HL Deb 10 December 1908 vol 198 cc676-81


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I owe an apology to the House for asking your Lordships at this late period of the session to give a Second Reading to this Bill, but it is not altogether my fault. I got the Bill through the different departments concerned by the end of October, and I introduced it in your Lordships' House on 4th November. Since then I have given considerable time for examination of the measure by noble Lords opposite, and I am glad to say I shall be able to accept some verbal Amendments of which notice has been given. It is a consolidating Bill merely, and, to the best of my knowledge, contains no new matter. The Bill is generally asked for in Scotland, and I therefore respectfully ask the House, even at this late period of the session, to be good enough to give it a Second Reading.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(Earl Carrington.)


My Lords, we are all very much obliged to the noble Earl for the time he has allowed for the examination of the Bill before asking us to give it a Second Reading. As a consolidation Bill this I will be a very useful measure; but there are in it two provisions differing from the existing law, the first being in Clause 6. As the law now stands, a tenant is required to make a claim for compensation before the termination of his tenancy; but, under the Bill, all that is required is that the tenant should give notice that he intends to make a claim. Your Lordships will see that there is a very substantial difference between those two things. The result might be that the claim would not be made until two or three years later. In this particular the Bill makes an alteration in the law, whereas our conception of a consolidating Bill is that it merely consolidates the law without making any charge whatever. Another point concerns the mode of arbitration to be followed under the Bill, as to which I should like some explanation. Your Lordships will remember that the Agricultural Holdings Bill as relating to Scotland provided that in future all arbitrations were to be conducted by one arbiter, notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary. It was seen in this House that that might create very great confusion in regard to the important matter of sheep valuation, and words were inserted here which made it clear that the clause should not so apply. The noble Earl opposite, however, adopted the advice of the Solicitor-General in the House of Commons that the words were quite unnecessary, with the result that within three months he was besieged from all quarters in Scotland on the subject. This Bill, I am told, proposes to meet that difficulty by inserting a new definition of the word "agreement." It is provided in Clause 35 that— 'Agreement' includes an agreement arrived at by means of valuation or otherwise, and 'agreed' has a corresponding meaning. How does that affect the question in any way? Clause 11 runs— All questions which under this Act or under the lease are referred to arbitration, shall, whether the matter to which the arbitration relates arose before or after the passing of this Act be determined, notwithstanding any agreement under the lease or otherwise providing for a different method of arbitration, by a single arbiter. I do not see that it makes the slightest difference what definition you attach to the word "agreement" if you say that notwithstanding any agreement one arbiter is to act. Perhaps the noble Earl will be able to explain that to me on some future occasion. In all other respects I think the Bill conforms to the law as it now stands.


My Lords, I hope the House will not pass this Bill at the end of the session. I do not think it is at all a safe thing to do. The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture told us that it was purely a consolidating Bill, but the noble Earl who has just sat down has referred to two very important points where the provisions differ from the existing law. I cannot conceive that it is possible for the Bill to become law this year, and it seems to me that it would be very unwise for this House to part with control over it at this period of the session. There is a Committee presided over by the Lord Chancellor which looks after consolidation Bills, and if the noble Earl would agree to refer the Bill to that Committee I am sure it would got most favourable consideration next session. The definition of "agreement," to which the noble Earl, Lord Camperdown, has just called attention, is in itself absurd, and is another pitfall in the way of those who have to read the Bill. In the first place, it is entirely new matter; and while it proposes to define the words "agreement" and "agreed," it does not define the word "agree." I have had two or three communications from lawyers in Scotland upon this point, urging most strongly that the Bill should be carefully considered. I need not labour the matter so far as the other points are concerned; but it cannot have been by carelessness that the draftsman made the change requiring only notice of intention to make a claim to be given before the termination of the tenancy. That is a very material, and, I consider, grossly unfair change to propose. It has been protested against to me by a dozen people from all parts of Scotland. Then there are great difficulties with regard to the definition of what is known in Scotland as temporary pasture. A change in the law would, no doubt, be an advantage. That, however, cannot be done in a consolidation Bill. But if the Bill were referred to the Committee on Consolidation Bills, it would be easy, by means of a schedule showing the change, to get a slight change of that kind made. I do not think it is safe to part with this Bill at this period of the session, and I therefore trust that, if we agree to the Second Reading being taken now, we shall not be asked to proceed further with the Bill this session.


My Lords, I am, of course, entirely in the hands of the House. I have explained how it is that the Bill has been brought before your Lordships at such a late period of the session, and if the noble Lord opposite chooses to take the responsibility of stopping the Bill I can say nothing. I might mention that only on Tuesday I received a deputation of Scottish farmers on this subject. Noble Lords acquainted with Scottish farmers know that they are a very resolute, determined, and outspoken body of men. Some of them were extremely outspoken, and they said they were determined to have the Bill this session. There is really very little difference between the noble Earl opposite and myself. I think the noble Earl is perfectly right, and I am quite ready to accept an Amendment carrying out his view with regard to Clause 6. As the only difference between us seems to be as to the meaning of the word "agreement," I honestly think we might come to some satisfactory conclusion on that point. I hope noble Lords opposite will let us get the Bill through.


My Lords, the noble Earl warned my noble friend, in rather solemn accents, of the responsibility which will rest with him if he stops this Bill. But what will happen supposing the Bill is not proceeded with now? I do not think it will make any difference whatever either to the farmers of Scotland, or to the ultimate prospects of the Bill. This is a Bill which has orignated in your Lordships' House. I do not apprehend that the noble Earl intends that it should pass through all its stages in this House and in the House of Commons as well before the end of the session.


Yes, if your Lordships will give me a chance.


Then we have another little Bill added to the twenty-five Bills which the Prime Minister light-heartedly said he wished to see passed before this session came to an end, and one which, moreover, contains, apparently, some very contentious matter. Surely the reasonable course is that the noble Earl should be content with the perfectly friendly reception which has been given to his Bill, should introduce it again at the beginning of next session, when we are not likely, if it is a consolidation Bill pure and simple, to take long in discussing it, and then send it down to another place. That seems to me a reasonable and businesslike mode of procedure.


My Lords, I must say I think my noble friend behind me has not been entirely well treated in this matter. He seems to have met noble Lords opposite in every possible way by giving them the opportunity of thoroughly examining the Bill. I have no doubt they have taken the fullest advantage of this, and it does seem to me a little ungracious now to refuse to pass the Bill, assuming that it is, as my noble friend has declared it is, purely a consolidation Bill. Of course, I have no personal knowledge as to whether or not there is any new matter in the Bill, but, assuming that my noble friend is willing to make it quite clear, as I think he can, that it is a consolidation Bill pure and simple, I should have thought we might have proceeded with it as a purely formal matter, and that there would be no difficulty in passing it through another place.


My Lords, I have had to pass many consolidation Bills and have always undertaken that they were purely consolidating and contained nothing new. But, in regard to this Bill, two noble Lords have pointed out that new matter of a highly contentious nature has been introduced. Take, for instance, the provision referred to by Lord Camperdown that, notwithstanding any agreement under lease or otherwise providing for a different method of arbitration, all questions shall be determined by a single arbiter. I know nothing of the merits, but if that is a new provision it seems to me a very important provision and certainly one which ought not to be passed without due consideration. If it is true the new matter has been introduced, it cannot be suggested that this is merely a consolidation Bill.


My Lords, the object of this Bill is declared in its title to be to consolidate the enactments relating to agricultural holdings in Scotland, but there is, as has been explained, a certain amount of new matter. If the noble Earl, the President of the Board of Agriculture, would take out the new matter to which we object we should be very glad to facilitate the passing of the Bill, which would, I am sure, prove of the greatest benefit to the whole country. But if the noble Earl cannot see his way to do this, I hope Lord Balfour's suggestion will be adopted.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.