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Third Schedule—(Provisions Of The Act Of 1955 Repealed)

Volume 643: debated on Wednesday 5 July 1961

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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Since the reorganisation provisions of the 1955 Act are being repealed by this Bill it follows that Section 37 (2) of that Act should also be repealed.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.