HC Deb 02 December 1919 vol 122 cc309-14

Where the Board make any Order under the immediately preceding Section they shall be bound to erect and maintain, or cause to be erected and maintained, to the satisfaction of the landlord of the land comprised in the scheme and of any adjoining land such march fence, or fences, as may be necessary to prevent the stock of the landholder straying beyond the limits of the land comprised in the scheme, any dispute as to the adequacy of such fence or fences to be settled failing agreement by the Land Court.— [Mr. R. McLaren.]

Brought up, and read the first time.


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

The main purpose of this Bill, as has been stated on the floor of the House, is to provide for the settlement of ex-Service men on the land, I am quite sure that all of us in this House, irrespective of party, are very anxious that our boys shall he properly dealt with, and it is evident that something must be done if we want to retain these men when they come back from the War, The purpose of this Clause is to make things better for the whole district in which the holdings are situated,. While it is true that we are anxious to have the boys placed upon the land, it is equally important that we should see that nothing is done which will reduce the valuation of the district. To those of us who have been in the Committee upstairs, it has been evident that a great deal of trouble has arisen on the question of deer forests. Many hon. Members are of opinion that, whether or not the deer forests go on as usual, it is very necessary that we should have the holdings properly fenced near the deer forests where such land is available. But, while we must provide the holdings for the. men, it is equally important that nothing should be done, if possible, to reduce the valuation of the district, because if the valuation of the district be reduced, then the rates are bound to go up, and we Scottish people see from the newspapers daily that in the whole of the North of Scotland there is a great deal of anxiety about the rates going up so rapidly in connection with education. The Purpose of this Clause is to try, if possible, to keep the value of the deer forest, and, at the same time, provide the necessary holdings for those who undertake to work them. It must be perfectly evident to everyone that if we can fence off the deer forest so that the value will still be retained, and at the same time protect the holding, then I think a great deal has been achieved, and the whole purpose of this Clause is to fence in the holding to prevent the sheep running hither and thither through the deer forest. If the fence should not be sufficient to keep the deer out, I think it, is perfectly plain that, with a little mutual arrangement between the tenant. and the landowner this can be overcome. In some parts of the deer forests sheep have got over the fencing and done damage, and compensation has been given, and no difficulty has arisen. I think, after all, common sense will be exercised to prevent any difficulty; otherwise, we have the Land Court to step in and settle all the difficulties. I believe at the present time the Government provide fencing in order to fence off the cottars' places, and I do not think it would cost very much to the Government to hand over surplus stock from the War to fence off these holdings. I think that, having acquired the land, it would not be a difficult matter for them to arrange so to fence off the holding that the holder would be protected against the sheep running all over the forest, at the same time keeping up the rental of the deer forest. That would give security to the holder, enhance the value of the deer forest, keep up the valuation, and keep down the rates, which is a most important thing.


I beg to second the Motion.

I submit that this is a perfectly fair and moderate proposal. It is proposed that land shall be taken compulsorily for the formation of small holdings, and the theory of those who make this proposal is that it is up to the Board of of Agriculture to fence in the land which has been taken. It may not be necessary to put a deer-fence, which is an expensive affair, but the fence required is such a one as would prevent the cattle or the sheep of the smallholder from wandering over the adjoining property, which might be a deer forest or a grouse moor. As has been pointed out by the Proposer, the Clause would have the effect of reducing the compensation to be paid for the taking of the land for small holdings. The compensation which would have to be given to the landowner would include compensation for loss of sporting rights, and this fencing which is proposed would have the effect of causing the claim to be less than it otherwise would be.


I am afraid that it is quite impossible for us to accept this new Clause, for several reasons. If this Clause were passed in the form in which it is proposed, it would put on the Board an imperative obligation in every case to erect, and permanently to maintain. to the satisfaction of the landlord, whatever fencing was required to prevent the landholder's stock straying beyond the limits of the holding. Now that is an exceedingly onerous obligation. I had not in my mind, I confess, until I heard this new Clause moved, that it was meant to apply only, or mainly, to tile case of a deer forest. I would like the House to understand exactly how it does apply, let us say, in the case of a sheep farm. In that -case, if the holding is not to be fenced, the result is that the Board of Agriculture incur bigger liabilities to the neighbouring tenant or the neighbouring owner, and for that reason, because they would incur a bigger bill for compensation, it has been not uncommon for the Board of Agriculture to fence a small holding when the neighbouring property is a sheep farm. Supposing the small holding is a farm with an out-run, that out-run has been frequently fenced against a neighbouring sheep farm, because if you made mill a holding without a fence you would do greater harm, because of the intermixture of stock, than if you fenced it. So they make their choice. But if this thing were to be ap- plied to the case of a neighbouring deer forest, then one would be faced with this very remarkable result. Apparently we should have to fence the stock of a landholder so that the stock could not stray among the doer. But the deer would be as free as ever to jump that fence and stray among the stock. The fact is that, under present conditions, the cost of fencing a small holding, when the holding is such a one as involves a sheep out-run, is at the present moment completely prohibitive. You may have a small holding with, so to speak, only an isthmus of approach. That is not a common case. In the common case it means miles of fencing, even for a small holding, and to put that as a regular obligation upon the Board of Agriculture is not practicable if these small holdings are to be formed. It must be remembered that compensation for the loss of value of sporting rights is very considerably cut down by this Bill, and it would be, therefore, impossible for us really to set up that compensation in another form by putting an obligation like this in all cases upon the Board of Agriculture. Therefore, I am afraid we cannot accept this Clause. It may be, I dare say, that. under this Clause, as under other Clauses, there will be individual hard cases, but we must legislate for the general case, and, having that case in view, we cannot consent to put, upon the Board of Agriculture an obligation of the character involved in this Clause.

8.0 P. M


I am very sorry the Lord Advocate holds out no kind of prospect in regard to the very serious proposal this Bill makes as to compensation in the case he mentioned. I think it is the duty of the Government to find some way of mitigating the very grave hardship and loss which will happen in certain cases, and it is not too much to ask that some protection of this kind should be given. The Lord Advocate has himself said that in certain cases of sheep-farm it is necessary to erect a fence. But why, I ask, is the adjoining sheep-farm to be protected against the intermixture of stock, and a deer forest is not to be so protected? My right hon. Friend knows perfectly well there is no difference. That entirely takes away the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, and makes it more essential than ever that he should put this case, at all events, as far as he can, in the same position as the other. I am not sure it is much use going to a Division on this question when the Government are not, apparently, prepared to yield in this matter. The House has been put to a great deal of trouble in dividing, and I do not want to put it to the trouble of another Division, because if the Government chooses to object to the inclusion of this Clause, as they do, of course the result is a foregone conclusion, and I am prepared to accept that for the moment. But I do Say to the Lord Advocate, and with considerable insistence, that something more requires to be done in protecting these people. There are deer forests which have beery created without dispossessing anyone. There are others who have been created, no doubt, by the purchase of land and the dispossession of many of the settlers. For these i have no sympathy whatever, although, on the other hand, there is a good deal of nonsense talked about the matter. But these two. cases are on a wholly different footing. I. do not in the least wish to protect—and I am sure nobody else here does—the man who has bought up land and cleared out the settlers for the purpose of putting deer in their place. But it is extremely hard on the people who have spent a good deal of money over forests which everybody knows are no good for any purpose but deer, that they should be placed in the position of probably losing the whole, or a great bulk, or that expenditure without any kind of compensation. Therefore, this proposal to put a fence here is a very simple one, and one that I think is only a reasonable and fair mitigation.

Question put, and negatived.