HL Deb 24 November 1937 vol 107 cc258-64

LORD SALTOUN had given Notice that he would move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Agricultural Wages Committees (Definition of Districts) (Scotland) Order, 1937, dated 11th October, 1937, made by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland under Section 1 (1) of the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) (Scotland) Act, 1937, be annulled. The noble Lord said: My Lords, under the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) (Scotland) Act the Department of Agriculture for Scotland was empowered to make Regulations covering four different portions of the Act. There have been tabled three of these sets of Regulations; the fourth set has not yet been tabled, although I have seen a draft of it. That set of Regulations concerns the way in which the perquisites which farm workers in Scotland receive in the place of money wages are to be reckoned in cash. The whole of the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) (Scotland) Act, as far as it concerns the married men, depends upon the manner in which these perquisites are to be valued, because at retail prices these perquisites in many instances amount to very nearly half the wage earned. I would therefore venture to ask the noble Lord who will reply for the Government if he can tell me in his reply why these Regulations, which cover all these other three portions of the Act to a certain extent, have not been already tabled, and whether he can let us know when the Department expects to lay them on the Table.

I quite understand that it should be a difficult thing to seek to annul a Regulation made by a Department of State under an Act of Parliament, and in the particular case before us I would much rather have sought to amend it. I do not know whether there was a subtle design to make amendment difficult, but the Act lays down that these Regulations cannot be amended in either House of Parliament; all that we can do is to present a Petition to the Crown seeking to annul them. If therefore I seek to annul these Regulations I do so because it is the course imposed upon me by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. My reason for seeking to annul these Regulations, which are contained in Order No. 920, is on account of the boundary between the Counties of Banff, Aberdeen and Kincardine (which is District No. 3) and the County of Angus and part of the County of Perth (which is District No. 4). I would ask your Lordships to notice particularly that the County of Angus is included with part of the County of Perth, and so when I seek, as I shall do, to add to it also part of the County of Kincardine I am not doing anything which is to be avoided in these Regulations. The County of Aberdeen and the County of Banff and part of the County of Kincardine practise one particular system of farming. Part of the County of Kincardine and the County of Angus practise quite a different system.

To the north of that line we have what is called the chaumer system; to the south, we have the bothy system. Those of your Lordships who are interested in the French derivation of Scottish words may care to learn that the word "chaumer" is not connected, as one might imagine, with chambre and camera, but I think it is connected with the word chaumière because in practice the chaumer is always a separate house, and of course in the old days it must have been a true chaumière and thatched with straw. Under the chaumer system the unmarried men sleep in the chaumer but they are fed entirely in the farmhouse. There is no question in that case of perquisites, because they live at the charge of the farmer who employs them, and in fact they are, except in the matter of sleeping accommodation, inmates of his house. Under the bothy system the unmarried men do receive food allowances and they sleep and feed in the bothies. I am not quite perfectly acquainted with the general system of the allowances they receive, and so I will not attempt to describe it. I will not say that there are no bothies in Aberdeenshire: there are bothies in Aberdeenshire, but these bothies are bothies of gamekeepers, foresters and the like. They have nothing to do with the employment of farm servants.

If the Aberdeenshire committee has to regulate wages in the whole of Kincardineshire it will be necessary for that committee to make special regulations for quite a small portion of the County in a different manner from the regulations that they make for the rest of the district put under their charge. I submit that this is putting a great deal more additional work on the committee, and, furthermore, that if the committee is properly representative of the district that I indicate—part of Kincardineshire, Aberdeenshire, and Banffshire—then the very fact that it is so representative will prevent it from acting as efficiently in the little district that I seek to exclude by reason of the fact that the members of the committee are unfamiliar with the system of life. Now if the line separating District No. 3 from District No. 4 were drawn so as to include in No. 3 District the parishes of Banchory-Ternan, Banchory-Devenick, Durris, Maryculter, Nigg, Strachan and part of the parish of Drumoak, the line of division would correspond to the division between the two systems. Moreover, these parishes are north of the Grampians on the map, but when you go to the County itself the proper division is the crest of the Grampians, and runs right through Kincardineshire, and that is the natural division of the two systems that I have outlined to your Lordships.

I know that these divisions into which Scotland is divided must to some extent be rough divisions, but I submit that when you can do work well it is not necessary that, because in some cases it must be done roughly, therefore you must take pains to do it roughly. In my opinion the Department of Agriculture should have been sufficiently careful to mark the division line in the place where I have placed it. A small additional reason for following this line is the fact that to the north of that line the universal term of entry and way-going for married farm servants is Whitsun, while south of that line the universal term for married farm servants is Martinmas. The wages committees will have to regulate wages six-monthly in any case, and the fact of a few Martinmas entries occurring in the district would make very little difference to their work; but it does emphasise the point I am making that there is a real division between these two portions of Scotland. In default of any power to move an Amendment, I ask your Lordships' permission to annul these Regulations. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Agricultural Wages Committees (Definition of Districts) (Scotland) Order, 1937, dated nth October, 1937, made by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland under Section 1 (1) of the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) (Scotland) Act, 1937, be annulled.—(Lord Saltoun.)


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene at this stage in this debate, but I cannot allow this Motion to pass without some comment. I am rot quite sure which is the most appropriate time to deal with the matter, whether on this Regulation or on the others. The point in this case seems to be a very small one concerning this particular area in Aberdeenshire and Angus, and I think that could be left to future amending Regulations. The noble Lord has enlarged on the bothy system and the chaumer system that prevail in this area. They are utterly unknown in my part of Scotland, where the whole system is different, the work being chiefly done by married workers. It would be a great pity to take such a drastic step on this comparatively small matter Perhaps one may be permitted to speak more appropriately on a subsequent Motion, but I hope that the noble Lord who will speak for the Government will undertake that, where any real need for amendment is shown, the Government will be prepared to introduce amending Regulations. In this case I hope that the House will not agree to deal with the matter as my noble friend Lord Saltoun has suggested.


My Lords, it would probably be for the convenience of your Lordships if I deal first of all with the two points the noble Lord has raised as preliminary to the further point of somewhat greater importance he wants to raise later on. First of all the noble Lord complains that the documents in question do not include all the Rules to be made under the Act. There are, as he explained, also Regulations relating to benefits in kind to be made by the Department under Section 8, subsection (1) (a) which, he claims, should be before your Lordships' House at the same time as the Regulations now under discussion. May I say at once that if this had been practicable it would have been done. But in the discussions with the organisations, which were a necessary preliminary to the establishment of this machinery, it became evident at an early stage that agreement on the principles which are to govern the valuation of benefits in kind presented special difficulties. It therefore became a question of whether the whole of the Regulations, and therefore all action under the Act, should be postponed until the questions arising on the valuation of benefits could be resolved. The Department—rightly so, I think, and with the concurrence of the representatives of both parties—took the view that they were not justified in postponing the duties laid upon them by Section r of the Act, and the Schedule, to divide the country into districts and take the necessary steps, which necessarily have taken some time, to establish the committees. These are steps concerned with the machinery of wage regulation. The Regulations about the valuation of benefits are of a different kind, being a statement of principles for the guidance of the committees in their work. They cannot become effective until the committees are set up and have elected thir own chairmen. There are one or two points in the draft Regulations still under discussion, but steps will be taken to ensure that they are published in good time for the committees to act upon them.

I pass on to the question of the differentiation of boundaries to which the noble Lord referred. Here again I appreciate the point he raised, and of course he described the circumstances surrounding one particular district more especially than any other. It would, I agree, be convenient if the districts were uniform within themselves, and the task of the committees would be considerably simplified. But I am afraid that this object could have been achieved, and then only partially, by greatly increasing the number of districts and committees, involving correspondingly larger expenditure from public funds. For practical reasons the partition had to be settled on broad lines and, in general, the county boundary has been accepted as affording, from an administrative point of view, the simplest and clearest line of demarcation. The question of the districts was fully discussed with the representative national organisations, and the Government, whilst fully admitting that the result can at the best be only an approximation, are satisfied that the division in the Order is the best that can be effected in the circumstances. Should any serious errors be disclosed by experience, there is, I would remind the noble Lord, provision in the Act for the alteration of the boundaries at the instance of the committees concerned. But, quite apart from this, the Act fully recognises the varying circumstances not merely between districts but within each district, by providing the committees with powers to deal specially with special classes of workers and special areas within their districts. If the noble Lord will consider Section 2, subsection (2) of the Act, he will see that those powers are very wide indeed, and the Government feel sure that they are sufficient to enable the committees to deal with the particular difficulty, by no means peculiar to the Aberdeen district, which the noble Lord has in mind.


My Lords, I would just like to answer what the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, said. I am compelled to move to annul these Orders because the Act very carefully prevents me from moving to amend them, which I should naturally prefer to do. I am very much obliged to my noble friend Lord Strathcona for his statement with regard to the Regulations about perquisites. I am glad to learn that they will be issued in plenty of time to enable him to look into the matter. Your Lordships will remember that the Act prescribes twenty-eight sitting days for these Regulations to lie on the Table of the House for your Lordships to consider them. I trust that that period of twenty-eight days will be borne in mind, and that the Regulations will be tabled in plenty of time to enable your Lordships to pass any comments upon them that you may wish to make before the committees have to act upon them. In conclusion I would say quite frankly that this is an administrative point. I do not wish to press the Motion, but I would like to point out to the noble Lord that I am not seeking to increase the number of districts; I am seeking to preserve the number of districts. While I recognise that the Act gives ample powers for dealing with strange and incongruous areas, the point is that men drawn from a large area with experience of one system cannot so well make regulations for a totally different system as a committee which is accustomed to that system and whose work is confined to it. I beg to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.