HL Deb 19 July 1937 vol 106 cc562-6

In the Schedule, page 12, line 11, leave out ("may, if at any time they deem it expedient") and insert ("shall")

LORD SALTOUN, who had given Notice of a Motion to disagree with the Commons Amendment, said: My Lords, this Amendment makes it obligatory on the Minister to appoint two independent members to each local committee. In many parts in Scotland—where I live at any rate—this Bill has occasioned great perturbation among farm servants. They have not perhaps had a very happy experience of the present Government's benevolent intentions towards them. The Scottish Housing Act has operated very greatly to their disadvantage, and they know it. They often address questions to me on the subject asking what the real intentions of the Government are and whether the Government are aware that they are borne upon so very hardly by this benevolent, but I submit, somewhat unwise Act. The consequence of that is that they are very much alive to the possible consequences of this Bill, which they do not think will operate as much to their advantage as its promoters maintain. Therefore the good will and good feeling and sense of co-operation between farm workers and farmers which have long existed in many parts of Scotland are prejudiced.

In my own part and, I believe, in Ross and Cromarty, in Banffshire, along the southern coast of the Moray Firth and I should say right down to Galloway, you will find in every part farm workers quite prepared to work in cordial co-operation on these local committees with farmers and vice versa, and I think it would have been much better had these independent members not been appointed, or if the Government were not compelling themselves to appoint these independent members, because it is like calling out the military and telling them to load with live cartridges when three or four people are assembled together in a street. It is panic legislation, it is assuming that they will not work together in harmony which, I can assure your Lordships, in most parts of Scotland they are very willing to do. It is also going to be very difficult to find independent members. There are not so many people with a real practical knowledge of country affairs who are not themselves engaged either in farming or in something very closely connected with farming. Moreover, there is always the danger that an independent member may serve upon a committee in an adjacent district, and it would be a grave disaster to any committee to have an independent member bringing in the experience he has got from a neighbouring district to help his judgment in another district, for this reason, that the districts vary very much among themselves, and it is quite impossible to bring the experience of one district to help out one's knowledge in another.

There is another danger, which is that these independent members are to be appointed by the Department and presumably by the Minister, and as they come from the Department they will be suspect both to the Chairman and to the committee. They will be tempted possibly to have their own private communications with the Department behind the back of the Chairman and though I have no doubt the Government will discountenance such action, these independent members will never be clear from the suspicion in the minds of the farmer and the farm-worker that they may be in such close touch. For all these reasons, I think it is a great pity that this Amendment has been made in the Bill, and I hope that my noble friend will be able to give me some reassurance on the subject or else agree to delete these words

Moved, That this House doth disagree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—(Lord Saltoun.)


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, was good enough to inform me some time ago that he felt strongly about this Amendment. He and I consulted together, and I hope this afternoon our consultations will come to a good result. On this occasion I hope the noble Lord will not press his Motion. When the Bill left your Lordships' House it provided that the two independent members should be appointed if the Department deemed it expedient. The discussion on the Bill in another place, however, showed that widely divergent views were held as to the occasion and purpose for which such appointments would in practice be made. For instance, certain members thought that it was the purpose and intention of this provision that it should be used to inject into a committee at the height of a dispute two additional members. It was suggested that the powers of appointment so exercised would enable the dispute to become immediately a matter of Parliamentary debate and controversy as being an administrative act by a Minister. This would be clearly undesirable.

It follows, moreover, from that suggestion that, if the power of appointment at discretion was used at any time before a dispute arose, complaint would be made that the power had been unfairly used with a view to prevent Parliamentary discussion of any dispute that might subsequently arise. In making any such appointment, too, it would be difficult to avoid the risk of suspicion that it was designed to influence the proceedings of the committee in one way or another. In these circumstances it is felt that it would be better that the two independent persons should be members of the committee from the outset and that it should be so laid down by Parliament. Further consideration, too, has suggested that the fear that it might be impossible in outlying districts to find two suitable persons for appointment is exaggerated. No insuperable difficulty has arisen in comparable parts of England and Wales.

Some doubts have been expressed as to whether it is desirable that there should be two independent members on the committee at all, but there are strong arguments in favour of their presence. Experience in England and Wales, where a similar Act has been in operation for over twelve years, has shown that their presence on the committee has been of the utmost value. Moreover, in the absence of these members, a very heavy burden would fall on the independent chairman; there would be a danger of his finding his position intolerable. This might lead to frequent changes of chairmanship, and consequent dislocation of the committee's business. The addition of the two independent members has also this further advantage, that they will be available for nomination as vice-chairmen, so that in the absence of the chairman, the chair will be taken by a person who is familiar with the work and personnel of the committee. In these circumstances I hope that the noble Lord will see his way not to press his Motion.


May I ask whether the chairman will be consulted about the independent members? Can the noble Lord give me an assurance on that point?


My Lords, I do not think I could give an undertaking that that will be the case, but the information I have received from the Department is that in nearly every instance this consultation will certainly take place.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for his statement, and I accept his assurance with much gratitude. Before withdrawing the Motion, I would like to thank him for the very free-handed way in which he has put his time at my disposal to get this question thrashed out.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—(Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.