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The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, with regard to one of these amendments, I have to say that at the present moment local community development is not an activity with which the Crofters Commission is required to deal. Indeed, it is probably not legally entitled to do it. It strikes me that it would probably be treading on the toes of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the local enterprise companies and possibly even on the toes of the local authority.

This is social and economic activity which the Crofters Commission ought to be doing, and I believe that the commission would like to start taking this approach to its work.

It is important to recognise that crofters now typically gain 10 per cent. of their income from crofting and 90 per cent. from what are quaintly known in crofting legislation as their auxiliary occupations. The move from subsistence agriculture to crofting becoming a population holding measure is a good one. It is important to encourage people to go to the remoter areas to make a life for themselves using repayable loans and the spare time activities which crofting constitutes. I suspect that we are looking at something which the Irish have solved by having a Department of the Gaeltacht to handle such problems. I commend the amendment to the Minister.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, before my noble friend replies, I was unable to take part in the Committee stage because I was listening to a debate in the Chamber. I was not on the Select Committee, but I have been listening to the discussions with great interest. Will my noble friend indicate whether the Government are against crofting trusts becoming entrepreneurial and doing good things on their crofts? I was a little dismayed by the discussion about minerals. I imagine that the Bill as it stands does not prevent crofters exploiting minerals. They might discover barites on the land, or something like that. I understand that the Government do not want to put that on the face of the Bill, but surely the whole idea is not to keep crofters where they are and to prevent them developing their crofts in any way they want; the idea is to put the crofts into the crofters' hands for the good of the crofts, the crofters and the Highlands of Scotland.

Although I shall understand if my noble friend does not want to tie things down too much by putting them on the face of the Bill, it would be interesting to hear

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from him--perhaps I should know--whether there is anything wrong with crofters becoming entrepreneurial and not just maintaining the status quo.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her intervention. She has articulated the objectives behind the Bill as well as anyone has done to date. We want the Bill to enable crofters to take a greater stake in their own futures, shape their own destinies, to be as entrepreneurial as they want and to develop the social, cultural, economic and environmental aspects of their communities. The hope of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is that the transfer of the land and any other assets associated with that transfer will provide a springboard for those crofting communities to take hold of the direction in which those communities subsequently go. I have explained at great length that we are seeking to keep the face of the Bill as uncluttered as possible.

The Secretary of State has brought forward the Bill to encourage crofters to take on the management of their own estates. Crofters can progress as freely as possible. Any reservations that my noble friend might have are entirely misplaced. We are seeking to give crofters control.

The amendment encapsulates a sentiment with which we have a great deal of sympathy. If noble Lords look at Clause 2 they will see phrases such as:


    "crofting interests in the property ...the promotion of the interests of persons residing on such property ... the general interests of the crofting community in the district ... the views of crofters in that district; and any other matter which they consider to be relevant".

The concept of local community development lies at the heart of the Bill. I emphasised in Committee the important part that community development will play in the realities that will stem from the Bill becoming law. The Bill's drafting makes the amendments unnecessary. They could conceivably be restrictive.

I shall deal with the first point. The Bill already allows the Crofters Commission to have regard to community development, both when it considers the general interests of the crofting community and with regard to any other matter which it considers to be relevant. I drew attention to the current drafting because I cannot conceive that the Crofters Commission would not address a potential for local community development when it goes through the various duties that the Bill imposes upon it.

The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, suggested that with the existence of Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the local enterprise companies, the Crofters Commission might feel constrained in addressing local community development, especially if it is economic. That is not the case. Within the duties defined by the Bill, the Crofters Commission will be advising the Secretary of State on the single transfer of a particular holding to a crofting trust. I do not anticipate any difficulty with that duty and the duties of the enterprise network.

There is also the risk that the amendments would have an unfortunate restrictive effect. I acknowledge that that is not intended by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel. It is possible that some communities will seek to establish

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crofting trusts to allow them to maintain, as nearly as possible, their current situation. In those or similar conditions we would not wish the commission to see itself as being under any statutory duty to recommend against such proposals just because they were inadequately concerned with community development, however that might be interpreted.

We consider that a possibility. It is not one which we would like to see become a reality. The term "local community" may be uncertain. The local community would include more than just the residents on the property to be disposed of. That is the purpose of Clause 2(2). It is quite proper that the commission should have regard to the development of the wider community, but such development which goes beyond the land and members of a crofting trust cannot be of such importance that the commission should be required to give it preferential attention. That is why Clause 2 is structured as it is, with subsection (1) giving preference to the interests of those residing on the property while subsection (2) takes a broader look.

The Bill will allow the commission to give due regard to local community development, whether that development be economic or cultural, whether it involves an increasing population or improves circumstances for an existing population. I understand the sentiment behind the amendment but we see difficulties with the drafting proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I again thank the Minister. I am more disappointed in his response on this occasion than on previous occasions. If on the one hand the Minister believes it to be inconceivable that the Crofters Commission should not take into account matters of local community development, I see no argument against requiring it, and making it clear that it should take into account the local community development effect of the transfer and the setting up of a trust.

The argument that it could be potentially restrictive is a non-starter. The amendment seeks merely to require the Crofters Commission to take this into account among a number of other factors. Having taken it into account in the particular circumstances which the noble Earl indicated, it may well seek to advise the Secretary of State that in a particular case, the local community development factor should not be dominant. That would be fair enough. But in reaching its view, it is essential that the local community development effect of a transfer should be something which it should at least be required to think about, consider and reach a view upon. As I say, I am disappointed that the Minister cannot go further on this particular issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

6 p.m.

Lord Sewel moved Amendment No. 6:


Page 2, line 22, at end insert--
("( ) Any subsequent conveyance from a transferee to a new owner of property disposed of under subsection (2) above shall require the consent of the Commission.").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 6 returns to a difficult issue which took up a great deal of our time, thoughts and energies in Inverness; namely, the problem of on-selling. Perhaps I may explain my anxiety. A transfer takes place and I accept what the Minister has said that it takes place on a basis of generosity and viability and a healthy trust is established.

The difficulty then comes with what happens next or what potentially could happen next. The danger that is seen by at least some of those involved actively in the crofting community is that the intentions of the Bill could be undermined if there is a danger of significant on-selling of the land which formed part of the original transfer.

In many cases, it may be thought that that is not a very real threat. But there are some examples. I shall not use the expression "white settlers" because I prefer to use the phrase "heavy housing development pressures". In some parts of the Highlands, particularly outside the presently established towns and villages, it is clear that there is a very heavy demand for housing plots and developments.

There is a danger involved here. There are indications that that danger is becoming a reality, albeit on a relatively small scale at the moment. As I understand it, in the case of one of the already established trusts--Assynt--in order to achieve the income to maintain its current activities, it has sold some of the capital assets; namely, the land. Over a period of time, the whole basis forward of the trusts could be eroded significantly if there is that incremental selling on of the land which formed the basis of the whole development.

The Minister in his comments quite rightly drew attention to the role of the Scottish Land Court. It is fair for him to do so. In placing this amendment before the House, we are seeking to give him an opportunity to underline the degree of control and guarantee which the Scottish Land Court will be able to exercise to ensure that the erosion of the viability of the trusts which have been established is not put into jeopardy. I beg to move.


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