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I beg to move, in page 2, line 3, at the end, to insert:
and in carrying out their functions shall have regard to local circumstances and conditions.
In Committee, the Opposition put down an Amendment to this subsection to insert:
the requirements of local circumstances and conditions and the general requirements of the crofting counties of any part thereof and subject to.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite will remember that after discussion of the Amendment I undertook to consider whether words could be inserted to meet at least some part of the Amendment. I said that we did not find ourselves able to accept the whole of it, for reasons which I gave with regard to its very wide application to the whole of the crofting counties. I said I would see whether we could accept the other part.
This we have done by putting down an Amendment requiring local circumstances and conditions to be taken into account. I am thus fulfilling the promise I made in Committee.
We are most grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary for giving effect to his promise, which is reported in col. 19 of the Report of the Scottish Standing Committee for 22nd February this year. We said that we would await what he was able to put on the Paper and decide whether to put something down. The hon. Gentleman has put this Amendment down, which, in fact, gives effect to the promise he made.
The view was expressed by many of my hon. Friends in the Committee that the whole Amendment that we then proposed was reasonable. We feel a little regret that the Minister has gone only half-way to meet us, but I imagine that we ought to be grateful for small mercies and must accept what we have now got.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 7, at the end, to insert:
(4) The Commission shall include members with knowledge of crofting conditions and at least one member who can speak the Gaelic language.
There was considerable discussion on this question in Committee. The Opposition put down this Amendment:
(4) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State in appointing the Commission to ensure that one or more of the members is a person who can speak the Gaelic language, that one or more of the members is a person who has practical experience of crofting and that a majority of the members have knowledge of crofting conditions.
The Government indicated that they would accept that part of the Amendment which referred to the necessity to have a Gaelic speaker on the Commission. I gave that undertaking. We felt that it would make things rather difficult for the Secretary of State, and, in particular, for any future Secretary of State, if we went further and accepted the whole Opposition Amendment, because it would be tying and binding them in their future choice of members. After listening to the views expressed, I said that we had accepted the Gaelic speaker idea and would again look at the second part of the Amendment and consider how far we
could go to meet the arguments advanced by hon. Members opposite.
Every hon. Member will agree that, whoever the Secretary of State may be, the most important thing is that we should have the best people selected to be members of the Commission. On inquiry, I am informed that experience has shown that it is often unwise to lay down in a statute of this sort too strict or too elaborate qualifications. They could easily lead to difficulty after the initial appointments had been made. It is possibly quite a simple matter to fulfil certain qualifications initially—when we are starting afresh—but we do not want to go so far that we may so bind future Secretaries of State for Scotland as to prevent the best people being elected to the Commission.
For example, in the initial stages it may be possible to appoint a member to the Crofters Commission who has the best practical experience of crofting and who has a knowledge of the Gaelic language. That is quite possible. Looking a little further ahead, there may come a time when the Minister may have to replace that member on retirement and it may well be that the person whom he has in mind as best able to serve on the Commission could fulfil only one of the conditions laid down by statute. Therefore, although we are able to accept the principle of the Gaelic speaker, and have incorporated it in this Amendment, here again we have not been able to meet the Opposition entirely.
The Amendment takes this as far as we think it wise to go having regard to the duties that will fall upon any future Secretary of State when he re-appoints people. It recognises the importance of having on the Commission some members possessing a knowledge of crofting conditions. It also meets the views of the Committee in favour of including a member who can speak the Gaelic language. With that explanation, I hope that the House will accept the Amendment.
Mr. Hector McNeil:
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will not be surprised to learn that we are disappointed by the Government's response. I can scarcely imagine anyone on the Front Bench opposite who could have made such an answer with more reluctance than, I am sure, did the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman is a practical farmer, who, quite apart from his Governmental capacity, has given great service to farming. He knows that this Commission is to take over the role of the agricultural executive committee for this very huge area. Would he suggest to his professional brethren in Perthshire or Stirlingshire that there should be an agricultural executive committee which had in its membership not one man having practical knowledge and experience of the industry? Of course he would not. He would not dare. Yes, despite arguments which were not seriously contested in Committee, he now says " I cannot do this." Why? Because he considered the difficulties of the Commission? Not at all. It is because he is concerned about the difficulties of a Secretary of State. That is certainly the wrong approach.
I do not want to be ungracious. The Joint Under-Secretary was anxious to meet us and brought an intimate knowledge of the situation to the Committee's service. I do not want to appear ungrateful. But now, not having seriously contested that aspect of the argument in Committee, the Government say, " We are sorry; we cannot do anything about it." It really is a disappointing reply and one that may seriously embarrass the Commission. The Commission cannot be thought to be best endowed for its work if it is without a man having practical experience of this localised, complex and highly peculiar industry.
Moreover, if there is not such a person necessarily and statutorily on the Commission, it will in some degree forfeit the confidence of the people to whom it must immediately appeal. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that it may turn out that such a person may be on the Commission. The crofters will not be looking at this in terms of what a benevolent Secretary of State may do for them. They will expect their reasonable demands to be met. In this case, those demands will not be met.
In Committee, we made three points—I think all of equal worth. I would not say that the Government's concession is the least important, but the point from which the Under-Secretary of State has run away—that of practical knowledge—is certainly the most important. Perhaps,
also, we were not quite right in using in our Amendment the words:
…a person who can speak the Gaelic language…
I think we could have found a more facile phrase. In conversation we talk of a Gaelic speaker. I hope that this phrase will not be taken by a lawyer to mean that because a man writes the language he is disqualified. " Gaelic speaker " would be a better phrase.
I plead with the hon. Gentleman to consider whether, in the light of arguments which were not contested from the other side except by one hon. Gentleman, he cannot find an opportunity in another place to put right this omission. There will otherwise undoubtedly be a great deal of criticism from the people who will come under the régime of the Commission.
I do not quite understand the adamant disappointment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil). I take it that it is to the omission of the word " practical " that he objects. Or does he object to all the members not having a knowledge of crofting?
No. We made three points. We did not press the point about a majority having a knowledge of crofting conditions. I think that our strongest argument was directed to the necessity of having a man from the field, as it were.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there should be members with a practical knowledge of crofting, but I do not believe that in this case a majority is really vitally necessary.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned agricultural executive committees, but the Crofters Commission will have powers far wider than the agricultural executive committees have ever had. It has many things to look into. For example, it can take over the powers of the landlord. I hope it was a slip on his part, but I am disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman did not acknowledge that both the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. N. McLean) and I put down an Amendment that there should be a Gaelic speaker.
I want to acknowledge my appreciation, and that of all people in the crofting communities, of the fact that the Government have seen fit to put down this Amendment. It will certainly mean a great deal to the people in the areas concerned, and it will facilitate the Commission in its work.
I take it that it is clear that, after this Bill has passed into law, the members of the agricultural executive committees will lose their authority in enforcing good husbandry on crofts, and that that authority will pass to the Commission. If that is so, it is important that the same standard shall be enforced by the Commission as has hitherto been enforced by the agricultural executive committees. There are many districts where one holding is a croft and the next one is not a croft. One will be under the Commission and the other will not.
May I take it that the Commission will probably use the same officers as the agricultural executive committees do now, so that there will be people with a practical knowledge applying the same standards as are set out in the Fourth Schedule to crofts and to holdings which are not crofts?
I should like to follow what has been said by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), who put his finger on a point which the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) overlooked. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about this vast area which the Crofters Commission is to look after. It will not look after that area. It will only look after the crofting areas in the crofting counties, which is a different matter. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, the powers of the agricultural executive committees and of the Crofters Commission are quite different; but surely, in matters of good husbandry, the same standards will be followed and possibly the same officers will be employed in watching the good husbandry of crofts and of neighbouring farms.
The other point I want to mention is this. If the Crofters Commission is composed of normal, intelligent people, and is set up by a normal, intelligent Secretary of State, surely it does not require to be laid down here that the members of the Commission shall have a practical knowledge, provided they have a knowledge of crofting.
A Gaelic speaker is a matter for one area only. A Gaelic speaker will not be of any assistance to the crofters in Orkney or Shetland. But we are anxious that there should be on the Commission one member who is able to speak the Gaelic language. I hope the House will accept this Amendment, which goes a long way to meet the objections which were raised in Committee.
I will not quarrel with the Minister about the Gaelic-speaking provision, because I think he has met us there. We say that one or more members should be able to speak the Gaelic language, and he says, in his Amendment, " at least one." I cannot imagine that ultimately it will remain at just one. The words " at least one " are perfectly satisfactory, and I have no quarrel with that part of the Amendment.
As I have indicated before, I do not admit that simply by including a Gaelic speaker on the Commission, the other conditions of our Amendment in Committee have been satisfied. Another Secretary of State, perhaps a less wise one, might appoint a distinguished Gaelic poet with no other qualifications at all, and certainly with no knowledge of crofting. Therefore, to satisfy the Gaelic-speaking condition does not necessarily satisfy the qualification regarding practical experience.
This qualification is vitally important. We need the most appropriate people on this Commission, people with the best knowledge of conditions in the areas concerned and with the best administrative experience. While we may differ about what section of the community these people should be drawn from—such as schoolmasters, the professional classes, and so on—nevertheless, we have agreed generally that the provision should be wide enough to enable the Secretary of State to find the best people for the job. I am sure that we all agree that the best qualifications are those appropriate to the problems which have to be solved.
To ask that the Commission shall include persons with practical experience of crofting is not unreasonable. There is no provision in this Amendment for including those with practical experience of crofting, and I am afraid there will be disappointment among the crofting communities if this Amendment is accepted. I am sure that it would add prestige to the Commission and would in every way bring good will to that body in its work from the very beginning if we could all agree on the necessity for including persons with practical knowledge of crofting.
I have further criticism of the Amendment. Looking at it in conjunction with our Amendment in Committee, in which we asked that there should be a majority of members with knowledge of crofting conditions, in the Amendment under discussion there is no reference to a majority of such persons. To say
shall include members with knowledge of crofting conditions
does not in any way define the qualifications which we seek. We might have on the Commission two members with a knowledge of crofting conditions, however vague, and four members with no knowledge whatsoever.
We do not quarrel with the Gaelic-speaking part of this Amendment. " At least one " is satisfactory. We feel, however, that the Commission would be weakened considerably if it did not include members with a practical knowledge of crofting and a majority, at any rate, with a knowledge of crofting conditions. I do not mean that a member should have had an ancestor who owned a croft a hundred years ago. At least one person should have a practical knowledge of crofting and the majority should have a really good knowledge of crofting conditions. These conditions are not in this Amendment, and I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not seen fit to strengthen it.
I reinforce the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) because that was the aspect with which I was primarily con- cerned during the Committee stage, namely, that a majority of the members of the Commission should have some knowledge of crofting conditions.
The Government's Amendment is a rather strange one. It provides that the Commission shall include members with knowledge of crofting conditions. Surely it is not expected that the Government would appoint a Commission with no members who had knowledge of crofting conditions. Therefore, why include such words? They seem to me to be meaningless. I should have thought that at least a majority of the members should have some knowledge of crofting conditions.
We have been told that the Commission will deal with a vast range of subjects. The subjects are all related to crofting. No matter what the subject is, the Commission will be dealing with it only in so far as it affects crofting areas. Surely, to understand any problem, no matter whether it is one very closely associated with cultivation of the croft or remote from the actual cultivation, it has to be taken into consideration in terms of the crofting community. I should have thought that even when dealing with the wider problems it was necessary to have knowledge of crofting conditions.
The Government ought to look at their Amendment again, when the Bill goes to another place, and try to make the composition of the Commission a little clearer. The first part of the Amendment seems to be meaningless unless it is assumed that the Government would appoint a Commission with no one on it having knowledge of crofting conditions. There ought to be a positive provision that someone shall have practical experience of crofting.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) pointed out, that is important in view of the obligations resting on the Commission for the actual husbandry of the crofts and for other reasons. It is a very modest request that at least a majority of the members of a commission dealing with crofting should have some knowledge of crofting. I am surprised that the Government have not yielded on this point.
I am very pleased that the Government have decided to include a Gaelic speaker, which should be very useful indeed when the Commission gets to work.
However, my faith is a little shaken in respect of what I anticipated the Commission would attempt when I consider what has happened to other parts of the Amendment put forward during the Committee stage. I am shocked that the Joint Under-Secretary, who has a vast knowledge of agriculture and conditions in the crofting counties, should coolly state that he does not think it necessary that even one person on the Commission should have a practical knowledge of crofting.
I am surprised at the acceptance of this by hon. Members opposite from the Highlands, for it is their responsibility more than it is mine. I have roots there and, naturally, I am concerned about it. The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) thought the members would have practical experience anyhow. Seemingly, the Government wish to guard against that. The statement by the Joint Under-Secretary conveyed to me that no working crofter would be on the Commission. The Secretary of State has, apparently, made up his mind, and he must bear some responsibility—
If the Secretary of State is as forthcoming as that, then I am sorry.
The position now is that if, in any of the Highland counties, there is a practical crofter who can attend meetings, talk intelligently and get on with five other people, he may be appointed to the Commission. I cannot imagine that the right hon. Gentleman will not be able to find suitable types of person still in the Highlands although we have exported many elsewhere who are now engaged in commerce, industry, medicine and other useful activities. I hope that as a result of the Secretary of State's intervention we have a good chance of getting at least one such person on the Commission.
I feel that the wording proposed by the Secretary of State:
The Commission shall include members with knowledge of crofting conditions….
gives a wrong impression, as if such persons might be excluded. Why should the wording be in that form? Those interested in the matter would conclude from reading the reports of our deliberations in Committee that people who had a knowledge of crofting conditions would be included. I ask the Secretary of State to consider the picas which have been made about the appointment of persons with practical knowledge of crofting.
The answer to what has been said can be summed up briefly in this manner. The Secretary of State will do his very best to get a crofter, a man with practical experience, on the Commission. Such a man will not be excluded because he is a crofter. We shall do our very best to find the right type of person, but he will need to be the most suitable person. We want on the Commission the most suitable people.
In the Amendment we meet the point about a Gaelic speaker, but we do not want to bind the Secretary of State or future Secretaries of State. There may be available an extremely able practical man with a good knowledge of crofting conditions who is not necessarily a crofter. It would not be right to bind the Secretary of State and future Secretaries of State specifically to appoint a crofter. Others who are not necessarily crofters may be more suitable for the task. It would be unwise to go as far as has been suggested. We must leave future Secretaries of State free to do the best they can.
In setting up the Commission, on which the Bill hangs, my right hon. Friend will try to get the best and most practical men, men with a real knowledge of the crofting areas. No one need be afraid of that. If we can find a crofter for the Commission he will certainly be on it. We want to be sure, however, that he will be the best man.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked if it was a fact that the Commission would take over the powers of the agricultural executive committees to dispossess for bad husbandry. He also asked whether it would be the same officers on whom the Commission would rely for advice. The answer is that the Commission does, in fact, receive such powers under the Bill. But I should like to make it clear that they are slightly different in that the standards of good or bad husbandry of the crofters take into account provisions that do not apply to the ordinary farmer. The standards will be slightly different because these are, in fact, part-time people.
Generally speaking, the officers who advise the A.E.C.s would be the same people, but not necessarily so in every case. It would depend on the particular circumstances. I hope that hon. Members opposite will realise that we are really out for the same thing which they are out for, but we do not want to fetter a future Minister by laying down in the statute that someone must be a crofter. in case it should be difficult to do this in making re-appointments.
May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we might have a crofter, who had vacated his croft and gone to farm elsewhere on the mainland, who would be a most suitable man for the job? It would be a great pity to make this too strict.
That person, of course, would have been eligible if our advice had been taken, because we said that he had to be a person with practical experience of crofting.
There is no occupant of the Government Front Bench who would say that it would be wrong for Parliament to decide that the Crofters Commission, which has such authority in the crofting area, which is to take over the functions of the agricultural executive committees in the crofting areas, which is to supervise good husbandry in the crofting areas, should be without one single person who has practical experience of crofting. No one would say that it should be without one person who has practical experience of crofting.
The Joint Under-Secretary has led us to believe that when the Commission is appointed it will contain at least one person who has practical experience of crofting. The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) said that we could all trust the Secretary of State. Let me put to him what he said in Committee. II: was this:
We must ensure that whoever is appointed to the Commission must have knowledge of the subject with which the Commission is to deal, because, otherwise, I cannot see how the Commission is to work at all."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. Scottish Standing Committee, 22nd February, 1955, c. 45.]
If it is so necessary to have at least one person with practical knowledge of crofting conditions, surely Parliament not only has the right but the duty to say so in the Act of Parliament which provides for setting up the Commission.
If we do not say in the Act that there must be at least one person with practical experience of crofting, having regard to what the Joint Under-Secretary has said about binding a future Secretary of State, we are making it quite clear that a future Secretary of State will be free to choose six good men and true to serve on the Commission, not one of whom has any practical experience of crofting conditions.
These are the persons who are to supervise crofting. They are to see whether or not the crofter is cultivating his land according to the rules of good husbandry. They are the persons who are to deal with the absentee crofter, to deal with vacant crofts, and who are to enlarge existing crofts and take into account what is likely to be of benefit to the crofting area as a whole, without one single person among them with any practical experience of crofting. It is unthinkable that Parliament should give its blessing to the setting up of a Commission which did not contain one or more persons with practical experience of crofting
The closest analogy which we can get is an analogy with the agricultural executive committee. Most of the agricultural executive committees are composed of people who, in the main, have knowledge and practical experience of agriculture. The agricultural industry would expect that to be so, mainly or wholly, but in most cases it could be said of the people serving on the committees that they are all knowledgeable of agriculture and all have practical experience of agriculture.
Those of us who are not in agriculture say that it is right that, with these great duties given to agricultural executive committees by statute, they should be composed mainly—we do not say exclusively —of persons with practical experience of agriculture. Why should the crofters not be so provided for in the statute, so that at least one person with practical experience and practical knowledge of their difficulties and their industry shall be a member of the Commission from which so much is expected?
If the Commission is to do the job which all of us expect it to do, it must surely have people with practical experience of crofting in its membership. Even the Taylor Commission, which was set up to make the inquiry, had among its members persons with practical experience of crofting. I am reminded that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) who set up the Taylor Commission. In any case, this Commission did not consist wholly—one—would not expect it to—of persons of practical knowledge and experience of crofting conditions, but it had within its membership persons who were informed about crofting conditions and who could speak the language.
I am certain that the Taylor's Commission was more acceptable in the crofting districts, when it went round gathering evidence, because it had among its membership persons with knowledge of crofting conditions. I cannot believe that the Government take the view that the Commission which is to be set up by this Bill is calculated to win and hold the confidence of the crofters in the crofting areas if it does not have one or more of its members who are persons with experience in crofting.
The Joint Under-Secretary need not say that he will amend the Bill here and now. Let him tell us that between now and the Bill being considered in Committee in another place he will have another look at it. He promised to consider this point in Committee between the Committee stage and the Report stage. He has told us that as a result of his further consideration he does not feel able to meet us and to provide that there shall be one or more persons with practical experience on the Commission. Let him now say that he will give this matter some further thought before the Bill reaches another place. Let it not go out to the crofters for whom we are legislating that we consider it would be fitting for the Crofters Commission to be set up without a crofter on it.
I am sure that the Joint Under-Secretary will recognise the justice of our case. In this Amendment the Government concede nothing, because the point about a member speaking the Gaelic language was conceded in 1886.
The Joint Under-Secretary was neither effective nor convincing in his reply. He said that it would be left open to a future Secretary of State to do certain things. Let me remind him that other Secretaries of State will not take the trouble to turn up the answer which has been made. If this is left as it is, they will be able to put just anyone on the Commission. I appeal to the Government to reconsider the position. We want to try to pass satisfactory legislation. If this is allowed to go on, I am sure the Government will agree that it is slipshod legislation which will not satisfy those who have to scratch the soil of Scotland for a living. I add my appeal to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser).
No. not unless I am provoked.
Many of us would feel like going into the Lobby and voting against this Amendment were it not for the fact that the concession about Gaelic speaking is involved. I ask the Secretary of State to make it easier for us by considering giving a further concession which we regard as right to be embodied in this part of the Bill, namely, to make sure that there will be a person with practical experience of crofting on the Commission, in terms of his own definition. Will the Secretary of State concede some form of wording which would bring in a person with practical experience of crofting? That person may be one who has been a crofter but is now a farmer, a schoolmaster, a lawyer, or a civil servant.
I assure the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) and those who have spoken on this stage of the Bill on this subject that since the Committee stage we have given very careful consideration to this point. I am, of course, quite willing to say that we will look at it again to see whether we can improve upon it in any way, but I would not be fair to hon. Members if I said I thought I could alter the wording which we now propose to insert in the Bill.
Although, as the House knows, I was not present during the Committee stage, I have read the Official Report of the proceedings of the Committee and I have it here. I am glad to say that I think we are now in agreement on the subject of the Gaelic-speaking member, but I am really nervous about fettering a future Secretary of State too much because the whole object must be to get the best men on the Commission. This Amendment does not exclude any working crofter or any man with practical experience of crofting.
The right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) has had experience of getting people to work on bodies like this. The Commission is a small body which will have important work to perform and it is vital to its success to get the right people on it. Not everyone whom one may want would be prepared to accept the job of sitting on a body such as this. I think the House would be well advised not to fetter whoever occupies the office I have the honour to occupy at present.
As I endeavoured to say in an interruption, we would welcome a man with practical experience on to the Commission. He would not be excluded; we would welcome more than one. But I would rather not lay it down in an Act of Parliament that certain people with certain experience have got to be on a Commission such as this as it is not just a question of farming a croft. The Commission has to deal with much wider work and I think it very important that we should get the right persons for the job.
At the same time, I repeat that we will look at the matter again. I shall speak to my noble Friend who will be dealing with the matter in another place, and if we can devise any wording which we think will be more satisfactory to hon. Members opposite I shall not hesitate to adopt it.
Does the right hon. Gentleman doubt his ability to secure one man having practical experience of crofting who is suitable for the Commission? Does he think that that would be difficult? Does he doubt his ability to choose from the crofting community such a man? If not, why does he not agree?
As this is still a Bill and not an Act of Parliament, I have not been able to approach anyone to sit on the Commission, but when I am in a position to do so I shall take the first opportunity of discovering whether a man with practical experience as a crofter is suitable for the job.
is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Commission set up by the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) to go into the whole crofting question there was only one crofter and that she voted against?
I am sure the hon. and gallant Member does me an injustice. We are not proposing that a crofter should be on this Commission but, in the terms we originally used, that someone with practical knowledge of crofting should serve on it. That criterion, applied to the Taylor Commission, would give us three people.