HL Deb 04 May 1976 vol 370 cc355-96

2.55 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [New rights of crofters and cottars to acquire their subjects]:

Lord BURTON moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 5, after (" may ") insert (" within twelve years of the passing of this Act ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the intention of this Amendment is that the right of a crofter to purchase his croft should be limited to a 12-year period after which there could be some reconsideration. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, said in Committee that with his energy, which he derived from coining from the North-East, he would resist "with some vigour" a somewhat similar Amendment which I tabled at that stage. After carefully examining the noble Lord's reply, I came to the conclusion—and I trust that other noble Lords have done likewise—that whatever vigour was there, it was done entirely on principle and not on logic. The noble Lord spoke about removing restraints on developing crofters' land, but I am afraid I cannot see how my proposals would place any restriction on development.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy appreciated the difficulty of the landowner in planning his estate with a Sword of Damocles hanging over him. This is where the restraint on development I will take place: not on the crofter but on the landowner. He suggested that at least there should be adequate warning from the crofter of his intention to the landowner. There should be some provision in the Bill for such a warning to be given, and indeed Lord Kirkhill gave an assurance that a reasonable time would be allotted, although no Amendment has appeared from the Government to cover this. It was partly on account of that assurance that the earlier Amendment was withdrawn. I feel that we should not miss this opportunity to cut out unremunerative administration should crofts be wound up—a smaller administration will be required to administer them—and to reduce the number of civil servants who administer crofting, which would, I am sure, be the wish of most noble Lords. However, being a generous person, I have slightly increased the length of time which I proposed at Committee, from 10 to 12 years, and noble Lords will note that the Amendment applies to croft ground generally and not to the house site, which the crofter would be able to continue to buy throughout the ages as and when he required. It would apply, therefore, only to the croft land.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Burton, who I hope has received a letter which I wrote to him, might be able to accept that I have given a full explanation of the Government's position. In that letter I reiterated what I said in Committee and I can only repeat what I said then, following an Amendment which the noble Lord tabled at that stage in very similar terms. As I said on 6th April—reported in Hansardat cols. 1577–78—our intention is to give the crofters continuing rights and it would be contrary to the spirit of the Bill to remove these after a relatively short period. I am in full agreement with the statement made then by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that the crofting system should be allowed to change in its own time. There is really nothing further that I can add. I gave as full an explanation as I possibly could of the Government's view.


My Lords, the noble Lord said that a reasonable time should be allotted, but I do not think there is anything written in the Bill to say that reasonable notice should be given by the crofter to the landowner that he intends to buy the land. One objection to the Bill as drafted is that a landowner could compulsorily lose his land without any prior warning, which makes economic planning of his estate totally unrealistic. I had hoped that by tabling this Amendment the Minister would give a further indication of Government thinking on this matter. Indeed, I had hoped that the Government might themselves have tabled an Amendment saying that there should be a reasonable time.


My Lords, I have explained the Government position at length and I cannot move further forward to meet the position of the noble Lord, Lord Burton. I rest the Government's case on the clear exposition which I made at the Committee stage.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

3.1 p.m.

Lord BURTON moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 10, leave out second ("the") and insert ("a").

The noble Lord said

My Lords, together with this Amendment I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 3 and 4, which apply to the same subject. The Amendment deals with the suggestion that there should be an incontestable right to the crofter to buy his home only. I have reintroduced this group of Amendments because it appeared from what the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, said on Committee stage that he had not fully understood what I had intended to imply by my Amendment.

It seems that the Government are still not able to understand that suggestions which come from this side of the House are not always for our own benefit but are frequently for the benefit of the community at large. In this case, the Amendments were entirely in equity to the good working crofter and in no circumstances intended to imply any benefits to the landowner, as the noble Lord appears to think. I cannot see why the idle and absentee should have equal privileges with the good and hardworking. I appreciate that this may be Socialist doctrine, but I suggest that we should have none of it. Therefore, I am again putting forward the Amendment and suggesting that the hardworking crofter should have more privileges than the absentee crofter and the crofter who does not work his croft. I therefore suggest that, instead of being allowed to buy any house with an incontestable right—they will have a right to buy it as part of the croft ground—only those who are living in the house should have the incontestable right. There is not a great deal in this but it makes a slight gesture towards the good working crofter who is living on his croft.


My Lords, when this matter was raised by my noble friend Lord Burton at Committee stage, I do not feel that on the Government side it was made clear what the Government intended in the Bill. Indeed, the wording of the Bill seems ambiguous and we should be grateful if, when the Minister replies, he could indicate whether the wording as it is at present would enable a crofter to dispose of more than one croft house. With the singular "croft" (there is no plural "s") tenanted by him, would it be possible for a crofter to have more than one croft dealt with by the Bill in the way proposed?

I am seeking information about plurality. The Minister may know of cases where there are several crofts which are nominally in the name of one individual, where the crofter is one person. Clearly, he cannot be living in all the croft houses at the same time. That is the point which my noble friend raised at Committee stage and to which I do not feel there has yet been a proper answer. Is it the intention of the Bill that only one croft should be dealt with for each individual, and that that should be the one which he inhabits, or would it be possible for a crofter to have several crofts in his name dealt with under the Bill? If the latter were in theory possible under the Bill, there could be unfairness between crofters. An individual crofter, who is a working crofter working his croft, might well have a grievance that someone else was using the Bill three or four times and, in some cases, was not really a crofter living in the croft. We should therefore be grateful for an interpretation of the intention of the Bill as it stands as well as an answer to the point raised by my noble friend in his Amendment.


My Lords, for my part, I must confess to some degree of incredulity at the noble Lord, Lord Burton, casting himself in the role of the progressive crofters' champion by reintroducing this series of Amendments. The Amendments purport to secure that a crofter whose working unit comprises several crofts held on separate tenancies is not in a more favourable position in relation to the acquisition of house sites than a crofter with an amalgamated croft. I dealt at some length in Committee with the reasons why the Government were unable to accept the noble Lord's proposition and the passage of time has not weakened our resolve to resist it. In the first place, it would run counter to the principle of the Bill that a crofter is to have an incontestable right to acquire the site of the dwellinghouse on a croft of which he is tenant. If a crofter holds several crofts on individual tenancies, then he is in the fortunate position of having an incontestable right to acquire the site of the croft house on each croft, and I see no logic in the argument that his rights should be restricted so that he may not be in a more privileged position than his neighbour who is tenant of a number of crofts, amalgamated in his tenancy but historically forming a number of separate crofts.

The privilege is in any event more apparent than real since, as I explained previously, the crofter with the amalgamated unit can acquire the sites of additional houses as part of the croft land. In any event, we are dealing here with a mere handful of crofts where a formal amalgamation has taken place under the Farm Structure Scheme. In the vast majority of cases where a crofter runs a number of crofts together as a working unit, these are held on separate tenancies, even if nominally entered as one unit in the Register of Crofts, and the crofter therefore has an incontestable acquisition right in relation to a house on each of them.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, asked me for an elucidation. The position seems to be that generally a number of crofters leave their croft for lengthy periods because they are seamen or employed in one of the oil-related developments or have other employment which demands that they should absent themselves from their homes. These crofters arrange to sub-let their land to a relative or a neighbour so that it can be utilised for raising stock or growing crops. As I understand it, it is a fact of crofting life that crofters have to find work away from the croft. In the Government's view it would be wrong to penalise them by denying them the right given to other crofters to acquire their house site and so become owner occupiers of the dwelling-house which they or their forebears have provided. That seems to me to be the Government position. I hope that that explanation will be of some help to the noble Lord.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, that this Amendment has more apparent than real effect, since any crofter will have a right to acquire his croft. It is simply the question of the incontestable right which worried me. I am sorry that it appears that, on this occasion, I am trying to champion the good crofter more than the Government. However, as this is a very small point and as the Government have twice been given a chance to reconsider, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 [Authorisation by Land Court of acquisition of croft land.]:

3.10 p.m.

Lord BURTON moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 2, leave out line 44.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, what is proposed here is worthy of consideration. The Land Court must take into consideration the extent of land owned by the landowner quite regardless of the area of land which the crofter wants to take over, and this seems to be a very bad principle. The Government have consistently refused to amend the general principle of the iniquitous, bad legislation proposed in this clause. Therefore I feel that I must take out of the Bill at least this short sentence which, while it does not materially alter the whole Bill, at least removes a small amount of the iniquity. Can anyone advocate that the land should be allowed to suffer substantial detriment? That is what the Bill says, and, furthermore, in the case of large estates, such as those owned by the Secretary of State, and land already nationalised, there must be substantial damage before the Land Court can consider whether or not the crofter should be allowed to acquire his land.

In Committee the Minister put it to me that at no stage had there been representation on this point from the Scottish Landowners' Federation. I took up the matter with the Federation. It apologised for not making representation and it feels that this question should certainly have been brought before the officials; but the position is that there has been so much bad legislation from this Government, affecting so many matters, that despite taking on extra staff, the Federation has been completely swamped. It is not surprising that legislation such as that on development land tax, forestry taxation, and the like, which has nationwide application, should have received more attention than the contents of this Bill, which has a limited application.

The Minister further tried to clear the Government in their inserting this clause in the Bill by saying that what is proposed had been included in the Bill put forward by the Conservative Government. It was in that Bill, but I do not think that that Bill ever went through this House, and I am very doubtful whether any Conservative Minister would have been allowed to leave this clause in the Bill. It is a very bad clause and I hope that the Minister will be able to give way on something here. I feel that we cannot allow a clause permitting substantial detriment to the land; land which I have taken much trouble to look after. To permit a clause, which would allow substantial damage, to go through without dividing the House would be wrong.


My Lords, first, I was sorry that on an earlier Amendment the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, should have expressed surprise that my noble friend Lord Burton was raising a point which was a matter of benefit to the crofters, because he has always seen this subject—which is a highly technical one, on which he is an expert—from the point of view of both the crofters and the landowners. Looking at this Part of the Bill we can all be excused if we find it rather difficult to follow. But my interpretation of it is rather different from that of my noble friend, and I shall be glad to have the Government's official interpretation of it now.

I was the Secretary of State for Scotland who introduced in another place the earlier Bill, which was in almost identical wording throughout, and I spoke on it during the Second Reading which it obtained in another place before it fell prior to the February 1974 General Election. I was always ready to consider improvements and changes to the Bill when it was going through. But the words, which my noble friend suggests should be taken out, can, I believe, be read in different ways. Paragraph (a) starts: … in all the circumstances pertaining to the landlord …".

That would appear to cover everything, including the extent of the land owned by him, in any case; so is it really necessary to have these words at all? If it is necessary to have these words, then it could be to his advantage that the extent of the land owned by him is taken into consideration; that is, he may have problems in crofts which are owned by him in another part of Scotland, or nearby, which need to be taken into account in considering the case.

The taking into account of the "extent of land owned by him" could well be a consideration. As my noble friend has read it, this would mean that matters which were advantageous to the landowner's case would be taken into account as well as merely whether he was a large or small landowner. But we must also go a little further, because, unless the Government deny it, there are some further words which qualify the words which my noble friend seeks to remove. The subsection reads:

… having regard to the extent of land owned by him to which the Act of 1955 applies …",

There is a comma after the word "applies". My understanding is that to remove the words which my noble friend suggests should be removed, without also removing the words, to which the Act of 1955 applies";

would not he to take out a complete sentence. That would leave paragraph (a) almost meaningless because it would not read on and make sense. Those qualifying words, … to which the Act of 1955 applies

presumably are to show that this is to take into account the extent of the land which comes under the crofting Acts. Like my noble friend, I should like to hear from the Government why it is necessary to have this written in, considering that just above we already have the words:

… in all the circumstances pertaining to the landlord …".

I do not think that my noble friend need consider that these words will necessarily be detrimental to the landlord. Certainly the consideration, in so far as it needs to be put in at all, could mean that some particular difficulties which the landowner might have elsewhere in the crofting part of Scotland would be taken into account.


I should like to join in the discussion on this matter before my noble friend replies. I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Burton, has not left out everything that he intended to leave out, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has pointed out; but like him I think that the wording as it stands could be of advantage to certain crofting landlords and of disadvantage to others. Like the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, I accept that if these words were taken out the Land Court would still be able to take into consideration the amount of crofting land which an owner had, because it would be one of the circumstances pertaining to the landlord.

But the inclusion of these words, along with the more general first part of the paragraph, seems to me to indicate that this is a circumstance to which the Land Court must specially apply itself. It could be a special circumstance if, for instance, the amount of land which was to be taken away, or was to be affected, was appreciably a large part of what the owner had. That could be something which would be more likely to cost him a substantial degree of hardship. But, looking at it the other way, if he owned a considerable amount of crofting land and, if what was being affected by this proposal was a relatively small part of his land, then the Land Court would find it easier to determine that there was no substantial degree of hardship involved. So obviously the matter can apply either way, and it seems to me that it would be of advantage to leave the wording exactly as it is


My Lords, I must ask the House to resist this Amendment which I am advised is defective in its drafting and ineffective for its apparent purpose. I shall try to explain both the real intention behind the inclusion in the Bill of the words, … having regard to the extent of land owned by him to which the Act of 1955 applies, …".

and why the Government think that these words ought to be retained. Of course, I am mindful of the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, because, quite clearly, his interpretation is very much in accord with the Government's view, as is the interpretation just enunciated by my noble friend Lord Hughes.

My Lords, if I could be of some help, the Government's position about some of the misunderstandings which appear to be emerging about Clause 2(2)(a) is that the subsection provides that the Land Court, in assessing substantial hardship to a landlord, is required to have regard to the extent of land owned by him to which the Act of 1955 applies,"—

in other words, to the landlord's holding of croft land, not his overall holding—and this is the important point. This requirement is included in the Bill as a specific safeguard of the interests of landlords, especially small landowners owning one or perhaps two crofts, for whom a requirement to sell would create hardship by depriving them of the whole or the major part of their interest in croft land. However, even if this specific requirement were removed from the Bill the Government would expect that the Land Court would still have regard to the relation which the particular croft bore to the landlord's holding of croft land. This would be a relevant factor in the Land Court's assessment of substantial hardship to a landlord, and would be part of the court's assessment of "all the circumstances pertaining to the landlord", which is of course another requirement of Clause 2(2)(a). The purpose of including the specific requirement on the court to look at the landlord's holding of croft land is to ensure that the court considers this in all cases where it is asked to assess substantial hardship.

I would also point out to your Lordships that, as has just been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, these same words were included in the Conservative Bill in the other place before the Bill fell in early 1974. In the light of my explanation, I think the noble Lord, Lord Burton, might not wish to press this Amendment.


My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken for the clear explanations which have been given. It is quite obvious that my drafting is defective, and I must therefore obviously ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw this Amendment. I think the explanations which I have been given will be very welcome, as I think they have cleared the air very substantially on this. I am still not entirely happy myself that the Secretary of State, for instance, who owns more crofts than anyone else, or the Stornoway Trust, which is perhaps the second biggest landowner, might well be at an advantage in relation to someone who owns only a few crofts. But, having drawn your Lordships' attention to this matter, I must beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.23 p.m.

Lord CAMPBELL of CROY moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 3, line 13, leave out (" granted subject to such ") and insert (" at such nominal annual rent, for such period of not less than 20 years and subject to such other ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think it would be of help to your Lordships if Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 were discussed with this Amendment. They are in the names of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye and my noble friend Lord Burton. If they are in agreement, I think it would help, because all these Amendments are on the same subject. At the Committee stage we had a discussion about the question of sporting rights on inbye land, and it was recognised that, although this problem would not occur frequently, none the less there are valuable sporting rights on certain inbye land.

The Amendment which I now beg to move, No. 6, has a similar effect to one which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye tabled at the Committee stage and which he has now retabled, if not in the same words then in very similar words, as Amendment No. 7. The Government appeared to give a sympathetic response to considering this matter further. One or two of us pointed out that in the case of the Forestry Commission there was a parallel, because leases were agreed for 21 years or so, and that was a Government agency. As a result of the discussion which has continued since the Committee stage among those concerned and with the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, I believe that the wording of my Amendment will go a long way to meet the anxiety of noble Lords expressed in the Committee when this was being considered, and would at the same time not cause any difficulties or complications for the Government as regards their Bill.

There is another point, and that is the question of continuity; for example, if a crofter dies. The Government made it clear that they did not want to write into the Bill provisions to deal with that situation, but I understand from the consultations which I have just mentioned, which have taken place since the Committee stage, that there is nothing to stop the Land Court from arranging as a condition that an ex-landlord has the right of pre-emption for this purpose: that is to say, in connection with sporting rights. I trust that the Land Court will note this and also the tenor of these debates, and will exercise this option in appropriate cases. If I may remind your Lordships of what was said in Committee at that time it was indicated that, for example, one part of a shoot being taken out could very much devalue the shooting rights. As my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye pointed out at that earlier stage, a situation of this kind is likely to arise infrequently as it applies to the inbye land, but that is not a reason for injustice. It is not a reason why injustice should be suffered that it is going to be suffered by only a few. I beg to move.


My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that we should take Amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 8 together. I suppose it is not often that a Minister has the succulent dish put in front of him of three Amendments, all on the same point, from which he can make his selection; but the point is a very valid one, which I hope will gain his sympathy. Indeed, in the letter which he was good enough to send to those noble Lords who have taken an interest in this matter he indicated that the Government would not be enthusiastic for such an Amendment but, nevertheless, would not be resistant to an Amendment in this sense. I think it is very important, because at the Committee stage and also on Second Reading I challenged the Government as to whether the Land Court had or had not got jurisdiction to take into account sporting rights when arriving at a price for a croft. The Minister gave me the impression, and I think perhaps gave the impression to your Lordships, on Second Reading and later in Committee, that indeed the Land Court had such power. But now the Minister has been good enough to make it clear to us that the discretion does not however extend to taking account of sporting rights in fixing the crofting value which a crofter pays for his croft, since this is derived from capitalisation of the rent and the value of sporting rights is not taken into account in fixing a fair rent".

Therefore, although I hate to say it, I think we were right and perhaps the Minister was not on absolutely sound ground at that time. Nevertheless, let that be so; we are grateful now to the Minister for his reconsideration of the matter.

As regards the limitation in this Amendment, which gives no continuity, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said, continuity could be obtained, if a croft changes hands, if the Land Court would give authority and direction that a conveyance was to be in the form of a feu writ or otherwise subject to a condition giving the ex-landlord the right of pre-emption over the croft land. So we have gained two things for which I think we must be grateful: first, a general willingness to look at this pleasant dish of Amendments that we have placed before the Minister; secondly, to know that there is a way round the right of succession if the Land Court feel able so to direct. I hope that the point we raised in Committee and on Second Reading is going to end happily with the Government acceding to one of the three beautiful Amendments, all on the same point, which have been placed before them.


My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for sending the letter which, unfortunately, since I was not at home, did not reach me until Question Time today. It appears that he has been most helpful on these points and I think we should be grateful to him. The Amendment of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy appears to satisfy him and to meet all the points. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will give us a further satisfactory reply when he answers.


My Lords, once again this particular point has brought forth interesting contributions from a number of noble Lords. The Government are sensitive to the fact that this particular issue has been the subject of considerable and prolonged debate and I indicated as much in my letter. In passing I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that the Minister was on sound ground but perhaps did not express himself with his usual impeccable clarity. That said, I should certainly like to assure your Lordships that in the Government's view it would be undesirable to place any restrictions on the powers of the Land Court in considering the terms and conditions under which a crofter should grant a lease to the landlord. The Land Court considerations will take account of the submissions made to them and, as I have explained, it is expected that the Court would, in appropriate cases, include a condition that the rent should be at a nominal value.

As I have been reminded, I promised to look further at this particular point, and I can say that the Government are still of the opinion that it would be best to leave the question of the amount of rent to be paid and the duration of a sporting lease to the full discretion of the Land Court. It is clear from the discussions today and from the concern expressed in previous debates and to me personally from time to time between these two stages of the Bill, that these are matters on which noble Lords opposite feel deeply. In view of this, the Government would not oppose the Amendment if it is the wish of this House that it should be accepted.


My Lords, I must rise to my feet to thank the noble Lord because it sounds as though it is my Amendment, Amendment No. 6, which he prefers of those offered.


My Lords, if I may intervene, I should have stated very clearly at the outset that, indeed, I prefer the Amendment in the name of Lord Campbell of Croy, before the others.


My Lords, I hope that my noble friends will feel that Amendment No. 6, as the one the Government prefer, meets the points which they have raised. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, for the trouble he has taken since Committee stage to go into this question with my noble friends and myself and for the fact that we have now reached agreement on a redrafting of the Bill.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord BURTON moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 3, line 38, at end insert ("and also the value of any timber growing on the croft land").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, made any reference to this in his letter to us but I think there is a considerable point here. It is the question of timber on any crofting ground. I think that one of the problems here has been the diverse nature of crofting ground spread throughout the Highlands. I think that those crofts already nationalised and belonging to the Secretary of State—and they amount to about one-eighth of the crofts—do not perhaps have any, or many, of the circumstances to which this Amendment applies. But there are a number of cases. For instance, my noble friend Lord Lovat has just cut some fine mature Scotch firs off land adjoining some belonging to me. As these trees adjoined a croft and the crofter had acquired the right of grazing in the wood, the land on which the wood was situated could have been compulsorily acquired by the crofter who then could have sold the timber for many times what he paid for the land.

I can think of a number of similar situations and if we do not alter the Bill to make provision for the value of timber on the crofting ground, then, as soon as there is a threat of a crofter buying his croft any prudent landowner will feel bound to fell any timber standing on the croft. It may be that this timber is not mature; it may be that it is good birch wood providing shelter for grazing; and there may be many reasons why the timber should not be felled. It might be just amenity timber which it would be a pity to cut off. Therefore, I feel it essential that somewhere there is written into the Bill that when the Land Court value croft land, they not only take 15 times the actual rental but also take into account the value of the timber standing on any croft ground at the time.

There is one other problem which arises —and I hope the noble Lord will see his way to being able to accept this Amendment—and that is that probably the Land Court themselves are not competent to value timber. I think that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy brought up this matter on Committee saying that it would be necessary for them to bring in valuers. Where timber was concerned, I think this would be very necessary because most of the Land Court members are more of a farming type. Indeed, some time in the past I had some problem over birch wood which the Land Court appeared to think was entirely valueless; so that it is important, if we accept something on this basis, that something be written into the Bill about the valuing of the timber also. I beg to move.


My Lords, I would support what my noble friend Lord Burton has said. Speaking as an interested party, I should like to draw the Government's attention to the fact that they overlooked in the drafting of the Bill the aspect of timber growing on a croft. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, and the Government have been at a disadvantage in framing the proposals. What constitutes a croft? Of course, the answer is: "How long is a piece of string?" because no two crofts are alike. On the West coast there is no timber and there are very few sporting amenities. On the East coast, there are river valleys, sporting assets, and very valuable timber.

Again, speaking as an interested party, the value of timber on outruns on the estate that I know best is very much more valuable than the agricultural land which runs below them. Some of these trees are natural regeneration, usually conifers; and crofters have always had free right to cut their birch wood for fire. Birch wood and peat before the introduction of hydroelectricity had been the fuel supply required at the higher levels to keep the croft warm. The timber is of very great value and no crofter considers that to be his on either an outrun or inbye land where trees have been planted in many cases for amenity or shelter. This is an oversight in the drafting of the proposals and I support my noble friend Lord Burton. I am speaking with some knowledge and complete conviction that the timber rights are different from a crofter having the rights to his house or to his arable land. I hope that this will be borne in mind by the Government.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Burton, said, this was a point on which several noble Lords expressed views at Committee stage. If I may assure the noble Lord, of course professional advice reflecting a number of disciplines will be available to the Land Court, and professional valuation advice is certainly included in that comprehensive concept. In response to a request from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, at the Committee stage, I set out at some length the Government's views on how a landlord could retain or obtain the value of any timber growing on croft land. My statement then remains the Government's view on how the problem of timber should be dealt with and, accordingly, I ask your Lordships to resist this Amendment.

First, the problem of valuable timber will affect only a very small number of the conveyances of land under the Bill. This was a point which the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Croy and Lord Lovat, recognised at Committee stage. The Government hope that in those few cases where a landlord does have valuable trees on croft land an agreement on the lines suggested at Committee stage could be reached between landlord and crofter. As the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, has just said, the crofter does not think he owns these trees, and I for one have sufficient faith in the fairness of crofters to believe that the crofter would not harbour unreasonable expectations on the subject.

It would therefore be wrong, in the Government's view, to deal with the matter in the sweeping manner of the Amendment, which would impose a requirement on all crofters who wish to acquire their land to have to pay for any timber that happens to be growing on that land. The effect of the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Burton, would be to require the crofter to pay for an asset which, in many cases, might never be marketable. Furthermore, although the crofter does not own the timber on his croft, neither does the landlord have an unrestricted claim to it. The landlord has the right, as laid down in Schedule 2, paragraph 10(d) to the 1955 Act, to enter a croft to cut or take timber, excepting timber and other trees planted by the crofter or any of his predecessors in the tenancy, or which may be necessary for ornament or shelter".

It would be wrong for the landlord to receive a payment from a crofter for such timber as the landlord could never have used as long as the croft remained on tenancy, or indeed to lay claim to timber planted by the crofter or one of his predecessors in the tenancy.

I therefore ask your Lordships to resist this Amendment. In the Government's view, its effect is too sweeping for what is admitted to be a minor point, which the Government feel can be dealt with more properly by agreement between the parties concerned.


My Lords, I should like to intervene at this stage because in response to an inquiry by me, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, made a statement about this at the Committee stage. I agree with him straightaway that I think none of us want to insert into this Bill unnecessary machinery which would automatically come into action when there was a single or two or three trees of little value on the croft land in question. But we are concerned in the few cases where there is valuable timber. There seems to be nothing in the Bill to deal with those cases. The Government recognised on a previous occasion such cases can arise. My noble friend Lord Lovat has confirmed it again today. The noble Lord told us—and I do not dissent from this—that agreement between the crofter and the land owner is to be encouraged. One hopes that this will be arrived at in all cases. Again, we cannot assume it will; and the question therefore still is: how is this matter to be dealt with if there is disagreement between the land owner and the crofter?

On a previous Amendment my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye pointed out that one cannot just dismiss injustice or unfairness because it is going to happen in only a few cases to a few people. That is why we should like to know whether the Government can say what is to be done if there is disagreement, and whether they think something should be put in the Bill. For my part, if the noble Lord can indicate how this can be dealt with satisfactorily and give us an assurance about that without it needing to be written into the Bill, I should be satisfied. We have still not been told what happens when there is disagreement on this matter in the few cases which will arise where there is valuable timber.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with my noble friend the Minister in suggesting that, for some of the reasons which he stated, it would not be right that this Amendment should be accepted. As my noble friend pointed out, if there is timber on the croft, the effect of the Amendment would be to require the crofter to buy that timber, or pay a price reflecting its value, even although he or his predecessor as a crofter had been responsible for putting it in. Obviously, the intention of the Amendment is that timber for which the land owner has been responsible and where in the normal circumstances he could have been expected in due course to recover the value, should not be transferred at no value. If the only consideration which the Land Court can take into account is the crofting value of the land—and that is laid down as being 15 times the annual rental—that in effect means the timber is not being valued at all. So it is perfectly obvious that the remedy is the one which my noble friend has suggested: in the circumstances it should be a matter of agreement.

But the Bill as it stands does not provide for that; it lays down specifically that if there is no agreement between the landlord and the crofter, then only the crofting value shall be paid, and it will not be possible, so far as I can see, for the Land Court to do other than fix the compensation at 15 times the crofting rental. My noble friend has clearly set out his reasons for not accepting the Amendment, because in certain circumstances it could be grossly unfair to certain crofters. Accepting the fact that there are in the Bill circumstances in which the crofting landlord should be entitled to payment, I do not think the Government can rest on the wording as it is at the present time. It may be the solution here is one which Secretaries of State for Scotland in the past have found helpful, in being able to rest on the administrative guidance which may be given. I suggest to my noble friend—and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, as a former Secretary of State for Scotland might find this a possible solution to the matter—that something of this kind might be undertaken.


My Lords, if I may intervene before the noble Lord sits down—because I have spoken once and I can only intervene now as this is Report stage—the noble Lord should take note of the point, which is a good one, which has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. It should not be the value of any timber growing on the croft land, but the value of any timber which belongs to the land owner and which is not the crofter's because he has planted it himself.


My Lords, on this intricate matter the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, made the point clear, and the only comment I would make is upon the Minister's argument against this Amendment that only a few people will be involved. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, reminded the House, it is our duty, as Parliament, to correct an unfairness to one or two people just as much as it is to correct an unfairness to a large number of people. I deplore the Government's using the argument in support of a case that "there will be only a few of them". I think that is clearly immoral and wrong, and I cannot resist saying so.


My Lords, I am placed in something of a difficulty here because it seems that there is indeed a flaw in my Amendment. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for having put the case in a nutshell. The position at the moment is not satisfactory and obviously we must return to this on Third Reading. I would hope that the Government might produce a satisfactory Amendment on Third Reading. I know, for instance, of a case where the croft rental is only £5; 15 times that would be £75, which would be the value of the croft. On the outrun there is timber worth £5,000, and it is quite wrong that the croft should be bought for £75 when there is £5,000 worth of timber on it. The obvious answer is that as soon as there is a question of selling it, the landlord is going to stall any sale and cut the timber, whether or not it is fit. What would have to be cut may be a very nice piece of amenity timber, as I mentioned, or it may be used as a shelter for grazing. But obviously the landlord is not going to leave £5,000 minus £75 to the crofter, and I think it would be the greatest pity if something was not done. The noble Lord said that crofters might lose the value of timber if my Amendment were accepted. I can think of one or two small cases where this would be so. Accordingly, although my Amendment is not quite satisfactory, could the Minister perhaps speak again?


Perhaps I might just intervene at this moment in response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, to assure him that if he reads what I said at Committee stage he will get a perfect explanation of where the minority can seek redress. At that time I expressly mentioned the position of the Land Court in those several but peculiar circumstances.


My Lords, I think most of us probably read through what the noble Lord said on Committee stage, but I put this Amendment down because I was afraid that, despite the fact that he gave us a very lengthy commentary and made some very valid points on the matter, the point still has not been met, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has just said. I think, therefore, something more must be done; but as there is a flaw in this Amendment I beg your Lordships' leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.54 p.m.

Lord BURTON moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 3, line 38, at end insert ("and also the value of any sporting rights pertaining to the croft.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am in a slight difficulty here because if we are to get a nominal rent for sporting rights, as has now been accepted as a result of the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, then it would be unreasonable to ask for a capital value on which the crofter would be getting no return.


My Lords, I should think "not moved" would be the solution here.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has said "not moved", but I am not sure about that because unfortunately the noble Lord the Minister qualified his comment by saying that it would be at the discretion of the Land Court as to whether or not the rent should be a nominal one. If the Land Court decided that there should be no lease and there was still a capital value for sportings, as there could well be, then it is not right for it to be taken away from the landowner for nothing. Consequently, there is some difficulty here which I hope the Government may be able to resolve between now and Third Reading. I am sure there are cases where there should be a sporting value put on but where there is to be a long lease to be granted at a nominal rent it is not reasonable that those sporting values should be of any consequence.


My Lords, we have had some discussion on this issue previously and I think we have talked about the landlords' interest in the sporting rights pertaining to croft land. There is a broad measure of agreement on both sides that in general there is little sporting value on inbye land. However, the Government recognise that there are some crofts, particularly on the East Coast and in the Uists, where sporting rights over croft land are of value to landlords.

Clause 2(3) of the Bill contains safeguards for the landlord's sporting interests by providing that landlords should be entitled to a lease of sportings in those cases where they can prove that the loss of the rights would materially affect their interests. The Government have accepted the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, specifying that any such lease should be at a nominal rent and for a period of not less than 20 years. In the Government's view, it would be unfair on crofters to require them to pay the value of sporting rights over their land and then to require them by Statute to lease the rights to their former landlord at a nominal rent. If the crofter were to pay for the sportings, he should be entitled to expect a realistic rental for them from the tenant of his choice, who would not necessarily be his former landlord. On this account alone, I would ask your Lordships to resist the Amendment.

Moreover, I think we should also bear in mind the points made at Committee stage by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, who spoke with some authority on the valuation of sporting rights. The noble Lord quite rightly said that the value of sporting rights below a certain acreage is limited and that it is difficult to value sporting rights since they are based entirely on supply and demand. Therefore this Amendment would impose on the Land Court the onerous task of assessing the sporting value in all conveyances of land under the Bill, whether or not the rights were of any real value to the landlord and whether or not he made regular use of those rights. Furthermore, this valuation might not fully recompense the landlord for the loss of his rights, since the rights might be much less valuable as an individual sporting interest related to the particular croft than as part of the larger sporting estate in the landlord's ownership.

But I am opposed to this Amendment on grounds of principle. The purpose of this Bill—and I have said this on several previous occasions—is to enable crofters to obtain rights of ownership over those elements which they enjoy as tenants. It is not the Bill's primary purpose to provide for the transfer of sporting rights, although the Government have done something to accommodate representations from the Opposition on that latter point. Where sporting rights are of value to landlords, the proper course, as the Bill recognises, is for special arrangements to be made for the landlord to retain these rights. Sporting rights can be an emotive issue in the Highlands, and in the Government's view it is in the landlord's interests to rest on the safeguards contained in Clause 2(3). I hope, therefore, that in the light of my remarks the noble Lord, Lord Burton, will not feel that he need press this Amendment.


My Lords, I also hope that the noble Lord, Lord Burton, will find it possible to withdraw, because after all if this were to go into the Bill, having regard to the Amendment which my noble friend has already accepted, a ridiculously anomalous position could occur. There could be the situation that in determining the compensation account had to be taken of the value of the sporting rights which went with the land, and the crofter would then be required to pay on that basis. Having acquired them on that basis, he is then obliged, because of the Amendment which has just been passed, to turn them over at a nominal value. Obviously there is no need to have it both ways. The landlord's ownership of the sporting rights is now adequately covered by the Amendment already accepted by my noble friend; in other words, he will retain these rights for a period of not less than 20 years on payment of a purely nominal rent. I think in these circumstances the noble Lord, Lord Burton, should feel satisfied that he has accomplished a lot more and received more out of the Government on a matter of this kind than has been his normal fortune; and he should not press his luck too hard.


My Lords, I am afraid that we have heard a number of inaccuracies. At every stage of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, has said that the majority of the sporting rights are on common grazing, and at every stage I have stood up and said that that is not the case. I must again hasten to disillusion him. The low ground shootings can indeed be of very much greater consequence than any sporting rights on open ground. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, who said that much of the open ground, particularly on the West Coast, is so devastated by hooded crows that there is not much to shoot on it, and that is probably the case. But there are some very good low ground shootings which can be completely devastated.

There was some mention of maps in Committee, and when they were found they were sent to the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, instead of to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill. I hope that they will eventually find their way to those concerned, because they show that there could be very considerable damage here. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, there is some difficulty. But he was not quite right, because there is no compulsion on the landlord to make any lease and therefore sporting rights can well be acquired by the crofter for a nil value, because he is paying only £15 for his rental which does not include the sporting. If there was compulsion where the landlord required sporting rights to be leased back at a nominal rent, that would be a different matter but it is left entirely to his discretion. Therefore, the crofter could well acquire sporting rights for nothing.


My Lords, the noble Lord may find it helpful if I say that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has announced in the other place that he will set up an inquiry into the whole question of common grazings. So that in the rather longer term his point can at least be yet again elucidated.


My Lords, I am not quite sure about that. This may well meet part of the situation. I was a little worried when the Minister said that there was some difficulty about valuations because, after all, the assessor for rating purposes is constantly valuing sporting rights. Furthermore, whenever there is a transfer of land the district valuer values it. So there is no difficulty about it. It is inaccurate to say that there is some difficulty in assessing sporting rights. If one reads the report in Hansard of what happened in the other place, one finds most awful ignorance and total misconceptions on this matter. For instance, even a Scottish Nationalist farmer, who I should have thought would know better, talked complete nonsense about rights to shoot deer on crofting ground. This has nothing whatsoever to do with it. But there is a valuable asset here which could be lost if something is not done, though I agree that in view of the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, my Amendment may not be valid today. But something ought to be done before we let the Bill leave us. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.3 p.m.

Lord BURTON moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 5, line 21, at end insert— ("(7) The landlord or his successors shall have the right of pre-emption over the relevant land.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is perhaps one of the most important Amendments before us today. Your Lordships will remember that in Committee there were very strong feelings about this point. Indeed, having asked your Lordships' permission to withdraw the Amendment, I received considerable stick afterwards for doing so. I think I should be right in saying that the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, was entirely one of principle. I thought that the principle was not very strong, not very valid. But surely we should not govern the country by principle; we must use logic and decide what is good for the country and what is bad for it. Certain people think it unreasonable that anyone should own anything, which does not seem logical, but that is what it amounts to.

In dealing with this Amendment earlier, we heard about the problem of the possible sale of crofts for holiday homes and for undesirable developments. But if this Amendment were accepted it would get over a good many of the problems which we discussed earlier about sporting rights, because where they are not transferable through successors we should be able, if we had this power in the Bill, to buy back any crofting ground if it came up for sale again and the sporting rights could be safeguarded. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, will get over his worry about pre-emption. I cannot understand the Government's worry about this. I think it came up on the feudal reform Bill. It seems to be felt that if the right of pre-emption is written in, the crofter will lose something. The noble Lord said that there might be some delay and he might lose a good sale. But the delay is minimal, and I have never heard of a sale being lost because there was a preemption clause in a feudal transaction. There is really no difference between writing a pre-emption into this Bill and writing it into a feudal transaction. My Lords, I beg to move.


My Lords, I indicated in Committee that the Government were opposed to this Amendment in principle, and I hasten to assure the noble Lord, Lord Burton, that I do not think the Government's stand on principle is necessarily illogical. Indeed, I consider that the Government's principle in this case is perfectly logical. That remains our position today. It would be contrary to the Government's commitment to land tenure reform to include a provision in this Bill which would be inconsistent with their intention on that point. That is not to say, however, that a pre-emption right could not be written into a conveyance by feu writ or otherwise, which would secure for the landlord an option to purchase the croft land which he was conveying to the crofter if the latter wished to resell; and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, made this last point earlier this afternoon.

The landlord could include a preemption condition in a conveyance by agreement with the crofter, and I have no doubt that there will be many crofters who would respect the landlord's wish that the land should not go to a third party. Failing agreement, it would be open to the landlord to seek to have the Land Court impose a pre-emption right as part of the conditions of sale. Alternatively, there is, as I said in Committee, nothing at all to prevent a landlord from buying back croft land if it is put on the market. These possibilities which I have outlined are available as the Bill stands, and, in the Government's view afford a reasonable opportunity to the landlord to get back his land in the event of sale in order, for instance, to protect his sporting interests. For the reasons which I have constantly stated during our many discussions, the Government cannot agree to a pre-emption provision being written into the Bill and I ask your Lordships to resist the Amendment.


My Lords, I am a little at a loss to follow the noble Lord's stand this afternoon. I thought that on the last occasion when we discussed this matter he said that the Government were opposed to the feudal principle, implying that landlords were, without exception, bad and extortionist in their approach; and therefore they should not have the chance, even although the crofter is completely protected, of inroads of large acquisition. I got the impression, as I am sure did most noble Lords, that the pre-emption was opposed because it smacked of feudalism. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, could put me right on that point.


My Lords, the Government's view is that, in the light of our policy of reviewing the whole question of the law as it pertains to land tenure, they will not continue to give active support to the feudal system by writing into the Bill the kind of provision which the noble Lord, Lord Burton, seems to think is necessary. What I have explained this afternoon is that under existing Scots law feu writs can be constructed in a number of different ways. It is not the purpose of this Bill in any way to amend Scots law in this respect.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that answer, but possibly in the Government's mind there is a hostile attitude towards the landowner versus the crofter. In my experience this is very seldom the case, except when estates change hands frequently; then landowners and crofters are often at loggerheads, particularly in the West where one reads of the development of unfortunate relationships. If again I may add a personal note —and I do so without trying to appear to be a benevolent despot I know of many estates which have not put up the rents of crofters for 40 years. As the crofter is the interested party in selling his land to the highest bidder, I suggest that there is no reason why the landlord should pay just as much for the purchase of that croft as would a total stranger who comes from far away and who has no understanding of and no knowledge of the traditions which go with the feudal system. On the estate I know best, crofters have carried on from father to son for generations and would prefer to see somebody they knew than a total stranger from the South. Many of the points contained in this Bill will bring about the destruction of the crofting system. The crofters are the yeomen of Scotland, the backbone of the country. If everybody sells their crofts and moves into council houses, it will be the end of a very fine section of the community. I add that as an afterthought.


My Lords, I am in some difficulty because I do not think that the noble Lord has answered the problem. I stand to be corrected on this point, but I do not believe that the Land Court are empowered to grant a feu. They are bound to give to the crofter an outright disposition at a price of 15 times the annual rental. Indeed, we have asked that sporting rights and timber should be added.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord and reiterate that the Land Court will have the power to impose a pre-emption right as one of the conditions of sale.


My Lords, this is welcome news. Previously we had not been able to read this in the Bill, but if the noble Lord is able to give us that assurance, I am sure that we shall all be very grateful. There is no point in pursuing the Amendment, and therefore I ask for your Lordships' leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 [Determination by Land Court of terms and conditions for conveyance of the site of the dwelling-house]:

4.12 p.m.

Lord BURTON moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 6, line 12, at end insert ("and in no circumstances will the landlord's expenses be greater than the amount received for the sale of the site:").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, again we are in some difficulty, because I do not think it has been appreciated how great will be the expense of transferring some of this croft land. It is not only the cost of the actual conveyance; many crofts have very ill-defined boundaries. While talking about this Amendment, I believe that it would be in order if I were to deal with the other Amendment regarding the expense of purchasing the croft land as well as the croft house site, to which reference has been made. During the Committee stage we did not put down an Amendment on this subject but there were several expressions of concern about what might happen over the expense of conveying croft ground. Possibly many people have not appreciated how ill-defined the croft boundaries are. This has not mattered in the past; a few yards here and there of let ground were of no consequence. However, if the land is to be sold and proper titles prepared, obviously there must be complete accuracy regarding the croft boundaries.

I have a case that is to come shortly before the Land Court; it is being brought by the crofter. In 1927, the Land Court gave a ruling about what was the area of the croft and laid down that it was a certain acreage. When one looks now at the Ordnance Survey map and considers the acreage of the croft, one finds that there is a discrepancy of about an acre. Instead of the croft being eight-point something acres, the Ordnance Survey map shows that it amounts to nine-point something acres. In addition, there is one ill-defined boundary. In the past, the crofter has been slack. The result is that there are no proper fences and the crofter is claiming even further ground, despite the fact that in 1958 the Land Court laid down what they considered to be the acreage. This may well involve a good deal of argument. Lawyers and court expenses would be involved. There is little doubt that the expense of trying to decide the area of the land will be considerably in excess of the value of the land itself. In this case, about two acres are involved, but there will be many cases where only a few yards here and there will be in dispute; but the cost of trying to assess what the correct croft boundary is could be very considerable.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, mentioned the question of valuers. There will be considerable complications regarding the valuation of housing, for which all the materials have perhaps been supplied by the landowner. The site will become the property of the crofter. Considerable difficulties, expense and complications will arise which have drifted on in the past because there has been a lease and the point has been of no consequence. However, as soon as a purchase is made, expense will be involved. As the Bill stands at the moment, the crofting landowner could be landed with substantial expense in excess of any purchase price that he will receive. Therefore, my suggestion is that in any particular case where a transaction is taking place and the expenses will exceed the purchase price, these should be borne by the crofter who is asking for the right to purchase his croft. As all the benefit will fall on the crofter, there seems to be no reason why the landlord should be out of pocket. Therefore, I move this Amendment.


My Lords, may I add to what my noble friend has said. I feel sure that one ought to avoid a situation where the sale will amount to less than the expenses to which the seller will be put so that he comes out of the sale with a minus quantity. I am not sure whether it needs to be written into the Bill, but I am certain that it was right of my noble friend to raise this matter so that it may be clarified and so that we may have on the record the attitude of the Government.

Turning to the drafting of the Amendment, I think that the word "such" ought to appear after the first word "Any". Again it must be made clear that these are expenses which are all necessarily incurred. One would not want to have a situation where there could be any chance of one side or the other running up unnecessary expenses and the crofter then having to bear more expense than he ought to bear. In this kind of transaction both sides would want the expense to be at a minimum. At the same time, however, the Land Court may on occasion need the services of expert valuers. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to agree with the spirit of this Amendment, even though the Amendment itself may not be appropriate.


My Lords, it is somewhat surprising that the noble Lord, Lord Burton, should find it necessary to table this Amendment, in view of the explanation which I gave in Committee of the Government's intentions as regards conveyancing costs, an explanation which I thought satisfied him at the time because he felt at that stage that it was unnecessary to move his Amendment substituting the word "shall" for "may" in line 9. The Government have already said that in the case of the house site, the policy intention to which the drafting gives effect is that the crofter will be expected to bear all the expenses of the landlord arising from the conveyance as well as his own expenses.

I am grateful for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. I can assure him, as, indeed, I can assure your Lordships' House, that in the Government's view the Amendment is superfluous since the intention of the present drafting is that an obligation may be imposed on the crofter to meet all the expenses of the landlord arising from the conveyance of the house site.


My Lords, I think the Government's intention is quite clear. I remember well what the noble Lord said in Committee, but in spite of assurances given by the Government I am not really sure what the Bill lays down. I tabled the Amendment again because I felt that the point was not fully covered, but if the noble Lord is advised to the contrary, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 [Crofter's right to share in value of land resumed by landlord]:

4.22 p.m.

Lord KIRKHILL moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 11, line 17, leave out from ("Where") to ("according") in line 20 and insert ("the land so resumed forms or forms part of a common grazing, the share of the value of that land payable to the crofters sharing in the common grazing shall be apportioned among such crofters").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this Amendment is to remove from the Land Court the primary duty which the Bill laid upon it in every case to apportion among shareholders in a common grazing the share determined under Clause 9(1) of the Bill of the value of land resumed from that grazing. The Court is at present required by Clause 9(4) to apportion such share among the individual shareholders in accordance with their common grazing rights. The Court has expressed concern that this duty could involve it in a time-consuming exercise in cases where a small sum—perhaps only one or two pounds—was to be apportioned among a large number of shareholders according to a complex pattern of individual grazing rights.

This Amendment, which I hope will find favour with your Lordships, would resolve this difficulty. The subsection so amended will provide that shareholders in a common grazing will have a right to share in the sum determined by the Court, but does not specify who is to be responsible for the apportionment of that sum. This leaves the apportionment to be carried out on the initiative of the landlord with the agreement of the individual crofters. It will not prevent a landlord, such as the Stornoway Trust, agreeing with shareholders in a common grazing that the money should be paid to the common grazing fund. But the Land Court is not excluded from having jurisdiction in the matter if the need arises. If a crofter and landlord fail to agree as to the content of the crofter's individual common grazing right, it will be a question for the Land Court to decide if brought before the Court under Section 4(1) of the 1961 Act.

In effect this arrangement parallels the provisions of Section 12 of the 1955 Act relating to the payment of adequate compensation to shareholders on resumption of grazings land by a landlord. The present arrangement for paying adequate compensation is that the Land Court determines as part of the resumption process the amount of compensation to be paid by the landlord, but does not apportion this compensation among shareholders. It is left to the agreement of the landlord and the shareholders to decide on how the money should be paid, whether it should be to a common grazings fund or whether it should be paid to the individual shareholders in proportion to their rights in the common grazing.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has also tabled an Amendment to this subsection. His Amendment seeks to meet the points raised by the Stornoway Trust by providing that the share in value on resumption of common grazing land shall be paid to the relevant common grazing committee in those cases where a majority of shareholders decide to waive their individual rights. I cannot recommend that Amendment to your Lordships since it would cut across the crofter's right to his individual share in value of common grazing land. In the interests of equity this right must be maintained. However, as I have already explained, the Government Amendment covers the Stornoway Trust's point by leaving the apportionment of value to be carried out by the landlord with the agreement of the shareholders in the same way as adequate compensation under Section 12 of the 1955 Act is paid by the landlord to shareholders. Nothing in Section 12 prevents the Stornoway Trust arranging to pay the compensation to a grazings committee rather than the individual crofters, and Clause 9(4) will not prevent a similar arrangement if the Government Amendment is accepted by your Lordships.

There are two reasons why the Amendment should be supported. First, it is necessary to prevent the Land Court from being required in all cases to apportion the share in value. This would obviously prove a difficulty. Secondly, the Amendment does not put any obstacle in the way of the point raised by the Stornoway Trust, that it should be free to arrange to pay the share in value to the appropriate grazings committee by arrangement rather than to the individual crofters. I beg to move.


My Lords, the noble Lord has indicated that this Amendment is designed to meet in part my Amendment No. 15. I agree that it does, and therefore I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to discuss my Amendment No. 15 with this present Amendment.

Since the Committee stage, I have been in touch with the Stornoway, Trust, which I said at that time had raised the matter with me. They have given their views on what the Minister said at the Committee stage. The Stornoway Trust hope to be able to retain their system, which they say has worked well and meets with the approval of the crofters concerned. In that case the value is retained by grazings committees and used commonly for purposes generally for the benefit of the shareholder crofters concerned. They wanted to have that written into the Bill. My own view, represented in Amendment No. 15, was that there should be a choice open; that is to say, that the Land Court might apportion the value, or alternatively the practice of the Stornoway Trust would also be open under the Bill. Certainly the Stornoway Trust did not want to see the end of their system; they did not want to be forced to change, for no apparent reason, what had been carried out satisfactorily. Therefore we are glad to hear what the noble Lord said at the end of his speech, which was that the system practised by the Stornoway Trust can be continued under Amendment No. 14.

I think that one of the purposes of the Bill is to enhance the stature and functions of grazings committees. That was spoken about during earlier stages of the Bill and was certainly one of the purposes when the Bill was introduced, over two years ago. When I moved a similar Amendment at Committee stage to my present Amendment No. 15, the Government gave it as their view that the proposal would deprive a crofter shareholder, without his consent, of the right to which he was entitled, because that would apply to the minority of crofters who were in opposition to the majority—over 50 per cent.—who had opted for one choice; namely, that the money should go to the grazings committee.

I recognise that as a possible objection to my earlier Amendment and also to my present Amendment No. 15. There may be no difficulty in the Stornoway area and no objectors to the system as practised there, but elsewhere it could be that crofters in a minority could feel aggrieved. At Committee stage the Minister pointed out that a voluntary arrangement could be worked out in particular cases, and, as I have mentioned, the Stornoway Trust none the less still hope that something can be written into the Bill. One of their arguments which I mentioned at the Committee stage is that in some cases the Land Court would have difficulties in finding an acceptable basis for an apportionment, and the noble Lord the Minister referred to that just now.

Indeed, more than the wisdom of Solomon might be needed to determine proportions in which to divide the value among a large number of shareholder/ crofters with a complex pattern of shares and conflicting opinions as to the weighting that should be applied. Amendment No. 14 would relieve the Land Court of that function, as I understand it, and the Land Court would have to deal only with the difficult matter of apportionment if a dispute was referred to it. If I understand correctly what was said just now by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, the Land Court would not automatically have to do it in every case. The effect of the Government's Amendment No. 14, which I accept, goes some way to meet the case I have put. It would leave the Stornoway Trust free to continue their present practice, so I would advise your Lordships to accept Amendment No. 14. In those circumstances, I will not move Amendment No. 15.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 13 [Provision as respects removal of land from crofting tenure]:

Lord KIRKHILL moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 14, line 10, leave out (" constitution of new crofts or ").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 16 and to speak at the same time to Amendment No. 26, which is linked to Amendment No. 16. The debate during the Committee stage on Amendment No. 23 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Burton, was particularly useful, in that it drew to the attention of the Government an inappropriate reference in the Bill to the constitution of new crofts. The Amendment of the noble Lord was not acceptable at that time as it was too sweeping and would have removed a necessary safeguard for allowing decrofted land to be reinstated under crofting tenure as an enlargement to a croft. However, following the debate, it was recognised that part of the Amendment was appropriate, since the reference to powers for the constitution of new crofts is no longer apt in view of the repeal in Schedule 3 to the Bill of Section 2(1) of the 1961 Act, under which these powers are given to the Secretary of State. I am indebted to the noble Lord for his perspicacity. Amendment No. 26 excises a similar reference which is contained in the 1955 Act. Accordingly, I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord KIRKHILL moved Amendment No. 17:

Page 14, line 26, leave out ("the Act of 1955") and insert ("this Act").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a purely drafting Amendment. It is to correct an error in the drafting of the new Section 16A of the 1955 Act, which is contained in Clause 13(3) of the Bill. Since, following the enactment of the Bill, the new Section will be incorporated within the 1955 Act, the reference to "the Act of 1955" in line 26 will be inappropriate. The wording should be "this Act", and the Amendment makes the necessary correction. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord KIRKHILL moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 14, line 31, leave out ("consisting") and insert ("which consists").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 18 and to speak to Amendment No. 19. These are minor Amendments designed to clarify the intention of the provision which is that the right to an automatic decrofting direction for the croft dwellinghouse site should only be available to a crofter who has already become owner of his house site by agreement or otherwise in pursuance of the entitlement given to him under Clause 1(2) of the Bill, or is in a position to exercise this entitlement. The present drafting is insufficiently precise, since it would allow any owner of a croft which is vacant if and when the Bill is enacted, or who later obtains renunciation of a crofting tenancy, to obtain an almost automatic decrofting direction for the house on such croft and to dispose of the house on the open market. This is not what the Bill intended. I have, of course, no reason to think that landlords would seek to exploit this loophole in the Bill by capitalising on the disposal of the houses on crofts which may temporarily become vacant, but in the Government's view, it is undesirable that there should be any risk that the stock of croft houses required for crofters should be diminished in this way were that to happen. The effect of the Amendments will be that decrofting applications by landlords in respect of croft house sites will be considered by the Crofters Commission in the ordinary way, having regard to the general interest of the crofting community and local crofting demand. I commend the Amendment to your Lordships.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord KIRKHILL moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 14, line 33, after ("croft") insert ("and in respect of which a crofter is entitled at the time of the application, or has been entitled, to a conveyance by virtue of section 1(2) of the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 1976").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 19 formally. I was speaking to it when speaking to Amendment No. 18.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 14 [Extension of Section 3 of Act of 1955.]:

4.36 p.m.

Lord BURTON moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 16, line 14, leave out from beginning to ("land") in line 16.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships will have noticed that we are now getting into the realms of a lawyer's glory. Things are getting very complicated. I was grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for remarking just now on a previous Amendment that we were trying to get some of this sorted out. I hope that here it might be possible to reach another small agreement with the Government, because the Amendment is to the benefit of the crofters every bit as much as to the landowner—possibly more so—and it is also in favour of good land use.

My Lords, the point is that, so far as I can see, if a crofter gets a tenancy—even a seasonal tenancy—for any grazing, that land becomes part of his croft. This has been re-enacted in the Bill; it was part of the previous Bill. To all intents and purposes, this means that no one in his right mind will let anything to a crofter. Particularly once this Bill is passed, it means that that land could be acquired by the crofter on 15 years' purchase of the rental. Therefore, it is obviously not very sound practice to put this in the Bill.

For instance, where you had some planting ground, you might want to let it to someone for grazing for a short period—a year or two—until such time as you wanted to plant it; but you dare not let it to a crofter. He might well like to take it from you, and you would never be able to plant it in the future. This just does not make sense. Although my drafting may not be sound, I hope that the Government will be able to put this right, as it has become extremely complicated. I think the principle here is wrong and should be looked at.


My Lords, if I may say so, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Burton, has misunderstood the provision in this part of the Bill. Indeed, I can reassure the noble Lord that he is quite wrong in thinking that any land let to a crofter for grazing purposes automatically becomes part of his croft. This is not the case. Non-croft land can only be added as an enlargement to a croft under the terms of Section 2(2) of the 1961 Act with the agreement of the landlord. The landlord has complete control in this respect, and without his agreement an enlargement cannot be effected. A grazing let of non-croft land to a crofter, unless the landlord agreed otherwise, would be effected under an agricultural lease, and would have no relevance to the crofting tenancy.

The purpose of the words which the Amendment seeks to omit is to make it clear that any grazing right within the crofting legislation pertaining to a croft tenancy is an integral part of the croft. In this respect, they do no more than restate the law enacted in Section 3 of the 1955 Act. The effect of the Amendment would be to put the status of such crofting grazing rights in doubt, and in this case I do think that the Amendment is misguided, I would ask your Lordships to reject it.


My Lords, I think that is a most useful statement by the Minister, and I am very grateful to him for clarifying the position. Your Lordships appreciate how complicated the situation is. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

4.41 p.m.

Lord KIRKHILL moved Amendments Nos. 21 to 24:

Page 23, line 24, at end insert— (" (3A) At the end of section 1(1) (constitution and general functions of the Commission), there shall be added the words "and the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 1976.".")

line 25, at end insert— ("( ) in subsection (1)(d), after the word "Act" there shall be inserted the words "and the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 1976."")

Page 24, line 11, after ("crofts),") insert ("(a)")

line 12, at end insert— (" (b) at the end there shall be added the words "and the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 1976." ")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 21 to 24 en bloc. These are technical drafting Amendments, the purpose of which is to extend references in the 1955 Act to the Crofters Commission's functions and powers under that Act to include also functions and powers under the 1976 Act. Reference to the Commission's responsibilities under the 1961 Act are imported into the 1955 Act references by paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 to the 1961 Act, which states that any reference in the Act of 1955 to that Act shall, unless the context otherwise requires, include a reference to the 1961 Act. An Opposition Amendment was accepted in another place to Section 2(4) of the 1955 Act to extend the reference to functions under that Act to include functions under the Bill. These Amendments, therefore, complete the process of making the extensions in relation to other comparable references. I hope that with this somewhat technical explanation noble Lords will be ready to accept the Amendments, which do no more really than tidy up the drafting.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Lord Derwent)

My Lords, unless any noble Lord objects, I shall put Amendments Nos. 21 to 24 en bloc. On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Lord BURTONmoved Amendment No. 25:

Page 26, line 33, leave out paragraph 19 and insert— (" 19. Section 12 shall cease to apply.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, some of your Lordships may be rather confused as to why this Amendment is put down. I may say straight away that it is a probing Amendment. The position here is that it would appear that though the Crofters Commission were given a remit 15 years ago they have never fully implemented it, or very seldom have they done so. In the past, I think under the 1955 Act and previous Acts, where a crofter was not cultivating his croft or looking after it properly it fell upon the landowner to do something about it. That was removed by the 1961 Act, and the Crofters Commission was given powers to sub-let the croft if the crofter was not working it. Your Lordships have only to look around the crofting areas to see innumerable crofts not being worked properly. Indeed there was one which recently came before the Land Court, and it must, therefore, very forcefully have been drawn to the attention of the Crofters Commission, but still they have done nothing about it. If Parliament gives to a Commission like this a remit to execute a job, I think it ought to be done. Therefore, particularly in view of the fact that the Bill gives the Commission substantial extra powers, I put down this Amendment to see what the Government intend to do to see that they do carry out those that they have already. I beg to move.


My Lords, the Government of course recognise that this Amendment put down by the noble Lord is a probing Amendment. The Government can explain the reasons why powers given to the Crofters Commission under Section 12 of the 1961 Act to secure the sub-letting of crofts which are inadequately used have never been implemented. Section 12 has in fact never been operative, since it requires the introduction of an order under Section 19(2) of the 1961 Act to bring it into operation, and no such order has been made.

Briefly, the reason the Section 12 powers were brought is as reserve powers and were not made operative on introduction of the 1961 Act was because the concept of compulsory sub-letting met with such opposition in Committee that the Government of the day decided that in the first instance a policy of voluntary sub-letting should be tried and the compulsory power should be held in abeyance, for introduction as the ultimate sanction onlyif that policy failed and after an order confirming the use of such powers had been approved by both Houses of Parliament. Following these guidelines, the Crofters Commission, in seeking to achieve more effective utilisation of croft land, have proceeded by persuasion and have not felt justified in seeking to invoke the compulsory powers.

The Commission have given a good deal of encouragement to crofters to arrange for the voluntary sub-letting to active crofters of land which they themselves were not using, and indeed nearly 2,000 sub-lets have been arranged since 1961. These measures, I am assured, have proved reasonably effective in avoiding sterilisation of croft land, and successive Governments have not considered it expedient to implement the powers for compulsory sub-letting contained in Section 12 of the 1961 Act. Nevertheless, I do not feel that we can say categorically that there will never arise in future a situation in which we would consider it desirable to make use of these powers. In the light of what I think is a fairly full explanation, I hope that your Lordships will resist the Amendment.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for giving such a full explanation. Now that this matter has been drawn to his attention I hope that he will consider giving it further consideration. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3 [Repeal of enactments]:

Lord KIRKHILL moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 28, line 19, column 3, at end insert— (" In section 12(4), the words "the constitution of new crofts or" ")

The noble Lord said

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 26 formally, having already spoken to it under the heading of Amendment No. 16.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.