HL Deb 19 April 1955 vol 192 cc420-41

3.37 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I want to join in the congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Home, on the promotion that he has received. It is rather interesting to find that the first thing he did after undertaking a task in respect of his new office was to come back home and to deal with something in relation to his native land—namely, the Bill which is now before us, which I am sure will be welcomed by this House.

Before I proceed to say something about the Bill I should like to make reference to the death of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, who passed from us during the week-end. If he had been in his usual health and strength, I am sure that he would have been here and would have been eloquent in respect of this Bill. If there was one thing that David Kirkwood was more than another, it was that he was Scottish to the backbone, and took a very great interest in all that pertained to the welfare of his native land. He was a great controversialist, fierce and strong, especially when talking about Scotland from the public platform. Yet there was much more to him than that. With all his strength, his fire and power of eloquence, he was a very kindly man, and I remember vividly one outstanding incident that I experienced in his company.

He had been down, speaking at a memorial service in connection with William Wallace, Scotland's great hero, who was tried in Westminster Hall, and shamefully treated by the English. Coming back from that demonstration down at Elderslie, I was with him when an old lady came to him in the railway station at Glasgow. She was a constituent of his, and wanted to tell him of some problem. The patience and kindliness with which he listened to the story which she had to tell made a great impression upon me, and I confess to feeling that she was wasting his time to a considerable extent. Perhaps he sensed that when he parted with her, for he turned to me and said, "You see, you have to be kind to them, George; they like to tell you of their troubles." That was David Kirkwood at his best and kindliest. He had in his character many other traits that made him a good companion. I have been at times struck by the way in which he could quote passages from the Bible. I remember how he could talk so familiarly, as it seemed, about Eliphaz the Temanite who, I need hardly remind your Lordships, was one of Job's comforters. He was the one who said: Should a wise man utter vain knowledge, and fill his belly with the East wind? There are many other qualities of his which come to my mind, but I must not dwell upon them. He was a great man. He was a staunch trade unionist, and did big things in the Amalgamated Engineering Union, of which he was a notable member. His name is one which will be remembered for a very long time, and his memory is one that we can salute. We may consider ourselves the richer for having known him.

I now turn to the Bill. I do not find myself adequate properly to deal with all that is involved here, but I have travelled to a certain extent in the crofting areas in Scotland, which cover a wide field, from the Mull of Kintyre to the Shetlands, right up the western side of Scotland, including, of course, the Western Isles. This Bill deals with a big problem, and the Taylor Commission are to be congratulated on having looked at it with fresh minds. I say "problem," but there are many problems involved; scores of problems are there for the tackling. Crofters' problems are many and varied, and they change every few miles. In conversation recently with a resident in the area, I was told that the problems of Balmacara are entirely different from those of Plockton, only six miles away. When we think of that difference, and of the wide area covered by the crofting communities, we realise how great and varied the problems may be.

But there is one overriding problem which this Bill seeks to tackle, and the Taylor Commission Report deals with it; that is, the problem of how best to arrest the decay of a civilisation—because it amounts, in my judgment, to that. The cynic would say—and I have been among the cynics—"let it die; it is not worth preserving." I do not take that view, and this Bill is an evidence that other views are held and that the crofter should be given an opportunity of helping himself. I agree with the noble Earl who introduced the Bill that there is real quality in these crofting communities. I call to witness the fact that there is evidence of the way in which those sons and daughters of crofters, going from these communities all over the Commonwealth—for which the noble Earl is now responsible in this House—have made good in other countries and have shown a character that is well worth preserving.

The cynic would say that the crofter is not prepared to help himself. This was said to me in one crofting area, when I had urged the need for helping the crofter. "Help him," I was told. "Go on and do it; and he will sit on his doorstep and watch you doing it." That is the low estimate of the crofter that is held by some people. As I say, I do not hold that view. It is the fact that new methods have taken away the need for the crofter to depend so much upon his own production. Travel in the West Highlands and Islands, and you will see where the staple food of the population comes from. It is a case of Beatties Bread from Glasgow being everywhere. I also state a fact when I say that milk for Lewis is carried daily by rail and steamer from Wick to Stornoway, via the Kyle of Lochalsh. Even the potato patch is missing from many crofts, and the sight of lorry loads of potatoes, in bags, being supplied to the crofters who could grow their own is a familiar one, though not less familiar than the steady encroachment of rushes where cultivated land and good grass formerly existed. That is the problem.

I am not making these statements to indict anyone, but simply to enable this House to appreciate the task which is being laid upon the proposed Crofters Commission authorised by this Bill. The storms of the past winter, which had such a devastating effect upon the living conditions of the population in the crofting counties, showed how serious the position could become in a very brief period of time. I suppose that crofts and townships have been cut off before; but never, I think, have we known of such sudden and acute distress. What is the remedy? Must the crofter be a crofter indeed, instead of merely a railway or other employee living in a house on a croft? And must he make of the croft a full-time occupation? That involves drastic changes, for many crofts are unable to maintain a family. I am told that this requires fifteen acres of arable land, and an outrun on the hill for sheep. To think of that requirement, and then to contemplate the position of the occupants of runrig lands and common grazings, is to realise the burden which is being laid upon the Commission, and makes it imperative that the members of the Commission should have intimate knowledge and experience to enable them to discharge their onerous task efficiently. In passing, may I say that this Bill was greatly improved in another place by the Government's acceptance of Amendments which were put forward.

In another place, strong representations were made regarding the need for a member or members with personal experience of crofting to be appointed to the Commission. Having had time to consider the matter, I hope that the Government are now in a position to insert such a provision in the Bill. I am sure that, if this is done, it will make the Bill more acceptable to the crofters in whose interest it is being promoted. It seems necessary to bring the crofting community behind the Bill and to remove certain apprehensions—or perhaps the noble Earl would prefer me to say "misapprehensions"—that they have regarding it. There is a real concern about the way in which it is proposed to set aside the Scottish Land Court and vest certain powers in the Commission which will be enforced by the sheriff court. The Land Court has had a long experience, in the course of which it has earned the confidence of the crofters and farmers. It has a higher status than the sheriff court, in that it is presided over by a Chairman who ranks with Judges of the Court of Session. It is more accessible than the sheriff court because it can, and does, meet where necessary: it might be described as a peripatetic court, a fact which saves time, and transport and other expenses.

May I ask that this House be informed why such a departure from the practice of many years is being made? Full information will need to be forthcoming before this development of Government policy is acceptable to those who are affected by it. The Commission is to be an administrative body, with no legal members on it; yet it seems to me that a good deal of the work that is allotted to the Commission may be considered as legal work. The Minister will be aware that the Chairman of the Land Court has made public reference to the loss that would be suffered by the crofters in the areas covered by the Bill, but that the expert knowledge and experience of the Land Court would still be available to other small landholders. This seems anomalous and it appears that something should be done to put that position right. If it is not done, I foresee contention and litigation, whereas I feel sure that a decision by the Land Court would be readily accepted.

Referring to the clauses in the Bill, I would cite Clauses 11 and 17 as clauses which might lead to that kind of apprehension. Clause 11 deals with succession to a croft, and it is proposed that the succession should be settled within six months, or the matter will be taken out of the hands of those who may succeed. I quite agree that it is desirable to have these things settled as soon as possible, but I think there might be injustice in dealing with the matter quite so quickly as that. Clause 17 relates to absentee crofters. There again, there is the possibility of making an order for the ejection of the crofter and of the Commission's taking in hand and dealing with the croft. I am afraid that if that provision were applied to some of the big farms and big landowners, there would be some serious criticism of it. I am anxious that there should not appear to be one law for the rich and another for the poor in connection with this Bill.

I hope that these apparent flaws in the Bill can be removed. If so, we can look forward with keen anticipation to the setting up of the new Commission and to the early rehabilitation of the crofting community, and the resulting development and benefit of a large part of Scotland which, notwithstanding its beauty and romantic interest, might otherwise become a desert. But the Commission must be of high quality. This is the greatest thing of all in connection with this Bill. The standing, status and quality of the Commission are of prime importance. It must be fully equipped with the resources that are necessary to carry out its important task. In order to see this through, much money will be required; but, if success is achieved—and I believe that it can be achieved—any money involved will be well spent. I welcome the Bill. I am sure that it will receive a welcome in all parts of the House and, apart from the few exceptional things to which I have made reference, will also commend itself to the vast majority of those who will be affected by it.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken paid an eloquent tribute to the late Lord Kirkwood with which, if I may, I should like to associate myself, since in another place I had the privilege of enjoying a warm friendship with him for fourteen years, although we were sitting on opposite sides of the House. It has always been a regret to me that, owing to his health, I was not able to meet him again here. My noble friend Lord Home has already been congratulated on the new office in the Government which he now holds, but I hope I may be allowed to add one word of congratulation on the way in which he has fulfilled the office which he has just vacated and which he is now, retrospectively, occupying for a short time this afternoon. The office of Minister of Sate is a new office created by the present Government and is vitally necessary to the administration of our affairs in Scotland. It is never an easy thing to be the first man to hold a new office of this kind, but I think it will be agreed by all Parties that my noble friend has earned the approval and the admiration of everybody by the work which he has done in all parts of Scotland.

One subject to which my noble friend has given a great deal of attention for the last three years is the regeneration of the Scottish Highlands, in which the crofting community must take a great part. The trend of our economic development in the last 150 years has not been too favourable to the small man either in industry or in agriculture, but the kind of society which most of us want to see in the Scottish Highlands is a society in which there will be a far greater proportion of families who are either wholly independent or partly independent of their employment as ordinary wage earners. I think that the prime need of the present crofting community in the Highlands is a much greater variety of local industries, in which the occupier of a croft may raise his standard of living by supplementing the income which he earns from the croft itself; and the possession of some such stake in the country is a very strong factor for social stability and for social happiness. One of the Amendments which I had hoped to submit to your Lordships at a later stage of the Bill is designed to protect the position of the worker who enjoys the occupancy of a croft as part of his contract of employment.

I am sure it is possible to envisage a state of society in the Highlands in which there will be a far greater number of small occupiers of land than there are at present. But this Bill is designed only to preserve and protect what we have got already. I think it is a good Bill and it deserves—indeed, I think it has obtained—the support of all political Parties. I cannot altogether say that I think it has been sufficiently digested in another place, and I consider there are several respects in which it would be capable of improvement by further amendment. There is the legal aspect. Are we quite sure that the opportunities given in the Bill to the crofter for appeals against the decision of the Commission are sufficient? I am not suggesting that the Land Court is by any means an ideal instrument for deciding all kinds of cases, but it does enjoy the confidence of the crofting community. I think that in our modern legislation we should always be exceedingly careful to make sure that the powers of the political authorities appointed by some Government are properly and adequately checked at all stages by judicial authority as well. Then there is the question of financial liability. Are the Government quite sure that the provisions in this Bill in regard to the payment of compensation and to the making up of expenses which may have been incurred by somebody else are certain to work out justly between one man and another?

Finally, there is the question of clarity and simplicity which I suppose arises in nearly every Bill which is brought before us nowadays. It is perhaps particularly important in the case of a Bill which affects so many people who are not accustomed to writing a great many letters or to filling up a great many forms, or to any epistolary complexities, but who are rather accustomed to conduct their affairs by word of mouth or by verbal assurances. I think we ought to try and see that the provisions of this Bill are as simple and as straightforward as we can possibly make them.

A number of my friends who take a great interest in Highland questions, and myself, have done our best to draw up a few Amendments which we hoped might improve this Bill in the respects which I have just mentioned. We certainly do not wish to press any of these Amendments unreasonably, and we are fully aware that political circumstances over which we have no control may, perhaps, make it difficult for any Government to consider Amendments at the present moment. Most of us probably know for a fact, and many of us have probably learned by experience, that a man is not very likely to make himself popular if he tries to bring a large number of small household problems to the attention of a lady who is hurriedly dressing for dinner, especially if the lady is aware that a rival lady who is also dressing for dinner is busily using all her cosmetics with great skill to conceal the scars of some domestic conflict which may have temporarily disfigured her natural loveliness. But, my Lords, I hope that the Government lady at least will not utterly scorn a few finishing touches to her appearance. This is an important Bill which affects a great many people in Scotland, and I think it would be a pity if it were to go on the Statute Book without proper consideration from both Houses of Parliament. I therefore hope that the Government may still find it possible to consider between now and the Committee stage the day after tomorrow a few of the purely constructive Amendments which have been put down in the hope of improving the Bill.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I think that a marked compliment has been paid to Scotland by the Government in asking the noble Earl, Lord Home, to move the Second Reading of this Bill, because the honour that has recently been conferred upon him, and upon which we all congratulate him, seems to me evidence that the Government regard him as being the able man we know him to be. I should like also, if I may (this may be quite out of order) to offer my congratulations to the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack on having had conferred upon him the freedom of Dornoch. It is only Sassenach suspicion of him that would associate that honour with the passage of the Crofters Bill, and would lead them to imagine that there may be some influence exerted in favour of this Bill by the appointment. On the other hand, I gather that my noble and learned Leader was also favoured, in that a similar honour was conferred upon him by Dornoch, although at that time there was no Crofters Bill in the offing. It is possible that we on this side should have offered one or two criticisms on minor points in this Bill, were it not for the fact that May 26 is not far away, and noble Lords on the other side may find themselves in the equally comfortable, if less popular, seats on this side of the House.

The Report of the Taylor Commission which was set up by the Secretary of State of the time, outlines in great detail the nature of this complicated problem. I think the noble Earl, Lord Home, in his exposition of this Bill, struck a very proper note in declaring that it was not so much the contents of the Bill that mattered as the spirit in which the reforms in the Bill are carried out. The noble Earl will be aware that powers already exist to grant loans and to give finance for improvements and many similar things; but, as the Taylor Report itself indicates, these powers had not been operated with the vigour and to the extent that they should have been. One would like to feel that the Crofters Commission, when set up, will operate the provisions of the Bill with the fullest possible strength, in order that the help which they can give in promoting the welfare of the crofting communities will be effective.

We agree, too, that the type of Commission to be set up is of the utmost importance, because the crofters themselves—partly by reason of the age distribution, the absence of young, vigorous people, and the great preponderance of older and, therefore, less enthusiastic people—cannot be expected to cope alone with the problems. They need people with a great deal of knowledge and drive, and with a greater realisation of what is necessary in order to make the crofting area a viable area. It is for the Commission to instil the enthusiasm which the area so badly needs, for I believe that all noble Lords, and everyone who has considered this matter, will agree that, whatever drawbacks there may be in the kind of life which the crofters follow, it is a way of life which they themselves would be the last to want to give up. It is the kind of life which we should encourage in every possible way. I do not take the view of the cynics, voiced by my noble friend Lord Mathers, that it is already a derelict area, and, therefore, should be allowed to remain derelict; nor, on the other hand, do I feel that the suggestion made in another place that the area should be repopulated by what was called Glasgow's "overspill" (a horrible word) would in itself be a solution. For natural and human reasons, one cannot industrialise the crofting area. It is essential, therefore, that the Crofters Commission should take upon itself the duty of guiding the crofters, with sympathy, understanding and skill, in the best means of making that area one in which they can live in comfort and happiness.

There are one or two points upon which I should like to issue a warring, and the first concerns the question of transport. The Taylor Commission Report, if the charges mentioned in it are to obtain under the Crofters Commission, indicates, in convincing figures, the hopeless problem presented by transport. I do not know what remedy to suggest to Her Majesty's Government, but the question of charges for transport must, I feel, be taken altogether out of the general run of charges made for transport and treated ad hoc for that particular area. It is not only a question of the cost of marketing being affected by the charges which have to be paid by those consigning goods; there is the added cost in living and for the transport of commodities imported into the area. The whole question of transport must, for that reason, be given extraordinary consideration by Her Majesty's Government.

A further point arises from the numerous activities now going on in the crofting counties—for instance, those of the Department of Agriculture, of the Hydro-Electric undertaking, of the Transport and Tourist Board and of the Forestry Commission. All these organisations may overlap in their functions and, unless there is some definite scheme of liaison between different bodies for the one purpose of furthering the interests of the crofting communities, instead of being helpful may hinder their progress. It is curious to note that in the Department of Agriculture, for example, there are already some twenty-two committees manned by 230 or 240 members; and it is almost inevitable that there should be some kind of conflict from time to time between these different bodies in their functions, or between them and other bodies, in carrying out their duties. One would like to think that all would regard this particular problem as one to which each of these bodies can contribute its quota without getting in each other's way.

Finally, there is the question of finance. A considerable amount of money is already being spent in the crofting area in grants and under different schemes, but one hopes that Her Majesty's Government will be able to indicate that they are prepared to spend a very large amount of money, without reference to any immediate economic return, and having regard rather to the longer view which one must take in dealing with the resuscitation of a community such as this, and that they will not hesitate to encourage the spending of money if the value of this very desirable community in the crofting area can thereby be increased. With those words I, too, should like to add my own blessing to the passage of this Bill.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to associate myself with the expression of the sorrow of the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, at the death of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. He was a man with whom I found it very easy to differ on almost every question; but in this world or any other I should always find it very difficult not to love him. With regard to this Bill and the problem with which it pretends to deal, I would remind your Lordships that we owe the problem and the present situation to one fact. The original Crofters Commission made an excellent Report and a Bill was produced in Parliament in fulfilment of that Report; but for reasons which, I have no doubt, were the best in the world, Parliament made a good many Amendments to that Bill, and the problem we have to-day is due to the Amendments made in the original Crofters Bill. I will celebrate the Earldom of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, by a misquotation, and say "Tantusne animis caelestibus error." For that reason I am perfectly ready to acquiesce in the desire of Her Majesty's Government that there should be no Amendments in this House and that this Bill should go through as quickly as possible.

I do this the more readily because I am a little doubtful about some Amendments which were moved in another place. For example, I feel that in a country where everybody, without exception, speaks English, it is entirely unnecessary to insist that a member of the Commission should be a Gaelic speaker. In a business where we want the ablest men we can possibly get for a very tricky and difficult task, it is a mistake to make conditions of that kind. The question we have before us has been bedevilled not only by the Amendments to the original Crofters Act but also by the legislation of 1911, which I very well remember. I saw its effect going on before my eyes and I mention it because it contains a very important lesson.

First of all, one of the bad effects of that legislation was the complete destruction of the proprietor's interest in his crofting land. He ceased to derive any profit from it at all, and it became merely a source of rather difficult questions. I remember that at the time legislation was accompanied by the most terrific propaganda I have ever seen carried on in Scotland. There seemed to be propagandists in every parish. They went round discussing the benefits and the effects of the Act with all the crofters, and, as a result, a lot of silly men let down the cultivation of their holdings in the spring in order to get their rents reduced by the Land Courts when they came round in the summer. That had a very dramatic effect, because it was accompanied by a very great catastrophe. Smallholders—in my part of the world at any rate—up to that time had an important ancillary occupation in summer—that of carting. At that time, however, in 1911, the motor lorry became popular and numerous in the country, and summer carting as an ancillary occupation utterly failed the crofters. They sat there with reduced rents but with the fertility of their holdings reduced, and without the one necessary thing that is essential to make any crofting community prosperous—an ancillary occupation. I do not think that in the areas referred to by Lord Greenhill, where these hydro-electric schemes have been carried out, there is anything like the same crofting problem, because there is there an ancillary occupation. This ancillary occupation is provided by the hydro-electric schemes and it employs a lot of people, as I know to my cost, because I cannot get any local labour.


It occupies them for the time being.


That emphasises the point. I know that the Crofters Commission will have this matter in mind. They will remember that these people require an ancillary occupation. That is so unless they have wonderfully fertile land. If my noble friend who sits in front of me could give us Orkney land in every part of Scotland, then we should have a very prosperous crofting community; but of course that is not possible.

There is only one Amendment I should like to see in the Bill, though I certainly shall not move it. In all Scottish legislation I should like to see the word "landlord" taken out and the proper Scottish word "proprietor" substituted. The word "proprietor" has the sanction of the Valuation Roll, it has no political connotation at all, and I submit that in legislation that is a desirable object to achieve. I hope I shall have the sympathy of the noble Earl in that matter, and that in future legislation he will see to it that the proper word is used to describe these people.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, I should like at the outset to associate myself with the words of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in regard to the new and old offices of the noble Earl, Lord Home. This Bill is a very valuable contribution as it stands, but, in common with many of your Lordships, I should like to see certain minor Amendments made. But whether amended or not, the Bill, I feel, will play a very great part in doing the work which it sets out to do, and will be of great service to those members of the community whom it is designed to benefit.

I should like to pay tribute to the work of three notable pioneers in the crafting counties. Largely owing to the fairly narrow remit of the Taylor Commission, justice, in my opinion, has not been done to some of the large-scale work that has been carried out; there has not been a full indication of the fruitful results of methods which have been adopted in dealing with this very difficult crofting problem. I refer particularly to the work done in the Great Glen cattle ranch by Mr. Hobbs, the work done by Lord Lovat and the work done by the Duke of Westminster, which is well covered in the Report. But the work done by the Duke of Westminster in forestry has one drawback, if I may be allowed to say so. That arises from the transport difficulty, which has been stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, and which is universally applicable to the whole of the crofting problem. So far as I can see, it is no good getting extra production if you are going to start off with an initial handicap, in the case of cattle, for instance, of £3 a head. Exactly the same thing is very shortly going to hit the Forestry Commission "in the teeth," if I may put it that way. It is all very well growing trees, but how are you going to get them to market? Unless Her Majesty's Government manage to tackle this very difficult problem it will be a millstone round the neck of this Bill. The Bill, of course, does not set out to solve this problem, but I think it should be stressed when considering the Bill because in my view the two matters hang together.

In that connection, one of the notable points with regard to the differences between the crofting communities of the old days and those of to-day is that crofters formerly survived hard winters because they grew their own potatoes and their own oatmeal, and had their own milk. Now, apparently, they are still prepared to produce those commodities, but they have to send them away, often to England—or anyway to Scotland—to have them processed. After being processed, the commodities are put into tins with labels and returned to the original producers. This has to be done nowadays, apparently, before these things are fit to consume—and, of course, it all adds to the transport problem. Whether the Commission will be able to do anything to help in this regard I do not know, but I sincerely hope so. Then there is the very big point that the actual key to increased production, so far as cattle are concerned, is increased winter keep. You can graze any amount of cattle in the Highlands in the summer, but unless you can produce winter keep on the spot you are faced with enormous transport charges—these are quoted in the Report and they are common knowledge to all of us.

In that connection, I should like to refer again to the Great Glen cattle ranch. The area is of the order of 10,000 acres. Voluntarily, some fifty crofters (that, I believe, was the approximate number) were bought out by Mr. Hobbs and are now employed by him. But there are other crofters living on and working their crofts on the fringe of this ranch who are also employed on the ranch. I feel that in certain cases it might be possible for a private proprietor to develop on his ranch large-scale production of winter keep and various other things, so giving employment to the people of satellite crofts, round the edge of the central area. I should not object if this were done by the Government—I am quite broad-minded about that.

I think it unfortunate that the remit was not wide enough for the Taylor Commission to be allowed to consider anything other than pure crofting. What I have just been referring to is not pure crofting, but I feel that in certain cases—for example, where townships have deteriorated or decayed to such an extent that something drastic has got to be done—other methods might well be considered to help in the solution of the problem and with a view to providing other ancillary work, as well as forestry, for the crofter.


May I interrupt the noble Viscount for a moment, in order to make clear what the Taylor Commission says in connection with ranching and crofting. On page 37, paragraph 111, this is what we find in the Taylor Report: We think that there may be parts of the Highlands where cattle ranching can be conducted without harm to any other interest, but we are clear that crofting and cattle ranching cannot live together in the same district.


That is in complete disagreement with my own view, and on the Great Glen cattle ranch I have seen, as any noble Lord who wishes to go there may see, the two living happily side by side. I put the suggestion forward for what it is worth.

One of the problems is the housing of the old folk, a problem that is not confined to the crofting areas. Many old people are living in cottages which are not up to modern standards, but they are paying rents of the order of £2 10s. to £4 a year. It is no comfort to them to be put into council houses at a rent of £4 a month, which they cannot afford. Surely we might be able to consider the problem on a basis of retirement houses, providing the minimum of sanitary necessities and comfort. I would suggest, for example, two rooms and a scullery porch, which is the amount of accommodation to which these old people have been frequently accustomed; and they do not really desire more, especially if it means paying a large rent. I feel that we should start to think more along this line, rather than insist that people who are in the evening of their lives should pay exorbitant rents for comforts which they feel they do not require. If the Commission think along this line, I believe they may be able to provide a solution to a great housing difficulty which, as I have said, applies not only to the crofting counties. With those few remarks, I should like to welcome the Bill as it stands.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, as so often before, your Lordships follow tradition in another place and look on it as a breach of procedure for a Sassenach to engage in a debate on a Scottish Bill; but we welcome with such open arms the appointment of Scottish Peers and Members of Parliament to high offices of State that I think that, as a Sassenach, I might be allowed to comment on a Scottish measure. I join in congratulating the noble Earl who has assumed his new high and responsible office in the last few days and wish him personal success in it—although I hope we shall change the holder of the office very soon. I should like to join in the tributes paid to the late Lord Kirkwood. There are few of us left on this side of the House who associated with him in the troublesome period of 1922, and it was the thought of his service that has led me to say a word on this Bill. I should like to recall his wonderful service in the war. During all the time I was at the Admiralty he was a great help to me in keeping the right spirit on the Clyde when we were dealing with the enormous problem of supplying the needs of the Merchant and Royal Navies. I shall always remember him for that reason, apart from his great personal qualities.

I wonder what Lord Kirkwood would have said about the background of Clause 16 of the Bill. Though noble Lords on this side of the House are in complete accord on the general necessity for the Bill, I want to try to recapture for them a little of the spirit of Lord Kirkwood. I wonder what his position would have been in regard to Clause 16. I may entirely misunderstand it, and I do not want the noble Earl to reply at length to-day, because it might become largely a Committee point. But, from the point of view of spending the taxpayers' money, I wonder whether we ought to be required to accede to the provision that the Secretary of State should be legally bound to purchase buildings on a property still belonging to a private landowner which are no longer of any use. That looks to me to be an extraordinary procedure and I wonder what my late friend would have said about that, not in 1955 but in 1922, when I was associated with him in some of those great campaigns in another place for justice and the right spending of public money.

My knowledge of the history of the crofters is very limited, although one can read a great deal about it in Tom Johnston's History of the Working Classes in Scotland, a great book which I hope all noble Lords interested in Scotland have read. The general history of the crofters during the last century or two makes us all, whether we are Sassenachs or not, wish to provide the best we can for their future. The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, seems to think we should have an excuse for not providing old people with more than two rooms and a washbasin. I cannot believe that because people grow old they will never require the great benefit of a bath and other modern amenities. We should not be certain about that; we should find out whether they require them or not, before coming to such a decision. Nothing like that would be accepted as a general line of policy. I doubt if the noble Earl can give me a reply to-day to my intervention, but perhaps he could say a word on Clause 16 on Committee stage or, if he can, give us complete justification for it.


My Lords, I should like to join with noble Lords who have spoken in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Home, and in particular with my noble friend Lord Mathers and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in all they have said about the noble Earl. I should like to make one point. I heard with great disappointment my noble friend, Lord Saltoun, speak against the Gaelic as a language to be used by the Commission. With all respect to the noble Lord, the Chief of the Frasers, I think he is entirely wrong in that, for reasons stressed by my noble friend Lord Mathers and by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. It is essential that there should be at least one or two fully Gaelic-speaking members of the Commission, for traditional and practical reasons. I feel that the Chief of the Campbells, the noble Duke, the Duke of Argyll, will be of the same opinion, and I hope that when the noble Earl comes to reply he will assure us that a Gaelic speaker will be part and parcel of the Commission.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the tributes paid by the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, and by other noble Lords to the late Lord Kirkwood. I remember the noble Lord's criticism of noble families, but I am glad to say that before the end of his life he took a kindlier view of your Lordships than he took in his earlier days. Although sometimes a violent political opponent, nevertheless he was the kindliest of friends and a man as large of heart as anyone could wish to meet.

I am grateful to my Scottish colleagues and other noble Lords for the kindly encouragement that they have given me on entering a wider field. I have one great satisfaction. Your Lordships have been exceedingly kind to me in any Scottish Bills that I have had to deal with during the past three years. Commander Galbraith, who has not yet been able to take his seat, succeeds me, a matter which is of immense satisfaction to me, and will be to your Lordships. Your Lordships will know what a great part he has taken in Scottish affairs in another place. When he comes to your Lordships' House, I know he will be sustained with the same kindliness you have given me—extending from May 26 for many years, of course.

The general welcome which your Lordships have given to this Bill is what I expected from those who know the condition of the crofting counties and the problems with which we have to deal. My noble friend Lord Dundee and the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, both raised the question of whether the crofter was not being deprived of something which was very valuable to him—the services of the Land Court. I am not surprised that this impression has got abroad, but it may be some comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, if I say that it is really misleading to suggest that the crofter is being deprived of the services of the Land Court. May I take a few minutes to try to remove that misleading impression? The functions remaining with the Land Court are these: registration of tenants as crofters; determination of fair rents for crofts, and subsequent variation of rent; the making of records of crofts; the authorisation of resumption; the making of orders for the removal of a crofter on breach of statutory conditions, on the application of the landlord or on the application of the Secretary of State where the crofters' rights to compensation have been transferred to the Secretary of State; determination of the amount of compensation for permanent improvements to crofters who renounce their crofts; assessment of compensation payments and new rents where reorganisation schemes are proposed; and the dealing with appeals against proposals for the dispossession of crofters on the grounds of bad husbandry. Indeed, the powers of the Land Court have been whittled down very little.

The functions transferred to the Crofters Commission are the authorisation of assignations and the approval of bequests, both of which form part of the general scheme of control of the letting of crofts which is in the hands of the Commission. They also have the oversight of matters concerned with common grazings, a function which the Taylor Commission regarded as absolutely necessary from an administrative point of view. What we propose is, I think, the common-sense and practical thing: that the Land Court should continue to exercise the judicial functions, and the Crofters Commission should exercise functions which demand discretion concerning who should be the tenant of a particular croft, and matters of that kind. We should not let the two overlap and thus cause possible confusion. I think that on further study of the Bill noble Lords will find that the suggestion that the crofter will be deprived of the protection of the Land Court is far removed from the facts. If the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, would like me to send him these details before the Committee stage, I should be glad to do so.


I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. There is provision for functions formerly exercised by the Land Court to be taken by way of the Commission to the sheriff court. The sheriff courts are dotted about in different places and a considerable amount of travelling is involved for those who have to appear before them to plead their case, whereas the Land Court goes to the litigant, as it were, in order to provide for a hearing of his case. I do not think that point has been met by what the noble Earl has said.


I think it will be found that in the matters which have been transferred to the Crofters Commission none of the pleading parties will be put to inconvenience. I will look at the point and communicate further with the noble Lord. By and large a great many important functions are still reserved to the Land Court. The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, was perfectly right when he said that one important part of the Bill is that dealing with development, and that capital in one way and another should be pushed into the Highlands, whether into the agriculture of the Highlands or into supplementary industries. Again, I know that there are in existence statistics which show the amount of capital which is being put into the Highlands, and for what purposes, and I should like to send those to the noble Lord. It is rather an impressive picture and it shows that the emphasis in the last two years, at any rate, has been more on the positive development of agriculture and industry in the Highlands. The question of transport, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, and my noble friend Lord Stonehaven both said, is one that cannot be included in this Bill. I can only say that it is a matter which the Secretary of State lives with all the time, so far as the Highland counties are concerned. The problem of the Highlands and their need for special treatment has constantly been brought to the notice of the Transport Commission, and the various public hearings on the published charges schemes will, I think, begin in the not too far distant future.

Then there is the question of whether it will be possible to improve this Bill. During the last three years I have tried to make it absolutely certain that Party politics and Party policies in no way enter into the problem of the Highlands. Indeed, on this particular Bill, as it has gone through another place, there has been all-Party agreement all the way through, and each Party has contributed a good deal to the Bill in its present form. I agree with what the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, said earlier, that we must make Amendments to Bills if Amendments are shown to be necessary, and the time factor must give way to that; but a very nice balance has been achieved here with all-Party agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Mathers, may want a provision that there should be an individual on the Crofters Commission who is a crofter, or has a close knowledge of crofting, and he may want to put down an Amendment in that form. My noble friend Lord Dundee may want to put down an Amendment involving compensation to landowners, or something of that kind. I hope we shall avoid any more Amendments to this Bill, if we possibly can. I do not think the Bill can be improved much further, and, as I say, we have reached a general agreement and a unify of purpose which I should not like to see disturbed. We cannot, as Scotsmen, to whatever Party we belong, see this Bill lost—that would be a tragedy for the country.

Noble Lords will decide what Amendments they wish to put down (the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, need not worry, as there will be at least one Gaelic-speaking member on the Crofters Commission) but I hope that the extraordinary Party unity which we have achieved all the way through the Bill will be left undisturbed. I think that on further examination the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, will not quarrel with the principle or indeed the practice underlying Clause 16. I have not refreshed my memory on the point he raised, but I think it is that where by action of the Commission buildings are made redundant, compensation shall be paid to the landowner. I do not think that his Party, or indeed ours, would quarrel with that principle. I will have another look at it, but I believe it is properly carried out in Clause 16 of the Bill.

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