§ Order for Second Reading read.2.10 pm
§ Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
A thoughtfully planned and balanced approach to forestry can effectively blend environmental and development interests in the highlands and islands, and perhaps more so than any other economic enterprise. At a time when the future of hill sheep farming appears to be increasingly difficult, it is vital that working crofters be given access to forestry on the same terms as any farmer or landowner. The Bill is intended as the first step towards that.
The Bill will end the legal anomaly whereby ordinary crofting tenants are prevented from participating directly in forestry in the highlands and islands. Under the present law, trees planted by crofting tenants belong to the land. My Bill will tackle this anomaly by giving crofting tenants in the highlands and islands legal rights of ownership over the trees that they themselves plant on common grazing. At the same time, as clause 3 makes clear, the Bill will entitle them to receive the management and planting grants and incentives that are already available to other participants in forestry.
The Bill reflects several years of preparation and il is a compromise between the different parties with a declared interest in these matters. The Scottish Crofters Union—the only union to have expanded under Thatcherism—has been pressing the case for a change in the law since its founding in the early 1980s. It was a subject which I raised during consideration of the Farmland and Rural Development Bill of 1988, as some of my old friends will remember. The then Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), gave a sympathetic hearing, and since then the Scottish Office has lent its support in principle and helped in the drafting of the present Bill.
The Bill embodies the outcome of months of discussion between the Scottish Crofters Union and the Scottish Landowners Federation—the two organisations most directly concerned—and with the Crofters Commission, local authorities and others. As the House will recognise from the list of supporters of the Bill, the measure has broad all-party support. It has the full backing of the Scottish Landowners Federation and of environmental groups such as the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I am grateful to all individuals and organisations for their support.
The Bill is a first step, but a major one, and I hope that by this summer, possibly, we shall see a new and important activity opening up for the ever versatile crofter. It gives me great pleasure to commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).