HL Deb 01 August 1910 vol 6 cc634-9


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I have to ask the House to give a Second Reading to this small Bill, upon which it will only be necessary for me to say a very few words. Your Lordships will remember that the Land Tenure Bill of 1906 applied to Scotland. It was somewhat difficult for an individual who did riot have the good fortune to be a Scotsman either by birth or by accident to frame a Bill which would be acceptable to Scotland, but I am glad to say that with one small exception the Government were successful. This is a small Bill of only two sections, the first of which runs— Notwithstanding anything in section eleven of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1908, contained, that section shall not apply to valuations of sheep stocks, dung, fallow, Straw, crops, fences, and other specific things the property of an outgoing tenant. When the Bill of 1908 was before your Lordships the noble Earl, Lord Camper-down, objected to the Bill applying to valuations. I was advised on the highest legal authority that arbitrations and valuations were distinct. That was a point on which I could not possibly give an opinion myself. We all know that justice is blind, and I suppose justice is sometimes mistaken, because subsequent litigation has shown that Scottish leases are so worded as to turn what would ordinarily be valuations into arbitrations. I do not know if your Lordships quite understand that; it is rather involved, but that is what the highest legal authorities have decided. In consequence of that decision I bring in this little Bill, which I very respectfully ask your Lordships to be good enough to read a second time so as to put things perfectly straight and in order to meet the wishes of the Scottish members of both Houses of Parliament.

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


My Lords, I do not rise for the purpose of offering any opposition to this Bill, because it has become absolutely necessary. But I was, I confess, considerably surprised to hear the noble Earl opposite describe it as a "little Bill." Is he aware that this Bill absolutely contradicts and contravenes the main principle on which his old Agricultural Bill for Scotland was founded in 1906? First of all, with regard to what has happened, the noble Earl has just said that I objected to the Bill, now the Act, on the ground that, in my opinion, valuation was not properly treated. What I objected to was this. I said that here you were for the first time attempting to establish one agricultural law for England, a country under yearly tenancy, and Scotland, which is under nineteen years leases, and I submitted that it stood to reason—in fact, any child who knew anything about Scottish agriculture could have told the noble Earl—that there must be certain points in which the legislation for the two countries would have to be different. I ventured to say on that occasion, "Here you are using the word 'arbitration,' which is, perhaps, one of the most dangerous words connected with Scottish agriculture, and you are applying this Bill drawn for England with this word in it to Scotland. You little know what you are undertaking"; and I went on to say to the noble Earl, "If you do not take care I believe it is quite possible you will upset the whole system of sheep valuations in Scotland." Sheep valuations in Scotland, as I daresay the noble Earl is now aware, constitute a considerable element in the agricultural industry of that country. The noble Earl very sensibly accepted my words and they went down to the House of Commons.

In the other House the Bill was encountered by the present Attorney-General, Sir William Robson, who was then Solicitor-General. He said that the words I had suggested were really unnecessary and perfectly useless. Of course, noble Lords in this House know nothing about business, or Scotland, or anything else. And so he struck out the words. When the Bill returned to this House I took the liberty of saving to the noble Earl that it was not for me to raise any dispute—I did not care about my words—but I thought that within a very short period he would discover that a mistake had been made in striking them out. I did not attach any importance to the words merely because I happened to have suggested them, but those words, as the noble Earl, I am sure, will bear me out, would have prevented the difficulty that has since arisen. In a few weeks after the passing of the Act the sheep farmers came down upon us under an apprehension that their sheep contracts might be interfered with. Then, later, a landlord in Perthshire, a very excellent fellow but rather inclined to go to law, disputed the conditions in his lease. He said, "The Act of the noble Earl clearly does away with my lease," and so he went to law and the case has gone through every Court. All the Scottish Courts have said that the Act did away with the conditions of his lease, and that was affirmed here on the highest authority, and this Bill has become necessary to put the mutter right.

What were the main principles of the noble Earl's measure which are contravened by this Bill which he calls a small Bill? The first was that the Act which is now the law for England, and, with this exception, for Scotland, did away as far as possible with custom and with contracts, and substituted therefor agricultural regulations made by Parliament. This is neither the place nor the time to enlarge on the extraordinary folly of that proceeding. I am sure that every noble Lord who knows anything about agriculture knows how unwise such a proceeding as that was. That was the first thing. It. did away with custom as far as it could and with agreements, and substituted Parliamentary regulations. The next thing was that it broke all existing contracts. That is one of the favourite courses pursued by His Majesty's Government with regard to these matters. The third was that you said that for the future there should be one law for England and for Scotland. The result has been that you are now obliged to bring in a Bill which reverses every single one of those three procedures. You are obliged to confess that for the future as to this matter of valuation there is to be one mode of valuation for Scotland and a different mode of valuation for England. In the second place, you abrogated existing contracts, and now you are obliged to restore all those leases and also to say that for the future existing leases may provide the way in which these valuations are to be conducted in Scotland. In the third place, you have restored custom and liberty of contract. My Lords, this is what my noble friend calls a small Bill!

I am quite sure of this, that if in breaking existing leases any landowner had been injured he might have cried for redress for as long as he liked and not one bit of redress would he have got. But you dare not behave in this way to tenant farmers, and you are obliged to bring in this Bill for the purpose of restoring to the tenant farmers that which you were so unwise as to take away from them. The noble Earl told us that he was advised on the highest authority. I can only say that as that case went from Court to Court the noble Earl kept assuring the people that by the decision of the next Court it would be all right. Not only that, but the Lord Advocate gave the same assurance only a short time before the case came to this House. I do not know what the Lord Advocate thinks now, but he conducted the case himself when it came to the House of Lords. I was told—I have not the least notion. whether it is true or not—that he even went so far as to conduct the case without any fee. What is the result? If your Lordships look at the Bill you will see that the valuations are all enumerated—sheep stocks, dung, fallow, straw, crops, fences, and so on. I am not sure if that is a very safe way of enumerating valuations, because as you were not right the last time it may possibly follow that you have omitted something again.

The last point is, Who is to pay for all this vast legal amusement? The Scottish farmers put in a very strong claim indeed upon His Majesty's Government. They say, "We have been put to all the expense of going from Court to Court in order to prove your mistake. You have been assuring us that the law would be found to be one way, and we, at our own expense, have been obliged to prove that it is the other way. Are you going to pay us our costs?" If this had occurred in England we know the way my noble friend would have dealt with it. Your Lordships will remember that when a farmer in England had his land taken away from him for small holdings and the law did not give him any compensation, my noble friend said, "Here is a£50 note out of my own pocket; do not let us talk any more about it." That may do very well in England and when the amount is moderate, but£50 would not cover the costs in this case. A great many fifty pounds have been expended in the various Courts of Law, and the question is, Who is going to find this money? I suppose it will come out of some Scottish fund—the Congested Districts Board or some fund of the kind, and in this House we shall never hear any more about it. It will be one of those little jiggery-pokery transactions behind the scenes which we know Governments sometimes indulge in, and are not very proud of in public. That is all I have to say about this Bill. I only wish to rescue the noble Earl from the consequences of his own actions, and to say once inure that in the three respects I have mentioned this Bill contravenes the whole principle of his Act of 1906.


My Lords, I may say, in answer to my noble friend, that the matter of the payment of the law costs which have been incurred is under the consideration of the Treasury, and I am not without hope that they may be paid by them.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.