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

Volume 643: debated on Wednesday 5 July 1961

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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.]