§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. T. W. BARCLAY
said, in giving his reasons for moving the second reading of this Bill, which seemed to have been abandoned by its parents, he should not detain the House at length, yet he hoped that on the next stage of procedure hon. Members would be able to have some discussion upon the subject of the Bill. He wished to make one or two remarks in reply to some of his hon. Friends who were of opinion that the Bill was not sufficient to meet the case of the Crofters in the Western Islands. He did not look upon it as conceding all that was wanted, but as one which gave a large measure of concession. It proposed to confer upon the tenants fixity! of tenure. That, he said, was a great advantage. It also proposed to confer on the tenants fair rents; and that, he thought, must be regarded as a great relief to farmers, who had long struggled under a burden which they were no longer able to bear. The next provision of the Bill related to compensation. When the late Lord Advocate introduced the Bill he had objected to this provision, and said that freedom of sale would be much more agreeable to the farmers; and at the same time he remarked that 567 the point could be dealt with in Committee.
MR. J. W. LOWTHER
rose to Order. The hon. Member was moving the second reading of a Bill on which his name did not appear.
§ MR. SPEAKER
When a Bill is an Order of the Day the Bill becomes the property of the House, and it is competent for any hon. Member to move its further stage.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, he was about to observe, when the hon. Member opposite interrupted him, that the late Government had, in his opinion, made a mistake in omitting free sale from the Bill. He had expressed the opinion before, and he still thought that it would be a great advantage both to landlords and tenants that that provision should be substituted for compensation. But that, as he had said, was a detail which might be amended when the Bill was in Committee, and therefore he did not think it should be recorded as an objection to the Bill being read a second time. Then it was objected by the friends of the Crofters that there was not provision made in the Bill for giving them more land. He admitted that that was a defect in the Bill, but he did not see how it was possible to provide in the Bill any machinery for the purpose of giving the Crofters the land required; neither had the friends of the Crofters who so strongly recommended the giving of land to them indicated any machinery by which that might be done. For his own part, he looked forward to the establishment of municipal government as likely to provide the means of constituting a responsible body with some powers in the matter. But at present no body existed to which control could be given with advantage, or which could undertake the responsibility. Finally, he repeated that if the Bill did not give all that the Crofters desired it gave a great deal; and if it passed through Parliament, as he hoped it would, with a provision contained in it for securing fair rents and a reduction of excessive rents, he believed that in most cases it would give satisfaction. He therefore begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. J. W. Barclay.)568
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, it was a remarkable thing that a few days ago they had the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) announcing that the Bill contained contentious matter, and to-day they found the Bill amongst the Orders of the Day marked as a Government measure. It was very peculiar also that the Members of the late Government were not in their places. Neither the Leaders of the late Government nor the present Government were prepared to support the Bill, and therefore he would ask in what position it stood? The hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) said truly that the Bill contained valuable principles; but those principles required something to which they might be applied, and he believed that the Bill as it stood would be no cure for the disease. It was of no use giving people fixity of tenure in land that was insufficient to provide them with the means of living. The great disease in those parts of Scotland was insufficiency of land. To say, here was a holding absolutely insufficient to maintain them, and that they should have fixity of tenure of it was a thing of no value; and he maintained that unless the Bill contained a provision for the extension of land, and, what was more important than that, for the extension of pasture land, the Bill would do no good. There were some people who, having sufficient land, were desirous of having fixity of tenure in it at a fair rent; and those people, who were best off, would derive very great advantage from the measure, while most of those who were crowded and suffocated in wretched localities would derive no advantage from it whatever. Notwithstanding that, if Her Majesty's Government chose to pass the Bill, and if it only did good to 1 per cent of the people concerned, it would meet with no opposition from him. But he told Her Majesty's Government at once that it would be no settlement of the question, and they must be prepared to have it again raised next year. Whether they would proceed with the Bill in view of that prospect it was for Her Majesty's Government to decide. He intended neither to oppose nor support the Bill. He said it would not solve one-tenth part of the problem. Would Her Majesty's Government support the Motion for the second reading, or would they move the adjournment of the debate?
569 He was very curious to know what line they would take on the subject. In his opinion, it would be better, fairer, and more straightforward for the Government to throw the Bill overboard at once, or to say they would deal with it as a Government measure. They had reached the middle of July, and there was little or no chance of the Bill being passed. Ho had said when the question was raised last Tuesday week that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would grant the second reading and carrying; of a Bill to suspend evictions, it would be far more popular in Scotland than the Bill then before the House. Finally, he believed that if they passed the Bill with all its statutory provisions, which would be rigidly adhered to when it became law, without providing for the extension of land, the measure would be worth absolutely nothing.
said, he was sorry that his hon. Friend had thought it necessary to damn the Bill with such very faint praise. He had never considered it a final measure, or one that would work everything that was claimed for it; but he had always looked upon it as a step in the right direction, and that so far as it went it ought to be accepted. He believed in the maxim which taught people, when they could not obtain all they wanted, to take as much of what they wanted as they could get. They knew the great stress which had been laid upon the passing of this Bill, the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) having said that it was absolutely necessary that it should pass for the peace of the country was to be preserved. He regretted that some leading Member of the late Government was not present to assist in getting the Bill read a second time. His hon. Friend who had just spoken said "suspend evictions;" but even that was a detail the settlement of which in Committee might be arrived at. The Government had told them that they could not proceed with such an important measure without due deliberation. It was only that night that they had had the matter pressed upon them, and they had been told that the proper course was to adjourn the debate. But he would point out that the moving of the second reading of the Bill did not put them in any worse position; they had command of the Bill; they would 570 have command of it when it left the House; and hon. Members, as was constantly done, could take the discussion on going into Committee quite as well as on the second reading. There was one advantage in moving the second reading of the Bill under the circumstances of the evening—namely, that they would know who wanted the Bill and who did not; those who would vote for it and those who would vote against it.
§ MR. E. H. PAGET
said, he hoped the House would not be led into adopting the dangerous precedent suggested by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron), who wished them to record their approval of the principles of the measure after a very short debate. He (Mr. Paget) wished to protest against that being done. The course had been occasionally adopted with reference to measures of light importance, but the House had now before it a Bill of considerable importance; and at that hour of the morning, and after such a debate as they had had, it was surely not proper to thrust the Bill hastily upon the House. He maintained that it was impossible for hon. Members to arrive, at that Sitting, at any agreement on the principle of the Bill; and, therefore, he thought it better at once to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. R. H. Paget.)
§ MR. RAMSAY
said, he had no intention at that hour of the morning (2 A.M.) of unduly occupying the time of the House; but he would like to make a few remarks. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, he did not intend to detain the House very long, and when he had spoken hon. Members would be able to consider what ho had to say. It would be better to hear him before objecting. He concurred very much in the remarks which had been made by the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Macfarlane); and he could not conceive that anyone acquainted with the condition of the districts in which the distress had arisen, and which was caused by—
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must call the hon. Member's attention to the fact that the Question before the House is the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. RAMSAY
said, he was just putting before the House an argument in 571 favour of the adjournment of the debate. He thought the House, when it understood the condition of the population, would agree to the proposal. He would merely state the fact that the whole ground for the introduction of this Bill had been the riotous conduct of the people, who had been distinguished in times past—
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir MICHAEL HICKS - BEACH)
said, he would not follow the hon. Member into a discussion of the Bill, but would confine himself to saying, as he had said on Tuesday last, that the Government did not see their way to taking charge of it. What might be the pleasure of the House with regard to it he did not know; but after what they had heard from Scotch Members, two of whom had declared that they were not satisfied with the measure, he did not think there was anything like an unanimous opinion amongst them in its favour, or that anyone in the House could seriously argue that a question of this importance could be properly discussed at such a period of the evening. He trusted, therefore, that the House would be disposed to agree to the Motion for the adjournment of the debate.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, he would make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was admitted that there was a deal to be said on both sides as to this Bill. The late Prime Minister (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) had laid before the House his view that the peace of the country would be endangered if the Bill was rejected. On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House had said that he had not made up his mind what course he would take. He (Sir George Campbell) would implore the Chancellor of the Exchequer to allow the Bill to be read a second time, on the understanding that the discussion could be taken on the next stage, which would be a short one. That course had already been taken in regard to another very important Bill before the House—namely, the Federal Council of Australasia Bill. He (Sir George Campbell) had had a Notice of opposition down in regard to that 572 measure; but he had been requested by the Government to withdraw his opposition, on the ground that, time being pressing, it would be well to take the discussion on the next stage—that was to say, on going into Committee. He thought it would be an advantage in this case if the right hon. Gentleman would consent to the present stage of the Crofters Bill being taken as a formal stage, the discussion to be taken on going into Committee. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) had said that two Scotch Members opposed the Bill. Well, he (Sir George Campbell) regretted that the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Macfar-lane)—who, by the way, was not a Scotch, but an Irish Member—had seen fit to make remarks that he thought had gone too far in depreciation of the Bill. As a matter of fact, only one Scotch Member had declared himself opposed to the Bill.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that to remove misapprehensions, such as appeared to be entertained by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron), he wished to say he entirely adhered to everything that he had said on Tuesday last as to the inability of Her Majesty's Government to take up the Bill.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 81; Noes 47: Majority 34.—(Div. List, No. 223.)
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.