HC Deb 18 February 1886 vol 302 cc642-63

, in rising to move, as an Amendment, the insertion, at the end of the 15th paragraph, of the following additional paragraph to the Queen's Speech:— This House humbly expresses its regret that in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech the reference to the condition of the people in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is of a vague and indefinite character, and contains no satisfactory assurance that such Legislation as the serious nature of the case demands will he undertaken, and is of opinion that, until a Land Bill dealing in a comprehensive manner with the proved and admitted grievances of the Highland People has been passed into Law, the Civil or Military Forces of the Crown should not he employed to evict those People from their hereditary homes, said that, no doubt in common with a great many, the House would be glad to hear the announcement of the Government, that, on Monday next, it was their intention to bring in a Bill to deal with the Land Question in Scotland; but it was a question of great urgency, and he regretted that that declaration on the part of the Government did not meet the case which he proposed to provide for, if the House would accept his Amendment. His Amendment was not to force the Government to legislate for a settlement of the Land Question, for he imagined no pressure was required to be put upon any Government to compel them to see the absolute necessity of legislating upon the question with a view to its settlement. It was different a few years ago, when he first took the liberty—which was then thought to be a great liberty—of moving on this question. It was considered a great liberty because, though he was a Scotchman, he represented an Irish constituency. That reproach'—if reproach it were—could no longer be applied; for he had come back now to the House without that stain upon his character; and he appeared, as a Scotch Member, to plead as earnestly as he could on behalf of those people in whose interests he had put down his Amendment. He had no wish to take up any long time in discussing the question, because his proposition was a very simple one. He could multiply instances by the hundred where, in public meeting, resolutions were carried, praying that House to grant suspension of eviction, pending the passing of the legislative measures proposed by Government. His proposal, he thought, was not without precedent; because, although not in the exact form, it contained the substance and spirit of the ill-fated Compensation for Disturbance Bill of 1880. He moved, on this occasion, to ask this High Court of Parliament to grant an injunction to restrain one of the parties to a suit from ruining the other, pending the decision of this High Court on their case. That was literally the issue that was raised by the Amendment. It was an appeal for injunction against one who had the whole power—the power of totally ruining and banishing if he chose—from their native homes as many as happened to reside on his property. He had no doubt there were plenty of good landlords in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland; but it was not the good landlords, but the bad landlords, they had to legislate for; and he was only now asking the House to compel the bad landlord, who brought shame upon the others, to do that which the good landlord would do of his own accord. By the law of the land a landlord had perfect liberty to evict a man, whether in arrears or not, upon six months' notice; and the reason he asked the House to accept his Amendment was because, before it was possible for the Government to pass their Bill through Parliament and bring it into effective use, the eviction season would have passed. Hundreds of evictions were now threatened in Scotland; people were having notices served upon them; and the right hon. and learned Gentleman (the Lord Advocate) knew perfectly well that in the month of May the eviction season would set in, and in order to prevent that he moved his Amendment. To show the urgency of what he asked for, he would cite a few instances, but without giving the names of the people or the places. The statement was that last Martinmas a number of crofters were served with notices of removal. They had all their rents paid, and their crofts consisted of 2½ acres of the poorest soil. These crofts were in the immediate vicinity of the mansion house, and were of a character that no farmer would pay more than £12 for the whole seven. Yet the laird derived £84 a-year from these crofts. These people went on to say that it was impossible for them to pay these rents, and that hitherto they had been paid by contributions sent by their friends in the South. In their present circumstances they could not see what they were to do. They must submit to the law, and therefore prepare for eviction. None of them were in arrears, and they could only rely upon the Legislature passing some measure to stop these repressive and inhuman practices. In another case, reported by the Press on the 11th of February, it was stated that a meeting was held at Cromarty for the purpose of approaching the landlord for a reduction of rent; and the statement was that Mrs. MacKenzie declined, and said she would "put the whole estate under fallow rather than give one sixpence of reduction." These were the statements that came from a people in a state of despair. In most of the cases in which evictions were threatened it was, no doubt, on account of heavy arrears; but how did they arise? They were carried forward from one tenant to another, these being kept upon the factor's books in terrorem over the tenants. For instance, £6 was fixed as the rent in the books, but £5 was all that was paid; but after a time the tenant found that £1 a-year had been accumulating as arrears which provided the excuse for eviction. There had been no disturbances and no outrages of any kind throughout the whole of Scotland. This was a peaceful, legitimate, and Constitutional demand that was being made; and he appealed to that House, to the Gentlemen who voted for the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, who voted for similar measures for Ireland, for the Land Act in Ireland, and for all the legislation that had taken place in Ireland, to do something for the corresponding classes in Scotland, and not leave them in destitution because they were peaceable. Let them not teach them to break the law— that was a lesson that had been taught in Ireland; but he hoped that his court- trymen would not learn it. Legitimate legislation was what they required; and he asked the House, as a first step, to stand between them and a wrong-doer, and not between them and good landlords—though even good landlords in Scotland had far too much power—more power than ought to be trusted to any individuals. They could sell their land if they chose to Mr. Winans, and the sale would entitle him to give six months' notice to the whole of the native population who were not under leases. He appealed to the House and the Government to stand between those people and what was practically sending them out of the country. These people were attached to their own country, and he wanted to see them living in their own glens and native hill-sides, and not dwelling in the slums of big cities. He wished they had more of them in that position. If they had, they would not hear so much about the distress of the unemployed. There was plenty of land for the unemployed if they could get it to cultivate. He had not brought a large number of cases before the notice of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate; but it was not because he had not the cases to bring forward in witness of what he had said. The nest time this matter was brought forward he would read case after case and take up hour after hour. He moved this Amendment with regret. He should have preferred if he had been in a position to move this Amendment when the late Government were in power—or rather in Office, for they never were in power. He was quite sure there were hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who would have supported this Amendment under those circumstances, but who, under existing circumstances, would not be able to support it, and he thought he would probably have carried it. He believed the present Government seriously meant to deal with this question, and that they would deal with it in a very different fashion from the way in which they proposed to deal with it last year, for a great many things had happened since then. But if the Government were prepared to take away from the landlords the power of evicting the people for no cause, why would they not do it by accepting this Amendment two or three months in advance of their Bill? He should be obliged to ascertain by a division the state of opinion in the House upon the question, so that they would know who were their friends and who were the foes. In conclusion, he bogged to move the Resolution which stood in his name.


, in seconding the Amendment, said, he wanted to bring before the House some facts in regard to the position of the crofters at the present time. Two or three years ago the hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macfarlane) managed to get the time of notice for eviction changed from six weeks to six months; and they knew that already a large number of crofters had received that six months' notice. Under the Scotch Act those who were in arrear might be turned out if they were 40 days in arrear before some date in May; and what he feared was that a large number of crofters who were utterly unable to pay rent in consequence of the new condition of things would be turned out. The crofter did not so much make his living out of the land as on the sea; and the crofter, in his capacity as fanner and in his capacity as fisherman, had lately met with an unparalleled condition of depression. As a farmer his stock had fallen about 50 per cent in the last two years. In his own county in six months the value of stock had fallen nearly 40 per cent, so that if the crofter sold his stock to try to pay his rent, even then he could not pay it. Of course, the large farmer felt the depression nearly as much as the crofters, and they also required protection. Only they had got capital, and the landlord might think twice before he killed the goose that laid the golden eggs—before making the capitalist farmers bankrupt. The crofter had been paying a great deal for his land because it was near the sea; but the depression in the land had not been so great as was the depression in the fishing industry. The poor people were told to go to sea and fish; and now, just as they were driven away from off the best tracts of the land, the steam trawlers came and drove them away from off the sea by destroying their gear and nets. The condition of things in the fishing industry was very deplorable. During the summer a large section of crofters from Ross-shire and Inverness-shire came round to Wick for the summer fishing, and expected to make what would pay their rents and keep their families. But, unfortunately for the crofters, last year nearly all the fish-curers went bankrupt, so that men who a few years ago were worth £20,000 were now only worth a few pence. The fish sent to Germany and other foreign countries last year did not bring to many of the curers a price sufficient to pay the cost of the barrels in which they were packed, while there was great competition from other sources, and the price of the Norway fish had been reduced, altogether making a most unfortunate state of things. The fishermen had been content to get 5s. or 10s. in the pound from the curers, and next year it was difficult to conceive what their condition would be. One reason for the deplorable condition of things was because of the action of the Railway Companies, who had so much abused the power given them by Parliament to make a differential rate of carriage, which was much against the home producer, and in favour of foreigners. They charged no less than £4 per ton for fish, while they bought salt at 22s. and potatoes at 30s. But the crofter, though he was now, from circumstances which he was not able to control, unable to pay his rent, did not forget his right to the land. The homes of the crofters were generally those which they had themselves built, and they were beginning to feel desperate. He thought the new Scotch Secretary should think twice before he sent troops to the Highlands to teach the Highland people what had been often taught the Irish people— namely, that law often meant organized injustice. They wanted to get from the Government and the House an assurance that the men who were unable to pay rent from causes beyond their control should not be sent adrift, but should be secured until some remedial legislation was enacted. He had much pleasure in seconding the Amendment of the hon. Member for Argyllshire.

Amendment proposed, At the end of the 15th paragraph, to insert the words,—" This House humbly expresses its regret that in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech the reference to the condition of the people in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is of a vague and indefinite character, and contains no satisfactory assurance that such Legislation as the serious nature of the case demands will he undertaken, and is of opinion that, until a Land Bill dealing in a comprehensive manner with the proved and admitted grievances of the Highland People has been passed into Law, the Civil or Military Forces of the Crown should not he employed to evict those People from their hereditary homes."—(Mr. Macfarlane.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said, he had lived for 20 years among the crofters, and could bear out the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Argyllshire. The fishery was in a dreadfully bad state, and the crofters were quite unable to pay their rents, which were greater than the holdings were worth. It was not proposed that the declaration in the Amendment should last for years, but only for one year, by which time the ejectment season would have passed, and they hoped for a satisfactory measure enacted by the Government. Surely for one year the landlords could afford to let the matter lie. If the landlords meant to force the people to pay rents it simply meant driving them off the land, and they all knew the results. An eviction was simply a sentence of death to many of those people. It was all very well for the landlords to say—"We must have our rights;" but the people had rights as well as the landlords. In the Highlands many of them had rights superior to those of the landlords. How many of the proprietors had bought the land? The Argyll and Sutherland families had paid nothing for those lands on which these crofters lived; and he hoped that in this 19th century such landlords would not be allowed by means of evictions to turn the people adrift. In many cases the land had been kept for the landlords by the strong arms of their forefathers, and by nothing else. It was no use trying to get blood out of a stone, and it was no use trying to get money from the crofters, because for a long time they had paid their rents from money they did not get from their crofts, and now they had no more to pay. He would heartily support the Amendment, hoping that by this time next year they would have no need for such a Motion.


said that, as an English Member, he desired most heartily to support the Amendment. He had taken means of informing himself on this subject, and he was persuaded of the urgent necessity of speedy legislation. But speedy legislation would not be sufficient if evictions were to be allowed to go on in the interval. He had no sympathy with men who could and would not pay their rent; but occasions sometimes arose when a large number of tenants could not pay owing to special circumstances; and then it was only fair that other portions of society should take their part in the burden, and not throw it all on the poor. The Report of the Crofters' Commissioners in 1884 was a lamentable indictment against the whole system of the North-Western Highlands; and this state of things had been growing worse ever since, and evictions were becoming more and more cruel. The Report showed that a social revolution had taken place in these districts, in the course of which the poor toilers had been the sufferers, while the owners had up to very lately been the gainers. The Report showed that there existed a patent contradiction between the Statute Law and the immemorial tradition and custom of those districts. It also gave instances in which whole communities had been driven from the land, and had been huddled between the mountains and the sea on comparatively bare and barren tracts, on which the utmost industry would not enable them to live in any comfort. Eights had been unjustly invaded, and he hoped that the House would not trifle with this matter. Mr. Angus Sutherland, the late crofter candidate for Sutherlandshire, recently gave an account of what was known as the Rosehall case. He stated that in 1845 the estate of Rosehall was purchased by I Sir James Matheson, who promised the tenants that they would never be removed from their holdings, at any rate so long as he lived. The tenants accordingly reclaimed much of the land, and made great improvements. The estate was then sold, or rather exchanged for another, and all the tenants were served with notices to quit by the new landlord. They were compelled to accept the landlord's terms or forfeit all their improvements; and thriving tenants were thus turned into rack-rented feuars. He said it was incumbent on the Government to take good heed lest the extreme pressure of what might be legal rights, but were moral wrongs, should drive along-suffering people to desperation, and bring about bloodshed and disorder in hitherto comparatively peaceful regions.


I have listened with great pleasure to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton); but, in some respects, I could almost have wished that the hon. Member had deferred his speech for a few days. I have no doubt, from his intimate knowledge of the Highlands of Scotland, he has much in reserve to tell us; and I should be glad if, some throe or four days hence, on the Motion for the introduction of the Crofters Bill, and still more on the second reading, he moves again the sympathy of the House as he has moved it to-night. I cannot but think that his speech, and the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macfarlane), are somewhat premature, or somewhat tardy. They are premature if they are intended to excite the interest of the House in those provisions which the Government intends to bring forward, and which, I earnestly think and trust, will be of a nature, if not to satisfy, at any rate to gratify, those hon. Members. But they are tardy as applied to the present condition of the House of Commons and the Government. The Amendment to the Address which the House is asked to entertain to-night states that the House humbly expresses its regret that in the Queen's Gracious Speech the reference to the condition of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is of so vague and indefinite a character; and contains no satisfactory assurance that such legislation as the serious nature of the case demands will be undertaken. That is the Preamble to the Amendment. I am not here to defend, I am rather here to adopt, the Address in answer to Her Majesty's Gracious Speech; but if I were here to defend it. I should say that the line and a-half referring to a measure for mitigating the distressed condition of the poorer classes of the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland would cover legislation of a sort which might be very satisfactory oven to advanced Members of this House. But if there might be some justice in the Amendment throe weeks ago, there is none now; because the Government, through the mouth of the Prime Minister, has promised—not that it considers that legislation about the crofters is of great importance, but that it considers it almost paramount, for the very first Notice of a measure that has been given by the present Government—at any rate, the first Notice of any measure of importance—has been for a Bill for improving the condition of the crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. I ask the House whether it is a fair reward to a Government which has shown itself so anxious to grapple, and to grapple rapidly and thoroughly, with this great question— whether it is fair to reject the earnest appeal of the Prime Minister, who has given this pledge, which you may be sure he will make good—not to insert Amendments in this Address; and I think hon. Members will have to show very strong cause indeed for inserting this Amendment, because it is an Amendment of a very serious nature. The Amendment, after the Preamble that I have quoted, goes on to declare that the House is of opinion that until a Land Bill dealing in a comprehensive manner with the proved and admitted grievances of the Highland crofters has been passed into law the Civil and Military Forces of the Crown should not be employed in evicting the people from their hereditary holdings. I earnestly trust that before voting hon. Members will consider the very serious nature of the Amendment for which they are voting. The hon. Member for Caithness-shire (Dr. Clark), in his interesting speech, referred to the great distress of the fishing population, and to the manner in which they are suffering by the competition of trawlers, and by the discriminating rates of railways. I should like to ask the hon. Member for Caithness whether the fishing population of the Western Highlands are the only fishing population in the United Kingdom that are suffering from bad trade and depression? If that is not the case, why should we adopt such a strong remedy as that of suspending the ordinary operation of the law in their case, and in their case alone? I must frankly own that I would not assent to such a proposal. Before adopting it, two facts would have to be established. One of these two facts would be that the population that was going to be specially benefited by such a very strong proposal as this was suffering from any great grievance of a nature requiring to be remedied, or from any great danger; and the other thing that would have to be established would be that it had been up to this time entirely neglected by Parliament. But are the people of these Highlands and Islands suffering under any very great grievance from evictions, or from any danger of evictions? I am glad to think that at a time like this in England and Scotland the landlords are treating their people with that sort of consideration which ought to exist between the landlords and the tenants. ["Oh, oh!"] I will not say it is being done everywhere; but I know of many cases in England and in Scotland where large reductions are being given, and very freely given—permanent reductions—and where the eviction of an old tenant is the very last idea that would occur to the mind of the landlord. But are the Highlands of Scotland at this moment the districts where there is an exception to this rule? Are the Highlands, during the last two years, districts where evictions are being ruthlessly carried out? If there can be any charge brought against the late Government, or against the Government which preceded it, it would be—not that evictions in the Highlands were too easily carried out, but that, practically, there were no evictions at all, even where rents could not be obtained. There is no part of the country in which, at this moment, there is such immense and such general arrears as in certain parts of the Highlands; and to tell the House of Commons that during the last six months, that during the last two years, there have been any exceptional crop of evictions is to tell them something which is not a fact; and, unless it is confirmed by the most powerful evidence, the House could not be induced to accept such an extremely strong Resolution. But it is not the case. There is a general feeling among the landlords of the Highlands, as there is a feeling in the House of Commons, and in the country in general, that the crofters of the Western Islands are in a very unsatisfactory condition, which ought to have been altered long ago by legislation, and that that is the district in which, of all others in the country, the power of eviction ought to be less ruthlessly and most mercifully used; and I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say that there is no district in these Islands where the people have been in less danger of eviction than they were in the crofting districts of Scotland. Now, I come to the question of what has been done for the crofters in this respect by the House of Commons. Never was so strong a Resolution passed, giving so very marked a lesson in the direction of doing the utmost to mitigate the rights of landlords to the Executive Government, as the Resolution that was passed on the 14th of November, 1884, at the instance of a distinguished Irish Member, who has vindicated his right to take up the cause of the crofters. The Resolution was as follows:— Resolved "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.' That is the Resolution under which, at this moment, the Highlands of Scotland are being administered—the unanimous Resolution of the House of Commons, giving the greatest moral sanction in its power to the theory that the rights of the landlord should not be pressed. On that Resolution the landlords of the West of Scotland have acted, and since that Resolution was passed evictions have not been oppressive; and to say that they were numerous would be to say something which is very far from the fact in the Western Highlands. While I may have been willing to give a passive assent to that Resolution, I cannot go further; the Government cannot go further, and lay down the opinion that the law is not to be supported. The hon. Member asks whether the Government would be prepared to send troops to enable Mr. Winans to make any fresh evictions in order to extend his deer forests? During the last six months, under a Conservative Government, no troops have been sent into that district; and I do not think it is very likely that, under a Liberal Government, any troops will be sent for such a purpose. We desire to find a remedy, not in making any declarations of this sort, but in bringing in and pressing forward a Bill giving the largest measure of protection and comfort to the crofting population that the general sense of the country and the wisdom of Parliament will allow us to give. I am bound to say I was rather struck by the speech of one hon. Member who represents the crofters, and by the fact that he insisted so very much upon one side of their difficulties and grievances—namely, that of the want of fixity of tenure and of fair rent, while he said so little of what I believe the crofters themselves feel is at the bottom of their difficulties, and that is the want of more land. I hope I have given sufficient reasons to induce the House to sympathize with me in my earnest appeal to the hon. Member and those who act with him not to press this Amendment on the Address. If he does press it he will be sure to find in the Lobby against him many right hon. Gentlemen who sympathize with his clients with a sympathy almost as strong as his own, and some who have a knowledge not immensely below even his great knowledge of what they really want. I wish to present a further argument to the House relating to this subject. It is a most important thing that just at this moment we should not pass a Resolution of the House of Commons which weakens the authority of the law, which refuses to allow the Government to discriminate between those cases in which rent is retained in the hands of the person who is able to pay his rent, and between those cases in which a crofter is suffering hopelessly under arrears brought about by an oppressive state of the law. There is another reason connected with the Western Highlands why, at this moment, we cannot afford to relax the authority of the law. There is the question of rates. The authorities have great difficulty in getting rates from the occupiers, and from other people besides; and if the House of Commons pass this Resolution, which I feel bound to say is an unjust and an improper one, and, in face of the legislation which the Government promise, a most unnecessary one, you will weaken the hands of the parochial authorities in collecting those rates, and bring about a state of things which will be most disastrous and most discreditable, and, to the education of those districts more especially, perhaps quite fatal. I trust that what I have said will not be considered as in any way showing a want of sympathy with the condition of the crofters; but I earnestly hope, in view of what I have said, and the promise of the Government to introduce a measure, the hon. Member will see his way to withdraw the Amendment.


said, he begged to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment in the Ministry as Secretary for Scotland. He seemed, however, to be but imperfectly acquainted with the condition of the Western Highlands. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman possessed any exact information as to the number of evictions, or the number of notices which had been served to produce evictions at the coming term. He had been informed that no fewer than 200 notices of eviction were served to become due in May last year. A difficulty arose as to the interpretation of the law. The crofters claimed the benefit of the Agricultural Holdings Act; and it was found upon trial in Edinburgh that the landlords must give six months' notice to the tenants, they having failed to do so. He had observed from the newspapers that some landlords had served notices of eviction in a wholesale manner. Those notices would come into force on the 15th of May next, and it was then that the difficulties of the situation would arise. Then was the time when the landlords in the Highlands would have to appeal to the forces of the Crown in order to carry out those arbitrary and unjust evictions. The hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macfarlane) did not ask the suspension of evictions to be carried out indefinitely, but only until the Bill of the Government came into effect. It was feared, and with too much reason, that a great number of evictions would take place in the Highlands in May next. Notice had been served by the landlords to that effect; and if the Bill of the Government became law, it would not come into operation in time to prevent the landlords carrying out the evictions at Whitsuntide. He thought the House was called upon to express its opinion on this question, and to say that the civil and military powers of the Crown should not be used for evicting tenants in the Western Highlands of Scotland. Unless the Government adopted some such opinion as this, there was great reason to apprehend serious difficulties in Scotland in May. The responsibility for maintaining the peace of those districts would rest upon the right hon. Gentleman. He should be sorry to encourage any movement for the non-payment of rent; but those acquainted with the condition of the Highlands knew that the tenants had not, at the present time, the means of paying, either from farming operations or from fishing; and he thought Parliament ought to intervene to prevent the landlords taking advantage of such a state of circumstances to evict crofters. There were many cases in which the holdings of the crofters were worthless for the purpose of making rent. They were really a foothold for the men on the soil, and the rents had always been paid from fishing, or by some members of the family going to some other part of Scotland and paying the rent of those who remained at home. He considered that the case was sufficient to justify the action which the hon. Member had recommended to the House. The suspense of evictions would only affect bad landlords; and he thought the case of the crofters was quite as strong as that of the Irish peasants when the Government brought in a Bill in former years to suspend evictions. The people in the Western Highlands were a law-abiding, godly people, and no one would accuse them of turbulence unless they had good cause for the complaints they had made; and he should have thought the Government, under very difficult circumstances, would have been very glad to accept the Motion.


wished to join the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Trevelyan) upon his appointment. The right hon. Gentleman had, in the course of his speech, shown an earnest sympathy with the grievances of the crofters, and in the indication which he had given that it was the intention of the Government to deal with those grievances in a strong Bill. At the same time, he thought that, in the language used by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the suspension of evictions, he had taken a somewhat unfavourable view of the case of the hon. Member for Argyllshire. He thought that, at this moment, the relations between landlords and crofters in the Western Highlands were very much strained; and there was a fear that, unless notices of eviction were withheld, trouble would ensue in that region at an early date. On the whole, however, he thought the hon. Member would be wise in listening to the appeal which had been made to him, and not press his Amendment in view of the Bill promised by the Government.


said, that there were one or two points in the speech of the Secretary for Scotland on which he wished to make a brief remark. The first was the statement that had been made as to the improbability of troops being employed to carry out evictions under a Liberal Government. But it was a fact that under the last Liberal Government troops were sent to carry out the service of writs, the result of which would be the eviction of crofters; and, therefore, there could be no security that this would not happen again merely because a Liberal Government was in power. Another statement was that there existed in other parts of this Kingdom a general depression in agriculture calling for a remedy; but that was no reason why the remedy desired in this case should be refused because it did not embrace every other case. There was, however, one point in the speech of the Secretary for Scotland which would lead him to join in urging the withdrawal of the Amendment; and that was the promise given that in the proposed Bill of the Government it was intended to take powers for preventing evictions in all cases in which they ought not to be carried out. ["No, no!"] If it were not so he was very sorry, and in that case he did not see that it was easy to avoid voting for the Amendment. True, it proposed the stoppage of evictions of every sort, and he could not honestly support a Bill which should involve that principle, because there might be cases in which evictions might be legitimate and proper. There might be cases in which tenants could pay their rents and would not. The law ought to distinguish between the two classes of cases. But this could easily be done in any measure to be introduced. If he were mistaken as to the scope of the Government Bill, it was the duty of Scottish Members and of Liberal Members from every part of the Kingdom to vote for the Amendment. What he desired was that such modifications should be introduced into the present law as would be necessary to make it more consistent with justice. No law would command the respect of the people of this country except in so far as it was based on justice. The great changes in circumstances which had taken place since the bargains and leases were entered into should be taken into consideration. Those changes had not been brought about by the landlord or the tenant. They had come upon us by causes altogether beyond the control of any human being; but it ought to be recognized that they were upon us. As he had said, what he and others desired was to modify and alter bargains entered into, so as to make them what fair and just-minded men would enter into at the present time. He would support the Amendment.


I only rise, Sir, on account of an observation which was made by the hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macfarlane), which, although not intended to be used in an offensive sense, was to the effect that the words in the Address may mean no more than that a measure was to be introduced for relief by the parochial authorities. I have no desire to protract the debate upon the Address; but, as such a suggestion has been made, I think it right to state publicly that there was no such intention on the part of Her Majesty's late Government in placing those words in the Queen's Speech; but, on the contrary, it was our intention to introduce a measure which I think the hon. Member for Argyllshire and the Members from Scotland who have spoken in this debate would have found to have been a somewhat comprehensive measure. I have only to say that no description of that measure could have been more unlike reality than the suggestion which the hon. Member for Argyllshire has made. I think it is necessary, however, to give some explanation on behalf of myself and my Colleagues in the late Government who propose to vote against this Amendment. We vote against it because we are satisfied that it can serve no good purpose. It expresses the regret of the House that in the Queen's Speech— The reference to the condition of the people in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is of a vague and indefinite character; whereas it is proposed to amend that condition by the Bill which is promised to be brought into the House. The latter part of the Resolution, if passed by this House, will declare— That until a Land Bill dealing in a comprehensive manner with the proved and admitted grievances of the Highland People has been passed into Law, the Civil or Military Forces of the Crown should not be employed to evict those People from their hereditary homes. Such a Resolution ought not to be passed. The word "satisfactory" is itself most vague. Satisfactory to whom, the nation or the crofters? and satisfactory on what basis? I have, therefore, no hesitation in supporting the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland, that the Amendment should be withdrawn.


My right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland has made an appeal to the Liberal Members to vote against this Amendment. He tells us that it would be injurious and improper in us to carry this Resolution in the face of the promise which Her Majesty's Government have made to deal immediately with this pressing question. But in the same speech he was candid enough to tell us, from his knowledge of the measures of the Government as a Member of the Cabinet, that the Bill proposed to be introduced will not deal with the salient point of the Amendment. He intimated that the Bill will contain no provision for suspending the process of evictions, which hon. Members from Scotland assure us will be put in force about Whitsuntide. A few Sessions ago we had a similar Amendment proposed in the Address by Members from Ireland; and the present Prime Minister on that occasion accepted the principle in the analogous case of that country. He caused a Bill to be brought in dealing with evictions, in the shape of compensation for disturbance; and so important was that Bill considered that all the Business of the House was suspended in order that it might be passed. We do not ask now for any revolutionary measures, or that criminals or offenders should be supported; but we simply ask that these unfortunate crofters who have had notice of eviction served upon them shall not be evicted unless their case does not happen to come within the four corners of the Bill. In the event of the Bill becoming law, I presume that it is impossible to pass it between this and Whitsuntide; and I suppose that the landlords are not disposed to give any pledge that they will not carry out evictions in the meantime. We simply ask now that the Liberal Party, who have come back from the country pledged to deal with this Land Question, should give effect to the pledges which they gave to their constituents, and take the only opportunity which offers itself between this time and Whitsuntide to obtain a declaration from the Government that they will not use the Civil or Military Forces at their disposal for the purpose of carrying out evictions. The Government, not with any intention of being unfair, but owing, I presume, to a mistake, have mixed up this question with the analogous question of a refusal to pay rates and taxes. My opinion, and that of those who are acquainted with this part of Scotland, is that the refusal to pay rates and taxes has arisen from abortive attempts to enforce evictions for non-payment of rates. But the principal persons who are refusing to pay rates and taxes are not the crofters, but the landlords who have been evicting the crofters. All I ask is that the Forces of the Crown should not be used in turning out these unfortunate crofters pending legislation to meet their case; and unless I receive some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman the Scretary for Scotland that it is proposed to withhold the employment of the Forces of the Crown for that purpose I shall vote for the Amendment, and I trust that other Members on this side of the House will take the same course.


I am very unwilling to protract the debate; but I think that the speeches which have already been made would convey a wrong impression to the House, and induce it to be believed that a majority of Members, who sympathize with the case of the crofters, are in favour of the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macfarlane). I think I am justified in speaking in the name of those who sympathize deeply with that part of the population, because in regard to my own constituency—North-East Lanark—although it is not a crofter constituency, and although it consists of a hard-working and industrious population engaged in industries different from that of the crofters, I may say that no question was pressed more strongly upon my notice during the election than the subject of the crofters; and there are very few Members in the House whose acquaintance with the Highlands of Scotland dates as far back, in the early period of their lives, as my own. I confess that I am not surprised, for certain reasons, that this Amendment has been put forward. In the first place, I think that the hon. Member for Argyllshire is justified in the observations he made with reference to the paragraph in the Address to the Crown. If anything more than some eleemosynary measure of relief was contemplated by the words which have been placed in the Address, I think that those words have been chosen with singular infelicity. There is also this further point. After the Resolution which was passed last year there was a Bill introduced by Her Majesty's Government— the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone)—dealing with the subject. That Bill might easily have been passed in the course of last Session; and the Prime Minister made an appeal to the late Government, when the change of Government occurred and they came into Office, that that Bill should be passed. That appeal was not listened to, and the request of the present Prime Minister was rejected; and I think that much allowance must be made for the crofters, after the patience which they and their friends have manifested, in seeing legislation promised year after year which would give them relief, but which, when the moment comes when it ought to be carried to completion, has been, by one accident or another, retarded and set aside. I submit, however, that there is scarcely anything which could justify such a sweeping interference with the ordinary action of the law in the enforcement of contracts as is proposed in this Amendment. I say "scarcely anything" because I think there is one state of circumstances which might justify it; and that is if evidence were produced of a systematic intention to evade a Bill just coming on by evicting as many persons as possible for the purpose of getting such evictions carried out before the Bill was passed. But we have no evidence of that kind, and no allegation of that nature at all; and although the hon. Member for Argyllshire has said that he could string a number of instances together and lay them before the House, if it would not weary the House, he did not do so. Well, I appreciate his generous consideration for the House in that respect; but I submit that it is absolutely necessary to lay such evidence before the House before such an interference with the action of the law as this could be agreed to. It is a far more sweeping measure than the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, because that Bill proposed to arrest evictions under the provisions of an Act of Parliament, whereas in this case we are asked not to proceed under an Act of Parliament, but arbitrarily to stay the hands of the authorities. I think that the assurance of the Secretary for Scotland ought to satisfy the hon. Member who has moved the Amendment, and I hope that he will not press the Resolution. I can assure the hon. Member that there are many hon. Members in the same position as myself, who have the warmest sympathy for the object which he has at heart, and who will vote with him and speak for him if necessary, unless the promised measure is one of a thoroughly liberal and satisfactory character, and one which will completely satisfy the just demands of the crofters.


The hon. Member who has just sat down has been pleased to state to the House that, in his opinion, scarcely anything can justify the adoption of this Amendment. Now, it appears to me that the case should be put the other way. Can anything justify the evictions which will take place unless this Amendment is passed? The very fact that the Government have promised to bring in a Bill to improve the condition of the crofters shows that these impending evictions will take place under unjust conditions. As an English Member and as a Member sitting on this (the Ministerial) side of the House, I am desirous of finding any reason, if I possibly can, for adopting the appeal which is made to us on behalf of the Government; but I can find no such reason. It is perfectly clear that no Bill can be introduced and carried through this House which will prevent the evictions which will take place next May, if the Amendment which has been proposed is not carried. I, therefore, cannot absolve my conscience from the necessity for voting for this Amendment, whatever inconvenience may arise to Her Majesty's Government in consequence. I am quite sure that if hon. Members realize the fact that the vote they are now about to give may cause hundreds of honest men to be evicted from their homes they will hesitate before they reject the Amendment which would save the crofters from such a fate.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 104; Noes 234: Majority 130.—(Div. List, No. 4.)

Another Amendment made.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to. Committee appointed, to draw up an Address to he presented to Her Majesty upon the said Resolution:—Mr. GLADSTONE, The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, Mr. SECRETARY CHILDERS, Mr. MUNDELLA, Mr. MORLEY, Mr. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN, Mr. BRYCE, Mr. ARNOLD MORLEY Sir UGHTRED KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH, and Mr. ACLAND, or any Three of them:—To withdraw immediately:—Queen's Speech referred.