HC Deb 09 April 1937 vol 322 cc504-9

11.10 a.m.

Mr. Elliot

I beg to move, in page 1, line 21, to leave out "whether."

This is one of a group of Amendments intended to make the new procedure under Clause 2 applicable only in the case of future leases. During the Committee stage, an Amendment was carried making the procedure applicable to new leases or to existing leases, and this differed from the Bill as originally drafted, where the procedure applied only to future leases. The Committee discussed the matter for some time, and I think I may say it was rather critical of the proposal. In subsequent discussions with those concerned, notably with the breeding societies, it was found that there was a great deal of apprehension lest this should open the door to legal disputes, which certainly would be the last thing that any of us would wish to do in this Measure.

Accordingly, I think it would be wise if the promoters of the Bill could see their way to accept these Amendments, so that, although we leave Clause 1 to apply both to existing leases and to future leases, the procedure under Clause 2, which might involve an appeal to the Courts, would be confined to future leases only. Future leases would then be drawn in the knowledge that such an appeal might be made on questions of law, and that would give those who undertook the obligations a clear understanding of the possible new development of an appeal in law to the sheriff, which they certainly had not in mind in connection with the old leases.

Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew

On behalf of the promoters of the Bill, I am glad to accept these Amendments, which, I think, will improve the Bill.

11.12 a.m.

Mr. Johnston

These Amendments represent a rather remarkable achievement on the part of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir C. MacAndrew). In the Committee upstairs he insisted that it was not a dangerous practice to interfere with existing contracts, a remarkable statement coming from an hon. Member opposite. I think it will be remembered that it was I and my hon. Friends who warned the Government as to the dangers in which they might land themselves if they proceeded by legislation to interfere with existing contracts, but despite our warnings on these matters, the revolutionary gentleman from Ayrshire insisted on interfering with existing contracts. As a result of the gentle persuasion of the Secretary of State for Scotland, he has now seen fit to go back to his old conservative ways, and in this matter I think he is right. Probably a great deal of litigation would arise from the Clause as it now stands, and as we do not want unnecessary litigation, we are ready to accept the Amendments of the Secretary of State.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 1, line 21, leave out "before or."—[Mr. Elliot.]

11.13 a.m.

Mr. Elliot

I beg to move, in page 2, line 10, at the end, to insert: (3) Where any question is submitted in pursuance of sub-section (1) of this section for the decision of the sheriff, and the arbiter is satisfied that, whatever the decision on the question may be, the sum ultimately to be found due will be not less than a particular amount, it shall be lawful for the arbiter, pending the decision of such question, to make an order directing payment to the outgoing tenant of such sum, not exceeding that amount, as the arbiter may think fit, to account of the sum that may ultimately be awarded. This Amendment is to meet a point which arose during the discussions in Committee, when it was emphasized that the whole transaction might be held up pending one or two appeals, whereas the outgoing tenant would obviously desire to realise as much as possible of his capital, since he would almost certainly be going to continue in the same business and would wish to take over some other sheep stock somewhere else. This Amendment empowers the arbiter to make an order directing the payment to the outgoing tenant of some interim sum. The only question which arose was whether that sum should be a fixed payment of, say, 95 per cent. or whether it should be left to the discretion of the arbiter. I think it more suitable that it should be left to his discretion.

Mr. Johnston

I entirely agree with the views expressed by the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I think this is a very wise provision.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

11.14 a.m.

Mr. Johnston

There is one point on which, I think, we ought to have some explanation from the Secretary of State for Scotland before we allow this Bill to be read the Third time. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the Kinross Committee made three recommendations. Two of them have been acted upon, but the third, for some reason unknown to me, has been avoided by the Government. That recommendation, which was made unanimously, dealt with the date of termination of leases for sheep stock farms. The recommendation was that these leases should run from autumn to autumn, and not from Whitsuntide to Whitsuntide. The reason given by the committee for that recommendation was that if the leases ran from autumn to autumn, the outgoing tenant would have disposed of his lambs prior to the cancellation of the lease and a troublesome part of valuation would automatically disappear. There may be a good reason why the Secretary of State and the promoters of the Bill have not adopted that suggestion. It is true that the committee's recommendation was that this should be done in future, voluntarily, by landowners and sheep farmers, but surely this Bill, if it is to be of much use at all to sheep farmers in Scotland, presents the chance of a lifetime for introducing some provision making it compulsory that future leases should run from autumn to autumn, with a view to avoiding the troublesome litigation and arbitration caused by the existence of lambs at the Whitsuntide period. I think we ought to have an explanation from the right hon. Gentleman, or the promoters, as to why they paid no attention to the committee's recommendation on that point.

11.17 a.m.

Mr. Elliot

In reply to the invitation addressed to me by the right hon. Gentleman, to state why the Government did not propose a change in the law in this respect, I would refer him to the report of the Kinross Committee itself. I have no doubt that the argument which I am about to mention also influenced the promoters of the Bill. The first recommendation of the committee states definitely that certain things should be required by law. That is properly the business of this House and the Government. The recommendation in that case is that the law should be amended, and here is a Bill amending the law. The third recommendation also asks that the law should be amended and, again, here is a Bill amending the law in the manner recommended. But the second recommendation merely says that prospective tenants and others should seriously consider the desirability of changing the dates of entry and exit under leases. That recommendation stands in a separate category from the others. It is not a recommendation that the law should be amended, and I think it was for that reason that the promoters of the Bill did not import into the Measure any provision such as that suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. For my part I think that is a perfectly valid reason. A change in business practice, suggested by a committee of persons who are technically well-informed, on the basis that it should be carried out by voluntary arrangement between those concerned, is a matter which ought to be left to those concerned. I do not think there would be any advantage in fixing a statutory date for leases in respect of sheep stock farms alone. To do so might be embarking upon a new course and introducing a far-reaching principle. If the dates of entry and exit under sheep farm leases were fixed, it might be sought to introduce the same principle into house-letting leases and other forms of leases where nobody would desire it. I think the promoters were wise in not attempting to make this a statutory provision, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who has displayed so much interest in and knowledge of the subject, will agree with that view.

11.20 a.m.

Mr. Johnston

There is I think some force in the second argument employed by the right hon. Gentleman to the effect that if this principle were introduced it might be imported into house-letting and other leases, and give rise to some difficulty, but I think he overstressed his first argument. If he examines the committee's recommendations he will see that the Bill does not follow the first recommendation, but definitely turns it down. In that case the right hon. Gentleman has brought in existing leases against the views and wishes of the Kinross Committee. While he does that, probably for very good reasons, he insists on standing absolutely and accurately by the exact wording of the second recommendation. I appreciate, however, the force of the latter part of his statement, and we do not propose to go to a Division upon the matter. We merely desire to draw attention to the fact that the first recommendation of the committee, on a very important point, has been ignored.

Sir C. MacAndrew

This point arose during the Committee stage, and it struck the promoters of the Bill that, as it would be in the interests of almost everyone concerned that leases should terminate in the autumn, the probability was that such would become the practice automatically for the benefit of farmers, tenants and landlords alike.

11.23 a.m.

Mr. Charles Williams

I suppose it is all right to pass this Bill, but we are in a curious position. We have had no real explanation of the principles or Clauses of the Bill. Some of us came down here this morning hoping to hear one of those powerful orations to which we are treated occasionally from one of the leaders who sits on the benches below me, but we have been disappointed. I feel that as my hon. and gallant Friend who is in charge of the Bill is always so eminently sane, the Bill itself must be all right, particularly as it has the backing of the Government, but after one or two of the remarks which we have heard from the Front Opposition Bench I should feel easier in my mind if I also heard something from the Liberal point of view on the provisions of the Bill. The Bill, I am informed, is of considerable importance to Scotland, and it would be a great help to those who have to decide upon it if the inner meaning of the Bill and where it is leading us were explained. I realise that the Bill is intended to clear up a difficult and complicated point, and if it simplifies matters so as to make things easier for agriculturists in Scotland, I shall be glad to support it. But I cannot resist the comment that it is curious that an important Bill of this sort applying to Scotland should not have greater backing from the right hon. Gentleman the. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), who is always liable to abuse us because we do not take enough interest in Scottish affairs.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.