quite agree with the hon. Baronet's suggestion, and he knows I wish to do him justice, but in this particular instance, when you take the case of rent fixed some years back, it is lower now and why not in future, if the justice of the case requires it? I do not 1352 see what the price of produce has to do with it. The hon. Baronet must remember that this produce is grown, not for the market, but for the use of the people themselves, and in some cases with the increased price of the produce there has been an increase in the price of the things necessary to grow that produce, and we must remember that these rents as they stand are often far higher when compared with other parts of the island. I venture to say if you go round the small land holders of Scotland and compare the land in their areas with other areas in quantity and quality, you will find the small land holder's position far more inferior and that his rates are on a far higher valuation than the others are.
Another observation made was that you should not value the land in winter, but when the crops are in the ground. If that was made universal we would be told that these crops were not the result of the natural fertility of the land, but of the money and the improvements which in many cases the landlord has made. That is the very thing brought up against the procedure under another Act with which the hon. Baronet is familiar. I say the valuation must be made fairly all the year round if you are to get the work through. So far as the suggestion goes that the reasons ought to be given for these decisions, if the Court were to be made to give reasons for fixing certain rents on certain property in every case the labour would be far greater. The only way the Land Court can act is to deal with a case fairly upon its merits, and that is what they seem to me to be doing. As to the distinction between a fair and an equitable rent, it seems to be a distinction of words rather than of fact. I believe the word "equitable" was put into the Act in order that we might conceal in that some supposed technical significance of a fair rent, but the real distinction between equitable and fair rent is too fine a distinction for anyone to master.
The work which the Land Court is doing is very important. We regret it is not able to get through more work, but it seems to me that that work in many cases is very difficult. If the Land Court was strengthened, as was proposed by a Bill in the present Session, then the Land Court would be able to undertake its work better, and to visit more parts of the country than it has been able to do up to the present. It does seem to me that the charges made against the Land Court are 1353 not justified. I am afraid the position of the Land Court possibly may be weakened by Debates in this House carried on on wrong lines. I wish hon. Members opposite criticising the Land Court for not giving its decision in detail might apply the same principle to arbitrators, who give such high awards in various cases.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
I wish to call attention to the amount of money we are asked to vote in these Estimates. There is no doubt that we were all filled with righteousness in this House, and that we were doing immense good to the small tenants in Scotland. We were urged to believe that this Act meant the opening up of a new state of matters. I do not profess to know the details of the administration of this Court, but I wish to ask the attention of the Committee to the amount of money we are asked to vote. We are asked to vote £10,000, and, in addition to that, several other expenses; there is, for instance, £7,575, which this Land Court involves, making a total sum of something like £17,500. I wish to draw a lesson from this Vote for new legislation with regard to land, which we were promised was to bring such copious benefits to the small holders. I turn to the money value of the Land Court. I find that they have established small holders in several counties, in the aggregate somewhat considerable, but I take them in the prosaic order of their money value, and I find on page 31 of the Report they amount in annual value to £3,800, and I turn to the great benefits which were to flow so copiously to the small tenants of Scotland from this Land Court in the way of reductions of rent that have been wrung out of the hard pressed tenancy by grinding, exorbitant and tyrannical landlords. I am not a tenant and I am not a landlord, and I speak with absolute impartiality. What are the reductions affected by the Land Court in Scotland. Last year they amounted to a little over £1,100, and the total, therefore, is £5,300. Add to that the value of the new holdings and you get about £10,000, and at what cost to the nation and to the taxpayers among whom those small tenants are? At a cost of exactly £34,000.
If I had been a small tenant in Scotland I am sure I would prefer my share of the £34,000 rather than a share of the £10,000 which is the total value of the reductions produced by this Land Court together with the value of the small holdings that they have created. I would much rather 1354 have my share of a sum which is three times greater than the amount of the reductions and the cost of the new small holdings created. Is it not possible that for this we may learn a rather sarcastic lesson as to the value of this much vaunted legislation? As an impartial person who is neither a landlord nor a tenant, but representative of the taxpayers of this country, I as one of these taxpayers would rather have my share of the £34,000 to which I have contributed, which would mean a much more generous distribution for the small holders of Scotland than the £10,000 that has been the result of an expenditure of £34,000, because of this precious land reform. It is in that sense, and as a Member of this Committee voting the money of the taxpayers, that I protest that nothing like an adequate return is given, and it is on those grounds that I venture to make my criticism.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
I venture to think that in Scotland there are many who do not share the views expressed by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. The money expended in connection with the working of the Land Court has undoubtedly led to great results in Scotland, and we look for still greater results in the time to come, because the Court at the present moment is unable through congestion to accomplish the work that lies upon it. I am glad to find that the attitude of hon. Members opposite to-day is somewhat changed as shown by their criticism of the Land Court. The hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs was actually prepared to-day to commend the methods of the Land Courts.
§ Mr. MILLAR
I am glad to hear that the hon. Baronet says that the methods have improved. I should like to reply in a word to the two or three matters of criticism which he put forward, and on which I submit he had no great strength of argument behind him. In the first place, he referred to the fact that the Land Court had referred in their Report to cases submitted to the Court of Session and the success attending them. Surely that is one answer to the argument he put forward that the Land Court should give information as to the way they act in the cases decided, and the points of law raised. I do not see why he should complain that that appears in the Report.
§ Mr. MILLAR
Then he referred to the fact that two out of eight cases have been reversed, and referred to that as severe falls for the Land Court. I would like to remind him that to have only two out of eight cases reversed is an extremely good record for any Court, and compares very favourably with the record of the Court of Session in that respect. If you take the judicial statistics for 1912, you will find that out of nine appeals from the Court of Session, four were reversed and five were affirmed by the House of Lords.
§ Mr. WATSON
It is not on a case stated on which an appeal is taken, but where the merits were gone into.
§ Mr. MILLAR
The point I venture to make, and which is a fair one, is that any Court subject to review as the Court of Session is subject to review by the House of Lords, may have its decisions overturned, and that the average of decisions reversed is much higher in the case of the Court of Session than in the case of the Land Court. The hon. Baronet made a great point with regard to the failure of the Land Court to give the principles upon which they proceeded in reducing the amount of the rents. I venture to say I never heard a more absurd contention than to suggest that the Land Court, which is carrying out principles which are clearly laid down for it on the face of the Statute, should embody these in its Report. It is the very last thing one would expect to find in the Report of the Land Court, for the simple reason that these principles are well established and laid down within the Statute itself. The hon. Baronet will remember the conditions under which both a fair and equitable rent was to be fixed. In the case of an equitable rent the Land Court is directed to act,
"so far as practicable, upon their own knowledge and experience."
I am sure the hon. Baronet will admit that the members of the Land Court are men of knowledge and experience in agricultural affairs. He is aware that they are men who have knowledge and experience of farming and factoring, and who are chosen for that purpose. They are alsodirected to take into consideration all the circumstances of the case, holding, and district, including the rent at which the holding has been 1356 let, the proposed conditions of the renewed tenancy, the improvements made by the landlord and tenant respectively, and the then condition and value of such improvements; and shall fix as the rent to be paid by the tenant the rent which, in their opinion, would be an equitable rent for the holding between the landlord and the tenant as a willing lessor and a willing lessee.That is the principle and the only principle upon which the Land Court are to proceed in fixing these rents. It can hardly be suggested that there is much difference in the case of the fair rents fixed under the Crofters' Holdings Act, because there, again, after hearing the parties the Court have to consider all the circumstances of the case; and take into account any permanent or unexhausted improvements executed or paid for by the landholder or his predecessors, and then determine the fair rent and pronounce the order. Does the hon. Baronet suggest that the Land Court should put on paper all the circumstances and the various considerations which enter into the fixing of a particular rent? Surely it is absurd to suggest that there is any underlying principle beyond the one stated in the Act which could apply or that it would be possible to set forth all the circumstances of each case which have to be considered in turn!
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I was particular to state that they could not go into the details. I said that I wanted to know the general principle upon which they were reducing rents.
§ Mr. MILLAR
I think the hon. Baronet has misapprehended the position. In many cases the rent was first fixed upon a consideration of the conditions attaching to the buildings, and when you have reached the later period and seven years have elapsed, and improvements have been made by the holders themselves, these are absolutely excluded from the consideration.
§ Mr. MILLAR
The Crofters' Commission were in a difficult position in reducing the rents to a satisfactory 1357 figure at one step. They were in many cases excessive, and there were rents which should have been reduced to a much larger extent. If those rents are compared to-day with the rents of adjoining land it would be found that the Land Court has acted with perfect fairness throughout in reducing them to the figure which it has now done. The Report is a document which I think will be read with very great satisfaction throughout the whole of Scotland, because it shows that at last Scotland is in a position to secure what is truly a fair rent in the case of these small land holders. When it is suggested that this tribunal has acted upon its own principles, I would point out that it is acting upon the principles laid down by the Act, and interpreted by a triburial which is just as likely to be fair and correct in its dealings with the cases which come before it as the older tribunal which had to deal with these cases under different circumstances. I submit that the Scottish Land Court Report is one which shows evidence of extraordinary industry on the part of the Land Court. Their time has been very fully occupied, and they have had to deal with an enormous amount of work in connection with the office duties in Edinburgh and inspections throughout the country. The Court has sometimes to sit in four different divisions. The hon. Baronet has referred to the fact that assessors have on a number of occasions sat along with the members of the Court. The hon. Baronet made a suggestion which I do not think will be well received in Scotland, namely, that a sheriff sitting with an assessor would be a much more suitable Court.
§ Mr. MILLAR
The Land Court has assessors and valuers, and it is a better judge of what ought to be done, having regard to the fact that, with one exception, the members of the Court are not lawyers, but men who have acquaintance with farming and agricultural pursuits. To suggest that a sheriff would be in a better position to deal with such questions than a man who has a practical knowledge of agriculture is something which will not approve itself to the good sense of the people of Scotland. I think the Land Courts are to be congratulated upon the splendid work they have done, and I hope they will get more sympathy and consideration from hon. Members opposite. I have no doubt that their work is often of a 1358 very difficult character, but I think if they were allowed a fairer measure of credit for their motives in seeking the best interests of the people of Scotland their work would be accomplished with even greater success.
§ Mr. CURRIE
Hon. Members opposite have attacked the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs for his criticisms upon the Land Court, but I do not think those criticisms were one whit too strong. One often hears in Scotland in unexpected quarters criticisms of this Court compared with which anything that has been said this afternoon is very mild indeed. I think the general view is that the proceedings of the Land Court have been very much at variance with what was expected when the Court was first set up. Whatever may be thought of the financial provisions of the Act, I am sure all parties are anxious that the proceedings of the Court should be regarded by the public with confidence. I am not allowed to make reference to any of the influences under which the Court may have fallen, and I do not propose to do so, but it is a matter of common knowledge that the delays which take place in the Court are in themselves sufficient to largely discredit it. One hears many complaints of the way in which evidence is dealt with, and the methods of inspection which are authorised by the Court. Above all, the Court has been discredited to a great extent by the way in which its judgments have been handled by the Court of-Session. It appears, to me most unfortunate that the process of establishing small holdings, which we all wish to see furthered, has been delayed by the way the Land Court has carried on its work. We have heard it said that the difference between one side of the Committee and the other was, "We trust the Land Court and you do not." That remark expresses how opinion is divided. But assuming that half of the people have entire confidence in the Land Court, what a position that is for any Court charged with important public duties to occupy. The mere fact that any large section of the community regards the operations of this Court with lack of confidence is quite enough to take away from it its real usefulness. The Land Court was given the status of a Law Court, but it does not command the respect of a Law Court, and if the respect paid to it is less than the respect paid to Court of Session, all I can say is that the fault lies not with the people but with the Court itself.
1359 I know that the Secretary for Scotland disclaims any control over this Court, but at the same time he has very great influence with it; and I hope he will lose no opportunity which may present itself of getting the Land Court in the future to carry out its important duties with more reference to considerations which habitually weigh with other Courts in Scotland. I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the operations of the Land Court have given a very modified satisfaction to a great many hon. Members who sit behind him. We have heard that view expressed upstairs with the greatest possible freedom. I confess that I was rather amazed at some of the criticisms made from the other side of the Committee this afternoon. What is wanted is not that lengthy reasons should be given when judgments are come to, but that leading principles should be laid down. If that were done future cases would be very much more easily handled. It has been suggested that the arbiters do not give reasons, but that is not really in accordance with the facts. The arbiters have, as a matter of fact, given their reasons; they have given them shortly, and they can be understood and applied in other cases. That is what is wanted, and nobody wants lengthy reasons in connection with a judgment. The statement has been made by hon. Members opposite that all the members of this Court are experienced in matters connected with agriculture. I should not be in order in commenting on that statement, which I regard as inaccurate, but if I were in order I should ask for further information, because in one respect that statement is certainly news to me. The expenses associated with the work of the Land Court strikes most people as simply disgraceful. The ordinary taxpayer regrets that between three and four times the amount of rent reduction is spent in the process, and the way the members travel all over the country in motor cars is perfectly unnecessary, or, I should say, has been done in a way that is perfectly unnecessary. It would have been far cheaper to throw 40 or 50 per cent. of the money which has been thus spent into the sea and spend the rest on doing something useful.
§ Mr. MORTON
I notice that the opposition to the Land Court to-day is very slight compared with what it was last year and the year before. I take it from that 1360 fact that hon. Members opposite are bearing in mind that a General Election is coming on, and they dare not abuse the work of the Land Court. Hon. Members opposite have not shown us a solitary item where it can be said that we are overpaying anybody for their work in connection: with this Court, and a mere general statement of that kind has not much value. From what I know personally, I can state that most of the work done in Scotland in regard to this administration is not overpaid. Therefore I do not desire to take any notice of a mere bald statement of this kind, unless hon. Members can give some proof that somebody has been overpaid, or that somebody has been paid who has not done any work. It is the duty of Parliament to find officials and pay them to carry out in the proper way the Acts of Parliament which we may pass. What I should like to do is to strengthen this Land Court. No doubt there is a very strong feeling in Scotland that more must be done to settle the land question in the interests of the people of Scotland. I do not think anybody can make any complaint against the work of the Land Court, whatever complaint they may make against other bodies. I am certain that you will not find the people of Scotland back you up, simply because you want to decry and damage the Land Court in dealing with the question of the settlement of the land problem in Scotland. I am perfectly certain that this all comes from the landlord interest. I am quite willing that the landlord should be paid a fair rent, as long as the tenants have fixity of tenure, but I am not willing that they should be paid excessive rents because it may be in accordance with their politics. We want the land question settled in the interests of the people. That is what the Land Court is doing. It is trying to prevent that depopulation which has been going on to such a serious extent in Scotland.
§ Mr. JAMES HOGGE
Before my right hon. Friend replies, I should like to ask him a question with regard to an item on page 79, which deals with the wages and allowances paid to certain officials. How many hours do the charwomen work who are paid 8s. per week? If they are anything like the hours worked in the English offices, they must be getting a, very small remuneration for the work they do. I am perfectly certain that hon. Members opposite will be complaining that a vast amount of money has been 1361 expended this afternoon on useless work, but I think that they will be quite willing to give these servants an increase in their wages. I understand that the practice is for them to work so many hours in the morning and at night, but if it is only a couple of hours each morning, it is less than one shilling a day. I should like to hear what are the duties of these women who are receiving this pittance of 8s. per week.
The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. McKinnon Wood)
If my hon. Friend had given me notice of his question, I would have made inquiries of the Land Court. I know that the charwomen only work part-time, but I do not know how many hours they work. This is a peculiar Debate, for, while it is possible for everybody to criticise or defend the Land Court, the Land Court itself is in the unfortunate position of having nobody to answer for it. That arises from the deliberate decision and intention of Parliament. Parliament set up this Land Court in order that it might be an entirely independent and impartial tribunal to consider cases which the Board of Agriculture placed before it. Questions have been asked me as to the procedure of the Court, suggesting that some directions have been given to the Court, and to-day, in the course of the Debate, one hon. Member opposite suggested that I should give them a hint, and another hon. Gentleman suggested that I should use my influence for a particular purpose. I consider that either to give a hint to the Land Court or to use any influence for a particular purpose would be entirely outside my duty. This Court has to consider, first of all, the cases that are brought before it by the tenants who are interested in having a fair rent fixed; and, in the next place, they have to consider the proposals of the Board of Agriculture, which have to be sanctioned by the Secretary for Scotland. I do represent in a way and am answerable for the Board of Agriculture, which is one of the principal litigants—in fact, the principal litigant—before the Land Court.
My relations with the Land Court therefore have been simply that it is an independent tribunal as much beyond my control as the Court of Session. I have not interfered with it, and I have not thought it right to ask it the principles on which it proceeds, or to give it any hint, or to use any influence with it. The only time that I have had a discussion with the members of the Land Court was when I 1362 discussed with them a question of mere machinery, and asked them whether they had any suggestion to make which would expedite proceedings in view of the legislation which was contemplated at that time—an Amendment of the Small Landholders Bill. One proposal arose from that discussion, and is included in the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, which is now before the House, namely, that we should alter the quorum of the Court and increase the number of its members. That is the only subject I have discussed with the Land. Court, and I am sure that the House will agree that it was a very proper discussion. That is the position; and, therefore, as much as I might desire to explain the principles on which they do their business, I am unable to do so, and I do not care to ask them for those principles. I do not propose, therefore, to do mre than to say a few words on the various topics which have been raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I quite agree with the hon. Member for South Lanarkshire (Mr. Watson) that it would have been very desirable if we could have had a number of decisions of the Land Court, laying down principles, which would have been understood by landlords on the one side and tenants on the other side, as well as by the Board of Agriculture, and which would have facilitated proceedings for the creation of small holdings by agreement. What is the reason we have not had these principles laid down? The reason is that the landlords and factors have always appealed past the Land Court to arbitration. That is a great misfortune, but it is not the fault of the Land Court. If it had been allowed to complete the cases, not merely deciding whether the scheme should be approved and what fair rents should be fixed for the tenants, but going on and deciding what compensation should be paid, we should have had many of these completed cases, but, unfortunately, the view taken by those representing the landlords' interests in Scotland has been that they had better go to arbitration, and really I do not blame them. It has paid them uncommonly well. They have, therefore, withdrawn from the Land Court the opportunity of laying down those principles, which, if they had been laid down, might have saved the public purse much money and the Board of Agriculture a great deal of trouble, and might have tended to the facilitation 1363 of the process of creating small holdings by agreement, which is what I look forward to most of all. The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Currie), who, perhaps, made the most captious and querulous speech this afternoon, complained of delay. I do not think that the Land Court can be complained of for neglecting its work. I notice in one of the paragraphs that they refer to their work during the past year, and say:—In order to illustrate its varied and expensive character, we may state that we visited nearly every county ill Scotland, from Wigton in the South, to Shetland in the far North, and conducted inquiries therein.I know it is the view of the Land Court that it is desirable they should go to different parts of the country, rather than remain, in a manner much more convenient to them personally, in Edinburgh, and save themselves a great deal of fatigue. Their view is that they ought to go to these places, in order to make it easier for the tenants who are poor people to appear before them, and in order that they should facilitate business in the interests of the litigants. You must not forget that the great cause of delay has been the very hostile position which has been taken by many landlords and factors to the creation of small holdings. They have used very strong language about it, and they have opposed the procedure of the Board of Agriculture at nearly every stage. The hon. Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger) said that he thought they ought to employ assessors. I have observed from the reports which have appeared in the newspapers of the proceedings of the Land Court in different parts of Scotland that they have adopted that suggestion and that members have been sitting in various parts of Scotland.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
My point really was that it was taking away those individual members from the work of speeding up the work of the Board of Agriculture.
Mr McKINNON WOOD
I do not think that you can constitute a Court without one member. You could not constitute it with assessors. The Court thinks that it ought to sit in different parts of Scotland in the interests of the litigants. A point was raised by the hon. Member for the Ayr Burghs which is also raised in the Report. He spoke about the distinction between an equitable and a fair rent. The Report says that the average man 1364 does not understand the distinction, and I think that is quite true. The hon. Member said that was a phrase and a distinction which was struck out in the course of the famous bargain of which we have heard so much in praise and censure during the past few months. I can only say I regret, when dealing with the matter, that he did not favour us with an explanation of the distinction.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
Did you? Unfortunately I am of average intellect and it did not penetrate through my stupidity. I listened to the hon. Baronet very carefully, but I did not hear anything which to my humble intelligence appeared to approach an explanation of the difference between an equitable and a fair rent. I think I have explained why it is impossible for me to say anything more on these questions. One subject of criticism has been that the rents have been fixed too low. That obviously must depend upon the circumstances of each case, and I am not in a position and have not the information to deal with these particular cases. The Board of Agriculture, of course, is a body with which, although it has an independent existence, I have much greater relation, and for which I have much greater responsibility, and I suppose the Committee will now pass from the Land Court and deal with the Board of Agriculture.
§ Mr. SCOTT DICKSON
Everybody who had anything to do with the Small Landholders Act of 1911 knows that it was the result of combined and joint co-operation between the two parties, one giving up something and the other giving up some-ting, in order to arrive at a measure which we could get through. There was great satisfaction at that time on the part of the Members of the House who represented the Government that they were able to get the Bill through.
§ Mr. SCOTT DICKSON
They do not like it now, but they did agree to it, and the terms were proposed by those who were responsible Ministers of the Government representing Scotland at the time.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. SCOTT DICKSON
I do not know what happened with regard to the Liberal Scottish Members, but it was submitted to the Committee, and the Liberal Scottish Members con amore supported it. Therefore, to suggest that it is an Act which we regard with hostility is to make a suggestion absolutely devoid of foundation. But that is only by the way. I do not desire to stand here as criticising the honesty or fairness of the Land Court. I know there have been criticisms in that direction, and I regret it exceedingly. But I fail to see how it is that a Court which has so much power should have in the result, rightly or wrongly, brought about a feeling that there is a want of confidence on the part of a very large number who came before it as to the way in which its proceedings are carried on. I do not desire to associate myself with that feeling, but it is a misfortune that it should, as it undoubtedly does, exist, and that such a view should be given expression to publicly. It is a great misfortune, particularly in a case of this kind. There is nothing more unfortunate than the speeches that are made, and the articles which are written from time to time, presenting the Scottish landlords as not in sympathy with their poorer or richer tenants, because, if the history of Scottish agriculture is looked at, it will be found that the Scottish landlords have done their part very well in developing Scottish agriculture, which would never have occupied the position it does to-day had it not been for their efforts and expenditure.
I confess I do not understand some of the observations made about the Land Court. There are two main branches of its work, first, the revising of rents, and secondly, the setting up of small holdings. So far as the revising of rents is concerned, that is a matter entirely in the hands of the Land Court, and there is no appeal from that Court at all. But what I think is quite reasonably desired is that the Land Court should explain the general principles upon which it proceeds in reducing rents. It would tend to a large extent to diminish the work before the Court, if a definite expression were given of the principles upon which they proceed. I am not criticising their revisions, or attempting to say whether they are just or unjust. Nobody knows the grounds upon which they proceed, but I do suggest that if the principles were 1366 explained, the landlords, when a deduction of rent was claimed, would be better able to appreciate whether the claim was founded upon principles already approved by the Land Court, and they would then know whether there was any need to contest the claim, and in the result the congestion in the Land Court would be lessened. One cannot but regard with great dissatisfaction the fact that at the end of the period covered by their second Report apparently only about 300 new small holdings have been created. There has been a very large expense which seems quite insufficiently accounted for by the number of small holdings created. I am bound to say I have no personal knowledge in this matter, but I understand a great deal of objection is taken on this ground that the Land Court puts forward a scheme for creating a certain number of small holdings, and when the scheme is worked out, and the rent charges ascertained, it is found impossible to get applicants to press on with their applications. I admit it is difficult to forecast the ultimate result of a scheme, but I do suggest there is a lack of administrative detail evident when these schemes are put forward.
§ Mr. SCOTT DICKSON
Oh, it is the Board of Agriculture. I will pass from that point, as it is outside the present Vote. But I cannot help thinking that the expenditure for which the Land Court is responsible is out of all proportion to the number of small holdings that have been created, and accordingly the work of the Land Court is not all that can be desired. In saying that I have in view the fact that so far as the Act of 1911 is concerned, it is a joint Act. The hon. Member for Sutherlandshire shakes his head, but that does not alter the fact. I hope the discussion we have had to-day may result in an alteration being made in connection with the Land Court which will facilitate its procedure, and also diminish its expenditure.
§ Question put, and agreed to.