HC Deb 29 March 1955 vol 539 cc208-11

3.35 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNair Snadden)

I beg to move, in page 14, line 28, at the end, to insert: (7) Where a croft has, in consequence of the making of an order under subsection (1) of section seventeen of this Act or under subsection (5) of section twenty-one thereof, become vacant and has remained unlet for a period of six months beginning with the date on which the croft so became vacant, the Secretary of State shall, if the landlord, at any time within three months after the expiry of the period aforesaid, gives notice to the Secretary of State requiring him so to do, direct that the croft shall cease to be a croft and shall purchase the buildings on the croft. The Committee will remember that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum), during the discussion in Standing Committee, raised the question of compensation to a landlord who found that his croft was unlettable because of an action of the Crofters Commission. In my reply, I then pointed out that this contingency was a very remote one, and could happen only in certain circumstances, into which I shall not go at the moment, but I gave an undertaking to see whether anything should be done in this matter. On considering it, we feel that it is possible that a croft might, because of the action of the Commission, be found to be unlettable, in which case the landlord would have to pay compensation to an outgoing crofter who was dispossessed by the action of the Commission, without being in any way able to recoup himself, because the croft was unlettable.

The Amendment would enable the landlord to require the Secretary of State, in the circumstances envisaged, to declare that the croft shall cease to be a croft and to purchase the buildings upon it. This is in line with the taking over by the Secretary of State of buildings rendered redundant upon the reletting of the croft by the Commission under another Clause. I think it is a reasonable thing to do, and it puts this matter in line with what we are doing in another part of the Bill.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

I cannot see any need for the Amendment. It provides that when an order has been made under Clause 17 (1) and the croft becomes a vacant croft, the landlord may direct the Secretary of State to purchase the buildings on the croft, but under subsection (1) the Commission, in determining whether or not to make an order terminating the tenancy of an absentee crofter, has to take into account the question whether—and I quote from Clause 17 (1, b)— it is in the general interest of the crofting community in the district in which the croft is situate that the tenancy of the crofter should be terminated and the croft let to some other person or persons. If the tenancy of the absentee tenant has been terminated and the croft has been let to some other person or persons it is exceedingly difficult to see that the making of an order could put the landlord at such a disadvantage that he should be empowered to require the Secretary of State to purchase the buildings upon that croft.

I do not think that the Amendment fits into the Clause at all. I can well under- stand subsection (6) of the Clause giving power to the landlord to require the Secretary of State to purchase the buildings, because the Commission has determined the croft to be a vacant croft and because the Commission has taken certain buildings from the land in the croft and has given the land to another croft to be worked as part of and for the enlargement of that other croft.

In the proposed new subsection there is no suggestion that the land has been severed from the croft or is to be worked as an enlargement of an adjacent croft. It is just because at some time the Commission has acted upon the provisions of Clause 17 (1), has declared a croft to be vacant and has provided for its being let to some other crofter. It is very wrong that, in those circumstances, the landlord should be enabled to direct the Secretary of State to purchase the buildings and the croft. He may well make it impossible for this croft land ever to be worked in future as part of a croft at all. Presumably, that would be running counter to the whole purpose of the Bill.

We think there has been no justification offered for putting forward the proposed new subsection. I hope that we shall have some justification offered for it, or a willingness on the part of the Government not to push it.

Mr. Soadden

The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) will recall that I pointed out in Committee that the chances of this position happening were remote, in that the Commission, in the case of dispossessing an absentee crofter, would probably in nine cases out of ten be quite certain that it could re-let the croft before it dismissed the absentee. If the crofter were dispossessed under the good husbandry Clause the crofting Commission would be certain that it could re-let the croft. There is the remote contingency that after having done this, the Commission finds that the croft is unlettable. The landlord would then be confronted with paying compensation to the outgoing tenant.

The Amendment is a reasonable one to meet the case in which, because of the action of the Commission, a landlord becomes liable to pay compensation to an outgoing tenant while unable to re-let the croft, and I have no hesitation in asking the Committee to accept it.

Major D. McCallum (Argyll)

I had doubts on this matter. I have now heard the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) express his view that the proposed new subsection is not necessary. The Minister has pointed out that we are legislating for what is likely to be the very rare occasion that a croft, by reason of action of the Commission or the Secretary of State, has become unlettable and the landlord has to pay compensation to the outgoing tenant. He then finds himself with buildings with which he can do nothing. Such a case is likely to occur very rarely, but it is a matter of justice to the landlord that we should pass this Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 14, line 30, after the first " of," insert: subsection (6) of this section or under."—[Mr. Snadden.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended (in the Standing Committee and on recommittal), considered.