§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I beg to move, in page 3, line 15, to leave out the words "or building."
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I beg to move, in page 4, line 12, after the word "to," to insert the words:the benefit expected to accrue to such lands by reason of the execution of the scheme, and shall not apportion to any lands an amount in excess of the estimated value of the benefit so expected to accrue to such lands, and in estimating the value of such benefit the Department shall take into account.This Amendment and the succeeding Amendment relate to a pledge which was given in Committee, whereby no one will be charged more than the benefit that he or she receives as a result of the operations of this Act.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendments made:
§ In page 4, line 13, leave out the words "any of such," and insert instead thereof the word "the."
§ In line 14, leave out the words "any such," and insert instead thereof the word "the."
§ In line 19, leave out the words "any such," and insert instead thereof the word "the."
§ In line 21, leave out the words "the owner of any such lands," and insert instead thereof the words "such owner."
§ In line 25, leave out from the word "works" to the end of the Sub-section.—[Mr. W. Adamson.]
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I beg to move, in page 5, line 24, to leave out the word "Department," and to insert instead thereof the words "Land Court,"
An important question of principle arises on this Amendment. I am a warm supporter of the Bill and I fully recognise the way the Government have met the views of hon. Members on these benches. They have accepted some Amendments to which we attach importance, and I hope they will accept this proposal as well. It provides that where there is a dispute as to how the cost of these schemes shall be allocated as between 1445 owners and occupiers, they should be able to appeal to the Land Court instead of being left to the mercy of the Department. In the Committee upstairs the Under-Secretary of State said that the Land Court was overworked. I have made inquiries and I have discovered that they are not so overworked as the Department of Agriculture; and it would be quite easy to appoint an additional member to the Land Court if it was necessary in order to undertake this work. I should like the Land Court brought in in two or three other places in the Bill, but I accept the decision of the Committee on these points. The Under-Secretary said that it would make a political agreement impossible if the Land Court was brought in. I do not think hon. Members above the Gangway would oppose the Land Court being brought in in this case, and it would be a real assistance to the Bill. Further, it would recommend it to the acceptance of the people of Scotland if they felt that they had a right to go to the Land Court, an impartial body, instead of being left to the mercy of the Department. I do not think the Department enjoys that implicit trust and confidence of the people of Scotland which the Under-Secretary seems to think.
There is one other important point. If the Amendment is not accepted it means that the Department will be the sole judge in allocating the cost of schemes as between owners and occupiers in regard to 720,000 acres of land in Scotland. The Department of Agriculture actually own 400,000 acres, but they are closely linked with the Forestry Commission, the War Department and the Commissioner of Crown Lands. In all these cases the tenants will have no appeal against the decision of their landlord unless you bring in the Land Court. All these Departments are closely linked together and they are all linked up with the Treasury. We know that orders very often go out when the Budget is coming along for expenses to be cut down. I say that the people in Scotland will not have confidence in this part of the Bill, in the allocation of the cost of schemes as between owner and occupier, unless they are able to appeal to the Land Court; and this especially applies to those who are the tenants of the Department of Agriculture. They will have no appeal from the decision of their land- 1446 lord to the Land Court. This is a reasonable proposal and can be given without incurring those political disadvantages which the Under-Secretary of State fears. It is one which would make for the smooth running of the Bill and would commend it to the people of Scotland.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I beg to second the Amendment.
The matter of the apportionment of these expenses as between landowner and occupier should be in the hands of a judicial body. Under the Bill the Department will be the judge in its own court. The Land Court is not enjoying a, leisurely existence. It is doing good and hard work, but it is not overworked, and it could quite well cope with the additional work suggested by the Amendment. May I also point out that at present there is a vacancy in the Land Court which, if necessary, could be filled.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I hope the hon. and gallant Member will not press this Amendment. He has stated the case very persuasively, and, if it were possible for the Government to accept it, my right hon. Friend would not hesitate for a moment. Let me put the point of view which, perhaps, I stated rather indifferently during the Committee stage. I beg the hon. and gallant Member to believe that we made inquiries from every possible source, and, with the object of getting the maximum degree of agreement to the scheme, we did not seek to impose the Land Court. There are serious objections to the Land Court. There are large areas of land, perhaps the vast majority of land, which will be covered by these drainage schemes where the Land Court does not function at all. It must be remembered also that the Department will have drawn up the schemes and carried out the works, and fixed, subject to an appeal to the arbiter, the amount to be allocated as between the landowner and occupier. In our opinion it is the body best fitted to judge as to the proper allocation of expenses. It has had all the details through its hands. Its agents have been on the ground. It has drawn up the scheme and knows everything about it from A to Z. We can see no reason for dragging in another body to fix the allocation of costs as between owner and tenant.
1447 Lastly, the point was made by the hon. and gallant Member and by the Seconder that the Department of Agriculture would be the judge in its own case, and that there were large areas of land where the Department, being the owner, would at least to some extent be suspect of not allocating fairly the proportions which the tenants and the owners might respectively be called upon to pay. But let me remind those hon. Members that the Department for this purpose is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. He stands to be shot at in this House in a way that no other owner or proprietor of land in Scotland can be shot at, and an appeal in every case, if so desired, lies to this House. Every hon. Member can take the necessary steps under a succeeding Clause to bring the grievances of his constituents, if grievances there be, before this House. In order to ensure that the engineering schemes which are already drafted shall be pushed through from beginning to end with the maximum acceleration, the Government trust that the Land Court will not be dragged in, but that the Department will be left, subject to the appeals which are in the Bill to make the allocation as between owner and tenant.
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
I regret that the Under-Secretary of State has not seen fit to accept the Amendment, especially in view of the latter part of his argument. He said that redress is in this House. I am the last man to belittle this House, but the hon. Gentleman knows very well that there are plenty of complaints now with regard to the relation of the Board of Agriculture and tenants in Scotland, and that we can never find an opportunity of raising them effectively in this House. If there were a Parliament at Edinburgh instead of at Westminster it might be a very different thing, but there is a very strong case for the Land Court in this particular instance.
§ Sir PATRICK FORD
I have a proposal which is not quite in accordance with the Amendment. I have always maintained in this House and elsewhere that it is not right that Government Departments should be both advocates and judges in their own cause. I think that possibly the Lord Advocate will 1448 agree with me when I make the proposition that instead of the Land Court, or the Department of Agriculture, these questions should be brought before the Sheriff.
§ Sir P. FORD
I bow to your Ruling, but surely in criticising what is put forward in the Amendment we can suggest an alternative?
Discussion is confined to the Amendment before the House, and to the question whether the words shall be the Department or the Land Court.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Sir P. FORD
I cannot see my way to support either, and I thought I might be allowed to state an alternative that would get us out of the difficulty, and that is the appointment of more sheriffs and better paid sheriffs.
§ Amendment negatived.
Amendment made: In page 5, line 35, after the word "as," insert the words:
may be fixed in any agreement made by the parties and confirmed by the Department or, failing such agreement, as."—[Mr. W. Adamson.]
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I beg to move, in page 6, line 16, to leave out from the word "by" to the end of the Sub-section, and to insert instead thereof the words:the Sheriff of the county in which such lands are situated or his substitute.Under the Bill as it stands, if an arbiter has to be appointed, the party having the dispute with the Department about the amount of compensation would have to go to Edinburgh and make an application to a Lord Ordinary. I submit that that is very much too cumbersome and expensive a procedure. It would mean that the aggrieved owner or occupier—he might be a very small man, for there has been an immense increase in the number of small occupying owners since the War—who might be in Caithness or Sutherland or any other remote part of Scotland, would not go himself to Edinburgh, but would employ his local agent, that the local agent would have to employ, an agent in Edinburgh, and that the agent in Edinburgh would make the application to the Lord 1449 Ordinary for the appointment of an arbiter. The Government have seen to a large extent the force of our argument, and have met us to some extent in the following Amendment in which they suggest a provision that "the nomination of an arbiter shall be made by petition, and that any such petition may be in writing and need not be printed or boxed." That change would lower the expense only to a very small extent. Under my Amendment the reasonable procedure would be that the man could make an application to the Sheriff in person, and that the Sheriff would apply for an arbiter. It would not be the case that a local man would be appointed as arbiter, because under the next Clause the arbiter has to be appointed from the panel of arbiters. The Amendment means merely that instead of the appointment being made by the Lord Ordinary, it would be made by the Sheriff.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I am sorry that, for the reasons which we gave in Committee, we cannot possibly accept this Amendment. A considerable number of the schemes which we hope to promote do not lie within a single sheriffdom at all. Some of these schemes to deal with flooding would run through three sheriffdoms, and we do not desire the additional complexity of an appeal being made to one sheriff in respect of troubles which may be alleged to have arisen in the area of another. For that reason alone, we desire that the appeal shall not be made to a sheriff but to the Lord Ordinary. As the Bill was originally framed, there might have been something in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument that the method of appeal to the Lord Ordinary in the Court of Session would involve unnecessary expense, but we have sought to meet that point, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself has indicated, by the next Amendment on the Paper, according to which any application for the nomination of an arbiter is to be made by petition, and such petition may be in writing and need not be printed or boxed. I understand that as a result of that Amendment the legal costs of such an application might be £l or £2.
1450 In a case in which the Department made the application for the nomination of an arbiter, no cost whatever would fall upon the claimant, and, while I am referring to that matter, may I take the opportunity of pointing out that tenants of Departmental land will not be in for one penny of expenses at all in this matter and cannot possibly be, because all charges are borne by the proprietor, and the proprietor in that case is the Department. A collective application could be made to the Lord Ordinary if there was a large number of claimants, and, under the Amendment which comes next on the Paper, that application need not involve more than a nominal charge, but it is necessary that there should be some central legal authority covering a wider area than a sheriff can cover to select these arbiters. For these reasons we are compelled to ask the House to reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. SCOTT
In supporting the Amendment I may possibly incur the wrath of my brother lawyers in Edinburgh because the procedure under the Bill as it stands will undoubtedly add to their profits. I cannot see an Edinburgh lawyer putting through this procedure for a £1 note as suggested by the Under-Secretary. If I know anything about their charges it is not likely to be done under a £5 note—though hon. Members opposite must understand that that is not all profit and that there are outlays, such as dues, to be paid on the process. It is quite true that counsel may have no interest in the procedure, because an agent may present the petition, but the argument that it is necessary to have a central authority ought not to carry weight. The Under-Secretary suggests that two or three sheriffs might be involved in one of these schemes, but nothing could be simpler than to provide that one of the sheriffs whose areas are concerned should nominate the arbiter. If expedition is what the Government desire they can have it by leaving the appointment in the hands of the local sheriff.
§ Sir P. FORD
On this occasion I feel bound to support the Government, though for reasons different from those of the Under-Secretary. I feel that these matters could be far more economically and promptly dealt with by the sheriffs, 1451 but the sheriffs of Scotland—a very remarkable body—are rather overworked and until the Government see fit to appoint more sheriffs and to pay them better, the general public will have to put up with the additional fees and more costly processes involved in going before the Lord Ordinary. I appeal to the Lord Advocate to give his opinion on that matter.
§ Amendment negatived.
Mr. W. ADAMSON
I beg to move, in page 6, line 23, at the end, to insert the words:Any application for the nomination of an arbiter shall be made by petition and any such petition may be in writing and need not be printed or boxed.This Amendment is designed to meet the point submitted by the hon. and gallant Member for Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). It ensures that the expenses of the procedure in the Court of Session for the appointment of an arbiter shall be kept as low as possible, and I assure the House that the Government are as anxious as anyone to keep down those costs.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
We recognise the intention of the Government in moving this Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman says is designed to meet the point raised by us, but we consider that the Amendment just misses the point. By following the procedure envisaged in this Amendment, the expenses will be greater than they would have been had our previous Amendment been accepted.
§ Amendment agreed to.