HL Deb 24 November 1937 vol 107 cc264-94

LORD SALTOUN had on the Paper Motions to the effect that humble Addresses be presented to His Majesty praying that the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board Regulations, 1937, dated 11th October, 1937, and the Agricultural Wages Committees (Scotland) Regulations, 1937, dated 11th October, 1937, made by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland under the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) (Scotland) Act, 1937, be annulled. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the next two sets of Regulations, with your Lordships' leave, I will take together, because what I have to say upon the one applies with equal force to the other. I think it is only right to state that the Regulations under consideration follow the lines of the Regulations made under the similar English Act very nearly word for word. I do not know if these English Regulations were ever criticised in your Lordships' House, but as it is acknowledged on all sides that conditions in Scotland are very different from those in England one would naturally expect that the Regulations for Scotland would to some extent be different. I sought to annul the Regulations we have already discussed as a matter of administration on the grounds of expediency, but the grounds on which I seek now to annul these Regulations are grounds which go to the very root of good government.

On the Report Stage of the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) (Scotland) Bill I moved an Amendment to secure proper representation for both farmers and farm servants on the local committees. The Government asked me to withdraw the Amendment and gave me an undertaking on the subject. I dislike reading from the OFFICIAL REPORT in order to try and tie the Government down to the exact words used, but I must in this case and I trust your Lordships therefore will excuse me for doing so. The assurance was in the following terms: It may, perhaps, assist the noble Lord if I now state in general terms the Government's position in this matter. It is the Government's desire that reasonable men on both sides, and as far as possible men closely conversant with the actual problems involved, should be selected. It is also the desire of the Government that those selected should really represent the opinion of those for whom they will speak, and that no organisation should consider that such appointments are in any way its perquisite. Perhaps I may mention that I emphasise that point because my attention was drawn to it in a letter I received from the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, who at the same time expressed his regret that he was unable to be present to mention the matter himself in de bate to-day. This will admittedly raise difficult questions in areas where membership of any organisation is non-existent or very small indeed, or where more than one organisation could claim to be representative. In such a case the rival claims would certainly have to receive fair consideration. The noble Lord's Amendment shows, however, how difficult it will be to bring these considerations within the four corners of a Statute. With the assurance of the Government's intention which I have just given, it will perhaps be possible for the noble Lord to withdraw the Amendment. This was not a promise given in the heat of debate, but it was a carefully considered statement, the gist of which had already been communicated to my friends and to myself and which we were prepared to accept as the best course in the circumstances.

Your Lordships will observe that the statement quite definitely envisages the existence of other local societies—I emphasise local—which ought to receive consideration. Gratified by this assurance, some of us who were interested in agriculture in the North-East conceived the idea of an association of both farmers and farm-workers—admitting proprietors as honorary members at the discretion of the committee—with a view principally to making the Act a success. One would have thought that such a society representing a united industry would have been welcomed by the Department of Agriculture, but the contrary appears to have been the case. Perhaps its existence would diminish the Department's opportunities of mediating between jarring factions and exercising authority. The new enterprise was hailed with enthusiasm by farmers and farm workers alike, and received promises of support from farm-workers all over the country. The enrolment of members went on apace, particularly among the married farm servants, and the success and enthusiasm of the meetings were really inspiring. I have often criticised the Farmers' Union and, therefore, I am glad to state that the new association received no opposition at all from that quarter. I have never criticised the Farm Servants' Union, and I am sorry to say that the association was very obstinately opposed by this body and its agents.

The statement most widely broadcast by these agents, and most successful in its effect, was that the Scottish Department of Agriculture had given them a private undertaking that they and they alone should receive the right to nominate the farm workers' representatives on the local committees. The secretary of the new association came to see me about it, and I referred him to the Government's statement—the statement I have just read to your Lordships—and I said that as I understood that statement, and as I thought anybody would understand that statement, it meant that provided he could show a representative membership, the claims of his association would certainly be considered. I do not think, and I not imagine anybody can think, that I was wrong in what I said to him. On the firth October, however, months after the association got going—the association was formed last June—the Regulations of the Department were issued, and your Lordships will see that under Clause 1 of Regulations No. 919—I have copies here in case any noble Lord has not got the Regulations and desires to see them—the right to nominate representatives is confined to three definite bodies subject to the veto of the Department, and that under Clause 4 these bodies may terminate the membership of any of these agents at what I may term their will. That is, no member of any local committee can sit for a single meeting against the will of the association that nominated him. As these Regulations are final, the bodies named cannot be prevented from regarding the right to nominate as their perquisite.

I want to emphasise this point. Once these Regulations have passed your Lordships' House you can never bring them back again for review. No one can raise a question upon them later in this House. They are finished. The only people who can raise a question about the position are the Department of Agriculture themselves. These Regulations can only be amended at the will of the Department. If your Lordships doubt that that is the position, I will ask you how many Amendments there have been to the English Regulations. There have been a few, but your Lordships will see that they have been very few. I do not say myself that the Department gave an improper undertaking to the Farm Servants' Union, but the way the business has been managed does give rise to very strong suspicion. No applications have been invited by the Department either by advertisement or in any other way from such bodies as might feel entitled to nominate representatives. It may be said that this local association is new and does not deserve representation, but if the Department had invited applications they would certainly have had one from the Scottish Land and Property Federation whose undoubted claim to be considered for representation on the Board would certainly have been put forward. It would have been very easy to keep Clause 1 of the Regulations within the terms of the Government's assurance simply by putting after the word "Agriculture" in line 5, and after the word "Union" in line 12, the additional words, "or such other bodies as shall satisfy the Department as to their claim to be represented." If they had put in those words I could not properly have brought this point before your Lordships.

I submit that on these facts the Department cannot claim to be above suspicion. As a matter of fact I think there may have been some indiscretion and that they have not considered very much what they were doing. I have been given an opportunity of putting the case to the Minister, and I pointed that as far as local associations in District No. 3 were concerned there was still a vacant place in the local committee which could be filled by the local association if the Minister satisfied himself as to its fair claim to that place. He replied—if I misunderstood him I hope my noble friend Lord Strathcona will correct me—that to do so would be to destroy the monopoly of the Farm Servants' Union which had carried out the irksome task of nominating members all over Scotland, and he was not prepared to do this. In any case he was not prepared to consider the claim of any local association for representation on a local committee. That means that the definite assurance given to us on March 23 is to remain unfulfilled.

I cannot even now believe that the Government intend to maintain this position. Do not misunderstand me. I am not fighting for the claim of this local association to have a place on the local committee. I am not fighting for any particular association. That must be a question of fact to be determined outside your Lordships' House. For all I know there may be many other local associations of this kind which have proper claims to be considered. I merely say that the terms of the Government undertaking on March 23 and the terms of Clause 1 of the Regulations before your Lordships are inconsistent and therefore the Regulation must be amended. If the Government insist upon these Regulations, then it is very difficult to see on what ground similar assurances are ever to be accepted. Moreover, I submit that no Department of State can afford to lie under suspicion of hole-and-corner methods—at any rate they appear to me as hole-and-corner methods—such as have been charged to the Scottish Department of Agriculture, not by me, but by the representatives of the Farm Servants' Union in the North-East of Scotland. This is particularly so in the case of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, because those of your Lordships who have read the Report of the Committee upon Scottish Offices will remember that one of the difficulties hinted at by the Committee was the restlessness of the Scottish Office under Parliamentary control.

Now I have done with Regulation 1, and if your Lordships will look at Regulation 4 you will see that members of committees consist of representative members of the various bodies called upon to appoint and independent members appointed by the Department. By this Regulation power is given to each of the appointing bodies to terminate the membership of the appointees, not upon misconduct or leaving the district or bankruptcy but at will, so that every member of these bodies is merely an agent for the association that appoints him. The members have to accept the directions of the association. They cannot act upon the evidence that comes before them as committeemen should, but must always have an ear outside listening to the directions of the constituent bodies who have not seen the evidence and do not know the facts. That is bad enough with regard to what they call the representative members, but it is still worse with regard to the independent members, and on that I would like to remind your Lordships of what happened in another place.

As the Bill left this House those independent members could be appointed or not appointed as seemed best to the Department, but in another place the Minister made the appointment of these independent members compulsory upon the Department upon the ground that there was a possible danger that if an industrial dispute arose in any area the Government might be tempted to intervene by the appointment of independent members of a known political complexion. I myself think that if a Government adequately discharges its responsibility for administrative acts it has enough to do without framing its legislation so as to have some responsibility which should properly fall upon its successor. Under these Regulations the Government are publicly saying that the reasons given in another place for making these appointments compulsory are of no value, because by giving the Department power to terminate their membership at a moment's notice the Government are in effect putting into the hands of the Minister precisely the power which in another place they claimed they wished to remove.

There are other points I would like to make, but I have detained your Lordships too long. I must, however, refer to a point on Regulation 10 and another on Regulation 12 which provides a very clumsy piece of machinery to regulate the voting of the representative members. In the North-East of Scotland there are local clubs whose members are drawn both from farmers and from farm servants. Last week I was asked to address such a club upon the subject of these Regulations. This club is one which has had about fifteen years life and a membership of about 300 in quite a small district. Of that 300, ninety-nine are farm servants. In the course of my remarks I had to deal with Regulation 12, and I expressed the view that the Regulation did not envisage any possible agreement between farmer and farm worker, but I was very careful not to make any reference to the Department of Agriculture. I did not think that would be proper. There were present probably fifty farm workers and thirty farmers. On the way home with a friend he remarked to me that the Department appeared to wish to be quite certain that the farmers would vote one way and the farm workers another way and then the Department would have the whip hand. In a casual way I remarked that it might be a possible speculation that the Department wished actually to destroy such harmony as existed in the North-East in order to make quite sure that their existence might be felt. His reply surprised me; he said, "That is exactly what the people in the hall were saying." That is the judgment—as far as I am aware, I said said nothing to lead them to think that—of men who are immersed in the industry on reading the Regulations made by the Department, and I cannot see that your Lordships' judgment should be at all different from that. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board Regulations, 1937, dated 11th October, 1937, made by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland under the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) (Scotland) Act, 1937, be annulled.—(Lord Saltoun.)


My Lords, I rise to support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, and his criticism of these proposed Statutory Orders and Regulations to provide machinery for fixing a minimum wage for agricultural labour. First of all, does it not seem to your Lordships rather ridiculous that a question like this should have to come all the way down here to be discussed in your Lordships' House? It seems to me that a better example could not be required of the benefit of allowing the Scottish people to deal with their own domestic affairs. I am quite confident that if this Motion had been left to be dealt with by the Scottish people you would never have heard of it. They would have been quite equal to determining their minimum wage without any Statutory Orders or Regulations. The average Scottish agricultural labourer knows his work and knows his ability. He knows that he can quite well drive a bargain for himself, and I have never yet found a Scottish farmer who refused to pay a good wage to a good agricultural labourer. It seems to me an absurdity of legislation, that a matter of this sort should first be decided in England and then an attempt should be made to apply the measure to Scotland under totally different conditions.

However, I am not going to deal any further with that point, but I wish to criticise these Statutory Orders and Regulations as being incomplete. I have never seen any statement regarding the value of perquisites or the value of carting; yet the value of perquisites and carting may easily equal 50 per cent. of the remuneration to the agricultural labourer. These Regulations are incomplete, and we are being asked in Scotland to accept a pig in a poke. We do not know what we are giving, and we do not know what we are being asked to receive. I cordially agree that these Regulations and Statutory Orders should be deferred until the whole matter has been gone into carefully and is complete. I believe that the first paragraph as regards the definition of districts in Scotland has been withdrawn. I am sorry it has, because I most strongly object to one point in that definition. My own County is to be divided between two Counties, the one half to go with Renfrewshire and the other half to go with Ayrshire. That is the first instance which I have ever heard of a local authority, a County, being divided by an order of a Department without any consultation with the County Council. That is a very bad precedent and is certain to lead to trouble.

Dealing with the appointment of the chairmen of these proposed committees, I observe in the Regulations and Statutory Orders that the chairman is to be vested with very important duties. One would think, therefore, that the appointment of the chairman was a thing which required can and attention. So far as I can make out, paragraph 2 of the Agricultural Wages Committees Regulations deals with the matter satisfactorily. So far as the Agricultural Wages Board Regulations go, however, no arrangements at all have been made for the appointment of a chairman. I do not know whether that signifies that a permanent official of the Department shall always be the chairman or not. If it does signify that a permanent official must always be the chairman, then I strongly object; it sounds too much to me like bureaucracy. I therefore think that that section requires much more careful attention.

Then there is the question of balancing the committee. I fail to understand this provision. I quite agree with the idea that in constituting the committee it should be made up of four members representing agricultural labourers and four members representing the farmers. But having constituted the committee I should have thought that the proper course would be to allow members to turn up as best they can at the meetings. To have to balance the committee at every single meeting seems to me ridiculous. I quite agree with balancing the constitution, but not at every meeting. What is to happen in a place like Arran? A representative is called to attend a meeting on the main land, he has to be the best part of three days and two nights away from home. That is what a man takes now to attend a county council meeting. What is going to happen if a man gets to one of these meetings and is told that he must leave in order to balance the committee, or is told that his vote is not wanted? It is not so at any county council meeting, but it would be at meetings of these committees. And there is no word of any compensation for men who are called away from home, for all that time they take over their fruitless journey, if they are excluded to balance the committee. I therefore feel that this criticism requires careful consideration, and that the provision should be done away with.

The best thing to do would be to appoint four independent members who are neither farm servants nor farmers. I dislike immensely the idea that there is always a division of opinion between labourers and farmers, and that the four labourers will cancel out the four farmers. That would leave a permanent official to give the decision on the wages, and I think it objectionable that the wages should really he decided by a permanent official every time on the assumption that the four farmers are cancelled by the four labourers. If you have the four neutral people on, making a committee of twelve, I think you would be much more likely to get a satisfactory decision on the minimum wages.

Then I come to the question of why members of these committees should be drawn from such a narrow basis as membership of the Farmers' Union and the Chamber of Agriculture, on the one hand, and of the Farm Servants' Union on the other. I am a member of the Farmers' Union and also a member of the Chamber of Agriculture. I do not know what our membership is, but I do know this: that we are a very small minority of all the farmers in Scotland, and it would be wrong to say that the two bodies together are truly representative of the farmers. Again, I have an idea that the membership of the Farm Servants' Union is a small minority of all the agricultural labourers of Scotland. I should like to know whether the noble Lord who is to reply could tell me the percentage of all the agricultural labourers in Scotland who are members of the Farm Servants' Union. Furthermore, I should like to know the answer to this question: what is the percentage in that membership of married and of unmarried farm servants? That is an important point. The married farm servants are the true representatives of agriculture. The unmarried lads are here to-day and gone to-morrow, and our great difficulty is to keep the unmarried young men on the farm. I therefore feel that the basis of selecting the membership of these committees under these Regulations and Statutory Orders should be wider, and not merely confined to the Farmers' Union or the Farm Servants' Union or the Chamber of Agriculture.

There is no mention in the Statutory Orders of crofters or small land-holders. Crofters and small-holders, at the time of year when the harvest is on, or the potatoes are being gathered, employ local labour or give employment to each other. According to these Regulations they would probably have to be paid in cash, but there is no statement about it, and yet the small land-holders and crofters constitute a very large proportion of Scottish agriculturists. Taking it all round, I have come to the conclusion that the Statutory Orders and Regulations have been improperly thought out, and that the proper course would be to defer putting them into force until they have received more care and consideration than they have done.


My Lords, I wish to make it quite clear that we who are speaking in support of the Motion are not speaking in an anti-Government sense. We are speaking against the draftsmanship of these Regulations, because they do not carry out the pledges given by members of the Government to your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, read a part of the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, and let me say that that noble Lord has done his very best to meet our desires, because he was aware that we knew what we were talking about. Lord Saltoun has quoted from the OFFICIAL REPORT of March 23, when the Bill was being considered on Report. I am going to quote what the noble Lord said when the Bill was in Committee, on March q. In column 558 the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, said this: I entirely agree with the sentiments expressed by the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, and it is, I am sure, the object of the Government and of all members of your Lordships' House to do all we can to ensure that the widest and the wisest distribution is made in securing representatives for these committees. What is the widest representation as defined by the Department? As mentioned in paragraph 1 of these Regulations, No. 919, the representatives are to be nominated by the Farmers' Union, the Chamber of Agriculture and the Farm Servants' Union.

That will not stand the test, because, as the noble Duke opposite has just hinted, those three organisations do not represent either the whole of the farmers or the whole of the farm servants in Scotland. In fact, I believe I am right in saying that last March the members of the Farm Servants' Union represented only about fifteen per cent. of the whole of the farm servants in Scotland. How can that organisation be said to represent the agricultural workers? It is possible that there may be a few more now. The percentage might be seventeen, perhaps, but even seventeen per cent. does not represent anything like half the agricultural workers in Scotland. Moreover, these Regulations, as has already been pointed out, cannot be altered once they have passed this House or another place, and the result is that until the Government take action themselves, on account of the thing working so badly, only those three organisations can nominate to the committees. I feel sure that that is not what Lord Strathcona meant when he gave the undertakings both on March 9 and on March 23. Therefore I say that the Department have not complied with the undertakings given.

I do not blame the Government one bit; I blame the Department. The Department take jolly good care that they shall have the say as to who shall be the independent members, and should the independent members do anything contrary to the wish of the Department the Department can say, under these Regulations: "Dear Sir, we do not desire your services any longer. Kindly consider your membership cancelled." That is what the Regulations say. The Department can do that without giving any reason whatever. In other words, they have the whip hand. In this case it means, not independence, but dependence upon the wishes of the Department as to how things shall be worked. Take Regulation 9. It says: The place at which a meeting shall be held shall be determined by the Department, or with their sanction by the chairman. Surely the members of a committee know what is the most convenient place for the committee meeting. Why should the Department dictate to them as to where the committee is to meet? Or why should the chairman be able to give his sanction only with the sanction of the Department? It seems to me that even the independent members might kick at that, but it is laid down definitely in the Regulations, and unless the Regulations are annulled that is to stand as an Order under which the committees are to meet—namely, at the will of the Department and in no other place. Apparently the only person to whom the Department will listen is the chairman, and then not always.

Then, in Regulation 10, a committee "shall give to the Department notice of their intention" to appoint a sub-committee, and the number of persons (exclusive of the chairman) appointed shall not exceed such number as the Department may fix. Why should the Department say how many members are to be on the sub-committee? Cannot a body of eight people be trusted to appoint a sub-committee, without going to Edinburgh to find out what they may do, or what they may say, or how many they may appoint, or what the sub-committee shall consider? Can you expect any responsible people to be willing to serve under such conditions? How many of your Lordships would serve on a committee if you were told What you were to do, what you were to say, where you were to meet, and at what time? It is monstrous to ask anybody to serve on a committee under such conditions, laid down by a Department which does not know the county or the village or wherever it may be where the committee is to meet.

Then again in Regulation 12 it is laid clown that: If at any meeting of a committee or sub-committee the number of members present representing employers and workers respectively is unequal, the chairman, or other person presiding, shall require the side which is in the majority to arrange that one or more of their members shall refrain from voting, so as to preserve equality. If that side fail to make this arrangement by agreement among themselves, the chairman, or other person presiding, may by casting lots decide which member or members of that side shall refrain from voting, or he may, if he thinks it desirable, adjourn the voting on any question to another meeting of the committee or sub-committee. It is perfectly agreed that neither side should be unfair to the other, but there are a great many committees and boards and councils which are appointed on these lines of representing different interests and a full attendance of both sides equally is assured by a system of having substitute members, so that if one member cannot attend, one of the substitutes attends in his place, thereby keeping equality between the two sides on the committee. I cannot see why that system should not be introduced into Regulation 12, thereby bringing about a full and fair representation of each party, which is the usual state of affairs.

These Regulations are drawn up with the idea that farmers and their servants never agree, and if you put them into force in their present form the result will be that you will create hostility between employer and employee. I know the Government well enough to be able to say definitely that they wish to help agriculture, and no Government has done more to help agriculture than this; but is this the way to make agriculture go easily and smoothly—by presuming that because a master and a man sit on a committee they cannot agree, or that they cannot agree even on their farms? I have farmed ever since 1902, and my experience is that farmers and farm servants get on very well together. And why should not they, when there is the association that my noble friend Lord Saltoun has referred to, an association of farmers and farm servants? Such an association could not be formed and be in a flourishing condition within four or five months from its inception if the farmers and farm servants did not get on well together. That is a proof; and yet this association is to be refused any membership of the local committees set up under the Agricultural Wages Act.

Quite frankly your Lordships cannot allow these Regulations to go through. They must go back in order to be redrafted in accordance with common sense. The Government, after all, in the long run would be responsible, through the Secretary of State for Scotland, for their proper observance. If you allow them to go through you are giving the Secretary of State an impossible job, because he cannot administer them. Take Regulation 13: A meeting of a committee, except for the appointment of a chairman, shall not be duly constituted unless the chairman or a vice-chairman, or one independent member of the committee is present. Why should the meeting at which the chairman is to be elected be an irregular meeting? On all other occasions three people must be there, but when the chairman is to be elected it does not matter at all! I venture to say that if you are going to have a good working committee you want a good chairman, and to say that it does not matter who is present when the appointment of chairman comes up is ridiculous. I would invite any member of your Lordships' House to read the first four lines of Regulation 13 and say whether he does not agree that on account of that single sentence the Regulation ought to go back. I could mention many other anomalies in these Regulations.

I want to snake it quite clear that I am not speaking simply from a North-East Scotland point of view. This deals with the whole of Scotland, and it is just a coincidence that I happen to belong to the same County as the noble Lord who moved the Motion. But we in Aberdeen-shire have a right to take a stand on this matter. One-fifth of the agricultural produce of Scotland comes from Aberdeen-shire, and if that does not carry some weight with your Lordships, I think it ought to. There is plenty of room for improvement in these Regulations, and therefore I feel pretty confident that they ought to be entirely re-drafted in the spirit of the pledges given in this House on March 9 and March 23—not only because those pledges were given, but because it is absurd to allow a set of Regulations to have the force of law when they contain many impossible provisions, which will only wreck these agricultural wages boards, and will be a disservice, instead of a service, to agriculture in Scotland.


My Lords, I venture to suggest to the Government that out of the technicalities of this debate there emerges a point of great substance and real importance—a point of importance far wider than Scottish interests, and one which really intimately concerns all your Lordships. It would appear that when this Bill was passing through Parliament my noble friend Lord Saltoun found in it certain proposals to which he took exception. He placed before the Government his objection to these proposals at the proper time and place, and he received from the noble Lord who speaks for the Scottish Office certain assurances, and on the strength of these assurances he withdrew the Amendment. On the last occasion that he had during the progress of that Bill he withdrew that Amendment in order to express his acceptance of the noble Lord's assurances which were quite obviously given in perfect good faith. Now the Regulations are published and have been laid upon the Table of your Lordships' House for acceptance, and the assurances which the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, gave to my noble friend have not been implemented.

Far from having been implemented, the assurances which were given by the noble Lord have been controverted in every particular, and, without going into the merits of the Regulations, which, so far as my own purpose is concerned, is entirely unnecessary, I would venture to point out to the noble Lord and to the Government and to the House in general that if assurances are to be given, and are to be used by the Government themselves, as a means of inducing noble Lords to withdraw Amendments which they find inconvenient, and if the Regulations based upon the Act which received the Royal Assent are in exact opposition to the assurances given, it does make it exceedingly difficult, to put it mildly, for your Lordships in future to place the slightest reliance upon assurances which come from the Front Bench. It occurs to me that this is really a point of great Parliamentary importance. I am quite certain that noble Lords from Scotland, in raising the many points that they have, have touched upon matters of the greatest importance to themselves and the great country which they represent. But here is a point surely that interests us all, and I sincerely hope my noble friend Lord Strathcona will be able to allay the uneasiness which must necessarily arise in every noble Lord's mind when he discovers that an assurance given and received is not implemented in the way that the mover of the Amendment had every right and reason to expect it would be. I do not desire to detain your Lordships for one more moment, but this particular point is one which no one who has regard for Parliamentary procedure could allow to pass without drawing attention to it.


My Lords, coming from another part of Scotland than the North-East about which we have heard so much this afternoon, I must say I have a great deal of sympathy with many of the criticisms raised by Lord Saltoun and the Marquess of Aberdeen. But on the whole they are not very large points. They may have a certain importance, each one, but taken in the aggregate I do not feel they constitute a very strong reason for postponing the operation of the Act passed through this House not so very long ago. So far as I can learn, in most parts of Scotland there is a complete readiness both on behalf of the farmers and the farm servants to work this Act in a harmonious and friendly way, and it is very desirable that these wages boards should be set up and their decisions made without undue delay. Notwithstanding what Lord Saltoun has said, in a large part of Scotland the annual engagements are made to date from the term of Whit-Sunday in the month of May, and these engagements are usually made net later than the month of March. It is therefore desirable that the decisions of the wages boards should be notified to the public before that date. The Government can do a great deal to remedy any mistakes which may have arisen and which they may find lead to unsatisfactory working of the Act in future. I agree with the noble Duke on the other side of the House that it would have been well if the delimitation of areas had been referred to the local authorities for their opinion. In some cases they did consider them, and, in the case of my own County Council, I think we accepted the decision as a reasonable one. I do not think that any small local difference of custom will prevent the men appointed to these boards from being able to come to a fair decision.

As regards the representation of the societies, it is perhaps a pity that originally the definition was not drawn more widely and that the Regulation did not provide for other representation should the need arise. I would appeal to the Government and ask if they would not even at this stage agree in future to take the necessary steps for the amending of the Regulations to provide for the representation of any organisation or body which represents a considerable number of either employed or employers. If they would undertake to do that, and take the necessary steps to amend the Regulations so as to bring in any organisation on either side which can show it has a really substantial membership, they would go a long way to meet the objections of many of us. If there is to be any collective bargaining, it is a misfortune that the membership of associations either of employers or employed should be small; but I cannot see how the difficulty is to be got over. It is true that the representation of the farm servants is only about 15 per cent., but how are you going to get representatives appointed except through some society of this kind?

I should not like to see, and I do not suppose Lord Saltoun would wish to see; them appointed as nominees of the Department of Agriculture. That would be a mistake. In the meantime I can sea no other way except to hope that in the course of time membership will increase, and if new societies are started they should be given representation. On this matter of representation I would urge that the Landowners' Federation should have a representative, not on the district committees but upon the Board on the ground that they are employers of a very large number of men engaged in forestry and estate work. In the aggregate the number of these men must be very large and their wages are to be fixed by these boards. The farmers are not interested in this question. It does not concern them, but it does concern very much those landowners who are engaged in afforestation, some of them to a very considerable extent.

The question of perquisites has been raised, a very complicated question as perquisites vary so tremendously in different parts of the country. I think all that can be done—and I hope the Regulations will so provide—is that they should be dealt with on the basis of not putting them too high or too low. In some districts perquisites, or gains as we used to call them, have almost disappeared. That is the case in my County; beyond a house, a certain quantity of potatoes, and free cartage of coals, they get nothing. In other districts they may be provided with a cow, a cow's keep, large quantities of potatoes, sometimes coal, and so on. Farm servants in many districts have decided they prefer a money wage. This is not the place to discuss the pros and cons of such a system. There is much to be said on both sides. But there should not be any attempt to fix them too low or too high; they should be put on a fair value. We do not expect that the farmer should be entitled to charge retail prices for the potatoes he supplies to his men; they should be supplied wholesale. On the other hand, if he supplies them with coal, then it should be supplied at the price it costs him.

There is only one other point and that is as to changing representatives. I cannot see how else you are to provide for a member being removed from a board by reason of old age or sickness or any other cause. I am not afraid of the representatives appointed by the Department being unduly their nominees, or if they are we must take that risk. We live in democratic days, and I do not think we have any right to assume that a Government Department will act unfairly or in a partisan way in seeking to nominate their representatives who are supposed to be independent. It is not very easy to get independent people, but I am sure they will do the best they can. I hope very much nothing will be done to spoil the good will which, throughout the greater part of Scotland, does exist between farmers and their workers, and I hope the representative of His Majesty's Government who will speak may give us some assurance that the Government will be prepared, should the occasion arise and should the need become evident, that they will, as they can, take the necessary steps to amend the Regulations. If they can do that, then we need not press for cancellation and the great delay which would be involved and which is so undesirable at the present time.


My Lords, I hope the Government will see fit to accept the noble Lord's Motion. It is a very modest one, and it will do something to redeem the pledge which was given by the Government last March to see that the constitution of the committees appointed for the regulation of wages would be on a broad basis and give all claims full consideration. Perhaps it would redeem that pledge if that were done, and also, possibly, give greater elasticity to the constitution of the committees for the future. As it appears at present on the Paper, it would almost seem to be cast-iron. The suggested Amendment is a very modest one, and, if accepted, it would help to get rid of that rigid structure of the committees as appointed by the Government. I hope, therefore, the Government will see their way to accept it.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, to whose main bone of contention I think we have now come, was good enough to put this Notice on the Paper some time ago, and to give the Department some indication of the lines on which he proposed to speak this afternoon. I think that he has followed that indication fairly faithfully, and I will endeavour, as far as possible, to meet the various charges that have been made this afternoon. As I understand the contention of the noble Lord and others, they take the- view that the Department of Agriculture for Scotland have erred in vesting the right of nomination to the committees in the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture and the Scottish Farm Servants' Union. He went on to suggest that in doing so the Department have fallen short of the statements made on the Government's behalf when the Bill was before this House. I am sorry that the noble Lord feels as he does on this point, and I hope that I shall be able to persuade him, even if he feels bound to differ as to the course pursued, that in all that has been done under this Act the Secretary of State and the Department have endeavoured to translate into action the intentions of this House and of Parliament in passing the Act, and to carry out in practice any undertakings given on the Government's behalf.

At the Report stage of the Bill I indicated that it was the Government's desire that reasonable men on both sides of the industry, and as far as possible men conversant with the actual problems involved, should be selected to serve on the wages committees. I indicated also that it was the Government's desire that those selected should really represent the opinion of those for whom they would speak, and that no organisation should consider that such appointments are in any way its perquisite. That was what I said last March, and I repeat that the Government's desire and intention in the matter remain the same. Here perhaps I might refer to a remark which the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, made, in which, in the kindness of his heart, he tried to absolve me from blame on this issue and put it on the Department. I must point out to the noble Marquess that the Minister is always responsible for the actions of his Department, and in this House, as the representative speaking for the Scottish Office, I must therefore take the blame for any mistake that may be thought to have been committed. In considering the possible alternative methods of carrying out this intention, the Department took into consultation, as indeed they were bound to do, the three long established organisations of farmers and farm workers in Scotland. These organisations do not make any claim to represent all the types of employers and workers affected by the Act; but they do claim, and I do not think that the claim can be seriously contested, to be broadly representative of the interests of the general farmer and the general farm worker, which are in every district the most important interests and those most directly affected by the present legislation.

When, therefore, these bodies expressed their willingness to co-operate with the Department in the administration of the Act, and to employ the machinery of their organisations for the purpose, it was felt that the best course, in the interests of employers and workers alike, was to take advantage of this co-operation to the full extent subject to any necessary safeguards. The duty of nomination was, therefore, entrusted to these three bodies, subject to the requirement that they must satisfy the Department that adequate steps have been taken to ensure that persons nominated are representative of the interests of the employers and workers in the district concerned. I may inform your Lordships that public meetings have been held in the districts with this end in view.

I do not go so far as to suggest that this was the only possible arrangement. Conceivably the organisations of employers of every kind—farmers, market gardeners, poultry keepers and the like—could have been brought together and arrangements made on some basis designed to secure on each committee the representation of these organisations of employers in some relation to the numbers of agricultural workers employed by their members. Apart, however, from the complexity of this arrangement and the difficulty of allocating to each organisation an equitable proportion of seats on the relatively small committees which are prescribed by the Act, the result would have been rather ill-balanced committees since it would not have been practicable to deal with the workers in the same way. The reason for this, of course, is that the workers are not organised in separate agricultural trades. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will agree that the steps taken by the Government have been the best practicable steps to secure the representation on a broad basis of the interests of farmers and farm workers in general.

Now, of course, the recognition of these three organisations does not imply that no chance is possible in the future. Conceivably, other organisations will arise and, on reasonable proof of their representative capacity in the country or wages district, the Government will be quite prepared to consider amending the Regulations so as to provide for future nominations being shared on an equitable basis amongst such organisations. It was in order to preserve elasticity in this respect that the method of selecting the committees was left to be dealt with by Regulation which can be amended in the light of experience and not in the Act itself. I also would like to inform your Lordships that no assurance has been given to any organisation that it will have a monopoly of the nominations to the committees.

I hope that on reflection the noble Lord and his friends will see how difficult it would be, certainly in the early stages of such a movement, to interfere with the normal and obvious method of asking established associations to find representatives of their respective interests. The Government's chief anxiety in this matter is to get the wage-fixing machinery into operation, with a minimum of delay, on a broadly equitable basis. No doubt nomination of representative members by the Department was, as the noble Lord suggests, a possible alternative. But it is fundamental in this Act that the decisions in essential matters lie with the industry itself. It is reasonable and consistent with this principle that the nomination of the representative elements of the committees should also lie with the industry. That is the system which has worked smoothly for twelve years in England, and nobody has suggested that it should be altered. The Act provides that the independent members should be appointed by the Department, and this provision suggests that Parliament's intention was that the Department's power of nomination should be limited to those members. I was a little surprised to hear the noble Lord's suggestion that the power of nomination ought to be in the hands of the Department, after consultation with the industry. Surely such a step would tend—


I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I did not suggest that. What I suggested was that the words "or any organisation which satisfies the Department of its claim to be represented," should be inserted after the word "Agriculture" in line 5 and after the word "Union" in line 12. I think that what the noble Lord has in mind is that yesterday the Minister asked me at random if I could suggest amendments of the Regulations. I replied that there were many possible amendments, that I was not a draftsman, but that was one possibility.


I apologise if I have misrepresented something which I thought the noble Lord said this afternoon. I will deal with the question of amendment later. I understand that the noble Lord's immediate desire is that the Aberdeen-shire Farmers and Farm Workers' Association should be recognised and given representation on the district committee for Banff, Aberdeen and Kincardine.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I did not suggest that I said that was a question of fact which would have to be determined outside your Lordships' House.


Yes, but I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord's interest in that association, which I think he has to his great credit more or less organised himself, must have been paramount in his mind. I only want to point out that so far no claim has been received by the Department from the association, and no indication has been forthcoming as to the representative capacity of the new body. Its claim would, I understand, be that it should be represented on both sides of the district committee, implying two representative members out of fourteen, or out of sixteen if the committee were increased to the maximum legal limit. In the absence in this case of figures of the association's membership, I am rather at a loss to make comparisons. But there are 15,000 farmers in the district and some 20,000 farm workers, and it would hardly be possible to recognise as representative of both parties an organisation having a membership of a few hundreds only. I have said before, and I say again, that the Department will be prepared to recognise any organisation that may be set up which is able to prove its representative capacity. But it was not possible to delay action under the Act to allow of new organisations appearing in the field; the Department had to deal with the situation as it was when they had to undertake the preparation of the statutory Regulations.

Other noble Lords joined in the attack on the Department and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, referred to the question of perquisites and the definition of boundaries. I am not sure whether the noble Duke was in the House when I endeavoured to answer these points, but I am sure he will not expect me to repeat that. The noble Duke spoke of his County being divided without any consultation with the County Council. I hasten to assure your Lordships that the County Council have nothing to do with the matter. They are not represented on the wages committee and they have no duties in this connection. I would like to point out also that there is no proposal to appoint civil servants as chairmen of the committees. Another question which was asked was whether members of committees would be entitled to out-of-pocket expenses. I understand that is the case.

The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, in another part of his speech, referred to the question of the termination of the membership of representative members under Regulation 4. This Regulation deals with the termination of the services of members of the committees in certain circumstances. The noble Lord's suggestion is that the power given to the organisations concerned to terminate membership in individual cases in effect reduces the members to the status of delegates. This is very far from the intention of the Regula- tion. That intention is to provide means to dispense with the services on a committee of any person who ceases to possess the necessary qualifications. That point I think was brought out by the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth. For example, it may well be that an employer may terminate his active career as such, or a worker may, by a change in his circumstances, himself become an employer and so cease to be qualified to represent the interest on whose behalf he was nominated in the first instance. The power given by this rule is not really greater than that of nomination to a vacancy on retirement by roster accorded by paragraphs 5 and 6 of the Regulations. But if in practice it should, contrary to expectation, be abused in any way whatsoever, the Government will not hesitate to revise the provision.

The noble Duke and others asked for figures to show the national representation of the various bodies. I give these figures with considerable reserve, as your Lordships will realise how difficult it is to be absolutely certain on this matter, but I am informed that roughly speaking the membership of the National Farmers' Union is some 14,000 out of about 56,000 farmers. The Scottish Chamber consists of some 15,000 members, including 31 affiliated societies, and in passing I may say that I think most of the farming members of the National Landowners' Association—I think that is its title—are usually members of that organisation. I am one myself. The Farm Servants' Union have, we reckon, about 8,500 members out of about 100,000 farm servants. I understand that this union claims to represent about 25 per cent. of the married men and about 5 per cent. of the single men. I had forgotten to refer to the point raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, on Regulation 13. He said that it was unnecessary for independent members to be present when the chairman is elected. The reason for that is that it is held to be desirable that the chairman should be selected, if possible, by the representative members by agreement amongst themselves and not by the casting votes of the independent members.

Before I conclude I feel that I must touch on the question which the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, raised of an Amendment. He suggested, I think, the words "or such other bodies as may satisfy the Department of their claim to be representative"—or words to that effect. But the noble Lord does not say of what these bodies are to be representative. The other organisations mentioned are national—I would emphasise the word "national" —and normally only national bodies should be considered. Unless the bodies are very closely defined, the proposed Amendment would place upon the Department a very embarrassing responsibility for recognising bodies as nominating authorities. It is far better, surely, that this should be explicitly laid down in the Regulations, even if that means that the Regulations themselves have to be frequently altered. I hope that I have said enough to show that even if there have been misunderstandings over this matter, there has been no intention of breaking faith and, in fact, no actual breach of faith whatsoever. We have approached the only big societies which could give us the information and help which we required, but we propose in the future to give consideration to smaller bodies as and when they appear.


May I ask the noble Lord one question? Is it desired to discourage an independent member from being chairman of a committee?


I am not sure that I can give the noble Marquess a firm answer. I should rather, if I might. inform him privately later on.


My Lords, one thing I should like to say at the start is that, in spite of the noble Lord's strenuous efforts to put himself forward as the whipping-boy of the Department, he has not succeeded in convincing any of us that he is not really in sympathy with us. None of us considers that he is in any way to blame for what has occurred. At the commencement of what he said, however, he pointed out that the Government have given the nomination of members of these committees to certain bodies. I am not concerned with what these bodies are. He omitted, however, as I think he himself will admit, one word: he should have said that the Government under these Regulations have given the right of nomination "exclusively" to these bodies. He cannot maintain that bodies which have the exclusive right of nomination to a position are not entitled to look upon that right as a perquisite. He went on to point out the difficulties that would have been encountered had other bodies been consulted. It boils down to this: that all the negotiations have taken place with these bodies in order to save the Department trouble. He also refers to this newly-constituted local body in Aberdeenshire. I will come back to that. But he forgets that there are other bodies who are both national and more ancient than any of the bodies mentioned in Regulation I. For instance, the Scottish Land and Property Federation is a very ancient body and can claim, more than any other body in Scotland, to represent the owner-occupier.


May I interrupt the noble Lord? I think I have already dealt with that body. I said it was already represented on the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture.


It ought to have separate representation. The noble Lord also said that no application has been received from any of these bodies to be represented. On the contrary, that is putting the cart before the horse. When the Department were ready to receive these applications, they should have asked for them. After all, it is the Department who are in charge of the show, and naturally we expected that the Department would put an advertisement in all the papers to say that they were prepared to receive applications. It seems to me, with regard to this particular local association which I was talking about, the noble Lord said that if we could show a proper representation in Aberdeenshire he and the Department would be prepared to consider representation on the local committee. That is, if they are representative in District No. 3, they will get a representation on Local Committee No. 3. But at the end of his speech he immediately took that away again. He said in effect: "On the contrary, we are not prepared to consider any body as a nominating power for members on Local Committee No. 3 unless they have a membership all over Scotland, because we do not like looking at things as they are; we like looking at them through a great, big magnifying-glass, in order that we may feel ourselves great, big people." That is not really business.

I am left at a loss to know what the noble Lord really intended in the matter. I can only say that whatever claims may be put forward can only be put forward by amending this Regulation, and nobody can move to amend this Regulation except the Scottish Department of Agriculture. There is another thing. He explained Clause 4 and said that it was clearly not the intention of that clause to make the members of the local committee delegates. Well, if it is not the intention of that clause to make the members of the local committee delegates, then the Department should wish to be the first to amend the clause. It makes the members of the local committee delegates; it makes every one of them a delegate, and unless you alter the terms of the clause we cannot get away from that fact. He also said that the Department of Agriculture had given no assurance to any particular body that they should have these nominations as their perquisite. Very well; all I have to say is that the good name of the Department has been taken in vain for a very long time past, long before these Regulations were issued, and I should have thought that, that being the case, if the Department of Agriculture knows anything about the country which it is supposed to help to govern, it should know that what I am saying is true. And I should have thought that in these circumstances the Department would be the first to ask to clear its good name and to amend these Regulations and to put them in proper form. I am very sorry that I am unable to accept what the noble Lord has said. It seems to me merely what I might call a skilful parry of the direct attack. The direct attack is really a matter of principle, that he did give us an assurance and that these Regulations are not on all fours with the assurance he gave us. For the credit of your Lordships House, I ask you to support me and to see that the Government implement their assurances in the spirit in which they were given.


My Lords I do not know whether I might intervene for a moment in this rather domestic debate. I do so with considerable reluctance, because I do not mind admitting that first of all I am not as fully informed as I should be on the subject-matter of these Regulations. In the second place, I do not deny that some parts of them read rather strangely to English minds. A great many things from Scotland, however, do that, and therefore there is nothing of necessity prejudicial to the Regulations in that admission! I do not know that I should have felt it my duty to say anything if it had not been that the noble Lord, in his reply just now, returned to what had been said earlier: that my noble friend and the Department had been unmindful of the obligations of the pledges given in this House when this matter was previously discussed. I am, of course, quite prepared to admit that when the noble Lords say that they really believe it. At the same time, they cannot expect me, as a member of the Government, to accept it. I suggest that the most generous middle ground that we can both occupy is to admit that perhaps there may have been some measure of misunderstanding between the noble Lords who have taken the line they have, and the Department, with regard to what had been said at that earlier time.

I confess that, so far as I have been able to understand this debate, I was somewhat disappointed that noble Lords, for whom I have no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, speaks, were not more favourably impressed with the undertaking that my noble friend Lord Strathcona gave in the course of his reply, if I understood him aright, in regard to the power that the Department would, if it were pressed upon them, be willing to take in this matter. But I understand that that goes but a little way to satisfy the noble Lords who feel so strongly on this matter. It is, I suppose, the duty of the Government to make up their minds as to what is the most appropriate course, the conditions being such, to pursue. I do not know, and in fact I do not greatly care, whether in fact if we went to a Division we could secure our Regulations in the form in which they are laid. I am sanguine—I am always sanguine in regard to Divisions in this House—enough to suppose that we could, but I have been in this House and in another place long enough to realise that it is not always the best plan to secure what you want by an immediate Division where no great matter of principle is involved, and where all the members of the House are quite genuinely concerned to produce the best results for the interest that they have in common.

While it is, on the one hand, as my noble friend said, of importance that this matter should be dealt with as expeditiously as possible, it is also of importance, as he said, that it should be dealt with as smoothly as possible, and I am not, any more than he, disposed to exaggerate a question of honest difference of opinion into a question of vital difference of principle, nor am I disposed to underestimate the sincerity and knowledge and free judgment of those noble friends from Scotland who evidently feel strongly on this matter. Therefore if I might, on this occasion at least, play the part of peacemaker, I would venture to suggest, in all humility, to my Scottish friends and to my noble friend behind me that so far as I have been able to form an opinion, listening to the debate, the differences between them do not seem to be such as honest sensible people should not overcome by an hour or two's talk round a table. If they are of that view I should be willing to counsel my noble friend to agree to the adjournment of the debate, in order that sensible people may get together round a table and find a solution of these differences. If that course commends itself to my noble friends and to my noble friend behind me, I suggest that it be taken, and I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Viscount Halifax.)


And I would beg to second that.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly sine die.