HC Deb 03 March 1931 vol 249 cc330-7

I beg to move, in Clause 1, line 14, at the end, to insert the words: Provided always that a person so appointed shall carry out his duties as arbitrator without payment from State funds. This is a manuscript Amendment, and I think I am in order in moving it. It is a simple Amendment. When the Bill was presented last night the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland made out the Government's case on the fact that they were saving about £1,000 a year by the Bill. If hon. Members will look at the statement made by the Under-Secretary of State, on column 106 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, they will see that the cost to the Treasury per day of one of these arbitrations will be £6 5s. In a case such as this the arbitrator, as I understand it, gets a certain fixed fee from the people between whom he is arbitrating, and then he is going to get from the State a further sum of £6 5s. per day, which is a fixed minimum, and he may get more. I do not wish to make it impossible to get the best men, and I do not wish to make it impossible for the men to get a fair fee, but as they are arbitrating between two individuals, the State may be one of the parties in certain cases, then the individuals ought to pay for the arbitration, and not the country as a whole. I am prepared to allow the Secretary of State for Scotland to lay down what fees he considers fit and proper, but I think it is unnecessary that we should call on the Treasury to pay any fee unless the Treasury themselves are parties to the arbitration.


We have had no notice whatever of the intention of the hon. Member to move this Amendment and, therefore, we have been unable to consider its possible effect. This is not a Money Bill at all. It is designed solely for the purpose of enabling the Lord President of the Court of Session, instead of appointing a full-time arbitrator at a fixed salary, such as has been the case hitherto, to appoint half-time arbitrators, or to draw up a panel from which arbitrators may be selected. The Regulations under the Act of 1919 provide that the Treasury shall lay down a scale of fees which the arbitrator may charge the disputants in an arbitration, but as there may be cases in which the Government may be interested there will be occasions upon which the Government will be compelled to pay part of the arbitrator's fees, and in those circumstances the hon. Member's Amendment is clearly inappropriate. I hope that after this explanation he will withdraw the Amendment.


I apologise for not having given the Under-Secretary any notice of this Amendment, but it was inconceivable that the Government could possibly ask the House to proceed with this Bill after the discussion we had yesterday. At the same time, I apologise most sincerely for not having given due notice of the Amendment. I think the argument of the Under-Secretary could be easily met if he would accept the Amendment in such a way that we could on the Report stage consider this matter. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland is coming quite clearly to my view of this matter. I hope the Government will accept the Amendment now and amend it on the Report stage.

The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. William Adamson)

I am sorry to have to refuse the hon. Member's request. It would prevent us carrying out the purposes of the Bill, which are two; one, to save money, and there is no doubt that the Bill will do that, and the other to enable us to get a larger number of arbitrations decided. We have not had time to consider the implications of the Amendment, and the hon. Member cannot expect us to accept it.


Before I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, may I ask whether the Secretary of State will frame some Amendment for the Report stage? That is a perfectly fair request, and I think I am justified in asking it. For the third time, I apologise for not having put the Amendment down. I would much prefer to have done so for to-morrow or the next day so that the right hon. Gentleman could discuss it with the Department, when I have no doubt they would have accepted my proposal.


Do I understand that the hon. Member asks leave to withdraw the Amendment?


I have not done so yet.


I really think that we should have some reply from the Government to the case put forward by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). They have complained that they have received no notice of the Amendment, but from what I can gather from the smiles on the Front Bench they would have taken no notice of it even if they had received plenty of time. This is treating the taxpayer in a very careless manner, and I must stand up for the rights of the taxpayer. I do not often speak in the House, and I hope the hon. Member will not withdraw his Amendment until he has had some assurance that the Government will give some consideration to this matter. He has apologised three times already for not putting the Amendment down, but the Government take no notice of it at all. I must strongly protest on behalf of the taxpayers.

Lieut. - Colonel ACLAND - TROYTE

The Government tell us that they are saving money for the taxpayer by this Bill. That is a very laudable occupation on their part, and it is an occupation to which we are somewhat unaccustomed from them. May I point out that unless they accept the Amendment there will be no Report stage whatever and, therefore, it will be impossible to consider the Bill again? I suggest that they should accept the Amendment, and then we shall have an opportunity of considering the matter again on Report.


I feel that we have not had an adequate reply from the Government. The Secretary of State says that the purpose of this Bill is, first, to save expense to the taxpayers and secondly, to get through a larger number of arbitrations. It is quite clear that, while economy is a, very good pur- pose in any Bill, the money which is going to be saved will be a charge upon somebody else, and I should like to know upon whom this additional charge will fall. We cannot make a saving without it being a cost upon someone else, and I think we are entitled to know the saving which the Secretary of State estimates will be made and upon whom that extra charge will be placed. If you have a whole-time official, presumably on a fixed salary, a certain proportion of it will be allocated to an individual arbitration. If you have a sort of free lance in the field of arbitration, what scale of fees will have to be paid in an arbitration? [Interruption.] I am concerned, not only about a saving of the charge on the Treasury, but about the protection of the unfortunate people of Scotland who may have to resort to these arbitrations. [Interruption.] The explanation given to us by the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary is not adequate.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


There is one point to which I wish to direct attention. In these times I am the last person in the world to object to any proposal which tends to, or which it is hoped will, effect an economy. I understand that the economy to be effected here is something in the nature of £1,000. Why is the proposal not being carried further? Why are we presented with a Bill applying solely to Scotland?


We cannot have a Second Reading speech at this stage.

10.0 p.m.


This proposal is a departure from principle, and I think I shall be in order in saying what I wish to say. When the original Bill was being discussed, an Amendment was moved, and I ask the Committee to appreciate what was the attitude of the Government at that time when that Amendment was moved. The case against the Amendment was then stated by Sir Gordon Hewart, the present Lord Chief Justice. An Amendment was moved by an hon. Friend of mine, since dead—Mr. Rawlinson, the Member for Cambridge University. Sir Gordon Hewart then said: The proposal raises a question as between whole-time officers and practising surveyors engaged for employment as arbitrators. That question lies at the very root of this Bill. It has been most carefully and most anxiously considered, and the deliberate conclusion of those who are responsible for the framing of this Bill is that the valuers to be appointed under it should be whole-time officers whose sole occupation should be the discharge of the duties which the Bill will impose on them. I do not want to labour the objections to the alternative system. It is reasonably obvious that where gentlemen are to be put in a judicial or quasi-judicial position, it is desirable, if possible, that they should be prevented from acting as partisans on one side or the other."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th June, 1919; col. 228, Vol. 117.] That has been the principle since 1919, and now for the first time we are departing from the principle. I ask the Government whether there is any intention to translate the policy in this Bill into a Bill affecting England.


I think the Committee understands how bad this Clause is, because we are reversing one of the great Land Acts which were formulated and passed by a majority at the time of the Coalition Parliament under a Liberal Prime Minister. If the Liberal party have any life in them, they will put up a great fight against this Clause. Under this Clause, as the Government are forcing it through without accepting any reasonable Amendments which we have put down, what really happens is that one of the vital principles in the acquisition of land is being broken and cast aside, and thrown away in a disgraceful manner. I think that the Secretary of State for Scotland agrees with me in his heart, although perhaps his head will not allow him to say so. The position is, that under the 1919 Act you appointed an arbitrator who was to spend his whole time in carrying out this Act, but because of the extraordinary lavishness of that Government, you appointed two or three arbitrators in Scotland, but you had not enough work for one arbitrator.

That is typical of the leader and owner of the Liberal party. That is the reason of this Clause, and you finally came from your three arbitrators to one arbitrator, and then one arbitrator got sick and passed away, and so, for a considerable time, there has been no arbitrator, and Scotland got on very well without one. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland is beginning to shift his seat. I cannot understand why no legal advice has been given to us. I mentioned a moment or two ago that there was no arbitrator, and, in the circumstances, why should we not, instead of giving a Scottish arbitrator, give to Scotland a thoroughly efficient arbitrator from England to do the job every now and then? Every Scotchman would agree that it would be a matter for rejoicing if an Englishman could be given jobs in Scotland, because the jobs would be done much better than they are now.

Then another point came up comparatively late in the Debate last night. This panel of arbitrators is appointed, and the Under-Secretary for Scotland in the goodness of his heart gave us a little information on the matter. He said: The reference committee for Scotland is composed of the Lord President of the Court of Session, the Lord Justice Clerk, and the chairman of the Scottish Committee of the Surveyors' Institution."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 2nd March, 1931 col. 107, Vol. 249.] Those are the people who are going to choose and appoint these arbitrators. I have no objection to any of these people in themselves, because I do not happen to know them. If I did know them, I should be in a better position to judge; that is quite obvious. I want to know a few points in connection with this panel. Why, in setting up a panel of people to deal with land, do the Government have no one directly connected with land as arbitrators? Surely this panel should be based on one agricultural labourer, one landowner, one farmer, so that all three sections of the agricultural industry should be properly represented, one lawyer to represent hon. Gentlemen opposite, and, I think in these modern days, it would be wise to have someone representing the other sex as well. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us why he thinks these are the best people to set up a panel of this kind. I have al ways held that you should set up such a panel in one of two ways.


This Clause has nothing to do with the setting up of the panel. It has to do with the members who are placed on the panel, and whether they shall give whole or part-time service.


I quite realise that, so I will come back to the numbers of the people who are to be put on the panel. On that we have no information whatever. I want to know how many people are definitely going to be put on this panel, and what type of person is going to be put on, because we had no information on this point last night. Before I can vote for this Clause standing part, I must have some very definite information as to the type of person to deal with this important question. The Government are changing the whole principle under which we have been acting for 10 or 12 years, and before that principle is changed, I want to be quite sure that we are changing it for the better, and to know that we are to have the very best people possible to carry on this important work. I do not see how I can vote for this Clause.


The hon. Member who has just sat down speaks with such knowledge of Scottish affairs and takes such an interest in them, that there is no need for me to try to teach him anything further regarding the Bill.


It would be a waste of time.


With regard to the question put to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Croydon (Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson), he is right in saying that in 1919 when this matter was discussed, definite opinions were expressed on the question of putting these people on a part-time or a whole-time basis. The view of the Government of that day was that since there would be ample work to keep a number of them fully occupied, it would be preferable to put them on a whole-time basis. When the matter was being discussed, it was expected that at least five full-time arbitrators would be required for England and two for Scotland, but the experience the last 11 years has shown that two full-time arbitrators had been more than competent to deal with the claims that had arisen under this Act in Scotland, and that in Scotland there has not been enough to occupy the time of a full-time arbitrator. Had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Croydon been present last night when we discussed the matter, he would have had it explained to him. The consequence was that £1,300 was being paid out annually in salary and expenses for a full-time arbitrator and, actually only 69 cases came before the arbitrator in the course of the year since the Act carne into operation. These cases actually cost £73 each to the Exchequer, and we have come to the conclusion that that is an expenditure of public money which could not be justified. I am not surprised at the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), but I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Croydon (Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson) objecting to our having effected a saving.


On the contrary, I began my speech by saying that I rejoiced at the saving, and my question was why a similar saving was not being effected for England.


I would only point out that one day we are being criticised for our extravagance by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and another day when we propose a saving, all kinds of explanations are asked and all kinds of objections are raised. I hope that with the explanation which I have given on this point, hon. Gentlemen opposite will now allow us to get this Bill.


I must protest against the right hon. Gentleman's reference to me. I congratulated him on making some saving, and my objection was that he did not go far enough and appoint an efficient Englishman. The right hon. Gentleman should not suggest that I attack him as a wastrel and at the same time criticise any saving which he does make. I admit that he is improving and I hope that before I am finished with him he will be a great deal better.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 (Citation) ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.

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