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I beg to move, in page 39, line 15, at the end, insert:
(4) Notwithstanding anything in this Act, the right of any person to succeed to the tenancy of a holding, whether by virtue of a bequest made by the tenant thereof or by
virtue of the right to the tenancy having devolved upon the heir-at-law of the tenant, shall, if the tenant died before the commencement of this Act, be determined as if this Act had not passed.
The Amendment will no doubt rejoice the heart of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel). Its effect is to provide for cases where crofters have died before the Bill becomes an Act. It provides that the arrangement for succession will take place under the old law and not under the new law.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Perhaps I ought to say that I am sorry that I was not present during the Committee stage, but I moved the Second Reading of the Bill and at that time I expressed the hope that it would not arouse any very serious party controversy but would be welcomed in general by all parties in the House. I am glad to say that discussions in Committee and on Report fulfilled this hope because, apart from a number of points of difference on which Amendments were put down, there has been a general measure of agreement about the objects of the Bill and the desirability of passing it into law.
On Second Reading, I expressed the Government's thanks and my personal thanks to Principal Sir Thomas Taylor and his colleagues for their labours on the Commission and for the admirable Report which they produced. I happen to know a little of the immense amount of work which the Commission had to undertake and I know, also, that Sir Thomas Taylor himself did a great deal of work in providing us with this excellent Report. I am glad to think that he will see some of the results of his labours having legislative effect so soon and so expeditiously.
It is not always the case that reports of such commissions can be carried into effect so expeditiously. I am glad to have been able to take some small part in bringing this about. I have heard it suggested, in this House and elsewhere, that Governments sometimes appoint commissions to waste time rather than to achieve results. I have even heard it suggested that the reports of commissions have been known to find their way into pigeon-holes from which they have never managed to struggle out again into the light of day.
That has not been so in this case. Though the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) was responsible for setting up the Commission, I am glad to think that we have been able to introduce a Bill so soon after the Commission reported. I hope that now we are taking the first step towards making this Bill law, subject, of course, to its having a fairly easy passage through another place which, I trust, it will receive.
As I have already said, I was not able to attend the meetings of the Standing Committee, and I should like to express my sincere thanks to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State-my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snaddenk)—and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate for the admirable job they did in Committee. It proves once again, if proof be needed, that no man is indispensable. On future occasions I hope that together they will be able to conduct many more Bills in Committee. I certainly wish them well, and thank them sincerely.
I should also like to express my gratitude to hon. Members of all parties who represent Highland constituencies. They have been able to make valuable contributions to the debates because of their special knowledge of the problems dealt with in this Bill. I am glad they have given such useful help, because these problems are not entirely free from an element of controversy. I appreciate, too, the helpful attitude adopted by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Having accepted the main principles of the Taylor Report, and of the Bill, they addressed themselves to endeavouring to improve the Bill and did not attempt to delay it. This helpful co-operation has resulted in a number of improvements to the Measure, and I hope that it will now be regarded as an effective instrument for implementing the report of the Taylor Committee.
The discussions both in this House and in Committee have served several useful purposes. They have brought before the public the problems of the crofting communities and have revealed the lines along which some of these problems may be solved. They have also clarified many issues which will face the new Crofters Commission when it is set up. The Commission will have an onerous task to perform. I hope that our debates have done something to prove to the crofters that the Government, and Parliament, are alive to their problems and needs; that we are anxious to help, and desirous of strengthening and maintaining that contribution which the crofting communities can make to our national life.
If the Bill meets with the approval of the House, we shall be echoing the sentiments expressed in the Taylor Report, not only that the crofting communities deserve to be saved from extinction, but that their restoration can be brought about. I hope, as a result of this Bill, that new life and new heart will be put into these areas. The first step of course, is the passage of the Bill, and thereafter will come the most important task of setting up the Crofters Commission. I shall take careful note of the suggestions and remarks which have been made by hon. Members. I have read the reports of the proceedings in Committee and listened to what has been said today. It is essential that the Commission be composed of the right people and the best people and, so far as possible, of representatives with special knowledge of the conditions in the crofting areas.
I hope that the Commission may be assured that it will have the good will and good wishes of every right hon. and hon. Member. As we know, there is no magical remedy which may be applied to cure the problems which will confront the new Commission. What is required is a well-conceived policy which must be carried out and maintained resolutely over a period of years. In this Bill we have such a policy and I repeat that I am glad to think that it has been generally accepted by all parties. I commend the Bill to the House.
I have no intention of adding much more now to the volume of advice offered to the Government and that which will be offered to the Commission when it is set up. There is, however, one last point which I think should be reiterated. I hope that the Government will persuade the Treasury to offer a good salary to the chairman of the Commission when they find him.
Secondly, I hope that they may be able to offer some assurance to the members of the Commission that they can settle down to this job knowing that they have sufficient time before them; that the Commission may be given some assurance about security of tenure. It is no use appointing a chairman of the Commission for a few years and asking him to live in Inverness, or wherever else it may be, with the feeling that he may possibly lose his job after having settled down there.
I wish I could share the high hopes for the Bill which have been expressed by the Secretary of State. I am doubtful whether the Bill alone will repopulate the very depopulated Highland glens, but, such as it is, I welcome it and wish to speed it on its way.
I am sure I shall be expressing the opinion of my hon. Friends if I thank the right hon. Gentleman for all that is best in this Bill. I consider that there is a lot of good in it provided, as we have said so often in this House, that the right people get down to the job and are supplied with adequate finances and armed with the right powers. Only time will tell whether all these needs will be fulfilled. We wish the right hon. Gentleman well in his task of appointing the members of the Commission and supporting them in their labours.
If I may strike a personal note, I think that all of us, on this side of the House at any rate, missed the right hon. Gentleman during our Committee discussions. But I can assure him that the Joint Under-Secretary carried out his duties as though the Secretary of State had not existed, and was not needed. Our relations with the Joint Under-Secretary throughout the Committee stage were of the best, in spite of the fact that many controversial arguments were raised, generally by hon. Members on this side of the House.
I should like to thank the Joint Under-Secretary for his helpfulness and the way in which he met us over a number of Amendments. I would also compliment him on the adept way in which he managed to get rid of some Amendments, and the manner in which he offered us a great many words without giving us any- thing of substance. That may be an advantage to a man in his office.
In a few days I shall be going back to my constituency and my crofter constituents. There, I shall be answerable for the defects in this Bill. It is I who will suffer for anything which is wrong with this Measure—not the Secretary of State, or the Joint Under-Secretary, or my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), or my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil). I shall have to explain to my constituents why we did not tear the Bill to shreds during the Committee stage. Hon. Members representing constituencies there will be answerable in the Highlands and Islands to the local crofters and grazing committees. Even the absentee crofters will turn up to criticise us.
When I saw the result of the last General Election in Greenock I had no doubt that my right hon. Friend must have many intelligent people from the Highlands in his constituency—and we hope to see some of them appointed to the Commission in due course.
This is not the Bill that we in the Labour Party should have introduced. Ours, in the nature of things, would have been a much better one. I am sure that nobody, on either side of the House, would say that the Bill will do all the things which are necessary to solve the problems of the Highlands and Islands. They are many and varied, and involve long-term treatment and close attention over many years. They will also involve the expenditure of a great deal of money in respect of which we hope and believe there will be a greater return to the nation if it is properly applied.
Hon. Members have shown various degrees of enthusiasm about the idea of a Highland executive authority. I shall not raise that matter now, because it would not be permissible. Divisions of opinion have occurred between hon. Members on each side of the House as to whether we should have such an authority. Both parties are divided on it. I understand that even the Liberal Party is divided against himself—if I may say so in the light of its present representation in the House—upon that issue; though that party supports Scottish Home Rule more directly than others. At least, I think he does.
We recognise that the Bill has a limited purpose, and, also, that it was skilfully drafted within its limits. Our criticisms were directed to trying to widen its scope and powers, to increase the provision of money, and to make sure, as far as possible, that people with the most appropriate and suitable qualifications were appointed to carry out its functions. All things considered, I, for one, am prepared to face my grazings committees and electors of all parties and tell them that I know that the purpose and intention of the Government upon this occasion have been wholly in the interests of the crofters and of Highland development. The novelty of such a statement from me ought to appeal to my constituents.
Whether the Bill will fall short of that purpose or fulfil it is something which only time can tell, but we wish it well and we wish the Commission well. With that intention, we have supported the Bill and tried to improve it by moving what we hoped were constructive Amendments during the Committee stage and again in our comments today. We hope that the Bill will succeed in its purpose.
I have no crofting problem in my part of Perthshire, but I think it is desirable that all hon. Members who are not directly concerned with crofting problems should support any action that may be taken to ease those problems. It has been said that the Bill may not do much to repopulate the crofting areas, and that may or may not be true, but one thing which is quite certain is that it will at least help to prevent their further depopulation, and if the Bill is successful to that extent it will certainly not have been a waste of time.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan), who also has no crofting problems in his constituency, has rendered signal service to the Bill by his efforts during the Committee stage. With great respect and diffidence I urge all hon. Members, whichever constituency they represent, to associate themselves with the problem of keeping Highland life going in the crofting counties. Anything that we can say or do to help we should do. Although we are not directly concerned with the crofting counties we have an interest in the welfare of our country as a whole, of which those counties represent an important part.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will take the utmost care over the selection of members of the Commission, upon which the success or failure of the Bill completely depends. I am sure we can rely upon him to do his utmost, because the job to be done is worthy of the best men.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) in expressing appreciation to the Joint Under-Secretary for the manner in which he conducted the Bill during the Committee stage and the spirit in which he co-operated with us and showed a willingness to accept some of our Amendments.
I cannot help feeling that the Bill does not go very far towards what we should like to see done in the Highlands. It is true that it sets up the Crofters Commission and gives it wide powers over crofting matters such as the cultivation of land and the reorganisation of townships, but its success will depend upon the setting in which that work takes place and, therefore, upon the solution of a vast number of other problems.
During the Committee stage we tried to tackle those problems by inserting a schedule, the principle of which was accepted by the Government and is now incorporated in Clause 2 (1), but that subsection merely gives the Crofters Commission powers to make recommendations to the Secretary of State. The position, therefore, is that the Commission might be able to pursue a very energetic course in respect of those functions for which it has executive powers, but whether or not that does all that we require depends entirely upon the Government's attitude to the recommendations which will be made to them in respect of the large number of items detailed in Clause 2.
Some people looked forward to the establishment of a kind of development authority for the Highlands, but what we have actually done is to make the Secretary of State a kind of development authority. The Commission is given powers to make recommendations upon a vast number of subjects which we have all agreed are necessary if the crofting community is to enjoy a degree of prosperity and the Highland areas are to be repopulated, but fundamentally the achievement of that aim will depend upon the Government and especially upon the Secretary of State and his ability to extract money from the Exchequer. I hope that the Government will act rather more promptly in connection with the recommendations which are likely to be made by the Commission than they have done in many cases in the past in connection with recommendations made by the Highland Panel and other bodies. My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles would probably agree with that. A great responsibility is certainly placed upon the Secretary of State.
My next point concerns the introduction of the sheriff court and Court of Session into the procedure affecting the Highlands, and the taking away of certain powers from the Land Court and vesting them in the Commission. I can appreciate the reasons which made the Government transfer certain functions from the Land Court to the Commission, where such functions are concerned purely with the activities of the Commission; but I am not so happy about the introduction of the sheriff court and the Court of Session into the procedure affecting the Highlands, because that seems to be going back upon the attitude and outlook which led to the setting up of the Land Court, which was part and parcel of a scheme to enable crofters' problems to be dealt with without expense. Here, we introduce a procedure which entails expense.
I am particularly glad that the Lord Advocate seems to have changed his mind on the question of bequests and the Land Court. The idea that he expressed vigorously in Committee, that these were legal points that ought to be settled by the sheriff court and the Court of Session seems to be no longer valid. This afternoon we have changed the Bill, and introduced a new subsection which goes back to the old procedure. The arguments of the Lord Advocate do not seem to have been very good. If they were not very good in regard to this point I suggest that they are not very good in relation to the other part of the Bill in which he has introduced the Court of Session procedure. His arguments in support of it were exactly the same as he adduced in support of the sheriff court and Court of Session procedure for bequests.
Replying to a question put to him about the new subsection, the Lord Advocate's answer was that the existing procedure was still to be carried out. He was asked specifically about that point. I hope he will look at the sheriff court and the Court of Session procedure again, and will decide to make a further change. Because somebody in St. Andrew's House thinks it is good to give jobs to some of the sheriffs in the Highlands is no reason for altering the principle that has been growing up of crofters getting their difficulties settled by the Land Court. That was a recognition of the fact that legal proceedings are expensive, and that in the case of the crofting community we should try to avoid expense. When the Bill goes to another place, the Government should look at this matter again.
I welcome the Bill because it does something for the Highlands. It will depend largely upon the Secretary of State whether the Crofters Commission proves a success or not, because he can determine the conditions within which it will work. I appeal to the Government to give the Crofters Commission conditions in which it can work to bring about the realisation of what we all wish to achieve.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) said that on the appointments made by the Secretary of State the success of the Bill would depend. That is what everybody realises throughout Scotland. Every crofter knows that the personnel of the Commission will make or mar the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the recommendations of the Highland Panel. The present Secretary of State and his predecessors did quite a lot in the way of accepting the recommendations of that organisa- tion. I do not understand why there should be doubt about any Secretary of State now, or in the future, acting upon the recommendations of the Crofters Commission when it is set up.
I am convinced that the Bill will be a great success, but many crofters do not believe it. A leading journal in the Highlands was all against the introduction of the Bill. I shall be meeting people on that journal next week and shall have to account to them. I am convinced that the Bill will be a success and that it is necessary in order to obtain better conditions for the crofters.
During the passage of the Bill I have always said that in appointing people to replace casualties among members of the Commission any Secretary of State for Scotland would select people who were most suitable for appointment. On that ground we shall be able to convince the crofters that the Bill, far from being unnecessary, will improve their position, their security and their future in the Highlands. I welcome the Bill.
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) that some people in the Highlands are rather lukewarm about the Bill and the Crofters Commission. We, who have been dealing with the Bill, recognise that great benefits can be achieved from it if we get a proper Commission. We all sincerely hope that the Commission will have great success, and that its work will be for the lasting good of the population throughout the Highlands. That is what we have all been attempting to do at all stages of the Bill.
I would ask the Government one or two questions, the first of which is about the new subsection (7) that we have accepted this afternoon to Clause 16, to deal with the situation where a croft becomes vacant, and, after six months, the landlord can give notice to the Secretary of State, who must then purchase the buildings on the croft. Is that not an unprecedented power of direction for any landlord to have? I do not know of any similar direction at the disposal of the crofters. Have the Government really made up their minds on this point?
It has been argued that the landlord will need to pay compensation to the out- going tenant. Have the Government assessed the cheapest way for them to approach the matter? Are they to become the possessors of a lot of old buildings on a number of crofts in the crofting counties? What use are the Government to make of them?
It is a new principle for a landlord to direct the Secretary of State. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman says that it is in another portion of the Bill then the Secretary of State is twice directed by the same people. The crofter has not a similar power to direct the Secretary of State to purchase something from him.
The point was made about compensation being paid to the outgoing crofter. Has the cost of that been assessed against the cost of purchasing the buildings? Would not the latter be a better method? It would at least make some use of the buildings and the landlord would have some responsibility for them. Otherwise, what will the Secretary of State do with all these outbuildings?
It seems to me that the hon. Member has rather an exaggerated idea about this. The Amendment was put in to deal with the very remote contingency of a croft which, because of an action of the Commission, was unlettable. The landlord has, under the Bill, no control over what the Commission may do. All the Amendment says is that if by any action of the Commission the croft is found to be unlettable, the crofter's outgoing will be met by the Secretary of State.
And the landlord is protected. That is in the tradition of the Tory party. I do not expect anything else.
The Lord Advocate rather twitted me when he spoke to the Amendment in page 39, line 15, but he has added some further legal phraseology there to something which is already complicated. He will remember that in Committee I discussed subsection (4) with him at some length. I take it that that subsection now becomes (5), but all that rigmarole that was so criticised by both sides of the
Committee remains in its entirety. I do not intend to read the subsection again— I inflicted it on the Committee once before. I will only say for the benefit of the Sassenachs now present, who do not know what it means, that it talks about
… any order, rule, regulation, record, application, reference, appointment, loan, agreement, finding or award made…
It goes on almost without limit; one would think that the subsection would never end.
I regret that this has not been simplified; that this unintelligible, legalistic jargon has been kept in its entirety. Nearly all the Bill is very acceptable to many of us but this subsection in its present form is unacceptable. I hope that the Lord Advocate will clearly explain why its present form is necessary. Quite frankly, he did not convey any feeling of confidence in his case when he spoke in Committee. I am quite convinced that no long-practising politician could have produced this subsection. It must have been produced by the Lord Advocate or by some other lawyer.
At any rate, we can safely agree that this has been produced by a lawyer. I wonder whether this was a first essay by the Lord Advocate in drawing up a subsection.
I remember that we did have some distinctly unintelligible things, but I was talking in a democratic sense. I know that before coming here the Lord Advocate did certain Government work in an office to which he had not been elected. I was fearful that he had been bothered with this in his digestive organs during the recent by-election in Edinburgh. If so, it is no wonder that he erupted it when he came here. He must have felt that he had to get it out of his system.
I am not sure what subsection (4) is intended to do. Can the Lord Advocate tell us that it does what it is intended to do? Is he certain that the subsection covers every eventuality, incident, occurrence, affair, transaction, fact, phenomenon, advent, business, concern, circumstance, opportunity, casualty, happening, accident, adventure, passage, crisis, emergency, contingency and consequence? Is he certain that all the reiterations he has used cover all the events I have just listed?
I am sure that the House is grateful to my hon. Friend for going so carefully into this. I have not yet heard the Government say anything about atomic stations, the hydrogen bomb, poaching or a General Election. Is there something still to be mentioned for protection here?
I do not wish to go too far beyond subsection (4), but, arising from what my hon. Friend has just said, the Lord Advocate could look at, say, war damage protection.
If the Lord Advocate can assure us that the subsection does what he intends it to do, that it meets all the contingencies I have enumerated, and that when the Bill becomes an Act it will do what it says, we shall accept it and we shall just have to make the best of it.
I should like to give my blessing to the Bill and to congratulate the Secretary of State. He said this afternoon that the Bill at least brought Highland problems and affairs before the general public. I think he has done something in bringing those problems before the Cabinet and in getting the Bill through so expeditiously following the Taylor Report.
I should also like to congratulate the Joint Under-Secretary of State, because it is rather remarkable that during the whole passage of the Bill so far there have been no Divisions—I must also congratulate the Opposition on that. I believe that it was my hon. Friend's diplomatic and able handling of the Bill, in Committee, and his open-mindedness, that made that possible.
I thank the Government for the Amendments which they have accepted, particularly my own and those of my hon. Friends. I believe that it is good that the Land Court should have back, probably, some of the powers proposed to be taken from it when the Bill was introduced. The question of bequests has been mentioned. I hope the Lord Advocate has read the case of Donald v. Donald and that he is convinced that the Land Court should be consulted where bequests are involved.
This Bill brings new hope to the Highlands and I feel that the new Commission has a stimulating challenge which I hope it will accept. I am sure it will do a tremendous amount. Of course, it will not do all we want for the Highland areas but it should go a tremendous way towards stimulating new hope and bringing new life into the Highlands.
I will conclude by quoting what the Taylor Commission says at the end of its Report:
But time is running very short and if the chance is not taken now it will be gone for good.
I hope that the Commission will act expeditiously when it comes into being.
We have nearly reached the end of our consideration of this Bill, unless, of course, it is sent back to us from another place with some Amendments. I sincerely hope that it will be sent back with at least one Amendment.
The Secretary of State was very properly congratulated upon introducing the Bill and upon so readily showing his awareness of the problems and his willingness to give effect to the recommendations of the Taylor Commission. This afternoon he has said, very rightly, that Principal Sir Thomas Taylor should feel honoured that we in Parliament have so readily enacted his recommendations.
It has been said that we had no Divisions at any stage of this Bill. That is true, despite the fact that we have made many Amendments to the Bill. I think we have greatly improved it, and great credit is due to the Joint Under-Secretary of State, who handled the Bill in a most competent manner. Might I say to some of his hon. Friends that today and in the future they will be delighted that he was not over-influenced by their contributions in Committee, because after they had so vigorously opposed what was perhaps the most important Amendment on the Order Paper, and the Under-Secretary himself had also rejected the Amendment, after further speeches were made some hon. Members opposite changed their minds about the Amendment. Indeed, one hon. Member opposite, after having rejected an Amendment on Thursday, on the following Tuesday apologised for not having had time to examine the Amendment before he made his speech. By this time he had made two speeches on the same Amendment and they were completely opposed to each other.
It is, therefore, greatly to the credit of the Under-Secretary that he considered all the Amendments objectively, that he listened carefully to the speeches which were made from either side of the Committee and weighed them and took a decision upon them on their merits and not by reference to the side of the Committee from which the recommendations came. That is why we did not have any Divisions. We considered it to be unwise and not very clever to have Divisions when we could see that the Under-Secretary was genuinely concerned to make this a good Bill rather than to make political capital out of it.
That we wish the Bill well goes without saying. We all agree that it is essential to the successful operation of this Bill that a good Commission should be appointed, that suitable persons are appointed to it. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) has said, it is important that we should pay these people adequately for the job which we are asking them to undertake. They have not been given an easy task. They should feel that we are behind them in tackling a problem which is now almost 200 years old. We have had this problem for about 200 years and it has been examined by successive Commissions for more than 150 years. Now this Commission has told us that this is our last chance. That is why we have the right and the duty to be careful in framing this legislation.
The Commission must have the confidence of the crofters. It cannot succeed in its work without that confidence. We have said in the course of our discussion on Report that the Commission can only have the confidence of the crofters if at least one member of the Commission is a person with practical experience of crofting. We genuinely believe that.
May I say to the Secretary of State that the crofters in all the crofting areas in the North of Scotland will read what we have said in Committee and in the House on this subject. They will know that we in Parliament have been discussing a proposal that one or more of the members of the Crofters Commission should be a person with practical experience of crofting. If they know that we in Parliament have decided against making this provision in the Bill, then the Commission will not have the confidence of the crofters from the outset. I beg the Secretary of State to bear that fact in mind and to ensure that when the Bill is considered in another place it is amended to provide that at least one member of the Commission shall be a person with practical experience of crofting.
The Bill by itself is not enough. The new Commission will only succeed, and this Measure will only succeed in bringing about the recovery of the crofting areas in the crofting counties, if, first, the Crofters Commission brings the right recommendations to the Secretary of State, and, secondly, if the Secretary of State has the authority and the approval of the Treasury to make generous grants to the crofters for land improvement, for the purchase of fertilisers and feedingstuffs, for the improvement of roads, for the marketing of produce and to assist the crofters in meeting the unduly high freight charges.
The Taylor Commission did not merely recommend the setting up of a Crofters Commission. It pointed to the need for the new Commission to have adequate funds at its disposal in order to finance the recovery of the crofting communities. We have had explained to us why the new Commission could not have the necessary finance for the purpose and that there must be someone accountable to Parliament. Therefore, it must be the Secretary of State.
The Bill will only be a success if, over the years, the Secretary of State, whoever he may be from time to time, has the approval of the Treasury to spend money generously in seeking to give new heart to those people in the crofting areas who have lived in penury for so long.