HC Deb 17 November 1911 vol 31 cc731-7

Without prejudice to the generality of the power to authorise resumption by the landlord for some reasonable purpose having relation to the good of the holding or of the estate, conferred by Section two of the Act of 1886, the feuing of land for the general development of the estate, or the occupation of a holding, being his only landed estate, by a landlord for the purpose of personally residing thereon, shall respectively be deemed a reasonable purpose as aforesaid.


I beg to move to-leave out the Clause.

My reason for doing so is that under this Clause there is a very considerable extension in theory of the powers of Section (2) of the Crofters Act. That Section says:— Notwithstanding the provisions contained in the preceding Section the Crofters Commission, on the application of the landlord and upon being satisfied that he desires to resume the holding or part thereof for some reasonable purpose … including the using, letting, or feuing the lands proposed to be resumed for the building of dwellings or for small allotments for fishermen … or for churches or for other places of religious worship or for schools … Under Section 2 of the Crofters Act the power of feuing is by implication restricted to certain definite cases, the construction of churches, schools, etc. I think it is dangerous to give an extension of the powers of resumption. It may be under conceivable circumstances exceedingly profitable to create feus. Take the case of the Island of Tiree, where it is proposed to make a golf course. Owing to the number of crofters in the island, and if this Clause is passed as it stands, we might have the owner of the island, or the buyer of it, feuing out the whole of this land to persons who want to go there and play golf. The operation of the Clause would depend, of course, very largely upon the way it is administered, and I sympathise very much with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Scott Dickson) and the hon. Baronet (Sir George Younger) in their complaint about not knowing the names of the Commissioners. We are all extremely anxious to know the names. If we knew the names of those who were going to administer the Act our cause of fear might be removed. We must remember that we have to contemplate the possibility of the party opposite coming into office at some future time or other, and we must remember that as vacancies occur, as they will occur, amongst those administering the Act, it may be the party opposite who do-not take the same view on these matters as we on this side of the House do, will have the filling up of these vacancies, and therefore the administration of the Act might undergo a change, and it is extremely desirable, therefore, that these words should be omitted. I am told that it was at the instance of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland that the words "or the occupation of a holding being his only landed estate by a landlord" were put in, in order to cover the case of certain very small proprietors in his constituency. I think these must be very singular cases, because I do not know any case on the mainland of Scotland where the croft actually belongs to an extremely small proprietor who has no other place. If things are as the hon. Member says, I should be very willing to move some Amendment such as "without prejudice to the feuing of land for the general development of the estate," and then Section 2 of the Crofters Act of 1882 would be secure.


I second the Amendment. It seems to me to be very reasonable. I see no reason why Clause 19 should be in the Bill. I understand the Clause gives the right to a man to convert a tenancy into a feu if he wants to do so for the purpose of developing the estate or living in the place. That would be all very well if the holding was near or in the vicinity of a town. If a man wants to live upon a small holding surely there is plenty of room in country districts where he may set up his home. It seems to me that small holdings are equally valuable to the community as the development of estates.


It is not a very wide extension that is given under this Clause, but it is a very useful extension of the powers conferred by Section 2 of the Crofters Act of 1886. Let the House clearly keep in view that by that Section which nobody proposes to repeal or modify, there is the power of resumption, whereby if the landlord desires to erect a dwelling he has power to do so. This Clause only gives slightly enlarged powers where he is going to lay out a croft for a number of dwellings. We are all anxious that the most beneficial uses should be made of the land, and it seems very desirable, therefore, that where a landlord seeks to develop his estate in that way he should have an opportunity of doing so. The other portion of the Clause relates to where an owner proposes to occupy the land himself. We all know from experience there are cases where a man may have a desire to come back in his declining years and live upon his farm. It would be very hard if he were not entitled to do so. The power of resumption will prevent any injustice being done, or any less beneficial use being made of the land, in consequence of small holdings.


I would like to bring before the notice of the Lord Advocate, having regard to what he has said, a case where even resumption for the sake of residence does not seem to work altogether fair. I am informed of a case, not very long ago, in which a part of an estate in the West of Scotland was sold, and the owner afterwards applied to the Land Court for the resumption of the crofter's holding to build himself a residence. The resumption was granted, the residence was built, but the owner never occupied it himself. That is a kind of thing that is likely to occur more frequently than before. I think it is very desirable that the Lord Advocate should give way on this point, making provision at the same time to meet the views of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. If he will not do so, I will not put the House to the trouble of a Division, and shall ask leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: Leave out the words "for the general development of the estate."—[Major Anstruther-Gray.]


I beg to move, to add at the end of the Clause the words, "provided it shall be obligatory on the part of the landlord or the Board of Agriculture to find land of equivalent value in the neighbourhood, or as near as may be available, for the displaced tenant."


I beg to second the Amendment.


Let the House remember that this can only take place by leave of the landlord and the man who is displaced receives compensation in respect of displacement. I think it would be unwise to make the change suggested in this Amendment.


I understand that this cannot be done without the consent of the landlord, and after all parties have been heard. Under these circumstances I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, to omit the words: 20. The words 'being a member of the family, that is to say, his wife or any person who, failing nearer heirs, would succeed to him in case of intestacy' occurring in Section sixteen of the Act of 1886 are hereby repealed, and the said Section," and to insert instead thereof the words "Section sixteen of the Act of 1886. The Crofters Act limited the right of bequest in the case of crofts so that the crofter could only bequeath his holding to members of his own family. The object of this proposal is to repeal that limitation. We think it is undesirable that that limitation should be repealed because it would be possible for the holder to bequeath his property to a money lender or the nominee of a money lender. It is true that in Section 16 of the Crofters Act the landlord has a right of refusal to the incoming tenants, but I am informed that that refusal is not exercised, and the reasons for refusal have to be given. It is obvious that you might have a very undesirable tenant either in debt or in such a financial position as likely to be in debt, and it would be difficult for a landlord in all cases to give reasons. We think that while there is a case for giving the right of bequeathing to members of the family that there is no necessity for this right in the case of those who lie beyond the family. On the other hand, the extension of this right is liable to very great abuse. Under the Agricultural Holdings Act you already have this right, but there is a difference between the Agricultural Holdings Act and the Crofters Act. In the first case you are dealing with a lease, and the right to bequeath the remainder of the lease, but here you are dealing with the right to bequeath a holding.


I beg leave to second the Amendment.

4.0 P.M.


I am very much disposed to accept this Amendment, and I think we were probably a little too anxious in placing the crofter in the same position as the small tenant. This Amendment is advisable on the ground the hon. Member has stated, and I accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move to leave out the words "the landlord shall be entitled, with the consent of the Land Court, forthwith to let the holding," and to insert instead thereof the words "failure of a statutory successor shall be deemed to have taken place."

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move to add at the end of the Clause as amended the words, and, in respect of any damage sustained by the landlord by reason of the holding being unoccupied during such period of six months, the Board shall pay to the landlord such compensation as shall be determined in manner provided in Sub-section (11) of Section (7) of this Act. I understand the object of this Amendment is met by what the Lord Advocate has just said. My object is to find out if in the event of such a case as that which is under question whether full compensation will be paid to the landlord for any loss he may sustain in the interval pending the settlement of this question.


I fear the hon. Member is under a misapprehension. I intended to propose the Amendment that compensation should be paid during the six months the landlord was trying to find a legatee. We could not recognise the right to pay this compensation.


I beg to second the Amendment. I think it is very hard to lay down that the landlord shall not receive compensation under these circumstances. I cannot see why it should be limited. In ordinary circumstances the landlord would get rid of the place at once. You are preventing him from doing so. During the six months the holding may be absolutely ruined, and the man who comes in may find it all thistles and things of that kind. The right hon. Gentleman may have forgotten that, not knowing anything about agriculture, but let me tell him it is a fact.


There is nothing to preclude either the landlord or the person in possession from cultivating the holding during that time. We are really under this Clause conferring an advantage on the landlord, because, if unfortunately he cannot find the legatee, he will at the end of six months be entitled to proceed to appropriate the property and deal with it.


It would be different if the landlord were able to select the man, but you are probably putting in a bad farmer whom the landlord does not want. That man dies, and his legatee cannot be found. Meanwhile the land goes out of cultivation. The farm has run out, and becomes a mass of weeds. Eventually it has to be let to a new tenant, and there must obviously be a drop in rent, because no one in his senses would pay the same rent for a farm that had run out. The landlord, therefore, would have to pay, although it was not his fault.

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and negatived.