HC Deb 02 June 1960 vol 624 cc1688-711
Sir K. Joseph

I beg to move, in page 3, line 40, to leave out from "be" to the end of line 41 and to insert: in writing and shall specify the land in respect of which the application is made; and the applicant shall, either at the time of making the application or subsequently, give to the local authority such particulars, set out in such form". This Amendment defines somewhat more clearly the application for a site licence under Clause 3. The House will see that it is now required that the application should be in writing and should specify the land involved. It is now also set out clearly that the particulars that are submitted in compliance with my right hon. Friend's requirement as to the particulars that must be submitted when seeking a site licence can be submitted simultaneously with the application or at a later date. Some doubt was expressed in Standing Committee whether it was open to the applicant to submit the particulars separately from the application, and this Amendment makes it abundantly plain.

Amendment agreed to.

Sir K. Joseph

I beg to move, in page 4, line 1, to leave out subsection (3) and to insert: (3) A local authority may on an application under this section issue a site licence in respect of the land if, and only if, the applicant is, at the time when the site licence is issued, entitled to the benefit of a permission for the use of the land as a caravan site granted under Part III of the Act of 1947 otherwise than by a development order, not being a permission granted in terms such that it will expire within a period of six months beginning with the date on which the application was made. (4) If at the date when the applicant duly gives the particulars prescribed under subsection (2) of this section he is entitled to the benefit of such a permission as aforesaid, the local authority shall issue a site licence in respect of the land within two months of that date or, if the applicant and the local authority agree in writing that the local authority shall be afforded a longer period within which to grant a site licence, within the period so agreed. (5) If the applicant becomes entitled to the benefit of such a permission as aforesaid at some time after duly giving the particulars prescribed under subsection (2) of this section the local authority shall issue a site licence in respect of the land within six weeks of the date on which he becomes so entitled or, if the applicant and the local authority agree in writing that the local authority shall be afforded a longer period within which to grant a site licence, within the period so agreed. (6) Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this section, a local authority shall not at any time issue a site licence to a person who to their knowledge has held a site licence which has been revoked in pursuance of the provisions of this Part of this Act less than three years before that time. This Amendment involves several changes in Clause 3, which defines the obligation of local authorities to issue site licences. The Amendment seeks to make three changes. The first is consequential on the Amendment just accepted by the House. Subsection (3) in the Amendment sets out that the time that the local authorities have—a limited period—during which to issue site licences, will run not from the application but from the date when all the particulars have been submitted. I am sure that the House will agree that it would be unfair to expect local authorities to deal with the particulars even when they have not been submitted during the limited period of time.

I feel that the second change will also commend itself to the House. It is that it shall be open to both the applicant for the site licence and the local autho- rity to agree a period longer than the six weeks or the two months, that still remain as the normal periods in the Clause. In the absence of any other agreement, the site licence must be issued within two months if planning permission was already held by the applicant and within six weeks if it had not been held but was received after the application.

The third alteration means that a loophole that evaded us in Committee has since been spotted and closed. The House will recollect that Clause 8 gives the local authority power in certain circumstances to revoke a site licence, but by the Bill as then drafted it would follow that it would be open to the occupier of the site whose site licence had been revoked to go to the local authority within an hour and, since he would still have planning permission, claim another site licence, and the local authority would have had no power to refuse it.

The new element in the proposed subsection (6) will empower the local authority not to issue a new site licence for three years after a revocation under Clause 8 has been carried out. I hope that these new subsections which in no way reduce the powers of the local authorities but only extend them and reconcile them with other changes in the Bill will be acceptable to the House.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Irvine

In my view, the Government have missed an opportunity in this Amendment. There is a fault here in the machinery of the Bill. The Bill divides the persons applying for site licences into two categories, namely, those who are entitled to the benefit of planning permission and those who are not so entitled. The fault in the Bill, which is perpetuated in the Amendment, is that no account is taken of a separate category altogether, namely, those who are now required by the Bill to apply for permission whereas, under the existing law, no permission is required. The Government deal with the matter by treating these people within the same category as those who are using land in contravention of planning permission, treating them as people not entitled to the benefit of permission. I suggest that this is an important matter. We are introducing here just the kind of anomaly which, as we all know, has for long bedevilled the enforcement provisions of our town and country planning law.

It is important to recognise that the Bill extends planning control by making it necessary, under this Clause, to apply for planning permission in cases where, until now, no planning permission has been necessary—in cases, for instance,where there has been a use in existence from before 1948, in cases where there has been no material change in the use of land and for that reason planning permission until this point has not been necessary, and in cases where, under the provisions of the 1947 Act, there has been a contravening use but that contravening use has extended for more than four years and, therefore, the whole mechanism of enforcement under the 1947 Act has been ineffective against a user of land.

We have here an extension of planning control under cover of a licensing system. The people who, for the reasons I have suggested, needed no permission at all and those who escaped the effect of the enforcement provisions of the 1947 Act are brought by the Bill into the web and made to apply for planning permission. This is, therefore, an important extension of planning control under cover of a licensing system.

I should have thought that the proper way to deal with this was not the way adopted by the Government in the Amendment, but to provide that in cases where under the existing law no planning permission was necessary, either because there was no material change of use or because it was a pre-1947 Act use, the application should be confined to the local authority as a licensing authority and there should be no reference across to the local planning authority. That would have been an incomparably more tidy and more effective way administratively of achieving the purpose the Government have in mind.

The absurd consequences which may follow from the method adopted by the Government may be illustrated in this way. Let us suppose that we have a case where, under the existing law, there was no material change in the use of land and then, under Clause 3, applica- tion is made to the local authority and referred across to the local planning authority. Let us suppose that the application for permission is turned down but the applicant continues the contravening use nevertheless. In those circumstances, there can be no effective enforcement against him under the law because, on this hypothesis, he can always successfully appeal to the Minister on the ground referred to in Clause 28 (1, c), namely, that no permission was required under Part III of the 1947 Act.

On the planning side of the matter, therefore, the refusal of planning permission has no practical effect at all because that ground of apppeal to the Minister can always be successfully followed. It is true, of course, that, although the planning enforcement provisions are not effective against an applicant of that kind, he can be effectively dealt with through the circumstance that, if he uses the land without a site licence, he is caught by the Clause 6 penalties; but the fact that that is so bears out, in my submission, the undesirability of this whole system. For heaven's sake, in cases where, until now, there has been no need to apply for permission because the proposed use of the land was not development under the 1947 Act, let that type of case be treated not as a case for planning control to which the enforcement provisions of the 1947 Act can have any application at all but simply as a thing apart, an application for a site licence.

In my submission, this is an important matter. I agree that there is a point about what is the appropriate mechanism, but, after all, this is the opportunity to put these things right. Perhaps of all the provisions of the Bill this is the provision which most clearly is the consequence of an attempt, which the Bill illustrates, to extend planning control by resort to a licensing system. I deplore the fact that the Government have not adopted the method I have ventured to recommend.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I support the warning given by the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine). We are here making a major alteration in planning law. If not in so many words, we are in fact depriving an owner of an established right. He has acquired a right to carry on a caravan site by reason of the fact that he did so before 1948 or by reason of the fact that four years have elapsed since he started the development and no notice has been served on him. He has acquired a right in the land, but if the Bill goes through as it is now, he has acquired an empty right because, although he will have that assumed planning permission, he will yet, before he can have a site licence, have to apply for, as it were, confirmation of his existing right.

It is a little worse than that, because if he then applies under Part III of the 1947 Act for permission in order to have the backing to his application for a site licence, he may well be faced with Clause 17 of this Bill, under which directions can be added to that planning permission for running down the site and perhaps terminating it after a few years. It is certainly doubtful whether, in these circumstances, he would be entitled to any compensation for the damage which he would suffer from those directions being applied to his site.

I am sure that this matter has not been fully thought out in all its implications. It is an alteration in planning law, and it seems to me that it would have been a much simpler matter to leave the position in this way. A man who has an established right will apply for a site licence. He may assert that he had that established right, but the local authority might dispute that right. Then let the local authority test it by serving him with an enforcement notice. It would then be tested under the general Clauses of this Bill by appeal to the Minister. If the owner fails, he will have to put in for his planning permission, and conditions and directions can be attached to it, but if he succeeds in showing that he had an established right, he should be entitled to his site licence. I hope that this matter will receive more consideration at a later stage of the Bill.

Sir K. Joseph

This is a formidable combination of lawyers, and I will try to meet what they are claiming. It is quite true that there is a deliberate proposal to submit every existing site to planning survey. That is the intention, and it is achieved by a combination of Clauses 11 and 15. The existing sites, as defined in Clause 11, are deemed to have had planning permission given to them six months after they have made application, within two months of the passage of this Bill, which exempts them from the consequences of Clause 1, if, during those six months, they have not either had planning permission or a discontinuance notice or an enforcement order. Surely, nobody would object to this. It brings the caravan sites of the country under the new control, and I cannot see that this provision, coupled with the consequential availability of the site licence in the Clause we are discussing, extends planning control or removes any safeguards from occupiers.

The hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) spoke as if it were automatic to establish whether or not any particular occupier has or had existing use rights. This is a very complex matter of fact and law which is surely, above all, appropriate for the local planning authority rather than the local authority. It is arguments of planning and relevant to planning that the occupier will adduce in order to show that he has existing use rights, and those arguments, it seems to me, would not be appropriate for decision by the local authority, but should go to the local planning authority.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) is quite right in saying that the local planning authority can test its judgment by taking out an enforcement notice, and against an enforcement notice the person concerned can appeal and go before my right hon. Friend.

Mr. A. J. Irvine

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. It may well occur—may it not?—in the case which he is giving as an illustration, that the local planning authority would come to the conclusion that the use proposed was not one requiring permission under the existing law. It would, therefore, determine the matter by saying, "We have no jurisdiction to grant permission". I put that point to the hon. Gentleman, because it seems to me that, when that occurs, there is stalemate. The local authority cannot issue a site licence without prior permission, and yet the local planning authority is saying, "We have no jurisdiction to grant permission, because this is not a use which required permission under the 1947 Act".

6.15 p.m.

Sir K. Joseph

But the local planning authority can give permission on planning grounds. Even if it decides that the site did not have existing use rights, it is open to the local planning authority to say, "Nevertheless, we will give you planning permission". So far as I can see, if no existing use rights are claimed, the site can be treated in one of these three ways. It must either be given specific planning permission, whether or not it had a right to that permission under the previous law, or it must be treated by enforcement notice or by discontinuance order.

Mr. A. J. Irvine

I am greatly obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary. Will he deal with this point? On that view of the matter, what can be the relevance of this to the provisions in Clause 28 (1, c), which make it a ground of appeal that no permission is required under Part III of the 1947 Act?

Sir K. Joseph

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will look at Clause 28 (2), he will see that my right hon. Friend is obliged to consider any appeal as— an application for permission for retention on the land of any buildings or works, or for the continuance of any use of the land. He cannot, therefore, just consider the sort of technical point raised in paragraphs (b) to (e) inclusive, without at the same time considering the planning aspects.

I hope, therefore, that I have established that the Clause we are discussing does not in any way change the general planning position. It does establish what I think is agreed on all sides as the very heart of the Bill—that anyone who has planning permission shall be entitled to a site licence. All that it does it to define precisely the obligations of the local authority as to the time in providing that site licence.

Amendment agreed to

Sir K. Joseph

I beg to move, in page 4, line 27, at the end, to insert: (2) If after a site licence is issued the terms of the said permission are varied by the Minister on an appeal under section sixteen of the Act of 1947, the local authority who issued the licence shall make in the site licence any alteration required to secure that its terms comply with the provisions of the foregoing subsection. This is a very limited point The House will see that Clause 4 deals especially with site licences for sites which have limited planning permission. As the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) said, it is the intention of the Government that these should be comparatively rare and only for special reasons, but where there is a limited time planning permission, the site licence must also, by Clause 4, have a limited time. It is open to my right hon. Friend to vary that limitation of time in planning permission by appeal, and in that case it follows that the site licence would need the limitation of time altering or removing. Since the limitation of time in the site licence is integral with the site licence, and not just a condition which may be altered by the local authority under Clause 7, it is necessary that there should be specific power for the time limit in the site licence to be removed. That is just what this Amendment seeks to do. I hope the House will accept it.

Amendment agreed to

Mr. Temple

I beg to move, in page 4, line 40 to leave out "or any other feature".

These words were discussed in Committee and were mentioned particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). Replying to that debate, my right hon. Friend the Minister said that he would consider the point, but I notice that he has not put down a Government Amendment. Therefore, I have tabled the Amendment to leave out these words because it was felt that subsection (2), which controls the types of caravans which will be stationed on any land, might well refer to the constructional standards of the caravans.

Hon. Members will recollect that when the Bill was first introduced, paragraph (b) of subsection (2) contained a reference to constructional standards. That reference was taken out in Committee. I understand it to be my right hon. Friend's intention to have consultations with the organisations concerned to arrive at a British Standard of construction for caravans.

No reference now exists anywhere in the Bill to constructional standards, but by reason of the words "or any other feature" it might well be that local authorities would seek to gain control over constructional standards by backdoor methods. It might be that a local councillor, or indeed a local council, quite rightly expressing their individuality, might decide on a certain type of ventilation for caravans in their area. I give this by way of example. They might be, right in specifying that all caravans in their area should use that type of ventilation.

Caravans necessarily are structures which move about the country. They are interchangeable as between one local authority area and another. They might well have a very satisfactory means of ventilation in accordance with the bye-laws of a certain area, but it might not be the same means of ventilation as was approved by the byelaws of a council into whose area it was sought to go. Therefore, they would be excluded from occupying a position in such an area.

Equally, if these words are retained, a council in its wisdom might specify that all the caravans in its area should be painted a certain colour of green, whereas in a different part of the country the same colour might be offensive or not desirable. I merely quote these as examples of the control which could be applied by councils if these words are not deleted.

I wish also to draw attention generally to the subsection. The object of the words "or any other feature" and the words preceding them in brackets is, presumably, to define or amplify the word "types". In Committee, my right hon. Friend said that he required this reference to. their size, the state of their repair or any other feature because he wanted to make it impossible for old bus bodies and the like to be put on caravan sites and to remain there.

If my right hon. Friend does not like my Amendment, he might consider eliminating all the words within the brackets. Paragraph (b) would then read: for controlling the types of caravan … I feel from our discussions in Committee that that is the state of affairs which my right hon. Friend wants to achieve. He wants control by the local authorities of the types of caravan. Therefore, why not leave the paragraph as I have indicated and delete the words "or any other feature", which may well be ambiguous? I paid a considerable tribute to the Parliamentary draftsmen when speaking earlier concerning the Schedule. I cannot repeat that tribute on this occasion, because the subsection merely leads to a great many anomalies and ambiguities. It is for these and other related reasons that I seek to leave out these words so as to bring clarification to this Part of the Bill.

Mr. Short

I support the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) in his Amendment. In the original draft, the Minister's object was commendable. He obviously wished to exclude from caravan sites old bus bodies, the sort of things which disfigure large areas of the coastline in my county.I described them on Second Reading. In many cases, they are structures built round an original four-wheeled horse-drawn caravan which was put there perhaps forty or fifty years ago and has now developed into a bungalow built around the central core. Buses are still being sold and converted into caravans.They are not mobile. They cannot be moved for winter storage and they become permanent structures which deteriorate rapidly.

I quite understand that the Minister did not wish to give local authorities the power to impose structural standards throughout the country; that was never his intention. He did, however, wish to control this sort of thing. By the original draft of the Bill, the caravan manufacturers were quite rightly led to fear that they might have to build different types of caravans with different colours, and so on, to satisfy different licensing authorities.

We now have in the Bill the words "or any other feature". I agree with the hon. Member for the City of Chester that the danger still remains. Local authorities, licensing authorities and district councils who issue the licences can still control any other features and so place a quite ridiculous burden on the caravan industry and make touring from one district to another quite impossible. I can well imagine that some local authorities would do this sort of thing.

As I have said before, I am a caravanner and I take an interest in what people say about the caravanning fraternity. From comments which I have read about the colours of caravans, and so on, I can well imagine that some local authorities would try to impose their own ideas about colour and, as the hon. Member suggested, ventilation, built-in water tanks, window space and the like, but particularly colour. I have always believed that the light-coloured caravan can be made a pleasant feature of the countryside. As I said on Second Reading, one of the pleasantest features of some parts of the country, particularly the North Country, is the whitewashed cottage, and I see no reason why a cream or white van should not be integrated into the countryside in the same way as a whitewashed cottage. However, many local councillors do not agree with this. Through the words "or any other feature", they could place upon the caravan industry a quite unnecessary burden.

As I have pointed out before, the caravan industry not only satisfies this great, new recreation in which so many people indulge, but it is becoming an important export industry also. If this burden were to be laid upon it, it would add to the difficulties that the industry will experience because of the divided Europe.

I hope that the Minister will reconsider this matter. On 5th May, he promised to think about it again, but the anomaly has not been cleared up. The danger still remains and the alarm and uncertainty most certainly remain in the caravan manufacturing industry. I hope, therefore, that the Minister, even if he will not commit himself now, will think about the matter again.

Mr. H. Brooke

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) that the question of standards of construction for caravans can be dealt with satisfactorily only on a national basis. Clearly, it would be wrong for local authorities to try to lay down standards of construction or design for caravans by licence conditions. I submit, however, that we should not get what we all want by accepting the Amendment.

6.30 p.m.

My hon. Friend suggested that all the words within the brackets might be left out. If we did that, we would find that we would be right back in the situation which he desires to avoid. It would not help him in any way. It is necessary that there should be something in the Bill which makes quite clear that a local authority can, by site licence conditions, prevent old vans, such as the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) has spoken of, old caravans as well as old bus bodies and the like, from being put upon caravan sites, and I am advised that if we were to accept this Amendment and leave out the words "or any other feature" that fact would not be established, because it would not be possible "by reference to their size" and "the state of their repair" to be certain that an authority could exclude that kind of creature from a caravan site. It is to make certain that the local authority will have the power to exclude structures of that sort that I must advise the House that we should keep in these words "or any other feature".

However, what I certainly will do—and I hope the House will approve of this—is undertake to advise local authorities, in the circular which, of course, I shall be sending out to all local authorities in due course when the Bill comes into operation, that it would be quite wrong of them to seek by licence conditions to lay down standards of construction or design for caravans.

Moreover, there will be no encouragement whatever to them to do that in the model standards. The House will recollect that there is an appeal against site licence conditions to the magistrates and that not only the local authority but also the magistrates will be under a statutory duty, if the Bill becomes law, to have regard to the model standards.

I hope that what I have said will satisfy my hon. Friend, or, if it does not completely satisfy him, will induce him to be willing not to press his Amendment, because I have considered this as carefully as I can, I have taken advice upon it, and I really must say that I do not think that the purpose all of us have would be furthered if we were to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Temple

I feel at one with the sentiments expressed by my right hon. Friend, although I still do not feel that those sentiments are adequately expressed by this subsection; but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. H. Brooke

I beg to move, in page 5, line 22, after "licence" to insert: as for the time being in force". The purpose of this Amendment is very simple. It is merely to make clear that where the terms or conditions of a site licence are altered the alterations are carried into the copy of the licence which is displayed on the site. The House will remember that we have already accepted a new Clause which provides machinery for enabling the local authority to make the necessary alterations in the original of the licence. It is quite clear that when the terms or conditions are altered the alteration must be carried into the copy of the licence which is displayed on the site.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

I beg to move, in page 5, line 39, at the end to insert: (6) Works carried out on any land for the purpose of complying with a condition attached to a site licence shall be deemed not to be improvements for the purposes of section fourteen of the Crofters (Scotland) Act. 1955 (which relates to the payment of compensation for improvements when a crofter renounces his tenancy or is removed from his croft. Each year more and more of the tourists whom we welcome to Scotland come by caravan, and, indeed, an important part of the Scottish Tourist Board's plan for the development of tourism in the Highlands concerns the provision of caravan parks. As hon. Members will know, crofters in the crofting counties have played a very considerable part in providing facilities for the tourists. They provide bed and breakfast and lodging, and so on. This now plays quite an important economic part in the life of the seven crofting counties, but an important question, and a difficult one, arises from this.

Under the crofting Acts, a crofter normally provides all the fixed equipment on the croft or takes it over from his predecessor. The landlord receives rent for the value of the land alone, that is, the value of the land without the buildings. Under Section 14 of the Crofters (Scotland) Act, 1955, he pays compensation to the outgoing crofter for such improvements as he may have made to the croft. I presume that caravan site installations will be regarded as improvements of the croft and thus rank for compensation.

While it is right to encourage the development of caravan facilities in this beautiful part of Scotland, and also to support the enterprising crofter, it seems unjust that the cost of caravan installations, which have nothing to do with the agricultural use of the land, should rank for compensation. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will take a sympathetic view of this Amendment.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State has no intention whatever of accepting this Amendment. The sponsors of it, I notice, all represent constituencies outside the crofting counties, and I notice, too, that they are headed by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley). During all my time in the House of Commons I have never ceased to be amazed at the manner in which the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns puts forward the case for the landowners. Quite obviously, this is an Amendment which has been thought up by the landowners in Scotland and by nobody else.

Anybody who has had experience of the Highlands during the last two or three years knows that quite a number of landowners in the north of Scotland are not very anxious for the crofters to follow the advice which has bean given to them both by the Crofters Commission and by the Tourist Board. I have met a number of instances in the Highlands in which considerable obstacles have been put in the way of people trying to provide facilities which the Crofters Commission has said they should provide. The Crofters Commission last year made a special feature of trying to persuade crofters to increase their income to a four-figure level by the provision of chalets and by the provision of sites for caravans and by the provision of caravans.

What is the position of the average crofter? This year, the Crofters Commission tells us that of the 20,000, approximately, registered crofts some 13,000 or 14,000 are not viable. As we all know, the crofter does not make a living off the croft. In nine cases out of ten he fishes or, as he has in more recent years, works on hydro-electric schemes or at Dounreay or on some other project. The croft does not provide a living, and the crofter must engage in an auxiliary occupation.

The provision of the facilities suggested adds to the value of the croft in enabling the crofter to make a living from the croft. Why should not the landowner pay the compensation in the usual manner for the improvements that have been made by the crofter to enable him to make the croft viable? I can see no argument against that and I should have thought that Section 14 (4) of the Crofters (Scotland) Act itself prevented any form of abuse, because it states: An improvement shall be valued under this Act at such sum as fairly represents the value of the improvement to an incoming tenant.

Mr. MacArthur

Whether or not an incoming tenant can be found.

Mr. Willis

The fact is that it is of no value unless it is of value to an incoming tenant. In other words, it must be of value in making the croft more able to support the crofter, and surely that is what we want to do. Almost the whole of the Crofters Commission's Report is devoted to the problem of enabling the croft to be viable. If the hon. Member has read that Report he will know that that is true. The Commission itself has suggested previously, with the support of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Tourist Board, that one of the ways to, do this is to allow the crofter to make provision for caravans, and, in fact, to provide them himself.

Anyone who has visited the area and seen the crofter doing this knows that it helps considerably. I cannot see why improvements made to the croft to enable this to be done should not be compensated for in the same way as are other improvements. They are fixtures which improve the value of the croft and are quite distinct from things like implements. They have improved the value of the croft. The landowner has something which is worth more to him than it was previously.

If we are frank about it, the only answer is that a considerable number of landowners do not want the Highlands to be cluttered with caravans. The land owners hold up most of the ideas put forward for making the Highlands viable. The very men who ought to have given the lead in obtaining the amenities and services necessary to do this have often been passive opponents. The Amendment is another more in that direction, and that is why it is sponsored by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will not listen to the appeal and will reject the Amendment.

Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) has repeated the charge, which was levelled earlier today by his hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), that I am in the habit of speaking in the House for landlords, and for Scottish landlords in particular. I have no criticism to make about that and I am not ashamed of speaking in this place for landlords. This Commons House of Parliament is a place where every interest ought to be represented and represented fairly, and not least the interest of the minority.

6.45 p.m.

I ask the House to consider the position of the crofting landlord in the circumstances covered by the Amendment. He has let the croft many years ago, long before the days of tourism, to an agricultural tenant and has taken for it a rent representing the unimproved value of the land. But we have had the Report of the Crofters Commission, to which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East referred, and we have had the growing realisation of the advantages of the western Highlands, the crofting counties, as places for camping and caravanning.

I myself enjoy going to these places every year. Last year I went to Arisaig and Morar, and the year before to Lochinver and Achmelvig Bay, and I enjoy visiting places with such lovely names as Melanudrigal and Achiltibuie. At all these places there were crofts Where caravans were welcomed in the summer months.

It may be that the crofter will want to make some so-called improvements, perhaps to the approach road, or will want to install hard standings and provide a water point. Then the landlord is required by the provisions of the Bill to pay for these so-called improvements on the basis that they are of value to incoming tenants. But very often in derelict crofting communities there are no incoming tenants and it is possible for the landlord to have to take on the liability of the croft and pay compensation.

There may not be another tenant, but the landlord has to pay such a sum as represents the value of the so-called improvements to an incoming tenant. We say that the landlord who lets the croft for farming purposes ought not to he required by Statute to pay compensation if the land has been let for some other purpose and expenditure has been undertaken to make the croft into a caravan site. That is a matter for the tenant if he wishes to do it.

It may well make the croft more valuable to the crofter as a viable proposition, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East recognised. Good luck to him. Let him pay the money and take the rent of 2s. 6d. a month or whatever he wishes to charge from the caravanners, and let him sell milk to people who stay on the croft. The charge ought not to fall on the landlord who lets the land as an agricultural proposition. He ought not to he required by Statute to pay compensation in respect of non-agricultural purposes.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

I am more surprised than I can say that the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) should have made this plea. I should have thought that the improvements made under the Bill for the purpose of developing a caravan site on a croft would be small and that the amount of compensation, if it ever arose, would not be very much. I should have thought that there was not much to fear from the compensation that might be payable, but if it were a considerable sum there must have been considerable expenditure of money by the crofter in the first place in making the improvements.

Surely all of us believe that improvements of this kind are most likely to endure and that tourism will increase and not decrease. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) made his first speech in the House on this very subject of developing tourism in the Highlands. I should have thought that he, of all people, would have envisaged that in the years that he ahead any sum of money spent on the development of amenities like caravan sites would prove to be money well invested.

The person concerned is the humble crofter, the person who probably has the lowest income of any category of worker, and a person who follows a basically agricultural pursuit which nobody believes gives him a livelihood. During the passage of the Crofters (Scotland) Act, 1955, the House recognised that and said that the crofter must be encouraged to augment his income by turning to other things.

The Crofters Commission has been beseeching the crofters to turn to tourism. They have been asked to supply the needs of tourists visiting the North of Scotland. They have been asked to provide tourists with sleeping accommodation, to grow additional crops to provide food for the tourists, and to provide them with caravan sites.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite can hardly say that they support the Crofters Commission in the pleas it makes to the crofters in the north of Scotland if, at the same time, they say that the landowner who has never spent a penny on the land—he has not been responsible for any of the improvements; he has not built a croft, a shed, the steading, a road or done anything at all—should continue to draw his rent and not pay compensation. The landlord does not drain the land or fence it, yet he draws his rent without having been responsible for any of the improvements.

Under the conditions of the Bill the crofter is required to spend money on improvements before he can get a licence. Why do hon. Gentlemen opposite say that the poor crofter who is doing something to help attract tourists to the Highlands should not be paid compensation if he ever has occasion to renounce his croft? Suppose that the husband dies. If the widow renounces the croft and the landowner takes it back, as he is obliged to do, and pays compensation for other improvements, why should these improvements, which have been ordered by the local authority to attract tourists, be taken over gratis by the landowner? Why should he be entitled to benefit when he finds another tenant, or perhaps uses the land himself for the same purpose as it was being used before? That seems to me to be so inequitable that I am surprised that hon. Gentlemen opposite have put forward such a proposition. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, if he does not agree with what I have said, will at least agree with the attitude that I have adopted and will not accept the Amendment.

Mr. Ross

I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will give short shrift to his hon. Friend. Not long ago we read in the newspapers that Sir Hugh Fraser of the Scottish Tourist Board addressed Tory Members of Parliament. I wonder whether the Amendment was tabled as a result of that meeting.

The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) said that he would not apologise for speaking for that oppressed minority in Scotland, the landowners. If there is one thing that the landowners of Scotland do not need it is a spokesman from the Government back benches; they have plenty of them on the Front Bench opposite. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have profited from the treatment given to earlier Amendments in his name and would have decided to resign himself to fight for Scottish landowners at some date in the future.

When one considers that Sir Hugh Fraser is concerned about the future of the Highlands, that the present Government were so concerned about the crofters that they passed the Crofters (Scotland) Act, 1955, establishing the crofters' Commission and that it was proclaimed that that was the last chance for the crofter and his way of life, I should have thought that the only thing that one could possibly do would be to encourage the crofter. This is what the Secretary of State for Scotland has been doing. Only two years ago he produced a White Paper on tourism in the Highlands. He spoke of the great new chance for the Highlands and asked crofters to go out of their way to help the tourist industry.

What were hon. Gentlemen opposite thinking of when they put their names to the Amendment? There is not a single Tory Member from the crofter counties who has the courage to call himself a Tory. They all call themselves National Liberals because the word Tory in Scotland is almost synonymous with landowner, certainly in the Highland areas. Where are the Tory Members? If they believe in the things that they had said about the importance of the crofter, why are they not in their places to oppose the Amendment?

Let us consider the hon. Gentleman's speech. What it amounts to is that he does not like Section 14 of the 1955 Act. The only question asked has been what will happen if there is no incoming tenant. But that objection applies to the whole of Section 14 of the original Act and to any improvements that have been carried out. Surely hon. Gentlement appreciate that if an improvement is made there is more likely to be an incoming tenant. Indeed, no crofter that I know of will spend money on improving a croft to handle caravans without the prospect of being able to do so being more than just a possibility.

The crofters are improving the crofts. If the arguments of the hon. Gentleman are valid he has nothing to worry about. Surely he has read the relevant Section which says: When a crofter renounces his tenancy or is removed from his croft"— the circumstances of his removal were not discussed by the hon. Gentleman but that does not mean that there will be no incoming tenant if he is forcibly removed— he shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, be entitled to compensation for any permanent improvement made on the croft if:

  1. (a) the improvement is suitable to the croft …"
It is no use the hon. Gentleman referring to that Statute which clearly talks about compensation if the improvement is suitable to the croft and then using the kind of language which he used in arguing his case, because he talked about "so-called improvements". If they are only so-called improvements he need not worry about them, because compensation can be paid only if the improvement is suitable to the croft. 7.0 p.m.

I sincerely hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will not only reject the Amendment but will spurn it. If there is to be any real hope for the Highlands and the crofters they must have ancillary occupations, as the hon. Member knows. I have not always been glad that he is one of those in charge of the Bill, but he is right in his own field now, because he is Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and as such is responsible for agriculture in the Highlands, and for the crofters. He will remember the words on page 58 of his Report, namely: Suitable developments which will contribute to the diversification of rural employment or to the economic use of local resources are encouraged. That concerns the very problem of which we are now talking.

On the question of providing caravans, I hope that the hon. Member will think twice before being again misled by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns. We all want to see this problem eased, and it can be eased by the extension of mobile caravans in the north of Scotland. The last thing we want to do is to discourage them, and as the Amendment is intended to discourage them, we should not accept it. What interests me is the reason why the hon. Member wishes to discourage them. I believe it is because many Scottish landowners merely want the land to themselves and do not want to see crofters or anybody else in that part of the world.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gilmour Leburn)

I hope that I shall be able to reply to the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) without necessarily following the advice of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross).

Mr. Ross

Go on—be a devil.

Mr. Leburn

For the purposes of the record I should not like it to go down that the Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire.

The purpose of the Amendment is to provide that works carried out on any land for the purpose of complying with a condition attached to a site licence shall not rank as an improvement on which compensation is payable to the outgoing crofter under Section 14 of the Crofters (Scotland) Act, 1955. I appreciate the point made by both my hon. Friends, but before saying anything else I would make the point that the Government and all those who have spoken welcome the development of tourism in the Highlands. We all want to support that development, and we hope that the crofters will share in the fruits which that development may bring in its train. Crofters have always had an interest in the tourist trade, but until recently it has been mainly restricted to the question of the bed and breakfast business. There is now an expansion of the tourist trade, which is proceeding at a very fast rate. We all welcome it, but it has undoubtedly brought with it a complicated question of the crofters' right to compensation.

This has been recognised by the Crofters Commission in its latest Annual Report, in which it says that the question of compensation for such improvements is linked with the question of rent. In tourism, this question goes beyond the limited one of caravan sites, which is the subject of the Amendment. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) pointed out, it can also raise the question of permanent chalets, and so on. But even within the confines of the question of caravan sites there can be complications, if water supplies are installed or roadways constructed. It would be a little difficult to decide how much was applicable to the crofter and his domestic needs and how much to the caravan site.

Another complication which seems likely to arise stems from the fact that as the Amendment is now worded it would apply only to those sites for which a site licence had been granted. But there may be other types of site which are exempted. This lends emphasis to the point that the general subject of compensation is one for wider consideration than can be given to it in the context of the Bill. In other words, if this question is to be considered at all it should be considered in connection with crofting legislation.

As I have said, in its Annual Report the Crofters Commission made various broad proposals for amending legislation, and these will be considered carefully by the Government in due course. It seems to be more appropriate that the question raised by the Amendment should be considered—and I say this without making any commitment—at a time when we are dealing with crofters. With that explanation I hope that my hon. Friend will feel that this is not an appropriate Amendment for the Bill, and will agree to withdraw it.

Mr. MacArthur

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his remarks, and for his sympathetic and kindly comments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.