HC Deb 29 March 1955 vol 539 cc243-5
Mr. Snadden

I beg to move, in page 18, line 42, at the end, to insert: (4) Where a conveyance in feu has been granted under this section the person to whom it is granted and the wife or husband of that person shall, so long as either of them continues to occupy the subjects conveyed, continue to enjoy any right to cut and take peats for the use of those subjects which they enjoyed when the authorisation aforesaid was granted. This Amendment is to meet a point which was raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) during the Committee stage. It is to enable an aged crofter who gives up his croft to have such rights of peat banks and access as may seem reasonable to the Commission. The hon. Member suggested that such provision might be put in the feu charter. I told him that although his Amendment was not acceptable in the form in which he moved it, we would accept the principle and endeavour to meet his point. We have done that in this Amendment, which retains for the aged crofter and his wife the right to cut peat so long as they continue to occupy the house. These words fulfil the object which the hon. Member had in mind.

Mr. Grimond

I am very grateful to the Government for the Amendment. Naturally I do not want to make any difficulties about it, but there are two questions I should like to ask. The Amendment goes a little further than I had intended in my Amendment. I had tried to leave the Commission some discretion so that it could either allow the aged crofter to keep the whole of the rights to peat or it could divide them between the aged crofter and the incoming crofter, because it is conceivable that the incoming crofter might also want some peat. I take it that the Government might answer that an arrangement could be come to between them and that possibly the aged crofter could sublet peat rights.

The second point is: what happens to the peat rights when the aged crofter and his wife are dead? Do they revert to the incoming crofter who holds the croft lands or to the landlord? I will not press for an answer now but I think that that is a point of importance. To whom do the rights go? Perhaps at some future stage an answer might be given.

Mr. Snadden

Speaking offhand, I think that they would revert to the incoming crofter.

Mr. M. MacMillan

This happens to be one of those little things on which crofters and grazings committees are particularly touchy. I do not know why, because in some areas where they cut hardly any peat at all this is still regarded as an extremely important right, to make sure that nobody else cuts it. I have almost painful recollections of its importance in my first election campaign in 1935 when the quite unscrupulous local Liberals of those days—there are fewer Liberals today so there must be fewer unscrupulous ones too—slyly organised a propaganda scare against me that because I lived in one village if I were elected the neighbouring village would be deprived of its peat banks.

That story, spread by the Liberals had, I have no doubt, its effect. We exposed the outrageous falsehood of the whole thing; and I am convinced their chicanery over peat-cutting was part of what led to the downfall of the Liberals in the Highlands generally. Nevertheless, it is an illustration of how seriously the matter of peat-cutting rights was taken even in the higher political levels of the Liberal Party.

Mr. Manuel

This is a most interesting bit of history. I take it that the Liberals expected my hon. Friend to set the heather on fire and so destroy the peat bank?

Mr. MacMillan

The Liberals were worried lest I should set somebody else's, political peat on fire.

Unless there is the closest consultation by the Commission with the grazings committees then, even on small issues such as this, all sorts of little local complications can arise. If the Commission (start fiddling about with rights of this kind, then there may be difficulties. However, I have no doubt that the Commission will consult with everybody concerned. I hope that it will take into account the feelings of the grazings committees before new people are afforded any rights in the local peat banks.

Amendment agreed to.