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Clause 17. — (Absentee Crofters.)

Crofters (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th March 1955.

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Photo of Mr William Snadden Mr William Snadden , Kinross and West Perthshire 12:00 am, 29th March 1955

I beg to move, in page 15, line 32, after " shall " to insert: take into consideration all the circumstances of the case, including the extent, if any, to which the croft is being worked and, where the croft is being worked by a member of the crofter's family, the nature of the arrangements under which it is being so worked, and shall. The House will remember that, when we discussed Clause 17 in Committee, the Opposition moved an Amendment inserting an additional condition which would have to be fulfilled before the Commission could terminate the tenancy of an absentee crofter. It was that the croft was not ordinarily cultivated by the crofter or a member of his family, with or without hired labour. The Opposition's general line of argument was that since the main purpose of providing power for the dispossession of absentee crofters was to ensure that the crofts were properly worked and that the tenants were people who took part in the life of the crofting community, the Commission should take account of the extent to which the croft was being worked and it should not have the power to terminate the tenancy where the crofter had made reasonable arrangements for a member of his family to work the croft on his behalf.

That argument was based on the formula that the general conditions of a crofting tenancy entitled a crofter to have the croft worked by himself or a member of his family. Anyone who pauses to think about this matter will see that there is a wide variety of cases to be considered. A crofter may be more or less a permanent resident abroad and have little intention of ever returning to this country, and it may well be that his brother is working the croft with no security of tenure at all. In such circumstances, it may be only right that the absentee should be dispossessed and the brother who works the croft should have the croft.

The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) drew attention to this question when he said: There have been some very hard cases where individuals have gone away and left the croft in the hands of somebody else who has cultivated it, and cultivated it well, and who then came back and dispossessed the genuine cultivator who lived on it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 10th March, 1955, c. 262.] That is one case.

5.0 p.m.

On the other hand, one has the case of a crofter who may well leave a township to earn his living somewhere else but, in doing that, may make a quite satisfactory arrangement for a relative to work the croft on his behalf, and the relative may be the crofter of an adjoining croft. Those are extreme cases. We know that in between there may be other cases. By and large, we feel that the right course here is to leave the decision to the discretion of the Commission. However, we agree that the points raised in Committee were of considerable importance, and we feel that the Commission should be given some guidance on this matter. The only possible way of doing that is that it should take these matters into account.

The Amendment provides that before making an order for dispossession of an absentee tenant the Commission shall take all circumstances into account. It is required to consider the extent to which the croft has been worked, and if the croft is being worked by a member of the absentee's family the Commission has further to consider the actual nature of the arrangements that have been made. I think we have in this way met the general point which was raised in Committee, and it is in the light of these considerations that the Commission will exercise its discretion.