HL Deb 27 May 1948 vol 155 cc1136-71

4.8 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, for the people of Scotland this is a Bill of major importance, and I am greatly honoured that it falls to my lot to move the Second Reading in your Lordships' House. At the same time, as one who has lived the greater part of his life out of Scotland, I must frankly admit that this honour has not been earned but rather has been thrust upon me; and in these circumstances I cannot do otherwise than try to deserve it. Towards this end I recently spent an all too inadequate time amongst Scottish agriculturalists, visiting a number of the most efficient farms I have ever seen in any country. I do not mention this in order to claim a profound knowledge of the problems dealt with in this Bill, but because it gives me a double opportunity—first, of thanking landowners, farmers, landworkers and, indeed, all those who willingly gave of their time to explain their problems and to show me with justifiable pride many of their undertakings. I am greatly indebted to them. Secondly, it gives me an opportunity to tell your Lordships at the outset that I was agreeably surprised and gratified to find that, so far as I was able to judge, agricultural problems generally, and those dealt with in this Bill in particular, have been raised high above the battle of Party politics and discussed, as they should be discussed, as affecting the nation as a whole.

In other words, I found amongst all those connected with the industry whom I was privileged to meet a realisation that the issue at stake is the battle of food production. I found people of all political Parties and of none in agreement as to the general principles of the Bill, and as to the beneficial results that will flow from it, although there are naturally some divergent opinions on points of detail. There is something else which I think needs to be emphasised before I attempt to describe the contents of the Bill. It is this. The Bill covers proposals which have been the subject of close discussion with the representative organisations of the industry for some years past. Many valuable suggestions have been made in the course of these discussions, and ready help has been forthcoming during the early days when the Bill was in course of preparation.

I frankly admit that it has not been possible to reconcile conflicting interests in every case, but in many respects the Bill represents a large common measure of agreement, and where no agreement has been forthcoming its provisions represent what, in the Government's view, will form a satisfactory working compromise. The spirit of co-operation and conciliation which has been so valuable to the Government in framing the Bill is a happy augury for the administration of its provisions in the future. The Bill cannot achieve its aims unless we can maintain a full and wholehearted co-operation between all sides of the industry—landlords, farmers, and workers, with the State occupying the position of fourth member of the partnership. On the subject of co-operation I feel it right to pay a tribute towards the part which the Scottish Land and Property Federation have played in the preparation of this Bill, and more particularly to the very valuable help which the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, has given throughout. He has taken part in many of the discussions between the organisations, and his statesmanlike approach to the problems that have arisen, and his readiness to seek and to reach satisfactory solutions, have been invaluable. May I add my personal thanks to the noble Duke for the opportunity which his representative, Sir John Milne Home, afforded to me to see the efficient way in which his estates are conducted?

Part I of the Bill and the Ninth Schedule bring up-to-date two previous Acts, the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Acts of 1923 and 1931. These together form the basis of the code governing the relationship between landlords and tenants of agricultural holdings in Scotland. In general, this relationship has in the past been a happy one, and it is the desire of the Government to maintain, and where possible to improve, the satisfactory position that exists. The amendments embodied in this Part of the Bill bring about some material changes but, as I have said, these have to a large extent been agreed with the industry. The Government's aim has been to avoid, so far as possible, any undue disturbance of existing tenancies, and the more important changes relate only to leases entered into after the commencement of the Act. There is a close link between the provisions of Part I of the Bill and those relating to efficiency in Part II. For example, while the Secretary of Stale, through the agricultural executive committees, can take steps to dispossess an un-satisfactory farmer, it will still be open to a landlord to apply for a certificate of bad husbandry, as under the existing law. Administratively, it will be convenient to have this channel open, and only fair that a landlord who may be dissatisfied with a tenant's standard of farming should not have to rely entirely on the initiative of the committee.

Alternatively, an owner can bring a case of bad husbandry to the notice of the agricultural executive committee, who can initiate procedure by issuing a warning notice to the tenant, and on any review of the position the landlord can represent that dispossession be effected. This latter procedure is also open to a farmer who may complain of bad management by the owner. Bad husbandry is not the only justifiable ground for evicting a tenant farmer. The existing law does not protect a tenant from eviction at all, except by providing for compensation for disturbance, but it recognises also that there are cases in which compensation should not be paid. The latter, which include bad husbandry, are repeated in the Bill.

Perhaps the most important new provisions in this Part of the Bill are those which afford tenants security of tenure except in specified circumstances. Machinery is provided in the Bill for the adjustment of rents by arbitration, and also to enable a landlord, where he has carried out an improvement on a holding, to obtain from his tenant an increase in rent. It is provided that a reference to arbitration cannot be demanded earlier than five years from the date on which the existing rent was fixed. Another important feature of this Part of the Bill is the attempt to reconcile the conflicting views of the representative organisations of landlords and tenants as to the respective liabilities that should be defined in the Statute in relation to the provision and maintenance of fixed equipment on agricultural holdings. It is laid down that all leases entered into after the commencement of the Act must include a record of the fixed equipment, and shall be regarded as embodying provisions placing upon the landlord the responsibility for putting the fixed equipment into a thorough state of repair—the liability of the tenant being thereafter restricted to maintaining that equipment in as good a state of repair as that in which he received it. The liability for remedying the effects of natural decay or fair wear and tear is placed upon the landlord.

Provision is made to enable a landlord or tenant to go to arbitration for the adjustment of a formal lease where such does not exist. It also enables the landlord or tenant of a holding held on tacit relocation to seek arbitration for the adjustment of the conditions of the existing tenancy. To this extent interference with existing tenancies is reasonable. Rules of good estate management are for the first time defined in the Bill, while the existing definition of rules of good husbandry has been revised and extended. These definitions indicate the standards which good landlords and good tenants are expected to observe in their relationship with one another, and are of great importance in connection with the efficiency measures of the Bill. It has not been altogether easy to frame clear and fair definitions, and thanks are due to the representative organisations of the industry for the helpful and constructive attitude they have shown in the course of the preliminary discussions on this subject.

Part II of the Bill is mainly designed to secure that land which is used, or which ought to be used, for agriculture is efficiently managed and farmed. Notwithstanding the high level of Scottish production, and notwithstanding the world-wide reputation of the Scottish farmer, there is still scope for greater efficiency, and it is to improvement in the efficiency of estate management and of farming methods that the Government are looking for a large part of the increased production which they hope will be obtained during the next four years under their agricultural expansion programme. If owners or farmers fail to manage or to farm according to the rules of good estate management or of good husbandry, power is taken in this Bill to issue a warning notice to them; thereafter they become subject to direction and ultimately, if there is continued failure to improve, to dispossession. The issue of warning notices will be the responsibility of the agricultural executive committees, and the persons concerned will in each case be given the opportunity of making written and verbal representations to that committee. Before dispossession takes place they will be afforded an opportunity of appeal to the Scottish Land Court whose decision will be final.

There are a few important differences, to which I might perhaps draw attention, between this Bill and the provisions of the English Act of 1947. First, "warning notice" takes the place of "supervision order." The main reason for this lies in the administrative and organisational differences between England and Scotland. In Scotland, educational and advisory work will be in the hands of the agricultural colleges and the local agricultural advisory committees which are to be set up under Part VI of the Bill, while executive and disciplinary work will be the function of the agricultural executive committees. In England, advisory and executive functions are combined. Secondly, in England a supervision order has to be formally registered in order that prospective purchasers or tenants of the land may be aware of its existence. The organisations on both sides of the industry are agreed that in Scotland formal registration is undesirable and unnecessary, and the position will be met by administrative arrangement. A prospective owner or tenant who requires information about the existence or non-existence of a warning notice in relation to any farm will be able to secure that information by approaching the appropriate agricultural executive committee. This procedure is designed to preserve confidentiality and, at the same time, to protect the prospective purchaser or tenant.

This part of the Bill also enables the Secretary of State to take power to serve directions on any farmer in the country, whether a warning notice is in force or not, if he considers that it is necessary to take such power in the interest of the national supply of food. In normal times it is proposed to rely upon advice and persuasion, and upon price incentive, to steer agricultural production into the channels required from the point of view of the nation's food supply, but it is clearly necessary to have in reserve powers such as those mentioned to meet any grave national emergency. The powers of the Secretary of State under Defence Regulations to direct the stocking of deer forests or grouse moors, where he considers this desirable in the interests of food production, are now continued in statutory form.

Part III of the Bill contains provisions for the control of injurious animals, birds and weeds. The clauses relating to the control of deer, hares and rabbits, deal with matters which were covered in the Deer and Ground Game (Scotland) Bill, which passed through your Lordships' House in 1939 but which was dropped on the outbreak of war. The main provisions of that Bill were operated during the war by Orders under Defence Regulations and, with modifications in the light of war-time experience, they are now embodied in this Bill. There is no need for me to-day to remind your Lordships that the damage done to crops and young trees by deer is serious, and power is accordingly taken to ensure that deer are kept down to reasonable numbers where landowners cannot, or will not, take the necessary steps themselves. Agricultural tenants are enabled to protect their crops by killing and taking deer found on their holdings during the hours of daylight. The problems arising from the killing and disposal of deer are complicated and difficult, and in the relevant clauses an attempt has been made to reconcile the various interests concerned, keeping in mind always that the objective is to prevent loss and damage to vital food crops.

The rights of agricultural tenants to kill and take ground game on their holdings are also extended in the interests of food production. Broadly, it is proposed that they should be entitled all the year round to take ground game anywhere on their holdings by any lawful means other than shooting. The free right to shoot is restricted to the period from July 1 to March 31. The limiting provisions in regard to poisoning, night shooting and rabbit trapping are the same as now embodied in the English Act, except that it is made a punishable offence to use a spring trap in any circumstances for the purpose of killing hares or rabbits. The latter concession was made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State during the Report stage in another place, as a result of pressure on humanitarian grounds by members of all Parties. I am aware that it has caused some apprehension lest the numbers of rabbits should again increase unduly.

Part IV of the Bill confers on the Secretary of State extended powers to acquire and manage land. First, there is a general power to acquire by agreement any agricultural land or any land which in the Secretary of State's opinion ought to be brought into use for agriculture. This power will be useful in a number of ways. It will enable the Secretary of State to take over lands which the owners are anxious to sell to him because they feel unable to manage or equip then properly. The need for a power such as this has arisen from time to time when lands have been offered for sale to the State for afforestation purposes. It sometimes happens that the land offered, or a considerable part of it, is of such a quality that it is not considered right to devote it to afforestation purposes. Purchase under the Forestry Act may, therefore, fall through and the owner may be left in a difficult position. In future, the Secretary of State will be able to buy the land for retention in agricultural use Secondly, the Secretary of State may acquire land compulsorily for the purposes of agricultural research, experiment or demonstration purposes. Research, experimental and demonstration work in Scotland is mainly in the hands of the agricultural research institutes and the agricultural colleges, and the new power of acquisition is not likely to be frequently exercised. In view, however, of the Secretary of State's general responsibility for work of this kind under the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act, 1911, it seems right that he should have this power for use if need be.

The Secretary of State is also given power compulsorily to acquire land to ensure its full and efficient use. This power covers cases where the work needed, or the provision or maintenance of the equipment required, cannot reasonably be expected to be undertaken except by the State; and it also covers cases of severance of land. Except in regard to severance, every case must go to the Scottish Land Court for report. The Court are required, as part of their procedure for considering such cases, to afford an opportunity of being heard to owners, lessees and occupiers of the land in question. The Court will report to the Secretary of State whether the conditions laid down in the Bill are fulfilled, and copies of this report will be sent to the interested parties. In the event of the Secretary of State proposing to acquire the land, the subsequent procedure will be that laid down in the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) (Scotland) Act, 1947, which provides for the lodging of any objections by interested parties and for a hearing or a public local inquiry.

Machinery is provided for the transfer to the Secretary of State of lands vested in other Government Departments—for example, surplus airfields which it is desired to rehabilitate for agricultural use—and also to enable the Secretary of State to make the best use of lands which may come into his ownership by devoting the various portions of the estates vested in him to their most appropriate use. An example of the use of this latter power would be the utilisation of portions of land settlement estates for forestry purposes. The Secretary of State's existing powers of land management are extended to cover lands acquired under the Bill, and he is also authorised to provide facilities for the welfare of tenants and employees. A power of sale is also conferred.

Before I leave this Part of the Bill it may be mentioned that the Secretary of State does not propose to set up any fresh organisation for the management of land acquired by him under the Bill. Under his control the Department of Agriculture are already responsible for the management of over 600,000 acres of land acquired for land settlement, forestry or other purposes. For the discharge of their management responsibilities, the Department have a fully qualified technical staff which is in a position to assume day-to-day responsibility for the management of any new lands acquired under the Bill. In these circumstances it would be wasteful and unnecessary to establish a parallel organisation to deal with what will be, at least for some time to come, the smaller management problem arising from the exercise of the new powers. On the other hand, there would be serious administrative difficulties involved in attempting to transfer existing management responsibilities to a separate Commission.

Part V of the Bill contains provisions dealing with land settlement. Since the outbreak of war the constitution of new land settlement schemes has been suspended, and shortages of building labour and materials still stand in the way of resumption of active work on new schemes. There is a strong demand in many parts of the country for holdings, and the claims of many would-be holders are continually being brought to the notice of the Secretary of State. While it is possible each year to settle a number of men on existing holdings which fall vacant, it must be admitted that many well-qualified applicants have unfortunately to be disappointed. Progress with new schemes will be resumed when conditions permit. Meantime, all that can reasonably be done is to make such legislative provisions as appear to be desirable in order to pave the way for resumption of operations when that becomes possible, on the soundest lines. The new provisions proposed are not very numerous, as no great changes in the existing machinery are necessary in Scotland. This was the conclusion reached by the authoritative Departmental Committee on Land Settlement which reported in 1944. One important step taken in the Bill is to confer power on the Secretary of State to create holdings outwith the smallholding limits of 50 acres or £50 rent up to 75 acres or £150 rent. It is desirable to have this power in order to make it possible to create holdings of the family type, particularly for milk production. The Secretary of State is also empowered to make loans to prospective tenants of holdings provided by him in respect of the working capital required for the proper working of the holding up to 75 per cent. of the working capital required. This power to make loans should be of great assistance in the selection of the best-qualified tenants.

Part VI of the Bill outlines the administrative machinery proposed to be set up. Agricultural executive committees for such areas as may be prescribed will be set up to undertake the general administration of many of the provisions of the Bill. The basis of constitution of the committees is different from that adopted in England and Wales, where the committees include members nominated directly by the representative organisations. Under the Scottish Bill the committees will consist of not more than twelve members appointed by the Secretary of State after consultation with the representative organisations of farmers, workers and owners, and a majority of the members will consist of persons having a practical knowledge of agriculture and drawn from the industry. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State assures me that the consultation will not be of too formal a character, and that appointment of the committees will follow full and frank discussions with the representatives of the respective interests in the country. The Bill contemplates that these agricultural executive committees should take a permanent part, as agents of the Secretary of State, in the administration of agricultural policy. This is a recognition, first, of the valuable services rendered by their predecessors during the war, and secondly, of the desirability of having practical matters determined on the spot by practical men, subject, of course, to the overriding responsibility of the Secretary of State who is answerable to Parliament for the proper administration of the provisions of the Bill.

The constitution and functions of the Land Court are also dealt with under the Bill. Power is taken to add to the present membership of the Court in order to enable them to undertake the wider range of duties which will fall to them. The adoption of the Court as an appeal body under the Bill will not only enable the Court to play a larger part in agriculture—a part for which it is eminently fitted—but will obviate the need for setting up special independent tribunals as was found necessary in England. The agricultural advisory committees proposed to be set up will continue and develop the existing high degree of co-ordination between the agricultural advisory, teaching and research services of the agricultural colleges, the universities and research institutes on the one hand, and the practical farmer on the other. The duties of these committees will be purely advisory and will in no way intrude on the duties entrusted to the agricultural executive committees. Such advisory committees can do a most valuable work in initiating and supporting general schemes of agricultural improvement.

Part VII of the Bill contains various provisions of a minor and general character. These relate, amongst other things, to land drainage, the provision of goods and services to farmers, the making of grants to crofters towards the cost of erecting, improving, or rebuilding dwelling houses or other buildings, and the extension for a further five years of the period during which local authorities may receive applications under the Housing (Agricultural Population) (Scotland) Act, 1938, for assistance towards the replacement of unfit houses occupied by agricultural workers, crofters, and others. I fear that I have detained your Lordships too long by this summary of the main provisions of the Bill, but, as your Lordships will have noted, it contains eighty-eight clauses and ten Schedules and is an important measure. In conclusion, I will only repeat that the Bill is welcomed in principle by all sides of the industry in Scotland and that the Government are satisfied that it will go far to create the conditions under which the industry will be enabled to take its rightful place in the social and economic life of the country. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Morrison.)

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I feel sure your Lordships would wish me warmly to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, upon the way in which he has presented this Bill to the House. He has stated that it is an honour thrust upon him, but the noble Lord carries honours and burdens with equal ease and distinction whenever they come his way. I should also like to thank His Majesty's Government for agreeing to postpone the Second Reading of the Bill for the convenience of the Scottish Peers. This measure is, of course, a Scottish Bill, but we in Scotland are still governed by Parliament here and I think we are entitled to the wisdom of those noble Lords who wish to speak upon these matters. When Scottish matters are discussed in your Lordships' House it has become the practice for no one to take part in the debate who is not closely connected with Scotland. I think that is a bad practice and I take this opportunity of welcoming any intervention from any side of the House when we deal with Scottish matters.

This is an important Bill; we have a particularly heavy burden upon us to see that the agricultural state of the country is on the top line, not only because of ourselves but because we are playing a part in a bigger mosaic which extends the whole breadth of the world. We have at the moment great obligations and we have received benefits from other countries. We must see that our own affairs are in first-class order. I welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, has said, that agriculture is above politics, and I agree that it is of the utmost importance that prosperity should exist there. There is one phrase that has crept in from economic and other sources, however, with which I do not agree. It is said to-day that agriculture is a good dollar saver. I think that that is a deplorable expression. I prefer to say that dollars are a poor substitute for good agriculture.

The principles of this Bill are, on the one hand, guaranteed prices and assured markets and, on the other hand, a high standard of management and farming, coupled with a high degree of security of tenure. This is a principle with which I believe everyone will agree. To some extent it is carried out, but there are, of course, as so often happens, one or two exceptions. Although it is not in the Bill, I cannot allow this matter to pass without reference to the fact that there is no assurance of guaranteed prices given with respect to oats. The matter has been discussed at some length. We would all like to see a more definite assurance on this point than has been given by the Secretary of State. If that could be given it would be welcomed. The Government are prepared to accept complete liability: for assuring a market for the whole output of oats during the period of the agricultural expansion programme "— that is to say, up to and including 1951. After all, this is really the old trouble which Dr. Johnson recorded 150 years ago. Put simply, it is that the Scots eat what the English feed their horses on. That is why a different importance is attached to it in the two countries. It is regrettable, but it is the basic point that this crop is not given the same importance as is given to the other cereal crops. Perhaps by 1951 the English will be glad to eat as much porridge as they can get.

The actual form which this Bill has taken, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, has said, is certainly a compromise. I think that the compromise has been weighted too much in certain directions. In the first place, there is no freedom of contract in regard to any agricultural holding. If you look at the first clause of this Bill your Lordships will see these words: Any agreement leading to certain aspects of compensation shall be null and void…. Going on a little further, Clause 13 shows that certain arrangements about insurance premiums are just null and void. No term can be set to a lease, no rent can be fixed; the conditions are statutory. The whole matter is completely outside the domain of free contract. I think that is going too far. It is a great pity. It is all very well to emphasise that security of tenure is necessary. I agree and, to some extent, we have had security of tenure in Scotland since 1449, when the first Bill which gave tenants security of tenure was passed. Since then it has grown to a degree that I think is not really necessary and is not in the best interests of agriculture at the present moment.

This absolute security of tenure compares to some extent rather curiously with the proposal in Clause 32 (1) (a) that a farmer may be turned out of his house and home in a matter of three months by the Secretary of State. Further, that policy compares rather curiously with the fact that at present more than half the leases in Scotland are in fact held on yearly tenancies. That does not seem to indicate that there is any very urgent desire to have an immensely close and detailed system of security of tenure until everything is laid down, cut and dried. I know it is sometimes said that this Bill is no more than a policeman and that it is not going to affect a great many tenancies, but I think it will have more than that effect. It goes into such detail and positive definition. Too great definition is a danger. Take the words "permanent pasture." There is special provision for that in two or three places in the Bill. I thought that I knew what it meant. When I came to examine the Agricultural Survey of Scotland for 1946, it is there stated that the definition of "permanent pasture" in certain parts of the country varies as much as 50 per cent. It states: 'Permanent pasture ' was defined by the Department as grass or land under rotation. Apparently, the farmers interpret that very widely, and their interpretations vary considerably. Some say it is any grass which has been grazed; others regard it as permanent pasture after seven years; others so regard it by the type of seed mixture sown. The result is that in North Ayr the farmers say there are 84,000 acres of permanent pasture while the executive put it at 35,000 acres. That is an example of some of the dangers which may arise from too accurate definition. We may actually be endeavouring to define something which has not the same meaning in different minds.

It is a singular thing that those who say that this Bill is broadly welcome do not always mention that higher rents must follow. Every farmer who knows the Bill knows they will; but a great many farmers do not know the details of the Bill.


Somewhat to my amazement, I came upon the case of many farmers who had voluntarily offered to pay higher rents.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for saying that. It shows a very satisfactory state from the point of view of the tenant farmer. My Lords, there is one matter that I regret, and that is that there is in the Bill no definite encouragement for the owner-occupier. There is provision—and I welcome it—for the setting up of tenants under the Secretary of State, but there is no provision for the owner-occupier as such; in fact he is subject to removal both from the point of view of estate management and from the point of view of bad farming. The owner-occupier is one of the most important members of our society.

Now I would like to ask a question about the position of small holders. Singularly enough, during the passage of this Bill there has been practically no reference to the manner in which they will be affected. It is not clear to a number of people exactly what their position is. I understand from conversations that I have had that Part I is not supposed to apply to the small holder at all, but it is perfectly clear that there is no means of telling that ex facie of this Bill. The only indication is in Clause 25, which says that this Bill shall be construed as one with the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Acts, 1923–1931. But there is nothing else in this Bill to indicate that. I may be right; I do not know. I then come to Part II, which is supposed to deal with small holders. If that Part does deal with small holders, could the noble Lord state how, for instance, Clause 29 (4) can be applied to a small holder? There it is postulated that certain directions in regard to fixed equipment will be given to the owner of the property. It is common knowledge that in most small holdings the owners generally have no responsibility for fixed equipment at all. I mention that because I am most anxious that information should be obtained as to exactly how the Bill applies to small holders and statutory small tenants. It is not clear at the present time, because under Part II the duties of good estate management and good husbandry are entirely different. If the noble Lord is able to give any information about that matter, I should be grateful indeed.

We in Scotland are fortunate in having a Land Court, and I am glad that the Bill makes use of it. It is very desirable that that should be so. The Land Court has a high reputation and I think is well regarded on all sides. On this matter, there are one or two points about which I would like an assurance. In the first place, I would like an assurance that the Land Court has been sufficiently extended to deal with the new work. I am not satisfied from the Bill that it has. A great increase in the volume of work is involved and it is of tremendous importance that the Land Court should still be able to go to the Islands, and that the Chairman should be able to go there in person to see the crofters, so that he knows he is doing justice in the case. Are these personal visits to continue or are they to be held up? Is that work to be done by the Land Court? There is a new procedure adopted in Clause 71. This is a court of law, and in Clause 71 it says: "The Land Court shall determine." When a Land Court determines, that is something quite definite; but, having determined, what does it then do? It reports to the Secretary of State. No court in the world, when it determines something, reports to the Secretary of State. That is a most unusual and extraordinary procedure, something that has never happened before. The next clause says more or less that the normal procedure of the Land Court will apply for this purpose. This is not the normal procedure of the Land Court; it is an entirely new procedure, and I cannot see how Clauses 71 and 72 can be worked together at all. I put the specific question: Would it not be normal, on a decision of the Land Court, to go to the Sheriff's court and get what is called "Decree conform" for the execution of any decision which the Court may have given. That is the normal procedure and I should have thought it would be better if the normal procedure were adopted.

Now I will say something very briefly on the question of the commercialisation of sport. That is a comparatively recent thing that has grown up in the last fifty years or so, and reading this Bill one gets the idea that sport is a sort of undesirable vice in which some people engage. I submit that it is a very desirable form of economy, a method of distributing the wealth of the country. How are we going to distribute the wealth of this great City of London to the remote areas otherwise than by the commercialisation of sport? It is a simple and useful method for persuading people to spend their money in the further parts of this Island, and I suggest that it is something which is of considerable importance in the distribution of the wealth of the country. It becomes of great importance to the local authorities, as a large percentage of the rates are paid from commercialised sport, and it is further a very big asset in earning dollars. Those are matters which I mention only because I do not think they should be entirely written off as lacking in consequence.

Finally, I would suggest that the Secretary of State has taken a large amount of power. The noble Lord has told us that he is farming 600,000 acres. That is a very big acreage. In Scotland it has been decided not to have a Land Commission. I am not going to criticise that decision in any way, but what I do say is that it is of the utmost importance that that work should be properly costed. I think I am correct in saying that the Department of Agriculture have not published a report since 1939. That means to say that Parliamentary control over these 600,000 acres can be of very little effect. I submit that the Secretary of State, in his own interest, should agree in this Bill to a substantial degree of accounting which will be of real value. After all, the Secretary of State is not a philosopher king. He is a bureaucrat. He can be nothing else, because he has so many decisions to make that it is utterly impossible for him to make all the decisions which are left to him by Parliament. He has to act through the medium of other people, which is inevitable in the circumstances. I would submit that it is in his own interest that there should be a proper accounting system, so that, so far as possible, he will know how his affairs are to be conducted.

I would sum up by saying this: that I regret that we cannot get a more definite statement, or at least that we have not had one yet, about the prime cereal produced in Scotland. I suggest that there is too great interference with the freedom of contract. That freedom is an essential element in every productive society the world over. Once you get too great rigidity you may get stabilisation and sterilisation. Thirdly, I regret that greater opportunity has not been given to encouraging owner-occupiers. If I may say so, that is the basis, and has always been the basis, of every virile society in history. I would only add that this Bill is important, and we will endeavour to make it better than it is at the present time. But agriculture stands quite alone, and I would like to recall to your Lordships the words of the historian, Trevelyan: The men of theory failed to perceive that agriculture is not merely one industry among many, but is a way of life, unique and irreplaceable in its human and spiritual values. If we approach this matter in that way I am sure we shall find the solution to the problem in this Bill.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, I have no intention of speaking at any length now, but I would like to demonstrate that the Liberal landed proprietors are just as interested in good husbandry and good estate management as those of any political persuasion. I think the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, himself said that this is not a Party question. I am glad to hear that, because in Scotland we do not regard estate management as a Party matter at all. There will be a representative of every political faith on all our agricultural bodies. Looking at the Bill as a whole, I think I can say, generally speaking, that we recognise that there are many good points in it. But because we recognise that it has many good points, it does not mean to say that we consider it to be perfect. I hope that when the Committee stage is reached we may be able to put forward a few useful suggestions with a view to making it as near perfect as possible.

I think that it is a great mistake to do anything to give the Press and people outside generally the impression (I am not saying, for one moment, that noble Lords have done so.) that in Scotland the landed proprietors and the tenants are up against each other. It is true to say that nearly all landed proprietors in Scotland are living on good terms with their tenants. If there are certain matters which are not quite right on some farms and some estates, that is not because the landed proprietors take no interest in their tenants; it is the result of the many years of deep depression which we have experienced in agriculture, and because the whole industry has been neglected by different Governments. We are by no means such wealthy people as we are supposed to be, and we have had great difficulty in finding all the money needed to do what we consider necessary on our estates and on behalf of our tenants. If anyone tries to praise this Bill by saying that it will open the way to greater freedom for the tenants, and so forth, they will, in effect, be kicking at an open door. We are quite ready to do all that we can for our tenants; and we do appreciate good husbandry and good estate management. Where there is bad agriculture and bad management we are prepared to do everything in our power to see that it is put right somehow. There are passages in this Bill which sound as though the dice were rather loaded against the landed proprietor and which suggest that we shall not have the same protection of our interests as tenants will have. In some instances, I gather, a tenant can go right up to the Land Court for the purpose of an appeal. I do not think that the landed proprietor has the same freedom to go to the same level for the defence in law of his interests. I think that, whatever is done in this respect, the landed proprietor and the tenant should be put on equal terms with regard to applications and legal matters pertaining to the defence of their rights.

With regard to equipment on the farms, I think that landed proprietors are not being treated too fairly, inasmuch as they are being threatened with capital taxation on the money which they put aside for equipment. It is difficult for us no find the capital required to bring the equipment on farms up to the high level which is desired and also to find the money for this capital levy. I feel there ought to be some provision in the Bill whereby capital which is invested in the equipment of farms should not be taxable under the capital levy. We cannot find the money to enable us to sustain both burdens. We cannot find the money for expensive equipment, on the one hand, and pay this levy, on the other. On this matter of equipment, I think it is true to say that the Government are to-day about the largest landed proprietor in Scotland, and that there are farms on the Government estate which are badly equipped. Some of them have not cattle byres, some of them have not proper piggeries, and some of them have not proper dung enclosures. Time and time again, approach has been made by authorities such as the county councils to the Secretary of State, calling upon him to put farms for which he is responsible into good order, and it has not been done. Can we take action against the Secretary of State to make him put such farms into good order before we are called upon to put ours in order?

Further, we have never seen any accounts relating to the expenditure and receipts of the Government farms. So far as I know, such accounts have not been published. Since our information is to the effect that in many instances these farms are badly run, we should like to have the opportunity of scrutinising their accounts. When I go to market I never see Government cattle fetching anywhere near top prices. I think we ought to have some knowledge of the accounts relating to the running of these State farms. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, made repeated references to the powers given to the Secretary of State. The Minister certainly has enormous powers—more powers, I should think, than have ever been conferred on any other Minister in this country. He is, virtually, an absolute dictator, and I am surprised to see this Government favouring dictation on such an unlimited and unrestricted scale.

Now just a word about game. The noble Lord had a good deal to say about deer. If the idea is entertained that landowners have purposely kept people off the hills, have purposely neglected their agricultural interests for the sake of founding deer forests and so forth, let me say emphatically that that is not the case at all. During the great agricultural depression from which we suffered, sheep and cattle went down enormously in value. Ewes went as low in price as £2 and 35s., and lambs were sold for as little as 15s. each. Farmers could not run farms successfully when such low prices were being realised. The result was that, to avoid losing more money, owners had to sell their stock as best they could. The land became vacant, in the sense that there were no sheep and cattle on it, and the deer which were already there spread over it. Then it became the fashion for certain people from London and elsewhere to take land of this sort for shooting purposes. And it must be said that such land became a valuable asset to the county councils, because they levied sporting rates upon it. In some counties, where there were big shoots, the revenue from sporting rates became a valuable item in the local budget, and helped to keep other rates down.

When prices improved and ewes sold at £6 each, while lambs fetched £2 or £3 apiece, then the story was a different one. With prices like that no one concerned with the ownership of the land and with agriculture would wish to see deer and grouse remain in occupation. It is one thing to have a prosperous agriculture and quite another to have agriculture in a state practically of ruin. So, as I say, the idea which seems to be entertained about game is wrong. One point in this connection which I might mention here is that if farmers are to have the right to shoot deer, they should not do it out of season. We do not want them to shoot in the breeding season when the females are carrying calves. And we do not want them to burn the heather where all the birds are nesting. That, surely, is unfair. When it is suggested that land such as I have been speaking of was wasted during the war I would point out that we shot 7,000 deer in Scotland. From the point of view of food, one deer is the equivalent of four sheep; so we provided the market with meat equivalent to that of 28,000 sheep. To-day a great proportion of the deer have been killed off—certainly all mine have. For my part, I do not regret that, and I do not think that any other landed proprietor minds very much the killing off of the deer, provided that we are to have guaranteed prices for our agricultural produce and guaranteed markets. I do not think that I will say any more upon this Bill now. Perhaps during the Committee stage I shall have further observations to offer, and further suggestions to put forward. On the whole, I think we accept the Bill in principle as a valuable Bill. May I just say, in conclusion, that I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, devoted the Whit-sun vacation to taking a holiday in some of the most beautiful and prosperous agricultural districts in Scotland?

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we can all heartily support the excellent points just made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. I share the appreciation, which has already been expressed, of the manner in which the noble Lord has presented the Bill this afternoon. His very thorough examination of it makes it less necessary to say so much now. I would also like to add that his recent visit to Scotland, and the opportunity which he took of seeing what the farmers, land owners and people on the farms were trying to do, and the interest he took in the subject of this debate, gave much pleasure to those who met him. I feel I may be allowed to thank the noble Lord for the generous tribute he paid to me and to those who assisted in the preparation of the Bill. If my interpretation of the intentions of this Bill is correct, I am also in accord with him, that there should be general agreement with a great many of them. After all, a large part of the Bill is the result of numerous conferences which took place over a long period between the Department of Agriculture and the representatives of agriculture and the different partners in the industry.

Our thanks may well be accorded to the Chairman of the Department of Agriculture in Edinburgh, Sir Patrick Laird, and his colleagues, who on behalf of the Secretary of State for Scotland have taken great care to secure as much agreement as possible and to give an opportunity to all concerned to express their opinions. Agreement was often possible, but not always, and there are, no doubt unavoidably, some decisions which some of us on this side do not consider altogether satisfactory. But many of the proposals in the Bill have been advocated for some time by people on different sides in politics and by representatives of all opinion in agriculture. It is fortunate that now, under the pressure of food shortage and world events, we find all Parties in Parliament more willing and obliged to give active support to agriculture and to pass legislation of far more than temporary benefit—legislation which there is good reason to suppose will be of a permanent nature.

As a farmer, I wish to congratulate the National Farmers' Union of Scotland for their untiring efforts and for their success in obtaining assurances and guarantees about outlets and prices for farm produce and better conditions for farmers. These assurances should enable them to go ahead and do their best. I wish the same could be said for those who are doing their best to grow trees. They are still very much left out of it. We can approve all that has been designed to ensure more favourable economic prospects to farmers, to give them confidence and to encourage them to recognise that it will be to their advantage, as well as necessary for the nation, to farm in such a way as to secure a full output from the land. In passing, I may say that, in comparison with other countries and continents, far greater care has always been taken to look after the land and the soil in the United Kingdom of Scotland and England throughout the centuries; and there is no doubt that in time, after the shortage of materials and equipment and fertilisers disappears, the total output of this country can be substantially raised.

With this as a background, it is not unnatural that the State should take more interest and more part in the affairs of agriculture. It is to be hoped that they will do so with wisdom and restraint. The promotion of a sense of complete security for all good tenant farmers, in order to safeguard production, and of a higher standard of efficiency wherever there is room for it in the industry, in order to safeguard the nation, should be welcomed But we do find in the Bill proposals—concerned with the security and efficiency and the controls involved—where there is doubt whether the legislation is good; and we may be anxious as to whether a good Bill is being spoiled. The National Farmers' Union of Scotland are also to be congratulated in obtaining increased security of tenure for tenant farmers and they are to be thanked for the co-operative spirit in which they have discussed all questions at these conferences. It is perhaps to be regretted that the Government have been persuaded to bring in the security of tenure in such a way as may weaken, on the other hand, the security and control of a good landowner. It is to be regretted that they provide a fixity of tenure, with all its drawbacks, which will enable anyone, farming just not too badly to be removed from his farm, to be continued in it even though all the while deterioration may be gradually taking place on the farm.

It has been suggested, I think correctly, that some of these proposals will operate more favourably on one ride than on the other. I think they are distinctly to the advantage of a tenant farmer who will now be able to stay in a farm as long as he wishes, although he can give up his farm almost whenever he wants to, whether the proprietor can relet it again or not. Greater security was required and asked for by the National Farmers' Union, largely to prevent a proprietor giving notice to a farmer to quit so that the proprietor can sell with vacant possession in the open market. But this legislation will make it very difficult in genuine cases, where owners of farms wish to recover and farm their own land, even if at the end of a lease. The sort of cases I have in mind are those of officers and others who have served in His Majesty's Forces—the Navy, the Army or the Air Force—and who, having finished their service, wish to return to land in the ownership of their family to farm it. This also applies to their sons. Originally, I think, the provisions intended in the Bill made it reasonably easy for such people to be allowed to farm their own land, but it seems to me that the Government have now departed from the original intentions. I am not satisfied that the legislation is as good as it might be. I feel that in these matters of security of tenure legislation is extremely difficult; there is a danger of being too rigid and not sufficiently flexible, both in this and in other Parts of the Bill. I feel that much more could be achieved by closer co-operation between the farmers and owners and their respective organisations, without the need for so much legislation.

With regard to the efficiency measures, I am sure that farmers, landowners and farm workers will wish to see good results from the proposals, which are intended to ensure that we all do our jobs well. I feel, however, that rather too much emphasis is placed on the penalties and the threats—which I agree may be needed in the background—and not enough is placed on incentives to do better and on encouragement, where necessary with some pressure, on those who are less active. I would like to add a few words on the severe task which is being imposed later on in the Bill on the area agricultural executive committees, who will largely have to deal with these efficiency matters. They will have responsibilities and duties which will to a great extent, take them away from their own work and affairs. A good deal of impartiality, knowledge and good judgment will be needed on their side. I am not certain whether the best arrangement has been made; but that we can judge only after experience. I am sure there are on those committees good men, and if they can find the time to do the work it should be a great help to the Department of Agriculture.

We are all agreed that it is right that the owner should manage his land and should provide the fixed equipment. That has always been accepted in the past. The landowner is not a mere rent receiver, as has often been suggested. His position as an important partner in the industry is now further established by this Bill. Statutory obligations are being placed upon him which will call for a very high expenditure on his part. In most cases, if he does the work thoroughly, this will amount to a far larger sum than the income which he will obtain from his farm rents. A number of points arise in that connection. One is the question of rents, to which reference was made by previous speakers. Naturally, farmers do not like an increase of rent placed upon them, but it has been accepted on their side that this new expenditure must be met by revenue from somewhere and that a higher rent will in many cases automatically go with the much larger expenditure. There is one feature of the Bill—namely, the dispossession of owners or tenants for bad management or bad husbandry—which I am sure everyone would like to see kept to an absolute minimum. I hope that every endeavour will be made to encourage those on both sides who are not fulfilling their task and that every opportunity will be given to them to do so before an act of dispossession is carried out. In cases where this does occur, I feel some doubt as to whether the proprietor is given a sufficient opportunity to sell his land in the open market before it is acquired from him by the State. I also feel doubt as to whether sufficient opportunity is accorded to him to choose his own tenant to succeed one who may be put out by the Department.

Reference has been made to some extraordinary legislation in this Bill which is designed to prevent any freedom on the part of good landowners to negotiate direct with their tenant farmers. I think the attitude of the Farmers' Union was unnecessarily cautious in this matter, and it led to an extreme demand which is unfortunate. The best estate management is generally found where the owners and tenants can act most closely together and can come to arrangements that are suitable to both. I would emphasise again that the obligations which have been placed upon the landowners are really very severe, and will call for a great deal of personal attention, knowledge, experience—and, also, expenditure. Considerable concessions have been made to tenant farmers and I hope that, as a consequence of this, they will be able to carry on successfully and that the relationship between the two sides will be as strong as ever before. If so, the Bill will work much more successfully.

I would now like to refer to another point made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. I doubt whether the extent to which confiscation of land values, mineral values and so on, under the Town and Country Planning Act, and the special levy in the Finance Act, will affect the revenue and capital from which landowners will have to meet the expenditure required of them is fully realised. I think that is a matter for the attention of the Ministers responsible for agriculture and for their advisers. It may well be that representations from them to the Chancellor of the Exchequer will minimise any ill-effects in the carrying out of this Bill.

When we come to rabbits and the laws affecting game, deer and vermin, I think that in one or two respects the Government have not been quite careful enough. The destruction of rabbits for the benefit of food and timber production is vitally necessary; but it is also extremely difficult. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, referred in his opening remarks, to the concession made in another place by the Secretary of State, which will prohibit entirely in future the use of what is known as the steel trap. I hope that reconsideration of this amendment will be possible, and that there may be a slight alteration which will enable a limited use of this method of killing rabbits, as is still allowed in the Agriculture Act for England. Though it is naturally the general wish for rabbits to be killed in the most humane way that is possible, and the excellent reasons for the concession by the Secretary of State are appreciated, we shall find it necessary to ask the Government to look at this again. I am sure they will find that agricultural opinion, and their own agricultural advisers, take a strong and, I believe, unanimous view of the matter. I hope something will be able to be done on the Committee stage, as I do not feel that a practical alternative method is yet available.

I feel that I may have expressed in too moderate language some of the defects of this Bill, but I hope the Government will find it possible to make a few modifications which will in no way harm he Bill and which, I think, will make it generally more acceptable. It is not easy to say how it will work out, but success will depend upon the fairness, good judgment and skill in the administration. I am sure that if the administration is good, the Government will find a ready co-operation, which will be encouraged by all the organisations representing those concerned in agriculture.

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, the groundwork of this Bill has been adequately and fully covered by the noble Lords who have already spoken. They have covered it from a great width of experience, and I have no intention of going over the ground again. I should like to bring out only one or two points which have arisen. The first two of these concern the provisions for the ownership and occupation of land by the Department of Agriculture. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has already mentioned briefly the question of the publication of some sort of report and accounts in respect of the operations of the Department in the field of ownership and farming.

As the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, said in his speech, the Department already own something like 600,000 acres of land in Scotland, and I am quite certain that as a result of this Bill the area of land under their ownership is certainly not going to decrease; in fact, I think the contrary is bound to be the case. Under the English Act, which was passed last summer, the ownership and occupation of agricultural land in England is placed under a Land Commission. Under some section of that Act, the Land Commission are charged with the duty of producing every year a report and accounts in respect of their operations, so as to show the results separately for the management and for the occupation of the land. In Scotland, as we have heard already, we are not to have a Land Commission, but the operations of this nature are to be carried on as they have been in the past by the Department of Agriculture. So far as I can see, there is no provision in the Bill for the production of accounts on similar lines to that of the English Act. It may be the case that there is a provision under some other Statute, and if so I should be grateful if the noble Lord would make that clear. But there is certainly nothing in this Bill placing any obligation on the Department to publish the results of its operations in the sphere of land ownership and farming.

I am sure we all agree that the Department's farms should be models of all that a good farm should be. They should be there as an example for other farmers of the practices they should adopt; and, as all farmers know, one of the criteria of good farming is the financial result that comes out at the end of the year. All of us know the business man's spare-time farm, which often appears to be very efficiently run and well equipped, but I wonder how often farms of this nature show such a rosy picture on the financial side. It is equally easy for the Secretary of State to produce a very rosy picture on the outside, provided that he and his colleagues are not depending for their living upon the proceeds of their operations. Quite apart from that, surely the taxpayer is entitled to know whether he is subsidising the operations of these farms, and the farmer is entitled to know whether these methods, which have been held up as an example to him of good agricultural practice, are, in fact, compatible with an economic return. The landowner, too, should be able to know that the Department are able to maintain the fixed equipment of their farms within the rates which they are charging for them. I will go even further on this matter of accounts and suggest that we should have not merely the bald statement of profit and loss for each farm operated by the Department, but also details of the type and acreage of farms, and so on, so that a true comparison of the results can be obtained. I also think we could do with information of the costing of crops and agricultural operations, because that is a sphere in which I think agriculture has lagged behind other industries.

There is another point connected with the Department's ownership and occupation of land. At the end of the first Part of the Bill it is declared, in Clause 25 (2): that the provisions of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Acts, 1923 and 1931, and this Part of this Act "— that is, the first Part of the Bill we are now discussing— and the Schedules therein referred to apply to land notwithstanding that the interest of the landlord or the tenant thereof belongs to a Government Department or is held on behalf of His Majesty for the purposes of any Government Department. That is very reasonable. But at the end of the clause there is a proviso upon which I should like to have the noble Lord's observation. It says: …in the application thereoof to any land belonging, or an interest in which is held, as aforesaid the said provisions shall have effect subject to such modifications as may be prescribed. I ask the noble Lord who is to reply to tell us what modifications it is contemplated will be prescribed in applying this Part of the Bill to land owned and occupied by the Government, because otherwise we are signing a blank cheque. I ask him to let us know what is contemplated in this respect.

There is another point connected with the tenure of land. Government Departments, in acquiring land for their own purposes, may often have to acquire considerably more than they actually need. Take the case of the Forestry Commission. They may have to buy a whole estate, and not all of that land will be suitable for planting. Are the Department concerned at liberty to dispose of that surplus land in the market, or are they in fact bound to retain the interest in it or to transfer it to the Secretary of State? During and since the war, we have had a good deal of experience of one Department hawking round house property which it had to other Departments, rather than putting it on the market. I think it is generally agreed that that is an extremely bad practice when applied to agricultural land. I know there is considerable suspicion among those connected with agriculture that once land has been acquired by any Government Department there is no prospect of that land being released and coming on the market again. I know that in the Bill there is a provision that the Secretary of State has power to sell land, and I hope that in cases where the land is not necessary for his purposes that power will, in fact, be exercised.

Several noble Lords have commented on the incidence on the landowner and others of the proposed capital levy. I do not know whether I am in order in commenting on a matter which is still under discussion in another place, and is not yet law, bat I think that attention should be drawn to one point. During the passage of this Bill through another place the Under-Secretary of State said that the Government were providing in the Bill that ownership of agricultural land should henceforth be a functional interest in agriculture. Quite apart from the fact that I do not think this Government are the first to provide that this should be so—I believe it has always been the case—surely it is rather a contradiction to class the reward for this interest as unearned income and to tax the owner accordingly. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, in introducing this Bill, said that it was making a partnership of agriculture in which the parties were the farmer, the worker, the landowner, and the State. The landowner is an active partner, not a sleeping partner, and therefore I see no reason why his reward for his share in that partnership should be treated any differently from that of any other partner.

There is another small point, which may appear to be unimportant. The farmer already has a host of regulations to read and forms to fill up. I am certain that as the result of this Bill there will be no fewer. All I ask of the Government is that they will make them as simple and as comprehensible as possible. In that respect I think the Department of Agriculture have done their best. They are generally very reasonable, but some of their colleagues might take a lesson or two from them. The other day I was reading the regulations which have just been issued by the Ministry of Food in connection with the slaughter of pigs by their owners for their own consumption. One of these regulations specifies who may feed a pig and who may not. It then goes on to say: Feeding means the serving of food at feeding time. I leave your Lordships to judge what is the attitude of farmers to remarks of that nature. I apologise for having taken up so much of your Lordships' time. Please do not think that because I have singled out some points for criticism I do not approve of the Bill. I think that on the whole it is a good Bill, and I believe that if it is wisely administered, as I am sure it will be, then it will be of lasting benefit to Scottish agriculture.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I have not much to add to what has been said, covering many points in your Lordships' House to-day. It seems pretty certain that for many years to come we shall have to produce in this country the maximum of good food, and that therefore all of us connected with farming must welcome all the help that can be given and all the help that is indicated in the Bill which we are discussing to-day. Three chief points seem to strike one in this Bill. One has been stressed by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk; it is that freedom of contract has been abolished. The second was stressed by the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch; it is that security of tenure has, rightly, been improved. The third point that seems to stand out is the very much increased participation, or perhaps one might say interference, in some cases quite rightly, by the State. As has been said by some noble Lords, the tenant-landowner relationship in Scotland is what might be called a mutually responsible relationship; and it would be a pity if, as a result of this measure, that mutual confidence should be in any way spoilt. If it is, the production of foodstuffs in Scotland will not be helped. If there is a quarrel in a family, it is unwise for a third party to step in to try to put it right, because both parties to the quarrel will equally resent it. Therefore, I hope that His Majesty's Government will, so far as possible, be sympathetic to every Amendment, and will be careful to prevent the very real danger that I see of both the landlord and the tenant being troubled by undue interference from the Secretary of State.

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, that there should be ample and suitable means for reselling such land as Departments may not require, is a valuable one. I hope that during the passage of this Bill through this House your Lordships will see that it is subsequently amended in such ways as to ensure that the confidence which exists at present between all sections of the farming community is improved and not endangered.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords, I think that this is a good Bill. I heard the noble Duke, Lord Buccleuch, talking about rabbits. It reminded me that there are just as many English rabbits coming across the Scottish border doing damage as there were when we had a debate on the subject many years ago. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, in his journeys to Scotland was in Ayrshire and visited several dairy farmers, because it is on their behalf that I propose to put forward two points to the noble Lord this evening. The first is with regard to the appointment of members of agricultural committees. These appointments are made by the Secretary of State and he is not bound, although the noble Lord has said he will do so, to consult any organisations of farmers, workers or landowners.

I find it difficult to understand why this method of appointment has been reserved solely to a Scottish Bill, and why in England the procedure to be followed is on the lines of the appointment of the agricultural advisory committees. It would seem to be more appropriate if the reverse were the case: if in England the appointments were all made by the Minister of Agriculture while in Scotland a proportion of the members were nominated by appropriate bodies. In England there is a Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries whose duties, apart from fisheries, are entirely confined to farming matters, and therefore his energies are directed towards farming and fishing. One would reasonably assume that the Minister of Agriculture would take a keen interest in the appointment to and workings of agricultural executive committees. In Scotland the position is different for, besides agriculture, the Secretary of State has many other things to which to attend. Therefore, the appointments to and workings of agricultural executive committees will be attended to by permanent officials, and as the agricultural executive committees have no delegated powers at all, they can do nothing else but obey the directions of these departmental officials. Surely it would be good for agriculture in Scotland if some of the members of the agricultural committees were appointed by appropriate bodies instead of by the Secretary of State.

The weakness of the Bill, in the opinion of some farmers, is that the agricultural executive committees have no delegated powers. Clause 68 provides that: the Secretary of State shall establish an agricultural executive committee, and Clause 69 states: The Secretary of State may make regulations… I should like to ask how the management of land will be helped supposing the Secretary of State makes no regulations, and whether agricultural executive committees will be impotent since apparently they have no delegated functions. I suggest that the agricultural executive committee are better qualified than the Secretary of State and his officials to see that good management of the land is carried out, and that it should be the duty of the agricultural executive committee, invested with the necessary powers, to carry out their function, along with ample opportunity to appeal.

My second point is that, according to Clause 32 (1) (a), the Secretary of State requires that with regard to the farms, the owner shall as from the said date either farm it himself, if he so elects and the Secretary of State approves, or let it to a tenant approved by the Secretary of State. I may be wrong in my interpretation of this clause but it looks as if, when a farm is vacated because of the bad management of the tenant, the landlord cannot elect to sell it. Surely by the wording of the clause he must become the farmer of the land himself before he is in a position to sell it. It looks as though there is something odd about this matter. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to explain those two points for the benefit of some of the dairy farmers in Ayrshire for whom I am speaking.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I certainly have no reason to complain of the tone of this debate. Perhaps your Lordships will excuse me if I do not answer every point that has been made in detail.


I apologise to the noble Lord for not letting him know beforehand of my points. I had not time to prepare them for him.


As your Lordships are well aware, there is other business to be done before the Sitting ends this evening. The noble Earl who spoke last, if I may commence there and work backwards, asked two questions. I am unable to give an answer now to his second question, but I think that I can perhaps explain the difficulty with regard to his first. The noble Earl asked why there was a difference between the method of appointing the agricultural executive committees in England and that employed in Scotland. I cannot answer why there is a difference, but I am most decidedly of the opinion that the Scottish method is the better one. The method of appointment in England is by nomination. The method of appointment in Scotland is by nomination of people representing organisations. In Scotland names will be submitted to the Secretary of State, who will make the selection after considering all points of view. In my experience, the difference in practice is that where the person is appointed to an advisory committee as the nominee of a particular body he regards himself more or less as a delegate of that body, who has to report back the proceedings of each meeting and take his instructions from the body who have sent him as to the line he should pursue. I think the result of that is that one has a much less co-operative committee to handle questions than under the system by which it is proposed to appoint the agricultural executive committees in Scotland.

An interesting speech delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Glentanar, stressed the importance of food production. I agree with the noble Lord that that was the feature which most impressed me on the short visit I was able to make to Scotland. I am sorry that I was not able to travel further north than Perth, but I went out for a full day every day that I was able to spend in Scotland, and I finished up at Perth as the northermost point. What impressed me was the way in which the farmers, landowners and land workers had lifted this question right above the ordinary area of Party politics and were looking at it from the point of view of how much food they could produce. They were under the impression that that factor outweighed all other sectional considerations. I gathered from the noble Lord that that was his point too. Regarding his amusing and well-known reference to the perpetual quarrelling of two people living in a house, I quite agree that the interference of somebody from next door is unlikely to bring about unity in the family. So far as I know, in the administration of this Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament, it is certainly the intention of the Secretary of State, as I am sure it will be true of all successive Secretaries of State, to interfere as little as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, raised the question of some difficulty he had in understanding the meaning of Clause 25. The modifications contemplated in Clause 25 are in relation to procedure only. There is no intention of using the provision for the purpose of contracting out of the application of Part I of the Bill to land held by Government Departments. A number of noble Lords have raised the important question of rabbits. In view of the fact that an Amendment is likely to be put clown on the Committee stage in regard to this matter, perhaps we might defer fuller discussion until we reach that stage, when it can be gone into at greater length. I would, however, say that I wish the organisations which are responsible for and interested in the prevention of cruelty to animals, before they take such strong action as they do in trying to bring about the abolition of any instrument that is cruel to animals, would make more effort to see that some alternative is available in its place. That would considerably simplify the question so far as legislation is concerned. The House will have an opportunity of discussing this at greater length.

Although the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, has gone, I do, for the purposes of the record, thank him for the tribute he paid to Sir Patrick Laird and his staff. I can say more freely, now that the noble Duke is not here, that when I went to Scotland I specifically asked to see some of the most efficient farms and, without any hesitation, my advisers took me to the farms owned by the Duke of Buccleuch. I can say, too, that having seen the more efficient farms, I also asked—foolishly—to be taken to some of the most inefficient farms. I was advised, however, that that would cause far too much trouble—and there is enough trouble in Scotland already! The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, said that generally speaking landlords and tenants are, and have been for some time, living on good terms with each other. Although my experience was limited I tried in several parts of the country to get information on that point, and all the information I gained bore out what the noble Duke said—that, generally speaking, there is a feeling of good will and co-operation between landowners and farmers in Scotland. I hope that nothing in this Bill will disturb that good feeling.

Unfortunately, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, is no longer here, but at the commencement of his speech he welcomed the participation in Scottish debates of members of all countries. It appears that the noble Earl is advocating a revolution in future Scottish debates—namely, that they should be free for all! Being some sort of a revolutionary myself, though much milder than the noble Earl, I am prepared to support him in his proposal that in future Scottish debates should not be private fights but should be open to everybody. And anything I can do to help him break down the iron curtain which exists in this House between Scottish noble Lords and other noble Lords I will do my best to accomplish. In conclusion, I would only say that, since many of the points that have been raised will come up again on Committee stage, I am sure Scottish noble Lords would not wish to detain the House from the other business it has to-day. I would once again add my thanks for the way in which this Bill has been received, and say that I have no authority at present to make any pronouncement about the question of oats, nor on the so-called capital levy.

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