Restrictions on Disposal

Part of Clause 2 – in the House of Commons at 3:43 pm on 18th March 1997.

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Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 3:43 pm, 18th March 1997

I too have heard from Dr. Fraser Macleod, the director of the Scottish Crofters Union, in terms similar to those described by the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). In our discussion in Committee about the appropriateness or otherwise of the words the interests of persons residing on such property I was anxious to focus on the apparent restrictions of the use of the word "persons". I preferred the use of the words "the people". It seemed possible that "persons" could be a small number, not necessarily the majority of those who constituted the crofting community. Although I had no doubt that that was not the intention of the legislation, I had and still have concerns that the use of the word "persons" does not sufficiently embrace the interests of all those residing on the crofting estate.

I believe that the words "the community" suggested by the hon. Member for Dumbarton in place of the word "persons" attempts to meet my point and another point, which is the one on which the Scottish Crofters Union has focused—the desirability of the crofting trust having in mind in its establishment the promotion of the interests not just of crofters resident on the land being transferred but of their neighbours in the development of the crofting land.

I take the point made by the Scottish Crofters Union that, strictly legally defined, crofting communities are those associated with crofting land. I remain concerned about the use of the word "persons" for the reasons that I have given, but understand why the Scottish Crofters Union takes the view that to speak of wider community interests would potentially impose on crofters a duty to take into account considerations of those who are not, stricto senso, of that crofting community, and might impose on them burdens such as the construction of fences or other burdens that should not adhere to them as a result of acquiring the land.

The underlying purpose of clause 2 to ensure that the transfer of land from the Secretary of State to the trust considers the wider interests of all those living in the area remains unsatisfactorily spelled out. The Scottish Crofters Union is clear that that is a purpose of the clause, and I am clear that it ought to be a purpose, but it is not spelled out, and I regret that.

Lest there be any question of inadvertently imposing new burdens on crofters through "the community" being in place of "persons" in the Bill, I however incline to the view that my original wording was to be preferred. At this stage, I think that we shall have to wait and see how the provision works in practice. As there is some ambiguity in what is meant by "persons", there is however a great deal of virtue in the Minister putting firmly on the record his judgment of the intention. If the courts are called on to adjudge the matter, the words will be weighed with considerable care.