HL Deb 16 December 1908 vol 198 cc1828-31


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


This is a very short Bill, and its provisions are extremely simple. I will, therefore, not detain your Lordships long, but will just recite what is the object of the Bill. In effect the Bill proposes to amend Section 4 of the Crofters Common Grazings Regulation Act, 1891, in the first place by enabling the Crofters Commissioners to appoint a committee, and make regulations without any request from a landlord or from crofters interested, such a request being necessary under the Act of 1891. Secondly, it amends the Act of 1891 by rendering a person committing a breach of any regulations made under the Act of 1891 liable to a penalty on conviction before a sheriff under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts without prejudice to the existing powers under Section 5 of the Act of 1891 to deal with a breach of regulations by petit ion to the sheriff, the power last-mentioned having been found inadequate. It is also proposed to give power to a person appointed by the Crofters Commission to summon and attend any meeting of a Commons Grazing Committee for the purpose of advising the committee or otherwise assisting them in administering the Act of 1891. It is anticipated that under this power the same person might, with advantage, summon and advise several committees in this connection. These are really all the provisions contained in this Bill, which I ask your Lordships to read a second time.

Moved that the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Herschell.)


I should like to lodge a protest against this Bill being sprung upon us at this late period of the session. I applied at four o'clock for a copy of the Bill and I was surprised to find that it was not then printed. I do not think that business can be carried on with advantage if Bills have to be brought up from another place, and be printed, and given a Second Reading in this House two hours afterwards. This has been described by the noble Lord as a short Bill, and I should like to add that it is a rather useless Bill. It amends an Act which did not come to very much in the first place, because it has been shown that the Crofters Common Grazings Regulation Act, 1891, was not used either by landlords or tenants. This Bill is intended to enable further use to be made of that Act, but it will probably not be used to a much greater extent when the Crofters Commission come to administer it. The whole question of common grazings certainly needs investigation by His Majesty's Government, and it is a great pity that a Bill dealing with the subject should be rushed through the House at the last moment as this Bill is to be. Crofters common grazings have an importance entirely outside their intrinsic value in the agricultural system of Scotland from the fact that they are the home of contagious diseases among sheep in the North. In Inverness, of twenty-three cases of sheep scab in a short period of years, twenty were found to exist on the common grazings of crofters. On the island of Lewis, and I believe on the West Coast of Ross-shire the same state of things prevails. This is, as the House will see, a matter of great importance to agriculturists, because if these areas should be scheduled it means the total prohibition of the export of sheep from them while the Order remains in force, thus involving a very considerable loss to all the sheep farmers in the district. There is, I understand, no great hurry for this Bill to pass, and the matter should be once more considered with the Board of Agriculture in order to find out when committees are appointed to draw up regulations whether they might not at the same time do something to deal with sheep scab. I can imagine nothing more useful than to have committees who could deal, not only with the number of sheep on the ground, but also with this question of sheep scab, which is a veritable curse throughout the western part of the Highlands. It is very obvious that in the case of these crofters common grazings, where each man has from a dozen to twenty sheep, the same care is not exercised as in the case of larger holdings which are fenced, and in which each man is responsible for his own flock. I think it would be well if His Majesty's Government would consider whether there is any great urgency for carrying this Bill through, and whether it might not be left over until next session and introduced in another form which would enable the Board of Agriculture to co-operate with the Secretary for Scotland. The Highland counties at the present moment are very heavily taxed to meet the cost of extra veterinary experts who are introduced to deal with outbreaks of contagious disease, which, with a little careful legislation, might be entirely prevented.


I feel that an apology is certainly owing to the noble Lord for the fact that the Bill had not been printed, and he was unable to have access to a copy of it until a late hour. Nobody who has listened to the noble Lord's speech could possibly fail to be impressed, not only with his intimate knowledge of the particular question he dealt with, but also with the great value of his observations on the subject of contagious diseases among sheep. All his remarks on this subject I shall certainly convey to the Secretary for Scotland, and I feel sure that if legislation dealing with this matter should be introduced his opinions will receive every attention. As a matter of fact, however, this particular point could not really be introduced in the present Bill for two reasons. In the first place, the question is one that rests with the Board of Agriculture, and, of course, as I need hardly tell the noble Lord, it does not come under the Crofting Acts. Secondly, the Crofter Commissioners cannot make regulations, because they could only do this under the Crofting Acts, and this Bill merely seeks to repeal one section of the Crofters Common Grazings Regulation Act. I hope, in view of the fact that it would really be impossible to insert in the Bill a provision with regard to this particular point, the noble Lord may perhaps, be content to allow the Bill to receive a Second Reading.


I think it would be very much better to take up the whole of this question in one Bill, and I do not think that the present measure will be of very much value in the Highlands.


May I join in the appeal of my noble friend that the noble Lord opposite will allow this little Bill to go through? I agree with every word that he has said about the horrible curse of sheep scab. No two farmers, however, think that the same time is convenient for them to undertake the dipping of their sheep. The question of sheep scab is a very large one, and I can promise him that if he will allow this Bill to go through, and will give us the valuable advice and counsel which he is able to do on the bigger question, we shall be perfectly ready to consider that question. I do not think, however, that he will be assisting in any way to deal with the question of sheep scab if he stops the passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House.


I can assure the noble Earl that I am not going to raise any objection to the Second Reading, but I hope at the same time that the Government will bear in mind what I have said in reference to the question of sheep scab.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.