§ MR. MACFARLANE
, who had the following Notice of Motion on the Paper:—To move, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the condition of the Crofters in the Island of Skye, the Western Islands of Scotland generally, and the Islands constituting the Orkney and Shetland groups, and specially to report upon the relations of landlord and tenant in those localities, and as to the causes which have led to the recent disturbances in Skye,said, that being precluded by the Forms of the House from bringing it forward, he would content himself with appealing to the Prime Minister and the Government to grant its substance. He would point out that 10 years ago a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the "truck system" in the Shetland Isles. The Commissioner reported—I have not thought myself at liberty to enter upon the Land Question, but the 'truck system' is due in no small degree to the habits of dependence which the faulty relationship of landlord and tenant fosters. Hitherto it has been said that legislation should not be local or exceptional. It is to be hoped that in any reform of the Land Laws of Scotland the case of Shetland will not be forgotten.This Commissioner attributed the poverty and wretchedness of the people in Shetland to the land system. He (Mr. Macfarlane) had no doubt that what was true of Shetland was true of all the other parts of Scotland, and especially the Islands of Scotland. It was only a few months since that there was a very serious disturbance—serious for Scotland, which was a very peaceful country —in the Island of Skye. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate knew very well that, though the crofters were technically in the wrong, and though they had broken the law, yet that they were so far in the right that the punishment inflicted was ridiculously nominal. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knew also that there was a feeling in the country that if any severe punishment had been inflicted upon them, gross injustice would have been done. Since that time there had been a comparative lull in Skye; but the question had been taken up in the country, and were it not for wearying the House, he (Mr. Macfarlane) could 767 read letters which he had received from clergymen and others, as to the serious future consequences of neglecting this question. These writers uniformly and universally testified that inquiry was needed, and prayed that the Government would grant it. He had in his hand two resolutions to the same effect from a meeting held in Glasgow. The second was—That this meeting insists not only on the desirability, but oh the urgent necessity for full Parliamentary inquiry into the facts of the case as regards the Highland crofters, with a view to legislation as soon as possible.That motion was carried unanimously. It was moved by a clergyman, and seconded by Mr. M'Donald. Another motion, which he would not trouble the House by reading, also moved by a clergyman, represented the necessity of being fully alive to the importance of meeting the case of these poor people. This was not an ordinary agitation. The clergymen in that part of the country did not take part in an agitation unless they saw a very serious necessity for it. He believed that this was a question between men and grouse. He believed it to be a fair calculation to say, as had been said, that 10 brace of grouse were as good to a landlord as a crofter as a mere money speculation. A great many years ago, Sir Walter Scott wrote upon the depopulation of the Islands and Highlands then going on, and remarked that—If the hour of need come, and it may not be far distant, the people may be summoned for the purposes of defence from these regions, but the summons will remain unanswered.That prediction had been fulfilled, and he (Mr. Macfarlane) did not suppose there was really, at that moment, one-tenth of the small crofter population in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland which existed in the time Sir Walter Scott wrote about the subject. The Prime Minister, no doubt, had to deal with many difficulties of the kind, and thoroughly well knew that, in dealing with the Irish Land Question, he had been seriously hampered by the landowners of England and Scotland; but, notwithstanding that, he (Mr. Macfarlane) would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to take this matter in hand. Was the Land Question in Scotland to be settled; or were they to tell the people of the Highlands and Islands of Scot- 768 land that so long as they remained quiet, or so long as they did not agitate, so long as they did not commit crime and outrage, they would obtain no redress? That was the inevitable conclusion to which the people would come if nothing was done. They were a peaceful and long-suffering, yet a gallant people. If they were not, where would the Government have got the gallant soldiers who filled the ranks of the Army; and where would they go for more when they were all driven away? It was impossible at the present time to carry out the atrocities which took place in Sutherland-shire and other places 60 or 70 years ago; but a gradual depopulation was now going on, which was none the less certain. The people were being as surely driven out, by milder means, no doubt, but, nevertheless, as surely as they were driven out of Sutherlandshire by violent measures 60 years ago, when their houses were torn down over their heads. He was not making sweeping charges against the landlords in Scotland. He did not believe they were any worse than other men would have been in the same position; but they were irresponsible men in these remote localities, for there was no public opinion to bring to bear upon them. He again appealed to the Prime Minister to grant this Commission, because if it was found that there was really no grievance the agitation would subside; whereas if they reported, as he had no doubt they would, that every crofter in Scotland was at the mercy of his landlord, and might be sent out of his holding without compensation of any description, upon 40 days' notice, then he thought the country would come to the conclusion that while Parliament had been working for the Irish tenants, who could not be sent out under 12 months' notice, that there was a much harder case in the Islands of Scotland undealt with.
said, that when this Notice first appearedon the Paper, he had put down an Amendment to the effect that the Highlands, as well as the Islands, should be included in the proposed Inquiry. It was quite impossible, at this period of the Session, when hon. Members were suffering not only from the labours of the Session, but also under the burden of work yet to be done, and when so much necessary Public Business remained to be dis- 769 posed of, to discuss a question of this kind practically and thoroughly when the great majority of Scotch Members had already gone away; and he could not but fear that some injury might be done to the question by its being brought forward at a time when it could not be adequately discussed. He was afraid that many, seeing an important question of this kind disposed of in a short and hurried discussion, might be led to underrate its importance. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for County Carlow in his remarks about the great importance which this question had in the eyes of Scotchmen. He knew how unreasonable it was to ask the Prime Minister to undertake more work than that which was at present on his shoulders; but, at the same time, he believed that this was a question which could not be long postponed—which would every year become more pressing, and it would be absolutely necessary to consider it before long. He had seen the case of the crofters, in pamphlets and newspapers and public meetings, mixed up with, and confounded with, that of the ordinary farmers in Scotland; and the writers and speakers urged that it would be dealt with on the same lines of legislation. Now, he thought that a broad distinction should be drawn between the case of the two classes of persons. The ordinary farmer in Scotland was a man who carried on farming as a commercial transaction. He might go from one part of the country to another and lease a farm with his eyes open, and enter into contracts deliberately which he should be compelled to carry out. He, for one, would not be disposed to interfere by legislation in the case of the ordinary farmer, except in so far as the public interests demanded interference in order to develop fully the producing powers of the land. The crofters were, he held, in a very different position from the farmer. He was a man born on the land; he was, so to speak, a son of the soil. His family had been on it for generations, and in some cases even for centuries, and everything in the domestic history of the family was connected with the plot of land on which he dwelt. To that man that plot of land was dear in a sense which was unknown to the farmer. He ventured to say that the Scotch crofter had a love for his holding as great, if 770 not greater, than any Irish farmer had for his. The crofters had been exposed in past times to hardships and injuries as great as any that had happened to the Irish tenant. He believed that most of the proprietors were good and honourable men, and dealt with the crofters in a kind spirit; but there were exceptions, and it must not be forgotten that although the landlords in most cases had not oppressed the crofters, still these crofters held their crofts entirely at the mercy of the landlord, and were wholly in his power. Although living on land which his family might have occupied for generations, the crofter had no security even for a single year, and he might be summarily ejected whenever the landlord so willed, although everything on the land had been done by the crofter. It was in very few cases that the landlords made any improvements for the tenants, and in those parts of the country which he knew best they did nothing for them whatever—all improvements were done by the crofters themselves. While desirous not to stand in the way of the House to get into the Business of Supply, which was so much in arrears, he should have been sorry to allow a question of this kind to pass without one or two Scotch Members taking part in the discussion.
said, it appeared to him that all the considerations which had conspired to bring the ease of the Irish tenant farmer before that House applied to a much greater extent in favour of the consideration of the case of the Highland crofter. It had been said that, according to the old custom of landholding in Ireland, the cultivator of the soil had a proprietary right in it. If that had been the case in Ireland, it had been also the case in Scotland, and much more recently, for, up to 1745, it was the case in respect to the landed property of all the Highland tribes. It was only after the Highland rising in 1745, when the tribal jurisdiction was swept away, that the Highland Chief was transformed into a position analogous to that of the English landlord, and given the same rights over the soil. The crofters did not suffer from the change that took place for a long time. They were still living with their Chiefs and amongst their friends and were protected. But, as time went on, other customs sprang up. With entails and 771 settlements the Chiefs or lairds found themselves pressed for money, and, accordingly, were driven to raise the rents which had been charged to the crofters in respect of their holdings; and in many cases, he believed, to inaugurate that sub-division of the crofts which had led to so much poverty and to many other evils. They found it was to their interest, if they obtained their rent, to encourage that sub - division which subsequent generations had found so burdensome; and for that purpose they resorted to evictions to clear the land for the new tenants. These evictions, at the commencement of the present century, were carried on to a fearful extent in Scotland, in many of the glens of that country. The ancestors of the people who held these farms, and who were thus turned out, had been for centuries on the land; their occupation, in most instances, dating back to the old tribal tenure. In England such customary holding as that had given place to copyhold tenure; but in Scotland customary tenure went for nothing. In that country there was a system of registering titles, and no continuity of holding unsupported by a title could avail. The landlord, by his title, was put in a position to say—"This is my absolute property. You have no recognizable property in this whatever. I can do what I like with it." Of that right they availed themselves, and it was but natural that they should. Not only did they find that this prescriptive right of land tenure had been sacrificed to innovating legislation of a far more recent date than any affecting the Irish tenantry, but other rights had been sacrificed in the same way. The crofters had enjoyed rights of pasturage, of turf cutting, and other valuable rights, which had been constantly encroached upon and sacrificed. If hon. Members looked into the land disputes which had occurred in the Highlands and Islands, they would find that they could be traced in every case to some proposal to take away rights of pasture, or otherwise an endeavour to take away the right to common, or to cut turf, or that some other proposal of the kind was at the bottom of the quarrel. These quarrels, when they occurred, did not speak very well for the condition of the Highland population. In fact, in that part of Scotland a state of things would be found which 772 would not be tolerated amongst the English tenantry. In some places the crofters were still compelled by the landlord to send their corn to be ground at a particular mill, whether they liked it or not; or, if they did not send it, were compelled to pay a certain amount for every bushel ground elsewhere. Such a provision might have been necessary in the olden time, but could not possibly be said to be so now. He was aware that the custom had been abolished in the greater part of Scotland; but, in many parts, it still remained. It had been brought under his notice as still existing in Skye. It was absolutely absurd that such a custom should exist, and it was no wonder that the crofters should rise against their landlords for having east such an imposition upon them. Another thing that had not been touched upon, and which greatly affected the crofters, was the landlord absenteeism prevailing. By far the best managed and contented estates in Scotland were those of landlords who lived amongst their tenants, and were able to see what was going on. But, in the Highlands, the complaint was that the landlords did not live amongst the people, but left them entirely to the mercy of factors, who, though, no doubt, excellent men, being mostly lawyers, regarded the estates and the tenantry from the hard, dry, absolute property point of view of Scotch law. They thought they had an absolute right to do what they liked, and they carried their point to a legitimate, but rather far-fetched, conclusion. In many cases they monopolized all the offices of the district. The other day a factor in the witness-box told the jury that he was himself a crofter-—that was to say, a rival crofter. In many places the factor was a fish-dealer, and compelled the crofters, who were also fishermen, to sell their fish to him at his own price. In other places, the factor was a cattle-dealer, and compelled the crofters to bring their cattle and sheep to him. In other places still, he was a contractor, and compelled them to labour in part-payment of their rent, and if they failed to present themselves fined them a much higher amount than they would have got if they had worked. So far, in fact, did this interference go, that a Highland laird had told him of one estate where the crofters were not even allowed to marry without the consent of the factor. In many cases, too, the factor 773 monopolized all the public offices of the district. He might be found as chairman of the school board. In a case that recently came before the Scotch public, a factor was found to have sent out a warning to the crofters, that if their children did not attend so regularly as to earn the grant, they must be prepared, next rent day, to pay 10s. or 12s. for every child that had failed to earn the school grants. Sometimes the factor was Procurator Fiscal, and he (Dr. Cameron) thought it improper that a man who had to act as public prosecutor should also act as factor. Those officers ought in no way to be connected with the management of the land. A Question was asked of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Fraser-Mackintosh), a short time ago, regarding a couple of old men who had been evicted, because their sons had done something to annoy the Fiscal in his judicial or executive capacity. These factors were intrusted, in their capacity of Fiscals, with directing prosecutions against poachers; and, in their capacity as factors, they did not like the game on the estates in their charge to be disturbed. The consequence was that in some cases they laid down the rule that if any dog was kept by the crofters in certain districts they would be dispossessed. Anyone who knew the state of things in the Highlands now, and could contrast it with the state of things in the not very olden time, must be convinced of the necessity of something being done. He (Dr. Cameron) did not say that anything should be done on mere hearsay; but, at all events, the step recommended by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Macfarlane) should be taken, a good case being made out for inquiry. Anyone who wanted information on this subject he could refer to a book published the other day by a very distinguished man of science—Mr. Wallace. Though they might not agree with his conclusions, they must recognize that, having been engaged in scientific pursuits, this had formed in him a habit of accurate observation of facts. No one who wished to understand the position of the Highland crofters could do better than refer to the work of Mr. Wallace. From that book, he (Dr. Cameron) would quote one sentence, not by Mr. Wallace himself, but from the pen of 774 Dr. Norman Macleod, who spoke of the state of things formerly existing in the Islands. Dr. Norman Macleod said—As a proof of the sterling qualities of these Highlanders, I may mention that since the beginning of the last war of the French Revolution, the Island of Skye alone has sent forth from her wild shores 21 lieutenant and major generals, 48 lieutenant colonels, 600 commissioned officers, 10,000 soldiers, 4 Governors of Colonies, 1 Governor General of India, 1 Chief Baron of England, and 1 Judge of the Supreme Court of Scotland. Contrast that with a state of things in which the last of the Highlanders are scattered over the world—Canada, New Zealand, and all through the Colonies, while the more dependent of them are in the towns, where, owing to the want of knowledge of English, they are in a degraded position, living in an atmosphere to which they are totally unfitted.They were a law-abiding people; but he did not think it was to be wondered at that strong symptoms of restlessness were observable amongst them. Their discontent was threatening to break out, and in the interests of true statesmanship—in the interests of a noble people —a people whom it was very much, indeed, to the welfare of the nation to keep at home, the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would do well to grant the request which had been placed before him in such moderate terms by the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Carlow.
§ MR. RAMSAY
said, it might possibly be expected that he, as a landowner in those districts, the fate of which was so much bemoaned by hon. Members, should say a few words. Indeed, as one who knew the districts occupied by the crofters well, he thought himself entitled to do so; and he would say this—that he did not rise for the purpose of making an appeal to the Prime Minister to forego an inquiry as regards the condition of the Highland crofter; but he thought it was a great misfortune that this subject should be brought before the House by those who really knew nothing whatever of the subject on which they spoke. [Laughter.] He repeated that it was a misfortune that those who had addressed the House upon the subject should have no practical acquaintance with the condition of the Highlands, or Islands, nor any knowledge of their circumstances, their feelings, or aspirations. It had been said, and it might be so, that it was suitable that an Irish Representative should bring the subject before the House, because it had been put forward 775 —and he believed it was correct—that there was an endeavour being made at the present time, by some organizations in Scotland, to diffuse Irish feeling and sentiment throughout the population of the Highlands. He (Mr. Ramsay) hoped, however, if any sentiment of discontent ever prevailed there, it might be based on some other circumstances than any which had affected the Irish population. The hon. Gentleman who introduced the subject (Mr. Macfarlane) had spoken as if there were great cause to bewail the condition and the decrease of the population of the insular parts of Scotland. The hon. Gentleman in that respect had shown that he knew nothing whatever about the state of Scotland; and he (Mr. Ramsay) could adduce no better evidence of that than the fact that the insular parishes of Scotland were the only rural parishes in the United Kingdom which had increased in population since the beginning of the present century. The population of the Hebrides was little more than 40,000 in 1745; and at the beginning of this century the population of Lewis, where there were a number of small tenants, was only 10,000, but it was now 25,000; and he ventured to say they would not find an exclusively rural district in Great Britain in which the same increase in population had occurred in the same period. If that were not an answer to much of the wail for the decrease of the population, he did not know what was. He was sorry he had not the details of the question at hand with him, for, like the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Dick-Peddie), he did not anticipate this discussion. He thought the time of the House was too valuable to be wasted by hon. Members who knew nothing of the subject on which they addressed the House. But, seeing that they had thought fit to make their remarks, he thought it right to say that, if the subject were gone into, it would be found that there was no foundation for the charges as to the decrease of population of the Highlands, nor for any other of the statements which had been made about the circumstances of the crofters. If the Prime Minister saw fit to grant an inquiry, these circumstances would be fully investigated by the Gentlemen appointed for the purpose; but the details of the Census did not require a Commission, and any hon. Gentleman 776 who chose to make the examination of the figures would find what he had just stated as to the increase of the population. By doing that, hon. Members who took an interest in the question would find that these insular parishes, and many of the Highland parishes, were the only rural districts in which there were no manufactures which had increased in population in the present century. That might be disputed; but he had in his possession a detailed statement of the population of the whole of the insular parishes in Scotland; he would be glad to furnish hon. Members who took an interest in the subject with a copy. What he also wished to say was, that when he said he did not deprecate an inquiry into the condition of the people, he believed he was only saying what would be responded to in the same spirit by any of the large landed proprietors in the West of Scotland. They were none of them afraid of investigation. Reference had been made by some hon. Gentlemen to tribal holdings; but it was a singular thing that hon. Members must go back into vague periods of history, when they had no records of the tribal condition of the people, in order to verify statements of that kind. Not long ago he had an opportunity of reading the most recent work on the condition of the Highlands that he had seen—that of the Royal Historiographer for Scotland—in which an account was given of the Celtic people of Scotland. He felt quite sure that hon. Members who had addressed the House had a kindly feeling towards the population, and that they would shrink from placing people in the same condition as they had been in as described in that book. He (Mr. Ramsay) had in his possession the ancient Charter for one of the most valuable Islands in the Hebrides. [Cries of"Name!"] He had no doubt that his hon. Friends knew the Island he was referring to. That Charter showed that the condition of the people at that time was nothing to what it was at the present day. Very much was said of the crofters having lived on the same holdings for generations. That had been the case in some instances, no doubt; but he thought crofters, like farmers, were accustomed to change their croft whenever they were enabled by their circumstances to take a better or more extensive one, In proof of that, he 777 might state that two of the largest farmers on his own property were the sons of small crofters, and they now occupied farms such as their fathers never could have tilled, and would have been unable to stock, if they had had the ability. In the district in which he lived there had been a very great decrease in the population during the past 40 years. But that was not owing to enforced evictions, but because the proprietor, previous to his occupation of the land, directed his attention to the education of the people; and though he took a pride in having the greatest number of human beings possible on the land, the number had decreased to the extent of 50 per cent during the last 40 years; and that was brought about by the fact that the people, being educated, would not live in the circumstances in which their fathers had lived before them— their instruction in the English language having enabled them to speak, read, and write that language with ease and facility had had the effect of bringing about depopulation more effectually than any enforced measures that ever could be brought to bear. He considered he was placed at a disadvantage in making these remarks; and he thought, also, that the subject was at great disadvantage in being discussed when they had not the opportunity of having the whole circumstances brought fairly before the House. He would regret if any remark of his should tend to make the Prime Minister hesitate if he had previously entertained the idea to grant the Commission which the hon. Member asked for. He should wait the deliberation of any sensible men as to the circumstances of the crofters with the greatest satisfaction.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, he hoped that if the Prime Minister saw that the unanimous feeling of Scotch Members was that this inquiry should be made, he would grant the Commission, so that the charges made by those who agreed with the hon. Member who had brought the matter before the House (Mr. Macfarlane) might be verified or shown to be groundless. The hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay) was, no doubt, a very good landlord; but he seemed to think that the territorial magnates were the only people who knew anything about this matter, and he reproached the hon. 778 Member who proposed this inquiry with being an Irish Member. It was true that the hon. Member had the misfortune to be an Irish Member; but the speech he had made had a good Scottish sound in it, and it proved that he was a sound Scotchman, and had not deserted his native country, but came forward to speak upon this subject, together with other hon. Members who had a knowledge of the subject, in spite of what the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Falkirk Burghs said to the contrary. That hon. Gentleman, who had defended the landlords, had dealt very much in generalities. There was no doubt that the education of the people in the hon. Member's district was a legitimate cause of decreased population, and it was that education which had enabled Scotchmen to better themselves all over the world; but it was a matter of history that there had been great depopulation in Scotland. It was also probably true that many of the insular and seaboard parishes had increased in population; but one of the great causes of that was, that the people had been expelled from the interior of the country, which had been turned into deer forests and sheep farms, and grouse moors. [Mr. RAMSAY: Nonsense.] He ventured to say it was not nonsense. In Sutherlandshire he had seen the little green spots in the moors and deer forests from which the crofters had been removed. Let his hon. Friend go to Sutherlandshire and other parts in the Highlands, where he would see the green spots in the middle of the moors and deer forests, from which the crofters had been evicted, and taken down to the seaboard, where they were told they could make a better living by fishing. Thank God, Scotchmen were able to fish better than Irishmen, and they could thus help to eke out a living which they were no longer allowed to get out of the land, although the kelp had failed them; and although Scotch landlords were not worse than Irish landlords—probably not so bad—they had much greater temptations to evict the crofters, who were likely to interfere with deer and grouse, because they could turn their land into sheep farms, deer forests, and grouse moors; and the people of Scotland—except in some particular instances—had not had the protection of customary tenure, such as the copyhold tenure in England. He hoped the Prime 779 Minister would consider this case. He had devoted Session after Session, and all his great powers, to doing justice to the Irish tenants. The people in the Highlands and Islands were in every respect in the same condition, except that they were not so numerous, or so capable of making themselves so troublesome. In one respect he believed they had a much stronger case than the Irish tenants, because the Irish tenants were, no doubt, fairly conquered; but the crofters of Scotland never were. They had been defrauded of their rights—not by soldiers, but by lawyers. Under these circumstances, he hoped the inquiry would be conceded, and he was sure they would have the sympathy of the Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate.
THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR)
I hope—indeed, I am sure, Sir, it will not be supposed that there is any want of sympathy on the part of the Government with the landholders of Scotland, whether they be crofters, or holding under a different tenure, or any want of interest in their condition. But it appears to the Government that there has neither been in the statement made in the House to-day, nor from the information of which they are otherwise in possession, any sufficient ground for taking such a serious and unusual step as to appoint a Royal Commission such as that which is now asked for. The hon. Gentleman who brought this matter before the House (Mr. Macfarlane) said that he desired a Royal Commission with a view to legislation. That must be kept distinctly before the view of the House in dealing with the question. I apprehend that where a Royal Commission with a view to legislation is asked for, there must always be two requisites very clearly and distinctly fulfilled. There must, in the first place, be a condition of facts very clearly and authentically laid before the House; and there must, in the second place, be connected with that condition of fact some defects in the law stated which are obviously leading to that state of things. I apprehend that it is not enough to show that there exists a condition of poverty, or that the men are living under hard conditions in various ways, but that, where there is a proposal to issue a Royal Commission with a view to legislation, that must be established.
THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR)
I am sure I have no desire to misrepresent the hon. Member; but I took the words of the hon. Member down, as they seemed to me to be material. If it is not with a view to legislation, what is it with a view to? I think it is essential that that should be known. I have listened with the greatest attention to the speech of the hon. Gentleman and those who followed him, and it appeared to me that there was a singular want of any precise and authentic facts given, and that there was, perhaps, an even greater defect for the purposes of such an argument, for there was an entire failure to connect the existing condition of affairs with any alleged defects of the law. I think I may go further and say there is a third point to be desiderated before such a serious step is taken as that requested, and that is that some suggestion should be made as to the kind of alteration in the law with regard to which the Commission is to inquire. But upon that point, also, there has been an entire absence of any information. There are also one or two other points which will occur to anyone who has listened to the speeches of hon. Members. The proposition is that a Royal Commission shall be issued; and it strikes me with very great surprise that the whole of this discussion on the other side was begun, continued, and carried out without one single reference to the fact that, in the Royal Commission on Agriculture, which has been sitting for the last three or four years, there is a very instructive and detailed Report on the condition of the crofters of both the Highlands and the Islands, and the Gentleman who framed that very careful and instructive Report was examined and cross-examined by the Commissioners, and very full and detailed information on the subject was given. Not a word was said on that subject; and I venture to think, before the House is asked to entertain this matter, they should in some way consider that Report; and I should have expected hon. Gentlemen to point out wherein they thought that Report was defective or erroneous—what they thought should be added to it, or what had been overlooked in it. But not one word was 781 said on this subject. There have been various statements of a vague character made, contrasting the past with the present condition of the Highlands; but one would have naturally expected some reference to the well-known and acknowledged sources of information on the subject. I venture to say that if hon. Gentlemen will refer to those, they will see that there are many matters in which they are in very great error. The hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay) has already pointed out that it is a mistake to suppose that the population of the Highlands has decreased as a whole. There has, to a certain extent, been migration, or change in the localities of the population; but it is a matter with regard to which there are statistics, and I believe it is beyond dispute that, if you take county by county, the Highlands now are more fully or thickly populated than at any time of which we have authentic record. I believe it is beyond doubt that the population of Sutherlandshire is now much larger than it was. The Island of Lewis has been referred to, and it was said that the population had grown from 10,000 to 25,000. In 30 years it has grown by more than 5,000 of that increase. I do not mean for a moment to say that there have not been in times past evictions in the Highlands of a very hard, and sometimes of a very cruel, kind. But I think it is also well known to those who take an interest in these matters that these evictions are matters of history, and that in recent times they have been very few. There has not, in fact, been anything that can be called systematic eviction; very much the reverse. Anything like systematic eviction on the part of the great proprietors in the Highlands does certainly not exist. It is unhappily true that the condition of many persons who live in the Highlands, particularly those called crofters, is very bad, and we all regret it. They live under conditions which are hard in some respects. They have been distinguished from the farmers by some of those who have spoken, and it is right to point out that what is generally known as a crofter is one who has a holding so small that he does not live by its produce alone. He fishes or labours in addition. He has a small farm of five or six acres; but he 'makes most of his living by working away from it. Well, 782 no doubt, the Land Question is, so far, involved in this; but it must not be left out of view that the business of the crofter is to as large an extent the prosecution of the other kinds of labour, especially fishing. I do not, for one moment, seek to say that there have not been, and that there are not now, defects in some cases in the administration of those properties, although I believe them to be only few. One point was referred to by the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Macfarlane). He began by making allusion to the Commission which was appointed, I think, about 10 or 12 years ago, to inquire into what is commonly called the "truck system" in Shetland. That was an evil, and I am sorry to say that it is not yet quite extinct. It is an evil the extent of which cannot be exaggerated. In certain eases, the proprietor, by his agreement with the tenants, had a right to have all the fish made over to him at a fixed price. On the other hand, these poor people bought their meal and other supplies from a store kept by him; and I am afraid, in some cases, the price of that was not always fixed at the time of buying. Any greater evil could not exist; but I believe it has diminished to a great extent. The Commission in Shetland had a great deal of difficulty to put it to an end. I know it is not yet altogether put to an end; and although it exists to a slight extent in some parts of the North-West Coast, I believe, from information we have received, that the attention which has been called to the matter recently will very likely lead to a cessation of the practice without legislation. Something has been said as to the character of the Highland population. So far as that is laudatory, I can endorse and reiterate every word. The population of these Highlands and Islands are, by nature, honest, law-abiding, and peaceful; and whenever there has been, as there has unhappily, in some instances, symptoms of lawlessness, they were, I believe, casual, and due, I believe, not to native, but exotic causes. Reference was made by the hon. Gentleman to an answer I gave some time ago with regard to the disturbances in the Island of Skye. He stated, correctly, that I adopted a method of trial that would lead to a lenient sentence, in the belief that they were misled into doing the thing they 783 did, and that if they were apprised, by however slight a punishment, that they were breaking the law, it would not be repeated. To that opinion I still adhere. Something has been said as to the factors on some estates. It is not the case, speaking generally, that Highland landlords are absentees. There are some cases, but not many. I dare say that sometimes it has happened, where many estates are under one person, that sufficient attention has not been called to the interests and grievances of tenants in particular localities. But I believe what has passed in the last two or three months will lead to what I trust will be a satisfactory result—that the condition of affairs where there were hardships and grievances has been brought under the attention of the proprietors themselves, and that they are now looking to the matter, and I believe are meeting with the tenants, and are going far to meet cases of grievance. I could mention names—but it would be useless—of well-known and large proprietors in the Highlands who have met their tenants in person, and are settling their differences, such as they are, in the way they have always succeeded in settling them in the past, and, as I hope, will succeed in settling them in the future. There have been a number of particulars referred to by hon. Members; but I do not think it would be necessary to go through them. I think I have shown sufficient cause for the resolution which the Government have arrived at, that no adequate ground has been shown for taking the very serious and, it may be, momentous step of issuing such a Commission as proposed. The necessity for such an inquiry has not been shown by those who have devoted and are devoting a very great deal of attention to the condition of the Highlands; and having watched with the utmost vigilance, and at the same time with the utmost sympathy, what is going on there, I believe that many of the statements made in such general terms cannot be sustained by facts.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, that he had been twitted with not having referred to Blue Books and other documents in support of his statements; but he would remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate that he had stated in the course of his remarks that he refrained from doing 784 so with the object of saving the time of the House.