AGRICULTURAL HOLDINGS (SCOTLAND) BILL [Lords].

– in the House of Commons on 5th July 1922.

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Order for Second Beading read.

Photo of Mr Robert Munro Mr Robert Munro , Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time." This is purely a Consolidation Bill. It in no respects alters the existing law. The Acts which are consolidated are the following: The Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1908, the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Amendment Act, 1910, the Agricultural Land Sales (Restriction of Notices to Quit) Act, 1919, in so far as it applies to Scotland, Part II of the Agriculture Act, 1920, which applies to Scotland, the Agriculture (Amendment) Act, 1921, and the relevant Sections of the Corn Production Acts (Repeal) Act, 1921. The Bill contains in the margin opposite to each Clause a statement of the source or sources from which the Clause is derived. The question of consolidation of the law relating to the subject of agricultural holdings was raised originally in another place by the late Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and Lord Ancaster, speaking there, indicated on my behalf that a Bill such as this would be prepared. The desirability of such a Bill, I think, is obvious. I do not need to occupy the time of the House in arguing the matter. A Bill accordingly was prepared and has been considered by the Joint Committee of Lords and Commons upon Consolidation Bills. From their Report, which is available to Members of the House, it appears that, in their view, this Bill accurately consolidates the existing law.

A number of Amendments were made by that Committee. The Committee's Report points out that a Clause in the Bill, as originally introduced dealt with allotments, reproducing Section II of the Agriculture Act, 1920. That Section the Committee thought should be omitted in view of the introduction of an Allotment Bill in another place where the matter could be dealt with more properly and more relevantly, and the Amendments made by the Committee, though they seem to be extensive in number in so far as they are not due to the omission of that particular Clause, which is to be inserted in another Bill, are purely drafting Amendments for the purpose of eliminating differences of phraseology in the provisions taken from the 1008 Act and the 1920 Act, and provisions in the English and Scottish Bills. There is no point of substance in the Amendments, and no alteration in the law is involved by giving effect to them. In short, the Bill simply seeks to make available in convenient form a number of Scottish enactments which are difficult to handle in existing circumstances and which are brought together in this consolidating Bill. I hope that the House will approve of the idea, and, with the assurance which I have given that there is no alteration in the existing law involved, will have no hesitation in giving thi6 Bill a Second Beading.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

There can be no objection to, but rather a hearty welcome for, such a Bill as this, inasmuch as the effect of it must be to make the non-learned in the law much more capable of finding out what the law is, and I hope that the work which is being done here with regard to agricultural holdings in Scotland will be performed as speedily as possible with regard to other branches of the law in Scotland, and, indeed, in England. At the same time I cannot help commenting on the perfect flood of small Bills which the various Departments are now pouring on to the House. That is a matter of which I hope the Government will take note, as what time they have to spare I think would be very much more profitably devoted to another day's Supply than to placing fresh legislation on the Statute Book.

Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY:

I welcome this Bill particularly in view of the fact that I drew attention to the necessity of some such Bill in a Debate last year. I do not say that it is in response to that suggestion that this Bill is now introduced, but certainly it would be of great and lasting benefit to the agricultural community in Scotland. It will not, of course, be of such benefit to the legal profession, because whereas now it is extremely difficult for the agriculturist to ascertain from the vast number of Acts which protect his industry any small point on which he desires information, he will now have in concise form all the Statutes which affect him. The right hon. Gentleman says that this Bill makes no alteration in the existing law. Of course we accept that statement. He says, indeed, that it does omit one of the Sections which deal with allotments. That particular Section will find a much better place in an Allotments Act. May I be permitted to clear up one point? It is the case, I believe, that Consolidation Bills going through this House are not only open to amendment, but are occasionally amended. I think that this is the right and proper point at which the House should decide whether or not, when we come to the Committee stage, Amendments are to be made to this Bill. I would like to see Amendments made to the Bill. For instance, there is an Amendment to the Schedule for which I hope I shall have the support of the Secretary for Scotland. It relates to the First Schedule, Sub-section 18, Part I. It deals with the improvements to which the consent of the landlord is required, and Sub-section 18 says: In the case of arable land, the removal of bracken, gorse, tree roots, boulders, or other like obstructions to cultivation. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that when the Agriculture Act of 1920 left this House the words in that Subsection, "in the case of arable land," did not form part of the Sub-section. It read simply, "the removal of bracken, gorse, tree roots, boulders, or other like obstructions to cultivation." In another place the words, "in the case of arable land" were inserted, and they quite clearly nullify the whole object of the Sub-section. If bracken, gorse, tree roots, boulders, and other like obstructions to cultivation exist in arable land they can be easily removed. The Amendment made in another place converted the Sub-section into an absurdity. I have introduced into this House a Bill, the object of which is to remove the objectionable words. The Secretary for Scotland agreed that the Bill, if proceeded with, would have his support; in other words, that the Amendment which I propose was a wise and proper one. That Bill of mine is still before the House. The right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Government and so far as Scotland is concerned, is agreeable to support my Bill. Will the right hon. Gentleman support me if I place on the Paper an Amendment which will have the effect of amending this Bill in the sense of the Bill I introduced.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

This purports to be a Consolidation Bill only. If the Committee made the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member, I should have something to say on the Third Reading of the Bill.

Lieut.-Colonel MURRAY:

I want to understand clearly whether or not it would be possible in Committee to amend this Bill. May I ask whether on occasions Consolidation Bills have not been amended in Committee?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

Some Bills are to consolidate and amend, and small Amendments have sometimes been taken on those Bills. This Bill does not say anything of the kind. I do not say that the Committee have not the full power. I do not control the Committee. But if the Bill is so changed in form as the hon. and gallant Member seems to suggest, I might have to decline to let it go to Third Reading.

Lieut.-Colonel MURRAY:

In those circumstances I would like to put this to the Secretary for Scotland: That when this Bill passes the Second Reading I shall put upon the Paper an Amendment to the effect which I have indicated. There are, indeed, other Amendments. I now say that to the Secretary for Scotland in order that he may make up his mind whether he can accept the Amendment, having regard to what Mr. Speaker has just said. I desire again to say how grateful the agricultural community in Scotland will be to the right hon. Gentleman for having introduced this very useful Measure to-day.

Photo of Sir Alexander Sprot Sir Alexander Sprot , Fife Eastern

Like other hon. Members I welcome this Consolidating Bill, and I agree that all who are connected with agriculture will be most thankful for having the enactments relating to Scotland consolidated. I notice that in the Fourth Schedule, which gives the list of enactments repealed, the Agriculture Act of 1920, Part II, is repealed "except Section eleven." I have only just had this Bill placed in my hands and I am not aware to what Section 11 refers. Does it refer to allotments? What is the reason for the repeal of Part II of the Agriculture Act, 1920, without the repeal of Section 11?

Dr. MURRAY:

I join in the welcome to this Bill. The only complaint I make is that it does not go far enough. I would have liked to have seen all the Acts dealing with smallholdings included in this Bill. I hope the Secretary for Scotland will take into consideration the desirability of having those Acts codified in the same way. There are the Crofters Act and various amendments, and the Smallholders Act, and the Land Settlement Act of 1919. The people who are concerned with those Acts are a class who deserve the simplicity of a consolidating Measure more than do the people who are concerned with the Measures mentioned in this Bill. There is so much overlapping in the various enactments relating to smallholdings that it is absolutely necessary they should be simplified. One Clause in this Bill, Clause 43, has caught my eye. It says: Where any jurisdiction permitted by this Act to the sheriff is exercised by the sheriff-substitute, there shall be no appeal to the sheriff. I assume that that is taken from an Act of Parliament. If it be new, it seems to be an attack on the position of the sheriff and to indicate a disposition to encourage farmers to appeal to the Court of Session, which is a much more expensive process than appeal to the sheriff.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

Apparently the hon. and gallant Member of Kincardine (Lieut.-Colonel A. Murray) is under the impression that he can move an Amendment to a Bill which is to consolidate the enactments relating to agricultural holdings in Scotland. He cannot do anything of the sort. He cannot alter the Bill, for it would have the effect of altering the law. Such an attempt would be an attack on the time-honoured rule that you cannot amend a consolidating Bill. I would like to congratulate the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) on having expressed to-day a view that I have often expressed—that a bunch of small Bills is of no use at all. The best that can be said of them is that they may not do any good, but what is to be feared is that, though they may not do any good, yet they may do some harm.

Photo of Mr Robert Munro Mr Robert Munro , Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire

I am sure that the last speaker's observations do not apply to this particular Bill, for he must approve of a Bill of this sort, which brings together scattered pieces of legislation and makes them into a comprehensive mosaic. With regard to the hon. and gallant Member for Kincardine, after what Mr. Speaker and the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) have said, I shall certainly not accept any Amendments on the lines foreshadowed by him. I would be very unwilling to imperil the fate of this Bill, even to satisfy the hon. and gallant Member's exuberant desire to legislate on the question of bracken. He must raise that question at another time. I take this opportunity of telling him quite frankly that, so far as I am entitled to express the view of the Government, I do not propose to accept in Committee any proposals which would have the effect of amending this Bill, seeing that the title of the Bill states that its purpose is to consolidate enactments relating to agricultural holdings in Scotland. I am sorry to disappoint my hon. and gallant Friend, but it is just as well to be frank about the matter. The hon. and gallant Member for East Fife (Colonel Sir A. Sprot) raised a question regarding the Fourth Schedule, and inquired the reason why Part II of the Agriculture Act, 1920, was repealed with the exception of Section 11. That is a Section dealing with allotments, and, as I explained in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, the Committee elsewhere thought it more appropriate that that particular Section should be dealt with in an Allotments Bill rather than in a Bill relating to agricultural holdings. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Dr. Murray) made the suggestion that small holdings legislation might be consolidated in the same manner. I think the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D Maclean) entertains the same desire. I should be very happy to consider that suggestion, but I think it would be inconvenient to consolidate allotments law and small holdings law in the same Bill. They are very different and affect different classes of persons. Whether it may be possible to consolidate the law relating to small holdings is a question to which I shall give attention, my chief difficulty being that the resources of the Scottish Office in the matter of draftsmanship are very limited and the amount of work to be done is very considerable. Subject to that consideration, I shall look into the matter. The hon. Member for the Western Isles also referred to Clause 43, which excludes the jurisdiction of the sheriff. If he looks at the marginal note he will see that this is not a new enactment, but is carried forward from an Act passed so far back as 1908. The Section has worked well, and I see no reason for altering it. There is not the slightest reflection on the sheriffs involved.