HC Deb 02 December 1919 vol 122 cc303-9

Section twenty-one of the Act of 1911 shall be amended by inserting after the word "intestacy" the words "or any other person qualified to cultivate the holding."—[Major M. Wood.]

Brought up, and read the first time.

Major M. WOOD

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

At present the holder of land can assign his holding only to members of his own family. I want to make provision for another case, where a man, for instance, may have no family to whom he can assign his holding. Suppose you have a man of seventy, who has been cultivating his holding well, has carried out a large number of improvements, and has really a holding which is valuable. He may get his old age pension, and with the money which he might be able to raise on his holding, Which has appreciated as a result of his own hard work, he would by this means be able to retire and have a quiet evening to his days. What reason is there against allowing a man so to assign his holding? I can see no reason whatever. If it is objected against me that it would lead to difficulties and anomalies, I would point out that the Clause lays down that he may apply to the Land Court. Any assignment of this sort is bound to be subject to the permission of the Land Court. That is an adequate safeguard against any assignment which would be wrong or against the spirit of the Act.


I beg to second the Motion.


This is a small Clause, but a very big question. It means that so far as the power of assigning is concerned under Section 21, it is to remain absolute in favour of anyone. We are not prepared now, and in connection with this Bill, to admit the principle of free sale. We cannot accept an Amendment which would have the effect of bringing in the principle of free sale. I think, so far as our present purposes are concerned, one might almost define the difficulty of ac- cepting this, or our objections to this, in a more limited way. We have already included the son-in-law in the first new Clause accepted today. We have accepted that for purposes of bequest and assignation. We thought it would be quite legitimate to extend the area in which bequest and assignation might be legal so as to include practically the whole family circle. But this is going beyond the family circle. There is a strong reason for drawing the line there, because all through the conception of the small holding there runs the idea. of a family possession; the improvements are improvements made by someone or by his predecessors in the family. So the right to transmit was limited to the idea of a sort of family heritage which went down within the family.


With regard to the phrase which my right hon. Friend has used about "free sale." I should like to remind the House what Section 21 of the Act of 1911 says on the subject and how it is limited. It says that, in the event of the holder being unable to work his holding through illness, old age or infirmity, he may apply to the Land Court for leave to assign his holding to a member of his family, and now, of course, including the son-in-law, and if, after such hearing or inquiry as the Land Court, may think necessary, it appears to the Land Court that such assignment will be reasonable and proper it shall he competent for the Land Court to grant such terms as may seem to them fit. The Land Court must be presumed to be operating with full knowledge of the circumstances in the particular case, and also of the general policy under which the Act is being administered. I cannot conceive what possible objection there cart be to the extension as suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend. I suggest words something like this might be accepted, "or any other person qualified to cultivate the holding who is either by marriage or consanguinity related to the landholder." That would bring in all the relations by marriage.


The difficulty of any proposal of the kind is that you would extend to the existing holder the right to select outside his family the new holder and assignment means for money. The reason why the authors of the legislation in 1911 did not wish to give the landholder the power of constituting the new holder was to prevent the smallholder getting what might be a right of mortagage when somebody might come forward and he would fall into his grip. That is regarded as unlikely if the selection is inside the family circle, but as likely if it is outside the family circle. 'Therefore, I think the situation is met by the consideration that it is not desirable to give the smallholder power of assignment to anyone except those within the family circle.


There is the case of the landholder who is unable to work through illness or old age or infirmity, and the only prospect before that man is to drag on a miserable existence, as he is unable to assign his holding. I think the Act ought to be amended to enable a landholder under such circumstances as old age, illness, or infirmity to assign his holding for money to any person fit to cultivate the holding, subject as it would he under the Clause to the approval of the Land Court. Without that approval you might no doubt contemplate some of the evils which have been foreshadowed. You have not met a case of existing hardship such as that I have referred to where a man tries to eke out a miserable existence and is prevented the possibility of assignment to a competnt person.

Captain W. BENN

May I ask the Secretary for Scotland for some enlightenment on tins point. Is it not the fact that the dangers to which the Lord Advocate has referred are properly safeguarded by Section 21, which says that, after intimation to the Land Court and any other party interested, and after such hearing and inquiry as the Court may consider necessary, and should it appear to the Court that such assignment would be reasonable and proper, they have power to grant leave on such terms and conditions as may seem fit. I respectfully suggest that in that Clause there are the proper precautions to avoid any of the dangers suggested, and that, therefore., this is a very useful enlargement contained in the Amendment, and that it is one which should commend itself to the Government.

Colonel GREIG

I am one of those who took part in the discussion on the Bill of 1011, and at that time on a side opposite to the Lord Advocate. I am perfectly certain that this Section was thoroughly discussed to the last inch, and that we were all extremely careful in those days to see that there should be nothing which would leave a leak in the vessel by which smallholders would disappear. I am convinced that if this apparently very acceptable enlargement takes place you will immediately get a leak through which the whole ship will be swamped. You may have a gombeen man corning along and the occupier may take a mortgage from him, and the very protection which the Act was passed to set up will be swept away. No doubt it may be said the man will have to apply to the Land Court, but there it may be represented that the man is ill, or old, and it may be decided that they will allow him to get rid of the holding. You will have the whole ship swamped by the possibility that this tenure which we protected in every direction may become nothing more or less than an ordinary fee simple. As far as I can see in the last Report, Mr. Justice Kennedy suggested nothing of the kind. Ho was too good a lawyer to do so, as he realised if this were done the whole of our work under the Act of 1911 might be undone. I took a deep interest in this matter at the time of the passing of the Act, and there was nothing which made it more successful than the fact that we had prevented people from getting rid of the protection which the Statute affords. I am sure my hon. Friends opposite misapprehend the effect of their own Amendment, which is really a most dangerous Amendment in its possibilities.


I am sure that the Lord Advocate does not wish to do anything unfair or unjust. Let me put to him a concrete case and ask his opinion. A man, now nearly seventy years of age, had four sons who helped him to construct buildings and improve his holding until it is now one of the finest small holdings in Scotland. The man was parted from those sons by the great War, and, unfortunately, none of them came back to the father's house and home He is now in the position of being broken-hearted. He has in that holding a value of probably from £200 to £300. He has no relative to pass it on to and under such circumstances would it be fair or reasonable for that man to be dispossessed of that which would help him in his old age? That is an absolutely real case.


In the case put the holder in question would not be deprived of the value which he or his sons put into the holding, or of the value which his pre- decessors contributed because if it turns out that through infirmity or old age he cannot continue to keep the holding he gets, under Section 8 of the Crofters Act, full compensation for his own improvement, full compensation for every improvement by his predecessors in title, and, in short, he gets out of it the present value of everything he put into it. It is true that he is not endowed with any proprietary title to the holding itself, but he does get the full family value of the holding—the whole value of the family improvements. It would be very unfair indeed to deprive that particular holder of the value of what he had done. It must not be forgotten that this is not a question of confiscating the value of a man's improvements, or the improvements of those who went before him. That is assured to him. The only question is whether you ought to endow a smallholder with a kind of proprietary right to the holding, which he can assign or hand over to anybody outside the members of his own family.


Surely my right hon. Friend, who looks at these matters from a very sympathetic point of view, would never dream of not making provision for a case such as has been put to him. This

old man would not get tile compensation for leaving his holding until he either died or left the holding. If he is unable to work, he is on a piece of laud which has been created by his own efforts and by the efforts of his sons, and to the value of which he has contributed. It has an extraordinary sentimental value to that man, as such a piece of land obviously would have. If my right hon. Friend accepted this Amendment, he would enable that old man to make an arrangement with some other person qualified to cultivate the holding, by which he could, for example, live in the house on that holding and end his days there. The other alternative would be that, in his old age, he would be in the position either of finding a home elsewhere with the small income he could derive from his capital. or, in some cases, being driven to the workhouse. That is really what it means in many cases. I respectfully submit to my right hon. Friend that he has not considered the matter in all its aspects, and is leaving out a point which has a very substantial value and which would meet a very substantial difficulty.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 56; Noes, 210.

Division No. 143.] AYES. [7.34 p.m.
Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke Hall, F. (Yorks, Normanten) Rose, Frank H.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. William Harmsworth, Sir R. L. (Caithness-shire) Short, A. (Wednesbury)
Bell, James (Ormskirk) Henderson, Rt. Hon. Arthur Sitch, C. H.
Benn, Capt. W. (Leith) Hirst, G. H. Smith, W. (Wellingborough)
Brace, Rt. Hon. William Irving, Dan Swan, J. E. C.
Bramsdon, Sir T. Johnstone, J. Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Bromfield, W. Jones, J. (Silvertown) Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Brown, J. (Ayr and Bute) Kenyon, Barnet Thorne, W. (Plaistow)
Cairns, John Lunn, William Tootill, Robert
Carter, W. (Mansfield) Maclean, Fit. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian) Wallace, J.
Davies, Alfred (Clitheroe) Mallalieu, Frederick William Walsh, S. (Ince, Lancs.)
Davison, J. E. (Smethwick) Murray, Dr. D. (Western Isles) Wedgwood. Colonel Josiah C.
Edwards, C. (Bedwellty) Murray, John (Leeds, W.) Wignall, James
Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon) Newbould, A. E. Williams, A. (Consett, Durham)
Galbraith, Samuel Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Williams, J. (Gower, Glam.)
Graham, D. M. (Hamilton) Ree, H. Norman Williams, Cal. P. (Middlesbrough)
Graham, W. (Edinburgh) Raffan, Peter Wilson
Griffiths, T. (Pontypool) Rees, Captain J. Tudor (Barnstaple) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.— Major
Grundy, T. W. Richardson, R, (Houghton) McKenzie Wood and Mr. Hogge.
Guest, J. (Hemsworth, York) Roberts, F. O. (W. Bromwich)
Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte Beauchamp, Sir Edward Broad, Thomas Tucker
Ainsworth, Captain C. Bell, Lt.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes) Buckley, Lt.-Colonel A.
Allen, Colonel William James Bean, Corn. Ian Hamilton (Greenwich) Bun, Rt. Hon. Sir William James
Ashley, Col. Wilfred W. Bigiand, Alfred Burden, Col. Rowland
Atkey. A. R. Birchall, Major J. D. Burn, Col. C. R. (Torquay)
Baird, John Lawrence Bird, Alfred Campbell, J. G. D.
Baldwin, Stanley Blades, Sir George R. Campion, Colonel W. R.
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Borwick, Major G. O. Carr, W. T.
Balfour, Sir Robert (Partick) Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith Casey, T. W.
Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick Boyd-Carpenter, Major A. Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Aston Manor)
Barnett, Major Richard W. Breese, Major C. E. Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Oxford Univ.)
Barnston, Major H. Bridgeman, William Clive Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)
Barrand, A. R. Briggs, Harold Cheyne, Sir William Watson
Barrie, Charles Coupar (Banff) Britton, G. B. Ciay, Captain H. H. Spender
Clyde, James Avon Hunter-Weston, Lieut.-Gen. Sir A, G Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray
Ceats, Sir Stuart Hurst, Major G. B. Pownall, Lt.-Colonel Assheton
Coon, Sir Cyril lnskip, T. W. H. Pratt, John William
Colfox, Major W. P. Jephcott, A. R. Prescott, Major W. H.
Calvin, Brig.-General R. B. Jellett, William Morgan Pulley, Charles Thornton
Cope, Major W. (Glamorgan) Jesson, C. Purchase, H. G.
Cozens-Hardy, Hon. W. H. Johnson, L. S. Randles, Sir John Scurrah
Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington) Raper, A. Baldwin
Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln) Jones, Henry Haydn (Merionetn) Raw, Lieut.-Colonel Dr. N.
Davies, T. (Cirencester) Jones, J. Towya (Carmarthen) Reid, D. D.
Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington) Kerr-Smiley, Major P. Renwick, G.
Dean, Com. P. T. Kinloen-Cooke, Sir Clement Richardson, Sir Albion (Peckham)
Denniss, E. R. Bartley (Oldham) Knight, Captain E. A. Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
Dewhurst, Lieut.-Commander H. Knights, Captain H. Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)
Dockrell, Sir M. Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar Rodger, A. K.
Doyle, N. Grattan Lewis, Rt. teen. J. H. (Univ., Wales) Roundell, Lt.-Colonel R. F.
Duncannon, Viscount Lewis, T. A. (Pontypridd, Glam.) Rowlands, James
Du Pre, Colonel W. B. Lindsay, William Arthur Samuel, S. (Wandsworth, Putney)
Edwards, J. H. (Glam., Heath) Lloyd, George Butler Sassoon, Sir Philip A. G. D.
Elliot, Captain W. E. (Lanark) Lonsdale, James R. Scott, A. M. (Glas., Bridgeton)
Eyres-Monsell, Commander Lorden, John William Seager, Sir William
Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfrey Lort-Williams, J. Shaw, Hon. A. (Kilmarnock)
FitzRoy, Captain Hon. Edward A. Loseby, Captain C. E. Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)
Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue Lyle-Samuel, A. (Eye, E. Suffolk) Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T., W.)
Foreman, H. M'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.) Smith, Harold (Warrington)
Foxcroft, Captain C. Macmaster, Donald Smith, Sir Allan
Fraser, Major Sir Keith McMicking, Major Gilbert Sprat, Colonel Sir Alexander
Gardner, E. (Berks, Windsor) McNeill, Ronald (Canterbury) Stanley, Col. Hon. G. (Preston)
Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir A. C. (Bas'gst'ke) Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I. Steel, Major S. Strang
Gibbs, Colonel John Abraham Macguisten, F. A. Stephenson, Colonel H. K.
Gilbert, James Daniel Malone, Col C. L. (Leyton, E.) Stewart, Gershom
Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John Malone, Major P. (Tottenham, S.) Sykes, Col. Sir A. J. (Knutsford)
Glyn, Major R. Marriott, John Arthur R. Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)
Goff, Sir Park Middlebrook, Sir William Terrell, G. (Chippenham, Wilts.)
Gregory, Holman Moles, Thomas Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)
Greig, Colonel James William Molsan, Major John Elsdate Townley, Maximilian G.
Gretton, Colonel John Montagu, Rt. Hon. E. S. Tryon, Major George Clement
Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (Leic., Loughboro') Moore, Maj.-Gen. Sir Newton J. Vickers, D.
Guinness. Lt.-Col. Hon. W. E.(B. St. E.) Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C. Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)
Hacking, Captain D. H. Morden, Colonel H. Grant Wardle, Georgo J.
Hailwood, A. Morrison, H. (Salisbury) Waring, Major Walter
Hambro, Angus Valdemar Morrison-Bell, Major A. C. Wason, John Cathcart
Hanna, G. B. Mosley, Oswald Weston, Colonel John W.
Hanson, Sir Charles Mount, William Arthur Wheier, Colonel Granville C. H.
Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Luton, Beds.) Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert White, Colonel G. D. (Southport)
Haslam, Lewis Murray, Hon. G. (St. Rollox) Whitla, Sir William
Henderson, Maj. V. L. (Tradeston, Glas) Murray, William (Dumtries) Wild, Sir Ernest Edward
Hennessy., Major G. Neal, Arthur Williams, Lt.-Cool. C. (Tavistock)
Henry, Danis S. (Londonderry, S.) Nicholl, Com. Sir Edward Willoughby, Lt.-col. Hon. Claud
Higham, C. F. (Islington, S.) Oman, C. W. C. Wills, Lt-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.
Hohier, Gerald Fitzroy O'Neill, Capt. Hon. Robert W. H. Wolmer, Viscount
Hope, Harry (Stirling) Parker, James Woolcock, W. J. U.
Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Parkinson, Albert L. (Blackpool) Worthington-Evans, Ht. Hon. Sir L.
Hope. Lient.-Col.-Sir J. (Midlothian) Pearce, Sir William Yate. Colonel Charles Edward
Hopkins, J. W. W. Peel, Col. Han. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.) Young, Lt.-Com. E. H. (Norwich)
Hopkinson, Austin (Mossley) Pennefather, De Fonblanque Younger, Sir George
Houston, Robert Paterson Perring, William George
Hughes, Spencer Leigh Pilditch, Sir Philip TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Lord E.
Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster) Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles Talbot and Mr. Dudley Ward.