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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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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.