HC Deb 02 December 1919 vol 122 cc262-4

For the purposes of Section sixteen of the Crofters' Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1886 (which relates to bequest of holdings), and of Section twenty-one of the Act of 1911 (which relates to assignment of holding), the son-in-law of a landholder shall be deemed to be a member of the landholder's family.—[Mr. Munro.]

Brought up, and read the first time.


The purpose of this new Clause is in order to meet two subsequent Clauses should you, Sir, hold that they are in order. I do not know whether it will be possible now to discuss the question as to whether those two new Clauses are in order or not. (Amendment of Section 21 of Act of 1911 and Interpretation.) My Clause is for the purpose of meeting those new Clauses and it indicates the length the Government are prepared to go. If you should hold that those two new Clauses of which notice has been given by the hon. Member for Aberdeen Central (Major M. Wood) and the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Dr. Murray) are out of order, I should not desire to move this new Clause.


I am considerable difficulty over this Bill. I am not an expert on land in Scotland, and it is a complicated subject, I must be guided very largely by the opinion of the House on this matter. My own inclination is to say that all Clauses which do not strictly assist land settlement in Scotland are really outside this Bill. That would be my inclination; but it is very hard for me to say, who has no knowledge of these matters, whether some of these Clauses do or do not assist land settlement in Scotland.


I do not know, Sir, whether that ruing meets the point that the right hon. Gentleman raised. There has been a difficulty with regard to the ruling of the Chairman in the Committee upstairs. The Bill is divided into two parts. The first part is a temporary measure; the second is a permanent alteration of the existing Statute, and is a very serious question, involving drastic proposals. It appears to me that, if it is possible for the Government to bring in a Bill amending that Statute, it is equally possible for any hon. Member—and it is equally right that he should be entitled—to move something either in mitigation or in extension of those proposals. I cannot understand why the Government should have a right which the private Member has not got. This is not a new measure at all; it is an Amendment, as regards the second part, of the existing law, and it is right that we should have our proper privilege.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

I think its purpose will be quite evident to the House. The effect of the Clause, if it is made part of the Bill, will be to widen in a very important manner the restricted power which the landholder now possesses of bequeathing or assigning his holding. As the law stands, he can bequeath his holding to his wife or to any member of his family. The members of his family include sons, daughters, grandsons or granddaughters, but, curiously enough, do not include a son-in-law. As the House will appreciate, a son-in-law might, in the absence of a son, be the most natural and suitable person to whom the landholder might desire either to assign or bequeath his holding, and in those circumstances we have thought it right to put down this Clause, which would enable the landholder to take that course if and when it seemed to be appropriate.


This new Clause mentions two Sections particularly, but these are not the only Sections in the Acts referred to where the word "family" is used. Are we not right in asking that the word "family" shall continue to have the same meaning as it had before in the other Sections which are not referred to here? Take, for instance, Section 8 of the Crofters Holdings Act of 1886, which says that when a crofter renounces his tenancy he shall be entitled to compensation for any permanent improvements, provided that the improvements have been executed or paid for by the crofter or his predecessors in the same family. The word "family" comes up in several other Sections, both in the Crofters Act and in the Act of 1911. Is not the effect of this Clause that the son-in-law shall be entitled to the tenancy, but will not necessarily be entitled to the improvements that have been carried out on the holding? If that is not so, why should this Clause be made to relate to these two particular Sections and no others? It seems to me that it is quite reasonable to imagine the right split up into two parts, the one being the right to the tenancy of the holding, and the other the right to the improvements that have been carried out, both from the point of view of compensation and of a fair rent when the Land Court comes to decide what is a fair rent. I suggest that the Clause would effect what I believe to be the intention of the Secretary for Scotland if, instead of these two Sections, we put in some such words as "the Landholders Acts," so that there would be no restriction in the application of the Clause, but that it should give the son-in-law not only, the tenancy but the right to all the improvements that have been carried out on the holding.


My hon. and gallant Friend was good enough to mention to me a little time ago the point which he has just raised, and I have been able to take advice upon the subject. I can assure him that there is no doubt at all that, in the case of assignation or bequest, the landholder would have the right to assign, and could effectively assign, not only his holding but also all the improvements which might have been effected upon it. There is no possibility of dividing the right in the manner which my hon. and gallant Friend suggested. According to the Act of 1886, the holder can only bequeath to one person and there is no doubt that what he would bequeath or assign would be all his rights, whatever they might be.

Major WOOD

Is there any objection to putting in "the Landholders Act"?


It is quite unnecessary.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause accordingly read a second time, and added to the Bill.