HC Deb 24 March 1920 vol 127 cc403-5
51. Mr. HOGGE

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that interdicts have been served on Lewis men in the Sheriff Court at Stornoway for occupying farms belonging to the Lewis and Harris Welfare and Development Company, Limited; whether certain of these farms had been scheduled before the War by the Board of Agriculture for small holdings; whether, since the Armistice, repeated applications have been made to the Board of Agriculture by returned sailors, soldiers and others for holdings on these farms; and whether it is intended to find room for these men or allow them to go to prison?


I understand that interim interdict has been granted in the eases referred to. The farms in question had not, in point of fact, been secured before the War for small holdings by the Board of Agriculture. The Board had laid before the Land Court a scheme under the Landholders' Act, but owing to the War proceedings were sisted. Applications have been made for holdings as stated by my hon. Friend, and are at present before the Board. As my hon. Friend is aware, the purchase of the Lews by Lord Leverhulme and the developments contemplated by him have made a change in the situation of which it has been necessary to take account. I am still in negotiation with Lord Leverhulme and his representatives, and I am clear that a solution must be found, and that without delay. With reference to the last part of the question, I would remind my hon. Friend that obedience to the Order of the Court will obviate the alternative to which he refers. I understand that the legal action which has been taken is supported by a large section of the Lews community.


If my right hon. Friend agrees that a solution must be found, with out delay, will he see that men, discharged sailors and soldiers from the Isles, are not imprisoned for doing what he thinks ought to be solved without delay?

Sir J. D. REES

May I ask whether the difficulty has not arisen from the policy pursued of rating the original landlords to extinction, and whether the introduction of something like just rating would not be more calculated to ease the situation than anything else that could be done?


I do not think the rating difficulty has given rise to the present difficulty. In answer to the other question, I have no power of control in questions of the imprisonment or otherwise of these men. I have only said that negotiations are pending and that there will be no avoidable delay in reaching a conclusion. These are very delicate negotiations, and I hope we may be given a reasonable time for reaching a solution.


Is it the case that one of the farms scheduled has been without a tenant for three years—one of these farms that these crofters wish to get hold of—that the only things on the land are a few sheep belonging to Lord Leverhulme, and that he says that if the Government wish the land he is quite prepared to give it; and will the Government say they do want the land in order to hand it over to smallholders?


I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is not so familiar with the attitude of Lord Leverhulme as I am. I have yet to learn that that is the position. With regard to the position of the farm, I cannot without notice say whether it has been tenanted or not during the last few years, but if I am right in my understanding of the question, Lord Leverhulme's contention with regard to that farm is that it is required for the milk supply of Stornoway.


In view of the fact that negotiations have been going on for over 12 months, is there any hope or prospect of a speedy decision on the part of the Board of Agriculture?


If the hon. Member has done me the honour to listen to my answer, he will notice that I said that I am clear a solution must be found, and that without delay.