Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [14th May]—
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to the tenure of land by Crofters in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland; and for other purposes relating thereto."—(The Lord Advocate.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR)
Mr. Speaker, in presenting such a Bill as this to the House, the first point upon which it may naturally be expected that I should offer some explanation is the ground of necessity or expediency which calls for such a measure; but I think that, in the present case, this is a matter which may be dealt with in a very few words. It is well known to the House that in the month of March, 1883, a Royal Commission was issued to inquire into the condition of the Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and into other matters affecting the same or relating thereto. That Commission took a great body of evidence, and visited, I believe, nearly all the localities concerned, and were thus enabled to place before the public an amount of information such as they did not previously possess. Besides the evidence taken there was the Report, with which, I suppose, all who have taken an interest in this matter are familiar; and, without going into the particular conclusions contained in that Report, it is enough for the purposes of this Bill to say that the Commissioners arrived at the result that legislation was essential, or, at least, highly expedient. But perhaps I ought to remind the House of the Resolution which the House arrived at on the 14th of November, 1883, and that without any dissentient voice. It was—That, in the opinion of this House, it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to give effect to the recommendations of the Royal Commission upon the condition of the crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, or to apply such other remedies as they deem advisable; and that this House concurs in the opinion expressed by the Royal Commission at page 110 of its Report, that ' The mere vindication of authority and repression of resistance would not establish the relations of mutual confidence between landlord and tenant, in the absence of which the country would not be truly at peace, and all our inquiries and counsels would be expended in vain.'Well, Sir, it is only necessary, I think, 845 to add that the public opinion of the country, as manifested through its ordinary channels, does concur in the demdnd that there should be some legislative provision made with the view of endeavouring to remedy the evils which, I think, are admitted or established to exist. Therefore, upon that point I do not propose to say anything more; and I shall at once proceed to bring under the notice of the House the leading provisions of the measure which Her Majesty's Government have resolved to submit for the judgment of the House, and to explain the reasons for these leading provisions.
Now, in considering what form of legislation should be adopted, I need not assure the House that very careful attention has been given to the suggestions of the Royal Commission contained in their Report, and in particular to those suggestions which had relation to what is the main topic concerned—I mean that of the land. I suppose that hon. Members generally are aware that the leading recommendations on that head were that a local constitution of aquasi-corporate character should be given to Highland townships, and that provisions should be made for their conservation, improvement, and extension. Now, these suggestions, although well meant, and indicating a feeling of much sympathy with and a great appreciation of historical facts and associations, did not appear to the Government to afford a basis for satisfactory legislation. While, no doubt, there has been something in the nature of townships in the Highlands of Scotland for probably as long as history records, these have never had anything like a municipal or corporate constitution; and, therefore, to follow the recommendations of the Commission in this matter would have been to create, for the first time, something entirely novel and devoid of any analogy or precedent in the rural economy of Scotland. And, furthermore, the suggestions on that head must have been observed by those who read them to be exceedingly complicated; and anything like complication in matters affecting a simple and primitive people is manifestly undesirable if more obvious and more simple remedies can be applied. I think, therefore, that, without entering upon a detailed criticism of these proposals, it is probably enough 846 to say that the result of the considerations of the Government, concurring, I believe, with the opinion entertained by those who have considered the matter outside the Government, is that that idea of providing for the conservation on a legal basis of existing townships and creating new ones is not one to which it would be proper to ask the House to give legislative sanction.
Well, then, passing from that, the leading proposals that have been made, not so much, perhaps, I should say, in the Report as in the discussions which have arisen out of the Report, may, I think, be classed under four heads—I mean that the demands which have been made either by or on behalf of the Crofters in relation to the essential matter of the land may be conveniently formulated thus:—In the first place, for security of tenure; in the second place, for fair rents ascertained by some impartial authority; in the third place, for compensation for improvements upon a somewhat more liberal and somewhat different scale from that provided by the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883; and lastly, for what is designated by the words "more land"—meaning that there should be some provision made for enlarging existing holdings, and providing land for those who have it not at present.
Now, in regard to these matters, I may say that the Bill which I ask leave now to introduce does make provision for security of tenure in the Crofter districts; and I shall give explanation, by-and-bye, in regard to the definitions which we propose to submit of a "Crofter" and of "Crofter districts," to show how the provisions which we propose will be confined, geographically and otherwise, within the territorial limits in which the conditions exist which seem to require such provisions. In the meantime, I may say that in these districts we propose by this Bill to provide that a Crofter shall not be removed from the holding of which he is tenant except in consequence of the breach of one or more of the specific conditions which are to be termed "statutory conditions." And I may shortly mention what these conditions are:—That the Crofter shall pay his rent at the terms at which it is due and payable; that he shall not execute any deed purporting to assign his tenancy; that he— 847Shall not, to the prejudice of the interest of the landlord, persistently injure the holding by the dilapidations of buildings or, after notice has been given by the landlord to the crofter not to commit or to desist from the particular injury specified in such notice, by the deterioration of the soil;and then follows another condition, the importance of which will be obvious to all who are familiar with the evils of sub-division and sub-letting of holdings. It is that—The crofter shall not, without the consent of his landlord, in writing, subdivide his holding or sublet the same or any part thereof, or erect or suffer to be erected thereon any dwelling house otherwise than in substitution for those already upon the holding at the time of the passing of this Act.Then follow provisions relative to bankruptcy, and not establishing houses for the sale of intoxicating liquors, and the reservation of the usual rights belonging to a landlord over property which is in the hands of a tenant. Now, these are, briefly stated, the provisions proposed to be made with respect to the matter of security of tenure; and I may in that connection read the definition we propose for the word "Crofter," so as to show the class of persons for whom the security of tenure is meant to be provided. A "Crofter" meansA tenant of a holding from year to year, who habitually resides on his holding, the rent of which does not exceed thirty pounds in money, and which is situated in a crofting parish.The meaning of a "Crofting parish" I shall afterwards explain. So that the class of persons for whom this security is proposed to be provided are those who are possessed of what is generally known as a holding from year to year, or tenancy at will, which is legally interpreted to be a holding from year to year or for a year. The reasons for distinguishing the circumstances of persons so situated from persons holding a lease will, I think, be obvious. Such being, shortly, the nature of the provisions which we propose with respect to security of tenure, it may naturally be asked what are the reasons for which this security is proposed to be provided for the class of Crofters, and what are the conditions which differentiate their state from that of the rest of the tenantry of Scotland, for whom no such provision is proposed, nor, indeed, suggested? Now, I think that to anyone 848 who is familiar with the essential differences between the tenantry throughout Scotland generally and the small holders of land in Crofting districts, the answer will be very plain. For very many years, throughout the greater part of Scotland, land has been held by tenants under contract, free in the true sense—a contract entered into between intelligent and independent tenants on the one hand, and their landlords on the other, the bargain being generally for a lease for a number of years, such number as they considered for their mutual interest, but most commonly for 19 years. Under that system, agriculture undoubtedly has greatly flourished in Scotland—indeed, to an extent which I suppose is not surpassed in any other country—in those places where the conditions I have just mentioned have prevailed. In these localities, the custom has been for the landlord to equip the farm with buildings and fences, and generally with drainage, and, in short, to bring the farm into a lettable condition, and then to put it into the market as a commercial subject. It is offered for and taken as a commercial subject so equipped; and therefore it is literally as well as technically true that where these conditions exist, and where they have long existed, there is, in the fullest sense, freedom of contract between landlord and tenant. Bargains are made in the manner that best suit the conditions of the contracting parties, and any proposal to interfere with such arrangements made by persons so circumstanced would not meet with the approbation, I should think, either of the House or of the country. But, then, Sir, the condition of the Highlands generally, and particularly of the Crofter districts of the Highlands, because it is to them alone that this Bill applies, is very different not only historically—and by that I mean not only in ancient history, but in recent history—but also very different in actual present fact. Not to go very far back—I mean what would not be very far back in the history of the more settled parts of the country—down to the middle of the last century, as is well known, the Highlanders of Scotland were under the clan system, and, so long as the clan system prevailed, the members of the clan shared the land very much with the Chief; it was practically in their common occupa- 849 tion. I suppose that there was nothing in the nature of a very specific bargain or arrangement between them, and whether their being upon the land was due to legal right or to other reasons of family and of clan need not be entered into; the material fact is that, at all events, down to the breaking up of the system in the middle of the last century, the poor tenants and clansmen were in the enjoyment of a practical, if not a legal, security of tenure of the holdings which they occupied. No doubt great changes wore made after the clan system was broken up, because there was a gradual, and in some cases a rapid, progress towards treating the land of the Highlands thus peopled by the clans more in a commercial manner. There has been a constant progress in that direction, not always with the full assent of one of the groups of persons concerned—I mean the occupiers of the soil—and I am afraid not without many hardships being suffered by them, particularly in the latter part of the last and the earlier part of this century. But, not to refer to these in any detail—to the clearances, I mean, of the latter part of the last century and the earlier part of this—it is enough to know that there was undoubtedly much hardship at that time, and bitter feelings were, no doubt, then engendered, which I am afraid have never since entirely died out. But, however that may be, there has remained and there still exists in the Highlands and Islands a very large body of small tenants, commonly denominated Crofters, living under conditions which cannot be at all assimilated to those I have just described as prevailing throughout Scotland generally. Amongst the differences between the Highlands and Islands and the rest of Scotland are, in the former, the smallness of the holdings; the fact that usually they are not held under lease; and the fact that they are not generally equipped by the landlord or treated as commercial subjects put upon the market as the Lowland farms arc. In short, a whole group of special conditions surrounds the inhabitants, practically indigenous inhabitants, of the Highlands and Islands, and designates them as altogether different, in the essential particulars I have just mentioned, from those of the rest of the country, making provisions not only equitable, but pos- 850 sibly necessary, for them which would be both inappropriate and unnecessary for the tenants of the other parts of Scotland. I do not desire to weary or delay the House, at this hour, by reading much in proof of what I have just stated; but I may read one or two very short passages from documents of authority, and those not very ancient, which bear out what I have just said. Probably there is no Report that carries greater weight than that presented by Sir John M'Neill to the Board of Supervision in 1851 with regard to the then condition of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. In one passage of his Report, Sir John M'Niell describes the existing conditions thus—The rent of the croft once fixed remains unchanged, unless in the event of a general increase or reduction of all the rents on the property or part of the property in which it is situated; and in all cases that rent includes the hill grazing, which is almost always attached to it. Once established in his small farm, the crofter's name is entered on the Rent Roll, and so long as he pays Ins rent he does not expect to be removed, unless as a punishment for delinquency. On some of the old hereditary properties the occupation of the croft has by custom become hereditary—the son, if in a condition to take the croft, succeeding to his father as a matter of course; and this custom has generally been respected by persons who have recently acquired largo properties where it was established. But where estates have been much divided, and especially where small properties have been purchased on speculation, or acquired by persons not previously acquainted with the custom, it has not been so generally regarded.This passage will show that the proposal to give security of tenure to the class of poor tenants generally known as "Crofters" is really nothing more than to confer a legislative sanction upon the custom and the usage prevailing on well and benevolently managed estates. If that is a true representation of the matter, I think the House need not have any difficulty in accepting the proposition. What we propose is simply what good landlords have been in the habit of doing, according to Sir John M'Neill, and no one knew the Highlands better than he did. I will read other two lines from another part of his Report, in which he speaks thus. He says—A more secure tenure of the lands they occupy would tend to make industrious and respectable crofters more diligent and successful cultivators.That, I believe, is a view which will meet with general assent, because, be- 851 sides the sense of relief from strife and contention, there will be a stimulus to exertion and encouragement to industry arising from that security which is at present absent. Now, although in the Report of the recent Commission the plan was preferred of dealing with Crofter communities in their quasi-corporate capacity rather than the scheme of giving security to the individual Crofter, the very eminent and distinguished persons who constituted the Commission did not overlook the importance of considering the individual, and I will read a very few lines from a passage in their Report, in which I think this is very well brought out. They say—It would obviously be idle to set apart particular areas of land as an asylum for a particular class of cultivators, and to deny to the individual cultivator those securities which are necessary to the safe and profitable exercise of his industry. In view of the suffering endured in times past by the people through inconsiderate removals, of which they retain a lasting impression, and of the dread they express of similar treatment hereafter, though that may be in some degree unreal, as well as for the purpose of giving an impulse to ameliorations, we are of opinion that special provisions would here be justifiable which would not be requisite among other orders of men more independent, better informed, and more capable of governing their own destinies.Now, this passage seems strongly to support the propriety—and, indeed, the necessity—of making some such proposal as we now submit for giving security of tenure to these small Crofters. It would enable them to pursue their industry without fear, and with that confidence and those encouragements which are likely to arise from such security. And, if the question be asked whether there is any precedent for, or any example of, the Legislature interfering to give additional security to the occupants of land in Scotland, I would refer to one which is well known in that country—I mean the old Scotch Act of 1449.' Prior to that time, a contract of lease was regarded in law as being what it really is in fact, a purely personal contract, and it fell when the land changed hands. That, however, was manifestly so inexpedient, and worked such great hardships, that the Legislature of that day, in its quaint language, enacted this brief Statute—It is ordained for the safetie and favour of puir people that labouris the ground, that they 852 and all utheris, that has taken, or sail take, landes in time to come fra Lordes, and has termes and zeires thereof, that suppose the Lordes sell or annaly that land or landes: the takers sail remain with their talkes, unto the is chew of their termes, quhais hands that ever thay landes cum to, for sick like maill, as they took them for.That was, undoubtedly, an instance in which the Legislature converted into a real right what was merely a personal contract, and thereby gave a measure of security to the poor tenants of the country generally, who, I fear, were not at that time much better circumstanced than many of the Crofters are now; and, therefore, if any precedent were wanted for interference where it appears equitable and necessary, that Act would supply it. Mr. Tytler, the well-known historian, says of the Act, in his History of Scotland, vol. iii. page 121—A wise and memorable Act in its future consequences on the security of property, the liberty of the great body of the people, and the improvement of the country.Now, when we find the condition of matters disclosed in the last Report of the Royal Commission on the state of the Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands, there does seem to be a call for giving them—no doubt in a different measure and kind—that security which is essential, in their own opinion, and in the opinion of those who know most about the subject, to enable them to pursue their calling with prosperity and success. Well, that is the main provision in regard to the question of security of tenure.
But I ought to add, in this connection, that it is not proposed in the Bill to give a power of assigning the right which is thus made secure to the tenant; and it is necessary, in explanation of this, to point out to the House that there is a vital and essential distinction between the view entertained, as I understand, in England and that which prevails in Scotland in regard to the matter of the assignability of leases. I understand in England a lease or a tenancy is presumably assignable. In Scotland the presumption is the other way. A lease of ordinary duration is not assignable, even up to 19 or 21 years; it is only when you get to leases of such long duration that assignation or transfer must have been contemplated that it is permitted—when you get to leases of 853 37 or 58 years or the like. Now, the tenure we are here dealing with, as I have pointed out, is a tenure from year year, and that is a tenure to which, certainly, the quality of assignability or right of transfer has never been attached by law, or, I believe, by custom, in Scotland. It has never been the custom, apart from the consent of the landlord, in tenancies of that kind and duration to give the right of transfer to another, or, as it is known in the terminology of other systems, "free sale." So that if it were proposed in this Bill to give that right, it would be adding an entirely new quality to the right as it existed before, and to the right which is proposed by this Bill to be made secure. It would, in short, be converting the right with which this Bill deals into a substantially different thing, which would not be regarded as just by those who have other interests in the land. And I may add that I greatly doubt whether that right, if conferred, would be truly for the benefit of the persons for whose advantage this legislation is intended, because there can be no doubt that if such a right were conferred, the effect of it would be to perpetuate small holdings, which it would be very desirable in course of time—not by harsh or rough methods, but by gentle processes, coming about through the lapse of leases, and like—to consolidate into larger, though not into very largo, holdings. Accordingly, while we propose by this Bill that the right to the holding or the tenancy shall descend to the heirs of the tenant, we do not propose to give the power of selling or transferring that right to strangers; and I believe those who are familiar not only with the law, but with the customs, of Scotland, will approve of this.
Now, it is only necessary, in conclusion on this part of the matter, to say that it was a topic requiring very careful consideration, particularly in the view of the Report of the Commission, whether the security of tenure should be limited to the tenants in holdings above a particular figure, or whether it should be made universal. There were important considerations, no doubt, both ways; but the decision come to by the Government is that it would not be right to place any restriction upon the extent or scope of the 854 security thus given, but that it should belong to Crofters generally—all who answer the definition which I have now given. Those who have studied the Report of the Commission are aware that some of the beneficial provisions which they suggested were limited to holdings of over £6 in value. They saw what must be obvious to anyone familiar with the subject—namely, that the multitude of small holdings is a great evil, and that anything that tended unduly to perpetuate that would not be politic or expedient. Accordingly, they limited their suggestions to the case of Crofters holding at a rental of not loss than £6. But it unfortunately happens that any benefit so limited would reach an exceedingly small number of the persons for whose behoof it it was intended. From the information we have obtained, it would appear that the holdings above £6 vary at some places from a fifth to not more than a tenth in others of all the holdings; and, accordingly, if the security which it is proposed to confer wore limited to those above that or any higher figure, it would leave all the rest in the position of insecurity in which they now stand. But as the provision for security, which we propose to confer, is coupled with a refusal to give the power of assignment or sale, there will, in course of time, as families die out or go voluntarily, come about that consolidation of too small holdings which is admittedly desirable, although not brought about by harsh, but gentle and natural methods. Accordingly, we do not propose to place any rental limitation upon the benefits intended to be conferred. I do not know that upon this point I need say anything more, as the Bill will very soon be in the hands of hon. Members. I trust that I have, necessarily with brevity at this hour of the morning, stated what the provisions are with regard to security, and what are the leading reasons for which we propose to give that security.
The next point is what is generally termed "fair rent." It seems to be a necessary corollary of a provision for security of tenure, that you should also enact some method by which the rent is to be fixed if the parties are unable to agree, because any provision for security would plainly be illusory which left 855 it to the final arbitrament of one of the contracting parties to say what the rent should be. And, accordingly, while it will be left open by this Bill for the parties to fix their rents by agreement—to continue the present rent if it is satisfactory, or to fix a new rent by agreement, if they please—it is also proposed to provide that, in case of their being unable to agree, they may apply to have a fair rent fixed by valuers to be appointed under the Act. And there is a provision that the valuers, after hearing the parties, considering all the circumstances of the case, and particularly after taking into consideration any permanent improvements suitable to the holding, such improvements having been executed or paid for by the Crofter or his predecessors in the same family within 30 years, without their having received any assistance or consideration therefor from the landlord or his predecessors in title, and such improvements not having been executed in virtue of the stipulations of a lease, or in virtue of any agreement or understanding expressed in estate regulations or other writings—may determine what is such fair rent, and pronounce an order accordingly. There is adequate machinery, which I need not weary the House by going over, for the appointment of these valuers—who it is proposed shall be appointed by the Secretary of State—for performing their work, and discharging the various functions which they will have to perform under the Act. I may say also that there is no desire to shut out the parties from voluntarily fixing upon an arbitrator. There is a provision for having recourse to an arbitrator mutually chosen, instead of the valuers, if the parties prefer that mode of determining the rent; so that under the Bill it is proposed to give not only security of tenure, but "fair rents," to persons in the situation of the Crofters, as I have defined them. I may say, in this connection, that it is by no means an unfamiliar thing in the management of estates in Scotland to invoke a valuer to fix the rents—I do not mean a judicial valuer, because, of course, that does not exist at present—but it is a very common thing in well-managed estates, where the landlord and tenant are unable to agree as to the rent, to call in a third person, who is asked to fix the rent. And, therefore, in that matter also, what 856 is here proposed is to give legislative sanction to the custom already by no means uncommon throughout the country.
Now, Sir, the third point, with regard to which we propose to make certain enactments, is that of compensation for improvements. I ought to offer a few words of explanation in regard to that, because the subject of compensation for improvements was so recently before the House—within two years—that any change or any extension of the provisions then made may require some justification. But I hope and believe that, when regard is had to the nature, on the one hand, of the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883, and the large body of subjects with which it deals, and, on the other hand, to the special conditions and circumstances of Crofter holdings, it will be seen that very many of the provisions and safeguards which were requisite and proper in that Act would be inappropriate, and probably oppressive, if applied to Crofter holdings. It will be in the recollection of the House that the antecedent or subsequent consent of the landlord was required to the first class of improvements dealt with under the Act of 1883—I mean such improvements as the making or enlarging of buildings, or any extensive changes calculated to alter the character of the holding, important fences, and the like—and the reasons for these provisions, which satisfied the House at the time, are obvious. The ordinary custom in Scotland, at all events, is for the landlord to provide the buildings. If a tenant had been allowed at his will to change the character of the subject, and to put up any building, however expensive and possibly inappropriate, heavy burdens might have been thrown on the landlord in the way of compensation claims, which he could not be justly asked to bear. But that is not a consideration which has any real validity in the case of the small holdings to which this Bill applies. I have already pointed out for another purpose, and in another connection, that it is not to be permitted to erect dwelling-houses other than in substitution for those already on the holding, the obvious reason for that provision in the place where it is introduced being to prevent squatting, as it is generally called. But it also has a secondary effect in this connec- 857 tion—namely, to provide against what would not be a danger on the part of the Crofters, the erection of unduly extravagant houses; so that I do not think anyone who is familiar with the conditions of life in the Crofter class would feel that there was any necessity for asking the antecedent consent of the landlord to erecting the modest kinds of houses which, in point of practice, are almost invariably erected by the Crofters themselves. The custom has been, in general cases, for the Crofters to erect their own dwellings and outhouses, instead of, as on the large farms in the Low Country, for the landlord to do so; and it is to be further noted that, in view of the simple manners and customs prevailing in those parts of the country, to ask this antecedent consent would really be to impose a condition which might often be innocently omitted, and which might very frequently be burdensome. The result, therefore, is, as regards such things as buildings, that we do not propose to demand that antecedent or subsequent consent—for both are provided for in the Act of 1883—which, although perfectly fit and perfectly proper to an Act having a universal extension and application to farms of all kinds, would seem not to be necessary, or indeed appropriate, to the simple conditions of tenancy and life in the class with which this Bill deals. All, therefore, that would be required to give rise to a claim for compensation under this Bill is that the buildings shall be suitable to the holding. That, of course, would give ample latitude of judgment to the valuers who would be invoked to assess the compensation. If they thought the buildings were not suitable to the holding, the valuers would not value them, or only value them in so far as they were suitable, and, therefore, no injustice would be done. The same remarks would apply to the matter of drainage. It will be in the recollection of the House that drainage was left in an intermediate condition by the Act of 1883. While the antecedent or subsequent consent of the landlord was not there required, as in the case of permanent buildings, a notice was required. Well, we thought that that would be an unnecessary condition to prescribe in the case of Crofter holdings; it would be very apt to be overlooked. The amount 858 of drainage could not be very extensive, and generally it would be obvious. Therefore, in these and other matters we propose to make more simple and more elastic provisions, appropriate, as we think, to the conditions of the holdings to which they will apply. I need say no more on the throe points which I have mentioned—namely, security of tenure, fair rents fixed by an independent authority, and compensation for improvements, because they are all dealt with in the manner I have described, and I hope in a manner which, in the opinion of the House, will be consonant with justice.
The next matter is of a very different kind—I mean the fourth demand commonly put forward, the demand for more land. Now, that is a matter with regard to which, after very full and careful consideration, the Government have not seen that they could propose any legislative compulsory measures, and I think the reasons for this will be very plain. The common form in which this demand is made is for an enlargement by way of tenancy of holdings which are too small, or for the breaking up of holdings which are in the occupation either of the proprietors or of large tacksmen, with a view to dividing them amongst small tenants. It will be observed that that is a kind of proposal for which, so far as I am aware, there is no precedent whatever—I mean putting an obligation upon an owner to let land which he has never himself let, and to let it to persons to whom he may not desire to let it. Therefore, it would require to be justified by very strong and weighty reasons, and none such have occurred to us. Hitherto, it has always been customary, where it was thought necessary in some public interest to take land, to take it, by way of purchase out and out, on payment of a full price. It would therefore seem, unless an entirely new departure is to be made, that any proposal to enlarge the holdings by compulsory enactment must involve the conditions usually attached to such taking of land—I mean taking it by out and out purchase. But who would in such a ease be the purchaser? I fear we could not expect the Crofter to be the purchaser, for the very condition of this legislation is that he has not the means, and therefore to expect that he should be the pur- 859 chaser of the land added to his holding or of land which was not yet in his possession, would be to expect what was impossible from him. Well, could it be the State? That would involve a very large proposal, and one which, down to this time, has not been sanctioned by Parliament—I mean the proposal that the State should acquire large stretches of land and let it off to tenants. I do not suppose that that is a proposal that would be entertained. Well, then, if neither the Crofter nor the State could buy the land, who could? We know there are proposals in the air, proposals deserving of careful consideration, to allow municipal communities to acquire land under certain conditions; but there is no community of that character which could acquire the land which it is proposed to add to existing holdings or to allot as holdings to those who at present have none. Therefore, without delaying the House at this late hour by any elaborate argument on the subject, I may simply repeat that, while fully recognizing the great importance of adding to the extent of the holdings held by the Crofters in Scotland, and of providing holdings for those who have none, we have not seen our way to make a legislative proposal on the subject in this Bill. But it does not follow that means may not be devised, or indeed be ready at hand, for making the requisite extension of the Crofter holdings. It is quite open, of course, to the proprietors of the Highlands and Islands, who have so largely the interests of their poor tenants at heart, to enlarge the holdings, and possibly to break up farms which have previously been in their own occupation, and plant Crofters upon them. It is satisfactory to know that the feeling of the Highland proprietors is entirely favourable to making provisions of that kind. It will probably be in the knowledge of many hon. Members that at a most important meeting held in January last, at Inverness, it was resolved—That this meeting, composed of proprietors in the counties of Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty, Inverness and Argyll, having in view certain complaints as to insufficiency of holdings on the part of crofters which were recently laid before the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the condition of the Crofters and Cotters in the Highlands and Islands, and the recent appeal made to Highland proprietors by the Home Secretary in his place 860 in the House of Commons, Resolve severally to offer to crofters an undertaking to increase the size of their holdings as suitable opportunities offer, and where the crofters are in a position profitably to occupy and stock the same.It is clear, from this, that there is a disposition on the part of the Highland proprietors to do that which it does not appear to us that we could invite the Legislature to sanction—namely, to extend the size of existing holdings and to provide holdings where there are none. In this Resolution, the words "as suitable opportunities offer" are very properly used. All who are familiar with the condition of the Scotch Highlands at present are aware that suitable opportunities seem to be offering themselves very largely, because it is a fact that the system of large sheep farms, to inaugurate which the clearances already referred to were made, has greatly broken down, or, at all events, is by no means prosperous at this time. Many such farms are coming on the market without any possibility of getting tenants, so that the means of making enlargements of Crofter holdings which are so much required will probably be found ready to the hand of the proprietors who have so laudably manifested their disposition to meet this want. Although we have been unable to propose any compulsory provision for bringing about the enlargement contemplated, we have had it in view that it will probably be made by the proprietors, and have introduced into the Bill a provision for loans from the Public Works Commissioners being advanced to aid the tenants in stocking any additions which may be made to their lands. By Clause 14 the Bill provides that—On the application of any landlord stating that he intends to enlarge the holding of a crofter who is his tenant, or whose holding is conterminuous with his property, and that such crofter is unable without assistance to stock the additional land, the Public Works Loan Commissioners may, if they think proper, advance to such landlord, on the security of the estate of which the intended addition to the holding forms part, a sum to enable the crofter to stock such additional land not exceeding five years rent of the entire holding of the crofter including such addition. Such sum shall be repayable in such half-yearly instalments as will repay the whole sum with interest at three and half per centum per annum in twenty-five years.This provision seems to go as far as we think the Government can go in the matter of aiding the Crofters in obtaining 861 that enlargement which the Government cannot undertake to initiate.
Now, it will probably be thought right I should say a word with regard to the case of the Cottars, a class of persons in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland who have no land at all, who are not subject in any way to contract with anyone, who pay no rent to anyone, and who stand in no relation of occupancy to anyone—a class of persons who have come to be there very much by sufferance. It would, of course, be impossible to propose that security of tenure should be given to persons who have, unhappily, no legally recognized tenure at all; but, at the same time, inasmuch as these persons have in very many cases, probably in most cases, been permitted to erect houses upon lands of which they are in the occupancy in fact, it has appeared to the Government that it would be right to extend the provisions for compensation for improvements to them—that is to say, to enact that where a man who is not a tenant has been tacitly permitted to put up a house, if it should be proposed to remove him from that house, its value should be paid to him by the proprietor. That is all we propose to provide with respect to the case of the Cottars.
It may probably be asked by what definitions or in what way do we propose to restrain the operation of this Bill within the territorial limits in which the conditions which have made its proposals necessary exist? I ought to add a few words on that head. I have already explained that the Crofter, within the meaning of the Bill, is a tenant of a holding held from year to year, and who habitually resides on his holding, the rent of which does not exceed £30 in money, and which is situated in a Crofting parish. The definition which we propose of a Crofting parish is this—A parish, in which there are at the commencement of this Act, or have been, within eighty years prior thereto, holdings consisting of arable land held with a right of pasturage in common with others and in which there still are crofters at the commencement of this Act.It is well known that one of the notes or marks of the Highland Crofter tenure was the occupancy of a certain portion of arable land with a certain portion of hill grazing. Originally, both were occupied in common; but with regard 862 to arable land, that was so plainly inexpedient that it was abandoned, probably about the beginning of the century, in most cases, if not earlier. But while the arable land previously held in common was thus divided into several holdings, there was, from the nature of the case, no such sub-division of the grazing ground, without which the Crofter cannot profitably carry on his business. The co-existing occupation of arable land with grazing land, either now or within a limited period, seems to afford, coupled with the other parts of the definition, a sufficient indication of what should be a Crofting parish. I shall now only explain, by way of further territorial definition or limitation, that we propose to provide that the Crofter parishes, or districts forming the aggregates of parishes, should be within the counties of Argyll, Inverness, Boss, Sutherland, Caithnesss Orkney, and Shetland. These are the counties to which the Act will apply; and as a means of ascertaining which parishes are Crofting parishes in the sense I have just explained, it is proposed that Her Majesty should appoint three Commissioners, who, after due inquiry, should ascertain the facts entering into the definition, should determine which are Crofting parishes or aggregates of Crofting parishes in these counties, and should determine whether the Act should apply to such parishes. There seems to be a practical consensus of opinion that these are the counties to which this remedial legislation should apply. I may remind hon. Members that in a Bill now before this House, a Bill called the Suspension of Evictions Bill, these are the counties which are mentioned; and at the Inverness meeting—that very influential and important meeting—those present were proprietors in the counties of Caithness, (Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty, Inverness and Argyll; so that, on all hands, we seem to have a recognition that the counties here named are the counties in which alone the proposed legislation is necessary. When, besides pointing out the counties, we add the other conditions, and provide the means of ascertaining where the specified conditions exist, it would seem that there is everything that is requisite to determine the particular places in which the necessity exists, and in which, therefore, the propriety exists for this 863 legislation, marking them off quite distinctly from the rest of the country, where a wholly different state of things exists from that which I have referred to as well known to prevail in the Highlands.
I do not think at this hour (1.50) I should detain the House any further on the subject of land, because they will see the provisions of the Bill very shortly; but I will, in a few sentences, refer to one or two of the matters which are contained by way of recommendation in the Report of the Crofters' Commission, merely for the purpose of showing that they have not been neglected or overlooked by the Government, although they have not dealt with them in this Bill.
The matter second in order and in importance, which was considered in the Report of the Commission, was that of fisheries and communications, and the importance of this matter will be fully recognized by all who know how very largely the future prosperity of the Western Highlands and Islands must be expected to spring from the successful prosecution of the fishing industry. That matter has not been overlooked. The first point involved is that of harbours. Something has been done at one place already—I mean the harbour of Ness. But the larger question of harbours, as bearing upon that part of the country, is involved in the general consideration of the Report of the Commission and the Committee upon Harbours with which the House is familiar. It would be impossible to deal separately with these places—at all events, to make any separate determination with regard to them—while the whole question of harbours is under consideration.
Well, next to harbours, there is probably nothing of greater importance to the successful prosecution of the fishing industry than facility of communication, both postal and telegraphic communication and communication by steamer. If the House will allow me, I will mention, in a few sentences, how very important the additions recently made to and the improvements made upon all those services to the Western Highlands have been. I need not point out how important the telegraph is, as the herring trade is increasing, making it possible for the boats to go where the 864 herrings are, for the vessels that are to take away the catch to come and bring barrels and salt and all the equipments which are necessary for the fishing industry. Anyone who knows what has accrued to Shetland within the last few years from the improvement of the telegraphic communication, and the enormous wealth which has been poured into those Northern Islands from that cause, will readily perceive the importance of this matter. Well, within the last 18 months, in the Western Hebrides, there has been a telegraph station opened at Castlebain, in the Orkneys, at Burray, St. Margaret's Hope, and St. Mary's Holm, in the Shetlands, at Keawiek and Walls; and a station is now in the course of being opened at Gutchen in the Shetland Islands. And, further, I may add, that to meet the requirements of business under the 6d. tariff, a new telegraph cable is about to be laid between the Shetland Islands and the mainland; so that I think the House will see that that matter has been by no means overlooked by the Government. Then in regard to the essential matter of the Mail Service and Steamer Service, by which communication may be made and the catch of the fish brought to market, there has been also a very marked improvement. The Mail Packet Service between Strome Perry and Stornoway has been established, six days a-week in summer and three in winter, bringing the service direct to the end of the railway. Besides that, there is additional weekly Mail Service to Orkney, and several Post Offices have been established in the Orkney Isles; so that these matters pertaining to the successful prosecution of the fishing industry, though not provided for in this Bill, have been fully kept in view.
There is another matter of importance which is dealt with in the Report, that commonly called the educational grievance—I mean the very heavy tax which had come to be laid on the owners and occupants in the Highlands and Islands from causes well known—the working out of the Education Act of 1872. Well, the Government in that matter, also, displayed their appreciation of what was reported by the Commissioners, and there was despatched last autumn to the Highlands and Islands the very able and accomplished Senior Examiner of the Scotch 865 Education Department—Mr. Craik—who made a very valuable Report, which was laid on the Table of the House in October, and within the last few weeks there had been laid on the Table a Minute by the Education Department showing how they are prepared to make material improvements in the condition of the grants in these parts of the country, thereby alleviating the burden upon the ratepayers.
There are various other matters, relating to the housing of the poor and the like, into which I do not propose to enter. I will merely say that evidence was taken a few weeks ago in Edinburgh by the Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes, comprehending evidence as to the Crofters' district. There are other minor matters upon which I should not feel justified in detaining the House at this late hour. I have en-deavoured as shortly as possible to put before the House the leading provisions of the Bill which the Government will submit for its acceptance and the reasons for which these provisions are proposed.
§ MR. ELTON
said, he begged to congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate on the admirable speech he had just made, and on the admirable motive which had dominated the Bill. As far as he was aware, there were many hon. Members on that side of the House who sympathized with him in this matter, and wished to give some security to the small holders, perhaps rather more than the right hon. and learned Gentleman had seemed to show in his speech. While he congratulated the Lord Advocate on having given up certain proposals, he must say that in his opinion there was neither danger nor difficulty shown, inasmuch as the tenure which he was dealing with was really the English copyhold tenure, which people in England were now proposing to abolish. Therefore, he might say it would be as usual—Scotland 300 or 400 years behind the Sister Country. If the qualities described by the right hon. and learned Gentleman were added together, he thought it would be found that the Lord Advocate was creating what had been for many years a curse in this country—the copyhold system; and he therefore hoped that it would be found possible to amend the proposal by the addition 866 of some modifications in Committee. In describing the Crofters, the right hon. and learned Gentleman had no doubt described a class of people who, under similar circumstances, likewise existed in England. That being the case, it could hardly be doubted that the principles proposed to be laid down in the Bill would radiate into other parts of the Kingdom. It was, ho thought, impossible to draw a line and say into which county those principles might not have to be extended. There was one point in the statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman which struck him as calling for some comment; and although he had no wish to detain the House at that hour (2.5 A.M.), he would make one remark upon it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had stated to the House that the Bill, in that portion of it which related to security of tenure, only proposed to make compulsory that which benevolent landlords were voluntarily doing already. It seemed to him that in that case the proposed provision was open to the remark that it had a tendency to dry up the springs of benevolence. There was no reason why everything which a good man did should be made compulsory to be done by law; and, therefore, if this principle were to be extended to other parts of the country, it would be necessary to consider whether they could not obtain the same results by giving greater facilities for the voluntary concessions of landlords.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, he wished to congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate on the Bill which he had asked leave to introduce, and he thought he might also congratulate the Crofters on the large instalment of their demands which the Bill proposed to give them. It did not, perhaps, contain all that they wished for; but he thought it contained as much as could be expected at the present time. He congratulated the farmers of Scotland also on the introduction of the Bill. He agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Elton) in saying that it would be impossible to confine the advantages proposed by the Bill to particular districts of Scotland; they must, in his opinion, be extended over the whole country, and, he thought, with very great advantage both to landlords and tenants. The proposals with regard to fair rents and security of 867 tenure were very good indeed; but he considered it, on the other hand, a mistake to introduce compensation into the measure. It would have been, in his judgment, far better to give the tenants free sale. The difficulty of the position would come to an end sooner by free sale than by compensation. He did not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman was as well acquainted as he (Mr. Barclay) was with the opinions of farmers in Scotland on this subject; but he said that compensation under the existing Act had been tried and proved to be a failure; the expenses were so great that they swallowed up nearly the whole amount awarded as compensation, and in some cases damages had been awarded to the landlords in respect of claims for compensation, which but for the Act would not have been heard of, exceeding the amount of compensation awarded. He therefore thought it desirable that the Government should reconsider this question, and give the tenant at once free sale of the interest in his holding, and so relieve the landlords of any responsibility in the matter. The Lord Advocate had very ingeniously and properly set forth the claim to security of tenure which tenants on the West Coast of Scotland possessed; but he (Mr. Barclay) did not know that there was any difference in the tenure of land there and in other parts of Scotland. The tenure of land had been from time immemorial—that was, from the time of the Clans—the same in Lowlands and Highlands; and he could not recognize that a tenant, who might be turned out at the end of any year, had a greater claim to his holding than a tenant who had certain possession for 19 years. But when they came to land held for generations, as was the case with a good many farmers in the Lowlands of Scotland, the claim was stronger than under a tenure from year to year, as the people had on the West Coast of Scotland. Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman set forth that the landlords, as a general rule, had done the whole of the permanent improvements on their estates. Well, he thought there were great differences of opinion on that point. The practice was very different in different parts of Scotland, and in those parts with which he was acquainted he must say that a large 868 proportion of the improvements had been effected by the tenants. He knew of many cases in which tenants had settled on a barren moor and built a house for themselves, reclaimed the land, made it what it was, and, in short, done more for the land than any of the tenants in the West of Scotland. Now, if tenants on the West Coast had by improvements obtained a right to security of tenure, were not tenants on the East Coast entitled to as much? However, that was a matter of which the tenants in Scotland would judge for themselves. Seeing that the rights of the Highland Crofters were recognized, tenants in other parts would doubtless come forward and assert their right to an equal degree of security. While he agreed with the justice of the claims which the Lord Advocate had set forth on behalf of the tenants on the West Coast of Scotland, he thought it unfortunate that those claims had not been recognized until the people themselves had taken strong measures to assert their rights. He was afraid that if the inhabitants on the West Coast of Scotland had not displayed a certain amount of lawlessness, and made it necessary for the Government to send military and naval forces to that quarter, their claims, however just, would not have been recognized by Parliament. That, he repeated, was an unfortunate circumstance, and it offered a very bad example to the tenants in other parts of Scotland, who would no doubt say to themselves that there was nothing to be hoped for by submitting and waiting for Parliament to help them, and that they must take strong measures to assert their rights. Under those circumstances, they might look forward to claims being advanced with greater pressure than they had hitherto been. There remained just one point on which he hoped the Lord Advocate would be able to give some information. It related to evictions; and he would ask whether measures would be taken to protect the interests of tenants in the West of Scotland who were under eviction at the present moment, or of those against whom summonses of eviction had been taken out; or would some provision be made for securing the just interests of those people in the present Bill? That was a matter of the greatest importance to many people, and he hoped 869 that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be able to give some assurance that at once the case of the tenants situated as he had mentioned would be taken into the favourable consideration of Her Majesty's Government.
said, that at that late hour (2 A.M.) he would not attempt to enter on anything like a full criticism of the proposals which had been so lucidly explained to them by the Lord Advocate. He could not, however, forbear from expressing his regret that in framing those proposals Government had not been guided a little more by the Report of the Royal Commission, but had based their intended legislation so largely upon vague discussions which had arisen out of that Report. He regretted it the more because, while the Commissioners had approached the subject with the avowed object of maintaining and increasing the number of Crofter holdings in Scotland, and so bridging over the gap that at present existed in that country between the wealthy and the very poor classes of agriculturists, and of remedying to some extent the evils which had arisen in Scotland out of the concentration of the landed property in the country in a very few hands, the Lord Advocate had stated that, in his opinion, it was desirable gradually to consolidate crofts into largo holdings, and had framed his proposals with that object in view. The Lord Advocate had said that the proposals of the Bill which he was about to introduce divided themselves into four; but the fourth head, he explained, related to the extension of holdings, with a view of meeting the demand for more land; and as that proposal, as he had sketched it, was of the feeblest description, he (Dr. Cameron) thought that practically the heads of the Bill might be considered as consisting of but three main provisions—those for security of tenure, those relating to fair rents, and those relating to compensation for improvements. With regard to the latter, he concurred with his hon. Friend (Mr. J. W. Barclay) in the regret which he had expressed that the free sale of the Crofter's interest in his holding was proposed to be forbidden. With regard to the inclusion of the smaller Crofters in the provisions of the Bill, he doubted whether the advantages which they would secure under 870 it would at all compensate them for the loss of those rights of cutting peat and heather and gathering sea-ware which the Commissioners recommended should be conferred upon them without increase of rent. They all knew the important part which common hill pasture played in the crofting system; but the Lord Advocate had said not one word about grazing rights, and any attempt to grapple with the subject without dealing with that question must be eminently unsatisfactory. Then, again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in the course of his speech, had said not one word about any amendment of the present laws as to notices to quit, although the Commission reported in favour of such an amendment; nor had he said anything about the subject of arrears, although they all knew the mischiefs which arose out of the present system under which incoming tenants were often obliged to take over the arrears of their predecessors, and the Commissioners had reported in favour of forbidding such a practice. Again, the Commissioners had reported as to the urgent necessity of at once putting a stop to the system of confiscation, of Crofters' rights in common grazing lands, which had already swallowed up all such lands as existed on the mainland, but which was still, according to the Commissioners, being actively pursued in some of the Islands. Why was all provision dealing with such a clamant injustice to be omitted from this Land Bill? Again, in this Land Bill, as described by the Lord Advocate, there was not to be the smallest attempt at the establishment of a peasant proprietary. The Royal Commissioners had found the most prosperous of the crofting population of Scotland in the "Lairds of Harray," a class of peasant proprietors whose good husbandry and comfortable independence excited their strongly-expressed admiration. They had recommended steps intended to increase the numbers of the peasant proprietors of Scotland; but, for the first time in connection with all the modern land legislation which had been attempted in that House, all provision bearing on this most important matter was proposed to be omitted in the Scottish Crofting Bill. Again, the whole world was aware of the intimate connection between the extension of deer 871 forests and the dearth of land so much complained of. Even the Commission, which comprised the proprietors of 1–20th of the entire acreage occupied by deer forests in Scotland, had felt constrained to make certain proposals on that subject in its Report. But not by a single word had the right hon. and learned Gentleman so much as hinted at the existence of this universally admitted evil in Scotland. He (Dr. Cameron) regretted, too, that the Lord Advocate had altogether ignored the special case of the fishing Crofters, and those obligations on the part of proprietors to erect proper fences, which led to so many disputes wherever crofting prevailed. He was quite aware that the Bill before the House did not pretend to deal with the grievances of the Crofting population in any other direction than as regarded the Land Question, pure and simple. But all the instances of omission to deal with the recommendations of the Commissioners which he had enumerated related exclusively to that branch of the subject. He admitted that what was proposed was a considerable step in the right direction; but it fell very far short of what would be needed for a final settlement of the question. He and those who thought with him on the subject would do their best in Committee to enlarge the scope of the measure and improve its usefulness; and if they failed, as it was very probable in the present Parliament they should, such a foundation as that laid down in the Lord Advocate's Bill would afford them a most useful basis from which to start when they came to face the question in the altered conditions of the next Session; and on that foundation they might then fairly hope to raise a legislative edifice which might less unworthily embody the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Finally, he would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he could give any intimation of the date at which it was proposed to take the second reading of the Bill?
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, there was one point in the criticisms which the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had bestowed upon the Bill on which he desired that justice should be done to his right hon. and learned 872 Friend the Lord Advocate as against the Commissioners. The hon. Member said that the right hon. and learned Gentleman differed from the Commissioners in his desire to perpetuate small crofts, and that the Bill had been conceived in a spirit adverse to the Commissioners, who desired to stereotype and continue the smallest holdings. But he would point out that Her Majesty's Government had gone a great deal further than the Commissioners had gone. The Commissioners laid down that some of the remedies suggested were not to be applicable to any holdings of under £6 value. His hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Mackintosh) had not demurred to that principle at all, but he said he could not agree to the amount named, £6; he did not, he said, wish to perpetuate small holdings, but he desired that the figure might be fixed at £4. The Government, however, proposed no limit at all. By far the larger number of holdings were under £6, and therefore he claimed for the measure of the Government that in this respect it was far more liberal than the proposals of the Commissioners. Now, the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) had asked a good many questions as to things which he said were not in the Bill. It was quite true that many of them were not; but at that hour (2.30) it would be too late to enter in a satisfactory manner into the reasons why the Government had not been able to deal with them in this measure. His hon. Friend also asked a pertinent question as to when the second reading of the Bill would be taken; but he was afraid that to that inquiry he could only give a general answer—that was to say, that it would be taken after Whitsuntide. As little time as possible would be allowed to elapse, and in the meantime the people of Scotland would have an opportunity of fully considering the measure. His hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Elton) had said that the Government were creating in Scotland a class of occupiers who very much resembled the copyholders in England. That, he was ready to admit, was an accurate description of the Bill; and although in England copyhold tenure might have become more or less obsolete, he ventured to say that it had been for centuries the tenure 873 which, more than any other, united the people of England to the soil; and it was the liberality of the Common Law which recognized in men, who were little more than squatters on the soil, rights which were to be respected by Courts of Law, that mitigated the severity of feudal tenure in a manner beneficial to the people of England and the national interest. Therefore, he did not think his hon. and learned Friend could have passed a greater or more just encomium on the proposal of Her Majesty's Government than in saying they were going to give to the people of Scotland those rights which the Common Law of England some centuries ago gave to a similar class of people in this country. That was all Her Majesty's Government thought the Crofters were entitled to, and it was all that they desired to accomplish.
§ MR. D. CAMERON
said, at that hour it was almost impossible to consider the provisions of the Bill, and he should be sorry to commit himself, or any of his hon. Friends, by expressing any opinion on its merits either one way or the other. He thought they all required some time for further consideration. All he would say then was that ho trusted the measure would prove to be the lasting settlement of a difficult question which they all desired.
§ MR. FRASER-MACKINTOSH
said, he trusted that when the second reading of the Bill came forward it would be put down as the first Order of the Day, so that hon. Members might have a full opportunity of discussing this most important question. Perhaps the Lord Advocate could say when the Bill would be in the hands of hon. Members?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by The LORD ADVOCATE, Secretary Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT, and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL for SCOTLAND.
§ Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 184.]