§ Lords Amendment: In page 5, line 7, leave out Sub-section (1).
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. William Adamson)
I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
I would like to give effect to the desire of hon. Members that I should take up as little time as possible in discussing these Amendments, which were all fully debated, not only in the House, but in the Committee upstairs. The issues that are before us are very clear, and have already been put by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson). Many other hon. Members took part in the very protracted sittings upstairs and are well aware that those issues have been discussed in all their bearings, and that they are well understood by all Scottish Members. I quite agree with those hon. Members who have been expressing a desire that we should spend as short a time as we possibly can on this Bill.
§ Sir FREDERICK THOMSON
This Amendment raises a very important point, and I do not at all agree with what the Secretary of State for Scotland 1426 has said. It is most unfortunate that we should be discussing it at this hour, but it is a question that needs full and free discussion. I can well imagine what hon. Gentlemen opposite would have said to us if we had been sitting on those benches and had suggested taking the Bill in this way. I can imagine what the Lord Privy Seal would have said, with great force and vigour, and what attacks would have been made on the Government, if we had dared to entertain taking Scottish business in the middle of the night. The right hon. Gentleman who has kept us up so late may desire to go to bed. We do not at all agree, because of the importance of the issue. The Lords Amendment has this effect. It leaves out Sub-section (1) of Clause 8, which provides that occupation by a landlord for the purpose of residing on his estate,shall not he a reasonable purpose in respect of which the Land Court may authorise resumption by the landlord of a holding.The Land Court is categorically informed that, in no circumstances is a landlord who wishes to resume possession of his holding for the purposes of residence, to be allowed to get possession. We think that that is an unjustifiable step, and we suggest that the law should be restored to what it was under Section 2 of the Crofters Act of 1886 until that Section was modified by Section 19 of the Act of 1911. The situation under 1427 the Crofters Act is that the Land Court have power to consider any request that may be put forward by a landlord who desires to get occupation of his holding for personal residence thereon, it being his only landed estate, and if they think that it is reasonable and that he shows that it will be for the good of the holding or the estate, they are authorised to grant resumption. We think that that is reasonable and right, and we want to trust that function to the Land Court. The 1911 Act, Section 19, provided that occupation by a landlord for the purpose of personal residence of his holding was to be deemed to be a reasonable purpose for which he could get immediate occupation. The Land Court had no discretion in the matter. They were categorically told that, if somebody came forward and desired occupation of his holding, he was to get it. The Government have gone too far over to the other side and have laid down the law that the Land Court shall have no discretion whatever, and that it shall never be a reasonable purpose for which a man can get possession of his holding that he wishes to live upon it.
We are told that there is a grievance here, that in a number of cases the crofter has been deprived of his holding by someone coming from a neighbouring town who has bought the holding and desires to use it as a place of week-end residence. For the whole twenty years since the Act of 1911 was passed only 153 cases, in which resumption has been allowed to the owner for the purpose of personal residence thereon, have occurred. Of these, 120 took place in some six or seven years after the war. In the last few years there has hardly been a case. There were six cases in 1927, eight in 1928, three in 1929, and last year there were only two cases. It is wrong to lay down the law definitely that in no circumstances shall a man who has purchased a croft be entitled to get possession of it to live upon it. In many cases it is to the good of the holding that that shall be done. There are cases of the winding up of a trust estate, cases where it may be necessary to Bell the holding to pay off Death Duties, cases where in the national interest it is not desirable that the holding should remain in an impoverished 1428 estate and in such circumstances it should be sold. These are matters for the highly skilled persons who form the Land Court.
When the Bill came before the Standing Committee on Scottish Bills, the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Millar) expressed the view that this question of resumption for personal residence was a matter for the Land Court, and he asked the Government if they had no confidence in the Land Court, saying that it was reasonable that, if a man owns a croft, he should have an opportunity of claiming it. The Land Court, however, under this Bill are to have no say and no discretion in the matter. Those who represent the Government in another place were obliged to say how reasonable was the case put to them. An Amendment proposed there was withdrawn in order to see if a compromise could be arrived at. Those representing the Government frankly admitted that there was much to be said for the point of view that it was a matter that ought to be left to the discretion of the Land Court. However, no compromise was found to be possible, because the Government held positively to their view that the matter should not be left to the discretion of the Land Court, but that the Land Court should be told outright that this question of personal occupation by the landlord was not one with which they could deal. The only reason the Government could give was that there were cases where a week-ender bought a croft and got possession of it without any serious intention of cultivating it. It is true that such cases may have been protected under the 1911 Act, because under that Act the Land Court have no discretion, but are bound to grant resumption for personal residence. That made the law what it is now.
We are not opposing everything, and we agree that there should be an Amendment of Section 19 of the Act of 1911. We say that the matter should be left to the Land Court, as in their hands it is safe. It is very arbitrary that it should be laid down imperatively in a Statute that, although the Land Court may think a good case has been made, in no circumstances whatever is a man who has purchased an estate to be allowed to get possession of it. I hope that the Liberal party will support the 1429 very reasonable suggestion which I am making. When the Bill was in Committee, they were prepared to accept it as a compromise. It may be that they prefer the proposal of the Government, but we are asking here something which is entirely reasonable, that the Land Court, which has the confidence of the public in Scotland, should be allowed to consider each case that comes before them. The cases which have come before them on the ground of personal resumption are very few indeed. There may be cases, however, where it is desirable and right that the owner should get possession, and it is entirely a mistaken policy that we should pass this Sub-section of this clause and thereby deprive this Court of any discretion.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
It is quite true to say that this Clause is one which has been discussed for many years in this House and more than one colleague of mine has introduced a Bill to mitigate an undoubted grievance. We, therefore, welcome the Clause as it stands. I would like, however, to draw attention to one or two statements made by the hon. Baronet who preceded me. He made an appeal that it should be left to the discretion of the Land Court. The very genesis of this Clause is that, because the whole matter has been left to the discretion of the Land Court—
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
We are not dealing with the 1911 Act but with the Act which was the origin and foundation of security of tenure. The real gravamen of the complaint against the attitude of my hon. Friend who has just spoken, is this, that the resumption of holdings which began to take effect after the war was a blow at security of tenure.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I was saying that the resumption of holdings was a real blow to security of tenure. The reason why the Liberal party have been endeavouring for years to change that is to revive in the minds of the small farmers of Scotland the idea that they were entitled to full security in their holdings. The hon. Baronet went so far as to say 1430 that in no case could a landlord resume his holding. That is not true. He has mistaken the facts of the case.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Under the Act of 1886 there are very many reasons why a landlord would be entitled to resume his holding. As this Clause stands, it says that no landlord shall be entitled to say to a man that he shall be turned out because the new owner desires to live on the particular holding. Everybody felt it was unfair that, if the occupier was paying his rent regularly—with all his work and his family's work in the holding—he should be at the mercy of anything of that kind. This is a legitimate attempt to establish once again security of tenure. There is no reason in the wide world why a holding should not be resumed if it is for the good of the holding. That still stands.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I stand subject to correction, but it is my view that, if it is for the good of the holding, or for any of the reasons named in the Act of 1886, holdings can be resumed. We say that the old reasons for resuming holdings stand as they were, except for the mere purpose of occupying or residing on the holding, it may be for week-ends. That is not a reason why holdings should be handed over to the proprietor.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I do not think that is a fair account of the situation, or of the situation which would arise if the Amendment were carried. The right hon. Gentleman said a holding could be resumed for any of the other causes except personal residence. I think that is a very dogmatic statement, and a very confused statement of the law, if this Clause is to be read with the Section of the previous Act. I should very much doubt if that statement of the law is correct. Neither of us is very expert. It is clearly a matter in which the view of one of the Law Officers of Scotland should be available to the House. I do not know the cause which prevents the Lord Advocate being here on a Bill so technical as this, nor do I wish to be as categorical an interpreter of the law as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ross 1431 and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson). It seems to me to be a doubtful point. On the general merits of the Amendment, let the House make no mistake. You either give it to the Land Court to say whether a man who owns a holding is more suitable to cultivate it, or whether the tenant is more suitable than the owner. If the Amendment was agreed to, there would be no bias in favour of the owner or the tenant, as a class. Each case would be tried by the Land Court which is now as expert in dealing with this question as any tribunal could be. If this Subsection is omitted, it is left to the Land Court to decide. If the House refuses to accept this Amendment, it gives its approval to the perfectly fatuous proposal that it must be better for every holding to be cultivated by a man who does not own it than by a man who does.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Cultivation must be intensely bad before you can call that proviso into operation. There is no reason why the House of Commons should come down in favour of cultivation by the tenant rather than by the owner. So far as evidence goes there is a steady increase of cultivation of land by owners in Scotland. It does seem to be the current mode, and the mode approved by agricultural Scotland. I see no reason why in the matter of small cultivation you should make it impossible, or very difficult, for the owner of a holding to cultivate his own land. It is on that ground that I think the previous situation was far preferable to the situation now to be adopted. No bias should be shown in this House either in favour of the owners of holdings or tenants. That matter should be left on the merits of each particular case. The action of the Government is a backward step in legislation. In the earlier stage of the matter the Land Court was forced to give the owner possession. I agree that was unsuitable. The present situation leaves it to the Land Court to decide which is the best course, and is better than the Clause to bar a man from cultivating the land he owns.
§ Mr. HANNON
I would ask, for the guidance of the House, whether, in a debate of this quality where highly 1432 technical questions of law are concerned, it is not eminently desirable that a Law Officer of the Crown should be present. You will observe the difference of view between the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) and the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton). It is exceedingly difficult for English Members to follow the subtleties of Scottish law without someone being present to give us guidance.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is not a point of Order. It is clearly not for me to decide who shall be present on the Ministerial bench.
§ Mr. HANNON
With great respect, for the purpose of conducing to the efficiency of the debate, is it not usual in this House to have some competent authority to determine law as it arises.
Earl of DALKEITH
I should like to add my protest against the Government taking this Bill without notice, because there are internal dissensions in their own party. This may not be the most important Amendment which we have to discuss, but it is one in which the Government to redress what they think is a hardship are legislating in a way which inflicts greater hardship in another way. We have here two legal aspects, and I would like to have the opinion of one of the Law Officers of the Crown. Quite apart from the legal aspects, the compromise arrived at in another place is a very practical one and very fair to both sides. I do protest against the Government at this late stage in the Session spoiling what might be a fairly useful Bill. I think the House ought to know that this is the one proposal in the Bill which is really objected to by considered agricultural opinion in Scotland. If it is the case that these grievances do exist, then the Government are going entirely the wrong way to remedy them. The House should consider alternative proposals such as the encouragement of occupying ownership rather than the system that the Government are proposing. I think the Government might indi- 1433 cate some ways in which they are prepared to meet us in the succeeding Clauses of greater importance.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I trust that the House will not be misled by the two speakers who have preceded me into considering the questions of occupying ownership or dual ownership. The point that has been raised is a very simple one. I must confess that I have some familiarity with the law in this matter. The Act that was passed in 1886 gave certain powers of resumption. In 1911 the scope of resumption was widened so as to give a man, who owned one holding and who said he wanted to go on living on it and working on it, the right to demand resumption. That right was reduced after the passing of the 1919 Act, and cases of resumption occurred, not in a few cases as the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeenshire (Sir F. Thomson) suggested, but in hundreds of cases.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I challenge those figures. In the Orkneys and Shetland, in Banff and Aberdeen, there were hundreds of cases in which notice was given to the tenants either to buy their holdings or to leave. The holdings were bought over the heads of many of these small holders, and in the case of hundreds they were evicted. It was to prevent those evictions that the Clause was put in the Bill. I agree with the hon. Baronet that the Clause introduced in this Bill which I had the honour to introduce differs from the Clause that stands here, but this is a Government Clause, and we accept this Clause and are firmly of opinion that it is the correct way to deal with the matter and to give a direct negative to the powers of resumption which were given in the Act of 1919. Accordingly, we support the proposal of the Government.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Westwood)
I respectfully suggest to the House that this matter has been fully discussed. The House has more than once expressed itself in favour of the decision taken by the Government. It has been discussed in Committee upstairs, and there again the Committee, by an overwhelming vote, supported the decision of the Government. We are debating the 1434 attempt by another place to impose its will on this House after this House has given its decision. The noble Lord the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Earl of Dalkeith) stated that agricultural opinion in Scotland was against the decision of the Government. May I suggest that it is the landlord's opinion that is against it. The smallholders, the National Farmers' Union, and others who represent agricultural opinion, are practically unanimously in favour of the Bill. The hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Sir F. Thomson) gave certain figures of cases that came before the Courts. They did mot deal with the innumerable cases in which people rather than face the expenditure were evicted from their holdings. In many cases it was simply a question of resumption for a better sale or for week-end parties. I think the House has fully discussed every aspect of the matter, and I would suggest that it should now come to a decision upon it.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Am I to understand that, as the law is at present, it will be possible for land owners to force smallholders out without the Land Court considering the matter at all?
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
I said that, if the House disagreed with the Lords Amendment, we would guarantee security to the tenants of smallholdings.
Mr. R. W. SMITH
The Labour party and the Liberal party consider that in these Debates we are out to support the landlords. Well, we only support them when we consider that right is in their favour. We are here seeking to safeguard the small man. May I point out that a person seeking resumption must prove that it is only land, and that it is not more than fifty acres or £50 in value. We say that it is very unfair for the man whose only holding it is that the Land Court is not to be allowed to take into account whether he ought to have it or not. That is the only point. I do not think that a great many of the hon. Members opposite understand this matter. It is a simple question whether the tenant is going to have the right or the owner, who is also a small man. We have had a most interesting explanation of the law from the Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine (Mr. Scott)—
I naturally assumed that was the Government's point of view, as the Liberal party are intimately connected with the Government. There have been a great deal of comings and goings between the hon. Member and the Government, and therefore it was only natural to assume that he was speaking for the Government. We are always told that this is to prevent eviction, on the ground of security of tenure. But, under the Act of 1886, if a man can prove, having bought his little piece of land, that he wants to erect buildings or dwellings on that bit of land, the court has to take into consideration the question. So that all he has to do is to say that he is going to put up buildings on that land. He can divide the land and he has to prove that he is going to put up buildings, and the court must take that into account.