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Orders Of The Day

Volume 643: debated on Wednesday 5 July 1961

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Crofters (Scotland) Bill

Order for consideration, as amended ( in the Standing Committee), read.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House in respect of the Amendments to Clause 2, page 1, line 11; Clause 7, page 7, line 10; Clause 11, page 12, line 39; Clause 13, page 17, line 23; and Clause 14, page 18, lines 3 and 12, standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Maclay.—[Mr. Maclay.]

Question amended, by adding, at the end:

"and in respect of the Amendment to Clause 6, page 5, line 18, standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Thomas Fraser".—[Mr. T. Fraser.]

and, as amended, agreed to.

Bill immediately considered in Committee.

[Sir GORDON TOUDCHE in the Chair]

Clause 2—(Provisions As To New Crofts And Enlarged Crofts)

7.12 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, to leave out "fifty" and to insert "seventy-five".

I wonder whether it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we took, at the same time, the Amendment in Clause 14, page 18, line 3, leave out "fifty" and insert "seventy-five".

The second Amendment is not directly consequential, but the two are closely linked together. I gather that that is the will of the Committee.

The purpose of the first Amendment is to raise from 50 to 75 acres the limit, exclusive of any share in common pasture, within which a new crofting holding must fall, that is if the rent of the holding exceeds the alternative limit of £50 per annum, if it is to be eligible for consideration for bringing into crofting.

In Standing Committee there was, I think, a fairly wide feeling that in dealing with this question of creating new crofts we should recognise the trend towards larger and more economic crofts. This is, indeed, a trend which the Commission is trying to encourage and make more easy. On the other hand, it would be wrong, as my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State explained to the Standing Committee, to bring into crofting, with all the special statutory procedures and treatment applying to it, what would be in effect sizeable farms.

My hon. Friend undertook to consider an adjustment of this 50-acres limit to take account of all the various considerations raised. We feel that the new proposed limit of 75 acres is right in the circumstances. It should make for the more flexible approach to the creation of new crofts in the upper ranges of size which may well be desirable in present circumstances and I am sure that the Amendment on this basis will find general acceptance among hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.

The second Amendment applies the revised acreage limit to those holdings, comparable to crofts, to which the crofters' grants will be extended in the circumstances set out in Clause 14. If we are extending these grants to holdings comparable to crofts it is only reasonable to keep the statutory limits on size and rents in line.

I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the first Amendment which follows more or less the promise made in Standing Committee in response to an Amendment in my name and to those in the names of various other hon. Members. It is a compromise. We shall see how it works and I hope that the Government will keep an open mind and feel themselves free to alter the acreage limit if that proves necessary.

7.15 p.m.

As for Clause 14, I regret the reappearance of subsection (1, a) in the Bill, but after last night we know that Members of another place have a certain expertise in leaving an (a) out of a Bill. I shall take care to see that their attention is drawn to this little a and I hope that when the Bill reappears here this too will be missing. The Amendment to subsection (1, b) merely brings the provisions of the Bill into line with the definition of a croft in the Bill and I welcome that Amendment.

Is it understood clearly now that Clause 14 (1, b) does not cover all sorts of tenant, but merely gives power to assist owner-occupiers as well as crofters? Those mysterious people who are occupiers of crofts of which they are also owners but who apparently are neither crofters nor occupiers other than crofters appear to be a very curious class. There are three now in the Clause—crofters, occupiers of holdings other than crofts, and those mysterious people who are occupiers of crofts and also owners thereof. I want to be clear whether ordinary tenants of every sort are excluded even though their holdings are comparable to a croft.

It may be that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland finds within his own experience that the owner-occupier is a mysterious sort of individual but I would dissociate myself from that view, because, from all the information which I have received, the incorporation of the owner-occupier under subsection (1, a) which the hon. Member wanted to see removed from the Bill has been widely welcomed. I think that many people feel that after the war they were encouraged by the Government to invest all their savings in the acquisition of crofts and unlike the hon. Member I hope that subsection (1, a) will not disappear.

I do not want to continue the discussion about owners or occupiers of land other than crofts. We discussed that quite a bit during the Committee stage, and I cannot see the Joint Under-Secretary of State giving an undertaking that this will be altered in the other place when the Bill reaches there.

We on this side of the Committee regard this Amendment as a step in the right direction. We appreciate that, throughout Scotland, in areas where agriculturists are working much richer land than obtains in the crofting counties, a holding of less than 50 acres is not an economic unit. In the circumstances, we think it right that this acreage of the croft, apart from common grazings, should be increased from 50 to 75 to come within the definition.

If we are to do it in Clause 14 in our definition of a croft, it seems reasonable to extend the acreage similarly in respect of these other holdings that are to be given equal financial help with the crofters in the crofting counties. In the circumstances, we say "Thank you" to the Secretary of State for fulfilling his promise in Committee, and express the hope that, if this does work well, he will not feel obliged to stick to 75 acres if some day it seems reasonable to make it 100.

The last thing we want to do is so to increase the size of the crofts without providing alternative occupations in the Highlands that we merely hasten depopulation. We do not want to be the means of doing that, so it would be desirable to introduce other occupations for the crofting population before we extend the size of the croft too much.

I welcome this extension of acreage because, with other hon. Members, in Standing Committee I took an active part in appeals to the Government to extend the size of crofts and also the rentals. I warmly welcome this extension, as it will be a real token of the Government's intention that crofts should be more viable in the seven Highland counties. There will be opportunities on later Amendments to discuss other matters bearing on this subject. I want now to associate myself with what has been said and to give a welcome to this provision.

I am grateful for the welcome given to this Amendment. I was a little worried in case I had misunderstood what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said. As I read Clause 14 we have three types to deal with. First, there are the

"… occupiers of crofts who are also the owners thereof …"
That type of person is very often an ex-crofter who has bought his croft, but his croft has not necessarily come out of crofting.

Surely a croft must be a certain area of land which is let under special legal conditions of tender? Is that not a definition of a croft? Otherwise, what is a crofter?

If the hon. Gentleman will read Clause 14 (1, a) he will see that it says

"… occupiers of crofts who are also the owners thereof …"
The type of person I was trying to explain about is a crofter who has bought his croft. It might, to the hon. Gentleman, cease to be a croft then, but technically it does not necessarily cease to be a croft. We discussed this matter upstairs and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will believe me when I say that. While I understand his difficulty, technically it is still a croft. Clause 14 (1, b) says
"for occupiers of holdings, other than crofts …"
That means land of like economic status—land where the occupiers are like sub-tenants of crofts.

I hope that all members of the Committee understand that we are keen to extend these grants to sub-tenants in order that crofters might be the more ready and keen to sublet their crofts, allowing these sub-tenants to get the advantage of the grants.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6—(Assessment Of Compensation For Improvements)

I beg to move, in page 5, in line 18, to leave out "on the open market".

I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to accept this Amendment. Subsection (2) of Clause 6 deals with the assessments of compensation for improvements. The Secretary of State has an Amendment down later to take out the words in line 19
"… for use for crofting purposes"
In assessing the amount of compensation—this is rather a long subsection and I will not trouble the Committee by reading it all out—an endeavour is to be made to assess the amount that might reasonably be expected to be received by the landlord
"… in respect of the improvement from a person who might reasonably be expected to obtain the tenancy of the croft if the croft were offered on the open market … for use for crofting purposes …"
If the Secretary of State's Amendment is passed, the words
"… for use for crofting purposes …"
will be taken out. This would obviously widen the category of person who might be expected to make an offer for the tenancy of the croft. If we widen that category and leave in the words "on the open market", then we shall appear to be inviting an assessment of the highest possible figure.

This might be seen to be an advantage to the outgoing crofter, but subsection (3) says that any amount of compensation assessed above what would have been got under the earlier provision will be paid by the Treasury. We should not leave the door open too wide to allow for a ridiculously high figure of assessment to be made, which may or may not affect the outgoing tenant but which would be an improper burden upon the Exchequer. By accepting our Amendment the Committee would be dealing with the tenancy of the croft if the croft were offered for letting as a separate croft, leaving out the few words which the Secretary of State proposes to leave out and also the words "on the open market". I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept the Amendment.

7.30 p.m.

I hope that the Government will look favourably on this Amendment or, at least, tell us what has been the result of their deliberations on this subject arising from the discussions in Committee. This phrase and its meaning were referred to in a number of speeches in Committee. Some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) who, unfortunately, is not here tonight, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) and the Leader of the Liberal Party, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), also asked what was the relevance of these words in many Highland areas. In many circumstances there is no open market, or very little. The croft might be in a remote area in Western Ross or north-west Sutherland, or an area like that. What is the open market value of the croft in those circumstances? What is more important, what is the open market value of the improvements? We were given no information about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has given one side of the coin, but the other is that a crofter might get nothing at all, because there might be no open market, and yet he might have spent a considerable sum on making improvements to the croft. We did not like the words when we discussed the matter in Committee. We did not know what they meant, and they did not seem to mean very much. We said that they were liable to have the effect indicated and we thought that the Government might have done something about the matter by now.

Even if the Government think that deleting these words would not improve the Bill, at least they should give an undertaking to reconsider the matter before the Bill goes to another place to see whether something better can be provided in the Clause, so that a crofter who has made improvements at least gets some compensation for them, even though the open market value may be nothing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton quoted a case in which the open market value might be very high—for instance, if someone wanted to start a caravan site, or something of that sort, in the Highlands when he might be willing to pay a fantastic price for the croft. My hon. Friend pointed out the financial burden which would fall upon the Exchequer, but not upon the landlord. In view of all the uncertainty, we ought to have something better than we now have. If our Amendment is not acceptable, at least the Government should reconsider the matter before the Bill goes to another place.

I hope that the Secretary of State will pay serious regard to what has been said, for the words "open market value" have no relevance to the circumstances with which we are dealing. If they were omitted, there would be no weakening of the subsection. They are used in a climate in which they do not belong.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) said that a crofter might make permanent improvements on his croft in which case the value would accrue to the landlord and not to the crofter. If the croft were inaccessible, in an area where transport was not frequent and where transport for conveying the crofter's children to school was not as adequate as in many other places, the open market value of the croft—it not being within easy reach of a town—would be very low.

I am certain that the Lord Advocate will have very tender memories of the morning when we tried to give some reality to the meaning of the words "on the open market". With all his wonderful legal training and the natural ability that goes with it, when he had finished his explanations, along with help from hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, we were in an even deeper fog than before he embarked on the task of elucidating the meaning of the Clause. I do not know whether further thought will enable him to impart greater clarity to the Clause than it presently contains.

I hope that the Secretary of State will take the easy way out. To talk of open market value in the circumstances of many of these crofts is not to talk in the language of reality. We would not like to place crofters in the position of the Imperial Tobacco Company whose shares' open market value suddenly crashed this afternoon. That is not the atmosphere in which we have to deal with crofting. The Secretary of State has power to lift crofts out of such circumstances by accepting the Amendment. The Amendment is sound and sensible and I encourage the Government to take a sound and sensible approach to it.

I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment and that, if they are not immediately seized of its importance, at least they will keep an open mind about open market value. Without dismissing the value of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), I am more concerned with the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser). In the remoter areas these words have no meaning. Where would the competition come from in the remote areas to make for a genuine open market value? As against that, in more populous areas prices could be driven up. The whole intention in Standing Committee was to do everything we could to encourage the community spirit and to help someone from the township to move into a vacant croft, someone with a kindred association with it. In considering this Amendment, we must have regard to the Amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman, in page .5, line 19, to leave out

"for use for crofting purposes".
That Amendment gives us some idea of what the Government are aiming at, because it is an invitation to let the croft as a separate entity not for crofting purposes. It could be used for a petrol station or as a caravan site, or something akin to that.

We must have a clear explanation about this Amendment.

Order. The hon. Member must not discuss an Amendment which is to be moved on Report, because at the moment we are in Committee.

I hope that I have not strayed beyond the bounds of order. I am discussing the Amendment which has been moved by my hon. Friend, but I was referring to the Amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman.

The Amendment in page 5, line 19, will arise on Report. It cannot be discussed while we are in Committee.

I agree, Sir Norman, I was making only an oblique reference to it in passing.

I appeal to the Government to accept the Amendment which has been moved so that we shall not have the difficulty of inflated prices and unreal advertisements in remote areas.

I do not want to reiterate the doubts that I expressed in Committee upstairs about the meaning of the words "on the open market" in certain parts of the Highlands and Islands, but I should like to ask the Government whether my interpretation of the meaning of the Clause as it stands and the effect of the Amendment is correct.

To take a concrete example, if this Bill had been an Act when the island of Soay came to be depopulated, it would have been held that the market value of the crofts was nil, and the crofters could then have asked that the Secretary of State for Scotland should pay the difference between nil and the amount of compensation which would have been, and in fact was, payable under the law as it stood under the 1955 Act. Am I right in thinking that that is the effect of writing in the words "on the open market"?

7.45 p.m.

The next point is that if we had such an island as Soay which was dealt with under this Bill when it becomes an Act, the next time a croft changed hands there would be no compensation on the existing improvements which had been dealt with in the manner that I have described, but any new improvements would fall to be dealt with, if these words "on the open market" were left in the Bill, in the manner described in the next following subsection to which we may not refer. I want to be clear whether my interpretation of what we are doing is correct.

May I deal first with the point raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), because I think that it goes to the heart of the matter. If I understood him aright, he is correct in what he says. We may get cases where the market value if not nil is at any rate nominal. At the moment under the existing legislation one gets the inflated price and the inflated compensation to which the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) referred obliquely.

This question was considered at some length in Committee upstairs, and I will try to explain briefly why I think that these words ought to be left in the Bill. If we leave these words in the Bill, the Land Court has to assess the offer which a landlord would get for the vacant croft and the associated improvements if the vacancy of the croft and the nature of the permanent improvements on it were made known to such persons as might be potential tenants. One method of doing this would be by advertisement, and at the present time in many cases vacancies of crofts are advertised. In that sense the words "on the open market" are used.

If these words were omitted the subsection could mean that the Land Court could have regard to some private arrangement between a landlord and a potential tenant whether or not the offer made by that person fell short of what the landlord might otherwise have been able to get if the tenancy had been made more widely known.

The subsection has this commonsense result, that if there are potential tenants who would be approved by the Crofters Commission, who know about this because of advertisements or otherwise, one could find the value of the croft on the open market. The difficulty is that under present conditions the Land Court assumes that there will be an incoming tenant. This led to the trouble in Soay, and, if I remember rightly, to the bankruptcy of the landlord.

Under the existing provisions no inquiry is made 'by the Land Court about whether there is a potential tenant. This obviously leads to hardship on both sides. I suggest that we are not inflating the value. What we are doing is to discover what the improvements on the croft will fetch in any area. If it is a purely nominal value, fair enough, and on that occasion, or on that first occasion, the Exchequer will make up the compensation to what would be paid under the existing law.

I am sorry to say that the Lord Advocate is wrong. The Exchequer will make up only the difference between what would have been assessed under the 1955 Act and such greater amount as is assessed under this Bill. Subsection (3) states:

"… if the amount last-mentioned"—
that is the amount assessed under the 1955 Act—
"is greater than the amount fixed or assessed by the Land Court as aforesaid,"—
that is, under subsection (2) which we are discussing—
"the difference between the two said amounts shall be payable to the crofter by the Secretary of State"
So that if by the removal of "on the open market" the sum assessed—a purely nominal figure under subsection (2)—is less than would have been assessed under the 1955 Act, there is no provision in the Bill for the Secretary of State to make up the difference. The Lord Advocate was, I think, caught out by that one.

I am sorry. It is the difference between the old and the new where the new is less.

Where the new is less, the Government do not come into the picture. That was not what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said.

I am sorry, it was what I meant to say. If by a slip of the tongue I got it wrong, I apologise. It is the difference between the old and the new where the new is less.

Surely, it is the difference between the old and the new where the new is greater. I do not want to prolong the discussion, but that is the position. The Government make up the difference between the old and the new where the new is greater than the old.

I am sorry. We can pick up the point when we discuss the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill". I do not want to prolong the discussion, but I repeat the words in subsection (3):

"if the amount last mentioned"—
being the amount under the 1955 Act—
"is greater than the amount fixed or assessed by the Land Court as aforesaid"—
that is, if the amount last mentioned, under the 1955 Act, is greater than the amount fixed or assessed by the Land Court as aforesaid—under the Bill
"the difference between the two said amounts shall be payable by the crofter to the Secretary of State".
I think, after all, that the Lord Advocate is right and I am wrong. I apologise for that.

In dealing with the Amendment, however, the Lord Advocate was imagining conditions in which the croft would be advertised, and it was only where it was advertised that there would be a proper figure. In many cases, the croft would not be advertised and the figure to be assessed is not the figure which is assessed as the result of advertisement and applications for the croft. Indeed, the word "if" appears at line 18, which states: "if the croft were offered". It is not "when the croft is offered".

In many cases where there is a renunciation, or a tenancy is terminated, it will be where there is reorganisation or where larger crofts emerge, so that the croft will not be offered for reletting where an endeavour has to be made to assess fair compensation. Therefore, there will not be the test of advertising and the amount to be assessed will, obviously, be a guess. I do not, however, want to pursue the matter. If the Lord Advocate does not agree with this proposition, I do not propose to continue the debate.

Amendment negatived

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7—(Amendment Of Provisions Of Act Of 1955 Relating To Right Of Dispossessed Absentee Crofter To Cquire Dwelling-House)

I beg to move, in page 7, line 10, at the end, to insert:

(5) The Commission shall, on being so requested by a crofter, act on behalf of such crofter in any matter connected with the grant to him in pursuance of the said section seventeen of a conveyance in feu of the dwelling-house and other pertinents on the croft and the recording of such conveyance in the Register of Sasines.
(6) Any expenses incurred by the Commission in complying with a request made to them by a crofter under the last foregoing subsection or in preparing and recording a conveyance as mentioned in subsection (5) of the said section seventeen shall be borne by the Commission and shall not be recoverable by them from any other person.
Hon. Members who were in Committee upstairs will remember that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) moved an Amendment which had, in substance, a rather similar effect to this one. It was designed to ensure that the Crofters Commission would meet the legal costs incurred in granting a conveyance in feu under Section 18 of the 1955 Act to an aged crofter.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has considered the arguments which the hon. Member put forward. This Amendment is designed to meet his case and goes even further. The new subsection (5) enables the crofter to whom a conveyance is granted to ask the Commission to act for him. This applies not only to an aged crofter, but it also enables an absentee crofter and a crofter who wishes, in a reorganisation scheme, to take a conveyance in feu of his dwelling-house to ask the Commission to act for him, too. In addition, the new subsection (6) provides that the Commission itself will meet all expenses in carrying out the work. We have made it clear that the Commission will meet the expenses incurred by a crofter in connection with preparing and recording a conveyance under Section 17 (5) of the 1955 Act.

I should like to express the gratitude of my hon. Friends and myself for the Government's action in accepting our proposal. It will be helpful in the Highlands and will be appreciated by the crofters. It will be helpful in the endeavour to persuade aged crofters to allow their land to be used for the purpose of expanding other crofts. There have been great difficulties about this since the Crofters Commission was set up. The number of aged crofters who wanted to retain their crofts and to allow the croft land to go has not been very great. This proposal should have beneficial effects and be of great value to the Commission and its work, as well as helpful to the crofter.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11—(Subletting Of Crofts)

I beg to move, in page 12, line 39, to leave out from the beginning to the end of the subsection and to insert:

  • (a) where it was entered into without the consent in writing of the landlord of the croft, then if within six months from the commencement of this Act the landlord and the crofter intimate jointly to the Commission that the sublease has been entered into and furnish the Commission with the name of the subtenant and the duration of the sublease, the sublease shall be held to be valid as from the date of such intimation;
  • (b) where it was entered into with the consent in writing of the landlord, the sublease shall become null and void on the expiry of six months from the commencement of this Act unless before the expiry of that period the crofter has intimated to the Commission that the sublease has been entered into and has furnished the Commission with the name of the subtenant and the duration of the sublease.
  • I suggest that it would be convenient to discuss at the same time the two later Amendments in the name of the Secretary of State, in Clause 13, page 17, line 23, and in Clause 14, page 18, line 12.

    Yes, Sir Norman. The first of these Amendments is designed to simplify subsection (1) of Clause 11, as amended in Committee, to ensure uniformity of treatment of the three classes of sub-tenant at present mentioned in the Clause. The first part of Clause 11 is a transitional provision. It deals with three kinds of sublease. The first are those entered into before the commencement of the Bill and without the written consent of the landlord. The second are those entered into between the publication of the Bill and its operation as an Act with the written consent of the landlord. Thirdly, there are those entered into before the publication of the Bill with the written consent of the landlord.

    To simplify matters, the Amendment proposes that Clause 11 (1) shall deal with only two kinds of croft subleases, both of them voluntary and both of them entered into before the date on which the Bill commences to operate. The first kind of sublease dealt with in paragraph (a) of the Amendment is the pre-Act sublease—the one to which I refer as the "illegal" sublease—that is, the one which did not have the written consent of the landlord when it was entered into. The Amendment proposes that such a sublease shall become valid if within the period of six months following the commencement of the Act, the landlord and crofter intimate to the Commission that the sublease has been entered into and if they supply the Commission with details of the arrangement.

    The second kind of sublease, dealt with in paragraph (b) of the Amendment, is the legal sublease validly entered into before the commencement of the Act—that is, with the written consent of the landlord.

    8.0 p.m.

    The Amendment provides that such a sublease, which is entirely valid, shall become null and void unless within a period of six months after the commencement of this Act, the crofter intimates to the Commission that a sublease has been entered into and furnishes it with the name of the sub-tenant and the duration of the sublease. I should like to stress that in neither case is the consent of the Commission to the sublease necessary. All that is required is that the sublease has to be intimated to the Commission within a period of six months. We had a good deal of discussion on this point in the Standing Committee, and what we have done here simplifies the matter and also meets with the general wishes of the Committee. The other two Amendments are consequential.

    We are again very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making this Amendment. We had quite a considerable discussion in the Standing Committee about the position of these subleases, which he has described as illegal subleases, that is, subleases without the consent of the landlord. From our side of the Committee, we argued rather strongly that these people, although they had, technically speaking, acted illegally in subletting the land, nevertheless had done something for the benefit of the community and certainly for the benefit of the croft. They were ensuring, by subletting in this way, what all of us wished, namely, the cultivation of the croft. We asked that the position should be regularised by a provision of this kind being written into the Bill, and we are very grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary for having met us.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 13—(Miscellaneous Provisions Regarding Subleases Of Crofts)

    Amendment made: In page 17, line 23, leave out from beginning to first "of" in line 24 and insert:

    (a) has been intimated to the Commission under paragraph (a) or (b).—[Mr. Maclay.)

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 14—(Amendment Of Powers Of Secretary Of State With Respect To Giving Of Financial Assistance In Crofting Counties)

    Amendments made: In page 18, line 3, leave out "fifty" and insert "seventy-five".

    In line 12, leave out from "subleases" to second "or" in line 14 and insert intimated".—[ Mr. Maclay.]

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

    We have not had an explanation of the last Amendment from the hon. Gentleman, and I want to ask a question concerning the crofter who occupies a croft and who owns it. I want to know whether he is not already a crofter. If he is already a crofter, is he not already entitled to the benefit of the financial assistance mentioned in this Clause under the 1955 Act? In other words, I return to the point raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). We have never yet had any satisfactory definition of this.

    According to the definition given by the hon. Gentleman during the Committee stage, it would appear that a crofter is a man who occupies a croft under certain conditions of tenure. It seems to me, therefore, that a croft is a holding which is let under certain conditions of tenure. I should have thought that that was right, because otherwise it would cease to be a croft. If the man ceases to be a crofter, it would cease to be a croft, and if it ceases to be a croft it is a smallholding under paragraph (b) of the new subsection. If it does not cease to be a croft, it is already covered by the 1955 Act.

    Surely that is the position, and I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would try to explain this, at least to me, being a simple sort of person who does not understand these legal technicalities. Quite frankly, I do not understand this sub-section. I certainly think that if the hon. Gentleman cannot give us a satisfactory explanation he should look at it again.

    I understand the hon. Gentleman's difficulty, because I am in the same difficulty myself. I can only tell him that I am advised by the highest legal authority at my disposal—

    —and to work it—land which was a croft, but he has now bought that piece of land and become the owner thereof, having been encouraged to buy it—but, notwithstanding that fact, technically or legally, until application is made to the Secretary of State to take it out of crofting, it is still a croft. If that owner who has then bought it should, by any strange mischance, let it, the person who then gets it would become a crofter.

    If I own a croft and work that croft, I am a crofter. Surely, if I buy a fruit shop and sell fruit, I am a fruiterer. If I buy a bookshop and sell books, I am a bookseller, if I buy a farm and farm it, I am a farmer. But here we have the curious situation in which a man, because he bought the croft and works it, ceases to be a crofter and becomes something else.

    Perhaps it would help the hon. Gentleman if he refers to Section 3 (2) of the 1955 Act, where he will see that the expression "crofter" means the tenant of the croft. A crofter is the tenant of a croft, and what we are trying to cover in Clause 14 (1, a) are the occupiers of crofts who are also the owners thereof.

    We had a short debate on this matter in the Standing Commit tee, but by the time we reached Clause 14 we were rushing through the Bill. [An HON. MEMBER "No."] Yes, of course, we were. We did not discuss it at any great length. We called attention, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) has just done, and as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) did on an earlier Amendment this evening, to the confusion that arises as a result of the provisions of Clause 14.

    May I make this suggestion to the Joint Under-Secretary and the Lord Advocate? If paragraph (a) were taken out altogether and the words "other than crofts" were deleted from paragraph (b), we should then be dealing with
    "occupiers of holdings situated in the crofting counties which are either holdings of which the area does not exceed"
    75 acres, as it now is
    "…or holding the annual rent of which, if they were crofts let to crofters under the Act of 1955 and this Act, would not, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, exceed fifty pounds, being occupiers, who in the opinion of the Secretary of State are of substantially the same economic status as a crofter".
    All these things would then apply. If we deleted "other than crofts", we should be dealing with occupiers of all these holdings. The occupier can be either the owner or the tenant. That is the advantage of using a word like "occupier". If the words "other than crofts", in the first line of paragraph (b), were deleted, the whole of paragraph (a) would be quite unnecessary. I do not want an "off-the-cuff" answer. We discussed the question in Committee up- stairs. I merely ask that consideration be given to my proposal, with a view to seeing whether this adjustment can be made when the Bill reaches another place.

    I have no objection to the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), I am a simple person. I am guided by letters I have received from owner- occupiers. This was one of the things in the Bill which they welcomed. They had been encouraged to invest what savings they had in taking over what they thought were crofts.

    I do not think that my hon. Friend has followed me. I am not speaking against the owner-occupier. I am entirely in favour of the owner- occupier being brought into this. My difficulty is that all over the crofting counties a croft is assumed to be a piece of land which is occupied by a tenant on a peculiar form of tenancy. It was so described by the Joint Under-Secretary in Committee.

    I am sorry if I did not make myself quite clear. I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton has just said. I still want to be absolutely certain that the position of those whom we call owner-occupiers will not be in any way endangered. They gave a welcome to this part of the Bill when many of us on this side of the Committee were very critical of the Bill. It is generally agreed that they had a 0 per cent. case. That was recognised, although we did not bother about the technicalities of the matter. If certain technical aspects have been brought to light and they can be resolved in the way suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton without prejudicing the rights of owner-occupiers, I should welcome his suggestion.

    8.15 p.m.

    I do not think that anyone in any part of the Committee ever desired to cut owner-occupiers out of the Bill. We all welcome their inclusion. Most of us have worked for this for years. As has been explained on many occasions, they should be included in subsection (1, a). I have no doubt that the Joint Under-Secretary of State and the Lord Advocate by this time understand the point at issue. It is the old point that we do not want further to complicate the definition of "croft" or "crofter". I have brought cases to the notice of the Joint Under-Secretary in which this has led to genuine hardship, because people who thought they were entitled to get compensation as crofters have been told eventually that they are not entitled to get it and they have been put in difficulties.

    I add my plea to that of other hon. Members that the Government should look again at Clause 14 (1, b) with a view to seeing whether perhaps by an Amendment to the subsection, possibly by omitting the words "other than crofts", they can get us out of this small dilemma. It is not a dilemma of substance on the Clause. It is merely a dilemma of drafting and possible confusion which the drafting may cause amongst simple-minded people like myself and many others owing to further confusion about the definition of "croft".

    If the Government do not like the Amendment suggested by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), I will suggest another possibility. We should make Clause 14 (1, b) read: "for occupiers of holdings who are not crofters". There is a slight difference between a crofter and a croft. As has been already pointed out by the Joint Under-Secretary, in Section 3 (2) of the 1955 Act a crofter is quite definitely described as a tenant. I do not think that we can pursue it further now, but perhaps the Lord Advocate can do something about it at a future stage. My suggestion may not be right, but that of the hon. Member for Hamilton may be.

    I will certainly look into this matter, but the difficulty is this. A crofter is by definition in Section 3 of the 1955 Act a tenant. As soon as he ceases to be a tenant of a croft he ceases to be a crofter. The holding of which he was tenant remains a croft, even if he buys it and remains working it. The hon. Members for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) and Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) suggested deleting paragraph (a) and amending paragraph (b). I will certainly look at that suggestion, but the difficulty I see at the moment is that there are a number of crofts, the occupiers of which would came under subsection (1, a), which are above the statutory limits. The statutory limit is written into subsection (1, b).

    How would they come above the statutory limit? The more we probe this the more alarming the situation becomes. Is the Lord Advocate now saying that there are holdings in the Highlands which are crofts but are both in excess of 50 acres and £50 rent?

    My information is that there are, but I will certainly have a look at it.

    The Government are being very cautious? What are they afraid of? I have been looking at the Agricultural Report. If my calculations are right, on average the Government give £60 a year assistance to crofters. Are they terrified that somebody will get away with £60 a year? I hope that the Government will not be unduly gloomy about this but will take a few risks for the sake of doing the thing properly. I hope that they will adjust these paragraphs.

    I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. The right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) has got it the wrong way round. If I accepted the suggestion which has been made, we should cut out people who would receive grants under the Bill as it stands. We do not want to cut them out.

    The learned Lord Advocate has said that some crofts which come under subsection (1, a) exceed the limits stated in subsection (1, b). The occupiers of crofts who come under subsection (1, a) do not now receive the subsidies payable to crofters. I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that, if paragraph (a) were deleted and the words "other than crofts were deleted from paragraph (b), some would fall in between. At the moment they do not come under paragraph (b) but come under paragraph (a).

    The right hon. and learned Gentleman will certainly correct me if I am wrong, but I suggest that that would apply only to those owner-occupiers who are quite unaware that they are owner-occupiers of crofts—and there are apparently many of them in the Shetlands—and who thought that when they became owner-occupiers many years ago they ceased to be crofters and that their holdings ceased to be crofts. They are the people whom the Lord Advocate fears will know that they really are the owners of crofts and, notwithstanding that their holdings exceed the limits set down in paragraph (b), will be able to come in under paragraph (a), and they will be the people who will have a grievance if we delete paragraph (a) and bring them in under paragraph (b).

    I should have thought that a very sensible thing for the Government to do would be to define the word "croft". This is an appropriate Bill in which to do so. The Joint Under-Secretary thought that it was land held on a peculiar type of tenure and occupied by a tenant. In fact, he gave us a definition at dictation speed so that we could write it down. All that I would say to him, to 'the Secretary of State and to the Lord Advocate is that this would be an appropriate Bill in which to define what a croft is. We have been told that a crofter is the tenant of a croft, and up to now we have thought that a croft was a small farm or agricultural unit held under a peculiar form of tenancy. I cannot see why we should not so define the word that there will be no need for the owner of a croft which ceases to be occupied as a croft writing to the Secretary of State and saying, "Please delete this from the land recognised as crofting land."

    Furthermore, much of the land which became crofting land after the passing of the 1886 Act is no longer occupied by crofters. Some of this land is now let by landlords to sporting tenants, and those poor tenants are quite unaware that, according to the Lord Advocate, they have become crofters because they happen to be tenants of crofts.

    I hope that some thought will be given to this matter before the Bill becomes an Act. If tidying-up Amendments are made in another place we shall not hold up proceedings when the Bill comes back here, provided that we do not find that, although paragraph (a) is dropped, new paragraphs (a) and (b) have been inserted in its place which have not been drawn to our attention.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended (in the Standing Committee and on recommittal), considered.

    New Clause—(Neighbouring Reorganisation Schemes)

    Where it is proposed over a reasonable period of time to reorganise two or more neighbouring crofting townships the Commission shall enter into consultation with the local authority and the appropriate public bodies concerned and prepare a long-term plan for the provision of the necessary services for the area and for its proper development. Any such plan shall be placed before the Secretary of State who may confirm it with or without modification.—[ Mr. Willis.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

    In the main, the Bill arises out of the 1959 Report of the Crofters Commission, in which a number of recommendations were made. The Government accepted most of these recommendations, but omitted to accept the most important one, which is contained in paragraph 77, which says:
    "We suggest, further, that even with an improved procedure and stronger powers, this method of reorganisation"—
    that is, the simple reorganisation scheme for a township dealt with in the Bill—
    "can be usefully applied only in relatively simple cases. For the more complex we think that the principle of long-term planning should be adopted to allow time to all concerned for appraisal and adjustment."
    Later, paragraph 79 says:
    "The preparation and promulgation of a long-term plan for an area comprising a number of townships would confer the great advantage that all authorities concerned, for example, the County Councils, the Hydro-Electric Board and the Forestry Commission, would know in advance how crofting agriculture would shape in ten or fifteen years' time in a given area and would be able to comment and to offer advice in the light of their own forward planning. It should be particularly helpful to all concerned to have long warning of plans for afforestation."
    We might have worded the Clause inadequately, but we have endeavoured to accept fully that recommendation, and have said that where the Commission has it in mind to reorganise crofting townships which are close together in the same area it should consult the local authority and the appropriate public bodies concerned and prepare a longterm plan for the provision of the necessary services for the area, and for its proper development. That seems thoroughly desirable. I assume that the Crofters Commission will have in mind what it intends to do about certain areas. Under the Clause dealing with the reorganisation schemes it is laid down that the Commission can initiate a reorganisation scheme. I would have thought that where it does so it should act in the light of what is likely to be to the greatest benefit of the Highlands.

    Even if a scheme is initiated at the request of a grazings committee or an individual crofter the Commission might well ask itself, "What about the neighbouring townships in this area? Next year we might reorganise this or another one". With that in mind it could consult the appropriate bodies and prepare plans for the provision of electricity and other necessary services for the area which would facilitate the development of the township.

    8.30 p.m.

    That seems to us to be a thoroughly desirable proposition. I was amazed, as I said on Second Reading, that the Government had not even considered it. I know that the Government have a rooted objection to planning. We see at the moment where this objection to planning is landing us—in parlous conditions. I can understand the Government having a doctrinaire objection to planning, but in the light of all the evidence that is available from almost everyone—the Crofters Commission is not a Socialist organisation coming forward with a recommendation to plan this; many other bodies have done the same-I cannot see why they should not accept the Clause.

    What we propose is not what we should have liked to see—a proper development authority trying to develop the area as a whole. We recognise that under the present Government that is "out", and it would probably be out of order to discuss it on the Bill at this stage. What we have tried to do is simply to advance a short distance along the road towards the proper development of these areas. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) was Secretary of State, he was responsible for a survey being made in Glen Oich and an endeavour to develop that area. The last time I was there, a considerable amount of development had been done. That ought to be done elsewhere. It can be done, as we suggest, on the basis of the reorganisation of townships which is being carried out by the Crofters Commission.

    I believe that our Clause would improve the Bill. It would not damage it in any way. It would take nothing from the Crofters Commission. All it would do would be to lead to a small element of planning of the development of areas rather than small townships. We all know areas in the Higlands where there are townships close together, most of them perhaps not in an altogether neglected state but only partially being used. That is the type of township which the Commission ought to be reorganising. In those circumstances, surely what we suggest is desirable.

    Is there anything in the Clause which the Commission cannot do already either under the existing law or under the Bill as it exists?

    I am not certain about that, but putting in the new Clause would draw the attention of the Commission to the fact that we should like this to be done. The Commission asked for these powers and this sort of planning in its own Report, and, therefore, I assume that it thought it would be a good thing if this provision could be included in legislation.

    Even if the Secretary of State cannot accept the Clause because of the way in which it is worded, I hope that he will accept it in principle and put into the Bill a provision along these lines in another place. It seems to me that it could do nothing but improve the Bill and would certainly not do any damage at all.

    I confess that I was a little puzzled to know precisely what the objective of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) was in tabling his Clause. Frankly, I think that he and the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) showed admirable ingenuity in getting another line in on a subject which has already been discussed at very considerable length and on a great many occasions.

    I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East upon the way he presented the Clause, because its ultimate intention became apparent to me without his saying what it was. What he is doing is trying to find another approach to the general concept of the Highland Development Authority.

    That was what I was bound to conclude from studying the wording of the new Clause.

    One of the difficulties about the hon. Gentleman's proposal is that it empowers a form of consultation with a great many people, ending up in a plan, and I do not see how the Crofters Commission is technically the right body to do this. We have thought carefully about this question of long-term planning, but, in spite of what hon. Members opposite think about our views on planning, we have considered it on many occasions extremely carefully. In this case, it has certain attractions. As I say, we have given careful thought to the matter, but we concluded that the overriding need for flexibility in dealing with crofting townships ruled out any question of formal long-term planning of the kind envisaged in the new Clause. We have only to think of the economic position in a township which might be radically changed by a forestry scheme or an industrial project, which we are always searching for and sooner or later will land. Things might work out differently from what is laid down in a long-term plan.

    The psychological effect on a crofter of the publication of a long-term plan which appeared to threaten the eventual disappearance of his family croft is an important human factor. That is something which might be contemplated in the short term. In considering this problem, the human element must be kept very much in mind. I do not put that forward as an overriding argument. The earlier argument, the need for flexibility, is much more potent.

    For these and other reasons we have not included a long-term planning provision in the Bill. We think that to aid the Secretary of State of the day in considering a specific scheme or township reorganisation he should have a statement on the Commission's view on the prospects of development in the township and the surrounding district. I think that this is provided for in Clause 8 (6). I also think that that goes about as far as we can reasonably go. While I do not quarrel with the concept of planning which is clearly in the mind of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, I feel that it is not right to try to formalise it to the extent that it would be formalised even if we tried to adapt the proposed new Clause. I believe that all that is necessary is in the Bill. Therefore, I hope that hon. Members will not press the new Clause.

    We have got the Secretary of State to travel a little way towards the objective which we have in mind. Yesterday, I accused him, perhaps unfairly, when he seemed to be confusing the development of Scotland with the development of the central belt in Scotland and dissociated himself from that accusation. I am glad that he did so. By this new Clause he is being asked to consider the long-term development of the Highlands. He says that this is getting the Highland Development Authority over by another means. But I think that the means are completely justified.

    I will not quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman if he says that he would rather be the agent responsible for longterm planning than the Commission. I welcome that declaration, because, as long as the Secretary of State is the agent for long-term planning in the Highlands, which is just as necessary, if not more necessary, than planning in other parts of Scotland, then he can always be questioned by this House. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is convinced that there must be some long-term plan for the Highlands.

    The right hon. Gentleman must be convinced of that because we have been pouring millions of pounds into the Highlands. During the Committee stage these figures were very much in question. The Secretary of State prided himself on the many millions that had been given to Highland development in its many forms. It is a matter which disturbs many of us, and which I am certain disturbs the right hon. Gentleman, that, despite all the money that has been given for a very worthy purpose—maintaining and increasing population in the Highlands and Islands—nevertheless depopulation still goes on.

    That is the tragic fact. It has now reached the stage some of the islands have nobody living on them, with the result that an hon. Member on the Government side of the House came forward this week with the suggestion that he was prepared to take these depopulated islands and turn them into penal settlements for English prisoners. Is that not a horrible thing to have befallen a noble country?

    Order. I doubt whether that is in order in discussing this new Clause.

    It seemed to me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it was in order, but I am not in any way putting my views against your Ruling, which, I hope, is not at the moment a firm Ruling.

    I was merely suggesting that if we do not have planning for a constructive purpose we may have planning for another purpose. We may have planning to bring people to Scotland for reasons we do not want to see those people there. If we are to populate those deserted islands we must plan for the new inhabitants. We have to build and provide services and do all those things for the deserted islands to receive the English prisoners.

    We should like the Secretary of State to say that he would spend that money on doing things for the people of the Highlands. Planning has to come at some time in some way for the Highlands. If it does not come in a way we want, it will come in other ways which are much inferior. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that if he accepted this new Clause it would have a psychological effect on the crofter.

    I agree. That was the very point I was proposing to establish, that the psychological effect would be all to the advantage of the Highlands and the crofter because he would see things being prepared. The Secretary of State might become a sort of John the Baptist in the Highlands, "preparing the way". People would recognise the purpose of the planning. He would be able to give the crofter the assurance that he was preserving his rights to a croft and to more land where that was regarded as necessary.

    I do not think that the psychological effect would be disadvantageous. I think that it would prove helpful. I agree that the right hon. Gentleman may not be able to tie himself too closely to the form of this new Clause. I do not think that that is expected. All we hope is that it will receive a word of welcome, and that we shall hear from the right hon. Gentleman that it marks the line which he is prepared to follow in seeking to regenerate the Highlands of Scotland.

    8.45 p.m.

    The proposals in this new Clause fall far short of the Highland Development Authority proposed by hon. Members on this side of the House. One thing which a Clause of this kind would achieve would be to let the Crofters Commission know that Parliament is still aware of the powers and duties which we gave to it under Section 2 of the 1955 Act. We have seen from the Annual Reports of the Commission, year after year, that it has been anxious to make use of those powers of collaboration with all the other authorities in the North of Scotland to secure the economic well-being of the area. The Commission has suffered a lot of frustration and disappointment, and the adoption of such a Clause as this would have given it a little encouragement.

    Nowhere else in the Bill is there any recognition of the existence of the powers contained in Section 2 of the 1955 Act. Its acceptance would have shown that we were sure that, where there were two or more reorganisation schemes side by side, the Commission would be empowered and expected to collaborate with the other authorities with whom, under the 1955 Act, it is enjoined to collaborate, to try to work out pro- posals for the economic well-being of the community as a whole, so that the reorganisation schemes will not merely hasten the depopulation of the area. For these reasons, I had hoped that the Secretary of State might be able to accept the new Clause. If anything I have said has made any impact upon him, I hope that even now the right hon. Gentleman will say that this appears a sensible thing to do and that the Government will do it.

    Of course, everything which is said by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) makes an impact upon me. The result of that impact, however, is not always calculable. I have noted with interest the reasons which hon. Members have advanced for putting down this Clause, and with certain of their objectives I am in entire sympathy. But, for the reasons which I have stated, I do not think that we can accept this Clause. That does not mean that I, as Secretary of State, am not continually thinking of Scotland as a whole and various areas in particular. A great deal of thought is given to the long-term future of the Highlands.

    Question put and negatived.

    Clause 1—(Increase In Membership Of Crofters Commission)

    I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, after "1955" to insert:

    "(which provides amongst other things that the Commission shall consist of not more than six members)".
    This is no more than a drafting Amendment and is designed for clarification.

    I appreciate that this is a drafting Amendment, but I should like to say a word about it to the Government. When it comes to increasing the size of the Crofters Commission, I hope that they will not only take the opportunity to do what was urged upon them during the Committee stage discussions and add a practising crofter to the Commission, but also that they will try to include people with experience of different matters. I should like to see as a member of the Commission an industrialist who could advise about bringing industry to the Highlands area. I should like to see as a member an expert on marketing and salesmanship, someone who knew what the markets require and who could help in that direction.

    I believe that it would be valuable to have as a member a person with experience of solving the kind of problems which are met with in the Highlands and Islands but who had, perhaps, gained his experience in a different setting. For instance, we might get a man who has experience of transport problems in similarly rather sparsely populated areas elsewhere.

    I do not want to go into this further now, but I should like to put those thoughts into the heads of the Government, and if they would like me to suggest any names of industrialists or salesmen, people who could sell ideas to the Commission, I should be happy to oblige. However, I put these thoughts forward very seriously. This gives the Government an opportunity to put on to the Commission some people with differing experiences, of varying types; some people who could really do a great deal by bringing their varied experience to bear on the problems with which the Commission has to deal and to help us with the great question of what things we are to grow next in the Highlands and how to get them sold.

    I would add just one word in reply to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). Although the head of the Government in Scotland was not here to hear his words of wisdom I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend is determined to take into account not only the views of the hon. Gentleman but other views which were put forward when we were considering this matter in the Standing Committee.

    I do not want to enumerate the types of persons we might have to broaden the experience of the Commission. The hon. Gentleman himself has mentioned people experienced in transport, and other hon. Members have mentioned people with experience of such things as marketing and publicity. I think that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has ideas about practical crofters —or is it practising crofters? I just forget at the moment. However, I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend has these points very much in mind.

    On a point of order. I wonder, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you could advise us whether you intend to call the next Amendment on the Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) and my name, in page 1, line 7, at end insert:

    "and as if after the words 'Secretary of State' where they first appear there were inserted the words 'two of whom shall be practising crofters'".
    If not, we might discuss it now.

    No. I can explain to the hon. Member that the next Amendment, in the name of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) is not selected.

    I would thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) for bringing out this information. I feel that we must take our opportunity now to elicit from the Government the composition of the Crofters Commission. It is not just a question of the additional three. Possibly there ought to be a whole reorganisation of the duties, and we ought to go into this matter very thoroughly. I had anticipated, like my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East, that we should be dealing with that aspect of the matter on the next Amendment, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), but now we learn that we are not to have that opportunity.

    I very much appreciate the readiness of the Government, after our discussions upstairs, to agree that the membership of the Commission, six, was too small, end their ready agreement to increase it to nine members. That is what we are doing here.

    On a point of order. That is not what we are doing here. We are not by this Amendment increasing the number of the Commission from six to nine.

    Perhaps I should make clear that the fact that the next Amendment has not been selected would not justify hon. Members making speeches on that Amendment while we are discussing this one.

    I appreciate that very much, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I take it that long and, perhaps, wearying speeches can be made on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," and I was trying to avoid that.

    Further to that point of order. You have, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, allowed certain limited references to the types of persons who can serve on the Commission. I take it that it would still be in order to make what has been called tonight an oblique reference to who may serve on the Commission.

    Yes. The House is well aware that a certain amount of reasonable latitude is allowed.

    Thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I cannot understand this attack from the Joint Under-Secretary. The point that I was trying to make was much more limited than the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East.

    My hon. Friend made quite a long speech in an interruption which, I thought, dealt with the point. I prefer now to leave my remarks, which were going to be very complimentary because of the Government's acceptance of Clause 1, as amended, until we get to the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

    I add my voice to the effect that I hope that now the Government have so kindly accepted the proposals put forward in Committee to extend the size of the Commission, we shall have a type of Commission which would appear to be more adaptable to the needs. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) as to the type of people who may be put on the Commission. I would, however, point out that one of the constant criticisms of the Crofters Commission at present is that it has insufficient practical crofting experience. I hope that that will also be remedied when it comes to appointing additional members.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 2—(Provisions As To New Crofts And Enlarged Crofts)

    I beg to move, in page 2, line 1, to leave out subsection (2) and to insert:

    (2) Where the owner of any land which is not itself a croft and which does not form part of a croft agrees to grant a tenancy of such land to any crofter, then—
  • (a) except in such a case as is mentioned in paragraph (b) of this subsection, if the owner of the said land and the crofter agree that such land will form part of any croft of which the crofter is tenant, the land shall, as from the date of entry under the said tenancy, form part of such croft, and the Act of 1955 and this Act shall apply accordingly to the croft as so enlarged;
  • (b) in a case where the area of the croft (exclusive of any common pasture or grazing held therewith) together with the area of the land exceeds seventy-five acres and the rend of the croft together with the rent under the said tenancy exceeds fifty pounds, the Secretary of State may, on an application in that behalf made to him jointly by the owner of the land and the crofter, direct that the land shall form part of the croft and, if he makes such direction, then as from the date of the direction or the date of entry under the said tenancy, whichever is the later, the land hall form part of the croft, and the Act of 1955 and this Act shall apply accordingly to the croft as so enlarged.
  • It would, I think, be convenient for the House to discuss with this Amendment the Amendments in page 2, lines 17, 32, 35 and 36.

    Yes, I think that that would be for the convenience of 'the House.

    During the debate in the Scottish Standing Committee on this Clause which deals with the bringing of noncrofting land into crofting, the Committee decided by a narrow majority—I would not like to describe to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, all the circumstances of that majority—

    On a point of order. Is it in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to bring into question the size of a majority? Are we not confined, on Report, to the fact that a majority of the hon. Members of the Committee came to a decision? Is not that the important thing and not the fact that it was a small majority? If a horse wins by the length of a nose it does not matter, it has won.

    It is perfectly in order for the hon. Member to make a reference Ito the size of a majority.

    I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary intends to complete his picture of the narrow majorities by saying that they were reaffirmed on five different occasions.

    9.0 p.m.

    That point appears to have been made.

    I was saying that in two types of cases the Committee had decided that the approval of the Secretary of State to such an admission of non-crofting land should not be necessary. These cases were, firstly, where non-crofting land is added to a croft by way of enlargement and the enlarged croft is still within the alternative limits of 75 acres and £50 rent, and, secondly, where crofters' common grazing is enlarged by the addition of non-crofting land. I undertook to consider these Amendments, bearing in mind the Committee's expressed wish. I made it clear, in any case, that I would be bound to make provision for information about such enlargements to be notified to the Commission, otherwise the Commission's register of crofts would be defective.

    In the discussion in Standing Committee it was also agreed that the words "is enlarged" in subsections (2) and (4) caused some doubt because the meaning of the word "enlarged" in the context was not clear, nor was the date from which the transaction became effective for the purpose of the subsection. I said that I would have to consider the drafting on this point.

    One of the main purposes of including the Clause in the Bill was to ensure the same measure of control over the bringing of non-crofting land into the crofting ambit as is given under Section 16 (8) of the 1955 Act over the taking of crofting land out of crofting. There can be in these cases fairly wide considerations to be taken into account and it therefore seemed right that there should he statutory provision for scrutiny and approval. That is probably still my view, but I recognise that the enlargements, which under subsection (2) will apply without the crofter and the landowner having to seek approval, would be the types of application to which the Secretary of State in nearly all cases would give his approval in any event.

    They will be used for the building of small crofts into larger and we hope more economic units. Therefore, I do not think that either of these provisions presents any substantial deviation from the main principle of the Clause and I accept them. The first three Amendments which we are now considering deal accordingly with the drafting difficulties which I have mentioned and they also meet the wishes expressed by hon. Members in Standing Committee about these kinds of enlargements.

    If the landlord and the crofter agree that the non-crofting land should be used to become part of the croft, then the Crofters Acts will automatically apply to the enlarged croft unless it exceeds both the acreage and the rental limits. In that event, joint application to the Secretary of State for a direction will be necessary. Similarly, if crofters and landlords agree to enlarge common grazings by cooperation in the crofting tenure of noncrofting land, the Acts will also automatically apply.

    Notification of the automatic enlargements under subsections (2, a) and (4) will be made to the Commission by the landlord. The Secretary of State will be required to intimate to the Commission directions made by him under subsections (1) and (2, b) of the Clause as it is proposed to amend it. The other three Amendments are consequential.

    I regret that the Secretary of State, aided and abetted by the Joint Under-Secretary of State, has chosen to flout the decision of the Standing Committee in this way. The Joint Under-Secretary of State referred to the narrow majorities in the Committee. There were five Divisions on this matter, two of which resulted in votes of eight to seven. The next three resulted in votes in ten to seven in favour of the words now proposed to be taken out.

    By these votes, the Committee decided that it was undesirable to have a croft, part of which would remain under the Agricultural Holdings Acts and part of which would be under crofting legislation. Land held under crofting tenure is land in respect of which the tenant has far greater security and for which he has responsiblity for providing fixed equipment, which includes draining, fencing and ditching.

    On the other hand, land which does not come under crofting tenure but under the Agricultural Holdings Acts is land in respect of which this responsibility for draining, fencing and ditching continues to be that of the landlord. The Standing Committee thought it absurd that one could have land added to a croft or to common grazings which would, none the less, remain outside crofting tenure.

    I understand that by these Amendments the crofter and the landlord can agree to come within crofting tenure, whereas the Bill as it is now drafted says that if this land is added to a croft it will automatically come within crafting tenure without there being joint representation by landlord and tenant to the Secretary of State in favour of that being done.

    I would rather the Bill remained as the Standing Committee made it. It made sense. It is nonsense, where one has an area of common grazings to say, when it is being drained, that the land beyond the copse will come under the Agricultural Holdings Acts, so that the responsibility for draining it will lie with the landlord, whereas the land on the near side of the copse will be crofting land, which it will be the responsibility of the crofters to drain. It is absurd to treat these two pieces of land independently. In all common sense the job should be done as one. That goes for all the work of regeneration, which is partly the responsibility of the land owner in certain respects.

    It is a pity that the Joint Under-Secretary of State is restoring the Clause—not absolutely as it was originally but certainly considerably different from the form in which it was left in Standing Committee—in order to provide for this absurd situation. However, I realise that the Government are not willing to accept the position of the Standing Committee on this matter and are insisting on having their own way. I do not think it will make a great deal of difference to the Bill or to the Highlands, and in those circumstances I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to let this Amendment go through.

    The House will appreciate my desire to say something about this in view of the fact that I was debarred from saying something on a previous occasion. I do not propose to deal with anything other than a technical question concerning rents.

    The Clause says
    "Where the owner of any land which is not itself a croft and which does not form part of a croft agrees to grant a tenancy to a crofter"
    this means that the rent has been agreed before the tenancy is granted, and where the area of the land exceeds 75 acres and the rent exceeds £50, on application the Secretary of State can register the whole of an area as a croft. Presumably, in the first instance the Secretary of State will register the croft and the added agricultural land at the increased rent, which may be on an agricultural basis far part of the croft. What happens afterwards? Presumably, once it is a croft, at same stage the Land Court may fix a rent which may be different from that agreed between the owner and the tenant when the land was still agricultural and not a croft.

    This is a highly technical matter and my hon. Friend may not be able to deal with it now, but I hope that he will study it. There should be some protection for the landowner if the rent is agreed on an agricultural basis for part of the holding, and the crofter should not have the right to apply to the Land Court for a reduction of rent, at any rate not until after a considerable period. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider that issue before the Bill leaves another place, if he cannot deal with it now.

    I rise because I was rather interested in the fact that the Under-Secretary advised me that these Amendments were in fulfilment of policies made in Committee. They are nothing of the kind. They overturn decisions of the Committee reached on no fewer than five occasions. This is an amazing challenge to democracy and an amazing position for the Government to take up.

    The Scottish Standing Committee took five votes on this Clause and made certain decisions, but the Government have now decided to overturn them with their English majority in the House. The Government could not overturn them by the votes of Scottish Members. They can do so only by the votes of hon. Members representing England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They did not have a majority in the Committee. What we are now getting is the Government of Scotland, and especially a part of Scotland about which other people know very little, the Highlands, on one of the most intricate and essentially Scottish problems of all—the crofters—by Members from Wales and England. I do not know what a Londoner knows about crofting.

    This is making a complete farce of democracy and I am surprised that the Government should adopt this attitude which challenges all our democratic instincts.

    I have no doubt that the Under-Secretary will adjourn to his constituency or somewhere else in Scotland at the weekend and will talk about the democratic government which we enjoy here. But this is exactly the opposite. We might as well be ruled by somebody in France or Germany.

    Or Russia. This is an amazing doctrine. I do not want to make a long speech, although I could wax very eloquent on this issue, but I register my protest at the procedure which has been adopted.

    9.15 p.m.

    I must answer this grave charge made by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis).

    In this set of Amendments I have tried as far as possible to meet the express wishes of the Committee upstairs, and I believe that I have largely done that. I warned the Committee upstairs that I might have to make drafting Amendments and introduce a provision whereby the Commission would be informed of these changes.

    If one looks at subsections (2) and (4), there is little difference between what is now in the Bill and what is suggested in the Amendment. The difference which there might be is that if one looks at the Bill as printed it says:
    "Where any croft is enlarged by the addition thereto of land which is not itself a croft …"
    If the hon. Gentleman is referring to land pertaining before the introduction of the Bill, or the Act, then I agree that there might be some change, but I do not necessarily read the Bill as referring to land which pertains before the introduction of the Act.

    I believe that that was the point over which there was some misunderstanding upstairs. There was some misunderstanding about the interpretation of the words "is enlarged". There was doubt about whether these were meant to be inter- preted as "is enlarged at today", or,"is enlarged before today", or, "is enlarged for the passing of the Act".

    If hon. Members feel that they ought to apply to land which has been added before the passing of the Act—not under a crofting tenure, but under an agricultural tenure—I agree that there may be some change, but I think that it would be unwise to put an interpretation like that onto the words "is enlarged". If that is done, I cannot see any owner of land being willing in future to make land available knowing that if he did so on agricultural tenure automatically it would be brought within the crofting ambit. I should have thought that it would have been inclined rather to restrict the amount of land which might be made available for enlarging crofts or for enlarging common grazings.

    All sorts of different interpretations could be put on these words. Surely when the Bill becomes an Act we should be entitled to know what they mean, and they should not be open to different interpretations such as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. There must be some legal interpretation of these words.

    I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making my point. I think that there was difficulty of interpretation as the words stood in the Bill. That is why I have tried to make that clear in the Amendments which we are now discussing.

    I will look into the rather intricate point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan).

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendments made: In page 2, line 17, leave out subsection (4) and insert:

    (4) Where the owner of any land to which the Act of 1955 and this Act do not apply agrees to grant rights in any pasture or grazing land to the crofters sharing in any common grazing and the said owner and crofters agree that such land will form part of the said common grazing, then as from the date on which such rights are first exercisable by the crofters, the land shall form part of the common grazing, and the said Acts shall apply accordingly to the common grazing as so enlarged.
    (5) The Secretary of State shall give notice to the Commission of any direction given by him under subsection (1) or (2) of this section, and the owner of any land which becomes part of a croft or of a common grazing by virtue of paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of this section or, as the case may be, the last foregoing subsection, shall give notice to the Commission of the enlargement of such croft or common grazing.

    In line 32, leave out from crofter "to shall" in line 33.

    In line 35, at end insert "subsection (1) of".

    In line 36, leave out from "croft" to end of subsection.—[ Mr. Leburn.]

    Clause 3—(Commission To Maintain Register Of Crofts)

    I beg to move, in page 2, line 43, after "location", to insert "rent".

    There seems to be an unfortunate omission from the Clause. It provides for the maintenance of a Register of Crofts. Subsection (2) states that
    "(2) There shall be entered in the Register of Crofts—
  • (a) the name, location and extent of every croft;
  • (b) the name of the tenant and of the landlord of each croft; and
  • (c) such other matters …"
  • I am concerned with paragraphs (a) and (b). An extremely important consideration in respect of a croft is the amount of rent. A croft is defined by reference to its area and to the rent for the land. It is odd that we should leave out from the information contained in the Register the amount of the annual rent of the croft.

    Clause 2 (1, b) states that the Bill applies to a holding which may be made a croft of which the area does not exceed 75 acres or a holding of which the annual rent does not exceed £50. Therefore, the annual rent is an important consideration in determining whether the Bill applies to a holding. In the circumstances, it seems regrettable to omit from the particulars to be maintained in the Register of Crofts any reference to rent. I hope, therefore, that the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to accept the Amendment.

    When we considered the question of the Register of Crofts in Standing Committee, there was criticism that, perhaps, too much information was being asked for. I agree, however, with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser). At present, the Register includes this information in regard to rent. The point made by the hon. Member is a good one and on behalf of the Government I am happy to accept the Amendment.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in page 3, line 6, at the end to insert:

    "and shall send a copy of any new entry inserted by them after the commencement of this Act, or of any entry altered by them after such commencement, to the landlord and the tenant of the croft concerned, and shall intimate the omission of any entry to the owner and the tenant (if any) of the land concerned.
    (3) The Commission shall, on a request for an extract of any entry in the Register of Crofts being made to them by a person who, in their opinion, has good reason for desiring an extract of the said entry, furnish that person with such extract certified by the person for the time being acting as secretary to the Commission; and a document purporting to be an extract of an entry in the Register and to be certified as aforesaid shall be sufficient evidence that the Register contains such an entry".

    I think that it would be convenient for the House to take with this Amendment the following one, in line 7, to leave out subsection (3).

    Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. These two Amendments fulfil undertakings which I gave in Standing Committee during discussion of Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond).

    The purpose of the first of these two Amendments is threefold. It provides that when the Commission alters or omits an entry from the Register of Crofts or includes a new entry, they will notify the landlord and tenant concerned. The Commission has been doing this in the past, but it has not been expressly obliged to do so.

    Secondly, the Amendment makes it clear that any person who has a good reason for wishing to obtain an extract of an entry in the Register of Crofts may do so on application to the Commission. This will enable a person who claims, for example, to be the heir to a crofter to obtain an extract giving information about the croft. This point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan).

    Thirdly, the Amendment makes it plain that when an extract from the Register of Crofts has been certified by the Secretary of the Commission, no further proof will be required that there is such an entry in the register. That will not mean, however, that a certified extract from the Register will be conclusive of any of the information it contains. If any person thought that any of that information was incorrect, nothing could prevent him from challenging it, and if he could not get satisfaction in any other way, he could ask the Land Court to decide the matter under Clause 4 of the Bill.

    The second Amendment, in line 7, is consequential on the first. It deletes the existing subsection (3) of Clause 3, which is to be superseded by the new subsection (3) in the first Amendment.

    I should like to thank the Government for these Amendments, which meet the point of two Amendments which I had put down on the Committee stage. I should like also to congratulate them on having recovered from the bout of recalcitrant totalitarianism from which they suffered earlier.

    I take it that the new subsection (3) will provide a method by which in a legal case, whether in the sheriff court or the Land Court, we can get the Register produced; that is to say, that it will not only cover the case mentioned by the Joint Under-Secretary, in which somebody wants to refer to the Register and establish the possibility that he is the heir to a croft, but also will be a means of getting the Register When it needs to be produced in a court of law. It seems to be a rather ingenious way of covering both these points, and in a way which will safeguard the crofters against unjustifiable intrusion into their private affairs. A good deal of anxiety was expressed about this in Committee, and we did not want to leave the door too wide open to busybodies looking at the Register on a wet afternoon in Inverness. I think that we have adequately safeguarded against that danger.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendment made: In line 7, leave out subsection (3).—[ Mr. Maclay.]

    Clause 4—(Determination Of Questions By Land Court)

    I beg to move in page 3, in line 40, after the first "the", to insert "Secretary of State or the".

    This is really a tidying-up Amendment. In Committee, we excluded from the general jurisdiction of the Laid Court any questions of fact decided by the Commission in the discharge of its duties either under the 1955 Act or this Bill when it becomes an Act. There are certain duties put upon the Secretary of State both in the 1955 Act and in this Bill, in relation to determining questions of fact, and it logically follows that they should be excluded from the jurisdiction of the Land Court too, although that would not have any effect on its jurisdiction on any question of law.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendment made: In line 40, after second "of", insert "his or".—[ The Lord Advocate.]

    9.30 p.m.

    I beg to move, in page 3, line 44, to leave out "the foregoing subsection" and to insert:

    "the Landholders Acts (in their application to the crofting counties) or the Act of 1955 or this Act".

    I think that it would be convenient to discuss with this Amendment the Amendments to the First Schedule, in page 24, line 26, leave out "subsections" and insert "subsection", and in page 24, leave out lines 35 to 37.

    That will be convenient.

    The purpose of the Amendment is to ensure that the Register is kept up to date. In order to ensure that, the Land Court must report any relevant decisions to the Commission. The Land Court has a certain jurisdiction under the Landholders Acts and the Act of 1955, as well as under the Bill, which might affect matters in the Register. The object of the Amendment is to ensure that when the court deals with these matters the decision is reported to the Commission in order to enable the necessary amendments to be made. The Amendments to the Schedule are consequential.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I think it will be for the convenience of the House to discuss with this Amendment the Amendments to the First Schedule, in page 25, lines 37 and 44.

    Yes, that will be convenient.

    The object of subsection (3) was to repeal certain provisions of Section 21 of the Act of 1886, which gave the Land Court jurisdiction to deal with things like boundaries and marches between crofters' holdings and certain other matters. It was thought that, in view of the provisions of Clause 4 (1), Section 21 could be repealed. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) raised a question about whether the repeal should in fact be made. I have looked into the matter and I think that it would be better to leave the provisions of the 1886 Act standing so as to make it clear that any questions arising under the Landholders Acts on marches, boundaries, and so on, are to be decided by the Land Court.

    Therefore, the Amendment deletes subsection (3), and Section 21 of the Act of 1886 will remain as it stands. The two Amendments to the Schedule are corollaries to this. Their purpose is to ensure that if questions arise under the Landholders Acts they will be taken to the Land Court under Section 25 of the 1911 Act: and not under this Clause. It is merely to ensure that there is no overlapping jurisdiction between the two.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 6—(Assessment Of Compensation For Improvements)

    I beg to move, in page 5, line 19, to leave out

    "for use for crofting purposes."

    I think that it would be convenient to the House to discuss with this Amendment the Amendment in page 5, leave out lines 21 to 23.

    Yes, that will be convenient.

    When Clause 6 was discussed in Committee it was suggested by hon. Members opposite that the reference in subsection (2) to "crafting purposes" might be deleted. This Clause contains the new basis valuing any permanent improvement erected by a crofter on his croft for which he is entitled to claim compensation from his landlord on termination of his tenancy. The words
    "as a separate croft for use for crofting purposes "
    were inserted in the Bill by Amendmen, for clarification.

    I promised, however, to consider the suggestions made by hon. Members opposite when the Amendment to delete the words "for use for crofting purposes" was discussed, together with the related definition of "crofting purposes". We have reconsidered the matter and have reached the conclusion that the words in question and the definition are superfluous, and these two Amendments were accordingly put down to delete them.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendment made: In page 5, leave out lines 21 to 23.—[ Mr. Leburn.]

    Clause 7—(Amendment Of Provisions Of Act Of 1955 Relating To Right Of Dispossessed Absentee Crofter To Acquire Dwelling-House)

    I beg to move, in page 6, line 28, at the beginning, to insert:

    (1) Subsection (1) of section seventeen of the Act of 1955 (which relates to absentee crofters and treats as an absentee crofter a crofter who is not ordinarily resident on, or within two miles of, his croft) shall have effect as if for the words "two miles" there were substituted the words "ten miles".

    I think that it will be convenient to take with this Amendment the Amendments in page 6, line 29, and page 7, line 1.

    Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. These are three drafting Amendments, to secure greater clarification.

    Although we have not got as far as we wished with this Amendment we have advanced a considerable way towards bringing some reality into the question of absentee crofters. The two-mile provision was ludicrous, and the substitution of a ten-mile limit brings the matter into far better focus, because it is now not nearly so arduous a matter to travel long distances in the Highlands, thanks to propulsion by means of the internal combustion engine. The new provision should be welcomed by all Members.

    We do riot mind galloping through the Bill at considerable speed, but we cannot gallop at the expense of clarity and accuracy on the part of the Minister. This is rather more than a drafting Amendment. I know there was a time when Ministers merely nodded their heads and said, "drafting", or "consequential", and gat all sorts of things through the House, but now that we have a vigilant Opposition we cannot allow those malpractices. I am surprised that the Minister should be indulging in an action of this kind. The Amendment extends the distance at which a crofter may reside from his croft. That is an important change.

    In fact, it does not. We are dropping subsection (3) and putting the provision at the beginning of the Clause instead of at the end.

    But it deals with an alteration from two miles to ten. I do not know whether we are discussing subsection (3). If the hon. Member had said that this was a tidying-up Amendment it would have been all right. I hope that he will treat us to a little more information in future.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendments made: In page 6, line 29, leave out from "under" to "such" in line 30 and insert "the said subsection (1)".

    In page 7, line 1, leave out subsection (3).—[ Mr. Leburn]

    Clause 8—(Reorganisation Schemes)

    I beg to move, in page 7, to leave out lines 39 to 41 and to insert:

    (b) if he so wishes, be of a value not less.
    The Taylor Commission, when dealing with reorganisation schemes, stated in paragraph 141 on page 45 of its Report that a reorganisation scheme
    "should give to every bona fide crofter resident within the township and able and willing to cultivate the soil at least a fair equivalent to the holding which he originally had."
    This recommendation was written into the Crofters (Scotland) Act, 1955, which provided that under a reorganisation scheme no crofter ordinarily resident in the township who was able and willing to cultivate a croft should be provided under the scheme with a croft of less value than his original croft.

    In the Bill we sought to make it clear that the crofter's ability to cultivate in this context should not be judged in relation to his personal ability, but should take account of the fact that in accordance with the statutory conditions a crofter may cultivate the croft by himself or with his family with or without hired labour.

    In the Standing Committee the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) moved an Amendment to delete "and able" from Clause 8 (2), and I undertook to reconsider the whole matter. I have done so. I have given careful thought to this question, and have come to the conclusion that the important thing about a reorganisation scheme is to ensure that the land in the township is reallocated among the crofters in a sensible way.

    The Amendment has, therefore, been tabled to ensure that each crofter involved in a reorganisation scheme shall, if he wishes, receive under the scheme a croft of not less value than his original croft. Clause 8 (2) also provides that the new croft shall, if the crafter wishes, include his existing dwelling-house.

    On behalf of my hon. Friends and myself, I thank the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Amendment. We had a considerable discussion in the Standing Committee about the words "willing and able". We appreciate that "willing" meant that the crofter was just willing to have a croft, but we doubted very much the ability of any authority to decide the ability of the crofter to cultivate the crop. Therefore, we did not think that "and able" had any real meaning. At least, we thought that those words would be completely inoperable in the administration of the Clause.

    In the circumstances, we were grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary for moving the Amendment in fulfilment of a promise which he made to see how best be could get rid of the words "and able".

    Amendment agreed to.

    9.45 p.m.

    I think that it would be convenient to take with this Amendment that in page 9, line 13.

    In Standing Committee we had a very long but, I think, helpful discussion about what was a reasonable length of time within which a crofter could be expected to say whether or not he favoured a draft reorganisation scheme. The major factor in this consideration was the possibility that some of the crofters involved in any scheme might be employed in jobs which necessitated some period of absence from their crofts. Hon. Members gave various examples of this—such as a crofter being away fishing.

    What we have tried to do is to devise a reasonably expeditious procedure, on the one hand, but, at the same time, to give a reasonable time to the crofter, on the other. The extension of the voting period from two to four months as contained in the Amendment effectively achieves a fair balance between these two considerations.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendment made: In page 9, line 13. leave out "two" and insert "four".—[ Mr. Leburn.]

    Clause 9—(Putting Into Effect Of Reorganisation Schemes)

    I beg to move, in page 9, line 41, to leave out "or the last foregoing section" and to insert "Act".

    This is a drafting Amendment, but, to respond to the wishes of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), perhaps I had better say a few words about it.

    Clause 9 (2) enables the Commission to appoint different dates on which different provisions of a reorganisation scheme shall come into effect. It is envisaged that it may be necessary for such a scheme to be put into effect in phases, particularly if the bringing in of land for the enlargement of crofts is involved.

    Clause 9 (2) states that for the purposes of Clauses 8 and 9 the effective date of a reorganisation scheme in relation to any land shall be the date fixed by the Commission—
    "the date on which the provisions of that scheme which apply to such land are put into effect."
    There is, however, reference to the date on which a reorganisation scheme is put into effect elsewhere in the Bill apart from Clauses 8 and 9—for example, in Clause 2 (3). It is, therefore, necessary that the reference in Clause 9 (2) to the effective date of a reorganisation scheme should apply to all the provisions of the Bill and not simply to Clauses 8 and 9. This is the change achieved by the Amendment.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in page 10, line 28, to leave out from crofter "to the end of the subsection and to insert:

    "for a period of seven years from the term at which it first became payable".
    The Bill provides that when a crofting township is reorganised under Clauses 8 and 9 the existing rental of the township shall be reallocated by the Land Court between the reorganised crofts. When this aspect of township reorganisation was discussed in Standing Committee we had a considerable debate and a useful exchange of views. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee were of opinion that it would be an advantage if, following a reorganisation scheme, there should be a fixed period during which the rents of the crofts should remain stable. The purpose of this Amendment is to provide such a period of stability lasting for seven years unless both the landlord and crofter agree otherwise.

    I do not think I need say more about it. The over-ruling interest is to encourage crofters to take part in a reorganisation scheme and one of the things which might discourage them in this matter would be if they had not known that their rent would be fixed for some period of years. One might argue whether it ought to be ten or five years, but on balance seven years was chosen as being the period which at the moment is the time which must elapse from one period of rent revision to another. The period of seven years seems reasonable, as I hope the House will agree.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 12—(Special Provisions Regarding Subletting Of Crofts Not Adequately Used)

    I beg to move, in page 14, line 6, to leave out from "a" to the end of the subsection and to insert:

    "preliminary notice setting out their opinion as aforesaid and stating that, unless he satisfies them within one year from the date of the service of such preliminary notice that he is making adequate use of his croft, the Commission may, in accordance with the provisions of the next following subsection, serve on him a notice of requirement to sublet.
    The Commission may at any time withdraw a preliminary notice served by them on a crofter under this subsection.
    (2) Where a crofter on whom a preliminary notice has been served under the foregoing subsection fails to satisfy the Commission within the period mentioned in that subsection that he is making adequate use of his croft, the Commission may, within one month from the expiry of that period, serve on such crofter a notice stating that, subject to the provisions of the next following subsection, the croft will, on the expiry of one month from the date of the service of the notice or such longer period as may be specified in the notice, become subject to a requirement that it be sublet".
    Perhaps it would be of convenience to the House if we discussed with this Amendment the Amendments in lines 10, 11 and 18.

    There was very considerable discussion in Standing Committee on the provisions of this Clause which deals with the Commission's power, in the last resort, to arrange for the sublet of a croft which has not been adequately used. As my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary explained, it has been one of our main considerations in framing this Clause that there should be full consultation and negotiation with the crofter in the first place. We have been in no doubt that in approaching these cases the Commission would inevitably consult with the crofter to advise, persuade and help him to bring his croft into adequate use; and only if these informal efforts failed would the Commission set in motion the formal procedure with a notice that the croft would become subject to requirement to sublet.

    In these circumstances it seemed on balance preferable not to circumscribe the Commission in the time devoted to such preliminary consultations and advice. In some cases it might spend a great deal of time, feeling that the crofter would in fact improve his use of the croft; in others where there was flagrant neglect and the crofter was clearly unable or unwilling to bring his croft into adequate use the Commission would come to the issue of a notice more quickly. On the other hand, it can be argued that it would help both the Commission and the crofter if there were provision in the Statute requiring preliminary notice of inadequate use to be given by the Commission and allowing the crofter a reasonable period in which to satisfy the Commission that he was now making adequate use of his croft.

    In the light of the discussion in Standing Committee, my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary concluded and it was agreed that it would meet the general wishes of the Committee to provide for a year's preliminary notice. The first of these Amendments in page 14, line 6, makes that provision. The Amendment also implements a further undertaking made by my hon. Friend when the matter was being discussed in Standing Committee. It enables the Commission to withdraw a preliminary notice at any time. This is only reasonable, since the crofter may well satisfy the Commission as to his use of the croft long before the expiry of the year's preliminary notice.

    The Amendment finally deals with a point, which was raised in Standing Committee, concerning the notice issued by the Commission to a crofter who after the year's preliminary notice still fails to satisfy the Commission that he making adequate use of his croft. It was felt that the period of one month, within which the crofter may refer the question to the Secretary of State, did not take account of the circumstances of particular crofters whose work, as has been pointed out, might take them away from the croft and in whose case delivery of the notice might take some time. My hon. Friend explained that he recognised the difficulty that might arise in particular cases, and to meet this difficulty he undertook to include in the subsection a provision enabling the Commission to specify in the notice a longer period than one month where necessary. This the Amendment does.

    The other three Amendments, in lines 10, 11 and 18, are consequential on the first Amendment. Two of them, those in lines 10 and 18, are necessary due to a renumbering of the subsection. The third allows the crofter the same length of time to refer to the Secretary of State the question of whether he is making adequate use of his croft as is provided in the notice telling him when the croft will become subject to a requirement that it be sublet. This would be a month in the normal case, or such longer period as the notice may specify to meet any particular difficulty in the individual case. I hope that with that explanation the Committee will feel that these Amendments provide what is desired by hon. Members.

    There is no doubt at all that these Amendments make a considerable improvement to the Bill and particularly to this Clause. But also there can be no doubt that the Clause will remain most objectionable even after being amended. The Amendments provide in crofter agriculture the kind of powers which existed for the whole of agriculture for a great many years until they were discontinued by the 1958 Act. No requirement is put on the occupier of any other agricultural land in this country to make adequate use of his land. We require the taxpayer to find about £270 million of subsidy for agriculture generally. Yet about three years ago, at the invitation of the Government and against the wishes of the Opposition, Parliament discontinued the power requiring the adequate use to be made of agricultural land.

    Here, we are dealing with the least attractive land in the whole of the United Kingdom, this bogland cultivated by crofters in the seven crofting counties. No one will deny that it is the poorest agricultural land in the United Kingdom, and that they are the poorest husband-men in material terms that one could find anywhere in the United Kingdom. Yet they are the people selected by the Secretary of State on whom to place a requirement that they shall continue to make adequate use of the land of which they have the tenancy occupation.

    It is true that, as originally drawn, the Clause did not provide for any warning or for what is now called a preliminary notice. It just gave dictatorial powers to the Commission to decide that a crofter was not making adequate use of his land and then, almost willy-nilly, the Commission could sublet the land. We pleaded that the Clause should be withdrawn. We voted against it in Committee, notwithstanding the improvement which had been made and the undertaking that it would be amended in the way in which it will be by the acceptance of these Amendments.

    The Amendment which has been moved does not worsen the Clause but greatly improves it. However, the Clause will be objectionable even after it has been improved, because it puts a requirement on the crofter adequately to cultivate his land. No such requirement is put on the wealthiest farmers in the country who receive more public money than the crofters. Indeed, some of them receive more money than is paid to all the crofters put together.

    This Amendment improves the Clause. As I have said several times, in future crofters will need to be lawyers. After reading this they will also need to be expert mathematicians. I am not sure that I have got the mathematics right, but there is a preliminary notice—a warning—

    It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

    Proceedings on Government Business exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the Provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).—[ Mr. Maclay.]

    Question again proposed, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill.

    After the year is up at any time within one month the Commission may serve a notice, that is, the definite notice that it is requiring the croft to be sublet. Then, as I understand, the crofter has a month during which he may appeal to the Secretary of State. However, the Secretary of State appears to be at large; there is no time limit, so far as I can see, within which he has to consider any appeal. If there is no appeal then there is another month, and after that there is a notice that within one month the crofter has to sublet the croft.

    I am not quite sure whether this comes, in all, to one year and three months, or one year and four months, or one year and five months. I hope that whoever will reply to the debate will make that crystal clear. I should also like it to be confirmed that there is no time limit on the time which the Secretary of State may have for consideration on appeal.

    I shall try to help the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I am rather surprised that he does not know the answers already, because we went over and over this in Standing Committee. Perhaps it was on a day—probably it was the only day of the whole 23 sittings of the Committee—that he was not with us.

    We have a preliminary notice of one year, and after that, if the notice is not withdrawn, or the Commission is not satisfied that the crofter is making adequate use of his land, then it can serve a notice on him that he may be required to sublet, and then he is given one month in which he has to make up his mind whether or not he is going to appeal to the Secretary of State, and that month is the same month—

    I am sorry, but it is exactly the same month:

    "Where a notice is served under subsection (2) of this section on a crofter by the Commission and either no reference is made … by the crofter or on such a reference the Secretary of State confirms the notice, the Commission may, within one month from the last date on which a reference might have been made … or from the date on which the notice was confirmed …as the case may be, serve on the crofter a further notice …"

    May I assist the Under-Secretary of State? I begin to think that neither of us was there on that day of the Committee. Surely, when the year is up, according to the Amendment, the Commission has a month. It may allow, presumably, 30 days to go by before it serves notice on the crofter, a month during which he has a right to appeal, and the right begins to run from the date the Commission serves the notice. It surely cannot be the same month.

    That one month is the same month, and if the crofter has not taken his opportunity of appealing to the Secretary of State, then he is required to find a sub-tenant. In the new Amendment we are giving the crofter three months during which he may find his sub-tenant. It is only at the end of that time that the Commission can take a decision to sublet compulsorily.

    I am certainly new to this problem, not having had the benefit of being on the Standing Committee, but I must confess that, after hearing this discussion tonight, I am more confused than ever. As I understand, one year elapses. I do not say twelve months, so as not to bring the House into even more confusion. One year elapses. At the end of that year what time has the Commission before it serves a notice? Can it wait for a month, two months, or three months? Or does it serve a notice within a month?

    As I understand, the Joint Under-Secretary is saying, in effect, that on the date the notice is received, a month runs from that date, which is the month in which the crofter has to make his appeal. It is the same month in that regard. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) wants to know what time then elapses for the Secretary of State for Scotland to make up his mind after he receives the appeal, and whether the time is unlimited at that point. The Secretary of State might be very busy and the other crofter sent to see the Secretary of State might be busy and, therefore, six months might elapse before the decision is taken.

    If the Secretary of State refuses the appeal, is it then that the crofter has three months to enable him to get a sublet before the Commission takes action?

    With the permission of the House, I shall try to get this right. I agree that it is very confusing and that the more one goes over it the more confused one is inclined to get. We have a preliminary notice of a year. That, I think, is not in dispute. At the end of that time, the Commission may, within one month from the expiry of that period, serve on the crofter a notice stating that subject to the provision the croft will, on the expiry of one month from the date of the service of that notice, become subject to a requirement. The first month there is so that the threat, so to speak, is not hanging over the crofter's head for an indefinite period and, therefore, the Commission must decide whether the axe is to come down, and whether it should take action, and the Commission has only a month in which to do that.

    From the period of the service of that notice, the crofter has a month in which to make up his mind whether or not he will appeal to the Secretary of State. Assuming that he appeals to the Secretary of State, then, as the hon. Gentleman surmises, the Secretary of State can take as long as he wishes to make up his mind. But once the Secretary of State has done so and has come down not in favour of the crofter, but against the crofter, so to speak, and the crofter comes under an obligation to sublet his croft, he then has three months in which to find his sub-tenant, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) for doing a bit of arithmetic while all this has been going on, because I cannot quite make up my mind how far we have got in months and days.

    The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that it all depends on how long the Secretary of State takes to make his decision. If he attends to this matter with his customary speed and diligence, I have no doubt it will be about two and a half years that the right hon. Gentleman will have to consider this matter. I agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that this should be put in clear form. Would it not be possible to put a Schedule at the end of the Bill with a small table showing the twelve months' preliminary notice and the other in a month, and so on, so that the crofter can see what time he has? That may not be possible, but it might be a good thing if something like that could be done, because it is very difficult to understand what this Clause means.

    I do not want unduly to restrict the debate, but the difficulty is that if we draft other Amendments we shall be out of order. We have to discuss the Amendment on the Notice Paper and not another one.

    I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, but we are discussing this Clause and all I suggest is that it is exceedingly difficult to understand. This has been proved by the fact that different hon. Members have already asked how long a period this is and what the provisions are. The same thing happened in Standing Committee and the Joint Under-Secretary himself was not quite sure of the answer. I have simply made a suggestion for the hon. Gentleman's consideration when the Bill goes to another place. It might be no good, but on the other hand it might be good.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendments made: In line 10, after "the" insert "last".

    In line 11, leave out from "may" to "refer" in line 12 and insert:

    "at any time before his croft becomes subject, in terms of such notice, to a requirement that it he sublet".—[Mr. Leburn.]

    I beg to move, in page 14, line 15, to leave out from "and" to "may" in line 16 and to insert:

    "if the crofter does not object to such consultation, after consulting with any grazings committee appointed under section twenty-four of the Act of 1955 in respect of common grazings in the township in which the croft is situated".
    The subsection which it is proposed should be amended by this Amendment deals with the situation arising When the crofter has been served by the Commission with a notice that his croft may be subject to the requirement that it be sublet and has referred the matter to the Secretary of State. As drafted, subsection (2) provides that before deciding whether to annul or confirm such a notice the Secretary of State must offer the crofter an opportunity of making representations to him.

    When the matter was considered in Standing Committee, the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) put down an Amendment proposing that before reaching his decision on the matter the Secretary of State should invariably consult the township's grazings committee. I indicated then that, while I accepted the idea that such consultation might be useful at this stage, I thought that there might be occasions when the crofter concerned might not wish the grazings committee to be consulted. The crofter might not be persona grata with the committee or might have some other reason for not wanting to be consulted. I think that the hon. Member for the Western Isles generally agreed with this point of view.

    Accordingly, in bringing forward the Amendment we have provided that the Secretary of State shall at this stage consult the grazings committee if the crofter does not object to such consultation.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendment made: In line 18, leave out "(1)" and insert "(2)".—[ Mr. Leburn.]

    I beg to move, in line 26, to leave out "one month" and to insert "three months".

    The Amendment fulfils an undertaking which I gave in Committee. Its effect is to extend the time limit involved in procedure under the Clause where the Commission may require the crofter to sublet his croft. The period in question is the length of time allowed to the crofter to enable him to find a subtenant of his own. In the Bill as drafted a period of one month is allowed to enable him to find a sub-tenant, but I am sure that all hon. Members would agree that it is preferable to allow him three months. When I was doing my arithmetical timetable I anticipated this when I spoke about three months.

    I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should also consider adding another month to enable the crofters to understand this Clause.

    Amendment agreed to.

    10.15 p.m.

    I beg to move, in page 14, line 41, at end to insert:

    "and any reference in this or the next following section to proposals submitted to the Commission under subsection (3) of this section and approved by them shall include a reference to conditions imposed by the Commission under this subsection in giving their approval to such proposals".
    This Amendment is very nearly a drafting one, proposed for clarification. Clause 12 (5) enables the Commission, when giving approval to proposals submitted by a crofter for subletting a croft, to impose conditions other than any conditions relating to rent. Later in this Clause, and in Clause 13, reference is made to a sublease of a croft granted by the crofter in accordance with proposals submitted to and approved by the Commission.

    When the Bill was in Standing Committee, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) raised the question of whether the proposals submitted by the crofter and approved by the Commission included any conditions imposed by the Commission. The purpose of the Amendment is to make it clear that the crofter's proposals, when approved by the Commission, shall include any such conditions.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in page 15, in line 5, to leave out from "shall" to "the" in line 7 and to insert:

    "consult with any grazings committee appointed under section twenty-four of the Act of 1955 in respect of common grazings in the township in which the croft is situated, and thereafter the Commission shall, if they propose to grant such sublease, serve on the landlord of the croft and on the crofter a notice to that effect which shall also specify".
    Clause 12 (7) outlines the procedure to be followed by the Commission when it has reached the stage where it requires the grant of a croft sublease, the crofter himself having failed to respond to the opportunity to arrange a sublease. The purpose is to ensure that, before granting any sublease, whether it includes a right of common grazings or not, the Commission shall consult the grazings committee for the township.

    In Standing Committee, hon. Members on both sides stressed the desirability of drawing on the local knowledge possessed by grazings committees, and also the need to strengthen these committees by enabling them to play a full part in the life of the community. The Amendment provides that the township grazings committee will be consulted by the Commission before the Commission notifies a crofter and his landlord of its proposals for subletting a croft.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in page 15, line 19, at end to insert:

    "and the Commission shall also make a record of the condition as at the date of entry under the sublease of any fixed equipment let thereunder.
    (9) A sublease of a croft granted by the crofter in accordance with proposals submitted to the Commission under subsection (3) of this section and approved by them, or by the Commission under subsection (6) of this section, shall not, unless the crofter so wishes, include—
  • (a) any dwelling-house or garden ground forming part of the croft;
  • (b) any buildings or other structures erected, or any works executed, on the croft which, by virtue of subsection (2) or (3) of section five of this Act, are permanent improvements on the croft;
  • (c) such part of the croft as the Commission shall determine, being a part which (taken together with the site of any dwelling-house, garden ground, buildings, structures or works which, by virtue of the foregoing provisions of this subsection, are not included in the sublease) extends to one acre;
  • (d) any right pertaining to the tenancy of the croft to cut or take peat".
  • I believe that it would be convenient for the House to discuss the remaining Government Amendments to page 15 at the same time.

    That is so, Mr. Speaker. The first purpose of the Amendment is to provide that, when the Commission grants a sublease on a croft, it shall make a record of the condition at the date of entry of any fixed equipment included in the sublease. Such a record will be useful when the sublease comes to an end. It will facilitate the determination by the Land Court of any question arising under Clause 12 (12, b) as to whether any sum is payable by the subtenant to the crofter in respect of any deterioration of improvements included in the sublease.

    The other purpose of the Amendment is to meet the view, expressed in Standing Committee, that certain subjects should be excluded from any sublease granted under the Clause, unless the crofter were willing that those items, or any of them, should be included. The excluded items are, first, any dwelling-house or garden ground forming part of the croft; secondly, any non-agricultural buildings, structures, or works erected or executed under Clause 5, whether they were erected before or after the commencement of the Bill—those are buildings and structures erected for the purpose of a non-agricultural occupation, a particular interest to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond)— thirdly, an area of an acre including the site of the croft dwelling-house, garden ground, non-agricultural buildings, or structures, or works, in so far as those are not sublet.

    The Amendment also provides, again to meet a suggestion of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, that a sublease granted by the Commission shall not, unless the crofter wishes, include any right to cut peats which goes with the tenancy of the croft.

    The other Amendments are consequential and I hope that the House will accept them.

    I have had personal experience of making records and I notice that the Government suggest that the Commission should have a record made of the fixed equipment of the croft. That may not be as expensive a business as it is in the case of an ordinary farm, but it is quite a business and it has to be gone into fairly carefully. In this case, it is only the fixed equipment, but I wonder what that covers.

    For instance, with a farm one has to consider the state of the drains, and if possible, have plans of them, and report what the state of the fencing is, and so on. This can be very detailed. It is rather boring for the man who has to do it, but it is quite expensive for the landlord who has to pay for it. If the Commission is to do this work thoroughly, it might have to pay a considerable sum. I am not suggesting any alteration and nor do I oppose the suggestion, but when the Bill goes to another place I hope that the Secretary of State will consider whether the matter can be cleared up in the interests of the taxpayer who will have to pay for the work which the Commission does in the interests of the crofter at the end of the sublease, if he has to pay compensation for improvements, or of the sub-tenant if he has to pay compensation for not looking after the drains, for instance, during his sub-tenancy.

    I sympathise with what the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) has said. It is one of the difficulties of the Bill that we make it more and more complicated until we begin to wonder whether there will be any time left for crofting when the crofter has dealt with all these provisions. We cannot go over the ground again, and the purpose which the Government have in mind is reasonable if it can be carried out as simply as possible.

    I thank the Government for having incorporated my Amendments as well as those of other hon. Members. Are they satisfied that access to the house and buildings and peat rights will be covered? I think that it is, but I should like the Under-Secretary to make sure.

    I commend the Amendments. The Government ought to be grateful to the Opposition for the changes now being made. Under the original Clause, when a croft was sublet the whole of it, other than any garden ground, would have been taken over. Those of us who know the Highlands and the crofting areas know how small those gardens can be. They are often merely a yard strip round the house. Under the original proposals, a garage, or some other building used for some ancillary employment, would automatically have been transferred to the sub-tenant.

    Now we are to have an acre not just surrounding the house, but in whatever direction may be most suitable to encompass the buildings which the crofter wishes to retain. Although we first suggested two acres, I am grateful that one acre is being allowed. This will be very much appreciated if these conditions of sub-tenancy are to apply.

    I think that we are here dealing also with a croft which is compulsorily sublet by the Commission. That is the croft about which we were mostly concerned in Committee upstairs.

    The hon. Gentleman has met most of the points put forward by hon. Members on this side of the House, including the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), about the safeguards which were required for the person who was to be left in the dwelling-house, with the one exception that no provision is made for him having access to the house.

    There is no provision that after the land has been compulsorily sublet to some other person, the crofter who is left with the house and the garden round it and the buildings he has put up for the purpose of his ancillary occupation, will have access from the public road to the land and buildings which he occupies.

    I am not unduly concerned about that. I think that we will be wasting time to put these provisions into the Statute, because it is my hope, which, I think, is shared by the hon. Gentleman, that Clause 12 will never be operative.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendments made: In page 15, line 25, leave out subsection (10).

    In line 31, leave out from "croft" to "be" in line 33 and insert:

    "or of a whole croft other than any subjects which, by virtue of subsection (9) of this section, are not included in the sublease".

    In line 35, leave out from "in" to "be" in line 36 and insert "any other case".—[ Mr. Leburn.]

    I beg to move, in page 16, line 3, after "subsection", to insert:

    "and of subsection (3) of the next following section".

    I think that it would be convenient to discuss with that Amendment the Amendment to Clause 13, in page 17, line 38.

    Yes, Mr. Speaker. That would be convenient.

    This is a paving Amendment for the Amendment in page 17, line 38. The question was raised during the Committee stage of the Bill of the effect of the termination of a crofter's tenancy on a sublease into which he had entered. The law is not entirely clear on that, and there is no provision dealing with it either in the 1955 Act or in this Bill. Accordingly, we propose to put this in now to get a little clarification.

    The Amendment provides that all subleases shall terminate when the principal lease finishes, subject, however, to an important proviso which gives the subtenant the right to apply to the Commission for a period of grace of up to one year. It further provides that the landlord must not take any action to remove him during the first month after the principal tenancy expires, or if he has made an application to the Commission before the date when the Commission decides upon that application.

    Amendment agreed to.

    10.30 p.m.

    I beg to move, in page 16, line 4, to leave out "seven" and to insert "five".

    The purpose of the Amendment is to reduce from seven years to five years the maximum duration of any croft sublease granted by the Commission under Clause 12. The Amendment fulfils a promise made in Committee. Perhaps I should stress that the period of five years proposed is a maximum period and that the duration of a sublease may be for a lesser number of years, depending on the circumstances of the case. When considering how long such a period should be, one has to bear in mind the interests of both the crofter and the sub-tenant. I think hon. Members will agree that it is necessary that the subtenant should have a reasonable period to enable him to plan ahead. However, on reconsideration, bearing in mind that the Commission in its 1959 Report mentioned a period of five years, it was felt that a maximum of five years instead of seven years would be sufficient for this purpose.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in page 16, line 9, to leave out:

    "in a proper state of repair".

    It is convenient to discuss with this Amendment the Amendment in page 16, line 11.

    Yes, Mr. Speaker. The two Amendments go together. They arise out of an Amendment which was made in Committee and an undertaking given by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary. The phrase "fair wear and tear excepted" was deleted from the Bill in Committee, but my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary pointed out that in the Bill as it stood after that Amendment had been made the obligation on the sub-tenant could be read as meaning that he would have to put the permanent improvements in a better state of repair than when he took them over. The two Amendments are designed to remedy that, by deleting

    "in a proper state of repair"
    and inserting
    "in as good a state of repair as they were in"
    when he took over.

    What sense is there in the Amendment in page 16, line 11? Why are we putting words in? The subtenant is now under the obligation to keep the permament improvements in as good a state of repair as they were in at the date on which he took over the tenancy. I can understand what is meant by "a proper state of repair", but who is to say five years afterwards whether the state of repair of the fencing is as good as it was five years earlier?

    Will the record say how many staples were missing? The Commission will have a busy time going round counting every staple and noticing how many tiles are broken.

    Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not appreciate what he did in the 1948 Act. It is a very detailed and meticulouss system of recording whether any wire in any part of a fence is loose or whether any stakes are missing, etc.

    The hon. Gentleman does not appreciate what is being done in the Bill. We are dealing with crofts which are as small as two acres or as large as seventy acres. It is dealing with crofts in the most sparsely populated parts of the country. The Bill gives power to the Commission compulsorily to take croft land from the crofter for a period not exceeding five years. A record will be made of everything on this croft and then, when the sub-tenant hands back the croft at the end of five years, or whatever shorter period it may be—and it may be a longer period, because there may be two periods of subletting—he must be able to satisfy the crofter and the Commission that the fixed equipment is in as good a state of repair as it was at the time when he took the sub-tenancy.

    We can determine without great difficulty whether the fixed equipment is in a proper state of repair, but it will cause difficulties—and it is likely to lead to considerable litigation—if we put in these words. As a matter of fact, I think that the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) will look in vain through the 1948 Act, for the words to which I am now taking objection. If the Lord Advocate can tell me that these words are in the 1948 Act, I shall look at it with interest, and then inquire whether it has proved possible to make sense of them in the administration of the Act.

    There is a little difficulty here. We are presupposing that the sub-tenant coming in will get equipment either in a proper state of repair or, as the provision will be amended, in as good a state of repair as it was in when he took over. Some of the fixed equipment, such as the drains, could be in a bad state of repair at that date. That possibility should be guarded against. We cannot cover the possibility of the existence of a state of disrepair by saying that premises are in a good state of repair. Perhaps the Lord Advocate will tell me that this is possible, but I think we ought to safeguard both the crofter and the subtenant from this sort of contingency which may arise at the end of a sub-tenancy.

    If I may speak again, with the leave of the House, I would agree with hon. Members opposite that after five years have elapsed it is not always easy to say in precise and detailed terms whether any post or staple is in as good a state of repair as it was in five years earlier. But we are in a slight dilemma here, because unless we have something on these lines we are putting an obligation on the sub-tenant not merely to keep the fixed equipment up but to improve it. Indeed, if we left in the words

    "in a proper state of repair"
    it could be read as meaning that if he got it in a bad state of repair he would have to bring it up to a good state of repair. It is to safeguard him against that, that the second Amendment has been put down.

    Surely the existence of the words "due to his failure" cancels out the remarks of the Lord Advocate. Let us suppose that the fixed equipment is new when the man enters. How can he possibly be held responsible for any deterioration, when that deterioration is due purely and simply to the passage of time? This matter requiries a little more close examination, and I ask the Lord Advocate to think about it again. It is a difficult job to arrive at a proper balance between the tenant and the sub-tenant, but the Lord Advocate is not proceeding in the proper way by using these words. I apologise for butting in at this stage, after I have been silent during all these proceedings.

    If I may speak again by leave of the House, I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his unusual behaviour. I would point out that during the Committee stage hon. Members opposite wanted to take out the words

    "fair wear and tear excepted",
    and that was the decision of the Committee at that time.

    The hon. Gentleman should seek the permission of the House to speak again.

    —we thought that the words then in the Bill were very difficult. Would it not have been desirable to put in words requiring something to be done to keep the equipment in a reasonable state of repair or—

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendment made: In page 16, line 11, after "sublease", insert "in as good a state of repair as they were in at the said date".—[ The Lord Advocate.]

    I beg to move, in page 16, line 38, to leave out "earlier" and to insert "later".

    Clause 12 (13) provides for the termination of subleases on crofts granted by the Commission under the Clause. There are two circumstances for which the subsection caters: first, where the sub-tenant has broken one or more of the conditions of the sublease, and, second, where the circumstances of either of the parties change so materially that the Commission considers that the sublease should be terminated.

    As the Bill is drafted, in both cases the sub-tenant would be permitted to occupy a croft for a period of not less than one year from the date of service by the Commission of the notice terminating his tenancy. When the subsection was discussed in Standing Committee hon. Members suggested that a period of a year was too long, particularly when the sublease was being brought to an end due to a breach by the sub-tenant of the conditions of let. On the other hand, in the case where the reason for the termination of the sublease is a change in the circumstances of one of the parties, I think it was generally agreed that a period of up to one year might not be unreasonable.

    Accordingly, the Amendment has been tabled to change the period of one year from being the minimum period to being the maximum period. This will enable the Commission to specify a period up to a year to suit the particular circumstances. If it is a case of a breach of conditions, one or two months might suffice, while where the circumstances of parties change, a period of up to ten months or a year might be more appropriate.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 13—(Miscellaneous Provisions Regarding Subleases Of Crofts)

    Amendment made: In page 17, line 39, at end insert:

    (3) Where the tenancy of a croft is terminated, any sublease of that croft subsisting immediately before the date of such termination shall come to an end on that date:
    Provided that where a sublease comes to an end by virtue of the foregoing provisions of this subsection the Commission may, on an application in that behalf made to them by the subtenant within one month from the date on which the sublease came to an end as aforesaid, make an order permitting the subtenant to remain in occupation of the croft for such period, not exceeding one year from the said date, and subject to such conditions, as may be specified in the order; and no proceedings for the removal of the subtenant from the croft shall be taken by the owner of the croft before the expiry of the said period of one month or, if an application is made under this subsection to the Commission by the subtenant within that period, before the date of the determination of the Commission on such application.—[The Lord Advocate.]

    Clause 18—(Amendments And Repeals)

    Amendment made: In page 20, line 4, leave out "five" and to insert "six".— [ Mr. Leburn.]

    First Schedule—(Amendments Of The Act Of 1955)

    I beg to move, in page 23, line 35, after "croft)", to insert:

  • (a) in paragraph (c) of subsection (1) for the word "is" there shall be substituted the words "was before the commencement of the Crofters (Scotland) Act, 1961"; and
  • (b).
  • This is a drafting Amendment. Paragraph (c) of the subsection (1) which is referred to provides that a holding which is constituted a croft by rules under Section 4 of the 1955 Act shall be a croft. The use of the word "is" tends to leave it doubtful whether holdings which were registered under Section 4 before the Bill comes into operation would remain crofts thereafter. This Amendment merely resolves that doubt.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Further Amendments made: In page 24, line 26, leave out "subsections" and insert "subsection".

    In page 24, leave out lines 35 to 37.

    In page 25, line 37, at end insert:

    17. In section thirty-four (which relates to the determination of disputes), in subsection (1) for the words "are required by or" there shall be substituted the words, "have jurisdiction".

    In line 44, at end insert:

    18. In section thirty-eight (which provides amongst other things for the modification of enactments in relation to the crofting counties), in subsection (2) after the word "than" there shall be inserted the words "section twenty-five of the Act of 1911 and".—[Mr. Maclay.]

    Third Schedule—(Provisions Of The Act Of 1955 Repealed)

    10.45 p.m.

    I beg to move, in page 28, line 17, at the end to insert:

    Section thirty-seven … …Subsection (2).
    This Amendment repeals subsection (2) of Section 37 of the 1955 Act. That subsection defines for the purposes of the reorganisation provisions of the 1955 Act the words
    "ordinarily resident in a township".
    Since the reorganisation provisions of the 1955 Act are being repealed by this Bill it follows that Section 37 (2) of that Act should also be repealed.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

    10.47 p.m.

    I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    I wish to express my great thanks to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the meticulous and detailed work which has gone into the Bill, and, of course, I express my appreciation to all those hon. Members who, in Committee, showed a positively surprising enthuasiasm for the Bill.

    The Bill started with very good intentions. It is not a very big Measure, but it does some very useful things for a community in which we are intensely interested. The Bill was better when it left the Committee and I thank hon. Members for all that they have done.

    10.48 p.m.

    We now come to the end of the road on this little, non-controversial Bill, which occupied us far quite a considerable time in Committee upstairs. We have spent months on this Measure trying to make something decent of it. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House who take any interest at all in these matters would recognise that we have improved it slightly, though not through any assistance given by hon. Members opposite who represent crofting constituencies and whose contribution during the Committee stage was very small indeed. They have not even troubled to attend in the House today during the Report stage and now for the Third Reading of the Bill. I think that that fact should be noted. No Highland Tory has even graced the proceedings by his presence.

    Yes, I think that it is a better word to use than "disgraced", which is not very dissimilar.

    It has been claimed by the Government that the Bill will be welcomed by the crofters. It will go unnoticed by the vast majority of the crofters. When I point out that there are only about 6,000 practising crofters it will be recognised that if the Bill is not even to be noticed by the vast majority of them it will have an effect on only a very small number of our fellow citizens.

    It will affect a few smallholders who, because the Secretary of State has taken power to make grants to smallholders in like circumstances to crofters, will receive slightly more generous grants than they are now receiving as agricultural holders, but only slightly more generous. There is very little money in this, but it is a great convenience to the Secretary of State to have these grants paid by the Crofters Commission rather than under other auspices. So this will make a slight difference to a small number of smallholders who are not crofters.

    It will make a little difference to some crofters who would not get permission from landlords at present to make certain permanent improvements involv-inv ancillary occupations. They are given statutory permission to make those improvements and compensation is safeguarded. The compensation will not necessarily be paid by the landlord who, on the termination on the tenancy, will come into possession of those improvements. In certain circumstances, the improvements will be paid for by the taxpayer, although the taxpayer will never own the improvements. When they cease to be the property of the crofter, they will become the property of the landlord.

    There were very objectionable features in Clauses 7 and 11 as the Bill was introduced and in what is now Clause 8, dealing with reorganisation schemes and compulsory subletting. Those provisions which were most objectionable have been considerably modified in the course of the passage of the Bill. There is little in the Bill which justifies any commendation. It is a Bill which pretends to be an addition to the Crofters (Scotland) Act, 1955, which put certain responsibilities upon the Crofters Commission under Section 2 to deal with the wider economic and social problems of the whole of the crofting counties.

    It is claimed that, somehow or other, the Bill will be of some advantage to the whole of the crofting counties and will make a contribution to the social and economic betterment of the whole of this area. The truth is that the Bill will make no contribution whatsoever to the social and economic betterment of the crofting counties. It is almost tragic that Parliament should have been required to spend so much time considering such a puny and irrelevant Bill as this.

    The best that I can say for it at this time is that it is not likely to do very much harm in the Highlands. The great pity is that we are now passing yet another Bill which will not do any real good.

    10.53 p.m.

    The Joint Under-Secretary must feel, after that speech, that it is a case of "Love's Labour Lost" on the Bill, and a great deal of labour at that, but I must agree that the combined efforts of the Secretary of State, the Joint Under-Secretary and the Lord Advocate have failed to convince me that crofting legislation is other than an intolerable complication. The Bill does not touch the real problems. We have been over that a great many times and I hope that in years to come we can do things a little more simply and, on another occasion, tackle the problems which really concern crofters. I feel that if ever the Bill were implemented on a large scale there would be a great deal of scratching of heads in many lonely parts of Scotland.

    There is one point I want to raise with the Government before we part with the Bill. One of the main purposes of the Bill is to encourage subletting of crofts. We are allowing the crofter to retain the croft house and certain other appurtenances of his croft. Presumably, he will go on being called a crofter, and will be a crofter, and will have the crofter's obligations vis-à-vis his landlord, the Commission and the Land Court. There will also be the sub-tenant who will be a crofter in the sense that he is working a croft.

    I do not want to go into the matter now, and I do not expect an answer from the Joint Under-Secretary, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that certain difficulties can arise. One difficulty which I will give as an example is that a subtenant may ask for a grant for, say, building. The crofter who has sublet the croft may also ask for a grant. I do not know on what principle it is to be de- cided which of them is entitled to a grant. Perhaps both are entitled. I think that the answer is that both are entitled, but, as I say, one can see that difficulties may arise.

    For one thing, on most crofts it will not be very desirable that new structures should be put up, possibly a new croft house, to serve a situation in which the croft is sublet only for a limited period, especially if it is a very small croft. One can imagine that on a small croft of a few acres a sub-tenant might say that he had no house and wanted a grant to put up a house. Then there would be two houses on the croft, yet the subtenancy might be for only five years. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will not only look again at the definitions in the Bill, but, also, will consider how it will affect other legislation, particularly that dealing with grants to crofters and crofting.

    I should like to thank the Joint Under-Secretary and the other officers of the Scottish Office for their extreme patience and courtesy during the passage of this Bill, and for the trouble they have taken to meet the excellent Amendments which have been moved from this side of the House.

    10.57 p.m.

    It would be churlish if someone on this side of the House did not thank my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary for the way in which he has conducted the proceedings on the Bill. He has borne practically the whole weight of it, has been extremely amenable and reasonable, and has worked hard to meet the views which have been expressed from both sides.

    I do not consider that this is a great Bill, but it will achieve two things which will help the Crofters Commission to get on with its job; and, certainly, the Commission has a lot to do. First, it deals with reorganisation for which, in certain areas, there are hopeful possibilities, and, secondly, it puts the owner-occupier in an equivalent position with the crofter. If that means that over the years the crofter will tend to buy his own croft and become an owner-occupier, it will be entirely in line with true Tory government.

    We have had some headaches in understanding the Bill. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) said that there are 6,000 crofters scattered over the Highlands. Admittedly, some of them are "bush lawyers", but most of them are simple and honest people. They will not understand the Bill either, and I think that the Commission should explain its provisions in simple language in a pamphlet.

    One other thing should be done. The Bill should be consolidated eventually with the other Acts which deal with crofting. I do not want to say more, except to congratulate the Government, particularly the Joint Under-Secretary of State, on a good job. It is not a big Bill—no one expects it to be—but it will do some limited good in a limited area.

    The hon. Member has congratulated the Government on keeping to true-blue Tory tradition. Did he do so as a Tory or as a National Liberal?

    11.3 p.m.

    Before we leave the Bill I would like to say that some hon. Members rather underplayed its importance. We do not claim that it is very important, but it will serve a useful purpose in helping to further development and future prospects of the crofting counties. That will not be achieved by the Bill alone, however. It will require the cooperation of all those who live in these counties and of the crofters themselves.

    I thank hon. Members on both sides for the help which they gave me in improving the Bill during its various stages. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) regretted the absence of certain hon. Members, particularly on this side. I regret the absence of certain hon. Members on his side, but I shall not go into that. I was greatly encouraged and reinforced by at least one crofting county Member—my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble). I regret, also, the absence of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin), if only because I recall his referring exasperatedly, in Standing Committee, to the continuing search for "words, words, words."

    I hope that the 75 hours and half a million words that we have spent on the Bill prove to have been worth while.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

    Egypt (Compensation For British Subjects)

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. J. E. B. Hill.]

    11.4 p.m.

    I rise to draw to the attention of the House the plight of the British officials who were dismissed by the Egyptian Government in 1951. On 8th December, 1951, as the result of orders given by General Sir George Erskine—the propriety of which I do not question—British forces in the Canal Zone occupied and demolished houses outside the zone in the Egyptian village of Kafr el Abdu.

    As a direct result of this event, next day the Egyptian Council of Ministers took the decision peremptorily to dismiss 168 British subjects who were employed by the Egyptian Government. Ninety-six of these officials were, by their contracts of service, guaranteed employment until the age of 60; 15 of them had already devoted more than thirty years of their lives to the service of the people of Egypt; a further 36 had devoted between twenty-five and thirty years' service.

    The functions which they fulfilled are worthy of note and sympathy. Of the men, 19 were university professors, five were assistant professors, 45 were university lecturers, five were lecturers in institutes and colleges, 11 were inspectors in the Ministry of Education, 25 were senior schoolmasters and 17 were technical specialists. Of the women, 16 were lecturers in universities and institutes, 18 were school mistresses and senior school mistresses, three were inspectresses at the Ministry of Education, and one was a nurse. That was in December, 1951.

    Between then and 1956 they received no compensation whatsoever from either the Egyptian Government which then was, or its successor, the United Arab Republic, nor any form of effective sympathy or support from Her Majesty's Government. In July, 1956, the British Ambassador in Egypt was able to report to the British Government that the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs had expressed the hope that a satisfactory conclusion to the negotiations for compensation would shortly be agreed and that payments would shortly be forthcoming. However, those negotiations and their execution were overtaken by the events which are commonly described as the "Suez crisis".

    In the course of 1956, and until April, 1958, in a certain number of cases minute sums for weekly sustenance were paid out by the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board to support and keep alive a limited number of these unfortunate officials. I regret to say that in terms of public sympathy and effective Government support the claims of these officials, who were dismissed in 1951, have been overshadowed and forgotten because of the claims of those who lost their occupations and their property and their livelihoods in the events of the Suez crisis of 1956. The small weekly payments made by the Resettlement Board to some of the unhappy people were terminated in April, 1958.

    In October, 1958, the British Government advanced £100,000, which was distributed among the "1951 claimants" whose total claims amounted to £660,000. Seven months later, Her Majesty's Government received from the Egyptian Government the sum of £100,000 on account, under Article III (f) of the Financial Agreement. That £100,000 was not distributed to the claimants, but was paid back into the Treasury, which had lent £100,000 previously, a Treasury which, I may say, maintains a claim against these unfortunate people and their representatives, the Association of Former British Officials in Egypt, for £5,000 which it advanced to the Association to meet the legal expenses of its lawyers in preparing and substantiating the claims of the 168 officials.

    The situation up to April, 1959, was that the Treasury had been reimbursed for the loan which it had made, and from then onwards it paid out nothing in relief and has not even made a loan to these people who by then had been devoid of sustenance, apart from that given in the two years when there were very small weekly dollops and the total of £100,000, less than one-sixth of the claims for the period of eight years.

    We have now arrived at 1961, nearly ten years since these people were deprived of their livelihoods. They have frequently received assurances from Her Majesty's Government that negotiations are proceeding and that a satisfactory conclusion is expected. But such assurances have not enabled them to meet their weekly bills for their everyday needs or to support themselves. All that has happened is that they have been forced to realise all the capital assets they may have had remaining to meet their weekly expenses.

    In many cases their capital assets represented investments in British Government securities. This is not surprising, because when people are located in a remote spot, that is, remote from the United Kingdom, they are not able to adjust their investment portfolios to meet current movements in the market. It may have been stupid of them, but it was perhaps not unreasonable to invest in British Government securities, with the result with which all of us are only too unhappily familiar. Nat only have they been forced to consume their capital as income, but they have been forced to sell when the market for British Government securities is grossly depressed.

    The £100,000 compensation, less than one-sixth of the total value of their claim, has had to be expended as current income so that even if they receive the remainder of their claim, they will have lost the interest on £560,000 over ten years, and, of course, they have not now the £100,000 to invest as well.

    The situation in which they found themselves was that they had to remain in this country and live for two of the eight years on the minute assistance which they received from the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board, for six years on nothing, and, since 1958 presumably, live on the capital which they received out of the £100,000. Some of them, in endeavouring to support themselves, have travelled to the far corners of the globe. One elderly lady, who was one of the 168 dismissed officials, is now supporting herself by working in Iraq.

    These people have not thrown themselves on public sympathy. To some extent they have, therefore, been forgotten. They have not formed themselves into a noisy pressure group, and it is, therefore, all the more important that this House should safeguard their interests.

    What obligations fall on the British Government? First, as the dismissal of these officials was the direct, and in my submission predictable, result of the actions of British military forces, however justified, in 1951, the British Government have a responsibility to ensure that the full claims of these officials are met. The fact that 22 of them have since died is irrelevant. They have dependants whose claims in equity are no less than if their husbands or wives had still been alive.

    It is incumbent on the British Government to ensure that no agreement with the U.A.R. is accepted which does not meet in full the claims of these officials, plus a reasonable interest on the capital from which they should have derived their income for the past ten years.

    Secondly, the least that the Treasury can do is to waive the claim to recover the £5,000 it advanced to the Association of Former British Officials in Egypt so that it could pay the lawyers who drew up and substantiated the claims of these unfortunate people.

    Finally, the British Government have an obligation not to encourage any British subjects to take up employment with the U.A.R. until the just, legitimate, and substantiated claims of these British officials who were dismissed unilaterally, in breach of their contracts of service, have been fully vindicated. This, I regret to say, is not a purely hypothetical remark.

    Earlier this year, advertisements appeared which were sponsored by the British Council, inviting applications from British subjects to serve under the Egyptian Government. The Times, on 6th April last, carried an advertisement —and this also appeared in The Times Educational Supplement—for lecturer-ships in English in the Higher Teachers' College in Heliopolis and two other places. The replies were invited to be sent to the Director of Recruitment, British Council, 65, Davies Street, London, W.1.

    I submit that if the British Government lend support to the recruiting of British subjects for employment with the United Arab Republic while the claims of these British citizens dismissed in 1951 remain unsatisfied, then they are betraying their obligations to these officials and are also abdicating from any future ability to protect the rights of British subjects who may be arbitrarily dismissed in clear breach of contracts of service.

    Egypt is a country with which the United Kingdom had a unique relationship; and one not only from history, but also by treaty. That treaty was still in force in 1951 and, therefore, I seek from my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal assurances that the Government will not encourage any British subjects to take up employment in the United Arab Republic while these claims remain unsettled.

    I would remind the House that the Export Credits Guarantee Department refused to underwrite credits to some South American republics which have defaulted on claims owing to British firms, on the ground that if it encouraged fresh credits it would be acting to the detriment of the previous creditors. The same analogy applies in the context of which I am speaking. I ask the Lord Privy Seal to persuade the Treasury—and I have given his hon. Friend the Minister of State adequate notice of these proposals to enable him to receive sanction from the Treasury—to say that it agrees that the claims for £5,000 for the solicitors' bill should be waived.

    I look forward to hearing from the Lord Privy Seal not further assurances of good will towards these people, but a statement that their claims will be pressed fully by Her Majesty's Government and that, when they are paid, they will be paid not in blocked sterling assets in Egypt, but in available currency and that, in so far as some of the claimants have been forced to seek employment abroad, they will be able to take their compensation and invest it if they so desire in the country where they are now located.

    These people have been without effective sustenance for ten years. Others who have been similarly placed since 1956 have received much more generous treatment. In neither case were we at war with the United Arab Republic, but in both cases the hardship suffered has resulted from—I will not say unjustified—but from the premeditated actions authorised by the British Government. These unfortunate people, 22 of whom have since died so that the number now is 146, look to the Government for effective redress.

    11.20 p.m.

    I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) has had the opportunity of raising this subject tonight. Although it concerns a comparatively small number of people, it is of the greatest importance to each one of them. They certainly have both the interest and the sympathy of every Member of the House, as well as of Her Majesty's Government.

    My hon. Friend stated the position with moderation, clarity, and fairness. I thank him for his courtesy in telling my hon. Friend the Minister of State and myself before this evening the points which he wished to raise with us. I assure him of one thing, namely, that these former officials are certainly not forgotten. My noble Friend the Foreign Secretary has himself taken a very close personal interest in this matter since he came to the Foreign Office. I, too, have followed it very closely indeed, during the last eleven months. As my hon. Friend said, provision was made for compensation for these officials in the Financial Agreement which was reached in 1959. Therefore, I hope that he will accept our assurance that they are certainly not forgotten.

    My hon. Friend has given the history of the problem. I do not wish to go over that. He has recalled that it arose from the incidents in the Canal Zone in 1951. The first step to deal with it was taken in the Exchange of Notes in 1954, when the Egyptian Government, as they were then, agreed to set up an Egyptian Commission to assess the compensation which should be paid to these officials. The Commission met in 1955 to carry out its business, but no settlement had been reached at the time of the Suez crisis. After this, nothing further could be done until the time when the Financial Agreement was being negotiated.

    Under Article III (f) of the Financial Agreement the Government of the United Arab Republic did two things. First, they undertook to pay the United Kingdom Government £100,000 as an interim payment in respect of this compensation. Secondly, they agreed to
    "cause the Commission to make a final assessment of the compensation due and permit the payment of the balance thereof in sterling."
    The point my hon. Friend raised about the means of payment is, therefore, covered in the Agreement. As a result of strong pressure, the Egyptians eventually reconstituted this Commission; but I must tell the House, as I have said at Question Time on several occasions, that we have met with very great difficulty in extracting any final decision from the U.A.R. authorities.

    Meanwhile, the officials concerned formed an association in this country, to which my hon. Friend referred, and discussed their problem with a firm of solicitors, which worked out what it thought should be due to the officials by way of compensation. My hon. Friend has indicated that this was quite a considerable sum. It was, in fact, in the region of £660,000. When Her Majesty's Government heard of this figure, in 1958, they decided to advance a total amount of approximately 15 per cent. of the compensation claimed, in the form of loans to the officials concerned. We did not know at that stage what we would be able to obtain from the Egyptians, but the advances made happened to amount to almost £100,000.

    When the United Arab Republic Government paid over to Her Majesty's Government the £100,000 provided for in the Agreement, the loans made to the officials by the Government were converted into grants. So the indebtedness of the officials to the Government was cancelled. On 15th August, 1960, our mission in Cairo was told by the chairman that the Commission had formulated the criteria according to which compensation could be calculated. Our mission in Cairo then made repeated representations to the Commission about this. Mr. Crowe, who was then chargé. d'affaires in Cairo, made an appeal, on his farewell visit to Mr. Kaissouni, the United Arab Republic Minister of Economics, on 6th February; but no further information was received by us until the visit of Sir George Rendel to Cairo. He went from the Foreign Office to Cairo to discuss this matter and also various outstanding Egyptian claims. He was then told that the Commission was still working on individual cases.

    On 13th March Sir George Rendel saw Hassan Abbas Zaki, Minister of Economics for the Southern Region, who promised to take the matter up and try to get a speedy settlement. Then, on 26th April, Sir Harold Beeley, our Ambassador, called on Hassan Abbas Zaki and reminded him of his promise to Sir George Rendel. Finally, on 1st June this year, a personal message was sent by my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Republic, asking Dr. Fawzi to give this matter his personal attention, so that it might be settled at a very early date.

    I have given these details to show my hon. Friend that since the Commission was reconstituted to deal with this matter we have made repeated representations at frequent intervals to members of the U.A.R. Government and to its officials, to reach a speedy settlement.

    A number of Questions have been put to me in the House in recent weeks about this matter, and I have on each occasion reported the steps which have been taken, and I have said that I hoped a settlement was very near. I had also hoped to be able to tell my hon. Friend this evening that we had been given information that final decisions had been taken by the U.A.R. 'Government on this matter but, unfortunately, I am not yet able to tell him that.

    The present position is that on 21st June—a fortnight ago—the Embassy in Cairo was informed that the Commission had finished its work and that its recommendations were being checked by the Ministry of Finance. But it was also told that in a few days' time, after this process, the report should be ready for consideration by Ministers, and that their decision ought not to be very long delayed. So we are now again hoping that we may receive a decision on this question in the fairly near future. I hope that I have demonstrated to the House that we are most anxious to receive a decision on the final amount of compensation which will be paid by the U.A.R. Government under the Agreement, and that we have made strong and frequent representations to obtain this.

    My hon. Friend raised the question of the £5,000 costs which were involved by the members of the officials' association in obtaining a calculation of the compensation due to them. He gave us notice that he would raise this point. I am quite prepared to consider this matter when we receive information from the U.A.R. Government as to what they are proposing to pay in compensation, and to discuss it with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I cannot give any decision tonight, or any firm undertaking, but I will tell my hon. Friend that when we get the information from the U.A.R. Government which we are expecting shortly I will again look at the question which he has raised.

    The last point that my hon. Friend mentioned was the question of the recruitment of British teachers by the U.A.R. today. This has also been raised on previous occasions in the House by my hon. Friend. When this proposal to assist in the recruitment of British teachers for the U.A.R. was originally considered, we consulted the Chairman and the Secretary of the Association of Former British Officials, to which my hon. Friend referred. We thought it right to discuss this matter with them. After consultation, they both agreed that in all the circumstances we should be justified in going forward with the proposals.

    I have listened to the anxiety which my hon. Friend has expressed that this will compromise our position in regard to the claim for compensation for these officials, but I must tell him that, having examined it thoroughly and discussed it with the Chairman and Secretary of the Association, we do not consider that the interests of the 1951 officials would be betrayed by agreeing to co-operate with the Government of the U.A.R. in this matter. We think that it will help to improve relations between this country and the U.A.R., which is a process on which we have been engaged in recent months.

    But I would also tell the House that we have pointed out, at the same time, to the Government of the U.A.R. that if this compensation question can be speedily and satisfactorily settled, then the recruitment of these new teachers for which they are asking could be very greatly helped. I hope that the U.A.R. will take this view, and, therefore, not only from the point of view of carrying out the obligations under Article III (f) of the Agreement in respect of compensation, but also from the point of view of ensuring the supply of teachers which they now require, they will achieve a speedy settlement of this question.

    I think that the whole House would agree that we should all like to see an end of this matter and that in trying to achieve better relations between our two countries a speedy settlement by the U.A.R. of this matter would greatly help us and would be of great advantage to both countries.

    I hope that my hon. Friend will feel that we have done our utmost for these officials. We have their interests very much at heart. We know exactly how much it matters to each one of them. As my hon. Friend very properly has said, this has gone on for a very long time, and we are all most anxious that we should have a settlement in the near future. I hope very much that it will now not he long before I can tell the House one day at Question Time that a satisfactory settlement has been reached.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes to Twelve o'clock.